Sorry for the late update, had to get done with school. This chapter took a while because I was trying to cover both Ellis' and Nick's first person perspectives. Also wanted to do a few cameos of some of Ellis' voice actor's other roles for kicks, not than anyone would notice besides me. :/

Reminder: The forward and back slashes indicate where the POV changes between Ellis' and Nick's. Ellis will be first in this particular chapter.

Please Read, Write and Enjoy. :)


Left 4 Dead 2: Camaraderie

Chapter 3

The hallway was hardly any brighter than the cell they dragged me out of an' the air was colder than before. The hairs on my arm stood up tryin' to keep me warm. Either that or my body was reactin' to the fear I jes' couldn't seem to swallow.

I learned in church to not fear death. That when ya' die, that's jes' when God decided it was your time. But I felt like He was tryin' to take me too soon. It wasn't my time yet. I still had friends that needed me before they were taken before it was their time too.

That's what I tol' myself anyway. It helped with the fear. But words didn't matter if I didn't get myself out a' danger.

The hallways all started to look the same. The walls were gray an' the doors were all made of steel. The only difference was that some of the doors had small glazed windows and doorknobs on 'em. Figured they were business rooms used for questionin' prisoners. I kept hopin' they would open on of 'em, shove me in an' handcuff me to a chair. At least I'd be spared for a little bit longer to think of a plan.

As they escorted me down the hall, I glanced at the directory signs on the wall. Cells one through fifty were behind us. Fifty to a hundred down a different hallway. A rec room up ahead somewhere beyond the double doors we were about to pass through. Between the two windows written in red was "Authorized Personnel Only".

The first guard pushed the door open hard enough that both me and him could pass through, while the guy behind me let himself through. Here there was another long hallway, but all the rooms were either offices or storage. This time, the doors were made out of the standard wood you would expect a door to be made out of, and the lights were brighter making the the walls shine a pale white.

I heard a beep come from one of the soldiers. Then came garbled speech from a radio on the one behind me. I couldn't understand what was said, but it was a man and he sounded concerned. Another beep sounded and the soldier replied, "Roger." Then he spoke towards the other soldier, "Be advised; Tango Sams on the loose. Keep that gun looked and loaded."

"Roger. Keep the Tango Mike in sight."

It was all Greek to me. That's what all that code talk was for. All I knew was that something bad was happening and that the guards were on high alert.

Near the end of the hallway, the guy in front threw up his left hand in a fist, telling us to stop. There was a sound comin' from around the corner. Guess I couldn't hear it before 'cause we walk so damn loud. It was a sound that was way too familiar to me; the sound of a low guttural growl.

My body shivered from a chill goin' down my spine. It was the warning growl of a Hunter, gettin' itself ready to attack.

Hunters were probably one of the freakiest zombies I'd ever fought. They could jump crazy far to pounce you so that they could rip your guts out. And during all that, you're left to try to push him off and stare into the empty eye sockets under his hood. Once they pounced you, you were dead unless someone was there to shoot it in the head. And I didn't trust these two muscle-heads with my life, even if one of 'em had a gun.

"L-Listen, y'all...y'all gotta let me go."

"Quiet," one of 'em ordered in a whisper.

"No." I raised my voice just a little. "It's a Hunter, I know how to fight them things."

"It's not a Hunter."

"Bullshit! Y'all don't know nothin'. Unlock my hands before it tries to kill us."

I felt a tight grip on my wrist. The guard behind me pulled out a high-powered handgun and held it towards the end of the hallway.

The growlin' got louder. Then a howl rang through the compound loud enough to make your ears bleed. That was how the Hunter said "I'm ready to rip your insides out. I'm gonna kill you now."

The thing about Hunter is that they always keep their word.

It went by so fast. It leaped out from around the corner. The next second it wax runnin' on the wall. Strings of bullets fire from the first guard's assault rifle. The Hunter was way too fast. The only new holes the rifle made were in the wall. I remember tryin' to shake loose from the guard then suddenly he was on the floor beside me, screaming at the tip of his lungs. His pistol flew from his hand down the hall from the shock of the pounce.

