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Watcher's Folly, Chapter 1

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I've been messing with this idea for quite a while and I've finally gotten into it. Now that I have plowed through a chapter, I'm actually quite excited about continuing this into a full novel. I was pleasantly surprised to see the entire story laid out in my head enroute to work so What the Hell? (tm)

Anyway. I'd like to get some crits on the pacing/writing in general. If it's too fast or choppy. I've been speeding through this but I think it turned out 'alright', although I'm sure people will rend it to pieces for various reasons :P

Chapter 1

“To the Doctrine of Containment I will be loyal, forever serving and preserving the interests of humanity and the containment of the virus. By my actions we will cleanse this planet. For I am the fire.”
-DOC Initiation Mantra

Elisia leaned back in her chair. Her leather jacket creaked as the muffled hum of the generator lulled her to the edge of sleep. Images of the past slipped through her weary mind, the past she had never known, never lived. Her history professors had been insistent in beating the past into her and now it occupied her mind as a distraction; something to focus on to make the pain stop.

Supposedlythere was a time when people wouldn’t live in the desert, where rich people owned vast tracts of land for their private homes and the bulk of humanity lived in massive city sprawls.

Were they insane?

They lived in as world where justice and punishment were handed out by uniformed men and women and where the biggest worry that they had involved loosing their job or not getting into college. But those things weren't real. To them it might have been but as her professors were so fond of saying: they lived in a two dimensional world. Devoid of real meaning.

Still, at some level, she wished she'd lived in their world, if only for a little while. Maybe she would have been a teacher or a scientist. Maybe, too, she would have lived to see twenty.

“Watcher.” A thick, distinctly male voice said somewhere at the edge of her consciousness

“What?” Elisia didn’t open her eyes. Only two people in the entire camp used her formal title.

“We have a reconnaissance patrol we’d like you to go with. . . They found something.”

She kept her head down and tried to pretend she was having a hard time staying awake. The relative comfort of the air conditioned communications hub was one of the few pleasures she could enjoy and still perform her basic duties. When she was sure he wasn’t going to leave she looked up. “What is it?”

The old man, Connor, held up a small video recorder. The little screen had been folded out and it was cycling through images of rock faces, likely potential shooting positions. Then the image changed to open desert.

“Something I’m not seeing here?”

“Wait for it.” Connor stared at her and tapped a button on the recorder. An image of a school bus filled the tiny screen. The windows had been covered by steel plating. Bolted to the plates were thick bars of wrought iron, bent at different angles to tear flesh and make it hard for anyone to climb. In the center of the bus was a boxy machine gun mounted on a well armored turret. Ringing the bus were dozens of carriers, most in the later stages of decay except for a couple of fresh converts. One of them had been impaled on a wrought iron spike and was apparently flailing against the side.

“So it’s a bus.” Elisia looked up at the man. He fixed her with the same cold stare that she'd seen in the eyes of the pilot who air dropped her in. Had Connor learned she was infected too? He nodded finally and Elisia forced her voice to harden.. “Which camp does it belong to?”
“Dunno. We can’t reach anyone. CB freqs are all quiet.”

She studied the picture for a second. The carriers weren’t trying to get out of the sun, it looked like they were trying to claw their way into the bus. Not that she was surprised but it still looked odd to see carriers trying to get into something unless there was a source of food. “Anyone on the bus?”

“I just said all freqs were quiet.”

“Someone probably got themselves injured, if that bus ever had a CB to begin with.”

He waited for a breath before he clapped the camera shut and shrugged. “Minor wants us to go check it out. See, if we can salvage it, we’ll have a mobile defense against raiders and such.”

Elisia waved him off. “Learn that from the local militia did you?” She didn’t even pretend to care when his expression hardened.

“Too much time in the Ivory Tower. Guess ya didn’t learn respect, huh?”

“So when are we leaving?” She stood straight up, keenly aware of the six inch height difference between them. It was alright though; she’d hit her last growth spurt any time this year.

“Bridge is gettn the crew together. Just need you to sign off on it.”

“Then I’ll need to talk to Minor.”

His face softened instantly and he took a measured step back. “Nah, its cool, got everything planned. Go in, check for-“

“I need to talk to Minor.” She slipped her sunglasses off the brim of her hat and put them on. Before she could turn he grabbed her arm.

“He might be pussy whipped, but if you think you’re gonna pull that shit on me, you got another thing coming.”

She looked him right in the eye and cocked her head ever so slightly. “Can you let go? I just washed this jacket.”

He tightened his grip, she had to try not to wince. “Just remember, we’re adults. Got a lotta life left in us too. Don’t plan on gettn eaten. Or takin shit from a little girl.”

Elisia balled her hands into fists and the fireproof 'leather' gloves creaked loudly. She gave him a tight smile and made a move to lay her right hand on his but before she could he jerked his hand back. She relaxed only a little. “Minor at home?”

He just nodded and walked towards the main communications room. She stared at the wall for a brief moment, triggering the mental link to her jacket’s onboard sensor package. She thought of the temperature and a synthesized voice rang through her head.

Internal body temperature: 110 Degrees
Blood ambient temperature: 94 Degrees
Ambient room temperature: 60 Degrees
External building temperature: 103 Degrees

“Figures.” She moved her thumb into the palm of her hand. Her gloves clicked and little pins jammed themselves into the tops of her hands. At once the pain faded as a wash of cool liquid flooded through her arms, up and around her shoulders and down her back. As the IV liquid washed down the veins in her back she closed her eyes and leaned her weight against the closest wall. The refreshment lasted only a second but for that moment, she was in heaven.

She re-triggered the mental link and said the words aloud. “Temperature, blood and body.”

Internal body temperature: 95 Degrees
Blood ambient temperature: 86 Degrees

“Intravenous level.”

Sixty three hundred coolant doses. Two hundred adrenaline doses. Eight sedative doses.

