The Pave Hawk was waiting for us on the tarmac, two ground crewmen just finishing fueling the external tanks. I didn’t know the operational radius of a Pave Hawk, but I was glad to see we would have extra fuel for the flight. Anderson jumped out of the pickup as soon it came to a stop and headed for the helicopter. He was met by a Tech Sergeant who emerged from a hangar when we pulled up and the two immediately started walking around the aircraft, checking whatever it is pilots check before takeoff. Mayo walked over and climbed in the open side door and started checking over the mounted minigun. I smiled when I saw the weapon. Six rotating barrels and electrically operated it could fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute and would absolutely pulverize anything short of heavy armor. A friend of mine had called it ‘the Finger of God’ because whatever it reached out and touched just ceased to exist.
I tossed my pack in the helicopter as Anderson climbed into the pilot’s seat and hit the starters for the engines. Climbing aboard I connected to a safety tether that would keep me from falling out of the open door. The engines whined and quickly built to a deafening roar and I scrambled to get a headset on to protect my ears. I watched as Anderson scanned all of the instruments, and apparently satisfied he plugged the flash drive Masuka had given him into a USB port on the navigation console. It took the system a moment to process the data then a screen flashed to life displaying our flight path to the target – rescue location in this case.
Anderson left the radio linked to the intercom and we could hear him contact flight control, requesting clearance. They held us on the ground for a few minutes then released us and Anderson hit the throttle and pulled on the collective causing the Pave Hawk to leap into the air. He didn’t bother to stabilize into a hover, rather immediately banked the big helicopter and put us on a heading to the southeast. On the navigation display a blinking green symbol in the shape of an ‘X’ started following the thin green line that represented our flight path.
I busied myself with checking my weapons and making sure all the spare magazines distributed across my tactical vest were fully loaded. Taking the headset off long enough to insert the earpiece for the secure field radio I tested it with Anderson, then put the headset back on over it. Next I busied myself with checking the rope I would use to get onto the roof of the house. Fast roping out of a hovering helicopter is not one of my favorite things to do as I’m afraid of heights, but you do what you have to do. The rope is a heavy piece of braided nylon, just under two inches thick and is bolted to the floor of the helicopter.
Everything as ready as it could be I sat back and started chatting with Anderson and Mayo over the intercom as we flew. They wanted to know where Rachel was and I filled them in on the fast approaching flight to Arizona and where Rachel was at the moment. They both agreed with me that she was going to be pissed that I’d run off without her. We talked about my recall to the Army and my newly acquired rank, then fell quiet as we all got lost in our own thoughts.
It wasn’t a long flight and soon we were over the edge of the suburbs to the north of Atlanta. Out the right side of the aircraft I could see the lake where we’d all met and shook my head at the thought that it seemed like weeks ago, not just a couple of days. Ahead of us smoke still rose from the ashes that had been downtown Atlanta. Beneath us the trees thinned as we flew over more established residential areas. I kept my eyes open for other survivors but all I saw moving were large groups of infected, all heading in a generally northern direction.
“Five minutes,” Anderson’s voice came over the intercom, giving me a heads up that we were almost to the target. “We’ve got enough fuel for 15 minutes on target, 20 if I go into the emergency reserves then we either go or we’re walking part of the way back.”
“Understood,” I replied, already shifting mental gears as I prepared for the assault. I triple checked the status and security of my weapons and spare magazines then slipped on a pair of gloves with heavy, leather palms that would protect my hands as I slid down the rope. The rope was coiled neatly on the floor of the helicopter and was ready to be deployed. Mayo and I had already checked the operation of the winch that would be used to get us back up into the helicopter when I had Gwen and Stacy.
“Fuck me, but look at that!” Mayo’s voice over the intercom pulled my attention to the open door. Looking out I was shocked at the sheer number of infected that had crammed themselves into the neighborhood surrounding the house. Even though I’d seen it on the satellite image it was still a staggering site in person. Three to four blocks in every direction the ground was not visible due to the tightly jammed mass of bodies.
As we zeroed in on the house Anderson cut our speed and put the helicopter into a tight orbit so we could get a good view. The sun was setting and while it wasn’t still full daylight there was plenty of light to see the infected. It seemed as if every face in the crowd of thousands was turned upwards and for a moment the infected pressed against the house stopped pounding and clawing on the walls as they looked up at the noisy helicopter.
“You sure you want to do this, Major?” Anderson asked.
“No choice,” I replied. “Look at that shit. We’re those kid’s last chance.”
Anderson didn’t answer, probably didn’t know what to say, and a moment later he pulled out of the orbit and brought the big Pave Hawk into a hover over the roof of our target. The house was a small two story with an attic on top of the second floor. There weren’t any balconies or decks off the upper floors, but the infected had piled on top of each other until their hands were banging on the second story windows. The windows appeared to have been boarded up from the inside and with the proximity of the infected I realized that my idea to go in an upper story window wasn’t going to work. Oh well, there are other ways to gain entry. I reached into the pack I would be leaving behind in the helicopter and grabbed a zippered nylon bag that I clipped to my vest.
“Ready,” Anderson said when he was comfortable the helicopter was in a stable hover.
