There it was. Glorious, in all of its canned goodness. A smiling depiction of the jolly green giant beckoned to him, as if to say come! Sample the joy of the peas that lie within my protective exterior!
Carefully, he gauged the glass- not too thick, but not thin enough to make a great deal of noise when it shattered. If he hit it just right, he could cause it to cave inward, and not even cut himself. Carefully, ever-so-carefully, September hefted the butt of his shotgun, the once glossy finish marred with chips and teeth every now and again, and slammed it into the thin, plate glass of the store display window.
Immediately, a loud, chirruping alarm sounded, ringing through the vast, cement halls of the shopping mall. It was then answered by distant moaning and shrieks, and the sound of many feet stumbling and scrambling against the tile floor.
September cursed softly, his arm snaking through the shattered window to seize his prize, jamming it into the pocket of his blazer as he pushed away, heading for the exit at a dead run.
He could hear them getting louder- amazingly fast, for nearly no motor skills. But their jaws still worked, and that was what he had to fear.
September scrambled up a crumbling cement police barrier, remnants of the last-stitch efforts of the city authorities to quell 'the Uprising', foolishly thinking the first attacks to be some sort of anarchist or terrorist group. September did not have time to ponder their numerous failures, as he only used their structures to vault for the hanging mesh of a fire escape. He barely caught it, scrambling to keep a hold of the shotgun in the crook of his arm as he painfully began to scale the escape, his shoes scraping the brick wall to color his black soles red.
The Uprising had proven an adequate deterrent from his objectives. Whatever they were, at this point.
One of the first signs of the Uprising approaching was the smell. Something like a butchers' shop without proper cooling. And sweat- but that may have been September himself. He realized that he hadn't bathed in several weeks. The second sign was the screamers- usually female, intent on drawing attention to their chase. They were the loudest- but had the most keen hearing. It did not matter much now, as a dozen or so of the Uprising were swarming the barricade, clawing and stumbling over each other as they grasped for the dangling September.
The last sign was the feel of teeth on the back of your neck.
September's eyes widened as the hanging escape gave a shrill, grinding creak, shuttering slightly. He scrambled for higher ground as the escape slid away from the side of the building, ramming into the pavement with a shower of sparks. September clawed his way higher as the Uprising flooded to the fallen ironwork, and he set his feet to either sides of the railing, leaning away from the metal foot plating to blast both barrels at the creature scratching for his knee.
Blood and brainstuffs spattered the Uprising in range, and September hauled back the pump of the gun, jettisoning the spent cartridges. He reached into his pocket, his now trained fingers seizing two more rounds and drawing them out. He broke the gun, slamming in the new ammunition and taking aim.
Blast after blast later, September seized with dread as the shotgun suddenly jammed. Having no time to address the problem with a screamer nearly at his thigh, he flipped the weapon, burning his palm on the hot barrel as he used it to knock off his opposition. He ignored the blisters but still, he was being overrun.
An altogether dangerously unfamiliar noise suddenly erupted in his eardrums- the sharp, penetrating wail of an air horn being blasted. September looked up from his labours in search of the source as the first of the Uprising released his legs, dropping to the pavement to stumble away with a moan and a short shriek.
The repetitive, metallic rattle of machinegun fire echoed in the vast chaos of the parking lot, as the wailings of the Uprising were silenced, revealing an underlying shouting, "Here, piggy piggy piggy!"
One by one, the Uprising dropped from the fallen escape, as September returned to bashing the determined few that stayed behind. When he had finished freeing himself, he was made aware that the gunfire had stopped.
His pulse pounding in his ears, September gingerly climbed down from his protective stance, jumping to land lightly on the pavement, his shotgun at the ready as he peered around alertly.
A lone figure strode between the sprawled bodies, a shot ringing every now and again to silent the moaning of a wounded Uprising. September watched cynically, stepping back against the escape to cover his six as he leveled the shotgun, expecting to defend himself against another raider.
"Yes, well, I was a bit of a fool to think that any of them would have it- dumb of me, I admit," The stranger was muttering and chuckling to himself, apparently unaware of September's presence, "But hell, how hard can it be to find one, in a place like this…?" He scratched his head, pulling the handkerchief down from its place across the bridge of his nose.
