The snow lightly floated down from the heavens as Carl Rogers hiked his way down the pine-forested mountainside. Although he was an accomplished outdoorsman, he had rarely climbed as high as he had in the last few days. Finally, he was working his way back down the other side of the Cascades. The cold air bit at his cheeks and the crunching of the snow was the only noise he could hear. His frosty breath came in even puffs as if he was some old steam engine chugging its way over a mountain pass.
"If only I could have used a mountain pass," thought Carl. "This would have been a lot easier."
Nevertheless, the mountain passes across the Cascades had been shut down since the incident last summer at the Marysville ColTech pharmaceuticals plant. Soldiers now staff every possible means of passing over the mountains with the orders to kill whatever tries to pass over them. Minefields had also been laid out and the passes had been further reinforced by connecting barbed-wire and concrete barriers. Not since the Maginot line has there been a continuous string of fortifications stretching across land to barricade the rest of humanity from the threat on the other side.
Therefore, Carl had to take a more indirect and almost impossible route to get over the Cascades. Fortunately, he was familiar with the weather conditions of the Cascade Mountains. Like all mountains, the Cascade's weather was unpredictable at best. A clear summer day could suddenly transform itself into a thunder or snowstorm. The inverse was true as well. Even now during the middle of December with the temperature below freezing on the eastern slope of the Cascades a Chinook wind could swiftly swarm in and warm the air over 70 degrees.
Carl had been making his trek over the mountains for several days now. It was imperative that he get over the mountains unnoticed or he would be shot. It was hard to believe that the hardest part was behind him and yet the most dangerous in front. An odd paradox when one analyzes it, and analyze it Carl had done numerous times over the last few days.
"What's an old man like me doing out here anyway," Carl continued his inner dialogue. "It's cold and I'm hungry and I'm supposed be to be retired and done dealing with this crap!"
Carl was fifty-five years old and a retired FBI agent. He still had contacts and that did give him a certain benefit that the average American didn't have. The average American didn't know about the Marysville incident as it was called. These weren't diseased people running around out there; they were in fact the dead. They are walking dead, or zombies as those in the know are calling them. One bite and a human being is infected. There is no cure and the only way of killing one of these undead was to destroy the brain.
Carl stopped and kneeled down to make sure that his .38 snub-nosed revolver was still holstered on his right calf. Even though he carried a hunting rifle over his shoulder, the feel of the pistol strapped to his leg always comforted him. Maybe it was from the thirty odd years in the service with the bureau that made him feel naked without carrying it. It was the only constant partner he had over the years and none were more trustworthy.
Carl looked up at the sun, and it was starting to set behind the trees to the west. He stood back up, readjusted his straps on the backpack, and started to continue his trek. It wouldn't be much longer before the light was gone. He would need to find a clearing if he wanted to sleep in a tent otherwise he would be sleeping under the stars again.
The thought of waking up under a blanket of snow again wasn't an appealing one for Carl. He never cared much for winter camping even though he did relish the challenge of pitting himself against nature. It was just that freezing one's ass off wasn't his idea of fun. But then again he wasn't out here for fun.
Carl was just resigning himself to the idea of breaking out the sleeping bag and finding some form of natural shelter when he saw it in the fading light of dusk.
A small tendril of smoke was snaking its way heavenward behind a line of trees. That meant humans, living humans. Now was the moment of truth. Would they be friendly or hostile? "Only one way to find out," Carl reckoned.
Carl started to walk quietly towards the smoke. "I hope that they are friendly and won't shoot me," Carl inwardly prayed.
The sun was nearly gone when Carl broke out from the trees into the clearing. In his quick survey, he noticed that the smoke came from a lone white Ranger's cabin in the mountains. There was a green army two-ton truck and a yellow school bus parked outside. But what finally made Carl expose himself to the potential of being shot were the two smiling snowmen outside the building.
Light spilled out of the curtained windows of the log one-story building. Carl couldn't see inside, so he approached the door and knocked. As he rapped on the door, the lights suddenly went out and muffled voices could be heard on the other side of the door.
After a couple of minutes, the door opened up and a flashlight blinded Carl as it was shone into his face.
"What do you want?" growled an unfriendly voice.
"Ah, George, don't be so rude. He obviously means no harm or he wouldn't have knocked, eh?" a man's voice with a Yiddish accent responded from deeper inside the cabin.
Under the hand that he was using to shield his eyes, Carl noticed that a rifle was pointed at him.
"I was just looking for some shelter. I don't relish the idea of spending another night in the cold. But if you want I'll move on," Carl responded.
"Put the gun down George. The man only seeks shelter and we can surely offer that to another human being. There certainly aren't that many of us left on this side of the mountain," another voice added.
Carl smiled. He had finally made it and had contact with some friendly people on the west side of the Cascades.
Master Sergeant Ronald Douglas Greene had been walking in the woods alone for two days now. He had told the others that he needed to go hunting. Though Nori begged to go along. She wanted to learn, but Ronald said no. Brady wasn't fooled. There was plenty of game meat stored up and most of the deer had already moved to a lower elevation in order to forage for better food. But Brady never said anything; Ronald knew that Brady had suspected the real reason.
Ronald was a tall large man. There wasn't an ounce of fat to be found on his toned muscled body. He was even once asked to play on the Army football team, but Ronald turned it down. He didn't join the army to play ball. Even now in his forties, he could easily have been mistaken for an NFL linebacker.
The black sergeant looked a little odd traipsing through the woods dressed in his battle dress uniform with a large black down coat over it all. When he was deployed to staff one of the checkpoints out of Seattle during the outbreak, it was late spring going on summer. Now it was full winter and fortunately, Brady had found one of his grandfather's winter coats that fit Ronald.
Ronald found a relatively dry spot under one of the pine trees and sat down on the reddish brown needles. The landscape was white with the green bows of the trees poking out from under their blanket of snow.
The sergeant then pulled out his wallet and opened it. He stared at the picture of a beautiful black woman and a teenage girl. They were his family. Dora was his high school sweetheart and later wife. They had a daughter Julie, age fourteen. Even now looking at the picture it was easy to see how people mistook his wife for his daughter's older sister. This, of course, embarrassed his daughter to no end. It had been three years today, a week before Christmas, that they were both killed by a drunk driver.
The pain never left, but he could suppress it most of the time. However when the anniversary of their demise approached he would feel the full brunt of their loss. Sergeant Greene's eyes started to tear up. The picture's image started to get blurry as the tears began to build in his eyes. It wouldn't be long before the tear drops started to run down his cheeks and freeze somewhere on the trip down. That is when he heard the chopper.
The sergeant jumped up and shoved his wallet back into his pocket. The helicopter was flying very low and the engines sounded wrong. He could hear the turbines sputtering erratically as he scanned the sky for the chopper.
Ronald saw the stricken helicopter just before it descended behind some trees. There was the sound of breaking branches and screeching metal as the AH-64 Apache crashed out of sight of the sergeant's view. Smoke soon began rising into the air marking the downed chopper's position.
Sergeant Greene was snapped out of his pensive mood and instinctively jumped into action. Ronald nimbly ran between the trees toward the telltale signs of the helicopter's location. His first concern was to get to those crewmembers before they either burned or froze to death if they survived the impact.
It was only fifteen minutes before Sergeant Greene had weaved his way through the trees to find the twisted remains of the Apache laying slightly tilted against a tree among splintered and shattered braches. The rotors were twisted and broken from smashing into the surrounding tree trunks. Smoke was still billowing from the engines and drifting skyward. There was no fire evident so Ronald moved towards the cockpit. The canopy was cracked in several areas but appeared to be intact. The two bodies inside were both slumped forward against their safety belts.
Ronald ran up to the cockpit and searched for a release the handle. As Ronald was looking for the handle, the pilot regained consciousness and opened the canopy. Ronald was caught off guard and jumped back as the canopy opened. The pilot was visibly shaken and slowly stumbled out of the helicopter.
Ronald rushed to the man. The pilot began taking off his helmet. The sergeant helped him to the ground and assisted him in removing his headgear. Then Ronald ran over to the still unmoving gunner. Ronald felt for his pulse and found that it was still strong.
Ronald began unstrapping the gunner from his restraining belts. The pilot approached having regained most of his composure and helped Ronald lift the gunner out of the cockpit. They then laid the man out on the ground and Sergeant Greene began assessing the man�s condition.
"Thank God, it's only a broken tibia," Ronald finally said.
The pilot sat down next to the gunner and looked up to Ronald.
"I'm LT. William Jones," the pilot introduced himself. "This is my gunner Chief Warrant Officer Gregory Smith."
"Master Sergeant Ronald Greene, Army Rangers," Ronald responded.
"What are the Rangers doing sending ground troops into the quarantined area?" the pilot asked. "Once you are on this side you are here for keeps."
Ronald started to splint the unconscious gunner's leg with some branches as he began his story.
"I was here with the initial deployment of troops to contain the spread of the zombies..."
"What! Zombies? Are you kidding me?" interrupted Jones. "I think you've been watching too many horror movies."
"It is exactly as I am telling you...zombies. It appears that they are still feeding the line about the disease back home," continued Ronald. "Anyway, the dead are coming back to life and eating other people. Once a person is bitten, they too will die and come back to life."
Ronald could see the disbelief in the Lieutenant's eyes.
"Look here. I've been fighting these things since early June. I believe I have a little more experience in this than you do," the sergeant shouted.
"OK, OK, I believe you. But why didn't you pull back with the other units?"
"I became separated from my unit before it was overrun by fleeing civilians who in turn were followed by our undead friends. It was a mess. So I've been out here with some companions surviving in the mountains. Which is fortunate for you, otherwise you'd still be lost here in the woods."
"I'm still lost in the woods. However, I'd be happy to find some reasonable lodging and get out of this cold. So Sergeant, I guess we're stuck with each other seeing as how we are now stuck here as well."
Ronald didn't like the way Jones put the emphasis on sergeant as if to remind him that the lieutenant outranked him. Nevertheless, this was not the time nor place to remind him that they were not in the military anymore.
Jones and Ronald had a stretcher assembled in a few minutes and began carrying the gunner to the cabin. The trip back would not take as long as it took Ronald to get out this far into the woods. Before, Ronald was just wandering slowly through the woods to be alone. Now he had a wounded man to get back to the cabin.
"So what's the news on the flip side? We've been in a total blackout since June," Ronald asked just to make conversation.
"Blackout, huh. I guess they are still jamming communications here. I never did understand why. Anyway, things are a mess at home as well. The economy is in shambles with the loss of Western Washington, Vancouver Island, and Northwest Oregon. Man, you thought what happened to the Gulf States with Katrina was bad."
Ronald stopped and looked over his shoulder towards Jones. "I thought they had the area contained before it spread to Canada and Oregon."
"Your checkpoint wasn't the only one overrun. Many fleeing civvies made it to Portland with the disease...uh, zombies so a new line of defense had to be drawn. Some drifting ferries and ships had floated to Vancouver Island across the Sound with their deadly cargo. But as I was saying, the economy is in bad shape. Plus, the president is pretty close to going to war with Iran for poisoning the water supply in Seattle."
Ronald almost dropped the stretcher when he heard that. "Iran had nothing to do with this. It was ColTech and our own military with the president's approval that started this," the sergeant's voice started to rise.
"Whoa, there. Sergeant, maybe you didn't vote for the man, but you don't have to blame him for this. The CIA has irrefutable evidence that Al Qaeda terrorists with Iran's backing poisoned the water supply," the lieutenant responded with more authority in his voice.
Ronald stopped walking again and slowly put down the stretcher. Then he turned towards the lieutenant.
Ronald started talking slowly and in a low but firm voice as he faced the pilot. "Listen here, son. You may have outranked me on the other side; however, that doesn't mean crap here. Secondly, this isn't the first time evidence has been made up to validate war. Remember the Iraqi thing a few years ago? Never did find those WMD's did we. Thirdly, I have evidence from ColTech itself pointing the finger squarely at themselves, the military and the president and his administration."
William just stood there dumbfounded staring at the sergeant. Finally, the pilot looked away and mumbled an apology. Then they both stooped down and picked up the stretcher and began walking again.
It was near midnight by the time they reached the palisade surrounding the cabin. Nori was on watch and recognized the sergeant carrying the stretcher into the clearing. She ran downstairs and woke up both Brady and Cooper to help her with Ronald. Light filtered out into the night from the upper story windows as the trio ran out of the cabin to open the palisade gate.
Ronald and Jones had set the gunner down when the gate opened up. Brady went over to the unconscious gunner while Coop and Nori went over to Greene.
"What's going on Sarge?" asked the Coop.
"I found some friends in the woods," replied Greene as he looked down at the young boy. "Looks like we'll be having guests."
"You guys better get inside it is cold out here. I'm amazed you haven't frozen to death already," Nori said.
Nori's female voice brought Jones out of his internal brooding. He looked at the young woman and smiled.
"I can see why you stayed after all, sergeant," the pilot said cheerfully.
Ronald was too exhausted to notice that Jones was leering at Nori as he said this.
The gunner was set up in the master bedroom that the boys used to occupy. Ronald, Brady, and Coop all moved downstairs with the Lieutenant. Nori remained rooming in the spare bedroom. Being the only female Sarge had established that she be allowed more privacy. The arrangements would have to do until something better could be figured out. As it was, it was more important that Gregory Smith who was still unconscious occupy the master bedroom with someone always keeping watch.
Ronald was able to set the gunner's broken right leg and place a rough cast on it. It was a good thing Smith was already unconscious for certainly the resetting would have made him pass out. Ronald took the gunner's pulse and was relieved to find that it was still strong and steady.
"The poor man must have suffered a concussion when they crashed," thought Ronald.
There wasn't much that Ronald could do for a concussion. Normally, you kept someone awake for a day or so, but Smith was already out. Hence, either Smith will have to pull out of it himself or he would probably die.
Ronald never mentioned the latter to Jones who never left Smith's side.
"You know they used to call us Alias Smith and Jones from that old TV show or the MIBs from the movie," William started to speak. "We've been through a lot together, even a tour of duty in Iraq."
"So what brings you guys to our side of the mountain?" asked Ronald.
"We left a lot of hardware when everyone evacuated. There are many tanks, HumVees, APCs, ammo depots. You name it.
"Well, we couldn't just leave that hardware out there for anyone to pick up. Did you know that there are people who are crossing over here just to get some military hardware?" asked Jones.
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Some biker gangs out there have been causing some trouble. That was one of the reasons we came up here."
"That's not even half of it. The Neo-Nazis have crossed over as well as many Freemen groups and a couple of Indian tribes.
"The Chinese were even sending their prisoners here. They were originally sending them in through the Sound, but after Vancouver, it has been mined. Now they just set the poor souls adrift in a row boat with no food within the sight of land," Jones continued never taking his eyes off Smith.
"So your job is to destroy all the toys we left outside?" asked Ronald.
"That's it in a nutshell. The more visible hardware is to be taken out first. Tanks and armored vehicles have the highest priority. We don't want any of them dissident groups forming their own army and causing us more problems."
Ronald started to say something when Smith started to stir. At first, William didn't notice, but when Smith started to moan William broke out in laughter.
"Oh man, my head," groaned the gunner.
William gripped the gunner's hand in his, "Take it easy pal, we had a rough landing."
Gregory started to lift himself up before the sergeant gently pushed him back down into the bed.
"You need your rest. As the Lieutenant said, you need to take it easy," Ronald said soothingly.
"Wha...? Who are you?" the gunner asked now fully awake.
"Later pal, you just relax," smiled Jones.
Ronald stood up and started to leave the room.
"I'll leave you two alone," the sergeant said before he left the room and closed the door behind him.
"Welcome back to the living," the pilot said.
"Where are we Loot?" asked Smith.
"Unfortunately, in the land of the dead. But, hey, relax we landed in some friendly folk's backyard and not all the company is unpleasant either," the pilot winked to his gunner.
"Loot, don't be starting any trouble. You are always getting us in some hot water with you chasing anything in a skirt," Gregory said with genuine concern on his face.
"Don't worry. There is no law over here, but why are we talking about this? We should be celebrating," laughed the pilot as he pulled a steel hip flask from his pocket.
The two helicopter crewmembers talked and laughed late into the night. Ronald brought them some dinner and left them alone. Then Ronald took his usual watch in the tower on the top of the cabin. Nori retired to her room and Coop and Brady went to sleep in the living room.
William had drained his flask dry of the alcohol. Gregory just took enough to lessen the pain in his throbbing head. Feeling that the party was just starting William snuck downstairs looking for something to drink. He noticed the boys sleeping soundly in the living room. He worked his way over to the kitchen/dinning room area where the wood burning stove still consumed its wooden load.
In one of the cupboards, William found a bottle of a California wine. He then snuck back upstairs and rejoined the Gunner.
"OK, let's get this party going pal," the pilot said pulling the cork out of the bottle.
"Not tonight, Loot. My head still hurts and my leg is really starting to bother me."
"Well, then you won't mind if I celebrate on my own?" the pilot began drinking straight from the bottle.
"Loot, why don't you take it easy yourself? You know how rowdy you get when you've been drinking. We shouldn't upset our host," said the gunner.
"Ah, you worry too much. But you probably should get some rest. I'll stay right here," William said soothingly.
It wasn't long before the gunner went back to sleep. It wasn't too much longer after that William Jones finished off his bottle of wine. He dropped the bottle on the floor and blew out the candle next to Gregory's bed. The pilot then staggered over to the door and exited the room.
As Jones was drunkenly walking across the balcony to go downstairs, he stopped outside Nori's room. The moonlight spilled its pale radiance through the upper story windows filling the interior with a soft blue light. The trapdoor to the guard tower was closed.
"We all have to get acquainted anyway," the pilot thought to himself.
William slowly and silently opened the door to Nori's room. He poked his head inside to hear her steady breathing. A quick scan around the room found her in a sound sleep under the covers of her bed. The pilot then staggered into the room shutting the door quietly behind him.
The helicopter pilot then pulled a knife out from his boot and approached the bed. The moonlight from the small window aided him in navigating across the floor. There lay the young Asian girl her short-cropped hair unkempt from hours of sleep. She rested her head upon a pillow that lay upon her right hand.
"This'll be easy. She can't be more than eighteen and I'm sure she's been sharing herself with her companions," the drunken man thought lecherously.
With surprising agility, the inebriated pilot threw himself upon the unsuspecting girl. The knife he put against her throat. Nori was instantly awake, but before she could utter a scream, the pilot slapped her with his free hand knocking her senseless.
"Come now sweetness let us get a little better acquainted," sneered Jones in a low hiss as he started clawing at Nori's flannel pajamas.
Nori just laid there stunned unable to do anything as the drunken pilot roughly tried to pull her clothes off.
Nori was sound asleep. She was dreaming of being back in St. Anthony's Catholic school when she was suddenly attacked. The girl was instantly awake when she felt the cold steel blade of the combat knife against her throat. A man's shape was outlined in the moonlight sitting upon her. Then the heavy slap across the face stunned her.
"Come now sweetness let us get a little better acquainted," the man's voice hissed as the smell of alcohol carried on his warm breath filled her nostrils.
Nori couldn't move, couldn�t react or anything. Her head was still reeling from the hard slap across her face. She could taste the blood in her mouth. She could feel the man rip the flannel top open on her pajamas. She could hear the buttons of her top clatter upon the wooden floor.
His rough hand was working quickly to undress her. Horror filled her mind as the man started to kiss her sloppily. His other hand was working on undoing his flight suit. She was now paralyzed with fear. Her right hand was pinned under her pillow. Suddenly she was instantly alert.
The pilot was working furiously. It had been a long time since he�d been with a woman. Since the whole ordeal in Seattle, he'd been on active duty and very few people hung around the bases in eastern Washington. He was trying hard to make his drunken hands work properly. William had the girl completely pinned down. At first her eyes were unfocused from being suddenly awaken and then from the stunning blow. Then he recognized the fear he'd seen several times before. She was now completely frozen with fear.
"It'll be easy now," Jones laughed inwardly.
All of a sudden, Jones saw stars as something hard slammed into the side of his own head. Now it was the pilot who was stunned as he fell from the bed onto the floor. He could barely hear the girl screaming as he drunkenly rolled over onto his back. William could see Nori standing over him holding the pajama top close with her left hand and holding a pink automatic pistol in her right pointed straight at him.
Sergeant Ronald was keeping his usual watch in the tower when he heard Nori screaming.
"Dammit!" thought Ronald angrily. He was quick to figure out that the pilot was paying Nori a visit. The Ranger was even quicker in dropping through the trap door and was in Nori's room.
