Authors: Mainak Dhar
As they loaded up their gear on the SUV that Vince had
arranged for their trip, Alice looked at Josh.
‘Josh, I mean Beaver, we seem to have the same taste in
He smiled as he replied.
‘Actually, that’s exactly what I thought when I read about
He held up a slim book from his backpack.
‘The General wrote a short book based on his visit to the
Deadland and what he learnt there, and copies are all over the Homeland. The
Exec Committee’s banned it and having a copy is punishable with death, but
people are beginning to know that our enemies can be beaten, and that the
Biters can be lived with.’
Alice took a look at the cover of the pamphlet. It read,
They had been driving for more than thirty minutes when
Alice began to notice the most obvious difference between the Deadland and the
US Homeland. There were many, many small groups of armed men and women
In the Deadland, her settlement had been set up by former
Indian army soldiers and Marines at the US Embassy—so they had weapons and
training. However, from what her parents had told her, almost all the Deadland
civilians caught up in The Rising had no means of defending themselves and
became easy prey. So most of them readily joined the labor camps set up by Zeus
to work on farms in the Deadland and the Chinese Mainland. However, here it was
very different. Cynthia told her that there were at least four different armed
groups operating in this area, which Zeus had given up on after years of
fighting. Vince elaborated further.
‘In India hardly any civilians had guns. In the US, many of
us did, so people found it easier to defend themselves against Biters and also
That made sense to Alice. She had, after all, grown up
learning that a working rifle close at hand was the best way of ensuring a good
The windows were down, and Tom and Larry were keeping their
guns visible. The wind blasted into their face as the SUV proceeded, and Bunny
Ears in particular seemed to be expressing his displeasure by grunting and
growling every few minutes. Alice had sensed that the humans were uncomfortable
sitting next to him, so he was sitting in the front passenger seat while John
‘Is there danger here? If Zeus is not around, then why are
you keeping your weapons pointed out the window?’
John looked over his shoulder.
‘Everything Vince said is true, but there is a flip side to
there being too many guns. The bandits here are sometimes more dangerous than
No sooner had he spoken than something pinged off the door
of the SUV, followed a split second later by the unmistakable bark of an
‘Barrister, get us out of here!’
John accelerated and the SUV turned a corner, only to find a
fallen log blocking the road ahead.
‘No good, we’ll have to fight our way out of this one.’
He turned the SUV towards the edge of the road, and they
dismounted, taking cover behind trees and rocks as more bullets whistled
overhead. Josh was next to Alice, looking down the sight of his rifle, trying
to see their enemies. Alice whispered to him.
‘Beaver, I see two men at one o’clock. There, just above
that small rock.’
He whistled appreciatively.
‘Good eyes. Is it just the two of them?’
Cynthia was a few feet to their left and she answered in the
‘Broker, do you have a clear shot? Alice says they’re behind
the rock at one o’clock.’
Tom looked through the scope on his sniper rifle, then shook
Before they could say or do anything else, Alice was running
towards the rock, weaving left and right as bullets hit the ground around her.
Within seconds, her companions had opened up a withering fire and their two
attackers ducked for cover. By then, Alice was within ten feet of their
attackers and she dove to the ground, coming up in a crouch as one of the men
leaned out to fire.
An ear-splitting growl came as Bunny Ears charged towards
the man, trying to protect her. Seeing a Biter in the middle of so many humans
must have disoriented the man because he paused and that gave Alice the time to
kneel and fire a three-round burst. The bullets caught the man in the neck, and
he went down.
His friend ran into the bushes, and while Cynthia and the
others fired, he was soon lost in the dense undergrowth. Alice got up to look
at their dead attacker. The man was reed-thin, as if he had not eaten in days,
and was wearing a tattered t-shirt which had the words ‘U.S.A.’ emblazoned on
Alice asked Vince as he joined her, ‘Were they crazy to
attack such an obviously heavily armed target?’
Vince crossed himself as he knelt beside the man.
‘Not crazy, Alice. Just desperate. This was no bandit, just
a man who has no food and still does not want to sell his freedom to Zeus.
Sorry, brother, if you had asked, we would have helped you.’
When Alice walked back to the SUV, her new companions looked
at her strangely. Josh said what was on all their minds.
‘That was a crazy stunt you pulled there. Who runs into
automatic weapons fire like that?’
Alice answered, without missing a beat.
‘Someone who is half Biter and knows a bullet wound won’t
hurt unless it’s to the head.’
Josh laughed and slapped Larry on the shoulder.
‘Hey, Butcher Boy, and we thought you were the crazy one in
our bunch. I think you have competition.’
As they resumed their journey, Bunny Ears began to tense up
and soon he was emitting a low-pitched howl.
‘What’s with him? I’ve never seen him this way.’
Alice replied to Vince that she had no idea. That was when
she caught a glimpse of what Bunny Ears had spotted. John saw it too and
stopped the SUV.
Bunny Ears was now howling loudly and Alice reached over,
putting a reassuring arm on his shoulder.
‘Bunny Ears, it’s okay. We’re with friends.’
Even as she said the words, Alice knew how hollow they were.
She had grown up in a land where men and Biters had been locked in mortal
combat, and only her discovery of the truth behind The Rising and her meeting
the Queen of the Biters had led her to restore some degree of peace between
them. However, she had never seen the kind of brutality in front of her eyes
now, even during the worst of the fighting in the Deadland.
All along the road to their right, Biters hung from tree
trunks. Their heads had been blown open and then their bodies had been set on
fire. As the SUV proceeded, Alice sat back, thinking. Men loved fanciful tales
of monsters and villains, but was there anything to compete with the savagery
that man himself was capable of?
‘Where the hell can they be? Don’t tell me that on top of
all her other supposed superpowers, this freak can now disappear at will?’
