nancefics: (Zombie!verse Frannie (Profiler))
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Things to do in Atlanta when you’re undead (3/5)

Author: Robin Nance

Characters: Frances Malone, Jack of all Trades

Story Type: A little drama, a little humor, and a whole lot of crack

Summary: A student and a serial killer walk into a Zombie Apocalypse. No, really.

Rating/Warnings: R-ish for language, violence and character (un)death

AN & Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my sandbox - I'll tidy up and return them unharmed as soon as I'm done playing. This was started as part of the 2010 Secret Santa Exchange at [ profile] profiler_fans and is dedicated to my fabulous friend and fellow zombiephile [ profile] serialbathera. Check out the fabulous iconage she made for this series too! *points*

part 1

part 2

"The current theory is that it’s some kind of a virus, but there are other ideas floating around out there. Like, maybe all the toxins dumped into the soil and water for so many years finally combined in exactly the wrong way, and instead of Godzilla we got this. And of course there are the groups that insist God is pissed off at us and this is just a really fucked-up version of Judgment Day.”

“When did it all begin?”

“The timeline’s fuzzy, but it started hitting the news four or five months ago. Nothing major at first, just sound-bites about cases of ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ and mystery medical syndromes, that kind of thing. Then there were more cases, then whole clusters of events, and so on. Even now that whole cities are being wiped out they’re still calling it a bad flu. I guess no one’s going to believe the alternative, right?”

One cigarette had turned to two, the guns and heavy jackets were on the floor, and they were perched together on the loveseat/barricade as Jack did his best to integrate the salvo of bizarre information.

Apparently going to Otis had been a mixed blessing. He’d intentionally cut himself off from most technology for the better part of last year, figuring it would help him blend in better with the locals and also knowing that the ability to electronically drop in on Samantha was too great a temptation, especially while everyone believed that “Jack” was occupying a Georgia prison cell under the name Donald Lucas. In some ways that ploy had worked spectacularly.

On the other hand, while he was sending coded directions to Lucas and improving his score in the Otis Otters’ Tuesday night bowling league he seemed to have overlooked the birth of an entire zombie nation.

“How the hell did I miss this?” He ran his hands through his hair in frustration, wincing when he brushed his bandaged forehead a little too roughly.

“Well, where exactly is ‘Otis’ anyway?” Frances motioned to the lettering embroidered on his shirt, then rolled her eyes at his hesitation. “Dude, seriously. We were just attacked by a dozen undead government workers – do you really think my knowing your zip code is going to put a bigger kink in your plans than that?”

Jack sighed; she probably had a point. “It’s in northern California, near the border with Oregon.”

Frances nodded. “Mountainous terrain, right? The major infestation started on both coasts and moved into the plains, but they don’t tolerate the mountains for some reason, so it’s still relatively untouched territory. I didn’t see or hear a thing until I came down out of the Catskills.”

The words stirred a vague memory of a judge’s pardon and Bailey Malone proudly decamping for upstate New York with his college-bound daughter. “What about your family?”

She shrugged dismissively. “I assume Mother Dearest was too hung up on her boy-toy of the moment to give a rat’s ass about urban legends. Last I heard she was in Europe getting back in touch with her inner Zen child or some shit – which should be interesting, because the infestation’s supposedly even worse over there. She did do one smart thing and packed my sister off on a ski trip to Colorado before she left, so at least Arianna’s safe and bored in the Rockies last I checked. Go figure, right? Even shitty parenting pays off now and then.”

“And Bailey? He didn’t try to at least call you?”

He caught the tiniest twitch, a quick jaw-clench before she turned indifferent eyes on him again. “And tell me what, exactly?”

Jack huffed in irritation. “How the fuck should I know, maybe something along the lines of ‘study hard, honey, brush your teeth, practice safe sex and oh, by the way, you should know that my minions are all rising from the dead?’”

“Shockingly enough, regular father-daughter phone calls tended to fall outside his M.O.” Frances took a sudden interest in examining her fingernails. “It wouldn’t have mattered – you don’t plan for something like this. All people can do is react and hopefully survive.”

Something about that response bothered him, but damned if he was focused enough to figure it out at the moment. “So how have you managed to do both so far?”

