V plague book 11 mercile.., p.2

V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 2

 

V Plague (Book 11): Merciless
 



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  I probably should have looked away and not antagonized them further. That would have been the adult thing to do. The smart thing to do. But I was on my way to a kangaroo court in Moscow, after which my very public and painful execution would follow. I wasn’t feeling very grown up or intellectual at the moment.

  Leaning forward to the limit of the shackles that held me to a seat, I spat a mouthful of blood on the deck of the aircraft. I’d hoped to get lucky and splash some of it onto one of them, but today wasn’t my day for luck. I settled for grinning a smile, flashing my blood stained teeth.

  I had no idea what the announcement had been. Maybe two of the words had made sense to me, and one of those was American. But they were riled up. Pissed. The Spetsnaz officer had pulled on a headset and was shouting into it over the roar of the engines. I assumed he was on the intercom, speaking to the pilots.

  The four guards had quit giving me the evil eye and were attentively watching their commander. They leaned in his direction to hear one side of the conversation. And it was spirited. For an instant, I wished Irina was with me to translate. Then I came to my senses and was thankful she wasn’t. If she had been on this plane, she’d be on the way to the same fate awaiting me.

  The Major shouted some more, then suddenly spun and ducked his head to see through a window on the starboard side of the big Russian plane. I turned my head to see what he was looking at as the four Spetsnaz leapt from their seats and rushed to the right side of the aircraft.

  I had no idea what altitude we were at, but expected it was somewhere close to forty thousand feet. Well above the clouds. The moon was nearly full and beneath us I could see an alien landscape of white cotton candy.

  Closer, much closer, an American F-18 was flying in formation with us. Its navigation lights flashed brightly, and it was clearly visible. Battleship grey paint with muted, black lettering. Navy. What the hell was going on? Not that I wasn’t happy to see them, but what exactly did they think they could accomplish?

  The Spetsnaz Major pushed away from the window and approached me, drawing a Makarov pistol. Uh oh. Aw, fuck it. Better to die this way than on the gallows in Moscow.

  “Hi, Ivan,” I said, earning another blow to the head from a Russian made weapon.

  “You shall be quiet!” He roared in English.

  He still wore the headset, the coiled cord stretching across the cabin to a jack mounted on the bulkhead that formed the flight deck. For almost a minute, he shouted into it in Russian. Then silence. I thought about saying something else, but honestly was a little woozy from three blows to the head.

  “American Navy Pilot,” he finally said.

  I looked up, thinking he was trying to talk to me but couldn’t form a proper sentence in English. His eyes were locked on the F-18 and he held a small flashlight in his free hand. He was rapidly pressing the button on its butt end, the lens aimed at the window to my right. He was trying to get the fighter jock’s attention.

  “Can you see me now?” He asked several moments later, moving the Makarov until the muzzle was pressed against the top of my skull. “Then you will go away or I will shoot this man. This is the soldier you want and I will kill him if you do not comply. Do you understand me?”

  I didn’t think it was a good idea to move my head, so I cut my eyes hard to the side. The jet was still there, the pilot having repositioned so he could see through the window. I wished I could hear his side of the conversation with the pissed off Russian.

  “Now! Or I will shoot him in the…”

  There was a sudden roar from the front of the Russian plane and the deck violently tilted to the side. The pistol stopped pressing against my head as the Major and four soldiers were thrown across the cabin. Then the amusement park ride started in earnest.

  The Russian pilot pushed the nose over at a steep angle and from the sounds of the engines he’d shoved the throttles to the firewall. He began turning, corkscrewing as we raced for the clouds beneath us. The whole plane was vibrating and everything that wasn’t securely strapped down was being tossed about like a small boat in a typhoon.

  Bodies crashed to the right side of the cabin, then a particularly wild maneuver sent them flying straight up to slam into the ceiling. They were instantly dropped back to the deck, none of the five men continuing to move on their own.

