River Of Night – Snippet 10
In the months since they arrived, Paul and Kendra had been a sometimes item. It began as two people with a lot in common finding simple comfort in each others’ company. She’d been scared and lonely and he had been lonely and, well, horny. Paul recognized that crises and catastrophes can stir human emotions and that he was as susceptible to it as the next man. So he decided to embrace the possibility that something might be there. He’d been delighted to find that he’d guessed right.
Since the meeting where Kendra had unexpectedly briefed the group on behalf of Kohn’s big picture, that had ended. Up to that point, Paul allowed himself to feel closer to her. That made her decision hurt all the more.
They’d built a habit of sitting together before breakfast. They hadn’t shared a bed in almost a week, but this ritual persisted, though the picnic table was damp and uncomfortably hard.
“How can you work for her, Jonesy?” Paul said, squeezing Kendra’s hand as he spoke. “She’s running a scam that will end up with her in charge, that’s all!”
“Someone has to be in charge, Paul,” Kendra said, her face miserable. “You won’t do it. She will. She says that she can help us all work together. She’s already figured out how to get the townies to genuinely contribute.”
In the week since the initial acknowledgment that both central management and a plan beyond “wait for others from the bank to show up” was needed, Kohn had suggested and the council approved changes to their routine. One detail was to begin to carefully scout their immediate area, avoiding contact with anyone, but noting the location of possible supplies and other survivors.
“Once we are properly secure in our own right, we will again look to help as many others as we can.” Kohn had proclaimed. “But first we must reestablish our own civilization.”
“What about the bank, the long term plan?” Paul replied insistently, squinting into the first orange rays of sunlight. “We’re supposed to plan ahead. To be ready to rebuild.”
“Bank?” Kendra said, yanking her hand away. “What bank? The bank that we last saw on fire?”
Stung, Paul reared back.
“The people that vaccinated you,” he pointed out. “The people that evacuated you!”
“You mean the people that murdered plague victims and extorted me?” she replied, just as angry. “Oh, those people. That bank.”
“I never exto-” Paul began.
“‘What do you think Train Smith will do to someone that puts his plan at risk?'” Kendra said, not quite sing-songing his much earlier words back to him. “I didn’t forget your warning. You shouldn’t forget it either.”
They stared at one another for a moment before Paul looked away.
“Yeah, I said it,” he said, more softly. “And it was right. It was true. Then. If you’d tried, Smith would have locked you inside the building and no lie. And you powered through. You survived.”
She didn’t reply but scooted a little bit further away from him.
The gray dawn was lightening faster and around them the camp was stirring. The breakfast crew was neatly stripping the prepacked meals from their containers and sorting them according to desirability. Condiments were placed in communal bowls to avoid wastage. The pots of water were waiting to boil.
Paul reached towards her lap, laying his hand top of hers, without grabbing.
“I’m sorry that I scared you.” he said, trying to reconnect. “I’m sorry that all this terrible stuff happened. Even the best possible decisions were sometimes not particularly good. But I know this…”
He struggled to find words as Kendra looked up into his face. The St. Joshua medallion that he’d given her swung from a chain he’d shortened for her, and caught his eye with a silver twinkle.
“When we are together, really together, I feel better.” he said, attempting to finish his thought. “I don’t want to lose that. You want to work with Kohn, well, okay. We’ve been working with her all along. But, you have to be careful about Kohn. She is… not right.”
He tapped his own skull with one spatulate finger, emphasizing his point.
“Not right how, exactly?” Kendra said, sweeping a wing of hair back over one ear. “I know that she was involved in the vaccine production, but so were the cops, the bank, everyone.”
“I mean, not quite right in the head,” Paul answered. He slicked one hand over his scalp, self consciously. “She has a record. She was convicted as a juvenile, but she did some terrible things. She doesn’t really care about other people and I know that she’s capable of cold-blooded violence. That’s part of why she worked with Smith. He agonized about harvesting human spines. It bothered her not a whit.”
“Do you have any proof?” replied Kendra. “She’s always rational when I’m around her.”
“I didn’t say irrational,” Paul answered, and then immediately regretted it. Every time they argued, Kendra would end by telling him that she was tired of him contradicting her. “I mean, being dangerous and being rational aren’t mutually exclusive. Besides, there’s no proof of anything anymore, not here at least.”
“Then I should get the chance to judge what you think happened,” Kendra said curtly and then stood. “And even then, she has a plan to find a way for us to survive with what we’ve got. That was good enough when it was ‘Train’ Smith making life or death decisions. Now that it’s Kohn, you have cold feet?”
Paul didn’t answer immediately because there was someone approaching.
