"Good to see you up and about." Max said to Stewart, who glared at him from behind the iron bars of her prison cell.
Stewart didn't get further than a glare when a warning klaxon sounded from the far end of the hallway.
"What the fuck is that?" she asked, the sight of Max jumping in alarm gave her a smidgeon of pleasure.
"How would I know?"
"You gonna let me out of here?"
Max held the key to her cell up and nodded, "Sure thing."
Stewart had been in quarantine the last two days since Colonel Draper had dropped them off at the Great Lakes Naval Training station, or as the military personal called it, RTC, which stood for Recruit Training Command. Their wounded included a younger man named Chen, who had come in with a gunshot wound to the leg and Stewart, who had a fractured skull and many cuts and gashes. Both had been confined to the infirmary for possibly contaminated personal since they arrived. Preliminary testing of blood from both of them had indicated they were probably not contaminated by whatever it was that caused the zombies to be zombies. It was the 'probably' that kept both of them locked up in individual cells that the training station used for a brig. Nominally it was for everyone's safety, but Stewart felt singled out by the accommodations. Chen had been released to general quarters the night before, Stewart had not. Coming out of her cell Stewart continued to glare at Max, who was making every effort not to smile at all, when a military police officer bellowed at them from the end of the hallway.
"We're being attacked! Get to your stations!" Then she disappeared down the hallway.
"We have stations?" asked Stewart.
"Not that I know of. We better go see what is going on."
"Can you, ah, sense anything close by?"
Max looked at Stewart for a moment, then nodded and closed his eyes; a moment later he opened them wide and softly said, "Fuck. C'mon!" then he went running off down the corridor after the military police officer, hoping the woman had not locked them into brig by shutting the outer door. Fortunately, the woman had left the sliding door open and Max slithered through and ran towards the front of the building.
"Max! Slow down! Max!" Stewart called. Her words finally penetrated Max's brain and he slowed so she could catch up. "We don't have any weapons and you don't know where we need to go."
"I...we gotta get out of here! We need to find Bill."
"Okay, we can do that. Calm down. Where was Bill last at?"
"He was on watch until four, then went to the barracks...he should be there or close to it."
"You lead, I'll follow. How many zombies are we dealing with here Max?"
Looking over his shoulder before he opened the front door Max said, "All of them!"
"Or more. I can't sense anything farther out than maybe a mile, but the whole area is covered with the dead, and Stewart too many of them are smart ones." The sound of gunfire reached a crescendo to the east of their position. “Most of the attacking zombies are hitting the east side of the facility, but there are a ton waiting to the west, not moving up yet. We gotta tell someone."
"Draper? He should still be around."
"If we can, he would believe me. I think."
"Yeah, Bill first, then Draper."
The two of them ran across the open grounds to the building Bill was supposed to be housed in. The RTC trained up to fifty thousand recruits a year, so they were used to large numbers of people, even if the barracks were sparse. There were also maps everywhere pointing the way to the common areas recruits would need to get to. Max had only been wandering around the place for two days and he still didn't know how to get everywhere, but he knew how to get back to the barracks. Running up to the building the two of them saw a couple of men coming outside hastily, a third trailed behind them. The first two were Ruben and Javier, men from Iowa who were unlucky enough to be in Bill's platoon when he volunteered to help Max and Stewart get to Chicago. The third was Bill.
"Bill!" Max yelled, bring all three of the men to a halt.
"Max. What's going on?" Bill asked, fatigue lined the three men's faces.
"Zombies are attacking from the east, thousands of them, but there are more being held back to the west, way more than are attacking us now. We gotta get out of here! Even with a thousand soldiers we won't be able to hold out."
"We'll see what the military decides Max, guys with guns can hold off a lot of zombies."
Shaking his head Max said, "Not this many."
The group of them was standing near an open field used by the recruits for physical training, as Max finished speaking an explosion threw dirt up into the air, followed by another one closer to them, then a third.
"Let's go!" yelled Bill running east as the line of explosions grew closer. They made it to the edge of the buildings when the barracks Bill had been sleeping in blew apart. "When did the zeds get mortars?"
