This is the twelfth chapter.
Start at the beginning or read the previous chapter.
Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.
All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.
The Nudist War – Day 52
If you are in trouble anywhere in the world, an airplane can fly over and drop flowers but a helicopter can land and save your life.
~ Igor Sikorsky, 1947
• • •
The helicopters began arriving shortly before 7:00 AM. Brian buzzed to say that Shelly had just radioed him that the first chopper had departed. MAN got up, got dressed, and put on coffee. “Maggie let’s take you out before our guests arrive.” While Maggie did her business, MAN climbed up to the helipad to talk to Nora and Jan. The fall air was cold and crisp, in the mid-30s. The sky was a clear dark blue, with the wind blowing strongly from the north. A few bright stars could still be seen twinkling overhead despite the warm glow from the east. “Sun will up soon. See anything yet?” he asked.
Nora replied, “nothing yet. We’ll let you know as soon as we see something.”
With that man climbed back down to the roof. “Maggie, you done?” Maggie came running back to him her tail wagging in a frenzy. Actually it was less her tail wagging than her whole body wagging relative to a hinge point somewhere in the middle. “Okay, down we go,” MAN said as he opened the stairwell door. When they got back to his bedroom MAN opened the door to Maggie’s crate. “Sorry girl, it’s going to get a little hectic around here for the next few hours and I don’t want you getting under foot.” Maggie walked into the crate, settled down and and let out an audible sigh.
Then, Nora called down from the roof to report a visual on approaching helicopters. “Looks like they’re coming in force. I count eight Black Hawks inbound.”
“I’ll be right up.” MAN bounded back up the stairwell to the roof where Jan and Nora had just descended from the helipad. They stood watching as the eight Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters swung to the west and continued in a wide holding pattern around the complex. The rising sun added a surreal touch to scene. After making one loop around their position, one of the helicopters left the holding pattern and came in from the south on final approach into the steady north wind.
MAN watched as the helicopter touched down and eleven heavily armed soldiers got out carrying their gear. “They’re just kids,” he thought to himself. Man greeted each of them, men and women, welcoming them to Galveston. “The stairwell doors are unlocked. Go down to the sixth floor and make yourselves at home. Help yourselves to hot coffee. There is also instant hot chocolate and tea. If you drink all the coffee, we’ll make more. We’ll get your quarters sorted out once everyone is here.” As soon as the troops cleared the helipad, the helicopter lifted off, turned, and headed back to the mainland. Almost immediately, a second helicopter pulled out of the holding pattern and began final approach.
And so it went, each helicopter landing in turn and disgorging its cargo of soldiers. Each soldier in turn welcomed to Galveston and invited to go down to the sixth floor where hot beverages awaited. Beginning with the fifth helicopter, the troop shipments stopped and supplies, weapons, or ammo were offloaded. “We’ve got fuel bladders for your generators. Where to do want them?” one soldier asked. “Where do you want us to stow these MREs?” another asked. In addition to their own supplies, they brought extra food, meds, and fuel. Christmas had come early.
The eighth helicopter delivered Lieutenant Colonel Kuwanyauma Smith and her six-person staff. Man looked at his watch. In just under an hour and a half the Army had successfully landed and unloaded eight Black Hawk helicopters, in turn, to a single landing zone. He knew this wasn’t by any means a new record, but it was impressive nonetheless.
MAN greeted the Lieutenant Colonel as she climbed down from the helipad. “Ma’am. Welcome back to Galveston. Will you be staying with us this time?”
Kuwanyauma Smith held up a finger suggesting MAN hold that thought for a minute. “Corporal Freeman please make sure my gear is stowed on six. I’ll meet the rest of you ON SIX IN JUST A MINUTE.” She yelled to make herself heard over the roar of the helicopter taking off behind them. The Black Hawk rose majestically, dipped its nose, and headed back to the mainland.
Kuwanyauma Smith ascended the stairs back up to the helipad. MAN joined her. “The view really is excellent from this vantage point,” she noted. “Yes, I was thinking of staying here until we’ve established our landing zone at the airport.”
“Yes ma’am,” MAN acknowledged.
