3 Chapter 3 The Necessities of Survival
The day that Cameron, Steven and Jaira arrived at Pioneer Place Mall was the end of "modern" society, and those that survived it called it by many names but Armageddon seemed to be the most appropriate. Some of the more sardonic had referred to the end of humanity as the "Dawn of the Dead." It took perhaps a week before the major cities of the world – New York, Los Angeles, Beijing, Moscow, Paris, Tokyo and London to name but a few – fell to the ravaging zombie hordes. Across the planet those who survived the initial days did not last much longer as the lack of firearms doomed most of the world's population. Firearms and the right to own one was laid down in the Constitution of the United States and the near explosive growth of gun stores, smiths and works meant that there were ample numbers available if one cared to reach for one. After the end, a firearm became a necessity as they allowed for the extermination of the undead from a safe distance.
The outlying checkpoints and roadblocks that had been abandoned and the survivors had barricaded the ground floor storefronts and windows, under the guidance of the National Guard Engineers with supplies pillaged from the Home Depot and other hardware stores. The windows had been bricked up where possible and quick drying cement poured in. While it darkened the mall interior, there was still electrical power, and Pioneer Place Mall was rechristened "Sparta." Nobody was actually sure of who had started using the nickname "Sparta" but like all randomly appointed nicknames it stuck. Not to mention that "Sparta" sounded a lot better than the mall's original name – "Pioneer Place."
Leadership of the mall community fell upon the National Guard, lead by Lieutenant Brenan Sinclair, and with the men of the 307th Engineer Corps, and the remnants of three other units nominally under his control. The survivors were contracted in to the three city blocks that composed Sparta, and whatever vehicles they had were parked in a multi-story car park to the south-east. Each building formed the corner of a rough square, like an old styled Chinese house with a courtyard in the center.
Two hundred and fifty survivors and guards worked with a manic intensity and walls made of brick, concrete with scavenged steel and wooden bracing rose in an incredibly short span of time. The volume of fire power that the Spartans could bring to bear proved its worth twice during this time. The final walls were three feet thick and ten feet high. Beyond them the bullet ridden corpses of over hundreds of diseased men, women and children littered the streets in all directions butchered by a quartet of vehicle mounted .50 Caliber Browning Machine Guns.
Before the end of the week, gates had been built at the East and South roads, both of them with a recessed "checkpoint" that would allow any incoming vehicles occupants to be swept and the vehicles themselves cleared of any unwanted guests. The National Guard Engineers had designed a series of two gates, powered by salvaged vehicle engines to raise and lower the gates that were wide enough to allow the largest vehicle they had - a Western Star 6900 XD and attendant twin twenty foot trailers - in and out of the compound. The monster of a vehicle was parked on the ground floor of the parking garage, having been a tight fit in to the garage that had taken skillful driving of a police officer.
The radio and communications equipment that they had, proved only that there was nothing and nobody outside broadcasting or listening, but where there is life, there is hope and the radio room was always manned, with someone to scan the airwaves. Finally, Sparta was secure and for the first time in over a week, those not walking the walls were able to gain a comfortable night's rest, no longer as worried about going to bed human and waking up something else.
The survivors, guardsmen and civilians, started calling themselves "Spartans," out of respect for their new home, and to help foster a true sense of community and belonging to a place that would be the future of mankind – at least for the state of Oregon. Lieutenant Brenan Sinclair was smart enough not to try and maintain total control over everything single handed. Brenan had pulled together a core group of nine other men and women, to form a council that would see to the day to day needs of survival. To ensure that democracy, stability and peace remained at the forefront of the decisions made, it was almost an election when the survivors were brought together within the Food Court and the announcement was made. The council wanted the approval of the people they ruled as Brennan argued that he wanted, if somewhat idealistically to keep things democratic and constitutional if they were going to rebuilt not just one city but probably the rest of the country too, given enough time. The unofficial council was elected unanimously.
With the matter of democracy resolved, inside the Security Control Center of Pioneer Place plans were created regarding the future of the community, its growth and expansion were touched upon briefly but for the time being, the focus would be upon the necessities and perhaps even the luxuries necessary for human civilization to survive. An inventory check had revealed a comforting stockpile of many of the basic necessities for at least the next two months, "I agree that everything on the list has to take priority," Brennan scratched himself behind the right ear, a nervous habit he'd had for years for even as a military lieutenant, he had neither the experience or the training necessary to suddenly find himself in charge of so many people, and had created the council to help... but none of the council members actually possessed relevant experience as Brenan recapped the list, "Food, medical supplies, firearms, and ammunition are the most important things on the list. Secondary item include power generators and fuel, body armor, texts on agriculture, animal husbandry, and medicine - for now. Are we in agreement?" There was not a voice of dissent.
