“– as always, this is Ami Dillon, your resident media studies graduate student and totally under-qualified radio host, and your source for the latest updates on the state of Central City during the present Zombie Crisis, courtesy of the Mayor’s office. In addition to life-saving tips and general safety alerts, we also bring you the excellent morale-boosting soundtrack of the greatest hits of the Apocalypse, by which we mean whatever tracks the local radio stations had sitting around and the cover songs played by our dearly beloved cover band, the Post-Apocs. As always, we begin with our theme song: Stayin’ Alive, by the Bee Gees!”
Consciousness comes swiftly, as it always does, but Len yawns and stretches lazily anyway. He doesn’t have anything serious planned for today: Lisa’s off doing some ‘team bonding’ thing with the new Rogues he’s recruited, by which she means she took them to that Caribbean island resort beach house that Len won in a high stakes poker game against a Family don once to kick back, drink margaritas, and demonstrate to them the value of staying in rather than out. Len’s the vinegar, Lisa’s the honey; they work well together that way.
Naturally, Len is going nowhere near that stupid island when it’s this hot; he would have agreed to go if Mick was going, because Mick would have kept people (Lisa) from badgering him about leaving the air-conditioned house to go swimming or something stupid like that, but Mick had been lured away by a fireworks convention (why are there fireworks conventions? Why? Is it specifically designed to lure in pyrophiliac arsonists? Except no, Len checked it out, it’s apparently legit and just run by fireworks companies, pyrotechnics experts, and people who like things that go boom) all the way over on the East Coast, so Len’s all by himself.
He finds he likes that state so much more when it’s voluntary.
Still, biology can’t be denied: he’s definitely awake now.
Yawning again, he pads over to the kitchenette they’ve set up in the warehouse to make himself a cup of coffee, flicking on the TV as he does.
“Scenes of chaos break out internationally as what can only be described as zombies terrorize cities and towns around the globe,” the reporter says as violence plays out behind her. “No one knows where this plague came from, but the simultaneous outbreak in multiple locations has been definitively determined to be an act of bio-terrorism. Governments around the globe have deployed the military and information is limited. Interstate and international communications are being shut down as we speak. We don’t know how much long we will be able to continue reporting –”
The TV crackled, static-y, and abruptly cut out.
“Well,” Len says, reaching out to flick the coffee maker back off before it’s finished making the coffee. “Shit.”
"Mayor Snart! Mayor Snart!"
"I am not the goddamn mayor," Len says, as evenly as he can, though he suspects sourly that he's going to lose that fight - in fact, that he may have lost it several weeks ago and no one seems inclined to confirm to him that the fight is lost.
The grins of the media pool seem to confirm as much.
"I'll give you five minutes to ask questions," he concedes. "Starting now. Go."
"Mayor Snart – Scott Evans, Central City Picture News. Now that you've opened Central City's doors to the international community once more -"
"After they go through our quarantine procedures, yes," Len interjects.
"-the world wants to know how you managed to make Central City the most functional city in North America following the Crisis."
"You do realize I said I was only giving you five minutes, right?" Len says with some disbelief. "Four minutes, thirty eight seconds, now."
The reporter seems to realize his error and quickly rushes to the next point on his list. "Mayor Snart, when did you first learn about the crisis?"
"When I saw the news on my TV, just like most of the rest of the world," Len says. "Next question?"
"Mayor Snart – Ronnie Troupe, Daily Planet," a black woman says. "What reason did you have for going straight to Central City University in your quest to defend the city? What qualities were you thinking about?"
"The intercom system, mostly,” Len says, then takes half a step back at the sheer noise the media pool is generating at him. He holds up his hands for silence, which he even gets after a few minutes. “Everybody’s got a zombie plan, right? This one was mine. I always figured that the university – any university – has the most important assets you need when dealing with a zombie invasion, and I turned out to be right.”
“What assets are those?” the woman asks. “The library, for information?”
“The cafeteria, with food supplies?” another reporter asks eagerly.
“A well-stocked medical facility?” another one added in.
“All of those are important,” Len says. “But no, I was thinking about its greatest asset: an intercom system, and lots and lots of mostly able-bodied young adults between eighteen and twenty six who are conditioned by over twelve years of school to listen to anything that comes out of that intercom.”
He has to step back again as the media roars, each one yelling follow-up questions and drowning themselves out in the sheer noise. Then, when they realize he can’t hear them, they each start shouting his name – “Mayor Snart! Mayor Snart!” – in an effort to get his attention.
This is ridiculous.
“Lise,” he says to his sister and self-appointed chief of staff, who is perched idly in the chair next to his podium, filing her nails in a purposefully bored manner. “I’m basically the dictator of Central City right now, right? Why haven’t I banned the paps already?”
“Because you always said the only reason you can’t steal speech is ‘cause it’s free,” Lisa replies, not missing a beat. “Sorry, big brother. Suck it up.”
Len looked at his other side, where his personal admin – why does he have a personal admin again? He doesn’t remember agreeing to that – shrugs. “Sorry, boss. She has a point. You should answer some more questions.”
“Yeah, that ain’t happening,” Len says, his internal clock hitting a blissful zero in its countdown. “Sorry folks, your time is up. I’ll be answering questions again on Friday –”
He eyes a smug-looking Lisa.
“– and in the meantime, I’m sure my chief of staff will be happy to answer some questions for you.”
He dashes off the stage, Lisa’s yowl of “Lenny, you bastard!” following him like music in his ears as the reporters turn on her like piranhas in a feeding frenzy.
She’ll make him regret it later, he’s sure.
But for now: freedom!
Len makes his way through the entrance of the university, which is filled by anxious-looking undergrads and older students, all gathered in groups and chattering amongst themselves or gathered around the televisions.
Some of them, in what Len can only describe to be the true tenacity of the American K-12 system, are still doing their homework.
Sometimes Len is so happy he's a dropout.
“Hey, you,” he ask a black kid who’s hovering around watching the crowds with increasing trepidation. “Where’s the AV department?”
“Uh, third floor, I think,” the guy says. “Wait, who are you?”
“I’m the guy that’s going to keep most of the people here from dying,” Len says, and taps the gun strapped to his leg. “By force, if necessary.”
The kid blinks and stares at the gun. “Hold up. Are you Captain Cold?”
“Right now, I’m the man in need of the AV department because I don’t fancy dying,” Len informs him. “You hear that noise in the halls? That’s the student body hurtling towards panic. Panic leads to questionable decision making and stampedes, which in turn lead to –”
“Lots of dead people, no zombies required,” the kid finishes, looking grim. “Okay, on the off-chance that you’re not as bad as everyone says you are, follow me; I’ll show you where it is.”
“You’re very trusting,” Len observes, following him as he barrels down the hallway at double-time pace. "Especially given that I am a supervillain."
“Not so much you I'm trusting,” the kid says. “Barry says good things about you.”
Len’s eyebrows shoot up. Well, if that’s not a spot of good luck, he doesn’t know what is. He has no idea who the kid is, but if he’s part of the Flash gang, that’s good news for him. “Barry – Allen?”
“That’s the one.”
“And where is Barry Allen, by chance? I’d been wondering that. Zombie crisis everywhere - I thought I'd see lightening every step I take.”
The kid makes a face. “He's in Starling City. And possibly another universe. He and – uh, a bunch of the others – went to go stop the zombie plague.”
“I’m in awe at his success,” Len says, voice dripping with sarcasm, and then he sees the door he’s looking for and walks in. The intercom set up is immediately apparent and he heads towards that, sitting down and pulling it out.
“What are you going to do?” the kid asks.
“What’s your name?” Len asks instead.
“Great, Wally, you can help me with the vernacular.” Len turns the intercom on and summons up all his vague memories of high school and television shows thereof. He puts on his best homeroom announcer voice. “Students and faculty of Central City University, pay attention. This is an urgent announcement regarding the ongoing crisis. In order to deal with this in an orderly manner, I need all of you to head over to one of the big classrooms –”
He pulls away from the mic and looks at Wally.
“You mean the lecture halls?”
“- to one of lecture halls. Once those have been filled up, any remaining individuals should fill up the classrooms near to them. Please fill up all available seats. Once there, circulate a –”
He pulls away again and asks Wally, “What do you call it when they all sign their names?”
“Circulate an attendance sheet. We’re going to want to know where everyone is. The next step is going to be splitting you up into groups of five people, so please start organizing yourselves into those groups. Faculty, send a representative of each department, but specifically the history, engineering, chemistry and physics departments, to lecture hall 101 –” Len had noticed that that was the largest one. “– and AV techs, please set up a system by which the broadcast from that room can be sent to all the other rooms or hooked up into the intercom system. Additional instructions as to how we’re going to be dealing with this crisis will be forthcoming in thirty minutes, so be in position by then.”
Len flicks the microphone off. “Think that worked?”
“I mean, yeah, everyone’s gonna do it,” Wally replies, eyes narrowed a bit. “But what’s the actual plan?”
“It’s a university,” Len says. “Gotta keep up with the proud college traditions of 1968.”
