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Eye for an Eye
In The Car
Eye for an Eye
(C) copyright 1986 by Brian Cameron and John Jontry
*** Chapter One ***
I have no idea why I'm writing this, maybe to keep myself from going insane. Lord knows I've been through enough already to put me in the old rubber house...if there were any left, that is. Well, enough of that, it's all water under the drawbridge. I might as well get on with the story... It all began about six years ago somewhere around 4:30 in the afternoon on July 26, 1998. I was presently working with an old friend of mine, Jawaid, in his mail order computer store. It was slowly going bankrupt and would soon go straight to hell if Jawaid didn't do something about it soon. Jawaid was out of town on a business trip at the University of Illinois and he had his store closed for a long weekend, so I was over at my friend Gary's apartment visiting. Let me tell you about Gary, he is pretty thin and has blond hair with a beard to match. His hair comes down and hangs over his eyes, making him look rather laid back. With a knack of always saying the funny thing and a colorful vocabulary to boot, he is a pretty fun guy to be with. Anyway, we were vegetating in front of the television when Gary offered to get us some Cokes. Soon he returned with the Cokes, handing one to me, then collapsing on a lounge chair. He picked up the TV controller and asked, "Brian, what do you want to do now? I think I'm about bored now." "Why don't we watch that video you taped of The Apocalypse on your VCR. "Sorry, but it's broken and I had to take it in for repairs. I suppose we could just watch TV. Sound okay with you?" "Better than nothing, I suppose." There wasn't much on, although we did find one interesting movie, "The Nighthawks" on WTBS. The movie was just starting to get interesting when all of a sudden the screen turned black and emitted a seemingly 200 decibel tone that near broke our eardrums. Jumping up with a start, I asked no one in particular, "What the hell?"
Seeming to answer my question, the TV's screen showed the Emergency Broadcasting System's logo, and a monotone voice said, "This is not a test, this is an emergency. Repeat: this is not a test, this is an emergency. The United States is being attacked by a Soviet first strike. All people who have bomb shelters, please seek refuge there immediately. All those without such shelters, please retreat to the nearest Fallout Shelter. All those who cannot, seek safety in a basement or other such shelter. Stay tuned to this channel. More information will be given as it comes in. Repeat: This is not a test, this is an emergency. This message was brought to you by the National Broadcasting Service," then the screen went blank.
"What the hell?" Gary asked, repeating my question. "This has got to be some kind of joke. Hey is this..." I was interrupted by Gary waving his arm at me. "Be quiet, another report is coming on."
The Emergency Broadcasting System's Logo came back on and the same voice announced, "Attention: There are missiles heading for: St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Louisville, Scott Air Force Base, Chicago, and Peoria in the Tri-state area. Some of these missiles may be shot down by United States defenses, you will be informed of this later. If you live in or near one of the aforementioned cities, do not panic. Please exit the town immediately." Then a map of the tri-state area appeared, showing the blast areas in red. Mt. Vernon was just inside the edge of the red area. The announcement continued, "It has been determined that the entire Soviet strike is made of the new Nulrad missiles, which have a small impact area and emit only slight amounts of radiation, so it is possible to outrun the bomb's impact. Stay tuned..." The rest of the report was drowned out by Gary's yelling. "We're going to be blown straight to hell! Let's get out of here, we might make it out of range if we hurry!" "Do you really think we can make it?" "We gotta try to do SOMETHING!" "Okay, but we gotta hurry, not much time to spare" "Hey, what about Danny", Gary asked referring to our good friend, Danny Gentry. "Yeah, we gotta pick him up" "Let's get over there! We gotta get on the road quick!" "And what about Jawaid? Do you think he'll be alright?"
Silence was the only reply Gary returned.
I grabbed my suitcases and Gary quickly threw some stuff he thought we might need in a large plastic sack. We ran down to his car, fondly dubbed "The Redmobile", and climbed in with the blare of the alarm sirens beginning to whine in the distance. He tromped on the gas pedal and sped over to Danny's apartment. We ran up to his door and banged on it.
Danny's attempt at answering the door, putting his glasses on, and straightening out his black hair all at the same time would have made me laugh in a better situation, but now it only irritated me. He gave up with an exasperated groan and mumbled, "What do ya want", obviously we just woke him up. "Come on, we gotta get out of here. The Russians are going to blow us away! Don't you hear the sirens?" yelled Gary going into hysterics "What the hell are you talking about?" "Get your stuff together, we gotta go", I put in, anxiously motioning my hands in any and all directions. "You aren't serious, are you?" "Come on, get ready - NOW!" "Alright, but this better not be a joke!", said Dan as he jogged back into his horrendously messy apartment and started throwing things into a handy paper sack he picked up off the floor. Danny closed up his sack and yelled, "Let's go!". We all rushed to the car with, Gary driving, Danny in the back seat, and myself riding in the passenger seat. Soon we were traveling south on Highway 57 at about 100 MPH, hoping to outrun the blast.
"Hello, it is 5:52 in the evening and we have an update on the Soviet first strike. There is only fifteen minutes left until the first missiles impact. It has been reported that the U.S. has delivered a retaliatory strike four minutes ago aimed for the Soviet Union. God help us all." sorrowfully came over the radio announcer at KHTR in St. Louis. "Everyone take shelter. I'll be able to broadcast for about ten more minutes, then I'll have to take shelter."
*** Chapter Two ***
It is amazing how fast you can go when a bomb is going to blow up behind you. Unfortunately, the freeway was crowded with people. Though everyone had pretty much forgotten the speed limit and didn't slow us down too much. We were just south of Benton when all of a sudden an old crummy looking Ford that was driving right ahead of us had a blow out, making Gary swerve off the road to get around him. Looking back, I saw two other cars collide with the first, and all three slide off the road and explode into a ball of fire. Gary said, "Damn, that was close, I'm getting out of this madhouse first chance I get!" Four minutes later we came upon Highway 149, and Gary proved himself to be no liar as he slowed down and turned east. Soon Highway 149 ended at a T-intersection so we turned southeast on Highway 34. Luckily, none of these highways had hardly any traffic and we were able to travel with relative ease.
The broadcaster from KHTR said "Hey, I gotta go now, I've set a recording to time off the last ten minutes for you. Well, good luck -- 10 minutes; 9 minutes; 8 minutes. The minutes sped past, it seemed only seconds had passed when the recording was saying 50 seconds; 40 seconds..." All was quiet as we listened to America's death toll. A barrage of thoughts hit me in the silence, like what about my folks, what's happened to them, are they dead? I broke down and cried when our country had only 24 seconds left.
"15 seconds, 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2....the sound of static filled the car. Suddenly the evening sky lit up in a pinkish glow. The sudden brightness blotted out the sun, making our eyes hurt at the glare. The intense brightness slowly faded away, allowing us to see several giant red flares with mushroom clouds. Some of those clouds had a strange green-tint to them. When Danny noticed this, he gasped and said "God, those are those new missiles. Uh, I can't remember their name, but they talked about them on 20/20 a while back. They don't spread a lot of radiation, but that's not what makes them so terrible; they also spread some kind of highly contagious, deadly disease. We've gotta get in some kind of shelter or we've had it!"
We had been travelling southbound on highway 34 for twenty miles when the car's engine started sputtering. Gary exclaimed, "Oh Shit, we've run out of gas! Damn! I should've been paying attention!" followed by some mumbling that I couldn't repeat. Gary pulled the car over to the side of the road and put it in park. "Well, what now?" I asked. "Damn it, the only thing we can do! We've got to walk to the nearest town and get some gas. There should be a map in my glove box, would you get it?" "Sure, no problem," I answered as I began rummaging through Gary's glove compartment. Soon I had the map sprawled out over me, scanning it to find our location. "Okay, we must be about here. The nearest town appears to be Harrisburg, and that's only three miles away. It should take us no time at all." "The hell it will, we can only walk four miles an hour, it'll be an hour and a half before we get back." "Oh, well we had better hurry it up. We don't want to spend too much time out there with that disease floating around." As I said this I gave a nervous glance towards my watch, it was already 6:47 in the evening.
We all piled out of the car, Gary got a two gallon gas can out of the trunk and led our little party south towards Harrisburg. It was a long forty minute hike. Normally we would have been able to walk faster, but since Gary had simmered down, we were goofing off all the way there. In a way, I suppose it was ironic; just joking around when half the world was in mortal agony, but it was for our own good. After being cooped up in the silence of Gary's car, I was one step from going insane myself; and I'm sure my companions would agree if the topic had come up. The only mar in our fun was a nagging feeling in the back of my head that we would soon get sick and die. My hope that we would outrun the disease diminishing as we wasted time getting the much-needed gas.
Finally we arrived at the northern edge of Harrisburg, we could hear the wails of mourning people in the distance. At the sound of the peoples sobs, we were regretting entering the town. Luckily, we found out we wouldn't have to. We had just walked into a little oasis for travelers that included a gas station on the right side of the road and a truck stop on the left. We supposed all the people who normally work there went into town to be with their families since no one was around here. Gary scanned the area, then mentioned his surprise at Harrisburg's growth, telling us that this wasn't here last time he traveled through these parts. Gary then motioned us towards the Shell station. As we neared the station, Gary started to jog ahead of us, so he approached the pumps first. In a few minutes he had his gas can full and we started our trip back impervious to the moans behind us.
"Hey, I hope they don't mind me not paying for that gas." Gary joked. "Naw, they won't mind," Danny put back. "Well if they come after us, I'll confess you did it." was my little addition to the conversation. "Gee, thanks. Hey, look!", pointing up to the clouds, "The wind is blowing to the west." "So?" I asked. "Come on, that means that the wind is blowing the radiation and that disease away from us. Who knows, maybe we'll make it out of this alive after all."
The next few minutes were spent contemplating Gary's discovery. I felt relieved, Gary's rational soothing some of my many worries. The trip back took even longer than the trip coming, since now the joking around was more heartfelt now that our major worry was gone. We made it back to the car around 8:40 p.m. when the sun was just starting to near the horizon. Gary filled the car with all the gas in the gas can, and we all clambered back into the car. We traveled back to the Shell station and got a full tank of gas, then sped through Harrisburg with eyes only for the road. We tried as hard as possible, without succeeding, to ignore those suffering around us and pay attention only to our own woes.
After passing through Harrisburg, we came to a junction in the highway. Gary stopped the car and gave the situation a look over. The other highway, Highway 13 according to an informational sign on the side of the road, looked much nicer than the highway we've been traveling on. Gary, figuring we could make much better time on this highway, turned east onto Highway 13.
After travelling east for thirty more minutes, we began to hear a low rumbling. My mind filled with questions like 'could all those explosions cause an earthquake?' As the rumbling got louder my fears were were proved baseless as a large vehicle came into sight on the highway ahead of us, also travelling east. As our car caught up to the vehicle, I could make out more details. It looked like some sort of tank, but I really couldn't tell from this distance. Since Gary's car could travel much faster than the vehicle we soon caught up to it. Now that we were closer I could see more details; it was some sort of tank-like vehicle riding on treads, it had a brown and green camouflage paint job except for where there were some sort of stylized eagle painted on each side. There were several speakers on top of the treader. Both of them were blaring at us, "Quickly stop and pull over, we are rescue the survivors of a military training base, we don't have much time to spend saving civilians. Please stop and pull over. Repeat: Please stop and pull over. We will open the hatch and take you to safety." As this was announced the treader came to a halt and it's hatch slowly lowered.
"Come on, we gotta go, we don't have a chance in this car", said Danny. Gary braked, and we grabbed all our stuff with some difficulty due to the darkness. We dashed out toward the treader, which we could see clearly, since the night air was lit up fairly well by the reddish-green haze left after the blast. The treader was about forty feet long by twenty feet wide, with a rotating turret up at the top and large laser cannons protruding forward from each side, not to mention many the smaller laser canons this vehicle had. To say the least I was impressed. The hatch, which was about halfway along the port side, slowly opened. Danny made it into the treader first, followed by me, and lastly by Gary, with his keys dangling from his mouth. He gave one last look at his prized car, the Redmobile, and plunged into the hatch with a tear in his eye.
The hatch shut behind us, I took the time to look over the chamber. We were in a large room twelve feet long by eighteen feet wide completely decored in a soothing shade of tan. There were large cabinets lining the walls and off in one corner was a small bathroom complete with a shower. The room was furnished with ten comfortable looking lounge-type chairs that could be lowered and used as beds, there were also many pull down beds on the walls. The room was lined with cabinets which probably contained food and supplies.
There were two other people in the treader, one of them lying injured on a lounge-type chair with bloody bandages surrounding his head, and the other was standing over the chair weeping. He looked over at us with pleading eyes and said, "Help me." All of us were stunned. Danny recovered first, walked over to the injured man and felt for the injured man's pulse. After a few seconds Danny said, "I'm sorry, he's dead."
"No! No! My brother can't be dead. Can't be dead! Oh God! Please tell me he isn't dead!", cried the stranger as he went to hysterics and started to weep. Danny bowed his head, unable to say anything. "He can't be dead! No!" the man yelled as he pulled a wicked looking samurai sabre out of his belt and fell upon it before any of us could react. His last words were spoken to his companion, "I loved you, why did you have to die on me?" Anything further he had to say was lost in a dying gurgle.
Looking around feverishly for some help, I noticed a door in the fore end of the chamber which probably led to the control room. I ran over to this door and started banging on it. Soon a voice asked over an intercom, "What is the matter?" "What's the matter? That guy back here just committed suicide." "He did what?" "Just what I said, he committed suicide. He killed himself, okay? What should I do?" "Jesus, what a shame. Is the wounded one dead too?" "Yeah, that's why the the other one committed suicide." "I know this might sound bad, but in this situation we all must do things we don't like. I am going to open up the hatch, and I want you to throw the bodies out. We can't waste the space. I did tell you this mission is to rescue soldiers." "No way! They deserve a decent burial at least. We just can't chuck them out the door like they were garbage", I said "Really! How would you like to be just thrown out, if you were in their place?", Gary put in. "Come on! Quit arguing and just throw them out! I don't have time to argue. Look, who is saving who here? I'm the boss, I'm running this show. Just do what I say and everything will be fine, alright? Those people are dead anyway, what do they care. There are going to be millions of bodies just lying around anyway after this war, what harm is two more going to do?"
Reluctantly we all agreed that the officer was right, "All right we'll do it", I said. The officer replied, "That's a much better attitude. I'm going to open the hatch now, you know what to do." After a few seconds the hatch opened. Mumbling under our breaths at this immoral officer we reluctantly threw the bodies out. I felt like yelling, "This isn't right!" but I didn't know what was right anymore. As the hatch closed up again, I went back to my chair and laid down trying hard not to think, Gary looked sick, and Danny rushed to the bathroom. He came out later looking rather pale and sick.
In the silence that followed, I took the time to look over the rest of the chamber. There was the door leading toward the control room and two more doors in the rear of the chamber. The intercom came on and said, "Well you all might as well make yourself comfortable, we've got a long ride ahead of us, I can't let you up here, you have to go through the decontamination center back at base first. I'm really sorry about those two, but it had to be done."
My friends and I settled back in the available chairs and sat there quietly, since we didn't really have to much to do. After about fifteen minutes of silence the treader lunged. The treader seemed to be sliding, and all of a sudden it came to a bone-jarring halt. We all flew from our chairs and landed in a pile in the front of the chamber. A quick check told me that Gary and I were alright, but it looked like Danny had been knocked out, he hit his head on a crossbar and was bleeding pretty bad. Gary went over to Danny and tried to help, when I noticed a first aid kit and a fire-extinguisher hanging on the wall. I ran over, took it, and gave it to Gary, who started to wrap Danny's head with gauze and lay him gently on one of the chairs.
I went to the door in the front of the vehicle and knocked on it, asking if the driver was okay. I got no response. "Hey, Gary, the driver won't answer me, I think he's hurt. How can we get in there?", Gary came over and looked at the door and said "Well, we might be able to break in if...hey wait, I saw a crowbar over there in a cabinet next to my bed. I was looking through it while we were waiting". Gary went over and searched through the closet for a while and pulled out the crowbar with a grin on his face. "Here, let me try this", he said as he put the end of the crowbar between the door and the doorjamb. There was a screech of tortured metal, then the door's lock broke and the door slid into the wall on the right hand side.
All of a sudden an alarm went off and a recorded voice said, "Warning, contaminated air detected". Pushing the door open, we saw the driver lying limp, harnessed in his bucket seat. One look at the raged looking driver told us he was dead, and checking his pulse confirmed it. We took the driver, "Gerald Hankens" read his name plate, and pulled him into the back chamber and set him down on one of the chairs next to Danny.
One quick look out the portal told us what happened, the bridge was out, it had just collapsed into the Ohio River. The shocks from the initial blasts must have drastically weakened the bridges foundation. The driver tried to swerve out of the way, but couldn't stop in time, we slid right into the remains of a large oak tree, and came to the sudden halt which injured Danny, killed our driver, and left us stranded...
*** Chapter Three ***
The man sitting behind the desk in the office in Cahokia, Illinois dropped his pen and rubbed his face with his hand. "I've been in this place for six hours and I am going crazy," he thought. He uncoiled himself from his chair and stood up, his massive six foot four frame stretching, trying to remove the fatigue accumulated by working on a beautiful Sunday. He strolled to his office's sixth floor window, and gazed down at the ant-like people running around in the street. His blue eyes took in the scene, then a sudden realization struck him. "Running," he thought, "like they were panicked."
A crash from the street below shook him from his thoughts. Two speeding cars had collided, causing the beginning of a pile-up. Other cars, also being driven like mad, screeched to a halt or swerved around the wreckage. No one emerged from the wrecked vehicles, and no one stopped to help: even two police cars, sirens screaming, went right on past. A tightness began to grip his chest as he realized that something terrible was happening.
With stiff, uncertain movements, he stumbled across the office to his tiny portable stereo, situated on a filing cabinet, and tuned as always to KSHE, in St. Louis. He switched it on quickly, then had his worst fears confirmed as the alert tones of the Emergency Broadcast System erupted from the speaker. He thought back to the work he had done in radio, not too long ago. They never run E.B.S. tests on Sundays, he thought. This must be the real thing.
He turned and grabbed the phone sitting on his desk, his fingers rapidly punching the well known number of his friend and associate, Dr. Kent Wolf, M.D., who had his combination office and apartment two floors down. As the phone rang, the man kept on ear tuned to the radio. The tones faded, replaced by the voice of the announcer. "This is an alert by the Emergency Broadcast System. It has been determined that a nuclear strike has been launched by the Soviet Union against the United States....."
"Hello?" Relief swept through the man; the person on the other end was Kent. "Hello, Kent? This is John. Listen to me-the Russians are attacking - we've got to get down to the basement! Grab anything you think is useful and meet me at the fifth floor stairs in three minutes. You got it?" Silence. "Kent, are you there? Answer me!" Silence. Then, "John, this is the worst gag you have come up with yet. There better be a funny punch line." "This isn't a gag, dammit! If you want proof, turn on your radio! THEY'VE FIRED! Get your ass in gear and do like I told you!" A measure of fear crept into Kent's voice. "You're serious aren't you? There really is a war?" "Yeah, that's what I said" "Oh shit." Silence. "See you in three minutes Kent."
John slammed down the phone, then grabbed his briefcase and emptied it onto the floor. He pulled open drawers and cabinets, throwing anything remotely useful into the case. Finally, he went to a painting on the wall, and pushed it over, revealing a safe. With practiced moves, he open it, and pushed all of the contents into the case but one item. He didn't know why he was doing what he was, only it seemed the right thing to do. The last item was a heavy automatic pistol, one his girlfriend had told him he was paranoid for keeping around the office loaded. "Impact in five minutes....." Anna worked downtown. There was no possibility she would survive. John stuck the pistol in his belt, grabbed the radio, then charged out the door and down the hallway, heading for the stairs.
Kent hung up the phone, then looked at his hands. Look at them shake, he thought. How am I going to function when I'm like this? He look around his small but functional office, his doctor's mind automatically compiling a list of the wounds and diseases caused by a nuclear blast. Flash burns, blindness, radiation poisoning, a thousand others with no names, no cures. As if in a dream, he found his emergency bag, kept for calls out of the building, and quickly checked the contents. Bandages, antiseptics, splints, some small instruments - he'd need drugs, too. He rushed to the medicine cabinet, some of the dreamlike effect wearing off as his doctor's sense of purpose took over. Penicillin, streptomycin, terramycin, for malaria, typhoid, yellow fever - the evil sisters of every disaster, anything remotely useful he shoved into the bag. He glanced quickly at his watch; only a minute left. He opened his desk and took the keys to his car, then headed for the door. As an afterthought, he grabbed a ceremonial sword, hanging on the wall in its scabbard, a souvenir of a childhood trip to Europe. It looked ridiculous, but it was better than nothing. With a final look at the deserted office, he closed the door and ran for the staircase.
He arrived at the stairwell at the same instant John came thundering down them. "Come on! We've only got a minute or so left!" "One minute thirty seconds..." They scrambled down the stairs at full speed, reaching the parking basement in a minute fifteen. They looked wildly around, breathing hard. John pointed, "There! Under that truck! HURRY!" They ran and dived, sliding on the concrete floor and scrambling under the wide, lowslung delivery truck. Panting, they listened to the voice on the radio complete its deadly countdown. "Five....four....three....two....one.............." Nothing happened. Kent raised his head and looked at John as if to speak when the entire world turned white.