The word had gotten around that people would have to venture outside to recover any items that fell in to the various categories on a long detailed list, and the "who" and "how" of it were simple. With seven military humvees, four would be sent out to located sources of the necessary items and supplies and recover whatever they could carry. The remaining three humvees would remains as a mobile reaction force. It was military planning that dictated the need for capable leaders for the teams, Salvage One through Salvage Four, the membership of each team a mix of guard and civilian in an attempt to foster closer ties among their disparate ranks.
With the roads to the North and West sealed and armed sentries drawn from across the social strata of the survivors on duty to pick off whatever dead approached the walls. Those who lacked skill with a firearm rapidly developed the skill now a necessity for survival. When things got a little too close for comfort however, they had opted to make use of spears capable of piercing the skull to destroy the demonic brain. These were placed along their walls to dispatch the solitary zombie as opposed to the noise that firearms generated.
The four humvees were gathered by the East Gate, a Guard at the wheel and another manning the turreted fifty caliber machine gun. Cameron and Jaira had stayed close after their arrival at the mall and had stayed close to one another, growing closer but Cameron had drawn the line at any romantic involvement. Morale were high as the heavier inner gate opened followed seconds later by the lighter external chain link gate, the four humvees veering in different directions. Jaira had been less than thrilled when Cameron had told her he was signing up with one of the salvage teams. Jaira had put her name down with Cameron's just to keep an eye on him. The two national guards in charge of the mission were a familiar face and a stranger. The Corporal turned to address the trio in the rear seats of the humvee, "Names Natalie Coltrane. I will be your pilot and our in-flight security officer is Private Michael Denniken. Who would you three be?"
"My name is Jaira Coltquist," she paused, brushing her shoulder length auburn hair out of her eyes, gesturing to Cameron with her free hand, the other resting comfortable upon the grip of the suppressed MP5 submachine gun she had elected to take as her weapon of choice, "The lunatic to my left is Cameron," He smiled and cocked his head, almost coyly to one side as he raised his right eyebrow in greeting. She gestured to the other man in their salvage crew, "and I have no idea who he is."
The last man in their crew grunted, "Simon." He turned away and stared out the window with a pair of Desert Eagles in his lap. It was clear that he was not one to talk. Natalie filled the silence smoothly, even as she maneuvered through the wreckage clogging the road, "I expect that Simon here will not be overly social like Denniken." Denniken grunted an acknowledgment. She put her foot down and was rewarded when the speedometer crept up to seventy kilometers before using the humvee to grind several of the undead in to the pavement. Just south of Burnside Bridge, a sign practically leapt out at them: "Andy's Gun Works."
The vehicle screeched as they drove on to the pavement and rear ended a mini cooper out of its parking lot. The rear of the vehicle was a narrow two feet from the door as they slid from the vehicle, their weapons at the ready, straining eyesight and hearing for anything out of the ordinary. Turning, the Corporal took charge of the situation, "Denniken, keep that gun warmed up. Simon, you're with me. We kick in the door and then sweep the store. Simon and I will sweep left while you two," meaning Jaira and Cameron, "sweep right. Nobody plays the hero, and everybody goes home. We clear?"
Silence greeted her orders but it was a well understood that she was watching out for everyone's well being. The door to any gun store is always heavy reinforced and difficult to breakdown to discourage exactly what they were attempting to do. And they were surprised to find that the door was actually unlocked. Swinging the heavy outer door open, shone a narrow beam of sunlight in to the dark interior. Somebody snapped a collection of light sticks and threw them in. Standing behind the counter was definitely the pathetic figure of man who could have been anywhere from thirty to six due to the unnatural tightness and the hue of his skin. A long groan left his lips as the body staggered forward with stilted movements.
