River Of Night – Snippet 44
The bag over Paul’s head was speckled with blood.
“Do zombies even sleep?” asked the newly appointed security guard. “This guy has been limp for hours.”
“After we confirmed the diagnosis I had him tranked,” Schweizer said, lowering the tailgate on the diesel pickup. “Just get him off the truck. We’re the only three that know the whole story. We dump him, you shoot him and we go, right?”
“Whoa, what? Why didn’t we just do this at camp?” whined the former townie. “Just bury his ass in the ditch outside the gate, like any other shambler.”
“The Administrator doesn’t want a martyr, considering that he cost us so many lives,” said the manager by way of explanation. “Out of sight, out of mind. This place is nice and anonymous. No memorial. He can just fade away.”
“You shoot him then,” retorted the guard. “This is fucked up enough, I ain’t gonna murder this asshole. We held him down for you back in the camp. I figured it was a simple takeover, beat his ass and move on. I didn’t know you were getting him killed.”
“You think that you can back out now?” Schweizer said, resting his right hand on his pistol. The other two men were armed, but as in any pack, the pecking order was clear. “I’m not asking you to hate him. But I’m telling you: just get him off the fucking truck. Drag him inside and get rid of him. Leave the body for scavengers and off we go.”
The two men eyed their new boss. Kohn was the undisputed master of the camp and Schweizer was her man. There wasn’t any upside to making an issue of this.
At the moment.
“Sure, sure,” said the first. He turned to his companion. “Grab his feet and we’ll tote him inside, no sweat.”
Rune’s slack body was unceremoniously dumped on the ground. Situated on a crossroads, the nondescript town was at the edge of the cleared zone around Site Blue. Zombies regularly filtered in. Either the feral dogs or infected could be relied upon to clean up any remains.
The two men grabbed Rune’s feet and towed him inside while Schweizer clambered back in the truck.
Inside they stopped in what had been a convenience store.
“How do you want to do this?” asked the first.
“I don’t,” replied the second. “You talked me into this bullshit, you do it.” Suiting action to temperament he immediately walked out.
The first rolled his eyes. He drew his pistol and aimed it at the prone figure. Long seconds went by.
Killing another person is hard.
Pre-plague, it was a well established axiom that most rank and file soldiers will actively work to not shoot their opponents, even in the heat of battle. In other than special operations units, the majority of soldiers wouldn’t shoot, or would shoot to miss. Outside combat, it’s an even rarer person who can initiate lethal violence. Psychopaths aside, there is simply too strong an inhibition to killing. Executing an unresisting human, absent a strong compulsion such as revenge, is simply not possible for normally socialized humans.
Despite the horror of the Fall, most survivors were pretty normal. They were traumatized, sure. Often desperate, certainly. But they were ordinary rural and exurban folk who were just trying to cope. Unless you started the Fall as a sociopathic murderer, one usually did not become a emotionless killer afterwards. Kill attacking infected? Yep. Drop the hammer on someone you know to be a sentient human? At a time when humans were edging towards extinction? When that person was helpless?
This new guard had been an ordinary exurban dad, then a scavenger, and then had briefly trained under the supervision of the same man he was supposed to shoot. He was no better equipped to murder in cold blood than any other average man.
He willed his disobedient finger to squeeze. The muzzle of the pistol wavered back and forth. The guard literally closed his eyes.
Outside, Schweizer watched the first guard walk out and stand by the tail gate. One minute went by. Five. Just as he was about to get out and stomp inside there was a single gunshot. Moments later the second guard exited, looking ashen. He walked towards the truck and nodded his head.
Schweizer cranked the engine over and waited for his newly initiated staff to get aboard.
Kendra stared at her coffee cup. Paul had loved coffee. Other customers in the dining facility respected her space, allowing her to brood alone. Joanna had allowed her several days to compose herself after the patch test on Paul had come back positive for H7D3. After the obvious diagnosis was confirmed, the security team… disposed of the new zombie.
Kendra didn’t want to know.
She felt like a different person, now. Her skin felt different. Her clothes, which hadn’t changed, were unfamiliar. The very color of what should be well remembered surroundings appeared to be fundamentally different. Somehow.
