Title: What The Thunder Said
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Universe: Zombie Cantos
Characters/Pairing: Team - Gen
Summary: They're in the middle of nowhere when it starts, but according to Reid, that's probably one of the best places to be in the case of a zombie apocalypse.
Author's Note: This will be a series of non-chronological one-shots, rather than a multi-chaptered story.
Zombie Cantos: What The Thunder Said
* * *
After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
We do what we must, and call it by the best names.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
* * *
The sun beats down intently, and they'd run out of sunscreen a little while ago, so Emily knows she's probably going to end up with sunburn one way or another. There's not really much shade, even after they'd made some serious changes to the town's buildings. Twelve months ago, she'd been as pale as a ghost, and now her skin's feeling a little like leather – darker, tough, calloused. It'll be just her luck to die of skin cancer before the zombies ever get around to killing her.
She finds herself a lot more cynical these days, too. They all are, in one way or another. She wonders if she'll even recognize herself in five years time, whether she'll simply be another person altogether.
She checks her watch. Five minutes past the hour. Morgan's late. It's not usual, but she's not worried yet. The days tend to drag a bit sometimes, and it's easy to get lost in your own little world. In any case, it's a small town – getting lost is next to impossible. He could have fallen down a set of stairs and broken his neck, and part of her hates herself for thinking that such an event might be enviable. Still, she breathes a sigh of relief when she sees him walking up the staircase out of the corner of her eye, rifle slung over his shoulder.
'Hey,' she greets him. She's not ready to leave just yet – she's too wired, even though absolutely nothing has happened. The same way absolutely nothing has happened for the past two months.
'Sorry,' he says, 'Reid was showing me a new filtration technique he's been working on.'
The town's location is both a blessing and a curse – they'd been in the middle of nowhere when it had started, which, according to both Reid and Garcia (who apparently had discussed this casually, before it had even become a blip on the horizon) is one of the best places to be in the case of a zombie apocalypse.
It has its downsides too, of course. Rain isn't exactly the most frequent occurrence, which means they need to do what they can to conserve water. The smell's starting to get so bad that it's a wonder the zombies haven't managed to track them down from that alone. Next town they hit, she's going to try and pick up some clothes – at the very least, a new shirt. This one's torn and dirty, and her skin is so slick with sweat that it's sticking to her back. Next time it rains, a shower might be nice.
Maybe next time there's an apocalypse she'll suggest somewhere a little less dry.
'It's not like I have anything else to do,' she says, which isn't exactly true. Hotch and the local sheriff are planning a recon trip to search for more supplies, and she wants to go put her name down on the volunteer list. Her name has been on that list for every single trip, the same way that Morgan's has, as well as Rossi's and Hotch's and JJ's. Reid goes sometimes, when he's not busy working on new and improved long-term survival techniques, and even though it's been months, Garcia still hasn't quite gotten used to carrying a gun.
Apart from that, Emily's been reading her way through the local library's collection. It had taken Reid about six weeks. It's taking her a lot longer. It's not exactly big – before the zombie apocalypse, the town had housed less than a thousand people, and the library itself is about the size of a trailer. It gives her something to do, though. Something to cling on to besides sentry duty and reconnaissance, and endless games of poker by flickering firelight.
Even then, deep down, she knows that there's no going back. There won't be any more weekend barbecues at JJ and Will's place. No more B-grade sci-fi nights with Garcia and Reid and an overabundance of burnt popcorn because she'd left the saucepan on the stove a little bit too long. They've got just enough power to keep the place going without throwing TVs and DVD players into the mix. Maybe one day, when efficient renewable energy is a little more than just a pipe dream.
'Anything new?' Morgan asks, letting the rifle settle into a quasi-offensive position. The terrain is such that they'll see any zombie-related threat long before it gets there, but they haven't stayed alive this long by throwing caution to the wind.
'I think there're a few grains of sand over there that I've never seen before,' she deadpans, and he gives a dry laugh, even though it's really not that funny. By all technicalities, it's not really a desert, but a steppe, but the dry heat is so permeating that it's often hard to think of it as anything other than an arid, lifeless panorama. She thinks of how the cities must look – New York, with its once bustling streets, the sounds of car horns and idling car engines. She's been in cities her entire life, albeit cities all across the world. Thinking of the stillness that they're probably overcome with now kind of freaks her out.
