Lindsay made a decision.
“You’re going to put me down right by the medical center,” she said, hefting the rifle to her shoulder and aiming it at the pilot. She couldn’t hear it when she snapped the safety off and knew he couldn’t either, but it felt like a finality to her. She’d had enough of this place, enough of being someone’s pawn, of being told what to do and how to do it. She wanted to get Katie and get out of here.
The pilot glanced once over his shoulder at her, his expression neutral, though she saw his cheek twitch several times. His hand stayed on the control stick, not moving for his gun at all.
“Take out your gun and toss it on the floor,” she said.
“I can’t, I’m flying the fucking chopper. If I do that, we could crash and that would end your little hissy fit pretty goddamn quick. What the hell do you mean you killed him?”
“He was bitten!”
For a moment she contemplated removing her restraints and getting the gun herself, but then she looked to either side and the vast empty air and decided against it. She’d made a decision. It wasn’t a good one, or an easy one, but she’d made it and she had to see it through now. It would just have to be from her seat.
Silence over the intercom made Lindsay keep her aim steady, worried the pilot was plotting something. She needed to get down to the medical center and get to Katie. Then what? How could she get out? They’d kill her.
Not if I have the cure, she thought. That thought made her wince. If they knew she had the cure, they would want it, demand it… need it. They all needed it. The world needed it.
For the span of a heartbeat, her mother was in the co-pilot seat. She was still dressed to go out, her skin mottled and torn, nails split and yellow. When she turned to look at Lindsay, her eyes were empty sockets, oozing blood.
Then she was gone.
“Kid,” the pilot said. “Kid, you still with me?”
Lindsay realized her weapon had dropped its aim, the muzzle now aimed at the floor. She quickly snatched it up, but the pilot wasn’t reaching for his weapon. She couldn’t see his eyes behind the lenses of his helmet, but she knew they were staring right at her.
“Yeah… yeah I’m here.”
The pilot turned his head back around and nodded. “You can knock it off with the Rambo shit. I’ll get you there. Fuck, it’s the only place to go. I never liked Holden anyway. To be honest? This whole fucking company is creepy as shit.”
“Those guys, the soldiers, they were Infected. On purpose.” Lindsay found herself talking, telling him everything she’d seen. The men, their eyes, how one lost it and tried to kill the others. She told him about Holden killing them, but she left out the cure.
There was silence for nearly a minute, then the pilot shook his head. “Fuck this place, kid. If there was another place I could drop you off, I would.”
“There’s a refugee camp in Geneva, New York,” Lindsay said. “My mother is there.”
Is she? Are they still alive?
“I heard about that. New Hope or something. The General wants us to go take it over. Did he tell you that?”
“No. He… he can’t!”
“To be honest? I don’t know what that psycho won’t do. Are you sure you want to go back to that place? I can find somewhere along the way, tell them you died or something.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because. We’re not all fucked up in Black Dawn. I signed on to protect someone, not turn people into goddamn zombies.”
Something about that statement stuck with her.
“Who did you try to protect?”
The pilot was silent again for a time. Lindsay waited. Something felt off about this, but she wasn’t sure what it was.
“A friend of mine, but I don’t think it worked. You’re her, aren’t you? Katherine Fox’s friend?”
Lindsay felt her heart seize with fear. What did he know? Why did he know?
“Who are you?”
“My name is Bill. Not sure what else to tell you. So what’s the story? Am I dropping you off?”
“No, take me back to the camp. I have an idea.”
Bill snorted. “Wanna let me know what it is? If you’re planning to go nova or something, I’d like a chance to bail out.”
Lindsay shook her head.
“I’m going to tell them the truth.”
“That might not go over well.”
“Maybe not, but they’ll have to listen to me.”
“Why is that?”
She reached up and pressed her hands to her breast pocket. “I have something they want.”
The helicopter crested the ridge and over the snow-capped trees, she saw the base perimeter. As they approached, her eyes widened. Infected were everywhere, crowding around the fence, scrambling to get inside.
“Well that’s not good,” Bill said.
