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Taken Its Toll

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Savannah sure as hell was a long ways away now. Nick never thought in a million years that he'd miss a shitty place like that. Things were easier then. Just had to grab some cola for Whitaker and get into the mall. Then it got a bit more complicated in Rayford. Just had to cross through the sewer to have some random assholes lower a bridge for them.

As soon as they set foot in that goddamn carnival, everything changed. Helicopter pilot was bitten. Had to be. Only way in hell that he'd turn into a zombie mid-flight. Had to crawl through the swamp reeking of sewage, piss, and bile. Virgil picked them up--and they were fucking lucky that he did. No way that they would've survived another ten minutes without that asshole being there. But then the boat didn't have enough gas to make it to New Orleans. Had to stop. And of course the goddamn town didn't have gas. Of course they had to go into an abandoned sugar mill that was teeming with Witches. Of course.

New Orleans was a shot to the gut. Military bombing the shit out of it. Piles of corpses--not bitten, not infected. Just people, gunned down by an increasingly nervous military that'd obviously been losing against the infected. Coach'd still believed in his heart that the military was going to save them. Somehow. Even when the radio ominously called them "carriers"--whatever that meant--Coach still believed them.

That helicopter pilot wasn't able to get away from the explosion on the bridge fast enough. Whole thing came down in the woods. Pure luck was still on their side--not so much the pilot's side. Poor bastard looked like a piece of toast dipped in jam. The four of them were mostly unscathed, but it wasn't as if they could relax. The zombies were pouring out of New Orleans. Rats jumping off of a sinking ship. If the four of them waited around too long, they'd be swarmed. Fire wasn't helping much, either. Forest wasn't bone dry, but it was dry enough to convince them to dive headfirst into that cold stream and get to looking for their next escape.

Somehow, the military had an outpost out in the woods. Unsurprisingly, it'd also been overrun. But there was a helicopter pilot. Always seemed to be one of those assholes hanging around. Some noble duty made them hang back for stragglers. Better than the shitty pilot back in Savannah. Asshole had no problem leaving the four of them to die in a burning hotel.

So, okay, maybe this guy wasn't such a saint. Just like the guy in the carnival. Bitten. So he was a sicko and a freak, trying to drag down some other people with him. Nick never got that. Assholes like that were the reason that shit like this got spread around. Too busy thinking about themselves to realize that it'd really be best for the whole world if they just stayed far the fuck away from everyone else.

At least this pilot got them out of the woods. Out of the state, too. That was roughly as much credit as Nick was willing to give him. Asshole was infected. Asshole turned. Asshole crashed the goddamn helicopter. Three times in so many days, Nick found himself crawling out of a wreck. Third time that he'd come out relatively unscathed.

He could hear Rochelle groaning in pain behind him. At least that made two of them. Nick's ears were still ringing, but his senses were still with him. The pilot, already gray-skinned and yellow-eyed, was trying in vain to claw out from under the wreck, hissing and snarling at them. Nick glanced over at Ro', traded a grim nod with her, and pointed his pistol at the zombie. Only missed once; he was getting sloppy. Lack of sleep does that to a person.

Coach and Ellis were both groaning, although Ellis more from the effort of trying to drag Coach out of the wreck on his own. Coach's leg had seen better days, judging from the piece of shrapnel sticking out of his ankle. Big guy took it in stride all the same, dragging himself over to a nearby bench once Ellis tugged him free of the helicopter. Nick headed over, tiredly reaching for his own medkit. It wasn't worth arguing or trying to hold onto his own; no one else had anywhere near his level of experience with bandaging up nasty wounds. Besides, they needed Coach to be able to walk; anything that'd slow them down would just lower their abysmal odds of survival even more than they already were.

"Looks like we're in some little suburban town, right on the outskirts of Texas." Rochelle winced. "I think." She couldn't remember the last time that she'd been in Texas. "We weren't in the air long enough for us to be anywhere near Austin, I know that much." She shook some broken glass off of her shirt, thankful that none of it was embedded in her skin. "Looks like we're in a park of some kind. I'd bet we're near the border. It'd be great if we had a map."

Apparently Ellis heard that and considered it to be a command; kid started scouring the nearby area for any sort of map. Even after all of this shit, he was still bouncing up and down. Cheery as ever. Fucking backwater freak.

Coach helped hold his leg up as Nick wrapped it with a makeshift splint, teeth grinding together to avoid screaming. As soon as the worst of the pain had passed, his mind drifted back to the issue at hand. "Lord knows I ain't been to Texas since I was a kid. I'm afraid I won't be much help in figurin' out which way gets us to Austin quickest."

Nick looked up from his work, scowling. "We're not going to Austin."

