When the apocalypse started trash service ended. For Sentry the trash creation didn’t stop and the alley behind the warehouse was piled so high with rubbish, including the bodies of his failed experiments and other humans. The last body had been placed there more than two months before, so the smell was almost tolerable when Ruben opted to hide the bomb among the rubbish. His angelic voices hadn’t given him any instruction on where to place it, he was getting the sense, more and more, that the advice they were giving was not with an eye towards the future, but with the best information available at the present.
He had heard nothing after getting to the clinic, and it was only with much grousing that he was able to convince them to get him to his friends. Once he gave them a new task the angels seemed to get on board with it quickly, leading him to Bill and the others, but also advising him of the terrible danger he was in. Carrying Bill out was much easier than Ruben had imagined, ‘I suppose when you are running for your life everything seems easier.’
The angels told him to dodge into a sturdy looking hotel lobby and guided him to an inner office, he had just closed the door in the pitch black room when the bomb detonated, shaking dust loose from around him. Ruben took out a flashlight and made sure the walls weren’t ready to collapse. There were no cracks and the ceiling looked sound, so Ruben angled a chair in front of the door and sat down in it. Bill was unconscious on the desk in front of him. The man had been convulsing as Ruben carried him, and then became unduly hot, now he just looked like he was unconscious.
Ruben dozed off and didn’t wake up until Bill shook him awake. The old man’s hand reached for the gun on his hip and automatically pulled out his knife when he discovered his pistol was missing. ‘I ditched my pistol in the car. Old habits die hard.’ Bill was staring at him intently. There was a light sitting on the desk where Ruben had put Bill when they came in. ‘The man does not look happy.’
“You left him.” Bill stated.
Ruben nodded, there was no use denying it. Bill didn’t seem angry; instead he seemed unreadable, cold, as if made of stone. With a barked sob Bill turned and smashed both hands down on the heavy desk behind him. The light went flying and pieces of the desk went bounced throughout the office, embedding themselves in the walls. The light hit the floor and rocked back and forth until it lay pointing in Ruben’s direction.
Bill walked to the metal filing cabinet and took more of his grief out on it, battering it into a small lump of metal with his bare hands. He left bloody streaks on the cabinet as it was crushed and his flesh parted from hitting the jagged tears his pounding created. When the cabinet was but a small, round lump he knocked a set of shelving off of the wall, breaking them with such ease that Ruben couldn’t help but laugh. This got Bill’s attention and he whirled on the older man.
“Why did you leave him? It should have been me!”
Ruben shrugged, “He told me to take you and go.”
“He was my best friend!”
“I gathered that. How are your hands?”
Bill held his fists up in front of him, the blood was still wet, but he wasn’t bleeding anymore. With one hand he wiped the other off, revealing whole flesh that appeared never to have been damaged.
“They’re fine.” Bill sighed and kicked through the debris to another office chair. “What are we going to do, Ruben?”
“I have a car. We can take it and go.”
Bill leaned forward and put his head on his hands, “I can’t go back. Not without Max. How will I look his kids in the eye?”
“You love them like you loved Max, you raise them and someday you tell them what happened.”
“I don’t even know what happened.” Bill muttered.
Ruben let him sit brooding for a few minutes, then stood and kicked the chair he had been sitting in away from the door.
“What are you doing?” Bill asked.
“Me? Nothing. We, however, are leaving.”
Ruben stepped outside and examined the building, it still looked sound, but the windows had all been blown out. Moving into the street he found the entire area was a rubble strewn mess. The facings of most of the buildings had been torn off, littering the streets with chunks of brick and slivers of glass. Without a word Ruben set off towards the house where he had left the car. Bill followed, looking, hoping, they would run into something to kill.
The streets were empty. It was still raining, but the downpour had ended. Ruben and Bill trudged through the wet until they arrived at a yellow house across from a big box store. Bill followed Ruben inside, where the old man made a beeline for the garage. There was a hybrid car sitting in the space closest to the door to the house. Ruben struggled to get the garage door up and then gestured at Bill to get into the vehicle.
“Where are we going?”
“I want to check the crash. See if Javier is dead or just, you know, all stiff again.”
“Right. Okay, then what?”
“Then? I don’t really know Bill, let’s get to Javier and figure out what to do from there.”
It wasn’t a long drive. Ruben pulled onto the highway and drove at a sedate pace to the west. At every overpass he slowed down to a crawl until he was the road was still sound. When they found where the highway had been knocked out, Ruben took the long, broad ramp down to the street level where the crumpled ruins of the patrol cars sat.
Bill and Ruben got out of the car and approached the body of Javier, which was where the zombies had left it. Something was nagging Bill, he approached the body suspiciously, looking around and eyeing Ruben.
“You bailed out of the car. Did you stick around to see them shoot Javier?”
“Okay, so how…”
“No. I don’t feel much like going into this right now. Not here, not with all these people. Check him.”
“All what people?” Bill asked.
Ruben gestured at the body and turned to face the trunk of the closest patrol car. He stared at the empty space.
