This is the thirteenth 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 53
The troops, with one exception, consisted of five mixed-gender squads of ten soldiers each. White Team was the exception, consisting of only six elite soldiers all of whom were women. 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.
• • •
MAN handed the coffee cup to the Lieutant Colonel. “So Kwan, tell me about the Angels of Death.”
MAN and Lieutenant Colonel Kuwanyauma Smith were monitoring operations from the sixth floor ‘command center’. It is 2:00 AM. The garage, the surrounding streets, and the first of three buildings had been swept and secured. The Angels of Death were moving to the second building. So far it could have been a training exercise. Not a single nudist or human civilian had been encountered.
“White Team? Well, let’s see,” Kwan replied. “Six women, mid thirties – early forties, career soldiers. HZV took out more men than women, forcing what was left of the Army to aggressively promote women to combat and leadership status. I began assembling White Team as soon as I transferred to Houston. The soldiers of White Team had the most experience and training of anyone under my command, regardless of gender. I wanted an elite team to spearhead urban sweep and secure operations and the six women of White Team excelled in all aspects of urban ops.”
Kwan paused to think. “Individually each of the women has been involved in the Nudist War since the beginning.”
“Is that all it’s been?” Kwan stared at her coffee.
“Today is Day 53,” MAN reminded her. “The first phase of the HZV virus hit Galveston about Day 6. The nudist awakening occurred about Day 27. So fifty-three minus twenty-seven is thirty one … just over four weeks.”
“It’s been a brutal four weeks. The ‘enemy’ are former family members, neighbors, co-workers. All of the women of White Team were widowed by the HZV virus. Several are mothers whose children were killed by the nudists or worse, became nudists. Each has lost everyone they knew and loved. White Team is its own family now, a very, very vengeful sisterhood.”
“Vengeance may be a strong motivator, but it can cloud the mind.”
“Perhaps, but the Angels of White Team are dedicated to the eradication of the Z and in a very short time have become a cohesive, highly self-motivated special unit. Sort of an Anti-Nudist Seal Team. They earned the moniker Angels of Death early on as we secured the area around Ellington and established the survivor camp. They truly are the tip of the spear, here and now, in the war against the Z.”
“More coffee?” MAN asked.
“Yes please. Thank you Matthew.” Kwan turned to focus on the security cam images showing on the wall-mounted widescreen HD display as MAN got up to leave. Red One was preparing to move up, out of the garage, and into the street in front of the third building.
“Here you go,” MAN returned and handed Kwan a coffee cup.
They drank their coffee in silence, watching what they could see of the activity on the external security cameras. Kwan cycled through the security cams, alternating between the garage cams, the street cams and the overhead rooftop cams.
“You should have put a live cam on one of the Angels.”
“I suggested it,” Kwan replied defensively, “but the Angels would have none of it. I’ve learned not to second guess them.”
“Second building swept,” Brian announced. “Blue Two moving in to secure. White Team moving to sweep third building. Red One moving up.”
“Thank you Brian,” MAN answered. He checked his watch: 3:15 AM. “One more to go. Thank god this is going better than the airport went.” The airport massacre and attack on the Seaside seemed to have occurred in the distant past. MAN contemplated this. “A week ago tomorrow. Is that possible?” He knew all too well it was.
• • •
Jess woke with a start. She dressed quickly and grabbed the Russian shotgun she kept in the corner. She walked softly to the break room and switched on the flat panel display. She was expecting to see the Army securing the area around their building. The display flashed to life with a hiss of static. Jess began to run up and down the channels on the remote. Static. Static. Static. She cycled the display off and then back on. Static.
What the f…? she thought. The security cams never went down. Jess looked around the break room and down the hallway. There was no sign of the Brauns or Wolf. She chambered a shell in her shotgun. Something wasn’t right.
Ever so cautiously she opened the door to Eddy’s room. Empty. Strange. Maybe he’s in the lab.
Jess suited up in an isolation garment and entered the outer airlock door to the lab. She brought her shotgun. Once inside the airlock she carefully assessed the situation.
The inner airlock door to the Level 4 Biohazard lab swung freely on its hinges. The hair on the back of Jess’s neck stood on end and a cold foreboding washed over her like waves on a fog-bound beach. She shivered uncontrollably.