“Do you even get taught history here?” Len complains. “I’m talking about barricades.”
Wally’s eyes go wide. “Barricades?”
“Well, yeah,” Len says. “How else are we going to establish a clear zone to use as a base to re-take the rest of the city?”
“Re-take the city?”
Len holds up a finger. “Barricades,” a second one, “clear zone,” a third, “quarantine procedures,” a fourth. “Siege warfare and expansion to fight the zombies. You can’t fight if you don’t have somewhere to fall back to. We’ve got a couple of thousand students waiting for directions right now. You gonna help?”
“Yes, sir!” Wally says enthusiastically.
Len makes a face. “No ‘sir’,” he corrects him. “If you gotta call me anything, just make it ‘boss’.”
– in view of the mental and physical deterioration suffered by the individuals afflicted by TX-90 (colloquially known as “zombies”) [see supra, chap. 2], city warfare quickly reverted to the forms most familiarly used in the European social conflicts of the 19th century, most famously in Paris, France during the revolutions of 1789, 1832 (popularized, of course, by the famous novel ‘Les Misersables’ by Victor Hugo), 1848, and 1871.
Early military blockades, composed in the more ‘modern’ style primarily of individuals and high powered weaponry, proved ineffective against the onslaught, particularly in view of the general reluctance of soldiers to aim against such human-appearing enemies, many of whom were still dressed in casual civilian garb. Additionally, the infection of a single soldier on the line caused a severe and immediate drop in morale, leading to regular retreats and ineffective blockades.
In contrast, the revival of the use of physical barricades, accompanied by siege warfare tactics, in the retaking of Central City [see infra, chap. 6] was extraordinarily successful. As the traditional ‘paving stone’ barricade structure was rendered unavailable due to the introduction of asphalt roads, the citizens of Central City – led by Leonard ‘Captain Cold’ Snart [this work, which focuses on the strategic and tactical elements of the crisis, will not go into detail regarding the well-known actions of Mr. Snart; for a full biography, see Roberts et. al, Cold: A Study in Unorthodox Leadership and Lahiri, Divak & Strumm, Supervillains To Superheroes: The Rogues During the Crisis] – resorted instead to a more nuanced form.
The barricades of Central City, which served as the model for the other cities in the United States and, eventually, the world, are created by using elements of the existing infrastructure. Three teams would be sent out on any given ‘building’ expedition: the ‘scouts’, the ‘builders’, and the ‘reserves’. The scouts – a position reserved for individuals of bravery and recognized talents in armed combat, often including criminals of Mr. Snart’s acquaintance which he deemed trustworthy and supplemented by his student army, many of which were obliged to pick up firearms instruction as part of the ‘Crisis Curriculum’ [see infra, chap. 5, subsection 3 ‘Educational Initiatives’] – would be posted at the furthest extent from the epicenter (originally: Central City University) in order to spot any approaching zombie. While the scouts maintained the perimeter, the ‘builders’ would overturn local cars onto their sides and position them in a semi-circular fashion between the buildings on each side of the street. Quick-acting cement, formed in large quantities in the labs of Central City University [see infra, chap. 6, subsection 5; see also Trumbull & Hall, Chemical Manufacturing in the Midwest: The Zombie Revival], would then be poured into the gaps between the cars, creating an immediate ‘wall’ that would serve as a barrier between the oncoming zombies and the defending individuals. The ‘reserves’ were there to supplement the ‘scouts’, should any roving bands of zombies take notice. A certain number of ‘gates’ were introduced in each barricade wall, initially made of doorframes stolen from nearby buildings and later reinforced with additional layers of concrete and steel once the local automobile factories had been reclaimed and their manufacturing capabilities turned to support the barricades.
These barricades were simple, cheap, and brutally effective against the ‘mindless’ zombie attackers, who would simply charge the barricades repeatedly, enabling the defenders to utilize siege warfare tactics, including, but not limited to, burning oil, spikes, ditches, and even simply luring zombies in before destroying a whole set with a grenade while the defenders hid behind their wall. Due to the cheapness of this approach, utilizing existing cars already out on the street, it was possible to continue to expand with relative ease without disrupting the earlier built segments. As each barricaded area was secured, yet another set of teams was sent out to create another barricade further out. It is this simple yet visually arresting barricade system that created the famous ‘concentric circles’ of Central City, leading to the famous images captured by airborne photographers –
excerpt from Military Tactics During the Crisis, pub. 2018, © Columbia University Press
“They’re coming!” a panicked cry went up.
Len races down to the gates of the university, which have been barred and sealed by his order. The first barricade line is still being built; he’s pleased to see that his squads are returning back to the relative safety of the university as ordered instead of trying to fight the zombies.
Perhaps a little more “retreat” and a little less “fleeing in terror” would be better, but hey, they’ll work on that.
“Does anyone have a baseball bat?” he calls out.
It’s just weird enough that everyone stops panicking long enough to turn to look at him in disbelief.
“Chair or table legs work too,” he adds, then goes over and hops the fence. “Though I wouldn’t mind having a few guns at my back as well. And can someone call the chemistry department? That work I’m having them do in their spare time regarding explosives will come in rather helpful soon, I’m sure.”
Then Len turns to face the zombies. “Heeere, zombie!” he calls, mimicking every person he’s ever heard talk to a dog. “Heeere, zombie!”
“Is he nuts?” he hears someone ask.
Possibly multiple someones.
But it works – the zombies lurch after him instead of aiming for the university walls filled with tasty, tasty undergraduates, because the zombies clearly have lost whatever portion of their brain involves prioritization and/or efficiency.
They’re quicker than the slow-walkers he might have hoped for in an ideal universe, but he’s even faster, jogging a quick circle around them until they’ve gotten themselves all into one big, giant ravening mob.
One big, giant target.
He hoists up his cold gun and fires lengthwise at full power, freezing the whole lot of them as he slowly moves the gun from left to right over the crowd. As he fires, he moves steadily sideways, echoing his first round around the zombies, careful to ensure he gets every single one of them.
This involves having to climb up on a dumpster to get the last few that got stuck in the middle, but that’s fine.
When he finishes, with nearly forty zombies all frozen, he turns to look at his audience of gaping students. “Baseball bats, chair legs, table legs,” he calls to them. “Any blunt object will do. I want this ice cubes smashed before they even think about starting to melt, you hear me?”
The roar of agreement he gets is most satisfactory.
“Welcome back,” the TV show host says with a grin. “Our guest tonight is here to talk about her newest book – the Age of Heroes. Ms. West here is a long-time citizen of Central City –”
There’s a long pause for applause.
“– and one of the first chroniclers of the activities of the Flash, whom many people are calling the country’s first super-powered superhero.”
“Well, it’s something of a race between us and Metropolis,” Iris West says with a laugh. “Thanks for having me. Ironically enough, though, my book isn’t about the superpowers people – especially people in Central City – got, or what they chose to do with in. Instead, my book is something of an exploration of how the whole superhero phenomenon got started: people realizing that they was something to fix in this world, and then going to fix it.”
“A lot of people have been quibbling with your decision to set the start of the Age of Heroes, as you call it, back with the emergence of the Green Arrow, Star City’s controversial vigilante figure. What do you have to say to that?”
“It’s very hard to say exactly when something began,” Iris replies. “Certainly, academically, you could go with any number of options. That being said, I do think that the Green Arrow counts as a superhero – he dedicated his life to stopping evil in his city, even if the way he started out was...more violent than what we’ve come to expect from our heroes.”
“Though, speaking of violent heroes, what do you have to say about the current leadership of Central City?”
“Oh, Mayor Snart?” she says, grinning. “He’s – definitely a special case.”
The host leans forward, eyes avid. “In fact, it appears that your foster-brother, Barry Allen, has attended several events as Mayor Snart’s plus-one instead of his husband. Given the – would it be wrong to say legendary? – nature of that particular relationship, that’s got a lot of people talking. Do you have anything to say about that?”
“Yeah, I do,” Iris says, looking amused. “Weren’t we here to talk about my book?”
Len isn't going to throw the phone across the wall. He is not.
For one thing, he's a mature adult. Way too old to be throwing temper tantrums, even if there are no impressionable kids around to terrify. It's childish and irresponsible and stupid.
For another thing, he didn't work this hard on a reputation for being cool to lose it at the first provocation. He's Captain Cold, for fuck's sake. He is not going to go off at nothing.
A lot of nothing.
Several weeks of nothing.
"Don't throw it, boss," Wally says, walking in with an armful of paper. "Cell phones are hard to replace."
Len gives the kid a dirty look. "There's a knock off cell phone store inside the clean zone now, I happen to know. Anyway, did I ask for your input?"
"Yeah, you did," Wally says. "When you appointed me your personal aide."
"Why did I do that?" Len wonders grumpily, but he already knows the answer to that.
"Because you hate paperwork with the fury of a million suns," Wally says, smirking. "Or would you prefer to say something more like the frozen heart of a dead star being sucked into a black hole of vast emptiness?"