*** Chapter Four ***
The ghastly light from the death of the city blazed on for what seemed like years, as blasts and ground shocks shook the building. The two forms, huddled beneath the truck, lay motionless. Finally, when the shaking of the ground had diminished and the light faded to a burnished orange, one of them stirred. "Hey, John, you alright?" The other one opened his eyes, then attempted to rise into a sitting position. "Yeah, yeah. I'm alright. I guess they hit St. Louis after all. Let's get out of here before the building comes down on our heads."
Cautiously, they crawled out from beneath the truck, pushing various bits of rubble and debris out of the way. The entire under-ground garage was strewn with chunks of concrete and broken glass, and the ceiling was cracked and bulged. The eastern exit from the garage was blocked, so the two left via the western exit. They walked up the ramp from the basement, cautious of the ash and debris that fell from the sky like hail, and slowly the horrible panorama that was St. Louis came into view.
Laid out before them, and made visible by the demise of surrounding buildings, was the burning city. No visible landmark remained, except the riverbed of the Mississippi, the river itself having boiled away in the blast and heat.
They stood silent, taking in the apocalyptic scene, for what seemed like hours. Finally, the doctor stirred. "I don't see any mushroom cloud." he said, in a voice dwarfed by the immensity of the destruction. John looked up, then over at Kent. "We're standing under it. Let's get out of here." Kent held up his keys. "My car is parked in the garage. Think we can get it out?" John opened his mouth to reply when the building sighed, and then collapsed. "No." he said. After a silence he continued, "We'll have to walk."
They walked for hours, as the long July afternoon dragged on. Along the way they saw evidence of the massive destruction wrought by the Russian missiles. People caught by the blast and fire staggered, crawled, or lay dead in the streets. By the time they reached the outskirts, John had dispatched several of these inhuman wrecks with his pistol, and they had raided a sporting goods store for food and weapons.
The time was nearing eight o'clock, and the sun had long since set behind the smoke and ash cast up from the burning city. Still they walked, looking for a semi-intact building in which they could be relatively secure overnight. An unusual but welcome east wind kept most of the ash, and also the radiation, away from the lone travelers.
Eventually, they came to a rather steep rise, and, rather than walk around it, they decided to walk over it. It was steeper than it looked from the bottom, and since they were both a little out of shape, they were quite winded when they got to the top. When the finally reached the top, it was quite dark, and the engineer spoke.
"We've got to find a place to pitch camp. It's been a long day and neither of us are used to this." "No kidding. Let's just get over this rise here, then we'll find an abandoned house or something."
They trudged on, eventually passing over the peak of the hill, and the panorama below them was revealed. Below were thousands of people, most wounded, dead, or dying, waiting for medical attention. Some wandered around, some screamed, and some simply lay motionless, staring up at the darkening sky. Still more people were streaming in, from all points of the compass, but very few appearing from the west. The sheer human pathos of a once-powerful country was staggering.
They stared at the huddled masses below, and shivered at the horror of the situation, both thinking that since they were both relatively able-bodied their help was badly needed below. And they were right. Without a word, they slowly descended the rise, and approached the victims of Soviet madmen.
*** Chapter Five ***
I was with Gary in the control room, when we heard Danny started to moan in the back, so Gary went to see how he was doing. While Gary was gone, I searched the chamber, trying to figure out what we could possibly do now. The room was small, about four feet long by six feet wide. It had a small cubbyhole with a bed off to one side and another cubbyhole with a bathroom off to the other. There was a large plexiglass screen filling the front portion of the chamber and computer consoles to the right and to the left of that screen with many buttons and switches around them. Under the screen there was something that almost looked like a steering wheel, but not quite, with many buttons and switches around it. Located behind the plexiglass screen were four large cushioned chairs, strange there was only one driver. I didn't find a manual or guide, but I did discover one button on the console that was labeled "Systems Check". When I pushed this button, one of the computer consoles came to life. The screen read as follows:
_________________________________________________________________ / \ | | | No. Section Damaged % Damage Status | | -- ------------------- ---------- --------------------- | | 01 Defensive Systems 08% Reparable | | 02 Weaponry 11% Reparable | | 03 Engine 15% Partially Reparable | | 04 Life Support 05% Reparable | | 05 Chassis 19% Partially Reparable | | 06 Computer 09% Possibly Irreparable | | | | | | Type No. of section for more details, or M for menu [ ] | \_________________________________________________________________/
Since Gary was good with cars, I figured he had a better chance of fixing this heap than I would. So I called him into the chamber and said, "Hey Gary, take look at this. Can you figure this out?" "Maybe...let me check it out", he said as he began typing on the console, trying to figure out exactly where the treader was damaged. I wasn't really interested in what he was doing, so I decided to go help Dan out. Dan was still unconscious, but he was thrashing all over his lounge-type chair. He didn't look too good. Wondering what I could do to help, I remembered seeing some smelling salts in the first aid kit, so I got a couple. Breaking one and holding it under Danny's nose, I had the immense pleasure of watching Danny wake up. With a frightful grimace on his face he could have scarred Attila the Hun himself, a war yell that would have made Conan proud, and a look that would have made Dracula cower and make me have nightmares for many years, Danny was awake. After shaking the sluggishness out of his head, he grimaced even more and asked me, "Hey, what happened?" "We crashed into a tree and the driver was killed" "The driver was killed?", asked Danny as he started to get up. "Yeah, see him?" I replied, motioning at Mr. Hankens. "What do you think we should we do about him?" "Why don't we throw him out too. I think it would be good poetic justice." "Hey that's a pretty good idea. Gary is up front, trying to figure out how to work this thing, I'll see if he can open up the hatch.". Yelling toward the front, "Hey Gary open up the hatch, okay?" "No problem," came the response. Soon the hydraulic mechanism controlling the hatch whirred to life and the hatch slowly opened. We continued our conversation as we threw Mr. Hankins out the hatch. "Well he got what he deserved!" "Really! I hope he likes a dose of his own medicine." "Okay Gary, you can shut the hatch now.", now speaking to Danny, "Well anyway, this heap has a whole lot of damage, Gary is seeing what he can do. Maybe you can help when you feel better." "Feel better? Hey, I feel great!" "Sure you do. You better get some rest anyway. I mean look at the time...," looking at my watch, I was startled myself, "God, it's 3:48. I didn't think it was that late." "Hey, I'm hungry, is there anything to eat around here?" "I don't know, we haven't looked for any yet", I started to search the cabinets, until I found one that contained some food canisters, each coded with a number that I didn't begin to understand. The cabinet was stockpiled with many such canisters and it even had a microwave oven. Soon I had some instant soup ready, which I took to Dan. "Here's some soup for you". "Damn, I've got a headache" Laughing, I asked, "I wonder why?"
We were interrupted by a shout from the driving chamber, Gary yelled, "Come on up here, Brian", I told Dan I would be right back, but Dan said "You're not leaving me" and stumbled along after me. When we got there, Gary showed us a white book with a red stripe running diagonally across it. It was labeled 'Mobile Rescue Unit No. E5150 - Reference Manual'. "Hey, I think I know how to fix the engine. This book really helps a lot. Quite a few of the parts we need are back in the main chamber. Oh, did you know, this treader has a small transport vehicle? It's in a room that must be back behind the main room." "Really? Oh, how radical." "First thing we gotta do is get this thing fixed, the engine won't start. Well, we might as well get started. We need some radiation suits to go outside and fix this thing. It mentioned that there are some in this guide, but it didn't say exactly where they were. Let's go look," there weren't any radiation suits in the main chamber or the control room, so we figured they must be in the back behind one of the two doors in the back of the main chamber.
We went into the main chamber and were deciding which door to open. With a little help from Danny's quarter we decided to try the door on the right. After we forced open the door we could tell it wasn't the room with the transport vehicle, instead there were steps spiraling up into a chamber above the roof. Following the stairs up, we discovered a small room in which two people could sit comfortably. A quick scan of the controls told us that this was the weapons control room. This thing was armed with two synchronized lasers on a turret, which could be accessed by a ladder in the ceiling. Also, there were machine guns and small lasers to be found on every face of the treader. I wanted to spend more time here, but we had to find those radiation suits.
We went back downstairs, and forced open the other door, behind which was a gleaming white painted room eighteen feet wide by ten feet long. The most noticeable feature of the room was the small camouflaged vehicle about the size of a dune buggy, it had an arm extension and polarized windows. Gary's summed up the vehicle with "Heavy duty!". Off to one side of the chamber attached to the wall, was a weapons cache: including several flame-throwers, a rack of M-16's, plenty of ammo, several shotguns and rifles, battle gear, and what we were looking for: radiation suits.
By this time we were all too tired to fix the engine. We got ready for bed and were fast asleep, just missing the sunrise by forty minutes. In two days we had the engine repaired. With Danny's help in electronics we also got the defensive and weaponry systems partially repaired, he still had a lot more he wanted to do, but he had everything pretty much under control. He couldn't do too much for the computer though, all he could do was replace a few blown chips.
Danny was up in the weapons turret, that is where he seemed to spend all of his time anymore, trying to finish fixing the weaponry and defensive systems. Gary and I were down in the control room, just finishing up with the engine, "Well, that's that, I think the engine will start now," said Gary as he turned the key. Gary had a look of satisfaction as the engine roared to life. "Now let's see if we can make this thing go anywhere. I think I know how to drive it, the manual told me where everything is, and I can improvise for the rest," Gary said as he put the treader in gear and backed up away from the tree, as me and Dan cheered happily. After Gary turned around the treader, we started to travel back away from the bridge. "Hey Brian, where should we go now?", asked Gary. "Let's go back to the base this treader came from, they could probably help us." "Yeah, but where is it." "Didn't you find out in that manual. It should have the name of the base in it." "Let me look. Yeah you're right, they've even got a map in here. I just never paid any attention to it before. We're about here, next to Shawneetown and the base is...let's see. Oh, there it is, right next to Ozark, Illinois. Remember that place Brian?", Gary was referring to Camp Ondessonk, which we both attended when we were younger, it was also located in Ozark. Gary continued, "Hey, we're only about forty miles away from there, we should be able to get there in no time." "Great!"
As we left the world as we knew it behind us, we traveled to our only hope. Who knows, there might be a chance for us after all...
*** Chapter Six ***
John and his companion, Kent, stayed in the refugee camp for three long, suffering-filled days, while Kent exhausted his meager medical supplies and John directed the erection of temporary shelters - and the excavation of mass graves. They slept little, and even then their dreams were filled with the screams of the dying and tears of the living.
On the morning of the third day, another fact began to make itself apparent, one that dwarfed even the tremendous horror of the destruction around them. Various homemade Geiger counters had detected high but not excessively dangerous levels of radiation - they would all lose a few years off of their lives, but would not die immediately. But soon, relatively healthy people, who up to that time had been working with no trouble at all, became sick and died within twelve hours. There were no previous signs, nothing to indicate that they were sick, only a sudden fever and death. In reply to this threat, some of the greedier survivors were selling gas masks at horrendous prices. These people made fortunes of jewelry, gold, silver, and any other valuables. John was sickened at the fact people would use others like that.
At first, Kent and the other surviving doctors put it down to shock, physical and emotional. Soon, however, this explanation became inadequate, as more and more people caught the disease, and more died of it. None ever recovered, and soon there were huge piles of bodies waiting to be buried, but no one to bury them.
On the morning of the third day after the war, one of the doctors walked up to Kent and requested a short audience with him. He was an old man, and the efforts of the past days had left him tired and almost unable to function. But his mind was still sharp, and his eyes flashed as he unfolded his tale to Kent. "There is nothing we can do." Kent looked quizzically at the old man. "What do you mean?" "We have no cure for the disease. We can't even guess at it. Do you know why?" "No. Tell me."
The old man shuddered, then spoke. "It's biological warfare. They hit us with advanced disease weaponry. You see, five years ago I was part of a Presidential commission on germ warfare, and I remember parts of the briefings they gave us. To this day I cannot believe that men would actually plot to spread some of the diseases they had developed. My mind could not accept it, and it still doesn't. But it's the only explanation." "There is nothing we can do?" "Some people are bound to survive. You know, natural selection and all that. But for the others, we can do nothing. Get out of here while you can and save yourself. That's all you can do."
Kent stared at the old man, wishing he was not hearing this, then forced himself to weigh the evidence. It not only made sense, but it was the only thing that made sense. He thanked the old man, then turned on his heel to go and find John.
He crossed the trampled ground of the camp, passing hastily dug latrines and graves, stumbling over debris. He found John leaning wearily against a fence post, directing some of the last few healthy men in the digging of graves. He looked up as Kent approached, and attempted a smile. "You must not be doing a very good job. Business is booming here." "We're trying. Listen, I gotta talk to you in private. Now!" John frowned, then pushed himself away from the post and followed Kent to a more secluded spot of the camp. Kent stopped, then turned to face John. "We've got to get out of here. This disease that's killing everyone is a weapon. Germ warfare. If we stay any longer, we run the risk of contamination ourselves." John looked at the men laboring to dig graves under the hot Illinois sun. "Are you sure about this?" "Yes." "Let's go."
They hurried across the camp to their makeshift bivouac, and gathered up their meager belongings. Kent stopped briefly to warn the other surviving doctors, only to find that they had all left. Evidently they were all warned by the older doctor.
The two men turned their backs to the horror of the camp and began walking east...
*** Chapter Seven ***
"Hey Brian, could you be my navigator, I can't drive this thing and read the map at the same time." "Sure. I'll tell you when you want to turn off the highway"
While I was studying the map, and Gary was driving, Danny was in the back checking out the defensive systems he had just finished working on. It only took us a few minutes to figure out he was done when we noticed half the trees on both sides of the road get blown away by the two synchronized lasers up in the defensive turret. I would have gone back to shoot some things up myself if Gary hadn't needed me to help him out. That looked like fun!
We turned around and started backtracking, we traveled west on Highway 13 for about a half hour, then turned southwest on Highway 45. After another thirty minutes of travel we were nearing Ozark, Illinois. According to the map, the road leading to the base was four miles northeast of Ozark. We would soon be there.
Then I saw it, there on the left-hand side of the road was the off-road that, according to the map, led to the base. "Okay Gary, turn left on that road up there. See it?" "Yeah, I see it." Soon the treader was following a winding blacktop road through the Shawnee National Forest. We couldn't see more than fifty feet ahead of us, due to the heavy foliage which was rapidly thinning due to Danny's laser. After travelling for eight more minutes we came up to a twelve foot high chain link fence with barbed wire wrapped around at the top and a large red sign reading 'Fort McBradley - Military Base --- Danger: This fence is electrified - Do not touch'. This was obviously one of the many military bases recently set up since the Soviet missile crisis of '89.
"What do we do now?" I asked "I don't know, I don't see any guards or anybody, do you?" "Let's try to signal the base, that manual mentioned the base's radio frequency." "All right, we can do that...Treader-I to Fort McBradley, Treader-I to Fort McBradley, do you read?... Treader-I to Fort McBradley, Treader-I to Fort McBradley, do you read?... I'm not getting any answer, there doesn't seem to be anyone home, does there?" "No, this place is like...deserted" "Do you want to try and ram the fence?" "We better not, that fence might be electrified, and it might piss off the people inside" "Hey Danny, come on up here" "Why? What's the matter?" "That sign on the fence says it is electrified. Could you go out in the ATV and check it out, see if it's still electrified. If it is, see if you can short the fence out, you know a lot about electronics, right?" "No problem"
Soon we saw Danny in his radiation suit driving the small ATV out towards the fence. With the external arm he grabbed a branch and tossed it towards the fence. As it hit the fence, it burst into a flurry of ash that blew off into the woods. "Damn, that must have at least 2000 volts", we heard Danny exclaim over the two-way radio from the ATV." "Can you short it out?" "No problem", he replied as he drove the ATV next to the control box on the fence. He then climbed out of the vehicle and blew it away with a flame-thrower. "Shit, I could have done that." "Well it worked, see!" replied Danny as he threw another branch at the fence, which just bounced off unharmed.
Dan knocked the control box off of the fence, then set to work at the electronic lock holding the gate shut. Gary and I amused ourselves listening to Dan colorful language as he tried his luck on that lock. Finally we heard him yell "Die, lock!" as he unsheathed the M-16 he had claimed. Soon the lock was visiting the control box wherever dead electronic things go. Then Dan opened the gates and got back in the ATV, where he radioed us, "Let's go". "Who taught you electronics? Your mother?", asked Gary "Ha, you're just jealous", yelled Dan as he sped through the now open gate. "Well, you heard the man, let's go", I said.
Soon we were following Dan in the treader. There were few trees inside the fence, the ground was more or less covered with asphalt. In the middle of the open ground there were about a half dozen plain looking concrete buildings. The only building that was remarkable in any fashion was two-story and had a large army insignia painted on one wall with 'Fort McBradley' written in stylized letters underneath. The only break in the concrete was a single glass door right underneath the insignia. Silence overcame the treader as we neared the building, nervous that there may be someone home who might be offended at the fact that we tore up their gate.
Scanning the doorway, I thought I saw a figure watching us from behind the door. "Hey, what was that? Did I see someone behind that door? Hey Gary, did you see anyone there?" "No, I wasn't paying attention. Yeah, it sorta does look like someone there watching us. You don't think they're gonna come after us, do you?" "No, they would've stopped us at the gate."
Then, all of a sudden, a mad rush of about two dozen people ran out of the building, it only took me a moment to notice that their faces had mostly rotted away, and that they were screeching madly at us throwing pipes, wrenches and anything else they could get their hands on at us and Danny's ATV. Danny, who was still in the ATV and much closer to the crowd, yelled "God, what are they? That must be what happens to people who get that disease from the missiles. Jesus, I think I'm going to be sick. Lower the hatch, I'm coming in!" Danny turned around and broke a hasty retreat. The creatures were playing a merry chase, but Danny didn't have anything to worry about, he got back up the ramp and into the treader with plenty of time to spare.
"Shit, they are gross!", we heard Danny yell from the back, as he ran from the ATV up to the defense tower. Soon the creatures were getting blasted away by the intense laser beam from the laser turret. 2 down, 6, 8, 17, soon they would all be dead, but why, just because they were sick. Damn those Russians, killing innocent people for no reason. But why aren't they safe, don't all military bases have bomb shelters? Well, no time to worry about that now, here they come. Danny had taken care of all of them except four, who were now running straight for the treader. "What are they doing? They're coming straight for us - their gonna hit us!" But they kept coming, waving their arms about like madmen. Gary tried to swerve out of the way, but it was to late. With an audible crunch the treader hit them and pulled them under. Red splashed onto the viewing screen. Gary slammed on the brakes, and just sat their breathing hard with his mouth moving, as if he wanted to say something, but couldn't find the words to say what he thought.
*** Chapter Eight ***
The two men, Kent and John, walked on through the long July afternoon, both remaining mostly silent as the hopelessness of their position became apparent. With a deadly disease on the loose, not to mention the more common diseases, radiation, and other risks, the chances for their survival dwindled further every moment.
The day slowly inched on. The two men had been walking for hours and the day was nearing its end, the time approaching seven o'clock when Kent stopped, and got John's attention. "I recognize this territory, don't you?" "No." Kent scowled, then continued. "Think about it." "Explain yourself." "We're only about six miles from Scott Air Force Base. We could probably get there before sunset." "I don't know about you, but I can't make it. I'm beat!" "Quit complaining, it's not that far."
John grumbled his assent, and they set off in a slightly different direction, eventually coming to the airbase. It was a huge base with many buildings, most seemingly intact. The fence surrounding the base had collapsed at various places, so gaining entry was not a problem.
They squeezed through one of the gaps, then walked carefully across the tarmac towards a group of buildings lining the perimeter of the base. A few airplanes sat on the side of the field in various states of disrepair- the blast and fire had an awesome effect even this far from ground zero. None of them would fly. Kent looked at John. "You were in the National Guard, weren't you? Can you fly?" John considered for a moment. "Yeah, but not very well. I doubt if they have any old Bell Huey's or Piper Scouts around this place. That's what I'm trained on." "Let's have a look in the hangars, anyway." They had approached within a hundred and fifty yards of the nearest hangar when a flash of brief movement caught their eye. They stopped, then dropped to the ground when they realized that the object of the movement was a soldier carrying an assault rifle.
Kent peered into the failing light of evening. "I guess the place is occupied after all. Suppose we ought to approach, or just go away and look for someplace else?" John made no reply, but reached into a small case hanging from his belt, and withdrew a small but powerful pair of binoculars, booty from the sporting goods store. He lifted them to his eyes, and examined the soldier moving around in front of the open hangar doors. Kent by this time had lifted and aimed his rifle, also liberated from the store, and taken aim. It was a 30-30 automatic Mossberg, equipped with a scope and 20 round magazine. Deadly at 150 yards.
John gazed at the distant form of the soldier, then frowned. "Something's wrong. This guy is acting like he's drunk; he keeps staggering around and tripping over his own feet." "He might very well be drunk. Maybe he couldn't handle the war and decided he was better off not being a part of the planet." "In that case he's probably dangerous. Shoot him." Kent looked momentarily startled at his friend's suddenly brutal tone: ordinarily, John was a mellow kind of guy. Oh well, crisis changes everyone. He took sure aim, then fired. The distant soldier spun around and crumpled to the ground, motionless.
