"I see another group over to the left." Kohta shouted, sighting with his rifle. "Ten, no … twelve of 'them'."
"There are more closing in from behind us as well." Saeko relayed, her sword naked in her hands, gleaming in the bright morning sun. "Perhaps as many as forty."
"Well we knew this wasn't going to be easy." Takashi said. His old trusty baseball bat that he had lost, the one that had taken the life of his friend Hisashi, had been replaced by a once-pristine aluminium bat, looted from a sports shop. It had been all shiny and clean when he had taken it, the weight reassuring, but now it was tarnished, battered and stained. "Still, we can manage if it stays like this."
My arms are tired from swinging the bat, but not anywhere near as tired as just over a month ago. I guess all this practising has really toughened us up.
Beside him walked Rei, her weapon a lance made from a flagpole topped with a brutal looking hunting knife. Kohta had cobbled it together, and it was surprisingly sturdy. She smiled at him and turned to face the rear group of 'them' that were beginning to approach the rear cars, moaning and drooling.
"Well, we are closest. There's only a few dozen, we can handle it, right?" she said optimistically.
"Between us I guess we can. You all right handling the first group, Kohta?" Takashi called to his friend who was perched on top of one of the first cars in the convoy.
"We can take care of it." Saya promised. She was at the front of the exodus, shielding her eyes from the bright morning sun with a raised hand. Beside her were a dozen of the soldiers from the JDF, all armed with machetes, baseball bats, iron bars and other melee weapons. "You just look out for yourself!"
Takashi stifled a grin. Turning to Rei and the six JDF troopers that were with them he gestured. "All right, we take 'them' down fast and hard. No casualties. Just like we've been doing all morning."
"Roger that." The lead trooper acknowledged. If he had any resentment following the orders of a young student he kept it well hidden. They dropped into formation and moved out past the line of the convoy, weapons swinging. Rei was there too, spear stabbing and tearing.
For a long moment Takashi watched them fighting, before he realised he was just standing there staring. Feeling a surge of embarrassment he rushed in, bat flashing in savage arcs. His first blow exploded the head of one of 'them', his second knocking two down, where they could be finished with vicious downward swings. Before long his arms were burning and he was splattered with stale blood and dead flesh.
Rei came up beside him, breathing hard. Her spear was wet with blood, and her skirt was torn where one of 'them' had grabbed at it. Still, standing there in the morning sun, weary and yet somehow still magnificent, Takashi felt his heart clench, his own breath coming faster.
I have to do something about this… about Rei and Saeko. I've been trying not to think about it, putting it off… but Kohta has one thing right. When we reach our new home, if it is all we planned it to be, then I won't have an excuse to put things off any longer…
Rei was looking at him quizzically. "Are you all right Takashi?" She asked, leaning on the butt of her spear, point buried in the ground. Behind her several of the more able bodied volunteers who had stayed out of the fighting were moving amidst the 'dead', making sure of them with a brutal blow to the ruined heads of the fallen.
Takashi shook his head as if to clear the fog from it. "Yeah, I just have some things on my mind. Still, it doesn't look like we have to worry too much about 'them' right now. Everything is going according to plan. The route Rika and Saya picked out for us is pretty open…"
He glanced over the convoy. A half-dozen cars, each pulling either a wagon or a hastily constructed sled, laden with crates, barrels and boxes, they formed the centre, with their best snipers on top of each vehicle, keeping an eye out.
Not that we want to shoot unless we absolutely have to. A group this big makes a lot of noise, to say nothing about the cars, but so far we have managed to avoid being too noisy, and 'they' haven't swarmed us.
The main bulk of the forces were the hundreds of people, each carrying what they could, the weakest just taking bottles of water and packs of batteries, the strongest toting heavy backpacks filled with supplies. There were no children though, apart from Alice, who was beside Kohta. They would follow later, if all went to plan.
The final group was Takashi and his friends, as well as the JDF and army troopers. They were armed and stationed around the group, ever ready to attack 'them' when one of the spotters identified a group incoming.
