We didn’t have much time. Less than a minute before the leading edge of the females would arrive. I didn’t think they knew we were there. Didn’t see how they could know. We’d run and hidden from the bats well before the infected should have been able to see us. The wind wasn’t blowing across us and towards them, so they couldn’t have scented us. Then what the hell had them excited enough to be sprinting across the desert?
I didn’t know, and didn’t have time to keep worrying about it. There were two ways into the narrow gap we were sheltering in. Over the rock that Igor and I were leaning on to look at the females, or 50 feet in the other direction there was a very narrow opening between two massive rocks that were both well over 20 feet tall. The gap was so narrow that perhaps the women in my group could have squeezed through, as well as Dog, but Igor was as big as me and there was no way we could shrink our chests and shoulders. But the approaching threat was female, and they’d be able to squeeze through if they tried.
We were in a very defensible position, surrounded by rocks that soared vertically for at least 20 feet. Without specialized gear, no one was going to climb them. Moving quickly I got Igor, Martinez and the co-pilot positioned to defend the narrow gap. I’d finally learned the co-pilot’s name was Evans. As they got themselves ready, Rachel and I prepared to defend our end. Irina didn’t have a rifle, but held Igor’s pistol in her hand, ready to help. Dog stood between Rachel and I, hackles up, ready for a fight.
“You ready?” I asked Rachel, watching the front runners close to within 100 yards.
“As I’ll ever be.” She said. The words didn’t sound confident, but her voice was rock steady.
“Between us we’ve got a little over 600 rounds. Make every shot count. If I yell that I’m out of ammo, clear some space because I’m going to be swinging some very sharp blades.” I said, putting my back against the rock opposite where Rachel stood.
I met her eyes and she nodded, then gave me a brief smile. I checked on Irina and she was obviously frightened, but was ready to join the fight if we needed her. I had told her to stay back and only use the pistol to defend herself in the event a female made it past me, Rachel and Dog. About the only way that would happen would be if all three of us had fallen to the onslaught, but I decided not to dwell on that thought.
Turning back to the opening I watched as the first few females raced past. What the hell? They weren’t after us, so where were they going? I knew from past experience that this wasn’t herd movement. They didn’t run like this unless prey was in sight, or they were reasonably sure there was prey in the area.
The bulk of the group wasn’t far behind the leaders, and soon there was a solid wall of females running past, but just as quickly they had all moved on with only dust hanging in the air to mark their passage. I exchanged looks with Rachel, gave it a few seconds and moved forward to stick my head over the rock.
There were no more females coming, and the ones that had just run past had curved around the rocks we were hiding in and I couldn’t see them. Where were they going in such a hurry? As I thought about it, I started to get an idea. Could there be more survivors out here in the desert? There was no reason why that wasn’t possible, and was about the only thing that could explain the females’ behavior.
Checking back to the east I still didn’t see any danger. Making up my mind, I clambered onto the rock that guarded our refuge, but still couldn’t see the females that had run past. I was turning to ask Irina to go get Igor when I heard gunfire start from the west. With confirmation of my idea, I called to Rachel to send Dog over the rock then get Igor.
Jumping to the ground I ran around the curve of the rock formation and far ahead I could see the group of females attacking some people who were huddled between two vehicles as they fired pistols and rifles at the infected. I almost hesitated to jump into the fight, but knew I couldn’t leave these people to be killed when I could help.
I kept running, a few moments later Dog catching up and running at my side. OK, trotting. But I was running. Not as fast as the females, it took me nearly two minutes to get close enough to start helping the people that were surrounded by the screaming mob. Watching as I ran, I saw one of them go down when a female charged in, leapt into the back of a pickup and slithered out of the bed into the midst of the survivors. Before they realized there was danger amongst them she had wrapped her arms around a stocky man from behind and sank her teeth into his neck.
When he started thrashing and screaming, the rest of them turned and froze for a moment before going to his aid. The momentary lull in their firing allowed several more females to charge in and attack, taking more survivors to the ground. At this rate they wouldn’t last long enough for me to save any of them.
100 yards out, I flopped to the ground, shoved my NVGs off my face, sighted through the rifle scope and began picking off targets. My rifle was suppressed and I was too far away for the females to hear it, so for the moment I was relatively safe. Every time I pulled the trigger a female fell. Dog had gone to his belly next to me and I saw him look behind us out of the corner of my eye, but he didn’t growl. A few seconds later Igor and Rachel ran up and lay down on either side of me.
