“Hey Lieutenant,” the squad leader began, “what’s our mission status?”
The lieutenant never kept his men in the dark, even on missions that he was supposed to. The question from his squad leader was purposely general in nature because they were talking over a monitored frequency. “You know I don’t know the details. Our mission status is that it’s still active. We’ll be at the hospital in ten minutes.”
The lieutenant then addressed everyone else. “Squad, listen up. We all know that no news is bad news. Our tactical brief is, as of this moment, unchanged. We are en route to a civilian hospital that has military assets on the ground. We are to assist those assets by bunkering the position, or evacuating them. The hostile forces are civilians and we have been given full operational leeway.”
Full operational leeway meant the team was authorized to use whatever force they deemed necessary without having to explain themselves.
“Full operational authority? On civilians? On OUR civilians? I don’t like the sound of that.” The communications sergeant was shaking his head.
“Look,” the lieutenant said, “I don’t like it either. And just to make sure I heard the orders correctly, I had them repeated and I recorded the orders. I’m sending you all a copy of that recording now. Keep it with you. If things go wrong in there and any of you ever find yourself in front of a tribunal, you’ll have the recorded orders.”
Everyone’s heads-up display flashed a message from the lieutenant. He gave them a moment to review the video for themselves and file it away on their personal drives for later.
“Now,” he began again, “as you know, the civilians are contagious with something. I’m not saying ‘something’ to be vague. I’m saying it because they don’t know what the contagion is. And before you ask, again, the reason we aren’t going in fully suited up for hazmat—they have assured me that the only way to get infected is through being bitten.”
The hazmat kit consisted of adding a rebreather, a set of sealed gloves, and a sealed hood to a soldier’s uniform. If they were only worried about bite protection, the extra weight and encumbrance of the added items weren’t worth it if it wasn’t needed. Still, the lieutenant was a little worried that he might not be getting told everything or that his superiors had incorrect information. But he didn’t share those concerns with his men; they had enough to worry about.
“So there are civilians running around biting each other?” the squad leader asked.
The lieutenant was about to answer when his sniper spoke up first. “Not biting each other, Sarge. Eating each other is more like it!” The sniper was pointing out the craft to the train platform they were headed towards.
“What is going on down there?!” The lieutenant couldn’t tell who had said that over the team push.
“All right, men, we have now seen the enemy and he is us.” The lieutenant tried to look each of his men in the eyes to get their attention and help them feel a little more grounded. “If any of these civilians get close to you, do not hesitate to put them down. I don’t care if they are infected or not. No one, and I mean no one, down there is allowed to defy any orders you give them. If just one person shows any resistance and is not dealt with swiftly, you know the rest of them will follow the example and we will be quickly and easily overrun.”
The lieutenant looked out of the craft towards the train platform they were now over. He had made sure the trains were no longer running and under military control—his control—before they got on scene. Nothing in his military training or experience could prepare him for what he was witnessing below.
“They are literally eating one another down there,” he almost whispered. Then he signaled two of his shooters. “Open the side doors. Start taking out the hostiles. We need to secure that platform.”
He turned to his squad leader and sniper. “I want you two out the other door. Engage any hostiles you see trying to get off the platform. Don’t let any of them reach the street level.”
The squad leader nodded but asked, “How do we know which ones are hostiles, other than the ones eating people?”
“Don’t take any chances. Anyone trying to leave the platform needs to be stopped. We can’t risk this thing spreading to the streets. It may already have left the hospital but I haven’t received any updates about that. I’ll get in touch with my liaison inside while you guys clear the area.” He looked to the rest of his men. “Everyone else, use your shooting ports. Your jobs are to scan the streets and other areas for targets. If you see anyone who even looks like they’re infected, put them down.”
Everyone went to work while the lieutenant made contact with his liaison. He looked at each of his men to see how they were holding up so far. They were only a few minutes into the actual mission and they were already facing the worst nightmare any one of them ever would.
He had eight men with him. None of them were green; they had all been together for a few years now. In the craft was his squad leader, a surly bastard who would’ve jumped at the chance for a weapons-free mission before he saw this mess. The sniper was the youngest of the bunch but still solid as a rock and had nerves of steel. The team medic carried more weapons than he did medical supplies. The technology sergeant loved his gadgets more than guns but he was equally proficient with both. The demolitions guy believed there wasn’t a problem on the planet that couldn’t be solved with the proper application of explosives. The communications sergeant liked to tease the demo guy by saying that he had called in more ordinance, and therefore had used more explosives than anyone else on the team. The last two men were shooters with no specialties at this point in their career.
The lieutenant’s headset chirped, indicating his liaison was finally connected to the conversation. Dispensing with pleasantries, the lieutenant jumped right in. “This is the operational augment you requested. Things are looking bad outside on the train platform. What is your status?”
“Good to hear from you, Lieutenant.” A strong female voice came over the line. “The platform, yes, it is unfortunate but things got a little out of control for a moment. We are secured inside and I was just about to send a squad of ground forces out to the platform.”
“Negative.” The lieutenant ordered, “Keep everyone inside. We are almost done with the platform and we don’t want to get any friendlies in the mix.”
The lieutenant looked out of the craft and saw that the majority of the hostiles were still standing. “What the fuck, guys! Do we need some extra training for shooting out of the craft?”
“Sir, we’re shooting the shit out of these guys but they aren’t going down.”
The liaison cut in. “Lieutenant, I’ll brief you fully when you get in here but for now, just know that you MUST make headshots in order to take down your targets. Nothing else will work or even slow them down.”