"You've gone quiet again." Rei said, startling him from his thoughts.
"Oh, sorry." Takashi said nervously, running a hand across his face, wiping off sweat.
It's hot this morning. Almost too hot…
"I was just thinking about this move. It's pretty daring, moving five hundred people through a city infested by 'them'. I am amazed we can even think about pulling it off. Just look how badly everything went wrong when this all started."
Rei agreed with another smile.
"I know just what you mean." She said solemnly. "I still have nightmares about it all, the school, the shopping mall… still, people are resilient, I guess. We've almost become used to it all. But that isn't it. I really think the only reason we are all alive to do this is because we were who we were. I don't know whether to believe in fate or whether it was just chance, but as a group we are just prefect at surviving. Everyone contributes something, even Alice. And I think..." she looked at Takashi pointedly. "… That as leader a lot of the credit has to go to you. You kept us together and kept us sane, and now we have a larger group to worry about you may not still be so involved, but if you asked any of us who we still look to, it would be you. Rika may be the leader for the newcomers, but we always follow you."
"Ah, stop it, you're making me blush." Takashi said with a sheepish grin. "But you are right. I've been content to leave most of the planning to Saya and Rika, I'm not good with that kind of thing anyway, but they do ask for my opinion before doing something major."
"Well, when we reach our new haven don't think that your job is over." Rei said, as the shout went up that three more groups of 'them' had been sighted. "No, it'll only just be beginning then. Besides…" her good humour faded a little. "You have a very important decision to make and I won't let you put it off."
Women. Do they read minds?
"I know." Takashi said, limbering up. "We thought that Point Beta would be safe, and it was, in comparison to the hell that is the outside world, but it was no more than a place to catch our breath. This time… this time we will find a place we can live for sure!"
Takashi strode out to meet 'them', bat held high. Smashing a few more of 'them' would help take his mind off things…
"Thank you Sensei!" The class chorused together, standing and bowing. As the young children filed out of the makeshift classroom Shido turned to his teaching assistant with a sly grin.
"Another excellent lesson, Yuuki my dear." Shido said.
"I think so, Shido-Sensei!" She breathed, her face flushed. As the students had left she was no longer forced to wear her mask of normalcy, and she was twining her body around his, writhing sensually.
Shido let his hands roam over her, groping and squeezing. As she gasped under the ministrations of his hands he gazed out of the window, looking over Point Delta. The bare metal layers of the unmanned Oil Platform were rusted and pitted by the constant offshore winds, and the only colours were the series of tents that had been set up to house the populace.
I am indeed been blessed by good fortune. Being the only teacher here, it was only natural that I would be left in charge of the impressionable young minds under my care. Point Delta has an extremely unbalanced age ratio, due mostly to the sterling efforts of my dear pupils here…
His hands pulled at her skirt, hoisting it up to her hips. As he pushed her up onto the desk behind him he let his mind drift, constantly thinking about his next move.
"Oh Shido-Sensei! Shido-Sensei!" Yuuki moaned her tone feverish.
There were still problems of course. The JDF troopers, while not numerous, still held de-facto power over the staging area. There were too few other adults at the site to make any grab for power, and their gratitude at being rescued was proving an obstacle, even nearly two months after the fact.
Shido ground his teeth, annoyance filling him. Beneath him Yuuki cried out, louder than before.
Making inroads into the JDF is the only way my plans can progress. I have managed to bring a few of the non-military personnel into my schemes, and they were helpful in suggesting that the children should receive schooling, but without the JDF support… of course, there is one main obstacle to this…
Shido stepped away from his desk, leaving the panting Yuuki lying across it, starting at him seductively, tongue moistening her dry lips.
"Shido-Sensei…" she muttered, the adoration in her tone sending a thrill through him.
This is the way it should be. My father commanded power, the ability to force people to do as he wished… but how much greater am I, who can convince people to act as he wishes without any threat, without overt power… truly, such is the very power of God himself!
