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The Undead Plague: Book Two

The Undead Plague: Book Two

 

Copyright 2016 ZJC & GTC. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Shakespir

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

[* Cover art by @winder_sky *]

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the authors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or noncommercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Friday, July 13th, 5:16pm

White House, Washington DC

Situation Room

 

Colonel Mann glanced at the map displaying the Eastern coast of the United States. Red dots were peppered within the state of New York and spilled over into Vermont and Massachusetts. Those dots indicated positive confirmation of infected persons. Parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey had orange dots, signaling questionable contamination areas.

Since contact first initiated in Caffa, New York over twenty four hours ago, similar outbreaks had been reported in the Seattle area of Washington State, along with the city of Los Angeles in the state of California. Mann guessed the West Coast was seeing signs of infection because of air travel. Some government scientist and doctors stated if this virus or disease was dormant and the incubation period lengthy before showing symptoms, then the United States could be looking at a worst case scenario for a full blown pandemic. Government officials concluded that was the only possible explanation at the moment for the virus to pop up on both sides of the coast at virtually the same time. One thing for certain, the outbreak was baffling the same scientists and government officials.

Mann shook his head.

That was not his worry. He needed to focus on his expertise, which were the armed forces. The military branches of the government started to take some action. Special Forces Operations were now happening all over targeted areas. Yet, the lessons of Caffa had been duly noted. As of this moment, the orders being passed down to the foot soldiers were to only recon and investigate the circumstances from a distance

Meanwhile, military bases all over the country had been ordered to be locked down. Despite images showing civilians fleeing to them in overwhelming waves, they were forced back verbally and physically. Roads leading up to the bases became chokepoints filled with people and vehicles. Civilians scattered from the gates as Military Police fired straight up into the air. The military was becoming desperate and seriously strained, in light of the awful circumstances. Mann realized it would not be long before those guns no longer fired into the sky, but instead were aimed at someone’s chest.

Power grids, water and nuclear power plants became marked as vital installations and grade one priorities for when the military started to move into the heavily urban areas overrun with infected hordes of undead. Already informed by sources, Special Operations had been deployed to those crucial locations all around the country. This ensured that there was not a nuclear meltdown or power failure at some enclosed laboratory facility, therefore, letting some deadly virus escape.

Pathetically, but expectedly, requests for military protection came from the political and upper classes of America. Mann saw that private military contractor units were being sold to the highest bidders. Those units reallocated into the gated communities, isolating the very rich citizens from the regular citizens of the United States.

Some people happened to be more equal than others.

For those average Americans, any sort of protection would come either from themselves or the military, but that relief would arrive long after the infection had been defeated. Brad Pitt and LeBron James were not holed up in the attic of some house on 10th Street, relying on canned food and a shotgun.

Mann also learned some secret wings of the government obtained authorization for live subjects to be captured for ‘intelligence’ reasons.

Thanks to my contact at the CIA

One of those military entities given the green light was the Defense Intelligence Agency or more specifically, the National Center for Medical Intelligence. Along with the DIA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA had also been granted permission to bring in infected persons for studying.

The Colonel shook his head. He would not want to be in those positions of testing and examining the subjects being shuttled in from Caffa and other infected areas. As far as Mann was aware, no live infected people had been brought in yet.

Yet.

Mann figured it was only a matter of time before some forms of live infected subjects were transported to secure locations and then experimented on. It was a near certainty that it would occur sooner rather than later.

General Scott Kirby approached Mann, a grin plastered all over his face. “You gotta see this, Fitz.” He grabbed a remote and flipped on one of the televisions hanging from the walls. The scene displayed two Representatives from Congress fighting each other, one of the men apparently smacking the other gentlemen over the head with his phone.

Mann stroked his chin, chuckling at the spectacle. “Is that Edgefield smacking Getty?”

General Kirby nodded. “Yep, good ole’ Representative Preston Edgefield from South Carolina. Smackin’ that crazy fucker from Texas. I heard some people in the Pentagon want to send him apple iphones with the engraving ‘Hit Him Again.’”

Both Army men laughed.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff were meeting the President, the rest having flown straight here from the Pentagon. Mann realized the only reason he had been invited was because of his closeness to President Karen Rice. He served with her father in Pakistan a number of years back and since his passing, kept a very close eye on her. Although persistent whispers of a romantic encounter abound, it did not occur and would never happen.

An aide approached them and saluted. “Sirs, the Chairman is just about ready.”

Both Kirby and Mann returned the salute. “Thank you, Captain,” Kirby responded. He turned to Mann. “Shall we proceed?”

Mann nodded. “Of course”.

They began to walk down the hallway, toward the situation room.

“So, New York is pretty fucked up?”

“Yes, and I was only there for less than an hour.”

General Kirby sighed loudly. “And those things…they as fucked up as they’ve been saying?”

Mann nodded again. “Yes.”

Kirby slapped him on the back once more. “Well, hell, if someone as old as yourself can survive them…”

Mann managed a chuckle.

Although Mann counted General Kirby and a few others of the Joint Chiefs as friends, he realized he was being included in the briefings because of his relationship with President Rice. A common misconception about the Joint Chiefs of Staff was how much power and authority they actually welded.

Before 1986, the United States military was organized along the lines of command. Each branch of the military would report to their service chiefs, who served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then, each chief reported to the civilian chairman, whom they elected, that then reported to the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of Defense would then be in contact with the President of the United States, the commander in chief of all armed US forces. This style led to inter-service rivalry and counter-productive problems, which really reared their ugly head during the Vietnam War and the invasion of Grenada. Thus, in 1986 two Senators, Barry Goldwater and William Nichols sought to change these difficulties plaguing the military. This new act brought sweeping changes to how the armed forces chain of command was organized.

Under the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs was now designated as the main military advisor to the President. Additionally, it also changed the conduct in how the different branches interacted with each other. The service chiefs on the JCS no longer had their respective branches reporting only directly to them. Instead, all assets of the military were now available to the combat commander to be used in any armed operation.

To reiterate, the Chairman had more ability to direct the overall strategy and the combat commanders in different sectors were given more authority to conduct operations due to the increased unity in all the military branches. But, the Joints Chiefs of Staff do not have a capacity to conduct military action or order the combat commanders to do so. They are only there to provide support to the President and ensure that each branch of the military is ready to perform their duties. The process instead is left up to the President, who will order the Secretary of Defense to perform military procedures, which are then passed to the commanders of the Unified Combatant Command. In retrospect, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are and could be completely bypassed in the whole course of action.

Mann was there to take the suggestions that the JCS recommended back to the President and her cabinet when meeting with them later. He knew the JCS members hoped that the Colonel would persuade Rice to follow their strategy. She trusted him. And despite Mann’s friendship with many of the members, he realized they would try and exploit that friendship to protect America from this danger. He would do the same thing in their position.

The two men entered one of the rooms where the rest of the Chiefs waited. In addition to the JCS, several other commanders and heads of organizations were present. Mann politely nodded to the different commanders.

“Hey Fitz, how ya doing’?” The CIA director Hillen Koetter slapped him on the back.

“Pretty good, Admiral, yourself?”

Koetter waved a hand in the air. “Not an Admiral anymore. Not for a few years, anyways.” He leaned in closer to Mann. “Heard you went to New York earlier.”

“Well, I see word travels fast. Yes I did.”

“And?”

“It’s pretty bad. Worse than they think. What have you heard?”

Koetter shrugged his shoulders. “Honestly, nothing. That team that came back from Caffa had no useful information. They were overrun too quickly. So, the rest of the teams we have out in the field are mainly just observing the, um, infected areas.”

The Colonel then bent forward toward the former Admiral. “I need to talk to you…later,” Mann whispered to him.

CIA Director Koetter narrowed his gaze at Mann and nodded softly. “Okay. How about later tonight?”

Mann jerked his head once. “I’ll call you later.”

Koetter spun away. He recognized the drill and realized Mann wanted to talk to him away from any peering eyes.

Give and take.

That was the world of DC politics.

Mann knew Koetter from his days back in Pakistan and India, when he was an Admiral in charge of the Asian Pacific Fleet. The Colonel trusted him and believed he could be counted on for advice and to let Mann know what was happening behind the scenes.

Colonel Mann protected then Admiral Koetter from the higher ups when the naval commander disobeyed orders and gone ahead with a rescue of some of Fitz’s Special Forces soldiers trapped in the mountains of Pakistan. Although, not throwing in his chips for a return favor, Koetter realized he owed a couple to Mann. He trusted Mann, which in the world of politics, was a very rare thing.

Mann then spotted his commander, Major General Sam Garrison.

“Sir.” Mann saluted his boss, who returned it.

“Colonel, we have a briefing at 1900. The Secretary wants the Special Forces to start making some noise.”

Mann smiled grimly. “Looks like we’re going to have some urban warfare.”

“Yep. And I want you to brief the men on your experience today, if you don’t mind. Which of course, should not have happened, isn’t that correct?”

“Of course, sir.”

“What exactly were you thinking?”

The Colonel shrugged. “I wanted to get a closer view. For the reports, of course.”

Garrison chuckled. His rugged face displayed the hardships of many campaigns and missions. “I had a General Thompson from the Pentagon ask me why a Colonel had forced his way on to this mission. Do you want to know what I said?”

“Of course, sir.”

Mann’s superior continued. “He has brass balls. Because when he walks, you can hear his balls clanging together.”

Colonel Mann smiled slightly. “Yes, sir that is correct. I’ll be sure to put that into the report for General Thompson.”

Both career military men laughed, fed up with the red tape bureaucracy of the Pentagon.

Major General Garrison then looked at Mann squarely in the eyes. “Honestly, is it that bad?”

“Yes sir, it is.”

Garrison shook his head. “If this is some terrorist attack, I’m going to hunt down the fucker responsible for this and hang him by his fucking balls.”

“And if it’s a woman, like Jihad Jamie?”

“Then hang her by her fucking tits. Excuse me, Colonel.”

“Of course sir.”

Mann did not believe a single group or organization could have pulled this attack off, if it in fact was a terrorist attack. A group of nations were the only ones to have the capacity to pull off something this major. China or perhaps Russia was certainly capable of developing a biological weapon of this magnitude, but Mann doubted they would actually attack the United States. Maybe some splinter radical group in the Middle East was responsible. After all, they could have had the backing of a sultan or oil rich prince, and would certainly not be afraid of the consequences if their convictions were not of this world.

Gazing around the room, Mann saw that everyone was in a frenzy state. People were in screaming matches on the phone lines.

“I don’t give a fucking flying shit what the ACLU thinks about that!” A Homeland Security personnel slammed his fist on the table near Mann. “Well, in a few hours, tanks are going to be rolling through the streets of DC, so they can shove their liberal agenda up their asses!” He smashed the phone down triumphantly.

Oh great…

Now word was going to leak out that tanks were going to be patrolling the streets and troops marching past those cute little white picket fences and neatly trimmed green yards of America. Despite the fact that tanks had to be utilized, actually telling the public that course of action was going to happen was another matter. Especially trying to shove it to a left wing group in a time of crisis was not the greatest PR move in the world.

“We don’t know how it’s spread!” A woman bumped into Mann. “Tell them to hold off on running that! The President did look weak, but tomorrow is a different day. We’ll have her send a stronger message tomorrow! And have her wear some makeup to cover up the bags under her eyes!”

Mann scoffed silently.

“Yes, right?! Just between you and me,” the aide’s voice got very low and she moved the cell phone closer to her face, “but this attack is exactly what the President needed to reconnect with the American people.”

And despite the fact that infected people are chomping on their fellow human beings, the ‘saving public face’ routine still continued. For some in the government, if no crisis actively existed, then they had no reason to maintain their title.

The chattering in the room slowly ceased as Rice came into the view, her shoulders slumping as she sat down. Mann noticed that her eyelids sagged and she did not have any makeup on. She tried stiffening a yawn, but could not and covered her mouth. Rubbing her eyes, several reports were thrown down in front of her. While he managed a quick nap on the flight home for a few hours, the President looked as if she had not slept in a week. It appeared the weight of world was on her shoulders and in a cruel way, it certainly was.

The flat screen televisions around the room lit up, with movement flashing across the monitors. The Colonel knew the Secretary of Defense, along with the Department of Defense ordered the progression of Federal troops toward the areas of infection. That order was passed to the commanders of the UCC, despite the fact that official approval from Congress had not been given yet. Additionally, the Insurrection Act had also not been invoked, so ‘legally’, the military could not be assigned to conduct operations within the United States. Nonetheless, Secretary Strangefeld and President Rice figured if anyone complained about the timeline of Federal troops being used in the heart of the American homeland, it could be saved until a Congressional hearing.

That, of course, would take place years from now.

If it in fact, ever took place at all.

The President would receive heat if she did not move troops quickly enough to the threat and heat if she moved the troops without the authorization of Congress. Either way, one side would become angry with her.

Damned if she does, and damned if she doesn’t…

The gathering here was to ensure all branches of government were on the same page and to also determine how exactly the administration and military should handle the threat once their plans were set in motion. The immediate problem was clear. Presently, there was no course of action to implement a plan to combat an epidemic of this magnitude.

No shit…

Additionally, the civilian aspect of the administration would try their best to cover their backsides and put on a happy face despite the ever growing disaster. After all, even in the face of zombies eating their fellow neighbors, someone had to smile and say that everything was under control and that it would be alright.

A loud clearing of someone’s throat caused the murmuring in the room to quiet down. Chairman Gatewoods stood up in front of one of the screens. Everyone in the room turned their attention to the four star general. His white hair was uncombed and a five-o’clock shadow sprouted upon on his cheeks. Like the President, Gatewoods had not slept since the beginning of this outbreak. Yet, his uniform was spotless, as well his posture.

“Ma’am, before we begin, we have here Dr. Eugene Gunzburg, of the National Center for Medical Intelligence. He is here to report his initial findings.’’ Chairman Gatewoods motioned with his hands that the doctor now had the floor.

Lieutenant General Gunzburg stepped up and gave a quick thanks to everybody in the room. The first thing that Mann noticed about the man were the icy eyes staring back at each person. He gazed intently at everyone in the room, almost as if trying to size them up. Wearing thin rimmed glasses, shorter than normal and bald all across the top of his head, Gunzburg nonetheless carried a sense of importance

Gunzburg…that name sounds sort of familiar…

“Madam President,” the man began, “this situation is looking very, very bleak.” Dr. Gunzburg opened up a laptop, the image projecting immediately on several of the flat screen monitors in the room.

Gasps rose up in the room as the depiction displayed an older man strapped down on a table. He growled and attempted to claw at the camera, but his arms and legs were firmly tied down. His face oozed a yellowish puss from wounds on his cheek. Black liquid dribbled down his chin as his head swirled from one scientist to another, trying to bite them.

“This particular gentleman was originally from Caffa. He was picked up less than ten hours ago.” Dr. Gunzburg let out a small cough, letting the repulsive spectacle settle with each person in the room.

Mann sagged in his seat. So, some infected had been brought in alive. He decided that he would have to make some more contacts in the intelligent wing of the military in order to keep not only himself, but more importantly the President, afloat of the situations happening within those departments. The meeting with Koetter would solve a few of those problems.

His gaze turned to Rice, who did her best to not look shocked or surprised. However, the Colonel suspected she had been caught off guard with the news that live subjects were being captured and tested upon.

Dr. Gunzburg continued. “From the tests that we performed on the man, we determined that he, is in fact, dead.” Stillness hung in the room from the group seated around the table. All were equally stunned at the statement just made. The only sounds in the room were the low growls coming from the screen as scientists wearing hazard suits poked and prodded the man with a bunch of needles. Mann saw a tooth soar out from the mouth of the infected man. He bit down on his mouth so hard, some teeth harshly grinded against each other and flew out.

“Yet, but what still remains a mystery, is how this gentlemen, and the ones just like him, are able to execute simple tasks such as running, if in fact, their heart is no longer beating and no blood is pumping through their system. Also, the process of rigor mortis sets in a few hours after death and keeps the body stiff for thirty six hours. This gentleman should not be able run, much less walk. In fact, he should just be a rotting pile of decomposing flesh. So that leads to two possibilities, ma’am. One, that this virus and I use that term VERY loosely, alters the physiology to avoid rigor mortis…”

“Or?” Someone from the back cut in.

Gunzburg looked annoyed but continued. “Or this pathogen causes rigor to set in, but then somehow causes it to then dissipate.”

“And what does that mean…?”

Dr. Gunzburg held up his tiny hands. “Please…please allow me to finish…if it does alter the physiology to avoid rigor mortis, then that explains why you have dead people running around. Simply put, a virus needs living cells to infect, multiply, and then infect more cells. Additionally, in order for someone to run, some parts of the central nervous system must be active…at the very least; the motor cortex must be minimally functioning at some level.”

“So, wait a minute, you don’t have an explanation for this?” someone in the back called out.

“No, at the moment I do not. In a scientific and medical world, this should not be happening. The only theory, at the moment, that I can think of is some sort of prion transmission of a disease to the brain that appears to kill, but actually reanimates its host, which in this case is a human body. This is the best explanation, that something causes the body to modify the composition of our structure within…um, that it still leaves some sort of a primal need to feed and well, you have all seen it…”

Small murmuring slightly picked up.

“That is the first bit of information that we have for you. Secondly, we don’t have a center of the pandemic where we can go and study it. It appears that this infection popped up in a few different areas of the world. As a result, that is making it difficult to try and pinpoint the first cases, which would be greatly beneficial to us in trying to combat this epidemic. We don’t have an index case to go off of.”

“Index case?” someone asked.

“A patient zero.”

“Oh.”

The doctor paused, catching his breath before continuing on. “As of right now, the most current information that we have, again is that these people are dead. How are they moving and running around? Why is this happening? What caused it? I’m afraid to say that for the moment, we have more questions than answers for you.” Dr. Gunzburg glanced around the room to see if there were any questions yet. Spotting a hand, he pointed it out.

“How is it spread?” one of the FBI’s personnel asked.

Dr. Gunzburg nodded. “Getting bitten or having a diseased subject’s blood or saliva or this black vomit like substance transfer into your system seems to be how someone becomes infected. And furthermore, that seems to be the best news so far…”

“What is…?”

“It does not seem to be airborne. You have to be in close contact with a person infected in order to become infected yourself.”

“Is there a possibility of that occurring? Of it becoming airborne?”

The doctor almost seemed to grin. “Well, there’s always a possibility of this virus or bacteria mutating at any real point and for whatever reason. For now, the only way it seems to spread is through direct contact of getting someone’s infected blood, fluids or saliva into your system.”

“What are the main symptoms?”

“The initial symptoms of this infection are a fever accompanied by uncontrollable shaking and trembling. Projectile vomiting, confusion and loss of various motor skills have also been reported as the virus progresses further and begins to take full effect. Once the person comes back from, um death, they seem to have no sense of who they were or their surroundings. Instead, they only seem to want to feed.” Gunzburg dramatically paused. The scientist’s eyes slowly moved around the room.

Someone finally took the bait. “Feed on what?”

“Human flesh.”

No one in the room replied to that statement.

Gunzburg recognized he held their attention and continued with his speech. “Additionally, we have seen that the person will have fits of uncontrollable rage, a very hyper aggressive state, and will not respond to commands, and as I have mentioned before, an almost ravenous appetite for human flesh.”

“How do we stop it?” Chairman Gatewoods asked. Mann knew from the meetings he sat in with the Chairman, he usually wanted to get right to point of finding out how to eliminate threats.

Dr. Gunzburg shrugged. “From what we know, and the tests performed, the only way to put these creatures down is to decapitate the brain. Shooting or removing other parts of their body will not, in effect, destroy the person. We do not know why this is, but saving the brains of infected individuals is the utmost importance so we can study and learn how to fight this wave of infection.”

“So basically, we are using the Mozambique Drill to kill these things? That’s not a problem, just got to find volunteers to get that close to the people infected.”

A few military men laughed at the obvious sarcastic comment from a Captain leaning against the wall in the back of the room.

Gunzburg blinked a few times before responding. “I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that…”

“Oh, it’s nothing, it’s just a tactic where you get real close and shoot someone in the head. Of course, you first gotta find some volunteers. May I suggest drawing straws, the person with the short one getting…”

“So, what is your advice on tackling the threat?” General Kirby spoke up, interrupting the sarcastic group of military men.

Dr. Gunzburg gave a small smile, gray pupils growing wider behind the glasses. “Right. In small enclosed areas, or wide open fields, these creatures can prove to be very agile. They will continue pursuing you until you are out of sight or you put them down. They can be extremely fast and in huge packs, can easily overrun smaller barricades. As we saw earlier from Caffa and in New York overall.”

“Great.”

“Additionally, this virus seems to target the human brain as it breaks down the other systems in the body. Although we do not have more information on why that…”

“Oh that’s just disgusting…” Someone pointed back to the screen. Mann glanced up and viewed the infected man vomit black liquid all over the front of a person’s biohazard suit.

“Sick…”

A man sitting next to Mann nudged him. “They better hope that shit isn’t airborne.” Colonel Mann nodded, but did not say anything in reply. If it was airborne, he would be infected by now and displaying the symptoms.

Hopefully…

“Thank you. Madame President, we will have more information in the coming hours and days. We will keep you informed.” Dr. Gunzburg started to pack up his things.

“Oh, doctor. How long does it take for someone to turn from when they were bitten?” Rice titled her head toward him.

The Lieutenant General gave another small smile. The icy gray eyes glazed over everyone, excitement flashing the plain face of the scientist. “We are not exactly sure what the time period is after you have been exposed. From our best guess, it would depend on how much of their blood or saliva transfers into your system. Or simply, how big or small the wound is that you have sustained. We do not know how long, if at all, this particular virus lies dormant in the human body. If it does, then your containment policies will be affected. But, I assure you ma’am, we will know every little detail very, very soon with our examinations and…tests.”

As Lieutenant General Dr. Eugene Gunzburg packed up his things and exited the room, Mann could have sworn that he thought the doctor was going to say ‘experiments’ instead of ‘tests.’

Where do I know that name from…?

Murmuring quietly picked up in the room before the Chairman again came to the front.

“Madame President, we have begun to mass troops in the infection areas, just as we discussed last night. All major bases have mobilized their units and they are on total lockdown…”

“Yes, we’ve seen the horrible footage of people trying to get to safety…” General Kenneth Hu, the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, inserted himself into the conversation.

Chairman Gatewoods ignored the comment and continued.

“The commanders on the ground realize the seriousness of what is happening and are following your orders. Right as of this moment, no one is engaging the targets yet. They are just waiting on what plan of attack we decide to take here.”

That seemed to be a nod to the President that military leaders realized the gravity of this situation and were lining up on her side, despite the fact official channels had not been followed.

The Deputy Secretary of Defense suddenly rose and approached Gatewoods, whispering in his ear.

Gatewoods displayed a confused look on his face, but hastily waved the man away. The Chairman then picked up a remote and clicked it. It was a Power Point presentation, with a map of the United States appearing on the monitors.

“Madame President, Secretary Strangefeld has evidently come up with a game plan that he wants to introduce to us. Mr. Secretary?” The Chairman stepped to the side as Strangefeld walked up to the screen.

The career politician cleared his throat as put his hand over his mouth. Slicked back gray and white hair coated in gel, he adjusted the thin glasses hanging over his ragged face. Putting lips firmly together, the man held an expression like he was sucking on something sour.

Colonel Mann was a little surprised that some sort of strategy was already in the works. Hanging around the Joint Chiefs for the last two days, he knew they had not reached any sort of consensus on what should be done.

The noise did not completely settle as people continually entered and exited the room. The man sitting next to the Colonel suddenly got up and walked out of the room, talking on his phone.

Strangefeld gulped a large portion of coffee before beginning. Squinting eyes despite wearing glasses, he took a moment before beginning.

“Ma’am, ladies and gentlemen. The plan that I and other commanders have come up with is to tackle this threat head on. What we propose is to use small groups of troops to strike, confront the threats, and then stay put in designated areas within where the infection is. This plan will let us strike quickly, recapture the contaminated areas and restore the faith of the American people.”

Mann stared confusingly at Gatewoods and Kirby. He did not remember hearing the Joint Chiefs agreeing upon any sort of strategy to confront the infected. Both men held a blank stare on their faces, giving no indication they knew beforehand what Strangefeld was going to present to the room.

Kirby then caught Mann’s gaze. His friend pulled out his phone and pointed to it.

Colonel Mann nodded and reached for his.

A minute later, Mann’s phone buzzed and a text message from Kirby popped up on his screen.

 

I confronted Henry late last night about any sort of plan he had. Said he didn’t have one. Something else going on

 

Mann glanced back to Kirby and nodded. They needed to get together later and find out what exactly was occurring with Henry Strangefeld.

The Secretary of Defense clicked the remote and a red line appeared on the map. On the West Coast, it ran from in between the borders of Washington and Idaho, all the down to the border between California and Arizona. The East Coast line was a little more complex. It appeared near Lake Erie, and then cut across the state of Pennsylvania, and ran all to the way to Trenton, New Jersey, ending at the Atlantic Ocean.

Strangefeld continued. “From these red areas, which will be the base of our operations, we will concentrate on recapturing the surrounding towns and cities that these infected are in. We figure that we can recapture the infected areas in less than six months, and will probably require no more than around five hundred thousand troops…” The Secretary was interrupted by waving hands and muttering from military officials.

One of the outstretched waving hands was General Kirby.

“Yes?” Strangefeld seemed irritated. The sour expression grew larger, as his squinting eyes narrowed even more so behind those glasses.

“From what are you basing your figures on, this number of troops and only six months to eliminate this outbreak? And who did you seek advice from when coming up with this strategy?”

Kirby wasted no time in confronting the Secretary of Defense.

Strangefeld nodded toward General Kenneth Hu and Admiral Maria Vasquez, Chief of Naval Operations. Those two remained emotionless amidst the chattering that started to pick up in the room.

Well I guess that settles it…

Mann could tell that Chairman Gatewoods, Vice Chairman Steele, and General Kirby were furious. The Commander of the National Guard Bureau, a General Kristopher Ryan sat motionless, displaying no reaction. It looked like he also had not been included in the plan by Secretary Strangefeld. The Commandant of the Marine Corp, General Samuel Nicholas actually seemed amused by the turn of events and was laughing out loud.

True to his form, Strangefeld completely bypassed the military chain of command when analyzing and preparing his strategy. It was well known the advisors the Defense Secretary surrounded himself with viewed the military as outdated and needing to be upgraded with a more, modern form of warfare. In short, old time military thinking was replaced with computer simulations and statistics analyzing.

“Excuse us, Mr. Secretary, but General Hu and Admiral Vasquez did not consult with us when they gave you those numbers.” Chairman Gatewoods leaned forward.

Strangefeld gave a smirk. “I know. I’m afraid you’re more old school there general. We must promote a more entrepreneurial approach to warfare. We need to encourage people to be proactive, not reactive and to behave less like bureaucrats and, frankly, more like a venture capitalist. The product of old thinking is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the military today. I’m afraid that the Pentagon’s bureaucracy is what could actually be the real enemy is this case…”

“What the hell…” Vice Chairman Steele pounded the table with a fist.

“Only five hundred thousand troops? Are you insane?” Another CIA veteran spoke up.

“Fucking Iraq all over again.”

“Iraq? Hell, it’ll make the Paki-India deployment look like babysitting…”

“We’ll need half that many troops in one fuckin’ city…”

Chairman Gatewoods held up his hands to settle the room. Although it took a few long seconds, the room eventually died down.

“Please, Mr. Secretary, do continue.”

Strangefeld gave a quick nod. “And when I based these figures on five hundred thousand troops, I am of course not, including military service providers.”

Of course not.

“You mean mercenaries?” General Kirby shook his head. A rhetorical question.

Defense Secretary Strangefeld nodded. “I prefer the term Private Military Contractors, not mercenaries.”

“They’re mercs, just call them damn mercs,” Kirby stated as he continued shaking his head.

Strangefeld took another sip of his coffee. The arrogance splashing across his sour face became evident to all in the room. He straightened the red tie hanging from his neck. “Whatever you call them, it was more effective using private contractors in Pakistan in the outset. My detailed plan will greatly enhance the use of these private military contractors at the beginning of trying to counter this threat. Once these forces combine with the military and have met the wave of this infection, the combined forces of these groups will be able to move in and take control of the hot spots.”

“You’re talking about using hired killers from South Africa or Israel in American cities?” a man stated from back. “You do realize that this could cause concern among the general public?”

Strangefeld nodded. “Yes, but I believe our military needs all the help it can get right now. And frankly, if you’re in danger, I don’t believe you care where the person is from, as long as they can help you.”

“My god, you idiot, do you even know how the military works?” It was the older CIA man in the back of the room.

Strangefeld shot the man a stern gaze. “Yes I do. I am the Secretary of Defense after all. I plan on having the Marines and Army Rangers, along with the private contractors being the first ones in, with the bulk of the Army moving in afterwards and taking control of those affected areas. I have exchanged a few system analysis models with others like me, and they conclude that a light force is the best way to deal with this threat. I agree with their conclusion. If we confront this threat head on, and move people to secure locations, then I believe we can beat back this wave of infection quite easily.”

“Then you don’t understand how the military works…you’ve been spoiled with your alleged victory with that so called blockade of Taiwan.”

China and the United States almost came to full blows a few years ago, but instead minor skirmishes broke out between naval forces. Secretary of Defense Henry Strangefeld, then the Deputy Secretary of Defense, proposed nonmilitary action, with a blockade preventing Chinese and Laos’s naval forces from helping a guerrilla revolt in the country. Although it was widely known that China helped supply, arm, and train the pro Chinese forces in the country, Strangefeld preached to the previous administration that confronting them directly would be disastrous. Although war was avoided, many behind the scenes privately stated China saw this move as weak and the United States was the more vulnerable nation to come away from the exchange. It remained to be seen whether it was true or not.

More shouting rose up in the room.

“Okay, gentlemen.” Chairman Gatewoods took control of the exchange. “Please, continue, Mr. Secretary.”

“Our concern, Madame President, in the long run is not the infected.”

“What?!” General Kirby actually shot up out of his chair.

“My god…”

“…taking chunks out of people for Christ’s sake…”

“Now, now…”

Chairman Gatewoods gently tugged the sleeve of Kirby and motioned for him to take his seat. General Kirby did so, grudgingly.

“Now, I’ll continue uninterrupted, if you please. A large state cannot operate effectively if the different department heads always express disagreement with the decisions of established heads of government.” The Secretary turned back to the giant screen and took out a laser pointer.

Colonel Mann wanted to slap the arrogant man across the face. Judging by the reaction of the other faces in the room, he was not the only one. The veteran CIA man shook his head and muttered silently.

“While we must confront the threat head on, we also must prepare for the aftermath of this terrible attack,” Strangefeld declared, turning back to the monitor and pointing a finger at the image shown.

“We will mark these red areas as a semi border. Nothing will get past it without first being processed to make sure that you are not infected. FEMA and other federal agencies will set up camps around the regions to ensure that the states or cities are not flooded with new arrivals. In addition, I have coordinated with senior members of FEMA and they plan to have pre-stationed food, blankets, and medical and other relief supplies at these locations. Furthermore, once we begin to set up these camps, experienced humanitarian relief experts will be on location to oversee the entire process. I believe that when we finalize this plan it will turn out to be successful…”

Murmuring interrupted him.

“FEMA couldn’t fuck themselves out of a wet paper bag.” A man in the back summed up his feelings about the government relief agency.

Laughter accompanied his statement.

The loudest one turned out to be General Kirby.

“Are you serious?” He turned to President Rice. “Ma’am, this so called plan is doomed to fail…”

“How so?” Admiral Vasquez pitched in. The Hispanic, while a stunning beauty, had a mean streak in her. Mann knew from experience. Vasquez was one of the top Aviation Rescue Swimmers in the Navy during her time in that role. She scratched, clawed, and fought her way to the top. She earned her spot on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was not a politically correct appointment, like the incompetent General Hu.

Kenneth Hu fit the bill of a politician more than a soldier. The main reason because his father and uncle being the respective mayors of San Francisco and mother an appointed Federal Judge. As a result, he always felt the need to not make waves and fall in line with the general consensus of the public. General Hu never made an important decision on his own.

General Kirby gave Admiral Vasquez a glance.

“You really expect the US military to put up effective barricades and then, in addition to fighting these infected creatures, stem the tide of the refugees? Additionally, how long did you actually work on this plan? A few hours? It’s virtually impossible to come up with effective preparations in that short amount of time…”

“We don’t have any time,” General Hu spoke up.

“Yes, I know that. You seem to dismiss the refugee problem, while expecting the average US military personnel to somehow stem the tide of both the infected and the citizens fleeing the area…”

“We don’t exactly have a plan for zombies,” Hu snorted.

“Plan? We don’t even have a goddamn full spectrum threat response for anything like this…” A government bureaucrat was cut off by Kirby.

“No shit. Yet, this plan is bound to fail. It’s been put together too quickly and looks like it was created just to look like we’re doing something. We need to realize that the real problems of this conflict will be refugees fleeing to cities and areas where the infection has not occurred yet. Instead of just diving head first into the places where the infected are, we need to create a thought out and detailed plan to combat this difficult situation…”

“We need to do something…” someone called out from the back.

“Yeah, like right now…”

A few nods were seen.

It appeared that Strangefeld managed to convince some people in the room the necessity of doing something – anything – in combating this threat was of the utmost importance.

Or they had seen the reports and they were somehow worse than how it looked on television…

“…Finally, in short, the United States military is not a fucking babysitter…”

“General Kirby, control yourself,” Chairman Gatewoods stated as he glared at him.

“Yes sir.” General Kirby turned back to President Rice. “I apologize ma’am, for the profanity.”

Rice smiled slightly. “No problem, General Kirby, I grew up a military brat, so it’s not like I haven’t heard it before. Also, I believe the use of profanity is the least of our worries.”

Mann guessed Kirby was stressed from the potential fallout of using the enormous resources of the military. A young commander in Pakistan, he witnessed the horrors of urban warfare first hand. Bloody and brutal, with house to house fighting. But that was what the military did best: kill.

The Colonel suspected most of the military personnel would agree with General Kirby. The military was not a babysitter. First and foremost, it was an efficient killing machine. Of course, that did not stop career politicians like Henry Strangefeld from acting like armed forces could be moved around like pieces on a chessboard.

Mann snorted at that thought.

The President glanced back to Strangefeld, who shrugged. “We do know we must try something right now ma’am. You have really no choice but to take the battle to the…um, infected or wherever they may be. The public is expecting it, and if we are seen as hesitating to this threat, then there could be even more panic than there right now. Light infantry, striking quickly will hopefully quell the stem of the tide of infected coming before it reaches a critical mass.”

“We’re already past that stage, Henry. This outbreak is out of control right now.” Vice Chairman Steele rubbed his head as he spoke, seemingly making his bald spots shinier.

“What would you three gentlemen propose then?” Rice spoke up, staring intently at Gatewoods. She hoped another plan was on the table, but Mann knew the other Generals and Commanders did not have enough time to put together a thorough and complete strategy.

Not enough time…

The amount of planning and resources that went into an operation like this would take months, if not at least a year. Preparation for the invasion of Pakistan took more than a year, and required hours and hours of strategy, homework, and research. This infectious virus, having just occurred, would call for a more thought out and attentive attack plan. No one yet knew how to confront those infected on the battlefield. Or even how to stem the mass tide of people escaping the hordes of infected.

Admiral Steele looked at General Kirby, who turned to Chairman Gatewoods. He slowly shook his head before speaking.

“Well, ma’am, we would have to put together a plan, but my advice would be to strike quickly with heavy force. Target specific areas first, contain and eliminate the threats and move on. I believe that in order to successfully fully defeat something of this magnitude, we must concentrate on a few selected targets and not spread ourselves too thin. Mr. Secretary’s plan limits in knowing what we are dealing with, Madame President.”

A sigh came from where Strangefeld stood. The Neo Conservative needed to act, not have a discussion. The Secretary of Defense, and his ilk, believed in action, no matter how foolish or ill planned it seemed. They wanted the United States to exert their power and expand the empire anyway possible.

Gatewoods ignored him and continued. “For example, he is making the situation more complex than it needs to be. This means more time consuming in the long run, which will be more costly in terms of lives, both military and civilian. If we authorize overhead flights to acquire operational intelligence, then we will know what we are dealing with and how to deal with it. I’d say, and most here would agree with me, that the most strategic zones are the ones where the infection has not reached yet.”

Some nods were visible in the room, generally from higher ups on the military chain. The civilian sector remained impassive, probably due to the fact they were to be the ones to tell people in the infected areas the government was not coming to help them.

“Come on, Mr. Chairman. We all know that military intelligence is poor, at best.” Mann glanced over to who made that statement. It appeared to be an FBI representative. Although the Colonel agreed with the man, it was still not something that needed to be said at the precise moment.

“We all know about Iraq and even in Pakistan. The intelligence was gathered for over a year in both cases and in, many cases, was dead wrong.”

Once again, different agencies within the government were actively clashing with each other instead of working together.

Colonel Mann only shook his head.

“That may be true and yet, you have a plan that leads troops into the infected areas. I believe we should isolate ourselves from the infection by barricading the cities and places where the infection has not reached yet. This means waiting for it to come to us. Once we know what we are dealing with and how to deal with it, then we can proceed with a plan, like the one being presented forth today. But it is too soon, in my opinion.”

“Mine too,” General Kirby spoke up.

Admiral Steele raised a hand in the air. “I agree with the Chairman.”

“Agree as well,” General Nicholas stated.

“We also need to think about how many of our assets are currently overseas. I estimate maybe around one fourth of our military strength are not here at the moment. That will affect our planning as well as the fact that we are, frankly put, heavily outnumbered in this fight…”

“Perhaps the Chairman forgets how powerful the military can be…” Strangefeld said mockingly while defiantly folding his hands across his chest.

Gatewoods gazed to the Secretary of Defense. “I believe Mr. Strangefeld forgets that out of the entire two million people in the armed forces, only a few hundred thousand are capable of going out into the field and fighting these infected creatures.”

“Oh please, your type of old school thinking and planning is going to cost us lives…” Strangefeld was cut off by the Chairman waving his finger at him.

“If you please, Mr. Secretary, I was not finished quite yet.”

The Secretary of Defense sighed and flicked his hand in the air. “You tell that to the people caught in the path of those hordes right now. But please, continue General.”

“Thank you, Mr. Secretary. In addition, we would need time to allow FEMA and other federal agencies to help the thousands of refugees that will be trying to escape this epidemic. I’m afraid the United States military is not equipped or trained in this regard. If we send out large units now, I’m afraid that we will just run into larger groups of civilians trying to escape from this infection. So instead of countering this outbreak, the military will be spread out thin trying to handle the refugees that are going to be flowing across the country. Some of us have learned the lessons of Iraq and especially Pakistan, of having our forces spread way too thin.”

Chairman Gatewoods stared right at Strangefeld at the end of his sentence. Strangefeld turned away, ignoring the Chairman in a most obvious way.

Tension filled the air as the room became remarkably quiet.

Mann wondered the real reason as to why Strangefeld suddenly advocated for the use of utilizing the United States military, when earlier was vocally against it. Casper must have been promising him the spotlight and cushy private contractors stocks in exchange for him throwing his support behind the Vice President.

A knock at the door seemed to relieve the strain. Hushed voices began to speak as an aide to Rice entered the room and whispered in the ear of the President. Rice nodded as he spoke to her. Mann tried to read her reaction to whether good or bad news was being given, but failed in doing so. The aide finished and left, making sure to slowly shut the door behind him.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been notified that the House is unable to pass my bill to federalize all forces and make it legal for the military to conduct operations on US soil. It appears that many of our Congressional representatives have already fled the city. Please excuse me…” Rice rose up, with everyone standing well.

As soon as the door shut, the shouting and yelling began again. Mann rubbed his temples, thinking about going to his office and grabbing that bottle of liquor in his safe.

“Fitz, hey Fitz, tell this goddamn son of a bitch that urban warfare is hell!” General Kirby leaned over him, in a heated argument with a Homeland Security drone. Mann shook his head and lifted it at the person Kirby had engaged.

“It’s hell.”

Chapter 2

 

Friday, July 13th, 3:47pm

Ruston, WA

 

Two hours hour later, Roland stood in his living room. Riley paced outside on the sidewalk, next to the dead walker’s body. The disfigured body, twisted in such a way that having a spinal cord intact seemed impossible with other parts pointing at awkward angles. Certainly, the spinal cord was not the only broken piece within his body.

Roland glanced out the window, periodically checking the street for the police whom they called almost two hours before. The two brothers, unsure of what to do with the bodies, so calling law enforcement appeared to be the best option to Madison. She kept trying, even as both Riley and Roland thought the action useless. The situation in the city was extremely dire and with so many calls being placed at once, the emergency communications center apparently crashed.

They spotted some infected sprinting past, but kept out of sight. A group of people in the neighborhood had beaten a woman staggering down the road with bats and golf clubs right in front of their house. Roland did not believe it was such a great idea since they were all now covered in blood from the woman. Plus, he was not even positive that she was infected. Turning to Riley, he saw that his brother had dried blood smeared on his forearm and elbow from their encounter earlier.

Gotta wash that shit off…

Over the last hour, the two brothers observed five families pack and leave. Military jets roared past in the sky, yet this time, none broke the sound barrier. Sirens echoed in the distance, becoming more widespread. Additionally, the sound of gunshots became increasingly frequent.

And closer…

Franklin and Penelope went across the street, partly to seek more information and to see if any other people planned on staying. One man declared his intention to stay and that people could join him at his house, but the two brothers declined the invitation from the neighbor. He flew a Confederate flag in his front yard and Riley did not know what type of trouble that would bring with them. Roland’s gaze found the body of the walker’s son again. His distorted face was beyond recognition, with one half of his glasses jammed into an eye socket. An elbow was twisted at a ninety degree angle, the bone popping out of the skin.

I did that…

Roland’s hand started to shake uncontrollably and he became nauseous at the thought of running over the young man and being solely responsible for his death. He put one hand over the other, squeezing hard, trying to stop the shaking.

It failed to halt the trembling, despite the voice in the back of his head reminding him the walker’s son was about to shoot his brother.

I feel sick…

Roland prayed the shaking would cease before Riley or anyone else noticed it. He could explain the nausea as the July heat getting to him.

Not that anyone would believe that.

All of the sudden, a police car turned the corner and cautiously approached, its lights flashing. “About fucking time,” Riley muttered as Roland stepped out onto the porch. Riley made his way out onto the street to meet the cop, still cursing under his breath.

Instead of stopping, the cruiser rolled past the house as Riley looked on in disbelief. The older Smith glanced back to Roland with an incredulity expression plastered on his thin face. He started waving his hands in the air, trying to get the attention of the officer in the car.

It worked.

The police cruiser braked, and reversed slowly, stopping in front of the house. The door flung open and out stepped a Tacoma police officer. He was a balding, white guy whose gut hung well over the duty belt. Red smears smudged across his navy blue uniform indicated he already had some contact with infected.

“You the fucking mayor’s sister’s husband?” the man demanded as he eyed the two brothers, his hand resting on his sidearm.

“What?”

“And who the fuck are you?” he bobbed his head toward Roland. “I was told just to pick up the mayor’s sister and her husband. You want to add other people, well then, my fee is going up as well…”

“What are you talking about?”

“You aren’t the mayor’s sister husband?”

Riley glanced to Roland, and then back at the officer. “No, we’re just regular folks…”

The cop shook his pear-shaped head and sighed loudly. “You aren’t? Then why the fuck did you wave me down then?”

“Cause we fucking called you guys…”

The law enforcement officer held up his hands. “Buddy, does it look like we have time for your problems? The city is fucking turning to shit with these zombies…and frankly, I ain’t got time to deal with this little shit.”

Roland stepped down off the porch. “Then what the fuck are you doing Mr. Officer? What about serve and protect?”

“Fuck you, I don’t answer to you. Protect and serve what, shithead? The city is gone man, it’s fucking gone. Our station is gone, four of our sub stations as well. Our command post was overwhelmed by those things last night, so now I’m looking for the quickest way out of here.”

With how the officer reacted, Roland could not help but feel a little sympathy for him. He obviously battled through some sort of hell the past few hours.

“Anyways, I’m looking for the goddamn mayor’s sister. I get her, I get a military transport out of this cluster fuck. Do you know where,” the cop glanced down to a paper he had pulled out of his pocket, “Mary Scott resides? The address given to me was wrong…”

Roland shook his head as Riley just laughed. “Why the fuck would I tell you where this cunt lives? You seem to not give a shit about me or my family…”

The cop started nodding and abruptly interrupted Riley. “That’s right, dick face. You aren’t my ticket out of this shithole. She is, so yeah, she’s higher on the priority list than you, asshole.”

“Suck my dick, officer. Go fuck yourself.”

The fat officer started chuckling. “No, you can go fuck yourself. The entire Tacoma police department is decimated, so you are essential already fucked. Now, if you excuse me…”

He was interrupted by the handset on his shoulder squealing.

10David12, dispatch, a woman’s voice replied.

“10David12, here, replied the cop.

You have less than an hour to get to the landing zone with the mayor’s sister or you’re going to be left here…”

“I know. Tell the mayor I’ll have his sister there and he damn better well have a spot for me on that copter. ”

He assured me that you will 10David12.”

“Are the computers still down?”

Yes they are. I’m trying to get a hold of the Mayor to give me the correct address. As long as you get them safely out of there, you’ll be taken out as well.”

“Okay, good. I’ll be there, over.”

The law enforcement officer finished up and peered over to both brothers. “Well, if you guys aren’t related to the mayor of Tacoma, or can offer more than the ten thousand that he offered, then you two can go fuck yourself. I got shit to do…”

“Go on you piece of shit.”

“Fuck you, tough guy. You want my help?” The cop reached for some paperwork on his front seat and handed it to Riley. It was an incident report.

“Fill that out, and then wipe your ass with it.”

“Fuck you…”

HELP ME! OH SHIT! AHHHHH!”

A piercing scream rattled throughout the neighborhood. Looking up, the brothers saw a disgustingly, naked fat guy running toward them. Behind him, an equally naked, nasty obese woman lumbered and was closing in fast.

“What the fuck?” The cop reached for his weapon and took cover behind the driver’s door, which was still open.

Roland believed that on any other occasion, he would burst out laughing. The man’s stomach wobbled up and down as he rumbled down the street. A few paces behind, the woman’s obscenely large breasts ricocheted off her likewise flabby belly.

As he got closer, Roland could see that the man had the shade of red smudged all over him. He held his neck as blood gushed through his fingers. His pace gradually slowed, both from his large size and the loss of blood. The woman finally caught up, and then jumped on his back. They both then collapsed to the ground in a huge jelly shaking motion.

A shot rang out. Roland jolted his head to the sound of it. The cop darted toward the scene, firing his weapon randomly into the two people.

“Noo…nooo…” The larger man reached out a hand to the officer, almost as if he was begging him to stop.

Or he was begging for the cop to help him.

BANG. BANG. BANG.

The woman continued tearing into the man’s back, gashing away lumps of flesh by the mouthful.

BANG. BANG.

The cop emptied his weapon, hitting the chubby guy in the face as his head shattered backwards from the force of the bullet.

The man’s body no longer struggled, the only movements coming from the infected woman as she kept digging, clawing, and biting at the still warm flesh of the man.

“Fucking sick…” The police officer jogged to his patrol car’s trunk and pulled out a shotgun. He was busy loading it when another shriek erupted from farther down the street. Everyone’s head snapped to the horrifying cry.

A second infected person was rushing over.

The loud blast of a shotgun blast caused Roland cover his ears for a second. Another thunderous boom from the cop resulted in Roland glancing up. As the cop was busy focusing his attention on the infected person rushing to him, he apparently forgot about the fat woman behind him. She slowly rose up and staggered to the officer, his back to her as he loaded the weapon yet again.

Riley apparently noticed it as well. Roland’s older brother ran forward, picking up the bloody metal bat still in the yard.

Everything happened in slow motion for Roland. He turned to go back inside the house before Riley dashed past him, in an apparent effort to help the cop out.

He watched Riley sprint up to the lady and swing the bat at her head. The metal bat smashed against her cranium. The woman swiftly whipped her head to the new threat.

A loud cry immersed from her. That same piercing, earsplitting shriek that caused Roland’s spine to tingle. The commotion caused the cop to hastily swing around, his finger on the trigger.

Roland saw what was going to happen a split second before it did.

“NOOOOOO,” he cried out, his voice stuck in the back of his throat

The shotgun went off.

“GOD, NOOOOOO!!”

Riley stumbled backwards, a red stain blooming near his stomach. The dark stain grew larger and larger within seconds. He slipped on the giant pool of blood that had formed on the ground. The woman, unfazed by the blow Riley delivered on her, charged and leaped onto him.

Roland dashed forward to the scene when he watched her bite into Riley’s thin neck. His brother screamed in pain and attempted to push her off him. Roland charged at the woman, not thinking about his safety. The only thought pumping in him was concern for his older sibling. Coming up behind the woman, he socked her in the back of the head. She continued to tear skin away from Riley’s neck, ignoring the blows.

BOOM! BOOM!

The cop still fired at the other charging person.

Roland hit the woman again with his fist. This time, the fat woman responded by turning to him and swiping one of her chubby hands at him. Roland leaped back. He then noticed the bat lying on the ground. Clenching it in his hands, he slammed it on top of head. Pieces of blood and brain spurted out, landing all over Roland’s shorts and shirt.

Winding the bat up behind him, he brought it down on the battered head yet again. The fat woman eventually crumpled under the repeated blows. Roland kept hitting the woman until her head was only a bloody pulp.

Breathing hard and his heart literally pounding out of his chest, Roland stumbled back.

BOOM!

Startled, Roland whipped his head and saw the cop finally took down the man rushing at the area.

Riley.

“Shit, fuck, shit,” screamed Roland. He ripped off his shirt off and placed it around Riley’s wound. Attempting to stop the rush of blood, he knew it was utterly hopeless.

Far too late.

Deep down in him, Roland realized this fact.

Blood continued gushing out and his brother no longer thrashed around. His hazel eyes rolled up into the back of his head, blood dribbling out of the sides of his mouth.

Roland shook his brother, but it was useless. Riley’s body was completely limp.

His brother was dead.

Tears welled up in the eyes of Roland.

“AHHHHH, RILEY! Goddamn it…why??!”

His brother.

His best friend.

Roland started sobbing, his body shaking uncontrollably.

“Awww fuck man…” Roland heard the cop mutter to himself right before a car door slammed shut. Looking up, the officer had gotten back into his car and the vehicle rapidly reversed away.

Franklin, Penelope and Madison sprinted out into the yard. His mom hysterical screamed nonstop. The petite woman dropped to her knees, near Riley’s body.

The fat zombie began to moan, taking Roland’s attention away. He glanced to him. His naked bottom wiggled in front of him. Roland gagged at the smell and sight of the man’s disgusting, hairy ass. He started to rise slowly…

…only to have Roland bring the bat down on his head.

Twice.

Three times.

Roland lost count as he violently bashed the man’s head to a pulp. Blood and tissue flew everywhere, some landing on Roland’s arm and in his hair. At that particular moment, he did not care.

Finishing up and breathing quickly, Roland almost tossed the bat aside when he heard some muffled sounds coming from where his brother’s body was lying.

Riley turned.

“Get my mom out of here,” Roland demanded to Franklin. The tanned carpenter nodded, grabbing Madison. She bawled loudly, looking down at her son and trying to touch him.

“Riley…Riley,” she muttered, reaching out her hands.

Roland slowly walked over.

“Get her into the house…NOW,” Roland repeated, tears streaming down his face.

Franklin and Penelope forcibly dragged his mom into the house. He heard her screaming for him right before the door slammed shut.

Roland had to do it.

He could not let Riley roam around as an infected being.

Gripping the bat tightly, he stood over Riley as his brother moaned and causally opened his eyes. The pupils, now cold and foggy, darted around until they spotted Roland. A low growl formed as his brother started to rise up. Blood still trickled out from the neck wound.

Roland hesitated as his brother stared him down with those unnatural eyes.

“Sorry bro,” he muttered, sniffing loudly.

Roland did not think he could use the bat and hit his brother with it.

I can’t…

What if next week they found a cure for this infection? Nevertheless, he did not believe Riley would want to turn into one of these creatures.

Shrieks from down the block signaled other infected were making their way over. Roland had no time to think about it. Closing his eyes, he brought the bat down on what used to be his brother. Roland did not know how many times he smashed his brother’s head in or how he eventually ended up back in the house.

It was all a daze to him. He finally fell asleep after a few hours of being curled up on the couch, sobbing the entire time.

Chapter 3

 

Friday, July 13th, 9:58pm

Washington D.C.

 

“Ah, shit.” Colonel Mann read a report sent from a Coast Guard unit earlier in the day. Apparently, shutting down the port area in New York City had exploded into a huge and bloody firefight. Looking over the brief report, units from the Coast Guard had been overrun and killed by hundreds of citizens trying to escape the New York area. The Navy was slow to respond, and by the time two navy vessels made their way over, dozens and dozens of little crafts and sailboats had left the area. One paragraph from the report made Mann’s spine crawl:

 

“…Lieutenant Daniels indicted that infected stragglers were occupying the port area when he landed with his small party. Quickly outnumbered, he retreated back to the ship and as ordered, the USS Reagan took a defensive position a mile off the port. It must be noted, a few smaller craft evaded our barrier, and since we did not have the resources to pursue them, they breached the quarantine vicinity and disappeared. Despite our best intentions, we do not know if the contagion was aboard these particular crafts that escaped from our sector…”

 

Mann leaned back in his chair, sighing heavily. This outbreak seemed to be proving a very real threat to the United States. Especially since it appeared that the military was very slow in responding to the initial surge of the dead.

How’s that OUR fault?

The military did not know the threat they actually faced. It had been proven in Caffa and again in New York City.

A knock at the door startled him. He almost forgot about his meeting with Koetter.

“Come in.”

Koetter opened the door and stepped into the room.

The CIA director smiled and extended his hand in greeting.

“It’s good to see a fellow soldier, but more importantly, a capable human being.”

Mann chuckled. “Same here. The shit has officially hit the fan with this…outbreak.”

Hillen Koetter shook his head as he took a seat. “Officially, we don’t know shit. Unofficially, we don’t know shit.”

Mann’s eyebrows arched upwards. “Nothing?”

“Nope. Squat.”

“What about rogue factions of North Korea?”

Koetter sighed. “That was our first thought…after Muslim terrorists, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Nothing. North Korea doesn’t have the ability to produce a missile to hit the fucking Korean Peninsula, much less a sophisticated bio weapon like we’re seeing here.”

“South Korea fucked them up pretty good.”

“Yep.”

“And,” Koetter leaned forward, “Russia and China have both said they had nothing to do with this.”

Mann chuckled. “You believe them?”

The CIA man nodded. “Our sources there collaborate their stories. I’m positive we would have heard something, anything if those countries were responsible. Besides, the last thing those leaders want is a war with the West. They count on us too much as trading partners to fuck that up. Also, they have their own internal problems they are dealing with.”

“You think this could be that bird flu strain that China always covers up? Maybe it finally mutated?”

“Doubt it. We’ve heard that despite the ongoing battle with the bird flu there and in Hong Kong, the symptoms are nowhere near what we are seeing.”

“What about a man-made virus escaping? Maybe the Russians aren’t telling us something?”

Koetter was shaking his head defiantly. “I just don’t think so. We know that they have capacity to develop some pretty nasty viruses, but in this case, nothing has been confirmed. I think with how this spreads, we would have had cases in Russia way before anything developed in New York City.”

“Shit, so what the hell is going on?”

Koetter shook his head. “Fitz, I gotta tell you, no information has come across my desk that could shed any new light on what the fuck is going on.”

“God dammit.”

“I know, this is very unusual. The newest information I have gotten is that this has also broken out in the Bahamas for certain and possibly in The Netherlands.”

“Jesus, what’s going on?”

“You got me. So far, the rest of my field teams have been ordered to not engage these infected hordes…I already lost four men on the Caffa fuck up, and another one was brought in with bite marks all over him. Those sick freaks at the National Center for Medical Intelligence took him in for observation.”

“I’m sorry Hill.”

The ex-Admiral nodded. “It’s war. Nothing that I haven’t seen or been through before.”

“Yet, this seems it’s going to be different than any conflict we’ve seen.”

Koetter bobbed his head in agreement.

The Colonel felt a knot growing in his stomach tighter. If the Central Intelligence Agency had no knowledge, or better yet, much less a whisper of this biological weapon being used, then where did this virus or bug originate from? Even right after 9/11 or the attack in Philadelphia, information came pouring in across the different governmental agencies desks in pointing the finger at the usual suspects. This time though, no intelligence or hearsay about who or what was responsible for this attack was known.

“Great. We got some major shit digging to do.”

Koetter grunted. “Yep. Tell me,” he suddenly whispered, “is it as bad as we think?”

Mann could only nod. “Yes, in fact, I think it’s worse.”

A hush filled the room for a moment, as both men pondered the situation in front of them.

“Oh yes.” Mann broke the silence. “I was going to ask you.”

“Yes?”

“Who was that scientist at the debriefing earlier?”

Koetter leaned back in his seat. “Ah, Dr. Gunzburg?”

Mann nodded.

“Yeah, he’s an interesting one.”

The Colonel chuckled. “Yep.”

“Ahhhh, yes. An odd ball, but he’s stationed on a military intelligence island off the coast of Florida.”

“Works for the National Intelligence? I thought I recognized the name before…”

Koetter grunted. “Supposedly works for the NID. And yes, about a year ago there was a huge stink because he was essentially forced to transfer from DARPA to the NID.”

Mann frowned. “Why was he forced out?”

The former Admiral sighed. “Supposedly, he took the rebuilding of human cells a little too far for their liking.”

“What do you mean? Wouldn’t that be good for our troops? If we could repair damaged cells, we could potentially grow back injured limbs.”

Koetter started to speak, but held back. He looked around the room, almost if he hesitated to continue because he was afraid of being overheard.

“What is it?” Mann felt the tiny knot growing in his gut.

Sighing, the CIA Director finished his thoughts. “He was experimenting on live humans.”

“And?” Mann knew that secret wings of the United States government had to do some not so honorable things over the course of its existence. Whether it was the well known Tuskegee syphilis experiment or the lesser known tests areas, such as Avon Park, Florida. That was the site of researchers releasing millions of mosquitoes on that town in order to test the ability of insects to carry and deliver yellow fever and dengue fever. The United States government always held a dark side to chemical and biological testing.

“He would cut off the limbs of homeless men and women that he brought in, hoping he would be able to repair them. Needless to say, this was without their consent.”

Mann whistled softly. “Wow, I see Uncle Sam sure kept this quiet.”

Now it was Koetter’s turn to frown. “Hey, we reimbursed the victims as best we could and punished the good doctor by stripping him of his titles and making it so he cannot get any more federal grants.”

“But he still works for us?”

“Well yeah. The guy’s really a genius, so we didn’t want him defecting to Russia or China. So we essentially banished him to an island off of Florida, where he has control over a small lab, but with the understanding that it can all come crashing down if he doesn’t cooperate with us.”

Mann leaned back in his seat. “So, where does he get his grant money if the Feds have cut him off?”

Koetter shifted uncomfortably. “He does work for a number of private contractors and pharmaceutical companies. Hell, he has his own army of mercenaries on the island, besides the garrison of Marines.”

“Someone to keep an eye on him?”

“Yes, absolutely. We already switched Marine commanders on the island before this infection because he was too chummy with Gunzburg.”

“Interesting.”

“But,” the CIA Director continued, “As I mentioned before, he’s also known within the science community as a mastermind. We honestly could not afford to lose him to another country or just have him deflect to the private sector completely. So we try to balance it as best we can.”

“Still, he came off as someone who we should keep an eye on.”

Koetter nodded in agreement. “Oh, especially since he’s at the forefront of this infection cure, um, process.”

Mann frowned. “And how did that happen.”

“I told ya, he’s a powerful force within not only the science community, but the pharmaceutical crowd as well. He also still has his supporters in Congress, who manage to keep the political pressure away from him. You ever see him lobby for new funding for research?”

“No.”

“Ah, he’s quite charming. He guaranteed that fool from Massachusetts that he would have a cure for this virus within months if given the right amount of resources. And that certain people in positions of power could take the credit, of course.”

“And Dorchester bought it?” Mann incredulously asked.

Koetter shrugged. “Hell, the senior Senator made it so that his research facility would get as much private funding as he needed. They already bypassed all the red tape.”

“So I find out which company he’s working for and that should tell me which other government officials steered him to the front of the line.”

Koetter laughed. “Yes, find out who’s getting the campaign contributions and payoffs, you’ll find out who’s the man behind the man.”

Mann sighed.

“But, there are really only two or three drug companies that would have the resources to pull this off. One is obviously Duncan Corporations.”

“Yeah.”

“The other two can be either, Folsom International or Conley Pharmaceuticals.”

Mann let out another sigh.

Damn, I need that drink…

“Who do you think it could be?”

“Well,” Koetter stated as he shifted in his chair, “if it’s not Duncan, then my money’s on Folsom. Lots of international money in there. Besides, I’m sure a China or Russia wouldn’t mind getting their hands on a vaccine or cure before we did.”

“Oh I’m sure. Okay, so no to the Conley billionaires?”

“I would say so. They are not the types to do that. But, I wouldn’t count anyone out. There’s billions of dollars to be made if a cure is found for this, err, disease. So, you find out who the mad doctor is working for, then find out which politicians are getting moolah from them and that’s who you have to watch out for.”

“Great,” Mann grinned, “and I was hoping it would be easy.”

Koetter chuckled as he rose. “But, Fitz,” the CIA man’s tone changed, “in all seriousness, you need to watch your back. This is some secret government shit here.”

“Keep me informed?”

The man grinned. “Of course, Fitz. I got your back, especially after what happened in Pakistan.”

Mann nodded. “Thanks.” But a sinister thought entered his mind as the CIA director left the room.

Who’s going to watch your back?

Chapter 4

 

Friday, July, 13th, 11:56pm

Tangerine Island

National Center for Medical Intelligence Facility (known as United States Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on US government maps)

6 miles off coast of Florida

 

The UH-60 Black Hawk expertly landed on the roof of the National Center for Medical Intelligence facility in the darkness of the night. Lieutenant General Dr. Eugene Gunzburg sipped his mug as he stood watching from across the courtyard in his upstairs office. The coffee he chugged down helped him keep awake after his flight from DC. Being in the military, along with having government clearance and friends in high places on Capitol Hill, was useful when wanting to get to a certain place quickly.

His mind snapped back to the scene in front of him.

The test subjects had arrived.

Dr. Gunzburg grinned. He was operating from outside of his usual boundaries. Yet, what was that saying?

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Just like what he was attempting to do at DARPA over a year ago before being dumped like some horrible criminal onto this god forsaken island.

That would change now.

Dr. Eugene Gunzburg was not an imposing figure. In fact, he was a short man, below the average height of a male. From an outsider’s perspective, the doctor gave no indication of how much evil he was truly capable of committing. To keep up the pretense of being normal, he did not let anyone get too close to him or draw too much attention to himself.

Gunzburg blended in well with society, as he plain and average. Not too dashing with his looks or appearance. Not too socially awkward when it came time to mingle with the public.

A slim-build with grayish eyes and an ordinary, narrow face is how Gunzburg would be described by someone. Going bald on the top of his head, he made the decision to keep his brown hair cut short. Dark rimmed glasses covered half of his thin, uninspiring face. Moreover, people immediately trusted and held him in high regard strictly because of his title of being a doctor.

And he used that to his advantage.

The doors of the helicopter opened as two men dressed in black tactical fatigues hopped out. They each welded fully automatic AR-15’s, and would not hesitate to use them. The secrecy of the island caused Gunzburg to hire the best trained men for the defense of the island. Usually, they were former military or law enforcement men, out of jobs because of political correctness. Whether it was ‘accidentally’ killing civilians, punching a superior officer, or selling drugs, these men were at the bottom of the barrel when it came to the best that the military had to offer.

However, that did not mean they were not efficient or capable in their duties. They were, and in some ways, a lot more resourceful than regular soldiers. Resourceful in the sense that the rule of law did not pertain to them and they were loyal to Gunzburg and only Gunzburg. As a result, he rewarded them on the taxpayer’s dime.

Politicians did the same thing, but at least the people working under him were not leeches like the supposed public servants.

Dr. Gunzburg smiled.

Or better known as crooks. At least criminals admitted they were criminals. These men would not deny that they were involved in unlawful and immoral acts. Politicians stole from you with a smile and expected you to just take it. And they would just deny ever doing anything wrong and that it was all for civic good.

For all the public knew, this island was used to find cures for animal and plant diseases. Little did they know the place also experimented on developing biological weapons, using animals as guinea pigs. Ever since the biological attack in Philadelphia, the United States government deemed it necessary to rebuild their arsenal of dirty little bugs, the Biological Weapons Convention Treaty be damned. It was an unfortunate reality of the world, one in which Lieutenant General Eugene Gunzburg took great satisfaction in knowing his work was imperative.

Tangerine Island stood several miles east off the coast of the Florida panhandle, perched in isolation among the vast Atlantic Ocean. The United States Government claimed they controlled the island. In reality, however, everyone who worked on the secret station knew Dr. Eugene Gunzburg really did. His small detachment of mercenaries proved this fact. While there was a small company of United States Marines, they were never involved in the day to day operations. Furthermore, the Captain in charge of the Marines was never consulted or let in on the daily meetings. The less the government knew the better.

Especially, in a time of conflict like this…

Of course, the government could always surprise him with a visit on the island. If they did do that, he would forever be ruined in the science world. But Gunzburg counted on the federals to be too busy with this infection on the mainland to worry about what he was doing on Tangerine Island. Reaching into his pocket, he saw that he had a text message:

 

Funds have been deposited into your account. No word on the government surprising you. I’ll keep you informed.”

 

Gunzburg grinned as he put his phone away. It helped having one of the most powerful US Senators on your side. And Gunzburg would remember his loyalty and reward him for it, whenever that chance presented itself.

The two armed guards held weapons at ready as five men dressed in ragged clothing, presumably homeless, exited the helicopter. Chained together tightly, here would be no chance of escape. Not that anyone would ever escape from this island.

The mercenaries on the island had orders to commandeer several subjects to ‘test’, in hopes of finding a cure for the disease that was breaking out throughout the United States. The problem was the official channels of the United States government had no idea that their own civilians were being picked up to be used as test subjects.

Dr. Gunzburg took another sip of coffee.

Most likely, his men picked up several homeless people. That way, no one would miss them and even if they did, Gunzburg could not imagine someone looking for anyone in this group. His men had been gone only three hours, so he was making excellent time. It would get harder to pick up test subjects as the disease spread and the military began to take action and flex its muscle. Yet, the cost of getting caught was outweighed by another factor. If he found an antidote, his name would forever live in history books as the man who found a cure to the worst disease since the Black Death.

Gunzburg set down his coffee mug as his office phone rang. He picked it up.

His personal assistant, Barney Reid, greeted him over the line.

“Sir, the subjects are here. They are being transported to the holding area,” informed Reid. His squeaky voice seemed to reverberate through the phone.

The man truly had an annoying voice.

“Very well. Get everything ready. We must begin immediately,” Gunzburg replied as he hung up the phone. He grabbed his white lab coat, hanging from his office door, and rushed out.

I can feel the excitement.

Gunzburg stepped out of the brightly lit, clean hallway and into the elevator just outside of his office. He pressed the B button for basement three times, which would lead him to the secret laboratory three stories beneath the first story of the modern research facility. The low humming from the churning of the elevator was the only sound in the enclosed space as the scientist gleefully thought of what experiments he would perform once he reached his laboratory.

Thirty seconds later, he stepped out into a massive corridor and was greeted by two uniformed guards, each armed with Intratec TEC-DC9 submachine guns, or more commonly known as Tech-9’s. They stood next to a heavily fortified door that had a single hand pad, which required your entire right hand to be surrendered in order for the door to be unlocked. Gunzburg nodded to the guards, placed his hand on the pad until it blinked green, and entered the room.

The laboratory was the size of a standard living room. It contained several medical tables where test subjects were to be laid down. A plethora of medical equipment, including X-ray machines, drugs of high value, and numerous plastic tubes and syringes sat in different sections of the room. Several CCTV security cameras were strategically positioned throughout the chamber. The only real difference between this and other laboratories was the five homeless men chained in the corner of the room to each other. Gunzburg studied at each of them and noticed three of the men appeared to be under the influence of either drugs or alcohol. Nonetheless, they all looked very scared and one of them sobbed noisily.

“Barney, begin to take blood samples of the two sober men. We will wait until those others sober up and then we will begin on them,” Gunzburg sounded off, real authority booming in his voice. Despite his diminutive stature, his delivery commanded respect. His sharp eyes looked over each subject, saying nothing to them directly.

Nothing needed to be said.

Two security personnel stood in the corner as a precaution. Dr. Gunzburg had seen how quick and reactionary the infected were. There was no chance that the infected would become loose in his facility.

Nope, they were under his control….

Barney Reid begun to take blood from the sobbing man. The small man filled up a vial of the homeless man’s blood and set it into a holding container. He then did the same for the other sober man. He labeled the vials, humming quietly as he worked.

Gunzburg walked to a large desk in the corner of the room and pressed a button underneath it. Quietly, a portion of the right wall opened up and Gunzburg strolled through it. Lying on several heavy metal beds were six infected persons. As soon as they saw the doctor, they started lashing out and going berserk. They were held down by handcuffs and metal chains.

They weren’t going anywhere.

Gunzburg smiled to himself.

He held the power on this island and enjoyed it immensely.

Glancing back between the infected and the homeless men, he smiled again.

Nature certainly has a funny way of self-regulating itself…

Gunzburg walked to the corner of the secret room and opened a small refrigerator. With careful and skilled hands, he lifted one plastic bag of infected blood out of a holding container. Turning toward an empty bed, he sat down in a chair next to it and started preparing an IV and heart monitor to be put into use. Finishing, he motioned for his security personnel to bring over the first unlucky victim.

Within seconds, the two men dragged the sobbing homeless man near the doctor. By this time, the infected group had whipped into frenzy, doing anything to try and break out of their chains. They let out strange, primeval screams that Gunzburg looked forward to studying. He still did not know if they could communicate with each other.

That’s for a different test, on a different day.

After all, since these creatures shrieked and moaned, they must have a working circulatory system of some sort.

But how?

Different test, different day…

The security men ignored the cries, but the homeless man started to struggle. He proved no match for the two well trained, former military men, who skillfully placed him down on the bed and tied him down without exerting a great deal of effort.

Dr. Gunzburg initiated the intravenous therapy on the man and soon the tube was connected to his arm and to a pole, which held the bag of infected blood. The heart monitor was also attached to his body, so Gunzburg and Reid could monitor his vital signs.

Despite all of the noise and movement in the room, Gunzburg began the process quickly and efficiently. Soon, the blood began to slowly drip down the tube and into the man’s arm. He still sobbed quietly for another minute or so before he unexpectedly hushed up.

Gunzburg began to scribble into his personal medical notes. Reid watched from the doorway, not wanting to get too close to the subject.

Suddenly, the man violently jerked up and down. His face became extremely pale and sweat started breaking out all over his body. He screamed and struggled mightily against his chains. Gunzburg noticed the subject’s pupils had become widely dilated. Blood poured from his eyes and mouth. Gradually, the man’s eyes closed.

Gunzburg scribbled furiously into his journal.

Damn, this sucker worked quickly.

Under a minute again.

Turning his head, he noticed the heart monitor’s line went flat and beeped sharply. Gunzburg swung back toward the man just as his eyes flashed open and his mouth released the same piercing scream as the other infected in the room.

Chapter 5

 

Saturday, July 14th, 8:21am

Ruston, Washington

 

Roland wiped his brow and grunted loudly. He sniffed and rubbed his nose as he dove the shovel into the dirt. Sweat dripped into his eye, causing a small burning sensation and forcing him to stop for a moment.

Rubbing his eye, he glanced at the hole he had been digging up for the past hour. It was probably around six feet deep at the moment.

A final resting place for my brother…

After Riley had been killed, Roland collapsed inside his house for the last half day. His mother Madison tried comforting him, but he just locked himself away in his room.

Unable to sleep, he had been pacing around the room continuously. Guilt overcame his thoughts, gnawing away at him.

Am I responsible…?

His mind raced at the endless possibilities that he could have done to avoid the death of Riley. Staring out his window and watching his brother lay there, he decided he needed to act. A few crows started picking at the body, tearing away bits of flesh. Enraged, Roland dashed outside and angrily waved them from the scene. Glancing down, he now realized he could not leave Riley out in the open like how he was now.

Getting a shovel from a shed in the back, he started digging a hole to bury his brother into. Riley deserved better than to lie there and rot with creatures tearing his lifeless body apart.

Stepping outside the small hole, he gazed around the neighborhood. Nothing happened during the night or morning. Some people fled, and a couple infected stragglers stumbled around the house, but they did not cause any concern.

He coughed, the horrific odor from decomposing bodies overtaking him for a few seconds. Shaking off the scent, he needed to finish what he started.

He slowly walked over to where Riley laid. Covering his mouth, Roland shook his head at the sight. His brother was now just a rotten corpse.

“Sorry I couldn’t save you, bro.” Roland sniffed again.

Putting on some gardener gloves that he never used before, Roland grabbed his brother’s arms and started dragging him over to the hole.

The spot chosen randomly, with it being close to the body and the easiest area to dig six feet into the ground.

Grunting as he finished, Roland gently placed Riley into the hole.

“Sorry again, bro. Sorry.”

He did not know what else to say. His family had never been religious or anything.

What could be said at a time such as this?

Roland looked away as he started throwing dirt onto the body. Glancing over to the house, he saw his mom in the window. He nodded to her as she wiped what were presumably tears from her eyes.

It did not seem right.

Riley should not be dead.

Roland felt his hands shaking as he continued covering his brother with dirt.

This is not right…

He was almost finished when loud screeching from down the road caused him to look up. A truck weaved violently down the street, headed straight for him.

Tossing the shovel aside, Roland dove behind a set of trees.

Seconds later, squealing tires and metal colliding together signaled a crash had taken place. Roland peeked out from behind the trees to see that a black truck collided into his beat up Silver Camry near their front yard.

