Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.
All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.
The Nudist War – Day 54
His wings are gray and trailing,
Azrael, Angel of Death.
And yet the souls that Azrael brings
Across the dark and cold,
Look up beneath those folded wings,
And find them lined with gold.
~ Robert Gilbert Welsh, Azrael, 1917
• • •
Day Two of Operation “Clean Sweep” was proceeding so far without incident. In a repeat of the previous day, the garage and surrounding streets had been swept again and the fourth building in clockwise rotation had been secured without incident. White Team had moved to the fifth building as the technicians wired the fourth building with cameras and motion sensors.
It was just after midnight and MAN was telling Kwan and Jess about his days at the Seaside immediately after the nudist awakening. “… a way to protect the sliding glass doors facing the outside on the first three floors. Brad Roberts suggested rounding up old refrigerators, washers, and dryers to put on the outside balconies to barricade the sliding glass doors. We commandeered a crane to lift the appliances into place and then made daily runs to nearby homes to obtain the appliances. We also needed weapons, ammo, and food so we pretty much cleaned out every place we hit. It wasn’t always empty houses either. Occasionally neighbors would come out, ask what we were doing, and ask if they could throw in with us. Word got around and our numbers grew.”
“Amazing,” Kwan acknowledged. “Your SEAL leadership skills have obviously served you well. Oh, back to your question about last night’s debriefing … White Team reported that the worst thing was the tedium of searching every single room with no contact. Tedious. Mind-numbingly tedious.”
“White Team moving to building six. Technicians moving on to building five,” Brian announced.
“Thank you Brian,” Kwan and MAN answered simultaneously.
• • •
In a replay of yesterday, today’s operations had been “mind-numbingly tedious” according to Radar’s report to Brian. ‘Radar’ was White Team’s nickname for their communications sergeant (after Radar from Mash). Her real name was Radha. All of the troops on night ops had communications headsets, but White Team had its own dedicated com channel. Radha monitored both the general coms and the White Team coms, updating Brian on mission status and patching the commander or assistant commander into Brian or Kuwanyauma as needed. Radha was the youngest member of the team.
Before the awakening, Radha and her husband had watched over their two-year-old son day and night as he lay in a coma. She was getting some much needed rest when she heard her husband scream and discovered him lying unconscious in a pool of blood on their son’s bedroom floor. Her son was sucking the blood out of his jugular vein. Her husband bled out while she waited for the police and EMTs to arrive. Radha never talks about what eventually happened to her son.
“Radar, this is Lucretia. Inform Brian and the Lieutenant Colonel that we are approaching building six,” Lucy said in a whisper into her com unit. Lucy was second in command, the other officer of the team. Her nickname was ‘Lucretia’ (as in Lucretia McEvil).
During the awakening, Lucy had watched her fiancée die after his head was blown off with a .44 Magnum. He had attacked and tried to eat her, so she shot him … several times, point blank, in the face. She had a particular dislike for male Zs. Lucy’s favorite saying was “Men, you can’t live with ’em, but if they’re nudists you can kill ’em.”
The team silently approached building six with Lucretia and Angel in the lead. By coincidence the White Team commander’s name was Angela. She was always first or second in, depending on the scenario. The rest of the team rather liked the fact that someone named Angela was the commander of the Angels of Death. They fittingly gave her the nickname ‘Angel’. Angela wasn’t the oldest of the Angels, but she was the most experienced and the most ruthless.
A week after the awakening, Angela had watched helplessly as her husband and two daughters were killed and partial eaten by a pack of Zs. She hunted those particular nudists down and killed every last one of them, but she couldn’t bring her family back.
The two officers stood in front of the stairwell door leading into the sixth building, waiting for the rest of the team to take defensive positions around them. Lucy carefully cracked open the door and sniffed the air. “Do you smell that?” she whispered to Angela, speaking over her com link for the entire team to hear.
Angela moved to place her nose next to the gap in the door. A warm funk assaulted her olfactory system. She nodded yes and Lucy oh so quietly pushed the door closed. “Radar, this is Angel,” she whispered into her com link, “go to silent protocol and notify Brian and Lieutenant Colonel Smith that building six may be a ‘Hippy Haven’.”
Radha opened a link to Brian and whispered, “Brian this is Radha. Notify the Lieutenant Colonel that building six smells like it may be a nudist colony. We are going to silent protocol. Out.”
Silent protocol meant two things. With regard to communicating with Brian and Kwan it meant don’t call us we’ll call you. Regarding intra-team coms it meant emergency only, whisper only, officer coms only.
