Chapter 9

Endings and New Beginnings

They'd been in the air for seven, maybe eight nauseating minutes of wild pitches, yawing and rolling. They'd lost most of the horde two or three blocks away, probably due to their more than slightly erratic flight path. "We're not doing too good… getting a lot of vibration in the pedals;" said their pilot, "check those sys…" Metal shrieked. He struggled against and pain and blood loss induced fatigue. His limbs trembled, or it was the pedals and control stick. He wasn't sure if it was him or his chopper. The landing skids skimmed off the roof of a building with a shrieking, and something somewhere, exploded. A ball of flame blossomed and streaked like a comet. Where it went was anyone's guess.

It was their tail rotor. Bill wasn't sure how he knew that. The vibration and shrieking didn't stop, but changed in pitch, volume and intensity. Bill suddenly knew that they were no long flying. They were crash diving. And, he realized, Louis had a front row seat to the one way ground level debacle. There was a tearing of metal that was soul rending as the pilot repeated his broadcast, "… PANG-0-1-4, Going…"

"May…repeat…penn…air gua…. 4…ing down…." Every joint in Louis's body felt like it had dislocated as they rattled, spun and weaved their way to the ground. There was a sliding sensation, and the restraints and harness failed to keep them all properly grounded in their seats. Zoey was thrown bodily across the cramped interior against Francis. "The crashing part isn't going to hurt," thought the biker sardonically, "it's the whole stopping by slamming in to the ground thing."

A sudden, terrifying shuddering… there was a roar as something else exploded somewhere close by, yet another swift rattling of something against concrete and asphalt… A complete almost excruciating but strangely welcome blackness was the last thing Louis would remember.

Louis woke up.

He was lying down, and he could see that it was still night, that the darkness hadn't abated, but the light came from their still burning chopper. "Welcome back to the land of the living," said Zoey, "or the land of the dead, depending on how you look at it." He laughed, and that hurt. He suddenly realized it was easier to categorize what was ached a little – his head – and what didn't ache at all: His trigger finger. Suddenly, he understood why Francis had a perennially itchy trigger finger. He hated the bastards too.

There was, unfortunately, nothing they could do for their pilot; he had more than a single shard like blade of glass emerging from the torso of their dying pilot. Whether his wounds finished him, or the infection claimed him was academic. The wounds would kill him if he turned anyway. They'd laid him and bound his hands. He was no fool. They all knew his time was short.

"I'm sorry," the pilot had a maniacal gleam in his eye, and it was not a misnomer to state that there was something trying to claw its way out of him., "Base is…" The pilot pointed with his tied hands, down the street in to an alleyway. He slumped against the ground, pale, sweat shining on his face and blood staining his lips, eyes bloodshot and breathing raggedly at best, "Base camp… 25 kilometers east of here."

There were vivid bite marks on his arm, and collar bone. Blood and sweat had stained his flight suit, and there was an overriding smell of something else, perhaps it was what fear smelled like. Zoey stared for a long moment, then reached out and offered him her pistol. He laughed weakly and shook his head, "Couldn't, even if I tried," he gave what might have been a giggle of laughter, "And God knows… I want to. I can't… hold it…. back much longer. You do… you do it." He let out a strange choking, growling noise; shaking his head furiously. He was fighting the infection that burned and spread through his veins, consuming his humanity and mutating him in to something else. The pilot suddenly jerked upright and Francis let out a half shout of warning. The man's' eyes were no longer his own, taken over by a dark grey silver color.

"Hey Mr. Positive," Francis said, "You got anything to say about this?"

"Yeah!" replied Louis, "We survived a crash landing in a helicopter without restraints… and none of us are infected." The last part was whispered, almost as if it didn't need to be said. But it had to be, to bring home to all of them, the gravity of the situation.

Francis could only grunt. He had to concede that much was true… unlike their pilot, "Poor bastard," he thought, as he watched from a relative safe distance as he changed before them. There was the sound of tearing cloth, as he legs seemed to shorten slightly, the muscles in his thighs and calves thickening. It was the sound of bone, shifting, breaking, and the scream of human pain, that become one of animalistic agony.

He seemed to contact in to himself, as if hunching over. The last words the unfortunate could speak were in more of a hissed shriek than actually spoken, "Do it." They knew what "it" was, but it was a hard thing to do. Louis and Bill had killed in combat. Francis had killed in self defense. And it was Zoey who was holding the gun in a shaking hand.

Bill wasn't the type to hesitate; there was something about this situation that urged him not to let Zoey do the deed. He pulled his own side arm, swinging it up, and aim with the speed only a trained and battle hardened soldier can match and gave the trigger a smooth pull. "Had to be done," Louis murmured softly behind them, reaching over to put his hand on her shoulder, "Had to be done." He wasn't sure if he was trying to convince her that letting Bill kill another human was the right thing to do, or whether he was trying to convince himself.

