“Liam! Wake up!” Liam snapped awake at the sound of gunfire and his mother's voice. He gasped and shook his head, which immediately reminded him of the mild cuts in his face from when the windshield shattered on his face. He looked around to find that he was in the middle of the city of Boston at night. He smelled smoke and ruin. The sounds filling the air were desperate screams and evil growls, the rifles' report and the silence of death, the blare of sirens and the rumble of raging fires. Liam knew that he was in no place less than Hell.
He found that he was on the pavement and that the Range Rover was still on its side. “What's going on?” Liam groaned. He pulled himself to his feet. His mother handed him his FN SCAR-L. “Is everything okay?”
“We're good for now!” Emma called from a position about ten feet away. They were at a street corner beneath a large building. Down one side of the corner, Steelewood soldiers waged war against the oncoming zombies. Down the other reinforcements passed them by on the adjacent block. Emma stood with her G36C rifle raised and checked both sides repeatedly. “We gotta move.”
Liam wiped his face and spat a bit of glass. “Agreed! Steelewood HQ is only a few miles down that way. Keep your heads down and try to keep a low profile! Let's move!”
Sergei did not have to look for his mother. He found Isadora waiting for him in her office. She stood by the window with her jacket off. Sergei could see the PPS on the small of her back. The sight of the polymer weapon made him slightly uneasy. Sergei noted his discomfort and set it aside. He knew it was because of the chaos outside the city, not because he was afraid of his mother. She did not around, but said, “Sergei, this is the world I knew.”
He stood beside her.
“This is what the world was like before I took power, Sergei.” She pointed down to a set of blazing apartments on north-east side of the city. “Look, do you see that there? Do you see those fires? Imagine that. Imagine it everywhere. Imagine it in every city. That's what it was like. I was in Washington, the capital of the United States, when it all began. I saw the entire city wrecked by chaos and flesh-eating beasts. Everything fell and burned. Nothing survived. The city was gone. And Sergei, I want you to see this. I want you to look at it. I want you to look at it because this is what you will bringing back to the world when-”
“Me?” Sergei scoffed. “Mother, it isn't me who's done this.”
“No, Sergei, it is you. They're doing this because of you. I told Liam to do whatever it takes to stop you.”
“And if he fails, you'll kill me?”
“I don't want to kill you, Sergei.”
“No? I bet you'd love nothing more.”
Isadora grit her teeth. “Sergei, that isn't true. You're my son!”
“What did you say?”
“I said bollocks!”
“Bollocks?” Isadora laughed. “You are Paul's son, Sergei.”
“Nobody said 'bollocks' quite like he did. It was his favorite bloody word and he wielded it like no one else.”
“That pathetic excuse for a man is not my father.”
“He is.” Isadora could not suppress her smile. “And Sergei, if he is a pathetic excuse for man, then you certainly are his son.”
Ben Duckett ran down the stairs and into the car park. He found his blue BMW still parked in his personal parking space. He opened the door, got inside, straightened his glasses, and took a deep breath. He turned on the engine and hit the gas. Once he got to the gate, however, he found that was locked. Of course, it was. Standard procedure during a perimeter breach was to lock down the building. Well, darn.
Personally, Liam enjoyed that they were running in the opposite direction of the zombies. Objectively, he hated that they ran right into the bulk of Steelewood's army. In reality, the zombies were less of a threat. They were weak, stupid, and could do nothing unless they bit. Steelewood soldiers, on the other hand, were smart, well-trained, and carried assault rifles. They also wore body armor and traveled in organized tactical teams. An even bigger problem was that Steelewood had vehicles including tanks, APCs, and Humvees. Liam, Emma, and Lena did not have the means to take down heavy armor.
The trio kept themselves out of the open as much as possible. They did this by navigating alleyways and even cutting through buildings, but getting out on the streets was inevitable. They waited in the shadows of a tight alley. An entire battalion of Steelewood troops marched past them. Emma took point. She crouched and kept her left palm up and open, giving the signal for Lena and Liam to stay put. Liam stood behind her with his rifle raised. If anything were to happen, Liam would fire first. Lena stood at the back covering their rear.
The battalion left sight. As soon as the marching was a distant enough clatter, Emma lowered her arm. Liam whispered, “Go right and stay low.”
