Death's Empire in the Steel City: Finding Home

Seth awoke to the clatter of teeth and the snarls of his cell neighbor. Sometime during the night, the poor bastard changed and now fought desperately against the makeshift bars that separated Seth from the undead. Seth inched towards the far wall as the hastily soldered bars bowed and waned against the raw strength of the hungry undead monstrosity.

For a moment, Seth became concerned that the bars would give and he would be mauled and turned by this unknown man, but the room door swung open and Ingomar entered with a strange pistol in hand. The pistol barrel was long and fatter than a typical sidearm. A small silver canister stuck out the side and a gauge measured the gases contained therein.

“Son of a bitch.” Ingomar groaned. “Get the admissions squad in here. I want to know what asshole forgot to check for wounds on that guy we picked up near the point.”

Ingomar walked over to the cell and drew the attention of the undead. He rushed over to the door and frantically clawed through the bars with a fury in its eyes Seth could hardly describe. Ingomar lowered the pistol against its head and pulled the trigger. Seth plugged his ears waiting for the ear popping bang, but it never came. Instead the sound of muffled air and the slump of his now for sure dead friend as it hit the floor.

“Sorry about that Seth, but now you know why we quarantine all new comers. Can’t be too careful and our security is a bit lax anymore.”

Ingomar opened the door and gestured for Seth to join him. The two men left the holding area and entered a central monitoring station. A dozen or so men and women scrambled around pointing at monitors and frantically racing back and forth barking out orders and venting frustrations.

“What’s going on? Where are you keeping Ryan?” Seth asked as he eyed a woman who had just finished berating a young cadet over what he supposed to be a downed communications line.

Ingomar grabbed Seth’s shoulder and tucked him into what used to be an employee lounge area. Old faux leather chairs, a broken television set and even a corkboard with the last day’s company news was there. A gentle but firm reminder to wash your hands after using the restroom. Little good that did when the undead started taking over. Seth actually had to think when he last actually washed his hands in water that he could remotely consider clean.

The two men sat down and Ingomar poured two glasses of whiskey from his flask.

“Lucky to be alive I suppose. Your friend Ryan had a wound on his thigh that he couldn’t explain.” He sipped on his whiskey, a young bourbon made post Rising, and winced. “If the docs hadn’t come and tested his blood he’d up like that bastard in the cell next to you. Sorry again about the accommodations.”

Sipping on the bourbon, Seth nodded and quietly prayed his thanks for Ryan’s safety. He knew Ryan only as the man from after the world ended, but he liked him all the same. When Seth struggled through the scraps of society, with no family or friends, just hoping to survive, Ryan saw it fit to help him out. Ryan was a prepper before the Rising. A paranoid man set on the belief that the world would end during his lifetime. A bunker, food, weapons and anything else a person might need to survive. Not only was he a prepper, he prepared for the correct end times.

He prepared for an undead apocalypse.

Another sip from Ingomar and the sergeant continued. “Listen, there is something else I need from you. You know the city?”

Seth nodded as he drank again.

“One of our commanders, actually the commander, went out on a mission to Mercy to gather medical supplies to heal our dwindling ranks. No amount of armor or fighters are good if you don’t have trained bodies to use them. Plus, our walls are deteriorating, and defense analysts are finding gaps. “

Seth grinned. “I suppose that’s why you didn’t kill me and Ryan?”

Ingomar nodded humorously. “The Authority made it a policy to round up scavengers and offer patronage to the former United States. When the federal government officially went silent, the Authority was born. If you weren’t inside our territory when that happened, then you were considered an enemy.”

“Pretty fucked up.” Seth said.

“That was the previous commander’s decision. When Garrett took over things changed. At first, it was great, but with all the issues mounting people are blaming him. Many of us realize that it’s just the nature of the state we are in and nothing he could do, but there’s something greater brewing. I’m afraid to be perfectly blunt.”

Ingomar stood up and stretched his back.

“Alright, let’s get you and Ryan suited up.”

Seth paused before polishing off his final sip of whiskey. “Suited up?”

Ingomar smirked. “Didn’t think you were just going to hang out here, did you?’

Set really hadn’t thought about what he was going to be doing now that he was in the heart of the Authority.

“I suppose not. What do you have planned for me and Ryan?” Seth asked warily.

“Let’s go get Ryan and we’ll talk on our way to the range.”

We saw Ryan hunched over a plate of powdered eggs and what looked to Seth like canned meat.

Maybe SPAM? He didn’t think anyone really at that crap anymore. He remembered hearing stories from his mother about eating fried SPAM and that it wasn’t too bad with just the right amount of ketchup. Judging by the look of the “meat” Seth doubted anything about it could be remotely enjoyable.

Ryan saw Seth and tossed down his fork.

“Christ man I thought they had killed you!” Ryan exclaimed embracing Seth. “You okay? They didn’t hurt you did they?”

“No worse for wear. You good?” Seth asked.

Ryan nodded and the two men followed Ingomar down several flights of stairs until they approached a door with a guard standing at attention by it. She carried an MP5 and a no bullshit grimace on her face. She saluted Ingomar and requested paperwork from the sergeant. After a few suspicious glances at Ryan and myself she knocked on the door and the heavy steel door swung open revealing a battery of turrets pointed right at us.

“Welcome to the armory. Apologies for the heavy security, but you can imagine what would happen if we just let anyone in here. Now, more importantly, what kind of experience do you guys have handling weapons?”

Seth and Ryan traded smirks.

“Well, I shot at an AR a couple of times at camp. Oh! And once I got to shoot a few machine guns at a range out at Vegas. It was for a bachelor party. That shit is awesome!” Seth proclaimed.

Ingomar rolled his eyes and turned his attention to Ryan.

“Shotguns and handguns. I used to hunt back before all this shit went down, but I ditched my 30-30 after I ran out of ammo. Traded it for some food.” Ryan offered.

Ingomar nodded his head sarcastically. “Alright. Shotguns it is until we can get you training on the assault weapons. Don’t need you kill my ass out there on accident.”

Ingomar gave both men a 12 gauge shotgun, shells, a bandoleer, a folding hunting knife and a basic first aid kit. The kit contained a bandage roll, a vial of antiseptic and a stitch kit. Each man was given a basic body armor set the kind created after the undead began to rise designed to minimize the chance of an infectious wound. The Return Virus, as it is called in the confines of the Authority, requires a fairly deep wound to spread. Bites are the main way it travels between humans.

The gun range was nothing more than a couple of stalls with hastily constructed targets down a range of no more than 50 feet. At the end of each stall hung a series of empty tin cans and burlap sacks stuffed with old clothing.

“It’s not much, but we ran out of real targets a little over a year ago. Paper is a commodity so we found it unnecessary to produce targets with a limited resource. Besides, we could just walk outside and start blasting at the dead. Speaking of which, we’re going on a smash and grab mission.”

“Smash and grab?” Ryan asked.

Pulling a map from his pack, he unrolled it on the stall and pointed to the tunnels leading through the hillside.

“We have a squad trapped in Mercy hospital. I wasn’t given the particulars of who, but I’m told it’s vital we find them and don’t worry it’s not just the three of us. We’ll be taking a company of veterans, but you guys know that area of the city better than we do."

He hiked up a pack and slapped a clip into his M4.

“Now, let’s get down to the street.”

Seth and Ryan check their shotguns and hefted their gear over their back. A day ago they were scavenging the street looking for canned goods and now, well now they were going out on a military mission that they probably had no business taking part in. But if they wanted a roof over their heads, food and of course safety from the undead, then they were going to have to learn quick.

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