"You!" September could not stop himself from exclaiming, causing an armed response, and he found himself eye-level to barrel of a 7.62 submachine gun.
He paused, then lowered his gun, finding no threat, "Yes. Me." he returned to rummaging through the dead, muttering to himself.
"Walter Bishop?" September questioned hesitantly, taking a small step forward, "You're Walter Bishop, are you not?"
"Doctor Walter Bishop, if you please," Walter grumbled, blasting a shot into the skull of a twitching body, stilling it, "Resilient bastards, and useless, the lot of them…"
September's hairless brows drew in concern as he followed after the scientist, who was slowly moseying away, "Dr. Bishop, do you know who I am?"
Walter paused, glancing back at him with a frown, "I don't care who you are-" and he stilled, his eyes widening, "September?"
September blinked at him blankly, "You did not know it was me?"
"Of course I know it's you!" Walter burst forward, swooping him up into a rather uncomfortable hug, the revolver at his hip jamming September in the thigh, "Oh, sorry. How are you? How are things? Excuse me-" Walter took aim just to the side of September, eradicating another Uprising, "-You were saying?"
"What are you doing here, Dr. Bishop?" September questioned.
"Me? Oh, the usual. Out for a stroll, thought I'd pick up something to eat." Walter chuckled uneasily, raising a hand to scratch the back of his neck, "it's the most irrational thing, but I've had this craving for tinned peaches nagging me since the quarantine, hah hah…" September delved into his pocket, drawing out the can of peas and offering them in an effort to add something to the conversation. Walter saw it and grimaced, "I'm not the fondest of peas. Thanks anyways."
"You are risking infection for an irrational picca?" September questioned, "I do not understand."
"I don't either. Were are you headed?" Walter asked, changing the subject as he shifted the gun sling on his shoulder.
September looked around the ravaged mall, his eyes spanning the scorch marks that marred advertisements for the vacant food court. At last he nodded toward the exit nearest them, and Walter looked over his shoulder toward it, "Ah. Need a ride?"
"I went a little crazy with the welder, I apologize," Walter said as they crossed the empty parking lot, avoiding fallen light posts and empty swat vans, "but better safe then sorry, I like to think," Walter delved into the pocket of his cargos, drawing out a set of keys, a rabbit foot keychain dangling from them as he chirruped the alarm on the iron-plated station wagon before them.
Instinctively September scanned the lot around them carefully, searching for any uprising that may have heard them. None appeared, and Walter opened the off-driver's door for him.
"They won't show up for a while," Walter assured him as he slumped into the driver's seat, "They would have heard the gunshots, by now. Hop in."
They pulled out of the parking lot, and September still thought it felt strange, without the regular main street traffic of a bleak, Wednesday afternoon, and he watched the still cars pass like figures frozen in time. His eyes returned to the peas he held in his lap.
"I've got a can opener in the back, if you really feel like eating those," Walter said, jamming his thumb over his shoulder as he instinctively slowed for the stoplight.
"No, thank you," September replied. He blinked, "What are you doing here, Dr. Bishop? Why haven't you joined the others outside the quarantine?"
"I was only kidding about the doctor thing, September. Credentials don't mean crap about now, do they?" He chuckled, speeding around an overturned semi, "Do I turn, here? Where are you staying?"
September paused, thinking over his answer. He thought of the nights since the Uprising, of all the places he had stolen sleep- in the trunks of cars, dusty corners of attics, drainage grates he could fit into, "Nowhere," he answered honestly, "I've only kept moving."
Walter nodded, "A good plan."
"So anywhere you would like to let me out would be fine-"
"Nonsense!" Walter said with a smile, "I'm taking you home with me! I'm giving you something proper to eat and a… well, a bath, my friend, you smell like them, I'm sorry to say."
September watched Walter for a few moments in silence, "I do not understand. You are taking an unnecessary risk and wasting essential resources to aide me, when I am perfectly capable of sustaining myself. Why?"
"Because you're my friend, September. And no one needs to be alone, in a time like this." He smiled again, giving a warning cry of "Speed bump!" and the car jolted slightly as they struck another Uprising. Walter started the windshield washer without comment.
