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Like It's The End of the World

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            It was a pity Castle Gloria had been built in a time of peace. It was intended to show off the newfound wealth of its builder, Luminous Benedict, not hold off a siege. It wasn't the fortress Schloss Eberbach was.

            Which was part of the reason Lord Gloria was surprised to see the owner of Schloss Eberbach on the security cameras that surrounded the castle grounds. Really, it should have been the reverse; he should have been asking the Major for asylum, except that he wasn't about to chance the trip to Germany under the circumstances.

            The Major and a dozen of his loyal men, in a large armored car, all armed to the teeth.

            "Are you going to let us in?" the Major was asking into the gate intercom, his tone one of resignation. The intercom and cameras only still worked because Castle Gloria had its own backup generator.

            Dorian quickly reached for the intercom button, but Bonham beat him to it, stoutly ignoring his lord's authority. "Sorry, Major," he said firmly, "but we lost some of our own by letting in some blokes we knew who'd been bitten. You'll have to follow the same admission procedure as everyone else if you want in."

            "Which is?"

            "Bonham, it's the Major!" Dorian hissed.

            Bonham only hesitated for a second before he told the Major the same thing he had told Caesar Gabriel and everyone else who'd come around. "You're going to have to turn the truck around so we can see what's inside through the camera, Major, and then you're all going to have to disrobe so we can see if any of you've been bitten."

            The Major's only demurral was a brief twist of the lips, which just went to show that the world really was ending. He and the others piled out of the truck and stripped down with little hesitation; these days no one could blame a homeowner for being cautious. Dorian watched glumly, unable to enjoy the sight at all. He had imagined the first time he got to see Klaus naked thousands of times, but none of his daydreams had included his trusted lieutenant checking that muscled body for bite marks.

            None of the Germans had been bitten. When Bonham gave his approval through the intercom, they got dressed and turned the truck around. Bonham scrutinized it carefully, but all he could see was machine guns, flame-throwers and explosive substances, nothing suspicious.

            "All right," Bonham conceded, "you chaps can come in. But take care nothing else comes in with you."

            "Aren't I supposed to be in charge here, Bonham?" the Earl asked blandly as Bonham switched off the intercom.

            "It's my job to protect you and the castle, me lord," Bonham answered, unrepentant. "Anyway, don't worry, your bloke is all right."

            Dorian didn't answer. He was too busy hurrying to the front door. He passed Jones on the way. When the man jumped to his feet in alarm, Dorian explained quickly, "The Major's here. He's all right."

            Reaching the front door, Dorian threw it open. The Major was telling two of the alphabets to guard the truck. Without preamble, Dorian ran to Klaus and threw his arms around him, heedless of the armaments weighing his beloved down.

            Dorian expected to be shoved away instantly, but instead Klaus gave a resigned sigh and patted his back. When Dorian pulled his head back in surprise, Klaus met his eyes and said, "I am relieved to see that you are all right."

            Then he kissed him. Their first kiss, with no warning, right in front of both their teams.

            No question about it, the world was ending.


            Safely inside, gathered around the mile-long dining table, the Major looked at the members of the Eroica team. Eroica himself, Bonham, Jones, Macauley, Geoffrey. No John Paul, no Nigel, no Francois. No James.

            Klaus cleared his throat. "Where…."

            Dorian shook his head.

            "I'm sorry," Klaus said, and actually sounded as if he meant it.

            Dorian nodded once, and then his own eyes went over the remains of the alphabet, noting the absences without comment.

            Klaus didn't make him ask. "They got Z and F. The others were all right when we left Bonn."

            "Why did you come here? It's no safer here than in Germany," Dorian asked. Macauley was distributing rations; thankfully, Castle Gloria had enough canned goods stockpiled to last through at least four apocalypses. It was starting to look like they might have to.

            "Because I discovered that the zombie master is in London," Klaus explained.

