V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 11
It took a while, especially with a flurry of questions from the Canadian scientists. I answered a few of them, then shut down the Q&A session. They had a right to know, but not a need. Their military men had the need, so after powering down the PA, I circulated amongst them and made sure to address anything they wanted to talk about.
When that was done, I called Dumas, Skelling and Creed together in a small huddle, out of earshot of any of the other passengers. The three men looked at me expectantly. I didn’t want to have this conversation, but it was necessary.
“There’s no easy way to discuss this, so here goes,” I began.
“Sergeant,” I addressed Creed directly. “There’s not many of us that have been vaccinated. Those that have, need to keep a close eye on our guests. They’ve not been exposed to the virus before now, and I have no idea how quickly some of them may turn. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes, sir. I do,” he nodded.
“I’m not sure I do,” Dumas said.
“Captain, I’m sorry, but we have to protect the people. Everyone. When an infected person begins to turn, it’s very rapid. Often less than a minute. And if it’s a female, and we’re not ready to immediately intercede, she could kill several others before we even know we have a problem.
“While we’re on the ground, I’m going to have two of the Rangers stay on board with your civilians. If one of them begins to turn, my men will have orders to put them down instantly.”
“Hold on,” he said, thrusting his chin forward. “You’re talking about killing Canadian citizens!”
“I’m talking about killing infected to protect all of us. American and Canadian. You haven’t seen a female tear through a group of people. It’s truly horrifying. They are incredibly fast and strong. Like nothing you’ve ever imagined. Believe me, I hope we have plenty of time to reach Idaho and get all of your people vaccinated, but we have to be prepared to deal with any situation that arises until then.”
He stared hard at me for a long beat, breathing hard. Finally, he looked away, turning and meeting WO Skelling’s eyes.
“Warrant Officer, your thoughts?” He asked.
“Don’t like it any more than you do, sir. However, the Major has a point. It’s our job to protect the civilians. If we have to take out any who become infected to accomplish our job, well then, sir, I don’t see as we have much of an alternative.”
Dumas shook his head and turned back to me. I could see the distress on his face.
“I understand, Major. However, it should be RCAF that stands guard and, if necessary, pulls the trigger.”
“Negative, Captain,” I said gently. “We can’t be certain the men guarding the scientists won’t turn. I’d rather it was yours, especially if anyone has to be put down. Trust me. But, it has to be my men. They’re the only ones we can be confident won’t turn while they’re protecting the civilians.”
After several long moments, Dumas finally nodded and lowered his eyes. I could tell he wasn’t happy, and respected him for it. I’d feel the same way if the roles were reversed, but we really didn’t have a choice. Clapping him on the shoulder, I turned and headed for the cockpit.
Rachel was standing behind me and pulled me to the side, speaking in a low voice.
“You may be worrying about nothing,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“The Canadians becoming infected. They haven’t been exposed to the virus, so I wouldn’t expect them to. Not that they shouldn’t be vaccinated as soon as possible, but I don’t think there will be a problem.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, frowning. “I thought the virus has spread pretty much everywhere.”
“A virus needs a host,” Rachel explained. “A carrier. It spread across the world, jumping from person to person, and moving through several animal species. But, absent a living body to transmit it, it’s rare that a virus can survive in the environment for any period of time beyond a few hours.”
“Are you certain of that?” I asked. “Confident it’s not floating around in the air or something? What if it is and as soon as we land and open a door, all the Canadians become exposed?”
“Anything is possible,” Rachel acknowledged. “And I certainly don’t know what the Chinese did when they engineered it. Perhaps they did some environmental hardening just so it could survive outside a host. I’m just telling you the probability is very low.”
“But not impossible?” I asked, eyebrows arched.
“No,” Rachel shook her head. “Not impossible.”
“Then we’re going to err on the side of caution. There’s no compelling reason to not take precautions, and plenty of reasons we should.”
Rachel nodded and gave me a weak smile. I understood what she was saying. I touched her arm and moved past, stepping into the cockpit to speak with the pilot.
“Where are we?” I asked when I arrived.
“Five minutes,” the pilot said. “I’m descending to a thousand feet and doing a flyover first, but that runway had better be clear. We’re about to go into our reserve and it won’t keep us in the air long.”
“What’s our alternative if we can’t land at Offutt?”
“The base is south of Omaha. Commercial airport is north of town. I’m approaching from the south, so we should have just enough fuel to divert if we have to.”
I stepped out of the cockpit and activated the PA system. Warned everyone to get in a seat and buckle up. Closing the cabinet, I returned to the flight deck and slipped into the co-pilot’s seat.
“You know how to fly, sir?”
“No,” I said. “Just wanted to get a look as we pass over.”
The sun was up and I had a great view of the ground below us. A wide, muddy river snaked across the countryside, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember which one it was. At least it wasn’t the Mississippi!