When the sergeant entered the room, he saw the small Asian girl barely over five feet tall holding a torn flannel shirt together with one hand. She was pointing her pink .45 P-14 at the drunken pilot who was lying on his back. At this sight, red filled the Ranger's vision. In a berserker's rage, the muscular man picked up the pilot and flung him across the room.
Ronald was barely aware of what he was doing. It was as if he was outside his own body watching himself beat up the helicopter pilot. Ronald couldn't hear the sobbing Nori crying out for him to stop. Nor did he notice the lantern light up the room as Brady and Cooper entered. He didn't even notice the gunner hop over and try to pull Greene off Jones. The sergeant�s massive fists continued to pummel and slam into the drunken soldier. It took Brady, Smith, and even Coop to pull Greene off from the now unconscious and bleeding pilot.
The birds were chirping outside and the sunlight beamed in through the upper story windows. The light was bathing the living room with its radiance. It was only then that William regained consciousness. The pilot was very much the worse for ware. One eye was swollen shut; his lips were swollen and split. He could feel that he was missing at least three teeth and a couple of ribs were cracked. Jones found that he couldn't move his hands; in fact, he couldn't even feel them. That was when he realized that he was securely bound to one of the log support beams for the balcony.
William scanned across the living room and found the sergeant glaring at him from the couch. Smith was sitting next to Ronald, and Coop was sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table.
"You can thank your friend here for your life. You've been given a brief reprieve. You'll be lucky if I don't kill you," hissed Ronald through clenched teeth.
Jones could only slump his head to his chest. He was in no condition to argue or even to listen to the sergeant. His head was pounding from his injuries as well as his excessive drinking the night before. He remembered attacking the girl, and he remembered her smashing something into his temple that stunned him. The rest was a blur.
Meanwhile, Brady sat in the bedroom with Nori. The sergeant put him on watch over her. She hadn�t said anything all night; she cried and curled herself into a ball on top of her bed. Nori only had a few moments of fitful sleep. Every time Brady tried to comfort her by putting his arms around her, Nori would just start sobbing again and push him away.
No one knew what to do, not even Sarge. He just told Brady to watch over Nori so that she would not harm herself. When the sunlight broke through the bedroom window Brady saw that Nori's eyes were swollen and bloodshot from crying all night. Her short black hair was unkempt and she hugged the blanket like a five year-old child seeking security.
"Nori?" Brady asked softly.
Nori just sat there staring off into space. Not even acknowledging she heard Brady.
"Sarge says that he�ll shoot Jones. He'll be like Judge Dread. You know judge, jury, and executioner," Brady said, hoping that a comic book reference would snap her back.
Nori finally looked up at Brady and whispered one word, "No."
Brady didn�t know if he heard Nori correctly at first or not. He didn�t really expect her to respond to his half-hearted joke. Of course, joking at a time like this was in poor taste Brady realized too late.
"I�m sorry. I guess I should not be joking," Brady said lowering his eyes.
"No," Nori continued, "Sarge cannot kill Jones."
"What do you mean?" Brady said still confused but now looking Nori straight in the eyes.
"He cannot kill a living man for my sake," Nori responded.
"But I killed a man attacking you," Brady countered.
"That was in self-defense. Jones has already been subdued. It�ll be murder now."
"It�ll be justice, after what he did to you." Brady argued.
"NO!" shouted Nori, "I won�t have it done. It is against my beliefs."
Sergeant Greene heard the shout come from upstairs. He jumped to his feet and started to run upstairs. Coop was also on his feet.
"Coop you stay here and make sure nothing happens to Jones," ordered Greene.
Then Ronald flew up the stairs and across the balcony to disappear into Nori�s room. Coop sat down on the couch and watched over Jones, who was still slumping forward from the beam.
"Bill, why did you do it?" asked Smith.
"Greg, you don�t understand. You�re too soft," William said through his cracked lips.
"You are right I don�t understand. You�ve never done anything like this before. Yeah, sure you were always a womanizer, but you never attack a woman - let alone a girl."
Bill started to laugh. He raised his eyes up to lock onto Greg�s eyes.
"Remember that time we were in Iraq, and I went to that checkpoint with Captain Tanner and his boys?"
"Yeah, you were off duty, and Tanner invited you to stand watch with him. You got a purple heart when you guys stopped that suicide car bomber. You were lucky that the colonel didn�t send you to the brig," the gunner replied with a confused look on his face.
"You are such a Boy Scout, Greg. Everything isn�t black and white or red, white, and blue for that matter," laughed the pilot.
Greg shook his head not comprehending.
"Look, Greg, Captain Tanner and his boys abducted this young teenage girl from her village," the pilot smiled his face turning evil as he saw the shocked expression on Greg�s face.
"They were the enemy. They were inferior. Don�t you get it?" William prodded.
"No, it�s not true. We were there to protect those people. Every soldier I�ve worked with and every soldier I've known felt the same," countered Greg.
"That�s why it was just Captain Tanner, me, and a couple of his boys. You sissy little Boy Scouts like our sergeant here would never understand," William said no longer aware that there was a ten year-old boy listening in.
"When we were done, we knocked her out and put her into a car. Then we blew it up. I didn�t duck like the rest and caught a piece of shrapnel," laughed William.
The gunner turned his face away from the pilot. The man he knew or thought he knew was no longer there in that room.
"I hope they kill you," Greg said under his breath.
Coop looked over at Greg. Only he heard the pained gunner�s last remark. The pilot just continued to laugh. William was no longer in his right mind.
Sergeant Greene ran into the bedroom to see Brady standing and Nori sitting on her bed holding a blanket. They were both silent. Nori was no longer crying as she looked over at the sergeant.
"Don�t do it, Ronnie," Nori pleaded, "please."
Ronald flinched when he heard her say Ronnie.
"I can�t let him go unpunished, nor can we keep him around," Greene said gravely.
"I was the one attacked. I believe I have a say in this. You cannot kill him," Nori said.
Sergeant Greene stood there not saying a word. He didn�t know what to say. Nori then began crying again as she saw the stony expression on the sergeant�s face.
"You have been like a father to me. Please, don�t do something that we�ll all regret," Nori sobbed.
"I�m sorry, kid. I�ve already done that," Ronald replied as he turned and left the room.
Ronald went downstairs, opened the door, and stared out into the frosty morning. Snow started to slowly fall. Ronald shut the door and went over to the closet. He pulled out a small school pack and started throwing some things into it.
Greene then dismantled an automatic pistol and threw it into the backpack. Ronald pulled out a single bullet. He stared at it for a while and then he looked over at Jones who was watching everything impassively. Ronald then shoved the bullet into the pack.
The sergeant went over to the pilot and untied him from the log support. Then Ronald retied Jones� hands behind his back. The sergeant lifted Jones to his feet and pushed him towards the front door.
"OK, Lieutenant. We are going for a walk that you are not returning from," the sergeant said coldly.
As Sergeant Greene led the lieutenant towards the door, he looked over at the gunner still sitting on the couch and staring at the floor.
"You can come along or you can stay. The choice is yours," Greene said.
"Sergeant, do what you have to. I won�t be a problem," answered Smith without taking his eyes from the floor.
With that, Ronald and William exited the cabin into the blowing snow.
Brady left Nori�s room and walked down the stairs. He looked over at Coop and Smith and saw them both sitting in silence. Neither the boy nor the gunner looked up as Brady walked into the room.
"Where�s Sarge?" Brady inquired.
"He took the pilot outside," Coop answered.
"I think he�s going to execute Bill. I wish I could be the one to pull the trigger myself," added Smith.
"We have to stop him," Nori said from the top of the balcony.
No one had heard her leave her room and walk onto the balcony. They all jumped when they heard her voice come down from above.
"I�ll grab my stuff and go after them," offered Brady.
"I�m coming along," Nori said.
"I don�t think..." Brady started to say before Nori cut him off.
"I�m sick and tired of you guys never letting me go along. I�m sick and tired of always being attacked by psychos. I�m not going to take it anymore got it!" Nori declared.
Then Nori returned to her room slamming the door behind her. Brady stared at the closed door for a couple of minutes before he started gathering some things into his backpack.
"Coop, think you�ll be alright here with Smith?" Brady asked.
"Yes," Cooper said immediately.
Brady was about done getting everything packed when Nori walked down the stairs. She was wearing her usual black leather jacket, pants, and boots. Sitting upon her head there was a riot helmet with faceplate with the words POLICE painted on the front. She had woolen glove liners stuffed into her normal leather gloves. On her back was strapped her katana. An M-16A2 was slung over her right shoulder. Around her slim waist was buckled an army web military belt that holstered a pink .45 P-14 with a Hello Kitty head on the grip.
Brady tossed her a green down winter jacket that once belonged to his mother and a framed backpack loaded with supplies they may need. Brady dressed himself in a similar leather outfit like Nori, but on his head was an olive drab green PSGAT helmet that he fitted over a stocking cap. He had a .45 P-13 on his hip and his grandfather's 12-guage Remington shotgun slung over his right shoulder. On his framed backpack was lashed a wooden Louisville slugger baseball bat. Brady wore his dark blue down winter jacket to protect him from the elements.
"We hopefully should not be too long," Brady said as he and Nori stepped out into the freezing morning wind.
"Be careful," called out Smith before Brady shut the door after Nori.
Brady could see that the snowfall was getting heavier and the wind was starting to pick up. As the cold bit into his exposed flesh, he remembered why he hated the snow. Being from Seattle, he could handle rain, but the snow and cold was something else, especially the damn wind.
Brady picked out Jones and Sarge�s tracks in the snow. Fortunately, the wind and snow hadn�t erased their trail yet. He prayed that Nori and he could find them relatively soon or things could get difficult.
"Stop right there," hissed the sergeant through clenched teeth.
Lieutenant Jones stopped where he was in the woods. He could tell from the sun burning through the overcast sky that it was still before noon. Jones was dressed only in his flight suit and the cold was blowing right through his core.
"Well, at least I won�t freeze to death. I just hope it�s a headshot," thought Jones as the sergeant began to take off the small daypack on his back.
"I am not going to kill you as you deserve," hissed the sergeant.
Lieutenant Jones just stood there dumbfounded. He didn�t know whether to be relieved or upset. On one hand, he wasn�t going to be killed by the sergeant. However, it was obvious that he couldn�t last for long in the elements. Jones looked up at the evergreen treetops to see the snow was starting to fall harder and the wind was even starting pick up.
"I�ve got you some things to help you survive. If you head east, you can try to cross the mountains and see if you can get back over the border. If you head west and I meet you again I will kill you," said Ronald. "Inside this backpack are also your knife and your pistol, dismantled, and one bullet. You can decide how you want to use it."
Greene then threw the pack into some brush past where Jones stood shivering. William didn�t waste any time scrambling over to the brush and retrieving the pack. Jones then turned around and noticed that the sergeant had disappeared. Their tracks were also rapidly disappearing.
Brady was rapidly losing hope that they could find the sergeant and the lieutenant as the tracks were filling in with snow. Any attempt to turn back was foiled by Nori. She made it quite obvious that she would continue with or without Brady. Brady knew if he left her alone, he was condemning her to certain death.
The snow was up to Brady�s mid-calves that was almost up to Nori�s knees. Nori was starting to stumble as she was getting more and more exhausted. The snowstorm quickly transformed itself into a blizzard. Visibility was practically nothing.
Brady went over to Nori and started to assist her along. As they resumed their trek, Brady noticed that all trace of Ronald�s and William�s tracks were gone. Then Brady turned around and noticed that their tracks were also quickly vanishing. Brady finally convinced Nori that they needed to turn around and start to head back to the cabin. If they were lucky, they would find it before it was too late.
Nori was too exhausted to protest. She just followed where Brady led. She had to lift the faceplate on her riot helmet after they left the cabin as it instantly frosted up from her breath. The snow and wind bit directly into her face. Her own tears were even starting to freeze on her cheeks. The feeling in Nori�s fingers and toes were now gone, making it even more difficult for her to move. She was starting to shiver more and more and her movements became more sluggish.
Brady had lost the trail. The snow had completely erased all signs of their tracks. With the wind howling in his ears, the snow plastering his face, and having to practically carry Nori; Brady could only hope that they were heading in the correct direction. Every once in a while he would stop and rub his and Nori�s hands to get the circulation going.
Nori just wanted to sleep. Many times, she thought that she was sleeping as she saw imaginary images flash before her eyes. Once she thought she saw Father Henderson ahead of her.
"Hi, Father what are you doing out here?" Nori asked the apparition.
Fear colder than the weather ran through Brady�s heart as Nori carried on her random and irrational ramblings. Hypothermia was quickly claiming the girl. Brady�s grandfather warned him about the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it. However, it wouldn�t be much longer before she would succumb. Brady needed to find shelter and fast.
The snow was now up to Brady�s knees and Nori�s waist. Hope and time were quickly running out for Brady. He was now completely lost and Nori was slipping even faster away from him. Brady had very little winter experience on the mountain. The closest he�d even be out here in winter was in the fall hunting with his grandfather.
Brady continued trudging his way praying all along. It would take a miracle for them to get out of this one. Nori was rambling less; it wouldn�t be long before unconsciousness set in. Brady was tired and set Nori down, and then he plunked himself next to her and rested his back against a small tree. The wind blew even harder and the snow continued to obscure his vision. Sleepiness brought on by the cold and exhaustion started to consume Brady.
Brady was starting to nod off when he jerked his head back to fight off sleep. His helmet hit the back of the tree and was knocked off his head. Brady picked up his helmet and noticed that his back was against a flat surface. As the thought that trees are usually round slowly registered in Brady�s sluggish brain, Brady came completely to his senses. He jumped to his feet and looked at his "tree". It wasn�t a tree at all, but instead a leg to an old Ranger fire lookout.
Brady could see the steps of the stairs rising up in front of him. He knew that he could not possibly carry both himself and Nori up the 20-foot tall edifice. Brady pulled off his backpack and fished around until he found some rope. He tied one end of the rope under Nori's arms. With that accomplished, Brady put his backpack over his shoulders and started to ascend the stairs as quickly as his frozen limbs could carry him. Every time he passed a support beam, he would have to pass the rope along the outside of the beam in order to keep the rope on the outside of edge of the tower.
Time was now the only factor that mattered to Brady. The climb up the tower seemed to take forever. Only the thought of Nori quickly dying kept Brady going. Sweat was starting to pour out of Brady. He would have to be quick or the sweat itself would freeze and kill him just as sure as the hypothermia was killing Nori.
At last, Brady reached the platform that housed the lookout building itself. Then Brady started to haul Nori�s semiconscious form up the side of the tower. He pulled the rope hand over hand as quickly as he could. Brady�s arms were burning from the exertion, but he had to keep at it or lose Nori if it wasn�t already too late.
Brady saw Nori�s slumping head poke itself up over the edge. Brady tied off the rope, grabbed Nori under her arms, and dragged her up onto the platform. Brady quickly assessed Nori�s condition. She was barely conscious; her ramblings were becoming more infrequent. A quick search of the platform revealed that they were just outside the door to the square house. The door was locked and refused to budge. It looked to be a deadbolt.
Fear and hopelessness started to consume Brady. In an explosive burst of anger, Brady tried to kick-in the door. The door shot open in a shower of wood splinters. The interior was completely dark. The shutters had been lowered over windows for winter.
Brady dragged Nori into the interior of the building. Just getting out of the wind was a great relief. Brady pulled out his compact sleeping bag and unrolled it. He then took off Nori�s gear and stuffed her into the sleeping bag. She would need to get some sugar and heat or she would die.
Brady pulled out a candle from his backpack and lit it. The candlelight lit up the interior. There was a table in the center of the 14x14 foot room, a couple of wooden chairs and very little else. Brady shut the door and pulled a chair in front of it to keep it closed. The interior was barely warmer than the outside temperature, but they were out of the wind and therefore they were warmer.
Brady rummaged through his backpack looking for some sort of candy. He doubted he had any seeing as to how that was a pretty rare commodity. Cans of food were being stacked on the table next to the candle as Brady searched his backpack for any kind of candy. One can rolled over the edge and onto the floor. Brady picked it up and noticed that it was a can of Bartlett pears.
Brady pulled out his Swiss Army knife and opened the can. He poured the sugary liquid into a metal cup from his mess kit. After heating it over the candle, Brady ran over to Nori and started to pour the warm liquid down her throat. Brady prayed that she wouldn�t try to inhale while he was pouring the liquid. Nori instinctively swallowed the fluid without mishap.
Brady then emptied the rest of the contents of the can into his mess kit and grabbed the candle off the table. Brady placed the can next to the sleeping bag and carefully inserted the candle. Brady was hoping that the slight heat from the candle would warm up the can and help warm the interior of the lookout station. The can would also help keep the candle from burning down the wooden structure.
With the first stage accomplished, Brady had to work on warming up the uncontrollably shivering Nori. Brady stripped off Nori�s clothes. He looked over her hands and feet for signs of frostbite. Other than being slightly red, they appeared to be fine. Brady started to rub them briskly to return their circulation. Then Brady stripped himself down and climbed into the sleeping bag with Nori. Her skin was literally as cold as ice as Brady�s bare skin came in contact with hers.
"God, she�s going to kill me in the morning," thought Brady.
Brady started to vigorously rub Nori to warm her up. After five minutes of rubbing to get the circulation flowing, Brady stopped from pure exhaustion. He laid himself back down and let the sleep he staved off finally take him completely.
Food at the Ranger�s cabin was starting to run short. Carl, being the only person with any wilderness skills, decided that he should try to find something to eat. The chances of finding deer, bear, or even a squirrel this late in the season and this high up was very remote, but he had to try.
Ten people back at the station were counting on him. The Ranger cabin itself was more like a one bedroom house. There was a bathroom, living room, dining room and kitchen along with the solitary bedroom. Fortunately, the cabin had a wood burning stove, or there would be no source of heat.
Carl figured that the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks were the only ones who used the station seasonally, more than likely during the summer months. The small building was sparsely furnished. There was a couch, a twin bed, a kitchen table with four chairs, as well as a small desk containing some maps and writing material.
The story of its occupants is interesting to say the least. It turns out that Rabbi Rosenberg and Pastor Brown were on their way to an interfaith conference in Seattle when things started to fall apart. The Rabbi and Pastor were old friends and had decided to carpool from Spokane to the Hilton Hotel holding the meeting in the big city. They only made it to the outskirts of town when the military roadblocks were set up. The army set them away.
The two men of faith decided that they were needed here to help those poor souls trapped in the city. They thought that if they found a remote location and laid low for a while they could sneak in at some future date. That was how they missed the general evacuation.
It turns out that they were in a campground when the word was given. The five days that they spent there was enough for the military to clear out the majority of the populace and retreat back over the Cascades.
When Rosenberg and Brown returned to the roadblock, they were met with a grisly scene. There were the burnt out hulks of vehicles that still held the smoldering remains of their occupants. People who weren�t killed by incineration were littering the grounds around the roadblock. Some were obviously shot, others were crushed from the stampeding mass of humanity fleeing the cities, and yet others had been butchered as if they had been sheep descended upon by ravenous wolves.
The smell was horrific; the stench of burnt human flesh mixed with that of decay permeated the air. Both men had terrible fits of gagging. However, they decided that they needed to see if there was anyone alive. They cautiously approached the concrete barricades that still had a few military vehicles behind it. There was the occasional dead soldier, but there was no sign of life on this end of the barricade.
The two men started to climb over the concrete slabs, slabs that were in another time the barriers between the opposing lanes of traffic, when they saw them. There on the ground mingled in with the human and mechanical wreckage were the zombies and they were feasting. The sound of these ghouls shredding and tearing apart their victims and hungrily chewing the flesh was too much for the two men. They quickly retreated to their car and sped out of there.
Neither man spoke for a long while. They were nearly out of gas in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Pastor Brown decided that they should try to find a gas station in one of the small towns.
That was where they met the rest of the party. Brown had pulled the sputtering car into the station just before the last drop of gas was consumed. In the lot were parked an army two-ton truck and a school bus. The two men cautiously exited the car when they noticed a man in his late thirties wearing a dirty ball cap and greasy clothes come marching over to them. The name badge on his shirt said George.
This was George MacLaren, the owner of the MacLaren�s Gas and Garage. The two-pump gas station was on the outskirts of a little town that had been evacuated several days before. George was a small business owner and wasn�t about to leave his shop to the hands of looters and vandals. Therefore, despite military orders George stayed behind, he even promised several of his neighbors that he would watch over their homes until they could return. Little did anyone know that no one would be able to return to this dead zone in western Washington ever.
