Anno Viventes Mortuae Ch. 01byFelix921©
At the sound of Oingo Boingo's 'Dead Man's Party', Leer raised his eyes to give Warren a look.
Warren mustered a vaguely sympathetic expression.
"She seems to be coping well this morning."
Leer grunted and sipped at his coffee. The kitchen and den in reality being the fore and aft halves of one overlarge room separated only by the impression given by a difference in furnishings, Leer could see the subject of their conversation out of the corner of his eye. She seemed to be examining the contents of the bookshelf against the far wall, next to the entertainment center. Even without looking up he could tell her head was bobbing in time to the music. Well... probably emotionally burnt out from the day before. She'd be coping by ignoring certain aspects of reality until they hit home again.
"Three cases of MREs upstairs. Whats in the fridge and pantry. Couple cases of bottled water." Leer said, returning his attention to Warren and matters at hand.
"Freezer in the garage. Anything in there?"
Leer nodded. "A ham and a few frozen pizzas I think."
"And a couple dozen snickers bars, if I had to guess." Warren suggested.
Leer nodded again, half smiling, "Probably that."
Both men glanced around when the floor in the hall creaked. Maria emerged into the kitchen still drying her raven tresses with one of Leers towels. She stopped, draping the towel over her shoulders, and struck a haughty pose. Hands on her hips, she tossed her head. Her skin, where it was showing, was a rich reddish tan, attesting to her mix of Mexican and Native American blood. And there was a lot of it showing. She had arrived in the early hours of the morning, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, black leather jacket, aviator shades and a red bandana. Now she graced the kitchen in a black bra and a pair of little green PT shorts, which Leer realized she must have liberated from his dresser. They rode rather low on her hips. This was obviously a cause worthy of donating them to, he decided.
Leer had noticed the small black scorpion tattoo on the back of her right hand when she arrived, but now saw that she bore other artwork. On her chest, roughly over her heart, was what appeared to be a many-spoked wheel.
"She dress like this often?" Leer asked Warren, still looking Maria up and down.
"Occasionally she wears a long skirt." Warren muttered, adjusting his round rimmed spectacles.
Maria ran a hand back into her hair and looked around the kitchen.
"Que pasa, Brujo? No breakfast?" she asked in mock disappointment.
"All out of cigarettes and tequila, mi perrita veneno." Warren replied brightly.
Maria made a sharp, dismissive noise and padded past them to inspect the contents of the fridge. There was much appreciative nodding and sipping of coffee at the table behind her. Draga suddenly appeared between the two men at the table, surprising them both. She leaned forward, setting her elbows on the table top and resting her chin in her hands.
Maria turned about, curious.
"Thank you." Leer deadpanned.
Warren calmly diffused the potential 'who's on first' episode. "Draga, this is Maria, an old friend of mine. Maria, Draga. Leer and I served with her father."
They each took in the others appearance with some interest. At five foot six, Draga was about four inches shorter. She wore a borrowed black Marine Corps Recon t-shirt and faded jeans. Her hair was cut rather short up the back, slightly longer everywhere else, with a ravens wing of dark bangs combed across to partially obscure her left eye. Her nose was slightly upturned. She wore earrings like little silver teardrops which matched the silver lebrae beneath her lower lip. A black leather collar with short stainless spikes circled her neck.
"Good to meet you." Maria offered her hand across the table.
Draga gave it a firm shake, still taking in Maria's outfit as she did. "You too." she said with a faint smirk. "Old friend, huh?" she stage whispered loudly to Warren.
"Don't get her started." Warren said, suddenly sounding weary.
"I can cook." she offered to no one in particular, when the grinning fit had subsided.
Dead Mans Party ended and Orgy's rendition of Blue Monday began.
"Really?" Maria asked hopefully.
"I can do omelettes. Pancakes, bacon, french toast... depending on what there is for food here."
"Oh, chica, what are you waiting for? I'll go get dressed, have a smoke, you do your thing in here. Don't let these gringos get in your way, eh?" she smiled, gesturing toward the two men, then headed back down the hall from whence she came. Leer was draining the last of his coffee and looking at nothing particular. Warren, on the other hand, noted with some interest the expression on Draga's face as she watched Maria leave the room.
Draga made her way over to the fridge, removing a container of eggs and a block of cheese to start with. "Any requests?" she asked over her shoulder.