Ahead, I could see the city of Omaha, Nebraska and several of its smaller suburbs. As we descended, I picked out the air traffic control tower at Offutt. Soon, the incredibly long runway of an Air Force Base was visible and the pilot and I cursed in unison. A massive jet, probably a C5-A or Globemaster, had crashed. Debris was scattered for much of its length. There was no secondary runway, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Several hundred, maybe even a thousand, infected were milling around amongst the wreckage.
Fortunately, the runway at the commercial airport, Eppley Airfield, was clear. As we passed over the perimeter fence, I spotted a few dozen infected stumbling about, a mix of males and females. They immediately turned and began moving towards the sound of the large jet as the landing gear thumped onto the runway.
The pilot moved some levers and the roar of the thrust reversers began, but then I heard something that I’d never experienced before. One of the engines coughed. Just briefly, before continuing to bellow.
“What the hell was that?”
I looked over at the pilot, not happy to see a sheen of sweat covering his face. It’s never a good thing when the man in control of the aircraft is nervous.
“Fuel’s almost gone,” he said through gritted teeth as we rapidly slowed to taxi speed. “If that engine had flamed out we’d have twisted sideways and, well… we’d have been fucked.”
We rolled to a stop on the runway, enough fuel in the tanks for the engines to idle. Looking around, I wasn’t surprised to see that the terminal had burned. Nothing was left but a soot stained shell. The fire had apparently been intense as the tarmac closest to the building had bubbled and warped from the heat.
“Think there’ll be fuel trucks here?” I asked, hoping to spot one.
“Doubt it,” he said, staring at a large airliner that had burned and melted into the asphalt near a hangar. “It’s much more cost effective for commercial operations to use underground tanks than to maintain and operate a fleet of trucks. Also, faster refueling to get planes turned around and back in the air.”
“If it’s faster, why does the
“Apples and oranges. Commercial flights are having luggage and passengers loaded and unloaded. Fuel pumped into the tanks. Trash removed and supplies brought on board. All of this is happening at the gate, with the engines off. It’s not faster if you refuel hot. With the engines running. Then, you want a truck. Just the difference between the bottom line and the best way to manage your aircraft,” he said. “So, what do we do now?”
“Shut down,” I said, climbing out of the seat. “I’m going to take a look around. May have to make a run to the base to find a truck.”
He nodded and began flipping switches to power down the engines and avionics.
“Oh,” I said before I walked out of the cockpit. “Close and lock this door behind me. Don’t open for anything unless you’re absolutely certain it’s safe.”
“What are you worried about?” He asked, turning in his seat and looking up at me.
“Infected,” I said.
“How would they get on the aircraft?”
“They already are,” I tilted my head towards the cabin. “56 Canadians that haven’t been vaccinated. If one of them turns and kills you, we’re all fucked. You’re the only pilot we’ve got.”
I held his gaze for a moment before stepping through the door. He unbuckled and climbed out of his seat, nodding at me and closing the door. I stayed where I was until I heard the lock engage.
“Sergeant McCrary! On me,” I shouted, turning to open the hatch.
Creed trotted up the aisle and looked out across the tarmac through the open door. Chilly air flowed in, but it felt like a balmy summer day after the Arctic.
“We’re out of fuel, and probably going to have to make a run to Offutt to get some. First, I want to check some of these hangars and make sure there isn’t any way to refuel here.”
“Want some company, sir?” He asked, eager to get off the plane and stretch his legs.
“Yes, but I’m going to take some of the Canadians with me,” I said, kicking the rope out the door that they had used to climb up after deicing. “Get all military off the plane, except for two of our men, like we discussed. Set a perimeter.”
“On it, sir,” he said, starting to turn away.
“Got a spare radio?” I asked, stopping him.
“Yes, sir. Let me grab it.”
He dashed down the aisle, barking orders as he moved. Shouldering his pack, he spoke briefly with one of the other Rangers who pulled a small, digital unit with an earpiece out of his. Creed ran back to me, setting the frequency and holding it out. The Rangers and RCAF troopers were already queuing up behind him.
I was the first out, slithering down the rope and bringing my rifle up as soon as my boots hit the tarmac. Moving out of the way of the next man down, I turned a full circle, checking the area. The infected I had seen as we landed were approaching. The males were as slow and uncoordinated as ever, but a small contingent of females was spread across the runway, sprinting directly for us.
When they were inside a hundred yards, I started shooting. First one, then another rifle spoke from beside me, all of the females dropping quickly. Letting my weapon hang on its sling, I looked around and spotted Rachel and Irina right next to me.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
They lowered their rifles and Rachel looked at me, then shook her head. After a moment, I smiled and reached out, squeezing her arm. Irina gave me a smirk that I ignored. OK, if they wanted to come along…
Captain Dumas was a few yards away with a large group of his men. They were all looking at the females we’d just shot.
“Captain, you’re with me. Bring a couple of men. The rest stay here with the Sergeant,” I said.
“What are we doing?” Rachel asked as the Canadians sorted themselves out.
“Looking for a fuel truck, or a way to power the pumps,” I said.
