V plague book 11 mercile.., p.12

V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 12

 

V Plague (Book 11): Merciless
 


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  “Shit on a stick, Sergeant. Got any positive thoughts?”

  “Sorry, sir,” he grinned.

  “Don’t see as we’ve got much choice,” I said after a minute of thinking. “We’re in the middle of fucking nowhere, and if we don’t get some vaccine soon I’m worried our guests are going to start looking for a snack.”

  “What happens if we put bad fuel into the plane?” Rachel asked.

  Creed and I just looked at her for a beat until she blushed and looked down at the ground.

  “Oh, right. Sorry,” she said.

  “It’s probably fine, ma’am,” Creed said then turned to me. “I’ll grab a couple of men and find some wheels to get us to the base. Shouldn’t be hard to find a truck once we get there.”

  “Negative, Sergeant,” I said. “I want you to take command here and keep these people and this aircraft safe. She and I are going, but I’d like a couple of Rangers to tag along. Preferably one that knows how to hot wire a truck so we don’t have to search for keys.”

  I could tell he wanted to argue with me, but after a moment he nodded, turned and shouted a couple of names.

  “You’re taking me with you?” Rachel sounded surprised.

  “Would you have stayed behind?” I asked.

  “No,” she laughed. “I just didn’t think you were smart enough to have figured that out.”

  I gave her a look, then got serious as two Rangers trotted up.

  “Sergeants Long and Johnson, sir,” Creed introduced them.

  I blinked, then couldn’t help myself.

  “You’re sending Long Johnson with me?” I asked with arched eyebrows.

  The two men grinned as Creed tried to suppress a laugh.

  “Yes, sir. They’ve been inseparable since Ranger selection. Trust me, don’t get them going. If there’s a long johnson joke out there, they know it.”

  “One of you know how to hotwire a truck?” I asked, looking them over.

  “Yes, sir. I do,” Long answered. “My pappy was a repo man. Started taking me with him when I was ten. Ain’t nothin with a motor I can’t start.”

  “OK,” I said. “Grab your Johnson and go find us some transportation. We’re going to Offutt to get a fuel truck.”

  They grinned and ran off towards the parking lot in front of the terminal. As I watched them head across the tarmac, another thought occurred to me. Trotting to the rope dangling down from the plane’s open door, I told Rachel to stay put and climbed up. Entering the cabin, I banged on the cockpit door and shouted for the pilot to open up.

  “What’s up, sir?”

  It looked like he’d been sleeping, and I was glad to see that.

  “Those tanker trucks. How much fuel do they hold? Will one be enough to get us to Idaho?”

  “If the truck’s full it should have 6,000 gallons. That’s more than enough. Just make sure you’re bringing JP-8. It’s basically the same as Jet-A, which is what this thing burns.”

  “JP-8,” I repeated. “Got it. OK, get some shut eye. This will probably take a while.”

  He nodded and closed the door, the lock engaging a moment later. I took a moment to check on the scientists. Most were sleeping or staring off into space, but there were a few who were pacing the center aisle. The Ranger at the front of the cabin met my eyes briefly, then returned to watching over the civilians. I didn’t envy him the assignment.

  Sliding down the rope, I looked around in surprise when I didn’t see the two Rangers waiting for me with an idling vehicle. Creed stepped closer to speak with me.

  “They’ve found plenty of cars, but they’re all in a two story parking garage. There was a collapse from a truck crashing into the overhead at the entrance and no way to drive any of them out. They’re having to go a little farther to find something.”

  “Alright. We’ll catch up with them. Save some time.”

  I looked at Rachel and began jogging across the tarmac in the direction the Rangers had gone. It took me a minute to realize Irina was tagging along. I thought about sending her back, then dismissed the impulse. If she wanted to come along, it was fine with me.

  “You’ve changed,” Rachel said as she ran next to me.

  “What do you mean?”

  “Before, I would have had to argue and yell at you before you’d bring me. Now, it was your idea, and you’re not even stopping to turn Irina back.”

