I had never been in one of the Marine’s Ospreys before, and was surprised how roomy it was. And fast, compared to a Black Hawk. But then that was the whole idea. It didn’t replace helicopters. It provided a different advantage. But the one disadvantage was not having a side door I could slide open to get some fresh air.
I’ve spent a lot of my adult life in the company of fellow soldiers in the field. When you’re fighting, running, hiding, all the things warriors do, you sweat. And there’s not a nice, hot shower waiting around every turn. So that sweat ripens, and ripens and ripens. And God help you if anyone you’re with gets one of the MREs with Chili and Beans or Southwest Chicken and Black Beans. Then you’ve got a constant stream of farts to mix with the body odor.
Well, these Marines had been in the field for a while. And it seemed like all of them had eaten something with beans recently. The inside of the Osprey was just foul. Eye watering foul. Wrap a towel around your face and breathe through your mouth foul. But I was in no position to criticize. I was a bit ripe myself and I’m not too proud to admit my farts can peel paint.
Martinez and Igor seemed immune, as I expected, but Rachel and Irina looked like they were ready to throw up. They were seated as far apart as they could get, neither apparently having forgiven the other. Dog lay sleeping at Rachel’s feet, unaffected by any smell so tame as just some sweaty, gassy humans.
The refinery outside of Midland was only a short hop by air from where we’d been picked up. It seemed like we’d just gotten settled in when the pilot came on the intercom with a warning that we were only 15 minutes out. I worked my way forward to peer through the cockpit windshield, surprised when I could see the lights shining brightly across the dark desert. It looked like the house that gets decorated at Christmas time by the guy with way too much time on his hands.
There was a light everywhere. Hundreds of them, maybe even thousands. And every single one of those bulbs would be a beacon to any infected.
“Hey, Zemeck.” I called my friend over. “You guys got detailed to hold the field and refinery, right?”
“Yeah. Why?” He asked, stooping to peer out the cockpit at whatever I was looking at.
“You need to get those damn lights turned off. The males are blind, but the females can see like a fucking hawk. You got enough problems without attracting every woman for miles around.” I said.
“We’re Marines. Can’t help it if the ladies are attracted to us.” He said in a loud voice with a snide grin on his face. Everyone in the aircraft heard him and a chorus of oorah’s broke out.
“Sorry, couldn’t help myself.” He said when they quieted down, sounding anything but sorry. “That’s on my list. Had to divert to come save some dumb grunt’s ass that got lost and haven’t had time to take care of it.” He said in a quieter voice. “We’ve fought small groups of them, and of course ones and twos, but haven’t tried to hold against a large body of infected. You?”
“Yes.” I said, thinking about Murfreesboro. “They’re about impossible to hold back once they get into a herd. If you build a wall, they’ll pile up on top of each other until they reach the top. You can delay them for a while, but the only way to stop them is to kill every last one of them.”
Zemeck knew me well enough to understand I wasn’t exaggerating or talking out of my ass. He met my eyes and nodded, concern creasing his forehead.
“Where’d you try to make a stand?” He asked.
I guess it was plain on my face that I was speaking from memory, so I told him about Murfreesboro. He asked a few tactical questions, not liking the answers I gave him.
“Can we hold the refinery?” He finally asked, straight out.
“No.” I said. “Not if one of the herds shows up and all you have are a few hundred ground troops. They don’t get tired. Don’t get frightened. Could care less about how many loses they are taking. You’ll run out of ammo long before you run out of targets, then they’ll breach your defenses and…”
“Yeah, I got it.” He said, looking back out the windshield at the refinery lights. “So what do we do?”
“If I were you, I’d be asking the Air Force to start bombing the shit out of the herd that’s approaching. Thin them out some. I’d also look at putting some of my guys in Hummers out in the desert to draw them off. Lead them away. I don’t know if that will work or not, but it’s all I’ve got.” I said.
He nodded and we moved back to our seats as the pilot transitioned to hover and brought us in for a landing. The rear ramp dropped and I held my group back so the Marines could make a quick exit. When the squad was clear of the door I stepped out into the night air, Dog following because that’s what he does. Zemeck was waiting for me, looking at the massive collection of pipes and tanks that turned crude oil into gasoline and diesel.
“Don’t want to hang around for a bit, do you?” He asked jokingly. He knew I would if I could.
“Matt,” I paused until he was looking at me. “Remember what I told you. Have an exit plan. You and your Marines are more valuable than a refinery. I know you don’t like the idea of running any more than I do, but this isn’t a normal enemy. They won’t stop until every last Marine is dead. When they breach, you get your asses out of here. When I get to Tinker I’ll see what I can do about getting you some air assets to assist.”
He nodded, turned and took my hand. “Take care of yourself. Hope whatever’s going on with these Russians works out.”
“Me too.” I said, turned and climbed back into the Osprey.
Dog bounded up the ramp and I shouted to the pilot that we were ready. A moment later the ramp closed, then we were lifting off vertically.
“You OK?” Rachel asked, slipping her arm through mine and resting her head on my shoulder.
“Fucking ducky.” I said. “Pretty sure I just said good bye for the last time to a friend.”
Dog picked up on my mood and rested his chin in my lap. Rachel didn’t have anything to say and settled for just being close. I put my hand on Dog’s head and scratched his ears as we transitioned to horizontal flight and headed north to Oklahoma.