Chapter 03: Blood & Smoke

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The mood was somber now, even compared to how bad it had been before.

Mike was having trouble keeping focused. They were walking through a series of back alleys now. After the radio message, they'd searched the area and he'd managed to get his hands on an assault rifle. Finally, real fucking hardware. He'd even managed to not only load it, but he'd gotten his hands on five spare magazines, a combat knife, and two more magazines for his pistol. It felt good to actually have some ammunition to his name.

That was about the only thing that felt good right now, though.

They'd left the warehouse and found the area outside to hold a lot of undead roaming around. Instead of trying to shoot their way to the PZ, Dallas had opted to instead slip into a series of alleyways when he discovered them to be relatively vacant. At the moment, several things were vying for Mike's attention. He was starving, he was exhausted, he was thirsty as hell, a lot of parts of him ached. He was, he almost laughed, kind of horny.

Great time for it.

It was getting increasingly difficult to push all of these aches and pains and needs aside. He was genuinely beginning to worry about his capacity to go on...but what other choice did he have? No, he had to go on. So he tightened his grip on the assault rifle and marched on. Probably the strongest fuel that kept him going was a kind of guilty determination, because if he had to guess, he'd say these Marines had probably being going longer and harder than he had. And he knew for a fact that Laura had been at it longer than him.

She'd been fighting for her life up north while he'd been lounging in a coma.

No way was he stopping.

Dallas held up his fist suddenly and they all froze. Mike listened intently, and realized at once what he was hearing: gunfire. A lot of it. And a lot of zombies. It was somewhere really close. Dallas glanced back at them.

"It's just down this next alley, I can hear it," he said. "Think we should help them?"

"It's a big risk," Parkhurst said.

"Whatever you decide," Walback replied quietly.

Mike looked at Laura. She nodded tightly at him. He looked back at Dallas. "We should."

Dallas sighed. "Fuck," he muttered. "Come on."

He turned and sprinted down the next alleyway. The others followed after him. Mike felt the adrenaline start pumping again, kicking some of the lethargy from his system, preparing him for the next battle. He double-checked his rifle, making sure it was set to single-shot, the safety was off. He was tired enough to make stupid mistakes like that now. But the gun was ready, he was ready. They hit the end of the alleyway.

And he realized, all at once, that no, he was not ready.

The street ahead of them was packed, packed with zombies. There had to be a hundred of them, two hundred, and they were all making for a small grocery store directly across from them. Mike looked around in a panic even as he raised his rifle, trying to find something, anything to make him feel better about this situation.

He both succeeded and failed tremendously.

Mike spied not one, but two of those giant fuckers that he hoped to never see again in his life. That made him sick with terror. The other thing he saw that gave him at least some measure of hope was a crashed Marine gunship barely thirty feet away.

"Sergeant!" Mike called as the Marines opened fire.

"What is it, Ellis!?" Dallas snapped back.

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