“You know, I think we may have gotten off to a bad start, yesterday. It’s just that I had a lot to get done and a short time to do it. You know, my name means butterfly showing beautiful wings, but sometimes I am more like a bullet with butterfly wings.” Kuwanyauma smiled. “I know a lot about you, and I know a lot of people who have have a great deal of respect for you. I expect we will be working closely together for the foreseeable future. Please call me Kwan. It rolls off the tongue so much easier than Kuwanyauma.”
MAN was noticeably taken aback by this turn of events in light of their previous meeting. “Thank you, er … Kwan. Please call me Matthew, or if you prefer Matt. I guess we should head down and sort out quarters for the new rats in our cage,” he said returning the smile.
• • •
Eddy woke up screaming.
No one heard Eddy’s morning scream over the roar of the helicopters. Eddy sat up and listened. “Hmm, okay … I guess that explains the helicopter in the dream.” He got dressed and stumbled into the eighth floor break room. Jess, Cindy, Tom, and Maxine were already there watching the activity on the wall-mounted flat panel display.
“Would you please turn that music down!” Cindy asked Maxine emphatically. “We can’t hear ourselves think. If you must listen to it that loud, please go to your room.”
Maxine was listening to some long forgotten 90s band. The speaker blared, “THE WORLD IS A VAM …” She turned off the music and stormed out of the room in a rage.
“What was that all about?” Eddy asked.
“Teenagers,” Cindy replied. “Bored teenagers.”
“I see.” Eddy didn’t see. “What’s going on?”
“John Wayne and the Calvary (or is it the Green Berets?) are riding in to the rescue.” Jess replied.
“More like flying in, actually,” Tom added snarkily.
“How many?” Eddy asked.
“I count fifty so far, including ‘Her Nibs ‘.” Jess answered. “Came in on eight helicopters. Looks like they brought beaucoup supplies as well. They better be planning on sharing.”
Suddenly MAN’s voice was on the PA system, “Jess, it’s getting kind of crowded down here on six. Would you please be so kind as to come down and help our new guests find quarters on three and four?”
Jess reached for the intercom, “sure, Eddy and I will be down in a minute.”
“Don’t you want to meet our new guests?”
“Sure, I guess so.”
• • •
The scene that greeted Jess and Eddy as they opened the stairwell door on six was, in a word, crowded. Young heavily armed men and women in modern battle armor lined either side of the hallway from the stairwell door to the end of the corridor. Each was standing in some form of ‘as you were’, most holding a cup filled with a hot beverage. They were were in groups of two to four deeply engaged in discussions ranging from what to expect in the coming days operations to what they were going to do when the world got back to being ‘normal’ again.
“Down here,” Jess heard MAN call. She and Eddy smiled and nodded as they walked the gauntlet to where MAN and Kwan stood talking. “Get some coffee and come join us,” MAN proffered.
“You stay, I’ll get the coffee,” Eddy told Jess.
Eddy returned with two cups of coffee. “You were right,” Eddy admitted. “His coffee is better than ours.”
MAN continued, “as you can see we have a bit of a space problem at the moment. Since this is your building, I thought it only proper that you show them the third and fourth floors.”
“Sure, no problem. We have plenty of space on three and four, but it is all offices and meeting rooms,” Jess replied.
“Don’t worry about that,” Kwan returned, “everyone has foam sleeping pads and sleeping bags. Any clear floor surface will do. Access to running water and bathroom facilities is a bonus. I assume that there are plenty of power outlets and lighting. What about WiFi or hardwired network access?”
“Yep, we got that. Plus both floors have restrooms and a break room with kitchen area. What they don’t have are showers.”
“Excellent. I’m sure we can field engineer some showers.” Lieutenant Colonel Kuwanyauma Smith then stood up assuming her full military stature. “CORPORAL FREEMAN,” she yelled over the din of of the numerous conversations.
“Escort this nice lady down to three and four and take our troops with you. You and Jessica will sort out their lodging arrangements. Men on one floor, women on the other. Report back to me as soon as everyone is settled.”
“Yes ma’am!” He saluted and walked over to Jess, where they conferred for a moment or two. Then he and Jess walked the gauntlet back to the stairwell door. “TEN’SHUN! Listen up! We will be heading downstairs to the fourth and third floors. Women on four, men on three. Women first, followed by the men. Follow us.” With that Jess and Corporal Freeman led the women down to the fourth floor.