“Copy that. You heard her, boys—make your shots count.” To the pilot, he added, “Get us closer—as low as you can go without endangering us with obstacles or our targets.” The pilot just gave a hand signal to show he understood the orders. “Hey, keep your hands on the controls, you flight monkey!” The lieutenant jokingly attacked the flight officer, who responded by putting two of his hands in the air at the same time.
With the new instructions, the lieutenant’s team had the platform cleared in short order. The area above and beside the platform was not conducive to landing the craft, so the team fast-roped out of the craft onto the platform.
The first three men went out and landed in a slight crouch and then quickly shuffled away from their ropes. They took up perimeter positions to guard the rest of the team as they came down the ropes. The first three men knelt in their positions and called out “covering” to let the rest of the team know they were set and ready.
As the next group of three men came down, one of the first three yelled into his microphone, “Ow!” This was followed by two quick gunshots.
“What’s wrong?!” the lieutenant demanded from the craft.
“One of those fuckers bit me, sir.”
Pointing to his medic, the lieutenant said, “You’re next. Get your ass down there.”
“Kill him, Lieutenant. Shoot your man in the head now.” This came from the disembodied voice of the liaison.
“Are you crazy?!” The lieutenant couldn’t even describe his thoughts after hearing that on his private command channel.
“Lieutenant, you must kill him now. One bite is all it takes and no one, not one single person on this planet, is immune to whatever this thing is. I can’t afford to lose your team.”
“I won’t kill my own man without knowing exactly why I have to and especially not because some lab geek whom I’ve never met before tells me I have to.” The lieutenant jumped on the next free rope that came available and sped towards the ground.
On his way down, the lieutenant saw his man, who had been bitten, start to convulse. Almost as soon as it started, it was over and the soldier was now standing and looking around as though he were confused and didn’t know what to do. The soldier then saw the medic walking towards him and his eyes locked onto the medic. The lieutenant knew the soldier was about to attack; the look on his face was unmistakable. But his face wasn’t his own anymore. His face was now contorted in rage and hunger, like a primal beast with no higher brain function beyond pure instinct.
Just as the soldier lunged at the medic, the lieutenant yelled, “Shoot him! Take him down now! He’s been infected!”
But it was too late. The soldier was already on the medic and ripping his throat out, chewing flesh and flinging gore as if it were confetti. The lieutenant hit the ground running and brought his weapon up, quickly finding his target and putting one round through his soldier’s head and one through his medic’s. He didn’t think his medic could’ve survived the attack but if he did, that just meant he was infected by the bite anyway. Either way, he was better off getting a quick death now.
“Holy fuck,” the squad leader whispered.
“Yeah. That about sums it up.” The lieutenant was looking to the rest of his men now. “Do not for one second take for granted that a target is down unless you see their brains outside of their head. We don’t want to waste ammunition but feel free to pump an extra round into any head that you even think might not have already been hit.”
The lieutenant met each man’s eyes and made sure he had their attention and understanding. Then he set about the task of securing the platform. “You three,” he said, pointing to his communications, technology, and demolitions sergeants. “You are now Alpha squad and will stay together. You other three are Bravo squad. The squad leader and I will float to whoever needs assistance as situations come up.
“Alpha, you guys go down the platform stairwell and secure it so no one can get up here. Weld it shut if you have to. This is our evac route. The train is under our control and waiting just forward of this station. We don’t want civilians crowding us up here when it’s time to start moving our assets out.
“Bravo, you guys clear the platform of the bodies and make sure we have a way to secure this walkway to the hospital. If things get bad, I want to be able to keep this platform locked down from all avenues of entry.”
The lieutenant looked at his squad leader to make sure he hadn’t missed anything; when he got a nod, he finished up. “Two of you work while one stays on point. Remember, we are weapons-free now and we have a pretty good idea of why that is. Don’t hesitate to use that full operational leeway order. Questions?” When there was none, he turned towards the hospital and motioned for his squad leader to follow him.
Two regular military soldiers greeted the lieutenant on the far side of the walkway, at the hospital entrance. Neither saluted him because they were combat actuals now, but they did give him a respectful nod along with, “Hello sir. Please follow me.”
“Carry on,” the lieutenant replied.
The group of four soldiers walked to and stood in front of one of the sets of elevators. One of the regulars pushed the down button, held it for three seconds, and then simultaneously pushed the up button. The doors opened and they all stepped into the car. Once it was moving downwards, the lieutenant asked, “What was that all about? With the buttons?”
The two soldiers looked at each other before the higher ranking one just shrugged. “I’m sure you have higher security clearance than I do, sir. But just to be safe, could you order me to tell you?”
The lieutenant understood where this man was coming from and had no problems helping him to cover his own ass. “Soldier, I order you to tell me about the special nature of this elevator.”
“Yes, sir.” He smiled. “The research facility is under the civilian hospital. It’s about three stories further than the sublevel of the actual hospital, and it contains five of its own levels.
“The elevator door panels on the second floor nearest the train platform walkway are the only panels in the entire hospital that can be used to get to the research facility. You have to press and hold the down button for three seconds and then press and hold the up button until the command is accepted. In my pocket is an identifier chip that the elevator can read and it allows us to go to the sublevels. All we have to do is press the button for the basement and the system knows where we really want to go because of everything else we did first.”
“How do we get into the research facility once we get there?”
“We don’t, sir.” The soldier shifted uncomfortably in place. “Or least I don’t. Someone has always met us at the door and given us our orders or supplies and then closes the sally port.”
“What kinds of supplies?”
“Anything we’ve wanted or needed so far. Water. Food. Ammunition. Tons of ammunition. In fact, they stacked enough boxes of ammunition outside the sally port to keep a full battalion going for weeks.”
The lieutenant looked at his squad leader. “More ammo than food. That’s never a good sign.”
