'I can't leave Tash!' Vine shouted to Stella as she ran for the garage office.
'You go to your people, I go to mine,' she shouted over her shoulder.
'But what if there are too many?'
'I'll take care of it. We have a plan for this sort of thing. Go!'
Deads had cascaded around the tanker that blocked the road and they had filled the street outside of the garage. Vine hadn't been so close to so many since the early days after the crash when solar power had been hard to come by. He glanced once more at Stella and made up his mind; he would clear a space for her and then get to Tash as quickly as he could.
Stella burst into the office, throwing a glance over her shoulder at Vine as he weighed into the deads, his massive weapon swinging and clubbing the staggering horde back. She knew that he wouldn't wait for her but she was grateful for the valuable minutes he was buying her.
The office was sparse, the plain dark wood desk empty. Looted, Stella presumed, although what could be taken she had no idea. The calendar was open at August 2020, exactly three years ago. Its owner had circled the 20th. A birthday? An anniversary? Something too important to forget. 'Dates don't matter anymore,' she said out loud. Then she shrugged. 'Except Christmas.'
She quickly searched the room for a thumper-type device. It sat on the floor behind the desk, not in plain sight but certainly not hidden. It was larger than the thumpers she and Hook used and looked to be solar charged. She briefly considered taking it for Gregor to study but rejected the idea; it would be too risky to try to carry it through a horde.
The sound of a launching jet pack told her that Vine had gone. She glanced through the office window and saw that the deads had been forced back to the tanker truck. 'Thanks, metal man,' she said, and turned to kick the thumper. It smashed easily but she stamped on it some more, grinding the parts beneath her heel to ensure that the signal was killed.
If Hook and Gregor were keeping watch on the street then they would be awaiting her return. That way the emergency re-entry plan, or the ERP as Hook called it, would swing into action. Stella tried to imagine Hook swinging into anything. She couldn't but she could certainly imagine him battering into things and that would be just as good.
Adrenaline coursed through her body, working its magic. She liked to think of it as magic rather than bio-mechanically enhanced adrenal glands; the latter sounding so clinical. And of course, no one knew the long term effects of such enhancement. She was about as long term as it got and she still felt fine, better than fine, magical. Magic was easier to deal with than biology.
She leapt over the desk and was already sprinting at full speed before she reached the rows of cars. Her tanto blade didn't slow her at all and she silently cursed herself for going out so often unarmed.
She was only a three-minute run from Vic's but she had no idea how long the thumper had been transmitting; there could be hundreds of deads there by now and she would have no way of getting back inside. Well, there was one way: Gregor’s Emergency Re-entry Plan, or ERP for short. But the plan only worked if they could communicate and for that she needed the thumper tracker. She could see it now on the desk in the concourse. 'I'll think of something,' she said to herself.
Jared let the water fall over him, smoothing it through his hair, down his body, around every part of him, feeling the grime beneath his fingers as it was rinsed away. His toes splashed in the brown water like potatoes poking from muddy earth. His beard was as much of a tangle as his hair and he could smell the water as it gushed through it. It didn't smell nice.
There was shower gel. At first he had stared at it, the water running off his lashes, obscuring the bright red bottle. He hadn't used soap in three years. Then he grabbed it and filled his palm till it overflowed. It smelled of strawberries. He scrubbed it into his body over and over. He grabbed the bottle and filled his palm again, this time lathering his hair, using his fingers to pull at the tangles and the knots. He pulled and rubbed hard enough to hurt, pulling hair from his scalp and knocking scabs and scars on his body.
The pain was like an elation to him. He pulled and rubbed and massaged at his hair and bruised flesh. At one point he had to reach down and clear the plughole of hair and filth to allow the water to flow.
When he was out, he poured more hot water into a sink and grabbed scissors and a razor. He attacked the hair around his face, thought about doing the same for that on his head, but decided against it, and snipped until he thought he could shave the rest.
He wiped steam from the mirror and watched as he swiped the razor across his weathered cheeks, revealing pink skin. He stared at it. He hadn't seen anything but weathered, red and grey flesh in so long.
His face clear, he looked back to the shower and smiled. He jumped back in.
The water ran cold after two minutes and the power dipped as the machine struggled to keep up, but it didn't matter. Jared stood there for as long as he could stand it.
Stella ran on, her boots pounding the debris strewn streets. The deads at the garage were no longer a concern, only what was between her and Vic's. She had already taken out a few of the shufflers and even a couple of draggers that had pulled themselves from buildings and vehicles. Bits of their flesh stuck to her black vest and black combats. She glanced at the clear blue sky, hoping there was enough power for a shower, not considering if she would be alive to use it.
A dead stumbled out from behind the ice cream van right next to her as she ran past. 'Sorry, fella. In a rush. We'll speak later, yeah?' The dead looked at her, its face blank as it started to follow her. Now that the thumper was disengaged, her open running would attract a lot of unwanted attention. She considered killing each one that she saw instead of just those in the way but she wanted to be back as quickly as possible. The vision of Gregor standing on the steps at Vic's, his ridiculous sword, held impotently in two weak hands, forced her on.
