A wave of emotions washed over me as Rachel and I sat in the Humvee and watched the two aircraft crash and explode into flames. Even though I knew it wasn’t my fault a wave of guilt hit me at the thought of the survivors I had put on the Globemaster as well as the loss of Anderson, Mayo and Gwen in the helicopter. Sensing our distress Dog whined and pushed his head all the way into my lap. I absently rubbed his head as the flames consumed the remains of the crash and quickly spread to the adjacent hangars and parked fighter jets, setting off additional explosions. The Humvee rocked again from another shockwave, then there was a solid thump on my door as a female infected crashed into the vehicle and began beating on the ballistic glass.
“We need to move,” I said to Rachel who looked as distraught as I felt. She didn’t respond, just sat behind the wheel watching the growing conflagration at the far end of the runway.
“Rachel, can you drive?” I raised my voice and put my hand on her shoulder. Shaking off her torpor she nodded and looked around.
Good question. I checked my vest and found I was down to one full magazine and one partial for the rifle. Checking Rachel’s didn’t produce dramatically better results. Climbing over the seat into the back of the vehicle I found only ammo for the machine gun. We had plenty of that, but were dangerously low on rifle and pistol ammo.
“We need to find the armory and resupply our ammo, then we need to get the hell out of here.” Back in the front seat I looked out my side window and met the eyes of the infected female that was pounding on the glass. Rage and hunger stared back at me.
“OK. Got any idea where that is?” Rachel shifted into reverse, backed up a few yards, shifted back into drive, jammed the throttle and ran down the female without so much as batting an eye.
“First get us away from the flight line, then head towards the firing range. It should be fairly close if the Air Force does anything like the Army does.”
Nodding, Rachel stepped on the throttle and we bounced over several dead infected, hopped a curb into the parking lot for the flight operations building and headed north on a narrow road that looked familiar from earlier in the day. Rachel drove fast but well, not bothering to slow when another female infected charged us head on. The heavy front bumper smashed the body and sent if sailing through the air where it landed in a roadside ditch.
The road widened and forked, Rachel slowing as she looked for landmarks before taking the fork to the left. Ahead I could see a single weak light at the squat cinderblock building in front of the firing range. Rachel slowed and swung into the gravel parking lot, the headlights shining brightly on the closed steel access door. When she shut off the lights I engaged the NVGs. I didn’t see any infected in the area, told Rachel to stay behind the wheel, popped the door open and stepped out with rifle at the ready and Dog on my heels. The idling diesel in the Humvee was loud and I motioned for Rachel to shut it off, the engine going quiet a moment later. I stood still for a minute, scanning the area, then checked on Dog who was alert but calm. Reaching back into the vehicle I found the sound suppressor for my rifle still tucked safely away in my pack. Removing the M4’s flash hider I screwed the suppressor into place and closed the Humvee door softly.
Walking slowly across the gravel I reached out and tried the door knob but it was locked. I thought for a second and decided to try knocking before forcing my way in. There was an answering thump to my knock on the door and I could hear snarling coming from inside the building. Dog let out a low growl then went quiet, eyes focused on the door. After another quick check of the area I lowered my rifle and opened the pack clipped to my vest that held the breaching charges. Using the Kukri I cut off six inches of rope and molded it around the knob and deadbolt, inserted and activated a detonator and stepped behind the Humvee. When Dog was at my side and safely shielded I pressed the remote and the C-4 detonated with a dull bang.
Moving back toward the door I was satisfied with the results. The explosion had cut through the steel surrounding both the knob and deadbolt and released the door which was swinging out as an infected male pushed through. It was one of the Sergeants I’d met earlier that had worked with Rachel on the firing range. I dropped him with a shot to the head, the rifle nice and quiet with the addition of the suppressor. I waited a few more moments to see if there were any more infected that were going to come to the party, but apparently he’d been alone.
Swinging the door fully open I scanned the interior through my NVGs and saw no threat. Dog at my side I moved into the building, scanning and ready with the rifle, but it was still clear. Stepping back to the doorway I gave Rachel a thumbs up, pulled the damaged door closed and flipped on the lights as I pushed the NVGs up off my eyes. The room was much as I remembered it other than several items the infected had knocked off desks as he stumbled around the space. Starting a quick search I checked the two large metal cabinets first and didn’t find ammo but did find tools and chemicals for cleaning firearms. Grabbing an ammo can stuffed with cleaning supplies I set it by the front door and kept searching.
The third storage room I came to was the only one with a lock on the door. Expecting I’d found what I was looking for I quickly gained access by blowing the lock off the door with some more C-4 and was rewarded for my efforts. Inside were wooden cases of fully loaded 30 round magazines. At least that’s one thing the AF did the same way as the Army. Time at the range was too valuable to waste on the trainees sitting there loading magazines a round at a time. The Army would pick a couple of Privates and detail to load magazines in advance so all the trainees had to do was grab a couple and start shooting. Each crate held 30 magazines and there were 20 crates sitting there for a total of 18,000 rounds ready to go. There was no way the Humvee could hold all of them, but I was going to take as many as I could stuff into the vehicle. I let the rifle hang on its sling and grabbed the first one and headed for the door.
