I woke up instantly when I heard the screaming.
One might not have been enough to jolt me out of bed, but it sounded like there were a dozen or more. I couldn’t really tell how far away they were, but they were north of AU. Probably still within the campus proper.
“Akane, wake up.”
“I’m up already,” she replied snappishly. Guess she’s not a morning person. “What time is it?”
“It’s…” I glanced at the clock glowing over her bed—I couldn’t see mine from this angle. “Five in the morning.”
She cursed. Loudly. I guess she was really not a morning person.
It only took us a few minutes to get dressed, during which time Laura managed to text that she’d meet us downstairs. Akane chose these really short cut-off jeans that didn’t even reach her knees; I’m guessing she found it easier to move like that. I was just getting my boots on when there was a knock at the door.
Akane was busy putting her hair into a ponytail, fastened with what looked like a strip of leather holding a bunch of white beads, so I hopped over to the door and opened it to reveal Derek, already dressed and ready to go. He was wearing some kind of leather jacket, probably for extra protection. It looked…good.
“C’mon, we have to hurry,” he said. “I called MC; she said the Necessarians are there, but the screamers are infecting people as we speak.”
Listening closer, he was right—it did sound like there were more than before. That wasn’t good.
“Where’s Adam?” I asked as I headed for the door. I didn’t particularly like the guy, but he had guns.
Derek shook his head. “No idea. While I was in the shower, he left a note saying he was going for a walk, but he never came back.”
Akane frowned as she finally finished her hair. “You think a screamer got him?”
“I don’t know. All his guns are still here, so I hope he wouldn’t be stupid.”
“Laura’s waiting for us downstairs,” I said before things could get awkward. “Let’s shut these guys up so we can get back to sleep.” At least school didn’t start ’til Monday.
As promised, when the three of us exited the elevator, Laura was already waiting for us, her hair in a ponytail and her gun ready. She was wearing pretty much the same as the rest of us, jeans and a jacket, but she was tucking away that necklace of hers when we first saw her. We headed off without a word. Once we were actually outside the dorm, we just started running. There were no cabs in AU, so its not like we had any other choice.
Luckily for us, there wasn’t far to go. We found the screamers just outside the Springfield wall, at the northernmost corner of the campus. It quickly became clear that we weren’t very good at judging how many there were just by how many we could hear.
There were nearly a hundred.
The Necessarians were trying to keep them contained at this one corner, but they were fighting a losing battle. There were only a couple dozen officers, armed with handguns, and they had to cover the three streets the screamers could flee through. The creatures weren’t making any efforts to leave, however. They were focusing their attacks on the shops and cars trapped with them. Great for keeping them in one place, but not so much for those still trapped with them.
And sooner or later, they’d run out of victims.
“They’re afraid of the guns,” Laura murmured. “Good. That will keep them contained for the moment. First, we need intel.”
“Officer, status report,” Derek asked the nearest ‘sarian who wasn’t actually firing her gun at the moment. She had a fixer on her left arm, so I guess he figured she had to be relatively clear-headed. The name stitched into the rank path embroidered onto her left sleeve was ‘Drakela Sanguinas,’ which was the vampire equivalent of Jane Smith.
The vampire looked at him through her thick goggles—the sun was coming up—and demanded “Blood and shadow, who are you?”
“Reinforcements. Call MC if you want. Now I need a status report. What can you tell me?”
Sanguinas glanced around. “Look, I’m sure someone else can—”
But Derek wasn’t in the mood to pussy-foot around. So he used the tried and true method of getting a soldier to take you seriously. “ATTEN-SHUN!”
“Sir!” She saluted instantly. She caught herself quickly, but gave the report anyway. “Just under a hundred hostiles. Seem to be screamers, as reported, and show no signs of weapons.”
“What are their powers?”
“I don’t know about powers, sir, but they’ve got huge jaws—I mean like shark big. And they’re using ’em pretty well. Anyone who survives turns into one of them.”
“Ingenious,” Laura whispered. “The other ones didn’t bite unless they had no other choice, limiting how fast the disease spread. But if their power requires biting, then it will force them to use it more often, spreading the virus like wildfire.” She looked up. “If we don’t contain this, it will quickly become an epidemic.”
Derek nodded grimly. “Agreed. Laura, stay with the ‘sarians, coordinate them. Keep the screamers contained. Ling, Akane and I will go in.” He turned to us. “I’m on point. Ling, rearguard.”
“Wait, hang on,” I protested. “I’m not willing to just blindly follow your orders—”
“Then stay here,” Akane said bluntly as she followed Derek into the fight.
I turned to Laura, and she shrugged. “He probably knows what he’s doing.” I sighed and followed Akane.