  I fared better, but only because I was chained to a seat that was bolted to the deck. It was still a hell of a ride, my stomach somewhere up above as the plane continued to descend. We were enveloped in clouds now.

  For the first few seconds, I could see nothing other than white cotton pressed against the window, but the moonlight didn’t penetrate far. Quickly, there was only darkness at the window. Now that we were in the visual cover of the clouds, the pilot stopped trying to audition for a job as an aerial stuntman.

  The roar from the flight deck was growing louder by the second. I didn’t know what was happening, and was startled when the cockpit door slammed open and one of the pilots came running into the cabin. He stopped short when he saw the bodies on the deck, his eyes passing over me as he surveyed the carnage.

  He only hesitated for an instant before diving for a locker. Tearing the door open, he pulled out two bulky packs which I recognized as parachutes. Oh shit! We were going down and the two pilots were getting ready to bail out!

  “Hey! Unlock me!” I shouted, moving my arms to bang the chains securing me. “Take these off!”

  He didn’t even pause. Didn’t so much as give me a look. Rushing back into the cockpit, he slammed the door behind him. Panic set in now and I looked around the cabin. I didn’t know what I was hoping to see. I just wanted to find someway to get loose before several tons of Russian steel crashed into the ground. Or the sea. I had no idea where we were.

  Ten feet away, one of the Spetsnaz soldiers lay dead or unconscious. He was a Senior Sergeant and the squad leader. He was also the one who’d used a key to unlock my shackles and reattach them to the seat when I’d been transferred from the helicopter to the jet. And I’d watched him slip that key into the breast pocket of his uniform.

  He might as well have been ten miles, or a hundred, away. I was thoroughly and professionally restrained. Each ankle was held by chains looped around the braces that attached the seat to the deck. My arms were locked to a chain that encircled my waist and went around the back of the seat. I had about three inches of play. And that was it. I couldn’t stand, and it wasn’t even possible to reach the locks. Even if I had the key.

  There was a loud bang from the flight deck that caused the entire aircraft to shudder. My ears popped. The pilots had just blown the door so they could jump and the plane had instantly depressurized. The temperature quickly began dropping despite there being an interior door between the cabin and the open door.

  I had no idea how long I had. At the moment, the plane was probably on auto-pilot so the men could jump. But jumping from in front of the wing of an aircraft is a really bad idea. Generally, one of two things will happen.

  You enter the slipstream when you jump and are slammed into the leading edge of the wing. About half the bones in your body are broken, if you’re lucky. The wind rips you away from the point of impact and you tumble to your death, physically unable to deploy your parachute. Or, you get sucked into an engine.

  Both of these scenarios are fatal for the jumper, and damn near as bad for the aircraft. Why these pilots blew out the front door to jump, I couldn’t understand. There was a door behind me, behind the wing, as well as the rear ramp which could be lowered. Either of those were infinitely more survivable options than the one they’d chosen.

  All of these thoughts flashed through my head in an instant and I began slamming against the back of my seat, trying to break free. As if I were a prophet, there was suddenly a bright flash and thunderous explosion from the right wing of the jet. I couldn’t see details of what had happened, but could tell there was a fire outside where the right, inboard engine had been.

  The pla
ne shuddered again and I could feel the deck tilt to the right. How long before the fire reached the fuel tanks and a fireball consumed the aircraft? Or would the damaged wing fail first and shear off?

  Fear induced adrenaline had been surging through me and after the engine explosion, another big jolt entered my system. Screaming, I planted my feet on the deck and redoubled my efforts as I slammed my upper body against the seat back. Maybe I could break it free from its mounting points. If I could do that, there just might be a way to slip my chains free of the seat and gain enough slack to use my hands.

  The chair wiggled under my assault. This encouraged me to keep trying. If there’s any movement, there’s an opportunity. Continue to apply enough force and eventually something will give. The problem would be if that eventually came after the plane crashed. Or went into an uncontrollable spin which would prevent me from reaching the locker at the front.

