Jacob ejected the spent magazine from his gun, and was about to load the only one he had left when Casey scooped up Kelly’s pistol and turned it on him. Jacob ducked down behind the dead horse just as Casey emptied the gun into the animal’s back. When Jacob heard the pistol click empty, he jumped to his feet and ran for the strip mall across the street, threading his way through the zombies that tried to pull him down.
He rounded the corner and dropped to the ground. He glanced around the corner and saw Casey loading another magazine into the M4.
But once it was loaded, he dropped to the ground and waited.
The zombies in the area came to a stop as well.
There was nothing for them to key on once silence fell over the area. They stood stock-still, motionless, as though waiting for something to pull them along.
Jacob ducked back behind the corner. He was looking at a back alley full of trash. Over the years the wind had carried countless amounts of debris into the alley. He looked over it all, hoping for inspiration.
He found it in a two-liter plastic bottle of Dr Pepper.
If Casey could fight silent, so could he.
He slipped the bottle of Dr Pepper over his Ruger’s barrel and found it fit pretty well. It wouldn’t hold by itself, but it was pretty close.
He took the duct tape from his pocket and wrapped it tightly around the mouth of the bottle so that it formed a seal around the barrel. It didn’t look pretty, but it was a serviceable suppressor.
He went over to a gap in the buildings and scanned the street. The zombies were everywhere. Kelly was on the roof of the gas station, watching Chris Walker as he paced back and forth, watching the street.
There was no sign of Casey though.
Jacob knew he had to move. He needed to get across the street. Casey had seen him run. He knew where he was. If he stayed put, he’d be an easy target, and Jacob wasn’t ready to die just yet.
He moved in a crouch, weapon at the ready. He was as silent as he could be, but there were so many zombies a few were bound to see him. Those that did turned his way and began to moan. Jacob fired on them only when they got too close. He had just thirty rounds left and he had to make them count.
With the plastic bottle suppressor his weapon was almost completely silent, just the sound of the gun’s action cycling to indicate it had been fired at all. Those zombies who weren’t already looking his way never even knew he was there. He made it across the street without attracting Chris Walker’s attention and slipped into the tall weeds that had grown up along the edge of the street. Once there, he went down on his belly and low crawled toward the ladder on the far side of the gas station.
He was about to run for the ladder when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. In the gap between a metal shed and a leaning section of a wooden privacy fence, on his belly, was Casey. He was set up like a sniper in the tall grass, watching the ladder, waiting for Jacob.
“Got you,” Jacob said.
He crawled forward, getting as close as he could. There was a good sixty feet of open ground between them. The M4, with its heavier ammunition, would have no problem making a kill shot at that distance. The .22 would have a harder time of it. His best bet, he figured, was to flush Casey from his hiding spot and force his hand. Make him make a mistake.
Jacob sighted in and fired three times, hitting Casey with at least one of the shots. The rider screamed and rolled over. He pulled himself to his feet and fell against the side of the shed. The bullet had hit him high up on his thigh and he was having trouble supporting himself. But he was a fighter. Even as the wound continued to leak out, Casey scanned his surroundings, trying to figure out where the shots were coming from.
Jacob fired at him again, but Casey had moved just as Jacob was pulling the trigger and the rounds plinked harmlessly into the side of the shed.
Casey tried to guess where Jacob was. He backed deeper into the gap, thinking it would put him out of sight, but instead it opened up a clean shot for Jacob. Jacob sighted in and fired six times before the Ruger jammed. Jacob ejected the magazine and tried to clear the malfunction, but the action was jammed up so tightly he couldn’t work it.
Back pressure from the makeshift suppressor was Jacob’s guess.
But Casey was lying still in the grass. Jacob watched him for a moment, just to make sure, but the rider was down and out. Malfunction or not, he’d beaten the son of a bitch.
Jacob bolted for the ladder. Even though their weapons never made a sound, all the commotion had attracted the zombies, and they were closing in around the gas station, their moaning getting louder and louder.
He hit the ladder at a run and scaled up it. He was over the top before Chris Walker knew he was there.
