June 14th, 2008
Apartment Parking Lot
Acting purely on instinct, Ryan whirled around with his fist curled.
Great, he thought as his weight shifted. One of Purdue's finest climbs from his tower of safety and doesn't even bother to have his weapon ready. I must've gotten distracted by the note and forgot to check the shadows for a lingering zed. Fantastic. His torso had spun and he was about to connect with what he felt was a pretty decent right hook, even if it was useless against a creature that didn't register pain. What an ignominious end. I didn't even make it past the front lawn, like I'm in a shitty Choose Your Own Adventure book. Sorry Jenny...so much for your knight in shining armor.
With little else to do but follow through, Ryan gritted his teeth and hoped for a solid hit. Instead, a hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.
Punch deflected, T.Rex looked up and saw one of the Fools clinging to the rope ladder. His wrists now free, he reached for a weapon in his pack. He'd learned his lesson and would not be caught off guard again.
"Beard!" Ryan hissed in the darkness. "What are you doing?"
"What are you doing?" he shot back.
"I have to go, okay? Take care of the others!" he whispered, turning away.
"Just come back for a minute, will ya? I want to talk about it!" Beard pleaded.
"It'll be easier if I just go now, okay? I don't want to drag this out. I have to go, now." T.Rex defiantly took a few steps away. Suddenly, a moan resonated from very close by and he leaped from the ground onto the lower portion of the ladder without pausing. "Orrrr we could talk for just a bit, how's that?" He scrambled up the ladder after his friend, still clutching his crowbar as his bravery and resolve started to fade.
Beard disappeared into the apartment as Ryan pulled the rope ladder up onto the balcony. T.Rex adjusted the straps on his backpack before gently easing the door open. "I'm only going to stay a few min-" he started, before dropping his words mid-sentence as he entered the apartment.
In the living room, Beard, Peace, Kamikaze, Cowboy, Angel Hair, and Rubble stood at attention, packs ready.
Ryan paused for several moments, speechless. He stared at the Fools, knowing that moments ago most of them were fast asleep. A few showed faint signs of fatigue, but none appeared hesitant or anything but resolute. He made eye contact with each one, and nobody moved or spoke.
Finally, T.Rex drew a heavy sigh and threw up his hands. "What I'm about to do," he began "is probably nothing short of crazy. I appreciate the show of support, but I don't expect any of you to follow me, and I think it's best if you all stayed here. I don't want any of you guys to get hurt, least of all because of some crazy rescue mission. I thought I had you guys fooled. Anyway, I'm going to go try and rescue Jenny."
There was a slight pause, before Kamikaze said softly, "We're with you, T.Rex."
Another pause. Ryan drew his heels together sharply and brought his hand to his brow, and smartly saluted the group. They returned the gesture.
"Alright," T.Rex said as the formation broke. "Let's make sure we leave redundant notes on the exits and table in case somebody finds this place while we're gone. Names, dates, and make sure it mentions a stop at Hillenbrand for Jenny before heading in a westerly direction. Also, let's make sure there's nothing we leave behind that's useful. However," he added "we have to carry all of this, so don't overload yourself."
The Fools scrambled around what had been their fortress and home for the past week, carrying out their instructions. Ryan rolled up his sleeping bag and stuffed his handwritten note into his pocket. No need for this sappy mess to be seen, he thought to himself. He also retrieved his rations and supplies from the cupboard when nobody was looking.
"Cellphone check," T.Rex called out. "On your person, separate from your packs, but powered OFF. I will not have our position given away by a vibrating phone." Each Fool confirmed. "Now, everybody head to the roof and get out your primary weapon. Beard, you do one last sweep and meet us up there."
They slowly filed into the back bedroom and helped each other climb onto the dresser, through the closet attic space, and into the musty attic. Even in the evening, it was incredibly warm, and the six of them carrying extra equipment and stooping to avoid the roof made things uncomfortable very quickly.
T.Rex suddenly felt very protective, and his mind was racing. "Avoid combat, always," he reminded them frantically, spewing out anything that came to mind. "Uh, cover up anything shiny or that might rattle. Stay quiet. Whisper, use hand signals like we do in practice. Don't go alone. Ditch your pack if you have to, nothing is worth getting tangled up with a zed. Uh, uh, aim for the skull. Keep an escape route."
With no more pearls of wisdom coming from his mind, he defaulted to reciting rules from the Zombie Survival Guide. "Rule 2, guys. They feel no fear, why should we? Rule 3 - Use your head: cut off theirs. Rule 4 - Blades don't need reloading. And definitely Rule 9 -"
Rubble, who had his own copy, finished. "No place is safe, only safer."
Angel Hair gently placed his hand on Ryan's shoulder. "Calm down, T.Rex. We've got it." Just then, Beard poked his head into the attic and clambered up to join them. He carried the rope ladder and carefully began fastening it to the floor.
"Just one more thing," Ryan said somberly to the group of Fools assembled before him. "I'm not looking for a Last Action Hero or anything. I just want to get my Jenny and get far, far away from this place, okay? If you find supplies or something, fine, grab them, but let's not get carried away with fighting or exploring anything we don't have to, right?" They nodded agreement as Beard flung the rope ladder out of the hole in the roof.
"Let's kick some ass!" Cowboy said, breaking the tension.
"Beard and Peace, you two go first and secure the landing zone. Give a pull on the rope when the coast is clear." T.Rex ordered, and the two of them grinned as they descended the ladder. A short while later, there was a tug, and Ryan ordered Kamikaze and Cowboy down next. Then Rubble and Angel Hair disappeared into the night.
He wasn't worried about the rope ladder - zombies couldn't climb. What he did worry about was what came next. There were over a dozen ways across campus to Hillenbrand, and the route he had in his head was a delicate trade off between the shortest path, the quietest, and the one with the fewest people pre-infection. While avoiding major roads. With sufficient cover to hide. Sounds like an engineering problem, he thought to himself. He could measure each distance, and then assign each route a coefficient of population...
Another tug at his feet snapped him back to reality. He gripped his crowbar tightly, determined not to repeat his earlier mistake. Grateful to have such supportive and caring friends, he vowed to do everything in his power to lead them decisively and effectively as long as it was necessary. As he started down the ladder, he reminded himself of something he always told Jenny: I'm an engineer, and I solve problems.
Current Word Count: 27,380