Riding atop the elevator, Liam and his mother crouched low and kept quiet. They had only a few more floors to go before they reached the top. Liam left the hatch open and readied a smoke grenade. Lena sat beside him still shaking, but she seemed capable of moving on. She had told him what Dr. Wu did to her. Though they were compromised, Liam could not find it in him to blame his mother for what she did. Wu, however, deserved a much more horrible death.
When they were close enough by Liam's estimation, he pulled the pin on the smoke bomb and dropped it down the hatch. The orange signal smoke filled the elevator before it even stopped. When it did, the hissing of the ejecting smoke ceased. The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Liam took an M67 frag grenade from his vest and pulled the safety. He held the detonator and waited.
“What the hell?” A male voice asked from below. “Go check it out!” Boots shuffled and approached the elevator.
Liam released the detonator and it flew. He counted off in his head.... 1... 2... 3... 4... and then he dropped the grenade and covered the hatch. He looked into his mother's eyes and saw fear, but also anger. She blinked at the sound of the muffled, but still noisy detonation. Liam felt the hatch push upwards in the blast.
After a second, he lifted the hatch and said to his mother, “Count to five and then follow me down.” He jumped down and raised his rifle. The smoke was still full so he could not make out any targets. He found that he was standing amongst two dead, mangled bodies, but he ignored them and crouched behind the left side of the small wall inside of the elevator. He kept his FN SCAR raised and ready to fire. From outside the elevator he heard shuffling and tried to count how many targets were still left, but could only ascertain there was more than one.
The smoke cleared enough that Liam could see a trio of Steelewood soldiers. He put the first in his ACOG scope and pulled the trigger, releasing a three-round burst. The enemy returned fire, but were clearly firing blindly.
Lena dropped down the hatch. She looked ahead and froze. Liam did not look, but heard her scream and then the thud of her body and her rifle hitting the floor. His concern turned to fear. With little thought to precision, he emptied the rest of his magazine into the remaining pair of enemy soldiers. They fell quickly and unceremoniously.
Breathlessly, Liam let his rifle drop to its sling. He turned around and crawled to his mother's side. “Oh, God, mom! Mom!”
“Oh, gosh, that hurts!” She moaned as she tried to sit up. “Am I dyin'?”
Liam forced her to stay down. “Mom, stay down.” He looked her over. “Where are you hit?”
“On- on my stomach, I got hit on my-”
He scanned for the bullet holes around her abdomen, but was relieved by what he saw. He sighed, “Mom, you were hit in the vest, you're gonna be fine.”
“We need to get it off of you though just to make sure none of the rounds penetrated.”
“Okay.” Lena sat up and began unclipping her tactical vest. Liam helped her remove it and set it aside. “Am I okay?”
Liam looked her over very carefully, but found no sign of penetration. “Mom, you're gonna have a hell of a bruise and a story, but you're fine. You're fine, thank God.”
“I thought I was dead.”
“Me too,” Liam sighed. “But you're not. Think you can move on?”
“Yeah, I can,” Lena pulled herself up to her feet and put the vest back on.
“Good.” Liam stood up. He reloaded his SCAR and said, “We're just two rooms away from finishing this. Let's go!”
Through her red dot sight, Emma watched the mass of zombies banging on the glass door. It was strong glass, but it would not last forever. A particularly horrid-looking and quite old monster banged his fist into the glass and it cracked. Emma felt a pang of fear. Her heart pounded and her lungs fought against her to panic, but she kept control. She even even kept her rifle steady. She had learned to control her body in even the most intense circumstances. She did not shake, she cycled breath regularly and efficiently, and she maintained command of her mind.
Emma shouted to Duckett, “Send the damn file!”
“It's sending,” Duckett said. The cracks grew.
“Look, we're about to get overrun! You get that file sent so-” She stopped talking and started shooting when the glass finally gave out. Using single shots, she placed easy headshots in the first two to break through. “Ben! Help!” She kept firing, but her shots grew less and less accurate. She took down four with headshots, but other rounds missed.
The monsters squeezed through the door and one made it through. The grotesque being charged Emma in a full sprint, but she took him down with a quick shot. After that one, more rushed through. She could not aim and shoot fast enough to keep up with them, so she blasted rounds into the charging swarm without much aim. As she fired, she took slow steps backward.
Her G36C clicked dry and the trigger locked. She dropped her rifle into its sling and reached for her sidearm; there was not enough time to reload. But her pistol was not there. Duckett still had it. “Dammit,” Emma grunted. She had only one weapon left and that was the knife her father had given her. A zombie grabbed her at the shoulder and snarled in her face. She whipped the knife from its scabbard and stabbed the fiend through the eye. With a twist, the beast dropped limp, but another took its place. She pulled on her knife to fight again, but it was stuck. She yanked, but nothing happened. The stabbed zombie fell to its knees, making it harder for Emma to pull. She gave up.
