River Of Night – Snippet 05

River Of Night – Snippet 05

All three fell silent. Listening to the number of active radio stations dwindle had been hard. A few times they had caught a last sign off as journalists or amateurs bid an empty channel goodbye. And good luck.

A long ululating howl sounded across the water.

“Hunter,” Kap said, dryly. “Best we get out of sight.”

Their little house was tucked into trees well back from the creek. Tom had foreseen the need for waystations for any bank stragglers on the way to the long term refuges. Tom had borrowed from his military training to find Selected Areas For Escape, or SAFEs. These were locations where the survivors could evade detection more easily, though they weren’t truly safe. Their current house in coastal Virginia was completely shielded from the nearest road and the drive was blocked by heavy brush and ditches. During the first few weeks, car engines and a few boats had been audible. Then, occasional screams.

Tom had kept everyone inside until lately, and even now he sharply limited outside excursions. The competition for the external guard duty that rotated among the reliable members of their party was fierce.

The last month had been quiet, except for the hunt. Warm weather, mosquitoes and hunger kept the infected in motion. Like schools of sharks, the bands would be composed of relatively healthy zombies of the same approximate size. They seemed to prey on livestock, humans, pets, and occasionally each other.

“There’s got to be a better reason, Tom,” Risky said, motioning towards the dark water that oozed past. “Just being alive and leaving the world to that, it isn’t enough to keep us together.”

“I’ll think about it,” replied Tom.

“We’ll all think about it,” added Kaplan.

###

Sergeant “Worf” Copley was in a strange place. Oh, the SAFE wasn’t bad as accommodations went. The actual immediate tactical environment wasn’t too unusual in his experience. 

Unconventional chain of command complete with admin pogues in charge? Yep.

 Strap-hangers and civilians underfoot. Meh. You ever seen an embedded CNN camera crew?

Bitched up supply situation. It happens.

Living in cramped communal quarters for an extended period. The Army called that an ordinary Tuesday.

It was how he and his sole remaining subordinate had arrived here that was some next level bullshit. You could call it a long, strange trip, but that would be a charming understatement.

The experienced National Guard staff sergeant had been out of communication with higher since the harum-scarum withdrawal from Washington Square Park, shooting and meleeing infected all the way back to Bank of the America’s, where they found a no-shit for-real command post on Wall Street. Wall-fucking-Street! Then, marooned out of contact with higher, he’d directly negotiated a deal for vaccine with the civilian in charge – an action so far above his pay grade that he still had a nosebleed. Then he’d helped run a noncombatant evacuation from a twenty-million dollar Park Avenue property, while keeping Specialist “I mean – it’s a Faberge egg and it’s just sitting there, Sergeant!” Astroga from helping herself to the semi-abandoned baubles in the mansions. Then he got into a running gun fight with cops and the FBI.

The F-fucking-B-fucking-I. Who, as it turned out, had fucking Stinger anti-air missiles, because of course they did!

Worf hadn’t had the time to worry about shooting cops, but at least the moral quandary was clear. They’d been making a very sincere effort to shoot Mrs. Copley’s little boy before he could return the favor. On that basis alone he just fought to keep himself and his little team alive. Finally, before he had time to process that fracas, there’d been another, rather one sided firefight at the docks, where Astroga had gotten shot. Her armor kept the rounds out, thank god.

It was nearly as much combat time as he had from two OIF deployments, combined. And about as satisfying.

About like a visit to the latrine on day six of an all MRE spreadable cheese diet– a lot of strain for very little output .

The Russian girl, Khabayeva, had saved all their asses, though. Then off they had gone, hey diddle diddle on a long ass boat trip. During the all night over-water transit Copley had been too damn tired to think it all through. Once he had made certain that Astroga was as comfortable as she could be with her bruised ribs, he had deployed his woobie and chimped down for nearly the entire boat ride.

Now they were in the bank’s hideout.

At first, just the relief of being out of New York City was enough. Worf and the little band of bank survivors had lain up within a relatively short distance of a major naval base and listened the VHF harbor traffic as ship after ship punched out, the fleet surging seaward as though it could outrun the land based plague. Enough transmissions made it clear that the virus was already at sea.

He tried to imagine how he would fight zombies in a big steel squid bin. Pity those bastards.

Over in the corner, the tied up school teacher had quieted. It was a classic case of freakout, no H7D3 virus required.

Astroga was chatting quietly with one of the schoolkids, and was kibbitzing their cards. Despite her unrecalcitrant pseudo-E4 attitude, Cathe Astroga had a surprisingly helpful manner with the young teens. Decent kids and their good attitudes had made it easy to like them.

Worf walked over to the wall and re-applied himself to the map pinned there. Even after a good long stare, none of their routes away from the SAFE looked particularly good.

“Whatcha doing?” Astroga said from his elbow, materializing suddenly. She called it one of her super powers.

“You know, you’re gonna do that to some new NCO one day, and their gonna lose their shit,” he answered, entirely too used to her little ways. “But, what I’m doing is looking at routes west. Sooner or later we have to drive out of here and it’s going to be a mess.”

“Big highway right there,” The young private said, helpfully stabbing a finger at the blue line representing I-64.” Should take us west, no?”

“No,” Copley replied seriously. “Think, Astro. Hampton Roads used to have more than a million and a half people and the only highway out is a two-lane interstate. It’s going to be a parking lot of stopped cars. What we need are side roads. What we gotta do is stay away from anything but really small towns.”

He tapped the indigo push pin almost three hundred miles west.

“Figure a week plus to get to Site Blue, maybe more,” he said musingly, while considering another local road that was marked in a dashed line. “Maybe a lot more.”

“Hey, Worf?” Astroga asked in a surprisingly small voice. “You figure that Gunner is gonna be there waiting, right?”

The last thing they had seen of Sergeant “Gunner” Randall, the third member of their New York city “presence” patrol, he’d been boarding one of the last helos scheduled to leave from the top floor of the bank. One bird had been shot down by an FBI Stinger. The resulting fireball had crashed back onto the roof, destroying a second aircraft still spooling up on the pad. They’d hoped that Gunner was in the one that got away.

They had to believe it.

“Hundred percent,” Copley said, forcing a smile. “He made it, sure. He and that bank intel guy Rune are probably living the life of Riley in a camp full of high bred banker chicks, right?”

Astroga carefully did not sniff.

“Yeah, the lucky bastard.”

###

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