Dumas and two of his men had walked up to where we were standing. I glanced around to make sure Creed had everything under control, then turned and headed for a row of hangars opposite the burned out terminal. Rachel took up position to my left, Irina slightly behind and to my right. The three Canadians brought up the rear as we crossed several acres of tarmac.
Ahead, all but one of the hangars was closed up tightly. A long, white line was painted on the asphalt, extending out from one of them. Every so often, iron hooks were set into the pavement. Tie downs. Most likely for light aircraft like a single or twin engine plane. But there weren’t any to be seen. Maybe the plane owners in Omaha had managed to escape. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anywhere safe for them to go.
Behind, I heard several shots and turned to see one of the Rangers engaging the slower males that had been converging on the plane. In front of me, the first hangar loomed large, the door closed and apparently locked. It didn’t budge when I tried to move it. There wasn’t any signage on the exterior, so I was unsure if it was worth expending the effort to break in. Sure would be nice if there was a big, neon sign that advertised Joe’s Fueling Service.
Moving around to the side, I began looking for another door. One built for humans that would have a smaller lock on it. Finding one on the back wall, I was mildly surprised to see it standing wide open. Hand signing for everyone to stay put, I rolled around the jam and lowered the night vision goggles over my eyes.
In the time it took them to activate and display an image, I nearly lost my life. When I could see, a female infected was only feet away, leaping at me with a snarl.
“Shit!” I said as she slammed into me.
I tried to spin and redirect her momentum, but she’d been too close and coming too fast. We wound up on the floor, her straddling my waist and trying to tear my throat out. Fighting against her, I locked a hand around her throat to control her head and threw her to the side.
She tumbled to her feet and prepared to leap. I was moving slower than she was, having trouble gaining my balance amongst the scattered tools and equipment I’d stumbled into. My hand was out, trying to steady my body, and grasped onto a solid, iron handle.
The female leapt and I swung, the head of the tool impacting her temple. She was knocked to the side, falling to the floor and not moving as I tried to control my swing. Whatever it was I had grabbed was heavy as hell.
Adjusting the night vision, I looked down and could clearly see the whole side of the female’s head was dented in. Checking the tool, I grinned when I saw it was a short handled sledgehammer. Well, that’s certainly one way to do it.
I snapped my rifle up and carefully scanned the interior of the hangar. She was probably the only infected in residence, as any others would have attacked with her, but I wasn’t going to take a chance.
Unfortunately, the hangar didn’t have a nice, fat fuel truck parked in it. Not caring about the small jet with an engine half dismantled, I deactivated the night vision goggles and stepped outside.
“Everything OK?” Rachel asked quietly when I reappeared.
“Nothing out of the norm,” I smiled, leading the way to the next hangar.
We checked three more, finding each of them as devoid of what we were looking for as the first. More aircraft in various states of repair. A handful of infected in each, pretty much equally divided between male and female. But no trucks. No generators or generator powered pumps.
Moving on to the final hangar, I was surprised to find it locked up tight. In addition to the large, rolling door in front, there were three more man doors, but each was securely dead bolted. After checking them all, I blasted the lock out of one with several rounds from my rifle. The door began to swing open, then was violently yanked the rest of the way from inside.
Immediately, several females charged through the opening. I shot one of them before having to default to a knife rather than risk a stray round hitting one of my small team. Taking another down with the blade, I spun in time to see Dumas tackled to the ground by two o
His men stood close by, staring in shock as the females screamed and tried to reach his throat. Rachel and I dashed forward at the same time to help him. She grabbed one of the infected’s long hair and used it to drag her off the Captain. I buried the knife in the back of the other’s head, turning to help Rachel but Irina had already stepped in, firing a round into the female’s head.
With all the infected down, I helped Dumas to his feet and looked at his two men. They met my glare, then looked away in embarrassment. Nothing needed to be said. They knew they’d frozen and nearly cost their CO his life.
Carefully, I moved inside the hangar and made a quick scan. Nothing. Shit! I guess someone was making a trip across town to the Air Force Base.
We double-timed back to the plane, watching as the men forming the security cordon put down the occasional infected who had been attracted by the noise we’d made landing. Creed saw us coming and moved to meet me as I reached the perimeter.
“Nope,” I said, slowing to a walk. “Gotta make a run to Offutt and find a truck.”
“You think the fuel is still good?” He asked, causing me to come to a stop and look at him.
I hadn’t even thought about that little problem. Modern automotive fuel doesn’t have a long shelf life. There’s been so many government mandated additives introduced over the past few decades, in an effort to reduce emissions, that if untreated, it doesn’t have a long storage life. I had no idea when to expect all the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel sitting in tanks all over the world would no longer be able to power an engine.
“Hadn’t thought about that,” I admitted. “And don’t know enough to make an educated guess. You?”
“Don’t know about aviation fuel, but regular old gasoline for a car loses a lot of octane pretty quick because of all the damn ethanol they blend in nowadays. Or blended in, I guess. Just thought I’d mention it.”
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