Brian replied with a single word, “Confirmed.”
Cassandra walked up, put her nose to the crack of the closed door, and sniffed. Even with the door closed the aroma was unmistakable. She nodded agreement. Cassandra’s team nickname was ‘Mama Cass’. She was the oldest of the team and one of the three weapons sergeants, who also did double duty as medical sergeant.
A day after the awakening, Cassandra had taken her five-year-old son to check on the grandparents only to be attacked by grandpa who was still hungry after consuming grandma. She managed to cave in her father’s skull with an iron skillet, but not before he had fatally wounded her only child. The whereabouts of her husband, who was away on business during the awakening, is still unknown.
Cassandra motioned for Doris and Erika to come smell the door. Doris sniffed the crack between the door frame and the door and wrinkled her nose. She vigorously nodded yes. Doris, was the second weapons sergeant and also functioned as the team’s supply sergeant. Her nickname was simply ‘Sarge’. She was responsible for making sure that the team always had working arms and adequate ammo. She also hauled the teams extra ammo and weapons.
Doris was also a Nudist War widow. Her husband had served in the same platoon as Erika and was killed by a nudist horde. Doris and her husband had desperately been trying to conceive a child, but had been unsuccessful. Within a week of the awakening, Doris had lost contact with her elderly parents, her older brother, and two younger sisters.
Erika was last to sniff the door. One sniff and it was obvious. Zs either had been or were still living inside. Erika was the remaining weapons sergeant and the team sniper. Her nickname was ‘Dead Eye’. During building ‘sweep and secure’ missions she usually protected the ‘back door’. In more open ops she would take the high ground in order to reach out and ‘touch’ Zs from a distance.
Erika was recently divorced with no children and not so secretly hoped that her ex had been dispatched by the nudists. She was the lone survivor of her previous platoon when it was overrun by a horde of Zs during a scouting mission. Doris’s husband was in her platoon and had been a good friend of hers. Although she made every shot count, she ran out of bullets before she ran out of targets. Eventually Erika was rescued by helicopter from her high perch, but not before watching and listening helplessly as her fellow team members were eaten one-by-one.
Without saying a word, they assembled into their designated order: Lucretia on point, followed by Angel, then Mama Cass, Sarge, Radar, and Dead Eye guarding the back door. They had done this five times already in the past two days, without encountering anything. This time might prove different. They double-checked their weapons, com units, and night-vision gear. Lucretia opened the stairwell door.
• • •
“White Team reports that Building Six may be a Hippy Haven,” Brian announced.
“Thank you Brian,” Kwan replied. Her countenance suddenly turned grim.
“Hippy Haven?” Jess asked with a quizzical look on her face.
“Nudist colony. Z hive.” Kwan explained.
The look on Jess’s face indicated that she had no clue what Kwan was talking about.
Kwan continued, “a building with a previous or active Z infestation.”
“Ahh,” the lightbulb clicked on in Jess’s eyes. “But what makes them think so?”
“Think about it … Z bodies are still human, even if their minds aren’t. Imagine your odor if you were unable to bathe. Image that you never brushed your teeth or cleaned yourself after urinating or defecating or … menstruating. Imagine that instead of using the toilet you urinate and defecate in the corner of a room or in a stairwell. Now imagine that you are not alone. You are part of a ten or twenty member pack. Sweating, urinating, defecating, menstruating, and not bathing. Once you’ve smelled a Z hive you never forget it.”
Jess felt a wave of nausea wash over her. “My god, I had never considered …”
“Have you ever watched those animal rescue shows where they go into the home of an animal hoarder. They have to wear respirators because the air is toxic. It’s worse with Z hives … in the animal rescue shows the pets aren’t trying to eat you. The problem is that Zs don’t stay in one indoor location that long. Could you? I suspect even they can’t stand the smell after a while. This means that smell only indicates that Zs were there – not that Zs are there.”
“White Team reports that they are entering building six,” Brian announced.
• • •
Eddy woke with a start. He dressed quickly and grabbed the slippers he kept in the corner. He walked softly to the break room and switched on the flat panel display. He was expecting to see the Army securing the area around their building. The display flashed to life showing the garage. A handful of male and female soldiers were visible on patrol. Eddy began to run up and down the channels on the remote. Empty street. Empty street. Soldiers. Empty street. He watched the activity on the street along side the complex, as troops walked in and out of the adjacent buildings. Empty street. Empty street. Six female soldiers inspecting a stairwell door, talking amongst themselves. No sound. They opened the door and the first soldier carefully entered the stairwell.