The new zombie, one who had clearly been turned a long time ago, grabbed Emma by the arms and howled. Two more joined it and the three of them pushed Emma. She fought them. She punched the first one and tried to maneuver free of them, but they were too strong. They forced her to the ground where she lay flat on her back. She resisted. More zombies joined the mass assaulting her. “Ben! Help!” She cried desperately.
“Done! Sent!” Duckett exclaimed. He turned around to find Emma closer to death than ever. His eyes widened before he remembered the pistol on his belt. “Oh!” He whipped out her gun and fired without much aim. It had been a long time since he had shot a gun. His rapid shots only sometimes hit their intended targets and were never the necessary headshots to kill an undead.
Emma put her right on the neck of the closest zombie and used her fingernails to dig in. The creature's foul, molasses-like blood oozed over her fingers and she soon found herself crushing the softer inner tissue. But suddenly her left hand erupted in immeasurable pain. She screamed as her flesh ripped away. The pain moved up to her wrist. Emma looked over and found a pair of the monsters biting and ripping off the skin of her hand and wrist. She felt her bones crush under their inexorable jaws. With one hard yank, she pulled her arm away, but did not bear to look at it again. She squirmed, kicked, and fought, but the creatures had her pinned.
Finally one of Duckett's shots found its mark. The zombie closest to Emma's right hand took a round straight to the brain. Emma took the opportunity and wrestled herself free. She came to her feet and jumped away. Her arm still hurt like all hell. Duckett fired until his slide locked and then he tossed the pistol aside. “We need to get out of here!” Emma shouted.
“There's another exit that way!” Duckett pointed down a second hall.
She said nothing, but used her last remained hand to pull him along. They ran together down the hall to find a metal double door. Emma pushed on it, but it did not budge. She tried again. “Locked”
“Bugger!” Duckett spat.
The zombies followed them. Emma looked at the horde and swallowed. She was completely defenseless. Duckett had dropped her pistol, she could not reload her rifle with only one hand, and he knife was still in that one beast's eye socket. There was nothing to be done but to die. But Emma would not do so easily....
Sullivan's night was a long and stressful one. He had long since removed his jacket and loosened his tie. Keeping Steelewood's communications network static and lag-free proved an insane challenge given the unprecedented chaos in Boston. But the system held and so did the city. The four breaches in the perimeter wall were secured and soldiers worked to clear the city. Sullivan was relieved that the pandemonium was almost over. His job was to direct communication and, as such, his job did not necessitate working through true crisis. He was proud, however, that tonight he proved he could do it. The worst case scenario had been dealt with as successfully at it could have been.
“Sullivan!” One of the techs sitting at a computer said. “We're getting a high-priority file from the Fujikawa hub.”
“What is it?” Sullivan asked.
“Looks like a video file of some kind.”
“Is it marked?”
“Yeah, there's a note attached that says, 'View immediately, Sullivan.'”
“It's to me? Well, let's play it. Put it on monitor three.”
A split screen video appeared showing Sergei on one side and Isadora along with General Bertrand and a few of the Mitchell family on the other. Sullivan folded his arms and sighed as the video played. The sweet spot did not take long to come. Sergei flat-out admitted that he murdered Peter Goodwin. Sullivan clenched his fists at the revelation. He never liked Sergei much, but his plan was similar enough to Goodwin's that Sullivan went along with it. To hear that Sergei killed Goodwin, however, changed everything.
Before the recording even ended, Sullivan said to the pair of soldiers guarding the room, “You two! You're comin' with me. This ends now.”
Isadora jumped from the couch when she heard the explosion followed by gunfire coming from outside. She knew who it was and could not help but smirk.
Sergei put his radio on the desk and drew his Walther PPQ, a pistol more modern than hers. “Is that your friends?” He asked. He held the handgun in his hand, but kept it at his side.
“I think you know that, Sergei,” Isadora said. “It's soon to be over.”
“No, it isn't!” He pointed his pistol at his mother. “Take your pistol out and drop it on the floor.”
“Sergei, put that down.” Isadora stood firm. She did not move her hands.
“Do as I say! Put your pistol on the ground!”