“Estimated time until next re-supply.”

Twenty four months.


Invalid input, please rephrase.

She killed the link.

* * * * *

Minor was looking out the slated window, watching the children play. He didn’t look back when Elisia knocked on the door frame. After a second knock he made a ‘come here’ motion and glanced over his shoulder.

“I hear your crew found a bus.”

He nodded.

“Do you think its serviceable?”

There was a long pause before he finally turned to face her full on. The entire right side of his face had seared and blistered. Open sores that never healed oozed a yellowish pus in little streaks down his cheek and jaw while once white bandages tried to stem the flow of blood from the laceration on his collar bone. Elisia pretended she couldn’t see the bulging veins that threatened to burst free from under his flesh.

After a moment he pursed his lips, curling one finger and bringing it to his chin as if in thought. Finally he nodded and traced his finger across the card table that separated them. It took Elisia a second to realize he was drawing a wrench of some kind, a 'spanner' they called it.

“Jason isn’t going to like that.”

He smirked, such as he could.

“Do you think it’s worth it?”

He nodded.

“It’s probably a gasoline engine. We can’t refine that kind of fuel and I don’t know of any nearby camps with the capacity to.”

He held up his left hand and waved his finger. The gesture wasn’t mocking but it was as though he were dealing with a child. Had he really forgotten where she came from?

“We need the gas for the generators, we can’t spare any for a vehicle that may or may not work. And furthermore-"

Minor clapped his hand against the card table and pulled it back like he was drawing smoke up
from the ground.

“That’s different. Accelerants keep me from burning out.”

He cocked his head forward and in a raspy, hard fought drawl he croaked. “It might. . . be electric.”

Elisia itched at her palms and blew through her tightly sealed lips. Slowly, gingerly, she stepped forward and put her hand on his. “Ian. . . Even if it was solar powered, the batteries might have been damaged. I seriously doubt DOC tech made it this far up. The last time I saw crystal battery packs was in Sydney. You know that means we’d have to install a generator in there, right?”

He didn’t say anything but she could see it in his eyes. He knew she was right.

“What if it’s a trap. Raiders might be looking for your camp or maybe they want to get their hands on the tech the DOC brought in.” She waited for a measured breath before she began speaking again. “That alone is reason enough to avoid it. . . Don't you think?” She watched him carefully.

Finally he shrugged and stood upright. He slipped his hands into his pockets and nodded, never taking his clouded eyes off of her. “Go then.”

Elisia stiffened. “What? Are you insane? Would you really turn your camp out on its own over a bus?”

His lip turned up a little and he nodded. “Contact. . . DOC. . .”

There was a long pause as they stared at each other, neither of them blinking as Elisia triggered her mental link to her jacket. She tried to trigger the communications package but there was no response. Not even a flicker to indicate that the relay was active.

“Pro. . . blems?”

She closed her eyes and focused on the hardware, pushing all her focus into it. Nothing. She might has well have been trying to move the damn bus with her mind. “What’d you do?”

He shook his head. “Learned about. . . Your blackout.” He looked down at the table. “You. . . are. As stuck as we are.”

Elisia kept trying, harder and harder until she felt the tips of her fingers burning. She was going too far but it was too late. The tips of her fingers rippled with hot pain and the edge of the card table bowed and melted. The smell of molten plastic singed her nose and she drew back reflexively, taking a long breath. She spread her fingers wide and looked at the man. “Make you feel better?” How many months of her life had she just burned off? How many years?

He shook his head. “Rumor going around. . . From comms. DOC sever-ed contact.” He shrugged. “Surprised you didn’t know.”

“Why?” A shiv of panic shot through her body but she quickly suppressed it. “What the hell did I do?” She whispered.

He shrugged and his voice became a little harder. “We need that bus.”

Elisia studdered, trying to find her voice. The communications gear refused to respond as she stood there and pushed against it with all her will. It took every scrap of control to keep from igniting her fatigue pants while she scraped her fingers against the fabric. She kept searching like she was looking for a severed limb, hoping she might be able to manipulate it somehow. She could imagine herself reaching out to the DOC satellite and feeling around the computer terminal in Sydney. She could feel the pulse of data flowing through her mind but it stopped at the base of her skull, held inside like the dying scream of a starving prisoner; alone and forgotten.

“Watch. . . er.”

She opened her eyes to see Minor looking at her with what might have been pity She balled her hands into fists and jammed them into her pockets. “I need to get ahold of them. If they can get some satellite images of the bus and the area around it-"

He waved her off. “Best for camp. . . Save from raiders. Short time.”

Why would he want to save it from the raiders? Unless he meant safe from raiders, as in keep the camp safe? “What if it’s a trap?”

“I have. . . faith.”

Elisia shook her head but her training quickly asserted itself. The goal was defined and she was needed. She was compelled almost by instinct to learn more and begin formulating a plan as she had been trained. “Who’s going?”

He pulled his bandaged hand out of his pocket, clutching a small piece of paper. He set it on the card table and never took his eyes off her. “You support. Need to. . . be subordinate”

She took the paper and unfolded it. The California state seal was stamped on the top of the page, right below Minor’s former title and name. Only the two of them knew it but she still read it out of habit.

Ian Dixon
Senator, California

Bus Detail:

Miles, Jason
Rove, Elisia
Lau, Michael
Connor, Brian

Inwardly she groaned at the mention of Connor. He was a good shot and fairly level headed when things got difficult but she was sure his ego had its own gravitational pull. “When are we leaving?”


Elisia cringed.


“I know. . .” She stood still for a moment and looked at the man. Had he been infected too? There was no other explanation for his continued mental well being and basic physical mobility. He’d been near ground zero when the first nukes hit the strategic targets in San Diego. Maybe the radiation and virus had somehow merged. But if he was a carrier, how long would it take before the virus asserted itself totally?

