“What the fuck is this?” The other man’s voice boomed out upon seeing Javier standing at the back of the JLTV. “Hands up, buddy!”
Javier raised his hands. He had pulled over when he saw the caravan of military vehicles heading his way on old interstate 80. I guess I thought they might just pass me by. Still he wasn’t worried, he had a calm demeanor, with not even a hint of fear. I know they can’t kill me, better people than them have tried.
“Who are you and how did you get here?” the man demanded, he was joined by two women, zombies, also in uniform, from the lead truck.
“I am Javier Baca. I don’t want any trouble.”
“Well you won’t get any, if you do what we say. Are you armed?”
“I have a pistol in my pocket, there’s a shotgun in the truck.”
“Janet.” The man said, keeping his own pistol aimed at Javier.
The woman stepped forward and Javier stepped back. “No.”
With a grin the man said, “What? I have the drop on you, let her take your gun.”
Javier turned back to the vehicle and squatted down, examining one of the tires. “Go away. I don’t want any trouble.”
“You’re my prisoner, Javier Baca and you’re coming with us. Actually, it’s your lucky day. East of here is a fucking mess, there something out there. Something bad. And you were heading right into it. In a way we’re saving your life.”
Javier looked up at the man and squinted, admiring the mirrored sunglasses on his foe’s face. “I’m not too worried, not about what’s east of me, nor about you.”
“Alright, well, I tried to be polite first and gentle, don’t say I didn’t try. Janet, get his weapon. Javier, I will shoot you if reach for your pocket. Command want’s prisoners, not corpses and maybe you’re just the guy to tell us what these fucking Iowans have done to us.”
It happened fast, one second the woman was reaching for him, the next his pistol was in his hand, firing three times so quickly that it sounded like a single shot. Both women were hit in the head and fell backward immediately, the man was hit in the throat and pitched forward, adding a fountain of gore from his tore open throat to the ground in dirt and ash of Javier’s clothing. Shit, I did that? It was a question of wonder, even as he reached down and took the sunglasses off of the man’s body.
Shouts erupted from the rest of the caravan, a length of vehicles some thirty or forty long. As soon as Javier poked his head around the side of the JLTV a hail of gunfire erupted, one bullet struck him in the right shoulder, his gun, held in his right hand, swung out and up, snapping off a couple of shot without aiming. More shouting.
Looking at the bodies near him, Javier assessed their equipment, finally he took the only long gun from one of the women and checked it over. It wasn’t until after he had it up and ready to fire that he noticed his shoulder didn’t hurt. Not even a little bit. The rifle was solid, it looked exactly like the military rifles he was used to, but he only found one extra magazine in the woman’s pockets. He popped the gun around the side of the vehicle, firing single shots at the soldiers he could see; it was a target rich environment. Troops were pouring out of the trucks, not the first one, but it seemed like every other vehicle besides that was a troop carrier.
What am I doing? When they finally take me down I might be out of things for weeks. I want to get back home now. Yet he had confidence that he could win. Bullets started to ricochet off of the pavement at his feet as the enemy began shooting at his legs under the car. Went around the corner of the other side of the vehicle, thinking he could make a break for it across the open plains. That thought was soon pushed out of his mind as more bullets came from that side. Looking back along the highway he hoped to see, maybe a group of JLTV’s with armed and whooping Iowan’s driving to his rescue. Nothing.
As he stood there pondering his options a team of men rushed around the corner and started firing at him. He felt the shots, including one that hit him in the forehead and caused his new sunglasses to be flung off onto the pavement a couple meters away. Despite feeling the bullets impact, he didn’t black out, he didn’t cocoon up. He laughed and flung one arm out at the men firing at him, their bodies fell in pieces to the ground.
“Now, we can’t have that, buddy.” Came a voice from above him. A zombie stood there, pointing a hefty looking gun down at him.
Javier gestured at him and watched the bullet leave the gun’s bore as the zed dodged sideways faster than an eyeblink. The bullet missed, cutting open Javier’s shirt down the back from the collar, briefly tightening the tough fabric on his throat. He thought his gesture at the zombie had missed too; but when the thing tried to stand up from where it had landed in the prairie, it fell, with one leg severed below the knee in an angle that continued up through it’s groin, taking off its other leg at the hip and out the abdomen, removing the zed’s arm below the elbow too. It went down and writhed in the dirt while Javier focused on the other soldiers, men, women, living and dead closing in on him.
“Well, let’s see how good this is.” Javier said, steeling his nerves and stepping around the back of the JLTV to the middle of the highway. He was met with a barrage of fire bullets that didn’t affect him in the slightest. He worked his way down the caravan, not happy with the situation, not vulnerable to any of the substantial attacks thrown against him. In the end several of the trucks set off across country and many other soldiers fled on foot. Javier let them go, he felt he should kill them, after all they had attacked him and, from what he had seen of the battle sites he had walked and driven through the last two days, they were at war with the Iowans. That was the only thought that gave him pause, Am I making things better or worse? Where are you Bill? I could use your guidance on this. However, no one was there to answer his pleas.
