“I am a police officer here in this fort and I will let you know that I know those people who are out there and-”

Peggy put her hand on Curtis’ arm and squeezed. “Shut up.”

“What?” He looked at her in surprise.

“Just shut up. We’re all sitting here, upset, pissy, and just trying to get a little comfort from each other. We don’t need you wagging your badge or your dick in our faces.”

Linda snorted whiskey out of her nose, laughing loudly.

Curtis looked at her with a hurt expression on his face.

Slamming her hands down on the table, Lenore glowered at no one in particular. “I did what I thought was right.”

“I wouldn’t be here if not for you,” Ken said, hugging her arm.

“But maybe the rest of the team would be here if you hadn’t gone off firing your gun,” Curtis snapped.

“That’s it!” Peggy grabbed Curtis’ wrist and dragged him out of his chair.

“Go back to the communication center and do your job. Now!”

Curtis sputtered, but the look on Peggy’s face shut him up. With a dark scowl, he stomped off.

Linda downed the last bit of whiskey and stood up, swaying on her feet.

“Is that what they call it now days?” Peggy felt a sharp pang of disappointment as Linda started after Curtis. She wasn’t sure if she was jealous that Linda and Curtis were going to mess around or if it was because Linda deserved better than a surly boy with a badge.

With a shrug, Linda kept walking after Curtis.

“I’m not going into the communication center until tomorrow,” Ken decided.

“Let them get naked. As long as they are listening for our people,” Peggy sighed.

“Nothing wrong with comforting each other in our time of need,” Dale said.

“No, not at all,” Maddie agreed. She was seated next to Lenore now, gently stroking her hair.

“You remind me of my grandma,” Lenore said in a low voice.

The people at the table lapsed into silence and Peggy began to butter another biscuit. She should get up to check on Cody soon. He was sleeping over with a friend and she wanted to make sure he was okay before his friend’s parents turned in. Maybe it was the manly scent of Dale next to her or the smell of the biscuits, but she was feeling a little more relaxed now.

“I hope they come home okay.” Ken reached out to grab the peach jam.

Peggy had nothing to say that would be productive, so she just ate.

2. The Thoughts of One Man

Kevin Reynolds leaned against the railing of the second floor of the mall watching the newcomers. He could tell the woman was still reeling from the blow to her head. Her companion, Bill, had not left her side all night.

They were now settled into what had been a children’s clothing store, both of them lying down on the army issue cots they had slept on during the night. He could barely see the very pretty Latina’s red sweater standing out amidst all the other people in the store.

Rubbing his hand over his head, he felt the prickle of his closely cut hair tickle his palm. He felt bone weary. His brain felt overwhelmed. Without a doubt he was going on pure adrenaline at this point. It was certain sleep would be long in coming.

An army private wandered past him, gun slung casually in his arms, and they both acknowledged each other with half-assed salutes.

Kevin wondered if this how Fletcher Christian felt on board the HMS Bounty. Knotted up inside until he felt like he could barely breathe?

Below him the soft voices of the four hundred people living in the mall murmured. It was past noon now. Rations were passed out. Water bottles, half full, were being dispensed. Work crews would be changing shifts. The few children that had survived the flu were in school.

And after what he had recently discovered, they should be.

His fingers traced over the flag on his jacket thoughtfully. America didn’t exist anymore, but the people did. They were gathered down below, struggling to make it through. They were fighting tough. He could see that, but they were getting worn down by the powers that be.

He was worn down by the powers that be.

The Senator and her cronies formed a parade as they walked across a bridge nearby. They headed into Foley’s, where they were headquartered.

They were the ‘haves;’ below were ‘have nots.’ How the Major General did not see this was beyond him. Ever since the rescue station started up the Major General had been intent on preserving “the American people,” and yet, he was helping the Senator create a new world where the American people were… As a black man it made him cringe… …but they were making slaves.

If the Senator was truly in touch with the President and this was what the government had planned under martial law for the American people, then the world he had known was truly dead.

The very pretty Airman Second Class named Valerie Gomez strode up to him. She always looked impeccable in her uniform despite its lack of washing and her closely cropped hair set off her Native American features beautifully.

“The fort is broadcasting, sir,” she said.

“Right on schedule,” he said with a sigh.

She nodded, her keen eyes reading his expression.

They were, despite their immense differences in background, best friends and sometimes more.

“Carry on,” he said, watching her eyes give him a soft, imaginary hug.

He looked back down over the people below… Yes, this must be how Fletcher Christian felt as he considered mutiny… The knot in his stomach wound tighter…

The words of Jean-Paul Sartre flitted through Bruce Kiel’s mind as he walked among the survivors living in the Madison Mall.

Yes, this was hell and this had been created by other people. The original intent of those who had started the rescue center had been to preserve life and keep the citizens taking shelter safe from the cannibals outside. That was a noble and good cause he could support. But now things were changing. Since they had established contact with the remains of the government, the Senator had new goals that he could not agree with. He still carried his title of Police Chief, but what good did it do him? Only two of his men actually survived the massacre at the police station. The only reason he held any clout at all was because the Senator was an old political ally. Frankly, he didn’t trust her one bit.

A group of twenty children was tucked into a store that now served as a school. A teacher read to them from a children’s book she had found in the bookstore. The sight of the little ones made him sigh.

The world had gone to hell very quickly. Nothing had worked right.

Nothing had gone right. All the precautions, all the plans had fallen apart.

The county bio terrorism expert had called to inform him that he would need security the next day for the distribution of medication that would bring the pandemic under control. There had been, of course, no next day for anyone, but a scant few survivors.

The National Guard had fallen quickly. FEMA held press conferences and announced rescue centers, then went silent. The CDC rattled on about ‘reanimates’ then vanished from the airways.

The only rescue that had ever appeared had been a small convoy of brave Marines who had liberated him and his men from the roof of the police station. Half of them had not survived the throng of the dead overrunning the city.

The mall was protected and manned by what remained of factions of the military stationed in Texas. They were mostly Army and National Guard with a few Airmen and Marines tossed into the mix. The soldiers had barely survived the early engagements against the dead, but they had held the line at the mall for months now. They were tired and overwhelmed, but tough. They were heroes in eyes of the people in the mall. But the Senator now wanted to turn them into something much more.

Bruce Kiel paused and looked for the newcomers. They were assigned to an old clothing store and he looked at the store names, trying to remember which one.

He was afraid for everyone in the mall. The threat from outside was persistent and constant, but now there was a threat from within that chilled him almost more. He was an ambitious man by nature. All his life he had pushed himself to do his best and achieve his goals. He had raised his daughter the same way. As a former Marine, he believed in serving his country. A firm believer in the law, he had worked hard to make society safe once he had entered the police force. He understood the concept of service to one’s country and people.

But, there was no real structure left anymore. The old ways were long gone. When the dead rose and attacked the living, the old ways had passed away like leaves on the wind. He recognized and understood this reality. The soldiers standing post did so because they chose to do it. The people in the mall trusted them because of that dedication. It was truly a volunteer force now. He understood that. The Senator did not.

Everything had changed once Central had come on the air and begun broadcasting to any surviving military.