They gave Lindsay back her armor and rifle, though without Katie’s help, she had trouble remembering how it all went together. She refused to ask for help from any of these people though and managed the forearm, shin and chest armor after a short time. It felt heavy and awkward, like she’d forgotten to tighten something. It was too long in the chest and she briefly wondered if they’d given her Katie’s armor. She hoped they did.
The rifle she knew better. The little carbine was light but still heavy enough to feel powerful in her hands. A tactical strap went over her head and under her arm, holding it ready to use but also secure if she needed her hands. With the squeeze of her finger, she could have killed those men at the radio station with this weapon. Instead she’d stabbed one to death and crushed the throat of another. She’d done that. Lindsay Volk, Mount Hope High School Senior had killed two men brutally and without remorse. That lack of feeling still scared her. It was like something inside of her was numb and cold.
“Ready to go?” a gruff voice said behind her. She turned, seeing the man called Holden standing there in the doorway of the armory. He wore an all black uniform, body armor, and helmet with a strange goggle-like protrusion on it. Only the patch on his shoulder was white, though a black half-circle broke the white field in half. A black sun rising over a white field. She wondered why they’d chosen such an ominous name. Black Dawn.
It sounded evil.
“Yes,” she said, finding her heart pounding. She didn’t know this man, or any of them here, but they said they could help Katie. If she had to fight again, if she had to kill again, she’d do it if that meant saving her.
Pulling her hair into a knot at the nape of her neck, she tugged a knit cap over her head and ears before following Holden outside. It was dark but the lights of a helicopter lit up the area. Its rotor blades were already turning, sucking in the air pressure that made Lindsay’s ears want to pop. The sound was loud, like a giant’s footsteps. Wap-wap-wap-wap.
Holden helped her into the helicopter’s passenger station and she saw six other men and women sitting in there already. They all wore the same uniform and gear that Holden wore except for the helmet. Instead of a helmet they wore simple baseball caps. There was something odd with their eyes. They were like a cat’s, glinting in the light. The lone female among them, a dark-skinned girl with a shaved head, smiled at Lindsay. The smile looked almost feral and it made Lindsay look away.
Holden strapped her in and the helicopter took off a minute later. The sensation of lifting off made Lindsay queasy, having never been in a helicopter before. It felt like it was fighting against gravity to stay aloft, flying only because it managed to avoid crashing. She tried to imagine other things, shutting her eyes tight against the constant vibration of the aircraft’s engines and rotors.
Someone put a pair of tight-fitting headphones on her ears and she looked up. Holden had a similar pair on his head, replacing his helmet. He tapped one side of the headset.
“Can you hear me?”
His voice felt like it was coming from a long way away, modulated by the headset. Lindsay nodded
“Good. Listen, there wasn’t enough time to brief you properly so we’re going to do it now. I don’t know if you can actually shoot that gun or not, but it doesn’t matter. Those soldiers there will do all the shooting, if there is need. Understand?”
Lindsay once more nodded.
“Good. We’re picking up a woman, a Doctor Collins. She was part of Kurama’s research team. She’s one of the only people alive who knows how this shit was made. We’re going to rescue her and bring her back to the compound. Our intelligence tells us that she’s holed up in an old Kurama facility southwest of here.”
“Okay,” Lindsay said, unsure if Holden could even hear her. Her headset had a microphone but she wasn’t sure if she had to hit a button or something to make it work. Holden gave her a small smile.
“We’re bringing you along because you’re going to be a lot friendlier-looking than we are. Tell her who you are, about your friend and tell her that Christopher Fox is with us.”
Lindsay’s eyes widened. A sudden feeling of unease boiled its way into her gut. They had Katie’s dad? Why didn’t they tell her? Why wasn’t he with Katie? Why was he there?
“We’re doing everything we can for his daughter, for you friend, Lindsay. He’s a very important part of our organization here. He was injured though, so he couldn’t be here. Only recently did he tell us about you. That’s why we came to get you.”
“You came to get me?”
“At the Radio Station. He said you might be there.”
Katie did say that her dad told them to go to the radio station if he wasn’t back in time, so that made sense. What didn’t make sense to her was how they didn’t recognize her or Katie. How they hadn’t called her by name. It felt like a kidnapping, not a rescue. Not that she’d ever had much experience with either one.
“Is he going to be okay?” she found herself saying.
“Depends on how fast we get Doctor Collins. I know you want to help your friends, so Mister Fitzpatrick wanted to give you this chance. He knows what it’s like to lose someone. So do I.”