“Jason will lead. Has the most. . . experience.” He blinked for the first time since they had started talking. “Don’t take it personally.”

“I’d never take it personally.” She lied.

He shook his head and made a half hearted attempt at laughing. It came out strangled and sharp. “Bring them home safely. . . Miss Rove.”

A little piece of her felt proud at the mention of her real duty but she refused to show it. She qualified as an adult in many places. Adults didn’t let their feelings show when they were given an important mission. She nodded. “It’s what I do.” She turned to leave.

“One more thing.” His voice was surprisingly stable. “If you get in touch. . . with DOC. I have samples for them.”

She looked over her shoulder. “The rats?”

He nodded.

“What happened to them?”

He clapped his hand against the table and then pinched his index and middle finger together, pulling back slowly before he spread his fingers out wide. “They exploded.” Her shoulders slumped and he nodded. “Sorry to disappoint.”

“I’ll be at Jason’s if you need anything. . .” Elisia didn’t look back.

* * * * *

“Sorry to hear that.” Jason ran a hand through his hair and leaned back against the musty couch. His carbine was in pieces on the middle cushion save for the lower receiver which he had been wiping down with an oiled rag. He didn’t look up until he set the receiver down and picked up the bolt, removing the firing pin and extractor with practiced ease. “Someday they’ll get it right.”

“Then he’d be the first to do what three hundred scientists at the DOC haven’t been able to.” Elisia leaned against the wall, arms crossed. She was sure it looked as though she was pouting but she didn’t care. “It doesn't make any sense. The 173 strain isn't that aggressive. Why-”

“We don’t exactly have a particle accelerator here, you know?” The man looked up with a kind of smirk like they were sharing some private joke. One he hadn't bothered to share.

“What good would that do? It’s a virus, not an atom.”

He just kept grinning as he wiped his weapon down and began reassembling it. When he was done he pulled the bolt back and let it ride forward three times. He then pulled the trigger on the empty chamber. The weapon made a dull clack. Elisia cringed at the sound.

“You know that’s not right. To do it like that.” She tried her best to sound like her weapons instructor from the academy. “You might ruin the firing pin.”

He laughed. “I doubt you could ruin this thing.” After a moment he attached his scope to the weapon and shoulder checked the sighting. “You know, way back when, the Army had us doing functions checks with our eyes closed and our weapons loaded with sand. . . Kind of ironic that it’d be useful long after the military was dissolved, huh?”

“I guess so. . .” She squirmed when he looked up at her. It wasn’t a creepy kind of stare or anything but it still made her apprehensive to see him looking at her like she was some kind of thing. He couldn’t possibly have known what coursed through her veins, could he?

“I ever tell you I had a daughter? She'd be about your age by now. . .” He reached under the couch and grabbed his tactical vest, stopping just long enough to check the chemical marker packs they used for signaling. “Died after the Diego quake. . .”

Elisia simply stared at him.

“Stupid. Sarah insisted we stay at Camp Pendleton and hunker down with the Jarheads. As if the zombies were the only problem-”

“We should get going. . .”

He stood up and looked down at her for a moment before shrugging into his gear. He grabbed his weapon and started toward her. Elisia was so sure he was going to hit her that she ducked away when he lifted his arm up. Surprisingly he laced his hand around her back and gently pushed her forward. “Sorry.”

They walked in silence. The entire camp parted for them, scurrying back and forth preparing for night. Torches were lit, watch rotations were organized and a few people were carrying jars or small tubs of their daily waste to the wagon so it could be disposed of before nightfall.

Michael, a tall black man built like a truck, and the scrawny Connor were both sitting outside of the make shift vehicle bay. Michel was loading a belt of .50 cal ammunition into the back of a jeep while Connor was leaning against the perimeter wall as though he had nothing better to do. The bay itself consisted of scrap left from the walls that had been welded together and laid against the support struts from the initial re-construction. It was just barely large enough for the half dozen dirt bikes, ATV and the two jeeps.

“We're set here, Sarge.” Michael threw a shotgun in the back of the jeep and got on the .50 cal. He worked the swivel mount in a smooth motion and loaded a belt of ammo into the weapon. With a heavy shank he jacked the handle back to chamber the first round.. “Would be a good idea to take the ATV. If we get attacked, we'll make more targets.”

“We'd have to leave it behind. Someone has to drive the bus.” Connor stood up eventually and started toward the jeep. “So we got a plan or what?”

Jason laughed lightly. “Yeah. Don't get dead.” His face was serious but he kept his voice neutral. Very un-professional.

“I heard that.” Michael tested the up and down motion of the swivel mount and laughed.

“Me too.” Elisia felt lame for saying anything but she didn't want to be forgotten. Was that so bad?

'Sergeant' Jason tucked his rifle between the seat and the arm rest, barrel down just like the weapons instructors at the DOC had taught Elisia to do. Connor slapped a heavy plastic case in the back of the jeep and turned back to one of the work benches, hefting a short belt fed machine gun over his shoulder. Just before Elisia could say anything Michael kicked the side of the jeep to get her attention.

“Got somethn new for ya, sweets.” He smiled a crooked little grin and tightened his gloves. “Torqued your rifle last night. Re-bored the gas tube and filed off some of the sear.” He pointed to the workbench directly behind her. “Check it out.”

At first Elisia's heart dropped into her stomach but Michael patted her shoulder and smiled the same re-assuring smile he gave to his son when he was scared. She quickly recovered her bearing and looked him in the eye. “Tell me you didn't hose it up. . .” The words felt hollow on her tongue.

He chuckled. “Would I do that to you?”

Her rifle had been built around the frame of a pre-Rise AK-47 back when they made still used steel in the construction of weapons. She tapped the button on the front grip to power up the Smart Sight and checked to make sure it was functioning.

