Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eighteenth Entry: A Meeting of the Minds

October 5th

Kaur called a meeting of all of the store managers for the shopping levels today. Since Bud's letter states that both I and Sharon are in charge, we both were expected to attend. Due to the large number of people attending, the meeting was held in one of the movie theaters.

Chairs had been set up on the stage in front of the big screen. Kaur was of course sitting in the middle, and off to the sides of him I noticed Alex, Benny, and Mike were all there amongst the heads of various departments around the community. I also noticed that no one from the council was there, nor were there even any empty chairs for them.

Kaur approached the microphone that had been set up,” Hello,” a squeal a feedback ripped through the room. Kaur started again,” Hello everyone, and thank you all for attending. I am going to try and keep this all as short as possible,”

He paused for a moment, either for dramatic effect, or for applause which did not come, ”The last six months have been hard on all of us. We have all lost our way of life, and many of us have lost so much more than that. In the face of this we have remained strong, and made Mallville a strong bastion against the forces of the undead.”

You'd swear we were in a living ocean of the undead the way he was talking. If things were the way he's implying Mallville would have fallen a long time ago, and I would not be writing this right now.

Kaur continued, “While our security and strength have increased in these past months, other problems have arisen. We have had to deal with the decreasing amount of supplies in the area, resulting in tighter food rations, and longer and more dangerous trips for the scavengers. We have had to be on the lookout for people seeking to harm themselves, and thereby harm all of us, by commiting suicide and coming back as the undead.”

As he spoke of suicides, Kaur looked right at me and Sharon. I felt her grab my hand and squeeze it.

“Now we face a challenge that will take all of us assembled here today to overcome. It may be eighty degrees outside right now, but it is still autumn, and winter is approaching. The people currently residing in the central park will not be able to stay there much longer.”

“Here it comes. I've been waiting for this,” commented a guy in the row behind us quietly.

Sharon and I exchanged glances which said we both had an idea of what was coming next.

Kaur continued, ”Over the next couple of weeks, we will be moving those people inside the shopping area. This will also free up the park to be used as a garden come spring time. We will need to become self sufficient if we are to survive.

“In order to accommodate the refugees in the park area, the council is asking that you all open up your storefronts to make room for these people,” finished Kaur

“Wait a second!” hollered Ben Kasai, the manager of Big Box Books,” I thought the council was allowing us to maintain the integrity of our stores until things returned to normal?”

“The council has come to realize that things may not be returning to normal anytime soon. In the meantime, we have offered these people sanctuary, contrary to my recommendations, and we are now responsible for them. As a result of that bad decision, the council must now take steps to see that these people are kept safe.”

“What if we refuse?” asked Teri Dean, the assistant manager of Taco Hut, one of the few restaurants not in the food court.

“The council knows that you are all generous people who want what is best for Mallville since it is in all of our best interests that Mallville stay strong. If anyone objects to this plan greatly, then the council is prepared to deal with those situations as they feel necessary.”

“Where the fuck is the council anyway? Why the hell are we being told this by the head security guard?” asked Stan Garret, manager of Supersize Male.

Kaur visibly bristled at being referred to as a security guard, partly because Mallville's security force is more like the local police than just security guards, but mostly, I suspect, because he just hates being called a security guard.

“The council has spent too long thinking of things in the short term; as a result of this they are now having to spend all of their time coming up with more long term solutions. They have more important things to do than to be holding meetings like this and answering questions that I am perfectly capable of answering.”

That did it; that took a group of retail workers (not generally the most calm nor the clearest thinkers to begin with) from a simmering group of malcontents to a rolling boil of outright anger. Sharon and I stayed in our seats, and kept our heads down as phrases like “treat us like garbage”, “lie”, and “fuck you” were hurled at the stage. Thankfully the chairs were bolted to the floor, or the people on stage would have been hit by worse than obscenities.

“You will take your seats and be quiet!”yelled Kaur into the mic, resulting in another burst of feedback.

From the front row, I saw Teresita Gomez stand up, her back to the stage. She was yelling something at the audience that was completely lost in the din, but I assume that it was in support of Hashmir. I didn't hear any of what she said, but I did hear some of the replies; these featured word like “bitch”, “slut”, and the infamous c-word.