“The same way all college kids discover they’re good at doing the alternative-lifestyle thing – it started with spring break.” Frances sighed and sank back against the loveseat, dragging hard on her cigarette. “I was going to drive to New York City to spend a week with friends and then head down to Atlanta. I couldn’t figure out why they were setting up police roadblocks at all the off-ramps and the tunnels, because it was just people getting freaked out about a bad flu, you know?” She snorted mirthlessly, shaking her head. “I remember getting through the checkpoint really easily because the guard just didn’t seem right, like he didn’t care what was happening. Later on when I actually knew what to look for I realized that he wasn’t right, and what I’d seen that day was a person in the early stages of the disease. It basically rots you from the inside out, makes you not care that you’re rotting.”

Jack felt an involuntary shiver skitter up his spine. “That doesn’t sound pretty.”

“It’s not. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. The whole city was like a war zone, except the buildings and the streets and the animals were all untouched and only the people were affected. I mean, there were pigeons fluttering around and rats in the alleys and they were completely unfazed, but the people – they were lying dead on the street in pieces, or they were shuffling around looking like they should be dead, just like John and George.”

“And you were the only unaffected person in the whole place?”

“I saw a couple of other normal people down at the edge of Canal Street when I first drove in.” Frances leaned into the loveseat, grimacing as she stared at the ceiling. “They were touristy types, you know, backpacks and cameras, ‘I Heart NY’ shirts, that kind of thing? They were so shell-shocked by everything that they just froze up. And the creatures knew. You know that movie cliché where the zombies just kind of shuffle around aimlessly until they smell blood or something? Well, that’s crap – these things are total predators. They pay attention and they plan. Those people were targeted right away, hunted down on the street and separated from one another within five minutes – and then they were instant zombie chow. They never had a chance in hell of even – fuck!

Jack jumped at the sudden epithet, then grabbed her wrist and brushed away the hot ashy remnants of her forgotten cigarette.

“The key to successful smoking is to dispose of the evidence before the final puff, Malone.”

“No shit, Sherlock.” Frances’ attempt at a sarcastic grin fell a little short. “What can I say, I get a little distracted when my stroll down Memory Lane takes me past a city full of corpses.”

“Understandable. How the hell did you manage to get out of there, anyway?”

“Philip J. Nichols, big daddy of the East Coast zombie resistance movement.” Frances rolled her eyes, but this time she managed to smile. “It was pure luck, basically – his team was on a recon mission for supplies and weapons, and I happened to be in the back of the same store fighting off three decomposing Boy Scouts who’d tracked me in there. I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. He saved my life.”

Jack frowned at the spark of a memory. “Philip Nichols…why do I know that name?”

“Probably because the two of you share a file-drawer in my dad’s office.”

That little bombshell was enough to make him choke in mid-inhale. “The VCTF was after him too?”

“The VCTF considered him hot stuff back in the day. Although technically I think they devoted an entire cataloguing system just to you, so don’t get all insecure about sharing or anything.”

Jack glared as the girl didn’t even attempt to hide her smirk. “And…?”

And, a few years ago Philip was the head of this anti-government survivalist group. I think officially they were considered a cult, but by all accounts he wasn’t so much about preaching flower-power and loving the one you’re with. He was more into gun-running and bomb-building and the usual heavy shit that didn’t endear him to the Feds. The VCTF was part of the team charged with bringing him in.”

Jack nodded as the details came back to him. “He blew up the entire compound right before they got him.”

“Yep. Took himself and his entire crew out rather than face justice. The reports said the incendiaries burned too hot for the good guys to recover a single body – but hey, it’s not like a bunch of munitions experts and black-ops types would’ve had a contingency plan, right?” Frances shook her head, playing with the cigarette lighter in her hand. “Pretty damned naïve assumption for Quantico’s best and brightest – no wonder they never even came close to getting you.”

His right leg ironically chose that moment to start throbbing in protest, and Jack grunted as he shifted position to massage the scar from the long-ago bullet wound. “They came closer than you might imagine, kiddo. So Nichols survived and changed careers from cult mastermind to zombie slayer. I suppose stranger things have happened.”

“Please, stranger things just happened thirty minutes ago in the lobby,” Frances pointed out, and Jack had to admit he couldn’t argue with that sentiment. “He’s not the only one leading the resistance cells, but he sort of started the whole thing and he’s still got more followers than anyone else on this side of the country.”

