Mark stuck his head out a window as the sped back to Camp Randall and shouted up towards Liz. "What if we?"
"MARK! Let me think! Just for like 5 minutes, just shut up. Please. Really please."
Mark frowned at Liz's outburst but thankfully pulled his head back into the bus. She didn’t know how to fix this and Mark constantly nagging her put her at the end of her rope. She focused on the wind rushing around her and enjoyed a brief moment of peace until the reality of the situation settled in again.
"Don't force it love, We'll chat with you mom when we get back. We still have time. We’ll figure something out." Dad said comfortingly even as he continued to scan for threats.
"Yeah, I guess, but the mana storm is coming and we have the whole situation with Jocelyn that we have to deal with too."
Dad just nodded. "It's complicated, truly, but we have a capable bunch. You’ll see. We’ll be able to come up with something."
"Dad, you of all people should appreciate that sometimes things are just crap. I think this is one of those things." Liz voice was cracking under the stress and her concern.
"We have a resilient crew, and we're building a relationship based on trust. I trust the people back at camp. Sure, it's been less than a week, but quite frankly I'd trust those people with my life at this point. We've all seen some really horrible things and gotten past them. Lends even more credence to the fact that this system thing may be pushing us towards helping each other, right?"
Liz didn't have a counter argument for that, but she wasn't ready to process it. The idea that some amorphous code thing was influencing how people got along was a little too much for her to deal with. Right now she had other things to worry about. Liz reviewed her list internally, wondering how much more it would keep growing and if she'd ever get to the end of it.
- Get a group of people to meet up with George before he gets himself killed
- Figure out why everyone is so nice
- Determine what the heck the system really is
- Make sure I can do cooler stuff than Mark
- Get Jocelyn to a stabilization crystal to save humanity
Liz pondered the order for a bit. Maybe she should change the priority of some options. She'd have to do it soon because they were close to home and ideas would need to start turning into actions soon enough. She contemplated how to approach the various parties to involve them when she caught sight of someone running towards them. He was vaguely familiar looking and she thought she had seen him at the elementary school helping out. As she was trying to figure out his name her train of thought was thoroughly derailed when he uttered a single terrifying word.
That would be another thing to add to the list then.
After taking a few moments to catch his breath, the messenger started into his story.
"Thank god I ran into you Jason. I didn't know if I could run much more and it's looking bad."
"What's going on."
"We were running patrols, like you suggested, especially after Liz saw that horde up north. We even had a few lookout posts set up to give us a good view. So I was just doing my standard check on things when I saw it. Thousands of those zombies are just wandering down. They're everywhere. I ran back to the school to let people know and the principal sent me to get backup. We don't really have many good fighters in the school, and we thought you might be able to spare some folks. They were going pretty slow when I saw them but they should be at the school within the hour."
Dad grimaced. "We can't fit everyone in camp yet, just don't have the space or fortifications. In anycase, trying to evac people when we don't know how fast the things can move is a recipe for disaster. Liz, come with me. We'll scope out what's going on and see how much time we have before things really will hit the fan. Mark, head back with the people in the bus and let the camp know what's going on. We'll need to prepare ourselves as well."
Standing orders delivered, everyone quickly mobilized out. The messenger, Liz thought his name might be Jim, tried to direct them to where he saw the zombies coming from but he looked like he was about to pass out. Jason and Liz stopped to give him a moment.
"I’m just slowing you down. Just go. The tower on the corner of garrison and Mississippi will tell you more than I can. I'll head back to the school and help them get ready."
“Be careful, we’ll be right back.” Jason gave Jim a pat on the shoulder before turning and nodding to Liz. She took off at a brisk place to the indicated tower.
Liz thought about the fact that they were running full speed towards a horde of zombies. That wasn't usual behavior, but the new normal was pretty ridiculous. After they started to get close Dad raised a hand calling for silence. His eyes darted around trying to find something but nothing seemed that out of place. There was an eerie quiet to the streets though, and Liz thought she could hear shuffling and other odd sounds in the distance.
"Liz, take a look around with Alana. Try and see if you can see anything."
Alana had been hovering overhead and with a mental command she scouted further out. It took almost no time to identify the source of the strange noises. A thousand shambling forms coming down the main roads were pretty hard to miss. The scene was surreal. It looked like a wave of bodies was just oozing through the surrounding neighborhoods. Periodically she could see a rustle of some animal and the zombies would all close in. She said a small prayer of thanks for the fact that they seemed to be slow moving zombies, and not rushers, but it was a very small feeling of thankfulness. The horde didn't have to move fast when they could surround you with thousands of bodies.
