Ten Years

I - The United States of America, the Holy Russian Empire

America had two mantras. The first and latest was "We can meet in New York" because nothing made the thought of a dreaded meeting seem brighter than remembering the cramped and stuffy confines of the USS Saratoga. Now at least meetings could take place in New York, in the United Nations building. Even if he had to pass the few sad flags that flew permanently at half-mast outside, set slightly aside from the others. But this meeting wasn't with Cuba or Aztlán or England.

The Holy Russian Empire and his foreign minister were already there. They'd brought Byelorussia Province too and she stood back against the wall with one gloved hand on her knife, a blissful and terrifying smile on her face as she watched her older brother.

Sinclair shook hands with both Russians and Alfred did the same. Ivan smiled up at him, the three-barred cross of the State Orthodox Church catching the light.

"Breckinridge Scott is a criminal, gentlemen," Sinclair folded his hands together, a serious look on his face, "His phoney products and lies endangered not only individual countries but the planet. After all Zed Heads are not bound by international borders."

"Mr. Scott's lease on Vostok Station is indeed due for renewal," the foreign minister had a State Cross too, hanging from a chain and prominently displayed against his dark suit.

"If you play nice, perhaps we'll give him over," sang the Holy Empire.

During World War Z the Holy Russian Empire was still the Russian Federation and struggling with the undead heading east past the Urals and north from populous China and India. His military began protesting and Alfred had no idea which side Ivan himself was on. It didn't matter. The self-inflicted loss of one-tenth of his military for a nation already broken on the rake of a bloody history was too much.

Whatever Ivan's role in the Decimation, whether he was a victim or he stoned soldiers to death himself, the point was moot and the damage done.

"The United States can't condone your actions on the Ukrainian border."

"I was just visiting my older sister," Ivan blinked innocently, "There's nothing wrong with helping family, nyet?"

"Nyet brother," said Byelorussia Province.

"Sister has been so ill since the nerve gas at Kiev," he gravely shook his head, "And who's to say Vostok Station is not family also?"

This was news to Alfred,

"Vostok is a nation?"

"It makes little difference, Amerika," behind him what had been the nation of Belarus nodded. Where the bright light came through the window her white dress, white limbs and blonde hair were translucent and fading. The brightest thing on her was the State Cross around her neck and the wedding band on her left hand. She looked so happy.

"Vostok and Mr. Scott have gone against God and the Empire. So I will bring back Vostok for a talk and Amerika can have Mr. Scott, da?" Ivan smiled, sweet, beautiful and totally mad, "We don't want children who can't play nice."

Alfred's second mantra was whispered to his bedroom ceiling after he'd screamed himself awake "...Chicago, Phoenix, Boston, New York..." and he would continue listing cities, the cities he'd once been forced to leave behind and had left indelible marks on his skin in return, until grey light began to filter through his window.

II - The United Federation of China

China winced. He was old and revolutions and civil wars were hard on an aged body. It would take years to recover from so many changes in a single century and he would always carry the aches and pains deep in his bones. The Three Gorges Disaster was a rattle in his lungs when he rose in the mornings. Xilinhot was a discoloured patch of skin on his shoulder and a bright knife of pain.

Kiku knew this pain and so did Iran and Pakistan, though one nuclear warhead was nothing compared to what the Middle-Eastern pair had suffered through.

China was old. He'd lost his place as a rising economy but he was still alive and China would take its place at the head of the world sooner or later.

III - The United Kingdom of Great Britain

In a small pub in London, three men sat quietly around a table. This was not a normal state for them but the situation demanded this, respectful and soft conversation that had previously only been found on Remembrance Day. The official celebrations marking the liberation of the British Isles would be held less than a week from now simultaneously in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. The three brothers of the British Isles took this opportunity to sit and to remember.

England remembered being swept north by his military, almost insensible, both with the sensation of a population turning and with grief. His Queen remained at Windsor. Neither he or Scotland had heard from Wales. He and his brother had crouched behind the Antonine Line, throwing themselves into the defence of the line. Every zombie they dispatched was one that could never fix its teeth on the flesh of their missing brother or the people of the United Kingdom. Guns were not their only weapon either, lead and steel had its place but so did silver and ash and oak.

When they began their reclamation they circulated Wales' description but so many had a favour to ask, a brother, a wife, a son to watch out for, that it did little good. Still, the fight would start from the city of Conwy, the Welsh town protected by high walls and almost completely unchanged during the outbreak. There was a chance.

The Antonine Wall had been built by Rome to keep Caledonia out. Conwy, both the walls and the castle, had been built by Arthur's own king to keep Wales under his heel. One had formed the line that kept England and Scotland safe. And the other... Hovering above Conwy, only visible to those with the Sight, was a red dragon the size of a hawk. Wales came down from the walls with his rifle still slung over his back and the three had embraced tearfully in the street, joined by the fae of three brother-nations.

It took years to get their island back and five years alone to clear London. The UN reports noted that Britain took surprisingly few casualties even with the harsh weather caused by the nuclear exchange and attributed it to the fact that the advance was taken slowly and cautiously, perhaps even because of the fog and the rain. They were not to know how many times British soldiers were saved by a freak gust of wind lifting the fog, or by unexplained lights catching their attention so that they saw an advancing wave of the undead in time. Only the three brother-nations could see the fae.

