Somewhere in the United States in the twentieth century, a zombie infection started to spread for reasons that remain a mystery to this day.
It lasted six weeks, decimating over sixty percent of the population of Earth. It would have killed many more if it weren't for two men.
John's gaze moved from the gray linoleum ground to the sergeant who'd called him.
"General Forester is waiting for you," the sergeant said.
John got up from the uncomfortable plastic bench and moved from the cold hall into a more cozy-looking office area.
"In here," the sergeant said, knocking on a door before he entered and said, "Captain Sheppard," to the man sitting at the desk. He waited for John to enter and then disappeared, leaving John alone with the general in the dark, more lavishly furnished office.
"Take a seat, Captain," Forester said, leaving no doubt that it was an order, not an offer.
John sat down in the slightly more comfortable chair, though his situation remained as uncomfortable as it had been before.
Forester leaned forward and stared at John until it became hard for John not to squirm in his seat.
"Who do you think you are, Sheppard?" Forester eventually asked.
"I'm sorry, sir?" John asked. He was pretty sure the question was rhetorical, but he knew better than not to answer.
"You hijack equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and take other officers and enlisted personnel—who are not under your command—on unauthorized missions. I should have you kicked off the base!" Forester thundered.
John didn't say anything. If this was how Forester saw it, there was nothing he could say to change his mind. It wouldn't matter to him that John had only wanted to save those people and that the men he'd taken with him had gone voluntarily.
He could only hope that Forester didn't literally mean to expel him from the safe area of the base. All civilians that found their way here were evacuated with choppers. Kicking someone out of the gate would be tantamount to shooting them. They'd been surrounded by zombies for weeks now.
"However, you also managed to rescue dozens of survivors and brought everyone you sent out there back alive along with the helicopter you took," Forester continued, though it didn't seem as if that inclined him to forgive and forget. "All your superiors on your former base are dead, so I'm the one who has to deal with you."
John sat in silence, waiting for the general's verdict.
"If these were normal times, I would have signed your discharge papers before even finishing your report. But these aren't normal times. We're fighting a war," Forester said. He looked out of the small window for a moment to where the smoke from the fires of the closest city was rising. He turned back to John. "We're losing a war," he corrected himself. "At this point only a miracle can save us. It's no longer about winning the war or even a fight. It's about saving as many survivors as we can."
John remained still. He wasn't used to generals talking like that. Even after it had become clear that the zombie infestations spread too fast to ever contain them, there'd never been a discussion about losing this war.
"The president is ready to send the command that will flatten the whole country and any living or undead thing in it. He's only waiting for us to tell him there's nobody left to save," Forester told him. "You like to save people, Sheppard. I've got a mission for you."
John swallowed. He wasn't sure what to think of what Forester had just revealed. There'd been rumors of the total annihilation of everyone outside of bunkers—zombies and humans alike—but to have them confirmed as truth was a different matter.
In the last weeks, he'd increasingly felt that he was living on borrowed time, but he'd always thought that in the end it would be a matter of supplies running out eventually, wherever he would end up. Now it seemed he—and everyone outside of the few safe zones—was just a few radio calls away from being sacrificed to win this war in the only way that was still possible.
"I don't believe in miracles," Forester went on. "But these guys do." He shoved one of the files on his desk towards John.
John took the file and opened it up. It read Proposal for a substance to influence the direction of zombies. John looked up.
"Sounds great, doesn't it?" Forester said flatly. "Unfortunately, what they filed is not complete. I want you to fly out to their lab and see if you can find any useful information on this."
"The town is—" John began.
"Infected," Forester confirmed. "I do not expect this to be a rescue mission. Though if they managed to do what they proposed maybe there are survivors."
"When were you last in contact with them?" John asked.
"They sent the report five days ago, before communication broke down. You can keep the chopper you took from your former base. No personnel. Get your own supplies somewhere off base. Any questions, Major?"
John's eyes widened. "Major?"
Forester opened a drawer in his desk, got out a set of leaves and threw them at John. "Don't expect a ceremony," he said gruffly. "You'll be on your own out there, Sheppard. I don't know how long we can hold this base. Even if it falls, we'll keep up evac flights for as long as people are brought here and we have roofs to land on."
"I might not be here to give you another order should you make it back. So just keep doing what you're doing and try to keep in contact with someone long enough to know when the final calls will be made."
John didn't know what to say. "Yes, sir," seemed the most appropriate.
Forester stood up, and John did the same. "Dismissed, Major."
John saluted, and turned. He clutched the little gold leaves and the report in his hand and left. He didn't turn back when he closed the door behind him.
Both he and Forester knew they'd never see each other again. This had been a final order. A goodbye and good luck without either of those words, because in their future lay only death. They both knew it, even if Forester had given him the hope that he might make it to the safe zone before it was too late.
If he was the kind of man that wanted to survive more than help others do so, he'd already be there.
John opened up the report again. His next stop would be Greenville.
"Shep!" Martin called John when he stepped out of the building. "Still have your wings?"
John nodded. "Even got these," he said, pulling the golden leaves out of his pocket.
Martin looked impressed. "Keep it up and you'll make it to general," he said.
John snorted. Soon enough there would be no armed forces to be general of. "I'll try to make it to next week."
"Might be more difficult," Martin conceded. "You have a mission?"
John nodded. "Special order from Forester. Some scientists were working on a miracle. I'm heading there to see what they found out."
"Infected territory?" Martin guessed.
"They could send a mere captain if it weren't," John said.
Martin laughed then became more somber. "Good luck, Shep." It sounded like goodbye.
"You've been rebased?" John asked.
Martin shook his head. "I'll take the next flight out. Believe it or not, I've got a girl waiting for me in DC."
"I don't believe it," John deadpanned.
Martin smiled. "Go find that miracle."
"I'll do my best, Lieutenant," John said.
"It was an honor serving with you, Major," Martin said. John half-expected him to salute. But then he just repeated, "Good luck, Shep."
"To you to, Martin."
Martin turned towards the barracks, and John went to check in on his Huskie. The air of chaos was around every base, and he didn't want to find his baby gone before he could go on his mission.
Thankfully, his chopper was still there. Someone had sprayed "SHEP" on it in large letters and some lines that were probably meant to resemble his not-quite-regulation hair.
"You're Sheppard?" a sergeant asked him.
"I filled the tank to a quarter. Just follow the fires." Then he was gone again, leaving John alone.
People were rushing some place or another around him. John had no time to waste either. He organized a map with the recent states of infection as far as they were known, some water, and a ration for the road. The M39 cannon that had been installed on his chopper was still almost fully loaded.
There was not much point in shooting the dead. They never came alone, and the only real safety was to stay out of their reach.
He signaled a sergeant that he was going to take off, and talked to the tower, but got nothing but a simple acknowledgment, time, and direction.
He waited until it was his turn and then took off, leaving behind the base that had been his home for only a few hours but had earned him a promotion that he hadn't expected.
It was too bad that he'd probably be dead before he had a time and a place to celebrate it.
His tank contents would take him all the way to Greenville, but John didn't want to count on finding a source for fuel there, so he flew to the closest local airport in infected regions. He had a mental map of sources of fuel.
They didn't necessarily carry the best fuel for the Huskie, but at the moment, the life expectancy of his chopper only needed to exceed his own, which was less than a month by John's guess.
Not to mention that at this point it would be easier to get another chopper from one of the infected bases than to make sure he had the proper fuel for his engine.
He was in luck. The zombies had moved past the airfield he landed on. Two remaining walking corpses were easily taken care of with his M39.
He refueled and loaded a few extra canisters with fuel and water before making his way to Greenville.
It was eerie to fly over infected land. Deserted areas gave way to zones overrun by masses of zombies that went their deadly way.
John tried not to think about the fact that they used to be humans. Thinking about the people they'd been, the lives they'd led, the families and friends they'd had, could only lead to madness.
The losses the world suffered couldn't properly be grasped.
He wasn't sure if he'd think differently if his family wasn't safe. He wasn't very close to his overbearing father or his brother who was everything that John wasn't. John was still glad to know that they had been evacuated to a safe zone in Washington D.C. early on, together with his brother's wife and their two young daughters.
He couldn't imagine what growing up would be like for his nieces. How many people would there be left after the final calls were made and the big bombs sent? In their hometown? The United States? The world?
The truth was that nobody knew. John wanted to believe, though, that at least the people in the safe zones would make it. This wouldn't be the complete end of humanity.
And maybe he could do his part in rescuing a few more souls.
The flight to Greenville only took half an hour. The lab was easily located and thankfully in a part of the town that hadn't burned down.
Fires were a big problem. They were an effective way of dealing with zombies. However, they also weren't easily controlled after they'd done their duty, and with no regular firefighters on call, such fires sometimes burned down whole blocks or even towns.
When John came close and looked for the best roof on the complex to land on, he saw a crudely painted X on one of the larger roofs. He wondered who would have done that when suddenly his radio sprang to life.
"Hello, helicopter?" a male voice with a slight accent said.
"This is Cap— Major John Sheppard, US Air Force. Who am I talking to?"
"Oh, thank god," the voice said. "This is Radek Zelenka. We'd been hoping someone would come to rescue us."
John didn't tell him that he hadn't been sent to rescue them. "How many of you are alive? Did you paint the cross on one of the roofs? Is it safe to land? I've seen zombies on the compound. Are the buildings still secure?"
"Yes, you can land. The door to the roof is open. I'll come to meet you. There are ten of us," Zelenka answered.
"Roger. I'll be landing in a minute. Out," John said. Ten people. They'd never fit in the Huskie. If he'd thought this was a rescue mission, he'd gone and borrowed a different chopper.
By the time John landed, a man with glasses had come onto the roof. His hair went in every direction, and John thought it wasn't just due to the helicopter.
"It is so good to see you," Zelenka said, coming closer. He took a look at the Huskie. "I suppose all rescue helicopters are otherwise in use?"
John dropped his gaze.
"I see," Zelenka said. "Well, still thank you for coming. If you weren't sent to rescue us, I presume you're here for the zombie bait."
John's eyes widened. "It's working?" he asked.
"How do you think we survived for so long?" Zelenka asked.
"How does it work? How easy is it to make? Where are the instructions?" John asked, thinking about how this could be used in the areas that weren't already infected. And maybe even in those that were.
It was known that even in infected areas, people sometimes survived by barricading themselves. However, it wasn't clear how many of those people existed and where they were, so it was impossible to stage rescue missions for them.
For practical reasons, the military concentrated on rescuing people from non-infected areas. Either way, something called 'zombie bait' certainly sounded like it would be useful.
"Follow me," Zelenka said.
John did, entering the building after him.
After learning the details about the so-called zombie bait, John's hopes were slightly dampened. The bait did manage to distract zombies, luring them towards its smell. However, the effect only worked over a relatively small radius and didn't last very long.
Still, it was a lot better than nothing, and the bait was relatively easily produced, even though the scientists at the lab had almost run out of resources to create more.
This created a problem because even if he removed the canisters in the Huskie and had two people in one seat, he couldn't fit more than five in along with him without compromising the safety of everyone on board. He'd have to fly the first group back to his base and return for the rest.
"I'll stay," Zelenka was the first to volunteer. "This won't take long, right?"
"If everything goes according to plan, I should be back in less than an hour," John confirmed.
"I'll stay too," a timid looking Asian woman said. The lab had been an international one.
John nodded, smiling at her. "I'll try to return as fast as I can."
"We still have one last batch of bait," Zelenka said. "And, if necessary, we can set some zombies on fire with the fuel that you brought."
"Only do that at a last resort," John warned him.
