Authors: John Holmes,Ryan Szimanski
Irregular Scout Team One
The events of this story take place before “Even Zombie Killers Get
Syracuse, New York
ix months after the Zombie Apocalypse
The snow crunched under our boots, fell off branches, worked its way down through my Gortex parka. I pulled my balaklava up across my face, but couldn’t keep it there. My breath formed a mask of ice inside if I kept it up too long.
“Ahmed, what the hell do you know about tracking in the snow? Y
ou from the desert, man.” Jonesy stood with his rifle at the low ready, scanning the buildings around us, looking for movement.
Ahmed had bent down on one knee, looking at the tracks. They were no more than a concave depression in the snow, left there hours ago.
“In my country, where I lived, there were mountains. I was tracking snow leopards before you were born, African.” He didn’t look up, just continued to look at the track.
-American to you.”
“Whatever. Nick, this is about” and he looked up at the snow, measuring it as it fell “two hours ago.”
“Z or human?”
“Human, about a little more than fifty five kilograms.”
I tried to run the number in my head. “Give it to me in English, Ahmed.”
out one hundred twenty pounds. female, adult. Walking cautiously. Armed with at least a shotgun.”
shit!” said Jonesy. “How the hell do you know that shit?”
Ahmed looked at the big black man. “Maybe if we were in the ghetto you could teach me a thing or two. I can tell her weight by the compression of the snow. I weigh little more, and moving at the same pace I left about the same depth in the track. Female by the way her prints lay in the
snow, her hips have a lower center of gravity.”
“OK, OK, I buy that shit. But no way
you can know what kinda piece she is carrying.”
An amused smile spread under Ahmed’s beard. “Want to bet?”
“I thought you Muslims didn’t bet.”
“I do when it is easy to win” and he held up a rusty 12 gauge shotgun shell. “She dropped this, and swept the ground trying to find it.”
“Damn, you is some spooky shit, Ahmed.”
I was getting impatient, and I knew Doc would be getting cold on the rear guard if we stood still too long. The snow was stopping, but the temperature was dropping, and I wanted to get indoors before night fell. Cold never stopped Zombies, and we needed to fort up somewhere in the ruins of Syracuse University.
Our team, a mix of civilians and military, Irregular Scout Team One, was spearheading the advance of Task Force Liberty through Central New York. The Army was assembling a massive task force at Seneca Army Depot, and we were on our first scout for them, looking for Zombie Hordes, checking the condition of bridges and other infrastructure, finding survivors.
We had diverted to Syracuse University to check out the rare books section of the University Library, find out if there was anything worth salvaging. A year ago, during the Zombie Apocalypse, little thought had been given to saving anything; survival was the only thing on the government’s mind. SU had two pages from a Gutenberg Bible, and we were tasked to recover them. A quick in and out,
but being in the middle of a large city was freaking me out.
“OK, we’ll keep looking for her.
Ahmed, keep tracking, but Jonesy, keep up your guard. We could be in the shit in a split second.” It was Jonesy and Ahmed’s first mission with me and Doc, and I trusted Ahmed’s combat experience, but not the city guy like Jones.
The giant Jones, who stood almost seven feet of pure muscle, shrugged his shoulders as if to say “not worried about it” and continued to watch ahead of Ahmed as we moved through the snow. Maybe he would work out.
I had been expecting the snow to stop when the temperature dropped, but a fierce lake effect storm swept across Syracuse. In it I could smell the ashes of the rest of the country. It smelled and tasted bitter and acrid, reminding me of the fires that burned for weeks at Ground Zero in New York City after 9-11. Thank God the operators of the Oswego Nuclear Power Plant had managed to shut down the reactors and didn’t suffer a meltdown, or else most of Central New York between here and Watertown would be glowing in the dark. There had only been a few reactor disasters, but they had been bad, and there were parts of the country that we couldn’t go near unless we
were wearing full MOPP IV, suit; mask, boots and respirator.
The swirling snow cut visibility down to a few feet, and ahead of me Ahmed disappeared and reappear
ed as we made our way up the stairways of the university. They were slick and covered with layers of ice that we had to crunch through, step by step. At least it would help slow down any zombies that might show up.
We had dropped in by helo earlier in the day, into an open space in Oakwood Cemetery. I laughed to myself at the irony, but you were never going to ever find a Z wandering around a cemetery. All that movie bullshit about the dead rising from their graves had been just that. Whatever had caused the Zombie Apocalypse, it only infected living material. Good thing, too, because there are literally billions of corpses buried around the world, in various stages of decay. I think that we would have been done for sure if that had happened.
As it was, the world was in a sorry state. The bitter smell in the air and in the snow was the result of fires that had burned all last summer, cities around the world burning. Modern weapons don’t care much what they set on fire, and the worlds’ militaries had expended every single bullet, grenade, bomb, artillery shell, and incendiary device in its inventory, even dropping a few nukes, to stop the zombie plague.