"You have done very well, Yuuki." Shido said, extending a hand, helping her up. As she adjusted her clothing Shido once more turned his gaze back to the window, looking out over the sea.
Bringing us to this unmanned offshore platform was a good idea as far as it goes, but supplies will not last forever. No, this place is not suitable as a long term place of abode.
"I am pleased that I could please you." Yuuki said, her emphasis clear. "But you look troubled, Sensei."
"You are perceptive." He said, nodding his agreement. "I am indeed troubled. While we have made astonishing progress, there are still many obstacles to the world you desire, the world you deserve. Our biggest barrier is time. We need to take control quickly so that we can prevent disaster."
His tone was noble, his bearing regal, and Yuuki was hanging on his every word. Shido warmed to the subject, arms spread wide.
"Indeed, if we do not act quickly, then once more you shall fall under the thrall of cold, unfeeling adults, and worse, the harsh military. For, make no mistake…" he orated. "If we do not take control of this situation then I fear none of us will be safe. The military cannot be trusted. They are a thorn in…" he stopped sharply as the door to the makeshift schoolroom began to open. Yuuki leapt away from him, brushing at her skirts, eyes downcast.
The door opened to reveal a member of the JDF, his rank insignia prominently displayed.
And here comes the longest and sharpest thorn, one that has been digging at me for a month…
"Hiro Mashiara, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?" Shido said with a polite bow. Behind him Yuuki steeled her expression, fighting to restrain her anger at the disrespect Shido was being shown.
Indeed, Hiro did not return the bow, nor did he smile, his wind-burned face impassive, dark eyes as hard as chips of obsidian.
"Koichi Shido." Hiro intoned, staring at him disapprovingly. "I find myself having to seek you out once again. Your only task here was to keep the large population of children under control, yet again I find them roaming about in areas they shouldn't. I have suspicions that the recent spate of missing inventory items can be attributed to…"
Shido listened to the monologue of complaints with his face schooled to stillness. Behind him Yuuki was tapping her foot restlessly, also trying to contain herself.
I know just how she feels. This pompous buffoon is the leader of this whole compound… if I cannot sway him and he continues to interfere with me then other steps need to be taken. Suitable steps…
The sun was high overhead in the sky, beating down upon them all, and Takashi was sweating heavily.
Not just from the heat though.
Saya, Rika and Kohta were all around the map, Kohta holding it down so that it wouldn't blow away in the stiff breeze, Saya and Rika studying the map and their surroundings with equal fervour.
This is possibly the most dangerous part of our route. The part where we leave the city proper and head out into the countryside…
Beside him Rei and Shizuka were waiting along with Watakabe. He was looking somewhat uncomfortable, as Shizuka was teasing him gently, and Rei shared a smile with Takashi over it.
"So, this is where it gets tricky, right?" Rei said, looking at the shambling host of 'them' that blocked the path. There were hundreds of 'them', the young dead, middle aged and old dead, all moving seemingly at random, yet also somehow with purpose.
"I think so." Takashi agreed easily. There was always going to be some difficulty in escaping the city proper, even with the best route picked out by Saya and all their preparations. "Still, we knew it was coming, and when we are out of the city…"
"Population density will have declined dramatically, which means…" Rei said in her best lecturing tones, a parody of the speech they had heard from Saya innumerable times over the past few weeks.
"Which means we should be fine, once we get clear." Takashi said, smiling. "I wonder if this means it is time to blast our way through?"
"I am not so sure that would be wise…" Saeko said from just behind him, causing him to start in surprise.
"Oh Saeko, I didn't see you there." Takashi mumbled, embarrassed. Beside him Rei was glaring at her, eyes hard.
Oh man, I really have to do something about those two. They seem to get on well enough, except when I am about. Kohta was right, I need to stop worrying about what he is doing, and more about my own love life… at times like this I wish I was just back at school. Life was simpler then…
"And just what is so bad about it?" Rei asked, folding her arms under her chest, frowning. "If we go fast and hard we can be through them before the noise we make has time to draw any more of 'them' to us, right Takashi?"