Range: 000M
Airburst: Off
Penetration: On
System Battery: 100%

The light built into the grip powered on without any hesitation. With a held breath she pulled charging handle back and inspected the bore to make sure nothing else had been modified. “There was that one time with the pistol. . .” She glanced back over her shoulder, letting the bolt ride forward before slinging it with a forced smile. A thick leather bandoleer was sitting beside it with ten magazines and a small box of loose rounds. She strapped it around her waist and pulled unchained her .357 revolver from the small rack under the workbench.

“Yeah, yeah. You wanted full-auto, sweets. Not my fault you couldn't handle it.” He smiled as she approached the jeep. He offered his hand and she jumped in without his help. He smiled. “Worth a shot, huh?”

She dropped into the corner of the bed where it was least likely for her to get hit by debris, sand, wind or random gunfire. The three axle jeep started forward with only a single beep from the electric engine to indicate it was on. Elisia loaded a magazine into the weapon and gave it a quick once over to ensure it was clean.

As they rolled up to the front gate Elisia felt around in her jacket, trying to locate the communications transceiver At the same time she mentally re-engaged the link to her jacket and concentrated on the device, trying to isolate it. Diagnostic mode.

All systems functioning.
In depth.
Unable to comply.
Verbose mode.
Unable to comply.

“You okay, sweets?” Michael rocked as the jeep started up an embankment, kicking up sand. “You look down.”

She stared at him for a moment and continued to fawn around for the hardware. “Yeah. I'm fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” She swallowed. Explain verbose mode.

Verbose mode is used to get more indepth information regarding a piece of hardware or to receive an echo of software output. Would you like to hear more?

Verbose mode: Output of Diagnostic from Communications Module.

Unable to comply.


There was no response.

She closed her eyes and continued to focus on the device. She pushed against it mentally and expected an indication of it's presence. She calmed her mind slowly and tried another approach by imagining her fingers sliding into the module and manipulating the case from the inside. She swore something twitched-

“Hey, Eli!” Jason shouted, shattering her concentration.

She jumped and looked to the sound to see him standing beside the jeep with a pair of night vision goggles over his forehead. “Huh? Nevermind.”

“Thinkn deep thoughts, huh?”

“Something like that.”

Access to DOC networks temporarily disabled for security reasons. The unisex voice whispered in her mind.

Estimated downtime?

After another moment's pause. Indefinite.

“Oh shit.”

“What's the matter?”

“N- Nothing.” She blinked and looked up. A crescent moon hung high in the sea of blackness but the thick cloud cover made it impossible to get more than a brief glimpse of it's radiant light. She blinked and shook her head. Mission. Team. Self. Figure it out later. Michael and Connor were both staring at her and preparing their NVG's for use. She straightened up and jumped out of the jeep.

Elisia followed Jason to the ridge of the dune as Connor and Michael split up and moved out wide to flank the valley below. A gentle breeze swept over the area, stirring the lingering musk of rotting flesh and the musk of human crap. Elisia smirked slightly when Jason covered his mouth.

“I hate when they do that.” He whispered and took a moment to focus his night vision goggles. It must have been an unconscious action, something left over from his military days.

“You would too.” She settled up on the ridge and looked down into the valley through her rifle sight. The while the infected kept banging on the side of the bus but their clumsy pounding did little good against the heavy steel plating. The constant battering resonated through the valley, echoing against the northern rock face. Thum, tham, slap.

Just as Jason was about to turn to look at her his radio beeped softly. Connor's voice came through after a short burst of static. “Nothing to the south. A couple of burned out Hummers but the road is clear.”

“Copy.” Jason thumbed his radio and looked to the north. “It's too perfect.”

“Tell that to Minor.” Elisia watched one of the freshly dead as she pounded on the door ineffectually. Through the various gun ports the ambient light refracted and dimmed as though there was something moving inside. Or maybe on the other side. She watched them a little more intently until she saw it again. Movement. A flame flickered on and off. “That's-”

“South is clear too, sarge. I got nothn. Looks like a raider holiday, huh?”

“Copy. Bring it in.”He glanced over at her. “What?”

“Third port from the front door.” Elisia closed both her eyes and waited a moment before opening them and scanning the valley, letting her eyes get re-adjusted to the ambient light. “Someone is in there.”

“I don- oh. I see.” He fiddled with the control knob on the NVG's again and Elisia had to fight the urge not to slap his hand.

“You know, those things adjust themselves.”

He didn't so much as look at her as he thumbed his radio and whispered. “We got live meat in the box. How copy?”


“No shit?”

“Could be a trap. Keep your eyes open.”

Elisia looked up to the moon and watched the passing clouds for a moment. Another breeze blew by and her hair whipped at her face. Her skin felt hot and but the air helped her relax, focus. There was a kind of peace out here. Even with the smell of rotting flesh. It had none of the close in feeling of Sydney. Absently she tried her communications package again and once more it failed to respond. Suddenly she became aware of the weight like some kind of cancerous growth in her jacket. She wanted it gone.

“Eli.” Jason patted her arm. “Rise and shine.”

She blinked and looked down at the valley to see the carriers still milling about the bus, now mostly blind in the murky darkness. “Sorry.”

He leaned in a little closer and whispered so low she had to strain to hear it. “You sure you're okay? If you need to sit this out-”

“I'm fine, Jason.” She slid back down the dune toward the jeep and righted herself, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. With a thought she triggered her jacket's neural link. Any available communications. Short range CB, DiaNode or broad frequency relay?

The communications package didn't respond at all. Elisia repeated the inquiry.

Nothing. Not even a beep of acknowledgment

“'Ey sweets, you guys come up with a plan?” Michael rounded the jeep with the plastic case Connor had brought.

