The deck of the helicopter was hard with an anti-skid coating sprayed on it. I noted this as my face rested on the rough, textured surface and I pressed hard on the tender areas where the infected female had clamped down on me. She had managed to get her teeth on the very upper portion of my inner thighs and only good luck had kept her from getting a mouth full of balls, or worse. The pain was intense, but not as intense as it could have been. We were in flight and since I wasn’t a pilot and not needed at the moment I was happy to stay right where I was, curled in the fetal position and feeling sorry for myself.
“Stacy! What’s wrong?”
It was the tone in Gwen’s voice that made the small hairs on my arms stand up. Shoving the pain aside I sat up and looked around to where the two girls had been huddling at the back of the helicopter. Gwen was kneeling over her sister who was laying on the deck and convulsing violently. Mayo and I both moved at the same time. I pushed Gwen aside as Mayo grabbed a first aid kit that was mounted to a bulkhead, ripped it open and kneeled next to me with a Syrette of Morphine. I was cradling Stacy’s head in my lap to keep her from fracturing her skull on the hard deck and trying to restrain her just enough to prevent injury when she suddenly let out with an ear piercing scream before going perfectly still, staring up into my eyes.
“What’s wrong with her? Help her?” Gwen screamed and tried to push in to reach her sister, but I held her back. Mayo had the Morphine Syrette poised in mid-air, looking to me for instructions. That was when it happened.
Stacy’s eyes bulged nearly out of their sockets, for all the world looking like a cartoon character who’s eyes pop out of their head in exaggerated surprise. When I thought they could grow no larger the whites were flooded with red as every capillary in her eyes burst, then they receded back to their normal position.
“Back!” I shouted, scrambling away and letting Stacy’s head fall to the deck.
Mayo and I put as much distance between us and Stacy as we could and I cast around looking for the Kukri I had dropped on the deck when I made it into the helicopter. Spotting it a few feet away I dove for it as Stacy leapt to her feet with a scream, looked around and launched herself at Mayo. I’ll never know why she ignored Gwen who was right next to her. Perhaps even infected she recognized her sister, or more likely Mayo was just the first person she saw, but she tackled him to the deck. They rolled over twice getting tangled in his safety tether which effectively tied their legs together. He wound up on his back trying to hold her snapping teeth away from his flesh. Kukri in hand I stepped behind Stacy, grabbed a fistful of hair, yanked to raise her head and swung the machete.
Gwen’s scream of agony was loud even over the roar of the Pave Hawk as her sister’s head was sliced from her body and started swinging by the hair balled into my fist, bright red blood pouring out of the cut and covering the deck. I hadn’t intended to behead the poor girl, my only thought being to save Mayo. Shit. I looked around the bloody compartment. Mayo stared at me from the deck, covered in blood with a shocked look on his face. Gwen stared at me from the rear of the compartment. More accurately she stared at her little sister’s head that was still swinging in my fist from the motion of the helicopter. A low moan came from her, rising in pitch to become a keening wail as she sank to her knees and buried her face in her hands.
I stood there for a long moment, head swinging from my hand and blood dripping onto the deck. Mayo was still frozen in place, breathing hard. Gwen had rolled onto her side, her whole body shaking as she sobbed. Not knowing what else to do I tossed the severed head out of the open door then kneeled down to help Mayo untangle from the tether that held the body pressed on top of him. Freeing him I lifted Stacy’s body and it followed her head through the open door. I watched it pinwheel through the air as it fell until it disappeared in the thick forest several hundred feet below us.