Simon appeared to be transfixed, his attention captured by a mixture of morbid curiosity and uneasy fear as the corpse shambled closer to him. In the dim orange light, the eyes were open, the pupils fixed and dilated. Open sores decorated its skin, particularly around its nose and mouth. Its hair was greasy and knotted. They found themselves staring for a moment, in particular at its rib cage, and then its chest, for a sign of respiration, of breathing, the classic sign of life. There was no movement. A single cough echoed and it stopped in mid step, a hole having appeared in the center of its head, seconds before another pair of holes ruined its face. Natalie lowered her smoking weapon and nodded to Simon. They swept left and the other pair swept right, clearing every isle and the counter only to find an empty store. Satisfied Natalie radioed Sparta and checked in, and also gave them the good news.
Rather than spending their time in the store sorting through the merchandise, they swept the shelves clean. Everything ranging from inexpensive .32 and .380 hand guns to semi-automatic Glocks were lifted from gun racks and placed in to the duffel bags they had brought along. Jaira began stacking boxes of ammunition in to a bag of her own as Cameron and Natalie hauled armfuls of rifles and shotguns in to the cargo bay of the humvee. Out front, Denniken remained silent but swept back and forth with the massive mounted gun searching for a target.
They had been in the store for nearly an hour taking even parts, spare magazines and holsters when the sudden harsh roar from the .50 caliber split the silence, "Contact!" shouted Denniken.
"Report!" barked Natalie as she made her way to the door, and stepped in to the street, her rifle already up and firing, sending a half dozen shots towards four different targets in the space of several seconds, dropping three of her four intended targets with precise headshots. The fourth staggered back a step but then resumed its slow forward march, as zombies poured in from both directions, and several alleys between buildings, "Shit!"
They clambered abroad the humvee while covering Simon as he threw the last bag in to the hold and slammed the hatch. Leaning out of the vehicle's window, Cameron took a moment to steady his nerves and started picking off the few undead that had made it through both Denniken and Natalie's fire. Jaira's MP-5 jammed on her and she cursed colorfully for a moment, almost throwing the weapon away. She looked round and reached for the closest guns: The Glocks in Cameron's double jack-ass shoulder rig. With a flick of her thumb, she had the safeties off and the corpses began to pile up around the vehicle as Simon drew his matching Desert Eagles, their heavy booms joining the orchestra of doom.
Both Simon's guns clicked empty and he fumbled to reload his hand cannons. Natalie suddenly shoved her M14A in to his hands with a barked instruction, "Shoot!" Their firepower was effectively thinning down the ranks of the zombies, most falling to the awesome destructive power of the belt fed war machine being employed by Denniken to make profound arguments for human survival. Simon had circled the vehicle to the passenger side and the deafening roar of the weapon was his undoing.
When life was "normal," just over two weeks ago, the woman that lunged from the shadows would have been found to be extremely attractive. But her emotionless gaze, curled back lips snarling in hunger, and with her taut drawn skin immediately dissipated any beauty or serenity that her face had ever known. Her exposed flesh had an unnatural sheen that almost hid the light green grey of her flesh. What appeared at first glance to be mascara running down her cheeks was actually congealed blood that tricked in to her mouth.
Her hands lashed out like claws that sank in to Simon's shoulders with the strength of heat maddened bulldog, half pulling and half pushing him to the ground. His scream was just audible above the roar of the massive gun that protected them as teeth bit down in to his shoulder, cutting through flesh like knives to gnaw at his collarbone. Jaira turned, and looked in to his eyes; wild and wide as the creature pulled up, tearing flesh as Simon screamed two words, "Shoot me!" She hesitated for a moment, as Simon repeated himself, partly ordering but mostly begging. Flesh tore and blood splattered on the asphalt as a wail of agony split the downed man's lips. Her finger tightened on the trigger, one burst for Simon, the second scalping his killer.
"Jaira!" The shout snapped her out of a daze and she flung herself in to the vehicle. The passenger door had yet to close when Natalie floored the accelerator and they streaked down the street. In the turret, Denniken brought the reloaded .50 Caliber to bear and delivering a parting barrage to the horde. They turned a corner and sped towards Burnside Bridge and the Willamette River, drawing the undead mob away from Sparta's general direction. They would draw them across the river before shaking them off and returning home. A minute from home the radio squawked, "Broken Arrow! This is Salvage Two to any receiving unit! Broken arrow! Request immediate reinforcements at Highland Park, QFC Grocery Store! Need immediate support!" The shout were laced with fear and half drowned out by the heavy roar of at least two roof mounted weapons and a half dozen other weapons on full automatic fire. They weren't fighting, they were spraying and praying.
