Acting on your best behavior
Turn your back on mother nature
Everybody wants to rule the world
– Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
The Infected were right behind them.
Chris took the stairs two at a time, not bothering to look over his shoulder. He could smell them, they were so close. Their screeching howls filled the stairwell as they went up and up. Two floors to go. One floor to go. The heavy metal door stood open, the co-pilot waving them onward.
“Go!” he shouted to the co-pilot as he mounted the last few steps to the doorway. As soon as he was clear of the doorway, Chris pulled the door shut just moments ahead of the horde behind him. The door opened inward, towards the infected but Chris was counting on them taking a few seconds to figure out how to open it. The mass of them shoving against the door might be enough to keep it from opening.
Through the reinforced wire-and-glass window slit, Chris came face to face with one of the Infected. He couldn’t tell the sex of the thing through the mass of shredded skin and torn hair. It pressed a bloody, dismembered cheek to the glass, leaving a greasy smear.
“Fox, let’s go!” Bill said, shouting from the direction of the chopper. The rotating blades of the aircraft were loud, a heavy whump-whump-whump thudding through him. The wind was strong enough to stagger him and he leaned into the blast to keep upright. Turner and Williams were already aboard, dragging Kirchner with them. The doctor was yelling something but Chris couldn’t hear him. Bill was at the landing strut, waving him on.
He’d taken half a dozen running steps when the door burst open. Chris never knew if they opened it by sheer chance or through some leftover shred of intellect, but they’d done it and were now pouring out onto the rooftop. Running, Chris didn’t look back to see how close they were. Bill was on the chopper, firing his rifle. The rounds whizzed by Chris’s head and he ducked lower. Moments later, Turner was firing also.
The chopper was already lifting off as he got to it. Bill reached out a hand and Chris took it, letting himself be hauled aboard. He landed on his side and rolled onto his back as the chopper tilted forward and then to one side, away from the building. Turner and Bill continued to fire on the horde below. When Chris finally sat up and looked down, the entire rooftop was filled with Infected. Some were even leaping from the building in an attempt to get at them.
Sweet Jesus, he thought, his heart beating heavy in his chest. He was lucky to be alive and knew it. They all were. If they hadn’t been so highly trained one or maybe even all of them would be dead now. Instead, they’d lost just one, Doctor Kirchner’s son, Mark. The youth committed suicide inside the bank with a pistol he’d taken from Williams.
“Why?” Kirchner said, over and over. He sobbed into his hands where he was seated between Williams and Turner. Chris regarded him with sympathy. The ‘why’ was never easy. Chris had known friends who killed themselves in similar fashion. One day they simply gave up and pulled the trigger. One of them, Hallie Vance, had been the best chopper pilot he’d ever seen. She’d crashed in Afghanistan and was taken prisoner before Chris and five other Rangers pulled her out. They’d tortured her, Chris knew, even if she never said a word about it. She’d finished out her term and then gone home.
Seven months later she’d shot herself in the woods behind her parent’s home in Alaska. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder claimed lives long after the incident that caused it to take hold. What had Mark seen? What did he experience that broke him? Likely, Chris would never find out and explaining it to Allan wouldn’t do much good. He was dead.
Perhaps he was one of the lucky ones now.
“Fucking Hell,” Bill said and Chris turned to look where his friend was pointing. At first he didn’t see anything, then two dark shapes appeared in the distance. It didn’t take long to realize what they were, fighter jets. A-10 Thunderbolts by the look of them, a heavy ground-attack fighter that most of its pilots called the “Warthog.”
“National Guard?” Chris said. That was most likely. A-10s were nearing the end of their service and were mostly used by Air Guard these days. Still, they still saw considerable action in the Middle East when the Air Force’s unmanned drones couldn’t do the job.
“Unidentified Blackhawk, this is Gabriel One-One, respond immediately.” The voice came loud over the radio. Whoever was sending the communication, likely the A-10s, they’d managed to get their overhead frequency. Chris imagined they’d transmitted the same message to over a dozen channels already. The pilot turned back to them and tapped his headset. Chris and Bill quickly threw theirs on.
“Orders?” the pilot said over the intercom.
“We can’t out run them, so go ahead and identify yourself.”
“Roger.” The pilot switched channels and Chris did the same, switching to that open frequency the A-10s used previously.
“Copy, Gabriel One-One, this is Charlie-Hotel-Niner-Five-Sierra out of Dix.”
“Charlie-Hotel-Niner-Five-Sierra, you are identified as having Doctor Allan Kirchner aboard. Confirm.”
The pilot looked back, looking as puzzled as Chris felt. What the hell were two A-10s doing out here knowing about Doctor Kirchner? The National Guard certainly wouldn’t know jack shit about him, so who were these guys?
Bill shrugged and looked at Chris, who shook his head. The pilot turned back around. “Gabriel One-One, say again? We’re conducting rescue operations and have several people aboard.”
A loud beep-beep-beep sounded in their ears and the pilot swore.
“Charlie-Hotel-Niner-Five-Sierra, I currently have you targeted with my AIM-9s. Confirm you have Allan Kirchner aboard.”
Son of a bitch, Chris thought. Whoever these guys were, they weren’t KSF and likely weren’t part of the Task Force from the Ford. They were getting closer and Chris strained to see their tail markings. At this distance, it was still impossible. Damn it.
“Best do it, Toby,” Bill said to the pilot.
“Copy, Gabriel One-One, Doctor Kirchner is aboard. State intentions?”
“Charlie-Hotel-Niner-Five-Sierra, you are to turn Zero-One-Zero and climb to two thousand feet. Prepare to accept datalink.”
“Gabriel One-One, we are conducting rescue operations for Fort Dix and are under orders to return there.”
One of the A-10s dropped lower, approaching on the chopper’s left side. The loud, high-pitched whine of its engines filled the air. Its wings were loaded with weapons and the tail bore the sigil of a black sun rising over the horizon. Shit.
“Charlie-Hotel, turn Zero-One-Zero and climb to two thousand feet. This is your last warning.”
The A-10 dropped back, its airbrakes flaring as it pulled up and behind them. Moments later that loud beep-beep-beep sounded again. Bill slammed his fist against the deck of the chopper and spit.
“Do it,” Chris said to the pilot.
A moment later the chopper began to turn, heading north and rising high above the trees. In the distance, Chris saw an explosion from the direction of the town. From the looks of it, the second A-10 had just fired on the building they’d come from. As they climbed to two thousand feet, a second explosion followed and he could just barely hear the burrrrrr of the A-10’s massive gun.
“What the hell is going on?” Williams said into the intercom.
“Didn’t you recognize that tail logo?” Bill said, glaring at the A-10s as they pulled up on either side of them. The pilots were faceless men with their tactical visors down. Williams was looking at them but shook his head.
“No, sir. That’s new to me. Air Force?”
“Shit son,” Bill said, shaking his head. “These assholes are as far from the USAF as you can get. Those are Black Dawn fighters right there.”
“Private military,” Chris said, feeling unease sweep through his gut. “I worked with them in Afghanistan once. Don’t you remember that whole bit with burning civilians about five years ago?”
“Fuck,” Williams said. “But that was—”
“Changed their name,” Bill said. “Same shitholes though and we’ve just been hijacked.”