5 Chapter 5 Blood Bath
Denniken tossed the radio back to Jaira who caught it deftly. In the back, Cameron watched with interest out of the corner of eye, not taking his eyes of the road as Denniken snapped an attachment to the barrel of his M16A2, "What's that?" "XMS-22 Light Weight Shotgun," he replied snapping a clip in to the weapon, "Fires standard twelve gauge shotgun shells that come in clips of five."
Silence filled the vehicle and Cameron found himself wishing for a CD player, or even the radio to reduce the deafening silence. Denniken stretched out his shoulder, the flesh beneath the stitches had knitted well, but he had his doubts despite reassurances that the tightness in the joint would pass with time. He glanced out the window, noting that they had just cleared Morrison Bridge.
Natalie worked the bolt on the heavy .50 caliber Browning machine gun in its turret mount, satisfied that the few thousand rounds of disintegrating link ammo in the box would be sufficient if fired in controlled bursts. Within the humvee, Jaira was manhandling the radio, "Rescue Lead – Spartan Radio: Patch me through to the survivors on the radio."
There was a click of acknowledgment and a moment of static that stretched out for several seconds before a nearly hysterical voice of a woman filled the channel, "That door won't last another five minutes. Where are you? You said you would help, you said you would rescue us! You promised!" the sounds of her fearful sobs were gut wrenching in themselves, made only worse as something audible threw its weight against something else – no doubt their door.
"This is Spartan Rescue; we're less than a minute away. Just hold them off! We're coming!" Jaira shot Cameron a look that made him shoot a look at the speedometer: Seventy five kilometers an hour. Cameron found himself wishing that he could somehow coax more speed out of the vehicle, and his thoughts turned to his Cobalt SS, sold when he had lived in Europe, sold to get rid of any reminders of a past life and their accompanying ghosts.
The same female voice choked on its own words as the first vehicle in the convoy turned in to the Westmoreland Neighborhood. It wasn't hard to find the community's last stand: The undead were clogged almost ten rows deep around a single building, its front doors battered down. Over the radio came the screams of a child drowned out by the gunfire of the quartet of machine guns, sweeping left and right through the thronging undead like tree chippers on steroids.
The horde turned to face their aggressors as the Spartan's dismounted, adding rifle and shotguns to the carnage. The zombies struggled forward and paid for every step they took towards the Spartan fire line that showed no mercy to the dead, who would likewise show none.
It was no gunfight but a massacre that left the horde of zombies twice dead. The dismounted Spartans pushed through the fallen corpses, each member of the rescue team pausing every few moments to split any intact skull with a bullet regardless whether it was man, woman or child.
Jaira looked at the steps leading up the community center with some distaste as blood drooled down like a waterfall. Their pace slowed as they waded through the mix of blood and entrails decomposing. The emanating stench told the freshly ransacked building's story.
Handheld and gun mounted lights threw pools of light on to the red interior of the community center, the bare wooden floor a carpet of human remains. Blood and bone mixed beneath his feet as Cameron picked his way through maze of gore. Cameron found himself hoping that the corpses were the remains of just zombies even as he flipped over the closest corpse with the barrel of his rifle. He fought the urge to throw up as he studied the remains. The body was half dressed with the exposed skin having been ripped and torn to shreds. What flesh remained on the face was clear and unmarked apart from countless teeth mutilations. The cadaver was otherwise healthy and normal, it was one of the human survivors.
Looking over his shoulder he saw them all playing their flashlights over the scene of carnage, until somebody stepped away from the shadows shrouding the wall. There were suddenly a half dozen flashlights pointed at it that showed the person's head to be attached by nothing more than a few strands of muscle and sinew. The roar of a .357 Magnum shattered the silence, lending the air the smell of cordite and gunpowder that was unable to cover the copper stench of blood as the creature slumped to its knees and keeled over.
"Did we draw them all out?" asked Steven hopefully, his hand clenched tightly around the stock and grip of the Mossberg, "There can't be more of them in here can there?" his hair was almost down to his shoulders lank and clumped together by sweat, eyes sweep left and right like a rabbit that knew there was a hunter in its field.
"I don't know!" hissed Cameron as he took a breath to calm himself and instantly regretted it. He'd taken in a lungful of air tainted with the stench of death that caused his stomach to back flip around his kidneys. He stepped further in to the carnage, almost wading his way through to the shattered doorway that lead up to the second floor. He looked over his shoulder at the rest, back at the border of the carnage and he tapped the pocket of his vest, like it contained a protective lucky charm, "I need six volunteers."
Without a backward glance, he strode through the carnage, pausing every so often to ventilate an intact skull. Natalie, then Steven, followed by Jaira and Denniken and several others waded through the carnage, slowing their advance to follow Cameron's lead, as he waited at the base of the stairwell for the rest.
He studied the door, how it had been battered off its hinges, the trails of both footprints, the drag marks, all in human blood. The group formed up and together, let their weapons lead as they climbed the stairs. The second floor was a repeat of the carnage they had just waded through, the light they cast highlighting a gathering of zombies, feasting upon the recently deceased.
