Authors: Cole Connelly
Alive and Fighting: Lost and Found
"Listen Keith, I'm tired. We've been through this waltz for three stanzas now, aren't you ready for a new song and dance?" the Grey Klansman asked, lifting the split chin of a very broken Keith.
"Already…told you, Lynn…fishin'…by the bridge…nothin' else…" Keith gurgled through coughs of blood.
"Keith. Keith Keith Keith, anyone ever tell you how much your name sucks to say quickly? It does. Like I said, I'm tired, so unless you've got some fancy footwork you've been savin' for the last note, I'm gonna go get the rope." Lynn said, standing up from his crouched position.
"Doesn't…change it…crate said 'Leviathan'…caught it under the bridge…that's all…" Keith managed, before spitting a mouth of blood onto the dirt floor, which bore the stains of more mouthfuls than Keith's.
"Suit yourself Keith, we didn't want to have to hang Lacey, she's uninfected s'far as we know." Lynn said, walking towards the door.
"Wait!…don't…don't hurt Lacey…should never have sent that letter…" Keith added, pulling his head up to look Lynn in the eyes, remarkably difficult since his own were mostly bruised shut.
"Oh? So this whole dance you've had your eye on someone in the corner have you? Just stringin' us along? Pipe up, this last two step's a doozey." Lynn harped, returning to crouch in front of Keith.
"Back of the lid…had a tracking marker on it…looked functional…thought I'd sell it for scrap…others…might use the same radio channel…" Keith slurred, blood once again filling his mouth.
"Well, someone had his shiny shoes all tucked away didn't he! Well, better to use them for the last note than to never get a chance to wear'em at all…now where is it?" Lynn demanded, taking a hold of the back of Keith's drooping head.
"My apartment…in the coffee pot…don't hurt Lacey." Keith replied, spitting another mouthful of blood against the dirt.
"What a good big brother you are. I give you my word, no harm'll come to her…unless blood webs start poppin' up on'er, that is. If she turns I can't uphold my end, s'the best I can do." Lynn explained, to which Keith nodded once before passing out.
"Jackson, get Mr. Keith here all patched up, and tell Hank's guys we won't need to go get Lacey." Lynn ordered into a walkie-talkie.
Seconds later the sound of metal gears turning alerted Lynn that Jackson was already there and opening the large sliding door to their interview chamber. The dirt floors and rusted walls matched the rest of the Grey Klan's base. It was one of very few buildings constructed in the time after the Infection wiped most human life off the globe over twenty years prior. Jackson flicked a switch as he entered, illuminating two more bulbs, bringing the total number of lights in the room to three. Each hung on a single wire, no shade, no housing, just a connector and a screw. Jackson entered the room as Lynn stepped out of it into the sunlight of the courtyard. The base compound surrounding the courtyard was a large square building constructed of scrap metal and salvaged steel. Sitting around the edges of the open courtyard were Grey Klansmen of all ranks, all in black shirts and drooped white hoods and masks.
Lynn continued through the courtyard, back into the compound building, all of it lit with the same shadeless bulbs as the interview chamber. Some of the other Klansmen nodded to him, which he returned, while some avoided what little gaze escaped his mostly concealing mask. He moved quickly through the building to a heavy metal door, flanked by two men, each with a rifle at the ready. The name carved into the imposing door read 'Cooper – Chief Arbiter.'
"He in?" Lynn asked one of the guards, who nodded and then struck the door twice with his free hand.
"I am a tad busy at the moment. Who needs what?" A southern drawl called from behind the metal.
"Lynn." The same guard stated emotionlessly.
"…Send him in." Cooper allowed, with the heavy metallic 'thunk' of a lock being undone.
Lynn walked past the husks of men flanking the door and pushed into Cooper's office. Though still made from the rusted metal and hanging light bulbs pervasive throughout the compound, Cooper's office managed to be more inviting. Many more lights dangled along the ceiling, and on the back wall was a window, one of only five in the entire facility. Granted, the window had two inch diameter bars criss-crossing it, but one could still see the sun and clouds outside.
"This had better be about that Daniels boy. He has already killed eight of our most highly trained executioners." Cooper said, not looking up from the myriad of papers that were strewn across his desk.
"No sir. We, I believe I found a lead on 'Leviathan.' I'd li-" Lynn began, only to be cut off by a now wide eyed Cooper.
"Language, boy." Cooper interrupted, locking eyes with Lynn.
"Of course sir…I would" Lynn resumed, to which Cooper smiled once before returning to his papers. "I would like to request a small team to pursue the lead, and a larger force in case it turns out to be what we've…what we have been looking for."
"You believe this lead to be genuine?" Cooper asked, gathering his papers into a neat stack.
"Yes sir. There is a chance that we would need one of the Apes to help track down Leviathan's exact whereabouts, but other than that, we could have it sir." Lynn elaborated, watching his words carefully.
"Should the need arise, Rilla is one of the Apes' best Runners and still well within my pockets. He would be glad to assist in the hunt. If the lead turns up a dead end, there need to be no loose ends. Do you hear me? Anyone in this city who has even ever heard the word 'Leviathan' needs to disappear. Keep me apprised." Cooper instructed, turning his graying head back down to the documents that so enticed him.