It had moved so fast that I didn't even notice until it had already pounced that it really wasn't a Hunter. It was a dog. An infected dog. It had a tag on its ear labeled 14. But it still acted just like a Hunter.

Next thing I noticed was that it was a German Shepherd, of all things. Couldn't help but think of my own Shepherd I used to have. Found him under a rusted old truck in the junkyard as a pup, so I named him Rusty. Those things make the best dogs, I tell you what. Wouldn't ya know it, he got ran over chasin' a squirrel or something.

Too bad I didn't have a car to run this one over.

The dog tore its claws into the soldier's armor. It wasn't plated armor, it was more of that really thick foamy stuff. The infection made its nails sharp as knives. The armor's protection didn't last long before blood started to fly everywhere. Then it started to shred open his neck with its teeth. The dog was a good seventy pounds and with the soldier losin' strength from the loss of blood, he was helplessly pinned, unable to save himself.

First thing I thought about was runnin' to grab the pistol the soldier dropped. The other one didn't even care that I took off. He was too busy shoving the Hunter dog off his buddy. One thing I've learned is that if you're gonna shove a Hunter, you'd better have a plan to shot it right after. Turns out these guys weren't hired for their brains. I was already at the pistol by the time he was yellin' for his life.

With my hands behind my back I couldn't pick up the gun let alone fire it. I looked back and saw that the dog had just finished rippin' though the other dude's armor. The one on the floor was quiet, bleedin' out to death. I didn't have much time before I was next.

I stooped over as far as I could without fallin' over. I tried to put my hands under my right leg, balancin' on my left. The handcuffs got caught in the folds of my overalls and the heel of my boot as I brought it around. The chain jerked when it came off my shoe, topplin' me to my side, but I was half way there.

I checked one more time and saw blood paintin' the wall beside the screamin' soldier.

My back and arms ached when I tried to pull my left hand around my left leg. I had no idea how Hudini did it because I was not meant to bend that way. I felt sweat drip down my eyebrow every time the sleeves of my overalls got tangled In the chain.

I couldn't help but sigh when my arms were finally at my front. My shoulders an' elbows popped when my hands cleared my foot.

Then I heard the Hunter dog howl its warning again. My time was up and it was gonna come for me next. I reached up and grabbed the magnum and scrambled to my feet.

I managed to get out of the way just in time for the zombie dog to pounce. Its scream made my ears ring as it passed. I squeezed off a few shots as it landed. But it whirled around so fast that I didn't have to to react when it leaped again.

I shoved the gun into its throat when it took me down and fired a quick shot. And in a split second, I reacted with a self-defense move I learned back in karate. My back hit the floor and I used that backwards momentum to roll onto the small of my back and kick the dog over my head.

Using that same swing I flipped over to my feet, not without stumblin' a little. The bullet that went through its throat stunned it a little, just long enough for me to take a few more shots at it.

Thank God one hit it square in the back of the head. With a pained yelp it collapsed to the floor, a spot of blood spatter the wall behind it.

"Phew..." I breathed. "Nice try, Rusty."

Once it was over, it didn't seem as hard as it was. The two trained soldiers fell like flies. Armed no less. While I –a nobody from Savannah—was able to kill it handcuffed. Then again, I had been at the routine of killin' zombies and fightin' for my life for the last couple weeks.

Then it hit me. All that time I spent tryin' to get to New Orleans... Those few hours flyin' on the chopper thinkin' that the last zombie I'd ever have to shoot was the Tank that stood in our way on the bridge. Call it cheesy, but now that I'd killed that Hunter, it was like a big red flag that signaled that the fightin' wasn't over. We were far from safe.

Talk about a let-down.

I walked over to the two bodies of the soldiers. Both of them were shredded to ribbons, absent of life. I'd seen this plenty of times, passing the bodies of other survivors on our way to New Orleans. That didn't mean that it was any easier to swallow than a handful of thumbtacks.

I took another pistol from the guard that held the assault rifle and stuck them both in my pockets. I was goin' to take the rifle with me, but the dog managed to damage it beyond use.

Finally, I searched the other guard for the keys to my handcuffs and the cell that Nick was still locked in. I found the keyring on a back loop of his pants and unclasped them.

