"Is your team ready, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir. Ready and waiting."
"Activate the gate!" The Communications Officers rushed to set coordinates, ensuring the proper alignment of the chevrons. The stone gate seems to come alive as the rings turn, aligning, the chevrons locking as they connect. With a woosh, an almost liquid looking substance shoots from the gate before returning to its position as a gateway through the circular monolith. The Stormtrooper Lieutenant turns to his team, the light emanating from the gateway giving him an ephemeral glow, "It's now or never!" And he steps through the gate.
"Bloody fuckin' 'ell." From the outside, the Iron Grenadiers made quick work of their defenses. They set explosives on the main entry door. The subsequent shockwaves rattle the building to its foundation. "Gunna! Brimstone! Secure the Gate!" The two men run off without a second look. "Scáthach! Castor! Get ready to push back the invaders!" They built the base with multiple layers of security including, areas reinforced to act as cover. The areas were further bolstered after the undead rising, to ensure not only clear lines of fire but maximum protection as well. "Pick your shots. Make each one count!" From behind them, they heard the roar of Gunna's shotgun. "There's nothing we can do for them. Either they stop whatever is coming through, or they die. That's the same choice we have." Just then, the first black helmet came poked around the corner. It dropped after a well-placed round from Scáthach found its mark. Then all Hell broke loose.
Bullets filled the air from both sides. Several more Iron Grenadiers fell, being pulled out of the area by their comrades.
In the Stargate room, Gunna and Brimstone were hard at work trying to repel the unknown forces coming through the Stargate. The invaders' armor was bright white. Their weapons shooting not lead, but high-velocity plasma that instantaneously melted a hole through whatever it hit. "Wha' the fuck are they shooting at us?" Brimstone doesn't answer Gunna. He lays down more cover fire emptying another magazine in the process. As Brimstone reloads, Gunna empties his Benelli M4 in seconds, hitting one of the advancing enemies.
Back at the front hall, the air is heavy with smoke, the smell of gun powder thick enough to choke on. Each Iron Grenadier they drop is pulled from the line, and two more take their place. "Last mag!" the words send chills down Dublin's spine. He knows that means Scáthach will transition to her pistol, making the base that much harder to hold. A group of Iron Grenadiers readies themselves to press their attack when their attention is taken off the Rangers shooting at them and is redirected at a new and unexpected threat the dead Iron Grenadiers begin to attack.
At the same moment in the bunker, the downed Storm Trooper reaches out a hand and grabs the ankle of his commanding officer, pulling him down. The Lieutenant lands with a hard thud. "What the?" He sees the trooper dragging itself towards him, its armor having broken open like a Puffer Turtle from Clak'dor VII. Black ooze fills the wound where there should be crimson blood. "Fuck!" He kicks at the Stormtrooper, knocking its helmet off, exposing the mottled gray skin and fogged over yellow eyes. Black puss leaches from it's snapping mouth. "The planets infected!" The words do not fall on deaf ears, their communications having been left open to the Imperial Base where the Empire has its Stargate. The Lieutenant points his blaster at the creature at his foot and sends a bolt straight through its cranium. "Request immediate evac!" The response, the closing of the Stargate followed by the frantic voice of their commander, "The Gate is locked. The planet is under Imperial quarantine." Just then, the double doors that lead out of the Stargate lab burst open, and three soldiers run through, slamming them shut and stacking crates against them. The sounds of flesh smashing against the door echos through the room, followed by the blood-curdling moan of the undead. All shooting stopped. The Rangers' split their attention between the bulging door and the armor-wearing enemies at their back. Had the Stormtroopers not been wearing helmets, the Rangers would have seen the abject terror on their faces. For all the good it did, the Rangers could hear, but not understand, what was being shouted by the white-clad attackers. All weapons turned toward the door. It pulsated under the repeated attacks of the flesh-eating creatures on the other side. "Dublin, what the fuck is going on?" The panic in Gunna's becoming palatable.
"I don't fuckin' know! We dropped them, and they turned!" The banging continued.
"What's the situation here?" Dublin was looking from the door to the aliens that seemed to be setting up some large weapon.
"I don't know, sir! These guys came through we killed one, they shot him in the head."
"How the fuck are they turning without being bitten?" Castor shouts as he grabs a rifle from the wall. The doors buckle. The hinges scream as they tear from the wall. The Rangers fall back near the new enemy that had come through the Stargate. The newcomers finish setting up a nasty-looking weapon. A Stormtrooper stands at the trigger controls while another stands back to back with him bracing him. The others look for cover. The Rangers follow suit. The doors give, and the grasping hands of the undead push through looking for a meal. Then, the Stormtroopers let loose with the E-Web heavy repeating blaster. The reinforced concrete is no match for the Imperial armament. The bolts tear through rock and flash alike. The horde struggles and trips over the bodies of the fallen; many truly dead, others trying to drag their way toward dinner.
“What the fuck happened here?” Greaser looked down the barrel of her rifle while panning left then right. The smell of rotting corpses mingling with the stench of the undead that they had found feasting. They had eliminated all threats before closing the gates.
“Oh shit.” Throttle freezes in her tracks. No matter how many years pass, seeing children that had been a buffet for the undead never got easier.
Minstrels of old fell into one of two categories, those who worked for the crown, entertaining court, and those that traveled using their songs to pay their way.
The Minstrel of the wastelands is neither. He’s not a minstrel at all. He is a jester. Thing is he didn’t know the difference when he started down his path of death and destruction, now the name’s stuck. Even still, jesters of medieval Europe entertained doing tricks and acting the fool, not so for this Minstrel.
The colorful character was a welcome distraction from the world outside the settlement’s walls. The kids watched in rapt awe as he tossed three bright juggling clubs into the air then spun in place while rhythmically clapping only to stop, catch each club in turn, and continue juggling. His act had been going on for some time. Nearly all the residents of the small hamlet were watching. Several guards had been drawn away from their posts by the sounds of happy children, children who were growing up in a world where happiness was a rare luxury. Smiles lit their faces as giggles escaped. The show was allowing them to be children rather than hardened survivors of an undead world.
This wasn’t the Minstrel’s first show. He’d been performing for some time now. He’d forgotten how he started. He’d forgotten when he started. His mind fractured in bits and pieces. His act always the same. Approach an outpost or enclave. Gain entrance. Entertain. Then...
He tosses two of the juggling clubs far into the air while simultaneously pulling the handle of one revealing a razor-sharp blade, which he quickly used to slice the throats of the children closest to him. The warm lifeblood was spraying into the air. The screams of children creating the chaos and confusion he needed. He reached out and caught the other two clubs pressing small buttons, which separated the tops from the blades. The bloody ballet he performed as he cut jugular after jugular a sight to see. Before the show, he had placed gift boxes around the perimeter “To mark the show area” now the Jack-In-The-Box sprang to life. These were no toys. They spewed his concoction of paralyzing gas into the air. Those that found themselves in the cloud froze, terror locked on their faces as his blades released their essence.