The JLTV was trashed. It wasn’t a heavily armed vehicle and did have bullet resistant tires though would have made it possible to drive it, but some of the explosives hurled at Javier had hit the vehicle too and it would not start when he tried.
He gathered a couple of rifles and a dozen magazines out of habit before he realized he didn’t need them. “Hell, maybe I don’t need the truck anymore either?” If he had some new-found power to teleport or fly, he couldn’t figure out how to make it work. “I guess it’s F Company for me, then. They’ll sort me out.”
The third truck in the line still had its keys in it and started easily when he tried. The tank was showing three quarters full. He began to back it up and pull forward to turn it around and then stopped, there were bodies in the way and despite killing so many, Javier could not bring himself to drive over them. With a sigh he turned off the engine and stepped out of the truck to drag bodies out of the way. Looking back east down the highway he thought he should be able to drive around the dead laying there.
“Peace, partner.” Came a voice behind him, “I surrender.”
Javier turned with one arm raised to see the original zombie he had crippled and flung into the prairie standing there with his hands raise. “I really do surrender. I tell you if I could have my way we would have just driven by and left you to what’s ahead.”
“Why shouldn’t I just kill you and be done with it?” Javier asked.
The zombies shrugged, “I almost wish you would. I don’t have any desire to have survived this.” He gestured around at his fallen comrades, “Tim Jones, great guy. Maury Eggleton, great cook, fine fighter, has a non-zed daughter still alive back home. Trinity Baker, her husband is a corpsman in the tenth. You done killed a huge portion of my family and I doubt I’ll ever forgive you for it.”
“So why are we talking? Why didn’t you just sneak off into the plains?”
“I think we were wrong. I don’t know what my guys said to you, but we made a mistake and I apologize for that.”
Javier looked at the man for a moment, “You’re apologizing for your guys, after I killed or drove them all off?” He shook his head, “That’s crazy, man.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Don’t give me a reason to.”
“Take me with you.”
“Well, sergeant, I am an enemy combatant and you could capture me to bring me in. Couldn’t you?”
“Crazy.” Javier muttered, “You just told me I killed all your real family. I couldn’t trust you behind my back.”
The man seemed about to say something else, then shook his head, “Yeah, I got it. You have a long way to go, back to Iowa and don’t need someone untrustworthy at your side. Where did you come from? What’s your name?”
“I’m from a small town in Iowa. Where are you from?”
“Sacramento. I used to work for the Folsom prison system, can you believe that? From cook to zombie fighting in Nebraska in only 8 short years. Albert Kelson.” The zombie extended his hand.
Javier looked at the hand and slowly shook his head ‘no’ one time. Albert dropped his hand, but not his smile, “Well, yeah, I get that, some zombies have powers that work by touch, but believe me, Sarg, I’d have led with that when I had the jump on you.”
“What’s going on east of here?”
“That’s more difficult to say. Something weird, some sort of hybrid zombie, a gestalt or hive mind, we can’t tell which. Whatever it is, it’s bad and I don’t wish it on you Iowans. Hell, we’re in peace talks right now, things were going to settle down and we were going to reunite the country, so far as I know. Obviously, they don’t need any former prison cooks at the negotiating table. Are you heading back to your land?”
“I’ve dealt with hive minds before, up north.” Javier said.
Albert shook his head, “Not like this.” His voice got low, “Between you and me, well I hear there’s a pretty fucking clear trail down highway 76, straight into Denver from this thing. It’s like it’s following something, it damned sure isn’t spreading in a circle, it’s a trail. You wouldn’t know anything about that would you?”
“Me?” Javier was surprised, “No, I’ve been…out of things for a while. What day is it?”
I’ve been out for six weeks? That’s new. I’ve never been out more than a week before and that was after I got hit by a flame throwing zed in Kansas! What the hell happened to me?
“Hey, hey, now, it’s not that bad. You’ve been out for a while now, huh? I can get you up to speed on the local happenings…”
“No.” Javier said, “I can’t trust you. It’s best if you go now, Albert.”
Albert stood up straighter, stiffening, “Okay, if you’re sure. How long have you been out?”
“Six weeks. Go.”
With a nod, Albert turned and started walking at a ninety-degree angle from the road, out into the prairie. He called back over his shoulder, “Thanks for not killing me.”
I should kill him. Javier shook that thought off, I don’t do that. Instead he hopped into the truck, started it and drove it onto the shoulder where there were no bodies in the way before continuing east.