"Of course," Zelenka said. When nobody else stepped up to volunteer, he said, "Wallace, Kaminsky, Balewa. You'll make it for another hour, no?"
They didn't look happy, but nodded, while the others sighed relieved.
"Okay, let's get going," John said.
The passengers for the first round were quickly strapped in as best as he could. It would be an uncomfortable ride for the two pairs sharing seats, but considering the circumstances, John didn't expect them to complain.
One copy of instructions for producing the zombie bait was secured inside his jacket.
Then he was on his way—affirming to Zelenka and the others that he'd be back as soon as possible—with only two things on his mind: Taking the instructions to the base where they could be distributed, and keeping his passengers safe on the way.
John didn't dare to fly at maximum speed with the load he was carrying, but he still made it back to the base in under half an hour.
The base was still pretty chaotic with evac flights being made as often as possible. His passengers stumbled out of the Huskie, looking around with big eyes.
"Survivors are in the southern barracks. Someone will come for you to be evacuated," John instructed them. "Can one of you volunteer to come along to communication central? I just want to make sure that whoever gets these instructions can have any questions answered that they might have."
"I'd still be evacuated?" one of the men asked.
"Yes. At this point this is an evacuation base, and the commander told me that they plan to keep flying for as long as they have a roof to land on. As of right now, the base is still secure," John said.
"Then I'll do it," the man said.
John nodded and directed the others to the survivor barracks, before taking the scientist who'd volunteered—his name was Madaki—to the communications officer.
The captain wasn't inclined to listen, rattling off numbers of survivors and other information into the radio non-stop.
John leaned over the microphone, said, "Break," and switched it off.
"Hey!" the captain protested.
"I have instructions for zombie bait," John only said. It had the desired effect of shutting the captain up.
"Zombie bait?" he asked after regaining his composure. Then he straightened and fired off questions. "Where should these be sent to? Where are the instructions? Is this actually a zombie cure?"
"Send them to all channels. And have someone get this information to General Forester as well. Dr. Madaki can answer questions on the instructions and the bait itself before he gets evacuated. The instructions are here—" John was about to get them out of his jacket, when Madaki stopped him.
"I have a copy as well. Keep yours," Madaki said.
John nodded. "Good luck," he said, before turning and rushing back to his Huskie for the second rescue flight.
John could have tried to organize a chopper better suited for rescue but he didn't have the time and simply made his way back to Greenville, flying at maximum speed now.
It took him just twenty minutes. John was glad to see that all five of them were still waiting for him on the roof.
He repeated the procedure of strapping everyone down in the Huskie. Zelenka took the co-pilot's seat. John was checking the Huskie when suddenly there was a noise coming from the door.
"I think they've gotten through the windows before," Zelenka said.
John nodded, getting into the Huskie. Zombies weren't smart and pretty indiscriminate in where they walked and what they touched, but with enough of them, they eventually broke through windows and opened doors that weren't locked. Sometimes they even managed to open those if they could be unhinged.
John took off before the zombies managed to get through the door to the roof.
He sighed in relief, though of course they still had to make it back to the base. On the way, Zelenka taught him how to create bait. Since their first successful trials, they'd worked on ways to simplify the procedure, so that the bait could be created without special equipment with resources typically available in pharmacies or large stores.
Halfway back to the base, John thought that he was probably ready to give it a try. His chopper kept him out of the zombies' reach on missions, but the bait would be invaluable in clearing the way for trapped survivors.
"There's one other thing," Zelenka said. "You should go and get Dr. Rodney McKay."
"Wait, you said you were the last survivors in the labs," John said.
"Yes, he's not at the lab. He's in a secret installation in Colorado," Zelenka said.
"Colorado? That's one and a half thousand miles from here. You can contact a local base when we land," John said.
"No," Zelenka said. "They won't come for one man. He's at a place that doesn't exist even to top military people."
John frowned. "Where in Colorado?"
"Near Colorado Springs," Zelenka said.
"You mean Cheyenne Mountain? It was overrun by zombies before it became fully operational," John told him.
"Yes and no. It is overrun by zombies, but parts of it was operational. There is a secret base beneath the official base," Zelenka said.
"Assuming for a moment you're right, what makes you believe that this McKay guy is even still alive?" John asked.
"I can communicate with him," Zelenka said.
Before John could ask why McKay didn't just call for help if he could communicate, Zelenka took a vaguely stone shaped device out of his pocket. It emitted a blue light.
Zelenka pressed on one of the decorative elements, and suddenly a voice came out of the stone, "Enough of this. Let me talk to him!" Zelenka rolled his eyes and handed the stone over to John. "Press this to shut him off and this to speak. It's already on speak now."
"Hey!" the voice came out of the stone.
John lifted the stone to his mouth like a radio. "Major John Sheppard speaking."
"Yes, yes, Zelenka told me all about you. He said you'd be the right person to get me out of here."
John gave Zelenka a look.
"I merely said that you'd helped us even though your original mission had only been about the bait," Zelenka said.
"And his bait is child's play compared to what I have to offer. I think I can destroy zombies," McKay said.
"You think?" John asked. "How? Why wasn't this in a report? And what is this...communication stone thing I'm talking through?"
"It's all highly confidential, including the stone. Of course, if Zelenka's right, at this point nobody will care about confidentiality if it kills zombies," McKay said.
"Correct," John confirmed. "We can radio someone to get word to the base closest to you to come and get you."
"No, no, no," McKay said. "You don't understand. When the base was overrun, they left a whole bunch of weapons lying around."
"The zombies are using fire arms?!" John asked. He'd never heard of that.
"No, of course not," McKay said as if John was dense. "But there are machine gun installations with an auto-feed of ammunition that will fire if you press the right button. Do you get the idea?"
John did. Zombies didn't do things to achieve anything, but they moved around and if they hit the right buttons they could turn on and off lights and all kinds of machinery. He could only guess how difficult it would be if they could cause random machine gun fire. "Why don't they just set everything on fire? You're in a bunker, right?"
"Do you have any idea what kind of explosives we have lying around here? This was supposed to become the safest place for the military in this stupid country," McKay said.
"Hey," John said annoyed. The United States didn't choose to be overrun by zombies, after all. Just like the rest of the world hadn't.
"Look, the only way in is the hard way, and they're not going to do this for one man that doesn't even exist according to their records. And a Canadian at that," McKay said.
Which might explain his previous comment. "You said you have a way to destroy zombies? I assume it's a better way then setting them on fire? I can't imagine the military wouldn't be willing to risk a team for that." Suddenly, John had a thought. "Wait. If you can destroy zombies, why can't you get out of there yourself?"
"Well," McKay said, "at this point it's more a theory. Or I should say, I have a complete plan, but not all the resources I need to implement it."
"Why don't you radio us the plan, and we can get started on building this zombie destroyer while sending someone for you? I promise I'll do my best to convince them. And if this really is a zombie destroyer that can cleanly kill them without destroying everything in their surroundings, you'll quickly be the number one priority of the military."
"There is a slight problem with that," McKay said.
Somehow John wasn't surprised. If there was a simple—or even a complicated—way to safely get rid of zombies they wouldn't still be talking about it, but destroying them.
"The device will require special crystals to work. They cannot be manufactured and only a handful existed in Area 51 and here."
Area 51 had been nuked off the face of the Earth three weeks ago when they'd tested a weapon against the zombies.
"You have access to those crystals?" John asked.
"Yes, I do. I should be able to build two weapons out of these. One is already finished, except for a conductor that I cannot build from the materials in this level of the base," McKay said.
"So you have a weapon that could theoretically save the planet, but we have to save you first to use it," John said. He didn't think that McKay was lying just to save his skin, but it needed to be said that it could look like that.
"I am not making this up," McKay said.
"I believe you, McKay," John said. He didn't know the man, but Zelenka seemed to trust him, and he was a guy who'd survived a zombie infestation with the help of a more or less useful weapon that he invented with his colleagues. If there was even the slightest chance that McKay told the truth, they'd have to get him. "I'll inform someone on base," John began.
"No," McKay said. "They won't think it's worth risking their men for. They won't believe me. They—"
"And I'll come and get you in case they don't get there first," John continued.
"You will?" McKay asked.
"Yes, I will. I can't tell you when I'll get there. The Huskie only has a range of 185 miles. There are no regular flights I can take, so I'll just take this baby all the way to Colorado," John said, already trying to plan the route in his head. He'd have to make frequent stops just to make sure he wouldn't run out of fuel in the middle of an infected zone.
"You'll come and get me?" McKay asked again, sounding uncharacteristically quiet. John hadn't know the man for more than a few minutes, but he already knew that a quiet McKay was not a normal McKay.
"Yeah, I will," John said softly. "Hang in there."
John managed to get Zelenka and the other four remaining scientists back to the base with a little fuel left. In the hour it had taken to get them, word had spread around the base about the zombie bait.
As soon as he arrived, his tank was filled up without questions. John told the scientists where they needed to go to get evacuated.
"Is there anything I can do here?" Zelenka asked.
"It looks like they're trying to make the first batch of zombie bait. I'm sure they wouldn't mind having you around for that," John said.
"And..." John began, thinking of something else. "Maybe you could talk to General Forester about sending someone to get McKay," he said.
Zelenka looked surprised. "You promised you'd get him."
"And I will, but we're talking about flying over infected areas of the country. There are only two secure bases that I know of between here and Colorado Springs, and I'm gonna have to make a lot more stops than that. If you can't convince Forester that McKay is telling the truth, he won't listen to me either," John said.
"Shouldn't you get his permission to rescue McKay," Zelenka asked, pushing his glasses up.
"I, uh, sort of have a blanket permission to fly rescue missions that I believe are worthwhile," John said. Forester probably had meant after the base was lost, but John wasn't entirely sure he'd let him make the run to Colorado Springs, and he'd made a promise to McKay that he didn't intend to break.
"I see," Zelenka said. "Will you be able to contact me?"
"If the bases are still safe, I can make a call from there. Maybe during stops, but I can't make any promises," John said. "Do you know where you want to evacuate to? I can try to reach you there and tell you my progress."
"I'll stay here," Zelenka said. "As long as the base is safe."
"Good luck," John said.
"To you to. Can I talk to him before you go?" Zelenka asked, nodding towards the pocket where John had stored the stone.
John handed him the stone, and Zelenka took a few steps away to talk to him. "I'll be back in a minute," John said, giving Zelenka a moment with McKay alone. He could use the time to get to a bathroom and gather some supplies.
One and a half thousand miles weren't all that much for a chopper under better circumstances. He could have carefully planned his stops, making each leg of the journey as long as he could given the range of the Huskie. He could have made it in twelve hours, a bit more if conditions were ideal, plus the time it took to refuel.
Right now, though, each stop was only guess work and luck. And any mistake could cost his life—and maybe that of McKay.
Zelenka was waiting for him when John returned with some water and rations for the road. He had something for John to take along.
"Is that the bait?" John asked.
Zelenka nodded. "Madaki has overseen the first batch they made. I will continue to help them. You should take this just in case. You know how to make more, right?"
John nodded. "And I just drop it where I want them to go?"
"Exactly. Preferably within a range of 500 meters. It might work for longer ranges, but that is the safe one," Zelenka confirmed.
Zombies weren't fast, but as a general rule, he would like to put a greater distance than half a kilometer between himself and them, especially while he was refueling. But still, this might give him the only way to lure the zombies away from tanks if he was unlucky.
Setting them on fire wouldn't be an option, and anything else was more dangerous than it was worth.
He thanked Zelenka and the sergeant who had added some fuel canisters to his Huskie, and then he was on his way to what might be the most important journey of his life.
John had hardly left the base when the communication stone that he'd secured to the instrument panel started blinking.
