Two hours before sun rise, Ed drew a rubber mat across the thin layer of limestone gravel concealing one of the various fireproof safes secreted about about the room in the converted barn's floor. He cast one last tired, red eye over the room satisfied anyone who forced their way in would find little more than empty workbenches and a rogue washer or two. Freak fire couldn't be helped-- but anything else would be safe. He'd brought out what he'd needed from the house shortly before midnight. His dog Mo slept soundly on the truck's passenger seat despite being overweight and too big for the bucket.
He'd only managed an hour or two for reloading--dawn up til sunset the previous day had been spent packing and finishing the truck's rig. The smart pad was already in its pedestal, blackbox linked into the series. He walked over and pulled himself up into the driver's seat.
A finger tap brought the third-gen smartpad to life, the plasma monitor winked to life, still displaying the last screen. The black box was in full sync with an orbiting satellite, the aerial shot of the around him was fresh and being updated constantly in realtime finally. He drew an "X" in the lower right portion of the screen, the computer responded by showing him the hijiack signal. He'd piggy backed onto a weather satellite--registry was scrawled down the right side of the screen, listing capabilities.
He drew a circle on the screen to bring in magnification-- localizing his signal and the surround twenty miles by the scale. A thermal switch and another magnification request brought the image into a resolution equal to a rough five mile radius and clear enough to pick out heat signatures. He was shielded in the cab and metal exterior, however, only the generators registered in his direct vicinity. The generator on the house had been allowed to run dry after being disconnected the 500 gallon reserve tank. Four hours later it was still a red blob on the map, the shop gennie still plugging away, glowed almost white.
The only other heat trace he could see was a lonely red dot about an eighth of an inch from him-- he drew his finger around the pixel and was given a 200 magnification. The roof of a modest ranch-style house squated in the center of the screen as the radius shifted and narrowed to a 500 yard picture. The red pinprick was barely larger, but it was clearly moving in the center of the house.
The man who called himself Armorer frowned-- his brother was awake. The heavy-set younger sibling has obviously more than worked up. They'd spoken briefefly over shortwave that afternoon-- roughly sketching a route and provisions. Hadley was seldom talkative, slow to anger, and simply grim on his best days. Yet, he'd responded to taking off more eagerly than Ed has anticipated, especially after refusing to take up residence with the elder brother once he'd been left alone in the family home.
When it all hit the fan, the old man as a surgeon had been called in to help with the rash of bites and other injuries-- the populace still unaware of what was happening. Despite his eldest son's warnings, he'd still managed to get bitten and snuck out of the hospital. He'd made it home and to bed before the boys mother came in on him. The brothers had been out on a raid--they'd discussed the possibilities of a zombie invasion, though only one brother jokingly.
Ed pushed it out of his mind. Hadley hadn't taken the "what-ifs" too seriously, it was his trauma, his shock and dismay, and his big brother couldn't wish that out of him. Ed could only hope the kid didn't crack-- three and a half months after the fact, it was still no guarentee that he'd manage the stress of what they were about to do.
He shut down the smartpad but kept the satellite link up--he'd want access to the web for a while yet, he'd already managed to save some images of Wickenburg. He hoped he'd still be able to meet PT and MK23 there-- they'd have at least a good 7 hours to prepare for when Ed got there with the rest. Knowing what kind of men he was buddied with, he could only hope whatever puddle jumper they snagged could manage all the gear they'd be packing.
He ushered Mo into the back of the truck and grabbed a small device from a crate behind the seat. After rolling up the metal door and driving out, he ran back inside to lock up. As he closed the small walk-through door, he paused to rig the small explosive from the truck. It was a simple concussive-- a modified, glorifiad flashbang to blow back anyone who tried to jimmy the door. No dead-head would manage to accidentally disable it-- and the strucker wouldn't get more'n some blacking, but it'd be enough to dissuade any honest thief. He hoped the couple packages of MRE's he'd left on the kitchen counter with the note, "take these and leave: mess anything up, and I'll hunt you down and fucking kill you" would help get a picture across to anyone who tried the house first.
A minute later he pulled into his parent's shaded driveway-- he was a good hour and change early, but it wouldn't do to keep Hadley waiting. The smartpad was reactivated, still perched above the house in thermal. He'd learned that zeds, though long dead, still could show up as blue green masses, their rotting throwing off enough putrescent ambient heat. Only the angry red dot buzzed around the house, the truck's warming engine just beginning to outline.
