-Chapter 15: Ultimatum

I was having the dream again. Fleeing down the dark alleys only to end up trapped with nowhere to escape. I was being chased by zombies like before, only the sounds and smells were all the more vivid, pulled directly from my memories. This time I couldn't see the stars in the sky above me. I realized it wasn't because of the darkness, but because I was under the earth. The passages and corridors were those of the bunker. I was trapped down here.

Instead of a refuge this place was a tomb, and I was awaiting my funeral. I clung to my blankets, tossing and turning in my bed as my dreams haunted me. I awoke in a sweat, panting and trembling. Izzy overheard this and burst through the door.

"Are you all right? I heard screaming." She said.

"Yeah, I'm fine." I said, trying to act cool.

She stepped in and shut the door behind her. "You poor thing." She said as she walked over. "Maybe I should stay with you tonight."

She climbed into bed and under the covers, cuddling up close to me. She wrapped her arms around me and gently set her soft head on my chest. I relaxed and stretched out my arms, folding them under my head. I could feel her hand moving down my chest and into my pants. Izzy looked up at me with her big, beautiful eyes, then disappeared under the covers. From beneath the covers I saw her head moving down as she caressed my thighs and pulled down my pants.

BZZ-BZZ-BZZ

I awoke for real this time, alone. Before I had a chance to gather myself Izzy burst through the door without knocking.

"Hurry up! We're going to be late for class." She said.

I was still laying in bed, the sheets between my legs revealing my...self. Izzy could not help but notice.

"Hahaha! Oh my god, Andrew. Someone had a good night."

My brain lacked the blood required to think. "Whaa?" I managed, before she turned and left, laughing so hard she had to catch her breath.

I rushed out of bed and got dressed, pushing my arms and legs into my clothes and taking off down the hall, making it to class just in time. I took my seat as Priestly began the day's lecture. He wanted us to be better prepared to fight, given the current situation up above.

Everyone, including the kids, would be doing mandatory formation and weapons training for half an hour every day. During class I noticed Weasel, or rather, I didn't notice him. He was nowhere to be seen.

Weasel was off job shadowing with the chief engineer, Gustav Bergstrom. He was a jolly man; a well-fed, rotund fellow. He looked like Santa Claus, but with a shorter beard. He is always covered in soot and grime, even after he showered, like he was made of it. His scruffy white moustache was stained yellow by coffee and cigarettes. His nose was wide and permanently red, as if he'd inflated a balloon in each nostril. He laughed at everything and when he thought something you said was funny, which he always did, he'd smack you on the back or punch you in the shoulder.

Pairing him with Weasel was like watching a terrible odd-couple sitcom. He took a much different approach to maintenance than Weasel did. Rather than the well thought out, methodical, calculatory precision Weasel was used to Gustav just sort of figured it out as he goes. This usually meant by the time he was done with something he had a few extra parts than when he started.

Today Gustav and Weasel were tearing apart an old water heater. Weasel, never being one for hands-on work, helped Gustav by handing him tools and replacement parts. Gustav laughed as he worked. He chuckled and snorted, coughed and sputtered and chortled. He schnortled. Weasel found the whole process unnecessary, but Gustav argued that you have to love what you did, otherwise what was the point in doing it?

"You're making a mess. How are you going to find that part later, when you need it? Don't put that there, now you've spilled coffee on it." Weasel protested. "Ee-yuck, this thing is covered in, what is this, peanut butter?"

Weasel put the sticky mess on the floor with the others and looked around for something to wipe his hands on. Finding nothing he wiped his hands on the back of Gustav's overalls.

"Aye. Had some on me toast this mornin'." Gustav chuckled.

"Yes, but that was an hour ago. How did it even- never mind." Weasel paced anxiously. He didn't like one thing about this man, not one thing, but it was still better than being in class.

"Yer too uptight, lad. Yeh got ta learn to calm down. Eere, hold me wrench, will ye?"

