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Approx. 4200 words

All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2015   SJ

The Zone:

There and Back Again


written by  SJ



    Lana was fixed a nice Tau breakfast in the morning, the Tau version of a frittata, something they heated up using their portable kitchen devices. Soon she was prepared and ready to go, standing near the short hallway that led outside, the men looking at her...and like Berry, wishing she didn’t have to go. Bryan kissed her hand, Dave and Ira each gave her a kiss on the cheek. Ho’sarn was going to do the same, but ended up kissing her full on the lips, saying he was sorry afterwards as Lana staggered, surprised. Berry just waved goodby from the back of the room.
    The metal door could be opened remotely, which was what it did as Lana began her exit, squinting once she was outside in the bright sunlight. Looking back, she spotted a camera and an intercom on the outside next to the door. Then she made her way quickly to the road, traveling north, stopping short of the south gate. To the right, in the distance, was a grassy, wet, area, a swamp were she could see movement using her binoculars, fio’kuls in their native habitat, most of them drawn closer to the Facility because of the dead bodies.
    From the open gate, Lana used her binoculars to look around first. She was thinking about traveling along the inside of the east wall so she could avoid most of the buildings, then dash straight over to the EAST building; but, there were numerous fio’kuls there, still munching on a few dead bodies.
    However, she had a hunch about the strangely-shaped building, the one that looked like a cafeteria; if she could make her way over there and peek inside, and if she was right, that’s where she was hoping to find all the zombies. The information would be very valuable.
    The Tau storage building was directly to the left; she made her way around that and came up behind the cafeteria, where there were no windows, then slid around to the side that faced the parking lot, then began peeking inside the first window.
    What she saw she didn’t like. It CHANGED everything!
    “Zombies, shombies,” she thought to herself. She had no idea what had happened to all the men affected by the Mont’ka, however, two of them had come here to the cafeteria, where she clearly saw them, more or less alive, sitting down against the far wall--prisoners. Standing around inside the cafeteria were five Kroots, dressed in full battle gear and masks, armed with bladed kroot rifles, two of them guarding the two men.”
    Hundreds of years ago, the Tau had conducted genetic experiments to see if they could get some of their people to live on hot, hostile, worlds. The results were Daxzans. The experiment worked, but not without consequences: The Daxzans became very primitive in nature and lived tribally. They remained intelligent and benevolent, but doing so in their own way. However, they were not Tau anymore. Their skin had become leathery and grey while their faces had become much less Tau-like; as time went on, their hair became very spiky like porcupine quills. When they organized themselves as military squads, they used the name, Kroots, usually putting on different kinds of war-dress, which included a mask. They also bred dogs to help them survive on some of the hostile worlds. When they migrated to the Sol Frontier, they brought the dogs with them and incorporated them into their military: Kroot Hounds. There were also mutations: The Krootox, a larger much less intelligent version of themselves that was adopted as part of their society, used for heavy labor, but still treated respectfully and taken good care off. In Kroot squads, they were sometimes used to carry a heavier version of the kroot rifle, called a kroot gun.
    When the Kroot nearest to her began looking around like he was suspicious of something, she ducked back out of sight. She then got out her collapsible periscope, extended it, and began looking back inside. The Kroot was looking at the window now, but obviously didn’t see the small periscope tip.
    She wanted to see if there were more Kroots besides the five, and soon she spotted two more just outside the front doors to the cafeteria. After stepping back around to the back of the cafeteria, she made a call to the scientists. “Hey, guys--”
    They answered immediately. “Yes...we hear you.”
    Lana cringed. Their voices were loud, and with Kroots having heighten senses, she decided to move further away, back behind a car next to the Tau storage building. “Listen. I just checked out the cafeteria. I found Kroots--”
    “KROOTS!” That sounded like Dave. “You mean, Daxzans?”
    “No, Kroots, in full battle gear and weapons.” Lana made it clear. “Do any of you know why there would be Kroots in here?”
    “Kroots?” Ho’sarn questioned. “Are you sure they’re Kroots?”
