2 Chapter 2 Murder and Chaos
The trio stared out the window of the apartment in to the street below and one could have been forgiven for assuming that it was just three friends enjoying a relaxing sunny afternoon, the view and several beers, "Looks clear," Jaira mumbled as she pulled her hair back in to a ponytail. Cameron grunted as he checked the Glocks for the umpteenth time. Considering the quantity of firepower he carried, people would either run from him or try to stay close for protection. Those that didn't care about the quartet of Glock 18Cs and the Remington 1100 semiautomatic shotgun were mostly like the people who had developed an appetite for human flesh. The vest he wore was loaded with fresh clips and shells for his arsenal. The hidden weapons were few in the form of his original Desert Eagle and the combat knives in a sheath at his waist with a second tucked in to his left sleeve.
Jaira had raised an eyebrow at the arsenal he wore, "I'm guessing you are one of the new breed of non American gun nuts," she paused, "How can you stay so calm and controlled about all of this?" The question was at best, at worst a loaded double barreled one. He knew exactly what it was to kill the zombies that were essentially cannibals that would stop at anything to taste human flesh. He was calm and controlled on the surface but that failed to reflect the turmoil and fear that he kept hidden beneath the thin veneer. Suffering an emotional or psychological meltdown would not do anyone, especially himself any good. So he did what he normally did.
He ignored the question, "We've got to move now, while we still have this window of opportunity. There's no telling when those things come back and we might not be so lucky next time. The longer we stay here, the more likely they are to find us again. "
She wiped her eyes to clear tears that had yet to fall, shaking her head as Cameron breathed a quiet sigh of relief. She took a single deep breath and pulled herself together, "I'm fine."
Cameron chuckled to himself, as he considered the fact that she was fine, "F.I.N.E – Freaked out, Insecure, Nervous, and Emotional," he cracked the briefest hint of a smile and proceed to sling his backpack on to his shoulders, cinching down the shoulder straps before turning his attention to his two companions. Jaira was ready as she was going to be. Steven on the other hand was standing, shaking and nervous. He shrugged, and put his eye to the peephole, struggling to see down the corridor that had remained blissfully clear since their earlier encounter a half hour before.
Satisfied, he stepped out in to the corridor with the shotgun a comfortable five pounds that felt remarkably good in his hands. The tension was palatable and had merged with the salt smell of sweat and fear that was overpowering in the confines of the elevator. The elevator car was slippery due to the dark pools of semi dried blood coating almost every conceivable surface as they rode down to the car parked in front of the building.
In light of recent events, Jaira and Cameron, however unwilling had given Steven a Walther PPK. While James Bond had made the weapon recognizable and popular, in reality it was a holdout last resort back up weapon due to its marginal stopping power. Cameron carried enough firepower to level a city block – at least he liked to think so. From the elevator, they passed through the blood splattered lobby and Cameron found himself holding his breath. Jaira had turned a near angelic snow white as she looked over the carnage before turning to Cameron. His brief nod confirmed the unasked question. Steven had actually turned seaweed green, and unsuccessfully fought off the need to vacate his stomach on to the floor of the lobby, adding a pungent odor to the already nauseating concoction.
Jaira was adapting well – at least Cameron thought so, but then everyone around him seemed to think him impervious to the carnival of carnage and death taking place around them. Some were simply unable to cope as everything that they knew was erased – namely Steven. The street was clear as she leapt over the hood of the vehicle and slid in to the front passenger seat. Cameron himself was in the driver seat when Steven froze, his voice failing him as a sudden deep groan echoed through the street. The sound could not have been made by anything truly dead, or anything truly alive.
Cameron cursed under his breath as he stepped out of the vehicle and took aim with the shotgun. There's was no real need to aim, so much as point in the right direction as the dozen of the hungry creatures shambled forward attempting to catch a petrified Steven. The skin on the closest zombie was pale and taut as if they had been stretched tight across her skull. Dark almost black blood had flown quite freely from a wound to the temple for some time drenching the white blouse and gray business suit. He gave the trigger a smooth pull.
In the dense urban surroundings, the blast of the shotgun echoed from building to building, seemingly audible for miles. Buckshot caught the creature in the chest, knocking the thing off its feet. It flailed wildly with its arms for several seconds before attempting to rise, clearly having difficulty controlling and coordinating its movements. The second cloud of metal pellets ripped through the flesh of the neck decapitating the creature.
