Chapter 10 - Entry 2
June 20th cont.
Olora made her way through the hospital’s lower floor until we reached a large cafeteria. There were a lot of folks hanging around there; watching movies on one of those fancy widescreen TVs, reading books, playing Ping-Pong and generally relaxing. They were a mixed bunch of varying ages that ran from early teens to older than dirt like me. A small group wore neon-green tee-shirts and seemed to be pulling kitchen duty.
“This is Marley. Marley, meet Glen. Please show him around and help him get established in one of the vacant rooms on the first floor.”
Marley, the young lady Olora introduced me to, wore one of those bright tee-shirts and a none-too-happy expression. Tell for a gal, she and I saw eye to eye. Brown eyes. Curly black hair worn long and pulled back from her face with a white bandanna. Tan skin and full cheeks. Curvy gal but in the way that would make a younger man’s passions burn bright.
She didn’t give Olora a reply and the Asian woman didn’t wait for one. Both turned their backs to me and started heading in opposite directions. I went with Marley.
What followed was a whirlwind tour of the main building. Except for the basement. Apparently they stored food, weapons, fuel and the diesel generator down there. Off limits to all but a few people in the know. Me and Marley weren’t part of that crowd.
They had a real nice medical clinic set up on the first floor along with the cafeteria. A few meeting rooms had been converted into lounges with more of them fancy TVs. One even had a pool table. The second floor was all apartments. I gathered they used to be recovery rooms for drug addicted folks who needed to be kept under lock and key.
The third floor was really something to see and had a lot of people up there working. Except for a few storage rooms, the whole place was wide open and full of plants. I whistled when we climbed the stairs and I’d caught my breath.
Marley shrugged and looked bored more than anything else. “We knocked out a lot of walls last week and set up the grow lamps. Most of this wasn’t here three days ago but it’s been made a priority for the group now.”
Plants were set up on long tables placed end to end down the whole length of the building. Lamps hung from chains above them and barrels fed soaking hoses that dribbled water into boxes holding soil and plants. A few trees sat in huge pots at the room’s far end and more plants were in those hanging basket pots people put on their porches for decoration.
“It’s a right nice set up. You think…”
“Attention please. All residents not engaged in priority duties muster at the cafeteria in fifteen minutes.” Blared a man’s voice from speakers mounted on the walls.
“Let’s get you to your room so you can drop off your stuff before the meeting.”
Marley led me back down the stairs, waiting patiently when I stopped here and there to catch my breath. Old legs and bad knees were hurtin something fierce by the time we reached the first floor and my new digs. Marley left me alone once I’d stepped inside.
The room was basically big enough for a bed, floor-to-ceiling metal locker and a big chair by the window. My bathroom had a shower, sink and toilet. Everything was concrete and linoleum tile, though someone had been nice enough to put some curtains up so I didn’t have to look at the metal bars outside the window. Decent view of the big yard out front though.
There were notes everywhere; times when I could use the shower, meal schedules and various points of contact. Even the electrical outlets had yellow stickies saying when I could plug stuff in. George ran a tight ship. I could appreciate that.
I stowed my gear and cleaned up a bit before heading down to the cafeteria again. Let me tell ya, it was down-right shocking to see so many people all in one place. It’d been nearly two months since I’d seen a crowd that big and my old eyes damn near started leaking at the sight.
Olora, George and a few others were hanging around the cafeteria’s far end, watching a pair of young men fiddle with a big radio receiver mounted on a rolling cart. Static crackled through the room’s stereo system when they jimmied some wires and turned some knobs. By then people were taking their seats so I joined Marley and a few others where they sat in the back. Everyone hushed when George cleared his throat into a microphone.
“We’ve worked hard to build something special here. A place where generations will be safe from harm. Not everyone’s happy with how things are done but I don’t think anyone can argue with the results. We’ve got electricity, heat, hot water, food and now, thanks to Miles Crenshaw and his team, we’ll have fresh fruits and vegetables in a few months.”
Hands clapped, including my own, as George paused in his speech. Olora stood by his side, smiling in a way that never quite tickled her eyes.
Marley and her friends behind me didn’t clap. Or smile.
“Last month we hit the Fort. That was a hard decision to make and the loss of life on both sides was heartbreaking. But it’s done and now there are new faces in our family that will hopefully, someday, see the necessity in that decision.”