The big guy's brow furrowed. He had a feeling that Nick'd put up some sort of resistance. He probably wanted them to just hide out in a house nearby and pray that it'd all end. "Nicholas, we've got to. Military's holed up there, I'm sure they've got-"

"Got what, Coach? Got it covered? What, like New OrleansChrist, we didn't even catch the goddamn name of that last outpost." Nick pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing. "You really got another one of these falls in you, big guy? 'Cause so far the military's been as useless as CEDA." He bitterly remembered those assholes on the bridge; they'd declined joining up, rambling on about the military fucking up just as bad as CEDA. They'd been idiots not to listen to that warning, even if it had been coming from someone as stupid as Francis.

"What's your big plan, then?" Coach folded his arms across his chest, wincing as Nick let his leg fall once it was patched up. "If you wanna stay here and die, be my guest. Military's the only hope we got and you know it."

Nick sneered and backed off, kicking a nearby can. Coach was right. They didn't really have a better plan. It wasn't like the four of them could expect to keep fighting zombies forever. Not without one of them dying. They'd been stupidly lucky, even with every shitty roll of the dice.

Nick paused, staring up at the darkening sky. Jesus, it was so stupidly simple that it almost made him laugh. "Coach?" He turned, smirking. "We go to Vegas." Coach's eye roll and snort were to be expected. "C'mon, big guy, it beats the hell out of going to another outpost, finding it torn all to hell, and having to go chase after the next torn all to hell outpost. We're always one step behind these zombies."

"Shit, I think Nick's got a point." Ellis popped up out of the trashcan he'd been rifling through, a mostly-clean map of the town in hand. "Las Vegas is all isolated and shit, right? We get ourselves out there, man I bet there ain't no zombies there yet. That's a lot of desert for zombies to cross with nothin' to chase along the way."

Ro' chimed in not long after, a tiny glimmer of hope in her eyes. "If we can find a car along the way, we could drive it there. I've been on a road trip to Vegas once; it's way too long of a walk in the desert for us to do. But that just means that the infected wouldn't be able to get there." She looked at Coach pointedly. "Look, I saw the charts back in Savannah. This infection started on the East coast and is spreading West. What we need is to get ourselves isolated. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people went for the ocean route and stole a boat--which is why we shouldn't do that. Harbors are probably all teeming with infected. I doubt we'd run into much trouble once we started driving."

Coach looked between all three of them, rubbing at his temples as he tried to reason through this new plan. It wasn't as though it was a worse plan. The only difference he could see was the isolation--if Nick was wrong and Las Vegas was infected, they wouldn't have as many options to escape. They'd be forced to stay put in the city or else risk trying to head deeper into infected territory. If Austin was overrun, they'd at least be able to follow a trail to the next military outpost.

But three votes were already pushed for Vegas, and Coach wasn't of a mind to argue. If he ended up being right, he'd rub it in Nick's smug face. "Well, I guess it ain't the worst idea I've heard. Might as well give it a shot." He grinned when Ellis hollered and fist-pumped; lord knows that Ellis's enthusiasm was contagious.

A bit too contagious, it seemed.

The distant howl of an infected mob on the move motivated all four of them to get going. Even Coach was able to overlook the throbbing pain in his leg and jump to his feet. Problem was that it didn't seem like there was a safehouse in the area, and the wreck had all but ruined their chances of finding their guns amidst the twisted metal.

"I saw a safehouse sign just down the street while I was rummagin' for a map." Ellis jerked his thumb towards the street corner he was talking about. Spraypainted in white right onto the closest building, but unmistakably the sign of a safehouse. Ellis lead the way, with Ro' not far behind. Nick stayed back with Coach, hands glued to his pistol. They'd all come too goddamn far to die now. Not in some nameless town in Texas.

Luckily, the safehouse wasn't far at all. Save for a few stray zombies, the route was mostly clear. Something about the town screamed "successful evacuation"; it truly seemed deserted, with very few bodies strewn about. Even the safehouse looked fairly untouched, as if CEDA themselves hadn't had much of a chance to use their own facilities in the area. Lights weren't working, but it didn't take long to find a lantern.

Not a well-stocked safehouse, unfortunately. A few sleeping bags, a musty couch, and a few shitty little machine guns. Not even enough for four people. Just one medkit, too, opened up with the painkillers plucked out. CEDA might not have used it, but other survivors certainly had. Graffiti on the wall confirmed as much.

Disheartening graffiti at that. All of it mentioned heading to New Orleans, as if that was safety. Any poor assholes that'd come through here had marched on to their death. Made Nick wonder how old some of the writing was. He wondered if the survivors that'd written this were still heading to New Orleans, or if they were part of the nameless pile of bodies within the city. Didn't matter now.

He volunteered for the first shift. It never really mattered before; they never stayed in a safehouse for more than a few hours. Now? Coach's leg was busted up. It wouldn't hurt to give him a night's rest. Besides, they'd personally seen how strong a safehouse door was; back in the carnival, even with a horde and a goddamn Tank pounding away at it, the door hadn't budged an inch. They could afford it.

Nick sat on the couch, listening to Coach's snoring, staring at the safehouse door that they'd barricaded shut. He'd be damned if he was about to die now. They'd come too far for this to be how it ended. Dying now would just seem like giving up.

And Nick wasn't ready to give up just yet.