I was in my room, lying fully clothed on the bed and trying to convince myself that I did not feel remorse, when there came a knock at the door. It was one of the servants, to tell me that the mayor’s army was moving out. Finally. I had been stuck in here for three days, and visiting Cat just made things worse. Gradually, I was beginning to realise that maybe I hadn’t quite killed off my feelings like I thought I had, since I definitely felt bad about making her so upset.
Still, the bunker had it coming; they had locked me up, after all. The mayor’s army was actually pretty large, even if it was mostly made up of support forces and food wagons. Not enough people to fill a city square, but more than enough to cause a serious problem for anyone trying to fight them. I had regretfully been unable to provide the mayor with accurate schematics of the bunker, and my deal meant he could not force Cat or James to tell him. Speaking of which, James himself seemed to have vanished, presumably to return to the bunker and warn them we were coming.
I was dressed in the standard long coat, rucksack, bandoliers of equipment and ravishing smile (if I do say so myself) as I stepped out of the impractical glass doors of the ‘palace’, as the mayor had called it. The mayor had wisely seen fit not to mention exactly who I was to the assembled fighters, so they saw just another zombie hunter as I stepped down to join them. Luckily, no one tried to talk to me as I joined the crowd.
The mayor gave another of those rousing speeches, which I mostly ignored, before gesturing to the gates at the far end of the road, which slowly swung open. Outside were the stacked corpses of the zombies that had been attacking the entrance, dealt with over the last couple of days with a few well-placed napalm strikes, and these were quickly swept aside by a few hurried guards. The people of ‘New Beginnings’ gave a ragged cheer as we set off. And just like that, I was a soldier in someone else’s battle.
I do things for my own purposes, so it was strange to be following someone else’s orders for once. We had to march and stop marching as and when they told us, occasionally halting to pick off zombie hordes. There were a few casualties, mostly unlucky sods who got jump-scared by a zombie and didn’t have time to kill it, but as a very large group of fighters the undead had really no chance. This was really effective, so why could humans not work together like this, if only for survival? Of course, I already knew the answer to that.
I mostly hung back towards the rear of the column, where the mayor’s carriage was trundling along, pulled by two snorting mules. Around it to either side were the supply carriages, and behind it was the prison wagon, which I happily avoided. I didn’t like the idea of bringing Cat along, but I could see the mayor’s logic. If everything went south, he could use her as a bargaining chip. Except he wouldn’t, because I wouldn’t allow it. But whatever.
The ruins of civilisation look pretty much like they always did. Seriously, most people expect crumbling stones and forests when they think of an apocalypse, but most of the buildings are designed to last 200 years or more, so another 5 without maintenance hasn’t hurt them much. Still, some of them have burned black and most have windows shattered from something or other. Plants grow in the cracks and wallpaper slowly moulders. In another 5, I reckon survivors will have to be more worried about what building they pick, for fear of rot.
The other difference is the insects. Zombies, by definition, are absolutely gruesome, and that involves slowly rotting. They also leave a lot of dead bodies behind them, and all the crap us humans abandoned is also slowly rotting. So naturally, insects are having a field day. Occasionally, you will see great black clouds of flies like the great locust swarms that used to exist in America before we wiped out their habitat. Beetles, grubs, flies and worms are absolutely everywhere, except the few buildings the survivors kept roughly functional. It’s disgusting, but it’s just something we deal with and try to ignore.
So, yeah. We’re strolling down the motorway in a long line of heavily armed humans, with the supply wagons rattling along the hard shoulder. I sat on the rear supply wagon, because why the hell not? I’m injured, after all, and it’s not like I cared that the driver was glaring at me. I also didn’t care about the two advisors on horseback keeping a watchful eye from a safe distance. Even I admit I’m a loose cannon, so it’s hardly surprising that the mayor thought the same.
My shoulder still hurt, like, a lot. I did my best to ignore the pain that came with every bump and movement and tried to ignore the nasty feeling of drying blood on my shoulder. My face stayed impassive, because I’m cool like that. I don’t feel pain or emotion anymore, both of which I actively killed. Pain because I was fed up with hurting and emotion because it hurt ten times worse. Hey, I’m a sociopath, after all.