            Bonham spoke up. "I thought it was tommyrot about there being one man controlling all these beasties. We've been seeing quite a lot of zombies, you know, and they struck us as being rather freelance."

            Klaus shook his head. "Not tommyrot. It cost a man's life to get the information back to Bonn." He lit the cigarette Dorian offered with an air of relief. "The plague was begun deliberately by a man who learned the technique. The method's been known for centuries, but has always been kept a close secret. The outbreaks have been rare and relatively small."

            "Why would anyone do this purposely? All the zombies have done is killed whatever random people they got hold of."

            "To wreak havoc. The zombie master is quite simply a psychopath; a Dr. Anton Phibes."

            "I never did like Phibby," Dorian remarked. "He was always doing karaoke renderings of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'." The thieves, and G, shuddered.

            "He has the apparatus that creates the condition in his home," Klaus explained. "If we can destroy it, all of the zombies in the world will die – permanently this time." A plate was put in front of him and he set to promptly. Dorian tried not to think about what the journey must have been like: the undead everywhere, roads full of wrecked cars, electricity out all over the place, supplies of every kind being looted, people panicking. Television and the internet had both collapsed weeks ago, but radio broadcasts still made it through occasionally, and it seemed the death toll had reached one billion already and was still climbing, and the plague had spread all over the world. It was beginning to seem to Dorian as though the zombies were going to wipe out the human race. After which they would start killing each other, he supposed, until there was only one of them left in the world.

            "You really think you can stop it?" Dorian asked, afraid to hope.

            "Yes," Iron Klaus answered calmly. And for the first time in what felt like an eternity, Dorian began to think this might not be the end of the world.

            "We'll help any way we can, won't we, lads?" Bonham offered.

            "Thank you," Klaus said. He was clearly trying to hide his fatigue, but it showed in his voice and posture just the same. "All we really need is a safe place to sleep. We have the materials we need to take out Phibes's lair. We'll do it in the morning." He frowned. "We should do it right away, but it's another three hours' journey at least, and we couldn't make it without some rest, let alone carry out our plan."

            "Then rest you shall have," Dorian said firmly. "As soon as you're done eating, we'll show you to your rooms."

            The Major met his eyes and arched an eyebrow.


             After eating, the Major simply stood up and approached his host. Dorian held his gaze for a few seconds before silently heading for his own room, leaving his team to look after the alphabets. The Major fell into step beside him.

            "I miss the Cold War," Klaus said after a moment.

            "I've heard a distressing number of people say that," Dorian replied. "Even before the zombies."

            "Communists were a lot better to deal with than terrorists," Klaus agreed.

            "And how do terrorists rank compared to zombies?"

            "Their body count has broken all previous records," Klaus said heavily. "Communism, fascism and terrorism put together can't top it. Also, while it isn't actually true that Mussolini was the one who made the trains run on time, those systems did leave most of the infrastructure intact. Most of the time."

            Still not really believing he would get away with it, Dorian took Klaus's arm. Klaus didn't shake him off or shove him away. Instead he gave Dorian's hand a brief squeeze.

            "Why now?" Dorian asked in a low voice as they entered his bedroom.

            Klaus didn't look at him. "Civilization is in shambles, our enemies are too busy trying to keep their brains in their skulls to bother us, a sixth of the human race has been killed in the last two months. All of the reasons I had for refusing seem fairly trivial now."

            Dorian closed and bolted the door. He should have been pouncing on the Major, but worry had him too on edge. "Are you sure I can't help you tomorrow, Major?"

            "I don't know with what. I need to break in, but not stealthily; I was just going to blow the door up."

            "You might need some help anyway. I'd better come with you."

            "I'd rather know you were safe here."

            Dorian resisted the impulse to be gratified. Klaus, concerned for his safety. Surely such a thing must have happened before, but the Major had kept it well hidden. "So I can sit around being terrified and having no idea what's going on? I think not." He went to the sideboard and poured them each a drink. He didn't know about Klaus, but he needed something to steady his nerves.