"Dad, they're coming slowly, and seem to have some sort of hunting instinct. They're surrounding and capturing prey."
Liz did some quick math in her head.
"We're right on the path with the school, we'll probably get hit at around the same time. With how quickly they are moving through the roads, we got half an hour, hour tops."
Dad shook his head, "We'll head back to the school and let them know. I'm going to take a stand there. We'll probably need one or two more of the hunters to keep those things from overwhelming the defenses, especially if they can detect scents. Let’s head back."
Liz had a million thoughts running through her head as they made their way towards the elementary school. This sucked. Dad was super awesome to want to save all the kids but Liz was really hoping he would be around to help save George. His firepower and ability to clear waves would be amazingly helpful if they got caught out during the coming manastorm. That was not a call she was willing to make though. As much as she was worried about George, she didn't think that his life outweighed the lives of all the kids in the school.
Tears of rage and frustration started to sting at Liz’s eyes. Who the hell had to make these sorts of decisions at fifteen? She was supposed to be planning the stupid prom, not figuring out how to repel a zombie horde. Her dark musings were interrupted as they got to the elementary school. The regurgitation of information didn’t require a lot of thought, just accuracy. As she finished her mind started to race again. It was a distinctly unwelcome distraction when a zombie in advance of the horde started wandering down the street and let loose a disturbing moan. The sound was nothing like a human would make, and the answering trills she heard coming from further out it probably wasn't a very good sign.
"Screw you!" Liz scream finding an outlet for her rage and frustration. It was well outside of the normal range for an arrow, but Liz didn't care. A Power Shot flew towards the zombie, and the right half of it's head disintegrated into a bloody mist. It didn't seem to mind much though, and continued shambling forward.
That was cheating. It was a cheating zombie. Everyone knew that you hit zombies in the head and they died. Taking a deep breath Liz refocused. "Uh, Dad? That could be a problem. How do you think we kill those things."
"Love, I can barely see it, it’s over a hundred feet away. We'll have a better idea when we can make out some details. Nice shot, by the way."
Liz harrumphed. Her frustration was growing instead of retreating now that her shot failed to stop the thing. Stupid zombie with stupid half a head should have died. A few tense second later it was actually close enough where people could start to make out some details. It's clothing was rotted away, as was most of it's skin. Through the patches into it's body there were disturbing pulsing red veins and to top off the monstrosity there was a slime looking blob attached to what remained of it's head. A small glowing mana core could be seen through the squishy extrusion.
Dad took careful aim at the blobby bid and it burst into a disgusting mess after being hit. The zombie fell to the ground like a puppet with it's strings cut.
"Looks like the blob things are what's controlling it then. Some sort of corpse puppet." Liz commented.
Everyone behind them nodded. It was good to know that the things could be stopped, but looking around they were sorely lacking in firepower.
"Liz, go back to camp and see if there are any volunteers ready to head out. If you hurry they should have time to make it before the horde closes in. Have them bring as many spare arrows as they can carry too. I'll get everyone organized here, you do what you need to do." Dad started making his way to the school's entrance, leaving Liz's fate back in her own hands. She appreciated the trust, but dammit, it wouldn't be horrible if someone else solved this mess.
She pushed those thoughts down and took off at the fastest pace she could manage. The school was barely a mile away from the house but she knew time was of the essence. She was not expecting the sight that greeted her when she got back to Camp Randall though. A chill ran down her spine as she trying to process yet another factor in this ever more chaotic day. An advance zombie scout had apparently made it's way here already, and on the ground one of the office workers was holding his arm screaming in pain as Mom tried to stabilize him.
"It burns! Dammit it burns so much!" the bite victim shouted.
Mom looked up as Liz approached and there was concern in her eyes. Her next statement turned Liz’s previous chill into ice.
Liz took the opportunity to explore language she normally wouldn’t use around Mom. Recovering quickly she reprioritized her list once again, putting ‘prevent camp from turning into zombies’ at the top.
“Can you stop it?” Liz saw Mom’s eyes scanning the sweating man on the floor in front of her. She pulled out a potion Liz didn’t recognize and applied it to the bite. The swelling went down visibly around the bite mark but he then started to scream.
“Liz help hold him down, particularly his head. We need to make sure he doesn’t bite anyone. And yes, I think we can cure this, I’ll need to do some more tests, but we’re going to button up the camp. Everyone! Inside the house!”
People shuffled around nervously as they stole glances at the now unconscious office worker. They didn’t seem to be in rush to be crammed together. Liz looked down to see if she could tell anything else about the victim’s condition. Fred, Liz remembered. His name was Fred. She hoped that she didn’t just remember his name to wish him a good afterlife.
