V plague book 11 mercile.., p.13

V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 13

 

V Plague (Book 11): Merciless
 


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  “I’ve seen the reports, Captain. I want a battle plan on my desk within an hour. If it floats or flies, use it. I’ll be damned if the Russian elite that’s most responsible for the end of the world is going to just relocate to a warm, sunny beach in the land down under.”

  “Yes, sir,” the Captain said. “If that’s all, I need to get my staff started.”

  “Thank you, Captain.”

  He was surprised when he looked around and Jessica was standing a few feet away. Reflexively, he smiled at the young woman.

  “Sir, I’m sorry, but I overheard part of your conversation, and there’s something you should know. Major Chase is in Nebraska, and he’s got a partial platoon of Rangers and a bunch of Canadian military with him. They’re right next to Offutt Air Force Base, sir.”

  “That’s the first good news I’ve gotten all day,” Packard said. “Any way to contact them?”

  “No sir,” Jessica shook her head. “They’re EM silent. I’m guessing they’ve stopped for fuel. I was tracking them after they left Ellesmere Island, and they diverted around a huge Arctic storm. Probably burned a lot of fuel, and had to land. They flew over Offutt but there’s debris on the runway from a crash, so they touched down at the commercial airport north of Omaha. The last I saw, the Major and a small group were on their way to Offutt. I checked with some of our pilots, and they are guessing they’re going for a fuel truck. No power at the civilian field, so no way to pump from the underground tanks.”

  “How many Russians are they facing?”

  “Five Hinds, fully loaded, put down at Offutt. And I don’t think the Major knows they’re there, sir. But I don’t think the Russians are aware of them, either. They approached from a different direction, and the enemy doesn’t have an AWACS in the area, so they probably didn’t see the Major’s plane.”

  “Keep trying to find a way to warn them, Seaman,” Packard said. “And be sure Captain Teller knows what you just told me.”

  “Yes, sir,” Jessica came to attention before turning and rushing back to her station.

  “Admiral.” Packard turned his attention to a Chief Petty Officer manning a comms console. “Call for you, sir. It’s the Australian Prime Minister.”

  Packard’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Since the attacks, he had routinely spoken with his counterparts in the Australian military, but this would be the first time with any of that nation’s political leadership.

  “In there,” he said, gesturing at a small office at the side of the room.

  He stepped through the door, his aide following and closing it softly behind them. The Admiral dropped into a chair and lifted the handset of a secure phone.

  “Mr. Prime Minister,” he greeted the caller.

  “Admiral, very good to speak with you. To start, I’d like to apologize. I’ve been remiss in thanking you personally for providing us with the vaccine. Australia owes you a great debt.”

  “Thank you, sir. But no thanks are necessary. I believe, at this point, we’re all in this together.”

  “Quite,” the PM said after a moment. “Very good. Before we begin, may I ask the status of your leadership?”

  “My leadership?” Packard asked, not understanding the question.

  “Civilian leadership, Admiral. I have been briefed on the situation with your presidential line of succession. What I’m asking is, who is currently in command of the United States.”

  “I suppose I am, sir,” the Admiral responded cautiously. “At least the military, as I’m the ranking officer still alive. We have been reduced to the survivors here in Hawaii and the local, elected officials are still in charge of the civilian population. May I ask why you’re inquiring?”

  “Because I need your assistance, Admiral. I’ve just received a most disturbing call from President Barinov.”

  Packard blinked in surprise, then his hands balled into fists. They’d missed the son of a bitch! He hadn’t been in the Kremlin when the Thor rods had destroyed it.

  “I’m rather distressed to learn he’s still alive, Mister Prime Minister,” the Admiral said.

  Clapping his hand over the phone’s mouthpiece, he faced the aide standing attentively in front of him.

  “Barinov just called the Aussie PM. See if we intercepted and can locate the origin of the call,” he growled.