The ‘sarians let up their fire for a few moments, long enough for us to get to the biggest of the shops, a small grocery store. Derek ducked inside first, then waved us through.
“Remember, no killing unless absolutely necessary.”
Akane immediately sheathed her sword, but looked him square in the eye. “Derek, we’re outnumbered thirty to one. We can’t afford to pull punches.”
He returned her gaze levelly. “These are people—almost certainly curable.”
“We have no proof of that. If you tell me not to kill anyone, I won’t, but I don’t think we’ll survive this fight.”
There was a long, long pause, during which I became acutely aware that there was a screamer only ten feet away, behind one of the shelves and out of sight. At least the damn things were loud.
Finally, Derek looked away. “Fine. But we should take at least one alive for Butler and Clarke.”
Akane drew her sword again. “Agreed. Now what’s the plan?”
“First, Ling needs to block the door.”
I started. I had been kinda focused on the screamers searching for us. “With what? A cart of fruit?”
“With your powers.”
Oh. Right. Those. I ignored the pointed looks my companions were giving me, and concentrated on the entrance. With effort, I could feel the glass of the doors, the metal frames, and even the linoleum tiles. Beneath that was concrete, something I could actually control. I closed my eyes, and with a great grunt of effort, lifted the concrete.
It broke through the tiles quickly, flowing upwards like a tree growing at lightning speed. The doors shattered almost instantly, and the frames screeched as they were pushed aside. I finally stopped when the wall kissed the ceiling.
I nearly collapsed. I was completely exhausted; the wall was half a foot thick, ten feet wide and about as tall. I could already feel my reservoir replenishing, but that would take a minute.
That’s when the screamers struck.
I should have expected it; they were loud, but even if they didn’t hear it, my little display shook the entire building. The two dozen or so in the store swarmed in like a flash flood.
The vampire’s words about the screamers having shark jaws proved to be inaccurate. Their jaws were huge, yes, absolutely massive. But they were also clearly human, just heavily exaggerated. Human teeth and jaws, triple their normal size, but I could still identify molars and incisors and all those others I forget the names for. There were more than a few fangs too, of course. The vampires who forgot to get their shopping done before daybreak were turned as well.
Shark, human, vampire or mosquito—it didn’t matter. They were coming in a rush, and I was unarmed.
But Derek quickly threw himself in front of me, bolstering the defense with a large half-dome, like a big blue plastic shield leaking glowing azure mist. I couldn’t see Akane at first, but then one of the screamers collapsed as it’s head was severed from his body. She reappeared nearby, breathing heavily as she waited for her own reservoir to fill.
Another screamer leaped at her, but she was hardly defenseless. She slashed it vertically, causing it to scream in pain and flinch back, before taking advantage of the opening to remove it’s head. Blood fountained from the wound, dousing her in red.
“Akane!” Derek shouted. He expanded his shield suddenly, pushing the screamers back, before letting it fade and rushing to her side while they were disoriented. I followed.
“I’m fine, I’m not turning,” she promised. “We need to move.”
We fled as quietly as we could—not that it mattered, with those things screaming—to the opposite corner of the store, dodging zombies as much as possible. We ended up in the frozen food section, behind the meat counter, which somehow felt safe.
“Don’t let them bite you,” Derek reminded us. “We still don’t know if we’re immune.”
Akane looked down at herself, soaked nearly head to toe in blood. “Uh…”
“He was technically dead before the blood touched you, so that’s not quite proof.” Before we could argue, he held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I know, I know, but we need to be cautious. Ling, are you ready?”
I placed my hands on the ground and took a deep breath. I felt the concrete again, and with a grunt of concentration pulled it up, shaping it around my hands and forearms like boxing gloves. They were heavy, about two pounds each, but I could use my ability to help lift them, and I was strong for my size regardless.
I nodded to Derek. “I’m ready.”
“All right then. Akane, you go right. Ling, you go left. Neutralize—” Akane gave him a level stare. Derek glared right back “—neutralize them all. If you have to kill them to do it, then fine.” I didn’t say anything, but I knew I didn’t have the skills to fight these things and hold back. “I’m going to try and capture one.”
He pulled something out of his waist band—a long rope, wrapped around his waist. He uncoiled it quickly.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked. It looked like silk.
“Last night I called MC for it,” he explained. “Butler was already delivering some ammo for Adam, so it was no big deal.” He paused. “Which reminds me: There’s a chance Adam is here, infected. Don’t kill him. Go.”
Akane sprung forward quickly, me only a step later. I heard the screams from her direction change pitch, going from the emotionless background noise the zombies always emitted to the true cries of rage and fear.
But I didn’t have time for her. I had my own things to worry about.