One after another. Those that tried to escape fell to blades buried in their backs. The guards that had remained at their posts heard the commotion. Did they stay to ensure THEY didn’t get in? Did they go to see if THEY were already inside? Screams echoed through the air. The Minstrel knew it was only a matter of time before the chorus of the dying attracted the already dead. He had to be swift, and he was, forty-three fell, including all the children.
The M24 is chambered for the 7.62x51 NATO caliber round and has a muzzle velocity of 2,800 feet per second. It's accurate out to 800 meters. In very talented hands, it can take out targets at 1100 meters.
Cyrus has his sights on a target at 1200 meters. He'd been passing through the area scavenging for supplies when he saw them, a group of marauders; they had a line of nude men standing in front of them. Covered in blood with their hands tied behind their backs, the men weakly stood. The fear in the air was palatable. One man stood resolute. The leader. An older man. What white hair he had left caked in blood and mud. He stared down the marauders as was killed execution-style—a single shot to the head. True death. He'd seen it before. Hundreds of times, perhaps. What made this different is what came next and what he found later. The gang grabbed the still-warm bodies and began cutting them up. Arms, legs, genitals, hearts, livers, and more collected like so much meat. Then they left. Against his better judgment, he cautiously approached the remains. What was left was tossed in a ditch on the side of the road. The ditch was full of women similarly brutalized and hacked. The remains of a small toddler, a child born after the turn, a survivor, was the breaking point. He wretched on the side of the road. He buried what was left of the small one and set off to track the cannibals.
He tracked them for several days. They weren't hard to follow. They left the scattered bones of their victims at each camp. He'd been waiting for the right time to strike. It came on day three. They found what looked like a family, mom, dad, and two kids. One looked old enough to have been born pre-zompoc. The other barely walking. They surrounded the family. Mom and dad stood back to back with the eldest child holding, the younger to their chest in between mom and dad. Mom held a well-worn machete, dad a hammer in one hand a knife in the other.
He couldn't hear what they were saying. He swore he could hear the crying of the baby. He quickly scrambled up a tree. He settled into a crotch and laid his rifle on a large branch. He sighted on the one he took to be the leader, a wiry bald tattooed thug. He took a steadying breath and moved his rifle to the right and then raised it towards the sky. His sight picture was a cloud that looked vaguely like a rabbit. Then he carefully squeezed the trigger.
From the moment he made his decision, he was calculating a vast number of factors; distance, wind speed, air temperature, humidity level, elevation, even the rotation of the Earth. He knew he only had one shot. If it landed true, the marauders would be in disarray, and he could move forward and take as many of them out as possible. Hit or miss, he hoped it would give the family a chance to escape.
After the squeeze of the trigger, he moved the scope back towards the group. The scrawny leader was on the ground. The rest of the group was trying to find cover and figure out from where the shot had come. They were looking to their left, which meant he could move with less chance of being seen. In the confusion, the family made a run for it. No one tried to stop them. They'd get to be together another day. He dropped from the tree, keeping the trunk between himself and the group. They were now shooting in the direction they believed the shot had come from. He moved quickly and silently. As he did, he switched from his bolt action rifle to his backup, an M4 Carbine. He only had two magazines of ammunition, which cost him dearly, but it would be worth it. The world was dangerous enough with the undead trying to feed on the living. For the living to do the same, and in such a brutal fashion, was unconscionable. He covered 600 yards quickly. With no other shots fired, the marauders had lowered their weapons and began shouting. One grabbed the body of their fallen leader. Cyrus dropped to his knee and sighted on the barbarian. His shot rang true. Another one hit the ground. They stood stunned for only a second. That second was enough for him to send a round downrange and into the skull of a tattooed woman. The rest turned in his direction, and he was on the move. Trying to find cover as the marauders began firing in his direction. Their full attention to him, they'd forgotten about their next victims. However, mom and dad hadn't forgotten about them. He watched as mom and dad charged out from behind the marauders. Their children hid somewhere. Mom slammed her machete into the skull of a big bear of a man. Dad smashed his hammer into the head of a skinny guy firing a mean-looking LMG. As the guy went down, dad stabbed the knife, hilt deep into his back, easily piercing the heart of the goon. For his part, Cyrus dropped two more from behind the remains of a brick wall. That left one, the woman. He lined up the shot and watched as mom jammed her gore-covered machete through the back of the woman, dad followed that up with a knife blade through the temple.
The entire group had met their maker.
He carefully approached. He wasn't going to pass up gathering supplies. He kept the M4 pointed at the ground as he stepped forward. "Thanks." Mom shouted to him as he got closer.
"Not a problem."
"Since you saved us, you get first dibs." She looked at the various bodies, firearms, blades, axes, and rucks filled.
"Thanks. Only interested in ammo. 5.56 and 7.62. Don't even need that much. I just want to top off. Then I'll be heading on my way."
"Works for us." Dad stepped up and began stripping everything useful off the bodies. If they could use or trade it, they were taking it. Cyrus didn't judge. This was life now get what you could when you could. For his part, Cyrus went straight for the guy that had had the M249 light machine gun. He grabbed the belt from the firearm, and the extra belt the body was wearing. He looked around, "I got part of what I needed." He looked at the mom and dad, stripping boots off the corpses, "Y'all be careful out there. Take care of those little ones." They paused and looked up, "Thanks. Same to you."
I didn't see them but knew they were there. Following. Watching. The only thing I didn't know for sure was how many—at least one. One was more than enough. One is a threat. A threat to my existence. A threat to my life. It needs to addressed.
I never saw them. They were good. I felt them. You ever get that feeling? The tingling up your spine as some primordial part of brains tries warning you about your impending doom. I had that. I knew it wasn't undead. Even the smart ones weren't that smart. No. This was a person. A person that didn't want to be seen. That was never good.
I'd settled down for the night. I had a small Dakota fire going. And my back was pressed to the remains of a thick concrete reinforced cinderblock wall. I knew no one could come up from behind me. This out, whoever it was in front of me. I laid my pistol on my left, a back up just in case. My rifle was loose on my lap. I still couldn't see them, but I just knew, "I know you're out there." The silence closed in around me, "You've been following me since back in Texarkana." The silence of the undead world was the only answer. I sat in silence. I was starting to believe I'd lost my mind. I was beginning to think that maybe I'd finally gone too far and done too much.
From my left, "Put down the rifle." The voice shattered the silence. I shouldered the rifle and sent a round in the direction. Even with the suppressor, it was still uncomfortably loud and echoed in the still night air. "I said, put it down, not fire." This time from my right. I was on my feet, had the shell ejected, a new round in, and shot in seconds. "You don't listen well, do you?" Directly in front of me. Another shell ejected. Another round inserted. Another shot fired. The silence came back. Heavier then before as if it was trying to make up for the disturbance my shooting had caused. I instinctively loaded another round and waited. I'd been carrying the rifle for years, and it had never felt as heavy as it did that night the 16 pounds draining my strength. I usually had a target. A nest. Not tonight. What I did have was the remains of a wall behind me. At least eight feet tall where I was. About a foot thick. Not sure what the structure was before, but it was secure. Seconds stretched into minutes. Minutes stretched into an hour.
