7 Chapter 7 Unmasking the Truth
Cameron rose from behind the shattered hulk of a humvee and unleashed a roar that would have had the capacity to stun a child unconscious. Jaira would later question herself as to what private hell had he summoned up that scream of the damned? To his left and still behind the dubious safety of the bullet ridden humvee, Jaira and Natalie popped up firing controlled bursts to keep the heads of their opponents on their left flank pinned down. Cameron moved in to the street, the shotgun in his hands barking cloud after cloud of death in to the twisted metal remains of the vehicle, their cowering enemy unwilling to risk blind firing over the top. The shotgun clicked empty and he dropped it to the gray asphalt as his hands rose with a pair of matched Berretta semi-automatics that clattered like fireworks, bullet casings arching from both guns deflecting sunlight like a river of falling gold.
His guns seemed to guide themselves towards the first man to emerge from cover. Twin trails of destruction smashed in to the chest of the heavyset leather jacketed biker. The second to rise was a little more fortunate as the bullets popped through the center of his face and he fell back without a sound.
Blocked from Cameron's sight, the promised Spartan reinforcements finally arrived and made short work of the small group that Jaira and Natalie had kept pinned in place. Meanwhile, Cameron was busy as he'd circled around the cover of his enemies and the firefight had turned in to a full melee. His pistols clicked empty and he froze for a fraction of a second. The first to face him caught both thrown Glocks with his face, followed up by a wild roundhouse that snapped in to the man's temple as the remaining few turned their guns towards Cameron.
Four guns opened up and Cameron dropped to one knee, drawing his remaining Beretta. Above him, the human shield jerked and danced grotesquely as bullets and buckshot tore him to pieces. Almost comical, Cameron took aim from between the "shield's" legs and fired back, downing another. He tossed the bullet ridden shield towards his frantically reloading foes and followed the flying cadaver in for the kill. It took down one of his two remaining opponents, and he fired at the last man standing. The shot was close range and impossible to miss.
His final opponent struggled to free himself, or at the very least his arms from beneath the corpse pinning him to the pavement when his eyes widened in fear. Cameron dove down like a vulture, pushing all air from the man's lungs seconds before Cameron's forearm crashed like a truck across the nose, his right held the Glock by the barrel, burning his hand but he didn't care, burying the butt of the pistol repeatedly in to the man's skull.
The sheer intensity of the fight, its carnage should have taken place over several hours, but it had taken place in several short minutes, and the adrenalin flood left him trembling as he collapsed, slumping against the ruined vehicle they had been using for cover. Strangely, it was all suddenly quiet to him, there was no ringing in his ears, and he ran his bloodied left hand through his hair and noted that the blood was thicker than before. Minutes, but it was over, he struggled but weakened fingers refused to cooperate, the blood on his hand helping the weapon slide a maddening inch farther out of reach. He smiled and noticed several things all at once: Breathing hurt his throat, a stabbing pain in his ribs coupled with a bloody jagged furrow in the side of his head that was still bleeding, and at least one cracked if not broken finger in his left hand.
He looked like he had taken a bath, fully clothed in a vat of blood, and his smile was a mixture of tired, adrenalin overload and pain as he stared up at Brenan, "What…" he blinked, searching his mind for words that his tongue could not articulate, "….took so long?"
At that moment, Cameron eyes slammed shut and he drifted out of consciousness. He moved feebly as they had loaded him in to the back of a vehicle, mumbling something, over and over, maybe a name, or a place but whatever it was, nobody heard caught it with any clarity.
It was Brennan who turned at the screech of metal on stone, turning with his weapon raised. He cursed, "Today cannot get any worse!" His thumb flicked the selector switch from "safe" to "semi" and started shooting, "Contact!" A solitary zombie fell but its "friends" were not deterred. Around Brennan, engines came to life as another two Spartan formed a short defensive line and began a controlled execution of the oncoming mob. A humvee turned, its gunner bringing to bear the destructive power of its big gun when Brenan waved them off, "Save the ammo! Get the wounded and evac!" He cut down several more with precise headshots in to the slow moving murderous crowd before running for the nearest vehicle.
The sun rose and set several times before Cameron was placed back in what he had converted in to his home within the confines of Pioneer Place Mall, and when Cameron woke up, three or four days later it was because of a headache that called for an aspirin at least the size of a hockey puck. It took him a moment to figure out exactly what was hurting before he flipped on the lights in the converted hardware store. He had been treated as well as they could with their limited medical supplies and knowledge which meant disinfectant, stitches and wound dressings, but then again, he had never needed more than that. He cursed creatively as he sat up, planting both feet on the floor and he knew that standing up would hurt like hell. His toes curled and uncurled against the floor as he took a deep breath, which pulled at the dozen or so stitches that ran across his ribs from a near hit or miss depending on one's perspective.