Inside the lab the situation was no better. Signs of struggle were evident. Chairs were knocked over. Cabinet doors were open. Jess took the safety off the shotgun and caressed the trigger with her index finger. A wave of nausea hit her. Without warning she vomited into her air filtration helmet. She ran into the airlock without bothering to close the lab door behind her and opened the outer airlock, ripping off her mask as she went.
She vomited again, this time onto the hallway floor. Her stomach empty, she felt better. Jess closed the outer airlock door and made her way back to the break room and the sink. The cold water felt good on her face. Where was everyone?
The roof was empty, the generators quiet. Jess cautiously climbed the steps to the helipad. No one. Where were the spotters? The sun was rising over the Gulf. She went to the railing and looked over the edge. The street below was deserted. Where was the Army?
Jess opened the stairwell door to the sixth floor. “MAN? Kwan? Brian?” No answer. Shotgun ready, she made her way to the ‘command center’. Here all of the displays showed the same static. “Is anyone here?” No answer. Jess checked the lower floors one by one. No one was home.
The garage was deserted. Quiet, eerily quiet. Old newspapers rustled in the breeze. Jess walked out to the street and looked left, then right. No one. Nothing. Where were the troops? Where did everyone go?
Back inside the stairwell, the lights flickered. That’s strange. That shouldn’t happen. The UPS should … Her thoughts trailed off …. the Uninterruptible Power Supply floor on seven. She hadn’t checked that. Why should she? No one ever goes there.
Rows of batteries, power conditioners, and power inverters lined the hallway in front of her. They buzzed with the familiar sixty-cycle hum. The dim red emergency lights were on. Jess listened intently. Ahead in the dim blood-red shadows she heard the muffled sounds of … ? Slowly she walked forward. The floor was slippery and she had trouble maintaining her balance. Still shapes lay on the floor in front of her. She recognized the small form of Maxine immediately. Maxine’s lifeless body was lying face down. Jess used the muzzle of her shotgun to turn the body over. Maxine’s face was gone. Gnawed off. Another wave of nausea hit Jess and she vomited on what was left of Maxine’s corpse.
She stepped carefully over Maxine, trying not to slip. Ahead in the dim light she recognized Tom and Cindy. She stepped gingerly over them. Although nearly paralyzed with fear, Jess continued on. To her left lay the lifeless body of MAN, to her right the body of Brian the radio operator. Kwan lay dead a few feet beyond. The light from one of the UPS displays shown upon the floor illuminating the scene. With horror she realized why the floor was so slippery – blood.
Jess turned the corner. Eddy was lying face-up on the floor. Bent over him was the naked form of a female. Jess uttered an involuntary gasp. In an instant the female was on top of Jess, pinning her to the floor. The dim red light seemed to accentuate her long red hair. Her face was smeared with fresh blood, Eddy’s no doubt. Jess struggled futilely beneath the superhuman grip of ‘Miss Scarlet’. The nudist smiled at her, studying her with grim intent. Jess moved her head furtively to the left and right trying to protect her face. The inevitable came all too soon.
• • •
“Third building swept,” Brian announced. “White Team falling back to the garage. Red One moving in to secure third building. Installation of stairwell motion sensors and cameras in progress.”
“Thank you Brian.” This time it was Kwan that replied. “Tell me about yourself Matthew …”
MAN took a sip of coffee before he began and grimaced. “Cold. Let me get us some more.” MAN collected the cups and headed off to the coffee machine. Kwan’s attention turned back to the displays. Technicians were moving from the second building to the third, hauling packs and bags filled with motion sensors and cameras. The night’s operations were coming to a successful completion.
“Thank you,” Kwan told MAN as he handed her a coffee cup. “So far, so good tonight. Third building is being wired as we speak. So, where were we? What is your story.”
“Not much to tell really,” MAN began …
• • •
Eddy woke up screaming.
As he lay in bed staring at the ceiling, he mused, “that was the weirdest dream yet. Now I am dreaming that I’m Jess … and still obsessing over ‘Miss Scarlet’. Why? … What time is it? 5:00 AM Of course it is.” He sighed, rolled over, and went back to sleep.
