Heavy Steam: The Longest Night

The tension in the room was palpable.

The power struggle had been going on for decades, before any of the leaders in the room had been alive. Once long ago, France and England had fought for superiority through colonization; as each amassed more land they had more power. Everything changed with The Great Blight, a meteor that hit North America during the start of the American Revolution with enough force to scourge the land. The rippling effects shrouded the planet in darkness. These two great powers were thrown into chaos.

From the wreckage of what was once a beautiful continent came stories of horror… but also a cache of zenjin- so named by DaVinci during his experiments with the exotic stone found in small pockets all over Asia. This wondrous compound could be used as a cleaner more efficient fuel or tempered with metals to make materials stronger than steel. England saw this as its opportunity to rise from the ashes. It began testing and refining the use of zenjin for the purpose of becoming the great nation it once was. Re-shifting focus meant aligning themselves with their former colonies and conquered lands in a more diplomatic and commercially beneficial manner. Thus the UK Alliance was formed. Many of the countries of Europe were approached to join this group. Some politely declined…others were less diplomatic. Of those in the latter category, France was seen as the greatest threat.

The alliance used its wide-spread resources to begin building a mechanized man, taller than a giant, and more powerful than any weapon ever dreamed of. The great hope was that one day this mech would help prevent any non-allied countries from invading England.

Then, over forty years ago rumors began that France had prioritized their mechanical weapons’ program. The UK Alliance, working on their own “Stewpots” as they were affectionately called, were not in a position to force France to stop. This uneasy dance around each other escalated when the technological know-how of France and mechanical application of Germany combined forces as the Central Europe Trust. The UK Alliance realised immediately that the C.E.T. also intended to make an automated vehicular assault weapons of superior firepower and incredible strength.

Still the “peace” held even when Glasgow University hawas leveled by “The Hideous Monster of the Mist.” This location had been the hub of all the UK Alliance’s new technology. It’s true purpose was known only by the scientists who worked there, the spy who had relayed the information and had met her untimely demise for it, and a handful of leaders.  Its destruction forced the UK Alliance to make The Great Reveal.  When the mechs of the UK became public knowledge, there was an immediate outcry for attack against the mainland. This pressure only subsided with the naval encounter that left both sides bereft of one of their Steam Titans and the brave men and women who piloted them. In the backlash of sentiment, both sides agreed to a peace treatise. Once it was signed, the silent struggle began anew.

From that moment on, when each new facet of their power struggle revealed itself, they quietly gathered information, stockpiled their engineering feats of wonder, and bided their time until they were sure of victory.

Time had run out.

Since the General’s spies had learned of the C.E.T.’snew schematic, the countdown to war was inevitable.

“We need to take action!” said General Stuffit. “Our moment has come! Dash it all, our moment has past, and we may be too late!”

“You have no way of knowing that!” replied Colonel Snidely. “We haven’t verification on these builds coming to fruition. For all we know the information was false in the first place!”

“You ignorant pup. You have enjoyed the fruits of our hard-won peace all these years and have never cut your teeth in real battle. How can one expect you to understand that this kind of thing takes action! Swift decisive action!”

A calm voice cut through the debate: “We cannot move without knowing where the Titans are located. And make no mistake Colonel, they do exist. We wait to make the precision attack of a surgeon rather than the sweeping attack of a brawler at the local gentlemen’s club. If we can eliminate their power source, we will win the war in a fortnight. Otherwise….” and General Smith lapsed into silence. The room collectively contemplated the toll of a long war, and the tension resumed.

They heard the clicking of footsteps at the end of the hall. As gentlemen it was unseemly to rush to meet them, but several stood and braced for the news.

The messenger burst in through the heavy oak doors. His composure shot, and in a most ungentlemanly fashion he burst out, “It is true! All of it! Our informant died in the attempt to give me the proof, but proof we have! They’ve done it. They’ve successfully tested the German Heavy Mech and are assembling several and readying for attack! God have mercy on us!”

“How long until it’s ready?” asked General Smith.