At first, George just looked over the two men of God curiously. The Pastor and Rabbi forgot that they were still dressed in their holy garments. It was like some bad bar joke come to life.
Pastor Brown initiated the conversation.
"Hello, I am John Brown and this is my good friend Rabbi Hershel Rosenberg," greeted the Pastor as he extended his hand.
George hesitantly extended his own grime-covered hand and started to pump Brown�s in a friendly handshake.
"George MacLaren, owner of this garage. How may I help you gentlemen?" asked the stoic faced MacLaren.
"It seems that we have had the misfortune of running out of gas. Do you happen to have any we could either purchase or borrow?" asked the Rabbi as he in turn shook George�s dirty hand.
That seemed to break the tension as MacLaren started busting out laughing, "Borrow? Heh, heh," he ejaculated. "What do I get in return, exhaust fumes?"
Both the Rabbi and the Pastor started laughing in return. It was the first good laugh any of them had had in over a week. The magic of suddenly bursting out into such genuine and heartfelt mirth lifted a great burden off everyone�s spirit.
"You may have what�s ever left in the pumps," offered MacLaren as the trio started to walk towards the station.
Rosenberg suddenly stopped in his tracks holding back his friend, Brown, when he saw the faces looking out at them from the school bus. There were about half a dozen of them. Some were even children and all had puzzled expressions plastered on them.
"Oh, I�m sorry. These are some other stragglers like you who were heading east before they closed down the passes," offered George.
As the three men resumed walking, people started pouring out of the bus. A tall man in late thirties with brown hair and a well-groomed beard walked over to the men. He was dressed in a flannel shirt and blue jeans. Behind him followed a blond woman who had to be in her mid-thirties dressed in purple scrubs. A girl in turn followed her in her late teens or early twenties with her brown hair pulled into a ponytail wearing a t-shirt and a denim skirt. The faces of four children could be seen looking out the window.
"Were you men heading east?" called out the bearded man.
"Why, yes we were, but George says the passes are closed," replied Brown.
"The military has them locked down tight like they did the barricades out of the cities. We are heading for higher ground you are welcome to join us," offered the man.
As the two parties reached each other, handshakes and greetings were exchanged. The bearded man was in fact a veterinarian called "Doc", but his real name was Vernon Stephenson. The blond woman was an RN whose name was Gloria Meyer and the pony-tailed girl was Missy Jensen.
All three and the four children in the bus had been survivors of the stampeding mass fleeing the greater Seattle area. They had witnessed the cold-blooded murder as the U.S. Army blindly opened fire on the helpless people running from the massive horde of undead following them. They were part of those survivors of the military onslaught who were able to climb over the barricades and overwhelm the soldiers just so that they could escape into the surrounding countryside.
Doc started gathering the people he found in the woods into a party. He reasoned that there was safety in numbers. In addition, the veterinarian found an abandoned school bus, loaded the refugees inside, and drove them to a garage where they met George.
George figured with the passes closed no one was going to return and proposed that they seek shelter in a ski lodge up in the Cascades. George had an army two-ton truck that the military abandoned at the garage when it broke down. The mechanic estimated that it would take him two days to fix the truck and another day to load it with all the provisions that they would need.
MacLaren had the metal drums filled with gasoline that he was able to pump thanks to his backup generator. These where then rolled into the truck along with as much food, blankets and other necessities. They were in fact, just about to leave when George heard the car chug up to the pumps.
The Rabbi and Pastor agreed to join the party. It was that night when Seattle was firebombed that the small party started on their journey to the ski lodge. It was the next day when a terrible rainstorm hit them in the mountains. Fortunately, they had found an abandoned Ranger station to sit out the storm. When the weather cleared the next morning George and Doc searched the road ahead only to find that their route to the ski lodged had been blocked by a massive mudslide. So, they all decided to stay at the station.
That was where Carl found them and became a member of their small community. He really enjoyed being with the small group and felt sadden by the prospect of having to say goodbye when the snows melted so that he could resume his mission. A mission that none of his new friends knew about. No his mission was top secret and none had suspected that he came from the east side of the mountains.
The story he told them was that he was a hunter who was living off the land. That he was on his way down following the game when he came upon their homestead. Everyone accepted that and that in of itself pleased Carl.
Now the small party was starting to run low on provisions and it was up to Carl to find something for them to eat. There had to be something out here that he could kill so that they all could survive the cold winter.
The sound of a loud crash and the smoke billowing up from the trees many miles ahead popped Carl back from his musings. Quickly Carl started off for the origin of the black trail of smoke.
It was the morning of the second day after Carl heard the helicopter go down that he arrived at the crash site. The wreckage of the Apache helicopter was amongst the splintered remains of the trees that once shrouded the woods in shade. Carl noticed that the cockpit was open and that both the gunner and pilot were gone. A quick survey revealed the tracks of two men leaving the site. It had to have been in the last 24 hours going by the tracks.
The FBI agent continued to look around and the story revealed itself. It appeared that there was a third person who arrived at the site. One of the crewmembers must have been wounded and the two able bodied people made a makeshift stretcher. They then headed off toward the south. The tracks in the snow, the stripped saplings, and the patch of ground where a body laid gave Carl the clues he needed in order to deduce this.
Carl went back to the helicopter to search for more clues. In the pilot�s seat there was a map that Carl grabbed and stuffed in his backpack. The FBI agent also stuffed a small untouched first-aid kit into his bag.
The morning sun was still low over the eastern peaks. That would give Carl the most amount of sunlight to follow the tracks in the snow. Carl began to hurry along after the trail of footprints. The wind started to pick up and the snow began to fall an hour after the FBI agent set out.
"Great, that�s all I need," grumbled Carl to himself.
Food was the major concern that ran through Carl�s mind. He hadn�t had any success in hunting over the past few days. If he didn�t find any game or someone willing to share their stores, his companions at the Ranger�s cabin would surely starve in a matter of weeks. Doc already had everyone on half rations. How long could those children last?
A shudder ran down the old man�s spine. The four children were the Miltons, Mary age twelve, Adam age eight, and the twins Victoria and Diane both age six. Melissa Jensen, or Missy as the kids called her, was their nanny. Missy had come to Seattle from Iowa last May at the age of eighteen. She was just out of high school when she became the Miltons� nanny. She still watched over the children like a mother. The children themselves listened to her as if she were - in fact - their mother.
Carl shook his head; Missy herself was still a child in his mind. The children�s parents were lost in the last rush over the barricades. Missy was able by extraordinary effort to keep the children together and get them safely over the military blockade and into the surrounding woods. That was where Doc found them hiding in the underbrush.
Everybody seemed to have lost someone during those two weeks in early June. Gloria was fortunate enough to be volunteering at a clinic when the hospitals were being overrun by the undead. She left the clinic as soon as it became obvious that the cities were no longer safe. Gloria tried to return to her neighborhood, but was unable to get far. It was literally crawling with ghouls. Her boyfriend, she feared, was unable to get out of their apartment as the building was burning out of control.
Doc had left his veterinarian clinic just a head of a mob of zombies shambling down the streets. He considered himself fortunate not to have any family inside Seattle. The veterinarian just headed for the city borders hoping to get out alive.
As Carl progressed along after the tracks, the wind continued to build and the snow fell even harder. Carl reckoned he had only an hour or two before all remains of the footprints were lost. He prayed desperately that he would find the men who left them quickly. There obviously had to be a house, cabin, or some other shelter nearby if some Good Samaritan rescued the crew. He also prayed that they would have some extra food and would be willing to part with some of it.
The blizzard was blinding, but Carl pressed on. He had no other choice. Fortunately, Carl always dressed in layers so that he was reasonably warm as he trudged on in the ever-deepening snow. He continued to hike for another couple hours before all signs of the men leaving the crash site were erased by nature.
There had to be a road or some other man made feature to the south reasoned the old agent. Carl had been able to keep his bearings thanks to the many glances at his pocket compass. The snowfall was as heavy as Carl had ever experienced. The cold was biting at his face, the wind howling its haunting song in his ears.
Outside of the wind, the only other noise that Carl experienced as the groaning and creaking of the pine trees overhead. Every once in a while a large clump of snow would drop down from a limb above and land on Carl. This did nothing to ease his troubled mind. He knew he had to find some form of shelter and fast.
The sunlight was nearly gone due to the overcast skies and the blinding white flakes of snow being driven by the rushing wind.
"South... I must remain on a southern course," Carl reminded himself repeatedly.
Exhaustion was finally beginning to win out over the agent. Carl wasn�t a young man anymore, and he didn�t know how much more he could push himself before he would collapse from either exhaustion or a heart attack. But push he did. The alternative was to give up, and Carl was no quitter.
Carl glanced down at his compass one more time to make sure he was still on course. He looked up to see what looked like a western fort through the break in the trees ahead. The FBI agent didn�t know if he was starting to hallucinate or not. Therefore, he approached it cautiously.
It was definitely a wooden palisade. Carl�s heart leaped with joy at the thought of finally finding some shelter to get out of this miserable weather. The blizzard was still in full force, and the snow was now up to mid-thigh on Carl.
Just as the old man was about to step into the clearing around the log barrier he heard a crack like a gunshot. Something struck him with so much force from behind that Carl was flung forward. Pain shot through his shoulder. His mind began to fog as he slipped into unconsciousness. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a figure of a man running toward him in the blizzard.
The morning after the blizzard revealed a clear and bright sky. The sun was out and the temperature had risen to around forty degrees Fahrenheit. The few birds that stayed year around sang their greeting to the morning. There was no wind howling nor was there any snow falling.
Nori was sleeping in a light slumber dreaming of being in her warm bed back at the cabin. As she rolled around, she realized that she wasn’t in bed alone. Nori’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she instantly awoke with this realization.
She wasn’t in any bed, but a sleeping bag. She wasn’t in the cabin, but in some strange room lit faintly by the sunlight stealing in through the cracks in the boarded-up windows. Further, she wasn’t just sharing her bag with someone, but both of them were naked.
Nori shot her head towards her sleeping companion. Only the back of Brady’s head was visible. He was still soundly sleeping. His short brown hair was all disarrayed and his glasses lay on the floor next to their boots.
Nori couldn’t remember anything from the previous day. She felt very exhausted and panic began to consume her being. What was going on? What happened? Where are we? All flashed through her mind at once. However, what came out of her mouth was a blood-curdling scream.
Brady instantly awoke and jumped out of the bag. He managed to grab his glasses and threw them on his face as he scrambled for his shotgun. It all happened so fast that he didn’t even notice that the metal frame of his glasses were freezing as it came in contact with his skin nor that he was standing in the middle of the room holding a shotgun totally nude.
"YOU... YOU PERVERT!!!" Nori screeched.
Brady was still half asleep as he stared down at Nori who was sitting up and quivering with rage inside her sleeping bag. The puzzled expression on his face did nothing to calm her down.
"You took advantage of me," Nori said angrily before she started to sob into her hands.
"Wha...?" was all Brady got out.
The lookout station’s interior though warmer than it was outside was still cold. Brady then realized that he was standing in front of Nori with nothing on. That is when the memories of the previous day flooded back to him. Brady went to retrieve his clothes from where he had stuffed them into the sleeping bag when Nori violently pushed him away.
Brady found his coat and wrapped it around his waist. He then seated himself down next to Noriko who was still crying into her hands.
"Nori, calm down," Brady said soothingly. "Nothing happened."
"What do you mean nothing happened," she replied between sobs. "We were sleeping together in a sleeping bag NAKED!"
"Nori, what do you remember from yesterday?" Brady asked in a calm voice. "Do you know where we are or how we got her?"
Nori shook her head in the negative not looking up at Brady.
"OK. Nori, tell me what you do remember," Brady prodded.
"We went out after Sarge to stop him from murdering the pilot. It was snowing very hard and I was getting very cold," Nori started.
"Then we...I don’t remember. I must have fallen asleep or something," Nori finally said.
"Nori, you had hypothermia. That’s when your body’s core temperature goes below 95 degrees," Brady began.
Nori just sat there looking at the floor sniffling occasionally, but never saying anything.
"You were rambling incoherently, shivering uncontrollably and moving very sluggishly. These are the signs of hypothermia. If you body temperature drops below the mid 70s you die.
"Fortunately, for us both I stumbled upon this fire lookout and was able to get you up here. The best way to warm-up another person with hypothermia is to share body heat and that means bare skin to bare skin. You have my word nothing happened. Hell, I was so tired nothing could have happened," Brady concluded.
Nori looked up at Brady sheepishly. Then she began to chuckle, which then became a hearty laugh.
Brady stared at her not comprehending what brought on the laughter. Maybe she was still suffering from the hypothermia.
Still laughing Nori fished around in the bottom of the sleeping bag and pulled out some clothes that she flung at Brady.
"Man, you had to see yourself standing there totally naked with your shotgun in your hand," laughed Nori.
Brady’s face must have turned three shades of red as he hurriedly dressed himself in his warm clothes.
Carl woke up in a twin bed in a small bedroom. He must have made it to a cabin. His shoulder still hurt and he reached for it instinctively. It was bandaged, but nothing appeared to be broken. Obviously, someone must have found him.
The FBI agent looked around the room. The sunlight flooding in from the single window revealed a large black man in military BDU’s sleeping in a chair next to him.
Carl reached over and shook the man awake. The soldier came awake with a start. He looked over at Carl and then smiled.
"Good morning, Mr. Roger’s," greeted the black man.
"Uh...Hello? You seem to have me at a disadvantage," Carl returned.
"I’m Master Sergeant Ronald Greene. I found you in the snow outside the gate to the palisade. It appears that a tree limb broke with the weight of the snow and fell on top of you. Thank goodness nothing was broken," offered Ronald.
"I saw the crash and followed the trail that led me here. You did rescue the Apache crewmen didn’t you?" asked Carl.
Ronald’s face turned sour at the mention of the Apache crewmembers. Carl then saw sadness and worry flash across the sergeant’s face before it became impassive.
"What brings the FBI over the mountains to Terra Mortis as we call our new world over here?" returned Ronald.
It was obvious that the sergeant didn’t want to talk about the helicopter crew. In addition, Carl was interested in knowing how the soldier knew he came over the mountains.
"I’m sorry, I’ve been trapped on this side of the mountain like you when everything hit the fan," answered Carl.
"OK. Let’s place our cards on the table. I found your ID in your wallet nothing to hide there. But you also had a state quarter that wasn’t in circulation when the passes were closed down. So you had to come in from the other side," replied Ronald deadpan.
"That’s pretty good deduction. Looks like you are in the wrong line of work there sergeant," began Carl with a slight smirk on his face. "Things are little better on the other side as you put it. What do you know about what’s happening over there?"
"I heard from the pilot, yes, I rescued the crew, that the passes are nearly impenetrable and that we are a hair’s breath of going to war with Iran over something they had nothing to do with."
Many questions flooded the FBI agent’s head with Ronald’s single sentenced. However, he decided to paint the picture for the soldier before asking his own questions.
"First of all things are bad. You probably know that the economy is in shambles. But did you know that the draft has been reinstated? Every able-bodied boy and girl between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two is in the military. The Patriot Act has been strengthened and the CIA is acting like the president’s secret police. The FBI has been taking a shelling for this president for years and it looks like we are about to be the sacrificial lamb again.
"Martial law is the reality on the other side. The president has been hinting that he’ll have to suspend the elections until things can be returned to normal.
"What about the congress? They have given the president carte blanche on nearly everything. This is ten times worse than 9/11.
"Both parties in congress are starting to realize that they have lost their power to the executive branch. But what can they do. The people are scared and angry and they want someone to blame. The president has given them their scapegoat...Iran.
"So it is my mission to try and get to the ColTech pharmaceuticals plant in Marysville and to find some evidence that someone else was involved instead of Iran."
Ronald just sat their staring at the FBI agent for a while not saying anything. This news was overwhelming.
"Now I have a couple of questions for you. How do you know that Iran isn’t involved and what’s the story with the helicopter crew?" asked Carl.
"I can help you with your mission. I have the evidence that you seek here downstairs," Ronald said to Carl, whose jaw nearly hit the ground. "I have a CD-Rom and papers stating who was involved in the ColTech project. There is proof that Washington and this administration in particular is knee deep in this crap."
Then Ronald went into the story of the helicopter crew, their rescue, Lt. Jones attempted rape of Nori and his banishment. Then how when he returned to the cabin Coop and Smith told him that Nori and Brady had went out looking for him. Now the two are lost out there and even possibly dead from the blizzard.
After Ronald finished his story, Carl got out of bed and dressed himself. His shoulder was tender, and he winched as he put on his shirt. There was much to do. Carl owed Ronald his life and decided that he would try to repay the soldier by helping him search for his friends.
"Sergeant, I do have another favor to ask you," the old man began.
"Sure, whatever I can do," returned the grim-faced sergeant.
"I’m not alone. I left ten people at a Ranger’s cabin two days from here. They are nearly out of food. They won’t make it through the winter unless you can spare some of your food," Carl stated. "There are children, sergeant."
Ronald looked up at the FBI agent and nodded.
"We have plenty of food. If we can get the truck on the road, you can show me where to deliver the goods. First, we’ll spend the day looking for any sign of Nori and Brady they couldn’t have gotten too far in the blizzard."
"One last thing, Sergeant, there is a map in my pack that I obtained from the helicopter. It looked to contain the location of some munitions dump. I believe that you could use that information," stated Carl.
The two men descended the stairs to the living room. Coop and Smith were making breakfast in the kitchen/dining room. The smell of eggs and game meat wafted up throughout the house. Carl didn’t know when the last time he had meat. His stomach rumbled in anticipation.
"Morning, Sarge," the gunner said as he hopped around with his crutch.
Coop was setting the dining room table as he looked over at the sergeant. The young boy’s eyes were blood shot and his face wore a downcast expression. Ronald knew that Thomas Cooper had been crying all night long. Nori, Brady, Coop, and Sarge over the last few months had become very close. They all thought of themselves as a family.
"Sarge, do you think I could go with you and look for Nori and Brady?" asked Coop.
"Sorry son, I need you to help out Greg here," Ronald looked over at the gunner who in turn nodded understanding. It was very likely that if Ronald found the two they would be lying under the snow frozen to death. It was bad enough to think of them dead without have the young boy see their rigid bodies contorted in death.
Greg set the food upon the table as everyone started to seat themselves. The clinking of utensils on plates was the only sound that could be heard as everyone ate their breakfast. Carl felt that he was being rude as he ravenously consumed his breakfast. He didn’t realize how hungry he really was until he started eating.
After breakfast, Carl and Ronald entered the living room. Ronald sat the FBI agent on the couch. He then produced a briefcase and sat it upon the coffee table. The sergeant then undid the clasps and opened the top.
Carl peered inside with anticipation. He saw papers and the CD-Rom the sergeant talked about. A quick glance of the papers revealed all that Ronald had told Carl.
"Sarge, everything appears to be as you said. I’ll make of copy of these and take it with me; I have a laptop in my backpack. I want you to keep the originals over here. I don’t want there to be any accidents on the other side without having a backup. I believe everything should be fine here for now, let’s begin our search," the old man said.
Ronald dreaded searching for his friends, but he knew it was better to be done with it as soon as possible. The soldier got up and went over to a closet. He pulled out two backpacks and started stuffing them with the supplies. He only brought the things that he believed that they would need. Carl assisted Ronald in his packing as Coop and Smith cleaned up after their breakfast.
The two figures marched through the snow. They had been walking for two hours. The snow was still deep, but because the temperature was in the forties the snow was wet, slushy, and generally uncomfortable. It clung to the bottom of their boots and got inside to turn their socks wet.
Brady glanced at his watch it was 10:45 am. The cabin couldn’t be much further. Brady knew exactly where they had been at the lookout station. On his hunting excursions with his grandfather, they had passed the lookout many times. The cabin wasn’t more than a few miles away from it.
However, because Brady had to blaze the trail for Nori to follow, their progression was excruciating slow. He was wet and miserable. This was probably the worse type of snow he’d ever experienced. The fact that he lived all his winter months in Seattle, Brady’s encounter with snow was extremely limited. Brady knew that it was just as bad if not worse for Nori.
Nori was still weakened by her recent encounter with hypothermia. Brady wanted to stay at the lookout, but she insisted that they head for the cabin. She stumbled along behind Brady. The only thing that kept her going was the knowledge that Sarge and Coop awaited them at the cabin.
