Edited by: Planetes
Night fell, but the street lights did not turn on. Looking out of the windows of the vehicle, the expressway had became a gigantic abandoned car park, and the moaning of the zombies drifted from afar.
Zhou Rong gripped the steering wheel, his eyes red, and did not say a word.
Si Nan entered the driving compartment from behind. A very strong nicotine smell rushed towards him, and he coughed involuntarily, “Let me take over.”
Zhou Rong shook his head.
“You’ve been at it for far too long.”
Zhou Rong kept silent.
Si Nan paused for a moment in the bumpy journey, then gently persuaded him. “Rong-ge, you can’t keep on like this. The dozens of people in both vehicles are still counting on you. If you fall, what would happen to them? Even Yan Hao and Chun Cao have swapped with each other twice in the bus behind already.”
“… The armoured vehicle isn’t easy to handle.” Zhou Rong finally spoke, his voice hoarse. “It’s difficult to traverse through the wilderness. We have to be fast, and leave T City as far behind as possible.”
Si Nan wanted to say something, but the walkie-talkie suddenly crackled to life. “Yan Hao to the first vehicle, Yan Hao to the first vehicle! Captain, testing, our transceiver here is silent, how about yours?”
The look in Zhou Rong’s eyes changed slightly. He turned on the vehicle’s transceiver.
Loud waves of static emitted, and all the channels seemed to have converged into a dark ocean.
— The shortwave radio had lost signal.
The three special force soldiers in the rear compartment woke up, as though they had sensed something. They too crowded the front, only to see Zhou Rong’s expression turned awful. Zhou Rong gave a few smacks to the transceiver, switching to the signal for the base, but the command channel seemed to have vanished into the sea of static. No matter how they adjusted the signal, they only heard a hopeless silence.
Zhou Rong abruptly slammed on the breaks, took a few deep breaths, and sprinted out of the vehicle after he opened the door.
The bus following behind stopped as well. The exhausted survivors woke up with a start, and they buzzed with discussion, confused.
Yan Hao and Chun Cao also came down. On their faces was unconcealable fatigue. Zhou Rong did not say anything superfluous this time, and went straight to the main point. “We’re unable to connect to the base.”
The rest of the team gathered around, standing on the grass. They looked at each other in fear and panic.
“… The nuclear bomb… There’s no signs of it.” Yan Hao said softly. “Didn’t they say it would be detonated at 8pm? It’s already ten minutes past 8.”
“Could there have been a change in plans…”
“If there are any changes in plans, the base should have taken the initiative to inform us.” Yan Hao interrupted Chun Cao and explained. “If the time had been changed to 9pm, the base would have let us go out and look for more survivors, and they would also dispatch the helicopters again; Most importantly, delaying the bomb would result in zombies spreading away from the city center. It’s better if the bomb was detonated earlier.”
From behind, Si Nan walked towards them. He stopped about two or three steps away, and silently watched them with his arms crossed.
A terrifying thought gradually emerged in everyone’s mind, but no one said it out. None of them even moved, as though if they kept their mouth shut, that frightening possibility would not exist.
The late autumn night was very cool, and the wilderness was a rugged landscape in the dark. By the railroad a distance away, a dim glow from the street lights there could vaguely be seen.
“Your base,” Si Nan’s calm voice came from behind them. “Something’s happened to it, right?”
Two or three special forces rejected at once. “Impossible!”
“The B Military Zone has a good infrastructure, it’s strongly fortified, and when the virus broke out a large force of armed police and guards assembled there. Even a housefly wouldn’t be able to make its way in! Also, the country’s government, the military headquarters, all the survivors from North China are, are all…”
No one continued, and Chun Cao’s tinny voice gradually faded away.
Si Nan gazed at her gently. “No matter how strong a fortress is, it won’t be able to withstand an internal collapse. If the virus breaks out from within, only moments are needed for subversion. You know that too.”
Everyone recalled the civilians who had just been transported to B Military Zone on the four helicopters this afternoon, and chills ran down their backs.
