The dewy morning air held her attention, it was cool for once as the morning sun rose. Elizabeth had been singing, but as Sam sat down beside her at the small table, she just sighed. They had asked a long question. Sam lit a cigarette as they waited for her to answer, she sipped her day-break coffee and sighed long and hard.
Elizabeth: “I was sixteen when it all started. My parents died from the disease, my uncle and aunt took me in. They had a basement and we spent the next two years down there only coming up when we started to run out of supplies.”
She leaned forward against the table, gloved hands gripping the burning hot tin cup for comfort.
Elizabeth: “But it’s kind of weird, because sixteen was a weird age, you know? You get feelings and it’s hard to explain.
“I was down there with my aunt and uncle, and my two cousins. Michael and Sarah were about my age, twins, already super close and uh.”
Sam: “I think I get what you mean.”
She looked down at her coffee.
Elizabeth: “My aunt and uncle were good people, loving, caring. They never judged me, they treated me like their own daughter.”
Sam wasn’t entirely sure how this connected but, Ashley’s comments still stung. She bit her tongue, not even really sure enough to draw conclusions.
Elizabeth: “We’d go above ground for scavenge, met people, killed biters. Didn’t trust anyone though. Then one day my Uncle went out, but he never came back. So my Aunt went out, found him dead, but got bit. She died. Turned. I froze as Michael and Sarah had to kill her.
“Left our bunker and we joined a group of swaggers. A whole female group, but they let us all in. The kicked us out when they discovered I was sleeping with the leader’s daughter.”
Sam: “I guess you worked out how you felt.”
Elizabeth looked up at her and smiled.
Elizabeth: “Not really, I’m still not sure.”
Sam: “What happened after the swaggers?”
Elizabeth: “Me and my new girlfriend, and my cousins, we all found ourselves in Sydney. My cousins stayed in the city, doing whatever. My girlfriend got a job in requisitions, and the only way I could be with her was as a pathfinder. Well, only interesting job on offer at least.”
Sam paused for a moment, processing this new information. She put out her cigarette, the true burning question came to her.
Sam: “Wait, so, why are you so angry about the undead?”
Elizabeth: “Oh, uh, that’s a long story.”
Sam: “I’ve got time.”
Elizabeth: “No, I mean... I’d rather not talk about that.”
Sam: “Alright... so uh, you’ve got a lovely voice.”
Elizabeth blushed, just a little, raised their cup.
Elizabeth: “Uh, thanks.”
Sam: “What song was it?”
Elizabeth: “Oh, I um, I don’t remember it, or really how it goes but, it was my favourite before this all, uh, happened.”
They finally lifted the cup to their lips, blushing a little deeper.
Sam: “Sorry, I just, you don’t normally hear people singing when there’s no music around. It’s nice to hear someone not so held down by this place.”
Elizabeth put down her coffee, straightened their hands out.
Elizabeth: “I wanted to ask you about that.”
Sam: “Don’t. I don’t talk about that.”
Elizabeth: “Oh, o-okay.”
A long, cold silence. It was almost nice, the cool morning, the space between them. Chaste, modest, she lit up another cigarette.
Sam: “Sorry, I’m... not ready... to talk about it.”
Elizabeth: “Alright. Maybe one day we’ll share our stories.”
Sam: “Doubt it, but maybe.”
Another long silence, she ashed her cigarette, they finished their coffee.
Elizabeth: “Thanks, by the way.”
Sam: “What for?”
Elizabeth: “Letting me on your team.”
Sam: “No worries.”
Elizabeth: “I should go, I was meant to meet someone.”
Elizabeth pushed themselves up and neatly pushed the chair back in against the table before leaving. Sam watched her go, at least she knew a little more.
“Good to you took my criticism to heart.”
Sam: “Fuck off Ash.”
Ash: “That’d be too easy for you.”
Ashley rounded the table in front of her and took a seat.
Ash: “Something tells me I should enjoy this moment.”
Sam: “No serious Ash, fuck off.”
Ash smirked: “Or what?”
Sam looked at them, smarmy grinning fuck. She turned her attention back out at the base, at all the people starting to move now that the sun was actually starting to rise.
Sam: “Don’t you have a boyfriend to waste your time on?”
Ash: “Yeah, but Jo will wait.”
Sam: “I’ve never actually met any of your friends.”
Ash: “Yep. Business and pleasure shouldn’t mix, yeah?”
Sam: “So, I’m never going to meet them?”
Ash: “Not through me. Don’t want you getting jealous.”
Sam: “You know how being gay works right?”
Ash sighed: “You never fail to remind me. Really wish I had a friend to talk to this about.”
Sam: “Shame Flor is mute.”
Ash: “She tries, she’s got good taste. You two though.”
Sam: “I’ve got boring taste.”
Ash: “Try me.”
Sam examined the base before them, but the only one that caught her attention was Jess, who stumbled out to join them. Right on time.
Sam: “Maybe later.”
Jess raised an eyebrow.
Ash: “Hey Jess.”
Jess kissed Sam on the forehead, took a seat and lit up a cigarette.
Jess: “Morning. Should I be worried?”
Ash: “Nah, I just keep getting reminded how boring my friends are.”
Sam: “So, four more days and we can head out again.”
Jess: “Any orders yet?”
Sam: “Nope, looks like they’ve forgotten us again.”
Orders usually came around first thing in the morning, run by couriers before day-break, just to make sure people got them. Stuck to the front door usually, hard to miss.