Brady was weaving his way between some evergreens when he noticed two men walking in their general direction. It took a moment for Brady to realize that they were indeed men.
Nori bumped into Brady not realizing that he had stopped in his tracks. She looked up and saw the men herself. Nori bumping into Brady brought him back to his senses.
Brady raised his arms and started waving them as he yelled. The two men stopped and looked over toward them. One of them began running towards them. As he got closer, Brady saw that it was Sarge. The other man he had never seen before.
Ronald picked Brady up in a bear-hug cracking the young man’s back in the process. Then the sergeant ran over to Nori and picked her up into his arms. He could see that she was greatly fatigued and began to carry her, weapons, pack and all.
On the way back to the cabin, introductions were exchanged and stories were swapped. There was much laughing and relief. Even Nori would break out into her infectious laugh.
The band of survivors at the Ranger's cabin had given up all hope of seeing Carl alive. Everyone believed that he had died during the blizzard. The loss was doubly troubling because Carl was also the only one amongst those at the cabin who knew how to hunt. With their food supply dwindling every day, the outlook of any of them being alive in the spring was grim.
Vernon had already cut everyone down to a minimal daily food ration in order to sustain life. Gloria was of immense help to Vernon. Though he was only a veterinarian he was the closest thing they had to a real doctor. Gloria was able to assist the vet in assessing and prescribing for humans.
Doc worried mostly about the children. The poor kids had suffered so much already and now he had to watch them slowly waste away. Fortunately, no major cold or flu outbreak had swept through the cabin. He doubted if the children would have been able to survive a sickness especially the young twins.
Doc was also impressed with how well behaved the children were. They obeyed Missy's orders without any complaint or protest. He also never heard the children openly complain about being hungry. Maybe Missy pointed out to them that everyone was starving or maybe it was just that the children had already endured such grievous conditions that no child should ever have to witness.
The dynamics of the group had already taken shape. Pastor Brown and Rabbi Rosenberg acted as the group's leaders. Their sound wisdom kept the party alive. In fact, it was probably their unpopular decision not to search for Carl that may have prevented further loss. None of them had any real wilderness skills and George carried their only remaining firearm, his Browning BLR .358 rifle. It was after a couple days that everyone came around to the holy men's line of thinking.
Doc and Gloria of course acted for the group's welfare. They had set up the location of the latrine away from the cabin and away from their water source to prevent any disease. They monitored everyone's condition to make sure that no one was ill from the lack of food. The calorie calculation was very fine. Nevertheless, even with them eating next to nothing the food supply would run out long before spring.
Missy, a mere nineteen years of age, acted as mother for the four children. By no means was this an easy task under ideal conditions. However, she took over the role naturally. The children reacted to her as if she had always been a member of their family.
The four children still acted as normal children for the most part. They played and joked around. This did a lot to relieve the tensions that everyone was undergoing. Adam was the only one who seemed to have been adversely affected by their experiences. The young boy would still wake up from nightmares of ghouls chasing him or of seeing his parents gunned down by soldiers. Missy's presence always calmed the boy back down, and he would resume his slumber usually to her soft humming.
George was the mechanic. He kept the party's two vehicles in operating condition. George suggested that if the snow should melt enough he could drive down to the nearest town, house, gas station, or whatever and find food. Everyone knew that it was risky. The weather, the dead, and even the living could all pose fatal problems.
Fortune seemed to smile on the group when the temperature had risen to over 40 degrees over the past few days. The snows had receded enough for the attempt to be made. Doc insisted that he go along with George to help with the search, loading of supplies, and help with any problems. The big decision was whether they should take the rifle or not. Both Doc and George insisted that the group at the cabin keep their only weapon. Doc and George would have to make the run unarmed.
Doc sat there at the dining room table pondering in the dark of the night. Everyone else was asleep. Missy and Gloria slept with the children in the small bedroom while the men slept in the living room area. Doc couldn't sleep tonight. So he sat in the dining room at the table worrying over their many problems.
Vernon didn't really like the idea of splitting up the group again. They had already lost one party member. But was it more of a risk to split the party again or bring everyone along? This discussion went on for a while. Finally, the decision was that it would be better just to send the two men, and everyone else would stay in the relative safety of the cabin.
Doc should really be sleeping, but he was nervous. Even after all he had endured over the last few months, he still didn't relish the idea of running into potential problems. He knew that the zombies could barely function in the cold of winter, but the gangs of the living predators were often more of a threat than the undead. There was no telling how far they have spread, or in what place they may be laying in ambush to rob and murder unsuspecting victims.
Doc stood up from the table. He really should get some rest. Maybe things would go their way. It may only take them a few hours to get to town and back with all the supplies they would need without encountering anyone or anything. Doc smiled sardonically in the darkness thinking maybe he was becoming an optimist.
The wind started to howl. The smile evaporated from Doc's face. It was apparent that their troubles weren't over. It looked like they were doomed to slow starvation after all. Doc looked over at the men sleeping in the living room to see George fly out of his sleeping bag.
George ran over to the door and flung it open. Doc stood there dumbfounded not comprehending what was going on. The crisp air flooded into the room. The other men in the room awoke in bewilderment.
"George, what is it?" asked the groggy Rabbi.
"There's a truck heading up the road," George said pulling his rifle from where it rested against the wall.
"A truck!" Doc exclaimed. So it wasn't the wind he heard. In the very least, it looked like starvation may not be what does them in, but instead raiders. With that realization, Doc ran over towards George.
"Shut the damn door. Looks like the raiders finally found us," growled Doc.
George shut the door and blocked it. Brown ran into the bedroom. The other three men went over to the window and crouched behind it. Looking out the frosted panes they could see the headlights of truck slowly driving up the tree lined road.
All they could make out was that it was a pickup. The truck stopped a few yards from the two-ton truck and bus. The beams from the headlights flooded the interior of the cabin. Doc and the Rabbi ducked down below the window. Only George continued his vigil out the window his knuckles white from gripping his BLR.
The Pastor crawled over to the men at the window.
"I told the women to keep themselves and the children low. If the raiders break into the cabin they are to get themselves and the children out the rear window and head for the woods," hissed the Pastor.
A creaking door could be heard opening on the truck. No one could see anything because of the glaring lights. George opened the window and lifted the rifle up to his shoulder. He levered a cartridge into the chamber and sighted down the barrel towards the lights.
Just as suddenly as it all began, the lights blinked out. George blinked his eyes. He was just as blind as he was when the lights were shining in his eyes. Doc peered over the ledge of the window and because his eyes were more adjusted to the dark than George's he could see a man slowly approaching them.
"Give me the gun," whispered Doc.
George obediently passed the rifle over the vet still blinking and rubbing his eyes. Doc had never fired a firearm before. However, George had given everyone lessons in the operation of the rifle. Doc lined up the gun's front and back sites onto the man approaching the cabin. He slowly started to squeeze the trigger.
"Pastor Brown, Rabbi Rosenberg, Doc, George are you guys in there?" the darkened shape called out.
Doc lowered the rifle to the floor and stood up in front of the window.
"Carl?" replied the bewildered vet.
"It's all right. I've brought help and supplies," called out the old man.
The four men flew out the cabin's door and ran up to Carl. They could not believe their eyes. Simultaneously they began to pelt the man with questions.
Carl just laughed and hugged them all in turn.
"Looks like I'm the 'Prodigal Son'. Right Pastor," laughed the FBI agent.
"Maybe you guys didn't notice that it is the 25th, so I'd say you are more of a Christmas miracle. Merry Christmas everyone!" the pastor cried.
"Maybe there is something to be said for your Santa Claus," smiled the Rabbi as he pointed out the red 1955 Dodge truck. "I guess he traded in the sleigh for a truck."
By this time, the women and the children being curious had flocked out of the cabin bringing a lit oil lamp with them. That was when they noticed the three people hanging back by the truck.
There was a tall stocky black man dressed as a soldier, a petite Asian girl with short black hair dressed in a black leather outfit with a pink pistol on her hip, and a young man in glasses also dressed in black leather holding a Louisville slugger bat. They all leaned back against the hood of the red Dodge smiling at the reunion.
"Please, let me introduce our saviors," smiled Carl motioning for the trio to approach.
"This is Sergeant Greene the man who saved me. I'll give you the details later."
Ronald started exchanging handshakes with everyone as they slapped him on the back.
"Hi, I'm Noriko Fubuki, but everyone just calls me Nori," Nori said without further prompting.
"I'm Vernon Stephenson, but everyone calls me Doc. So I guess we are both nicknamed after dwarves," laughed Doc.
Nori shot Brady in the ribs with her elbow as he groaned at Doc's joke.
After everyone was introduced, they all moved into the cabin to get out of the cold. Carl then told them his story of how he saw the helicopter crash and followed the trail to the cabin. The FBI agent finally let everyone in on the secret of what he and his mission were.
"So after the supplies are unloaded I'm heading back east. I'm sorry to leave you guys, but many lives are at stake," Carl said.
"I've been thinking that we should bring everyone back with us. We can't all stay at Brady's cabin, of course, but we can locate you guys into cabins in the area," offered Sarge.
"It would be a shame to leave our happy camp here, but you are probably right," Pastor Brown smiled.
"Of course ... that's it!" Brady yelled as he stood up.
Everyone looked at him as if he was a lunatic. As Brady realized that he was the focus of everyone's attention, he sat back down.
"Sorry, it's just that I totally forgot all about it," the young man said.
"Son, could you please let us all in on your revelation," Sarge prodded.
"Look there is this summer camp about twenty miles west of our cabin. It should have some supplies because they were getting it ready for the summer before everything happened."
Brady went over to a map on the wall and started tracing out a route to the summer camp for the group. "There's a lake, several buildings, cabins, a great lodge and it already has a fence around most of it to prevent the average homesick kid from running away."
"What's the name of our new home?" asked Gloria.
"Camp Crystal Lake," returned Brady.
"You've got to be kidding me? Is it haunted by someone in a hockey mask?" laughed Nori in her usual bubbly laugh.
Everyone else started to laugh. Brady looked around the room and smiled and then he went over to Nori and whispered in her ear, "Am I missing something?"
"Man, didn't you watch any movies?" Nori said a bit too loud.
The whole household except Brady started to laugh even harder. Brady just sat down and turned a deeper shade of red.
Brady sat on the water’s edge looking at the spring’s morning sunlight sparkle off the surface of the lake like a million gems. He inhaled the myriad of fragrances from the plant life awakening from its winter slumber. The birds singing and the insects buzzing with the wind rustling through the trees were like the sounds of a fine symphony to his ears.
"Life," Brady mused inwardly. "This is life."
It was hard to believe that only eleven months ago, death had taken over the land. Now with the sights, sounds and smells of spring in the air, it was hard to believe any of it had happened, but it did. In fact, death was still running rampant. There were pockets like this old summer camp converted into a safe-haven where death was held at bay.
The camp didn’t resemble a summer camp anymore. It looked more like an old colonial fortified town. The log palisade surrounded the twenty plus cabins and various administrative buildings. It looked like pictures of colonial Jamestown out of the history books.
The Pastor and Rabbi motivated their small band to begin converting the barrack like log cabins into individual homes. Doc and Gloria had found the medical building and set up making it into a small clinic. Fortunately, there were plenty of the basic pain relievers and first aid supplies on hand. Everyone ate in the dining hall of the main lodge that the Pastor and Rabbi had also utilized as a meeting hall.
Brady, Nori, and Coop were kept busy with gathering what supplies they could from the military depots on the map that Carl had picked up from the helicopter. Ronald, himself escorted Carl back towards the border so that the FBI agent could complete his task. Carl was optimistic that he could sneak back over the barricades with the information he was sent to get. The old agent figured that his chief would be surprised by how quickly he had finished his mission.
The night before Carl set off, the entire community held a going away party. There wasn’t a dry eye as Carl and Ronald departed. This would be the last time the group from the Ranger cabin would see Carl. Over the last couple of months, he had almost always been with them, and they had all become very close.
Chief Warrant Officer Greg Smith was also proving his worth. He limped around because of his broken leg, which never healed correctly due to the lack of proper medical facilities. Nonetheless, the Apache gunner threw himself into any task with full gusto. It was as if he was trying to work off any sin that may have been attributed to him because of his association with Lt. William Jones.
Over the winter as Brady, Nori, and Coop began gathering the supplies from the abandoned depots, they ran across other pockets of survivors hiding out in the wilderness. Almost all were on the brink of starvation when they were found. The scavenging party would then gather up the survivors and escort them back to the summer camp. By winter’s end, the camp had grown to over one hundred souls.
The sole exception to the starving survivors was an old farmer that Ronald came across after he returned from his escorting mission. The sergeant was now helping with gathering supplies from the military depots when he ran across a farm a few miles south of the old summer camp.
Ronald at first couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw that there were cattle and horses grazing out in a field of thawing snow. Ronald stopped the two-ton military truck and just stared for a couple of minutes. After gathering his wits, the sergeant decided to drive up the muddy road to the farmhouse.
Ronald wasn’t even out of the truck when he was greeted by a graying farmer who must have been in his early sixties with a shotgun in his hands.
"Whadya want?" enquired the old man leveling his shotgun at the sergeant.
"Whoa, slow down. I’m not here to cause trouble," Ronald responded raising his hands to show that he wasn’t a threat.
"You’re with the military and you're going to shoo me off my land," shouted the excited man as he pumped a shell into the chamber. "It didn’t work last time and it won’t this time!"
Sergeant Greene’s eyes widen in surprise as he instinctively raised his hands even higher.
"I’m not here to take you off your land. In fact, I’m kind of stuck here myself!"
The old farmer looked at Greene quizzically and lowered the shotgun a little.
"I don’t know what you're talking about," the farmer replied. "I’ve been in the dark after the power went out."
With that, Ronald quickly spelled out the situation and began to tell the tale of his and his companions’ adventures after the quarantine. The farmer in turn introduced himself as Henry Rhodes. He had refused to leave his land or let the military take his livestock when they were evacuating everyone. After that, Henry didn’t leave his land. He was pretty self-sufficient and had been able to run the farm on his own.
The two men talked and discussed their various problems well into the night. Henry confided that he was low on fuel and would likely need hands to help farm his land if he had to use traditional methods. Ronald promised him help if he would feed the growing community to the north. An agreement was struck and Henry was soon in charge of farm hands and a few men acting as security for the farm.
Now spring was in full bloom. Sarge had set up a local militia that included everyone over the age of fourteen. Every militia person had a rifle and sidearm for which he or she was responsible. Some with prior military experience were in charge of the heavier hardware. They were constantly in a state of training, which was included into their daily chores. Only a certain number of the militia was activated at one time on a rotating basis, but if there was trouble, they all could be called up in a moments notice.
By now, many of the depots that hadn’t been destroyed by the military were now stripped of everything of value. Much of it was now being stored in various buildings at the camp. However, Brady, Nori, and Coop were still being sent out on gathering missions. Now they would be looking for other supplies. Supplies one can only find in towns. Towns that could be occupied by trigger happy survivors, power hungry gangs, and/or the dreaded undead.
"Hey, Brady!" yelled Nori as she ran up to Brady as he was sitting on the lake’s bank.
"Yeah," responded the young man as he craned his head around to look at Nori.
"We’ve got work to do you know," giggled the Japanese girl. "We are supposed to head down to that town and raid the library."
Brady shuddered. That town was the very same one they entered less than a year ago. This was the same town where Brady feared that a zombie bit Nori. He came very close to killing her that day. The only name that Brady could remember was the one spray painted on the welcoming sign that said, "Terra Mortis, pop. Dead."
Brady was driving the 1955 Red Dodge truck. He was now much better at driving a stick now. He took pride in how he could now shift gears without the annoying sound of him grinding the gears. That was something that would get him a dirty look from George whenever the mechanic heard it. This was then generally followed by a lecture on how scarce spare parts were for old trucks.
Coop sat in the middle between Nori and Brady. The young boy, now eleven, was as valuable to the team as anyone was. Brady and Nori insisted that Coop be allowed to come along on their scavenging raids when at first Ronald suggested maybe Coop should stay behind. This, of course made Thomas Cooper beam with pride as he was beginning to feel ostracized when he was constantly being left behind to "baby sit" Greg at the cabin. Consequently, Coop and Greg became pretty close. Greg reminded Coop a lot of his big brother.
Nori, as usual chatted about anything that came to her head on the drive to the town. As they passed the charred remains of the old farmhouse where a large group of zombies attacked them nearly a year ago everyone fell silent. Brady unconsciously slowed down to look as they passed.
The old farmhouse had burned itself down to its foundation. The old barn still had its doors open, but the most surprising thing was what wasn’t there. There were no human remains. Brady, Sarge, and Coop had killed scores of the undead and there should have been something of their remains even now. Not even scavengers would touch the tainted remains of a zombie according to the report that Ronald had retrieved. Only humans could completely dispose of all the remains, which meant living people had been here after them.
That wasn’t surprising seeing as how they found so many people hiding in the woods this last winter. However, that meant that the town may be occupied and that called for greater caution. There was no telling what kind of reception they could expect.
"Nori, keep a sharp lookout. You too Coop."
Everyone in the truck kept his or her eyes pealed as Brady continued driving down the abandoned road. Brady slowed down so that they could spot trouble before they ran into it. He glanced down at the fuel gauge; he had plenty of gas. Gas was strictly rationed at the camp for use only on scavenging raids. Even Henry Rhodes would have to use his horses to pull the old plow he still had in his barn.
"Look over there!" shouted Coop as he pointed down the road.
Brady and Nori saw it almost as quickly as Coop. There hanging off a telephone pole along the side of the road was a person crucified to the crossbeams. Brady stopped the truck and everyone jumped out. As they approached the pole, they noticed that further down the road was another body this time hanging from the neck slightly swaying in the wind. There was another further down; this one also hanging and another. The ravens were already starting to peck the decaying flesh from their bones.
Brady was aghast as he counted about twenty people hanging from the telephone poles. Only one was crucified and that was the one above them. All the victims appeared to be young men and women all in their twenties.
"Brady this one is alive!" Coop shouted as he pointed up at the crucified young man.
Brady looked up and could see that the young man was struggling to breathe. He would eventually die from fluids filling his own lungs. Brady studied Roman history and knew all about their torture methods. Crucifixions was a tortuous death, and it could take days to die. This one must have been the leader, and he was meant to watch his companions die from strangulation by being hung.
Quickly Brady scrambled up the steel pins pounded into the pole’s side that were to help utility people climb for repairs. He doubted that any repairperson would have thought a year ago that these very poles would be used for a barbaric execution.
As Brady reached the top, he could hear the man’s laborious breathing. At least he was breathing and that meant life Brady noted.
"Everything is going to be all right," Brady consoled the man as he began to tie a rope around the young man’s torso. He tossed the other side over the crossbeams.
"Coop, Nori grab the rope and prepare to lower him down after I untie his legs and arms," ordered Brady.
After five minutes, Brady was back down on the ground next to the young man. Nori and Brady lifted the young man into the bed of the truck. Nori and Coop climbed into the bed next to the barely conscious man.
"What’s your name? What happened?" asked Nori.
"Nathan Perl," the young man hoarsely choked out. "It was the hoard."
Few of his companions knew Barry Vanders real name. None knew that before the Marysville incident he was nothing more than a third-rate history professor at the University of Washington. How many times did the dean of the history department remind Barry that the only reason he still had a job was because he was tenured. Few students shared his enthusiasm for Inner-Asian history, even less passed his class with an A.
The short and stocky man always felt that he was strict but fair even if his students and colleagues accused him of running off on tangents during the lecture and then testing the students on stuff that he never covered. The students would call Barry Vanders the "Barbarian Vandal" which did get under his skin. Sure the Vandals and Tar Tars had their moment in the sun by sacking Rome, but it was the Mongolians under Genghis Khan who really conquered the world. Through all this Barry persisted.
His job may have been dismal but his home life was even worse. Barry was married to a shrewish woman who hoarded every penny that was brought into the house. Granted they tended to be in debt up to their eyeballs, but there was no reason why they couldn’t splurge every now and again. The woman he used to love, if it really ever was love, had turned into some old banshee along the way. When Barry hit his "mid-life crisis," he started dreaming of being an outlaw biker. His fantasies would often include himself as the leader of a gang like the Hell’s Angels and then "conquering" one of the beautiful female students in his class.
The professor would secretly buy Easy Rider, Outlaw Biker, or any magazine dealing with motorcycles and their gangs. That’s when Barry started secretly stashing away some money whenever he could. It wasn’t easy at first, but Barry finally succumbed to the temptation that all professors eventually face: the bribe.