The gunfire was an alarm clock to the numerous resurrected inhabitants, stumbling from side streets and alleys as the horde swelled in size, moaning and groaning their way towards the closest sound of life and explosive gunfire. The twin smells of cordite and burned powder filled the air, easily overpowering those of blood and death. Another cloud of buckshot scythed in to the faces of another zombie to blast its head apart. Steven stood frozen in shock as another pair of the creatures fell to the ground. Jaira lashed out with her sword, hacking arms off one of the creatures before plunging her blade in to its eye socket and scrambling the brains within. Turning she opened a rear passenger door and bundled Steven in to the vehicle. The shotgun clicked empty and he tossed it inside, "Get the car started! I'll cover you!" he shouted.
His Glocks rose and the horde wavered for an instant as if they were pausing to asses him. He glared daggers as they advanced, shoulder to shoulder," Come on you mindless motherfuckers!"His bullets chewed through flesh and bone with equal ease as the zombies were knocked back or killed. The clattering of his weapons on semi automatic was drowned by the roar of his Chevrolet Trailblazer's engine. It spun a hard circle that presented the passenger door to him. Holstering one gun he jerked the door open, clambering aboard, firing wildly behind him without looking, at the steadily closing mass of dead humanity, "Go! Go! Go!"
They hemmed in around the SUV and began pounding upon the exposed windows and hood of the vehicle as Jaira floored the accelerator. For a frightening moment, they remained still until the engine finally ramped up enough power and lurched forward, cutting a swath of death through the massed ranks of zombies, knocking dozens away as many more were ground beneath the wheels of the vehicle. Winding down his window, Cameron leaned out, "Get off my car!" and fired twice, blasting the creature off the hood. It fell and slid beneath the moving tires. The vehicle high sided for a moment, as necrotic flesh turned to jelly and bones snapped underneath the vehicle's weight as they broke free and sped away.
In the rear view mirror, Jaira saw a maimed, legless zombie, arms flailing as it hissed, seemingly out of frustration and annoyance as its fellows advanced past it, tripping and stumbling over him, but otherwise ignoring him. It reached out with twisted broken fingers to drag itself along the ground, a slow inch at a time. Although their slow stagger was obviously no match for the speed of their vehicle, the zombies demonstrating their relentless nature as the rotting gathering continued its futile pursuit.
Silence dominated the interior of the car, which proved to be a deafening silence as Cameron finally flicked on the radio. Music filled the car but did little as Portland burned around them. Black oily smoke writhed and twisted its way skyward in what could be described as orgasmic ecstasy. The aftermath of dozens of horrific accidents littered the streets where vehicles had slammed in to people, walls and through buildings. But certain scenes would leap out, and imprint themselves upon their memories like a digital camera without the delete function. As much as they wanted to look away, they actually stopped alongside an over turned bus, and stared through its cracked windows. It was a morbid and sickening curiosity as the bus load of thirty to forty children trapped within were all zombies.
Jaira pushed open her door and stepped out in to the street, "What the hell are you doing?!" asked a quivering Steven. Silence answered his question accompanied by the sounds of tearing cloth and the sparking of a lighter. Seconds later, she came running back, the bottom few inches of her simple white blouse torn away revealing smooth skin and the barest hint of a four pack of abdominal muscle. Cameron managed to tear his gaze away before he caused trouble and silently reprimanded himself as he hastily stared out the passenger window. Jaira smiled to herself. They were barely a hundred meters from the wreck the bus and its occupants came apart in a fireball.
"You just killed a bus load of children!" whispered Steven, shocked and terrified by what she had done. Cameron sat in quiet contemplation of her actions, and figured that he could understand what she had done. It was a kindest death those "children" could get, as while they looked human they were nothing more than mindless killing machines. Steven's hand reached up and grasped Cameron's shoulder, shaking it almost hysterically, "She's a murderer! She just butchered a group of children!"
Cameron shook the hand from his shoulder, "I killed quite a few people back at my apartment, especially one of them which tried to eat you. I am equally guilty of murder." Steven had proven to be their glass jaw, and Achilles heel in one package that would eventually snap, and probably get them both killed, "You better wake up! Because the world has changed and its kill, or be killed and wind up like one of those things. If you got a problem with that, we can pull over and drop you off."