At that point Hashmir spoke into the radio microphone attached to his shoulder, and a dozen members of the security force carrying M-16s entered the theater. Four joined Hashmir on the stage, while the remaining 8 stood in the aisles at either side of the theater looking menacing. The storm of rage continued in the theater as everyone kept directing their anger at the stage.

What finally calmed everyone down was when the rifles were, in unison, aimed at the audience. Sharon clutched me hard as we both dropped to the floor, and waited for the thunder to start.

Thankfully silence fell over the theater instead of a hail of bullets.

“As I said, you will all take your seats and be quiet. It was decided when all of this began that we would abide by the council's decisions, even if we do not always like them, and we are not going to suddenly change that now! Sit down!”

Everyone retook their seats, grumbling as they did. I noticed as we got off the floor that we were not the only ones who had ducked instead of taking our feet. I also noticed that pretty much everyone on stage looked worried, so I'm guessing the display of force was not part o the meeting outline.

“The council realizes that many of you still have product in you stores, and that you are responsible for this product should things ever go back to normal. This this end the council is allowing you to maintain the integrity of your stockrooms. For those of you with stockrooms that are not designed to be secured, maintenance will be helping you to take care of that. Please contact Rosa Trinity in the next few days so they may set up an appointment for your store.

“For those of you with stockrooms too small to accommodate all of your merchandise, contact Alex Sigler at facilities, as they will be handling alternate storage situations. This concludes this meeting. Any further questions may be submitted to my office by e-mail, and I will be forwarding them on to the council. Good day to you all.”

Kaur climbed down from the stage in front of the screen, and walked up the theater's central aisle with the four guards from the stage behind him in pairs looking every bit like Darth Vader marching onto the Tantive IV.

After the meeting cleared out, Sharon and I went over to Insert Coin to start working on clearing out the storefront.

“Do you really think we can fit all of this in back?” Sharon asked, pulling stacks of games out of the glass case behind the counter.

“Probably not the fixtures, but there's not really much in the way of merch to take up a lot of space. The systems maybe....” I trailed off as I stacked blister packed action figures onto a rolling cart.

“Knock knock!” came Alex's voice from outside the store gate. I turned to see Alex and Tara standing there.

“It's open.” I told them.

Alex pulled up the gate enough for Tara to duck under it, and then followed her.

“Hey, hon,” said Sharon, coming out from behind the counter to give Alex a hug.

“I would have thought you two would be busy trying to find places to stash everyone's crap,” I commented at them.

“I've delegated that to Tara,” explained Alex, ending his hug with Sharon.

“I'm off today,” Tara shrugged.

I kind of wanted to go give Tara a hug, but after being caught out in the hallway last week, neither of us wants to promote the wrong idea to our respective love interests.

“So come on then, I know you two have questions,” invited Alex.

“What's for dinner?” asked Sharon.

“Whatever you're cooking. Any questions about the meeting?”

“Do you support this?” I asked.

“Actually, yes. We cannot have those people out there during the winter, or we will end up with more zeds in our midst. There's no reason to leave all of this space gathering dust. It's the same as re-assigning all the vacant apartments.”

“And the ones that were not vacant,” commented Sharon bitterly.

“However, it seems like a total one-eighty for the council to decide this. I've said it before, Kaur is right about some things, the biggest being that things are never going to be quite the way they were again, and until the government re-establishes some sort of order things are going to be nothing like normal.”

“What about the stores that are already being lived in?” I asked.

“I don't know. They could keep living in their stockrooms, I guess. Ultimately that is going to be up to the council, not me. “

“You sound like a regular Kaur supporter now,” teased Sharon.

“I've been telling him that all afternoon,” added Tara,

“Fuck you both,” Alex flipped them each the middle finger as he spoke.

“Do you also agree with threatening all of us with guns at the meeting?” I asked.

“Fuck no! I knew the reaction to the council's decision was going to be bad, but I did not know Hashmir was going to handle it like that. It's that kind of shit that makes me wonder about him. I've lodged a complaint about it with the council, not that he will ever let anything like that get through to them.”

