We sat in silence for the rest of the drive up to headquarters. Ruth helped the SUV in front of us when she got the chance by shooting off a couple of zombies that were still clinging to the vehicle. I could see in the window and all six girls within seemed to be unharmed. The last two vehicles had joined with us, but we had not taken the time to return their passengers, so they contained only the two girls who had been on the turrets when we left the convoy.
The rain had all but ended when we reached the large garage doors on the south side of HQ. We waited in front of them while the large steel door opened and then we drove the SUV’s onto the platform just beyond the door. Before the door had fully closed behind us I could feel us being lifted above the street. The elevator rose quickly and we finally exited our vehicles. Ron stepped out of the driver’s seat to help Steph fill the SUV with gas from the cans in the trunk. The rest of us stood on the lift platform and stretched. Ruth had left the turret and was clinging to me. I stroked her hair softly as I watched one of the girls who had been in our car walk back to her own. The two girls from the other full SUV joined her and they embraced with their gunner before one of them got into the driver’s seat.
“We would have made it here without getting gas, it seems.” Steph looked to the last SUV and the lone girl inside of it.
This girl got out of her vehicle and looked around. She walked to our car and the other girl we’d been carrying stepped out to her.
“Elly, where are…” The girl stopped and began to cry when she looked to Elly’s face. Elly hugged her and then the other girl turned to return to her vehicle. Her shoulders were slumped and I could see her body still shaking slightly from the gasps as she tried to stop her sobs. Elly turned back and came over to me.
“One of the zombies you shot nearly got me: you saved my life.” Ruth stepped away from me and Elly hugged me. I closed my arms around her slowly but could not look down at her. She moved away from me again, “Jenn was our driver, and with Abby gone as well my group is pretty much gone. Shia will go to Car Two, but I was wondering if I could join yours.”
Steph answered from the SUV, “Welcome to Car Four.”
There was a service for Abby and Jenn. Elly and Shia spoke about them and a few others stepped up to make remarks. Abby was young: just turned 20. This was her first mission. Jenn was the driver of Car Three and had been one of the original members of our forces, going back to before the infestation.
After the ceremony, we all went to dinner, but I was separated from my group when another group met us in the hallway. I didn’t try to catch up to them; I could still see Jenn’s face before she died.
“I heard your platoon lost a couple today, I’m sorry Lin.” The vision passed for a moment and I turned to the voice.
“Thanks Tom. It happens.”
“I know.” He looked down to the floor for a few seconds while we walked. “Do you want to eat with me today.”
“Yeah, sure.” We grabbed our dinner and sat down together at an empty table. There were a lot of tables in the cafeteria: far more than we all could fill. There were usually a lot of empty or mostly empty tables and I could never really tell if the room was getting emptier over the months. I looked down at my food before my eyes could start counting heads.
“It’s getting colder out.” Tom was looking at me and hadn’t touched his food yet.
“Yeah.” I kept eating and didn’t catch his gaze.
“It really sucks out there.”
“What did you see out in the field this week?”
“Buildings, zombies, and soldiers. You?”
“Around here we’ve been seeing a lot less zombies, but more soldiers unfortunately. I’ve watched a couple groups come in recently.”
“We killed a soldier this morning.”
“Oh shit. They’re not gonna be happy about that.”
“I guess not.”
“Wait… How far away from here was the soldier you killed?”
“There was a whole group of them, probably about 20 miles away.”
“That was probably a new squad; they’ve been coming in from all over the place. But patrols around here usually don’t travel far from their HQ.”
I laughed through the food I was chewing. The soldier’s HQ was in the basement of our HQ. They’d moved in after us, but never seemed interested in exploring the rest of the building. We hadn’t been sure how they got into there, but we knew from drawings we’d found that there was a massive, multi-level basement beneath the building. It and the front entrance are separated from the rest of the building and we could never get the front door open, so we’d left it alone. We would watch every day as they passed through and we had guards that watched a lot of their patrol areas, but we’ve always let them be. They weren’t usually so kind to us, but they had far larger numbers and never figured out where we were so we didn’t want to start any wars.
A long time ago we’d seen a few squads patrolling near our elevator, which was on the opposite side of the building from their entrance, so we’d fired upon them to scare them away. We’ve done it a few times since then and they seem to think that we believe the garage is their main entrance so they posted mannequins and dummies in windows around the area. We would fire at these every once in a while and they left us alone ever since.
“So we should’ve killed them to keep them from getting here?”
“Actually…Since radio communication went to shit, I bet nobody even knew they were nearby. You could have eliminated them and their HQ would have never caught wind of it.”
“So should I kill groups out in the field?”
“I dunno about that. It doesn’t seem right. Plus, they do wipe out a lot of zombies.”
“They tried to wipe out my platoon, too, Tom.”
“I don’t know. Then maybe.”
He started eating and we were silent for a while, but he kept looking up at me.
“Is there something you want, Tom?”
He gulped down the food in his mouth and stammered out, “W…well the last time you were here I thought we hit it off pretty well and I… I thought…”
“Do you want to fuck again, Tom?” I looked up at him now and his eyes dropped to his plate this time.
“Yes, Lin, I do.”
“That’s all you had to say, Tom. But not tonight. I just, I just can’t tonight.”
“I understand, Lin…”
“I’ll meet you at your room tomorrow night.” I stood and walked away before he could reply. I was too tired to keep talking to him. I put away my empty plate and left the cafeteria.
Elly was waiting for me outside of my door.
“Hey.” She looked a little better and I felt happy to see her.
“Ron explained to me that when someone saves my ass in Car Four, something is expected of me to say thanks.”
I smiled at her and leaned forward. I turned the door handle with my left hand, guided her into the room with my right hand on her waist, and kissed her while I closed the door behind us.