"When the soldiers that came back from the dead showed them how to use the damned, things." said Ruben with a scowl on his face. The old man had seen action before, in Vietnam, and was well past his prime, but he had been pressed into service alongside of thirteen year olds back when the governor of Iowa issued a general call to service. He was not the fastest of Bill's soldiers, but the man knew tricks that the others had not had time to learn.
"We get the fuck out of here before some bright boy drops more shells on our heads." Ruben said.
"Seems smart." Turning to Max and Stewart Bill said, "You guys don't have your weapons."
"I was just going to unlock Stewart...didn't think I needed them."
"You always gotta keep a gun with you Max." Pausing he asked, "Why were you still locked up Jane?"
Stewart shrugged, "The blood tests, something was wrong and they took another sample, they said it didn't appear that I was infected, but they wanted to be sure, so I got to spend another night on the hard bed."
"Dang. Are you feeling okay?"
"I am not infected Bill!"
"Didn't say you were. I was thinking maybe...."
No one said anything for a moment and the screams of the living carried back to them from several blocks away where the fighting was going on.
"You ain't going like that one bird in the Art Center are you?" asked Ruben bluntly.
He was referring to a living woman, Stella, who had been encouraged to kill zombies, by her handlers, the woman had become an abomination, fast, strong and remorseless....and a killer of the living. Stella had eaten living flesh of the uninfected and seemed to grow stronger for doing so, she had also been stunned into inaction when Ruben shoved his cut hand into her mouth, which resulted, ultimately, in her death.
"No, nothing like that. I've killed a lot of zombies, but not that many Ruben."
Javier had been quiet so far, now he chose to speak up, his voice completely without accent he said, "What about Chen? He is in the hospital."
"As good a place as any, lead the way Javier." Bill said. They trotted along quickly towards the hospital, trying not to listen to the sounds of young men and women being overrun to the east.
The hospital was a hive of activity, with men carrying stretchers into the hospital and wounded lying on the sidewalk in front of the place. Technically it wasn't even a hospital, just an infirmary, but the Navy had changed its designation after the extent of the crisis had been realized.
To the east a roar sounded about the same time that more mortar shells dropped near the west end of the campus. One, by chance or intent, landed at the corner of the hospital, sending shards of metal fragments through the air and literally obliterating those unfortunate enough to have been on the sidewalk next to where it landed. Stewart was thrown into Max and both of them tumbled to the ground in a heap. Ruben didn't break stride, he picked up Stewart and hauled her into the building, leaving Bill to do the same with Max. In the lobby the stretcher bearers were cringing on the ground afraid to move from the lucrative cover they found in the lobby of the building.
“You men, move! Pick up the stretcher and carry him in further, get away from the glass doors!” Bill bellowed with authority. The men hastened to obey and Max's group took shelter in a hallway away from the front, where Ruben stood Stewart up and leaned her against the wall to assess her injuries.
The old man let out a low whistle as the three men looked at Stewart, she had a pistol butt sticking out of her chest over her heart. Stewart looked at the men, then glanced down and slid sideways a little, only to be propped up by Ruben on one side and Max on the other.
“That...looks bad.” she said.
“It must have been blow off of one of the soldiers.” said Javier.
“Yeah, unless there is a new kind of mortar shell I ain't familiar with.” said Ruben with a touch of sarcasm.
Stewart reached up with her right hand and grabbed the pistol butt.
“No, leave it, a surgeon will have to take it out. Can you walk?” asked Max.
A loud crash in the entryway drew their attention as a squad of men pushed their way into the building. The sergeant yelled, “We couldn't hold! Evacuate! The officers said to head west! Move people!”
“Sergeant! There are zombies there, waiting for us!” Max shouted. Stewart grasped the butt of the pistol and pulled it out of her, with Ruben watching. Her blood didn't gush out, it seemed to solidify as it touched the air and her wound sealed.
“Perv. You just wanted to see my boob.” Stewart mumbled as Ruben held her up.
“Well....yeah.” he replied, the tone of his voice showed that wasn’t his intent at all.
“Officers said to head west, set up a new line of defense around the barracks, to cover the rest of the men, who will be heading this way in less than three minutes. Anyone who can fire a gun needs to head out now, this building will be overrun. Let's go!” The sergeant didn't wait to see if the people in the lobby would follow he turned and ran back outside and headed towards the barracks Max had just come from.
