The mess hall was jammed, packed to the gills with people. Soldiers mingled with civilians, squeezing together on every flat surface available. The Colonel stood on top of the mess line, standing calmly watching people file in. Several soldiers throughout the room were guiding people to available spaces. A small child sat on a table, cuddling a teddy bear while a concerned father patted her hair and watched her. The Colonel knew the child's mother was gone, but he carefully set aside thoughts of his own kid and the group she'd walked in with. He had a job to do, and he'd damn well do it.
Thoughts of his girl eased his expression only slightly, until Coty and company walked through the door. Some tension went out of him as he saw them - tired, certainly, but none the worse for wear. The report from the medic said Coty's friend's arm would be just fine, and that his daughter's companions would be okay. His heart swelled with pride at the knowledge that his girl - his girl - had made it, had kept her head and stayed alive. His pulse picked up though, because he knew what was coming, and trained or not, this was going to be rough.
He'd never had a harder job, but he was a strong man and knew what he had to do. He signaled one of the soldiers, who met Coty's group at the door and escorted them down to the front, among soldiers who made a place for them and made sure they stayed together. He stepped across the table to the center, holding his hands up for silence as the door shut and the people assembled before him stilled, watching him carefully.
"Good afternoon." He scanned the crowd, pleased by how calm they were as they listened. "Well, no easy way to say this. There's good news, and bad news. The good news comes in two parts, so we'll start with that. First is, the compound is secure, and as of now and based on what we have in stock, we have supplies to last four weeks. Unless we get an influx of more people from the city. I doubt that, but it would be a welcome problem." He ran a hand over his short salt-and-pepper hair, a gesture he only made under heavy stress. The unspoken half of his purported good news was that these were all the survivors so far, and that was anything but good. Putting his mind away from the families torn apart and the massive carnage indicated by the entire population of Tampa, Florida being able to fit in one oversized mess hall, he continued.
"The second part of this is that the medics are close to figuring out what's causing the zombie issue." One of the first few groups of survivors had been a group of two doctors and two research scientists from the USF medical center. They'd been eating lunch in the Fishbowl when the first zombies appeared, which gave them the dual advantages of forewarning and a head start. Since arriving at the base, they'd been locked in the labs with a few zombies, doing whatever it was they did. He shifted from his left foot to his right, running his hand over his head again and pausing before opening his mouth again.
"Now the bad news. We still are unable to establish contact with any other bases, or indeed any other cities. For now, we're on our own." Some angry mutterings in the back were quickly stifled by a glare. "I'm sure this won't continue to be the case, but while we continue to try to reach to other areas, we're going to focus on clearing out the Tampa Bay area and making it safe and habitable again. We'll be organizing into parties and slowly extending a clean area out from the base until we get the entire area clear. If you want to volunteer to help, you can see Sgt. Ringo after this briefing." He had a feeling Coty would volunteer, but with a sinking heart knew he needed her for something else. He made a small gesture that Coty knew well, a small sign between them to come over once the briefing had concluded.
"Beyond that, if you have questions, concerns, or complaints, please see Lt. Butcher. Thank you." It was a short and uncomfortable briefing. He wished the news were better but it wasn't, he wished he were used to talking to civilians - but he wasn't that either. It is what it is, he reminded himself sourly, and stepped down from the table to a small corner to brace himself for the conversation he had to have with his girl.