Kendra didn’t know what this meant. Was she insane?
Did it matter?
She casually wondered what kind of person she was becoming in this place.
“Hey,” Christine said, sliding onto the bench alongside Kendra. “Ms. Kohn wants you.”
“No, she doesn’t,” Kendra replied flatly. “She said to take a few days.”
“Kendra, that was almost two weeks ago. You have been coming in here, ordering coffee, watching it cool and afterwards, walking the fenceline, every day for twelve days,” Christine said, pausing. “Look, I know ho–“
“Don’t even say it,” Kendra said, turning empty eyes towards the skinny blonde, who was leaning as far away as she could. “Just don’t. I’ll go see Kohn in a bit.”
Christine bit her lip and nodded. She got up and swiftly walked out. Normally, hurting Christine’s feelings – really anyone’s feelings – would have bothered Kendra.
She shrugged mentally.
Apparently, she was becoming the kind of person who didn’t give a fuck about that anymore.
She shoved her cold coffee away and stood.
Prior to Paul’s death, Kendra had always felt that the office of the camp Administrator was mostly theater. She felt that the building layers of bureaucracy was equal parts play acting and self aggrandizement. Sheepishly, she admitted that she sort of went along because that kind of hierarchical structure was familiar, even a little comforting.
It was what she knew.
Now she felt empty. The kabuki dance of guards at the Administration building and the secretary that warded Kohn door neither impressed nor reassured her. They were just things.
Not even particularly important things.
Kohn rose from behind her desk as Kendra knocked and stepped inside.
“Kendra, please sit down!” Kohn’s said, her voice was low and pleasant. “I am sorry that I had to disturb you.”
They sat in two salvaged easy chairs, separated by a brown drum table. What looked like a genuine inlaid antique had been decorated with a hand-painted acrylic fleur de lis garnished in turn with violet flowers. Their garishness was lost on Kendra, who stared between her boots.
“I know that you are still processing our loss,” Kohn said.
“Our loss?” Kendra said, looking up, her eyes suddenly bright with unshed tears. “Whose loss?”
“I know that you cared about him, Kendra,” the Administrator said soothingly. “But we all depended upon him. Even if you feel like you lost the most, we all lost something.”
Kendra’s eyes focused past Kohn, looking at the interior wall of the office, a mere thousand meters away.
“I asked two of our staff to attend to Paul respectfully,” said Kohn after a very long pause. “I have a report that they did not. It… bothers me. However, I can not take direct action for myself.”
“Attend?” Kendra said, her attention riveted. She leaned forward, her teeth unconsciously bared. “Does that fucking mean what I think it means?”
“Yes,” Kohn replied, instinctively leaning away a fraction of an inch before she grimaced for a moment and sat straight, schooling her calm mask back into place. “We had to euthanize Paul. I gave the orders, regretfully, but I gave them. I know that you might choose to hate me for that. It was necessary. He was infected. He had turned. You saw.”
“I know. I saw,” Kendra said, her voice cracking slightly. “So?”
“The two I trusted appear to have…” there was a slight hesitation. “… not followed my orders to the letter. There is a reasonable suspicion that they shot Paul out of hand. For sport.”
“WHAT?” Kendra said, exploding upright “Who?!”
“Two recent immigrants to the camp who were failed trainees for Paul’s project,” Kohn said. “They were trying out to replace our security losses, which are grievous. We need all the help that we can get. However, I need you more. If we are to work together, then I have to let you do this. I can not hide it. If you choose to take action – well, it is yours to take. For the long term, for the greater good, we must have discipline. You worked in the security department of Bank of the America’s. Your actions will be accepted. You will enforce discipline. The rules of the camp that I administrate will be for all.”
“What are their names? Kendra said. Moments ago, her eyes had brimmed with tears. Now they were hard. “And where are they, specifically?”
“Schweizer has the names,” Kohn replied. “I will direct him to give them to you.”
Tom had ordered Ralph not to stop at the last bridge on the route to Site Blue. The only hale member of their little team was their least experienced man and Tom didn’t really trust him to set the remaining orange bucket demolition charges, even under supervision. They would rely on speed to beat their pursuers to Site Blue.