Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Barrel Of Malt, A Bushel Of Hops


For this battle, Travis recommended they use their guns. Will had no experience with guns, so he wasn't provided with one. Instead he and Ben, who preferred not to use guns, crouched near the broken doors to the warehouse with their hand to hand weapons, ordered to hobble anything that came through. All four had worked to block the doors so only a single biter could come through at a time, using furniture from the home section and shelves they could move without making enough noise to disturb the sleeping biters.

Once they were set up properly with a bottleneck for incoming zombies and Travis and Amanda up higher on top of some of the shelving they'd carefully cleared, Ben tossed what he called his noise grenade into the darkness. The noise grenade was a battery powered toy fox that danced and sang loudly to “What Does The Fox Say”, all over the low whine of its own mechanical skeleton; Ben started it up and threw it overhand far into the dark back room.

Within seconds of the vulpine noise grenade hitting the ground while shrieking out what Amanda considered the most annoying song in the world, they heard the biters begin to snarl and call, broken words and phrases overlapping each other. As soon as the stuffed motorized fox fell silent amid the snarls and scrabbling, Will started hitting the floor of the store with his hoe and shouting the beer song.

A long time ago, way back in history,
when all there was to drink was nothin' but cups of tea.
When along came a man by the name of Charlie Mops,
and he invented a wonderful drink and he made it out of hops.
He might have been an admiral a sultan or a king,
and to his praises we shall always sing.
And look what he has done for us he's filled us up with cheer!
Our Lord bless Charlie Mops, the man who invented beer beer beer
tiddly BEER BEER BEER!”




By the time he shouted out the last few words the first two biters were scrambling over the makeshift barrier. One of them was swearing. Ben turned his battery powered spotlight on and shone it directly in their faces and they pulled up short just long enough for Amanda and Travis to take them out with two sharp gunshots each.

Will's whole body reacted with a tremor of shock; he had not been prepared for the noise, though Amanda had warned him, or the mess, as remnants of the biters' heads fell, dripped, and slid down through the stacked furniture. Ben gave him a hard, encouraging look, and Will managed to start the song over, keeping time with the iron clang of his hoe on the floor.

The next two came further over the barrier, slipping in the remnants of their brethren, before Amanda and Travis took them down. For a moment, nothing more moved, and Ben signaled to Will to be silent so they could listen. Ben glanced up at Amanda and made a questioning hand signal at her. She shook her head and signaled back to let him know there were definitely more in there – at least one more.

Whoever was left was not calling out. The silence became eerie, and they all felt the hair raise on the backs of their necks.

The makeshift barrier began to move, seeming to crumble from the other side. Ben swore.

Hold fire,” he shouted, and stood up, sweeping with the spotlight, to see what was going on.

Two biters were crouched behind the barrier, tugging and pulling out what they could from the bottom of the barrier. Their bodies were blocked by the barrier itself. Behind them, Ben could make out at least three more, one standing, two crouching, far back near where the mechanical fox had landed. The standing biter was making a chewing motion but was otherwise motionless, its hands resting on the heads of the biters near it. He swore again, under his breath, and backed away.

He shook himself off and ran forward to the barrier, crouching down opposite the biters. “Be ready!” he shouted to Amanda and Travis. “Will, help me!”

Will fast-crawled forward and began tearing the barrier down with Ben. One of the biters on the other side snarled and began to bolt up over the barrier, the other soon copying it. Behind them, the standing biter snarled low, and one of the barrier-breakers fell back down; the other hesitated but continued forward, up and over, only to be shot squarely in the chest by Amanda.

Travis had his gun ready, but Amanda was the better shot.

They're moving,” Travis called. “Hold fire so Ben can look.” Ben stood again, shining his spotlight into the darkness.

They're retreating!” he shouted, and one of the biters snarled back and fell silent again.

Shit,” Amanda whispered.