He pressed the button to turn it on and speak. "How do you make it blink like that?" he asked.
"Just press the third button," McKay said.
John looked at the stone. Even the first two elements that he knew about didn't look like buttons in a traditional sense.
"It's the little wavy line at the bottom. Or top, depending on how you're holding it," McKay clarified.
"Ah, I see it," John said. "I just left the base," he added.
"I'm glad you got out," McKay said.
"Why wouldn't I? The base is still safe," John said.
"Zelenka told me that this mission might not be entirely legal," McKay said. "I appreciate that you see the importance of saving me."
John snorted. "It's not like there is a lot else I could do. Every pilot who can is doing evac flights at the moment. They're kept busy, but we're not on low supply for pilots. We're finding fewer survivors in smaller groups around the base now."
"I guess I should be lucky you came for Zelenka," McKay said. "Or the bait."
"They've started making some at the base," John said. "I've got one bottle with me. Still hope I won't need it."
"How many stops are you going to make?" McKay asked.
"I'll try to never let the fuel get below half full. I have a few canisters, but they'll only get me so far, and once I go down, that's it."
"That's a stop what? Every hundred miles?" McKay asked.
"About that, yeah," John said. "Actually a little less."
"That's over a dozen stops before you get here. More likely upwards of twenty, considering you won't be able to fly a straight line, and some airports will be overrun," McKay said, sounding a bit impatient.
"I'll do my best," John said.
"I know. I've been working on the second zombie destroyer. At least as far as I can make it with what I have. I wish I could do more," McKay said.
"If this thing works, it's more than anyone else on Earth has done," John pointed out.
"Come and get me, and we'll find out," McKay said.
The first two stops were a cakewalk. The airfield that he landed on in Knoxville was completely deserted and the fuel tank was practically waiting for him. Cookeville had a few stray zombies, but he took easily care of them with his M39, and while filling up the tank required a bit more work this time, he still dealt with it painlessly and in under half an hour.
"That took forever," McKay complained when John entered the chopper and took off.
"I'll let the service personnel know," John deadpanned.
"I'm just saying if every stop takes this long, you won't make it by tomorrow," McKay said.
"I could have told you that before," John said. He wouldn't fly at night with no way of seeing where he landed. "If you're lucky, someone else is already on their way."
"You think Zelenka can convince them?" McKay asked.
"It's not like we have a lot of options here," John pointed out. "The bait is only useful if you know where to look for survivors. As far as I know, the only plan in place right now is total annihilation."
"What?" McKay said. Then he sighed. "Why am I even surprised? Of course that would be the plan. Who cares how many civilians are killed if there is no other way to get the enemy?"
"But you'll give them that other way, right?" John reminded him.
"I hope so," McKay said.
"You hope so? I thought you were sure?" John asked.
"Look, this kind of thing usually takes tests and experiments and then a few trial runs. I'm working with information that Area 51 gathered on the zombies before they blew themselves up. If they were wrong, everything I'm doing here is useless," McKay said.
"But if not, it will work?" John pressed on.
"If not, and my calculations are correct—which they are—and there aren't any manufacturing errors in the device, it will work," McKay said.
"How likely is it that there are 'manufacturing errors'?" John asked.
"I couldn't exactly pick and choose my resources. Some of it is more of a makeshift solution. Okay, eighty percent of it is a makeshift solution, but it should work at least for a trial test and not blow up in the process. That's all I can do with what I have. And that's already way more than anyone else could do," McKay finished defensively.
"Hey, calm down. Nobody's gonna judge your craftsmanship if this works. I'm sure just the possibility is enough to send someone for you," John said.
"We'll see," McKay said, though he didn't sound very confident.
"How are you holding up in your bunker?" John asked. "Do you have enough supplies?"
"I could survive here for a half a year," McKay said. "There's a generator for electricity, a water system, and a whole storage room full of rations. Supply on reading materials is running a bit low, but I've taken the chance to re-acquaint myself with some classic Batman comics."
"Food, water, electricity, and Batman? Are you sure you want me to take you away from there?" John asked, only half-joking.
"I didn't think I'd ever say this, but I've realized I'd miss humanity if it was completely gone," McKay said.
"How long have you been stuck there, alone?" John asked.
"The last team that made a run for it left three weeks ago. I don't know what happened to them," McKay said.
"So tell me which comics you've been re-reading," John said, sensing that McKay enjoyed having someone to talk to even if he wouldn't ask for it.
And truthfully, John enjoyed talking to McKay. As he flew over the walking bodies of the humans they'd lost, McKay was a reminder that he wasn't alone out here among the dead.
In the next hour, John found out that McKay liked to talk. Really liked to talk. Not only did he like to talk, he also had a strong opinion about everything from the US military to chicken dishes to the scientific accuracy in movies.
McKay was also really smart and pretty amusing if you weren't easily insulted, which John wasn't, but apparently some of McKay's superiors were. He didn't outright say it, but between the lines John gathered that one of the reasons that McKay didn't think they'd send anyone for him was that he'd pissed off quite a few higher ups.
John liked to think that in a situation as dire as this one, people would do what was best for the continued survival of humanity rather than being hung up on some petty resentments, but if those resentments colored what they thought of McKay as a person, it might make them inclined to believe that he'd lie to be saved.
And unfortunately some people simply were assholes that could hold a grudge forever, so maybe McKay hadn't been wrong to insist on John coming to get him.
"I'm going to stop in a minute," John told McKay when he arrived in Clarksville.
"Oh," McKay said. "That hour went by a lot faster."
John grinned. "I'll take that as a compliment."
McKay didn't say anything.
As he closed in on the airport, John could see that this time he wasn't as lucky as before. "Shit," he said. "There's zombies all over the place."
"How many?" McKay asked.
"Too many to take out with the M39," John said.
"Maybe not all, but if you combine it with the bait, you could get a clear path to refuel," McKay suggested.
"If I knew where the fuel trucks are. I don't see them," John said. Damn.
"You could set the zombies on fire and hope none of them run into fuel?" McKay asked.
"Do you really want me to risk being blown up with them?" John asked.
"No, definitely not," McKay said.
John was pretty sure he was more worried about his own rescue than John's life, but he let it slide.
"So what are your options?" McKay asked.
"Basically I got three. I could go on and hope that the airport in Cape Girardeau still exists and is accessible and has fuel. But I'd be cutting it extremely close. Second, I could go back to Nashville. It's pretty likely I'd find some fuel somewhere there," John said.
"But that would be turning back," McKay said. "And aren't larger cities more likely to be on fire?" he asked.
"It didn't look like it was completely on fire," John said, not remembering anything extraordinary when he'd flown past half an hour ago. "The last option would be to take a guess where the fuel is and use the bait."
"If your guess is wrong..." McKay prompted.
"Then I'd take off again and return to Nashville anyway. But I'd be out of bait," John said.
"But going back to Nashville would be the safest option?" McKay asked.
"Well, we could have the same problem there, and I'd have less fuel to consider other options. The safest option would be to fly all the way back to Cookeville and then try to refuel in Nashville."
"Isn't it getting dark?" McKay asked.
"I was going to rest for the night in Cape Girardeau. So yes, but it's still okay either way," John said.
"It's not my call to make," McKay said.
"I know," John said. Flying back to Cookeville would be the safest option, but he would have wasted two hours. It just pissed him off that he couldn't deal with the zombies in a better way. "I'm considering a fourth option," John suddenly said.
"Switching to another helicopter?" McKay asked.
"I don't see any here and I wouldn't count on being able to break into it in time. No, I think I'll swing by a drugstore and see if I can make my own zombie bait. I have a little gas stove here. Everything else I should be able to get," John said.
"What if the drugstore is overrun by zombies too?" McKay asked.
"Then we're back to the other options," John said.
"And you'll still have enough fuel back to Nashville if necessary?" McKay asked.
"Don't worry, I have everything under control," John said, feeling better about his new plan.
He knew that the zombies didn't feel satisfaction at what they did, but he still didn't want to give in so easily when he could take a more active approach against them.
Half an hour later, he was back at the airport, with several bottles of zombie bait in tow. That and a little surprise for them.
"It's show time," John said, slightly gleeful at his plan.
"You're not going to do anything stupid, are you?" McKay asked.
"Not more stupid than your average zombie," John joked.
"That is not comforting, Sheppard! My life depends on yours, so don't risk it," McKay said.
"It's good to know that you care," John told him. "I'm doing nothing but using my bait to draw them away from the hangar."
"Nothing else?" McKay asked.
"Well, if it works, and they're all gathered together, it would be a waste not to take them out," John said.
"You know they can still walk for a bit when they're on fire," McKay reminded him.
"Not if they no longer have legs," John said.
"What? What the hell are you planning?" McKay asked.
"Just some perfectly safe explosives. Don't worry, McKay. I'll be back in ten minutes. Out."
"Sheppard? Sheppard!" McKay said, but John ignored him. "Look, I don't know how attached you are to your life, but let me tell you that I'm very attached to mine and I—"
That was when John switched off the sound, though he left his speaker on. "It's gonna be fine, McKay," he said, flying low over the airfield and letting the zombie bait drip to the ground to form little pools.
To his surprise the zombies reacted immediately. It wasn't that John had doubted Zelenka, but from everything he'd seen so far, zombies had always just mindlessly wandered around.
He was so fascinated that he almost forgot that he had a plan here. As soon as the zombies had cleared the way to the hangar, John landed his Huskie in front of it. He took a shot at the lock at the door and was about to open it, when suddenly a group of zombies pressed the door open.
"Jesus!" John said, rushing back to the chopper and taking off.
His heart was beating like crazy. Shit that had been close. How the hell had they gotten inside? John flew the chopper around only to find a backdoor that was open.
As Zelenka has said, the bait appeared to be working even further away than the 500 meters, because John could safely land and looking at the hangar, saw the rest of the zombies moving out the door that he had opened towards the bait.
John spotted the fuel truck and found the switch to open the hangar doors. He was still a bit amazed at how senseless the zombies were. None of them even turned around to see what was going on.
Then again, an organism that could kill by touch didn't need to be able to do much more than move around.
John wondered whether he should hot-wire the truck when he found the keys in a panel on the wall. He took a look to check if the zombies were still lured by the bait and then quickly drove the truck around the back to his Huskie.
Refueling didn't take very long, but while looking through the hangar, John could see that the zombies began to lose interest in the bait. He quickly took off again, and before the zombies could disperse, he dropped two grenades on them.
John watched them explode with a certain amount of satisfaction, though he realized this was no victory and didn't accomplish anything but making him feel as if he got a little bit of revenge.
He went on his way towards Cape Girardeau, taking deep breaths before he reacted to the constant blinking of the communication stone and turned McKay's speaker back on.
"What the hell was that?!" McKay shouted. "I heard a shot and you cursing! What happened?"
"Ran into zombies," John said.
"Well, not literally into. But it was a close call. I didn't expect them to be inside the hangar. The shot was to break the lock."
McKay exhaled, as if he'd been holding his breath until now. "I thought you were under attack!"
"Luckily the zombies are too stupid for something like that," John said, almost feeling bad for having worried McKay like that. It seemed that he didn't entirely think about his own survival, after all.
"But the bait worked?" McKay asked after a moment.
"Yes, not for as long as I'd like, but long enough. And it really lures all zombies away. It's certainly useful for rescue operations. I've loaded up supplies to make more. I'll do that when I land in Cape Girardeau," John said.
"Let's hope that you can without problems. I nearly had a heart attack before. I'm too valuable to die over your heroics," McKay complained.
John grinned. "I'll try to be more of a coward next time."