Leer stood, setting his mug on the table. "Surprise us. Anything should be an improvement over our cooking. Don't be shy, just dig around until you know where everything is."
At this point Maria, having added jeans and a t-shirt with the count from sesame street on, emerged from the hall at full stride. There was an unlit cigarette in her mouth. Leer spoke up for her benefit.
"We'll be dragging the heavy ordinance from my room and the attic into the living room. We can go through it after breakfast."
Maria grabbed Leers mug from the table, filled it with coffee, and waved with her free hand, "Be back in five." And she was out the door.
Breakfast consisted of bologna and cheddar omelettes, peaches quartered, toast and milk or water. Or a bottle of Coors light in Maria's case. Once she had rounded up and served the others, Draga wandered off into the den.
"Don't pull any triggers." Leer spoke up before digging into his omelette. His tone was rather more casual than one's tone should probably be when saying such things.
Draga's voice came back from the den, "What the fuck?"
All three diners smiled to themselves.
When they had all finished the dishes were piled in the sink. Maria made for the door, a cigarette having appeared between her lips as if by magic, but Leer waved her back.
"Don't bother Maria. Given the circumstances, I think I can lift the smoking ban for now."
She raised her eyebrows, shrugged, and lit her cigarette. She exhaled through her nose, smiling.
"So this is what it takes to loosen up the iceman?"
"Give or take."
"You want one?" she offered
Leer shook his head.
Warren smiled, "He won't. It would lower the efficiency of his super human senses. I'll take one, as long as you're offering."
Leer sighed. "Alright, professor," he imitated Warren adjusting his glasses, "to the war room?"
The three found Draga sitting in the middle of the couch, a seabag open between her legs. Her face was shadowed under the brim of a jungle cover tipped at a haphazard angle on her head. On the couch to her right a CZ-75 sidearm in an OD green holster lay atop a shrapnel resistant vest in desert camo. She extricated a wooly-pully from the sea bag and examined it at arms length. Maria moved an ammo can from the couch and sat down on Dragas left. Warren pulled Leers recliner closer, stifling a smokey cough. Leer began sorting through the gear on and around the long wooden coffee table in front of the couch.
"Looks itchy." Draga said at length.
"Military issue." Warren commented. "It's efficient."
"Yeah..." Draga said slowly, half turning to drape the sweater over the back of the couch. "I knew you guys were military, but..." she spread her arms vaguely, indicating the tumbled mountain of gear dominating the center of the den.
Maria plucked a CS grenade from the clutter on the table. She looked across at Warren. "I know you and I know what you two were up to... and even I'm a little surprised."
"Turned out, going freelance provided a better toy budget." Leer commented without looking up from what he was doing.
"Good thing, too." Warren reflected, adjusting his glasses.
"Okay, so why didn't you just load this stuff into the truck?" Draga directed the question at Leer.
"Master Sergeant Locke, handle my light work." Leer said in mock seriousness.
"Indeed. There are four of us. We're going to want to pack food, water, arms, necessary clothing and bedding... hope for the best, prepare for the worst sort of thing. We're safer together, but there's only so much space available in any one vehicle."
"Oh. Right." Flashes of the night before pushed their way to the fore of Draga's thoughts. She shuddered visibly before managing to temporarily push the memory form her mind. It was a nice bright day. She was with friends of the family. Friends who happened to be acquainted with destruction as an artform. Friends who, it occurred to her, seemed rather... satisfied at the prospect of a global plague of the walking dead. At any rate, a pleasant day amongst friends. And some biker chick.
She took a deep, slow breath. If you learned anything from zombie movies, it was never hesitate. Never slow down. You could cry later, if you survived long enough. She removed the boony hat and set it on the back rest of the couch next to the woolly pully.
"I get a gun, right?" she asked Leer, her voice quiet, lest it crack.
Leer regarded her for a long moment.
Draga waited, but had just decided that was all she'd get when he continued.
"Maria brought a couple firearms with her, although we'll probably bring a rifle for her. A sawed off shotgun is fine if you only have to fire once or twice at close range. We'll take you out in the yard and let you shoot everything. Give you a taste of shooting and figure out what fits you. You'll want these."
She managed to catch the little plastic film case and opened it to find a pair of foam ear plugs. She nodded and stuffed the tube into a pocket.
