“Stand amongst the ashes of a trillion dead souls and ask the ghosts if honor matters.” – Javik, Mass Effect 3
The helicopter flew low over snow-covered trees. The wake of disturbed air created a white mist behind them, flaring outward in concentric circles before falling to the earth again. The wind was biting cold and the heavy thumping of the rotor blades made the chill air blow strong into uncovered faces.
Six men sat within, the pilot and co-pilot were up front while four others crouched in the loading area. Three were all dressed the same, with black BDUs, bulletproof vests and tactical slings. M4s were stowed between their legs. Unlike the AR-15, the M4s civilian-approved cousin, these guns were military issued and had fully automatic fire. Only these men weren’t military. Not anymore.
The patches on their shoulders read KSF: Kurama Security Forces.
Chris Fox held his SCAR 17 across his lap, the muzzle facing the open door. The man across from him was grinning. The man’s beard was thin, closely cropped across a wide, dimpled chin and mottled gray and brown. The hard look in his eyes matched Chris’s. They’d both seen the Beast, something soldiers called Combat. They’d seen other things together, horrible things. That they were paid handsomely for the work didn’t seem to matter much anymore.
“What’d you tell her?” Bill said, speaking across the headsets they wore.
Chris shrugged, not wanting to talk about the daughter he’d left sealed in his bunker. She wasn’t supposed to be here. He’d made contingencies, plans to keep her safe. She and her mother were to be evacuated first when Zero Event occurred. He’d gotten confirmation that his ex-wife was safe an hour before Katie had called him.
She didn’t belong wrapped up in this, but there was nothing for it now. He’d trained her, but he’d never really believed she’d need it. Zero Event was calculated. Plans were made. SOPs were in place.
Obviously, they’d all failed.
He looked out across the treetops and spotted the radio tower he’d mentioned to Katie. Grabbing hold of the door’s safety grips, he leaned further out, trying to get a good look at it. What he saw turned his pale skin white as milk.
Infected were everywhere. They milled about within the chain-linked fence and were climbing in and out of the shattered windows. The tower itself was littered with bodies. Someone had tried to climb it. Her remains were just tatters, stuck through the piping. Shit.
He called into his headset, hoping the pilots were on the same wave.
“I need to make a CB call!”
A moment later the pilot’s voice responded. “Frequency?”
“Radio Tower overrun. Do not approach. Repeat, do not approach.”
Several minutes passed as the chopper cruised passed the radio tower and onward towards Solon’s. He waited anxiously while the pilot, or likely the co-pilot, relayed his message. He could only hope that Katie heard it. I was stupid to tell her to go there.
“Sir?” the pilot was broadcasting again. He almost missed it and clicked the return button.
“Did it go through?”
“Yes, sir. No response.”
“Send it again, every two minutes.”
Bill frowned at him, squinting his eyes. The expression was a silent question. Chris swallowed and pointed back towards the radio station.
“I told Katie to go there if the CB goes down.”
“How long did you tell her to wait?”
“We’ll be done in three days,” Bill said and grinned again. “Just like old times.”
No, Chris thought as he stared back at the tower. This isn’t anything like that.
“Two minutes!” the pilot called over the intercom.
The chopper was cruising fast and low towards Solon’s Wake. The town was full of low buildings made of brick, all in neat and orderly rows. It was dominated by a single, enormous graveyard at its center. The dead laid to rest there numbered in the hundreds and dated as far back as the Revolutionary War. From the looks of it, the walking dead were now outnumbering them.
“Land on the bank roof,” Chris said and the pilot zippered the mic to acknowledge him. Three short blips. Turning, Chris looked at Bill and the other two men. Turner and Williams were stenciled on their breast pockets but he didn’t recognize either of them. “Okay guys, we’re here for Allan Kirchner. I trust Bill’s briefed you on him?”
The two men nodded.
“Good. We are to capture him alive. This is paramount. We must secure the samples as well. Both of these are primary objectives.”
“Williams here is a certified safe cracker,” Turner said, jabbing a thumb in Williams’ direction. “I was a Naval Corpsman before this, sir. We can secure the samples.”
“Do you know what you’re looking for?”
“Yes, sir. We’ve both been with KSF for two years now.”
Chris quirked a brow at Bill, who grinned.
“You think I’d bring newbies? Fuck, I’d bring the whole Spook Corps from KSF if I could find them.”
“Has anyone checked in?”
Bill nodded. “Yeah. North West and DC. Both are on the Ford.”
Chris breathed a small sigh of relief. Good, not everything had gone to shit. The USS Gerald R. Ford was in motion then. The Supercarrier would be off Virginia’s coastline by now.
Bill grinned and was about to open his mouth when Chris spotted a truck out of the corner of his eye. The humvee was parked at the rear of the bank, its tailgate smashed right against the door. Infected crawled all over the hood but as the chopper circled about, Chris didn’t see anyone inside. Must have gotten out through the hatch, he thought. Not a bad plan. The humvee’s bulk was keeping any infected from entering the door, at least for now.