She refused to hesitate or wait until Jason was back. She straightened up and in her stiffest voice listed features of the valley. “We have the canyon to the south and the old trade route to the north. The bus isn't going to climb the sides but neither are any jeeps or raider vehicles. The armor on that bus is plenty thick to stop small arms fire. So we'll use it to our advantage. We'll descend into the valley and take it without exposing our jeep.” She pointed to the ridge and then indicated the length of it. “We'll move the jeep up enough to get a line of sight but after we bounce the carriers-”

“Kill.” Jason waved her off when she glared at him. He pulled his NVG's up to rest on his forehead and nodded. “You're going to kill them.”

We are going to eliminate the threat. Take the bus. Find out who's inside and act accordingly. If they need help I'm authorizing access to the settlement's medical supplies.” She turned and took a step back to look at the three men. They watched her wearily. Jason had put on a self righteous little smile. “We're taking the bus either way.”

“And if it's a trap, we blow it.” Jason thumbed a pocket on his tactical vest and produced a hand held detonator.

“Where the-”

“I gave it to him.” Connor walked up behind Michael and took the heavy plastic case before walking over to the hood of the jeep and popping the latches. The case was filled with essential mission supplies; first aid kit, batteries, flash lights, rope and nestled in one of the larger pockets was a block of plastique explosive. Connor didn't even flinch when she made a move to grab it. He batted her arm away and someone grabbed her from behind.

Panic coursed through her veins as images of Siren's Gap filled her mind. Bodies of dead children, blood, pain. Instantly she focused her will into grabbing the arm around her waist and just before she was about to Release Jason's smooth voice filled her ear.

“Relax, Eli, this is a contingency plan. Relax, okay? Just relax. It's okay.”

She pushed off and practically ran into Connor. She spun on her heel to see Jason standing with his arms held out, rifle slung across his back. It took her a split second to realize that Michael was cradling his shotgun while eyeing her. Neither moving to bring his weapon to bear or letting it sit idle by his side. Her heart was pounding in her ears but she tried to relax, breathing in and out, slowly washing away the memories of the Gap. Breathing. . . In and out.

They weren't going to betray her.

Finally she sucked in a long breath and looked to Connor. “I didn't authorize this.”

“I didn't ask you.” He said flatly. “I told you-”

“If not for me you'd still be digging slit trenches to shit in. It's only because of me that you have power, hydroponics, air conditioning and clean water. It's because of me that you have a chance out here. Therefore I decide what-”


She never took her eyes off Connor. “Watcher Rove, Jason. Don't you ever forget it.” She stepped right up to Connor and set her hand on his shoulder. “Give it to me.”

“Eh, Watcher. . . The man has a point.” Michael shrugged.

The man glanced at Jason out of his peripheral vision and moved to toss the block.

Elisia was much too quick.

She grabbed his wrist with her left hand and slammed her fist into the back of his rib cage right behind his left lung. He dropped with a startled gasp. She turned and looked at Jason, holding the explosive up in front of her. “This is unauthorized ordnance, sergeant.”

He crossed his arms and looked her in the eye. “Eli-”


“Eli.” His voice softened. “It's in case we get hosed up. I know the Ivory Tower is tall but I know you had some instructors with combat experience.”

“I didn't authorize this!”

He sighed and turned on his heel. “Whatever, Eli. We're taking it.”

Michael looked at him and then to Elisia. He shrugged and tilted his head down ever so slightly. At least he had the sense to acknowledge her position. “Watcher, it wouldn't hurt to take it, would it?”

She stared at him and Connor got to his feet. Just as she was about to speak Jason looked over his shoulder. “Let's get the jeep up to the ridge, Mike, that's you. Brian, head north and set up with your SAW for suppressive fire. Keep the bus in your sights, Mike, scan the ridges, okay?”

“You got it, sarge.” Mike looked back to Elisia and bowed his head again. She returned the bow and then clenched the block of explosives.

“Fu-” Connor pushed off and tried to stand. Elisia refused to look at him but she kept her hand on the handle of her revolver. He huffed and stepped back. “Lucky. . . Bitch.”

“Execute.” She pushed off and stopped long enough to scoop up her rifle. She slapped the explosive against Jason's arm. “I'll deal with you later.” He didn't say anything.

In the space of three minutes they had set up the jeep close enough to shoot over the ridge and Connor had set up with his belt fed machine gun on some rocks. Jason pulled his night vision goggles down over his eyes and pulled the charging handle on his rifle, loading a round. She was just about pull her own when the man touched her arm. “Hey. . . Don't get wound up over the small things, okay?”

“You aren't going to be my father.” She jacked the charging handle back and looked up at him. “Stop trying to.”

“I'm not-”

“Mission, team, self.” She slid down the steep slope, her calf high leather boots carving trenches in the sand. “Don't mix it up.” She took a final breath and let it out. Her breath formed in the chilled air of the valley.

There were a dozen carriers at least. Two fresh and the rest weathered by days of sun exposure. They never once turned back as Elisia crept up a wide arc around the north. The slap of flesh of steel was almost deafening in the otherwise still night. Slap. Slap. Clap.

Jason snapped his fingers and pointed to the south before holding up four fingers. She nodded and tried to get an angle to look around the bus but she couldn't see without stepping out of the shadows. She signaled her situation and then got to a knee, binging her rifle up and looking through the Smart Sight.

There was another flicker of light inside the bus. Someone's alive in there.
Unspecified command sequence.

She blinked and disconnected the neural link. With a long breath she held up three fingers and looked over to Jason. When he gave a thumbs up she started counting down. Three. Two.


The entire valley erupted in sound. Jason's rifle emitted a sharp Pop pop pop but the sound was drowned out by the dull, slower crack of Elisia's AK. The carriers twisted and writhed to face the threat but they were quickly cut down. Their weathered, rotted bodies couldn't react quick enough.