I never once lowered my rifle. I didn't want to give them the opportunity. If this was how I was gonna go, I wouldn't go easily. My arms started cramping as lactic acid built up. The barrel of my rifle began wavering. Then I heard THEM. The first one came from the right. Dried skin hung in torn strips from its bony body. I centered and fired. I immediately loaded the next round just as another one came from the left. I swiveled and dropped it. The hole smoking as its body hit the ground with a wet thump. It had been a fresh one. No more then a few weeks old, as it fell face forward, it's dissented stomach exploded as it hit the ground. The stench made me gag.
I was out. I only had time to put a single round in and ready before the next one was damn near on top of me. It looked like it had been a female—long strands of dirty, matted hair hanging from its nearly bald scalp. The bones of outstretched fingers had torn through the flesh. I fired. It dropped.
I dropped to my knee and grabbed my pistol. I sent two more to True Death. I didn't know how many were coming, but I knew it was going to be too many. I shot another. I heard a gunshot and saw one that had come up from my left fall. I looked up. The guy was wearing a full gas mask with a hood and cloak in some German flecktarn rip off camp pattern. He took out three more in rapid succession. I shot another four. They kept coming. He reached down, "Come with me if you want to live." I swear to god I heard him chuckle. "Seriously, give me your damn hand or your undead meat." The mask muffled his voice giving it an otherworldly sound. I didn't have much choice. I slung my rifle to my back. I quickly holstered my pistol, grabbed his hand, and was up the wall. "There's gonna be too many. We need to move quickly." He turned and ran down the length of the wall and jumped off the end. I followed. I didn't have much choice. As soon as I hit the ground, he continued running. The asphalt was cracked and broken. Tree roots cross crossed the way, yet he never tripped or wavered. I did my best to keep up while not breaking my neck. As we ran, the sounds of the undead became faint. Until finally, he stopped. He turned. I drew my pistol. "Seriously?" He extended his empty hand for a handshake. "Damn, man. I just saved your sorry ass." He dropped his hand, "Whatever." He turned his back and stepped toward some branches covering a tarp. He pulled them off, revealing a quad with a plow on the front and a damn jet engine on the back, "You coming, or would you rather stick around and see how good you really are?" I started to feel like an asshole, so I lowered and holstered my pistol. "That's a good start." He put a large ruck on his back and got on the quad, "Let's go. I got some people I want you to meet." I don't know why but I got on the back on a storage rack, he started it up, and off we went.
It took four days to make it to his friends. I learned that he went by Scrounge, he said he didn't have a name till his friends gave him one. What I gathered is he had been a family man, lost his family, and his persona changed. I can't explain how he did it, but the guy never made a sound. I watched him walk over broken glass in perfect silence. He carried a giant pack and tons of gear and not one clink or tap from it as he moved. He was eerily silent. I asked him about it. He told me something about growing up hunting and "Avoidin' whoopins." I didn't ask more.
We'd just made camp for the night if dug a Dakota hole. Scrounge was getting some food from his ruck. "How long were you following me?"
He looked up like he was trying to remember, "Since that thing with the family." I was shocked. I knew what he was talking about. It'd been weeks since that day. "It was out of convenience more than anything. You were going the same way I was. Needed to see if you posed a threat." He opened a couple of pouches, "Eat up." He handed me the bag, "That was a great shot by the way. Honestly, didn't think you'd make it."
"You saw that?"
"You were gonna let those guys kill that family?"
"What the actual fuck." I instinctively reached for my pistol. He had his leveled at me before I saw him move.
"What you didn't know was that those bikers you killed were the good guys."
"The fuck they were. I saw the bodies."
"Did you ever see them kill anyone?" He lowered the pistol, "Well?"
"That's 'cause you were even farther behind than you thought. That "family," he made air quotes, "wasn't a family. The kids, they were dinner."
"Nope, it was true." He pulled up his balaclava, pulled out a spoon, dug into the pouch, and began eating. "Yeah, man. They killed the families of the bikers, ate most of them. They'd been terrorizing the area for the last couple of years. There were more at one time." He took another mouthful, "I took out a couple myself, saw a few others ended by lucky survivors. Been hoping to take the last couple out. I hoped you would." He never looked away from me.
"I didn't know."
"Yeah, I figured that out."
"They ran off...I thought they'd escaped." I stammered. "T-the kids?"
"I found them with their throats slit." My vision swirled. I misread the entire event. The kids died cause of me. "Don't do it to yourself."
"You're blaming yourself." He stopped eating, "Listen, those kids were as good as dead. If the crazies hadn't killed them, the crossfire would have. There's no way they were gonna make it." He took one last bite, "Don't worry after you left. I dealt with them." He pulled out another pouch, "That's part of the reason I needed to follow you. I needed to know if you were with them or not." He slurped something from the packet.
I never saw his face, not his whole face, at least. He'd take off the gas mask pretty regularly but never the balaclava covering his head. He did what I started calling "the Spidey." I'd seen a picture of Spider-Man on the front page of a paper; the photo was of him kissing some woman he'd pulled the mask up just enough for his mouth to be clear. That's what Scrounge did.
We arrived at an abandoned airstrip on foot. He'd stashed his quad a day away from the place. I asked why he said, "Just in case." He told me he had caches all over the place, "Just in case." I joked about his name having been 'Justin Case' pre-ZomPoc. He didn't laugh. After that, he started answering my questions, "Yes, Mother." And "No Mother."
He introduced me as Mother, and that was that.
In its former life, it was a small aircraft hangar. While the years of disrepair had taken their toll, the team was able to secure it and section it off into different areas; a recreation room complete with pool table and video games, bunk rooms, a small med clinic, a dining area with kitchen, a workshop for Forge and Smith to make and repair weapons, and a garage for their small collection of vehicles. They used a series of solar panels and wind turbines for power.
The team's two helicopters, a Little Bird and Tomahawk were stashed in a hangar directly across from the one they were in.
They'd been able to set up several camera systems and a series of tripwires and pressure sensors around the perimeter to alert them to the presence of any unwanted visitors. As often as possible, two people were on watch. One would watch the video monitors while the other was walking the perimeter. This shift, Sparrow and Bowyer were keeping watch. The rest of the Joe Team, Falcon, Forge, Smith, Hook, and Wrench Bender were enjoying some downtime in the rec room.
"I heard you were looking for some stuff."
The team froze, a man stood in the doorway his black gas mask covering his face. A flecktarn hood and cape further hiding his head and body. Falcon was the first to level a pistol at him. The rest quickly followed suit. With five pistols aimed at him, the man didn't budge. "Okay, there. Not exactly the welcome I was hoping for."
"Who the fuck are you? How'd you get in here?" Falcon barked.
"I'm your guy, and I walked in?"
"Hook go check on Sparrow and Bowyer. There's no way he should've gotten by them." Hook keeps his pistol aimed as he sidesteps to an exit door next to him, he steps out and runs to check on his teammates.