“Will it keep them out?”
“Yeah I… what the fuck is going on?”
Lindsay turned her gaze away from the fence and tried to follow his helmeted gaze. There was a group of people in the snow, outside the medical building. One of them looked like…
Lindsay scrambled for her restraints but the pilot had already swung them in and over the fence, the helicopter maneuvering wildly enough to almost yank her out of her seat. Then it was circling over the scene below. She saw Katie, holding her dad. He was bleeding. There was another man down as well, with several people trying to help him. She saw a woman too, being held in the arms of someone else.
What’s happening? Katie!
“Shit, they shot him,” Bill said. “They fucking shot him.”
“Let me out!” she shouted. “Land or something!”
“Hang on, kid!”
The helicopter drifted away from the carnage, then set down. They hit an open patch of field next to the runway hard enough to jar Lindsay’s teeth, but she barely noticed. In a few seconds, she was out of her crash restraints and sprinting away from the helicopter towards Katie and her dad.
A shout pulled her up short. She paused long enough to see someone running from behind the medical center, followed by several others. That’s when she noticed they were Infected. They were screeching and howling, pouring in from somewhere along the fence.
She looked back and saw Bill waving to her, then looking back at the Infected. He was shouting something but she couldn’t hear him over the noise of the rotors and horde of Infected. She turned and ran towards Katie again. Behind her, the helicopter lifted off the ground once more.
People were already moving. Some pulled out pistols or aimed rifles. Gunfire erupted all over, tearing into the Infected as they approached. Lindsay didn’t fire back, wanting to reach her friend before they got to her.
“Katie!” she shouted. “Katie!”
Katie looked up, and for a moment, Lindsay’s heart leapt into her throat. She was alive. She was okay. Then she saw the mask of grief and pain on her face, the blood on her hands and face. She wore nothing but a thin hospital gown and it was covered in blood too.
Lindsay stopped a few feet away, momentarily stunned by the appearance. For the briefest of moments, she was worried that Katie had turned and that the blood was her own doing. Then she saw the bullet wounds in her dad’s body.
“Katie…” Lindsay began, but the howling of the Infected drew her attention back. She instantly drew her weapon to her shoulder again, prepared to defend her friend as best she could. Where could they run?
But Katie was standing now and walking towards them, her hands on a pistol that Lindsay hadn’t seen. She fired once, twice, three times. Each one dropped an Infected. Lindsay began to fire too, but not nearly as accurate. Two fell before her magazine ran dry.
With shaking hands, she managed to eject the spent clip and fumbled for another in her vest. By the time she loaded it, it was too late. The Infected were on them.
They were everywhere. Lindsay heard the screams of terrified new victims mix with their inhuman howls. The snow became drenched in blood. She could barely hear through all the gunfire. She had enough time to see Katie turn to look her way, reddened eyes opening wide before one tackled Lindsay to the ground.
This is it, this is how I die. It was the one thought that went through her mind as the weight of the Infected pressed her into the wet snow. The Infected was a big man, his mass alone enough to pin her down. His face was a ruin, dark skin gone ash-colored and ripped away from the bone in several places. His jaw still worked and lowered towards her shoulder.
In that moment, she looked passed him. Her mother was standing there in the middle of the chaos. The world was moving in slow motion, dirt and snow and blood whipping around her. She was looking off into the distance, pointing. North. Geneva. New Hope.
I’m not going to get there mom. I’m going to die right here. I’m sorry.
“No you’re not!”
In an instant, the world was back to being loud and fast and terrible. The Infected on top of her was pulled back, an arm around his throat. The voice she heard was not her mother’s. It was Katie’s, and she was struggling to pull the man off of her.
“Lindsay, help me!”
Lindsay drew her legs up to her chest and kicked at the Infected’s body. Coupled with Katie’s strength, it was enough to sprawl him to the side, where Katie put several bullets into his head.
Katie’s hand took hers and pulled her to her feet. Lindsay looked into her friend’s eyes as they paused for breath. They were bloodshot, glazed, and yet shining. They looked like the men from the helicopter.
