The streets were crawling with 'them'. People, who only a handful of days prior had found their biggest worry for the future was what to eat for lunch or what television programme to watch after work, were now nothing but shambling corpses, greying flesh and dried blood betraying their deaths.
Yet still they walked, ambling aimlessly through the rain-soaked streets, mixing with a democracy the living could only have dreamed about. Here a policeman was, his uniform soaked with blood from his ravaged neck, walking side by side with a gang-member, one arm hanging by ragged sinews, one eye missing. Behind them came a pair of children, leaving a fine trail of red that washed away in the rain, turning pinker until it faded to nothing, washed by the rains into the already overfilling storm drains. There were schoolgirls in torn and bloody uniforms, street punks in gore-streaked leather and businessmen in ragged suits, all moving as if they were badly wound toys, lurching and staggering without any sense of purpose, just waiting…
… For any noise to spark them into a false semblance of life.
Saya sneezed, her face buried in her arm, muffling the noise. Water was running off her raincoats' hood and trickling down her face, making her nose twitch.
"You have to be quiet Saya; if we make loud noises they'll hear us." Kohta said patiently beside her, not looking at her, his eyes alert and roving, the semi-automatic pistol he kept in his hands constantly sweeping in wide arcs, tracking for hostile targets.
Saya snorted, eyes flashing angrily. "You think I don't know that, chubby? I haven't forgotten." She paused, looking up at the slate-grey sky, watching as a constant rain of fat droplets of water cascaded down. "I'm all wet, what do you expect?"
"Well…" Kohta paused. He looked at Saya, her t-shirt clinging to her, still sopping wet from where she had lain in the road to take a shot at a zombie a few minutes earlier. "Perhaps you aren't dressed quite right for this weather."
Saya frowned, drawing her arms under her breasts, looking stern. "You don't like the way I dress then, idiot? Perhaps you think that we should all dress up like you, like some sort of crazed military nut?"
Kohta turned away, face flushing. Clasping his hands together he smiled distantly. "Oh no, I wouldn't say I don't like the way you dress, it looks really good on you. But in this rain, it can't be very comf…"
"Shut up you moron!" Saya snarled, blushing red to the roots of her pink hair. "That isn't what I meant and you…"
"Do you two mind keeping it down a bit? You can continue your flirting later when we reach the school." Saeko interrupted them a sly grin plastered across her face. She wore her hood down, and her vibrant purple hair was plastered across her face and neck, water running down, yet she still appeared poised and calm, as if she was not standing in the rain in the middle of a corpse-infested neighbourhood, but was waiting her turn at a kendo tournament, the image reinforced by the sheathed sword she carried over her shoulder.
"We wouldn't want all your noise to attract any of 'them' now, would we?" she finished, looking smug.
"We are NOT …" Saya said loudly, flushing even redder. Lowering her voice, she continued. "Not flirting. As if you can talk." She muttered. "It was merely a discussion, right Kohta?"
Kohta swallowed nervously, but was still smiling. Snapping off a crisp salute he said "That's right, Saya, Ma'am! Merely a discussion about fashion, of which I clearly know nothing!"
"Damn right you don't." Saya agreed, satisfied.
"Are they always like this?" asked someone else, and Saya turned to see Rei's mother Kiriko looking at them with a smile on her face.
"Pretty much." Rei said. "Although they seem to be getting worse as time goes on."
"Amazing what a few days can do to people." Kiriko said, holding her spear like a staff, using the butt to support her. "The world has gone mad but some things are still the same. Guys will always try to flirt with pretty girls."
"I said we were NOT flirting…." Saya snapped, exasperated.
"Saya and Kohta are flirting, Saya and Kohta are flirting!" Alice giggled quietly, running circles around them, Zeke at her heels yapping quietly.
"We are NOT!" Saya grabbed Alice and swung her up into the air, setting her off into further giggles. "And I thought I told you to call me Big Sister!"
"While this is a really touching scene…" Kiriko said, "We really should be thinking about going. I don't want to be caught out here by 'them' now that we are losing the light. What do you say, Takashi? After all, you are supposed to be the leader of this rabble, so lead!"
Saya turned to watch Takashi as he nodded.
"Right." He said, looking up at the sky. "Like Kiriko says it is starting to get dark. I think we need to find somewhere to hole up, moving about at night in this rain, with the poor visibility… well, it would be suicide."
"I agree." Rei said, grabbing his arm. "The evacuation isn't until the day after tomorrow. That gives us plenty of time to move through safely."
"It does." Saeko purred, leaning in close to Takashi, causing Saya to sigh. Taking off her glasses she polished them on the hem of her t-shirt, which wasn't much drier. Sighing, she put back on her rain-smeared spectacles.
"If you two are quite finished competing…?"
Rei had the good grace to blush, but Saeko merely raised one eyebrow, looking as annoyingly composed as ever.