    “Of course, I’m sure they’re Kroots!” Lana exclaimed. “There’s five inside the cafeteria and two just outside the door.”
    Ho’sarn sighed. “Kroots. If there’s Kroots over there, she needs to get out of there.”
    “We have no idea if they’re hostile, right now.” Bryan seemed to be the calmest. “I don’t even know how they could be conscious.”
    “Well, they’re Daxzans.” Dave began thinking out loud. “They obviously have a different brainwave pattern than we do. Lana, do you know if they’re hostile?”
    She sighed, then quipped, “well, why don’t I just walk up to one and say hello, and if he cuts my guts out--I’ll let you know. They're holding two men prisoner here in the cafeteria; but, they don’t seemed to be injured,” she frowned, "and they are NOT acting like zombies."

    "No zombies, huh...that's good." Dave mentioned.
    “I’m getting nothing on any of the logs as to any requests for Kroot guards. They aren’t even native on this planet.” Bryan was busily checking the Facility’s files on the computer.
    “My guess is that they might be the other animals; but, since they haven’t killed the two men, I don’t know what to think.” Dave made an educated guess. “As to why they are there, I have NO IDEA.”
    “Kroots are very good at being camouflaged.” Bryan continued to think. “That may be why we didn’t see any of them with our camera.” He sighed. “Lana, do you think you can sneak inside the MAIN building and get to the Mont’ka room?”
    “Actually, that’s exactly what I was planning to do.” Lana replied. “Oh, and by the way...can you guys keep your voices down a bit--”
    “Oh, yes...yes.” Bryan’s voice diminished. “Is this better.”
    “Lana.” Dave began. “If you see any Kroot Hounds over there, get the hell out of there.”
    “I agree,” Lana said. “But, none of the Kroots I spotted looked like they had any beastmaster pouches. And it’s unlikely they’d use Hounds in a Facility like this. I’m making my way to the MAIN building on the EAST side as we speak.”
    “Try to stay as far from the Kroots as possible.” Dave added. “You are a Terran and a women. Your scent would be very out of place there.”
    The Space Marine no longer cared very much about the fio’kul’s. In fact, the closer she was to them, the more her scent would be masked by theirs. She silently dashed from parked car to parked car until she was about twenty meters from the EAST building entrance. She could see the two Kroots in front of the cafeteria clearly now, about fifty meters away. She waited, then began thinking about throwing a small pebble over at the warehouse to distract them. When they turned to talk to each other, she made her dash to the door, then inside, a small lobby, feeling the heat of the unairconditioned building immediately, something she knew wouldn’t affect the Kroots very much--if at all.
    Each of the MAIN buildings had a nice wide hallways that ran all the way around, circling the offices which were inside. All she needed to do now was turn left, follow the hallway until she came to the stairs, then take them down, and follow an underground passageway to the Mont’ka room. However, she had no sooner taken three steps when a Kroot came around the corner; she took off the other way not knowing if she was spotted.
    Lana knew there was no way she could outrun a Kroot. She took off quickly, picking up speed as she heard footsteps behind her. She was halfway around to the other side of the building, when she ran straight into another Kroot--this one spotting her for sure. When she turned to go the other way, the one chasing her was already there.
    At this point, she had to take the chance of hoping they weren’t hostile. As soon as she shot one, the Kroots would go on a blood hunt for her. The two Kroots held their rifles pointed right at her face, pinning her against the wall, not even giving her time to hold up her hands or even smile and say, hello.
    Kroot rifles had sharp, curved, blades on both the front and back sections of their weapons. The two Kroots quickly placed the front blades on their weapons right up against her neck, crossing them. Looking into the eyes of the Kroots, she could see there was something mentally wrong with them--crazy eyes. She gasped a little as the blades pressed tighter against her neck, then, at the last moment, with no other choice, she drew both her pistols, and, with ambidextrous agility, shot the Kroots both in the chest, then through the head.
    She could feel blood on both sides of her neck, bleeding, but not real bad. The two Kroots lay dead on the floor.