The chopper settled onto the flat, stone roof with a rush of wind and the whine of rotor blades. Dust and small rocks flew out from the skids as the four of them jumped out, Chris taking the lead. He’d replaced his headset with a tactical earpiece and clicked the mic at his throat as he rushed to the roof entrance door. The chopper lifted off again, intending to stay aloft for twenty minutes on alert. They wouldn’t need that much time, he hoped.
Stacking up at the door, Turner held up three fingers, then two, then one and pulled the door open. As one, all four checked the door and, finding it clear, Chris went through it. The stairwell was cast in a red light, the emergency lights at his feet the only operating illumination. He kept his head on a swivel, his gun following wherever his eyes went. Up, down, side to side, always moving as he descended the stairwell to the ground floor.
The door there had something pooling beneath it. Chris clicked on his rifle’s light and illuminated a dark liquid slowly running from under the door to his boot. Blood. It had to be fresh, otherwise it would have dried by now. He signaled to Turner and Williams to stay on the stairs and train their guns on the doorway while he and Bill pulled it open.
A body slumped inside the moment the door was pulled. Turner and Williams tracked the body with their weapons as it fell while Chris and Bill stepped back and aimed at the doorway. No one fired a shot and nothing appeared from the hallway beyond. A few moments passed while they waited in silence and then Chris turned his light on the body.
It was a woman who must have been a bank guard. There was a single gunshot wound to her temple and an empty 1911A pistol in her left hand. After a quick search, Chris found bite marks on her left leg. That explains that, then.
He made a few more hand signals to Bill and they went through the door, Chris going left while Bill went right. Turner and Williams came behind, closing the door behind them, leaving the body in the stairwell. The hallway was lit just like the stairwell, small red lights at the baseboards casting everything in a dull, red hue. Chris moved quickly forward, crouching with his weapon ready until he came to a corner. When he checked around it, he saw five infected trying to get through a door behind the main bank counter. The main doors were closed and infected were milling about outside. He’d have to secure them fast.
A tap on his shoulder told him Bill had completed his sweep and found nothing. Looking back, he saw that all three were stacked up behind him. He held up his hand, forefinger and thumb making an “O” and placed against his forehead. Infected. Then held up five fingers and indicated the direction. Keeping two fingers up he pointed to himself, then one to Bill, then one each for the others. Finally, he swept his hand left to right. He’d take the first two on the left, Bill the next one, Turner and Williams the final two. Everyone nodded.
It happened very fast. They fanned out quickly and Chris fired two shots, both striking each one of his targets in the head. The first had been a man in a business suit and woolen overcoat. He fell against the wall, leaving a red and gray smear as he slid away. The next was a girl no older than Katie. His shot took her in the back of he head and she pitched forward into Bill’s target, an older woman. They disappeared together behind the counter in a spray of blood and brains.
Chris didn’t take the time to think about whom he’d killed. If he did, the fact that girl looked a lot like Katie would haunt him for hours. He had a job to do. Turning he sprinted for the doors and took out two steel chords from his pack. He looped them through the door’s bars and secured them tightly, sealing them with a click of the lock. That would hold them for a while and the glass was bulletproof. They’d never break through it.
He’d just secured the second set of doors when the infected rushed it, drawn by the gunfire. They slammed against the doors, but they opened out and the undead began to clump up, hissing and screeching and clawing for him. The woman in front was old, her gray hair tangled, dirty strands matted against a wrinkled, spotted forehead. She hissed with a toothless mouth. Briefly, he wondered how she fed at all.
“Chris,” Bill said and turned back towards his people. Turner and Williams pulled the bodies away from the door while he and Bill swept the rest of the room for any entrances. When they’d secured the only other entrance into the main room, they returned to the door behind the counter. If Infected wanted in there, something to eat was inside.
Turner and Williams stood on either side of the door while he and Bill took cover behind the counter. When they were all ready, Chris called out.
“Kirchner? Are you in there?”
“Yes! Oh my God, help—!”
There was a sound that was halfway between a cry and a hiccup. Something cut off the man’s words. Chris’s finger twitched but he kept it still against his trigger guard.
“We’re going to breach the door. You have ten seconds to open it. No one needs to get hurt!”
Four seconds passed and then another man’s voice came. It was the bearded man from the forest.
“Who are you? Military?”
“I’m Captain Chris Fox,” he said. “We’re here to get the Doctor.”
“We need him!” said the man behind the door. “M-my brother’s sick!”
Chris swore silently. Kirchner was an idiot. The biggest idiot in the world at that moment.
“We’ll see he’s treated. Now open the door!”
A few more seconds passed and then, slowly, the door pulled open. It revealed Allan Kirchner on his knees with the bearded man standing behind him with a pistol to his head. The skinny man who must be his brother was sitting on the ground nearby, coughing. The one with the ponytail was half hidden behind the door, his rifle aimed at them. Bill and Chris aimed their weapons but did not fire. Williams and Turner remained motionless, unseen in their positions.
“Put your weapons down!” the bearded man said. “Or I’ll kill him.”
“Okay man, cool, all right?” Chris said and complied, standing to put his rifle on the counter. Bill rose and did the same. When Allan saw Bill’s uniform, the color drained from his face.
“No… not them! Oh my god, not them!”