He stood, leaning against the wall to let the dizziness pass through his bandaged head. His hand brushed against the stitches that ran down from his temple – that was going to scar. He winced as he smiled and winced for having winced, his facial muscles stiff from a lack of use, the bloodstained bandages chaffed and were rubbing his skin raw. The wounds, whether stitches or scabbed over had given his skin a sandpaper like feel that he hated but knew would pass. The apartment had little furniture in it, composed of a bed, a small table and chair parked against the bricked up and boarded windows that once gave a view on to the street outside. On top of the table dining table parked against one wall was a laptop computer and a stack of games., partitioned from the rest of the bench by a set of low shelves. The rest of the table was covered in tools, and parts of a homemade weapon that had been prepared and left to dry. The stone floor reflected the fluorescent light that shone down, thrown around by the pile of weapons and holsters at the far end of the table. A guitar hung from a haphazardly installed hook on the back of the door and he stared at it for a moment, realizing that it had been a week since he'd last touched the instrument.
Taking it down, he cradled for a moment before resting it against the end of his bed. He had a few things to take care off before he could turn his attention to distractions. He turned his attention to the laptop and brought it to life, letting it beep and whir as it booted up. He took his time, calling up the playlist entitled "background noise" to deny the silence its overwhelming hold on his surroundings as he set to work, cleaning and reloading his weapons, a long process made particularly arduous as with two of the fingers on his left hand splinted together.
It was almost two hours later when his weapons were prepared as he hefted the guitar, and cradled it, his left hand a little awkward as he struggled to strum several cords, to get a feel for playing with broken fingers. Satisfied, he scrolled through the playlist until he found the song he wanted and started to play, following the guitar perfect, chord for chord. But he knew that his playing, while technically sound, lacked life.
The music and guitar were loud, loud enough to be heard by those wandering around outside, but his door was closed and he knew it sent the message he wanted to send: Yes I am home, alive and awake, but I do not want company or visitors or well wishers. The rest of the Spartans had not gotten to know him due to the glacial nature of personality that few could tolerate. There were only four people who knew anything about Cameron. The first was Cameron and he did not about to talk about himself. The second person had only seen Cameron's harsher and "darker" side and Steven was not exactly willing to talk about the numerous dressing downs that he had received. The third was his deadliest competition in the bi-monthly shooting tournament and an excellent poker player – Brennan- who knew nothing more than what anyone else knew about Cameron. The fourth person was Jaira Coltquist and she was hunting for answers to the enigma, starting with the enigma himself.
There was no door bell and she did not knock, simply walking in on the war path. He was sitting on the bed, leaning against the wall, guitar cradled comfortably in his hands as he strummed along to the music in the background, "Its technically proficient but lacks life, " she said by way of greeting before wrinkling her nose at the smell. A cigarette hung from between his lips, burning down with cigarette ash sprinkled across his black t-shirt as smoke danced playfully towards the ceiling, "We have got to talk."
He strummed a few chords in response, and raised an eyebrow as he took a long drag from the cigarette as he laid the guitar on the narrow bed next to him. Reaching on to his bedside table, he extracted another cigarette from the pack and put that in his mouth. Only then did he exhale the smoke from the first cigarette, as he ground it out in an ashtray while he lit the new cigarette with the other hand, a single continuous motion before he gestured towards the chair with the lighter "Pull up a chair," he hesitated and took the headlong plunge, "Do I have to guess what you want to talk about?"
"What happened two days ago is the least of it! Jesus Cameron! What is wrong with you?" she blew like a compressed tank of propane next to an open flame, "Every damn time something goes wrong, whether it's a flat tire, hungry dead or lunatics with guns, you break your rules, play the hero, and put your head in the path…" she continued her verbal tirade hoping that common sense, reason or at least an insult would get through to the glacial wall in front of her,"...rules, and it's the eighth wonder of the world that our medics have been able to put you back together!"
She didn't have to say anything about the fact that their doctors and surgeons were limited to a few paramedics, a pediatrician, dermatologist and a Russian medical student who'd just completed medical school and had yet to start her residency. An awkward silence filled the air, and Cameron didn't move, letting the unnerving silence say everything that he wanted to but could not be bothered enough to say, letting his mind wander. She reminded him of someone that he had once known and cared about, a long time ago, in another life, during his university days.
That "someone" he tried not to think about, even though she made his way in to his thoughts at least twice a day. He kept his mouth shut as she continued to lay down her opinions with accompanied reasons and justifications. His mind drifted, going straight to the fact that she would be alive if he'd moved faster or sooner. Three seconds, had been the difference between life and death as his mind continued to tick over what had happened so many years ago, "People said that I blamed myself for things that I could not have had any control over: Psychiatrists, doctors and other mother fuckers in their white coats and glasses, with their fucking clipboards and pens. Fuck them all. It's my fault. If my last words to her had been "I love you" instead of "We'll discuss this when we get home," then maybe it would have been easier to accept and just get on with my life…" lost in his own thoughts, he was unaware, perhaps blissfully so as the first tear slid down his cheek.
