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.
Categories: G.I Joe Chapters