I ran back down the hall towards the cell. I knew it wouldn't be long before someone came running to check out the gunshots. I got away and I didn't intend on getting' caught again. Especially when our escape had 'ficially started.

I jumbled with the keys when I got five doors down from our cell. I frowned when I noticed there were a crap-ton of key. The guards had to know which keys opened which locks somehow.

I looked over the keys, flippin' 'em over my fingers lookin' at the sides. There were little numbers inscribed on 'em. One of 'em had 50 - 100 on it, like the directory signs I had passed before. I figured that it would open those fifty cells. Didn't see why it wouldn't work for another key that had 1 – 50 on it.

The key slipped in the hole like a glove. Couldn't say the same for the tumblers, must'a been rusted or somethin'. After a couple twists the lock came loose and I pushed the door open, slidin' the ring over my thumb.

For two whole seconds I though the door slammed back in my face, 'cause I almost swear my nose was broken. I couldn't help coverin' my face with my hand.

"Holy shit! Ellis!"

"Jesus Christ, Nick! This is the thanks I get for comin' back for ya'? Now I know why ya' ain't married no more."

Nick flicked his wrist a few times from sockin' me. I looked up just in time to see his face go from shock an' joy to that cocky smile I knew he would wear when he wanted to laugh. Namely at me. It was one a' those things he wouldn't admit later."

"I thought you were a guard."

"Nah. The guards didn't miss ya' as much as I did," I joked, trying to smile past the pain I felt in my face. "Mind unlockin' me?"

"Oh, yeah." Nick unhooked the keyring from my thumb an' flocked through the smallest key an' unlocked my handcuffs. The chains clanked to the floor with a rattle of steel. My wrists were sore from pressing against the cuffs, rubbin' my hands on 'em nulled the pain a little.

"Thanks man. Figured you'd know a thing or two about getting' outta handcuffs."

He seemed distracted by my hands, didn't say anythin' for a second except, "Damn, Ellis. They must have tortured you with those things."

There was a bloody ring where the cuffs had been on top of deep cuts. I didn't even notice it 'till he said somethin'. I was probably so focused on getting' out of there alive I never even felt 'em diggin' into my skin.

"Oh. Nah. I had to get my hands around to my front." I sighed and shook my head. I didn't know how much of what I'd seen Nick was gonna believe. "There's some crazy shit goin' on here, man. There was this dog with a tag on its ear... It acted just like a Hunter. It ripped those two guys up faster than a paper shredder shreds paper."

He didn't say anything immediately. He kinda just stared like he was decidin' what to make of it.

"I'll admit that's a lot more believable than one of your Keith stories."

My blood pressure went up a little. "I'm serious, Nick. Go down the hall an' you'll see the bodies. I think they're testin' on animals, tryin' to find a cure for the infection."

"Easy, sport." Nick spat 'sport'. "I said a lot more believable. And considering the shit-hole horror movie the world's become, I wouldn't doubt it." He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "Now, how are we getting out of here?"

Damn. I knew I forgot somethin'.


"What?" Nick blurted. "You haven't come up with anything yet?"

"Hey, I'm workin' on it."

"I knew letting you come up with an escape plan was a bad idea."

Same old Nick... Thinkin' I couldn't do anythin' right an' when shit hits the fan, well, he'd be the one to remind us we were up to our necks in it.

I started thinkin' as fast as I could, sayin' whatever came to mind. "Hold on, hold on. We've already gotten this far. All we gotta do is find Coach an' Ro an' get the hell outta here."

"Yeah, yeah, great plan, Ellis." Nick brought out the sarcasm in a voice brighter than his suit. "Except you forgot a few things. One: we have no idea where they are. Two: The entire prison is trying to kill us. And three: if we even manage to get out, where are we going to go?"

I forgot to mention impossible to please.

"Look, they're only gonna be lookin' for me. If we split up, we can look for 'em faster."

"Split up? That's the last thing we want to do right now."

"Will you listen for five seconds?" I let out a breath that probably would have exploded inside my lungs. "I got a couple pistols here, one for each a' us. If you find a gun locker or somethin', grab a few pieces for Coach an' Ro. If you find 'em, meet up at the entrance."

