Emma:Part One (Outpost Nine Book 1)

By: Lolita Lopez

1 Chapter One

Dry grass and twigs crunched beneath Emma's boots as she walked the perimeter of her fence. The slight hum of electricity filled her ears and made her skin prickle. She kept a safe distance from the high-powered fence. It would fry her just as quickly as the zombies she wanted to keep out of her small plot of land.

Her gaze flicked from link to link of the fence and from the ground to the spiraled razor-wire up top. She used the hoe in her left hand to hack out any weeds that poked through the thick, wide layer of gravel on either side of the fence. Something as simple as a few weeds could spark a fire that would threaten her life.

Every week, she made the rounds on her twenty-plus acres, just the way her father had taught her. She took her time during the inspection. Shoddiness would get her killed. No doubt about it. Besides, it wasn't as if she had anything better to do. Same shit, different day. Year in and year out. Such was the life of a girl in the Outlands.

The unexpected chirp of the handheld radio clipped to her belt started Emma. She swore softly before pulling the radio from its holster. She recognized the Morse code as Avery's call sign and grinned as she signaled back that she was available to talk. Seconds later, Avery's cheerful voice came across the airwaves. "Left foot, left foot!"

Emma laughed and hit the mic. "Right foot, right."

Avery's cheerful chirp filtered across the airwaves. It was a bit scratchy but mostly clear. "What's up, girl?"

"Perimeter walk," Emma said as her gaze returned to the fence. "You?"

"We're in Borden's Crossing doing some house calls. Mom and Dad are trying to decide whether or not one or both of them should stay behind to deliver a set of twins who are due anytime in the next couple of weeks. I'm going to pull some ingrown toenails in a bit."

Emma gagged at the very idea of it, but Avery sounded positively enthusiastic. She had always been fascinated by the gore of surgery and medicine. Good thing, too, considering she was following in her parents' footsteps and learning the trade. Without universities or medical schools, medicine was all hands-on learning these days, and Avery was getting one hell of an education.

"Hey, I don't have long, but I wanted to make sure you knew about some zombie trouble we had not far outside your area."

Emma's gut clenched and she slowed her footsteps. "Oh yeah?"

"Our convoy blasted through them on the highway. They'd put together a roadblock and were waiting for us. We'd just been restocked by the Keatons, so we were loaded for bear. They didn't stand a chance once we opened fire and rammed them with the trucks."

Emma could easily imagine the scene. Avery's family and the rest of their medical convoy traveled in military-style trucks outfitted with cages and heavily armed guards. Like many of us, they bought their ammo and weapons from the Keatons, the best suppliers in the outlands. That family could get their hands on anything.

"That's kind of weird, huh?" Emma said as she resumed her walk. "Zombies putting together a roadblock."

"Yeah," Avery replied. "I mean, they've been growing more sentient over the years, but this is different. These zombies seemed more with it than most. They're usually so primal in their behaviors. Chase. Kill. Eat. These zombies were thinking."

"I've been hearing similar reports down the Chain. I guess it makes sense. Zombies have changed so much since they first appeared when our grandparents were babies. The ones we know today are nothing like the old stories."

"That's for sure," Avery replied. "God, I wish we had some of those slow-moving brain-chompers instead of these crazy-ass killers we have now."

"Absolutely." Emma eyed her fence and shuddered. All that stood between her and those monsters was twenty feet of electrified chain-link topped with razor wire. If the electricity went out or the fence malfunctioned, she'd be in danger. "Might be time for me to start doing twice-weekly perimeter checks."

"Do it." Avery sounded very concerned. "I worry about you so much, Emma. You're out there all on your own. I wish you'd come with us. We wouldn't mind."

"I know you wouldn't, Avery." Emma smiled at her friend's kindness. "I'm just not ready. I'm still thinking about it."

"You've been thinking for four years, Emma."

She snorted. "Yeah, you've got me there."

"I heard that Outpost Nine is sending more patrols out beyond the wire. Like way beyond," she added. "Chloe said she saw some Enhancements in the market near New Town."

"No way!" Emma had never laid eyes on any of the so-called Enhancements. They were cyborg soldiers created during the Last War who had proven far more resilient than their makers had intended. They had outlived all those humans and many more, and had all but taken over the entire state of Texas. Or, rather, what was left of Texas. "I wonder why they're patrolling so far out, Avery."

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