“It’s not really a problem, but…”
Noah was about to finish, but he hesitated.
“Stop hesitating and say it,” Yohan urged.
A complicated expression flashed across Noah’s face.
“I think it’s been a little over a month,” Noah began. “But I’ve been there before. We entered the headquarters in order to obtain supplies, but something really weird happened.”
Noah sighed. Then he continued his story with a far more serious tone.
“Gae Baek Jung was missing during that time and I had taken advantage of that to grow my camp. Unfortunately, that led to a lot of internal politics and drama.”
Noah recalled that time with a somber look. Yohan’s group focused on him as he proceeded from there.
* * *
A thin layer of fog could be seen all throughout his surroundings. It wasn’t like the type of fog that tended to appear after a rainstorm. This fog had a more sinister quality to it that bothered him. Noah was a member of the supply team and they had gathered on the rooftop of Yongsan Gamdong Church, right in front of Samgakji Station. They were looking down at the Headquarters of the Joint Chief of Staff.
They had been preparing for this expedition for a few days now. It was dangerous, so they had needed to take some extra precautions. But they didn’t have much choice. The supply team had been rather successful already, having picked clean most of the surrounding area of what little there was. This was the last place to check before they would need to expand their search to Seoul Station.
“It’s still crowded,” someone in the group mumbled. “As usual.”
Some of the other group members agreed with the sentiment and nodded, terrified. The group contained many experienced survivors from an allied camp, but those survivors gave off an ominous vibe that made a lot of people there extremely anxious and uncomfortable.
“Noah, how about moving to the top?”
“No. The other stuff doesn’t matter. We have to check the ammunition and weapon storage.”
Noah really wanted to get inside this place. The only reason why he hadn’t done so yet was that it was so dangerous. There were too many zombies to just casually waltz inside. Gae Baek Jung, who had lived near this place for a while, also hadn’t eliminated those zombies for some reason, which was pretty suspicious. Moreover, the Headquarters of the Joint Chief of Staff was an organization that commanded the country’s entire military and was under the direct leadership of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. If this area had been occupied by a large group of zombies, then, near the beginning of the outbreak, soldiers from the Blue House and the National Assembly Building would have been sent here to protect it.
They had clearly made an attempt, judging by the many zombies that Noah could see that were wearing military apparel, and the operation had clearly involved a coordinated effort from multiple military bases. The uniforms that the zombies were wearing displayed emblems representing various military bases. But despite this, the operation had ultimately failed. He had no idea how or why that had happened, but the fact that so many soldiers had failed to protect this place put Noah on edge. It made the place dangerous. But on the other hand, the place could be absolutely loaded with supplies. Supplies that they desperately needed. They didn’t have any other choice but to enter despite the evident threat.
“Let’s go. There’s no difference between starving to death and being bitten to death,” Noah joked with a smile.
The other members nodded their heads.
“Something is really strange here.”
The headquarters was surrounded with barbed-wire, creating a barrier. But the zombies that were inside its confines were pacing back and forth near the fence in order to try and find food that was outside. This made Noah’s uneasiness with the situation go into overdrive. Something was definitely out of place. The zombies here were in extremely good condition. Normally, the walking corpses inside a city were mangled in some fashion, as they would have been partially ripped apart due to being seriously injured or bitten before turning. But Noah couldn’t see any such injuries on these zombies. Most of them looked pristine.
It made him wonder about what had happened.
“What are you doing?” Jae Won nudged Noah. “Are we not going inside?”
Noah shook his head to clear his thoughts. Since they were outside, spacing out was dangerous.
“We are. We don’t have to check the government office building. The important things are knowing where the welfare center, the cafeteria, and the supply warehouse are. As well as the weapon and ammunition warehouse.”
He was worried about whether or not he’d be able to find a safe way inside.
Noah walked around the barrier that was wrapped around the building, looking for a way through. There were too many zombies near the main entrance, so entering through there was impossible. They also couldn’t jump over the fence because of all the barbed-wire. He considered luring the horde to one side by creating a lot of noise, but he was worried that it might attract other zombies nearby and that would isolate them.
“Let’s go to the other side.”
In the end, Noah followed along the perimeter and, after walking behind the mountain path, they entered through the checkpoint that was behind the building.
“Advance party, enter.”
The two people in the advance party slowly climbed over the wall. Thankfully, the number of zombies they encountered on this side was less than what was by the main entrance. While the advance party was buying them time, the remaining members quickly entered and got into position.
Noah crushed a zombie’s head by swinging a fire ax. He swung the ax skillfully and took many more of them down. As they slowly advanced, they tried their best to not make any unnecessary sounds, so it took longer than they expected to enter the headquarters. Once inside, they reached the PX―the post exchange―that was on the first floor and stopped to collect themselves.
“Whew, seriously. I’m really nervous,” one of the group members mumbled.
There were zombies on all sides of them. If they weren’t careful and bumped into a small group of them, it would cause a cascading effect. The sound they made fighting one group would be heard by the next. Then the sound of that group attacking would be heard by the next, and so on. It was an extremely risky expedition and it felt as if they were walking on the edge of a razor.
Once they were recovered, they continued on.
The front door was locked, so they smashed open the window of the PX, and all 10 of them entered inside. There was a single zombie inside, and it ambled over. Jae Won stepped forward and pierced it in the face with a spike.