Mayo retrieved the headset that had been knocked off in the scuffle and I could see him talking into it, filling in Anderson up in the cockpit. The noise of the helicopter in flight was too loud for me to hear what he was saying, but I had my own concerns. What the hell had just happened? The nerve agent was only supposed to be effective for a maximum of 48 hours. Stacy had been fine two weeks ago when I’d first met her, and was fine when we winched her up into the aircraft. The only thing that made sense was the briefing I had received earlier in the day was wrong. How many of us were about to become infected? I watched Gwen closely, but she just lay in a ball on the deck sobbing. Mayo, who had had lots of contact with Stacy and was covered in her blood looked completely freaked out but otherwise seemed fine. I looked down at my blood stained hands and a little thrill of fear ran through me. Something about bio-weapons has always terrified me. Probably because it’s not something I can see and fight. Putting fears that I couldn’t do anything about aside I grabbed one of the headsets and slipped it on my head. As soon as the noise cancelling kicked in I could hear Mayo and Anderson speaking. Not waiting to find out what they were discussing I cut in on the conversation.
“Anderson, can you get me on the radio with flight ops at Arnold?” I asked, lowering myself into a web sling seat and keeping my distance from Gwen.
“Can do, Major. Stand by.”
The headset went silent for a few moments then Anderson’s voice came back, “Major, go ahead for Arnold flight operations.”
“Arnold, Major Chase here. I need to speak to Major Masuka immediately.”
“Wait one, Sir.” It was actually more than one, more like five, before I heard Masuka’s voice in the headset.
“Major, I’m pretty busy right now. Can’t this wait until you’re back?”
“Are we on private comms?” I asked.
There was silence for a moment then a hum and click. “We’re private. What do you need?”
“We rescued two teenage girls. Both were healthy when we got them into the aircraft, but one of them just turned right in front of me. The intelligence that the nerve agent is no longer a threat seems to be flawed.” I kept an eye on Gwen and Mayo both while I spoke. One surprise for the day was enough.
“Repeat that,” she requested. From the tone of her voice I could tell she had heard me just fine but wasn’t processing the bad news, so I repeated myself.
After a few moments of silence she acknowledged she understood.
“Find an Army Colonel named Crawford,” I said. “He’s either still at Arnold or has recently left for Fort Campbell. He needs to know about this ASAP. And I would suggest you get some armed MPs into flight ops right away.”
“Understood,” was her only reply, then another click and she was gone.
“How long to Arnold?” I asked Anderson over the intercom.
“Uh… 20 minutes, Major. You want me to step it up?”
I didn’t even hesitate, “Yes. Get us on the ground as fast as you can.”
The noise and vibration increased as Anderson pushed the Pave Hawk to its top speed. Gwen still hadn’t moved. Mayo had found a blood borne pathogen response kit in a storage compartment and was washing as much blood off his skin as he could with a large squeeze bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide. He held it out towards me and I gratefully extended my hands. The liquid bubbled when it hit the blood on my hands and I rubbed them together, scrubbing as well as I could. When we were as clean as could be for the moment he used the rest of the bottle to hose down the blood that was congealing on the deck, but nothing short of a fire hose was going to get this helicopter clean.
Twelve minutes later I felt our speed and altitude change and looked out the door. We were over the outer perimeter of Arnold AFB and Anderson was taking us straight in to the flight line we had departed from. A couple of minutes later he flared only a dozen feet above the pavement and set us on the ground with a barely perceptible thump, executing a textbook perfect dust-out or combat landing. I’ve flown with a lot of Viet Nam era pilots that perfected the dust-out landing and Anderson did it as well as any seasoned vet. Moving to the back of the space I bent down and touched Gwen’s shoulder, pulling my hand back when she jerked away and swung at me. She looked at me with eyes swollen and red from crying and I could see the hate burning in them.
“Go ahead, Major. I’ve got this,” Mayo said as he secured the minigun.
I nodded my thanks to him and looked Gwen back in the eye. “I’m sorry,” I said. I knew I didn’t have any choice once Stacy turned, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel like shit about what I’d had to do.
Turning away I stepped to the door and jumped the few feet down to the pavement. Just as my boots hit the ground gunfire erupted from the direction of the flight operations building. Leaning back in the door I yelled at Anderson to get the helicopter refueled and stay with it, grabbed my pack and took off at a fast run towards flight ops as the sound of a rifle on full auto reached my ears.