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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:07

Dev yelled like a guy. I tried to tell him don't do it, it was already armless, but he was already pulling the trigger. He shot the zombie in the head while it was trying to bite his foot. The reverberation of the shot was actually painful in the metal box of the elevator, as if someone had stuck something sharp and hard through my ears.

His hearing was better than mine, and he wasn't expecting it. He hunched over, free hand to one ear, face grimacing with pain. I didn't bother trying to say anything; I let him have his moment of disorientation while I stepped over the armless zombie as it tried to push itself to its knees, leaving most of its brains on the floor of the elevator.

I put my shoulder against the open doors to hold them, AR snugged to shoulder, and tried to use my eyes to see what was happening in the hallway while my hearing recovered. I'd learned to push through the disorientation of that kind of noise in small spaces; it let me stand there and see the hallway while Dev was still struggling for his brain to process anything but the pain and shock.

I gave myself a second of eye-sweep to see Nicky's blond hair and Edward's white cowboy hat, upright and firing in the direction of zombies, and then I was able to take in the scene. They'd taken their stand in front of the elevator doors, but the line had crumbled to the right of the doors, because the young guard, Miller, was sitting against the wall bleeding, with the other guard holding pressure on a neck wound that gushed crimson over his hands. Jenkins had moved up to take their place in the half-circle of guns, but he had a handgun and the zombies didn't give a shit. Two of them launched themselves at him and the weak part of the circle. Damn smart for zombies.

Gonzales was there firing point-blank into their faces. He had a .45 and at that range it blew one head to pieces, so that it was just left with hands reaching blindly, but he was dry-firing into the face of the second, and it turned to him with a hungry, evil expression. I fired into its head from less than two feet away with the frangible round, and the head exploded in a fountain of blood and brains. There was bone in there, but it was always the soft, wet parts that made for the spectacular visuals.

Gonzales glanced at me with wide eyes, his naturally dark skin paled almost gray. The look was enough; he'd known he was almost out of ammo when he stepped up to shield Jenkins and the two guards. Dev was beside me; he still seemed shaken and didn't have the AR to his shoulder yet. I didn't have time to babysit him, but in that moment I realized he'd never seen combat. He'd seen action - shootings, violence, hand-to-hand, and hand-to-claw - but he'd never been in this kind of chaos. I counted him out for the fight and started shooting the zombies that were trying to pour through the gap in the defenses. I tried to take their lower faces out first, because once they couldn't bite, they were half-disarmed. I blew off most of a zombie's shoulder and arm as it reached for me with its remaining arm. The ruin of its face meant it couldn't bite me, but it could still strangle me or tear out my throat if I let it get a good grip.

Al was on the other side of me firing his own .45 into the reaching hands and gaping mouths of the zombies. The slide on his gun slid back and stayed there, showing he was out of ammo.

Gonzales moved back up beside me with the bull pup shotgun in his hands. Dev had recovered enough to start handing out the extra weapons and ammo; good.

Al fell back; I hoped to get more ammo, or another gun, and I kept shooting anything that moved outside our small circle. Nicky was beside me now; he shot the face off one zombie, then let his AR swing on its tactical strap so his hands were free, grabbed the zombie at the shoulder and upper arm, and pulled. I had a moment to watch his muscles strain, the veins on his arms raising with the force of what he was trying to do, and then he pulled the zombie's arm out of its shoulder socket. It was fresh zombie, so basically he'd just pulled a man's arm off with his bare hands. It wasn't just a matter of being fucking strong, but he'd known where to grab to disarticulate the shoulder joint. Maybe later I'd ask him how the hell he knew that.

No matter how impressive it had been, it meant Nicky was out of ammo.

Al was on my other side between me and Gonzales. Al's .45 had the slide back in place, and I didn't ask if he was locked and loaded; I knew he was. Let's hear it for grabbing all the extra ammo we could carry.

I stepped back, letting them know they needed to cover me if they could, and both of them stepped up. I opened the flap of the bag I was carrying and Nicky was close enough to reach in and get his own fresh magazine. He swung his AR on its strap, slapped the magazine home, and we started to move up again.