Fuck…

Movement caught Roland’s attention. A black guy struggled to crawl through the side window of the truck. Roland soon saw why he was trying to jump out of the vehicle. An infected person was on the other side, pounding on the glass of the truck. The man suddenly lost his grip and slipped halfway out of the truck, smacking his head on the cement. The infected person did not notice the man had fallen out and instead continued to punch the glass, managing to get both of its hands through the cracked window.

This guy is fucked…

Roland checked his surroundings. No other infected people were present, although Roland knew that could change in an instant. And, per their usual selves, people in the neighborhood choose to not get involved.

Don’t blame them…

Roland lost his brother because Riley chose to get involved. He would not make that same mistake.

The infected person now noticed the driver was not in the truck anymore and shuffled around the front of the vehicle. The man lay on the ground, blood smeared on the side of his head from the impact with the pavement. He appeared dazed, and moved very sluggishly.

Roland jumped out from behind the trees and dashed straight for the front steps of his house. Looking back, he took a quick glance to the man on the sidewalk.

The black man gazed up to Roland and reached out a hand.

“Help…help me…” He groaned loudly, his dark eyes wide with fear.

Roland ignored him, his one and only focus was getting inside his house. Flight was taking precedent over fight once again. Seemingly in slow motion, he noticed the infected person whip their head toward the sound of the wounded man.

Oh shit!

The female zombie staggered by the hood of the truck and spotted the hurt man. Right before it darted to the helpless man, it sensed Roland and swung around to face him.

Her eyes met his and she let out a terrifying, high-pitched cry.

Fuckin’ shit, Roland thought.

He came to a sudden halt, fear striking his body at once. Stumbling forward, Roland tripped over himself and tumbled in the yard.

The woman let out victorious growl and dashed toward Roland.

SHIT!

A figure rapidly appeared beside him. Roland managed a hurried glimpse and saw it was Franklin. The older man brought a bat back to take a swing at the person.

Roland’s thoughts flashed to Franklin’s death being on his hands right before a huge roar echoed from behind the infected individual. The woman subsequently tripped and fell face forward into the ground. Roland and Franklin glanced at the sudden movement behind the truck.

It was the neighbors that flew the Confederate flag. They steadied a shotgun in their hands. Coming closer, it was the chubby female that causal strolled over to the group. She wore overalls with nothing on underneath, per her usual wardrobe. Roland also noted she was barefoot.

The infected female had been taken down by a shotgun blast to the right side of her body. Normally, a wound like that would have the victim sprawled out on the ground in extreme pain. Instead, the woman was recovering quite rapidly from the fact that her whole right side had been blown away. She crawled in the direction of Roland, her eyes singularly focused on only him. Black liquid dribbled out of her open mouth. If she moaned, Roland could not hear it because of the ringing sound in his ear from the shotgun.

She kept coming to him, dragging her body ever closer to him. That is, until his neighbor brought her weapon up behind the head of the creature and pulled the trigger. Chunks of what had been her brain tissue flew and splattered everywhere.

Roland and Franklin were speechless.

His neighbor was not.

“Momma don’t play. Momma just don’t play.”

She then turned around and walked back across the street joining the man, reloading her weapon on the way.

Roland slowly glanced up at Franklin, who shrugged.

“Remind me not to make fun of her ever again.”

“You got that right,” replied Franklin as he nodded.

Groans from the black man snapped both men out of their trance. Roland hopped up and with the help of Franklin, dragged the hurt man into his house.

Once inside, bandages and water were given to him. The wound of the side of his face almost knocked him unconscious, but he was awake. Roland went into the kitchen and got some Tylenol for him.

“Thanks mon,” he stated in a heavy accent.

Roland handed him another bottle of water. “Uh, it’s no problem, buddy. You seemed to be in some trouble there.”

No need to tell the man that Roland’s first thought was to leave him behind to get torn apart by the infected woman.

He nodded. “Yeah mon. Pretty big trouble. I’m David,” he stated as he extended his hand.

Roland took it. “Roland, and that is Franklin. His wife, Penelope and my mom, Madison are sleeping.”

“Hope you don’t mind the extra body.”

Roland shook his head. “No way, man. We need all the help we can get.”

The three men became quiet for a few moments. The man dabbed the side of his head with the bandages, trying to clear away the dirt and blood clinging there. The snores of Penelope echoed right through the walls of the guest bedroom. Hearing those noises somehow put Roland at ease.

Both Madison and Penelope woke up from the crash, but then quickly fell back to sleep. This probably had to do with the energy they expended during the last day or so. Roland decided to just let his mother rest. She was dealing with enough stress from the death of her older son.

We just rescued this guy from outside…and I almost got killed…

Franklin broke the ice. “You originally from Jamaica?”

“Yeah mon. At the University of Washington right now, running track. Was actually hoping to get back there later today.” He sheepishly looked at Roland. “Guess that’s going to have to wait, huh?”

Roland did not get the chance to answer as his cell phone unexpectedly rang. He jumped, seeing he was actually getting service. Ever since yesterday, the cell phone signals of everybody skipped around. Reaching for it, he was surprised to see that it was one of his buddies, Garrett. He swiped answer on the screen, startled at the call. “Hey man, been trying to reach you…”

“Roland, hey buddy…”

Roland stood up. “What man, I can’t hear you…”

“…need you to come get me if you can…cops outside…” The connection then died.

“Hello? Garrett? Hello?”

No answer. Studying his phone, he still had bars, which meant that his friend hung up on him or his phone lost service. Roland constantly tried calling Garrett for the past two days, but had not been able to reach him. He would not let this opportunity pass by now.

Garrett normally only lived a few minutes away. Yet, with what was ensuing now, who knew how long it would take to get there.

Shit.

“I’m going to my buddy’s house. Stay here and hold down the fort.” Roland rushed to the door before Franklin could protest.

Fuck it.

He then turned back to David.

“Can I borrow your truck?”

David nodded weakly. “Keys are still in the ignition.”

“Thanks.” With that, Roland swung open the door and ran into the chaotic world of the unknown.

 

Roland hopped into the black truck. He swung onto the side street, heading for Garrett’s house. Gripping the steering wheel tightly, he tensed up inside.

What the fuck am I doing?

Being a hero…?

Roland decided that he better not think about this particular course of action that he was now taking.

Because then I would know what I am doing, and might not do it…

The fire burning earlier now raged uncontrollably. The fire truck was still there, but no firefighters were seen in the vicinity. He raced past the stop sign and skidded onto the main street. A figure suddenly stumbled in front of the vehicle. Roland instinctively slammed on the brakes, which caused the truck to screech to an immediate halt. The figure, a man with wild, unkempt hair and shaggy bread, seemed oblivious to almost being run over. Roland then realized the reason for this.

Hazy eyes stared back at Roland. The man was undoubtedly infected. Squinting at him, Roland thought he recognized him. The man lived a few blocks down from the Smith brothers. Roland did not know him personally, but knew him from the political statements he painted on his garage. From the proclamations that he saw, Roland figured he leaned on the left side of the spectrum. So far left he would be in danger of falling off of the political spectrum.

The man finally sensed Roland was in front of him. His mouth opened and let out a scream. Blood dripped from the sides of his lips, which became entangled with the hairs on his face. This caused the blood to stick around the edges of his features. The infected man then started to sprint toward the truck, his arms pumping back and forth heavily. As he came closer, Roland noticed the man wore a tie-dyed shirt, with what appeared to have dark stains on it.

Ugly ass shirt…

Right before the man reached the truck, Roland instinctively stomped down on the gas pedal. The vehicle lurched forward, colliding with the man in full stride. His body flipped over, smashing onto the hood of the truck and into the window. The infected, aging hippie cracked the glass as one side of his body smashed into it.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH….”

Roland was interrupted in mid sentence as the man’s head suddenly turned to him, his mouth open and screaming. The infected man attempted to reach Roland by sticking his hands through the broken glass. Roland did not panic. In fact, he actually felt somewhat composed while in the middle of this predicament.

He slammed on the brakes, sending the man tumbling off the truck. Roland watched as the man rolled a few yards on the road and hop right back up as if the accident never happened. The hippie had his back turned to the truck as Roland pressed down on the gas pedal yet again. As soon as the hippie swung his head in the direction of Roland, the truck slammed into the man for a second time. Roland’s head hit the top of the truck’s ceiling as he ran over the hippie. A sickening crunch was heard as the man’s body was destroyed under the massive weight of the truck. Roland slammed on the brakes again as soon as he finished running over the man. Grabbing the bat next to him, Roland exited the truck.

The man’s midsection and legs were completely crushed. His left leg was twisted at an odd angle, with the foot curled the opposite direction of the rest of his body. Nevertheless, the man still managed to wring his hands out toward Roland and open his mouth to let out a small moan. Roland clutched the bat tighter, prepared to smash the man’s head and kill him again. He hesitated somewhat, anxiety rising up inside him.

For Riley…

A shot echoed out.

The driver’s side window shattered, causing Roland to duck for cover. Another shot rang out, the bullet ripping up the pavement near his feet. This led to Roland rolling under his truck and take cover on the other side. He peeked over the hood of the truck to see who was shooting at him.

A skinny, little black man crouched on the porch of a house. He wore an oversized white-tee shirt, with jeans sagging down past his hips, revealing his boxers. A huge, gold chain hung around his neck and he had two, giant diamond earrings in each ear. He also welded a small revolver.

“Gimme your ride, dawg! Or I’ll pop one in your ass!”

“Come on dude! Stop fucking shooting, you asshole!” Roland glanced about, hoping someone would come help him. The former hippie attempted to crawl to Roland, but clearly had trouble doing so because his broken and mangled legs. Instead, he lifted his back and cried out. Roland grimaced, as the cry was earsplitting. It would also draw more infected to the area.

Another shot rang out.

“Gimme your fucking vehicle!”

Roland shook his head. He had not been looking for a fight, but appeared to have stumbled upon one. Petty fighting between humans would not stop, even in the face of a huge zombie epidemic striking the United States.

Some things will never change…

The black man jumped down the stairs and smiled at Roland. Gold plated teeth shined from the sunlight. It was the same smile that a lion gave a gazelle right before it tore into its meal.

“Yo, muthafucker! I knows you not armed.” He reached the bottom step and hopped off the stairs. He yanked his jeans up as he walked over to the truck.

“I’m talkin’ to yo bitch ass muthafucker!”

Roland stole another glance to the man as he approached the driver’s side door. The man’s eyes were dark red. Roland guessed he enjoyed a certain recreational activity just minutes before.

“Yo muthafucker, I am talking to you. Maybes I won’t shoot you…”

Roland found himself trapped again. For the second time in less than a day, he was being held hostage by a stranger. And just like before, he had no choice but to surrender to the man with the gun. The infected hippie started to move, using hands to slowly drag his body in the general direction of Roland. As a result, Roland positioned himself in the rear of the truck, buying himself a few more precious seconds.

“Come outs, come outs.” The man mocked Roland.

I have no choice…

“Okay, dude, I’m unarmed.” Roland rose up and held up his hands high in the air.

The man grinned. “Yeah, I knows you are.”

Roland made his way over to where the man stood, his gun trained on him.

“That’s right, that’s right…” The black man licked his chops. “Maybe I won’t shoot you…”

Screams cut off the carjacker as a number of obviously infected people rushed over to the two men.

The man gawked over to the sounds. “Fuck! I’m getting out of here…”

With the shooter’s attention focused elsewhere, Roland grabbed the door and swung it open, slamming the gunman right in the gut. He doubled over, clutching his stomach and gasping for breath.

Roland took this opportunity and dove back into the driver’s seat, shutting the door behind him. He quickly started the truck back up. As the engine roared back to life, he looked back to the gunman who had fallen onto the ground.

“Help me dawg! Help me!”

Roland hesitated, gazing at the small horde of creatures flooding the area.

Gunshots made Roland jump in his seat. Slamming on the accelerator, he ended up narrowly missing the infected beings rapidly overwhelming the yard. He turned back to the man, who rose up and fired at the crowd darting to him. One of the creatures jumped on his back, pinning him against the ground. A second infected person grabbed his legs and bit into them, tearing away a mouthful of flesh.

Roland spun away from the grisly scene and pressed down harder on the accelerator.

 

Gunning the engine, Roland raced away from view. He knew he should have tried to help out the man somehow. He felt it in his chest, which tightened up.

No.

The man tried to carjack him.

He was just trying to survive himself…

Yet, then again, this mess ripped his brother away from him hours ago. He frowned as he turned onto another side road. It was every person for themselves, and that is exactly what he planned on doing.

I just lost my brother…why the hell would I worry about someone who was trying to jack my vehicle…?

Cause you’re a human being…

Roland shook his head.

Lost in thought and almost to Garrett’s house, Roland did not even see the police cruiser parked in the middle of the street with its lights flashing. He crashed into the vehicle, sending his face flying into the steering wheel. Screeching to a sudden halt, his whole body whipped back as the car rocked from the impact.

Everything seemed quiet.

Roland blinked.

Everything seemed peaceful.

His vision became blurry, with a sharp ringing in both ears. He sensed warm liquid running down his nose. Bringing a hand up under it, he then brought it back down. Shaking his head and blinking, he observed blood.

You have got to be kidding…

Roland did not finish his thought as hands suddenly grabbed him. His door had been opened and he was pulled out of the truck.

“Get on the fucking ground, you goddamn asshole!”

Roland was thrown to the pavement, his face scraping against the concrete. He let out a cry as the rest of his body tumbled onto the street. His hands were yanked behind him.

“Jesus, first this fucking mess and now some fucking retard crashes into my fucking cruiser.”

“Hey…hey, what’s goin’…?” Roland groggily asked.

“Just shut the fuck up.”

Roland felt plastic cuffs being wrapped around his wrists, tying his hands tightly together.

“What…”

Roland was struck in the face by the man’s fist. His eyes watered as pain jolted through his already beaten nose.

“I said shut the fuck up. Say something again and I’ll leave you to get eaten by those fucking things. You’re not even supposed to be out here. Ignoring the fucking curfew, huh?” The man lifted Roland off the ground and dragged him away from the crash scene.

Roland’s vision was still blurry as he was thrown down on the ground after a few yards. Blinking his eyes, he realized the man who pulled him out of the car was a police officer. A large, lumbering black man with gigantic forearms covered in tattoos.

Roland managed to sit up.

A voice behind Roland spoke up. “You can’t keep me here. I’m…” A cop near the group lifted his shotgun and smashed the butt of the gun into the person’s face, effectively shutting them up.

“Anyone else have anything to say?”

Silence.

“Didn’t think so.” The cop smiled while reloading his gun.

Roland found himself snickering.

The tattooed cop swung back toward him and loomed over Roland. “What’s so funny?”

Roland looked up at him. “This is the third time I’ve been bothered by you assholes in the last day. There will not be a fourth.”

The cop with the shotgun grinned and started to raise his weapon, but was interrupted by the huge, muscular police officer.

“Danielson, leave ‘em alone,” the other cop stated.

Danielson nodded. “Okay, okay Carver.” He nodded to Roland. “You’re lucky, you fucking retard. Woulda smashed in your fucking face.”

Roland spit out some blood. “Yeah, yeah tough guy.”

Danielson proceeded to take cover behind a police cruiser. He blew a kiss to Roland before turning around.

Roland looked about, trying to gain a sense of his surroundings. One cop car blocked the middle of the street on both ends of the block. Three police cruisers were parked on the left, while two more cruisers and a Tacoma Police SUV were to the right of Roland. A Washington State Patrol car sat parked in the middle of the group, along with an unmarked blue police SUV. The cop vehicles stretched up and down the sidewalks and yards. This formed a semicircle barricade on the street. There seemed to be around ten or twelve cops positioned behind the cars.

In the middle of the circle, two black SUVs positioned themselves back to back. One of the sports utilities had its doors opened on both sides. Two men were perched on each side, holding assault rifles. The SUV with its doors closed additionally had two guards on each side, but also had a man positioned in front of the vehicle. Crouching over, he appeared to be talking into a radio.

Roland thought it was strange that such a large group of law enforcement were still in the city, especially since he remembering hearing the police ranks had been decimated. He then focused his attention on the small group of people that had been detained. Six or seven of them sat on the ground, scattered all around with their hands behind their backs.

A man next to Roland spoke up.

“The governor is in that SUV.”

Roland took a quick peek over at the man. He appeared to be in his mid-forties, unshaven, and wild hair. He was also just wearing a tee shirt and boxers, making it certain he was promptly yanked out of his house earlier.

Roland glanced back to where the governor was supposedly waiting.

So, this is where the leader of the state of Washington was…

It did not look like she was at a meeting with local state and federal officials, discussing this emergency occurring in her state.

“Yeah, the governor was getting’ down with my neighbor. Has been for the past couple of months.”

Roland ignored the man, attempting to try and pull the plastic cuffs off him.

“…they would be getting’ dirty. Man, a couple of times, she would be screamin’. Yeah, she was sure a screamer…”

“Dude, can you just shut the fuck up? I don’t really give a shit who was hitting what or where.” Roland spit out more blood as he struggled with the zip ties wrapped around his hands.

“Fine, just makin’…” The man was interrupted by gun shots.

Roland heard the cries of the undead as they rushed the small force. Gunfire erupted up on all sides the barricade.

The man near Roland suddenly started yelling. “Fuck, someone shoot this…”

Spinning, Roland saw a zombie crawling toward the two men. Its legs seemed like they were pulled or chewed away. A wound across his forehead oozed out a yellowish puss, and he was missing his left ear. Yet, the indistinct eyes made Roland shiver.

A cop emerged behind the infected person. He brought up his shotgun and aimed it at the infected being. The gun fired and instead of striking the infected person, pellets blew the throat out of the man sitting next to Roland.

Roland soon found out why as the cop fell face first onto the pavement with an undead person on his back, shredding the dark blue uniform with its fingers.

The man slumped over, blood gurgling out from the massive hole in his throat. Warm, fresh blood squirted onto Roland’s face as the man collapsed onto the ground.

Another cop popped up behind his fallen comrade. He started using his baton to hit the infected person.

The wounded man’s eyes slowly closed as he bled out in front of Roland. He gurgled trying to speak, but the blood rushing from his wound prevented him from saying anything.

Fuck…

Roland could not help but stare at the man. The blood gushing out was not pure red, like portrayed in the movies. Instead, it was more of a blackish reddish color.

Oh god, I’m gonna puke…

More yells ascended from inside the circle. The firefight attracted further undead and the small group of cops and civilians found themselves being overrun.

One woman hopped up and started running. She was taken down by two zombies, who ripped into her with their teeth. Roland saw two cops hop inside their patrol car and take off, running over a person sitting down. The cruiser rattled over the body as it sped away.

A sudden jolt behind Roland caused him to turn around. It was the tattooed cop, Carver. He produced a knife. For a split second, Roland though the massive man was going to stab him. Instead, he cut the plastic cuffs while nodding and moved on to let more people go free.

Roland wasted no time to look for a way out. An infected woman hastily appeared in front of him. She let out a scream as she rushed him. Roland took a step back, right before a patrol car hit her. The woman toppled over the hood before crashing onto the pavement. The police cruiser slammed on its brakes before quickly reversing. The infected woman was still alive, crawling on the road before the tires of the cop car crushed her skull, leaving the bottom half of her body shaking violently.

The pocket of resistance swiftly collapsed. A person with both hands still tied behind their back struggled to maintain their balance despite having two infected people chewing on his legs. A SWAT cop fired his machine gun into several infected individuals before rushing into a nearby house. Roland spotted an officer crawl up into a tree and fire at numerous figures gathered at the bottom of the trunk, desperately trying to follow the cop.

Infected people swarmed all over the place.

A familiar sound emerged from the sky. Roland jerked his head up toward the noise.

A helicopter.

Roland guessed that this is what the small force had been waiting for. When they could not move the governor by ground easily, they decided upon air travel. Just like the cop looking for the sister of Tacoma’s mayor, the politically connected were the ones being rescued with no thought to people like Roland Smith and his family.

Roland took cover as the helicopter landed in the middle of the circle. Gunfire erupted from inside it as two men jumped out and started spraying bullets everywhere. Infected beings, cops, and civilians were mowed down. Roland watched as Carver got hit in the chest and the huge, muscled cop crumpled over in a heap.

More infected were cut down as the men wearing black BDU’s unleashed their firepower upon the whole area. Another law enforcement officer tried to wave off the helicopter security force from the center square, but was promptly shot in the head. The small group of civilians that remained was caught up in the crossfire and being targeted.

The men guarding the governor did not take any chances on who was or was not infected. They just brazenly sprayed the entire area with their firepower, joined by a mounted machine gun from inside the helicopter as well.

The doors of the black SUV were thrown open and the Governor of the State of Washington was hustled in the direction of the helicopter. Two guards flanked her, each taking aimed shots at infected now popping up everywhere. Upon reaching the helicopter, one of the guards shoved the Governor inside and jumped in. Another gunman managed to crawl in as well. The third guard was so focused at reloading he did failed to see the infected person dart out from behind the copter and tackle him. A fourth guard tripped on his way and tumbled to the ground.

The helicopter started lifting off.

Get to the chopppper!!!

Roland shook his head.

Man, my humor is still there…

The guard who had fallen managed to jump up and grab a hold of the landing bar before the helicopter left the ground. An infected person then somehow grasped the guard hanging from the side. As it hovered above the ground, the helicopter titled because of the weight piled on one side of it. The rest of the bodyguards rushed to the two black SUVs.

Roland heard shots being fired from the helicopter and realized the guards inside attempted to shoot at the man hanging off the side. Meanwhile, the guard tried shaking loose the infected person actively gnawing on his legs. Both men were causing the helicopter to tip sideways. A scream erupted from the sky, and Roland watched one of the guards inside the chopper, fall out. He plummeted to the ground.

The helicopter wavered before it nicked the branch of a tree, causing it to violently veer in the other direction. The rotators then appeared to some hit power lines, sending the chopper crashing into a few houses. A huge explosion then spouted upwards, sending a vast orange fireball into the sky.

Roland was so preoccupied with witnessing the crash, he did not even notice the two black SUVs rushing by him. Loud gunshots rang from right behind. Instinctively ducking, Roland realized it was Carver. He unloaded a shotgun into the driver’s side. Glass shattered as Carver apparently hit the driver of the second SUV because the huge vehicle veered off the path from the first SUV. It crashed into one of the police cruisers.

“That’s right fuckers!” Carver limped over to the smashed vehicle. He lifted the shotgun into the shattered window and emptied it inside the SUV. “Fuck you…” Gunfire rang out from inside the SUV. One of the guards was still alive.

“Tryin’ to fuck us over. Fuck you, cocksuckers!” Carver reloaded the shotgun, kneeling in front of the driver’s door. An infected person spotted him and made a mad dash toward him. Carver fired at the individual.

Meanwhile, Roland spotted the back door of the passenger’s side swing open. One of the guards staggered out in obvious pain. He reloaded his weapon, and fired at two infected beings rushing toward him.

Carver finished blowing off the head of the person that had come at him. He limped over to front of the vehicle and peered over. Roland noticed Carver waited for the guard to finish off the infected persons sprinting toward the scene. The guard expertly dispatched the two targets and turned his head at the front of the vehicle. The last thing the mercenary saw was a shotgun poking around the hood of the SUV.

Carver pulled the trigger, plastering the guard’s brains and parts of his face on the passenger’s side door. The body slumped over, the left hand of the guard twitching the trigger, firing a few rounds into the side of the SUV.

Roland staggered out from behind the cover of the vehicle. Movement caught his attention.

It was just a teenage boy. He made eye contact with Roland before jogging away.

How the fuck do I get out of here…

“Ah, fuck…”

Roland glanced over to the voice.

It was the cop who had cut his zip ties. He was reloading his gun and limping out to the open.

He seemed like the type of person you wanted to join up with when the shit hit the fan.

And the shit had indeed hit the fan in Tacoma…

That thought in his head, Roland dashed over the huge policeman. “Let’s get the hell out of here, man.”

Carver shook his head. “Get the fuck away from me…”

“I got a safe place nearby…”

The huge cop continued shaking his head. “What did I just say? Huh? I don’t want your goddamn fucking help.”

Carver hobbled over to one of the police cruisers. Ripping open the driver’s door, he leaned in and collapsed onto the seat.

He weakly reached for the radio.

“Dispatch…anyone there…”

Empty air.

“Dispatch, anyone…”

A voice stammered in response. “Th…this is…dispatch, who…who is this?”

Carver groaned before replying. “Officer Marcus Carver. I was with the group to pick up the Governor…”

“Wait, you were with the Governor? Where is she?”

Carver snorted. “Uh, her helicopter went down…”

“What? Is she dead?”

“Excuse me, but we just lost a ton of good officers because mercs decided to kill everyone…”

The radio was silent for a moment.

“Copy that…Officer Carver was it?”

A more authoritative voice spoke now.

Roland made his way to the side of the police car.

“Yes, this is Officer Carver. This is a different voice, who is this?”

“This is Major Henderson, National Guard. Why don’t you meet us at the station on 26th Street? We are currently rallying there.”

The Tacoma cop laughed out loud. “Stop bullshitting me. I just came from the station on 26th Street. It was destroyed and burned down.”

No response came back.

Carver hovered the radio up near his mouth. “Next time you lie, make sure you can actually sell it.”

The radio came back to life. “Well, well, good luck Officer Carver. Looks like you’re on your own. See you in hell.”

Carver punched the steering wheel. “Goddamn it!” He hit it again more forcefully.

Roland’s phone rang out.

Carver swung to him, a weapon pointed right at his head. “What the fuck are you still doing here?”

Looking down at his phone, he saw it was a text from Garrett.

 

I see you buddy. Coming out right now to get you

 

“I think we both need a ride out of here…”

A crashing sound caught both men’s attention. A mini-van came screaming out from behind a fence, knocking it over as it sped across someone’s yard toward the two men. Carver was bringing up his weapon to fire until Roland motioned him not to.

“It’s one of my buddies.”

Garrett’s van pulled up to the two men.

Carver grimaced and shook his head. “Well, at least now we have a ride that won’t get shot at.”

Chapter 6

 

Saturday, July 14th, 11:23am

The White House, Washington DC

 

Colonel Mann was stopped from going into the Oval Office by two military officers.

“Sorry, sir, but our orders are to stop anyone from coming in right now.”

Mann looked at the two officers and then back at the Secret Service Agent standing off at the side. He just shrugged.

“May I ask who the President is speaking with?”

One of the officers nodded. “Yes sir. She is with Vice President Casper, Secretary of Defense Strangefeld, National Security Advisor Alfred and General del Estrada.”

Mann felt his chest tighten. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” They both saluted as Mann strolled down one of the hallways and took a seat on a nearby chair.

The Colonel yawned from the lack of sleep he had gotten. Furthermore, his meeting with CIA Director Koetter netted him exactly zero information which could be used to help President Karen Rice.

Great.

Mann knew exactly what they were discussing in the Oval Office with President Rice. They wanted the President to strike quickly with a military option that Secretary of Defense Strangefeld introduced. It was already given a nickname: The Strangefeld Doctrine.

And Mann saw that the Defense Secretary had taken pride in it.

“I don’t object to it being called the Strangefeld Doctrine. I think this is a very important conflict and I am pleased to be identified with it and will do whatever I can to win it,” the author of the war strategy stated during a recent press conference. The media had clearly eaten it up, in awe of the man as he explained the numbers and figures of the approach the government would use to combat the wave of infection.

The basic tenants of this particular policy were that of ‘shock and awe.’ Instead of using a bulk force of troops and equipment to counter a threat, it would utilize small, nimble ground forces. When the targets were spotted, airstrikes would then be called in to destroy it. The Strangefeld doctrine, in military terms, stressed reliance on high technology and air power and downplayed large ground forces. In short, as the Secretary of Defense summoned it up “…employ fast-moving, lightly armored forces supported by hi-tech weapons…” Mann would not normally disagree with that sort of option for warfare.

While the results had been disastrous in Iraq and Afghanistan when using this sort of doctrine, it was successful in Pakistan. Mainly, due to the absence of political correctness on the battlefield. No longer did have troops have to wait to be fired upon before they could deem someone a threat. No longer did the local commanders consult with corrupt government and tribal leaders of that particular region. And finally, no longer was the United States military considered ‘A Global Force for Good.’ Finally unleashed as the killing machine it was supposed to be in the first place.

And yet, how would one lead a campaign of ‘shock and awe’ against an enemy that did not fear you? This was an enemy that would not be affected by things such as fatigue or even seeing their fellow zombies blown up in front of them. Their only goal was to kill and eat as many human beings as possible. Mann knew that the usual military tactics would not work against this type of adversary.

Remembering back to the India-Paki conflict a few years ago, Mann thought of former Air Force Chief of Staff, a Kurtis Emerson who famously led bombing campaigns that snuffed out the Islamic extremists hiding in cities of Pakistan.

“I’ll go and make Dresden look like a cakewalk,” the general declared right before the bombing began. Despite the fact high number of civilians had been killed, the whining from the United Nations was ignored. It was a useless shell of an organization nowadays, disregarded by a number of nations because of its incompetence and ineffectiveness when it came to dealing with the world’s troubles. Regrettably, this conflict might need a strategy such as the one led by Emerson to actually succeed in defeating the massive waves of infected pouring into the cities.

However, when the planning involved people like Bruce Casper and Samuel Alfred, then the Colonel recognized there would be another angle. Those two men had higher aspirations they wanted to pursue. But Mann never believed an epidemic of these proportions would actually cause the two men to accelerate their own ambitions.

He also figured that the amount of troops to be used in this strategy was a low ball number. While the first portion of fighting the infected might not involve large numbers of troops, it was the second part of the battle that worried Mann, and apparently Chairman Gatewoods. That component involved maintaining control and lawfulness in the regions where the troops were stationed. US troops would have to embrace the role that law enforcement normally took, which could turn into a huge cluster fuck. Or, in words that leftist radicals and anti-war people might use: an illegal occupation.

As Mann learned all too well, occupying a city almost never worked. Rapidly shifting into a bloodbath, not only from the infected, but from people who did not want to be taking orders from the military.

“Hey Fitz.” The Secretary of State Diane Edgewater snapped Mann out of his trance.

“Hey.”

Edgewater sighed loudly. “So, I hear that the President is meeting with the Four Horsemen.”

Mann chuckled. “Yeah. They are trying to sell her that ‘strike quickly and lightly’ plan. I frankly don’t like it.”

“Me neither, but the administration has to be seen by the public that they are doing something. Even if it is foolish or ill will.”

Edgewater was unquestionably a politician with that statement she just made. While she was a registered Democrat, she also favored a strong American presence overseas and had been hand selected for a position in Rice’s cabinet by Senator Martin Everett, a powerful Republican party elder, for this particular reason. A liberal in the sense of the 1960’s Democrat John F. Kennedy type, she voted in favor of the resolution to send United States soldiers to Pakistan in order to combat the Islamic extremist threat. For that, the far left disregarded her, but the neo conservative branch of the Republican Party accepted her with open arms.

Mann groaned as he leaned back in the chair. “We need to make sure that the President knows that there are people within her cabinet that are on her side.”

Edgewater scratched the top of her of her graying hair. “It’s obvious that Strangefeld and Alfred are in Casper’s back pocket.”

“Who the hell had Rice appoint Alfred as the National Security Advisor? I mean, I know that he is qualified, but sheesh, he is not acting in her interest.”

Edgewater nodded. “It was Senator Martin Everett.”

“The neocon from Washington State?”

“Yep. He told Rice that it would be easier to rein in the more neoconservative of the party if she chooses someone like that. And since he’s the Senate Majority Leader, he had a ton of pull behind him.

Mann sighed heavily. If Senator Everett pulled the strings in favor of Vice President Casper, then Rice was in bigger trouble than he thought. Senator Martin Everett was considered one of the more prominent conservatives in the Republican Party, and since he was Senate Majority Leader, Mann realized that he was up against a more powerful adversary than he first thought. A bulk force in the senate, and as chairman of the very powerful US Senate Committee on Appropriations, carried a ton of clout within Rice’s own party. In fact, he turned down the position of Secretary of Defense when Rice was first elected, knowing that if Republicans controlled the Senate, he would have more power as Majority Leader.

Voices down the hallway carried toward them. It appeared that the Four Horsemen were done meeting with the President. Vice President Casper was laughing and slapping the back of General del Estrada as they rounded the corner. The smug look on the Vice President’s face seemed to grow immeasurably as soon as he spotted Colonel Mann.

Mann sat up and saluted the General, who almost seemingly gingerly returned it. General Diego del Estrada was a known conservative, who believed in a strong, resourceful US presence overseas. High up on the command chain of the United States Army and known as a regular friend of Senator Everett and National Security Advisor Alfred. Additionally, his son Cruz del Estrada was president of Mercury Rising, a defense contractor, which got millions from the Pentagon in contracts. One of the reasons for this was Representative Felipe del Estrada, the brother of the dear General by the same name. It was a never ending circle, encompassing both public and private figures within the United States government.

“Hey, Colonel, Secretary Edgewater.” General del Estrada continued down the hallway in his usual manner of not confronting anyone. He did things behind the scene. On the other hand, the Vice President had no problem confronting anyone.

Mann came face to face with the Vice President. “Casper.”

The arrogant, self-serving young man from Wyoming sneered. “Colonel.”

“Meeting didn’t go as planned?”

Casper chuckled. “Yep. Your President stood her ground by not green lightening this particular plan.”

Now it was Mann’s turn to grin. “Well, well, hope your precious ego isn’t hurt too much.”

Casper smirked and began to walk away. He then abruptly turned around. “But, I wouldn’t read too much into her objection. By tomorrow morning, she will give the go ahead for the plan. She’ll have no choice but to.” The Vice President swung back down the hallway, snorting loudly.

That was an indirect threat.

Actually with Casper, it could be interpreted as a direct threat.

Mann turned to Edgewater. “Find out what he is up too.”

Secretary of State Edgewater nodded. “You got it.”

 

“I don’t trust them, Karen,” Mann explained as he took a seat across from the President.

Rice sighed. She rubbed her temples in slow, circular motions. “I know, I know.”

“Karen, they have their own agenda…”

The President pounded her fists on the desk. “You don’t think I know that…”

Her outburst caught Mann off guard. Usually, Rice could just sigh loudly and that was the indication that she was getting irritated. In the twenty years that he had known her, she only a few flare ups. One of those major eruptions was the day her dad mysteriously died.

Rice quickly regained her composure. “Fitz, I’m so sorry, you know I don’t mean…”

Mann held up his hand. “It’s okay, Karen. Really, you are under enormous pressure.”

“It’s just so…hard. I don’t know if I can handle…”

“You can. Remember your commercial for when you ran for President? How you said that the hardest job you’ve ever had was being a mom? And how Keaton’s hardest job was making sure his socks matched in the morning?”

Rice’s face broke into a smile. “You always know how to cheer me up. Besides, he deserved that after the piece he ran saying how I was a single mom and that I should take care of my kids first and worry about politics secondly.”

“You’re right Madam President. Hit the man in the nuts. Speaking of that, what did the Four Horsemen want?”

Rice’s smile quickly disappeared. “They wanted me to give the okay to begin the operation that Strangefeld introduced. He’s already calling it the Strangefeld Doctrine, that arrogant man. Shock and awe, with less casualties on our side. I said not yet.”

“What did they say?”

“Casper said by tomorrow morning I would be forced to give the okay to start the action and that I would invoke the Insurrection Act.”

Mann rubbed his hands together. “We’ll find out what he’s up to, Karen.”

“Former Vice President Frederick Ceylon called me today…”

“What did the hippie from Minnesota want?”

Rice shook her head slightly. “Just warning me about Bruce Casper. Said he’s a power hungry monster and will do anything to get into my position.”

“As much as I dislike Mr. Ceylon’s politics, he’s right about that. Casper will do pretty much anything to become President. He is a very dangerous man at the moment.”

Rice continued to rub her temples, not responding.

“Oh, I did want to ask you…”

“Yes?” Rice did not glance up.

“What did Casper do to keep you from the meeting yesterday?”

Rice did not answer immediately, as she pretended to continue to glance over a report on her desk.

“You’re not fooling me.”

A grin broke out across her face. “I could never fool you.”

Mann managed a smile as well. “Nope, you couldn’t.”

Rice looked up to Mann, the grin on her face now gone. “Strangefeld said they might have found the plane that my dad was in when it went down over Laos.”

Shock jolted Mann straight up in his chair. “What the fuck?!”

“Yes, but also said that they were having trouble coordinating with the official channels over there because of this outbreak.”

“Yeah, how fucking convenient.”

“Uh huh, I’m beginning to…”

The President was interrupted by a knock on the door. A secretary stuck their head inside. “Excuse me, ma’am, but Speaker Vineyard is here.”

Mann looked at Rice.

The President shrugged. “She’s here unexpectedly. But I know what it’s about.” She glanced back toward the secretary. “Give me a minute.”

With a curt nod, the door was shut.

“Why is she here?”

Rice cracked her knuckles loudly. “A few of the liberal House Democrats were going to stall the bill, before most of them took off and left the city. So then I heard from my sources that she was going to have that kook from Ohio do a round of interviews on the networks to embarrass me. But, I’m on to her and I’m going to follow her plan.”

“I’m not following…”

Rice smiled. “You’ll see. I didn’t become President without rubbing my elbows in the greasy political world.”

Mann smirked. “Of course.”

Karen Rice was very intelligent. If she had a plan, then Mann knew she already thought out the process. After all, no matter what the average person said, the President of the United States was an intelligent individual. Whether a Democrat or Republican or third party candidate, no one climbed the ladder of the political landscape by being an idiot despite what the public thought. And Karen Rice started off as a part time city council member and then decided to run as a state senator and to her surprise, she defeated the incumbent candidate quite easily. Next step was Governor of the state of Florida, followed by the historic election of the first black female President of the United States.

“Do you want me to leave?” Mann shifted in his chair. He hated the political pissing matches that took place constantly.

“No, it’s better if you disagree with what I say.” Rice rose up from her seat behind the desk and went to open the door.

“I’m still not following…”

Rice just grinned. “It’s okay. Just disagree with me.” She poked her head outside and called for the Speaker of the House. Answering the call, Patricia Vineyard came waltzing into the Oval Office.

“Thank you for seeing me on short notice, Madame President,” the multi-millionaire from California stated. The never ending smile was plastered on her face as usual, presumably from numerous Botox injections. She noticed Mann and although her expression still displayed a smile, the Colonel knew that she was not happy.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that you were in a meeting…”

The President gave a little wave as she took a seat. “Colonel Mann and I were just discussing some policy.”

Speaker Vineyard remained standing.

President Rice pulled up her seat and gazed at the Speaker. “Yes, Mrs. Speaker?”

“Uh…um,” Speaker Vineyard glanced toward the Colonel. “I was hoping to speak to you in private.”

“I’m sorry, but I’ve appointed Colonel Mann as my Special Advisor. He’s insists to be more involved now.”

Speaker Vineyard looked at Mann, who gave her his cheesiest smile.

“Very well, Madame President,” Vineyard mumbled. She took a seat and cleared her throat. “Madame President, we all know the situation happening right now is very grave.”

“Of course.”

“And, well you have my complete support in private, Madame President.”

“I see.”

Speaker Vineyard’s grin was somewhat wiped away. Her eyebrows arched in surprise, but Mann noted that they were always like that.

“Madame President, my side of the aisle is mostly with you. Yet, I have to…”

“Appear concerned to placate the fringes on your side.”

Mann did not think it was possible, but the beam on the Speaker’s face became wider. She clasped her hands together.

“I’m so glad you understand!”

“Oh, more than you think,” Rice said. Her eyes glinted while giving a small nod to Mann.

“Anyways, the reason why I am here, Madame President is to, hopefully, get you to agree to balance the elements of the military with some civilian components. What we need, Madame President is a civilian army.”

Rice nodded her head deliberately, as if she was thinking it over.

“Madame Speaker, I have to agree with you. We must worry about the, what do they say, military industrial complex?”

“Yes, yes,” the Speaker squealed.

Rice glanced over to Mann. “What do you think, Fitz?”

Mann sagged his shoulders, exhaling purposefully. “I would have to think it over, Ma’am, but this doesn’t sound like a great idea…”

Speaker Vineyard shook her head. “I must respectfully disagree with the Colonel. I’m sorry, but you being a member of the military, well…that just excludes yourself from this decision.”

“Hey, now…” Mann feigned some anger.

“Hold it you two,” Rice quickly interrupted the two individuals. Her gaze settled on the Speaker. “I will consider your proposal. Is there someone that you have in mind for being in charge of this ‘army’?”

“Yes, Madame President. His name is Senoj Nav, head of the Emerald Task Force. He is ready and willing to serve this administration. This CC, or civilian community as I like to call it, would help with the rebuilding of the neighborhoods where the military cannot reach. They would also rebuild trust and respect with minority or poorer communities, something that cannot be left in the hands of the United States military.”

“Ma’am, I must protest and disagree…”

Rice stopped Mann. “Fitz, I appreciate your opinion, but I believe that this may be an ideal situation.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Speaker Vineyard rose up from her chair. “Thank you, Madame President,” she stated, extending her hand to Rice. “My aides will be in contact with you to arrange another meeting and hash out the details.” The Speaker did not even acknowledge Mann as she exited the room.

“Well, now, what exactly is she up to?” Mann demanded as soon as the door closed.

Rice turned to him. “She wants to start a civilian corp. Basically a muscle move for her and her followers.”

Mann sneered. “Just say it. Certain segments of government are starting to make some noise.”

“They are.” The President turned and glanced out the windows.

The Colonel sat up. “Well, just another group to watch. Think you can handle them?”

Rice spun around suddenly. “That’s just the thing. I don’t know if I can.”

 

Speaker Patricia Vineyard strolled away from the Oval Office, feeling the confidence rising in her. The President accepted her proposal of having a civilian arm of the government take action. Her plans were sluggishly falling into place. Taking out her cell phone as she departed the grounds of the White House, she placed a call to the number given to her. Vineyard did not know who she was talking to or even what organization they were a part of. She only knew the man on the other line was very elite and powerful. He exhibited this fact numerous times, mainly by bankrolling Vineyard’s campaign and getting her chosen as Speaker of the House.

“Hello?” The voice on the other end of the line sounded gruff.

“Um, yes…it’s Vineyard.”

“Well?”

“The plans have been set in motion. The President has agreed to a civilian army to help with the outbreak that is happening.”

“Good, very good,” the voice stated. “You have so far made yourself useful. Continue doing so and contact me when it is final.” The line clicked as the mysterious man hung up.

Vineyard climbed into the limousine waiting for her, flanked by SUVs with numerous armed security. As she watched the White House fade from view, the Speaker of the House exhaled anxiously.

What had she gotten herself into?

Chapter 7

 

Saturday, July 14th, 9:23am

Ruston, Washington

 

Garrett and Roland helped Carver into Roland’s house. Although the huge cop had been shot in the chest, the bullet proof vest undoubtedly saving his life. The only wound he appeared to have suffered seemed to be a sprained ankle. It was quite a task trying to support a six foot four, two hundred and ninety pound man. Adding to that difficulty was Carver trying to keep the weight off of one foot as he limped toward the house. Garrett and Roland were both out of breath and sweating profusely once they reached the front door.

Franklin yanked it open, and without saying a word to the three men, pushed them all inside. Penelope and Madison quickly provided water and snacks to the group. Roland observed that while Madison attempted to be a mother like figure to the small group, Penelope did her best to stir up all the wild emotions in the house.

“Oh thank god, help is here! Where is the rest of the police department?” she cried out as she threw a water bottle at the huge cop.

Carver chuckled loudly as he twisted open the cap on the bottle. “Excuse me?”

“Well, you’re a cop, right? You must help us!” she shrieked hysterically.

Carver mockingly looked behind him as if he was searching for other police officers. “Lady, does it look like I can help you? I don’t exactly have any backup.”

Penelope leaned over and put her face right in front of Carver. The beak-like nose of hers was inches away. Dark, beady eyes danced around wildly.

“You’re a fucking police officer…”

“Uh, yeah…”

“Honey please…” Franklin tried calming down his wife.

She swung her head back up, her black curly hair bobbing about. “No, he’s a fucking cop! He’s part of the government, right? He’s supposed to help us…”

Carver laughed noisily in between taking sips of water. “Help you? How?”

Penelope stomped one of her feet on the ground. “I don’t know! Don’t you have, like special places set up to help us out? Like, where’s the Army? They should be defending us from these…these things!”

Carver just continued to shake his head. “Listen, lady I was almost just killed…

“Quiet asshole, you were shooting people out there…” Garrett interrupted the man.

“No, I wasn’t…I was protecting myself and my colleagues.”

“What about protecting us?” Penelope screeched, cheeks blushing an extreme red tint. “You probably know what’s going on, don’t you?” Her finger was pointed directly in his face.

Carver did not answer her and purposely took a long sip of water.

“Yeah, you fuckin’ pig, what the hell is going on?” Garrett likewise wasted no time in letting Carver know just how he felt about him. While his feelings were partially based on the fact that cops just shot up his neighborhood and killed some people, Roland knew that it was partly also because of the trouble that Garrett caused in high school. That trouble led him meeting with Tacoma’s finest on more than one occasion because of his short temper.

The massive cop grunted. “You two think I know what the hell is happening…?”

Garrett snorted. “Who the fuck was pulling people out of their own houses and handcuffing them?”

Carver tossed the empty water bottle away and rose up from the chair he was sitting in. “Listen, you little shit, I was following orders and trying to protect the governor. I had no fuckin’ clue that there were fuckin’ psychos running around out there till last night. Besides, there was also a fucking mandatory evacuation in effect. You forget about that part?”

Roland attempted to sit in between the two men, but was shoved aside by the giant cop.

“Fuck you. Those people died because of you…” Garrett balled his fists up. Roland’s friend, although still smaller than the cop, was bigger than anyone else in the house. And Roland knew that was only because of his main diet of chips and beer. His shaved, oval head matched his equally, rounded figure. As Garrett started to move, his whole body shook with each step.

“Call me a pig one more time…”

“Pig…”

“I’m gonna fuck you up.”

Dubya started to bark loudly, realizing the heightened tension in the room. Roland braced for a brawl between his friend and the enormous law enforcement officer.

Madison then stepped in. “I think we are all just a little overwhelmed by what is happening right now. So let’s take a moment, regroup and stop arguing with each other.”

The tension in the room pulled back somewhat. Madison seemed to be trying to drag everyone together. It appeared to be her way of coping with the loss of Riley. In fact, she had not mentioned his name since his death. Garrett was equally devastated by the news of Riley, as Roland told him what occurred while driving over.

Everyone was on their last nerve with what was happening in the country.

Roland figured that he took the news especially hard because his whole family was out of town on vacation in Hawaii. Garrett mentioned his parents and two brothers were safe, but that he had not heard from them in half a day. Yet, as far as Roland knew, the infection had not reached Hawaii. And the chances of it hitting the islands decreased greatly once the powers that be announced a quarantine of all flights coming to Hawaii.

David still drifted in and out of consciousness, and it was agreed to move him to the guest bedroom. Once that was done, the small gathering of men and women congregated in the television room to discuss on what exactly their next move should consist of in light of their circumstances.

“We should go to a military base,” Penelope offered up.

“No, that is not a good idea,” Carver cut her off right away.

“Why not? How do you know…?”

The huge cop shook his head. “I was in the Marines, ma’am. First thing a base commander is going to do is lock down his base…”

“Who are you anyways? Huh?” Penelope’s shrill voice interrupted him.

Roland stepped forward. “Hey, this guy saved…”

“Bullshit, Ro and you know it,” Garrett forced his way into the conversation.

Carver turned to him. “What are you saying there, tough guy?”

“Already said it, soldier boy. You caused people to get killed.”

Everyone’s emotion was building up yet again. Roland feared that a small brawl could break out with how Garrett was continually provoking the cop.

“You’re a cop, you should be helping us! We need help!”

Of course, Penelope freaking out was not helping calm the situation either. Franklin tried to quiet her down, but she pushed him away.

Guess we know who wears the pants in that relationship…

Carver stalked over to Garrett, who surprisingly did not flinch in the face of the massive figure looming down over him.

“Say what you got to say, tough guy…”

“I will…”

Roland again stepped in the middle of the two men. Unfortunately for him, this time Garrett pushed the larger man over the edge.

“…fuckin’ dirty pig…”

Both men swung at the same time. Neither man connected with each other. Instead, Garrett’s fist did find a target in Roland’s nose.

“Ahhhh,” cried Roland as his eyes watered. He stumbled backwards and slumped against the wall.

“Shit, man I’m sorry,” Garrett stated to him.

“Nice job, champ,” Carver said sarcastically.

The two men approached each other again and seemed on the verge of throwing punches once more. That is, until Madison stepped inside the tiny formed circle.

“Both of you stop. We have enough to worry about right now.”

Garrett started laughing until Madison shot him a look. “Garrett, I expect better behavior from you. Especially with what is happening now…”

“Yeah, you better listen to this lady,” Carver said before he too was interrupted by Roland’s mom.

“And you need to set a better example…”

Carver held up his hands in protest. “Ma’am, I appreciate your hospitality, but I’m not going to let some punk talk to me like that.”

Madison surprised everyone by snorting. “Yeah, I understand that officer. Garrett here can be quite the pain in the ass. Trust me, I’ve known him since he was in middle school.” She faced the cop. “I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I just lost a son to this virus or whatever it is.”

Carver glanced to the ground. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Madison shook her fingers at the two men. “We’ve already been through enough today. Right now, we need to come together and figure out our situation. We need to work together and stop this petty fighting.”

“Yes, Mrs. Smith.” Garrett swung around and stuck a helping hand out to his friend.

Roland swatted it aside. Lifting himself off the ground, he grimaced in pain. He staggered to the bathroom, holding a hand under his nose to catch the blood that was spilling from it. Turning on the faucet, he splashed cool water over his face. The sink wasted no time turning red with the blood flowing out of his nostrils. His nose had taken a beating the last few days, with it again swelling up.

Roland glanced at the mirror in front of him. Dark brown eyes stared back. His olive, tan skin was drenched in sweat and dried blood, with dirt smeared all over his face. His wound just above his eyebrow had healed somewhat, yet the gash was probably going to leave a scar. In addition, still some glass buried in his arm from earlier in the day. He picked at the tiny specks, grimacing as they ripped away from his skin.

Anxiety gradually rose up inside Roland. He thought about the events of the past day. From Riley using a bat to beat a walker in front of their house, to him bashing his own brother’s head with the same exact bat. He started breathing more heavily, trying to not lose control. He felt the urge, deep down, of his old self calling out to him.

NO.

He could not think about what he used to do to calm himself.

That involved getting high…

NO.

Roland clutched the sides of the sink tightly.

Focus elsewhere…

He thought about going to help his friend Garrett and seeing the shootout between cops, civilians, and infected. He watched people die right in front of him. And instead of sorrow flowing through him, he felt relief that he had not been bitten and infected.

Unlike Riley.

His own brother.

His best friend.

I couldn’t save him…

Right?

It had been an extremely strenuous and horrifying last couple of days.

And that was not even mentioning the man he ran over with his car in order to save his brother’s life.

Roland took a hard gaze at the mirror, the brown pupils of his growing larger.

He actually killed someone.

Trying to protect Riley.

Nevertheless, he knew shaking away the guilt deep down in him would not be so easy.

He suddenly thought of his father. He would know what to do in a situation like this.

Or would he?

He breathed deliberately, trying to hold back the tears from the thoughts of Riley and his dad. And now with his best friend gone, the burden of what was unfolding weighed more heavily on his shoulders.

He now realized no one else was going to help him through this ordeal. Roland was truly by himself and the frightening thought was this: he did not know if he could handle it while sober.

Hunched over, he started quietly sobbing.

What am I going to do…?

Movement then caught his attention outside. Roland turned to look out the window, which had a view of the backyard. Normally, a shed was the only object occupying the yard. But this time, glancing out, he spotted a woman struggling to climb over the wooden fence. She straddled the top of it, two infected beings below trying to grab her legs.

For a few seconds, Roland froze right where he stood, unsure of what he should try and do.

Rush out and save her?

“Hey, there’s someone on top of the fence out in the yard!” Franklin yelled from the kitchen.

Roland wiped his eyes, trying to get rid of the tears before joining the group. He took one last glance at himself in the mirror.

Why the fuck not?

He rushed out of the bathroom and toward the back door. When he got to the kitchen, the door was already open, with Garrett and Carver by the fence. Roland raced outside, pushing past Franklin and his mother.

Garrett tried coaxing the woman down, but she was too focused on the two infected persons clawing at her.

“Give me your hand,” his friend yelled up to her.

Roland joined Garrett and the cop, offering his hand up to the young girl.

The brunette woman hesitated for a second or two. The growls of one of the creatures seemed to convince her to accept the hand of the stranger in front of her. She let down one of her hands and Roland clasped it. He took a deep breath and yanked down hard. The woman quickly tumbled over the fence, tearing her jeans in the process. Pink underwear appeared as the jeans tore away. Roland fell on his back, the woman’s butt landing right on his face.

“Ahhhh,” he yelled as his nose was hit yet again. The woman quickly jumped up, facing toward the fence. By now, the rest of the group joined Roland and the others.

Carver knelt down next to Roland. “You, okay?” Roland propped himself up on his elbow. He touched his nose. Blood flowed out again.

The attention now focused on the two infected persons. They both jabbed their hands through the boards, desperately trying to reach the small group of humans in front of them.

Carver stood. “We should take these fuckers out.”

Roland nodded. “You got that right…”

But how?

Engines rumbling interrupted Roland. An ATV rushed down the alley, the rider giving one of the infected people the middle finger as he passed them. Another ATV rider rode past, bouncing up and down the rocky alley. By now, the two infected creatures turned their attention from the group in the yard to the movement taking place behind them. The two ATVs hastily whipped around and headed back toward the two infected creatures.

Roland glanced down toward the alley and saw four more ATVs bouncing up and down, making their way toward the two creatures. The lead driver, wearing a protective helmet with dark visors, hopped off his seat swinging a bat. One of the infected people rushed the driver only to be brought down by the bat hitting its legs. The rest of the ATVs arrived, making a circle surrounding the two creatures. The second infected person seemed to be undecided about what to do, but only for a split second. It growled and rushed one of the vehicles. The ATV targeted then lurched forward, catching the zombie in mid run and knocking it to the ground. Before it had an opportunity to rise up, several of the ATVs moved over it, grinding their tires across the body.

Meanwhile, two members of the pack gathered around the first infected person and pounded the legs of the creature with a bat and a golf club. This rendered the movements of the infected person practically useless. Its legs were pretty damaged and while it still attempted to grab at the men circling it, they easily kicked its hands away.

The men now cheered their ‘conquest.’ The supposed leader motioned to one of the men on the ATV who ran over to the second creature. A backpack was flung to the leader, who unzipped it and pulled out some rope. He walked over to the downed creature and, very carefully, tied the rope around the neck of the person. Pulling away from the snapping bites, he gave the creature a slap to the face. The small cluster of riders cheered again.

Almost oblivious to Roland and the rest of the people watching the incident, the leader jogged back to his vehicle.

“Let’s take this fucker for a ride!”

Shouts of approval and applause greeted the suggestion. The ATV riders, one by one, took off down the alley. One of the vehicle riders in the back unfurled an American flag and held it up in the air.

“Don’t fuck with the United States of fuckin’ America!” He stuck the flag in the back of his vehicle and followed his buddies, shouting and hollering down the alleyway.

Roland could not help but grin, observing the infected creature tossed violently up in the air and then come crashing down on the rocks and pebbles that covered the alley. The small group of ATV riders rode out of view, the American flag fluttering in the breeze down at the end of the alleyway.

Silence accompanied the small group in the backyard.

“Well, that’s America for you,” Garrett finally said.

“You got that right,” Franklin replied.

Roland turned to the girl, who tried her best to cover-up the pink underwear that was showing. “You need some help?”

She grunted. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

The girl, who appeared to be in her late teens, attempted to patch together the ripped jeans.

A helicopter above sliced past, causing everyone to squint up at it.

“You need a place to stay?” Madison broke the awkward stillness.

The girl glanced over to her. “Thanks, but I got to get to my grandmother.”

“You need any help getting there?” Roland’s mom asked in a gentle manner.

The girl eyed the group of strangers.

Roland did not blame her for the hesitation.

I would have said ‘Fuck you’ right away.

“Well, I actually have to get…”

A shriek interrupted the girl.

Everyone spun to the sound. It was one of Roland’s neighbor’s, who hungrily eyed the group of humans. He let out another primeval cry and blitzed forward to them.

Roland instinctively pushed his mother in the direction of the house. The rest followed suit, with Garrett tripping over himself and crashing to the ground. Roland stopped and dashed to his fallen friend. Glancing to the house, he noticed that his mom, along with Franklin and Penelope had made it inside the doorway. Carver picked up a shovel and rushed back to Roland and Garrett. The girl continued fleeing, hopping over a small metal fence, and disappeared from view by the side of the house.

“Ah, my leg…” Garrett stumbled to regain his balance as Roland caught his flailing arms, half expecting for his infected neighbor to be almost on top of them.

Instead, the man was still straddling the fence.

“The fucker’s caught.” Carver held the shovel like a baseball bat.

“What?” Garrett finally regained his balance.

Carver gradually approached him.

“Careful!” Franklin appeared in the doorway with a machete. Roland saw Madison and Penelope looking out from the kitchen window.

“He’s caught. One of stakes is clean through leg.” Carver let out a small snort.

Cautiously, Roland and Garrett both made their way over to infected man. Upon closer inspection, the former human neighbor was indeed stuck on the fence line. One of the wooden stakes had been bending at a very sharp angle toward the man’s house. Being infected, and not having the brains of his former self, the man attempted to just barrel through the barrier in front of him. In fact, he tried hurdling the fence, and failed miserably.

Chuckling to himself, Roland knew the overweight man could not have hopped the fence even when still human.

For a full minute, everyone stood around as the infected figure tried to claw and scratch his way out his predicament. Instead, the fence stake just drove deeper into his leg. Normally, blood would be gushing out of the leg like a fountain. This time, only pieces of rotting flesh fell onto the ground. The man had been infected for more than a few hours, if not a whole day.

“Well, we should do something to this fucker.” Garrett stated the obvious.

“Yeah, you are right,” Carver nodded his head in agreement. “We cannot allow him to be roaming out in the yard like this.”

Carver poked the infected man in the shoulder with the shovel, causing it to growl and swipe its hand at the cop.

Black liquid dribbled out of the edges of his mouth as he kept shrieking wildly. Cloudy eyes crazily bounced amongst all three men, as if he could not decide which person to focus his attention on.

“Okay guys, what do you want to do?” The cop waited for Roland and Garrett to answer. Instead, silence greeted the question.

After a few seconds, Carver turned to them, irritated they were ignoring him.

“Uh, guys, what do you…?”

A pale and shaking Roland caused the cop to become extremely alarmed.

“What the fuck is wrong?”

“Um, is a lion pretty quick?”

“What the fuck?”

Garrett pointed directly behind Carver, causing him to gently turn around and see what the two men were talking about.

And there it stood. Or better yet, stalked. A lion about thirty feet away, in the neighbor’s yard, intently watching the three men and one infected person. The gigantic cat looked ready to pounce at any moment, its huge eyes concentrating eagerly on the group of men.

For an instant, the only sounds came from the infected man, whose cries were being muffled by the black bile pouring out of his mouth. It dripped down his chin, as Roland’s former neighbor continued to try and shuffle over the fence.

“Can we make it…?” Instead, Roland was cut short as the lion let out a huge roar and started charging in the direction of the men.

“FUUUUCK….!”

All three men took off toward the house.

Roland twisted his head to see that the lion focused its attention on the infected man stuck on the fence. The animal swooped into the yard and ripped an arm off with its powerful jaws. Roland momentarily stopped on top of the steps, stunned by the fact a lion was tearing apart a person in his backyard.

Not a person anymore…

Garrett pushed Roland, sending him headfirst into the kitchen and sprawling across the floor.

Carver was right behind them, pulling the door shut and locking it. Roland managed to gather himself and steal a look outside the window.

The lion devoured the helpless, infected man. After tearing a limb off, the lion continued shredding into the undead individual, targeting the upper portion of the body. The man swiped at the large beast, but was predictably losing the fight quite easily.

“Shit, that is going to leave a mess…” Carver was interrupted by Roland falling to his knees and puking onto the kitchen floor.

“No, that’s going to leave a mess,” chuckled Garrett.

Roland could not answer back as he was too busy spitting out chunks of vomit.

Chapter 8

 

Saturday, July 14^th,^ 2:43pm

Washington, DC

 

Colonel Mann stared at the safe that had a bottle of rum in it. He had not touched alcohol in over four years. Wiping his forehead, he felt a cold sweat beginning to form. This virus infection seriously hit a nerve with him. Hastily making its way toward the Capital, leaving utter death and ruin in its wake.

Things were only to get worse.

Much more worse.

He could feel it…

Mann was told through his military connections that some units were already on their way to battle the threat. Although most bases had been locked down, and as such their entities hunkered down, a few elements had been ordered by their Governors to confront the infection.

Politicians tended to act first and think second. Wherever there was a camera, those locusts would swarm in front of it. They craved the spotlight and attention, and constantly wanted to validate their existence.

He also thought it was a horrible idea to try and confront the infection at this stage, but he also realized the government must be seen doing something.

Anything…

The last he heard, the main infection wave spilled into some obscure town in Massachusetts, signaling it was also moving east. The reports stated local law enforcement officers failed miserably in their attempts in containing the contagion. Description after description made it clear that this infection was immediate and fatal wherever it happened to pop up. It became increasingly evident that this epidemic could only be handled by well-equipped and more importantly, well-trained armed forces, like the United States military.

Haskell.

The name of that tiny town in the blue state. Recent explicit and brutal footage just flashed across all the major networks. Haskell Police setup road blocks to try and weed out those people that were infected. The small police force had quickly been outnumbered and resorted to drawing their weapons out and forcing people away from the town.

With a national camera crew on scene, some Haskell officer compelled a young couple to step out of their vehicles. When the woman coughed and then sneezed, the older cop panicked and shot her. The boyfriend naturally tackled the cop, which then led to a major brawl in the middle of the road. When another man dove into the crowd, no one gave him a second thought. That was until he came up with human flesh dangling from his mouth. All hell then broke loose, people streaming over the police line, trying to escape the threat.

As far as Mann could tell, only two or three positively infected people were among the crowd of hundreds. But one was enough to send the mass of people into a full fledge panic With the officers of Haskell overwhelmed, the infection flowed toward the next small town.

The infection progressed rapidly at an ungodly rate, now verified in three states on the Eastern Coast (New York, Pennsylvania, and now Massachusetts) and possibly, but not yet confirmed, in a fourth state, that being New Jersey.

Jesus, I need something, he thought.

When he returned from Pakistan, Mann quickly found out that he could not handle the home life. He admitted this to his ex-wife in the beginning, but they tried working it out as a couple. Nevertheless, the horrors of what he had seen during war triggered him to wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats. He experienced daily nightmares, and going to numerous funerals of his brothers in arms almost caused him to put a gun into his mouth and end it all.

But he did not.

Instead, he turned to drinking to try and face the world.

That had not worked out very well for himself or his family.

No shit.

He would stay in bed all day, and then sit in front of the television at night, drowning his troubles away with booze. He awoke one morning to see that his wife packed her things and moved out of the house. Not saying a word or leaving any sort of note for him. Mann did not blame her, but she took their only child and moved out of the state. That was over fifteen years ago.

He groaned as he reached for his cigar box. He lit the Cuban, letting the smoke rise up as he exhaled. It calmed him immensely as he lay back in his chair.

Better than the cigars in Honduras.

Not by much, but goddamn, those Cubans knew how to make cigars. Thank god the Cubans final rose up and overthrew those ruthless Castro dictators that ruled over them for years. The free market immediately opened up a fresh batch of trade for the United States and Cuba, and Mann was benefiting from that exchange at the moment.

He promised then to stop drinking, but for over ten years, he struggled to hide his addiction from his friends and the Army. Only after his good friend Gerald Rice disappeared in Asia did Mann decide to quit. Gerald and Fitz each made a promise to one another that if something happened to them, the other one would help take care of that man’s family.

Unfortunately, that person had been Major Gerald Rice, who vanished off the face of the earth while in Laos. Even Mann, with his security clearance, could not find out what exactly happened that fateful night. The United States government declared that his plane crashed off the coast of the Asian country and into the Pacific Ocean, with all passengers dying. Mann had quietly been searching and gathering for information, but reached a dead end lately. Now hit with the stunning news that the wreckage of the plane may have been found in Laos, he realized there was defiantly more to this story, but finding out would have to wait for the moment. Combating the infection was his number one concern right now.

He flipped on the television to try and take his mind off his missing friend. Watching the news of the outbreak, Mann had a gloomy thought.

Maybe Gerald was the lucky one after all.

“…Governor Louis has called up the National Guard. In fact, according to my sources, the United States military will be here in the city, if not later today, than the next day, for sure…”

Like hell.

Mann knew the military would not enter an area like New York City after the fiasco in Caffa earlier. Of course, that was not the main reason. Urban warfare left a bitter taste in the military’s mouth. Pakistan taught the top brass a few lessons. Even so, a student of history as Mann was, would have been seen in Iraq and to a lesser extent, the conflict in Vietnam. If one was at war with someone else, then they could not fight a political battle, like in Iraq, Vietnam, and of course, Afghanistan. Pakistan had been better in that regard, but not by much in Mann’s own judgment.

Since the threat was in their own country, the brass would be a little more cautious in their approach. There was no way the military would even attempt to enter a hot zone like New York City. At least, not yet anyhow. Still, no one had the balls to say this to the American people. However, this extremely important fact remained vital: if you remained in any of the cities where this pandemic was now occurring, you were on your own. Those rednecks that you had made fun of for stocking up on food and weapons were now suddenly your best friend.

His cell phone unexpectedly vibrated on the table. Reaching over to grab it, he saw that it was a number that he did not recognize.

“This is Colonel Mann.”

Silence greeted him.

“Hello, this is Colonel Mann.”

“Hey dad, it’s me.”

Mann’s chest tightened up.

It was his son.

“Hey, Matthew.”

The voice on the other end coughed. “Just wanted to see how you were holding up.”

“I’m good. How you doing?”

Matthew breathed more loudly than usual as a result of nerves flowing in his body. “Okay. Mom’s freaking out over this…disease.”

“I can imagine.”

Awkward silence overcame the two men again.

“Me and my unit are shipping out in the morning.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Where are you headed?”

“Nothing confirmed yet, but the rumor mill says Ohio.”

Matthew Mann, despite moving to Kansas when he was ten, still picked up his father’s love for the military and joined it right after high school. Mann’s ex-wife angrily called right after that, blaming him if something happened to her son. He quietly reminded her that Matthew was his son also and proud he had chosen the military. He enjoyed watching Matthew move slowly up the ranks, now with the Army Rangers

“Well, sir, I just wanted to check up on you.”

“Thanks, son. Take care of yourself and be safe.”

“Oh, dad.”

“Yes?”

“You should call mom.”

With that, the line clicked dead.

“…the Mexican President has again declared his displeasure with the United States government, hinting that guns and weapons are not the only thing being funneled down into his country…”

On the screen, it showed a man identified as Mexican President Hinojosa.

“The US closing this border between our countries amounts to nothing more than them dictating who will survive this outbreak. Human rights, especially those of brown color, will be violated the most…”

Mann hesitated before dialing the number. He glanced back towards the television.

“…what about video showing your troops and police shooting innocent people, along with those things…”

A reporter near the camera shouted out the question while holding an iPhone.

“…what are you talking…about…?” The Mexican President was being overwhelmed by the questions and shouting.

The camera suddenly zoomed in on the images on the iPhone. It displayed Mexican Federal Police firing into a crowd of people fleeing in the middle of a street.

President Hinojosa became angry, pointing his finger at the reporter and yelling at her.

“…that is taken out of context…that is out of context…that video is out of context…” The President kept repeating that statement over all the screaming.

I still remember the number after all these years.

Why not?

Then again, it was his ex-wife.

Why should I?

Mann decided he would do it for his son.

Listening to the ringing, he silently hoped that she would not answer the phone.

So I can leave a message…

“Hello?”

Mann gripped his phone so tightly that it almost popped out of his palm.

“Hey Ashley, it’s Fitz.”

Chapter 9

 

Saturday, July 14th, 12:06pm

Ruston, WA

 

The small group gathered in the main room, huddling by the television set. Sandwiches and Mountain Dew were served as lunch for the time being. Everyone promptly stuffed their mouths, trying to fill their empty stomachs. Dubya, the German Shepherd was kept in Riley’s room, and since no one wanted him to go outside, he had done his business on the floor. Madison cleaned up the mess without complaining, with her and Penelope doing their part in ‘freshening up’ the house.

Roland sat in the lazy boy recliner, holding his nose upward with tissues clogging the nostrils in attempt to halt the bleeding. He grimaced as he dabbed it. Dry blood blotted across his face.

He looked like shit.

It reminded him of the time he was sucker punched in the face at the local YMCA. The thug fractured his nasal passage and cheekbone. Months and months of rehabilitation passed before the pain subsided. Yet, Roland held the last laugh, as a few days after the thug socked him, he was shot to death in a drive by shooting. According to the police, he had long list of those that wanted him dead.

Being a neighborhood drug dealer would do that to you.

Karma’s a bitch.

Almost two hours had passed since the ATV drivers zoomed by and leashed up one of the zombies for a ride. The lion finished tearing up the infected neighbor, and then stalked outside the house for an hour. Something else then grabbed its attention, because it darted down the street and swiftly disappeared around the block. The Point Defiance Zoo was only a mile away, so the group figured the animal somehow escaped from there. The area was extremely unnerving not knowing what else could be out there roaming around.

A fucking lion…

Meanwhile, the group attempted to recharge their batteries. Franklin took a shower and then gone to bed with his wife. They decided to post two people on guard duty at all times. It was agreed upon that the carpenter would be the one to take the evening guard shift. He continued boarding up more of the house and said he would finish the task tomorrow.

Besides, the group decided that they had better sleep in shifts. At least two people needed to be awake at all times. Roland sensed the situation was the best that they could manage at this particular moment. The house was secure as it could be and he knew that everyone felt a little more at ease with a cop staying with them. Additionally, now they had a gun with them, along with someone who had been properly trained on how to use it. Everyone in the group felt safer.

And not just safe from the zombies. While fearful of attracting those that were infected, he also did not want any other humans rushing the house. If people were going to act uncivilized because of some super Black Friday sale at Wal-Mart by pushing, shoving, and trampling their fellow human beings, then he could not imagine how they would act now.

Actually he did not have to imagine it. Whether New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, or Los Angeles during the last riots, human nature revealed its ugly, vile and repulsive behavior again and again. Roland already lost someone close to him. It would not happen again if he could help it.

David was still sleeping in the guestroom, his wounds appearing to heal somewhat. Carver replaced his Tacoma police uniform with blue jeans and a yellow Outback Steakhouse tee shirt he ended up borrowing from Garrett. No one else’s clothes would come close to fitting the huge and massive cop. His biceps alone were the size of Roland’s thighs. The huge cop’s hands could snap someone’s neck like a simple twig. A military crew-cut with an oddly shaped nose made it seem like his nostrils were flaring, Carver was the very definition of intimidation. He loomed over everyone else in the house, square broad shoulders causing him to move stiffly about.

Roland would absolutely try and stay on his good side for the time being.

Carver felt he would be less of a target by dressing as a civilian. He still retained his police issued shotgun, laying it next to him. Also, he kept a .45 caliber handgun tucked into his waistband. His police radio was placed on the kitchen counter so everyone could listen to how his fellow officers were combating the undead. This way, they could eavesdrop on the reality of what was happening and not pay attention to the government approved updates on television.

“Tacoma, Lincoln45,” a dispatcher’s surprisingly calm voice stated.

“Lincoln 45, go ahead Tacoma,” someone replied.

“We lost contact with Lincoln 27 at Fred Meyer, 19th and Stevens, please respond, code 2.”

“Lincoln 45 in route, anyone else able to assist?” the male voice inquired.

“Negative, we have lost contact with the six other units in your sector. Use caution,” the dispatcher stated.

Carver sighed. He grasped how bleak and desperate it was when people he believed on his side, opened fire on him and his fellow officers. He loved his brothers in blue, but recognized there was no chance of them clamping down on the ever growing violence rising up within the city.

“It’s hopeless,” he confirmed to Roland.

Roland shook his head and turned his attention to the television, which now showed military helicopters hovering above the Tacoma Dome, located on the east side of the city. That particular structure was well known and easily noticeable in the downtown part of Tacoma. Tons of Humvees and National Guard troops were stationed in the massive parking lot. The troops, dressed in the standard military fatigues, prepared their weapons and loaded up their vehicles with all sorts of equipment. Some tanks became visible in the background, the massive M1 Abrams numbering in the dozens.

“These troops are from the National Guard base Camp Murray. We have learned that along with these National Guardsmen, some Joint Fort Lewis-McCord personnel are accompanying them,” a reporter tried speaking over the firefight taking place in front of them.

“I’m with Colonel Henry Tate.”

Colonel Tate stood over the smaller, female reporter, a frown stamped on his face.

“Colonel Tate, can you please explain the situation to our viewers.” A microphone was then shoved in his face.

“Of course.” The Colonel pointed in the direction of the shooting. The camera panned toward that area. A lot of movement occurred, but was hidden behind the smoke and fire rising up from the battle. Helicopters dropped off scores of troops, with the men running in the direction of the still unseen threat.

“As you can see, we have set out a perimeter here at the Tacoma Dome. All exits from 1-5 to the Tacoma Dome are barricaded off. Pacific Avenue is also barricaded off, along with all the other streets around the Tacoma Dome. This is where the main staging area for our ground attack is taking place. We have effectively created a border around the Dome in order to retake the downtown area.”

The reporter nodded. “Colonel Tate, what advice do you have for the civilians that are caught in the area, or nearby?”

Colonel Tate pondered the question as several Humvees raced past him. “Come to the Tacoma Dome. FEMA and the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services have set up shop here. We can and will protect you from this growing threat.”

“Just one last question, Colonel…” The reporter and Tate were interrupted as several National Guardsmen came up to the Colonel.