There was some debate as to what to bring and what to leave. Warren went over the pros and cons of each piece of gear as if reading from a manual. When Leer reached the SAW, (Squad Automatic Weapon; a belt-fed machine gun operated by one man and capable of putting a hell of a lot of ammunition downrange in a hurry), at the bottom of the pile on the coffee table, Warren began reciting. Leer hefted the weapon, pointed it at Warren and racked the charging handle.
"Enough. Yes or no?" he asked bluntly.
Warren opened his mouth, closed it, adjusted his glasses. He noticed Draga trying to hide a smile behind her hand. Maria seemed too busy studying the massive weapon braced against Leers hip. He caught Dragas eye and winked.
"As heavy as it is, I vote to bring it. Shares ammo with the M-16. If we have to cut a path or defend a position..."
Leer gave the weapon a critical look, then set it back on the table.
After a late lunch of frozen pizza, they loaded most of the chosen gear into Leers pickup. The SAW and two cans of chain ammunition were stowed in the bed, up against the back of the cab. There was a duffel bag loaded with an assortment of grenades. Two duffel bags heavy with loaded magazines and boxes of ammunition. Sleeping bags, a well used OD green Coleman stove, extra fuel for the stove, military mess kits, two cases of 16oz water bottles, a 10 gallon igloo water cooler, one case of MREs and three Alice packs loaded with MREs, Ammunition, extra socks, full canteens and sundry little goodies Warren and Leer had found useful in the past. All this was piled into the back. Draga put her backpack in the cab. Maria recovered her sawed off shotgun, a box of shells, a change of clothes, feminine products and two cases of cigarettes from the saddlebags of her hog and tossed them in the back. When this was done they regrouped in the kitchen.
Leer handed out beers and leaned against the fridge while the others sat, Draga on one corner of the table. It didn't occur to him to ask if she were old enough to drink. They lounged, drinking and staring into the middle distance, each lost momentarily in their own thoughts. After a minute or so Maria lit a cigarette and tossed one to Warren, leaning across the table to light it for him. Warren took a drag, gave a little cough, exhaled. Maria leaned back in her chair, tipped her chin up in Draga's direction.
"Romanian." Draga finished for her.
Draga smiled and tipped the mouth of her beer bottle in Maria's direction. "I noticed the Romani Chakra on your chest. Are you part Romani?" she sounded doubtful.
"No. Not really. Not by blood."
"More by practice." Warren put in helpfully. "And name. Her last name, Gitano, is basically Spanish for Romani."
"Huh. Romani la inima, apoi." Draga said to herself. "Romani at heart," she translated quickly.
Maria arched an eyebrow, but smiled. "Maybe you teach me some of that sometime."
"Shall we teach the wagon girl to shoot before dinner?" Warren asked.
Leer gave Draga a smile she wasn't sure she liked.
"Got those earplugs handy?"
Leer and Warren had done a quick sweep of the property with assault rifles at the ready. Leer carried a kalashnikov with a second magazine, upside down, taped to the first. Warren opted for his old, straight magazine Thompson. As expected, there were no wandering dead this far out in the woods. Not yet, anyway.
The women had waited on the back deck during the perimeter check. Maria lounged on an old, faded loveseat. She had strapped on her old fashioned leather gunbelt with its line of bullets in little leather loops. One hand held her beer and a lit cigarette. The other was continuously cocking and decocking the hammer of her heavy black Ruger .357 revolver. Draga eyed the gun warily from where she leaned on the rail.
When the men had met back on the deck, Warren told the others to carry on without him. After warning Draga not to hold any scopes against her face, he went around to stand watch in the front yard. Just in case.
Right away Draga recognized in Leer mannerisms her father had sometimes exhibited. A sort of curt, but professional demeanor. He had taken a scarecrow from his garden (Draga spared a moment from her nervousness to spend being vaguely surprised that people actually used scarecrows) and sunk it out in the middle of the backyard about thirty feet from the deck. Next he unceremoniously bid Maria 'move', that he might spread an array of firearms across the loveseat. He considered a moment, then picked up an HK MP5, checking the open breach as he walked over to where Draga stood.
He looked at her and tapped his left ear with his hand. Draga nodded and began to speak, "Yeah, I put them in-"
Leers expression didn't change, but he reached up and before she could properly react, was handing her the earplug from her right ear.