Eddy suddenly remembered that Jess was with MAN watching tonight’s operations. He looked at the clock. 1:20 AM. He decided to pay them a visit.
He began to walk toward the stairwell when he remembered that the freight elevator had been put back in operation by the Army. “Why not?” he thought to himself. Eddy walked to the elevator bank located in the middle of the building and pushed the call button. It lit up suggesting that it was working.
Long minutes passed. Nothing happened. “I don’t remember it ever being this slow,” Eddy thought. He waited what seemed like an eternity. “I guess it’s not working after all.” Giving up, he turned and began walking toward the stairwell.
BING The elevator bell gave Eddy a start. Regaining his composure, he turned and walked back to the elevator.
The elevator door opened.
• • •
The Angels of Death moved into the stairwell. Dead Eye closed the door behind them and took up position guarding the rear. The smell was stronger now, but not fresh. If the Zs were in this building they weren’t nearby. Angel opened the private com link and whispered, “we go to the top floor and work down.” The others nodded acknowledgement. The stairwell was pitch black. Their night-vision goggles would give them a sight advantage over the nudists, but the nudists had acute senses of hearing and smell. They needed to be whisper quiet until the time came to unleash their firepower, after which it wouldn’t matter.
Lucretia took point and moved silently up the stairs. She wondered if their scent would give them away and if they should collect some of the Z scat to use on future missions to mask their scent. She made a mental note to bring this up during the debriefing. “Then again,” she thought, I guess we could all just stop bathing. It’s not like we associate with anyone else as it is.” Lucretia chuckled to herself.
She reached the second floor landing and held out an open palm signaling the team to stop. Lucretia moved her night-vision goggles aside in order to place her nose against the gap between the door and door frame. Ever so slowly she pulled the door open a fraction of an inch and sniffed the air. She detected no change in smell. Lucretia readjusted her night-vision goggles and signaled the team to move up.
When they reached the third floor landing, Lucretia moved past the door and signaled to Angel that she should check the door this time. Angel repeated the process of moving her goggles out of the way, cracking the door open and checking the air quality. Nothing. They continue moving on and up.
On the fourth floor landing, the smell had become slightly stronger. This time it is Mama Cass’s turn to check the door. Although the smell at the landing was slightly stronger, the smell from the door was normal. They move on.
With each landing, the ‘honor’ of sniff-testing moves down the line. On the seventh floor landing it is Dead Eye’s turn to check the door. Once again, nothing. More floors above, they move on.
On and up they moved, repeating the sniff cycle: Lucretia, Angel, Mama Cass. Now it was Sarge’s turn. She moved to the door, moved her goggles aside, silently cracked the door open. WHEW. The stench assaulted her nostrils as if the had been slapped in the face by a rotting fish. She quickly closed the door and just as quickly proceeded to vomit against it. Her dinner splashed off the door and ran down it to pool on the floor.
“Note, Eleventh floor is a likely Z hive,” Angel whispered into her private team com link. “Let’s keep moving up.”
• • •
The elevator door opened. A single soldier stood inside. Eddy stepped in. He recognized the soldier as Corporal Freeman, one the members of Kwan’s staff.
“Hello Edward,” Corporal Freeman said.
“It’s Edmund actually,” Eddy corrected him.
“It’s okay, I get that a lot.” Eddy thought a minute as he pushed the button for the sixth floor, “where are you coming from?”
“I was going to the roof, but I forgot that the elevator only goes to the eighth floor,” Freeman answered.
The door opened onto the sixth floor and they both got out. It had been so long since Eddy had used the elevators that it took him a minute to orient himself.
“Left,” Freeman suggested.
“Thanks.” Eddy turned left and almost immediately ran into MAN, Jess, and Kwan. “Hey guys, what’s up?”
“What brings you down here?” MAN asked. “Aren’t you usually having a nightmare about now?”
“Very funny. Those usually occur closer to 5:00 AM, besides, how do you know that I’m not having a nightmare right now?”
“Touché,” Jess winked at MAN.
“Okay, okay. Coffee?” MAN asked Eddy.
“Sure, err yes, please.”
“Come on, let’s get you a cup. Anyone else,”MAN asked Jess and Kwan. Both nodded yes. “Get their cups please,” he instructed Eddy.
Eddy collected Jess’s and Kwan’s cups, while MAN grabbed his own off the table. Then the two of them headed off to the coffee station.