MAN and Kwan continued their conversation as Eddy listened. “As I was saying,” Kwan continued,” this really is the ideal building for us in the near term. Since we will be conducting most of our operations at night using night-vision goggles, the complete lack of windows is a bonus. Otherwise we would have to paint the windows black and/or put up blackout curtains. You have you own emergency generators, conditioned power, security cams, a helipad, elevators – which reminds me, we need to get them running again. This is operational heaven. I hope to be able to maintain offices here into the future.”
MAN looked at Eddy as if for approval, “I’m sure we can work something out.”
“I don’t see a problem, but it’s Jess’s call. I can’t imagine she would object as long as you didn’t take over the entire building.” Eddy responded.
Kwan continued, “we’ll be bringing in a modular UAV field command center by chopper. As soon as the troops are settled in for the ‘night’. We should go up to the roof and determine the best place to put it. It is self-contained with its own AC and heat, even power if need be, although we can plug it into the mains for power. We’ll run cable down from the roof to watch from here.”
“Before you bring it in, you should have a ‘poop patrol’ pick up the dog shit and hose down the roof with a little chlorine bleach,” MAN suggested. “It’s starting to get a bit ripe up there. I’ll be glad when the dogs can do their business on ground level.”
“Yeah, I did notice an aroma when I arrived, but I didn’t want to say anything. I’ll get someone on it ASAP.”
MAN looked at his watch. It was a little before 10:00 AM. A mere three hours had passed since the first helicopter arrived. Things were happening fast. The stairwell door opened. Jess and Corporal Freeman entered the now empty corridor and walked leisurely toward MAN, Kwan, and Eddy.
“The babies are all tucked in, Acting Base Commander Lieutenant Colonel Kuwanyauma Smith,” Jess announced.
“Please, just call me Kwan,” Kuwanyauma replied. You’re not in the Army. I view you as equals, and I’d like us to become friends.”
“I guess you aren’t the hard ass I took you for yesterday.”
“Oh, I can be quite the hard ass where the military, and specifically my command, is concerned. And I admit I was a bit ‘focused’ yesterday, but I would truly like us to be friends or at the very least amicable associates. Oh, and here are your keys back. I had copies made.”
Jess was at loss for words.
MAN intervened, “Say, thank you Kwan.”
Jess smiled. “Thank you, Kwan.” She pocketed her keys.
“Ahem,” Eddy cleared his throat.
Jess reached back into her pocket, searching for something. She tossed Eddy his keys.
“Thank you Jess,” Eddy said softly.
• • •
Eddy stayed for lunch, then decided to head back upstairs to take an afternoon nap. Kwan assigned a ‘poop patrol’ to clean off the roof and arranged for a Black Hawk to deliver the UAV field command module. It was scheduled to arrive before sunset. She also scheduled several engineers to fly out with it to connect up the video feeds that would let them all watch the activity from inside the building. With that done, she, Jess, MAN, and her staff sat down to hammer out an acceptable arrangement for sharing the CDC Special Circumstances Complex.
Jess agreed to give Kwan full non-exclusive access to the roof and helipad with the understanding that only military personnel would be allowed on the roof when helicopter activities were in progress. She also agreed to give Kwan semi-exclusive access to the third and fourth floors for her troops with the provision that Jess be able to have unannounced inspections from time to time.
MAN and his folks would continue to live on five and six, but Kwan and her staff would be provided quarters and offices on the sixth floor near the radio room. She would be allowed to utilize Brian as radio operator to stay in touch with Ellington, the Galveston Airport, helicopter and fixed wing transports, and ground operations.
The eighth floor was to be off limits to all but Jess, Eddy, the Brauns, Wolf, MAN, and Maggie.
All agreed that this was an equitable arrangement. To seal the deal they all downed another round of coffee with a promise to celebrate in style once the mission to clear a safe zone around the complex was complete.
• • •
STOP CALLING ME EDWARD
• • •
The ‘poop patrol’ had barely finished hosing down the roof when the helicopter carrying the UAV command module came into view. The module was the size of a small ISO shipping container and was slung underneath the chopper on a bridle. The plan was to maneuver the module to the corner opposite the helipad such that it’s doors opened on to the roof as opposed to opening over the edge of the roof.