“We, we can't go that way!” Max sputtered, closing his eyes a moment he let go of Stewart and sought out the zombies he knew were there. “They are coming!”
“From the west?” asked Bill.
Nodding Max said, “And the east. Bill I don't see many of our guys retreating, no living. I see a lot of isolated groups, surrounded by the dead.”
“What do we do, Sarg?” asked Javier.
“We head south, of course.” All of them knew that Chicago was lightly inhabited, but north into Wisconsin, was more of a crap shoot, there were pockets of heavy zombie populations dotted with uninhabited regions. “First we get some weapons, and food if we can find it.”
“So the armory or the px?” asked Ruben, who undoubtedly knew the way to both by heart, the man was good at knowing where to find things.
“Armory. We can pick up food along the way if we have to. Stewart can you walk?”
By way of an answer Stewart let the pistol butt drop from her hand and stood up.
“They are here.” Max said, pointing to the front door.
A trio of zombies rushed by the doorway, followed by some slow, shambling zeds in a motley assortment of clothing.
“Max get that rifle!” Bill said, pointing to a rifle left by one of the wounded who had fled the lobby. “Javier, Ruben, each of you give him a magazine. The armory is that way, right Ruben?” Bill had gestured out the front door, where there was a block sized chunk of lawn with a flag pole.
“Yeah, maybe we could go west a little and try to work our way around...”
Max shook his head, “Too many, I don't know Bill, I don't think we can make it.”
Slow zombies started shuffling into the lobby.
“Goddamn it. To the stairs, get upstairs now!”
“Bill.” said Max pausing, “We can't go anywhere from there, if we go up we'll die.”
Hundreds of zombies flooded the lawn in front of the hospital.
“We die now or we die later, I'd rather die not at all, but I'll take later if it is an option. Go Max!”
None of them fired at the slow zombies as they hit the stairwell. Max noted it went up to the fourth floor and did not provide roof access.
They ran into three men coming down the stairs and tried to ward them off going down, but the three did not listen. A few moments later they heard the sound of gunfire from the stairwell and screams as the men were overwhelmed. On the fourth floor they closed the fire doors and Bill took out a plastic restraint, like the kind often used in lieu of handcuffs when police made mass arrests, and looped it over the double doors, effectively locking them together.
“What if a human comes up here?” asked Max.
“Us or them, brother.” said Ruben, but Bill hesitated.
“He's right, we can't take the risk of locking them out.” Taking his belt knife Bill cut through the plastic. Shrugging he said, “It wouldn't have held them long anyway.”
People were coming out of the rooms all along the hallway, curiosity on their faces. “What's going on?” asked an older African American man, in a wheelchair with his leg in a cast from his hip to his toes. He had on a name tag on with the words, 'Amir Lincoln' printed on it in black marker.
“Zombies are coming. We have to get to the roof.” answered Bill.
“What about us?” called another man further down the corridor.
“You gotta get to the roof too.”
“Where do we go from there?” called another faceless voice.
“Nowhere, we hold them off.”
“The stairwell at this end has roof access.” said an orderly dressed in light green hospital scrubs.
“Let's go then.” said Bill curtly.
Behind them they heard the people scrambling to follow the soldiers, Ruben lagged behind long enough to take out a new plastic restraint. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he strung it through the door handles alongside the one Bill had just cut off. He stepped back to look at his work with some satisfaction.
“Pretty good job.” said Amir from behind him.
Surprised Ruben turned and looked down on the man. “Yeah, it will make a difference, every second helps.”
“You know if someone stays here they can just hold the handles up, it wouldn't take much effort.”
“Yeah, but who would do that?” asked Ruben.
The man gestured at his leg, “I ain't gonna be climbing any stairs mister. They gave me crutches I can't use,” he hitched his thumb over his shoulder, “they are in my room, would you mind fetching them for me?”
“Sure thing.” Ruben entered the guy's room and saw the crutches. He grabbed them and brought them out to the old guy.
Amir waved him off, “No, no. I can't even pull myself up, I was thinking they are wide enough to shove between the emergency handles, you know, to act as a kind of a bolt.”