“So how are the dreams these days?” MAN asked as they walked to the coffee station.
“Getting worse actually and getting weirder.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, we’ll it is what it is,” Eddy replied, not wishing to divulge any more than absolutely necessary.
They rinsed out the cups, filled them with hot coffee and headed back in silence. When they got back, Jess was in the middle of a discussion with Kwan.
“… been in a Z hive?” Jess asked.
“Coffee’s here,” MAN announced as he passed out the cups.
“Just once, and I swore I never would again if I didn’t have to.” Kwan replied. “Thank you,” she said as she took her coffee. “As I said earlier, once you’ve smelled a Z hive you never forget it.”
“I’m sorry,” Eddy asked quizzically. “What is a Z hive?”
“I’ll explain it to you later,” Jess jumped in.
“No, that’s okay,” Kwan said. “Eddy, you missed the earlier discussion, but here’s the short version. Z hive, nudist colony, hippy haven are all terms for an indoor infestation of Zs. Since Zs don’t bathe or use toilets, the smell is really, really bad.”
Eddy thought about this for a bit. “Yeah, okay. I can see that.”
Brian interrupted, “White Team just reported in, They are at the roof door of building six. Preparing to sweep the roof. They report Z hive smell on the eleventh floor.”
Eddy looked at the time, 2:00 AM.
• • •
“Brian, this is Radar,” Radha whispered on the common channel. “We are at the roof access landing, preparing to sweep the roof. The eleventh floor has positive nudist colony smell at the stairwell door. Out.”
Angel opened a com link on their private channel and whispered, “It’s show time. Double-check your equipment. Lucretia on point, I’m next, everyone else – same order – Dead Eye watching the back door. This is what we do. Let’s roll.”
Dead Eye silently held the door open for Lucretia and the rest of the team followed her out. The night-vision goggles gave them the potentially false sense of tactical superior over the Z, as did their overwhelming fire power. However the Z had unsatisfiable hunger, superhuman strength, insensitivity to pain, high clotting factor, strength in numbers, and possibly enhanced hearing and sense of smell. Lucretia and Angel visually scanned the roof from left to right. It was clear, with no apparent places to hide.
“Move out across the roof make sure we’re alone up here. We may need to use this as an Extraction Zone. See if this is the only way up here,” Angel whispered into her com unit.
When they had walked the length of the roof Angel opened her com channel, “Radar, patch me into Brian.”
“Brian this is Angel. Tell Lieutenant Colonel Smith that the roof is clear and that the main stairwell is the only one with access. Also tell her that the roof would be a viable EZ should it be needed. Requesting you bring out a helo and park it at CDC just in case our Z hive gets out of control.”
Roger that, out.”
Angela keyed her mic on their private channel again, “Roof all clear. Let’s move down to the fifteenth floor.” She waited for everyone to leave the roof then lashed the door open with a length of cord wrapped through the door handle and around the stair railing. Then she stepped quickly and quietly down to the fifteenth floor landing. “Wash, rinse, repeat,” she whispered to Lucretia as she opened the stairwell door to the top floor.
Lucretia and Angel moved from room-to-room, whispering “clear” after sweeping each room. The rest of the team followed, guarding their flanks and rear. It was stressful and tedious work. With no smell of Z they were more relaxed than they should have been, each thinking ahead to the eleventh floor.
They swept every room on the fifteenth floor, nothing. When they reached the stairwell on the far side of the building they were surprised by nudist stench that assaulted them immediately upon cracking open the door. They were even more surprised and momentarily unprepared for the door to explode open, propelled by the surge of a nudist horde.
• • •
Spotters reporting firefight on the top floor of building six,” Brian broke in.
“Have the spotters train a telephoto cam on the top floor,” MAN asked. “… and patch in the outside audio please.”
“Roger that,” Brian responded.
The staccato burst of automatic and semi-automatic gunfire filled the room.
“Telephoto on channel 208,” Brian announced.
MAN brought it up on the wall display. Light from the muzzle flashes was visible through the outside windows. They all watched as the top floor lit up with flashes, followed a time-shifted fraction of a second later by the sound of weapons fire. Overlapping weapons bursts made the display nearly continuous for large fractions of a minute interspersed by a minute or two of calm.
• • •
Lucretia and Angel immediately opened fire. The instantaneous change from ‘morgue quiet’ to ‘armageddon’ announced that ‘it was on!‘ Instinctively and according to plan Lucretia and Angel retreated and crouched down while still firing. This gave the rest of the team behind them a clear shot over their heads.