At first, it was just some smart-ass jock trying to buy a C. Then it was the straight 4.0 honor’s student who didn’t want a B to blight her transcript. Barry was always smart about it. He never initiated the sale, but if a twenty or fifty found itself stuck to a test or homework assignment, it would be pocketed and the student would get the desired grade. The student never said anything and the professor acted as if nothing had happened. Even though Barry had been tempted by some of his female students to sleep with them for a grade, Barry remained cash only.
The rumors inevitably began to circulate around campus that he could be bought. The dean investigated the allegations, but Barry always covered his tracks well. After all, it was common practice to give the football star a C even if he never showed up for class and an A+ honor’s student getting another A wasn’t so unusual. The research was the key. Students would receive only a certain grade based on their performances in other classes. The best part most of the students were going to get the grade assigned them whether they paid for it or not.
The payoff came when after years of hoarding and saving his own pennies that Barry could afford a Vulcan 800 motorcycle. After this point, Barry wasn’t for sale anymore. He vehemently denied ever being paid a bribe. At times money fell out onto the floor when he was gathering the papers. If this wasn’t, in fact, some scheme to get him canned he would always tell the dean.
The University could not prove anything and many students didn’t want their names involved to testify against him. Therefore, life went on as usual. A dreary day at work followed by the constant nagging and financial lectures at home. However, now Barry had a bike that he secretly kept stashed at a storage unit he rented.
Renting the storage unit wasn’t anything new, Barry had already been renting one for years to store the heirlooms, junk, and sundry of other possessions that his wife and he accumulated over the years. His wife, Betty never concerned herself with the storage unit and probably just forgot what exactly all the stuff they had stored away.
The college professor began making excuses to get out of the house for the weekends. He would tell his wife that there was some important history seminar in Spokane or Portland that he had to attend. Once free, he would don his alter-ego "Khan".
Khan was a hard-core biker. Many bikers didn’t question Barry’s other persona. He looked the part and when Barry became Khan, he wasn’t afraid to let years of restraint and frustration come through in drinking, fighting, and the occasional hooker. He started gathering a following and soon had a half-dozen friends that he would hangout with on the weekends. They started calling themselves the Horde.
So it was on his fiftieth birthday that Barry forever became Khan. Barry’s wife was planning a special birthday party for Barry while Seattle was coming under siege by the living dead. She had spent more money than usual to make this day extra special for her husband. There was going to be a few special guests and close friends and fine food and drink.
However, the curfew and the quarantine kept everyone home that night. Thus, it was just Barry and Betty sitting at a table with lots of food and drink. Betty was trying her best to make a go of it despite the situation. Barry was more grim than usual. He didn’t know if it was whether he was turning fifty or that he was stuck with a person he loathed or that the world was falling apart around them or even if it was a combination of all three.
It was that same night that their neighborhood was under attack by the zombies. Somehow, these ghouls knew where people were hiding. They would surround a house and break in either by pushing in a door or breaking a window. When their house was surrounded, Betty frantically started searching for an escape route. The poor woman was in tears sobbing uncontrollable from fear. Barry was calm. His grim mood lifted.
"Come dear, I think we can get out of here," he said in a calm voice to his wife.
Betty went over to Barry and embraced him for comfort. Maybe she still loved him, but the feeling wasn’t mutual. He started walking towards the front door.
"B-B-Barry, what are you doing?" Betty stammered between sobs.
"I have a plan to get us out of here," Barry replied in a soothing voice stroking her gray hair as they neared the front door.
"But they are just outside, if you open the door it will be suicide," she shrieked.
"Calm down, I have a plan and it’ll work. Trust me," Barry smiled as he looked into his wife’s tear soaked eyes.
As they reached the front door, the pounding became increasingly strong. The undead would soon be able to break in. Barry reached out with his free hand never losing the smile on his face and flung the door open. Then he pushed his shocked and screaming wife into the waiting arms and teeth of the undead crowd.
"You’ll go out the front, my dear, and I’ll go out the back."
Barry then ran towards the back door still smiling as zombies filed into the house through the open front door to partake in the feast. The cries and screams of his wife filled his ears as he ran out into the now cleared out backyard. Barry was too elated to feel any regret over his actions. For the first time in a long time, he felt free. He jumped into his sedan and drove to his storage unit surprisingly with little mishap. Barry was gone forever; Khan was here to stay.
Khan had driven his Vulcan through the barricade arriving just after the initial rush of humanity stormed the checkpoint and before the zombies relentlessly shambling along behind. Khan didn’t bother to deal with injured or helpless people; he just continued to drive along into the night. He had a destination in mind.
A colleague of his was a World War II professor and had over the last few years acquired and repaired an M-16 multiple gun motor carriage. In other words, he had rebuilt the famous half-track that housed four .50 Browning M-2 machine guns for anti-aircraft use. What Khan had in mind would entail a little alteration, but he knew that he would find the people who would be able to do it.
Khan found the half-track where his colleague had told him. His fellow professor either was dead or had been evacuated. Over the next few weeks, Khan began gathering a core group of bikers around him. Three were of the original Horde. The small gang began raiding the surrounding towns stealing from the dead and living alike. The half-track finally had four working M-2s and was able to lower them to aim toward the ground instead of the air.
Clashes with entrenched and armed survivors and other gangs were a given. Khan started using tactics that his namesake used so successfully in his conquest of Asia and Europe. Khan would surround his opponents send in light forces for a feigned attack, and then they would retreat as if they were broken. The defenders would often break ranks to pursue the light forces only to be caught off guard by the main force that would sweep in and wipe out the defenders. Khan was able to defeat vastly superior forces this way.
The half-track was Khan’s strategic reserve. The few times he was overwhelmed and it looked like he would be defeated, Khan would send in the WWII vehicle with devastating effect. Survivors were often given the choice of joining the Horde or be killed. In this way, the Horde grew and thus Khan’s empire was built in less than six months.
The towns under the Horde’s protection were left relatively unmolested. Khan knew that if the people of the towns feared the Horde more than they did rival gangs or the undead, there would be uprisings. So by order of Khan the people would be left alone as long as they paid their tribute and obeyed the local warlord.
The crowning achievement was Khan’s capital, Vice-City. Both punished and rewarded were sent to Vice-City. The former to work in the brothels or to partake in the various games that Khan devised, the most feared and popular was the Labyrinth. Gas generators had been set up around the small town and provided the power. Fuel was obtained from the numerous fuel-trucks that Khan had accumulated in his conquest. Cameras were set up all over the game spots so that the local TV station could broadcast the various games to the populace of Vice-City.
With Khan’s success, of course came a growing resistance force. Though Khan could easily defeat any gang or defended city or town the resistance force was very successful in using hit and run tactics. Most of the resistance force was comprised of young adults, most of them former college students.
Khan sat back in his chair watching the latest runner in the Labyrinth smiling as he thought about how he had finally dealt the resistance a deathblow. He was able to trick the resistance into an attack that netted him large number of captives including the leader. Most of the captives he had executed in public fashion leaving their remains as a warning to others. Of course, the females that caught his eye were now working in his brothel. Their spirit was subdued by keeping them drugged up. Yes, his empire would soon be completely secured.
Brady was walking over to Doc's office to find Nori. Nori and Cooper had been spending a lot of time over the last couple of weeks visiting the still recuperating Nathan. Brady at first joined them to learn more about Nathan's past and the history of the world outside their refuge in the Cascades.
However as Brady learned more, he became increasingly concerned. The Horde, it turned out, was a very large group of motorcyclists run by a man who styled himself after Genghis Khan. Khan, the only name anyone knew him by, had carved out for himself a sizable private empire.
Many people who had survived the initial onslaught of the undead started reforming communities. Being poorly organized they were soon conquered by gangs of motorcyclists, who in turn were then conquered by Khan's Horde. Though Khan reestablished law and security to these new communities, his rule was harsh and despotic.
At first, various groups of people would occasionally rebel against the Horde. However, either Khan would introduce all captured rebels to Vice-City to work in the many brothels or as contestants in one of the games of his own design. The most dreaded of these games was called the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth was really a maze constructed out of the old storm sewer system that was now filled with zombies. Cameras were placed strategically to catch the terror and excitement of the "contestants" running down the dark underground maze. These were then broadcast around Vice-City via the local TV station.
Naturally, revolts subsided among the populace. However, Nathan realized that the reason why Khan was so successful was that he was better organized. The young twenty-two year old man gathered similarly minded young people and started a rebel camp and for the last few months, they have been pretty successful in their raids against the Horde. That was until their last raid.
As disturbing as this was, none of this was the reason why Brady was uneasy. It was the fact that Nathan, on regaining consciousness, immediately began trying to recruit anyone he could to his cause. Sarge just blew it off, as did many of the people now living in the former summer camp. Unfortunately, Nori was quite taken by Nathan's story.
Brady didn't know if he was jealous because Nori possibly had feelings for Nathan or that Nathan had Nori's impressionable ear. She would listen for hours on end to Nathan's speech about his cause. Coop also was caught up with Nathan's tales.
It was understandable that Nori would naturally gravitate toward Nathan. Nathan was closer to her age than Brady's twenty-four years. Nathan was also handsome and a good athlete. Before the Marysville incident, Nathan was on a football scholarship at a local college. The former quarterback had a natural charisma and leadership about him that brought the more impressionable to him like rats to the Pied Piper.
Brady laughed inwardly at his last analogy, though he would tend to put Nathan in the guise of a rat. As Brady entered the room where Nathan was recovering, he heard Nathan telling the story again of his last raid before Nori and Coop. The two sat at the foot of Nathan's bed, both completely caught up with another retelling of the story that Brady had heard way too many times.
"Excuse me," Brady interrupted forcing a smile as he entered the room. "I need to borrow Nori for a minute."
"Oh yeah, no problem," Nathan responded looking over at Brady with a forced smile of his own.
"Sure, Brady what is it?" asked Nori oblivious to the two men's barely concealed dislike for each other.
"I need you to give me a hand unloading the last load of books from the truck. Sarge wants them in the library before nightfall."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I totally forgot," Nori smiled as she hopped up and started for the door.
Brady followed Nori as they left the room and exited Doc's little clinic. They then proceeded to the old red truck where boxes of books filled the bed. Nori pulled down the tailgate and began pulling out a box of books. It always amazed Brady how strong Nori actually was, surely the rigorous training program Sarge had them in helped out a lot.
"Nori, wait a minute," Brady said shyly.
Nori just looked up at Brady and tilted her head to one side with confusion clearly marking her face.
"This is not easy for me to say, but..." Brady swallowed hard. He was never good at personal confrontation. Hell, he was camped out at the family cabin when the undead started taking over Seattle because he didn't want to face his parents with the news of his being kick out of the University of Washington.
"Look, I'm worried about you getting too caught up with Nathan."
At first Nori just stared up at Brady not fully comprehending what he was saying.
"What!?!" Nori finally blurted.
"I'm concerned that you may be buying into Nathan's shtick too much and Coop is following along too," Brady said looking at his feet.
"What do you mean shtick? The guy's just been nearly crucified and is trying to remove an evil man from continuing to harm innocent people!" Nori yelled.
Brady stepped back. In the year, they have known each other Brady had never heard Nori yell at him like this before.
"Who are you to tell me what to do? What do you know about Nathan's cause? Surely you can't be so callous as to the plight of the people?" Nori's tirade continued.
"You know what I think you are jealous of Nathan, jealous that he's doing something while you just hide up here in the woods. He's had it hard while you've been living the high-life!" Nori yelled as she stormed off back to the clinic.
Brady could only just stand there stunned watching Nori's back as she stomped into the clinic slamming the door behind her. Brady looked up to see a few people standing in the road staring at the scene that had just unfolded. As Brady made eye contact with the small crowd, they shortly departed.
It took Brady a long time to get to sleep that night. He kept thinking about what Nori had said to him. He kept going over it in his mind, and that made him quite restless. He kept thinking about how Nori wouldn't acknowledge Brady's existence all day. In fact, Coop seemed obviously uncomfortable being around Nori and Brady in the same room. Sarge offered to listen if Brady wanted to talk about what happened. But Brady remained silent. After much tossing an turning, he eventually drifted off to sleep.
Brady awoke with a start as he felt the hand close over his mouth. He looked up into the dark room, the pale blue moonlight leaking in through the window reflecting off Nori's slim form.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you today," Nori whispered. "But Coop and I are leaving with Nathan tonight for his rebel camp."
The expression on Brady's face told Nori that he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"Look, I said some things that weren't true today. You have saved my life many times over the last year, and you are my closest friend. But I can't stay here while such injustices exist. I...I want you to join us," Nori said.
Nori didn't think Brady's eyes could get any wider but she was wrong.
"I know Nathan doesn't like you and you don't like him. But you are very intelligent, and you are a very skilled woodsman and hunter. These people need someone like you," Nori pleaded.
"What about Sarge or Smith. We can't just leave them," Brady hissed.
"But we have too. They need to stay here and get this camp organized. In the mean time, we could help out the rebels and maybe help those people out as well. I'm sure we won't be gone long."
Brady knew it was impossible to talk Nori out of this. If she was going to go, Coop was going to follow as well and there was very little he could do to prevent it. Therefore, he had no choice but to nod his assent.
Brady quickly dashed off a short note to Sarge as they quickly and quietly gathered up their belongings and set out leaving the camp behind them. After walking down the road for about ten minutes Brady, Nori, and Coop met up with Nathan. The shocked look on Nathan's face on seeing Brady almost made joining Nori and Coop worth it, thought Brady.
"What's he doing coming along?" Nathan said angrily.
"He's the best at tracking and is very resourceful. You'll need him," Nori defended her decision.
Nathan turned his gaze toward Brady, "OK, hotshot you're in, but remember I'm in charge and you take your orders from me."
With that, the four rebels started on their journey back to the hidden camp.
It was only a few days of hard marching before Nori, Coop, Brady and Nathan arrived at the hidden rebel camp. Brady's first reaction was that it was far from the military-type resistance he envisioned. Instead, the base looked more like a compound of college age kids at keg camp hidden at an abandoned campground in the woods. There was no order to the placement of tents and trailer houses. Most of the residents just lazed around in the shade of the afternoon sun drinking a beer or even harder alcohol some were even smoking pot.
"Let's see how things have been since I've been gone," Nathan smiled as he approached the camp.
They just walked into the base. Brady was appalled by how untrained and unprofessional these rebels were. There weren't any sentries, and nobody took any real notice of them until someone recognized Nathan. Then there was a shout. Almost everyone raised a head or shouted out in excitement as they watched the group enter the compound.
People started running over to Nathan and asking various questions all at once. Nathan shook many hands, patted many backs, and smiled at everyone. The newly returned leader walked over to an old cable spool and jumped on top of it. He raised his hands over his head urging everyone to quiet down. It took at least a minute before everyone became silent. Brady, Nori, and Coop just hung back from the group observing what looked like something out of a Civil War painting of General Lee addressing his troops.
"They may not be well trained, but they definitely have spirit," Brady mused to himself.
"Now, now, the rumor of my demise has been greatly exaggerated," Nathan joked with the crowd around him. Everyone broke into laughter.
"I am back and I have brought us some new recruits. I want everyone to treat them with the respect that they deserve," Nathan pointed to the three companions at the rear of the group.
Brady felt uncomfortable as about one hundred pairs of eyes turned and looked at them curiously. Brady felt Nori fidgeting next to him, obviously as uncomfortable as he was. Coop just smiled and waved weakly at the spectators.
"Here we have the young, but mighty warrior Thomas Cooper! Next to him is my personal savior the lovely, but deadly Noriko "Nori" Fubuki! Finally, and least is the new recruit Brady West." Nathan introduced the three in a cheery voice. It was hard to tell if Nathan was slighting Brady out of jest or hatred, but he had a good idea which it was.
Brady was about to say something when he heard a female voice on the other side of the group shout out.
"Nathan, thank God you are alive!"
Everyone turned in the direction of the voice to see a young blonde girl in her early twenties run up to Nathan and embrace him. The woman started to kiss Nathan when he pushed her back and pointed over to the trio again.
"You can thank them for my life. If they didn't come at the right time, I would have wound up dead like the rest. How have things been here Lisa?" Nathan enquired.
Brady noticed the glare that Lisa gave Nori as she glanced at them. It was obvious that Lisa saw Nori as a threat to her. Lisa quickly snapped her head back to Nathan.
"Not as easy as you may have wanted. With your supposed death, nobody has been in much of a mood for raiding. Morale has been pretty low. But now that you are back…"
"Come let's talk in private. I think we can bring our new friends into the inner circle," Nathan responded as he waved Brady, Nori, and Coop over to join them.
Inside the trailer house, the six leaders of the rebels and the three companions sat around the table. It was a very tight squeeze but everyone found a place to sit. A window was opened so that the air could circulate. It became obvious to Brady at how untrained these people were. The marksmanship training composed of shooting bottles off a log. There was no martial arts training, mostly everyone just brawled. Leadership was more of a popularity contest than based on merit.
It became apparent that this was a group of the popular inner crowd kids, and the fringe unpopular kids would never be allowed to join in. That was the other thing; these people were all kids. Granted that they were all around Brady's age but their training was greatly inferior to his. None had any actual military experience, and few knew how to operate a firearm before they joined the resistance. Therefore, he couldn't help but feel that they were kids. Brady wondered if this was how Sarge felt about Nori, Coop, and himself.
"I hope we can all give these guys the respect they deserve," Nathan said to his cadre of officers. "I believe that they'll be a great asset to us. They have actual military training so I'm appointing Brady and Nori instant officer rank. But even Coop here shouldn't be brushed off. He has more combat knowledge than any of us."
The group of young men and women nodded assent. The only person that didn't seem pleased was the woman called Lisa. She glowered again as she glanced over to Nori. Nori didn't seem to notice.
Nathan began to introduce his group of officers. The young woman whose name was Lisa Allen was second in command of the rebels. Brady found out later from some of the other officers that Lisa and Nathan had been living together. Nathan tended to be a philanderer and Lisa was dangerously possessive. Brady realized he would have to keep an extra eye out for Nori.
Nathan proposed that Nori be in charge of a group of rebels with Brady as her second, but Nori refused and adamantly suggested that Brady be in charge. Nathan finally assented and Brady was assigned a group of twenty people.
The next morning Brady, Nori, and Coop rounded up their new charges. Brady's initial optimism fell as he realized that he was assigned to a group of misfits. These were the unpopular and troublemakers that the other officers didn't want to deal with. Brady was about to walk out of the camp then and there when Nori pulled him away from the group and talked to him in a low voice.
"I know that you are disappointed, Brady, but you have to train these guys. Who else will do it? I also know that Nathan assigned you this group hoping that you'd leave. We all desperately need you, even if the rest of the group doesn't know it."
Brady nodded his head and approached the ragtag group of kids. There was a variety of reactions from the group as Brady returned. Some were of disdain; others looked with fear.
"OK, it looks like I'm you new leader," Brady began slowly.
"You don't say?" a slender African-American youth responded garnering laughs and high fives from his neighbors.
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Brady shouted in surprise to even himself. The authority in his voice quieted down the group. "Look here, I don't expect you to respect me. I have to earn that. But I want you to realize that if you want learn how to fight I will teach you. There are no officers here who can teach you what I can. For that matter, they don't even want to deal with you. If you want to leave, leave now. Leave this camp and see how well you do on your own. So far, you have proven your spirit to the cause, now we will show you how to fight and fight hard and smart."
The group looked at each other deciding what to do. Brady's words had struck a cord with the twenty misfits. So in the end no one left and all looked towards Brady.
"I'm going to work you hard. Train you hard. But by the end, you will be the best of the best of anyone here. You'll prove to everyone that you are better than any ten of the other group warriors."
Brady then introduced his companions, "This is Nori and Coop and they'll be helping me with your training."
Brady noticed a young Asian man looking at Nori puzzled. "Do you have a question?" Brady asked.
"I am Akira Ifukube, I am from Japan," the young man responded in broken English. "Is your name really Nori?" he asked Noriko.
Noriko started conversing to Akira in Japanese. Brady was at first taken back, he had never heard Nori speak in Japanese before. He knew she could, after all her parents came to the US from Japan before she was born. After a couple of minutes, Nori looked up a Brady.
