After the disastrous military campaign on Staten Island, Chris Collins and his team have finally made it back to Manhattan, only to be struck by a new catastrophe. The barricades are down, the city under attack by a zombie army under the control of a half-Z Corporation military commander.
And that's not even the worst of Chris's problems. Marin Scolfield is in town, and the crazed scientist has designs of his own, backed up by a whole new bag on tricks designed to bend the Zs to his will.
As a winter storm rages, as fire begins to take hold of the north side of the city, as the terrified citizens cower in there homes, Chris, Joe and Ruby face their greatest challenge yet. Can they and their loved ones make it out of Manhattan alive? And are they even prepared to run, rather than stand and fight?
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Kill The Dead
A pair of explosions ripped across the frigid, morning twilight, the first at a distance, the second much closer, its fat thump bouncing back off the empty buildings, off the expanse of ice, off the embankment on the other side of the Hudson. A geyser of debris - football-sized chunks of plaster and cinder - was thrown a hundred feet into the air, to hurtle earthward and rupture the frozen surface of the river. Cracks appeared, snaking out like alien serpents; the surface itself appeared to drift, to shift underfoot.
Chris felt himself pitched forward. He twisted and broke the fall by coming down on the meat of his upper arm. He rolled and brought the AK instantly into a firing position… then stopped.
The mass of zombies that, just seconds before, had been shuffling across the ice determined to tear him and his team apart, had stalled. Their heads were cocked at odd angles, as though tuning in to some alien frequency. Those beyond, on the Hudson River Greenway, on the streets, had assumed a similar posture. They stood, unmoving, an army of scarecrows, the breeze fluttering their ragged attire.
“Boss?” Paulie queried from beside him. “Boss, what do we do?”
Chris stilled him with a hand, came up into a crouch and signaled for his team to hold their positions. Truth be told, he had no idea how to respond to this turn of events. In all of the sixteen years since the initial zombie outbreak, he’d never seen anything like it. He’d seen Zs react this way of course, usually in response to particular radio frequencies, but he’d never seen a radio frequency achieve this effect. It was as though every zombie in the Wastelands was participating in a bizarre game of Simon Says.
Simon says stop and listen.
His attention was drawn to one Z in particular, an emaciated old crone with a face split almost exactly down the middle, one half showing skull bones the color of marzipan, the other, a mask of putrid, rubberized flesh. This Z had begun slowly to turn and now started shuffling towards shore. Another zombie followed, and another, until the whole throng was in motion, their shuffling gait taking them back towards the riverbank.
There was movement in the park too, and on the streets. An exodus was underway, thousands of the creatures, tens of thousands, stepping grudgingly, a black mass of the undead, heading south, a trajectory that would take them towards lower Manhattan, towards his family.
Panic bubbled up and he stilled it. He scanned the shoreline, seeking not so much a path, as an inspiration. Was there a way out of here? If there was, he didn’t see it.
He was perhaps fifty yards from shore, the ice under his feet stable, but that behind him fissured, wafer thin in places, the flow of the river clearly visible underneath. Closer in, the surface had been broken by grenades and claymores.
The only way across lay a hundred yards south, a thin strip of ice that looked solid enough for them to scramble across. But what then? Even if they could make it to the riverbank, what then? They’d be in amongst them, among the dead.
His thoughts were interrupted by a distant rumble, then by a rifle shot that caused him to flinch. Not a rifle shot, he now realized, a backfire. There were vehicles crossing the George Washington Bridge.
Julie was shuttling across the ice towards him, running crouched over. Now she slid in beside him. “Chris, I think we can cross over there.” She pointed to the strip of ice that Chris had spotted earlier.
Chris didn’t respond, he was looking over Julie’s shoulder, back towards the bridge, where a line of vehicles was working its way slowly across. Even at this distance the boxy shape of the Humvees was unmistakable and it was equally clear that they weren’t local. These were finished in sand-colored livery, not the drab military green of Dave Bamber’s stock.
“Yeah,” he said abruptly, bringing his attention back to Julie.
“I said, it looks like there’s some solid ice a bit further down where we can cross.”
“Maybe so, but that will just put us in the middle of them.”
“I don’t think so, they’re moving away. Look.”
He did look, and saw that Julie was right. The Zs were drifting away from the shore, heading across the greenway to merge with their brethren sleepwalking south on the Henry Hudson Parkway.
He cast a quick glance towards the GWB, where the convoy had almost completed its crossing. He looked back towards the band of ice that Julie had pointed out, towards the copse of scrawny trees and bushes just beyond it.
“What do you think?” Julie said.
“I think we need to haul ass, but we’d better wait until those Humvees are across.”
“Who are they?” she said, looking back over her shoulder.
“I’m not sure.” He had a pretty good idea, though. An idea he didn’t want to contemplate too deeply.
As the last of the Humvees dropped out of sight, Chris got instantly to his feet. He let out a shrill whistle, drawing attention, indicated for his team to follow. Then he set off himself, veering right.
The ice was littered with dead zombies and he slalomed between them, not daring to run but setting a fast pace anyway. They needed to reach the shelter of the trees before the Humvees got here. At the same time, he didn’t want to attract the attention of the Zs. Their numbers might have thinned but the greenway was still clogged with the creatures.