  The aide nodded and dashed out the door. Packard removed his hand from the phone to continue the conversation.

  “…were quite surprised.”

  The PM had been speaking while the Admiral was issuing the order.

  “What was the purpose of his call?” Packard picked up without missing a beat.

  “To warn me against trying to stop a fleet of Russian ships that are sailing for Australia. Their intent is to dock in Sydney, where a significant number of luxury homes and apartments are owned by Russian corporations. Well over two thousand, in fact.”

  “He’s not serious!” The Admiral blurted.

  “He’s quite serious,” the PM confirmed. “And, he’s issued an ultimatum to ensure our cooperation in allowing him and his people into the country, unmolested. And to provide them with protection from the United States.”

  “What’s his leverage?”

  “He informed me that all of our major cities are seeded with canisters of nerve gas. If we do not allow the ships to dock, and the passengers to take up residence in Sydney, he will order the release of the agent in one city for every twenty-four hours we prevent their landing. And, if you attack his fleet, he will immediately release the gas in Canberra.”

  Packard leaned back in his chair, the handset gripped so tightly his fingers were turning white.

  “What can I do, sir? Can we assist in your search for the canisters?”

  “There is no search, Admiral. I was advised that each device is under constant, electronic surveillance and that if any attempts are made to locate of disable even one, then all of them in that city will be triggered.”

  Packard was quiet for a moment, trying to think of a way around the problem.

  “Do not attack the Russian fleet,” the PM continued after a few seconds of silence. “I cannot allow that.”

  “What exactly are you saying, Mister Prime Minister?” Packard growled.

  There was a brief silence, then the Admiral heard a deep sigh over the phone.

  “I have ordered the Australian military to provide protection to the Russian fleet. If American forces attempt to intervene, they will be fired upon. By Australian forces.”

  Packard was quiet for a long time, gathering his thoughts and marshaling his emotions.

  “Mister Prime Minister. You cannot allow this man to dictate your actions. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his only desire is to destroy. Kill. He has no regard for life. If you allow him in, what’s next? Does he take control of your government with the threat of his finger on the button that releases the nerve agent?”

  “I understand your position, Admiral. However, Australia has not been attacked. This has been a conflict between Russia and the United States.”

  “Australia hasn’t been attacked?” Packard exploded, finally losing his temper. “What do you call the threat of the murder of your citizens if you don’t comply with his demands? That is an act of war, sir!”

  “He only wants to be allowed into Australia where he may live in peace,” the PM responded arrogantly. “Once he and his fellow Russians are safe, their military will stand down. The fighting will end.”

  “Are you fucking kidding me?” The Admiral thought to himself when he heard the politician’s words.

  “Admiral? Are you still there?”

  Packard had gone silent, seething internally.

  “Yes, I’m still here,” he growled.

  “I understand this is hard to accept. But the conflict is over. It must be, if the human race is going to survive. It’s time to move on and begin rebuilding what has been lost. Australia will provide any and all assistance needed by the United States. Food. Medical supplie
s. Materials. We are still your friend and ally.

  “But, please make no mistake. I will not allow millions of my citizens to die, simply so that you may continue a war that is now pointless. Do not approach the Russian fleet, Admiral. Any such action shall be deemed as an act of war against Australia, and retaliation shall be swift.”

  “I understand,” Packard said into the phone, accepting there was no point in continuing to argue with the politician.

  “Thank you for your understanding and cooperation, Admiral. It really is the best course of action forward at this point. Thank you for taking my call.”

  There was click and the PM was gone. Packard continued to hold the phone to his ear for several moments. The urge to rip it off his desk and smash the device on the floor was almost irresistible.

  “Sir?”

  He looked up to see his aide patiently waiting. He hadn’t even noticed the man reenter the room. Calmly, he replaced the handset on the phone.

  “What did you find out?”

  “We have a recording of the conversation, but can’t locate the origin of the call. It was bounced off of three separate Russian satellites before being relayed to a ground based station in Siberia, then over a fiber optic link.”

