Chapter Twenty Two
“What do we do?” Leigh asked, and with a heavy sigh and a brief moment of hesitation, Chris answered.
“We give it another half hour, and if they’re not out by then, we’ll send two people back to camp with the dogs and the rest of us will go in.”
“Is that safe?” Jacob asked. He could put weight down on his ankle, but walking was a nightmare for him. It would be extremely slow-going for him to get back to camp.
“Does it matter?” Chris asked. “They’re our people.”
“We can’t just lose thirteen people in one hit.” Someone said quietly. “If we do, our camp won’t be able to function. All of those people in there are friends of someone and we don’t need any more grief.” There was a murmur across the group as they agreed.
“So eleven of us go back in there?” Leigh asked.
Chris eyed Jacob and shook his head. “No. Ten. Two people will have to help Jacob back, and then we can split into even groups of five.”
“Splitting into groups isn’t the best option.” Isiah said. “We split into groups today and look where that got us.”
“He’s right.” Isabelle said. “There’s safety in numbers.”
“What if all of us get caught-up or lost or whatever like the others?” Nick asked. “Having two groups will at least give us more of a chance.”
“But we could also be outnumbered.” Leigh said “Whether it be by the infected or the people that were with the Doctor.”
“So we vote.” Chris said. “Everyone who wants to stay as one group, hands up.”
Gwen’s hand went up, as did many others. After a quick count, Chris sighed. “Eight.”
“So it’s decided then. One group of ten.”
There was no argument, though Gwen expected one. It was just silent, the air tense with worry.
“Do you think they’re okay?” She asked quietly, but Isiah shook his head.
“No.” He said plainly. “If they were okay, they would’ve let us know somehow, instead of leaving us here to wait.”
“Don’t assume the worst the worst though.” Isabelle reminded her. “They might have just gotten in a little bit of trouble.”
“What do we do if it’s more than a little bit of trouble?” The boy that Gwen had helped earlier asked.
“Stop talking like this.” Leigh said, but Chris shook his head.
“No. This is good. We need a plan. If there is something drastically wrong, we make our way back to the outskirts. From there, we’ll send some more people back to get reinforcements, and then we go back in. And if anyone gets separated from the group, don’t look for us, just return to this point. There’s no need for you to get lost and cause a panic.”
“Are we going to take the dogs in?”
Leigh shrugged and shared a look with Chris. “I’m think we should take Jane and Tobias in. The rest of them can go back and get some rest.”
“What if we get injured?” Isiah asked. “Like Jacob has. If we bust our ankle, there’s no making our way back unless we crawl, and that’s a risk.”
“Then you better get comfortable.” Chris told him. “We need everyone who’s available in case there is a confrontation. The people in our group are all physically strong, but not all of them are strong enough to carry a full grown adult back here. If someone of Gwen’s size had to drag you back here, that would tire them out in minutes, rendering two people useless. So unless Nick is quick enough to help you out, you’re screwed.”
“So don’t get injured. Got it.”
“I want a formation before we go in.” Leigh said, and Gwen became very aware that this was exactly like a war and they were a battalion getting ready to go into a war zone. They even had their ranks. Chris was obviously their leader, and Leigh his second in command. Gwen herself was a recruit, a newbie that had them all at risk. Isiah and Isabelle would be higher-up on the ladder along with Nick. The others in the group would all be Privates.
“Gun carriers need to be on the outside of the group at all times. We don’t need accidental friendly fire. I need two people to volunteer to watch our backs.” He pointed towards Nick and Isabelle. “I want you two to work as runners and inform us of anything that might become a risk.” He then turned to Gwen, Isiah and another female. “You three are in the middle, because you don’t have any real weapons besides knives no matter how much you’ve proved yourself to be decent at fighting the infected.”
Isiah rolled his eyes but he complied, turning to the other female that would be joining them in the centre. “Isiah.” He introduced himself.
The woman evaluated Isiah for a moment before holding out her hand. “Sam.” She introduced herself, a hint of a smile curling at the corner of her lips. She turned to Gwen. “And you are?”
“Ah. The infected girl.” She didn’t say it in a rude way, but in the way that you would say someone’s nickname.
“Excuse me?” Gwen asked, feeling slightly insulted. “Is that what they call me?”
“Yeah. You’re kind of popular around here.”
“Well, yeah. You went missing and you were thought dead. A few months later you show up alive, but infected and no one has put you down yet. That’s kind of big news.”
Before Gwen could even think of a reply, there was a shout of “Get in formation!”
With a frustrated sigh, Gwen found herself jostled into the centre of the formation. She hated it, feeling like they didn’t trust her enough to watch their backs, or that she was too weak to be anywhere else. She felt slightly better when she noticed there were big enough gaps between the people on the outside for her to break formation if she needed.
She could tell that Isiah was also frustrated. She knew that he was a warrior at heart; he had been trained to be that way against the infected. Being at the centre of formation would’ve not only been an insult to him, but it limited his capabilities. Gwen had watched him take down infected that day with just his physical strength, sometimes not even resorting to the knife.
And surely Sam had to be competent. She had a sword strapped to her back rather than a knife. The sword had obviously been ornamental at one stage, probably stolen from a collector’s house, but she didn’t dare doubt Sam’s prowess in battle.
“It sucks being in the centre.” Sam said quietly to her. “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Oh, they must think me weak’, but trust me, it’s not like that.”
“Then what’s it like?”