The rumble of the Humvees reached him again. He reckoned there were maybe twenty of them on the bridge, plus a number of supply trucks. That was a fair sized force, but hardly big enough to take Manhattan. Then again, it was likely to be all the Corporation needed. Why ship an army clear across the country when you could rouse up a rabble of Zs to do your work for you? He found himself wondering what this was about, why the Corporation had decided to launch an attack on New York, why they’d chosen to do it now? Those questions would wait. He had more immediate concerns.
He vaulted over a crack in the ice, turned and looked back. The others were following, Carlito doing an exaggerated Z lurch. Despite the seriousness of their situation, crazy laughter bubbled close to the surface. He bit it back with difficulty.
The shoreline was maybe thirty feet away. Chris stopped on the ice and waited for the others to close the gap before he set off again, pausing on the beach only a moment before sprinting for the trees.
He’d barely reached cover when a zombie appeared in front of him, a woman with stringy blond hair and a face that was rotted away from her skull in places. Chris took a step back and stumbled, the AK spilling from his frozen hands. He made a grab for his sidearm, got the weapon free of its holster and lined it up on the zombie’s face. He let the thing come, holding fire, knowing that a shot would attract more of them.
He could hear the thrum of the Humvees on the parkway, rolling closer, the rumble of the engines mercifully drowning out the Z hum.
The zombie was right on top of him now, its teeth showing through rotted lips in a parody of amusement, its smell an unpleasant mix of wood rot and boiled cabbage. It sniffed at him, leaning in and twitching the stub of its nose energetically. Chris placed the barrel of the 9-mil between its sagging breasts, preventing it from getting any closer. But the Z had concluded its sniffing exploration and apparently decided that he wasn’t edible. It shuffled off to rejoin its comrades.
“Who’s the babe?” Carlito said, sliding in beside him with Ana close behind. Now Julie joined them, now Strangler and Eddy Montague. Soon all of them had made the shelter of the trees. All except Ruby.
Chris felt a jolt of panic. “Where’s Ruby?” he started to say, but then he saw her, bringing up the rear, moving with none of her usual poise. Ruby looked incredibly frail, pallid in the face, blue tingeing her lips.
He ran to meet her, pulled her towards cover, wrapped her in an embrace that she resisted at first. She was shivering violently, something that had nothing to do with the plunge she’d taken into the frozen Hudson (Her unique biology could withstand much lower temperatures than that).
“You did everything you could, Rube,” he whispered into her ear. “There was nothing more anyone could have done.”
And then Ruby did something she hadn’t done since she was a baby. She began to cry.
Joe Thursday was a man who believed in taking decisive action. He’d come this far, lived this long, survived this much, due to one simple rule – when the shit hits the fan, choose the best course available to you and follow it through to its conclusion. Except, right now, the best course of action (the only course of action) open to him, wasn’t one he could take. His every instinct told him they should run, cross the Triboro into Queens while they still could. And yet, here he was, half an hour since the barricades had been blown, still pacing the floor of Chris and Kelly’s apartment, still trying to convince Kelly that they had to leave.
“I’m not leaving without Chris,” Kelly said for the umpteenth time and Joe could see from the firm set of her jaw that he wasn’t going to talk her down. Kelly was as stubborn as Chris, more stubborn, even, when her mind was set. And it was set now. Other than socking Kelly over the head and flipping her over his shoulder (an option he might have considered if she hadn’t been eight months pregnant) they were staying.
He let out a sigh, removed the radio from his belt and spoke into it. “Hooley, how we doing up there partner?” He’d sent Hooley to the roof not long after the second explosion had sounded. The reports thus far had been far from encouraging.
“What’s going on out there?”
“We got us a mess of trouble, friend. Looks like every Z in the Wastelands is heading our way. Last time I seen this many ugly sum bitches gathered together was when the Klan paraded through Whelan, come by.”
“I wish he wouldn’t use that kind of talk,” Janet said. She was sitting on a couch, her arm around Samantha. Kelly sat in a chair opposite, hovering on the edge as though ready to dash off at any moment. Charlie, Jojo and Ferret, were at the window, hanging out, their necks craned northward as if they were waiting for the first floats in the Macy’s Day Parade.
“How those Humvee’s doing?” Joe said into the radio.
“Off the bridge now, working their way along the highway, Zs are holding them up, come by.”
“Holy crap!” This was Charlie, standing at the window.
“Charles Christopher Collins!” Janet reprimanded. “Language!”
Joe ignored Janet’s complaints about her grandson’s choice of vocabulary. He shuttled across the room towards the window, limping hardly at all, the stiffness in his ankle forgotten.
“What is it, Charlie?”
“Zs, Uncle Joe. I’ve never seen so many Zs in my life.”
Joe found a space at the window and looked north to where the first of the Zs were just appearing in the T-junction Columbus formed with 110th. They crept forward like a biblical plague, thousands upon thousands of the things. It was too late to run now. It was time for plan B, which meant getting everyone up to the 16th floor, barricading themselves in, and hoping the Zs stayed on the streets rather than rampaging through the buildings.
“Joe?” Hooley’s voice squawked from the radio.
“Come in, Hooley.”
“Something going on out there I think you should see.”
“What is it, Hooley?”
“Best you see for yourself.”