“Yingjie,” Zhou Rong said, his voice gravelly. “Report our location.”
The team member, Zhang Yingjie, had a tablet in his hand. It was not a recognisable brand that was available on the market, and was most likely a military-grade item. “With our detour, we’re now 57km away from B Military Zone. There’s a massive jam ahead of us on the expressway, I suggest that we go through the industrial area, and the closest one to us is about 8km away…” He thought about something. “There may be survivors there.”
Zhou Rong said slowly, “If B City has fallen, within two days, it’ll be purged by a nuclear bomb. We won’t be able to advance through it.”
The people on the bus could no longer contain their anxiety, and they all got up and looked outside the bus, biting their tongues.
After a long period of contemplation, under the eyes of dozens of people, Zhou Rong finally made a decision. “We’ll set up a campsite here. Make an inventory of our equipment and food rations, arrange food and shelter for the civilians.
“Yan Hao,” He instructed. “Prepare a name list of the survivors, and set up a night watch on rotation.”
The winds whistled, coming from the open wilderness around them, sounding just like ghostly wails of the dead.
Zhou Rong’s arrangements when they were planning their retreat was now apparent. On the bus were rice and noodles, oil and salt, canned meat and vegetables, and warm clothing. He had personally led a group of people to transport the boxes onto the bus one by one last night. On top of that, there were also tools, medication, power generators etc., all collected and stored in the armoured vehicle of the special force team.
The survivors gathered in small groups, dividing the canned food amongst themselves. Occasional choked sobs and laments came from them. Si Nan sat on the steps of the armoured vehicle, holding on to a can of peaches in syrup. Zhou Rong walked over, and shoved two tablets of fever medication into his mouth.
Zhou Rong’s hand smelled strongly of cigarettes, his fingers a little salty to taste, and were rough and chapped.
“Captain.” Yan Hao suddenly called out from nearby.
Zhou Rong was looking down at Si Nan, about to say something. Hearing him, he waved at Si Nan, then turned and walked over to Yan Hao.
“There’s not much petrol left in the armoured vehicle. With no other choices, diesel can be used instead. Once the sun comes up, we’ll check the fuel tanks of the abandoned vehicles on the streets. Tomorrow, after arriving at the industrial area, we’ll try to send our location signal again to the military base. If B City hasn’t fallen completely, there would definitely be someone who would come and receive us.”
The two of the walked side by side to somewhere sheltered from the wind. Zhou Rong rasped, “How many people are left?”
“36 survivors. 30 are males, 6 above the age of 50, 2 below the age of 15. 6 females, 2 of them in their 20s and 4 in their 40s. They’re all Betas.”
Yan Hao swallowed, and his footsteps halted.
“6 of us are left. You, me, Chun Cao, Zhang Yingjie, Ding Shi, Guo Weixiang.”
“The rest are… No longer around.”
Around them was silence. Quiet sobs from the survivors drifted towards them with the wind.
Zhou Rong’s teeth were clenched tightly, causing spasms across his face. Suddenly, a bang! A fist smashed into a tree trunk!
The tree trunk that was thicker than a person split, creaking dangerously. Reflexively, Yan Hao took a step back.
“What are you doing?!” Yan Hao growled quietly. “What would we do if zombies are drawn here?!”
Blood slowly seeped out between Zhou Rong’s fingers. The extremely powerful and deterrent Alpha pheromones in the blood burst through the inhibitor, and like the roar of a beast, spread out in all directions.
Zhou Rong forced himself to inhale, pulling his trembling fist back.
Yan Hao pulled out a bottle and quickly sprayed the tree with it. He was about to spray it on Zhou Rong’s hand as well, but was silently swatted away. Zhou Rong licked at his own wound, his eyes bright in the shadows, looking like a wolf caught in a desperate situation, but unwilling to accept it.
“… Split into teams and take turns for the night watch. We’ll leave at 6am tomorrow morning to the industrial area.” Zhou Rong croaked. “If there’s no movement in B City within 2 days, I’ll go in there myself to investigate.”
