River Of Night – Snippet 04

River Of Night – Snippet 04

However, Risky had kept the RPK that had done for Matricardi’s traitorous second-in-command, and made sure that everyone knew it.

Bua moaned slightly, arresting the moll’s attention.

She was pretty sure by now that the teacher wasn’t infected. What she was, was scared. Lost. Without any foundation. Lonely.

Human things.

As good as Smith was at plans, he could lose sight of the human problems that were at the heart of everything. Not everyone was a soldier, corporate or otherwise.

She grabbed a windbreaker from the peg next door and headed outside to join the first two.

###

After a companionable silence, Tom got to the point.

“Okay,” he said, facing his companion squarely. “What’s on your mind, Kap?”

“Weather’s turning, getting cooler,” Kaplan replied. After a glance around the property, Kaplan returned his boss’ look. “People are getting cooler too.”

“We’ve had this conversation, Kap,” Tom said, suppressing his obvious irritation.

“Tom, it’s me, okay?” Kaplan replied earnestly. “You pay me for my opinions and I’m telling you that we can’t stay here. It’s not a smart play.”

“What am I paying you with, again?” replied the taller man, flashing a wry grin. “I’ll double it!”

No one had gotten paid since the Fall.

“The finest scavenged, room temperature Red Bull in all the land,” Kaplan said, sharing the joke. Then he stepped closer, directly in front of his boss, and kept his voice low. “You know what I mean. Stop evading.”

“There isn’t exactly a playbook for this situation, Kap,” the taller man said, folding his arms. “We were supposed to be at one of the refuge sites before everything went. We were supposed to have more and better situated refuges, for that matter. We weren’t supposed to be marooned three hundred miles from the nearest long term hide out, saddled with civilians and kids! Kids for chroissake!”

Like his subordinate, Tom kept his voice low. His sharp gestures and a hint of the Australian accent communicated his keen frustration as clearly as though he had yelled aloud.

“How soon can we move?” he continued. “Depends on the infected count and the road conditions. How far can we recce? Fuel’s limited. This is a pile of piss, Kaplan! Zeus was never supposed to devolve this far!”

It wasn’t their first time through this discussion. Each knew his lines.

“How far can we trust Fat Ralph and Sacks?” Kaplan said, naming the two former gangsters who Tom had elected to keep alive despite the treachery of their former boss. A boss who had succeeded Matricardi as the surviving head of the Cosa Nova.

Briefly.

“How many supplies can we afford to use on scouting before we don’t have enough to make it to Blue? The questions are a nested set of unknowns, boss. I get it. I do. So does Gravy.” He said, referring to Dave “Gravy” Durante, the second Bank security specialist and the only other member of the team that Tom trusted implicitly.

Kaplan turned so that they both faced the estuary, lowering his voice further.

“But I don’t think that we can keep this entire group in this little house until first snowfall. That’s what you’re thinking, right?”

“It’s still a solid idea, Kap,” Tom replied, raising one hand in a frustrated wave. “Zombies might be scary cannibals that swarm in big numbers, but they’re still just humans, most of them without clothes. Without tools and cooperative behaviors humans are remarkably fragile, slow, blind and easy to kill. Wait until winter and let the cold kill some and drive the rest into shelter. We’ll have the road to ourselves and we can be at Site Blue in two, maybe three days. Week at the outside.”

“We don’t have that long,” Risky’s voice sounded behind them. Both men jumped.

“God-dammit, don’t do that!” Kaplan said. Then he almost fumbled his first attempt to re-holster the pistol which had appeared in his hand.

“We don’t have anything like that long,” Risky said, ignoring his comment and the gun. “And it’s not so much about what’s in cabin as what’s outside.”

“I’m listening,” Tom said flatly. After the initial surprise, he hadn’t reacted to her quiet approach.

Although he acknowledged Oldryskya’s role in saving their collective skins, he’d elected to keep her at an arms distance despite… everything. She’d run out on Tom’s team before, prior to the Fall. Later she’d fought her way free of a kidnapping as the Cosa Nova mob devolved into fratricide. A happy side benefit was that she’d been able to return their stolen escape boat, but she was still an outsider whose first allegiance wasn’t clear.

“The reason that school teacher is losing mind is because she doesn’t see the point,” Risky said, choosing her words carefully. She was conversational in English, despite it being a third language for her, or four if one counted “Jersey mobster” as its own dialect. “If everyone’s dead, if it’s really all gone, then why stay inside, why bother to live? Simple survival not enough.”

“Simple survival looks pretty good, considering the alternative,” Tom retorted. “We wait long enough to for the cooler temps to drive most of the infected indoors, then we get to the refuge, take stock and, well…”

There was a brief silence.

“That’s the point,” Kaplan said. Rhetoric and allegory wasn’t his strong suit, but he was trying. “You done good, Boss. Your plans, your vision got us out of a really bad spot. We’re here, we’re fed and safe, mostly. Out of sixty million people between Boston and Atlanta, how many can say that? Damn few. But being alive lets you think about what comes next. And what comes next is… well, suppose we get to the refuge. Then what?”

“We do our jobs,” Tom said insistently, raising both hands in the air. “The mission is get to the Site, assess, protect and rebuild. That’s what we do. Mind you, just getting there is enough to occupy us. Travel at day or night? Scavenge along the way? Do we bring trade goods? Where will survivors have clustered? Do we dare approach anyone? There are plenty of problems to solve, Kap.”

“Biggest problem of all you don’t mention,” Risky wasn’t going to be derailed. “Everyone needs a reason to live. Before, maybe it was money, or having family or making art. Those reasons don’t matter any more, not if everything is gone. Is all gone, yes?”

The conditions of the Fall had been clearly visible during their escape. The failing TV and radio broadcasts were plain. After a week or two, and by general agreement, the survivors had agreed to avoid talking about their families or what lay outside.

“Yeah,” Tom said. He rolled one shoulder, stretching it as much to relieve his stress as loosen an old injury. Then he looked towards the sluggish estuary that was slowly oozing by, ferrying the occasional bloated corpse to the Atlantic. “I think that it might be. Oh, there’ll be small groups of survivors in lots of places. But organized government? I doubt that there’s anything more than isolated military units, submarines for example. Probably military command centers like Cheyenne Mountain. Maybe even some science outposts, like McMurdo maybe.”

“Nah,” Kaplan replied, shaking his head. “Last transmission on the ten meter from the Beeb said that infections were confirmed there.”

McMurdo Station, far away in the Antarctic, had been one of the last scientific redoubts to go dark. Many hopes had been pinned on isolated groups of scientists who tried to produce a vaccine or a cure, laboring until the last lights were extinguished. How the disease had infiltrated a research station during the heart of Antarctic winter was just another mystery that would have to remain unsolved until the immediate challenge of survival was overcome.

“Ten meters?” asked Risky.

“A radio band, good for long distance,” Tom answered. “In the right conditions, you can communicate thousands of miles with good gear and a school-taught comms guy. Something else we planned for but don’t have. We have a couple of transceivers, but…”

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