"You were an English student, weren't you?"
"Engineering, actually. Cars."
"You missed your calling."
Wally cracks a grin. "My sister's a journalist. Iris West."
"I've read her stuff," Len acknowledges with a nod. "Good writer. Probably gonna murder Barry for dragging her out on adventure when she could be winning a Pulitzer."
"She insisted on going," Wally says. "She'll be okay; I'm sure of it. Barry would fix the timeline if her nail broke."
Len barks a laugh. "Speaking of the Flash gang," he says, gesturing for Wally to come closer, "do you have the plan for retaking STAR Labs?"
"No, that's Axel's bailiwick," Wally says. "He's got this genius for guerilla tactics that you really have to admire; he’s on his way. He's not that bad, you know?"
"Getting him away from Jesse's influence helps," Len allows. "He's still a punk. You get Rosa's little sis?"
"Ami? Yeah, she's still handling communications and having a blast. No word yet on Scudder - he's probably still in Iron Heights, and that's still no-man's-land thanks to the military."
"Pity," Len says. "Useful skill set, that. Well, we'll figure it out when we get there. Have we secured the reservoir? Professor Latham's lecture on cholera gave me nightmares."
Wally shudders. "No kidding. Yeah, it's secure; Singh gave the orders and the CCPD stopped bitching. Well, for the most part. They're feeling overshadowed."
Len shrugs. "I have plenty of cops in the ranks," he points out. "It's the ones that cling to their need for superiority over the rest of us that are having trouble adjusting. Though really, after we raided the SWAT supply, I don't see what's so great about their precious hierarchy anyway. Whatever. I want to see the latest update from the reservoir first thing this afternoon."
"Right," Wally says, noting it down. "Now you wanna tell me what's really bugging you?"
"Do I look like the touchy-feely ‘talking it out’ type?"
Wally cracks a grin. "No," he admits. "But you wouldn't be asking about the reservoir three days after declaring the project in progress and leaving it in Jax's hands - also, on that note, he hates you and would like to remind you that he never actually got into college - "
"He knows more engineering from his auto repair job than some of the so-called professors," Len replies with a shrug. "He can learn how to fix a dam. Besides, I assigned him a professor – what’s his name – as back-up, didn't I?"
"He still hates you for making him a general."
Len smirks. He likes appointing people as generals, especially individuals under the age of twenty-five. They always freaked out about it.
"He can tell me all about it when I see him this afternoon on the reservoir project,” he says.
"Which is suddenly important again, why?"
Len scowls at his cell phone. "Solar's all well and good to supplement our generators, but I want some hydroelectric to help boost the phone lines. Why the hell did the military cut them everywhere, anyway? Did they think the zombies were going to tap them or something?”
"I thought you already heard from your sister," Wally replies, frowning.
"I have," Len replies. "She has a satellite phone. The military of the island nation she's on has barred all entrance/exit traffic until they're satisfied that the crisis is over, so she and the others went back to the resort and are currently debating piña coladas vs margaritas."
Len shrugs. "It's an island, and I haven't seen any indication that zombies swim."
"...now I'm imagining a swarm of underwater zombies, thanks for that, boss."
"Me, too, actually," Len says with a frown. "Get the bio department on that question stat, will you?"
"Sure thing. So what's the problem with the phones, then? I thought you said your sister was the only living relative you had."
"She is," Len says, eyes still stealing to the useless and not-ringing phone. "It's my partner I haven't heard a peep from."
“– our next Oscar nominee is 500 Miles, an epic tale of love and hardship set during the events of the Zombie Crisis. This moving film skillfully merges romance, tragedy, action, and, yes, even comedy – yes, a romantic comedy has finally been nominated for an Oscar, and all it took was a horde of attacking zombies –”
The presenting actor pauses to allow the audience to laugh and the camera to pan over various faces in the audience, all smiling.
“As you all know, 500 Miles is based on the amazing true story of current Central City mayor, Leonard Snart, and his husband, Mick Rory, who found themselves located on opposite sides of the country when the Zombie Crisis began –”
The camera zooms in on a group of people in the audience sitting by the far left wall. A tall man with closely clipped salt-and-pepper hair, dressed in a dark blue suit, is slouched down in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose like he’s developing a headache; the man by his side, a larger man with a shaved head, has a giant grin on his face. He’s dressed in a tux and he’s somehow obtained a giant tub of popcorn, despite food generally not being allowed into the building.
The young man sitting on the other side of the first man, a lithe brunette with a pleasant smile, punches the first man in the arm and gestures at the camera.
The first man does not show any inclination to raise his head and mutters something that makes the young man blush and the second man laugh, as does the dark-skinned young woman in a lovely dress sitting by the young man’s side.
“– and this film chronicles their epic journey to reunite, despite the many hardships they encountered along the way. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: 500 Miles.”
An orchestral score begins to play as the lights dim and a giant screen descends to the center of the stage.
A vaguely audible “Oh, god, kill me now” can be heard from the position of the group that had been the subject of the camera focus a few minutes before.
"What's all the big fuss?" Mick asks the first group of people he finds climbing out of their cars with duffle bags and a scared expression, poking his head out of the side of the car he’d hotwired. They'd reached the same conclusion as him - the highway, filled with cars, was never going to start moving again.
Mick wasn't sure what exactly was going on, because he'd been at the fireworks convention for the last few days, slept the sleep of the thoroughly satisfied yesterday, slouched around the house for one lazy day to indulge in the feeling of having been around so many beautiful fires, and today he'd started heading back to the rendezvous point with Len. Same as always.
Except for the bizarre traffic patterns getting in his way. It's been three hours - they should have moved a little.
"It's - the radio - they're saying -" the father of the group is stuttering.
The little girl, about eleven, has no such issues. "There's zombies everywhere and they're gonna kill us all!"
"What? It's true!"
Mick blinks. He hadn't been listening to the radio, though apparently that was an oversight. But really, zombies? That has to be a joke.
He flicks it on.
“– more sightings of the alleged ‘zombies’ have been reported in every major city and many rural areas. People are advised to stay indoors where possible and to report any instance of contagion to the military hotline, reachable at –”
He flicks it off.
“Huh,” he says. “Zombies. Okay, then.”
He climbs out of the car, because they’re definitely not getting anywhere by car. He grabs the backpack he’d brought along for the trip, which had everything he needed – a change of clothing, the solar generator for his heat gun, a hard-copy map and a couple of snacks – and straps his gun back onto his thigh.
“Guess I’m gonna have to walk this one,” he says, shaking his head at the thought. Cross-country hiking was never his idea of a good time, but he can manage.
“Walk?” the father asks. “Walk where?”
“Central City,” Mick replies.
“What’s in Central City?” the mother asks. “They said the zombie outbreak was everywhere, especially the cities.”
“Yeah, but Central City’s gonna solve the problem,” Mick says confidently.
“Why Central City in particular?”
“Because Central City’s got someone with a plan to handle this,” Mick says. Central City’s got Len, after all; they’ve never actually discussed what they should do in the event of a zombie apocalypse – the few times it came up while drunk and watching movies, they usually assumed they’d be together during it – but Mick knows Len. Len will have a plan. Len will enact that plan.
The zombies don’t stand a chance.
“You think they’ll be able to beat the zombies?”
“Oh, I’m sure of it,” Mick says.
“But how are you going to get there? There will be zombies all the way there!”
Mick pats his gun. “I’m not worried about zombies,” he says with a smirk. “I can defend myself.”
The whole family exchanges looks. “Could we come with you?” the father asks hesitantly. “To Central City, I mean. It’s as good a destination as anywhere else – I don’t trust the military shelters they’re talking about on the radio.”
Mick blinks. He hadn’t thought about taking stragglers, but he guesses there’s no reason why not. After all, it’s useful to have someone to keep watch while he sleeps.
“Sure,” he says. “As long as you keep up, you’re welcome to come with me.”
“And you’re sure they’ll be able to win? Even against zombies?”
“I’m sure,” Mick says.
After all, a zombie crisis is not really that different from any other, and he knows what to do during a crisis.
Get back to Len’s side.
“– I mean, man, it wasn’t like anything you’d ever seen before,” the young man with the long, braided hair said earnestly to the camera. “It was, like, a religious experience, you know? All of mankind, getting together, in all its different shades and complexity, in one group, and we followed our leader to the promised land.”
“It was just like they always said it’d be in church,” a young black woman adds in. Her hair curls in tight corkscrews and frame her face like a halo. “I never really listened, you know? What do they know, they’re all old and boring, that sort of thing. But it was just like they said. I opened my heart, and I felt the truth of it.”
“He led us to the promised land,” the young man repeats. “All the way from the coast to the heartland. He pulled us together when we were scattered. But he wasn’t, like, snooty about it or anything. I wouldn’t have thought that the prophet would’ve been the sorta guy to sit back and smoke a joint with you – I mean, when I was protesting in favor of legalization, I had that sign and everything, you know, Jesus woulda smoked one, but, you know, I didn’t really think it’d be that way. But it was!”