Snatching the radio from its cradle Cameron fumbled with it for moment before acknowledging the request, "This is…" Natalie hissed the answer even as she put the vehicle through a tight hundred and eighty degree turn, "Salvage Three," he paused as they ran down another pair of straggling zombies standing in the center of the street, "Responding to Broken Arrow," Acceleration pushed Cameron back in his seat as Natalie somehow pulled both additional speed and power from the already taxed engine, "Three minutes!"
"Sparta to Salvage Two: Rescue dispatched! Hold the line we're on our way. Where we are needed we are there!" was the gruff voice of the radio man.
Jaira looked at him as if he was slightly crazy, and said as much. He shrugged his shoulders, "Whatever…" and took the pair of proffered Glocks that had been borrowed a little earlier. He snapped in fresh clips and topped off the half empty ones. Jaira cleared the jam in the breach of the MP-5 and slapped a fresh clip home and cocked the weapon before pulling a Remington 1100 shotgun and box of 12 gauge shells. A belt of fifty caliber rounds fell in to the vehicle as Denniken cursed, obviously having difficulty reloading the weapon as Natalie took corners at a suicidal ninety kilometers an hour. She slammed on the brakes and they were tossed around roughly as they came upon the scene of a massacre.
Two humvees were in the middle of an ocean of zombies, the barrels of both fifty calibers still smoking. The dead closest the vehicles were kneeling, almost prone around the bodies of the recently killed. The sound of tearing flesh rending the air as the air took on a sickening copper tinge. One of the guardsmen was draped across the hood of one humvee, his neck and throat having been ripped open, arms and legs covered in dozens of bites. They had dragged him through the windscreen and devoured him, corpse twitching as they continued to tear at him like dogs fighting over a bone. It would only be a matter of minutes before he rose to his feet as one of them. Keying the radio, Natalie brought it to her lips, "Sparta Command – Salvage Three. Abort Rescue. Repeat: Abort Rescue. No survivors."
Sparta acknowledged the radio call as Natalie looked up and over her shoulder at Denniken, who was trained upon the masses of undead now meandering in circles without purpose to direct them. She gestured to him, a clenched fist which she then spread apart and he nodded his understanding as he reached in to a pouch at his waist and extracted a pair of M2 fragmentation grenades. The pins were pulled and lobbed in the heart of the carnage, followed seconds later by another pair. They grenades detonating, destroying both vehicles as the circling dead were thrown off their feet, the carcasses of the vehicles reduced to shrapnel grenades.
Slamming her foot on the clutch, she threw the gear stick in to reverse and floored the accelerator, as they reversed away from the confused mob of undead, as she stamped on the brakes, throwing the vehicle in a hard 180 degree turn before a quick shift in gears had them streaking down the road towards Morrison Bridge.
The mood of those who had survived this first salvage mission was somber. The sun shone brightly in the mid morning sky but it warmed nothing, a chill having settled over the four survivors of an expedition gone hopelessly wrong. Eleven men and women had died, and they had died for a cache of firearms and ammunition – a truly unfair death. Natalie cued the radio, "Sparta Command - Salvage Three: Request status of Salvage Four,"
"Salvage Four, has not checked in the past hour," came the same gruff disembodied voice, "Come home Salvage Three… that's an order."
The desperate price of their success was higher than any of the four thought that they could bear when a bear like grunt reached them and Denniken collapsed in to the vehicle. He was smoking, shrapnel having ripped in to his flesh, hissing slightly as blood hit the still cooling metal, "He's hit! Shrapnel wound to the shoulder and upper arm!" Jaira's hands immediately clamped down on the worst of the bleeding wounds, applying direct pressure to minimize the bleeding.
Natalie floored the accelerator and Cameron snatched the radios, microphone from the vehicle's dashboard to relay the worrying news, "Sparta! Be advised we have wounded aboard! Prepare medical to receive one major with multiple shrapnel injuries."
As they made their way through the ruined city, a straight line towards the south gate of Sparta, Denniken was somehow preventing himself from screaming, as they had no choice but to leave the metal shards in his arm, none of them certain what they should attempt to do." The gates opened and Cameron drove in, before he turned and backed them up towards the waiting gurney and medical team.