That woman never shows any break in her comportment. Just once I'd like to see her lose it…
Not speaking her mind Saya continued. "Takashi makes a good point. This area is crawling with 'them' and with the EMP having taken out the power to the area there aren't going to be any sort of lights on the street. Zombies don't need to see, but we do. If we can find somewhere sheltered where we can remain quiet we should be all right for one night. After all, we have achieved our objective here and found … Rei's mother."
She hoped no-one had noticed her pause. I will not show weakness. Everyone needs to be strong.
Kohta stepped up beside her, giving her a glance that was loaded with sympathy.
Sniffing, she looked away. Big idiot… but…
"Yeah, we have no choice but to go with what Saya and Takashi have said." Kohta affirmed. "Everyone is tired too, after… after all we've been through these last few days, and tired people make mistakes. We can't afford any, not so close to our goal."
"I think everyone is right." Shizuka said, bouncing up and down with excitement, her raincoat not disguising her amazingly ample assets. "Shintoko Third Elementary School isn't too far from here, but is is definitely too far to go tonight in the rain, when everyone is so tired. Besides, if we don't get you into dry things Saya, you'll catch a cold. I've got some medicine in here…" she began to rummage around in the bag she always carried.
"Alright, Doctor Boobs." Saya sighed. "We get it. So Takashi, you and Rei know this area, and obviously you, miss Kiriko. Do any of you know a safe place?"
"Well, my house would have been perfect, until that bastard came and turned everyone against me." Kiriko spat, brandishing her spear as though she wished to stab someone with it. "But that's no good now."
"How about your place, Takashi?" Rei asked, still not having let go of his arm. "It's near here, and should be empty. I bet your mother will still be at Shintoko."
"Oh, I would just love to see your house." Saeko drawled, drawing an irritated look from Rei.
"Oh Hell…" Saya sighed. Those three idiots would be the death of her. Didn't they know that this wasn't the time for thinking about romance? And they had the nerve to criticize her!
"The question is, is your place defensible Komuro?" Kohta asked Takashi. "What are the surrounding views like?"
"We can't really defend any place you know." Saya sighed. "Even with our new guns we would be overwhelmed eventually. Think about it, stupid. The numbers of 'them' will grow exponentially as time goes on. Even with unlimited ammunition, which need I remind you, we don't have, sooner or later they will get through."
"That isn't entirely right…" Kohta said defensively.
"What, are you questioning me?" Saya snapped. "Who is the genius here?"
"You are, I know that." Kohta stammered, backing off. "But…"
"And she never lets us forget it either." Rei whispered to Takashi, who stifled a laugh.
I heard that… Saya thought, contenting herself with an angry glare. For now, anyway.
"Anyway…" Kohta continued. "The numbers will flatten out, even drop, after a while. We may have reached the peak already. First the people who are caught off guard or are weak will be picked off and turned into 'them.' But sooner or later everyone in the area who can be turned will be, and in fact the numbers may drop, as the few survivors are either like us, who have taken out a lot of 'them'…"
Way to go reminding me how useless I am in combat and how few I've killed, Kohta. Still, logical thinking. "But…" she opened her mouth to interrupt, earning a smile as Kohta continued.
"I know what you are going to say. It's obvious. That if we make too much noise more of 'them' will be drawn in from elsewhere, so your point stands. But…" he gestured up at the rain. "We've seen that 'they' don't seem to be able to cross rivers, and if the JDF are on top of things they should already be destroying all the bridges in the city area to contain things. Civilians can be evacuated by boat, helicopter or even temporary bridge, but 'they' won't be able to spread. Standard Special Forces doctrine. Keep the enemy contained and the battle is already half won."
"That's very well argued. I didn't think of containment measures. I guess being a military otaku does have some upsides." Saya said.
"Kohta is a genius too!" Alice giggled.
"I guess being around Saya is rubbing off on me." He grinned.
"Poor choice of words, chubby!" Saya said, whacking him with the back of her hand, though not very hard. "Anyway, even segregated into sections, we could still be overwhelmed. My… my parents and their compound was virtually impregnable, yet sheer weight of numbers…"
There was a deathly silence, broken only by the constant splattering of raindrops, while Saya gathered her thoughts.
"My point is…" she finished, trying to ignore the looks of sympathy everyone was giving her. I am not going to think about it. Not here. Not now. "My point is that even with approximately finite numbers of 'them' we could still easily be overwhelmed. And should one or two of us fall…"
"You've got some smart friends here." Kiriko said to Rei. "I knew Takashi had promise, but these others… well, I may be an adult, but I'm just another spear now. We'll do things your way for now. Final decision, Takashi?"
"My house should be reasonably safe if we keep it quiet. We'll check it out, and if it won't do then we'll just have to find somewhere else to lie low until the dawn. It is too dangerous to be out at night in the darkness. With this cloud cover… no thanks."
"Right then." Takashi ordered, brandishing his shotgun. "Let's move. Combat formation, I'll take point as I know the way. And we'll do it in silence."