Katie reached up, touched her on the cheek, opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again. Then she turned and began to walk away.
Lindsay reached out and caught her hand. Katie looked back over her shoulder, her expression grim. The Infected were still coming. Lindsay could see them beginning to overrun the soldiers that had come to help.
“I can hear them,” Katie said. “All of them. In my head.”
“The Infected. They’re calling to me. They came for me. For everyone here like me. I have to go.”
Lindsay shook her head and fumbled at her breast pocket, wondering where that injector was she’d taken. Was it in her cargo pocket? Her side pocket? She needed it. Katie needed it right now.
“No,” Lindsay said and realized she was crying again. No, she wasn’t going to let her go. Not now. Not when she finally had her back.
“It’s the only way to save you. My dad… he…”
Katie looked away, back to where her dad lay in the snow, unmoving. Lindsay thought of the Petersens, laying dead in the shelter. Of her classmates laying dead in the woods. Of her own family. Were they dead too?
The Infected were around them, she noticed. They had approached, gathering like a crowd come to hear some honored speaker. They eyed Lindsay with such terrible intensity but didn’t approach. It was like being near Katie kept them away. They weren’t hostile to her just like they hadn’t been hostile to the soldiers back at the facility.
“No, Katie, no don’t go. You can’t go, I can’t… I can’t…”
Lindsay reached out, entwined her fingers in the thin fabric of Katie’s hospital gown. She pressed herself against her back, the cold metal of her rifle between them. Katie’s skin was cool, yet heat was rising off it in waves. There was no gooseflesh to suggest she was cold.
“Yes you can.”
Katie turned and they were face to face, their foreheads touching. Lindsay closed her eyes. The gunfire, the screams, the death was all so far away right then. She was home.
“You’re so strong, I’m so proud of you,” Katie said and touched Lindsay’s cheek again, then slid it down to the back of her neck. “I love you, I love you more than anything. Ever since I left, and I wish, more than anything, that we could just… that none of this had happened. But it has to end, I won’t let it have you.”
Lindsay couldn’t say anything. Her throat was thick with emotion, her body shaking with happiness and despair and fear all at once. Her fingers clutched tighter to Katie’s gown, unwilling to let her go.
“No,” she managed to choke out.
“No! Don’t go!”
But Katie pulled Lindsay’s hands from her and walked away from her. Lindsay’s legs lost their strength and she fell to her knees. Through tears and anguish, she saw the Infected shuffling along with Katie. They were leaving. They were taking her away.
No, I won’t let you take her, she thought and pulled a vial from her pocket, retrieved the injector from where she found it in her vest, and primed it. Without saying a word, she caught Katie around the waist, pressed the injector to her neck, and pulled the release.
After, she didn’t remember rearming the rifle, or the Infected turning on her. The next thing she knew, she was firing into them. One after another fell as they reached for her. They were just a few feet away, coming ever closer. She fired without thought, mindlessly killing the things that were taking Katie from her.
Katie had stumbled and fallen. Lindsay wasn’t sure if she was sick or dizzy or hurt. All that mattered was keeping the Infected away. She was so intent on that that she almost didn’t feel the wind of a helicopter’s rotors behind her.
When she turned to look, Bill was there in the pilot seat, the helicopter barely touching the ground, waiting. In the back was a young man and the Major from the medical center. The young man hopped out of the chopper and came to her, pulling her to her feet.
“We have to go! The whole fucking place is overrun!”
“Get her!” she said, indicating Katie.
“Get her or I’m staying!”
They looked at one another for a long moment, then the young man turned and picked Katie up in his arms. Together, they rushed back to the helicopter. It lifted off the moment Lindsay’s boots were inside.
“Lin… Lin…” Katie whispered. Lindsay wasn’t sure how she heard her. Even when they shut the helicopter’s side doors the noise was deafening.
Lindsay reached down and took Katie’s hand. In one of the empty seats, the image of her mother sat with dead eyes filled with blood. Lindsay didn’t look away.
She’d made her decision.