Jordain shrugged, his eyes following mine, weapon raising as my face opened wide. I pushed my hand out, resting on his forearm, but still it climbed. I saw the resolve in his eyes as he first caught sight, the training racing through his brain with no thought, hands settling on the grip of the rifle as it travelled through the air to find its target.
This was a man who’d raised his weapon in combat before. The lines across his face set with a glare I’d seen so many times in the battlegrounds of Afghanistan, on other faces in other time zones and on both sides other the line. It was the look of someone who knew they would take a life. Knew they were putting themselves forward for the ultimate sacrifice, but never had I seen the pause, the raise of the head, the widening of the eyes as he pulled his head up from the sight, his humanity pausing for thought before he pulled the trigger, despite his most recent training telling him he had to put the woman with half her clothes missing and a great wound on her shoulder, down and down hard.
“No,” I said keeping my voice calm despite my inner panic, Ryan doing the same with Jordain’s colleague, the one we’d yet to know his name. Jordain turned, his fair eyes asking a question, a thought so obvious to anyone looking on, anyone seeing this played out in their mind’s eye, but not to those in the flesh, only moments from the creatures touch, the creature’s hungry bite. “We need to run, you’ll only attract more.”
I turned around and saw I hadn’t needed to say the words, others followed behind the pace setter passing between the fence and the flat bed truck, with it their foul stench followed on the wind.
“No,” I said. “We need to go.”
Jordain nodded, turning to his left, his weapon gripped hard, but pointed to the grass.
“Let’s go,” he said, following my example with his volume, but his colleague’s rose as his head shook to the side. Ryan backed off, knowing what would happen next, ushering me in through the van door before he ran around the front.
The round went off and the woman’s head exploded, sending her body to the floor, the remains of her brain covering the creatures at her back as they passed over her body without a pause. Jordain knocked the muzzle of the rifle down before he grabbed his colleague by the arm and dragged him towards the van.
No one spoke as Ryan rolled us over the ground, the van pitching up and down, leaving the creatures to follow until they shrank to nothing in the mirror leaving us alone to skirt with the houses at our right until the wheels bumped through ruts and we joined the tarmac.
With the engine left to settle to a low murmur, I was the first to speak, peering over my shoulder, catching Jordain as he looked back. His colleague sat against the rear doors, eyes fixed to the side, his view somewhere else altogether.
“This road is a straight run to the hospital,” I said, switching a quick glimpse to the small screen suckered to the window. Jordain nodded.
“There are three checkpoints along this route, the first should be over the horizon,” he said, leaning forward and raising his rifle to look through the scope. “But take it real easy on the approach. They may have seen a little more action than us. May not be as controlled.”
“You mean don’t count on them knowing their arse from their elbow.”
I paused my breath, waiting for a reaction.
“He didn’t,” I said, but Jordain shrugged, letting a playful smile flash across his face before I could finish.
“Touché,” he said. “It might be better if I walk alongside.” My eyes darted around the view as I twisted back in my seat, searching out across the flat scrub rolling either side. Unless the creatures hid in the undulating ground, ducked down ready to pounce, we weren’t in immediate danger. As the thoughts settled I remembered the creatures who were different, those who displayed a higher level of intelligence, those who I’d fought in the compound where this all started, those who’d killed the pair of joggers. But they were rare, I told myself, nodding back towards Jordain, all the while trying not to think on the feral woman’s words. Forcing myself to think of anything other than how they connected to the creature’s intelligence.
“Let me drive,” I said, much to Ryan’s disdain. “We’ll be slow. It’s getting better,” I said, trying to hold back the muscles in my face from reacting to the pain as I raised my right, slowly flexing each of the swollen fingers. “He says there’s nothing broken.”
“I should drive,” Ryan said.
I shook my head.
“He also said you should keep it elevated,” he replied flinched a look into the back.
“I need you out there walking alongside. I need you to film what we’re seeing,” I said, raising my brow as I widened my eyes in a smile. His protest sank and as the corners of my mouth raised, guilt gathering in my chest.
“What’s your name?” I said calling into the back. My eyes flitted between Jordain walking with his rifle in both hands across his front, his eyes scouring the view and Ryan at his side matching his pace, the camera on his shoulder pointed forward and along the shallow climb of the road to the seemingly endless appearance of another over the brow.
“Sheppard”, his reply came after another minute of silence.
“I’m Jess,” I said.
“From the news,” he replied, but it wasn’t a question. I nodded anyway. “We were told it was an exercise,” he said, his voice flat. “Then we were told there’d been a chemical release. They issued NBC suits, sent us out on patrols. Then just as we got the orders to go build the fences, we’re not engineers mind,” he said shaking his head. “Patrols came back with men missing and entire patrols not returning at all. Then they told us about the disease, about people being bitten, coming back to life. They showed a presentation in the briefing, a Powerpoint with bizarre footage. We all thought it was a joke, checked our watches for the date, making sure we hadn’t skipped three months without knowing it. They were showing a horror movie for fuck’s sake. We still didn’t believe it even when we were out there, but when we lost comms with our oppos, with the FOB, it all became real.”
I didn’t fill the pause, had no words to help.
“I’m sorry for shooting at you,” he added, his words soft, distant.
Shaking my head, I was about to say how I understood, knowing how crazy, how fucked up the whole situation was, but I’d seen something, a building rise from the side of the road straight ahead as we slowly rolled forward. I soon realised it was a shipping container painted dark green, the first sign of movement raising the corner of my lips and seeming to brighten the sky, until I realised there was too much movement, too many people. My breath stopped, soon forced down in a sharp inhale. The checkpoint lay ahead, but we could barely see the concrete blocks in the road for the dead ambling around, the odd head turning to us, already drawing in our direction.
As the shot exploded in the back of the van, every creature in view turned in our direction. I twisted, a scream coming unbidden when I saw Sheppard’s body settling to the carpet, his brains running down the white paint of the bulkhead, fingers wrapped tight around the butt of the pistol.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.