Emma complied. She and Liam used a simple alternating formation with Lena always covering the rear. Emma kept point until she rounded the corner. She stopped. Liam stepped out second, checked the area behind Emma, and then moved in front of her. No immediate threats presented themselves, though Liam was still quite wary of sudden surprises. Once Lena came out, Liam kept them moving at a jog. He worried that his mother would fall behind, but she kept up. Still, her perseverance could not stop Liam from worrying about her.
“Stop!” Liam said just above a whisper. He put his hand up in just the same way Emma had before. He quickly replaced his hand on his rifle. Before them was a vacant traffic intersection with a stoplight. A pair of undead walked beneath the hot orange streetlights. They limped slowly and snarled quietly. To the heavily-armed Mitchells, these monsters were no threat. But Liam noted, “There's never just two of them. More can't be far behind.”
“Going around would take too long,” Emma whispered. “Let's take 'em out!”
“If there are more-”
“We can chance it.”
“Fine,” Liam said. “You take the one on the left, I'll take the-”
Lena screamed. Liam glanced back to find a zombie had followed them through the alley and sneaked behind his mother. The creature, a man with snotty skin, a tattered suit, and blood around his mouth, wrapped his arms around Lena and fought hard to bit her neck. She resisted with her left hand crossed onto his left shoulder and her right hand on its face. She pushed, but the zombie was stronger than she.
The two monsters in the street snarled. Liam swiveled back and put his eye in his scope. There were two women and, thanks to the ACOG scope's zoom, Liam could tell that they were freshly-turned rather than one of the old zombies that had breached the perimeter. A pang hit his gut when he remembered that these were his fault. But such feeling did not stop him from killing them. Death was preferable in all ways to marauding as a flesh-eating mutant. Once beaded properly, Liam squeezed a three-round burst into each of their heads. He switched targets too quickly to see the first one die, but he kept on target for just long enough to watch the second's head get ripped open by high-grain fragmenting rounds.
Liam turned around and watched Emma tear the zombie away from her mother. Her left hand gripped the creature's neck and it took only the one arm for Emma to slam it against the wall. Lena stumbled backward and fell bottom-first onto the ground. The monster in her control, Emma drew her knife and rammed it through the beast's right eye cavity and into the brain. She gave the knife a quick, bloody twist and yanked it back out. The zombie fell limp to the ground.
“Keep watch!” Liam ordered to his sister. She nodded, wiped her knife on the dead zombie's shirt, then slid it into its scabbard, and brought her G36C back to bear. Liam slung his SCAR and crouched beside his mother. “Mom, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I'm fine,” Lena sat up. “I shoulda stayed on the ship.”
“Yeah,” Liam said. He stood up and extended his hand for his mother to grab. “But you're here now and you're gonna see this thing through with us. Come on.”
“Right.” She took her son's hand and he helped her back to her feet. Lena took a breath and put her hands back on her HK416, the very same rifle Hank carried.
“You good, mom?”
“Yeah, I'm fine, let's get movin'.”
“Emma, take point!” Liam raised his rifle. “Double time it! Someone's bound to have heard us, so we need to move out!”
Ben Duckett stared at the security gate for a good four minutes and twenty-six seconds. He had tried inputting his personal security code into the access pad, but the machine only buzzed in error. He threw his hands up in the air and sighed, “Is what it's bloody come to then?”
At forty-three, Duckett was only eighteen when the world ended. He was vacationing in New York City with some of his classmates when Serum-349 broke out. When the city turned, Duckett managed to escape and fled to Boston. None of his friends survived. His parents were still back in London. Since Duckett could not leave and since Steelewood was rapidly gaining a hoothold on the world, he applied for a job. He figured that no one would have a better chance at tracking his parents down. In the twenty-four years since working at Steelewood, he received no word about his parents, but managed to get himself on the board of directors. In short, he had gone from orphaned teenager to being one a person of real influence in the real world. And all of that was about to come crashing down.
Duckett sat on the hood his BMW. He sighed under the realization of defeat. He stared at the gate and then it hit him. Duckett snapped his fingers, jumped off his car, threw open the door, and hopped inside. With a turn of the ignition, the engine came to life. Duckett locked in his seatbelt and put the car in reverse. When he got as far back from the gate as he could, he stopped. The gate was roughly eighty yards away, more than enough to get some real speed and battering power.