“He wasn’t doing it for fame,” another man adds, a young Korean man, rubbing his eyes and shifting a little away from the first man. “He didn’t even want to do it at first, I think. But he protected us anyway. He was called, and he answered.”
“He just tore his way through the zombies whenever they attacked,” the first man says. “Fire shooting from his hands.”
“It was a flamethrower,” the black woman says, rolling her eyes. “Doesn’t make it any less impressive –”
“A flamethrower that works with no visible source of fuel and can roast a zombie to ash from ten yards back?” the first man says skeptically. “Right. That’s what he wants you to think.”
“Listen, you moron; we already live in an age of miracles, we don’t need to be making up –” the young woman says, leaning forward emphatically.
“Hey, hey!” the second man interjects. “What would Mick think about how the two of you are behaving right now?”
They both look shamefaced.
“You’re right,” the woman says. “He’d tell us we had to get our act together and deal with this shit, because it’s the end of the world and there’s no one else to deal with it for us. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together.”
“He’s really profound,” the first man says wistfully. “Walking with him was an honor.”
“It really was,” the woman says, and the second man nods. “Let us tell you about how we joined up –”
“Goddamn military,” Len snarls. “Wally, make a note, we’re not ever letting them do anything ever again. And I mean ever!”
“You got it, boss,” Wally gasps, the rain slicking down his hair. He looked rather bedraggled, clutching at his coat in an attempt to keep out the storm. Ami, clutching her tablet in its water-proofed case, doesn’t look much better.
“How many do the reports say?” Len asks, stalking along the wall they’d created.
“They brought a whole Marine battalion,” Wally says.
“How many companies?”
“Last thing we heard before they realized we were listening on their frequency, three, but undersized,” Ami volunteers.
“So we’re dealing with anywhere from a few hundred to nearly a thousand,” Len says grimly. “We can’t assume any of them got out of that hell-hole military base without infection. How goes the building of the wall?”
“Points A through D report that they’re on schedule. E and F are reporting trouble with flooding –”
“I’ll go there now and freeze them a dam,” Len decides, turning on his heel and stalking towards there. “Not that I think the zombies will really give a dam about it…”
“That was awful, boss,” Ami says.
“Let it go,” Wally tells her. “Complaining just makes him worse.”
“No, I actually rather enjoyed it,” Ami says. “But it was awful. Factually.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Len says. “How are our squad leaders doing? Everyone in position?”
“Yeah,” Wally says. “Everyone’s checked in, it’s all good. We’ve got car lights on every wall, so we’ve got visibility for at least thirty feet all around, even with this damn rain.”
“If we had a few more of your cold guns, we’d be golden,” Ami says with a sigh.
“Sorry, my sister took her gun with her,” Len says, not without regret. “And we don’t have enough cryogenic power sources for another gun.”
“The cold grenades you were able to work up are a pretty decent alternative,” Ami assures him. “Also, engineering loves you.”
“It’s called thinking outside the box,” Len says. “Or outside the bomb, anyway. Everyone knows not to activate them –”
“– until we see the whites of their eyes, yeah, yeah,” Wally says. “Everyone knows.”
“Good,” Len says. “We’ll send the runners out as soon as E and F are ready to deal with an attack, if necessary; they’ll lure them in towards where we’re strongest, so hopefully E and F won’t have to fight at all. Doesn’t mean it ain’t a good idea to make sure they’re secure. Wally, go to point A; I want to make sure the runners know that if they try to be a hero, I’m gonna hunt them down and kill ‘em myself.”
“Ami, point C. I want our electronics team working on getting the goddamn grid back up right away. And if the federal government sends a message, tell ‘em we’re seceding.”
Ami hides a smile very badly. “Yes, boss,” she says. “Anything else I should mention?”
“Yeah. Central City’s a dictatorship, namely mine, and they’ve gotta apply for diplomatic status if they want anywhere near our borders.” He pauses. “Oh, and make up some stupid-ass limbo shit they’ll have to go through to get diplomatic status approval. Check with poli-sci and the D&D foucs groups for ideas.”
“Stop ‘yes, boss’-ing me and go,” he snaps.
They dash away.
Len stalks forward, mind already busy with plans to protect his city from an armed, infected battalion of soldiers who just couldn’t be bothered to listen to the warnings of a mere criminal.
He’s too busy for it, but he takes a moment to be happy that Mick isn’t here, though he would love to have him by his side.
He hopes Mick’s safe, wherever he is.
He hopes Mick’s near –
But not too near.
The chaos raged about the countryside
the dead rose from the grave, a stormy sea
where every ship was strained and all were tried;
surrounded by dread gates, nowhere to flee.
The earth was churned by feet worn down to bone
and hands that grabbed in a full-swelling tide
under a moon that froze the human throne
and burned in light those who had died.
But as their horde approached our wretched wall,
Despair tearing at bricks, we would not bow.
These heroes stood so that we might not fall,
For Central’s death would not, for them, be now.
Our walls did fall, but we--the people--stay,
knowing how close we came to death that day.
THE ZOMBIE CYCLE, SONNET. 6 – Harris “H.R.” Randolph-Wells
Mick grew up in the country.
Oh, sure, it liked to call itself a suburb of Keystone, but it was so far out in the sticks that Keystone was ashamed to admit to it. He knows exactly how it works, out in the places that are only theoretically tamed; he knows the dirt fields that appear out of nowhere, the hidden dangers in the pleasant pool of water, the way it gets dark.
It gets very, very dark.
And nowadays, there are more things that roam in the dark than just wild animals.
"Follow me," Mick bellows, but his (surprisingly large, now that he looks at them) band of tagalongs mill aimlessly, panicking, as the groans of the approaching zombies become audible. It's worse, in the dark - they have flashlights that do nothing, car lights that do nothing but make people claustrophobic - because they can hear them, humanity's nightmare in its hideous infectious glory, they can hear them, but they can't see them.
"We'll lose them when we cross the river," he bellows. "Just cross the river! Follow me!"
It does no good.
They're caught in the panic and the terror of the night.
Mick knows that they'll be safe if they only cross the river - terrifying to do late at night, he knows, fording a river is dangerous even outside of the Oregon Trail games - but it's the only chance they've got. The fucking idiots that left the group to go to the Walmart accidentally drew the attention of an entire zombie horde, then led them right back to the group.
He could go himself. Him, and the others who aren't crazy with fear, and he'd get father and faster without the stupid tagalongs that joined up with him, most without even asking. They just saw people walking and decided that they'd better follow, because at least someone seemed to know what they were doing. Didn’t even ask, half the time.
They're not his crew. They're not his anything. He doesn't know them, they don't know him. He could leave them now for the monsters to get.
He hates not being the scariest monster out there.
Mick holds his gun to the sky and shoots up.
It's a waste of charge and fuel, he knows that, emptying his gun in a pillar of fire against the vacant skies when he'd much rather turn it against some zombie monsters, but it works.
All the panicking masses turn and look at him.
"Get sticks," he orders, lifting his voice as loud as he can. "Big sticks, and whiskey. We'll make ourselves light and fire, and then all you need to do is follow the fire."
Weary, dazed, scared eyes look at him.
Shit, this isn't Mick's area of expertise. He can't convince them to follow him; can't convince them to save their own damn lives. He's not good with people. Too big, too angry, too dumb - he doesn't have Snart's silver tongue or Lisa's charming ways.
But he does have fire.
"Follow the fire," he orders them, and backs off, gun held aloft, flames shooting up in a line that can be seen a mile away. "Come on, you idiots! Follow the fire!"
And he's almost entire sure that it's not going to work, but it does. The first few people stagger towards him. Then the next few after that, and then little by little the whole group is moving.
"Follow the fire," Mick bellows, again and again. And then they start saying it too - "Follow the fire," they whisper, through fear-bitten lips and chattering teeth. "Follow the fire."
A lot of voices, saying it. Saying it again and again, all together, until it's a mantra that even the people way in the back can hear and understand.
And Mick backs away the whole time, backs down to the river front and into the river, makes them keep going. He stays in there, even though it’s cold and wet and awful, because they need to see him to keep going. People help each other through the muck, whispering to each other, "Follow the fire." Those that begin to lose energy are pulled along, even carried, and though they can't walk, they groan the line along with everyone else.
Mick keeps the fire burning until the last one of them has crossed the river, collapsing on the banks of the other side. Only when each and every one of his stupid follow-alongs has made it does he turn off the gun and fall onto his ass, shoulders sinking with exhaustion.
"Like in Genesis," someone next to Mick mutters, voice dull with exhaustion and the remnants of terror. "Follow the pillar of fire to the promised land."
"Fire," someone else agrees. "Fiery fire." And then another someone starts laughing, and that does it. They're all laughing, even Mick, and he has no idea why.
When the laughter dies, someone turns to Mick and asks, "What do we do with Alex and Mikhail?"
Mick just stares, because he has no fucking clue who that is.