Thankfully the airport at Cape Girardeau only had a few zombies scattered close to the fuel and they were easily distracted by some zombie bait. John refrained from throwing a grenade at them this time, both for McKay's sake and because he was getting tired.
It had been a long day.
He landed on the roof of the highest, flat building, making sure there was no direct access to it.
While McKay prattled on about his rations, John prepared his own dinner, making some more zombie bait once he was done.
The night was actually quite nice. The sky was clear, and John lay down on the sleeping bag he'd taken with him. He just relaxed for a moment, looking at the stars.
"Have you fallen asleep already?" McKay asked.
John had taken the stone with him. "Yes," he answered, satisfied to hear McKay splutter.
"Well, goodnight then," McKay said, sounding hurt.
"No, it's okay. Just coming down from the day," John said. "Keep talking."
"What do you want to talk about?" McKay asked.
"I don't know. Anything. Tell me about your life," John said.
He fell asleep imagining what it would be like to finally see McKay's face when he talked about the things that stirred his passion.
John woke the next morning feeling refreshed and ready for the next steps of his journey. He wasn't sure if McKay was still asleep, so he only asked quietly, "McKay?"
When there wasn't an answer, he let him sleep.
He cleaned himself up a bit with some water, but he hoped that he'd get a chance to take a real shower in Fort Leonard Wood.
He stretched a bit, going for a quick run around the roof, looking down at the street. There were zombies here and there, but they ignored him and John did the same.
When he'd moved enough, he returned to the Huskie and started reloading his things, including all the bottles of zombie bait he'd made. He was still in the process of doing that when he suddenly heard the dulled sound of an explosion coming through the communication stone.
"What the hell!" he heard McKay say.
"What's going on, McKay?" John asked. "Are you okay?"
"I...I have no idea what that was," McKay said. John heard the rustling of sheets, then quick steps, and another explosion. "What are they doing? They're going to bring the whole mountain down on me!"
"You should move somewhere safe. Aren't there any especially fortified areas?" John asked.
"The whole thing is supposed to be safe. Are they trying to bomb their way through the zombies?" McKay asked.
"Maybe," John said. "You said the surface was overrun with them and that there were explosives scattered around. It could be that this was determined to be the best plan of action. They should be able to calculate if this puts you in danger or not. I'm sure you're safe," he added, trying to calm McKay down.
"Assuming it is them and not a zombie accidentally shooting some explosives," McKay said.
"You said it's been three weeks. It would be quite a coincidence if this happened exactly the morning after we sent someone for help," John pointed out.
"Do you always see the glass half full?" McKay asked, sounding irritated.
"Not always. If you'd rather sit there and wait for the roof to come down on you, be my guest," John said.
"I need a coffee," McKay said.
John snorted. "Or do that. Wish I had some with me," he said. He contemplated if it was worth the risk trying to get some in town, but then decided against it. He was just an hour away from Fort Leonard Wood, which should give him safe access to all basic facilities, including coffee. "Do you have a radio with you, in case they want to contact you?"
"Uhm, not here. But I can check the command room. They have coffee there too," McKay said.
John smiled. McKay seemed to be a man of his personal priorities. He heard what sounded like a coffee machine being turned on and then McKay, presumably on the radio.
"How does this thing— Ah, there we go. Hello, people who wake me up by blowing up...well, probably everything in close vicinity above my head. Not that I don't appreciate you coming here to rescue me. Hello? Is anyone there?"
"Have you set it for the new general frequency?" John asked.
"It's set to broadcast on all," McKay said.
"They should be answering if they hear you," John said needlessly. He didn't like the lack of response McKay got. If the explosives had been caused by the human rescue team, their lack of answer had one obvious reason.
"Maybe they left again because they couldn't bomb through whatever they wanted to destroy," McKay said.
John actually thought the explosions might not have been intended, and that the accident that set them off killed the rescue team. He chose not to tell McKay that, though. "Yeah, maybe. They'll go for more supplies and be back."
"You're...still coming, though, right?" McKay asked, sounding uncertain. "I mean, it could still have been zombies accidentally setting off those explosions."
"Yeah, McKay, I'm still coming," John said softly.
McKay sighed, relieved. "Oh, the coffee is ready."
John snorted. "I'll go pack up the rest and will take off."
Fort Leonard Wood was located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forests and far away from any large city, which might have contributed to the fact that it was one of the last bases in generally infected areas that was still safe. It didn't have to deal with hordes of zombies that large cities could produce in a matter of days once they were overrun.
John flew over trees, trees, and some more trees, only interrupted by roads every now and then. He did see some zombies even out here, but they only appeared in relatively small groups.
By now, John had gotten used to ignoring such small groups. However, he became immediately alert when one such group suddenly started moving around.
"Shit." His first thought was that the zombies had finally picked up on what was happening around them, which would be very, very bad, when he suddenly realized that the group was running towards him and waving.
"What's going on?" McKay asked.
"There are people down there," John said.
"On roofs?" McKay asked.
"There are no buildings around. They're just walking down a path," John said, slowing down and lowering his Huskie to the ground.
"What? They're taking a stroll in the countryside? In an infected area?"
"Let me find out," John said.
"Be careful!" McKay said.
"Yeah," John only said. He did take a close look at each of the fifteen or so people. God, most of them were kids and teens. One kid had stayed in the back, and John felt a jolt when he realized he was walking slow and stiffly, something that he associated with zombies. But then he recognized the slightly pained look on the kid's face and saw that he had a makeshift cast around a leg.
John signaled the group to stay back while he landed. The only adult among them signaled the kids to stop. After John had landed and stopped the engine and opened the door, she came up to John. "You're on the way to Fort Leonard Wood?" she asked.
"Yes," he confirmed. "What are you doing out here?" he asked.
"We're on our way there," the woman said. "Salem was overrun while we were on a camping trip."
"You've been walking all the way?" John asked.
"The roads are blocked," she said. She looked at the helicopter with its four seats, two of which were filled with canisters, bait, and his other supplies.
"Could you take Jimmy with you at least?" she asked. "There's something wrong with his knee. He's been a little trooper, but it—"
"Of course," he said. "I can take more of you. Not all, but once I get to Fort Leonard Wood I can call for backup and we can come and get the rest of you."
"No, it's fine. I wouldn't want to impose," the woman said.
Impose? "Look, it's no trouble. I can get new supplies at Fort Leonard Wood and I can take four more of you with me. Maybe even more if you can squeeze together. It's only about ten minutes away."
"Then we can certainly wait a bit more. I'm just happy to know that we've been moving the right direction," she said.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"Yes," she said emphatically. "We've survived here for two weeks. We've been able to outrun any zombies we met so far. Even Jimmy."
John had to admit that in an area as remote as this one, her strategy had actually been a pretty good one. Locking themselves up in Salem without anyone knowing about their existence wouldn't have helped them once the final call for total annihilation came.
Still, the idea of leaving them completely unsafe here in the woods made him feel uncomfortable. "Then at least take this," he said. "It can be used to lure zombies away. If you don't need it, great, but if you happen to come across a larger group of them or suddenly find yourselves surrounded, you can just open a bottle and throw it somewhere and the zombies will immediately move towards it."
She took the bottle of zombie bait. "Does this mean we can rescue people now?" she asked.
John had no idea if the existence of the bait had actually changed the strategies or if search and rescue missions had been planned now. "Maybe if we know where people are," he said.
She nodded then turned to the injured boy, who'd made his way towards them. "Jimmy, the gentleman here will take you to Fort Leonard Wood, okay?"
"What about you?" the boy asked.
"We'll just keep walking, and once you've landed in Fort Leonard Wood, they can send someone for us with a bigger helicopter," she said, lifting Jimmy onto the seat next to John.
"Wanna be my co-pilot?" John asked with a smile.
"I can't fly," the boy said, sounding alarmed.
"That's fine," John said. "My name is John. And you're Jimmy, right?"
"James," the boy said. "But everyone calls me Jimmy."
"May I call you Jimmy too?" John asked.
"Sure," the boy said. "Are you a soldier?"
"Yes. Major John Sheppard," John said. He strapped Jimmy into the seat. "Are you comfortable?" The boy made a face. "Hurts, huh? We'll be at the base soon and then someone can take a look at you and make it better."
"We'll have to send another helicopter first," he said, looking at the others.
"Of course," John said, smiling. "We'll do that first." He turned to the woman. "I should be back with an evac chopper within half an hour. And if..." He looked at Jimmy, who was listening with wide eyes. John gestured at the woman to walk around the Huskie to his side. After she did, he spoke quietly so that only she could hear. "If for some reason the base isn't safe, I'll be back, and we'll find a way to get you somewhere safe."
"Thank you, Major," the woman said.
"Thank you," John felt the need to say. "I'll be back with help as soon as I can," he said more loudly.
She stepped away from the helicopter, signaling the other kids to do the same, and John took off.
"So you picked up a passenger," McKay said once they were in the air, startling Jimmy in his seat.
"Yes," John said. "McKay, say hello to Jimmy. Jimmy, say hello to, uh..."
"Rodney," McKay said sourly. "Dr. Rodney McKay."
"Hello, Dr. McKay," Jimmy said formally.
"Hello, James," McKay said just as formally.
John had to grin. "Now let's see if we can reach someone at Fort Leonard Wood." He hadn't actually bothered to try before, because even if the base was deserted he'd still try to pick up some fuel there as he always did. "Hello, this is Major John Sheppard, US Air Force, approaching Fort Leonard Wood, ETA ten minutes, do you read?"
"I read you loud and clear," came an almost immediate response. "This is Captain Stephen Hudson. What is your business?"
John opened his mouth but didn't know what to say for a second. All the bases he'd been on since the zombie infection had only cared that you were human. That alone qualified you for a warm welcome.
"Uhm, I'm on a mission for General Forester, Marion AFB," John said, which was stretching the truth. So he quickly continued with what ought to become their priority. "I've picked up a passenger on the way. He's slightly injured and was in the company of about fifteen other people most of them minors. I request assistance in recovering them. Their position is—"
"Hang on there, Major," Hudson interrupted him.
Suddenly there was a different voice on the radio. "Major Sheppard? This is General Warden. What's your mission?"
John rapidly got a really bad feeling about this. "Sir, I'm on a rescue mission for General Forester."
"Who's your target?" Warden asked.
"An individual with invaluable information in our war against the zombies," John said, hesitant to bring McKay in this directly.
"What's his name, Major?" Warden asked, clearly getting impatient.
"Dr. Rodney McKay, sir," John complied.
"Where is his location?" Warden asked.
"Cheyenne Mountain," John answered.
"General Forester sent you all the way to Colorado on a rescue mission? Why isn't a local base doing this mission?" Warden asked.
"Sir, they are informed. I've been sent to provide assistance if I can," John said.
"Very well. Captain, get me Marion AFB. Major, I'll see you in ten minutes. Out."
John swallowed. He had no idea what Forester would tell Warden if he asked about John's mission. If things went badly, he might actually be detained. If it weren't for Jimmy, he would consider making a run for it.
He still couldn't believe that at a time like this, someone would insist on protocol.
"What is his problem?" McKay said.
John was glad that he hadn't spoken up before. He didn't think that Warden would like McKay's particular way of communicating.
"I guess he's handling his base as always," John said.
"Zombies be damned?" McKay asked.
"Apparently," John said.
"Is something wrong, Major Sheppard?" Jimmy asked.
"No," John said, smiling at him. "We'll land on the base soon and send someone to rescue your friends." At least, he hoped they would. If Warden didn't considered saving civilians' life his business, John was going to have to introduce him to his fist.
He was tense for the next few minutes. Before they landed, he took the communication stone and put in his jacket. "I'll keep both ways open, McKay, but I think it would be better if you didn't say anything. And I'm not gonna mention the stone unless I have to," John told him.