Edward's voice was in my earpiece. 'I'm out!'

I dropped back, and Nicky and the others moved up to cover the gap. I had the AR magazines, just like Dev had most of the handgun rounds. I reached in the bag one-handed and had an extended magazine in my hand as Edward's hand came into view. He took it like we were running a relay race and we'd made a smooth pass of the baton. He slammed it home, and I moved back out to the circle with him on one side and the freshly armed Nicky on the other.

Dev was finally up and shooting on the other side of Nicky. When we all survived I'd talk to him about how long it took him to orient himself, and we'd have to figure out some kind of training to prepare him and any other newer guards for the serious shit, but that was later. Tonight, right now, it was just shooting zombie heads, blowing shoulders away from bodies, or shooting their legs out from under them, anything to make them immobile and disarmed.

Most of the time in a firefight you are full of adrenaline, on hyper alert, but sometimes battle becomes a grind of horrific sameness. You begin to shoot without really thinking, your body is almost on automatic, because it's just too much - too much noise, too many visuals, too much to see, hear, feel, from the sweat that begins to trickle inside your vest, to your hands actually aching from shooting so much. I'd have changed guns just to rest my hands, but the AR was the right tool for the job, and there was a lot of job to do. But when you go to that battle haze, it's all distant, echoing in your gun-deafened ears, your body vibrating with the force of shooting, fighting, hitting when an enemy gets too close for anything else. It's beyond survival mode; it's mechanical, exhausting, with moments of breath-stealing terror sprinkled like chocolate chips in a cookie, reminding you how much you want to live and how much you have to make the other guy die to do that.

It's in moments like this that mistakes can happen; you see a face and you just fire without processing that this new stranger wasn't a soldier, but you've killed so many, and had so many people try to kill you in this one breathless, horrible fight, that it's only later you think, Wait, did I miss something? Did I shoot a face that wasn't trying to kill me? Until you have been that exhausted, that traumatized by sheer fighting, you can't understand how such a thing can happen. It is inexplicable to most people, because you haven't been there, and until you wade through bodies, hands grabbing at you, teeth snapping at you, trying to kill you with whatever weapons they have left, you don't understand that there comes a point when everybody who isn't 'us' is a 'them,' and you just shoot them.

If you've never reached that moment of battle haze, then you don't understand what's happening, which is why when the elevator doors opened behind us, and I knew Dev was back there, I turned away from the fight to check on him, because he was my responsibility, and that's what you do when you bring a greenhorn to a slaughter fight.

It was SWAT in full gear, and I watched Dev bring his AR to bear on them. There wasn't time to yell, and he likely wouldn't have heard me anyway; our hearing was blasted at this point. I aimed in front of him, between them and him. It wasn't even a conscious thought, it was see, act; even saying I reacted was too slow for what happened in my body, because it acted before my brain caught up to the rest of me.

It made the SWAT guys aim at me, so I held a hand up to show I was okay, but it made Dev startle and look back at me. I had a moment to see his eyes refocus, and then he watched SWAT spill out of the elevator and I knew he'd be all right. I turned back to shoot more zombies, but there was nothing standing in front of me. The hallway was full of wriggling bits and pieces, but nothing left that could run at us or do much except try to grab on to our feet with dismembered hands. It was the stuff of nightmares, but it wasn't actively going to kill us, not anymore.

It was Yancey from the police station who pulled up his face protection enough to say, 'Looks like we missed it.' If I hadn't been able to watch his lips move, I'd have never known what he was saying.

'You haven't missed it; we still have to burn the motherfuckers,' I said.

'You'll set off the sprinklers, or burn the hospital down,' he said.

'Sprinklers, yes,' I said. 'Burn down, no.'

'How?' he asked, and he was nicely skeptical.

I grinned at him, with my face still covered in zombie bits and blood. Yancey didn't flinch. 'We'll show you,' I said.

He grinned back, eyes taking in the knee-deep pile of moving corpses around us. 'I look forward to it.'

I liked Yancey; he was okay.