"The fuckers that brought down the horde on us," another guy clarifies, looking like he's considering being angry but he's a bit too tired to be totally sold on it yet. "We need to punish them."
"No, we don’t," Mick objects, and weirdly enough they all look at him. "They were just being dumb," he says. "You're all going to be dumb eventually, and when you are, you'll be glad for it."
He has no idea what he means - he knows he doesn't want to be part of any 'punishment'; he's been in too many prisons to ever trust mob justice - but he knows he can't let it happen.
"No shame in being dumb," he tells them, and they even seem to be listening. "We all start that way. Way I see it, it's our job to get the dumb ones the rest of the way there."
"Carry them through the water," someone says. Mick's not sure who. It's dark.
"Yeah," he says. "Like that."
And then, even though he wants nothing more than to sleep right where he's lying, he stands up. It's more bravado and sheer pig headed stubbornness than anything else driving him now.
"Get sticks and whiskey," he says again. "We're going to have torches - tonight, and every night. We're gonna follow the fire all the way there."
He only means that it'll be easier for such a large group to stay together if they have something bright to follow, but people start muttering again - "follow the fire," they say, again and again, like it’s some sort of lifeline - and Mick's not entirely sure what to do with that.
But it makes them stand up, the ones who still can, and that's all that matters right now.
He's going to Central City, to find Len, and Len can take care of whatever it is that's growing right in front of Mick's eyes. He's sure Len will be able to handle it.
There’s nothing Len can’t handle, given time.
– and of course his story is well known – and growing rapidly in popularity.
No one knows where the term 'Archon' was coined for the enigmatic leader of America’s newest religious movement. Some say it came from his refusal to accept the name of 'prophet', it being weighed down from a dozen other religions; others claim that there was at one point a serious debate as to whether Mick Rory was an incarnation of the archangel Michael. Regardless, the title seems to have stuck.
For the first time in living memory, we are seeing the resurgence of a new religious movement: open to all, ambiguous in its teachings, and with its leader still alive to theoretically explain them – theoretically, because other than his appearances with Mayor Leonard Snart of Central City (see our list of runners-up!), during which he often remains silent, Archon Rory has frustratingly remained virtually impossible to interview.
He has not even agreed to grant this publication an interview for the present feature -
--excerpt from TIME, "Mick Rory: Person of the Year"
"Almost there," Mick says, squinting up ahead. They've been trudging through the suburbs for hours now, heading towards the boundary line that marked off Central City proper from the surrounding area.
A boundary more noticeable from the fact that it was now reinforced by what appeared to be a wall. Made of cars and concrete, and patrolled at regular intervals.
"They'll never let us in," Nadia groans. She tugs at her hijab anxiously. "This'll be like that mall."
"The guys in that mall were just assholes," Mick tells her firmly. "They didn't wait ten minutes past the first announcement to try to turn the world into the Mad Max dystopia of their wet dreams."
"Survivalist militas," Jerri spits. She'd brought her family to that mall in search of shelter; they'd been one of the ones Mick had rescued in his raid on that mall. She had reason to be angry: they'd been forced to join the militia's band of "protected" individuals, expected to do chores and follow their absurd rules at the threat of a gun or being thrown out for the zombies.
Mick had enjoyed that raid. Jerri had, too - she wielded a mean baseball bat for a former suburban soccer mom.
"Don't worry," he says. "I'm telling you, it'll be all right."
He's pretty sure Len wouldn't let things in Central get that far out of hand. Gotham was probably under martial law - hell, the cops and the capes there are just panting for the opportunity to really lock it down - but Central? He couldn't believe it.
Still, no harm in being cautious.
"Nadia, Sharif, Timothy, Chris and Maricruz," he says. "You're with me. Jerri, Chaz, you're in charge of bringing up the rest once we give you the all clear."
"Sure," Chaz says. "What's the all clear?"
"And what if you want us to keep back?" Jerri asks.
"Chris'll scream like a little girl," Mick replies promptly.
Everyone laughs, even Chris. "I only did that once," he protests, looking amused.
"Three times," Mick corrects. "And that's why I'm bringing you - that scream can cut through stone if it needs to."
Chris is also apparently a somewhat well-known football running back, pre-crisis, which meant he had a remarkable running speed, excellent aim with a gun and a hell of a right hook. He grins good-naturedly.
They go up to one of the breaks in the wall, where someone is waiting with a rifle.
"Hello!" the guard says perkily, well before Mick and his crew can say anything. "Welcome to Central! How's it going?"
"You mean, other than the zombies?" Nadia asks.
"Well, yes," the guard says, blushing. "You want to come in? We have quarantine procedures, but everyone is welcome. You can keep your weaponry if it makes you feel better."
"How's quarantine work?" Mick asks. "We being tossed in with other suspected infected?"
"No, no - everyone gets their own cubicle, to avoid quarantine contamination. We set up plexiglass so no one feels claustrophobic or alone or anything - the psych department at the university says it's likely to lead to heightened emotion otherwise - and we let you out after 32 hours. You know, just in case. Oh, and you get food! Do you have any dietary restrictions? We have halal," he adds, looking at Nadia.
"Holy crap, this is the promised land," she says, staring.
"How's that?" the guard asks.
"Just a joke," Mick adds hastily.
“Okay,” the guard says agreeably, though he still looked a little confused. “Anyway, bring everyone you’ve got. We’re a city; we’ve got room.”
“We've got a lot of people,” Mick warns.
“We've taken over an entire block of the financial district for quarantine purposes,” the guard replies. “We've got a lot of cubicles.”
Mick studies him, but the guard looks legit, and what the hell. They have a lot of people. They could take the guardhouse if they really needed to.
He turns and waves.
They begin to come - first in groups, then all at once, the whole lot of them, like an ocean of people bringing the tide in.
“Whoa,” the guard says.
“Told you there was a lot,” Mick says with a smirk.
The guard shakes his head in amazement, then pulls out a pad of paper. “Well, we'll still need basic information for our records - names, origin city, any missing family or friends you'd like us to look for –”
“You're running a registry?” Chris asks, interested.
“Yeah, we figured it'd be useful if people are missing each other, at least until we get cell phones redistributed. Let's start with you guys. Names?”
“Mick Rory, Keystone City,” Mick says. “I'm looking for someone –”
“Wait, wait,” the guard interrupts. “Mick Rory? Is that what you said?”
Mick frowns. He wouldn't have thought the open warrants were going to be such an issue, in light of everything, but...
“Hold on, I need to call this in,” the guard says, starting to grin. “This is going to be great - you're to go straight to the main building – I’ll get someone to show you the way –”
Mick's frown deepens. That didn't sound like an arrest. “How's that?”
“What about quarantine?” Nadia asks.
“He can do his quarantine in the main building; there are still quarantine cubes there,” the guard says. “We all got told in training that Mick Rory gets sent straight there, Mayor's orders.”
“What does the Mayor of Central City want with our Mick?” Maricruz asks, her voice low and sweet and steely as always.
“Just to see him, I think,” the guard says. “Honestly, I don't really question Mayor Snart's orders.”
“Hold up,” Mick says. “Did you just say Mayor Snart?!”
"I can't go in there," she said. "I can't - it reminds me of the dark of the night when the zombies first attacked, when I was all alone -"
She turns accusing eyes on Adam. "You told me you'd be by my side the whole way."
"It's not his fault," the guard said, his voice soft. Isabelle turned to look at him.
He was, now that she was looking, startlingly beautiful in his own way - his hair was long and braided, his skin dark as polished oak, his eyes fair. He held out his hand to her.
Isabelle took it instinctively.
"He can't follow you into quarantine," the guard explained. "It's to keep us safe, all of us - and no one can be excluded. Even our own scouting parties have to go through quarantine after a long expedition. So many lives are at stake - we can't let even one person hiding a bite in." His eyes were wide and sorrowful; he had clearly known great loss.
Isabelle felt strangely affected by it - almost like she knew him, knew his sorrow - it wasn't like Adam, how they'd bickered and fought, growing closer every step of the journey; this was something immediate. Something magical.
"What's your name?" she breathed.
"Jonas," he says.
"And I'm Adam," Adam says, stepping forward, putting a hand on Isabelle's shoulder. A possessive hand, one that would have thrilled her beyond understanding not even three hours earlier. "We traveled the Great Route together, in Archon Rory's train."
"Then you have done a great thing," Jonas says, letting go of Isabelle's hand only reluctantly, meeting Adam's eyes dead on. "Perhaps, after the quarantine, I will have the honor of showing you around the city, Isabelle. But for now, follow me."
She shivers as the two strong men eye each other warily. Could it be that they were fighting over her? That Jonas felt that same instant connection? Oh, but what about Adam - they'd been together through so much -
Isabelle would never have expected her life to become this; not in a million years.
- excerpt from "A Rescued Beauty", the brand new romance novel by Adrienne Masters.
"Mayor," Mick says. "Mayor."
"Shut up," Len says.