I handed him the pistol that had the most ammo left over. He took it and placed it in the inside pocket a' his suit. I could tell by the look on his face that he wasn't lookin' forward to my plan at all. But seein' as how he didn't have much to say other than how bad my idea sucked, I knew he didn't have any better ideas.

"Can't call it good, but it is a plan." Nick unhooked the key that opened the cells one through fifty and handed it to me. I'll check one half of the cells and you check the other."

"Okay." I nodded. "Save your bullets 'till ya need 'em."

"Let's hope Lady Luck hasn't gotten tired of covering our asses."


Ellis skimmed through the first hallway while I took the one in the back. I would have complimented the lighting of the halls being a little brighter than the cell, but that was before I realize it still smelled like piss. And that was probably what was smeared on the walls.

Christ, why did I get stuck with the group of people who couldn't stay away from sewage?

I looked for guards before I rounded the corner, then moved on to check the cells, starting with fifty-one and worked my way through one-hundred. Each time I looked through the windows to see if Coach and Rochelle were in one, and each time I continued to wonder how many survivors were stuck in this place with us.

After I had gone through fifty doors, I realized that we were probably the only prisoners left. Coach and Rochelle weren't in any of them.

I sighed, turning to head back the way I came. I kept trying to tell myself that Ellis managed to find them. Even when he turned the corner shortly after I did with no sign of the two, I tried to convince myself that he was just going to tell me I had given him the wrong key. But I knew better.

I cursed when I saw his face; sideways mouth with cocked eyebrows. I could hear his annoying voice in my head saying "They're here somewhere, just not here."

He opened his mouth to say something and I swear to God he was starting to put his tongue to his teeth to make that th- sound.

"Don't even say it, Ellis," I stopped him.

"What?" He shrugged. "I was jes' gonna say we gotta keep lookin'."

"Close enough." I pinched the bridge of my nose. Sometimes his optimism was as annoying as his hick accent.

That must have been too much of a hint for him, because next he said, "Hey, man. We're free, got guns, an' security's looser than a kindergardner's front teeth. We got this covered."

Kindergardener's front teeth? Really? He must have backwater shoved up his ass so he can pull it out whenever he wants to.

"How do you even know they haven't been shot by now?"

"An' how do you know they have?" Ellis managed to get irritated with me without raising his voice. Looking at his face I could tell I'd struck a cord. Even after the past few weeks, his immaturity still surprised me. For a twenty-three year old man, he acted like a little kid. He wore his feelings on his face and his heart was tattooed on his sleeve, right next to that thing on his right arm that looked like Van Gogh was drunk off his ass. "I mean, c'mon. You sound like you don't even care."

"Look, I'm just saying we could walk out the door right now-"

"An' leave Coach and Ro?" He chuckled with a sarcastic smile on his face. "What's with you? I knew you were heartless, but damn."

Ellis didn't know what he was talking about, he wouldn't let me finish. But I didn't want to waste time trying to convince him otherwise. I could feel my grip loosening on the reigns of my temper.

"Okay, okay. You know what? Ten minutes. Ten minutes and I'm out of here before I get turned into Swiss cheese."

"What's stoppin' ya? They ain't lookin' for ya. I can find 'em on my own."

Ellis didn't say anything else. He just walked past me and kept going. He didn't even react when I called after him, "Ellis! Don't be stupider than usual."

Once he turned the corner, I knew there was no stopping him. It wasn't that I didn't care, it was that if Rochelle and Coach were already dead, we were wasting our time. If the two of us were caught or killed looking for people who couldn't be saved it wouldn't be worth it.

That, and the knowledge that if they were dead, I'd be stuck baby-sitting Ellis for the short remainder of our lives.

I turned and headed down the hall Ellis had first come from. He was right, though. With the two of us split up and one of us off the radar, we could find them faster.

I checked every cell down that hallway to make sure Ellis didn't miss them. I was never a fan of wishful thinking, mostly because it was never a fan of me. I kept moving when I didn't find anything.

The rooms started to look like offices. I checked each of the knobs to see if any of them were unlocked. Most of them were. I found one that was unlocked and looked inside. The lights were out and no one was inside. The only light came from the monitor of a computer on a desk with papers scattered on top of it.