The freshly turned spun quickly and pushed off like a gymnast vaulting off a spring board. They had the movement of fresh memory. They knew the sound of gunfire and how to react to it. Elisia stood up and shouldered her rifle. The reticle swept around as the laser range finder counted down the mobile target. It was a woman who's throat had been torn out. The skin around her mouth had been torn back to reveal her teeth in a mockery of some kind of smile The creature tried to say something but the 'words' came out gurgled around a collapsed air way.

Elisia eased the trigger back until it broke. CRACK. The bullet went slightly wide and panged off the hull of the bus. In a split second she triggered her neural link and thought about the rifle's airburst setting. She steadied her aim. The creature was nearly thirty feet away when she pulled the trigger back. The round streaked through the night and punched through the thing's head before exploding, sending tiny shards of bright orange shrapnel through the sides of it's skull.

The firing continued for almost a full minute. The other fresh carrier was slumped against the door of the bus. It's face had been plastered across the fender. Jason rose slowly and changed a rifle magazine and giving Elisia a thumbs up. They swept around the bus in a wide arc to maintain interlocking sectors of fire but the rest of the valley was completely bare.

As they turned back, Elisia pulled the cuff of her jacket up to expose her forearm and tried to feel the grill of the bus with her bare skin. It was a lost cause but she tried to imagine whether or not the engine was arm enough to give off any heat. Instead, her jacket listed temperature statistics.

Internal body temperature: 108 Degrees
Blood ambient temperature: 99 Degrees
External temperature: 73 Degrees

She disconnected the neural link and sighed. Just as she rounded the corner Jason jammed a small pry bar into the door and cranked it back. The door gave way instantly and he threw the crowbar down, hopping up into the stairwell. Elisia was right behind him bringing her rifle up to her shoulder. Something moved in her peripheral vision and she swung around to face the threat. She didn't realize she had her finger on the trigger until the two little girls screamed. Then there were more children screaming.

It was a bus full of kids.

Jason's radio beeped once and he held his hand up before handing his rifle to Elisia. “It's okay, we're not here to hurt you! Just relax-”

“Everything alright?” Connor's voice echoed in the confines of the bus. There were four seats in the front of the bus and the rest was open except for the rear where several heavy crates had been stacked up and strapped with thick nylon ropes. Elisia looked back out the door and gave Michael a thumbs up. “Jason?”

“Yeah we're fine. But we have a problem. . .” He looked around and started counting. “We've got a bus full of kids here. I count eight at least.”

Elisia didn't pretend to be interested in the children. She checked the analog display above the steering wheel. The fuel gage read as empty. She was just about to say something when a little girl shouted. “We don't need your fucking help!”

“Hey, easy killer. . . Just put the gun-”


Elisia turned just in time to see Jason torque a rusty automatic out of the girl's dirty hand. She tried to turn with it but Jason quickly overpowered her and put his large hand on her collar, forcing her into a seat.

“We're not the bad guys here, okay?” He stood up and tucked the pistol into his belt. “I know you guys are scarred but I need you to cooperate with us. We'll get you home safely and then-”

“Bullshit! He's lying!”

Elisia leaned stood up and started toward the back of the bus, brushing by Jason and grabbing the girl by the bib of her coveralls. She couldn't have been older than eight but with the splattered blood, oil and fecal matter all across her chest she could have been confused for a Watcher Initiate. That wasn't quite right. They never did trials this far in the west. What had this girl seen?

The girl struggled against Elisia's grip but as soon as she saw the revolver in her jacket holster she relaxed as though she were going to go along with it. Elisia looked into her clouded blue eyes and smiled. “If you think you're fast enough. Have at it.”

She didn't hesitate.

Neither did Elisia. She grabbed the girl's ratty little wrist and let the flow of heat in her hands eek out into her fingers. It hurt only a tiny bit as the muscle tried to resist, to pull away. At most it would cost her a week of her life. But the girl got it worse. She screamed as her skin reddened, blistered, and she tried to jerk her hand back. Elisia held her up against the crates and let her wrist go. “I am Watcher Rove. This bus is now under DOC control. You have identified yourself to be in charge. I'm asking you for your cooperation. . . Help me and I promise you will be treated fairly.” She let the girl writhe for another moment. “Resist and I will kill everyone on this bus and take it anyway.”

“Hey-” Jason started.

“F- Fuck you!” The girl twisted. It was obvious she was trying to hide her tears. Though she never once made a move to rub at her wrist.

“You have five seconds to decide.”


“Sergeant. Check the engine.” She glanced back. “I want us ready to move in five. . .” Her voice practically died in her throat when she saw Jason holding a dead girl. Her back was contorted at an impossible angle and her bloodied shirt had been torn open to reveal a tiny forming breast that had been half ripped off. Through the bloodied ribcage, Elisia could see the lungs were inflating ever so slightly. She looked back at the girl in the coveralls and for a moment neither of them spoke. Finally Elisia found her voice, barely audible in the stillness. “Would you like to give her last rights?”

The girl blinked and stiffened. Elisia let her down slowly. “Wh- What? She's fine! She just-”

“She's turning.” Jason looked up. “I'd say maybe an hour or more.”

Elisia looked at Jason and then to the girl. She set her AK on top of the crates an knelt down to look the girl in the eye. With a soft, careful whisper she leaned in. “Mission. Team. Self. They teach us these principals so we can accomplish our objectives. Do you understand? Your people are in danger-”

“Fuck you!” The girl pushed away and Elisia drew her revolver, standing up.

“I'll take care of it.”

“No!” The girl made a feeble grab for Elisia's coat tail. She faltered when the fabric went stiff and a sharp jolt of electricity arced over the entire jacket. The girl dropped on the laminate floor with an audible thud. Jason stared at her.

“I'll handle it. Get the bus running.”

Jason's eyes narrowed but he held up the little girl. . . Body. That's all it was; meat. Elisia grabbed it by the nape of the neck and unceremoniously dragged it down the isle. The children cowered in between the seats, looking up to Elisia as though they were already planning what they'd do if she turned her back. Let them try.