“ Bet you African Swallow doesn't have to open its doors to survivors. They could fit a dozen people in there probably,” commented Sharon.

“I'm sure Kaur will have a good explanation for that,” I said.

“I'm sure Kaur will feel he does not need to make any comment on it. If he was worried about propriety in the first place, he wouldn't be fucking her when everyone knows about it,”

“ You mean like you and Sharon?” I asked, getting an amused look from Tara.

“I'm not worried about propriety either, lucky for you,” Alex said to me, “ I heard about the Funyuns.”

That pretty much finished our conversation, or at least the interesting parts of it. The rest of the afternoon was spent stacking games and toys up in the stockroom. Alex and Tara stayed and helped for awhile.

We actually got all of the merchandise into the back room, and Tara is going to make sure maintenance sends around someone tomorrow to install better locks on the stockroom door. The hardest things to move were the demo kiosks; it took Alex, me, and Sharon to muscle them into the back.

Tomorrow I'm going to disconnect the registers, and move them in back too. The only things that will be left in the front of the store then that is not nailed down will be signage and the shelves, and those will probably just get shoved into a corder.

Sharon and Alex went back to my apartment, and I'm going to go hang out with Tara later. Right now I am sitting here alone in the office. I've cleaned it up a bit, bagging up all of the trash from when Bud was living here, and leaving it out back for sanitation to dispose of. I'm not sure what they do with it actually, but I think there is an incinerator down in the parking levels.

I boxed up what little Bud had of his here. Pictures, his Pokemon cards his letter. He had a couple of changes of clothes he got from Supersize Male, one outfit, a brown t-shirt and a pair of jeans had been hung up in the bathroom to dry after being washed in the sink. I don't know why he did not just use the laundromat. They were stiff that way things are when they have slowly air dried with no fabric softener.

I left the mattress that he had been sleeping on, I just stripped the sheets. I might consider coming down here to sleep to get some quiet sometime. At least here I can have a door between me and everyone else. I need to go launder the sheets though.

I cannot stop thinking about what happened in the movie theater today. It's not the first time this year I've had a gun pointed at me, so why does it bother me so much? Why does Kaur's security force pointing guns at me scare me more than those bikers did?

Maybe I'm starting to have trouble telling the “good guys” from the “bad guys”? Maybe there are no good guys.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seventeenth Entry: A Truckload of Trouble

October 1st

We had a bit of excitement during clean-up today, someone sent us some helpers that we didn’t want.

I think I’ve mentioned before that the standard clean-up uniform is blue coveralls, work gloves, and one of those bright orange vests like highway workers or hunters wear. We wear those so if any shamblers happen to wander into the vicinity while we are out there, the roof guards can tell us apart. We also all carry pistols just in case. This has been a working arrangement up until today.

There has been a rise in zed activity around Mallville recently, and after today I am thinking it is not a coincidence. It was unseasonably warm, and we were out there in the parking lot that surrounds the shopping community/fortress like a giant moat of asphalt like normal, picking up dead zeds, and tossing them in the back of the maintenance pickups so we can take them around back and burn them.

There were a dozen of us; myself, Maria, Gerry, and Sharon were all there along with some of the other clean-up regulars. Milton Saxon was again showing off the gold “Rolax” that he looted off a corpse a couple of weeks ago, and Gerry was trying to convince him that there is not normally an “A” in Rolex again (this has become a routine since Milton found the damned thing) when our security escort noticed movement up the street in the mouth of an alley..

“What the fuck?” Security officer Claudia Lapari cursed, squinting to try and get a better look. Claudia was a real security officer, not one of Hashmir’s new refugee militia. She was a short stocky woman with skin a little darker than Maria’s. she’s made it clear before that she was no supporter of Kaur’s expanding the security force, which is probably why she got stuck out guarding us.

Claudia’s comment derailed Milton and Gerry’s discussion, and we all turned to look at the subject of her interest. It was a truck, a medium sized U-Move truck to be a little more precise, and it was slowly rolling towards us.

Claudia pulled her radio from her belt, “Control. We have a truck approaching us out here. Are there any scavenger runs going?”