IV - Finland

Spring was hunting season for Finland. The undead thawed from their icy prisons and they were dangerous once more. Tino joined the UN Northern Force every year for their Sweep and Clear. He used his crowbar only when he couldn't avoid it. His preference was the rifle, the rugged, simple kind like he used to have in the Winter War. Every year there were fewer and fewer zombies but he still kept his rifle at hand at all times except perhaps in the depths of winter. Iceland had been a harsh lesson for all.

V - England, France

France was the first nation to arrive for Victory in Britain Day. The ship bearing the French flag slid into Dover early and England was there with a small convoy of cars to meet them. Francis was easy enough to spot, even in the middle of a bevy of his people, leaning in close to give instructions and giving winning smiles to the prettiest that caught his eye. Arthur rolled his eyes, making sure that France could see it.

When France was on dry land he kissed Arthur on the cheek in the European way and dodged his swat with a silent laugh. His hair shone in the summer sun and his suit was finely tailored and flashier than anything the rest of the gathering had.

England and France were in the same car. There had been an exchange of English roses with French ones and Francis carefully twisted an English one from the bouquet. His gloved hands were clumsy and Arthur threaded the bloom through his buttonhole for him. The rose had become the symbol of mourning in France. Like the poppies on the battlefields of Flanders they'd been the first thing to grow again in the ashes of Versailles.

France beckoned England closer. Arthur caught the briefest glimpse of marred skin between sleeve and glove before he leant in closer,

"Bonjour, Angleterre," his voice could barely rise above a whisper now but he was still France. When England drew close enough to hear, he took the opportunity to plant a kiss on his ear.

Down, down into the Catacombs of Paris went the Parisians fleeing the plague and their nation had followed. Soon there were infected down in those old tombs too and it became a White Zone blazing in the heart of France's capital. A nation was difficult to destroy completely but the undead were mindless and could not know this.

No one knew exactly what happened to France down there in the dark. No one heard from him during the outbreak but by then most nations had enough problems within their own borders. But he didn't come with his government to the Honolulu Conference and when France's reclamation began there was no nation amongst his troops. It was only during the too-hasty clearance of Paris and its catacombs that he reappeared, voice reduced to a scratchy whisper and body broken.

Francis took his hand, fingers curling slowly and stiffly around Arthur's,

"You're skinny Angleterre."

"Hush, frog," he said as he squeezed the other nation's gloved hand.

"I should cook you something, mon petit. Breakfast before the celebrations, perhaps?"

"A fry-up. With black pudding and bacon. White pudding. Baked beans."

France shivered in (possible) mock horror and England kissed him on the jaw, on the place no stubble could grow, the scar in the curved shape of a human bite.

VI - Germany

The Prochnow Plan was almost the end of Germany. He'd made a promise to himself, chained in a dirty cell while Soviet troops tore through his capital and the camps were freed and the whole world denounced him and his brother as monsters. He promised that such terrible things would never happen again and he would make sure of it.

Ludwig had rebuilt as best as he could when the country was divided into two. When the wall came down he turned his attention to Gilbert's half, taking a quiet pride in the way his older brother became stronger along with his economy. He kept his promise and their citizens prospered. East and West were still divided by wealth and experiences but the recovery was going according to plan. Then the virus came and the dead no longer stayed still.

During the outbreak Germany fought like many other nations, shepherding his civilians to safe zones. When the orders came from General Lang he refused emphatically. He would not leave his people behind to die, crammed into some office block in Frankfurt. They ordered him again and he still refused. The General came on the line, ordering him to go north. Ludwig still said no. In the end it was Prussia's voice that came on the air,


"East," Germany was glad at least to hear from his brother. He'd been lead to believe that Gilbert was somewhere north, near Dortmund or Essen.

"You've got to stop fucking around here-"

"Brother! I'm not leaving our people here to die!" he lowered his voice to a hiss, "It's not going to happen again! I won't allow it even if you will."

"West, you have to. It's that or it's Russian discipline, understand?" Prussia's voice wavered on those last words. News had reached Germany of the Decimation the last time he and Prussia were together, "I couldn't do that to my men. Please, West, come north."

And Germany had looked at his men, who were boys really, tired, hungry and scared boys, many not much older than eighteen.

So really he deserved the filth and foul words his citizens threw down at them when they left. He deserved seeing the grim faces of the Rapid Reaction Stabilization Units, the ones who would not be coming north with them. And he deserved the bullet that he caught through the head (a rogue military round or an angry civilian, it didn't matter) which threw him back off a bridge and into the river Main.

Nations are hard to destroy, but even a shot through the head takes time to heal. Ludwig woke on a river bank, presumably on the Main but he could have even been swept into the Rhine and God knows how many miles from Frankfurt.

He fought his way through a country that was devouring itself. At first he headed north but a call over the radio soon changed his mind. It was a call from the Bavarian Alps, a safe zone established by those left behind, those calculated as expendable, civilian and military. And Ludwig knew that was where he had to go.

Germany had been divided before, firstly into the individual warring states, then by the Polish corridor, then into East and West. It seemed only natural to it would happen again, not by politics but by experiences. North and South Germany met again years later, not in Berlin this time but in an anonymous field watched only by soldiers and the dead.