Kimberly Tania Tucker took careful aim with her rifle and slowly squeezed the trigger. The zombie she had picked out of the crowd fell silently and disappeared under the feet of his fellows. Kim ducked down behind the low wall of the building she was on, taking care to keep the long silencer on the end of her rifle from banging into anything. The silencer was not held onto the end too well and even a slight bump could cause it to shift, which would mean more work before she took her next shot. Further down along the same wall was her spotter Randy Stevens, he nodded to her, indicating the zombie had stayed down and he had confirmed the kill. A fiber optics cord was fed over the top of the wall allowing him to view the scene without exposing himself to the enemy. Too many military teams had already disappeared here in Chicago and this pair had no desire to join the ranks of the missing.
“Looks like you got him Katie.” 'Katie' for the initials of her first two names, she liked the acronym and as a nickname it worked better than something like 'horse' or 'spud.' “Ammo check.” Randy said his voice very official.
Katie pulled the box of rounds out of her belt pouch strapped to her back and visually scanned the number of bullets she had remaining, “I have nineteen in the magazine, and twenty-three more in the box. Subsonics, that is. I also have another box of twenty-six hundreds.” 'Another box' meant fifty more bullets. The subsonic bullets were designed for covert work, to travel under the speed of sound and when combined with the sound suppressor at the end of her rifle, the shots were inaudible. Unlike in the movies a silencer was only effective with bullets that didn't break the speed of sound. The twenty-six hundreds she had mentioned would be loud and were supposed to be used when discretion was no longer needed. The two of them had burned through a box of subsonics already and were starting to get nervous because their helicopter pickup had not arrived.
“Any word?” Katie asked Randy.
She had to ask, only Randy had a radio and it was piped through the headphones that he wore. Randy needed the radio more than she did, he was the forward observer and called in artillery from the support battery that was located outside of the city. The navy had sailed an old frigate into lake Michigan, parking it just over the horizon, theoretically Randy could call it for fire support too. So far his requests for pickup had all been denied without explanation, but the army still answered his calls to drop artillery on the enemy whenever he spotted a likely looking group of zombies that needed blowing up.
“They are leaving us high and dry.” Katie said.
“All those months you sat and collected a paycheck? Well now you have payback for that.”
“I shoulda been paid more.”
“Woman sniper, one of the very few and the very proud? Someone like you got paid enough if you ask me.”
“Watch it Randy, I'm the one with the gun.”
Technically this wasn't true, Randy had an M-16 with several clips of ammunition and Katie had a light pistol clipped to her belt, but both laughed at the weak joke.
“What are we going to do?” Randy asked.
“Dunno, why you asking me?”
“You outrank me. I think we are going to die.”
“Maybe you will, me I plan to live to give my momma the grandchildren she's always wanted.”
This subject too had come up a lot between them lately; they had been lovers the last six months and Randy was pressing to make their relationship something more than the 'fuck-buddies' that Katie was comfortable with.
“Tell you what Randy, if we get out of this, I will talk it over with you.”
“Jesus, you are cold! I was more hoping to squeeze you into an undying outpouring of love you would be too embarrassed to go back on later.”
“That is why you love me babe.”
“Yeah, why I love you.” Randy said, with only a trace of bitterness.
“They figure out where we are yet?” asked Katie pointing to Randy's fiber optic cord.
He shook his head, “No, the suits must be working.” both of them were dressed in an outer layer of thin material that the army claimed would bend light around the wearer, therefore, making them blend into their surroundings like a chameleon with the added benefit of dispersing their heat patterns into a form that didn't show up like a normal human's. Katie had seen soldiers using the camo suits and hadn't been very impressed, but they seemed to work wonders against the undead. The suits were not some fantasy 'invisibility cloak' out of the story books but based on real world physics with a moderate power consumption. The military prototypes had insisted that the suits either use off the shelf power sources or be rechargeable in the field. Katie and Randy wore the self-recharging models, which had worked great in broad daylight when the sun could hit the power cells built into the shoulders. Both of them were worried about what happened in the early morning, the batteries were only good for about four hours in the shade or after the sun went down. Supposedly the suits offered some protection even when not powered, but neither of them was looking forward to testing that theory.
