The Graveyard Tales
Chapter Thirty Eight: Reunion
Nianzu Han stood on the balcony of the apartment building, overlooking the city of Nanjing, China. The apartment was well-furnished, and those seeing it for the first time might mistake it for the home of a family of considerable means, but in truth, it was the product of years of saving and hard work.
It was the middle of the day, yet the streets below were quiet, aside from the occasional shuffling sound or light moan. He was on the building's twelfth floor, and from here he could see much of the city. He could see the sprawling streets for miles around, and apartments and skyscrapers of all sizes. In the distance, like a beacon in the night, he could make out Zifeng Tower.
In days past, he remembered the city as a lively, vibrant place. The shows that could be found any day of the week, music of all kinds that filled his ears and never failed to liven his soul. Independent films, some of which he had worked on as a production assistant or extra, that even at their worst were light years better than the shit that came from the level of Hell called Hollywood. Museums that always taught him something new, be it history, art or science.
He thought back to the friends he had. Mika, Tori, Jie and Lun, just a few of the faces he was so happy to know. The times they shared together, relaxing over cold beers in one of the neighborhood watering holes, or rocking to their favorite live band. House parties that ran well past sunup, leaving them hung over, exhausted, but damned glad they went.
His memories drifted to his family. His mother and father, both such hard workers, his inspiration to push himself farther each and every day. When he graduated college with a degree in electrical engineering, he told his parents that this was for them, that they had set the bar with their determination and spirit. His older sister, always there with advice on girls and how best to avoid coming home wasted.
These memories were all he had now. The city below, his friends and family, all were gone.
All that remained were the dead.
Nanjing had been one of the last cities to fall, due nothing in part to its strategic importance and everything to do with the simple fact the China's zombie problem originated on the other side of the country. Imagine, being the last to die because of your place in line. Fucking amazing. Survival of the Orderly.
What was left of the army surrounded the city, prepared to hold the line and protect the civilians, who perhaps were all that remained of China's population. They set up barricades, laid down land mines, and brought all their weapons to bear on the advancing horde of the undead. They stood their ground as the millions upon millions of zombies approached. Not a single soldier ran or even wavered, and for that, the should build a fucking statue in their honor.
Who knows, maybe there's one there now. A light pole with the Chinese flag, or a rifle adorn with a soldier's helmet. Anything would do. Bravery like that's rare, and it should always be honored.
Nianzu had been in England when the outbreak reached his homeland, working for a software firm. He had tried to get back home, desperate to save his family and friends. But just as they had done when the Great Exhumation struck the United States, the rest of the world was quick to shut the Chinese border and do all they could to firmly seal the virus at its source.
Long story short, a family reunion was not on the menu.
Nianzu watched the news every day, hoping for word that the infection had been eliminated, and that China was once again safe. But the news only got worse, not better, as the army fell back time and again and the casualties approached six figures. Though Nianzu had never gotten official confirmation, even now, he had known the exact moment his family had died. He felt a deep emptiness one day, a breach in his soul, and he knew that his parents and older sister were either gone or infected. Not knowing gnawed at him, and he promised he'd find out the truth, though to be frank, a part of him was perfectly content to let the mystery remain just that.
Nianzu was doing his best to ignore that part.
A burst of static pierced the air, and the young man grabbed the walkie-talkie at his belt. He thumbed the transmitter, and said "Nianzu here."
"No, you're Nianzu somewhere-the-fuck-else," came the caustic response. "You're supposed to be Nianzu here on the north side of town helping us search for supplies. Now get your ass down here!"
The transmission cut off with a sharp squeal, and Nianzu sighed and began making his way through the apartment. He wove around the expensive couch and entertainment center, the television that had cost his father a month's pay. Everything bore a thick coating of dust, and there were signs of a fight, albeit a brief one.
Home, sweet home.
Eventually, the European nations decided that if they couldn't retake the areas lost to the undead, then the next best thing was to strip them bare. After all, with the world economy now in shambles, shipments of supplies were coming fewer and fewer as the weeks and months passed. Supply teams were formed, mostly former soldiers or policemen, but mercenaries aplenty signed up for the job, as much to alleviate the boredom as anything else.
There job was simple—they would be airlifted into some of the more affluent sections of the infected zones, with enough weapons to hold off an army and supplies to last them a month. While there, they would acquire any useful items, from canned goods and aspirin, to priceless works of art and functioning electronics and tools. Scavenging tactics were becoming necessary if those countries free of infection wanted to avoid starvation and keep the lights running.
Like they say, no man is an island.