She was running down Queen's Gate; ahead of her a loose mob of deads blocked the way. There were enough to mean that she would have to be careful not to get surrounded, which would mean taking several seconds on each kill. Too long.
Without breaking stride she ran to the broken cars and leapt onto the bonnet of the first, then the roof and then, using the rear windscreen as a springboard, a long leap to the next bonnet, her boots making atrocious noise as metal buckled and windscreens cracked. But she ran on, leaping from one car to the next, every dead head jerking around to face her. Their bodies aligned with their heads like frayed and twisted elastic limply springing back into shape. Soon she had a shambling procession filling the street and aiming itself at her running figure.
But she was ahead of them as she rounded the comer onto Cromwell Road and saw Vic's, dead ahead. Vic's and something else. Some things else. The sight brought her to a skidding halt; deads, hundreds of them. 'Well that's a lot of undead and unwelcome guests,' she said. Glancing around, she saw that several of the deads from Queen's Gate were already nearly on her. 'You know what?' she said, to the closest dead as she batted its arms aside and thrust the tanto through its chin and into its brain. As it fell, she said to it, 'I don't think any of you guys had an invite. Time to leave.'
Suddenly, a hand on her shoulder. She cursed herself for allowing the distraction, turned and thrust her blade into its eye. 'Fair enough,' she said. 'Stakes are high. Time for the big-girl game face.'
The Ismaili Centre was across the road, a large, stark, concrete building with no entrance on this side but lots of large glass windows facing Cromwell Road. She clicked her heels and round-housed a dead, stabbing her blade into the side of its head. She pushed the blade smoothly back into her boot and ran at the closest window. 'Here goes nothing,' she said, and leapt at the glass, shoulder first, tucking her head into the crook of her arm.
She bounced off.
Tash watched from the window as Vine landed softly in the Old Police House's courtyard, right next to the green tractor left behind by dead park keepers. His descent was so graceful for such a large man. If it wasn't for the whine of the jet pack, he really could have been an angel descending from heaven, Tash thought as she watched him. She didn't mind that the sound had attracted a few zombies; the park's trickle of shuffling corpses had become a flood in the last twenty minutes, but that was to be expected. The double-glazed windows of the grand old house could withstand a few pawing palms and she had already closed all of the curtains, so they would lose interest soon enough.
She smoothed her blonde hair, cropped short to avoid grasping hands, away from her forehead and went out to meet him. Dust and dirt and grime covered everything in the courtyard; the space was shut off from the rest of the park so the rains had failed to wash away much of the fallout from the crash. Vegetation, most of it domestic but some less so, its seeds fetched up into the atmosphere and then dumped again far from home, grew everywhere, like a creeping green and yellow creature trying to escape the courtyard and pull down the building in its passing. Despite the mess Tash walked confidently, her feet comfortable in a brand new pair of red Converse, her legs wrapped in brand new jeans, topped off with a bright white t-shirt with a Community logo emblazoned across her chest in green.
'Welcome back,' she said to Vine.
'The clothes look good,' he said.
She smiled warmly. 'Thanks. What's that?' She pointed at the huge weapon his hands.
'A whale bone. It's been very useful.'
Stains of blood and gore decorated either end of the bone. 'Certainly looks useful,' she said. 'How did it go with the Cynosure and her friends?'
'Very well,' he answered. 'They've set up quite an operation in that museum; we'll be able to use much of what they have.'
Tash nodded. 'And the bio-mech, he was there?'
'Just like you predicted. It's Gregor.'
'I knew it. There was no way that the Cynosure and Hook could have kept going this long without someone propping them up. Those Games athletes are nothing without their maintenance.' Tash pursed her lips thoughtfully before continuing. 'And Gregor! He was the best. That means he'll have all sorts of tech we can use. It'll be a safe bet that he's got equipment that we haven't seen since the crash. Just the kind of equipment we need.'
'His work space was hard to assess because of the angel parts, but it certainly looked well-equipped.'
Tash nodded eagerly. 'This is it then. They're going to be holed up in that building for at least a week once the zombies get around them. That's a week to get you sorted and then we can go to Kyle.'
'They call them deads,' said Vine.
'A good name,' said Tash, nodding again. She was excited. The plan would work.
'We'll have to wait till tomorrow,' said Vine. 'I need to charge.'
'Go ahead. We're safe here. The zombies, the deads, will make sure no one can get in. Rest now and tomorrow we'll go be the perfect house guests.' She left Vine alone in the courtyard and returned the house. She watched him from a window. He had climbed to the roof of the green tractor and was just spreading his golden wings, turning the courtyard into a bowl of sunlight so thick it was like liquid. Like a fuel, she thought to herself.
Tomorrow. She made the silent promise to herself, to her brother and to Kyle.