“Hold your fire,” Angel called over the com link. Lucretia tossed a grenade into the open stairwell door as the entire team retreated. … BOOM. Lucretia held up another grenade and looked at Angel who nodded ‘OK’. By now the pneumatic arm on the stairwell door had pulled it closed. Lucretia crept up to the door, over the dead bodies lying there, pulled the pin on the grenade, pulled open the door, and tossed in the grenade. … BOOM.
They waited and listened. Silence. Angel and Mama Cass crept up to the door, preparing to enter the far stairwell.
• • •
The gunfire abruptly stopped followed by the report of two grenades. Kwan got on the intercom, “Brian, get on the horn to Ellington and get a fully armed Black Hawk out here ASAP … and make sure there’s a flight surgeon on board. Then get Blue One back here. Outfit them with more ammo and replacement weapons for White Team. Notify the Angels that Blue One will be re-supplying them with ammo.”
“They may not answer,” Brian reminded her.
“Use this break in the fire to try to reach Radha. They have already lost the element of surprise.”
“Okay, will do.”
Immediately upon Brian’s reply, the firefight started up again – this time with increased ferocity.
• • •
“Backdoor, backdoor,” Dead Eye announced over the com link as she opened fire on a second wave of Zs running at them from the main stairwell door.
• • •
Watching the scene on the display was reminiscent of watching a distant lightning and thunder storm. Light flashes were only visible as they illuminated interior walls or reflected off of interior surfaces. The sound of the weapons fire was delayed and out-of-sync with the visual aspect, casting the entire experience into the surreal. Eddy watched it all as if hypnotized. It was like watching waves crashing on the shore. Each wave of gunfire would build to a peak, collapse, and then withdraw waiting for the next wave. Eddy wondered if the rhythmic nature of the firefight was due to the nudists attacking in waves or due the the need to periodically reload. Interspersed with the gun fire was the occasional much larger explosion. Eddie assumed these to be grenades or similar explosives.
As Eddy watched the firefight, he became less and less aware of the conversations going on around him. Soon his world was the firefight, himself, and nothing else.
• • •
The onslaught from the rear continued unabated. The Angels could not kill them fast enough. Eventually one of the female nudists succeeded in clambering over the pile of dead bodies and making her way in close enough to attack Dead Eye. Sarge was able to dispatch her, but not before the nudist succeeded in sinking her teeth into Dead Eye’s left hand and biting off the left thumb and a goodly portion of the palm of the hand surrounding the thumb. Erika swore in pain and Cassandra pulled her into one of the nearby empty offices to bandage her hand. “Damn, damn, damn,” Erika repeated over and over again, less concerned with the pain than with the realization that no left thumb meant her ability to handle and aim certain weapons would change forever. “Get my thumb out of the mouth of that damn naked bitch,” she swore, hoping against hope that it could be reattached.
Cassandra bandaged Erika’s hand and administered pain meds. Even as the fight continued to be waged outside the office, Cassandra managed to fish Erika’s thumb out of the dead nudist’s mouth and pack it in normal saline. If they could chopper Erika and her thumb back to Ellington soon enough, the Army surgeons might be able to successfully reattach it.
Angel opened her com link, “Radar, get into the office with Dead Eye and Mama Cass, call Brian and get us more firepower in the main stairwell. Explain Dead Eye’s situation and tell him we need to medevac her back to Ellington.
• • •
Eddy sat mesmerized watching the screen and listening to the intercom. Conversations were taking place around him, but he paid no attention.
Brian preempted the outside audio feed, “White Team reports that a nudist has bitten off Erika’s left thumb. The Z in question has been dispatched and the thumb retrieved. They are requesting fire and evacuation support in the main stairwell and medevac back to Ellington for emergency reattachment surgery.”
The outside audio feed came back to life with its staccato weapons fire. The top floor light show on building six continued. Eddy watched and was aware of little else.
• • •
“… Blue Two …” “… Fire support …” “… Main stairwell …” “… Medevac …” “… Erika …” Several voices spoke in the background, briefly interrupting Eddy’s reverie.
Suddenly Eddy decided to go up to the roof to get a better view. He took the elevator back up to the eighth floor and went back to his room to get his coat and gloves. He then took the stairs up to the roof, where he climbed the steps up to the helipad to get a better view. From this vantage point the reality of the situation hit him. He was looking directly across at the top floor of building six now. The light flashes were more intense, the gun fire pounded in his ears.
He didn’t recognize the spotters stationed on the helipad. “Hello Edward, how are you today?” one of them asked him.