            "If you insist," Klaus conceded, accepting his drink.

            "How do you know it was Phibby?"

            "NATO has been monitoring his activities for some time now. We suspect he was responsible for some very nasty mass murders some years back, but it took us years just to trace the lead back to him. The alphabet and I have been combing the top secret archives for any clue – I think Z got caught because he was in shock over something he read. When we found a few facts that at first seemed irrelevant, about odd purchases and so on, and then one agent managed to get back to us with an eyewitness report… suddenly it all fell into place."

            "And you can really stop this?" Stopping even one zombie was damn near impossible. Castle Gloria was only safe – inasmuch as any place on earth was safe anymore – because of the electric fence. The only way to stop a zombie was to burn it to a crisp – electrocuting it was an acceptable method. Anyone they bit without eating their brains died and then became one of them. Stopping the ever-increasing lot of them had come to seem an impossible dream.

            And to think Dorian had once enjoyed the Thriller video.

            Klaus sat down on the edge of the bed wearily and thought it over before answering. "Did you know that there were fourteen separate plots by the German Army to assassinate Hitler?" He paused before adding with quiet pride, "My father was involved in three of them."

            "You never told me that!"

            Klaus shrugged. "I did not want to brag. I refuse to abdicate responsibility for what my country has done."

            Dorian sat beside him and put an arm around the German's shoulders. "Klaus, you weren't even born then."

            "That does not mean that I can evade the responsibility for protecting my people from their own follies. Perhaps it is simply human nature for people to do nasty things to each other. But if there is something in the German soul, the German character that makes us more prone to it than some, then we must never forget what we are capable of."

            "I think people in general are loathesome," Dorian opined, though since experiencing the undead, the living had started to look better to him all the time. "Besides, you just said yourself that even at Germany's worst hour, there were Germans trying to save their country from itself, by killing the ringleader."

            "Yes. But they all made the same mistake."

            Dorian was going to ask what that mistake was, but Klaus kissed him before he could, and a few moments later he had forgotten.


            Dorian was being shaken. All he wanted to do was keep sleeping, but the last few weeks had affected his habits. He reluctantly but very quickly opened his eyes and started to sit up, expecting to see the undead shambling through the door.

            "Shh, it's all right," Klaus's voice said softly. It was Klaus who had been shaking him, Klaus whose arms were still around him. Klaus who was still warm and naked and pressed against him. Dorian smiled, surprised that he still knew how. It seemed like a long time since he had last smiled.

            "What is it, then?" Dorian whispered, letting his head fall back onto the pillow of Klaus's shoulder.

            "There's something I have to tell you, and I might forget if I wait until morning."

            Dorian struggled not to sink back into sleep. "What is it?"

            "I love you."

            Dorian opened his eyes again. Klaus was gazing at him steadily.

            "You do?"


            "And you thought you might forget this if you waited till morning?"

            "Well, I have a lot on my mind these days," Klaus answered, holding him closer.

            Dorian went back to sleep with the smile still on his face.


            Dorian still insisted on accompanying Klaus and the alphabet at dawn the following morning. His team tried to talk him out of it, but they lost simply because there was no time to argue. Klaus requested that he stay behind one last time, right before they left. Dorian refused. He was terrified of leaving the safety of his estate with all those hideous creatures roaming around, but the thought of spending the day worrying about Klaus and wondering what was happening was even more harrowing.

            The outside world looked even worse than it had the last time Dorian had seen it, which had been weeks ago. They kept having to leave the road and drive on grass or sidewalk because of the wrecked cars blocking the road. They saw a couple of groups of the living, foraging for food or supplies, huddled close together, armed with torches. All the people looked at them warily, even though as far as Dorian knew, no zombie had yet learned to drive a truck. They were stupid beyond belief. All they knew to do was mindlessly pursue humans and, when they caught them, eat them.