I saw Abel’s motel pass on the right, looking very closed and abandoned in order for the man to camouflage himself from the passing army. It didn’t do to try to make deals with people who could burn you and your house on a whim. We were following the directions on my map, which I had reluctantly lended to the mayor’s navigator, who was the same old guy that had welcomed me and Cat to ‘New Beginnings’ a few days ago, so we were heading for the exit that we had left from, a small door in the side of a hill.
Then was ran into a ton of guys with guns and everything went to hell, as it usually does. James must have returned and warned them, because they were lying right in wait in a load of different alleyways in one of the burnt-out towns.
I was still hitching a ride on the wagon when the first gunshot went off. Instinctively, I leapt from the wagon and shouldered my crossbow, before grimacing at the protest from my shoulder. Dammit, that injury was going to keep coming back to haunt me, wasn’t it. Still, having an arrow stuck through you isn’t exactly something you can shrug off.
A guy ran from the alley to my left, firing an automatic weapon wildly into the mass of fighters. I raised my weapon, but one of my fellow soldiers had already shot him by the time I had aimed. He fell, the gun tumbling from his hands and skittering over the concrete. For a couple of seconds, we took our time to judge the odds of the situation, before everyone dived for cover. More people started shooting, some from the second stories of the surrounding buildings. The horses whinnied and took off, dragging the supply wagons away in blind panic.
Blind chaos. It was like one of my Fenrir attacks, people running everywhere and screaming, firing their weapons randomly. Bullets shot through the air around me. I ignored them – either I would be hit or I wouldn’t, freaking out wouldn’t help. Not that I didn’t have a sense of self preservation, but my main concern was getting rid of the attackers. Cursing my shoulder, I fired, my bolt going just to the left of one of the snipers in the window, distracting him for a just a second. Around me, I heard screams and the tang of blood filled the air. Hey, that’s what happens when you fire bullets into a group of people.
I ignored them; I had seen enough death for several lifetimes and wasn’t going to let this distract me. A volley of bullets that came rather too close forced me to back against the prison wagon, which was still here for some reason. That was annoying – I wanted Cat out of danger. Goddammit feelings, why did you have to do this to me. Rounding the front of the carriage, I saw why it hadn’t moved: one of the horses was dead and the other was on the ground, slowly bleeding out from a terrible wound it its stomach.
Once more, I looked away, forcing the images of death and mutilation from my head. Leaping up onto the carriage, I saw the driver, most of his head splattered over the seat. Oh well, he wouldn’t be helping. Reaching down, I took the keys from the corpse’s belt, jerking back as a sudden line of bullet holes drew itself along the wooden panelling, sending splinters and sawdust into the air.
When the bullets stopped, I lifted my crossbow and fired a returning shot. I didn’t see if it hit, but I hoped it did. Either way, I retreated into the main body of the carriage and saw Cat shaking the bars and yelling. In one smooth movement, I slid the key into the lock and turned it. Cat burst out, yelling something into my face which I ignored, deafened by the roar of bullets and screams.
Instead, I simply grabbed her wrist and pulled her out of the cell before reaching down and grabbing a machete from the floor, where someone had dropped it and forcing it into her hand. She gripped it, surprised at being suddenly armed. I shoved her out of the carriage and pulled her behind a burned out car. Oh, how I hated escort missions.
There was nowhere to go. Everywhere was just as likely for use to die as anywhere else. So we stayed there, breathing slowly and ignoring the stench of death around us. At one point, Cat broke down and started crying. Unable to stop my sudden feeling of pity, I put my arm around her. Those ten minutes were absolute hell. At any moment we could have been shot to death, but somehow we weren’t.
The battle was over as soon as it began. Our side had won, or as close to won as you can get when most of your fighting force is lying on the ground, bleeding out. A few people had survived and collected up the weapons, organising the survivors into a fighting force once more. The mayor was gone, his horses having dragged him right into the path of a machine gun. Bits of him now decorated the road.
Most people just wanted to go home. How amusing, that our first clash with the enemy would also be our last. That’s how the town of ‘New Beginnings’ lost half its fighting force in one day – simply because the other side had better weapons. We shot them. They shot us. We had the most left alive at the end of it. That’s war for you.