Apocalypse origins, p.8
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       Apocalypse Origins, p.8

           R.A. Neely
 

  ***

  Greg's group reached the rendezvous point after about an hour on the road. Jackson and Shirley exited their vehicle with relief evident on their faces. People exchanged greetings, happy to see that their loved ones had made it out. Jackson approached Greg and pulled him into a fierce hug.

  "Can't tell you how glad I am to see you. Wasn't sure you'd make it and they were starting to look to us for answers."

  Greg chuckled. "Oh you would've been fine. How is everyone? How many did we lose?"

  "Only one that I know of," Jackson replied. "There was one that refused to come with us when we made a run for the vehicles."

  Greg shook his head, "Stupid."

  Jackson nodded. "What can you do? I wasn't gonna die because they were an idiot."

  Greg nodded. "Alright, let's gather everyone around. I've got some news to share." Greg looked out over the people as they gathered together. They were about sixty people all told. They looked tired, disheveled, and hungry. And he was responsible for all of them. He felt something stir within him and knew that he would do everything he could to keep them safe. Robert's vision of finding a place of their own was good one. He'd make sure it happened.

  "We were attacked tonight," he began, "someone cut the fences and killed the guards before they raised the alarm." He looked out over the sea of faces and didn't see much fear, he did see a lot of anger though.

  "Richard saved us," he continued, "we discovered a breach and Richard held the infected off while I raised the alarm. He was a hero. And not just him. After Richard fell, Paul and Anthony held the line." He paused for a moment, grateful that James had been able to supply their names. "Several men on lookout were killed. That’s why there was no warning. There were also men at the north gate that gave their lives. I have no doubt their sacrifice is the only reason so many of us were able to make it out." A few teared up at this, Richard was well liked even before he had organized everyone and kept them safe.

  "Who did it?" someone yelled. The crowd began to murmur then, many of them expressing a desire for payback. Greg raised his hands for silence and the crowd complied.

  "Dawn Stamper did it," Greg replied. The crowd expressed surprise at this revelation, who would think that one of their city officials could turn on them like that?

  "Do you want revenge?" Greg asked. The crowd nodded their assent at this. "Let me tell you what means. It means that we go back and fight the very people some of you grew up with. Are you prepared for that? Further, I believe most of those people back there are just trying to survive. I don't even think they know what Dawn orchestrated. But we can go back, is that what you want?"

  The crowd quieted then and Greg nodded. It was one thing to want revenge, who wouldn't? But they weren't ready to kill the innocent along with the guilty. "I say we take this as a lesson. We move forward. Richard wanted to find a place where we could all be safe. I say we do that, but there will be a few changes."

  "Richard was a good man. He believed that everyone deserved the benefit of the doubt. I say the rules we used to follow are gone. The world we knew is gone and we can't live the way we used to." Greg paused as the ideas he had been thinking about became cemented in his mind.

  "If someone shows hostility, we put them down. No questions, no hesitation. If they hit us, we hit back twice as hard." The crowd began nodding then, some responding with shouts of agreement.

  "Follow me and I will lead you to a place to call our own. We will claim it, we'll defend it, and we'll rebuild what we've lost. Who's with me?"

  The crowd erupted then, everyone voicing their support. Greg nodded in satisfaction and raised his hands again for silence. When the group complied he continued, "We've had a long day. We're gonna get some more miles on the road and set up camp for the night. You all know your jobs, let's get to it."

  The crowd dispersed and Greg heard many of them talking excitedly amongst themselves. Something was different now. Before, they were little more than a group of individuals trying to survive. Greg felt they were something more now, their shared trauma having forged a bond between them. He had no more doubt that they would follow his lead. He took a moment to think about those that had been lost. Richard. Paul. Anthony. The guards on lookout and those that had fallen at the north gate. Proper communication was a priority so this wouldn’t happen again. How many of that number would still be alive if they had walkies? 

  "Good speech," Shirley said as she walked up to him. "You been planning that?"

  Greg shrugged. "I've been thinking about it, the rest just happened."

  "Looks like everyone is on board," James said. "Don't think we'll have too many problems."