This is not good,” Travis said. They climbed down carefully to help Will and Ben dismantle the barrier, and the four of them entered the dark back room, guided by Ben's spotlight. Travis and Amanda holstered their guns and held their bludgeoning weapons in hand, a baseball bat for Travis and a cricket bat for Amanda, signed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost at a con so long ago in the pre-Red Flu past.

The rioters were gone. A rolling door was open just enough to allow them escape, and they'd taken it. By the time the four got the door open farther, there was no sign of them. Ben closed and latched the door against them and the four returned to the front of the store.

There was a boss,” he said. “There was a boss zombie.”

We're fucked,” Amanda said. “If there are biters who can keep other biters in line and keep them from killing each other, this is a whole lot worse than we thought.”

Language, Mandypants,” Ben said reflexively, and she punched his arm as reflexively.

We need to get back to the encampment,” Travis said. “Get what you can and we're leaving now. Twenty minutes and we're out, no more; don't give them time to come back.”

You two go get your stuff from Home Depot,” Amanda said. “And Will, grab what you need here. I'll stand watch from the roof of the minivan.”

They all took off at a run to do as ordered. Will grabbed a cart, and felt a little like someone in a gameshow allowed to grab whatever he could while running through a store. He grabbed canned goods and an abandoned walker left in the pharmacy section, just askew in one of the aisles, with a purse in the basket. He grabbed random boxes from the camping section, sleeping bags, cat food and litter, and several foam mattress pads, all at a dead run, then shoved his overloaded cart as fast as he could out the front doors toward the minivan, which was running and had the side door open.

By time he had everything thrown inside, slammed the side door, and slid into the passenger seat, Joe's truck in front of the Home Depot was already peeling out. Amanda took off almost before Will even had his feet inside; he slammed the passenger door and buckled himself in as they slipped out of the parking lot, hot on the tailgate of the old brown Toyota.

They drove north, got onto the Crosstown Highway, and fled from the setting sun behind them.



They parked outside the front doors of the Fort. Ben and Travis threw a tarp over the vehicles, staking the tarp down into the cold ground, and Eve let them all inside. The four followed Eve back to her house, where lanterns cast light out into the gloaming settling over the parade ground and fires crackled merrily in the fireplaces. Kat and Val were sitting in the parlor, and Kat was reading one of her Warriors books to Val while Val brushed the cats.

She looked up at Will hopefully, pausing in her reading when she saw her older brother come in. The adults went into the kitchen to sit around Eve's table; Will stayed behind just long enough to give his brother and sister each a candy bar and a juicebox from his pockets, dug out of the stash in the van.

Did you find raviolis?” Kat asked. “In the red can?”

I might have,” he said mysteriously. “You'll have to find out tomorrow when we bring everything in.” Val clapped his hands excitedly. He hated raviolis from the red can – there was meat inside – but he liked his sister to have them. Cassie stretched and purred, rolling over to bare her white fuzzy belly to be brushed. She mewed imperiously at Val when he did not return to his work fast enough.

Will sat at the kitchen table as Ben was finishing up the story. Eve had given up any pretense of stirring dinner, listening intently. They were all quiet for a long moment.

I think you need to tell Gary this. And I think Gary needs to tell Robbie Rocket,” she said finally. “When you come back, we'll have dinner ready.”

I'll do it,” Ben said. Travis stood with him.

I'll get a fire going for us. And Amanda.”

I think I'll just stay with you guys tonight,” Amanda said, and Travis nodded with relief.

Good.”

The young men headed down to the commissary to talk to Gary over the radio and set a fire for the evening. Amanda got up and moved into the parlor to hang out with Kat and Val and the cats.

This is bad, isnt' it?” Will asked his mother after the others had left the kitchen.

That they can take orders from some kind of alpha zombie rioter?” Eve asked. “If that is what was happening, and I'm not doubting you guys, it will be a real problem. We need a lot more information. Maybe it will mean we can communicate with them, though.”

But maybe it means... they'll survive the winter, and they'll start hunting in packs.”