“Sir, these things have broken through on Puget Sound Ave…”

“We have infected inside the area, sir!”

Colonel Tate turned away and tried to calm the men down.

The reporter spun toward the camera. “As you can see, the situation is under control as the National Guard is moving quickly to combat this threat…Jason, behind you…”

The camera rotated. Infected beings sprinted toward them. Shouts rose up and engines bellowed as National Guard vehicles rumbled past the camera to meet the menace.

Shots erupted near the camera from a machine gun mounted on top of a Humvee. The reporter dropped to her knees, covering her ears with both hands. The cameraman managed to whirl around and kept recording. Bullets ripped into several of the infected persons and knocked them down. However, those gunned down were rapidly replaced by others. A whole block of zombies sprinted to the area.

National Guardsmen quickly made a line and started firing. A huge roar rolled past the camera and into view. It was an M1 Abram tank. Before it had a chance to fire, the screen cut back to two newscasters.

“Well, it seems that the National Guard has things under control…”

“Yes, it appears they are moving quickly to quell the violence in the downtown area so that it is possible to regain control of the city.” Both broadcasters attempted to paint a rosy picture of reality. So far, the state government was having some difficulty in containing this outbreak.

More like a ton of difficulty.

At least that is what it appeared from Roland’s view.

The National Guard would do what they did best: Roll into the downtown area with some of the finest weaponry available to man and try to take back control. He hoped they could solve this problem because the police department was a lost cause. And if the National Guard could not salvage the downtown area, then it would be left up to the Federal Government. And Roland did not have much faith in the government accomplishing anything.

After all, if the government could not prevent homeless people from sleeping on benches in public parks, he doubted they could prevent an angry horde of infected from tearing him apart limb by limb.

Roland stood up and walked over to the window, observing the deserted street. During the last few hours, nothing transpired. He reasoned that it could either be a good or bad sign.

Either infected are being beaten back or…

…there are not very many humans left around this area…

A couple that lived across the street fled in one of their cars almost two hours ago, but after that, exactly zilch occurred.

Shots and explosions rang out every so often in the vicinity. Occasionally, infected sprinted past, causing Roland, Carver, and Garrett to check their surroundings every time that happened. Dubya kept barking at the slightest noise, putting everyone more on edge than they already were.

So far, everything appeared to be passing them by at the moment.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Roland took a peek over to Carver, who watched the television intently. He was glad the Tacoma cop decided to stay with him and his family. He would know what to do when the circumstances called for something essential to be done. Looking down, he noticed one of his hands trembled slightly.

Oh come on…

Roland heard the tires screeching against the pavement before he spotted the car. A red, souped-up Honda Civic came flying down the street. It swerved to avoid a body lying in the middle of the road, and a result crashed into another car. The vehicle almost tipped over as it went head first into the neighbor’s parked Ford pickup truck. The Honda Civic shook viciously as little shockwaves whipped through the car.

Roland watched the scene before finding himself at the door. He hesitated for a moment before putting his hand on the doorknob.

“Holy shit, what the fuck am I doing?!” he cried out, flinging the door open. Heaving breathing signaled Carver and Garrett were right behind him.

What the fuck AM I doing?

Roland’s heart pounded wildly as neared the accident.

The small red car was totaled, but the driver, although in a state of shock, looked relatively unharmed. He calmly opened the door, but then promptly collapsed to the ground. Roland reached the male, who appeared to be around twenty-years old. The man had to weigh at least three hundred pounds, and looked to be Native American. Roland asserted this to the tee-shirt he wore which stated ‘Homeland Security, Fighting Terrorism since 1492.’ The shirt was supplemented by pictures of Indians holding weapons.

“Holy shit man, are you okay,” Roland cried out as he reached him.

The man shook his head, still clearly dazed. He attempted to stand, but tumbled over instead.

Roland tried to help him up, but the man brushed him away.

“I don’t need your help, whitey,” the young fellow huffed, stumbling to his feet. By this time, Garrett and Carver caught up with him.

“Come on dude…” Roland was shoved away again by the man.

“What’s your fucking problem man? I am trying to help you. You do know you just crashed into a car and probably suffered a concussion.” Roland glanced up and down the street, not seeing any sign of the infected.

A curtain in a house nearby closed shut. Roland could not help but scoff at their perceived cowardice.

Guess they won’t be of any help.

From a distance, giant fireballs shot up over the vast landscape. The military was obviously engaged in a heated battle with the infected. Not only was the National Guard in combat, but with the television reports, the Federal Government had gotten involved as well. Although the fight seemed distant, the Tacoma Dome was less than a fifteen minute drive from his place. Things were falling apart more rapidly now.

Two fighter jets zoomed past, likely heading toward downtown Tacoma.

“No shit, man. I can handle myself just fine. I don’t need your help,” the Native American mumbled, snapping Roland back to the situation.

Taking a step back, he found himself in no mood for the guy’s attitude. With what was happening now, the man should have been grateful someone tried to help him.

Besides, the man also reeked of booze. Looking over to the car, he saw a beer bottle on the street. It must have flown out from inside his car when it collided into the parked truck.

“No need for us to stand out here and be bitched at,’’ he declared, turning his back on the man.

Carver nodded in agreement, but Garrett pushed past Roland.

“Hey, buddy, let me help…!”

The Native American fellow reared back his fist and socked Garrett right in the face. His big, lumbering friend fell backwards, landing on his backside. The man then pulled out a knife and swung it fervently in the air.

Roland and Carver moved to help Garrett.

“No, no, no…I’m going to cut your friend up…” The Native American slurred his sentences, the mixture of alcohol and injuries affecting his words.

“Come on…come on…” The man swung his knife wildly in the air.

Loud commotion was heard coming down from down the block. Growls and shrieks swiftly soared toward the group.

“Shit, I think we got company,” Carver shouted, anxiety rising in his voice.

If Carver was starting to panic, then Roland felt like it was okay to go ‘ape-shit.’

“Let’s get the fuck inside,’’ screamed Roland, turning to help Garrett to his feet. He was struggling until Carver grabbed Garrett’s shirt and practically lifted him up off the ground. The three men began to dash away from the scene, leaving the Native American man on the street alone. He witnessed the pack of infected rushing to him, dove back into his car and attempted to start the engine.

Reaching the house and throwing Garrett inside, Roland quickly shut and locked the door. Carver shoved a wooden chair against the door and hunched behind it with his shotgun. Franklin stumbled into the main room, armed with his machete. Madison appeared, along with Penelope right behind her.

“Franklin, watch the other side of the house,” Roland shouted. The tanned carpenter nodded, and ran into the kitchen with his wife to make sure no infected tried to come through the other way. Screams of the infected now surrounded the house.

Fuck, these things are quick…

“I’m going to make sure David is okay,” Madison announced.

Roland managed to give a slight smile to his mother. She was trying her best to survive. By doing so, her thoughts focused on the people needing her immediate help. He was not shocked at her actions, as his mother was someone who believed in helping others in need.

That included me when I was a druggie…

Roland ushered in Dubya, who barked uncontrollably, to his room and slammed the door shut. He was afraid that the dog would cause more infected to be drawn over to the area, but could not distract Dubya at the moment.

The three men left in the main room turned their attention to the sight outside.

Down the street, the infected horde was quickly coming upon the young man. He realized this, jumped out of the Honda and started to run toward Roland’s house. The infected appeared to be about thirty yards away, but were narrowing the gap considerably. The main reason for the gap narrowing so rapidly was the man ran with the swiftness of a drunken bastard, stumbling all across the street. He slipped, and then tripped over one of the bodies that lay on the ground. The man hopped back up, reached the door and started pounding on it.

“Let me in man, I need help!” he shouted.

Roland reached to open the door, but Carver stopped him.

“Look,” he said, pointing toward one of the side windows. An infected person darted to the man from the side of the house. If they let the man in, then they risked having that individual rush in after him.

“Let me in!” he screamed, with his voice cracking with fear.

“Get the fuck away from the door,’’ Garrett cried.

More infected were spotted, tumbling into the back yard.

“They’re just making their way to the front!” Franklin appeared in the main room, but disappeared as quickly, grabbing two chairs. He was heard throwing them up against the backdoor.

“Run, man, we can’t let you in!” Roland pleaded with the man. “We can’t…I’m sorry…”

The man turned around and saw the infected behind him within ten yards and closing swiftly. He started to sprint away, and came face to face with the infected individual coming around the side of the house. The Native American avoided the first bite of the infected man, but when he went to try and stab the person, the individual grabbed his forearm and took a huge chunk of it with his mouth.

The knife wielding man screamed and managed to stick his weapon in the infected man’s eye as he was gnawing on his forearm. This seemed to stun the undead man, and in its moment of hesitation, the Native American shoved it off the porch. He then made his way toward the neighbor’s fence, holding his wounded arm.

The rest of the infected hotly pursued as he jumped and tried to scale the ten foot fence. He ran full throttle at it with bursting speed. Due to his giant size, instead of jumping the fence, he merely crashed into it and knocked down a portion of the stacked wooden boards.

The huge man become struck and tried to wiggle his way out. Watching it, reminded Roland of Winnie the Pooh when he became caught in the honey tree with his butt cheeks sticking out. Unfortunately, this grisly scene was not a cartoon. The infected hastily came upon the man biting and ripping into his rear end. The group of about ten or twelve instantly tore apart the once proud man, whose screams were quickly muffled.

Chapter 10

 

Sunday, July 15th, 7:46am

White House, Washington, DC

 

Colonel Mann had gotten only a few hours of sleep, as he ended up tossing and turning all night. The overwhelming danger of this outbreak, along with his son going into battle, and the threat that the Vice President openly stated, made rest impossible. He was up late, calling a few people he trusted to raise questions on what exactly Bruce Casper was doing. So far, nothing substantial had been uncovered. Then again, all of that would have to be put off for the time being. He was awakened in the early morning with the news that federal troops had been deployed in DC. Apparently, rumor abounded that the President was going to invoke the Insurrection Act to move federal soldiers into not only the capital city of the United States, but all across the mainland as well.

Mann was now alarmed with the sudden change of Rice’s thinking. Just last night she was concerned with overstepping her powers as Commander-in-Chief, yet now ready to declare martial law. Something happened, and Mann was determined to find out exactly what had occurred during the late night and early morning hours.

The Insurrection Act of 1807 is the chief authority obstacle passed by Congress to limit the President’s ability to deploy the military within the United States in response to a domestic threat. The act stated that the only time the President could use troops to enforce the law against civilians was during an armed rebellion. With the most recent attacks on the homeland of America, then President Grant Brody argued that the powers of the executive branch needed to be strengthened. President Brody had gotten upset with the lack of action and the bureaucracy of the states when it came to asking the federal government for help during an internal crisis within their own borders. He therefore introduced a bill that enhanced the President’s power and hold on declaring martial law. Not only could the President federalize National Guard units, but they could order the military into states and regions that did not specifically asked for assistance.

This was inserted into the bill as ‘the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of… maintaining public order, in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.’

In layman’s terms, the military could be deployed at the President’s discretion. They could send troops anywhere and anytime over the objections of Congress and State Governors’ as long as the President felt the states could not handle the threat on their own. It was a dangerous situation, but one America clamored for over the past few years.

With the President invoking the Insurrection Act, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 was waived aside and no longer applied. In short, the military could act in domestic law enforcement activities in the event state authorities could not maintain the rule of law within their own borders.

The Posse Comitatus was passed in response to the Federal Government’s military occupation of the Southern states during the Reconstruction Era. It stated that anyone who used federal forces without the permission of Congress would be fined and jailed. However, it now became obsolete with the Insurrection Act being authorized.

However, for the time being, while the political and legal pundits were getting their panties in a bunch over the legalities of the move, Rice apparently decided that she could not wait. Of course, the military could not ‘legally’ patrol the streets of America unless they were only ‘assisting’ local law enforcement. After all, the Insurrection Act had not been invoked quite yet. Nevertheless, the reality was that the United States military was about to be unleashed onto the public streets of America.

In fact, he was stopped on US Route 50 on his way to the White House by a section of Military Police, who demanded his identification. While the DC Police were the first ones to greet the drivers, the military actually controlled the checkpoints popping up all around the Capitol.

“Where are you headed, sir?” a member of the military police asked him lightly, being more polite because he was talking to an officer.

“White House.”

The Corporal nodded. “You’ll need this, sir.” He took out a yellow piece of paper and marked it. “Put this on your dashboard, and be sure that when you get closer, that they see this. Otherwise, they’ll turn you away…”

Loud honking from several cars drowned out the man.

Looking over, the Corporal started cursing to the soldier next to him. “Fucking Christ, if they aren’t military or government, this section is closed…”

“This guy is claiming he knows the Speaker of the House…”

“Sure and I know the President. Tell him to get lost.”

He glanced back to Mann and saluted. “Good day, sir.”

Two Humvees backed up from the middle of the highway. A soldier on one of the turrets gave the Colonel a thumbs up as he leaned against the gun mounted on it.

Mann waved as he drove away from the checkpoint.

Yet, it took another forty minutes to get there because of the military barricading further roads and buildings. The Army Corp of Engineers, along with a few civilian companies, constructed huge metal walls across certain sections of the streets, effectively cutting off access outside them once completed.

Mann never thought he would see United States Army tanks’ rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, but that was the sight occurring in front of him. Humvees and trucks filled with troops also littered the roads, scores of helicopters passing by overhead.

Civilians hastily fled the area, mass chaos developing all around the city. While it was somewhat calm near the military checkpoints, Mann recognized civilization slowly becoming unhinged. Vehicles dove on sidewalks, causing people on them to dive out of the way. Businesses were freely being looted, with several structure fires already burning. Sirens and screams echoed throughout the downtown area.

This is going to get very ugly…

However, near the checkpoints, the military was doing a fine job of making sure there was an orderly retreat of the residents from those locations. The Colonel observed Army soldiers walking up and down the lanes, calming the people stuck in their cars. Military Police directed traffic in an efficient manner, and barriers with Humvees and squads of Army personnel that dotted the landscape ensured things were not about to get out of hand quite yet.

While waiting, a few people got arrested. Dozens of men and women sat by the side of the road, their hands tied behind their backs. Some of them yelled obscenities at the troops guarding them, but most just had their heads dropped down and were sulking.

Mann squinted at the scene a little more closely. Those were not members of the military, but units from the Department of Homeland Security. A dozen or so Mine Resistant Protected or MRAPs (think small armored tanks) with POLICE/RESCUE stamped on the side of the tan-looking vehicles controlled the roadblocks, not the military. HOMELAND SECURITY was plastered just above the windows. Several Homeland Security personnel were near the site, dressed in full body armor. They seemingly picked and choose at random which cars they yanked people out from and arrested.

Mann thought it was bit much.

While there was going to be a reason soon enough to have these MRAPs stroll down the streets of America, nothing called for these armored vehicles equipped to handle IEDs or mine blasts to be out harassing ordinary civilians at the moment. Shattering cries rose up from another family that was in the process of being yanked out of their vehicle.

Civil liberties be damned…

Armed Homeland troops flung open the car door directly in front of Mann, and dragged one man to the ground. For some reason, he foolishly tried to resist. At least until his face violently met the end of a rifle. After that, the limp body of the man was easily carried away. From Mann’s perspective, the actions of the Department of Homeland Security militarized police units appeared to be holding up the flow of the civilians more than they needed to. They were just flexing their muscle because they could.

This is going to get worse….

So far, the infected had not reached the vicinity of the District of Columbia. Right now, the government and military forces could maintain some sense of order because of their firepower. However, if infected started breaching the area, then Mann feared the worst. If that happened, then people would have a very good reason to not fear the authority of the military. There would be a whole, new authority in charge, and that authority would enforce its rules more gruesomely than anything the military could dish out.

The White House grounds were extremely chaotic, with DC cops everywhere. They scanned his credentials again before he proceeded through the main checkpoint to get into the White House. Mann observed the Capitol police being supported by private contractors, but they were not Dark Rain. Squinting at the man behind the two cops, the Colonel noticed a patch with a flame rising up on the side of his arm. He was from Mercury Rising, the second most powerful defense contracting company behind Dark Rain. That was not surprising to the Colonel. Mercury Rising was owned by the son of an Army General, whose brother happened to be a very significant and well-connected politician in the House of Representatives. As a result, the defense contracts here were being passed around like party favors at a birthday celebration.

The FBI also threw their weight everywhere, with tons of agents milling around. They held automatic rifles, matching the firepower of the military units stationed around the capitol building. The Rose Garden had been turned into a command center for the Marines and Homeland Security forces. Mann saw that sandbags being stacked up against the fences surrounding the area, with razor wire being stretched across the top of it. Dozens of machine gun towers were being hurriedly constructed along the fence line. In addition, lines of military trucks and jeeps stretched back a few blocks, waiting to drop off their inventory in the name of weapons and ammunition. President Karen Rice had not been kidding when she declared that she would not flee the oncoming threat, but instead would hunker down and meet it head on.

Mann also noticed that SUVs with the Dark Rain decal stamped on the side parked inside the compound, with several mercenaries milling idly by the vehicles. They lounged back in relaxation, watching as everyone else worked. The Colonel guessed they were making three hundred to four hundred dollars a day just sitting there.

Damn soldiers of fortune…

Mann knew that Casper probably personally requested that the private military contracting firm Dark Rain be present. They certainly were there because of connections that the Vice President made in the defense contracting world. Additionally, he was making the heads of Dark Rain extremely rich with the so-called winning bids they were landing by protecting the Vice President of the United States and other important governmental officials. After all, the taxpayers of the United States were the ones footing the bill.

“I don’t give a fuck what the mayor thinks about it!” Mann turned to see the Attorney General talking on the phone.

“Yeah, well tell him that when these infected things are taking bites out of his cocaine addicted fat ass.” The AG leaned over to Mann and put the phone on his shoulder while covering it with his hands.

“The fucking mayor wants to know why tanks are rolling down the streets in his town! Can you believe this prick?!” The AG laughed.

Mann chuckled, unsure of what else he should do. He did not know the attorney general at all, only having met him a few times.

The AG brought the phone back up to his ear. “Seriously, does this asshole know what’s happening? Tell him to stop snorting that cocaine and get his ass to the White House.” The lawyer made his way into the White House. Mann followed, heading to the Oval Office.

Mann was glad he did not have to deal with the political bullshit that the civilian aspect of the administration obviously dealt with on a daily basis. Petty fighting over some dog pissing territorial macho crap.

That’s the last thing we need right now…

“Sir, credentials please.”

Two Secret Service agents stopped Mann again. “I see you guys are working overtime,” Mann stated as he held up his card.

The young agent looking at his identification bobbed his head up and down slowly. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” He stepped aside to let the Colonel continue on his way.

Colonel Mann nodded to the two men and entered the room where President Rice was meeting with her Chief of Staff Allison Fujimoto and a few other aides.

“They’re fucking dead! Casper dead! Strangefuckingfeld dead! And Alfred, that beady-eye mother fucker is dead! Leaking that stuff about you, ma’am!” Chief Fujimoto stabbed a pen into the table with each exclamation. Obviously, Casper and his cronies leaked something negative about Rice to the press for her to be acting out in such a manner.

Everyone turned to the door, the tension rushing out of the room and socking the Colonel as he stepped in. Mann just smiled at the outburst of the President’s closest advisor. If one knew Allison Fujimoto, a former Representative from Illinois, she more than earned the nickname ‘Yakuza Girl.’ Straight black hair, a lean figure and high cheekbones she reminded everyone of Lucy Liu.

Chief Fujimoto showed no embarrassment from her flare up. In fact, she grinned at Mann. The Colonel noticed no military personnel present at the meeting. Four more Secret Service agents stood off in the corners. Two brandished machine guns, while another talked on his phone. He seemed to be in an argument with whoever was on the other end. The fourth gazed out the window, watching the military barricade the surrounding area.

“Well, I guess everyone has heard the news.”

Rice shook her head. “I get a call at four in the morning…”

“That prick leaked to the Washington Post and other news outlets that the President herself hesitated on a plan that could counter this outbreak. I know it was him, that fucking cocksucker.” Fujimoto stood up from her chair and swept away a bunch of papers on the table in front of her.

“Fuckin’ reporters have been calling all morning about the ‘potential weaknesses’ of this President.” Fujimoto made quotations with her fingers. “That Ivy League asshole Francis O’Cocksucker was on television this morning claiming that the President is too weak to act in the manner that this response requires. And don’t even get me started on that fat turd Theodore of No Balls…”

Mann smiled again. When Fujimoto went on one of her legendary rants, no one was immune from the tirade.

“Madame President, it’s time to kick these boys in the fuckin’ nuts, present company excluded.”

Mann grinned. “Thanks Ms. Fujimoto,” he stated as he took a seat.

“Allison, Fitz, it’s Allison.”

Another tap at the door interrupted the group.

“Come in.”

Secretary of State Edgewater poked her head in. “Excuse me, ma’am, but we have another huge problem that has just boiled over…”

Rice sighed. “What is it now?”

Edgewater stepped into the room, closing the door gently behind her. “The governors of Arizona and California are practically ready to declare war on each other.”

“Oh god, why?”

Edgewater flipped on the flat screen monitors.

On the television, a man spoke before a group of reporters. Mann recognized him as Governor Antonio Romualdo of California.

“…the threat that the Governor of Arizona has announced is due to racism. This is not about protecting his state from potential infected humans, but from the massive influx of Latino people that will come across seeking refuge from this outbreak.”

What is the problem…?” A reporter held a recording device in front of the man’s face.

Romualdo’s angry expression from his chubby red face flashed across the screen. “This is about the color of someone’s skin, not some infection…”

But Governor Reynaldo of Arizona is Hispanic…”

Romualdo laughed. “He’s just as much of a Latino, as Justice Cross of the Supreme Court is black.” The Governor stroked his beard as he chuckled at his little racist joke.

The volume on the television was turned down.

Rice turned her attention to her Secretary of State. “What exactly is going on? What is that man whining about?”

Edgewater shook her head grimly. “Governor Reynaldo has declared the borders of Arizona to be closed. He effectively shut down the borders early this morning. He’s mustering up the Arizona National Guard to protect the state from this infection. So, far he’s been joined by two other Governors on the West Coast in declaring their state closed and will appeal for Federal troops on the border of their states to help in that declaration.”

Rice groaned. “Great.”

“And the officials in California have protested this action, as they contend it will hurt the potential refugees that are trying to escape the infection. Additionally, Utah and Nevada have publicly stated that they will follow through with the closing of their borders as well to protect their citizens.”

Rice started waving her hands in the air. “I’m sorry, but those states will have to figure it out on their own…”

“I know ma’am, but I feel like I have to let you know what I’m receiving from all around the country…”

Rice just shook her head.

“Um, we also have a militia group in Nevada who has taken over some federal land and refuses to leave. They claim that the government does not own the land in the first place, and they have started barricading the land and hunkering down for the long haul. Some BLM agents have been shot and killed attempting to remove them from the area…”

Rice massaged her temples, becoming even more stressed at the news being tossed around.

“Also, ma’am, the Canadian representative here has asked to meet with you. Apparently, people are streaming across their border in waves and they have said if we do not do anything about it, then they will close the border and enforce it however they see fit…”

“Along those lines, Governor Browning Hampton is saying we should invite the UN troops to help fight the dead in his state of Vermont,” an aide relayed while scrolling through their phone. “Has already said he can do it and ask for whoever’s help without your interference…”

“Well, maybe we should be looking at the UN for help,” Edgewater stated.

“What? Why?” Fujimoto hissed.

Edgewater rolled her eyes. “Oh I don’t know, because our country is being overrun here?”

“And you want the United Nations to come to our rescue?”

The Secretary of State shrugged. “Why not, Allison?”

“The UN isn’t going to do shit, Diane…”

Rice held up her hands. “Okay, ladies please…

The room became quiet, with the walls closing in on everybody.

“What do you want to do about this?” An aide asked the obvious question.

Silence was the reply.

Mann knew that Rice was in a bind. The situation called for a quick reaction. Yet, modern warfare taught the Colonel that decisions made on a whim, or for the sake of having one, were the ones more than likely to fail.

“Ma’am, we have reports of Arizona militias forcing people back into California. They are setting up on the border in watch groups and are forcing the refugees back, even shooting them. We do have reports of some dead, among them women and children…” Edgewater finished speaking and let the room tumble into some more silence.

Rice continued staring down at the reports in front of her.

“The quicker we act, the quicker we can get some sort of a Federal or UN response down there and hope they can maintain some kind of order. I’m afraid we need to act…”

Fujimoto snapped her fingers. “She knows that Diana…”

“I know she knows, I’m just saying we need to respond.”

The Chief of Staff snorted. “Why?”

“Because the Vice President is making a power move. Why do you think he’s holding a press conference later with some military leaders? He’s trying to look like the powerful one and separate himself from Karen. He’s planning something.”

“And how do you know that?” Fujimoto seemed unconvinced.

Edgewater exhaled loudly. “Because now is the perfect time. Everyone is distracted by what’s going on…”

Another knock on the door and an aide popped her head in. “Excuse me, Ma’am, but that General is holding his press conference now…”

“Thank you. Hey, someone turn it to CNN or FOX.”

One of the televisions in the room switched from people looting stores to showing a stern looking Army Major General standing before a throng of reporters. In fact, he stood right outside the White House. It identified him as Warren Devereaux, of the 101st United States Airborne.

Colonel Mann recognized him from various deployments all over the world and proved himself to be an effective leader and commander overseas. Although Mann did not know it yet, Devereaux had been chosen to be the first military personnel the public would see when attempting to counter this tide of infection rolling toward the nation’s capital.

Major General Devereaux was sharply dressed in uniform. His two silver stars, indicating his rank, glinted from the early morning sunlight.

“…today with the invoking of the Insurrection Act by the President, I am declaring a state of Martial Law in the District of Columbia. We intend to seal off this city from the threat that is approaching us at this very moment. Therefore, that means that there will be a curfew that will be enforced against anyone that disobeys it. Anyone that is not out of the city by eleven pm tonight is officially under the jurisdiction of the United States Army. You will be forced from the streets by elements of the 101st United States Airborne and various other military units acting in a law enforcement capacity. There will be no negotiation on your part. If you chose to resist, you will be placed under arrest and transferred to a military jail where you will be detained for an infinite amount of time. Again, there is no negotiation on your part. You will obey us. There are no exceptions. I have been placed in charge here to protect the people of this great capital and that is what I will do to the best of my ability…”

How will you protect this city…?”

A reporter shouted out the question.

Devereaux clenched his jaw together, not attempting to hide the fact he was annoyed at the outburst.

“[_ We will squeeze this city so tight, no one –or anything- will be able to get in or out…” _]

“…so civil liberties no longer apply…?”

Devereaux glanced toward the man asking the question.

I’ve been assigned to protect this city. I’m doing what the President has asked and so I will obey her commands…”

“…what about the poor? How will they find the means to flee…?”

Devereaux flicked his hand in the air, waving away the concerns from the reporters.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I will be available in a few hours later for answering any questions or concerns that you have…”

With that, Major General Devereaux calmly strolled away from the mob of reporters yelling questions at him. Sullen faced Army Rangers prevented the news media from following him any further onto the White House grounds.

It appeared that the more aggressive elements of the administration had accomplished the goal of releasing the United States military. Of course, armed forces were going to have to be used under these circumstances. That much was obvious. However, Mann was concerned about how some people in the administration would use certain elements of the military to their benefit. Mann was even more alarmed after hearing how Casper had been working behind the scenes to quietly discredit Karen Rice.

Mann caught the glance of the President.

“Did you authorize this? Or is this a power play by Casper?”

She shrugged. “Even if I didn’t, what choice do I have, Fitz? The military has to be used in this situation. I’m being forced, but I really don’t have any other options. I have to order units into action.”

Mann did not respond. She was in trouble. If Rice did not order the military action, then that meant Casper was behind it. Only he had the influence and clout to pull off a maneuver like that at this moment.

“How did Major General Devereaux get assigned?”

Rice shook her head. “He was just recommended by Gatewoods…”

The Attorney General then came crashing into the room, still on his phone. “Hey, tell them to go fuck off, okay? Just tell them to call Saul. He’ll sort it out for them, okay? I gotta go now, I’m with President Rice…” He hung up his phone and approached President Rice.

“Thanks for joining me, Ray.”

The Attorney General nodded. “No problem, ma’am. I fully understand and support you taking this action.”

“So, as I understand it, I can declare martial law right now without the approval of Congress?”

Ray nodded his head in agreement. “From my perspective and how I interpret it, yes you can. The term ‘declare’ war is very important wording. When it comes to acting out in an offensive manner, then I do believe that the approval of Congress is needed. But this is a defensive action. We are under attack at this moment by an unknown threat. Being the President of the United States requires that you take action to meet this threat. If this includes, for the moment, including declaring martial law to meet this obligation, then not only should you do it, I would argue that you bound by your oath to this office to do it.”

Rice subtly nodded while looking over the paperwork the Attorney General set down in front of her.

“As you can see from what I have written up, martial law would be lifted when Congress declares the time is satisfactory and appropriate. Therefore, people will not see the Executive Branch as acting like a dictatorship, but still working in accordance within the Constitution. Besides, if you don’t act, then people will be wondering why you let the law get in the way when there is, frankly, no law at this moment.”

President Rice sighed loudly and shook her head. “This is all happening so quickly. I just don’t know which action to take here.”

“I do believe this particular action is required, ma’am. And yet, if you do not sign it, the fact is the military will still be out there fighting. Whether ordered by Governors or base commanders, there will be elements of the military engaging the infected or patrolling and trying to enforce laws and maintain the peace. So, you might as well just sign this and worry about the consequences after the fact.”

“I know, I know…”

“If you’re worried about being seen as a dictator…?”

“Not really no. I’ve been called worse,” she managed to smile.

Ray nodded. “Don’t worry ma’am, the law says you can only declare a National Emergency for two years before Congress says you must explicitly extend it, and even then it requires that you must specify in advance which legal provisions will be invoked. So, this will not been seen as the Executive Branch overreaching, but doing what needs to be done.”

“I know, it’s just that this is unprecedented.”

The Attorney General shook his head. “Actually ma’am, I would you disagree with you on that point. We all know what FDR did with American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. Additionally, JFK issued numerous Executive Orders during his time office. We’re not even mentioning the quote ‘War on Terror’ with secret warrants, drone strikes, and rendition programs of the CIA. Presidents have done what they believe needs to be done in order to protect the national security of this country. Of course, none of them ever faced anything like you are confronting today.”

Rice did not respond, instead she just gazed at the paper in front of her.

“With a section of the act you are signing today, supposedly Congress has sixty days to authorize a declared state of war. We know that even if they did not, the public would not hold it against you to start deploying the necessary forces to help fight this growing threat that is facing us. In fact, they would rally against you if you did not…”

“Then why even go through this process?”

Ray shook his head. “Just to cover your backside, ma’am. Not give a reason for someone to complain after the fact. Furthermore, with you declaring martial law, you don’t have to worry about state Governors or local leaders wondering why the military did not come to their aid. Once you sign this, power and responsibilities are transferred over to the military. And I would sign it ma’am. Right at this moment. Sign it now.”

A knock on the door interrupted them, and five high-ranking military men filed in, with Joints Chairman Robert Gatewoods lagging behind.

They all approached the President and saluted her.

“Thank you gentlemen, I greatly appreciate you being here despite the very circumstances that brings you all into this office.”

Four of the men nodded and then they all glanced to Major General Warren Devereaux. He was the one who would be running the show now if Rice decided to sign over the power to the military branch of the government. Mann observed that the four individuals behind the General were known hard liners of using American military to achieve the goal of keeping the country strong and independent. He concluded it was not coincidence that they were in the room at this very moment.

Major General Devereaux stepped forward and focused his attention on the President. Devereaux’s rough features on his face made him an intimidating figure to those who first met the man. Constant exposure from the sun during deployments in India and Pakistan had taken their toll on his skin. As a result, he appeared older than he actually was with patches of skin developing blemishes and sun freckles. A lean, fit frame from military campaigns stood in front of President Rice, studying her intently, now prepared to effectively take authority away from her.

Mann could tell that Rice was studying him back, trying to gage what type of person he was like the good politician she had become. Although both of them would not admit it, they knew power had already been transferred to Devereaux and his people. It was just a matter of making it official.

“Madame President, I urge you with all consideration, think about the repercussions of these actions before you decide. The military is not a babysitter. It is a dagger. It is a deadly fighting machine, and what you will see unleashed in this city and other cities, is not something I believe you are prepared for. This fight will take place in our cities, in our homes, and on our soil. Are you prepared for this?”

“I do not believe that we have a choice, General.”

“If you sign that order, we will effectively shut down this city. Chairman Gatewoods is prepared to pass on the orders to other commanders throughout the United States that the military is free to act as it wishes in order to overcome this threat.”

“I understand, General.”

Devereaux gave the President a sharp nod.

“General, how long for you to respond to this…” Chief of Staff Fujimoto was attempting to shift some of the burden off Rice.

The Major General turned his attention to Fujimoto.

“Ma’am, I can have ten thousand men here by tomorrow night, which would be one light infantry division from the 82nd Airborne. We already have some Rapid Development Forces here, along with Delta and a few companies of Army Rangers. I can work in accordance with the Marines, Homeland, and other military personnel that are present at the moment. But the heavy, large forces would not get until after tomorrow night. After tomorrow night, I can have two more divisions here in at least three or four days. But trust me ma’am, the last thing you wanted to see is divisions from the United States Army walking down the streets of your capital enforcing Martial Law.”

“I don’t believe that we have a choice, Major General. We do not have any other options.” Rice brought her hands together and rested her chin on top of them.

Devereaux’s jaw line clenched. “Yes, ma’am. Unfortunately, I do agree with you. Do I understand that you are invoking the Insurrection Act? I prayed that it had not reached this point…”

Mann noticed one of the officers behind Devereaux shake his head. Some of the military fractions did not have any issues with the thought of enforcing Martial Law on the American people.

President Rice looked down at the sheet of paper in front of her that would release the United States military onto the public streets of the United States. It was a transfer of power that, once unleashed, would be difficult to rein in. Sighing heavily, she hovered a pen over the paper authorizing the Insurrection Act. Her hand shook ever so slightly as she quickly signed it.

With the stroke of a pen, Martial Law was now the law of the land. The civilian components of the government were no longer in charge. Life in America had become effectively, a military dictatorship.

Major General Devereaux nodded slowly. “Ma’am, as the supreme commander in this city now, I just want you to know that I oppose this…”

“Ma’am, while I share the General’s sentiments, a police function has become acceptable Army policy around the world. Whether it is Pakistan or Haiti, we do have experience in this manner. After all, ma’am, the world is a battlefield.” It seemed that General Vernon Leavitt, a high ranking Army officer, had no problem with the military becoming a babysitter. He was the one who had been shaking his head at Major General Devereaux’s perceived restraint in trying to implement Martial Law.

“Of course General Leavitt.”

A hush lingered across the room for a few seconds until Chairman Gatewoods broke through it. “Madame President, we will perform to the best of our abilities.”

All six military men then saluted President Rice, who stood up and returned it. “Godspeed, gentlemen.”

Mann rose up as well, albeit for a different reason. He needed to make a stop, pick up a few files and then drop them off to someone.

Chapter 11

 

Sunday, July 15th, 12:45pm

Downtown, Washington D.C.

 

Colonel Fitzgerald Mann waited in the shadows of the parking garage. The files he held in his hand could send him to prison for the rest of his life if caught passing them along to someone who did not have the security clearance to view them. The folder was marked ‘Classified’ in its usual red stamped ink, almost as if reminding him that he was breaking a few dozen Federal laws.

He sighed.

This was the political side of the things.

A game he did not want to play, but with the President in a bind, he had no choice but to act in her interest. Especially against the combined forces of Vice President Bruce Casper and the military, who were proving to be a very real threat to Karen Rice and her allies in the government.

While a sitting President would have foes clawing at them, attempting to bring down their administration, the fact a national security threat was occurring at the same time, was not even giving certain people second thoughts. Nonetheless, national disasters could prove to be a very convenient time for people to try and grab the limelight. Roland remembered the powerful Senator Wayne Monica of Michigan becoming who he is now solely because of the Detroit race riots that took place years ago.

Bright headlights coming from a vehicle crept up the dark garage. The car slowed to a halt, and flashed its lights twice.

That was the signal.

Flashing car lights.

Out of a Hollywood movie.

The Colonel moved out of the shadows and toward the black Lincoln Town car. Mann cautiously approached it and opened the passenger side door. He groaned as he slipped onto the leather seat. His shoulder quietly flared up as he leaned back, but he ignored it.

There were more pressing matters.

“Colonel, it’s good to see you.”

“Hey Nasmir. Good to see you also.”

In his earlier days, Nasmir Ellison was a Major in the Special Forces and served with Mann in Pakistan. The two had done a few black ops back in Asia, with Ellison going undercover because of his Muslim background. Now, he was known as a ‘prick asshole’ because his title as a reporter with the Washington Herald.

“I have some classified information. About Operation Brushback.”

Nasmir slowly shook his head, whistling softly. “Jesus, Fitz. Alfred pissed you off that much?”

“Actually, his boss, Casper did.”

The former Major squinted at Mann. “He leaked the story to the Post and the other outlets?”

“Yes. And he was practically gloating about threatening to do it, thinking the President is weak. He’s making a power move, for what reason though I’m not sure yet.”

“Well Fitz, she’s seems to be…I mean, she seems to have stumbled a bit…”

Mann laughed. “Nasmir, have you seen the plan Strangefeld proposed?”

Nasmir chuckled. “Yes. It does seem…rushed.”

“It is rushed. Those infected things are not regular targets. The hit and run method will not work. These things will keep attacking anything.”

Nasmir grinned. “Well, I’ll go to my editors and see if they want to publish this…”

“Oh come on. When did the media ever not want to embarrass the military?”

“I’ll see what I can do. With them in charge now, it might be somewhat difficult publishing certain things.”

Mann did not even hesitate when he handed the file over to the reporter. In fact, he was smirking when he sliding out of the car.

So it begins.

Chapter 12

 

Sunday, July 15th, 4:14am

Ruston, Washington

 

Roland woke up from a lethargic sleep. He had been tossing and turning the whole time. For the first time since his death, he dreamt about his brother. He tried focusing his thoughts elsewhere to prevent the scene from replaying before him yet again.

He failed.

Instead, he lay down on the couch, staring up at the ceiling and recreating his dream.

Riley begged for Roland to help him as the fat infected woman bite into his neck. When Roland reached the scene, his brother already turned and was shaking his head. The blood drained from his face, the wound on his neck healed somewhat. Now it just a purplish red hole, dried blood was smeared across the side of his pale face.

“Too late, lil’ brother…I’m already gone…you were too late…”

Roland pleaded with his brother.

“…I tried Riley…god, I tried…”

Riley shook his head.

“…you weren’t there in time…too late…”

Too late…

Groaning, he lifted his head up from the pillow on the arm of the couch. Blinking, he noticed that the television on. Hunched over the lazy boy the silhouetted outline of what he assumed was Garrett.

A fart rang out.

And then a burp.

Yep. Garrett.

Roland kicked the blanket off himself.

Noticing the movement, Garrett glanced over. “Hey man.”

Roland just grunted as he made his way to the bathroom. Franklin and Penelope sat in the kitchen, obviously tired from guard duty. They each gave him a little wave. He managed a wave back before continuing onward.

Coming upon the bathroom, he saw Carver lying down on the floor. Creeping closer, he noticed the sidearm of the cop next to him. Roland found himself stopping and hunching over the cop.

He studied the gun, trying to shove the thought of him picking it up, away from his mind.

Because then nothing good would happen…

He noted Carver stirring slightly, and gradually eased himself back up. The cop hardly moved as Roland tip toed past him.

Roland gently nudged the door to his room where his mother slept. He viewed an outline of her body breathing up and down. He cautiously closed the door, not wanting to wake his mother or his dog. They finally settled down and Roland wanted to keep it that way. He peeked into the guestroom where David was still resting from his wounds, his heavy snores bouncing off the wall.

Roland advanced to the bathroom.

Flipping the toilet seat up, Roland sighed heavily as he relieved himself. Garrett Griffin was an old friend from middle school and high school. The two spent countless hours playing sports, poker, and partying in high school. Good buddies, but saw less of each other as they got older. Now, Garrett was going to a nearby community college studying to become a paramedic.

Well, shit, maybe the fucker could be useful, Roland thought to himself.

Flushing the toilet, Roland rubbed his eyes as he looked into the mirror. Staring at himself, he realized what a mess he had become over the last two days. Noticing his toothbrush, he did not remember using it over that time period. And, almost gagging while whiffing his body odor, realized he had not washed or bathed either. He brushed his teeth and shaved his face. He always shaved after a couple of days, hating the dark stubble sprouting upon his tan face. Although clean shaven made him appear extremely young, Roland loathed the ingrown hairs that developed within his coarse facial hair.

He flipped the light off, choosing to take a shower in the dark, hoping that it would somehow comfort him. At least the water and electricity was still running for the time being.

Hopping in the shower, he scrubbed his body, watching blood, dirt, and glass trickle down the drain. Roland leaned against the wall, suddenly sobbing uncontrollably. The water from the showerhead mixed with his tears, both draining away.

He thought about Riley. Balling both his hands to form a fist, he punched the wall.

Once.

Twice.

Blood started flowing down the walls of the shower from his knuckles.

He bashed his own brother with those hands.

Why him?

Roland inhaled deeply. His thoughts took him back to seeing Carver’s handgun, putting it into his mouth and…

A knock at the door interrupted him.

Roland attempted to wipe away the remaining tears, but the water streaming from above him took care of that.

“Sorry, Ro, but I gotta take a dump.”

Of course it was Garrett.

 

Stepping out of the bathroom after getting dressed in some new clothes, Roland adjusted to the brightness illuminating from the television. He made his way back to the couch and slumped down next to Garrett, who engulfed the bathroom with the most atrocious whiff Roland ever inhaled. He gagged and his eyes actually watered from it

“What’s the news, now?” Roland asked, rubbing his eyes, trying to become more awake. He thought about making some coffee, but his body told him to sit right where he was for the time being. Franklin and Penelope had gone into Riley’s bedroom once they saw people start to wake up.

Garrett downed some beer. He burped again. “Not sure, I was watching reruns of South Park.”

“What?”

“Yeah.” Garrett gulped another sip of the Bud Light.

Roland rolled his eyes and grabbed the remote. He flipped it to one of the national news stations.

“…we cannot confirm or deny that.” A man, identified as a Human and Health Services doctor spoke before a group of reporters.

“What about reports of it being airborne?” someone shouted.

Below the screen, text stated ‘This was recorded earlier yesterday’ ran across the monitor.

The doctor ran a hand through his long, shoulder length hair. “Once again, we cannot confirm nor deny that. “But, he stated as he held up a finger, “we do not believe that this is airborne. The slowness of how it is spreading leads us to believe that it is a matter of fact spreading by either a bite, blood or saliva transfer.”

“What advice do you have for people that are struck around areas where this infection is taking place?”

The man thought for a few seconds before answering. “Do not take in strangers. If you know that someone is bitten, then the likelihood of them becoming infected is almost a certainty.”

“You know,” Garrett begun, “the first time I saw a zombie, or whatever they are, I shit my pants.”

Roland could not help but grin. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I was going out to my car to go to school. Imagine that, trying to go to school with these fuckers running around.”

“Okay, okay.”

Garrett took another drink from the bottle. “Anyways, I’m going out to my car when I hear this scream. I turn around and my neighbor is rushing at me. Tall, skinny, Asian guy looks like…well, you know, like them out there.” He motioned to the television screen with his bottle. The scene displayed dozens of them running down a street.

“Anyways, I turn to run and trip over a small ledge on my parent’s porch. I fall onto my back. Meanwhile, my neighbor rushes over to me, screaming his head off. I’m thinking I’m a dead man, looking at this thing coming to me.”

“Yeah?”

“Anyways, I take a dump in my pants while this is happening. Literally, my cheeks separated and a log rolled out. I got the stains to prove it.”

Roland could not help but start laughing. “Jesus, man you don’t have to be so descriptive.”

Garrett burped. “I know.”

“And so what happened?”

Garrett chuckled. “He then trips over the same ledge and bashes his head against the cement, knocking him out. I said my Three Hail Mary’s and here we are.”

Both men turned their focus to the television as the volume level rose in the press conference. The surfer looking doctor continuing taking a few questions, trying to answer them over other reporters shouting other inquiries.

“Please, please, we do not know the whole effects on the human body.”

“Isn’t it pretty obvious?”

Laughter accompanied the sarcastic question from the reporter.

The doctor’s face turned scarlet. He clearly was not in charge, as someone in that capacity would not have been embarrassed like that. The laughter continued, although Roland suspected it also because the nerves of most of the reporters. The words below the screen indicated that US troops had been placed in the capital of America and were mobilizing in other major cities across the country.

The House did not pass the bill, with many of the Representatives fleeing the capitol in wake of the hordes of the undead streaming towards them. The Senate had been scheduled to debate the bill after it passed, but like their colleagues in the House, did not have enough members for a simple majority. It was an unprecedented scenario, although it was also being reported that the President invoked the Insurrection Act. This signaled the United States military could act in the same manner of your local law enforcement and perform domestic operations. Martial Law, more or less, was declared in the interior of the United States.

Things quickly, in Roland’s view, were turning to shit.

There was some movement on the side and another man climbed up to the podium. A neatly groomed, shorter male in military uniform spoke into the ear of the surfer-looking doctor, who nodded and swiftly exited the stage.

Flashes from cameras went off.

Reminder: This was recorded earlier yesterday. We are experiencing technical difficulties…

The man coughed and waited for the muttering to die down.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am Lieutenant General Eugene Gunzburg of the National Center for Medical Intelligence.”

The room stayed hushed. This short, balding man with glasses flaunted a certain amount of assurance. He seemed like a very important person connected within the many layers of government. The majority of the reporters in the area sensed this and let him continue his speech unimpeded.

“We are facing a crisis that we have never seen. For an unknown reason, and I stress unknown, some of the dead appear to be…um, coming back to life.” Lieutenant General Gunzburg glanced down to some notes on the podium.

“I want to assure the public that both the military and civilian branches of the government are working tirelessly to combat this threat…the violent attacks we are witnessing are related to a new infectious disease…”

“What steps do you…” a reporter stood up and shouted the question.

“Please let me finish,” Lieutenant General Gunzburg tried to conclude his sentence.

“No, some of the public believes that the government is hiding something. Especially with you, sir. After your incident with DARPA…”

Lieutenant General Gunzburg motioned with his hands, pointing at the man interrupting the press conference.

“The public is demanding answers, and we’ve got…hey, hey get off me…” The same reporter was being pulled away by some military police.

Lieutenant General Gunzburg had a smirk splashed on his face. “Once again, I encourage all questions asked at the end of my session.”

“Let me ask you a question,” Garrett said, turning away from the television.

“Shoot.”

Garrett burped again. “Seriously, Ro, I’ve only been with you a few hours. But you already rushed out into danger to save that girl and that other fellow.”

“Yeah?”

“And you saved that guy…David…and you came after me…”

Roland nodded. “And?”

Garrett sat up in his chair. “Well, fuck man, that’s what…four times you went outside to help people. Is this how you are dealing with…Riley’s death?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

Roland did not answer for a moment. “I have no idea. All I know is that my best friend, my brother, is lying on the ground right outside. And I’m the one that beat his head in.”

Garrett stayed silent.

“I don’t know. I’m lost. Maybe, I hope to…join my brother…”

Garrett took another sip of the bottle. “I won’t let that happen.”

Roland leaned back in the couch. “Thanks dude, but you know what would really help me out right now? I really need you to do this.”

Garrett shot Roland a confused look. “No, buddy, what? Name it man, I’m here for you.”

“Take a fucking shower. Please.”

Roland was surprised that Garrett’s laughter did not end up waking the entire house up, but his friend did end up hopping in the shower. While alone on the couch, Roland’s thoughts began to think of his fallen brother yet again. He had no idea how he was going to make it through the outbreak without him.

Riley had been there when he hit rock bottom and helped him during his withdrawals. After becoming sober, he helped him secure the dishwashing job at the Italian restaurant. And moreover, Roland would never have gone back to school if not for his brother encouraging him to do so.

Sudden flashes outside caused him to glance out the window. The military’s constant barrage of firepower was continuing to light up the early morning sky, making it appear as if it was angry.

Roland wanted to ignore it, but knew he could not. The infection was here to stay. The television showed infected dashing through a Macy’s store. He had to try and stay strong for one reason now: his mom.

Chapter 13

 

Sunday, July 15th 2:06pm

White House, Washington D.C.

 

“General, would you care for a drink?” Bruce Casper offered as he pulled out several glasses from his mini bar.

His guest, Major General Warren Devereaux, held up a hand. “No, but thank you Mr. Vice President. I do not drink.”

Casper shrugged. “Well, I do,” he replied, chuckling as he poured himself some scotch.

Devereaux decided to wait for Casper to finish pouring his drink before speaking again. When the Vice President put the bottle back, the Major General wasted no time with his questions.

“What do you want, Mr. Vice President? The latest report has infected less than fifty miles from here. I’m sure someone who is already infected is already in the city and I need to be meeting with my officers…”

The General’s voice trailed off.

Casper turned around and took a sip of his glass, letting the moment sink in for the Major General.

“Well, sir?” Devereaux shifted his body slightly.

“General, as you know, I support this President and administration in this fight, but I’m afraid that Rice doesn’t quite see the whole picture.”

Devereaux leaned back on the couch, but did not say anything. Casper admired how he played his cards close to his chest. It was not easy to get a read out of him.

“After this infection plays out, we then have to worry about how our country looks to the rest of the world.”

There was a minor pause before Devereaux responded. “Mr. Vice President, I’m afraid I don’t follow you…”

“Call me Bruce, General.”

“Okay, Bruce. I’ve been assigned to protect this city and the people in it. President Rice is still my superior and she is the commander in chief at this moment…”

“Yes, yes,” Casper interrupted. “We still respect the chain of command, General. That’s not changing. Yet, you know that she is weak when it comes to foreign policy and making sure America flexes its might to the rest of the world. And you know that the President needs to have their constitutional powers unimpaired when it comes to national security. An attack like this is one of those situations where we need to be ruthless and I’m afraid she may not be up to the task to doing what needs to be done here.”

The Major General did not respond. He sat stone faced, not displaying any reaction.

Casper smiled.

He still doesn’t realize I started it…

“I respect the office and her, of course. However, we both know that this tragic epidemic is going to change the tide of how this country looks and is governed. I believe in strong, robust executive branch. In these challenging times, we owe it to our Founding Fathers to leave the office in the same shape or perhaps even stronger than how we found it. And I’m sure you would like to see this great country of ours come out of this stronger and more powerful than before.”

Devereaux nodded. “Of course, sir. We’re all hoping for the best to come out of this situation.”

“No, no dear General you’re not going to be able to bullshit me like that.”

“I’m not following…”

Casper walked over to the man. “I want the same General as the one that was in charge of detainees in that black ops prison in Pakistan.”

Devereaux just shook his head. “That was a CIA run prison, sir, I had nothing to do with that…”

“General Devereaux, quit bullshitting me. You were the commander in that sector. In the public’s eyes, with a torture center, shit runs uphill, not downhill.”

Devereaux sat up, tilting forward. “Are you trying to blackmail me? I’m a patriot, Mr. Casper. You better not try and question my patriotism,” he stated, his voice angrily rising. “That detention center was legal and everyone in Congress knew about it. You try to burn me, and I’ll burn everyone else…”

“No, no,” Casper waved a hand in the air, “I’m not trying to blackmail you. I want you to be that same person that ran that prison. We need that person at this moment.”

Devereaux shook his head somewhat.

“General, you need not to be worried about me judging you. I’ve seen the classified documents about your time there and you did nothing wrong.”

Devereaux still did not respond.

Casper decided it was now time to tell him. “General, I know about the meeting you had with some military officers about taking command of leadership in the capital at the Pentagon…”

The Major General shot him a concerned look, but still did not speak.

“Oh yes, who do you think gave them the information about Gatewoods? You really think I would allow Duncan Corporations to do anything without my knowledge? General Devereaux, I organized that meeting.”

Devereaux leaned back in the couch. “So you’re the man behind it all then?”

Casper nodded. “Yes, I am. Rice will, eventually, need to go. She is too weak to handle this crisis.”

“I see, Mr. Vice President. And how do you plan on overthrowing the President, exactly? Not all the military will be on your side…”

Casper flicked his hand at that suggestion. “Normally, yes you are correct. But look at what is happening now! We have a horrible outbreak that is leading to…to…to the dead rising! I can’t even believe I’m saying that.”

Devereaux looked up at him. “And you are right that the circumstances are different than any other conflict. Perhaps you are on to something here.”

Casper felt a surge rise up inside him. “Thank you, General Devereaux. That coming from someone like yourself means something. You are, after all, the commander we need in a time such as this.”

The Major General actually grinned. He folded his hands together before speaking. “You do know what you’re asking, right?”

Casper grinned back at him. “Absolutely, General.”

“Things could get very ugly.”

“Oh, General Devereaux, I’m counting on that. And that’s why I’m coming to you now, in this time of conflict, because we need someone of your capabilities and your specialties.”

The Major General outwardly relaxed. “I do believe some Americans do not have the spine to face what needs to be done in times of war. Things are about to get very nasty and very violent.”

Casper chuckled. “That’s exactly what I mean. People are not prepared for what is about to happen.”

“No sir, they are not ready. When I was stationed in Pakistan and fighting terrorists that wanted to harm America, I saw how the average citizen didn’t give a shit. They didn’t care what I went through. They didn’t care what my troops went through. What my troops did for survival, what they did for their country. The countless sacrifices that they made, over and over again. Instead, the citizens of this country were selfish. Selfish pricks, caring only about themselves.”

“Oh, I totally agree, General. Most people do not know what it means to sacrifice for others.”

“And do not get me started on Congress. Worthless and gutless humans in my opinion. They don’t have the balls to make the necessary decisions during a time of war.”

“You are most certainly correct, General. Look at how they have already fled the Capitol. They expect you to do the fighting, but when the fighting is done, they will have hearings and committees to judge the actions of you and your men.”

Devereaux nodded. “I will do what is necessary in order to save this city from those that are infected. No measures will be held back in protecting this great country, no matter what the cost or price is. A few individuals are not greater than the foundation of this country, sir.”

The Vice President poured himself another drink. “Of course, not everyone is going to be on board with what needs to be done.”

General Devereaux bobbed his head. “Yes, you are right. It will be difficult dealing with them, but I’m confident my men can handle them. They are professionals and the best in the world at what they do.”

Casper hesitated for a second before continuing further. Recognizing the need to tread lightly with what he was going to say next, the Vice President held back for a moment. Even though the man pretty much agreed that a coup should proceed, Casper realized they both could be arrested before it even begun.

“So, you’re going to have detention centers, correct? I mean, for the trouble makers, right?”

A few seconds of silence hovered above the two men.

Devereaux then leaned forward. “Are you asking me about holding and detaining American citizens, Mr. Vice President?” he asked quietly.

“Yes.”

Major General Devereaux sank back into the couch. He suddenly and unexpectedly smiled at the Vice President. “Well, I do have some locations being scouted for future detention holding centers. With the authority granted to me by the President, I can do practically anything and the thing is, it’s perfectly legal. Her Attorney General gave his approval and trust me, we won’t have to worry about Congress. Those politicians will line behind the military because it will be in their best interest to do so.”

Casper laughed. “She opened up Pandora’s Box and doesn’t even realize it yet.”

“Unfortunately, you are correct, Mr. Vice President. I will have to go to extreme measures to overcome what is happening. People will be hurt in the process. It is not something that I look forward to, I can assure you…I’ve seen war and it is not something to be taken lightly.”

“Of course not, General Devereaux. I worry about this nation and what will happen to it once we defeat this infection. It will take resilient men, like you, to ensure that the United States does not become the next Greece or Argentina.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Casper abruptly changed the subject back. “So, what will these holding centers look like?”

A snort sounded from the Major General. “These centers will make the Pakistan one look humane. They will be for dissenters and traitors, after all. They poise a worse threat to our Republic more so than these…zombies.”

“Yes, yes I agree and I want to help you out and make your job as easy as possible.” Casper set down his glass on a table. “General, I’m going to be very frank with you. I know of some people in our government that do not have our country’s best interest at heart. They are very high up in the corporate and government worlds…some are very close to me…”

The Major General paused. “I take it then, you already have some residents in mind for these detention centers?”

“Yes, but all that can wait. For now, we must sit back and wait for our chance.”

Devereaux grunted. “You’re a real son of a bitch, you know that?”

Casper chuckled lightly, his blue eyes glinting in delight. “You have no idea, General, no idea at all.”

Chapter 14

 

Sunday, July 15th, 9:34am

Ruston, WA

 

Roland had been watching the television for a couple of hours when Carver started to rustle and move around on the floor. The news came in waves now. Reporters entered the latest infected areas and broadcasted the gruesome updates, although the military tried its best in quarantining the regions. For the most part, they failed miserably because no one knew exactly where the regions of infected began and ended.

And the most damaging news came from the regular civilians shooting video feeds and putting them up on the internet. Video sharing sites had been overburdened with numerous and countless uploads those first few days that many of their servers ended up crashing. Those that managed to stay online displayed images of infected viciously tearing people apart. That hit Roland especially hard, making him reflect back to thoughts about his brother.

He withheld from going crazy in front of Garrett by taking out his anxiety in the form of Mountain Dew. It may have sounded silly, but a year ago, it would have been alcohol and cocaine. And Roland remembered making a promise to Riley and his mother to never dabble back into drinking or drugs again.

I need to keep that promise…

Roland shook his head, trying to purge that type of thinking from his mind. Nonetheless, he knew it would always be there and would slowly come crawling back whenever Roland felt guilty.

He swung the bottle of Mountain Dew up to his mouth and gulped it down rapidly. Roland realized his soda supply was running low. More importantly, their bottled water was nowhere near what they needed for a three day emergency. Remembering biology class, they could sustain without food for several weeks before dying, however; there was no way he could go another three hours without some type of candy or soda.

Roland clutched his hands, which trembled.

A trip to gather some goods needed to be taken. The supplies in the house quickly dwindled down and almost gone after less than a day. Since Roland got interrupted at the little store, they did not get a chance to stock up on extra food and water. Besides, he figured they better go scavenging for supplies now while they still had some stocked up at the house. Better to be safe than sorry and panicking because you were either low or out of provisions.

Carver stood up and stretched. The cop put his handgun into his waistband and patted it. He yawned, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. Roland decided now to confront him about a supply run.

“I was thinking that we go, um, look for some supplies. Just in case, you know,’’ Roland told him, hoping his voice did not quiver too much.

“Sounds good. Grab me a burger while you’re out,” Carver replied sarcastically.

“You’re not…you’re not going to come look for supplies?” Roland nervously asked.

“Why? There’s fucking zombies out there man. The city is fucked. I was listening to my radio and have not heard any news that’s even remotely good.” The cop continued to stretch, focusing on his ankle that he mildly sprained the day before.

“Dude, I don’t know how to use a fucking gun. We need some supplies to last for several more days. I need someone who knows what they are doing. Am I supposed to bring Garrett? He’s in the bathroom taking a shit for like the fifth time this morning,” Roland cried out angrily, the pitch within his voice expanding.

As if on cue, Garrett stepped out of the bathroom.

“Someone called me?” he asked, pulling up his pants.

“Not really, but I might need both of you guys to help me while we go looking for some goods,” Roland responded.

“I’m in, as long as I get to drive,’’ Garrett replied in an almost cheery way.

“Fine, but I need Carver to come along. Who am I supposed to bring, my mom? Franklin and his wife can stay here to watch the house and David. C’mon man. We need your help. You said it yourself. It’s fucked up out there.”

The Tacoma cop was still shaking his head.

“We need to stock up on as many goods as possible. With six people here now, we don’t have enough to go around.” Roland desperately pleaded with the cop. He did not know what type of person Carver was, but he had been backed into a corner with supplies in the house running low. He saw no other choice but to trust the man.

Carver stopped shaking his head and looked at Roland. He then glanced to Garrett, who gave him a thumbs up and wide grin. Finally, after what seemed an eternity of silence to Roland, the cop finally spoke.

“Okay, but we need to have this planned out as much as possible. We need to have a clear cut plan on what we are grabbing and where we are going. We also need to agree that I’m in charge. What I say goes. Do you guys agree?” he asked.

Both young men nodded their heads in approval, although Roland could tell that having Carver in charge was not what Garrett had in mind. Still, even Garrett knew that Carver should be the individual in control at a time like this. With the dead rising up, a dishwasher and college student would need help. Lots of it, in fact.

 

For the next hour, the three of them gathered around the television while viewing Roland’s laptop. Their plan was to forage from the local businesses, which included a coffee shop and larger chain stores within the Westgate Shopping Center. The strategy first called to raid the smaller coffee shop for any food or water they stumbled across in that structure. The cop surmised that large groups of looters already hit the big chain stores, like Safeway and Albertsons.

Yet, a small coffee shop would probably be overlooked during the rioting taking place. Additionally, Carver believed that they might be able to gather enough supplies in the coffee shop that raiding the larger stores could be delayed.

For a few days, at least.

And that’s why you’re in charge, Roland quietly thought to himself.

He would have immediately gone straight for the big chain stores.

The arrangement called for the three of them to set out, with Garrett driving Franklin’s truck. Carver would ride ‘shotgun’, without the actually shotgun. Instead, he showed Roland the basics of using the weapon. He taught him how to properly hold the twelve-gauge and to also reload it. They did not go and practice shooting for two reasons. One, they wanted to preserve the precious ammunition. And two, they did not want to make any unnecessary noise that would lead a human, infected or not, to their location.

Carver armed himself with the handgun, making Roland feel more relieved knowing the group would not solely rely on him to hold back a potential threat.

Especially since he never had fired a gun before.

I hope I don’t have too either.

But Roland knew that was unlikely.

“How come we just don’t go raid the houses across the street for food?” Garrett asked toward the end of their planning session.

“Yeah, uh, that sounds much easier and, uh, safer.” Roland thought it was a good idea.

A damn good idea…

Carver shook his head at the suggestion. “Cause we could be walking into a death trap with the small amount of space that there is compared to a supermarket. I’d rather take my chances within a store that I have already been too and know the layout somewhat than rushing into someone’s own house. Besides, what if that person is home and armed? Would you like someone coming into this house and stealing your supplies?”

Both Garrett and Roland just shrugged their shoulders at the questions.

“We’re looting either way,” Garrett snorted.

“True, but this outbreak is still fresh. Chances are that people are still holed up in their houses and are armed and nervous. Last thing I want to do is go charging into a house with a panicky and jumpy person with their finger on the trigger.” Carver started to laugh, turning to Garrett. “Unless, you wanna be the first one into the house tough guy. I’ll be right behind you.”

“Suck my dick.”

“You’d like that…”

“Quiet asshole…”

Carver’s deep chuckle cut off the rest of Garrett’s rant. “You say that like I care what you think about me. Guess what there champ, I got news for you.”

“Yeah, what’s that?” Roland noticed his friend’s voice tremble slightly.

The former cop leaned in real close. His eyes burned with rage, the nostrils flaring out even more so. Thin eyebrows furrowed in anger. “You’re nothing but a weekend paintball warrior. Congrats on the high score, now stop pretending to be a fucking tough guy.”

Garrett did not respond and instead took a couple of deep, rapid breaths.

Roland finally decided to step in. “Guys, come on. Let’s finish planning.”

Both men looked at Roland and nodded.

“Yeah, okay.”

“Sure.”

Now that the dick measuring competition is over…

Finally, they used Roland’s laptop to check the distance between his house and the coffee shop, their first target.

And hopefully only target…

It was a distance of less than a mile. The plan called to avoid all the main streets, which would be choked with activity they wanted to evade anyways. As a result, they would take the back routes through the neighborhood, taking longer but hopefully be less crowded with humans…alive and dead.

 

10:36am

 

Franklin and his wife Penelope were both awoken and told of the plan. Franklin nodded, his lack of sleep making him appear like he did not care. After all, they had just gotten done with the night shift, but the three men felt like the supplies could not wait another half a day. Besides, Roland wanted to get out of the house, adrenaline pumping through his system at the moment.

Franklin’s wife on the other hand expressed serious concerns.

“What about Madison?”

Roland shook his head at the question. “Let her know after we’ve gone. It’s better that way right now.”

Penelope glanced at her husband, who just shrugged.

“She just lost one son…”

“And I lost my best friend.” Roland felt some anger rising up in him, but before he could react further, Carver stepped in.

“We need some supplies.”

Penelope slowly shook her head, but the cop continued talking.

“Roland has chosen to come along, and I admire him for that. He could just sit here at the house and mourn, but he has stepped up and thought about the rest of us here, that are still alive.”

The massive cop looked straight at Roland.

“I’m relieved he’s coming along and respect him for that.”

Silence drifted into the room. The little pep talk may have comforted the rest of the group, but honestly, Roland felt like running back into his room and slamming the door.

Holy crap, what have I gotten myself into?

Roland was not Bruce Willis.

“Let’s rock and roll!” Garrett sauntered into the middle of the group, giving thumbs up with both hands.

 

The three men gathered by the front door, with Garret holding the keys to the truck. Roland steadied the shotgun, it becoming heavy in his increasingly sweaty hands. His heart raced so rapidly he feared it would pop right out of his chest.

Sweat unexpectedly dropped into his eye, causing a small burning sensation.

“Ahhh,” Roland cried out as he brought up a hand and tried to rub the pain away.

Both Carver and Garrett stared at him as he sheepishly shrugged his shoulders.

“It hurt.”

The huge cop continued looking at Roland, while Garrett chuckled loudly.

“Wimp.”

Maybe he was not as tough as he thought he could be. Too bad they were not stepping out onto a football field. Roland would know exactly what to do then.

The tee shirt he wore stuck to his sweaty body. Wearing blue shorts and flip flops, he begin to second guess his attire for going out and fighting zombies.

Looking at Carver, he wore a bright yellow shirt and police trousers, with black shoes. Garrett was wearing a tee shirt and shorts as well, but opted for tennis shoes.

Maybe I should change…

“Let’s go,” Carver stated.

Yippy kaya muthafucker.

Carver held his gun in his right hand, while his left hand gripped the doorknob. Roland sluggishly scanned his eyes out the front window. The street seemed to be clear, the exception being the Native American’s crashed car in the middle of the road.

Speaking of that guy…

Roland spotted drying blood and flesh smeared across the fence where he was eaten alive. His remains hung over the barrier, bits and pieces missing from where infected had torn away. Other human remains lay in the grass. Roland’s Camry was still parked in yard, its bullet ridden body and torn tires proving no longer to be a viable driving option.

No infected emerged in the area. The men, however, were not going to take any chances. They all saw how rapidly those things could appear and what they could do once they did. The Native American man screamed for a full minute before finally succumbing to his injuries. The only noise heard afterwards being muffled sounds of flesh stuffed into hungry, ravenous mouths.

“Okay, I don’t see shit. I think we might be okay,” Roland whispered to the others, perspiration trickling down his face.

Don’t get into my eyes.

Carver turned the doorknob and with surprising stealth, maneuvered slowly down the front porch and cleared the immediate area. Garrett followed, almost tripping down the entry steps. He caught himself, laughing out loud at his own clumsiness. Roland trailed rapidly behind him, shaking his head at his friend.

I trust this guy with my life…

They got to Franklin’s truck without any other issues. The street was eerily quiet, a cloudy overcast making the area even more menacing. Carver motioned for Roland to get into the bed of the truck, while he slid into the passenger’s side. Garrett hastily made his way to the front seat and started the ignition.

Within seconds, the only sound on the street was Franklin’s pickup truck moving swiftly past stalled cars on the road. The streets were littered with evidence of gory confrontations. Car doors had been violently torn open and their windows shattered. Human remains sprinkled throughout the street and yard of the neighborhood. The only thing semi-human remaining was the occasional infected person chasing after their truck. Garrett would carefully speed up and lose them, making sure they were not followed to their destination. And yet, the trio of men could not shake the ghastly odor that descended upon the whole area.

It took them ten minutes to get to Cavanaugh’s Café, a modest neighborhood coffee shop because of all the weaving Garrett did to lose a few of the infected. Strangely, Garrett seemed to actually enjoy the cat and mouse game.

“Haha, I’m outsmarting zombies!”

Carver did not seem impressed.

“Keep your eyes on the fucking road, dipshit.”

Garrett stopped half a block away, so they could observe the place. The coffee shop appeared deserted from the outside. All the lights were out, the lone glow coming from a fridge on one of the counter areas. The only movement that the men noted was the fluttering of a balloon tied to one of the signs near the door.

“Let’s go.” Carver motioned for them to pull up to the place.

Garrett halted the truck directly in front of the coffee shop. Carver flipped his door open, pistol at ready. Roland hopped down from the truck, almost tumbling over in the process.

Without so much of a qualm, Carver smashed the glass door with the butt of his handgun. Working with precision, he had the front door open in less than ten seconds. He entered the café with textbook police procedures, quickly clearing the small shop, which was almost the size of Roland’s own house.

“Clear.”

Garrett stayed in the truck, with the engine running. If infected or unruly humans unexpectedly appeared, both Carver and Roland needed to dart out of the shop and dive into the bed of the vehicle.

Roland deliberately followed behind the cop, a large duffle bag in hand to gather supplies. He held the shotgun lazily in his other arm, somewhat relaxing. Carver switched on the café’s lights and the inside of the shop instantly lit up. Roland adjusted his eyes because of the gloomy, dark weather outside.

The power still worked, which Roland took as a good sign. The shop contained the usual ingredients for coffee use. Several espresso machines sat dormant behind the counter. Seeing the coffee bags lined up on the shelves, Roland noticed the smell of the beans engulfing the small shop. He took a deep breath, enjoying the aroma. Several pastries like cookies, bagels, and donuts were displayed in a glass case. Roland quickly gathered those up, taking specific interest in the cookies. He discovered several packages of bottled water near a back room. He threw those in the black duffel bag and proceeded to ask Carver what else he should grab when some noise was heard from the outside.

A car pulled right up in front of the shop. Carver ducked behind a small couch and took ready aim at the front door. Roland quickly hit the floor and crawled behind the cashiers counter. A middle age, white couple had gotten out of a blue, newer model Toyota Prius Hybrid.

Roland instantly had one thought: Hippies.

The woman, a brunette with glasses, wore a blue sweater that said “Increase the Peace.” The man had a white turtleneck sweater, a ponytail sticking out from underneath his green beret. He, of course, displayed the 1960’s sideburns on his face. They looked out of breath and did not resemble someone infected. Besides already having a strike against them for being hippies, they had no visible bite marks or blood stains.

“So, do we let in the Socialist Party or not?” Roland whispered to Carver.

“I think they saw you already,” he replied.

Roland looked up for confirmation and got it when they smiled while pointing in his direction.

“Yep, they saw me,” Roland said.

“Ask them what they fucking want. I don’t think they saw me yet,” Carver said.

Roland gradually rose up, clutching the shotgun tightly in his right hand. He walked toward the front door and stopped when he got within a few feet.

“Oh thank god you’re here!” the man exclaimed. “We have looked like all over this city for an open coffee shop. Starbucks was closed. Forza’s was closed. We are so happy to see this little shop open. We saw the truck park and you guys go in…” The hippie trailed off.

Roland stared at him dumbfounded. Actually, a tidal wave of rage was overcoming him. Was this man serious?

The man’s face blushed, sweat noticeably running down the sides of it. His sideburns seemed even more ridiculous now that Roland stood face to face with him. The woman took a settle glance at the gun, her eyes widening. She nudged the man and he slowly noticed Roland’s weapon as well.

“You fucking stupid, asshole?” Roland angrily questioned. “Are you totally oblivious to the fact that the shit has hit the fucking fan? Are you this fucking stupid?’’

The man and woman looked at each other, an expression of shock developing on their faces.

“So…you’re not open?” the woman asked.

“Asked and answered you stupid fucking hippies,” Roland shouted. He raised the shotgun and the couple quickly turned back toward their car. Roland held the gun at face level, unlike what Carver instructed him to do. But this time Roland was so upset, he forgot everything because the blind fury of rage overtaking him. From bashing in the head of his brother, to almost being killed twice in the past twenty four hours, to the stupid, idiotic people that he was encountering, Roland had enough.

He fired off a shot toward the glass window, hoping to vent his rage by destroying it. The gun impulsively recoiled back into his nose, shattering it. Roland collapsed to the ground, screaming in pain. The buckshot missed its mark and went wide to the left. Instead of shattering the window, he blew a hole in the bookcase. Roland heard Carver yell right before darkness overcame him and his mind went blank.

 

“Get… fuck up…,” yelled a voice.

Roland opened his eyes to find blood all over his face. He reached up and touched his nose.

Pain rushed through it.

He groaned.

His nose had been crushed from the recoil of the gun. He lay on his back, his vision blurry. Roland’s head felt like a crowbar just rammed through it. Blinking, he noticed Carver leaning over him with his mouth moving up and down quickly. Yet, Roland could only pick up bits and pieces of what he said.

“Roland…get…up now…”

Roland blankly stared back at the massive cop. The world seemed to be moving slowly. Glancing over, the scene reminded Roland when he got hooked on Vicodin. Everything just floated around him in slow motion. In fact, he almost felt at peace.

Vicodin, that was some good shit…

Carver still yelled, but Roland shook his head. The cop’s head abruptly jerked toward the door. Roland followed his gaze.

“Shit…tons…fuckers…” Garrett cried and pointed from outside the little building. Garrett moved the truck closer to the door. In fact, the vehicle bulldozed its way onto the sidewalk and knocked over the sign to the coffee shop. Garrett rushed from the front door, and jumped back into the truck.

Grabbing onto Carver’s massive arms, Roland managed to get to his feet. He stumbled, grabbing hold of a nearby chair. Carver reached for the fallen shotgun. He put his .45 into his belt holster, and swung his attention to the shotgun, sliding the rack of the weapon.

Suddenly, the urgency became evident. Moans floated over in the distance. Carver sprinted to the door with Roland following closely behind, still feeling dizzy. Once outside, Roland peered down the once quiet street to see a huge herd of infected sprinting toward them. Apparently, the shotgun blast and the hippies peeling away in their vehicle attracted the entire neighborhood. Carver held the passenger’s door open for Roland and shoved him in with such force that the he nearly ended up in the driver’s seat. Roland’s face splattered and ricocheted off the flabby body of Garrett. Carver then jumped into the back of the flatbed truck and got into a kneeling position, facing the large group rushing them.