  “Maybe I figured out there’s no safe place anymore,” I said. “Guess I’d rather have the people I care about with me. Kind of gotten old, getting separated from everyone.”

  “You are a big softie. I knew it!” Rachel said, smiling.

  I ignored her and called Sergeant Long on the radio. We were rounding the end of the terminal and I wanted to know where they were. Ahead, a tall chain link fence separated the tarmac from the public area of the airport. There was a large hole torn in it and we slowed to duck through the opening.

  “They’re on the backside of the parking garage,” I said, pointing across a broad stretch of pavement that ran in front of the terminal.

  Halfway across the road, I stopped when I received another transmission.

  “Copy,” I said. “Pick us up in front of the terminal.”

  “They find one?” Rachel asked.

  “Yep. On the way,” I said, looking over the area.

  At the far end of the terminal I spotted several slow moving figures, but after a moment of watching, categorized them as not an imminent threat. They were males and nearly a quarter of a mile away. It would take them a while to reach our location.

  “There,” Irina said.

  I turned in the direction she was looking and saw a handful of females running towards us.

  “You saw them, you shoot them,” I said to Irina.

  I knew she was a poor shot with a rifle, at best. And the best remedy for that is practice. As she raised the rifle to her shoulder, I quietly stepped to a spot slightly beside and behind her, clicking off my rifle’s safety. Just in case.

  Irina fired the first round and one of the females jerked sideways, slowed slightly, then resumed charging at us. Three rounds later, one of them fell to the pavement in a tangle of limbs. That left four more, still approaching fast.

  They were inside a hundred yards now, and Irina’s rate of fire picked up. She was getting nervous. Most of her rounds were hitting the infected, but not head or heart shots that would put them down instantly. Another female fell, then a third. Two remained, getting uncomfortably close. From the corner of my eye, I saw Rachel raise her rifle.

  Irina kept firing, the fourth dropping at twenty yards. OK, training is one thing, but they were getting too damn close. Snapping my rifle up, I fired the instant the butt was against my shoulder. My round punched through the last female’s head and she tumbled forward, coming to a stop no more than three steps away.

  “You’re getting better,” I said to Irina, turning at the sound of an approaching vehicle.

  A huge, black Cadillac Escalade sporting chrome spinners on the wheels pulled to a stop next to us, Long behind the wheel. He was grinning ear to ear. I shook my head and ushered the ladies into the back seat ahead of me. The Ranger hit the gas and spun us through a U-turn, heading for the airport exit.

  “So, where is this Air Force Base, sir?”

  “South of town is all I know,” I said. “First time I’ve ever been in Nebraska. If you can find a freeway, head south. I’m sure there’ll be signs for it when we get close.”

  “Yes, sir,” he said.

  It took us some time to get out of the airport. There were numerous wrecks, blocking the road. The Cadillac easily navigated onto the grassy shoulder and median to bypass them. The largest group of infected I’d seen so far in Omaha met us when we came around a curve. Long slowed enough to bull through without damaging the vehicle or picking up any riders.

  Finding a freeway, we headed south, but it was even slower going than the airport. Abandoned vehicles clogged all of the lanes and we had to resort to
driving in the median. The ground was soft, but again, the all-wheel drive system in the heavy SUV pulled through without any dramatics.

  The northbound lanes were in much better shape. That was good news for the return trip. It would have been nice to use them to get to the base, but a thick, steel cable was strung along the median, separating the directions of travel. We couldn’t get across. A couple of times, Long tried to exit to look for a way to move to the open lanes, but the off ramps were all clogged. We were stuck, navigating the graveyard of vehicles.

  An hour later we had covered slightly more than 12 miles. Creeping along, we passed a large sign that told us to take the next exit for Offutt Air Force Base. The only problem was there were three lanes full of abandoned cars and trucks between us and the ramp. Long rolled to a stop next to a large 18 wheeler. We sat there for a few moments as he studied the vehicles that were in our way.