They rose to approach the body, only to dive to the ground again moments later as the sharp cracks of an automatic weapon shattered the still air. The shots continued as the hidden gunman expended a full magazine, then stopped. They hugged the ground for two whole minutes, waiting for more shots, but the only sounds were the distant roar of the burning city and the moan of the wind. Finally, Kent tired of waiting. "I'm going to make a run for that hangar. Cover me." John snorted. "You sound just like some TV tough guy. Those are real bullets out there, you know." Kent's only reply was to push himself off of the ground and begin running.
John cursed and yanked his pistol from its brand-new holster and braced it on his left arm, holding it with his right, and following Kent's erratic movement the whole time. Bits of debris scattered as he ran past, weaving and dodging so as not to give the silent rifleman an easy shot. Kent finally reached the spot of the fallen soldier, and slid towards the ground, then waited, motionless. No shots had been fired during his dash, and none were fired then.
Keeping a firm grip on his pistol, John picked up the binoculars and focused on Kent. He had moved over closer to the dead soldier, who lay face down, his rifle still held in one lifeless hand. Kent reached over and grabbed the rifle by the muzzle, then jerked his hand back in obvious pain. The barrel was still hot: somehow, the dying airman had squeezed the trigger, releasing the shots that had pinned us down.
John sighed, and then jumped up and trotted the distance to the hangar. Kent nursed his burned hand, then stood up and grabbed the rifle by the stock, yanking it away from the dead soldier. He examined the soldier's clothes; they seemed fairly intact, if very dusty and dirty, and implied that the man had not been subjected to the direct blast.
He looked over his shoulder and saw that John had risen, and was approaching from across the field. Kent looked back down at the man, then wondered what his name was. He'll probably have a badge of some sort, he thought. He grabbed the body by the shoulder and flipped him over, aware of John's approaching footsteps. He reached down for the soldier's dog tags and saw the man's face. He stopped, then slowly stood up.
John covered the last few yards between him and Kent. "What did ya find, Kent? I hope that..." His voice fell away as he looked at the dead soldier. "Kent, what...what happened to his face?" "I don't know." The soldier had no face.
*** Chapter Nine ***
Danny stepped in, taking off the helmet of his radiation suit, "Hey guys, what's the matter? Why have we stopped? Did they damage the trea...God, what happened here?" motioning at the red stained window. Without saying anything Gary put the treader in gear and start to move forward again. He turned on the windshield wipers and the blood flowed off the window. I heard Danny gasp and whisper "Jesus Christ" as a flash of realization hit him.
It took us no time at all to arrive at the bases front gate. "Do you think there are any more of them in there?" Gary asked me. I answered, "Well we can't just sit here, I'm going in. We've got flame-throwers and M-16's in the back - we can protect ourselves." "But why do we have to kill them, they didn't do anything, they're just sick. Can't we do anything for them?" asked Gary "Not unless we find some kind of antidote, those Russians weren't fooling around with that disease." answered Dan "Let's not just sit here, let's do something!" I said "Alright, you two go. I'll stay here and guard the treader. Keep contact with me on the radio. If you need any help, I'll be right there." "Come on, we need your help!" "No, I'd rather stay here. Really." "Oh, all right. But you better put on your radiation suit, if we need you there won't be enough time to put it on. Well, come on Dan. We might as well get started." "I'll open up the hatch for you", called Gary as we left the chamber.
In no time, Dan and I were dressed in battle gear and a radiation suit carrying a handy array of M-16's and flame-throwers. We climbed into the ATV and Danny drove us down the ramp down onto the asphalt below. We drove up to the building and parked the car off to the side of the doorway. As we climbed out, I shot a glance back at the treader, and saw Gary wave then walk towards the back, probably to put on his radiation suit.
We walked up to the front door, there didn't seem to be anyone else inside, but still we were careful. We walked down a narrow white hall, the first room we came up to was the men's room.
"Hey, I gotta take a leak.", said Danny "That's fine with me. I'll be right here.", I replied After he walked through the door to the men's room I heard him gasp and scream, "Holy Shit!" Danny jumped back through the door almost knocking me over in the process.
"What happened?", I asked him. Not needing an answer, I saw half a dozen of the aforementioned creatures dash out of the bathroom and jump at our throats. Danny was hit by a flying toilet lid, dropping his gun. Dan got up and grappled for his gun, which one of the creatures had decided was his. The mutants were upon me...
*** Chapter Ten ***
The first of the creatures came for me. I swung the butt of my M-16 at him, knocking it unconscious and tearing off half of its near rotten face. I grabbed for my radio, screaming "Get down here Gary. Quick!" as I pushed down the transmit button. Another of the creatures grabbed at me. I hit it with my radio, hearing the fragile insides break. I felt something hit me hard on the back of my neck, and as if in slow motion, I fell to the floor. When I felt a sharp, stabbing pain at my chest it was all I could take; I passed out. The last thing I remember seeing before all blacked out was one of the creatures bending over me with a hideous grin on his face, a blast of noise, and the creatures grin turn into a scream.
I came to with an burning pain in my chest. After forcing my eyes to focus, I noticed that we were some kind of infirmary. Collecting my wits together, I started to get up, making my chest scream in agony. Looking around, I saw Danny laying in the bed next to me with Gary standing over him with a first aid kit in one hand and a bunch of bloody bandages in the other.
Danny, noticing I was awake, smiled and nodded his head at me. Gary looked at me and said, "Oh you're awake, how do you feel?" "Ohhhh, I feel great." I moaned "You were in pretty bad shape, bleeding all over the floor. I stopped the bleeding, but these bandages were all soaked with blood so I took them off. Since you're awake now, I might as well go back to the treader and get more bandages. Here are your guns so you guys can protect yourselves. I'll be right back." said Gary. He started to jog back down the passage toward the treader.
I looked down at my chest and saw that around my shirt was all torn up around my chest and covered with blood. I closed my eyes, trying to keep myself from fainting. After I started to feel better, I gathered up enough courage to look under my shirt, my chest had five claw marks, each about six inches long, raking down it. I felt I was going to be sick. It would be a while before I felt better again.
"Hey Brian, are you okay?", Danny asked me "I don't think so. I'll be all right in a minute," I said as started to pass out. "You don't look too good, here let me take that gun before you drop it. Gary will be back in a minute with the bandages." "Handing the gun to him, I said, "Thanks...Lord, I feel rotten. What happened?" "Well, one of those mutants kicked me in the head as I tried to get my gun back, and I was out cold. From what Gary said, he was all ready in the treader to come help us if we needed it. So when he heard your call for help, he came running. When he got here, he saw all those mutants crawling over us, one of them was bending over you starting to tear your chest open. When he saw what was happening, he just blew 'em all away. We were lucky he didn't get us while he was shooting up the place like he had good sense. Then he brought us down here, to get us away from all those dead mutants. Well, speak of the devil. Here he comes now."
Looking down the corridor, I saw Gary jogging toward us holding a first aid kit in his hand. He stopped a few feet in front of us to catch his breath. After he was breathing easier, he opened the first aid kit, took out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, poured some of it on a cotton ball, and sterilized my chest with it (making my brain flip over a few times, all I needed was hydrogen peroxide to ease my pain), and wrapped it up with some fresh bandages.
"There, feel better?", Gary asked me as my eyes were rolling back so far that I was sure I would ever see straight again. "Ohhhh, I feel just wonderful. God, why don't you become a full time doctor and make everyone feel so great."
Gary smiled briefly, then became serious. "Don't complain too much. We could be running around with our faces falling off like everyone else on this planet. Consider yourself one of the lucky ones."
*** Chapter Eleven ***
We stayed at the deserted base for about a week or so, while our wounds healed. A day later Dan and I were up and around, but it was several days before we felt well enough to go on. The only question remaining was where to go, if there are any places left to go to, that is.
In the meantime, there was the base to explore. It wasn't very large, consisting of two large barracks, three administration buildings, a helipad, a hangar, and a motorpool. There was also a laboratory, one obviously designed for dangerous experimentation, as it had concrete walls two feet thick, and a chromium steel door resembling a bank vault. Fortunately, most of the mutants running around the base before we came had forgotten their manners; the door was standing wide open.
The day after the battle, Gary explored the base, looking for anything useful. The whole day he kept carting boxes full of miscellaneous articles into our tiny infirmary, making it even more crowded. Danny and I didn't mind too much, though, we had fun searching through all the junk he brought in. We couldn't believe our luck, what would a sick person want more than books to read? And we found a whole box full of science fiction and fantasy novels.
The next day around noon, Dan and I were lying on our backs and catching up on our Poul Anderson in the base's tiny infirmary when Gary strolled into the room, tracking mud and dust onto the sparkling white floor.
"I've been having a look about the base, while you two goldbricks were having a nap." he announced, looking quite pleased with himself. Dan eyed the grime already drying on the floor. "It appears that you've brought quite a bit back with you", he remarked, then looking at Gary. "Did you find anything?". Gary briefly outlined the parameters and configuration of the base. "The only unusual thing was their bombproof lab. I didn't really have a chance to look into it. Do you guys want to check it out with me?"
I looked down at the gauze covering my lacerated chest. "I think I feel well enough to have a look at this lab. How about you, Dan?" Dan touched his bandaged temple, then grimaced. "Yeah, I suppose. The fresh air might do me good."
We left the infirmary which, ironically, entered the same corridor we had been wounded in. We stopped before the exit to put on our radiation suits and get our weapons ready. As we were leaving the building, we passed a pile of mutant corpses, left where Gary had dropped them when he dragged them from the building. They had begun to decompose, yet there was little stench; most of the corpses were not much more than skin and bones anyway.
The structure we had just left was third in line of four buildings, perpendicular to the road we had approached on. To our right as we exited the building lay the two barracks, on our left was another administration building. Off in the distance was the formerly electric fence.
We turned left and walked between the administration and infirmary buildings, and headed toward the motorpool and hangar, which sat behind the line of other structures. Behind them was the lab. "What's in the hangar?", Dan asked. "You know I used to do a little bit of amateur barnstorming, maybe I could fly us out of here." Gary smiled, then shook his head. "I already looked. Nothing useful in the hangar, but the motorpool had a bunch of trucks and staff cars and stuff."
"What about tanks?" "No such luck. But, there are parts to our treader in there, fuel too. At least we have wheels." Dan nodded. "Yeah, too bad we don't have any place to cruise." We laughed halfheartedly at this observation, then fell silent as we each considered our own thoughts.
*** Chapter Twelve ***
We passed between the hangar and motor pool, across ground already choked with weeds. Soon the outlines of the lab began to take shape: It was huge, covering almost an acre, and was built like a bomb shelter. The interior beyond the small patch of light cast by the open door was dark. "Have you checked out the insides? I mean, for mutants and stuff?"
Gary look at me as if I had lost my senses. "Are you kidding? I wouldn't go in that place alone! Why do you think I came and got you guys? And these?" He held up three large electric lanterns, then handed one each to Dan and I. "No telling what's in there."
Right inside the entrance was a airlock, after entering the airlock, we shut the outer door and took off our radiation suits. A recorded voice told us, "Please wait. Decontamination process starting," as a cleansing gas began spraying into the chamber. After a few uncomfortable minutes being cleansed we were again addressed by the recorded voice, "Decontamination process finished...You may now enter the laboratory."
We flipped a coin to see who would go first. Naturally I lost. I flicked on my flashlight and opened the inner door. My lanterns beam revealed rows of benches covered with various pieces of scientific equipment, some of which still blinked on and off, almost in spite of the emptiness of the place.
Gary had followed me, and was searching for a light switch on the wall beside the door. With an "Aha!" he found it, and flicked it on. Rows of florescent lights flashed on, revealing about a quarter of the interior. "Don't just stand there, turn on the rest!" said Dan, looking cautiously through the doorway. Gary examined the many switches on the wall. Apparently, he had been lucky in finding a light switch on the first try - there were about twenty or thirty switches on the wall.
After careful consideration, he reached out and flipped a few more, causing the rest of the lab to spring to light. Looking around, I took in this massive chamber, filled with assorted laboratory equipment with many smaller laboratories and offices around the circumference of the room. "Looks like we won't need these.", Gary said, turning off his flash and hanging it on his belt. "Let's split up and search quickly. Yell if either of you need help or find something," said Gary as he shut the massive laboratory door to keep out the mutants.
With that, we each set off to different parts of the lab; Dan and Gary moving off to the left and right, respectively, and myself taking the center. Benches, tables, and all of the other clutter associated with lab work cluttered the center of the building, yet there was nothing unusual. I stopped and opened one cabinet labeled 'Staff F&D', which apparently stood for Food and Drink, but all I found was a collection of moldy sandwiches and a stale can of old coffee.
There was a cry of discovery from off to the left - evidently, Dan had found something. Gary yelled from across the lab, "Whad'ya find, Dan? Anything exciting."
"You bet I did!", yelled Dan, "I found a radio! A short-wave radio!". By this time Gary and I had made our way across the lab to where Dan was standing. He was in an office off to the side of the main lab- probably used for administration. The radio in question was a large, professional-looking outfit, and was covered with buttons and switches that to an untrained eye like mine had no meaning.
Gary was at Dan's side, peering at the radio. "Can you get it to work? After all, you're the electronics whiz here". Dan looked at the radio, then at us. "It's already working. Do you hear anything?". Gary and I shook our heads. "That's probably because there is nothing out there to hear. It was on when I found it". Dan looked at the radio. "Not really much use, is it?" "Does it transmit?", I asked. "Maybe someone out there is listening, too". "Sure it transmits. Yeah, let's do a little talking. I haven't used my ham license in a couple of years, but I don't think the FCC is going to come swooping down on us. With that, Dan picked up the mike. "CQ, CQ, CQ. This is Tango Tango Foxtrot three two seven three two calling from McBradley Air Force Base. If you copy please acknowledge. Over." Silence from the radio speaker was his only response. Five seconds later he tried again, with the same results.
"Try again on a different frequency" said Gary, holding up a centimeter-thick book. "I found this in this desk. It's a list of military channels."
I grabbed the book and scanned the table of contents. "Look down here", I said. "There's a list of emergency and restricted frequencies. If anyone's listening, they'll be listening there." Dan took the book an began to adjust the receiver. Static, squeals, and other noise spilled from the speaker as the band spreader raced across the dial. He said, "Let's check the ham channels, and international bands first. Maybe we can get Radio Moscow!"
"Not likely!" "No, not really, but there is always a chance."
A quick yet thorough search of the wavelengths proved futile. Only one operating station remained on the air, and that was the automated time station WWV in Colorado. Dan finished his second search of the airwaves, paused, and then spoke, with a surprising note of hope in his voice. "With all those nuclear explosions, the atmosphere is bound to be messed up. There are probably people transmitting out there and we just can't get them yet. Besides, there are lots of bands we haven't tried yet." He bent and once again put his ear to the speaker. "I'm going to try those military channels now. Read them off in order, while I work the radio." With Gary reading off the frequencies, Dan adjusting the radio, and myself praying fervently, we went down the list. At each frequency, Dan would listen, broadcast his short message, listen, and then move on. At the twelfth listed frequency, Dan transmitted his short message, listened, and then rather despondently said "No one home there, either." He reached for the band spreader when an amplified squeal erupted from the speaker. Dan jerked his hand back in surprise, then bolted forward as the implications of the squeal struck home. Someone out there was getting ready to transmit.
*** Chapter Thirteen ***
Gary and I stared at Dan for a few seconds before we fully realized what was going on, whereupon we both commenced to yell at each other, at Dan, and at everything in general. Dan whipped around and silenced us with one look, and then we all concentrated on the radio.
The squeal gradually faded, and was replaced by an excited male voice. "Calling Fort McBradley, we copy you loud and clear. This is Lieutenant Smith of the United States Army. Is your CO there? Over." Dan looked at us, then spoke into the mike. "Lieutenant, this is Danny Gentry, I'm a civilian. We've kind of taken over here, since the regular garrison are pretty much dead. Where are you? Over."
Silence for a moment, then "Mister Gentry, we're glad you're alive, but we can't tell you where we are just yet. As far as we know the Russians are still in business". A pause. "However, we'll send a detachment to you base to escort you here. We're not to far away. And in case you're wondering, we've still got all our skin. Over."
We smiled at each other, then Danny spoke. "When will your troops be here? And what can we do while we're waiting? Over." There was a crash of static, then the lieutenant's voice. "We should be there by tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, sit tight and gather up anything you think is important. Right now we need transport, fuel, and ammo." There was a muted discussion in the background. "One more thing. McBradley was a research base, so they should have a big lab there. Have you found it? Over." Dan smiled. "We're sitting in it. Over." "Great! Look around for a manual and a bunch of test tubes labeled 'Experimental Serum A,B,C,D, or Q', and some others labeled 'HCB Hydroproteins'. I suppose you can guess why we want these, so I won't explain them. Anyway, look for these things- you'll make our work a lot easier. Over." "One more question, who won the war? Over." "It has been a standoff so far. The Russians are still attacking with non-nuclear weapons. All we are trying to do is defend ourselves. Oh Shit....Hey, I gotta go now, those Russians are attacking our base. We might be a little late picking you up. Over."
On that note the conversation ceased.
"Hey Gary, where does that manual say this place is?" "The last one you radioed was...let me see...oh, here it is. That was Van Buran Air Force Base near Evansville, Indiana. Let's see, according to this map it is about ninety miles away from here to the northeast." "Didn't he mention something about finding some test tubes with some kind of serum in them?", I put in. "Yeah, he did. Why don't we start looking for them right now. You look over on the west side of the lab, I'll look over here by the door, and Dan, you look over there on the east side. Put anything interesting in the center of the lab. All right?" "That's fine with us." answered Dan for both of us.
We then began searching through the lab, picking things up and searching through drawers on the way. Searching through the northwest corner of the room, I noticed a door with 'WEAPONS' stenciled eye level on it. "Hey, this should be interesting", I thought as I pulled on the door handle...It wouldn't budge. Examining the door more closely I found two small keyholes off to the right of the handle. Not having any keys, I did the second best thing. The door soon found itself lockless as hundreds of copper sheathed bullets ripped through the door, tearing out the lock and putting a fist sized hole in the door.
Another pull on the handle proved my skill as a locksmith. The door opened easily enough. Entering a small, pearly white, air conditioned 10 by 10 foot chamber, I discovered piles of boxes containing bullets, explosives, cases of napalm, grenades, rifles, machine guns, flame-throwers and many other implements of destruction. My heart skipping a beat as I realized those bullets shooting through the door could have blown me and my friends sky high. Luckily the bullets were shot at a sharp downward angle, going through the door and hitting the floor about a foot behind the door and not hitting any of the explosives. Still I was very lucky, I promised myself not to do anything so stupid again as my heart started to beat normally!
Coming over to find out what all the ruckus was about, Gary and Danny came jogging toward the little room.
"Hey, what's all the noise about?", asked Gary. "I had to shoot open the door." "Wow, look at all this stuff." "After we find that serum, we'll have to load all this into the treader.", Danny put in. "Yeah, we might as well finish looking for that serum," said Gary
Entering a small crowded office with a desk and many filing cabinets I saw a pair of legs sticking out from under the desk. Going around to the other side of the desk, I discovered a decaying body wearing a tattered officers uniform. Sickened, I was about to leave the room when I noticed something on top of the desk, amid the usual knickknacks found on military desks, was a small pile of folders with labels such as 'Serum tests', 'Serum A', Serum B', etc. Not believing my good luck I grabbed the folders and rushed into the main part of the lab screaming, "I found them, I found them."
Gary and Dan ran over to look at these folders I was holding out to them. "Hey, chill out. Here, let me have a look at them." Gary said as he took the files from me and started to flip through them. As he read his face brightened up and he said, "According to this, the serum is kept in laboratory 'C'. "Laboratory C, were is that?", I asked "There, over on the east wall, I was about to search there next," answered Danny.
We ran over to the laboratory and entered another pure white room filled with a forest of glass tubes and beakers, bunsen burners, microscopes, and many more things I didn't begin to comprehend. After a quick search of the room, we found a large cabinet labeled 'Mixtures'. Opening it, we discovered racks upon racks of test tubes, off above all the other racks was a smaller rack labeled 'Test Serums'. The find inspired a shout of happiness from us all. Danny found a small box, wrapped the rack up with some old finance papers he grabbed out of a filing cabinet, and put the rack carefully in the box.
Danny led us out of 'C' laboratory carrying the serums, as we left the room I had my first chance to see what my friends had found. There was a small pile of boxes and assorted machinery. The first thing that came to my attention was an Apple ][x computer. Commenting on this, Gary told me that he found it and some software with the hopes that he could hook it up to the energy supply in the treader. Also in the pile were some technical machinery that Dan thought might be useful such as an improved prototype radar scope and a laser powered saw. Gary told us he would go get the treader and bring it over to the lab so we could load all our newly acquired stuff into it.
In a few minutes the treader was sitting right outside the entrance to the lab. Now the only problem was getting around the stupid airlock. We would have to come in and out of this lab many times carrying stuff out to the treader, we didn't want to be bothered by the airlock each time. Danny came up with the solution. We removed the hinges from the inner door and slid the door off to one side. Now we could just leave the outer door open and walk in and out without any problem from the airlock.