I thought back
to the briefing I had received at Seneca Army Depot when I had been brought in. I had come in out of wild three months after the plague, helping rescue a downed fighter pilot outside Schenectady. They had shown us news coverage of the fighting, the retreat from the East Coast, the last stand in Texas against the horde that swarmed northward out of Mexico, the 101
getting overrun outside of DC while the government evacuated. Boston had disappeared in a flash of nuclear fire, and irritated zombies still stumbled around the ruins of Los Angeles. It had been touch and go for months, but the center had held, and the Army, Marines, National Guard, even the Air Force units who had never expected to have guns in their hands, had managed to hold the tide.
Now, well, now we advanced. Fighting in the eastern range of the Rockies, and a shoot on sight order in the Pacific Northwest had preserved Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, and parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Northern California. The Columbia Federal District
, Basically the Pacific Northwest, was packed with forty million refugees and under strict martial law, and churning out light infantry units like mad. The Army had secured the rail lines from Boise, Idaho to Green Bay, Wisconsin and fought a hard fight in Buffalo all through the fall. Avoiding the ruins of Rochester, the old Erie Canal was up and running from there to Seneca Army Depot, flush with Navy Patrol Boats and barges moving M2 Bradleys, Abrams Tanks, and modified Humvee gun trucks. The plan was open up the rail and water lines between Buffalo and New York City, and start resettling the fertile farm lands of upstate New York with some of those forty million refugees. It would wait till spring, but for now, scouts were out.
Which meant that I was here, in the darkest part of January, with my team.
Doc and I had just flown back in from Joint Base Lewis- McChord, outside Seattle, and recruited these guys from the FEMA camp in Buffalo. Replacements for some team members that had died or been wounded on a mission in California. It also meant that I was cold, tired, hungry, and I smelled. Something which, apparently, I never get used to..
I was brought back to
the present when I looked up and realized that the falling snow had cut off all visibility of Ahmed in front of me. I stopped and turned around. No Jonesy. In my day dreaming, I had missed a turn and we had all gotten separated. “Oh shit” I muttered to myself, and started to shout for them, then stopped. A yell would call every zombie within a half mile, storm or not. Not a problem, I thought to myself, and started to backtrack my way through the snow.
At that moment, the snowfall stopped, though the wind kept blasting through the buildings. I was in the middle of the open space of the University buildings. Lake effect snow is like that, coming on as quick blizzard
-like squall, then a shaft of sunlight, then whiteout again.
Around me stood more than a hundred animated corpses, shambling around in circles, being pushed around by the howling wind in their mindless search for the living. Yep, my daydreaming was finally going to get me killed.
When in doubt, shoot. There was no negotiating, or holding still on the hope they wouldn’t see me. The nearest one facing me was twenty feet away, and I swung up my silenced M-4 Carbine and put a round through its head. The creature, a young woman wearing an orange and blue SU sweatshirt, fell with a thud. I spun to the next one facing me and fired. The shot ripped through the Zombie’s throat, sending a shower of blood and gore. The Z fell down with the impact of the round, then started to get up again.
I know, I know, head shots only. No
one, and I repeat, no one, can hit a moving target, even from less than thirty feet away, with the wind blowing, snow swirling around, and below freezing temperatures, hampered by lined gloves and pumped up on adrenaline, while scared shitless. It just doesn’t happen, no matter how many TV shows or movies see it that way. Members of elite anti-terrorist units, which I was definitely not, fire literally thousands of rounds a week to gain that skill, and it is a skill you lose quickly without practice. Yeah, I missed.
The zombies were alert now, and my plan to drop the nearest without them noticing had gone to hell. Time to haul ass, which is what I did. As I ran, I shrugged off my pack and dropped it in the snow. I was down to my basic load
out, three hundred rounds of 5.56 and my emergency pack.
It worked, for about ten meters. Then I tried to round a corner of a building, get them to lose sight of me, and I slipped on a sheet of ice and fell. I was instantly
back up, but my ankle was sending some really bad signals to the pain receptors in my brain. I hobbled along, trying to maintain my footing, stopping to fire every few feet. The horde grew closer, even though I dropped one or two, then my slide locked back on an empty magazine. I dropped the carbine in its sling and drew my 9 mm, Army issue Berretta. The first round stove piped, the ejected brass getting caught in the slide, jamming the gun. I had always hated that piece of crap pistol, and the ones we had been given had seen some hard use. I dropped it back in the holster, then pulled out my axe handle.
BANG! A shotgun went off less than two feet from my ear, and the closest Z’s head exploded. I turned to see a slight figure, wrapped in a civilian parka and snow gear. “WHAT DO YOU WANT, A FUCKING INVITATION? LETS GO, DIPSHIT!” I could barely hear them over the ringing in my ear. They ran through a doorway and into one of the buildings. I ran after the slight figure with the horde hot on my heels.
Inside the door a stairway went upwards. I looked for a door that we could duck through, but the woman, or so I figured it must be, kept heading up the stairs. I followed close behind, outdistancing the Z’s,
who always had a hard time with steps, trying to keep off my ankle.
At the fifth flight of stairs, we ducked in through an open archway. I followed her across the wrecked classroom to a shattered window. She turned to me and pulled down the mask covering her face. Blue eyes, pale skin and red
hair blazed out at me, her face glowing with the exertion and a crazy grin.
“Come with me if you want to live!” she shouted, and with that she flipped the shotgun across her back, threw a
leather belt across a steel cable affixed to a support column, and slid out into the blowing snow.