I closed the door behind me and moved toward the desk. I turned the monitor toward the papers and shifted through them. They were all hand written notes about some sort of observation in hostility on animals.

'There was this dog with a tag on its ear... It acted just like a Hunter. It ripped those two guys up faster than a paper shredder shreds paper.'

Now that I had some evidence other than Ellis' heresy, I felt like I would rather listen to his Keith stories than run into the dog he mentioned.

I bumped the mouse with my hand while I was rummaging through the papers. The screen saver disappeared and was replaced with an e-mail service website. I glanced at it then looked back when I noticed my name was mentioned in the message. In fact, all of our names were in the e-mail.

The title of the message said "Testing Schedule". The body just had times with our names next to them with a number. Coach was first, then Rochelle, Ellis, then me at the bottom. That meant whatever poking and prodding they were going to do to us had already been done to Coach and Rochelle, and that Ellis was missing his treatment. Then I realized the numbers by our names were our cell numbers. Ellis and I were in five, the others were in one-thirty-one.

Ellis had gone that way. Maybe he managed to find them.

Then there was a post script at the bottom that read "All experimental testing staff are required to wear their lab coats, respiration masks and identification on them at all times due to the above mentioned subjects being Carriers."

There was that word again. "Carriers". We had seen messages on the walls of safe houses saying that Carriers spread the infection and that they could turn at any time. The four of us just shrugged it off or at least most of us did. Coach would stare at that wall, as if he was trying to figure out if it was true or more of the same bullshit people wrote.

"Nick!" I heard Ellis call my name from down the hall. "Nick! Help!"

At first the only thing I thought was that he was going to get us both killed. Then I heard another voice scold him.

I put the monitor on its face to hide the light and crouched beneath the window of the door. Then a shadow passed by, completely darkening the room for a brief second. I waited a few seconds, then cracked the door just enough to look down the hall.

Two security guards held Ellis by the wrists, dragging his feet across the floor. He was unconscious and his nose was bleeding.

I closed the door and rushed for the lab coat hung on the back of the chair. There was a gas mask on top of the file cabinet. And since nothing can be easy, there was no identification on the coat or anywhere in the room. At least this guy had a third of a brain to take his ID with him.

I stopped when I realized I had already had one arm in the coat sleeve. Here I was getting ready for some poorly planned rescue, when already Ellis' dumb idea got him caught. Two weeks ago, I wouldn't have given a shit about anyone but me. And now that I was the only one free, I could walk out now, just like I always had.

I had already come this far. My window for walking out was gone a long time ago. What Ellis didn't understand is that if I was planning to abandon them, I would have done it a long time ago.

I stuffed my other arm into the sleeve and buttoned it up to the second to last button, hiding the collar of my suit. I cracked the door and checked one more time for guards. The double doors at the end of the hall flipped back and forth after they took Ellis through. Further down, I could see some sort of bloody mess splattered on the walls and floor.

Once they stopped I moved into he hall and quickly closed the door behind me. Then I retraced my steps back into the hall that I had first checked the cells. After rounding a few corners, I followed the directories towards cell on-thirty-one. I saw a guy in a lab coat go around a corner when I finally found the hallway I needed to be in.

Walking along, I noticed one of the side doors were forcefully opened, like someone kicked it in. Inside were a couple of weapon lockers, one of which had a dent in the cage.

I looked up and down the hall as I pulled the keys out of my pocket. I peeked in through the window of the cell and saw two people lying in the beds. My heart started to race as I flipped through the keys and unlocked the door.

"Coach. Rochelle." I whispered their names as to not draw attention.

Neither of them stirred.

For a minute, I thought the worst. That whatever tests they did to them had some nasty side effects. I walked up to Rochelle's bed and shook her by the shoulder.

"Rochelle, wake up."

She groaned and rolled over just enough to look at my face. As soon as she saw me, you'd hardly known she had just woken up from a nap.

"Nick!" She didn't say it loudly, but it was probably the happiest any had ever said my name. She then jumped up and hugged me. "How did you find us?"

