Tom ran a patch through the barrel of his M14. Cleaning weapons usually helped him calm down. But not today.
He pulled the rod out and set it down on the workbench that dominated the studio apartment. Grabbing the bolt he began brushing it with powder solvent.
Kate was the only woman he’d ever met who loved the smell of Hoppe’s number 9. He sighed as he put the pieces back together. Once assembled he pulled the charging handle back a few times making sure each piece did its part in the dance of steel.
If only the pieces of his life fit together with as much precision as the gun parts. As he finished and put the weapon in its rack there was a knock at the door.
“Go away.” He yelled at whoever was behind the reinforced steel.
“Tom… Tom Lewis?”
“Yeah, who are you and what do you want?”
“I’m Sergeant Jared Roper, you don’t know me…”
Tom scooted his chair back across the pitted and scratched linoleum. He crossed the short distance of his apartment and began working the locks on the door.
Flinging it open he scowled down at the young ZDF trooper holding a Mossberg 930 and his companion standing a couple steps behind him had an AK-47 variant, probably Romanian. “You were assigned to Clinton Elementary after the Zed incursion. What do you want?” he asked.
“I… we need your help.”
Tom rolled his eyes and started to shut the door. The Sergeant reached out to stop him. “Hear me out. It’s about Mrs. Morris.”
“Kate! What do you know about her?” He asked wrenching the door back open.
Several deadbolts later the school sniper turned around and uttered one word. “Talk.”
“She tried to escape from quarantine. She gouged a guard in the eye and hit a ZDF trooper.”
“What?” Tom shook his head, “Why would she do that? Something’s wrong.”
The other ZDF soldier cleared his throat. “She wouldn’t stop, they had to hit her with beanbags.”
The thought of someone shooting his fiancée with anything more powerful than a Nerf gun made his vision turn red. “I’ve always felt that something wasn’t right about Contagion Research. But this…”
“I know.” The young Sergeant said taking off his ZDF patrol cap. “The doctor kept yelling that she was infected, but I’ve seen them up close. Their eyes aren’t right. Kate wasn’t sick.”
The sniper leaned back in his chair, silent for a long moment.
Corporal Drum was about to speak but a simple shake of the head from his partner kept him silent.
Loud music muffled by plywood and drywall came through from the apartment next door. Tom instantly recognized it, March of the Zombies.
Use your gun and use your head,
Fight till every Zed is dead
Raise the flag up to the sky,
How Many of Them Can We Make Die!
“It’s time to see how many of them can we make die.”
The Corporal cleared his throat, “What, zombies?”
Tom shook his head, “No, researchers.”
The Berserker put her down on something soft and squishy.
“Good boy Crapsack, now get outta here.” The Carrier named Jim commanded and the beast obeyed. Its heavy footsteps didn’t make the floor creak. Concrete. They were in a basement. Going down stairs had hurt as the monsters shoulder tried to dig its way through her stomach with each step.
Light from a naked bulb filtered through the burlap weave. Stale dust tickled her nose.
“Damn it Sue, you’re a fool to think she’s not dangerous.” The David man said not far away.
Sue? Now she had a name for her infected sister. Tatania thought it odd they would fight in front of her.
“I never said she wasn’t dangerous but if we kill her because she was ZDF we’re no better than them.”
An uncomfortable silence followed. A moaning zombie somewhere further back in the cavernous room made her tense. Did these idiots keep monsters as pets?
Someone approached, limping, back boot dragging slightly as the footsteps made their way to the couch.
A bit of sweat collected at her bound wrists. If she could wrench them hard enough perhaps she could get a hand free.
“Are you hungry?”
Tatania didn’t speak. Rather she analyzed the voice, it was the Sue woman, from the southern United States. She had a bit of an accent, and hadn’t gone to college.
Hands reached up and untied the knot keeping the potato sack on her head. Pulled clear she got a good look at the woman. Plain, and tough, she had probably been in a few fights, in her days. No one would come crashing down her door to ask her to become a model. She carried a lightly customized stainless steel 1911 on her hip. The gray skin made her tense slightly. Only zombies were gray.
“Fine, sit there and be hungry.” She said with a bit of annoyance in her voice.
Tatania watched woman take a step back, she was quite tall, around six feet. The urge to vomit had gone away, replaced by a gnawing hunger, “Sorry… I did not expect your question.”
The young pilot shook her head, “Just a survivor now.”
The Sue woman sat down on an upended bucket, “Actually that’s where you’re wrong. We’re not survivors anymore. We’re infected, just like those dead things that roam outside.”
“But, I don’t feel like eating human flesh.”
They laughed. It felt good; perhaps she wouldn’t kill this Sue woman. The David man and this Jim person would beg for mercy before she slit their throats.
Tatania brought her hands around indicating that she wanted her plastic restraints cut. Sue nodded and pulled out a multi-tool. Unfolding the scissors she moved to snip the zip-ties.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The David man snapped from across the room at his companion.
“What? I was just going to…”
“Wrong! You were going to get us killed. She’s Spetsnaz!” He took a deep breath before exploding. “She could probably kill us with a spoon!”
Tatania cleared her throat. “Yes, spoon fighting is taught in week three of training.”
The Sue woman shrugged, “What, who cares. She’s a carrier just like us.”
The arguing and fighting continued. Tatania couldn’t help but smile. A house divided…
A rather long while later the two captors reached a compromise. She would be spoon-fed like a child. A mostly tasteless rice and bean mush filled her mouth. It wasn’t good but it would fill the gnawing hole in her stomach.
