The night lit up as a giant ball of flame engulfed two hangars and several parked fighter jets. With the heavy glass windows that faced the flight line blown out there was nothing to shield us from the shockwave that slammed into the room seconds later. What few shards of glass had remained in the window frames became shrapnel as the wave of air blasted through and more bodies hit the floor, several of them screaming in pain. When my hearing returned a few heartbeats later I could hear sirens sounding the alarm.
The explosion and fireball had been large and intense enough to create a small mushroom cloud, just like a miniature nuclear weapon, and as the flames fed the superheated air the cloud was lit from within and looked like a gate to hell had opened up. I spun at the sound of a scream from across the room that was uniquely different from the screams of the wounded. A female infected wearing an AF enlisted uniform leapt up onto a console and screamed again at a group of co-workers that were huddling behind another console. I snapped my rifle up, flipping the selector to semi-auto as I brought it to my shoulder then squeezed the trigger. The infected’s head snapped to the side then her body fell limp to the floor. What the fuck was going on?
I swung my rifle around at the sound of running boots behind me, but it was only Roach and the two MPs responding to my firing the rifle. Roach looked in the direction I pointed, saw the dead infected and quickly sent his two men to opposite sides of the room. I was surprised and gratified to hear him repeat my admonishment about keeping their rifles on semi mode. Lowering the rifle I turned back to find that Rachel had moved up next to me.
“This place is about to completely fall apart,” she said in a low voice. “We need to get out of here while we still can.”
I nodded. She was right. I didn’t know if there had been another release of the nerve agent, or if it had a delayed reaction on some people, but being in a group didn’t seem like the safest place to be at the moment. I walked over to where Masuka was intently listening on a field radio. She held up a finger in the ‘one minute’ gesture as I approached.
“Copy that,” she said and handed the handset back to a radio operator who was standing at her side.
“Infected attacked a maintenance crew while they were refueling an F-18,” she said. “Firearms and jet fuel aren’t a good combination.”
I started to respond but movement on the flight line caught my attention. Dozens of figures were silhouetted against the fire, and all were shambling towards us. I pointed and Masuka turned to look, cursing when she saw the infected. Other people in the room noticed us and looked and a swell of voices raised in panic. It was time for me to take charge. Grabbing Masuka’s arm I pulled her attention away from the infected stumbling across the tarmac outside the windows.
“We need to get these people to a secure area,” I said. “I don’t know this base. Where do we take them?”
“There’s a fallout shelter in the basement of this building,” she replied.
“No good.” I said. “Fallout shelters have one way in and out and the infected will pile up outside that door and trap us. We’ll only survive as long as the food and water lasts. The flight I was supposed to be on tomorrow morning. Is that plane here? Do we have a pilot?”
“It’s not here. It’s due in from McConnell in a few hours.” She was referring to McConnell Air Force Base which was a couple of hundred miles southwest of Kansas City near the Oklahoma border.
“OK, what about those Globemasters you said were orbiting? Can we get one on the ground and start evacuating?” I was getting antsy as I watched the infected move closer to the building we were in. We needed to move, but I wasn’t getting much help in coming up with where to go to.
Masuka turned to her radio operator and started barking orders. Even before she was through he had the handset to his head and was presumably talking to the pilots. After a few moments he lowered the handset and looked at Masuka and me.
“Foxtrot one seven is diverting to McConnell. Foxtrot one nine is lining up for a landing and will be on the ground in five minutes.”
I didn’t wait for Masuka. “Everyone form up in a group,” I raised my voice loud enough to be heard over the moaning of the wounded and the hubbub of frightened conversation in the room. “If you’re not armed, help the injured. If you are armed I want you on the perimeter of the group. We’re going to evacuate to the flight line and board a Globemaster that is inbound.”
Everyone stared at me, only a couple of older Sergeants starting to move. We didn’t have time for this.
“Move now or you’re going to die!” I shouted, galvanizing everyone into action.
I turned to Roach and told him he was bringing up the rear. I would take point and lead the group out of the building and out to the flight line. I spent a few seconds checking my weapons and spare magazines, then went over to the body of a fallen MP near the door and collected five full rifle magazines from his harness. Rachel had her pack on, rifle in her hands, and I handed her two of the magazines and kept three for myself. Telling her to stay close I activated my radio to check in on Anderson and Mayo.
“Anderson, you up on the net?” We hadn’t been on a planned mission and didn’t have designated call signs.
“Go ahead, Major.” His reply came back almost instantly.
“What’s your status?”
“Fueling complete. Mayo found ammo for the minigun and is loading us up right now. We’re ready to go when you are, which had better be soon. There’s a lot of infected headed this way.”
“Copy. Moving to the flight line with a group of survivors. Got a big bird inbound and the plan is to evac on it. Get your passenger ready to move and keep an eye on her. People are still turning.”