  “Get me a transcript of that call, and gather my senior staff immediately,” Packard ordered.

  21

  “We got a problem up here, Major.”

  I pushed my radio’s earbud deeper into my ear when I heard Long’s voice.

  “Talk to me,” I said.

  The big truck came to a stop in front of me, at the top of the exit ramp. I hit the brakes, bringing the Cadillac to a halt a few feet from its rear. All around, infected continued to pound on the body and glass, trying to reach us.

  “I can see the perimeter fence around Offutt, and there’s a shit-ton of infected pressed up against it.”

  “Can we push through them?” I asked.

  “Probably, but that’s not the biggest problem. Russians. I count five Hinds at the far end of the runway.”

  “What are they doing here?”

  “Can’t tell, sir. Too far away. Can make out the helos, and a bunch of what look like infected all around them, but if there’re Russian troops on the ground I don’t see them.”

  “Fuck me running,” I muttered.

  “What?” Rachel asked.

  “Russians on the base,” I said, looking out my side window at a female who was licking the glass as she pounded on the door.

  “How many?”

  “Five helicopters worth,” I said. “If they were fully loaded, that’s 40 men. The guys can see infected wandering around the aircraft, but no soldiers visible.”

  “What do we do? We can’t fight the infected and that many Russians,” Rachel said.

  “Irina, any idea what they’d want here?” I asked, ignoring Rachel.

  “No,” she answered after a moment of thought. “But isn’t Offutt your USSTRATCOM headquarters?”

  “It is,” I said, not liking any of the ideas I was having about why the Russians were here.

  “If the intelligence gathered by the GRU is correct, then there are two reasons I can think of,” Irina continued. “Other than submarine launched, all American ICBMs can be controlled from here. Or disabled. Also, there was a large inventory of nuclear warheads located here. I do not know why those would be of interest, however. Other than that, the possibilities are almost limitless.”

  “What are we doing, Major? Got more infected headed our way,” Long said over the radio.

  “If we take the exit, are there surface streets that are clear? Can we open some distance between us and the infected?” I asked.

  “There’s a road around the perimeter at the bottom of the ramp. Once we’re on it, we can circle the base and leave them behind.”

  “What about fuel trucks? Can you see any?”

  There was a long pause before he answered.

  “No, sir. None visible, but most of our view of the flight line is blocked by hangars.”

  “OK. If we’re on the perimeter road, how visible are we going to be to the Russians?”

  “Hard to say without knowing where they are, sir. But if they’re in the area where they landed, once we get down the ramp I don’t think there’s much chance of them noticing us.”

  “Alright,” I said. “Let’s move.”

  Long didn’t answer, and a couple of seconds later the truck lurched forward and shoved the last remaining vehicle out of our path. I followed, steering close to the abandoned cars to scrape some of our unwanted riders off the sides of the SUV.

  The freeway was elevated at this point, sweeping up to create an overpass. As the truck went down to the street below, we got a good view of the air base. Far in the distance, I could see a small handful of helicopters near a large collection of buildings. At this range I couldn’t tell they were Hinds, but trusted that the Rangers in the truck had used a scope for a better look.

  At the bottom of the ramp, Long made a sharp left to drive under the freeway. The massive front bumper on the truck plowed through a tightly packed contingent of infected. I accelerated, staying close so they didn’t have time to regroup and force me to bull through.

  Ever since I had rescued Rachel in Arkansas, I’d been nervous about ramming into a group of infected without benefit of a stout push bar. The last thing I wanted to deal with was an air bag suddenly inflating in my face because I had struck a solid phalanx of bodies.

  Clearing the freeway, Long turned right onto the perimeter road and I stayed tight behind. The infected were thick, apparently having been drawn to the area by the noise of the Russian helicopters landing. They had piled up against the fence, now turning and heading to intercept us.