            In time what they had all feared came to pass: a rather large clump of the undead were staggering along the road, blocking it. A stopped the car. The zombies saw them and started lurching towards them. It might actually have been better if the creatures had looked hungry or predatory or malicious, but none of them had any expression at all. They were just eating machines. Dorian balled his hands into fists at his side, staring at the monsters through the windshield, resisting the urge to cling to Klaus for reassurance.

            Klaus and two of the alphabets stepped out of the truck. Dorian held his breath, trying to tell himself that Klaus knew what he was doing.

            Which he did. With a depressingly practiced motion, he hoisted his flamethrower and incinerated several of the animated corpses. His alphabets did the same, almost in concert. A couple of minutes later, the zombie gang was, quite literally, toast.

            Klaus and the other two got back into the car, and Dorian was able to breathe again. He started to feel… not unafraid, that would be impossible as well as idiotic, but at least less terrified. Nothing was as bad when you had a truckfull of stout lads with flame-throwers on your side.

            "I've never been to Phibby's house," Dorian remarked as they parked in front of the utterly vulgar mansion. Really, a parvenu who'd made his fortune in detergent or something wouldn't have built such a dreadful place. There were several zombies roaming aimlessly around. When the truck stopped, they started roaming aimfully towards it, but they were promptly chargrilled. A handful lurked resentfully about, in sight but just out of flamethrower range.

            "Pity. In about fifteen minutes, it won't be there anymore," Klaus said briskly. "You're staying here with A and G. B and V, you put the explosives by the side entrance. D and T…."

            The Major assigned all of them a spot, and then took a bomb himself. "Where's yours going, Major?" Dorian asked, hoping to at least have something more concrete to worry about.

            "Right on the apparatus itself. I'll blast the door open, go in, blow up the damned thing, and get out. It's the only way to be sure."

            "Major, you shouldn't go alone-"

            "I'll be fine. Dr. Phibes is going to be too busy trying to save his own skin to interfere with me. He'll have to get out of the mansion if he wants to live."

            With that, the Major and his agents left the truck and fanned out to their assigned targets. Dorian couldn't help moving to follow, but A got a firm grip on him. "Pardon, my lord, but my boss will feed me to the zombies if I let you endanger yourself."

            Well, at least it proved that Klaus cared.

            Dorian settled back into his seat, but stared out the window in frustration. "Just when I thought the world couldn't become more like the Twilight Zone, the Major and I…." He trailed off, even though of course they knew, what with Klaus kissing him right in front of them all and openly following him to his bedroom the night before.

            "Nothing seems to be the same these days," G agreed softly.

            "If – when he stops them," Dorian said slowly, "what do you suppose the world will be like? Will we be able to just pick up like we were before?"

            A looked grim. "There's been a complete societal breakdown, plus incalculable property damage. Not counting that every single person on earth has to have lost someone they loved. At best, it'll be a few dreary years of rebuilding the farms and factories and power companies. And the entire world's been hit just as hard, so there'll be no place to evacuate to and no foreign aid from anywhere. At worst, every nutty group in the world will see this as a chance to seize power."

            "Maybe the Major's thought of that," Dorian said slowly. "Last night, he was talking about the German Army's plots to assassinate Hitler. He said that every one of them made the same mistake."

            "Which was?" G asked.

            "He didn't say."

            A considered. "The most famous attempt was the July 20th Plot, in 1944. Hitler's chief of staff put a bomb inside his briefcase and took it to a meeting." A zombie lurched towards them, coming within range, and A stepped out of the truck long enough to incinerate it before getting back in and continuing. "He placed the case under the table and after a few minutes made some excuse and left the room and headed for his plane. It seems that after he left, someone stubbed their toe on the case – anyway, for some reason they moved the briefcase so that the table leg, which was very thick, was between the case and the Führer. So when it went off, the blast didn't kill its intended victim. Unfortunately," A added with sudden bitterness.