Maybe.”

Monday, August 25, 2014

All The Other Kids With The Pumped Up Kicks


Will was allowed to drive again, and he felt pretty confident about it this time. They loaded up some extra gas cans, moved the barrel barricade, pulled out of the fort and parked the truck, ran back in and re-barricaded, then went back out through the front gate. This way Kat and Eve weren't stuck re-barricading themselves while Eve was still operating with a broken arm.

Travis sat next to him, calmly giving him directions up to the highway while Amanda and Ben rode in the truck bed, the truck topper having been left behind for the time being. Once they reached the highway, though, Travis took over driving, and Will joined the other two in the back.

They pulled up to the first blockage, a minivan and a couple of sedans that had struck each other at low speed. Travis stopped the truck but kept the motor running, and Amanda stood up on the roof of the truck with her bow and arrows ready. She had learned gunshots would bring the biters out, so while she carried a gun in a holster on her right hip, she preferred her compound bow.

Ben motioned to Will and they went to work putting the blocking vehicles into neutral and pushing them off the road. After the last sedan rolled unevenly off to the side and there was enough space for Joe's truck to pass through, Ben and Will hopped back into the back of the truck, Amanda sat down with them, and Travis slowly pulled forward.

We just need to clear a wide enough path for a couple vehicles to get back and forth with supplies. When we get up to the hardware store, we'll look for another truck with the keys in it and a tolerable amount of mess. We may have to jump it or refuel it, but we're prepared,” Ben told Will.

Can I drive one of the trucks home?”

Next time. This time we're going to be running late.”

Will shivered, worried about losing the daylight that the biters avoided.

They don't mind the cold,” he said. “On the way to the Fort, we found one sleeping on the ground, no blanket, just outside in the November air.”

I wasn't sure if they slept,” Ben said. “But single biters sleeping out in the open are not going to be able to keep warm over the winter. First strong freeze...”

I hope so,” Will said fervently. “But then again, the way they heal, come spring thaw...”

This time it was Ben who shivered.

Time to shut up and move cars,” Amanda said, pointing ahead to the next blockage, a truck on its side.

Come on, Muscles,” Ben said as Travis pulled to a stop. This time Travis hopped out to help, leaving the truck door open and the engine running. Amanda climbed up to stand on the roof again, vigilantly.

They rocked the truck up on its tires, it was still bouncing a bit when Amanda hissed “Ben, confirm, directly south. Single.”

Ben hopped up on the hood as Travis motioned to Will to be silent. The two of them pushed the truck quickly onto the shoulder.

Behind them Ben kneeled on the hood, below Amanda's firing level, and searched where she was pointing with binoculars.

Definite biter,” he said. “Take it down.”

She shot before he even finished the sentence. Will strained to see where she was aiming and saw the figure stagger as a second arrow struck it, then fall as a third hit it, three feathered spikes centered in the creature's chest.

“That may not kill it,” Travis said quietly to Will as Ben and Amanda searched for any more nearby. They'd found over the last couple of weeks that the changed creatures were solitary; they'd never found a biter with another biter it wasn't trying to kill and eat. “If it bleeds enough fast enough, or if she got more than one in the heart, maybe. It will stop it long enough for us to be away before it heals enough to rise, though.”

The trip to Home Depot continued on slowly; stopping, moving obstructions, Amanda ever watchful and swift with her bow if she saw something and Ben confirmed it was a Red Flu rioter. A pedestrian overpass that had been damaged and fallen across the highway caused the biggest slowdown while they cleared away enough to fit the truck through. They used an off ramp and came back to the Crosstown Highway via the on ramp to avoid an overpass, Ben being of the feeling bridges could be a dangerous place to get trapped so they should avoid being on them if they could.

The small group, sweaty and tired, arrived at Home Depot at last well after noon. “We won't have much time, so if you want to go to Target and get some things, then Amanda can go with you,” Ben told Will.

