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Authors: David Dunwoody

Tags: #apocalyptic, #grim reaper, #death, #Horror, #permuted press, #postapocalyptic, #Zombie, #zombie book, #reaper, #zombie novel, #Zombies, #living dead, #walking dead, #apocalypse, #Lang:en, #Empire

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BOOK: Empire's End
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“So who’s the ‘King of the Dead’?” he asked
Thackeray. They were both glad, as it turned out, to change the
subject.

“He used to run a traveling circus in the
badlands. I know people who saw it—he would perform tricks with
undead animals. People too. They say he was infected, and he’d let
the rotters take bites out of him One night he kissed one and it
tore his lips off. That’s what they say.

“They say that he eventually turned, but not
alone. He talked his performers into turning with him. They were
willingly
infected—most of them anyway. I’ve heard of people
committing suicide by infection but this was different. They
celebrated their deaths. And when they came back, they kept
traveling—kept performing, kept entertaining, audiences none the
wiser until the next morning when the circus was gone and so were
their children.”

“I don’t think such a thing is possible,”
Adam said. “I’ve spent more a century among the dead. I’ve seen
undead capable of frightening, lifelike things—but for ferals to
work together, like a pack? That’s beyond their grasp. Their only
drive is self-preservation.”

“Fair enough,” Thackeray replied. “Just
remember that things change. You changed.”

“I did,” Adam said, “but by choice—and they
have no will.”

He passed under the lizards hanging from
their branches and gave the men a wave. “Be safe.”

“The East Coast!” Thackeray called.
“Remember!”

Adam didn’t look back.

 

Six / The Wall

 

“The Wall” actually referred to the security
wall surrounding the entire Great Cities region. In addition, each
city had its own type of barricade set up around its perimeter. In
the event that the outer Wall was breached, citizens could rest
easy while troops swarmed the “dead zone” between cities and
cleaned out the rotters, be they man or animal. But such an
incident was thought impossible by most, because the Wall was the
pride of the Cities.

The work of two generations of Senators, it
was three stories tall and five feet thick, concrete poured over a
steel skeleton with roots buried deep in the earth. Every thousand
yards there was a guard post, where soldiers would ascend a ladder
or stairs to the walkway atop the Wall and monitor the badlands. It
was understood by all that if badlanders approached the Wall
seeking asylum, they could be taken in. But if they refused to
undergo the standard quarantine procedure, they were assumed to be
infected and would be shot.

There were two or more men for each guard
post, and more at the gates that appeared every few miles; but
there was one section where only one man kept watch. Neville Dalton
preferred his solitude and made no secret of it. He had lobbied the
brass for weeks to allow him to work with his dogs instead of other
soldiers.

Rottweilers, the dogs had been trained
privately, by Dalton, for months prior to his Wall assignment. They
could sniff out a single rotter hiding in the night. At least that
was what he told the brass. All he knew was that the dogs were
simple, straightforward companions who knew their place and didn’t
complicate everything the way people did. They would walk the Wall
inside the dead zone from dawn to dusk while he sat perched atop
it, sniper rifle in his lap.

Most of the other troops were scared of his
Rotties. Even Major Briggs had refused the opportunity to meet
them, although they fell into rank at the sight of him. So Dalton
had finally gotten his way, and the arrangement was quite
comfortable until the afternoon when he heard a Jeep pull up, and
the nagging cough that could only mean Tuck Logan.

“How’re you doing all by your lonesome?”
Logan asked with a filthy grin as he ascended the ladder. “They
just wanted me to come out and check on ya. Don’t worry, I won’t
tell ‘em anything. But you should know that Senator Gillies might
be coming out to see the dogs.”

Dalton arched an eyebrow. “That might be
interesting.” He tried to ignore the flies buzzing around
Logan.

They both had been part of an elite unit
known as Hand of God. Led by Ian Gregory, a stalwart Christian, the
unit had exclusive membership requirements that would’ve raised a
shitstorm if any limp-wristed civilians had known about it. Yes,
even Logan was a God-fearing Christian, though he behaved like an
apostate these days. Ever since the withdrawal he’d become more and
more... unusual. The flies were evidence of that. He was on one of
the burn teams that were called in to put down rotters, once they’d
been marked and paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet; and he seemed to
enjoy most the responsibility of carrying the charred remains off
to be buried. Dalton suspected that Logan spent a little extra time
with those remains. His greasy, unwashed hair and darting eyes were
overlooked by his supervisors, but Dalton had a keen eye, a
sniper’s eye, and he saw into Logan and knew that he was
fucking
them, wasn’t he, rutting in a pile of ash and rotten
meat like some sort of animal. Worse than an animal. Logan meant
trouble.