  "Scouts are out," Jackson said as he joined the group. "We can head out now."

  Greg nodded and headed for his vehicle. It would be slow going but they had decided it was a good idea to send scouts out before them. If they ran into trouble, one of their number would head back with a warning so the main group could respond accordingly. The arrangement was simple, the guards were set in vehicles at the head and tail of the caravan with all the liabilities in the middle. Greg felt this would give them the best chance to respond in case they ran into trouble.

  The rest of the day passed uneventfully. The scouts found a suitable area to set up and they stopped for the day to pitch their tents. Later that evening, Greg walked the camp and checked in with each of the guards on sentry duty. He didn't stay long, he just exchanged a few words to let them know that he appreciated them.  Morning came and everyone loaded up after a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal. They traveled about fifty miles that day and then stopped to find a suitable camp.

  The scouts had found a truck stop and the group were glad to have a semblance of civilization after clearing it of infected. The vending machines were raided and they had a treat with their dinner that night. Morning came and the scavengers were sent out to look for supplies. The respite also served to let the group recover further. No doubt many of his people were still stressed about the trailer park. After that, he'd been trying to put as much distance as he could between them and Dawn's people. Taking a break for morale would be good for everyone's psychological health.

  That night, Greg gathered his inner circle and they poured over a map they found at the truck stop. He'd also invited Don Dixon and Joe Montiel, these men had become the de facto leaders of the scouts and scavengers. Don was an experienced hunter and was the best man to lead the scouts. Joe had already proved his worth because he was planning on hitting a town as soon as possible to deal with their walkie situation.

  "We're going through our supplies a little faster than we anticipated," Laura said. "We'll need to start that hunting you were talking about to supplement."

  Greg nodded and looked at Don. "You're from around here. What's a good area where our guys can get some hunting done?"

  Don leaned over that map and mumbled a bit under his breath. "This whole area has lots of deer so I think any forested area should do." He pointed to a spot on the map. "I hunt at least once a year. This is Freyfield State Park, I usually do my hunting there."

  Greg leaned over and looked at the spot. "How's the setup there? Would we be able to take everyone in?"

  Don nodded. "They've got plenty of space for campgrounds. We'd be able to fit comfortably there and then some."

  Greg looked around at the other members of his inner circle. "Any objections?" he asked. When no one voiced any concerns he nodded. "That's the plan then." He rubbed his chin in thought. "Are there any cities close by? Joe could do some scavenging while we're there. I think I'd like to stay there a few days and give everyone a chance to rest."

  "There's a few small towns in the area," Don replied. "Nothing major but Joe should be able to find some supplies there."

  "Something is better than nothing," Joe said.

  "Anything that adds to our supplies is a good thing," Laura chipped in.

  "Alright," Greg said, "that's settled. Anything else we need to talk about?"<
br />
  "There's one other thing," Jackson said with a disturbed look on his face.

  "What happened?" Greg asked.

  "One of the women accused one of the men of raping her."

  James sighed. "We have to be on top of this. If we're talking about trying to rebuild, we can't let this sort of thing happen."

  "Who was accused?" Greg asked. "Was it one of my guards?"

  Jackson shook his head, "a father from one of the families."

  "What do we know about him?" James asked.

  "Seems like a bum," Jackson replied. "Said he was injured when Richard was putting the guard together. He also had a convenient excuse whenever it was his turn to do any actual work."

  "Definitely a bum," Greg said. "Where is he now?"

  "I've got two guards keeping him in one of the trailers."

  Greg shook his head. "That's no good. We don't have people to spare for guard duty."

  "What do you want to do then?" James asked.

  Greg thought for a moment and came to a decision. "I see two options," he said looking around at the group. "Death, or exile."

  "Whoa," Carol protested, "isn't that a bit much? And with everything going on, exile is the same thing as death, isn't it?"

  Greg shrugged. "We can't spare people for guard duty. We have to watch out for infected and not to mention anyone else that might want to take what we have. Even if we could spare the guards, that means he's eating and making no contribution to the survival of our group."