Bill was. He'd killed men before. And it was not something that he wanted anyone else to experience - especially Zoey. She was too young to be killing real humans, never mind the infected. He'd been twenty-one, a trained marine the first time he'd done it. That had been war, this was the apocalypse. "If I ever turn, I expect any of you, to do the same thing for me," It was a proclamation and an order. Not a request, "I would do the same for anyone of you." Francis turned away breaking eye contact with the veteran whose stare would have burned a hole in a Tank.

The chopper was burning, and Francis stared up, using the trail of destruction that marked several buildings to chart their descent. He wasn't sure who had been in control during the last frantic minute but whoever it was, had done a hell of a job bringing down intact enough for them to not only get clear of the chopper, but also strip it of supplies in the few minutes before it began to burn, " I just love helicopters," muttered Francis.

The other three broke out laughing at the sheer venom and sarcasm the biker had poured in to those four words. Finally, they calmed and were equally embarrassed, even though it is a normal reaction to extreme pressures and stress levels which was an accurate summary of their lives in the past few weeks. "So guys, two questions: Does anybody know where the hell we are? And does anybody know where the hell we should be going?"

Bill shrugged, "He did point down that alley, and we're more or less all set to move." They had filled out their pockets, webbing and packs with as much ammunition, the divided contents of the chopper's medical kit and emergency rations. It took them less than five minutes, as they studied a salvaged map, "Looks like we're here." They had gone fifty to sixty kilometers, and crashed on the outskirts of a small no name suburb of Fairfield.

"Yep," agreed Louis, "At least we know where we are, and where we're going," at the look from Zoey, he conceded, "We sorta know where we should be going."

Francis reached out and head slapped the bald former marine, "And we don't even get to leave the vampires behind!"

"They're zombies Francis!" snapped Zoey automatically as they saw the swarming horde. It only took them a few moments to figure out that it was a part of the horde chasing the chopper… the part that they hadn't lost during their flight from the city.

"Three Hunters leaping," muttered Louis, eye glued to his sniper scope.

"Two Smoker's smoking in the middle," growled Bill as he lit the cigarette from behind ear and stuffed a fresh one in to place.

"One Boomer leading," reported Zoey.

They had fallen in to their traditional places, and Louis took a knee, bracing his rifle on a pile of rubble, Zoey half crouched next to Francis, Bill and the biker himself standing at the back where their weapons could take advantage of their better range. "You know Francis, you'd have made quite a Marine," remarked Bill, with a feigning casual nonchalance.

The tattooed biker smirked, "You, Bill would have made an awesome Hell's Legion biker."

The foursome looked sized each other up for a moment, "Nah!" said Louis with absolute conviction born of three weeks surviving insanity with these people, "Francis, you'd look terrible in jungle green. You'd hate it. And Bill," the man laughed, "I'd hate to see you in a leather vest!" There was a chorus of chuckles, grins and half smiles. Francis admit it to himself, just himself that while Zoey was worth at least one and half on his "look out for number one" rule, the other three were worth a "1" too.

They waited, a comfortable silence, for the horde to cross the invisible line. That "line," was why survivors have guns. Bill took a drag on his cigarette, "Just remember now: Stick together." A cloud of exhaled nicotine tainted smoke seemed to form a near angelic halo around his head for a moment before it drifted away on the gentle night air.

Francis flicked the safety off the M16A4 and the XM-26, "And kick vampire ass!"

Louis sighed, "Considering you've been killing 'em for three weeks, you could call a zombie a zombie. But," he adjusted his aim, "Kickin' ass sounds like a good idea."He waited for the pouncing Hunter to land, and if he'd judged it right…

"We're on a Crash Course with that horde," agreed Zoey, "Kicking ass is what we do best."

They were battered, beaten, in more than one case, more than a little broken, but they were still unbowed. She grinned, and Francis swore that the grin was one that would make Death himself hesitate in trying to harvest their souls. Louis's rifle barked once, and in the distance a Hunter, its paws having just graced the ground, slumped and kissed the asphalt. The sniper began taking aim at the second Hunter.

Once upon a time, some three weeks perhaps a month ago, a frying pan wielding college student, an honorably discharged Marine Scout Sniper, a veteran of an unpopular jungle war and a bad attitude biker had been dysfunctional misfit individuals, lumped together by circumstance and chance. Now the foursome was more than a just a grouping. They were a family, standing tall and shoulder to shoulder.

The infected would descend upon them, in ravening hordes or with snap attacks and ambushes led by the "special" infected. The survivors would stand and gun them down till the bullets ran out, beat them back with rifle butts, bayonets and Ka-Bars and if it came down to it, bludgeon them the hordes to a bloody pulp with their bare hands. They are survivors. They are the genuine Disciples of the Apocalypse.

After all, kicking ass, like the young lady set, is what they do best when Left 4 Dead.