“Alright,” she said calmly. She reached behind her back and gently pulled out the Walther PPS she kept there. She delicately showed Sergei that she had it and then dropped it to the floor. “There, it's done. Nobody needs to-”
“Quiet!” Sergei ordered. They heard the outside door open. Sergei rapidly grabbed his mother, twisted her arm behind her back and held her in front of him facing the door. He put his pistol to her temple and held her hostage-style.
“What the hell are you doing?” Isadora struggled, but her son held control.
“I said quiet!”
“Sergei, this is madness-”
The door burst open and in rushed Liam and then Lena. Liam held his rifle raised and trained on Sergei. Lena's kept her weapon at the ready, but looked nowhere near as ready for action as her son. Sergei tightened his grip on Isadora and pushed her arm upward, shooting pain into her shoulder. “Stay back!” Sergei barked.
“Drop the gun, Sergei!” Liam ordered.
“You drop yours or I will kill her!”
“Your own mother?” Lena asked. “You're gonna kill you're own mother?”
“I'll do it!”
“You ever lost someone you loved, Sergei? I did and so has Liam. I lost as a husband and he lost a father. You kill your mother and you'll-”
“She was never my mother!”
“No, Sergei, I am!” Isadora shouted.
“Let me go and let's end this!”
“I said stay back!” Sergei whipped his pistol around and shot Liam.
“Bloody hell!” Isadora dropped herself, sending both she and Sergei stumbling forward. This pushed her shoulder further upward, releasing massive pain. She took the opportunity and regained her footing where she then launched the both of them backward. She landed on top of her son, but quickly rolled off of him.
Isadora spotted her pistol within arms reach. She dove for it, took it in her hand, and pivoted around to face Sergei. Her son brought his own pistol around, but Isadora beat him to it. Without hesitation, she double-tapped two rounds into his skull. Sergei fell back in a mangled, gory, bloody mess of death. Isadora pulled herself up to a sitting position in front of her desk and whispered, “Oh, God.”
Lena dropped her rifle to the floor and came to son. Liam said, “I'm fine, he just grazed me in the arm. Go check on Isadora, I'll take of this.”
Isadora looked at the PPS in her hands and then chucked it across the room. She closed her eyes and opened them again in a daze. She felt cold and heavy inside. Part of her wanted to be glad it was over, but after twenty-one years of not killing, it felt so horrible that the first she killed was her of her own blood. She remembered feeling this way after the second time she killed. The sensation was not new, but still she felt remorse, guilt, and despair. But there was also a hollow and empty feeling.
Lena came by her side and put her hand on Isadora's shoulder. She jerked it away and said, “That hurts.” She suspected that she had dislocated it when she dropped.
“Sorry,” Lena said. “Are you okay?”
“I'll be fi-” Isadora stopped herself. “Hell no, I'm not. I just shot my own son.”
Lena had no idea what to say. What could she say?
Isadora stood up and walked over behind her desk. Lena stood with her, but only watched. Isadora pulled open one of her drawers and pulled out a bottle of twenty-four year old scotch whiskey. She unscrewed the lid and took a swig. The strong alcohol burned her throat, but in a good way. She took another swig and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. After a deep breath she sat down in her chair and sighed.
She stared at her son's lifeless, bleeding, and grotesque body. “Sergei, why? Why did it- why did it come to this?” An unfamiliar and cool drop ran down her cheek. She wiped it away, but it was soon replaced by another.
Liam finished putting a battle dressing on his arm and came to Isadora. He asked, “Alright, Isadora, what's next?”
The door burst open again and in came two Steelewood soldiers along with a man in a tie. The soldiers brought their rifles to bear, but no one put up any fight whatsoever. Isadora kept seated, Lena and Liam raised their hands. The man in the tie did not take long to notice Sergei's corpse. His eyes flashed with shock and he asked with a thick Bostonian accent, “Hell's goin' on here? And who are you?”
Isadora wiped her eyes and said, “I can explain, Tony. You might recognize Lena and Liam-”
“The Mitchells, yeah, right. What're they doin' here?”
“They came here to help me take care of Sergei.”
“Yeah, well, that's what I'm here for, ma'am. We just got a video with a recording between yous and him. I was just comin' in to arrest him.”
“I can see that.”
“Could you give a moment, Tony?” Isadora asked. She choked up. “We just- we need a minute.”
“Right. We'll sort this out later. We got a city to clean up.”
“Hey, my sister and a Mr. Duckett went out to try and get to the Fujikawa hub, have you heard anything?”
“Men from there got overwhelmed and they stopped reportin' in. Some guys are goin' down to check it out.”
“What?” Liam panicked. “Let them know I'm coming! Tell them not to shoot!” Liam dashed out of the room.
“Yeah, okay, swell, I'll do that. Let's go,” Sullivan said to the soldiers and they left.
