“I’m a Senator of this great state, Kevin. I know my people. And I know that the rural areas are full of crazies.” The Senator flashed her winning smile. “If we have to go in and disarm them, we’ll do it.”

He had been retired, working his way into the political arena, before all hell had broken loose. The President had assigned him to coordinate the rescue centers in this part of Texas. The only thing he had managed to coordinate was his escape from Austin with the Senator. “The First Lieutenant is right. The situation needs to be dealt with in a calm and logical manner. I think we should let the two captives into the civilian population. Let them see what we’re about. Let them see we are organized and prepared to take on the added responsibilities of leading the fort. After they have seen our operation here, I’ll question this Bill personally tomorrow.”

“We should just contact the enclave and speak with them,” Bruce Kiel said in a low voice. “Why all the cloak and dagger bullshit? Why snag their people? Just contact them!”

The Senator looked at him reproachfully. “You seem to forget the kind of people we have already encountered since this incident began. Consider the hoodlum that gave us the information on the fort and his merry band of methheads. He said they shot his people, blew up one of their trucks, and shot two innocent people when he tried to seek refuge with them.

Now, I’m not saying that the fort people didn’t show a bit of class not letting him into their facility, but they showed aggression that we cannot consider lightly.”

“The Senator is correct,” the Major General agreed. “They are well-armed and ruthless.”

“According to a criminal,” Kevin pointed out. “A man who we found with two women held captive in his truck.”

“We need an accurate picture of what is going on before we make our move,” the Major General said finally. “Take care of it, First Lieutenant.

“May I have the discretion to do as I please?”

The Major General nodded. “Just get me the truth.”

* * * * * Bill was the one who went in to get Jenni from her holding cell. She had attacked everyone who had tried to enter, but when she saw him, she collapsed into tears and clung to him. Together, they followed the tall, handsome man who had questioned them down a long narrow white hallway.

Another soldier handed them two bags. Inside were rations and a blanket.

“Your sleeping assignments are in the folder at the bottom of the bag. It also holds your schedule and what work detail you are on,” the soldier explained. “We’ll talk more later about your fort, but for now, I think you need to see the world we have built here.”

Holding tightly to each other, Bill and Jenni stepped through the glass double doors and gazed over the railing down into the world of Madison.

Chapter 11 1. Waiting Peggy slammed her cup of coffee down on the table, a little sloshing onto the wood. The people gathered around the large table in the dining room looked up at her curiously and she shrugged.

“No word. Nothing. It’s quiet out there.” Tucking herself into a chair next to Dale, she grimaced.

Lenore reached for another biscuit and shrugged. “That ain’t good.” Her expression was grim and her eyes close to tearing.

Tenderly, Ken rubbed her shoulder and leaned against her. “It’ll be okay.

“We shouldn’t have left them,” Linda whispered, pouring whiskey into her coffee. “It was the wrong thing to do.”

“We had to get out of there. Had to get the equipment back,” Dale said firmly. “Plus, the damn zombies were coming out of the woodwork.”

Maddie Goode ran her delicate hands down over her long tousled hair. It was a pretty mix of white, silver, and strawberry blond. It was hard to tell her age. Her smile was youthful, but the skin around her eyes and lips was finely lined. “You can’t second guess yourselves. You did what you felt was right.”

Peggy grabbed a biscuit from the Tupperware container in front of her and reached for the butter and peach jam. Rosie had put out the day old biscuits for a late night snack. Coffee and hot tea were set out on a counter nearby. “Well, there ain’t nothing out there tonight but static, so I have no clue where the hell our people are. Storm is kicking up a lot of wind and the lightning isn’t helping.”

Passing the liquor bottle over to Dale, Linda set her elbow on the table and leaned her chin on her knuckles. “They just came at us so fast. It was so quick. I still don’t know how we got Ken out of there.”

“It was a blessing you did,” Maddie said patting Ken’s hand.

With a sigh, Ken shook his head. “Not if it got the other team killed.”

“I did what I had to. I was not letting my best friend die.”

“No one is blaming you, Lenore,” Dale assured her. “I would have done the same damn thing. It got crazy fast. You did what you thought was right.”

Lenore wiped a tear away from her eye and her jaw set in a stubborn line.

“Felix, Jenni, Bill and Roger all kick ass on a regular basis,” Linda decided. “If anyone can make it out of a hospital full of dead people, it’s them.”

Another tear rolled down Lenore’s cheek and she shook her head. “If they died...”

“Oh, Lenore, don’t cry!” Maddie slid to her bare feet and rushed around the table to hug her. “You did what you thought was right.”

“I may have gotten Felix killed,” Lenore whispered. “And Jenni. Bill.

And stupid ol’ Roger always going on about Star Trek and...”

Ken covered his face with his hands. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t know the doors led to where they were all stashed! I wouldn’t have gone down that hall even though it was on the map if I knew the zombies were there!”

“It was on the map. It was on your instructions. What else could you have done?” Linda downed her coffee and this time poured straight whiskey into the cup. “You were doing your job.”

“It’s okay, li’l buddy. You were a tough hombre out there and you did good,” Dale declared. “I was damn proud of you.”

“Really?” Ken peeked through his hands at Dale.

Lenore leaned into Maddie, holding onto her and looking more emotional than most people had ever seen her. Peggy felt awkward about the whole situation. She was torn between being spitting mad and sobbing terrified.

It was her family out there and though they had been trying to do their best for Juan, she was pissed at everyone involved to some degree. She was tired of losing people. Tired of the pain of loss. Tired of the whole damn mess.

“It’s not like we didn’t know the risks,” Linda mumbled. She downed her whiskey and poured more. “We know the risks. Every time we go out there, we know the freaking risks.”

“Should we cut you off?” Dale eyed the cute little Latina thoughtfully.

Peggy sighed and stuffed the whole biscuit in her mouth. Dale looked at her with an impressed smile on his face and she chewed the wad of white flour goodness slowly. With a shrug, she said, “I was hungry.” The truth was she was about to say something that would have pissed everyone off.

She was in a bad mood and knew it. Yet, she didn’t want to be alone.

Looking harried, Curtis walked into the dining room. He spotted them and headed over, his hand shoving his thin blond hair back from his face.

Peggy thought he looked about as pissy as she felt.

“Linda, there you are. I thought you were going to come down and join me in the communication center,” he said, reaching the table.

“I’m getting drunk,” she answered. Clicking coffee cups with Dale, she dismissed Curtis with a look.

“Oh, well. You could maybe come down to the communication center and we could talk,” Curtis said, a little more gently. He looked peeved at Dale as he drew up a chair and sat next to Linda.

“Felix was such a great guy,” Linda declared. “He was my buddy. And Roger, that fucking perv, taught me how to swear in Klingon and told me all about Vulcans and sex. And Bill...man...Bill...”

“We don’t know what has happened yet. We shouldn’t start having their wake just yet,” Maddie said gently.

“You didn’t know them. How would you know?” Curtis crossed his arms and glared at the older woman.

“I may not know them. But they’re people and I do care. I believe we should not mourn until we know for sure,” Maddie answered in a tone that was a little more firm than one would expect from her delicate appearance.

“And don’t get in Maddie’s face. She’s a good one,” Dale said shortly. He folded his big arms over his chest. “Besides, who the fuck are you, you punk ass kid.”