"Akira was an exchange student from Japan. He's been having a hard time with everything because no one will speak with him. He was surprised that you called me Nori. Nori in Japanese means ‘seaweed'. I explained that it was only a nickname for Noriko," Nori said in her usual quick and bubbly voice. "I, of course, told him that he had an unusual name himself. He said that he was named after the famous movie composer."
Brady looked at her with a puzzled expression.
"Man, you really needed to watch more movies. You obviously never watched a Toho monster flick," Nori responded shaking her head. "In any case, Akira can speak English well enough. We just have to speak more slowly so that he can understand us."
"Cool," Brady smiled.
"Kakkoui," Nori replied.
"Kakkoui, you are going to start learning some Japanese. Your first word is kakkoui, that's slang for ‘cool' or ‘far out' if you're as old as Sarge."
Brady turned back to the group, "Now that the introductions are done I'm giving you one last night of fun. Tomorrow we begin training that means no alcohol or parties and drugs are not allowed at all. If there are any violations you are out."
After two weeks, the twenty kids under Brady’s training were already beginning to resemble a combat team. Their results were already good after the first week. Nathan in the beginning refused to believe that the group of misfits was anything more than that. The rest of the resistance would laugh and make fun of "Brady’s Misfits" as they were being called. Seeing the group of unpopular kids doing marksmanship drills, marching with full load packs, and practicing their martial arts while everyone else was taking it easy looked like plain foolhardiness to the other groups.
Brady was pleased to see self-confidence increasing in his Misfits, and they would now all stand-up for each other. Former gang bangers would now protect the one-time computer geeks. The occasional fight would break out between his Misfits and one of the other groups. The result was always the same, no matter how many of the drunken or high "popular" kids outnumbered the Misfits; the Misfits would always come out on top.
Discipline of course had to be maintained, and Brady could not afford to condone such actions from his group. The extra bout of push-ups or that extra mile march with the heavy pack was the extent he would go to punish his group. This was far more than what was being done by the other groups.
The division between the Misfits and the other groups was only increasing and something had to be done about it. So Brady proposed a competition between his group and all of the others. There would be marksmanship, an iron man run, and a bout of judo. The other group leaders at first resisted, until Brady mentioned to Nathan that his group was better than any of the other groups. Nathan then insisted that the competition take place.
The results were as expected; the Misfits came out on top in all of the competitions. Nathan then proposed a rigid training program for the rest of the groups with Nori leading the training. There was much dissatisfaction from the other groups. Two group leaders and twelve rebels deserted the next day.
Whenever possible Brady would try to oversee how Nori was coming along in training the other groups. It wasn’t that he doubted Nori’s experience, but rather he was suspicious as to Nathan’s agenda. That became clear one day when Brady was watching Nori give Nathan some judo lessons. Whenever they came together in a grappling move Nathan’s hands would always land on an inappropriate place on Nori’s body. Nori’s face would remain impassive, as she would then slam Nathan hard into the ground often knocking the breath out of him.
After the training bout, Nathan bowed with a smile on his face to Nori and then he left to clean up. Brady went over to Nori to hear her grumbling to herself.
"You know he’s just copping a feel," Brady said coming up next to Nori.
"I thinks he’s doing it more to try to make me angry. If I become angry, I will lose my focus. So I must remain calm and turn his mistakes against him," Nori insisted.
"You just can’t seem to see him for the pervert that he is," Brady continued.
"No, I know that he’s quite the playboy, but you don’t have to worry I can take care of myself," Nori reassured Brady.
"Well, be extra careful. Nathan is not the only one to watch. Lisa doesn’t quite cotton to you being so close to Nathan and it looks like you may be the flavor of the month."
"Yeah, I know. We both have our crosses to bear. You have to watch out for Nathan and I have to watch Lisa. But we can’t leave. These kids are coming along they really need us here."
"Tell you what, I’ll keep an eye out for Lisa and you watch out for Nathan."
"Cover each others back. I’ve got your six," Nori responded with a chuckle.
By the end of a month, the entire resistance base looked much more professional. The Misfits were no longer the only group that was on sentry duty. Recon patrols were now being organized to search out for any of the Horde.
By now, the Misfits had started calling Brady "captain". Brady decided that he would work on the ranking for his unit. Nathan had never established any real ranking system with his small army. There was Nathan the leader, Lisa the second in command, and his various group leaders.
So if Brady was going to be a "captain" he decided that Nori would be his lieutenant. He picked the most able member of the misfits to act as his sergeant. This turned out to be the same African-American kid that heckled him that first day he took command. The boy’s name was Marcus Miller. Everyone just called him M&M. Now, with Brady’s insistence they called him Sergeant Miller.
Brady also tried to get his group proper military gear. Everyone had some form of helmet, an old army "tin hat", a modern PSGAT, or a riot helmet similar to the one Nori had. The uniforms were just as eclectic, but everyone wore some form of leather jacket and pants if possible and boots were a must.
Without any modern communication devices, Brady determined that he would need to rely on an old method of relaying messages. That was where he came up with using a runner. It was strange to be using an old method, one rarely used for about one hundred and fifty years in the twenty-first century.
Roger Jennings was a small pimply face kid just turned twenty that Brady chose for his runner. His glasses were as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, but he had two assets that a good runner needed. He was an excellent long distance runner and he could remember word for word anything that was said to him.
It was with a lot of pride that Brady and Nori looked upon their Misfits. The other groups started to accept them into their circle as Nori continued to train the other groups. Group leaders now themselves followed Brady’s example of an officer corps and they also established their own runners.
Though Nathan had a natural charisma that drew people to him, Brady had a quick and strategic mind that earned him the respect of his fellow group leaders. It was with some great jealousy that Nathan watched as Brady became more popular with the other groups.
That was when Nathan came up with an idea to deal with his rival before Brady could usurp his power from him.
Summer was finally beginning to wind down, and the small band of resistance fighters were now well on their way to being a professional army. Ever since Nathan was captured in their last raid on the Horde, the rebels had stayed clear of Khan’s army of thugs. As far as Khan or his Horde was concerned, the rebellion was over.
It was time to show them the teeth that Nathan’s army had grown over the last couple of months. Nathan needed to strike fast and hard against the Horde. Not only was this to avenge the deaths of those that they captured and tortured on the last raid, but also to show that the Horde was not invulnerable. Showing that the Horde could also be hurt would cause the people under Khan’s feet to rise up and join the rebellion Nathan reasoned.
Nathan was going over some of his ideas when Lisa insisted that he allow her to scout some of the local towns. The Horde needed to scavenge their supplies, and they had been moving further outward from their base of operations in order to obtain them. That would bring the Horde closer to the rebel camp giving the rebels the advantage.
Nathan smiled at the idea. This was just what he needed. As Lisa was preparing to go, Nathan insisted that she take two other rebels with her for the recon mission. Lisa at first objected but in the end, she relented.
Lisa returned to the camp after three days alone. She said that the two scouts sent along with her had taken the chance to desert when they were away. Nathan was visibly upset by this. He needed every last member of his group if his raid was going to succeed. Lisa gave her report and Nathan again started to smile. He had a plan and a good one. He worked out the last details alone with Lisa, and the next morning he called together all his group leaders.
There were now five group leaders including Brady. Each group contained about twenty fighters. The captains and lieutenants of each group crammed into Nathan’s trailer house HQ for Nathan’s briefing. There was an old road map laid out on the small table.
"I’m glad everyone could make it today," Nathan joked. "As you can see, I plan to give Khan a little taste of our new army. Thanks to Nori, and even Brady we are now in a better position to give a little payback."
Nathan took out a pencil and started drawing a circle around a small town on the map.
"This is where Khan’s scavenging force is going to be tomorrow. Lisa’s recon mission has shown that they have been scouring the other towns for any supplies they may need. They just started working on this one. It takes them four or five days to completely clean one out. So we’ll sneak in town while they are away, and when they return the next day... WHAMMO!" Nathan slammed his fist on the table with a wide grin on his face.
Everyone else in the room also smiled. They had all obviously waited a long time to exact their revenge on the Horde, and tomorrow they were going to give it.
"Now, we’ll send four groups inside the town. Everyone will occupy good defensible buildings for the ambush. One group will remain outside of town on these hills to act as look out incase any stragglers try to sneak in or out after combat begins," Nathan looked around at his group leaders noticing the eagerness on all their faces.
"OK, Nori you will be in overall charge of the four town groups," Nathan began.
"What!?! You can’t take away my lieutenant!" Brady objected.
"Shut your mouth ‘captain’," Nathan sneered mockingly. "Nori has trained all these groups and so she’ll be in overall command. Ah, but don’t worry you’ll still be in charge of your own group here on the hills outside of town, where it’ll nice and safe for your little band of ‘misfits’," Nathan chuckled.
"Um, sir," Captain Laurie Germain of Rogue group interrupted. "I think Brady is correct, and wouldn’t it be better if the Misfits were inside town where the fighting will be?"
"I’m sorry; I didn’t know this was a committee meeting. If I remember right I’m still in charge, but if any of you don’t like my plan you may leave and I’ll find a new group leader to replace you." Nathan said threateningly.
Everyone stifled his or her objections. Brady started to turn to leave when Nori grabbed his arm and whispered in his ear.
"Don’t, we are going to need you tomorrow."
"Captain West, were you leaving?" Nathan asked with false concern in his voice.
"No, sir," Brady choked out.
"Sir," Laurie began again. "Where are you and Lisa going to be?"
"Good question," Nathan replied with the smile returning to his face. "We’ll keep Mr. West company. Lisa pointed out that after our last tangle with the Horde we can’t afford to lose me again."
Nathan’s smile diminished a bit as he noticed the disappointed looks on his group leaders. After all they had been through, Nathan was always there in the thick of things with his band of rebels. Now he was going to sit this one out.
It was very early the next morning when the entire rebel camp headed for the town. No one said anything as they hiked along the road in the predawn darkness. Brady figured they would be at the town just before daybreak. That should give everyone enough time to get into position for the attack.
Nori walked next to Brady as they worked their way down the road.
"Well, it looks like I'll have to watch both Lisa and Nathan," Brady joked half-heartedly.
"I don't like this, Brady," Nori confided in an unusually somber tone.
"It's just pre-attack jitters. You'll be fine. Remember I've seen you in action."
"It's not that. I have a bad feeling about this," Nori said quickly and then she jogged up ahead to talk to the other captains.
The small army set themselves up without a hitch. Brady watched Nori position her groups inside of the town through his field glasses.
"She definitely knows her stuff," Brady thought with pride.
The Misfits had formed themselves on top of a steep hill outside of the only road in and out of town. There were some trees for protection and Brady smiled inwardly as he noticed that all his Misfits had situated themselves perfectly and without much noise.
Lisa and Nathan on the other hand were as loud as herd of elephants and as clumsy as drunken monkeys. Brady had to keep telling them to keep their heads low or they may reveal their position to the enemy. Both would just glare at Brady for a minute before they would finally do as they were told.
The sun was just beginning to rise over the mountains behind them when they heard the sound of motorcycles in the distance. The noise of the small engines seemed odd to Brady's ears after a year of not hearing anything more than the engine of their old Dodge truck. Brady could feel the excitement build in anticipation of the ambush. He wasn't alone.
Nathan stood up and before Brady could yell at him to get down the rebel leader began to run towards the town.
Lisa then shouted after him, "No, what are you doing?"
"How can I hide up here? I need to be with my troops in their moment of glory," Nathan shouted over his shoulder.
Lisa just stood there watching Nathan run towards the town. The color was drained from her face as Brady reached up and pulled her back down to the ground.
"Dammit," Brady hissed. "Are you trying to let them know we are here?"
Lisa flinched and buried her face in her hands as she began to sob silently.
Brady didn't have time for a hysterical girl. He raised his field glasses to his eyes and scanned the road toward the rumble of the bikes. The lead elements of the Horde could be seen racing down the road toward the town.
Swinging his glasses toward the town, Brady noticed that Nathan had already concealed himself.
"Thank God for that," Brady thought.
The Misfits remained in their positions as the twenty or so bikes sped past them and sped into town. There was a lone U-Haul truck following behind. This was obviously how they planned to transport their take back to their base of operation.
Brady no longer noticed Lisa's sobbing as he watched the Horde enter the town and begin to dismount. After everyone was off his or her bikes and the driver out of the truck, Brady watched as Nathan stood up from behind an abandoned red car. They were too far away to hear what Nathan was saying. "Probably something like surrender or die," Brady thought.
Soon afterwards, gunfire started to breakout. Most of the bikers dropped as the different rebel groups unleashed their weapons unto the exposed Horde. Brady started to smile. "It would soon be over. No more than ten minutes work," he mused.
That's when Brady heard another noise. A noise he had only heard in old war movies, the squeak and whine of steel on steel clattering down a concrete road.
"Cap, look over there," Sergeant Miller called out.
Brady brought his field glasses to bear in the direction Miller pointed. But he would have seen it even without them. The distinctive olive drab green half-track with a white star on the hood and four .50 caliber machineguns on a carriage on the back was racing down the road.
"Jennings," Brady yelled. "Get to that town and warn everyone to get out."
The boy shot off like a bullet without further encouragement. Brady turned to the rest of his Misfits.
"OK, this is where we earn our keep. We have to buy the other groups some time in order for them to pull out," Brady ordered.
With that, Brady raised his M-16 to his shoulder and squeezed off a round. The rest of the group followed suit. The bullets bounced harmlessly off the half-track's armor. Nevertheless, it had the effect that Brady desired -- it stopped.
"Everybody get down!" Brady shouted.
The Misfits all hit the dirt without a second thought as the gun carriage started strafing the hillside blindly looking for the raiders. Fortunately, the M-2s were aimed too low. Splinters from shattered trees flew through the air along with the churned up clods of dirt.
"Sergeant, get the group out of here. I'll try to hold them off," Brady yelled.
"Sir, you..." Miller began to protest.
Lisa then raised herself up and started down the steep hill towards the half-track. The gunner in the carriage tried to shoot her but he could not depress the guns fast enough. Brady took careful aim at the gunner through the open site on his assault rifle. Brady didn't notice Cooper and Akira next to him who where firing on the half-track to draw its attention away from Lisa.
The carriage raised the four M-2s toward the source of the bullets and started to spray forth its leaden death. Again, trees were being shattered and splinters flew through the air. If a .50 caliber shell hit Brady, he knew he would be turned into hamburger. However, he kept taking careful aim. He'd have only one shot and it would have to count.
Time slowed down as dirt spewed around him filling his nostrils with the smell of freshly turned soil. He didn't notice the short-lived scream of Akira as a round from one of the M-2s tore through his torso. Brady peered down the site onto the man behind the guns. He slowly squeezed the trigger and barely heard the ‘pop' of his round as he fired the M-16. Brady watched the man slump forward as his shot found its mark a split second before something slammed into his left shoulder spinning him around and knocking him to the ground. Before he lost consciousness Brady felt a burning sensation begin to spread through his left shoulder.
Nori had positioned the groups very well by her reckoning. They all had good concealment and cover. The main road into town lay open and led straight into the middle of the trap that the rebels had set. Now all that needed to be done was to wait for the Horde to ride into to town and to spring the trap. God willing casualties would be kept to a minimum.
Nori was sitting inside an abandoned building where the Rogue group lay concealed. Next to her was the group's captain Laurie who was peering over a window ledge to peak outside.
"I guess that if you are in charge of all of us that would make you a major or colonel or something. I really don't understand these things," Laurie said.
"No, I'm just here on loan. I'm just a lieutenant with the Misfits," Nori replied. "I don't know why Nathan sent me here instead of himself."
"Scuttlebutt has it that it was Lisa's idea," Laurie answered.
"What? Why would she suggest that? She doesn't even like me. Lisa would only send me out if she knew it would get me..."
"Runner!" Laurie interrupted.
Nori stuck her head around the door and looked outside to see a lone person running straight down the middle of the road.
"What idiot would run right down the street? Everyone knows better than that," Nori grumbled angrily.
"It's Nathan!" Laurie answered.
They watched as Nathan ran down the road and then jumped behind a small red Toyota. Nori was about to jump out of her hiding place, march over to Nathan and give him a piece of her mind when she heard it. They all heard it, the sound of a score of motorcycles rumbling down the road.
"Everyone, get ready," Nori called out.
The bikers began to pour into town. They were running right down the middle of Main Street just as planned. Nori was getting ready to yell out the order to open fire when she heard Nathan's shouting voice. Nori peered out the doorway to see Nathan standing up behind the Toyota defiantly.
"You will pay for all that you have done to us and the peaceful people you are now holding under your tyranny!"
"Great," mumbled Nori. "Open fire!"
No further prompting was needed. Close to eighty rifles and assault weapons started pouring lead into the bikers and the U-Haul that had just pulled in behind them. Nori was pleased to see the bikers fall near their bikes. It would soon be over and then she would tell Nathan what he could do with his damn ego.
The last biker fell, only a couple had time enough to return fire, but now there were over twenty bodies lying in the road. Nori called the cease-fire and prepared to exit the building. It was strange how little blood there was amongst the bikers. She thought for sure that after all the firing from the rebels the streets would literally run with blood.
Suddenly an explosion filled the air. Nori ran out into the road and looked up the street toward the hill where the Misfits were lying in support. The entire hillside looked like it was being blown apart. Trees were tumbling and a giant plume of dirt obscured the view of the steep hill. Nevertheless, it didn't hide the old World War II half-track that was firing its machine guns into the hillside nonstop.
"Dear God..." Nori began as she felt someone tugging on her arm.
Nori spun around to see Jennings there next to her.
"Message from Captain West: Get everyone out of the town now!" the winded boy yelled over the noise.
The crack of a handgun brought Nori's attention back to the bikers. There were about a dozen of them getting up from the ground drawing their weapons and firing it towards the buildings. The bikers were wearing body armor. That was why there wasn't much blood. Nori cursed herself momentarily. Nori then pulled Jennings into the building with her.
"Laurie have Rogue group cover us as we pull out!" Nori ordered.
"Yes ma'am," Laurie answered. Then the captain began yelling orders to her group.
"Everyone pull out, pass the word!" Nori shouted again.
The pull out went off much better than expected. Nori doubted that the bikers would follow them far into the woods. She regrouped her small army of rebels in a clearing not far from the town. The sounds of gunfire had long since stopped, even that of the half-track.
"Oh, my God. The Misfits," Nori thought to herself. She was about to cry when she noticed a group of late comers enter the clearing. It was Sergeant Miller. The small lieutenant ran over to her with a grim look on his face.
"Thank God, you guys made," Nori began.
"Sorry, but Captain West, Coop and Akira stayed behind to take out that half-track and save Lisa," Miller said looking towards the ground.
"We didn't want to leave, but he gave us the order. Ma'am we have to go back," Miller pleaded.
"You are right, everyone get ready to go back," Nori shouted.
"Everyone stop. We are staying put until things calm down," Nathan shouted.
"What?!?" was all Nori could choke out as she spun on Nathan.
"We'll wait a couple days, let things calm down. Then we'll see what happens," reasoned Nathan.
Nori stood there trembling just staring at Nathan as if she saw him for the first time. The rage and loathing for him finally was bubbling to the surface just waiting to explode in a burst of violence.
"Calm down now. We can't do anything for that so called Captain West. Hell, he blew the whole operation," Nathan smiled.
A red cloud filled Nori's vision. The dam of suppressed emotion inside her finally broke.
Brady came to in the back of a truck. The U-Haul had pulled in behind the bikers. The door was open and two bikers stood guard over him. However, any idea of escape was out as he realized that he was chained to the wall. As Brady started to test his chains, fire began to shoot through his left shoulder.
"Take it easy," said a hoarse voice next to him.
Brady looked over to the speaker to see that it was Lisa. At least the blurry image resembled her; he had lost his glasses in the battle. Fortunately, she was close enough that he could make out most of her features. Her face was red and her eyes were swollen from continuous crying. She too was chained to the wall.
"I'm glad you are alive," Coop said on the other side of Brady.
"Coop! I gave you orders to fall back," Brady said.
"Akira and I couldn't leave you by yourself to take out the half-track," Coop said in a low voice.
"Where's Akira?" Brady asked before he could catch himself. He half remembered seeing him lying on the side of the hill dead. His torso all torn up.
"He took a bullet, you are lucky you just got a big sliver in your shoulder," Coop responded sadly.
"It's my fault," Lisa began to cry again.
The men at the back of the truck started laughing as Lisa sobbed uncontrollably.
"Now, now," Brady began. "It's not your fault. How'd you know that they would bring the half-track to the town?"
Lisa only started crying harder.
