DISCLAIMER: Painkiller Jane and its characters are the property of Jimmy Palmiotti, Joe Quesada and the Sci-Fi Channel.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Vampires, Ghosts and Zombies challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"You can't be serious?" Jane stood in the center of the bus. She ran her hands over her face as the tension began to knot her shoulders sending sharp pains up the back of her neck.
"I'm serious as a fucking heart attack," JT replied. He actually worked at the auto center. He'd come in early on Saturday to finish a car. A decision that probably saved his life. He'd worked there for five years, had been a mechanic for almost twenty. "And I'm telling you - we can't fit them in this bus."
"Look," he pointed towards the remaining seats. "Normally this would probably seat seventy kids or thirty adults. When we made the modifications we made it exactly for everyone in the Mall. We ripped out half the seats to make room for everything else."
"Can't you take some of this out?" She knew the answer even before she asked the question. They'd removed the seats in the back to make room for the large tool chests that would hold the weaponry. They'd done the same in the front of the bus, one side for a weapons chest, the other held a large bin for the remaining food. The middle section had been removed for maneuverability, an emergency exit carved into the left side just in case.
"I could," he placed his hands on either side of the storage shelves built overhead. "But we both know that ain't my decision."
"Mo," Jane exhaled raggedly into the phone. "You want the good news first or the bad news?"
"Gimme the bad news."
"The bad news is there's no good news," she paused to chuckle weakly. "There's not enough room on the bus."
She could hear Maureen inhale deeply on the other end, followed by a long silence. "So what's the plan?"
"Right now, there isn't one," she looked down at her free hand. She'd balled it into a hardened fist, the knuckles pressing down hard on the desktop. They hadn't been apart since it all had begun. She'd lost too many friends. Losing Maureen wasn't an option. "I'm not leaving you behind."
"Never doubted it for a second."
Jane smiled softly at the statement. "How're you holding up?"
"Could use a margarita, and a massage and ooh a manicure. Other than that, I'm fine."
"How are your new friends doing?"
"Scared, tired, hungry and bored out of their skulls. Not much to do in a hardware store," she turned quiet for a moment. A serious quiet where Jane could feel the tension thickening even through the phone. "Listen Jane.."
"Save it," Jane cut her off. "We can talk later."
"I wasn't planning on talking later."
"What were you planning?"
"Do I really have to spell it out for you?"
"That's right. One track mind."
"Seriously, as far as future plans go, I only have three things on my mind - a margarita, a sauna.." She let her voice trail tauntingly.
"What's the third?"
Maureen's voice lowered to a soft purr. "It involves writing the alphabet with my tongue on a certain part of your anatomy."
"You really are a tease."
"And you're the best thing that's ever happened to me."
"I know, I know," Maureen cut her off. They'd started out as roommates back in their Academy days. Roommates that turned to friends, to partners. Now there was something more flickering between them. They knew each other inside and out but still with enough room for a few minor secrets. "You hate it when I get all mushy."
"No, it's not that. I love it when you get mushy."
"Okay, no, not really. I'd just rather you were getting mushy here with me rather than over the phone."
"Aww, that's so sweet," Maureen teased. "Would you rather have phone sex?"
"Seriously, Mo. One track mind."
Maureen chuckled on the other end. "It's either think about ripping your clothes off and doing unmentionable things to your body on every surface imaginable or battling an army of the dead."
"An army of the dead isn't going to keep me from you, and you ripping off my clothes and doing unmentionable things to my body."
"Now who's being a tease?"
"I mean it, Maureen." It was Jane's turn to be serious. "You're all I've ever wanted and I was an idiot for keeping you at arms length all this time. And now, holding you in my arms is all I want. And nothing and no one is going to keep me from you."
"C'mon, people," James raised his hands in an attempt to silence the crowd. They'd gathered in the Food Court, as they often did when there was a meeting. The topic was saving Maureen and the survivors. And it wasn't going very well. Jane knew asking a group of civilians to come up with a tactical plan was an effort in futility. JT didn't have enough supplies or materials to retrofit another large vehicle. Nor was there a vehicle in the near vicinity too retrofit. There also wasn't enough time. They could feel it hovering over them like a dark cloud. They were running out of food. The power went out in an ever increasing frequency. And the dead -
They were closing in.
