It was a rite of passage in their clan. A walk into the Zone armed with only a knife, stay 24 hours, walk back out. Or don't walk back out because you had been bitten, been infected, been eaten. Or in the rare instance, walk out with your own necklace of ears to show your kills. The top record was 23.
There were those who believed that going in without a knife was the ultimate in bravura. At The Rim, we called it assisted suicide, or Thinning the Herd. That was Caleb's. He was always quick with the inappropriate joke delivered with perfect timing and a delivery that couldn't help but make you laugh. Back in real life he had worked at the DMV, go figure.
Real life. A distant dream now. Seven years since the initial outbreak T-zero, small town in Pennsylvania. Bird Flu, they told us. Airborne mutant strain. Bullshit is what that was, no "Bird Flu" was causing the dead to come back to life and start eating people.
It took seventeen months for Washington to fall. Anasazi, The ultra-top-secret command post in Utah that was designed to be completely impervious to nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, was unfortunately built by the lowest bidder. Turns out it was escape-proof as well; communication stopped after just three days.
The rest was chaos. States took over, there was martial law, and curfews, and soldiers in gas masks and weird rubbery uniforms with lots and lots of guns. Some of the states crumbled: most of the northeast was Zone now, completely overrun. Atlanta was nuked with a ground burst that nobody seems to claim, but it was large enough that most of Georgia a large part of South Carolina will be uninhabitable for the next million or so years, but for the very desperate who prefer a lingering death from radiation poisoning to the agony of dying and becoming one of the creatures.
Creatures, fuck. Monsters. They used to be people. They used to be our sisters, aunts, cousins, friends. Children. Sammi Kato had to shoot her husband and her three-year old son in the head because they had been bitten and turned. Sammi hasn't picked up a gun since, so she works in the kitchen. Makes a mean margarita for an asian chick. We had a fling once, lasted a couple of months, two desperate and clingy people. It wasn't love, it was fear and convenience, and a whole lotta booze.
"Hey Massa!" Caleb's voice snapped me back to the present.
"Cut the shit Caleb."
"Okay, boss-man", Caleb smiled, a million watts of perfectly formed, perfectly white teeth. Must have had a good dental plan at the DMV. "But you got about two minutes to get your shit together, because we're comin up on the Hoggles now".