The infected were within ten feet when Garrett blasted the vehicle forward.

“Haha!” he screamed as he pushed down on the accelerator, causing Roland to grab onto the dashboard.

“Weeee!” Garrett was enjoying himself a little too much.

Roland managed to regain his composure and looked back. Two from the group managed to grab onto the truck and attempted to climb in. Carver then used the butt of the shotgun to smash one of them in the head. One perfect strike on the side of the face and the man in the suit and tie fell off immediately. His sidekick however, quickly scrambled aboard the truck and jumped at Carver. The cop, while trying to avoid the leaping infected man, had his leg buckle from underneath him. As a result, Carver slipped and lost his balance. He instantly fell out of the truck, the infected man tumbling after him.

Roland heard the gigantic cop cry out.

“Stop the truck! Stop the truck! Carver fell out!” screamed Roland, bracing himself for the turn.

Garrett promptly pulled a U-E at thirty miles an hour. Roland held on while screeching. The pickup truck almost titled over as it shook while straightening out.

“Fuck me!” Garrett cried as he stomped down on the accelerator and raced back toward Carver.

 

The cop struggled to regain his breath as he tumbled on the pavement. Every part of his body ached, his skin grinding against the street. The flesh ripped apart from his body as he skidded over the street. Rolling to a stop, he could barely move and laid there for a few seconds, recovering from his accident. Exhaling loudly, his pain suddenly ceased when hearing the howls of the infected. Their feet pounding across the pavement was all the motivation Carver needed to get up.

The infected man who also tumbled out of the truck struggled to lift themselves up as well. Carver took out his handgun and fired one shot into its skull. Its head exploded and the body crumpled onto the ground like a rag doll.

Carver looked down the street to see the rest of the herd closing in on him. A huge roar was unexpectedly heard from behind the cop. Turning, he noticed the truck coming back around. He faced the infected again and carefully chose his shots. He emptied the magazine, dropping only two of them. The truck bellowed closer and Carver leaped out of its way.

 

Roland was still screaming as Garret plowed into the herd going sixty miles an hour. Bodies crunched upon impact with the truck. The front window shattered as a body flew up against it. Although the two men would deny it later, Carver swore both of them squealed like young girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

Several more bodies sailed over the hood of the truck. A couple were crushed beneath the wheels, the two men’s heads hitting the ceiling of the vehicle as the tires crunched over the bodies of the infected. The truck continued down the road for a few more yards until Garrett finally stopped the vehicle.

It lurched to a shuddering halt. Smoke lifted from the hood of the truck as Roland tried to catch his breath. He twisted about to see Carver rushing away from the rest of the herd. Garrett spun the truck around and quickly returned to the cop, with the massive man diving into the back of the Ford. The smoke from the wheels was all the infected horde could try and grasp at, besides the taunting voice of Garrett that drifted back to them.

 

Three blocks later, Garrett finally slowed the vehicle to a more manageable speed. Roland sat on the passenger’s side, realizing that he had been holding his breath the whole time. He exhaled a huge amount of air and sagged back into the seat.

They had gotten lucky.

Escaping from the small crowd of infected that descended upon them left all the men in state of disbelief. Roland clenched his hands together to try and stop them from shaking.

Another block over, Garrett yanked the truck off to the side. The vehicle was evidently on its last wheel. With the front windshield smashed, mixed with both blood and skin trickling inside. Roland peered closer, spotting hair splattered across the broken glass as well. Steam rapidly rose up from the hood of the car, with one of the wheel frames skidding along on the rim.

“No one touches any of the blood,” Carver said from the back as he slowly hopped out. The cop bled from his head and his elbow seemed to be scrapped pretty badly. He carried the shotgun, which had luckily fallen in the back of the truck, but lost his service weapon in the battle. Roland exited and noticed the back passenger’s rim was indeed gone. The truck could no longer be utilized because Garrett used it as a battering ram.

“Thanks for looking out guys. My ass was grass if you didn’t come back,” Carver stated, standing next to Roland.

“Well, it’s the least I could do. Who’s going to save your ass next time, Roland?” Garrett asked, laughing.

“Fuck you man,” Roland replied grinning, glad to let the pressure of the situation turn light hearted for a second.

“So what do we do next chief?” Garrett probed, nodding towards Carver.

The cop looked around.

The street they were on was located in a modest area. Neatly trimmed lawns and well-kept houses surrounded them. The only thing that seemed out of place was a black BMW that had crashed into a brick house. Farther down the street, a body lay on a sidewalk. Smoke bellowed a few blocks over, and distant shouting and screaming were heard. Besides that, everything else was sort of peaceful…

Too peaceful.

So, what’s going to happen?

Roland braced himself for something, anything to occur.

Carver began to move to the brick house, shotgun ready. Roland and Garrett shadowed the cop, staying several feet behind him. Crossing the lawn and approaching the driver’s door, Carver saw that the BMW had damaged the exterior of the house pretty well. The front end of the car was totaled. All three men came upon the gruesome crash, their attention focused on it.

“Uh sick…”

Garrett summed up their feelings.

The lower half of a human being stuck through the car’s windshield. The car did not breach the inside of the house, which meant the upper-part of the body had been torn away from its lower half. Carver was use to bloody traffic accidents, but this was no accident. To him, it looked as if the BMW was traveling at a high rate of speed down this street and the driver suddenly lost control and smashed into the house. Someone or something then proceeded to tear away the upper part of the body.

The silence was broken by the sound of glass shattering. Carver ducked behind the BMW, as did Roland and Garrett. It was quiet for a moment until the echo of glass being broken resumed. Carver cautiously poked his head up at the noise, which appeared to be at least two houses away.

More shattering of glass soared over the area. Peering closer, it was a small set of individuals that were breaking into a car parked on the street. They did not appear to be infected because of the laughing and giggling occurring as they looted the vehicle.

The cop examined closer, noticing the group comprised of three males and one female. The obvious leader, wearing a basketball jersey, gripped a black gun in his hand as he directed his two male cohorts while they ruffled through the car. The others seemed to be unarmed, but the female held a tire iron.

Carver checked his shotgun. It was loaded with two shells and he still had several more in his pocket. He glanced back up and held his weapon at ready. The group was making a lot of racket and Carver realized what now happened when a lot of noise was made. A surprise party would announce their arrival in the form of infected hordes.

Their words inaudible to the three men while hunched behind the BMW, yet the looters continued making a loud commotion. The four moved onto the next parked car and smashed the front window. They chuckled and giggled, having a jolly-good time. To Roland, it almost seemed like the happiest day of their lives.

Abruptly, gunfire filled the air.

“Fucking looters! Idiots! You’re going to bring those things over here!”

Spinning over, Roland witnessed a man coming out of his house and confronting the group of ransacking teens.

“Motherfucker, back off!” The teen in the basketball jersey pointed his gun at the man, while leaping on the top of the parked car. Roland counted at least ten shots being fired at the man.

Being the usual street thug, he failed in hitting his target.

A car summarily backed out of a driveway across the street, drawing the attention of the gang.

“Guys, just stay quiet and keep low,” Carver whispered. They could only wait for the group to leave or for them to be interrupted by the infected.

The leader hopped off the car and darted into the middle of the street. Taking aim at the car spinning away, he fired two shots before his magazine ran out of bullets.

“Damn.” The genius almost made it sound like he could have actually hit his target if he had more bullets in his gun.

All of the sudden, a huge roar floated over. Roland peeked at the scene again. No mistaking what the sound consisted of and who was behind it. Infected were close, and with how loud the earsplitting cries surged up all over the neighborhood, there were a ton of them.

Swiftly, the group of looters started running in the direction of where the three men hid.

“That’s what you fucking get!” The homeowner taunted the raiders as a door slammed shut.

The infected promptly approached, attracted by all the noises the group made. The horde, upon closer inspection, easily numbered around one hundred strong. Represented by a diversity of undead humans, there were Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian zombies. All of them working together in a collective effort to eat humans.

Glad to see everyone getting along…

One of the teens, wearing very saggy pants, tripped and was down long enough for the horde to get close and start taking bites out of him. Roland recalled a documentary he watched about piranhas on the Discovery Channel. Once blood was drawn, then the rest of the pack went psycho and ripped into the unfortunate victim. His screams were overcome by all the shrieks and cries the flock of undead made. The sounds of the infected reminded Roland of wild, feral animals. His ears rang from all the noise ascending around him.

Cries from a young man being torn and eaten alive…

Savage, uncontrollable shrieks of former human beings, now bloodthirsty monsters…

Additional undead broke loose and continued after the other looters. The female ran up to a house and was in the process of getting through a window when a few of the crazies pulled her back outside. They then proceeded to go to ‘dinner’ on the female looter, silencing her cries for help quickly and brutally.

Roland, Garrett, and Carver managed to stay out of sight from the horde as the undead began to stream past them on the street. The other two thieves screamed and cried as more and more infected gained ground on them. The main bundle of infected rushed past the small cluster of three men hiding behind the car, solely concentrated on the meal in front of them.

Roland jumped as he was tapped on the shoulder without warning.

It was Garrett, who motioned to Carver.

“We are moving to the back yard and going from there,” whispered Carver. He pointed to a brick wall that would hopefully conceal the three men from the infected. Roland nodded and began to slowly back up. Yet, he only moved a few steps before he bumping into the large, considerable jello-ish form of Garrett, who stared past him.

“Dude, keep moving…” Roland quietly pleaded.

Garrett jerked his head, indicating something was behind Roland, his eyes widening.

Aw, shit.

Turning deliberately, Roland noticed a little girl standing behind the car, staring intently at the three men.

“Keep moving, slowly…” Carver tried to maintain control in his voice, but Roland heard it tremble ever so slightly.

The girl arched her head at the men and smiled. Yet, it was a vile, disgusting smile. The left side of her face had been totally ripped away and something fluttered out from her missing left cheek side. Upon closer examination, it proved to be her tongue, which partially hung out and dangled against her jaw as she bent her head toward the men.

For a few seconds, everything slowed down for Roland again. The horde listlessly ripped away at two unfortunate victims.

The rest of the undead assembly sluggishly chasing the other two humans.

Roland titled his head.

No sound.

The yellow dress the girl wore gently flapped against a breeze.

Roland squinted to the sky.

The sun finally begun to break through the early morning clouds, signaling another hot July day in the Northwest.

The girl abruptly let out a vicious, sickening primeval cry. Out of the corners of her mouth, black liquid dripped down. Her foggy eyes beamed right at the three men, attention solely focused on them.

Other infected immediately glanced up to see what the cry was about. Heads turned to the sounds of the scream, promptly spotting their new prey.

“Shit!”

“Fuck me!”

“Ahhhhhh!”

All three men yelled out in unison.

Everything sped back up for Roland.

“Into the house,” Carver shouted, pointing at the dark home in front of them. They all hopped up the stairs at a lightening quick rate. As he skipped up the flight of steps, a hilarious thought entered Roland’s mind.

Thank God my pants aren’t sagging down.

His breath exhaled in brisk motions.

Looking like a fool with your pants on the ground.

His heart pumped rapidly, pounding against his chest.

While getting your ass chewed by hordes of fuckin’ zombies.

Roland laughed, surprising himself. He thankfully prayed that the house was so near, as running in flip flops was not the best idea. Especially from zombies.

Garrett went head first into the door, trying to knock it down. Unfortunately, all he did was crash into the wooden door and ricocheted backwards. He stumbled, and landed on his back.

“Jesus fucking Christ, do I have to do everything?” Carver appeared, brought the shotgun up and fired.

The door’s lock blew off and the huge muscled cop kicked the door down. He grabbed Garrett and practically flung him inside. Roland followed, diving head first into the house.

“Ahhhh, what….” Roland crashed into a table, knocking over a small vase of flowers.

Carver turned back toward the open doorway. The infected girl came flying up the stairs and let out another loud, blood curdling shriek. Carver fired twice, sending her back down them.

“Fuck you Sally Lou!”

The massive cop then managed to shut the door. However, he was having trouble closing it all the way. He slammed it a few times, but it kept sliding open ever so slightly. Roland saw it could not close all the way because of the lock being blown off. Garrett, actually making himself useful for once, pulled a bookcase nearby to block the doorway. He squeezed it between the doorway. Then, he moved a desk to help with the barricade.

“Shit, I’m out of shells.” Carver looked annoyed, but did not panic. “The rest of them must have fallen out of my pocket or were left in the truck. Fuck!”

The bookcase became effective in blocking the remaining infected, who somehow sensed the men were still there and tried clawing and scraping their way through the blockade. The door, in spite of the lock being blown away, proved to be a useful obstacle as well. Despite the infected reaching hands through the door and pushing against it, all the objects reinforcing the barricade were successful in keeping the horde away for the moment. Roland threw a table against the doorframe, as Carver stacked some chairs to provide some more support.

“Great, we’re out of ammo and have no vehicle.” Garrett huffed and puffed while leaning against the wall. A huge red mark signaled where the door won the battle against his shaved head. He rubbed it. “And my head’s fucking numb.”

“We need a plan…”

“Let’s just go out the back…”

“Wow, you’re a genius, seriously…”

“What the hell are you doing in my house?!” A whiny screech interrupted the men. A tiny man, holding a broom, came shrieking into the room. Pale, white and wearing small wiry glasses on his face, he tried flexing his shoulders to appear larger.

“Whoa, whoa, hold on there cowboy…” Garrett attempted to approach the man.

“Back off, back off!” He made a threatening motion with the boom and forced Garrett to take a step back. The man had a plaid collared shirt tucked into his khaki pants.

Dude looks like a wimpy city councilman…

“Hey man, we’re just trying to get away…” Roland was cut off.

“I want you all to leave now. Right now…or…or…” the little man struggled to finish his sentence.

“Or what?” Caver stepped toward the shaking, diminutive man. “Even if you kicked us out, those things would get in.” The cop pointed in the direction of the infected group that had gathered on the porch.

“Oh, yeah…”

“Do you have guns or weapons in your house?” Carver asked the trembling man.

He shook his head. “No…this is…was a gun free zone.”

Everyone gazed to the little man.

“What?” Roland titled head at the house owner’s declaration.

“This is a gun free zone. No weapons here…”

“Holy shit, I know you!” Garrett injected.

The petite man wiped his sweaty palms on the front of his pant legs.

“Yeah, yeah.” Garrett shook his finger at the man. “You’re on the Tacoma City Council, right?”

“Yesss, yeess, I am…or was…no I am…” he stuttered.

Garrett turned at Carver and Roland. “This fuckin’ genius voted to ban assault rifles a year ago.” He glanced back to the City Councilman, sneering.

“How’d that vote workout?” Roland grabbed the boom from the man. “What were you going to do, tickle some fucking zombie balls with this?’

“I…had…I had the best interest of the community…” The man was cut short by the pounding of infected on the bookcase. The shelf started to tip over. A window nearby abruptly shattered, a few rotting hands sticking through the frame.

“Looks like your constituents have arrived! Why don’t you just hang a sign that says ‘This is a Zombie Free Zone!’?” Roland could not help but find humor in light of the situation. Garrett glanced at Roland, roaring with laughter at the comment.

Everyone reacts differently…

“We need to get out of here.” Carver grabbed the man’s arm. “Do you have a vehicle?”

The man shook his head. “No, I biked to work or walked.”

“You’re shittin’ me.”

“No…no…”

“My god, of all the houses we go into, we got to run into an environmentalist! Out the back!” Garrett cried, already rushing to the other end of the house.

“Let’s go!” Carver and Roland joined Garrett, but the petite City Councilman pulled away.

“I’m not leaving this house…”

“Come on, man!” Roland looked at him, disbelief flashing over his face.

“No! We must wait for the government to come, the state told us stay in our houses…”

Roland shrugged. “Have it your way, moron.” With that, Roland sprinted away, attempting to catch up with Carver and Garrett in the backyard.

 

The men hastily scrambled over to the back fence. Roland quickly grabbed a hold of the top and hopped over to the other side. His ankle twisted under the pressure of his landing. The fall, adding to his previous injuries, made Roland wish he had stayed at home.

This is some of the craziest shit I’ve ever done.

Running from zombies.

Trying to escape from the Armageddon.

What’s next?

Carver tossed Roland the shotgun and swung over the fence. Garrett backed up a bit, hopped around, and sprinted at the fence. His attempt at leaping the six foot fence was sort of successful. Successful in the fact that he got to the other side. Sort of successful in the fact that he literally ran through the fence, knocking down the top section and scraping his arm pretty bad.

“Shit.” Garrett cried out as he tumbled to the ground.

Carver helped him regain his balance, not his dignity.

Actually, I think Garrett’s dignity was gone, say oh, before high school started.

Suddenly, a scream sliced through the quiet air. The back door to the council member’s house flew open and the tiny man ran out screaming. He clutched his shoulder, which bled uncontrollably. Behind him, several infected poured out the door trying to get a free lunch. The little councilman ran directly toward Roland.

“Move, move now!” Carver cried out.

“Holy shit,” screamed Garrett, turning and running. Roland spun to scamper away, but not before he saw the councilman reach the fence, only to be taken down quickly by a hoard of hungry flesh eaters. The last thing he heard from the man was his ear piercing screams, which were then hastily silenced.

Carver sprinted down an alley, Garrett following him sluggishly. Roland limped after them, not looking back. Garrett eventually noticed Roland had hurt himself and let him put his arm around his shoulder to take the weight off his ankle.

Two blocks later, Carver slowed down, jogging over to a vehicle parked on the side of a road.

Garrett and Roland were completely out of breath, with Garrett almost dropping him on the ground.

“No…no…infected…behind…” Garrett plummeted to the pavement. If infected abruptly appeared in their vicinity, Roland doubted any of them had the strength left to outrun them. Particularly since Garrett practically was puking his lungs out and Roland’s ankle was still sore from leaping over the fence. Also, his toes throbbed in pain from running with the flip flops.

Looking about, Roland noticed they were on a busier city street. Carver crouched behind a giant, white Ford pickup truck. A newer model and looked to be in pristine condition. There appeared to be blood splattered on the side of the truck. Peering closer, he believed bloody handprints were smeared on the back windows.

“We need this truck. We are fucking sitting ducks out here,” Carver stated.

Roland nodded, as did Garrett. Pointing toward the door, Carver smashed the window with his gun. Garrett opened the door quickly and poked his head inside. Nothing of value was found inside the truck except a wooden baseball bat, which he tossed to Roland.

Swing away.

The keys were still in the ignition and the tank full of fuel. Looked like the owner of the vehicle prepared to leave, but was unable to complete his task for whatever reason.

Or they were interrupted.

Carver hopped into the front seat with Garrett riding shotgun. Roland was in the backseat, clutching the Louisville slugger.

Starting the truck up, Carver swung his head around. “Where to?” he asked.

“Let’s go for a cruise,” Garrett suggested.

“Seriously.”

“We still need some supplies,” suggested Roland. “Let’s pick up our stuff from the coffee shop.”

Carver nodded and pulled the truck forward into the deserted street.

The small group made their way back to Cavanaugh’s Café and rapidly picked up their supplies left in the shop. A car siren was going off just down the road, so they decided to quickly exit the immediate area.

About ten blocks later, they turned down the street, which led into a business district. It contained a few real estate buildings, a white Bank of America, and several restaurants, with other smaller businesses dotting the landscape.

“Ooohhh, I loved that place,” Garrett giddily stated pointing to an Italian Restaurant.

“Uh yeah moron, that’s where I got all that free fucking food for you.” Roland shook his head.

Carver looked in the rearview mirror, a scrowl plastered on the face. “You work there?”

“Yep.”

“He was a dishwasher,” Garrett pointed out.

“I see.” Carver just continued down the road.

The area was strangely quiet considering an infectious outbreak with murderous, frenzied undead had transpired all across the region. Looters again struck the various businesses as windows were smashed and trash covered the sidewalks. A car had driven straight into one of brick walls, and not surprisingly, the brick wall won that battle. Yet, what really gnawed at Roland was how empty the district appeared to be of both humans and infected. Especially with what was occurring in the city.

Then gunfire immediately rang out as soon as they turned a corner block.

I spoke too soon…

All three men ducked, Carver swiftly pulling the truck over to the side of the road. The image in front of them was straight out of a Hollywood movie. The one story Bank of America was under siege. Parked in front of it, a Brinks armored delivery truck with the side courier door open. A single guard exchanged fire against four men dressed in three piece suits.

The bank robbers dressed in exactly the same black pants, white shirt, black jacket, and red tie. Additionally, all four wore masks. Each mask displayed a hideous grim reaper with long, flowing hair coming out of the back. The mouths of the reaper’s were wide open and twisted, as if screaming. Individually, the only difference was the colors of each mask: green, black, orange, and white.

Those are pretty fucking awesome.

Halloween has come early…

They took up positions behind a black SUV, which was presumably their car. The guard was in the process of ushering a large bundle of cash from the bank to his armored car when promptly ambushed. The guard fired a mere pistol, while each of the robbers had fully automatic M4 rifles.

Within seconds the Brinks guard collapsed, his face half-torn away. The dolly being used to transport the cash fell over, plastic bundles of cash flying up in the air. The Brinks truck speedily lurched forward, trying to get distance between itself and the gunfight.

Roland’s next thought: This actually isn’t fucking awesome.

Two of the robbers continued firing at the armored truck, while the robbers with the green and orange masks ran to gather the money bundles. Unexpectedly, a civilian darted out from the bank, sprinting into the street. The bandit with the black grim reaper mask opened fire on him, cutting them down instantly.

Bullets whipped off cars and buildings. Glass sprayed all over the ground, along with spent casings from their weapons. The Brinks armored truck sped off, passing by the three men in the white truck.

The homicidal robbers started gathering the loot, quickly scooping the money up and loaded it into their waiting SUV. Walking back toward the black SUV, the one wearing the green mask fired another round into the already dead guard. Something of a laugh echoed from the masked robber.

Suddenly, the green masked robber stopped and rotated his head back around toward the white truck.

“Oh shit.”

Roland was not sure who mumbled it.

The green mask tilted sideways. For a moment, everyone just stared at each other.

Someone do something.

Abruptly, the green masked man swung the gun up and fired toward the three men. Everyone ducked, waiting for the deadly hail of bullets to rack the vehicle. Amazingly, the reign of hell did not come.

Peeking his head up, Roland saw the gunman changing magazines. Even more amazingly, the truck did not attempt to move.

“Carver…!” Roland seemed to snap him out of his trance. Yet, by this time, the gunman reloaded his rifle and swung the gun back up.

Just as Caver began reversing the truck, a hail of gunfire hit the truck.

“Fuuccckkk!” Carver was attempting the steer with his head turned around. If that was difficult enough, the rain of bullets piercing the truck were making it almost impossible. As a result, all three men hit their heads on the ceiling as the truck hopped over a curb. Carver straightened out, and stomped down on the gas pedal.

Roland turned around, checking to see what the remaining bank robbers were doing.

With the rest of the money gathered, the masked men took to spraying the bank with more bullets. The homicidal maniacs then hurriedly piled into their SUV and took off, apparently wanting the rest of the money inside the truck. Carver smartly pulled off to the left, avoiding following the trail of the armored truck. All three men squinted behind them, waiting to see what the bank robbers were going do. Seconds later, the black SUV raced past their turnoff, hot on the trail of the truck.

A huge sigh of relief went up inside the vehicle.

However, it was short lived.

Almost immediately, Carver had to turn off their road as car wreckage blocked their lane. As soon as they completed their turn, Roland spotted the Brinks vehicle looming down on them.

“Shit!” Carver stomped on the brakes, skidding the white Ford to a halting stop.

The Brinks armored vehicle must have turned on the very next street, and then completed another turn to run right smack dab into the three men.

“You’re fucking kidding…” Carver did not complete his sentence as the black SUV appeared beside the reinforced truck. Gunfire started up from the side of the sports utility vehicle.

Since the armored truck was heading toward Roland and the group, Carver quickly slammed the truck into reverse and peeled out into the street. Visualize a giant white truck going thirty miles an hour in reverse with a giant Brinks armored truck right in front of it. And to top it off, four crazy bank robbery/homicidal maniacs in three piece suits and grim reapers masks following, shooting out their windows at the armored truck. Smoke rose up from the wheels as the truck grinded against the pavement.

Straight out of a Hollywood movie…

The truck jerked to the side as the Brinks truck passed them.

“Holy fucking shit!” screamed Garrett, ducking to avoid the bullets now flying all around.

“Go, go, fucking go!” shrieked Roland.

And Carver was going all right. Unfortunately, going swiftly in reverse was not an easy thing to do. Since he had to avoid debris on the streets, the black SUV promptly pulled up next to truck. All three men glimpsed at the driver, the orange masked grim reaper, who almost seemed to smile at them. Abruptly, one of the doors flew open and the green masked robber pointed his rifle at the truck and raked it with bullets.

“Ahhh!” Carver was seemingly nicked in the shoulder.

“Where’s fucking zombies when you actually fucking want them!?” Garrett managed to squeeze out that sentence above the shooting.

And while squealing like a little girl.

“Shiiiiiit me!”

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Or maybe that’s me.

“Fuuuuuuuuuccccccckk!”

Roland saw the car parked on the street a split second before they crashed into it. The truck smashed it from the back, lifting the rear upwards before collapsing on top of the hood. Roland’s face collided into the driver’s headrest, effectively knocking him out for a few seconds.

The Brinks truck kept speeding down the road. The SUV with the homicidal killers slowed down, debating with themselves whether or not stop and deal with the three men who stumbled upon their robbery. In the end, they continued forward, firing at the Brinks truck with an endless supply of ammunition. The last image of the car chase were two bandits in the backseat, hanging out, unloading on the truck. The armored vehicle hopped the corner, tires screeching, the pursuing killers right on its tail.

“Fuck.” Garrett kicked his door open and jumped out. Blood trailed down the side of face. Carver exited as well, appearing dazed.

Roland slowly crawled out, being helped by both men.

“Fuck!” Garrett wiped some of his blood on his shirt.

“What now?” Roland squatted down, twisting his ankle, trying to shake out the sprain.

A growl answered his question. Three heads looked to where the sound originated.

An infected person staggered toward them.

“What the hell,” Garrett cried as he threw his hands in the air, “where the fuck were you a few minutes ago, huh?” He actually started walking at the person. “Fuck, we could have used your useless zombie chewed up ass then, but nooooo, you gotta be a fucking bitch and show up now!”

Carver gazed at Roland, who shrugged back at the cop.

“Uh, we should get him before…”

The cop nodded. “Yeah.”

“…no, you show up now, you smelly, dirty little…” Both Carver and Roland tugged the shirt of Garrett and pulled him away from the infected person rushing up.

“In here!” The men darted into a local real estate business and promptly shut the door. The infected person ran to the closed entrance before crashing into it and falling down.

“We’re closed!” Garrett continued letting off some steam. The zombie, of course not understanding, stood back up and pounded on the glass door.

“Fuck. No shoes, no shirt, no human, no fucking service!” Garrett chuckled at his own little joke.

Roland just shook his head. “Ya know… you got some problems to work out…”

Garrett continued laughing as the infected person kept pounding on the glass door.

Chapter 15

 

Sunday, July 15th, 3:56pm

White House, Washington D.C.

 

Colonel Fitzgerald Mann finished his presentation and looked out to his audience for any questions.

Of course there were going to be questions.

A bunch of government drones had gathered together in one room. When not doing anything productive on the taxpayer’s dime, they pretended doing something productive. Mann did not know which one was worse; the huge bureaucracy acting like they did good, or the fact they had the capability to pull it off.

He hated briefings, especially when the main speaker. Yet, since he had first contact with these infected, his bosses politely asked him to present his findings to one of the many numerous meetings taking place. Besides, this was one aspect of the governmental bureaucracy that was required, particularly during times of crisis. Instead of taking actual action, the stiffs would sit around and discuss what actual action should be administered.

Mann spotted the first hand and pointed to it.

“Yes, Mr. Secretary?”

Secretary of the Army Mitchell Tann spoke up. “Colonel, in your opinion, based upon your encounter with these things…how would Special Forces fare so far behind the lines?”

Mann took a deep breath. “Well, Mr. Secretary, they would need a fortified HQ from which to proceed with their missions. As we have seen, not just with Caffa but with that team in California being surrounded quickly and having to adapt to their situation, teams that are dropped off need to be ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice…”

The Colonel was interrupted by Chairman Gatewoods. “And just to be sure that everyone is on the same page, that video footage from California is classified by orders from the Pentagon. No one is to speak on it unless given the go ahead from them.”

Nods rose up from the room of bureaucrats. They were used to being told what to do by the unseen superior boss in the cycle of government. Besides, it was better if the footage captured near Los Angeles did not end up leaking out to the public. It showed Navy SEALs tossing bodies of people into a huge, mass grave. The immediate problem, a few people were still alive, causing the SEALs to take close range, direct shots to the forehead of the unfortunate victims.

“Noo…no please…” a woman pleaded.

“You’re marked, ma’am. We have our orders.”

She started crying. “But I’m not infected…please, I was coming here to get some help…”

The military man placed the handgun in her face and calmly pulled the trigger. Her body tumbled over the side, falling into the large pit.

Flames shot up, as smoke drifted up over the mass gravesite. A flamethrower worked his way over, burning the bodies.

“Cover this up!” A stern voice ordered off camera.

Two yellow bulldozers appeared, pushing dirt over the freshly marked graves.

An infected tried crawling out, only to be buried under tons of soil. The bulldozers continued pushing mounds of earth over the grave site, in an attempt to bury the evidence. Nevertheless, the video of the massacre was all the evidence that needed to be left. Mann knew that the government would try and delay the panic for as long as possible, but that scenes like this would eventually get leaked out. And when they did get leaked, there would be hell to pay for whatever government official was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Chairman Gatewoods nodded for Mann to go on with his remarks.

“Yes, um I believe having a fortified command center before dropping off any more Special Forces units. Furthermore, I believe that the best offense right now is a great defense.”

Secretary Tann leaned forward in his seat. “In other words, you disagree with the plan being implemented at the moment?”

Shit.

Mann coughed, trying to think of a way to readjust his words. “No, no. I do believe that um…we need to face this…threat. Additionally, I do not recall a strategy being implemented quite yet by the President…”

“And how would you react if you were in charge of a unit on the so called front lines of this crisis? Would you want to barricade yourself up behind the walls of a city or would you be proactive and attack the threat?”

Tann seemed to want to keep moving forward with his line of questioning, but Mann caught the mistake. Evidently, some sort of plan was discussed by military officials, and Tann had been a part of that meeting.

Mann cleared his throat again. “Well, first I would have to see the reports of how the military forces are handling the situation. The last thing we want to do is go ahead with a plan or strategy that will be, to be blunt, just put out there for the sake of having one.”

“So, you do not agree with the plan put forth by the President and Secretary of Defense?”

Secretary Tann still tried to distance himself from his mistake moments earlier.

“Um, I believe that we need to see how the plan is put into place, but since I have not seen the details or how it would be implemented, I feel like I cannot give you an opinion of that. Unless, you Mr. Secretary have something you would like to offer?”

Tann was busily scribbling on some papers, while nodding. “No Colonel. Thank you.”

Secretary Tann ran in the same circles as Samuel Alfred and Bruce Casper, so his line of questioning to Mann did not surprise the Colonel. It appeared that Tann was being a little errand boy for the Vice President in finding out which side everyone fell on. Of course, the man could have just been jotting down notes for his own information, but Mann doubted that was the case. Nevertheless, Mitchell Tann was also a former military officer, so perhaps he was not a lost cause.

“Colonel Mann, as a former special forces soldier and advisor, how is it best to handle the borders of not only our nation, but of the states as well?”

Looking over, Mann saw that it was an Immigration and Customs Enforcement drone. In fact, the woman asking the question was the Chief of Staff to the director.

Where is the director…?

“Well ma’am, it would be best to not rush into this situation without a well-thought out plan. This is of course, circumstances that our military have never faced before. Now to answer your question, I honestly do not know how to handle the threat in front of us just quite yet. One plan may be to shut down the borders completely, but that is an impossible task if we’re being completely honest.”

A frown came over the woman as she dotted down notes in front of her. “Okay.”

Telling the truth was a major reason as to why Mann would never be a political appointee to any government administrative job. Instead of bullshitting the question, he told her exactly how he felt.

Mann shrugged. “Sorry, but as of this moment, there is no plan for confronting these hordes of people and I cannot say what is the best course of action to pursue with our borders precisely because of that. That, honestly, should be left up to the Governors and officials in those respective states. They need to decide what the best options for their states are.”

“Yes, but you do realize that Arizona and California are practically at war?”

“Of course ma’am, but I’m not sure what exactly you want the Federal Government to do. They have, unfortunately, more pressing matters at hand.”

The woman frowned. “Yes, but women and children are being gunned down by out of control militias in Arizona and New Mexico. Something needs to be done.”

“I agree, ma’am, it’s just that we cannot do anything at this moment. Women and children are being killed right now by the undead as well. We can’t help everyone, and frankly would be wise to stay out of a fight between two states.”

“So, you advice is to let the states control the borders, even when they are fighting with each?”

“Correct, ma’am. They will figure it out themselves, we need to focus on fighting this infectious outbreak.”

“Okay, thank you.” The woman was clearly annoyed at not having a definite answer to run back to her boss with.

Tough shit.

Another hand shot up.

“Yes?”

“Thank you, Colonel. Amanda Collins, Associate Deputy Director of Homeland Security. Your honest opinion on how to stop these…things?”

“Yes, Ms. Collins. Honestly, the information that we had saved our lives. If you hit them in the head, that will more than likely bring them down. Otherwise, they appear to still function if you, um, wound other parts of their body. Yet, one, nicely aimed shot to the head…and they go down.”

“What about the threat level that they may bring?”

A snort was heard in the room. Heads spun to Samuel Alfred, who leaned back in his chair. His expression revealed that of boredom.

And why would it not? Alfred was a firm believer in neo conservatism. He wanted to act, not have a coffee table discussion. After all, he believed that the entire world was a battlefield and whenever the opportunity presented itself, force should be used.

“May bring, Ms. Collins? I believe we are way beyond that point,” Alfred chuckled at his little interruption. He rested his hands on the heavy gut pouring over the waistline.

Laughs drifted across the table from several others in the room.

Asshole.

“With all due respect, Mr. Alfred, the question is much more complex than that.” Mann decided to confront the arrogant politician.

Alfred swung his glare toward Mann, pudgy cheeks becoming red. “Oh really, Colonel Mann. Please, do elaborate on your position.”

Fucking Asshole.

“Of course Mr. Alfred. I believe Ms. Collins is asking the question as to what threat level we assess in certain situations.”

Alfred grunted. “Please, continue.” He flicked a hand toward the Colonel. Someone of his stature easily dismissed the concerns of those below him.

“One, it’s obvious when they are infected and trying to take a huge chunk out you. I’m sure that the National Security Advisor would agree with me on that point…”

“Sure, that’s pretty obvious, Colonel.”

Everyone in the room then became aware of the tension between Alfred and Mann. It slowly, but surely descended upon the group as a whole.

“Oh, but I’m not done yet, sir.”

“Of course you’re not.”

More snickering from Alfred’s side.

Okay, gloves off.

“Well, perhaps the National Security Advisor would like to explain how he is going to filter out the infected from the uninfected when there’s a group of…oh, say, a couple hundred people just…well, walking around.” Mann waited for the reply, already knowing what it consisted of.

Alfred grinned. “Simply put, we don’t.”

Now Colonel Mann laughed. “Of course that’s your plan. Just eliminate everyone to be sure, regardless of the consequences.”

“That’s correct. Better safe than sorry. And not to be misrepresented,” Alfred gazed across the room, “I would quarantine those people, not eliminate them.”

“And I would love for the National Security Advisor to explain this so called plan to the public…the American people would like to know.”

“Well, carefully, of course…”

Mann pounced. “Or, would you not tell them, kind of like your other operations? Will it just be like Pakistan? Or just like Honduras and that little village near the coast?”

Alfred fumed. “How dare you!”

“Would you drone them just like so called terrorist in the tribal regions of the India-Paki border? Perhaps blow up a few hundred innocent people to kill one infected person?”

Alfred shot out of his chair and pounded the table with a fist. His oval shaped body wobbled as he clutched the chubby hands together.

“That’s enough, Colonel Mann!” Chairman Gatewoods stood up and tried to quickly regain control of the situation. He knew exactly what Mann was doing and gave his professional disapproval by publicly admonishing the Colonel. Privately, that was another matter.

Alfred loosened his tie as he gathered up his papers, mumbling under his breath. Mann hit a chord with old government official.

Chairman Gatewoods approached the podium. “Thank you, Colonel. General Nathan Ricks, would you, please?” The Chairman hastily attempted to defuse the situation by moving the conversation forward. Nonetheless, everyone’s attention was centered on the two men as they moved in the direction of each other.

Major General Nathan Ricks, the United States Army of the South commander rose up, strolling to the platform, nodding to Colonel Mann as he passed him.

Alfred stormed to the door, but purposely waited for Mann to come back to his chair. He removed his dark-rimmed glasses, the brown eyes glaring at the Colonel.

“You’re going down and so is your President,” Alfred whispered, leaning into Mann.

Mann smiled.

“You think you can fuck with me? Threaten me with classified material being leaked to a prick ass reporter?” Alfred’s neck veins were about to burst. Beads of sweat ran down the red, pudgy face.

So it appeared Alfred’s contacts told him about the piece coming out in the next Herald online edition. Additionally, Ellison was scheduled to go on several networks and explain what was being covered up by the government. The government would try and stop it, but Mann had faith in Ellison getting the story out to the public.

Round two to me.

Mann tilted closer to Alfred. “I just fucking did, didn’t I asshole?” He pulled away and proceeded to try and take his seat. Before he could, Alfred grabbed his sleeve and yanked him closer.

“You’re fucking with the wrong guys, Mann. You’re fucked.”

“No, you just got fucked. And I’m the one who fucked you. How does it feel?”

Alfred let go of his sleeve, but Mann grabbed the NSA man’s casing. “You try and threaten Karen again, I’ll personally fuck you up. Not metaphorically, but for real.”

Alfred tugged his arm away and stormed out.

Mann sat down and turned his attention back to meeting. He caught the attention of Ms. Collins who gave him a nod. Mann returned it.

“…the 1st Cavalry Division has been ordered to DC. Some elements of the 1st and 2nd brigade combat teams are already here and the units should be here, in full, before the end of the night. The 3rd and 4th will be arriving tomorrow.” Major General Ricks glanced up to see if there were any questions.

“Um, just a stupid question…” It was a Department of Defense office hack. “What’s being done about the bill in Congress then? I mean, since a bunch of them left?”

Major General Ricks looked at Chairman Gatewoods.

“The President has given the order and signed over her authority to the military.” The Chairman straightened up. “President Rice feels as if she has nothing to lose in this particular case. She is hoping, as we are, that Congress will eventually pass a bill legalizing this and all this worrying will be for not.”

“Wait, the military is in charge now? When did this happen?” The civilians in the room looked around, shocked at the news.

“Everyone please…” Chairman Gatewoods attempted to regain control of the conversation.

Mann could only scowl at the outrage coming from the people sitting near him.

“When were we going to be told this?”

“How come President Rice has not made an announcement?”

“The President will address the situation when it is time,” Gatewoods voice thundered over all others. “Everyone calm down and let us continue.”

The muttering died down.

“Please continue, General Ricks.”

The Major General cleared his throat. “Um, yes, sir. The rest of the III Corp will be left at Fort Hood, spread along the border of Texas because of the unspecified reports that we have received about this…virus popping up in the jungles of Colombia and spilling all over Mexico.”

“Is there any reason why this particular army outfit is being used, and not ones closer?” Another Pentagon hack’s whiny voice drifted over the room.

“Yes, of course,” Major General Ricks cleared his throat, “if you remember, the III Corp is just getting off from assignment in North Korea and we feel that since they are battle tested and still fresh from combat, it is best if they are the first ones to be sent in.”

That was typical of the military. If one unit had been engaged in an assignment, then it was felt like they would be more aware and able to handle the stress than a unit sitting on the sidelines for awhile. Of course, no one in the United States military ever encountered a threat like this before.

No one ever had.

Would they be able to handle it?

Mann’s focus drifted from the podium to one of the television screens on mute, but still showing images. Tanks and trucks rolled down a road, with a reporter trying her best to stay out of the way. The camera tilted upward, displaying dozens of helicopters flying past. When the image came back to the reporter, she was now flanked by two military police officers. The woman was obviously flustered as a soldier pointed back to the camera and then to her. One of the soldiers made a slashing motion across his throat. The camera then went dark and back to a man in the news studio.

That is what happened when martial law was declared. Reporters only got in the way with their news. The commander of this outfit, if he or she were smart, would give this particular reporter some front line action in exchange for not complaining to her superiors about being cut off early.

Mann leaned back in his chair. It occurred to him that he did not know the answer to the question.

Would the military be able to handle the threat?

He did not know.

Chapter 16

 

Sunday, July 15th, 11:40am

Tacoma, WA

 

Roland looked around the abandoned vehicle and knew they still needed certain supplies. Specifically, David needed antibiotics and pain relievers. He realized they were not even close to stocking up on enough food and water to wait out a few days, much less a whole week. In fact, some of the materials picked up from the coffee shop had been ruined from the numerous crashes they were in earlier.

From the coffee shop, they fought away a horde of infected humans before almost being surrounded in a City Councilman’s house by even more of them. The three men just managed to exit that residence in time, right as infected overran it and killed the politician. They then ran into bank robbers, were chased in the streets, and escaped from yet another horde of undead. They finally managed to steal a vehicle and drove to Westgate, a business and retail section of West Tacoma.

Carver had been very interested in knowing how Roland was able to hotwire a car.

“He used to be a fuck up,” Garrett declared.

Roland grunted as he started the van up. Garrett insisted on driving, and both Carver and Roland were too tired to protest.

The men loaded up their supplies in the van and started moving.

Finally.

Carver argued that they needed to gather more provisions than they previously thought. Better to grab as much as you can in one big swoop, than make little runs as Carver called them, every other day.

Society rapidly crumbled away. Infected sprinted everywhere across the neighborhoods and streets, devouring unfortunate victims they happened to catch. Emergency vehicles were sprawled in the middle of streets, now long abandoned. Pitched gun battles rose up all over the place.

Where did people get all these guns…?

They also returned where Roland first met Carver and Governor Tristine’s helicopter had crashed into several houses. The fire raged even larger now, the blaze having moved down several blocks. Black smoke trailed off where the crash directly occurred. Several police cruisers were still parked in their original spots, their lights continuing to flash brightly. Carver stopped and kneeled down by several of the bodies. He did not say anything and only shook his head. He then ordered Roland and Garrett gather all the guns and ammo they could fit into the van.

After leaving the scene, Carver still did not speak to them. Even Garrett gave the big Tacoma police officer the space he needed, instead focusing on the road ahead of him. Across the bay area, several huge fires spread in the distance. The infection, or at least the civil unrest, reached the comfy confines of Gig Harbor. The blockade of the Narrows Bridge evidently failed to stem the tide of undead. Thick black smoke masked the Port of Tacoma

Tacoma was now a war zone.

“Man, we need some real fucking food. Not this bagel and water shit. Hot pockets and that other good shit.” Garrett was obviously hungry and Roland’s stomach grumbled at the thought of some hot food.

The van they ‘acquired’ continued flying down Pearl Street, one of the main roads through the North End of Tacoma. It ran along dozens of stores and restaurants. Looking at the devastating landscape before them, Roland wondered if this is what hell would look like if it existed.

Does hell exist…?

A Little Caesars Pizza building was on fire and some fat couple outside near a delivery truck were going through its contents. Further down, a Subway sandwich shop was completely trashed and several undead chased people around their cars in the parking lot. A man welded what looked to be a tire iron while being chased by them. Right before the thing caught up to him, the man turned and smashed the tire iron down on the head of the infected person. While he managed to knock down that one away, he did not see the one on the hood of car, who then leaped on top of him. Roland glanced away, not wanting to watch.

What happened to that lion earlier…

“Watch out!” Carver cried out.

Garrett suddenly turned the wheel to avoid a wounded person in the street.

Roland pressed his face against the glass. For a moment, he thought about trying to convince Garrett to stop the vehicle. That was before two infected appeared right behind the woman. Just then, Roland noticed the legs of the woman had been gnawed to the kneecaps. The infected apparently came to finish their meal. The woman looked up as the van raced past and her eyes cut him down to the spine. Although not turned yet, he could tell that the woman was already gone.

“Fuck…!” Garrett swung the wheel to the other side.

A bullet smashed into the side window, glass striking Roland in the face.

“God damn it!” Roland felt the van lurch as he pecked away at the glass fibers. Taking a quick glimpse outside, Roland saw two police cars were bumper to bumper. Some cops, taking cover behind their vehicles, fired in the direction of Garrett’s van.

“Fuck, why they shooting us?” Garrett pumped the brake to avoid a stalled car as he weaved all over the parking lot.

“Shiiiiiiit, they aren’t shooting us…” Carver was looking behind him.

“What? Then who…oh, no…”

Roland slowly turned to see what the two men were gawking at.

“Fuck.”

That is all that needed to be said. Behind the van, a group eagerly chased the vehicle. And more joined the collection, popping out of the woodwork from all over. Roland watched one practically dive out of a car window and join the pursuit.

So this is what fast food looks like to zombies.

“Any plans?” Garrett glanced over to Carver.

“Shit.”

The van narrowly clipped another car gunning past. A giant explosion shook the parking lot, causing the van to shake.

“Holy shit maybe this wasn’t a great idea…”

Another massive blast roared nearby.

“What the hell is going on?” Garrett was no longer in his care free mood.

Carver pointed straight ahead. “I think the military is retreating…”

Roland moved closer to the front and, observing a dozen military vehicles racing along in the distance. A few of helicopters followed above in the sky. One even fired, sending a couple of rockets toward its target. Another enormous explosion flared up.

Well, now I know the blasts are from the military fighting back.

Yet, that thought did not comfort Roland. Even the military seemed to be having problems with this outbreak and were taking a beating.

“As long as they stay over there…” Garrett focused back on the road in front of him. Meanwhile, the military caravan moved in the opposite direction.

A postal delivery vehicle rumbled past, an infected person dangling from the back of it. The little truck titled to one side, attempting to shake the woman off the end of it. It did not work, but instead had the opposite effect. The infected woman swung around and landed inside the back of the mail truck. Roland watched the mailman dive out of his vehicle and tumble out of sight. The little jeep continued down for a few more yards until it hit another car and spun over.

“We need to get out of here…” Garrett completed a loop at the end of the massive parking lot.

“We still need more supplies.” Carver rotated and faced Roland. The final decision was going to be left up him.

Great, I’m a making a crucial judgment call.

“We need to stock up on supplies.” Roland realized he was attempting to convince himself.

The van sped back to their original destination in the Westgate complex: Safeway.

“Okay, what about them?” Garrett motioned to the pack of zombies chasing them.

Carver shook his head. “Let me think.”

The van’s horn unexpectedly honked loudly. “Sorry,” Garrett stated sheepishly as he turned the steering wheel once more.

“I got it!” Roland leaned forward to share his idea.

 

Roland observed that the Safeway store appeared to have already been looted, some of the front windows shattered and materials from inside it scattered all over the parking lot.

No infected were spotted.

From the front entrance.

With his luck, there would be dozens of them waiting inside the store.

To take me to Riley…

Roland shook his head. Thinking like that could get him killed. That did not bug him as much now that Riley was dead However, the thought of getting Carver or Garrett killed really gnawed at him. One slip up and their life could end because he was not focusing on the job in front of him. He needed to concentrate on this particular task.

Riley would fucking kill me if I got Garrett killed.

Roland brushed aside that worry.

The front sliding glass doors were totally shattered. The entrances kept sliding shut, only to continually run into a half-eaten body lying middle of the entry way. The doors would then rattle, and proceed to slide back open. The process would repeat itself again and again.

Smeared blood trickled down on the glass windows, joined by other assorted bodily items. Roland did not particularly want to find out what those other bodily items consisted of. Four or five whole bodies were grouped together on the ground near a Ford truck, a few of them with obvious bullet wounds in their chest. It appeared as if they had been the victims of humans, not infected.

Around twenty vehicles were parked in front of the major grocery chain, and most of them had some type of damage, either a shattered window or front door pried open. Looters got to them before the outbreak really got out of control. The store itself, from the outside, looked to be in satisfactory condition despite the circumstances of what was happening around it.

Garrett advanced closer to the entrance.

It was time.

“Here we go!” Carver stated. “You ready?”

Despite not being ready, Roland still nodded.

“We’re going to get as much food, water, and medicine as we can gather,” Carver confidently stated as he staring at the front of the building.

“Maybe there is some steak that hasn’t spoiled yet,” Garrett said chuckling.

Both Roland and Carver ignored him.

“Pull the van closer to the entrance,” the cop instructed, pointing his shotgun in the direction of the store.

It was decided among them that Carver and Roland would go inside the store and salvage whatever they could get their hands on. The plan, if you wanted to call it that, was for Garrett to fly by the store’s front doors with his horn honking. Carver and Roland would dive out with the van moving and roll to the entrance. Garrett would continue down the lot, blaring his horn as loudly as he could.

Roland figured that was the best way to get rid of the zombie group chasing them. Hopefully, the van’s constant honking distracted the hordes of infected and they would start pursuing Garrett as he drove away.

The Safeway building looked unnervingly lifeless.

“Good luck, you fuckers!” Garrett started pounding down on his horn. “Come on you, other fucking fuckers!”

It was time.

The van door slid open and Roland threw himself out. He landed on the pavement and rolled to the door. He felt naked being unarmed in a violent world. Yet, it had been his decision to not take any of the weapons they gathered from the scene of the Governor’s fiery accident. After his little incident at the coffee shop, Roland decided it was safer to have Carver be the only one armed until he could properly learn how to use a weapon. The cop had gotten more shotgun shells from the abandoned patrol cars and was stocked up on ammunition. He also carried a new handgun strapped on his hip holster.

Roland thought that was enough to protect himself as well as the cop. Glancing up, he saw Carver already hiding behind a table of watermelons.

Steady honking seemed to prove irresistible to the clusters of infected. In numbers, they flocked to the noisy van. Roland’s idea was working.

Not bad.

Carver worked his way over to Roland. He grinned.

“Nice plan.”

“Thanks.”

“Let’s get this done.” Carver displayed a business only type of attitude. With the coolness of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he took out a pair of sunglasses from his pocket and slid them on.

“Wow, this situation totally calls for something like that.”

“Shut up.”

They gradually approached the store, apprehensive with their shoes gently crunching the glass scattered on the ground. Carver stopped before going in and peered around the corner. The sliding doors made a squeaking sound as they kept opening and closing. The lights still worked, but flickered wildly.

Carver motioned for Roland to trail him slowly as they entered. Going in, the two men noticed the isles completely wrecked. Food and liquid spilled all over the floor, with hand baskets knocked over and shopping carts stacked up near the doors.

Almost like someone tried creating a barrier…

They sluggishly inched their way further into the store.

The check-out counters were turned inside out and registers littered the floors. Lottery tickets and trash spilled over much of that area. A small safe was smashed in the middle of the walkway.

Roland paused.

He did not know how much the money would be worth now. Still, he made a mental note to take the safe when they left if given the opportunity.

If not me, than someone else would.

“I gotta take a piss,” Roland faced Carver.

“When you gotta go, you…”

“Gotta go. I know, I know.” Roland made his way behind an ATM machine to relieve himself.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhh, yes.” Roland closed his eyes.

Maybe this won’t be so bad.

A shuffling noise caught Roland’s attention. Opening his eyes, he spotted someone wearing a tie eying him excitedly. However, this store manager would not be scolding Roland for taking a leak in his workplace. Instead, he wanted to tear him to pieces.

“Shit…!” Roland was not done relieving himself. As a result, the store manager caught a stream of pee in the face as Roland stumbled over himself. He crashed backwards into a sandwich board.

Piss flowed everywhere, some of it landing on Roland’s shorts and legs.

The store manager, with the name tag ‘Ron’ on the white Safeway dress shirt, reached for Roland, his hands furiously attempting to grab him. As a result of the infected man being so focused on Roland, he did not even see the shotgun being leveled at him. He turned toward the movement at the last possible second before being blown backwards.

Roland scrambled to regain his composure as Carver nonchalantly strolled over to the infected figure. The cop put the gun against the man’s head and fired again. He quickly inserted more shells into his weapon, all the while watching his surroundings.

Roland, on the other hand, was too busy worrying about the piss he had trickled on himself.

“Fuck. I got piss all over myself.”

Carver chuckled. “Better than a bite, right?”

Yes.

The men waited for a full minute before moving again.

“I don’t hear anything.” Roland grabbed a shopping cart.

“But I smell something. And your shorts are down. That’s your lil’ willy swinging around.”

Roland quickly yanked them up.

The smell of death filled the air and upon approaching isle four, Roland and Carver stumbled one of the many reasons for that. Three figures lay in different, defensive positions. They all put up a fight, but had been overwhelmed in the end, one of the bodies practically eaten away.

Horrible way to go…

“Cleanup, aisle four,” Carver muttered.

The signs above the rows were still intact, making it so they could easily navigate the store to meet their needs.

Aisle nine contained much needed bottled water. While there, Roland grabbed a twenty-four pack of Mountain Dew. Carver swore at him, questioning his judgment.

“What the fuck are you doing…?”

“Listen, there’s a fucking zombie outbreak. I’m having my goddamn fucking Mountain Dew!” Roland stubbornly packed the soda away in the cart. Continuing down to aisle eleven, Roland grabbed different varieties of canned food and packaged goods like Top Ramen, along with boxed Macaroni and Cheese.

The two men were making their way to the pharmacy, toward the back of the store, when both heard some sort of commotion. They stopped abruptly, and tried to listen for it. To Roland, it sounded like a chopping noise. Near the end of aisle eleven, Carver dropped to a squatting position and peered around the corner. A hefty figure in a butchers outfit held a meat cleaver and appeared to be chopping meat.

What the fuck is that guy doing?

Roland approached warily, but accidently stepped on a large piece of broken glass and slipped.

“Owww,” he cried, landing hard on his back.

“Quiet!” Carver whispered, but knew they had been detected.

The infected man could not see them, yet froze and stopped what he was doing. Ever deliberately, the butcher moved out from behind his counter. Carver and Roland remained still, but the butcher begun to move in their direction, meat cleaver in hand.

Carver motioned for Roland to back up. For a second time, he stepped on the same glass piece and almost slipped again. Crying out, he managed to grasp the handlebar of the cart and used it to balance himself.

Shaking his head and muttering under his breath, Carver positioned his weapon as he crouched down. The butcher listlessly continued advancing to their position.

Roland clutched the shopping cart and held onto it tightly, to better steady himself.

And steady his nerves.

The infected man turned the corner and soon was missing his head. The rest of the body dropped to the ground. Carver quickly rose up and started to run, headed for the pharmacy, his movements more urgent now. Roland hurriedly pushed the shopping cart and followed him.

Safeway’s pharmacy was past the deli, located in the back of the store.

Spoiled food was scattered everywhere. It was amazing how rapidly food could be ruined without human intervention. Flies and other insects feasted on their meals, causing another ghastly odor to rise up from the piles of rotten meat.

Roland continued to track Carver, moving as fast and safely as possible. The lights flickered on and off, resembling a bad horror movie. Roland squinted, trying to adjust his eyes to the scene.

Up ahead, Carver slipped on some rotting beef and fell, his gun scattering forward. If on cue, like in a bad, cheesy horror movie, a zombie emerged from one of the aisles. Without thinking, Roland rushed forward, the shopping cart leading the way. The infected figure was a few feet from Carver when Roland smashed into it. The infected man, once a fat Asian male, flew into the air and somehow landed inside the shopping cart. Roland began screaming and accelerated, zombie in tow.

Glancing up, he noticed the pharmacy ahead and gunned it even faster. The Asian, having its legs up and head closest to Roland, snarled and tried to bite him. The shopping cart crashed into the pharmacy counter, sending the infected flying into a glass case on the other side. Roland himself smashed into the front of the cart and saw stars for a moment. Groaning, he began to stand as a hand touched his shoulder. He panicked for a split second, before realizing it was Carver.

“You okay man, holy fucking shit!” the cop yelled, helping him up.

Stumbling while trying to rise, Roland noted that the cart was okay and still had most of their supplies in it, minus of course, the infected Asian.

“Yeah man, I think. You see…that shit I just…did?” Roland replied, trying to catch his breath.

Fucking Chuck Norris shit.

“Yeah, I appreciate that. I’ll give you a fucking kiss later,” Carver stated sarcastically.

The Asian man was beginning to get to his feet when Carver jumped over the counter, shotgun in hand. Rushing over, he smashed the butt of the gun into the skull. The man fell back down, thick congealed blood gushing from its head. Carver aimed the shotgun and fired, the infected body flopping to the floor.

Roland began to gather pain relievers and other over the counter medicines. Spinning, he saw Carver searching the back area for the real goods. The cop found some bottles of Vicodin in a back cabinet. Most of the rear area had already been looted, probably by strung out druggies looking for a fix.

A year ago, Roland would have gone straight for the hardcore drugs located at the pharmacy. More than likely strung out, trying to find his fix anyway possible. He probably would have already been here, looting the drugstore with other junkies.

Shaking his head, he pushed that thought aside as he continued loading supplies up. After a minute or so, their cart began to get pretty full.

“Let’s get going. Our luck may run out soon,” Carver said, turning for the front entrance.

“You lead boss,” Roland replied, following him.

At the entrance of the store, Carver paused, looking outside. Besides the occasionally gunshot, the parking lot in front of the Safeway was relatively quiet. Roland’s plan to drive the large group of infected away had worked. Carver reached into his pocket and reloaded his shotgun.

He had a total of four left.

Hopefully, they would not run into more trouble until after Garrett arrived. Whirling to peek at Roland, he deliberately withheld the fact he had forgotten most of the shells in the van. Sighing heavily to himself, he knew he rushed into the store without double checking his ammo supply.

Better if the young kid did not know that small detail.

 

Roland leaned forward, scouting the parking lot. He observed a few of the infected running around, but they did not appear to be an immediate threat. They gathered near a KFC, sporadically dropping to the ground every couple seconds. The cops that had been shooting in the parking lot earlier apparently took refuge inside the fast food joint.

Roland felt his confidence rising.

“Where the fuck is he?” Carver hissed. He was clearly impatient when he did not control the situation.

“He’ll be here.”

“I know…” The cop was cut short as a slight sound was heard nearby.

Both men spun around suddenly, shocked to see a young man standing behind them.

“What the fuck are you doing, fuck face?!” Carver quickly moved to the side, his head on a swivel, checking his surroundings more intently.

“You’re stealing from us…”

Roland frowned at the young man, who appeared to be Hispanic. He thought it was weird he wore a heavy sweatshirt and sweats on such a hot day. “What?”

“You’re stealing from us. We claimed this store. This is our turf.”

Wheels wailing in the parking lot signaled Garrett had returned, interrupting the conversation.

“Let’s go!” Carver yanked on Roland’s arm.

Roland shook free. “What do you mean we’re stealing from you…?”

The young man started to reach into the waistband of his sweats. “This is our store…”

“Whoa, guy. Don’t do that.” Carver aimed the shotgun at the kid. The young man hesitated slightly before backing away. “You’ll learn, all of you will…” He then stalked off, disappearing back into the store.

Roland shook his head and pushed the cart outside. He did not have any more time to waste.

Garrett pulled the van directly in front of the store. They started to load the supplies into the backseat. David unexpectedly emerged from inside, helping as best he could by throwing goods inside.

“David, what the hell?” Roland was surprised to see the man.

“Hey mon, he came back asking for help.” The Jamaican jerked his head to Garrett. “I’m fine, got to pull my own weight,” he stated in his heavy accent.

“No fucking complaints here…”

“You went all the way back to the fucking house?” Carver seemed ready to explode.

“Let’s go, I see some of those things coming around!” Garrett had his head popped out the window and pointed toward the street. The infected were showing up at a perfect time for him, as he did not want to face the wrath of Carver.

Roland peered over and sure enough, infected shuffled all around in the parking lot. They had not spotted the men yet, but it was only a matter of time.

“Hurry up…” Roland grunted, loading his Mountain Dew pack into the back of the vehicle.

Squealing of tires caused all four men to look up simultaneously. A red pickup sped over to the van. In the back of the truck sat four or five people and they appeared to be armed.

The dead bodies in the parking lot with bullet holes…

Roland immediately thought to the people lying near their vehicle who had been shot at close range. Glancing over to where the young man stood, Roland realized he might have signaled for the red truck to come over.

Shit…

“Carver, I think these guys are looters…” Roland motioned to the dead bodies.

The cop nodded, agreeing with him. “Guys, arm yourselves…right now.”

David looked at Carver confusingly. “Why?”

Carver did not explain, but instead grabbed his shotgun.

Roland reached for a handgun, glad they stopped by and picked up the weapons left by the police during their battle days earlier near Garrett’s house. Of course, the last time Roland fired a weapon, he broke his nose.

No time to think about that right now…Maybe I look like a badass with a gun…

The pickup slowed down as it became apparent the people in the truck saw the group they approached were armed. It gradually halted, one man jumping out and coming over to the group.

“Stop right there, friend,” Carver held up a hand.

The man, wearing a bandana to cover his face, nodded and froze in his tracks. He also wore baggy clothing, jeans and dress shirt double his actual figure.

“What are you guys doing?” Carver slowly brought up and aimed the shotgun right at the man’s stomach.

A warning…

“Well, I could ask you the same thing.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re taking from us.”

“Excuse me?”

The man pointed to the logo of Safeway. It had been sprayed painted over with the group’s name: “ES 55th”.

Carver started to laugh. Yet, Roland noticed it was not a friendly laugh. Instead, it was a menacing kind of laugh. A laugh you heard right before something bad happened.

“I don’t know what’s so funny there, big guy,” the Hispanic man said, speaking in a heavy accent. “You’re stealing from us, homie. Those supplies you have in that cart are ours. And we demand payment for them.” The bandana man snapped his fingers and three young men hopped out of the truck.

Oh shit…

Things were about to get out of hand.

“Now, buddy you don’t want to do this…”

The looter cut Carver off. “We already have…”

Carver then cut off the young man. “I don’t really give a shit what you think. We’re taking these supplies cause we need them. You can take your fake gangster shit and shove it…”

A loud thumping noise pierced the sky above them. Roland immediately recognized it, as did Carver.

“Choppers!”

Three military helicopters were forthcoming in the opposite direction, heading straight for the cluster of people right outside the store.

“Shit, time to go!”

A thunderous voice boomed over loudspeakers, positioned on the sides of one of the helicopters.

“STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. YOU ARE BEING DETAINED FOR LOOTING.”

Carver shoved Roland inside and tumbled in after him.

The gang also climbed back into their vehicle and raced away.

“Get going…!”

“STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. YOU ARE BEING DETAINED FOR LOOTING.”

The gang members were the first to start firing at the helicopters. Gunfire rang out from the back of the truck as it squealed away. The military choppers easily avoided the shots and repositioned themselves next to the truck, all three now focused on the vehicle that opened fire on them.

“PUT DOWN YOUR ARMS AND SURRENDER NOW. WE WILL RESPOND WITH FORCE IF YOU DO NOT CEASE.”

Garrett stomped on the accelerator, blazing away from the scene. Roland looked behind him as the small pickup truck sped away, but the men in the back still foolishly fired at the helicopters.

“STOP FIRING AND PUT DOWN…AH, FUCK IT. FIRE, I REPEAT OPEN FIRE…”

With the order given, the three military helicopters unleashed their combined firepower on the gang of thugs in the truck. Bullets raked the pickup and the area around it, leveling the ground in an inferno of smoke and ash. Roland saw the vehicle splinter, veer off the road and slam into a building. The choppers continued spraying bullets into it until flames popped up and the truck exploded.

“Ah shit, fuck us!” Garrett jerked the wheel and the van swung violently to the side. A group of infected popped up nearby and were at the edge of the parking lot. They forced Garrett to slam on the brakes and turn straight into a nearby Ace Hardware.

“Hold on guys…AHHHHH!”

“What are you….”

“FUCK!”

The van crashed into a large glass window and launched itself halfway inside the store.

Roland braced himself for the impact as well as he could, but still managed to fly into the front seats of the van, kicking Garrett in the face in the process. David rattled around the very back of the vehicle, groceries landing all over him. For a few moments, everything was quiet, the only sound being the hissing from the steam rising up from the hood of the van.

“Ooohhhh.”

“Aaahh.”

Roland joined in the moaning, rubbing his numb head.

“Aaaahhhhhaa…”

Roland shook his head to try and clear up his thoughts. He stopped as soon as he started, throbbing inside his head hurting too much.

“Oooohhhhhhh…”

“Aaaaoohhhhh…”

Infected.

Those were infected moaning, not someone from the van.

Roland peeked behind him, afraid of what he would see. Some infected gathered by the crash scene, slowly making their way to it. Their eyes darted all around, looking for the prey they just saw go into the store.

“Fuuuccckkk…”

“Shut up!”

Garrett cried out, his leg twisting under the front seat. Roland tried interrupting before the infected heard him, but moans and cries from them proved he was too late.

Looking over, he noticed the group quickly shuffling over to the van. Their mouths opened up, letting out that piercing cry that made Roland freeze and lock up. Dozens upon dozens of former humans sprinted over, their hazy eyes widening at the thought of an easy meal.

“Ooohhhhh…”

“Ahhhhhahhhh…”

Moans emerged from the van, specifically Garrett again. “My leg…my leg…”

“We got bigger problems than your leg…” Carver spotted the infected as well. The cop pulled out a handgun and sighed heavily. He slowly opened the door and positioned himself.

Roland noticed they were hopelessly trapped. Garrett was stuck for the moment, and David had been tossed around violently in the back of the van. He was just now starting to regain consciousness. The only way he could escape would be to leave Garrett and David in the van and save himself in the process. Roland knew he did not have that inside him.

His body jolted from Carver firing his handgun at a woman crawling through the smashed window. The first two shots missed, but the third one hit her in the stomach, causing her to stumble over. She regained her balance, but Carver staggered over to her and put the kill shot directly into her brain.

More moaning drifted over to the area, and a dozen infected arrived near the window. Roland grabbed a rifle, swung it around and squeezed the trigger.

Click.

“Ahhhh!” Roland started to panic and yanked the trigger again.

Click.

“Ooohhh fuck!”

He tossed away the weapon and looked for another when sudden shaking caught him off guard.

“What the…?”

Extremely loud noises originated from overhead, causing the ground to shake. Roland was confused for an instant as to what the sounds were and why the ground trembled violently.

Dozens of infected people rushing the Ace hardware were then cut down by the same helicopters that had annihilated the gang just minutes earlier. For a few, rapidly stretched out seconds everything in front of Roland seemed to be in slow motion as the horde was aggressively and deliberately mowed down.

“Shit!” Carver ducked when stray bullets came crashing down by him.

Roland followed suit and retreated further back into the building.

Within moments, it was over.

For the most part, the small attack was successful. Only a few of the infected were left, and many of them had a leg or arm blown off. That would slow them down long enough for the group to gather up their supplies, find another vehicle, and drive away safely.

Carver steadily made his way to the front of the store window. He gagged at the sight and smell of all the bodies scattered around. He brought his handgun up and fired another kill shot at the head of a little girl who had lost both her legs, but was still crawling over to them.

“Come on, Roland, we need to get out of here and back home,” Carver said, inching out back into the parking lot.

Roland followed the cop, careful to not cut himself on the jagged edges of glass as he hopped over the ledge of the now destroyed huge front window of Ace Hardware. He gagged as well, feeling the urge to vomit, but managed to withhold it.

Carver fired yet another shot into the head of a man, causing Roland to jump once again. Surveying the scene, he realized the military helicopters effectively terminated the threat he and the others were facing. Of course, the military did not know it, but they more than likely saved Roland and his small band of survivors when annihilating both the gang members and the infected horde in one fell swoop. Now, the only undead milling around were by the KFC, but the echo of shots signaled the cops having no trouble putting them down. The three military helicopters disappeared, their work done in the area.

“Roland, can you hotwire a car again?”

Carver’s question caused him to focus on the cop.

“Whaaa?”

“Can you get a car up and running?”

Roland nodded knowingly. “Yeah. I think”

It was not something that he was proud of, but had been taught how to steal car years earlier when doing it as a favor to a local drug dealer to help himself get out of debt.

“Here,” Carver stated as he handed Roland the gun, “Go find another vehicle and let’s go out of here as soon as possible. I’ll check on David and Garrett.”

Roland exhaled, glanced around to check his surroundings once more, and jogged to a cluster of vehicles parked a few yards away. He immediately saw the 2012 Ford SUV next to a Honda Civic.

Perfect…

Scanning over the SUV, he noticed that its back window broken, but the rest of it seemed fine. He opened the front door…

…and the body of young woman fell out…

“Ahhhhhh!” Roland screamed, the woman’s dead, cold body rubbing against him. He stumbled back, crashing into the Honda Civic.

The body hung out halfway from the vehicle, the seatbelt preventing her from completely spilling out of the car.

“Shit…”

Her eyes, dull and white, just stared back at him.

“Fuck me…”

Roland caught a whiff of her corpse.

“That is disgusting…”

Standing erect, Roland clicked her seatbelt loose.

Her body crashed to the ground, the lifeless eyes still staring back at him.

“Stop looking at me.” Roland kicked her head, causing her face to snap away from him. Taking a deep breath, he tried to avoid the lingering odor of death that surrounded the inside of the vehicle.

Looking at the ignition, he realized the keys were not in there. Scanning the front seats, he failed to notice them there as well.

“Shit.”

They were probably on the dead body.

Turning back to the woman, he spotted her purse strapped around her shoulder. Taking another deep breath and holding it, he leaned over her and lifted the purse up. He quickly dumped out the insides on the passenger’s seat.

Fishing through its contents, anxiety rose up slowly in him as he did not immediately spot the keys.

Tissue…

A wallet…

Small makeup case…

Condoms…

“Damn it,” he muttered to himself.

Spinning to the woman, he crouched down and started to pat her jeans. Near one of her pockets, he felt the keys. Digging his hand inside the jeans, he promptly pulled them out and jumped back into driver’s seat without looking back at the dead woman. He inserted the keys in the ignition and started the SUV.

Roland paused for a moment and took a quick peek at his hands.

They shook uncontrollably.

Trying to ignore it, he propped himself up on the driver’s seat. Peering over to the scene in front of the Ace’s Hardware store, he spotted Carver in the smashed window. Swinging his head to the KFC, he continued hearing shots being fired from the fast food joint. The law enforcement officers were holding the horde at bay, firing from the rooftop of the building, but also drew more infected to the area. Roland figured it was time to leave their present location. He reversed the black SUV all the way to Carver, who directed him until the vehicle was up on the sidewalk and almost inside the window.

Garrett hobbled toward the SUV, supplies in his arms.

“You okay?” Roland asked.

“Yeah, just twisted my leg…”

“Hey, get David in there; he hit his head again pretty bad!” Carver interrupted the two men.

Roland nodded and hastily helped David to the back of the SUV and instructed him to stay there.

“No mon, let me help…” he protested.

“Hey, you need to relax and sit back. Relax man. We got it.”

For the next couple of minutes, Garrett and Roland took the supplies from the van and loaded them up into the SUV. The rapid gunfire from across the parking lot convinced Carver it was time to leave.

“Let’s go!” Carver made his way to the passenger’s side.

“I’m still driving?”

Carver just grunted to Garrett, who shrugged and hopped in the driver’s seat. Roland picked up the last of the materials that had been knocked out and tossed them into the vehicle. He then stopped abruptly. The recognizable sound of the undead.

Not again.

All four men remained deathly still as they scanned the now mostly deserted parking lot. A few moans were heard in the vicinity, but the larger screams echoed in the distance.

Every so often, a shot rang out from the KFC building, but it appeared the police holed up there had just about finished killing off the small, infected horde surrounding them. In the far end of the parking lot, a car alarm beeped noisily. Trash swirled about, but they did not have any visualization of the infected pack.

“I don’t see anything…” Garrett sounded like he was trying to be hopeful. Still, dozens of undead were headed in their direction.

They remained frozen.

“Let’s g…” Garrett stopped in mid-sentence. All of the sudden from behind a GameStop store, which was a block away to their left, the horde appeared. Leading the pack was a white guy, who did not seem to be infected. He had a thin build and upon closer inspection, was totally naked. The naked man kept a pretty good pace between himself and the zombie faction of around fifty.

As he got nearer, Roland observed the man had peanut butter smeared all over his body. He laughed as he continued ahead of the infected. It reminded Roland of a high school cross country team meet. He led the group past the SUV and onto Pearl Street, the zombies following closely behind. The four men stood absolutely still as the mass of infected eventually passed by them.

As quickly as they came, they were then gone. The crazy white man’s laugh could still be heard a block away, floating in the air.

All four stood there in disbelief.

Did I just see a naked guy with peanut butter smeared all over him…?

Finally Carver broke the silence. “Let’s get the fuck out of here”.

Roland and Carver hopped in the van as it started up. As the vehicle spun out of the lot, Garrett sniffed the air.

“Why the fuck does it smell like piss?”

Chapter 17

 

Sunday, July 15th, 7:10 pm

Somewhere in Georgetown, Washington D.C.

 

A Secret Service Agent held open the door as the Vice President paraded into the room full of powerful people.

“Wait out here,” he instructed his body guard.

The man nodded, muttering in the microphone on his sleeve to the rest of the agents around the location that ‘Angler’ was entering the room.

Bruce Casper waited until the door shut behind him before speaking.

“Gentlemen, ladies, thank you for meeting with me.”

An older man stood up immediately. “Goddamn it Casper, I’ve been waiting for an hour.”

Casper could only grin at the esteemed Senator from Massachusetts. “Oh come on, I’m sure the mistress will be waiting for you when you get back to the office there, Moore.”