He turned to Jimmy, who looked at him with big eyes. "Let's just not mention how we're talking to McKay, okay?"
"Okay," Jimmy said.
When they landed, a base doctor was waiting for them. John was glad to see that Warden didn't have his priorities completely screwed up.
"We need to send for help," Jimmy said, when they were leading him away.
"I'll make sure of it," John promised him. "Sir?" he addressed Warden, who'd come out to greet him himself.
"We contacted Marion AFB, and there's someone waiting to talk to you," Warden said, making a displeased face.
"Where, sir?" John asked.
"You can take the call in my office," Warden said.
They made their way there, and John could only marvel at the complete lack of chaos on base. It felt like any other peacetime base, except that it was a bit emptier. There was no sign at all that there were essentially under siege and losing a war.
"Major Sheppard?" came a familiar voice from the speaker on the phone.
"Dr. Zelenka," John said, inwardly sighing in relief. Maybe Warden hadn't had a chance to talk to Forester without him. John might still have a chance to get out of this and continue his mission.
"Has everything gone well so far? How is Rodney doing?" Zelenka asked.
John glanced at Warden. He'd probably wonder how he was in contact with McKay as Zelenka's question implied. "Everything is going according to plan. I hope to continue the mission soon," he settled on saying.
"I've been in contact with Peterson Air Force Base, and they agreed to send a team. They didn't hear back from them, however," Zelenka said.
"An hour ago?" John asked. "There were two explosions at the mountain. Do you know what their plan was?"
"As far as I know, they wanted to extract him with the help of our zombie bait," Zelenka said.
"They didn't plan to demolish something, maybe to open a way to get McKay out?" John asked.
"I was not aware that this would be necessary," Zelenka said.
"No, we were just speculating," John said.
"Where is General Forester?" Warden interrupted them.
"He is actually out on a mission right now. With the zombie bait we can try to get people who've been hiding in their homes, clearing the way for them to be picked up by a helicopter. General Forester is leading the first such mission himself. He is expected back in half an hour, though."
"Tell him I want to talk to him as soon as he's back," Warden said.
"I will, General," Zelenka said.
"We'll continue this then. Out," Warden said, ending the call before John could say anything else. Then he turned to John. "How did you gather your information about what is happening in Cheyenne Mountain when Peterson AFB can't?"
"Sir, I have confidential means of communication with Dr. McKay. With General Forester's permission, I will inform you of anything he deems appropriate. In the meantime, would you allow me to lead a rescue team to the group of survivors that I saw on the way?" John asked, hoping that Warden would let him leave. He wasn't sure how the talk with Forester would turn out. Even if he considered John's chosen mission under his general order to "keep doing what he's been doing", Warden might take matters into his own hands and—John's biggest worry—take the stone away from him, cutting McKay off from useful communication. He could only imagine how productive any conversation between Warden and McKay would be.
"An evac helicopter is prepared to take off as we speak. Just tell us the position and we can send it out to pick up the civilians," Warden said.
"Sir, I promised to return for them," John said. "I should be back before General Forester ends his mission and calls."
Warden gave him a long hard look. "Very well," he eventually said, and John had to force himself not to do a little fist pump. "Co-ordinate with the tower. They're waiting for instructions."
"Yes, sir," John said, saluting sharply, before leaving as quickly as he could.
He practically ran back to his Huskie, relieved when nobody stopped him from boarding it and taking off, together with an evac helicopter.
John directed them to the survivors, relieved to see that they were still safe and sound. He shouldn't have expected anything else after they'd survived for so long and he hadn't seen any unexpected zombie masses on his way to the base, but he was still glad.
While the children boarded the evac helicopter, the woman came up to him.
"Jimmy is fine," he assured her. "A doctor is taking care of him."
"Thank you for coming back for us," she said.
"Of course," John said. "You should get in the helicopter." He nodded towards the evac chopper.
She nodded and smiled at him.
As soon as she was at a safe range, John started his Huskie and took off.
"Major Sheppard, please wait until everyone is on board," the pilot of the evac chopper asked him.
"I have orders to continue my mission," John said. "Good luck."
Then he turned off the radio and flew away as fast as he possibly could.
"Please," he said to no one in particular, hoping to god that the chopper wouldn't follow him.
"So you've gone AWOL now?" McKay asked.
"I'm on a rescue mission," John said. "But I think it would be better if we skipped McConnel AFB."
"Do you think they'll send someone after you?" McKay asked.
"I really hope they have better things to do with their resources," John said. "You heard what Zelenka said?"
"The team they sent for me didn't make it. They're probably all dead," McKay said.
"I'm sorry," John said.
"You knew this, right?" McKay asked.
"I had a suspicion it might be that. But they could have planned this, so I couldn't be sure," John said.
"Do you think they'll send another team?" McKay asked.
"I really don't know," John said. "It depends on many factors. How many resources they have, how many people they lost this time, how they evaluate this mission failure. If they send another team, they'll try to be better prepared the next time."
"So you'll probably be here before they are," McKay said.
"If things go well, I might make it to Colorado Spring before dusk," John said.
Of course, things didn't go well. John's first stop in Springfield went without a hitch, which was lucky because his unplanned trip back to the survivors and the fact that he hadn't refueled in Fort Leonard Wood meant that he was in danger of running out of fuel.
He'd been glad that the woman had insisted that he keep his canisters because it gave him a little more leeway.
After Springfield, however, he ran into problems. The airport in Joplin was burned down to the ground. He went on to the small airport in Independence, but it was burning too.
"Shit," John said.
"Zombies?" McKay asked.
"I wish," John said. With the bait he had that kind of problem pretty much under control. "The building's on fire."
"The fuel truck?" McKay asked.
"Not yet," John said, but it was only a matter of time until the thing blew up. If he'd been able to refuel in Joplin, he'd simply skip this airport, but he wasn't sure if he'd make it to the next one. "Okay, I'll try to be quick."
"What? Sheppard!" McKay said.
"If you hear an explosion...I was really going to come for you, McKay. I hope they'll get you. I'm glad I met you," John said, landing and jumping out of the Huskie.
"Jesus, Sheppard!" McKay said. "Don't say goodbye. You better not die out there."
Then John could only hear the flames next to him. "Fuck," he cursed when the nozzle turned out to be too hot to touch.
He took off his jacket and wrapped it around his hand. He refueled his tank until it was half-full. It would take him to Wichita, and that was all he needed.
He replaced the nozzle and quickly jumped into the Huskie. "Shit," he cursed again, when he felt how hot everything had turned. "Okay, we're off," he said, taking the chopper into the air.
"Are you safe, Sheppard?" McKay said.
"I hope so," John said. Behind him saw a line of fire run towards the fuel truck. "Damn. It's gonna blow up."
It was actually not very loud when the fuel truck suddenly turned into a ball of fire. John sighed in relief, still putting more distance between him and the burning truck.
"I hear you breathing, so I'm just gonna assume it's all fine," McKay said.
"Yeah, McKay, I'm all right. Might have burned my hand a bit. And I really need to clean up. You're lucky you got a shower where you are," John said.
"Maybe, but I still wish I were with you," McKay said, sounding strangely vulnerable.
"You wouldn't have liked the fire just now," John said.
"Probably not, but I'd still feel better if I were with you. Not knowing what's going on is..." McKay trailed off.
"Two more stops after Wichita, and then I'll be with you," John said softly. He was really looking forward to finally seeing McKay. "What do you look like?" he asked on a whim.
McKay spluttered. "Why do you want to know?" he asked.
"Well, I gotta recognize you in the group of physicists hiding under Cheyenne mountain," John teased.
"Very funny," McKay said.
"Do you have glasses?" John asked.
"No," McKay said, drawing the word out. "I have very good eyesight. My eyes are blue, and I have short brown hair. Happy now?"
"I have dark hair. I let it grow as long as I can get away with, which is pretty long actually," John said, grinning.
"Rakish," McKay said.
"Well, if you want to call it that," John said.
"Zelenka called it that," McKay said quietly.
"Zelenka described me to you?" John asked.
"He might have mentioned a thing or two," McKay said evasively.
John didn't know what the issue was. "I should have asked him about you," he said.
"Does it matter what I look like?" McKay asked.
"Uh, not really, I suppose," John said. Still, it would be nice to be able to picture a face when hearing McKay. Blue eyes and brown hair. He knew that much now at least. And no glasses. "So how's the progress going on the second destroyer?" John asked, because McKay obviously found the way the conversation was going weird and the destroyer was guaranteed to be a topic he enjoyed.
In Wichita, John only had to distract a few zombies with bait to refuel. After filling up his tank, he landed on a nearby roof.
"Quick lunch break," John told McKay when he got out of the chopper.
He set up his rations to be cooked then got a water canister to "shower".
"Oh, shit," he said, when he realized that the cap had melted into the canister. He got out his sidearm and shot a hole in the canister.
"Sheppard! John!" he heard the shouts coming from the stone.
"I'm all right," John said. "Just needed to get a hole in the water canister."
"And you couldn't have told me! I was hearing shots coming out of nowhere, you idiot!"
"Jesus, McKay, do you need a run down for everything I do?" John said, a bit annoyed. "I'm going to take a shower, okay? I'm getting out of my shirt now. You might hear the sound of fabric rustling. Don't panic." He got out of his shirt and expected McKay to call him a comedian or something, but McKay didn't answer. "I'm getting out of my pants now," John continued. "There'll be buttons undone."
McKay remained curiously quiet. John pushed his boxers down his body. "I'm getting naked now," he went on, not sure if he was still joking. "To be able to clean my body with a bit of water. McKay are you still there?"
"Yes," came the breathless answer.
Something suddenly twisted in John's gut, and he could feel himself getting hard. Not thinking about it, he pushed off his boots and socks and put aside his watch until he was wearing nothing but his dog tags. "I'm naked now, Rodney," John said.
He listened closely and could hear Rodney breathing on the other end. It sounded louder than before.
John picked up an empty bottle and filled it with water to be able to pour it over himself as a makeshift shower. "I'm rubbing the sweat off by body now." He did, letting his fingers play with his nipples as he scrubbed his chest. He swallowed the moan threatening to spill from his mouth.
Suddenly he heard the sound of steps coming from the phone. "Rodney?" he asked.
"I'm...I have to..." Rodney was running now, then John heard the sound of clothes and water turned on. Taking a shower too.
"I wish I had a real shower," John said. "I wish I was there with you."
"Jesus," Rodney said then moaned.
John had actually meant the shower, but hearing Rodney moan, he imagined blue eyes closing, overwhelmed in passion. He took his cock in his hand and started jerking himself off. He was pretty sure Rodney was doing the same.
He wasn't sure if what they were doing was kind of crazy, or if it was almost natural after being in contact almost constantly for over twenty-four hours, with the single goal of getting John to Rodney, under the frequent threat of death.
John decided that he didn't really care. It felt too good to let go for a moment like this. McKay was quietly moaning, and John wished he could touch him. It had been a while since he'd touched another guy. He couldn't take the risk.
But right now there was nobody here who could report him, so he simply enjoyed the feeling of lust pooling in his stomach and further down, listened to McKay making noises of passion that only made John harder.
John jacked his cock efficiently, imagining Rodney's hand on him instead of his own, imagining Rodney's cock in him.
He couldn't suppress the groan when he spilled on the roof, panting a little, while Rodney climaxed with a loud moan.
John simply stood there and calmed down, hearing Rodney pant loudly with him. When his breathing had returned to normal, John filled the bottle again and did an efficient job of cleaning himself up. Through the stone he could hear Rodney under the shower until the water was switched off.