Brady never cared for Lisa one way or the other. He had always seen her as a threat only to Nori. So he kept a close eye on Lisa, but she was always pleasant around Brady or anyone else. Seeing her so distraught pained his heart almost as much as the wound in his shoulder.
"Please, Lisa. If it was anyone's fault it was mine," Brady comforted.
"You don't understand. It is my fault. I told them," Lisa looked up at Brady's surprised face through her puffy eyes.
"I told them where to hit us and how. It was for the greater good," Lisa sobbed out in a choked voice.
"What? I don't understand..." Brady stammered trying to comprehend what Lisa was saying.
"I had to get rid of her and his damn army," Lisa said.
Brady just stared up at her unbelieving what he was hearing.
"Don't look at me like that. You don't understand," Lisa said as she tried to wipe the tears from her eyes with her chained arms. But she had to settle for wiping them on her shoulder.
"I'm pregnant with Nathan's child," Lisa finally said.
Brady didn't think he could stand any more surprises. Nevertheless, they just kept bombarding him. His head was already spinning from the firefight, his wound, and the jarring of the truck going over the rough road. Clearly, the roads were falling into disrepair already.
"How long have you known?"
Lisa sniffled, "About two weeks."
They all sat in silence for a while as it sunk in. The truck drove steadily down the road and the guards would just watch the three occasionally cracking a crude joke at their expense.
"If I could have gotten rid of Nori and the army, Nathan would have given up his little crusade. We could have melted away into the mountains and lived out a happy life," Lisa said to no one in particular.
"Did you tell Nathan about his child?"
"I tried so many times, but all he would talk about was his army or Nori this or Nori that," Lisa sobbed again. "I was desperate to do something."
Lisa started to cry uncontrollably again. Brady could only slump his head down against his chest. The sounds of Lisa's crying, the taunting and laughing of the guards seemed to accompany his throbbing and burning shoulder in some kind of ghoulish symphony as they continued on their trip to hell.
The guards made no secret that the prisoners were going to see Khan in Vice-City. They assured Brady he was going to the Labyrinth. But maybe the kid and girl would wind up in one of the brothels. Only Khan could decide.
It was already night by the time the Horde with its prisoners pulled into Vice-City. The noise was practically unbearable to Brady after a year of relative quiet. People were laughing, screaming, and singing as they drove down the main road. The flashing of a multitude of different colored lights added to the surreal surroundings.
The small gang with its human cargo pulled into a fenced-off parking area and stopped. A chain-linked fencing topped with coils of barbed wire surrounded it. The guards then unchained their prisoners from the wall of the U-Haul and led them into what was once the town's police station. Brady and his two companions were then roughly pushed and pulled down the white hallway. At the end of the hall, they were literally tossed into a cell.
The guards laughed as they slammed the cell door shut.
"Hey, sweetheart maybe we'll meet you at one of the brothels later," joked a bearded burly man dressed in black leather chaps and matching vest.
His companion started to laugh even harder. The two men then turned and exited the cellblock. The clanging of the block's main door shutting echoed down the corridor with a hollow clang.
Brady blinked his eyes. Even without his glasses, the artificial light took some getting used to. He looked around the room, but he couldn't make out too much. "I guess it's time to get a cane and dog," Brady thought.
"Welcome strangers," a man's forlorn voice said softly. "I was getting a little lonely being shut up all by myself. As you can see even the other cells are empty."
"Hi," Brady responded as he shuffled his way towards the voice and what he hoped was a bed against the far wall.
Cooper grabbed Brady's right arm and led him over to the bunk beds. Lisa retreated to a corner and continued to sob.
"Looks like you have a little wound there," the man continued. "We should take a look at that injury."
"Thanks," was all Brady could say before his leather jacket was pulled off his torso and fire shot through his left shoulder again. Brady hissed as the pain force him to intake air between his clenched teeth.
"I don't have any real tools but I think I can pull this splinter out."
Brady cried out in pain as the prisoner pulled the inch long splinter quickly from his shoulder with his dirty blunt fingers. The intense explosion of pain nearly made Brady lose consciousness. Then Brady felt real fire burn onto his shoulder.
"Now hold still I need to cauterize it. Too much blood pouring out," the stranger explained.
Soon Brady's shoulder was cleaned and patched up with bandages made from torn bed sheets. After this last ordeal, Brady felt overwhelmingly tired. He lay down on the bed and started to drift off.
Brady instantly came awake when he heard the block's main door creak open. The sounds of three sets of footsteps could be heard stomping down the corridor. It was amazing how quickly one started to become more attuned to their other senses when one of them wasn't working properly, Brady mused inwardly. It wasn't that the other senses became more acute it was that you now paid more attention to them.
"These are them, sir," the same burly man from before said as the new comers approached the cell door.
"Ah, excellent. So this is our little rebellious army and I see it had found another leader," mocked a voice, a voice that Brady recognized.
Brady sat up abruptly and turned toward the new voice.
"Dr. Vanders?" asked Brady.
Khan, formerly know as Barry Vanders jumped back with surprise. The two biker guardsmen and the other prisoners all noticed how Brady's question seemed to affect Khan as if he had been slammed in the chest with a heavy object.
"Wha...what do you mean?" Khan stammered off balanced.
"Yes, of course. It all makes sense now," Brady said thinking out loud. "You taught Inner-Asian history at U of W and Genghis Khan was a favorite topic of yours. You'd always seem to go on some tangent that led one way or the other to Genghis Khan."
"SILENCE!" yelled Khan as he regained his composure. "Dr. Vanders died in Seattle during the incident. Khan was born like a phoenix from the ashes of a dead world to create a new empire..."
"You still have a touch for theatrics, Doc," Brady interrupted.
The burly man quickly pulled out a short club and jumped toward the cell, "Shut-up boy, or I'll ram this nightstick up your..."
"Enough, Seth. I'm sure my former student will find that he's not so brave when he's running the Labyrinth."
"Look, Dr. Vanders I've faced death many times before and this is just one more," Brady bluffed hoping that his face did not betray his bravado.
"I am sure you are a very brave young man. But how about if you are a guest watching the show as your friends here run it. It is a shame, I was hoping to add them both to the brothels. My men's appetite for ...um, ‘pleasures of the flesh' runs the whole gambit."
Coop and Lisa both looked in horror at Brady and then Khan. They both had heard all about the Labyrinth. The best thing to hope for was that you broke your neck as they threw you down the manhole.
"We'll start the games tomorrow morning," Khan added as he and his two companions turned and exited the corridor. The sounds of the two bikers resonated down the hall in accompaniment to the retreating footsteps.
"Look here," began the stranger. "There is way out of the Labyrinth. I helped build it in the old storm sewers. There was a small army of us working on it, so I doubt they even knew they put you in a cell with someone with my knowledge."
"Why should we trust you?" Brady asked.
"You don't have to, but I do have information that could help you whether you believe me or not. I'm Jesse by the way," the prisoner said as he offered his hand.
Brady hesitantly reached out and shook it. He still didn't know if he could trust this man or not. "My name is Brady West."
"Good, good. Man, I've never seen Khan at a loss for words like that. You really burned him good there," chuckled Jesse.
Coop and Lisa then introduced themselves. Neither was in very high spirits but both wanted to know the secret to escaping the Labyrinth, as they would shortly be running it.
"Now as I was saying there is a way out. Many of the side passages are boarded off. We couldn't have zombies and victims just bumbling around passing each other in the dark. So Khan decided to make a game out of it. Lights and cameras were installed and as I said, many side passages were boarded up. But every once in a while a bulb will burn out, or a camera will need adjusting so we builders have to sneak in without the undead making a meal of us. We also need a way back out.
"So that we can easily find our way in and out, we have secret doors set up. Khan and the Horde don't even know about them. No one watches the repairmen doing their work, so the secret is still sound as far as I know."
"How do we find the secret door?" Coop asked anxiously.
"That's the beauty of it. It's so simple. As I said, we boarded up many side passages. Some of these are boxed in so that we can enter from a manhole above and sneak in and out. But in order to find which boarded up wall is in fact a door, all you have to do is look for a white wall. The lighting is terrible and the cameras all tend to be black and white. So it doesn't show up too well on television, but you can see it easily enough in the sewers."
"Couldn't we just climb up through another manhole in the main passages?" Lisa enquired now starting to regain some of her former self.
"Oh, no. They've been either welded or cemented shut from up above. No, the only way out is through the maintenance doors and then out the manhole. Then you better run like hell."
"Say Jesse, what are you in for?" Brady asked.
"I picked a fight with one of the Horde, and I beat him up pretty good too. But Khan decided that instead of feeding me to the zombies he'd let me sit it out for a few days here."
The next morning Brady, Lisa and Coop were all rounded up and escorted out of the jail. A slight rain was falling on them, the roads were damp with the collecting water, and small streams flowed down into the storm sewers. As they entered the street, Lisa and Coop were led away and Brady was taken to a casino. The guards pushed Brady past the many gamblers who rarely looked up from their card games or slot machines as Brady went by. He was then shoved through a door into a large studio editing room with a wall of monitors against the wall. None of them were on at the moment.
"You know it took me all night," Khan said as he turned to face Brady in his swivel chair. "But I remember you now Mr. West. You always did so well on your tests, however you could never bring yourself to hand in your homework. I came so close to failing you. In any event, I remember you used to have glasses. But no need to fear, you won't miss a thing. You can sit up close to that 26 inch television in the next room."
Brady was then manhandled into a side room that only housed the single 26 inch television and a single metal chair bolted to the floor. The two bikers then strapped Brady into the chair in such a way that he had to watch the TV. After strapping in their prisoner, the bikers left the dark room leaving Brady to himself.
The huge TV screen then came to life and Brady saw clear enough to recognize Vanders's face on the tube.
"Lady's and gentlemen we have a special treat today. We have two convicts found guilty of sedition that will try their luck in running the gauntlet we call the Labyrinth," Khan was smiling as the guards on a monitor in the background led the young boy and pregnant woman to a manhole cover.
"Will these be the lucky ones to escape the Labyrinth like Theseus and thus to freedom or will they join the rank and file of our undead friends."
On the screen, an image of a horde of undead milling about in the sewer system all in different states of decomposition appeared. Some were once women, some men, some children, and some old. But all were now beyond life and death.
The TV picture returned to the bikers over the manhole. The cover was now off and they started to push Lisa and Coop into the opening.
"Now let the games begin!" Khan's voice shouted with glee.
Inside the sewer, Lisa and Cooper fell into a small puddle inside the sewer. The only sound on the TV was some eerie background music. There were no undead in the immediate area. Lisa and Coop both looked around, but they were in a tunnel with concrete walls. Lisa pointed in a direction and both of them hurried down the corridor.
"Please, God," Brady prayed. His head was bound so that he couldn't turn away from the TV. He could close his eyes, but needed to see if they made it. He just hoped that they could find one of those maintenance doors.
The image now jumped to the crowd of undead. They started sniffing the air. They could smell food and they started shambling off toward the source of the scent.
The image returned to the two unfortunate prisoners. By now, Lisa had found a sturdy branch that she hefted as a weapon. Coop followed closely behind turning his head one way and then the other.
They came upon a boarded up corridor. Lisa pushed against the boards but they wouldn't budge. Coop pointed to them and said something to Lisa who nodded her head and began down the dank tunnel again.
The view changed again to the undead. The zombies silently moaned and slowly trekked their way down the tunnel. They were following the smell to the source of their game.
Again, the view changed back to Lisa and Thomas Cooper. They both looked terribly unnerved as they cocked their heads in a direction that they apparently heard moans coming from. Lisa started to gag; the smell must have been unbearable. Lisa grabbed Coop's arm and pulled him down another passage that led to another boarded up area.
This time Lisa and Coop broke into a smile. They began pushing on the boards when they suddenly turned around. A body entered into the frame shuffling toward the two. Lisa pushed Coop behind her as she started to swing the branch at the zombie.
As Lisa knocked the first zombie down with a well-aimed swing to the head, another entered the frame and another. Coop still pushed on the boards. It looked like the boards started to budge a little.
"They made it, they made it," Brady started to say over and over.
Lisa continued to swing her club as more and more undead crowded around them. She was becoming visibly tired. A zombie in a nurse's outfit grabbed Lisa's arm and sunk its teeth into her. From Brady's view, Lisa silently screamed in pain as another zombie bit into her neck. The tree branch tumbled from her open hands as more zombies began to descend upon her.
Coop was starting to slip around the barricade when a zombie grabbed his denim jacket. The young boy was sliding his arms out of the jacket when the zombie of an old man chomped into Coops exposed arm.
"NO!" Brady screamed as he watched his two companions fall underneath the crowd of walking dead.
The zombies started to feast upon the remains. Brady couldn't see much except the undead tearing clothing and bloody gobbets of flesh from their victims as they crowded and milled around the unseen bodies. Brady closed his eyes and cried, tears flowing freely from his eyes.
For a week after the Labyrinth claimed the lives of his companions, Brady sat in the jail cell alone. The only time he ever saw anyone was when the jailer brought his meal once a day. Brady didn't talk and no one talked to him.
Brady couldn't erase the memory of seeing Lisa and Coop being bitten by the zombies. A pregnant woman and boy being feasted upon by the ghouls played repeatedly through Brady's head while he was awake or asleep.
He was past crying, past feeling. He was just numb. Brady didn't feel his shoulder twinge with pain nor did he feel the pangs of hunger as he waited for his next meal.
Khan had waited a week to let the torment and tortures of Brady's own mind work its poison through his system before he was also thrown into the Labyrinth. Khan didn't even know the girl was pregnant, even if he did that didn't matter to him -- not anymore.
As usual at noon, the cellblock's main door opened. But this time the sounds of two sets of feet could be heard marching down the corridor. Khan had come to finish his game.
"I'm glad to see that you are well, Mr. West," laughed Khan.
"What is wrong, Seth? He doesn't seem to have the gift for words he had the last time we visited him," Khan noted to his burly companion who just laughed.
"Well, I have one more surprise for you. The young lady who...um, past away last week, the one who betrayed you, she also gave us information about what your little community is. Camp Crystal Lake was it?" teased Khan.
"I decided that they are too much of a threat so yesterday I've dispatched the Horde to take it out. I very much doubt your cherished sergeant will be able to stop my mighty Horde and their half-track."
Seth and Khan laughed for minute at this. Brady just stared at them as if not comprehending what they were saying.
"Hmm...too bad. It looks like our friend is catatonic. Well, we have an appointment to maintain. Seth, please show Mr. West to the Labyrinth. The people deserve a show."
Brady didn't pay much attention as he was being led to the Labyrinth. It was clearly a different manhole cover than where Lisa and Coop were dropped. It probably added more sport to have the zombies hunt for their prey than to just drop it on them Brady reasoned.
As the cover was removed, the two guards pushed Brady toward the opening. He expected them to toss him down as they did Lisa and Coop. However, Brady noticed that one of them had a .38 special police revolver hanging tucked into his belt and he sprang into action.
Brady quickly grabbed the gun, but not before the other guard shoved him toward the hole. Brady stumbled backwards into the darkness and landed on a pile of wet paper and leaves eight feet down the hole. The wind was knocked from his body and he just stared up and watched as the manhole cover was replaced.
Brady thought about just climbing back up, but then he heard something heavy being dragged into place over the cover. Light from the lone lamp on the wall illuminated a wet and dirty scene. The smell of stagnant water, rotting vegetation, and flesh permeated the air.
Brady stood up and started stumbling down the corridor. He needed to find a way out like Coop almost did. The sound of water dripping and the screech of an occasional rat echoed down the sewer. It was the only sound he heard and that was good.
Even if he had his glasses, Brady wouldn't have been able to see much better. It was fortunate, that he was already used to using his ears and nose to help him out. As long as he didn't hear that awful death-moan and/or smell the overpowering stench of rotting human flesh he was OK.
Brady decided to check his revolver. He cracked open the cylinder and noticed a single bullet. "That bastard planted that on the guard," Brady thought to himself. He was at least given a choice. Go down fighting or end it all through suicide.
"Well, we'll see what I can do," Brady thought.
Brady kept walking down the corridor, on his way he tripped over something. Brady splashed into the water as his feet became entangled in something long and metal that caused him to fall. After pushing himself back up Brady fished around in the water until his hand landed on something. It was a piece of rebar. It was about two feet long and felt pretty good in his hand.
"Now I have a weapon," Brady shouted to the camera on the wall hoping Khan was noticing.
Brady continued on his way, still looking for boarded up passages. A mournful moan echoed down the chamber chilling Brady's blood. They finally had his scent, the hunt was now on.
Splash, splash echoed down the corridor as Brady sped as fast as he dared through the sewer. He finally came upon a boarded up section. It wasn't the white one he hoped for, but maybe he could pry off a board or two. Brady grabbed a plank of wood and tried to remove it. However, it wouldn't budge. He even whacked on it with the rebar to no avail.
The choking smell of death forced Brady to continue his search for a way out. The zombies were getting close. Also, he couldn't exactly tell from which direction the smell was coming from. He only prayed that it was coming from behind.
At that moment, a moan from in front greeted Brady. It was much closer than the last. He had no choice; he would have to back track. Brady turned around and started running back in the direction he came. That was when he heard the explosion.
The entire sewer system shook, Brady nearly lost his balance. The lights flickered and then died. It was now pitch black.
Brady started walking as fast as he could with his left hand out against the wall to guide him where he needed to go. He could hear the moaning of the undead getting closer behind him. As he moved along, the smell was getting stronger. The hairs on the back of Brady's neck were rising. He never remembered being so scared in his life.
Then a new smell overcame him. As a child, he always enjoyed the tangy smell of gasoline. But now it was almost as overpowering as the stench of the undead. This new smell was coming from in front of him.
Brady noticed flaming liquid drizzling down through the storm grates into the sewer. What kind of game was this? Now he was to be fried with burning gasoline. Brady decided to take his chances with the zombies. He turned around again and headed toward the undead. The flaming gasoline was pouring into the sewer behind him. The only saving grace was the flickering light it provided.
Brady didn't know how long he'd be able to breath or even if the gasoline would explode down here. He did know that either way he was dead, so Brady decided to go down fighting. There was always still the chance he would find a white boarded-up wall.
In the flickering light, Brady saw the lead element of the undead. He raised the pistol, aimed as carefully as he could at the blurry target and shot the first zombie in the head. The undead dropped right where it stood as if it was a puppet that suddenly had its strings cut.
Tossing the pistol into the water Brady brandished his piece of rebar. Without his glasses, fighting hand to hand was going to be extremely tricky and dangerous. The next zombie that exposed itself, he struck in the temple cracking the thin bone. This ghoul dropped as well. Another zombie soon replaced this one. Brady had to push on forward as the flaming gasoline continued to follow him.
Again, Brady lashed out with his rebar and again he felt the sickening crack of a skull as another zombie crumpled. But the flames were now right behind Brady and the heat was becoming very uncomfortable. The young man grabbed the next zombie by the lapels, swung it around, and tossed it into the flames before the undead could bite his arm. The zombie lit up like a dry, old Christmas tree in a bonfire.
Brady didn't know how much longer he could go on. His arm was weakening, he couldn't see very well, and the flames were pushing from behind. But the thought of the results of Lisa's tiring, renewed Brady's strength a bit. He swung again and connected again. But this time as he crushed the undead's head the rebar slipped from his hands and tumbled into the water behind the next zombie.
Brady's heart slumped. He was done for. There was no way he could turn and run through the fire, nor could he push his way through the ghouls. In addition, he had already wasted the suicide option that Vanders had provided.
Brady just stood there as the zombies approached from the front and the flaming gasoline flowed ever closer from behind. This was it. This was the end of the line.
The air was starting to get thin as the fire was consuming the oxygen. Unfortunately, the only one this would affect would be Brady.
"It’s not fair, dammit, it’s not fair," Brady shouted.
The anger built up inside him. Damn if he was going to just stand there and die. Brady was building himself up for on last charge into the undead when he saw it. He couldn’t believe it, but there it was. It was what appeared to be a glint of steel reflecting the yellow-orange fire burning behind him as it sliced off a zombie’s head.
Then without losing momentum it slice off another and then another. In less than a minute, the last five zombies lay truly dead in the water.
"Come on, we have to get out of here!" Nori’s voice echoed down the chamber her katana at the ready in her hands and the pink P-14 holstered on her slim waist.
Brady instinctively started to follow her. They ran down the corridor gaining distance on the heat and fumes of the burning gasoline behind them.
"I told them to wait on blowing the yard. But I guess they were excited to finally beard Khan," Nori said more to herself than to Brady.