“Two hours until sundown.” Randy said.
“Ask for orders about what to do.”
Randy turned back to the radio and was soon engaged in a conversation, after a few minutes he turned to her again. “They want us to sit tight.”
“Hah! I could have predicted that. You gonna call for artillery fire on the mob down there now that we took out the fast zombie?”
“I was thinking about it.”
“What is wrong?”
“It isn't doing any good. Every rain of fire I bring down, it kills or disables a lot of zombies, but more just rush out to take their place. It is like bailing out the ocean, no matter how much you work at it there is just more goddamned sea water filling the void.”
“That is why we get the big bucks; to fight hopeless battles.”
“No we get the big bucks to go in with overwhelming force, kick ass and pick up the pieces afterward, not for this shit.”
“Well, I don't think we can 'sit tight.' Even stupid zombies get lucky sometimes and that wasn't the last fast one I killed in that mob. I know they have shadows trying to pinpoint us.”
“I haven't seen any.”
“Look harder. I know there was one in that building across the way and if it gets up to the roof we will be exposed here.” The building Katie was talking about was taller than the one they were currently on top of, anyone higher up than them could see them easily. Leaning back so her rifle would not project above the low wall around the roof, Katie pointed the barrel at the floors looming higher than them across the street and began looking for the zombies she knew were there somewhere.
Randy sighed and adjusted his fiber optics cord to scan the building as well, “There ain't nothing there. Some of the zombies are faster is all, some a little smarter, but they don't have tactics or strategy, they are just mindless...”
A bullet ricocheted off the top of the wall next to the fiber optic cable.
“Fuck! Friendly fire! Someone is shooting at us!” From where the bullet had hit Katie knew the shot had come from the other building, she switched to scanning the roof, trying to think of where she would be if she were in the shooter's position. Katie continued to lay on her back on the roof moving just enough to shift her rifle's scope to the rooftop.
“It isn't 'friendly fire,' it is the sniper I knew they would send. What is the mob doing down in the street.”
Randy looked at her with wide, scared eyes, “What? Why?”
“What I would do is distract us by having some moron who doesn't know shit about sniping and then send the mob up the stairs to finish us off. Are they moving?”
Fiddling with his optics, Randy let out a low moan, “Oh fuck...they are moving to our side of the street.”
“Then they are coming up here and we need to leave. Now.”
“What about their sniper?”
“He ain't no sniper, maybe a rifleman at best. And I don't think he can see us. I think the suits are working. I think he saw our shit, my rifle, your vision gear and took a shot at that.”
“So we run?”
“Climb, the ropes are too goddamned heavy to tote around with us, so we'll use them now and leave them.” When they had been dropped onto the roof, they had come with complete packs, in addition each team was given ropes, a harness and climbing gear, which weighed about fifteen pounds.
“Katie, I haven't climbed since....aw hell I don't know when!”
“You think I have? These guys are going to be coming up the stairs, we have the door blocked, but I think they will get through it eventually. So we have to go down the other side of the building.”
“It is six stories!”
“Whine, whine, bitch, bitch. Don't you ever shut up? Grow a pair boy, 'cause it is the only way we are getting out of here!”
“Goddamn it. Fine, but if I die I will haunt you forever.”
“Fair enough. Let's go.” They hastily picked up their gear and ran towards the far side of the roof. “Head for the area behind the access door!” Katie shouted as they ran. The area she was referring to should provide them with some cover from whoever was on the opposite roof. As if to punctuate her words another shot slammed into the roof not too far in front of her, followed by two more in rapid succession.