Ruben slid the crutches down between the handle and the door, sure enough they fit almost perfectly and would keep the handles on the other side of the door from being engaged, effectively locking the door.
“Great, now find another set and let’s get to the other stairwell.”
Ruben ducked into a few rooms until he came across another set of crutches, out in the hall he saw Amir had already wheeled down to the other stairwell. There was no one left in the hallway except for them.
“Gimme one of those straps.” Amir said, holding out his hand. Ruben complied, he still had another dozen or so left, so he handed the man two. “And the crutches. Now go. They won't get in here easily, maybe not at all.”
Ruben paused for a moment, holding onto the crutches, and said, “You know, I could get you up the stairs.”
Amir shook his head, “I'll be safe in here, two sets of locked doors, you won't have that up top, I bet they just rush by me to get you. 'Sides there are some other guys stuck in here too.”
Ruben knew it was true, several patients, unconscious, were still in their beds. “Alright. Goodbye Amir.”
“Goodbye whoever you are.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance Ruben. Now git.”
Ruben handed over the crutches and made for the stairwell and started climbing. Behind him the door shut with a hefty 'click' sound and he heard Amir jamming the doors with the crutches. By the time Ruben made it to the roof access they were getting ready to shut the door. It was a single door, but about forty inches wide. Bill was holding it open and he asked, “Where've you been? I'd have shut the door in another minute.”
“I just came up last, to make sure everyone made it up okay.”
“No one left?”
Looking Bill steadily in the eyes Ruben said, “No, there is no one left down below.”
“Good, but we got a shit fan of problems up here. Go take a look.”
Ruben made his way to the edge of the building, looking over he saw the walkways around the hospital were crammed with undead. Moving to look at the green he saw it was crammed full of undead too, though these seemed to be second tier, the almost human kind, but not quite supers. Worse, among them they had prisoners. A shot rang out and the gawker next to Ruben screamed, then pitched over the front of the building, yelling the whole way down. Or course Ruben didn't see the man hit, by then he was on his face, backing up quickly towards the middle of the building.
“Get away from the edges you stupid fools!” he yelled as more gunfire rang out from below. Only one more person was shot, a younger man who was already in a hospital gown. He reeled away clutching his arm with cry before being tackled by an orderly to get him out of sight.
“Bill, what do we do?” yelled Max from near the edge of the building.
“Stay near the center, if you have guns watch that building, in case they try to run some zombies with guns up there.” Bill pointed to the building next to theirs, separated by only a fifteen foot gap. Luckily the building was only the same height as theirs, not taller, nor were any of the others nearby.
A hand grenade went off down below, followed almost immediately by another. Stewart and Max looked at each other, then saw a small black object sail over the lip of the parapet, to land thirty feet away. It exploded a split second after landing and sprayed shrapnel into the patients and soldiers, wounding several, one severely enough to drop him into unconsciousness.
“Holy fuck, we can't stop that!” Max yelled at Stewart, then he yelled to Bill, “You got any grenades?”
“No, throw them back if they come over!”
More grenades followed, one soldier grabbed one and tossed it over the edge, where it exploded just below the edge of the building, breaking windows, but causing no casualties. Another older looking soldier shucked off his helmet and put it over the second grenade then threw his body on top of it. The man's helmet and body did help contain the blast, but he had no time to center himself properly and was catapulted over the edge of the building, his intestines weaving a bloody pattern as he flew through the air. The third grenade was the worst, another patient; this one with his leg in a cast managed to pick it up and had just raised it over his head to toss it when it went off. The man's arm disintegrated and his head was blown sideways with enough force to break his neck, even as the shrapnel killed him. His attempt at throwing resulted in the grenade being just high enough to rain shrapnel down on the people taking cover, resulting in a plethora of wounds, many of them serious. Of the fifty or so patients and soldiers on the roof top, more than thirty were wounded to one degree or another. Even Javier, who seemed to be the lucky one of Bill's squad, had a cut across one cheek that was bleeding heavily.
No more grenades followed and the group breathed a momentary sigh of relief. The moans and cries of the wounded had to alert their enemy that they were not all dead, so their respite would only be temporary.
Working their way to where Bill and Ruben were by the door Max asked, “What now?”
“Fuck if I know.” said Bill.