"I'm just gonna have a quick lunch, and then I'll take off," John said.
"Okay," Rodney said. "Uh, I should eat too."
"You do that, McKay," John said. "Rodney."
"Okay, John," Rodney said.
This was a bit awkward. But John still had to smile. They could pretend that nothing had happened. Really, it had just been two guys seeking relief that they desperately needed. He didn't think that Rodney was very relaxed in his bunker even if he was in no immediate danger. John thought about finding ways to relax him, but then dismissed it. What had just happened... It was best no to dwell on it.
He quickly finished lunch and packed up. "Next stop, Dodge City."
"You really think you'll make it today?" Rodney asked.
"So eager to meet me?" John teased him.
"Uhm, well, I..."
"I should reach the mountain before nightfall," John rescued him.
"That's good," Rodney said.
There was a silence that was growing long. "So what is it that you need to get the zombie destroyer working?" John asked to get Rodney talking again.
It was weird when Rodney was quiet. John vaguely thought that he was going to miss Rodney's running commentary once they parted ways.
But first he had to save him.
Refueling in Dodge City went without a hitch.
"One more stop," Rodney chanted when John took off again. "God, I could see actual sky again in a few hours."
John smiled. "Let's hope the weather is good." He'd been lucky throughout his journey. He'd never run into a storm or even heavy rain, only an occasional drizzle.
"Hmm," Rodney said. "I'm sure there are umbrellas around here somewhere."
John had to laugh out loud.
"What? I can't afford to die of pneumonia. The world needs me!" Rodney protested.
"Whether they want to or not," John joked.
Rodney didn't say anything.
"I was kidding," John said.
"They don't need to like me," Rodney said stiffly. "But they would be stupid if they didn't accept my help."
"I know, Rodney," John said, sensing this was a touchy issue for Rodney. "I'm sure they'll appreciate what you did for them. You'll be a hero." He wasn't even lying. If Rodney had really found the zombie weapon they'd all been looking for, he'd be a hero unlike any other before him.
"Schools will be named after me. Streets, institutes. They'll have to invent new prizes, just to adequately award me," Rodney said.
"They could proclaim you the most Supreme Being on Earth. Would that be satisfactory?" John couldn't help himself.
"Oh, all right, I'll just be happy if they recognize my genius as they should. You have no idea how under-appreciated I've been so far."
"I appreciate you," John said. He really did. He appreciated Rodney's work, his survival instinct, and the kind of person he was, which made it easy for John to connect with him without ever having seen him.
"I, uhm, you too," Rodney mumbled.
"Well, that goes without saying. I've gone AWOL for you, flying through infected country," John said easily.
"You're on a rescue mission," Rodney corrected him.
"I'm sure people like Warden will appreciate that," John said. He hadn't really thought about the future since the zombies had started to spread, mainly because he hadn't thought he'd have one. But if Rodney's destroyer worked, they'd hopefully cancel the total annihilation plan in favor of actually rescuing people.
And once all zombies were gone, some of the pencil pushers who'd fled to safe zones early on might come out of the woodwork to ask questions and point fingers.
"If I'll be a hero, so will you. You'll be the one that saved me," Rodney said.
"Their story could be a different one. Maybe I'll just beat them to it with my not entirely sanctioned mission," John said.
"So you're not a glass-is-half-full guy after all," Rodney teased.
"Must be hanging around you too much," John said.
Rodney snorted. "I'll not forget what you did for me, John. That you came for me."
John briefly thought about what they'd done on the roof together, even if they'd been hundreds of miles apart. "I promised," he simply said.
Refueling in Tribune only required a bit of zombie bait. However, as John flew over the houses of the city, movement on a roof caught his eye.
The thoughts of zombies on a roof made him very uncomfortable. In his helicopter he was safe, and so far landing on a roof had always been an option, even if a town was completely overrun with zombies.
Again, though, when he came closer he realized what caught his attention had been humans.
There were a whole bunch of them, and as he landed, more poured onto the roof. John actually got a bit nervous. He didn't need people trying to storm his chopper when they realized he couldn't take all of them with them. Or actually any of them.
The closest place that he knew of to fly them to was Peterson AFB, and after what had happened in Fort Leonard Wood, he wasn't going to risk it.
He left the propellers on and made a gesture to signal them to stand back. He considered taking out his sidearm as a warning, but that might cause a panic and do more harm than good. Thankfully, someone in the group seemed to understand that he saw a risk in the crowd and told them to head back into the building.
In the end, there was only one guy, who lifted his arms in surrender.
John switched off the propellers, strapped his sidearm on then got out. "It's okay. You can take down your arms. I'm Major John Sheppard."
"Trevor Harris," the guy said. "We don't want to make any trouble. We just need someone to know that we're still here."
John nodded. "How many of you are there?"
"Two dozen at the moment. But we're going out looking for more survivors when we can," Trevor said. "People have been hiding. Some didn't even know they weren't the only ones still alive."
John wondered how many people like this existed in the towns that had been given up on as infected zones. "Do you have supplies?"
"Sure," Trevor said. "Zombies are slow. If you're careful, they're no threat."
Careful being the operative word. It only took one of the survivors to run into a zombie and return to the group, thinking that they weren't infected, to kill them all. Still, what they did was better than waiting for a miracle to happen. Even if John hoped that Rodney's zombie destroyer would provide that miracle.
"I can inform people at Peterson AFB that you're here and alive. I can't guarantee that they'll immediately send someone, but I'll do my best to get help here eventually," he said.
"That's all we're asking. We can take care of ourselves for a little longer. We just don't want to be nuked off the Earth like Area 51," Trevor said.
John didn't confirm or deny Trevor's suspicion. He very much hoped that it wouldn't come to that. "I have something for you," he said, going to the Huskie and getting out two bottles of zombie bait. He explained to Trevor what it did, then pulled out the instructions for making more that he still had in his pocket.
"Don't get cocky, though!" he warned. "The effects only last a very short time. But for an emergency it might save lives."
Trevor thanked him, and then John was off again, waving goodbye to him and the others that came back onto the roof.
"Made some new friends?" Rodney asked.
"There are so many people still alive here," John said. "This is a small town. Can you imagine how many people are hiding out in New York or Los Angeles written off as dead?"
"If you can't get them out they are dead," Rodney said.
"But they don't have to be. Even with just the bait they could be saved. It won't be easy, but we can't just give up on them," John said.
"You are a hero," Rodney commented. "Whether you save me or not."
"Oh, I will," John said. "As a matter of fact, as of now, I'm directly en route to you. You could prepare some coffee while you're waiting."
With no further stop between them, Rodney was getting antsy. He babbled about the last tweaks on the destroyers, making them ready to integrate the missing conductor.
"Do you think they'll have them at Peterson AFB?" John asked.
"They have them one level above me," Rodney said. "I just can't get there because there are zombies up there."
"What about the zombie bait?" John asked.
"That's...I have to admit I haven't even thought of that. Though I'm not sure I'll have the ingredients," Rodney said.
"Well, then go check," John said, shaking his head.
"You're still coming, right?" Rodney asked.
"You think I'd turn around after crossing half the country for you? I'll have to get you now, just so I can smack you in the back of your head for that," John said.
"Oh, great, you're one of those jocks who likes to beat up people who are smarter than they are," Rodney said.
"I have a degree in Aeronautical Engineering," John told him. "And a little pat on the head won't kill you. Now stop doubting me and make some zombie bait, just in case there's more stuff that's going to explode and kill me in literally the last second."
"Don't even say that!" Rodney whined.
As it turned out, Rodney only had resources for a few cups of the bait. "Well, I still have a few bottles," John said. "I'll take them all with me."
"You'll need them. As far as I know, all levels above me and the surface are full of zombies. The official levels in the mountain aren't even finished. My theory is that zombies have fallen down open holes or elevator shafts and can't get back up, so they're stuck here forever," Rodney said.
"Until your zombie destroyer puts them out of their non-existent misery," John said.
"That's the plan," Rodney said. "I've got everything ready as well as I can. Except for the coffee. I'm afraid I drank all of it. I'll put on another pot."
"Maybe you should lay off the coffee for now," John said. "I'll ask you to guide me down to you if you can."
"I can try to help you. I have to admit I've never spent much time on the other levels. I only ever needed to get to my lab. And it's only been a year since we moved our labs here. But I've located a building plan that should be helpful."
"Sounds perfect. So how did you get down there every day when you went to work?" John asked.
"Elevator of course. But you can't use them. Not only are they not functional, but a lot of zombies fell down there. The risk of being infected would be far too great. I think the best way would be to take the ventilation shafts from level to level and use the bait on the levels if necessary," Rodney said.
"Sounds like fun," John said, making a face.
"There'll be coffee waiting for you. And a, uhm, shower," Rodney said.
John imagined him flushing. They hadn't really talked about what had happened when they'd "showered" earlier. And John didn't want to make any assumptions about shower activities that went beyond getting clean.
"Who could resist an offer like that?" he said playfully.
"Right," Rodney said.
Twenty minutes later, John was finally at Cheyenne Mountain. He'd radioed information about the survivors in Tribune to Peterson AFB, but switched off the radio before getting any questions.
He couldn't afford to have them ground him because they thought it was too dangerous to go after McKay. He couldn't do that to Rodney.
The surface in front of the mountain was filled with zombies as Rodney had predicted, which was a bit of a problem, because there was no roof here that he could land on. He'd have to prepare everything while he was still in the air then use some zombie bait, land, and make his way inside, where he'd have to deal with more zombies.
"You can do it," Rodney said from the pocket in John's shirt where he'd stored the stone. "You've come so far already."
"McKay, are you turning into a glass-half-full guy?" John joked.
"Just don't die, all right?" Rodney said roughly.
"I'll do my best," John said. "See you on the flipside."
He opened the door of the chopper and dropped some zombie bait. Immediately, the zombies started swarming towards it.
"John?" Rodney asked, sounding a bit fearful.
"Still in the air. It's gonna take longer than a few seconds to get to you," John said.
"Wasn't sure if you'd switched me off," Rodney said.
"You'll be my guide, remember? Damn, they keep coming out of the building. If this keeps going, the first ones will stop reacting to the bait," John said.
"Why not use a grenade to give you some room to move?" Rodney suggested.
"All right. If the explosions start again, I might have to rethink the plan," John said, throwing a grenade at the entrance of the building. "It's now or never," he said, when nothing blew up.
He jumped out of the Huskie as soon as it was on the ground, running into the building and throwing more zombie bait in one direction to lure the zombies away from where Rodney had told him the emergency stairs were. He could only use them for four levels though before they were barricaded.
"All right," John said, when he arrived at sublevel four. "So far, so easy. Where are those shafts?"
Rodney directed him and John entered the ventilation shaft. It was a tight fit, but it was safe.
"Just go down as far as you can go. Should be three levels," Rodney told him.
"Yes, sir," John said, crawling forward until he got to a point where he could climb down a ladder in the shaft. The bottles with bait and the grenades he was carrying with him were poking him in weird places, but they were his ticket to navigate on the levels with zombies. "Okay, I've climbed down to the bottom, which direction now?"
"Doesn't really matter. There are openings on both sides of you. They're in the ceiling, so you'll have to jump down," Rodney said.
John went towards the center of the long hall and opened up the hatch of the ventilation shaft. There weren't a lot of zombies on the level, but they were scattered around and getting into the ventilation shafts could be tricky. He used a bit more bait before he dropped down.
The next shaft was actually easy to enter, and John could climb down immediately. "Why couldn't they have built a single shaft that goes straight down?"
"For security reasons. If there's an infection or something, it won't pass through all levels," Rodney said.