"They're fine." The stranger tries to assure the team, "I'm just... better at what I do then they are at what they do."
"Shut the fuck up! Forge search this asshole."
"You got it, bossman." Forge holsters his pistol and steps up to begin his pat-down.
Falcon scowls, "You move a single fucking muscle, and you're dead."
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." The masked man moves the cloak to the side, revealing several blocks of C4 and a detonator in his hand. Forge freezes in his tracks. "Listen, folks. I'm here cause I heard you were looking for stuff, and I'm your guy. You want it? I can get it. Now ain't nobody here gonna so much as tap me on the shoulder or I'll blow us all to kingdom come. That would really screw up my day, so please don't make me do that." Through the open door, Falcon can see Hook with Sparrow and Bowyer. All have weapons drawn and pointed at the trespasser taking care to keep their lines of fire clear of friendlies. "Now I'm gonna step in the room so the three behind me can step in. Then you'll all put your weapons down, and we can start this party correctly."
"The fuck we will!" The anger in Falcon's voice dripping like venom.
"Eh, eh, eh. Language." He steps in, "Remember, we can work together or go boom." He took a deep breath, "Let's start over, shall we? I heard you're looking for supplies, it's quite the list I might add. I've got it."
"What're you talking about?"
He let out another sigh, "You were asking around the damn Bizarre." He kept the wall at his back and slowly made his way toward a chair, which he pulled out. He took a seat.
"Say we were. What do you have?" Falcon lowered his weapon, and the rest followed suit.
"All of it." He put his feet up on a table, "Everything. It's kinda what I do. I find stuff, and I get stuff. He lowered his hood and removed his gas mask. His face remained covered by a black balaclava. "Thank you for putting the weapons down."
"What do you want for 'everything'?"
"You're a smart guy. IT's good to know you know that nuthin's free." He chuckled to himself, "Simple. I want in."
"In on what?"
"The team. You guys are calling yourselves 'Joes,' right?"
Hook, Wrench Bender
“There 2 o’clock.”
“I see it.” The pilot sets about getting his helicopter in line with the small airfield. They’d been flying without issue looking for a place to land and possibly resupply when suddenly they were hit by rifle fire. Some survivors decided no one should be taking to the skies. The damage didn’t seem bad at first. Then the main engine went. His years of experience and training took over. Autorotation was the only way the bird would land. He lowered his pitch, reducing his lift and drag, and started descending. Keeping the correct glide angle was tough, but so far, so good. His passenger, a mechanic he’d known for years now his apocalypse survival partner held on tight. “Don’t worry, man. I’ve got this.” He believed his words; he just hoped his skill set was up to snuff.
As they approached the landing zone, he pitched the nose up, causing a flare. Then he leveled off. The copter touched down without so much as a bump. “Holy hell, thank you for being a good pilot.”
“Thank me later we gotta get the hell out of here.” They both undid their seatbelts and jumped out. They ran towards the hanger 200 yards away. As they ran, the hanger’s main doors began to open. A motor started, and someone began towing out a helicopter, a Bell 222. They didn’t stop running. They covered the distance quickly. The person pulling the copter turned, raised a pistol, and shot. “Sonuvabitch!” The two men fell to the ground as the person continued pulling the helicopter until it was clear of the hanger. They quickly undid the tug and jumped in. The sounds of the engines starting brought the two men to their feet. They ran towards the chopper just as the first groans of the undead filled the air. Arms waving, they made their way. The pilot was trying to take off in a hurry. They made it to the side, “Please help us!” They looked over their shoulders as the shamblers began hitting the fence. “Please!” Lights start to show through the trees as something came down the road.
“Shit!” The pilot nodded towards the back door. It slid open, and they jumped in. “Thank you!” The pilot gets the bird in the air. The zombies at the fence line continue to grow in number. However, they aren’t a threat. The threat is the fast-moving pickup with muzzle flashes coming from the bed.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry.”
The pilot continues to gain altitude. The pilot from the downed copter puts on a set of headphones he motions for his companion to do the same. “Thank you!” The pilot doesn’t respond. “People call me Hook. This other guy is a Wrench Bender.” Silence from the cockpit. “We’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for you.”
“Can it.” The only response from the pilot. The two sat quietly. Hook settled into the leather executive chair and closed his eyes. Wrench Bender stared out the window at the passing ground. It was eerily dark. Power went off almost immediately in the area, and other then a handful of structure fires and ground fires, it was black. Before he knew it, he was off visiting dreamland. He only woke when Hook shook his shoulder. “What, man?” He opened his eyes and pressed back into his seat. All he saw was the black circle of the rifle barrel.
“Get out! On the ground now!” The two scrambled out of the passenger compartment stumbling to the ground. “Facedown! Spread those legs! Hands behind your heads!” They didn’t think of protesting. They’d seen bodies on the side of the road with the holes from headshots from behind. They quickly realized they would be joining those poor unfortunate souls. “Now who the fuck are you and where did you come from? Who the fuck were those assholes chasing you? Why were they?”
Hook’s mouth was dry from fear. He tried licking his lips before speaking, “I’m, John. Most people call me Hook. This is Andy, we all called him Wrench Bender.” He tried to look back and felt the barrel press into his temple, and his stomach sank.
“Hey, miss. Miss. Please. You saved us. Please.” Wrench Bender visibly flinched as the barrel whipped towards Him, “Please. We were trying to find someplace safe. We got hit by gunfire. It screwed our bird. We didn’t know you were there. I swear.”
“On your knees. Slowly.” This was it. Their time was up. They got to their knees and closed their eyes. “Why’s this shit have to happen to me?” They opened their eyes and looked at the person holding them at gunpoint. Their rifle pointed at the ground. “You’re a pilot?”
“Yeah. Private pilot. Mostly execs and people with money. You?”
“I’m asking the questions.” The rifle was back up near instantly.
“You don’t know those assholes that were shooting at my copter?”
“I swear to you we don’t.”
“Shit.” She was thinking of what to do next, “Cross your ankles.”
“You’re ankles. Cross them.” They did. She lowered the rifle. It stayed tight to her on a sling. She unholstered a pistol, “You move you die. Got it.” They shook their heads. She quickly and thoroughly searched each one. She removed several folding knives and a couple of multi-tools. “You survived without firearms?”
“Left them in the copter. We were kinda in a rush.”
“Well, you two are damn near worthless. Okay, get up.” They stood. For the first time, they got a good look at the woman in charge of their fate. “You said you’re a mechanic?”
“If it whirls, I can fix it.”
“Okay, maybe you aren’t useless.” She turned toward Hook, “That was a nice landing you made back there.”
“Name’s Sam, go by Sparrow most of the time now.” She took a step back, “Sorry ’bout all that. Okay, I’m not sorry. Still don’t know or trust you.”
“We totally understand.”
That meeting took place at another time. Since then, the trio has hopped from one locale to another. They’ve found more helos then they could fly. The better ones get stashed for the eventual “just in case” scenario. They’ve had more than their fair share of run-ins with undead and unfriendly living alike.