Weasel nearly dropped the ten pound wrench on his foot, struggling to get a grip on all the grease. Gustav's hands were covered in calluses from years of work. He could get a grip on a bar of soap underwater, not that he'd ever use it.

He and Weasel finishd setting the parts in place and sealed up the access panel on the heater. Gustav rose with a grunt and flipped the circuit breaker back on returning the water heater to life with a pleasant hum.

"But you've still got a mess of parts strewn about! It makes no sense! How is that thing working?!" Weasel was about to blow a gasket.

Gustav winks at the boy. "Just cause the parts all worked," he explained, "doesn't mean it was workin'."

They spend the rest of their day mending the components that Weasel had stripped to build his server. Weasel is actually impressed that Gustav managed to get everything running again while leaving his server in tact.

After the day is through Weasel was brought back to gym to drill with the rest of us. On the way back to the gym they passed the radio room. Priestly had stationed a guard there after the incident with Bruce.

Gustav saw the boy off with a hearty slap on the shoulder and a crushing, sand-papery handshake that would strip the chrome off a trailer hitch.

Priestly walked us over to a pile in the center of the gymnasium. He pulled back the covers, revealing a stack of riot shields. We're overcome with Awe and wonder as gleeful grins spread wide across our faces.

We climbed into our gear and picked up our shields. Now we truly felt like warriors. We spent the next twenty minutes smashing each other with padded clubs, knocking each other over and ramming into one another like gladiators. The Armor's sturdy, light-weight polymer was durable and easy to wield, making it unmistakably better than shoulder pads and trash can lids.

I pictured myself holding off a wave of Husks, blood and spit splattering on the shield as I laughed at in safety from the other side. Due to the size and shape of the shields maneuvers and formations left us much more protected.

In addition to our new armor Priestly had a set of spears fashioned for us. The bunker lacked a proper forge, given the substandard ventilation, but Gustav was able to make do with flattened steel heated by propylene torch.

"The Pilum," Priestly explained as we drilled, "was the staple spear of the Roman Legionarre. Its impressive 2 metre reach, coupled with its deadliness in formation made Pila formiddable weapons on the battlefield, helping the Roman Empire defeat savage, relentless Barbarian armies."

Now we were truly a phalanx. A legion of trained, hardened soldiers. We felt invincible. With enough training we we would overcome anything together.

The day ended with a celebration over dinner where we proudly spouted tales our heroic endeavors, each re-telling becoming slightly more embellished. Wonderous adventures, daughntless enemies, and against all odds we emerged victorious.

It had only been a short time but we were already good friends with all the other kids. The adults took their turn training, too. Half an hour every day. When Priestly wasn't there personally he promoted the skilled and savvy to substitute in his stead. In time we would become a force to be reckoned with, but time was a luxury we did not have.

The council may have opted to allow Priestly to take on the role of leader, but this didn't mean everyone was pleased about it. As with any democracy there was a constraining, cumbersome cloud of bureaucrac cynicism that lingered, inhibiting real progress and sowing deceipt. Priestly had to tread lightly, lest he slip on a smarmy, slimy smidgeon of their self-centered smugness.

The Captain made it look like he ran the show, and in a way he did. He knew how to position himself so that he appeared to be following orders, even though it was his idea to begin with. The way he posed a question was baited so that the outcome was the one he had planned it. The trick was providing two options, one of which was clearly unfavorable, so the council felt they'd made the right choice. Priestly had yet to learn this.

"He has them training with weapons. School children!"

"Hear, hear!"

The council drolled on, protesting the slightest suggestion.

"As well as the rest of us. I damn near keeled over after the first ten minutes!"

"It's for the best." Priestly tried to explain, "We're going to need to know how to defend ourselves."

"Preposterous!"

"Ethan never made us train. The Captain knew we aren't soldiers."

Priestly had made a career out of dealing with children. He hardly expected that would change when the world ended.

