“So where is our zombie king?” asked Ruben.
Max concentrated and then pointed towards the north-west. “That way, less than half a mile, there are some people around too, the living kind.”
Stewart's eyebrows rose and she asked, “You sure?”
“Yeah, I got one not too far from baddest zombie out there and more further north, I am pretty sure there must be a channel or something over that way, it is a ribbon of unoccupied turf anyway. I think I am getting better at this.”
“Good, anywhere there aren't zombies?” asked Stewart.
“Well, not really, there are less to the east and south, and none straight north, that is the lake though so unless we took a boat...”
“We'll keep that in mind, we might have to, does anyone know how to sail?”
A round of 'no's came from the squad of men around them. Stewart shrugged and said, “Well we could get row boats or maybe something with a small engine. What is our plan Max?”
“Walk up to the guy and blow his head off?”
“Didn't Draper say we would be meeting someone here? Some sniper or something?”
“Yeah, he said, but I don't know if the 'we' was 'us' or 'him' now.”
“Use the radio Bill, call out and see if anyone is still in range,” suggested Stewart.
Bill fumbled for the radio, putting it to his lips he asked, “Can anybody hear me?”
Static was the only sound they heard, Bill tried again, “This is Bill Carson, we are going after some zombies here in town and we want to know if anyone is here to support us. Uh, over.”
A series of beeps came through the radio, Ruben paused in his walking and said, “They say yes. That's Morse code for you young guys.”
“Why would they send it like that?”
“It is an open radio, meant for keeping in touch with your squad and your commanding officer, not secure at all. Anyone with a military radio can pick that up and hear you in the clear.”
Bill flushed and said, “Oh. So what do I do?”
“Give it here,” said Ruben holding out his hand.
Handing it over Bill watched intently while Ruben pressed the talk buttons on and off for several minutes, then he held it down and said, “Okay, we understand, we will head east. Over.”
“Roger that,” came a dry voice from the other end.
Ruben looked at the radio, then at Bill and then pointedly tucked it into the front pocket of his fatigues. “They say they think the leader is in the Architech building on the edge of the park, a few blocks up from here. With luck, no one clued into the Morse and they won't know we are coming.”
“What else did they say?”
“They found a sniper team. Two of the special forces guys are with them. They ran into a tassel of zombies in the building they went into and are running low on ammunition, but they will be set up to help us if they can. They would like us to create a diversion in the park if we can, to maybe draw out the leader to take a shot at him.”
“That all?” asked Bill.
“They wished us luck. I wished them luck too.”
Bill laughed, then turned to Max and Stewart, who were still walking beside him. “What do you think?”
Max shook his head, “The zombies are closing in, we need to hide, but I don't think we can, or we need to pick a direction and go fast.”
“East?” asked Stewart.
Stewart, Bill and Ruben all studied Max's face as he glanced up into the clear blue sky and then shrugged, “No, let's just get this done.”
The others nodded and started to walk a little faster. Max cleared his throat, took a drink of water and said, “Bill have your guys hold up on the corner, see if they can get into that store there.” Max was pointing at a pulled down security gate that partially hid a convenience store from sight.
“Hey, Javier and Caleb! See if you can get into that store, quick, everybody else pull in close and watch the streets around us.”
Breaking into the store was easier than they expected; Javier and Caleb each grabbed hold of the bottom of the fencing and pulled sharply upwards, the two locks didn't break, but the clasps they were attached to pulled out of the building with ease. Caleb smashed in the window of the door and pulled the fire safety lock down to open it. Bill hustled the men inside, leaving Ruben and Dan at the door to keep a lookout; he kept everyone near the door so they could all hear Max speak.
“Okay, here is what we are going to do. The zombies are cutting us off and we are not going to get away by running, the train was our last best chance of that. There is a sniper team in the area that has a chance at taking out the guy leading the zombies in Chicago. Our mission is to draw the leader outside so their sniper can get a shot at him. We are going to run right up outside where the head zombie is and light his place up in a drive by shooting style, then take off through the parks to the shoreline, where we will get ourselves into boats and head for the middle of the lake. Any questions?”
