When they were ready, they crashed into the back room. There was an assembly line of sorts run by three people. A girl sat in a chair nearby. She looked totally drained, like she had worked a triple shift without a break. Two men in white lab coats stood by a whiteboard, reviewing something on a clipboard. Two soldiers with rifles paced. They were the ones who turned and fired.
Emily ducked under the nearest table and slowly worked her way over to the girl who was not moving. She feared that surely the girl would be shot in the hail of bullets before it was over. Two more soldiers came out of an office at the back, and it was going to take some work to put them down.
The police, though, were up to the task, having dealt with drug lords and kingpins of various stripes and their private armies. Emily reached the girl before it was over and dragged her to the floor. She gasped. She recognized this girl.
“Melissa?” They had not heard from her in three weeks. Maria was worried and talked about calling the girl’s parents in Vermont just before the attack.
The girl opened her eyes, though they were barely a slit open. It was enough for her to recognize the face in front of her. “Emily?” She began to cry and reached out to hug Emily and cry on her shoulder.
Someone let the zombies out of their cage, and someone else shouted, “No, not that one.” There was a response, but Emily could not make it out over the gunfire. Then the gunfire stopped as police, soldiers and workers had their hands full. Three zombies came straight for the chair and the girls.
“Stay here,” Emily said and she was up and had the first beheaded and stabbed in no time. She had learned a lot since they attacked her at the shooting range. The second took only a moment longer, and the third was steps away, but Emily stopped when Melissa shouted.
“Not that one!” Emily looked. Melissa had dragged herself up by holding on to the chair so she could watch. “Wired,” Melissa said. Emily understood. It meant if she struck at the head or the heart it would simply set off the explosive. Some of the other combatants heard and backed away as well. But Melissa was not finished. She stared at the oncoming zombie, her cheeks flushed with blood, her limbs shivered from some strain. She raised one hand ever so slowly before she said one more word. “Enough.” The zombie stopped dead still. All of the zombies in the room stopped. Then the one that was wired opened its mouth and made a sound like a whale cry. It only lasted a second before it and all the others collapsed. It was the only sound Emily had ever heard a zombie make.
Melissa also collapsed, and Emily shouted. “Melissa!” She dropped her sword and rushed to the girl. She caught her just before Melissa cracked her head on the concrete floor. The poor girl’s eyes rolled up, like she was dead herself, but she was still breathing, if barely.
“Call an ambulance!” Emily shouted to the room, heedless of what was going on. In fact, the soldiers and workers surrendered at that point and Lisa came over with Emily’s sword.
Lisa took the girl from Emily’s arms and held her and mothered her while they waited for the ambulance. She had some words for Emily at the same time. “You must clean your weapon first. Hasn’t Heinrich taught you anything?” She grinned and added for Melissa, “There, there. Rest and sleep.”
Melissa slept until mid-morning. Emily and Maria called her frantic parents, and it helped when Detective Lisa got on the line. It seemed Melissa came down to the school for a week to re-acclimate herself. That was three weeks ago. She sent a few quick messages home that said she was enjoying herself and had to register and get her schedule and other things ready for the following fall. She asked about summer classes, and her parents thought everything was fine; but the communication ended five days ago, and they were getting worried, given what happened last time. The truth was, she never made it to the campus at all.
By mid morning, everyone was there to hear the story. All but Emily and Amina looked like casualties of war. Jessica had her arm in a sling and Lisa had fresh bandages on hers since she reopened the wound during the battle and this time she needed some stitches to keep it closed. Maria still had a bandage on the back of her head and was afraid her hair might never grow back. Mindy had little bandages everywhere and was only awaiting the time when she could once again soak in the tub.
Melissa sat up in bed but it was clear she was a long way from recovered. The doctor said he wanted to keep her at least another day under observation. He said he never saw a person so depleted of everything the way she was.
“I told them I did not have that kind of power,” Melissa said, “but they insisted. They threatened me and my family if I didn’t cooperate. It was a good thing Professor Swenson’s formula did most of the work. All they needed me for was the initial spark. Even that nearly killed me.”
“I didn’t know you had any power at all,” Maria said.
Amina interjected. “The witch arranged to have another witch for a roommate.”
“Person of magic, if you don’t mind,” Melissa said. “She liked the idea that when my family first came to America so long ago we lived in Salem. But when she found out how little magic I actually had, she threw me out. I understand that now.”
Emily was reserved. Her only experience with a person of magic was not a good one.
“So now you are one of us,” Amina said, but she looked at Emily, aware of the reservation there.
Emily looked back at them all but said nothing.
“Come on,” Maria said. “It’s not like she has AIDS or something.”
Emily thought AIDS might be easier for her to deal with, but at last she said, “Alright. Welcome to the club.”
Melissa, who had been waiting in uncertainty got the happiest smile, and Mindy and Maria joined her. Amina offered a correction. “Welcome to the Amazon tribe.”
“You’re best at boys,” Mindy said. “That is what I want to get good at.” Lisa, Emily, and Maria all smiled. Melissa did not know what to say. Amina turned red, like she was thinking the same thing but did not want to say it aloud.
“I don’t know,” Jessica countered with a look at Emily. “You really only have to be good with one, if it is the right one.” They all looked at Emily, but she closed her eyes. After a moment, she stepped out into the hall because she could not stop crying.