“Hold it,” Jacob said, leveling his rifle at Chris. The gun was useless, but the other man didn’t know it. “Put the gun down.”
Chris’s surprise slowly melted into anger, but he tossed the weapon aside.
“That’s it. Now step away from it.”
Chris raised his hands and backed toward the edge of the building.
“Kelly,” Jacob said. “Grab that please.”
“You bet.” She picked up the weapon and trained it on Chris. “Where’s Casey?”
“Back there,” Jacob said. “In the weeds by that shed over there.”
“Did you kill him?” Chris asked.
Jacob wasn’t sure how to describe the look that passed over Chris Walker’s face. Relief, anger, resentment: a little of all those things, maybe. He lowered his hands a little and the air seemed to bleed out of him. He looked down at his feet, completely dejected and broken.
Chelsea had been watching him since they’d disarmed him, and Jacob could see the anger swelling up in the girl. The brother who should have protected her had betrayed her instead and, looking at him now, it all seemed to boil up in her at once. Jacob could see her hands shaking, her teeth digging into her bottom lip. He watched her rage mount, and he could see her coiling.
“You bastard!” she shouted, running at him. Before he could make a move to avoid her, she shoved him over the side. Chris went flying into a pack of zombies. They fell on him in a mad rush, ripping him apart with their teeth and their fingernails, lashing out at each other like wild dogs as they fought for pieces of him.
Chelsea was leaning over the side, watching them feed. Jacob stood next to her, watching the sobs hitch in her chest.
“Jacob,” said Kelly from behind him.
From her tone he knew something was wrong even before he turned around.
Casey was standing there by the ladder.
His face was blackened and blistered from the burn he’d taken when the aerofluyt exploded, and most of his hair was missing. He’d been shot in the leg and twice in the left arm, and yet it didn’t seem to slow him down. He had Sheriff Taylor’s gun pointed at Kelly. He advanced on her and took the weapon from her hand.
“Get on your knees,” he said.
“Kiss my ass,” Jacob shot back.
Casey tossed Kelly’s gun behind him, then quickly stripped the magazine from the M4 and slammed in a new one. Jacob could see the white smiley face on the bottom of the magazine as Casey charged the bolt and brought up the rifle to center it on Jacob’s head.
Taylor’s little surprise, Jacob thought, remembering what he’d said about the magazine with the smiley face. Good God, please work. Please, please, please.
“Get on your knees,” Casey repeated.
“No way,” Jacob told him. “Shoot, if you’re gonna do it. But I won’t die on my knees.”
“You’ll go to your knees one way or the other,” Casey said. He lowered the muzzle so that it was pointed at Jacob’s legs and pulled the trigger. The weapon exploded in his face. Screaming in rage and pain, Casey threw the gun to the ground. He lurched to one side, holding his bleeding face in his hands.
Jacob saw the gun Casey had taken from Kelly and ran toward it. He almost had it when Casey tackled him.
Both men went over the side of the building, and Jacob landed hard on his left arm. He felt it break and the pain was so intense he nearly blacked out. Casey was already on his feet. The man was a tank. He roared and lashed out, half-blind, but still managed to land a crushing haymaker across Jacob’s chin. Jacob’s legs wobbled beneath him, but he didn’t fall. He took a few steps back and turned his hurt arm away from Casey.
Still bellowing in rage, Casey charged him again, wrapping his arms around him as he dragged him to the ground. Attracted by the noise, more zombies closed in around them. Casey got on top of Jacob and twisted his broken arm. Jacob screamed and his vision went purple. When he opened his eyes again, Casey had flipped him over. He was holding Jacob by the hair and he had his legs pinned so he couldn’t move. There were three zombies coming toward them, and Casey was holding him still for them.
“Which one of them do you think will take the first bite?” Casey whispered in Jacob’s ear.
Jacob thrashed, but couldn’t break Casey’s hold. He tried to lash out with his right arm, but Casey was just out of reach.
“I listened to all that bullshit you said about your Code, and you know what? For a little bit there, I was impressed. But it’s all bullshit, isn’t it? Every word. What kind of code allows you to let a pregnant woman die? Can you answer me that?”