  James nodded. "It's harsh, but maybe that's the best way. The old rules don't work anymore. I mean, are we going to put him on trial?"

  "How sure are we about this guy?" Greg asked.

  "A number of people saw him leaving her trailer. He had no reason to be there."

  "I don't really have a problem dealing with this guy but I want to make sure he's guilty. Could this have been an affair or something?"

  Jackson shrugged. "Anything is possible, I suppose. I find myself believing the girl's account. All the people I've talked to confirm this guy is a piece of garbage. He has a rep for stepping out on his wife."

  "What happened?" Greg asked.

  "The short version is that he helped her escape the trailer park. She said that she fell and he helped her up before an infected could get its hands on her. He came around later saying that she owed him.

  Greg shook his head in disgust. "Bring him to me," Greg said. "Let's see what he has to say."

  Jackson nodded and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with a disheveled man in tow. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a tank top and stringy hair was plastered over his forehead. Jackson dumped him on the floor in front of Greg and stayed near in case he tried anything.

  "What do you have to say for yourself?" Greg asked quietly.

  "Nothin'" the man replied in a weasely voice. "She's lying. She invited me over, said she wanted to thank me."

  "You're married," Greg replied.

  The man shrugged. "I'm a handsome man. Am I supposed to say no if a lady wants to spend some time with me?"

  Greg shook his head in disgust. "I'm afraid you don't understand the gravity of your situation," he said as he took a step forward. "I am judge, jury, and executioner. If I decide you're guilty, I'm going to kill you."

  The man's eyes widened. "What? You can't do that, I know my rights!"

  "Do you think the old rules still apply?" Greg asked. "There's no court here. You won't get a day in court while your victim is forced to relive the event all over again. There's here and now. Your life is in my hands."

  "Alright! I did it! What's the harm though? She gave nearly everyone in the park a piece."

  Carol snorted. "Let me guess, everyone but you right?"

  "Yea. She thought she was too good for me. I risked my life to save her so she owed me."

  "I've heard enough," Greg said in a quiet voice laced with steel. "Return him to the trailer and ensure that he's guarded. He will be executed in the morning." He ignored the gasps among the group and returned to the table to look over the map. A moment passed and no one had moved. "Is there a problem?" he asked without looking up.

  "No, sir," Jackson replied, his voice tinged with respect. "It'll be done." He grabbed the man and dragged to his feet. "Let's go you piece of filth. I can't wait 'til the morning."

  "Spread the word," Greg said. "I want everyone present."

  "Are you sure about this?" Carol asked.

  Greg nodded. "It's necessary."

  "Who do you want to do it?" James asked.

  "I will," Greg replied. "I am the leader of the group. I will not give an order that I'm not willing to carry out myself."

  Don and Joe looked at Greg with newfound respect. "We'll let the people know, sir. I don't think anyone will be sorry to see him go."

  Later that night, Greg stood at the sole window in the office and looked out at the stars. He and Carol had moved their bedding into the office rather than sleep in their tent outside. Greg turned his head as he heard Carol stir behind him.

  "Are you coming to bed?" she asked.

  "Eventually," Greg replied. "I'm going to kill a man in the morning, sleep isn't coming easily."

  "You don't have to do it," Carol replied. "Have one of the guards do it."

  Greg shook his head. "I won't back down from this. The men would lose respect if I did that at this point."

  "Want to talk about it? What's bothering you?"

  Greg turned to face Carol. "I'm bothered because I’m not bothered. In the middle of a fight is one thing, someone is trying to kill you. But I'm going to kill this man tomorrow and it doesn't bother me."

  Carol shrugged. "You're setting a precedent, right? Letting people know that they can't do this sort of thing and expect to get away with it." She rose from the bedding and made her way over to Greg.

  "I could become a tyrant you know. I can't help but feel this power is going to corrupt me somehow."

  Carol shook her head. "You're standing here not getting sleep because it bothers you. A tyrant wouldn't care."

  Greg thought for a moment and nodded. "When did you get so smart?" he asked.

  "I've always been awesome," she replied, "you were too busy being the good guy to notice."

  Greg smiled. "Come here."
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