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Andy and Nyko roared off towards the walled section of the city, weaving down the empty streets between wrecked and abandoned cars. There weren’t many infected, singles and pairs occasionally in view. Nyko was paying specific attention to their surroundings, looking for anything to give him the lay of the land.
The closer they got to the city, the fewer houses they came across that had been ransacked. Half a mile from the wall, there were a few desiccated corpses here and there, sprawled out in the street, rotting where they fell.
A quarter mile from the wall, there were none. He’d expected animals to have moved back into the area. Arizona was home to coyotes, wolves and bears, in addition to the smaller animals that were food to the apex predators. There was no sign of wildlife at all, and given that Phoenix was between two major rivers, that was very odd.
Out near the new Phoenix Station, every single door and window was broken. In closer to the city, there were still locked homes and buildings, left untouched as they had the last time their owners locked the door on their way to work two years ago.
Andy drove them to the base of the wall, and stopped. There was wreckage at various points along the perfect wall, like the builders had run bulldozers in a perfect circle around some important central location. Buildings were cut in half by the wall builders. The sections that would have been on the inside were pushed out in a pile. Roads were dug up where the shining white barricade intersected them. The builders left piles of asphalt in the middle of the street, just feet away from the glimmering wall.
Nyko slapped the bars, signaling Andy to stop. They were cruising along some four lane road that paralleled this section. Andy pulled into a gas station parking lot and stopped the buggy. He didn’t even think about it, habit made him pull off the road.
“What’s up, boss?” He asked, turning the motor off.
“I want to get a closer look at it,” Nyko replied unbuckling his harness and hopping down out of the buggy.
The two men walked down a deserted side street. At the edge of the wall, a fast food joint was torn in half. It ended two feet from the wall, the inside of the store plainly visible as Nyko leaned in close. The wall itself seemed to be made of plastic. It was seamless as far as he could tell, one massive sheet of plastic running a hundred feet in the air and a mile or more in either direction before it curved out of sight.
“What the fuck is this,” Nyko said, putting his hand out.
“I don’t know if I’d do that, boss. No idea what it’s made of, but look at the trench. Nothing is touching it.”
Nyko looked along the wall where it met the ground. As far as his eyes could make out, Andy was correct. Grass, shrubbery, everything grew away from the wall, nothing grew towards it.
“Guess we need to find out of this thing has a gate. Maybe we just came up on it from behind.”
“Maybe. The fact that none of this stuff is looted makes me worried though,” said Nyko. “Houses with the doors and windows still secure. Probably tons of food, weapons, clothing and everything else still in them. Why wouldn’t the marauders have taken it?”
The pair started walking back towards the buggy. Andy asked, “What if there aren’t any marauders?”
“That scares me even more. There’s no way they got everyone inside the city. Look how hard Vegas tried, and still you fuckers didn’t make it in time. Someone had to be left outside the walls. And some of those fucks had to be crafty enough to survive, and yet a few more of them would be desperate enough to try to eat the infected, when they got hungry enough.”
Andy slid into the driver’s seat, and when Nyko was secured, he took off. For the next two hours they circumnavigated the wall, stopping at their original spot. There wasn’t any kind of gate or even any roads leading into or out of the city they could find. Phoenix was sealed off.
“Now, we go back to Phoenix Station, load up some supplies to pay for the trip, and head home. I’m going to start selling pleasure cruises to see The Great Wall of Phoenix.”
Nyko was glib about the whole thing, but Andy could tell he was sorely disappointed. The sun was setting by the time they started back to the warehouse. They’d spent so much time driving around everything started to look familiar.
“The first street sign I remember seeing was West Glendale, and we just passed that, so we’re pretty close,” Nyko said. “You remember this gas station?”
“I think.” Andy didn’t seem sure.
“Swing in. We’ll grab a fucking map and find the train tracks. Worst case, once we find the tracks we can follow them away from that fucking wall and get back.”
Andy pulled the buggy right up to the door and turned on the headlights and the auxiliary lights mounted above the bumper and along the roll cage.
The pair approached the store side by side, pulled the door open and stepped in. The windows were covered in two years of grime and dust, casting a dim yellow hue around the room. Andy pulled down a map and Nyko grabbed a couple packs of peanuts and stuffed them in his pocket, and tossed a few back to Andy.
“Wanna risk opening the fridge? Bunch of waters in there, and some skunked-to-shit beer.”
