While I told Martinez where to find us, Rachel got dressed in the bathroom. I sat down on the edge of the bed, head still spinning at what might have been, and pulled my boots back on. Lacing them up I looked at Dog and realized that I had never had him on a helicopter. I would have to keep a close eye on him and make sure he didn’t get frightened and take off. I didn’t think he would, but you never know what’s going to trigger fear in a dog.
Rachel came out of the bath, walked over to where I sat and pushed in against me, wrapping her arms around my neck and pulling my face against her chest. Tilting her head down, she kissed the top of my head, gave me a squeeze, then sat down on the bed to pull her boots on. Thank God we weren’t going to have to talk about it!
It wasn’t long before Martinez radioed that she was two minutes out. I asked her to do a check of the area with FLIR before we exited the safety of the room. She sounded like she thought I was off my rocker when I asked her to also pay attention to any animals she spotted, but didn’t question why.
“Dog Two Six, you’ve got eight tangos about half a klick east of you on the freeway, and it looks like there’s two large dogs at the gas station across the street from your location.” I still didn’t hear a helicopter and guessed she was flying the Stealth Hawk we’d liberated from Kirtland AFB.
“Copy, Boomer Three. Those dogs most likely aren’t dogs. We’ve got a razorback problem. Got a door gunner with you?”
There was no reply for a few moments. Then, “Affirmative on door gunner, but we don’t know what a razorback is, Dog Two Six.”
“Big, dangerous, wild hogs. Trust me, you don’t want to meet one. Just do me a favor and light them up so we can get out of here.” I replied.
“Copy, sir. One pig roast coming up.” I could hear the grin in her voice. I was probably going to hear more comments about being a big, bad Green Beret, and how I was afraid of Miss Piggy. Hell, I used to watch the Muppets. Miss Piggy scared the crap out of Kermit!
Rachel and I had kept preparing while I’d been talking to Martinez. Now we were standing close to the door, boots laced up, packs on and rifles ready to go. A few moments later I heard the ripping sound of a minigun. It fired three bursts, then fell silent.
“All clear, Dog Two Six.” Martinez called.
“Copy. We’re coming out now.” I answered and pulled the door open.
I went out first, Dog tight to my right hip. Rachel was learning, and as I moved with my rifle up and to our left, she stayed right behind me with her rifle covering our right flank. We moved out from under the cover over the walkway and along the side of the Lexus. Now I could hear the Stealth Hawk, but it was a low thrum and about ten times quieter than a normal Black Hawk.
Pausing at the driver’s door of the SUV, I unlocked it, reached in and put the keys in the ignition then closed the door without relocking it. The vehicle had allowed me to find and save Rachel and Dog, and there still might be other survivors wandering around that were in need of transportation. I didn’t need it any longer, so I’d decided to make a deposit into the bank of good karma. Hey, it can’t hurt.
“Dog Two Six, do you see a clear area for pick up? Don’t want to risk not seeing power lines.” Martinez called.
“Stand by,” I answered, looking around.
A Black Hawk needs a minimum of 50 meters of clear space to safely land. I assumed a Stealth Hawk would have the same basic requirements. The road to our front was wide enough, but a row of utility poles with both power and phone cables ran down the far side. No way was a helicopter coming in there without tangling its rotor in the wires.
There were small buildings and various types of obstacles in every direction I looked except for one. The truck stop, 400 yards down the road. Behind the main building was a massive parking area where truckers could stop and get some sleep. A couple of semi trucks with trailers were sitting dark and abandoned, but there was enough space for two or three helicopters to set down at the same time.
I directed Martinez to the area and when she acknowledged, turned to head back to the SUV. Why stay on foot, exposed to attack, when we could drive the short distance? I had just started to walk back to the Lexus when dog growled. I froze in place and pressed my eye to the scope, scanning for what he’d detected. Trotting through the breezeway that broke the building into two sections were five razorbacks. They were closer to the SUV than we were.
Rachel had frozen as well, standing close to me, but not so close that she couldn’t effectively use her rifle. Moving very carefully I placed a hand on Dog’s head to quiet him and keep him from charging. The breeze was blowing in my face, so we were downwind from the hogs, and hopefully they wouldn’t detect us and would go on about their business.
