Our meeting spot was at ’The Temple Bar’, a cozy old world pub with a nice varying menu, a good selection of beers and secluded booths where parties could eat, drink and talk in private. Everything a hungry, thirsty and security conscious bounty hunter might want.
I was arriving a little bit early since I wanted to get all my thoughts in order for the meeting. I had had little to no sleep, spending most of the night gathering intel on New York; the location of the shelter, best routes to take going in/out, what to expect when arriving and a million other things. I had to spend some of my $ONION-funds to do it, but it was nothing that staking my coins wouldn’t get me back eventually (something I could do via my neural implant 24/7). The annual staking percent of 1% isn’t as high as it was in the first and second year (10/5%) of DeepOnion, but still it helps to recuperate some of the money I spend on information gathering.
I was a bit anxious about telling them about New York, but I had made sure to drop by the office to split up the reward, so I was ready to hand it out. That should get them in a good mood (initially at least).
Entering the pub and heading for our usual table I found it already occupied by everyone. Apparently they had also decided to come early and start the celebrations on the score from yesterday. I couldn’t really blame them wanting to relax and enjoy life a bit. But it was making me feel even more like a party-pooper than I already was. And it gave me no time for any mental preparation so I was going to have to decide how to tell them off-hand.
They saw me coming and waved me over. “Guest of honor joining the party and bringing present I image” Wiley burst out before I even have time to sit down. I smile and hand out four sealed envelopes, each containing a passkey for a fifth of the food ration reward, usable to make withdraws whenever they wanted. I always make sure it is an even split since we are a team. Sometimes I take away a small part to use as supplies for future missions but everything else we split equally. The gas reward I moved over to our ‘community account’ (that we all shared and had access to). There wasn’t much need for gasoline, except on Bounty assignments, so that was the agreement we had made.
Even Blade seemed to be in a good mood and scooted over to make room for me in the booth. “Don’t worry, we haven’t started without you. We just arrived a few minutes ago, felt we deserved an extra drink or two today for a good days work” he says with a small smile tugging on his lips.
“You deserve it” I manage to push out while taking on a more serious face and sitting down. In the moment I decide that it would be best to get the news out immediately. That way it doesn’t seem like I am trying to sneak it up on them (though I kind of was).
“I have gotten a job request I would like all of you to consider”.
“Come-on boss, have a beer and lay-off the shop-talk for later. Enjoy the moment! We can all have steaks and bears tonight!” Blade says, still with a smile on his face. Not for much longer I think while gathering my breath to barrel through my pitch. Too late to back down now so might as well continue as if he never interrupted me in the first place.
“It’s a high-risk job with equally high-value reward. It’s an extraction of 12 people from an extremely zombie-heavy area, four adults’ and eight kids’ lives are at stake.” That seemed to sober everyone up and I could notice that they were now all listening intently to what I was saying. Good, I didn’t want to have to run this through more than once.
“The client has promised to front any supplies needed for the successful fulfillment of the assignment. Upon completion they will reward us with high-quality food rations, three months’ worth, for each team member with an additional gas bonus that would triple our current supplies.” I let that hang for a moment while I gauged their reactions. Nobody said anything for a while until Wiley let out a slow whistle. “A reward like that must have some special circumstances I imagine” Izzy says, pushing for more info.
“You could say that. The target is in New York, stuck in an underground shelter since the Outbreak. A high-school teacher, the kids and their chaperones. They were on a field-trip to the shelter and managed to seal themselves off inside. Supplies are running low and it is now or never for them.” There was a heavy silence hanging in the air after I had finished. It was finally broken by Blade bursting out laughing (not the reaction I was expecting).
“You can’t be serious! New York! That is a death-trap and you know it. They can’t possibly be alive and even if they are no one can make it in and out of there alive. Therefore this has got to be a joke right?!” But he wasn’t smiling anymore, he had a clear frown on his face.
“I have done the research, they are very much alive, in New York, and no one is coming to help them. No one… unless we do.” I say keeping my voice level, but maybe something slipped into my voice since Izzy answered “It sounds like you already made up your mind on the matter”. I hold her eyes for a bit thinking of what to say. I decide on the truth and leave it in their hands.
“I can’t do this without your help, but yes, I want to help these people. They are stuck in a hellhole with no hopes of escaping. That they have held out this long shows some serious backbone. I found hundreds of blogs/posts dating back since the beginning of the Outbreak asking someone/anyone for help. The responses (when given) have been sympathetic but not enough to move anyone into action. Everyone here must decide for themselves if you are willing to risk your life to save someone else. The reward is big, but this is a dangerous assignment, and you can’t spend anything if you are dead.”
I was expecting a longer silence while they mulled it over. To my surprise it was Nebu (I can never quite figure him out) who spoke after just a few seconds “No one should have to choose between starving to death and getting eaten alive. If you think there is something that we can do about it count me in”. That was practically a speech coming from Nebu and I gave a silent nod of thanks to him for speaking up.
Wiley and Izzy looked at each other, coming to some sort of silent agreement (not unlike the old couple for last night). Izzy is finally the one to voice their thoughts. “We’re in, we know what it is like, being trapped, feeling like there is no way out. Having those ‘things’ just waiting for you give in and make a hopeless run for it”.
I think back to the shopping mall where me, Nebu and Blade had picked the two of them up in the first place. It had been partially overrun with ’Walkers’ (using the Walking Dead slang was easier than always saying zombie) but a few survivors had managed to barricade themselves in one of the wings. But without any real weapons and limited food it would just have been a matter of time before they were in the same situation the people in New York were in right now. So I could understand them wanting to help.
With that settled I turned to Blade “And you?” I said, leaving the question in the air. He still had a frown on his face but he seemed to be mulling it over. He looked around the table, seemingly at all of us. “You’re all completely out of your minds. You know you’re going to get yourselves killed while trying to help these people”. But then his frown turned up in a slight smile as he continued “I guess then I have to tag along, if only to be sure you make it back so I have someone to drink with. It’d be too damn boring here without the rest of you”. I knew he still might not be fully happy about this assignment but if he said he would do it I could trust him to follow through. I gave him a nod and a small smile back.
“That’s for damn sure we wouldn’t make it out without you Blade. Who else is going to watch our backs” Wiley bursts out with a big smile on his face that spreads around the table. Feeling it safe to continue I end the subject for tonight. “We’ll need to go over the details as soon as possible, we have a lot of preparations to do and we are leaving in only two days. But first let’s get some drinks and steaks in here! We still have a job well done to celebrate so let’s not think about work until the morning”. “Hear, hear!” they all chime in.
It is important to savor the good times, few as they are, in a world like this. And I really had been looking forward to that juicy steak with some freshly fried onions since yesterday. I set all other thoughts aside and decide on enjoying tonight. Tomorrow we set to work!
Link to Chapter One: Crypto Zombie Novel - Chapter 1: The Great Outbreak, Here Is How It Started!