That sight stopped her cold, and left her confused. She knew his skin was thicker that every insult she'd employed so far – she'd used them all before. She leaned forward in disbelief: She had made Cameron "Iceberg" Hunter cry. But it was in his eyes, a look, and a stare that she had seen a few times amongst people before civilization ended. The stare that one normally found amongst those that had served, fought and survived where their brothers in arms had died: The Ten-Thousand-Yard-Stare. Physically, she was in the room, but he didn't see or hear anything she had said for the past couple of minutes, reliving some nightmare as he whispered something. Perhaps a name, but she only caught the last syllable of it, and even then wasn't sure what she'd heard. One syllable, of a name and his tears together spoke more about his past than words ever could, "If there is a heaven, I will meet you there," and with that one statement it all became perfectly clear to her, what Cameron was trying to do.
"You don't want to live, but you don't want to commit suicide in order to be with her… you go out there, you do what you do, risking your life whenever it's called for because if you die, just doing the right then, you'll get to see her again. You can't suicide because if you do, whether or not there is an afterlife, you just burn in hell." A statement, accusation and an explanation with all the pieces in their place, except for one: What should she do next?
He blinked and remembered where he was and who was in the room with him, suddenly exhaling to blow a curtain of toxic smoke directly at her. She blinked and coughed and in that moment, his tears vanished. His face wore a smile that was part sadness and part forlorn hope, and perhaps a touch of relief or calm acceptance that his secret was no longer a secret, "You heard. I know you did. So what are you going to do now?"
"You can tell me everything or you can tell me nothing. Either way, I'll … stay until you want me to leave." Very timidly, she pulled him into her arms and embraced him tightly, her mind condemning her for helping the coldest bastard she knew, even as her heart commended her for being human, "You keep yourself under such tight control and your emotions on an even shorter leash. Practically no one has ever seen you laugh or crack a smile," she pulled back and regarded him for a moment before playfully slapping the back of his head, "You don't show real emotion not even to me, and I know you better than anyone else!"
He shrugged his shoulders in response and twisted free of her grip before standing. She could see his mind whirling like a computer but finding no traction as he shrugged and fell silent, sitting back down, timid and hesitant before gently taking her hand in his. She said nothing but perhaps an entire conversation had just been had. Despite the cold armor he wore, she realized that he did emit some warmth - After all, he was only human.
Neither of them kept track of time but when he stood, gently tugging on her arm, she took the hint and followed suit. She was confused then puzzled as he left her standing, and reached for the weapons and their holsters, "I think you should go…. I've got a couple of things to take care of." The humanity he had shown her faded away as they stood at the door which he attempted to close. Her foot managed to wedge itself in the door as he blinked and stole a glance at the blockade, "What?"
"I get through your armor, revealing you have the emotion range of a human instead of the teaspoon you normally project and it terrifies the hell out of you doesn't it?" he shrugged his shoulders, "And that defense mechanism is not enough to get me to leave." The mixture of anger and frustration creased her normally soft features, "Nobody has ever seen what I just saw of you. What would it take to get to know you as a person? For you to quit hiding behind your past and whatever horror story it holds?"
He smirked, the ghost of a smile on his face, "You don't want to get to know me better because my ghosts and demons would scare you and everyone else away. I'm not exactly short term boyfriend material or long term husband material either. I'm damaged goods. Find yourself somebody who'll actually be able and willing to give a damn." His speech concluded, he pushed firmly on the door, and she withdrew her foot allowing it to slam in her face. She stood and stared at the door for a moment, contemplating what to do, and realized there was nothing she could do. On the other side of the door, Cameron rested his forearm against the door, a further barricade to keep her on the other side of the door and away from him. He thought about it for a moment, about her and realized that he wanted to let someone in but wasn't sure if there was still enough human in him to accomplish that.
Jaira sighed left clueless as to what exactly she should do to deal with him. Whatever he did, he did well, never shirking responsibility. She sighed, and leaned back against the cool glass door, and walked away, giving up for the moment. She had a few things to do, where she could make a difference.
In the distance, beyond the five or six hundred meter perimeter that the Spartan's had established, there was movement. They were slow, unsteady, and uneven steps of a human shapes plodding down the street. The only lighting from the moon that hung high overhead, casting half shadows across everything its light touched. The figure moved forward as a moan escaped from its mouth filled with broken teeth. Another figure shuffled up, next to the first and took a hesitant step forward, groaning as it did so, as if in agreement.
Behind them, the street was filled with the not quite marching, but not quite walking either. Most seemed to lack a definitive clue as to where they were going, even if there were no doubts about the why. The entire horde of several hundred moved with the slow non-regimented pattern of an amoeba that could not decide in which direction it should go. The size of the horde meant that its own noise and movement was more than enough to sustain it and help it grow as more of the walking dead joined the moaning, groaning ranks of their ilk. They lumbered down the street their pale white dull cow eyes unseeing as they marched. The pitched gun battle in what used to be the heart of the city had attracted them and the Spartan withdrawal had forced the groaning horde to give chase moaning and drawing more and more zombies, scattered for miles around in to a single unified horde of death.
Sparta was not visible but something caught the attention of the zombie at the head of the horde, making it pause in midstride, as if something had tickled its nose and the back of its throat. But it recognized the scent born upon the wind: Living humans. It stopped for a moment and gave off a long deep moan, before adjusting its direction of travel, staggering forward as the rest of the horde, slowly took a step towards the only food source within the city