1 Chapter 11 Same Shit Different Day
The days had turned to weeks, and then time's endless march had turned them in to long months. The crew of five had adapted well to living within the confines of the rebuilt and now armor plated trailers that created comfortable if cramped living quarters for the five of them as they roared the highways of America, stopping only to keep their supplies topped off. But they had also looted bookstores for texts on every conceivable topic from agriculture to engineering, making sure that they had the knowledge necessary to prevent humanity from backsliding in to barbarism. If only they had known what was to come.
The roving band of road warriors had come to an unspoken agreement that they were searching for a community of like minded survivors that they could at least trade goods and supplies with, if not join. They had yet to find out just yet.
In the driver's seat, with his foot pressing gently down upon the accelerator of the vehicle that had been christened "Fortress," sat former Police Sergeant Robert Cross of the California Highway Patrol. Operation Takedown had lead to the arrest and eventual imprisonment of every major street racer except for one woman. That particular car chase had set California on edge, crossing state lines twice before Cross had lost control in a spectacular 1080 degree flip that should have ended him. Suffice to say, driving was the man's forte but he could move and shoot as well as the rest of his comrades when it came down to it.
The front passenger seat was occupied by Cameron Hunter, formerly of the Sheraton Resort Hotel Portland, a man who had run from Europe to America to escape a broken past that when asked about involved, "half a dozen SWAT teams, twice as many police officers, and the medical staff of three hospitals." Like always, he was dressed in black, wearing the same body armor he had been wearing for weeks along with the four Glock 18C pistols in thigh holsters and shoulder harnesses. The H&K MP5 sub-machine gun lay across his lap as he exchanged light banter with Robert, both men doing the best they could to fill in an already awkward silence.
The remaining trio relaxed inside the vehicle, but close to the gun ports as they talked about themselves, their lives, hopes, dreams, real plans and what they would be doing if the dead had decided to stay dead and what they would do if the undead ceased to be a threat in their lifetimes. Hope remains the source of humanities greatest strength and inspiration, no matter how bad the situation.
Robert eased off the accelerator, bringing them to a halt at a regular occurrence: The impromptu roadblock caused by a massive vehicular pile up during the first days when people fled everywhere like rats on a sinking ship trying to escape the dead. They only had to wait for an instant before the horde came crawling from the wreckage as they groaned and moaned towards the fresh meat. Robert brought the engine to life, slamming the gears in to reverse as he backed away from the barricade, "Gunners up!" shouted Cameron.
The shout had Jaira and Natalie springing to the gun ports as Nastia made her way past the storage bins and shelves full of salvaged goods to the gun ports mounted in the second trailer where they waited, the barrels of the assorted firearms already protruding through the firing slits. Wisely they held their fire with too few targets and too much distance between them. Not to mention that the bulk of the fortress would grind most of the undead in to a rough paste. Only Cameron fired out the front gun port, blasting the few dead that had managed to latch on to the vehicle off the hood. Several tried to claw their way to the metal mesh reinforced glass windscreen before being perforated by gunfire. Robert backed them away faster than the oncoming horde as Cameron dropped the expended clip to the floor of the cab, "There's a thin spot in the wreck line on the far side of the road."
"S-S-D-D," said Robert, "It's always on the other side of the damn road." Cameron grunted as he flicked off the safety and sighted down the rough metal sights. A three round burst stabbed through a quartet of cheerleaders marching with the step-drag-stumble-step zombie walk. His first burst felled one as controlled bursts walked ruination through their skulls. The stupidity of the zombies was unmatched as they continued their drunken stagger scrambling over whatever is in front of them in their eagerness to feed.
"Dozen on the left!" called Robert. There was no verbal acknowledgement but controlled bursts and single shots easily trimmed down the small collection of advancing zombies. For the five men and women, the vehicle's interior was not especially cramped to live in but the sound of gunfire inside tended toward the softer side of deafening and they had agreed that something would have to be done about it before they lost their hearing permanently.
Eyeballing the distance, Robert brought them to a temporary halt. Satisfied, the vehicle lurched forward again as Robert downshifted with practiced ease. The top speed of the fortress had never been accurately assessed but as the needle crept past fifty kilometers an hour, Robert adjusted their heading slightly to line up with the weakness Cameron had pointed out minutes before.