Chuckles arose from around the group. Senator Moore Dorchester was known to get around with female aides, despite having a beautiful wife. All of the Beltway was aware, and protected him to a certain extent. He knew too many of their secrets and scandals to be publicly shamed for the small crime of sleeping with his female aides. Senator Dorchester, the senior Senator from that state, just shook his head and grumbled as he sat back down.

Casper made his way into the center of the group as men in suits parted to make room for him.

Like Moses parting the Red Sea…

Nods and murmurs greeted him. He shook a few hands as well.

It reminded Casper of being out on the campaign trail again. The throngs of people, looking to grasp your hands and hear you speak, simply because they realized you were important. Made even more fulfilling, was the fact corporate power brokers and politicians were doing the same thing in this tiny room.

“Seriously, Bruce, why have you called for us?”

Casper turned to the man on Wall Street known as ‘The Man Who Broke the Bank of Switzerland.’

“Hell, Schwartz, you know I need your money.”

Schwartz chuckled, raising his glass to Casper.

Everyone in the room was a powerful figure and close ally of Bruce Casper. Men and women who he knew could be counted on in times of need.

And this was a time of need.

A few Congressmen, Senators, businessmen, and other power brokers would help Casper accomplish his goal of becoming President. For that, he would reward them richly.

Not that these men and women needed any more money…

It was all about power and creating a legacy for their names.

And now with this sudden, unexpected virus outbreak, Casper recognized he could make his move. It was sooner than he would have liked, but he knew he had to adjust to the events outside of his control.

“Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, the bill to fully declare martial law has been delayed. Despite this, the public wants action, and the government will respond. Of course, the President has already invoked the Insurrection Act, so in actuality martial law has already been declared…”

“What do you want from us then?” The question floated from the back of the room.

Casper only smiled, while turning to the Senate Majority Leader, Martin Everett of Washington State.

Senator Everett stood up from a chair and began speaking to the group. “Vice President Casper is correct, that this bill will be passed, one way or the other. And as he has already stated, this is really just for show. Martial Law was enacted this morning. The military will be in charge, not Rice. By my estimation, there are only some Congressional people still on the fence, but they will quickly fall into line. No one wants to be that person who was against sending in relief during the worst crisis in American history. So, since we are going to have military troops marching down the streets of our cities, it is important that we tend to our needs as the strongest country in the world.”

“What do you mean?” A government hack asked the obvious question.

Senator Everett just beamed and looked to Casper, who in turn, grinned at the Senate Majority Leader.

Senator Everett faced back to the group of men and women.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Congress is going to ultimately pass this bill because we want to be seen as doing something during this crisis. Despite the fact that military and other governmental agencies can only do so much, it is not about now. It is about the future and the aftermath of this event.”

Some muttering was heard from the Beltway power brokers, obvious confusion hovering above the group.

“What I mean is that while we must be seen as acting to combat this terrible threat, we cannot also forget about our needs as the greatest country in the world. We must show the world that we are still number one, while still tending to our needs.”

Soft murmuring continued from the group. It was evident that Everett had not adequately explained why the Vice President brought them all together.

Casper decided that he had to step in. “Senator Everett, if you do not mind…”

The older man from Washington State waved a hand in front of him. “No, no of course not. Go ahead. You’re the better speaker.”

“Thank you, Senator. What Mr. Everett is trying to say is that we must start thinking about our positions and legacy after this threat has passed. I know it may seem difficult now, but who else is thinking about that besides great men and women like ourselves?”

Some nods were seen in the room.

“For example, the Chinese are already thinking about how they can take advantage of our perceived weakness from this pandemic sweeping across the nation. I will not allow that to happen. Same with Russia and other rogue nations. We cannot allow the world to think that we cannot hold our own despite this internal threat we are facing.” The Vice President took a deep breath and smiled when he saw that he held the attention of every man and woman in the room.

That is why I will be President very, very soon…

These people held powerful positions in both the government and private sector. They were used to being the center of attention and regulating orders that came from themselves. Instead, their focus was solely on Casper.

“Yes, yes Bruce, but please, explain what exactly you want from us?” A Wall Street executive messed with his tie, obviously use to the attention being on himself.

Casper smirked. “I expect your support when President Rice is overthrown.”

Gasps resonated from the collection of individuals.

Yet, most of the people were stunned into silence.

There, I said it.

“This President is weak. Too weak to handle a global crisis of this magnitude…”

Several people interrupted the Vice President.

“Whoa, Bruce are you serious?”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this…”

“This is outrageous…”

Casper knew that this type of reaction would ensue. It was not every day the Vice President mentioned overthrowing the President of the United States.

“Hear me out, gentlemen…”

An older man stood up. “Damn it, Bruce it better be good. We’re talking about overthrowing the current government. Do you realize what you’re saying?”

Casper smiled. “Yes, I know…”

“No, I don’t think you do. This isn’t some monarchy in the Middle East for Christ’s sake. This is our country…”

Another man forced his way to the front of the group. “My god, you remember when you were the CEO of Duncan Corporations and the huge mess it was disposing that dictator Antonio Moreno?”

Casper winced. Someone was bringing up ancient information that the public knew very little about. “Of course I do,” he muttered, realizing his composure was lost for a moment or two.

Antonio Moreno was the military dictator of Honduras and became a thorn in the side of the United States when he invaded El Salvador and Nicaragua a few years ago. As a result, a volatile situation erupted in Central America. With trade routes being threatened through the Panama Canal and evidence of civilians being massacred by Moreno security forces, it required the administration at the time to act. Marines and Navy personnel were at the forefront of the invasion, which was quickly condemned by the United Nations since America acted without its approval. However, it is what took place after General Moreno and his military cabal were overthrown, that the gentleman was specifically referencing to.

Dark Rain had been hired by then Duncan Corporations CEO Bruce Casper to protect their oil pipelines and natural gas fields. The problem was that while Duncan once enjoyed an unfettered access to those energy areas while the military dictatorship was in command, once General Moreno and his allies were ousted from power, Honduras cut off that access. Casper became enraged, especially when the new government froze millions of dollars in the Duncan Corporations bank account within that country. Out of anger and spite, he ordered the killing of several local politicians that rallied the population against the mega US corporation profiting from their backyard.

It backfired.

Instead, the local Dark Rain commander was caught on video massacring dozens of protesters at a Duncan Corporation owned natural gas field. The media backlash against the company was utterly devastating. Congressional hearings caused Duncan Corporations to sink out of the public spotlight. Although Casper avoided the negative press, his grandfather’s company suffered a serious financial blow. As a result, it took a more subtle approach the last few years.

“Oh please…ya’ll act like a bunch of worried housewives arguing whose cake baked better.”

Everyone turned to the booming voice.

Casper smiled, knowing this was one of his many ‘ace in the holes.’

“Ahhh, surely everyone here knows Air Force General Kurtis Emerson…”

Nodding and murmurs of recognition at the cigar chewing general flashed across everyone’s faces.

Emerson approached Casper and grasped his hands in a firm handshake. His round face grinned, bushy eyebrows furrowing while gazing at everyone in the room.

“We thought you retired,” a woman’s voice blurted out.

Emerson whipped his head around. “Retire? Never. Especially in a time like this. As you all know, I was railroaded by a Socialist, progressive pussy footed Congress and President. I’m still not used to a suit and tie.” He loosened the blue and red tie hanging over his pudgy neck. Black slacks and white dress shirt, with a gray suit, the man did not look comfortable.

More nodding and agreement drifted across the room from everyone.

Former Air Force General Kurtis Emerson had been the Chief of Staff for the United States Air Force. Two years ago, he was publicly fired by the President, the dismissal backed up by many in Congress. Apparently General Emerson went a little too far in his criticism of the President and her approach to the Chinese. Yet, the situation boiled over when the President ordered Emerson to stand down with the United States military personnel in Taiwan. General Emerson refused the command, even ordering forces into action to counter the buildup of a Chinese navy battle squad, which had been patrolling the coastal area of Taiwan, a little too close for the general.

As a result, Chinese and United States navy ships skirmished, resulting in casualties on both sides. Therefore, as a consequence, General Emerson was fired and discharged from the military. He stayed behind the scenes for the last years, quietly making connections with congressional and powerful private sector people. Casper happened to be one of those influential people.

Emerson continued. “I know a few of you have your panties all twisted up from this virus or whatever it is. Also, I know that you’re worried because here we are a few days into this and here we are talking about a coup of sorts…”

Some concerning voices spoke up.

“That’s right, it’s too soon.”

“Exactly General…this just happened…”

“This isn’t a Chile or Myanmar…”

Emerson held up his hands. “Gentlemen, normally I would agree with you…has the President told you that the Chinese have moved three divisions into Iraq?”

Gasps arose in the circle.

These individuals were used to knowing all that was happening in the world within minutes of it taking place. For them to be caught off guard with this kind of news was indeed, a rare occurrence.

Emerson grinned, chomping on his cigar. “Oh, you mean our dear fearless leader hasn’t mentioned it?”

“How do you know this?” Senator Everett pushed his fraile body to the former general.

“Oh, Senator I have my sources…”

“For God’s sake,” the Senate Majority Leader interjected, “I am head of the Senate and I did not know this!”

The former Air Force commander laughed. “You see? Our leaders in charge have no idea how to make the rest of the world fear us…and the Chinese have moved these divisions to protect their oilfields. This is a slap in the face of America.”

A couple of men swore at that event.

Casper decided it was a good moment to step in.

“Yep, General Emerson here is correct. The state run China National Offshore Oil Corporation has dozens of oil rigs in Iraq. Sources from the embassy informed me of their decision in order to protect their interest, which just happened over four hours ago. We would do the same if in their position.”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Chinese troops in Iraq? How the fuck did this happen?” A CEO asked the apparent question.

Emerson chuckled. “In 2008, three senators protested Exxon-Mobile helping the Iraqis because they feared an American backlash against our troops. So the Iraqis turned to the Chinese. And like good little capitalists that they are, despite what they say, they moved in to help the Iraqis produce their oil and it paid off for them.”

Whispers floated among the group of men and women. It was true that public had grown weary of warfare, especially in the Middle East. When the United States pulled out the troops (to use that term loosely), the interests of America turned to domestic issues. As a result, the only people sounding the alarm of the rise of the Chinese were labeled that dreaded term ‘neo-conservatives’ and basically disregarded. Nonetheless, who could blame the public? After years of endless warfare and trillions of dollars seemingly wasted, the American people wanted the government to focus on the internal problems of the country. So when men like Air Force General Kurtis Emerson testified before Congress about the Chinese Communist Party needing external distractions to keep their people distracted, they were ignored.

“We don’t have the money or resources to worry about that at this particular time…”

“The Chinese rely on us too much as a trading partner to risk losing us to a prolonged war…”

And so, men such as Emerson and Casper felt the need to take matters into their own hands. After all, they had the power to wield, and sensed a duty to use it for advancing their beliefs and morals.

“I can guarantee you that if I was in charge, the Chinese would not dare try any moves overseas,” Casper puffed his chest out.

“Would you bomb the Chinese back into the Stone Age like General Emerson said he would do?” Laughter trailed the question.

Casper was going to respond before General Emerson cut in.

“I never said that. I said we had the capability to do it. There’s a difference, ma’am.”

The woman just gave a slight nod back to the general.

Focus returned back on the young man from Wyoming.

I’m in charge…

“The United States would be able to handle this internal threat, while protecting our assets overseas. I would not let some domestic issue affect our standing in the international community. The President has shown great weakness so far, and if she continues to display it, then, for the sake of our country…We should put people in charge who will take the necessary action. People who are not afraid to do what is right…”

A few nodding heads greeted what Casper was saying.

“What about the American people? How will you convince them?”

Casper grinned. “Oh I have a feeling they won’t be a problem. Just like the famous Russian, Iosif Dzhugashvili declared that ‘useful idiots’ will help him advance the cause of Communism, useful idiots here will help us advance the cause of a stronger, more assertive American government that will do what is required to protect itself and its citizens.”

“Who was Isoif? I’ve never heard of him…” someone from the back asked.

Casper laughed. “That’s because he went by the name Joseph Stalin…”

Nods and smiles rose up at that declaration by the Vice President. The people in the room were impressed with his speech. Nonetheless, Bruce Casper was a master politician and manipulator. He realized when to leave them with wanting more.

I need to pull back a little…

“But, for the moment,” the Vice President waved his finger in the air to the group of men and women, “we will support the President Rice and her decisions. Only if, and that is a big if, her leadership fails, then we will take action. Otherwise, for the moment, President Rice has my full support.”

“And what about Congress? How do they feel about this?”

Casper gave a sly smile. These people in the room were not stupid or reckless. They were testing the waters to see where all the branches of the government stood in regards to this plot. If they liked what they heard, they would be more inclined to support the coup. Yet, if they did not, one or more could blow the lid on his whole plan. Therefore, Casper realized he had to make them feel absolutely comfortable with the idea of overthrowing President Karen Rice and her administration.

“I’ve pulled a few Senators and Representatives into this…circle of trust.”

Chuckles sounded in the room from his little joke.

“And who are they?”

“Ah, well my good friend Senator Kolton McSweeney is all hands on deck for this. Good thing, since he had that insignificant speech at the Republican convention about expanding the American Empire, and it would be hypocritical of him to not support strengthening this great country.”

More laughter generated from his audience.

“As Senator McSweeney as stated numerous times, the world is indeed a battlefield, just now that battlefield is in our backyard.”

Senator Kolton McSweeney was a representative from Connecticut and an old friend of Casper from boarding school. Both men believed in a resilient and forceful America, who used the military to advance her common causes. Senator McSweeney promoted the term ‘American Empire’ while speaking at several think tanks the past year.

Casper thought it fitting, as a new empire was being born out of this environment.

“Who else?”

“Representative Leroy Fulton Cobb is part of it….”

“The ex-Speaker of the House from Georgia? That guy is a loud mouth…”

Casper held up his hands. “I agree, but a loud mouth with tons of contacts. Besides, he can get the religious side of the aisle to follow along…”

“Yeah, he has a lot of contacts all right. All those women that he slept with for one.”

Laughter rose up in the room.

“I’m not impressed, Bruce,” a man pushed his way to the front of the group. “I mean, you have one of your friends and Representative Cobb?”

The Vice President shot the man a glare. “If you’d allow me to finish…”

“Of course.”

“This man’s name cannot leave the room,” Casper announced, waiting to see if he held everyone’s attention.

I do…

“It’s Senator Brody,” he finished.

Someone whistled softly.

“Wow, you do have some power brokers behind this apparently.”

Senator Wynn Brody was a powerful figure within the political side of the Republican Party. Two years ago, he seemed on track to defeat Karen Rice in the primaries. However, withdrew his name after winning the primary in New Hampshire for ‘health concerns.’ Those that needed to know, knew Senator Brody removed his name away from consideration because he could not keep his pants on near younger females. On the plane ride back from the Granite State, his wife caught him with a younger aide and threatened to expose the affair unless he withdrew.

Senator Wynn Brody still managed to exert power in the political sphere thanks to his father, the late President Grant Brody, who was still beloved by the American public. While his own influence had been slightly diminished, the Brody name attached to something still carried some clout.

“Does the military have your backing?”

Casper prepared to answer, but was interrupted from doing so.

“He has the support of some of the military.”

Everyone turned to the voice.

It was Marine Major General Chester Darlington. The Marine smiled, his youthfulness displaying despite being in his fifties. Unlike General Emerson, Darlington was lean and fit. A pencil thin neck and narrow face contrasted with Emerson’s round and puffy one.

“Yet, it would be wise, if this little plot continues down this path, then to thoroughly discredit the President and her allies in any way possible.”

Casper grinned. It was good having a decorated Medal of Honor winner on your side. And most Americans would more readily accept a military figure over a politician when the time came to explain why a coup was in the public’s best interest.

“I didn’t realize the great General Darlington had joined forces with us…” It was someone in the back.

“I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure this nation of ours does not fall on its knees. I am not advocating the overthrow of the current administration at this moment. Only if it comes to that, then we’ll discuss it more…”

“Are the Joint Chiefs with you?”

Major General Darlington shook his head. “No, no, we have not reached out to them yet. It would be suicidal to do so. They are honorable men and women who have pledged to defend this country from all threats, external and internal. The Joint Chiefs must not know about this meeting, even if one or two of them would be on our side.”

Major General Darlington had been the Commandant of the Marine Corp two years before. Semi-retired now, he was an even bigger chip for the Vice President then General Emerson. Darlington held the respect of the entire nation, due to his service in the Middle East and the awarding of the Medal of Honor for leading a team of Marines in Pakistan to rescue Red Cross workers.

“But, for the moment, I urge everyone in this room to respect President Rice and her administration. We must not be rash in our decision making or act without logically thinking it through.”

Agreement rose up around the room from the men and women in it.

Casper could not help but grin. When talking about participating in a coup overthrowing the President of the United States, it was essential to have sound and reasonable people out in the forefront leading it. While General Emerson was not one of the people that fit that description, Major General Darlington certainly did. Casper would be sure that any future meeting he had about overthrowing the present administration, he would bring the former Marine commander. He would be able to explain the situation in a calm and sensible manner.

“Will this coup be like how the Russians did it in the Ukraine?” a woman asked.

“Not exactly at the onset of it,” Casper answered. “And yet, I do know that there may be similar elements to it. For instance, say we have a city or military installation that is giving us trouble. We could send in paramilitary units to suppress the local population that’s causing the trouble, take over key government structures, and install our own leaders in those regions.”

“You mean your own puppets?”

Casper smirked. “I mean like-minded people like you and I that don’t want to see this poor country torn apart because of this outbreak.”

“To answer the original question,” Major General Darlington cut in suddenly, “we will look at what the Russians did in the Crimea. That was a very effective and efficient overthrow at that regional government, and replacing it with puppets of Putin was a master stroke of genius. Of course, Ukraine is different than here, as they were a former colony of Russia, and the national identity was weak, with a centralized functional government even weaker. However, I do believe we can learn from what happened there. I assure you, I will look into it. The last thing we want is America splinting into a thousand different pieces, like how early Europe used to be divided, or Yugoslavia most recently.”

“Or the Middle East now.”

Darlington nodded as he looked over to the woman that made the statement. “Correct, that is why we must act if this gets any worse.”

“Sorry to interrupt you, General, but how could this get any worse?” Casper forgot the man’s name, but remembered he was a well-off bankster with tons of corporate connections.

“Simply put, if America descends into chaos that we’ve seen with Yugoslavia or the Middle East, we could see Rwanda-like acts in the heart of the mainland.”

“Rwanda-like acts? What are you talking about?”

“I mean people using this opportunity to settle old scores. Now that law and order are no longer a certainty, people may use this chance to grab an axe or machete and go chop their neighbor to death that they have always had a problem with. It would be up to us to ensure that does not happen.”

“You really think that could happen here?”

Darlington gazed over to the man who asked the question. “When I was in Pakistan, we came across more than a few villages littered with dead women and children. When we inquired about the reason on why these particular women and children were killed, we were told that they were affiliated with the wrong tribal or ethnic groups. No other reason was given. So when you ask me if I think that it can happen here, then yes, I think it can and it has happened here before.”

Casper grinned. Major General Darlington already proved his worth to the coup.

“Yet, gentlemen, I have brought you together for another reason as well.”

The murmuring died down, more than a few people displaying confused looks on their faces. The Vice President knew exactly what he was doing. After presenting forth a plan to take over the current government by force, he now was going to offer the people with him a bribe.

“As you all know, the first people to come up with a vaccine for this…virus…will undoubtedly go down in history as great men and women. As a result, I strongly encourage all of you to put your stock and support behind the biotech firm ‘Ajax’. This particular company is a branch of Duncan Corporations, but specializes in…let’s just say…the medical field of things.”

Laugher accompanied the Vice President’s statement with people toasting their glasses to Casper.

“So, this particular company is going to get the United States government’s backing when it comes to getting grants and funds?” It was a sleazy Wall Street executive, who had suddenly taken interest in the conversation.

Money will do that…

Casper nodded. “Yes, my dear friend Senator Everett will see that Ajax is on top of every list when it comes to getting the resources needed to combat this threat.”

The room burst with joyful glee. The sound of glasses being toasted to billionaires and greedy laughing filled the area.

Bruce Casper grinned. This outbreak is what would push him to the top.

So it begins…

Chapter 18

 

Tuesday 9:39am

Ruston, WA

 

Loud banging, along with Dubya’s earsplitting barking, jilted Roland awake. The sun peeked through the windows, confirming to him it was morning. Crashing on the floor, he attempted letting his body rest after an adrenaline filled weekend. He blinked, trying to get rid of the sleep in his eyes. Roland rubbed them and saw the movement of several bodies converge nearby.

“Holy fuck…” Garrett was at the window. Carver and Franklin also stumbled into the television room.

“What’s going…are you sure it’s them…?” Carver demanded, his deep voice booming off the walls.

Garrett ripped open the door.

For a split second, Roland panicked. He had not been outside for a little while, taking the time to relax his body. In reality, it was not just his body that required the rest. Mentally, he was drained as well. From the running around outside, to his brother turning into one of those…zombies, he was exhausted.

Just need some time away from this…

And now, he had to shake off his exhaustion for whatever was going to happen next. There would not be any time for rest. And now, Garrett was opening the door for whatever reason…

Abruptly, Roland remembered they received a phone call from two of their friends minutes ago.

“Jesus Christ, Roland, your phone keeps ringing…” Carver eventually answered it after getting annoyed by the constant vibration against the floor.

“Do you know a Willis and Thomas?” he demanded.

Roland nodded. “Yes, they’re friends…”

“Yeah, we’re safe here…oh this is just a guy Roland helped out…yeah, I take it you know where the house is then? Okay then.”

Roland laid back down, feeling the need to sleep calling at him.

“Guess the place they were staying at was no longer safe, so they want to come here,” Carver stated as he tossed the phone back to Roland.

Everyone agreed they could stay at the house, although Carver objected to them coming here without being quarantined first. Roland figured they would sort that out later.

Much, much later.

I must have dozed off again right after the phone call…

Instead of two men, three came crashing through the door. The third one screamed annoyingly as he flew into the house.

“Close the fucking door! Close the fucking door! Close the fucking door!” The large greasy fellow was spun over and socked in the face by Garrett. He waved his hands in the air, sailed backwards and landed firmly on his backside.

Carver did the smart thing and slammed the door shut immediately.

“Owwwwww.” Garrett put his hand in his mouth. “That oily fuck hurts!”

Roland just stood up, stretching out his arms.

What else was he supposed to do?

For a split second, everyone stood around, unsure of what to do next.

Or, more than likely, they were waiting for something to happen.

“I hate to be Johnny Rain Cloud, but how do we know that these guys aren’t infected?” Carver held his shotgun in a defensive manner, breaking the silence and saying what was necessary.

Everyone glanced to each other, hesitant on how to answer the question. Roland noticed Garrett look to him, hoping he would step in.

Why me?

He decided to break the awkward silence.

“Hold it, Carver. These guys are my friends and I trust them.” Roland gently approached the group.

I have to in a time like this…

The cop furiously shook his head. “Not smart, Roland. We have no place to quarantine them. Not smart at all.”

“Who the fuck is saying I need to be quarantined?” A large, looming voice floated over the small cluster of people. Thomas Gregg was built like a linebacker and had the same mindset as one. Gregg took a step toward the huge cop, his fingers balling up into a fist.

Of course he’s also a redhead…

“Stop it!” Madison staggered into the room.

Carver sheepishly pointed the gun away, while Linebacker Gregg continued in the direction of the cop.

“Thomas!” Roland grabbed him. “Hold it! The fight is out there, not in here.”

Gregg abruptly stopped and lowered his head. “I know…I know…”

Roland turned to his other friend, Willis Moore. Slender and lanky, Willis played college basketball down in Tennessee for four years at a smaller university. Although he six foot three, he weighed around one eighty…and that was after having a big meal.

“You guys have to be honest with me. Have either of you been bitten or had contact with an infected person?”

Willis shook his head convincingly. “No, I haven’t been near those things at all.”

Everyone turned to Linebacker Gregg. He suddenly broke down. “I…I put down my father and mother…”

A hush overcame the room.

Roland put his hand on the shoulder of Gregg. “I understand.”

“Yes, but did they infect you?” Carver gradually brought the shotgun back up.

“No…I don’t think so…”

“Okay buddy, okay,” Roland said as he patted his friend on the shoulder.

I trust them with my life.

A more important thought came to him.

Riley would trust them with his life also.

That was good enough for him.

Then another thought entered his mind: It would have to be good enough.

“Guys, welcome to our house!” Roland exchanged hugs with his two friends, and introduced them to everyone in the house.

Groaning caused everybody to look down at the man Garrett punched in the face.

“Who’s this guy?”

Willis shrugged his shoulders. “He’s been with us for a day or so. Picked him up near the University of Puget Sound. Not sure if he’s a student there…”

Roland crouched down to the young man.

A rather chubby face stared back at him. Curly brown hair twisted into a small afro, with large brown pupils darting over the entire room. Olive-skinned, the man quietly panted, deeply inhaling his panicked breaths.

He’s just scared…

“Hey buddy, if you’re going to stay here, you need to be honest with me. Are you infected?”

“Fuck you.”

Garrett grinned, seemingly happy he found a fight. “Well, well…”

Roland held his hand up to his paramedic friend. “Hold it, hold it.” He glanced back down to the student. “Listen, we’re your friends. Sorry about you getting hit, but…”

“Fuck your mom, buddy, and no I’m not infected so you can kiss my…”

The man did not finish his sentence as Roland punched in the face.

Owwwwwwww, that fucking hurt like a muthafucking bitch!

Roland started shaking his hand, which had already turned numb and red. “Maybe that’ll teach him some respect…”

A groan from the man was the only response back.

Chapter 19

 

Tuesday July 17th, 11:12am

Number One Observatory Circle

Washington, D.C.

 

Bruce Casper sat in his secure office, his feet propped upon his desk. A giant cigar hung from his mouth as he puffed it slowly. He already downed three cups of coffee to try and wake himself up. He stayed up all night, coordinating with various governmental officials to ensure that the ‘medical’ company Ajax would get first dibs when it came to ‘official’ contracts to battle this virus. With the Vice President’s contacts and threats, no one dared question why this particular biotech firm was pushed up the forefront. After all, it was based in Canada and if anyone followed the paper and money trail, it led to not only the Canadian government, but the Netherlands one as well.

Casper spent many years covering up the tracks of his parent company, Duncan Corporations. After the bad press a few years ago, Duncan Corporations was publicly avoided and scorned by the media and government. Besides their trouble in Central America, it had also been leaked that some contractors working for the energy section of the company in Africa killed several local people protesting an oil pipeline. On top of that, a dozen scientists for Duncan Corporation were caught infecting poor people in India with a vaccine for polio that had not been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. The head of the FDA tried to stop the leaks, but it was no use. The damage done to the company was so immense, it forced Casper to pull federal funding that very week.

He scoffed at the thought of people actually caring about some poor squatters in India. They needed to come off their high horse and join reality. Besides, if people actually found out what those scientist were injecting into those ‘volunteers’ from India with, then not only his company be finished, but his bid for the Presidency would be as well. Therefore, Casper ensured that if something did go wrong, the trail would be much harder to lead back to his great-grandfather’s company.

The Vice President focused his attention back to his current task. He was watching his computer screen in live time. From his monitor, he observed the inside of a helicopter and several men wearing dark military fatigues. One of the masked men gave a thumbs-up to the camera mounted on another operative’s helmet.

Casper chuckled.

This mission was sort of a spur of the moment thing but hey, the United States government is paying for it.

Casper withdrew his cigar, and groaned as he lifted himself up from his chair. He went over to his wet bar and poured himself some scotch.

The target man on this mission publicly embarrassed him several years ago when Casper had been the Secretary of State and was visiting him in Bogota, Columbia. That man was none other than Juan Castro Rojas, the vice president of Columbia. While on a deer hunting trip several years ago, Casper accidently shot one of his friends. The publicity was horrible for Bruce, but no one mocked him more on the global stage than Vice President Rojas. Not only did he made jokes to the media, but when he visited the United Nations later that year, he made a crack that if the Vice President was present, Rojas would be wearing an orange vest so that he would not be shot.

Casper chuckled to himself: Let’s see how great of a shot I am now.

He gave the Dark Rain squad leader the location of Rojas’ family mansion in the hills outside the city of San José del Guaviare. Casper actually visited with Rojas on several occasions before he publicly embarrassed him. The Vice President of Columbia entertained the future Vice President of United States with hookers and scotch.

Casper also suspected that his vice presidential security detail was lax considering the location and what else was happening in the country.

He smirked.

Payback is a real son of a bitch.

Casper sat back down, drink and cigar in hand, a huge smile on his face. He had personally seen to it that the Dark Rain crews attach digital cameras to their headgear. He wanted to see Rojas’ face as a bullet went through his skull.

Back on screen, a crew member glanced out from the chopper and into the jungle below. Approaching a mansion on a hill, it was the only thing lit up for miles. Casper imagined the Vice President would have some sort of a security team, which was why he sent in three helicopters and thirty men. Most were former Special Forces, who had been highly decorated and were the best that the military offered and trained.

While Dark Rain scrapped the bottom of the barrel when it came to ex-military members, they also were able to entice the best and the brightest with money. Casper had not served, but recognized private defense contractors paid more than what the government could dole out. For example, the man leading this particular mission was a former Major in the Army, who attended Brown University and been awarded the Silver Star in Pakistan. This Major turned down numerous promotions and government clearances when Dark Rain offered him six figures and tuition paid in full at a prestigious private prep school in Connecticut for his daughter.

The screen showed them approaching the giant mansion. By this time, Casper could see muzzle flashes from the ground; presumably Rojas security forces firing at the helicopters. Casper rotated the view to another crew member inside a different copter. He viewed several men repelling down on ropes, onto the mansion grounds below. Gunfire was now heard more frequently. The Dark Rain men moved with precise military effort. They eliminated the few guards outside very quickly, dropping them like flies.

Casper continued to rotate his cameras to get a better view. They were now attacking from all angles of the compound. Several housekeeping staff lay dead in the grand living room, executed at point blank range. The group advanced through the house, heading towards the master bedrooms. More security forces temporarily stopped the mercenaries, but it was exactly that, temporary.

Flash bangs were going off, violently lightening up the screen

Smoked choked the air, blocking Casper’s view for a few seconds.

It was all silent as the men kicked down the door. Sobbing on the bed and shirtless was Vice President Rojas. He was a large, fat man and Casper laughed at the sight of him now.

The man who acted so tough now cried like a big baby.

“Please, please, don’t kill me! What do you want?” he sobbed mercilessly.

The Dark Rain crew leader, the former Major stepped forward, silencer pistol in hand.

“Vice President Bruce Casper sends his regards,” he said pulling the trigger. Rojas slumped over the bed, a small bullet hole now in his forehead.

Thirty seconds later, Casper’s cell phone buzzed, revealing a text message.

 

Mission Accomplished. Hope you enjoyed the show.”

 

Casper closed his phone, smiled, and got up to get another drink.

Chapter 20

 

Tuesday July 17th, 12:05pm

Ruston, WA

 

After his two friends and stranger arrived, Roland collapsed on the couch and fell asleep for a couple more hours.

Hours he desperately needed.

Nonetheless, he did not get complete rest as he awoke sweating and shaking in a cold panic, thinking about his dead brother.

“Yo, dude you good?” Linebacker Gregg asked.

“Yeah, just thinking…” Although he did not finish, his buddy knew what was on his mind.

Gregg nodded. “Yeah man, Garrett told me about…Riley. Sorry bro. Sorry.”

Roland wiped his brow. “Yeah.”

“Willis and I got stuck on the UPS campus. We were holed up with some frat guys until they started to panic. Let in some infected and all hell broke loose after that.”

“At least you guys got out.”

Gregg nodded toward Roland. “Thanks man. We needed a place to crash.”

“Uh, yeah no problem, just glad you guys are safe.”

For a moment, Roland worried that an uncomfortable hush would linger over the two men until some moans rose up from outside.

“What the…”

“It’s them…”

Roland was grateful, sort of. No time for small talk about his brother or how he was feeling. He would rather face infected than talk about his feelings to someone else.

Both men joined Willis, already at the window.

“They’re rushing that house,” he pointed out.

Across the street, near the end of the block, dozens of those infected were busy attacking a house. Loud cries rose up inside the residence and from the second floor, a window shattered. It was a young woman, who tried to wriggle her way out but was pulled back in by several dead, rotting hands.

Roland turned away.

“Fuck.”

Willis also looked away. “I feel helpless man.” He slammed his fist into the wall.

It was true. Despite the fact their neighbors were being ripped apart alive, Roland knew there was nothing that they could do. They could not risk having the infected turn on them. Besides, the group was in no mood to try and help people they did not know.

Look at how trying to be a hero worked out for Riley.

Roland just shook his head.

“Hey, there’s a dude!” Linebacker Gregg still had been watching the horrific scene unfolding across the street.

Both Roland and Willis rotated their attention back to the house. A man swung a baseball bat in the yard. He managed to connect the barrel with an infected head and knock that person to the ground. The young man then darted down the street, pursued by a small group of zombies.

“Hope he makes it…” Willis muttered under his breath.

Roland nodded at that statement.

Good luck…

“Oh, shit, I think that infected person sees us…” Linebacker Gregg ducked away from the window.

“What?” Roland crumpled to the ground, along with Willis.

“Shit!”

“What?!”

Linebacker Gregg rubbed his temples rapidly. “There was this old looking lady, following the group who was chasing the guy…but I think she might have spotted me in the window…”

“Goddamn it! The blinds were closed for a reason,” Roland hissed back.

Gregg’s face flushed beet red, matching the hair on his head. “Don’t you fucking put this on me, this window was already open…”

A low moaning interrupted the argument.

“Great, so she did see you…” Roland clenched his fists together.

“I think so, you fucking genius…”

A soft moan was followed by the gentle pounding of the glass window. All three men looked at each other confusingly.

“What the…?” Roland almost wanted to pop his head up and see what it was.

Pound…pound…pound…

“Is that her?” Linebacker Gregg asked the obvious question.

“What the fuck do you think…?”

“IT’S A FUCKING ZOMBIE!!!” Roland was interrupted by Jeff Bella, the man Willis and Linebacker Gregg picked up. He stood across the room, pointing toward the window.

“IT’S ONE OF THOSE FUCKING THINGS! OH MY GOD…”

Dubya started barking loudly, stirred by the shouting.

“What the fuck is going on?” Carver rolled out of the guest bedroom, armed with his shotgun.

Everyone started to stream out of the rooms, awaken by the noise and begun shouting over each other.

“What’s going on…?”

“Are we okay?”

“My god, one of them is at the window!”

Carver calmly walked over to the window. He shook his head at the little old lady pounding on the glass and then yanked the blinds down.

“Everyone settle down and shut the fuck up.”

The shouting somewhat died down.

“Shut the fuck up I said…”

“AREN’T YOU GOING TO KILL THAT ZOMBIE??”

Carver swung over to Bella. “And you need to especially shut the fuck up. Quit your yelling…”

“WHAT IF THAT ZOMBIE GETS IN AND KILLS US ALL???”

Bella ignored the cop and screamed hysterically at the top of his lungs.

“WE NEED TO KILL THAT THING NOW! IF WE DON’T…ooofffff.”

Garrett’s fist connected with Bella’s face for the second time in less than half a day.

The man crashed to the floor, limp and silent once more.

“Owww.” Garrett rubbed his hand yet again.

Carver chuckled. “Okay, that isn’t how I would have taken care of it, but it worked.”

“What are we going to do about the lady at the door?”

It was Penelope. Her dark beady eyes glared at the cop.

“Well?” she asked, pushing the large, thick frames up over her beak nose.

Carver shook his head. “Ignore her for the moment. I don’t want to risk opening that door to take care of one infected person and have it turn into a huge cluster fuck like what just happened across the street. Hopefully she just leaves.”

Chapter 21

 

Tuesday July 17th, 3:21 pm

White House

Washington, D.C.

 

Casper loosened his tie as he poured himself another drink. The Vice President was having a busy day. He exacted a little bit of revenge on a leader from another country using hired killers. The so-called crime the man committed had been embarrassing Casper before the world stage by using the United Nations as a public forum. As a result, media outlets humiliated Casper for over a year with pictures and quotes from the event.

Nonetheless, he dealt with the man who initially started that humiliation this morning.

Now, it was time to take care of someone who led the Congressional hearings a few years ago that probed his company, Duncan Corporations and caused the loss of billions of dollars in revenue and a black eye in public relations.

Casper smirked.

I can’t wait to wipe that grin off that redneck…

The entitled man sat back down in front of monitor and waited for the image to appear. He did not dabble in technology, but knew the men he had paid would make sure the stream would get through to his computer. And of course, his team would make sure the man would be sitting in front of a monitor.

By force, if necessary.

Casper glanced to the television, muted but alive with images of the infection epidemic as it swept all across the nation. While the average person was worrying about protecting themselves, Casper and other elites had many weapons and resources at their disposal. In addition to the Secret Service agents outside, a dozen Dark Rain operatives were personally assigned to guard the Vice President. In fact, Dark Rain set up a command post on White House grounds, right next to the Marines. There was obvious tension between the two parties, but nothing would happen. Casper made sure that everyone recognized the mercenaries were under his authority and his authority only.

The monitor on his computer flickered to life and the image of Representative Nathan Gold flashed onto the screen. His face glared back at Casper. When he spotted the Vice-President, he only shook his head.

“Should have known it would be someone like you to drag me out my house, you fucking prick,” the Representative huffed in his southern drawl.

Casper chuckled. “Fuck you, you piece of shit.”

Gold smirked. “You mad bro? You still mad about the hearings? Yup, I heard Duncan Corporations took a major fucking hit with their stocks. Your stocks couldn’t sell for even a fucking dollar for two years.”

Casper leaned back in his chair and calmly lit a cigar. He took a deep puff and then slowly exhaled it. He grinned devilishly at the man from Tennessee.

“Yes. I am still mad about the hearings. But, I’ve accepted the fact that it happened and have moved on. In fact, unlike the Vice President of Columbia, you’re going to be able to still breathe after we talk.”

Representative Gold shifted ever so slightly in his chair. “What do you mean?”

Casper inhaled his cigar again, letting the man think about why the Vice President snatched him away from his house.

“Goddamn it, you fucking smug wife fucker…”

“I know about it, Nathan.”

“Know what? You ain’t got shit…”

“Does the name Corliss Jacobson ring a bell, you underage child fucker?”

Gold’s face tightened up.

Good…

“I uh, I uh, don’t know what you’re, uh, talking about,” he stammered.

“Please. I know you were in that Englishman’s pocket. Yet, Mr. Jacobson made a huge mistake two months ago.” Casper stopped talking and worked on his cigar again.

Gold begun to openly panic. He cleared his throat and sat up further in his seat. “Um, again, I do not know what you’re talking about…”

“I do know you haven’t heard from Mr. Jacobson in, oh it’s been about two months now, hasn’t it?”

Gold did not answer.

Casper grinned. “This is because Mr. Jacobson is a guest of the Ashfaq family in Qatar.”

Gold flinched slightly.

“Ah, yes, you recognize that name, don’t you?”

The politician from the Volunteer state did not reply and instead scratched his beard furiously. Casper recognized from studying him that he did this when becoming nervous and worried.

“Of course you do. They are one of the richest families in Qatar…and one of the most ruthless…from what I’ve heard of course.”

Casper purposefully took a slow sip of his scotch. “Damn, that is good…”

“Where are you going with this?”

The Vice President smiled.

“Mr. Jacobson made a huge mistake. About two months ago, he was vacationing in Europe. I by vacationing, I mean he was recruiting young ladies for his sex business that you would partake in every couple of months on your goodwill trips to Europe.”

The representative from Tennessee remained silent, not denying the claim.

“Well, while in Spain one night, your partner came across some young women at a nightclub. He bought them drinks, chatted them up, drugged them and then proceeded to rape one of the women in his hotel room. Afterwards, he gave her a few hundred dollars and kicked her out.”

Gold lowered his head and shook it slightly.

“Well, that girl…she was the daughter of one those Ashfaq fuckers. You can only imagine how that went down.”

Casper started chuckling and took another sip of his drink. “Yeah, he was scooped up the next morning and flown by first class to Qatar and had a face to face with the father.”

“I don’t know what this has to do with me…”

“Hold on, I’m getting there. Where was I? Ah, yes…well, you can imagine how papa felt about his daughter being raped. So, he made Mr. Jacobson spill the beans on his little operation and your name popped up during the discussion. And by spill the beans, I mean his nut sack was split open with a hammer. Very, very gruesome stuff.”

“What do you want?” The man on the other end of the video screen was now openly sweating.

Casper snickered. “Well, there are a couple of things. One, you’re going to transfer all of your shares in that state run oil company in Honduras to me. Yeah, I know one of the reasons you went after Duncan was because your wife’s cousin was married to the CEO of the state run oil company down there. I won’t ask any questions on how you do it, that’s between you and your wife. Two, you’re going to get behind a company called Ajax when it comes to funding and governmental contracts, no questions asked.”

Nathan Gold did not protest.

“Good, good you seem to know you’re in a bind. And like a good politician, you’re saving yourself. Not exactly noble, but smart and self-serving.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes. You’re going to let Duncan Corporations set up a nice little facility in your backyard. Along with a Dark Rain training ground for this national emergency. I don’t care how you sell it, because the men will be down there at the end of the week to start building it. Your country thanks you for being a great patriot Representative and I’ll tell the Ashfaq family that you were more than helpful and have made amends for your actions.”

Gold just kept his head down as he shook it.

Casper grinned as he stood up and flipped the screen close on his laptop. Then he went over to his little bar and poured himself another drink.

Chapter 22

 

Tuesday July 17th, 9:07pm

Ruston, WA

 

Hopefully she just leaves…

Carver declared that over eight hours ago, and yet the old lady continued banging on the door.

Pound…pound…pound…

Roland turned up the television to drown out the noise from the infected person. However, the news being reported did not distract him like he hoped that it would have. Instead, it made him even more depressed.

New York City seemed like it was totally overrun with infected hordes. Images revealed local police and security officials had been beaten back. Groups of survivors were now on their own, trapped inside their houses or places of work. Videos slowly being leaked out from individuals fighting the infected. Roland’s favorite video was where two men in suits strung up a rope across a hallway. Then a third person started clapping and shouting, drawing an infected person sprinting down the hall, where they promptly tripped over the rope. A computer was then dropped on the head of the infected person. Roland observed that three or four computers had already been used by the group, with two other bodies lying motionless on the ground.

Meanwhile, gangs in Chicago had taken over the downtown section of the city and forced local law enforcement to pull back. Although no infected were reported to be in the city, video feed displayed cops and gang members in pitched gun battles all across the downtown area of the Windy City. Roving people, their faces covered by masks, fired on television crews and looters in the hundreds were breaking and smashing downtown businesses. Canada was also being called out by the United Nations for closing its borders and physically turning people away.

In other updates that he caught, National Guardsmen from California and Arizona opened fire on each other, causing mass casualties on the border of those two states. People attempted to flee the infection from Los Angeles, but the citizens of Arizona did not want to risk those refugees carrying that infection into their state. Scores of helicopters fired on groups, causing them to turn back. As a result, the California National Guard took exception to its citizens being fired upon and returned the favor. Dozens of bodies littered the highways, with hundreds more scattered in the unforgiving desert. Yet, neither side backed down, ensuring more blood would be spilled.

Roland watched as Janet Boxer, the Homeland Security Director, land near the border of the two states in an attempt to try and make peace. Thus far, she was doing a horrible job in the interview being played on live television

“…first off I want to caution everyone here that we are not ruling out that this as a possible potential man-caused disaster.”

“You mean that terrorists are responsible for this?”

“Yes,” she nodded furiously.

“Have you read the Arizona law about preventing people from crossing into their border?”

She shook her head. “I have not read it in great detail…”

“So, you’re not prepared to make a judgment on it?”

“Well, let’s just say it’s not the type of law I would have necessarily signed…”

Gunfire rose out in the background, causing one of the journalists to laugh as Boxer covered her head with her hands and crouched down.

“Ma’am, you hear my question? What reason would you give to not sign that particular law?”

Boxer gradually rose up, clearly embarrassed by being spooked at gunfire miles away. “Um, well…I believe…Because I believe it is a bad enforcement law. It puts many law enforcement officials in a position that they do not want to be in…or in this case, National Guardsmen…”

More gunfire started rising up around the area, resulting in several armed guards to forcefully remove Janet Boxer away from the reporters.

“…thank you, our administration is working on this…” she managed to shout before the roar of the chopper drowned out her voice.

The helicopter came rushing down, causing the correspondents to flee the area. The Homeland Security director was then shoved in and the transport rose up and jetted off into the sky.

“…as you can see, Director Boxer is here on the Arizona – California border trying to prevent more violence…”

Roland snickered to himself.

Yeah, sure…

Finally, a state militia in Montana reportedly overtook a federal military base and threatened to launch missiles unless the government admitted they were the cause behind this mysterious virus.

Damn extremists…

The same messages were also being repeated from the government.

We can only encourage people to stay indoors and to try and maintain an adequate supply of drinking water and food to eat,” a spokesman stated earlier. Roland observed the same quote on all the other news stations, so that seemed to be the official position the political class was taking in response to this outbreak.

We don’t know” was also a popular phrase and repeated constantly by the experts trotted out by the administration.

Or maybe that was the official position of the political class. So much for ‘Big Government’ being the solution to every little crisis.

Pound…pound…pound pound…

“Goddamn it! I can’t take it anymore!”

Linebacker Gregg hopped up from the couch.

“I need to fucking put an end to that. I’m going crazy otherwise.” Gregg started to pace across the room, eyeing the stash of guns Roland and the others gathered up earlier. His broad shoulders grew larger, his frame walking in that direction.

They stacked them up against the back wall, with Carver being in charge of the weapons.

“Take it easy…” Carver attempted to calm him down.

“Fuck no, I won’t calm down, I need to shoot that fucking thing out there…”

Carver shook his head. “I already told you, I’m not opening that door. Last time we did that, a bunch of infected rushed the house…”

Linebacker Gregg did not back down.

Damn redheads…

“Listen, either you’re going to go out there and take care of her, or you get the fuck out of my way and let me do it…”

“Try it, just fuckin’ try it…”

Roland would have normally tried to get in between the two men, but honestly did not feel like getting involved. Everyone was feeling cranky from being cooped up inside all day. Besides, it was good to let a little tension out into the open every once in awhile. He sat back, hoping for a physical confrontation between the two men.

“…fuck off, man. Isn’t that shit driving you nuts?”

“…I already told you, we’re not going out there, it’s too much of a risk…”

“…try and stop me and I’ll put your fucking head through the goddamn window…”

Roland snickered to himself. He knew Gregg was a hot head.

Now it’s time for Carver to find out…

While the men argued, no one noticed the Jeff Bella guy sneak over to the pile of weapons and then proceed to pick up a handgun. Carver made the mistake of going over to Linebacker Gregg and confronting him.

Roland chuckled to himself, enjoying the little back and forth occurring when he noticed the young man appear behind Carver with a gun. Bella gradually walked to the group, inching over to everyone.

Oh shit…

“Okay, okay listen up!” he shouted in a whiny, shaky voice.

Everyone turned to the man.

‘What the fuck…?”

“Why you little bitch…”

Bella shook the handgun at everyone. “Quiet, be quiet!”

A hush overcame the men in the room.

Pound…pound…pound…

Carver finally spoke. “What do you want?”

“To open that door and shoot that thing. She’s been at the door too long, I’m going nuts myself…”

“You don’t want to do that…”

Bella moved closer to the door. “You don’t understand, I’m not kidding around. Open the goddamn door, now.” His high-pitched voice shrilled loudly, the nerves showing in his tone.

By now, Madison and Penelope toppled into the room, trying to see what all the commotion was about.

“Oh my god!”

“What is going on…?”

Bella unlocked the front door, his shaking hands still managing to hold onto the gun.

“Don’t you fucking…”

“Nooooo…”

Voices rose up among the people in the room.

“You open that door and we’re kicking you outside.” Carver’s deep voice rose up above the others. It was calm, but the tone of his voice exhibited authority, as if he was used to situations such as these. The cop stepped forward, his massive figure causing Bella to hesitate slightly and glance at everyone else in uncertainty.

“You even open it a crack, I’m going to shove your fucking head halfway out and let that little old lady chew on your dumb ass fucking skull.”

Bella paused. Whether from Carver’s threat or the fact that he did not want to be the one to open the door, no one had time to find out. At that exact moment, loud noises emerged from outside. As it was just turning dark, Roland and others darted to the windows, but had trouble seeing the commotion emerging outside.

“I don’t see anything…”

Pound…pound…pound…

The infected woman still pounded at the window, trying to get in.

Headlights were revealed from across the street.

“Must be neighbors…”

Shouting and yelling grew louder from outside.

More headlights appeared, and Roland could make out dark figures moving near the vehicles.

“What the…is that the military?” Willis’s question went unanswered as gunshots rang out.

“Get down! Get down!” Carver already grabbed a shotgun and was pressed up against the door.

“Who are they shooting at…?”

Roland peeked out of the window, and saw a large group firing on a house down the block. The collection of figures laughed hysterically while firebombing the residence. A few cocktails were lit on fire and tossed at a house, igniting up the entire area in a vicious blaze. From the glow of the orange brightness, he viewed perhaps a dozen people out there. They congregated near three trucks, with some in the back, shooting their guns at random targets. More objects were thrown at the house and around the yard, which fiercely exploded upon impact.

“Turn off the lights!”

Franklin immediately responded to Carver’s demand.

“Make sure all the lights are off!”

Movement came from everyone at once as several people bumped into each other attempting to get to the kitchen to flip the switch off.

“Ooohhhfff…”

“Watch it….”

Roland continued watching the scene outside. A couple people dashed inside the house while it burned and were just now coming out. Someone was being carried out and they thrashed about wildly against two men. A scream erupted above all the other noise.

“Noooooo! Pleaseeeeee…”

“Quiet bitch.”

“Nooooooooooooooooooooo, help me! Please help…!”

A gruff voice laughed loudly. “I’m gonna have fun quieting you up…”

Roland could not witness the scene, but the proceeding squeals signaled a rape taking place from behind one of the trucks.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

Whooping cries materialized from the group as they urged their man to continue onward with the brutal and savage act.

Roland struggled to drown out the shrieks of the woman being violated. He looked around the room and noticed that everyone avoided the stare of someone else.

“Ahhhhhhhhaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!”

“Are we not going to do anything?”

Madison glared about the room.

No one else returned her gaze.

“Roland?”

Oh fuck…

“Uhhhhh mom, there are a lot of them…”

Carver quickly cut in.

“Ma’am, we can’t risk that. Infected or these looters are best left alone.”

“So we just let a girl get raped outside?”

The former Marine looked down.

“Unfortunately, yes. It’s a sick part of life…”

“AHAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAH…”

“Yeah, baby, scream for me,” the gruff voice mocked.

“AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhaa…”

“I can’t believe we’re not going to do anything,” Madison declared again. “Some girl is being violated…”

“Ma’am, the last thing I want is to have is someone raped next to me and for me to not do anything,” Carver glanced to Roland’s mom. “And yet, what would you like for us to do? We’re outnumbered and probably outgunned…”

Madison did not answer, as the girl continued to scream out.

Gunfire rattled abruptly, this time right next to Roland’s place. Thankful for the disruption, he focused his attention back to the scene taking place on his street. He saw that the group had moved up the road and were razing the residence next to them.

“I don’t think they are going anywhere, Carver.”

The cop sighed heavily. “Shit, everyone grab a weapon. Looks like we’re going to have to use them.”

All of them hesitated slightly, obviously nervous at being forced to defend themselves.

“What’s the battle plan, captain?” Linebacker Gregg threw the question at Carver.

“Aim and fire at someone,” he tossed back in response.

“Great, thanks.”

Carver started to bark out commands.

“Franklin and Penelope, watch the back! Make sure no one is sneaking up behind us and be sure that we have a pathway out of here if need a quick exit.”

“Madison, get prepared to move David! Roland, you and Garrett got that window! Willis and Gregg, that side!”

Roland noticed Carver back in his element. He was perfectly comfortable with giving out orders and being in charge.

Must be the Marine in him…

“Where am I?!! What do you want me to do??!!” The shrill voice of Jeff Bella rang inside the room..

The former Marine cleared his throat before answering. “To stay the fuck out of my way.”

Even though Bella was over six feet, he shrunk in the presence of Carver. He did not say anything and faded into the background.

Cries and laughing were still ringing out, causing Roland to shut his eyes. The pounding within his head from all the noise was almost unbearable. Looking down, his hands were shaking once again.

Damn it…

“Hey, everyone look on the bright side. That old lady is no longer pounding on the window anymore. Hehehe.” Garrett was quickly silenced by everyone’s looks.

And yet true. Sometime during the last few minutes, the old lady sprinted away. Hopefully, she managed to bite one of those raiders before being shot dead again.

“Come on! Come on! Let’s raid this thing right here…get that fucking ugly ass dude sprinting on the side…watch your backs!”

A commanding voice surged up near the front yard. “Ooohhh it fucking smells. These dead bodies stink, just like that cunt bitch! Or maybe that smell reminds me of your mom, Derrick…”

“Oh shut the fuck up, Ian.”

‘Ian’ laughed throatily.

Roland recognized him as the one who told the girl to be quiet and presumably raped her as well.

“I’m gonna up to this house, watch the sides of the house and the street for those crazy things…”

“Zombies, Ian, they are zombies…”

“Yeah, yeah…”

Steps rapidly approached the door.

Oh fuck, here we go…

Roland gripped his rifle tightly. Ignoring his whole body trembling and the adrenaline rushing through it, he leaned against the wall and waited for the ‘shit to hit the fucking fan.’

Carver slowly waddled backwards, his focus on the door. He gradually crouched into a firing position, one knee on the ground.

The door flung open.

Carver did not fire immediately as a large man lumbered into the house.

“What the fuck…?” The man muttered, probably shocked a man pointed a gun right at him.

Bella unlocked the fucking door…

Roland remembered that right as ‘Ian’ swung up his weapon.

Carver fired, causing the man to stagger about and then collapse, his large frame falling backwards onto the porch.

Glancing up, Roland guessed the men outside must not have seen Ian get shot. Only the short man, presumably ‘Derrick’, started to jog to the porch. The rest were too busy throwing cocktails and watching the street to have seen what happened.

“Hey, Ian! What the fuck? Did you trip, you idiot?” Derrick made his way up the porch and toward the house.

Carver did not hesitate this time and shot the man right in the chest area a few times. The man gulped up blood as his body fell in reverse and onto the yard. This time though, the men outside spotted one of their own go down.

“Hey!”

“What the hell?”

“Yo yo, what’s this?”

A man in one of the trucks opened fire on Roland’s house, the rest of the men falling in line. Windows shattered, causing the people crouching below them to get hit with jagged glass.

“Owwwww!”

“Fuck!”

Roland viewed Willis stand up to return fire. The gun did not fire and looking to see the reason why, he swung the weapon around. Doing this caused the aim to be right at Carver, who somehow managed to see what Willis was doing.

“Get that fucking thing away…” The cop dove out of the way just as Willis accidentally pulled the trigger.

“Ahhhhh!” Willis lost his balance and fell over.

Looking over the room, Roland saw the only person successfully returning fire was Garrett. Linebacker Gregg had been distracted by Willis and leaped out of the way to avoid the bullets flying at him. Carver appeared like he was ready to strangle Willis, while Jeff lay facedown on the floor, his hands over his head.

“Goddamn it! I’ll deal with you later…” Carver crawled to the same window Roland huddled underneath.

Popping up, Carver took aim and knocked two men out of the back of a truck. Another man came up on the side and took cover behind a tree near the front yard. However, he failed to see an infected rush out and it promptly tackled him.

“Shit!”

Garrett cried out and pointed frantically.

Roland soon realized the reason for this. One of the raiders dashed forward, lighting a cocktail.

Carver calmly and coolly pulled up his weapon and waited until the man’s arm was pulling back for the throw. The raider was hit in the chest and shoulder, and as a result dropped the cocktail, which exploded on the ground and quickly engulfed him in flames. He screamed in agony as the fire spread all over his body. The looter hastily collapsed in the yard.

By now, more infected appeared in the vicinity compelling the remaining raiders to either turn their attention to them or to leave.

Most chose the latter option.

Two of the trucks darted out of the area, hordes of infected chasing them on their heels. The third truck did not move, as the driver was being eaten in the front seat. Two men remained in the back trying to fight off the infected. They managed to hold them off for a few seconds before running out of ammunition. One of the men brought up his handgun and shot himself in the head. The other could not, and just slumped over as a dozen infected hopped into the back of the truck.

An inhuman scream noisily resonated from the street. The sounds of someone being torn apart were heard yet again in front of the house. A racket of death had rained down upon the yard of Roland’s place during the last couple of days.

Carver abruptly rose up and slammed the door shut.

“Franklin, we good?”

“Yes,” was the reply back.

“Gregg, check the house! Make sure nothing’s out of place! Goddamn it, can we get a day of fucking peace?”

Nope…

Roland collapsed onto his back and closed his eyes.

Chapter 23

 

Tuesday July 17th 10:33pm

Washington D.C.

 

Colonel Fitzgerald Mann leaned back in his chair, enjoying the pissing match taking place between a Marine Major and Derrick Holland King, the CEO and founder of Dark Rain as it grew more angry. High ranking military officials were meeting on White House grounds to discuss the strategy of defending the capital city from thousands upon thousands of infected streaming toward them at this very moment. Nonetheless, the meeting had gotten off to a rocky start with a Marine officer verbally lashing out to the mercenary leader.

“…you goddamn merc, you need to stay the hell away from my men.”

“Major Abbott, I understand your position…”

“You don’t understand shit, you fucking glory hound.”

King just grinned and smiled back at the upset commander. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but we have our orders as well, Major. Just think of my guys as giving your brave Marines a small, but significant helping hand.”

“Fuck you and Dark Rain…”

“That’s enough Major Abbott.” Chairman Robert Gatewoods decided the argument reached its end.

“Complete bullshit that his guys are doin jack shit and yet they are first in line for meals and new equipment…”

“I’ll handle it, Major Abbott…”

Abbott stood up. “Excuse me, sir, unlike Mr. King, I don’t have a cocktail party to attend to with lobbyists and politicians. I must get back out to my men in the field.” Major Abbott stormed out, slamming the door behind him.

“I apologize to everyone in this room,” King began, “I’ll look into what the Major was saying…”

“Yes, you will. We will look into it, Mr. King.” Chairman Gatewoods glared at the head of Dark Rain.

“Of course, General. My company and especially I, would have it no other way. If what the Major said is even remotely true, then I will personally put a stop to it. You have my word as a former Navy SEAL.”

Chairman Gatewoods just nodded. Mann knew the General did not trust him. Derrick King, the founder of the largest private security firm in the United States, went wherever the money was. His company took him all over the world, yet lately he had been in Africa, protecting Chinese owned pipelines and rich mineral fields. But the man realized when a more pristine opportunity presented itself. And with this outbreak, the chance to ingrain your legacy to the world was more important than a few bucks to a multimillionaire like King.

Despite being from a powerful Republican family and a former Navy SEAL, the self described Christian wanted to pave his own path. Dark Rain was his creation, and the sudden infectious pandemic presented the perfect opportunity for him to display them to the world. He successfully infested both the political and corporate world with his hired killers and would not waste this chance.

King’s black eyes narrowed as he studied the Chairman. Despite being retired from the military, his blond hair was still cut short, the front a little longer and combed to the side. His face displayed worn scars and the nose sloped at a downward angle.

“Okay, what’s on the agenda today, General?” Chairman Gatewoods directed the question towards Major General Warren Devereaux, the man in charge with protecting the capital city.

Devereaux calmly cleared his throat and gazed down to a few reports in front of him.

“Well Mr. Chairman, DC is totally locked down. We do have some people still disobeying the curfew. Had a small riot last night in the southeastern side that was put down quickly and efficiently by Mr. King’s forces.”

Nods were given in the direction of Derrick King, who beamed at the attention. As usual, he wore a black suit, but no tie and the white shirt underneath was unbuttoned at the top. A casual, yet professional look for a hired killer.

Mann inhaled deeply. He did not think shooting a dozen unarmed people was worth any praise.

“I’d say for the most part, we’re doing better than I expected. No reports of anyone sick, so we have contained this area from it. Now the job is to keep it that way. I have faith in accomplishing that goal.”

“We sure on nobody being sick?” A Colonel inquired from the back row where Mann sat.

The Major General grunted. “Can’t be one hundred percent sure, but I have companies of Marines stationed at the hospitals and medical facilities. They are under orders to quarantine those areas if they suspect an infection.”

‘What about people hiding their love ones and family in their houses or apartments?”

“We’re sending out notices that if you knowingly harbor an infected person, you will subject to military punishment and be thrown into prison. Additionally, we have patrols going up and down the blocks reminding people that we are watching them.” The man suddenly grinned. “But, if you report on someone who is harboring an infected person, you will be rewarded. We still haven’t decided on a number yet. The CIA coffers will be put to good use, I’m sure of that.”

Snickers rose up around the room.

“How many troops are currently in the city?” Gatewoods wrote down some notes.

Devereaux poured some sugar into his cup of coffee and stirred it. “About ten thousand at the moment, sir. Another division should be here in a matter of hours. All told, I’m hoping for around twenty thousand men before any infected reach our main perimeters.”

“And how far out are the infected?”

Devereaux glanced down to the table, where some papers were scattered in front of him. “Latest reports have large number of infected people about five or six hours from here. The even bigger flock is a few hours behind that. We currently have a dozen helicopters out there keeping track of the main waves of infection. Also, we have drones overhead that are now targeting large clusters of these infected hordes…”

“Hold it, drones are presently being utilized on American soil?” an incredulous looking Gatewoods asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“And who ordered those and for how long has this been going on? Nothing was brought to the Joint Chiefs attention…”

“Excuse me, sir but there wasn’t time.”

General Vernon Levitt. The man who led the crusade to invade Pakistan for national security reasons was now leading the charge for using drones on American soil for those same national security reasons.

Mann thought it ironic.

“No time? NO TIME?” Gatewoods stood up, his face beet red. “How dare you go behind my back, General Levitt and order this without consulting me…”

“Excuse me, sir, but he didn’t order it. I did.” General Devereaux steadily stirred the coffee, his sun blemished face pointed down at his cup.

“What?”

General Devereaux casually glanced up to the Chairman, wrinkles forming on the corners of his eyes. “Yes, sir. I understood that with the President signing the Insurrection Act, I could use any and all force to protect this city. You did receive the security briefings last night, correct?” His voice was calm, yet direct to the Chairman.

“Well yes, of course, General, it’s just…um, catching me by surprise, that’s all,” Gatewoods stammered.

Mann never remembered Gatewoods stuttering before any meeting. The Colonel took a closer gaze toward Devereaux. He knew the Major General controlled regions of Pakistan years ago during the NATO-led occupation of that country. And within those regions, at least two black sites operated as CIA run prisons.

Mann discerned the prisoners at those sites were tortured for their information by both the military and the CIA rendition units. And Mann had no doubt that if he knew torture took place, Devereaux held knowledge of those acts as well.

And still, the man was an American hero for capturing the terrorists responsible for bombings in New York City and London while stationed in Pakistan. Beloved by India for defeating their hated region rival and lined up numerous speaking engagements in the United Nations for leading the fight in rebuilding communities that had been affected by the India-Paki war. American and international media painted the picture of a loving family man who did his job the right way, and followed the rules of war.

And yet Mann wondered to himself.

Who was this man that made the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs stumble over himself in front of everyone?

“Then I saw it was prudent to authorize those drone attacks to try and slow down the infection before it reaches us. Any time created by us in delaying those hordes is priceless. Unless, you sir, have another means of achieving it?”

The question, while asked in a calm manner, had a hint of mockery in it as well.

“Uh, no, no, General Devereaux you are correct. Just would appreciate a heads up, that’s all. To keep the President and us informed, of course.”

Devereaux nodded. “Of course, sir. I apologize for the delay in informing you. But now you know.”

“No, uh, no problem, General, please continue…”

Mann realized right there the man in charge of DC was not Chairman Gatewoods and the Joint Chiefs, but General William Devereaux and his aides. And the only reason the Chairman rolled over at the moment was to not upset the man that had been put in control of protecting this city. Mann could think of no other reason why Gatewoods would so easily bow to this particular man. He did not want to piss him off.

Devereaux was the power player in DC, and it was apparently known in the higher up military circles to not cross his path.

But why…?

Mann was determined to find out.

“… now, the problem is that the infected are following the people who are fleeing them. Our checkpoints that are twenty, thirty miles from our main perimeter walls are starting to get overrun with refugees. Therefore, we’ve started pulling back all of our forces from around Baltimore.”

“What’s the latest on Baltimore?”

Devereaux did not answer and instead gazed to someone near him.

“Baltimore is gone. Or will be gone within the next six hours,” a man in a suit and tie calmly answered.

“And you are?”

The man managed a smile. “Oh, just a private citizen…”

“This is Mr. Jones,” Devereaux interrupted him. “He is former military and now does contracting work.”

So he’s a mercenary

Or as the State Department would classify him: a ‘civilian technical specialist.’

Basically, a former CIA killer now hired on as a contractor with a much less frightening title.

Mann wanted to throw that jab out there, but decided to keep quiet.

“He’s been in Baltimore and has firsthand reports…”

‘Mr. Jones’ nodded. “Yes, sir. There was no organized response to the infection from Baltimore officials. Police and other city officials were fleeing the area before it reached the city. Only a few citizens were engaging the infected as they swooped into area.”

“So you were actually there recently?” someone inquired from the back of the room.

‘Mr. Jones’ nodded again. “Yes, I was just there a few hours ago. City should just about be fully engulfed with the dead in a matter of hours. The immediate problem, as General Devereaux has stated, is the refugees swamping the checkpoints we have. All the major freeways and roads are cluttered with people, vehicles, and shit. Best way, from at least my perspective, is to isolate yourself and then fight the waves of infected making their way here.”

Just about all the high ranking military men nodded in agreement.

“Best way to slow down this wave, right now, is obviously airpower. It has proven to be an effective determent. But it is only temporary, and uninfected people are being killed in those strikes as well. We need these refugees out of the way.”

Major General Devereaux bobbed his head up and down as he spoke. “That’s why I’m hoping that Mr. King and Dark Rain can accommodate us in helping move civilians out of the way.”

Everyone glanced to Derrick King, who grinned. He certainly enjoyed the limelight.

“Thank you, General. I just want to say how honored I am to be fighting next to the United States military and to be included in this historic fight. As a Christian, I feel privileged to be called into duty to protect this city. Our Lord has blessed me with this opportunity, and I do not intend to ignore it. With that said, my men can take over for the military in safety transporting civilians to designated safe spots.”

“How many men do you have now?”

King looked down at his phone. “As of this moment, I have one thousand men here in the capitol. I can get another couple hundred here and there to start with the transporting of people. We also can utilize men from Mercury Rising. I know they have a few hundred guys inside the city right now protecting the senior government officials.”

“Are we sure we want to be using mercenaries to transport civilians? I’m just saying, from a PR standpoint, this could backfire.” Chairman Gatewoods was trying to recover from the shock of being left out of the military loop.

King stood up. “As I’m sure the General is aware, the refugee problem is getting worse by the minute. I can use over two dozen helicopters right at this moment, along with five heavy cargo planes. Additionally, I just got off the phone with one of my commanders at Dulles International Airport. He has just secured over twenty jumbo jets to get people out of here.” King glanced between the military men.

“Just give me a chance to help.”

Mann snickered quietly to himself.

And to look good in the spotlight…

Chairman Gatewoods glanced to Major General Devereaux, who nodded approvingly.

Gatewoods turned back to the Dark Rain leader.

“Okay, Mr. King. You coordinate with Colonel Markinson, who is currently in charge of diverting the civilians away from here. Tell him you’re here to help get people out of here. Use all of your resources available.”

“Yes, General. Thank you for trusting me.” King started strolling out, already on his phone.

He suddenly turned around. “Oh, just to be sure that everyone knows, we are still flying VIPs out of the city for at least another day. So if you want your family or friends lifted out of here for safe keeping on a secure military base, just let the Dark Rain command post know. I recommend getting them out before the quarantine takes effect and things get really bad. Thanks again, gentlemen.”

Of course the well-connected had an exit strategy to get themselves and their families out of the city. While Mann did not like having the ability to pull strings, there was no doubt he would take advantage of the offer if he had family left in the city.

It’s just myself now…

“Okay, gentlemen, um, what other news do we have?” Chairman Gatewoods scanned the room.

“Sir I have some reports from around the country…” A young looking Army Captain spoke up.

Gatewoods nodded to him. “Please continue, Captain.”

“Yes, sir. Captain Dan Savage, with the 82nd Airborne,” he stated, looking over a few papers. “We have open contact with the majority of the bases around here and across seas, sir. All military facilities are on lockdown. No one is leaving or going from there and local commanders are assuming they are under order to shoot civilians that try to overrun the base itself?”

Gatewoods nodded. “They are unfortunately. I take it that commanders are making it a priority to make sure that the families of the military personnel are being taken care?”

Savage nodded. “Yes, sir. I will make a note of it when I speak with the base commanders today, but most of them know that their men won’t fight unless they know their families are being cared for and are safe on the bases.”

“Good, tell the commanders that they can authorize rescue missions to pick up family members of military personnel from around the country. Open up a line of communication strictly for the sole purpose of picking up and rescuing military personnel’s families.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What else do we have?”

“We lost contact with Los Angeles Air Force Base last night. Think they were overrun by the same infected that devastated LAX.”

“Okay. What about Camp Pendleton?”

“Half and a half. Part of the base was overrun with large hordes early yesterday morning, but the Marines there have managed to fight back and they regained control of those parts of the base late last night.”

“Any further bases compromised that we know of?”

“Um, yes sir, Malmstrom is currently in a firefight with some anti government militia groups.”

“Fucking Montana,” a Navy officer muttered under his breath near Mann.

“Does the militia have access to missiles?”

Captain Savage paused. “The commander won’t say.”

Gatewoods snorted. “So they probably do. Just great.”

“Sir, the situation is being handled.”

Devereaux forced himself into the conversation. “Handled my ass. Get a fucking team of special ops there now and have the second in command take over. This fucking ends right now.”

Captain Savage nodded, looking between the Major General and the Chairman. “Yes, sir. I’ll take care of it right now.”

“Also, coordinate with commanders around power grids, nuclear and water plants. I want those areas secured with maximum force available immediately.”

“Yes, sir.”

A knock was heard on the door, and a Lieutenant strolled in and placed a paper next to the Captain.

“Thank you…”

Captain Savage scanned the report he just received. “Major problem, sir.”

“What is it, Captain?”

A concerned look was plastered on the young officer’s face. “Sir, it appears that we have lost contact with Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst…”

“Jesus Christ, this ends right now.”

Captain Savage shook his head. “As of right now, we do not have a command structure that everyone can report to…”

Devereaux interjected. “That is changing at this moment. This will be the main command post that everyone under the military will report to.”

“Um, yes, sir.”

“I want you to communicate that to all the bases around the country. I will personally talk with as many commanders that I can, but we will begin fighting as a unit from here right now.”

“Understood, sir.”

“Tell them that I will be selecting sector commanders in each region that will be in charge of that area. I’m going to create a command structure that resembles that of the Unified Combatant Command. Hopefully, by the end of the week we will be a little more organized and we will all be on the same page across the country.”

The young Army officer stood up. “Anything else, sir?”

“No, just set up a command post for me and my aides in the West Wing of the White House.”

Savage hesitated.

“Sir, isn’t that where the President is going to be staying…?”

“Of course. But, for the moment, I want that to be the symbol that America sees when I give press conferences. I want them to see that the United States government is still functioning and that we have not abandoned them. It is important to give people hope, in a time like this.”

“Yes, sir. I will get started on that, sir, right away.” Captain Savage saluted and left the room, a few junior officers following him out.

Small chatter started up before Chairman Gatewoods cleared his throat. “How do you gentlemen propose to handle this threat once it reaches us?”

Every military man gradually gazed at General Devereaux.

Mann was shocked. The Joint Chiefs were simply being ignored

Chairman Gatewoods cleared his throat again. “Um, General Devereaux, what are your solutions to protecting this city? The, uh, Joint Chiefs and I are eager to hear your suggestions.”

Gatewoods framed the question in such a way that he himself was asking for the rest of the Joint Chiefs. Apparently, not only had Gatewoods been left out of the loop, but the rest of the Chiefs as well.

Major General Warren Devereaux took a small sip of his coffee, not responding right away. It seemed to be his way of quietly mocking Gatewoods.

After a few moments, he finally put the cup down.

“My strategy is that I will wait for the infected to come to me. As you gentlemen have observed, I have called upon the Army Corp of Engineers to put up walls to obstruct the flow of both civilians and infected into the city. I’m sure here everyone has seen both civilian and military construction of the city…”

“How are they being constructed? What is the tactic behind where they are being positioned?”

Devereaux swung around to face the man asking the questions. “Excuse me, and you are?”

“Graham Bowen, acting Chief for the Metropolitan Police Department, sir.”

Devereaux beamed at the overweight, plump man with a military buzz cut dressed in a gray suit and black slacks. “Ah, yes Chief Bowen. I’m so glad you accepted the military’s offer of this position. Everyone, this is the new Chief of Police for DC, Mr. Graham Bowen.”

Murmurs of acknowledgement littered the room.

“Chief Bowen will run the city behind the barricades. His job and duties are just as important as ours.”

Bowen brushed a chubby hand in the air. “That’s nonsense, sir. I’m just here to try and control the civilian component that is left in the city and leave the important work to you and your men,” he wheezed out.

“Chief Bowen comes to us from Chicago, where he was the second in command. He’s former military and knows how to handle himself in a hot zone.”

“Thank you, General Devereaux, appreciate the kind words,” Bowen grinned at the leader of DC. His round, blowfish face actually blushed due to the thoughtful words said by Devereaux.

Mann heard of Graham Bowen. There was a reason his title was First Deputy Superintendent, and not the Police Superintendent of Chicago. Rumors ran abound that he liked to use a cattle prod when interrogating suspects. Nothing had been confirmed, as the Chicago Police Department proved to be better at covering crimes up than solving them.

“The whole block of the White House is going to be barricaded off with double walls, wires, sandbags, you name it, and it’s going up. In fact, if you would please…” Devereaux nodded to someone around him.

