What a bag of dicks!
Colonel Crawford, commanding officer of the Army’s 5th Special Operations Group, stood there and smiled at me. Smiling like the fucking cat that just ate the fucking canary. He’d just imparted the news on me that by Presidential order I was being reactivated into the US Army. I understand this can happen in times of national crisis, and the nuclear attacks on New York, DC and Los Angeles would certainly qualify all on their own, but the follow on nerve gas attacks that had created millions of homicidal maniacs out of the population was the larger crisis. Rachel and I hadn’t fought our way out of Atlanta, rescuing three downed Air Force personnel in the process and made it to Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee just so I could become a cog in the big green machine again, even if I was a highly trained and very valuable cog that had ‘Delta Force Operator’ as part of my resume. My priority was to get to Arizona to find my wife Katie. I hadn’t talked to her since the day before the attacks, about two weeks ago, and I had no idea if she was even still alive.
“Colonel, that’s going to be a real problem for me. I’ve got a wife in the Phoenix area that I’m trying to get to. I don’t know if she’s alive, infected…” I trailed off. Rachel, standing beside me took my hand in hers and gave it a squeeze to let me know she was on board with whatever I needed to do.
Crawford rubbed a big callused hand across the brush cut hair on top of his head and suddenly looked very tired.
“I understand your predicament, but this isn’t optional. Right now we need every experienced hand we can get. We’re trying to consolidate our resources and be ready to protect the remaining civilian population from the infected, and I can’t even go into what’s being planned as a response to the Chinese for attacking us.”
He let out a long sigh and seemed to be wrestling with a decision. “For the moment, you two get some rest and I’ll see what I can do about helping you find your wife. We’ll talk in a few hours.”
Crawford ordered the Air Force intel clerk that had run the background checks on us to get us some chow and some quarters. I was surprised he specified he wanted us in the visiting officers’ quarters, but didn’t question the gift.
If the clerk wasn’t happy about taking orders from an Army Colonel he did a good job of hiding it, jumping to his feet and telling us to follow him. We exited the secure intel working area, leaving Crawford behind, and were escorted out of the building. Dog, a large German Shepherd that had adopted us during our escape from Atlanta, raced ahead of and us took full advantage of every tree and bush he could find. A short walk later we arrived at another large, brick building. Opening the door for us the clerk lead the way through a blackout curtain and we were immediately hit with the wonderful smell of baking bread. We passed a door labeled ‘Officers Mess’ and stopped at a small reception desk manned by an Air Force Senior Airman. The clerk explained the situation to him and soon we had a key and directions in hand to our room, the clerk wishing us a good evening and heading back to the intel building.
The room was on the second floor and true to Air Force tradition was every bit as nice as any Hilton I had ever stayed in with a large king sized bed, flat screen TV and bathroom with oversized tub. Rachel let out a decidedly girlish squeal of delight and dashed to the tub and started it filling with steaming water. I smiled, picked up her pack and weapons where she had just let them fall on the floor and deposited them alongside my pack against the far wall of the room. When I returned to the bathroom door Rachel had already stripped off her grubby clothes and was brushing her teeth with a toothbrush from the plastic wrapped toiletry kit that had been waiting on the bathroom counter.
“I’m going to get us some food,” I said, waiting to make sure she’d heard me. Apparently she did because she waved at me with her free hand and kept powering the brush across her teeth. Dog followed me out of the door and I momentarily thought about making him stay behind since I was going to the mess hall, but decided the hell with it and headed for the stairs at the end of the corridor.
At the bottom of the stairs we stopped at the reception desk and I asked for clean clothes for Rachel and me, not surprised that the Air Force also had women’s underwear available. I took a guess at Rachel’s sizes and the Airman promised he would deliver them to our room within the hour. Thanking him I walked down the hallway to the mess, Dog’s nails clicking loudly on the highly polished linoleum covered floor.
Pushing into the mess hall I wasn’t at all put off when the conversations at three separate tables stopped and every head in the room turned to stare at me and Dog. I had been fighting in the field for almost three weeks, had been shot and was exhausted from running and fighting. I was also well armed with an M4 rifle, pistol, fighting knife and a tactical vest loaded down with spare magazines and ammunition. Oh, and I was dirty as hell and smelled like an elephant’s ass as someone dear to my heart used to say.
Ignoring the stares I walked up to the serving line, grabbed a large plastic tray and started loading it down with fresh baked biscuits, mounds of bacon and eggs, fresh fruit, a pile of sausage patties and a stack of pancakes that threatened to topple over every time I slid the tray down the shelf in front of the line. Adding flatware and two big glasses of orange juice to the tray I thanked the civilian food workers that were behind the serving line and tossed a sausage patty to Dog. He caught it in the air and swallowed after only chewing once, if at all, then followed me out of the mess hall with his nose raised close to the tray.
Back in our quarters I set the heavy tray of food down on a small table. Rachel was in the tub, water up to her neck. I piled food onto one of the plates I’d brought and took it along with one of the OJs into the bathroom and set it on the edge of the tub. Rachel thanked me without opening her eyes and I went back out and devoured every bite of food left on the tray. Well, not every bite. Dog got his share, too. Pushing the tray away I stood up and waddled to the door when there were three sharp knocks. It was the Airman from the reception desk delivering our new clothes. We each got two sets of standard issue Air Force uniform pants and blouses along with three sets of socks and underwear for each of us, including bras for Rachel. Separating the clothing I delivered hers to the bathroom and told her to get moving, it was my turn. A large splash of water was her answer, Dog getting the worst of it.
Saying the hell with it I reached into the shower stall, cranked the water on hot, stripped out of my grimy clothes and stepped in. The hot water felt marvelous as it beat down on my head and shoulders. I had to soap and rinse twice to feel clean, shaved my head with a disposable razor that had been provided with the room, rinsed and turned off the water. A towel came flying over the top of the shower door and I snatched it out of the air and dried off. Towel wrapped around my waist I exited the shower and shaved my face after wiping the steam off the mirror. Rachel stood next to me, towel wrapped around her torso, forcing a comb through her long, wet hair accompanied by a steady string of curses as the comb worked out tangles.
“So what’s the… ouch, shit… plan?” She asked, peering at me through wet hair that covered her face and hadn’t been combed out yet.
“I’m deciding,” I answered, rinsing the razor and setting it aside for future use. I found a small tube of lotion and rubbed some into my freshly shaved scalp. “Suggestions?”
“I’m with you whatever you decide,” she answered, pausing her combing and brushing hair out of her eyes to look at me. “You should know that by now. We’ve been through too much together for me to not help you. If you want to slip out of here and hit the road I can be dressed in five minutes.”
I met her eyes and smiled, knowing she was serious and wouldn’t think twice about helping me become a deserter from the Army.
“For now, we both need rest and another good meal, then we’ll decide. I’d much rather have the support the Army can provide, but I’m not going to start playing soldier and forget about Katie. And… thanks. I’m glad you’re with me.” I reached out and squeezed her hand before walking out of the bathroom. Digging through the clothes we’d been provided I found a pair of clean underwear, pulled them on and climbed into the bed. Dog jumped up on the foot of the bed and curled up into a big ball of fur. Rachel had taken to sleeping in the same bed with me, chastely, after being abducted and abused by a group of survivors and I wasn’t surprised when a few minutes later she crawled into the bed and stole most of the covers.