71 Chapter Seventy - Beginning Negotiations

    The unnatural quaking of the earth was naturally going to attract those meant to be protecting the walls; soldiers and recruited civilians rushed to the gates and proceeded to climb up ready to defend their base from what they feared.  But as they withdrew their guns and crossbows, they came to realise that actually, it was not an earth-based zombie at all.  In fact, the lurking undead that had gathered at the gates, growling without much threat had been lured away.  They grabbed binoculars and small scopes off of their belts or the hands of others, jostling about until one voice yelled out; "It's Chang Min!  He's come back!"

    There were numerous whispers in the crowd of guards and a few curious onlookers, who seeing that the soldiers were not shooting down the lingering zombies, paused mid flee and began to return to see if they could figure out what was going on.  Chang Min's name to some was well known, to others it was a myth or legend.  He was the man whose powers had not been weak and could make the ground tremble at a mere thought.  He was the man that had much of the original surrounding walls thrust upward from the earth with a gesture.  He was the man that could deal with a whole swarm of undead by himself using a sword and his powers.

    The men and women on the wall watched wide eyed as the crowd of zombies suddenly vanished from the road as it vanished beneath them.  The pit they descended into closed suddenly causing a loud bang and a ripple effect that forced the occupants of the base to stumble and many more to fall.  Fortunately, no one who fell from the wall hurt themselves badly nor fell into the dangerous zone outside.  But more than one person cursed Chang Min at that moment.

    Word of Chang Min's return reached the barracks shortly after the weakened tremor and a couple of officer's stood from their desk chairs and jumped onto the solar powered golf cart parked outside after exiting the building.  The vehicle was not fast, but the journey from the barracks to the gates was not short.  As Officer Rouse drove, Officer Randall muttered crossly; "That Chang Min ought to be tried for insubordination and desertion.  And on top to try break down the walls!"

    "What are you on about, Randall?"  Rouse sighed.  Losing Chang Min had been a blow to the base, but it couldn't have been helped.  However, Zane Randall had always taken the matter of Chang Min leaving personally.  Chang Min had left them while out on a mission he lead after all.  As for the walls, the report stated that Chang Min was dealing with the crowd of lurking zombies out front.  How was that destroying the base defences?

    "But Sir, he betrayed us!"

    "Chang Min was a civilian, Randall," Rouse reminded him.  "The agreement between us and civilians like him is of mutual cooperation.  He helped us with the walls, with reducing zombie numbers and even went out on several supply runs.  He chose to leave the base of his own accord.  It was never up to us to stop him."

    "This is why I say that all ability users ought to be conscripted," Randall muttered, his arms crossed about his chest.

    Rouse sighed.  "Just shut the ** up about that crap.  We're an army in name only.  If ever the civilians decide that we're not on their side, do you think the fact that we were soldiers before the end will subdue 'em?  Stop being a fool."

    The golf cart pulled up to the gates in silence and was greeted by a soldier who saluted them and told them of the current situation.  "Sirs, Chang Min is waiting outside of the gates with a group of survivors.  He says they wish to discuss trade with us."

    The two officers glanced at each other, the disdain still evident on Randall's face, while Rouse couldn't hide his curiosity.  He gestured for the twin set of gates to be opened.  This was an additional security measure.  The walls at the gates had been formed in the shape of an eye, with the gates at the widest points from each other.  That way any zombies that managed to scrape in through the outer gates would be killed in the gap between the walls and not breech the base itself.  The walls themselves were currently around ten feet high in this area.  Others were a little lower, topped up with barbed wire.  The same barbed wire that thickened defences in other areas while the walls themselves were strengthened over time.  Having dealt with metal ability zombies and earth ability zombies as well as undead that could leap to great heights had forced them to realise that they could not rely on the walls they originally had built.

    A large van drove through the gates, smeared in places by zombie remains and with a hefty dent in one side.  A few experienced guards began to hose down the van with water stored in barrels and butts specifically for this task.  It was not pure like that from a water user, but the virus was believed to be less potent in the water than in zombie guts.  That was the theory anyway based on the few facts they currently knew.  No one was willing to test it.

    Chang Min exited the vehicle with five other men, all fairly imposing individuals.  However, the gate guards and the officers were soldiers, not so easily intimidated.  Still, Chang Min himself was a walking powerhouse.  It would be an idiot who was disrespectful.  Rouse through a glare of warning at Randall, before Chang Min amicably introduced his comrades.

    Dexter's eyes ran over the officers, just as they were checking him out.  He hadn't been there when Jonah found Chang Min, so he didn't know if any of these people before them had been amongst those who'd been there that day.  He could only speculate.  Seeing as Rouse was definitely more ready to welcome them, he stuck out a hand in greeting towards the officer.  "Nice to meet you, as Chang Min stated, I'm Dexter," he said.  "I was a construction worker before the end.  For whatever reason, some of my former neighbours and co-workers decided to form a squad with me and with others, we've been helping each other to survive since."