Here again he paused and more than a few heads turned to look at Marley’s table. She and another girl with one of those pixie haircuts raised their chins and glared at every set of eyes that looked their way.
“The Fort was a threat to our safety and everything we’ve worked hard to achieve. Ever since it’s fall, we’ve had a steady trickle of survivors at our gates seeking shelter and refuge. Not a one has been turned away despite the growing strain on our resources. But there’s still a threat out there to our safety. A dangerous woman who was a convicted mass murderer before the world ended. Several of us saw her at the Fort when Silas held his community meeting awhile back and I don’t think anyone who looked into her inhuman eyes felt safe.”
Heads nodded in agreement as George sipped from the glass of water Olora handed him.
“Her name is Jaeger and she ambushed one of scouting parties a few weeks ago. Fortunately they managed to escape without injury and returned home to report her location. She is the only major threat to our safety now and as much as it pains me to take any life, we simply cannot allow such a dangerous person to exist. The zombie infection has mutated her into something less than human and we just can’t risk that it’s contagious. Can you imagine a zombie with something close to human intelligence, picking us off one by one? She could single-handedly start the spread of a new, mutated strain to which none of us are immune!”
Angry shouts and fearful words of agreement erupted after that and for several minutes the crowd broke down into verbal anarchy. Everyone except Marley and her little group. I turned in my seat and looked her dead in the eyes.
“It’s all bullshit.” The girl next to her said, shaking her head and leaning forward so I could hear her above the commotion. “Jaeger saved dozens of people in the first few weeks. She’s not a threat unless you fuck with her.”
“All right. All right. Let’s settle down a bit,” George called over the microphone. He waited until the crowd grew quiet once more before continuing his speech. “Removing Jaeger as a threat to our safety and continued survival is the last major barrier between us and the promise of a new future. I wanted to share this moment with all of you so I’ve had our technical team patch our assault group’s radio comms into the speaker system.”
With that George nodded and a skinny kid with freckles started turning dials and flipping switches. Men’s soft laughter filled the room through speakers set into the ceiling while George slipped on a pair of headphones with a mic mounted to one side.
“This is White King to Black Knight, over.” He said, voice carried through the system for all to hear.
“White King this is Black Knight, we read you Lima Charlie.” Came a man’s reply.
“Let’s relax comms a bit here Black Knight. The family’s gathered and ready to hear you boys kick some ass. Not everyone’s up on the lingo so take it down a notch.”
Soft laughter came from the crowd as George offered a grin and wink. A chuckle rumbled through the speakers as the voice replied. “You got it boss. We’re ready to roll.”
“Proceed to target and be careful.”
“Roger that. Let’s move!”
George turned to the crowd and took a moment to sip water before addressing us again. “Jaeger claimed a patch of woods north of the Fort and has been hiding out there for a few months now. Ever since our scout team discovered her whereabouts, I’ve had a recon group watching the area. This morning I sent an assault team of ten heavily armed men with military backgrounds to relieve our watchers. They’re the best of the best so I’m hopeful we’ll eliminate this threat without the loss of life.”
“Black Knight, report your status.”
“We’ve just crossed the highway and are heading into the woods on foot. Everything’s quiet, though we did hear steady gunfire a few hours ago. Sounded like Jaeger was doing some target practice.”
“What’s it look like out there?” George asked for our benefit.
“Let’s see. Sunset was an hour ago. There’s a heavy mist that’s been sticking to the ground all day. These woods are dark. I split the team into two five-man groups that are moving through the woods on either side of a dirt road heading north. We’re just now entering the tree line.”
“Have your team shift to VOX.” George ordered, then turned to us and spoke. “That means the microphones each of our boys are wearing will transmit when they talk into them. Handsfree.”
“Contact!” Came a new voice.
“Hold your fire!” Came another.
“What the fuck? Oh god!”
“Black Knight! Report!” George shouted into the mic.
A breathless voice spoke in a forced whisper that relayed a sense of movement through the speakers. “There are bodies everywhere. Men, women and children. They’ve been tied to trees on either side of the road. Looks like each one of them were executed.”
Voices whispered in the crowd as the voice fell silent. Nearly everyone jumped out of their seats when one of the men screamed in pain over his mic.
“Fucking fuck! It’s scalding hot!”
