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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 4:36 am 
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CHAPTER 18

Still catching his breath, Reuben lifted from the bed to see Jackie redressing. He leaned on his elbow and covered himself with the blanket, watching her for a moment as she stood only in her underwear, buttoning up her black top. Her eyes shot to him, then away.

"This was a mistake," she said sharply.

"That's probably true," Reuben stated with a chuckle. "But not all mistakes are bad."

"This one was."

"Why?"

"I don't know you," she snapped, snatching her pants from the floor. "And you don't know the first thing about me."

"Your necklace," said Reuben, moving to sit up on the bed.

"What about it?"

"What's the story? You were in a firefight and your enemy's weapon jammed, and you won so you took the cartridge? Or maybe it's a lucky shot you made that saved a life?"

Jackie buttoned up the second to last button on her shirt, concealing the necklace from view. It was a spent shell casing, .38 Special, affixed to a silver chain that dangled nearly between her breasts. "None of your business."

"Your service weapon is a nine millimeter. That's a thirty-eight casing. So it either happened before you joined Hatch's band of merry men, or it was from someone else's weapon. Come on, you're not really gonna leave me here guessing, are you?" Pants in hand, Jackie huffed, and peered at him. She said nothing. Reuben gazed back at her with softening brown eyes, moving closer to her, sitting at the edge of the bed. "Why are you so angry?" he said. His words were deeper than they seemed; he was not asking why she was upset, but rather why there was so much rage inside her. It was a question she did not want to answer.

"It's a piece of my husband," she stated simply.

Her words pushed Reuben away from her, and he leaned back onto his hands on the bed as he made a realization. "I'm the first man you've been with since he passed, aren't I?"

Jackie gave him a look, her eyes somewhere between enraged and heartbroken, as she shoved her legs into her pants and reached for the door.


Parker moved quickly through the halls toward the reserves Clyde had pointed him to. With only a few hours until sunrise, Parker needed to replenish his rations and ammunition. First he would head to the corner of the cellar where the food was stored, luckily untouched by the chaos that had taken place there. Then he would visit the barracks, where security stocked their ammunition. Hatch had given him express permission to take the ammunition he needed.

The encounter with Alan Paddock had left him edgy. His right hand remained ever near his pistol as he moved down the corridors, making his amble slightly off-kilter. He did not care. Paranoia or not, he wanted to be prepared to draw and fire in the blink of an eye. That was all he would have if the assassin was stalking him. He nodded to everyone passing him in the hall, but he was scanning around and behind them constantly, checking every corner and watching his back at all times. It was a new level of caution for him, one he had never been so concerned about before. Every time he glanced around a corner, he wondered if this was what it was like to live in fear.

He passed the hallway that led into the section of the cellar that contained all the metal containers that he used to shelter himself in a storm of gunfire. There were still scraps of shredded steel all over the floor from he containers that were ripped apart from the rounds that had blazed over his head. He did not want to linger in that room-- it brought back bad memories. After a brief glace, he walked on down the concrete hallway.

Once he reached the food reserves, he slipped off his empty pack. It was a smaller bag he kept tucked compactly into his ruck, used for carrying miscellaneous things when he did not need his whole bag. For now, it was the vehicle for the rations and soon the ammunition as well. After selecting several packs of dehydrated food, enough to last about ten days, he moved on. He still had some salted squirrel strips to eat before getting into the dehydrated foods, but it was better to have too much food than not enough when in the wilderness. He backed out of the store room and headed back up toward the barracks.

The amount of ammunition that was collected in the barracks was impressive. The selection was slim, however; there was a lot of 9mm, the caliber of most of the security officers' sidearms. But the amount of 5.56mm ammunition was getting low because of the amount of gunfire the security force had used lately. Constant fighting had that effect on ammunition reserves. Parker snatched several boxes of the 5.56mm before glancing around for his sidearm's caliber.

There was a lot of .308, the select caliber of the security snipers. Parker idly wondered if Noric's rifle was chambered in .308. There was also an excess of 7.62x39mm, the caliber of Reuben's Kalashnikov. Parker grabbed a few boxes for him. Finally he came across the .45 ACP, and grabbed two boxes to replenish what he had used since he left Constitution. The amount of times he had needed to draw his pistol over the past several days bothered him.

Then he recalled his misfire during the firefight in the cellar, and was struck with insecurity in his carbine. That was not acceptable. As he headed back toward the living quarters, he mulled over what parts he could change, if any. In all likelihood it was probably faulty ammunition. Parker made note of this; he was still using ammunition he had bought in the factories in Louisville. This dissatisfied him; the quality of most of the goods produced in Louisville had dropped significantly after the Socialist Revolution. He made a note to swap out the loaded ammunition in his magazines with the fresh ammunition he had just gathered, which according to the package, was produced locally in Shepherdsville. Capitalism always produced better quality goods and services.

As he moved down the hallway, he was disturbed from his thoughts by a door swinging open, nearly hitting him. He took a quick step back, hand touching the grip of his pistol as if he were being attacked. The sign on the door read 'LIEUTENANT QUARTERS'; Parker did not know the Lieutenant got her own room. Through the door came Lieutenant DeWitt, barefoot, and seemingly furious. Her eyes snapped to Parker, seeing his hand on his weapon.

"What the fuck are you gonna do, big boy?" she snarled.

Stunned, Parker said nothing.

A hand reached out for her shoulder from within the room. Paranoia told Parker it was Alan. His hand gripped his pistol, but he did not draw. A moment later, Reuben stepped from within the room, covered in only an unbuttoned pair of pants. His hand grasped the lieutenant's shoulder, but she angrily pulled away.

"Get off me," she growled at Reuben, before taking a step toward Parker. "Move, Parker. Now."

Not wanting to get involved in whatever was going on with her, Parker stepped aside, and Jackie stormed past him. He cast a surprised and confused glance at Reuben, who let out a groan and leaned against the door. "Wow," remarked Parker. "You and Jackie. I didn't see this coming."