“Dude, fuck yeah! Brian will go nuts when we show up with a case of bud.”
“You do it. I’ll go outside and figure out where we are.”
Andy took a deep breath, opened the fridge door and pulled out two cases of Budweiser, then thought for a second, opened it again and grabbed two more. He was carrying the beer out to the car when he heard Nyko’s shotgun. He dropped the beer. Cans rolled in every direction. Andy vaulted the mess, hit the door with his shoulder and rolled out, getting to his knees behind the buggy. Nyko was standing out in the lot, shotgun in one hand and pistol in the other.
Two men dressed in white were laid out on the concrete in front of him, face down. A white car was parked in the lot. Andy pulled his gun and advanced on the corpses. One had a giant hole in his back, the other had no visible wound, but was lying in a spreading pool of blood. A bullpup assault rifle was on the ground beside each of them. Andy pushed the second man over with his boot. He was wearing a solid white face mask with a large black visor. The mask was cracked and broken; one eye was visible with a bullet hole just above it.
“Good shooting, boss. Where did they come from?”
“Fuckers just flew up in that car. They jumped out as I was coming out of the god damned store and advanced on me, guns drawn. I drew. They yelled something, I yelled for them to lower their weapons. The cocksuckers did not follow simple directions.”
“You think we ought to get out of here before more of them show up?”
“No. I think we get in their fucking car and see if they have a god damned radio. I didn’t start that fight, and I’ll be fucked if I’m going to run from it. Search these fucks and see if they have anything useful.” Nyko walked over to the car as Andy picked up their rifles and stowed them in the buggy.
He heard his boss from the car. “Is anyone listening? My name is Nyko. I’m the owner of the train. I’ve come to trade, carrying fuel, and other valuable goods. Two of your men are dead, because they approached in a hostile fashion.”
The gut-shot man’s mask was in good shape, Andy pulled it off and looked at it. He recognized the basic form from Afghanistan; it was a chemical weapons mask, filtration down to one micron with ports for supplemental air. The visor was unlike anything Andy had seen.
Wires ran to four different points on the inside of the glass. Andy held it up to his head, and was greeted with a heads up display. He looked around at the corners of the mask, causing the screen to flicker rapidly.
“What the fuck!” He called out. He kept his eyes forward and used his peripheral vision to read the edges of the screen. The top left corner said IR inside a square box. Andy flicked his eyes over to the box, and suddenly everything went to shades of green. Andy spun in a circle. There were people all around, using the darkness to conceal them. They stood out as if it were high noon in the night vision.
“Nyko! We got company brother!”
“Lots!” Andy picked up one of the short rifles. Instantly, a crosshair appeared on his visor, down along the bottom. He moved the barrel around, and watched the crosshair move across the screen.”
“Holy shit, they have mad tech, Nyko.”
Suddenly, seemingly from everywhere, including the earpiece in Andy’s mask, a loud voice boomed. “Unauthorized personnel, stand down. You have ten seconds to comply.”
Andy heard Nyko yelling into the radio. “We’re not your personnel. Do not fire.”
“You have five seconds to comply.”
“Nyko, I think we should consider it. We’re not going to get out of this fight. Say the word, brother.”
“Stand down,” Nyko yelled back. He climbed out of the car and held his hands above his head.
Andy put the rifle down. He’d been willing to fight with the boss, but he was glad to be surrendering. There wasn’t any way they could win this fight. He laid the rifle down, took the mask off and held his hands up.
The pair heard an engine in the darkness. A white Humvee pulled up and three men got out, dressed in the same uniform as the men on the ground. They zip-tied Nyko first, then Andy, and pushed them into the truck.
The truck sped off into the night. They drove for about an hour, before the truck turned straight for the wall. The driver didn’t slow at all. The truck’s headlights reflected off the gleaming white surface until the second they passed directly through to the other side.
Inside was, in every sense, an oasis. Nyko was familiar with Phoenix. This looked nothing like the city he knew. Inside the wall the adobe houses and stuccoed buildings were all gone, replaced by a massive green stretch of farm. The truck passed through the farm, Nyko judged it was two or three miles, before they crossed a river. On the opposite side of the river, massive skyscrapers rose, all glass and steel. Lights everywhere made it almost like daytime.
If you like zombies, and want to check out one of my completed novels, head over and give What Zombie’s Fear: A Father’s Quest a read. There is a huge free preview right here on my website.