Emily walked into the dorm in time to see Maria and Jessica circling each other in the cleared lounge area. They slapped at each other’s hands and looked like two wrestlers seeking a takedown. “Hey!” Emily wanted to stop them from whatever they were doing, but Mindy and Amina blocked her way. Jessica and Maria stopped in any case.
“What is going on here?” Emily pushed passed Mindy and stepped into the hall. She had on her ROTC uniform having just returned from taking the sophomores out on a five mile run, with small packs. Actually, it was more of a jog-walk, very easy for her, but about as much as some of the sophomores could take.
“We were practicing,” Jessica admitted.
“Practicing what?” Emily needed an answer.
Maria put a chair back where it belonged and looked at Jessica. She looked at Mindy and last of all at Amina, like she was waiting for objections.
“Self-defense,” Maria said at last.
“We’ve been learning,” Jessica admitted.
“What?” Emily sat down to await the full confession. Jessica and Maria were the last two people she imagined in any sort of physical exercise, and she did not know which one was more surprising. Maria was a geek and Jessica was, well, Jessica.
Amina and Mindy pulled up the couch and sat. Maria sat and let Jessica get her own chair. “Professor Schultz,” Maria began. Emily just listened. “That gym only has five classes all week. That is only fifteen hours of use. We went to him, Jessica and I, just after the zombie battle at the library.
“It was Maria’s idea,” Jessica said.
“We meet with him three days a week for an hour. He agreed that if we are going to hang around you, we need to learn to defend ourselves. So he has been teaching us.”
“He is going to start teaching us weapons next year,” Mindy threw in.
“What?” That got a reaction from Emily.
Maria gave Mindy a look intended to keep her quiet. Jessica spoke up.
“I had my doubts, but I must say the weights and the running has really helped tone and shape my body.” She held her arm up to make something like a muscle to show it off.
“Endorphins,” Maria gave the one word explanation. “It helps me understand why Hilde’s experiments were so powerful.”
“And you two?” Emily turned to the couch.
“I have some catching up to do,” Mindy admitted as Emily looked again at Maria.
“My mother is fat,” Maria said. “I don’t want to get fat.”
There was silence for a moment while Emily thought it through. If they wanted to work out to get in shape, who was she to discourage that. And as for the self-defense part, she wanted to encourage that too, as long as they were content to defend themselves and not wade into a zombie battle. “But weapons?” She glanced at Mindy before she looked again at Maria.
“What do you mean, I have?” Emily did not like the way Amina phrased that.
“You are the queen,” Amina said in a voice that suggested she wondered why she had to explain the obvious. “The elect is always the queen.” To be honest, Emily was still getting used to being one of the elect. She was not sure she liked the idea of being an Amazon queen.
“Anyway,” Mindy interrupted. “You are the only one with stripes.” She pointed to Emily’s uniform.
“We are your friends,” Maria said. “You need someone to watch your back.”
“Yeah, more or less,” Jessica concluded. “Besides, the next time two guys show up with a big, hairy knife, you might not be there.”
“I’m glad you like the running part,” Emily kidded.
“That’s what Professor Schultz says,” Jessica admitted.
Emily’s phone vibrated and she held up her hand to stop further conversation for the moment. She had it turned off during the five-mile run. She turned it back on after the workout, but kept it on vibrate. When she checked it, she saw she had a text message. It took a second to read before she stood beside Amina.
“It’s from Pierce. He found something over by the main engineering building.”
Everyone stood and Emily paused to stare at them. “Alright,” she said. “Amazon squad, let’s go check it out.”
On the way, Emily turned to Mindy. She did not know her all that well yet and wondered what she really thought about all of this. Amina had more or less a single room. At least her roommate was never around. Mindy, though, had practically moved into Maria’s room to avoid Connie. The move was unofficial, of course.
“So I thought Connie was the Amazon queen,” Emily said.
“Please!” Mindy rolled her eyes. Mindy’s cheeks turned a little red. “Besides, I admit I don’t know much about it, but I think I like men.”
“I do too,” Amina butted in. “Don’t tell my family.”
“I’m doing my part.” Jessica turned her head to look back. Her broad grin glistened in the night.
They arrived at the engineering building and found Pierce right away. He was standing beside the shallow grave of a person who was very old. “I called Lisa and Julie Tam,” he said. Emily slipped into his arms, kept her eyes on the grave, but said nothing.