Zombie 01 (Hungry)
Katherine Hana Li spin_kick_snap
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Los Angeles, Then
June

It had been almost six weeks since Banzai had died. She was the first of the heroes to have fallen, but she was not the last. Not after Regenerator got bit and fell into a coma. Once their healer was gone, the heroes started dropping like flies.

Some went heroically. Blockbuster, named for his ability to harness his momentum and run down anything in his way, was bitten while charging through a large herd of exes while a handful of civilians made their escape. He thought he could just keep running right through the dense crowd of undead--he was right, but they still managed to bite him while he plowed right through. Midknight, the historian with the ability to bring down utter darkness and freezing cold in a limited area, had made a final stand in one of the checkpoints at the Hollywood Bowl. The exes found him in the dark and even the bitter cold and his steel sword were no match for their grasping hands and teeth.

Others died less heroically. Max Hale went from a bite sustained when he kissed Jessica Alba; her death and reanimation days before not a sufficient deterrent to a mind clouded by the presence of a Reaver Lord. He was human when he was bitten, but convinced a doctor to give him his amulet in hopes the demon form would slow the transformation. It did not, though Cairax Murrain killed a hundred exes before he succumbed to the virus.

Murrain was still out there somewhere. Blockbuster had walked through seven straight blocks of Beverly Hills, leveling forty-three buildings before the Mighty Dragon had snapped his neck to bring him down. Midknight had been delivered to Griffith Park along with several other ex-heroes. Stealth had protested that they remained dangerous, even without conscious control over their powers. The Mighty Dragon's reply was that he was getting tired of killing people he knew and offered to let her do the honors. She'd declined, citing that it was more important to look to the survivors.

And there were survivors, even still. Thousands of them, which was a sliver of a fraction of LA's pre-ex population, but by this point, they could be the last remaining humans in the entire world. At this point, it was impossible to say. Not even Zzzap could say for certain what was happening beyond the borders of Los Angeles, but he wasn't picking up any frequencies on the spectrum he could sense.

Thousands of survivors and only a handful of heroes to protect them. The Mighty Dragon. Stealth. Zzzap. Gorgon, though he hadn't been the same since Banzai had died. Cerberus, a larger-than-life mecha piloted by its creator, Dr. Danielle Morris. Cerberus had been a godsend, a battle armor system complete with shoulder-mounted missile launchers that could flip a HumVee with one hand. She'd been shipped out to the West Coast in early May, to be a visible symbol of the protection of the US government and the armed forces for the civilian populations.

Of course, she'd been sent out after the remaining members of the cabinet had been evacuated to NORAD, while two thirds of the military armed forces were dead and half of those were still walking. Fortunately, her mech suit was a hell of a lot more useful than her status as walking propaganda figure. She had fought her way over the hill with half a rifle platoon of Marines and had cleaned out a fair chunk of Sunset Boulevard.

But that hadn't been enough. Gorgon using survivors as batteries to keep his strength up while he protected their base at Hollywood and Cahuenga wasn't enough. Zzzap abandoning the final three cities to the exes to focus on LA wasn't enough. Not to save the thousands of people who were still hiding in their bolt holes around the city.

But Stealth had a plan.


The Mighty Dragon
The Mighty Dragon stood on the roof of the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood and Highland. It had been a landmark. They'd held the Academy Awards here. Beneath him was a huge scrolling screen that had been blank for two and a half months.

This used to be one of the busiest intersections in the city. LA's version of Times Square. Now it was the site of a seven-car pileup and the scorched wrecks of two National Guard HumVees. Highland was a vehicle graveyard as far as anyone could see in either direction. In at least a third of the cars, things were clawing at the windshields. Another three hundred or so exes wandering between the metal corpses.

You had to kill them faster than they killed you. That was the lesson the heroes had learned too late. Every person they kill comes back on their side. If they kill one and you kill one, your numbers have gone down and theirs have stayed the same. Zombies were like credit card payments: if you keep getting rid of the minimum amount, you'll never win.

And the heroes weren't winning. No other way to look at it. The Mighty Dragon was sleeping three hours a night and still wasn't making any headway. Banzai was dead. Blockbuster was dead. Cairax was dead. Regenerator was crippled and powerless. Despite dozens of emergency bulletins and training seminars, the number of exes was still growing.

Failure was almost inevitable.

Stealth
No. It was inevitable.

"Los Angeles has been lost." It was always up to her to say the hard truths.

As much as they all knew it, no one had said it yet. They were still fighting, still holding blocks and stations. Still spreading themselves thin and thinner still; not eating, not sleeping, constantly fighting.

Constantly losing. Manpower, munitions, moral. Everything. The exes ate and ate and ate, not just people, but hope and will and the possibility of tomorrow.

"With that understood," she said, "I believe our energies are now best spent preparing for a prolonged siege. I have a secure area where we can protect a number of people. Certain preparations have already been made."

