Daniel sighed and lit up a cigarette. He was down to three packs and getting nervous about the supplies running out. Luckily only two other people in the group smoked, or the cigarettes would have been gone already. He took a deep drag and held it in, savoring the taste before exhaling. Glancing at his watch, he noticed his shift was almost over, and hoped it wasn’t an omen of some sort. He stood up, thanking God he could return to his real job in the communications room, and headed out of the stairwell to meet his replacement.

* * *

Laura sat up in bed as the coughing fit hit her. She threw back her blankets and slammed her bare feet onto the cold tile in a frantic dash for the bathroom sink. She stumbled into the room, wearing only a t-shirt, and she grabbed the sink’s edge to support herself as the coughing grew more intense. What she hacked up was more solid than mucus and drenched in blood. She stared at it in horror as the coughing died down.

Letting go of the sink’s edge, she slid to the floor and tried to catch her breath. I’m a doctor, damn it. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to her. She had never touched a cigarette in her life. She worked out and ate right, yet here she sat dying of cancer in a time where people needed her skills and knowledge more than ever.

No one else knew how sick she was. She hid it well and put up a good front. The hospital was stocked with the medicine she needed, enough medicine to curb her symptoms and keep her comfortable most of the time. At least it had been enough until things began to get worse.

With her t-shirt, she wiped the blood from around her mouth and got to her feet. Today was going to be a busy day. Not only was she the doctor of the group, she was also a member of its leading tribunal, a responsibility she shared with Jack and Vince.

She was also supposed to be finding a cure for the plague, but that was a joke. She wasn’t a research scientist, just a doctor, and even after months of studying the plague she knew little more than when she started.

Today, her focus was on her administration duties and helping Jack and Vince agree on an evacuation plan for when the time came to find a new home. According to Jack’s last inventory check, even with their rationing system they had a month, tops, before people started starving and their tiny piece of the civilization collapsed into mutiny.

Laura changed into her day clothes and put on her happy face. Then she headed out to meet up with the boys.

* * *

Jack stood on the roof of the hospital, looking out into the city, parts of which were still ablaze. Dark smoke joined the usual clouds of lingering smog, making the day seem pale like the rotting flesh of the creatures on the streets below.

It was hard for Jack to remember what the world had been like before the creatures came. Less than a year ago things had been normal, but the plague had spread so fast that no one, not the government, the military, nor the C.D.C., had been able to stop it. The city around him had changed from his home to a sick version of Hell on Earth where only the strong and the determined stayed alive.

Jack was a tall man and well built. Standing there on the roof he looked every inch a king, and in a sense he was. This new world had forced the burden of leadership upon him.

He lifted his binoculars to his eyes, trying to figure out a path through the dead. The only vehicles he had at his disposal were locked away in the hospital’s garage. They were mostly simple cars built for civilian use, not for fighting through a horde of hungry, flesh-eating monsters. The only larger vehicles were a few dump trucks left behind from his work crew. None of them were what he needed, and even if they were, reaching them would be a problem.

The safest way to the garage was a long and difficult climb down an elevator shaft. At the end of the shaft dozens—maybe hundreds—of the creatures waited; like the first three floors of the hospital, the garage was infested with the dead. There simply hadn’t been time to close it off when Jack and the group had taken refuge here.

Some of the other refugees still believed help was coming, but Jack suffered no such delusions. Any survivors out there were certainly in the same sort of mess his group was in, or at least incapable of breaching the armies of the dead to rescue them. There would be no help coming. It was up to him, to them, to find their way out of the city—if there was one. Any attempt to escape would cost them lives, but Jack was willing to accept some losses for the greater good as long as some of them survived to carry on. And as long as his ass wasn’t one that got chewed off along the way.

* * *

Clutching a beat-up Daffy Duck doll in his sweaty palms, Chris made his way down the winding hospital corridors to the nursery. In a few moments he would see his daughter for the first time. The doctor, Laura, hadn’t let him stay during the delivery last night. There had been complications with the birth beyond his understanding. He’d been forced to wait outside as Natalie entered the world and his wife Rebecca left it.

He had watched as Jack and Mitchell carried her to the roof, her body wrapped in bloodstained sheets bound with thick ropes. Chris had cried and screamed, had even tried to attack Mitchell, but Jack calmed him down. “Think of your daughter,” he had said, as if giving an order. “She does need you.” Chris knew he was right and did his best to hold in the sobs.

He tore the hospital apart after that, looking for a gift he could take to his new daughter. At last he found Daffy inside a desk drawer in one of the offices. He sat and stared at the doll for hours, weeping for Rebecca, himself, and Natalie. He managed to pull himself together just as Laura found him and told him he could visit his child whenever he was ready.

Before he went in, Chris walked around and gave himself time to prepare, letting his excitement drive away the horrors of the world. Finally, he was ready. He ran the last few steps to the nursery proper, and as he rounded the corner he saw his daughter and stopped dead in his tracks. His breath left his body as if someone had punched him in the gut.

Beyond the nursery window, a nurse cradled the newborn, trying to soothe her as she cried and waved her tiny arms. Chris took a deep breath and stepped into the room. The nurse smiled and held Natalie out to him just as he held out the doll. He reddened, embarrassed by the mix up. And then he took his daughter into his arms, and his heart nearly burst with pride.

* * *

Jack and Laura waited in the conference room for Vince to arrive. As usual he was late. Jack gritted his teeth and, scowling, checked his watch again. Laura hoped Vince would show up soon; it looked like Jack was on the verge exploding.

She picked up the stack of inventory reports Jack had brought her, then thumped them down on the table, straightening the pile of papers.

“Jack,” she started as the door swung open. Vince came in and plopped into a chair at the table. He hadn’t shaved in a day or two, and he wore a battered t-shirt, jeans, mismatched socks, and sneakers that had seen better times. Vince’s appearance was another sore point with Jack, who believed those in power should set an example for those they led.

“Good morning, guys,” Vince said cheerfully, ignoring Jack’s glares. “Sorry I’m late. I had a busy night.”

“So did we,” Jack pointed out. “Rebecca died in childbirth last night.”

Vince’s cheerful expression crumbled. “God, I’m sorry. Why didn’t you call me?”

“We did,” Laura said. “You didn’t answer your radio.”

Vince shifted in his seat. “Oh yeah, I had to leave it behind. I was doing some work up on the roof.”

“I was on the roof this morning, Vince,” Jack said. “You weren’t there.”

“No. I turned in around three or so.”

“What were you doing up there, Vince?” Laura asked, heading off an outburst from Jack.

“Brainstorming.” Vince smiled.

For a second, Laura thought he meant brainstorming for one of his novels. Although he had worked as everything from a dishwasher and taxi driver to a bookstore owner and photojournalist, Vince was primarily a horror writer, with the mindset and attitude of an artist. If he started talking about his writing, that would set Jack off like nothing else.

“I think I’ve come up with a way to solve our supply and escape woes,” Vince added.

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