The small group climbed the ramp and disappeared into the plane as I approached, Humvee still guarding my back with its machine gun hammering away. Reaching the ramp I climbed aboard, Rachel and Dog falling in behind me, and handed Masuka off to waiting hands. From outside the plane the machine gun continued firing. A grizzled man wearing an AF jump suit with Master Sergeant stripes, the Loadmaster, ran up to me and shoved a wireless headset for communicating on the jet’s intercom into my hands.
“Major, the pilot needs to speak with you.” He turned away and started shouting at the new arrivals, getting them organized and seated on canvas slings that lined the walls of the giant cargo area. Three well used Bradley fighting vehicles filled most of the interior with room for passengers on the web seats.
“Major Chase up on intercom.” I announced my presence and moved back onto the ramp to keep an eye out for any infected that slipped past our rear guard.
“Captain Trask, Sir.” The pilot answered quickly. “We need some help. There’s too many infected on the runway for me to taxi and take off.” While he was talking I raised my rifle and dispatched two females that were sprinting in on the blind side of the Humvee.
“Copy, Captain. I’ll see what I can do about that.” I ripped the headset off and tossed it to the Loadmaster and exited the aircraft onto the tarmac. Rachel and Dog stayed on my heels, Rachel firing on another female that came around from the far side of the plane. Running to the Humvee I yanked the door open and leaned in to speak with the driver.
“You’re a goddamn sight for sore eyes,” I yelled to the Sergeant in the driver’s seat over the nearly constant hammering of the machine gun. He grinned back and stuck his hand out.
“Glad to be of service, Major. We about ready to get the hell out of here?”
“Got a small problem. Too many infected on the runway. The pilot can’t taxi or takeoff. I’m going to do what I can to thin them out. You and your gunner un-ass this vehicle and get on that plane.”
My plan was for Rachel to take over driving and I would man the gun. Along with support from the Pave Hawk’s minigun we’d clear enough of the runway for the Globemaster to get off the ground, then Anderson could pick us up.
“If it’s all the same Major, I’m not too partial to running from a fight.” He grinned what I’m sure women found a charming grin.
“No discussion, Sergeant. Move your ass. I’ve got a ride to pick me up as soon as the jet’s in the air.”
“Yes, Sir,” he answered, still grinning. Turning, he smacked the gunner on the leg and yelled at him to evacuate the vehicle. They gathered their gear, clambered out of the vehicle and ran for the Globemaster’s waiting ramp.
I waved Rachel and Dog into the vehicle, sending Rachel to the driver’s seat while I muti-tasked and inventoried the ammo reserves on board, shrugged out of my pack and called Anderson on my comm unit.
“Go ahead, Major.”
“The pilot can’t get this big bitch in the air with all the infected on the runway. What does it look like from up there?”
“Wait one,” he answered, and I finished up my quick survey. Happily there were close to 5,000 rounds of ammo for the machine gun stored in the vehicle, which was an extraordinarily large amount, but it was time we had a break.
“Major, we’re going to need to clear out about 500 infected to your west so the jet can taxi and turn into the wind for takeoff. Is the bird loaded or empty?”
“Loaded,” I answered. “Three Bradleys on board.”
The radio was quiet for a moment then Anderson came back on, “OK, he’ll need about 7,500 feet of runway to get in the air. There’s infected thick on the ground for about 300 feet to your east then there’s just an occasional straggler.”
“Copy. I’m in the Humvee. I’ll start clearing room for taxi and turn, you get started on the east side. And we’re going to need a ride when they get in the air.”
“Copy that,” he answered and a moment later I heard the pitch of the Pave Hawk’s rotor change as it came to a hover over the side of the runway, then the minigun started mowing down bodies like the Grim Reaper’s scythe.
I shouted instructions to Rachel and she hit the throttle and steered us to the front of the giant plane. I absently noticed that the fire ahead of us at the end of the flight line was growing and spreading, but didn’t have time to do anything other than bring the heavy machine gun into action. It started hammering and I used the tracer rounds to direct and concentrate my fire into the mass of infected lumbering towards us. They began falling and I kept up the fire, feathering the trigger as I swung through an arc large enough for the plane to pass through. Every few seconds I let off the trigger to give the barrel a moment to cool down, but also to scan around me for females. I was standing with the top half of my body above the roof line of the vehicle and if a female got close enough they were certainly agile enough to leap up and attack me.