Jason muttered something to the kids and Elisia stepped around the corpses, throwing the broken body into the stack and brining her revolver up, pulling the trigger back. BLAM. The three fifty seven blew the front of her face through the back of her skull and sprayed her infected brains into the sand.

“You're a cold bitch, you know that?” Jason whispered over her shoulder.

“I'd expect the same treatment in her shoes.” She re-holstered her weapon and looked up at him. “Are we ready to move this?”

“They teach you that at the DOC too?”

“You didn't answer my question.”

He shook his head, sighed and turned on his heel. “Why don't you fix the engine. I'll handle the kids.”

“You just blew away Sheila's sister. I doubt-”


The girl in the coveralls sniffed and sobbed only once. She stepped off the stairwell and leaned against the door frame. “That was my sister.”

“You wouldn't handle it.” Elisia stepped around the front of the bus and popped the latches to open the hood. “What happened out here? Why did you stop?” She hopped up on the fender and rocked back on her haunches looking down into the engine compartment. She let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding when she saw the Natech Crya engine. It was originally designed for military cargo trucks but it'd been modified somewhere along the line to fit in the smaller engine well. It was easily powerful enough to propel the bus. And new enough that Elisia would have no problem with it.

“We s- stopped for a picnic.” The girl's voice was distant, faded.

“Jason, try the ignition.”


“Do it.”

The engine cranked instantly and she looked up at the front window slat. The girl was staring at her with a cold, vacant expression. Elisia nodded once, hopped down and slapped the hood down. She popped the latch back into place and came around. Jason was staring at her.

“I have a job to do, Jason.”

“Sergeant, Watcher. Never forget that. . .” He gave her a bitter sneer and started up the stairwell.

She popped the other latch and followed behind. Just as she was about to get into the bus she noticed a scrap of cloth hanging from one of the spikes along the side. Just below it a pair of legs attached to a pelvis were cant at an awkward angle. Part of the spinal column was half buried in the sand. Where's the rest of it? She stepped back down and drew her revolver before peeking under the bus. The shadows were too thick to really see anything but she still tried to imagine she could see something. But there was no movement. Odd.

The gentle thrum of the engine filled the entire bus, rattling the plating that been bolted to the windows. “Let the engine warm up. Then turn it around and we'll head back to Cumberland on the old trails.” Elisia got back to the crates and tugged experimentally at the ropes holding it. She glanced back at the girl in the coveralls. She was standing beside Jason and looking out the window. “What's in these?”

Without looking back the girl held up two fingers. “Parts.”

“For what?”

She sniffed. “Victory. . .”


Before the girl could respond something loud erupted just outside. The entire bus rocked and the concussive force blew Elisia off her feet. Her AK clattered off the crate and hit her in the back. The kids started screaming again and Michael's .50 cal barked out a loud stream of shots.

Clack Clack Clack Clack Clack.

“Contact. Count seven. Raiders. Heavily armed.” Connor belted out the sitrep through Jason's radio as his machine gun punctuated the transmission.

Another explosion rocked the side of the bus but this time Elisia was ready for it. She was on her feet in seconds. “Get moving!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Jason's smooth mocking tone didn't crack once as he revved the engine and began turning the wheel. Rounds panged against the side of the bus but nothing could penetrate the heavy steel. Brap brap brap. Someone's rifle joined in with the sound of a mounted machine gun Elisia looked up at the roof as Jason pulled the bus in gear and got it moving.

With no visible opening, the machine gun mounted on the roof looked like a decoy but just when she was about to put her gun in one of the port holes, she saw the tell tale guide circle for the weapon mount. And then the hatch.

They weren't sitting ducks after all.

She undid the latch and almost instantly regretted it as something heavy landed on her. She bowled over and tried to push it off as a pair of hands clawed blindly at her face. Her jacket reacted to her surprise and triggered an electric jolt. The carrier jumped, flailed ineffectually and flopped onto the deck, dead. One of the kids screamed but she was barely paying attention as fresh adrenaline pumped into her body.

A half belt of linked ammunition dangled from the massive machine gun and for a moment she was sure that there was no more. She jumped up and found a nylon pull handle to bring the steel foot harnesses down. In another breath she hopped up, grabbed the side of the mount and pulled herself up. The heavy armor plating on either side of the machine gun panged with sloppy shots from a small caliber weapon. She looked over the side to see a man in black clothes standing there trying to draw a bead on her. She shouldered her AK and put his head right in the reticle. With a dull CRACK the airburst round tore through the distance between them faster than he could react. He had just started to turn when the round exploded next to his face, sending shards of hot chrome in every direction. She slung her rifle and mounted the machine gun.

The weapon cycled smoothly and as soon as she tapped the butterfly handle it jumped to life in her hands. BRACK BRACK BRACK. No sooner had the rounds left the barrel then a tight arrow of white smoke blew through the air, streaking toward the bus at a blistering pace. She tried to scream for Jason to move but the missile detonated ten feet from the bus and rocked it violently. It took her just long enough to register that she was alive before she swiveled the massive gun around to the alcove where the missile had come from and slammed the trigger down. BRACK BRACK BRACK BRACK BRACK.

Michael and Connors both fired several rounds into the rock face to the north while Elisia began raking the ridge of the opposite dune with the machine gun There were sporadic retorts from smaller caliber weapons but for that moment they had the upper hand.

The bus lurched forward finally and Elisia took the moment to open one of the ammo cans behind the gunner's plating. Two full cans of .50 cal ammo would have almost made up for what they were expending, along with whatever was in the crates. This trip might have actually be fairly productive.

“Shit!” Jason shouted. “Hold on!” The bus bounced into a hole and rocked as it tried to get traction. The heavy armor made getting up to speed slow going at best but Elisia leaned her weight against the rear armor and looked around, scanning the ridge. Orange tracers lit up the night as Michael continued to pound the northern pass. Their fiery glow streaked across the sky like falling stars, accompanied by the dull CLOP of them hitting the stone.