"What can I say?" Reuben replied, his voice dry of humor. "You inspired me."

"Yeah, well, looks you did a great job of wooing her."

Reuben sighed and gave Parker a scowl. Blinking in surprise, Parker decided to leave the subject alone; normally Reuben would have made a joke about it, but something was clearly very wrong and Parker did not feel it was his place to get involved. Instead, he reached into his bag and pulled free the 7.62x39mm rounds to hand to his companion.

Reuben took them without much more than a simple "Thanks." Parker nodded obligingly and excused himself from the scene.

When he returned to the living quarters, Sal was sitting on his cot, cleaning the disassembling and cleaning the bolt carrier group of her AR-15. She looked up at him when she noticed him and smiled, and Parker felt comforted by it. He took a moment to observe her; her hair was tucked into a red bandanna, and she wore an olive drab sports top with brown cargo pants. She was using a blue towel to clean and lube the bolt of her rifle and Parker could not help but admire the finesse with which she did so.

"What's wrong?" she asked. Parker was surprised she could tell so quickly that he was bothered.

"Something's up with Reuben," he stated. "I think he slept with DeWitt. I saw him in her room, and she stormed out really pissed about something. She got in my face and Reuben just watched. I don't know-- Reuben has just seemed really distant."

"I understand. You miss your boyfriend," she teased.

"You're hilarious," mocked Parker, moving to sit on the edge of the cot beside her.

"Have you tried asking him what's going on?"

"No," Parker admitted. "It hasn't seemed like a big deal until now, I guess."

Sal sighed and shook her head, saying, "What is it with you two? You never actually talk about anything. You both keep everything bottled up and then bitch when you don't know what's going on in the other one's head. I swear to God, you're like brothers." There was a brief pause before Sal looked up at him and added, "If you're going to talk to him about it, you'd better hurry. We'll be meeting by the gate in a little over an hour, and then we're hitting the road. I wouldn't want to talk about something like this while traveling if I didn't have to-- it's an unnecessary distraction."

She was right, and Parker knew it. Whatever was going on, he and Reuben needed to figure it out before they left. They could not afford to have drama in the wilderness, where at any time one person's life and death could be decided by the actions of another. Parker leaned over to give Sal a soft, brief kiss, his way of thanking her, before pushing off of the cot and moving toward the door.

"Good luck," she said, returning to the maintenance of her rifle.


Reuben finally caught up with her in the dining hall. She seemed to just be idly wandering, doing whatever she could to get away from him. Normally she was so concerned about her image, but as she rushed into the room and past the tables in her bare feet with her uniform only mostly buttoned and untucked, Reuben was thankful there was no one else in the room. As she rounded the edge of the table, Reuben reached out and grabbed her arm. "Jackie, wait, please!"

She jerked her arm away from him and turned, shoving him. Reuben stumbled back, and before he could protest, she sent a straight punch into his chin that snapped his head back and staggered him for a moment. When he realized she was not finished, he readied himself to evade further attack. He was ready when she swung a second time, weaving to avoid the punch; he closed the distance between them quickly and wrapped his arms around her, clinching to keep from being hit again. In response, she slammed her elbow down on his shoulder blades over and over again; to neutralize her, Reuben lifted her from her feet and carried her toward the wall, absorbing the abuse for the moment. When he reached the wall, he dropped her back onto her feet and grabbed her by the shoulders, slamming her back into the wall. The concrete wall proved harder than her body, and the breath left her chest, taking the fight from her for a moment. Reuben snatched her wrists and jerked her forward, spinning her so that he was able to slip his elbow under her throat, pulling her back to his chest. He held her arms tightly with his left arm and restricted her airflow with his right, ignoring her struggles against him.

"Jackie, I'm going to be very clear. I want to know what's gotten you so angry. But I'm not going to deal with you attacking me. I'll let you go if you can act like a sane adult."

She growled, and he pulled tighter. Reuben was confident he had subdued her, until she snapped her heel between his legs and shattered his sense of victory. It was a direct hit, and Reuben, despite his best efforts, could no longer hold onto her. She writhed from his grasp and he buckled to take a seat on the nearby table, sucking in air with pained breaths.

Jackie shoved away from him and stormed toward the door, tears streaming her cheeks. But when she reached the doorway, she stopped and leaned her head against the wall, no longer trying to keep from crying. As Reuben recovered, she stood silent for a moment, before slowly returning to him. Reuben looked up to see the ashamed look on her tear-streaked face.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, as if she did not want to say it but knew she had to. Reuben just shook his head, either lacking the strength or the mercy to accept her apology. Sheepishly, Jackie took a seat on the table beside him, and laid a hand on his back. "When it comes to my husband, I get... Crazy."

"No shit," Reuben wheezed.

"Why do you want to know this stuff about me? Why are you suddenly so interested?"

With a scoff, Reuben finally sat up straight and retorted, "Why can't you accept that I just want to get to know you?"

Jackie did not have a reply ready. She let out a defeated sigh and looked away, leaving her hand on Reuben's back. Neither of them spoke for a moment, Reuben still regaining himself and Jackie carefully selecting her next words.

"I hate him," she said simply.

"Who?"

"Robert. My husband."

Reuben paused, trying to understand. "You hate your husband? Why?"

"Because I love him so much," she stated. It frustrated her that it seemed to make no sense, that no one else could possibly understand. "I love him so much that I feel guilty for being attracted to anyone else. I feel like a whore for wanting someone new, for being lonely and craving what he used to give me. I love him so much, and he loved me so much, and I'll never forgive him for it."

Surprised by the sudden spill of emotions, Reuben carefully grasped her hand, and slipped an arm around her waist. "How long has it been?"

"Three years," she sighed. "Three years since he died, and I still feel like he's at home waiting for me."

"You can't stay in mourning forever, Jackie," he said softly. "If he loved you as much as you say he did, he wouldn't want you to feel alone and unhappy. That doesn't honor his memory at all."