“No, sir, it’s not.” The squad leader absentmindedly patted down his ammunition pouches to see how many needed to be filled. He was already down by half after engaging the targets on the platform. Turning to the lower ranked soldier, he said, “Unless you have other orders that are of higher priority, could you please grab a few cases of ammo and run it back up to my men on the platform?”
The non-comm looked surprised to hear such a polite request from the grizzled old sergeant. “Of course I can, Sarge. Standard ammo, armor piercing, or explosive tips?”
“Son, are you telling me they’re just handing out explosive tip ammo to any grunt who wants some?” The sergeant’s eyes were wide with surprise.
“Um, yes?” The soldier touched one of his magazines that was full of explosive rounds. “I honestly don’t think the lab geeks knew what they were handing out. To them, it was all just boxes of ammo from their stores inside the facility. They probably just carted out whatever was in there.”
Again the lieutenant and squad leader just exchanged glances of bewilderment. “Take two cases of standard, one of armor piercing, and one of explosive tips. My guys should be smart enough to read the labels and see the different color bullet casings, but just in case they’re not, please let them know that some of the bullets go boom.”
“You got it, Sarge!” The soldier was happy that his coveted explosives rounds hadn’t been taken from him. Regular grunts never got to play with the cool stuff.
Once they reached the bottom of the lift, they stepped out of the elevator and found themselves inside a rather large antechamber. Boxes of food, ammunition, spare uniforms, sleeping gear, water and a bunch of other things were stacked all along the walls. One of the soldiers walked up to the sally port door and pressed a call button. A moment later, it opened to an empty chamber.
“Lieutenant,” the liaison’s voice came out of a nearby speaker, “please come in. I’ll meet you on the other side.”
The lieutenant and his squad leader stepped inside, with the sergeant making eye contact with the other soldier to make sure his ammunition request wasn’t forgotten. The non-comm nodded and started loading ammunition onto a rolling cart.
Once inside the sally port, the external doors closed and then the internal doors opened. A woman scientist-looking person was waiting for them.
“I should’ve known.” The lieutenant smiled.
“Yup. A voice like that had to belong to someone uglier than me. It sounded way too good to be true.” The sergeant sub-vocalized his response over the team leader frequency so only his lieutenant could hear it.
As they approached the scientist, she said, “What I lack in beauty, I make up for in intellect. I am ranked the third smartest person on the planet, Sergeant.” Enough years of killing and combat allowed the sergeant to keep his poker face, but just barely. “Yes, I heard everything you said. This facility is tapped into every single military frequency there is. Your conversations are not private when held anywhere near this facility.”
“I apologize for our rude behavior, ma’am.” The lieutenant truly was sorry if they hurt her feelings. Wanting to get past the moment quickly, he didn’t wait for a response. “My men are still outside with only a vague idea of what’s going on. I need to be briefed on the situation and our exact mission.”
“Of course. Follow me, gentlemen.”
“Where are we going?” the squad leader asked.
“To speak with the first and second smartest people on the planet,” she replied as she turned and walked down the hallway.
The three of them walked past labs that were alive with activity. Not just alive, but absolutely flourishing with people working at an almost frantic pace. In a few of the rooms, the lieutenant saw people strapped to tables with their bodies surgically opened and their internals not so internal anymore. But the people were still alive. Impossible!
“What the hell is going on here?!” The lieutenant’s question had more of an edge to it than he had meant to allow.
“You’ll be briefed on more of the specifics in a moment.” She paused in the hallway and likewise hesitated before speaking again. “There is a, for lack of a better word, virus. Though you must understand it’s not actually a virus, but that’s the closest classification we have for it. Anyway, you won’t fully believe me until you see it happen up close for yourself, but it reanimates the dead.”
“I can’t even find the swear words to say right now.” The squad leader huffed.
“Mind you, it won’t bring the dead back if they weren’t infected before they died. But if you are bitten, you will turn into one of the creatures. If you are killed by one of the creatures and bitten before you are completely clinically dead, you will turn. If you are killed but bitten after you are clinically dead, you will not turn. The only way to kill, or re-kill if you will, someone who has turned, is to destroy part of their brain. At this point, we are fairly certain that destroying any part of the brain, even a small, normally insignificant part, is enough to put them down. Those are the rules as far as we know right now.”
“How did this happen? What were you guys trying to make down here that caused this? Is it contained? What am I saying? Of course it isn’t contained. We just had to kill a bunch of infected civilians on the platform. What is the infection rate and projected quarantine zone? What is—”
The lieutenant was stopped by the liaison putting her hand in the air. “Sir, those are all good questions and I’m sure you have a thousand more. Please, let’s get to the conference room for the briefing and then you can ask any questions that you have.”
“Fine.” The lieutenant actually felt like throwing a tantrum to get his questions answered but knew that it wouldn’t do him any good and it would only delay him in getting the answers he needed. “I only have one more that you have to answer now, no debate.”
“Okay,” she answered hesitantly.
“How many infected are in the hospital? What do my men need to prepare for?”
He weighed her answer for a split second. “Bullshit. How many?”
The liaison looked around uncomfortably. “We honestly don’t think there are any. Not loose, anyway.” The lieutenant just glared her down until she continued. “Look, we knew that things might get out of hand and we had no way to bring in the big guns without tipping our hand. No one in the hospital civilian staff knows we even exist down here. So we let the infection out into a secured locked-down mental ward. That way, once the infection took hold of the ward, we could call in the military to help with containment on the ‘unknown virus’ and it would be contained in an already secured wing.
“With the military presence having an excuse to be here, we could start bringing in troops, supplies, and specialists without having to hide all of the extra activity. We were hiding our actions in plain sight.”
“What happened? How did they get to the platform?”