  Fortunately, the truck had more than enough power and weight to shove even large groups aside with ease. But that didn’t prevent females from climbing onto the back and sides. By the time we pushed through the main body, there were so many clinging to the exterior of the big rig that I couldn’t even see its bodywork.

  “What are we going to do about them when we stop?” Irina asked, leaning forward until her head was between Rachel and me.

  Her position made me think of Dog, and I almost said something before catching myself. I’m sure the last thing any woman would want to hear was that she had reminded you of a dog.

  I missed the big fur ball. I knew he was safe with Igor, with someone who would take care of him. But, he’d been a nearly constant companion since the day after the attacks, and had become part of my new family. It just didn’t feel right without him.

  “We shoot them,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

  Offutt Air Force Base may only have one runway, but it’s large. It took several minutes to drive around the end of the base and approach an area that was screened from the helicopters by a series of hangars and squat, brick buildings.

  “This looks good,” I said to Long over the radio.

  “Copy that, sir,” he said, brake lights suddenly flaring.

  I braked hard, warning the girls to make sure their rifles were ready.

  “You’ve got a bunch of riders,” I said to Long. “Stay in the cab when you stop and we’ll clean them off for you.”

  “Copy,” he replied, the truck rolling to a stop fifty yards ahead.

  “We’ve only got one suppressor,” Rachel said, holding her rifle up.

  Shit! I’d gotten so used to carrying a rifle equipped with a suppressor that I hadn’t even thought about all the noise we were going to make shooting the infected. If we started firing, we’d not only attract any infected that weren’t already aware of us, we’d also announce our presence to the Russians. Glancing in the back seat, I confirmed that Irina’s rifle was also missing a suppressor.

  I wanted to get in quietly. Wanted to find out what they were up to before finding a fuel truck. Sitting there in the idling Cadillac, I tried to think of a way to pull that off.

  “Everything OK back there, sir?
Long asked after nearly a minute.

  “Sit tight, Sergeant,” I said. “Our weapons aren’t suppressed and I don’t feel like alerting the Russians that we’re crashing their party.”

  The females were still crawling all over their truck. I did a quick count, then added the three that were hanging on to the SUV. Fifteen. At least that I could see. There may have been some on the front of the truck that were hidden from my view. Taking a deep breath, I acknowledged to myself that there was only one way to do this.

  “You two have your Ka-Bars with you?” I asked.

  “Yes sir, we do. What are you thinking?” Long asked after a pause.

  “Only one way to do this quietly,” I answered.

  “Are you kidding,” he asked loudly, then added, “Sir?”

  “Wish I was, Sergeant. Unless you’ve got a better idea.”

  “What the hell are you talking about?” Rachel asked, staring at me as if I were nuts. “Three of you can’t take on that many with just knives!”

  “Like I asked Long,” I said turning to her. “You got a better idea how to do this quietly?”

  Rachel looked at me with her mouth hanging open. After a bit, she turned to Irina, perhaps for support. Irina met her gaze and shrugged her shoulders.

  “Didn’t think so,” I said, smiling.

  Rachel shook her head, and started to say something else, but I held my hand up to stop her when Long’s voice sounded in my ear.

  “Guess we’re going all Viking on their asses, sir,” he said, the doubt clear in his tone.

  I grimaced as I drew my knife, wishing I had the Kukri I’d left behind when surrendering to the Russians. Not only was it larger than the knife, it had the right kind of shape for slashing. Stabbing was slow and laborious, and also carried the risk of a blade getting stuck on bone. A hard strike with the Kukri could do just as much, if not more, damage with a significantly lesser chance of having a problem.

  “Better do something quick,” Irina said from the backseat.

  I glanced up at the rearview to see her turned and staring out the back window. Shifting my gaze to the side mirror, I saw a large group of females approaching. They weren’t close, but they were coming fast and there were a lot of them. Far too many to even consider being in the open with only a knife as a defensive weapon.

 
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