    “What was that?” Dave shouted frantically. “What was that? What did you shoot?”
    She took a couple breaths. “I had to shoot two Kroots who were getting ready to cut my throat.”
    Ho’sarn sighed miserably saying something like, oh my god, in Tau. “They will be on a blood hunt for you, now.”
    “Where are you?” That was Bryan, still remaining calm. “Are you near the stairs. Can you get down--”
    “I’m way over on the other side of the building--”
    “Lana.” Dave had an idea. “Take the stairs on your side UP to the third floor. Cross over to the WEST building using the walkway and come down from there. Use the stairs down to the Mont’ka room from there. The Kroots will all be looking for you in the EAST building.”
    Lana was already moving as soon as she heard the word, stairs. Coming from the hallway in both directions, she heard Kroot voices and the sound of footsteps. She found the door to stairs, opened it and began her ascent feeling the trickles of blood coming down from both sides of her neck. Once she was on the third floor, and had taken the hallway around to one of the walkways, she put her pistols away to feel her neck, getting her right hand bloody, which she wiped on her pants.
    She had no time to ascertain her neck wounds and had to just let them bleed, knowing neither of them were bad enough to be life threatening. Also, she was already beginning to sweat profusely, the third floor the hottest; the only way to keep cool was to keep moving.
    As she crossed over the walkway, below her, she saw Kroots leaving the cafeteria, heading to the building she had just come from. It was obvious they had no working communicators, which in this case, was very good. It meant everything they tried to do as a group would be on a significant delay.
    Below her she saw the top of the Mont’ka room, the rounded dome, the road going though the center of the Facility, raised just enough to go over the top of it. Once she was in the WEST building, she quickly found the stairs. All she needed to do now, was take the stairs all the way down to the underground level, then take the hallway to the Mont’ka room. She also hadn’t spotted any more employees at the Facility, dead or alive, hoping that was a good sign they had all found shelters.
    “How are you doing?” She heard Dave’s voice. It startled her.
    She quickly updated her status, whispering, as she descended the stairs.
    Once she was on the first floor, she listened at the closed door, but didn’t hear any footsteps outside, hoping all the Kroots were over at the other building, possibly searching the offices looking for her. After going down another flight of stairs, she found the underground hallway; there were signs pointing the way written in Tau.
    Making her way quickly at first, she slowed down and moved cautiously before entering the large, fifty-meter-diameter room. It was dark, but she could still see the wide walkway that went around the outside of the room, and the two narrower walkways that led to the control panel in the center of the room. She had stayed on the right side of the hallway and couldn’t see to right at all. However, on the left side of room, she spotted a Kroot, who spotted her.
    As soon as the Kroot raised his rifle to shoot, she dropped to the floor in a prone position and drew her pistol; when the Kroot fired, the pellets hit the wall above her. Then she aimed carefully using both hands, firing twice, hitting the Kroot in the upper chest and neck; he staggered and fell against the railing, which overlooked the actual chamber where the Mont’ka and the power source were located. She aimed and shot the Kroot again, hitting him in the head.
    When she got up, she peeked around the corner to the right, then ducked back quickly just as an advancing Kroot fired, a wide spread of pellets hitting the far side of the hallway. She then slipped back around and fired five times at the Kroot, who was only ten meters away, not allowing him to get off another shot.
    “Are you alright, Lana?” It was like Dave could no longer hold back his worry, whispering. “We heard a lot of shooting.”
    In the background over the com, she heard one of the other men wishing to himself, “please don’t be dead...”
    She sighed, then answered. “I’m fine. Two more Kroots down. They were firing these shotgun rounds at me.”
    “Yes...they probably would use those inside a building.” Dave seemed to know. He sighed. “I’m glad they missed you.
    In the background, she heard what sounded like Berry’s voice. “She’s a Space Marine. They are very well trained.”
