“We’re really not sure what the military wants,” Nerit answered, and quickly filled him in on the details.

Curtis looked tense, sitting near Katarina. “Can we trust them? Right before it all went to hell they were killing people left and right in the streets.”

“We don’t even know if it’s the real military,” Katarina pointed out. “What if it’s just a bunch of AWOL guys like the Reverend said?”

Travis nodded solemnly as he leaned back against the desk. “That is my fear.”

“Or they could be men and women doing their job and rescuing civilians,”

“I can’t see how their fort could be better than this,” Katarina said defensively.

“Maybe it’s the Madison Rescue Center,” Peggy said finally. “They’ve been looping the same message since all this started to stay in our homes and they would eventually rescue us.”

Glancing toward Peggy, Katie pursed her lips. “Madison? Oh, yeah. I remember that. Jenni and I were told by some soldiers in a convoy to go to Madison.”

“Where is Madison?” Eric adjusted his glasses on his face. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s a small city near here. ‘Bout seventy-five miles or more to the northeast.” Curtis was staring at his hands as he rotated a statue of Lincoln on the table next to him with his fingers.

“We don’t go in that direction because of the mass amounts of zombies in some of those towns, right?” Eric looked around the room. “So going that way is dangerous.”

“We never had no one calling in from that area, either.” Peggy shook her head. “It got ugly out that way according to what we heard on the radio.

When we lost our phones, there was speculation it was because of that area going dark.”

“What was so special about Madison? Why did they send people there?”

Katie had wondered on the first day of the rising why they were directed toward an area with a denser population. “Is there an army base there?”

“There’s no base there.” Curtis stopped fiddling with the small statue.

“There ain’t nothing there that is that special.”

“Yeah, but there had to be some sort of rescue center if they sent us there,”

“There is a convention center there. And a mall.” Katarina flinched.

“Damn. A mall. Just like the movies.”

“There is a message on the emergency broadcast system. It repeats over and over again, but I figured they were all dead long ago,” Peggy admitted.

“I did, too. Overrun like the rest of the rescue centers,” Katie agreed. “We never thought about it twice after we decided not to go there.”

“But they may be still there. Still operational.” Eric looked thoughtful as he considered this prospect. “Perhaps they have established a safe haven just like we have.”

“And,” Nerit said, “that would make them close enough to have taken our people.”

“So what do we do?” Eric asked.

“We’ve been monitoring the airways. I never heard a thing,” Curtis said in a soft, angry voice.

“Military channels are not accessible to civilians,” Nerit pointed out. Her expression was stoic, but her eyes were fierce, bright, and thoughtful.

“Besides, the closest military anything around these parts is about two hundred miles away. That National Guard base.” Peggy shook her head.

“Why should we even think about them? Once all the shit hit the fan and no one showed up, we took care of ourselves.”

“But a military presence is obviously out there,” Travis finally said. “And they have our people. So what do we do now?”

“Maybe we should start sending out a message of our own,” Katie suggested. “Requesting the return of our people. They must be monitoring us.”

“If that’s true,” Travis sighed. “I gotta ask why they didn’t come knocking before?”

“Too many questions, no answers.” Katie ran a hand over her hair.

“Back when the world had order and things worked properly, we may have found each other much more quickly. But if they are operating on channels that we are not and vice versa...” Nerit slightly shook her head.

“We can’t apply normal world expectations to the situations we are experiencing now. This new presence in our lives is not a known quantity and we don’t know what it will hold for us.”

“They’re the United States military. Sworn to serve and protect. Why should we fear them?” Eric looked up and stared at Nerit. “They’re our people.”

“I think we should start asking for our people back,” Peggy said. “Maybe now that they know we’re here, they’ll be listening for us. Looking for us.

And we can start talking like civilized people instead of freaking out.”

With an angry sound, Curtis rose to his feet. “If Lenore had not blown the plan at the hospital and opened fire--”

“That is a moot point now,” Travis snapped. “Jenni and whoever else survived are in the hands of the military and we cannot be going off second guessing what Lenore did!”

“We cannot afford fuckups that cost us our people, Travis!” Curtis shouted.

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Katie said, stepping toward Curtis. “I love Jenni! And this is killing me, but Lenore did what I would have done in her place. I would have saved my best friend.”

Curtis shot her a fierce look, but her gaze was so cold, so chilling, he visibly shrank away from her.

“We’re off topic. This isn’t about Lenore,” Eric said in a firm voice.

“I say we send the messages,” Nerit said after a beat. “Because if they have our people, they have a reason behind it. Let’s start talking.”

Katie felt tears threatening as she bobbed her head in agreement. “Yes, please, let’s do that. Let’s bring Jenni home.”

“We gotta find out what is going on out there. I say send out an invite.”

Katarina pushed her heavy red hair out of her face. “Won’t do us no good worrying and not doing.”

“I ain’t got no issue calling them up and asking them to give us our people back,” Peggy declared. “I am so sick of this bullshit.”

1. The Mall, Zombies, and the Alamo

After an hour of listening to the Major General carry on about building a new tomorrow, a greater America, protecting the native soil, and on and on, he had finally escorted Bill up onto the roof of the mall.

“What do you think?” the Major General asked, sweeping his hand out in front of him.

Bill took in the white wall that surrounded the mall, the blockades over the entrances, the cars, buses, and a combination of army, marine and national guard vehicles of every shape and color. Every entrance into the mall parking lot was heavily fortified with multiple guards on duty.

But beyond the wall… Zombies…a whole lot of zombies...

“We can eradicate them,” the Major General said in a decisive voice.

“It’s happened before,” Bill said. “In at least two movies. Malls, just bad… bad news..”

“I’m not sure what you are talking about, but I can assure you, we can overcome the undead scourge,” the Major General declared.

Bill wasn’t too sure. It looked like a lot of Madison was outside the walls.

He glanced over the mall defenses, then back over toward the throng of zombies.

Yep, that was a whole lot of zombies… Damn.

Now, he knew how the people in the Alamo felt.

Shit. He hoped he died well. For a moment, he wondered if the Major General, who spoke with a thick East Coast accent, would understand if he told him “You can go to hell -- I’m going to Texas.” He was tempted to paraphrase Davy Crockett’s famous words to “You can go to hell--I’m going to the fort.”

“Once we take control of the fort, you will see that we can make things a lot better for everyone. The Senator has a definitive plan on how to build a new society on the ashes of the old one. The military forces will take over the security of the fort so your people can get out into the fields and start preparing for a new future.”

Bill squinted at the guy and wondered if he realized what the hell he was saying. “You want us out in the fields. Growing crops?”

“And expanding the fort. Getting a cattle ranch secured. Everything that will be needed to create a new tomorrow. We can work out assignments for the men and create a schedule for the women.”