We then spent the next few hours loading up our treader with all the weapons I found, the technical equipment Danny found, and the Apple ][x Gary found. Hooking up the Apple to the battery via the internal generator that powered all the lights was no problem, except it did make the treader noticeably dimmer when the computer was turned on.
There wasn't too much left to be done at the base so we decided to prepare ourselves and be ready to leave when the rescue crew came. Over the next few days we searched for useful things to take with us. We were occasionally attacked by mutants, but the attacks were few and far between. Most of the mutants had already been killed that first day. We filled our treader uncomfortably with food and water stores, weapons, fuel, replacement parts for our treader and computer equipment, and anything else we could get our hands on. I was personally surprised when I didn't see the kitchen sink amid the piles of stores filling our treader.
The day came that we were all prepared to leave. It was five days after we had talked to the officer from Van Buren Air Force Base and the rescue team still hadn't arrived. We decided the rescue team wasn't coming. "We should leave before the Russians come and attack us too," Gary argued, "The Russians must have won out, or the Americans are too weak after their battle to save us and maybe they can't contact us on the radio." Danny and I both agreed it would be best to leave partly because of the reasons Gary gave, but mostly because we were tired of waiting around for them.
We had just lost sight of Fort McBradley, travelling northeast on Highway 45. Gary was driving, Danny was riding up in the defensive turret, and I was entertaining myself, reading in the main chamber when all of a sudden we heard a helicopter approach. The radio squealed and someone with an authoritative voice began talking.
*** Chapter Fourteen ***
And so the message came over the radio...
"Attention, you in the personnel carrier. This is Captain John Jontry, Unites States National Guard. If you are receiving us, please respond. Over." crackled the radio. With a audible sigh of relief, I pushed down the 'Talk' button and said, "Boy are we glad to hear from you! This is Brian Cameron, I'm a civilian. We have sort of taken over this treader. Are you the rescue team from Van Buren Air Force Base?" "No, we're from Scott Air Force Base. If you're not Russians, pull over so we can have a conference. Over." As this was said, Gary gave me the thumbs up sign and started to downshift the engine. "We're one step ahead of you. We're pulling over right now."
Soon the treader was parked on the side of Highway 45 with the helicopter sitting beside it, it's rotors still turning gently.
We invited our new friends to an army-special gourmet treat. With all of us sitting around a fold-up card table that Danny hastily set up in the center of the crowded main chamber. We were sitting there talking and enjoying our army-ration surprise. Our army-rations always turned out to be a surprise since we never knew what we were going to eat next. All the food canisters were numerically coded, a code which we had yet to understand; Gary got his all-time favorite, spinach; Danny got spagetios; I had no idea what the thing was in my canister. To our great envy, our friends obviously already understood the codes; they were each eating a canister of the rare steak substitute. To add to our annoyance, John and his friends refused to share the secret with us, hiding the coveted code from us, thinking they were being real witty.
It wasn't so bad that we often got crummy meals, it was just that when we got something we really hated we couldn't get anything else; sometimes we could trade meals with one another, but usually when we got something nasty, no one else would want it either. You might wonder why we forced ourselves to eat food we didn't like, but we had no choice - I mean we have to stretch our rations as far as they will go. They won't last for ever, you know.
Nevertheless, we had great fun talking; we were sitting there jabbering for about six hours, telling our post-holocaust stories and such. Gary had everyone's attention as he told his version of our adventures, interrupted occasionally by either Danny or I so our new companions would know what actually happened. When Gary was finished storytelling, Kent volunteered to tell us their ventures in this new world. He told us about their incredible escape from Cahokia, the terror of the refugee camp, how they found their way to Scott Air Force Base, and about the soldier with no face.
"And now we get to the good part," said Kent with a grim look on his face. He continued with the story...
*** Chapter Fifteen ***
The two men were standing over the mutilated soldier. Sick with revulsion, John wasn't sure he could keep himself from vomiting. "Do you think it was flash burns?" "I don't think so. Look at his uniform. The rest of him looks normal, just his face. It's something else," answered Kent John felt his skin crawl. "Is it...that disease or something? He acted like he was pretty sick when we first saw him." "I wouldn't be surprised," Kent replied They both fell silent. John tore his eyes from the body, and began walking to the hangar. Kent waited a moment, then slowly followed, periodically glancing back at the dead soldier.
The night sky was hidden by storm clouds, although there was an occasional glimpse of the moon as it appeared from behind the clouds. A brisk breeze whistling through the hanger only added more gloom to the mood of the two men. John started walking towards the hangar with an electric lamp from the sporting goods store in one hand and his pistol in the other. He motioned at Kent to pull open the huge door of the hangar. Kent grasped the handle and pulled, and was mildly surprised when the door slid open smoothly.
John advanced cautiously into the interior of the hangar, shining his light into every nook and cranny, searching for any sign of a human being. There was no evidence of anyone else in the hangar, but it was huge and very dark, with many more places yet to search.
Surprisingly, the hangar was mostly empty, containing mostly tractors and other non-descript vehicles, with only one or two small helicopters. John walked around the tractors, noting that most of them appeared to be in operating condition, this was not true of the 'copters.
Kent, in the meantime, had walked past the little group of vehicles, and had illuminated the rest of the hangar with his own powerful electrical lamp. Apparently, the other two-thirds of the hangar was empty. He gazed disappointingly at the empty hangar, when something struck him as very odd. He mentally compared the inside configurations of the hanger with his outside view of the building, when he realized that a large portion of the interior had not yet been searched through.
Kent turned and yelled to John, who approached as rapidly as the dark and clutter would allow. "Have you noticed something weird about the shape of this place?", asked Kent. John looked at the rest of the hangar in curiosity, then smiled. "Yes, I think I do."
They walked across the floor to a false wall. "Let's find a door, or something so we can get inside," said John, waving his lamp back and forth across the wall. They walked about halfway down the length of the hangar before coming across a sign, which said 'Project ThunderBlast - Positively No Admittance. Trespassers Shot On Sight', and a padlocked door leading into the walled-off area. John studied the sign, raised his pistol, shot off the padlock, and went inside.
The interior of the forbidden area was even darker than the rest of the hangar, and swallowed up the light of the torches. John looked around, then said, "Let's stick together in here." Kent agreed without complaint, and they moved off into the darkness.
The secure area contained many pieces of equipment, including lathes and maintenance tools. It also sported a large and powerful computer bank, as well as what appeared to be a complete electronic laboratory. John, an electrical engineer by trade, gazed at the advanced equipment, and could only shake his head. Some of it he could not even recognize. They must be using the most advanced stuff invented, he thought. Last I heard, they were talking about stuff like this in maybe twenty years!
A sudden cry from Kent brought his attention back to the forbidden room, specifically to an aircraft picked out by Kent's lamp. John stopped in his tracks and could only stare.
The aircraft was a helicopter, but different than any other he had ever seen. It was short, fat, and long; certainly very deadly looking, armed with what appeared to be a legion of missiles and two gattling-type machine guns. Two stubby wings jutted out on either side, serving as platforms for what looked like two small rocket engines. Overall, the entire machine gave the impression of being very swift, and very deadly. Kent whistled, then looked at John. "If it works, do you think you can fly it?" "Are you kidding? That's no Huey!" "Sure, but it's a helicopter! How different can it be?" John looked at the 'copter, then cleared his throat. "Well, I suppose I can have a look."
He walked up to the side of the craft, to what looked more or less like a hatch or door, and grasped what might be a door handle. There was a clicking sound, very much like the sound produced by drawing back the bolt of a machine gun. John released his grasp on the handle and looked at Kent. He was sure that the sound had not come from the helicopter. "Did you do that?", he asked. "No," said Kent. "Yes," said a voice.
John whipped around and pulled his pistol from its holster, then dropped to one knee. Kent, completely astonished by the whole thing, stood staring at the dark for a few seconds before also dropping to the floor. "Who are you? Where are you?", yelled John, waving his lamp around the shop in a vain attempt to spot the speaker.
A blinding light caught them full in the face, causing both to squint and cover their eyes. "Who are you and what are you doing messing around with my aircraft?", asked the voice. "I've got you both covered and there is no possible way you can escape, so start talking."
John, still on one knee and shading his eyes, suddenly jumped up and started running back and forth in front of the helicopter. Kent rolled over and hissed at him to get down, but instead John yelled "So shoot, buddy! You'll hit your precious helicopter, but you might get me!" Kent stared at John in complete horror. "Who the hell do you think you are? John Wayne?"
John ignored Kent, and yelled at the darkness, "So what's it gonna be, buddy?" "Alright, already! Sit down and we'll talk." The spotlight flicked off, and a generator started, the room lights coming on. As their eyes adjusted to the light, the hidden speaker became visible, crouched behind a crate and holding an ugly-looking assault rifle. He was moderately tall, with black hair and glasses, and wearing the uniform of a second lieutenant, Special Forces. He set down his powerful lantern, and cradled his rifle in one arm, its menacing muzzle pointing at the floor. He examined the two intruders, then spoke. "Second lieutenant Ethan Freimuth, United States Special Forces, serial number RA 899879455. Now, who are you two?" "Captain John Jontry, United States National Guard, serial number NG 874563224. And this is..." "Lieutenant Commander Kent Wolf, M.D., United States Naval Reserve, serial number NR 880010223. I think that about does it for the introductions. So, what's the deal here? You probably know more than we do."
Ethan smiled. "Only that you are both on active duty. Standing orders - in the event of a nuclear attack, all Reserve troops are automatically mobilized." "Great. So we had authority to kill that guy outside. Not that it's especially comforting." John looked at the helicopter. "Why didn't the Ruskies nuke this place?" "They tried, but we shot their missile down." Kent and John smiled weakly. A missile hitting Scott AFB would most certainly have killed them. John looked at the helicopter again. "Can you fly?" "No, can you?" "Maybe. I was hoping you could. I'm a weekend warrior, trained on stuff built during Vietnam. The only reason I can fly is because I was trained for paratroop duty, and might have to do my own flying." "No kidding! Were you in Nicaragua?" "Yeah, but I didn't see much action. It was mostly over by the time I got there." "Same here. But can you fly us out of here?" "Not out of here, but maybe if we push it out onto the tarmac I can." "Wise guy." "If I'm so smart, what am I doing here?" "Surviving."
*** Chapter Sixteen ***
Two hours later, with the help of various tractors and lights provided by the base generator, the helicopter sat on the tarmac thirty yards from the hangar. Exit from the secure workshop was provided by a large door situated on the side of the hangar, which the short helicopter had no trouble passing through. While they struggled with the aircraft, the doctor related their struggles to reach the airbase, and then asked questions of his own.
"What were you doing sitting in the dark light that? Waiting for someone to come along and fly your helicopter out of here?" "In a sense, yes. I heard your shots outside, and figured that someone was coming my direction, so I turned out the lights and waited. I figured it was either scavengers or Russians come to search the base, and either way they would probably want into that workshop. So I prepared an ambush." "If you thought we were Russians, why didn't you shoot us?" "Well, reason number one is the fact that you both spoke English with a midwestern accent, and reason number two is that the big guy here talked about being in the National Guard and flying Piper Scouts. So I took a chance. Besides, only an American would be dumb enough to get up and run around while somebody is holding a machine gun on them." John looked up and smiled. "So I took a chance." He thought for a moment, then asked a question that had obviously been on his mind. "What happened to that guy outside?" The lieutenant frowned, a faint look of nausea passing across his face. "I don't know. While it was still light I took a peek outside, and there he was. He wasn't burned or anything, but his face was, well, rotting off, I guess. That's the closest I can come to describing it." The doctor and the engineer exchanged glances. "Why, what did you guys see?" Kent spoke. "By the time we saw him, his face was totally gone. No skin or flesh, just bone. Rotted off, just like you said." "Hmph. Well, nothing we can do for him now. Do you think that there is a chance the same thing will happen to us?" The doctor considered. "I don't know. Possibly. I don't even know what is causing it, so an accurate prognosis is out of the question." "I guess, then, that all we can do is hope." "Yeah."
They examined every inch of the craft, as far as their limited knowledge of aerospatial engineering would allow. The lieutenant, in fact, had a degree in aerospace engineering, but the advanced technology used in building this copter made his knowledge seem inadequate beyond basics.
After an hour of steady work, John wiped off his hands and looked at the other two. "Well," he said, "we've got it fueled up, and all her systems appear to be functional, so let's see if she'll fly." With that he grasped the handle that opened the hatch and twisted it. With a smooth ballet of technology, the pilot's hatch swung open. The engineer climbed into the pilot's compartment, situated in the nose of the helicopter, and threw another switch that opened another, larger hatch further down on the fuselage. The other two promptly began to load ammunition cases, weapons, and other gear into various interior compartments. Searching the interior of the copter John found a flight suit, which he immediately donned."
When all of the gear was stowed, and the other two in flight outfits, John spoke. "I looked at the systems of this thing, and apparently we need two people besides the pilot; one to operate the weapons, and one for communications and electronic flight operations. Kent you've got a ham license, so you'll be communications; Ethan, you're a Green Beret, so you're weapons. Any questions? No? Then let's go."
They climbed into the helicopter, each sitting at their respective positions, and fastened their harnesses. John studied the masses of buttons, switches, and dials lining the cockpit. Let's not worry about all these others, he thought. Let's just find the important ones.
Hesitantly, he reached out and flipped two switches, labeled "Primary Ignition", and was rewarded by a growing whine that indicated the turbines were turning over. He cracked the throttles, and flipped two more switches, labeled "Primary Spark". There was a series of explosions, and then a smooth roar of power. The six-bladed rotor atop the helicopter began to turn slowly, then picked up speed. He looked at the panel: all systems appeared to be in order. He watched the revolutions gauge, waiting until the revs had climbed enough to permit takeoff.
The needle had reached the critical point when John released the wheel brakes, and felt the craft begin to roll forward. He switched on the landing lights, and the field was illuminated in a blaze of light.
Now he watched the speed readout: at 60 knots, he pulled back on the yoke, and felt the ship begin to rise. He reached down and flipped another switch, labeled "Voice Control Activation", the said out loud, "Landing lights off". The lights snapped off, and he smiled. Most military aircraft had this feature nowadays, but he had never flown with it before. It certainly came in handy. He activated the intercom. "Can you guys hear me?" The responses came, "Loud and clear" and "Yeah, sure can" "Good. We're going to put this thing through her paces now. Weapons Control, give me your status." "Hold on, it should be coming up in a second."
The pilot looked through the clear plexiglass canopy, his face illuminated faintly by the orange glow of the smoldering city, examining the ground for any possible recognizable landmarks. They were heading west, so he put the craft into a shallow right bank, to begin heading north. Suddenly, the night scene was partially replaced by a bright schematic of the helicopter, showing the location and status of all her weapons. At the same time, Ethan's voice sounded in his ear. "I put the status readout on your heads-up display. Can you see it?"
"Sure can! This is great!" He whispered to the helicopter, "Display artificial horizon", and the schematic was replaced by an artificial horizon. "Activate starboard gun", and a tone sounded in his ear, followed by a computerized voice saying "Ready". He pressed the trigger on the yoke experimentally, and was rewarded by the multiple streaks of tracers leaping away into the night. "Display radar" brought a radar view of the surrounding country, repainted every second by a rotating finger of light. "This is fantastic!" He activated the intercom. "Communications, do you copy?" "Loud and clear." "Begin scan of all radio frequencies for possible transmissions."
The pilot turned his attention to the aircraft again. The shallow right turn had placed them on a course of 70 degrees, almost due east. He eased out of the turn and leveled off at 5000 feet. At the same time he rechecked all of the ship's systems; all still appeared to be in working order. He adjusted several controls, and then whispered "Maximum Fuel Economy Mode" and listened as the whine of the turbines diminished to a barely audible level. This is one sweet machine, he thought to himself.
They flew on through the night...
Sometime around five o'clock the next morning, fuel nearing exhaustion and the sky lightening with the approach of dawn, they landed at a small airport in southern Illinois. It had only two medium-sized hangers, but surprisingly it was equipped with emergency generators and high-octane fuel of the type needed for the helicopter. They examined the contents of the hangars, and found, among the various pleasure craft, several military craft.
"It must be the interim dispersal plan they were talking about." said the doctor. "They farm out some of the smaller units to fields like these, so as not to get in the way." They refueled the 'copter and checked for damage and malfunction. Finding none, they decided that it had been a long night and longer day, and found a place to sleep in the field's small control tower. They flipped a coin to see who would stand watch, and the engineer lost. He picked up an M-25 and stood guard, while the other two settled down on a couple of couches on the first-floor ready room of the control tower.
John settled back. It would be a long wait.
*** Chapter Seventeen ***
The day dragged on. They changed watch twice, first the soldier taking over, then the doctor. None of the watchmen saw any evidence of human life, save a solitary dust cloud far to the east, indicating some far-off vehicle. It was as if the entire population had evaporated, although the area had not been touched by a nuclear blast - even the electric power service remained intact. The ghost town-like atmosphere put the three men on edge, and left them looking over their shoulders with a gnawing feeling of impending doom. It was during the doctor's watch that they received their first sign of hope.
Kent's watch had continued for about three hours, early in the afternoon, when he grew tired of watching the still countryside and turned his attention to the tower radio. He soon discovered that it was not an ordinary air traffic control transceiver, but a military one also. He later realized that he should not have been surprised, in view of the fact that the airport was a base for a certain number of military aircraft. Soon he forgot entirely about keeping an eye out for intruders, an turned his attention solely to the radio, and a manual of military frequencies.
He played with the band spreader, listening carefully for all of the familiar stations. WRNO in New Orleans was silent, as was Radio Quito and Radio Canada International. At 25 megacycles, he picked up the strong signal from WWV in Colorado, and for a fleeting moment in the amateur bands heard a brief snatch of a clumsily coded transmission. It ceased before he could decipher it, and was not heard again. The characters he had caught made no sense, and the episode left him depressed and despairing for his country.
He shook himself from his brown study and opened the book of military frequencies. He flipped idly through the manual; it looked interesting, but not interesting enough to read. He tossed the manual back down on the table next to the radio, and was rising to return to his guard duty when he glanced at the page to which the dropped manual had fallen open. "EMERGENCY FREQUENCIES" read the boldfaced words. His curiosity aroused, he picked up the book, and changed the wavelength on the transceiver. What he heard made him jump two feet off his seat. "...will your troops be here. And what can we do while we're waiting? Over." The flat midwestern accent thundered from the speaker; Kent had turned up the volume to near maximum while searching the airwaves, and now he frantically reduced it. His heart pounded at the thought of other living humans in what was left of his country, and he listened for more with baited breath. A second American voice, fainter, drifted from the speaker. "We should be there by tomorrow afternoon," Be where? "In the meantime, sit tight and gather up anything you think is important. Right now we need transp...." The radio crackled and lights dimmed, then stopped altogether. Kent bolted upright, then sank back down. The electric power had finally failed. Kent heard the sound of footsteps behind him, but he did not turn around. Presently John's voice called out. "I heard voices in here. Did you get someone on the radio?" He looked around. "What happened to the lights?" He looked back at Kent, who had still not turned around, a note of concern creeping into his voice. "What in the hell is going on here?" Kent turned around and spoke, slowly and quietly. "There are people out there, alive, at a base somewhere. I heard them on the radio." John smiled, then thumped Kent on the shoulder. "Nice work, doc!" Then the concern reappeared. "Why the long face? What happened?" Kent looked miserable. "The power failed before I heard which base. I don't know where they are." John looked momentarily disappointed, but then slowly brightened. "Hey, this is an airbase, right?" "Yeah." "Then they've gotta have maps. How close do you think they were?" Kent looked at the radio, his mind beginning to function. "Judging by the strength of the signal, within 100 miles." "So all we do is find a map of Air Force bases in this area, and search each one till we find them. See? It all makes sense."
They searched the interior of the tower until they found a decent map of the countryside. They laid it out on a table in the center of the tower, obviously used for just such a purpose, and drew a circle with a hundred mile radius and centered on the small airport they presently inhabited. They counted all of the military bases that lay within that circle; there were eighteen altogether. John went and searched through another cabinet until he found the national guide to military airbases. Five of the eighteen were mentioned. That meant five bases to search. "Well, it's a start."
*** Chapter Eighteen ***
For the next three days, they crisscrossed southern Illinois and western Indiana searching for the origin of the radio broadcast. Two of the bases were in or near cities that had been eradicated, and almost no trace of the airports could be found. They had covered those and two others, and were on their way to the fifth. They had not found any signs of human life at the two surviving airbases, and their last hope of finding the people who had sent the message lay at the remaining airbase, one by the name of McBradley.
The sky was overcast and heavy-looking, lending a sense of depression to the crew of the helicopter as it cruised towards the last base at 2000 feet. The ground below did not look much different than it did eight days ago, before the war had started, but from the vantage of the aircraft, it looked eerily still. No vehicles in motion, no movement whatsoever. It did nothing to brighten the spirits.
