V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 19
“Survivors?” Rachel asked.
“Or infected,” I said. “Seen them do some pretty strange shit.”
“Yeah, but they can’t talk. Right?”
Long looked at me with his eyebrows raised. I shook my head. He nodded and leaned close to the wall.
“Hello! Can you hear me?” He shouted.
Nothing for a beat, then three more taps. But no answering voice.
“Infected?” Long asked.
“Probably,” I said. “Looks like we’re not going through this wall. No way to know how many of them are in there.”
I looked up to tell Johnson to find us another path, but he was already peering at the floor plans and examining a wall. I walked over to where he stood.
“Talk to me,” I said.
“Well, sir,” he began without looking away from the paper in his hands. “We can go through here, which should get us into a room that adjoins the back wall of the elevator shaft.”
“You don’t sound like that’s a good idea,” I said, picking up on the tone in his voice.
He turned so I could clearly see the map and pointed at a specific location.
“See that? That’s the shaft. Two cars ride up and down. One for personnel, and a much larger one for freight. The shaft is reinforced concrete. See here? It’s specified. We can get to it, but we can’t break through. Not with what we have.”
“I don’t get it,” I said, peering at where he was pointing and not understanding most of the symbols and cryptic labels. “How were we going to get in from the armory?”
“Freight elevator, sir,” he said, tapping the paper. “It opens directly into the armory. According to this, there’s a set of doors we can force open to access the shaft.”
“So there’s no point in going anywhere else, is what you’re saying,” I grumbled.
“Afraid so, sir. Unless you’ve got a nice, big breaching charge up your sleeve to blast through the wall of the shaft.”
He looked up and grinned at me.
“Left it in my other suit,” I smiled before turning to where Long was still standing by the wall.
“More tapping, sir,” he reported when he saw me looking in his direction.
“Same three taps?”
“You said the infected were in the hall, like they had someone trapped. Right?” Rachel asked.
“They wouldn’t do that if there were infected in the room. Would they?”
“Probably not,” I acknowledged. “But if they chased a survivor inside, and the door was still open, maybe they’re just still all bunched up. We’ve seen that.”
“So what’s our options?” Rachel asked.
“We breach, and that room is full of infected, we’ve got nowhere to go,” Long said. “They’ll pour through and overwhelm us.”
“Unless someone has a better idea, we’re going through,” I said, my decision made.
Everyone turned to look at Johnson, who was still peering at the plans. When he realized we were waiting on him, he looked up and shrugged his shoulders.
“OK,” I said. “Let’s get moving. We’ve got people counting on us.”
Rachel, Long and I assumed our semi-circle position, rifles aimed at the wall as Johnson began tearing out chunks of drywall again. He would pause occasionally, sometimes hearing the tapping, others, nothing but silence from the far side.
Once there was a large enough opening on our side, he leaned into the void and placed his hand against the backside of the armory’s wall. Before he continued breaking through, he turned to look at me.
“Sure about this, sir?”
“If I was sure, I’d be a General,” I said, paraphrasing the old joke about senior officers never being wrong.
He snorted a laugh before turning back to face the wall. Using his knife, he pressed the tip against the surface and applied force until an inch of it sank in. He gave it a quick twist to make a small hole, then withdrew the blade and raised his light. Shining it through the tiny opening, he stuck his face close and peered with one eye.
“Don’t see anything,” he said after almost a minute. “Room looks empty.”
Johnson didn’t bother to check with me again to verify my order. Just reported, then began smashing through. Dust billowed into the air as chunks broke free, and soon he had an opening large enough to slither through. Pausing again, he aimed his light through the hole and froze.
I wanted to ask what he saw, but kept my mouth shut. At the moment, he didn’t need the distraction. Finally, he crawled forward, pulling back when the tapping sounded again. Twisting, he aimed the light to the side and stared for a moment before retreating into our room and looking up at me.
“One body and one infected male trapped under a heavy cabinet. That’s the tapping. The infected can just reach the wall with one hand.”
“OK, let’s go,” I said.
Long nodded, dropped to his belly and squirmed through the gap his buddy had created. I went next, then Rachel. Johnson brought up the rear.
When I stood up in the armory, Long was straightening from having dispatched the male with his knife. The infected was an Air Force lieutenant and had been pinned to the floor by a heavy, steel cabinet with locked doors.
“Look at this,” Johnson said, shining his light on the other body.
It was a Russian officer. A Spetsnaz Captain. Chunks of flesh were missing from his face and neck, a couple of fingers gone from his left hand. He lay in a large pool of blood, a long knife still gripped in his right hand.
I looked around in surprise when overhead lights popped on, seeing Long standing with his hand on a light switch near the door. Turning back, I knelt and placed the back of my hand against the Russian’s forehead.
“He’s still warm,” I said. “No more than an hour dead.”
“How’d he get in here?” Rachel asked.
“I think we know where they are,” I said, pointing at the freight elevator doors. “They probably got in and fought their way to this room. The Captain was mortally wounded, maybe already unconscious or dead. They left him here and went down. Probably planning on collecting the body on their way out.”
