“Why there?” Martinez asked over the intercom when I told her where we were going.
Colonel Crawford and I had climbed aboard the Huey five minutes ago, just moments ahead of a charging phalanx of infected females. Once on board he had introduced himself to Katie before I had a chance, or frankly even thought about it. She told him she’d heard a lot about him from Rachel, making him smile when she thanked him for helping me. She has a way of making men smile when she wants to. And grimace and groan. When she wants to.
The Colonel and I were the last boots to leave the ground when Tinker Air Force Base fell. Spooky, an AC-130U gunship, had kept the infected beaten back while the last of the defenders boarded a waiting C-130 and escaped. Our ride couldn’t swoop in and pluck us out of reach of the infected until the two large planes cleared the area.
The C-130 was carrying the Marines and Rangers that had volunteered to stay behind and face certain death so that all of the civilians could be evacuated, but the Navy had showed up at the last minute to help and everyone that was still alive made it out. They were winging their way to the southeast, heading for the Bahamas, but we weren’t going with them. Not yet, at least.
When the evacuation order had been issued, Air Force Tech Sergeant Scott, Irina and Igor had set out in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to find me. It turned out that I hadn’t needed finding, but now they did. And we weren’t going to go lounge in a tropical paradise and leave them behind on the Oklahoma plains.
“Because we’re out of everything,” I said. “There’s food, water, shelter, weapons and ammunition there. And fuel too, if we can find a way to transfer it from the Pave Hawk into this.”
I had told Martinez to head for the casino where we’d rescued Katie. We were dangerously low on supplies and had been running and fighting for days. We needed food, rest, and more bullets. Not necessarily in that order, but I was ready to take anything I could get.
A few moments later the Huey banked as she put us on our new course and I leaned against the rear bulkhead. Katie was still strapped in to the door gunner’s position, catching my eye and giving me a bright smile. I winked at her and leaned my head against the vibrating, steel wall. Dog, at the end of his safety tether, lay down next to me and put his head in my lap, big golden eyes staring up at me. I placed my hand on the back of his neck and closed my eyes.
“Holy shit.” Colonel Crawford’s voice roused me and I realized I had drifted off.
He was next to Katie, looking through the open side door at the ground below. Moving Dog’s head out of the way I scooted over next to them and looked down at the wreckage of the Osprey I’d been in when it went down.
I had seen the results of the crash from ground level. But as with many things, the perspective from the air is dramatically different. The gouge in the field looked like something dug with heavy equipment and the scattered debris and bodies really drove home just how violent the impact with the earth had been.
“Martinez, make a couple of orbits to see if it’s clear, then set down for a few minutes.” I said. “Katie, you see anything moving, light it up.”
“What are we doing?” Crawford asked as Martinez cut our speed and began a slow, wide circle of the area.
“Weapons,” I said. “I can’t tell you what the civilians at the casino had, but I suspect it was a little of this and a little of that. Probably a bunch of different calibers and doubtful they had anything other than semi-auto only. There were several Soldiers and Marines that were killed in the crash. There will be M4s and probably some ammo we can grab down there.”
Crawford nodded and I turned my head when Katie called over the intercom.
“There are half a dozen males bumbling around, but no females. Want me to take them out, or save the ammo?” She asked.
“Take them,” I said. “I’ve got exactly three rounds left.”
The M60 began hammering out short bursts a moment later. Katie used the tracer rounds to adjust her aim and quickly chewed up the handful of infected.
“Clear,” she called to Martinez who spun us around and dropped to a hover a couple of feet above the dirt.
I led the way out, jumping to the ground, Colonel Crawford right behind me, Dog voicing his complaint that he was still tied up and couldn’t come with us. We ran, clearing the area as Martinez gained altitude. She would stay in a low orbit, keeping an eye out for any danger while we scavenged.
There were a lot of dead bodies in and around the wreck, and they’d been baking in the sun for a couple of days. They were ripe. Eye watering, stomach turning ripe. I didn’t even have a shirt I could pull up over my nose and mouth to try and filter the stench. Katie was wearing it and all I had on my upper body was a blood and mud stained tactical vest.
Ignoring the odor that is all too common in my vocation, I headed for the remains of the Osprey’s fuselage. I clicked on a weak flashlight I’d taken from a liquor store in Tulsa, but it didn’t do much of anything.
“Here,” Crawford pulled the high intensity light off his rifle and handed it to me without taking his attention off our rear. I was pleased to see he hadn’t forgotten what to do in the field.
Clicking the light on I shined it around the interior, glad when I didn’t see anything other than wreckage and bodies. Well, happy I didn’t see any infected waiting to attack, not that there were dead Soldiers and Marines inside.
“Going in,” I said in a quiet voice to let Crawford know what I was doing.
“Go,” he replied, letting me know he was watching my ass for me, and I climbed over the first large piece of debris.
The odor of decaying bodies was worse inside the partially enclosed space. Way worse. I held my breath as much as I could, moving carefully. There was wreckage everywhere, and much of it had sharp points or edges. I remembered how it kept shifting when the female had been looking for me, and I was concerned about something moving and causing me to fall and seriously injure myself.
It took longer than I liked, but I wound up scrounging four pistols, five M4 rifles and an armload of full magazines. I’d taken several mags off the bodies previously, before setting off across the plains to follow Katie’s captors, but there had been a lot I hadn’t been able to carry. Opening one of the dead Marine’s packs, I hit the jackpot. Four unopened battle packs of ammo and another ten fully loaded magazines.
Humping all of this out into the fresher air, I piled it up and was turning to go back and search for more when the M60 began firing. Spinning, I looked up to see what direction it was firing, following the path of the tracers to a point on the ground a hundred yards to our south. There were a lot of figures sprinting towards us. Infected females.
Martinez slipped the Huey sideways as Katie kept firing nice, controlled bursts into the group. I dropped the AK47 I’d taken from the terrorist I’d killed in Tulsa, snatching up one of the M4s. I checked it over, happy it had a sound suppressor screwed on the end of the muzzle. Loading my vest with full magazines, I raised the rifle and fired a few rounds at the females that were still alive.
Everything worked exactly as expected and I let the rifle drop to the end of its sling as I gathered up supplies in my arms. A few moments later the door gun fell silent and the Huey touched down between the point where the females had been and us. I could see Katie through the open side door, facing the direction the threat had come from, constantly scanning back and forth for any additional infected. Damn, but I had married well! Shame she couldn’t cook.