“It’s just your weapon. It’s not practical when you need to be moving quickly. The people with guns have been trained to have spectacular aim so that they hit their target even while running, but you’re not exactly skilled with your knife, and a sword isn’t that easy to kill someone while on the move, and Isiah is in the centre for the same reason. None of us doubt his skills, but this is just the easiest way.”
Oh. That made a lot of sense actually.
“Let’s get moving.” Chris called back as he took his place next to Leigh at the front of the group.
It was awkward running as a group, though nobody else seemed to think so. They had obviously been accustomed to it, but Gwen found herself either getting her heels stepped on by those who were covering them from the back, or she was stepping on Isiah’s heels.
“You get used to it.” Sam told her after hearing her frustrated sigh. “It’s difficult to fall into the rhythm of the group at first.”
“I hope I get used to it soon.” Gwen murmured under her breath. “This isn’t exactly practical.” She growled a little as she stumbled from one of the people behind her getting to close.
“Pull back a little.” Sam called over her shoulder. “You’re making it difficult.”
Though they had been a little reluctant at first to loosen the formation, they pulled back enough for Gwen to run properly without the fear of eating pavement. “Thanks.” She said to Sam suddenly liking the girl.
Sam flashed her a grin. “Don’t worry about it. Just focus on running. I’m not carrying you back to camp if you trip.”
They ran into a few stragglers but they were easily dispatched, and Gwen didn’t even have to lift her knife, much to her annoyance.
It was strange. In the entirety of a few hours, she had gone from not wanting to use her weapon at all, to feeling frustrated at not using it, though she thought that her frustration might have been tied to the fact that she was in the middle of the formation. She would never willingly want to use a knife against another person.
“Any sign of them?” Leigh called out to Isabelle and Nick, who were running towards them to re-join the formation.
“Yeah, but you won’t like it.” Nick told them. “Found a gun outside one of the buildings down that way. It’s gotta be one of ours, there’s no doubt.”
“I doubt the gun is from Cheyenne’s group.” Chris said lowly, though they could all still hear him. “And there were only three people who were carrying guns in the other group.”
“Who were the gun carriers in that group?” One of the outside formation members asked.
“Zeke, James and Leah.”
Gwen felt fear bubble up in her chest. She and Zeke had become close over the last few days, and if he had dropped his gun it surely couldn’t mean anything good, and she couldn’t breathe at the thought of losing James.
“Shit. None of them would drop their guns by accident.”
“Yeah. Question is who dropped it?”
“I hope to god it wasn’t James.” Someone said. “He’s the leader of that group, right? If he dropped the gun, it means that there’s a good chance that the others are in trouble.”
“Maybe, but there’s also a chance that they’d have Leah and Zeke still defending them if things go wrong, and we all know what they’re both like when it comes to the safety of others.”
“Stop.” Chris said softly, stepping back slightly. At first, Gwen couldn’t see what was going on, couldn’t hear anything, until there was the sound of footsteps approaching.
Another group, but not one of theirs, was approaching and it was much larger than theirs. It was obviously from the hospital because as far as Gwen had been informed there were no other camps nearby. As they came closer, she caught snatches of their conversation.
“You think the rest of their group is out here?”
“Maybe. They might have just gone back to their camp though.”
“I doubt it. They’d be out here looking.”
Gwen felt her heart seize in panic and she brought her fist up to her mouth, biting down on the flesh so she wouldn’t make a sound.
“We won’t go back until we find the other half of the group otherwise we might not get another chance.”
They were getting closer, now. They were close to their location, and if they didn’t move soon, they would be seen, yet, though people shifted their weight, no one made any attempt at moving away from there.
“If we catch this group, Liam will be pleased. More test subjects for a cure.”
Holy shit. Gwen thought to herself. They’re actually testing on people, and we’re just standing here, waiting for them to see us.
“Chris!” Leigh hissed, barely audible. She grabbed his shirt, trying to pull him away, but he just stood there, watching the group.
“Come on!” Her voice raised half a pitch and Gwen winced.
“Did you hear that?” One of the members of the group asked.
“Might have just been a cat.”
There was a snort. “Billy, tell me the last time you saw a cat around here.”
“Might have been the other group.”
Shit. Shit. They really had to move now, but Chris still remained motionless. Leigh looked exasperated, and there was conflict on her face. She was obviously warring with herself in her head.
She watched as Leigh closed her eyes, her lips forming words but no sound escaped. She opened her eyes, and let go of Chris’ shirt. She took a deep breath and before Gwen could even click onto what she was doing, she was running.
Except she wasn’t running away from the group. She was running towards them.
“Leigh!” Chris cried, starting to run after her, but the member closest to him - Nick - grabbed him, yanking him back.
“Break formation!” Leigh called and though there was a moment of hesitation, almost everyone obeyed her order. Isiah and Isabelle had started to run but Gwen hadn’t, because Chris was fighting against Nick, fighting to get towards Leigh, and he would surely get all of them killed.
“Chris!” She cried. “Please!”
“Gwen!” Sam hissed at her, grabbing her arm and trying to pull her away. “Let it go.”
“No! I’ve already left him once.” She yanked her arm away from Sam’s grasp. “Go on. We’ll catch up.” Though Sam looked frustrated at her, she heaved a sigh.
“Good luck.” She said, before running.
“Get the others!” The leader of the other group called and then there was the sound of footsteps coming closer at a run. If Chris didn’t run now, they would get caught. There was absolutely no doubt about it.
Nick had hints of colour appearing in his face as he struggled with Chris, except the smaller man wouldn’t relent despite Nick’s strength. “Gwen, run.” Nick told her, but she shook her head.
She wasn’t leaving Chris again.
And in moments, the other group was upon them.