Hugh Covey kept his head down, trying not to meet Sam King’s
eyes as he continued to rave and rant about the lack of success in tracking
Alice down. He had served as Sam’s Intelligence Head for more than five years
and knew his boss well. Soon, he would calm down and then Hugh could get some
real work done.
The news that Alice was in the Homeland had come as a shock,
and as Sam rubbed his throbbing head, he cursed her for arriving at the worst
possible time. Just the previous evening, he had sent a report to the Baron and
the Executive Committee that the leaders of the Deadland had agreed in
principle to the terms he had dictated. The Baron had made some soothing noises
about how the shareholders were positively predisposed and how it looked very
likely that Sam’s performance appraisal would get him and his family another
year at the retreat in the Cheyenne Mountains.
Now, at one stroke, all of that was under threat. Shouting
at Hugh was not going to solve anything, but he was terrified at how the Baron
would react. Alice was in the Homeland! Some vagabond had been blabbering about
a half-Biter girl shooting her way through an ambush in Oregon. If Sam had any
doubts, they were laid to rest when the rumors spoke of a bunny-eared Biter
accompanying the girl. Sam took a deep breath and poured himself a drink. He
waited for the Scotch to work its way down his throat before he faced Hugh
‘We had three Predators up over Oregon the moment you got
information on the girl. How could we not spot her?’
Hugh shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
‘Sir, you know that the insurgents have spotters out to look
for our drones, and they’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. I guess
they ditched the SUV they were reported to be in when our drones were spotted.
If they’re on foot, we can’t hope to spot them from the air. We need boots on
Sam considered the suggestion. He had lost many men in the
past trying to hunt down insurgents where Alice had last been spotted, and he
himself had recommended to the Baron that they not waste any more lives.
‘I’m going to send in a Quick Reaction Force of troopers to
flush them out. Keep working your sources on the ground. We must get this bitch
before she does any real damage.’
As Hugh left, Sam sat down. He had another call with the
Baron later in the evening, and he knew that news of Alice’s sudden appearance
in the Homeland would be greeted with fury. He slammed his fist on the table in
‘Stupid, stupid fools!’
He poured himself another drink, both to dull the rage and
to calm himself so that he could get on with conjuring up a plan before he
spoke to the Baron. He had warned the Baron that they had moved too fast, that
they had no way of delivering on the warning they had served Deadland, but he
had been told to find a way. They had managed to get five rockets ready, and
three had not even been certified for launch. The first that had been fired at
Shanghai had malfunctioned and detonated over the ocean but luckily the next one
had struck home. Now, he had two warheads and a scientist who could ensure the
warheads worked, but no working rocket to carry them. There were two more
rockets somewhere in the Biter-infested forests around Cape Canaveral but he
needed the scientist to lead him to them. He looked at the slim folder on his
desk, and then he called Hugh back to his room.
‘I need you to find Bellman for me.’
‘Sir, Bellman’s disappeared, and there’s no telling where
she could be. For all we know, she could be dead, or a Biter by now.’
Sam shouted, ‘Go and find Bellman! I don’t care where you
have to look or what you have to do. Find Bellman or I’ll put you in a bloody
A plan began to form in his mind. The more he thought of it,
the more he liked the plan. At one stroke, it would reduce discontent in the
Homeland and re-establish the supply of food from the Deadland. To do that, he
needed to get a rocket operational and of course, he needed to find a way of
dealing with Alice.
As Hugh walked out, Aaron slipped into the room, ostensibly
to ensure that the video link for the call with the Baron was working. Sam paid
him little attention, but as he was sitting at his desk, pouring himself
another drink, Aaron was unable to get a look at what was on his desk. Aaron
was about to leave the room, disappointed that he had not been able to pick up
any useful information, when he heard Sam mumble to himself.
‘We’ve got to find Bellman. Without her, the Snarks are no
better than bloody lawn ornaments.’
‘Any news of the General?’
Vince shook his head.
‘No, Alice. He’s still lying low as Zeus is all over the
area. We have a couple of teams there trying to get him out, but it could be a
day or two before we re-establish contact. The plan is to get him to a
safehouse outside Cincinnati and that’s where we’re headed as well.’
‘I really don’t like this place,’ muttered Cynthia as she
kept looking around the dark, wooded area.
On that, Alice could not disagree. They had ditched their
vehicle after roughly a day of driving when a spotter had called in on the
radio, saying that Zeus drones were in the air. They were now proceeding on
foot to another safehouse three hours away where they would get another vehicle
to resume their journey. The problem was that it was now night, and their best
bet was to camp for the night and resume at dawn.
‘Where’s Bunny Ears?’
Alice looked around and groaned at Satish’s question. The
last thing she needed was for Bunny Ears to get lost in the darkness. ‘I’ll go
look for him.’
As soon as she got up, a bullet slammed into the tree behind
which she had been hiding, missing her head by inches.
As Vince shouted out his warning, everyone took cover. Alice
looked out through the night vision scope on her rifle and saw shapes moving in
the forest ahead.
Josh answered her, ‘No, not the way they’re moving. Looks
like a Zeus team.’
Tom’s sniper rifle barked out once, and one of their
attackers fell. The others scrambled for cover, the advantage of surprise lost.
‘Barrister here. Get them to move to the right.’
They opened up a barrage of fire to the left of their
attackers. In the darkness, and against trained attackers who were moving from
cover to cover, they didn’t score any hits that Alice could be sure of, but
certainly they were causing their attackers to move to the right. Satish
shouted on the radio for Butcher to hold his fire, and despite being in the
middle of a firefight, Alice had to suppress a laugh. The big man was screaming
obscenities and firing away on full auto. During the drive, Alice had heard
tales of how he had killed Zeus troopers with his bare hands, and she could