Chapter 14: Blackout

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The chaos seemed to grow as they threaded their way through the corridors. An uncomfortable feeling grew in Greg's gut. He glanced at Kyra, reassured by her calm demeanor and stoic face. She caught his glance and grinned at him. They continued shouldering their way through the crowd, catching snippets of rushed or tired conversation, until the man leading them chose a door seemingly at random and slipped in.

Inside was an armory that looked more makeshift than anything else. A scattering of foldout tables, their tops littered with weapons, ammo, and spare parts, filled the room. The Marine led them to a trio of other men in armor.

"These the new guys?" a skinny Marine with wild eyes asked as he stared down the sight of his assault rifle.

"Yep," the man in charge replied. "Gear up. We'll do the introductions on the flight over."

Greg spent a few moments hunting through the armory to find a spare set of armor. It was a snug fit, but he managed to get it on over his uniform and secured one of the broad, faceplate gasmasks over his head. He joined the others at their table and secured a powerful looking, black snub-barreled pistol with a large magazine in a thigh holster. He took a little bit longer selecting his primary weapon. Having grown use to the shotgun, Greg felt most comfortable with it, but was it honestly the best weapon?

Finally, he selected an assault rifle that sported a single-shot, three-round burst, or full auto selection. He flipped on the safety, set it to single-shot and slung it over his shoulder. The others seemed eager to go, so he stuffed his pockets with spare magazines and indicated he was ready. They plunged back into the chaos and navigated the corridors until the newly formed group came to an equally crowded hangar.

The tension refused to abate as they hurried through the shifting crowd toward a sleek black craft near the edge of the hangar. Was it fear or anticipation? As he hustled up the ramp into the belly of the ship, Greg surmised that it must be the abrupt shift of pace and environment that had his nerves on edge. He'd spent days out there in the rainy calm of the gray, wet wastelands, punctuated only briefly by a few moments of insane, intense action. After that long, quiet interlude, he was now being thrown into the grinder.

Before everyone was even comfortably settled and strapped in, the back ramp began to close and the ship lifted off.

"Okay, introductions. My name is Sergeant Billings. I'm in charge," the man who'd led them around said, shouting to be heard over the engines. He then proceeded to light up a fresh cigar. Greg realized that in their very short time together, the man hadn't gone even a few seconds without a cigar in his mouth.

"My name is Greg Bishop. Corporal," Greg said after a moment of awkward silence.

"Lance Corporal Kyra Mercer," Kyra threw in. She sat next to him, her shoulder touching his. It was distracting, even with the armor.

"I am Private fucking Jerome Baker." Greg recognized him as the only one to speak during their encounter in the armory. The kid stuck out his hand across the rumbling interior of the ship. Greg shook it. Baker pumped his hand enthusiastically.

"Baker is going to get himself killed," Billings said matter-of-factly. Baker rolled his eyes and sat back. He popped his neck.

"I've been waiting for a zombie outbreak since the day I was born." He grinned. The man who sat beside him, equally young and skinny, rolled his eyes. Greg found it difficult to tell the two apart from behind their armor.

"Private Kauffman." He fidgeted slightly, playing with his weapon.

"Baker is dumb as a rock, but makes up for it with how much fun he has putting holes in undead heads. Kauffman has a crippling fear of the undead that's only offset by how unwilling he is to die," Billings filled in. "They aren't exactly the best at communication."

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