  Then there was that little problem. What if there weren’t any more parachutes in the locker? And if there were, how long ago had they been packed? Would the chute even open, assuming there was an extra, and if it did open would it deploy correctly? There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and I forced myself not to dwell on them as I kept struggling against the seat.

  Step one was to break free and get the key out of the Spetsnaz’ pocket. Everything else was a late night academic discussion if I couldn’t get out of the chains. So, I kept pushing with my legs. Leaning forward the three or four inches the chain allowed before ramming against the seat back.

  On about the eighth or ninth try, it seemed as if the wiggle increased. Maybe a little. Maybe. But it was enough to encourage me. I kept struggling. Ignored the burning pain in my quads from maintaining constant pressure. Slammed back again and there was even more of a shift, and, this time, something snapped in the braces beneath me that held the seat to the deck.

  I was panting now. Breathing hard and my head swimming from exertion. Then it occurred to me that it wasn’t just from my efforts to escape. My body was starving for oxygen. I had no idea what our current altitude was, other than lower than before. Regardless, the cabin was now open to the atmosphere, and the air was damn thin. And cold, too.

  Glancing at the window, my view of the world was still obscured by the heavy clouds. And they were glowing orange from the fire. There was no way I had much time left. It had only been seconds since one, or both, of the pilots had been sucked into the engine. There was probably only about that same amount of time left before the plane either exploded or experienced a catastrophic failure.

  Struggling to remain conscious, I battled the seat. With a bellow of rage and frustration, I slammed back again and was rewarded with another loud snap. The entire seat twisted sideways and tilted precariously to the left. Jerking side to side, I encouraged it to keep going, finally falling to the hard deck as it tore completely free from its mount.

  The door to the flight deck slammed open and frigid air roared through into the main cabin area. I looked up to see one of the pilots, wearing a parachute with goggles tightly strapped on his head.

  He must have been the one intended to be last out the door. The first guy had been swallowed up and this one had wisely thought better of exiting in front of the wing. Making his way towards me, he struggled against the tilted deck and the buffeting of the wind that blasted through the open flight deck door.

  I screamed at him to release me as he approached. Ignoring me, he made his way past and out of sight.

  Not taking time to curse him, I began contorting my body, trying to work the chain encircling my torso up and off the seatback. It was moving, only inches at a time, but I was making progress. Finally, with a supreme effort, I pushed it to the top and it came free. Each ankle was still chained to a brace, but with the seat torn loose, I was able to push down and slide the chains free. Scrambling across the deck, fighting against the force of the airflow, I reached the soldier’s body.

  There was still a chain wrapped around my waist, my wrists shackled to it. I was able to move, but I could barely use my hands. Flopping on top of the Spetsnaz’ inert form, I fumbled his pocket open and jammed my fingers inside. I felt the cold steel of the key, barely suppressing a shout of triumph.

  Digging it out, I rolled to the side and reached for the lock that secured the longer chain. It was beyond the limit of my reach and I had to pinch the key between two fingertips to insert it. Twisting and bending my body, my flesh screamed in protest as the chain dug in. But there was no other way to reach the key and apply enough force to turn it.

  As I struggled, another sound started up behind me. At first it was the whistle of high speed air moving through a narrow opening, then it quickly became another loud roar. The volume of air pouring through the door at the front of the cabin increased dramatically. The pilot must be lowering the rear ramp to escape. I wanted to look, but didn’t have the time. As the ramp opened, the aerodynamics of the crippled aircraft changed again. The tilt to the side became even more pronounced and the nose lifted.

  Lighter objects that weren’t secured began tumbling past me towards the open back of the plane. Between the pull of gravity and the push of the hurricane force wind whipping through the cabin, every loose item became an airborne missile. Several things I couldn’t identify bounced off my head, fortunately, none of them heavy or hard enough to injure me.