Don't ask me, I don't want to get involved in this, not right now anyway.
"Uh, well…" he began, procrastinating.
"While you are right in noise not being a factor I think it would be foolish of us to waste any of our precious ammunition at this stage, when replacing it would prove impossible in the short term. They are a resource to be husbanded, and while I know Kohta and Rika have mooted casting our own shells as a stopgap measure it would be time consuming and labour intensive. Far better to preserve what we have, right Takashi?"
Not you as well… Takashi stifled a groan as Saeko echoed Rei's comment.
"Well, I do think it's always wise to have backup." He conceded, trying to take the middle ground. "But I can see Rei's point of view as well. Immediate needs and all…"
"Well, in any case the decision is not likely to be ours." Saeko said, looking at the discussion up ahead. "I do fear that 'they' may not be the only threat though. With law and order gone, it is not impossible that human elements may arise to cause us trouble. Gangs and armies of the dispossessed and desperate may become an even greater menace. I for one would not like to have to charge a mob wielding guns with just my katana…"
"I can't see that happening…" Rei began, but then she trailed off, and Takashi could see that she could picture it. It would only take one insane freak like Koichi Shido to take command of a commune, and then…
Shaking his head to clear the unpleasant thought Takashi sighed. "Well, in any case I just want this over. Moving so slowly is hard on my nerves. I expect 'them' to swarm us at any minute."
"They will when the fighting starts." Saeko promised. Even as she spoke Saya and Rika had come to agreement, as Kohta was rolling up the map.
"All right, listen up!" Saya said loudly, standing on the bonnet of one of the cars. All around her gathered the group, nearly half a thousand strong. "This is the most dangerous part of the operation. We considered trying to cut off the road and bypass most of 'them' but we would lose the vehicles, and the precious supplies they are pulling. No, we have to make our move here. I want everyone to split into groups, and…"
As Saya organized everyone, with help from Watakabe, Takashi tightened his grip upon his bat. He was going to need it soon, as in front of them 'they' were massing, a wall that they would have to break through, no matter the cost…
Yuuki, Taniuchi and Kawamoto sat at the bare trestle table, eating the tasteless gruel that served as most days rations. Around them at several other tables small groups were eating as well, making the best of a bad situation.
Yuuki frowned down at the spoonful of mush, but wishing didn't make it taste any better, so she quickly ate it, grimacing at the bitter saltiness.
"It isn't much good, is it?" Taniuchi said, her own gruel mostly untouched.
"No, it certainly isn't. We deserve better than this. This was supposed to be our world, but all we get is this slop." Yuuki spat with feeling.
Kawamoto nodded her agreement. "If Shido-Sensei was in charge we would have better than this. These army idiots don't know how to organize. Why, if it wasn't for Shido-Sensei then there would be anarchy. Only he keeps our fellow students under control."
"I know." Yuuki said slyly, smile malicious. "Not only did Shido-Sensei make sure that all of us reached here safely he is far more capable than the idiot in charge. Hiro Mashiara does nothing but sit around while we starve."
"I think he is jealous of Shido-Sensei." Taniuchi mused, glaring at Hiro's back. He was sitting several tables away, talking softly with his aides, two JDF troopers, and a civilian scientist, a middle-aged woman who wore her hair in bunches pinned with needles, and a white lab coat.
"He probably thinks that Sensei would be a better leader and wants to make sure that doesn't happen. I think it's pathetic."
"Yes, that's right." Kawamoto agreed. "I think he hates Shido-Sensei. He hates us too, I am sure of it. He is just one of the adults that Shido warned us about. I think…"
"… That we need to take action?" Yuuki finished for her.
"That's right." Kawamoto agreed. "We need to make sure that Shido-Sensei is protected and that we ourselves aren't exploited."
"That's right." Taniuchi echoed.
Yuuki nodded. "All right then…" she looked one final time at Hiro, before glancing back at her companions. "Then this is what we will do…"
"Look out behind you!" Rei called, her makeshift lance piercing the eye of one of 'them', liquefying the brain. It dropped, dragging down her spear with its weight, and two more closed in, arms outstretched.