First see if there's any vehicle here with keys inside that will be driveable,” Travis said. “Drive that up by the doors, and grab what you can in an hour and a half, no more. It's nearly two, and the sun will set before five this evening.”

“We'll buzz if we need you,” Amanda said, tapping the walkie talkie hanging from her belt. These were set to be silent, but had a vibrate function.

Same to you but more of it,” Ben said.

Same to your face, dumbass.”

Same to your mom!”

Travis sighed. “I'm sorry,” he told Will. “They never grew up.”


Travis and Ben swept the hardware store to be sure no surprises that could kill them waited there, then set to loading the truck up with supplies. Amanda and Will searched the few cars sitting in the parking lot and found a bright red minivan with the keys laying on the ground just outside the driver side door, mixed in with some scattered shreds of bloody clothing.

Poor bastard,” Will whispered, and Amanda patted his shoulder. The van started right up, so they drove it up to the front doors of the Target sharing a parking lot with Home Depot.

We go in together,” Amanda said. “Keep your weapon in your hand.” She indicated the iron-topped hoe, the one Will had grabbed to replace the one he'd broken killing the zombie in the visitor's center.

The aisles were clear of animals or humans. Housewares was remarkably clear of damage, though the food aisles were trashed. The freezers had been off for more than a week now, so there was definitely a smell, though the cold temperatures had kept it from being too overpowering. Most of the food was gone from the fridges and freezers in the grocery area, anyway.

The doors to the storage area were broken and hanging, and Will pulled up short. He held up his hand like he was in high school still trying to get his teacher's attention. Amanda stealthily came to stand beside him and he pointed.

There was a smell they couldn't place coming from the darkness there – heavy, musky, a little sickly sweet. She motioned for him to be still and crept forward until her eyes could adjust to the darkness.

She signaled to Will again to be still, and moved silently forward into the darkness, staying where he could see her. Before she could move out of his line of sight, she motioned him forward, stopping him as he reached the darkness just inside the broken doors.

From here, once his eyes adjusted, he could still see her as she moved farther into the darkness. She made no noise as she climbed up onto a counter, peering farther back.

Huddled near the rear of the room, behind some pallets of boxes, she could just discern a crouched huddle of sleeping Red Flu rioters. There were five that she could make out, potentially more inside the huddle. They were curled into a sort of sitting fetal position, their bodies all angled inwards and their backs out. Amanda was reminded of the segments of an orange for some reason. Their backs moved in almost a flutter as they breathed.

Breathing slowly and carefully, she climbed down and motioned to Will to follow her out of there and to the front of the store.

I think we have trouble,” she said as soon as they stepped outside. “There's at least five biters in there, sleeping in the back room.”

I thought they eat each other,” Will said, disturbed.

That's the trouble,” she said. “Killing each other off gives us more of a chance they'll die out fast. Assuming no one else ever gets Red Flu.”

Should we go tell Ben and Travis?”

Yeah, because we're not going to be able to kill them off alone, there's too many. And they need to see this.”

We're going to kill them? Today?”

Sooner the better. We need the supplies, and they'll attack as soon as they wake up.”

Will nodded. Though the food aisles were trashed, the cans were intact. They needed the food before the roads became impassible and before more people came to the Fort.

Ok. I'm ready.”

Follow orders,” she said sternly, and he nodded again. “Ok, let's go get the dudes. And get set up for a much bigger battle than we're used to.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Go Team Aubrey



The trio set up in the officer's quarters closest to the commander's quarters for the moment.

I want to set up down in the quartermaster's office,” Travis said. “It's close to the workshops and it's a good place to set up to keep supplies.”

Of course you do,” Ben said. “You are the quartermaster.”

Uh... thank you. But I'll still need to get a good accounting of our supplies, which we'll need to really start bringing in, and figure out rationing, and I can do that best down there, I think.”

There are bathrooms not far from there,” Amanda said. “We can all set up down there. No big.”