I'll admit, I wasn't too comfortable with her touch, but Rochelle was considerably happier than usual. It took me a second before I decided to return the embrace.

"Got lucky," I answered. "But we don't have much time. You two have to get out, now."

Coach sat up on his bed but never got up.

Rochelle took her arms away from me. That's when I saw the bandage on her wrist. "Why? What happened?"

"They got Ellis. I've got to go back for him. By the time I have him, you guys need to be outside so we can make a break for it."

"We ain't leaving." Coach's stern voice barely let me finish speaking. It was the voice he used when decisions were being made and his choice was the final say in the matter.

"Not leaving?" I could feel my blood pressure rising. "Coach, do you have any idea what we had to do to get this far? Ellis risked his life to get us out."

"We're safe here, Nick."

"How far do you have your head shoved up your ass?" I took a few steps closer to him, physically sizing up my statement. "I saw them beat the shit out of him, threaten to kill him. And to make things worse, the animals they're testing nearly killed him."

"As long as we help them, they ain't gonna let nothing happen to us." Coach then stood up and got in my face, trying to reclaim his superior position over me. He was a full head taller than I was, but he should have learned by now that I didn't take bullshit from anyone. Especially when I was fully aware that Coach was a self-proclaimed pacifist when it came to fighting people, not zombies. I knew he wouldn't lay a finger on me, no matter how much he bluffed.

"If they don't find a cure for the infection, they'll kill us. Where do you think we are in the line of guinea pigs in the last month?" Coach didn't say anything. "Huh? What makes us different than everyone else they've tried?"

I could see it in his face when he started to back down and his resolve started to break. In my line of work, you weren't an ace if your face did the talking.

"Face it, Coach. We're standing on death row in here. At least out there we can fight back."

I turned to Rochelle. Her dark lips were parted from watching our argument. I couldn't tell whose side she was on, but I put my hand on her shoulder just in case.

"There's a gun locker a few doors down to the right. Ellis probably tried to get into it. Get whatever you need and we'll meet you outside."

"Okay." She nodded. Now I knew she was on my side of the fence. Coach wasn't so fast to comply in his defeat.

I slung the respirator mask from around my arm and pressed it to my face. The goggles were grimy and hard to see out of. And even though I could breathe without much difficulty the mask smelled like a power-lifter's armpit.

I then led them to the door and let them inside. No sooner had they gone inside I heard footsteps coming from down the hall leading to the previous cells. I leaned just enough to catch a glimpse at the person, another doctor, checking something on a clipboard.

I moved my head towards the door and whispered, "Someone's coming. Wait until he passes then I'll see you outside."

Rochelle and Coach crouched against the wall closest the door as I closed it behind me.

I first moved away from the door before turning the corner, in case he happened to see me out of his peripheral vision. However he was wearing the same mask as I was, so his sight was no better than mine. He glanced up at me when he heard me coming but then brought his attention back to his clipboard.

Looked him over, I saw an ID tag clipped to the waist pocket of his coat. As I passed him, I twisted my wrist and unclipped the tag before stuffing it in my pocket. I kept walking, never looked back. By the time I was out of the hall and got away with it, I was already half way to Ellis.

I checked the tag. The guy's name was Henry Rogers, had black hair and was an assistant. It would do for a cover, at least long enough to get Ellis out.


I don't know why I was so mad at Nick. Probably 'cause I thought he'd changed, thought he gave more than half of a shit. The first few days I knew him, he seemed more like a ghost than a real person. Like was was goin' to disappear at any minute, like he was never there.

An' in the end, he finally pulled his disappearin' act when I needed him the most.

But I'd already come this far all by myself, I didn't need Nick. Maybe we were better off without him.

I had gone a couple hallways since splittin' up with Nick. I found more cells, so I started checkin' 'em. I almost jumped out of my skin when I saw Coach an' Ro sleepin' in the one fifteen doors to the left.

I stuck my hand in my pocket. Then my heart sank. I forgot that the rest of the keys were with Nick. If he had already left, I'd have to find another set of keys. If he hadn't, then I'd be in luck.

Still, for some reason I decided to bet that he did. That same stupid pride that got me into this mess in the first place. And I wasn't gonna take on more guards without bein' properly armed.