“One month. Two if there are setbacks, Sir.”

“There won’t be setbacks. They have been planning this moment since I was a much younger man. We can strike now or we can have blood on English soil before summer arrives.”

The leaders of a great nation stared into the uncertain abyss in an uncomfortable silence.

“Gentlemen, it has begun. Tomorrow we go to war.”

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Alpha/Beta Team Descriptions

It’s been a year since the Zpocalypse started. All the cities are gone, and what few survivors remain are bedraggled and living off the remnants of what came before. Zombies still infest the wastelands without abandon and every death leads to an undeath. It’s been survival of the meanest, baddest, and cleverest ever since. Standing apart from the fray is the Z-team, a special-ops group. They’ve been selected for their diverse zombie-slaying abilities and equipped to eradicate the infected zones so humanity can start the process of rebuilding civilization.

 1. Adrenaline Junkie (Pyro Archetype) BETA

Name: Natalia Maliev                                                

Background: Adventurer                                           

Place of Birth: Moscow, Russia  

Natalia towers over most women in both size and personality. At 5”11, and built like a tank, her mother quickly gave up her own dreams of Natalia becoming a prima ballerina or the wife of a wealthy man. You have to be practical about these things. Instead Mama started training her in horsemanship and weights, hoping for an Olympian. Natalia had other plans however. The first was to escape her overbearing mother. She enlisted in the army and never looked back.

Her size and strength kept the snickers in the periphery, but they were still there. That was until one day when her team was on a grunt mission to clear out scrub from the west Siberian Plain. From the moment she strapped on that flamethrower, Natalia ceased to be a punchline, and became the object of fear for every man around her. This suited her just fine and made her the Picasso of fire.

Natalia burned down several strategic buildings in unsanctioned operations. They were reported to be safe houses for German and Israeli spies, so some factions in the Russian government paid her handsomely to “get rid of the problem.” When reports started to make the news, she became a scapegoat. She defected to the US before she could be put on trial, sought political asylum and contemplated becoming a mercenary or ladies pro-wrestler. Fortunately, the Organization got to her first.

Natilia is not the Brute. It’s hard to tell sometimes if she’s not standing next to Brick. What she lacks in impulse control, she does make up for in collateral damage. Hailing from Moscow, Russia, she was recruited after searching for political asylum. Let’s just say she burned her bridges back home. Literally. You will always find her with her modified flamethrower. Like her, it runs a little hot.

2. Brute (Brawler Archetype) Alpha

Name:  Richard “Brick” Wolkwitz                                                                                       

Background: Blue Collar, Construction, Lumberjack                                  

Place of Birth: Portland Oregon 

Brick stands just shy of 6 feet tall. The word brawny has his picture under it in the dictionary. He is handsome in that manly way that Hollywood tries to depict and always fails. His arms are as big as most peoples heads, from daily labor. He has a permanent tan line from working outside every day and early crows feet from squinting in the sunlight.

Born into a family with a retired veteran father who then worked in the deforestation department, and homemaker mother, Brick thought he would escape to Portland and try living in the city as a contractor. His father had taught him all kinds of woodworking skills- they even build a log cabin up in the Cascades where he sometimes still vacationed.

Brick did fairly well for himself, getting the jobs for custom fitting cabinetry and the like. He apprenticed as a welder to get on the bigger construction jobs as well as adding metal work to his crafting skills. Then he developed an enjoyment of scotch and a chip on his shoulder for constantly being called a “hick”.  As often as he got hired for a job, he was frequently fired for his temper and willingness to use his hand crafted work as a blunt force object. He sometimes wishes that his father’s buddies, still in the military, could have just asked him one more time to enlist.

Standing at 5’11” 235 pounds, Brick is almost as tall as he is wide, and all of it muscle. He worked construction and in the lumber mills growing up, and might have continued to live the blue collar dream if it weren’t for the end of days. He used his temper and his massive fists to get in and out of fights all his life. Now, getting his knuckles bloody could mean turning. He’s taken to using a ball and chain- all of the satisfying bashing with no pesky infection. It could be love.

