User:Laragh/Anybody Home?

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Malton chronicle.jpg This story is part of the Malton Chronicles.
This story is fan-made, and is not officially part of any background history for Urban Dead.

Anybody Home?

Arnold "Coop" Coopinski was very tired. He had been on the run for nearly two weeks, scrounging by day and holding up at night in whatever building seemed the safest. He had to constantly remind himself, though, that safe was a relative term in Malton. Thinking of yourself as completely safe was a good way to get yourself killed.

He supposed that was the way life went when you were surrounded by the living dead.

It had started simply enough. Coop's platoon had been sent with three other platoons out of Fort Bragg. Their orders were simple: go into the "hot zone" of Malton and support the British troops by helping to evac survivors. Of course they had been told that they were going into a quarantined area. After all, why else would they have been issued bio-chem suits? They had also been told to expect resistance from certain civilian groups in the area. The fact that no one mentioned what exactly they were issued protection against, or who exactly the civilian groups were that they should expect resistance from, should have told Coop something. But he was a soldier, and only a private at that. Questioning orders was something that simply was not done.

Everything had gone fine for the first hour. The drop from the helicopter into the Scarletwood suburb had gone without incident, and the first few buildings they had searched turned up empty or demolished. That all changed as they made their way through Pennville, hoping to rendezvous with military units supposedly barricaded at Fort Perryn.

It was Keaton who had spotted him first. The man look like death on foot. His clothes were ripped and torn in places, and what looked like open wounds were visible through the tears. His slow, shambling gate definitely suggested some major injuries. But even as he spotted the platoon and increased the speed of his stride, no one in the platoon though he was anything other that a very injured man.

It was only when he got close that Coop's platoon had realized that the man should be dead from the injuries. It was only when the man had ignored their warning shots to lurch forward and tear Keaton's throat out with his teeth that the platoon realized he was dangerous. It was only when the volley of rifle fire had failed to even stagger the man that the platoon had realized that he was something other than human. And it was only when the sounds of their struggle lured out around fifty other 'things', lurching like the man but groaning with the sound of a chorus from hell, did the platoon finally realize what incredibly deep shit they were in.

It was chaos. No other word could describe it. Shambling, groaning things that didn't even seem to feel the bullets. Shouting, hysterically frightened men firing over and over again into an inhuman mass. Cries of terror or, worse, wet gurgles from the men the monsters got to. A panicked retreat cut off by another mob of twenty approaching from their rear. And finally, a blind, scattered run into the unknown, punctuated only by the sounds of screams from the radio, signaling that one of the men would run no more.

It took an hour of hiding in the balcony of an abandoned theater, and three more hours of trying in vain to reach the other members of his platoon on his radio, for Coop to realize that he was alone.

The next two days saw Coop staying in that balcony. He only ventured down to barricade the doors with seats from the theater, or to scrounge some candy and water from the snack bar. Otherwise, the days were spent in either a waking terror of discovery or a huddled semi-sleep in a nest of chairs. Deep down Coop realized that if he was discovered, the chairs would probably only give him a few seconds to make peace with God, but it helped him to relax. And besides, it gave him something to do. He had called in the rescue signal on the guard channel and given his position. It was only a matter of time before help came.

On the second day, Coop heard pounding at the theater's front door. He was jolted out of his misery by the bright and shining light of hope. The rescue squad!, he though. I'm saved! He frantically removed the chairs and threw the doors wide open, an idiotic grin of relief on his face.

It was Keaton.

The massive tear at his throat had long since stopped bleeding. It now looked like the sort of wound you would find on a carcass on the side of the road, rotten and pustulant. Mottled gray skin could be seen through the many tears of his suit. Glazed white eyes stared back at Coop with a sort of horrible recognition. And a sneering, hungry grimace was all the expression that could be seen on the face of a man that had once been a comrade.

Horror and agony filled Coop's mind in equal measure. He had long since lost his rifle, but he still had his pistol. Screaming a foul curse at a negligent God, Coop aimed the pistol and fired a shot directly between those milky, dead eyes.

Keaton went down. He didn't get back up again.

Desperately trying to keep what remained of his sanity, Coop quickly re-barricaded the doors. Then he got on his radio to transmit this new discovery on the guard channel. The dead were walking, but a shot to the head would put them down. It was only after a minute that he realized that he could hear an echo of his words coming from the other side of the door.

Coop threw the doors open and looked down at Keaton's body. He thumbed the switch on his radio and began speaking again. The radio still attached to Keaton's shoulder parroted his words with an empty static sound. He knew how Keaton had found him.