As they were racing down the corridor in front of the flickering firelight, Brady noticed it. A white boarded up wall.
"Stop!" Brady yelled as he grabbed Nori’s arm.
She stopped and turn toward Brady with confusion spread across her face.
"This is a way out," Brady said pointing to the white wall.
He began to push on the wall when he looked down. There on the ground half in the water was the blood soaked denim jacket that belonged to Coop. It lay amongst the gore and bones that was once their friend.
Nori sheathed her sword on her back and started to push on the wall with Brady when she noticed that he had stopped and was now crying. The wall had already moved half a foot and another good push would have it open.
"Come on, Brady I need your help," Nori ordered.
Brady looked up into her pleading brown eyes. He fought back his tears and gave the wall one more good push. It gave way and revealed a boxed-in room with a ladder that led up to a manhole. Nori started for the ladder when Brady pulled her to a stop.
"Nori, I love you," he blurted out, quickly kissed her on the lips and then proceeded to climb the ladder and lift up the manhole cover. Caught completely off guard by Brady’s action it took Nori a couple of seconds to shake off the bewilderment that left her standing dumbfounded at the base of the steps.
Brady and Nori jumped out of the smoking hole and Brady rolled over onto his back on the concrete ground. It had started to rain and the sky was overcast.
Nori reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out Brady’s glasses. She kneeled next to Brady and handed them to him. Brady solemnly accepted them and placed the wire-framed glasses on his face. For the first time in over a week, Brady could see everything clearly, as he focused on Nori standing over him.
"We found them on the hill where we lost Akira. He’s buried there now," Nori said downcast. She noticed that Brady wasn’t responding to her comments, so she went over and stood over him and looked down into his eyes. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Tears ran in dirty rivers down his sooty cheeks. His sadness tore at Nori’s heart; she could never remember him being so distraught. Not even the time when they first met and he finally accepted the loss of his parents.
"I think next time you could find a more romantic spot to confess your love," Nori said lying down beside Brady hoping to lift his sorrow a bit. "Granted there was a nice fire, but I’d prefer one that wasn’t toasting zombies."
"Coop is dead," Brady interrupted.
Nori stopped talking looked over at Brady and started to cry herself. Brady sat up, pulled Nori closer to him, and held her as they both cried.
He didn’t know how long they sat there, probably only five minutes. They didn’t notice that they were in the middle of a town that was in the midst of chaos. People were fleeing, guns were randomly being fired, and buildings were burning but no one seemed to notice them.
After a while, they both pulled themselves up and started to walk down the road. A slender young African-American man walked over and started walking next to them. Brady looked out of the corner of his eye to notice Sergeant Miller walking along side. Then the rest of the Misfits joined in. Then Captain Laurie Germain and the Rogue group joined in followed shortly by the rest of the groups. Nobody said a word as they walked out of Vice-City as it was burning down behind them.
The small army of rebels made camp deep in the woodland clearing several miles away from where Vice-City was now burning. Brady explained about Lisa's betrayal, though he kept the fact of her pregnancy to himself, and of meeting his former history professor turned conqueror, of Lisa and Coop dying, and of how Khan sent an army out to destroy their settlement at the lake.
Nori then told how they came across the bodies of the two scouts sent with Lisa. Both had been shot in their heads while they were sleeping. She also explained that it took them a week to follow the bikers back to Vice-City. When they saw the Horde vacate the city, it gave them ample cause to sabotage the fuel depot that Khan had established.
"But how did you convince Nathan to follow us to Vice-City?" asked Brady.
"Oh, that was easy," smiled Sergeant Miller. "Nori kicked the living bejesus out of him."
The resistance fighters began to laugh as they told the story of the little teenage girl who beat up Nathan. After that, Nathan took off and no one heard from him since.
Brady stood up and started to pack up his things.
Nori looked up at him, "What are you doing?"
"We've got to get back to Crystal Lake in a hurry."
Nori pulled Brady down to sit on a log. "Look it took us a week to get here; it'll take us a week at full trot to even get to Crystal Lake. How long does it take to drive there from here?"
Brady put his head in his hands as the answer sunk in, "No more than a few hours."
Nori put her arms around Brady and talked close to his ear, "OK, I'm worried to death about Sarge and everyone too. But we have to get this army together and ready to defeat the Horde once they come back. Who knows maybe Sarge has already taken them out?" Nori smiled weakly.
"That is highly unlikely; the Horde would have had the element of surprise. Plus, they still have that half-track."
"We did pull out some pretty big artillery pieces and rockets from those abandoned depots," Nori said hopefully.
"Perhaps," Brady answered still unconvinced.
Brady and Nori didn't see Sergeant Miller walk over to them.
"Uh, excuse me sir, ma'am? But I wanted to give the captain this," Miller held out Brady's PSGAT helmet and shotgun. The captain had forgotten that he'd lost them when he was hit on the hill.
Brady reached out and took the helmet and his grandfather's shotgun. He patted Miller's arm and stood up. The sadness in his heart was pushed away as he looked around at their small rebel army. Pride started to pulse through his heart. After all he had lost, could still lose, at least he had gained something as well.
"Sergeant, thanks. Get them men ready for camp tomorrow we head east after the Horde. We'll decide it one way or the other."
The next morning the five groups were up and ready for their long march before sun up. So far, the casualties had been light in the two engagements over the last week. The only deaths were: Akira, Coop and Lisa. Nathan was the only deserter and only two others had minor injuries that didn't seem to hinder them. A roll call found that they had a strength of ninety-seven counting officers. Not bad after a routing defeat the week before and the stunningly successful raid the day before.
On Nori's insistence, Brady was in overall command with her as his second. No one objected, least of all the Misfits, who were pleased to see their own leaders take control of the army. The moral in the small army was very high, all were ready to exact some form of revenge upon the Horde for all that the evil biker gang had done to their loved-ones over the last year.
Brady sent a small scouting party ahead of the main group to warn them of any surprises that may be in wait for them. Sergeant Miller, Jennings, and three more members of the Misfits composed the scouting party. The whole army was marching east by the time the sun rose in front of them over the mountains.
The birds were singing, the warm morning sun was comforting them, and the still lush green foliage contradicted that they were all marching off to combat. It was hard not to tear off and frolic in the open fields on either side of them as they marched ever eastward into the mountains.
Around noon, a small rainfall pelted down on them. Being from Washington and living outdoors over the last few months the army just continued on. The rain was just a slight nuisance to what this group of rebels had already endured.
They were marching down the road between wide fields that were once a dairy farm when Brady saw his scouting party running back towards him.
"Damn," thought Brady there wasn't any cover just the ditches beside the road. The nearest building was a barn off in a field hundreds of yards away.
"Every duck down in the ditches!" ordered Brady.
The scouts ran up to Brady and dropped down next to him.
"Sir, the Horde is on its way here. They have that half-track in the lead," Miller began, but before he could say any more the distinctive sound of metal treads on concrete squealed at them down the old road. Brady looked up over the embankment and saw in the distance the old war vehicle heading straight for them.
"OK, we can't take it out with our small arms," Brady called out to his troops. "I'll take out the driver of the half-track. As long as we stay low, it can't depress its guns low enough to shoot us. We'll have to get the gunner later."
The half-track and a small army of vehicles following behind were starting to close in on the small army. "Damn," Brady cursed himself. He'd hoped that they would have found a better ambush site than this. Maybe some trees that he could put sharpshooters in to fire in on the open top of the half-track or even a hill like the one they had where Akira died. However, he had neither and it looked as if the cost of his turn of bad luck was going to be high.
Brady scanned his troops quickly he noted the grim and determined look on their faces as the noise of the half-track increased. Some were silently praying while others were readying their weapons for one last great attack. "At least, we'll take a few with us," Brady thought as he raised his M-16 aiming at the driver's window on the half-track. The head of man behind the wheel became sharper over the open sight as the half-track approached.
Brady took in a deep breath and started to let it out slowly as he waited for the half-track to get closer. His finger was waiting for the signal from his brain to squeeze the trigger slowly to unleash bullet from his M-16 towards the unfortunate target. The army captain prayed that the window wasn't bulletproof; otherwise, they were all doomed.
"Well it's now or never," Brady thought. He started to squeeze the trigger when he heard Nori shout out:
"HOLD YOUR FIRE!"
Brady quickly looked over at Nori on the other side of the road. She was standing up and waving at the half-track. "Is she crazy? She knows we can't surrender," Brady angrily thought.
"Look in the truck!" Nori said excitedly.
Brady looked at the truck, inside was the driver he was aiming at. Brady didn't know what had Nori so excited. He looked at the passenger side and noticed a boy sitting in that seat.
"A boy?" Brady asked.
The captain looked harder as the half-track started to slow down. It couldn't be. It was impossible! Brady jumped out of the ditch and ran over to the half-track. There inside beside the driver was Coop.
A red dodge truck with an M-2 .50 caliber machine gun on a single mount in the bed pulled around the half-track and stopped beside it. In the driver's seat was Sarge. The whole army stood up as Brady and Nori ran towards the convoy. The large African-American army sergeant jumped out of the red truck and embraced Nori as she ran up to him. Brady just stood thunderstruck as he watched Coop run over to him.
"Brady, I thought you were already dead!" the excited eleven-year-old boy yelled as he hugged Brady.
Brady pushed Coop back, "I...I saw you get bitten and go down under a hoard of zombies. How?"
"I did get bitten, see," Coop rolled up his shirt sleeve to show two nasty horse-shoe shaped black and blue bruises that were starting to yellow. There weren't any puncture marks anywhere along the bruise.
"It still hurts, but I was lucky that the zombie was an old man and didn't have any teeth," Coop said. "I was able to squeeze between the door and the wall because Lisa wouldn't let any zombies past her to me. Then I climbed up the ladder and ran all the way back home."
Brady shook his head. He couldn't believe his eyes or ears. The captain silently prayed a ‘thank you' to Lisa. Coop was still alive, because of her sacrifice. Brady looked at Coop again, the boy was never big to begin with, but now he was down right skin and bones. When he meant he ran all the way home it must have been close to literal. The boy must have had very little to eat and ran as much as he could.
By now, Sarge walked over to Brady. "Looks like Coop here is quite the hero. He got to camp before the Horde and warned us about you. We were heading west on a rescue mission when he saw the half-track. I was able to snipe the driver and gunner from a large tree. The rest was pretty easy. Whatever this Khan is, he is no military man. His thugs weren't even second rate soldiers," Greene laughed.
Brady looked over at the half-track, the mechanic George MacLaren was climbing out of the driver's seat.
"Hi, kid," smiled Greg Smith from the gunner's carriage.
The two armies started mingling when it was clear that both were on the same side. They decided to set up camp in the field next to the barn. With the two groups combined, they had doubled their strength in personnel and astronomically increased it in firepower with the addition of the half-track.
The next morning with the addition of vehicles, the two armies were able to make it to Vice-City in only a matter of a couple of hours. The once proud capital of Khan's empire was now a burned out hull. The debauchery that took place there only two days before were now forever silent. Black smoke still billowed up from the sewer and several buildings were reduced to rubble.
The convoy stopped at the outskirts of the town. The wind blew hauntingly down the deserted streets. The caws from the ravens were the only sounds. Brady looked up from the bed of the Dodge truck to see the black birds pecking at the flesh of several dead people swaying in the wind hanging from the lampposts.
"Damn," he hissed. The remnants of the Horde exacted their own revenge on the people of the town.
"Looks like hell," Sarge said as he exited the cab of the Dodge.
"It was," Brady replied solemnly.
As the combined army started to dismount, a group of people began to pour out of the surrounding buildings.
"Look, it's them!" shouted a man.
"They're the ones!" yelled a woman.
The army looked around them confused. They gripped their weapons at the ready in case any trouble should spring up.
The crowd of people started to approach the army. The soldiers were feeling nervous. What should they do? They looked at either Sarge or Brady for an answer. Both were still observing the situation.
"Thank God, you made it," a large man broke out of the crowd and approached Brady. "I thought maybe they would have gotten you in the Labyrinth. I sent your friend there," he said as he pointed at Nori, "down a manhole to find you when I saw her and her friends sneaking into town."
Brady recognized the voice; he was never able to see Jesse's face clearly, when they were in jail together. The captain smiled, "Man, you not only saved my life, but that of Coop here as well."
"Sorry, about the girl," Jesse said with genuine regret.
"What exactly happened?" Sergeant Greene asked pointing to the hanging bodies.
Jesse began, "well, after your army here took out the fuel depot the power all over town went out. Fires broke out and for the first time in a long time, we woke up. We used to think that it was better to be abused than food for those dead monstrosities.
"Our families were forced into slave labor, or prostitution. With the majority of the Horde gone and the chaos flooding the streets in the wake of your raid we rose up. We took back our streets. We overwhelmed the remnants of Khan's band of thugs and to cap it off we got the head man himself.
"We knew the Horde would return and we wanted to send it a message so we hung the remaining Horde and its collaborators and we are holding its leader as prisoner. Now, it is apparent that you took out the Horde and we are free."
The crowd of citizens surrounding the army suddenly broke into wild exaltation as Jesse mentioned the word ‘free'. Brady, Sarge, Nori, Coop and the rest of the army looked around at the smiling and laughing faces of the town's people as they cheered on their victory. These people who for so long were victimized by a group of thugs who ruled with fear and brutality were finally free of tyranny.
"Now, now!" Jesse shouted over the rejoicing crowd. "Let's welcome our deliverers and we can kill that bastard in jail."
The people started to cry out and cheer even louder at Jesse's new speech. But before he could rally, the people to follow him to the jail Sarge shot a single shot in the air. Everyone quieted down. The soldiers looked at Sarge with a question on of their faces.
"We cannot kill him," Sarge called out.
The crowded started to grumble some shouted out questions and others told him to mind his own business. They all started to gather themselves up again to storm the jail when Sarge shot again. However, this time he fired in front of the lead civilian headed for the jail.
"You will not kill him or we will have to use force against you," Sarge cried out.
"Ah, he's bluffing," an old woman scream.
"Soldiers ready arms!" called out the old Ranger.
The two armies readied their arms as if they were one. The myriad rifles and assault weapons snapped into position and were trained on the crowd.
The citizens all quieted down and looked at the army as if they were the loathsome Horde.
Sarge began his speech again, "I will tell you why you cannot kill him. You cannot kill him because to do so would make you as bad as he was. Wait, wait and hear me out," Sergeant Greene said as the crowd started to grumble again. "Remember that we are still Americans. Maybe the rest of the country has written us off, but we are still Americans. This country, this state, and this town were based on a system of laws that were in place so that we all could live in freedom without tyranny. Once we discard any one of those laws, we become no better than the thugs that the Horde -- and this Khan -- were.
"It wasn't so long ago I used to think as you do. But a friend...excuse me, family member of mine reminded me of whom I was." Sarge nodded smiling toward Nori.
"I was reminded of what is best about our country. Yeah, maybe it isn't perfect but it's the best we got. So like it or not, Khan will face a just and lawful trial. If for no other reason than to show to him how much better we are than he and his flunkies were."
Many in the riotous crowd looked down at their feet. A few were moved to tears remembering better times. Some even broke out in smiles and walked back to the army.
"Well," Jesse smiled. "I guess you touched a chord in all of us. Although many of our community will suffer the physical, mental, and/or spiritual scars for the rest of our lives, we will do so with our heads held high. Maybe we've suffered rape, addiction, and beatings, but we will carry on as a community. We'll help each other, and we'll do so with justice not vengeance."
Later that day Brady and Nori went to the cell to visit Dr. Vanders, a.k.a. Khan. The man once the leader of his own empire now sat huddled in a corner of a cell rocking back and forth.
"Dr. Vanders?" Brady tentatively asked.
The man looked up at the voice. His eyes looked right past Brady and he started mumbling.
"Uh...Khan?" Brady tried again.
This time Vanders eyes focused onto Brady and an evil smile formed on his face. A chill went up Brady's and Nori's back as the nasty smile took form under the two mad eyes.
"Ah, it's the rebel leader. So where is the rebel camp?" Khan asked.
Brady and Nori both looked at him. It was obvious that Khan had lost his mind.
"I'll ask you one more time, where is the rebel base?" shouted the mad man spraying spittle across the cell.
"Come on let's get out of here," Nori said as she grabbed Brady's arm and led him out of the cellblock. After the guards closed the door, Brady turned toward Nori.
"You know I feel sorry for him. All he ever had in life was his fascination with Genghis Khan. I wonder if he'll ever know of all the pain and suffering he's caused so many people?"
Nori looked up at Brady, "I doubt it. I think he should be institutionalized, unfortunately there aren't any asylums anymore."
"Yeah," Brady said starting to laugh.
"That's not funny, you should be ashamed of yourself," admonished Nori.
Brady smiled as he waved his hand, "No, no it's not that. I just felt like I was Luke Skywalker when he kept asking about the rebel camp."
Nori for a second was caught off guard, "Did you just make a movie reference? There's hope for you after all!" Nori laughed her infectious laugh and soon had Brady laughing along side of her.
"Though you're not Luke so much as Han Solo," Nori finally said.
"First of all you are no Jedi knight. Secondly I'm not your twin sister, and thirdly Han gets the girl," Nori said as she pulled Brady towards her and kissed him hard on the lips.
It took Brady a few seconds to recover his composure before he put his arms around Nori and returned the kiss.
Brady stood in front of Pastor Brown remembering the last couple of months after their victory over the Horde. The remnants of the Horde vacated the various towns that they had previously held while under Khan's leadership. In order to prevent a power vacuum, Ronald set up temporary local governments backed by a few of the soldiers from his army. These soldiers had the task of maintaining the peace and training a defense and police force.
Camp Crystal Lake soon became the capital for these recently freed towns. Not everything went off without a hitch. Food would soon become scarce and so a scavenging detail was set up to help stretch local food stores until crops could be planted in the spring and harvested later on. Water and sanitation were another concern as were the wandering undead that occasionally showed up. So far, different committees had been set up to deal with these and other problems. The local governments were performing well, but there was still some grumbling.
Back at Camp Crystal Lake, the Rabbi and the Pastor with the approval of the local council promoted Sarge to General. Only those closest to General Greene still called him Sarge. He was now setting up the workings of a functional army.
Laurie Germain was promoted to Colonel with Marcus Miller as her major. The five groups of the rebel army became the backbone of the new military. The rest of Ronald's army, that defeated the Horde, either went back to their jobs at the camp or joined one of the five squads.
Thomas Cooper was awarded the highest award that the new government could offer. He was granted the Gold Star of Gallantry for his run from Vice-City to the camp. It was his warning that saved them all from the coming danger of the Horde. Rabbi Rosenberg was able to find a skilled jeweler who was able to create the new medal.
However, the best thing that happened was that Nori had accepted Brady's marriage proposal. He knew in another lifetime that they would have been considered very young to be getting married. But they both had grown up a lot over the last year and a half. They both maintained their ranks in the new army, but Brady and Nori were going to try and find a different kind of life together.
Sarge and Coop decided to move into a cabin at Camp Crystal Lake in order to let Nori and Brady live at the West's cabin on their own. All felt that the area was secure enough that a constant lookout wasn't needed at Brady's cabin. Plus, scouts were constantly patrolling the area for anything from bandits, feral dogs, to undead walkers.
A lone violin began to play Pachebel's "Canon in D". Brady looked back down the long rows of wedding attendants standing in two lines in the great lodge of the old summer camp. Down the long isle he saw Nori in a white homemade wedding dress being escorted down the carpet by Sarge. Brady couldn't ever remember seeing Nori look so beautiful or Sarge so happy.
"She's beautiful," Coop said next to Brady. Brady knew that he could never have found a better best man than Thomas Cooper. They were more than companions they were brothers in every sense of the word but blood relation.
"Yes," was all Brady could choke out as he looked at a beaming Nori slowly walking down the aisle towards him. "Now you get nervous?" Brady asked himself internally.
After the vows were exchanged, Pastor Brown pronounced them husband and wife, and after the reception party was over, Brady and Nori headed for a red Dodge truck. The 1955 Dodge truck still had the .50 caliber M-2 mounted on the back as well as shoes and cans tied to the back bumper. Someone had written with soap on the sides and windows ‘Just Married'. The truck was a gift from Ronald to the newlyweds.
As the Rabbi helped the newlyweds into the truck, he gave them some sage advice. Then he waved at them and stood back with the rest of the crowd cheering as Brady and Nori headed off in the dusk through the camp's gates toward Brady's cabin.