The lean blonde woman was another New York City survivor. Smith had collected her from the disaster at Last Concert and offered her a seat out. Her boyfriend hadn’t made it out of Washington Square. An oversize BotA sweatshirt hid most of her spare frame.
She stopped a few steps away and shot them a quick look from under her hood.
“Hi,” she said, somewhat diffidently. “Ms. Kohn asked me to find you, Kendra. She asked if you could come see her after breakfast.”
“Sure, I can do that, Christine,” Kendra replied brightly as she held out her hand to the newcomer. “I was just going to go eat now. Join me?”
Paul watched them walked away, arm in arm.
Tom Smith squinted through the windshield and then back in his side mirrors. Both Chevys were a light metallic blue, and Durante was keeping the second vehicle an easy fifty meters back from the lead truck. The sun shone in the driver’s side window as Tom headed south on the first leg of the trek, skirting Petersburg.
The group in the car was silent, looking at the wreckage of the civilization that lay along their route.
“Remember, keep your eyes peeled for a book store or a Walmart,” Tom said, raising his voice over the stereo. They’d indulged the younger set on their music initially, and Tom was beginning to regret the decision.
“What?” someone asked from the back seat.
“I said,” Tom said, twisting the volume knob down on the singer who was caterwauling about tanks and bombs and more bombs and guns. Once he was sure he could be understood, he repeated himself, “Check any strip malls or businesses you see for a book store or a Walmart.”
Giving the passengers something to do would go part of the way of taking their mind off the depressingly common human carrion that littered the roadside. “We can use some paper maps.”
“We’ve got that GPS, don’t we?” replied Katrin, gesturing to a functioning Garmin handheld sitting in its dash cradle. “Can’t we just use that?”
Katrin had continued to stay engaged with the adults of the party. All of the kids were missing their families, but Katrin and her sidekick Eric were bouncing back the fastest.
“Yeah, I know how to use my dad’s,” offered Eric, wistfully eyeing the stereo right next to the Garmin.
“I’m kind of with her, boss,” said Fat Ralph from the very rear most seat. “Let’s just get to your bank site, ASAP.”
“I’m not going rely solely on GPS if I don’t have too,” said Tom, stretching and rolling his shoulders as he drove. “Frankly, I am not sure why this thing is still working.”
“Why not?” asked Risky, riding shotgun. “The satellites have solar power, yes? They will run till they wear out.”
“It isn’t the satellites that I am surprised about, exactly,” Tom said, glancing over for a moment. “The accuracy of each GPS satellite relies on getting precise clock updates and occasionally ephemeris corrections. Those come from ground stations. If the accuracy drops below a certain threshold figure, the receiver rejects the satellite.”
He gestured with his chin at the GPS receiver, keeping both hands on the wheels as he smoothly dodged around a stalled school bus. He carefully avoided looking inside as they passed.
“That thing says we have a five-satellite fix. So, at least one or two of the ground stations is still up and manned by uninfected people. Places like Colorado Springs have stations, but also island bases like Kwajelin and Ascension. I am betting that is the answer. Whoa…”
He added that last as another naked infected loomed from behind a stopped big rig. It stretched for the SUV even as Tom adjusted their course to drive on the shoulder.
“Uggggh!” exclaimed Eric. “Can’t we just, I don’t know, shoot them or something?”
“Are not enough bullets anywhere that I know of for us to shoot all the zombies,” Risky said as she looked over her left shoulder towards the teen who was craning her neck to see out the back window. “We must save bullets for emergencies.”
The secondary road had plenty of stopped cars, but they maintained a comfortable twenty mile an hour pace and the infected quickly lost interest, disappearing in the rear view mirror. Durante stayed in his wake.
Tom had spread his cadre of shooters across both cars and was driving the first shift personally. The car was tightly packed, and although the kids and teachers took up little room, the fully equipped adults were very bulky in their armor, festooned about with pouches and weapons.
“Um, Mr. Smith?” Dina Bua’s voice came from the very rear of the vehicle. “Can we stop soon? I have to use the ladies’.”
Before Tom could answer, someone else’s voice rang out.
“Are you serious!” Cathe Astroga said, jumping in. “We haven’t even been driving for forty-five minutes and everyone was told to go just before we left!”
“I didn’t have to go then!” snapped Bua. “Besides, its different, women-“
“You can take a leak when I do, lady!” Astroga said as she pulled a taser from her MOLLE. “Remember my leetle friend? She says you can wait another forty-five minutes!”
“Smith, are you going to let her keep threatening me!” demanded the irate school teacher. “Besides, you have to pull over now! I’m not even kidding!”
“Can’t stop just now, but I’ll watch for a suitable place,” Tom said as he kept his eyes on the road. However, he reached for the handheld to let Durante know about a pending stop.