ZOMBIE DUSK: Book 1 Zone Defense
By Derwin Gonzalez
CHAPTER 2: New York, New York it's a hell of a town!
Barbed wire electrified fences and manned machine gun towers greeted us as we approached the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan. The gate was opened and an armed militia fighter waved us in. From there we were guided to intake where we stripped and a medical team examined us thoroughly for signs of possible infection. Even a deep enough scratch from a zee could pass the virus which is why I hated the way Max preferred engaging them in hand to hand. But no one could tell Max anything now that Connie was no longer around to rein him in. Once we passed inspection we took the tunnel in. All along the tunnel walkways militia kept an ever present guard. With most of the government's armed forces eradicating the remaining zombie hot zones in the abandoned states and in nations overseas security of the country's safe zones was left in the able hands of the civilian militia. Experts estimated less than 20% of the world's population survived the zombie near-apocalypse so you best believe the billion and a half of us remaining were a battle-hardened bunch. The victory was a hard fought and costly one with nearly every government on earth at one point or another forced to unleash weapons of mass destruction on their own population centers overrun by zombie hordes.
The convoy emerged from the underground on Manhattan's west side with the city amazingly intact before us. Except for the thousands of bicycle riders on the city streets replacing the pre-zombie era's mad gridlock of automobile traffic it was easy to watch the hustle and bustle of the mid-afternoon crowds go about their day and imagine it had all been a nightmare. But once you noticed the amount of firearms openly carried by the city's citizens and looked into the hardness of their eyes you realized the nightmare had actually been lived through.
The only reason the city hadn't been razed to the ground by the military in the early days of the war like other major American urban centers was post 9/11 New York's unparalleled emergency preparedness. When the Zombie Dawn broke and the population was endangered the city's evacuation protocol went into effect like a well-oiled machine. The city's populace was drained into several outlying refugee centers while the NYPD and National Guardsmen kept a vigilant rear-guard. But Manhattan's empty concrete canyons void of life held no interest for the conquering zombies. The hundreds of thousands of beating hearts seeking salvation in the refugee camps served as beacons for the starving zee hordes. With the harsh living conditions in the makeshift centers death by disease, hunger and murder were frequent occurrences. So it wasn't long before the camps were overrun equally from the zombie masses surrounding them and the z-virus spreading from within. Governments went underground and used their militaries brutally not only against the hordes but also against comprised areas of mass humanity to suppress the spread of infection. It was only after years of warfare that the United World governments gained the upper hand on the undead enemy. When the time was right the call went out for mankind's surviving wolf packs to come down from the hills, to emerge from the caves and return to the cities. Manhattan's population quickly rose to 3 million but the tragedy being those survivors were practically all that remained of the pre-war population of 50 million on America's northeastern seaboard.
We left the vehicles in the motor pool outside the Madison Square Garden Militia Command Center. I was to report to my superiors for a briefing while the rest of my unit took leave.
"Yo boss we getting together for drinks later right?" Enrique approached me with Lydia at his side.
"Hell yeah but let's just keep the party in mid-town Reek, downtown's like the fucking wild west right now."
"Whatever happened to living dangerously, boss?" Enrique asked.
"We already had enough of that earlier, let's focus on just plain living. Check you guys later." I said.
"Just make sure you give a girl some time to get pretty again, it's going to take at least a couple of hours to get this zombie mess off me." said Lydia as I turned to walk off. Enrique grabbed my shoulder, stopping me.
"What about ole Maxie pad he hasn't been real social lately, he don't even talk to me no more, all I get from him is an occasional grunt. Maybe you can invite him to come along?" He asked me.
" I don't think that's a good idea…" I told him.
"I definitely agree. Sorry baby I know he's you're boy and you guys went through a lot together but he gives me the creeps worse than any z-brain. Plus he stinks something awful too." Lydia added.
"Lydia you didn't know him before Connie died, that shit fucked him up. Hollywood, Max is the only family we got left and he needs us, we can't let him go through it alone." Enrique wouldn't let it go.
"You think I haven't tried. Max is doing what he needs to do right now. When he's ready he'll come around. I know it, Max is stronger than any of us. I gotta go command is waiting on me."
I stepped outside the garage and found Max putting air in the tires of his bike. I figured what the hell I'd give it a shot and approached him.
"Hey Max a bunch of us are going-"
"Save it." Max stood up and looked me in the eye. "You know I'm no good around people anymore."
"Max you have to start living your life again man…" I tried to reason with him.
"No I don't. I'm leaving boss, I'm signing up with the marines and going overseas into the Hot Zones."
"The hell you are, I need you right fucking here!" I barked.
"For what! There aint shit for me to do around here except think about what I lost! You know what keeps me from putting a bullet through my own head? Booze and killing zees, I love popping their brains so much it gets my dick hard." He pulled out his flask and took another swig. "But there aint no action here and the booze just aint working no more. Do you wanna know something else Hollywood? I think if I aint killing zees I'm going to have start killing the next best thing. You still think you need me around here?"
"You're just drunk…" I said, more of a half-hearted hope than an opinion.