Holden turned his head towards the open sides of the helicopter, but something about the action felt fake, like he was acting. It was too dark to see his face, or his eyes, but something about his body language felt like a lie. She’d seen it so many times with her dad.
When she swept her gaze back over the other soldiers, they all eyed her like wolves, their eyes glowing faintly in the darkness. That’s when she realized what they looked like.
Their eyes weren’t like a cat’s, but like the Infected’s.
The flight lasted two hours. She saw the forests give way to suburbs where manicured lawns and big houses sat abandoned. It was an eerie sight, seeing the world for what it was: dead and silent. Packs of Infected were spotted from time to time. They would look up at the noise and some would run after them for a time, but the helicopter was too fast. Lindsay watched the soldiers when this happened. It was the only time they stared out the open sides of the aircraft, like they were listening.
As they neared the outskirts of a small city, its tall apartment complexes standing like shadowy figures against the night sky, Holden tapped her on the arm.
“Touching down in a minute, best get ready.”
She removed the headset and checked the rifle the way Katie taught her how. There was a round in the chamber, safety was on, and the ammunition clip was secure. She adjusted its weight, ran her finger along the trigger guard, and swallowed the fear that rose within.
The helicopter touched down on top of a building with a flat roof and the six soldiers piled out first. They held their guns at the ready, heads swinging back and forth, searching for threats. Holden pushed the strange goggles down in front of his eyes and stepped out after, holding a hand for her to take. She did and he helped her down onto the roof. It was so dark, she had trouble seeing where they were going. Clouds had rolled in over the last half hour of their trip, covering the moon and stars.
Holden kept one hand on her as they made their way across the roof. Lindsay made out the outline of a roof access door. There was a soft bang and creak of metal on metal, then they were hurrying inside.
“It should be four levels down,” she heard Holden whisper, though to who she wasn’t sure. They went down and down and down, the stairwell seemingly never ending. She never spoke, too afraid to make any noise. Occasionally she heard the hiss and moans of infected but they never encountered one in the stairwell.
Three floors down they halted.
“Stairwell is blocked,” the female soldier said in a hissing voice. “Have to go through the building.”
“Stack up,” Holden said and pushed Lindsay gently back up the stairs. The soldiers moved ahead of them. She couldn’t see where they were or what they were doing, the stairwell had no light. She’d only managed not to trip by holding onto Holden.
There was a creak of a metal door, then footsteps of boots on carpet. Holden guided her down the stairs and through. The air turned from stale to fetid and she fought to keep from coughing. It smelled like rotting meat and stagnant water. Ahead of her, she heard the gasping croak of Infected.
“Three,” a male voice said that wasn’t Holden’s.
“On it,” the female soldier said. Footsteps, then something soft and wet, like driving a metal pole into mud, and finally a thud of something heavy onto carpet.
Lindsay was dragged through the room. On the floor, just inches from where her boots passed, lay a corpse. It was a woman in a lab coat, her face half rotted away.
“Door is secured,” the female voice said again. “We’re going to have to go down through the floor, sir.”
“Do it,” Holden said.
Ten minutes passed while they prepared to do whatever they were doing. She knelt beside Holden, the only light cast by the strange green glow of his goggles. The soldiers didn’t seem to be bothered by the darkness, moving as if they saw perfectly fine. Lindsay’s fear rose. It meant something but she couldn’t piece it together.
Then someone made a choking sound.
“Sir, Four is losing it.”
“I’m fine,” a male voice began but soon made a coughing, gasping sound. It reminded Lindsay very much of the dead.
Holden left her side and in the light of his goggles, she saw him stand over one of the soldiers. He pulled his pistol and shot him in the head. The shot had been silenced, but loud enough to make Lindsay fear what had heard it.
“Carry on, we’ll talk to the doc about this later,” Holden said and returned to her side.
Lindsay stared where the dead soldier lay. What just happened? Why had Holden shot him? She began to shake, her hands gripping the rifle so tight her joints hurt. Then Holden put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, hard. She shut her eyes and held her breath until the shaking stopped.
There was a few moments of silence before whatever the soldiers were doing continued. Finally, someone said it was done. They moved away again, retreating to the doorway and someone whispered a countdown.
The sound that followed reminded Lindsay of an egg boiling and spitting on a frying pan mixed with the pop of a cap gun. A few moments later a crash of wood and debris followed. Hissing and moaning and screaming erupted from below.
“Take care of that,” Holden said and the soldiers moved forward. When Holden and Lindsay followed, she saw the edge of the floor where a hole had been blown. Below them was utter darkness. More wet sounds, but she knew it now: knives stabbing into flesh. The soldiers were killing the undead.
And the undead weren’t fighting back.