"Didn't work so well for the zombies," John commented. "How many levels down are you exactly?"
"I'm on sublevel twenty-seven," Rodney said.
John froze on the ladder. "Twenty-seven?" he asked. He'd expected maybe ten, certainly no more than twelve.
"Yes, didn't I mention it? Or Zelenka?" Rodney asked.
"No, neither of you did," John said. He calculated in his head how many levels he'd have to enter and how much bait he had left. Fuck, this was going to be a close call.
"Is there a problem?" Rodney asked.
"The problem is that I might make it down there to you, but with twenty-seven levels, I'm not gonna have much bait left when I arrive," John said.
"Oh," Rodney said.
"Shit," John cursed. "I could still climb back up."
"And get help?" Rodney asked quietly.
"Fuck," John mumbled.
Even if he went back up, going back to Peterson AFB was still as risky as it had been before. If they were going to send someone, John and Rodney would be picked up in a day. If they weren't, John didn't think he'd change their mind.
He could make some more bait somewhere before he returned, but the problem was that crawling through these shafts didn't exactly lend itself to carrying a lot of baggage. He was having difficulties as it was. Any more and he'd risk dropping things or taking a fall.
On the other hand, going down there was useless if there was no way back up.
"How certain are you that the destroyer will work?" John asked.
"Why? If it doesn't, you're just gonna leave me here?" Rodney asked, clearly hurt.
"Fuck, Rodney!" John said. He had no idea who had managed to make Rodney so full of himself and so insecure at the same time. His parents must have been a real piece of work. "I'm going to get you out of there if it's the last thing I do. But I can't save you if we can't get back up again."
Rodney didn't answer for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Don't be sorry," John said. God, he wished he was down there already so that he could hug Rodney. Or smack him. Or maybe both. "Just tell me, will it work?"
"I'll need a conductor," Rodney started rambling. "There should be plenty in the labs above. There are several and I didn't hear any fire alarms, so if the zombies didn't spontaneously start targeting things to destroy it's highly unlikely they are all gone. If I can get a conductor, I'm sure I can get this thing to work. Maybe not on the first try, but eventually. Does this answer your question?"
"Yes," John said. "I'm going to continue down then. You should assume that I have no zombie bait left when I get there. You said you have a few bottles, right? Enough to get a conductor?"
"Yes, I think so," Rodney said. "Do you want me to try and get one now?" He didn't sound too thrilled by the idea.
"No, get me down there first. If push comes to shove, you can still make the run for them," John said. He didn't want to stay in the tight ventilation shaft for however long it might take Rodney to finish the destroyer. And he'd prefer waiting freshly showered with a pot of coffee at his side. "Hey, Rodney. Did you get around to making some more coffee?"
"Are you joking?" Rodney asked. "Of course, I did."
John chuckled. He couldn't wait to meet Rodney in person.
By level eighteen, John thought that given the choice, he would have rather flown another 1,500 miles if it meant that Rodney could be easily picked up on a roof of some kind.
He'd actually been lucky that he'd been able to go down three levels at once the first two times. Beginning with level ten, the ventilation shafts only went over two levels, so he'd changed shafts on level twelve, fourteen, and sixteen and would have to do it four more times.
On every fucking level there seemed to be more zombies. John suspected that Rodney's theory had been right and that they fell down the elevator shafts or holes in the unfinished rooms. He didn't want to imagine what it would be like on level twenty-six.
He was slowly running out of bait, so on the next level, he tried to only drizzle down a bit, hoping it would be enough to distract the zombies before he switched shafts.
Unfortunately, that wasn't a good idea because while it seemed to work at first, the zombies almost immediately lost interest and were back to roaming the hall.
In his haste, John threw the whole rest of a bottle down the hallway, just to buy himself time.
"Don't scare me like that," Rodney admonished him.
"Yeah, McKay, I'm only doing that to annoy you."
On level twenty-two, John tried to use less than a third of his last bottle of bait. He had two more levels to switch on, and he couldn't afford to drop more than one load of bait, so the one had to be enough.
The switch went without problem.
"Two more," he said.
"You're almost there," Rodney encouraged him.
"Yeah," John said taking a deep breath, before climbing down the next levels.
Level twenty-four was surprisingly empty. Well, there was still a fair share of zombies, but compared to the levels before, there were less for the first time since he'd climbed down.
He threw the bait a bit further along the hall then dropped down to climb into the next shaft. He opened the door, when suddenly zombies came at him out of nowhere. "Fuck," John said.
Reflexively he threw the last bait in their direction.
"What happened?" Rodney asked, alarmed.
"Zombies. I don't know where they came from. They weren't in the hall before," John said.
"Maybe some of the rooms were open. There's a common room in that area," Rodney said.
John realized that the halls had started to look a bit more finished, though there wasn't a huge difference to the unfinished levels on top. Clearly the looks of these facilities didn't matter.
Either way, he didn't have time to criticize the interior decoration. He quickly climbed into the shaft and closed the door. Of course, he was stuck here now. He climbed down to level twenty-six to see if he might be lucky and the hall was completely empty.
Of course it wasn't. In fact, this one was the fullest one he'd seen. There was no point in even trying to make a run for it if there was nowhere to run without stepping into a zombie.
"Rodney, I'm gonna need your help. You need to climb up here with some zombie bait and get me out of here," John said.
"Right," Rodney said. "I can...I can do that. Just give me a moment."
"Take all the time in the world," John said. He was still breathing a bit hard from the zombie scare on the level above.
Suddenly there came a noise from above him. John froze, looking up. There wasn't much light in the shafts, but he could clearly see a zombie sticking his head through the opening as if he was looking for John.
"Fuck, Rodney. Hurry up," John said.
He was fairly certain that the zombie wasn't actually looking for him. He just must have gotten unlucky and the zombie somehow fell on the handle or something. Or maybe he hadn't closed the hatch properly.
"What? You just said I could take all the time in the world," Rodney complained.
"I've got zombie company, all right?" John shouted.
"In the ventilation shaft?!" Rodney asked.
"Rodney!" John said harshly, to shut him up and get him going. "Focus."
Above John, the zombie seemed to keep walking, pushing more of his body into the shaft. His head was sagging forward dangerously.
"Oh, god," John said. The thing was going to fall face first down on him any moment now.
"Now!" he heard Rodney's voice from both the stone and the shaft on the side of the hall. He threw two cups with zombie bait right and left of them and the moment the floor cleared enough for him, John dropped down on the hall and rolled to the side.
It wasn't a second too soon. A moment later, a zombie came flying after him, crumpling into a heap of undead flesh and bones right where John had landed moments before.
"Jesus Christ," Rodney said.
John collapsed, his heart beating like crazy. He was panting, knowing he'd have to get up and climb after McKay, but unable to move.
Suddenly, two legs appeared in his field of vision. "You came," Rodney whispered and dropped to his knees in front of John.
John could only take a quick look at him, wonder about Rodney's crooked mouth, and marvel at his blue eyes before he was enfolded in a hug.
John had hardly gathered enough strength to return the hug when Rodney was pulling him up. "We need to go," Rodney said urgently.
"Yes," John agreed. The zombies would lose interest in the bait any moment now.
He climbed in the shaft after Rodney, making extra sure that the hatch was closed this time, then climbed down one more level, into the safety of level twenty-seven.
John was still catching his breath when he saw Rodney wrinkling his nose.
"I think you said something about showers?" John asked.
"Sure," Rodney said. "This way."
There was nothing sexual about his offer this time, which might be a good thing, because John didn't think he was up to that right now, even though Rodney was pretty darn cute and had a spectacular ass.
But as inviting as Rodney's ass was, it couldn't compete with a hot shower right now.
Rodney led the way then left him alone, flushing slightly. John gave him a weak smile and thanked him.
He peeled out of his dirty clothes and stepped under the shower, enjoying the spray of water. He quickly soaped up, washing away the grime of the last days, and especially the endless ventilation shafts.
He had no idea what time it was, but it certainly felt like it had taken hours to make it down here.
After he had washed his hair and body, he simply let the water run down his body, relaxing into the safety and relative comfort that he hadn't really felt for a lot longer than before he went on this mission. He didn't think he'd taken a moment to relax completely since the zombie attacks had started.
Eventually, he felt human enough again to stop the water and step out of the shower. There were towels nearby, but John ignored them for a moment, wandering into the main area of the room instead to see if he could find some clothes. There was no way he was getting back into his old things.
After a moment, the door opened. "I though you could use some—" Rodney stopped in his tracks, dropping the set of clothes that he'd brought to the floor. His eyes roamed up and down John's body.
The shower had really rejuvenated John because right now he definitely felt up to such an invitation. He stepped up to Rodney and waited until his gaze moved up to meet John's.
Without a word, John leaned forward and kissed Rodney.
Rodney didn't stir for a moment. Then he wrapped his arms around John and enthusiastically returned the kiss.
They somehow made their way to a room with a bed. As soon as they were there, John started to remove Rodney's clothes.
"'S not fair that I'm the only one who's naked," he mumbled between kisses.
Rodney only made wonderful noises between sighs and moans. He got a little shy when John pulled down his underpants, but when John pushed him onto the bed and engulfed his dick in his mouth as deep as he could, he groaned loudly.
John didn't know if Rodney had ever been with another man. He was endearingly shy when John asked him to touch him and flushed a bright red when John told him, "I want you to fuck me."
John had to ask for some Vaseline and applied it to himself, before Rodney joined his fingers with one of his own. John let him take over the stretching, because whatever experience Rodney might lack, he certainly was eager to learn.
"That's enough," John eventually said. "I want to feel you inside me."
Rodney had some difficulty penetrating John, and seemed embarrassed by it, but together they managed it, and John groaned loudly when he pressed in with one go.
It had been far too long since he'd been fucked, and Rodney felt amazing inside of him, his hard cock stretching John in just the right way. Rodney panted loudly and made broken little noises and then started thrusting into John.
John lifted his legs, allowing Rodney to push even deeper inside of him. He wanted to feel as much of Rodney as he could.
"Oh, god," Rodney said. He gave John a heated look, and when he really started fucking John, he didn't seem shy at all anymore.
"So good," John managed to say, wrapping a hand around his own hard cock. He couldn't remember when he'd last felt like this. He couldn't remember if he'd ever felt like this.
"You're amazing," Rodney babbled. "You're gorgeous. And you came for me. And when you undressed out there... I never. God. So tight."
John let him talk, putting one hand on Rodney's neck to stroke him there while his other hand stroked his own dick.
Rodney kept driving into him in short, hard, urgent thrusts, groaning whenever John tightened his legs around him, pushing himself up into Rodney's thrusts.
"I don't think...I can keep going...for much longer," Rodney eventually panted.
"Me neither," John said. Rodney was tagging his prostrate on every other thrust, pushing John higher and higher until he couldn't hold back anymore. He let Rodney's next thrust take him over the edge, shooting jets of come onto his chest.
"John," Rodney groaned, pumping into him a few more times before he collapsed on John.
They lay like that, panting heavily. John gently stroked his head. When Rodney got too heavy, John gently nudged him, and Rodney slipped out of him and moved to his side, cuddling into him. John grabbed a tissue from the nightstand and wiped them clean cursorily, before pulling the sheets over them.
"Goodnight, Rodney," he said.
Rodney looked at him with blissed out eyes. John smiled and kissed him. Rodney kissed him back immediately, before settling down on John's chest again. "I think it's gotten late," he said then yawned.
John didn't know and didn't care. It certainly felt like he deserved a good night's rest. "Yes," he whispered, kissing the top of Rodney's head before drifting off to sleep.