The government also formed reclamation teams, with the goal of retaking those countries overrun by zombies, but everyone knew this was at best a token gesture. With a millions of people turned, any army was fighting out of its depth. Still, the idea that the still-functioning governments were trying to purge the infection kept civilian morale alive, if barely so. In some areas, such teams found success, so long as they remained in low-populated areas. Cities were a suicide run.
Nianzu had signed up for a supply team right away, knowing it was only a matter of time before his team paid Nanjing a visit. He was one of the first to jump off the chopper once it landed, as well as the first to volunteer for any and all search missions, so long as he was allowed to go alone.
His commanding officer, an Englishman named Cecil, knew of the young man's real reason for signing up, and while he didn't approve of such deception, Nianzu always brought back something from his supply runs. If he wanted to take a detour to look for his folks, that was his business.
Nianzu opened the door to the roof of the apartment building. He flexed his legs a moment, then took off, running as fast as he could before leaping over to the next building. He tucked and rolled, as Cecil had taught him, coming to his feet in one fluid motion. Nianzu had never been an athlete, but he had taken to the training as if born to the role.
Better that than the alternative.
He made for the fire escape, passing the unlocked door to the building. Going into an apartment building in a city overtaken by the dead was Amateur Hour 101, and the first thing you were not supposed to do after touching down in a Dead Zone. Tight quarters, usually high numbers of dead and minimal access points—you were better off taking your chances on the streets, which is just what Nianzu did, heading down the escape to the jeep he had commandeered.
He had left the key in the ignition, another lesson of his training. After all, what need did zombies have for cars? A few were around his jeep, but were quickly dispatched with quick shots from the crowbar he kept at his side. He carried a gun, of course, but the sound had proven to be particularly attractive to the undead, and it was best to make as little noise as possible. Once one heard you, they seemed to be able to pass a message to the others, and before you knew it, you'd be knee-deep in the ghouls.
Nianzu made his way through the neighborhood, taking back alleys instead of the main roads, which at any hour were filled with the walking dead. He knew the way to the section of the city the others were picking over, and before long sighted the other vehicles they had "borrowed" in the name of their mission.
An older man named Jacque met Nianzu when he arrived. A former cop with no room for flexibility as far as the laws went, he was the last person you'd expect to sign up for a job like this. But he also had a family back home, and making sure his wife the two daughters went to sleep with full stomachs counted a lot more than his morals. All the same, he ran his unit like a drill sergeant, and didn't tolerate dallying like he often saw from Nianzu. He met the young scavenger as he parked the jeep.
Nianzu tossed a small sack he had grabbed from a pharmacy. Without a word, he walked past Jacque. He looked in the bag, then back at Nianzu, an expression of disgust on his face. "This is it? A few bottle of aspirin and cough syrup?" He tossed the bag aside and grabbed Nianzu by the shoulder. "You've been gone for hours and this shit is all you bring back?"
Nianzu didn't look away, didn't so much as blink. "Pickings were slim where I looked, I'll go somewhere different tomorrow."
"Like hell you will!" Jacque shouted. "Every day you've gone to the same damn place."
Nianzu's eyes narrowed. He had his own reason for being here, that much was true. But he had worked hard to earn his place, and resented it when people called him lazy or deceptive. "It's a good place to search for supplies."
"More like to look for your old drinking buddies," Jacque said, then relaxed a little. "Look, kid, you do a good job, but this quest of yours has to come to an end. Your friends, your family, they're dead, and finding them, trust me, it doesn't make things better, or give you any sense of closure or any of that Hallmark shit."
"It's my decision," Nianzu said. "There's no reason for you to care."
"About you? Damn right I don't care," Jacque snorted. "But your crap puts the rest of us at risk, and no way in hell am I going to tolerate that."
"So just let me go on my own," Nianzu replied. "Kick me out of your unit and let me go where I please. Tell them I got killed or something."
Jacque looked to the ground, shaking his head in exasperation. "Again with this nonsense. Look kid, it doesn't work that way. We lose someone, we gotta bring them back, you know this. Unless you want your skull to model my Beretta's muzzle, you come back with us."
Nianzu said nothing. He knew the rules as well as Jacque did. He also knew that if he just took off, the squad leader would come after him, using the GPS tracker implanted in his wrist to find him.
The older man looked around, making sure no one was in earshot. "You find any of them?"
Nianzu started, unsure of what he had just heard. "What?"
"You're family, your friends, you find any of them?"
Nianzu shook his head. "Not yet, but they lived on a pretty wide stretch of the city. I'm just hoping they didn't wander too far off. Why are you so curious? You never cared before."
Jacque said nothing for a moment, but Nianzu knew the news was bad. "I hope your luck's better tomorrow, because we just got our orders. We airlift back home tomorrow night. After that, our squad doesn't get deployed for a full six months."