They were separated by a glass wall, the little Plexiglas box that Mick had to stay in for quarantine; he would mind it a lot more except that Len kept prowling around it, like he can't wait for the time to be up. He felt like he was one of those beautiful paintings that museums kept locked up, one of the ones Len bent the full power of his considerable intellect on obtaining for his own. He'd never felt that before; it was strangely exciting.
"Besides, I hear you started a religion," Len adds.
"I did not," Mick protests, but he's not so dumb as to deny that one may, in fact, have been started. "They did it on their own."
"It's still a cult of personality based on you."
"Can I make 'em all drink kool-aid?"
Len's smile is there and gone. "Your precious babies? I bet you know all of 'em by name."
Mick prefers nicknaming people, but with a group that large he didn't have any choice but to start learning names. But damnit, they're not his babies.
He tells Len as much.
"Uh, huh," Len says. "Jerri says to tell you that the pigeons are all fine."
"Oh, good," Mick says. "They're skittish, though can't blame them for..." He catches Len's look. "They're not actual pigeons; it's just what I called this one group of kids - they were all out of field trips, and we got their buses to safety, and -" Len's expression reveals nothing. "They're not my babies!"
"Mick," Len drawls. "When I said we could think about adopting, I didn't mean a whole army of devotees."
"Says the man who adopted a city."
"Central's always been mine," Len says, sounding like a cat with a whole flock of canaries sitting in front of him. "They're just getting with the picture is all."
"Do you even know what a mayor does?"
"I have an entire poli-sci department at my beck and call," Len says haughtily.
"Not a clue," Len concedes cheerfully, though his amusement is brief and the scowl comes back. He glares at the glass. "How much longer did they say?"
"It's only been a few hours," Mick says, amused. "You missed me?"
"Started to get worried after so long with no contact," Len says. "You being a delicate flower and all that."
"Don't you 'Lenny' me. Don't you know how to use a phone?!"
"There weren't any," Mick says reasonably. "Most of the south was put on communications blackout. Military took down electronics everywhere."
"We were too," Len admits. "I had them put the grid back up."
Len had an entire electric grid set up just to make sure he wouldn't miss it if Mick tried to call.
Mick feels all warm and fuzzy.
"I hate having to wait," Len says.
"I would never have known that about you," Mick lies virtuously. Len's as patient as you get on the job; it's in personal stuff that he gets anxious.
"Yeah, yeah," Len says.
"Don't you have important mayor stuff you need to be doing?"
"I have sub-lieutenants for a reason," Len says. "As do you. They can live without me for a short time." He scowls. "Not that I'm doing anything."
Mick thought about that for a second, the shrugs and pulls off his shirt.
"What are you doing?" Len asks.
"Giving you something to do," Mick says agreeably.
"Something to do?"
Turns out Mick likes being looked at like some precious thing that someone wants to steal away, as long as it's Len who's doing the looking.
Fascinating, the things you learn about yourself during an attacking zombie crisis.
Buzzfeed's 10 Top Unbelievable Stories That Came Out Of The Zombie Crisis
You Won't BELIEVE What These People Did
#6 Sex in the Quarantine Room: Fact or Fiction?
The individualized "mini"-quarantine units - started in Central City by using cubicles and plexiglass, then refined as the practice spread throughout the United States - are the opposite of sexy! But when death is looming as a potential option, anywhere looks appealing. Yes, everyone is put in these quarantine units individually, so touching is a no-no, but nothing will stop these brave outside-the-box thinkers, not even being literally in the box! There are reports of at least three confirmed incidents and potentially dozens more - there are even rumors that one of the most famous reunions, that of Mayor Leonard Snart and Archon Mick Rory, featured some of this!
Wally didn't want to tell Len about the rumors at first, that much was obvious, but if the last few months of fighting side-by-side has done anything, it's taught Len every single one of the kid's tells.
"Tell me," Len orders.
Wally tells him.
Len gets up and goes to solve the problem, because he'd known that there was some type of pernicious rumor dampening morale and he'd even known more or less who was spreading it, he hadn't know exactly what it was. The downside of leadership, he supposed; they tried as much as possible to keep him out of the loop.
He hated being out of the loop.
Maybe he should establish a spy network? That's what the television said leaders did instead of gossiping.
He'd ask at the next general assembly meeting. The LARPers will support him, at least; they think that stuff’s cool.
Mick will think it’s cool, if he ever manages to escape the stupid temple they’re building for him. Oh, sure, they’re calling it a ‘gathering place’, but Len knows what they really mean, even if Mick hasn’t quite accepted the reality of it yet.
The knot of ill-wind huddled around the statue of Bovine that oversaw the side lawn in front of the Agricultural Studies Department. It was easily accessible from the front lawn and from multiple buildings; they were going to have quite an audience.
Eyes followed Len, as they always did; he'd become uncomfortably aware that many of the people who came in through the quarantine lines saw Len as personally responsible for saving them, which was of course absurd and undoubtedly the remnants of shock after being attacked by zombies. Many had heeded Len's early hijacked radio announcements - courtesy of the combined efforts of the media studies college-radio host and the comp-sci hackers - to stay in their homes, that rescue was coming; many had thought it was a lie and expected death, so they were pleasantly surprised when Len's squads collected them and hurried them over to quarantine.
Len knows how to play an audience, though, and he's worn his blue parka so much that the mere sight of it acts like a beacon.
So all eyes are on him when he stops in front of the small crowd of students milling around the statute.
"I hear," he drawls, eyeing them all, "that somebody here's got some beef with the Flash."
Silence for a long moment.
And then foolishness prevails, someone assuming that Len's reputation was a better guide than his tone of voice.
"He abandoned us!" someone shouts. "He should have been here to stop the zombies, and he wasn't!"
"He's fast! He could have saved all those people!"
"Where is he, anyway? Hiding or something?"
"Yeah!" "That's right!" "Where is he?"
Len waits until the crowd is bubbling with anger and then fires his cold gun into the air, letting the shockwaves of cold air silence people as effectively as a gunshot with less chance of the bullet hitting someone when gravity pulls it back down.
"Are you all stupid?" he asks as politely as he can, his voice pitched to carry. "Some of you are young, so I'll grant you that, but those of you who see yourself as past the age of reason - for shame."
"You know where he is?" one undergrad, who had been one of those yelling most fiercely, a raggedy Flash t-shirt barely visible under her coat, asks meekly.
"I know the Flash," Len answers, and he seriously can’t believe he has to do this. How quickly people forget. "I fought the Flash. You know as well as I do that he'd never abandon this city. You're just so used to him doing all the work that you've forgotten that he's just a man, in the end. He's a fucking volunteer."
His eyes review the ranks and they wilt before him.
"I'm sure you've all volunteered for something," he says, "either before or during this crisis. Ain't it hard, doing something without any expectation of reward? Throwing yourself - your body - against the worst this city can come up with on a regular basis? But the Flash does it. He does it again and again. And I am willing to bet that he's doing it now."
"But where is he?"
"The zombie plague came from somewhere," Len points out, carefully omitting that he actually did have a good idea of where the Flash was and what he was fighting, courtesy of Wally. Some information didn’t need to be shared, and the existence of a stable breach to an alternative dimension that wanted to poison yours was definitely one of them. "I'm willing to bet he's there, keeping the worst of it away. That, or he's dead and you're all on your own. Pick whichever theory you prefer."
"Why do you care?" someone in the back, feeling brave in their anonymity, shouts.
"He's my nemesis," Len says. "Judge a man by his enemies, and whatnot. But more importantly, I've never in my life blamed a volunteer for not being able to do more than they can, and I ain't starting now."
His eyes narrow. "And since you all seem pretty content sitting here, swapping grievances instead of helping out in quarantine, the clinic, the cafeteria, sanitation or the fields - it's not like we don't have options - I'm guessing you're all gonna be pretty happy with that tendency."
Several people look shame-faced.
Len consults his mental version of the enhanced catalogue they've made, the school version merged with the IDs of everyone who they brought inside.
"Katy," he says to one. "You're chemistry. I expect to see you helping out in the labs." Her eyes go wide. "Rakesh," he continues. "Shira. Matt. The cafeteria needs extra help today."
He goes down the line, smile painted firmly on his face, naming each of them and assigning them a task. It's a good thing he prepared ahead of time, noting who seemed to be the source of the trouble, because even Wally is gaping at him, utterly impressed, and that kid isn't surprised by anything anymore.
"Now," he says, concluding his recital, "you're all volunteers, you're all here, and right now, you're all we've got to rely on. No Flash, no heroes, just you. So get to it."
"Oh, and the next person who wants to talk shit about the Flash behind his back?" he adds, icy smile growing on his lips. "Just remember that the Flash beat me once, one on one, and I'd be more than happy to find myself a new nemesis to keep me busy while he's gone. Anyone who thinks they're better than he is had better be ready to prove it."
Oddly enough, there don't seem to be many volunteers for that.