“Well. Here goes nothing,” Duckett said. He pounded his foot on the gas and his BMW shot forward like a rocket.
Liam felt relieved in knowing that they were almost there. They had been jogging for about three and a half miles. Lena showed signs of fatigue, but still kept up. A few times, Liam stopped them and acted like he had seen something in order to let his mother catch a breath. She didn't complain though. In fact, she hardly spoke.
Steelewood's defense plans were strong, but imperfect. They set up barricades in the streets around their headquarters, but Isadora pointed out a major flaw. None of the parking garage entrances were inside this perimeter. They did not truly need to be. All of them were protected by military-grade steel gates which would require massive force or even explosives to get through. And, plus, Steelewood would have vehicles moving in and out of them in the event of an emergency. The barricades would only get in the way of the armor and troops mobilizing. Since the executive lot was attached to the entire underground complex, its entrance was also outside the main perimeter.
Liam, Emma, and Lena found the executive entrance fairly easily. It was unmarked, but, thanks to Isadora's notes, it was unmistakable. They were wary of Steelewood soldier who might be passing by, but the area closest to Steelewood HQ seemed quietest of all. Still, the echoes of distant death rumbling around them. The skies were orange from the fires and the air smelled of gunpowder and ruin. Liam had to shake off his feelings of remorse. For this death he was responsible – and he knew it – but he would have to take it later. The mission came first.
Liam found the control panel for the gate. The code Isadora gave him was eighteen digits long, so Liam had to write it down on a notecard. “Emma, cover me!” Liam whipped out the card and crouched at the panel.
As Liam input the code, he heard the unmistakable sound of tires screeching coming from inside. He chose to ignore it and tapped in the last of the numbers. Once he finished, the gate locks clacked and up it rose. “Got it!” Liam stood, raised his rifle, and prepared to go in. Emma and Lena copied his gesture.
Liam was about to take his first step inside when a red BMW suddenly raced out the entrance and slammed into the brick building across the street. Emma was first to exclaim, “The hell!”
They exchanged confused looks and all three of them rushed over to the car, which looked to be in much better shape than one would expect. Emma, knowing her place in the tactical formation, stopped at the rear of the vehicle and brought her rifle to bear. It was her duty to stand back and keep watch. Liam and Lena came to the driver's side to find a bewildered man in glasses staring stupidly into the airbag. His jaw hung, but he seemed uninjured.
Liam opened the car door and asked, “Are you alright?”
The airbag slowly deflated. The man turned and looked at them, but did not answer.
“Are you okay, sir?” Liam tried again.
The man shook his head and then said, “I- I think so. I bloody swear that door wasn't open, I-”
“What were you doing?”
“I was trying to ram my way through the door and then-” He stopped and his eyes shot open. “Oh! I recognize you! You're Lena Mitchell! And you must be Liam!”
“Yeah, that's us,” Liam nodded.
“Bloody hell, then maybe you can help me! We're on the same side here.”
“Who are you?”
The man rubbed his head and replied, “My name is Ben Duckett. I'm the COO at Steelewood. I'm out here helping Isadora.”
Duckett explained the situation regarding the evidence to implicate Sergei.
“So, if Isadora gets that evidence, she's got a chance?”
“Yes, but I need to get there! And soon.” Duckett pulled himself out of the car and his legs wobbled. He was clearly disoriented, dizzy, and maybe a bit confused.
“Right,” Liam said. “But without your car, you won't make it by yourself.”
“I'll manage. Sergei's bad news.”
“Emma! Take Mr. Bucket-”
“Escort Mr. Duckett here to the network hub and-”
Emma turned around and spat, “What?”
“You heard me. He needs-”
“Liam! You can't do this, I wanna see this thing through to-”
“Yeah, I know!” Liam argued. “But is just as important.”
“Fine,” she resigned.
“Mom and I will take care of Sergei.”
“Yeah, sure.” She looked Duckett over and then asked, “Ya got a gun?”
“No, I don't. I was hoping-”
She drew Taurus PT-24/7, switched off the safety, and handed it to Duckett. “Point and shoot. But don't do it unless I tell you to, got it?”
“We're going in.” Liam said. “We'll see you when this over.”
“Kick his ass, alright?”
“Consider it kicked.”