3. Combat Expert (firearms Archetype) BETA

Name:  Reggie Jones                                     

Background: Military                                    

Place of Birth: Richmond, VA 

Reginald Jamison Bartholomew Jones IV is deceptively soft spoken for a man of his size and voracity. Ever the gentlemen, he grew up holding open doors for ladies and always calling others “Sir” and “Ma’am.” Reggie is from a prominent Richmond family known for being  polite, genteel and wickedly vicious military strategists.

Like a good Southern son he applied to West Point. He excelled in all his classes from military history to martial arts. He did especially well at sharp shooting, but he knew that rather than being a sniper, he was being groomed to be an officer.

Then 911 happened, and all the young men were sent to war. Reggie went along with them. After 3 tours and many men under his command dying, most of that refinement of earlier years is long gone. He is still soft spoken, but what he says is deadly to the point. Mostly it’s used to lull others into a sense that he’s really harmless, right before he open fires.

4. Engineer- (Techie Archetype) ALPHA

Name: Kelly “Mac” McNamara                                            

Background:   Technician                                                                                          

Place of Birth: Boston, MA

Mac was the youngest of five kids. Her parents raised her to be a good Catholic girl, and her four older brothers helped it stay that way. Running in the streets of Southie she grew up with a smart mouth and fast fists. By the time she grew into her lanky frame, it was also apparent she was not your average hood-rat. Mac got herself a full ride to MIT and a ticket to a home in the suburbs, or so she thought. When the local mob boss threatened her family, Mac took the stand against him. She got her parents in witness protection and a lucrative job offer. All she ever wanted was to get out of Southie, and the FBI was a lot more exciting than the ‘burbs. She never saw any of her family again.

Mac skyrocketed through the ranks. She was pretty, a natural born dirty fighter, with both math and street smarts. It wasn’t long before she realized she was too good for the feds. When a position opened in the diplomat to Saudi Arabia’s office, Mac hired a language tutor and applied for the position. Soon she was working in foreign relations. It was then that she caught the attention of the Organization. While some struggle over the decision, she joined the moment the job was offered. And like always, she never looked back.

5. Outlaw (Sniper Archetype) BETA

Name: Lucia Bruno                                        

Background: Criminal                                                

Place of Birth: Philly PA

One of the Italian princesses of Philly, Lucia was supposed to stay in the background and make some wiseguy a happy man one day. She was born quiet and serious, rather than loud and brassy, so she knew it wasn’t going to work out for her. She watched too much and knew even more.

At the age of  7 she began her subtle shift of entering the male side of the family business by running errands and providing alibis. Lucia, her big brown eyes full of choked up tears, was a hit on the witness stand. Any other woman would be kicked out of the cigar shop back room… or front of the store for that matter, but she seemed to disappear into the wood paneling. No one noticed her at all, unless those big eyes were staring right at you. Her cousin Dominic was the first to teach her to shoot. He knew he would get a beating for it, but since she seemed to know he was the one skimming off the top, what could he do?

By the time she was of a marrying age, no Italian man would touch her with a ten foot pole. She had learned the names of all their enemies and their mistresses. Since she was the granddaughter of the Don, she wasn’t going to disappear either. While it went against tradition, and Italians do love their tradition, they gave her a job hoping she would get arrested or killed.

Instead Lucia became the best hit-man her family or any family from Miami to Boston has ever seen. No one looks for a woman. She could take a man out from a tower and be having coffee at the shop across the street 5 minutes later. No one would even look in her direction. She could walk up to a victim and her lazy smile was the last thing they saw. Law enforcement of all kinds were constantly at her door. Being a spinster in the family at the ripe age of 30, they thought her a jilted girlfriend. Maybe she would reveal her family’s secrets. While she pitied their ignorance, she enjoyed the company of people outside her family. At least women were more acceptable in the legit work force.

When it all went sideways, she was at the local FBI office in for “routine questioning”. She wished she could have gone back to help the family, but at some point it’s time to leave the nest.