Removing my hand from Dog’s head I held steady aim on the lead razorback as the small group moved into the parking lot. I didn’t like our odds one bit if they spotted us. I’d seen how fast they were, and even with two of us I doubted we could bring down all five of them before they reached us. Rifle steady on target, I pivoted to maintain my aim. Without warning the lead hog came to an abrupt stop, the other four bunching up behind him.
They had moved parallel to us and it couldn’t be our scent that had alerted them. The wind was still wrong for that. Almost as one, all five razorbacks turned their heads and looked back in the direction they had just come from. A heartbeat later Dog growled again, and eight infected females at full sprint appeared in the breezeway the hogs had just come through. They most likely had heard the helicopter and minigun and were charging in looking for something to attack.
They saw us and started to change direction, but the razorbacks grunted and engaged. The speed of the hogs was breathtaking. They covered the distance to the females in seconds, slamming into bodies and slashing with their razor sharp tusks. Four females went down immediately. A fifth narrowly dodged her attacker and tried to continue on in our direction before being knocked down and disemboweled. Five infected females killed in a span of only a few seconds.
But there were still three of them, and not caring about the carnage being wrought on their sisters, they screamed and zeroed in on us. I snapped off two quick shots, Rachel firing once, and all three of them dropped dead to the pavement. Unfortunately, the sound from our suppressed rifles was loud enough to alert the razorbacks to our presence.
Ignoring the dead and dying females, they turned towards us and charged. From the corner of my eye I saw Dog leap forward to meet the attack, but I didn’t have time to try and stop him. Flipping the fire selector to burst mode I started putting rounds into the charging swine. Rachel was still close to my left side and had also changed to burst, the expended brass from her rifle bouncing off my head every time she pulled the trigger.
The lead hog stumbled and fell and I shifted my aim. He might not be dead yet, but he was hurt badly enough that for the moment he wasn’t a threat. Another one went down from Rachel’s fire, then another that I had targeted tumbled to the asphalt. Two were still charging at full speed, inside 40 yards, when Dog met them. I aimed for the one closest to Dog, hoping to slow or disable it, but held off pulling the trigger for fear of hitting the wrong animal.
As Dog began fighting the razorback I targeted the last hog and pulled the trigger. Rachel was also targeting the same one and six rounds slammed into its head at the same time. Its front legs buckled and it fell, skidding to a stop no more than 10 feet from us.
Dog was snarling as he fought, the hog squealing and grunting as it tried to get its tusks into the fight. It kept spinning, swinging its head around and slashing, but Dog was faster, avoiding the tusks that would tear him open. He would dash in and bite the razorback’s rear leg, clamping down and twisting, trying to break the limb. Both animals were moving fast, swirling around each other as Dog kept pressing the attack, then moving away before the hog could touch him.
I wanted to fire and end the fight before Dog was wounded or killed, but had no shot without risking hitting him.
“Dog! Come!” I shouted, rifle at the ready.
I didn’t expect him to listen and was so surprised when he disengaged from the fight that I almost didn’t fire. Almost. I pulled the trigger four times as soon as Dog was clear, all twelve rounds hitting the razorback in the head and neck. He snorted, shook his head and tried to take a step forward but collapsed and died.
Dog trotted over and stood between Rachel and I, facing the dead hogs. I kept my rifle up and Rachel quickly ran her hands over him, check for injuries.
“Not a scratch on him.” She said, sounding surprised.
“Good. Let’s move.” I said, heading for the Lexus.
I kept my rifle up and aimed at the bodies, infected females and razorbacks, circling wide around all of them. We piled into the SUV and a moment later roared across the parking lot and onto the road to the truck stop where Martinez was waiting for us. Reaching the Stealth Hawk I left the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked when I got out.
Rachel climbed in first, moving past the door gunner who was alertly maintaining watch on the area, minigun ready to fire if needed. When Rachel was inside she turned and called to Dog who bounded forward and leapt into the aircraft like it was the most natural thing in the world to him. I followed a little more slowly than Dog, climbed aboard and slid the side door shut.
With the door closed, Martinez goosed the engines and we shot off the ground. I wasn’t prepared and lost my balance, falling onto my ass in the middle of the deck. The gunner handed me a headset and I slipped it on, ignoring Rachel’s laughter at my tumble.
“What took you so long, sir? I was about ready to come looking for you to make sure you hadn’t gotten lost.” I should have been irritated, but something about Martinez always made me smile when she’s being a smart ass.