Somebody flicked a safety and attracted the attention as the dead rose to their feet, , swaying as if buffeted by wind with fresh blood dripping from their mouths. One of them moaned as it took a shaky step towards the gathered Spartans. Gunfire rang through the length of the room, the undead dispatched in a hail of bullets. There was nothing to say as Jaira plugged an intact face with a bullet.
Denniken followed suit when a scream erupted from somewhere, ahead of them in the darkness, where they could not see. Something fell with a bang, the running footsteps louder than the heartbeat of every man present. Jaira shoulder checked Steven, knocking his shotgun barrel high to blow a chunk from the ceiling, stone dust glittering down like fairy dust, "Don't shoot! It's just a kid!"
The child moved with speed born of fear as she zipped through the maze of Spartans and corpses, only to be scooped up by Denniken as she attempted an end run around him. Kicking and screaming, she howled and pushed trying desperately and finally succeeding as she slid from his grasp, collapsing among the dead crying, shaking, and terrified. Strangely, Steven was the first to kneel by her side, whispering words of comfort that softened her sobs even as tears trailed down her cheeks. Her arms were hin and frail but they had tightened around his neck with grim determination whispering the same words over and over, "Don't let the bad people touch… Don't let the bad people..." It was a mantra, the last words from someone who had loved and died protecting her.
Steven lifted her in to his arms, and it struck Cameron how skilled he was with children, having calmed her with a few whispered words, and Cameron found a grudging measure of respect for him, "She's alright?" he asked.
Steven nodded rocking her gently in his arms, the sweet innocent girl listening with devout attention to whatever it was that he sang, just for her. But the sudden pause and then tremor in his voice caught some unwanted attention even as he tried to turn away. His fingers tightened around the shotgun's grip, the barrel rising slightly.
Natalie caught on the quickest; moving towards Denniken's left far enough away to give them both enough space to act if necessary. Her free hand sliding cautiously towards the knife she wore on her hip. Steven shook his head, still singing softly, the occasional word now audible to the others.
Cameron shifted through the gore, poking and prodding, search for something as Steven's grip on the child and the shotgun tightened, the barrel rising another few inches, this time the threat very clear as he stopped singing, only to whisper something to her. She nodded her understanding and shifted in his grip, turning inwards to bury her face in his shoulder, "she's all right," taking two steps back as he said so, "She's fine."
Their radio's crackled as voices announced the arrival of undead reinforcements, "The girl," said Natalie, gauging the distance with her sniper's eye, "she infected."
"No! She's not infected!" protested Steven, "she's not been bitten," his lies exposed for what they were the streaks of blood were fresh and if it had been his blood, Steven throat would have been a several centimeter long laceration.
"The blood on your neck is not your own, Steven," said Natalie, "If she was not bitten then we need to clean her wounds and bandage them before they get infected," again the calm voice of reason and logic.
The barrel wavered as he shook his head and in that instant, Denniken acted, lunging, his hands wrapping around the shotgun to push it outwards and away. Steven struggled but gravity won out as he lost his footing on the uneven floor, toppling backwards in to the nest of death, but he'd cradled the little girl all the way through the fall. Torch light pooled on the downed pair and revealed the damning evidence that she was what they feared: Infected.
Broken skin and punctured flesh decorated one of her forearms and she did not have much time before she would turn in to a zombie with murder in mind. The number of weapons pointed at both of them all meant business as they were pulled apart, even as he struggled against them, "I know what you are thinking, what all of you are thinking! You can't do it. You cannot be seriously thinking about doing it! All of you are going to murder a child!" his voice cracked before he shouted, "Have you all gone completely insane?!"
Cameron slotted fresh shells in to his shotgun stalling for time to think. This was his rescue mission meaning the responsibility of command was his alone and despite the general dislike of Steven that existed, Cameron had to admit that he had a point: She was still human, six years old, and condemned to die. From the street came the crackle of gunfire, like a string of fire crackers, forcing him to make a decision, one that hee knew would haunt him, "Medkit!" he snapped, slinging his weapon over his shoulder, "Steven take three men and sweep the road twenty feet along our line of retreat. She," gesturing towards the child, "stays with me." Steven opened his mouth, "Another word and I'll personally feed you to the hungry monsters outside!"
Cameron knew what everyone else was thinking and not said: "Thank god it's not me." It's easiest when it's a stranger, easier when it's an adult and impossible when it's a child. Steven slouched as he stamped down the stairs trying to understand, for the umpteenth time, the how and the whys that had placed him in the middle of such… people. The word was bitter to him. Halfway down the stairs, he paused, realizing that Jaira was still up there with Cameron, the one leading this insanity as he quietly turned and proceeded back up.
"I don't know… three or four ampoules?" asked Cameron. Gunfire echoed as the muzzle flashes from rifle and machine gun threw brief streaks of light through the street. Steven edged ever close, "Five?"