Saya nodded to herself. If the world had to come to an end, there were worse people to see in the apocalypse with…
"Damn." Saya whispered, her quiet voice drowned out by the ever present rain.
'They' were here in force. Perhaps two score of assorted corpses were wandering around aimlessly, bumping into walls and dustbins, occasionally knocking one over with a loud crash that brought more of them in, mouths gaping and arms reaching for prey that was not there.
"Well, that's my house." Takashi whispered to them.
"Looks defensible enough. If we can get past 'them' of course." Kohta said. "But a gunshot here would bring them to us in numbers, and this alleyway would turn into a death-trap. People who don't know enough about warfare always think that enclosed spaces like this are great for defending. And they are… if you want to take as many enemies with you as you can. But that isn't what we want here. A glorious last stand against 'them' will do us no favours."
"I guess it comes down to us then." Saeko said, unsheathing her sword, the razor-sharp edge making a faint hiss as it skipped free. "Close combat, killing in silence. We'll make a path for the rest of you to charge through. Once you've reached Takashi's house we will follow, and if all goes well 'they' won't even be alerted to our ever having been here. Coming Takashi?"
"Right." He stowed his shotgun and unlimbered his trusty baseball bat. It was still stained with blood and notched from use, but Saya had seen it wielded to great effect first hand. Behind her Kohta was covering with the Luger she had given him.
"Times like this, you need to learn some hand-to-hand skills." Saya whispered. "You might even lose some weight too."
"Maybe." Kohta grinned. "But I'm more of a ranged specialist. Besides…" he watched as Saeko neatly decapitated two of 'them' leaving their headless bodies to fall to the floor with barely a sound. "…compared to them I'd just be an embarrassment."
Takashi swung his bat and a head shattered, blood splashing to the ground, quickly dispersing in the puddles that dotted the floor. Behind him Rei and her mother were stabbing and cutting, one with a spear, the other with a bayonet, and 'they' were falling as soon as they shambled across the line that led to Takashi's house and safety.
"You could still do with dropping some weight though, Kohta. You are an embarrassment to be seen with."
"I know." He sighed. "All this running around is going to have an effect though. Plus I haven't eaten as well as I used too…" Kohta jumped back as one of 'them' crashed to the ground in front of him, gore spilling from a gashed throat.
"Well, if you need some motivation, I'd be happy to keep you in line." Saya said, making sure she did not flinch at the sight of the dead.
"I bet you would." Kohta grinned.
"And just what do you mean by that…?" she asked, leaning forwards, hands on her hips.
Before Kohta could answer her the mortally wounded one of 'them' rose up. It had only been pierced in the throat, not the head and had fallen close enough to hear them over the noise of the rain. Rearing up it grabbed Saya by the hair with one flailing hand, the other gripping her wrist. Jaws gaped for her throat, drool splattering her.
Oh God, this is it. It's too strong. I can't fight it off.
Tears began to leak from her eyes, streaming down to join the rain. Saeko and the two Miyamoto's were too far away and hadn't noticed, and Takashi was hard pressed himself, two of 'them' having backed him into the corner by random motion.
Kohta leapt into action. He grabbed one arm and wrenched it free, his other hand battering at the head that was trying to reach her with the stock of the Luger.
"Do something Kohta!" she cried, fear shaking through her as the jaws came inexorably closer to her throat. Strands of hair spun free as the jaws severed a few dangling strands of her ponytail.
"I thought you promised to protect me…" She whimpered, the strength going out of her. Kohta had blood on his face where he had been thrown up against the wall, stones grazing his skin. He was too far away now to do anything, too far to stop the closing jaws…
The world went white as thunder boomed overhead. There was pain, blood dribbling down her cheeks. Any second now she would be one of 'them', no doubt quickly killing Kohta, and them moving onto Alice who was hidden at the back of the alleyway, waiting with Shizuka, out of the way of the fighting.
As she sobbed she felt the pressure on her arm loosen, and the corpse that was holding her fell away, the bloody remains of what once was a head dripping down the wall behind her.
Kohta lowered the Luger. "Sorry about that. I had to wing you a little to make the kill clean and in time. It's just a little scratch on your head, you won't scar."
Her hand went reflexively to her head, feeling the sudden pain of the thin nick along the flesh of her temple
"However…" Kohta grimaced. "We have bigger problems to worry about. That was rather noisy… too noisy…"
As Saya watched more of 'them' were coming, and a cry came from the alley behind them, where Shizuka and Alice were.
"Damn, did you have to be so loud, idiot?" the words slipped out before she could stop them.
"It was that or you die." He said quietly, pride injured. "I'd rather take my chances on running away rather than see you bitten in front of me. You did say I needed to lose some weight after all."
Saya let out a groan. Just great. I'm happy to be saved. I don't want to die, not here, not this way… but now…
As the hordes of 'them' were drawn in by the sudden gunshot she thought that certain death had most likely merely been replaced with imminent death…