    On each side of the walkway, halfway around to where she could see the power controls, were two sets of large capacitors, arcs of energy emanating from the tops of them to higher in the room. After quickly looking around for more enemies, she headed to the control panel, knowing that she didn’t have much time before more Kroots arrived, wishing she had brought silencers for her 9.1s. Running there, she knelt down, finding the cabinet below the control panel unlocked; after opening the doors, she spotted the manual control lever. It took her a short time to reach in, and with a little struggle, pulled down the lever. Around her, she could hear the sounds of the Mont’ka dissipating...then silence, the arcs from the capacitors flickering out making the room darker now with only the emergency lights left on.
    Over her com, she began hearing the crescendoing sounds of cheering. “She did it...she did it...”
    “Now turn off the power and get back to us...ALIVE please.” Bryan spoke succinctly, his calmness slowly being replaced by nervous excitement.
    Lana got up and ran back the way she came, then turned left, continuing on to the power controls without breaking stride. In this case there was a square button, but it didn’t seem t be working. “Hey, guys...I can’t turn off--”
    “Oh...yeah, I forgot.” Bryan sighed. “You have to use the computer first.” The scientist then began telling Lana the procedure to turn off the power, eventually giving her a password to do it with. The last thing she did was to press the button. The power was finally off...but, the emergency lights stayed on.
    “Thank you, Lana.” Bryan sighed again. “You’re done--”
    Then she was fired on by another Kroot who had been hiding over by the far capacitor. The shotgun pellets hit the power controls blowing out the computer. She felt pain on her abdomen as she turned to return fire, emptying her pistol, five shots before the Kroot slumped over on the railing and lay still.
    Lana then grabbed her abdomen on the right side, moaning...
    “Lana, Lana, are you alright? Lana!” Dave sounded worried.
    She continued to moan, doubling up slightly. It soon became obvious that one of the shotgun pellets had ricocheted off the power control panel and had struck her in the stomach.
    “Lana...can you answer?” Bryan sounded worried.
    “I got shot in the stomach with one of those Kroot shotguns.” She finally answered after another moan.
    At that point there was a whole lot of moaning coming from her com, sounding worse than her moan, then followed by worried Tau exclamations, “ohh, she is’s all my fault, she is dead...”
    “Lana, are you conscious...can you hear me?” Ira, the medical doctor, began asking.
    “Lana...” The worried doctor’s voice called again. “You have to tell me: Are any of your intestines bulging out?”
    The woman sighed to herself, knowing her injury wasn’t nearly that bad. “No...listen. I only got hit with one of the pellets. It’s in my stomach.”
    Her reply was met by a number of relieved sighs before the doctor asked again, “can you tell me exactly where you are hit?”
    After another sigh, she lifted up her shirt to check it out. “It’s about seven or eight centimeters down from my ribs on the right side.”
    The doctor sounded relieved. “That’s good. It missed your liver. It’s probably only lodged inside one of your intestines.”
    She sighed to herself, joking, whispering to herself, “oh, yeah...just my intestines. Gee...I hardly ever use those.”
    “When you get back, I’ll have the operating room ready for you.” The doctor added.
    Just then she heard the sounds of many Kroot voices and footsteps coming from the hallway on the other side of the room. After replacing her empty pistol in its holster, she held her stomach with her right hand and drew the other pistol with her left hand; then, she took off as fast as she could, going back down the hallway she came from.
    She had just reached the first floor to the WEST building when Dave called her. “Lana, we think we have a way for you to escape. Those Kroots are going to look for you inside the Mont’ka room, then come after you thinking you are in the WEST building. Go up to the third floor and cross back to the EAST building using the walkway again.” There was a pause while Dave listened to someone else before speaking again. “We’ll guide you from there.”
    Lana had thought of the same thing. As she made her way quickly upstairs, she had to mention. “Hey, you know, I haven’t seen any bodies at all so far. That may be a good sign that a lot of the workers over here were able to get into the underground shelters.”
    “Maybe so.” Dave agreed. “Those shelters would also have food and water.”
    “It also means, no zombies.” Bryan added.