Draga's brow furrowed in annoyance, but she payed attention. Leer went over the basic functioning of the weapon and the names of each part. He handed the HK over and gave her a moment to get a feel for the weight and shape of it before continuing the instruction. He moved around her, adjusting her stance, pulling the butt back into her shoulder tighter, reminding her how to sight the target. When he was more or less satisfied, he took the earplug from her pocket where she had put it and stuck it in back in her ear. He stood just behind her.
"Switch the selector one click to single fire." he enunciated loud enough to be sure she would hear.
A pause. Click.
"Steady your breathing. Aim for the chest. Fire one shot at will."
Draga sighted the scarecrows chest. Breath, she thought. Slow down.
The distinctive blast of the 9mm echoed from the woods surrounding the yard.
The bullet kicked up dirt and grass behind the target. Flinching slightly, Draga couldn't be sure if she hit the dummy or not.
"You tensed. Anticipating the shot. You missed just to the right of his face, which means you were aiming at his chest, but you pulled high when you tensed up. Best cure is practice." Leers voice from behind her.
Draga nodded slightly without turning. She could smell the oil on the gun and the smoke from the spent round. Her nervousness was slowly turning into mild exhilaration.
In all Leer had Draga fire six weapons. She started with the MP5, which Leer suspected would be a good choice for her. After that were an M-16 and Leers AK. The AK proved a bit much for her. A Glock 19 started off her experience with handguns, followed by a CZ 75. Last but not least she emptied the magazine in a Sig Sauer P228. When she was done and Leer had replaced the spent magazines in each weapon, he asked her for her preferences. She made a point of returning her earplugs to the little film tube before answering.
"The... CZ... felt good... solid. It was a little heavier than the others though. I think the Sig Sour was most comfortable."
Leer nodded. He slid the Sig into its black nylon holster and handed it to her. She hesitated, looked at the gun, looked at Leer.
"Just like that?" the corner of her mouth quirking up.
"Try not to shoot yourself. I'll teach you to take it apart and clean it later. Unless I can get Warlock to do it." he muttered the last bit to himself.
"Warren has a nickname, huh?" she asked, taking the Sig.
"More a contraction. Warren Browning Locke." Leer answered distractedly.
"Warren Locke. Warlock." Maria put in helpfully.
"I got it, thanks. That's cool."
"What about the long guns?" Leer asked, businesslike.
"Um... the first one... smaller and lighter than the others. Feel like I can control it better."
Leer nodded again. Draga was sure he had anticipated her answers.
"Not technically a 'long gun', though, is it?" she asked.
"Sub-machine gun. Close enough for you. Sit tight." He stepped back into the house.
Draga was busying herself working the clip of the Sig's holster onto her belt when she heard Maria say something. Sounded like 'ears.'
Then she very nearly wet herself. She had just enough time to realize what was happening and cover her ears before Maria fired her Ruger hand cannon again. A small cloud of straw erupted from the back of the scarecrows head.
"As you were." Leer said loudly. "No point wasting bullets if you're aim is that good."
Maria gave him a look, but lowered the gun. She removed the two spent shells and thumbed in fresh rounds, holstered the gun.
Leer handed Draga the MP5, now with a nylon sling attached.
"Wear it from now on to get used to it." he paused, then added, "So make sure the safety is on."
He left her to it and turned his attention to Maria. He took the M-16 from the couch by the handguard and held it out in her general direction.
"Feel like shooting, give this a try."
She gave him a long cool look, then took the rifle. Leer carried on in training mode, instructing her on shooting positions, aiming, the safety, ejecting and replacing magazines, clearing jams and etc. Warren came back around from the front yard as the sun began to sink below the tree tops. Leer declared the basic arms training satisfactory for the moment, and the four carried the weapons back inside.
Draga was busy frying hamburgers in the kitchen while the other three sat in the den watching the news. The news was not good. The news was very bad. The plague of undeath, as many reporters had taken to calling it, was active across the entire width of the United States. The symptoms didn't manifest until several hours after infection. If there was an exact incubation period, scientists had yet to release the information. It was apparently long enough to allow spreading by mass transportation systems.
Canada, Mexico, England, France, Japan and China were all reporting outbreaks. Several countries had shut down and quarantined all airports. It was rumored that China would shortly enforce martial law. There was panic and rioting even in countries not known to be harboring infected. In the words of one over-dramatic news anchor, "...and on the lips of every man, woman and child are the desperate words; 'Why?' 'How did this happen?,' 'What will we do?,' 'Who will save us?'"