"I know," she replied, sniffling and wiping away fresh tears from her cheeks. "But I just can't make myself stop feeling like I'm cheating, or pissing on our marriage."

"So I was right, wasn't I? That I'm the first one?"

"There have been others that I've wanted to be with, but..." She trailed off, before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes, you're the first one I've done anything with since he died."

"No wonder you freaked out. It's a huge thing for you." Reuben cleared his throat, suppressing his pride as best he could to say, "I'm sorry if I pushed you into it before you were ready. I didn't know you felt this way."

"No," she said quickly, before adding, "Well, you did push me into it, but I went along because I wanted to. I'm attracted to you, and... Well, I've just wanted to be with someone so bad. It's been such a long time."

"Could have fooled me," he replied with a smile, giving her a nudge. She looked up at him, and smiled weakly. Reuben was glad to see she was not always so impervious to his humor. Her hand gently squeezed his, and he took it as encouragement to learn more about her. "You said the necklace was a piece of him. What did you mean?"

Taking a deep breath, Jackie prepared herself to talk about the most difficult topic of all. "Robert was Marc's best friend growing up. When we were all teenagers, he and I started dating, and the three of us would hang out a lot, go on little adventures and things like that. Teenager stuff. Then we became of age and decided we all wanted to join the militia. Sounded like such a great idea at the time.

"I was the only one that made it. Robert and Marc washed out in Boot. They weren't cut out for it, but I was passionate about it. I graduated and went on to the policing sector, and spent the next few years fighting the gangs for control of the industrial and impoverished districts. But Marc resented me for making it into the militia, and later I found out he got involved in some of the gangs. I've always wondered if he did that in spite of me.

"Robert was the one who told me what Marc was doing. From then on I was terrified I'd be pulling the trigger on my own brother. I ended up transferring for Scout training because of how afraid of it I was, even though I didn't really want to be a Scout. Contact died between Marc and I, and Robert and I got married. I got a position as a Spotter and started making real money. Robert ended up getting a job as a surveyor, charting the land around the city walls to help make accurate maps, you know? I hated him doing it. He loved it so much, going out into the unknown and marking down landmarks and pathways. But I hated that he refused to get any kind of training, and always just thought that as long as he had that stupid revolver of his, he'd be fine. Well one day, the worst finally happened, and he got attacked."

Jackie fell silent, and Reuben looked away. That was all he needed to know. He prepared to speak, but Jackie continued instead. It seemed like she wanted to get this all off of her chest, and Reuben could not help but wonder if she had ever told anyone before. "He was bitten on the hand, and again on the shoulder. I remember when my CO told me that my husband was outside the city gates, screaming for someone to open them for him. They couldn't. When I got to the gates and saw the blood, I just... I knew. I knew he'd been bitten, that he was already dead. Once he saw my face, he knew too. We cried, we touched through the portcullis, we said a few stupid little things to each other, and then he drew his revolver and... He was gone."

Reuben pulled his arm around her and hugged her to him. "He told me not to look," she added. "I'll never understand why I didn't listen to him."

"I'm sorry," was all Reuben could think to say. "I can't imagine what that must have been like."

"My CO gave me his revolver," she said. "I was never really able to handle it much. It just hurt too bad. But the day I got it, I opened the cylinder and took out the shell of the bullet that killed him. I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it. It's a part of the last thing he ever did for me-- he took his life so that I wouldn't have to."

There was a strange and twisted romance to that concept, and Reuben found it touching. He gave Jackie another squeeze and tried to find words for her, but came up short. She nestled her head into his chest, leaning over his lap, and let out a heavy, weary sigh. "Now Marc is gone, too. He was the last bit of family I had."

"I'm so sorry, Jackie."

"Don't be. It was a twisted sense of cosmic irony that put him here in my unit in the first place. He hated me, and I hated dealing with his bullshit. Apparently he couldn't hack it in the gangs either, so he thought private security was his gig. Shows what he knows. I don't even know why Commander Hatch took him in." Despite the hatred in her words, Reuben could tell there was a sadness in her chest she would not let out. "Still, he was my brother. We should have known that was a trap. We should have done things differently."

"It's not your fault. You were just following orders. You weren't the one who made the choice."

Jackie scoffed and quipped, "If not me, then who?"

"Parker. He's the one who bought the hitman's bullshit story, and then rewarded the bastard for it."

Pulling away slightly, Jackie looked up at him in surprise and said, "Isn't he your friend?"

"It takes a real friend to say when you're being a fucking moron," Reuben defended. "Parker made a dumbass choice and people died. What kind of friend would I be if I let him go on to make another stupid choice and get more blood on his hands?"

"Reuben," she gasped, "that's a horrible thing to say."

"You know better than I do the amount of damage bad leadership can do. You lost people you know, people close to you, because of him."

Disgusted, Jackie moved away from him and said, "I can't believe you would put that kind of weight on his shoulders, even if you're right. Some friend you are."

As Jackie slipped from the table and moved away from him, Reuben let out an annoyed sigh. It seemed she was just determined to be mad at him. He watched her move to the doorway, and grumbled as he stepped to the floor to follow her. As he rounded the corner to follow her down the hall, he saw Parker standing in the doorway, leaned against the wall, a pained expression on his face. Reuben felt his gut sink when he realized Parker could have been standing there the whole time. Parker peered at him through eyes that were colored with an emotion Reuben could not place.

"Meet the group at the north gate in forty minutes. It's time to go," Parker said blankly. Reuben simply nodded, and Parker turned away to move back down the hall. The two said nothing more.

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Last edited by Tribunal Power on Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:10 pm 
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Quote:
"Could have fooled me," Parker said with a smile, giving her a nudge. She looked up at him, and smiled weakly. Reuben was glad to see she was not always so impervious to his humor. Her hand gently squeezed his, and he took it as encouragement to learn more about her. "You said the necklace was a piece of him. What did you mean?"