“One of the nurses was married to one of the doctors who got stuck on the wrong side of the door. He couldn’t stand to see her trapped in the ward and sick. He didn’t know what she was. If you’re bitten but not torn apart, you really don’t look all that different than just a really sick person.
“So he got her out and was running down the hall. She was chasing him but I’m sure he thought she was just following him. If you watch the security video, he’s running and looking back and yelling for her to hurry up. She chased him all the way inside the elevator.
“When the doors opened on the second floor, they were both infected and chased a visitor out to the platform and you saw the results after that.”
“How do you know that there aren’t any more outside of that ward?”
“We watched the video multiple times. Several people did. Going frame by frame, in some circumstances, just to make sure that no one else was infected along the way. Your team showed up only moments after the slaughter began on the platform. Several people ran down to the street when it started but the video clearly shows none of them were bitten.”
“You hope.” The lieutenant had a look of unease as he fathomed the possible outcome if someone infected did get away. He opened a comm channel to his men. “Alpha. Bravo. Status reports.”
“Alpha, sir. We both finished our primary tasks. We linked up with the two soldiers who escorted you down. Thanks for the ammo by the way.” There was a slight pause and the lieutenant knew they were happy about the explosive rounds. Every Special Forces operator was a kid at heart and every kid liked to blow shit up. “They gave us a tour of our area of operations. It looks like the second floor was purposely built to contain access to and from it.”
The liaison nodded. “He’s right.”
“It should be pretty easy to isolate,” Alpha continued. “We’re putting together a plan now and will implement it once we have the bugs worked out.”
“Good job. As always, I appreciate the initiative, guys.” The lieutenant snapped his fingers in front of the liaison to make sure she was paying attention to the next part. “I’m going to send you guys a security video file. Go over it, frame by frame if necessary, and let me know if any infected or potentially infected civilians made it out into the general population.”
“Priorities?” Alpha questioned.
“Secure the second floor first. If someone did get out, I’m sure we’ll be finding out shortly anyway. And if they did, we’ll need a secure fighting position more than anything else. Carry on.” The lieutenant closed the circuit and gestured for the liaison to lead the way. The liaison had understood her cue and sent the video file to the rest of the team.
They eventually reached a conference room and the lieutenant and his squad leader took the seats offered to them. A few other people entered the room and sat. The lieutenant figured these weren’t the first and second smartest people on the planet; they would be the last ones to enter, as they were most likely working every second to fix this problem.
Within moments, the video screens that filled an entire wall came to life. Each had an image of someone different, with one in the middle showing technical data. The lieutenant recognized all of the high-ranking military officers on screen and a couple of the politicians as well. He assumed that several of the people were technical experts from other parts of the world.
A man and woman entered the room. After a quick evaluation, the lieutenant surmised that the man was Number Two and the woman was Number One. The man was preparing to speak first, which meant he probably wasn’t the main event, making him Number Two.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t start this sooner,” he began. “Now that we’re all assembled, let’s get started.” He nervously cleared his throat. “As most of you know, we have come across a contagion of nearly unknown origin. This contagion acts much like a virus but does not fit into our scientific definition of a virus. It is also not bacterial, animal, vegetable, mineral, or any other known element or category.
“What we do know is limited and unfortunately fairly useless to us in the grand scheme of things. We know how it is transmitted, its incubation period, and how to, um, kill someone who has been infected.” There were a few gasps at the end of his sentence.
One of the images on the wall monitors spoke. “Kill? Can’t we contain them until a cure can be found?”
Number One stood up and took the floor. “Sir, for all intents and purposes, someone who has been infected has already been killed. We are simply putting an end to their reanimated corpse. I’m sure all of you have seen the briefing video we sent out. Most people don’t believe it until they’ve seen it happen in real life. Let me assure you, the infected beings are in fact the walking dead.”
The lieutenant spoke up. “What do you mean when you say the origin is nearly unknown? That implies you have some idea of where it came from.”
Number One smiled. “We know exactly where it came from, Lieutenant. But the origin is still unknown. The rest is classified and completely unnecessary information for the purpose of this meeting. I cannot tell you anything else related to your question.”
“She didn’t tell us shit in the first place.” The squad leader scoffed.
“Don’t forget yourself, Sergeant.” The admonishment came from a general on one of the monitors. The sergeant didn’t need to verbally respond; he just nodded his head in apology.
“What you think I need to know to accomplish my mission and what I actually need to know are probably two very different things,” the lieutenant threw back at her. “I cannot effectively do my job without every piece of information provided to me.”
“You’ll have to make do, Lieutenant,” the same general said, this time with less rebuke in his voice.
“If I may continue?” the scientist said with a snotty tone. “This contagion was brought to our facility a few months ago. At the time, we were unaware that it was a contagion. We thought we had found a, uh, a never-before-seen species of animal. The animal was in fact previously unknown to us but it also carried this contagion.
“One of our lab technicians was bitten by the animal and immediately succumbed to his wounds, turning into something else. Within seconds, seven more researchers were turned as the first technician bit another and then the cascade effect took over. We were able to seal that chamber before it spread any further.”
On the screen behind her, the scene she was describing played out. The “animal” was digitally edited so none of its features could be seen. The lieutenant saw an edit error and an arm slipped out into view. At least, he thought it was an arm. It looked only vaguely similar to his own but with a completely different hand structure, or maybe a different paw structure. He couldn’t be sure which.
She continued, “We tried to tranquilize the victims but found that no drug in any dose did anything to them. Not only that, but two of the researchers had sustained injuries during the initial attack, which removed vital organs from their bodies, and yet they were still standing and moving.
“We were able to isolate one of our people and get them strapped down for examination. What we found was beyond startling. He was dead. No brain activity at all. No organs were working. No circulation or breathing. None of his cells were showing any signs of activity whatsoever.”