Several of the undead bounced off the reinforced battering ram bumper and spun, arms flailing before falling to the ground as the Fortress swept past. They were fortunate that the wreckage actually had a weakness they could exploit even if it was with bone jarring force. At seventy kilometers an hour, glass broke and metal screamed as the piles of vehicle wreckage collapsed, crushing a quantity of the gathered dead as they pulled away.
Other such roadblocks had forced them to spend time like a bulldozer while the undead beat on their armored walls. They maintained a brief vigil on the dead behind them as they rode on, until they were mere specks in the distance. Nastia mumbled something and then paused as her stomach rumbled, rarely wrong when it came to meal time. "What'd you say?" asked Natalie.
"S-S-D-D," was the soft accented reply.
That got a smile from Natalie, "Not quite. We didn't have to listen to them pound on the walls for half an hour this time."
"Ok, ok, fine. D-S-D-D."
"Nah. It's S-S-D-D… it's always S-S-D-D."
Noon had come and gone as they paused for lunch and argued for a few moments over what exactly they should eat, considering that their supplies were still very well topped off. Cameron's suggestion of corned beef with crackers and strawberry syrup received a well deserved vote of no confidence, settling on something marginally better in Jaira's mind as they boiled water to re-hydrate and revive the MREs.
"Meals Ready to Eat" are the kind of meals that Cameron would enjoy cooking considering that he could boil water without burning down a kitchen. Then again, Cameron would eat almost anything. Out of all the possible flavors, the Chili Con Carne variant did taste rather well. With the massive road map spread out across their dining table, they discussed their next move, and came to the conclusion that they would have better luck in all things if they just pushed on.
They briefly discussed their next destination as they ate and a list came together amounting to about a dozen cities and half dozen states. Washington D.C., New York and other East Coast locations were disregarded almost immediately due to the distance involved. Even if they could raid and keep themselves well supplied and their mobile home running, they would need a fixed place to call home for the winter when the nearly all metal Fortress would become a mobile freezer, unless they somehow managed to install central heating.
The remainder of the day passed in relative quiet as they traveled the highway, stopping occasionally as Robert applied power to bulldoze vehicular carcasses aside or to break through the impromptu barricades. To Cameron, it seemed that there was one every couple of kilometers. Early afternoon saw Robert shout to Cameron and the others, "We're down to one third on fuel!" That single comment sent Nastia and Natalie to the Rand McNally road maps that they had taken from a long abandoned truck stop months ago. Figuring out their position took only a few short moments, and a few more minutes to figure out where the nearest gas station was located: Twenty five kilometers down the highway in the small town of Klamath Falls.
They always started searching for a refuel when they were down to a third of a tank, which meant that they had plenty of fuel to reach the nearest petrol station. They kept a fifty gallon drum of fuel in the rear trailer just in case. Robert pulled them in to place alongside the petrol pumps and they waited. While they had seen little of the local undead population on the way in, the zombies hordes had a habit of moving around, whether following patterns or commands, nobody was sure, but whenever large groups of the undead went, they always left a couple of stragglers behind. Waiting was probably the most unnerving part of anything they did, and Cameron used the time to call a meeting so that they could decide once where they were heading, as they were truly at a Crossroads: South to California or East to Las Vegas.
It was quickly agreed that the deserts of Arizona and Las Vegas was a bad idea and that left them with the obvious destination: California. Cameron sat back as his team discussed what they should be doing. The role of "leader" was Cameron's by circumstance and while he had grown in to the role, he preferred to let his team hammer out decision democratically. He sat back and let them discuss and argue the matter at hand, as the undead would make their own decision regarding whether or not they wanted to hassle the Spartans while they refueled.
The debate had ranged between raiding for supplies and finding another community of survivors, and had turned in to a debate between Natalie and Jaira which prompted Robert to whisper, "I love a good cat fight." Cameron chuckled and fell silent as both men received death stares from the arguing women. Anastasia choose the moment to slide in to the debate, "You've both got valid reasons," she paused for a moment, and both gave her the floor, knowing full well that English was not even her second language, but her third of four if her ability with Russian Sign Language was included, "We need bigger guns and better firepower to better defend the Fortress," she gestured towards their armory, "We have a mix of different guns but these are small and just not enough. We need something bigger for the roof as well… mobile artillery or rockets or missiles because you can't hit anything from the roof with what we have... not even a machine gun would be able to hit anything," she smiled, the sweet kind of smile that only a teenager could produce, "unless you're planning on shooting down planes or helicopters."