• • •
Jess woke with a start. She dressed quickly and grabbed the coffee cup that sat on the corner table She walked softly to the break room and switched on the flat panel display. She was expecting to see the Army securing the area around their building. The display flashed to life showing the garage. A handful of female soldiers were visible milling about. Jess began to run up and down the channels on the remote. She watched the activity on the street in front of the complex; troops walking in and out of the adjacent buildings.
Jess suddenly remembered that MAN had better coffee than they did. She looked at the clock. 5:20 AM. She decided to pay him an early morning visit.
• • •
“… after discharge from the Navy, I went into the private security business with …”
“HELLO? Anyone home?” It was Jess calling from the stairwell door.
“Come on in.” MAN invited.
“Matthew was just telling me his life story.” Kwan divulged.
“Oh, I don’t want to miss a minute of this. Let me get some coffee. Do either of you need more?”
“I’ll go with you,” MAN offered, remembering the previous sunset on the helipad.
When they got to the kitchen Jess immediately set about making a fresh pot of coffee. MAN walked up behind her and gave her a big hug. “How’s my girl doing this morning?”
Jess leaned back into him. It felt good to be in his arms. “Okay. How are you doing? Have you been up all night?”
“Yeah, but I’m used to it. I want to observe the ops, and since they are always at night I guess I’ll need to learn to sleep during the day. Having night-vision capability completely changes the equation of dealing with the Z, but it requires a different sleep schedule.”
Jess turned to face him and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Makes romance a challenge,” she said matter-of-factly.
“You can take the man out of the SEALs, but you can’t take the SEAL out of MAN,” he smiled. “As long as I have Kwan’s welcome, I plan to be an observer. But I’m sure you and I can work something out.” He returned more than a peck.
• • •
After what seemed like an unusually long time to make coffee, MAN and Jess returned with three full cups. “Here you go.” Jess said as she handed a cup to Kwan.
“I was getting ready to send a search and rescue team, but it is apparent that neither of you needs rescuing.” Kwan smirked. She looked at MAN, “You were telling me about private security work after discharge from the Navy …”
“As I said, not much to tell really.” MAN deflected the question. “I moved to Galveston ten years ago and eventually took out a long term contract on a room at the Seaside Hotel. It was expensive, but I enjoyed living directly on the beach. I had some money put away. My years in private security were lucrative.”
“What was Day 27 like for you?” Kwan continued.
“The zombie, or should I say, the nudist awakening? Well, as you know, the virus hit Galveston on what we now know to have been Day 6 or thereabouts. It didn’t get named the Human Zombification Virus …”
“HZV,” Jess interjected.
“Yes, HZV … until well after the awakening. I had seen the news reports about the mystery virus, the deaths and comas and the quarantine, but really hadn’t thought much about it. It wasn’t until my neighbor tried to eat me that I realized that something was wrong.”
“That is certainly a low-key description,” Kwan returned.
MAN smiled. “He was small and weak. Although come to think of it now, he was a lot stronger than he should have been. I ended up having to throw him off my balcony. He smashed his head on the sidewalk when he hit. I was getting ready to call the police when I heard screaming. I grabbed my shotgun and ran toward the screams. A half naked woman was attacking a much younger woman while a third woman tried to help fight off the attacker. When the attacker bit through the neck of the younger woman, I had no choice but to shoot the attacker. Even then, it took a head shot to eventually subdue her.”
Jess shuddered as she recalled the events of that night with Eddy and Ruth …
He rounded the corner only to see Jess on the ground, covered in blood, fighting off a long haired woman. Eddy swung the shotgun around and drove the butt into the woman’s face. The woman only mildly stunned, turned her attention to him. She lunged. Eddy fired. BOOM. The shotgun blast echoed on the terrace. Blood splattered on the wall behind her. She kept coming. Eddy fired again, this time point blank at her face. BOOM. Blood and bone and brain bounced off the wall and ceiling, raining down on him. “Who? What? … was that?” Eddy yelled.
“Ruth,” Jess shrieked hysterically. She was covered with scratches and bite marks … and bits of Ruth. Both of her arms had been clawed and bitten as she tried to defend herself. The door to what must have been Ruth’s apartment swung on its hinges. A man leapt out of the apartment, jumped on Eddy’s back, and sunk his teeth into Eddy’s shoulder. Eddy swore in pain and swung around trying to knock the man off of his back. Unfortunately his attacker had a vice-like grip on him. Eddy repeatedly slammed his back against the wall trying to dislodge his attacker. Eddy finally dropped to his knees using the balcony railing as a ‘spatula’ to scrape off his attacker, who then fell to the ground below. As Eddy moved toward Jess, a crazed naked woman came running around the corner and lunged at him. Eddy didn’t wait for introductions. He unloaded two shotgun rounds into her, but she kept coming. A third shot to the face dropped her at his feet.