Back down the hall a little bit were more of those regular doors. I peeked in though the windows to see if there were any kind of firearms I could take. Right around the corner from where I came one of the windows looked stronger, reinforced. An' inside, past all those little criss-crosses between the glass, was a gun locker.

I tried the knob. Wasn't surprised to find it locked. Rammin' my shoulder into it a few times got me somewhere. I could see the door starting to give way where I hit it. I rolled my shoulder when it started to hurt. Then I took a step back and let the underside of my boot do the rest.

The door swung open with a 'bang'. The only light in the room was comin' from out in the hall. All I could think about was openin' up the locker. But I was gonna have to go through a pad lock first. And with the racket I was just makin', I wouldn't have much before someone came lookin' to check it out.

Some things can just never be easy.

I looked behind myself to see if a guard was comin' yet. It was clear for the time bein'. Then the lock started getting' really acquainted with my boot. It took a few kicks before it started to give way, bendin' and crunchin' at the clasp. It only took a minute, but it was a minute long enough to wear me out and leave me breathin' a little heavy.

Once the clasp was convinced to unlock, I took it off the cage and tossed it to the floor.

I don't know what it was that day, but it was like I could hardly open a locked door without getting' hit in the face.

My brain lit up in a painful fire when my head hit the door of the locker. A guard had found me and shoved me as hard as he could. I could already feel the blood tricklin' down my nose an' onto my lip.

Faster than I knew I could, I spun and threw a wild punch at the man behind me. I nicked him in the chin since I aimed eye-level to myself, findin' him to be a few inches taller than me. His build was larger than mine, too. An' he seemed a little smarter than the two guys from before.

He certainly knew how to fight better than them, 'cause he didn't let my punch set him back any. He might've taken one step back, but he came back an' held me by the collar of may shirt, thowin' a better placed punch square in the cheekbone. I fell back against the locker, cornered by the guard. My face throbbed as I decided to resort to the pistol in my back pocket but the man saw me reach for it an'

grappled my arm an' neck. I tried to squirm out of his grip, bu the held on tighter than bark on a tree. Then I figured he must'a been a former wrestler or some shit like that, 'cause before I knew it, he picked me up like I was nothin' an' slammed me to the floor.

The air got knocked out of my lungs an' I gasped for air. Somehow I managed to hold onto the pistol as I fell, but as soon as I hit the ground it skidded across the floor. I knew how bad of a jam I was in. If I didn't get that gun and unload on him, everythin' would be for nothin'.

But before I could crawl two feet I heard a gun cock above me. I stopped and looked up to find another pistol pointed at my head.

"Don't even try it," the man threatened. "Your friends wouldn't want a corpse for a cell-mate."

I didn't want to test the guy to see if he was bluffin'. My hands were behind my head before he finished threatinin' me. That was it. It was over. I had given up.

I didn't want to admit it to myself, but Nick was right. I wasted my time and my freedom. In the end, Nick was the only who probably got away.

Then I blacked out. The guy must've knocked me out with his gun. I wasn't out long. But then again, it always feels like a short nap when you're out, doesn't it?

I woke up in fits an' starts. When I was finally able to comprehend, I realized I was bein' drug by both wrists by two guards, the guy that knocked me out and some other dude. We were somewhere down the hall from my cell. My muscles weren't workin' too well, I was still real groggy.

I'm guess I'm just a stubborn person, 'cause even if I was caught, as long as I was alive I would keep tryin'. An' I tried the only thing I could think of.

"Nick!" I called out at the top of my voice. "Nick! Help!"

"I told you to watch yourself, kid!"

I winced, thinkin' he was gonna strike me again. Instead his parter said, "Easy. Hit him again and he'll have brain trauma."

"He's already got plenty of that." The first scoffed.

"Besides, there's a cleaner way to put someone under." the new guy smothered my mouth an' nose with a cloth. For a moment I struggled to breathe, then I was out again.

This time I didn't wake up for quite a while. I could tell 'cause I woke up on an operatin' table with one of my hands cuffed to the table an' an IV in my other wrist. A man in a whit coat and gas mask bent forward into my sight.