“Awesome.” Stewart said, “I think we should have run,” she held up a hand to forestall Bill, who had opened his mouth to say something, “But we are here now, so let's focus on getting out of here, not 'I told you so' okay?”
“What about the building next door?” asked Max, “I think I could make the jump.”
“Yeah, you me and everyone who isn't injured, what about the wounded?” asked Bill.
“We can't save everyone.” Ruben said, “And I ain't in favor of dying with them either.” Another grenade went off on the side of the building.
“Can you make the jump?” Bill asked Ruben.
“Watch me.” with that he got up and took a running start towards the edge of the building. The four of them, including Javier, who had crawled over while they were talking looked open mouthed as the old man took a running leap and disappeared over the edge.
“Oh fuck, did the old fool make it?” said Stewart, rising to a crouching position to see.
“Well?” asked Max.
“Yeah, he did, he made it! I'm going, c'mon!” she rose and ran towards the edge as another grenade landed on the roof and blew behind her. Stewart made the jump look easy, clearing the other roof by ten or more feet. The grenade wounded more people and after seeing the jumpers the remaining able bodied rose and started to make the run too. This worked out well for some of them, but two people were a little too focused on the run and not on where they were running; they bumped together right at the roof edge, one man tripped and fell over the edge and the other barely managed to reach the other side where he clung to the parapet with one hand. Gunfire rang out and he dropped like a stone a moment later.
The grenades stopped, but people still kept trying to make the jump, now their actions were accompanied by gunfire from below and screams from some of the men as they were hit.
“We gotta go.” said Max, “From there we can jump to the next building and then maybe down to that one behind it. Or we could go down and try to weave our way through the building to the south.”
“Max, we can't just leave these guys.”
“Bill, you have family to think of, I have family to think of. And what about Ruben and Stewart? We can't leave them to fend for themselves. Javier and you need to jump over then we don't rest, we just go for the next one immediately to take them by surprise.”
“No, 'cause you'd do something stupid. You first.”
“You just want me to draw their fire.”
“Don't leave us.” said a patient nearby.
“Look man....I...” started Bill, then he was pulled up by Javier and half pushed by Max in the direction of the other building.
Ruben, on the other side, had climbed on top of a heating unit on the other building and had his rifle aimed at the green. Javier and Bill leaped at the same time and bullets from both above and below rang out. Neither man was hit by the wild fire, but down below a zombie with one of the rifles had a bullet put through his skull by Ruben. Ruben immediately pulled himself away from the edge near the green, trying to hide from the zombie gunmen. It didn't seem to matter to the other zombies; they didn't notice that one of their own had been shot. For a moment everything was quiet, when Max rose up to make the jump the pleas of those around him rose in volume begging him not to go. Ignoring them Max focused on the run, picturing his children on the other side as motivation to make the leap. More gunshots rang out, but Max landed safely. The group on the other building huddled together near the door to the stairs.
Bill stood as Max came over and said, “We are going to jump for the next one. It should be easier, they can't see us from the green.”
Down below they heard a scream, a high pitched wailing. Cautiously they crept to peep over the parapet to the lawn below. The zombies had their prisoners held up above the crowd body surfing them around the green, most of the men were still whole, but a couple had been attacked and were bleeding. As they watched another one of the men was grabbed in a tug of war between two groups, the man's arm was pulled out of its socket and then from his body completely as the game played out. His scream rose in pitch until any who didn't see him would have sworn that it was a small child, not a grown man. As if that were a signal the other body surfing prisoners were pulled into the mob and torn apart, with the crowd forming feeding circles around them.
“Now! We go now, while they are distracted!” Bill said. He didn't have to tell them twice. Only two other men made the jump with them, the others broke into the building and were heading down the stairs.
“We can jump down or across again.” Bill said, pointing out their options, no one seemed inclined to go down yet like the others.
“I say we go across and see what is on the other side of that building.” said Stewart, “Even if it isn't a good one to jump to we are a little closer to the southern edge of the campus if we have to go down inside.”
“Everyone agree?” asked Bill.
Everyone did, once on the other building they found that the next one was two stories lower than than the one they were on, a distance none of them wanted to try. While they pondered their choices, a third option presented itself.