CALLOUT: do NOT apologize for zombies!!! they are mass murderers and MUST BE STOPPED. u cannot sympathize with zombies and still be on the side of their victims.. it is upestting and rude to all zombie
survivors. DO NOT NORMALIZE ZOMBIES. THEIR ACTIONS HURT PEOPLE AND ARE COMPLETEY INEXCUSABLE.
excuse me?? zombies were people just like us and we need to HELP them, it isn’t there fault that their killing people, their sick and not in their right mind, we need to find a CURE, not just
MURDER these INNOCENT PEOPLE
*their *they’re *they’re
you’re argument is invalid. go back to 2nd grade, where your politics belong
Guys, you’re taking this all too seriously.
they were KILLING PEOPLE. WTF even is WITH this hellsite
"We've been gone how long?!" Cisco exclaims.
"Six months," Felicity explains, staring at the screen. "Looks like it was a six to one ratio - one day there, six here. And it's, uh - there's a communications blackout. Mostly."
"What? Why?" Iris asks.
"Uh," Felicity says.
Sara peers over her shoulder. "Wait," she says. "Zombies? But I thought - we went to stop them!"
"We did," Joe says grimly. "Some of it must have gotten through regardless." He rubs his hands on his face. "God, and Wally's still there."
"Thea," Oliver breathes.
"We have to go back to Central," Barry says. His hands are shaking. His city - he'd thought he was doing the right thing, chasing the cure and fighting the Necromantics, the inventors of the plague, all the way back to their own dimension, and in the meantime, his city, his responsibility was...
"Actually," Felicity says, "looks like Central's doing okay."
"No, really - I'm reading military chatter, and Central City gets mentioned a whole bunch of times. Like, a bunch of times. By the time the military showed up to offer help - and not much help, either, we're talking, like, food drops - the city said thanks but no thanks, we're doing okay. And then started broadcasting - through the electrical grid they set up themselves after the military knocked the old one down, yeesh, now they’re just trying to make the rest of us look bad - information to other cities. They've got quarantine methods, zombie fighting methods - hell, they've been doing a weekly seminar on how to keep zombies away from your crops, and that's, like, not even a serious issue yet."
"They did say they would be interested in a cure if it were found," Felicity adds. "Their new mayor, that is; he's the one that led the whole movement against the zombies."
Iris nudges Barry. "Looks like we made the right choice after all."
Barry smiles helplessly. "Yeah," he says. "Maybe." There was something he wanted to say, something profound, maybe, about how much it means that they all got up to fight, that Central, of all overlooked places, is now standing out as a beacon of hope to the rest of the country...
"Our city is so much cooler than yours," Cisco crows.
"We should still head back," Barry says, not even trying to hide his grin. "Oliver, unless you need help?"
Oliver shakes his head. "Easier without you, to be honest," he says. "Star City is - complicated. At the best of times."
“I’ll stick around and help Oliver,” Sara offers. “You go, Barry.”
Barry nods, and turns to look at his friends - Joe and Iris, Cisco and Caitlin. "C'mon, guys. I wanna meet this new mayor. Looks like we've got a lot to thank him for."
"As president of the United States during these dark times," the president says, "it is my honor to bestow upon these heroes a medal that they have long deserved. We recognized them first during the alien invasion of 2016, and there we recognized them as heroes - individuals, meta or human, that were willing to put themselves forward to help their fellow man at risk to themselves."
Barry shifts awkwardly.
Oliver doesn't shift at all.
Sara looks like she wishes she was literally anywhere else.
"These heroes took the fight to its origin, fighting the creators of the zombie plague to a standstill and returning, triumphant, with a vaccine designed to prevent any new infections -"
"Only six months late," Barry mutters under his breath. He was still pissed about that. Six months, his city had been without its hero, while he piddled around fighting bad guys in an alternate dimension.
Not that his city had been in bad hands...well, technically ‘bad’ hands, but not, like, bad hands…
"We got the cure," Sara points out, also sotto voce.
"Shhhh. She's getting to our part," Oliver interjects.
They quiet down, then step forward when instructed to let the president pin medals onto them.
"Now, our heroes will say a few words."
Oliver nudges Barry. They'd agreed that he should do it, since he was well known as the Flash - though less well known than Oliver Queen - and he could adjust his voice like he'd stopped doing in Central ages ago. Also, he was apparently "charming".
Barry goes forward. "Thanks," he says. "We appreciate these medals; nothing means more to us than the people we protect, and we are honored to do so. We do it because it's the right thing to do, not for any thanks - but it sure is nice!" He pauses to let the audience laugh, which they do, then changes from his prepared remarks. "I'd also like to thank you, the people, for standing up when we couldn't be here. In city after city, town after town, people stood up and showed that you don't need meta powers or special training to be a hero in a crisis. This medal belongs as much to you, people of America - people of the world - as it does to me. We do what we do not because we think you can't. We know you can. We do it because you shouldn't have to."
Oliver is glaring hard enough that Barry's half-worried he'll develop Kara's heat vision.
"We should have been there during the zombie crisis, done more, and trust me, no one regrets our absence more than me," he continues anyway. "But you don't need us - and you proved it. Thank you."
"I'm going to kill you," Oliver says once they’re backstage.
"He wasn't wrong," Sara points out.
"That sounded like a retirement speech."
"It wasn't," Barry says. "But I do think we should be partnering more with local authorities. Look at how much they achieved."
"Your city got taken over by a supervillain while you were gone."
"He's the mayor now," Barry replies. "You need to get over it already."
People were happy to see him.
The Flash, that is. He got waves and a handful of "Hey, Flash!"s, and no one seemed to hold it against him that he'd been gone.
They made it almost all the way to the university center - they'd been excused from quarantine only because they'd been in a different universe, and anyway there were people hanging around to keep an eye on them in case they turned - before someone calls out, "Hey, Flash! Where you been?"
"I, uh," Barry says. "Fighting the guys that invented the zombie thing. Getting a cure."
"Knew it," the guy responds in satisfaction, and turns back to what he'd been doing - repairing one of the barricades that seemed to dot the city now.
Somehow word spread, though, and less than fifteen minutes later a horde descended.
Well, just like eight or ten people, but they felt like a horde.
Biochemistry majors and professional chemists and pharma people and Tina McGee, who was a horde all by herself, in the lead.
"You have a cure?" she asks Caitlin.
"Yes," Caitlin replies, and is promptly whisked away to the wonders of science and medicine.
Barry feels a bit like a supporting character in someone else's (Caitlin's) exciting biomedical thriller/action novel. It's kind of a nice feeling.
Joe rejoins them.
“I thought you were going to find Wally,” Iris says.
“Apparently he’s in the mayor’s office,” Joe says, shrugging. He looks relieved; hearing that Wally was doing okay had clearly lifted a weight off his shoulders. He grins. “Besides, I want to meet this new mayor, too. Where did Caitlin…?”
“Don’t ask,” Cisco says.
Good to know that he was just as shaken by the horde as Barry was.
Then they get to the university and get shown into the mayor's office.
"Flash!" Snart exclaims from behind the desk.
"Captain Cold?!" Cisco hisses.
"Flash, tell me you're here to arrest me," Snart demands.
"Um," he says. "I don't think so?"
"None of the police will do it anymore," Snart says. His eyes are rimmed with red, like he's been having trouble sleeping. "Waste of time, the whole lot. But you're a superhero. You could do it. Just pop me over to Iron Heights."
"We'd have you back by lunchtime," Wally says. He's slumped over a nearby chair. "And then you'd still have to attend the council meeting."
Snart sighs. "Fine," he says sulkily. "Never mind, then."
"Wally!" Joe exclaims. "Are you okay?"
"He's fine," Snart says snippily. "He's no doubt skipping the meeting on the basis of a long-awaited family reunion."
"You bet your ass I am, boss," Wally replies fondly.
"Wally, hold up a damn second," Joe says. "Why are you calling Leonard Snart boss?"
"I'm his secretary," Wally says. "Or possibly chief henchman. It varies by the day, really."
They all stare at him.
"Oh, and he's also the mayor now," Wally adds.
LOOK AT THESE GIFS. LOOK AT THEM. How are these people real???
I love it when Snart and Rory kiss in public. It’s so fucking cute.
This gives me life. Look at that adorable little face Rory makes when Snart kisses him!! [awwyouhaveacrushonmethat’ssoembarassingwe’remarriedstill.gif]
see this is why I can’t believe either of them is cheating with that Barry Allen guy
yes, but have you considered: possible polyamory??
there’s no way to tell for sure tho!! at least we know the Ramon Glider ship is sailing – they’ve been going on dates like all the time
god those two make me so happy [lifegoals.gif]
“Joe’s still pissed off,” Barry reports.
“Let him be,” Iris says dismissively. “I’ve got your back, bro.”
“You’re the best,” Wally says. “Actually…”
“That wasn’t an offer to help with your paperwork!”
“Not paperwork!” he says, though he looks shifty-eyed. “Just – could you go out with Barry to the airport field over in Ashberry?”
“That’s outside of the line,” Barry says, frowning. “I know we’ve been distributing the cure, but…”
“But you’re a super speedster and can get them all,” Wally says earnestly. “So it, like, shouldn’t be a problem!”
