The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon as we crossed the southern Oklahoma border. I was trying to sleep, but failing miserably. Part of me felt guilty for not having stayed in Midland with the Marines. The practical part of me realized that they were well trained and perfectly capable of doing what needed to be done to defend the oil refinery, and that if I had stayed I would only have been another rifle amongst the defenders.
I was half asleep, thinking about dropping everyone at Tinker and having the pilots take me back to Midland when a hand on my shoulder startled me. It was one of the pilots, standing well away as he was getting the evil eye from Dog for disturbing me.
“Sir, there’s been a breach at Tinker.” He said, taking a couple of steps back when Dog growled. That woke me up. Fast.
“How bad?” I asked, moving Rachel’s head off my shoulder and standing up.
“Bad enough.” He answered, taking another step back when Dog moved to stand with his shoulder against my leg. “What I’ve gotten so far is that it was sabotage. Someone damaged the fence and the infected started pouring in. They still haven’t gotten them under control.”
“Take me to your radio.” I said, following him back to the cockpit after telling Dog to stay with Rachel.
In the cockpit I nodded to the Marine Captain in control of the Osprey and accepted the headset that was handed to me. Reaching out I dialed in the frequency that Blanchard used for operational control of the Army personnel that were on the base. After a couple of tries he answered, alarm sirens blaring in the background.
He quickly filled me in on the situation at Tinker, and then asked about the status of my mission. We weren’t on a secure channel so I didn’t give him any details other than to say it had failed. I promised a full debrief on my arrival. We signed off and I returned to the back of the aircraft after thanking the pilots for use of their radio.
Rachel, Irina and Igor were awake, all looking expectantly at me when I sat down. Dog thrust his head into my lap and gently wagged his tail.
“They’ve had a breach in the perimeter fence at Tinker. Intentional sabotage. Several thousand infected made it onto the base before enough defenders arrived to push them back and repair the break. It’s a mess right now. Infected everywhere. We’re coming in to a hot LZ.”
Rachel nodded and began checking her weapons. Irina translated for Igor and he also made sure he was ready to fight. I followed suit, and when everyone was satisfied they were ready, I headed back to the cockpit. I wanted a good view of the base as we came in.
The pilots had the frequency being used by the defenders on speaker and it sounded like there was a hell of a mess down there. One Air Force unit was cut off and running low on ammo, under constant attack by a large group of females. They were sounding desperate, but a squad of Marines arrived before they fell. I heard several more calls from units in trouble, some of them not getting help until it was too late. I shook my head and gritted my teeth. Whoever had breached the fence line needed to be flayed open and staked out for the infected to feast on.
We came in over part of the city, threading the needle to avoid the helicopters Tinker had put up to help battle the infected. Flying directly over the main gate, the pilot made a sharp turn to follow a runway, transitioning the engine nacelles to vertical flight as we passed over a huge parking lot full of civilian vehicles.
A couple of yellow school buses caught my eye, reminding me of Betty and the kids I’d run across in Tennessee. I knew they’d escaped Murfreesboro, but had no idea if they’d made it across the Mississippi in the final evacuation. Starting to turn back to the front, a vehicle caught my eye and I looked closer.
It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. It had to be another truck that just happened to look like mine. Ford sold something like 30,000 F-150s a year, right? I pushed closer to the cockpit glass and stared. Same aftermarket, oversized wheels and tires. Same third party winch bumper on the front. Fuck me if that wasn’t my truck!
“Get us on the ground now!” I shouted to the pilot, startling him.
“Sir, we’re not cleared for this area…”
“I don’t give a flying fuck what we’re cleared for. Set us down now, Captain!” I said, glaring at the man.
He stared back at me for half a second, then shrugged his shoulders and brought us down. I was already in motion for the back of the Osprey, hitting the switch to lower the ramp as I ran. The ramp came down, locking into place while we were still in the air. I didn’t give a shit, running out onto it and leaping the final six feet to the ground.
Somehow I maintained my balance, turning and breaking into a sprint for the parking lot. A few moments later Dog fell in beside me. I didn’t bother to glance over my shoulder to see if everyone else was following. Right now I didn’t care.
Reaching the parking lot I raced around a Buick and nearly ran into a female’s embrace. I was running with my rifle up and just shoved the muzzle into her throat and pulled the trigger without breaking stride. Dog leapt at another one, taking a few seconds to kill her before he was back by my side.
Ahead, four males stumbled out from between the two school busses. Letting my rifle drop I drew my Kukri and sped up. Running hard when I reached them I slashed my way through, dropping two of them with severed spinal cords. I swung hard enough to decapitate the third one, his head tumbling into my path and nearly tripping me. Dog took care of the last one, then we rounded a corner and I skidded to a stop at the front of the truck.
It looked exactly like my truck, only a hell of a lot more battered. There wasn’t much of the body that wasn’t dented or scraped. As I walked around the passenger side I noted half a dozen bullet holes in the sheet metal. It had the same bed cover. Then I reached the back and looked for the license plate. It might have been there if the whole rear bumper wasn’t missing.
Rachel ran up with Igor and Irina right on her heels. “What’s wrong?” She asked, rifle up and ready.
“This is my truck!” I slapped a hand against the tailgate.
“What?” Rachel took her attention off scanning the parking lot for infected and focused on me. “What are you talking about?”
“My goddamn truck!” I said. “It was in my garage in Arizona when I got on a plane to Atlanta. Now it’s here. That means Katie’s here!”
Rachel looked at me with a shocked expression on her face, then turned to survey the beat up truck. “Are you sure it’s yours?”
I looked down at where the license plate should be, then remembered another way to remove all doubt. Striding around to the driver side door, I looked at the external keypad that would unlock the truck, trying to remember a code I never used. I always used the unlock button built into the key.
“What are you doing?” Rachel asked after a few seconds of me staring at the door.
“Trying to remember.” I said, finally reaching out and punching in the code. The door locks thunked into the open position and I grabbed the handle and opened the door. Reaching inside I fumbled around in the center console until I found what I was looking for. Pulling it out, I unfolded the registration with my name and address on it and held it out for Rachel to see.
“My goddamn truck!” I said, feeling real hope for the first time in what seemed like forever. “Now, where the hell is my wife?!”