    “No, no stupid zombies!” Lana thought to herself as she climbed the stairs, miffed, preferring there had been instead of getting shot by a Kroot.
    By the time she was on the third floor, she was tired, still holding her abdomen, the pain worsening, the heat getting to her again. Once she was in the EAST building, Dave instructed her to go through a door leading into the offices, there, telling her to look for a cubical. Eventually, she thought it strange and had to ask. “What I’m I looking for?”
    Bryan answered. “There’s a case that has some very important information.”
    “It’s something we’ve been working on. We didn’t have time to bring it with us when we had to leave the Facility.” Dave concluded. “We need it. Can you find it?”
    The woman made a face and sighed. “You DO know I have a bullet in my stomach, RIGHT--or have you forgotten?”
    There was a delay, then some mumbling before Dave responded hesitantly. “Well, it was on your way.”
    She sighed again. “I see it. It’s a dark case with a handle, right?”
    “YES!” Bryan sounded excited. “Can you bring it back with you, please?”
    “Sure. No problem.” Lana made another face and quipped, “is there anything else you want me to do...maybe I can stop by and pick you up a pizza on the way back.”     
    There was another delay and muttering, before Dave said an almost inaudible, “no, we’re fine.”
    Once she had left the offices and was back out in the hallway, she stood looking out at the eastern side, spotting outside the Facility, three buildings, remembering them from time she was on the hill yesterday. She had to ask. “Okay, where do you want me to go now?”
    “There’s an unfinished walkway.” Dave mentioned, then asked, “can you cross that to the building on the other side?”
    This time Lana grumbled and frowned before answering. “That walkway is nothing more than a couple bars. What do you want me to do, crawl across on my know, the one with a bullet in it?”
    She stood breathing heavily, her stomach wound hurting worse now...
    Eventually, Bryan came up with a better plan. “Lana. There’s an underground tunnel that goes to those buildings. Just keep going down stairs and you’ll find--”
    “I remember that. I’m on my way.”
    “I’m sorry about that walkway, Lana.” Dave apologized. “I thought it was in better shape than that.”
    Lana decided to hold the case in her right hand, and her pistol in the left, leaving her wound uncovered and still bleeding. The blood from her neck wounds had trickled down across her breasts and were being washed away with sweat. When she reached the first floor, she proceeded cautiously, moving quietly and listening carefully.
    When she heard movement on the other side of the door, she proceeded very quietly down the stairs and found the door to the underground hallway. It was locked, so she had to spend a little time picking it. Once it was open, she stepped through and locked it again...and just in time as the door above her opened.
    The narrow hallway was dark, making her put away her pistol and take out a small flashlight from her belt. She eventually found herself going through a door and into s small cellar, then up some stairs and through a hatchway, finding herself inside a small Terran office building.
    At this point, she took some time to set down the case, and hold her abdomen, catching her breath. As she did, Dave spoke to her, assuming her location. “All you need to do now is head south along the wall. The Kroots shouldn’t be able to see you there. Once you reach the south gate, follow that road back to us.”
    Lana picked up the case and exited the small building, moving forward so she stood behind the round three-story Tau building, the outdoors MUCH cooler. She looked at her route: There were numerous fio’kuls along the way. She holstered her pistol and switched the case to her left hand, leaving her right hand to hold over her wound. She had already figured out her plan of action. “Okay, guys, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to move as fast as I can and avoid the fio’kuls. I don’t want to use my pistol because that would alert the Kroots.” She took a breath and sighed, preparing, adding one last comment. “Once I’m there, that door BETTER open for me--or I’m going to be one pissed off pizza delivery girl!”
    When she made her move, she kept pace at a slow run, stumbling a few times until she reached the south gate, several fio’kuls trying to get her along the way, all of them being too slow. From there she was able to move a little faster on the road, until she spotted the metal door. Once she was there, it opened for her right away. Down the hallway, she saw the men waiting for her with a gurney. When she reached them, she collapsed in their arms. The last thing she remembered was being taken down the hallway to the medical procedure room before blacking out.





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