“So,” Dalton muttered, “they sent you to
check up on me.”

“For the Senator,” Logan said. “They want to
know that your dogs are as well-trained as you say.”

“Well, climb down.”

“What?”

“Climb down and I’ll call them in.”

Dalton plucked a whistle from his shirt
pocket. Logan started down.

Dalton watched him standing there at the
bottom, staring dully; he almost wished he had the guts to sic the
Rotties on him. He blew soundlessly into the whistle

They came running from either direction,
keeping a tight formation alongside the Wall. They saw Logan and
quickened their pace. The man fidgeted, glanced up at Dalton. “Are
they—?”

They surrounded Logan and stood frozen,
staring up at him. He saw their legs trembling, saw them fighting
to restrain themselves. They smelled the dead on him. He was
terrified.

“Break!” Dalton called.

The dogs settled on their haunches and let
their tongues hang from their jaws. Logan was still too scared to
move.

“Let him go, boys,” Dalton said as he came
down. The dogs sat about him and waited patiently while he checked
each for injury. Satisfied, he sent them off to play.

“The Senator ought to be impressed,” Logan
said breathlessly.

“I should think so,” Dalton said. He gave
Logan a smile. It was chilling.

 

* * *

 

“Sergeant Gregory?”

Gillies was ruggedly handsome and fit for his
age. A man of sixty, he carried himself well, and his pressed suits
made him look like he was from another time—he didn’t belong in the
living Hell of this world. But here he was, talking with Ian
Gregory atop the Wall like it didn’t mean anything.

“My entourage is down below, touring the
facilities,” Gillies said. “The reason I’m up here, though, is to
make you an offer.”

“Me?”

“Absolutely. You studied at Seminarium Vita,
didn’t you?”

“Yes sir.”

“As did I. Glorious institution. Tragically,
I hear it’s burned to the ground. We are its legacy, men like you
and I. Do you remember all you learned there?”

“I believe so.”

“And you implemented those teachings in a
rather controversial way. Hand of God.”

“I did what I felt was right.”

“Of course you did. I admire that. Too many
men forget their faith the second they step onto a battlefield. You
never did. Even though you, yourself, lost men out there.”

Gregory lowered his head. Not just men.

Barry had been a devout believer and a woman
whose beauty was not diminished by her tough demeanor. They had
fallen in love quickly, and he might have proposed but for the fact
that she would have been forced to leave his unit. So they lived in
sin for a while, but those were the circumstances they had to live
in. God wanted them together, both were sure of that.

And he’d sworn to himself that his love would
never interfere with the unit’s operations. And it never did,
until—

“I’d like you to lead my personal security
detail,” Gillies said. “What say you?”

Gregory didn’t know what to say. He didn’t
know what he wanted. He spent most days atop this wall just staring
down, wondering what it would be like to fall and never wake
up.

But, again, he knew what was right, and he
saw the Lord at work in this situation.

“Yes. Yes sir.”

 

Seven / The Beat

 

“I’m assigning you to the lake district,”
Senior P.O. Casey told Voorhees. “It’s blocked out in red on the
big map.”

The hotel which had been converted to a
living quarters for Gaylen’s Peace Officers also housed the
department itself. Killian had explained that Gaylen’s original
police precincts were all destroyed during the original outbreaks.
Overrun by infected and people looking for shelter or arms, most
police stations and military installations were lost early on; same
for hospitals and airports. Of course there were no airports
anymore. Every nation in turn had closed its borders and grounded
all flights, domestic and international, in hopes of slowing the
plague. Like everything else, it proved pointless.

Voorhees followed Casey across the squad room
to the “big map” plastered across the wall. Casey was in a
wheelchair, both legs gone below the knees. He probably hated his
desk job. And here Voorhees was being put out on the street again
after a decade as a senior officer. He’d done plenty of beat work
in his S.P.O. role, but he’d also had control and respect with
whomever he interacted.