The pilot gave only cursory attention to the controls, as the craft was on autopilot, and required very little attention. He gazed out the window, and thought of his parents, who had been in Arizona at the time of the war. He wondered if they still lived. The intercom crackled, and the voice of the Green Beret sounded in his ear. "John, I've got three bogeys on the radar at 3000 feet, about 15 miles away and closing fast." Ethan delivered the devastating information in a completely calm voice.
John sat upright, and removed the helicopter from autopilot and began to gain altitude. "Kent, open communications with the bogeys; Ethan, get me a reading on weapons and fuel, and put the radar on the HUD." They each bent to their individual tasks. John looked at the display that appeared in front of him. Three blips, arranged in a neat arrowhead formation, were rapidly closing the gap. As he watched, a piercing tone sounded in his ear, followed a moment later by the voice of the Green Beret. "They've locked on with targeting radar." And moment later, "They've fired." "Activate electronic countermeasures!" John whipped the yoke to the right, putting the helicopter in a tight, altitude-losing turn. "Are you tracking the missiles?" "They haven't changed course." Kent interrupted, "Computer has identified radar images as belonging to MiG-35's! They're Russians!" The helicopter was in a steep dive, heading for the deck. "Activate radar cloaking, and fire decoy flares!" Two rockets flashed outwards from opposite sides of the helicopter, bursting into bright pinpoints of light seconds later. "They aren't tracking us anymore." Two explosions bloomed far off on the port side of the aircraft; two missiles had found one flare. A split-second later, the shockwave rocked the craft, and shrapnel peppered the outside of the craft." "Holy shit, that was close!" "Are there any more missiles out there?" "There were four, but two didn't even get this far."
John began to level of at 400 feet. "Continue cloaking, but deactivate ECM. We're going to land someplace safe until those Ruskies back there lose their curiosity. What are they doing now?" "They're circling about 5 miles behind us, looking for debris, I assume." The doctor interrupted. "I've found their communications channel. Listen to this." The scratchy hiss of static filled their headphones, then two voices speaking Russian. Unfortunately, no one in the crew could speak Russian. "They must think they got us. I'll admit, it was close. Damage report." "We're shaken up, but all systems normal. Fuel, by the way, is at 75% capacity." "Well, we're not going to be up that much longer. I'm taking her down now."
They skimmed along at near treetop height until they came across a wide, open concrete expanse, a playground next to a school. John brought the helicopter to earth, and shut off the engines. Inside the school building the group found some large tarpaulins, whose use could only be guessed at, and concealed the helicopter from obvious view. Only the rotors remained visible to distinguish the object as a canvas-covered copter.
After unloading the necessary stores and weapons from the aircraft, they made themselves at home in what had been the teacher's lounge. Here, too, electric power service remained intact. The school itself was built out from the edge of a medium sized town, and occasionally they saw the survivors of the town's population going about their business, albeit slowly and somewhat apathetically.
About two hours after their arrival at the school, a truck approached the helicopter across the field, and stopped at the edge of the concrete. Two men emerged, and John watched them through his binoculars. They were heavily armed, and looked tired. They were possibly what was left of the town government.
After some discussion between each other, the pair began to approach the building. John watched carefully; their manner was not hostile, merely businesslike and perhaps a little apprehensive. He turned to the other two, said "Cover me", then walked out the door to meet the oncoming delegation.
*** Chapter Nineteen ***
The two men looked up at his approach, and studied him carefully. When they had approached each other closely enough, one of them extended his hand. "I'm Jeff Hendrickson, mayor of Carbondale, and this is Paul Dunford, constable. Who might you be?" John shook Hendrickson's hand and said, "Captain John Jontry, of the National Guard. I'm not with any particular unit right now." Hendrickson looked relieved, then said, "We haven't heard anything since the war started. I was hoping you could fill us in." John smiled, and said "We'll do our best."
Two hours later, after their tale of escape and danger had been related to the two townsmen, the crew of the helicopter sat back and asked some questions of their own. "How are you still able to generate electric power?" Dunford laughed, and said, "It's that new plant that saved us. We were part of a SIU program to install experimental fusion generating plants. Ours just keeps working, and they say it will as long as we supply it with water." The trio agreed that it was a good thing, then Kent asked a question that brought everyone back to the horror of the day. "Has this town been experiencing any unusual diseases or illnesses since the beginning of the war?" The two men turned pale. "You know about the disease?" Kent nodded. Hendrickson spoke, "We've lost about half of the survivors to the disease. Arron Semore, the doc down at the clinic, was trying to figure it out - he died two days ago." Kent spoke. "We think it's a form of biological weapon. No known cure as far as we know." "It's not radiation?" "No."
The room was silent. Then, "Well, since there's nothing we can do for right now, I guess we'll just keep doing what we've been doing, keeping the trash picked up and the bodies buried. Will you fellows be moving on soon?" John said, "Not for a few days. There are a couple of Russian MiG's in this area looking for us." "Russians? In Illinois?" "Yeah. Maybe we didn't win." "Maybe not."
After two days at the schoolhouse, they prepared to move on.In the early morning hour of six A.M., they uncovered the helicopter and began to warm up it's cold engines. The two townsmen drove out from the town to say their good-byes, and requested the relay of any new information, if they found any. The trio agreed, and as they took off, the townsmen waved.
They resumed the course they were taking when the MiG's attacked, all radar deception devices on and working. No aircraft were detected, and nothing was being sent in the ether. All was apparently quiet. About an hour later, they spotted McBradley Military Base on the horizon. "See anyone down there?", said the Green Beret. "No.", said the pilot. John grimaced, then said, "We'll set down anyway. It won't hurt to search and we're low on fuel anyway." He Adjusted the controls, putting the helicopter in a descent, when he saw the beginning of the dust cloud. "Wait a minute! We may have something! Kent, crank up the radio and patch me in." They had approached closer, and saw the vehicle that was creating the dust cloud. It was apparently a huge armored personnel carrier, fully treaded, with a rotating turret. It was heading away from the base, and had not as yet taken any notice of them. Kent's voice sounded in his ear. "Ready." John cleared his throat and began to speak."
*** Chapter Twenty ***
"And you know the rest," finished Kent. "Wow, I'm impressed. That was a great story," I replied, "but it's sort of late now so why don't we call it a night and finish our journey to Van Buren Air Force Base in the morning. All right?" "Sounds good to me, I could use some sleep." answered John. "But wait," said Gary, "I have one question for you. When you were listening to our conversation and the power went out, why didn't you go out to your helicopter and finish listening there." Kent smiled and said, "Yeah, well I thought of that too, afterwards. I was just so dumbfounded when the power went out I wasn't thinking straight. You know how that goes?" "Yeah, I remember when...", Gary was interrupted by someone beating violently on the door."
Everyone jumped. John was the first one to have his pistol ready, followed by Gary grabbing his M-16, the rest of us soon had our weapons loaded and ready.
"Who was that," asked Ethan. "How the hell am I supposed to know? Why don't you answer it and find out," I replied. "Very funny," Ethan put back. "Come on...Open up," came the anxious, muted voice from outside our door" "God you people, why don't you do something," said Dan as he jogged into the control room and opened the hydraulic-powered door.
Soon we had a view of what was going on outside. There was a haggard-looking person who was being carted off by two mutants. When the man saw us, he started screaming for help. The mutants looked back at us and increased their pace. Gary was the first one to take action, he jumped out of the still opening door and took off towards the trio outside. Soon the rest of our motley crew were following Gary on this daring rescue mission.
Gary was the first one to catch up to the mutants, swinging his M-16 and hitting one of the mutants over the head. One mutant was down, one more to go. The other mutant seeing his companion fall, dropped the still-screaming man and took off running full-speed. John, holding his pistol with both hands, aimed and fired, the recoil making the pistol jump in his hands. The second mutant fell, shot in the head.
Gary was now helping the poor man up and escorting him back to the treader. The man was about medium build with long, unkempt, jet-black hair, he gave the appearance of being a pretty tough character, though we learned later that he was tough only when he wanted to be, he was usually a pretty nice guy otherwise. Soon all of us were sitting around the card table back in the treader. After the man had reasonably calmed down we proceeded in questioning him.
"Who are you?" Gary asked, starting the questioning. "I'm Todd Johnson," said the man, his lower lip quivering as though he was about to cry. "What was happening out there?" was my question. "God, it's been awful," the man continued as he wiped his eyes, "Me and my friend, Tom, were travelling through Illinois when we heard about the blast on the radio. We stopped at the first town we went through, Stonefort, that's about eight miles from here. We've been hiding in the basement of some building there for about two weeks. Luckily for us, there was some food stored down there that lasted us for about ten days. When our rations ran out, we stayed there for a few more days, but we couldn't take it anymore; we were starving. So we decided to go outside and see how everything was going. The town was empty, I don't mean there were just a few people there - it was empty, it was weird, real weird! We got some more food, guns, and other stuff from the local general store and started walking down this highway.
Then about five minutes ago, we were attacked by five of those mutants. We got in a big fight, and we even killed three of them, but when they killed Tom and I panicked, I just dropped all my stuff and ran. I would've been a goner, but then I saw this treader and that helicopter; so I made a dash for it. I made it here with just twenty seconds to spare; so there I was, standing out there banging on the door. When they caught up to me they tried to take me away, but luckily you guys came out there and saved me just in the knick of time. Thanks a lot, I really appreciate it!" "Oh that's all right, we're just glad you didn't get hurt. You're not hurt are you?" asked Kent. "No, not really, just a few scratches", said Todd. He had stopped weeping now, and was just sitting there staring into space. "Well we were just going to sleep, we have an extra bed for you if you want it," I said. "Yeah, thanks. I appreciate that. It's been a long day, too long, if you know what I mean?" "We sure do. There hasn't been anything but long days since we got attacked." answered John. "Well, we better go to bed now or we'll be talking all night." Gary said as he went over to his bed and started getting ready to sleep. "That sounds like a good idea to me" I said with a yawn as I too got ready for bed.
Soon all of us were in our respective beds, sound asleep. The next morning we were all up by ten 'o clock and after eating breakfast, we started to get ready and continue our trip towards Van Buran Air Force Base. John, Kent, and Ethan were in the helicopter getting it warmed up. Danny, Gary, Todd, and I were in the treader getting all ready to leave; Danny was up with Todd in the defensive turret, showing him how everything worked, Gary and I were in the control room getting ready to pull out.
Before we knew it, we were all continuing our trip northeast on Highway 45. Our destination was getting closer every moment...
*** Chapter Twenty-one ***
The trip up Highway 45 was extremely boring. To amuse myself, I conversed with John over the radio, mostly talking about how boring the trip was. I won't go into details, since it would probably bore you out of your skull, the towns we passed through were silent, the country was empty. It was all very depressing, as if we were the last humans alive. Boy this trip is monotonous, but we have just thirty-five more minutes to go, something to look forward to.
Soon we came up to a junction. Gary asked me, "Hey navigator, Isn't this where we turn off?" Scanning the map for a few seconds, I replied, "Well, let's see. Yeah, you're right. Some navigator I am, I wasn't even paying attention. Let's see, you want to turn right here on Highway 141. Then we'll stay on that highway all the way to Evansville. I hope this bridge isn't out. If it is, we'll have to go at least twenty miles out of our way. Keep your fingers crossed!"
Now, I won't try and make you believe we were all in suspense. Will the bridge be out? Will we be able to get across the river and be able to get into Indiana? The truth was, we didn't really care if the bridge was out or not. Sure, it would have been inconvenient if the bridge wasn't there, but it we didn't think it would be the end of the world. If worse came to worse we would just have to leave the treader behind and go by helicopter (a prospect that didn't particularly appeal to me). But mostly we just figured we would cross that bridge when we came to it (pun intended).
After about twenty-five minutes we were starting to get close to the river. Now we were starting to get a little nervous. Will the bridge be out? Well we would soon know. According to a convenient road sign we found out the Indiana border was only three miles away.
Then I saw it. There was the river, but wait; where is the bridge? I can't see it - it isn't there, is this bridge collapsed too? Wait, now I can see it. If this keeps on happening I'll be ninety by the time we get done with this little quest.
With some apprehension, fearing the bridge might collapse as we were crossing it, we rushed across the bridge. It was Gary's opinion that we should get off of it as fast as our treader would take us. Fortunately, we crossed the river without incident. I was starting to fear that we would have to leave the treader, and all our stuff in it behind.
Well, now we were finally in Indiana. And according to our map we were only thirty miles from Evansville, and twenty-three miles from the base. We didn't have far to go, but each mile seemed to take ages to travel. It seemed as though we would be on this highway for years. To ease the tension I decided to do some work; I excused myself from Gary and went back to the weapons cache and started to get all our weapons and battle gear ready.
With something to do besides watch the mile markers pass by, the time speeded up. I was still working when Gary called me up front.
"Are we there already?" "No, but we're real close. We're two miles from the road that will take us to Van Buran Air Force Base. I thought we could get everyone organized. John, Kent, and, what is the other one's name." "It's Eddie...no it's Ethan" "Yeah that's it; Ethan then. Well anyway, they're going to land up the highway in that clearing up there. See it, about 700 feet ahead of us?" "Yeah. And?" "And we're going to stop off there and figure out our battle plans. Is that alright with you?" "Just hunky dory with me. One question though. Isn't it a little conspicuous going up to this base with a helicopter? Won't they detect us on radar?" "Well, I'm hoping they won't. John told me over the radio that he has a radar scrambler. I'm just hoping the Russians don't have anything even more advanced to detect us. Why don't you save all the questions about the helicopter for when they get here."
We approached the field where the helicopter was to land. Gary pulled off of the highway and parked the treader close to the trees, hoping the camouflaging would hide us from anyone passing from the air. John followed our example, and landed the helicopter as close to the treeline as safety would allow. Soon, our three new companions were dashing the distance between the helicopter and our treader. Gary pushed the button opening the hatch just in time for the trio to clamber up into the main chamber.
We left the control chamber to greet our friends.
*** Chapter Twenty-two ***
"Well, when are we going to start," asked Kent, giving me his Al Capone smile. "Right now. Well, as soon as Dan and Todd get off their ass and get down here," I said, hinting the lazy ones upstairs. "We're coming. We're coming," Danny replied sarcastically
Soon we were all sitting around the fold-up card table discussing our battle plans.
"What do we need to plan for? Why don't we just storm 'em. I mean we don't know anything about them, what good is a little planning going to do for us?" I asked. "Well for starters, we have to find out if they are Russians or not, we don't want to attack our own guys. And a little planning never hurt." Danny answered. "Well, we know they aren't our guys, we listened to their normal radio band and they weren't sending or receiving. After scanning the dial we found they were broadcasting on an unlisted frequency and they were speaking in Russian. I didn't want to say anything over the radio, they might be listening. I don't want them to know we are planning to attack them." said Ethan. "Good thinking, but who should lead the attack, the treader or the helicopter?" asked Todd. "Well, I think the treader should start it out. There is less chance of it being detected early and we could bring in the helicopter as soon as they got over the surprise, then we can give you guys a little air cover." answered Ethan again. "Okay, we'll need a little signal to let you guys know to come help us out. How about using the name of your helicopter? Isn't it called NightStalker?", a nod from John, "All right then, John position your helicopter as close to the base as you can get without alerting them. They can't see you flying can they?" asked Danny. "No I don't think so, I haven't seen anything going up over there. I don't think their air force is really active as of yet. With the radar scrambler, we can get real close. We just have to make sure we're out of sight range." answered John. "That's cool. Are you sure they're Russians though? I don't want to attack them if you're not sure." I asked. "Well, I'm reasonably sure. Why would the Ruskies be broadcasting around here if they didn't control the base? I suppose it's possible that the base is controlled by Americans, we'll just have to be careful, huh?"
I started to feel a gnawing at the pit of my stomach. I mean we didn't really know if the base was controlled by the Americans or the Russians. What if we were getting into a little more than we bargained for, like committing treason during wartime. Not cool in my book. Well, all we can do now is pray for the best.
"Can you guys think of anything else we need to talk about?" I asked, "We seem to have covered just about everything." I asked. "We haven't even started. Are all of your weapons in working order and do you guys have enough ammo?" John asked. "Yeah, I just finished up my work up in the turret when you guys came over. I'm confident we'll be just fine. Oh, that reminds me. We have some canisters of napalm that we salvaged from McBradley." Here Danny gestured to some cases marked 'napalm'. Do you think you could use them in your helicopter, we don't have too much use for them here. We just brought them along for the hell of it." said Danny. "Yeah, that will work great," said Ethan looking over the cases of napalm, "this is the same stuff our helicopter uses. And we didn't have too much to spare. Now we have more than enough. Great! Smart thinking bringing it along. Well I can't think of anything more. If you guys are all ready to attack so are we, but I think we should get a good nights sleep before we do anything rash. Sound good?" "Sounds good to me, I could use some sleep after all that travelling around." I answered. "Well, I guess we can start loading the helicopter with the napalm." said Kent as he picked up a case and started carting it out to the helicopter.
I just couldn't stay awake any longer. I stumbled over to my bed and laid down. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
The next day made everything else we had experienced seem like a breeze...
*** Chapter Twenty-three ***
"Get up. Come on get up will you?" was the first coherent thing I heard that morning. "Damn! I'm getting tired of waking you up! Get up NOW. Can you hear me?" "Shut up will ya? Go away." "Dammit! That's it - I've had enough of you. I've spent the past 15 minutes trying to get you up and now you'll pay!"
Soon I felt myself being raised into the air and dumped on my feet. Immediately I tumbled to the floor, bruising my knee - and shocking me awake. I looked up to see Danny standing over me with a satisfied grin on his face.
"What did you have to go and do that for?" I said rubbing my knee. "It was your fault. God, you are a pain to get up. Come on and get dressed, I'm sure the Russians are in for a big scare if you show up in your undies." "Ha ha. Real funny. With nine million comedians out of work, you come along." "Anyway it's time to get serious. Gary, Todd, and I are going to man the treader and I plan to have you...." Danny stumbled over his words a minute due to my astonished look, then continued, "...Well you see, we don't really need your help here in the treader today. I mean, you are a good navigator but we need a fighter more than a navigator today." I started to complain, but Danny silenced me. "Wait a minute, let me continue. We thought you would probably have more excitement if you used in the ATV. You would help us out a lot more, and you will be doing more for our side. What do you say?" "Well...I suppose I could, but what would I do?" "Well, I thought that since the ATV was smaller, you could circle the base and attack from the opposite side. Hide as close as you can to the base, and when you hear the attack begin, wait a few seconds so all their attention will be centered on us, then come up behind them. Who knows, maybe we'll win. Make sure you're ready in 15 minutes; that's when the action begins, I don't want you holding things up. Well, I gotta go and get ready myself. See ya. Don't forget to say bye before you go." "No problem."
Danny turned around and left, heading for the door leading to the weapons turret. Soon I was dressed, complete with a belt of M-25 ammo, and ready to go, saying a final farewell to Gary and Danny I went to the back room; pushed a button, opening the ATV access door; stepped into the ATV and pulled out. I was the first one to leave, I was to have a 10 minute head start since I had to travel the farthest to get around the base.
Using an ATV to travel cross country is not fun - I was bouncing all over the place. Not only was I scared to death that I was going to be shot, I was afraid that I wouldn't get to the right place at the right time.
I stopped the ATV and glanced at my map again, I decided to take a left around a grove of trees when a couple of Russians stepped out from behind a bush, with M-21's raised. 'Halt or we'll shoot,' I heard in mangled English. No way was I going to stop now, I was going for broke. Ducking low into my seat, expecting the barrage of bullets that was sure to come, I aimed my laser and prepared to fire. When the Russians saw I wasn't planning on stopping, they opened fire. As the first bullet tore into the ATV, my fingers danced across the laser controls. Laser beams tore across the field, killing trees, stray animals, a family of ducks and one of the two Russians. Re-aiming my laser I started to fire at the second guard when a bullet tore into my left arm. "Shit," I yelled through clenched teeth, "Damn you," was the last words that guard heard, as a laser beam sliced through his neck, making his head fall limp for a second before he slumped to the ground.
I soon forgot about the two Russians and began nursing my wound with the ATV's first aid kit. I stopped the bleeding and was able to numb the pain a little, but I knew that hand would be useless for the rest of the battle. Great, just great. All that I need. Hell, I'll be surprised if I live long enough to see the battle begin. Well, I might as well go on, I've never been known as a quitter and I don't want to start such a reputation now. I started up the vehicle again, slowly moving around the two soldiers and heading towards the left. Soon the base was in sight, I stopped the treader and awaited the signal, butterflies not only in my stomach but eating their way out. I began to pray, "Our father who art in heaven...
*** Chapter Twenty-four ***
The roar of the treaders cannon jarred me from my thoughts. I shook my head to get all the bugs out of it, then got myself together and joined the battle. Stepping on the accelerator, I burst into the base complex. The sight of the base made me gasp with amazement, this wasn't your normal everyday military base, this was a super base, no wonder the Russians desired it so much. This base was completely covered with a protecting substance that looked like tinted glass, but was probably some sort of unbreakable plexiglas. Inside this covering I could dimly make out several buildings and people dashing around. Outside the base was a circumference of large artillery weapons, including two 70 caliber machine guns, a 15 inch mortar, and three of the more modern mounted laser cannons with men crawling all over them getting them ready for the attack that was soon to come. I soon noticed a large door in the plexiglass when it burst open and countless numbers of Russian troops began charging out falling to their knees in an orderly formation, many aiming their guns at me, others aiming at targets I could not yet make out. I started to fear this wouldn't be as easy as we thought. The Russians weren't going to just give this base to us, that was for sure!
