V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 14
“Sir, you ready?” Long asked.
I turned to look at Rachel, making sure she was paying attention to me and not focusing on the charging females.
“Here’s what I want you two to do,” I said, drawing Irina’s attention. “Rachel, keep your rifle in case you have to use it. That group behind us needs to be drawn off. When we get all of these put down, we’ll take shelter in the cab of the truck. Stay here until the females are almost on you, then slowly drive away. Lead them past us. Take them on a tour of town, lose them and head back to the airport. We’ll meet you there once we get a fuel truck.”
They both nodded and I met Rachel’s eyes briefly as I radioed the two Rangers and gave the Go order. Popping my door open, I used it to shove one of the females away from the Cadillac and leapt out. She was already charging, as was another who had climbed onto the hood and launched herself at me.
Spinning, I slammed an elbow into the face of the one charging as I raised the knife in my other hand. The leaper impaled herself on the blade, the steel going in the notch of her collar bone at the base of her throat. With a violent twist, I flung her away, a gout of blood splashing across me as she was torn open. Her body hit the ground and rolled.
Continuing the motion, I reversed the Ka-Bar in my hand and stabbed into the first one’s ear. The third was on me now, and, fortunately, was a small woman. I reached out and locked my free hand on her neck as I struggled to remove the blade from the dead female’s head. It was stuck tight, and I had to abandon it as the one I was holding nearly broke my grip.
She was small, but she was strong as hell. Struggling with her reminded me of trying to control an animal. Pound for pound, she was significantly stronger than I was. It took everything I had to hold her at bay, then I got the leverage I needed. Lifting, I raised her off the ground, twisted and slammed her headfirst onto the asphalt, crushing her skull and breaking her neck.
Using both hands, I wrenched the Ka-Bar out of the other female’s skull and dashed forward to help Long and Johnson. They were each in a world of shit, but had thought to both exit from the same side of the cab.
Now, they stood back to back, punching and stabbing the females that were desperately trying to pull them down. There were four bodies on the ground, but they were overwhelmed and taken down when several infected charged in at the same time.
Arriving, I slashed open a leaping females throat, then thrust my blade into the back of the head of one on top of the pile that was smothering the two Rangers. Yanking her aside, I grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled another head back, dispatching the bitch with a quick stab through her ribs and into her heart.
I was reaching for another when a body slammed into me and I was sent tumbling, Ka-Bar flying out of my hand. We came to a stop with me on my back, straddled by the infected.
The female that had tackled me was much larger than the others. She was nearly as tall as me, and her strength was frightening. I had one forearm locked under her chin to hold off the snapping teeth, a death grip on one of her wrists with my other. As she leaned in, I couldn’t hold her away. Slowly, her face drew closer.
Twisting, I tried to kick her off, but she already had long legs wrapped around my waist in a vice. With a scream of effort, I pushed as I torqued to the side, finally succeeding in rolling. But she was locked on tight and came with me, the pressure on my sides never easing.
We rolled off the pavement, across a narrow gravel shoulder and down a short embankment into a weed choked drainage ditch. She kept screaming, tearing at me with her free hand and pressing forward in an attempt to lock her blood stained teeth onto my flesh. I tried to pull my legs up and scissor them around her neck, but couldn’t get them up far enough.
Releasing her wrist, I started hitting her in the face. First her nose, then several teeth broke, my knuckles splitting open from the impacts. I might as well have been punching a rock. I knew from experience that unless an infected was much smaller, hitting them with a fist didn’t have much effect. Desperation was setting in when her head suddenly distorted and the far side of it blew out.
I paused for a moment, my brain trying to catch up with circumstances, then I shoved the limp corpse away and looked around. I hadn’t heard the shot that had killed the female, and was surprised when I didn’t see Rachel standing at the top of the ditch. An instant later I heard the sound of suppressed rifle shots, scooped up my knife and climbed to the road.
Rachel was finishing off the last remaining female when I poked my head above the shoulder of the street. Half a dozen lay dead on the asphalt, small pools of blood surrounding their heads where she’d shot them. The rest had been killed by Long and Johnson, who were slowly climbing to their feet. They were bloodied and battered, but both looked relatively intact.
“Couldn’t stay in the car, could you?” I asked as I walked up.
“Tired of losing you.”
She swapped rifle magazines with deft hands, then looked up and stuck her tongue out at me. Her face hardened when she looked over my shoulder. I turned, cursing when I saw the large group of females that was no more than a couple of hundred yards away.
“OK,” I said, starting to move. “In with Irina and lead those bitches away.”
Heading for the cab of the truck, I waved Long and Johnson to climb in as Rachel ran for the idling Cadillac. The two Rangers were up and inside quickly and I followed, closing the door behind me. I was counting on the females being drawn to the SUV and bypassing us completely.
I hadn’t even finished settling my ass into the seat when the door suddenly opened. Spinning, starting to extend the Ka-Bar, I caught myself when Rachel hopped onto the running board. A moment later she was sitting on my lap and pulling the door closed.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked as she squirmed around to find a comfortable spot.