I think that's another mistake, if I read it correctly Parker was in the hall still until Jackie and Reuben walked out and Parker was standing there


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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:01 pm 
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Correct you are. Fix't. Thanks for spotting that. I actually skimmed this one and edited the glaring mistakes but looks like I didn't get them all!

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 Post subject: ZPAW
PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2012 12:18 am 
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Well got to this thread late I don't know how I missed it. Thanks great read so far love the fresh perspective on the PAW. Now MOAR...

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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 9:32 am 
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Catching up finally...but you'd think an experienced Runner or militiaman would know to check out the pack for traps, or at least have only one person handle it.

Common sense in certain parts of the world but not others, I guess.


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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 9:22 pm 
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I demand MOAR!!!!


Please?

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 10:29 pm 
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Manliest, you look a little like Russel Crow.


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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2012 6:16 pm 
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Yeah, he's my uncle. I'm cooler. ;-)

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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2012 6:58 pm 
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We can haz moar?!?!?!?!?

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 26, 2012 1:30 pm 
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id like to see more also


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 11, 2012 8:12 am 
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Just read through everything here. Love the story! I can't wait to read another chapter.

Good storyline, and a few typos in there, but as you said, I can understand hating the proofreading part. I feel like some of your sentence structures are either vague, confusing, or run-ons, but those are few and far between :)

I've really enjoyed the first 18 chapters - Please post more! Don't let this story die!


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2012 3:27 am 
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Not to worry, folks-- I'm still alive, and so is the story. Sudden changes IRL made it very difficult for me to dedicate any real time to my writing, but the dust is settling and I'm finding more and more time to type away.

Look forward to a new chapter in the near future!

And thanks for the support!

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Woohoo! I had feared you were AWOL.


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Resolute wrote:
Woohoo! I had feared you were AWOL.


I'm not that easy to get rid of! I'm like the herp. You might not see me for a while and you think I'm gone for good, but I'll flare up again after a while, and you'll realize nothing can cure you of me and the only way to be truly rid of me is suicide. :D

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Tribunal Power wrote:
Sudden changes IRL made it very difficult for me to dedicate any real time to my writing


Have baseball bat, will travel. And/or babysit. Or mow lawns. Or whatever, as long as it doesn't involve a pizza shop and results in MOAR.


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Manliest wrote:
Tribunal Power wrote:
Sudden changes IRL made it very difficult for me to dedicate any real time to my writing


Have baseball bat, will travel. And/or babysit. Or mow lawns. Or whatever, as long as it doesn't involve a pizza shop and results in MOAR.


Babysitting with a baseball bat? That's one way to get the kids to sleep-- count me in.

/derail

The next chapter is about half done. Your MOAR is on the way!

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You know STL isnt that far away from me. I could totally hunt you down and make you finish the story misery style :twisted:

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CHAPTER 19

The first rays of the sun had just touched the dewy grass when a light patter of rain began to fall. It was getting cooler outside, indication of the coming winter months. The temperature and rainfall was enough to warrant use of cold weather gear; it was bothersome because the temperature would not always be cold enough to use the gear, and when not in use the gear was extra weight in the ruck. It would make travel slightly slower and more difficult for everyone.

The group was congregated inside the north gate of the medical facility. Hatch stood before the massive iron and wood gate, arms folded over his carbine, in full black gear. With him was a group of four men, and Lieutenant DeWitt, in matching gear. Parker and Sal stood beside them, fully geared, and on not far from them stood Reuben. But when Noric strolled down the path to the gate in complete Scout gear, everyone stopped and watched in silent shock.

"Noric," Parker said as he came closer, "are you sure you're alright to travel?"

"I'm fine," he affirmed. He didn't appear to be walking any more laboriously than usual. If Parker had not been there for his injury, he might have believed him.

"I don't know, Noric. A cracked rib is no joke. We've got to be fast and mobile."

Noric cast him a displeased look and he said, "I'm a Scout, Parker. I've been trained in how to remain fast and mobile while missing a limb. I can handle a fracture. You won't hear a word about it from me. I'm fine."

It was clear that Noric's mind was made up, and his will was too resolute to bend to anyone present. Nodding with a sigh, Parker stepped back into the group with the others, doing his best to have faith in Noric’s fortitude.

The group stood still and silent for a moment, before Hatch cleared his throat and stepped forward. "Parker, Sal, Reuben, Noric," he said, "I'd like you to meet Unit One-One. These are some of the best under my command. I will introduce them so that we have no strangers among us."

Motioning to the first man on his right, a tall Caucasian fellow with a full brown beard, he said, "This is Captain Corey Marshall. Six years in the militia police force, three years as a Runner, six years under my command. He is directly beneath me and his orders should be followed in my stead. Don't let the rank fool you-- he does not outrank the Vice Captain of the militia. Our ranks work differently. But we will respect the Vice Captain's authority as if he outranked me."

Moving on, he stepped to the next man, a dark-skinned fellow wearing a patrol cap and a tan scarf. "This is Lieutenant Harrick Bolden. He shares rank with Lieutenant DeWitt. He's a quiet bastard, so don't let that bother you. Eight years in the militia before coming to work for us, three years ago."

"This," he said, placing a hand on the shoulder of the next one, a young-looking and somewhat short man, "is Officer Kin Tora. He is a rising star in my force. Five years experience as a Runner from Saint Louis until he migrated this far. Any man that can make that kind of journey is welcome on my team." Parker was legitimately impressed with that note. That was hundreds of miles away, much further than Parker could imagine for running a delivery.

“Finally we come to Officer Mark Raff. He has been among our best intel agents in the fight against the local gangs. He comes from a gangland past, but left it behind to join the militia. After a few years as a militiaman and eventually a Scout, he took a wound that got him discharged, but when he healed up, the militia wouldn’t take him. Fools, I say-- he has been very helpful to us. He’s up for promotion, and when he returns from this endeavor, he’ll probably be our newest lieutenant.”