He supposed that he had failed in Jefferson
Harbor, and maybe he deserved to start back at the bottom.

“Social Services sent over your cleaver,”
Casey said, “but we’re going to have to retire it for the time
being. God willing, you’ll never have to use it again.”

He meant Voorhees’ widowmaker, a
military-issue blade used in close combat against rotters. He’d
decapitated more of them than he could count. The weapon an
extension of his arm; now he was going to have to settle for a
baton. Not even a gun. The Great Cities kept guns out of the hands
of
all
civilians. He wondered how long that would last.

Another officer walked over and introduced
himself as Blake. “I’m Killian’s partner.”

Up until that point, Voorhees had thought he
might be paired with her. She had a mouth on her but was easy on
the eyes. Voorhees didn’t look forward to another male partner.

“You’ll be with Halstead,” Casey said,
reading Voorhees’ expression. “She’s out until tomorrow, as is
Killian, so you and Blake’ll patrol the lake district this
evening.” Casey turned his chair to face Blake. “Be sure you talk
to Meyer about those kids he roughed up the other day.”

“Ready to head out?” Blake asked. Voorhees
grabbed his overcoat from the back of his chair. “Why not?”

 

* * *

 

It was cloudy, as it had been for days, and
the city was a hundred shades of gray. People’s faces were hardened
slate. As they passed him by they looked away, some at their feet,
others at the sky. One muttered something about rain, but she was
only talking to herself.

Lots of people in the street. Everyone
walked. Shuffled past one another without so much as a word.
Patrons in a vegetable market rummaged quietly through bins. It was
like a citywide awkward silence.

Blake slapped Voorhees’ arm and led him into
the market. “My girlfriend owns it,” he said. “Her brother-in-law
runs the biggest farm in Gaylen.”

A petite brunette smiled and stepped away
from her counter to hug Blake. “Becca, this is Voorhees.” He looked
to Voorhees as if expecting a first name. The man was silent.

“... Well, he’s Emily’s new partner, and I’m
giving him the grand tour.”

“Call me Becks,” the girl said. “This one
keeps forgetting. Oh, Blake, you oughta take him by the
amphitheater. Jeff Cullen’s got a new play for next month. I just
started reading it.”

“So you’re in it?” Blake leaned against
Voorhees. “My girl’s an actress.”

“It’s just something to do,” she said,
blushing, “even if Cullen thinks it’s high art.”

“What are the plays about?” asked
Voorhees.

“Life before the plague,” Becks said. “So who
knows whether it’s accurate or not. But I guess it’s how we’re
supposed to live now, now that we’re safe.”

Safe. Normal.
None of it rang true to
Voorhees. If this was normal—everyone just going through the
motions and trying to forget about the real world—he didn’t want
any part of it. He was starting to feel claustrophobic and imagined
that the living zombies in Gaylen’s streets felt exactly the same
way.

Zombies. There was a fitting metaphor.
Gee, I’ll bet no one else has thought of that.

Soldiers... Soldiers carried guns and
widowmakers. Soldiers dealt with the undead. Maybe that was his new
calling?

“We’d better get going,” Blake said. “You
heard what Casey said about Meyer.”

“Who?”

“Finn Meyer.”

 

* * *

 

“They weren’t kids, they were grown men,”
Finn Meyer said in his thick Irish brogue. “And they knew what was
gonna happen if they crossed me.”

He was a stout man with a pudgy scarred face
and sausage fingers grasping at the lapels of his suit. It was a
nice suit, the sort no one made anymore. And he was talking to P.O.
Blake with such unbridled arrogance that it took all that Voorhees
had in him not to knock the bastard upside his head with that
baton.

“Seventeen-year-olds aren’t men, Meyer,”
Blake said, “and besides, I thought we had an understanding about
the hands-on business.”

The tone of this conversation made no sense
to Voorhees. Blake had told him that two boys with a laptop were
running a dice game near the lake district. Players were able to
wager credits, provided they could prove said credits existed. And
the losers were billed for what they owed, by all appearances a
legal transaction. It was a legit practice, although the kids were
hacking the network to transfer credits. The real problem, however,
was that Finn Meyer claimed exclusive rights to the game. So he’d
had a couple of thugs smash the laptop and knock the kids around a
little. “That’s business,” the Irishman said.

BOOK: Empire's End
4.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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