“Copy that,” he replied. “We’ll be ready.”
By now the survivors had formed up into a tight group. Eight unarmed people helped four wounded and I spent a moment getting us into a movement formation with me at the point and Rachel right on my ass. Roach’s two MPs straddled the group and Roach was at the rear. I bent and retrieved the rifle and three more magazines from the dead MP, handed them to Roach, then moved back to the front of the small group and pulled the doors to the hallway open.
I had to immediately engage two infected males who had been feasting on a body in the hall. Both went down before they could rise and I moved into the hallway, stepping over the bodies. Dog took up position to my right front as we moved, head and tail lowered but ears straight up as he stayed alert for any threat. The hallway to my left led deeper into the building and was clear. Ahead was the top of the stairs and I moved forward, rifle ready and aiming down the stairwell ahead of my line of sight. Behind me I could hear the group moving, making more noise than I wanted as several feet kicked spent shells sending them tinkling across the hard floor.
Dog trotted down the upper flight of stairs, stopping on the landing. The fur along his back stiffened and went straight on end as he let out a low growl. I moved quickly to stand beside him, swinging the rifle’s aim down to the lower stairs. Approaching were three infected males and I decided to keep us as quiet as I could. I had a sound suppressor for my rifle but it was in my pack and I didn’t have time to dig it out. Holding up a clenched fist I signaled for the group behind me to stop as I lowered the rifle. Drawing the Kukri I descended the lower stairs and moved forward to meet the infected.
The first infected I reached was wearing AF blue coveralls with Tech Sergeant’s stripes and grease stains on the sleeves. He looked like one of the ground crew that had helped with the pre-flight on the Pave Hawk earlier that afternoon. He wasn’t that man anymore. Leading with the tip of the Kukri I rammed it into his throat then torqued it so the blade sliced up into his skull as I pushed. The body dropped and I yanked the machete free and met the next infected who was wearing sweat pants and an Air Force Academy T-Shirt. He was younger and in great physical shape and moved faster than any male I had encountered so far. Not as fast as the females, but fast enough to make me adjust my swing with the Kukri and miss slicing into his neck as the blade cut into his upper arm and got stuck in the bone.
In a flash he was on me, trying to wrap me up as his snapping jaws sought out my face. I had already released the handle of the Kukri and got my arms in front of me, hands flat on his chest and shoved with all my strength. He flew backwards, tumbling to the hallway floor, the blade of the machete popping free from his arm when he fell. The momentary distraction with him allowed the third infected to move in and grasp my left arm with an inhumanly strong grip. Reaching across my body with my right hand I grabbed his wrist and turned my whole body, breaking his grip and pulling his arm into a cross lock. With a quick jerk I snapped his elbow, but for all his reaction I might as well have hit him with a feather pillow. He kept coming forward, grabbing with his good arm and trying to grab with his broken arm. By now the infected I had knocked to the floor was back on his feet and pressing the attack.
OK, fuck quiet. These weren’t normal humans that could be subdued in hand to hand combat. Shoving hard against each of them I gained a few feet of space, drew my pistol and shot each in the head. Scooping up the Kukri and sheathing it I shouted for the group to start moving again as I brought my rifle back to the ready position. They quickly filed down the stairs and stacked up behind me in the hall. We moved forward again as a group, several soft gasps sounding from behind me as we passed the bodies on the floor. Reaching the closed door where I had left the young woman earlier I paused our movement and tapped on the door with the barrel of my rifle. No screaming or pounding from within the room so I turned the knob and cracked the door open, ready to fire if anyone or anything charged at me.
The woman was still huddled behind the overturned table, eyes wide in fear. I motioned her to come to me, but she was frozen in place. Reading the situation, Rachel stepped past me and into the room, talking to the frightened woman in a calming voice. A minute later she had her on her feet and rejoined the group, giving the woman an assignment of helping with the wounded. I had maintained watch on the remainder of the hall and the exit ahead while Rachel brought the woman out to the group, and started moving forward again when I felt Rachel’s hand on top of my left shoulder.
“Major,” Anderson’s voice came over my earpiece.
“Go,” I replied in a low voice, keeping my focus on the exit door at the end of the hall.
“It’s getting damn scary out here. Infected are coming from every direction. Seems like there’s a major outbreak and the explosion and fire are drawing them in.”
“What’s your status?”
“Aircraft is fueled, re-armed and ready to go, but we’re going to have to start burning through ammo real quick. We’ve got a pretty large group headed our way.”
“Copy,” I replied. “Get your ass in the air and stay in the area. I’m about to exit flight ops with a group of survivors. That Globemaster should be touching down any minute and I’ll probably need air support to get these people on board.”
“Copy that,” he replied and I could already hear the Pave Hawk’s engines spooling up over the radio. “We’ll be on station when you need us.”