“See?” she said, “He ain't no sniper, he is, at best, a rifleman. A sniper would not have taken shots at us while we were moving.” They had their backs to the wall the access door was built into, both were breathing heavily despite the short run.
Randy smiled at her, leaned over and gave her a quick kiss. Katie pulled back surprised, “What was that for?”
“I am going to do that whenever I think I am about to die from now on, so at least I will die happy.”
“So you want to have your lips on me all the time then?”
“Later Romeo. Let’s get the gear ready and rappel down.” Katie bent over and started unzipping the large duffel bags with the ropes. Randy eased over to the edge slowly and looked into the alley behind the building.
“Only one or two.” He responded.
“Good enough, any cars or anything down there for us to steal?” She tossed him a climbing harness.
“Not even a bicycle.”
“Damn. Fuck, look at this shit. We have gear for four people. At least we will have enough rope. We'll toss the unused stuff down when we go and take it with us in case we have to climb again.”
“We could use one rope.” Randy suggested as he watched her tie a second one off on some pipes near the edge of the roof. Just then something hit the door on the roof, which was just around the corner from where they were.
“If you really think so, we could take turns....”
“Fuck no! Tie them both!” Randy tossed their gear into the large bag the rope had come out of, then attached the bag to his harness.
The pounding on the door increased and they heard a ping as something broke, then gunfire from inside the building. Randy swung himself over the edge and disappeared from view, leaving Katie to mumble, “What? No kiss?” to herself with a smile.
Six stories was much shorter than either of them had thought it would be, in less than a minute they were on the ground, Randy was on wobbly legs and Katie stumbled when she hit the ground just a little too fast.
“I survived!” he said, leaning over to pick her up and planting a quick kiss on her forehead.
“Cut it out! Ow! Fuck!” Katie said in a low voice.
“Goddamned ankle! I think I twisted my goddamned ankle!”
“Can you walk?”
“Given my other choice? Hell yes. Zombie coming.”
Randy turned and pulled out his pistol in a smooth motion, but waited for the slow zombie to get close before pulling the trigger once. The middle-aged man in a business suit fell over backwards without another sound. From up above their ropes fell down around them, cut by the mob that had made it onto the roof.
Laughing Randy flipped the zombies on the roof off, “See ya fuckers! And you just cut the ropes you could've used to climb down faster to get us! Dumb-asses!”
Katie had stood up and picked up her rifle, “Uh Randy. Randy!” she screamed pointing upwards. The zombies were jumping.
Randy pushed her against the wall to get them out of the way of the falling bodies. At first Katie thought the zombies had just fallen off of the roof, perhaps pushed over by zealous companions. After the fifth one had hit the ground, she realized they were aiming for the two humans on the ground. “We gotta fucking move!”
“Our gear!” Randy shouted as she pulled him along.
“You got your communications, I got my rifle, leave the rest of it, we gotta get out of here!”
Another body, this one of a ten or eleven year old slammed into the ground in front of them, the body hit legs first and the girl's dress slammed into the ground as her broken legs crumpled under her. Katie caught a brief glimpse of both the girl's femur bones snapping through her leg muscles before the dress settled. Worse yet most of the zombies who hit the ground were not dead, they continued to squirm and reach for the two humans as they edged their way along the side of the building.
“Get ready, head for that alley!” Randy said once they had moved across from a 'T' intersection with another back street. After the next zombie hit, he pulled them forward and into the safety between two other buildings, the zombies could not jump far enough to hit them after they stumbled a little way into this new area.
“Can you run?” Randy asked her looking at a zombie coming into the alley behind them.
Katie stumbled forward into a sloppy jog. “Fuck no! Goddamn it. This is the best I can do.”
“Are you bleeding?”
“I am too afraid to look.”
“Stop.” Randy called, stopping and falling behind her, “No Katie, really stop.”
She pulled to a stop a few yards ahead of him and turned, “What?”
“We don't know how they can see our teams, what if they can smell blood, like a dog?”
