MEDALS & METTLES: Crow, Alive and Tracking

12am, midnight. The Eastern Zone was quiet.

Crow shifted her feet a little, trying to get the blood moving through her legs and back into her tingling toes. It had been a long stakeout, something close to 8 hours straight of standing on this same rooftop. Falcon was just lucky she wasn’t the type to expect payback, or that lazy oaf would find himself covering her shifts for the next month. Normally, she’d never volunteer to cover anyone’s shifts, but the Lost Zones had been so silent lately that she needed something to do.

She reached up, settling the blue-tinted goggles she wore on her head over her indigo eyes and pressing a small button on the side. Six small windows opened in her field of vision, each displaying a radio frequency, an ID number, and location coordinates. Pressing the button again, she turned on her own location information and prepared to check in.

“Warden 24601 to Scouts. Report location and status.”

She released the button, waiting for the first person to break the quiet whisper of static. A blinking red dot appeared next to one of the ID numbers right before a voice broke the quiet.

“Peregrine, Scout five-four-eight. Standing on top of some old gas station on the southwest. Nothing.”

The next five checked in, mere seconds after each other.

“Heron, Scout 624. In some old apartment complex near the Crossing. All quiet.”

“Oriole, Scout 366. Street corner near an old busted-up pub on the northwest end. Nothing to report.”

 “Tern, Scout 436. Northeast corner near the old Times building. Just some rats and stragglers.”

“Kestrel, Scout 294. Southeast near the river. Nothing but some Infecteds getting washed to sea.”

“Eagle, Scout 781. Near some old hospital on the north side. Looks like there’s some guy in a lab coat nabbing stuff for his RV. How should I proceed?

Well that was certainly a surprise. Crow hadn’t heard of any Doctor sightings in the last few months. Either no one was seeing him, or some of these Scouts were dangerously sub-par. But she shouldn’t be surprised who’d found the good doctor. After all, there’s a reason Eagle had his particular code name.

“Proceed with caution, 781. Do not confront the doctor and under no circumstances are you to identify yourself. Keep the area around the RV clear. ”

“Affirmative.”

She pressed the small button on her goggles again, this time centering on Eagle’s beacon. She saw the numbers listing his coordinates moving slightly to the west before stopping. There was a moment of radio silence before his dark-chocolate voice emerged again.

“Fourteen Infected neutralized. The Doctor is safe.”

Crow nodded slightly to herself. “Good. Return to your post.”

She shifted back to the group channel for a final warning.

“Remember, keep your eyes out. Most of the Olympians are still free and pretty fresh. I’ll bet some of them can even still see you. Stay sharp.”

She cut off the barrage of “Yes ma’am!” with another press of the button. That feisty little engineer’s CognitiveLink embedded in her frontal lobe synced perfectly with the receiver in her goggles. Crow would have to get these put in all the Scouts.

A small envelope blinked in the bottom left corner of her vision. With a practiced thought a few rapid eye movements, the little rectangle grew into a much larger MindGate. To those with CogLinks, they were better than text messages – raw emotion and thought from one being, recorded and passed to another so they could experience that same moment as well.

She started the message, and frowned at the overtones of abject terror. That had to be one of those new Vigil recruits, the "Volunteers" or something, but how had he contacted her? Why was he Linked at all? The message started with swift and practiced marching and posturing, followed by a tackle, a fall, blinding pain and fear. There was the sound of swift footsteps moving away into the Pride, then a burst of confusion and more pain before everything went black. Obviously, a guard on the wall was attacked by someone trying to enter the Safe Zone through more discreet measures before being eliminated by some fast-moving Infecteds.

The Olympians were no longer contained.

“Scout 624, check down the wall. Someone’s been attacked and the Olympians are on the inside.”

She received only static in return. That was not a good sign at all.

Crow began to run. She ran along the rooftops at top speed, jumping over huge gaps without a second thought, flipping through broken windows and over ruined chimneys until the wall was within sight. She opened a channel to Vigil Command as she ran, informing them of the infiltrator and the loose Olympians. There was a small pause, then,

"Proceed, Warden. But use a little discretion this time."