The television monitors were then replaced with a Google Earth image of Washington DC.

“Gentlemen and ladies, the first level is going to be barricaded off starting on Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street, and stretching out to 15th and 17th Streets and ending at US Route 50 that runs along The Ellipse Park. If it comes to it, this will be our final stand if our other perimeters are overrun.”

“This second level will stretch out from H Street to 13th Street and 19th Street, all the way to the US Route 50. This blockade will be stationed on top of roofs and in buildings as well. I want to this to be the main perimeter. This area will be isolated by the walls that are currently being put up. After that, we will focus mainly on just barricading buildings and smaller blocks, not whole areas of the city. But the zone around the White House will be a fortress.”

The military men seemed in agreement with the tactic.

“So,” someone asked from the back, “what about buildings such as the FBI or Homeland?”

Devereaux nodded. “Those particular buildings will be barricaded off separately from the outside. All essential departments are being reinforced with numerous military units to their respective buildings.”

“Same idea with the Capitol building?”

Major General Warren Devereaux just nodded again. “Yes. Although it would appear that if the zombies are looking for brains, they might do well to bypass the House and Senate.”

Chuckles rose up from everyone, including Mann.

“Then what?” It was Graham Bowen again.

“Then we will wait.”

A simple answer to a complex question.

Devereaux continued. “This barricaded zone area where we currently reside will be called ‘The Freedom Zone.’”

A slight chortle escaped from Mann.

An area under Martial Law and controlled by the United States military being called ‘The Freedom Zone’ was indeed hilarious. Irony knew no bounds when it came to reality.

“And for those of you wondering why I have chosen that name, I believe it is vital to show the American people that the government is still in charge and most importantly, still functioning. Therefore, we will become a symbol of the resilience and fight against the infected.”

Nods and murmurs of agreements with the Major General floated across the room. Even Mann was impressed with the presentation. The man certainly knew how to plan for a military operation.

“We have units clearing out the buildings outside of the Freedom Zone and barricading themselves up. I’ve already designated a few larger buildings that will be able to have helicopters land and drop off men and equipment. This is where I want the real fight to take place. Where we have the advantage, in terms of height and firepower against the mass of infected that is making their way here right now.”

Devereaux suddenly looked up. “The most strategic positions are the outlying buildings and structures. The units stationed there must withhold the tide of infection and lessen the blow that we will feel. Now, I feel like we must have the best and bravest out there, therefore I would like to ask Colonel Mann if he would accept a special command outside of the Freedom Zone.

All heads turned to Mann, momentarily stunned by the announcement.

Devereaux grinned at him. “I heard about your little trip to New York City, and fuck, that’s what I love about men like yourself. You have fucking balls and I would be honored if you would lead a section of troops in this fight.”

Mann, too stunned to speak, nodded instead.

“Good, good. We need real leaders out there, men with military experience. Leaders with urban warfare experience especially, Colonel.”

Mann nodded again, but also finally found his voice. “Of course, sir. I would be honored to accept a command under someone such as yourself.”

The Major General gave a quick nod. “I knew you would, Mann. They don’t make soldiers like yourself anymore, and we need soldiers out there, not political appointments. I’ll get back to you after we’re done here, but you’ll be shipping out within the hour.”

“Yes, sir, thank you, sir.” Mann slouched in his chair.

The Navy officer behind him slapped him on the back. “Congrats, it’s good to have a friend like Devereaux at a time like this.”

Mann moved his head up and down. “Yes…yes it is.”

The conversation swayed back to the tactic of protecting the capital city.

“And then what are you going to do once the men are in place and the barricades are finished being constructed? As I understand, you are commander not only here, but elsewhere as well.”

Police Chief Graham Bowen yet again. The leader of the police force certainly wanted to know all the details of what was occurring.

Devereaux shrugged at the question. “Well, we’ll see. Right now, the best strategy is to isolate ourselves from the outside and wait for the infection to reach us. We all in this room know it’s impossible for any military, even ours, to even remotely engage and protect the people in an area the size of the United States. So, I propose that we wait for hordes to come to us and then we fight them. What we need is to establish a firebreak, a point at which we halt the wave of infection.”

Nods rose up from the room.

“We need a place or secure terrain where we can tilt the fight in our favor so our forces can start fighting back successfully and I’m afraid after seeing what New York or Philadelphia is like, its best we stay away from the major cities…”

A Major in the Army in the back concurred. “Those cities are goddamn fucking meat grinders. Just death traps for everyone, so we should stay out them for now.”

“But we know the public won’t accept that.”

Gatewoods leaned back in his chair. “True. We’re going to have tread lightly here. I do believe that the best way to fight this is to isolate your forces and wait for them to come to you. But we all know the public won’t accept this as a strategy…”

“That’s why we will not tell them anything.”

Gatewoods shot a look toward Devereaux. “Excuse me?”

“We will have a total blackout on news and the media. The only communication that will be authorized to be passed along will go through myself and my aides, no questions asked.”

“Um, sir, if I may…”

“Of course, Mr. Chairman, no one is stopping you.”

Devereaux now openly mocked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

“Well, it’s, it’s just that I can assure you that the President will not…”

“Once again, need I remind you that she put me in charge? She transferred her responsibilities to me and others when she signed that damn piece of paper earlier.”

The tension slowly built up in the room now hovered over the entire table.

“Of course, I just mean, she will want to give updates…”

“She can do that, as long as she is playing by the rules that I have set for her. Listen, gentlemen, we have enough panic not only in this city, but in this country of ours as well.”

Agreement from everyone met that statement.

“I do not like superseding the power of the President, but if I must make difficult decisions in order to defeat this grave threat coming toward us, then I will do just that. We must not have the media causing even more panic and rioting then they have already. Therefore, I’m authorizing all news stations be shut down at this very moment. Besides, they would look at us as the enemy, rather than the real threat, which are those infected.”

Mann could not help but agree with Devereaux’s logic. The news media would be piggybacking on the tails of the military, not to report the news, but to see where they failed. The networks would gladly report military disasters and place the blame on everyone but themselves.

“Now, that’s done, we return to the original question on how we are going to tackle this threat? My officers and I are currently drawing up plans that we will pass along to other commanders in the field. As for your concern about the public backlash,” Devereaux looked to Gatewoods, “you are most certainly correct in that we still must worry about what they think and how they think we are handling and combating this outbreak. Therefore, when we authorize the plans and strategies, we will try and utilize different combinations.”

A voice spoke up in the back. It was a Marine Colonel. “Excuse me, sir, but can you elaborate on that?”

Devereaux nodded. “Yes, of course. What I mean is that we will have areas and places where we isolate them and wait for the infection to come to them, just like how we are doing. In other places, we are going to have the forces there be aggressive and seek out the pockets of infection. After a few weeks, we can see which strategy is more effective and efficient at defeating these waves of infected.”

Colonel Mann could not disagree with how Devereaux approached the situation. The quicker the government found an efficient way to handle this outbreak, the more lives that would be saved. While it seemed that he was acting in the best interest of protecting the city, Mann guessed there was another angle.

There always was…

Major General Devereaux basically declared that he was a de facto dictator and no one even protested. Mann glanced to Kirby, who had been quiet the entire time, which was certainly strange for him.

Kirby stared blankly ahead, not really paying attention to the meeting. Additionally, Admiral Steele and the head of the Marines, Samuel Nicholas was also not making any noise. Both men quietly spoke amongst themselves.

Colonel Mann now recognized that something was seriously amiss. The Joint Chiefs had been cut out of the discussions. Instead, Devereaux declared what his plans were with not a care to what anyone else thought.

“Gentlemen, previous wars were fought to terrorize an enemy, to scare them into surrendering if you did not kill them. You can think of Native Americans putting on war paint or the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. The goal in war was to strike and punish your enemies to the brink that they are defeated and surrender. Yet, this will obviously be different. This enemy will not give up or nor be impressed with our technology superiority. Therefore, I would encourage everyone, no matter your rank to have input on strategy in defeating these things.”

Murmurs greeted the statement.

It was true. Throughout history, the casualty rates were much lower than those of the actual number fighting the battles and conflicts.

“Are there any other questions for me at the moment?”

“Any thought to using nuclear weapons?” an Air Force personnel boldly asked.

Mann thought it was a significant question.

“Yes, I have thought about it,” Devereaux answered. “And I have decided that no, we will not use nuclear weapons on our own homeland. We must not resort to that option.”

“Even as a last resort?”

“Yes,” Devereaux responded to the Air Force man. “Even as a last resort. We may kill a few thousand infected in the process, but we have just destroyed our own city and created a lethal area for years and years to come. Not even to mention the dip in morale that would ripple through the military ranks and tumble into the civilian population. No, we must not drop a nuclear bomb on our own cities.”

Mann agreed with the Major General’s thinking. No one wanted to be known as the man who nuked the American cities or countryside. The fallout from the nuclear blast and the radioactive clouds would make the place uninhabitable for generations. And Devereaux was correct in thinking the negative effect that would surge throughout the states if the government authorized the dropping of a nuclear bomb on its own citizens. This war needed to be won without the assistance of nuclear weapons.

“What about our overseas assets? Will we be recalling them back?”

“No.”

“Why not, sir?”

Devereaux grunted loudly. “Because that would be a sign of weakness to the rest of the world. We must be able to battle the infected here at home with the resources that we have.”

“But, sir you do realize how many of our resources are overseas? Vehicles, tanks, aircraft…”

“I do,” Devereaux interrupted the woman suddenly. “The units we have at stateside will be enough. They will have to be enough. Besides, you’re all forgetting the additional manpower we will be getting.”

Confused looks between people caused Devereaux to smile. “Every man and woman that is not infected is, essentially, a soldier. We’ll have no problem recruiting people to help us fight this infection.”

“You mean almost like a draft?”

Devereaux grinned. “Well, we won’t call it that, but yes.”

Mann understood it would eventually come to that. The military would draft men and women to help in the fight and that might cause real backlash among the population.

“But for now, we must use the men and women that we have here. We must first fight off the waves of these dead and protect the humans that are trying to escape from them. After that, we’ll worry about introducing some sort of a draft.”

“Excuse me, sir if I may have a moment?”

Devereaux glanced over to the man. “Ah, yes, I almost forgot. Gentlemen, this is Mr. White, director of the CIA’s counterterrorist unit.”

“K. Stamford White, everyone,” the heavyset, balding man with glasses stood up from his chair. “We’re gonna rock their world, these infected don’t even know it yet.”

“If you excuse me, sir but why is the CIA being involved here…?” It was an FBI man.

“Because of their experience with urban covert operations overseas and gathering intelligence in those situations. The CIA’s been very good in acquiring information and we will use their resources to our advantage. The old rules of the CIA not performing operations on American soil are just that…old. We’re going to use all the resources available to us to fight this infection. Please, Mr. White, continue.”

Director White nodded, his neck fat reminding Mann of a turkey’s wattle. “Yes, General, thank you. Now, we are in the process of sending out Special Forces to gather intelligence and set up bases of operation within the cities…”

“Is this being done right now?”

“As we speak, General Devereaux. I have personally told my men to put the zombie’s heads on pikes to boost morale.”

Some nervous laughter echoed in the room. Even Mann snickered. He heard of the famous K. Stamford White speeches during briefings. People nicknamed his boasts ‘Whiteisms.’ Although Mann had never seen the man in person, White certainly occupied his attention with the boastfulness.

“When my men get done with these zombies, flies will be dancing across their eyeballs, General Devereaux.”

Devereaux chuckled. “Thank you, Director White…”

“I’ve authorized the very first zombies that we kill be sent to you and the President with their heads on dry ice. And damn it, if dry ice cannot be found, then cardboard boxes will do.”

This time, the laughter in the room was not forced. Everyone enjoyed the little show K. Stamford White was putting on. It appeared to have helped settle down the tension and emotions in the room.

“On a serious note, the units from the CIA counterterrorism components will organize bases all around the infected cities. From there, we will conduct special operations. These will include rescuing civilians, destroying large groups of infected, and acquiring intelligence. But, as you all know, these types of operations will be on a very small scale.”

“Just like in India and Pakistan, huh?” An obvious veteran of the Asia Theater asked from behind him.

White beamed. “You are correct, sir. This time we’re in our own backyard, but like I said earlier…” He slowly glanced to everyone in the room. “We’re ready to rock their world!”

A few hollers in support were heard before Devereaux interjected. “Gentlemen and ladies, do we have any more questions at the moment?”

Silence was the answer.

“Very well, everyone, I do have a press conference here in ten minutes. If you excuse me…”

“I thought you were having a media blackout…”

Devereaux grinned as he stood up. “We do. This reporter has agreed to play by my rules, therefore, I have allowed it. In fact,” Devereaux pulled out a piece of paper, “these are the questions he’s going to ask me.”

Devereaux sauntered out of the room, hordes of aides following him.

Mann stood, determined to find out what was really happening behind the scenes in the capital city.

Chapter 24

 

Wednesday, July 18th 12:39pm

Ruston, WA

 

“Guys, we need to find a bigger place to stay,” Carver declared as the little group gathered together in the main room. The statement caught everyone by surprise. Even Roland was a little stunned, not realizing this is the reason why the former Marine called the group together.

“Why?” Linebacker Gregg obviously did not want to move around anymore. Roland did not blame him one bit. Especially since Willis and him arrived here only a day ago before and were relaxing for the first time since the outbreak by stuffing their hungry mouths and resting on the couch.

“One, we don’t have enough food or space for all of us. The raid last night proved that our position here at the house is compromised. We were lucky, and I mean lucky, that we had enough firepower to fight back them and the infected that came scrambling around. Otherwise, we could have been in serious trouble. Plus, I’m afraid that they may come back for revenge.”

Roland saw Linebacker Gregg shaking his head. He wanted to stay right where they were at.

So do I…

“Additionally, it’s getting a bit crowded, we only have one bathroom here…”

“So?” Garrett flopped down on the couch. “I think smelling or seeing someone’s poopie is the last thing anyone is going to worry about.”

Chuckles rose up from the group, unwinding some of the tension in the room.

Even Carver managed a smile. “That’s not what I mean. We need a bigger place to stay and to barricade ourselves more securely from outside threats. If, god forbid, infected ever got in here, we’re all practically dead.”

Roland nodded along. It was certainly true. The one story house was a death trap. There were only two exits, minus the windows, out of the house and if even one of them were compromised, escaping would prove to be a difficult task for practical anyone, no matter where they were located.

“I mean, just a few days ago, some zombies rushed a house across the street and, well…it wasn’t pretty. It was quick and brutal. I don’t think I need to mention the raiders that drove past and were shooting up everything in sight. We need a place where we can see the threats coming more clearly. I mean we had some trouble with just a few punks with guns.”

A few punks with guns…?

Roland peeked outside at the five or six ‘punks’ lying in the front yard and street. Those punks almost firebombed the house last night. If Carver had not been around, things would have turned out a whole lot differently for everyone inside Roland’s place.

Carver continued. “There’s no way to defend ourselves properly in this house. If that guy had successfully thrown that cocktail and hit the house, well let’s just say we would have been in a whole lot of fucking trouble.”

Although it was hard to gauge the mood of each person, Roland noticed Carver held everyone’s attention and believed that was a good sign. They listened to someone who could potentially lead them throughout this ordeal.

“Secondly, that fire burning at the end of the block?”

Anxious looks rose up from the group as everyone glanced to the scene outside. The fire had not burned out as they hoped it would have. Instead, a few bushes and trees caught fire as well. Although the blaze was four houses down on the opposite end of the street, it was still clearly a threat to them.

Those raiders were still being a thorn in their side with the looting and fires they started last night.

“Well there’s another fire coming from the opposite direction across a few blocks over.”

Nods emerged from the group. Everyone could smell the smoke drifting over the area from it.

Roland nodded as well. “Yeah, it’s that fire near the auto place, a few blocks over. Probably covering the whole block now with the way it was lightening up the sky last night.”

Carver nodded back in agreement. “Now, that fire may burn itself out or just not move toward us anymore, but do we want to take that chance? It’s been burning for a few days now and who knows where it could blow over to next. We potentially have two fires coming to us.”

The fact no one said anything in reply signaled they were all on the same page.

“Finally, I believe that this outbreak is going to last awhile. Like months before anything gets better. We need a safer and bigger place to barricade ourselves in. From those things out there…and other humans. At least, that’s how I feel about the situation.”

Affirmations of agreement went around the room. Some people bobbed their heads, while others murmured it verbally.

As Roland had been thinking earlier, the infected were not the only ones they needed to worry about. Other humans would probably prove to be more bothersome, since they were still human and acted in typical human behavior. Yet, if Carver was correct in his assessment, than this infection could last months, and if it did, it was essential to better prepare themselves.

“We need to gather up supplies and find a place that could hold all of us for months.”

“You got a place in mind, boss?” Gregg asked.

Carver smiled. “Yep. Sherman Middle School.”

“A school?” Linebacker Gregg did not look convinced.

“It’s perfect. Plenty of rooms, it’s three stories, and we can better protect ourselves by barricading it up.” Carver swung his head to Roland.

He’s hoping I agree with him on this…

“How do you know this?” Garrett inquired.

The huge cop sighed heavily. “My daughter went there.”

“You have a daughter?” Madison asked.

Even Roland became momentarily stunned. Carver had not even hinted at the fact he had family nearby.

“I said she did go there. Not anymore.”

An uneasy hush hung over the room. Everyone wanted to push Carver further on the subject. He, however, did not want to continue it.

“What about it? Are we going to move?”

All the faces in the room gradually turned to Roland, waiting for his answer.

Why am I making this decision…?

“Um, well…”

“No, no ums Roland. Tell us what you think,” Carver interrupted him. “You’ve been through alot and I think it’s important for the rest of us to hear you out.”

“Okay. Uh thanks…”

Roland tried looking at the people in front of him, but found himself glancing down at the floor.

He thought again about the night before, hunched over Carver and gazing at his sidearm. How close he really came to grabbing it and blowing his brains out.

Shaking his head, he realized it was time to push forward. Roland also assumed that if gotten a hold of the gun, he probably would not have had the actual fortitude to pull the trigger.

Does that make me a coward…?

“Okay.” He swung his head back up, trying to display some sense of confidence to the rest of the group. “I don’t wanna stay here any longer. I don’t want to die like my brother. I want to face this threat and try, I guess …try and overcome it. If that makes sense…”

Riley…

Carver beamed and rubbed his huge hands together.

Roland caught his mother looking at him. She smiled and nodded her head at his decision.

“Okay. Anyone have a problem with it?” Carver took a quick scan around the room. “Now’s the time to speak up.”

“I still think trying to get to a military base would be worth a shot,” Penelope stated abruptly.

“We’ve been over this…”

“I don’t know why you’re so against it. They have soldiers, food, and a safe place to stay…”

Carver held his hand out. “I’ve already told you. The base commanders more than likely have orders to lock down the base. We wouldn’t even get to the gates before they forced us back. That would be typical protocol for an event like this.”

“Fine, you’re obviously in charge and know everything…”

The former Marine snickered. “No, just that what you’re suggesting isn’t a good idea and will get us killed. How many people like yourself had the same thought and rushed to those bases? I bet more than a few became littered with dead people fleeing this infection. We need to rely on each other and not the government anymore.”

“Whatever then, why don’t we just go out there and get bitten…” Franklin’s wife flicked her hand at Carver in a dismissive little wave.

“No, it’s not whatever, Penelope. It’s called living. And you people have to figure out if you want to die all cooped up inside this house or die trying to better yourselves off in these fucked up circumstances.”

Roland furiously nodded his head up and down, along with many others.

Carver was right.

“Listen, I don’t like cops, but this guy is right,” Garrett piped up. “We need to stick together.”

“Thanks man, I appreciate it,” Carver gave a settle nod to him.

Garrett shrugged. “I respect what you’re able to bring to the table.”

Roland recognized it was huge for his friend to admit that, especially after their little flare ups. Egos needed to be put aside at the moment.

“I know what I want to do in this situation, and just like Roland said, I also don’t want to die in here.” The former Marine gazed between every person, holding their attention. “And now you have to make a choice on if you want to die here or die out there…”

“Fine,” Penelope huffed. She did not agree with the proposed plan, but it appeared everyone else did as no one else spoke up against it.

Carver was correct. Roland peered over to his mom. He needed to try and live now for her sake. She smiled back at him, unaware of just how close Roland thought about taking his own life.

And more than once…

Linebacker Gregg shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, I guess it’s settled then. When do you want to move?”

“As soon as possible.”

Everyone looked at each other.

“And by that, I mean right now.”

 

Awhile later…

 

“Shit! I got a flat tire on my baby.” Garrett exclaimed as he came back into the living room.

His ‘baby’ was apparently the new SUV he had driven only once.

Carver frowned. “Damn, you got a spare?”

“Nope.”

“I got some spare tires.” Franklin spoke up from behind them. “We need to go back to my place, though.”

Everyone glanced to Carver. “Okay, you two do what you gotta do. We’ll figure out something here…”

Garrett and Franklin left to go out the back door.

“Damn, I wanted to get moving now… and your guy’s car is out of gas?” Carver lobbed his question at Linebacker Gregg.

Gregg nodded. “It’s practically on empty. We need to get gas before we attempt to go anywhere.”

Since Carver first told them that he wanted to begin moving, the groups finished eating and focused on making sure that they were equipped with adequate vehicles in which to transport themselves to the new location. Evidently, the first part of their plan hit a roadblock. They did not have adequate vehicles to drive, much less fight off hordes of infected and crazed humans.

“Hey guys, there’s another SUV across the street,” Willis indicated, breaking into the conversation.

Roland walked over to where the former college basketball player stood, and peeked in the direction he pointed.

“Are they still home?”

“One way to find out.” Willis looked at Carver.

“We need another ride and that one will do,” the cop stated confidently.

Roland spun to the man he punched in the face earlier. “And you just volunteered for this mission.”

The man, with one eye swollen shut, started to open his mouth in protest.

Roland cut him off before he could speak out.

“Shut up. You think I’m going to leave you here with my friends and mother when we don’t even know you? And when you threatened us yesterday with a gun? Get real. Or you can leave right now.” Roland motioned to the door.

The man sank his head and shook it sluggishly.

Carver swung up his shotgun. “Good, let’s get ready to move.”

 

Roland and Carver darted across the street. Willis and the big greasy chap followed right behind. Bella was a big white guy, maybe around six foot two and two sixty. However, Roland thought he came off as sort of a pussy with that way he acted earlier.

And yet…

Roland could not really blame him for acting the way he did.

We all react differently to extreme situations…

A year ago, Roland would have gotten high and been shacked up in some run down drug house.

Carver took the lead since he was armed with the shotgun. In fact, as the huge cop leaned up against the door, Roland guessed he was the only one who correctly knew how to use the weapon. His nose suddenly ached as he recalled the gun recoiling back into his face.

Good thing I don’t have the shotgun.

No one else could properly use a weapon, so Carver forbid anyone from bringing the weapons that they had gathered up. Or they could all arm themselves with hand weapons, but the former Marine stated that he was not going to come along with a bunch of trigger happy kids. After Willis almost shot him yesterday, no one argued with him. Everybody voted for Carver to come along and direct the assault because of his expertise as former Marine infantry and police officer.

Right before the group left, Carver stated that the men with him were ‘lower than POGs, and that’s saying something’ but only Roland understood what he meant. Due to his father, Roland knew POG stood for ‘Personnel Other than Grunts’ and was military slang for those that do not go through the stress infantry units experienced. As a result, only he smiled at the little joke.

Carver tried to kick the door in, but his first attempt was unsuccessful. As both Willis and Jeff made their way to the door, the cop tried to kick it in again.

“Come on man,” Jeff peered around the side of the house, armed with a golf club. His nose prominently ballooned up from the punch Roland gave him and another black eye already begun to form on his greasy, oily face.

Roland annoyingly gazed at Bella. It was a good thing he was not armed.

Cause I would fucking blow this Bella guy away.

Carver stopped. “Hey, this isn’t a fucking movie.” He then aimed the shotgun and fired, blasting the lock off the door.

“Shit, if there are zombies nearby, they know we’re here now,” Jeff whined, again voicing his displeasure.

Carver calmly turned to the man. “You want to lead?”

The young man instantly shut up. Roland knew Bella did not want to go on the mission in the first place. In fact, he told them to fuck off for a second time. Yet, the prospects of getting kicked out into the zombie infested world convinced him to tag along.

Well tough shit….We all gotta do our part if we are going to survive this thing.

Everyone needed to pull their own weight. And if you did not, you were going to be left behind. This outbreak was going to churn out Darwinism into action first hand. Unfortunately for the majority of human beings, the primal instinct of common sense had been bred out and replaced with stupidity for generations to come.

“Okay guys, come on, come on.” Roland entered the house first, waving the baseball bat he brought, the rest piling in after him.

Carver and Willis both turned into the first room. A dining area.

“Clear.”

Roland and Jeff slowly made their way to the next room, which led to a kitchen. Plates were scattered on the floor, along with some glasses. Roland noticed that the microwave open, leftovers centered inside the machine. The aroma of food rising up in the kitchen signaled someone still might be in the house.

“Look on the table.” Roland kept watch down the hallway, hoping no one suddenly appeared.

The greasy kid scoffed. “Gee whiz, ya think genius?”

Roland only shook his head.

This guy is fucking annoying. I ought take this bat and smash his face…

A jingling sound rang through the air. Turning, Roland saw Jeff grinning as he swung the keys back and forth.

“Let’s go, I got the keys to this ride…”

A large blast echoed in the kitchen. Jeff’s face was abruptly torn apart as he flopped to the floor. Roland tried to duck out of sight, but his body froze. Instead, he stood there as a woman held a revolver, her whole body shaking.

“I thought you were them.” Her voice wobbled slightly.

“Whhaat?” Roland stuttered out.

She jerked her head at the window. “One of those things.”

“I’m not one of those things.” Roland’s throat suddenly became extremely dry. He tried swallowing some spit, but could not.

She shook her head. “I know that, now.”

While frozen in place, Roland noticed Carver inching toward the kitchen. Willis was right behind him, a few paces back. The cop slowly raised his weapon, as he crept closer.

Shit.

He found himself in another precarious state. This time, a terrified woman held a loaded weapon at him. And he did not blame her one bit. After all, they had broken into her house to steal a vehicle.

The body of Jeff twitched, one of his arms flapping wildly on the ground. Dark red blood spurted onto the white tile of the kitchen from the head wound. Bits of brain seeped out from the hole, piling into one giant heap on the floor.

“I’m sorry about your friend.”

Roland snapped back to his situation. “We just were looking for a car, a vehicle to get out of here.”

She nodded, almost in an understanding way.

“So you came here to rob me?” She brought the shaking gun back up at Roland.

“Whoa, whoa, no, no, no please.”

“But you just said you wanted to take my SUV.” Roland noted that her eyes narrowed while aiming the gun right at Roland.

Roland felt his heart pounding. His whole body became unsteady as he waited for the blast from her gun.

“You’re trying to rob me…”

He started to put up his hands, in a fruitless attempt to block the bullets she was going to unload on him.

“No, no, no please…”

She continued nodding, but one of her eyes shut as she prepared to shoot Roland.

She’s aiming…

“No please,” he pleaded, his voice rising in a higher pitch.

A boom caused Roland to duck down, half expecting to feel pain resulting from a wound.

Instead, the woman was suddenly flung back with Carver standing up from the side and firing. The front of her body displayed a huge crimson circle as she landed backwards into a wall. She sluggishly slumped down, streaking a trail of blood against the wall as her body crumpled to the ground.

Carver grimaced as he carefully made his way over. “Sorry man, couldn’t wait.”

Roland just stood there, in complete shock at what transpired.

Carver approached the body, kicking the weapon away. Willis peeked his head into the room, but instantly turned away.

The former Marine sighed and grabbed the keys. “Let’s go.” The cop started to move, but Roland did not immediately follow him.

Carver knew that he was in shock. He shook Roland lightly.

“Whaaat.” Roland continued staring at the woman.

“We need to get out of here!”

Roland broke out of his trance as Carver pushed him in the back and out the front door.

The three men made their way out of the house and into the SUV.

Willis climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine.

Music immediately blared from the speakers.

“…Me plus you…I’ma tell you one time…Me plus you…”

All three men sat there in silence as Willis put the SUV in gear.

It lurched forward.

“When I met you girl my heart went…knock knock…”

Roland shook his head. His entire body trembled from the near death experience. It was different from killing his zombie brother or running over an infected person. Carver killed an innocent human to save him.

“Now those butterflies in my stomach won’t stop stop…”

“Fuck, I hope a fucking zombie tears his stomach out, making him stop stop fucking forever.” Carver leaned in to flip the radio off.

 

1:27pm

 

Roland sat in the backseat of the SUV as Willis circled the block of the middle school for the fourth time. The SUV was a giant new beast with enough room for eight passengers to enjoy a nice, comfortable ride.

Nevertheless, to Roland it seemed like the vehicle was closing in on him.

He glanced about, attempting to let his mind tumble away from what just occurred.

The inside of the SUV was clean and spotless.

Unlike the kitchen, where two dead bodies were lying…

With their brains and guts spilling out onto the floor…

It had been over thirty minutes since Carver killed the owner of the SUV.

Actually…HAD been the owner of the brand new utility vehicle.

The three men had not spoken about the incident. In fact, the only conversation was between Carver and Franklin over the phone about how Garrett’s van now had a spare tire on it. The cop cautioned for the two men to stay where they were for the moment and that he would let them know what happened at the school.

Sherman Middle School, a newly remodeled building, covered almost a one block radius. It reminded Roland of a giant, unsightly airplane hangar. The outside was made with brick and concrete but had lots of glass windows on the two upper levels. Someone tried ‘going green’ when designing it. Instead, they succeeded in ‘going ugly.’

This time after circling the school, Carver pointed to a parking space in the front of the building, right outside a loading zone. Willis pulled next to the curb, following the cop’s directions. They all took a glance outside, peering through their respective windows. The tension in the SUV was thick, and the area was unnervingly quiet for what was occurring.

“Willis, you stay here. Keep the engine running and eyes open,” Carver instructed.

Willis nodded. “I’ll be here, no matter what.”

Roland hesitantly opened his door and stepped out. Carver followed, shotgun at ready. The front door of the school was just thirty feet in front of them. They slowly walked toward it, studying their surroundings carefully. The door was metal, except a glass panel covering the middle so one could peer in.

Carver examined the inside as best he could. A long hallway presented itself in front of them, but with the lights off, it was difficult to distinguish anything.

Roland tried the door handle.

Locked.

Of course.

Nothing could be easy.

There were some ground level windows nearby and Carver walked over to them. Peering inside, he observed a standard classroom with twenty student desks and a larger teacher’s desk in the front of the room. Carver looked around before lifting the shotgun back and smashing the window with the butt of the gun.

It shattered upon impact.

Roland could see that Willis gazed over the area for anyone that could have heard the noise. He did likewise, while Carver kept his eyes focused on the inside of the school.

After a full two minutes of deathly silence, Carver began to get into position to crawl through the broken window. The window itself was not huge, but Carver gradually navigated his way inside. He was careful not to cut his hand on the fallen glass.

Roland then proceeded once he got the all clear signal from the former Marine.

The inside of the building appeared to be very serene and calming. Watercolor paintings by students littered the walls of the school. Roland stopped and read a poem by a third grader who wished for world hunger to be eliminated by the time they were in their thirties.

Yeah, that’s not happening now…

How long it would remain peaceful was the question that entered the two men’s minds.

The shit had indeed hit the fan.

“We need to clear this school and make sure we are the only people here,” Carver whispered, inching toward the open classroom door. Roland nodded and trailed after the giant cop.

The hallway was dimly lit as the two men advanced down it. It looked to be about forty yards in length, with five classrooms on each side. A map of the school hung above a fire extinguisher. Carver scanned it rapidly and then turned Roland.

“This way,” he confidently stated.

The two started to move west toward the gym and front office area. They continued uneventfully until they reached an intersection. To the right, the path led them to what looked to be the gymnasium. The hallway veering to the left appeared to be the front office, with other small adjoining rooms.

Carver motioned for Roland to follow him to the office. They approached the door and Carver slowly turned the knob. The area was as soundless as the rest of the school.

So far…

The front reception desk was directly in front of them, with the secretary’s counter positioned on right side. All the way in the back a closed door which read, Timothy Keller, Principal. The office was very neat and apparent that no one had been back here for at least a few weeks. It was in the middle of summer vacation after all.

Carver clutched the shotgun in combat mode, searching every nook and cranny of the area. Meanwhile, Roland probed the secretary’s desk for anything useful.

He did find a closed umbrella.

Useless.

He thought for a moment.

Maybe not.

You could stab one of those things out there. Or even an unruly human.

Several packs of chewing gum later, Roland was done rummaging through this particular desk. After several minutes, the only place left to search was the principal’s office. Carver had the advantage of peering through a window that looked into the office instead of risking it and going in blind.

Usually going to the principal’s office meant detention. However, this time it could mean you were on the lunch menu as the main course.

Nothing happened as the room ended up being clear of any infected.

The only things in the office were some pictures of the principal and his family on the desk, along with several awards and principal certifications on the wall. The closet was empty, signaling summer break in session.

For the next few minutes, the two men cautiously walked down the hallways, checking classrooms and bathrooms.

The entire school, so far, appeared to be deserted.

Feeling comfortable, Carver spoke. “This looks good. We need to clear the cafeteria and gym next.”

“Maybe the cafeteria has some good food,” Roland joked. His stomach was rumbling.

They left the hallway and began to stroll straight ahead toward the gym door. A thumping noise greeted the two men.

Thump Thump.

Thump Thump.

They both approached the gym door and pressed their ears against it.

Thump Thump Thump.

Thump Thump Thump.

Roland thought the sounds he heard was that of a basketball being dribbled against a floor.

Who the fuck would be playing basketball at a time like this?

Carver backed up and held the shotgun in a tactical position.

“Open it slowly,” he ordered.

Roland did so and could not believe the scene in front of him. In fact, he did not even realize he was standing in front of Carver’s shotgun until the cop shoved him aside.

Two guys were actually playing basketball.

I guess these fucks would be playing basketball at a time like this…

That answers my question…

Upon closer inspection, the two guys seemed to be Mexican. One was taller and more built than the other, with a runner like body. He wore a gray Central Washington University tee-shirt, with red Nike shorts. His hair was pretty shaggy and had a basketball headband to hold it all back. The smaller guy had a LeBron James Miami Heat basketball jersey with maroon shorts.

The bigger one just dunked on the smaller guy and started screaming, “I’m Allen Iverson, I’m Allen Iverson!”

Both started to laugh, until they noticed Carver and Roland approaching them from the other side of the basketball court, only about twenty yards away. The two men had a look plastered on their faces, like they just got caught taking a shit in public. They both began to run toward the broken door on their side of the gym. They smashed the glass panel and managed to slip their way inside. The older guy pushed the younger one aside as he tried to squeeze his way out.

“Freeze, don’t you move mother fuckers!” screamed Carver, darting up to them.

Roland followed close behind, unsure of what he would exactly do once they caught up with the two men.

The younger guy froze and held his hands in the air. Carver closed in and ordered the other guy out of his door panel.

“What the fuck are you two doing in here?” Carver demanded.

The younger guy spoke up first. “We just wanted to have some fun.”

“Fun?”

Silence hovered over the group.

“What are your names?” Carver asked, trying to defuse the situation. The last thing he wanted was another dead person.

“Cory Hughes,” the smaller guy nervously replied, gazing at the shotgun pointed right at him.

Carver nodded to the older one, who removed himself from the door. He straightened himself out and then faced Roland and Carver. Opening his mouth, he sheepishly mumbled, “Chase.”

“Okay, I’m Carver and this is Roland.”

Nods were exchanged.

“Yay.” Chase clapped his hands together. “Now get that fucking gun out of my face.”

 

3:16pm

 

The small group of survivors had found a new place to stay; Sherman Middle School. They cleared the two upper floors with the help of Chase and Cory and then headed back to Roland’s house. Since returning Carver, Willis, and Roland helped the others gather supplies into the SUV and Garrett’s van. Chase and Cory agreed to watch over the school until they returned. Apparently, the brothers had nowhere else to go and seemed like decent enough guys. They decided the more help they got, the better off the group as a whole would be.

“Besides,” Carver said chuckling on the drive back home, “we can always kick them out of the school if they cause trouble.”

Roland knew that the cop was not joking.

Back at the house, Carver told the group they cleared the entire building and no one was there, except for two guys playing basketball. Everyone paused for a moment, reflecting on that statement before Madison snapped them all back to reality.

“What happened to that young man…Jeff I think his name was?”

Carver did not even hesitate when he answering. “Unfortunately, there was an infected woman who got to him. I shot both of them to prevent anyone of us from getting bitten.”

Roland avoided the stare of Carver as he spoke.

No use telling everyone what really happened.

An hour later, the group was just about finished packing up. Carver stood outside making an announcement that if anyone was left in the neighborhood, they could join up with the group. One man appeared, but shouted that he was heading north since the infection was not present up there.

At least not yet.

Other than that, either the people on the block already fled or they were choosing to remain on their own. The fire lingered, spreading to houses behind their neighborhood. Most of the houses left were trashed, either by looters and raiders or the infected.

It was time to move on and Roland admitted that.

An infected person was seen eating away the remains of a person at the end of the block. Carver started walking over to the man, but it dashed away, its attention taken by something else. Other than that, no humans or undead were spotted on the block.

Garrett, holding Dubya on a leash, was flung outside by the dog. Their poor German Shepherd had not been outside since the outbreak begun.

“Shiite!” he cried as he was wildly yanked off the porch.

Willis, Linebacker Gregg, and Franklin stacked the last of the supplies in the vehicles. Along with the SUV they stole, Linebacker Gregg’s Toyota Corolla and Garrett’s ‘baby’ would join the caravan. They agreed to stop at the local gas station to fill up all the vehicles, and to load up on as much gas as possible with empty milk cartons they found. Madison and Penelope carried bundles of clothes and other miscellaneous items from the house.

“That’s the last of it…” Madison’s voice trailed off.

Riley.

Home.

“Okay mom, let’s go.” Roland appeared beside his mom and gave her a quick hug.

She just smiled and continued outside.

His mother had always given the outward appearance of a warm and gentle woman, but on the inside a strong and determined person woman emerged. She held the family together when Roland was younger. While diving into a deep depression when her husband had been killed in combat, Madison continued raising her two sons without issue. Stress no doubt caused her to look older than she actually was.

Stress that I helped cause…

But his mom never took pity upon herself and did not expect Roland to do so either. You dealt with the hand that life gave out.

There would be no excuses from her, despite the current situation they found themselves in now.

“Let’s go, go, go!” Carver abruptly appeared. He was clutching the shotgun, almost in the same manner a religious man would grasp his Bible while in church.

“You just about ready to go?”

Roland nodded. He wondered how Carver dealt with the shooting. From the outside, it appeared he had not given the woman a second thought. Maybe he shot a civilian before, realizing it simply came down to them or him. Roland knew better than to ask the cop such a stupid and insensitive question.

Instead he asked a simple, rhetorical question.

“You ready to move David?”

The cop nodded. “Hey, Garrett. Help me with David.”

Garrett came stumbling into the room. “Is it because we’re the strongest guys?”

Carver just stared at him.

“Okay.”

Both men moved to help the track star.

Roland followed the three men out, glancing back at the house one last time. He purposely avoided looking at where his brother was buried.

The crude grave he dug up hastily and clumsily in the dirt for his best friend lay only a few feet from him. Located less than ten or so yards from where Riley had been shot by the police officer and then bitten by the obese woman.

He rapidly turned into one of those things, ready to rise up before having his head bashed in with a bat.

Beaten with a bat by me…

…his brother…

Roland stopped abruptly. He then spun to where Riley lay, underneath that earth and made a silent promise to himself and his brother.

When I can, I’ll come back for you bro and give you a proper burial…

and a proper goodbye…

Climbing into the SUV, he let out a huge sigh. But now, it was time to leave

 

4:32pm

 

Carver maneuvered the SUV into the gas station, looking to start pumping the fuel they desperately needed. Garrett pulled into the pump behind him, with Linebacker Gregg taking a spot right across from them. Carver hopped outside with the shotgun, keeping guard while Franklin waited to fill the SUV. Garrett likewise was also stepped out of his SUV and waited for Roland to send the fuel. Linebacker Gregg chose to say in his car until necessary to get out.

Roland chuckled. Tough guy, eh?

While filling up all three vehicles was a priority, it was also just as important to secure as much extra gas as possible. Plastic milk cartons, soda bottles, whatever could be used to take extra fuel was utilized. Since the gas station was only a few blocks away from Roland’s residence, they did not run into anything on the trip there.

After pulling up, a fire raged across the street as looters stormed the Bargain World for freebies. Some sprinters frenzily dashed to the scene. One man grasped a television set he had stolen with two infected in hot pursuit of him. The man refused to toss it aside despite the fact it was slowing him down. He was tackled before he got to his car and the infected proceeded to rip into him.

Roland shook his head at the sight when Carver spoke up.

“Roland, take someone and check out the gas station. Start pumping gas for us while I keep watch.”

Roland sighed nervously, while studying the small dwelling.

Let’s hope nothing happens…

“Uh, sure okay.” Eyeing over the caravan, he called out to Willis. “You’re with me dude, let’s check out inside.”

The two men sprinted to the front of the building and crouched by the door. Peering inside, Roland gazed around as best he could. From the outside, it appeared to be a normal gas station and convenience store.

“Okay, I don’t see anything. Guess we might as well go inside,” he declared, standing up.

Not sure what else to do…

Willis followed Roland into the store, armed with only a bat.

The door jingled as the two men entered it.

“Dude, I feel naked with only a bat…”

Roland did not feel protected either, holding Franklin’s machete in his hand.

The gas station seemed empty. Shelves were knocked over and a terrible stench emitted from somewhere deep inside.

“Stock up on some supplies, I’ll go start the fuel for them.” Roland made his way to the back counter.

“You got it brother.” Willis grabbed a small cart and started loading it.

Roland hopped over the counter. It looked as if a fatal encounter had taken place. Money and cigarettes spread all over the floor and blood was splattered on the counter, trickling down the glass.

Not my problem.

And he did not feel bad about stealing the fuel either.

Hey, if I didn’t, then someone else would.

He pushed down on a lever, sending fuel to three gas pumps. Looking up, he saw his mom holding up an empty milk carton near pump three. He then searched for that number noticing Penelope joining Madison with more empty containers.

So I’ll take it instead of them…

He sent his mother and his neighbor’s wife fuel, not feeling guilty about it.

Survival of the fittest, right…?

Yes it was, in a sick and twisted way.

Willis suddenly appeared in front of the counter.

“What’s up…?”

Roland then perceived something was very, very wrong. Willis held both hands up, his eyes looking down at the ground.

A gruff voice unexpectedly spoke up from behind him. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Willis was shoved forward, his hands landing on the counter.

A skinny man became visible, holding a handgun straight at Roland. “I asked you a fucking question, boy.”

“What the fuck does it look like, genius?” Roland felt the anger rising up in him. He immediately regretted the statement.

The man cruelly smiled at him and then hit Willis over the head with his gun. “Again, I ask you what the fuck you’re doing.”

“Getting fuel.”

The man laughed hoarsely. “Getting? More like fucking taking.”

“So?”

The man raised the gun again and whacked Willis’s skull a second time. This time, Roland’s friend groaned loudly as he collapsed to the ground.

“If you keep being sarcastic to me, I’ll keep hitting your fucking coon friend.”

“Okay, okay.” Roland suspected the man standing in front of him was being serious.

“Good. Good. You know who’s in charge, don’t you?”

“Sure, I guess you…”

The skinny man smirked. However, that smirk disappeared as he turned to the door. “Motion to your friends not to come any fucking closer.”

Roland looked out and saw Carver, along with Franklin approaching the store. They must have seen the confrontation.

The man shoved the gun into Roland’s face.

“I fucking said tell your friends to stop! Do it now!”

Roland saw no choice. He faced the windows and waved his arms wildly. He also mouthed ‘No’ but had no idea if the group outside spotted it. Nevertheless, both men stopped in their tracks and retreated back to the vehicles.

“Good, good. Now, you know who’s in fucking charge don’t you?”

“I guess you are.”

“Ding ding, motherfucker.” The man suddenly swung his head back and called out. “Aaron, bring that Mexican bitch out here.”

Moments later, another taller man pushed a young woman to the center of the store. Gagged with rope tied around her wrists. Makeup was smeared from obvious tears and she sported a huge black eye. Other bruises plastered her face, making it certain the black eye was not an accident.

‘Aaron’ sniffed her hair, struggling to keep her upright. “That’s a good baby, that’s a good baby,” he muttered to his prisoner. The first thing Roland observed about the second man was that he wore a faded Seattle Mariner’s baseball cap. Also, his cheeks were deeply sunk into a long, droopy face. Heavy, dark bags lined his eyes. Greasy brown hair stuck out from underneath the cap. Tall and lanky, he moved uncoordinatedly.

Dude looks like a scarecrow…

With the gun, he stroked it up and down along the cashier’s back.

The man ‘in charge’ motioned to Roland, his figure coming into view. Messy blond hair, a clean shaven face dotted with sores near his mouth. Dressed in a semi-white wifebeater, skinny pale arms displayed needle marks up and down caught his attention. “Get the fuck away from the counter.”

Roland did as he demanded, stepping back over, his hands held over his head.

“Charles, what da fuck we gonna do with these assholes?” Aaron smiled, revealing rotten teeth.

Meth mouth.

Great.

They ran into druggies robbing a marketplace. Evidently, because of the outbreak, the two men decided to take shelter inside. Glancing at the woman, it was obvious they took liberties with her as well.

“I don’t know,” Charles rubbed the side of his head with the gun. “I mean, we can’t just shoot them.”

“Why not?” Aaron was evidently not the smart one of the bunch. He lumbered to Charles, moving awkwardly for such a lean man.

“Because dumb fuck,” Charles sighed as he answered, “then their friends would rush the place. And that big mother fucker out there has a shotgun. Hell, they could be loaded with weapons.”

“Oh yeah, you right.”

Charles turned back to Roland, light blue eyes scanning him over. “So, what are we to do with you?”

Roland kept his mouth shut and gazed down to the floor.

“We can’t let you go now…no, no, you’ve seen what we’ve done…” Charles was thinking out loud on purpose.

“Yeah, Charles, let’s kill them.” Aaron smiled, proud of his input.

Charles let out another long sigh. “Aaron, shut up, okay?”

Aaron mumbled something, but otherwise shut his mouth. He, obviously, proved again he was the follower.

“So,” Charles swung his attention back to Roland and Willis. “What to do with you guys…” He drifted over to Willis and kicked him in the stomach.

“Stop it…” Roland himself stopped when Charles rammed the gun in his face.

“Shut the fuck up…I’ll kick this bitch whenever I want.” As to make the point again, he kicked Willis in the mid section a second time, causing him to moan in pain. Charles then spit on Willis, grinning and showing his yellow rotting teeth.

“Charles, them friends are moving…” Aaron pointed his gun outside.

Sure enough, the three vehicles slowly inched closer to the gas station, making their way to the front entrance.

“Damn it.” Charles grabbed Willis and lifted him off the ground. Shoving the tall basketball player into the glass windows, he waved the gun back and forth, motioning the vehicles to halt. Carver signaled for one of the men to come outside by putting his shotgun on the pavement.

“Damn.” Charles pounded the gun against the glass.

“What is it?” Aaron was hopeless.

Dude has the brain of a scarecrow as well…

“Aaron, I’m going out there to negotiate. You stay here, and make sure none of them do anything. Cause if they do,” he swung back to Roland, “you can have your way with that bitch a few times in front of this prick while he watches.”

Aaron grinned immensely. Probably bigger than the time he got that toy train for Christmas.

Charles exited the store, using Willis as a shield. He held the pistol to Willis’s head as he grabbed the back of his hostage’s shirt.

“Back up, back the fuck up or I’ll shoot this other…” The door slammed shut, blocking the rest of Charles outburst.

Roland saw his chance. Probably his only realistic chance. As Charlie’s attention was diverted and him being outside, Roland turned to Aaron.

“So, you enjoy raping women?”

Aaron smiled, revealing his meth mouth. “She didn’t complain.”

“Probably because she couldn’t. God, you are the idiot of this bunch.”

“Shut up. I did her long and hard.”

Roland laughed. “Long? Did you last for more than ten seconds? Congrats, you have the stamina of a fucking 10th grader…”

Aaron pushed his hostage away and awkwardly pointed the gun directly in Roland’s face.

“Ya know, I can kill ya right here, bitch.”

Roland knew the man was becoming flustered and used it to his advantage.

“Yeah, but then Charles would be angry with you and then, well, my friends would probably kill both of you.”

Aaron’s eyebrows frowned in ‘deep thought’. “Oh yeah…”

“Or should I say your boss?”

“What?” Aaron was thoroughly confused.

“Your boss, Charles.”

Aaron frowned again. “He’s not my boss…”

Roland nodded. “You know, you’re right. You’re more like his bitch.”

The meth junkie came roaring at Roland, swinging the gun at his head. Although Roland had been in his share of fights before and tried to time it to avoid the hand with the gun, Aaron swung upwards and not downwards. It came as a shock, especially with Aaron being much taller and having a lankier figure. Not to mention having the clear advantage in arm span compared to Roland.

As a result, the weapon cracked Roland in the cheekbone, sending him flying into the nearest shelf.

Aaron pursued, hitting Roland again with the gun. The weapon struck Roland on top of the skull, briefly causing his vision to go black.

He braced himself, waiting for another blow.

Why isn’t this junkie hitting me anymore…?

Roland guessed he had been out for a few seconds, but also realized the idiot junkie was no longer hitting him. Opening his eyes, he saw the reason for this. The Mexican cashier tackled the man from behind, knocking him to the ground.

Aaron and the woman rolled about on the dirty floor, fighting for position. Despite the pain rattling inside his head, Roland managed to get to his feet. The first thing he identified that could used as a weapon happened to be a soup can.

He picked it up and swung back toward the struggle.

Aaron was straddling the cashier, choking her with his lean arms.

Whack.

The soup can smacked Aaron in the back of the head, causing him to roll off the cashier and look up at Roland.

Whack.

Roland again smashed the can into the side of the rapist’s face. Blood and teeth flew out of the mouth. Aaron collapsed on his side, eyes rolling to the back of head, clearly dazed.

The ringing of the door caused Roland to rapidly glance over.

Charles and Willis were coming back into the store. Since Willis was in front, Charles more than likely had not seen what occurred quite yet.

Roland again did the first thing that raced into his mind.

He charged the two men.

Roland noted the eyes of Willis become wide and a confused expression flashed across his face.

This is my fight mode…

Roland dove head first into the stomach of his friend, resulting in him flying backwards and crashing into Charles.

Smith with the sack…

All three men stumbled outside the store, with Roland’s head hitting the side of the door as it came swinging shut.

Darkness overcame Roland once again as everyone landed on the hard, oily pavement. Some scuffling was overheard, but Roland was too dizzy to think, much less, see straight.

A loud noise rang out, snapping Roland out of his unconsciousness-like state.

Movement caught his attention. Charles stumbled in front of Roland, a reddish stain forming in the gut of his stomach. The handgun clattered to the ground nearby, followed by the skinny, drug abused body collapsing on top of Roland.

“Roland!”

Carver sprinted up with Franklin and Linebacker Gregg.

“Nice shot,” Gregg huffed out as he threw the dead weight off Roland.

Franklin helped Willis up, who was clutching his stomach.

“Tell…Willis…sorry…” Roland wheezed out his apology.

“Don’t worry about it, we saw what you did. Smart and efficient.” Carver glanced in the store, presumably trying to spot the second gunman.

“He’s knocked out…” Roland rubbed his forehead, trying to relieve the pounding sensation hammering throughout his head.

Carver did not hesitate and rushed into the store, Linebacker Gregg right behind him.

Roland trudged into the gas station, ignoring the terrible headache.

The bright lights caused Roland to shield his eyes.

Goddamn it, my head…

His headache reacted to the glow.

For a few seconds, Roland rubbed his eyes, attempting to alleviate the pain.

He heard voices floating down the aisle.

“…please, please, don’t let her…”

Aaron.

Scarecrow Man…

“Did you rape her?”

No response came from him.

Roland reached the group. The Mexican cashier gripped the handgun that had fallen out of Aaron’s hands during the confrontation. And she pointed it squarely at the druggie’s rising and falling chest.

He squirmed, trying to will the gun out of her hands. A liquid spot emerged near his groin area, blue jeans staining a darker tint in that region. The stain grew larger, spreading further down his leg.

Carver kicked the man. “Did you rape her?”

Aaron shook his head frantically. No longer wearing his cap, greasy hair flowed past his ears, and was matted on his forehead because of sweat. “Charles said she wanted it…”

“You fucking…fuck!” The cashier screamed, tears running down her face. The gun shook in her trembling hands. Roland noticed Willis take a settle step off to the side. So did Linebacker Gregg, although he was much less settle about it.

Carver sighed loudly. “It’s all out of my hands buddy.”

Aaron put his hands up, shielding his sunken face. “Please, please…I didn’t mean…”

“Shut up!” The woman screeched, sobbing noisily.

“Don’t let her kill me.” The meth druggie’s dark circled eyes gazed at the group of men, pleading with them.

Carver shook his head. “It’s not up to me,” he stated as he looked at the Hispanic woman, “it’s up to her.”

Everyone slowly faced the woman. Tears streaming down her face flushed away the mascara, although Aaron and Charles helped in that as well.

The woman’s shoulders rose and fell, as she continued crying. The stress in the room was raised a few more levels, although Roland really did not care if the meth head was gunned down right in front of him.

Suddenly, she threw the gun aside and collapsed to the ground.

“Oh thank god…” Aaron was interrupted by Carver punching him in the face.

“Shut up, you fucking rapist.”

Linebacker Gregg and Willis helped the woman up.

“You want to come with us?” Roland asked gently.

The woman looked at him and nodded, tears running down her face.

“Let’s go.”

Willis and Linebacker Gregg assisted the woman outside to the caravan.

Aaron spit out some blood, along with a tooth.

Carver kneeled by the addict.

“Okay, the lady has spared your life.”

Aaron smiled.

“But that doesn’t mean I have to.”

The smile disappeared.

“But again, I will honor her request.”

The smile returned.

“That means if I ever hear or see you again, then I will personally execute you.”

The smile disappeared yet again.

“Oh, you won’t see me or my brother again, I promise.” Aaron grinned widely, revealing his zero dollar smile.

“Get the fuck out of here.” Carver raised his fist and connected with the side of Aaron’s face. The rapist slumped over, knocked out.

Carver rose and eyed Roland. “Too much?”

Roland slowly shook his head. “No, after what we’ve seen, it’s not enough.”

Chapter 25

 

Wednesday July 18th, 5:02pm

Tacoma, WA

 

The caravan flew through the wreckage that had consumed the city of Tacoma. Out front was Willis, driving the SUV, while Carver drove Garrett’s van this time. Linebacker Gregg followed behind in his car.

Fires burned uncontrollably.

Gunshots rang out constantly, some being aimed at the procession of vehicles.

Yeah right, like they will actually hit anything…

They were just about to the school. A small number of infected sprinters joined the chase, but quickly fell behind the group of vehicles. Blocks from Sherman, a man tried to flag down the caravan, yet the collection of survivors did not stop. Roland reasoned because the man covered his stomach from a nasty wound, but also for another, more sensible explanation: it was everyone for themselves and stopping for that man would put the rest of the group in danger.

The back window unexpectedly shattered, causing Garrett to cry out in pain as glass sprayed one side of his face. Roland swung to look at his friend, who nodded as he grabbed a towel and attempted to wipe away the blood streaming out of his wound.

Someone had gotten lucky with a shot.

“Shit, look!” Carver was pointing ahead.

The lead SUV suddenly tilted sideways and tipped over. Skidding across the road, it crashed into the two cars it tried to avoid in the first place. Roland saw that Willis slammed on the brakes and then tried to turn, causing the back of SUV to fishtail. When attempting to straighten out, the vehicle instead ended up tipping and then flipping over on its side.

It slammed into one of the burnt out cars and shook to a halt. Carver pulled up right along the side of it. A yellow jeep had also been trying to get through the intersection. It turned abruptly and crashed into a fence. While it avoided a collision with the SUV, steam started rising from the hood of the jeep as a result of slamming into the wooden structure.

Thank god the fuel is in the back with me…

Roland hopped out, rushing to the scene of the accident, concerned for his mother and friends. He climbed up on the side and tried to yank the driver door open. Locked in place. He turned around to see Carver dashing to him with his shotgun. The cop tossed it to Roland.

Grunting, Roland caught the weapon and then smashed the end against the window. The glass made a spider web crack, but did not shatter completely. Roland raised the gun and again smashed the window. This time, bits of glass flew everywhere.

“Unlock the door!” Carver shouted.

The man and woman from the yellow jeep appeared nearby, both of them exiting their crashed vehicle.

Roland ripped open the door. Willis hung by his seatbelt, blood smeared across his forehead. He did not acknowledge anyone, mumbling incoherently. Carver managed to make his way up next to Roland.

“I’ll go in. I’ve been trained in rescue…”

Roland did not have a chance to argue as the cop dove inside the vehicle, and undid Willis’s seatbelt.

“What can we do to help?” The man from the yellow jeep started crawling up to the SUV.

Roland saw no choice but to accept help from the stranger. He looked over, deciding to utilize the man. Average height, yet the man’s figure was fit.

“Help us get him out of here,” he shouted down at him.

The man nodded, working up the SUV. Together, the three men lifted Willis out of the vehicle. All of them strained from the weight of the body and the vertical angle at which they had to climb down from.

Willis now murmured out loud.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” he stated over and over again.

The woman from the jeep helped Willis in steadying himself as he was lifted downwards to the ground. Roland glanced to the school, a half block away.

If we could only get inside…

A side door suddenly flew open from it with a figure stepping outside. Squinting, Roland saw it was Chase in his hoodie.

“In here, in here!” he cried to everyone, pointing toward the structure.

Roland turned to the group.

“Get him inside. Everyone, inside!”

The woman assisting Willis nodded and led him to the door. Linebacker Gregg helped Garrett into the building, blood trailing from the side of his face. The Mexican cashier dashed to the school, right behind the two men.

“Shit, we have company.” Carver jerked his head toward several infected rushing the area. The cop was still inside the vehicle.

“Hey, mom!”

“I’m…okay…”

Roland struggled to hear her above the cry of infected streaming to the area.

“I’ll get David and your Mom, take care of those fucking things!” Carver pointed to three infected beings dashing to the scene.

Roland clutched the shotgun in his hands and turned to the threat. The man from the yellow jeep was seemingly undecided about what he should exactly do.

“Help Carver.”

“What?”

Roland faced him. “Help him get those people out. I’ll take care of these things.”

The man nodded and crawled up the side of the vehicle.

Roland outwardly displayed no fear, but inward, his stomach churned from the anxiety of this confrontation. He climbed onto a nearby car from the wreckage.

Roland brought the shotgun up.

Who am I kidding…?

The first of the infected was just about to the scene. Roland raised the gun up to his shoulder.

His heart started to slam against his chest.

He slowly aimed toward the cries of the infected.

His palms became sweaty, the perspiration flowing down his face in streams.

Roland fired…

…and immediately fell backwards, his shoulder throbbing in extreme pain. He had forgotten to brace for recoil again.

“Ahhhh,” Roland screamed as he tumbled down off the vehicle. He crashed onto the pavement, the gun clattering away from him.

The infected man in front of the pack scurried to the top of a burned vehicle.

Roland grimaced, waiting for the man to jump onto him. He could not take his eyes away.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!” he screamed at the last second, curling into a fetal position. A boom caused him to glance up.

Suddenly, the man’s skull was blown away, causing the already lifeless body to drop to the ground. Spinning over, Roland witnesses Chase bringing up his fallen weapon, and firing for a second time. Another infected person crumpled, immediately hopped back up, then collapsed yet again when Chase smashed the shotgun against its head.

“That’s right bitch!” Chase hit the third infected person in the knee, bringing them to the ground.

“That’s life!” The young man was clearly enjoying himself.

A little too much…

Chase jogged over to the crawling person and smashed the butt of the gun into the back of its head. A sickening crunch was heard. He ejected the spent shells and yelled in the air like a crazy manic.

Turning around, Roland watched as Yellow Jeep Guy and Carver managed to pull Madison and David out and were in the process of helping them through the side door. Everyone appeared to be making their way safety into the school.

“Roland!”

Turning around, Carver frantically pointed behind Roland.

I know that sound…

A whole herd of infected were making their way to the scene, probably following the car crash and gunshots echoing loudly in the area.

“Shit.”

He jogged to the doors, Chase trailing along in the rear. The zombies got within ten feet when Chase darted into the school. Roland slammed the door behind them. Seconds later, rotting and bloody hands smeared the windows, pounding at the glass.

Every person gasped loudly, their deep breathing briskly filling up the inside of the gym.

“Honey, we home!” Chase exclaimed, laughing at his little joke.

Roland gazed around the dark, empty gym.

Chase was right.

They were home.

Chapter 26

 

Wednesday July 18th, 6:37pm

White House, Washington, D.C.

 

A knock at the door interrupted Bruce Casper.

“Come in,” he bellowed, irritated for the disruption at first.

An Army Lieutenant popped his head in

“Mr. Vice President, there’s a phone call for you.”

Casper glared at the young soldier that entered the room.

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” The soldier saluted the second in command and exited the office.

Ah, yes.

He now remembered what the phone call would be about.

“Gentlemen, if you excuse us…”

The two corporate executives both stood up, showing their appreciation to the Vice President and National Security Advisor for the meeting.

“Those contingency plans will be delivered to your secretary, Sam. We will make a killing charging people for protection. Already have the richest of the rich begging for Dark Rain or military guards in their neighborhoods.”

“Make sure those that are influential enough or can afford our rates get that protection from us. Those types of people will not forget who helped them and they will return the favor when we are rebuilding America,” Casper stated.

One of the executives nodded toward Alfred.

“And don’t forget about a potential vaccine,” the second one chuckled, “we’ll make your company look good and better than ever.”

“Thank you, Curtis and Luke. Be sure to use the back door.”

The two suits filed out of the room. Although, not on the official guest log for visitors to see the Vice President, the two corporate leeches would be hustled out of the White House secretly so no journalist would be able to snap a picture of them. After all, if two higher ups from Dark Rain were seen leaving from here, some prick reporter might decide to do a little bit of digging. And that is the last thing Casper needed at this particular moment. He was slowly but surely churning his plans into motion.

Casper waited until the door was shut before picking the phone up. He grinned toward Alfred, who responded by nodding his head.

“This is Bruce.”

He already knew who was on the other line.

“This is Derrick King, sir.”

The Vice President smiled.

Phase one of his plan was being set to begin.

“This line is secure.”

King cleared his throat before continuing. “Do you want us to proceed with the current arrangement?”

Casper leaned back in his chair. “Yes with Belsham, but we have a problem with Nells.”

“Which is?”

“That fucking dyke is in Washington State. She’s on some trip with her partner. I heard she refused to be shuttled to safety without seeing her mom first and getting her out of danger. She left the night before last with a damn military transport, but some local cops are guarding her now.”

“That will not be a problem. Do you have her location?”

Casper looked at the note scratched in front of him. “Yes, yes.”

He gave the address to King.

“Everyone?”

Casper did not hesitate. “Correct.”

“We will inform you when the problem has been have been taken care of. Belsham is walking his dog right now. He’ll be eliminated in a few minutes. Of course, there are his bodyguards with him. Am I understanding that you want everyone taken care of? Those are government body guards with him.”

“Yes. Make it look like infected got to him.”

“Very well. Justice Nells will take a little longer, obviously. My men can be there in four or five hours. My second in command will see to it personally….”

A sudden roar in the background blocked out the rest of King’s sentence.

Casper yanked the phone away from his ear as a result of the loud noise.

“What the fuck was that?” he asked putting the phone back up to his ear.

“I’m at a makeshift runway just outside Arlington. We’re evacuating fleeing civilians.”

Gunfire was heard in the background.

Casper momentarily panicked. “What’s that? Are infected near you?”

King chuckled as another loud roar rose up behind him. “No, no, Mr. Vice President. Just that some people need to be reminded that they are under martial law. You want on a plane, gotta obey our rules. Infected are still miles from here.”

“Ah, very good then. Let me know when it’s done.”

“Yes, sir.” The line on the other end hung up.

Almost done…

When Casper looked back up, Samuel Alfred was grinning like a schoolgirl who just saw Justin Bieber up close and personal. Alfred’s heavy gut piled over the top of his belt, almost as if it was trying to escape him as he leaned forward.

“Well?”

The Vice President just smiled. “It’s all in motion. I should hear from the first team shortly. First phase of my plan is starting off perfectly.”

“What’s this about Nells?”

“That’s going to be more of a problem than him simply killing her in Washington State.”

Alfred shot him a confused look. “What, do you mean local cops are guarding her?”

“She went to visit her mother in the Evergreen state and local law enforcement is keeping eyes on her. She got a military transport the other day, so that means that some in government know where she is and why she went there.”

“Shit.”

“King’s already handling it.”

The National Security Advisor shifted in his seat uncomfortable. Casper was almost gleeful to see the older man squirming around.

Even he knows this can go to shit…

Knowing that the great Samuel Alfred was nervous made the younger man from Wyoming feel almost…superior.

Yet Casper recognized he needed the man’s expertise in this situation, along with his political and corporate connections. When Alfred became obsolete, then he would get rid of the man. However, he had not reached that stage quite yet and would not for a while.

“Can you get there before the military decides for her that she needs to be moved?”

Casper smirked. “I delayed them. They are focusing on the other Justices at the moment and besides, I heard it’s a shit show there where she is at. The Dark Rain forces should get there before anyone else.”

“Good. Where are they taking off from?”

“Michigan. King has a few private jets that he can utilize from the wilderness headquarters there.”

Alfred shook his head. “You sure you can trust these guys? I mean, this could come back and haunt us.”

“Oh, I’m sure. With the amount of business I’m sending in contracts from the DOD to him now, he can’t afford a fuck up. It would cost him too much. Plus, now that he’s agreed to kill off two Supreme Court Justices, he really doesn’t have much of a choice now but to work with us. Besides, I’ve covered up for his company many times before, in many different countries.”

Alfred nodded. “Yeah…” The advisor trailed off.

Casper recognized there was something else on his mind.

Alfred cleared his throat before speaking. “Say, did you hear the Colombians are bitching about their Vice President being found murdered?”

Casper chuckled. “Of course I heard. Probably someone in their government trying to make a power move…”

“Uh huh.”

The Vice President slowly lifted his head up and gazed across the desk at the overweight man.

“What?” he asked.

Alfred shrugged. “I heard that some black ops…private contractors were in the region at that time a few days ago. Dark Rain guys in fact…”

Casper continued staring at the National Security Advisor. “Yeah, to try and assess the situation for our military down there. This virus has popped up in that area, you know. It’s a hella lot cheaper to send down a few private contractors there than worry about the bureaucratic nightmare of the Pentagon.”

“Uh huh.”

Casper leaned in closer to the older man. “You think I had that fat prick taken out? All because he embarrassed me in the past?”

“Well, you did threaten to get revenge on him…”

Casper laughed. “Yes, I did by fucking his wife and daughter. Besides, the Dark Rain unit that was down there has already been accounted for by the military and they were miles away from that particular location. It had to have been someone else in their government making a power move. Vice President Rojas wasn’t exactly liked by everyone in his country. He was a corrupt and evil man.”

The aging NSA man chuckled. “I see you have thought everything through.”

“Oh, you have no idea, Sam, no idea at all.”

Silence lingered above the room.

Casper realized there was more on Alfred’s mind.

“Is there something else?”

“Um, actually yes.” Alfred shifted in his seat again. “I heard that Duncan Corporation is setting up shop in the backyard of Representative Gold’s place. Care to explain how the man who led the charge against Duncan Corporation is suddenly supporting them?”

The Vice President shrugged and chuckled. “Maybe he’s feeling patriotic?”

“Oh, sure, yes of course…”

Another hush between the two men settled over the room, the occasional sounds of helicopters piercing the silence.

“Jesus Christ, Sam is there something else?”

Alfred slowly nodded. “Yes, yes…it’s just that through the grapevine I’ve heard that General Devereaux is now in charge…literally.”

“Well, yeah the President signed over power…”

“That’s not what I mean. His control of the city not only pushes out the President, but now I’m being told that the Joint Chiefs are practically figureheads and have no authority…”

Casper chuckled. “The Joint Chiefs are figureheads…”

“That’s not what I mean and you know it,” Alfred interrupted him. “I heard his control is extending beyond the capital, that he’s practically a goddamn dictator. Are you behind this…?”

“Sam, you know I would let you know…”

“I hope so…”

Casper let out a small snicker. “Of course, Sam. You know I’m not able to pull off this coup without your help. Why would I leave you out of anything that I know?”

Alfred shook his head. “Good question, I would hope not…”

The phone rang, interrupting the two men.

“Yes,” Carver answered.

A gruff voice greeted the Vice President. “Justice Belsham has been eliminated.”

“Thank you.”

Casper put the phone down and smiled to Alfred. “The Libertarian is a…threat no more.”

“Good.” Alfred slapped his knee in joy.

“One less problem to deal with.”

The National Security Advisor laughed. “Great, just fantastic news. Will be easier to appoint someone to the court who will fall in line with our beliefs and will make our takeover look even more legitimate to the American people.”

Casper grinned. “While everyone else is playing checkers, we’re playing fucking chess.”

Alfred laughed again. “Very, very true. And I take it you were behind the reason that prick Mann got assigned outside the Freedom Zone, am I right?”

Casper just smiled and did not answer the National Security Advisor.

Alfred roared with laughter again. “Goddamn it, Bruce, you can be a real son of bitch sometimes!”

“You know, that’s the second time I’ve been told that recently.”

The Vice President then joined in the laughter, albeit for a very different reason. He looked right at Samuel Alfred, the aging politically connected Beltway power player who had his head back in laughter.

And while you’re looking for your next move, you don’t realize I just checkmated you…

Chapter 27

 

Thursday 5:24am

Sherman Middle School, Tacoma WA

 

Roland turned over, his sleepy eyes adjusting to the dark gym. Peering toward a window, he saw dawn rapidly approaching. Rolling onto his back, he let his body relax. The gym was cold, but he covered himself with blankets his mom gathered from the previous house. He was awakened by a noise coming from outside, but he did not hear it anymore. Besides, he must have been sleeping still because the sound he heard was that of someone laughing.

Who would be outside at a time like this, much less laughing?

A crazy fuck.

The snores of Garrett would not let him get back to sleep. Besides that, his shoulder continued to ache from the recoil of the gun and his brother again appeared in his dreams.

Roland…help me…

Roland glanced up to the ceiling and tried counting the tiles in order to fall back asleep and get Riley off of his mind.

It was no use.

After a minute he gave up.

Oh well.

After the group escaped from the crash, Willis and Garrett were bandaged up by Madison in the nurse’s room. Linebacker Gregg, Roland, and Carver scoured the first floor of the middle school, looking for weak spots. They found a few, and decided to only barricade themselves in the immediate area.

Gregg, Roland, Carver, Garrett, and the two Hughes brothers (as they found out more about them) crashed in the gym, with the rest of the group taking the outlying parts, including the bathrooms and locker rooms. Willis was still woozy from the crash, as he took the steering wheel to the face. Roland knew at this moment Carver and Franklin patrolled the grounds. The group decided to gather their supplies from outside their vehicles at a different time. Infected stragglers roamed around the area, their unceasing moans creeping throughout the school all night.

A figure suddenly entered through the gym doors. Letting his eyes adjust to the darkness, Roland guessed it was Carver.

Yep.

The man was immediately recognizable by his large size. He stopped and looked over the gym area.

“What the fuck…” The cop quietly muttered, but loud enough to send Roland into a small panic.

Leaping up, Roland scanned the gym. “What is it?”

“Shhh.”

“What?”

Carver pointed to a sleeping bag. Roland glanced to it.

It was empty.

Chase.

“Fucking Christ. Where the fuck could he be?” Carver lumbered to the doors and peered out the window. “He must have gone out this way. Franklin and John are guarding the exit over that way.”

“Who?”

The cop swung around. “The guy from the yellow jeep. His sister, Brenda and him were caught in the middle yesterday…”

“Oh yeah. Totally slipped my mind.” Roland shook his head, as if that would clear it. He needed to be focused for everyone’s sake.

Oh yeah, Brenda…

That one hot chick he ogled yesterday. Short, brunette with mocha skin. Green eyes. Her brother stated they were coming back from the Port of Tacoma, fully overrun by infected. The jeep they drove crashed into a fence, the front bumper falling off and puncturing one of the tires. As a result, he and Brenda decided to stick with the group at Sherman for now.

So that was his sister…

Well, well…

“Roland, do you hear that?” Carver whispered, trying not to wake the other people sleeping.

Focus…

It sounded like someone laughing, and they seemed to be making their way closer.

“I heard this a minute ago.” Roland became anxious, his chest tightening up. It appeared to be the same noise that woke him up initially.

Both men waited as the laughter floated ever closer to them. A tall, skinny figure without a shirt popped around the corner wearing tight, cross country shorts.

Chase Hughes.

Behind him sprinted a few infected, trying in vain to catch their prey.

“What the fuck…” The police officer turned to Roland, who shrugged at him.

This guy was nuts.

The two men watched as Chase darted out of view, the infected straggling behind.

“His nuts are mine. What the fuck, I say again, what the fuck is he doing out there?” Carver stormed off, heading toward the front office exit that was barricaded.

“Looks like he is, um, jogging.”

Carver abruptly stopped. “What?”

“He had cross-country shorts on. I think he may have been running.”

The cop sighed noisily. “Jogging. Fucking jogging.”

Roland suspected that if steam could blow out from the top of the cop’s head, it would explode like a geyser.

It would be like a fucking cartoon…

The neck veins on Carver doubled in size as his breathing became deeper. Roland tried not to make eye contact with him as he joined the man outside the gym.

The two men passed the bathrooms and locker rooms, where Willis, Madison, Penelope, John and Brenda were sleeping against the wall. The cashier was snoozing by herself against the opposite wall. Franklin appeared at the gym doorway, a confused look on his face.