“What the hell are they after?” Long asked.
I shrugged my shoulders and began looking around. The armory was well stocked with rifles, but unfortunately none of them were equipped with suppressors. We’d have to find a special operations armory to get our hands on those little goodies. At least we were able to replenish our ammo, each of us also loading up with several grenades.
Ready, I turned my attention to the large set of elevator doors in the side wall. I suspected all I needed to do was press the call button as the power was on. But, the Russians might hear the car moving and realize they weren’t alone. And that presented another dilemma.
Did we go after them? Find out what they were doing, or just get the hell out of here? I was very aware that all the people at the airport were depending on us. At the same time, whatever the Russians were after couldn’t be good for us. That tipped the scales in favor of doing some recon before we left. But where to start?
Moving back to the dead Spetsnaz, I checked all of his pockets. All he had on him was a pack of cigarettes, an American brand if it matters, matches and a small radio. Rolling him on his side, I removed his battle pack and dumped the contents on the floor. Rachel knelt down to help me go through them.
A small leather bound book, its pages filled with handwritten Cyrillic. I flipped through, but couldn’t read it. As I rifled the pages, a photo fell out and fluttered to the floor. Picking it up, I recognized the dead man posing with an attractive blonde woman in front of what appeared to be a tiny farmhouse. Each of them held a small child, both smiling at the camera.
“I read Russian,” Long said, extending his hand.
I handed him the book and slipped the photo into the dead soldier’s breast pocket. Rachel gave me an odd look. I met her eyes and shrugged, not
I quickly went through the rest of the items, only finding two unopened packs of cigarettes, three loaded magazines for an AK rifle, a compact weapon maintenance kit, a whetstone for sharpening blades and a compass. Everything except the magazines went into my pockets.
“Make any sense of it?” I asked Long when I stood up.
“Personal diary,” he said, continuing to turn pages slowly. “He misses his family. Doesn’t understand why he’s here. Thinks if the American military is taking over the government, it’s not Russia’s problem. What the hell’s he talking about?”
“That’s what the Kremlin told all their troops to justify the invasion. Said that they’d been asked for help by our president when we staged a coup,” I answered.
“Yep.” I nodded.
He shook his head and continued reading.
“OK, looks like he’s been here in the US about a month. They’ve been raiding our tech. And they got a lot. Then there’s a page about our retaliation. He’s from the southern Ural Mountains and fears for his family’s safety. There’s a large nuclear plant close to his home and he got word it was heavily damaged.
“There’s several pages of this. Talking about the devastation in Russia that he’s learned of. His certainty that his wife and children are dead. His anger at America for killing them.”
Long flipped a few more pages, pausing to read some more.
“OK, this was just a few hours ago,” Long said, clearing his throat as he began to read aloud from the journal.
We are being sent to another American air base. Offutt, this time. We are to find papers that detail an American secret project called Athena. The GRU says there will be documents there that will lead us to it.
I do not understand why we want them. The world has ended. Everyone is dead, but we keep fighting. Orders are still coming from Moscow. Or we are told that is where they are coming from.
Colonel Grushkof told me that we will be leaving soon. Home to fight. Kill our countrymen that the Americans attacked with their nerve gas. Just this one, last mission. Find the documents. Even the Colonel does not know what it is. Only that we are to obtain it and deliver it to the GRU.
I am tired of fighting. My family must have perished when the Americans bombed the power plant. The wind always blows from that direction. If the reactor was breached, they will have died in agony. I do not want to fight anymore. I only want to go home and bury my wife and children. Why are we still here? America is dead, and now so are we.
“That’s where it ends,” Long said, closing the book and handing it back to me.
It was quiet in the room for several seconds. Despite myself, my heart went out to the dead man lying on the floor. He hadn’t wanted to be here any more than I did. It was only because of one power hungry, mad man in charge of Russia.
“Sir, strike you as odd that a Spetsnaz officer would actually put something like that in writing?” Johnson asked quietly.
I nodded. It was very odd. And also very telling. The man was taking a tremendous risk. If the diary was found, he’d be summarily executed. But he was more concerned with the warring emotions inside than he was with his own safety.
“Doesn’t matter,” I finally said. “Changes nothing for us. Good intel, but that’s about it.”
“What’s Athena?” Rachel asked. “Ever heard of it?”
“Don’t know,” I answered.
All of us turned in surprise when a hum of electrical motors started up. The elevator was moving.
“Lights,” I snapped at Long, who was closest to the switch.
He leapt and slapped it down, plunging the room into darkness. Johnson clicked his light on briefly so we could see to take cover. I pushed Rachel to the far side of the room and behind some heavy cabinets, taking a second to make sure Johnson and Long had both found good spots to fight from.
As they settled in, I dashed forward and pressed the call button for the elevator. I was pretty sure they’d be coming here, anyway, to pick up their dead comrade, but wanted to make sure. Moving back, I retrieved two grenades, firmly gripping one in each hand with the spoons tight in my palms. I held them out towards Long.
