Mayday

The pilot's name was Jill. Was being the operative word there. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We were flying from Mullins to some dinky civ settlement called Abel Township. I was to meet my contact there for debriefing, and I wasn't too keen on the assignment. The name of the place was bad enough – who with any sense of history names anything or anyone 'Abel', honestly? – and then there was the matter of going in with minimal information. Still, I had learned some time ago that these days, information was precious, and it was best to neither ask for it nor offer it unless absolutely necessary.

Jill, it seemed, had missed out on that particular lesson. Apparently she'd been listening in as I was getting ready to board the helo. I gave her a rather tight smile and she picked up on things quickly enough.

She made contact with someone at Abel – by the sound of things, some kid who'd been president of his school's tech club before the outbreak – and got us permission to land. Didn't sound like Jill knew the kid at Abel, but she'd clearly been making supply runs for the base for some time. Apparently this one was a little different, and not just because I was there.

There was an unsteady hiss, and something whizzed past the windshield, leaving a cloudy trail in its wake. Definitely not a good sign. Worse was the second hiss – the one that hit us.

Jill's inquisitiveness had been mildly annoying, but she kept her head, giving our information out over the radio rapidly and clearly. I had the random thought that before the outbreak she would've made a great auctioneer.

I slammed forward – don't know if we were hit again or if it was because of where we'd been hit previously. Pain shot through my arm, radiating from my elbow, and I knew it was either broken or badly sprained. I pushed myself out of my seat, biting my lip against the pain. We were descending more sharply now and would probably need to bail. But when I looked over at Jill, I saw that she was slumped over the controls. I tried to pull her up with my good arm, but only succeeded in getting her to tumble out of her seat. From that angle, I could see the gash on her forehead, and I swore under my breath.

The kid from Abel was coming through on the radio, but I was more concerned with getting out than with giving more details. Getting my arms through the straps of the parachute was excruciating, and I could feel tears prickling at the corners of my eyes. I secured the clasps and headed back to jump.

There was a messenger bag hanging by the door. I hesitated, then looped it around my neck, then reached down and grabbed a couple of first aid kits and a portable radio. If this compound was like any of the others I'd seen, they'd be suspicious of outsiders and desperate for supplies. Chances were good I'd need to buy my way in.

I could hear the kid from Abel babbling over the radio, begging me to get out, and I figured there wasn't time to grab more. I wrenched the door open, swallowed the knot of fear in my throat, and jumped. Fortunately my chute opened; the yank wasn't pleasant, but at least I knew I had a chance to survive.

The trees rushed up, branches scraping my skin and tangling in the cords and fabric above me. I was only about ten feet above the forest floor, so I pulled my arms free and dropped, hitting feet-first and going into a crouch.

I pulled the bag over my shoulder and reached in, taking out the radio and turning it on, adjusting the frequency. Static. More static. Silence. Static. Then – and I'd never thought I'd be so glad to hear someone's voice – the kid from Abel. I was less glad to hear the news that I'd dropped smack in the middle of a nest of zombies.

Looking around, peering through the trees, I turned until I could make out the tower that the kid – Sam – was talking about. Didn't seem to be more than a few miles. The terrain was uneven, but I could make it in less than an hour without any trouble.

I heard a gurgling moan behind me and cut my time estimate in half as I took off at a run.