MAN and Jess observed as Kwan’s ground crew talked the helicopter into position and then deftly manhandled the module into the precise orientation. At just the right moment the ground crew signaled the chopper to set the module down and disconnect the bridle. The ground crew the ran back out of the way to avoid being hit by the falling cables. After disconnecting the bridle, the helicopter swung around and landed on the helipad. Two UAV control technicians deplaned and the helicopter immediately lifted off and returned to the mainland. The crew wanted to get back while there was still daylight available. Kwan conferred a moment with the technicians. Then Kwan, the UAV techs, and the ground crew headed downstairs leaving MAN and Jess alone on the roof.
Jess and MAN climbed the stairs up to the helipad and and looked out at the setting sun. As they stood with their hands on the railing, MAN said in a low voice, “tomorrow everything changes … again.”
“For the better, I hope,” Jess reached out and squeezed MAN’s hand. MAN turned to face her, took her in his arms … and kissed her.
• • •
Eddy awoke from his nap and opened his eyes. He stared at the ceiling listening intently to his surroundings. Something was different. He turned his head to look at the door. The room was dark except for the light streaming in under the door. Slowly Eddy’s eyes adapted to the low light level. He noticed a silhouette in front of the wall next to the door on his right. He could hear someone else breathing in the room. He forced himself to relax, feigning sleep. He blinked and the silhouette was gone, but he could still hear another person breathing. Eddy felt a slight rustle of air. Now he felt a presence on his left side.
He felt a finger pressed to his lips and heard someone say “shhhh”. He struggled to remain calm and relaxed. “Shhhh.” Fingers were caressing his left arm. In the dim light of his room he could see that the form was female. Very definitely female. Absolutely female. Extremely shapely female. Suddenly he was gripped with panic. In one quick movement, Eddy reached over to turn on the bedside light and sat up in bed.
He was alone in the room.
• • •
The troops, with one exception, consisted of five mixed-gender squads of ten soldiers each; Red One, Red Two, Blue One, Blue Two, and White Team. White Team was the exception, consisting of only six elite soldiers all of whom were women. The HZV virus was well known to have killed or transformed more men than women. It was little wonder that the Army had more women than men amongst its ranks. The White Team elite were popularly known as the ‘Angels of Death’. In the war against the Zs, they had seen more combat and scored more nudist kills than the other squads combined.
The operation to secure a safe zone around the CDC complex would begin tonight. In a meeting room on the third floor, Kwan and the squad leaders were briefing the teams. As usual for operations of this type, they would work in complete darkness, with each team member wearing night-vision goggles. As wars go, the Nudist War as the Army was officially calling it, should have been one of the easiest wars for the Army to wage. The enemy was both unarmed and unclothed, making it easy to identify. The Nudist War should have been easy had it not been for the fact that half of the Armed Forces had fallen victim, more men than women … and that the enemy was roughly a quarter of the U. S. population. Chain of command, supply chain, chainsaw production, chain-gun production, steel chain production, and every other type of ‘chain’ had been disrupted. Despite the fact that the enemy was easy to kill, the infrastructure disruption was worse than any scenario the military had planned for. In addition, the U. S. military was fighting this war on home soil against family, friends, and neighbors.
Lieutenant Colonel Kuwanyauma Smith began. “Tonight’s plan should be easy enough. White Team sweeps the garage; Red One secures garage. White Team sweeps the perimeter roads surrounding the CDC Complex; Red Two secures the perimeter. White Team sweeps the building directly across the street in front of the garage entrance, here.” She points to a building on an aerial photo displayed on a large flat-panel display. “Blue One secures the building. White Team sweeps the next building over, moving clockwise. Blue Two secures this building. Red One moves up out of the garage to the street in front of the third building, here.” She points to the street directly in front the third building moving clockwise. White Team sweeps the third building; Red One secures it. White Team moves back to hold the garage. Technicians install stairwell motion sensors in all three buildings. Once the sensors are installed and working, everyone falls back the CDC complex. Tomorrow night we do it all over again and repeat every night until all of the perimeter buildings are swept and wired. Any questions?”
The soldiers looked back and forth at each other and at Kwan. Silence.
“No questions? Okay, you know your jobs, go do them. Good luck.”
• • •
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