"Yeah that's all that's wrong with me." Max smirked.
I watched him get on his bike and ride off headed south to his place downtown. Somewhat stunned by our exchange I crossed the street towards the Garden nearly stepping into a passing bicyclist.
I spent the next 2 hours being debriefed by command and reviewing the footage Lydia shot. We were already aware of the possibility of minor zee activity even this close to the metro area so no one saw any reason to be concerned. Just as the meeting came to an end and I rose to be dismissed Militia Commander Fuentes and our United States military liaison Lt. Col. Morton asked me to accompany them to the nerve center.
As always the place was abuzz with activity as techs and analysts coordinated city-wide militia activity via surveillance monitors and comm links.
"Hollywood you've been up here a few times over the years, notice anything different?" Commander Fuentes asked me.
"Yeah it seems like your surveillance is more focused on the city's interior than on its borders." I responded.
"Exactly and that's because yesterday's mini-horde notwithstanding in the near-future we expect the city's greatest threats to emerge from within its own walls."
"You're talking about human threats aren't you." I realized.
"With the constant influx of thousands of new arrivals each day the city is experiencing growing pains. As you know the new arrivals are brought to induction centers where they are properly assessed. Not everyone is ready for city life after ten years of living through God knows what out there." Colonel Morton wasn't saying anything I didn't know firsthand but I let him continue. "Some are so traumatized they require months of counseling to help with the assimilation process. Then there's the more extreme cases deemed too dangerous to be released into the populace, they're given the option to leave the city or to remain in holding centers that are practically jails. It goes without saying Hollywood that the security of the safe zone is our first concern."
"Most of the settlers coming into Manhattan Safe Zone are just what the city needs because after all these survivors have already proven themselves tougher, smarter and more resourceful than the billions who perished during the worst of the crisis years." Commander Fuentes added. "However not everyone accepted through has been able to make a successful adjustment to city life. Most of these troubled individuals have chosen to settle below 14th Street where the Militia maintains less of a presence. I know you are probably aware of what goes on downtown, Hollywood."
"It's the city's black market district Commander; basically an outlaw region where crime flourishes pretty much unchecked. Prostitution, meth labs, shit even military ordinance can be had for a price is what I hear. A place where violence is so rampant most civilians know to avoid it especially after dark; unless of course they're up to no good themselves." I told them.
"Well apparently that's what many of our fine citizens are up to these days because downtown is quickly becoming the destination of choice for people looking for a good time. With all the illegal revenue being generated below 14th Street gang warfare has broken out for control of the area. We think it's time the Militia put a stop to the madness once and for all. We plan to establish a second command center in Union Square Park and move in on gang territory. We want your unit to spearhead the operation." Colonel Morton informed me.
"It seems a bit extreme Col. I think just establishing a regular militia presence in the area and enforcing already existing laws would probably get most of these guys off the street corners without us going all gang busters and endangering civilians." Fuentes shot me a look as I spoke out to the Colonel.
"Let's be frank officer you're a bright guy you know what's at stake here don't you?" The Colonel proceeded to inform me. "Domestically the war is all but over. Now begins the return to normalcy and the long road to reconstruction. Manhattan Safe Zone was the federal government's first such zone and it still remains our greatest achievement out of the dozen or so now existing across the nation. In the near future we intend Manhattan to become the first City-State operating under the jurisdiction of the United States Government; if all goes well the other zones will follow suit." The Col. was getting to the nitty gritty of the matter.
"That sounds like a plan but what's that got to do with some whacked-out knuckleheads playing gangster downtown?" I asked.
"Because if it's a game they're playing they've gotten pretty damn good at it Hollywood." Commander Fuentes joined in. "They not only cater to the city's inhabitants but also to all the outlying settlements in the tri-state area from Brooklyn to Newark, Its big fucking business now."
"Don't get this wrong officer the federal government doesn't have any problem with people having a good time; after the hell we've all been through recreational distractions for the citizenry are absolutely necessary. But… reconstruction will be a costly endeavor and the staggering amount of untaxed revenues being generated downtown must be redirected into government coffers. We intend to implement a plan where we maintain and manage a safe and profitable downtown sector for the amusement of the citizenry. And I'm not talking merry-go-rounds my young friend…" The Colonel winked at me like we were in cahoots together. "We're talking about bars, clubs, sporting venues, red light districts, and casinos. If we can succeed (and with the militia's help there is no reason we shouldn't) we intend this to be a model for all other safe zones to follow. So I take it you're on board?"
"I'm a militia man Colonel; I've never had any problem following orders." I didn't hesitate to say. Fuck it I figured, it's the same as it ever was, back to business as usual. Isn't that what we all wanted anyway?
"That's a good man. All right gentlemen it's been a long day I think it's time I retired to my quarters." He stood up and exchanged handshakes with us." But we'll be meeting again soon enough."
Then he was out the door. I looked at Commander Fuentes without expression.
"Aint that some shit?" I asked him.
"It certainly is." He answered. Before our discussion could continue an alarm sounded. A militia officer burst into the room.