  “Got an idea, Sergeant?” I prompted.

  “Well, sir, I was thinking about trying to start that rig right there and use it to push some of these cars out of our way. Otherwise, we may be driving for hours before we find an opening.”

  I looked at the big truck he was talking about, then the sea of cars restricting us to the median. It was late in the day, sunset quickly approaching, and I didn’t like the idea of screwing around out here in the open once it got dark. We needed to get to the base, find a truck and be on our way.

  “Do it,” I said, popping my door open and stepping out.

  Johnson, Rachel and I spread out around the Cadillac, looking for any threats. I had Irina climb onto its roof for a better view, telling her to stay up there and act as our lookout. She turned a slow circle before calling down that she didn’t see anything moving.

  Long had the truck started quickly, hopping out and leaving it idling. In a few minutes, he had the trailer disconnected and hopped back into the cab. The gears ground briefly, then I had to turn my attention away when Irina shouted. I looked in the direction she was pointing, but failed to see anything.

  “What do you see?” I shouted back to be heard over the revving engine and crunch of metal as Long started pushing cars.

  “Infected,” she yelled. “A lot of them. Coming fast.”

  “How many are a lot?”

  “More than I can count,” she said.

  With a curse, I clambered over the Cadillac’s hood and onto the roof next to her.

  “Fuck me,” I said.

  There were several hundred figures moving amongst the stalled cars, heading directly for us. Females were in front, but there were plenty of males bringing up the rear. The leading edge was less than half a mile away. We didn’t have much time.

  While I was up there, I spun a slow circle, not happy at all to see another group of nearly the same size approaching from the opposite direction. They were slightly farther away, but we were about to get caught between two small herds of infected.

  Jumping down, I ran to the truck Long was using to batter a path to the exit and hopped up on the driver’s side running board so my head was level with the open window. He stepped on the brake and came to a stop when I appeared next to him.

  “Two good sized herds coming,” I said. “Keep clearing us a path and stay in this thing. We’ll follow in the Caddy.”

  He nodded and I jumped down, shouting for Rachel and Irina to get into the SUV. Johnson ran to join his buddy in the truck. Long was doing a good job of clearing the way, but it was a slow process. He would push a smaller vehicle a few feet, then it would contact the one in front and come to a stop. Patiently, he would back up slightly to get a new attack angle and push again, turning the car sideways. Repeating the process, a path to the exit began to appear.

  But it didn’t open up quickly enough. Infected females began arriving before we made it half way across the traffic lanes. The Cadillac was quickly surrounded, fists pounding on the windows as they screamed their frustration in not being able to reach us. They also swarmed the truck, piling up on the large platform behind the cab and lining both running boards. Long ignored them, continuing to work.

  “How many did you see when we flew over the air base?” Irina asked from the backseat.

  “A lot,” I said.

  “How are we going to pull this off?” Rachel asked, leaning away from the assault on her side of the vehicle.

  “Same way we always do,” I said, driving forward a few feet. “We’ll figure it out when we get there.”

  Neither of them seemed terribly satisfied with that answer, but they kept their opinions to themselves.

  20

  “Sir? Sir! Admiral!”

  Packard’s eyes finally came open and he looked around, groggy from too little sleep. He’d lain down on the large leather sofa in his office, intending to only rest for a few minutes. Raising his left arm, he peered at his watch and realized he’d been asleep for nearly three hours. Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes and glared at one of his aides.

  “What is it, Lieutenant?”

  “Sir, the Russians are up to something.”

  “Lieutenant, I strongly suspect that when you attended Annapolis, you were not trained to describe enemy activity as something. Now, what the hell is going on?”

  “Sorry, sir,” the man said, tentatively holding a steaming cup of coffee out for the Admiral. “We’re seeing activity from the enemy. Fourteen large passenger liners have set sail from Russian ports, much of their remaining navy escorting them. There is also activity in the Midwest. Troops moving into previously unoccupied military installations.”