So our plan of me attacking from behind didn't fall through. Maybe we will still be able to win, I'll give it my all that's for sure. Let's get going. I picked up my speed, shooting laser blasts at every possible target not stopping to aim, sure that I would hit something. Several of the enemy fell, but I didn't even begin to make a dent. I heard the rotors of the helicopter approaching in the distance, thank God! I don't think I can handle this by myself! A bullet ripped into my ATV's engine, causing the motor to sputter. "Oh, not now!" I yelled, but to no avail, the engine stopped with a last dying gurgle. Crouching low in my seat and shooting wildly with my laser. Soon the helicopter flew over the base, dodging a missile which soared past and crashed into the nearby forest, exploding with a blast of splinters.
I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. Turning, I saw a laser cannon's turret slowly, but accurately, aim towards my ATV. Can't anything go right. I grabbed my personal hand laser, the first aid kit, and secured my machine gun in its leg holster, and abandoned ship. I made a dash for a nearby clump of bushes, bullets licking my heals.
Only a little farther, come on you can do it, those bullets are getting close. Only a few more yards, taking a flying leap, I dove into the bushes, branches cutting up my face and arms, nearly poking out an eye. Safe at last, taking a look at the battlefield, I saw the helicopter drop one of it's napalm bombs. It seemed to travel in slow motion as it fell, slowly turning in midair, the little knob that was the detonator now facing straight for the ground. Getting my senses together I got up and ran away from the fiery explosion that was soon to come. Running as if a savage dog were chasing me, I saw someplace to hide, a huge grove of trees, just off to the right. I dove into the trees, but was running to fast to even think about stopping, so naturally I did the second best thing, I tripped and fell flat on my face.
The sound assaulted my ears and the fiery breath of the battle singed my hair, giving me several minor burns. I laid there for a few seconds listening to the screams in the distance before I braved a look. The sight was terrible, burnt bodies strewn all about, the two 70 caliber's not only destroyed but visibly melted in several spots, the mortar was knocked off of it's mount, and two of the three laser cannons looked like they couldn't slice a loaf of bread, let alone anything else, the third was still intact, but without anyone to man it. Have we won? I don't believe it, I think we've won. All right, and I though we didn't have a... My thoughts of victory flew out of my head via my big mouth as I watched a hoard of soldiers with vengeance etched on their faces came spewing out of the entrance.
Scanning the area, I noticed a Russian pulling a Surface to Air rocket launcher out of his pack and begin to aim. "No!" I screamed as I pulled my M-25 out of my leg harness and began to fire. The bullets ripped into the Russians head at the instant he fired. The missile left the launcher and everything went once again into slow motion. The rocket was headed straight towards the helicopter, there was no way it would miss. The rocket was travelling faster now, it would destroy my friends in no time. The last few seconds passed slowly, and then the unexpected happened. I tore my eyes from the rocket and glanced at the helicopter. I was looking straight at it's port side, getting a good view into the open port hatch. The helicopter was banking, but it would never make it; there just WASN'T enough time. Looking closer into the open hatch, I saw Ethan, who was supposed to be manning the helicopters mounted machine gun, jumping dangerously up to the hatch and throwing some sort of box at the missile.
The missile collided into the box just feet from the helicopter, causing a tremendous explosion spewing hammers, saws, wrenches, and other tools everywhere. The shock of the blast tossed Ethan back into the helicopter like a sack of potatoes and pushed the helicopter in a suicide course straight towards the ground. The helicopter started to go into a lazy spin, I could see John's panicked face through the front window. The helicopter was now eighty feet off the ground, fifty, thirty, I could almost feel the sweat on John's forehead as he exerted his all to get the helicopter under control, twenty feet, John was making progress, but would there be time? fifteen feet, the helicopter was starting to come out of the spin, but would there be enough room? Eight feet, the helicopter was almost under control, if only there was more room! Three feet, the helicopter banked upwards, tail fin scraping against the ground, marring the earth like a knife slicing through butter. The chopper flew high into the air again, allowing me to breath easily once again. Thank God, they're all right.
I was hyperventilating, my surroundings no longer penetrated into my mind. It seemed like forever before my sensations finally passed through my stupor. At first it just seemed like a faint rumbling, then it gradually escalated into the continuous screaming of a man gone mad. The screams brought me back into the real world. Forcing my eyes to focus and my brain to function I looked around me.
It seems that a mutant had broken out of the forest brandishing a metal bar, attacking the Russians, he didn't have a chance. He was able to knock out two Russians before he was shot down. Both of his legs were shattered, but he was still alive - and left to die and he was screaming bloody murder. Finally a Russian put him out of his misery, but he didn't look like he was doing it for any other reason than to shut him up.
Luckily, I had been forgotten when the helicopter attacked - thank God and no one had attacked me while I was out of it mentally. A jeep armed with a medium sized laser cannon was heading toward the bush I was hiding in, apparently planning on passing me to get a better shot at the helicopter. Then I noticed there was only one Russian in the jeep, probably because they were short of men. I decided to jump it. As the jeep drove past me, I swung out on a limb landing in the passenger side of the jeep. The Russian turned toward me in surprise. Before he could react, I punched him square in the face, knocking him senseless. Swinging my legs around, I kicked him screaming out of the jeep. I grabbed hold of the wheel with one hand and with my free hand shot the fell soldier with my hand laser. I headed towards the brush so I could fight the Russians with some cover. Apparently, none of the Russians had noticed me take over the jeep with the confusion of the mutant. I was able to reach the brush without incident.
I turned around the jeep and prepared to launch a full scale attack against the Russians. I was starting to feel we might actually pull this off, but we still had a long way to go - there were at least a hundred soldiers still out there. Scanning the area, I noticed a welcome sight. The treader, apparently finished in front of the base, was coming around the base to come help us out. But wait, something is wrong with the treader - it just doesn't look right. My God, the treader's turret, it's gone, just melted away. God, I hope no one was up there when it was destroyed. There were scorch marks up and down the sides of the treader. By the looks of it, it hadn't been smooth sailing for the treader so far. When the treader started to fire with one of it's other weapons, I was surprised. The treader wasn't out of commission yet.
As I was watched the treader come around the building, one of the Russian soldiers operating the Russians lone laser cannon noticed that a Russian soldier wasn't operating their jeep. He fired on me and all ended in a flash of blinding white light...
*** Chapter Twenty-five ***
The first sensation to regain consciousness was my hearing. First it came through as mumbling, then I was able to make out some words.
"Damn it! Give him some more anesthesia, he's waking up! Damn! Hurry up - can't you do anything right??"
This didn't mean anything to me, I remember hearing it, but it didn't make any sense. The words going in one ear and out the other. I heard someone begin talking, "Watch that now, we don't want anyth..." then all went black again. I was afraid that I was a goner now. I had been given my second chance and I flubbed that one up too. Then my thoughts faded into oblivion. Finally a familiar voice broke the silence...
"Brian, wake up. How's it going?" "Wha. Go away" "Come on get up, the doctor needs this room for patients that need care more than you. We're going to move you to another room" "Shut up - Go away - I'm tired. Leave me alone!" "Oh no. Not this again. Am I going to have to force you up. I will you know." "I'm busy," I said as I pulled the covers over my head, leaving my feet exposed. "O.k. but don't say I didn't warn you," then someone pulled out a couple of my leg hairs. "Ow! Damn it - Stop that. What the hell do you think you're doing?" then the pain hit me, "Ohhh, my body hurts. What did you have to go and do that for? I was happy until you came along." I looked along my body and saw that most of it was wrapped in bandages and casts, then I looked up to see Danny standing on over me. "Not you again, when will you ever learn to have a little patience. Can't you be a little more gentle when you wake someone up?" "Come on, we've got to move you to another room. And be careful with that I.V." "Oh all right," and then the big question finally came to me, "Well?" "Well what?" "Well, who won the war?" "I'll tell you about it after we move you," said Dan with a solemn look on his face.
Oh no. Don't tell me we didn't win. Where am I if we didn't win. I'll bet they took me to the hospital in Evansville and Kent was taking care of me. All that work for nothing. I was set in a wheelchair and pushed through many empty hallways before Dan led me into a small room equipped with two beds, the other bed had someone in it with a blanket wrapped around his head.
"Who's that?" I asked "I'll get to that in a minute, first I think I'd better tell you what happened during the battle." "All right," I said glancing once more at the form under the sheet, then focusing my attention to Danny's story.
*** Chapter Twenty-six ***
Danny climbed up into the weapons control center exhausted from the effort of having to wake Brian up. God is he a pain to wake up in the morning. Anyway, I have more important things to think of at the moment. Giving the weapons one last check, Danny called up into the weapons turret, "Hey Todd, how's it going? Everything all right up there?" The answer came immediately, "Sure. Fine, everything's fine." Good thought Danny, this is going to push this ol' baby to her limits.
Soon, Brian climbed up the short flight of stairs and yelled,
"Bye, Dan. See ya, Todd. Good luck you two. Wish me the best?" "Sure Brian, everything's cool. Let's show 'em what's what, okay?" "Bye Brian, and good luck," shouted Todd from the turret. "Those Russians don't have a chance. Well see ya, I gotta go say bye to Gary. Anyway fare well" and Brian disappeared into the main chamber again.
God I wish he'd quit those awful puns, they are going to drive me crazy one day. Dan's thoughts were disrupted by a motorized vehicle roaring off into the distance. That's Brian. Well we might as well get going. Danny pushed down the send button on the intercom.
"Hey Gary, lets get going. Don't forget to radio John that we're pulling out now." "No problem. I'm expecting some good work out of you two up there." "That's the only kind of work we do."
I felt the treader lunge into first gear and begin to upshift. Looking into the defensive viewsights, I saw us traveling up an old paved road surrounded by forest covered hills.
"Hey Todd, keep your eyes peeled, their might be Russian sentry guards all along here, we've got to keep a close lookout." "Roger wilco. Over and out," came the hearty reply.
Soon we saw what I feared, a guard post. As soon as the two guards posted heard our engine, they snapped into step in a second. One of them dashed to the guardhouse to warn the base and the other raised up his M-21 brandishing it at us.
"Todd, you get the guard, I got the guardhouse." "Gotcha!"
The rifleman only had time to get off one round before an accurately placed laser beam silently cut through his head. Using the front mounted laser cannon, I took careful aim at the guardhouse and blew it away just as the second guard was able to reach it, blasting his body forty feet back towards the road. I have no sympathy for you, Danny thought as he began to fall into a guilt trip.
Soon we were in sight of the base. We were lucky, there weren't but twenty soldiers in the clearing ahead of us, and they were merely relaxing, most of them leaning on some heavy artillery. Obviously, these people weren't expecting any trouble, they probably thought the U.S. army was out of commission and were completely unprepared for any kind of attack. Gary stopped the treader just inside the cover of the trees, giving every possible advantage to ourselves. Thanking God for our good luck, Danny carefully scanned the enemy base. The front side of the base was heavily armed with artillery weapons. There were three laser cannons, two heavy rocket launchers, one surface to surface rocket launcher, two surface to air rocket launchers, and four 70 caliber machine guns. Since we caught them unawares, there were only about 15 men manning the entire setup.
"Todd, you go for the rocket launchers, I'm going for the laser cannons, when you're done get the machine guns. And don't fire your first shot until I give the signal. Got it?" "No problem, boss."
Since the treaders two laser cannons can be aimed at different targets, Dan carefully aimed each one at a different Russian cannons. Dan shouted, "Now," and let both cannons go at once, the Russian cannons exploding in balls of flame. Todd, with his quick shooting was able to destroy the two heavy rocket launchers in slightly more time. Without thinking, Dan re-aimed the cannons, one at the other laser cannon and the other at one of the large machine guns, firing again at the same time, this time he got the machine gun, but missed the cannon. Todd with his quick firing was able to get not only the SS rocket launcher and both of the SA rocket launchers by this time.
By this time, the crew at the other three heavy machine guns and the laser cannon opened fire at our treader. The machine guns doing little damage to the armored treader, but the laser blast nearly knocked Dan out of his chair. Damn Dan panicked, aiming both cannons at the Russians lone cannon. Danny fired, one of the shots missed, turning Dan's forehead into a miniature Grand Canyon, making an observer fear that his face would fold in on itself, but before this happened, the second one hit. Sighing with relief, Danny noticed with great envy that Todd had been able to destroy all three of the remaining machine guns in the time he had gotten just that one cannon. Damn, I trained him, Dan thought, how in the hell is he doing better than me. I'm the teacher here. Just wait until next time, I'll show him.
The chopping sound of the helicopters rotors in the distance started to get louder. Soon the helicopter flew over them, pausing to see that we were doing all right, then passed over the base to attack the Russians on the other side. Thank God, Dan thought, reinforcements. I wonder how Brian is doing around on the other side. The Dan noticed one of the soldiers carrying the largest hand held Surface to Surface missile he had ever seen. "Oh shit!" Dan yelled as he traded weapons to the automatic front-mounted machine guns. Aiming, and firing before the soldier could even raise his weapon, helped Dan regain his confidence. At least until he saw the platoon of soldiers behind that first one, all of them carrying either the huge Surface to Surface missiles or the familiar missiles, the Stinger's. Damn, Dan thought. As he started firing the machine gun, trying to get all of the Russian missile carriers at once.
Dan glanced at the screen showing what Todd was doing. Obviously Todd hadn't noticed that particular platoon, his attention was centered on a large group of Russians bearing M-21's trying to ambush us from the side. Well, he is doing a pretty good job, Dan thought. Then he tore his attention from Todd, aimed the machine gun once again, and began firing. There are only two of them left. Wait one of them is aiming. He's FIRED. Oh shit. With one last burst of machine gun bullets, the remaining two rocket bearers were killed. One second later the missile hit the treader, making it jump three feet into the air. Danny was knocked out of his chair and flung across the room, nearly breaking several ribs. He got back up, got in his chair and pushed the damage report button. "Awww SHIT!" Dan groaned, not only were both the laser cannons out, but two of the four machine guns were out and both of them were the front mounted ones, and let's see the weapons turret was out too, just what we needed. He still had the side mounted lasers, the machine guns on the left and right sides, and both of the rear mounted lasers, but those wouldn't be too much help now. I hope the people up in the helicopter and Brian can finish it up. Wait a minute, thought Dan looking at the last entry on the damage report. How can the whole turret be out.
"Todd? Todd? Are you okay?" shouted Dan as he tried to open the hatch leading up to the weapons turret. The door wouldn't budge. Dan slammed down on the send button on the intercom. "Gary? Gary? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I guess I'll live." Gary groaned "Could you check out the weapons turret from where you are, The doors stuck, I can't tell if Todd's all right or not." "Sure...Wait, according to this, the weapons turret is gone. That can't be. Wait a second...Oh shit!" Gary moaned as if sickened. "What? What happened?" "I moved my external mirror so I could get a look at the turret, and it's gone. I mean it's been melted away. That rocket must have hit the turret square on. We're lucky each compartment in this treader has its own armor or we would probably be dead too." "Oh...poor Todd." "Damn those Russians."
Russians, they make me sick! Wait are any of them still out there. God! They could be sneaking up on us right now and we're sitting in hear jabbering. Quickly Dan scanned the area, the sight he saw nearly put him into shock. There were hundreds of Russian soldiers out there, and all of them are dead or wishing they were dead. Some of them had their heads cut off, some of them were missing arms or legs, some of them had metal sticking out of their body at odd angles. Metal? Oh my God. When the turret exploded, it must have blown shrapnel all over the field. So Todd got his revenge. Good for him.
Gary started up the motor and pulled out of our hiding place. The treader limped along at a mere fifteen miles per hour, but that was better than nothing. Dan was about to ask where Gary was planning on going, then it became obvious, we were going around to the other side.
We finally made it around to the other side of the base, at the speed we were going, Dan was beginning to wonder. The first thing Dan noticed was the helicopter above launching napalm bombs on the unfortunately Russians below. Then an explosion caught Dan's attention. A jeep just blew up causing someone to fly up like a rejected rag doll. The man flew twenty feet into the air and landed forty-five feet from the explosion. Dan started to feel victory close at hand, when he noticed that person was not wearing a Russian uniform. Hey that's one of us. Looking closely Dan's worst fears came true. It's Brian. Danny pushed down on the send button on the intercom.
"Gary did you see that explosion?" "Yeah, it was Brian wasn't it?" "I think it was."
Dan wasn't sure, but he thought that he heard someone sobbing down in the main chamber. Danny thought that was a good idea and began mourning his friend. Before either one of them could get over the loss of two of their friends, a bazooka shell tore threw the front viewscreen of the treader. Danny heard a bloodcurdling scream from Gary.
"Oh no! Gary. Are you okay?" screamed Danny as he jumped out of his chair, ran down the steps into the main chamber. After taking two leaps into the main chamber, Danny tripped over something. Getting up, he looked around him, seeing the room in shambles. Whatever hit us really tore up the place. Danny's few hopes that were left sank when he noticed among the rubble along the floor, the box that contained the serum lying on the floor, each test tube shattered. All the associated papers scattered throughout the room. Now we're all going to die, Danny thought. At least most of my friends died today and won't have to go through the torture that is sure to come. Looking around the room some more Danny saw a first aid kit on the floor, he picked it up, dodged around all the garbage and glumly ran into the control room.
Glass was everywhere. Gary was lying on the floor, his face covered in blood, a glass shard protruding from his neck. "God Gary, please be okay. Tell me your okay. Oh God!", Dan moaned. Then Dan noticed Gary's chest was slightly moving up and down. "Oh thank God. Thank you God, thank you. Oh please don't die Gary, please." Danny carefully pulled the shard from Gary's neck, the shard cut into Gary's windpipe, but luckily missed both of his jugular veins. Danny mopped up most of the blood, and applied bandages to the worst cuts. The treader was hit several times making this difficult, but for the most part, the treader was considered out of the race and was left alone.
Gary's eyes flickered. Danny jumped up to Gary's head and asked him, "Are you okay? I mean do you think you'll make it?" Gary nodded his head slightly.
"I'm going to move you to one of the benches in the main room, wait a minute while I clear one off." Danny ran back into the main chamber cleared off one of the benches, went back to the control room, and picked up Gary. "Gary, thanks for not dying. I don't know what I'd do if three of my friends died in one day." Gary just nodded. Danny carried Gary carefully into the main chamber setting him on one of the benches with the greatest of care.
Danny was disrupted from attending Gary when he heard John's voice crackle over the radio in the control room, "Is anyone alive in there. Repeat: Is anyone alive in their." After making sure Gary was going to be all right, Danny left the main chamber and answered the message.
When Danny reached the main chamber he received a surprise, all of the Russians were dead, John and his friends apparently took care of them all. The helicopter was hovering about fifty feet above ground waiting for our reply before they landed.
"Hello John, this is Danny. We've lost the serum." "What do you mean?" "The serum, all the test tubes shattered when that shell hit the treader. Now we're all going to die," Danny started to cry. "Calm down! Is everyone all right down there." "Brian got hit and I think he's dead." "Yeah, I know. We saw that happen too. But are all you guys all right?" "Gary is hurt real bad, he is all cut up by glass shards. I don't think he can fight anymore," Danny stopped crying and went into hysterics "Are you okay, though? We need some help. We're going to enter the base now." "If you need me, I'll help you out. I think I can pull myself together. Just help Gary, I think he can make it if Kent takes care of him a little before we do anything else," Danny moaned trying to gather his composure "And how's Todd?" "He's dead." Silence. "We're going to land now."
The helicopter landed in the field 50 feet away from the treader. John and Kent came running towards the treader. Ethan limped to Brian, picked him up and carried him running to the treader. John and Kent entered the helicopter, John asking, "Are you all right now Dan?". "I think I have control now," Dan answered. Kent ignored all others in the chamber, went over to Gary, took a professional look at him and said, "Good work Danny, you did just about every thing that could be done. Except this. Here Gary I'm going to give you a shot now. It is a pain killer and it will probably make you go to sleep. Okay?"
Gary nodded his head. Kent gave Gary a shot in his upper arm just as Ethan limped into the chamber carrying Brian over his shoulders. Danny quickly cleared off a second bench allowing Ethan to set Brian down. "What happened to you?" Danny asked Ethan.
"Oh, when that shell hit our helicopter, I was tossed about a bit. Broke my leg, but Kent was able to put a splint on it. It only hurts a little. I was just lucky it wasn't a fracture." "You can say that again," said Kent coming over to look at Brian, "Oh boy, he's in bad shape" "But he's still alive?" Dan asked. "Yes, but barely. He has severe burns, a broken leg, and arm. I don't know if he'll make it. I'll put some of this salve on the burns and put a splint on his arm and leg, but that's all I can do for now. Could you tear off his shirt and his pants legs so I can get at his burns." Danny pulled out a knife and began cutting at Brian's clothes. Kent opened up his doctor bag and began pulling out the tools of his trade. Soon Brian was half naked wearing two new splints and had slimy green salve covering half his body. "Now, we've got to get out of here. We've destroyed most of the Russians defenses, but we still have to take over the base." Ethan said, "Come on everybody lets head out. Don't forget to grab your weapons.