The places they've hit in their reconnaissance missions have generally been small to medium sized towns – big enough to have a few supplies, small enough that any zombie threat is overcome without loss of life. That said, they've lost a few people, and it never gets any easier. Not really.
She adjusts her rifle, slinging it back over her shoulder. 'I'm gonna go talk to Hotch.' She gestures towards the building in the middle of town that's served as something of a headquarters. Before the apocalypse, it had served as the police station, so it's a big stretch. They've just got different aims now. 'Harrison's relieving you at four, right?'
'Yeah – you'll be at the station?'
She gives him a short wave before climbing down the stairs and heading towards the station. The rest of the team (if they can really call themselves "the team" anymore) is there, along with the local cops, and a few of the more authoritative residents of the town.
'Hey.' JJ gives her a nod, unperturbed by the disheveled appearance that's become the norm. Reid hands her a plastic cup and she peers inside, skeptical. She's thirsty, yes, but the last time he'd handed her a plastic cup, it had been filled with processed urine.
'It's safe,' he tells her, sounding a little crestfallen. 'I haven't perfected the new filtration system, so we're still going off tank water.'
'He only wishes he could get you to drink urine again,' Garcia comments, and Emily laughs, just as Morgan had with her own lame joke, because happiness is something that's in short supply, and they're doing everything they can to maintain it, even though it's not really working that well.
'Are you sure?' she asks, still a little hesitant. The water's old, but the last she'd heard, they were running fairly low.
'There's a low pressure front coming in,' Reid provides, and she can see the light in his eyes at the discovery. In retrospect, she thinks that Morgan must have already known, and had been leaving the news for Reid to present. It does seem to give the former profiler an edge of unbridled enthusiasm. 'We should get a bit of rain soon. Enough to keep us going for a few months at least.'
It's welcome news, if he's right, but she's come to learn that Spencer Reid is very rarely wrong. She wonders how long they would have survived this without his abundance of seemingly trivial knowledge. He pushes the cup towards her again, and she takes it with much less hesitation. It's pretty damn hot outside, and she'd rather not pass out from dehydration.
She turns her attention to the map that's been stuck to the nearest wall, dotted with circles and crosses. The towns they've hit and the ones they haven't. They'll have to start spreading wider soon, and Emily wonders how long gas is going to hold out. Bicycles might be the transport of the future.
She's been there less than half an hour before she realizes that she's seriously tired. It's amazing how exhausting standing around keeping watch can be. A yawn escapes before she can suppress it.
'Get some rest,' Hotch tells her, and she's almost ready to argue before he adds. 'You're no good to us if you're dead on your feet. Take the afternoon, and we'll brief you tonight. I want to leave early tomorrow.'
She nods. 'Okay. Fine.' There's a quick round of goodbyes, and Rossi gives her a pat on the shoulder, and part of her wants to punch him for it. She's pretty sure this new lifestyle is only exacerbating some of his more chauvinistic character traits. At the same time, though, she's grateful, because it's another one of those anchors.
Stepping outside she sees the dark clouds in the distance, and wonders why she hadn't noticed them earlier. Of course, she'd been staring in the other direction all day, the back of the first sentry tower blocking the clouds from view.
Reid is right – there's a storm on the way. Not one of those metaphorical cliché ones that always seems to show up. Not one of those ones that's supposed to be symbolic for darkness. A storm looks pretty good right about now, because they definitely need the water. Hopefully it won't wash out tomorrow's recon trip.
She pulls a key from her pocket, the number "4" engraved on it. The town's single motel has become something of a barracks, albeit a barracks with a multitude of near useless technology. She can't flip on the air-conditioning and watch whatever happens to be on the Sci-Fi channel. Right now, she thinks she'd settle for Lifetime.
It's just as hot inside, so she opens the single window in the room and strips down to her underwear. It's not exactly paradise, but she works with what she's got. Lying down on top of the covers, she grabs a book from the nightstand. Nausea, by Sartre. She's read it before, but she's going to read it again anyway, mostly because she needs to.
She falls asleep a dozen pages in.
Outside, the rain starts to fall.