Chris sat rocking Natalie, an empty bottle of formula below his chair. She cooed, gazing up at him with her beautiful green eyes, so much like her mother’s. Chris wrapped her blanket tighter around her tiny body as his mind raced with Vince’s news. He couldn’t believe it. Salvation had come to them out of the darkness. Hope was with them after all.

The base had to be huge. Full of tunnels and open spaces, protected by thick metal walls, concrete, and the earth itself. No more fear that the dead would find a way in. Natalie would be safe. She could grow up without living in fear. She would have places to play, big spaces where he could let her run alone. For years to come she would have a life more normal than he could have dared to hope for. When Vince asked if he and Natalie would be willing to go, Chris hadn’t hesitated in the slightest.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” he whispered to Natalie as she fell asleep in his arms; for the first time in a long while, he meant it. He only wished Rebecca had lived long enough to see her daughter enjoy a better life.

* * *

Night fell over the city, embracing the hospital in its darkness. Thousands upon thousands of zombies surrounded the building, wandering mindlessly and biding their time, waiting for their prey to emerge.

According to Vince’s poll, not a single person—other than Alyson—refused to gamble on the new home that fate had offered them. Jack couldn’t blame them for risking it all. In the hospital you could see the dead if you bothered to look out, and you could hear their hungry voices calling up to you. Sometimes it seemed that the dead were using a form of psychological warfare against them, though Jack knew it was impossible. The creatures were just drawn to this place because they could sense the warm blood and flesh entombed in its walls. Entombed, he thought. It was such a perfect word to describe their situation. All of them, including him, were dead in the long run. They just hadn’t fallen down yet.

After helping Jack prepare for the guest—or guests?—who would arrive in the morning, Mitchell returned to Alyson’s quarters. She lay naked and uncovered on the bed, so drugged up she wasn’t even aware of his presence, her eyes distant, her mind drifting somewhere far away. He considered taking her just because he could. If she remembered later when she came to, he could always pay her, but in the end Mitchell dismissed the idea. He stood at her window, listening to the moans of the dead below. Their cries seemed louder tonight, more desperate.

On the bed, Alyson rolled over onto her stomach. Mitchell turned and took in her naked form, lusting after her despite the session they’d shared this morning. Physical release distracted him and kept him sane—if anyone in the place could be called sane. It was his escape, his drug. Alyson’s red hair was the fire that cleansed his soul.

He loosened his belt and walked toward the bed. For a while he would join Alyson in heaven. It would help pass the time until dawn.


As the sun rose from behind the distant mountains, Daniel waited on the hospital roof, smoking one of the last few cigarettes to cope with the excitement and stress. Laura and Vince stood by his side, flanked by Jack, Mitchell, and two of Jack’s hospital guards. The men all held assault rifles, except for Jack, who shouldered their sole missile launcher, ready to fire the instant anything went wrong.

They heard the helicopter before they saw it, the roar of the engine drowning out the soft, distant noise of the dead below.

Daniel had brought a portable radio. He switched it on. “He’s coming,” he said to Laura, stating the obvious as the small helicopter made its way toward the hospital.

Vince watched it through a pair of binoculars. Jack studied it through the missile launcher’s sight.

“He’s alone!” Jack barked over the whump-whump-whump of the helicopter’s blades. “Or looks to be.”

Daniel’s radio awoke in his grasp. “Joseph Hospital, this is Martin Kier approaching your position. Do I have permission to touch down?”

Laura nodded at Daniel, then motioned for the others to stand down and clear the space for the bird to land safely. She thanked God that Vince persuaded everyone else to stay inside. The excitement over Martin’s arrival had reached a fever pitch. If it hadn’t been for Vince’s convincing nature the whole group of survivors might have been on the roof. It was chaotic enough with just the small group she had.

The helicopter landed and its engine shut down. The man who called himself Martin Kier took off his flight helmet. He stared at them for a second, appraising them through his thick, dark glasses before stepping out of the helicopter. Martin wore green military fatigues, and he never removed the heavily tinted glasses as he came to greet them. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, well built and of average height. His midnight-black hair grew slightly longer than the mandatory military cut. The man moved with feline grace as he offered his hand to Jack. “Hello.”

Jack didn’t take Martin’s hand. “You can call me Jack. The lady in the lab coat is Dr. Laura Smith. We’re the leaders of this group. That chain-smoker over there with the radio is Daniel.”

“Whoa.” Vince shook Martin’s hand and introduced himself. “I’m one of the people in charge here too. We’re damn glad to see you. Sorry about Jack. Being a rude, hard-ass is his reason for living.”

Martin smiled, or attempted to. The expression looked awkward and out of place on his lips. “I brought the food and gear you requested.”

Vince waved at the helicopter dismissively. “Don’t worry about that now. Good old Mitchell and the guys can unload it. I bet you’re tired from your flight, and we have a hell of a lot to talk about. Let’s go inside and get you a drink.” Half joking, he added, “You brought coffee, right?”

Mitchell and Jack’s men unloaded the supplies as Martin followed the others into the stairwell. Daniel tossed aside the cigarette he was smoking and stayed behind to scope out the helicopter, get a feel for the controls. He wanted to be ready in case something happened and he needed to fly it.

Glancing around the cockpit, Daniel saw the standard controls of a military bird. He’d only flown traffic copters before the plague, but the difference didn’t look too drastic.

Vince led Martin and the others down what was usually the quickest route to the conference room, but the hallways were clogged with refugees. They all wanted to see the man who had restored their hope. Vince hurried past them as quickly as he could, dragging the others with him as if by sheer force of will. With each person they passed Martin’s muscles tensed underneath his clothes, as if he expected the group to attack. Vince kept glancing at the twin side arms strapped to Martin’s hips, praying no one spooked the stranger enough to make those weapons leave their holsters.

On the trip down, Martin only paused once to really take in the people and the surroundings. It was when Chris, carrying his daughter Natalie, nearly bumped into them outside the conference room. Martin’s eyes went straight to Natalie and stayed on her as if he didn’t register Chris’s presence.

Finally, he looked up at Chris. “Is the child yours?” Martin asked, awed.

Chris nodded, unsure of how to respond.

Martin’s eyes drifted back to Natalie. “You must be very proud.”

Before Chris could reply, Vince shoved Martin into the conference room. “You can meet folks later, Martin. We really need to talk right now, okay?”

Martin glanced at Vince and saw the man’s fear naked on his face. “Yes, you’re right,” Martin agreed.

Vince closed the door behind Jack and Laura as they entered.

After he finished familiarizing himself with the helicopter, Daniel caught up to the group outside of the conference room. Martin could hear him talking with Chris in the hall, but he took a seat at the table anyway. Laura sat at the head of the table, facing Martin, and Vince and Jack sat on either side of him.

“So you made it, Mr. Kier,” Laura began. “There were those among us who thought you wouldn’t show, or that if you did you’d only bring death and trouble with you. It seems they might have been wrong.”

* * *

Out in the hall, Chris clutched Natalie close to him. “Did you see the way he watched my daughter? It wasn’t right.”

Daniel said, “Come on, Chris, he’s military. He may be one of those guys who are freaked out by kids. No

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