The zombies were just a few feet away, closing fast. Jacob struggled, but couldn’t get free.
“You ain’t got an answer? You gonna go to your death without an answer?”
Jacob lashed out. He tried to push his way to his feet, but Casey leaned forward and held him down.
“I’m gonna watch you die, Jacob.”
A gun went off somewhere to Jacob’s right. Casey lurched to one side with a loud grunt. Jacob jumped to his feet, ducked his shoulder, and ran into the zombies that were closing on him. Before any of them could react, he knocked them to the ground, then wheeled around and found Casey climbing to his feet.
Jacob swung at his chin. Casey’s head snapped back. Jacob swung again and again. Casey tried to raise his arms to block the hail of punches Jacob threw at him, but Jacob overpowered him, and eventually Casey sank to his knees.
“Look who’s on their knees now, motherfucker,” he said.
Casey looked up at him. His face was a ruined mess, his eyes nearly swollen shut. Jacob glanced up at Kelly and nodded.
She fired twice, hitting Casey in the chest.
The man shook with the impact, and then collapsed to the ground. Jacob stared down at the dead man, and he could feel the anger and the hate and all the rest of it draining away, leaving only emptiness in its place.
“Jacob,” Kelly shouted. “Behind you!”
The zombies had regrouped. They circled around him, fifty of them at least. “Throw me the gun,” he said.
She tossed it at his feet.
Jacob scooped it up and started firing, trying to clear a hole to get to the ladder, but every time he hit one of the zombies three more took its place. He couldn’t move his left arm. He was forced to fire the rifle one-handed, and he wasn’t doing very well with it. Jacob was only landing head shots every third or fourth shot, and he was almost out of ammunition.
“Behind you!” Kelly shouted.
Jacob wheeled around just in time to see a zombie’s head get blasted into a red mist. When the body fell to the ground Jacob saw three of the gray space suits he’d seen back in the aerofluyt’s cargo bay. The three figures made the same hydraulic whirring as they moved, yet they were far more coordinated than the one he’d faced on the aerofluyt. These moved with purpose, their movements powerful, but precisely controlled.
The figures spread out, their suits clanking and sighing as they brought up strange-looking weapons. They fired at the zombies, but their weapons made no noise. They pointed, shot, and another head would explode. In a few quick seconds, they’d cleared most of the field, leaving dozens of headless corpses on the ground at Jacob’s feet.
One of the figures advanced on Jacob and he raised his rifle to fire at the figure.
“Jacob, no!” he heard Chelsea shout.
The suited man caught the rifle and turned it away. There was so much power in his grip, and he pulled the gun out of Jacob’s hand as easily as if Jacob had given it to him.
The figure seemed to study Jacob’s clothes. He examined the shirt and shoes Jacob had gotten from Chelsea’s father’s closet, and then raised what looked like a white microphone with two little wings up near the head. He ran the device up and down Jacob’s right arm. A little green light blinked on it, but it didn’t make a sound.
“Wait!” Chelsea yelled.
Jacob glanced over his shoulder and saw Chelsea and Kelly climbing down from the ladder. They ran toward Jacob.
The figure released him and turned to face the girls.
Kelly stopped short, but Chelsea walked right up to the figure in the space suit. “I’m Chelsea Walker,” she said. “I’m from Temple.”
The helmets and high protective collars made it hard to see the men inside the suits, but Jacob could recognize their surprise. The three suited figures glanced at one another. Chelsea stuck out her right arm. The figure with the microphone-type device ran it over Chelsea’s arm, and right away the thing beeped and the light began flashing faster.
The figures glanced at each other again, and the one with the microphone twisted his helmet off. He was an older black man with a gray beard and a dense network of lines at the corners of his eyes. He had earphones in his ears and some kind of flat, black electronic device secured to the side of his throat.
“You’re from the
, aren’t you?” the man asked.
“Yes,” Chelsea said. “Yes, that’s right.”
“Are there any other survivors?” the man asked.
“No,” Chelsea said, after what seemed to Jacob to be a thoughtful, measured pause. “No, I’m the only one.”