Between mouthfuls she asked the Sue woman, “What did you do… before?”
She sighed, “Careful if you start askin’ about my past you might just bore yourself to death.”
“Would it be better, if I ask about your plans to attack Safe Zone?”
The gray skinned woman sat puzzled, a bit of rice clinging to her spoon as she thought. “Well I worked in a truck stop diner, waiting tables to pay the rent. You know it isn’t easy being a single mo…” The Sue woman stopped speaking, tears welled up in her eyes.
Tatania gave her a few moments to regain her composure. “You have a child?”
She nodded, “Yes… I haven’t seen him in over a year.”
“My condolences, is he in Safe Zone?”
Another nod of the head.
Sue bit her tongue… “Zachary… he’d be seven in March.”
“Does he go to the school?”
Her eyes lit up, “Of course, why?”
“He’d be in Mrs. Kate Morris’s class.”
“Do you know her?”
Tatania smiled as friendly a smile as she could while planning to kill two men. She whispered, “Yes I live in the same apartments. If you release me I’ll tell you how to get in contact with your son.”
As soon as the zip tie was cut Tatania struck Sue in the stomach. Snatching the American .45 caliber pistol she struck her forehead with the weapon.
In one motion the safety clicked off and the front sight found the David man’s head. His eyes grew wide as the pad of her finger took up slack on the trigger. He dove behind a couch as she fired.
Fingers tingled as the blood rushed into them, pulling her aim off just enough to not strike the man. The Jim man pulled back the charging handle on an M4 carbine. Two rounds to the chest and one to the head eliminated him.
The former Spetsnaz caught the rifle before the body hit the ground. Dropping the pistol she raised the rifle and sprayed half a magazine into the couch, hoping for a lucky hit that didn’t come. The David man appeared unscathed as a Beretta appeared in his hand.
She rolled, feeling the wind from the lead zipping past her ear. No time to aim she flipped the selector to full auto and squeezed the trigger. Shots went wide but a soft thud let her know one round found his flesh. The David man cried out. Unfortunately she knew all too well that one 5.56 round probably wouldn’t put him down.
Men with scrambled brains didn’t scream.
She jerked the trigger again but the rifle didn’t fire. In all the excitement she had emptied the entire magazine.
No time to lose she charged the couch, leaping over the stained brown paisleys. Her target was holding his bleeding stomach.
“I surrender!” He managed to gasp between the bubbles of blood in his mouth.
The barrel flashed in the darkness, cracking the man in the head. He began convulsing as his brain rattled around in his skull from the impact.
Retrieving the David man’s nine millimeter she plugged him twice in the chest as calmly as a farmer killing a chicken for dinner.
A Shambler hearing the noise wandered over. She was about to dispatch it when she hesitated. It wasn’t lumbering toward her trying to tear her throat out. Approaching the dead eyed monster she watched its movements. It looked at her for a moment; the dead eyes didn’t want to devour her.
“This is strange, no?” she said to the monster that had been an auto mechanic in its previous life. Its coveralls had at one time been blue, but Tatania didn’t want to think what kind of putrid cocktail of bodily fluids covered it now.
“Why do they keep you as pets?” She asked the zombie.
It didn’t answer.
“You’re not a good one for conversation.” She said before pulling the trigger.
Turning to the unconscious woman she sighed and began tying her wrists.
“Wake up! I didn’t hit you that hard.” Tatania slapped the Sue woman’s cheeks.
She startled gasping for air. The Russian woman sat on the bucket watching the American struggle with her parachute cord restraints on the couch.
“David, Jim!” She yelled. Good lungs.
Tatania smiled, “They can’t hear you.”
“What did you do to them?”
The former Spetsnaz soldier flashed a predatory grin.
Sue swallowed hard, “My god.”
“Yes, I sent them to their god.”
Tatania stood, “Your David man killed a friend of mine.”
The Sue woman closed her eyes, took a deep breath and in a voice more calm than she would have expected, said, “Do it.”
Tatania laughed hard and deep. It felt good. “Why would I do that?”
The infected Russian smiled, “I may be good at killing but I am no liar. I promised to help you find your son. So, what say you?”
Sue began sobbing.
Tatania rolled her eyes and slapped the former waitress hard on the cheek.
“What was that for?”
“Millions of people have died because of this infection and you sit sobbing like a little girl? If you want to survive you need to be tough.”
Sue looked away, the angry red outline of the Russians’ fingers stung. “Just go. I release you from your promise.”
“What did you think I was going to do when you cut me free? Play nice with the boys? You are, how do you say, an accomplice.”
The Sue woman’s eyes grew large, “No wait, I didn’t think…”
“Most people don’t. It is how we got in this mess.”
The tall woman squinted up at Tatania, “What do you mean?”
“The Contagion… we made it.”
She shrugged, “We humans, somebody thought this disease would be the best biological weapon in the history of mankind. Unfortunately he was right.”
“Look, all I know is that there are several million of them out there now. So what difference does it make if it’s man made or natural?”
Tatania rubbed her sore wrists, “I guess it does not. All I hope is that the men who made this thing suffered greatly when they died.”
Steel slid on concrete, the Russian spun around drew her pistol, and took a pipe to the face. Before everything went black she stared up at the David man. She was surprised to see he wasn’t dead.
The pipe came down again.