“Negative. I’ll alert the roof, and see if they have a visual,” replied the radio.

Suddenly the engine of the U-Move roared, and it accelerated at us,” Look out!” yelled Maria.

All of us scattered except for Claudia, who unslung her M-16, and with her back to the truck bed full of rotting corpses, aimed at the approaching truck. When it was only about twenty yards away, she realized it wasn’t going to stop, or turn, and she opened fire.

Her aim was good, the bullets pierced the driver’s side of the windshield. The windshield became an opaque spiderweb of cracks and holes as the bullets tore through it, but it did not slow. In fact it seemed to correct its steering so that it aimed right at Claudia.

“Get out of the way!” yelled Gerry, but Claudia never moved; she stood her ground shooting at the truck, now firing into the engine instead of the windshield.

The U-Move slammed into the back half of the maintenance pickup with Claudia still standing between them. The sound of breaking glass and crunching metal overpowered the sound of Claudia's body being torn apart about halfway up here back, where the edge of the pickup's bed came to.

The pickup spun clockwise away from the impact, and the U-Move was sent up onto its driver's side wheels, before crashing down onto its side, and skidding a few yards. Claudia's torso spun through the air, the M-16 slipping free of her hands, and came to the ground with a foul splat a couple of yards past the U-Move, the rifle clattering down next to it.

Maria went into kill mode, pulling her sidearm, and running around the front of the U-Move. She kicked in the what remained of the windshield, prepared to finish off whoever was driving, and then she just stopped, her pistol still aiming at the driver's seat.

Sharon, Gerry, Milton, and myself followed her, leaving the other six staring at the mess behind the truck, “Are they dead?” asked Gerry.

“There's no one here,” answered Maria with a mix of rage and confusion.

We joined her at the front of the truck, and saw that in the driver's seat was a mass of wires, motors, and batteries. A metal arm connected the steering wheel to one of the motors.

“That's a radio control setup!” commented Adam Raven, who had come up behind us. I only know Adam from the clean-up crew; he's probably in his late thirties, maybe early forties, and he has unkempt reddish-blond hair.

“How do you know?” asked Sharon.

“In my past life, I used to love playing with RC planes, and you see that little black box taped to the back of the seat? The thing with all of the wires coming out of it?” Adam asked.

“Yeah,” replied Milton.

“That's a receiver. Besides, how else could someone have done this? Mind Control?”

“Why would someone want to send a giant radio controlled truck at us? That seems like a lot of work to just kill one or two people?” asked Maria.

“Maybe they didn't plan on it being disabled so easily?” asked Sharon.

“Wouldn't that mean that whoever was controlling it was close enough to see us?” asked Gerry.

“They'd have to be close enough to get a clear signal to the receiver, and yes, to steer it effectively, they would need to have a clear view of us,” explained Adam.

We all started looking around, as if we expected to see the person who murdered Claudia standing nearby holding a controller. Of course we saw no one. Whoever it was was probably inside a building where they could see us through a window, but we could not see them unless we knew where to look, and we didn't.

“Hey, I think there are people in here!” I heard Darius Tariq yell from behind the truck, and it was true, we could here something moving around in the back of the truck.

Before we could make any move to stop him, or even join the rest of them at the back of the truck, we heard the door start to slide open.

“Shit!” yelled Darius.

We got to the back of the truck in time to see five or six arms clutching Darius, and pulling him into the back of the truck. Darius was a big guy, but he was caught by surprise, and never had a chance to fight back before they had him. He screamed as the undead started devouring him.

After Darius disappeared into the darkness of the truck, pale undead hands groped out, grabbing at the sliding door. Even sideways, the door slid easily as the zombies pulled at it, rolling “up” into the ceiling of the back of the truck.

The light flooded into the back of the truck, revealing 20 zeds, all of which were wearing orange vests, just like us. I may never know how someone managed to dress the undead, but I can guess why.

“Oh shit! They dressed like us!” observed Milton.

Maria still had her gun in hand, and started firing into the back of the truck as the zombies started to surge at us. Four of the zeds dropped from head wounds by the time she was out of bullets; with the three that were busying themselves with Darius' now silent body that left us thirteen active zeds (no, I did not stop to count them then, I counted after)

“Shoot them or run!” ordered Maria, backing away from the truck now that her weapon was useless.