They met Falcon during one of those run-ins.
“Ya seein’ that.” Hook pointed off to the left. A plume of smoke rose into the air. “We should steer clear.”
Sparrow was about to reply when a giant fireball exploded up into the sky. “Holy shit!” She banked hard to the right. For the first time in weeks, the radio crackled to life, “zzzt...Major... G... Joe... zzzt... request assis...” Sparrow and Hook stare at the receiver, Sparrow grabbed it, “Repeat last transmission. Over.” The silence of the radio filled the cabin. “Helo pilot this is Major Falcon of G.I.Joe. We can hear you but not see you. We are surrounded and need extraction for four. Over.”
Sparrow immediately began turning towards the smoke. “The hell you doin’?”
“You heard him. He’s military and needs help.”
Wrench Bender shouted from the back, “Who gives a damn. We gotta steer clear of that shit storm.”
“I give a damn. I took an oath. I’m not going to let them die without trying.” She grabbed the radio, “Major, this is Sparrow what’s your current location? Over.”
“Sparrow we are on the roof of a warehouse. The enemy has surrounded us. Over.”
“What’re my L.Z. options? Over.”
“There are none. Over.”
She turned towards Hook, “You ever do a hot extraction?”
“Oh shit.” He quickly undid his harness and squeezed into the passenger cabin. He took a piece of webbing and clipped it from his waist to a D-ring mounted overhead. Wrench Bender followed suit. Once secured, he opened the door, “All clear back here.”
“Falcon listen up. I’m coming in fast. There will be no touchdown. We gotta do a hot extraction. Over.”
“Hot extraction. The best spot is Northeast corner. Over.”
“Received. See you soon Ranger.” She brought the bird in low and fast. Constantly adjusting due to wind conditions, the thermals created by the fires, and the continually changing visibility. “You ready, Hook?”
“We’re a go back here.” The group of survivors stayed low, heads down, as the prop wash blasted roof debris into the air.
“3. 2. 1.” Sparrow kept the helicopter hovering within feet of the building. Falcon stood and sent his troops over. They ran and made the jump from the roof to the copter. First Forge. Then Bowyer followed by Smith. Falcon took the rear. As soon as he was clear, Sparrow brought the chopper skyward and swung it back in the direction it came from. Falcon immediately reached for a set of headphones. “That was some top-notch flying pilot.”
“Thanks.” Sparrow stifled a smile to the compliment. Falcon handed the headset back to Hook and strapped into a seat. The adrenaline finally wore off. Sparrow headed to one of the many safe zones the trio created over the intervening years since they met. After an hour in the air, she touched down. The landing zone is in the middle of the woods, far from the city. A wall made from the trees the trio took down to create the space bordered the landing zone. A small shack sits in one corner. There is no gate in the wall; the only way in is over it.
Wrench Bender pointed at the shack, “Head over there; we’ll be there in a few.” The passengers got out of the helicopter while Sparrow, Hook, and Wrench Bender went about their post-flight inspections. They went over the helicopter top to bottom. “We’ve just enlisted, haven’t we?”
“What do you mean, Wrench?”
“I mean, I know you were in the Army, and that was how long ago? We saw you out there. You’re ready to go back. Which means we’ve enlisted.”
Sparrow stopped, “I don’t know, man. We’re a team. I’m not going anywhere or doing anything without you two.”
Hook chimed in, “Like he said, ‘we enlisted’ cause we sure as shit aren’t leaving you to the wolves.”
She laughed, “Guys, all we did was rescue a couple of people. No one enlisted in anything.”
“Yeah okay.” They all went back to their respective jobs.
The four rescued survivors walked over to find the door unlocked. They stepped inside the small building. Opposite the door was a couch, a small table in front of it, to the left, a bunk bed. A small table and chair set sits under the lone window next to the door overlooking the enclosed landing area. To the right was a desk with various radio gear, a computer, and several monitors. Solar panels on the roof and several small wind turbines fed a bank of marine batteries that, in turn, powered the listening post. Bowyer took it all in “Cozy.” He made his way to the couch, propped his feet up on the table, and nodded off.
“How’s he do that?” Smith asked no one in particular while taking a seat at the table. Forge sat across from her, “I don’t know, but I’m jealous.” Falcon pulled out the chair at the radio set up and plopped down.
It wasn’t long before their rescuers joined them. When they entered Falcon stood, “I can’t thank you enough. We thought we were done for back there. When I heard you chopper...”
Sparrow looked at the grizzled Army Vet, “It’s not a problem.”
“You said something on the radio back there. ‘Ranger.’”
“I’m a Warrant Officer, Army National Guard. We all heard the stories of the G.I.Joe team. It was damn near everyone’s goal to make the team, to be a part of it. I studied every bit of info I could find. I read Wild Bill’s book a dozen times. You’re mentioned in it more than once.”
“A Warrant Officer, eh. Well, Ma’am, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He offered his hand.
“Pleasure is mine, Sir.” Their shake is firm and professional.
The group spent the next couple of days going over their supplies and coming up with a plan. Sparrow, Hook, and Wrench Bender explained where all their supply depots were. They’d established spots all over the country, each just within the average maximum range of the various helicopters they had stashed. They explained that there is no shortage of choppers, it’s the fuel they’ve had the hardest time with. Fuel only has so long of a shelflife, and all the fuel from the old world was no good. They’d found several outposts that somehow got back to refining fuel—a couple they’d made trade agreements with. A couple of others ended in firefights.
“We need to find a place within striking distance of New Springfield,” Falcon said, looking down at the map. He’s looked at it a hundred times and at the outline of growing Cobra territory.
“Well, this is the best spot.” Hook pointed his finger at a spot on the map. “Radio chatter has it relatively snake-free, and we have a trade agreement for fuel with this enclave here.”
“Do we all agree?” Falcon looked around the room. Everyone nodded in agreement. “Okay. So we get here and start stockpiling what we can. This will be our new base of operations with these spots being our Bug Out Locations.” He looked at the men and women in the room, “You don’t have to do this. You’re free to leave at any time. This isn’t the military anymore. There’s no contract.”
“Yeah, we know.” Bowyer looked up from the chair, “But what else are we gonna do? Go back to The Bizarre selling crap and doing trick shots.”
“Alright. We start taking the fight back to Cobra.”
The lone figure cuts the last piece of chain link fence and squeezes through the hole. As soon as they are clear they freeze like a rabbit fearing a snake, listening intently for any sign that undead heard. They’ve planned their route to the hanger. From the relative security of what was once a storage shed for communication equipment, they watched the small airstrip. No one left. No one came. More importantly, there wasn’t a single sign of the undead. The route was the most direct but also the most open, there is no cover. They only have one chance to make it unseen. They don’t even know if the helicopter is still there. They left it in the hanger after their last flight, they’d taken a couple C-suite visitors on an aerial tour, piloting was there day job and paid the bills, far more so then the meager salary from Uncle Sam. They had made sure to refuel the bird and double-check all the systems before calling it a night. That was nearly three months ago. Before the world went to shit. Anything could have happened between now and then. This was their last hope. If it was still there they’d head west. Find a nice place to land and figure out the rest. They’d be able to get at least 300 miles from here. It’d be a start. If not, well, there was a solid stash of supplies in the pilots’ room.