Yeah, but there's no bedrooms, so no privacy, just the office and a lot of storage,” Travis said. “And the storage rooms don't have heat right now.”

Until you get your propane death bomb heaters,” Ben said, and Amanda slugged him absentmindedly, just out of habit. He patted her arm back.

I'll figure it out,” Travis said, his brows lowered and jaw squared.

Well, duh,” Amanda said. “You're the brains of this outfit.”

He gave her a quickly suppressed look of surprise. It wasn't a way he thought of himself, sitting here in the officer's quarters with his two college-educated friends.

So I will take Dredd Scott's quarters, right across from you guys. Right? One room with a fireplace for warmth, close enough to the bathrooms beneath the officer's quarters, and you two can set up in the quartermaster's office.”

You could take the guardhouse, and be the constable,” Ben said helpfully. Amanda gave him a curdling look.

You could take the laundress's quarters and wash my socks,” she said.

I'm a ranger,” he said, doing his best to look thoughtful, slightly unwashed, and heroic; at least the unwashed part was easy right now.

Whatever, Drizzt.”

Aragorn!”

You know what, hot food at Eve's. Hot. Food. That we can eat. I am not arguing with you over which lame fictional bowman you are, Katniss.”

Aragorn is real,” Ben whispered grumpily. They finished laying out their inflatable foam mats and their sleeping bags, and headed over to Hot. Food. with the Aubreys.





They spent some time setting up the radio down at the quartermaster's office, with the solar panel powering it up on the roof. All three bedded down in the officer's quarters for the evening, but parked their bikes and their trailers inside the long storage room next to the quartermaster's office. The next morning they replenished the wood for the Aubreys and moved a barrel of water down to the commissary, where the office was. Other barrels of water were moved to the wood barracks bathroom, which the Aubreys used, and to the bathroom below the officer's quarters.

Eve Aubrey made them breakfast of left over frybread from the night before and powdered eggs from the supplies left behind by Joe Raymond. She had hot coffee and sugar there too, though Katrin and Val chose some Tang, also left behind by Joe Raymond, instead.

Any plans in place already for supplies and fortification?” Travis asked over breakfast, right to the point.

We found some razor wire,” Eve said. “We are planning to set that out in rows around the Fort. I don't think they feel pain, so it won't prevent them from coming through, but it should help tangle them up pretty good.”

I went down to the marina and brought up all our stuff we'd left behind when we first got here,” Will said. “But I haven't gone through the boats for supplies.”

Waste of time for the resources we'd get,” Travis said. “I wouldn't worry about that.”

Mr Joe had a truck, it's by the gun shed,” Katrin said.

Mr Joe die,” Val explained. “I have cheeses.”

Eve patted Val's leg. “There's some gas for the truck in the gun shed,” she said.

There's a Target and a Home Depot not far from here,” Ben said.

And a lot of road between here and there in an unknown state of clear,” Amanda said.

The bikes are good for uncleared road,” Ben said.

And dog bites, and getting caught in storms, and -” Amanda began.

We will take the truck, and watch the sky,” Travis said.

In case they attack by spaceship?” Ben asked, his eyebrows up, and Travis gave him a speaking look.

For the storm. If Will comes with us -” Travis looked to Eve for permission, and she nodded. “There's four of us. We take the truck, we drive carefully, and that leaves three of us to try and clear the roads enough we have a clear and fast path back and forth from here to Home Depot.”

We have enough supplies for right now,” Amanda said, and looked to Travis for agreement. “So the focus needs to be on getting what we need to make the Fort safe.”

I agree,” Travis said. “And I have an idea of how we can quickly raise the total height of the walls where they're low enough to be scaled easily by biters or other people, so we can keep out anything detrimental to the survivors here.”

How are you doing, Eve?” Ben asked, his face kind and concerned.

Better. Tired, but better. Pain's manageable and mostly only when I bump the broken arm. I can work here with Katrin on arranging the supplies you brought and making sure there's room for whatever more we will need to bring in. But we'll need water soon.”