Rachel was letting the Humvee proceed at an idle and after we had cleared and progressed a hundred feet or so I heard the massive jet engines behind us throttle up as the pilot started following. If not for the noise from the machine gun and the screaming jet engines I suppose there would have been the sickening crunches as bodies lying on the tarmac were pulverized under the oversized landing gear. I shook my head as I scanned again for females, wondering why I even had random thoughts like that, then had to swing the machine gun around and cut down two females running in from our right, rear quarter.
“Major, we’re pretty clear back here.” Anderson called over the radio at the same time I heard the jet engines throttle down.
Looking behind me I saw the Globemaster pivoting around, looking impossibly large and ungainly on the ground. I shouted directions to Rachel and she whipped a U-Turn and raced around the plane so we could assist in making sure the runway was clear. The pilot wasn’t worried about bodies lying on the runway. The heavy landing gear would roll right over them and probably no one on the plane would even feel a bump. The concern was an infected getting sucked into an engine. Birds are always a concern for pilots as they can damage a jet engine if they are sucked in. The difference in size and hardness of bones between a bird and a human is huge and I didn’t blame the pilot for being cautious.
I kept firing, cutting down any infected that was still standing after the minigun’s aerial barrage. The aftermath of the minigun, no matter how many times I’ve witnessed it, always amazes me. The runway was literally carpeted with a thick mass of bodies and body parts. Hundreds of infected had been blown apart by the ferocious rate of fire and only a few still moved, somehow having been missed as Mayo worked the weapon. The last one standing fell to a short burst from my machine gun as the jet completed its turn and the pilot wasted no time in shoving the four throttles to the firewall. The noise instantly rose to an ear shattering bellow and I slapped Rachel on the shoulder and pointed for her to drive away from the runway so we wouldn’t get blown over by the jet blast as the Globemaster passed us.
While she was getting us a safe distance away I checked on the location of the Pave Hawk and saw it hovering 100 feet off to the side of the runway just over a mile away. Turning to look back to the west I grinned as infected were scattered like leaves in a hurricane as the jet blast hit them. My grin faded as they started climbing back to their feet after having been blown tumbling a hundred yards down the pavement. Damn but these things were tough.
The Globemaster roared past us, picking up speed as it rolled. The blast from the four huge engines blew the bodies and body parts off the runway after the jet rolled over them, creating a bloody fog in the air that I didn’t want anything to do with. Diving down into the Humvee I shut the access panel in the roof with a slam and settled into the passenger seat to watch the takeoff. Dog had squeezed his way into the front of the vehicle and sat with his head resting on my left leg.
The big jet kept picking up speed and I noticed Anderson slip the Pave Hawk a little further away from the runway as it approached. I could see Mayo still firing the occasional burst from the minigun as infected wandered too close to the runway, but it looked like the takeoff was going to be a success. That was until two female infected darted out of a hangar and behind the hovering helicopter. They were on the opposite side of the aircraft from Mayo as they sprinted on to the runway.
“Infected at your six, on the runway!” I shouted into the comm unit.
Anderson responded almost immediately, spinning the helicopter around and Mayo traversed the minigun, but he was too late and stopped firing as the females ran further onto the runway. The Globemaster was fast approaching, probably close to take off speed and getting very close to the end of the runway. I could see the control surfaces on the wings move to full deflection as the pilot recognized the threat and tried to get the heavy jet in the air, but he just didn’t have enough speed built up and the landing gear stayed firmly on the ground. The scene went into slow motion as first one, then both infected were sucked into the engine farthest out on the right-hand wing.
There was an immediate gout of flame that shot out of the back of the engine, moments later the engine exploding. Half of the wing shredded when the engine exploded and the impossibly massive jet began to twist sideways to its right as both good engines on the left wing were still at full throttle and were no longer being balanced by equal thrust from the right. Shrapnel blew outward from the destroyed engine, some chunks appearing to be as large as the Humvee I was sitting in. Anderson responded and turned the Pave Hawk away from the disintegrating Globemaster, but not soon enough. A chunk of engine the size of a small car rocketed through the air, trailing smoke and flames, and slammed into the Pave Hawk’s rotor.
In almost a coordinated ballet the Globemaster continued its spin to the right as the Pave Hawk tilted first to the side then nose down as the rotor blades sheared off. The Pave Hawk crashed nose first into a parking lot adjacent to a hangar, exploding into a large fireball on impact. Seconds later the Globemaster’s landing gear, not designed for the lateral stress it was experiencing as the plane skidded sideways, collapsed. The belly of the plane smashed into the pavement and skidded in a shower of sparks. Moments later the already compromised right wing snapped off and spilled hundreds of gallons of jet fuel that was instantly ignited by the sparks from the skid. The Globemaster exploded in a tremendous fireball, the shockwave from the concussion rocking the Humvee on its suspension.