“I’m helping repair the walls…”
“It’ll be super short,” Wally promises. “I just need someone to go pick up Lisa or else the boss gonna want to do it himself and that’s just – no.”
“I’ll do it,” Cisco says. “Uh. I mean. If no one else is. I could do it.”
His attempt at being casual fools literally nobody.
“I’ll take Cisco with me,” Iris says.
“But!” Barry protests.
“Relax,” Wally says. “Cisco, Iris, and two squads.”
“I don’t need two squads of backup,” Iris says, scowling.
“Probably not,” Wally says. “But it’s the rules. You don’t want to put up a bad example for everyone else, do you?”
Iris eyes him. “You’re getting sneaky.”
“I’m a politician’s aide,” Wally says. “I don’t have a choice.”
“Can we go now?” Cisco says hopefully. “I want to see Lisa.”
Iris rolls her eyes.
"You had better make the weather fucking perfect," Lisa says poisonously to Mardon.
"It's perfect," he assures her. "75, sunny, scattering of clouds, mild breeze."
"The sound systems are perfect," he sniffs. "Do you really have to ask?"
"I've done a head-count of all the guests, everyone's here, and your fiancé is being talked down from a panic attack by the Flash, who's here in costume," she reports.
"Scudder and Rosa?"
"Banned from the premises and locked up as tight as Iron Heights, the Flash, and your brother can manage," Iris reports.
"Good," Lisa says. "Boys, you're dismissed; girls, help me adjust my veil."
"I still can't believe you're getting married," Shawna sighs.
"I still can't believe it's going to be covered by the international media," Iris says. She’s not jealous. Really.
"Don't worry, you get the first interview afterwards," Lisa says soothingly. "Or whatever Cisco's next invention is going to be."
"I'd better," Iris says, and they share a grin. They hadn't anticipated becoming friends, but somehow it'd happened.
Probably sometime around Lisa literally flying back in with a tan and offering to take Iris to her secret island next time there was an invasion of some variety.
There had been protests that there would be no next time, but Iris very reasonably pointed out that their track record hadn’t been great.
After that, well, what with Lisa becoming her brother’s unofficial media spokesperson slash chief of staff, it was really only business sense to cultivate the relationship. And they got to regularly have lunch on Central City Picture News’ dime, something they could both appreciate.
Lisa’s face twitches.
“Yes, you’re getting married,” Iris says immediately, recognizing the onset of nerves. “Yes, it’s a good idea – even Len likes Cisco – and yes, your dad is really, truly, totally dead. Deader than dead. We’re planning on having Mardon hit his grave with lightning as a wedding present.”
Lisa grins. “You don’t have to,” she says, but her shoulders are more relaxed. “Not that I’d object. God, how do people do this? This whole wedding thing is just nerve-wracking.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have had it at City Hall.”
“But irony points. Also, honestly, where else could we get a reservation at such short notice?”
“Come rain, snow, or zombie invasion, the bridal market in Central City is as competitive as ever,” Iris says. “I’m going to have to book mine years in advance, when it happens.”
“If Len’s still mayor, you could do it here,” Lisa offers.
“You know, I’m suddenly convinced of the virtues of eloping…”
The girls all giggle.
Mardon and Hartley look at each other and make a quick exit.
“Boys,” Lisa says, shaking her head and watching them run. “I clearly got the best of the lot.”
“And just think,” Shawna says, grinning, “you’ll be marrying him in less than two hours.”
“Allen, swing by my place later tonight, will you?” Len says to Barry as they walk down the main street. “This isn’t really the time. Or place.”
“Right,” Barry says. “I keep forgetting how busy you are nowadays.”
Len rolls his eyes and drops his voice, mindful of the fact that there are paparazzi and camera phones everywhere. “The fact that you’re even coming to me with your super secret plans to establish a metahuman superhero base in Central City is already weird enough. My reputation won’t take much more of this.”
“You’re the mayor,” Barry hisses, leaning back in towards Len. “Your so-called ‘reputation’ is totally shot.”
“Well, it is.”
Barry glares back.
“Gimme one good reason why I shouldn’t reject your proposal out of hand from sheer spite, Scarlet,” Len says back, voice still dropped down low enough that Barry has to lean in closer to hear.
“A, because you’re a better mayor than that,” Barry says. “B, you wouldn’t reject anything out of hand, you’re way too petty for that. You’d let me do the whole presentation first, then reject it.”
“You know me well,” Len says, nodding a little.
“But that’s not the main reason you’re not going to reject the proposal,” Barry says confidently.
“Then what is?”
“Because having the Hall of Justice be located in Central City would be so. freaking. cool.”
“…excellent point. Also, who the hell named it that? Cisco? There's gotta be something better.”
Len shakes his head in amusement and turns to go to his next meeting. How did his schedule have so many meetings? Twisting a little, he calls back over his shoulder, “This evening, my place, 8 PM. And for once in your life, don’t be late.”
“Yeah, yeah. Tell me I’m wrong.”
He leaves Barry in the street shrugging helplessly in an admission of guilt.
“Umbrellas!” the man calls out as the group entered the open-air marketplace in Central City Square, multiple individuals checking the darkening sky with some concern. “Get set, don’t get wet! If you pass me by, you won’t stay dry!”
“Fresh fruit, straight from the orchards of Keystone!” a woman shouts from another stall. “Get them fresh right now; they won’t last long! Ripe fruit, fresh fruit, get your fruit here!”
“Leather is better!” a man in a shop filled with bags and boots and other items cries out. “Finest leather goods in Central City! You won’t find any better than our leather!”
“Magazines!” another man calls. “Get your latest news fix here! All the celebrity gossip you could want! Actors, actresses, politicians – you know you want to know!”
One of the group slows down and heads that way to squint at magazine covers. “Hey, guys, look at this!” the young man calls back to the main group. “The title of this one is ‘Barry Allen: Homewrecker Extraordinaire.’”
“What the fuck,” another young man in the group says indignantly, ducking his head when people look over at his exclamation as if he could hide his face.
The first young man pays the magazine seller out of pocket – ten dollars and one Central City credit for good measure – and then carries the magazine in question back. “No, look,” he says, grinning. “On page four – ‘The mysterious Barry Allen, which has of late attracted so much attention from our esteemed mayor, maybe as more than merely a friendly visitor –’”
“Barry, for shame,” one of the woman says, starting to laugh.
“‘He has been seen in company with Mayor Snart at odd hours, including the two of them emerging late at night from Mayor Snart’s office…’”
“That was business!” the second young man squawks. “You know, running business!”
“‘And he has also been seen in the company of Mr. Rory in the evenings –’”
“Wait, hold up, which one is he supposed to be cheating on which one with?” a second young woman says, grinning.
The first young man flips through the pages. “Uh – huh, looks like he’s double-timing Snart with Rory and Rory with Snart, and neither of them have figured it out yet.”
“That’s the most unlikely bit about the whole thing so far,” a dark-skinned young man puts in. “Snart not figuring it out, I mean.”
“Oh, look, Barry’s also apparently pregnant with a zombie baby.”
“The way of the tabloids is strange and mysterious, Bear,” the second woman says. “Just accept it.”
“I hate all of you. Why is this even still being published?”
“Morale, and also Lisa thinks this shit’s funny.”
“But seriously. Why do tabloids get to survive the zombie apocalypse?”
“Zombie crisis, Barry; the world’s still going. And are you really surprised?”
---------The End and the Beginning---------
"I demand that you do something about this injustice," Len says to Barry before falling face-first onto the couch.
Mick was on the couch.
Mmm, Mick. That was fine; he could stay.
Barry just snickered, the ungrateful little brat.
Len lifts his head a little - not too much, Mick has put his hands on the back of Len's neck and started rubbing, and he doesn't want to discourage that - and glares at Barry.
"I take it from that you're going to just stand by and do nothing while this continues."
"Yep," Barry says.
"Some superhero you are."
"Terrible," Barry replies.
"Standing by idly while your city's citizens are being horribly abused - ugh, yeah, Mick, just there; a little harder, will you?"
Mick complies, smirking.
"Len," Barry says, sounding reasonable, which was surely a sign of the end of the world. "It's not abuse that your staff wants you to run for governor."
"But I don't want to run for governor."
"You shouldn't have agreed, then," Barry points out.
"Wally snuck it by me," Len says resentfully. "He's as fast as you, now."
"I'm sure that helps him with the paperwork," Barry says soothingly.
"So much paperwork," Len agrees with a groan. "I think Wally is planning on taking over the world and using me to do it."
"I'm sure you're very proud of him, you being a former supervillain and all," Barry says.
Len considers this. "Well, yeah," he says. "But does he have to be so public-spirited about it?"
"Just do me a favor," Mick rumbles, hands still moving very pleasantly on Len's neck.
"Sure," Len says drowsily. "Name it."
"Don't become president."
"Hah, please," Len says. "I'm a former supervillain and I have this for a family life. What's the likelihood of that ever happening?"