They readied themselves, took a breath, and made a run for it. The grass crunched underfoot, it sounded like a herd of elephants trampling glass. Breathing heavily they made it to the corner of the hangar. Taking a moment to catch their breath they reassess their plan. They unholster a pistol and unsheathe a blade as they cautiously make their way towards the corner. Peering around, nothing, no sign of movement, the hanger doors are closed. Years in the Army National Guard had taught them to keep their head on a swivel, watch their six, and expect everything to go FUBAR at all times.
They made their way toward the main door. At the door they carefully re-sheathed the knife, an infection was a life sentence. Cupping the keyring in their left hand to ensure they didn’t jingle they slide the key into the lock. The door opens with a nearly inaudible click. Again they freeze. The sound of blood pumping through their veins the only sound. Slowly they open the door, pistol up and ready. The Stygian darkness of the hangar made them uneasy. They put the keys away and take out a small flashlight. With the press of the switch, the light is on. It’s beam barely piercing the pitch-black cavern. Slowly they advance, turning to check behind them quickly. With the pistol pointed out into the void they close the door making sure to lock it. They step away from the wall slowly. With the door being locked the chances of anyone being inside were low. Only a handful of people had the key and they hadn’t seen hide or hair of anyone. Still, they proceeded with caution knowing each step could bring them closer to the thrashing jaws of some poor soul that came to the hangar with the same idea only to turn.
They made it to the helicopter. It was still there. Waiting. This was very good. They made their way to the office to grab some supplies then they’d check over the bird one last time get it ready to fly. The worst part would be the mad dash to open the hangar doors, get the bird out, started, and in the air. The sound would attract every undead creature within earshot. Not to mention any survivors desperate to escape. They’d only get one shot. They grabbed the supplies; bottles of water, energy bars, some tools, a backup pistol one of the other pilots left around “just in case.” They chuckled at the thought. They tossed what they could in their pack and brought it to the copter. It took a couple trips to complete as they refused to holster the pistol and flashlight.
Moving the helicopter was something they knew needed to be done they just hadn’t thought they’d get this far. The copter has wheels and was still on the dolly which they could easily operate by themselves. The problem would be the motor. Once they started the small engine the first dinner bell would be rung. It wasn’t that is was loud, no louder than a ride-on lawnmower, it was more the sound would echo in the hanger and travel in the soundless night to the waiting ears of the undead. There was no other way. They could not move the chopper on their own. It was a Bell 222, they picked it cause it reminded them of Airwolf, they used to watch the news just to see clips of the machine in action. Now they wished they had one of those Ultralight helicopters like the Helicycle.
With the chopper loaded up, it was time. They glanced down at their watch. Midnight. The dark didn’t stop zombies but it did slow down the living. Now came the math, it’d take no more than five minutes to get airborne if everything went according to plan. If not... they’d deal with it when it happened.
They stepped to the dolly about to start the small engine when they heard the unmistakable sound of a chopper fast approaching.
When people think of world-class archers they will usually name Hawkeye or Green Arrow. Bowyer was never an Avenger or a part of the Justice League but I’m confident he could hold his own. He has a natural ability with bows. Whether they are recurve, compound, longbows, composite, self, takedown, even various crossbows. He can just hit his mark. That’s how we found him. Hitting his mark.
The mark was a good ol’ fashioned dime.
The Bizarre was jam-packed with all manner of entertainment; people hung from hooks pierced through various parts of their bodies, others breathed fire, there were sword swallowers, animal acts, I even saw multiple tents with signs announcing live sex shows. Forge wasn’t kidding when he said anything goes.
“Come one come all. Watch in amazement as I put an arrow through the coin 50 yards away.” The man stood on a wooden box reminiscent of a carnival barker from years long gone. “What’s that? Easy you say! Surely not with a bow made out of PVC. That’s right Poly Vinyl Chloride. Plastic tubing the likes of which would fit in right under a sink.” Stepping down from box Bowyer makes his way toward a table covered with various bows he reaches under it to pull out two pieces of PVC and a string. He puts the smaller PVC tube inside a tube that while larger in diameter is shorter in length. He then bends the longer tube attaching the cordage to each end creating a very makeshift bow. “Come now if you want to see it step up and show me what you’ve got. If I make it I keep it. If I don’t you get these.” He holds up a large handful of Dollar Debs Dollars. The sight perks up a good number of drunkards. They stumble up put their bet on the table and step back.
The three of us watched from the back. I didn’t doubt he’d hit the target, the show was too good, too rehearsed. Clearly, he’d done this before. “Now I will take this arrow, made from a piece of PVC as well I should add, and send it aloft. It shall meet its mark and we shall...”
“Just get on with it jackass!” The interruption caused by a rather large and highly intoxicated leather-clad man.
“As you wish.” With a flourish for the dramatic Bowyer took aim. He held the bowstring as the anticipation grew.
“C’mon do it already!”
He released the string and the arrow pierced the air. All was silent until the arrow pierced the coin with a thunk. Most of the crowd cheered. Others, clearly angry about losing, began to grumble. As Bowyer turned to take his stage bow the man who had shouted stepped up and grabbed him by the collar. “You ripped us off.” His speech slurred and spittle flew through the air. Before the oaf knew what happened Bowyer had twisted out of his grip, wrenched the big man’s arm behind his back, and jabbed an arrow in the nape of his neck. “Now, sir. I tolerated your rude outbursts but I shall not tolerate being called a cheat.” He pressed the arrow until blood trickled from his captive’s neck.
Just then a group of people pushed their way through the crowd. A middle-aged man in a poorly fitting dusty suit led a group of five masked enforcers patches on their shoulders and backs identifying them as Security. Both Forge and Smith stepped back. I followed suit. Forge looked down at me, “Well there goes the neighborhood.”
Bowyer saw the group approaching and immediately let go of the drunk causing him to drop to the ground with a heavy thump. The drunk shook his head and looked up. I swear I saw the color drain from his face. “It was him, man. I didn’t do nuthin’!” The man in the suit lifted his hand and the drunk fell silent. The group approached the two and words were exchanged quietly. Bowyer nodded in agreement. The drunk tried arguing until the guards took out their nightsticks. While this was happening it seemed like business as usual in The Bizarre.
The man in the suit turned towards a guard, a big burly blonde whose arms looked like they were made from steel wire. She, in turn, hit a radio mic on her shoulder. Within seconds a horn went off, everyone looked around. Shopkeepers closed their stalls. People started walking en masse toward the back area of The Bizarre. Smith turned towards me, “Well Falcon, it looks like you get to see the man in action.” We joined the crowd.
The rules were simple. One of the people in The Ring had to die. No weapons were provided and no weapons were allowed. This was a test of sheer strength and fighting ability, something everyone alive these days had.