Soon the whole party was well armed and ready to fight, assembled at the large door at the rear of the chamber. "Wait a minute, I have a suspicion. Everyone get to the side of the door. Danny you open the door and jump aside immediately. All right?" Everyone except Dan crowded over to the side of the door, Ethan pulled out a hand grenade and put his finger in the ring-hole. Danny opened the door, diving out of the way just as a barrage of bullets left the doorway catching him in the leg before he reached cover. Ethan having just pulled the pin as Dan opened the door, threw the grenade into the doorway. The explosion filled the air.
Oh shit, Dan moaned. He felt pain coursing up and down his leg. Looking down, he saw two bullet holes in his cammies, both surrounded by blood. John helped Dan get up, letting Dan lean on his shoulder. "Thanks buddy." Dan said as the group turned to peer into the doorway.
A hallway extended into the base, there were at least fifty dead Russian soldiers in the doorway, obviously awaiting to ambush us. Ethan with a slight grin on his face, immediately took lead of our little party. Walking forward into God knows what.
Dan was limping along in the rear of the party leaning on John's shoulder. Silently Dan asked Ethan if he knew where we were going.
"Well, sort of, when we up in the air, I noticed the layout of buildings. You see, this tunnel leads underneath all of the buildings and all these exits lead to each building. And if the mental map I made of this place is correct, we should get to the entrance of the main building in about 400 yards.
We passed several doors, each of them labeled, "Barracks", "Galley", "Lab", "Motor Pool", "Officers Quarters", and finally about halfway down the hallway, we came across "Headquarters"
"This is where we're going people. Are you ready?" Ethan asked. "As ready as we'll ever be, I suppose," Kent answered for the lot of us.
At this Ethan kicked open the door, ready to destroy anything that dared enter his path. But behind the door was a stairway which seemed deserted. "I don't like this," Ethan muttered as he led us slowly up the flight of stairs. The window in the door at the first landing was dark and after making sure no one was behind the door, Ethan led us up to the second floor. By this time Danny was moaning out loud. The pain wasn't so bad just walking, but these stairs were killing him. The window in this door was also dark, Ethan checked behind this door also. No, not another flight of steps Dan whispered, making John chuckle and Dan scowl. This window, too was dark, but Ethan still gave this door a thorough checking to everyone's impatience except Dan's, who enjoyed any pause in the climbing of steps. While Ethan checked behind this door, a noise from the flight above attracted our attention. Ethan jumped to attention and bounded across the hallway. Putting one finger over his lips telling us to be quiet and grabbing a grenade with his other hand. He pulled the pin, counted to eight, and lobbed the grenade up onto the next flight of stairs. We heard the grenade bounce once and explode causing a guard to tumble over the ledge above, landing on the concrete stairs with a bone-crushing fall, and rolling down two more flights of stairs
Ethan ran up the stairs M-25 raised and ready to shoot. There were four more guards tossed about on the ledge, each of them dead. "This is where we want to go boys. Come on." Ethan opened the door and led us into an antechamber to a large computer room. The room was five feet square with a sealed door across from us. Next to the door was a small box with a LED display and nine push buttons underneath. Obviously you had to know some passcode to get into this room. Ethan pulled a box out of his backpack. He opened the box, revealing a box full of sawdust. He brushed some of the sawdust onto the floor and lifted out an object that looked like gray play dough, obviously plastique. He placed this on the door near the lock, picked a detonator out of the box of sawdust and placed it into the plastique. He bounded into the stairwell motioning for us to follow. None of us spent any time arguing with this mans logic and left the antechamber in a speed slightly faster than a mad run.
A few seconds passed, then an explosion than nearly tore our eardrums in two echoed down the stairwell. We allowed Ethan to recover first, since none of us wanted to be the leader of this gung-ho expedition. He jogged into the antechamber, pushed in the now useless door, raised his M-25 and burst into the computer room closely followed by the rest of our hearty adventurers.
One look into this room threw Danny into awe. Dan always held a special place in his heart for the Cray computer, but compared to this, the Cray was more a pocket calculator than anything. This thing filled a room 300 yards square. And in the center of the room standing on a large pedestal were four men in Russian uniforms and white lab coats and two guards with M-25's aimed dead on us. The obvious leader of the group yelled towards us in a mangled speech that remotely resembled English.
"Hail comrades. Why don't you join us in the race against nuclear war and disease. We want to help you, that's why we've come over here to help treat the poor people of this country battle this terrible disease." "Bullshit!" Dan screamed, "If it wasn't for you we wouldn't be in this mess." "True, but those leaders who commanded that war are no longer in power, now the conservatives are in power and we have decided to make up for the evil we have done and help the citizens of the United States of America." "And you expect us to believe that?" Ethan demanded, "You have to give us more credit than that. Either surrender now or we're going to blow you away. You may get one of us but we'll get the lot of you." "Don't be so stupid, if you so dare to open fire on me I will push this button," here he pulled out a small Walkman sized box with a large red button on it and places his finger on the button, "this will cause the computers in this room to explode, and in these computers are the only known cure to the disease that is spreading through this country. And that is not all, if I press this button, so many reinforcements will come that you won't know what to do. Please reconsider." "In answer to this, Ethan whipped up his M-25, pulled the trigger and shot the Russian through the heart. As if on cue, Kent fired his machine gun, cutting down the two Russian guards. Immediately the room filled with explosions. Ethan turned around and pushed all of us back through the door, much to Dan's great agony, into the antechamber slamming what was left of the door behind us. The explosion temporarily deafened everyone in the room. After the pain in their ears went away, our heroes took one look into the room. All of the Russians that were in the room are now dead. And many of the computers were made inoperable. Due to some freak accident the bombs that were placed throughout the room did more structural damage to the room than damage to the actual computers. Quite a few of the electronic brains in the room were in fact still operating. But the supermainframe had several large scorch marks running across it. It didn't appear as if this computer would be good for much now. And there went all hope of finding or creating the serum, now that the supply of serum contained in the treader was destroyed. Will there be hope for humanity yet?
"That's just about it," Danny concluded. It's too bad that we don't have anyone here that really knows anything about electronics. I can do a little of that stuff, but replacing blown chips is about it for me. I wouldn't know where to begin reconstructing that mainframe. The only person I know that could fix it would be Jawaid and God only knows where he is.
"Wait...I think I know where he is, you know I used to work in his store. Let's see...he told me he was going on a business trip to the University of Illinois. He was supposed to give some lecture to the computer department. He really needed the money and the U of I wanted him to come, I mean he was only the smartest person to graduate from their electronic engineering division back in '91. Do you really think we could make the serum and maybe get some protection from those diseases if we got Jawaid?" "I don't know, I just don't know." Dan lapsed into a moment of silence.
While Danny was thinking I glanced back at the unmoving form to my right. Unable to contain my curiosity any longer, I finally asked, "Who's that?" pointing towards the other bed. "Oh, I forgot to tell you about that, didn't I. Well, that's Gary, he was hurt pretty bad at the end of the battle there. Remember, that Ruskie shot a bazooka shell through the front window, it missed Gary, but glass shards really tore up his face. He's lucky he still has both his eyes. He'll never hear out of one ear, and he got his throat cut up pretty bad, and he won't be able to speak for a while. He's just lucky he didn't die." "Did anyone else get hurt? "Well, John was the only one of us not to get injured. Kent has a broken arm, Ethan has a broken leg, and I had two bullets go through my leg and you know about Todd," here Danny's lip trembled, almost reluctantly he said, "he was up in the weapons turret when it...it..." "Yeah, I know..."
Danny started to cry. "We couldn't even find the body," he said through the tears, "Damn, we were just getting to be good friends. Why did all this have to start all this anyway?" After he calmed down and wiped his eyes, he gave me a weak smile and began talking again.
"At least you made it though, the doctors didn't think you would. I mean your right arm and leg have third degree burns on it and you'll have to get skin graphs, luckily they can do that here. You broke your left leg and the last two finger on your right hand had to be amputated. You were in pretty bad shape, you were almost dead when we found you. Thank God you're still alive. I don't know what I would have done if you had died too. Anyway, Gary will be glad to hear that you're okay, when he saw you lying there on the ground he almost had a coronary." "I'm not hurt to bad, I mean I don't feel THAT bad." "Not now, but you won't be whistling Dixey when the drugs wear off, that's for sure." "Here let me help you up onto that bed," Danny said as he put his hands under my arms and lifted me up onto the bed, making my body feel as if someone who hated me was sticking pins in a Brian voodoo doll with vengeance. The thought of this made me laugh, making me hurt even worse. "It only hurts when I laugh," I said making me laugh harder and hurt even worse. To bring the pain to a finale, I managed to say, "Maybe I do feel THAT bad," through my gales of painful laughter.
"Are we the only people here, I mean are you, me, Gary, John, Ethan, and Kent the only ones here?" I asked. "Oh I guess I forgot to tell you that part too. Guess I'm not much of a storyteller, eh? Anyway, when the Russians took over the base, they locked up all the American soldiers, thinking they might have some use for their training. After we took over, we found them all locked up in the basement. Right now this base has about 400 people manning it." "Then why is this place so empty." "Well, it's lunch time right now and most everyone is in the galley right now eating and besides, most of them are in the main building trying to get the base working again, not messing around in the hospital. Anyway, when you're feeling better, I'll introduce you to everyone. How's that sound?" "Great. So we won the war, eh?" "I really don't know."
*** Chapter Twenty-seven ***
It wasn't until the next day that I was able to have some company, Gary in his disposition wasn't much of a conversationalist, the only things he was able to say were groans, and with all the bandages on his face, I couldn't barely tell if he was alive.
Dr. Torbin was the first man I saw that day, he came in to tell me how I was doing.
"Well Brian, it looks like your doing much better. We'll be able to start giving you skin graphs in about two weeks. I'd say you'll be up and running in about six weeks." "SIX WEEKS???" "I know it seems like a long time, but there is little we can do about it." "You mean I'll be stuck in this dump for six weeks?" "Calm yourself." said the doctor putting his hand on my shoulder, "No, you'll be able to leave this hospital and go to your own room in one week, and you'll be walking around using a walker in about three weeks. It won't be too bad, the time will seem to speed by, you just wait and see. If you need anything just call me, all right?" "All right," I agreed. The doctor left my bed and began talking to Gary, but I wasn't listening anymore. Six weeks - oh sure, they will speed right by I'm sure. Why do these things always have to happen to me? What Dr. Torbin was saying began to penetrate into my mind.
"Yes Gary, you should be out of bed in about two days. And I think you'll probably be able to talk in about a week. It'll take about two weeks for that bone to mend, but you can walk around on crutches for that last week. Is that okay with you, Gary?" "Urgghh," said Gary nodding his head slowly.
What??? Gary only has to stay here one week, and be on crutches for another week. I won't even have anyone to talk to. Is life ever fair?
Life traveled slowly for me, Danny introduced me to Captain Arthur (Speedy) Radey , who runs this base, and several of the other people who help keep this base going. If it wasn't for that company I think I would have died of boredom. I mean, the week passed as if it was a decade - it seemed to drag on and on until I didn't think I could handle waiting any more. At the end of the week, Gary got out of the hospital, leaving me in the room by myself. Plans were made to have an expedition to the University of Illinois to try and rescue Jawaid. It was already planned that Gary, Kent, Ethan, and John would go, but I would be left behind due to my injuries. Dan would stay behind, but he was always busy helping to repair the computer systems Damn, just when the excitement begins again, I'm going to be left out.
Just when I didn't think I could stand looking at those blank hospital walls one more second, I was transferred to a room all to myself, the happiness of my being moved marred only by the fact that was the same day that all of my friends were to leave for the U of I in Champaign.
"Goodbye Brian, I'll miss ya old buddy," said Ethan. "Yeah, we've had some good times together." added Gary "Keep it all together," said John giving me the thumbs up sign. "And don't forget to write," added Kent with a grin. "Thanks guys, I'll miss you all. Have fun in Champaign. Probably be better than this old dump. Hurry up and get back so I won't forget what you all look like" "Sure, but we've really got to go." said John
There were exclamations of "See ya", "Bye", "Have a good one", as they all left the door to my room and headed down the hall to leave the building. I propped myself up against the window that was situated above my bed and watched my friends enter a hanger, and in a few minutes pull out in a rather large helicopter, with John as the pilot, of course, Kent as the navigator, and Ethan and Gary playing the active part of observers. Soon the helicopter was off the ground and travelling off into the distance. The last thing I saw was Gary looking out a window at me waving goodbye as if for the last time. I waved back until the helicopter disappeared behind the hills with a tear trailing down my cheek and dripping onto the bed.
*** Chapter Twenty-seven ***
In the hangar they found, in running order, a large troop-carrying helicopter, similar to an old Huey, but of much newer vintage, and much larger. It was built to carry up to twenty battle-equipped troops, and could easily handle the four who would ride in her, plus their ordnance and supplies. The helicopter had the added advantage of being designed to carry large weapons, such as cannon and small vehicles, which made it only natural that they included the small ATV from the treader among their cargo.
The four commandos climbed into the helicopter early the next morning, and after a few experimental moves on the part of the pilot, the huge, ungainly craft took to the clear and cloudless sky. Their destination was the University of Illinois, and their purpose was to rescue their only hope.
Kent sat in the copilot's seat, and monitored the radio and radar for John. He neither heard nor saw a thing, which meant that the dying Russian's call for help had either not been heard, or the reinforcements were still on their way.
John glanced over at him. "At this rate it will be about two hours before we reach Urbana. We've got a quartering wind coming out of the northwest, so it's going to be a little rough. Go tell the others to get comfortable, because it's going to be a long ride." "Will do."
Kent unbuckled himself from the cushioned seat, and made his way through the swaying craft back to the cargo compartment. Danny and Gary were sitting on a hard metal bench, next to the tied-down ATV, playing poker. Kent noted with some amusement that they were betting with 9-mm cartridges.
The two looked up at his approach, and Ethan spoke. "So what's the news from up front?" "Not much. It'll be about two hours before we get there, providing we have no trouble. So relax; we've got a long day ahead of us." "That's nice to know." replied Gary. "You wanna sit in on the game here?" "No thanks, I've gotta go up front and listen to the radio. Leave Ethan some ammunition, okay? I know what a lousy poker player he is." Gary laughed, while Ethan scowled at Kent's remark and attempted to stop several cartridges from rolling off the bench. Kent chuckled and made his way forward to the copilots seat, where he strapped himself in and resumed his monitoring of the ether. The huge helicopter thundered on into the brightening sky.
John's ETA proved remarkably accurate, for two hours later they set down on the quad on the UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS campus. Here, as at all the other places they had seen, there were no people visible, and the place had a very unkempt look. Weeds sprouted almost waist high, and there were more than a few broken windows.
The team unloaded the ATV and other equipment including flashlights, hand radios, and weapons, then gathered around a crude map of the campus. "Here's the astronomy building, where the Cray is." said John, pointing to the map with a bayonet. "We'll search there first. If Jawaid isn't there, we'll try some of the surrounding buildings. We'll leave the ATV here and walk, since it's not that far. Okay? Let's go."
The four set off northeast across the open Quad, passing between Noye's Lab and the Natural History Building, then turned due north on Matthews Avenue. When they came to Springfield Avenue they turned right, and walked about 150 yards to reach the astronomy building. Along the way they had seen no movement, save that of animals, although many corpses were in evidence.
John scanned the outside of the building, then stepped forward and tried the door. To his surprise, it swung open easily; evidently, it had not been locked. He turned to the others, who stood watching. "Gary, you stay here by the door, and call us on the walkie-talkies if you hear or see anything. The rest of us will spread out and search the building." The three explorers entered the building, while Gary made himself comfortable on the stoop, his eyes roaming the street, and his ears alert.
The entryway was undamaged, and appeared as it would have any normal day, save for a film of dust that covered everything. John motioned for Ethan to search the ground floor, while he and Kent headed for the stairs leading up to the second and third floors, the ones actually containing the supercomputers.
Ethan watched the other two set off for the upstairs, then opened a door that looked as if it might lead to the rest of the building. It opened into a large, cool room, filled with terminals; obviously for access to the Cray. He flicked on his torch and waved it about the room. Nothing appeared out of order, yet something was tickling his sixth sense. He turned off the torch, and listened very hard. At first all he heard was the faint hiss of static from his radio. Then, almost below the threshold of hearing, he heard the rhythmic thumping coming from beneath his feet.
He switched on his lantern, then weaved his way across the room to a door he had spotted when he first entered, and pushed it open. The thumping sound immediately became louder. He pointed the beam from his light into the space beyond the door, and found it to be a short hallway, ending with two doors on either side.
He strode down the hall, his heart beginning to race, and flashed his torch on the door to the right. A sign attached to the door read "Janitor", meaning that he should try the other door. He turned and opened the other door, revealing a flight of bare concrete stairs leading down into a basement. Now the sound was clearly audible, and the walls shivered with the vibration.
Ethan paused long enough to unsling the M-25 from his shoulder, put a round in the chamber, and arrange it into a proper battle position, then descended the stairs. They ended in a room filled with various implements of cleanliness, as well as cans of cleaning fluid and piles of other unidentifiable things. Yet another door led off to the left.
He placed a hand on the door, felt its vibration, then placed an ear to it. The sound beyond was clearly an engine of some sort, probably a generator. He could hear nothing but the rumble of the generator, and had no way of telling if there was someone behind the door. He considered, then shrugged and turned the knob, opening the door. A blaze of light streamed through the open doorway, and the rumble became a roar.
*** Chapter Twenty-eight ***
Kent reached the door to the staircase first, and pulled it open. John poked his head through, and surveyed the stairs leading up. They were dusty, but appeared safe. He motioned for Kent to follow, and began to climb the stairs.
It was a brilliantly sunny day outside, with not a cloud in the sky. The sun streaming through the windows made the air warm and stuffy, as well as made flashlights unnecessary. When they had ascended to the second floor landing, they became cautious, and had their weapons at the ready.
The second floor was separated from the stairwell by a fireproof metal door, which had a small wire-reinforced window near the top. They flattened their backs against the wall as they approached the door, and when he was close enough John craned his neck around to see into the room behind the door.
Despite the blaze of sun in the stairwell, the rooms on the second floor lacked windows and were therefore mostly dark. As his eyes adjusted, John began to distinguish details in the room, including the bulky cylinders of the supercomputers behind a wall of glass. He thought he could see a line of terminals to the left of the mainframes, but could not be sure due to the reflection on the glass. He lifted one hand to shade the glass, but the reflection did not disappear. With a start he also realized that the reflection was a cool rather than a brilliant white. An artificial white.
It was not a reflection. Someone had electric lights. He pulled himself back against the wall and turned to Kent.
"He might be in there. I saw electric lights." Kent had opened his mouth to reply when three muffled shots sounded far below them. They turned and scrambled down the stairs.
Ethan flung himself back and to the floor as the shots roared past him through the open door, the concussion of the exploding cartridges in the confined basement setting his ears to ringing. He had caught only a glimpse of his attacker, enough to see him holding an oversize revolver and a small container, standing in a brightly lit room. He was right: it had to be a generator.
With the door open, the generator's roar obscured all other sounds, save those of the gunshots. Danny rolled over and sprang into a crouch, scrambling back against the wall, with the door to his right. He lowered his assault rifle to the floor and pulled out his Browning with his right hand and his radio with his left. His eyes never left the door as he depressed the sending key. "John, Kent, can you hear me?"
He pressed the radio to his ear to hear above the generator. A thin, scratchy voice came from the speaker. "What the hell happened? We heard the shots. Over." Ethan depressed the key. "I found someone, and I think it might be Bazyar." He looked up in surprise as the rumble of the generator began to die. "He's got a generator down here. He took a shot at me but I'm okay. Over."
The generator had wound completely down and the only sound in the resulting silence was the Green Beret's quickened breath. "Are you down in the basement? Over." Ethan made to reply, but was interrupted by the voice of his attacker. "Who are you? You're not one of those sick people, are you? I saw your face." A pause. "Well, can you talk?" "Are you Jawaid Bazyar?" Silence. Ethan heard the approaching footsteps of his companions above in the hallway. "Well can you talk?" "What's it to you? Are you a Russian?" Ethan heard the other two open the janitor's closet and express their astonishment at the contents. He rolled his eyes up in an expression of disgust, then put a heavy Russian accent into his voice. "Of course I'm not a Russian, comrade." Three shots cracked out, punching through the wall inches from his shoulder. Ethan jerked away from the points of impact and yelled. "Cut that out! I'm on your side!" His nose twitched; an odd smell. He looked down, and saw that one of his opponent's wild shots had punctured a large canister of cleaning fluid, which was pooling on the floor at the foot of the stairs. The door at the top of the stairs opened; he didn't remember closing it. "Brian Cameron sent me." There was a gasp of surprise from the man on the other side of the wall. At the same time, John and Kent came thundering down the stairs.
"Where is heeeyahhhhhhh!!!" John's yell changed to a primal shout as he stepped in the pool of fluid at full speed and took to the air, coming to an abrupt halt a moment later against a stack of shelves. The pile of junk stacked on them combined with the colossal blow dealt by the flying captain was too much for the shelves; they promptly collapsed, spreading trash across the floor, and nearly burying the unfortunate Guardsman.
