FROM THIRTEEN STREET TO CENTRAL TOOK
about a half hour. Ethan tried, as usual, not to think too hard about the slime on the walls. At least he had gone mostly nose-numb to the smell.
They lived in these tunnels now, sharing living space with rats and the occasional sewer gator. Yes, there were actual sewer gators. The myth was real. Kinda like the zombies. The group members walked the path automatically. They didn’t have to look for the painted landmarks or the changed
names. It was instinctual, like homing, allowing them to get back home even after grueling hours waiting and baking as they manned a selected kill zone and encountered a murder
on what had become its turf. Dale, in one of her better moods, made jokes about how humans were actually becoming the Mole people from Mars. No matter how accurate the joke was, Ethan still could not find it in himself to laugh.
Ethan looked back, checking Alice’s location. She walked, still at a somewhat slow pace, occasionally looking around. Every so often a bit of light caught her eyes and he could
have sworn the colors switched sides. The green was on the left now and the hazel on the right. Shaking his head, he told himself he had gotten the sides wrong to start with.
“Don’t stare,” she said.
Ethan started. Alice stared straight through him, her expression a little warmer than belligerent.
“I wasn’t staring.” He didn’t remember staring, only looking. There was a difference. When he brought up his hands, he brought up his pistol. Training dictated his reaction to a threat.
“Never point that unless you intend to shoot someone.” Alice’s cold tone implied she meant it. She stopped moving as if to give him a clearer shot. James hid his head behind hers because Ethan couldn’t see his face at all.
Ethan lowered his gun, his motions measured.
“What the hell are y’all doing pissing around back there?” Dale’s voice came from somewhere ahead in the gloom.
Ethan suppressed the guilty look of fear which threatened. “Nothing. Just a… misunderstanding.” Ethan hesitated.
Alice didn’t respond.
Dale said, “Stop trying to get into the weird chick’s pants and hurry up.”
With a sigh, Ethan holstered his gun before looking at Alice again. She smiled a not nice smile. Ethan moved to a space alone between Dale and Roger and Alice and James. It seemed safer that way.
Central was once an old subway switching station. Now, it was reinforced against intrusion and required guard access. You had to prove you weren’t infected and crazy before you were allowed in. One of the reasons for the long tunnels: even if you managed to get into them after being bitten and
could navigate close enough to come across a gate, by the time you made it the guard would shoot you because you’d turned. No muss, no fuss, no danger to anyone else. Once the coast was clear, someone would come out and drag the body away to be burned. No need to leave a plague body so
close to the front door.
One of the leaders said they had to be ruthlessly efficient in these times. Ethan could see that in how they handled the dead.
A converted subway car served as the nearest gate to Thirteenth Street. The refugees had parked the car on the tracks where they wanted it and then carted rubble and concrete until it stood an impassable wall ten feet thick with the emergency exit door of the subway car as the only way
through. The windows had been reinforced with steel so that slits remained to see through and little doors so you could point a pistol.
“Hello to the returning.” The PA system rigged into the car greeted them. “Names please?”
Roger was up first. “Roger Mackie. Thirteenth Street building 2.” He took off his helmet and held it under one arm.
Dale did the same. “Dale Barnard. Thirteenth Street building 4.”
Ethan didn’t wear a helmet. “Ethan Post. Thirteenth Street spotter.”
There was some shuffling the group could hear over the PA before the person asked, “Registering one other movement signature, but no corresponding heat signature. Can you confirm?”
“Yes, we can confirm. Located a live one top side. No signs of infection.” Roger spoke up. “Central has authorized entry.”
“Hold position for Central confirm.” The request for authorization went back to Central Command. No one was going to let someone in just because they said Central okayed it. That would just be stupid. Of course, it didn’t take a whole heck of a lot of sense to do guard duty in the first
place. Ethan shifted from foot to foot as the time stretched on.
“Central has confirmed, but they stated there were two. Where is the second?”
“He’s here. She’s carrying him.” Ethan saw the eye-roll as Roger answered the question.
“Understood. Proceed through.”
The door swung open, allowing one person at a time to enter and walk through. Another safety precaution: bottlenecking entrants into a kill zone in case they should make it through all the other safety precautions. It did manage to keep the body count down. They made it through. Ethan couldn’t get used to the uncomfortable feeling of being watched, by people with
guns, as they hopped out the other end of the car and officially made it into Central territory.
Once they were out, Alice swung James around to the front so that he could use his arms. He was pointing at something, though not saying anything. Occasionally she would nod as if they were having what amounted to a wordless conversation.
“What’s he pointing at?” Dale asked.
Alice shook her head. Apparently, whatever was going on was for her only to understand. James stopped pointing, keeping his thoughts to himself.