“Did someone lock the door and hide in here all this time just to save himself?”
There wasn’t anyone else inside the PX. The bloody handprints that were on the glass wall at the entrance caught Noah’s attention. He quietly contemplated them as they took a short break to eat. They ate the mayo and canned tuna that came with the tuna cracker they packed for the expedition. They also rehydrated and massaged their nervous hands and feet.
“Where are we going to go now?”
“To the supply warehouse.”
They had been able to find the headquarters quickly because there was a sign on the building, but for the supply and weapon warehouse, they had no choice but to search through each room. Even if they didn’t find anything valuable today, knowing the layout of the place and returning later would still be seen as a huge success.
After getting some rest, they stood up to exit the headquarters. A moment later, someone released a short scream.
‘I thought I told you not to make any noise…’ Noah thought as he spun around, fully prepared to reprimand whoever had made the sound. He was on edge and nervous and didn’t want to have to deal with something like this.
Noah couldn’t believe his eyes once he turned around. Three of his comrades had each turned into zombies and they were currently biting other members of the group. They had been fine only a few moments ago.
Noah watched in horror as his comrades started ripping each other apart in front of him. One was chewing on another’s nose, trying to rip his face off. His other comrades were screaming in agony. Noah instantly swung his ax and caved in one of the zombie’s heads. During that time, Jae Won pushed the other zombies’ heads into a wall, crushing them.
Noah looked around the room in a daze, trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. He looked down at his comrades―the ones on the floor that had just been bitten. They looked back at him with devastated expressions.
“Why?” Noah asked blankly, in shock.
No one had been bitten or injured. Nothing had happened. But they had still turned into zombies. All of a sudden.
Noah didn’t have time to organize his thoughts. Following the camp’s rules, Noah killed each of the people that had been bitten. The last one put up some resistance when it was his turn. He tried to swing his weapon at Noah, but he couldn’t break out of Noah’s grip.
Within moments, Noah had lost six people. Just like that. Now there were only four left.
“Noah, what the hell happened?” one of the survivors asked.
“I don’t know.”
The remaining four people just stood there dumbfounded. What they had just seen broke all the rules. It didn’t make sense.
But it wasn’t over.
One of them was looking in the mirror next to the cash register. He turned and looked over at Noah. His eyes were bloodshot. With a quick glance, Noah noticed that the other three were in a similar state.
Noah ran towards one of them and grabbed his forehead.
“It’s not true…right…?”
His forehead was hot. That was a symptom of an infection.
“How the hell?!”
Noah wasn’t in the right frame of mind to care about how yelling was a bad idea. All of his comrades were suddenly turning right in front of him and there was no explanation behind it.
Noah’s expression hardened and, without delay, he killed them. In the end, there were just him and Jae Won still alive.
Noah turned around, gritting his teeth.
“What the hell is going on?”
They hadn’t been bitten. None of them had been injured. But they had still been infected. At that moment, Noah understood exactly how the armed forces had fallen so quickly and why they had been infected without getting a chance to properly fight.
They needed to get out of the building fast.
“We need to go. Now.”
They had no time to mourn over the people they had just lost. Noah and Jae Won quickly exited the PX and ran towards the back of the compound where they had entered from. However, in their haste, they had made a bit more noise than they had intended and found a group of zombies in their path. The two of them quickly changed directions.
Zombies surrounded them. The two looked for any openings between them as they ran. The corpses’ cold hands brushed past them. They were already out of breath and it felt like the zombies were going to grab their ankles at any moment. Even though the zombies were slow, in large numbers they were like a tidal wave. But just before the two of them gave up all hope, they saw a large bed of tall grass before them. Noah vaulted over an obstacle and landed inside it, Jae Won right behind him.
The two of them looked up and froze. Sitting right before them was undoubtedly a mutant. The strangest one that they had ever seen.
It was looking back at them.
“What is that…”
It had a snake-like head. Its body was huge. It looked like an overly inflated balloon that was only a few pumps of air away from exploding. Its body reminded Noah of a villain from a manga he once read, a weird creature in that series had inflated itself like a balloon right before exploding. The mutant was so big that it looked like it wouldn’t be able to walk on its own.
Noah had encountered a few mutants before, but this was the first time he had gotten goosebumps all over their body and felt like vomiting at the mere sight of one.
There was a mutant in front of them and a group of zombies behind them. Noah had fully expected that the two of them were going to die.
With nothing else to do, he reached down and grabbed his weapon.
* * *
“I was in shock,” Noah explained, trembling as he recounted the nightmarish experience. Even thinking about it gave him chills.
“What happened next?” Yohan asked, urging him to finish his story.
Everyone in the recon group was listening intently. Everyone wanted Noah to finish as they couldn’t imagine how he had managed to get out of a situation as dire as that one.
“We were fully prepared to die. So, rather than run away, we decided to try to fight it. So… we just started attacking. It didn’t fight back.”
“It didn’t counterattack?”
“No. It didn’t know how to attack so it just roared at us. Every time we hit it, it vomited an odd liquid from its mouth. It was terrifying. Anyway, before the zombies from behind could catch up, we cut off its head and limbs and, after destroying its brain, we ran out the back. There were so many times that we almost died that day, but somehow, we made it out.”
Yohan’s eyes were wide after listening to Noah’s story. He couldn’t imagine going through it himself.
Noah’s face was white as a sheet.
— Ω —