A few days ago, there'd only been several hundred wandering the giant parking lot that surrounded the Mall. Sizeable enough to do some damage but still small enough to maneuver through for quick excursions.
Now, Jane estimated they were close to a thousand, with the number growing every hour. They were finally making their way off the interstate, seeking and searching for someplace familiar. It wouldn't be long before the sheer number of them broke through the Mall's defenses.
"People please!" James continued, his voice getting louder. "Can we focus on a plan?"
"I have a plan," Arthur shouted back. The crowd quieted down. "How about this? How about we worry about saving ourselves instead of a bunch of strangers?"
Jane marched across the floor. Before she could reach Arthur and ring his little neck and whipped out and smacked Arthur hard across the face.
"You shut your filthy little mouth!" Mona hissed angrily at him. "In the past two weeks, Maureen's saved your worthless hide more times than you can count. If you don't want to save her, YOU can stay here."
"Oh yeah," he puffed his chest. "Who's gonna stop me?"
Miguel stepped between Arthur and Mona. He had about six inches on Arthur and probably about fifty pounds of muscle. Miguel wasn't a fighter, just a Parks & Recreation Director. But he could obviously wipe the floor with Arthur, and they both knew it.
"I will," he stared at Arthur with cold and hard eyes. "Haven't seen you volunteering too much. I agree with Mona - you don't wanna help, you don't go."
"All right guys," James muscled his way between the two. "We are not leaving anyone behind." He turned his gaze towards Arthur. "And that means any survivors. So put your dick back in your pants and step back."
The two men backed off but not before Arthur muttered something under his breath before scurrying behind his minions, a number which had dwindled down to three.
James ran a hand over his head, exhaling deeply before he spoke. "Can we please get back to the issue at hand? Anyone have any ideas."
"I have an idea." This time it was JT who spoke up. He turned his gaze towards Jane. "But you ain't gonna like it."
"You've got to be fucking kidding me?" Maureen forced her voice down to a harsh whisper. "That's your plan?"
"It's the only one that's feasible with the time we have. Which isn't a lot."
"Jane, this isn't a plan. This is what you come up with when plans A through Z fail!"
"I'll be there with you."
"I know," Maureen sighed raggedly.
Fourteen sets of eyes stared at Maureen in wide-eyed disbelief. There were a couple groans but mostly gasps followed by silence.
"You've gotta be fucking kidding me!" Janice, a heroin addict who'd been cold turkey ever since all her dealers were eaten, snapped angrily. "That's the plan?"
"Yes," Maureen ran a nervous hand over her head. "It's the best they could come up with."
"Well their best just ain't fuckin' good enough!!" She stepped towards Maureen as if she weren't a junkie going through serious withdrawal and Maureen wasn't an agent trained to kill in a variety of ways, only to realize the error of her ways the moment Maureen grabbed a fistful of Janice's shirt. Fortunately for Janice, someone stepped in between the two of them, preventing the woman from losing any of her remaining teeth.
"Back off, Janice!" Mary, a track coach from one of the local high schools, played intermediary. They'd been on their way to a track meet when the virus broke out. Their bus snarled in traffic, they'd made their way back to Downtown on foot finding refuge with the other survivors. Not all of them made it. It showed in their faces and demeanor.
Once Janice backed off, Mary turned to Maureen. "Are you sure about this?"
"No," Maureen admitted. "But we're out of options."
"But to go out there? On foot?" Her voice lowered to a whisper. "Surely that's suicidal?"
"It's not going to be easy. We've got ten blocks to cover. But there's a boat waiting for us, with someplace safe to take us to."
"Why can't we go now?" Isabelle, the third fastest sprinter in the state, asked.
"Because," Maureen turned to face them all. "We weren't looking for survivors when we came out here. I'm not carrying enough ammo to effectively cover all of you."
"Oh yeah," Janice dared to speak up again. "I don't know if you've noticed, but we ain't all track stars."