Lynn nodded once, but it went unnoticed. Cooper was once again completely absorbed in his own work. Making good time back to the courtyard, Lynn clapped sharply once, drawing the attention of everyone around him. He raised one hand high into the air with his pinky, ring, and middle finger raised. Three Klansmen rose and quickly joined him as he crossed the yard towards a large metal sliding door, just like the one that separated the courtyard from the interview chamber. A young Grey, who could not have been more than twenty, stood beside the chain pulley that would open the door. He kept his hood and mask off, hanging behind his head just as most new recruits did, unaccustomed to the slight vision impairment.
"Hold up, you need written permission to access the armory." The young Grey stated, putting his hand up and stepping in front of the pulley.
"Move aside Trent." Lynn said, pushing Trent by the face against the wall and opening the door himself.
"Agh…Listen sir, you need a signed permission slip from the Chief Arbiter to take things out of the armory." Trent continued, from his seated position against the metal wall.
"Listen here Trent, I respect that you want to do your job and do it right, but you see these red strips?" Lynn knelt down and gestured to the strips of red cloth that hung from his shoulder pads. "They mean I'm a deputy arbiter, they mean I can do what I want, including access the armory. So if Cooper comes down and wonders where a handful of weapons went, you tell him that Lynn took'em, aight?"
Trent nodded once, eyes locked with what eyes of Lynn's he could see through the mask. Lynn tousled Trent's hair before pushing himself back into a standing position, using Trent's head as ballast. He and his three other Klansmen entered the armory and surveyed their available options. Lynn looked at the guns, neatly arranged along one wall and the blades and other melee weapons that lined the other.
"Have any of you fired a gun before?" Lynn asked his followers, looking back at them.
"Does a crossbow count?" One of them spoke up, stepping forward.
"Sure, we've got a few. What's your name and rank?" Lynn asked as he took a compound crossbow with wooden furniture off the wall.
"Yancy, I'm a hangman sir." Yancy replied, accepting the bow and bolts, which he promptly slung across his back.
"Lord that's a horrible name…you guys, name and rank." Lynn requested, walking to the wall of blades.
"Gil, soldier, sir." Gil said proudly, as Lynn continued to pace the wall.
"Vera, hangman as well." Vera replied, her voice shocking Lynn momentarily, who had not realized she wasn't another man.
"Vera? Shit, maybe the recruits have the right idea not wearing masks. You been a woman this whole time?" Lynn asked, taking two black machetes off the rack of dozens of identical blades.
"My whole life, sir. With these masks I get that question weekly." Vera replied with a small laugh.
"Ha! Know what? I think I like you Vera, real go getter…anyway. I imagine none of you know what mission you've signed up for so here's the short version. We're going into town to get a computer chip out of some jackass's coffee pot. With luck it'll lead us to a much bigger prize. If there are no questions, let's move out," Lynn explained handing the blades to Vera and Gil."Wait, sir, are you going unarmed?" Vera asked, following behind him.
"I'm never unarmed." Lynn replied, flicking his wrists out. With that motion two long, slender blades flipped out of his wrist guards like switch blades and with a small metallic click, locked in place. He relaxed his hands again and the blades rotated quickly back into the bracers, out of sight, locking in place once more.
Lynn's demonstration silenced Trent, who moments before looked as though he had worked up the nerve to tell Lynn off again for entering the armory without written permission. Vera, Yancy, and Gil followed close behind Lynn as he crossed the courtyard once again. The group made quick time through the building, passing by the barracks, where rows and rows of beds built from shipping pallets and grass stuffed sacks were crammed end to end; then by a secondary armory housing only scavenged firearms, sportsmen's hunting rifles and shotguns and pistols made for home defense, along with all the ammunition the Grey Klan could find, whether they had something that could shoot it or not, this ramshackle armory was watched by two unfaltering guards, like the ones who protected Cooper's office; and then by a massive mess hall, with a kitchen in back that used metal sheets fashioned into ovens heated by wood fires. The main room, liked the barracks, was filled with ramshackle furniture, made from repurposed timber and scrap metal.
Finally making it out of the base, they had a view of The Breakers District. Their compound stood alone in a barren field. What had once been a small neighborhood had been leveled by the Klan to make way for their permanent base of operations. For almost a half mile in every direction around the base, remnants of homes could be seen, broken pipes sticking out of the ground, small sections of tiling, and broken walls. What stood out most prominently in the Klan's territory was their massive Gallows Tree. A telephone pole at least twenty feet tall stood in front of the Grey Klan base, with two massive branches jutting from the top and another pair perpendicular half way up. From each branch hung no less than five nooses. While no bodies currently swung from the Gallows Tree, there were times when the tree hosted a full complement of fallen Grey Klan adversaries. While the Gallows tree was used for executions, more often than not, the bodies that hung from it had been slain in battle, and served as warnings to the Klan's foes.
"So where exactly are we headed?" Vera asked as they passed the Gallows Tree.
"Old Business District, the guy lived in one of the old office buildings, city hall I think. From what I could turn up, it was gutted and turned into a shit ton of housing 'bout eight months back." Lynn explained, pointing off to the northwest.
"OBD? We may want to get some gear then, that's a long walk." Gil suggested, as the group came to a stop.
"Nah, we won't be walking, we found an old post driver truck rusting by the river in the Arsenal Park District. Finally got it working last week. Me an' the other deputies have been using it for distance missions and today it's mine." Lynn explained, taking a seat on an overturned drum before letting out a long whistle.