“What happened?” George asked.
“I stepped in a puddle of water and it burned me pretty bad. They’re everywhere. I don’t think that’s a mist. I think its steam.” The voice that replied strained to keep quiet despite the obvious pain its owner was suffering.
“Hang in there son. Just stay focused and we’ll get you sorted out after the mission’s over.”
A half hour passed as the team slowly made their way through Jaeger’s forest. Several more men suffered burns and the tension grew unbearable with every passing minute. Marley and her friend whispered softly to each other across the table from me. She smiled when I turned in my seat and tossed her a questioning look.
Her friend leaned forward and whispered, “They’re all going to die.”
“It’s so quiet, White King. We haven’t seen or heard a single animal this whole time. It’s like everything died. The mist is everywhere and our tac-lights can barely cut through the dark.”
“Buildings,” One of the men whispered.
“What do you see Black Knight?” George asked. I noticed his hands were shaking a little.
“It looks like a little village or something. A few concrete buildings and the foundations laid out for several more. There are tire swings hanging from the trees. Lots of building supplies. Cement truck and some other heavy equipment. Spooky as hell.” Then to one of the men, “Jake, take Charlie and clear those two buildings. Everyone else gather on me.”
A few gut-wrenching moments passed before “Clear” came over the speakers.
“It’s a ghost town, White King. The two buildings are homes full of food and furniture but they’re empty. We’re the only things alive in…”
“Lights.” One of the men hissed.
We could hear the men moving, breathing hard into their mics as their feet pounded the ground. The team leader spoke again after a full, nail biting minute had gone by.
“There’s a hill with a big building overlooking the dead village just north of our position. Looks like there’s a stone tower and two lower structures attached to it with lights on inside.”
George took a deep breath and gave the crowd a smile. “Any defenses?”
“Just a low stone wall. We’re moving into position now.”
“It won’t be long now,” George told us all.
“Nope. Not long at all,” Marley agreed quietly behind me.
“Ok we’re in position behind the stone wall. Still no contact. I’m sending half the team forward while the rest of us hang back and provide cover.” The team leader whispered orders to his men then and we heard five voices acknowledge them one by one.
“Men are moving forward.” A pause. “They’re at the tower and moving along the wall.” Another pause. “At the door. About to enter.” Finally, “They’re inside.”
A long, lingering lack of anything. People were literally on the edges of their chairs, holding their breaths and staring at the speakers in tense anticipation.
Two sounds finally broke that silence. One was a man’s voice that came across the speakers as a soft ‘Gerk’. The next was the sound of something thudding heavily to the ground.
“Report!” George shouted, startling everyone badly and causing a few to cry out in surprise.
There came no reply.
“Damn it Black Knight, report!”
George pointed at the radio system and told the skinny kid to fix it. Another sound drifted over the speakers just as the boy bent down to have a look.
It was a man’s scream.
“I said report!”
A woman’s voice replied. “Who’s this?” It asked.
George blinked and stood staring at Olora. “Who the fuck is this and where are my men?”
“Well, they’re sorta here and there.” We could hear the metallic clicking of a cigarette lighter working before the voice took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “If you don’t know who this is, then you’re a fucking moron. I told you to leave me alone and I wouldn’t bother you. Now you’ve done fucked up bad.”
It took George a few moments to calm himself down, back turned to the crowd as we all watched and listened in stunned silence. “You’re going to pay for this Jaeger.” He finally whispered.
“No. No I don’t think you understand pal. You see, I’ve had a very bad month and now you assholes just tried to kill me. All I wanted was to be left alone but noooooo. You gotta try and be the biggest bully in town.”
“I’m only trying to protect my people.” George answered defensively.
Jaeger chuckled darkly and exhaled again. A man weakly moaned into his mic. “If that’s true then I suggest you get your women and children as far away as possible cause once I get done having a chat with the two dipshits still breathing here, I’m coming to pay you a visit.”
“If you come here, we’ll kill you.”
“Yeah. You tried that already. Didn’t work out so well.” Another soft chuckle echoed through the room, speakers vibrating gently against the ceiling overhead. “Welp. Gotta run. Men to torture. Bombs to prepare. Girl’s gotta keep busy and all. See you real soon.”
“Jaeger.” George spoke softly, hands shaking. “Jaeger!”
There was no reply.