“Not physically possible, their noses don't have the...”
Randy cut her off impatiently, “And two weeks ago I would have told you the dead can't come back to life either. So check your ankle okay, if it is bleeding we will bind it up and move out. Quickly.”
Katie stopped and worked the top of her boot down, her progress was impeded by the camo suit, but finally she could see the part of her ankle that was bothering her. It was swelling and a bruise was forming, but the skin was not broken. Behind Randy, the slow zombie was closing in, but it was acting strangely, eventually it seemed to focus on Katie, or more precisely, her half exposed leg. Lacing her boot up and pulling her pants and the camo suit covering back down confused the thing even more. Behind the zombie a virtual mob of undead swarmed into the alley, led by a noticeable faster zombie dressed in military fatigues.
“Christ is that....” Katie began.
“Let's go!” said Randy sweeping her up to stay ahead of the mob. The zombies who had turned the corner were runners, they too seemed confused as if Randy and Katie were not really there.
Going to the street corner, the two soldiers looked both directions then Randy led Katie diagonally across the four-lane street into another alley. The two jogged down the lane and turned right at the end, getting onto an access way behind the tall buildings running the length of the block. Randy led them to another 'T' intersection and pulled them out to the next street. The next ten minutes were an agony for Katie as she moved along nursing her swollen ankle and cursing to herself.
Finally, Randy stopped at a loading dock behind one of the many tall buildings and looked at a heavy steel door, which was propped open by a leg. The two had shaken off the zombies that were following them for a moment and he was looking for a new place for them to hole up, either for a few hours or for the night. Approaching the door, he pulled out his pistol, ever so slowly he reached for the door and pulled it open. The leg was not attached to a body and the lights of the loading dock beyond were providing a dim glow to see by.
“C'mon. In here.”
“'bout time. I am almost dead myself. These suits are not meant for running around in on a hot day in July.”
Randy helped her step over the leg and into the room beyond. Katie slung her rifle over her shoulder and pulled out her own pistol. Letting go of the door Katie watched it close on the leg again. “Should we move that and lock it?”
“I was thinking about that,” said Randy shaking his head. “They got military guys with them, you know converted over. What if they can think like we were told they might be able to?”
“Yeah, maybe they can,” said Katie remembering the rifle shots at her and Randy on the rooftop.
“If they can then they would think we would lock the door, leaving it open behind us would not be too smart. So we wouldn't be in this building because they can get in easy behind us.”
“Clever, but it also leaves the door open behind us.”
“I didn't say we would leave all the doors open behind us. This is a shipping department, probably there is a building maintenance department down here too. We go there and get keys, every other door we go through stays locked behind us.”
“All the way to the top?”
Randy shook his head again, “No way girl, we don't have any rope to play that tune again and I am not getting trapped up there.”
“So then where do we go Romeo?”
“Down. A basement if they have it, this building is old, maybe they have a leaky coal room we can hide in for a few hours.”
“You take me to the nicest places! Do you have radio contact?”
“Not from here. No way, I will have to go up a bit, but I will do that later. Right now I will conserve the batteries and find us a place to stay.”
As luck would have it they didn't need to find the maintenance area to find a set of keys, the keys found them. When Randy was moving out of the shipping area through a set of swinging double doors, a zombie jumped on him and wrestled him to the ground. Behind the older man in the one-piece building, maintenance uniform were six of his friends. Randy's gun was knocked out of his hand and he hit the floor hard enough to knock the wind out of him. Katie stepped forward and shot her pistol into the other group of zombies, knocking one down with a head shot, but burning through the rest of her clip without further effect. She pistol-whipped the man on top of Randy with three sharp blows, the last of which cracked something at the base of his head and sent it into convulsions. Randy shoved the man off of him and recovered his weapon while Katie reloaded.
The remaining zombies were of the regular slow moving variety and the two of them methodically put bullets in each of their heads in short order. Turning back to the convulsing zombie on the ground, Katie aimed her pistol only to be stopped by a touch on her arm by Randy.