“How is that possible?” one of the monitor scientists asked.
“We have no idea,” she admitted. “We haven’t even been able to single out the contagion from the carrier. The only thing we have determined is that it is spread through this.” She touched a button and a picture of some sort of chemical compound came onto the screen.
“Yeah, that’s helpful,” the sergeant muttered.
“That is a protein enzyme found in our saliva,” one of the monitor scientists said.
“You are correct.” Number One moved through a few more images. “We have found that no other substance in our bodies carry the contagion. We can’t find it within this chemical structure but this is the only compound we have found so far that will turn someone into one of the creatures.”
“And you found that out how exactly?” The lieutenant already had a pretty good idea and didn’t like it at all.
“That is also classified, soldier.” Number One purposely didn’t use his rank in an attempt to belittle him. The lieutenant loved being a soldier so the comment didn’t have its intended effect. “Moving on… We also found that the only way to put down someone who has been infected is to damage any portion of their brain. The damage doesn’t even need to be significant or in an important region of the brain. We know from countless years of neurosurgery practice there are several parts in our brain that can be completely removed without having any noticeable effects on the patient. Even those areas, if damaged, will stop someone who has been infected. We have no idea why or even any viable theories as to why.”
“Why did you keep experimenting? Why not destroy all of the samples and subjects? There can’t be any practical scientific or even military use for this contagion.” This came from one of the politicians.
“We are scientists,” Number One began. “Our mandate is to understand the universe around us. And although we did have an insatiable desire to understand this contagion more fully, we were driven by something else. Fear. We feared that however unlikely it might be that we would run across another one of these unknown animals, that if it happened again, if it happened to someone in the civilian populace, it would destroy our planet before we could stop it. The fact that our military found it before a citizen did is the only reason we are all still here. We didn’t destroy it because we believe it is more important to find a cure just in case a similar event happens in the future and the contagion isn’t contained.”
“Wait a second.” The lieutenant was mentally reviewing the information they had been given. “The military got to this new animal before the civilians did. It was brought to you a few months ago. That lines up with the meteor crash that happened not too far from here. It wasn’t a meteor, was it? What kind of animal did you find there?!”
“I, uh, don’t know what you are referring to, Lieutenant,” Number One stammered. “As I said, the animal is classified.”
The lieutenant was about to respond when the general spoke up first. “Ma’am, I have more information than the lieutenant does. In fact, I am fully briefed on the situation. And because of that, I fully understand and agree with your decision to study this problem and attempt to find a solution. My question to you is, what went wrong? The government has provided you with a state-of-the-art research lab that is completely invulnerable to everything we could think of. There is no reason your lab can’t be locked down and the world protected from what’s down there. Why are my fixers there now?”
“Sir, I appreciate your acknowledgement of our correct decision to proceed.” It was as if she were a puppy getting patted on the head. “No matter what precautions we took, it always spread. Somehow, someone got infected and that caused a chain reaction. We have lost more than forty researchers as of today.
“We decided that we needed external security above this facility in case there was a massive breach and we lost containment outside of our labs. The only way to bring in military containment units to the hospital was to provide a valid reason up there to have them present. If we created a scare up there, we could bring in any resources we needed and have them camp out on the second floor.
“We thought about initiating a weapons-grade outbreak of a viral agent and that would allow us to bring in all kinds of resources. But we dismissed that idea for obvious reasons.”
“Obvious reasons?” one of the monitors asked.
“Yes.” She always took an expression of superiority when someone asked a question. It made her the authority in the room and she ate it up. “If we initiated a viral outbreak, two things would happen. First, other nations would realize we had weapons-grade biological warfare agents. Secondly, everyone in the infected area would die, and rather quickly. With the victims dead, cleanup would be taken care of and our reason for having the military present would be gone with the bodies.
“We needed a problem that would persist for as long as we needed it to. The contagion gave us that persistent problem. The infected would never ‘die’ so there would always be a problem and therefore always a need for the military.” She smiled as though she had just solved the problem for world hunger.
“Let me get this straight.” The general was not happy. “You have the five smartest people—”
“Eight?! You have the eight smartest people in the world and that’s the best plan you could come up with?!” His rage was barely contained.
“I’ll admit, we do lack somewhat in our logistical detailing of a plan.” Her smug expression was completely gone now.
“You fucking think so?” The sergeant just shook his head.
“Sergeant,” the general turned his attention, “I owe you an apology. Please feel free to make whatever comments you’d like. They are well deserved by the incompetent morons who have been running this show. Up until now, that is.”
“What?!” Number One was now standing directly in front of the general’s video screen, addressing him as though he were really there. “You look here. I am in charge of this facility and I have written documentation from the highest places in government to prove it.”
“Not anymore you don’t.” The general switched his attention to the soldiers. “Lieutenant, after listening to the briefing, I am changing your mission. Although their original reason for continuing with the research was valid, I have decided that it poses too great a risk to our entire planet for it to continue.”
“I would have to agree, sir.” The lieutenant was fairly sure he knew what was coming down the chain of command now.
“Thanks, son. I appreciate your support.” The general actually smiled as he mocked the lieutenant in a good-natured way. “You are now to have your men completely eradicate any and all infected personnel and/or animals on the premises. I won’t tell you how to do your job, but I would start with the mental ward first to make sure none of those dead nutbags made it outside. Once you have that task complete, contact me, and we will discuss the best way for the hazmat team to cleanse the area. They will be headed your way within moments.”
“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant stood and headed for the door, grabbing Number Three on his way out.
“What do you want with me?” she asked.