It was then Coop realized that he had to leave. The rest of the men in his platoon would be coming. And they would probably be just as hungry as Keaton had been.

It took another three days of hiding and searching for food and survivors for Coop to realize that help wasn't coming. At first he thought it might just be that interference had kept his original transmission from being received. So every morning when he left the building he had spent the night in, he would report his current position on the guard channel.

He had learned better than to transmit the location of his safe house at night, though. Keaton had taught him that much.

In fact, it was becoming a real surprise to Coop how well he was adapting to life in the streets of Malton. Pubs, hotels and movie theaters provided him food with the least risk. Police stations, fire stations, and hospitals seemed to attract the dead, so he avoided them unless he needed ammo or medical supplies. He had found a fire axe while searching an abandoned factory, and it was proving an even better weapon than his pistol when he needed silent combat. His hearing became sharper than ever, to the point where he could hear the groans of the dead from blocks away, and instantly assess how large a group it was, and if they were close enough to be a threat.

But what he never heard was his radio. Even though it was dangerous to keep it on at all times, even though it might give away his position at any moment, Coop just couldn't cut off his link with what he though was eventual help. And it had never proved a problem, because his radio had been as dead as the people he found.

And that, more than anything, had driven the point home for Coop. No matter where he went, it was always the dead. Men and women, and even children, dear God, wandering around the streets of Malton with the same dead eyes as Keaton. He avoided them when he could. Ran from them if he was spotted by a large group. Fought them when it was a small group. He put down the men. He put down the women.

And God help him, he put down the children. He could still see every one of their faces when the bullet hit home or the axe struck true.

But the radio never responded. And after three days of wandering and transmitting, Coop eventually accepted the truth.

He was alone in Hell.

The next week or so passed, for Coop, in what was more or less a daze. He ate. He slept. He hunted. He killed. At night, he would talk into his radio for hours, hoping for some response, but getting nothing but silence. And it was after that week that the obvious questions finally occurred to Coop.

Why was he doing this? Why was he continuing to act like there was a point to staying alive?

His platoon was dead. He was surrounded by walking dead men whose only interest in him seemed to be as a tasty snack. He hadn't even seen a living human since the attack on his platoon. And even if he could keep this up, even if he could outrun and out-think his undead hunters, there was very little chance that he would ever see home again.

And worse, he was starting to see things.

He saw his mother, scolding him for leaving the door open. She said he would catch his death of cold, letting a draft in like that. He saw his brother Jamie, a big smile on his face as he carried another part in for the hod rod they were building in the garage. He saw his girlfriend Kiva, a warm smile on her face as she held open her arms to embrace him.

He saw Keaton, all dead eyes and hungry grimace.

He couldn't take it anymore, that much was certain. He just couldn't! He could live with the constant fighting and the terror of being surrounded by enemies. He was a solider. That's what they trained him to do.

But he couldn't live without hope.

Coop reached into his sock. Taped just above the ankle was a single bullet. He had put it there days ago. His insurance policy, that's what he called it at the time.

Now it was the only hope he could see.

He took the clip out his pistol. He hadn't seen the dead use weapons, but just in case this didn't work out like he hoped, he didn't want to make himself any more dangerous if his plan didn't work. Into the empty chamber, he loaded the single bullet. He pulled back the hammer, put the gun into his mouth, and said a prayer.

God, if you're listening at all, please don't let me come back.

It was just as he was about to fire that he heard his radio go off.

"Hello? Hello? Is there anyone there? Hello? This is the Malton Department of Emergency Management. We are looking for Private Arnold Coopinski. Hello? Hello? We have been monitoring your transmissions for the last four days. We would like to offer assistance. Hello? Hello? Private Coopinski, please respond. Hello? Hello? This is the Malton Department of Emergency Management. Hello? Hello?"

The pistol fell out of Coop's hand and onto the floor. It was lucky it didn't go off. Then he would have to reload again. Or it could have wounded him and made what he had to do that much harder.

It was his mind again. Choosing his last moments to play dirty tricks on him. Why else take this tactic? What other reason would it pretend to be what he really needed most? Others. Hope.

"Hello? Private Coopinski, please respond. Hello? Hello? Blast! No response! We'll try again in a few hours."

Well, even if it was his mind, what did he have to lose by answering? "This is Private Arnold Coopinski, responding to broadcast by the Malton Department of Emergency Management. Acknowledge, over."