"I know. And we've planned for that. There'll be a truck. Those of you who can't run will be put in the back. They'll provide cover for us when we're on the street. Remember, they're slow and stupid. If we stay in the center of the street, don't go too slow or straggle, we should all be fine."
"You willing to be your life of that?" Mary asked.
"You willing to bet theirs?"
Jane couldn't sleep. Kept dreaming of dead hands reaching, clawing, grabbing at her. Dreamed of the air smothered from her lungs as she was pulled under. Dreamed of Maureen, their hands reaching for each other and barely touching before they were yanked apart. After that, Jane decided to stop sleeping.
She did a few rounds inside the Mall, mostly to keep her mind occupied and release the nervous tension twisting her stomach. It had started raining sometime after midnight. She could hear it pattering loudly on the roof, flashes of lightening sporadically illuminated the inside of the building.
Inside the video department, Jane popped a DVD into a player, settling on the wide couch across from the 72-inch flat-screen TV that she had to explain to Eric they wouldn't be taking it with them despite his protestations that it really would fit in the bus. They'd run out of coffee days ago and most of the soda, leaving nothing but the brands no one really wanted to drink unless they had to, mainly fruity diet sodas. Jane's tasted like carbonated piss in a can, but it was cold and caffeinated and gave her something to do.
The sound muted, Jane drank her soda and watched as Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck attempted to save the world from a giant asteroid.
"Hey," Lucy flopped down on the space next to Jane.
"Hey," Jane returned. "Couldn't sleep?"
"No, I hate thunderstorms."
"I didn't see you during the meeting today."
"Aww, you missed me. I'm touched," her lips spread into a coquettish grin. "I was taking a shower. The only time I can have any privacy is when you guys have your meetings. Plus, I found this awesome handheld showerhead with like three thousand pulses per minute and four different modes. And let me tell you.."
"Ugh," Jane cut her off, wrinkling her nose in disgust. "Over share."
Lucy giggled. "Whatever, it was the best shower I've had in ages. So," She reached out, slapping Jane across the arm. "Is it true they found survivors?"
"Yep. Fourteen in all, including eight girls from some High School track team."
"Eight?" Her eyes went wide and Jane could only chuckle as she watched Lucy tilt her head back, mouthing 'thank you God' to the ceiling.
"Jane?" Eric's voice cut into the air, speaking over the small handset attached to her waist.
She pulled it to her mouth, pressing the small button as she spoke. "Yeah?"
"You need to get to the roof. Now."
There were four of them waiting for her - Eric, Trisha, Arthur and Brian. They stood like sentry men at the edge of the roof, their raincoats obscuring their faces, making them look like nothing more than hooded shadows.
"What's going on?" Jane asked, approaching the group.
Arthur pulled off his hood, ignoring the rain pelting his face and head. He stared at her angrily, but there was fear on his face. Fear Jane hadn't seen since the Mall breach a week ago.
"That sound you hear? It's the shit," he nodded his head towards the space over the edge. "Hitting the fan."
Jane stepped towards the edge. She squinted her eyes. When the power began failing, the first thing to go were the lights in the parking lot. She squinted her eyes, trying to see through the driving rain. There were shapes in the darkness but nothing distinguishable.
Then, a streak of lightening snaked across the sky and Jane saw it.
She saw them.
Before the sun had set, there were close to a thousand of them. Now, that number had quadrupled. Dead things wandered aimlessly about the lot, as far as her eye could see, stretching out onto the roads approaching the Mall.
"They're wandering in from the highway. We couldn't see them with the lights out," Arthur explained. "I told you we should have left already."
"Shut up, Arthur!" Jane jerked herself away from the ledge to get her eyes away from the sight of them.
"What do we do?" Eric asked. Even in the dim light, she could see the panic and fear in his eyes.
Maureen's eyes snapped open. She'd placed herself on a chair by a rack of tools, sitting guard between the group sleeping in the back and the boarded up front windows. She'd fallen asleep. The sound of her cell snapped her back to consciousness. Internally cursing herself for her lapse, she flipped open the device and pressed it to her ear.
"Jane?" She asked, blinking the sleep from her eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Get ready," Jane's voice was flat, all business. A tone Maureen knew all too well. "We're leaving. Now."
To Be Continued
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