“What’s that sound?”

“Chase.”

The confused look remained. “What?”

“That damn fucking idiot is jogging…he’s fucking running!” Carver raised his voice tersely, displaying his obvious irritation at the situation.

John the Yellow Jeep Guy jerked his head up from where he laid. “What’s up fellas?”

“Stay here. Watch the school.”

“Okay.” John could tell that Carver was angry and decided not to push the issue.

Smart guy…

Carver and Roland hopped over the small and ineffective barricade of table and chairs they had constructed in the hallway. They figured this was better than nothing in trying to block the infected if they happened to break in.

Both men took enormous strides down the long, dimly lit hallway, passing classroom after classroom.

“Stop.”

“What?” Roland stumbled to a halt.

Footsteps echoed down the staircase that divided into two sections, leading up the second floor.

Heavy breathing reached the two men right before a sweaty Chase appeared. A grin was splashed across his face as Carver ripped into him.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”

“Jogging.”

For a few seconds, all three men just stared at each other.

Finally, Chase tried to brush past the huge cop, but Carver grabbed the man by his shoulders and flung him against the wall.

“Whaaa…”

“Again, what in fucking hell were you doing out there? You could put all of us in fucking danger if you let those things in!” Carver pinned him against the wall.

Chase calmly looked at the huge, muscled man. “Get your hands off me.”

“Make me, you little punk.”

Chase grinned. “Okay.”

Roland took a step back right as Chase hurled a fist at Carver, connecting with his jaw. That was not the punch that caused the cop to stumble back. It was the second one, a lightning quick jab to the cheekbone.

“Ahhh,” Carver cried as he stepped back, momentarily stunned by the blows.

Roland stepped in between the two men, expecting to get hit trying to break up a fight. Amazingly, he was not as both men stood their ground.

“Stop, stop, stop!” Roland had his eyes closed, screaming out.

Opening them, he spotted Chase laughing. “No problem here. Just like my little jogs in the morning. Besides, I make sure they don’t follow me when I climb up the side of the building.”

He continued down the hallway.

“Take a shower, please.” Roland called after him.

Chase waved his hand in the air in acknowledgement.

Roland chuckled until he met Carver’s steely gaze.

“What?”

Carver shook his head.

“Look at the bright side.”

The cop rolled his eyes. “And what’s that?”

“He’s quick. Next time he can be used as bait when we need to go outside.”

Even Carver managed to laugh as he rubbed his jaw.

 

10:07am

 

Chase Hughes and his brother Corey escaped disaster while watching a Tacoma Rainiers game at the newly remolded Cheney Stadium. Chase described the scene involving as a catcher eating the home plate umpire or something along those lines. They then wrecked their car several blocks from here, just barely getting away from a crowd of undead that attempted to make the two brothers their meal. Playing basketball seemed to be a way to relieve some of the stress that had overcome the two men during the last few days.

“I’m Allen Iverson,” Chase flatly declared, causing the group to laugh out loud. The small cluster of men and women sat in a circle in the gym, eating the rations of food they dragged out from the vehicles earlier. Otherwise, the breakfast was eaten in silence. Nothing was mentioned about the little ‘incident’ that had taken place between Carver and Chase, although Roland could tell that some people wanted to ask about it. The cashier girl joined the main group, but not speaking to anyone yet.

“I think now we need to start looking around and fortifying this place up,” Carver pointed out. No one disagreed, as barricading the school up was obvious to everyone.

“What, no classes today?” Brenda joked. Chuckles arose from people, and Roland smiled when she glanced over to him. She quickly looked away when meeting his gaze.

Damn…

“Roland, you’re with me,” the cop proclaimed, displaying his trust in the man. “Here are some keys we found in the custodian’s office for getting into different rooms.”

Several people grabbed different sets of keys and split off into tiny groups to explore the rest of the school. Carver and Roland raided the school cafeteria and found a surprisingly large amount of food left. The walk in freezer still operated and contained meats and other goods. The large walk in refrigerator presented hundreds of school lunches of all varieties, including low-fat white and chocolate milk. Plenty of water was also available, stacked up in the corner. Roland figured they were leftovers from the school year. He also noticed Carver was the happiest he had seen him in a while.

“This will cut down on us going out and scavenging for goods. At least for a while,” Carver explained, smiling while surveying the contents in the fridge. The rest of their search yielded nothing exciting in particular. Carver remarked that he would have to bring Franklin down to the boiler room and have him take a look at it. The two men headed back to the gym to meet with the rest of the groups.

 

11:37am

 

Over an hour later, all returned to the gym with various supplies. Most of the materials included water bottles and bags of snacks taken from teacher’s rooms. Weapons they could use comprised of baseball bats from the gym teacher’s office, along with a few golf clubs.

David (who was still injured) and Garrett scavenged the bottom of the school, reporting there were two large storage areas located underneath that had a bunch of cleaning supplies. Chase and Cory checked out the upper levels and the roof, reporting nothing out of place. The rest of the group searched the first floor, combing over the number of classrooms, bathrooms, and janitor rooms scattered throughout the school. Willis found a metal bat in one of the storage areas, swinging it in the air.

A metal Louisville slugger would do some damage to a fucking zombies thin skull.

Roland smiled at the thought as Carver interrupted.

“We need to try to fortify this place as best as we can. Some of the windows and doors,” Carver motioned toward the smashed window where he and Roland first entered the school through, “have been broken.”

Murmurs of agreement drifted over the refugees assembled in the gymnasium. Roland was too busy admiring the beauty of a certain somebody to take in what the police officer was saying.

God damn she’s fine…

“We also need lookouts at all times. There are twelve of us at the moment. This school is rather large so I suggest four lookouts at all times, maybe rotating every six hours or so. Maybe have a roamer or two inside the building going all over it until the windows and doors are all secure. We should also have someone posted on the roof so they can see the surrounding neighborhood better.”

Carver paused to see the group’s reactions. Nods and murmurs were seen and heard throughout the group. He focused in a Roland for a moment.

Wow, Roland make it a little less obvious you’re looking at that girl…

Carver continued. “We should expect other refugees to join us over time, so it’s better that we stay busy and prepared. Also, we need to make sure that we all keep clean and take a shower.”

The cop looked right at Garrett.

“What?”

“You smell.”

Laughs rose up.

Garrett’s face became red. “Well, excuse me. Sorry for fucking zombies cutting into my bath time…”

Carver waved him off. “No, it’s not just you. I stink also and haven’t taken a shower for a few days…everyone who isn’t going to be on guard duty or if you have downtime, take a shower in the locker rooms. It’s for hygienic purposes people. I know how a few days without a shower or bath can cause infections or diseases.”

Everyone was in agreement that the school needed to be fortified and secured. The group darted back and forth outside and gathered the rest of the supplies they had left in the vehicles. Garrett and Linebacker Gregg pulled their vehicles closer to the school, parking them next to a gym entrance. The keys were left in the ignition of both cars in case the group had to make a quick exit. Fuel taken from the gas station was stored down in the basement.

After a while, job duties were broken up. Chase, Corey and Roland were put on first guard duty. Penelope, Brenda and Madison volunteered to record all of the supplies gathered and make a list. The cashier from the gas station started to get more involved with the group. She looked really broken by her ordeal at the store, but appeared to be trying to push forward. She went over to the ladies and began helping them without saying a word. Franklin and John the Yellow Jeep Guy made their way to the boiler room to get familiar with it.

Garrett, Willis, Linebacker Gregg and Carver showered and got some much deserved sleep to prepare for their turn to keep watch during the night, along with David the Jamaican, who was still recovering from bouts as a result of his concussion.

Roland was assigned roof watch for the first two hours, and climbed to the top of the school, hoping for some relaxation while on guard duty. The morning sun was beginning to break through the haze, gesturing yet another hot July day.

Roland leaned back, perched in a chair on the highest point of the roof, which was relatively flat. His eyes peered through binoculars that had been discovered in the gym teacher’s office. He inhaled deeply and then suddenly coughed profusely. Gagging, he tried to swallow away the disgusting taste in his mouth.

Taste and smells like…

Roland’s mind raced through the different possibilities.

Burning flesh…

Body odor…

Human shit…

The smell emanating from the area was just about unbearable. Since he had not been outside, Roland did not even notice how ghastly the odor was before.

Now he felt like the stench was sticking to him.

It reminded him of working as a dishwasher back at the restaurant. No matter what you did, by the end of the night, you would reek of Italian food.

Yet now, I will reek of blood and guts…

It would be in your hair, on your body, and cling to you even after taking multiple showers.

Sighing loudly and trying to take his mind off it, he picked up the binoculars. Without them, he could only see the rooftops of the houses and the main street below him. However, with the powerful binoculars, he could scan the grim landscape even further.

Not that I really want to…

In the distance, about six blocks away, he spotted police and fire truck lights flashing wildly. Some firefighters balanced themselves on a ladder stretched over to the roof of a house. A cop was seen near the base of the truck, presumably covering the firemen as they attempted a rescue of some people trapped inside the residence.

Roland persisted in watching the scene for a few moments as half a dozen people were rescued by the firefighters. The fire truck started to lurch forward when gunshots rang out from the police officer as he brought down an infected person sprinting towards him. The infected was successfully ‘killed’ and the officer signaled the truck to continue advancing.

His faith in humanity somewhat restored, his gaze flung around the school. Fires rose from the roofs of houses, the black smoke bellowing into the air, causing the sky to become grayish.

Like a graveyard.

He could hear car horns sounding off, people screaming and yelling sporadically, in between the gunshots and explosions occurring. A couple of helicopters hovered in the distance, racing in the direction of the city center of Tacoma.

A loud roar caused Roland to glance up into the sky. A huge commercial jumbo jet passed by, heading the way as the helicopters. Roland frowned as three military fighter jets took up position right behind the Boeing plane.

He stood up, watching as one of the military fighters zipped straight past the jumbo jet and settled near the front of it. The gigantic airliner continued ahead, flying over the school and making its way across the bay of Puget Sound.

The vapor trails from the exhaust of the jets filled the crisp, bright blue sky. The condensation surrounded the civilian aircraft as it continued onwards.

Roland glanced at the sight for a few more seconds before swinging his head back down. As a result, he ended up not seeing the fighter planes launch missiles at the commercial jet. He swung his head back up at the loud noise above, watching as the rear of the aircraft explode into a huge fireball.

Two more missiles smashed into the airliner. By this time, the jumbo jet was spinning in a nosedive toward the water. One of its wings ripped away from the body as it spiraled downwards, out of control. Black smoke trailed behind as it rapidly fell from the sky. With a boisterous thundering reverberation, the jet crashed into the clear blue waters of the Puget Sound bay, situated along the waterfront of the city of Tacoma.

“What the fuck!” Corey had just made his way to the top of the roof, remarking on the scene in front of him.

“Jesus Christ.” Roland stood in awe as waves quickly swamped the plane and it sunk below them. All that remained was debris and some fire from where the impact of the crash occurred in the water.

Corey rolled his head back up, meeting Roland’s eyes. He expressed disbelief.

“Well, it had to have infected people on it, right? Maybe like some anti-government militia?” Corey asked out loud.

Roland did not answer him.

It was truly everyone for themselves.

Roland had known that, but watching military jets shoot down a commercial airliner really put it into perspective.

If you wanted to stay alive, you could only count on yourself and the people around you.

It was like a war zone.

He lethargically sat back down in the chair.

It was a war zone…

And then he saw them.

Their moaning snapped Roland back to the conditions in front of him.

The living dead.

An oxymoron.

There were a few of them walking aimlessly in the streets. Roland observed them through the glasses and noticed that whenever a sound occurred, they turned and headed in that direction. For example, a gunshot would cause the infected to appear out of nowhere, rushing toward where they thought the sound came from. Another time, a car came rushing past the school, chased by sprinters. The slow ones shuffled after it until the car disappeared from sight or they lost interest.

Sighing, Roland put the binoculars down and opened a can of Mountain Dew. He slurped it loudly, enjoying the taste. He laid back in lawn chair, closing his eyes while trying to relax for a moment. His eyes were sore from all the squinting he was doing keeping guard. He tried to forget about the jumbo jet being shot down just minutes before. The chaos of the undead attacking his fellow human beings outwardly faded away.

It was all fading away…

Suddenly, an intruding hand grabbed Roland’s shoulders and shook him violently.

Roland yelped like a whipped dog, falling sideways out of the chair. He grabbed an unopened can of Mountain Dew and threw it at the intruder.

Chase dodged the can as it flew off the roof and onto the street below with a thud. Laughing, he extended an arm to Roland and helped him up. He started to say something when Roland tersely shushed him quiet.

There appeared to be nothing alive near the school. Only the persistent moans of the undead rose up, who rapidly appeared. Their sounds were surprisingly numerous and gave the impression they were very close.

And had been close the entire time…

Roland scrambled to the edge of the roof, Chase right behind him. Below them, four infected stood around the downed pop can. Soda sprayed from it in several directions. One of the infected picked up the foaming can and started to lick it. Two others wanted a piece of the action and tried to grab it from the first one. The fourth one, wearing a white lab coat, deliberately rotated his gaze upwards and eventually made eye contact with Roland.

“Shit,” whispered Chase, hastily backing up, out of the man’s vision. Roland lay perfectly motionless, afraid to move.

The undead man’s stare sliced right through the Roland, sending a chill down his spine. The man in the lab coat opened his mouth and let out a cry, black vomit bubbling out and dripping down his chin.

Sick…

He continued peering into the former man’s eyes.

Almost as if that dude was alive…the way he was looking at him.

It was an eerie experience.

They stared at each other for a full minute until one of the other infected bumped into the lab coat man, distracting him. Roland then swiftly moved backwards and joined Chase.

Chase shook his head. “That fucker almost looked…”

“Alive,” finished Roland.

Chase glanced over to him. “I was going to say…aware.”

Roland grunted. “Well, shit, that’s worse.”

It was.

 

1:56pm

 

Garrett stirred in his sleep as Carver hoisted his massive frame off the ground. They crashed in the teacher’s lounge, near the main entrance to get some shut eye. Glancing at the clock, Carver realized he had been sleeping for only around three hours. He needed more sleep, but was restless. He had been looking out the window, pondering about leaving the school when he saw military jets fire upon a commercial airliner. Seeing a plane shot down just a few hours before brought back traumatic memories from his time being deployed overseas while in the Marine Corp.

Carver shook his head. He was foolish in thinking he had put those thoughts behind him. Of course he killed a couple people recently, but he was able to rationalize those actions in that it was in the line of duty.

It’s how I was trained…

He was going to protect himself in any manner possible. No longer was he going to hesitate in a war zone like what occurred in Pakistan. That resulted in the deaths of several of his brothers. Carver promised to never again question himself when in the heat of battle. So far, it had worked.

Or so he thought.

He was still thinking about the woman he had shot a day ago. In fact, he could not sleep because he kept going over the number of scenarios in his mind that he could have done differently.

There’s nothing I could have done differently…

Overanalyzing his actions as a result, he was eager to get to work to try and forget the horrific events. However, their guard duty would not start for another six hours. Garrett continued to snore as he turned over on one of two couches in the lounge. Linebacker Gregg breathed heavily on the floor, not bothered by the loud snores. Willis emerged from the hallway, returning from the bathroom. He nodded at Carver before fluffing up his pillow and lying back down. The cop decided against trying any small chit-chat as he recognized the men would need their rest for later on.

The lounge also had several comfy reclining chairs, a fridge, microwave, and a flat screen thirty-two inch television, with cable. Carver switched to channel two, which was a twenty-four hour news television for the local region. If anyone had breaking news, they would be presenting it. He kept the volume down and inched his chair up to the front of the screen. After a few commercials passed, the news finally came on.

“This is Northwest Channel Two News, bringing you the news when you want it”, a prerecorded male voice droned.

A black newswoman was shown on the screen, announcing herself.

“Good afternoon, I’m Shatina Williams, and here’s what has transpired over the last twenty four hours. The Seattle metro region has been declared an emergency disaster area. Just several hours ago, the Lt. Governor declared it so in a press conference.”

The image switched to a balding man reading a letter in front of dozens of microphones located all around him on a podium.

“…by order of the powers granted to me by the Washington State legislature, I hereby declare this state under Martial Law. As of this moment, military elements of the Federal government are in charge. You must follow their instructions and curfews, whatever they may be…”

The monitor switched back to the newscaster.

“That was Lieutenant Governor Phillip Langdon just a few minutes ago at a press conference from an unverified location. For those of you wondering, there is still no word on the current governor’s whereabouts.”

Carver shook his head.

Nor would there be.

The anchorwoman continued. “Continuing with news just passed to me by my producers, military units from Joint Base Lewis-McChord have been deployed into the major cities which include Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Spokane, Federal Way and Olympia. There are also smaller units from the National Guard being deployed into surrounding communities. Military and state officials are urging people to stay inside their homes and lock up their doors and windows. If you feel the need to leave, refugee camps are being constructed to help with this. As soon as we know what the locations are, we will send along that bit of news…”

The anchorman woman paused, listening into her earpiece from someone off camera.

“Again, as a reminder to our viewers, Martial Law has been declared nationwide. One of the reasons given to us from the governor’s office is that police departments in major cities nationwide are reporting to be overrun. Throughout the country, some sort of virus has spread and it has turned ordinary people into violent…cannibals…”

Shatina halted the broadcast, trying to catch her breath.

As she did so, a bulletin in bold passed underneath her on the screen.

Centurylink and Safeco Field Stadiums are government approved refugee camps…

“With that said, we are going to our field report, Harold Wong. Harold, can you hear me?”

A young Asian man appeared before the camera, the backdrop of the Space Needle rising up behind him.

“Yes Shatina.” He nodded and continued. “We are live near the Space Needle in Seattle. As you reported, the situation has really dissolved within the past hours. The police presence has dropped to zero. Just under an hour ago, the large presence of law enforcement that was situated right behind me…left and while we have seen large scores of military helicopters flying overhead, the fact remains that the police are nowhere to be seen and the violence continues.”

The camera panned out behind the reporter. Small fires were burning in the background and shots could be heard echoing everywhere, causing Harold to briefly duck his head. A crowd had begun to gather around the news reporter, shouting and shrieking. Carver noticed some of the people wore medical masks over their mouths.

That’s not going to protect you from this…

A large Hispanic man yelled into the camera, positioning his face right in front of it.

“Where are the police? The police liked to inflict violence on ordinary citizens but when we need them, they are nowhere!”

“Fuck yeah, where be them police,” screamed a black woman with blond hair, “I got kids to feed and the store be closed. How am I going to get food for them when all the restaurants are closed? The police don’t care about us.”

The crowd cried out in agreement.

Carver rolled his eyes. The question was not; where were the police? It was: why the fuck are you still in the city? Silently, the cop leaned back in his chair.

You think I would risk my ass for you? Nope…

Some young white girl walked up to the camera and started scream at it.

“The police are supposed to serve and protect. Where are they now? They are probably out there killing a Native American woodcarver or punching an African American in the face. They are probably in the rich white neighborhoods, protecting the large mansions of the elite and ignoring us! They have shown yet again their racist and bigoted ways by ignoring the colored community.”

“Who the fuck you calling colored, cracker?” screamed a hefty black man, getting directly in her face.

“I meant nothing by that, sir,” replied the young white girl, taking a full step backwards.

“Nah fuck that shit. That lily white bitch just called us colored. Beat her white ass Dre,” urged the black lady with the blond hair.

With that, ‘Dre’ punched the young lady in the face and she was out cold. They were on top of her within seconds. The group started kicking and punching her, letting out their frustrations on the poor girl.

So much for diversity.

Harold Wong was running for cover along with the cameraman, still trying to do his field report. Gunfire erupted, as Harold ran right smack into a military soldier. The Army man made an angry face, before shoving the reporter aide. More military personnel appeared, firing toward the area where Harold and cameraman had just been. The camera vision swung back to the group.

Around the corner, swept a horde of infected, being led toward the crowd by the noise that was being made. The group was so busy beating up the young girl that they did not notice the approaching herd. The camera held steady as the infected surrounded the set of people. The line of United States Army soldiers opened fire on both factions, causing both the undead and live humans to crumble to the ground. The television screen darted back to Shatina, who took a moment to gather herself together.

“That was Harry Wong, reporting live from Seattle.”

 

2:11pm

 

Roland was still on the roof when he heard a thumping sound coming from the air.

Ducking down, he lifted his head up and scanned the sky, recognizing the noise from a few days earlier.

Helicopters.

He knew the familiar hum generated from them.

It could a military rescue squad.

Or not.

Roland did not want to think about who else it could besides the military.

Maybe a rescue party?

Yet, Roland realized he was a little fish. And by that, he knew the military would not be sending rescue parties out this soon to look for regular citizens. That was life, and Roland was content with it.

I can take care of myself…right?

He did not want to be cuddled by the government or anyone else. And especially after seeing how the government had shot down a civilian plane just a couple of hours ago.

“What…the…” Corey came stumbling through the roof’s door. “What’s that noise?”

Roland turned to him. “Get Carver up here now. We might have some company.”

The younger Hughes brothers nodded and exited the roof.

Squinting, Roland followed as two helicopters hovered over the school and slowly descended just across the street. After a few seconds, the two made constant circles around one particular house. Ropes were thrown down from one copter, two men on each side sliding along and landing in a yard. An infected appeared, but was quickly dispatched by a sniper from the chopper still circling above.

“What’s up?” Carver asked, suddenly popping up beside Roland.

“Not sure,” he replied, pointing to the scene unfolding in front of him.

“Well, well, what do we have here,” Carver wondered out loud, reaching for the binoculars and gazing over to the area.

“Uh oh.”

Great.

“What’s up?” Roland was almost too afraid to ask.

“That’s not military.”

“They’re not?”

“They have DR stamped on the side of the helicopter…see?” Carver handed the binoculars to Roland.

Peering over, a silver DR emblem was stamped on the side of both helicopters.

“What’s DR stand for?”

“Dark Rain.”

“Sounds scary.”

“Actually, they are,” Carver replied grimly.

“Shit, I was just kidding.”

Carver spun to him. “These guys are fucking killers. Mercenaries. Private contractors. Good ‘ole fucking merchants of death.”

“Shit.”

“I had the pleasure of working with them in India and Pakistan. They’re bad news all around. Not the kind of company you want to keep…”

Unexpected gunfire erupted from across the block. Both men inched closer, watching as a woman darted out of a house and ran into the street. Her arms flew upwards as she collapsed in the middle of an intersection, the back of her shirt turning a bright red.

“Oh fuck.” Roland mumbled, observing the incident and feeling a sense of helplessness.

Three men dressed in black fatigues appeared. Surrounding her body, one of the men fired into the back of her head twice, and then all three withdrew back to where the first chopper had dropped them off. They quickly climbed up the ropes in expert military like precision. The helicopter then hastily made its retreat. The whole raid had taken less than five minutes.

“What the fuck…” Chase joined the men on the rooftop. “Did they just…” He was unable to finish his sentence as bullets rapidly rained down upon the three men. They all took cover, diving in every direction.

Glancing up, Roland saw that it was the second helicopter.

Shit.

They had been so concerned with watching the first chopper and the execution of the woman, all of them lost sight of the second Dark Rain helicopter. It must have been making circles above the neighborhoods, making sure no one was paying attention.

Oops, I guess we were…

The chopper passed the school, making a tight turn to supposedly go by again.

“Into the school!” Carver grabbed Roland and flung him inside the doorway. Chase was behind him, piling head first into the doorway. Carver shut the door right as the flying metal beast opened fire on them again. Bullets struck through the wooden walls, with the three men rolling down the stairs.

“Ooof”

“Fuuucck.”

The three men came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, where they were met by Garrett.

“What the fuck is going on?”

Carver hopped up, still feeling a little woozy.

“We have company!” Corey’s voice echoed from down the hallway. That statement was more than enough to get Roland to jump up and shake away the cobwebs.

All four men hustled down second floor hallway and went to the window where Corey was placed. The younger Hughes brother pointed outside.

“Oh shit.”

Garrett summed up their situation.

The helicopter that had fired upon the roof now hovered directly across the street, two men sliding down on ropes. They were dressed in the same black fatigues.

Merchants of death.

Carver’s words rang hollow inside Roland’s head.

“They’re going to try and surround us.” Carver turned to the small group of men. “Chase, I hope you can fire that gun as well as I think you can.”

Chase actually grinned. “Yep.”

“You’re on the roof. Fire on that helicopter, try to distract them.”

Chase gave a quick nod and raced back to his room to grab a weapon.

“Corey, I take it you can shoot as well?”

The younger Hughes brothers nodded.

“You’re here.”

Corey dashed off to get his weapon.

“Let’s get to the first floor, right now!” The three men raced down the flight of steps and saw the helicopter was still hovering near the school.

“Garrett, go warn everyone what is happening! Now!”

Garrett took off down the hallway.

“I’ll be right back,” Carver declared, leaving Roland alone to observe the situation for a moment.

Two of the Dark Rain men crossed the street, one taking up position behind a parked car in front of the school. The other man perched himself up against the wall just underneath the window where Roland had taken cover.

The glass suddenly shattered as an object came flying through and landed in the hallway. The round item bounced against the wall and came back to where Roland was crouched.

Grenade!

The flashing lights blinded Roland, knocking the wind out of him. Although he did not know it at the time, it was not an explosive grenade, but a flash one.

Roland’s whole body shook as a bright light exploded in the hallway. His vision was blinded and a constant ringing sound pained his ear. Twisting over in agony, Roland witnessed a Dark Rain mercenary come crashing through the window. Stunned and unable to react, Roland could only watch as a second hired killer flew through the broken glass. They both welded some nasty machine guns.

Watching the second man slide through the window, Roland noticed both men ignoring him.

They knew he could do them no harm.

Roland tried bringing up his hands to cover his ears but found himself unable to do so. His trembling hands would not allow it and his vision was too blurry.

Instead, the mercenaries were busy concentrating on securing the hallway.

Shit

“Stairs!” One of the Dark Rain killers cried out above the noise and pointed down the hall.

Corey.

The two men sprayed gunfire down the hallway, causing the Corey to dive over the railings and disappear behind the staircase.

For all Roland knew, Corey could have landed on his head and split his skull open.

We’re dead…

One of men motioned for the other contract killer ahead of him to move forward. The man nodded, and stood up. Before he could advance, the back of his head exploded. Dazed and distorted, Roland managed to see the second Dark Rain man collapse as well, grabbing his leg. The mercenary tried to counter this by pulling out his secondary weapon, but had his neck burst open, spraying blood all over Roland.

Carver appeared with the same expression that he always seemed to be wearing.

“You okay?”

Roland somehow nodded. Or at least he thought he did.

“Stay still. You’ll get over it in a few minutes.”

Gunfire from further down the hallway caused both men to glance over.

It was Corey.

“Two more!” Corey yelled down to Carver, who acknowledged him.

Another set of Dark Rain men came sliding down from the helicopter. They took up defensive positions behind the same pair of cars that their cohorts had done earlier.

The two parties traded gunfire back and forth for a few minutes before Roland managed to sit up and gaze outside.

His ears still rang, but it was starting to subside somewhat. He rapidly blinked, attempting to straighten his vision out.

It took almost a full minute, but eventually Roland was able to make out the shapes and figures engaged in the pitched battle outside Sherman Middle School.

The two Dark Rain contractors across the street continued exchanging fire with Corey and Carver. Looking behind him, Roland viewed the bodies of the mercenaries lying in their own pool of blood.

Carver effectively fucked them up.

Shit son.

Roland felt his senses coming back even more and proceeded to peek outside yet again. A flash of gunfire caused him to duck behind the wall. These private contractors were deadly shots. Glancing over to Carver, Roland now realized what the cop was talking about.

If it wasn’t for Carver, I would…

Roland tried not to think about it.

be dead. And so would everyone else…

A buzzing sound and the pelting of bullets flooding the hallway caused all three men to roll around, trying to avoid the firepower of the helicopter, which swooped in low to the ground. It focused its attention on where the gunfire was coming from within the school.

No shit.

The helicopter was swinging around for another pass when it suddenly weaved, and tipped sideways. Smoke and flames came out of the body as the chopper twisted and jerked violently, swinging uncontrollably in the air.

“What the…?”

The chopper crashed down across the street, engulfed in a huge blinding fireball. The scene was so bright that Roland shaded his eyes with a hand.

“Woo-hoooo, woo-hooo!” Corey was hollering.

Even Carver celebrated.

“Holy shit,” the cop declared. “Wow, did we get fucking lucky or what.”

The whooping cries of victory from Corey caused Roland to smile. They had gotten lucky the helicopter apparently suffered some sort of an accident in mid-flight.

“Where’s the other…” Before Roland could finish his sentence a beat up car raced past the school with two occupants in it.

The Dark Rain men. Roland assumed the mercenaries had seen the helicopter go down, along with two of their colleagues getting killed and decided to flee the scene.

“That was awesome!” Corey danced his way over.

Carver and Corey high fived each other and continued to whoop it up.

Moans interrupted the celebration.

“Shhiiittt.”

Roland immediately identified that sound.

“We have company.” Chase’s voice floated down from the roof.

The infected had been attracted by the firefight and quickly rushed the school.

Carver sighed.

“Let’s get to work.”

 

Chapter 28

 

Thursday July 19th, 5:45pm

Washington, D.C.

 

Casper eagerly picked up the ringing phone. “Yes.”

“Justice Nells is dead.”

“I expected nothing less,” he stated.

King noisily cleared his throat.

“Anything else?” Casper already knew there would be a response.

Derrick King cleared his throat again before answering.

“We might have been spotted.”

Casper angrily slammed his hand down on his desk. “By fucking who?”

“Survivors,” he grunted. “We were caught off guard by them shooting at my helicopters and men.”

“Jesus, how is that possible? How exactly the fuck was your team not prepared for something like this?”

“I don’t know, sir…” he trailed off.

“You have more bad news? What is it?”

“Uhhh, we have a downed Dark Rain helicopter at the location.”

Casper was stunned and jolted straight up in his chair. “You lost a fucking helicopter? To a rag tag bunch of civilians?”

“And six men.”

Casper slammed his hand down on the desk yet again, a throbbing pain shooting through his fingers. “What the fuck happened? This was supposed to be a simple fucking mission, Derrick.”

“My team spotted some men on a roof of a school overseeing Nell’s house. They might have seen my team take her out. They had to do it in the open…”

“Holy fuck, King, what part of discretion did you not fucking understand?”

“The circumstances were…unavoidable.”

“I fucking bet they were.”

King continued. “They made a pass over the roof, trying to catch them by surprise…”

“And that fucking failed obviously.”

“Yes. The team leader insisted on trying to take them out and had four men descend from the helicopter. Unfortunately, they had a few snipers, took out two of my men and then a grenade accidentally went off in the helicopter itself. At least that’s what the pilot was saying right before the transmission got cut. Four men perished in the crash and we think two others escaped the scene after the fact. Two others are unaccounted for, but we think they are dead. It was a complete cluster fuck.”

Casper furiously rubbed his temples.

It was a small ‘hiccup’ like this that could come back and haunt his plans for the future.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Sir?” Casper could tell King was confused.

“Don’t you want me to take another team out there and finish the job?”

“No. I’m sure those people have fled to god knows where. Infected will probably finish them off in the future. They will never put two and two together. Besides, there is too much prodding going on right with the Colombian thing and now this. I need you to just back off for the moment. ”

“And if they do put two and two together, sir?”

Casper was frank with the founder and leader of Dark Rain.

“Then I’m fucked.”

Chapter 29

 

Thursday July 19th, 8:55pm

Tacoma, WA

 

Roland held the shiny black M4 carbine in his hands like a child who had just opened up his first Christmas present. Carver explained to him and the others about the different weapons they gathered. He gave them some tips on the loading and handling of the new firearms they now possessed. They had even taken some practice shots on the roof to let people get adjusted to shooting the different types of rifles. Garrett actually shot at a few infected, but did not hit anything. Or at least Roland did not think Garrett hit any of his targets. He was too busy paying attention to Brenda when she squeezed off some rounds with a handgun.

Hubba hubba hubba.

In all, sixteen weapons, consisting of six handguns, eight fully automatic rifles, and two sniper rifles, were recovered from the downed Dark Rain contractors. Four weapons ended up being retrieved from the men who breached the school walls, while the rest of the weapons were discovered around the downed helicopter. An assortment of flash bangs and live grenades were tucked into a few boxes on the helicopter that had fallen out. Apparently, a grenade exploded near the front of the chopper, causing the arsenal on board to fall out when the helicopter tipped sideways and then crashed. Four bodies remained inside the wreckage, burnt to a crisp. Two other items gathered ended up being bullet proof vests obtained off the two dead private contractors, and tons of spare magazines hurriedly picked up, scattered all over the ground.

The weapons were a huge upgrade over what they took from the police officers trying to escort the Governor out of danger.

Too bad they weren’t armed like this…

Maybe then they would have been able to fight their way out of the area. The Dark Rain mercenaries more than likely would not have exerted much energy ushering the elected leader of Washington State out of harm with their firepower.

It was a survivalists’ wet dream.

“Whatever their mission was, these boys sure came to party,” Carver declared out loud.

Roland agreed. Whoever that lady was, she was an obvious and immediate threat to someone powerful enough to call on mercenaries and have them kill her in the middle of this infectious outbreak.

The helicopter crashing attracted the living dead when it went spiraling down earlier. Franklin came up with the idea to quickly retrieve the leftover supplies before too many of the infected swooped in over the location. Chase, Roland, Corey, Carver, Franklin, and Gregg were outside in minutes and fought off about twenty of the infected during the whole scavenger hunt.

Now, the entire group was all smiles at their newfound fortune. They finally advanced beyond baseball bats and old hunting rifles.

“Whooooooo, baby!” yelled Chase holding up one of the newer sniper rifles.

“Goddamn, this shit is the top of the line,” declared John, inspecting one of the M4 carbines.

“Were you in the military?” inquired Carver.

“Coast Guard,” was the reply back.

“Always nice to have someone else who served.”

“You?”

Carver pulled up his sleeve, displaying numerous tattoos.

“Marine Corp, eight years.”

“Shit, glad you’re on my side.”

Franklin inspected his new body armor with Garrett. They ended up acquiring four new bullet resistant vests from the two dead men and the wreckage.

“Damn, this is too tiny.”

Franklin started laughing. “No, the equipment is not too small…”

Garrett looked at him quizzically, and then lifted his head backwards in laughter. “You calling me fat?” Everyone around the two men started giggling as well.

The group decided that whoever was going out on a mission for food or supplies would wear them. Not so much to protect them against zombies, but something much worse.

Like other human beings.

Apparently, Garrett would be excluded from the group scavenging supplies for now.

Brenda still toyed around with the handgun.

“I would love to see you fire that in a bikini.” Garrett was in the middle of lifting the body armor over his head, but was struggling.

“I bet.”

“Ooohhh,” Garrett chuckled until Brenda’s brother came over and yanked the gear right off him.

“And I would love for you to shut the fuck up.” The Coast Guard man looked truly upset. A big brother protecting his little sister.

“Okie dokie, no problem man.”

Roland just shook his head and started to turn away, but caught Brenda gazing at him. She was smiling shyly at him, while twirling the gun in her hands. Roland returned the smile and nodded toward her. She winked at him before spinning around and joining her brother, who also caught Roland looking at his sister.

Roland sheepishly glanced away.

Aw, shit.

He noticed Carver sitting on the steps, almost in a deep thought.

“What’s up,” asked Roland, joining him, eager to get away from the glare of the ‘big brother.’

“I was just wondering about the helicopter that left.”

“You think it’s a problem.”

Carver looked at him. “I don’t know, and that’s what I don’t like.”

“What’s that?”

“The unknown.”

Roland slapped the huge man on the back. “Right now, there’s nothing that you do about it. So, quit thinking about it. You sound like that one politician.”

“What?” Carver whirled to Roland.

“Yeah, there was a politician recently that said there are known unknowns or something like that.”

The large man chuckled. “Yeah, that was our Secretary of Defense Strangefeld. But in a way, I am worried about the known unknowns.”

“Huh?”

The cop sighed. “We know they were from Dark Rain. We just don’t know why they came here to kill that woman or if they will be back. The great known of unknowns. We don’t know what we don’t know. But we know that they know that we know.”

Roland shook his head. “Yeah, let’s forget about your known or unknowns. I’m getting confused dude. We got work to do.”

Carver glanced up to Roland and grinned. “You’re right. Sorry, maybe I’m over thinking.” He faced Garrett. “So, you think you’re a fucking strong guy?”

Garrett puffed out his chest. “Hell yea.”

“Good. You’re going to help us board up those windows.”

“Great. Just what I wanted to fucking do.”

Roland reached down to grab an M4 and chuckled to his friend. “You think you can handle the manual labor, buddy?”

Garrett stared at Roland for a moment, and then ripped off his shirt. His pale, overweight body caused Roland to shake his head at the sight.

“Ro, does it look like I’m ready?”

 

Friday, 6:07 am

 

As soon as it got light enough outside, the group started boarding up broken windows and reinforcing the doors. To board up the glass from the outside, Garrett and Franklin used wood taken from the school’s gym bleachers and then covered them over the windows of the first floor. The bleachers from the gym proved to be very suitable in barricading the windows, even if it was a pain to rip all the nails and screws out.

“Where the fuck did we get all these nails from?” Garrett whined when lifting up a wooden board over a window.

“You’re in luck, I was a carpenter,” Franklin chuckled.

“Yeah, so fucking lucky.”

Chase and Carver would accompany the two men outside, acting as guards. So far, only one sprinter had appeared and been put down. In addition to those two, Corey and Roland were on the roof, keeping watch from every angle.

“Fuck, it’s hot.” Corey wiped sweat from his brow.

Roland only nodded, his mind focused on the landscape in front of him. He was especially jumpy because of the thought of Dark Rain returning to finish what they started hours earlier. While he had been in his share of fistfights and verbal altercations, a firefight with private contractors was not something he wished to experience again. In fact, just after the fight, Roland found himself peeing a dozen times from the stress and nerves of being in the middle of it.

Shaking his head, he glanced about the neighborhood. The battle sounds had ceased from the days before. Smoke bellowed from the downtown area, but fewer aircraft had been spotted in the air. Whoever was on the rooftop gave up trying to signal planes or helicopters hovering the skies above them. The aircraft had been ignoring them so far, and as a result, Carver told the group to just concentrate on the scene in front of them.

“Don’t want to get caught off guard like I did with the Dark Rain aircraft, so don’t worry about trying to get their attention. We don’t want to call attention to ourselves to the wrong person.”

It made sense.

Good thing Carver is here…

The school was located next to a street that ran alongside a large gulch, which overlooked the Puget Sound Bay. Trees partially blocked the images, but Roland spotted a tugboat on fire float past. The huge industrial area near the Port of Tacoma was also strangely silent, with no out of control fires raging as they had been days before. Roland guessed that was because of two explanations.

One was that the military and police seized control of the area and eliminated most of the infected threats. If that was the case, that would explain the lack of gunfire coming from the Tacoma area and those forces put the fires out.

Or, those military forces had been defeated and retreated in the wake of being overwhelmed by the massive forces of undead and the blazes then burned themselves out. And because the large armed forces retreated, this would explain why no gunfire or explosions were being heard. Simply put, the infected had no bulk force to deal with at the moment and were shuffling around for their next meal.

As long as they don’t shuffle this way…

‘I’m going to take a piss,” Corey announced, rising up from his chair.

Roland only nodded.

Turning, he watched Corey exit the roof and make his way through the door.

Uncontrollable sobbing started coming from Roland. He thought about his brother, who lost his life because he tried saving an innocent person, only to be accidentally gunned down by a cop.

Fuck it.

The tears streamed down his face. That was the problem with him. He could not deal with this ‘end of the world shit’ on his own. If Riley was still alive, he could probably follow in his brother’s footsteps and maintain some sense of control.

I killed my own brother…

No.

Roland shook his head. Riley was no longer Riley. He changed into something else.

He killed one person to protect his brother, but did not believe he could try and do it again. He reacted on pure instinct while in the car. Looking down to the group, Roland eyed Carver chatting with Franklin.

How did Carver do it?

Carver killed an innocent woman to save Roland, along with a druggie and rapist. Not to mention the two Dark Rain contractors hours earlier, and the raiders and looters days before. It seemed to flow easily to the cop, who shook it off and continued on with business.

Or did he deal with it…?

Roland heard footsteps coming up, and quickly wiped away the tears. He did not want to look like a pussy in front of Corey.

“How was the piss?” Roland did not turn around, instead focusing across the street where he thought he noticed some movement in a house.

“What?”

Roland twisted his body at the sound of mother’s voice.

Madison smiled at him.

“Hey, how you doing.”

“I’m…I’m okay, and your…yourself?” he stammered out.

“Liar.”

“What?”

“You’re lying to me. I could always tell. Like that time you got expelled from school for keying the principal’s car. You did it.”

Shit.

Roland dropped his head, his shoulder slumping.

“I can tell you’re beating yourself up over Riley…”

The tears came gushing to Roland again. “I couldn’t protect him,” he sniffed.

Madison smiled, her eyes watering as well. “How do you think I feel? First your father and then my oldest…both taken from me.”

Good question.

“He saw someone in trouble and did what he thought he should. Kind of like what you did when you ran over that kid back at the house.”

“You…saw…you saw that?”

“Of course. You did what you had to do, Roland.”

Shit.

His mother had not said anything to him about it.

“So, instead of getting down on yourself, ask yourself a question.”

“What’s that?”

“Would Riley have wanted to be one of those things out there?”

“Probably not.”

“And would you have wanted him to turn into one of those things?”

“Fuck no, I mean, of course not.”

“I didn’t think so. So, now let’s focus on getting through this with the people who we are with now, okay?”

Roland smiled. “Of course, mom. I’ll try and focus now.”

For my mom…

They hugged for the first time since the outbreak.

Both were wiping their eyes when Corey came back up to the roof. He mumbled a hello to Madison as she passed him on the roof.

“Anything happen?” he asked.

“Nope,” Roland responded, his eyes itching from rubbing them.

“Just a mother-son moment?” Corey cracked half-jokingly.

“Actually, yes. Mother knows best.”

Chapter 30

 

Friday July 20th, 9:14 am

Washington, D.C.

 

The Lieutenant held up a photo.

“Is this the man, sir?” he asked.

Major General Warren Devereaux glanced at the picture and then confidently nodded. “Yes, that’s the first one to get picked up. That fucker went to the media, claimed I was racist against Muslims and then turns around and helps those pricks who tried blowing up that fair in Iowa by sneaking information from them to their followers in the Middle East…”

The young Lieutenant lifted his head up, stopping his writing on a notepad for a moment. “You mean the lawyer Ahmad Quad?”

His commander leaned back in the chair and nodded again. “Yep, that’s him. I want him detained and held as soon as possible. That fucker will be prisoner number one…”

“You have evidence against him that he helped coordinate that fair attack?”

Devereaux shook his head. “No, but he’s done other things, Lieutenant.”

“Excuse me, sir, but what other crimes has he committed…”

“Oh, yes, yes Lieutenant, of course.” The Major General pulled out folder that he personally typed up and falsified just hours ago.

“Here it is…this man apparently had been communicating with terrorist cells in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the NSA intercepted two phone calls from him to an unknown number in Mexico. He could be coordinating another attack or just likes Mexican food. Either way, he needs to be questioned.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, maybe this particular network knows who helped spread this virus. Hell, maybe they are responsible for it. Whatever the case, this man needs to be detained and questioned by the proper authorities.”

“Of course, sir, you are correct.” The Lieutenant continued to scribble furiously on a notepad. “Any particular reason we are writing down everything on paper and not keeping records on the computers…?

Devereaux nodded. “Yes, the IT team here has informed me that power may be lost at any moment. I figured it’s better to have the records written down the old fashioned way. That way we can keep things somewhat organized at the beginning. Then, after we start sending out these orders, we can then load them onto other servers around the country that are not being threatened by this outbreak.”

“Oh, yes sir. Very smart thinking.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

Of course, the young aide had no reason to know the real reason Major General Warren Devereaux was having the so-called ‘hit-list’ of prisoners written down on a piece paper was to not leave a trace of evidence behind. When numerous noteworthy public officials disappeared from view suddenly, there was bound to be some investigation into it. Devereaux was determined to be as discreet as possible. Additionally, once the people on the list were scooped up and detained, people like the young Lieutenant would meet an unfortunate accident in the form of a helicopter crash.

No loose ends could be left.

Devereaux leaned back in the chair he was sitting on. The Oval Office offered a new view of the controlled chaos around him. He could get use to sitting in this room and giving orders to everyone. With the financial backing of the giant global conglomerate Duncan Corporations, the Major General knew that he had many sectors of the public available for his bidding. Those in the corporate world could be bought off with their own chosen vice quite easily and eagerly. While someone like Bruce Casper would take care of that end, it was then left to Devereaux to use his military contacts to try and convince those in government that a coup was the best option for the country.

For many in the military, the notion of overthrowing a current administration was a non-existent thought in their minds. They took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and would not be so easily swayed away from that vow. Yet, Devereaux was counting on the horrendous circumstances of infected eating their family members alive to change their outlook on what was the right and moral thing to do. So far, it had worked to great effect in several areas throughout the country.

The base commander at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord followed Devereaux’s instructions and sent a few officers of his that would have a problem with the President being overthrown out on a reckless assignment. Downtown Seattle and Tacoma were quickly and rapidly overrun with the hordes of infected people. As a result, the officers deemed ‘obstacles’ with starting the coup on the west coast had been killed or lost in the ongoing fight in those cities. After that, the commander effectively locked down the region around the base. It would become a major staging area for the new government on the West Coast, whenever the time called for it to emerge.

Furthermore, other commanders agreed with helping jumpstart the takeover. A General Dale Dye, second in command at Pendleton, had been assigned to lead the southwest seizure for the new administration. The Marines down there were currently battling the infected at this moment, so General Dye would alert Devereaux when he successfully inserted himself as the commanding officer at that base.

On the east coast, one prominent general was about to meet his demise in Pennsylvania. He personally turned down a spot in the new administration from Devereaux and would pay for that fatal mistake.

“Sir,” the young Lieutenant interrupted his thoughts, “am I understanding you want to detain Senator Howard? Again, may I ask why?”

Devereaux nodded, not answering right away. The truth was that Lee Howard would not abide by any overthrow of the current administration, but that was not the main reason. It was because Senator Howard forced the shutdown of the black ops sites in Pakistan and privately, dressed down Major General Warren Devereaux during a closed committee meeting.

Senator Howard told Devereaux that he would not release the documents revealing the black op prison sites and drone strikes on civilians, but his career in the highest echelons of the military was effectively over. If he complained, Howard told him those documents would make their way to the front page of The New York Times.

It was pure intimidation.

And so, Devereaux decided he would enact some revenge against the senior Senator from Oregon. He authorized for him to be scooped up and incarcerated by the end of the day.

“Of course you may ask Lieutenant. The individuals being detained are being classified as ‘enemy combatants.’ They are going to be held under military law, not the civilian legal justice system. So don’t worry about the technical terms for now. But, do know this,” Devereaux wagged his finger in the air, “there is a plot against this President for power and these individuals must be brought in and questioned.”

“Oh, yes sir, if what you say is correct, we must detain them.”

Devereaux just nodded, lost away in his own thoughts.

When he first heard rumblings about being mentioned as the leader of the capital city if martial law was declared, Devereaux could not believe those rumors.

Put on administrative duties ever since returning from his command in Pakistan, although not confirmed, he suspected it was the work of President Rice and her aides. Devereaux believed it was no coincidence that he happened to find himself behind a desk as soon as she came into office over two years ago.

He presumed it was the new administration’s way of distancing themselves from the actions he undertook while in Pakistan. Although the outcry of torturing terrorists was not as loud as years before, there were segments of the world that did not hesitate to wag their fingers at you in moral outrage.

Devereaux was going to reject the offer. He did not want to deal with the bureaucracy of government and clueless noncombatants telling him how to fight a war. He had enough of politicians dictating to him how the military should act and perform while stationed in Pakistan and overseas.

However, Devereaux received a phone call from someone the day after the outbreak that helped change the Major General’s mind. The man on the other end told him to proceed to the Pentagon at this moment if he wanted the opportunity to lead troops again. Although in the middle of the night, he did as requested.

He was more intrigued than anything

Arriving at the Pentagon, several armed men led him around the usual security checkpoints. Instead, he was escorted down to one of the two basement levels.

The whole time, he did not say anything to his ‘guides’ and they did not speak to him as well. He recognized they were not current military, but did have past training in that department. He guessed the guards must be some sort of private defense contractors working for the Pentagon or the men he was meeting.

As Devereaux entered the room, he immediately spotted several high ranking military officers. One of the first men he saw was the Vice Chief of Staff for the Army, a General Arthur MacDouglas. The man took a pipe out of his mouth and nodded to him.

What is going on here?

“General Devereaux, glad to see you decided to come.” The leader of the US Northern Command, General Gabriel Smith rose up from the chair he was sitting in and offered his hand to Devereaux.

“General Smith, sir.”

Devereaux grasped the man’s hand, uncertainty filling him up inside of him.

General Smith, a shorter, but stout man then gently put his hand on Devereaux’s shoulder.

“Now, General, I know all of this is quite sudden and hasty, but we’d appreciate if you would stay and listen to what we have to say.”

Warren Devereaux knew it was not a request.

More of a demand.

He slowly became aware of what was happening.

Managing some sort of smile, he nodded. “Of course I’ll stay, sir. I won’t refuse an order from someone like yourself…”

“Oh it’s not an order, General.”

Devereaux had a feeling if he refused, he would not make it back to his vehicle alive.

“Still, I’ll hear what you gentlemen have to say.”

General Smith grinned. “Good, excellent General Devereaux. I knew we picked the right man. Come meet the group then.”

Both men walked over to the table, where a Marine sat, his back to them. The man gradually turned around.

“This is Colonel Nicola Lewis.”

Devereaux gave him a curt nod. “Colonel.”

“This group is sort of Colonel Lewis’s brainchild.”

“Oh really?”

“Nonsense, Gabe. I was just the one to buy the first round of drinks at the officer’s club that one night,” Colonel Lewis chuckled.

“Oh that’s right,” General Smith laughed, squeezing Devereaux’s shoulder a little more tightly.

“Moving on now…”

Devereaux recognized Secretary of the Navy Martin Tully before being introduced to him.

“Mr. Secretary,” he offered as he shook hands.

“Just call me Martin, General. Damn glad someone of your competence is joining us.”

Devereaux was introduced to the Sergeant Major of the Army and the Associate Deputy Director of the CIA as well. The leaders of the Air Combat Command, the United States Army Forces Command, and the United States European Command joined the meeting via video conference call.

General Gabriel Smith started the meeting by citing the fallout Devereaux received from Congress about the torture centers and the drone attacks.

“You did not receive a fair shake from those pricks,” he stated. “That will change if you choose to follow our plan…”

If he still wanted a command, this path offered the best opportunity to do so. Smith mentioned the military men here had a goal of establishing a different kind of country.

“A stronger and more forceful one,” he stated, with all the men behind him nodding vehemently.

General Smith also revealed that the powerful entities Duncan Corporation and Dark Rain would back him if he choose to accept the offer.

Devereaux then became aware of the three men in suits sitting off in the corner.

“These men are from Duncan and Dark Rain. They guarantee their help in us advancing our cause,” General Smith declared, looking directly at Devereaux.

This is a coup…

No one would dictate to him how to best battle the infected and the civilians within the new administration. The country needed stronger leaders at this very moment, and the men here ensured protection for those very such leaders.

Major General Warren Devereaux would be greeted with open arms and smiles by the American people once he swept aside the civilian faction of the government.

Or at least this is what the military cabal promised him.

And so, Devereaux decided to accept the command and use the powers granted to him to start enacting a bit of revenge against those he deemed had done him wrong in the past. Yet, he first needed to clear the military hurdle that obstructed him from achieving his goals.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Robert Gatewoods had been approached by several people working under the direction of the cabal. Gatewoods was informed he was going to hand over command to Devereaux and if he did not, the classified reports on him being accused of rape would suddenly find their way to his wife and family. Although undoubtedly true the world was going to shit, it was equally as certain that Gatewoods did not want his private life to go to hell as well.

Devereaux read the reports that night at the Pentagon and knew Gatewoods was guilty. It had taken place while Gatewoods was stationed in Germany and only two years removed from the academy. During a New Year’s celebration, the future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs got drunk and took advantage of a junior female officer. The initial investigation covered up the rape up since Gatewoods mother was the Secretary of Defense at that time. And yet, they could not cover up the fact that Gatewoods had gotten the young officer pregnant with his child. She refused the offer of an abortion and gave birth to a baby girl. And ever since that fateful night, the Chairman racked up a stellar career and tried to amend for his wrongdoing in Germany.

Once Gatewoods rolled over, it was easier to control the other Joint Chiefs. The coup leaders then forced the Chairman to send out a document stating that in order to combat this threat, the rest of the Joint Chiefs would be assigned to different areas of the country to help fight it.

When that order had been sent out, the commanders quickly fell into line. They thought that since the Chairman suggested it, the requests should be followed. Although Samuel Nicholas and Scott Kirby protested, the more problematic senior advisors were assigned to remote areas away from the actions of the new administration.

That’s if Nicholas still has a command…

Devereaux smiled to himself.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps told Devereaux to ‘fuck off’ and ‘shove his command up his ass.’

Hope he fucking enjoys Alaska…

Meanwhile, General Kenneth Hu and Admiral Maria Vasquez had risen up through the ranks and were going to take more active roles in the upper leadership and administration of DC. The leaders of the military cabal personally vouched for them as they agreed not only with the government taking a more hands on approach in fighting the infection, but brutally subduing those who would have an issue with it.

With the Joint Chiefs eliminated as a hurdle, the path was paved for Devereaux and Casper to start assembling allies for their eventual coup of the Rice Administration. Officers and civilians deemed ‘unsympathetic’ to their cause were gently pushed away or quietly assigned to dangerous and hostile areas in the hopes the infection would consume them.

Everything was promptly stirring into place.

An aide came into the room, saluted and opened a laptop.

“Latest report, sir.”

Devereaux fixated his attention on the computer in front of him.

“Sir, this is the scene approximately fifty miles from here…”

The screen displayed the pilot and co-pilot in a helicopter. The pilot gave thumbs up, and then switched the display so the video feed started streaming outside. The chopper flew low to the ground, catching the landscape and the utter destruction rolling around over it.

Buildings on fire, the black smoke floating endlessly to the sky. Flames darted out, trying to grab the helicopter as it soared over the downtown area. People scrambled away from the city, desperate to escape the waves of infected streaming into the metropolitan that was Baltimore. The sight reminded Devereaux of Islamabad when he led the main military push into that capital.

This city is gone…

Glancing at the monitor, the sheer devastation before it reminded him that the steps he was about to take were necessary in order to protect the country.

“Pilot, can you hear me?” the aide asked.

“Yes I can,” came the muffled reply.

“I’m with Major General Devereaux and he’s here to get a situation report. Sir.” The aide stepped away.

“Thank you. Pilot, this is Major General Devereaux.”

“It’s an honor speaking with you, sir.”

Devereaux chuckled. “Nonsense. I’m just sitting on my ass while you’re flying into danger. Where about are you now?”

There was a slight pause. “Baltimore, sir. We’re now just flying over the downtown area, and as you can wager, it’s a real mess, sir.”

Devereaux grinned. “I can see that, pilot. Can you see where, if anywhere, the infection wave is not as prevalent or the city has managed to hold them off?”

“Um, one second sir.” The helicopter slowly drifted to the left and hovered over a few buildings before swinging around again.

“Um, sir, I cannot get a good view from here.”

“Would you say that the infection has totally engulfed the city of Baltimore?”

“Oh yes, sir. Definitely.”

Devereaux leaned back in his chair.

Perfect…

With Baltimore collapsing under the weight of the undead, Devereaux decided now was the time to act. Removing Karen Rice under the guise of the infection getting too close to the capital city and this circumstances provided the perfect opportunity to do so.

“Anything else, sir?” The pilot rang through Devereaux’s thoughts.

“No, pilot. You and your partner return to base safely.”

“Thank you, sir. We’re just gonna finish some more reconnaissance and then will return home.”

“Very good, good luck.”

“Thank you, sir.”

It was time. With the infection wave streaming toward them quickly, Devereaux would be able to slowly reduce the grasp of power that Karen Rice and her allies still held within government.

Now was perfect…

“Oh, sir, there’s a Colonel Mann here for you.”

Devereaux nodded. “Ah yes, yes, send him right in.”

Wonder what he wants…

After a few moments, Colonel Fitzgerald Mann came streaming into the room. He saluted Major General Devereaux before relaxing his stance.

“Colonel, great to see you in person.”

Mann nodded. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate you seeing me on short notice. I know how busy you are at the moment.”

“Of course, have a seat, Colonel.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The two men sat down, the sound of a helicopter taking off in the Rose Garden causing both to turn around and watch the scene.

“Never gets old, does it, Colonel?”

Mann could not help but grin back. “No, sir it doesn’t.”

“Remind you of Asia?”

Mann nodded. “Yes sir. Unfortunately it does. Especially the beginning of the war.”

A moment of silence lingered before Devereaux spoke up, his voice becoming marginally less welcoming.

“Now, what can I do for you?”

Mann hesitated slightly.

“Come now, Colonel, you don’t have to be political correct with me…” He smiled at Colonel Mann, trying to loosen the man up.

He noticed Mann straighten his posture a little more on the chair.

He’s going to tell me…

“Yes, sir, it’s just that I worry about the Vice President.”

“Oh, in what way?”

“He’s planning something.”

Devereaux frowned.

What did he know?

“What do you mean, Colonel?”

“I’m…I’m not sure, sir. It’s just that, there are rumors…”

Devereaux relaxed somewhat. Mann knew nothing of substance. He dipped back in his chair and tried to appear concerned.

“What rumors are these?”

“That he met with a bunch of high ranking government and corporate people the other day. I worry about him undermining the President…”

“Of course, Colonel, it’s a fine line on the rule of law at the moment. You understand?”

“Yes, sir it is.”

“But, I wouldn’t worry too much about Colonel. I’ll keep an eye on him. You have more important things to worry about.”

“Yes, sir it’s just that I’m not sure why I was picked for this…”

Devereaux stood up. “Fitz, it’s because I need soldiers out there. Real soldiers, not some young gun out of the academy looking to suck dick. I need someone to tell me how it really is out there. You’ve been out there and have seen how these things are.”

Mann nodded. “Yes I have. I know exactly how it’s going to be and it’s not going to be pleasant.”

“See? That’s what I need. You need to be my eyes out there to tell me how it really is. Also, I know the men will respect you and listen to you. They know about what you did in India and they will follow you to the gates of hell, Colonel.”

Mann chuckled softly. “I don’t think I need them to do that, sir.”

“I need you out there Colonel.” Devereaux stared at Mann, a genuine look of anxiety on his face.

He did need leaders like Colonel Fitzgerald Mann out in the field. No matter his politics, the man was a proven commander.

“Is this an order, sir?”

“No, just a request.”

Mann looked down for a few seconds before glancing back up to man in command of DC. “Well, I accept your offer, sir. I’m not going to turn it down. I’m willing to do anything to help out.”

Devereaux smiled and went over to shake his hand. As he shook the Colonel’s hand, a thought popped up.

You just made it easier for me to get rid of you, Colonel…

Chapter 31

 

Sherman Middle School

Friday July 20th 6:38pm

Tacoma, WA

 

Roland leaned back in his chair, soaking in the late evening sun in front of him. The group had been barricading the school ever since the firefight with the private contractors from Dark Rain. The first floor windows were almost all boarded up, stretching around the whole school. Using the bleachers from the gymnasium, the survivors had been rotating two groups to try and finish securing the first floor windows to prevent any infected or humans from breaking inside. Garrett, Carver, and Franklin made considerable progress during the late morning and early afternoon. Now Linebacker Gregg, John, and Willis finished up late in the day.

Roland rubbed his eyes, yawning in the process. He had not been getting any sleep since arriving at the school. One reason was because the occasionally gunshot from either Corey or Chase targeting a nearby zombie kept jolting him awake, causing him to frantically glance around his surroundings. They also like to rib each other after each and every shot.

“Damn, that one ugly zombie looked like your old girlfriend there Chase.”

“Oh yeah, that one I just shot was better lookin’ than that one you dated a few months ago. Fuck, that ugly rotting zombie had better hygiene than, what was her name again?”

“Her name was ‘fuck you.’”

“Oh yes, ‘fuck you.’ Ironic, considering the last thing you wanted to do was fuck her.”

Chuckles rose up from the two men as they continued insulting each other.

Ignoring them and finally relaxing somewhat, Roland drifted asleep. While sleeping, he dreamed of the young man he ran over a week or so ago in his dreams.

Why did you kill me…?

The man asked this very question while Roland was in a deep slumber a day earlier. Yet, the man was not clean shaven and nicely dressed. Instead, his face was badly bruised and scarred from being crushed by a car. In fact, one eyeball hung by a nerve when speaking to Roland.

You’ll pay the price for killing me…you’ll end up like your brother…

Roland awakened abruptly, his face covered in perspiration and his whole body trembling. He glanced over, hoping the two Hughes brothers did not see him. They did not, as they were squabbling with each other as usual about god knows what.

Jesus Christ…

And then, earlier, Roland survived his first firefight.

With goddamn fucking mercenaries…

“Holy shit, this zombie looks like Rosie O’Donnell!”

Chase’s sudden outburst caused Roland to look over the edge of the roof. Sure enough, an obese infected person lumbered over to where Linebacker Gregg, Willis and John were lifting a bleacher over a window. John started to make his way over to woman, who was also limping. Peering through the binoculars, Roland realized her ankle was broken. And yet, she did not feel any pain, dragging her foot to the group of humans that she viewed as dinner.

“Wait! I got her,” Chase was practically giggling as he lined her up in his sights.

John took up a defensive position as he glanced around the area, checking if there were any other threats approaching.

“Yeah…I got you baby…uh huh…”

Roland shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“…yeah, you mine…gonna show you who is boss baby…”

“Can you please just shoot her?” Roland looked over to Chase.

Without responding, Chase took aim and fired.

The woman was already on the ground by the time Roland glanced back to her.

Chase crouched to the edge of the roof and yelled down. “Hey, John, probably want to make sure that she’s actually down. Don’t want another crawler.”

Oh yeah, a crawler…

Chase referred to a previous incident where an infected person managed to crawl some distance despite being shot. Apparently, earlier in the day, Corey shot an infected man sprinting toward Linebacker Gregg and Willis as they boarded up a window. What the younger Hughes brother failed to realize is he had not shot it in the head. Instead, he knocked one of its ears off and half of the scalp. The man then crawled another fifty yards unnoticed and was not heard or spotted until a few feet away from Willis’s leg. So word was spread that when you shot an infected person, make for certain that they were actually down.

John was doing just that as he jogged over to the dropped body. He turned to the roof and gave thumbs up to Chase.

“Yeah, I knew it.” Chase rose up. “I’m gonna patrol the other side of the school.”

Roland nodded. He stretched and moved his lawn chair closer to the edge of the roof. Still trying to shake the sleep from his eyes, he brought up the binoculars and glanced over the landscape in front of him.

What had been a nice residential neighborhood one week prior hastily revolved into a full fledge war zone. Smoke was burning from a house across the street, and Carver remarked that once they became more secure, he would go over and make certain that it did not turn into a raging fire.

Roland came across a body lying on a porch. It had not moved since he first viewed it yesterday. Appearing to be a small child, but since it was lying face down, he could not be sure. The Dark Rain helicopter debris lay on the sidewalk in ruins, its smoke continually rising up from the crash scene. To Roland, it seemed to cast an ominous sign over the neighborhood.

He shook his head, trying not to have that mindset.

Roland yawned again. The call to sleep got stronger and stronger. Desperately trying to ignore it, he continued peering over the area.

Nothing.

His eyes slowly closed up…

His body cried for sleep.

Just a quick little snooze…just close my eyes for a minute or two…

…loud yelling snapped him awake, his body promptly jerking upwards, causing him to nearly fall out his chair.

Roland scanned the scene in front of him. A truck halted in the middle of the road, with John waving his hands in the air. The former Coast Guard man signaled for it to slow down.

Shit!

Roland rapidly glanced around, hoping no one had seen him fall asleep. It appeared that no one noticed it.

“Chase!” Roland called over.

“Yo?” He came jogging over.

“We got some company. Cover from the roof.”

Chase nodded, crouched down in a sniper position and proceeded to check his surroundings from the roof of the school.

Roland dashed to the stairs, taking two steps at a time and careful at the same time because of the flip flops he wore. He ran into Brenda in the hallway and explained what was happening. She agreed to wake up Carver and the rest of the men.

“Tell Carver to hurry up!” he called back before whirling around and running through the gym.

Roland made his way to the front door, peeked through the window and saw that John had gone up to the truck. He was talking to a man standing in the bed of it. Noticing no one else coming up near them, Roland unlocked the door and stepped outside.

“…yeah we got lucky. Came from downtown, which is a complete shithole. The military got their asses fucking kicked by those things…” The white man in the bed of the truck sported a Mohawk, along with several neck tattoos. He was scratching at the small piece of hair sprouting from his chin. One other white man sat in the driver’s seat, while a Hispanic man occupied the passenger’s seat.

“You mean more of a shithole than it already was?” John chuckled, leaning his arm against the side of the truck.

The Mohawk man grinned. “Yeah, you’re right about that.”

“So, what do you guys want?”

The man in the driver’s seat laughed. “We were hoping for some place to stay. We’ve been running for far too long, literally.”

John paused. “Well, actually ya know, you guys are the first people who have come across us. We just have started to board up this school recently…”

The man with the neck tattoo swung his head up to Roland, noticing him for the first time coming up in front of the truck.

“Wow, you guys sure seem to be armed.”

John chuckled again loudly. “Yeah, we got weapons from some military guys.”

“Oh really? We saw a helicopter go down earlier and decided to see who was making all that noise…” The tattooed man seemed intrigued.

He looks familiar…

That thought darted into the mind of Roland. He stared at the man, trying to remember where he had seen him before. He must have been looking at him intently because the Mohawk man returned the stare.

“You got a problem, buddy?” The man directed the question toward Roland.

“What? No man sorry. Sorry dude. It’s just that you look kind of familiar.”

The tattoo man grinned. “I get that a lot…”

John wiped his forehead. “Yeah, you have been on television before, haven’t you?”

“Eh yeah, yeah I was a reality star…on like those reality shows…”

The man’s explanation did not register with Roland. He did not watch those reality shows.

Apparently John did not either. “No, that can’t be it. I don’t watch those shows.”

The man shrugged. “Guess I got one of those faces then.”

The driver started snickering. “Yeah, you do have one of those faces, don’t you?”

The Mohawk man turned to the driver. “Shut up, Randy.”

‘Randy’ shrugged his shoulders. “Just making’ conversation with our friends here…”

“Yeah, well sometimes you talk too much…”

“So what are you boys…” John was interrupted as the front door to the school opened up and Carver, along with Garrett and Franklin came outside. Franklin stopped by the school door, while Linebacker Gregg moved to the side and eyed the truck. Willis made his way behind the truck, while Roland was in front of it. The small group strategically maneuvered themselves into better positions.

Roland did not believe the men a threat. At least, for the moment they were not. Otherwise, why would they just roll up on a group that they knew nothing about? As the Mohawk man just stated, they were pretty heavily armed for a civilian faction.

Roland continued looking at the men as they all turned toward Carver, who was approaching the truck. The passenger kept avoiding the eyes of Roland. Peering closer, it almost seemed like he wore an orange prison jumpsuit. His gaze went from the passenger, to the driver, and back to the Mohawk man. The tattoo on his neck in the form of a skull intrigued Roland because it was familiar to him. He had seen it before.

On a mug shot from the news.

From the side, it looked just like…

It suddenly struck him.

Holy fuck!

He finally recognized the man.

Or better yet, the psychotic criminal.

“Get back! Everyone get the fuck back!” Roland raised his rifle up, trying to warn the rest of his group. A look of confusion came over Carver’s face, before glancing back at the tattooed man and realizing who he was.

“Sweet Jesus, Robert Cowell…” Carver got into a shooting position and pointed his weapon at the truck.

Robert Cowell was a serial killer from the Tacoma area who had been captured a year or so ago. This sick freak stalked his victims for days, and then entered their place of residence, where he would wait for them to return. Upon the resident returning, Cowell tied them up, and then tortured them for a few days before eventually killing them. His victims numbered in the high teens. He apparently been kept in the downtown jail, while awaiting his trial.

Not anymore…

Cowell grabbed John by the collar and held him hostage. “Back the fuck off! Back the fuck off or else this spic is dead!”

The truck started up, the tires moaning against the asphalt.

John struggled to release the grip of the serial killer, but was losing the battle as the truck gained speed. The former Coastie’s shoes skidded against the pavement as he desperately tried keeping up with the vehicle.

Carver fired his handgun, aiming for the trucks back tire. He missed several times, hitting the side of the truck.

Cowell grinned as he held John. He enjoyed the little show like the sick and twisted freak he was. Making eye contact with Roland, the serial killer smiled and proceeded to lift his hostage higher and then violently smash his head against the side of the truck.

John rapidly collapsed as he was released by Cowell.

A sick crunching sound was heard as his body tumbled to the ground and then was immediately crushed beneath the rear tires of the truck.

“John!” Carver cried out as he rushed toward him. Franklin and Linebacker Gregg fired their weapons at the truck, but their shots missed wildly.

“Wooooooo!!” Cowell celebrated with his hands above his head as he raced past Roland. Stepping out of the way, Roland raised his weapon to the man, and then detected a flash as the passenger aimed a small handgun at him. He instinctively rolled out of the way, losing his line of sight.

POP!

The back window of the little Ford truck shattered. Roland took a quick glance and viewed as Chase and Corey fired down toward it.

POP! POP! POP! POP!

Cowell ducked and was lying flat in the bed of the truck as it sped away. The little Ford jolted as it took a quick left and rapidly disappeared from view.

Roland swung his head back toward the ugly sight. John was not moving, one side of his head just a blob of blood and skull. Franklin and Carver both kneeled down next to the man, trying in vain to get a response from him. He saw the former Marine mutter something to Franklin, who shook his head in response.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Everyone whirled to Brenda, who came screaming out of the school. She fell to her knees near the body of her brother. Her gasping shrieks rose up over the scene as tears streamed down her face.

“JOHN! GET UP! JOHN!” she cried out as she shook his body.

Roland turned his head away from the scene. He knew what she was going through.

Riley…

Movement caught his attention. For a split second, he feared it was Cowell returning. Instead, it ended up being an infected sprinting to the area.

“Carver, gotta go inside.”

The cop scanned over and watched the infected darting over to them. He pointed to Garrett.

“Get her out of here.”

Garrett went over to Brenda and slowly lifted her up. ‘Come on. Come on. We gotta get inside…let’s go inside.”

Sobbing and visibly distraught, Brenda followed Garrett. She was crying on his shoulder as he ushered her inside. The deafening and predictable incessant moaning of infected swiftly descended upon the neighborhood. Roland shook his head, trying to drown out those horrible shrieks.

“Ro, meet me down by the gym.” Carver jogged to the school doors as Willis and Franklin went in right before him. A few infected flooded the area just as soon as Carver slammed the door shut.

My god those things sure smell a meal…

Once Roland got inside the gym, he saw Brenda was crying on the shoulders of Garrett, who did his best to comfort her.

“It’ll be okay…it’ll be okay…”

Her sobs of pain bounced off the gymnasium walls, causing everyone to try and avoid her, eager to rush away from the uncomfortable situation.

As Roland walked past, he met Garrett’s eyes. A sharp pain punctuated his chest. He recognized the feeling.

Jealously.

Envy.

At a time like this…

Roland hastily looked away as he followed Carver. “Fuck!” Carver yelled in anger. “Fuck! We cannot be caught off guard like that again…”

“I’ll check the other side of the school,” Franklin declared as he nudged past the men.

Carver continued stewing. “Fuck, we need a better security system…fuck!”

Roland just nodded. He was thinking about Garrett being the lucky one to comfort Brenda.

Damn it…

The men continued down the hallway, Carver cussing out loud.

“Dammit, Willis get everyone up. We’re having a fucking meeting right now!”

Willis nodded and proceeded to jog past the classrooms, following the orders of Carver without question.

“Tell everyone we are meeting in the teacher’s lounge! Fuck!” He called out, still shaking his head.

The former cop then swung around. “Go tell Chase to stay on the roof, in case those fucking guys come back.”

Roland turned back and dashed up the stairs, keen to get away from the angry cop for a moment. After just a few seconds, he ran into Chase halfway as he was making his way down.

“Carver says stay on the roof and watch for those guys!” Roland started back down the stairs.

Chase nodded. “Is that John dude dead?” he asked.

Roland spun to him. “Yeah. Totally crushed under the tires.”

Chase shook his head. “Shit man, we were caught with our pants down. I didn’t even see them pull up. Did you?”

I was sleeping…

“Uh, nope. They just, uh they just appeared…”

“Damn, that blows. He seemed liked a decent dude.”

“Uh, anyways, Carver wants you to keep a lookout…” Roland trailed off, hoping for the conversation to end.

“Got it.” He hurried back up the stairs.

Roland swung around and immediately ran into Corey coming up the stairs. “Hey man, Carver wants you to go get Garrett and have him bring Brenda away from where her brother was killed. Maybe take her to the other side of the school or something. Says it’s better if she can’t see his body.”

“Uh, okay, where you going?”

“Carver wants me on the roof as well. We need better security, man. Can’t have people just roll up on us like that…”

Roland nodded empathically and made his way down the stairs.

I was sleeping…

He jogged back to the gym, trying to shake that fact from his mind.

It was not his fault that John had been run over by those psychotic criminals.

Right?

After all, John had gone up to the truck himself. He put himself in that position.

Right?

Roland knew he was just trying to convince himself now.

Maybe it’s a little my fault…

“Garrett, hey Garrett…” he called out, entering the dark gymnasium.

Instead, he saw Brenda alone at the door. She whipped around, her eyes puffy and red. “He’s outside.”

“What? Why?”

Brenda sniffed and then wiped her nose. “That infected lady was eating away at my brother, so he decided to take care of her.”