  Packard sipped the coffee and got to his feet with a groan.

  “What bases?” He asked, heading for the door.

  “Offutt in Nebraska and Wright-Patterson in Ohio, sir.”

  Those two names caused the Admiral to pull up short and look at his aide.

  “That’s not good,” he said. “Offutt is home to USSTRATCOM, and WP has a huge research and development facility.”

  He was referring to the United States Strategic Command, replacement for the Cold War’s Strategic Air Command.

  “Yes, sir. Both also have a large inventory of special weapons.”

  He meant thermonuclear warheads.

  “I’m all too aware,” Packard snapped, turning and striding so fast the younger man struggled to keep pace. “I’m going to the CIC.”

  “Yes, sir,” the aide said, dashing ahead of the Admiral’s protective detail.

  It was a short walk to the CIC, and despite the urgency, Packard took a quick detour outside to have a cigarette and clear the last of the sleep induced cobwebs from his head. The six Marines who were responsible for his personal safety spread out in a large bubble as he lit up.

  Standing in the afternoon sunshine, the Admiral gazed down at the beautiful waters of Pearl Harbor. It was warm and humid, but a gentle trade wind was blowing, providing just the right amount of relief. Part of him wanted to stay right where he was, but until the damn Russians were finally taken care of, there was no time to rest.

  Stripping the cherry off the end of the smoke, he shoved the butt into his pocket and headed for the CIC. Located below ground, it was built to resemble the CIC on an aircraft carrier, only much larger to accommodate the scope of responsibility he had over hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of sailors and Marines.

  “Talk to me, Captain,” he barked as he breezed through the doors into the subterranean room.

  “Sir,” the duty officer turned and walked up to him. “Within the past thirty minutes, we’ve seen significant activity out of the Russians. Troops within North America have begun moving into Offutt and Wright-Patterson. We’re monitoring, but at this point can only guess at their motivations.”

  “What about the ships that have put to sea?” The Admiral asked.

  “Fourteen cruise ships have sailed from Russian ports in the past hour. These are the big ones. Several thousand passengers each. They are forming up into convoys, escorted by their navy. There are also six, heavi
ly laden container ships accompanying them.”

  “Exodus?” Packard queried.

  “It appears so, sir,” the Captain confirmed. “The wealthy and powerful. The political elite. And their families. They are fleeing the devastation of our attacks and the release of the nerve agent over Russian cities. This has to have been planned well in advance. They’ve sailed too soon after our bombardment.”

  “Agreed. So, where are they headed?”

  “Too early to extrapolate a course, sir. They are still sorting themselves out as the convoys are formed. However, there’s only one logical destination. Australia.”

  Packard looked at the man with raised eyebrows.

  “That would certainly explain why the Aussies were spared, wouldn’t it?” Packard mused.

  “Yes, sir. It would.”

  “What does Australia have to defend itself?”

  “They should be more than capable of preventing the Russians from landing, sir. Their military resources are fairly substantial and modern. I’ll have a detailed report for you within the hour.”

  Packard nodded, staring at a large monitor that displayed a satellite image of the Russian ships at sea.

  “Do the Aussies know they’re coming?”

  “We’re providing them with access to our imagery and intelligence, sir. They are preparing. Attempts are being made to communicate with the flotilla, but the Russians are not responding to us.”

  “I don’t like it, Captain,” Packard said after a long pause. “The Russians haven’t done anything without first ensuring they would have the upper hand. And as you say, this was planned well in advance of our strikes. A contingency, in case things went bad. So what does that tell you?”

  “Tells me they think they have a way to convince the Australians to not resist, sir.”

  Packard nodded.

  “What’s our capability to interdict the fleet?”

  “Very limited, sir,” the Captain said, tapping the screen on a tablet and looking at a report. “We inflicted catastrophic damage to their navy and air force in addition to civilian targets, but we lost a lot of resources in the process. We are severely degraded.”

 
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