The Mighty Dragon
"Isn't there some sort of government plan we should be following? They must have something worked out."

Even as he said it, the Mighty Dragon knew that it was a faint hope. Danielle had told them about the government, about the army. The government hadn't been prepared for a zombie outbreak. But then, who was?

Stealth
Stealth shook her head. "The State of California and the CDC each had three possible contingency plans for a major Los Angeles viral outbreak. All six have been rendered impossible either from lack of resources or because the outbreak has spread past the established containment parameters. Under ideal circumstances, their only option at this point is sterilization."

The Mighty Dragon
It took a moment for that to sink in. "Wait... you're talking about, what, they're going to nuke the city or something?"

Stealth
The hooded woman nodded. The Mighty Dragon had taken his mask off, he held it in his hand. Stealth continued to cling to her mask and hood, hiding her identity even now that it no longer mattered. "That is the CDC's fallback position for an epidemic this virulent and dangerous. However, the disease is already too widespread. Destroying every city in the country would not eliminate it, and there are not enough pilots left to perform the number of required missions."

She sounded remarkably calm while discussing the possibility of having the entire city nuked into glass. Of course, Stealth sounded remarkably calm about everything, as if the end of the world was something she dealt with all the time.

"CDC in Atlanta stopped responding to queries seventeen hours ago. Zzzap has investigated and can see no signs of life from their command building. He believes it has been overrun or abandoned. Air Force One has gone to radio silence. The governor is missing and his mansion has been destroyed by rioters. We are operating on our own."

The Mighty Dragon's expression was stricken, as if he hadn't quite given up hope that help would be coming. That they wouldn't be on their own forever. Stealth made herself continue, clinging to that detached demeanor she'd learned at her father's knee. "There are still thousands of survivors scattered across the city. People who have endured in fortified buildings or complexes. Individuals, families, and in a few places I have seen groups of several dozen. Our first priority will be to assess these survivors and gather them to a single, secure location."

The Mighty Dragon
"Jesus." He heard something click on the rooftop and realized he'd dropped his mask. "What were you thinking?"

Stealth
She pointed southeast. "You are familiar with Paramount Studios?"

He looked at her, confused, before shrugging. Of course he was. Everyone in the city was. It had been a purely rhetorical question anyway.

"Just under thirty acres of area. Five major entrances, two minor, all easily sealed. Two underground tunnels. The walls are eight feet at their shortest point, in the northeast corner, and are topped by outward-curving spikes. It is an ideal fortress."

The Mighty Dragon
He tried to picture the big, wrought-iron gates. "Couldn't you say that about most of the studios? I think Universal City is bigger."

Stealth
She shook her head. "I have made several observations and believe Paramount has the best combination of existing resources, defensibility, and long-term potential."

That was an understatement. Stealth had spent hours pouring over blueprints, numbers, building plans. This was going to be their last attempt to hold out. It had needed to be perfect.

"There will be rogue elements inside and out. Even if we discount the exes, the Seventeens are still out there. There have already been skirmishes between us and them. We surviving heroes of Los Angeles shall serve as protectors and wardens until some system of government can be reinstated."

Stealth knew that some kind of government was necessary for the continued peace of this encampment. She just doubted it would be the remnants of the United States government doing the reinstating.

The Mighty Dragon
The Mighty Dragon looked over at the street again. "So, what's your plan to save Los Angeles?"

Whatever it was, it had to be better than killing old friends or arriving too late to save anybody at all.

Stealth
"You are a symbol among heroes and civilians alike. They will all accept your recommendations and follow where you lead. We can begin to contact survivors and guide them to the Mount." He raised an eyebrow and Stealth answered his unasked question. "A simple abbreviation. It conveys a sense of stability and defense rather than reminding them of the illusions film creates."

At this point, survival would be just as much about the mindset of the survivors as it was their physical safety.

"I believe we can have the majority of the city's survivors there in four to six weeks. With a few simple questions and reviews, we should be able to create a balanced and optimum population. Doctors, teachers, engineers, and others who will have the most long-term usefulness. I believe we can then prepare--"

The Mighty Dragon
"No."

Stealth
Stealth twitched. "What?"

The Mighty Dragon
"No." It was a moment of clarity. One of the first ones he'd had in several weeks of hard decisions and acceptable losses. "If we do this, if you want my help with it, it isn't some stupid selection process where we pick and choose a few hundred who we decide are worth it. We just save everyone we can."

Stealth
This was the first time The Mighty Dragon had ever contradicted her. He'd argued, he'd complained, he'd questioned, but he had never flatly told her no.

"The studio lot cannot support thousands of people."

The Mighty Dragon
"Not as it is, no. But we could adapt more of the buildings to housing, plant gardens, do things to make it work."

For a moment, he spared a thought for Banzai, hopefully still in her seat at the Observatory. He hadn't known her as well as Gorgon and Regenerator, but he still thought that she would have made this argument as well.

"I won't be part of a plan that involves leaving most people outside to fend for themselves."

