The train came to a shuddering, violent halt. The three men in train car rolled to their hands and knees. The floor was sloped at a steep angle, which made it almost impossible to stand. They crawled to the door and rolled to the ground.
The men drove Nyko and his crew to the warehouse they’d designated as their train station and left immediately leaving the six men in the parking lot. Jonas started to the warehouse, and Nyko called, “Hang on a sec, J.”
Jonas came walking back. “What’s up, boss?”
“We’ve been gone for a while. They’ve had all that time to work the building and our train over. No talking about anything until we’ve had a chance to go over that train with a fine-tooth comb and make sure it’s not bugged. Check the warehouse first then work the train. We have twenty-four hours to get her ready, make sure no one’s listening.”
Charlotte flipped the fire selector from auto to semi, and swept side-to side, firing every few seconds. When the bolt clicked forward, she calmly ejected the magazine, pulled a full one from the back of her shiny black panties and slapped it into the rifle. She charged the handle and repeated the process, firing fairly indiscriminately into the house across the street from the barn. Empty magazines and shell casings covered the ground in front of her.
“Tay!” she shouted. “Push for the truck. Stay low!”
Jonas fired both magazines dry. By the time his twenty second hail of lead ended, Nyko and his men rushed the wounded guards on the floor and removed their masks and weapons.
“Where is a med-kit!” Nyko shouted at one barely conscious man.
Sometime around the sixteen hour mark, in the desolate white room, Nyko realized he had to pee. In an attempt to take his mind off of the urgency, he started planning.
“What do we have for assets,” he said, breaking the long silence in the room.
“My skills,” said Jonas.
“We’re a strong force,” Said Derrick.
Nyko laughed. “My brains, your strength and his skill versus sixty men. If only I had a holocaust cloak.”
The men stared at him blankly as Nyko laughed out loud. “Come on,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “The Princess Bride?” More blank stares. “Fuck all of you, that shit was funny.”
The truck stopped outside a two story warehouse. The second floor was entirely glass, while the first floor was made of cinderblock. Nyko looked around as he was shoved out of the truck, and roughly shoved in the door. The lights came up on a stark white room, with a single desk at the far side, covered in Plexiglas.
The door closed behind Nyko and Andy, leaving them alone in the room. There were no chairs and no place to sit. Where the door had been was now the tiniest crack. Both men felt their ears pop when the door closed.
Andy shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot, but Nyko didn’t move, and Andy wasn’t going to break the silence. After several minutes, a woman clad in what looked like white military fatigues stepped into the booth at the back of the room and beckoned them forward. Nyko walked up to the window and stood with his feet spread and his hands clasped behind his back.
“Disrobe. Leave your clothes on the floor, and place your hands in the blue circles.”
“What blue circles?” Nyko asked.
She nodded over his shoulder, as two neon blue circles lit up on the wall.
“We’re not staying,” he said. “We’ll just make our way out.”
“Unauthorized personnel must be decontaminated before being sent to quarantine.”
“Whoa, whoa. There’s been some kind of fucking mistake here. We’re not going to god damn quarantine, we’re not fucking staying here. Just open that fucking door back there and we’ll leave.” Nyko paused for a moment, and then, as if it had just occurred to him, added, “Peacefully.”
“Violence will not be tolerated. Disrobe for decontamination.” Her face never changed. She showed almost no hint of emotion, outside of a small tick of her upper lip in frustration.
Nyko put his hands on the plexiglass. “Listen honey. We’re getting the fuck out of here. Open the god damn door.”
She leaned in slightly closer. “Disrobe. You have thirty seconds to start. She looked down at a button on the desk, and grinned ever so slightly as she moved her hand over it.
“Fuck you,” Nyko said.
“Your choice,” she said. Perhaps the only time she broke from the script. She pushed the red button. Nyko’s ears popped again as gas began to flood the room. In seconds, his vision began to blur, and then narrowed down, like he was looking through a long tunnel. Less than a minute later, he felt like he was falling.
“Hey y’all, I think he’s wakin’ up.”
The room slowly stopped spinning around Nyko, who realized his eyes were closed. His head felt like someone was hammering railroad spikes into his temples. Nyko opened his eyes. Soft white light came from everywhere. The ceiling and walls seemed to glow, driving icepicks into his head.