“So you can take the cultist out of the cult…”

“…but when you hit the critical mass of brain-eating undead dudes on your doorstep you’re kind of happy to get him back,” Frances finished. “Anyway, Philip patched me up and got me the hell out of the city and back to the compound. First he had to convince me I wasn’t crazy or hallucinating the whole New York situation. Then he convinced me I’d be much more useful to my family and all the other survivors out there if I learned everything he could teach me about zombies, including how to take the fuckers out. It’s kind of a work in progress.”

“I think you’ve got that taking-out part down pretty well,” Jack conceded with a bit of grudging admiration.

“And I think I should be disturbed that coming from you that means a lot.” Frances’ lips twisted in a brief smirk before she returned her attention to the lighter in her hand. “I remember my dad being so pissed off that they’d lost their chance at bringing Philip in. I wonder if he would’ve been happy to know that I’m here thanks to a VCTF mishap or if he would’ve still just been pissed off and disappointed at the company I’m keeping?”

The words finally sank in at the same time that Jack took a good look at the battered jacket at her feet. The leather was soft and cracked from years of use, and he recognized the Marine Corps insignia stitched into the patch on one arm.

“Bailey’s dead too, isn’t he? I’m sorry,” he added awkwardly at the girl’s curt nod.

“C’mon, Jack, you wanted him dead for years. Don’t get all polite and insincere on me now.” Frances shrugged tightly and stood up, deliberately avoiding his eyes as she smoothed out the front of her shirt. “If it’s any consolation, he wanted you dead just as much. He’s the reason I figured out who you were, by the way – there were files scattered all over his house about this oddball Sherriff Boast who was just a little too stupid to be real. I saw you on the security cameras when I was up in the command center, and as soon as you took out George on the first shot I put two and two together. I figured you’d come back for Sam Waters.”

“I’m not surprised Bailey was the one to catch on. Your father was a pretty sharp guy.” A spike of adrenaline had coursed through him at mention of Samantha, and Jack hauled himself to his feet. “Well, this has been enlightening, but I have to go check out the morgue.”

Frances bent to retrieve her jacket. “Roger that, give me a sec to reload and I’ll come with.”

“Not necessary. I don’t need you for backup.”

“Like you didn’t need me before?” Frances had clearly perfected the exact smart-ass raised-eyebrow smirk that guaranteed he’d go from zero to pissed-off in two seconds. “Don’t flatter yourself, Sherriff. I’m not going along for the pleasure of your company. I was headed there anyway before you crashed the party in the lobby. I need to replenish my medical supplies before I haul ass out of Atlanta. Here you go.” She tossed the Glock at him. “I put a new clip in it for you. Lucky for me the feds are all into semiautomatic protection – I won’t have to restock on ammo for weeks.”

Jack shook his head as she tucked a Beretta M9 into her webbed gun belt, just to the side of a Marine-issue K-BAR tactical knife, and pondered that he’d quite possibly settled for apprenticing Sharon Lesher a bit prematurely.

“Have you looked for her anywhere else?” Frances was asking, and Jack had to break himself out of his reverie to realize she was asking him a question about Samantha.

“I checked every camera at the firehouse – it was empty, locked up tight. She’s here.” Something about the look she was giving him made him bristle. “Look, kid, I don’t have to justify a damned thing to you. I know what I know. Just go do your thing and stay out of my way.”

He pushed the loveseat away from the door and was about to turn the handle when she stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“Jack.” Her tone was surprisingly snark-free and dead serious. “You need to keep one other thing in mind before you go out there. Whatever’s causing this – it’s not curable. Once the process starts, the person’s effectively a zombie – no matter what they look like or sound like, no matter what they say to you, they’re not the person you knew. When – if – that happens, you have to remember you’re the one who’s living. And then you do what you have to do.”

“Then I’ll have to save Samantha quickly, because there’s no damned way I’d ever –” Jack trailed off at the look on her face, pale and haunted and flinty-eyed over the collar of Bailey’s jacket, and suddenly found himself struggling to breathe past the lump in his throat. “Oh, hell, Frances – you mean – did you have to --?”

Frances hefted the shotgun and chambered a round, sliding the action bolt home with a clack that reverberated off the tile walls and competed with the sound of his heartbeat hammering in his ears.

“It’s like you said, Jack – my aim has improved. Let’s go.”

part 4
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