“Yeah, I got one,” came a raspy voice belonging to Kirk, another older man from Ruben's generation, “What good is killing this zombie going to do?”
“It will stop him from attacking Iowa. He is controlling that whole mob from here, pressing them forward.”
“Won't another one just do it, the second in command?”
“They have limits, the second in command might not be strong enough to keep up the attack.”
“How do you know?”
“I don't. Not for certain. I spoke to a zombie who was sent to Denver, he told me some of how this works, but he was not too sure himself.”
“So we could all die doing this?”
“Why should we do it then?”
“Look I could say it is to protect the people who are still living, to give them a chance, but how about I give you guys an alternative plan that gives us the best chance of getting out of here alive?”
“Okay, hit us with that one.” Javier said and the other men nodded with approval.
“The 'run away' plan, with the best chance of success, based on what I can see of the zombies right now is this: We run right by where the head zombie is, which is on the way to the shoreline, and get ourselves into boats and head for the middle of the lake. Any questions?”
“That is just like the first plan, only without any shooting!” said Dan.
“Yeah, feel free to shoot at the building I point out as you go by. If you don't want to I won't hold it against you.”
Bill cleared his throat and asked, “Max are you sure we can't break out by heading east? Or back the way we came? The zombies seemed a little light to the south-west.”
“I can see them Bill. There are a lot less zombies here than I thought there would be, but there are still...thousands. Maybe we could have gone a different direction when we took off, if we had not let that group get behind us we would have more options now.” Max shook his head, “But right now? Not a chance. To the east the population is a little more dispersed, but I have no doubt the guy controlling the zombies knows we are here now, the group following us is acting too logically, they spread out a little and are busy hemming us in if we go any direction except north there are too many zombies they could move in around us. The coast is our best bet.”
“This is a lot to take on just faith mister,” said Dan.
“I know.” Max said then moved his eyes on the rest of them one by one, “This isn't going to be easy, we all have loved ones back in Iowa. It is not our job to die to save them, it is our job to wipe out the zombies to save them. I have been looking for the best way to do both. Unlike Draper I have laid my cards on the table, you guys have to decide what you want to do, I know what I am going to do.”
“We aren't going to make it are we?” asked a smaller soldier who Max thought was named Chen.
Max looked at the man and said, “What kind of talk is that? Haven't you heard what I've been saying?”
The man shook his head, not understanding, “I heard, but you talk like we can make it to the boats, and kill everyone. Then you also say there are too many of them. I don't know what to believe.”
“There are too many of them around us, we have to go where there are not that many of them, out into the lake.”
“What do we do then?” asked Dan.
“Fuck if I know,” the men laughed uneasily, “Really, we will play that by ear when we get there. If we get a good boat we might sail up to the north-west, get back on land and make our way down south again. Is that enough of a plan for now?”
The men nodded, but more than a few mumbled quietly to each other until Bill spoke up, “Jesus Christ people! Are we soldiers or children? We are here to do the job first and foremost and that is to remove the leaders of this big band of zombies. Does anyone doubt that we'd all be dead right now if we had stayed with the train?” The men nodded agreement and Bill continued, “So the last ten minutes of life might not have been that great but we owe it to Max. We've put our trust in him and anyone who wants to back out now can feel free to head back to the train! Otherwise, quit your bitching and soldier on!”
An uneasy silence fell on the group, punctuated by gunfire from the west. Max raised an eyebrow to Ruben, who was glancing in at them from the doorway. The older man shrugged his shoulders and said, “I got nothing on the radio from them.”
“So..Max, do we wait here for awhile or grow a pair and head out now?” Stewart asked.
“We wait until the special forces guys are in position.” Max said then he paused and cocked his head sideways for a moment, “Yeah, we can stay a few minutes at least.”
The radio in Ruben's pocket started beeping rapidly. Ruben took it out and started slowly translating as the code came through, “Ran into zeds inside the building across from the target. Low on ammo. Camo suits seem effective. We only have two for three of us. Will try to cross to target building in four minutes. Appears to be empty. We will head to top for best shot. Over.”
Ruben looked at Bill, “What should I tell him?”
“Tell him; understood, how soon should be move to draw out the target?”