“Told Irina to go,” she said. “You might need me and my rifle.”
I was pissed. I hadn’t wanted Rachel with Irina solely for her safety, I’d wanted it for Irina’s as well. If something happened and she had to abandon the Cadillac, the odds of surviving were much better if there were two of them. I took a deep breath and patiently explained this to Rachel. By the expression on her face, I could tell she had only been thinking of herself.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a subdued voice.
After a moment, I circled my arm around her waist and gently hugged her. We all looked to the side as the SUV drove slowly past. Irina had the driver side window down, her arm extended out and waving to entice the females. As she moved farther away, the group of infected began streaming past. A moment later, Irina withdrew her arm, rolled the window up and accelerated slightly. The females continued to flash by the truck in pursuit. It was working.
Colonel Blanchard ripped his headset off and tossed it to the Sergeant operating the communications gear. He had just finished speaking with Pearl Harbor, and wasn’t happy with the news he’d received. Not for the first time, he was reminded of the weight of command. Colonel Crawford had made it seem so easy. Almost effortless. What he wouldn’t give to have him back…
Blanchard shut down that line of thought before it went any further. Crawford was gone. Nothing was going to change that. It was up to him to provide steady leadership for the men and women under his command, and letting them see his frustration wasn’t the way to go about doing that.
The group from Seattle had arrived a few hours ago, and they were still sitting on the tarmac at the Boise, Idaho airport. The Bahamas, as well as two of the Hawaiian islands had been nuked by the Russians. He was haunted by the thought of the thousands of civilians who had perished in Nassau.
The original plan had been for his troops to load up and return to the Bahamas after the deployment of what he now knew was the Thor system. But that was no longer an option. Neither was heading for Hawaii. The Russians still had a large presence on the west coast of the United States and would most assuredly
Several Navy squadrons that had been unable to return to their heavily damaged aircraft carriers had temporarily put down in California and Alaska. But after they had attempted to intercept the Russian Admiral’s plane, they had been chased away by vastly superior numbers of Russian fighters. Blanchard’s small force of Rangers, Marines and Air Force pilots were the last remaining vestiges of the American military in North America.
To make matters worse, the Russian land forces they had battled were still in place to the west of Boise. The SEALs coming from Seattle had been forced to swing well south into Oregon to avoid the enemy. But now, more helicopters and transport aircraft were arriving. The latest report from the scouts he’d deployed to keep an eye on them were that it appeared as if the Russians were gearing up for another assault.
Exiting the communications tent, the Colonel stopped in to check on the Major’s wife. She was in a tent immediately adjacent to the comm set up, strapped to a large backboard normally used for transporting Soldiers with spinal injuries. In addition to the restraints, she was heavily medicated. Stepping through the flap, Blanchard pulled to a quick stop when Nicole turned and faced him.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, averting her brilliant red eyes.
“No need to be,” the Colonel replied, regaining his composure. “I’m still getting used to you. I apologize for making you uncomfortable.”
She glanced up at him and smiled, turning to look at the activity around Katie after he smiled back. Dr. Kanger and Joe Revard were busily drawing blood and taking tissue samples for testing. Despite the very temporary status of the location, they had both insisted on setting up some of their equipment and continuing to work.
“Have they discovered anything?” Blanchard asked.
“No. At least nothing they didn’t already know,” Nicole answered. “I’m afraid they won’t.”
They continued to watch the activity, Blanchard tensing when Joe released Katie from the restraints on one side of her body. Gently, the two men rolled her onto her side. Kanger pulled her knees up towards her chest as Joe exposed her lower back and swabbed it with betadine. Carefully, he located the correct spot and inserted a long needle into her spinal column, withdrawing a large vial of cloudy fluid.
“It shouldn’t be cloudy,” Nicole commented.
“The infection?” Blanchard asked.
“I guess,” Nicole said, turning to look at him. “Mine was clear. They told me every other infected they’ve checked had cloudy CS fluid. Maybe that’s the difference that explains why I’m not like them.”
Blanchard didn’t know what to say to that, watching as the men rolled Katie onto her back and put the restraints in place.
They both turned to see Lieutenant Sam standing behind them.
“Lieutenant,” Blanchard acknowledged the SEAL officer.
Nicole flashed him a bright smile.
“Sir, just wanted to see if there’s anything my men and I can do. We’re not used to sitting on the sidelines.”
“For the moment, Lieutenant, continue to provide security for the researchers. Hopefully, we’re going to be out of here soon. Just waiting for word on the best way to get around the Russians blocking the coast.”
“Yes, sir,” Sam sounded unhappy, but did a good job of covering it.
Blanchard excused himself and stepped out into the fresh air. Looking around, he surveyed the large fleet of C-130s and a few Globemasters parked nearby. They were the primary transportation used to lift the men and equipment into the area. And they would be their ride out of here.