We got that from Coldwater Spring. We have a hand pump,” Will said.

You're a hand pump,” Katrin whispered, and Val high fived her.

Good one!” he chuckled.

Eve gave them a warning glare and the two subsided just enough that she turned her gaze back to the trio and Will.

We're going to end up needing gas, too,” Amanda said, and slugged Ben before he could even comment on her and gas.

I have a siphon kit,” Travis said. “We can take care of that after we get the Fort... ah, fortified.”

Amanda has gas,” Ben said under his breath, determined to get it out.

Good one,” Val whispered to him, and they both fell silent as Eve gave them a stern look.

There's a pharmacy at Target,” Ben said, trying to sound businesslike and adult again. “Is there anything you need from there ASAP?”

I need my walker,” Val said. “I hate it wheelchair.”

If there's time and you see a walker, he needs one,” she said. “We had to leave his behind when we came to the Fort.”

I like it my wheelchair,” Val amended. “But I need my walker back.”

We – Joe Raymond and I – grabbed a lot of medical things and medicine at the VA pharmacy,” Will said somberly. “We put most of it in the hospital building.”

Good,” Travis said, satisfied with that arrangement. “Gary's sending a midwife over as soon as we make sure the Fort is secure, and she and her patients can hole up there. So first, building up the walls and making it harder for biters to reach the walls.”

Kat and I will do some more arranging in the walls,” Eve said. “I don't think I'm much use in a fight yet, or fast enough to get back inside the walls if she sees something from the Round Tower, or I'd start putting out the razor wire.”

We can do that tomorrow while Mandy and Travis fix the walls,” Ben said. “And then Gary will send the midwife, and come over himself if he's got his cat. We just need to get as much done as possible before a big snow. Gary's got a snowmobile, but that's just one, and they're loud – if for some reason the biters aren't frozen when it gets colder, it'll draw them.”

What do you think, Val, when's the storm coming?” Kat asked her brother quietly, and Eve held up her hand to silence the others so she could hear his answer.

Snow a little night time,” he said. “Snow a little tomorrow. Then big storm coming. Lots of wind. Loud.”

Ok,” Eve said. “We should have today and tomorrow to get as much done and as many supplies in as we can before the snow really comes.”

How... how accurate is he?” Travis asked.

His weather powers are creepy level,” Kat said.

He's pretty reliable,” Eve agreed. “He's right more than TV weatherpeople were.”

How weird,” Ben said half under his breath, and Eve stared at him, hard. “There's no more TV weathermen,” he explained.

Awesome,” Amanda said to Val, who was quiet for a second, then gave her a flirty look beneath his long lashes. “A real superhero – Weatherman.”

I call tornado on you,” he said, his twitching lip belying his severe tone.

I will have to be very well behaved, I see,” she said, and he giggled.

Travis's mouth twitched too. Though Amanda could be blunt and even harsh with adults, she was gentle and humorous with children. The change in her demeanor between adult conversation and her open, respectful conversations with children could be disconcerting for those who did not know her as well as Ben and Travis did. He glanced over and saw Ben staring thoughtfully at him and realized Ben had been watching him watch Amanda. Travis dropped his gaze.

All right, team,” Ben said, cheerfully, giving no hint of anything he might have seen in Travis. “Let's get this party rocking.”

Go Team Aubrey!” Kat said and put her small fist up. Her family put their fists up against hers.

Go Team Aubrey!” they said in unison. After a second, the newcomers did the same, putting their fists into the circle too.

It's the sign for 'A' in sign language,” Kat said importantly, holding her fist up to show Amanda. She studiously avoided looking at Ben.

Nice!” Ben said, and Kat blushed, just a little.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Frybread, Cheese On Top


Occasional snowflakes drifted down from a blue sky as the trio headed back out on Ford Parkway toward the bridge and the Fort beyond.

I guess this is that blizzard Gary's going on about,” Ben said.

Terrifying,” Amanda said.

