Laura relaxed a bit. She really hadn’t felt up to playing her usual role as levelheaded mediator between Jack and Vince. Without her intervention she often thought the hospital would either become a pseudo-military dictatorship or fall apart completely from neglect.

Jack still seemed dead set on making her job difficult this morning. “Do tell,” he said sarcastically.

Jack was a hardheaded son of a bitch any way you looked at him. Before the dead rose and claimed the world he’d been the foreman of a construction crew contracted to remodel the hospital. He wasn’t a fool—the man held degrees in engineering and architecture. He was just too accustomed to being in charge. He’d grown up in a military family, so structure and discipline were almost holy to him. It was as if he saw himself as the group’s commander in chief. And at times he felt his way was the only way.

“Well, my plan’s pretty simple really,” Vince said. “The hospital has a helipad right?”

Laura sighed. “Vince, there’s no way we can get our hands on a helicopter, much less one large enough to move all of us and the supplies we’d need.”

“That’s it?” Jack asked Vince. “You were up there most of the night without your damn radio and all you came up with is the fact that we have a helipad?”

“Whoa, settle down, big guy,” Vince said, laughing. “We all agreed that we couldn’t reach the airport to get a helicopter, that’s true, but I was going over the maps of the city again and did you know the WKT station is only a couple of miles from here? You can’t see it with the binoculars, but I borrowed Chris’s telescope. The station’s got a copter sitting on its roof.”

Laura shook her head. “It’s too small for what you’re thinking, Vince. At best, it’d hold four people with minimal gear.”

“Yes, we couldn’t use it to escape as group, but we…” Vince saw that he had lost their attention. “Just hear me out, okay?”

Laura motioned for Jack to stay quiet for a moment.

“We send a small strike team to fetch the bird, but we don’t use it to escape. Once we have it, we’ll have a viable means of traveling around the city. Do you know how many other hospitals and buildings have helipads? A damn lot of them do. So we use it to reach those buildings, loot their supplies, or even fly out and land in less populated areas of the city to make ground raids. Sure, some of us will have to risk our asses to do it, but it’s a damn sight better than risking the whole group trying to make it out of here on the ground.

“And here’s the beautiful part: not only would food no longer be an immediate problem, but some of the buildings I’m talking about have fuel depots for birds like the one we’d be using. We’d also have a way to reach the airport and steal us a larger bird if we really needed to get out of here.”

“It’s risky, Vince,” Laura said. “There are so many things that could go wrong every time our raiding parties took the helicopter out, and dozens of ways we could lose the helicopter after we’ve got it… if we can even get it. One failed raid and we could be right back where we started with nothing to show for it except some of us being dead.”

“A strike team?” Jack laughed. “Just who the hell out of our little group fits that description? None of us have any military training. Hell, half of the folks here have barely even used a gun more than once or twice in their lives, and those times were in desperation after the plague hit.”

“Actually, Jack, I thought we’d go. Me, you, Mitchell, and Chris. And Daniel, of course. He’s the only one who knows how to fly a bird.”

“You’d take three of our strongest people and our only engineer on this fool’s errand? You’d actually leave Laura here with no one left to head things up if the hospital had to be defended?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Jack, we all have ‘basic experience’ or we wouldn’t be alive, would we?”

“Vince,” Laura said, “what you’re suggesting might work if the creatures outside were like the ones in the movies, but they’re not. Those things out there move like us. They’re fast and there are thousands of them. There’s no way a team could fight its way through them to the station.”

“You’re right, but they could leapfrog to it,” Vince said with a grin.

“Leapfrog?” Jack muttered under his breath.

“All we’d have to do is jury-rig some grappling gear. We could hop from one rooftop to another all the way to the station. How many creatures have you seen on the roofs? Not many. Only a handful of the things ever wander that high, and most of them either fall off or leave when they find that the roofs are empty. Chris used to be a professional mountain climber. With his help, it’ll be easy.”

“Chris’s wife just died last night,” Laura reminded Vince coldly. “He has a daughter to think of now. Even if he wasn’t an emotional wreck, I’m not sure he’d agree to be a part of your plan.”

“Leapfrog?” Jack repeated, laughing aloud this time. “Holy shit, you are crazy. This isn’t the fucking Matrix or something. We’re not superheroes. Going from roof to roof would be nearly as suicidal as facing the creatures head on.”

“Do you have a better idea?” Vince asked.

“Making a break for it with the damn cars locked up in the garage seems like a better idea than that,” Jack said. “And we all know there’s way too many of those things out there to make it, even if we armored the vehicles and wasted all our firepower trying.”

“I’m sorry Vince,” Laura said, hoping to cut Jack short. “Everything you’re suggesting is just too risky. Let’s drop it and move on, okay?”

Vince shrugged and gave up. He knew if Laura sided with Jack it was pointless to continue, even if he was right. That’s one of the things Laura liked about Vince. Though occasionally temperamental, he was generally laid back and didn’t care how things got done as long as they did get done.

She turned to Jack. “According to these reports, we have nearly four weeks of food and water left, right?”

Jack nodded.

“Then that gives us some time. Maybe we can come up with some other options…. One other thing from your lists that concerns me is the lack of weapons and ammo. If it does come down to a plan like Vince’s, Jack, can we realistically equip a team to send out and still have enough firepower here, should something happen?”

“Honestly, no. Even without splitting the weapons, if the dead found a way up to us right now we wouldn’t have enough here to make a real stand… but I don’t think that’s going to happen, or it would have already.”

“Point taken,” Laura said and leaned back in her chair.

“So then what the hell do we do?” Vince asked.

They all sat in silence.

* * *

Two floors above the informal tribunal meeting, Daniel had returned to his obsessive work in what he considered his own field. Though he had actually been a pilot before the plague, he’d also been a HAM radio fanatic and was the closest thing the group had to a communications expert. Since his first days in the hospital he’d been trying to reach other survivors using the radio equipment he’d found in the building. His efforts weren’t entirely futile. More than once he’d made contact with another group or person still alive in the world outside, even a few in the city itself. But they were always cut off from the hospital by either the dead or a lack of transport. The other survivors might as well have been on the moon.

The part that really depressed Daniel was that he never managed to stay in contact with any of them. They simply disappeared from the airwaves as if they had never been there at all. He told himself those poor souls had just ran out of power to broadcast or that they’d been rescued.

Daniel had boosted his signal as much as he could. His range was huge for the equipment he had available, but he still wished for more. He told himself that if he just kept trying, one day he would reach a group capable of coming to the hospital’s aid. He’d spent the last few days scanning the civilian bands, so today he switched back to the military channels.

His only radio contact with a military unit had been scary as hell. The soldiers demanded his location as if they intended to raid the hospital rather than come to their rescue. They hadn’t said that outright, but Daniel could read voices. They were his passion. Hell, for all he knew they’d already tried to reach the hospital and had been consumed in the attempt by the dead. He’d certainly never heard from them again. He never even told the others about them, and they were the one party he never tried very hard to reestablish contact with after they went missing.

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