Cameron nodded in agreement, "Makes sense. So does anyone know where we can find a machine gun, and may be a couple of missile launchers," he shot a sidelong glance at Nastia, "to shoot down planes?"
That brought a brief round of chuckles and smiles, and it was heartwarming to Cameron, behind his impassive face that his crew were still capable of a laugh and a smile, no matter how bad things got, and more importantly, the fact that they had not lost sight of the bigger, and more important picture. The question however, was answered with silence except for Robert, "I know just the place: Parks Army Base which just happens to be in California, quite close to us." "
"How do you know about military bases?" asked Cameron.
"Call it random luck," he shrugged nonchalantly, "The first take down I made was outside the base itself – turned out it was an off duty Sergeant trying to make it to the base hospital because his wife was in labor," he smiled at the memory, "I followed him on to the base and to the hospital just to make sure that he wasn't trying to get out of a ticket."
"What happened next?" poked Nastia.
"I got to meet the Sergeant's son the next day. We became pretty good friends over the years and I had his help in an arms smuggling case where military hardware was being sold to rival street gangs." Silence descended for a moment, as they all realized that they were all dead.
Cameron covered quickly, "Right… we refuel and then make our way to the base. We'll camp on its perimeter tonight and hit the base tomorrow. Questions?" there were none. He nodded, "Grab your gear." The meeting broke up on that note, but as always it was with the knowledge that they had a purpose and a direction to move forward. It was a "something" that kept them all from thinking too much about the future and or the past and what could have been.
Lacking proper body armor, they had made do with what they had: Heavy boots with thick denim jeans for the lower body. Upper body protection was comprised of simple Kevlar vests with a heavy leather jacket, sweater or something that would be able to shrug off a bite attack but as the saying went, "Where there is one zombie, you'll be counting plenty more." Cameron as always, found himself wishing that they had suppressed weapons, or silencers for their firearms. Even a small Beretta Bobcat allowed for the elimination of the undead at a relatively safe distance. But the noise was also effective at attracting the unwanted attention from other nearby zombies.
With the Spartan crew ready, they opened the armored sliding door on the side and Cameron was the first to the ground, covering Nastia and Jaira who lugged the heavy crank operated fuel siphon between them to the ground. Jaira deftly opened the top of the underground fuel tank while Nastia setup the pump and filler hose. The connection in place she began turning the crank, sucking up and then spitting diesel fuel into the empty cavernous tanks of the Fortress.
Robert stayed at the wheel of the vehicle but kept a cautious watch upon their front arc as Cameron covered the left arc along with Nastia, weapons tracking back and forth ensuring overlapping patterns of coverage as they watched their own zones and each others as well. Natalie had thrown open the roof flap and was stretched out on the heavy transparent plastic mounted to protect the solar panels as she scanned the area surrounding them through the scope of her sniper rifle.
The knowledge that she was so well protected gave Jaira a sense of comfort as she continued to turn the handle, pumping precious fuel and making too much noise in the process. Luck ran out, proving she is a fickle mistress as from nowhere a dead women staggered from around the truck stop, taking no notice of them as she continued to stagger onwards with someplace to go and something important to do. Jaira's hand slipped and she overbalanced, crashing in to the side of the Fortress, causing the woman to pause as she seemed to sniff the air, her head thrown back with her mouth lolling open. That was when others started to stream out of the truck stop's small market and office, as more appeared from behind the building. Cameron took careful aim with the suppressed MP-5 and sent a single bullet in to the woman's left temple, "Contact!" he hissed. She fell but not before a fat dead woman took the recently vacated position of "horde leader" came forward out of the darkened interior of the truck stop's mini-mart.
Natalie pulled the trigger and the Austrian designed Steyr Scout sent her first bullet of the engagement through the fat woman's forehead. She swung the rifle on its bipod and set her sights on the doorway of the truck stop. She fired again and blew the top portion of a young man's head off. Cameron held his ground, taking precise single shots, and double tapping where necessary as he cut down the advancing undead, as Nastia joined in. Natalie' focus upon the mini-mart had caused "log jam" as the undead farther in tripped and stumbled, blocking the doorway for the moment. She caught the movement peripherally and swung her rifle. The shot took a zombie circling around the far side of the pumps through the neck and dropped the creature. It didn't rise, "How's it going?"