I kicked the rope out of the door and it uncoiled smoothly, hitting the roof of the house and the final 25 feet slithering across the shingles and falling into the mass of enraged infected. Mayo called out heights and adjustments to Anderson and the helicopter gained a few feet of altitude and the rope pulled out of the throng, two females hanging on to the end. I leaned out the open door and picked each of them off with my rifle, their bodies crashing down into the waiting arms of the herd.
“Switching to comms,” I said, taking off the headset. Unclipping from the safety tether that had kept me in the helicopter I stepped out the door and onto a small peg, wrapped my hands around the rope, pinched with my feet and dropped away from the aircraft. Fast roping, while it may look like rappelling is actually nothing like it. You are not using a descender to control your speed, rather you slide down the rope just like a fireman going down the pole in a fire station. Even with the heavy leather palmed gloves my hands heated up, but not so much that I couldn’t grip the rope and maintain a reasonable rate of descent. Very quickly my boots hit the roof and I stepped away from the rope, holding it in one hand to keep control so it didn’t whip around and either knock me off the roof or tangle in my legs and drag me with it when the helicopter pulled away. Mayo, leaning out of the door and staring down at me gave me a thumbs up when I was clear of the rope and Anderson moved the Pave Hawk up and away from the house to go back into an orbit to wait for me.
The moans and screams of the infected were loud in my ears once the noise of the helicopter moved away. Below me at the rear wall of the house they were continuing to pile on top of each other and hands were just a couple of feet from the lip of the roof, well above the second floor windows. I checked the other three sides, moving carefully as a stumble and fall off the roof would be fatal, and found similar results everywhere I looked. I moved back to the middle of the roof and called Mayo on the secure comm unit.
“Mayo, I’m about to have company on the roof. Can you do something about these uninvited guests?”
“Fuckin’ A, Major. Stand by.”
The Pave Hawk stopped orbiting and settled into a stable hover 200 feet in the air. I could see Mayo, tethered in behind the door mounted minigun, calling adjustments to Anderson over the intercom. When the aircraft was where he wanted it Mayo unleashed hell. A minigun doesn’t sound like a gun. It sounds like a very loud and very angry swarm of bad ass bees. As I watched, a nearly solid stream of lead tore into the infected piling up against the house and the bodies just disintegrated, all the blood and other fluids in them forming pinkish-red clouds that quickly settled.
Tearing my eyes away from the show I zipped open the nylon pouch I had clipped to my vest. Inside was what looked like a thumb thick length of rope, but rope doesn’t usually go boom. This was a breaching charge made of a specialized casing that was filled with a small amount of C-4 plastic explosive. It was very flexible and could be molded to any surface in any shape, and when it was detonated the casing focused the force of the explosion and ‘cut’ through what it was attached to. I laid out a three by three foot square, inserted four evenly spaced wireless detonators and moved to the far side of the roof.
Mayo was still firing the minigun and it almost drowned out the heavy thump when I pushed the button to detonate the C-4, but the explosion was still audible and rattled the roof underneath the soles of my boots. Stuffing the actuator back into the nylon pouch and zipping it up I trotted across the roof and looked down through the hole I had just made.
“Gwen! Stacy!” I shouted, hoping they were in the attic and this would be easy. Unfortunately, as an old friend of mine who was a SEAL used to say, the only easy day was yesterday.
Pulling my rifle around I clicked on the rail mounted flashlight and stuck the barrel into the hole I’d just blown in the roof. Dust and small particles of floating debris choked the air and the powerful beam of light didn’t penetrate more than a few feet into the attic space. I crab walked my way around the opening, shining the flashlight and trying to see any threats, but there was just too much dust in the air.
“Major, the infected are piling up faster than we can keep them knocked down,” Anderson’s voice over my ear piece. “You’ve got maybe two minutes before the roof is compromised.”
“Copy,” I answered, made my decision and dropped through the hole in the roof. My boots hit the rafters with my shoulders and head still above the roof line. Squatting down I got my eyes down into the attic, switched off the flashlight and dropped the NVGs – Night Vision Goggles – over my eyes. The entire space snapped into sharp focus in shades of green and black. I scanned the attic and spotted two figures huddled together at the far end of the space, one of them holding a pistol aimed in my direction. I also noted the sound of the infected coming through the second floor ceiling that I was standing on. They were in the house.
“Gwen,” I called out, turning off the NVGs and clicking on a handheld flashlight that I aimed at myself so she could see I wasn’t an infected. “I’m here to get you out. Come to me. We have to move.”
“Who are you?” Her voice was weak and shaky, whether from fear or injury I didn’t know.
“Remember a couple of weeks ago a man and woman in a truck gave you some food? That’s me. I’m back, we’ve got a helicopter waiting and we have to go. The infected are almost on the roof.”
As if to emphasize my point Anderson spoke up on the comm channel, “Major, it’s getting a little dangerous out here. You’d better get a move on.”
“Copy,” I answered. “Gwen, we have to go now or we’re going to die in here.”
I started moving towards the two girls and had covered half the distance when one of the rafters I was walking on snapped under me and I crashed through the ceiling and on top of a group of infected that had squeezed into a small bedroom.