Prologue

Colin and Jackson were out front with Allen and Colby about twenty yards behind. The four were leading the rest of the group through a dark street on the southside of Atlanta.  They had planned to avoid the city altogether, but their supplies were running low. Colin had insisted on resupplying before making their final push past Macon towards the coast.  Before the Disease hit, Colin had spent many hours on the highways outside of Macon for work and he knew that there was not much to find before the Disease spread let alone now. Charles had reluctantly agreed to the need to scavenge for supplies. 

Colin and Jackson called for the group to stop when they came to an opening to their left. There was a small courtyard between a three-sided rundown apartment building. The courtyard was separated from the road by a three-foot brick wall with rod iron fencing on top. Jackson was against the brick with Colin two feet to his right.

“What’s that,” Jackson asked.  He pointed to a window of the apartment building.  As he did, curtains slammed shut. The unexpected motion caused Jackson and Colin to drop to their knees behind the brick wall leading into the courtyard.  Both men trained their weapons on the window.

Colin brought his hand away from the stock of his gun and gave one quick swipe forward with his hand and then reversed the motion to indicate he only needed one of the two men in formation behind him.  As they waited, Jackson and Colin scanned the windows of the building that lay roughly fifty feet in front of them.

“What is it,” Allen asked as he fell to his knees beside Colin.

“Motion in there,” Colin said.  “Hopefully nothing hostile, but we don’t want to pass up a chance for some grub either.”

“ Or pass up some Diseased and get blindsided a couple blocks down the road,” Jackson added.

“Roger that,” replied Allen.  He gave a signal to Colby and the rest of the group that indicated a possible threat.  When he did, all of the remaining men quickly surrounded Maria. Even Sam, who had slowly grown into his role with the group, moved with a quickness in his step.  Allen knew that Maria could handle her own, and it was not a chivalrous gesture by any stretch. The group had agreed that Maria’s physical safety was second only to the safety of the hard drive that contained her research. Maria always carried her hard drives with her.

“How do you want to handle this,” asked Jackson as he looked to Colin.  Colin looked over to Allen who shrugged.  

“You know my policy on giving advice these days,” Allen said.

“Yeah,” Colin grumbled.  “You don’t,” and after a moment he said “Alright, fuck it.  I don’t feel like this here is an ‘asking for a cup of sugar’ scenario.  I’ll go in after Jackson kicks the door. If the door doesn’t budge, we go in through the windows.  Allen you go through the right and Jackson and I will go through the left. Try to not kill anyone if you don’t have to.”

“Just what I was thinking,” chuckled Allen.

“Yeah, fuck you too,” said Colin with a bitterness that Jackson noted was becoming less sarcastic the further from Fort Knox they trudged.

“On three,” Jackson said.  He waited a moment before counting. 

As Jackson started rushing into the courtyard towards the door, Colin stood to follow him and Allen readied himself to make for either the right window or the open doorway. By the time Jackson reached the stoop of the door, Colin was on his heels, and Allen was coming into the courtyard.

All at once the small yard was awash with blinding light.  Jackson froze in place, and Colin slammed into his back. Men started rushing towards them from all directions. As Jackson fell to the ground, he tucked into a roll and came upright in front of two men with what looked to him like Uzis. They were either Uzis or some other sort of open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine gun. He did not stop to ask.

Jackson immediately whirled his leg around into a roundhouse kick that caught the man on the right by surprise and knocked him unconscious into the man on the left.  Jackson slid his tactical knife into the base of the skull of the man on the left before he even hit the ground. As he turned his attention towards Colin and Allen, Jackson kicked the nose of the man on the right to redouble his unconsciousness.

As he rubbed the brightness out of his eyes, Jackson immediately noted that the two he just took out were the only attackers with firearms.  He saw Colin try to dodge an overhand slash from a machete. The blade caught him near the eye. As Colin grimaced in pain, he tackled the man and took his machete after breaking his arm at the elbow.  Colin sliced the man’s neck open and swung to impale a man that was rushing towards him. In his rage, Colin pushed the man back off the blade and began hacking at the man’s torso.

Two more men grabbed Jackson from behind, but they neglected to secure his knife hand. Jackson was glad he kept his blade razor sharp because this allowed him to slice through one of his attackers wrists down to the bone. After his arm was fully freed, Jackson made quick work of the femoral arteries on these two attackers.

Once this was done, Jackson snatched a submachine gun from a dead body, which he immediately recognized as an Uzi, switched off the safety, and began firing at two men who were jumping out of the side apartment windows. He repeated this process for the opposite side of the courtyard. 

As he felt the click of an empty magazine, Jackson saw one remaining attacker charging him. He threw the spent weapon towards his attack. The technique work and allowed Jackson to setup a devastating axe kick that sent his attacker’s body into a rigid convulsion as he dropped unconscious to the concrete.

Jackson looked past Colin who was still in a rage and hacking at various body parts. He noted that Colin had managed to add another body to his count. Towards the entrance of the courtyard, Jackson saw Allen on the ground with a pair of men on each side.  Two men were holding him down, and the other two were laying into him with lead pipes. Jackson knew of no other place from which those men could have come other than right behind the planters they were kneeling in front of moments ago. He cursed their hastiness.

Adrenaline coursed through his body as Jackson rushed towards Allen. 

Jackson unhooked his staff from his back and impaled the sharpened end of the weapon into back one of the lead pipers piercing the lungs.  The other lead piper turned to attack Jackson, but he was dead before he could raise his arm.  

Colin had snapped out of his rage and was sprinting towards the last two men when they heard a loud whistle from above.  The last two ambushers quickly jumped out of the courtyard entrance as a metal net was thrown onto Colin, Jackson, and Allen.

The weight of the netting was crippling, but Jackson screamed in agony once the current of electricity started flowing through the metal. Seven men repelled down the sides of the apartment buildings and made quick work of securing the men’s hands and feet. 

As the three were loaded onto the back of a beat-up pickup truck with no tailgate, Jackson could just barely make out the shadows of Marshall and Sid holding Colby back from rushing the truck. Charles and Sam were rushing Maria around the corner of the building.