The occupants of the basement, save the momentarily stunned captain, immediately exploded in hysterical laughter, including the doctor, who had exercised greater caution in descending the steps, and had avoided his friend's fate. Ethan took the momentary easing of tension too look cautiously around the door frame at the cornered man. He was crouched behind several oily 55-gallon barrels, grinning, but with his eyes on the door, where he could clearly see Kent begin to help a dazed John off of the floor. He did not lower his gun, but did not fire, despite a clear shot at the other two men of the team. With a start, Ethan realized that the man's eyes were on him.
Ethan, through reflex, made as if to withdraw his head from the doorway, but stopped, reasoning that if the man had wanted to shoot him, he would have done so already. Mentally, he recalled a picture of their quarry that Brian had shown him before the mission. The man behind the barrels had the same pale complexion, blond hair, and thin, aesthetic face, as well as wire-rim glasses. In short, it was Jawaid Bazyar, the so-called computer whiz who might save their lives.
Behind him, John emitted a pained groan. "Shit. What happened? Did I get shot?" This touched off another round of laughter. John, who by this time had struggled to his feet, glared at everyone in the basement, then grinned sheepishly. "What a ride", he said.
Kent kneaded John's right shoulder, feeling for broken bones in the arm that had struck the shelves. "How do you feel? Anything hurt?" John grimaced, feeling his arm and shoulder, then replied. "My whole right side hurts just now, but I don't think anything's broken. I'll be okay." He looked at Ethan, and for the first time noticed Bazyar pointing a gun at him." I take it that this is the man you were referring to?"
Bazyar studied the two men, then spoke softly. "I am Jawaid Bazyar. If you were sent by Brian Cameron, I'll listen to you. But if you're Russians, I'll shoot you where you stand."
John smiled uncomfortably. "Well, ah, why don't we start out with some introductions. I'm Captain John Jontry, of the National Guard; this here is Commander Kent Wolf, and over there is Lieutenant Eatin' Friedmoose. We're your 'rescue team', so to speak." He went on to tell Jawaid why they were there, and why they needed him. When he finished, he posed a question to the silicon wizard. "Well, do you believe me?"
Jawaid pondered a moment, then smiled. "Yes, I believe you. It sounds like something Brian would do." He clicked the safety and shoved the gun into a pocket. "Guess I won't need this for right now. Well, now. What's the game plan?"
The Green Beret spoke up. "Excuse me, but could I see that pistol for a moment?" Jawaid looked suspicious, but removed the pistol from his pocket and handed it to Ethan. "Why, what for?" Ethan took the pistol, deactivated the safety, then pointed it straight at Jawaid Bazyar and pulled the trigger.
The hammer clicked down on an empty chamber. There was absolute silence for the space of ten seconds, then an audible sigh of relief, if a puzzled sigh. "You fired six times at me. This is a Smith and Wesson Saturday Night Special. Six rounds." He handed the weapon back to a round-eyed Jawaid. "You really must be more careful."
Kent's jaw, having dropped at the beginning of Ethan's bluff, snapped shut. "Why didn't you tell us?! We thought he was going to shoot our balls off if Mr. Diplomacy here screwed up!" John reddened in indignation, and would have spoken if Kent had not continued. "Thanks for the favor, Mr. Green Beret!"
Ethan smiled, then said, "I was just making a point." "We are ^forever^ in your debt!" John interrupted. "Well, I think that's enough. We've got other, more important things to do here. Besides, I've got a few questions for Mr. Bazyar here. Let's go on upstairs and collect your belongings, Jawaid." Just then the radio on John's belt emitted an attention tone, then Gary's voice.
"Holy shit, I forgot we left Gary outside." He pulled the walkie-talkie off of his belt and depressed the transmit key. "Hello, Gary. This is John. We've found Bazyar. Over." The radio crackled. "Yeah, I heard the shots and Ethan talking. We've got some movement in the surrounding buildings, but I can't tell if it's hostile or not. Over."
John looked at the other three, then keyed the radio. "Okay, we'll be up in a minute. Hold tight for right now, and keep us posted on anything unusual. Over and out." To the other three he said, "Let's go upstairs and get your stuff, Jawaid, so we can get out of here."
Jawaid spoke. "I'll be right along, but let me start this generator first." John nodded his assent, then turned and headed up the stairs, followed by the rest of the men. Jawaid walked across the basement to a large crank protruding from the generator, and gave it several turns. The generator coughed, then began coming up to speed with a smooth roar of power. He then turned and stooped, picking up the small metal container that Ethan had spotted him holding when he first opened the door. He opened it, and withdrew six .38 caliber shells, with which he reloaded his pistol. He had a feeling that in this new post-holocaust world a loaded gun would be more than a tool, but a necessity. He shoved the pistol in his belt and ran to catch up with the others.
When they reached the first-floor entryway, John motioned for his companions to continue up the stairs while he went to brief Gary on the developments so far. He looked carefully out of the window in order to check out the situation outside without exposing himself. All appeared quiet, but Gary crouched behind a stone bench just inside the portal, scanning the buildings across the street, looking for motion. John went to the door, opened it slightly, exposing himself as little as possible, and called softly to Gary. The sentry jumped as if startled by the sound of his name, then turned and saw John's worried face in the doorway. John beckoned for him to come inside, and he nodded his head in acknowledgement. With a final scan of the street, he rose and turned to approach the door.
From a window across the street, a pair of arms holding a shotgun suddenly appeared. The unexpected motion caught John's eye, and he had just enough time to shout a warning and duck when the hidden gunman pulled the trigger.
A storm of lead shot peppered the outside of the building, cracking windows and whining off steel fixtures, and a cloud of glass shards rained down on his back. John heard Gary scream, though whether from pain or fear he had no way of telling. He pulled his much-used Browning from its holster and returned fire around the doorframe. He saw the window framing the offending weapon shatter and the arms fall back, dropping the shotgun. Dirty bastard, he thought as he shoved the automatic back into its holster and looked at Gary.
The sentry was lying face down on the concrete, blood running from one visible wound on his upper right arm. His M-25 lay a few inches from his outstretched right hand, where it had fallen when he ducked the shot. He might have been conscious, but there was no way to tell: he was perfectly motionless. The radio on his hip crackled, loud in the seemingly absolute silence following the shooting, and he heard Kent's anxious voice, but could not force himself to take the radio and speak. John finally took his own rifle and poked Gary with it. "You okay? Gary, speak to me!"
For a moment there was no response. Then Gary lifted his head and said, "Is it over?" Seeing John's expression of surprise, then relief, then anger, he quickly added, "Richard Pryor,The Silver Streak, 1977." John smiled, then said, "Get up and get in here." Gary struggles to his feet, wincing from the pain of his wounded biceps, and stumbled inside to safety. John grabbed his good arm and spun Gary and himself out of sight of the street.
The radio emitted an alert tone, this time followed by Ethan's voice. John snatched the radio and keyed the transmit button. "We're alive. Someone was shooting at us from across the street." He looked at Gary's hand clamped over his wound, useless arm dangling at his side, and noted his pale face and glassy eyes. "Kent, get down here immediately. Gary's been wounded, and I think he's going into shock. Over." Kent's voice. "I'll be right there. Over."
Gary, hearing that Kent was on his way, smiled at John, then collapsed, unconscious. John grabbed him, easing him down to the floor. Gary's hand fell away from his arm, and blood began to pour out of the wound. It's much worse than it first appeared, thought John to himself. Look at that blood, it's running all over the floor. He must have lost a whole bunch already, he could die from that. Gary began to cough, a choking sound. John felt panic begging to grip his chest. I'm an engineer, not a doctor. He stared at the wounded man on the floor, then heard the footsteps of the doctor descending the stairs at high speed.
Kent bust into the entryway, the stairwell door bouncing off the wall from the force of his passage. He saw the two men on the floor and skidded to a halt, removing a small bag with a red cross from his belt. Without a single glance at John, he knelt beside Gary and opened the bag, removing bandages and instrument. Without looking up, he posed a question to the Guardsman. "Can you apply a tourniquet?" John found his voice and croaked, "Yeah." Kent wordlessly handed him a length of cord and a small wooden stick, obviously the components of a tourniquet. John took a large survival knife from its scabbard on his belt, and cut away the wounded man's sleeve, exposing the wound. It was high up on the arm, and would be difficult to tourniquet. He did the best he could, looping the cord around the arm above the wound, then twisting it with the stick. Soon the blood flow from the wound slowed, and John noted that Kent had already cleansed the injured spot and was beginning to apply a compress.
Kent glanced over at John, saw that he had finished with the tourniquet, then turned and fished in his bag, speaking while he did so. "Since you've finished with that, start giving him this." He handed John a small white cylinder, with a short length of tubing and a mask attached. "Oxygen. Just hold the mask over his face, and press this little button here." He indicated a small knob on the top of the cylinder. John accepted the apparatus and began administering the oxygen to the unconscious man.
Kent watched, then began a closer examination of his patient. Gary hand received the one very serious wound on his upper arm, and numerous smaller holes covered his upper body. Considering the range, he had been comparatively lucky. Most appeared to be only flesh wounds, although he hadn't time to probe them. Breathing was shallow but regular, and some color was returning to his face as well. He would be in pain for some time, but he would live.
The radio on John's hip crackled, and the captain responded by handing the oxygen to the doctor and removing the walkie-talkie from his belt. "Jontry here." "What happened? Is Gary going to be alright? Over." John looked at Kent, who responded with a nod. "Yeah, the doc here thinks he'll be okay. Get to an outside window and check the street for movement. Some body was out there shooting at us, and I don't think I got him. Let me know if you see anything. You copy? Over." "10-4. Over and out."
Kent closed his bag, and spoke while John clipped the radio back on his belt. "Gary here is in no condition to walk back to the 'copter. I think it would be easier if one of us went back and got the ATV."
John shook his head. "No. If there is one hostile person out there with a gun, then there is very likely to be another. We should expose ourselves as little as possible. We'll have to carry him back." With that rose from his kneeled position and approached the shattered windows, cautiously peeking outside. Kent frowned at his back, not pleased with the prospect of subjecting the wounded man to the trauma of shoulderbourne transport.
John scanned the street outside, then studied the shattered window from which the shotgun had emerged. Nothing moved there now, and he was in the process of gently replacing the curtain when he saw the movement in the doorway on the ground floor. Somebody was slowly opening a door.
At the same time, his radio crackled with Ethan's voice. "Motion on the ground floor across the street!" John grasped the radio and lifted it to his lips, whispering a reply to the Green Beret. "Just stay out of sight and observe. Don't shoot unless he sees you and makes a threatening move. Over."
Across the street, the door eased slowly open, yet no glimpse of the person inside was so far afforded the watching soldiers. Finally, a white-clad arm emerged, bearing a small white handkerchief tied to a stick. John watched, but after its initial movement, the arm and its owner had remained still, waiting for the next move from the astronomy building. John decided to oblige the hidden person.
The Guardsman drew in a double lung full of breath and shouted across the street, "Who are you? Show yourself!" The shout echoed across the empty campus, and for a long time nothing happened. Gradually, however, the door eased open and the hidden gunman emerged.
He was a short, rotund man, sporting a huge growth of beard and unkempt hair. He was incongruously clad in a dirty white lab coat, the pockets of which bulged with what John guessed to be shotgun shells, and large suede cowboy boots. He stood in the open door, one arm holding the tiny, makeshift flag over his head, the other dangling bloody and useless by his side. John smiled to himself, and thought, I'm not a half-bad shot, after all.
Above the captain's head, peering through a window on the second story landing, crouched the Green Beret, examining the man across the street more closely with a pair of binoculars held in his left hand. He heard John shout his first question again. "Who are you? Answer or we shoot!" Ethan lowered the binoculars and took a firmer grip on his assault rifle.
The man across the street shouted hoarsely, "Are you Americans?" John shouted back, "Yes, we are. Answer me!" The man took a deep breath, then yelled, "I'm a professor here. My name is Ankrom. Kipp Ankrom. Please, do you have a doctor? I'm hurt." Ethan screamed back, "No shit!!", and loosed a volley from his rifle, peppering the side of the house just over the professor's head, The man was showered with splinters, and in an obvious panic fell to the ground and covered his head with his good hand. "Please! Stop! I thought you were Russians, I didn't mean it!", the wounded man screamed. "Ethan! Knock it off!", John yelled, then addressed the prostrate man across the street. "Get up! We won't hurt you further if you cooperate, but do remember the Mister Itchy Finger upstairs is keeping an eye on you. He hasn't killed anyone since breakfast." The man hesitated, then staggered to his feet and wobbled across the street, his feet crunching on the broken glass in front of the Astronomy Building. John rushed outside and grabbed the wounded man by the arm, pulling him inside, and deposited him roughly on the floor. Kent turned around briefly from tending Gary's wound, saying "Put a tourniquet on it John. I'll be with you in a minute." The man was turning pale, and closed his eyes as John cut off the ragged, bloodstained sleeve and began to apply the tourniquet. He didn't notice that Jawaid had approached behind him and was watching him work. "Kipp, why did you shoot this man here?" Kipp opened his eyes, and looked at Jawaid. "They...were wearing uniforms...thought they were Ruskies or something...didn't...didn't know..." He closed his eyes and appeared to lapse into unconsciousness. John turned and stared at Jawaid. "You know this guy?" "Yeah, I worked with him occasionally here, and since he's the only other survivor I've found, we've pretty much stuck together." "Well, I'd appreciate it if he refrains from shooting at us in the future." Kent had moved from the quietly sleeping Gary and was treating Kipp's injuries. "He won't be doing much shooting for the meantime. He was lucky, though. That shot you hit him with passed right through his biceps, didn't hit the bone." John grimaced. "Shit. With two wounded, Ethan and I will have to go back and get the ATV. Kent, you and Jawaid keep a lookout while we're gone, and show him how to operate an M-16." He pulled his radio from his belt and informed Ethan of the plan. Shortly, Ethan came pounding down the stairs and the two set off to get the ATV from the 'copter. After the two had left, Kent turned to Jawaid and said, "Well, time for your first lesson on the manly art of using an assault rifle." Jawaid shook his head. "No, I've got something better. Wait here." He turned and disappeared up the stairs, returning a moment later with what looked to Kent like a portable laser. "It's a portable laser, a prototype that Kipp was working on for the Army. It actually works, too. Turn your head." He demonstrated by burning a hole through one of the few intact windows remaining. "I've got another rig upstairs, but only Kipp and I can use them. It's kind of complicated." Kent looked at the complex arrangement of wires, dials, buttons and other indescribable apparatus, and silently agreed.
John looked at the helicopter from the safety of the first floor of Noye's Lab. "Looks the same to me. Guess no one else is around." Ethan nodded agreement, and the two left the building and approached the huge aircraft across the overgrown quad. They were halfway to the helicopter when Ethan stopped and stared into the sky. John stopped a few steps later, all his senses alert. "I hear aircraft. Other helicopters." The Green Beret turned and looked at John. "They don't sound like ours." "Shit!" John broke into a run towards the helicopter, Ethan following behind. "Get the ATV! I'm gonna see if I can contact who's up there!" Ethan jumped through the gaping cargo door while John struggled into the cockpit, flipping on the radio. He turned the frequency knob, hearing nothing but static. He changed bands. More static. He heard Ethan trying to start the ATV. He changed bands again, and after a few seconds heard voices in Russian. He bolted from his seat, and ran back to the cargo section just as the ATV roared to life. He saw Ethan sitting in the driver's seat, staring at him as he raced out the cargo door, then pulled out two long metal ramps from the side of the 'copter, so the ATV could drive out. The ATV bounced down to the ground, and John jumped in next to Ethan. "We got problems! The Ruskies are on the way!" The ATV's tires spun, throwing up earth and weeds. "I thought we killed them all!" "Guess not! Get us back to the Astronomy Building quick!" He pulled his radio from his belt, and filled their companions in on the situation.
Kent and Jawaid were standing outside the building when John and Ethan raced up, scanning the sky for the Russian helicopters. As soon as the ATV bounced to a halt, John jumped out and started yelling at them to get the wounded into the ATV and to get the hell back to the copter. Gary was still unconscious, but Kipp had recovered sufficiently to be guided out to the vehicle. Kent, the slightest of all of them, would drive, seeing as how the ATV was only designed for two people, and loading it with three would tax it unnecessarily. The others would walk, keeping an eye out for the Russian helicopters. They had only gone a short distance when they heard another sound, one that both John and Ethan recognized instantly. "Sounds like they got a halftrack or two", said John. They all started walking faster. "They must have seen the helicopter, or they're here for the same thing we are", said Ethan. "Either way, let's get outta here." At that moment, the sound of the approaching half-tracks became much louder, as the Russians turned a corner several blocks behind them down Green Street, and after a few seconds opened fire. John took one look, then screamed at the top of his voice, "Run!! Get to the copter!" Before Kent could accelerate the ATV, Kipp struggled up and rolled from his seat on top of the vehicle, holding his portable laser. "Go on, I'll stay. I've got the disease anyway." The others stared for a split second, then turned and ran. Kipp watched them go, then fell to the ground behind a stone bench and sighted on the radiator of the first of two half-tracks. He pressed the fire button, and watched as steam and fluid exploded from the grill. Next he raked the windshield and top-mounted machine gun, immobilizing and neutralizing the vehicle. The Russians were confused about what was attacking them, but some apparently had seen him dive from the ATV, and were returning fire in his direction. Some bullets came close, ricocheting off of the stone bench. He raised his head again, and sighted on the second halftrack. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a Russian officer point at him, and another soldier raise a rocket propelled grenade to his shoulder. He pressed the fire button, and watched the windshield melt and the halftrack swerve out of control into a parked car and overturn. He heard the shriek of the RAG, but mercifully did not feel the explosion.
At the same time the second halftrack overturned, the remainder of the expedition had reached the helicopter and John was starting the engines. A minute later, they were airborne, leaving the ATV behind. The Russians on the street below fired a few shots as they rose quickly out of range, and Ethan returned fire with a .50 caliber doorman. Kent monitored the radar carefully for the first 15 minutes of the flight, but no Russian aircraft rose to pursue them. John allowed himself to relax, and heaved a sigh. "Looks like we succeeded with our mission. Listen, it looks like everything's going to be cool for the ride home, why don't you go back there and start filling in Jawaid on the details of our problem. John went back to his controls as Kent left to talk to Jawaid. With a little luck, maybe they were about to solve the problem of the disease, he thought to himself. But we gotta get home first.
*** Chapter Twenty-nine ***
It was near eight o'clock before John, Kent, Ethan, Gary, and the person we hoped would restore life into our home base in Evansville, Indiana. They no sooner touched ground as Jawaid was escorted to the computer room, sat down, and told to repair the system. He worked on it for days asking for diagrams, miscellaneous computer parts, tools, and food which were promptly brought to him by guards designated, to their misfortune, to this rather unexciting task. I spent many boring hours watching him work, but soon became bored, knowing little about computers myself. He had many spectators, including John and Danny who helped as they could, but knew little about such complicated mainframes compared to Jawaid. After many false cries of "I think I have it" he got the computer to work superficially. The base engineers were able to get started on finding a cure for the dreaded disease. But will there be enough time...
After working for several months a preventative was found, it would protect a person not having the disease from catching it and soon after a drug was found that could halt the disease at its present state in a person who had already contacted the disease, unfortunately this drug came several years to late for over 90% of the people who fell ill to the dread disease. Brian soon fell victim to wanderlust and asked his friend Gary to travel with him, and explore the country, changed as it is. Gary agreed heartily, but they argued on their destination, Gary wanting to return home and see if any relatives were surviving and Brian wanting to search out a yet unproven tale that a great professor was still alive in northern Texas. Brian stormed out, found John, talked him into leaving for Texas and left the day after, never speaking to Gary before he left. This was fortunate for Gary since it was discovered a week later he had the Rots, as the disease was commonly called to the disgrace of those in the medical profession who of course called it some name only a sober doctor could pronounce. The disease was halted with minimal damage to Gary himself, and soon left to his home, Mt. Vernon, and wasn't seen at the base again. Danny left one year later, feeling lonesome for his friends, hoping to catch up with Gary. Jawaid and Kent worked on a cure for the disease for eight years before Kent died in a strange accident, supposedly just when he had found a cure. Jawaid worked and is still working, almost eleven years after he arrived at the base, still unable to penetrate the elusive secret of the disease. Ethan is now a high ranking commander of the base, and will probably soon become General. Returning civilization to life did nothing to help his career. He is presently working on a project to bring all survivors to the Midwest and eastern parts of the United States, keeping Washington D.C. as our nations capitol. The United States with a slightly modified form of government now loosely controls most of the continental United States and Canada, few expeditions have left the North American continent and few have returned. Little is known about the Russians fate, most Soviets surrendered when the battle was officially over, there were some strongholds left that were soon eliminated. The Soviets were no longer a threat, however. The few Soviet planes that have been seen since then have made no contact. As of this date little is known of lands across the oceans. The government is presently controlled by the military, but will return to democracy as soon as peace is restored. Although a large portion is dead the United States remains. As a final note the new government agreed to put our heroes portraits on the present form of currency which both reminds us of our heroes and probably brings them amusement wherever they may be.
© 1994-2008 Brian A. Cameron