Down past the Petco near the bridge, Ben brought their small convoy to a complete halt, raising his hand excitedly, then pointing up the side road by the Petco.

A small dog of indeterminate heritage sat in the middle of the road, head cocked, staring at them.

Hi, puppy!” Ben whispered, his voice high and elated. “Hello, little friend!” He parked his bike and stepped off it, crouching and reaching a hand palm-up toward the dog. The dog began to bark and jump around in place.

Answering growls rose all around them.

Ahhh... we need to go,” Travis said.

Angry dogs!” Amanda said, and shoved forward on her bike, trying to move at a walk to not set them off any further.

Another dog came forward around the side of the building, body low to the ground, face pulled back in a snarl. The original smaller dog cocked its head again, then ran behind the snarling dog and mirrored its stance.

A much larger dog stepped out of the broken Petco doors, hackles raised, upper lip pulled back in a meaty, drooling, sneer.

Angry horse,” Travis whispered.

Ben backed slowly back onto his bike and slowly moved the kickstand up. “I think, when I say go, we... we take the hell off.”

Ready.” Amanda was already several feet in front of them.

Travis counted at least fifteen dogs inching forward from hiding places and inside the store.

Go!” Ben shouted, and off the humans went. Within seconds the dogs were bolting after them, some snarling, some perhaps just having a good time chasing bicyclers with their friends.

Keep Amanda in front, she's too heavy and she'll fall behind!” Travis said, referring to her trailer full of canned goods.

Fuck... you!” she managed, pedaling harder.

One of the bigger dogs came close enough to snap at Ben's trailer. Travis slowed down enough to end up alongside Ben and allow his trailer to nudge the dog. The dog sat down, tilting its head, as they continued away from it.

The other dogs caught up quickly, swarming past the sitting dog, and it joined the pack at the back. Within moments they were snapping at Ben's and Travis's legs, bikes, and trailers.

They're not trying to bite us,” Ben said.

Oh, I think they are!” Travis yelled, shaking a little one off his shoe.

No. Pedal faster.”

Fuck... you,” Amanda said, but they each bent lower and put everything into a burst of speed that took them onto the bridge. As they passed over the river, the dogs slowed and stopped, some sitting on the bridge, some standing vigilantly, some turning back completely.

They kept going until they were well out of sight of the dogs, then pulled to a stop at the Pergola Gardens; the gardens were on a smaller road that would connect with a bike trail that led all the way past Coldwater Spring and to the Fort itself.

Amanda's too heavy,” Ben said, catching his breath and sipping water from his Camelbak.

Fuck you,” she muttered around the Camelbak straw in her own mouth.

Ew. You're like a sister to me.”

Travis finished cleaning up the scrape from the small dog's teeth, when it had nipped at his foot. “Yep, it bit me.”

They weren't trying to attack us,” Ben said.

Oh, shut up, he probably has rabies now,” Amanda said.

Unlikely,” Travis said matter-of factly. “You look for rabies when a mammal behaves strangely and in unexpected ways. You can expect dogs to chase bicyclists.”

I think they were protecting their territory. And their food source,” Ben said. “They stopped chasing when we left their territory.”

They're holed up in the Petco,” Amanda said. “Makes sense, but we'll have to warn Gary, especially if he's bringing Benjamin through in a cage.”

We'll have to watch Travis for signs of werewolfery,” Ben said solemnly.

Or we could just kill him now,” Amanda said with equal solemnity. “Before he turns.”

A crazed beast in the night, driven by hunger and LUST.” Ben made a face of fear and horror.

That's you,” Amanda said.

It's time to go,” Travis said, pulling his sock back in place. “Let's get to safety first, you two can misbehave after that.”

No fun,” Ben muttered.




Will was watching for them from the Round Tower. He pointed them to the red doors at the front of the Fort, and ran to let them in, since the vehicle gate was again blocked by barrels.

He started to introduce himself when he opened the door, interrupted himself mid-word, and waited instead until everyone was safely inside and the door locked.

