“That’s got to be them,” I said, eyes on the screen showing a throng of infected that had to number several thousand.
Major Masuka took control of the computer back from me, clicking and typing faster than I could even think about. After a few moments of furious work she hit the enter key and looked back up at the screen, arms crossed across her chest. At first nothing happened, then the screen blinked and the same shot of the neighborhood was displayed only this time there were no infected in the shot. A date and time stamp in the upper right corner indicated this was 48 hours ago. The screen blinked again, and the indicator changed to reflect 47 hours ago. This continued to happen, the images progressing forward an hour at a time until we reached 31 hours ago. In that image a few dozen infected surrounded the house, frozen in the image with arms raised as they pounded on the siding, doors and windows. Another blink. 30 hours ago. There were now hundreds of infected and more could be seen in the surrounding streets and yards as they streamed towards the house. Blink, 29 hours. Thousands and still growing.
Masuka paused the replay with a click and entered some more commands, hitting the enter key with a flourish. The time stamp rolled back to 32 hours, blinked and started progressing forward in one minute increments. At the 31 hour and 38 minute mark a lone figure was visible moving towards the house and Masuka reached forward and hit a button that changed the replay to normal speed, paused it, rolled it back two minutes, zoomed in a little and and let it roll. Soon the figure appeared in the image about a block away from the house. I recognized Kevin, one of the three siblings I had met. He was running and kept looking over his shoulder. Rounding a house he nearly ran into the arms of an infected male, stumbled backwards, pulled out a pistol and shot it. I sighed. The sound of the gun shot. That had brought every infected in a large radius down on their heads.
Kevin kept running and now other figures were entering the frame of the shot. Some of them were shambling males, but there were also females. The females sprinted after Kevin. He was not in good shape and his run looked like a slow jog compared to the speed of the females. Two of them were only yards behind when he stumbled on the lawn of his house, going to his knees only feet from safety. He was immediately tackled from behind by both females. The front door of the house opened and Gwen ran out onto the lawn, pistol held at arm’s length, but it didn’t look like she fired. Probably afraid of hitting Kevin. As she watched the females ripped into Kevin, his bloody death displayed in high definition on the flat panel. Gwen slowly lowered the pistol and seemed to be rooted in place until more females appeared. She turned and ran back into the house, slamming the door behind her moments before infected started pounding on it.
“Can you go to real time?” I asked. Masuka hit a few keys and the image blinked before sharpening back to clarity. The house was absolutely mobbed with infected trying to force their way in.
“They’re still alive in there,” I said, eyes glued to the screen. “How soon can you get a rescue bird in the air?”
Masuka puffed out her cheeks then let the air out slowly, “Two days before I have anyone available. Plenty of birds available, but we’re low on personnel and every pilot I have is supporting the build up at the state border to defend against the herd that’s moving towards us.” She looked up at me defiantly, expecting an argument.
I stared at her for a long moment then turned my eyes back to the scene on the display. “What if I can get my own pilot and door gunner?” I asked. “Will you let me have a helicopter that can make the trip?”
“One pilot? No co-pilot? Only one crewman? That’s against every policy the Air Force has.” She answered, facing me with her arms crossed again.
“What’s the Air Force policy on leaving two teenage girls to be torn apart by infected?” I asked in a low voice, leaning towards her. Part of my strategy was to not make a scene and put her on the defensive in front of her staff, but I also know I can be fairly intimidating when I want to be and with 15 inches of height and probably 130 pounds on her I hoped my physical presence would help change her mind.
Masuka stared right back at me, head turned up to meet my eyes like a child looking up at her parent, and she never blinked. We stared at each other like that for a bit before she uncrossed her arms and broke eye contact.
“Tell me what you have in mind,” she said.
“The pilot that flew me in last night, Lieutenant Anderson, and the Senior Airman that was part of his air crew. They can’t be assigned to anything yet. They fly, I get the kids out of the house and we bring them back here to safety.” I straightened back up, giving her more space and shut my mouth. If she said no I’d find Anderson and steal a helicopter if I had to.
She looked back at the display, the mass of infected bodies choking the streets and lawns around the house and shook her head. “How do you think you’re going to get them out of that?” She gestured at the satellite feed.
Got her! She was in.
“That’s a two story house. I fast rope down to the roof, punch through a window and winch the kids back up. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.”
Shaking her head and making a decision she called one of her staff over, a young, gangly kid wearing an Airman’s stripe on a uniform that looked almost as new as mine. He dashed across the room and came to attention in front of us. Masuka looked up at me and gestured to the kid, “Tell him who you need and he’ll go get them.”
“Lieutenant Anderson, he’s probably in the BOQ – Bachelor Officer Quarters – and Senior Airman Mayo. Don’t know where Mayo is, but the LT will know.”
The kid stood there as if waiting for something else until Masuka barked at him to get his ass in gear. He turned and ran for the door and Masuka grabbed another staffer and started issuing orders to get a Pave Hawk fueled and on the flight line, ready to go, then turned her attention to the line of people that had been waiting for her. I left her to it and went down the stairs and back outside to where the Security Forces Airman was waiting with Dog. They were outside the Humvee and Dog had convinced him to throw a stick he’d somehow found. I told him to take Dog back to the firing range and deliver him to Rachel and let her know that I was taking a short flight and would be back in plenty of time for our flight to Arizona. I knew Rachel would be pissed at me, but I didn’t really see that she could be anything more than a passenger on this trip and she needed the time on the range. The Airman sped off and I lit a cigarette, enjoying the warm afternoon sun. Behind me on the flight line a jet engine throttled up and screamed like a banshee. The smell of jet fuel was heavy in the air. I already missed Rachel and Dog.
Two cigarettes later the gangly Airman wheeled into the parking lot in an Air Force blue pickup truck. Anderson sat in the front passenger seat and Mayo was sprawled out in the back seat. I walked over to greet them as the driver pulled into a parking space and shut off the engine. When they stepped out of the truck and spotted the rank on my uniform both of them looked at me with quizzical expressions on their faces.
“Recall by order of the Commander In Chief,” I explained, shrugging my shoulders and grinning.
Anderson and Mayo came to attention but I waved them off, forestalling the salutes that I knew were coming. Motioning for them to follow I led the way into flight operations, explaining what was going on as we walked. Reaching the large operations room I introduced Anderson to Major Masuka and faded into the background while they talked. Masuka handed a small flash drive to Anderson and waved me over.
“Major,” she said. “I think you’re a damn fool for going out there. Pave Hawks need a crew of at least four, preferably six, but I admire you for not just walking away from these kids. But you do need to know. If you run into trouble I don’t have anyone available to come get you. I’ve told the Lieutenant and Senior Airman that this is voluntary. I won’t order them to do this so severely undermanned. You’ll be glad to know they’ve both volunteered. Good luck to you, and I hope I see you in a few hours.” She stuck her hand out and I took it, thanking her. The same Airman that had retrieved Anderson and Mayo was tasked with getting us to the Pave Hawk that was waiting on the flight line and we followed him out of the building without any further discussion.