    "Welcome to the Base," Rouse shook his hand, noting the firmness of the other.  "The name's Rouse."  His eyes flickered about the area, noting the growing crowds.  "My soldiers inform me you want to discuss some sort of trade?"

    "En," Dexter agreed.  He too noticed that the number of people gathering around them was increasing so did not elaborate.  Chang Min had mentioned that there were a few thousand people on base.  There definitely was not enough meat to go around.  Rouse gave a curt nod and gestured that Dexter join him, Cole followed looking over his shoulder as Chang Min leapt on top of the van and settled upon it.  Harry and the others also remained with the truck.  This was the arrangement that they had discussed, worried that their produce would be coveted.  It was doubtful that the base would assume they had brought something as precious as meat to trade, but why take the risk?

    Randall glared angrily at Chang Min, but followed Rouse and the others in the direction of the barracks.

    Cole and Dexter did not retain their curiosity as their eyes noted a few solar panels upon roof-tops, while a child set up a smaller set of solar panels and plugged in a mobile phone device.  There were a few individuals calmly chatting as they pumped water into buckets and large plastic bottles, before picking the precious resource and walking away, presumably to their homes.  Further into the base, a few stalls were set up with people bartering over trinkets, spices and a rather grey looking thin paper that the vendor claimed was for toiletry purposes.

    "That building over there is our kitchens," Rouse mentioned, pointing to one of the large warehouses on sight, making small talk as they walked.  "People on base can earn points and trade them for things, including meals.  But as you can see, lots of people have begun to trade between themselves, anything from mending clothes to homegrown lettuce leaves."

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    "You must have squads out and about all the time then," Dexter said, aloud.  After all, without things that people wanted, what was there to trade?  Unless someone could reproduce certain products that they had been so spoilt with before the end, those things were finite.

    "Yeah," Rouse agreed.  "There's still some that reckon they can find gold in town, despite others going over most places with a fine tooth comb.  Worse case scenario, they come back with wood to burn and reduce zombies by a small number.  The greater majority of people just try to get by on base, helping to grow food, improving the walls that sort of thing."

    "You need a lot of food for a place this size," Cole murmured behind them.  There were a few people wandering back to and from the kitchens holding plastic tubs.  He couldn't see what was in the ones that potentially contained food, but he could see those holding them were more cautious.

    "We have many greenhouses," Rouse replied, simply.

    "You don't grow food outside?" Cole blurted out only for the still irritated Randall to jump on his words.

    "Are you crazy!?  You know a lot of plants mutate after it rains!  How can anyone grow crops with that risk?  Just how have you survived so long?"

    Cole shrugged, there was a slight frown on his face, while Dexter's expression remained calm.  He knew just how unique their treasured landlord was, but it was easy to become complacent when one was used to things in a certain way.  Rouse looked at the men with curiosity, not able to ignore Randall's words.  There had been too many points that rose questions.

    They arrived at the barracks and Rouse lead them to his office before shutting the door on all nosy outsiders.  Randall also found himself shut out and angrily went to share his complaints with a junior officer he happened to corner.

    Ignorant of that junior's inward tears, Rouse offered the men a seat before stated plainly; "What is it you want to trade with and for?"

    "We'd heard that you have egg laying hens," Dexter admitted, not saying where the information came from, both parties were clearly aware.  "Originally we wanted to discuss this."

    "You want eggs?" Rouse's brows rose.  If this was so, what was with the show that the base had been treated to with the six formidable, apocalypse hardened men?

    "Not exactly," Dexter admitted.  "We want a few hens.  As you can probably imagine, we've our own small base.  We've been fortunate to establish a good foundation for ourselves.  But we naturally seek to improve upon it.  Our first notion was just to discuss with you terms.  But as it happens, before we could make our way here, something happened, so we were able to bring with us something you might be interested in.  Whether it's worth a few hens, I'll leave that up to you to decide."

    Rouse leaned across his desk as Dexter mentioned what was in the van.  He now understood why Chang Min was left to guard it.  However, the hens were a very precious living commodity.  They may have multiplied in number, but Rouse didn't feel that he had the authority alone to exchange any of them at the moment.

    "I need to discuss this..." Rouse admitted, though he suspected a few of the army officers would be tempted, while others would want to refuse.  They already knew that meat would be on their menus once the new generation of roosters were grown enough.  Rouse himself felt they would be unwise to reject outright any trade.  This unknown base must have survived zombies and the freezing winter, while obtaining fresh, edible meat.  They also had the powerhouse that was Chang Min, plus that person that Chang Min called Master, who definitely would not be a simple person either.

    Dexter sat in his chair feeling relaxed.  He reckoned the result of this expedition would be a positive one.
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