The zombies flooded out, and one of them latched on to a blond girl whose name I do not know. None of us knew her name, she was quiet and never really talked to us. Now she never will.

Biff Brown, a doofy guy with a blond buzz cut reacted instantly, he pulled his gun and fired at the zombie. His aim was nowhere near as good as his reflexes, as his shot missed the zombie completely and instead tore through the blond girl's throat. She tried to scream, but that just made blood spray out of her neck.

During all of this the roof guards never fired a shot. The official explanation is that they could not tell us from the zeds since we were all wearing orange vests, but I think I could have been able to tell the difference down my scope at that distance. Whether I could have gotten a clear shot or not is another question.

“Step back from them, and shoot!” yelled Maria, again trying to get some control on the situation. It worked somewhat. Gerry, Sharon, and I backed a way a few steps, and started taking aimed shots at the zeds.

Eventually Milton, Biff, and a couple of other followed our lead, and what started out as a chaotic mess ended without anymore casualties.

By the time security finally showed up, we had killed all the zombies, and put bullets in the heads of Darius and the blond girl before they could reanimate. We had forgotten about Claudia, and it was a member of the security force that put down her already reanimated remains. She had been trying to crawl towards us with her shattered arms, leaving a trail is glistening blood and who knows what else on the pavement like the world's most disturbing snail.

Earlier tonight, a bunch of us met in my apartment. Myself, Sharon, Alex, Gerry, and Maria all crammed in my tiny place. Alex and Sharon took the couch (of course) while Gerry and Maria sat at my kitchen table, and I leaned on the edge of the wall separating my kitchen from my living room. I don't know why we did not meet at Alex's place. His has to be at least as big as Tara's.

“So you think Kaur's behind this?” asked Sharon.

“I don't know if he is directly, but there were a number of people out there that do not like him, and it was someone who knows that we have you guys where the vests so the roof guards and security can identify you from a distance,” answered Alex.

“I still don't accept that bullshit about not being able to tell us apart,” cursed Maria.

“I thought they would take the chance to shoot us,” offered Gerry.

“It wouldn't be hard to tell us apart. The people holding guns are the humans, the people eating other people are the zombies. Not that difficult,” I said,

“ I talked to Mike, and he says that his people are saying they did not want to risk shooting any of you. Give Biff's quick-draw act, I cannot fault them for that too much,” replied Alex.

“So you don't think that Kaur, or someone under him, told them to hold their fire?”asked Maria

“I think that there are enough people on the roof who are not Kaur supporters to make it unlikely. I don't think some of those people would have even followed such and order, let alone keep quiet about it.”

“Have you had any luck in getting a meeting with the council?” asked Gerry.

“No, they're still refusing to talk to anyone. For some reason Kaur has their ears, and Kaur alone. It's really starting to fucking piss me off!”

There was a knock at my door then. The room went silent; I think we were all expecting it to be Kaur's security force coming to arrest us all for dissension or something.

After looking at each other for a few seconds, I decided that I had better answer it. When I opened the door, I found myself suddenly being yanked through it, and arms were thrown around me.

“Were you hurt?” asked Tara as she squeezed me.

“ I'm fine. What's wrong?” I managed to force out enough air to say.

“ I was off all day, and I just heard about the attack. I heard three people were killed, and I was worried about you.” she said, releasing me, but keeping her hands on my shoulders.

“ How were you that out of the loop? That was hours ago?”

She gave me a pained look then. After a moment, she hugged me again and said,” Because you're all I have.”

“I'm sorry,” I said, and I was too. I hugged her back, and even though there is nothing like that between us, it felt good. It felt the way it feels when I hug Sharon.

“ What's going-” Sharon stuck her head into the hallway, and saw Tara and I hugging,” Oh, excuse me!” she half yelled, and pulled herself back inside.

“Shit!” I cursed softly.

Tara pulled away again, this time letting me go, ”What? There's nothing going on between you too anyway.”

“There are other people in there, and she'll tell them, won't she? They'll all think we're together, including Alex,” I explained to her.