It seemed that Walter had chosen his own turf, for his base of operations- the basement lab of the Kreski building at Harvard. He had explained that the stonework provided a nearly unbreakable fortification, and its subterranean location was ideal for security in the fact that most of the exits could be sealed to the point of being air-tight.
Walter pulled the Vista Cruiser down a cement ramp to the loading dock, shutting off the engine and stilling September as he moved to open his door. They waited in the silence of the car for a few moments, before Walter at last nodded, and they emerged, pulling down an iron-mesh fortification and chaining it shut behind themselves.
September unchained and opened the door into the hallway and jumped back, raising his gun to shoot at the figure that suddenly loomed in the doorway, before Walter stilled him, "Whoa, calm down. It's only a mirror."
September looked confused.
"Come on," Walter chuckled, taking point as they entered. He motioned to the many, tall mirrors that appeared to have been arranged in a maze-like fashion through the hall, "It's to confuse them, you see. Like… security. If they stumble around attacking their reflections, I'll have more than enough time to dispose of them. They aren't the brightest, I'm afraid."
September frowned at the scientists' back, reddening slightly, as he had only just been duped, "A good precaution," he agreed, if only a bit stiffly.
Walter unchained another door, one that had been solidified with the application of sheet metal and bolts, and he rolled it back to clash open on its tracks, giving a sigh and a smile, "Home sweet home," he said.
The interior of the wide laboratory had only minor changes, as the equipment and hardware still appeared to be useable and functioning, but it looked more messy, occasional scraps of clothing and food wrappers scattered about in signs of life.
And there was no place without a gun and ammunition close by.
Walter skipped a step to reach the operating theater, motioning for September to follow, "I'll give you the tour." he motioned to each in turn, "This is the lab, as you can probably see; the back room is where you'll be sleeping; that's Gene- say hi, Gene; this is the couch, feel free to sit on it; that up there is the kitchen- oh! You're probably hungry, I'll make you something-"
"Walter," September interjected softly, stilling him. Walter turned with raised brows, awaiting his question, "…Where is everyone?"
"Everyone?" Walter questioned, a bit nervously.
"Agent Dunham, Agent Farnsworth. Your son," September frowned with concern, "aren't they here with you?"
Walter chuckled uneasily, "No, September. It's just me, here. No need to worry." He shuffled off to the kitchen, beginning to rummage about in the pantry, "I'll make coffee."
September's eyes spanned the lab again, "Did they get out? Before the quarantine?"
There was a crash of glass shattering on the cement floor, and September jumped slightly , his steps swiftly taking him up the grate-metal steps and into the kitchen, "Walter?!"
Walter stood perfectly still against the rail, his eyes locked unblinkingly on the opposite wall. September could feel pressure in his chest, an offset of the grief he absorbed, and his nostrils flared as he smelled the blood that oozed from a cut on the doctors' finger. Septembers' eyes left the face of his companion, turning to the wall across the way, finding nothing.
Walter blinked, and slowly stooped to begin gathering the broken pieces of cup that littered the floor, "I'm sorry. I only cut myself, is all."
"Something is wrong," September said. A statement, not a question.
"No, no. I'm only making a mess, hah." Walter continued with his task, gathering another cup out of the cupboard, "Yes, September, they got out. Only just, though. And if I hadn't gotten separated from them at the last moment, we'd all be out. But, trust an old fool like me to get lost on the way back from the bathroom." Walter let out a tired chuckle and plugged in the coffee machine.
And September knew he was lying.
September had not known how much he had missed the feeling of clean clothes on his skin, and he felt warmer, when he had changed into the new clothes Walter had provided for him after his shower. This in itself was odd, as September did not feel temperature- let alone, anything in general- in the conventional manner. He emerged from the bathroom rubbing the moisture from his ears with a towel, looking for Walter.
He found him sleeping in front of the television, Gene the cow musing his hair as re-runs of SpongeBob hummed numbly in the background, throwing flashes of vibrant colors off the walls. They had long before drawn down the second shutters, muting any light that might escape, sealing them inside for the night. September had wondered for a while what might happen, if they were attacked, in the night, and Walter had simply told him that "The best defense is deterrent," and he had let it be.