The Ring itself was a boxing ring completely enclosed in by a chain-link fence. Razor wire and barbed wire had been woven through the chain link. Bits of cloth and what looked like dried flesh clung to the points.
“This is some Hollywood movie type shit.”
Forge shrugged, “Yeah the people that run this place really liked those post-apocalyptic movies,” then in a deep grumbly voice he declared, “‘Two men enter, one man leaves.’”
“Don’t forget that professional wrestling show.” Smith chuckled.
“Oh yeah, all the barb wire-wrapped baseball bats and folding chairs.” We watched as Bowyer and the drunk were led to The Ring. The gate opened on rusty hinges. Bowyer walked in like he owned the place. The drunk had to be forced in. The gate slammed shut and padlocks were clicked in place.
“C’mon man. It was his fault!” The drunkard pointed at Bowyer while pleading with the gate guard. He got no reply.
The man with the ill-fitting suit cleared his throat and The Bizarre went eerily silent. “The rules are clear. While in The Bizarre there is to be no violence, unless... it’s paid for.” The crowd chuckled. “These two had not paid.” He pointed towards the men in The Ring. “Now we will extract the price.” The crowd let out a cheer. “One of these men must die.”
The drunk continued declaring his innocence, “C’mon! It was him! It won’t happen again!”
“Just a few minutes ago he was ready to knock Bowyer’s head off. Now he’s a groveling baby.” I said to no one in particular.
“15.” Smith chimed in. “It’s kinda his thing. If he isn’t fleecing people with his fancy bow work he’s killing people in The Ring.”
Forge added, “He knew what was gonna happen the moment that guy touched him.”
The suit wasted no time. He simply nodded. Bowyer was across the ring in an instant. He took the big man down to the mat and immediately began slamming elbows into his face. The crowd was going wild. Forge leaned down in a whisper, “He’s gonna give the guy a chance to get up then it’s over.” Sure enough, Bowyer stepped back bowing to the roaring crowd. Blood poured from the drunk's face. He knew he was done for you could see as he made the decision to not go down without a fight. He did what lots of big men do and he charged, arms out, hoping to wrap around Bowyer. Instead, he was met with a swift kick to the head. He went board straight than collapsed. The crowd was ecstatic. The man in the suit entered the ring and checked for a pulse. “We have a winner.” Bowyer bowed again with a flourish and left the ring. People were patting him on the shoulders as he left.
“I wanted to introduce you to a friend of mine.”
“Welcome to The Bizarre!”
I’d seen a lot of things in my travels but nothing like The Bizarre. We had checked the horses in with a woman missing all her teeth. She handed us a plastic chip with a number, Forge told me it was the stable number our horses would be in. There were all manner of vehicles parked about the large swathe of desert designated the parking lot. I could see people walking towards the area from every direction. We had passed quite a few on our way and here they were.
We passed through security. No one took our weapons, they had no interest. They checked for bites. Anyone with any kind of fresh wound was denied entry.
Once inside the sights and sounds swirled into a cacophony of madness. A mix of circus sideshow and open air market. Vendors and performers of all kinds were crammed together. The smells were otherworldly. “Are those hamburgers?” My mouth salivated at the sight. Forge grabbed my arm, “From people brother.”
“People.” He pulled me between two stalls. “Listen man. Anything goes here okay. Anything. Don’t eat nuthin’ unless I say it’s cool. I know you’re a hard ass Ranger and all but keep that shit under control here or you’ll end up in The Ring. You got it.” I shook my head. “Good. Now the two were looking for are over that way.” He started walking.
“What makes you think they’ll be in?”
“Man I have a stall here a couple times a month. Selling horseshoes and shit. People talk.” We continued walking in silence. We made our way pasts booths selling every kind of firearm and weapon you could think of. I swear to god that I saw a damn table full of Batarangs for sale. There were clothing vendors for every type of survivor. Food was everywhere. Forge stopped once and got us some meat on a stick. It cost him a small sack of nails. “Everything in here is barter. The people who run this list the values of just about everything; bullets, fur, leather, nails, human activities, everything has a value.” We scarfed down the food and kept walking.
The Bizarre was jam packed with people and it smelled like it. Forge explained there were latrines along both sides but that cleaning them wasn’t common. “No where to put the shit.” He’d said.
We finally stopped in front of a stall with a sign that said GUNS. A woman was sitting in a chair her feet propped up on a table covered in various gun parts and tools. “Hey Smith.” Forge looked at her with a growing grin.
“Forge!” She stood up a smiling spreading across her face. “Didn’t expect to see you this early in the month.”
“Falcon.” She extended her hand. I gripped hers, shaking her hand was like hugging a rhino. All tough skin and calluses. They were hands of someone who worked them daily. “Nice revolver you’ve got there.”
I tapped the grip. “Thanks. It’s done its job.” She nodded in understanding.
“So you just showing Falcon here around eh?”
“Yeah. He’s never been to The Bizarre before and I figured why not.”
“Uh huh.” She spied him suspiciously.
“C’mon Smith would I lie to you?”
“You know you would if you thought it’d avoid an ass kicking.” They both chuckled.
“Alright.” He stepped in closer, “You got a minute?”
“Sure.” She pulled on a rope that brought a pice of plywood that had been acting as an awning down to close her shop. A minute later Smith was walking out from behind the shop, “All locked up.” We walked to an area a few aisles down that opened up and was filled with various picnic tables. We sat at one near the middle. I let Forge do the talking. I answered questions when asked. Over an hour passed before Smith said, “Where do I sign up?”
Of all the places in the world destroyed by the ZomPoc, the American Midwest seemed to have faired the best. Maybe it’s the intense heat. Maybe the landscape. Maybe the way the population is spread out. Who knows? But as I travel through what was once the great state of Texas I’m reminded that this country was once incredibly beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong. The chaos and destruction of everything that came after the undead rose is visible anywhere you look. Hell, Texas had a population of around 28 million. Most of that population was centered around the large cities. You couldn’t pay me to go near Dallas-Fortworth. The SouthWest side of the state was nearly uninhabited. Yet, the signs of the undead is everywhere. Burned out cars cover most the buckled and broken roads. The frames of buildings long fallen jut from the ground like so many rib cages. An undead highway of trampled ground stretches off into the distance created by the massive hordes that made their way west destroying everything in the way. Sun bleached and broken bones of the truly dead litter the ground like macabre cigarette butts.
The survivors I’ve come across run the gamut from a wild eyed LaMOE that I had to put down, to survivor sanctuaries that welcomed me. I steered clear of the several Cobra Outposts I came across. They seem to be popping up more and more making my mission even more important. I need a team.
Forge found me in Northwest corner of Texas. I was paralleling Route 62 approaching Salt Flat Texas, a ghost town before the end now a literal ghost town. I saw him coming from a mile away. The big horse he was riding kicked up a cloud of dust as he approached. He stopped about 25 yards away. Beads of sweat dripped down his face and bare arms, a large black gloved hand sat on a shining revolver on his right hip positioned for a cross draw, he never got off the horse.