Most of the Blackhawks and Apaches that had survived the battle were flying patrol orbits, the remaining handful already in shipping configuration and loaded onto the Globemasters. Half a dozen F-18s sat at the end of the runway, pilots in the cockpits with the canopies raised. They were an alert force, ready to take off at a moment’s notice to protect the men and planes on the ground. The remaining fighters were a short flight away at Mountain Home Air Force Base. If needed, they could be overhead in minutes.
In the distance, beyond the edge of the runway in a large field, he saw the Major’s dog racing along. The animal came to an abrupt stop, snatched something off the ground and reversed course. Flowing swiftly over the ground, he returned to where the big Spetsnaz soldier was standing and dropped something at his feet before sitting. Blanchard smiled, starting to walk over and join them.
Pausing, he turned to see one of the Sergeants from the comm tent running towards him.
“Scout 3 just reported. The Russians look like they’re preparing to start an assault,” the man shouted as he ran up to the Colonel. “They’re packing up everything except a couple of command tents. Fueling vehicles. Distributing ammo.”
Blanchard looked at the western sky, estimating there were three hours remaining before sunset. If he was the Russian commander, that’s when he’d attack. Use the darkness. Even though the American forces had night vision, there was still a tactical advantage to launching a military operation under the cover of darkness.
But the Russians were in for a nasty surprise. One that would have made the Colonel pause prior to the attacks. But now? Now, he was more than happy to give the enemy a taste of their own medicine.
On the far side of a ridgeline, an artillery battery was set up with 155 mm guns, already ranged in on the Russian’s position. But they wouldn’t be firing high explosive shells. Instead, several crates of specialized munitions that contained the MX-489 nerve gas were ready to go on his order.
Blanchard held his hand out and the Sergeant handed him an encrypted radio. He was quickly speaking with the Captain in charge of the battery and gave the order to commence firing.
Within minutes, he heard the first shell of the opening salvo. The Russians were probably already tracking the inbound weapon on radar, scrambling to take cover in foxholes or beneath vehicles. But that wouldn’t help.
Instead of screaming in to detonate on contact with the ground, the specialized artillery shells would explode a few hundred feet over their heads. An atomized mist of the nerve agent would then drift down onto the Russian soldiers. Any that escaped contact with the chemical and didn’t turn would be set upon by their comrades.
Rangers, acting as scouts, were set up in the rugged terrain around the Russian encampment. They were well hidden, wearing full MOPP gear to protect them from exposure. They would report on the effectiveness of the strike, then return for decontamination before removing their protective clothing.
Soon, the reports began flowing in. Blanchard followed the Sergeant into the comm tent to listen. The scouts were both horrified and excited as they described the scene. Within five minutes of the first shell arriving, thousands of Russian soldiers were tearing through the isolated pockets of their brethren who had escaped the nerve agent.
“Call our scouts in and issue orders to prepare to move,” Blanchard said when he was satisfied the threat posed by the Russians had been neutralized.
“Our destination, sir?”
“Nevada,” Blanchard growled. “Groom Lake.”
It took several minutes for the last of the females to run past. The entire group was at a full sprint. Some of them were faster, pulling slightly ahead in their desire to catch the receding SUV. The ones bringing up the rear were either much older, injured or grossly overweight. Even then, they were still faster than me.
Irina did a good job of staying ahead of the leaders without opening up too much space. She had turned on the Cadillac’s hazard flashers and occasionally swerved back and forth across the pavement to ensure she had the females’ full attention.
“Just like a fuckin’ fishing lure,” Johnson said in a low voice as we sat there watching.
Checking in the outside mirror, I didn’t see any more infected coming up behind us. Not that I wasn’t sure there were more on the way, but
Turning the wheel to the left, I drove forward slowly until the tires dropped into the drainage ditch. The front bumper came to a stop only inches from the tall fence protecting the air base’s perimeter. After another quick look around, I popped my door open and scooted Rachel off my lap.
We all climbed down and checked the area. The rear of the group following Irina was still visible, but they were rapidly disappearing into the distance. In the opposite direction, several slow moving figures stumbled down the road towards us. Males. Still a long way off and not presenting a threat.
Leading the way, I climbed the outside of the truck onto its roof. Slithering down onto the tall hood, I stood and faced the fence. The top was protected by a coil of razor wire, and from my elevated position it was an easy reach. Long handed up a stout, iron rod that the trucker would have used to tighten ratcheting straps that held loads in place.
Attacking the attachment points of the razor wire, I pried it free. Placing the Ka-Bar’s blade against the flat side of a coil, I hammered with the bar and cut through. Not a great way to treat your knife, but it was the best I could come up with on short notice.
With the top of the fence clear, I grabbed Rachel around the waist and boosted her. She grabbed the rail, swung a leg over and nimbly dropped to the ground on the far side. Without having to be told, she moved a few yards to the side, put her back to the chain link and dropped to a knee with her rifle up and scanning for danger. I followed, moving in the opposite direction before taking a knee. Long and Johnson quickly joined us.
“OK, Russian helos are on the far side of that row of hangars,” I said, pointing. “We need a fuel truck, but there’s no way we’re going to start one up and drive out of here without alerting them. So, let’s see what they’re up to.”
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