Crow cut the channel and kept running. She saw the wall looming in the near distance and realized she needed to find a way to cross the blasted thing without spearing herself on the metal spikes sticking out of it.

Then all of a sudden, the rooftops ended.

The gap from the roof of the old apartment building to the wall was too far, that was easy to see. She’d have to find some other way to make the crossing without resorting to climbing the wall, using the bits of razor-sharp metal sticking from it as ladder rungs. There was blood in places up the wall, so clearly she was in the right place.

Crow looked around her. Maybe there was a clothesline she could use as a zipline into that guard tower around here somewhere…except this section of the city had been abandoned since the outbreak. Very likely there was nothing so domestic left anywhere anymore.

Then something caught her eye – a long wooden stick, a large dowel close to 12 feet long leaned against the short retaining wall around the rooftop balcony.

This was so ridiculous, it just had to work.

Crow flipped her flame-red bangs out of her indigo eyes and grabbed the pole. Heavy, for sure, with a little bit of a bend already in it, it seemed strong enough to hold her and flexible enough to fling her over the wall. The landing she’d think about later.

Crow shouldered the pole as she’d seen so many Olympians do at the games before the outbreak, before she’d lost her family and more than half her memories with them. Slowly, so as not to overbalance from the new weight, she backed as far away from the wall as she could. The building was about 40 feet long from end to end, and she just hoped it was long enough.

Then, with a whispered prayer and a cold sweat, Crow began to run. She tried to build up as much speed as she could before planting the pole right at the juncture of the roof and the retaining wall and clung for dear life as the pole pulled her upwards. She released at what she hoped was the right time, letting the flexible wood fling her across the gap.

She kicked her feet forward in the air, hoping that would allow her to land with a little more grace and traction. Slowly, so as not to counterbalance her body and send her spinning headlong into the miniature spears that formed the wall, she glanced behind her (down!) just in time to see the bottom of the wall rush past her.

The wedge heels of her knee-height boots hit the watchpath on the top of the wall first. Her momentum carried her forward, soles skidding along until they jabbed painfully into the small bumper that ran along the entire interior length of the path. She fell back onto her butt, then her elbows, scuffing the leather of her jacket and scraping the palms of her hands in the process. At least she hadn’t hit her head.

Two Volunteers, one on either side, simply gaped at her as she tried to stand as nonchalantly as possible. She brushed her slightly-bleeding palms on her dark skinny jeans and nodded coolly to both of them before expertly flipping off the path and onto the Safe Zone ground below. There, she found the remains of the Volunteer that had contacted her. By the scratches on his back and face, he’d clearly been flung into the barbed wire before being knocked unconscious, if the pressure point bruise was anything to go by. He must have fallen off the wall trying to stand up as he regained consciousness. Now, there wasn’t enough left of him to stand back up as the virus coursed through what remained of his muscles, twitching gnawed fingers and eyelids over empty sockets as it began taking over the brainstem.

Looking around, Crow’s augmented eyes found the path that had been carelessly plowed through the nearby alleyways. The smell of drying blood coated the nearby buildings and led her towards what looked like another dirty alley, this one filled with wet cardboard boxes.

There was more blood here, but most of it tanged sourly with the scent of the virus. Three dead – really dead – Olympians littered the alleyway. The neck and brainstem of one had been smashed into a nearby curb, another sported a rather sizeable knife wound to the skull, and the head of the third lay off to the side, still snapping its teeth at the congealing blood puddle.

Along the walls, blood smears indicated that whoever had killed the Olympians was bleeding pretty heavily. Crow jogged down the alley, following the smears of blood on the walls. Some of the marks turned sharply downwards, indicating where the intruder had almost fallen. Crow picked up speed as she followed the marks, breaking into a run before stopping short at the end of the tunnel. The blood trail ended on the sidewalk just past the alley mouth. The puddle, larger here, indicated that the person had stopped there before entering some kind of vehicle and leaving the area. Gone.

Crow shook her head, red bangs flipping into her eyes, and dropped to her knees to examine the blood puddle. It certainly smelled wrong, like the blood of a healthy human...but also tinged with the sour bite of the virus. That certainly made no sense at all.

Crow stood up and turned back towards the wall. Her shift was over and the Vigil needed their Warden back.

The End

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