“People, I know this is scary, but I know I can cure him. I just need a little time to make more of this potion, which we should have. If anyone else gets infected I’ll need to be close to prevent it from spreading. Lastly, it might be airborne, so I want to be sure we can all get access to an antidote in a worse case scenario. Trust me. We’re better off together.”
Mom had built up a solid reputation in camp, but even so, it was difficult for people to accept her reasoning.
“I trust you with my life Mary. You’ve done so much for all of us, and I believe in you. Please help Fred and we’ll make sure you don’t have to worry about us.” Sam said, causing people who were torn with doubt to lower their heads in embarrassment.
“Thanks Sam, I appreciate the confidence. We don’t want to fight those things out here people, let’s move inside. Someone help me drag Fred into the lab.”
Slowly people started filtering in towards the house while a makeshift stretcher was brought out for Fred. Mom brought him directly to the lab and Liz’s mind was in a flurry. The horde was less than fifteen minutes out and she still had so much to do.
“Everyone! The elementary school is also in danger, they were asking for volunteers, but you have to go like, now if you’re going to make it there before the horde. Mom, is there anything you can tell us about the infection to try and stop it before it spreads there too?”
“It’s fungal in nature, those blobs are what’s really controlling the corpse. The spores seem to be focused around calcium deposits in the bodies, so avoid teeth and exposed bones to minimize chances at infection.”
One of the hunters had walked over to us. “Ma’am, and my nephew’s over at the school. If you don’t mind I’ll be heading out.”
“Of course David, go, and warn them about the infection. If someone is bit, they should have a few hours before it becomes problematic, but here, take this.” She handed him a bottle from their cupboard. “It’s an anti-fungal spray, should slow it down and give us time to find a real antidote, which I need to start on now.”
Mom turned back to her patient and David booked it out of the house. Score one for super scientist mom. That was one item off the list, but many more to go. Liz didn’t know what to do though. There were so many things to sort through that her brain was starting to jam up trying to calculate all the possibilities. She concentrated on her list and focused away all other distractions. As the possibilities boiled down to the most important things she made up her mind.
Steeling herself she turned to Mom. “I have to go. We have to try and get Jocelyn to the crystal and George is also out there and needs our help.”
Mom crushed me in a hug. “Be careful, I love you.” So much wasn’t said but there simply wasn’t any time.
Liz raced upstairs and found Mark filling a bandolier with throwing knives. Elly, Mike, and Lance were also there grabbing a few things from the armory. “I told everyone about George and what he’s trying to do. Mike and Lance said they’d come along to help. Well, Mike didn’t actually say anything, but he like totally implied he was coming.”
“Yeah, I need to talk to George. I owe him. I need to make things right.” Lance seemed oddly tense, but she wasn’t going to turn down any help at this point. Mike just shrugged.
Mark placed the last knife in a newly made bandolier and nodded, pleased with the fit. “In anycase, I’m good to go, where’s Jocelyn?”
“She must be upstairs, I’ll check on her.”
Racing upstairs Liz barged into her room to find a teary eyed Jocelyn hugging a pillow on her bed.
“Liz. I know I said I’d go. But I don’t know. I just don’t know. It’s crazy out there. I’m not sure if I can do this.”
Liz took a sharp inhale of breath. She didn’t have time for this. Why couldn’t people just help her out sometimes. She struggled to process the latest crisis when a few voices broke in behind her.
“You totally can do this Jocelyn. We wouldn’t even know it needed to be done without you, and your superpower will probably save millions of people. We got you back.” Mark chimed in. His optimism was contagious as he spoke. “You have the toughest people in Colorado guarding your back. And front. And sides. We got this.”
Jocelyn’s shoulders relaxed a fraction after Mark’s words sank in. “You’re right. I know you are. It’s just hard.”
Liz moved in and gave Jocelyn a hug of support. Over her shoulder she turned to Mark and gave him a very quiet thank you. Mark was pretty useful when you needed to inject some pure optimism in a situation. She hoped she could live up to his promises.
“We know, but we’re going to make things right. For everyone.” Lance.
Mike gave a solid thumbs up.
“Totally have unicorn powers. Like, really awesome ones.” Elly contributed.
“Ok, entire gang’s here then. We need to move out though. We’re all good?” Liz said trying not to sound too out of sorts as she tried to hurry people along.
A few nods around the hall indicated such. Jocelyn grabbed a laptop she had salvaged from a house a few days back and a small mirror she had it plugged into and took a deep breath.
“Let’s go then. We got this.” Liz said with a level of confidence she hoped she could live up to.