Rachel saw me coming and got out and popped open the rear of the vehicle and I loaded the crate in. Four more crates and we were full with 4,500 rounds. I tossed in the cleaning kit and back inside loaded my vest from one of the crates I was leaving behind. I took a few more minutes and dug through the crates and boxes in the room and almost overlooked a single wooden crate in the back corner. It was stenciled with black paint that had faded and all I could see was two numbers, 67. Moving some boxes out of the way I saw the full stencil, M67, Grenade, Fragmentation. That’s more like it! After opening the crate to make sure it really contained grenades I carried it out and placed it on the back seat. One more trip to get enough magazines to fully restock Rachel’s vest and we were ready to go.
Humvee loaded and our vests restocked we stood by the front of the vehicle looking at each other. The fires at the flight line were very visible over the tree tops and occasionally another explosion would rock the night. I felt we were OK for a few minutes. I had scanned the entire area with the NVGs and hadn’t spotted any infected. They were all probably heading for the commotion at the runway as fast as they could.
“What the hell is happening?” I asked Rachel, looking over as Dog trotted to a lone tree at the edge of the parking area.
Rachel thought for a minute before answering, “All I can come up with is it has to do with the viral component of the nerve gas release. The briefer did tell us that our researchers haven’t identified everything the virus can or will do. Either that or they were grossly wrong about how long the nerve agent remains viable once it’s released into the environment, but I doubt they’re wrong about that.”
“Why are we OK? Or are we?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we’re immune, maybe we just haven’t turned yet. It’s all maybes at this point.” Rachel let out a sigh and turned to watch the fires. “So what do we do now?”
“That’s what I’m trying to decide. If this is happening here I think it’s a safe bet it’s happening everywhere. We’ve got a very sturdy and well-armed vehicle so we can pretty much get to wherever we decide to go as long as we can find fuel.” That thought prompted me to walk around to the back of the Humvee and check for extra fuel. Four 5 gallon metal jerry cans were strapped down to a platform attached to the back of the Humvee, but they were all empty. Not surprising since they would normally only be filled in preparation for going into the field for an extended time.
Another thought crossed my mind and I dug out the main controller for my comm unit. I was pleased to find it was an upgraded unit with the capability of changing frequencies. This was a relatively low powered unit and would have no chance of reaching a ground based radio more than a couple of miles away, but that range was greatly extended if I could reach an aircraft. Not expecting there to be any civilian air traffic I changed the radio to the Military Guard Channel – reserved for aircraft emergencies – and started transmitting.
“American ground forces transmitting on Guard. Any station receiving please respond.” I listened for a few but heard nothing and repeated my transmission.
“Station transmitting this is Royal Air Force Angel Flight. Please identify yourself.” The signal was weak and static filled but the voice was distinctly British.
“Angel Flight, Major John Chase, US Army at Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee. Arnold has fallen to infected. I need to know status of other US installations. Is Fort Campbell still operational?”
“Stand by, Major. We’re a little concerned ourselves up here. Nashville went radio silent half an hour ago.” The signal was clearer. I suspected this was one of the UK aid flights that was inbound to Nashville.
After what seemed like an eternity the UK pilot came back on the radio, the signal now perfectly clear. For the hell of it I looked up and scanned the sky but couldn’t spot the aircraft.
“Major, we are still not getting a response from Nashville, and Fort Campbell is not responding either. There is some faint radio traffic we are picking up that indicates some major battles are underway, but we cannot tell where they are coming from.” By the time the pilot finished speaking the signal was already growing weaker as the plane was apparently now moving away from us. I thanked him for the information and think he wished me good luck, but it was hard to tell over the growing static.
“That’s not good,” I said to Rachel, shutting the unit off to save the battery and stowing it in my pack. A couple of screams sounded much too close and we quickly piled back into the Humvee, me behind the wheel while Rachel and Dog had a brief skirmish over the passenger seat. Starting the vehicle I spun around in the parking lot as two infected females raced around the corner of the building and charged towards us. Spraying gravel I accelerated out of the lot and onto the asphalt, quickly outdistancing them.
“So what are we doing?” Rachel asked, leaning forward to peer at the females in the side mirror.
“Unless you’ve got a better suggestion we’re heading west again. I don’t feel like fighting our way to Fort Campbell to just find that it has fallen too.”
Rachel thought about that for a few minutes as I drove across the Air Force Base. The fires at the flight line were burning brighter than ever and there was still the occasional explosion as either an aircraft or vehicle’s fuel tank detonated.
“I think that’s probably our best bet,” she finally answered, turning to look at me and rubbing Dog’s head which was firmly planted in her lap.
“OK, then,” I said. “We’ve got to avoid Memphis. It was one of the cities that was on the original list of nerve gas attacks. There’s also still the herd moving up from the gulf. I’m going to take us north. Move up into Kentucky, then across the Mississippi river into Missouri, but stay well south of St. Louis. We’ll worry about finding a safe bridge crossing when we get there.” Once again I found myself without a map, but was willing to start the journey without one and hope to loot a convenience store or truck stop along the way.
We slowly worked our way across the base. Infected were everywhere. It seemed as if almost everyone that had been fine when we arrived was now infected. I started to speculate on what could have happened, but shut down that line of thinking. I needed to focus on the task at hand, not worry about something over which I had no control. On a fairly regular basis we were running down infected males, females charging us from out of the dark and slamming into the fenders or doors of the Humvee. Once we saw a lone survivor, but he was too far away and fell under a pack of females that tore him to ribbons before we could get close enough to help. Poor bastard.