… “Almost the same exact story with me, except that it was Eddy who had the shotgun and I was the one under attack,” Jess said. “But I’m interrupting. Please continue.”
“Anyway, I unpacked and loaded ALL my weapons and sealed myself up in my room that night channel surfing. By morning most of Zs that were going to wake up had done so. I went room-to-room at the Seaside checking on the living and dispatching the dead and the naked. Once that was done, I gathered the living and set forth to fortify the Seaside. It was a long day.”
“All troops safely back at the garage,” Brian announced. “Technicians coming up via the freight elevator. Red and Blue Teams via the stairs. White Team guarding the garage until everyone is inside, then they will secure the freight elevator.”
“Thank you Brian. Looks like I’ve got a mission to debrief.” Kwan turned to MAN. “Can we continue this discussion tonight?”
“I’ll be here,” MAN yawned.
“Good. See you then.” Kwan left to meet with her troops.
“Guess I’ll get some sleep,” MAN said to Jess. “I absolutely need a good eight or nine hours of sleep before this evening.”
“Want some company?” Jess replied.
“I thought you just woke up.”
“Who says I plan on sleeping?”
• • •
When Eddy finally wandered into the break room at 8:30 AM, the Brauns were finishing their breakfast. “Good morning,” Tom greeted him, “how did you sleep?”
“Well this time I dreamed I was Jess and discovered the rest of us dead in the UPS room. ‘Miss Scarlet’ was gnawing my face off when she jumped me, and by me I mean Jess.”
“Hunh? You lost me.”
“I had another dream.”
“MRE?” Cindy offered. “With the Army here, our food options have improved dramatically.”
“Sure, what breakfast delights do the Meals Ready to Eat have to offer?”
Cindy reads from one of the MRE pouches:
Pork Sausage w/Gravy
Beverage, carb fortified
Accessory packet A
Flameless ration heater
Hot beverage bag”
She picks another:
Maple muffin top
Nuts and raisins mix
Beverage, sugar free, orange
Accessory packet A
Flameless ration heater
Hot beverage bag”
“The rest appear to be more lunch and dinner fare,” she added.
“What do you recommend?”
“I had the maple sausage. It was okay. Tom had the sausage with gravy. He said he’d had better, but under the circumstances …” She trailed off.
“Hmm, sausage? or sausage? Maple or gravy?” Eddy pondered. “I’ll try the maple sausage.”
She tossed it to him.
“Did you watch any of the night’s operations?”
“By the time we got up, it appears that everything was over,” Tom answered.
• • •
“Woof woof woof.” The Hairy Bullet came bounding into the break room.
“Yap yap yap yap.” Wolf greeted Maggie.
“HELLO …” Jess called down the hallway. “Does Wolf need to go out? I’m on my way up to the roof with Maggie.”
Maggie made her way around the break room flash mobbing everyone. Eddy caved in and gave her what was left of his maple sausage. She jumped up on his chair to thank him and they both toppled over backwards.
“MAGGIE!” Jess yelled.
“It’s okay. I’m okay,” Eddie managed to get out through his laughter. “You just get too excited, don’t you girl?” Maggie straddled him washing his face with her tongue.
“Come on girl. You too Wolf, let’s go out.” Both dogs went bounding toward the stairwell door that Jess held open. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Jess climbed the stairs to the helipad while the dogs did what they needed to do. “Hey Nora, Jan. How did the op go?”
“From our view up here last night’s operation appeared to go pretty well. The night-vision goggles really make a difference.” It was Jan who answered.
“I’m just glad the sun is up. It was cold out here last night.” Nora added.
“You off at noon?” Jess asked, remembering the schedule.
“Yes, Jim and Bill take over at noon.” Nora answered. She paused and held her headset to one ear. “Repeat, over. … Roger that.” She turned her attention back to Jess. “Four helos inbound from Ellington. More supplies.”