"Grotesque, crude, and a complete violation of our civil rights."

"The man's insatiable. Next he'll have us storming castles!"

This sent a cackle spreading across the council.

"We're all perfectly safe down here." Came a voice, calmer, more meticulous than the others. "You're just over-reacting."

This one seemed to be in control of the situation. When he spoke, people listened as if he had seniority over them.

"I'm sorry," Priestly began, "I haven't quite learned everyone's names yet. Mr...?"

"Hemsworth. Walter Hemsworth."

"Mr. Hemsworth. With all due respect we live in a different world now. The reality of the situation is the above ground is overrun by blood-thirsty, vicious monsters. We need to take precautions now before it's too late."

"Reality, Mr. Priestly, is not something I think you're fit to understand right now." Said Watherby, the words slithering from his forked tongue. "What you've witnessed is traumatic, that much is understandable. Perhaps what's best for you, for all of us right now, is for you to just take a step back."

"These kids need the excercise. What's more they've bonded, and as a community-"

"You're too hot-headed to be making decisions like this for everybody." Drexler interrupted. "Clearly you're still affected by the violent events of the past week. This type of extremist behaviour is simply irresponsible. And dangerous." He added.

"Not at all." Preistly maintained composure. "This council has my assurances that not only is the training regiment necessary, but it's also been overwhelmingly popular! People actually enjoy it. Not only that but the exercise is doing them a world of good. Take Mr. Randall over there, for instance. No offence, Mr. Randall."

"None taken. I must admit, it was quite entertaining." Mr. Randall, who looked like he never ran at all, was one of the nicer ones, Priestly thought.

Hemsworth shot Mr. Randall a look that made him shiver. His head sunk into his shoulders like a turtle receding into it's shell.

"Er, that is to say, ah, it is rather dangerous, don't you think? For the kids, at least."

The council seemed to gravitate around whatever Hemsworth decided, like smaller planets pulled into orbit by an immense ball of hot gas. Everyone was equal in the community, but somehow he was more equal. Priestly was having none of it.

"Now I understand your reluctance." Priestly reassured them. "You've all lived down here peacefully for generations, but believe me when I say that what's happening up above is coming to us and it's not going to stop until we've all been wiped out. Bruce said as much himself."

"Ah, Bruce. The lunatic." Hemsworth chimed in, right on time. "The man is certifiable. He's practically rabid. You can't believe a word he says."

"He may be unstable," Priestly rationalized, "but something has him spooked so badly that he would kill his own father. He claims that people with knowledge of this bunker are coming. And, seeing as we thwarted his plan to take over, they're going to kill us all when they get here." Priestly finally had their attention.

"Now that may just be the ravings of a maniac," he continued, "but if there's even an ounce of truth to that statement we have to consider the possibility. Maybe this whole thing blows over, maybe not. Either way I'll sleep better at night knowing that we're prepared. I'm sure everyone here will too."

This seemed to have done the trick. The council had his back now. Hemsworth wrinkled his brow and conceded to allow the training to continue. The council moved on to more important matters like what to do about the graffiti that had started popping up all over the place and how many servings of spaghetti one could eat before it was considered inappropriate.

Up above, the town was all but devoid of life. Nearly a week had passed since the initial outbreak. The packs of Husks that prowled the streets were so grotesquely bloated they could hardly be recognized as human. Their bellies had become distended, swollen masses. Their organs liquefied and repurposed. An entire internal network, crafted over millennia to sustain human life, metamorphosed in only a week.

It had been redesigned to support a new form of life, one that grew and matured in a parasitic womb where once there had been a heart and kidneys, liver and intestines. All that remained was a swollen, bulging, sack that once was a stomach.

Sustained by the nutrients it sapped from its host the parasites developed rapidly, nurtured by ideal conditions in an environment of their own design. They were in the last stages of embryonic development. Soon a new terror would be unleashed upon the world.

The world need only wait.