“You already know Lieutenant DeWitt,” he said, coming to a stop beside her. “But know that she comes with the highest praise I have. She’s a hard woman, harder than a lot of men, with militia experience and plenty of time on the field against the gangs.”

Hatch stepped toward Parker and said, “Now you know my team. They will be a detachment sent ahead of the main force, which I will be leading under the Vice Captain’s command. Captain Marshall will be the commanding officer of this squad. Parker, you tell me what you and your boys want to do, and we’ll make it happen.”

Having expected the question, Parker responded promptly. “We will be your lead eyes,” he said matter-of-factly. “We will stay far ahead of the main force, either ahead of or in tandem with the Captain’s detachment. A small group makes a much smaller footprint than an army, so I suggest allowing us to maintain a long distance ahead to flush out or spot any trouble that could scatter the full ranks.”

“You and yours can stay ahead of One-One, but you‘ll be operating as a single unit,” replied the commander. “Rendezvous regularly with them, and they will relay word to us. If anything should come up that you have to confront, One-One will assist you. Should you encounter anything that could threaten the main force, keep eyes on it and wait for assistance from One-One, who can either assist you in managing the threat or let us know to wait until we find a way to circumnavigate the issue. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” Parker obliged.

“Good.” Hatch reached into a pouch on his vest and pulled out a folded piece of paper. As he unfurled it, Parker saw it was a map. It was not as detailed as the maps Parker had, but it was still quality work, and it only covered the land between Shepherdsville and Louisville-- a much smaller area than the atlases in Parker’s ruck.

Their path was clearly marked. “The main force will stay to the road as much as possible,” Hatch said. Parker presumed he had already briefed everyone on his end, as he was mostly just speaking to him. “I want your group to take a half-day’s advance. One-One will trail you by a mile or two most of the time and will act as your overwatch. We will make straight for Louisville, right up old I-65 until we cross 264, then we break north-west. We’ll use Park Hill as a staging area. You’ll be reaching Louisville before us-- when you do, assess the external defenses, regroup with One-One, and find a way inside. Once the main force gets to Park Hill, all of Louisville will know-- the whole city will hit red alert, and there will be no slipping in unnoticed until the siege is done. Hopefully, by that time, you will already have found a way to get to the LRA tower.”

“Understood,” Parker responded. Normally he would have resented taking orders this way, but if he was going to be fighting a war, he figured he may as well start thinking like a soldier.

“There’s one other thing,” Hatch said, folding the map back up. “We received a transmission from the governor today, in response to the message we sent them a few days ago. He claims that he has been politically forced into cooperation with the LRA, and while he has limited knowledge of their affairs, he knows they’re dirty. He said our allegations didn’t surprise him, but that he could not help us very much while under the LRA’s thumb. He assured us that if the opportunity presented itself, the Louisville militia would support us, but added that we shouldn’t count on it. So it looks like we’re doing this alone.”

Letting out a sigh, Parker replied, “In other words, he’ll only help if we’re winning and he’s got a way out.”

“That’s about the size of it. He’s a bureaucrat, not a warrior. Bureaucrats don’t take chances or play the odds. They go for the sure thing.” Tucking the folded map back into his admin pouch, Hatch peered at Parker and asked in closing, “Any questions?” After a moment, the runner shook his head, and Hatch dismissed the small group.

Stepping back to his companions, Parker explained the briefing. No one in his group had any questions or voiced any concerns. Despite the madness they were taking part in, everything felt like business as usual. It was just another mission, just another trip to Louisville. The reality of what they were involved in had yet to truly sink in, and Parker knew it.

Chains rattled as the guard in the tower turned the winch. He shouted down into the wall‘s interior that the portcullis would soon be open, and Parker imagined the security inside preparing to stand watch over the open gate while the envoy of doomed men strolled through. Gradually, the large wood and metal gate lifted, and the rest of Shepherdsville was exposed to him for what seemed like the first time in years. The green hills gave way to the factories in the north, and beyond that, the housing district and the gate to the wilds. The sun reflected off of the glass window of one of the industrial centers, creating a sheen that made it hard to see far ahead. Some of the night sky still lingered above, not yet having retreated from the day, and many of the people of Shepherdsville still laid in their beds unaware of the history their city was writing.

Parker’s party moved along with Commander Hatch and One-One to through the gate. The world around them was silent. There were no cheers, no well-wishers or send-offs. Just the morning mist and the glare of the sun, the muddy dust of the road sticking to Parker’s boots and the cuffs of his pants and the solemn chirp of a sunrise sparrow. The road gave way to cracked, weeded pavement as they vacated the facility grounds and entered the factory district. A man wearing tattered overalls and covered in a dark grey filth was pushing a squeaky wheelbarrow full of sheet metal down the side of the road, but when he saw the group approaching, he stopped for a moment to observe them. They must have been quite a sight to the common working man, Parker guessed; a dozen runners, scouts, and soldiers in full gear with their rifles slung over their chests walking down the streets of the factory district at the crack of dawn. The man removed his hat and brushed a filthy hand over his thinning hair as the group passed him on the road, and a moment later, Parker heard the squeak of the wheelbarrow moving again. ‘Life goes on, with or without us,’ Parker thought.

They saw no one else as they progressed through the factory district, the large boxy buildings giving way to smaller domiciles owned and rented by the common folk of Shepherdsville. The walk was relatively short, or so it seemed in the silence of the group as they progressed toward the north gate. Soon, Parker glanced up to see the hanging sign for the Queen’s Council, the tavern he had stayed at when Sal caught up with him. What he could recall from their night together flushed back into mind, along with memories of being awakened in the middle of the night by a tremendous explosion-- the first of many that he would experience. As he looked away from the sign, he cast a glance to Sal, who peeked at him and smiled slightly. It was comforting to know that she recalled their night with fondness as well.