Roland pressed up against the glass, peering at the scene right outside the entrance.

Garrett had just slammed the woman’s head with a bat. As she was falling back, he flipped the bat around and proceeded to smash it against the front of her face. He was being careful to avoid her desperate swipes. After some more blows, the infected lady no longer moved about.

Roland felt Brenda rest her head on his shoulders. He spent a moment pondering it, and decided to not push her away. He enjoyed the affection she was showing him, despite the fact her brother had just been killed.

It feels good…

She slowly started to sob again, grabbing Roland tighter and pulled him closer.

Roland gently put his hands around her as they hugged, the only sounds being her wheezing sobs in the empty gym.

Her body was comforting to Roland and for a couple of seconds, he forgot about where they were at and what was occurring with this infectious outbreak.

Her warmth felt good…

…I want to pull her closer…

The door suddenly swung open, with Garrett dashing through it. “Took care of it for you Brenda…” He stopped abruptly when he witnessed her in an embrace with Roland. He frowned, his brown eyes glaring at the two.

Roland frantically shook his head, trying to inform his buddy that this was not of his choice.

It did not work.

Garrett angrily tossed the bat aside, swearing under his breath. The clanking of the bat rattled against the hard gym floor, causing Brenda to look over to Garrett.

Roland tried to pull away, but Brenda tugged at his sweater.

shit…

Garrett did not say anything directly to them, but Roland could tell that he was seething with anger. He had been around him long enough to know when he was livid. This was definitely one of those times.

Roland finally pulled away, uncomfortable at the scene unfolding between him and his friend.

“Uh, gotta get back to Carver. Uh, Garrett, Carver wants us.” Roland hastily turned and started to run across the gym floor. Although he did not look over, he could feel Garrett’s eyes burning into his back.

Chapter 32

 

Situation Room

Friday July 20th 9:32pm

Washington, D.C.

 

“Holy fuck, those things did that to him?”

The Secretary of Transportation reacted to photos of the late Justice Ron Belsham being passed across the table.

Secretary of State Edgewater nodded grimly. “The SEALs found him in the woods near his house. He had been ripped apart…”

Soft murmuring rose up from around the table, with some people refusing to look at the photos, whereas others gawked at them. Karen Rice stared at the photos intently, shaking her head.

The government attempted to move the nine Supreme Court Justices to a safer location, since they were in recess for the summertime. Yet, while seven of them were found and relocated, two of them had been discovered dead.

While Justice Ron Belsham was ripped apart by infected, Justice Anna Nells had apparently been the victim of robbers and looters. Found in the middle of the street with a bullet in the back of her head, her mother, partner, and a dog were discovered in the house later, all of them executed with perfectly placed shots. The local cops supposedly guarding disappeared and had not been heard from since her killing.

A little bit too precise for Colonel Mann’s liking. It possessed all the markings of a professional hit job, but who would want to assassinate a sitting Supreme Court Justice at a time like this? To Mann, it made no sense at the moment. He just got out of a meeting with Major General Warren Devereaux and was trying to get caught up on the most recent information before he left for the battlefield.

“Delta force extracted her body several hours ago. It really is unfortunate, but we have another, more pressing matter.” Samuel Alfred rose up from table and started passing out a few notes.

“As everyone knows, the first bulk of the military forces have engaged the wave of…infection, and the results have been, well, disastrous.”

Gasps ascended in the room.

“What?”

“How so?”

Unlike the civilians in the room, Mann was not shocked. He was getting continually updates from Army contacts from both his phone and the meetings that the military officials held in the Capital. Briefed earlier, some National Guard units that aggressively pursued the infected had been beaten back easily.

Initial reports just now streamed into the White House. While DC was actively under Martial Law and locked down, a brigade of National Guardsmen formally met and fought the infected. The battle took place near a small town outside of Reading, Pennsylvania. The Governor of that state apparently decided that he could not wait for the Federal Government to act, and so he acted himself.

Mann watched the Governor during a press conference yesterday.

“We will defeat this threat!” he thundered loudly, wagging his finger in the air. “Therefore, I have ordered National Guard units from our proud state into action. We cannot, and must not wait for the government to take action. We will address this head on and beat it back! I promise that I will make sure that the government does not forget about its citizens here, fighting the good fight! Thank you!”

After shaking hands and taking a few photo ops, the Governor was whisked away from his barricaded press conference. Yet, he did not realize his microphone was still on and opened his idiotic mouth.

“Now, get me the fuck out of this state, you hear me? I need to be hunkered somewhere safe, not here. My god, we have people straggling into Philly that are infected. I didn’t sign up for this…”

An aide was overheard telling him infected chewed apart the Chief of Police from Philadelphia.

“Geez, guess those rednecks and gangbangers are well equipped to handle this, huh? Lord knows the blacks in the ghetto have had plenty of practice firing guns…haha, we could have like a ghetto extermination squad….get DeShawn with his flashy grills and spinning rims going block by block, shooting up zombies…it would be like a drive by, a regular Saturday night for DeShawn and his homies…what do you mean my mic is still on?”

The Governor had not been heard publicly since then, but Mann knew he had been whisked away to a secure bunker in the hills of western Pennsylvania.

Mann was handed a some notes and took a quick glance. One of the first paragraphs of the report stood out:

“…the first few forces were overwhelmed by not infected, but by mass crowds of civilian refugees. Reportedly, there were a few civilians contaminated with the microorganisms that cause this infection. After a few hours, outbreaks were detailed in the makeshift camps of refugees and caused mad hysteria. Armed forces attempted to restore order, but were unable to control the crowds…”

Great.

“…after several hours of trying contain the infection in the Red Cross camp located near Allentown, it proved to be impossible as more and more people became contaminated with the virus. As a result, military units began to pull out of the perimeter. Helicopters were swamped by both infected and civilian forces and mass causalities have been reported by units of the both the 28th and 42nd Infantry Divisions of the Pennsylvania National Guard.”

“…it is not certain on how to stop the wave of infection approaching the major cities. Therefore, President Rice has asked us for advice.”

Mann thought he detected a hint of mockery in Alfred’s tone of voice. Rumor abound that Rice was being effectively removed from power by the top military brass. She had shown up to this meeting to calm the reports, but Mann realized they were true. With the Insurrection Act invoked, Rice was effectively detached from the upper leadership within the capitol. His meeting with Devereaux more than confirmed that fact.

He glanced over to the President, who displayed no emotion.

“Mr. Sapper has a few notes…” The National Security Advisor motioned for the Director of National Intelligence to come forward.

An Air Force Colonel leaned in close to Mann. “I can’t believe that this guy didn’t know about the outbreaks in Seattle when asked by that one reporter…” the man chuckled, shaking his head in disdain.

“I know, I know.” Mann shared the Colonel’s concern.

Jonathan Sapper, a retired Air Force General already made an imprint as Director of National Intelligence.

And that imprint was not in a good way.

Director Sapper looked like a deer in headlights when asked about the recent appearance of reanimated corpses in Washington State. Unfortunately for Sapper, his advisors failed to brief him on the new infections popping up in the Seattle-Tacoma region and he ended up looking like a complete and utter failure in that regard. Then, when asked by a reporter if Islamic extremists could be behind the attack, he responded:

“By my knowledge, there is no such thing as an Islamic extremist.”

Everyone groaned at the political correctness. Even President Rice regretted putting the retired Air Force man forth as a candidate for Director of National Intelligence.

“Thank you, Mr. Alfred. Ladies and Gentlemen, these recent events have caught us by surprise.”

No shit.

“As of the moment, we have no new information that could help us fight this, um, threat. It appears that the infection is spread by a bite, and that, as of right now, is the only real solid information my team has for this infection.”

That was welcomed news to Mann. At least the director admitted he was baffled by these turn of events.

“We do not believe that a foreign country released a virus on to our shores…”

“Is there a particular reason for that?” President Rice rubbed her temples.

“Uh, simply put because we have not heard anything that would point to a country doing this. Furthermore, if someone had manipulated rabies for example, I have to believe that we would have heard about it. We do know that the Russians are very advanced in the chemical warfare department, but they have assured us they are mystified as well.”

Alfred snorted. “And you believe them?”

Sapper nodded. “Yes. The last thing any country, like a Russia or China, wants is war at the moment. Besides, if either of those countries were working on a new virus, our intelligence or Interpol would have already heard about it. The fact that we heard nothing, I believe, signals that this outbreak has a natural origin and may not be man-made.”

“Yes, but, uh what about when the Russians genetically altered anthrax?” Alfred was pressing the Russian angle for whatever reason.

“Mr. Alfred, they were doing nothing differently from what we were doing.”

Alfred snorted again. “Yes, yes I know. I just want to be sure that we cover all of our bases.”

“Of course, sir. But the bottom line is that nothing points to the Russians doing this. Hell, they seem very concerned and we have been talking with them and exchanging vital information about what is happening now.”

The National Security Advisor just shook his head. “Whatever you say, James.”

Mann gritted his teeth.

What a dick…

“Additionally, along the lines of some more foreign news, the Venezuelan President has ordered a few Army divisions into Guyana.”

More groans ascended up from the table.

Sapper smiled grimly. “It appears that our friend has decided now is a great time to try and claim, what Venezuela calls, the Reclamation Zone.”

“And now is a great time to take care of that little prick,” an Army General huffed.

Laughs floated around the room.

“Yes, but right now, we need to worry about our situation,” Rice declared, flicking her hand in the air.

The Army General just gazed to her and then glanced away. He understood she no longer was in charge of the decision making taking place in DC.

“Yes ma’am.” Sapper stood behind the podium awkwardly. “Additionally, the Chinese have sent two of their carriers into the Indian Ocean. My office states that the Chinese ambassador has assured us that this is nothing more than trying to protect the shipping lanes of their country and the nations around that area.”

“Do you believe them?”

Sapper hesitated slightly. “For the moment, Madame President, it seems like a legit reason. We have ordered our carriers and personnel overseas in the same manner. Also, the three divisions that they have sent into Iraq are actively engaging in firefights with Muslim terrorist organizations all across the region. Apparently, they are thinking of sending in two more armored divisions for reinforcements.”

“Good, let them bleed for a little oil.”

Nods rose up from Alfred’s statement.

“What about this report of the Strait of Hormuz being shut down…?” Secretary of State Edgewater put down a report in front of her.

Sapper coughed. “Yes, ma’am we believe that to be the former regime members trying to make some noise to be relevant again. The current administration has assured us that the lanes will be open to counter this threat, as well as keeping the shipping lanes open for all nations. Our more primary concern is the Suez Canal. The hard liners are threatening again to shut it down. If they do, we have assurances from the Israelis, the UK, and the Chinese that they will help us in an armed attack to keep it open.”

Silence hovered over the room.

The Chinese lending a helping hand to the United Kingdom and the United States in a coordinated military attack? Unheard of a few years ago, but in the end, an economic policy that benefitted those same nations would win out.

“Furthermore, I was just handed this information on the Middle East and it is unsettling.”

When is news out of the Middle East ever not unsettling?

Mann realized this from experience. The Middle East had not had their shit together in over two thousand years.

“It appears that a few prominent Muslim clerics are calling this outbreak a Zionist plot to overthrow their own people. They have called on for Muslims around the world to attack Israel and Jewish people in response to the dead reappearing. So far, nothing yet, but as we know Muslim extremist governments reside in Egypt, Turkey, and Libya. Additional problems from Muslim terrorists may come from Jordan and Lebanon, as well as Indonesia and the Philippines. I believe the two we must worry about the most are Egypt and Turkey. If they start terrorist attacks that are state sponsored, then our allies will be looking for us to respond in kind. As I said before, the Suez Canal being shut down is a real possibility.”

“Should we respond to an attack, or focus on our situation?”

Silence hovered about the room yet again.

Many of the government officials did not want to make any critical decisions at the moment.

“We’ll get to that point if and when it comes to it,” President Rice stated, wanting to avoid getting bogged down in a debate about using resources outside of the United States for the time being.

“Excuse me, ma’am. While President Rice is indeed correct about using our resources to protect us here first, we are prepared to respond to dangers overseas. Those units and bases near areas which could break out in conflict have been notified and threat levels upgraded to the appropriate levels.”

It was the same Army General who wanted to teach the dictator located in Venezuela a lesson. “I would encourage everyone to stay after this meeting for a presentation by Major General Devereaux on his plan to counter this outbreak and what our armed forces will do when facing the external threats overseas.”

Murmurs of excitement were heard in the room. President Karen Rice was slowly being ostracized by the military leaders and the civilian faction started to realize this. With the change of leadership within government, the military faction begun flexing its muscle.

“No other news?” FBI personnel threw out an obvious question.

“No.”

“Just one last question please, Mr. Sapper.” President Rice glanced up.

The former Air Force General nodded to her.

“How secure are our borders? To not only prevent this new infection from South America from crossing over, but to stop it from spilling over to the Canadian border?”

“Well ma’am, the border I’d worry about the most is the Mexican border. As you know, the reports of infected popping up in the South of Mexico are more than likely true, even if those are unconfirmed reports. We do know that the virus is in Central America, so more than likely, it will make its way into Mexico quite easily since their infrastructure is very weak. The cartels control many cities on the ports, and the country is in upheaval with the drug war…I’d have no faith in the government of Mexico fighting back this infection.”

“And Canada?”

“The Canadians have assured us that they have no accounts of anyone being infected.”

“You believe them?”

The Director of National Intelligence grunted. “Yes, ma’am. The Canadian military is much more capable of handling an internal threat and we are on much better terms with them than the Mexican government. So far, we’ve been straight forth with them, so I expect them to be open with us.”

“Thank you, James…”

“Oh, ma’am since you brought up the Canadians.”

“Yes?”

Sapper cleared his throat. “They are extremely worried about the infection spilling over to their side of the border.”

Rice nodded. “Of course, we are trying our best here.”

“Oh yes ma’am, I know. I have relayed that to them. But they are concerned since their border is longer in miles than the Mexican border and the continuing refugees fleeing across into their country.”

“Yes, I know. I’ll set up a meeting with the Prime Minister and we’ll try to come to an understanding.”

Sapper shook his head in agreement. “Yes, ma’am.”

Silence again lingered in the room.

Samuel Alfred stood up. “Thank you, Director Sapper. I now have a video conference with a Lieutenant General Eugene Gunzburg…from one of his facilities and Dr. Stephanie Eriks from the CDC. As I remind everyone, Dr. Gunzburg is with the National Center for Medical Intelligence.”

Those sick freaks at the National Center for Medical Intelligence took him in for observation…

Mann was reminded of Director Koetter’s words about one of his men being taken in for examination after learning that he was infected.

“…Dr. Eriks is in charge of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, while Colonel James Clarence is commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.”

The screen became fuzzy for a moment, than a neatly dressed man in uniform appeared. The piercing grayish eyes confirmed that it was Dr. Gunzburg.

On one of the other monitors, a stunning, young attractive brunette woman materialized and she acknowledged her audience by smiling, while Colonel Clarence was busy looking over some papers.

“Ma’am, before we begin, we still have not heard from Secretary Morrison since the outbreak. As you know, she was giving a speech at the UN headquarters on the day that this started. Subsequent attempts to reach her have been unsuccessful…”

Rice just bobbed her head at Alfred.

Looks like there would be an opening for a new Secretary of Health and Human Services in the near future. Catherine Morrison more than likely did not survive the initial onslaught of the infected hordes.

“General Gunzburg…” began Alfred.

“Please, call me doctor.”

Alfred paused momentarily. “Doctor Gunzburg, we will begin with you. Do you have any new information that could be shared?”

Nodding, the military scientist spoke in a monotone voice. “Yes, we have a few interesting developments.”

“Go on.”

“From our…studies that we have performed, there is some brain activity when the subjects are infected with this…contagion. Although it is extremely miscued, there is nevertheless, activity.”

“What does this tell you?”

“That the virus or whatever it is could be attacking the body and using the brain for its own functions.”

“And? What does that mean in laymen’s terms?”

“In simpler terms, it could be using the human body as a host. This virus appears to be kill and then reanimate the body. Unfortunately for us, there is no known example of a disease taking over a human being’s body and using it like this.”

“But what about some fungi that are known to infect certain insects and control their movements?” A lean, trim man standing spoke up from the back of the room.

Dr. Gunzburg nodded. “Yes, I believe you’re referring to mainly Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.”

Ophiowhatthefuckteralis…

Mann shook his head.

The man who asked the question nodded. “Yes, doctor. I’m a virologist from MIT and that would be something that we should look at.”

“Of course.”

“Whoa, whoa…what are we talking about?” Lane Fibbs’ whiny voice drifted over the area.

The virologist gazed over to the Press Secretary. “Simply put, there are a few fungi or parasites out there that take over an insect’s brain, and then are able to control the body.”

“Really?”

“Yes, like a carpenter ant falling prey to a fungi or a parasitic fly taking over a honeybee.”

“Wow, really? That’s crazy…” The Press Secretary was shaking his head.

Dr. Gunzburg snorted. “Not crazy, but a cycle of life. The fungi we were referring to notoriously takes control of a carpenter ant, and then manipulates the infected ant into climbing down from high above in the trees, and then dying where the parasite prefers.”

“Yeah, and consumes the tissue of the ant while waiting for the sprout to explode,” the MIT man chimed in.

Gunzburg agreed. “It somehow controls the ant’s brain and tells it to crawl to the bottom of the tree. Then it will basically wait for the spores to be released from the body, infecting other ants in the process. In this case, the parasite ensures mandibles are intact, therefore making sure the ant keeps its grip on the leaf.”

The virologist nodded. “Exactly, but at the same time, while turning the ant’s inner body into mush, it actually structurally fortifies the ant’s exoskeleton, and as the hours and days pass, continually anchors the ant’s body onto the plant. When the spores are ready to be released, a stalk which has been extending from the back of the deceased ant’s head, ruptures viciously and savagely.”

“Did you say a stalk?” A woman looked confusingly between the two doctors.

The lean, fit man nodded. “Yes, during this whole process, a stalk is growing in the back of the ant’s head. Finally, after like what could be like a week, it explodes, releasing the spores of the fungi onto the ground below, where it can infect other ants.”

“And so begins the process again,” Gunzburg stated.

The virologist did not reply, but instead bobbed his head up and down.

“Could fungi have, like mutated to affect humans?” A government drone typed on a laptop in the corner.

Dr. Gunzburg shrugged. “Right now, more questions than answers. We don’t have any examples of fungi affecting humans in this matter or changing their behavior in any way…”

“So we should look elsewhere for answers?”

The doctor held up his hand. “Please, you didn’t allow me to finish. There are also parasites that have the ability to quote, ‘mind-control’ certain insects and perhaps have affected humans as well, albeit on a very, very limited scale.”

People in the room began murmuring before Gunzburg cut them off.

“One of these, Toxoplasma gondii is known to infect rats and make them alter their behavior so cats can catch them more easily. Additionally, this parasite while not displaying the symptoms on this scale, has been found with people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other neurological disorders. Now, does this parasite actually alter people’s behavior or control their actions? I’m afraid the studies do not display any solid evidence whatsoever…”

“Then why bring it up in the first place?” The same government drone rudely interrupted the good doctor.

Gunzburg slowly glared at the man. Obviously, he was growing tired of ‘stupid’ questions from various government personnel.

“Because this particular parasite probably is inside more than third of the world’s population.”

Some panicked mumbling was heard in the room.

“How is that possible?”

“Because people have consumed the parasite by eating raw or undercooked meat…”

“My god, this virus probably mutated!”

“Holy shit, I’m never eating meat again…”

“Thank goodness I’m a vegan!”

Gunzburg waved his hands in the air. “Please, please I’d like to stress this parasite is only a danger to infants, the extremely weak, or the elderly.”

“Yeah, but you think this might be the cause of this outbreak? Like a mutation of some sorts?”

Gunzburg sighed. “More than likely, no. Yet, I would use this parasite, and the others that we have mentioned here, as an example of what could be, um, similar to what is behind the cause of what is occurring here. But, honestly, anything is a possibility. Right now, I would look at parasites and fungi that are known to alter the behavior of animals and insects as a starting point for people to understand how this occurs daily in nature.”

“What are the parasites we should be looking at then?” President Rice spoke up suddenly.

“Um well, Ma’am, there’s the parasitic worm Spinochordodes tellinii that causes a grasshopper to jump into nearby water, drowning the grasshopper but allowing the worm to reproduce in the water…”

“Also the Leucochloridium paradoxum…” It was the fit MIT virologist again.

“Ah, yes of course.”

Gunzburg and the unnamed MIT scientist were sure having a good time going back and forth with their discussion.

Mann shook his head.

How the fuck do you even pronounce and remember those names?

Then another thought entered his mind: The same way I know how to pronounce all the names of those backwards shitholes in India where I fought…

Srinagar…

Uri…

“Yes, but what about something affecting humans to act, well like those people.” Rice pointed to a television monitor of infected hordes running down a street, chasing unlucky humans caught in their path.

Gunzburg sighed heavily. “Well ma’am, the closest example of this virus or parasite would be rabies, which can cause human hosts—like other mammals—to salivate excessively and foam at the mouth, thereby more easily spreading the deadly virus.”

“Why rabies,” President Rice asked, “what are the similarities?”

“Um, the fact that rabies causes abnormal behavior, unusual aggressiveness and violent outbursts just like this current infection. Also, the virus is more than likely transmitted by a bite, which is eerily parallel to what we are witnessing. And, if the first reports are any indication, the survival rate for this new strain is almost zero so far, just like surviving rabies is just about impossible once the symptoms are displayed.”

“My god, we’re fucked…”

“Don’t forget about prions.” It was the MIT scientist again.

Mann could have sworn that Gunzburg actually grinned. “Ah, yes prions. Those are extremely nasty little things. They could also be the culprits, even a more likely culprit than a parasite.”

“How so?” President Rice asked, glancing up to him.

“Prions are pathogens believed to be the main cause of many degenerative brain TSEs, including mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob.”

“TSEs? What’s that?” a woman called out.

“It stands for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Basically, infectious microscopic particles attack the brain and leave sponge-like holes in the brain tissue. It’s truly a horrifying and invariably and universally fatal disease.”

“Yet, they do not cause anything like what we seeing now…” another person from the back stated.

“Of course not,” Gunzburg interrupted the presumed scientist. “On the other hand, we know very little about prion transmissions…”

“We do know that there’s no cure,” the fit virologist spoke up again, “and if this is being caused by prions, then there is no cure or treatment. We cannot stop them from becoming infected, only perhaps slowing down the process.”

Mann softly cracked his knuckles. When government scientist told you they had idea what was happening, now was the time to get geared up for a brutal, ferocious and longstanding fight.

Small talk was heard before someone actually spoke up over the room.

“If I may interject…?” Colonel James Clarence cleared this throat.

“Of course, Colonel.” Samuel Alfred nodded to him.

The tan faced Colonel gulped a Red Bull before speaking. “You’ll have to excuse me, Madame President, I’ve haven’t slept in two days…”

Rice brushed him off. “I don’t mind Colonel Clarence.”

“While I agree with Dr. Gunzburg’s sentiments that this particular virus being comparable to known viruses, I do disagree with anyone thinking that it suddenly made a genetic jump and mutated and all of the sudden is infecting humans at this alarming rate. ”

Dr. Gunzburg chuckled. “Yes, yes, I believe that you are right.”

President Rice looked between the two men. “What do you mean?”

The Colonel sipped another Red Bull before addressing the President’s question. “What I mean ma’am, is that it’s virtually impossible that this virus suddenly popped up out of nowhere. I highly doubt this virus or prion, or whatever this microbe turns out to be, has its natural origins here.”

“You mean it came from somewhere else, like outer space?” The MIT scientist seemed intrigued.

Colonel Clarence shifted uncomfortably. “Not necessarily, but that is of course, a real possibility. It could have been released during a sudden earthquake from the depths of the ground or even brought up from deep in the ocean by other means. Or even unearthed in a place like the frozen tundra of Siberia and then released. That’s always been a fear, an unknown virus suddenly and rapidly appearing.”

“Why do you believe that?” It was the MIT virologist again. He stroked his chin, his eyes wide open with excitement.

“Well, for one the mortality rate so far. It appears to be near one hundred percent. This should be impossible. A virus or disease needs a few hosts alive to ensure the microorganism survives. Even the Black Death plague only and I use that word loosely, only had a mortality rate of around thirty five percent. And even then, it still managed to wipe out almost two-thirds of Europe’s population. Furthermore, contagions tend to evolve and have a working relationship with the human or animal, or whatever they are infecting. Diseases that were once lethal to humans are now treatable or our bodies have adapted to the microorganisms and are able to coexist with them. But because this virus appears to infect everyone it touches, I believe this is the first contact that we humans have had with this particular bug.”

“Anything else to add?” Alfred glanced over several papers.

Dr. Gunzburg nodded and cut into the conversation. “Yes. Depending on how much of the microbe enters your bloodstream, will determine how quickly you become infected. Hours or even days are possible.”

“Isn’t that a given?”

“Yes, but you need to adjust your methods to the situation.”

“Explain.”

“You cannot trust anyone who says that they are not infected. The smallest bite could take a day or so to show up. Therefore, cramming people together in FEMA camps is the worst thing you can do at the moment. And we haven’t even mentioned other non-infected camp issues like scabies or lice. Those can be a huge pain, and extremely hard to prevent once the spread of them has started in people with close proximity to each other.”

People begun softly muttering before Gunzburg spoke over them.

“And furthermore, if these refugee camps are crammed together for long periods of times, then nasty diseases like TB and meningitis will become a huge concern for the doctors and health workers at those camps. People who aren’t vaccinated create risks for those who are, and those not vaccinated can easily spread these various diseases all across the camps. You’re looking at a first class disaster scenario on your hands, Madame President, even with this particular infection not being present at a given location.”

Groans rose up in the room. One of the plans Secretary Strangefeld presented was shuttling the overwhelming number of civilians into FEMA or Red Cross camps and have them out of the way of the military when they swooped in.

“What would you do?” The woman in charge of FEMA hoped the doctor had a good answer.

“For overwhelming numbers, I honestly do not have an answer. But, I would start separating the refugees that come pouring in your camps. You need to quarantine everyone from themselves. That is the only way to ensure that this…virus…does not spread.”

“That is impossible!” The head of FEMA was aghast.

“Okay, Laurie…” Rice tried to calm her political appointee down.

“Karen, this is an impossible situation…”

“Laurie.”

The head of FEMA shut up.

“Dr. Gunzburg, is that they only way you see right now to stop the wave of infection from being passed on from civilian to civilian?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Rice sighed. “Then that is what we will have to do.”

Stillness hung over the room for a moment.

“Anything else to add, Dr. Gunzburg?” President Rice directed her question to the military scientist.

“Yes, Madame President. I would just like to make clear that while these people are medically dead, there has to be some sort of brain activity still…”

“That would explain why you have to decapitate the brain in order to stop them?” President Rice asked, uncertain about her question.

Dr. Gunzburg smiled. “Yes, you are correct. That means the brain is still functioning in some capacity. Unfortunately, for us at the moment, we do not have any understanding of how this works.”

“Anything else, doctor?”

“Not at the moment, ma’am. I’d like to state for the record, is this outside the common thinking within the scientific community? That the dead can rise up? That a dead person can reanimate and have functioning body parts? Yes it is. But, is it impossible? As we can see, I’d say it’s obviously not. We must ask new questions, while questioning our old ways of thinking and seek solutions outside our normal beliefs and ideas. My team is continually working around the clock on this threat. Any new information that we come across will be forwarded to you right away.”

President Rice nodded to him. “Thank you, Dr. Gunzburg.”

“You’re welcome, ma’am.”

Alfred focused his attention on the young brunette scientist. “Dr. Eriks, does the CDC have anything else to offer?”

Dr. Eriks nodded. “Yes, sir. You’ll have to excuse the absence of Ms. Whitman, the Principal Deputy Director who was supposed to sit in on this briefing. We lost contact with the office in New York and haven’t heard from her…”

“I’m sorry.”

The young scientist bobbed her head slightly. “Thank you, sir. For the moment, this particular virus is not airborne, which is a great relief to us at the CDC. That, of course, does not mean it will not mutate or adapt to different settings.”

“Please clarify.” Alfred waved his hand at the screen.

“Well, right at this moment, the only way to contact this virus is to have direct contact with someone infected with it. Just like rabies, where you need to get the saliva of someone infected into your system. So, as of right now, some sort of quarantine is possible because of that fact. Yet, if this strain were to mutate and become airborne, then we could be looking at a worldwide pandemic.”

“Worst case scenario?” President Rice spoke up.

“Yes, ma’am,” the young looking scientist nodded. “Probably worse than on the scale of the Spanish Flu.”

A gasp was heard, along with some cursing.

The Air Force Colonel near Mann let out a low whistle. “Jesus Christ, that is bad.”

“…we were able to successfully quarantine the quote ‘bird flu’ virus during the period that struck Asia a few years ago, but this new virus, as Dr. Gunzburg and Colonel Clarence have so eloquently stated, is a new threat in itself to try and stop the movement of it.”

“Dr. Eriks, is this new virus related to anything in particular that we know of?” A government scientist asked from the front of the room.

The young woman shook her head up and down firmly. “Well, it has some of the same characteristics of say an Ebola virus, with hemorrhagic fevering seemingly occurring during the early stages. That could explain the dilated pupils and the skin peeling off the bodies.”

“Like the Black Death victims, who had huge blisters on them?” The same government scientist sounded almost gleeful.

Dr. Eriks frowned. “Well, I wouldn’t compare it solely based on that to other known diseases. This particular pathogen doesn’t seem to follow or obey the rules of disease pathology…”

“If I may interrupt Dr. Eriks,” Dr. Gunzburg interjected.

The CDC scientist smiled. “Of course, doctor.”

“Thank you. I believe, as Dr. Eriks has stated, this virus is almost on the same plane as our other known viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola or Marburg, yet there are a few subtle differences.”

“As in?”

“Well for one, the amount of time it takes for Ebola to take effect is anywhere between six and ten days. A person affected with Ebola or even the quote ‘Black Death plague’ would show symptoms for days before the virus took full effect on their body…”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning that someone will normally display symptoms of a disease before it fully overtakes them. This particular virus can take effect in a matter of hours or worse yet, as we’ve seen in some cases, minutes. Additionally, normally the effects of these deadly viruses are so overwhelming to the person and their body, that they cannot travel over long distances before quarantine is able to successfully stop them from spreading it further. These people cannot run or use the bathroom by themselves, much less have the energy to be chasing people around and taking bites out of them…”

“But these people are fucking sprinters,” someone remarked.

“Yes, yes,” Gunzburg replied. “Strangely enough, it appears that this particular virus allows the human to run, or even sprint across long distances and does not affect their body in the normal sense that it should. Medically, this should be impossible.”

“Another doctor has said it’s sort of like Cholera?” President Rice shuffled through a pile of papers in front of her.

Dr. Gunzburg nodded. “In a way, you could also measure up to it to that disease in the sense that certain strains of Cholera can be fatal within two hours of symptoms showing. It’s swiftness on how it spreads could be compared to Cholera, while the mortality rate is almost like the Ebola virus, only much, much worse.”

“I’d also compare it to typhoid fever before vaccinations. Seems if I remember the mortality rate for that disease was around twenty percent or so,” the MIT man stated.

“You would be correct I believe,” Gunzburg concurred. “Other known diseases are like the common cold compared to this.”

“Yes, usually,” the virologist spoke up, holding the attention of the entire room, “a virus needs at least a few hours to infect its host and fully implement its design. With how quickly this is infecting people and moving through the country, it’s a terrifying concept even more so, since it appears to be totally foreign to us at the moment.”

“What’s even more terrifying is that this appears to be, if you excuse my language, the perfect virus.” Gunzburg was counting on someone to follow up with a question and of course, someone did.

“What do you mean by the perfect virus?”

“A virus has a simple purpose. Infect a living thing. Once that is done, they have another purpose. Infect another living thing. Once the body they are using as a host starts to die, the main purpose of a virus is to find a new, living host. With what we are seeing right now, this virus is doing a damn fine job of that.”

“But aren’t these people dead?”

“Yes, I’d say they are reanimated, but medically, they are dead. All the more reason for this virus to find fresh, living hosts.”

“Have there been any survivors from this infection?” Secretary Edgewater nervously tapped her fingers on the table.

Dr. Gunzburg seemingly hesitated. “Not that I know of, Ms. Secretary. But then again, we haven’t been able to perform any sort of a case control to see if anyone is not infected from a bite, or are naturally immune, or recover after a bite. That sort of information you’re asking for will take time.”

“Ms. Eriks?”

The CDC scientist shook her head. “No, ma’am, not that we know of but it’s still too soon. As we have discussed, statistically speaking of other diseases, infections, and viruses there has to be a few survivors out there. Otherwise the infection will wipe itself out.”

“How would it do that?” Press Secretary Fibbs asked the obvious question to every scientist in the room.

“Because it would kill too quickly,” Dr. Gunzburg appeared to be exasperated with the man. “If the morality is at the rate it appears to be, then how does it spread? Obviously, having the infected humans sprint and run broadens the width to which this disease can spread. This should actually have the reverse effect. If an illness infects and kills every host in comes into contact with, it’s not a very good microbe, by our standards. The infection, in short, should actually kill itself off…eventually.”

“Eventually?” an Army General huffed out. “So we should hope that this virus kills everyone before it reaches us?”

“In a way, yes,” Dr. Gunzburg answered. “There’s a problem though.”

The same Army General raised his hands. “And what’s that?”

“Well, the few infected under our observation at several military facilities have not died from their infection…again, not yet.”

“Yet?” President Rice was intrigued.

“Yes, ma’am yet. But their skin has rapidly deteriorated while under our observation. Their bodies are decomposing because they are dead. And they are moving around a lot less because their bodies are breaking down. So, if there is any good news, it is that they appear to be less agile as time goes on.”

Mann knew that for most people caught up in a region where the infection rapidly was spreading, waiting it out was not going to be an option. Nevertheless, that would be the best course of action for those not in the uninfected areas.

“What steps is the CDC taking to try and stop this from spreading even further?”

Dr. Eriks blinked a few times before answering. Mann could tell that the young lady was overwhelmed at the moment, but doing her best to stay professional.

“Well…we do have several steps in hoping to try and tackle this threat, ma’am. I believe the first one is to halt the travel of people across the country.”

“What?” The Secretary of Transportation began laughing suddenly.

Dr. Eriks nodded. “The CDC recommends the shutting down of all major airports for at least two weeks as soon as possible…”

“Honey, you’re nuts.” The Transportation honcho turned to President Rice. “Ma’am, that’s impossible. We cannot shut down the airports at this moment. We have people looking to escape this horrible virus. We need to remain open, for their sake. We can, of course, have certain cities and states on the no fly list…”

“That won’t work,” Dr. Eriks interrupted.

“Excuse me, honey, but do you realize what you’re saying?”

What a prick, Mann thought.

The young CDC scientist’s face flushed. “Yes, I do…”

The Secretary of Transportation’s laughter cut her off yet again. “No, I don’t think you do…”

“Quiet, Doug. I want to hear what Dr. Erik’s is saying.” President Rice interjected into the conversation.

Doug stopped snickering. With the look on his face, Mann suspected he was not used to being reprimanded in front of people.

“Please continue, doctor.”

“Of course President Rice. What I mean, is that someone may be able to travel across several states before showing any symptoms of this infection. Like many transmissible diseases, this one could have an incubation period before the person starts displaying outwardly symptoms. We could have even more breakouts all across the United States if do not try and implement some type of quarantine.”

“Ma’am, you need to reconsider this bullshit. Do you realize how much time and resources would be used, and we haven’t even discussed how the TSA would effectively execute this so-called quarantine, and furthermore with the amount of panic that would set in…”

“Actually, Doug I have considered those effects. Now, if you please, I’d like to hear how the CDC is going to help us, not how the TSA is going to grope its way out of this.”

Doug slumped back in his chair, defeated and embarrassed.

President Rice nodded back to Stephanie Eriks. “Anything else you’d like to add, doctor?”

Dr. Eriks shook her head. “No ma’am. Just that we recommend quarantine within the next forty eight hours at the very least. The World Health Organization has just told us they will declare this a phase six level, which is a full-fledged pandemic. They are meeting with us in our offices in Atlanta and are actively trying to, um, combat this as well.”

“Sounds good.”

“We will send out more comprehensive and complete recommendations by tomorrow for you and your administration to present forth to the public.”

“Thank you, Dr. Eriks and Dr. Clarence. General Gunzburg as well, your expertise and knowledge will no doubt help us overcome this trying time.”

The screens went black and the chattering in the room immediately started up.

Mann leaned back in his chair.

This was turning into a bit of a cluster fuck.

Phones were pulled out, with the babbling picking up considerably. A few people rushed out of the room, only to be replaced by other government drones.

“Madame President, we have another initial strike force available near the town of…” Chairman Gatewoods glanced down at a paper in front of him. “…Haskell, Massachusetts.”

Haskell.

That was the town where a cop panicked and shot a young lady because she sneezed on live television. Apparently, some genius from the state health department in Massachusetts decided to tell people to steer that way for help. As a result, from what Mann could wager, some of the very first military units to actively engage the infected had been besieged not by the undead, but by hundreds if not thousands of refugees streaming away the major cities of New York and Philadelphia.

It was just like what occurred in Reading. At least that disaster had not been filmed by anyone. Unlike Reading, there were probably a dozen film crews from major networks capturing what was happening on live television.

Haskel was located on the western part of the state, around a two hour drive from Springfield. While the Governor of Massachusetts did not personally order forces from Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport into action, he did not protest when Major General Warren Devereaux instructed a few units to move toward the wave of infected.

“We now have General Dominique Capers available, ma’am.” Chairman Gatewoods announced to the room, causing it to quiet down. Everyone was eager to hear from a military source out in the field, actively fighting the hordes.

According to the notes being passed around, General Capers was on the ground, near Haskell in charge of trying to set up a perimeter. Unlike in Reading, where the military attacked the infected wave directly, Capers led a small armored unit purposely around the main hordes. His entity comprised of Pennsylvanian and Massachusetts National Guardsmen, along with a few regular Army forces approached from the north. The military elements stalled near this particular town because of all the refugees flooding across the state.

As a result, he set up checkpoints across a major intersection and hunkered down with around twenty or so Stryker vehicles at an overpass. Word was that he was waiting for orders on if he should continue approaching the coming wave of infected or set up a forward operating base.

Mann glanced at the report in front of him again.

‘…if possible, set up a forward operating base near the town of Haskell. Let WD know if you are able to secure a spot…’

Mann thought it strange to try and have an operating base so close to the front lines of the fight. Normally, a unit would desire a more protected location before even thinking about setting up a place to stage an attack from.

Perhaps this was part of Devereaux’s innovative tactic of combating the contagion. He did mention wanting to be aggressive in some parts of the country when fighting the infection. Mann did not disagree, but after hearing the presentations from the scientists that a new line of attack involving units actively seeking out waves of these undead humans, was a bit unwise.

Mann focused back to the military near Haskell. General Capers had been in charge of certain regions of Pakistan during the occupation after their war with India. Although Mann only met him once, he was known as a tirelessly worker and good leader among his men. It was not happenstance he led one of the first strike forces against the undead.

Of course, with the way Major General Warren Devereaux railed earlier against using military units in an offensive manner, Mann wondered why someone with the resume of Capers had been basically thrown into the fire with only a few hundred men and equipment.

The screen was fuzzy, and an older man with a buzz cut appeared. He tried speaking, but then disappeared from view on the monitor.

“Lieutenant?” General Nathan Ricks inquired to the young technician working on getting the signals.

“Working on it, sir. I believe the problem is on their end,” the baby faced soldier stated, typing furiously on a laptop. A sudden silence descended on the room, the only sounds being the fingers pounding on a keyboard. Nervousness overcame the group during the last few minutes. Mann felt like it was the uncertainty was occurring. That and the reality government had no control over the infection sweeping across the United States.

Within moments, the screen came alive again, General Capers talking to someone behind the camera. A stunned look plastered his face.

“Madame President, I cannot stay in this location,” the general abruptly declared.

“What’s wrong, Dom?” General Ricks leaned forward.

“Sir, it appears that the infected or whatever they are, are less than a mile from this area. I’m sorry, but they have come upon on our position more quickly than I would have anticipated. It appears that infected people are with the waves of refugees that we have met here. Trying to sort them out, at the moment, is impossible. I’m afraid that I must pack up and move right now.”

“Of course, General. Please be safe.” President Rice spoke to the aged military veteran.

“Also, please inform Major General Devereaux that I am unable to build up a command post here for the Eastern sector in this particular area. Tell him that we must pull back west, like how I told him…”

President Rice glanced to Mann, a confused expression splashing across her face before turning back to General Capers.

“Of course, General,” Rice manage to stutter out.

Mann sunk back in his chair. This was a suicide mission.

“As soon as we are secure and safe, ma’am, we will be back online…” General Capers nodded as gunfire was heard over the screen. The commander reacted to someone off the monitor. “Yes, Major Pierce?”

General Capers face displayed confusion as he repeated himself to the person not shown.

“Major Pierce, is everything alright…oh my dear god…” Horror replaced confusion.

Snarling caused everyone to jump slightly as a Major Pierce appeared on the monitor, tackling General Capers and biting into his neck, ripping away a chunk of skin.

Blood spurted onto the screen.

“Oh my god!”

“Someone help that poor man!”

“He’s fucked.”

“Hopefully, the networks aren’t catching this…”

Voices rang out, a mixture of panic and shock as the former Major Pierce continued tearing into the neck of the general. The infected man stuffed the large pieces of tissue into his mouth so quickly he was puking it right back up. Yet, he ostensibly ignored this and attempted to quell his thirst for human flesh.

“Someone turn this shit off…”

“No, we need to study this…”

“I’m gonna throw up…”

The background displayed a Stryker vehicle on fire as it rolled past the screen, dozens of infected chasing people across the landscape.

“Jesus Christ…”

Sporadic gunfire erupted all over, signaling the location was in the process of being overrun by hordes of infected humans.

General Gatewoods turned off the monitor, causing the room to become quiet. “No need to watch it now, but we’ll continue recording it for scientific purposes.”

The chatter in the room started up again.

“Poor man…”

“Helluva way to go, huh?”

“If the military cannot hold them off…”

The doors suddenly swung open, and Major General Warren Devereaux came crashing into the room, along with other high ranking military officers.

“Madame President, infected have fully taken control of Baltimore. I’m ordering you to a safe bunker deep inside our location.”

Rice stood up. “Major General, I must protest…”

Devereaux held up a hand. ‘Ma’am, you agreed to give me the power in this city to fight the infection. I’ll feel safer if you were tucked away in a bunker and not moving around.”

Rice shook her head.

“I just watched a General Capers get torn apart, General…”

Devereaux interrupted her again, a slight grin on his face. “Really, ma’am? Just now?”

“Yeah,” someone spoke up from the back, “it just happened.”

Devereaux glanced around the room, shaking his head forcefully. “Shame. He was a damn fine commander. Such a shame.”

Mann felt a knot grow tight within his stomach. Had Major General Warren Devereaux ordered General Dom Capers to that location in hopes he would be killed by the infected? Mann suspected as much, with the slight grin on Devereaux’s face as he continued shaking his head.

“I’ve ordered the Vice President out of the city as well.”

Mann jolted his head up. He had not heard that bit of news.

“Just a few minutes ago, the Vice President left for his home state in Wyoming. I ordered it since I cannot have both leaders in the same city.” Devereaux’s gaze went to President Rice. “Ma’am, once the initial force of infected have been met, you can come out and lead. But, I must insist until then, that you be in a safe and secure location.”

All eyes went to President Rice.

“Very well General. You are in charge now.”

Devereaux nodded. “That’s right, ma’am.” He faced the rest of the people in the room. “The final helicopters are taking off in half an hour. If you want to leave, leave now. Otherwise, this city is going to be on total lockdown. No one will go in, no one will go out unless it is on military transports.”

Some murmurs and grumbling came from the civilians in the room. Not use to being bossed around in that manner and yet, the circumstances required they just shut up and listen to the military.

Mann did not believe they would present a problem. The civilians here would eagerly listen and follow the orders given to them by the military. Otherwise, they could be locked up or tossed out of the city. Other civilians, scattered all around the infected regions, would more than likely present a problem for the government later on down the road.

“You government civilians will be confined to the White House grounds, and the areas right around it only, no questions. President Rice turned the city over to the military, so we are running the show now. No questions, no complaining because I don’t wanna deal with it.”

Colonel Mann eyed President Rice and met her stare.

She just shook her head as she was led away by the cluster of soldiers.

“Colonel Mann.”

Mann turned to Major General Devereaux.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then be there.”

Chapter 33

 

Tangerine Island

Off the coast of Florida

Friday July 20th 10:01pm

 

Doctor Eugene Gunzburg energetically pounded away at the computer when his phone rang. Shaking his head at the distraction, he reluctantly answered it. He just finished speaking with the President of United States and was in no mood for any disruptions.

Too much work to be done…

“Yes?”

“Um, sorry sir to disturb you, but Captain Manning is at the gate and he is demanding to see you.” It was one of his guards at the front gate of his facility.

“Tell him I’m busy.”

“We already tried, but he’s insisting on seeing you and has a small force of his men with him. He’s demanding that he be let in on the bottom floors of your complex…”

Gunzburg sighed. Even his bodyguards knew that you did not ask for access to the bottom floors of his building. That is where his most important work took place and one that, he hoped in due time, mark his place in history as a great scientist.

“Sir, what would you like me to do?”

Gunzburg thought for a moment. He needed a plan to deal with the obnoxious military commander. Glancing to a monitor at another room and viewing infected wildly thrash around, it suddenly came to him. He recognized what he needed to do with Captain Manning.

Extreme, but necessary.

Captain Tucker Manning was in charge of the small detachment of Marines stationed on Tangerine Island and had been a thorn in the scientist’s side since his arrival a few days ago. The former commander, a Captain O’Reilly, was easily corrupted by Gunzburg through the forms of money and women. Yet, Captain Manning was all business when it came to his job. The Marine even refused a stock option of a company that Gunzburg mentioned when they first met. He proved that he would not be simply awed by the scientist’s offers.

Gunzburg slouched back in the chair. “Tell Captain Manning he is welcomed.”

“Yes, sir.”

He only had a few minutes before the small group of Marines arrived. Dr. Gunzburg saved his files, and quickly opened up the adjourning wall. The undead immediately filled the room with their earsplitting moans, even causing the doctor to take a momentary step back.

He chuckled to himself.

Even though he knew they were chained up, the infected thrashing around still startled him.

I’m in charge here…

Everyone on the island realized it, except for this Marine commander. And he was going to show Captain Tucker Manning that as well.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. Yet, Gunzburg understood his career was finished if Captain Manning found his files and reported that American citizens were being purposely infected on Tangerine Island. The shame of being arrested and put in prison was not the main reason for Gunzburg attempting to cover up his actions. It was the thought of never being able to practice as a doctor again that was driving him now.

A voice rang over the intercom.

“Sir, does Captain Manning have permission to come down to the lab?” It was one of his guards just three levels above him.

“What the fuck? I don’t need any permission to go down there. Get the fuck out of my way.” Captain Manning’s voice floated over the speaker.

Chuckling, Dr. Gunzburg responded to the question. “Of course Captain Manning has permission to come down.”

The scientist speedily made his way into the room where a dozen infected were chained up. He set up a small camera on a tripod, pressed record, and dashed out of the room. The Captain was stepping out of the elevator just as the wall to the experiment room closed shut.

Captain Tucker Manning was of small stature, but built like a rock. His narrow jawline clenched tightly as he directed his scowl toward the doctor.

“Excuse me, sir, but I have not been allowed down here before. With everything taking place, I thought I should…”

Dr. Gunzburg flicked his hand toward the captain. “Of course, Captain. It’s really no problem. It is just that the work that takes place down here is classified and is really, really important to the national security of the country.”

The Marine nodded, his brown eyes intently gazing the room. “That’s what the bosses at the Pentagon thought you might say, sir. Therefore, I have been authorized to take command of this facility. Sir, here are the orders.” A tan folder was pulled out of his the vest, and handed to the doctor.

Dr. Gunzburg took the folder and opened it. Peering over the paperwork, it authorized the Marine commander to take control of his lab and for him to hand over all his work. Additionally, the men under his command were to surrender to the Marine contingent on the island. Then Gunzburg was to wait for an investigation team from the Department of Defense to land and scrutinize his work before being allowed to leave for the mainland.

“If you excuse my displeasure Captain, but this is quite a shock…”

Especially since I had no warning from Senator Dorchester…

“I know, sir,” interrupted Captain Manning. “I felt like I had to go this route instead of approaching you directly.”

“What? You mean you reached out to the Pentagon…”

A confused look overcame the Marines sunburned face. “Yes sir. I talked with the other officers under my command about how things were run around here. Needless to say, this secret stuff wasn’t working. I don’t like it and made my concerns known.”

“I understand, but the importance of my work to this great nation…”

Captain Manning nodded. “That’s just it, sir. No one knows what you’re exactly doing down here. Even the Pentagon was in the dark. To me, sir, that is unacceptable at a time like this.”

“So…no one knows exactly what is going on here…?

“No, sir. That’s what I am here to find out.”

Dr. Gunzburg grinned.

Perfect.

He could proceed with his plan.

“Okay, Captain. If you just follow me…”

“Of course, sir. Nothing personal, sir, just have to have communications open between us, especially since what is going on at the moment.”

Dr. Gunzburg turned back to Manning and smiled. “Of course Captain. I apologize for not letting you in on this stuff…” Both men stepped forward.

The wall swung open, revealing the dozen or so of infected tied down.

“What the fuck…” Captain Manning took a step back, but not before Dr. Gunzburg pushed him into the room, with the wall then closing behind him.

The Marine realized what was happening a few seconds too late.

“Jesus…” The wall sealed up, trapping him inside the room with the infected, who jerked violently in the seats.

Not for long…

Dr. Gunzburg grinned as he reached for the button that would release the binds off the infected.

The Captain managed to get off some shots before being overwhelmed by them. Watching the attack, Gunzburg, had the same exact thought as he did when observing the contaminated blood seep into the homeless man.

Damn, they work quickly.

Reaching for the phone, Dr. Gunzburg waited for the other end.

“Yes?” The private contractor had a curt voice.

“This is Dr. Gunzburg. Operation Wipeout has commenced.”

“Understood.” The mercenary, after hanging up the phone, then proceed to privately round up the fifty or so ‘defense contractors’ on the island. They would then discreetly take out the Marines scattered along the many facilities, including wiring the barricades with explosives. The whole process would take around two hours. After that time, Dr. Gunzburg would release the infected and make it seem like the virus had been transported to the island unknowingly and wiped out the entire garrison of Marines. Yet, for now, he sat back and waited for his mercenaries to overtake the island.

Chapter 34

 

A full moon night…

Sherman Middle School

Saturday July 21st 1:17am

Tacoma, WA

 

The horde moved silently through the deserted street, filing past Sherman Middle School.

Moaning was overheard, the eerie sound rising up and filling the neighborhood sky.

A few of the infected were drawn to the lights from inside the school, but pounding on the windows did not produce any desired results of humans appearing. Besides, with most of the windows being boarded up, the group packed up and moved to rooms away from the main street. They decided to keep away from the glass and not give any reason for the dead to try and break in after spotting them. Locked and barricaded doors, along with two people constantly circling around inside the school keeping watch, meant the school was secure for now.

Additionally, eyes observed from the rooftop as well.

“Fuck you, Corey, fuck you.”

“Aww, shit, fuck off Chase, you asshole.”

Voices floated over the group of zombies, their heads swiveling all around trying to see where the noise came from.

“No, fuck you. You do look like a fuckin’ Muslim terrorist with that beard.”

“Fuck, who cares? Not like the TSA is going to be grabbing my nut sack anytime soon or see if I have a bomb stuck in my ass.”

“Yeah cause you like foreign things in your ass…”

“Fuck you…”

Of course the zombies did not realize it, but the two men on guard duty that night had perched themselves high up on the roof, away from the line of sight of the horde.

“Shut the fuck up, douche, those zombies are making their way over cause of you.”

“You prick, they’re coming over because you’re being a little bitch ass…”

“Oh fuck you…”

“No, fuck you…”

Eventually, the zombie pack lost interest and shuffled on. A small moan would escape their soulless bodies as they moved toward their next meal. Deserted cars blocked some of the streets they traveled on, but this did little to impede them. The broken glass they walked over did not cause them to cry out in pain. One zombie climbed up on top of the wreckage of a huge transport truck that had flipped over, only to lose his footing and fall, breaking his neck. Nonetheless, he managed to get back up and continue to walk, his head now tilted sideways.

They felt nothing.

Suddenly, a small red car turned the corner in front of the huge pack. The backseat passenger noticed the massive group of zombies on the left, his mouth hung open in silent horror. With no words being spoken, the survivors pushed forward with more urgency, desperate to escape the undead horde. The red car picked up speed, only to run into a fully blocked road ahead. The zombies were within fifty feet of them, wailing and shrieking as they closed in on their prey. The car’s occupants realized they had nowhere to go and all three men hastily jumped out and ran. With no sense of cohesiveness, they darted in different directions. The pack of zombies broke off into three different columns and followed the men into the illuminated night. Several minutes later, screams could be heard in close proximity of each other.

“What the fuck is that?” Corey clutched his weapon.

Chase did not even bother getting up from his seat.

“That is Darwinism in action.”

 

8:32am

 

Roland awoke in the teacher’s lounge to sunlight pouring through the windows. Rubbing his eyes, he saw that the television was on. The image flashing across the screen was that of vehicles fleeing on a highway in California. Infected spilled onto the freeway, but the drivers did not stop for them. One SUV skidded its brakes right before smashing into a woman stumbling across the road. Her body disappeared under the vehicle. Roland thought he viewed an arm rolling with the tires before the feed switched over to a reporter speaking from the roof of a building.

Just a typical morning commute for Californian drivers…

Roland sat up and reached for his newly acquired M4 Carbine. Garrett still slept on one of the couches, his snores not nearly as loud as they were earlier. The two men had not spoken to each other since last night.

Oh well.

Roland spun his thoughts elsewhere.

Fucking beautiful.

Grinning, Roland held the rifle the same way a father would hold his newborn child. He checked the magazine as Carver showed him.

Full and ready to go.

Come get some…

Roland shook his head at that thought.

Yeah right.

Not after what happened to John.

By sheer chance a black ops team noticed the men on the roof and opened fire at them as a result of witnessing the woman being killed. Only luck then intervened, causing one of their helicopters to crash and in the process, dumping out stashes of weapons to be confiscated by the group. Roland worried their friends would come back and finish the job at some point.

Kind of like what Robert Cowell had done to one of them.

No need to think about that…

Chase popped his head in suddenly.

“Hey, I’m going for a jog, you want to come?” he asked.

Roland slowly looked at him and tried to size Chase up, still unable to figure this guy out.

“Why the fuck would I want to go jogging in a zombie infested world?” he replied back.

“Suit yourself man. Just thought I’d ask.” And with that he turned and walked out the door.

Fucking idiot.

Roland continued looking at his weapon as Willis and Linebacker Gregg came into the room. Gregg nodded to Roland before collapsing on the floor and closing his eyes.

“Tough night?”

Willis chuckled. “We finished boarding up the east side of the school, but it’s the heat man. We need to stock up on water and Gatorade and PowerAde…like more stuff for hydration. It’s only going to get hotter.”

“Fuck yeah. It’s too hot man. We need fans and shit, because the air conditioning still isn’t working.” Gregg spoke up as well, but kept his eyes shut.

“Maybe we’ll take a trip today and try to pick up some stuff,” Roland thought out loud.

Willis nodded. “If you do, let us know.”

“Of course.”

“Also, we have already told Carver, but there was gunfire coming a few blocks over. During the middle of the night, we heard like vehicles moving back and forth…and then the gunfire really picked up like an hour ago. We think it might be military but we’re not sure. We saw Humvees moving about, but those could be anyone really…”

“Seriously? I must have been out of it because I didn’t really hear anything. But nothing happened, huh?”

The faint sound of gunfire echoed in the distant. Willis was right in that someone set up shop blocks over from the school.

“Wow, who that is…”

A larger explosion rocked the area, causing Gregg to jolt up and scan around nervously.

“Shit, wonder who they are. I need my sleep man.”

Willis jerked his head toward him. “Yeah, that’s why Carver said we can go ahead and crash. Doesn’t want us losing sleep for no reason.”

“Sounds like a good idea…”

“Hey….time to get up sweetie…” Willis woke Garrett up.

Yawning loudly, Garrett stretched his arms over his head. “Dammit man, I was having a good dream.”

Chuckling, Roland could not help himself. “Oh really? What was it about?”

Getting up, Garrett rubbed his eyes. “I was having sex with Kate Upton.”

Laugher filled the room.

“Get the fuck out of here! Time for you to work!”

“I know, I know…” Garrett finally stood up. “But first, I must pee.”

Willis just shook his head as he flopped onto the couch, getting some must needed rest. In fact, both Willis and Linebacker Gregg were asleep in a matter of minutes. Roland continued checking his weapon, making sure he did not spot any faulty marks that could hinder him from firing it. Further gunfire was detected, with faint shouting rising above it. Whoever created that much racket more than likely was causing more infected to scramble to the area.

Roland wondered if Carver would want to scout the area and see who was making all the noise in the distance. If that was the case, it would be another day of trying to dodge infected and humans.

The toilet finally flushed and Garrett came out. Roland nodded to his friend as he passed by him and left the room.

Garrett did not nod back to him.

Before putting the magazine back in, Roland noticed his hand trembled uncontrollably.

Great.

He clutched his hand tightly and inserted the magazine into the chamber, shaking his head. He needed to get it together, if not for himself, then for the rest of the survivors. He owed them that much.

Roland wiped his brow, sweat flying off. Thinking to himself, he was thankful for the humidity. The rest of the guys probably thought his perspiring body a product of the heat. In reality, it was from another nightmare about the young man he killed days before. This time though, the young man did not display any visible marks on him and instead asked if he could join the group.

“…hey, think I could the join the group? I just want to live like everyone else man…”

Roland shut his eyes, trying to remove the scene from his mind.

“…I’m real good at fixing things up…I could help board the school…”

Roland stood up, pacing with his weapon.

“No, you can’t…”

“No, you can’t what?”

Startled, Roland spun around to see Garrett standing in the doorway.

“Oh, nothing. Just thinking out loud to myself.”

“I forgot my gun.”

“Oh yeah, hey dude, about yesterday…”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Roland nodded. “Yeah man, nothing is going to happen…”

“Look dude, I don’t want to talk about it, okay?” Garrett snapped to him.

Roland decided to not say anything back and let the moment flame out between the two friends.

Another explosion rocked in the background.

Garrett started to exit the room, but halted abruptly. “Oh yeah, Carver and Franklin want to see you.”

Roland nodded. “Thanks.”

“Yeah, good ‘ole Roland to the rescue, right? Always count on him when you need to, right?”

“Whatever…”

Garrett chuckled. “Too bad she doesn’t know the real you. Ya know, the one who broke into the retirement homes looking for his drug fix…”

Roland shook his head. “I’m not that person anymore…”

“Once a druggie, always a druggie bro. Just a matter of time before you use. And when you do, I’ll be there to help you down from your high, like I always have been.”

“I already thanked you man. You know that.”

Garrett shrugged. “Do I? You got a funny way of showing gratitude sometimes.”

Corey came into the room, releasing the built up tension between the two men.

“Don’t forget about Carver,” Garrett reminded before exiting the lounge. He suddenly popped his head back in. “And don’t you forget about the other shit, either.” Garrett finally left the room, the echo of his footsteps growing quieter after a few seconds.

Roland just nodded, lost in his own reflection.

drug fix…

…Riley…

Brenda…

Corey put his weapon against the wall and made his way to the bathroom, slapping Roland on the shoulder and jerking him out of his thoughts.

“Hey, what the fuck is your brother doing jogging outside?” Roland lumbered toward the hallway.

Corey shrugged. “He’s a runner.”

Roland chuckled. “Yeah, remind me to trip him if it’s just him and me running away from a group of sprinters.”

Roland could hear Corey snickering as he left the room.

Yet, he did not snicker.

He was dead serious.

 

Making his way down the hallway, Roland ran into the cashier from the store. She was beginning to open up to the group and revealed her name was Maria. Gazing at her, Roland noted she had cleaned up since arriving at the school. Raven color hair flowed down to her shoulders and dark brown eyes greeted him. Tiny and short, she stood no taller than five feet and weighed no more than one hundred and twenty pounds. Some bruises were evident across her tanned face, and her weary eyes told the story of an evil act hours earlier at the gas station.

He had not spoken to her since arriving at the school and for a very good reason. After what she went through, he was unsure how to approach her and have a normal conservation. Asking ‘How was your day going?’ after being raped and beaten was not exactly a question he thought you should ask just quite yet.

She smiled, stopping with a M4 in her small hands. “I got rooftop duty this morning.”

Roland returned her smile. “You know how to shoot?”

She shook her head, laughing out loud. “No, but Carver said that the fire from this weapon would scare away little groups. Especially since we have dozens of them. And we have gunfire coming a few blocks over, so Carver said it was important today. After what happened yesterday, he said we need better protection.”

“Good. Soooo how have you been holding up?”

Roland immediately regretted the question, thinking it insensitive, but Maria smiled back at him.

“I’ve been better, but I’m taking it one day at a time.”

Roland could only nod his head.

“Just one day at a time,” she repeated, her brown pupils drifting away from him.

Gunfire rang out in the distance and then pelted out rather quickly.

A few awkward seconds passed over them before Maria broke through it. “Well, better get up there. Gotta be the eyes today.”

“Good luck, and bring some water up there. It gets pretty hot.”

“Thanks, I will.” The cashier advanced down the hallway, entering one of the rooms where they stored bottles of water.

Roland nodded to himself.

She was pulling her own weight…good.

In a time like this, people had to take initiative and pick up their own slack. At least for now, it appeared that Maria could be put into that category.

Roland paced further down the hallway, popping his head into his mom’s room, but she was not there.

He continued, heading towards the principal’s office, thinking that is where Carver and Franklin would be.

Their voices floated over to him before he entered the room.

“…yeah, well we need to maintain some sort of a perimeter outside of the school grounds…”

“…exactly, what happened yesterday was a wake-up call…”

“…yep, Franklin, this gunfire is concerning. I think the military has set up a command post…”

Roland arrived into the room, with Franklin and Carver hunched over a table near the front desk of the office. Both men turned to him as he walked over.

“Morning guys.”

“Hey, we got work to do.” Carver as usual persisted in getting right down to business.

“Garrett said you guys wanted to see me?”

Carver nodded. “Yeah, you’re coming with me today.”

Roland frowned. “Where we going?”

“After last night and the sudden gunfire a few blocks over, I want to see how the surrounding areas are doing around us. Think of it like a scouting mission.”

“Great, you volunteered me, huh?”

The former cop swung to Roland. “It was either you or Garrett.”

Roland could not help but smirk. “Ah, glad to see where I stand.”

“Yeah, just above that fuck up Garrett…”

“Thanks. Means a lot…”

“Oh, one thing though. Franklin and I moved John’s body inside, to one of the classrooms.”

Roland looked between them. “Really?”

Carver nodded his large head. “Yeah. Couldn’t let him rot out there. Wrapped him up in some plastic garbage bags we found and let Brenda have some closure with him.”

“What are we going to do with the body?”

The Tacoma cop shrugged. “Whatever Brenda wants done…”

An explosion unexpectedly rattled the area.

“Shit, what the fuck is it now…”

A loud engine rumbled outside, the shaking of the ground causing books and vases to fall out of nearby shelf and crash to the floor. All three men focused on the window and spotted a large military tank slowly rolling past, a pack of infected following it.

“Ah, shit…” Carver muttered.

A fat infected woman ran straight in front of the tank, only to get squished under the continuous tracks. Roland saw a partial arm stuck to tracks when it rolled back in sight, stained red with blood.

Another infected person tried crawling up from behind, but could not grasp anything to pull them up to the tank. They too disappeared below the tracks, apparently crushed like the fat woman.

The tank unrelentingly rumbled down the street, eventually wheeling out of sight with a small number of sprinters chasing after it.

“Dammit, the military is trying to make up a command post around here…” Carver did not finish as he kept glancing down the block.

“Maybe they can be of help,” offered Roland.

“No.” Carver did not even bother elaborating on why he did not want the help of the military.

And he did not need to elaborate to Roland. Not after the younger Smith brother observed military planes shoot down a commercial airliner days earlier.

“I think they could be of help…” Franklin trailed off when Carver did not respond.

More explosions were heard blocks away. They seemed to be getting louder and frighteningly closer to the school.

Roland continued staring out the window.

Of course it’s not going to be a relaxing day…

After a few minutes that seemingly dragged on endlessly, no other military personnel appeared. “Maybe it’s a deserter or a straggler…” Franklin spoke up again.

“Yeah, that’s what Roland and myself are going to find out. Is there anyone on the roof?”

Franklin scratched his chin, grey stubble sprouting upon his sunburnt face. “Yeah, I think Maria was going to be.”

“Well take her off. I want everyone inside, so it makes seem like no one is here. Especially with the military being around here, they’ll fuck up everything. And when they fuck everything up, we’ll be the ones who will be fucked.”

Franklin nodded. “You got it.”

All three men then spun toward the noise of Chase laughing out loud as an infected man chased him. They peered through a boarded up window and watched as the crazy man disappeared as swiftly as he appeared, rounding the corner. The infected straggler limped behind, vanishing behind the same corner a half minute later.

Carver shook his head in disbelief. “Ya know…if something happens to him…”

Roland finished the sentence. “Then that’s Darwinism in action…”

The three men laughed as another blast rocked in the background.

 

9:17am

 

Carver started the ignition to the black SUV that they stole days earlier. Franklin and Maria waved at both of them from the roof as they swung across the playground and onto the street. Carver and Franklin decided to keep someone on the roof, but they were to go inside the moment they saw any military movement.

Roland wondered how his mother would react as he purposely did not tell her that he was leaving the school.

For a good reason…

She would freak out and rightfully so. Roland himself freaked out when Carver turned onto a side street near the school and ran right into a rather large horde of infected.

“Ahhhh, fuck us.” Carver calmly put the SUV in reverse and quickly backed up. Despite the infected sprinting all out, the SUV gained enough traction and made its way away from the group more easily than Roland thought they would have. By the time Carver slowed down, they had gone over at least ten or twelve blocks from the school.

“Well, we know that there is a huge group of infected near the school…might as well call Franklin and let him know.”

Roland nodded. “You got it…” He pulled out his phone, dialing Franklin’s number.

“Yeah?” The older man answered.

“A pretty large horde is near the school, and we just wanted to let you guys know…”

“Okay, I’ll alert everyone…”

“We’ll call you later.” Roland put the phone in his pocket as the two men made a wide turn. “Well, seems to be okay here. Wonder where the military went.”

“Yeah.”

The SUV hummed along in silence as they swung onto another side street.

On any other day, Roland would enjoy the hot sun beating down on him. However, seeing an infected person gnawing on a leg in a driveway reminded him that this was not an ordinary day. The woman stared at the vehicle as it passed, but then continued with its meal after losing interest.

They turned down another block, Carver deliberately jerking the wheel to avoid a few bodies scattered in the middle of the road. Flash of bright orange caught Roland’s attention from the side. He spotted a man on the roof of his house, sitting in a chair and wearing an ugly orange Hawaiian shirt. The man hurriedly sat up, removing his sunglasses while gazing at the SUV driving on his block. A beer can was crushed in his other hand and tossed off the roof. He then reached down and brought up what appeared to be a sniper rifle. The man knelt and slowly raised the gun, its sights seemingly settling on Roland and Carver’s vehicle.

“Uh, Carv, we got a sniper…”

The back window shattered, finishing Roland’s sentence for him.

“Shit, hold on!” Carver abruptly slammed on the brakes.

Roland turned in his seat, glancing at the man shooting down at them.

He saw that the SUV stopping momentarily surprised the sniper. Trying to hastily readjust, but Carver already turned the SUV down an alleyway, out of his line of sight. He knocked over a pile of trash cans, one of them swinging up over the hood and cracking the windshield.

“Shit.”

The SUV moved ahead down the alley, roaring past a car on fire before swaying onto a street. Carver exhaled deeply as the vehicle straightened out.

After some time passed where neither man said anything, Roland finally spoke up.

“Sucks about John.”

Carver nodded. “Yeah, he could have been a good asset to us.”

The SUV tumbled into even more awkward silence.

As they drove by a burnt out car, Roland noticed a figure pinned underneath it. For a fleeting second, he thought he saw a man in a suit and tie standing in a yard behind the car.

“Shit,” he muttered as he jerked upwards in his seat from the sight.

“You okay?” Carver asked, looking over to him.

“Uh, yeah,” Roland replied as he glanced back to the yard.

The man was no longer there.

Fuck, I’m going nuts…

Roland shook his head.

“No, actually I’m not okay…”

“What’s going on?”

“I got a question for you…”

“Okay.”

“Um, how do you get over it? The killing I mean…” Roland hoped the question did not sound too indifferent.

The huge man shifted uncomfortably. “Practice.”

“Practice?”

Carver causally nodded, as they spun on another block. “Yeah. Cause when you hesitate, you’re dead. So, you gotta just react to the situation as best you can.”

“Uh, okay…”

“I’ll tell a quick story, Roland.” The cop looked over to him. “When I was stationed in Pakistan, I was patrolling a village with a small squad. Now, we were alert as the government troops had just pulled back from the area, but those villagers didn’t trust anyone, especially foreign troops.”

The two men continued down another street.

“Well, one day we walk straight into an ambush. Shit’s going downhill, we’re trapped out in the middle of this town center. I see this little girl running toward us and I think she’s trying to take cover, so I don’t raise my weapon to fire on her.”

Carver turned to Roland. “I hesitated. I hesitated and it cost us a few good Marines.”

Roland did not understand. “Was she armed?”

“She was a suicide bomber. Took out half the unit and I had the chance to stop her, but I didn’t react like I was trained how to. So, the only way you can shoot a lady in her own kitchen is…practice.”

“Practice?”

“Yep. Gotta just react and not think about the situation. Thinking will get you killed.”

Roland nodded, trying to understand the reasoning of what Carver was saying.

Don’t think…?

“Yeah. I…I ran over a guy last week…”

Carver took a quick glance at him, surprise on his face. “Was it an accident?”

Roland shook his head sluggishly. “No. He had a gun and was trying to kill my brother.”

“Well then, you did the only thing you could do in that situation.”

“Yeah, I guess…”

“Hey,” Carver cut him off. “You did what you needed to. Fear is a good thing. Being scared helps keep people from doing stupid things. It’s the uncontrolled fear that can get you killed. It’s good that you’re afraid and fearful, as long as you don’t let it get out of control. Then you’re fucked and will do something stupid and will cause yourself or others to be killed.”

“Yeah, I just have to tell myself that.”

“Hopefully, you don’t become good at it…what the fuck, is that a tent…”

The front window shattered with glass exploding inside the SUV.

“What the fuck…!”

The brakes unexpectedly were applied, causing Roland to crack his head across the glove box.

“Shit!” Carver braced himself against the steering wheel as best he could.

Gunfire rang out around them as the SUV shook to a halt against a soft barrier. Shouts rose up near the vehicle as figures rapidly surrounded it. Roland glanced about and noticed the soldiers dressed in military fatigues. A man in a gas mask ripped open his door and yanked him out.

“Hey, hey get the fuck off…”

“Shut the fuck up and get out!” Although the command was muffled from the gas mask, Roland fully understood the order.

“Hands up! Hands the fuck up!”

Roland scanned over and saw Carver being pulled out as well by several soldiers.

A gun was shoved in Roland’s face as the military man in the gas mask dragged him away from the vehicle.

“Sarge! Sarge, we have some fucking guys who tried to ram us!”

Ram us…?

A gruff looking man came over to the scene. Looking over both Carver and Roland, he nodded his head back toward a tent. “Get those guys to the Captain…”

“Come on, let’s go!”

Roland and Carver were pulled over the sandbags and pushed into a nearby tent, where another military person spoke on the radio. His back was to the two men, with one hand on his hip.

Shit, that guy’s pretty tall…

Shoved down to the ground and sitting with their hands behind their back, a gun was leveled in both of their faces. The pimple faced soldier grinned, almost wishing he would be given a chance to use it.

“…I understand what the commanders want, but we’re on the verge on being overrun here. The Good Lord is providing all the strength at the moment. I’ve already lost a dozen men and we have only been here for less than six hours…” The man shook his head as someone on the other end of the line talked over him.

Sporadic gunfire enclosed the area. As best Roland could see, Carver crashed into a sandbag barrier that had been constructed in someone’s yard. The street was unobstructed, but on each side of the road, green military tents been perched up. Roland could view men milling inside the houses and spotted a few on the roofs. Glancing over, he observed a giant van next to their tent labeled ‘Washington State Department of Health and Human Services.’ Presumably, the government attempted some sort of outpost here.

Of all the places they decide to set up…

The man speaking on the phone raised his voice again. “Yes, sir, I understand. I will try to follow through with that order, just like when Moses led the Israelites…, uh yes sir. Sorry. When we will the reinforcements be here…wait what? What do you mean they are massing near the Narrows Bridge? If that’s the case, why the heck am I way out here in this area? I see. Yes, sir I’ll call to give you an update in about two hours. Yes, sir. May the lord bless our troops in this ongoing struggle.”

The commander slammed the receiver down and swore under his breath. The man turned around as glared outside, his piercing blue eyes standing out in the background of his pale face. He muttered what appeared to be a prayer under his breath.

“…lord, give me the strength to fight these demons that you have sent us. I will, with your blessing, cast them out and send them back into hell where they deserve to live…amen…”

Salt and pepper hair was visible before he threw on a beret. He then turned his attention to Roland and Carver.

“What the fuck are you guys doing? You fucking looters?” His demeanor changed promptly when he saw the two men before him.

“Listen Captain, I’m a Tacoma cop…”

The Captain crouched down as two soldiers came in and zipped tied their hands together behind their backs.

“Shut your mouth.”

Shit, not again…

The Captain glanced to Carver, bringing his face inches away from the former Marine. A pink scar begun under his right eye and cut down to his upper lip. Bushy eyebrows came together as the man