The rear hatch of the humvee flew open as they rolled up. Denniken still conscious, and felt every touch, twist and jerk as he was lifted out and unceremoniously piled on to the gurney. Natalie maintained a firm grip on Denniken's left hand to comfort, and support him and also keep his free, functional hand away from the cooling metal embedded in his arm.
The Spartan medical bay is a misnomer, at best. They had medications and the tools of the trade but no actual doctors or physicians to call upon. Without hesitation, the wheeled him under the rigged up angled floor lamps, casting pools of pearly light on to him and his wounds. The blood flow had slowed to a trickle, but it still continued to soak in to his fatigues and then drip on to the floor.
Their resident medic hesitated for a moment, before reaching for the scissors and cutting through the seams of the vest and fatigues to reveal the extent of the carnage: Shrapnel had also carved a series of shallow cuts along his ribs and down towards his hip. With the full extent of his wounds visible, her hand began to shake, with nerves that got more than a little concern out of Natalie as she leaned in and asked the obvious question, "Do you have any idea what you're supposed to be doing?"
She looked up, and with a start, Natalie realized she was staring at a young twenty something with fiery red hair who possessed a Russian accent. Blood dripped down the tarp on the table to the floor, "Some," as she conducted a quick trauma workup of her first patient in what was essentially her one woman hospital, "I'm just a med student with an ER rotation and Trauma sub internship." She unscrewed the cap on a bottle one handed and gestured to Natalie and Cameron, "Hold him down. This will hurt."
The alcohol disinfected everything it touched but the caustic liquid also had Denniken shrieking like a banshee from the pain. His screech continued as if he no longer had to breathe. Cameron and Natalie struggled to hold him down as he trashed like a marionette in the hands of a mad puppeteer, "You don't have a fucking clue what you're doing! You should have knocked him out," Denniken managed to free an arm that lashed out like whip for a moment, before Cameron latched back on, "Or given him something for the pain!"
"We don't have much in the way of painkillers, and the morphine I do have, I'd rather save for when it's really needed!" she shot back.
The word morphine seemed to snap Denniken to his senses for a few moments, and it grabbed Natalie's attention as well, for all the wrong reasons, as he gasped through the pain, "No morphine! No morphine! Allergic!" he gasped through the pain.
Cameron looked at their doctor who wavered uncertainly, "Well do you have anything? And don't you dare suggest some cheap over the counter crap!" That statement brought everything to a standstill, and Cameron groaned inwardly, "There is nothing else is there?"
She shrugged. Denniken had settled in to the comfort of delirium mumbling about a priest a roll of the dice and a quick, fast acting healing spell. Natalie looked around the converted shop, and then remembered the layout of the building and the liquor store just across the corridor. She bent and whispered something to Denniken, who grimaced as a fresh wave of pain lashed through his already flayed nerves as Natalie bolted from the room.
She returned moments later with several bottles of liquor, to which Cameron could only stare, "What the hell?" the confusion spread to the others in the room as she placed the bottles on a side table and opened them, mixing a suicide cocktail of vodka, whiskey, and tequila. Denniken downed its contents and did the same with the refill and in minutes, he wore a large, almost happy grin before his head fell back and struck the table, unconscious from the alcohol merrily coursing through his bloodstream, a highly unorthodox but effective anesthetic.
Cameron looked over at her and jerked his head, a clear message that she should get on with whatever needed to be done. To her credit, Nastia did just that, incising the skin and muscle above and below the wound caused by the shrapnel to lay open the arm. Mercifully, he was unconscious as Natalie used cotton and a clean shirt to staunch the flowing river of blood as the metal chunk shaped like a boot was extracted. Satisfied that the largest problem had been resolved, their doctor carefully closed up the layers of muscles and skin before stitching it closed. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and their young doctor blew a bead of sweat off her nose, removed the blood stained gloves that she tossed in to a bucket filed with a concentrated bleach solution for the precise purpose of disinfecting used gloves and other formerly considered disposable medical supplies.
With the worst of it behind them, the rest was relatively standard as they removed the smaller fragments and stitched up the much smaller wounds. Denniken remained blissfully unaware, until they had done everything that they could do for him, as she answered the unasked question, "He's going to be just fine." The reply was soft spoken, quiet and accented. The Russian accent was one he had some familiarity from university.
Cameron nodded, "The important thing is that he'll make it," he turned away and pushed out through the doors of the converted store. He hesitated for only a split second before turning and looking over his shoulder, "I was a little… ok, a lot out of line…Thanks Doc."