They started firing, bringing down more females, and soon we had made a noticeable dent in the group of infected. Bodies were everywhere on the ground surrounding the survivor’s position, and we kept firing. The rest of the group arrived and I paused long enough to tell them to hold their fire. The only sound suppressed rifles were mine, Rachel’s and Igor’s. We didn’t need the others in the fight badly enough to compromise our position by firing an unsuppressed weapon.
Dog looked around again, this time with a growl, then leapt to his feet and disappeared behind me. I snapped around in time to see him take a female to the ground, but there were at least a dozen more he couldn’t stop and they were inside 30 yards.
“To the rear!” I shouted a warning and got off two shots.
Igor reacted instantly, most likely not understanding my words, but no doubt having seen Dog run to our rear and me turn and fire. My two shots both missed as I’d just snapped them off without aiming. Well, miss isn’t entirely accurate. They struck a female, but in the torso. I missed her head and her heart. Igor shot one perfectly between the eyes, the heavier Russian bullet destroying her face and head. Rachel was slower to react and never got a shot off.
As the females approached I realized without even thinking about it that they were too close and coming too fast for us to be able to stop them with our rifles. Dropping mine I leapt to my feet and whipped out the Kukri and Ka-Bar fighting knife. Igor stood up next to me with a straight bladed Russian bayonet in his hand, and we automatically stepped away from each other so we’d have room to fight.
The closest female was inside 10 yards when an unsuppressed rifle fired from my left. Damn it! We had these ready to jump on us and someone had let their nerves get the best of them and alerted the others that we were here.
“Rachel, watch my back!” I shouted as I stepped into a leaping infected and stabbed with my knife.
The blade missed her heart, but I used it to leverage her body and severed her spine at the base of her skull with the Kukri. Spinning away from the falling body I met the next one and kept stabbing, cutting and slashing as I moved through the group. Dog was on to his third and Igor was piling up bodies around his feet. Martinez had also brought her dagger to the party and was stopping any of the infected from reaching Irina or Evans.
I had learned to fight with edged weapons from a grizzled former East German who had defected to the United States in the early 80s. He had won Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976 for his country with the epee. Lesson one, day one had been keeping your feet moving and never give your opponent a stationary target. Igor, on the other hand, followed the standard Soviet doctrine of stand your ground and overpower everything that comes at you. We were both good. Martinez was in a class by herself.
Despite having come into the fight late, she had protected two of her teammates and already put down more of the infected than Igor and I combined. I didn’t know why this woman was being wasted in the cockpit of a helicopter. She needed to be on the ground!
“Need some help here!” Rachel shouted. I finished another female with a thrust to the heart and looked over my shoulder as she fell.
The earlier unsuppressed shot had drawn the attention of the females that were attacking the group of survivors. A large knot of them had broken off and sprinted towards us. Rachel had been shooting them as fast as she could, and there were several bodies littering the path the group was following, but they were getting close and she knew she couldn’t keep up.
One of the rules of combat is that you don’t take your attention off your attacker. That’s a rule that I know well, and honestly can’t remember a time I’ve ever violated it. Until now. Because it was Rachel that called out. Concern for her safety overrode years of training and combat experience without so much as a thought. And I paid for it in spades when a female slammed into me and sent me sprawling in the dirt.
Both weapons flew out of my hands when I hit and the wind was knocked out of me. I guess I was fortunate that my head came down on soft sand and not a rock, but as the female drove her knees into my stomach and lunged for my throat with her jaws I didn’t feel very lucky. I got my hands up and on her shoulders an instant before she would have torn me open. I tried to push her off, but she was already adjusting and locking her legs around my waist.
Female infected are strong as hell, and the big ones are really strong. This was a big one. As I struggled with her I had no doubt that pound for pound she was stronger than me. Guessing her at around 180 pounds, I was having trouble keeping her snapping teeth at a safe distance.
Irina, seeing the trouble I was in, dashed over to help. She came up behind the female and raised Igor’s pistol for a headshot. When I saw what she was doing I shouted for her to stop, but she either didn’t hear me or didn’t think I was talking to her. Seeing what was coming, and not wanting to get shot by a bullet that punched all the way through the female’s head, I twisted sideways a fraction of a second before Irina fired.
At the same time, I saw her finger tighten on the trigger and heard the shot. Immediately I felt something strike my temple and everything went dark. The female on top of me stopped trying to bite me and I pushed her off my body, feeling a wave of nausea rising before I blacked out.