Steven was obviously unstable, "You killed people. She killed children," he insisted, "There is a difference! We should be trying to help these people and the children aboard that bus did not have to die! But all you do is kill and nothing else!" Cameron shook his head, but said nothing else. What else could he say? The dull hum of the engine was the only sound as they cruised through the broken ruined city, finally coming up to the bridge that would lead them to safety, or at the very least relatively safety from the undead. Their departure had gotten off to a relatively rocky start but was now, a more relaxed drive. They had been forced to slow down on several occasions, trying to swerve around small knots of zombies that were clustered together.
While every station played something different, the crux of the matter was that all civilian stations were dying away, slowly but surely, one at a time. Until the only thing left, was a looping message that did little to encourage hope, "This is the emergency broadcast system for the state of Oregon. A state of emergency is now in effect and martial law has been declared by both the State and Federal authorities. All active and reserve National Guard units are to report to their nearest duty station for immediate weapon reassignment and tactical deployment. Due to the varying levels of threat, civilian personnel are recommended to barricade themselves within their homes and to avoid venturing outside. Military search and rescue teams have been dispatched to evacuate all civilians.
For those who are currently in transit, or are able to do so, please make your way to the closest evacuation points. For the downtown region of Portland City, the evacuation point is Pioneer Place, Pioneer Place Mall. For the suburban districts…" and on and on the voice droned, providing a list of almost a dozen different shelters and evacuation points for the people of the state of Oregon.
Jaira finally refused to maneuver the Trailblazer around another knot of zombies as she floored the accelerator. The SUV shot towards the cluster as the speedometer jumped from forty to sixty five in the course of several gut wrenching seconds, she shouted, even though there was no way they could have heard her scream over the roar of the engine, "G-T-A mother fuckers!" In all likelihood, they turned and reacted to the sound of the engine as they swarmed towards the vehicle before being catapulted airborne, several spinning head over heels before coming to rest.
Cameron joined her in a moment of enthusiasm, "Ten points!" It was the first time anyone had laughed that day and the sound was a good, healthy one as they speed towards safety and for the first time, hope in spite of Stevens stone silence. Their last obstacle now just ahead: Morrison Bridge and its military checkpoint. Sandbags and barbed wire wrapped saw horses blocked everything but two center lanes of the road, where the ad hoc barricades circled to create a small area where guardsmen could surround the vehicle on three sides. The checkpoint was not the most impressive and looked as if it might marginally impede the death threat of a runaway Honda Civic. The presence of a trio of jungle camouflage military hummers, each mounting a .50 caliber machine guns were proof enough that the checkpoint and what it stood for meant serious business.
Jaira eased off and the vehicle slowed to a crawl, traversing the bridge, past dozens of undead that had been partially erased by massed rifle and machine gun fire. She navigated the car in to the checkpoint even as the vehicle mounted guns tracking her every movement with their heavy steel snub nosed barrels pointing straight at them. Instead of the bullhorn like shout of instructions, someone actually came up to the driver's side of the vehicle, and spoke to them, "Please step out. We need to check and make sure nobody has been bitten."
"What do you mean bitten?" asked Cameron, his hands already a little jumpy. During their short road trip, he had snapped fresh clips and shells in to his assorted firearms. Cameron recognized the Guardsman but said nothing of it, and he did likewise. The guardsman sported the chevrons of Lieutenant was obviously the checkpoint commander, shrugged his shoulders, "Truthfully, whatever it is, that turns people in to these undead things is transmitted by their bite. If they've have bitten you, then you are already infected, and given enough time you'll turn in to one of those things out there," he gestured to the butchered corpses, "And we've already had two incidents since we secured the roads leading to the mall," he remained relaxed, his side arm in his holster, the Heckler and Koch MP5 remained lowered, "Please step out. Just let us check you over and we'll get you all squared away inside the mall. The alternative..." he said no more, only gestured with his head down the bridge, back the way they came. The choice was a simple one; especially with the National Guard have the firepower to convincingly finalize any debate or discussion that got even slightly out of hand.
They stepped out of the vehicle, killing the engine as they did so, and more than one eyebrow was raised as Cameron stepped out and the Lieutenant raised an eye, "Cameron, why am I not surprised to see you carrying an arsenal?" Cameron cracked his neck and smiled at his acquaintance from the shooting range, and nodded.
A Guardswoman frisked him, carefully, making sure not to miss an inch of skin, whether exposed or covered, checking for the warm wetness of blood or a bandage as Cameron replied, "Stupid question Brennan." Cameron winced at the thoroughness of the search, "Sweetheart, if you want to get that personal with me, at least let me buy you dinner first."