  The lock popped open and I had to twist the other way to release tension on the chain. Finally, the fucking thing fell away, the chain dropping to the deck. Snatching the key out of the lock, I released each hand, then removed the shackles from around my ankles.

  Free at last, I turned to the back in time to see the Russian disappear out the yawning maw of the rear door. Rushing forward, I ripped open the locker. It was empty. There had only been two parachutes.

  The plane jerked hard to the side, nearly knocking me off my feet. I savagely yanked open another locker which held some radio gear and three pairs of Russian night vision goggles. Knowing there was only one option left before I died aboard the jet, I slipped the goggles onto my head before turning and dashing for the back.

  I paused long enough to snatch a large, combat knife off the vest of one of the Spetsnaz. Gripping it tightly in my hand, I ran the length of the cabin, out onto the lowered ramp and launched myself into the darkness.

  3

  Colonel Blanchard paused to look around the bleak landscape. Two dozen, hand picked Rangers surrounded him. They were starkly visible in their dark clothing against the snow covered ground. Normally, the Army would have winter gear, warmer and designed to blend with the environment. But things were hardly normal.

  In the distance, out of hearing range, two Black Hawk helicopters orbited. They were waiting to pick up the Rangers, or assist in the search if needed. Blanchard looked at the small tablet held by a Sergeant who walked at his side. A terrain map of the area was on the display, a pulsing red dot on the opposite side of a low ridge.

  Katie Chase was their target. The red dot was where the computer had plotted the signal location for the CIA tracker embedded in her leg. The Colonel was fulfilling a promise he’d made to Major Chase before the man had turned himself over to the Russians. But he was worried about exactly how things were going to work out.

  The woman was infected. Strong. Fast. And very unpredictable. No one had any idea how she was going to react when the Soldiers cornered her. Blanchard’s biggest concern was capturing the Major’s wife without harming her.

  Before he’d led the small team into the desolate countryside south of Mountain Home, Idaho, he’d dispatched a squad to Boise. Their job had been to find a police station, and animal control. They’d found both, and brought back a variety of non-lethal weapons. He snorted at the oxymoron. How could a weapon be non-lethal?

  Despite the non-accurate nomenclature, he was happy to have all of his Rangers searching for Katie equipped with instruments that would, in theory, allow them to capture her without causing harm. Walking close to him wer
e two of the Rangers who had gone into Salt Lake City with the Major. When they’d gotten word of an attempt to find his wife, they had insisted on joining the search team. Now, both Chico and Drago were walking point.

  All of the Rangers carried a “net gun”. The devices looked like a large pipe had been stuck onto the receiver of a shotgun. Four, bulbous weights, encased in foam rubber, stuck out of the muzzle at angles to each other. They were attached to a twelve-foot-square net that was tucked into the barrel behind them.

  A large CO2 cylinder provided pneumatic pressure that would launch the weights when the trigger was activated. The net would be pulled out after them and stretch to its full width. If they were close enough to their target, within twenty-five feet, she would be wrapped up in the net and captured. Theoretically. Blanchard had his doubts that any of the Rangers would be able to come close enough to Katie to use the devices.

  They were also equipped with Taser guns, but again the range was very limited. Especially when they were trying to capture an infected female that could easily outrun or outleap any of them. And no one had any idea how effective a Taser would be on an infected. They were still human and had to rely on muscles and a nervous system that would be disrupted by the electrical charge, but that didn’t mean the physiological changes brought about by the virus wouldn’t provide her some protection.

  All of the Rangers came to a stop when Drago held up a fist the size of a picnic ham. He was looking down at the snow covered ground at his feet. After a few moments, when he didn’t signal for the men to take cover, Blanchard moved closer to see what he’d found.

  The big Ranger didn’t speak when the Colonel stepped up next to him. Instead, he pointed at the tracks in the ankle deep snow. Human. Moving fast, and made by small feet. At least small compared to the two men standing there looking at them.

 

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