He shook his head and rolled the zombie over. The man was still not in control of his body, but slowly his shaking started to subside. The name on his uniform said 'Kaleb', and his eyes tracked Katie and Randy's movements.
“What?” Katie asked, “You doing some field work here Randy? I don't think we could learn anything the eggheads back at base haven't already found out.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. I think you broke its neck. That is why it was twitching.”
“What else are you hoping to learn?”
Randy shrugged, “I dunno. I just thought...maybe we could get some sense of why this one was smarter and faster and could see us, when the regular ones didn't. Fuck it, you're right, this is a waste of time.” He brought his pistol up and pointed it at the zombie's forehead.
“Wait,” pleaded Kaleb.
“What the fuck?” said Katie, recoiling in surprise, “It can talk!”
“We knew that.” Randy said, “We've seen them talk.”
“No. I meant it talked to me like it knew what it was saying.”
“I can talk.” Kaleb said.
“See! It did it again!”
“I know what I am saying.”
“Bullshit!” she said, bring her pistol to bear again.
“Easy. Let's just calm down a minute.” said Randy.
“Easy my ass! It is a zombie! I know it's a zombie! Look at the blood dripping out of it, it is old and nasty. This thing isn't human!”
“Yeah, maybe in a minute.”
“Don't kill me. I can help you if you don't kill me.”
“We can't kill you; you're already dead!” Katie yelled.
“Wait Katie, just wait for a minute okay.”
Randy turned back to the zombie, “Why shouldn't we kill you?”
“I can help you.”
“I know some things, some stuff that is going on.”
“Time is ticking, um, 'Kaleb,' so far I haven't heard anything worth keeping you alive for.”
The janitor struggled to right himself on the floor, pulling his body to one wall and moving it into a sitting position, his every move tracked by Katie's pistol.
“That is better, okay, I know a few things about what is happening in Chicago.”
“So do we, it has been overrun by flesh-eating zombies!” Katie said, “You gotta 'bout thirty seconds to start talking icing out of your cake hole buddy!”
"What?" asked Kaleb, not understanding, then he said, “Wait! I know where your helicopter went, the one that dropped you off. And I know why it won't be coming back.”
That stopped the two special forces soldiers.
“What?” asked Randy, the first to recover.
“The helicopter, the one that dropped you off this morning, you and your other teams. I know what happened to it. You're stuck here, I know that. I've been playing hide and seek with guys like you for the last week. Your helicopter puts you down on a tall building at dawn and comes and collects you a couple hours after that. Only today it never came back.”
“Maybe the mission is different this time?”
The zombie smiled and shook its head, all the twitching it had been doing before had stopped, “Uh-uh. It ain't coming back for you. It got shot down.”
“The zombie running this place. His name is Harry, he brought some soldier's back. They manned some of the anti-aircraft defenses that were put in place after the terrorist attacks. You know, to protect the buildings and everything.”
“Yeah, we know.” Both of them knew that the defenses Kaleb was talking about were supposed to be in military hands today too, it had been one of the missions the marines were handed yesterday.
“Harry, he took them over and when you got dropped off, he shot the aircraft down.”
“Fuck.” Randy said.
“Don't believe it.” Katie warned.
“No, it makes sense. I've been on the radio with them, they have been dodging me every time I asked for a pickup. It makes sense.”
“Don't talk in front of it like this! For all we know it is able to communicate with others of its own kind from where it is now.” turning on Kaleb, Katie asked, “Can you? Can you do some sort of zombie telepathy?”
The zombie seemed reluctant to say anything until Katie threatened it with her gun once more. “Yeah, yeah, okay I can do some of that. A little. Pictures more than words.”
“Tell one to come here. Now.”
“It doesn't work like....well maybe...”
“What do you mean?”
“I can't tell zombies tougher than me what to do, only new zombies or stupid ones. Like these guys here that you killed.”