"Ah. You're awake, good." He turned around an' pressed a few buttons on a heart monitor. It took me a minute to realize that I was strapped up to sensors on my chest. "I heard you made quite a ruckus, Ellis. I had to waste materials for first aid care."

"So, what'cha gonna do, huh? Cut out my liver an' stick it in a jar? I'll give you fair warnin', I go through a six pack every night."

The man laughed at me. "No, no. Nothing like that. We're just going to take a few sample for testing and see how your body reacts to a few experimental prescriptions. If any of our test animals show signs of stability, we'll know we've found a cure."

"As long as I don't have to piss in a cup."

"Well, you just might have to." He jotted somethin' down on a clipboard. "Now, if my assistant would show up we could get started."

Just then, another doctor walked in the room, wearin' the same coat and mask as the other.

"Ah, here he is now. So good of you to join us, Doctor Rogers."

"Sorry I'm late. Had a few things to take care of."

My ears perked up. I knew that voice. It was Nick. I tried to hide the joy on my face and play it cool.

"Yes, well, as you know, our job here is to save the world through creating a vaccination. We can't have our research fall behind schedule due to tardy assistants. So, I will treat today like a test, to see if you've payed attention. Take a blood sample so that we can use it for testing."

They guy picked up a syringe from the tray beside him and held it towards Nick. He was slow to take it, but when he did I felt like I needed to give Nick a little "lets get the hell out of here" signal.

"Aw, c'mon, man. I hate needles! I'd rather take the piss cup!"

"Listen, Doc." Nick put his hands up in a confessional manner. "No need to get bent out of shape. Reason why I was late is because I was jumped by one of your mutant dogs. I'm lucky to be standing here right now."

"Are you refusing to follow an order from your superior?"

"I'm just saying we should probably wait until the animals aren't a threat to the staff. The stressful environment might cause problems with the patient."

The doctor didn't say anything for a minute. Then he scoffed an' put on a little bravado.

"Who do you think you are fooling, boy? I'll applaud you for getting here, but Rogers is my personal assistant. Your disguise doesn't work." Nick balled his fists. "You're slipping, con man."

He reached into his coat pocket an' pulled out a radio.

Before he could push the button, Nick had the pistol I gave him in the dude's face. "I can still haggle," Nick said slyly. "Drop the radio and let Ellis go. That brain of yours won't be much use to anyone with a bullet in it."

Turns out the good doctor was all bark an' no bite. He dropped the radio without a fuss. Then he slowly turned an' unlocked my right hand from the table with a key he had slung over his neck.

"So far so good." Nick used a flat tone when he gave demands. "Now, do me a favor and take out his IV and patch him up." He reached for a roll of gauze and a cotton swab and handed them to the doctor. "Keep your hands where I can see them."

The doctor turned off the machine an' slid the IV out from my wrist while keeping pressure on the opening with the cotton swab. I didn't even feel it come out. Then he tore a piece of gauze from the roll an' taped down the swab on top of the wound. All in plain view of Nick.

"Thanks." Nick then slammed the side of his pistol into the guy's head. He fell right down the floor in a tangled mess. Then he brought his foot down on the radio, crumplin' in into a few chunks of metal and plastic.

"Hey, thanks, Nick." I removed the patches from my chest an' hopped of the table. He took off the mask with a gasp of fresh air, then tossed it an' the lab coat the the ground. "An', uh... sorry 'bout all that shit I said. I was in the wrong."

"Whatever." Nick said in good old Nick fashion. "Let's get out of here, Coach and Rochelle are at the entrance waiting for us."

"You already got 'em?"

"And they've got guns for us. Don't worry, Ellis, your plan worked."

"Then what 'bout after?"

"Do what we always do: Stick together and—dare I say it?" He shrugged and made a face somethin' akin to a grin. "Kill all sons of bitches."

I tried not to laugh. I really was wrong, I guess. A couple weeks can change a man. An' though he'll never say it, he does care about us. The four of us, we were like a brotherhood, like a family. An' no matter how much we squabbled, that would never change.

In the end I chuckled a little. "Couldn't have asked for more clear cut instructions."