Not long after passing the inn, Parker spotted the gaping whole in the wall. By now, it was covered in a mesh of metal barwork, a grid upon which the wall would be built. Being able to see the outside wilderness from the streets of a city was as unnerving as anything could be. There seemed to be quite a few militiamen on patrol around that section of the wall, though, and Parker recalled seeing mounted guns on the top of the wall, so he tried to remind himself that the city had the breach under control. But seeing the breach itself brought back traumatic memories of another city that suffered a much worse blow…

“Are we ready?”

Reuben’s voice shook Parker from his thoughts. They stood at the inner portcullis of the north gatehouse, ready to leave the city. “Ready as we’ll ever be,” Parker said, ejecting the magazine from his carbine.

He ejected the 5.56mm jacketed hollow point round from the chamber, and as he knelt down to pick it up, Hatch said, “Don’t worry about unloading for the gatehouse. The militiamen inside are aware of our situation and have orders from the Vice Captain to let us pass right on through. Just load up and we’ll be on our way.”

Parker swapped the hollow point magazine in his chest rig for on full metal jacket magazine, and once he chambered a round he glanced back to the others. Reuben had just finished chambering his Kalashnikov, and Sal appeared to have already done so. Noric clicked the bolt forward on his Stone-2070 and looked to Parker expectantly. Everyone was good to go.

Reuben slammed his fist onto the thick wooden slats of the inner portcullis, making a resonating thud. Moments later, the familiar sound of chains rattling could be heard through the walls and the gate began to rise. The group ducked in two by two, and Parker was surprised to see the gatehouse completely vacant. It was only a few days earlier that he had entered here to find three dead gatehouse militiamen, seemingly killed by one another. Parker sighed as he looked at the sandy ground where their blood had been shed, the inner portcullis clattering closed behind them.

A moment passed, and Parker grew tense. The outer portcullis shuddered a moment before lifting its first few inches off the ground. The two groups separated from one another and everyone assumed a hostile stance. In a cacophony of clicks, all fire selector switches snapped to live fire, and all weapons went hot. The gate lifted steadily until at waist height, at which point Sal moved forward and bent down, rifle trained at the gap between the ground and the gate, peering into the outside world. Officer Kin Torra did the same at roughly the same time, and almost in unison, Sal and Officer Torra declared the immediate foreground in front of the gate clear.

The gate was high enough for the group to push through. They emerged in pairs, immediately checking the corners outside of the gate that could not be seen from the inside. Soon, both groups stood on the outside of the portcullis, which clattered quickly to the ground with a shaking clatter. Wasting no time, the groups began quickly down the ruined road, headed north towards the first war since the end of the world.

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Last edited by Tribunal Power on Fri Sep 07, 2012 6:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2012 10:44 am 
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Aww yiss!

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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2012 12:14 pm 
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Yeah BUDDY! Glad to see you've got time to get back to this. Great story!

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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2012 7:19 pm 
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SWEET! Glad you got back to writing! Can't wait for another installment!


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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:58 am 
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CHAPTER 20

The light rainfall had turned into a miserable thunderstorm. The earthen mud grasped at Parker’s boots as fervently as any corpse ever had. Glancing upward from beneath the brim of the hooded poncho he had put on earned him nothing more than a glimpse of a slate grey sky and a face full of water. Even with his companions, Parker was beginning to feel hopeless and alone. Morale was low, their task seemed impossible, and every time Parker tried to think of a realistic way for their situation to close, the future looked more bleak.

On a good day with clear travel, no disturbances, and a clean walking road, the trip from Shepherdsville to Louisville would take around eight hours. But with the storm, the size of their group, and all the safety precautious they had to take, Parker knew it would be at least a day before they reached their destination. Nothing frustrated Parker more than traveling slowly; it was his profession to move quickly, and he was proficient at it. Having so many people was slowing them down, keeping them from being expedient in their task. Still, it beat marching in the main force.

Traveling on the highway was normally faster than through grass, although sometimes more dangerous. Taking the roads often meant being exposed, which in many areas could get an unwary traveler killed. The wilderness was full of predators, but the most dangerous ones were the men-- living, not dead-- that preyed upon rookie runners, salvagers, and resource camps.

By noon, the wilderness gradually ebbed to make way for dilapidated buildings, springing up as though they were a natural formation. Beyond the crumbled concrete barrier at the edge of the road, Parker spied a home painted in red, the paint peeling and chipping, the chimney collapsed onto a destroyed fence; in the front yard, what appeared to be the harshly-aged remains of most of a human torso was picked clean to the bone. The front door of the home was missing, and the building seemed to be sitting at an angle, as though something important to the building’s structure was buckled or broken. Much of the land around it was overgrown, but there were timbers and piles of rubble spread near it-- Parker wondered if this was all one man’s property, lifetimes ago. One man and his family, living in the wilderness during a safer time; now all that remained was the remains of a corpse on the remains of the property, in the remains of what was once a city called Louisville.

Parker remembered seeing an old map some years earlier that showed how large Louisville once was. They would have already been on the outskirts of the city, in its former glory. He couldn’t imagine such a vast city in the modern world. He’d heard stories of large pinnacles of the old world, cities like Louisville or Saint Louis, which were now shriveled-up carcasses of what they once were. He had even read about a city in the north called Chicago, one of the cities wiped out by the events of the original infection, and the magnificent ruins it left behind.

To their right was one of Parker’s landmarks: a battered green sign that read Kentucky Turnpike in bold white letters, with the number 65 blazoned on a blue badge beneath. It was one of the few old world road signs that still stood securely and in fair condition, and it marked roughly the entrance to what would have been the city limits of Old Louisville. If he were by himself, he would be three hours into his trek, with four or five to go. But with his current group, he was five hours into the journey and had no idea when they would reach their destination. It was disheartening to think that he was marching to his death, and scarcely even knew when he would arrive. He wanted to stop, to consult the map and calculate their speed, but without laminated parchments, unfolding them in the rain was as good as tossing them into a fire pit. Doing his best to estimate their distance traveled, he figured they had traveled about fifteen miles in the past five hours-- and that was a high estimate.