"We've got alarms ringing downtown. There are reports of major gang violence erupting in the West Village, they're talking about multiple casualties sir." He said.
"Did you get a drone over there?" The commander asked him.
"Yes sir right after the first alarm but it got shot down a couple of minutes ago." He explained.
"Let me see the footage." The commander ordered.
The drone's grainy last images came up on the screen, right over what looked like West St. in the heart of Boys Town. I could make out a bunch of gang bangers wearing Rainbow Brigade colors firing shots at a speeding van. After putting nearly a block's distance between them the van suddenly stopped. It's driver flung open the cargo door and jumped out landing in a crouched position. The hooded figure was holding an M-16 with a grenade launcher attachment and then he fired. As I watched the soundless recording I could imagine the blooping sound as the grenade was propelled out the launcher's tube. It was a sound I knew all too well. I watched the grenade land in the midst of a half dozen startled rainbow boys. I winced as it exploded tossing them violently about the street, the shrapnel ripping through their flesh worse than any zee could. The remaining gang members scattered. The deadly van man opened fire with fully auto bursts from the assault rifle effortlessly picking off another four of them. He jumped in the vehicle but before he sped off he leaned out the driver's window and aimed his rifle right at our screen and opened fire taking out the drone; the image turning to snow as the recording ended. As horrified as I was when I realized the shooter's identity I still had to admit it was an impressive display of shooting prowess on Max's part.
I thought back five years ago when we first came into the city, Max, Reek and I, leading a few dozen other survivors who had packed with us over time. We were like wild dogs living on the fringes but when we saw the militia officers at the city gates with their fatigues and combat boots, packing their high powered weapons we signed up as soon as we were allowed. Max proved an adept with the military hardware. I clearly remember him during a training exercise skillfully using the grenade launcher to bloop grenades through the third story windows of target buildings. And if that weren't enough to convince me, the cargo van sealed the deal. It was the same van Max salvaged from an Avenue D vacant lot when he first moved downtown.
"Jesus, do you see what we're dealing with Hollywood? Not for nothing but that guy's definitely ex-military." Commander Fuentes correctly surmised but I wasn't about to confirm it just yet.
"Sir we might have an idea on what just went down over there tonight." An intelligence analyst spoke up.
"Well spit it out already." Fuentes said.
"For the last few months we've received some complaints from Boystown pimps about a ghost van making the rounds and snatching their rent boys right off the stroll never to be seen again." The analyst explained. "It looks like the Rainbow Brigade finally caught up with this mystery van and came up on the losing end of the confrontation."
I shook my head with disbelief. I could almost see Max's madness and blood lust driving him to go rogue vigilante in a misguided attempt to clean up the city after Connie's senseless murder but a serial killer in a cargo van preying on gay prostitutes? It boggled the mind.
"This is insane! So now we got some kind of Jefferey Dahmer meets Seal Team Six guy running around downtown too?" An exasperated Fuentes asked.
"I doubt it's anything like that; probably just a rival gang trying to hit the Rainbows where it hurts. Your typical gang warfare shit; it's been bubbling up all year long." The gang intell officer surmised.
"Any idea who might be responsible?" I asked curious to hear his take on it.
"Could be any one of those gangs. The Bowery Boys and Girls Club have been known to pack heavy artillery. The Warriors of Christ obviously have lifestyle issues with the Rainbows. You know, look at the video the hooded shooter's gender isn't even clear yet. "He" could be a "she" for all we know. So it could be a lesbo/homo beef. Many of the Alpha Chix on Avenue A are ex-military and they've been battling for a long time with the Brigade over the Union Square drug trade, the list of possibilities is longer than Broadway sir."
The discussion went on for a while, getting nowhere. The whole time my mind racing, I had to get out of there. I stood up to leave.
"This is all very interesting commander but my unit is waiting on me. Were about to hit the Eastside bars and embark on a legendary drunk on, possibly pick up some ass too." I told them.
"What about this West St. mess? This is exactly the kind of shit the Colonel was talking about."
"What about it sir? Just keep doing what you've been doing; send some officers down there, make out some reports and file them under who gives a shit." I answered him a bit more aggressively than I intended. The room suddenly grew very tense.
"Just like that Hollywood?" said the commander.
"Hey until you've got me and my unit set up in that Union Square command center with all the resources I need to really engage the enemy keep me out of the petty street shit. The way I see it until we get this operation rolling the more they slaughter each other the easier they make my job anyway."
"Good point." Fuentes agreed. " Enjoy the drinks you guys deserve a good time but for Christ's sake take a bath before you even think about approaching some trim." With that Fuentes and his subordinates busted out laughing.
"Will do sir." I headed for the door.
"Hollywood?" Fuentes called out to me stopping me before I could leave. I turned around and gave him my attention. "You surprised me today. I didn't think you were the man for the job. I took you for an idealist, I'm glad I had you pegged wrong."
I left the room unsure of what my next move needed to be. I knew I had to get to Max before anybody else. I just had no idea what would happen when I did.
To be continued in,
Chapter 3: No Man's Land