His crew was all sitting on the floor around him. He turned his head slightly to see Andy, dressed in white fatigues just like everyone else. He patted his side, his gun was missing. He patted his chest, the knife that hung from a lanyard under his shirt was gone.
He croaked, “Did they leave us anything?”
Brian held his hands up with his fingers splayed. “Even cut my nails off, Boss.”
“Fuck. Did they gas you too?”
“We think they shot us with darts at the station. Jonas found the spot on his arm where they got him,” said Terrell. I was carrying a bunch of iron tubing to help Jonas. Then I woke up here. Tubes must have fallen on me, my arm is pretty beat, and I think I have a broken rib.
Andy groaned and rolled over on his side. “Derrick, see to Andy. Jonas, what do you know?”
“I saw some spaceman looking guy in the parking lot. I turned to call out to the boys and went down.”
Nyko looked at his friend. He was wearing the same white fatigues as the rest. On closer inspection, there was a slight grey digital pattern in the fabric. “How long have you been here?”
“Maybe ten minutes before they dumped you in here. They came from the middle of that wall. Door appeared, they dumped you and Andy, and closed. We were all pretty disoriented still, but they were in and out before we had a chance to even move.”
Andy was up, sitting with his head tucked between his knees. “What the fuck was that shit?”
“We know there are at least two of them. They’re going to come for us eventually. They have gas that knocked us out immediately, and based on the feeling of delousing powder on my balls and the fact that my fingernails are not only trimmed but filed smooth means we were out for a while. Jonas’ boots are tailored for him. Look how they built the platform up.”
“Best pair of boots I’ve owned in a while. Even when I had a cobbler he took a couple days to fix up my boots.” Jonas walked across the room, showing off his new boots.
Brian spoke up. “They took good fuckin’ care of us. Why would they give us new duds, make J-man some new boots and clean us up if they were just gonna kill us?”
“I hope you’re right, brother,” replied Nyko. “All we can fucking do now is wait the sons of bitches out.”
As if on command, the door opened. Four men walked in, and stopped standing in a tight group. Nyko stood quickly. His five men lined up behind him.
All four were wearing full helmets, a larger version of the mask Andy tried on. Solid white face masks, with a blacked out visor. A single crease in the facemask ran vertically from forehead to chin. “The leader of this group will step forward,” one of them said.
Nyko stepped up. “The fuck do you want with us?”
“You are from Las Vegas?”
“Yes,” Nyko said. He’d told them that much.
“How many survivors live in Las Vegas?”
“I don’t fucking know the answer to that,” said Nyko.
“Maybe a hundred? Hundred and fucking fifty?” Nyko said.
“The temperature of your face just rose three degrees. It is imperative that you are truthful.”
“I run a god damn bar. I don’t get out much. I have about a hundred fifty fucking regulars. I have no way to estimate the population of god damn Las Vegas.”
“Then you are no use. A meal will be delivered in an hour. Quarantine will be complete in twenty hours.”
The four men spun and walked out. The sliding door sealed behind them.
They sat in a circle, idly chatting, killing time until the door opened from the bottom and six trays were slipped under the door. The food came in a bowl and tasted like some kind of grain mixed with water. “We have twenty hours. Get some sleep,” Nyko ordered. “We all feel like shit. Gonna need the crew in top form if we’re going to get out of this fucking mess.”
Nyko stretched out on his back, hands under his head and closed his eyes. He didn’t sleep, but he laid there trying to look like he was. Instead he spent the next twenty hours thinking about Charlotte and wondering how his bar was. For the moment the urge to travel was gone, he just wanted to be home in his bar.
The time passed agonizingly slow. Most of the crew slept for several hours on the cool, hard floor, but even though it was relatively warm in the room, it got cold very quickly. Nearly everyone got up to do jumping jacks, pushups, or some other sort of exercise to increase their core temperatures at some point during what Nyko assumed was the night.
There was no way to know the passage of time. Andy tapped the music in his head out on his thigh, making no noise. Jonas paced, breaking in his new boots. Derrick lost himself in daydreams, thinking about anything other than where they were.
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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.