I wasn’t as experienced a fighter as Akane or Derek, so I had to just go all out. I punched one of the screamers full in the face, with all the weight of the stone behind it, which worked pretty well. It’s face imploded with a sickening crunch.
I wasn’t ready for the next one. It leaped past my kill before I had a chance to recover from my swing, and tried to strike from my left side.
I brought up my hand quickly to block, but it just bit down with it’s giant maw. Bit down on a stone glove. That wouldn’t have been all that disturbing; the fact that it took a huge chunk out of it, however, was.
I yelped and stepped back, nearly tripped on some spilled cans. How do you fight something that can bite through stone?
Then my mind cleared, and I did a mental facepalm. The same way you fight anything, obviously: Avoid the dangerous part.
I dodged a second bite without any real difficulty, and punched it hard in the temple with my right rock-fist. It staggered, but didn’t fall, and I hit it again. This time it’s skull cracked, and it hit the ground.
I paused to repair my left rock-fist with concrete from beneath my feet before moving on. There were about thirty screamers here, and I needed to finish off fifteen or more by myself.
It wasn’t hard. In fact, the hardest part was remembering that they were people, victims. I moved through them like a farmer scything wheat; the same moves worked over and over again. They were too stupid to adapt to my tactics.
As I fought, my mind drifted. That may seem odd, but I was used to physical exertion from soccer, and good at distancing myself from it. I had only taken a single semester of boxing, but even those laughable tricks worked on zombies.
However, my mind wandered too far, and I stumbled a bit. The screamer I was fighting was quick to take advantage. I didn’t have time to raise my rock-fists, but I tried anyway. I didn’t do much, just made the floor under it’s feet tremble, but it was enough to trip it and give me a chance to counterattack. I didn’t waste the opportunity, and smashed it’s skull in.
With a thought, I cracked my gloves, letting them crumble to the ground. I only had a few screamers left, and I needed more practice.
The first one came from the left. I concentrated and brought a concrete fist up from the ground. It hit it in the stomach, doubling it over, and I wrapped it around the zombie like a snake, squeezing it with the sickening crunch of breaking ribs.
That was most of my power; I could feel my reservoir replenishing, but it would take time. So I fled back the way I had come, across the splattered bodies of screamers, with another zombie close behind.
I tripped it up, same as before, and delivered a skull-shattering kick as he tried to rise. I did get into AU on a soccer scholarship, after all.
Another came, from the right. I tried to bring up a single needle of concrete, to kill it with the least amount of effort, but another fist came up instead. As before, I couldn’t manipulate anything that finely.
But it knocked the creature off balance, and I took advantage, vaulting over the short pillar of stone I had created to give the zombie a great two-footed kick to the back. It was knocked to the ground and it screaming cut off for a moment, but it twisted around to try and bite me with that massive horse-mouth. I brought up a hand of stone to hold it’s head and stomped down hard on it’s skull.
That’s when I realized there was no more screaming from inside the store. Had we won?
I searched around, eventually finding Akane and Derek back at the entrance I had sealed up. Derek was sitting on the counter, eyes watchful for a surprise, while Akane sat on the floor with her legs crossed and her eyes closed, silently meditating, apparently on the sword across her lap. Despite her jeans and t-shirt, she looked like nothing so much as an old samurai in a dojo.
Her eyes opened as I approached, and she stood. Derek nodded in acknowledgment of my presence as well.
“We did a good job in here,” he said without preamble, “though we didn’t catch one alive. But there are more out there, and the ‘sarians can only hold them for so long.” He slid off the counter and gestured towards my concrete wall. “Ling, if you would.”
It was becoming easier for me; I parted the artificial wall like a curtain. We walked into the street, Derek leading, ready to confront another horde of zombies.
Behind the Scenes (scene 12)
I originally had a few paragraphs of Ling thinking about the gang, wondering what everyone’s roles were and so on, but it didn’t flow at all. I’ll pepper it in her later scenes, but its nothing the readers haven’t already figured out. Now, to the meat of this rant.
Powers don’t work quite the way you’d expect. There isn’t much I can say without spoiling, but there are a few things that will make the story more clear.
General powers are called powers or abilities. The proper name is actually songs, but its going to be a loooong time before you hear someone use that.
More specific than that are the talents, more accurately called instruments. These are the way the power manifests itself. For example, Derek’s power is to create solid force fields. His talent, however, is to create shields. Another with the same ability might have the talent for creating blades or bullets or what have you.
The “biters,” as the screamers in this scene are called, actually have morphing (think shapeshifting, but permanent unless reverted) as a power. But the first person infected had some interesting desires, and received the ability to enhance and enlarge the jaw as a talent. Now everyone infected with that strain receives the same talent—even though if things were allowed to progress more naturally, they would almost certainly have another talent. Or, more likely, another power altogether.