6. Physician (Medic archetype) BETA

Name:  Jack T. R. Openshaw                                    

Background: Doctor                                      

Place of Birth: London, England 

Born in Lancashire John Openshaw, Jack to his friends, is an imposing man who wears the weight of his years heavily.  His friends and coworkers would have described him as serious. In the aftermath his countenance tends towards severe and haughty.

Dr. Jack was quiet, but well liked growing up. He had started studies to be an engineer, but soon decided  he was more interested as the body as a machine. He took a year off to work as a curator of a museum and then began his education to be a doctor where he excelled in anatomy and pharmacological studies. His career could have gone either way, but it appeared he chose to be a surgeon and began his residency at the Royal London Hospital.

For several years he seemed satisfied with his life, but then he pulled away from all who knew him. Some thought he had ties to a company doing research trials for new “medicines” and simply supposed he had returned to his earlier interests in pharmaceuticals…

7. Scientist (Biologist or Physicist Archetype) ALPHA                              

Name: Dr. Franklin Kriegor,                                      

Background: Academic                                             

Place of Birth: Frankfurt Germany

Dr. Kriegor was recruited from a think tank subgroup of the German Advisory Council on Global Change. Either the US felt that as a superpower they needed to be in on the latest developments of social change in Europe or it’s a cover story, and he isn’t sharing intel with anyone. What you notice is that he seems to have more knowledge about the physiology of zombies than anyone else you’ve met.

Dr. Kriegor has spent the last year categorically and empirically studying zombies in the field.While other survivors have sunk into depression, become cruel opportunists, or appear almost delusional, Dr. Kriegor is the only one that appears to be enjoying himself. Occasionally you catch him waiting to execute a zombie. Instead of killing he writes notes in one of his many journals while muttering “Well THAT didn’t happen in the lab!” to himself. It is a wonder he has not been turned. However, when he does kill one of the undead, it is with complete dispassion and efficiency. His squad may have to do a lot of babysitting for him, but they don’t seem to mind. His predictions and understanding of how zombies works has saved their hides more than once.

Under the hazmat suit Dr. Kriegor is a slight man with a fearful intensity that belies his lack apparent lack of physical strength. His raw intelligence mixed with analytic skills and a lifetime of scientific inquiry at some of the finest institutions and labs in the world make him a brilliant and terrible genius. He makes Mac seem like a vapid cheerleader. Of course his social skills are garbage. The team does take awfully good care of him though, even finding him a 50mm MGL that he has modified for “field testing.”

8. Survivalist (Archer Archetype) ALPHA

Name: Delphine Mercier                                           

Background: Rural                                         

Place of Birth: Baton Rouge, LA 

Delphine tells people she is from Baton Rouge. If they’re a Yankee, they believe her. Only someone from Louisiana would know her Papa told her, “Don’t go d’ere, chere, dats a baad place.”

Thinking on it now, she laughs at her father trying to keep her away from a small city like Baton Rouge. If only he knew how bad cities could get.

A tiny little thing no bigger than a minute, Delphine grew up hunting in the swamps with her father. He taught her how to keep one eye out for ‘gators at all times, and how to blend into the trees like a ghost that weren’t never never there. Her maman showed her how to make any ol’ thing that came out of the wilds into something delicious. They both taught her how to make moonshine and sing like there was no tomorrow.

When the local base started taking over the lands they hunted (it may have been government land, but Delphine and her kin had been there for generations) it took her no time to sneak in and put those soldier men to shame. How was she to know they were training to be snipers? If you thought about it, she had done those clumsy boys a favor. They would have never gotten a clean shot and exit. It was a shame though, with her bright green eyes and pixie-like appearance, you would have thought one of them would have gotten over their pride and asked her out. Instead the organization was her only caller.