The mud that had overtaken long stretches of the road in decades past sucked at Parker’s boots as he trudged through it. Even walking was becoming more laborious in the stormy turmoil, and there was no sign of it letting up. A gust of wind shot the rain beneath Parker’s hood and into his face, and he recoiled for a moment, reaching a soaked glove to his face to wipe away the water. The miserable conditions made it difficult to see ahead, but as he jerked his legs into and out of the murk around him, he knew what lied ahead; a dip in the road that, in a storm like this, was guaranteed to be flooded.

Moments later, Parker stood at the precipice of a newly-formed rainlake, discord painted on his soaked face. A hand grasped at his shoulder, and he wheeled about, hand ready to spring his rifle to his shoulder, to see Reuben standing before him. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, a mighty flash of lightning lit the world on fire, followed immediately by a clap of lightning that felt like an explosion against Parker’s chest. Everyone jumped as if it were incoming mortar fire, only to quickly resume standing position and huddle together.

“We need to get out of this!” called Reuben, having to holler of the wind that began to howl and the rain that slashed against their bodies.

Jackie wedged her way between Sal and Reuben and interjected, “This is prime tornado weather-- we need shelter!”

“There’s a viaduct ahead, where 265 crosses over I-65-- we can take shelter underneath it,” Parker called out, leaning forward against the rain to reach their ears.

Corey Marshall chimed in, saying, “That’s north-- how do we get there if the road is flooded?”

“We’ll have to skirt around the rainlake,” lamented Sal, and just as she said it, Parker leaned out of the conversation to look at the situation. “East or west?”

To the east was a thick wood, but it was uphill. The trek would be arduous, but at least they knew they would face no flooding. To the west, the wood was thinner, but the flat and occasionally downhill slant of the land meant there could be further flooding. To make matters worse, the viaduct bent northward to the west, meaning the path would be longer. With a heavy sigh, Parker returned to the group. “I think we should go east,” he shouted, before explaining his thoughts.

“We might run into stalkers in the brush,” Sal stated.

Parker nodded, but dismissed by saying, “Stay sharp and we’ll be fine.”

“One-One won’t be going,” hollered Hatch as he leaned into the circle of conversation. “It’s our job to relay the situation to the main contingent.”

Reuben and Jackie cast a look of disdain to one another, before looking in opposing directions. Parker did not fail to notice. “Be careful,” he called to Hatch, who nodded and shoved off, wasting no time to turn back toward the way they came.

With their group halved in size, Parker expected quicker movement. The group took their steps eastward, reaching the ancient cement barriers that lined the edge of the road. Parker carefully climbed over the waist-high wall, his boots sinking into the muck on the other side. He pushed forward through the filth toward the forested hill before him, turning back to see Reuben, Sal, and Noric all close behind. He was the first to take to the hill; the incline was gradual at first, but it steadily increased, and they began to slip in the mud. Thankfully, thin trees and low-hanging branches provided something to grab onto and pull themselves up the hill, and no one found themselves falling into the earthen slime.

The hill leveled off at the top, and the slick mud gave way to a mixture of tangled roots and knee-high bramble. The terrain was even more unforgiving than it had been on the way up the incline. Another blinding flash took the area, followed by a roaring bang that sounded even closer and more terrifying than the first-- a startling thing, as Parker had never before seen the sky so angry. He glanced over his shoulder to see his friends, all unmoved by the display. He admired their stoicism, especially Sal-- she looked like a true soldier, tromping through harsh terrain with rifle in hand, unimpressed by the fury of nature. A smile curved his lips as he turned around to face his path-- a smile that quickly faded when the visage of a boney, grey, decayed stalker leapt at him, mere feet away.

Parker’s scream of shock faded silently into the roaring rain. There was another bright flash, but it was not lightning-- it was a multitude of muzzle flashes. In a spray of rain-pattered gore, the stalker slapped into a tree, Parker’s final rounds drilling its face into the bark. He turned to holler warning to his companions, only to the same sight all around. They were under attack. Parker observed Noric ripping a stalker off of Reuben, who was lying in the muck discharging his sidearm into it. The scout hurled the shredded body aside as Sal backpedaled furiously, firing her rifle into a trio of stalkers that had not yet fully emerged from the wood.

Wheeling to her side, Parker leveled his rifle on them and sent off three rounds. Two struck the same stalker in the face and neck, the third shredding bark from the tree inches away from one of its brothers. Grabbing Sal’s shoulder, Parker tried to shout to her, but the shots and the storm and the moans and the cries of horror drowned out his words. Pulling her hard, he turned away toward the north and looked back to Noric and Reuben, who had just regained footing. With all haste, Parker leapt from the midst of the chaos, breaking into a run that carried him as quickly as the terrain would allow.

A shambler bumbled through the woods to his right. Before Parker could acknowledge it, the creatures head erupted from a round sent by one of Parker’s companions. He did not slow down as he moved past the corpse, finally falling dead never to rise again. Shots sounded behind him, and for a moment he was unsure what was thunder and what was muzzle report. A shrill scream burned his ears, and he wheeled about to see a stalker diving at Sal, but before it could touch her it was peppered to pieces by the combination of arms the group carried. Never one struck in the head, the creature was blown apart too badly to move, and the threat was neutralized. Parker kept moving, and the others leapt over the corpse.

As he turned, two cold hands reached out, grasping the hood of his poncho. A hard yank jerked him off balance. With a sharp growl, he jerked his rifle toward the beast, the magazine slamming into its neck and knocking it aside, but it’s grip held true. With another pull, it took Parker’s feet from him, his momentum sending him spinning into the ground. His carbine slapped into the muck, and he rolled helplessly into his pack, suddenly covered in earth. His hands scrambled for his pistol, but he felt other hands too, dozens of them grabbing and clawing. Panicked, he jerked his pistol free, breaking the latch on his thumbsnap. He fired two rounds, blasting through one of the wrists, but there were so many. One grabbed his shoulder, ripping and pulling. Then he smelled it, the rotten filthy breath from dead carrion lungs, the flash of black teeth jutting from corpse jaws, the feeling of death all around him-- but he would not die without fighting.