“Well, I’ll get out of your way. Have a nice day.” Jess walked down to roof level and over to the stairwell door. “MAGGIE, WOLF! Let’s go!”
• • •
The stairwell door opened and Wolf came scampering in. “There you go boy,” Jess announced. “TAKING MAGGIE BACK DOWNSTAIRS.” The door closed again.
“Hey Wolf you’re sure back soon,” Eddy said, as if the dog were listening. He looked at the time. 10:00 AM. Eddy yawned. “Time for a nap.”
• • •
Jess opened the door on the sixth floor to let Maggie in and immediately ran into MAN who was dressed in a cold-weather jogging suit.
“Good, you’re back,” he said. “Want to join Maggie and I for a run?”
“A run?” Jess asked.
“Sure. The Army has secured the perimeter of the complex. Why not go for run. The sun is out. It’s a beautiful fall day.”
“Okay … I guess so. Let me change.”
MAN looked her over. “You’re fine as you are. Come on, it’ll be good to get outside.”
The three of them, Maggie, MAN, and Jess walked quickly down the steps to the garage level. Stepping into the garage they stopped to look around. Seeing nothing amiss they began their pre-run stretching routine while Maggie ran and sniffed every square inch of the garage. Stretching complete, they jogged out onto the deserted street and began an easy jog clockwise around the complex. Maggie was in heaven. She ran full speed ahead of them, stopped, sniffed, peed, looked around … and ran back … over and over.
They approached the first turn and noticed a lone sentry standing guard at the corner. “Good morning Edward,” MAN called out. “How are we doing today?” The sentry nodded an acknowledgement as they passed. Maggie ran up to him wagging her tail like a bullwhip, sniffed him, woofed, and ran to catch up to MAN and Jess.
The cold air felt good against Jess’s face and bare arms. She opened up a bit and picked up the pace. MAN sped up to match her. They approached the second turn, guarded by a another sentry. “Hello Mr. Hill,” MAN shouted. “You’re looking good today.” The sentry smiled back. As they passed the second sentry, MAN began to pull away from Jess. Maggie was finally getting the exercise she needed and settled into a pace that matched MAN. Jess had to push to keep up.
The third turn was coming up. Another corner, another sentry, another greeting. “Edward, good to see you. How have you been?” The sentry nodded. MAN and Maggie picked up the pace yet again. Jess was now almost at a full run.
The fourth turn marked the fact that they had run almost the full perimeter of the CDC complex. MAN called out to the sentry on guard, “Mr. Hill, Good Morning!” MAN and Maggie were now outrunning Jess. She struggled to keep up, but began to fall behind.
“ONE MORE LAP” MAN yelled back to Jess as he and Maggie passed the garage entrance. They continued to pull away as Jess strained to keep up. Jess watched them disappear around the corner. Soon she was passing the sentry. “Hello again Edward,” she greeted him. He smiled back at her.
When she rounded the corner, MAN and Maggie were nowhere to be seen. She forced herself to go faster, trying to catch up. The second corner approached. “Mr. Hill?” she gasped. The sentry nodded.
Suddenly Jess was overcome by exhaustion. Her MS was getting the better of her. “Damn! Why didn’t I think about the MS?” She cursed herself. She was overheated and overexerted. Her legs began to cramp up on her. She limped to the third corner. The third sentry was missing. “Edward? EDWARD?” Where was the sentry?
Jess stopped to catch her breath. She could barely walk. In what seemed like an eternity she made it to the final corner. It was deserted. “Mr. Hill? Mr. Hill?” No reply. She could go no farther. She sat down on the pavement. Unable to catch her breath, she lay down on her back, staring up at the sky. The sun was directly overhead, shining brightly in her eyes. She closed her eyes to block out the sunlight. When she opened her eyes, she was surrounded by people looking down at her. Except that these people weren’t wearing any clothing. They were also very, very hungry.
• • •
Eddy opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. “I must be loosing my mind.”
• • •
Jess quietly opened the door to the sixth floor and let Maggie in. She walked softly to MAN’s room, opened the door and slipped inside. MAN was sleeping peacefully. After being up all night, he needed his rest and she didn’t want to wake him. She undressed quietly in the dark and slid into bed next to him. Soon they were spooning comfortably with MAN’s right arm wrapped around Jess’s waist. Jess drifted off to sleep nestled against MAN.
• • •
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