Not thinking Takashi leapt, first swing smashing one away, skull shattered. His second heavy slash hit bone, splintering the outstretched arm that was reaching for Rei. It turned on him, open mouth gaping, reddish drool flying in the breeze, only for Rei to spin low, tripping it.
"Thanks." Takashi said, grounding the head of his bat into its skull with a meaty impact. "I was a bit off balance there."
Behind then another gunshot sounded, and Takashi winced. It was barely audible, thanks to some work that Kohta had done, wiring the suppresser from the MP5 onto a smaller subsonic pistol, so it shouldn't attract too many more of 'them', but…
"Another person dead…" Rei sighed. "That makes twelve now."
Takashi nodded solemnly, taking up his position, back to back with Rei, as they cut their way yard over bloody yard through the dead. The cars had moved through already, crushing a score of them underfoot, but moving the rest of the group was proving as difficult as Takashi had feared.
I hope Kohta is holding up okay. Saya wanted Rika to have the responsibility of making sure those of us who fell to 'them' would be given the mercy of a second death, but Kohta insisted he should be the one to do it. Damn idiot. There's no need for chivalry, and if he thought it would impress Saya he was dead wrong, as usual…
Hammering one of 'them' away with his foot he swung and smashed its head. Behind him Rei was breathing heavily, but her arms had not faltered. Between them they must have accounted for twenty or so of 'them', probably the best pairing. Only Saeko and Rika were able to compete.
"There is just no end to them…" Rei complained as she speared another, throwing it backwards. "Just why are there so many here?"
"I don't know, but it's in keeping with all the luck we've been having recently." Takashi said, fending off an outstretched arm. "Still, it could be worse."
"Oh yeah, and how is that?" Rei asked.
"Well, at least we are still alive, right?"
Rei laughed despite herself. "There is that Takashi, there is that."
"Don't worry, we don't have to kill all of them anyway." Takashi said, slamming away another foe. "We just have to hold this corridor open until all the non-combatants are through, and then Shizuka and Watakabe will do the rest. It's a pretty good plan…"
"Good for those who don't have to fight. Shizuka seems to get away with not doing anything all the time…" Rei complained.
"Well she is going to have a lot to do tonight." Takashi said. "She can look at my blisters. This bat is chafing my hands raw. Besides…" he grinned suddenly. "Can you imagine her trying to fight? Her boobs would just get in the way…"
"Oh, so that is what you are thinking about…?" Rei groused. "I should hit you… you didn't worry when you bruised mine with that assault rifle, but I bet if it was Shizuka's you'd want to kiss them better or something, but…"
"I'd have kissed yours better if you'd have let me…" Takashi muttered.
"What was that?" Rei asked sharply.
"Nothing, nothing I swear!" Takashi replied, holding in a laugh. "Keep your eyes on 'them', we have nearly finished."
She grunted in reply.
Women. Still, it's good to see her lively still. She must be as tired as me… no matter how much fighting I do, even though I am surely fitter than before, I still end up pushing myself too far…
Up ahead the final task had been completed, a series of silver wires lying flat across the roadway. As the last of the other refugees made it past the line of 'them' the combatant pairs began to make a break for it as well. Saeko and Rika were the first to withdraw, followed by the other JDF troopers.
"All right, time to run for it." Takashi told Rei.
"It's about time, I can't fight any more." Rei dropped her lance, arms barely able to hold it as her muscles were trembling and burning.
"All right then I'll cover you. Run!" Takashi swung his bat in looping arcs, forcing 'them' back. He didn't try to kill them, just keep them away.
I don't have any strength to waste. Besides, worrying about dealing with 'them' is a problem for another day, and for smarter people than me.
Rei raced past the line of wires and Takashi staggered after her. 'They' were closing in around him and the few other warriors who were being hemmed in. For a moment Takashi panicked, until 'they' started falling around him, heads exploding under a barrage of accurate shots from Kohta, Saya and Rika, who had taken up her sniper rifle when she reached the safety of the vehicles.