"Full tank!" Jaira replied while pulling up the hose and replacing the cap, "Cover me!" Cameron grunted in irritation as he dropped the spent MP-5, letting it dangle from its strap as he drew the first pair of Glocks from their thigh holsters and continued to execute the oncoming dead. Both guns ran dry as he slapped them back in to their holsters and cross drew his second pair of Glocks. Nastia called she was reloading and the gunfire tapered off for a moment before Nastia's MP-5 rejoined the fray. Down to half on both guns, he was relieved when he heard the shouted magic word, "Clear!"
When they had first started roaming the ruins of America, there had been some concern as to whether there was sufficient fuel available to keep the fortress rolling. But with so few people left alive to drive, and the sheer number of petrol stations in towns, cities and truck stops along the interstate highways meant thousands of gallons of fuel left for the taking. "S-S-D-D," grunted Robert from the driver's seat as he turned the key and brought the engine to life. Cameron grabbed one side of the pump and pushed Jaira on board as bullet's whistled through the air behind him, practically throwing himself inside, the door slammed shut behind him as they pulled out of the truck stop and made their way towards their next destination: Parks Army Base.
They passed through the small community on the outskirts of the base, only to stir up the undead as usual. Controlled shots killed the undead that wandered to close but they otherwise ignored them as they left the ghost town .Only a few minutes later, they rolled up on the base and its chain link and barbed wire fence perimeter. Their first sight of the base was nothing encouraging: Its fences were flattened. The gatehouse and vehicles parked there had been overrun by the dead. Several defenders lay where they had fallen, rifles and pistols near some of the skeletal remains. A true sense of abandonment lurked amongst the buildings that they could see. The defenders had clearly failed to consider that the gates would stand while the chain link fence topped with barbed wire would give way under the press of bodies. The base had fallen long ago, as the skeletons were the only clue the that the zombies had culled most if not all of the humans in the area, "What do you think?" asked Jaira.
"Appearances can be deceiving," replied Robert, "this base was the rally point for between five and ten thousand army reserve soldiers. The national guard was activated when the dead were deemed a serious problem… but there no telling whether they all mobilized or evacuated or whether there's a couple of thousand zombies inside."
"We setup for the night and hit the base as first light." ordered Cameron, "Standard watches tonight, and watch out for that undead we passed to get here – they might just be following us," business concluded he grinned at the gathering, "Who's cooking dinner tonight?"
He lights were turned to their usual low settings with only one small lamp in the cab and whatever personal bedside lights at around ten in the evening as everyone retreated to their bunks and pulled the curtains closed to gain a small measure of privacy as they settled down to sleep, the end of another day that was more or less routine since they took to the road. The first watch was quiet for Cameron, Jaira relieved him at midnight, "Nothing to report."
She brushed against him as they traded places in the front passenger seat of the cab, "How's your day been? S-S-D-D?" her hand rested briefly on his shoulder and he broke in to a smile and gave a gentle laugh. Every time they switched over, they took a few minutes for conversation. But like always, Cameron brushed aside her concern about how his day was with the typical nonchalant shrug of his shoulders but something made him hesitate this time, as he glanced in to her eyes for just a brief moment and saw something he'd seen there before, but was unwilling to take advantage off again, until tonight.
He wrestled with himself and his conscience for a few long moments, and knew that her responsibilities and by extension his to everyone else meant that like the past few nights, he would not be able to do anything about it. He shrugged his shoulders, "S-S-D-D."
She smiled and he did the same, before squeezing past her, the full body contact giving them both a moment's pause. She licked her lips hungrily as he retreated through the flexible tunnel to the armored trailers. She knew he'd settle into the lowest bunk on the bottom right side of the fortress as she settled in to the already warmed seat – one of the few advantages of having the second watch of the night.
Cameron was tired enough to not even think about anything as he kicked off his boots and hung up the holsters on the hooks bolted to the wall of the fortress and collapsed on to his bunk, not bothering with even the mussed blanket at the foot of the bunk. Having had the last watch the previous night, his day had been particularly long. He had only a moment to puzzle over the faint scent of jasmine or cherry blossom on his pillow as he closed his eyes voluntarily to let the comforting darkness of sleep take him as his last thought of the day came unbidden to his mind, "Same Shit, Different Day."