“Pull the pins,” I said.
“Oh shit, sir!”
He gave me a look, but did as I asked. Pins out, the spoons were held in place, which was the only thing keeping the fuses from activating. I put my back against the wall to the side of the elevator doors.
“Be sure you’re behind something solid, open your mouth and put your hands over your ears!”
The instructions were for Rachel. Long and Johnson would know how to deal with a detonation in a closed space. I just hoped that the concussion didn’t completely scramble all of our brains. Permanently.
Then there was the problem of the time it takes a grenade’s fuse to burn. Release the spoon and it’s flung away by the striker, which is spring loaded. As it’s forced out, it strikes the primer, which ignites a five-second fuse. And that five seconds was the problem.
If I just tossed them into the elevator, the Russians would have five seconds to do any number of things. Dive out of the car into the room to seek shelter. Kick them through the open door. Pick them up and throw them back at us. None of those were good options, as far as I was concerned. They needed to detonate quickly when I tossed them.
The hum continued, and now I could feel a faint vibration in my back where it was pressed hard against the wall. The car was coming. Taking a deep breath, I waited for the ding to announce its arrival on our floor. There is always a brief delay between that ding and elevator doors sliding open. That’s what I was counting on. The instant I heard the ding, I was going to release the spoons.
Then I had five seconds. At the most. The damn things are made by the contractor who submitted the lowest bid to the DOD, so I was placing a lot of faith in trusting that the fuses were made to spec. Cooking off, or using up some of that fuse time, is always a “what the fuck am I doing?” event.
But what would happen if I ran out of time? If there were more than five seconds between the ding and the doors parting? I didn’t have a good answer to that. Once the spoon comes off, there’s no going back. It’s like saying the wrong thing to your spouse at the wrong time. Once it comes out of your mouth, you’re committed, and you’d better be prepared to deal with the consequences.
I briefly considered waiting. Timing it differently. Not letting the spoons release until the doors were standing open, then tossing the grenades in before they closed and the car departed. The problem with that was, what if the Russians hadn’t pressed the button for the armory level and were curious about why it had stopped here.
If they came out of the elevator to investigate, I wouldn’t be able to use the grenades. It was dangerous enough to have them detonate within the same space we were in, but the car should absorb much of the shrapnel, even though it would funnel the concussion out into the room. That was going to be bad, but not as bad as if they went off in the room with us.
The bell dinged before I was ready. My palms were sweating as I tried to make the right decision. With a grimace, I let the spoons fly. They’re made of thin metal and clinked like dropped forks when they hit the floor and bounced away.
One thousand and one.
The doors didn’t move.
One thousand and two.
Still closed. My heart was about to beat out of my chest.
One thousand and three.
What the fuck?
One thousand and…
The doors began to slide open. As I said four in my head, I leaned out and underhanded both grenades through the gap.
One thousand and five.
There was the start of a shout from inside the car, then a brutal detonation. I had enough time to move away from the opening and slap my hands over my ears. Somehow, I wound up on the floor, the acrid odor of burned RDX and TNT all that my senses could
My brain was working, telling me to make sure all of the Russians were down, but my body refused to cooperate. It had been pummeled and wanted to just lay there for a while.
It finally responded when a hand grasped my upper arm. Turning, I tried to bat it away, reaching for a weapon. More hands grabbed me, holding my arms and a light clicked on. Rachel’s face was inches from mine, her mouth moving as she talked to me. I couldn’t hear her. Slowly, with her help, I sat up and looked at the elevator.
Johnson was standing at the entrance, shining his light inside. Blood was everywhere from the bodies that had been torn open by the twin blasts. And those bodies were in a heap on the floor of the large elevator. Still stunned from the concussion, I could only stare in fascination at the stream of blood that was steadily running from beneath the pile to drip through the gap between the elevator and the room.
Lights came on and, like a drunk, I swiveled my head to see Long standing next to the switch. Only the back third of the room was illuminated, the fluorescent bulbs closer to the elevator having been shattered. Johnson turned away from the charnel house inside the car and stepped in front of me, extending his hand.
After a moment, I understood what he was doing and reached up so he could help me to my feet. I swayed dangerously and Rachel wrapped her arms around my shoulders so I didn’t crash onto the floor. We stood that way for some time, I have no idea how long, as the ringing in my ears subsided and my balance began to return.
“He’s fucking crazy,” Johnson said to Rachel.
“This is nothing,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things this big idiot has done.”
“After that, I’d believe it,” Long chimed in.
“I can hear you,” I said, probably much too loudly as they all grinned when I spoke.
“You’re fucking crazy, sir!” Johnson looked directly at me, a grin plastered across his face.
“Can you stand on your own?” Rachel asked.
I nodded, then wished I hadn’t. One hell of a headache was starting to pound right behind my eyes. Slowly, she released me, but didn’t step away in case I started to totter again.
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