When he waited for a few minutes and no response came, he was sure it had all been in his mind. But when he picked up his gun to get back to business, the radio squawked again. "Hello? Private Coopinski? We have received your signal, but your message is scrambled. Please transmit again so we can triangulate and wash. Over."

Boy, his mind was getting desperate! But it was something to do, so he decided to play along. "This is Private Arnold Coopinski, received transmission and retransmitting message for triangulation. Acknowledge."

"Bloody Hell, that's got it! Acknowledge, Private Coopinski. This is Malton Department of Emergency Management. We read you five by five, over."

"This is Private Coopinski, acknowledge. Now what the hell is this transmission all about? Over." Coop wanted to know just what sort of trick his mind was playing on him.

"Well, Private, we had caught short bursts of your transmissions for the better part of a week, and we've been trying to establish contact with you. We are trying to establish communication with lone survivors and get them to form up with established survivor groups. Could you please report on your current position? Over."

So that was the game his mind was playing! Evidentially, his subconscious wasn't quite ready for what he had planned. "I don't think it would be smart to transmit my current position. The dead have used that against me on occasion. And, frankly, I don't have any reason to trust anything you say at the moment. Over."

The voice on the other end heaved a sigh. "Listen, Private, I don't know what you've seen over the last few days, but if you've really been operating alone then it must have been pretty brutal. I know you don't have any reason to trust me, but believe me when I say that the DEM mean you no harm. In fact, if you're good enough to operate alone in Zed territory, then you are very valuable to us. We need people like you to help our efforts. If we all work together, we all might just survive this. But that won't happen it people like you just go blundering about on your own. In fact, it's likely to get you killed. Now, if you really want some help in finding other survivors, we can help. But we can't help if you don't trust us a little. So I'm asking you, do you want our help? Over."

Coop was thoroughly confused at this point. Zeds? What the hell was that? He had never heard the word before. Were they the dead things he had been fighting? And what was this Department of Emergency Management? Suddenly, Coop wasn't so sure that it was just his mind playing tricks on him. Suddenly, Coop saw that bright and shining light he hadn't dared let into his mind since his encounter with Keaton. Hope.

Tears started at the corners of Coop's eyes as he transmitted his return message. "Copy, DEM, and yes, I could sure use some help right about now." Coop looked down at his gun. "Things have gotten so bad... well, that's not important right now. What is important is, if you're serious about offering help, I'm serious about taking it. Over."

"Good man! Now, where exactly are you right now? Over."

"I'm currently in Blaxall Library in Wray Heights. Over."

"Bloody hell, man! There's Zeds crawling everywhere in that suburb. How the hell have you lasted this long? Never mind. Recommend you proceed to Greentown. That's west of your current position. You likely pass through the suburbs of Kempsterbank and Tapton along the way, but don't stop there. Zed's are fairly active in Kempsterbank, and Tapton's quite heavily barricaded. We'll transmit coordinates of a proper safehouse once you reach Greentown. Over."

Coop's paranoia resurfaced at that comment. It might still be his mind playing tricks. "Copy, but why can't you give me coordinates to a safe house now? Over."

"Two reasons, Private. First, there's no telling who is listening in on this line, and not all the survivors in Malton are as altruistic as we are. Second," the voice paused for a moment, "to be honest many of the safe houses are filled to capacity at the moment. We are going to have to find somewhere that can take you. We will, believe me, but it's going to take some time to get coordinated. Until then, we can at least get you out of the Zed mobs and to a place that's a little safer. Understood? Over."

Coop still wasn't sure if it was a trick or not. Overcrowded safe houses? When he hadn't encountered a single living person in all this time? It must still be his crazy mind, trying to keep him from the inevitable.

But there was still that damned light. Hope. No matter what he told himself, no matter how much he didn't want to believe what he was hearing, it just kept on shining. So finally, he decided on the only logical course of action.

Why not? It gave him something to do. For at least a few days more.

"Copy and understood, DEM. Will proceed to Greentown and retransmit on arrival. Over."

"Wonderful! We'll have someone manning the radio to await your transmission. Until then, stay sharp and stay mobile. And...good luck, Private. This is the DEM. Over and out."

Coop turned off his radio. He secured his gear and reloaded his pistol. He also re-taped the bullet to his ankle. Hope had indeed come on little bird wings, and it looked like it might just be here to stay. There was a reason to go on. There were others.

But just in case, he still had his insurance policy.

With a light heart, and a slight spring in his step, Coop left the library and made his way toward Greentown.

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