“All through the briefing, I could tell that you weren’t onboard with what was going on. That makes me trust you because you actually have some sense about you.” He released her and looked her in the eyes. “I need to be able to trust you to get this job done. I need you to be honest with me and get me around to everywhere I need to go. I doubt Number One in there would let me have access to all of her pets. She’d probably keep one in reserve to play with after we leave. Can I trust you?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation or reservation. The lieutenant believed her.
The lieutenant got back to the second floor of the hospital and saw that his men were almost finished with their barricades at the bottom of the moving stairs in the lobby. He was proud of them but felt bad their efforts were going to be wasted.
“Alpha, Bravo, in on me.” He watched his men drop their work and come to him. No one complained that they were almost done or asked why they needed to suddenly stop this important project; they just complied because they trusted their commanding officer and his decisions.
“Men, our orders have changed. I don’t have time for details right now but the short of it is, we are going to the psych ward and eliminate all of the infected people within.” A few of the men looked to one another for a split second before looking back at their CO. “Remember, do not get bitten or even let any person, infected or not, get within biting range. I have it on good authority that saliva is the only way this thing is transmitted, so don’t freak out if you get blood splashed on or in you. Cuts, fingernail scrapes—none of that is dangerous to us.
“And of course, headshots only. It doesn’t even have to be a good headshot from what I’ve been told, which is a good thing for most of you guys.” Everyone laughed at the lieutenant’s joke. “Get your gear and let’s move out.”
The soldiers were still dressed in all of their fighting gear but they took a moment to get their weapons in order and do last-second checks to make sure nothing had been messed up while they were doing manual labor. When everyone was ready, they gave the go signal to the squad leader.
As they started to walk towards the elevators to go to the sixth floor, the lieutenant’s command channel chirped in his ear. Number One was calling him. “Lieutenant! Stop now!”
“Ma’am, you don’t have authority over me or this mission anymore. Stand down.”
“I’m not trying to stop you or order you around.” Her voice was tense with fear. “You need to get your men down to the street level now. I think we missed something. Somehow an infected civilian got out.”
“On me, men!” The lieutenant went to the moving stairs and nearly leapt down them, taking four at a time. As they ran, he updated his men with the information he was being fed by Number One. “There are cops engaging infected people on the streets. We need to assist them. Let them know about headshots if you can. We are still weapons-free. All targets are authorized, infected or not.”
Once the team ran out the door, they immediately spotted the engagement across the street in a park. The cops were shooting, fairly indiscriminately, into a crowd. They were being overrun by infected and non-infected people alike. The crowd was not only overrunning the cops but threatening to spread out away from the park, most carrying the contagion with them to the rest of the city.
“As soon as we’re within throwing range, I want grenades thrown to the edges of the crowd. I want them driven back together in the center and not leaking out of the area.” The lieutenant then opened a comm channel to the regular military units in the area who he was sure weren’t aware of the situation outside.
“I have operational authority.” The channel he was broadcasting on was all the proof he needed of that statement. “I want five shooters on the train platform to provide us with high cover; look to the park for our engagement. Everyone else, grab a rifle and get over to the park and help us engage the infected civilians.”
A couple more seconds passed and the lieutenant saw a grenade being thrown from his right side. He almost yelled at whoever had thrown it, thinking they were too far away for it to be effective. He smiled to himself, impressed that one of his men could actually get a grenade to go that far. It sailed to their right and landed between two cops and at least five civilians, tearing them apart. The explosion ripped them all apart and took out a few people who were nearby.
Three more grenades were let loose and had similar effects. The lieutenant frowned as he realized that his plan wasn’t going to work. In a normal situation, the grenades at the edges of the conflict would drive people back to the center, their fear of the explosions making their decisions for them. But in this case, the infected had no fear, so they ran right to or through the grenades without caring.
They were losing their containment; correction, they had lost their containment. The infection was out and there was no getting it under control now. At least not with the manpower and equipment he currently had.
“Extract One.” The lieutenant called up the deployment craft that had brought his team in.
“This is Flight Monkey One. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
The lieutenant was really starting to like this guy. “We have lost containment on infected civilians. I need you to hunt them down and engage in the streets.”
“Sir?” All traces of mirth had vanished from his voice.
“Pilot, you heard me correctly. I need you to believe me when I tell you that the actual fate of our planet is at stake here. This contagion is so powerful and fast moving, I would authorize the sanitization of a million civilians if I knew that’s what needed to be done to stop this thing.”
With a sigh of resignation, the pilot said, “Copy that, sir. I will engage all targets of opportunity. We’ve got ten other birds on standby. I’ll get them launched soonest.”
“Thank you,” the lieutenant said with a heavy heart. He was also grateful for the added air support, of which he had not previously been made aware. Number One probably had something to do with that.
The aircraft took off and flew several blocks away. The lieutenant approved of the pilot’s approach. The flight monkey was going to start out far away and work his fire towards the problem instead of trying to chase it down. He had obviously been involved in ground sanitization efforts before.
When the lieutenant brought his attention back to the ground and his own troops, he realized that they were no longer in a tenable situation. It was time to leave.
“Start falling back. Cover one another in your squads. We’ve still got high cover from the platform and those regulars are actually pretty good shots.” Turning to one of his shooters, the lieutenant asked, “Where did that explosive tip ammo end up?”
The demolition guy said, “Just inside the doors next to the platform.”
“None in your pouches?”
“Oh, well, yeah, of course there, too, sir.” He smiled.
“I thought so.” The lieutenant opened a channel that would go to all soldiers in the immediate area. “Switch to explosive rounds. There’s some in the hallway next to the platform. We still want headshots but this way if you miss, you might still take the target apart enough that it won’t be able to run away.”
Even far away from the platform and engaged in a gunfight, the lieutenant could still hear the soldiers whoop and holler excitement when they were told to load explosive rounds. Little boys with guns—that’s all we are, he smiled and thought to himself.