They had sex again the next morning, though John knew that this was the time that they'd sent the last rescue team. He simply couldn't resist when he woke up next to Rodney, who looked at him with big eyes full of lust.
Sex seemed to be the one thing that could be active in Rodney's mind without coffee. It was only after his first cup, after they'd taken a shower together—really together this time—that Rodney started to become fully awake.
"I, uh, have only one cup of zombie bait left, I'm afraid," he said.
"Will that be enough to get the conductor?" John asked.
"I think the closest lab with conductors is twenty meters from the ventilation shaft," Rodney said.
"That should be doable," John said. "It's too bad we didn't get one when you came to get me. I should have thought of that."
"To be fair, you had a zombie literally waiting to drop on you. That has a way of switching your priorities. And I didn't think of it either," Rodney said.
"Well, we still have one cup of bait," John said, focusing on what they could do rather than the opportunity they'd missed. "It should be enough to get the conductor and get back down here."
"I'm not 100% certain that they're there, though," Rodney admitted. "They're not my labs, and if I needed things it was easier to just have them brought down by an assistant."
"Look, we don't have a whole lot of options here," John said. "One is waiting for a team to come and get us, which can be our plan B if this doesn't work."
"What if they don't send another team?" Rodney asked quietly.
"Fire still kills them," John said. "Physical force can keep them from moving. We'll just have to get inventive. But I'm stuck with the right guy for that, huh?" he said, smiling at Rodney.
Rodney smiled back bravely. "You're right. Even if this doesn't work, we'll figure out a way. And once I got a conductor we can just zap them all."
"Zap?" John asked.
"The destroyer works on a particular brainwave. The research at Area 51—"
"You know what? Forgot I asked," John said.
Rodney pouted slightly.
"You can tell me later. After you got it to work," John said.
"Fair enough. So, uh, will you come with me?" Rodney asked.
"Of course," John said. "I haven't fulfilled my promise until you see the sky." He smiled at Rodney.
"Then let's go," Rodney said.
John was the one who threw the bait as far as he could. Then they waited for the zombies to pass them, and got out.
"Go," John urged Rodney on when he just stared at the zombies for a moment.
Rodney put a move on and ran to the door. John stayed behind because they'd have to get back in anyway and he didn't want to be in Rodney's way when he returned.
"Be careful with the door," John said. "Maybe a zombie got caught inside."
"Jesus," Rodney said, jumping back from the door.
"What?" John asked, straightening.
"I didn't even think about that," Rodney said.
"Just push it open and step aside. If there are zombies inside they'll go for the bait," John told him.
Rodney pushed down the handle and—pushed down the handle again. And again. "This can't be happening. They were never locked," he said desperately.
"Fuck," John said, running towards Rodney. "Step aside," he ordered. Rodney did, and John got out his sidearm. "Any suggestions? If not I'll just hit that little round spot below the handle."
"Yes. Wait no!" Rodney said.
John glared at him.
"Directly where it meets the frame," Rodney said, pointing at a spot on the door, then quickly removing his hand.
"Okay," John said. He aimed at the spot and started shooting.
"Oh god, they're coming back," Rodney said.
John kept his eye on the target and emptied his whole magazine. Then he kicked the door with as much force as he thought he could take without risking that he wouldn't manage to run back.
Thankfully, the door gave way. Rodney stormed in without prompting and—thank god—found the conductors within seconds.
The zombies were slow enough that they were still not in range when they rushed back and climbed into the shaft and to safety.
Once they emerged in the level below—Rodney's level, as John thought of it—Rodney was positively gleeful.
"Just give me...well, I can't say for sure how long it will take, but not very long," Rodney said, and then ran off to what John presumed was his lab.
Rodney's not very long turned out to feel quite long from the waiting perspective. John watched him for a while, but eventually it got boring because Rodney was concentrating so hard he wasn't even talking a whole lot, which John thought was a good thing. It was still boring, so he decided to take a look around.
There were various labs, though not all of them seemed to be about physics. Several seemed more dedicated to anthropological disciplines.
John wasn't necessary a history buff, but some of the things that he found lying around seemed very strange and unlike anything he'd ever seen or heard of.
Then he walked into a large room, where a giant metal ring was placed on some kind of pedestal with a ramp leading up to it as if to lead people through it. Except that it didn't go anywhere. Weird.
He went back to the mess and made a pot of coffee, handing a cup to a grateful Rodney. "You're a saint," Rodney said, sparing him a smile.
"How is it going?" John asked.
"Perfect," Rodney said. "Well, very good. There's a slight issue with the compatibility of— But I've practically already fixed that. It'll be no more than ten minutes. Twenty tops."
"Cool," John said, smiling.
He stayed and watched as Rodney moved his expressive fingers over the device. His mind drifted off into memories of last night and this morning and how Rodney had used his fingers on John's body.
John shifted in the chair when his pants got a bit tight.
It was only a few minutes later that Rodney lifted his hands and beamed at him.
"You're done?" John asked.
"We're ready for our first test," Rodney said. He picked up the destroyer, and they were on their way.
"So what do you have to do? Just aim at a zombie?" John asked from below Rodney in the shaft.
"Not exactly a zombie," Rodney said.
John heard a click, then some dull thuds, and Rodney opening the shaft. "That was it?" John asked. He'd somehow thought that something called a zombie destroyer would be louder.
He quickly climbed out after Rodney, ready to watch the destroyer in action when Rodney went after the next zombies, only to realize that every single zombie on the level was lying on the ground completely unmoving.
"Holy shit," John said. "All of them?" he asked.
"Maybe I even got some on the level above," Rodney said. "Someone will have to climb up and check."
Right. From the lowest level, the shafts were only reachable from the ceiling. "Why don't I volunteer," John said.
"Good idea," Rodney said. He pressed the destroyer into John's hands. "Just aim and click this button," he said. "In the meantime, I'll finish the second one and prepare some rations for us to take along. Wait, maybe you should take the communication stone with you while you clean up the building."
"Yes, maybe," John said unenthusiastically. He hadn't thought he'd volunteered for going through every level now. Trying out the destroyer would be cool, though. "How many shots does it have?" John asked when they climbed down. "How do I reload? What if I hit a person?"
"I don't know. Not at all. Nothing," Rodney said.
"What do you mean you don't know?" John asked.
Rodney climbed out of the shaft and turned to him. "What part of 'I don't know' don't you understand?"
John climbed out as well. "So what? It could just run out at any time?"
"No, it can not run out at any time. The thing should be able to outlast both of our lives combined even if you spend it doing nothing else but clicking that damned button. It will break before it runs out," Rodney said.
John frowned. "How easily can it break?" he asked.
"If you handle it with some basic care not at all," Rodney said impatiently, walking off.
John followed him, inspecting the parts of the device. It did seem diligently assembled and felt stable in his hand. He was about to follow Rodney into a room, when Rodney came back out and put the stone in his shirt pocket.
"There might be a ladder somewhere here that could help you climb up there," Rodney told him.
"How would I get the ladder through the ventilation shafts?" John asked.
"Good point," Rodney said. "I guess you'll just have to climb."
"We both will. How exactly do you expect to get to the surface? Fly?" John asked.
Rodney made a face. "If the zombies are all dead, we could reactivate the elevator?" he asked.
John shook his head. The elevator was completely destroyed at the top. "You're gonna have to earn your bit of sky, buddy," John said.
Helping Rodney climb up the first ventilation shaft took so long that John decided a plan B was in order. After not too much thinking he came up with the idea of a rope ladder.
It took him over an hour to find some rope and make a stable ladder, but it made their journey back up relatively simple. And it gave Rodney time to finish his second zombie destroyer.
The device worked like a charm. John still thought it should make a more impressive sound—and actually suggested to Rodney that he should add sound effects—but as far as function went it was amazing.
One shot managed to level all zombies in three levels, some even beyond that. John wondered how good the range would be in the open field or with thinner walls.
As they came closer to the surface, John felt himself wondering about what was going to happen when they stepped out there. They hadn't discussed any concrete plans.
They wanted to use the destroyer and free the world of the zombies, but they hadn't thought about the best way to do it yet. He also wasn't sure what was going to happen with them.
Rodney would be a hero—and deservedly so. It still remained to be seen what the military would choose to do with John, though he hoped the fact that he'd helped Rodney bring the destroyer to the world would earn him some points.
Even if they were both considered heroes, though, the world wasn't going to just celebrate them as a couple, should they choose to explore that option.
They hadn't talked about that either. Hell, if you counted it in hours, they'd only known each other for three days. But it was more than enough for John to know that he wanted Rodney in his life in some capacity. He'd never met anyone like him in his life. He'd never connected with anyone the way he had connected with Rodney long before he saw him for the first time. He couldn't remember anyone who'd made him feel the way Rodney had made him feel these last days, especially in the time that they'd actually been together.
The few hours they'd had in Rodney's level had allowed them to feel safe in a world that had become a threat, but even apart from the zombies—which they could hopefully defeat now—the real world wouldn't be safe for them. It wouldn't be safe for them to be together the way they had been twenty-seven levels below.
And he didn't even know if Rodney wanted that.
There was so much he didn't know about Rodney and what he wanted. And he was afraid that he didn't want the same as John.
More than that, though, he was afraid that Rodney did want the same, but society wouldn't let them have it, no matter whether they saved the world or not.
John watched Rodney as he lifted his face to the sun, breathing in and out deeply.
Then Rodney frowned. "I should have taken some sunscreen," he said.
Rodney turned to him and smiled. Then his expression turned more serious. "We need to get this to infected areas as fast as possible," he said, lifting the destroyer he was carrying.
John nodded. "We can take them to Peterson AFB."
"What will happen there?" Rodney asked.
"They'll take the weapons and test them then devise a plan of action to use them in the most efficient way."
"How long will that take?" Rodney asked.
"I can't tell you that," John said.
"What will they do with us?" Rodney asked.
"I...I can't really tell you that either," John said. "You'll be a hero."
"What about you?"
"If you put in a good word for me, they'll probably not punish me. And maybe they'll even declare me a hero too, who knows," John said. "It doesn't really matter to me," he added truthfully.
"It matters to me," Rodney said. "We're not going there. You have a helicopter. You've crossed half the country in two days. We can leave the second destroyer for them here, and they can do with it what they think is best. But we'll take this one with us and just go. They wouldn't dare to stop us."
John didn't know what to say. "Where do you want us to go?"
"Doesn't matter. As long as we're together," Rodney said.
John opened his mouth and closed it again. Rodney wanted... And he didn't just want it. He was going to make it happen. John didn't know whether he should admire Rodney's belief that he could somehow change this world into one that would allow them to actually be together, or if he should shake some sense into him.
"Unless you don't..." Rodney trailed off, sounding insecure again.
Without hesitation, John stepped forward and kissed him. He still didn't know what would happen with them. He didn't know how the military would react, how the world would react. And he didn't know how their relationship would develop in that world and just between each other.
He didn't know, but with Rodney he was willing to embark on the journey to find out.
While the Peterson Destroyer, as it came to be known, was flown to large cities first, the McKay-Sheppard one traveled across the country the same route that Major Sheppard had taken to rescue Dr. McKay. It continued from Greenville, SC, throughout the United States, before being deployed over the rest of the world.
Although the data on the matter is spotty, it is believed that most of the people who were alive at the time of the discovery of the zombie destroyer survived until they were rescued.
McKay and Sheppard were awarded a special honor by the President of the United States and several other nations.
The pair got married six months after the zombie outbreak was officially declared to be over, on the day that marriage was legalized for same-sex and interracial couples nationwide at the request of Dr. McKay.
McKay and Sheppard continued to work for the US Air Force until their retirement.
To this day, they are considered two of the greatest heroes in North American history.