September descended the steps to stand just out of the light of the television screen, watching the sleeping scientist as he thought. The quarantine on the city of Boston had been instated three months earlier, he'd been running from the Uprising ever since. In the time he had been running and surviving, what had Walter been doing? Fortifying this place? Why? Why didn't he simply make his way to the barriers and get out of the city? He didn't have a job to do, like September… he was not forced to watch such horrible destruction.
September looked around the empty lab again. It certainly wasn't a closet he had wedged himself into for the night, and he was glad for the safety, if only to sleep in a horizontal position for once. But the use of the equipment, the charts and notes he'd seen… Walter had not only chosen to fortify this place for its familiarity, he had chosen it for something more.
Its uses. What he could do with it. But what?
September left his sleeping companion, making his way silently through the tables and equipment. He accidentally knocked something astray with his knee, and glanced over his shoulder as it clattered loudly. Walter continued to snooze unheedingly, and September at last made it out of the equipment, his eyes intent on a large store room door, one that Walter had kept locked and had in no way introduced.
September touched the metal surface of the door as he delved into his pocket, drawing out Walter's keys and searching through them. He at last snapped the lock open, carefully removing the chain with as little noise as possible. Taking another glance over his shoulder to make sure that all was well, September pushed the door open, stepping inside.
His breath fogged in the chill, and he brushed aside protective plastic flaps as he ventured further inside. Steel drawers lined one wall, along with crates containing tall tanks of chemicals, but something more drew September's attention- three canopied gurneys, lined in a row down the center of the cooler. He approached them, using his thumb to rub a spot clear in the plastic and peer inside.
"What are you doing?!"Walter demanded from behind him, and September looked up at him. Walter swept across the cooler, forcing September to take a step back.
"Walter, why is Peter--" September started.
"None of your damn business!" Walter snapped, turning and peering in on his son, "Just go! Get out of here!"
"They didn't make it out of the quarantine," September said seriously, "they were infected."
"They're not one of them yet!" Walter snapped, turning back to September, "The virus is still in it's beginning stages. If I keep their circulation lower, it can't spread as rapidly, I still have time-!" He looked over his shoulder at what appeared to be white-draped medical coffins, "I still have time…"
"You're creating a cure?" September questioned, "but… the virus is fatal, in less than one hour, they said it in the reports. Walter… they're dead."
September suddenly felt a rush of anger, like a wounded animal lashing out on savage impulse, and Walter barred his teeth, a deep growl escaping from deep within his throat as he lurched forward, gripping September by the throat and slamming him back against the freezer doors, "Shut up! Death is relative- there's still a chance for them! Don't you dare say that there isn't! I can save them!"
"Walter-!" September exclaimed, clawing at his grip.
Walter blinked, then sighed shortly, releasing him and sweeping back to where his son lay, "It's not fair. It was all my fault. I did get lost, and they came looking for me… we got separated, and the Uprising… it got to them, and…"
September swallowed, messaging his bruised throat. It took him a few seconds to register- Walter was crying.
September stepped away from the wall, "Walter…" He reached out to touch the back of his shoulder.
"I have to do something, September. They're-they're… because of me, so I have to fix it…"
"It's alright, Walter. I understand. And if anyone can do it, it's you. If anyone can fix all of this, it's you."
"September-!" Walter wept. He suddenly wrapped his arms around his friend, burying his face into his collar. September blinked in shock for a moment, when he was washed with the angst and shame that Walter emitted, and at last raised a hand to stroke his hair gently.
"It's alright," September assured him again, "You said it yourself. No one needs to be alone, in a time like this." He was again surprised as Walter lifted his head to kiss him.
"Don't leave me alone," Walter whispered, his tone slightly strained. He was begging, "Please."
September felt something he had never felt before- as if Walter's grief had become his own, and his throat seemed to seize with pain, as he gripped the sides of Walter's face, kissing him deeply, "I'll never leave you."
There was a shattering noise that woke him from his sleep, and immediately September sat up from his place on the futon, instinctively searching about for his shotgun. He jumped as he felt a hand touch his spine, "Shh," Walter whispered, "be quiet. Stay here, I'll go check it out." He placed a kiss to the back of his shoulder, rough with a slight stubble, and pushed his way out of the blankets.