The room fell to an awkward silence. Isadora took another swig. Lena set her rifle down on the desk, took off her tactical vest, and unzipped her tactical fatigues a few inches. She sighed, “Guess I ain't gonna need that anymore.”
“I certainly hope so.” Isadora swigged again. She put the lid back on the scotch and set it in the drawer. She pulled herself out of her seat and walked over to the window. Parts of Boston were still ablaze, but it looked better than it did an hour ago. She put her hand on the glass. Tears dropped down her cheeks again. “I forgot what it's like.”
Lena stood beside her and asked, “Forgot what what's like?”
Liam ran through the city of Boston harder than he had ever run. He ran without heed to the orange-blazed skies, the bodies in the street, and the war around him. His legs throbbed in fatigued pain, but he pressed on. The air going into his lugs ceased to be satisfying and he could not draw in enough. His gear felt heavier than ever.
He stumbled and then stopped. It hurt to draw in breath. He took the rifle off of his neck and then removed his tactical vest, knee plates, and elbow guards. And then he ran again, but not as fast as before. His body could not handle much more.
It was long before he arrived the Fujikawa hub. Three Steelewood APCs were parked around the facility and at least two platoons were in place standing watch. Liam searched for their leader and found a sergeant. He took a breath and asked, “Wh- what's going on here, sergeant?”
“You the Mitchell kid?”
“Yeah, we found the place swarmed. Got our boys inside and-”
“Liam!” An English voiced called. Ben Duckett came running over with blood all over his shirt. “Liam! Your sister! She's- she's hurt.”
“Where is she?”
The sergeant said, “They're bringin' her out now.” He pointed to an open double-door.
A pair of soldiers, one being a medic, carried an unconscious Emma on a stretcher. Liam ran over to them and asked, “What's the damage? How bad is she?”
“Lost a lot of blood,” the medic answered. Liam looked Emma over. She was covered in blood. Her left arm was completely mangled, torn, and chewed from the elbow down. Her face was split open on the right side and she was bruised all over. “Don't think any of her vitals were hit, but she's lost a ton of blood. You know her type?”
“Yeah, it's A positive!” Liam said. “Are you taking her to a hospital?”
“It's our top priority right now. We'll get her to the Steelewood hospital. Best care in Boston. Now, let us do our jobs. We need to get outta here.”
“I can't come?”
“Not in the APC, no. Talk to the sergeant, he'll get you a lift.”
Liam nodded and watched them load Emma into the armored personnel carrier. The rear door closed and the vehicle drove off. Liam swallowed and took three steps backward until his foot hit the curb, which startled him, but he shook it off. He sat down and worked to catch his breath. He wiped what seemed like a gallon of sweat off of his face.
Duckett sat down beside him and said, “She saved my life, you know.”
“What happened?” Liam still panted.
“We were inside and got overrun. The fiends broke in and she fought them off, then we tried to run, but got cornered. They charged us and she kept them off me. Emma put herself between me and the zombies, I couldn't do anything, but she put as much of a fight as she could. If it wasn't for her, we'd both be eaten. Thankfully, Steelewood reinforcements arrived and saved us. Thank God.”
“Yeah. Sounds like her.”
“What about Sergei? Is that done? Taken care of?”
“And Sullivan got the recording?”
“Yeah. He did. It's all done.”
“Good? Look at this. Just look at this. We- I did all this. I started the fires.”
“No, you didn't. Sergei did.”
“I don't want to hear that. It's bull. I gave the orders to blow open Boston's perimeter. It's my responsibility. Mine.”
“I think you just did what you had to-”
“Yeah, sure, I did what I had to do. What I had to do was get people killed. The justification doesn't matter. All those people's lives are on my hands. If I forget that, then I'm no better than Sergei, am I?”
“Yeah.” Liam stood. “I dunno what happens next.”
“I'm hoping for a stiff drink myself.”
“I think I just want this to be over,” Liam sighed. “I'm real sick of Steelewood and spies and all that crap. No offense.”
“None taken.” Duckett said. “I think you're right, but I think it is over. At least the worst of it is over. Sergei is gone, the city is being secured-- can't get more finished than that.”
Liam leaned back and looked up at the sky. Its orange glow had subsided and he could see stars where there were not clouds. The stars reminded him of his sleepless nights on the deck of the Holdsworth. He longed to be back there where it was simple. He longed to be back on the high seas with the wind and nothing around the ocean. And he longed for rest. Liam closed his eyes and tried to push his worries away. Anxiety lingered along with exhaustion.
He sighed again. Duckett was right. The worst was over. Thank God.