He slammed his head forward, shattering the nosebone of the corpse that had sprawled over him. Where were the others, his friends? The ones that would help him when needed? They must have been overwhelmed. They must be dying. They must be dead. Parker imagined their screams, their sobs, their gasping breaths through the howl of the rain that was burying them beneath a lake of dread.

Another hand, grasping his hood. He slammed his head back, crushing it with his own skull. He thrashed, kicking out at another that grabbed his foot. He felt teeth, pressing and cutting, all over his left wrist. Recklessly, he fired his pistol into it with his right hand, four rounds destroying what the first round had killed. Free enough to sit, he shoved his body forward and leveled his pistol on the four corpses that were stumbling towards him. Crack. Crack. Crack. Crack.

Four shots. Four dead men, made dead again. There was nothing around him but the sound of the sky unloading its rage. Time seemed stopped. Parker tasted blood. He struggled to his feet, losing balance, slumping against a tree painted grey and red with the internals of a corpse’s head. Weary eyes looked over the bodies amidst the trees and shrubs. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. A woman lied naked, breasts sagged and rotten, an arm lost at the shoulder, filthy black hair on her head split apart with her skull like a dropped watermelon. A child, there, who looked to have been decaying longer than it had been alive. What was his name, when he was still a boy?

Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. So many bodies. Had they truly killed so many? Where was Sal? She was among them, no doubt. There she was, dead-- no, just another woman. This one was young, maybe nineteen. She looked like she may have been beautiful once, but that was before. Now, dead, and dead again.

Movement. Parker wheeled, rifle leveled. He pulled the trigger. Click. Click. Click.

Nothing. No report.

A hand reached for him. He scrambled, reached for his pistol. Gone. His knife, then-- gone. Another hand grabbed him. A haze cast his eyes. This was it, then-- this was death. He was to be the twentieth corpse, in this forest of the dead.

His carbine was wrenched from his grasp. He screamed, writhed, thrashed, but was held down. Then, illumination, as if God himself had dropped the sun right before him.

There were no more corpses. Reaching, grasping, holding Parker down-- it was Reuben, it was Noric. It was Sal, kneeling on top of him, pleading for him to calm. A faint voice, crying out, “Parker! Parker, stop!”

His heart sank. Had he killed one of his own? No, no-- he was sure of it. They had all been grey, dead things. Not Sal, so beautiful. Not Reuben or Noric, no. His heartbeat slowed and the haze dissipated. Parker saw the world revealed to him once again in shades of reality. And with it came pain. His arm ached badly, and his shoulder was numb with only the nagging feeling that he should be in more pain than he was-- a feeling never welcome.

Carefully, cautiously, his companions let him up. No one spoke. They kept walking, heading north, all but Sal. Her gentle hands took his arm and helped him to his feet. She stooped down, picking up his rifle, and handed it back to him. On her face was pain, fear, hair pasted to her face with rain and sweat. As she handed him the rifle, she tapped the magazine. Parker looked to see that it was badly bent to one side. It was wedged so badly in the receiver that it refused to drop at the press of the button, taking serious wrenching to break it free. There were rounds trapped inside. Parker had no time for that. He tossed it aside to the ground, cleared his chamber just in case, and pressed a fresh magazine into it.

Sal pointed to the ground, where Parker’s spent pistol lied, slide locked back. Had he fired that many rounds? He bent down and took it up, placing the empty magazine in his dump pouch and impressing a new one, releasing the slide. Once the pistol was holstered, Sal pointed to the body of a dead man, slumped on the ground. Lodged in its eye socket was Parker’s knife. When did that happen?

He withdrew it from its killing place, and wiped it on the dead man’s rain soaked shirt thoroughly, slipping it into its sheath on his belt. Then he followed Sal northward, toward the edge of the woods. The rest of the trip was slow, uneventful, and soon they broke from the bramble. To their west, they could see the sizable rainlake that overtook a significant portion of I-65. To the north, beyond the flatlands at the bottom of the hill, stood the ancient and shattered viaduct that once carried one bustling highway over another. Now, a crumbled portion of I-265 lied dead over the grass and concrete of the westernmost side of I-65. Leaned against the standing portion of the highway was a fallen steel tower that once presumably carried power lines or some other form of unknown technology to the people of the old world. Now, it served only to have broken apart the highway, and lied like a fallen tree against the destroyed edge of the elevated road. Parker wondered how long ago it had fallen, and how long it would remain against the viaduct until it fell again.

As a group, they rushed down the hill toward the viaduct. There was an elevated portion of ground against one of the massive concrete support beams that lifted the highway off the earth. Rubble of another support beam had been moved by some long-dead traveler to form a circular perimeter around the front of the column, giving whomever camped inside a set of impromptu walls around them with only one entrance or exit. There did not appear to be anyone there.

Soon the group trudged their way cautiously through the entrance, just barely wide enough for two people to enter side by side, and limped to what seemed like the last remotely dry place on earth. A feeling of dread picked at Parker as he saw Reuben limping, and noticed that Sal was favoring her left arm for her rifle. Had they been bitten? Scratched?

One by one, their packs slapped into the dirt, and they all turned to face each other. Reuben was reloading his Kalashnikov, and as he pulled the charging handle, he looked up to the others with agony in his face. “So,” he said, looking back and forth, “Is anyone infected?”

No one spoke.

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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:17 pm 
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That was a great battle scene, man. I liked that you only saw the fight through Parker's eyes, and felt the desperation and fear and dread that he felt. That was great.

Thanks for the hard work!

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 Post subject: Re: ZPAW
PostPosted: Wed Sep 13, 2017 10:48 am 
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Tribunal,
Has this story been published or have you not finished it.
Great story, great characters, just curious it's been some time since you last posted anything new.


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