When standing next to her team Delphine looks like a pygmy. She is by far the slightest in size. Seeing as she spends much of her time tracking her prey and not wanting to be seen, this has its advantages. Even though she did eat some strange things growing up in Louisiana, for once she isn’t interested in chowing down on her kill. Her compound bow is at her side, day and night. If you hear its quiet whisper, another poor undead soul is finally at rest.

When the local base started taking over the lands they hunted it took her no time to sneak in and put those soldier men to shame. If you thought about it, she had done those clumsy boys a favor. They would have never gotten a clean shot and exit. It was a shame though, with her bright green eyes and pixie-like appearance, you would have thought one of them would have gotten over their pride and asked her out. Instead the organization was her only caller.

 

Alpha

A while back, you were recruited by the Organization. You weren’t surprised, your reputation for being the best in your selective skill set will one day make military history. The Organization told you to continue with your job, your family, your life- but they would be in touch when they needed you. Periodically you got a phone call and were directed to a location. There you would meet up with team members and carry out the mission given to you. Rarely have you met with the same people, but each recruit’s abilities and background added to the locations and operations you were assigned gave you the impression that the Organizations reached far and wide. At home, no one, not even your military superiors seemed slightly suspicious of your whereabouts.

Then you received the phone call.

“Hello?”

“You have been assigned to Team Alpha. Gear up and meet them at safehouse 2739AXF. You will be given further instruction upon arrival.”

“But why aren’t you telling me the mission now? This is breaking protocol? What-”

The click on the other end leaves you uneasy. This is unprecedented. You have spent these years being the best and do not want to lose your place now. However part of being the best is listening to your own silent alarm when you know something’s not right.

You arrive at the safehouse, in the middle of the night. You are in a brick house on top of  a large hill so that you can see the night sky is lit up by the nearby city. One by one the team arrives, four of you in all. Usually you fit into your roles and discuss strategy, but it is clear no one has been given a mission. The tension of uncertainty fills the main room of the safe house. No one wants to sleep on one of the cots in the upper rooms, but you are all professionals. You remain quiet and vigilant to threat.

At 2 am the land line rings. You snatch it up.

“Hello! What are we doing here! None of us got a missio-”

“It has begun. Soon they will overtake the city. You must save as many as you can and cut off exit for the rest. Wait in the bunker below until the bombings are over. Then rescue as many Survivors as you can. Don’t let them get into the suburbs. You will hear from us when you complete this mission. Do not try-”

The phone cuts off again.

“Wait! I don’t understand? Who will overtake the city? What bombs?!?”

“Huh. So they’re real,” says one of the team flatly.

You spin around and see three pairs of eyes looking back at you, edged with fear and resolution. But what you don’t see is surprise.

“Yeah,” the other recruit drawls, “Best we got down to the bunker now.” we can suit up and start slaying after the bombs. They want us on clean up, right?”

“Yeah, “ you say bemused. “But that’s not all. They want us to save as many as we can first…”

Silence descends on the group. Finally you say, “Anyone know what we’re up against?”

“You don’t know? Well shoot, you’re in for it now. Sleep up, because we’re goin’ zombie huntin’ soon!”

Beta

          We were sent to a safe house right before the world went FUBAR.  Our missions had always been unorthodox, much like the members of each team. Not that it mattered. None of my… colleagues had ever shown signs of caring that we had crossed a line. When it came to expectations for covert operations, our personal history had already proven we made Special Forces look tame. But this… this was another reality. We hunkered in and stuck with the mission- to keep the flow of zombies leaving the cities at a minimum by any means necessary. We were warned to get underground when the bombs went off.  Later, we were told to get on clean-up duty. We swept for hostiles and retrieved as many breathers as we could. There weren’t many.

Two weeks after the blast, we got a transmission.

“Beta Team, Organization Headquarters calling Beta Team! Do you copy?”

“Roger O.H.Q., we’re here.”

“Well thank God for small miracles. We’ve got a situation.”

“Is that what you call this sir?”

“Are you joking with me soldier?”

“No sir.”

“Suit up, you and your team are going in for an extraction. Senator Kennemer did not make his helicopter before this went south.”

Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Kennemer!?”