Yan Hao wanted to dissuade him, but Zhou Rong had already walked off, and he could only quickly follow after him.
Si Nan ate half the can of peaches, and exchanged the other half for half a pack of Baisha cigarettes with one of the men on the bus. The man passed the peaches to his wife and son, while Si Nan tucked the cigarettes into his clothes and went to look for Zhou Rong. When he reached the edge of the woods, sensing something, he suddenly stopped.
In the night air was a vague scent of something that made him uncomfortable.
That scent floated in the air. It was powerful, mature, and very aggressive. Without thinking, he tried to look for the scent, but having stood there for long, his nerves jumped, and an indescribable dizziness welled up within him.
… That was an Alpha’s pheromones.
However, how could there be any Alphas in the wild? Could there be a corpse that had been bitten to death by a zombie in the trees?
Si Nan surveyed his surroundings. The area was lit up by the lights from the vehicles, and the survivors were going back on to the bus to spend the night. On the other side, the woods were hidden in the shadow, the street lights in the far distance dim, and there seemed to be an ominous feel in the air.
“Are you alright?” A girl’s voice suddenly appeared next to him.
Si Nan turned his head, and Chun Cao was looking at him curiously.
“… Do you smell something?”
“No?” Chun Cao sniffed hard, then her eyes glazed, and she looked slightly stupefied.
Si Nan, “?”
In the next second, Chun Cao gave an earth-shattering sneeze, which sprayed across Si Nan.
“It must be the smell of rotting bodies!” Chun Cao rubbed her nose, flustered. With red ears, she tugged Si Nan towards the vehicles, “Quick quick quick, go to bed, don’t bother with it! Hurry, go!”
Somewhat unconvinced, Si Nan was forced into the armoured vehicle.
That night, the special force soldiers split into three teams. Chun Cao and Ding Ye kept watch till midnight, Yan Hao and Guo Wei Xiang took over until 3am, and the last shift til dawn was done by Zhou Rong and Zhang Yingjie.
Zhou Rong slept poorly, and during the change of shift at midnight, he woke up, groggy.
The seats in the rear compartment had been lifted up. A few special force soldiers were sprawled out across the floor, and their snores rose and fell. He felt someone next to him, and with the glow of the vehicle lights shining through the window, he saw that it was Si Nan.
Asleep, Si Nan’s body temperature lowered, and so he unconsciously seeked for a heat source around him. He cuddled and latched onto Zhou Rong’s arm, his breathing deep and steady. Zhou Rong felt an unusual warmth prickle his shoulder.
In that moment, Zhou Rong fell into a slight trance.
A few restless memories of his youth drifted into his mind. In the dusk, that gentle and good looking boyish face, his thick eyelashes, all gathered together from his long forgotten memories.
Zhou Rong, as though possessed, lifted his hand and tucked Si Nan’s hair behind his ears.
It was at this time when footsteps were heard from the outside. The door of the vehicle was opened gently.
Zhou Rong immediately shut his eyes and pretended to be in a deep sleep, not knowing why he acted so instinctively. A few seconds later, he felt someone get into the vehicle, passing through the huddle at the back almost silently, and stopping by them.
Next, a person bent over and lifted Si Nan’s hand up. The action was very careful and slight.
The fever medication Si Nan took had a drowsy effect. So, he continued sleeping, only murmuring as he turned over.
Zhou Rong lay there, motionless, till finally he heard the person open his mouth, speaking softly. “Thank you, you’ve saved my life.”
— It was Yan Hao.
Zhou Rong’s heart jolted slightly, and he squinted imperceptibly. In the dim light within the compartment, Yan Hao lowered his head, his breathing hurried, and kissed Si Nan on his temple.
It was a fleeting, anxious, and devoted kiss.
The look in Zhou Rong’s eyes was unreadable.
Yan Hao acted like a child who had stolen candies as he swiftly stood up, exited the vehicle and closed the door without much sound.
The compartment returned once more into darkness. Left speechless, Zhou Rong once again shut his eyes.