Ash: “If you two are going to talk shop, I’ll hit the trail.”
Sam: “Have fun.”
Jess glared at her.
Ash: “Nah, it’s cool. I should go check in with Jo before they get upset.”
Ash: “Later lovers.”
Ash pushed up, and sauntered off. Jess was silent until Ash had disappeared amongst the crowds.
Jess: “Have you ever met any of their boyfriends?”
Sam smiled: “No, I have not.”
The day passed with nothing particularly interesting happening. She spoke a little more to Dana than usual, about their drinking. Played poker with Flor and Jade. Spent some time with Jess. Fell asleep in Jess’ arms.
Woke up, spent some time with Jess, still no orders. Sat around, drank, listened to Ash bitch about her perfect life. Played soccer with Flor. Lost four smokes in a bet. Spent some time with Jess. Fell asleep with Jess in her arms.
Sam jumped to her feet, pulling every muscle in her body as she forced Jess to the floor. The klaxon, the screams, call to arms.
Sam: “Up! Up! Everyone up!”
Jess hopped up, rubbing their neck, she pulled on her clothes, Ash was already dressed. Flor scrambled to pull on pants. Most of them ran outside half-dressed and shoe-less. No time, no time to stop and lace up boots.
Sam: “Ai, Eli, bring the boots.”
Sam grabbed her own, struggling to pull on her shirt as she ran for the armoury. The entire base was scurrying. Civilians locked down, the military staff sprinted to their positions. Guards, garrisons, already on the walls, pathfinders rushing to get armed. The Base Commander waved them in as they arrived. Sam was ahead of the rest, and the requisition team had already gathered their equipment. A well oiled machine, except for one thing.
Aashi: “For fuck sake, Samara, put on some pants.”
Sam: “Just tell us what’s happening.”
Aashi: “Commonwealth, we don’t know how many of them.”
Her heart stopped, bile stained her mouth. She pulled on her pants.
Aashi: “Don’t go doing anything stupid.”
She pulled on her boots. The rest of her squad was gearing up.
Aashi: “We don’t know why they’re here, they’re too far east to be here to fight. No-one here starts shit, got it?”
Sam: “What, you think they’re here to negotiate?”
Sam grabbed her rifle, loaded it, cocked it.
Sam: “There is no negotiating with fascists, comrade.”
Aashi: “If you do something, I’ll see you court-martialled.”
Jess grabbed her shoulder, a firm and uncomforting grip.
Jess: “Come on, Sam, you know you won’t endanger all these people.”
Her patrol was fully armed, dressed and ready. She examined the room, saw the terror on people’s faces. Even on the faces of the other patrol as they still scrambled to get ready.
Sam: “Orders, commander?”
Aashi: “Secure the gate. When something happens, I want you there.”
Dana: “You’re expecting something to happen?”
Aashi: “I’m not an idiot. I know there is no negotiations, but it doesn’t mean they’re here to kill us.”
Sam gestured to her patrol.
Sam: “Alright, you heard her.”
Sam led them out, jogging down the main road and around the corner to the massive metal gates. The stairs leading up on the western side had already been barricaded and were guarded by two young girls with makeshift pistols. A small dead-zone sat between the first of the gates and the barricades that had been erected. Little more than five guards were positioned along the main approach into the heart of the base, where the markets were. On the eastern flank down the road from where they came, one guard with a reinforced cricket-bat. A garrison squad, militia in everything but name.
Sam: “Ash, work out which one of these soldiers is the leader and send them to me. You’re in charge. Jess, Flor, come with me.”
Ash offered a sarcastic salute, walking off to talk to the first of the garrison-soldiers. Sam gestured for Jess and Flor to follow, over to the stairs on the eastern side of the gates. Climbing the metal staircase was fraught enough, but standing on top of a wall several storeys tall, about as wide as two soldiers with nothing but a flimsy feeling railing to stop the stiff morning breeze from pushing you down into a black abyss. The dead-space between the gates could not have been more bone-chilling. Then she turned her gaze out onto the edges of the base. It was early morning, just before the sun was rising, the perfect time for an attack. They didn’t have the kinds of lights the bigger bases in the city had, that flooded the base of the wall, to reveal every face charging at the fences. But they didn’t need it.
Jess: “Oh there is no fucking way they’re here to talk.”
She could feel her heart float, her chest tightened around it, constricting it into a diamond. Her body hollowed, throat dried. Across the edge of the base’s clearing, little under a kilometre out from the base of the wall. Thousands of black figures stood under burning effigies.
Sam almost smiled, though what this was terrified her even more.
Sam: “At least it isn’t the Commonwealth.”
Flor grabbed Jess by the shoulder to turn them, to make them look.
Flor: “Too many... burning... trick.”
Sam: “I don’t know if I want to think what this means... but it isn’t human.”
Jess: “The stories...”
Jess ran to the edge of the wall, and waved at Jade, the only one looking up. She tried to call out, but they were too far away. So instead she sprinted down the stairs, down to warn everyone. Her feet nearly slipping on the gravel as she and Jade rushed to warn the commander. No-one had realised, because the fire hid the bodies, cast only thousands of shadows, burning too bright to let those upon the walls to see for themselves.
Sam glanced to Flor, who was double checking their rifle, she pulled a cigarette from her pocket - appropriately the last one left. And she lit up.
Sam: “Well, Flor. We’re fucked.”