Walter did not turn on any lights as he dressed, and September could hear the grind of the carbine chamber being readied, as Walter opened the door and went out, into the lab.
September fumbled in the dark for his own clothing, pulling on his borrowed jeans and tee, and he pushed his feet into a cold pair of boots, rising and gathering his shotgun before he ventured out, after Walter.
"Walter?" He whispered into the dark.
"Stay there. They're at the front- stuck in the mirrors." There was another sound of shattering, from outside the bolted door. Walter was no doubt at the breakers, and after a brief countdown, threw the switch, setting off the nearly blinding lighting in the halls of the Kreski building. There erupted hisses and screams, accented with the wails of screamers. The battering began, on the steel door, and Walter cursed, "They're past the mirrors."
September swallowed, his grip tightening on his gun.
Walter considered their situation for a few moments, before he decided at last, "Come on. If we go out the back, we can flank them, and take them out on our way back in." He led the way to the stairs , and September followed him up, holding his breath as Walter pushed open the heavy hatch with a grunt of effort.
They made their way across the frozen grounds, past the shuttered windows and toward the loading dock, creeping under the broken gate, every sense piqued. Walter gave a dark chuckle as he pulled the gate shut behind them, sealing them inside. They scampered up the ramp, and Walter slowly pushed open the ajar door, his rifle trained for Uprising.
There came a growl and a short shriek, as one spotted them, rushing forward only to be met with Walter's gunfire. More foul-smelling bodies began to funnel toward them, Walter efficiently placing his bullets in each skull as September blasted off limbs.
September was reloading when there was a groan behind them, and he glanced back sharply to see arms snaking under the ajar gate, "Walter!" He called.
"I know! Get over to the lift mechanism--" He blasted an Uprising that had seized his neck, "--and shoot it! It should drop for good!"
"I'm fine! Go!"
September bit the inside of his cheek, and darted across the hood to scramble up the cement steps, taking aim at the chain-driven lift and blasting it with both barrels. The heavy steel shutters dropped sharply, severing writhing limbs, "Got it!" September confirmed. He turned as he jammed his hand into his pocket for more shells, and suddenly froze with shock, " Walter!"
Walter gave a cry as jaws closed on the back of his exposed neck, gnashing savagely. Walter barred his teeth, reaching back to grip his attacker and fling him over his shoulder. He rattled a few shots into the Uprising, and raised a hand to touch the bloody wound.
September slammed two shells into the gun, snapping it shut as he jumped the steps, blasting back the swarming uprising. Blood and flesh spattered the shattered mirrors, as Walter and September steadily worked their way inside.
Walter was panting with pain and exertion as he slumped against a wall, swallowing back the lump in his throat. "There should only be a few more, September," Walter panted.
"That was the last one," September corrected, jettisoning a spent shell.
Walter smiled tiredly, "That's never the last one. Just keep your eyes open…"
"I know. I only have a little while, so you have to listen to me. My research- everything I've done, it's all in this lab. I've shown you around, you can get the hang of it…" He slumped lower, on the wall, before September caught him, "Shit, this burns. I was so close… but you have to do something, for me."
"What is it?"
"You have to save them, September. It's too late for me, now. But please, September… please save my son."
"The virus… it hibernates. They aren't dead. If you keep them cold enough, it can't spread… and if they're dead, the virus can't use their cells to reproduce… so I know they aren't dead, they're alive, if only on a cellular level…" He was trembling as he placed a hand on September's cheek, "You were so kind to me, September. I'm sorry, but please…"
"Dr. Bishop… Walter…" September whispered, "You can't…"
Walter raised his gun sharply, to blast an emerging Uprising, "We're having a moment, you pricks!" September suddenly issued a chuckle, and Walter blinked up at him in shock, "September… you smiled."
"I don't know how I did it," September confessed.
"Then I'm blessed," Walter smiled in return. He placed a kiss to September's lips, and settled his face on his shoulder, shutting his eyes as he grew still.
September's hands gathered the scientists' cardigan in fists, as he was seized with a pain that was all his own.