“He’s all hard again, Ruben. I think that means he will make it.” Bill said pulling his hands away from Javier, taking a glance at Ruben, Bill looked to where the man was staring. He didn’t see anything at first, but after a moment his vision started to blur slightly and he thought he saw something there. From his position on the ground he picked up a small chunk of concrete and tossed it at the blob. The concrete bounced off of something well before it hit the patrol car.
“God damn it.” A voice said softly from where Bill’s rock had hit.
Bill fell back as a figure shimmered into view. Draper pulled the hood of the garment he was wearing back, revealing his broad smile and too white teeth.
“I knew these things wouldn’t work very well in the rain. And what’s with the staring act Sergeant Ostling? If you saw me you could have just said something.”
Ruben continued to stare, “Well, I was wondering what it would take for you to break your silence. How did you find us?”
Draper held up a familiar brick sized chunk of material, “Funny thing, all that shit in the pack wasn’t exactly inert. What’s this look like to you?”
“A goddamned brick someone stuffed into our bomb sack to make it feel heavier than it really was. Thanks for the beer.” Ruben said.
Draper nodded, “Well to you old school ‘before high tech’ soldiers this is a brick.” Draper threw the brick to the ground, bouncing it off of a piece of twisted metal. When it came to a landing the brick split, revealing a thin casing which surrounded what looked like a battery.
“A bug.” Ruben said, “I should have known that you didn’t want to lose us.”
“A bug.” Draper agreed, “And a fine bug it was, it led us to an alley behind a diner about two miles away. I’m glad you sweat a lot old man, or we never could have tracked you back here. Not that this was where we wanted to be, but what choice did we have. We couldn’t figure out where you’d gone after you left the alley. I figured you got into a car, was I right?”
Ruben pointed back to the car he and Bill had driven up in, “Yes.”
“Valencia, you owe me five buck!” Draper barked.
“Valencia’s dead, sir.” called out an unseen voice from nearby.
Bill looked around and slowly counted off the people around them. It looked like there were over a dozen.
“Shit. That’s right. Whatever you did towards the coast, sure stirred up a bunch of the super zombies, they were running like crazy people to get away from there. We had a few dustups and not everyone lived through them. Did you know some of those bastards can see right through these things?” Draper pulled at his hood. “That was a surprise to us, I can tell you that. Thankfully most of them are just as blind to us as you are. Were.”
“What are you doing here Colonel?” asked Bill.
“He is here for us.” Ruben said, “Ain’t that right, Colonel?”
“We finished our mission, caught a ride from our friends off the coast and came down to lend a hand. Or recover the bomb, as the case may be. So was your mission a success?”
“Was yours?” asked Bill.
Draper stared at Bill for a moment; finally he broke into another of his grins and shook his head. “No. We found a lot of dead people. And hordes more of the undead variety. We blew the safe house with one of our bombs and blew the ultra-secret safe house we weren’t supposed to know about with the other. We even went by the old Greenbrier, just to see if anyone had made it there. Nothing good. We found a few very bad ass type people and I supposed you could say we rescued them, but we didn’t find what we were looking for. Did you?”
“We found him. Sentry is dead. Max made sure of that.” Ruben said.
“And you Lieutenant? What did you see?”
“Ruben’s ass. I got shot, he carried me to safety. Max told him to and I was out of it.”
“You’re looking pretty good for a man who got shot.” Draper’s gun came around until the barrel was pointed at Bill’s stomach. “Sanchez! Get a heat reading on this guy!”
“Just above norm, Colonel, he checks out. He ain’t a zed.”
“Is that how you can tell now?” asked Bill.
“It’s quick and dirty, but they run cooler than we do, a good ten degrees. To someone like Sanchez the zeds show up like a beacon.”
“And you couldn’t share that tech with us?” Ruben asked.
“You had Max, what would you need with our toys?”
Ruben snorted, “Now what?”
“Well, we should go and check on your target, just to be sure. Then I think we will head south. The anchor-clankers can get us back on board, something is brewing with Cuba and I’m hearing a show of force is necessary to get them to back off.”
“What?” asked Bill, “I thought we’d be going back home?”
“Relax, there shouldn’t be any fighting. We’ll sail around Florida and check out the base at Pensacola and then head towards Corpus Christi. I hear there is a Naval Air station there that is still functioning. We’ll get you two on a plane back home in no time.”
“Three.” Ruben corrected, “Javier will recover, we’ve seen it before.”
Draper raised an eyebrow to this, but didn’t say anything.
“How long?” Bill’s voice came out in a whisper.
“Well, we have to debrief you and the trip may take a little time. I won’t shit you Bill, we have half a dozen things to check into already, a couple cruise ships, a lost destroyer, the Cuban’s. And these are just what I know about. I hope to have you home by Christmas, but I can’t guarantee that your country won’t need you for something else. I know one thing though, the country, what’s left of it. Needs a hero, one that can unite everyone and show them we can beat these things. They won’t want you killed.”
“It’s just longer than I expected.”
“So, shot you say? It looks like there won’t be a lack of stories on out travels, will there?” Draper smiled again and nodded, “So let’s get started. Ostling why don’t you ride with me in that, whatever you call it, that you drove up here and take me to ground zero. Bill you’ll have to make do with the vehicles the boys have scrounged up.”
It would take Bill six months to finally get home and by the time he arrived every survivor there knew his name.