Will Aubrey,” he said, holding his hand out to shake each of theirs in turn.

Ben Graham,” Ben said. “And this is Amanda Johnson and Travis Green.”

Are you guys hungry? My mom's cooking. Wild rice soup with Spam in it. And she made fry bread.”

I am always hungry,” Ben said fervently.



Eve was sitting up in the dining room, now converted into her kitchen. Over the last couple of days as she'd recovered, she'd had Kat and Will bring in various pieces of furniture she thought would help her manage the house better, and had traded out some of the more delicate furniture from the commander's house.

In the now-a-kitchen, she had the yellow hutch from the basement pantry, a long narrow table next to it to use as a work surface, a wood bin in front of one of the built in hutches, and a battered looking table to eat at with benches and space for Val's wheelchair at the end. A sturdy chair sat near the fireplace, and it was here that Eve awaited them, still looking tired and a little sickly, but upright, cooking and directing traffic.

Will waved to his mother, then directed them into the parlor where Val and Katrin were playing; Katrin was playing paperdolls and Val was playing run over paperdolls with Hot Wheels. Here was set up a bookshelf for all the books Will had brought over from the gift shop and the few books, mostly Dresden Files and Katrin's Warriors books about clans of cats, that they'd brought from home; a wing chair for Eve and a rocking chair for Val, and a couple comfortable padded benches. There was a bin for toys near the door, pillows on the window ledges for the cats, and a few small tables for playing cards or doing crafts. Camp lanterns stood on the mantel, as yet unlit since cool winter sunlight was streaming in aplenty.

My sister Kat and my brother Val,” Will said, gesturing. Eve came to the door of the parlor, dressed in modern clothes but with an old fashioned calico apron covering her from throat to shins.

Hello,” she said, shaking their hands warmly. “You must be Gary's friends.” Travis felt a a moment of absurdity; all this introducing and welcoming very much like a normal afternoon Before, as if the world outside weren't mostly gone or turned to biters and death.

Hi,” Ben said, with his characteristic open friendliness. “You must be Mother Eve.”

Our glorious leader,” Travis said blandly.

She raised an eyebrow at Travis as Amanda stepped forward. “Hi. Amanda Johnson, student teacher, friend of Gary's, I don't know these two idiots.”

Eve Aubrey. Mother of the Brood – Will, Val, and Katrin. And those two cats being lazy by the fire over there are Cassiopeia and Leah.”

Aww kitties!” Ben cried, and ran over to meet the pets.

Where should we put our stuff?” Travis asked Eve.

Anywhere you like,” she said. “The whole place is currently empty, except for the commander's house. If you want an opinion, the basement here is nice – it's got several rooms and a big kitchen, but no bedrooms. It would be easy to designate bedrooms, though, and put something to sleep on in there. Or the officer's quarters, off on left there.” She gestured. “They already have beds.”

Beds hard,” Val said. “Need a shushins.”

Cushions,” Katrin corrected.

Five shushins.”

STOP KILLING MY DOLLS,” she said.

Go ahead and figure out where you want to set up,” Eve said. “And we'll eat when you're done. And call Gary and let him know you're safe,” she added, her tone befittingly maternal for the one Gary referred to as the Mother.

On it,” Ben said, taking a short break from rubbing Cassie's soft, pure white belly. He pulled the walkie talkie off his belt and pinged Gary.

I need to sit back down,” Eve said with a soft, apologetic smile, and Will hurried to help her back to her chair in the kitchen.

Mom's better, but she is still a little sick from being bitten by the zombies,” Katrin said in explanation. “It's not catchy.”

Should we do anything?” Amanda asked.

Nah,” Kat said. “Will gives her ibuprofen and stuff.”

All right, Gary's up to speed,” Ben said. “Let's find a landing pad and get back for dinner!”

Frybread cheese on top!” Val said happily, and ran over one of Katrin's paperdolls with his Hot Wheels.