Stealth
Stealth didn't care what Banzai might or might not have argued. She was dead, her beliefs were irrelevant. "A limited selection is our best hope for survival."

The Mighty Dragon
"If that's our best hope then we shouldn't survive."

Stealth's head shifted ever-so-slightly. Dragon had had enough female friends to recognize the gaze he was getting.

"Look," he said, "this is going to sound really stupid, but you have to understand something." He passed his hand across the red-scaled suit. It was stained and fraying but it still glimmered in the fading sunlight. "You called me a symbol, and you're right. This suit stands for something. It isn't me living some childhood fantasy or anything like that. It's about hope."

Stealth
"Hope." Her voice sounded skeptical.

The Mighty Dragon.
He was getting that look again. He sighed and tapped his chest. "That's what this suit's always been about. Not scaring people like you or Gorgon do. Not some sort of pseudo-sexual roleplay or repressed emotions. I wear this thing, all these bright colors, because I want people to know someone's trying to make their lives better. I want to give them hope."

Like Banzai had, with her rainbows. And Regenerator had, with his comforting voice and instant healing. Like Midknight had, with his ridiculous armor and old timey speech.

Stealth
Stealth was quiet for a long time. "I see," she said finally.

The Mighty Dragon
"Good." Dragon's voice was firm. "Because I won't let you do what you're talking about doing. I'm not going to cherry-pick people who you think will be ‘useful' and leave everyone else to die."

Stealth
Stealth stared at him for a long moment. From the way he shifted from foot to foot, she knew he could feel her eyes even through her mask. Finally, she nodded. "If you feel this is the right path, I shall trust your judgment."

He let out a breath he'd been holding and nodded back and opened his mouth to speak. Stealth continued on, the gears in her head turning as plans were shifted on the fly. "It will require more work," she said, "but we should be able to rescue the majority of the survivors." New plans were drawn up, some discarded, others refined. "As I was saying before, with your reassurances we should be able to gather the majority of the survivors to the Mount within four to six weeks. That number should hold even with the expanded scope of this venture."

The Mighty Dragon
"How can we promise them it'll be safe?" he objected.

Stealth
"You and Cerberus can reinforce the entrances." She closed her eyes, visualized the lot. "Production vehicles and trucks. Either of you can tip them and move them into position, giving us solid walls at any gate. Once the facility is sealed, Zzzap can search all of it in an hour. We could have the lot clean and secure in two days time."

The Mighty Dragon
"How do we keep it clean, though? I've seen the movies. People could come in infected."

Stealth
She...she was enjoying this. His every question presented new variables for her to examine, new problems for her to solve. It was less efficient than when she took the time to work through it on her own in her methodical way, but she liked it anyway.

"There is no evidence the virus can pass except through blood contact," she replied, shaking her head. "All survivors will be strip-searched for bites or injuries before being allowed to enter."

The Mighty Dragon
He mulled over the idea. "That won't go over well with a lot of folks."

Stealth
She just shrugged. Whether or not people liked it was hardly an issue. "It is necessary. Keeping the Mount clean and free of infection must be our primary concern."

The Mighty Dragon
"And us? Pardon the reference but... who watches the watchmen?" Again, another brief thought about Banzai. She'd given him the comic after they'd found themselves chatting about vigilante ethics one night on patrol.

Stealth
"You, Zzzap, and Cerberus are all effectively immune since the exes cannot reach your respective bloodstreams. The three of you will observe and examine the rest of us for bites or possible infection."

The Mighty Dragon
Dragon raised an eyebrow. "You're going to submit to a strip search?"

Stealth
Stealth tilted her head, directing an icy stare his way. "I will allow Cerberus to examine as much of my body as she deems necessary. There is no way an attack on my head or face could be hidden."

The Mighty Dragon
"Okay, then," he said, banishing that set of thoughts. "What do we do if they don't want to come?"

Stealth
"You think they will doubt us?"

The Mighty Dragon
The Mighty Dragon looked out at the city. "I think people are doubting everything right now. After a few months of martial law and the walking dead, we're going to have an uphill battle making them believe anything's okay."

Stealth
"I have no doubt you can convince them they will be completely safe within the Mount," she said, drawing close and laying a hand on his arm. "The populace of Los Angeles all but worships you as a saint."

The Mighty Dragon
"They do, huh?" He glanced down at her hand and then kicked the dragon mask over the side of the building. It sailed down to the pavement below, iridescent green fabric shimmering in the setting sun. "We could use a few more saints in the world," he said. "More than we need dragons, anyway."

Stealth
"You may be right," she mused. Her mask stayed firmly on. "Perhaps we do, Dragon."

The Mighty Dragon Saint George
"Call me George," he said, stepping into the air. "We’ve got work to do."


[NFI, NFB, OOC is always appreciated! Adapted and edited from Chapter 27 "Saint George Kills The Mighty Dragon", from Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines.]