“The very one. He was sent to a safe location. You need to get him out of the city.”

“Sir, that’s all the way in the thick of it-“

“That’s an order soldier! Over and out.”

There were four of us on Beta Team. There were thousands of rotten, radioactive, hungry undead out there. We were all for working for the cause, but this was not an extraction, it was suicide. More than that, we would never get him out. Of course there had been rumors that some in the Organization wanted him killed in the first place. If you weren’t a grunt, it might make you wonder what happened to that helicopter.

We looked at the city. Then slowly we tuned to the civilians who had made it out.

“Welcome to the cause,” I said. “Your country needs you.”

 

The Outbreak Breakout Part 1: A Zpocalypse Survivor Story

Eyes slowly blinking to wipe out the muddled confusion in his head he woke in darkness. As his eyes slowly adjust to the dim haze of the room his brain wandered aimlesslyunable to capture thoughts. There were small flashes of a child’s birthday and a woman laughing… then nothing.

Tentatively he sat up only to bang his head. For a moment the meager light was replaced with a brilliant flash of red pain.  It narrowed down to a pinpoint of vision and finally his adrenaline kicked in. “No!” he heard himself croak in a voice raspy from lack of use. After a tense moment of breathing heavily it passed. His gaze trailed up to see the metal bunk above. When he finished his silent but heartfelt discussion with the bunk rail he realized his eyes had adjusted to the light.

He was in a prison cell.

This realization did not send off immediate waves of panic, as he was expecting. This caused a deeper stirring of unease in his mind. Why would he feel at home in a prison? The cell itself was everything he imagined it would be. Four walls, a toilet in the corner and the presently hated bunk. It looked like every movie he could remember… could he remember prison cells from movies? This one looked bigger than he expected. He racked his brain for something familiar to tie to the feeling. Did it seem big because he was used to a smaller cell, or because he had never been in one before. This looked like it was for a white collar prisoner maybe… or a death row inmate? Why couldn’t he remember any of this?

He gathered his courage to look down at his clothes. Damn. An orange jumpsuit hung on a lanky frame. The fit gave him the impression he had suddenly lost a lot of weight or that this wasn’t his personal jumpsuit.

“That’s ok,” he thought trying to settle the wave of panic threatening to rise. “Maybe you just needed fresh clothes.”

Rather than calm him, this thought seemed to feed his unease as he followed its thread. “Wait, why would I be in a prison getting fresh clothes. Why would I think that?”

He started up, but the blackness began at the edges of his sight. He sank back on the bunk and tried to control his breathing. Looking down at his hands, they appeared large and capable with jagged nails and a layer of grime.

“Working hands,” he thought. Not a clue really, but they looked like they could do some damage at least.

There was another word that resonated in his mind. Slowly he rose and started to really look at the room. It was then he noticed the door was locked. He looked at the large grimy room in the gloom and finally started to realize that the small trinkets, almost nothing really, but probably meaningful to the inhabitant of this cell, were scattered around the floor. A crushed photo lay at his feet. Gingerly he bent to pick it up and slowly opened it. The image in the photo was that of a man holding a smiling little boy, but he barely noticed. His focus was on the red sludge caked onto the creases. He stared at the floor now, and realized the grime was more of this sludge, and there were lumps further away. Shaking he turned to the bars of the cell and hoarsely yelled, “Help!”

Finally it hit him, that for a prison, this place was deathly silent. There was no sound of life; Inmates talking from one room to the next, the steady drum of guards moving through their sections, the hum of electrical current that comes from heaters, surveillance cameras and smuggled radios. All of these sounds were missing. You could hear nothing.

Silent except for a dragging sound from below.

It was faint, but steady. Slowly it entered his awareness, and as he heard it, finally one thought crystallized in his foggy mind.

“Zombies.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Shawn spun around quickly. He did not have time to marvel at his memory returning, he needed a weapon, and a way out. He gave the bars a shove in frustration. With a groan they broke free of the hinges and clanged to the ground. The crash echoed throughout the cell block. Shawn wondered how long it took for the sound to fade away. He decided his calculation of five hours was probably not accurate, but the product of his concussed, adrenaline-ridden mind.