Soon the sounds of battle changed. The mini explosions caused when a bullet is fired from a weapon were soon followed by a much louder explosion when the round contacted its target. The other air units were also getting into the fight and trying to push the hordes of infected back to a central point. But much like the grenades, these tried-and-true tactics weren’t working on the infected people who had no fear. They were still gunning down plenty of infected, but more were getting away every minute.
The lieutenant and his two fire-teams made it back into the hospital without incident. As they walked in the lobby, they saw a multitude of people looking at them, utterly dumbfounded. The civilians had absolutely no idea what was going on or what they should do. They needed guidance, reassurance.
“People,” he began, “I need everyone to stay calm, please. There is an incident unfolding outside that we are attempting to gain control of. It is in your best interests to remain in here with us for the time being. If you want to leave, you have thirty seconds to do so but we are securing the doors after that and you will not be let back in.”
Surprisingly, only five people ran out of the building. There were plenty of others in the hospital who might have also left, given the choice, but the offer was only being extended to those who were within earshot in the lobby.
The squad leader looked to one of the regular soldiers. “Get with the hospital security guards and make sure we don’t have any holes in our perimeter. Lock everything and collect all security keys from every single civilian. I don’t want anyone other than us to have control over any access ways.” As an afterthought, he added, “Don’t take shit from anyone. No one has any choice other than to comply with your orders. Use whatever force you need to get the job done.”
The soldier nodded and then took three of his men to carry out the sergeant’s instructions. The very first security guard asked to relinquish his keys gave the soldier lip about it and was summarily punched square in the face. No one else in the lobby gave them any more problems.
“Good call,” the lieutenant said to his squad leader. “Now, Alpha and Bravo, both of you get back to work securing the moving stairs from the lobby. The second floor was designed to be a defensive and offensive holding point and we’re going to use it for just that. Let me know the second you’re done. I’ve got more work for both fire-teams.”
Everyone set about to work on their tasks. The squad leader stayed behind to oversee the fortifications and the lieutenant went back to the second floor to find Number Three. She wasn’t by the elevators anymore and he guessed that she had gone back down to the research facility. Pushing the buttons as he had been taught, he got into the car after it arrived and headed towards the basement level.
When he arrived, he found Number Three crying and screaming as she banged on the sally port door. “Let me in, you fucking bitch!”
“What’s going on?” The lieutenant was honestly at a loss for what he was seeing.
“She won’t let me in! She won’t let any of us in!” Number Three sank to the floor.
“Why don’t we just use your security badge to get past the doors?”
“We can’t. You need two keys to enter the facility from the outside. You only need one to exit.” She pointed with two hands at the card readers on the opposite sides of the sally port doors. “They have to be entered into the readers at the same time, along with the activation button being pressed on each.”
“Gotcha. Okay, let me try then.” The lieutenant then addressed the security camera above the sally port. “I know you’re listening and watching. You need to open this door immediately. I now have operational command over this incident and I’m giving you a direct order.”
“Lieutenant.” The snotty voice of Number One came over the speakers. “The infection is out and there is no hope of regaining control of the city. We will be lucky to contain this incident to our own continent and that is a slim and dismal hope at best.
“Our only hope for survival as a species lies within this research facility. I cannot allow you to come in here and destroy everything we have worked so hard to accomplish.”
The lieutenant thought for a moment before he spoke again. “Look, I can’t say that I don’t agree with you. Before the city started to fall, we were on totally opposite sides of this argument. But now—now we have to be on the same side.
“I agree that your research must continue in earnest. I agree that this facility is the key to our survival. What I don’t agree on is that you should be in charge.” He paused to make sure he was choosing the best words possible given the circumstances. “You are the smartest person on the planet; that is not in contention whatsoever. What is, though, is your ability to make sound security decisions. You admitted yourself that your team lacked in this area, but this is exactly what my team was trained to do and has done for years all over the globe.
“Let us in so we can work together. I will be in charge overall of the facility and you will head up the research and essentially be the boss of everyone inside there, at least in reference to their work.”
“Do you think my decisions are based on my own personal ego?!” she spat. “Do you think I need to be in charge in order to realize my own importance?!”
Yes, he thought, but spoke different words. “I’m not suggesting that at all. I think that we just communicate differently due to our extremely different backgrounds. Not to mention, it’s pretty hard to have a real conversation when I’m yelling into a little metal box fifteen feet above my head. At least you get to look at me on a camera. Let me come inside so we can sit down and talk. You can kick me out if you don’t like me after our conversation.”
“I don’t like you now, soldier. I’m already certain that a face-to-face conversation will only increase my dislike of you.”
“Fine.” The lieutenant’s tone changed noticeably as it switched from civil and endearing to harsh and commanding. “If this door is not open in the next ten seconds, I will initiate this facility’s sanitizing protocols. Everyone and everything inside will be incinerated. From what I’ve been told, the process is only painful for a millisecond because the air will be superheated so fast your lungs and brain will almost instantly melt and start oozing from your body. Almost instantly.”
The lieutenant was bluffing. Not that he wouldn’t actually do it. He absolutely would if he had the control codes in his possession, but he didn’t. He also couldn’t be sure that this facility actually had a sanitization protocol, but based on everything he knew from past experience, it should. But the problem was, he couldn’t contact his superiors to get the code. If he did, Number One would listen in on the conversation, as she had already proved she could, and know that he wasn’t in a position to follow through with his threats. At least not at the moment.
The long pause had the lieutenant thinking she was going to give in to his commands. At about eight seconds in to the countdown, Number One’s voice came over the speaker. “Fine, Lieutenant.” He was pretty sure he had never had his rank said with that much disdain. “I am opening the doors but it will take a few minutes to get there from the control room to meet you.”
