James watched his father die.
He knew it was happening even before the girl fired her gun. It was in his eyes. The life was gone from them when he pulled the trigger on Chris Fox. James saw no more humanity in those eyes. His father was gone, replaced by a man he didn’t know.
When the girl, Katie, shot him, James didn’t move to help. Bubbles—no, Janine—was staring sightlessly up into the sky where a helicopter appeared. Everything felt very surreal to him in that moment. Time slowed like it did in the movies. He saw every piece of dirt that flew, felt every breath that entered and left his body. He felt Janine’s warm body in his arms and the gusts of wind from the helicopter. He heard the shots that killed his father.
He felt no sadness as his father collapsed into the snow. In fact, he didn’t feel anything but emptiness. Elena was dead and now Janine and his father. Everything that had connected him to life and a desire to survive this Hell was gone. So he knelt there in the snow and closed his eyes.
Time passed. It could have been a minute, an hour, or even days for all he knew. He felt so tired, so confused about everything that it was exhausting. When his name was shouted in his face and hands began to shake him, he almost took no notice.
“James! James wake up!”
James opened his eyes. Major Tricia Richards was shaking his shoulder, leaning down to look at him. Her eyes were wide and scared, her auburn hair matted to her face with sweat and blood. She had blood on her uniform too. My dad’s blood.
She pointed and James saw people running. There were a lot of them and he thought it was strange that they weren’t in uniform. They wore torn and tattered civilian clothes, a great many of them had terrible injuries—
He looked down at Janine. Her eyes were still open and for a moment, he had the irrational thought that she was as terrified as he should be, but she was dead and he wasn’t afraid. Not anymore. Part of him wanted to stay there and let them come, let them take him, and make an end of it.
My daughter… I need to get her out of here!
Chris Fox’s words reverberated in his mind as he looked over at the man’s body. He saw his daughter, clothed in nothing but a hospital gown, firing at the Infected. There was another girl too, kneeling next to her with a rifle. Who was she?
Lindsay. That’s what Katie said. She was looking for Lindsay… something. Was that her?
“Found you,” he muttered.
“What? James, snap out of it!”
My daughter… I need to get her out of here!
James closed his eyes again. He felt Janine’s body in his arms, remembered their night together. Remembered how Elena had felt. How he had failed her. Failed Janine. He didn’t protect either of them. He couldn’t even protect his father from himself.
But I can help that girl, he thought and laid Janine’s body in the snow. He closed her eyes and rose, taking a pistol that Tricia offered him. Didn’t he have another one? Did he forget it? Was this his?
It didn’t matter. He aimed and fired into the tide of Infected as they crossed the field. They were in their midst quickly, leaping onto those closest. He saw Ringo go down beneath another man in a business suit. Two other Black Sun soldiers were taken a moment later.
“James!” Tricia shouted. “We have to get out of here, look!”
She turned him and he saw a helicopter turning over head. Tricia was waving to it, pointing to open ground behind them. The pilot was nodding and Tricia was running. James looked back at the crowd and paused.
There was a Black Sun soldier standing in the midst of a crowd of Infected. They weren’t attacking him, but rather standing around as if waiting for him to do something. A moment later he threw down his rifle and ripped off his helmet. James didn’t know the man, but there was something about his gaze that unsettled him. They seemed to see something James did not. When he moved off, away from the carnage, the Infected around him did too.
He turned and ran for the helicopter.
“I need to get her!” he said, pointing towards where Katie was fighting. “I promised! Wait for me!”
“You’ll never make it!” Tricia said. “We’ll get the chopper closer to her!”
He saw that she was right. Between himself and Katie was a sea of Infected. How she wasn’t being overrun was a mystery to him, but he counted his thin blessings. With one last look, he vaulted into the back of the chopper and leaned into the cockpit.
“I need you to swing around! We need to get that girl and her friend!”
He pointed and the pilot nodded.
“Was already going there!” the pilot shouted back. James realized he didn’t really know this pilot. He’d been new about two months back. Bill something?
They lifted off and began to circle around. James held onto the overhead straps for balance as the aircraft maneuvered. As a pilot, he never worried much about air sickness, being as much at home here as he was on the ground.
Tricia was strapped in, holding onto her harness like she was afraid it might let her go. For an instant, he felt a spike of amusement. He looked at her closer, saw her eyes shut tight against the craft’s spin. Her knuckles were white where there wasn’t drying blood. She’d always been kind to him, to everyone. He wondered why she’d saved him. Why she even cared. Maybe, some day, he’d get to ask her.
The pilot waved to him and pointed to a spot behind the two girls. James nodded his understanding as the craft descended rapidly. As he watched though, he saw the Infected surround Katie and her friend. The two girls were embracing, and his heart skipped a beat.
I’m too late, he thought as the chopper set down. Finding Katie again, he saw her begin to walk away, the Infected… following her. It was like the soldier from before. It was like they were speaking or understanding or… something.
Then he remembered the vials in his pocket, the virus that they’d given her. He reached down for them and put his hands right through a tear in the pocket. They were gone. He’d taken them because they could extend her life for a short time. Keep the virus at bay. He searched other pockets rapidly but it was no use. He’d lost them.
He couldn’t help her either, but Lindsay was still alive. Hopping from the chopper, he began to run. He called her name, but she was in motion too. She had something in her hand, something metallic and sharp, and running right for the group of Infected.
“Stop!” he shouted but she didn’t hear him. She grabbed hold of Katie and pushed something into her neck. An injector? A knife? For a moment, he paused. Had she… no, no she was alive.
But the Infected were no longer leaving. They turned and began to charge. Lindsay was instantly firing at them with a focus that astounded him. When he reached her, he grabbed her shoulders and pulled her to her feet.
“We have to go! The whole fucking place is overrun!”
“Get her!” she said, indicating Katie.
He felt empty inside again. I’m sorry, I can’t help her.
“She’s infected!” he said, hoping his words were steady.
“Get her or I’m staying!”
James looked her in the eye and saw that she was serious. He knew that look well. It was how he’d felt about Elena. He’d have marched back into Hell for her. Maybe he still might.
He picked Katie up in his arms and together they rushed back to the chopper. Getting her into the bed of the aircraft was easier than he anticipated and before they’d even shut the doors, Bill was off the ground again. Katie was moaning something with Lindsay looking over her. He motioned to Tricia to help them and moved up into the cockpit, strapping in as best he could.
Pulling the headset over his ears, he cleared the mic and talked to the pilot.
“There might be more survivors by the barracks, we should swing by!”
Bill looked over at him, but James couldn’t see anything through the tinted lenses of his helmet. The man eventually nodded and they banked towards the low buildings where James had spent most of his recent days.
It was a mess. The Infected were everywhere now and James saw that they were in the barracks as well. They’d even run as far as the runways. There was no one to save.
“I’m going to need gas if we want to get to any military installation,” Bill said. “I’m running on half as it is. Drop tanks are gone, running on internal. Won’t get us far enough for Dix or Picatinny!”
“How far can we go?”
“I think I can get us about 400 miles!”
James found himself grinning for the first time in days. He scrounged around, looking for… there! He pulled a map and a pen from the mission box. Finding their position was easy and then it was a matter of some quick math.
“Turn zero-five-five! I think I know where we can go!”