He pulled around back and parked. Through a shrouded french door, lights glowed. Again the frown returned, he hoped the little bastard had gotten some sleep-- it wouldn't do for both of them to have spent the night awake-- now Ed could grab some Z's while his brother took over the wheel. It'd be at least 13 hours to UZI's. He cursed and was responded with a growl in his stomach. Great-- now he was hungry and exhausted.
He jumped out of the truck and pulled his .45 as he sprinted across the lawn. A couple of raps at the back door and he could hear the deadbolt retract into the frame. As the door opened, he almost fell backwards as a duffel bag and his brother's weatherby was thrust out to him.
Ed holstered the TRP as he grabbed the duffel in his left hand before taking the .308 in his right.
"Jeez, calm down. You're friggin wired, tell me you got some shut eye because i've been going nonstop since 6 yesterday morning."
"No," the younger brother said, hefting a sptting scope case in one hand and an ammo box in the other, a large pack already on his back. "We're driving the better'n halfway across the country after the better part of hell has just erupted in our laps....I couldn't get a wink no more than you. You load up your desktop?"
"Of course," Armorer said, "too much shit on it, and there's not enough room to drump everything to the pad."
"You mean too much porn. You also remember the box of noise makers?"
Ed's stomach gurgled again, he was getting frustrated. His brother might as well have been a zombie for the last couple of months, he'd kept'em going, and with the drive on their heads, this sudden bossy tone wasn't settling him. A day in the car wouldn't help either.
"You're lucky we share the same mother and I don't have a comeback. I've packed everything, you're not fit to drive and I'm starving." Sensing the conflict, Mo didn't offer a tailwag as the truck's camper back popped open and ed slid everything into their expectant places. "So stow it, and let me go get something to eat."
As he turned to walk back to the house, Hadley tossed his two cases into the truck ran over to his big brother.
He grabbed a shoulder as he dropped his backpack, opening the large drawstring mouth. He shoved an MRE into Ed's hands.
"We shared the same mom. Past tense. She's gone. Dad's gone. Everything is gone...there's nothing left for us here."
Ed stood mute, before handing back the ready-packaged meal.
"Save it for the ride, we've no idea what UZI's situation is and we might be forced to ration. I'll grab something from the pantry."
He again turned to walk towards the house, leaving Hadlen holding the MRE. Silently Hadlen dropped it into the pack and walked over to the truck, opening the driver's door.
Ed grabbed the door handle to the house and started to turn the knob when the window beside him crashed inward. He whirled around to see Hadlen run over to the pack and back to the truck to close up the hatch.
"The was one of those firebombs you cooked up, I set the fuse to forty seconds!"
Ed turned and ran. He planted a foot as he drew near and jumped for the drivers seat, the door still ajar as he threw it into gear. Hadlen sat calmly in the passenger seat, his sack open between his legs as he sat digging for something.
"What the fuck did you do!" Ed bellowed as he fishtailed coming around the front of the house, gunning for the driveway."
"I dumped remaining gas out and punctured generator's tank."
Behind them the house's windows exploded outward, the concussive force of the igniting gas fumes enough to blow shingles straight up into the air as the house they grew up in turned into an arsonist's jack-o-latern. The bright flare-up in the rearview blinded Ed as he stared into the mirror in shock. He slammed on the breaks at the mouth of the driveway, wiping at his eyes and blinking. In the pale glow, Ed could see a weak, tired smile on his brother's face.
"Good thing you got here early, those fumes were giving me a headache."
"Aha," with relish he pulled a lever-action from the bag. Since everything had gone down, he'd had Ed cut down .45 long colt's barrel and shave the stock down to a pistolgrip. He dropped it down to his lap and put a box of shells on the dashboard before handing Ed back the MRE from before.
"Well, Wagon Master, figure we'd better get this train headed west. I'll crash out till Atlanta and you'll take shotgun til Birmingham-- that way we'll have had four hours between us to last until Texas."
Ed tried not to gape as he pulled out of the drive onto the deserted, dark highway. He used his teeth to rip open the foil pack to hide a slight smile. Maybe this was the end of his brother's madness-- he'd already long since lived his. They'd need their wits about them.
He checked the pad again, closing out the aerial and opening a simple prompt command. The encrypted coordinates TJ had sent him would take a while to decode. Having Hadlen take the smartpad, he dictated a brief message for Ryan and Pierangelo to be sent through passive messaging should either guy get a line tap before they met up in Wickenburg.
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