“Kevin, thank you for joining us,” the Senator said with a brilliant smile.

She was heavily made up as usual with her blond hair forming a big bubble around her head.

“Senator,” he said in a soft voice.

“Sit down and let’s begin,” the Major General said.

Kevin sat down and looked down at the stapled sheets of paper before him. He flipped through it and saw a heading that read “Distribution of Human Assets.”

“I spoke with Central last night,” the Senator began, her grin wide. “And they were very excited about the photos of the fort I sent them. And what is truly wonderful is that they have accepted my proposal to relocate the populace of the Madison Mall Rescue Center to our newly named Fort Bowie Work Center.”

Kevin blinked blandly and glanced around the table. The Major General looked impressed. Bruce Kiel was scribbling on the proposal in front of him. The Senator’s eagle-eyed, sharp tongued, cunning campaign manager, Raleigh Tullos looked smug.

“So they don’t expect us to maintain the mall anymore?” the Major General asked.

Kevin realized in that moment how much of a puppet his commanding officer was.

“Exactly. Upon further examination of the photos I realized the hotel in the shots is the same hotel my sister and her husband were financing for restoration. It is a luxurious hotel that harkens back to the beginning of the last century. There is plenty of room for us to settle in there. We can secure the Governor’s Suite immediately and use all its resources to provide us a safe and civilized home,” the Senator said with relish.

“What of the people living in the hotel?” Kevin asked.

The Senator looked toward him with her shrewd blue eyes. Her smile remained plastered on her face. “They have obviously cleared other buildings. If we bring the cots from the mall with us, there will be sufficient room for the working force.”

“Why, yes,” Raleigh said smoothly. “The Senator pointed out to the President that it is time for the people of America to return to their values.

Hard work has always been a part of that. Together we must build a new America. This fort is near cattle ranches and farms. Using the military as guards, we will help the people start building a new world.”

“We can begin supplying Central with fresh meat and vegetables in a matter of months,” the Senator said with a wink.

Bruce Kiel was making notes on the proposal. “And what is this estimated birth rate gibberish?”

The Senator’s fake warm smile was frozen on her face as she shuffled her papers. “We must begin to breed if we expect to survive.”

“Isn’t it the American way to have babies when you want them?” Bruce Kiel looked up, his expression quite dour.

The Senator laughed a little and Raleigh leaned past her to speak. “We are in a new world, Mr. Kiel. If we intend to survive the undead uprising, then we must have a future generation ready and willing to assist us.”

Kevin flipped through the proposal as fast as he could, scanning it. He found the estimated birth rate data as well as the breakdown of ages among the surviving women in the mall. Women over forty-five were to be part of the regular workforce, since they were not considered optimal breeding age. Women thirty-five to forty-four would be given a six month window to become pregnant, or they, too, would be sent out into the fields. Women, married or single, were expected to produce one child per year. Scanning further he was horrified to see what looked like a formula that estimated an acceptable loss of life to productivity ratio.

“You’re talking about these people as if they are cattle,” Bruce said in a low voice.

Again, the Senator laughed, flashing her beautiful smile. “Bruce, please.

I’m being realistic. We all must be realistic. The days of freedom of choice are over. The people must look to us to guide them or we are doomed.”

“How do we intend to convince the people living in the fort to turn it over to us?” Kevin looked up from the data. He felt sick to his stomach.

“They are Americans. They will do what their President asks them,” the Senator answered. “Besides, there is no clear indication of resistance from them. They are calling us every hour asking for the return of their people and have not uttered one threat.”

“That is true,” Raleigh agreed. “They may initially resist, but when they see our overwhelming firepower, they will concede.”

The Major General cleared his throat and shook his head. “We may have more resistance than you anticipate. Bill from the fort said-”

“Bill from the fort is one man. We must speak with the leaders. The leaders will see that it is in their best interests to turn over the fort,” the Senator said smoothly.

Kevin sighed and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “When are you going to start negotiations with them to turn over control of the fort?”

“We’re going to let them wait just a bit longer,” the Senator answered.

“They need to see we are the ones in power.”

“You do realize that evacuating this mall will be dangerous and the loss of life may be high,” Kevin said.

“I saw the evacuation plan. The charges go off, the barricade comes down and as the zombies flee the fire as many vehicles as possible break their ranks,” Raleigh responded.

“Also in that evacuation plan it is stated that those in the last vehicles are at risk of being overwhelmed by the undead hordes as the fires die out and the zombies close ranks again,” Kevin said.

“They have that in here,” Bruce said softly. “The elderly and sick fill the last vehicles.”

“The expendable population,” the Senator explained. “We have to protect the healthy and the young.”

“This fort is more of a godsend than we originally realized. Instead of maintaining the mall and the fort, we can merely take over the fort,” the Senator said with a grin. “It will be a civilized environment that we can nurture and grow into something the President will be proud of.”

Kevin nodded again. “Very well. When do I leave to negotiate?”

The Senator leaned across the table toward him. “I knew you would understand. Contact them in the morning. Make arrangements to see them tomorrow afternoon.”

Kevin forced himself to keep his expression as neutral as possible.

“I’ll deal with him,” the Senator said. “We’re old friends.”

“He’ll come around,” the Major General said firmly. “They all will. It’s a new age. A new America.”

Kevin looked at the proposal, flipping slowly through it. Land of the Free seemed not included in this new America.

He had no choice. He would do what needed to be done to protect the American people.

1. The Return of the Living Dead and More

The morning was quite cold with a thick mist covering the ground. The fort was completely enshrouded in fog and the fading darkness of the new day.

“Hate it when it’s like this,” Katarina muttered as she stood watch on the wall.

“Should clear up once the sun is fully out,” Linda, her partner on the watch, answered her.

“...if it was really her, then it means she’s not trapped in a rotting corpse out there...” Katie’s voice trailed out of the mist.

Katarina felt the floor beneath her quiver as the joggers approached. The extensive catwalk that had been built around the interior of the walled in fort was finally finished.

Katie and Travis emerged from the mist, huffing and puffing, jogging at an even stride.

“I don’t know if I believe in ghosts,” Travis answered his wife.

Everyone nodded a hello to one another as the joggers shot by.

“Look, we live in a zombie infested world...I think that ghosts are not that far a stretch anymore...” Katie answered then they were gone.

Katarina returned her gaze out over the mist. She couldn’t see into the street and field beyond the hotel. It was so very thick. She wasn’t sure what Katie and Travis were talking about, but on a morning like this she didn’t want to think about zombies and ghosts. She had a rough enough time dealing with her mother’s ghost glowering at her at the worst times.

Already, her skin was pricking and she didn’t dare look behind her.

“This is the kinda thing that goes down in horror movies right before the monsters show up,” Katarina muttered and lit up a cigarette.

Linda laughed. “Oh, c’mon, you’re not going to get all spooked out by some mist?”

Katarina gave Linda her coldest eye and she laughed in response.

“Zombies exist. I think we have the major spook factor covered, huh?”

The Christmas lights blinked on and off, tiny halos of red and green light illuminating the mist.