“Great, now every rotter in this section is headed my way,” he thought. Then he belatedly noticed the gaping hole across from the bunk.

“How badly was my head hit?” he wondered. He had started to fill in the gaps. His shift was almost up for the night when another guard had lurched in holding his bloody face. Before he had finished collecting a bet from Geoff and changed into civvies, it took out half the guards working that night. He had seen Greg go down, while he and Andrew had kept each other’s backs. They may have been ok, the Warden had come in and started to rally the troops,  when that dumb-ass punk Ted got bit.

“I set you all free!” he had screamed in pain and rage as he locked himself in the office and had overwritten all the locks to the cells.

At first the wave of rioting inmates looked like they would  take out the zombies. But the plague inside those undead parodies of his friends, worked their way into every abrasion. Riots are always ugly, but that… was a living meat grinder by the end. He didn’t know about the Warden, but he thought that all the other guards were taken out. His last coherent thought was of Andrew yelling for help. Unable to get to him he had locked himself in a cell to keep out everyone- everything else.

“What the hell happened to this cell? And how am I not one of them?” Shawn’s feeling of unease had returned. Now it had brought an army of dread to back it up.

This was not the time to stop and ponder.

He looked around for his baton, and remembered it was in his locker. He still didn’t know why he was wearing a prison uniform, but it meant his keys were missing too. The keys that he had used to lock himself in this cell…

In the hall he spotted Andrew. What was left of him anyway. From his feet to lower torso he remained mostly intact. Up above, his jaw and neck had been gnawed away. The top of his spine poked out of the gristle, and the hole had allowed his brain matter to leak out onto the floor. Fighting the urge to hurl Shawn took little comfort that his best friend had never turned. Then Shawn looked for the baton. He saw it flung a few feet further down the walkway near the shower. It was at the feet of the shuffling corpse who had been making it’s way toward him, ever since he woke up.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“It’s just one. You can fight it, you took out plenty of them.” Shawn knew he was giving himself the Hail Mary speech. There was not time to think when it started, and he hadn’t been beaten or full of hopelessness then. This was now.

The zombie wore prison orange. It’s face had been laid open from the right eyeball to the jaw curving slightly at the end. A flap of skin peeled away the face and left the skull bare, the ear dangling down and pulling more of the flap with it like a pendulum with every lurching step.

Shawn felt tired. That was not good. He should feel scared or horrified or at least have energy from the bolt of adrenaline he got when waking up. Instead he felt like it might be best if he just lay back down on the bunk. Sighing he looked at the broken wall. In the debris he found a piece of concrete the size and shape of a football. Looking back up he hefted the rock above his shoulder and gave the saddest impersonation of a spiral he had ever seen. His coach in high school would have screamed so long and so loud his face would have turned that special shade of purple. “Coach is probably  a zombie now,” Shawn thought idly as the chunk of wall sailed through the air.

The rock knocked the head clean off the zombie. The head tumbled through the air, skin flap finally flinging itself clear as the body dropped like a marionette whose strings have been severed.

Shawn took the Heisman pose.

Slowly, listening with every step for new sounds of danger, he creeped over towards the shower and claimed his prize.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Eyes moving rapidly in a sweep, Shawn squatted with his back against the wall to retrieve the night stick. “I’ve to calm down,” he thought.

Once the former prisoner had toppled, his disjointed feeling of apathy had disappeared. The earlier panic came back. “This is what shock feels like,” he marveled. “I had always hoped it would be more helpful to my survival. What the hell body?”

He took slow deep breaths to steady his racing heart. The blood rushing through him was pounding in his ears, and at this rate a zombie would be on top of him before he knew it. It took a while. It was time he could not afford. He was sure there would be others coming towards the sound of the crashing bars. But if he thought about them, his heart would start to race again, so he focused on his breathing as best he could.