The tangled mass of sound was soon overshadowed by another sound.

Roaring engines.

Six dirt bikes jumped the hill and landed smoothly on the sharp grade. Elisia tried to open fire but there were too many targets spread out too far to make an effective killing field. She nailed one but as soon as he went down a pair of dune buggies jumped the ridge. In the darkness she could just barely make out the silhouette of the machine gun mounted on each of them.

“Contact! Count five!”

“No shit!” Jason shouted back and turned the bus ever so slightly to the side. A white arrow streaked by and glanced off the angled armor on the wheel well, spiraling into the sky harmlessly. The two dune buggies crunched to the valley floor and the men behind the guns opened fire at once. They automatically divided themselves, one going to the right and the other the left.

Connor's machine gun opened up with a long burst but the rounds fell just short of the dune buggy and harmlessly chewed up the sand. Elisia pushed up a little to try and get a clear shot and she saw the bikers trying to attach themselves to the side of the bus.

Jason noticed too. As soon as one had actually got a hold on the gun port he jerked the bus to the side and sent the man's dirt bike off at an angle. The biker tried to get his footing on the wheel armor but he slipped and tumbled off into the sand.

Jason sped up and only then did Elisia realize they were heading north, through the canyon. The bus was too big, too slow, to turn around but still she was upset. Her plan had them going the opposite way and now they were deviating. And he was doing it!

Thirty caliber rounds ripped through the night as the puttering buzz of the dirt bikes began to echo in the neck of the canyon. The rounds bit into the steel plating and stuck, someone inside the bus screamed. Elisia grabbed the butterfly handle and hoisted the weapon up, blindly raking the noise with gun fire. As they dove through the neck and into the canyon itself a thought struck her: the canyon emptied out after a few hundred meters onto an old highway system. The paved road would make getting the heavy bus moving a lot easier.

CRACK CRACK CRACK. Rounds tore into the rear of the bus and something hot seared Elisia's thigh. She returned fire, aiming at the loudest of the sound. In the muddled mix of noise it sounded like a dying diesel engine. Easily distinguishable. She slapped the trigger down and the bus jerked sideways. Someone screamed and sparks erupted from the left side of the bus, showering Elisia with orange light. She held the trigger down and started a sweeping motion, hosing down the sides of the canyon and, she was sure, the raider's vehicles.

She held the gun carefully and listened but there was only one dune buggy and a pair of dirt bikes. “I think-” The bus bounced and some of the children screamed. Suddenly the muddy feeling of driving through sand washed away and the vehicle sped up. She laid on the trigger again and sprayed what she thought might have been the canyon. If the raiders were still in there, she might have had a chance to finish them off.

“Hang on!”

“Little late!”

The machine gun on the dune buggy barked to life again, pelting her turret with heavy rounds. She ducked away instinctively and almost cried out. She stifled it in her throat. Adults didn't cry. Not even they were surprised. She righted herself and returned fire. The weapon jumped in her hands but she held on tight, using her momentum to turn the entire mount to get more in line with the bus as it turned onto the highway. With any luck they'd make it to Liberty settlement before sun rise and they could drop the children off. Another burst of machine gun fire chipped away at her turret.

Jason shouted something indistinct. Elisia didn't turn, instead laying down on the trigger harder. It was a less of a controlled burst than a desperate spray but she was rewarded with a fireball as the rounds hammered into the armorless dune buggy and touched off the fuel cell. It was a lucky shot.

One she almost wished she hadn't made.

In the glow of the fire she could see a guard rail and a deep ravine on the other side. There were mangled vehicles of various descriptions lining it like a mass grave. They started down a hill, turning sharply. Elisia turned to shout but she had just enough time to see a make shift barricade constructed of twisted cars and pieces of trucks blocking the entire highway. The front of it was shaped like a wedge. They didn't have time to slow down but she still tried to shout the order. More children screamed.

In one breath her entire world turned upside down and end over end. Something metallic crunched and then she bounced out of the harness. Her world continued to spin but at a distance she heard something heavy tumbling. She had to have been thrown from the bus.

For the first time in a long time she prayed. The only prayer she could think of.
Please don't let it hurt. Please don't let it hurt. Please don't let it hurt.
She never remembered landing. There was only darkness.
Utter darkness.

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This was pretty slick, dude. Nice work. As far as pacing is concerned, it drags a bit, but if you use the "say what you want to say in as few words as possible" writer's maxim you'll fix it easily. Stephen King said something about how the 2nd draft is the 1st draft minus 10% -- so don't be afraid to chop shit out. Making this shorter (and maybe splitting it into several chapters) will make it easier to read and easier to find rhetorical errors when you edit it.

The sci-fi elements are really interesting, and despite being zombie fiction you did good focusing on the characters rather than the carnage. I really liked the fact that the protagonist was so paranoid, and it's a pity you didn't play off of that at the end. I think it would've been more interesting (and more complete, thematically) if her paranoia drove her into psycho-survival mode and made her take the children hostage.

A couple notes:

1. Your dialogue punctuation is fine except when you use "he said/she said". When you tell the reader who said what, use a comma instead of a period and make the first word after the quotes lower-case.

“I’d never take it personally,” she lied.

If it's a question or an exclamation, though, the punctuation stays the same.

“Why would I take it personally?” she said.

2. You made it pretty clear that she thought her team would betray her, and the reason why was easy to understand. But from "Explain verbose mode" to "Oh shit" the technobabble confused me: I wasn't sure what the significance of Verbose Mode was except that maybe it somehow reinforced her fears. Make sure all the sci-fi elements you're introducing are crystal clear.

This was all-around better composed than the last piece you posted on the forums. I actually got sucked in once I started. Happy editing, and keep up the good work, bud!

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