“Yeah, so? Call one of them.”
“Okay. Gimme a couple of minutes.”
Katie knelt by Kaleb and pressed her gun to his head, “And Kaleb?”
“Yes?” he nodded as his body stiffened in fear.
“Only call one.”
“Got it. No problem.”
The trio waited in silence for a few minutes before Kaleb spoke again, “I got one, it is going to come through the door, the loading door there.”
Both of them backed away from the door, then Randy said, “Okay, bring it in.”
The door slid open slowly and a young girl stepped into the hallway, no other zombies were visible as the door swung back and forth after she entered.
“Fuck. Now what?” Randy asked.
“We kill them both and report what we found to headquarters, let them deal with the information.”
“No!” yelled Kaleb, “I can still help you!”
Randy paused and said, “Yeah, how?”
“I know where some of your friends landed.”
“Tell us.” Katie said menacingly.
“No. I mean, I will, but you have to let me go. I will go into the storeroom and yell it to you there, then you won't see me again.” The girl dressed in an oversized Chicago Bears nightgown turned her head sideways and stared at Katie intently.
“Yeah, right. Kaleb if we let you go you'll just be back here with more of your friends looking for us.” said Randy, pulling the clip out of his gun and starting to reload it.
“No, I mean, even if I came back, you would be gone by then.”
“Why is she looking at me like that?”
“I don't fucking know, I only called her here...” Kaleb began. He was interrupted as the girl opened her mouth and spoke.
Her voice was that of any child, high pitched and full of innocence, “I am trying to decide what part of you to eat first.”
Katie's gun swung onto the girl, but it was too late the child dove away to the left, putting Randy between the two of them. Randy struggled to get the clip back into his gun as the girl caught his arm and twirled him about into the wall. “Kill her!” the girl yelled at Kaleb, who was already moving. Katie moved the pistol down to fire on the janitor when her legs were knocked out from under her by his rolling body.
Randy's hand slammed into the wall with enough force to break the skin over his knuckles, his gun fell from his numbed fingers to land by his side. He immediately slammed the hand with the clip into the little girl's face, trying to impale her head on it. The girl's head snapped back and she gave away beneath his hand, avoiding most of the force from the blow. When she was near the ground he brought his foot around to sweep her feet out from under her, the girl stumbled and fell on the floor and Randy came down hard on her back, forcing her to the ground, with his head near hers.
Katie fell forward over Kaleb and the man rolled until he was on his stomach and then pushed himself upwards in a move that defied the laws of gravity. Katie, however still had a gun, she didn't need to get to her feet to shoot either. Instead, she caught herself with her hands, then rolled over onto her back. As soon as Kaleb regained his feet he was hit in the side of the head by a single shot from her pistol, this time when he dropped he didn't get back up.
The girl flailed backwards with one elbow catching Randy in the head and knocking him momentarily off balance. She took advantage of the situation to spin around beneath him, then planted a short blow into his groin when the opportunity presented itself. Randy let out a moan and started to fall sideways, but it was merely a feint to get his hands on his pistol. The clip had been lost in the quick fight, but he grabbed the gun nonetheless. The zombie girl tried to push his leg up off of her, then, when that failed she put her mouth down to his thigh and bit down. Screaming Randy tried to get off of the girl, as he moved she came with him, her mouth attached to his inner thigh like a vise. Bringing his gun around he put it to the top of her head and pulled the trigger. The bullet slammed through her head and exited messily out of the side of her neck, instantly her jaws relaxed, dropping off of his leg a moment later.
Katie was on her knees in the hallway, staring at Randy. “I always keep one in the chamber, even when I reload,” he said. Katie didn't reply. At first Randy thought she was concerned about his bleeding leg, then he noticed the blood splatter against her camo suit, looking closer he saw a small hole in at the center of the blood splatter, right above her stomach.
“You shot me.” Katie said, before tumbling sideways onto the floor.