“You don’t have to meet me, just open the doors.”
“I initiated a security protocol that locked out everyone’s security badge. My badge is the only one that can open the door and I have to do it at the door itself.”
The lieutenant looked at Number Three for confirmation but she just shrugged, indicating she wasn’t sure whether that was true or possible. He sighed. “Fine. Hurry. If I think you are stalling, I will initiate the protocol.”
“No need for more threats, Lieutenant. As you said, we are now on the same side.”
A few moments later, the lieutenant heard the interior locks on the doors disengaging. As the doors started to open, he instantly felt that something wasn’t right. The first time they had entered the automated sally port, the interior chamber was quiet. Now, as the doors were opening, he could hear shuffling coming from inside. Why would Number One put herself in the sally port to come get them?
Before he could react, one of the infected lab personnel shot out from the chamber and grabbed Number Three’s face, ripping a good portion of it off. The creature continued its forward assault and latched on to her throat and began chewing his way through it. Blood sprayed the door and almost reached the lieutenant, who was already bringing his rifle to bear.
Number Three was a civilian, or at least had been, and she made the same mistake every civilian does. When waiting for an automatic door or elevator to open, they stand right in front of it and in close proximity. They are always too self-absorbed about what they are doing and where they are going to even consider that someone else might be behind those doors with plans of their own.
Because of his tactical training, the lieutenant never stood in front of any automatically opening apparatus; he always stood two or three paces back to give himself some reaction time in case something bad was happening on the other side of the doors. That habit saved him as ten more infected scientists came flooding through the doorway.
The first few joined in the feeding frenzy that was Number Three, but the rest bypassed her bloody form and continued towards the lieutenant. As his rifle was already up to shoot the first creature he saw, it was easy for him to slightly shift his point of aim towards the more immediate threats.
He pulled the trigger several times, putting well-placed rounds into the oncoming attackers. He was immediately relieved when his automatic noise-cancelling ear protection kicked in and deadened the sound that reverberated through the enclosed metal space. Sometimes it was the little things in battle that you were thankful for.
With the attackers all down, he turned his attention to those feeding on Number Three and began to put rounds through their heads. Before he had hit the last one, Number Three was starting to get up from the pile. The lieutenant was surprised to see the change happen so quickly and even more surprised that the other infected person also reacted to the change just as quickly.
The infected scientist who had come through the doorway first stopped eating his superior the second she changed. It was almost as though she had become a bad taste in his mouth. He, too, turned towards the lieutenant, looking for his next meal. The lieutenant put them both down.
The door began to close and he thought briefly about running inside. Once inside, she could just keep him in the sally port until he died of dehydration. He stayed on his side of the door.
“Doctor, that wasn’t very nice of you.” He looked around at the carnage. “Not to mention, you killed Number Three and you really could use every smart person you have.”
“She may have been the third smartest person in the world,” she said snidely, “but in terms of percentage, there is actually a negligible difference between her and Number Eight. Less than two percent, actually. Nothing I can’t live without, to be frank.”
The lieutenant decided that now would be a good time to get back to the second floor. He wasn’t sure whether the elevator could be controlled or blocked from within the facility, so he didn’t want to be trapped down here. Besides, he didn’t know how many more infected people she had to throw at him and he’d lose eventually if she had enough of them. Not to mention, he didn’t think amicable terms were going to be negotiated anytime soon.
Once back to the second floor, he found his squad leader. “Status?”
The sergeant finished talking to one of the soldiers before responding. “We have sally port cages set up at the bottom of both moving stairs. They are heavy welded and bolted into the stone floor. They aren’t moving without explosives, sir.
“The second floor has been cleared of all civilian personnel. It was an administrative floor, so there weren’t any patients to worry about. We can last up here as long as we have supplies. We are completely safe from the infected. We only have to worry about armed people who survive the infection and want to take what we have. But I assume we will be gone before it gets to that point.”
“You’re right about that.” The lieutenant was surveying the work, proud of his men for what they put together. “I need our communications gear. I need to try to set up a secure link to the general from the briefing earlier.”
The lieutenant then told his sergeant about everything that had happened down below and his plans for the facility.
“Shit.” The sergeant always had a way with words.
“That’s what I was thinking.” The lieutenant had the gear set up and was trying to patch a relay. All he got was static, but he kept trying.
A moment later, the frequency cleared up and he was about to transmit when he heard a familiar female voice get on the line first. “This is the research facility alpha-one-tango-seven. If you are receiving this transmission, please stay away from the hospital. We have been overrun by an unknown biological weapon.
“We are safe within the stronghold of our facility but the surrounding area, and most likely the city itself, is lost. We recommend that you implement sanitization protocols for the city and any outlying habitations within twenty miles of the city limits. Inside our facility, we will be safe from your efforts and will continue to work on the problem.
“The team of soldiers and Special Forces operatives was unfortunately lost. They gave their lives to protect our research and they should be regarded as heroes. We mourn their loss and beg that you don’t send any more troops, as they will be completely ineffective to the situation and could be better used in other areas to help contain the outbreak.
“This is a recorded message and will repeat every hour on the hour. We will continue attempts to make live contact with our government overseers using contact protocol whiskey-delta-five. End of recorded message.”
“That bitch.” The lieutenant tried going through his frequencies again but couldn’t get out on any channel. Number One was jamming all of the frequencies. “Get every communications geek we have working on this radio and get me a channel to the outside. I also want flares sent up on a regular basis from the train platform to try to get the attention of our air support if they’re still in the area.”
“Yes, sir. I’m on it.” The sergeant began yelling orders and got the ball rolling.