The guardswoman search him blushed as chuckles broke out all round, easing the tension of what had already been a long and dangerous day. Satisfied with their checks, they were waved onwards, "We've used vehicles to block off as many of the roads as possible that lead towards the mall. So if you see them, don't worry, we've got people at every barricade guarding against the zombies, killing them as they come."
Cameron climbed out of the vehicle and slung his heavy backpack in to place. Its weight felt like the responsibility he had upon his shoulders for the two others that he had brought this far with him. Cameron faced his friend slash acquaintance and sized him up. Brenan's somewhat slight five foot five inch frame was not muscled out like a "Rambo" figure but his short cropped black hair was out of his brown eyes as he sized up the armed Cameron who towered over him by about six and a half inches, "So what exactly is going on here Brenan?"
"That's a very good question. We've been holed up here since about noon, and apart from three roads we're deliberately keeping open, we've barricaded every other road – engineers have laid down dragons teeth. You and your friends are the first to come in from anywhere in almost three hours," Brenan paused, paused, wondering how far to trust Cameron, but he wasn't a lieutenant for nothing: Survival came before national security and came clean, "There are about two hundred and fifty people in the mall. We've got plenty of space, food and supplies. Problem is, there are only a hundred and fifteen, hundred and twenty of us National Guardsmen and we're mostly just weekend warriors. Anybody who knows how to shoot is welcome to sign up for a reserve commission."
Cameron raised an eyebrow, "So you're the big stick running this show." It wasn't a question, but a comment on the current situation.
Brenan took a breath to steady himself, "I am," following Cameron's stare down the bridge at the oncoming trio of undead, that were only mindless shambling forward until suddenly, one of them broke in to a hobbling run towards them. He gestured to the now running trio of undead, "Shoot them in the head and they stay down permanently."
The range was a little too far for the MP-5, any handgun and using several dozen rounds to kill three of the undead would be wasteful, but the voice was calm, echoing down from above, "I've got them." Cameron looked up and spotted her resting a top an eighteen wheel big rig, the massive sniper rifle balance comfortably on its bipod. Cameron looked up at her, and saw a flash of recognition… the guard who had frisked him even as Brenan filled in the blanks, at something new, "Corporal Coltrane up there is good shot with that rifle," His point was reinforced as the suppressed semi automatic sniper rifle hissed three shots in the space of five seconds, dropping the trio to the ground with the contents of their skulls evacuated.
"Corporal, keep me posted on events here. I'm reachable on general broadcast or specifically Tac-Three," he gestured to another pair of guardsman, "Lock this place down. Nothing gets in or out after 18:00 hours. And make sure those spotlights stay on." Turning to Cameron, he slapped him on the shoulder, "Come on. Let's get something to eat. I've always wanted to try that fancy Chinese place."
"What? The Chrysanthemum Garden?" asked Cameron, his mind drawing up an image of a beautifully constructed restaurant with even more beautiful waitresses in their red Cheongsams, not to mention the supposedly outstanding cuisine that they had never had the opportunity to try.
"No... The fancy Chinese place in the Food Court – I've got a couple of the men working in the kitchens with some of the survivors to crank out food for everyone. It's going to be military grade chow… but I don't think any of us beggars can be choosers at this point," said Brenan, as he slapped Cameron on the shoulder, "I told you we should have gone to the Chrysanthemum Garden last week!"
They began the walk, only a kilometer or so, as Brendan brought the radio to his lips, "Control to Gateways, sitrep."
"Gateway One: Perimeter secure. No hostiles."
"Gateway Two: Marginal contact several minutes back. Perimeter is now secure, no hostiles. No further contact to report."
"Control to Gateways: Lockdown at 18:00," he ordered. Acknowledgements trickled in and Brenan gave a sigh of relief.
The burden of command, and the responsibility of almost a hundred and fifteen national guardsmen and nearly the same number of civilians rested squarely upon the shoulders of one man for the moment. At least, his responsibility for the rest of the night was far simpler. Cameron slapped him on the back, "So Lieutenant Brennan Sinclair, what are your plans for tomorrow?"
"Ci Vis Pacem Para Bellum," he replied.
"Ci Vis What?" asked Cameron.
"Ci Vis Pacem, Para Bellum," he repeated, "If you want peace prepare for war.