We all moved to the opening in the roof bulkhead, stepping around the door I’d pried out of its frame to gain access to the casino when I rescued Katie. The stairwell was dark, so I knew the solar system that powered the giant building was out.
“Power’s out,” I said quietly to the group.
“The EMP,” Crawford mumbled.
“So that’s what it was,” I said. “Know anything about solar systems? Will it have been fried or just knocked off line?”
“No idea,” he said.
Shit! It would be really good if we could get the power on. Much easier and safer to clear the building, and a whole lot more comfortable while we rested. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go inside if we didn’t have light. The casino was just too damn big to clear by flashlight. I’d rather spend the night in one of the helicopters.
I had seen a large array of solar panels from the air when we’d arrived, but didn’t know if there was any equipment located adjacent to them that I could check. For a moment I’d thought the power was out because the sun was down but remembered it was on the last time I was here, which had been night also.
“OK, I’m going to go see if there’s something I can do before we go in.” I said, heading for the edge of the roof.
It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. As I’d suspected, when Zemeck, Martinez and Rachel had climbed the grappling rope he’d pulled it up and left it coiled on the roof. Saying a silent “thank you” to my dead friend, I stuck my head over the edge and looked down.
A small group of females milled around, one of them seeing me and screaming. A moment later they were all standing perfectly still, staring up at me. Moving back I turned and looked at the others.
“Females,” I said. “Not a lot, but too many for me to go down. If we all get on the edge we can take them out.”
Colonel Crawford nodded and was the first to step to the low parapet. I kneeled down next to him, my rifle over the edge and pointing down. Katie and Martinez joined us a moment later. I fired the first shot, knocking a female off her feet, then they opened up and three more fell. Two of the females instantly turned and began running away from the building but the rest kept standing there, heads tilted back to watch us.
“I’ve got the runners,” I said, tracked one of them for a second and pulled the trigger.
She tumbled to the ground, dead. Adjusting, I sighted in on the second runner and fired, but missed the bobbing head that was moving away from me. Changing aim, I fired again, my round striking the middle of her back. The way she flew forward and rolled in a loose-limbed tumble the round must have severed her spine. She began screaming, thrashing her head back and forth, but she couldn’t move her limbs.
“Fuck me,” I said, actually feeling a moment of pity for the poor creature.
Taking my time, I lined up for a head shot, pulled the trigger and silenced the wounded female. The rest of the infected were down and I made a quick scan of the area, not seeing any more. Standing, I grabbed the rope and after making sure the grappling hook was still tightly secured, tossed it over the edge. It unrolled smoothly, slapping against the side of the building a second later.
“Going by yourself?” Katie asked as I bent and grabbed the rope. “You need someone to watch your back.”
I paused. She was right, but then if there were two of us on the ground and a lot of females showed up we might have a problem getting both of us back up the rope. I thought about it for a moment but Crawford ended the discussion.
“I’ll be right behind you,” he said. I nodded and gripped the roped tightly, scrambling my way over the edge.
“Watch yourself,” I said. “The rope’s going to be slick in this rain.”
Going down was easier than coming up had been the other night. Bracing my feet against the wall, I moved my hands down a knot at a time, walking down with my feet. It’s not hard. The biggest thing to focus on is making sure you keep your center of gravity above your feet. If you don’t, well, you turn upside down, lose your grip, fall on your ass and break half the bones in your body.
Fortunately I did it right and stepped onto the ground in a short amount of time. Immediately I turned, moving away from the rope and raising my rifle. Scanning my surroundings I didn’t see any movement, but kept watch as I heard the scrape of the Colonel climbing over the edge and starting down. Soon he was standing next to me, rifle up and ready.
I glanced at him and hand signed the direction we were going. He nodded and I stepped off. Crawford fell in five yards behind and was so quiet I had to glance over my shoulder to make sure he was really there. I guess I had expected less from a Colonel who had spent most of his time behind a desk, even though I knew it hadn’t always been that way for him. He hadn’t earned that beret by being a slacker desk jockey.
It took us five minutes to work our way out of the maintenance area at the bottom of the wall and across a small, paved area to a massive solar array. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of panels and each was six by twelve feet. They were mounted on iron brackets, held a few feet off the ground with enough space between each for a man to walk through and perform whatever maintenance they might require. They also created a maze with enough space below the surface for infected to be lying in wait, ready to drag me down to my death. I stopped a few yards from the edge of the first panel.
Where to start looking? For that matter, what was I even looking for? Standing there, I took a moment to scan the area as I thought about what to do. All was clear and I checked on Crawford. He was behind me, facing the opposite direction, keeping an eye on our rear.
OK, what did I know about solar? I knew the electricity generated by the panels was Direct Current, or DC, and not compatible with the lights, motors and pumps in the casino that ran on Alternating Current or AC. That meant there had to be some inverters somewhere that converted the power before it was supplied to the building. And since there had been power at night, there also had to be a bank of batteries to store electricity generated during the day for use when the sun was down.
But where the hell was all that equipment? Copper wire is expensive, so I suspected that it would be somewhere between the generating array and the destination for the power, but after turning two complete circles I couldn’t spot anything. Would they have put it inside the casino? Maybe the inverters, but I didn’t think they’d put massive banks of batteries inside. Too great a risk for explosion and fire if something went wrong. Even if the local building codes didn’t prohibit it, I was pretty sure their insurance company would.
With that in mind, where the hell would the equipment be? Raising my rifle again I scanned the perimeter of the array, stopping when I saw a sprawling, squat building on the far side of the sea of panels. Focusing on it I realized why it hadn’t caught my attention before. It had a very low profile roofline and was well screened from view by trees and shrubs.
I was fairly confident this was what I was looking for when I noted the forest of vent pipes sticking up from the roof. Gasses from batteries can be extremely toxic, and if allowed to build up can also be very combustible. Proper venting solves that problem, and this building was definitely well vented.
“There,” I mumbled to Crawford, pointing across the array at the distant structure.
He nodded, then turned back to watch our rear, waiting for me to lead the way. But which way, through or around? The array was massive. Probably every bit of ten acres. It was a long way around, but as I looked at the maze with about a million hiding places for an infected, it was an easy decision. We were going around.