            "So what did he do wrong?" G asked aloud.

            "Didn't bolt the bomb down?" A suggested. "No, that wouldn't be practical."

            Klaus clearly had been thinking about that plot. He was making a valiant attempt to restore humanity's hope today. He had spent the night at Castle Gloria. With Dorian. He had woken Dorian up just to say that he loved him, instead of waiting until the next time they made love….

            Dorian suddenly turned very cold. "He left."


            "If that man had stayed, his briefcase wouldn't have been moved. The assassination would have been a success. His mistake was trying to get away with his life!" Dorian lunged for the door again, and this time A didn't try to stop him. All three of them jumped out and started running, but they had only gone a few yards before the first explosion sounded. It must have been Klaus's bomb, the one right on the apparatus, because they didn't see any smoke or flames, just heard the sound and saw a couple of windows shatter.

            They stopped in their tracks and Dorian found that he was clutching the arms of both his companions. It was a full minute before the rest of the explosions sounded, and the house became a mass of billowing flames and smoke. "Get down!" A shouted, and the three of them hit the ground automatically, burying their faces in the grass. Bits of glass and stone rained down upon them, warm from the blast.

            When they looked up again, it was all over but the smoldering.

            Or so they thought. To their horror, a tall, lanky figure staggered out of the rubble. It wasn't the stiff stagger of a zombie, but of an injured human. It wasn't Klaus; too tall, too thin, the wrong hair.

            "Phibby!" Dorian hissed.

            It was Dr. Phibes himself, injured but miraculously alive despite the explosion, surviving to wreak havoc anew.

            A and G both grimly readied their flame-throwers and started towards the man, but before they could fire, a stream of flame from another angle made straight for the man and charcoaled him. He screamed loud and long before collapsing, and by that time nothing, dead or undead, could have survived.

            Dorian stared at the wreckage, unable to move. He shivered despite the heat, and nothing was going to be all right again.

            "We're saved," G pointed out softly. "Look."

            Reluctantly, Dorian and A turned around. The zombies who had been lurking just out of range were now inanimate corpses, lying on the ground motionless as corpses were supposed to.

            Other agents began to join them from their various posts, studying the wreckage and the (genuinely) dead zombies. There was nothing adequate to the situation, so all of them were silent.

            They all stood there, staring silently, when a figure appeared in front of the dying flames. For a moment none of them could believe it, but there was only one man with that tromping gait. Dorian's eyes stretched even wider open, and then his legs abruptly gave way beneath him.

            When the Major reached them, he handed the flame-thrower to A. G quickly helped him off with the pack. Then Klaus looked down at Dorian curiously.

            "I thought-" Dorian began, but he couldn't say it. It might be bad luck.

            "You thought I was going to blow up a building with myself in it?" Klaus asked. "Either you're an idiot or you think I am."

            "You'd do it if you thought you had to," Dorian pointed out shakily. Klaus impatiently hauled the earl to his feet, only to have Dorian promptly wrap his arms around Klaus's neck and collapse against him. Klaus patted Dorian's back patronizingly, shaking his head.

            "What did they do wrong?" Dorian asked in a muffled voice after a minute.

            "None of them stuck around to implement a backup plan," Klaus answered promptly. "I knew the lunatic would escape, so I positioned myself at a good vantage point where I could torch them with the flame-thrower. I never thought I'd get a chance to use one of those," he added, sounding like a boy who had just played with his father's power tools.

            Dorian raised his head a moment to look at the former zombies lying about. All over the world the living must be seeing this, wondering if they were really safe now. Perhaps some had been saved with only seconds to spare. It might be days before anyone really believed that the nightmare was over, days before even radio could spread the news through the world.

            "It's over," Dorian whispered.

            "And we are going to make sure no one learns the means to do this again," Klaus said grimly. "Some things are beyond human forgiveness."

            "Yes. Today it's 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow', tomorrow it's raising zombies."