“Howdy.” With a nod of his chin.
“Saw you coming. Figured I’d check you out.” His hand still on the pistol.
“I’m just passing through.”
“Passing through you say.”
“Not really sure that’s your business.”
“Ha. Fair enough.” Our eyes were locked. He had the high ground. I kept my cool. “The beret. You military.” He began drawing slowly.
“I was. Now I’m just a traveler.”
“You know I’ve seen a lot of you military folk. Never doing anything good.” He drew a little more. I stayed loose. My own pistol was set for a cross draw as well. Wouldn’t matter. Either he’d shoot me or he wouldn’t. I’ve found if they’re talking they don’t want to kill ya.
“I’ve heard. I’m not them. I’m alone. Just trying to find a place to hunker down.”
“You could be a scout.” At this point the pistol was plain in his hand. “Why shouldn’t I drop you where you stand and take what you’ve got.”
“You could. Wouldn’t blame ya. I’ve heard the stories. Not sure what’s true and what isn’t anymore.” I figured the longer I could engage him the less likely he’d be to squeeze that trigger. “I’m just trying to get by.”
Just then his attention was drawn to something else, “Shit.” He wasn’t looking at me now but behind me. I was apprehensive to turn around but I had to see what it was. It looked like a dust storm only it wasn’t. I turned back around to face the man on the horse. He was looking through a pair of binoculars. “Shit.” It was clear he wasn’t happy at what he was seeing. “C’mon. We gotta get out of the open.” He turned the horse and started off. I followed at a run. I didn’t know what he saw but I had my suspicions. He had stopped at a decrepit building. Now not much more then some walls standing at odd angles. He went around back I came around just in time to see him tie off his horse. He pointed his pistol at me, “You make one damn sound and you’ll be buried here.” I nodded in agreement. “Go on.” He motioned toward the front of the structure. We squatted down and waited in silence. In minutes the sounds of the caravan reached us. Moments later the first big vehicle passed. A Cobra Rage using its armored front to push any vehicle husks out of the way. A second followed cleaning up anything the first missed. Then one after another the heavily armored Cobra HISS tanks went by. I counted 12 in all. We stayed quite after the last one passed, I broke the silence, “Cobra.”
“I fucking hate them. Been coming around here more and more.”
“You know what they’re doing?”
“What’re you gonna do?”
“Not sure.” He looked at me then at the pistol in his hand and holstered it. “Zombies I can deal with. Damn bikers too. But Cobra...” the word hung in the air. He turned to me, “Where’d you say you were heading?”
“Well, it’s not gonna be safe here with them around. With how loud those things are I just know a horde is following behind them. I got a couple more horses and some gear.”
“You suggesting we partner up?”
“This is Texas, every Lone Ranger needs a Tonto.”
“And I’m Tonto?”
The rec room is alive with the sounds of the heavily burdened looking to relax. Those who’ve volunteered to take on the role of being A Real American Hero wind down after the day’s various missions and jobs. In the middle of the room a pool cue connects with the 8 ball sending it rattling down the corner pocket. Towards the back, gathered around an ancient arcade cabinet the blip blip blip of Pac-Man plays as some Joes try to outdo the high score. Along the front wall, sounds of motorcycles racing comes from the tv mounted on the wall while several people relax on the thread bear sofa, “Man, Akira was a badass.”
“The hell you talking about Scrounge? That ain’t Akira.” Gunsmith scoffs.
“Yeah, it is. He’s the damn hero.”
“Man, that’s Kaneda. Have you even been watching this movie.” The banter is interrupted as Blacksmith rushes in and grabs the remote, “Hey! We’re watching that.” Blacksmith ignores the protestations of his colleagues. He turns to CNC, Cobra News Central.
“... the terrorists escaped after murdering 64 refugees looking for safe haven. As well as 16 brave heroes.” The camera cuts away from the newscaster and to a screen with “Warning” in large red letters, “We must warn you. The footage may be disturbing to some viewers.” The screen splits into multiple camera angles. The images flashing across the screen show the scared faces of people who had survived the years of facing the undead. men, women, children huddled together, cringing at sounds coming from outside their covered transports. Then the unthinkable happens, the convoy vehicles explode one after another. Multiple cameras show Throttle and GP running from behind a pile of wrecked cars. The feeds cut to static. The camera returns to the ghost white newscaster as he tries to compose himself, “Our hearts go out to these refugees who faced head on and survived the unthinkable to finally find sanctuary, only to be murdered by terrorists. We keep the memories of the heroic men and women in uniform that accompanied them and did all they could to keep them safe before being ambushed by cowards.” The anchor reaches for his ear, “My producers tell me we are cutting away for an important message from the Commander.”
“What the fuck!” Throttle exclaims having walked in with GP after the pair had spent time with BumbleBee.
All eyes turn towards Throttle and GP. “That’s not what happened!”
“It doesn’t matter.” The Boss enters the room. “This is what’s being broadcast. We know they doctored the footage. It really doesn’t matter though. This broadcast is going world-wide. Anyone and everyone with any kind of receiver is seeing or hearing this. They’re painting us as The Enemy.” The Boss steps further in the room, jaw dropped.
The Joes turn back to the TV. “Is that...?” The words trail off as Bowyer is stunned into silence.
“Sure as shit looks like it.” Sparrow rasps.
On the screen, the President of the United States stands next to Cobra Commander. The Commander steps back from the podium his words missed by the watching Joes, the POTUS steps up, “Thank you Commander. Thank you on behalf of the people of the United States. Thank you for the safe haven you are providing for all those innocent people looking to live in peace once again.” The President turns towards Cobra Commander and offers his hand. The Commander shakes it firmly. “Sadly, there are still those that want to destroy the safety and security you offer.” Looking defiantly into the camera, “The attacks today on unarmed civilians looking for safety are unconscionable. The terrorists calling themselves G.I.Joe are a menace. They hide behind a name long reserved for the finest military men and women our once great nation could produce. Now sullied by the actions of lawless cowards.” Anger clear on his face he continues, “The government of the United States does not condone the actions or the terrorists. We stand strong with the people of New Springfield and all those under the protection of Cobra.
In a time when we are still fighting off the undead it is unfortunate that we need to waste our limited and valuable resources to combat an Enemy that stoops to murdering innocents that just wanted a safe place to live.
Yet, this is where we find ourselves.
We are offering all remaining resources of the United States to Cobra in cooperation for bringing down these terrorists. Including our newly formed anti-terror squad.”
The President gestures to his right, the camera pans revealing a group of ten men and women in varying uniforms. The audible gasp from The Boss gets all eyes on him. The Joes look at their leader, it is his turn for the color to drain from his face. On the tv the men and women stand at rigid attention. Thousand yard stares look into the television camera sending chills down The Boss’ spine. The camera slowly pans from one face to the next.
“I am proud to reintroduce the world to;
Chuckles, Dialtone, Sneak Peek, Outback, Jinx, Blackout, Bombstrike, Barrel Roll, Grand Slam, and Firewall.
The Cobra HEAT.”