Jaira stared at Cameron with something in her eyes, something, a mix of emotions that he could not place. She flicked several loose strands of hair behind her right ear, "Cameron… we shouldn't do this. She's still a child and well, she's, she's not one of them… I can't do this," she was a principled woman. If nothing else, he had to give her that.
He popped the caps off the five ampoules, "You don't need to see this, you don't need to know," he thought, taking a stedying breath, as he gestured towards the window with a nod, "Get me a sitrep," he ordered. It worked. Jaira made here way down the stairs, somehow, missing Steven in the narrow confines of the stairwell as Cameron turned, to do the necessary deed, "Hey kiddo. Come on, I'm not gonna hurt you," he said softly, his words at odd with the gun battle in the street below, She eyed him with a cautious born of experience, eyes wide as saucers, fearful and uncertain, "What's your name?"
"Jenny," her voice was soft and quiet, quivering as she twisted a few strands of hair between her fingers, clutching the remains of a blood smeared teddy bear in her left hand, blood from the bites having stained the soft fur of the doll, "What are you doing here when everyone else is outside…fighting?" she asked, sitting the doll upon her knee.
"Jenny, somebody has to stay here and look after you. You're…" he struggled to find the words, trying hard not to look in to the innocent eyes of a life destined to be cut short, that he would have to extinguish, "… special and I need to give you medicine… to help you sleep."
Steven was rooted to the spot by horror at what he was hearing, at what he could see, and was about to happen: Sanctioned murder in his mind. Cameron had committed the same crime on numerous occasions and Steven had seen him kill without hesitation and remorse so many times. He would stop it, prevent this murder no matter it cost him as Cameron spoke again, "It's just to help you sleep. Nothing bad is going to happen to you," he lied. One of the few things you learned how to do in the hospitality industry.
She nodded and he took his time, cleaning the site on her frail arm with an alcohol swab. Outside the gunfire was reduced to the crack of single shots, "This is going to sting," He gently but firmly pressed down with the five ampoules, and he exhaled as her eyelids dropped and then went limp, resting against him like an unstrung puppet. He lowered her gently to the floor as far from the corpses as possible as he scavenged a pillow and blanket from the wreckage.
He looked down at her sleeping face, her chest moving, a slow yet steady rise and fall as she slept in a dreamless slumber, from which she would never awake. Hardening his heart, he closed himself off, building a wall and barricades around his feelings and emotions, making sure that they could not intrude, so that he could do what must be done. Her angelic features almost had a smile on them. Perhaps she knew, what was coming when he had helped her sleep. And Cameron stopped those thoughts immediately, and tightened his grip till his knuckles turned white and closed his own eyes, unwilling to acknowledge, what he was about to do as he drew the Shotgun and racked the slide.
"No!" It was a shout that snapped him around as he spun, the shotgun turned with him as Steven threw his full weight at Cameron, slamming in to his with the force of a bull, knocking him across the room in to wall, where he impacted spine first with an audible crack as his collided with the wall. The still clutched shotgun went off with a roar, the loudest shot of the night. Stars and static swan before Cameron's eyes as Steven scooped and ran for the stairs. Stumbling like a hung over drunk, he shook his head, desperately trying to clear his mind and visions as his still dazed brain attempted to register just what the fuck had happened.
Fumbling he found his shotgun and racked another shell in to the breach, the spent cartridge spinning through the darkness. They were both gone and Cameron cursed himself a fool for not having somebody escort that son of a bitch. Miraculously, Cameron survived his descent, and caught sight of them, Jenny limp against the ruined door frame, Steven obviously trying to persuade anyone to his brand of logic,"…drugged and tried to kill her! She's sick and she need medical treatment for her bite wounds!" several metallic snicks echoed, louder than gunshots as more than one turned towards Steven and Jenny, "Do none of you have any humanity left in you?"
There was plenty of humanity in each of them but to bring her back to Sparta would place all of Sparta at risk, utilitarian ethical theory at its worst. Nobody moved as Natalie put her face within inches of Steven, "Armageddon, made me watch as my husband, killed both of my children. Then I had to kill my husband and within minute of that," her voice grew grim, "I executed both of my children." Anger seeped in, "This condition," acid dripped from her words, "disease, sickness, spreads through their bites, scratches and blood," she paused to draw her sidearm as everyone else looked away knowing what was coming, "Like all of them, her condition is neither treatable or curable or reversible." The safety clicked off. "When she stops breathing, it will open her eyes, see us and then rise up and try to kill the nearest human." A minute passed in silence and sure it enough it came to pass. It opened her eyes and with a hissing snarl, rose to its feet and wobbled forward. The head snapped back as the bullet entered through the left eye socket and exploded out the back of her skull. She dropped like a stone as Steven stared in horror.
Natalie's demonstration concluded, they made ready to leave. Cameron nursed his head, knowing that it would be a throbbing few days. Steven in the back of the humvee was unable to take his eyes off Jenny, who had lived through seven months of hell, as her ruined shell faded in to the distance and then vanished as they turned the corner.