Finally he stood and peered around. For a long moment he only heard silence. Then he thought he heard something else. It was an odd sound. It took him a minute to think of what it could be, or why it would sound wrong in his ears. When he figured it out, the relief was almost as staggering as the panic had been.

What he heard was breathing. It was quiet, but close by . More importantly it was steady. Zombies occasionally took a breath to make noise or as a residual reflex from when there were alive. Only a real live person needed to breathe all the time. As softly and carefully as he could manage he walked toward the showers. The breathing sound stopped for a minute. Shawn stopped with it. Then as it resumed, he moved into the room.

The tiled walls and floor were coated with dried blood. In the far corner lay a pile of corpses. Disjointed body parts and men with their heads blown off were heaped one on top of the other. It looked as if they had been rotting for some time. As soon as he thought entered his mind, Shawn gagged from the smell. It was everywhere really, but that amazing adaptability living things possess, had tuned it out. The moment he thought of the smell, there it was, clawing at his nose and trying to tear out his soul. He violently shoved the smell aside. Another living person was more important than one fifth of his senses.

“Hey,” he whispered as quietly as he could.

There was a pause, then just as quietly a response.

“Fuck off,” said the only other living person left in the prison.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Since Shawn knew every guard in the place he realized as soon as he heard the voice he had found a prisoner.

“Shit,” he thought to himself. Aloud he said, “Hey man, we have to get out of here. I don’t know why you were in prison, and I don’t care. The world has ended and whatever was going on before ended with it.”

Silence

“Listen,” Shawn continued, “You may have had friends in here. I had friends too. It don’t matter anymore. They are not your friends. And I may not be your friend either, but it’s just you and me. left There’s them and there’s us. So whatever you did before, I don’t care. If we don’t team up, we’ll be joining the other side.”

The voice coming out of the pile was so soft he almost didn’t hear it.

“I killed a man to get in here.”

“Well,” Shawn replied philosophically, “Let’s hope you didn’t lose that skill.”

“Where the hell we gonna go?” whispered the voice. “We gonna die anyway.”

“That may be true,” said Shawn. “I don’t know why we’re still alive, and I don’t know what’s happened to the rest of the world, but I sure as hell want to find out. I figure if we can get clear of the prison we may have a shot. There’s weapons in the Warden’s office. Maybe he’s holed up in there and we can bust out of this place with him.”

“Nah, El Capitan went down last, but he went down,” said the voice.

“Shit. Where?” said Shawn.

“Dunno,” said the voice.

“You don’t know?” said Sawn incredulously. “I thought you just said you saw it happen.”

“Man, there were zombies and I was trying not to die. My priorities were elsewhere,” came the annoyed response.

“Ok, Ok. What’s your name?” sighed Shawn.

“AJ,” said the voice.

“Well AJ, I know that the Warden kept the keys to his office on him at all times. I also know he kept the lock combination in his wallet. We’re gonna need those to get guns. I don’t know about you, but I want a gun,” said Shawn.

“A low chuckle came from the pile. “Warden lost his wallet. In the mess, I saw Big Dan lift if from him.”

“Let me guess, you don’t know where Big Dan is either,” growled Shawn.

The pile heaved and body parts tumbled across the tile. Out of the corpses rose a man caked in rot and grime. He was medium build and his eyes burned bright with rage and fear. Other than that, it was almost impossible to tell what he looked like for all of the blood and gore that coated his jumpsuit hair and skin. Shawn hoped AJ didn’t have any cuts on him. Adding to his fearful appearance, he held a riot shield. With all the blood and the shield, Shawn imagined he looked more like a Roman soldier in battle than anything else.

“It was crazy in here man. You know where all your people are?” asked AJ.

“My people are corpses AJ, just like yours,” said Shawn. “Right, we need to search for that key and the combo. Then we’re gonna get into that office and get those guns. And when we do-”

AJ interrupted, “When we do that pig, I’m gettin outta this here block.”

“But what’s out there?” Shawn wondered silently as they walked out of the shower. Is it any better than this?”