"Damn good timing…" Takashi muttered fervently as he covered the last few yards to safety, several others joining him.
He looked at Saeko, a question in his eyes, but she merely shrugged.
I guess using some of our ammunition isn't a bad thing. After all, it did save me so I can't complain.
"All right, hoisting the barrier." Shizuka said cheerfully, and several score people pulled and a mesh of sharp wire lifted up, blocking the roadway. 'They' crammed against it, causing it to bow and sag, but as it was yielding all that 'they' achieved was to slice themselves apart, body pieces falling everywhere.
Would you look at that, it worked.
Takashi slumped down beside the kneeling Rei, drawing in deep gulps of air. His body screamed with fatigue, but for the moment they were safe. A few of 'them' were tumbling down the roadway embankment or coming from the north, but in such numbers they were easily dispatched.
"All right then, we did it!" Saya declared, looking amazingly pleased with herself.
"Yes, you're planning was as good as ever." Kohta said, stepping down and stowing his gun.
"I know, you don't have to tell me that." She said acerbically, but her smile left it devoid of any barbs.
"It worked much as we expected." Rika agreed. She had taken her shirt off and was mopping herself down, her modesty only covered by a grey t-shirt that left her midriff and cleavage exposed. Takashi found himself feeling warm as he looked at her.
"What are you staring at?" Rei demanded, dragging herself up.
"Ah… nothing." He looked away, scratching one cheek.
Amazing how everything can get a man into trouble. I wonder how Kohta manages it. I'll have to ask him…
"It better be nothing." Rei said.
"Well, all that aside…" Takashi tried to change the subject. "At least we made it. Now all that remains is a fun fifteen mile hike in the hot sun. Won't that be a pleasure?"
"In comparison to fighting a horde of 'them' I'll take it." Rei said, smiling at him, her previous irritation forgotten.
Man, she's so changeable, but when she smiles like that at me…
Takashi looked up at the bright blue sky. Despite all the horror and fear it was good to be alive. Hauling himself to his feet Takashi looked ahead, out over the thinning urban sprawl. Yes, sometimes it was good to still be alive…
Takashi looked around in wonder. Muddy fields stretched as far as the eye could see, some barren, others with crops of corn and other vegetables. A river meandered through the valley, much smaller than the one in the city, but feeding several large lakes that gleamed silver in the setting sunlight.
"It's beautiful." Rei said from beside him, looking over the valley. Several tall sturdy towers jutted out of the ground, grain silos most likely, and a series of long low barns were scattered about, their red roof tiles bright in the ruby sunset.
"More importantly, it is safe." Saya said, joining them. Kohta was on her heels, as usual, Alice perched on his shoulders, Zeke at his heels, yapping happily, enjoying the mud.
"But what if there are people who survived here and they don't want to share?" Takashi said, feeling a slight twinge of unease.
"We will make every effort to come to an amicable agreement." Saya said. "But if they won't agree, as leaders, Takashi and Rika…" she looked at Takashi, who nodded.
If the people here don't agree to let us stay here, then it is my job as one of the leaders to make them agree. Hopefully it won't be an issue but…
He looked around once more. This isolated rural farmland had everything. Fresh water, a defensible position, places to grow food, already standing buildings… it was the perfect site, and Saya had done well finding it on the map.
Yes, we could rebuild here, put civilisation back together from all its broken pieces. If one evil deed could accomplish that…
Takashi forced down those thoughts. There might not even be any people left here, and if there were they might be willing to see reason. No, his first loyalty was to his friends and those they had fought to save. Behind him Saya and Rika were setting up a large bonfire, preparing to add the chemical that would create a visible plume of green smoke that would guide the helicopter carrying the sick and the children to the site.
No, we cannot turn back now, no matter what. But it will all work out. I am sure of it. Maybe what Rei said this morning was right, and this is all fate, or destiny… but even if it isn't maybe we can make it so, if only we try…