This particular story opens the way a hell of a lot of stories end - with a city, a huge swarm of zombies, and a small group of uninfected. Fortunately I am, at least for the moment, still a member of the latter group.
I jerk my attention away from the green lights indicating I'm clean, towards Drew, as he slowly lowers the gun he'd had aimed at me.
"Jen?" he tries, when I still haven't said anything, opting instead to just stare at him.
"Sorry," I manage. "Don't think I've been woken that way since medical school." Despite my deliberate attempt to keep my tone light I'm fully aware of just how serious the situation must be. The CDC might be professionally paranoid, but even we don't do drills as likely to end in someone being accidentally shot as ones that involve being woken by a testing kit and a loaded gun aimed at us. I know Drew, though, and I trust that he'll tell me exactly what I needed to know about the current situation without being prompted.
Apparently I don't need to know much. "I need to get going," he says, once he seems to be sure I'm awake. "There's an outbreak outside. Talk to Dr. Parson."
Being able to function well on three hours of sleep might not actually be a listed job requirement to work at the CDC, but it is something we tend to self-select for, as a matter of simple survival. I've trained myself to shower and dress in ten minutes, and that's how long it takes today. If this were the kind of outbreak where those ten minutes would make a difference, I'm sure Drew would have said something.
I just hope that doesn't mean we're already as good as dead.
Life under lockdown in a CDC center isn't dramatically different than life not under lockdown in a CDC center. We sleep in shifts - just like we always did. There's the feeling that we're living under the suffrage of a God who only sometimes cares - just like always. I'm sure I'd feel the difference if I were one of the security people, if I were one of the ones continually keeping the zombie masses back with bullets, but I'm not. I'm just a doctor, and my priority is healing people. By all means, I'll kill if I have to - though it's not even really killing if my target is a zombie - but it's hardly my favorite way to pass the time.
The truly important thing right now is to keep an upbeat attitude for the patients. There are eighteen of them, but two are comatose and three are heavily sedated. It's not really fair of me to say that I prefer spending time with the ones that are conscious to spending time with my fellow doctors, but they match my mood better - studiously optimistic, confident that we have defenses that work. Still, it's not like I can, or even want, to avoid my colleagues, and we still take our meals, in shifts, together.
Today I'm having lunch with Lisa - one of the nurses - and she's regaling me with stories about how tragic it is that this oh-so-historic portion of Atlanta is going to have to be abandoned. It's not that I don't agree with her, but I don't think it's the history that matters.
"We'll have plenty of time for new history," I venture.
She shrugs, pushing the food on her plate around with her fork. "We're losing all the cities. It's not really about Atlanta, just the accumulation of everything. No one even knows what's happened to Alexandria, or Jerusalem, let alone the fact that half the landmarks in Paris had to be destroyed just so the people there had a chance."
I tilt my head at her. "You okay?"
"No. No I'm not. We're trapped in the very middle of a zombie attack and nobody seems to know how long it'll be until we get out. If we get out. The world's going to shit, Jen, and we don't seem to know how to stop it from happening."
"That's always seemed true. Even before the zombies, we were always only one step ahead of the next big crises. But I don't believe it's actually caught up with us. We still have the chance to beat it."
Lisa musters a smile for me, but it's clearly a smile with effort, rather than optimism, behind it. "I can't but help feeling that the only reason we're still here is because we don't know how not to fight."
"Yeah." I nod at her half-eaten plate that she's no longer even picking at. "Ready to get back to fighting?"
"Of course. Thanks for the pep talk."
I smile at her. "Anytime."
I'm checking Mr. Jones' blood pressure when Drew walks in. "A second, when you have it, Dr. Sanner." He's breathing heavily, and I shoot him a concerned look. He shakes his head.
"In a minute, then." I turn back to my patient, giving him a reassuring smile, making the necessary notes on his chart. He's well enough that if there were an outside world for him to be released back to, safely, he wouldn't be here any longer. As it is, I'll be monitoring his health for a while longer.
I step out into the hallway, Drew leading me. "What's wrong?"
He looks me over carefully. "How good's your aim?"
"With a needle? Damn good. A gun? Less good, but still decent."
He nods decisively. "Come with me. I need you on the perimeter."
It's not exactly brain-exhausting work, picking a spot on the outside and shooting if anything comes closer than that, but it is physically exhausting. My hands are shaking after an hour of it, and after two hours, I'm ready to just crawl back into bed and never come out again. No one relieves me until another three hours have passed, and then I truly do just crawl into bed, no higher thought necessary.
I'm woken after five hours for another cycle of checking on patients, and then shooting the undead until they fall. It's not terribly nerve-wracking - I'm inside, the zombies aren't, and I'm not the last line of defense, one of the security officers is - but it's not what I call relaxing, seeing bits of brain and blood splatter the street, time and time again. The zombies are coming at us in carefully timed waves, but at least I'm inside and I can't smell or hear them.
There's no desperation in my movements, but I pray when I can, between the waves, just in case. The next one could always be worse.
It seems like I'm either shooting at zombies or dreaming about shooting them. There's not really a lot of time for anything else. I think they're getting smarter, more organized. That might sound like paranoia, but it's really not.
Most of the ones coming at us are fresh, which means people are still dying, out there. They must be so scared.
So I guess I alternate between shooting at zombies, dreaming about shooting them, or throwing up.
I hope we get rescued soon.
Maybe we're not going to be rescued. "I didn't think the CDC abandoned its people," I say.
Drew frowns at me. We're both supposed to be eating dinner, but I don't think he's any hungrier than I am. "Our communications went down yesterday. Just because I don't know anything about their planning doesn't mean there isn't any."
"What if they've already given us up for dead?"
He cracks a smile. "How quickly your optimism has faded."
I can't return it. "That's because I'm scared, Drew. I don't like living on the edge."
"The CDC doesn't give up, Jen. We'll be fine."
I believe him because I have to.
At this point, I can honestly say I'm not worried anymore. I'm bone-tired, and I think death might pass as a relief if it means I could lie down for a while without any interruptions. But I'm not worried.
The pep talks have gotten significantly less...peppy.
"It's entirely safe to assume right now that we have as much ammo as we need," Drew tells me. Our shifts are too different to have anything resembling daily briefings. Information, like food, is catch-as-catch-can. "Don't waste it, obviously, but don't worry about conserving it."
"Not like I could unless I was really trying," I admit.
He nods. "That's fine. Keep your radio channel open and check in every thirty minutes. Someone will relieve you in five hours. If it's been six hours and no one's come, and you haven't heard anything over the channel, I want you to give up your position and retreat to the patient's wing."
It's a surprise to find that I'm taking over from Mr. Jones, but I suppose there's no reason not to use the healthier patients, and, in fact, every reason to let them help.
The communications with the outside started working again, half an hour before rescue came. We retreated back away from the windows and locked all the openings, while they dropped bleach bombs from helicopters to clear the area.
We were evacuated to the CDC facility in Nashville, all still alive.
The destruction on the ground was...grotesquely magnificent: hills of bodies in a ring around our facility. Those zombies that we hadn't taken out, our rescue had. There were easily a hundred dead zombies for every one of us in the CDC facility.
When they make the movie, it doesn't look anything like this.