He cringed at being called Edward, but decided not to make an issue of it. “Okay,” he muttered. “How hard is it to remember Edmund ,” he thought.
Something was happening at the street level, but it was too dark to see clearly without night-vision gear. He heard yelling and screams followed by gunfire. The firefight had moved into the street, but all he could see was muzzle flashes. “They’re coming out of the building,” one of the spotters yelled.
“Who,” Eddy screamed over the gunfire, “our people or the nudists?” No one answered. Slowly the gunfire dwindled away, replaced by screams. “What is going on?” Eddy yelled. No one answered. It was suddenly very cold. “Got to get back inside,” Eddy thought.
He climbed down the helipad stairs to the roof and ran to the stairwell door. He opened the door to total darkness. “Why are the lights off?” He ran his hand along the wall searching for the light switch. He found it and flicked it on. Nothing happened. He flicked it off and on, again and again. Nothing. Why aren’t the emergency backup lights on?”
Eddy walked slowly into blackness, holding onto the handrail. He sensed that he wasn’t alone in the stairwell, yet he could neither see nor hear anything other than the quiet sounds of his own foot steps. He reached the first landing. “Two more to go until I reach the eighth floor.” All sense of the outside world had vanished. He was bathed in a still, soundless darkness. Yet he was not without sensation. He could feel the cold railing beneath his hand, the hard concrete steps beneath his feet, the cold air of the stairwell. He could hear his breath moving in and out of his nose and lungs, his blood pounding in his ears, and his footsteps falling on the stair steps. Every few steps he would stop and listen intently. He heard nothing. Yet he sensed another presence.
He reached the next landing and stopped. He strained to hear the faintest of sounds. He stared into the blackness and saw only the faint swirling colors that our eyes ‘see’ in perfect darkness.
A smell. That’s what is was. An ever so faint smell of … of … soap? … lotion? … perfume? A trace, a hint, loitering at the edge of perception. “I am not alone.” But who? What? This was new … and yet familiar.
Another flight of stairs, just one more to go to reach the eighth floor landing. So dark, so quiet, but less cold now. Holding on to the railing, testing each step down, step by step. Perfume, yes it is perfume. “I have smelled that before.” A hint, a trace, a memory. They say that smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. I remember it, but … from where?
Eddy reached the landing. He stopped and listened intently, holding his breath. “Is that another person breathing? Am I alone?” The scent was stronger now. It filled his nostrils, triggering memories of … of … shadows just out of reach. He smiled. He felt his way along the wall for the door, his hand moving along the hard, cold, concrete wall. Suddenly his hand was stopped by something warm and soft and human. He lightly moved his hand along the skin of the obstruction. It was unmistakably female, unquestionably female.
“Hello Edward, how are you?” a soft sensual voice whispered. A warm hand found his and their fingers intertwined. Her scent overwhelmed him. They were standing face-to-face in total darkness, yet he could picture her every curve. She took both of his hands and placed them on her hips, then wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close to her. She was unmistakably female, unquestionably naked.
“Eddy? Eddy?” A new voice is calling to him. “Eddy? Edmund? EDWARD!”
• • •
“Chopper inbound,” Brian announced over the intercom.
“Good,” Kwan replied. “Have them fly to building six to confirm that the stairwell door is open, then fly over here and wait for the extraction order.”
“Is there a flight surgeon on onboard?”
“Standby … Yes ma’am.”
• • •
“EDWARD” MAN yelled across the table, knowing how much Eddy hated to be called Edward. “Are you still with us?” MAN, Jess, and Kwan looked across the table at Eddy who was in his own private world.
“Is he asleep?” Jess asked.
“Is he alive?” Kwan asked.
“He’s alive,” MAN answered. “EDDY!”
Eddy startled. “What?” He looked like the proverbial deer caught in the head lights. “How did I get here?”
“You’ve been here all along,” Jess said. “You’ve been zoned-out for the past … maybe … five minutes.”
Eddy blinked. “Is the firefight still going on?” As if to answer his question, the sound of automatic weapons fire, shotgun blasts, and explosions returned to the speaker.
“Where did you think you were?” MAN asked.
“Stairwell.” He paused. “Dream.”
“Care to share?” Kwan asked.
“Blue Two has entered the main stairwell. Encountering heavy resistance. White Team report that the nudist attack continues,” Brian reported.
“Open a channel to Radha. Let’s talk to her,” Kwan asked.
A few minutes later Brian came back, “patching you through to Radha.”
“Radar, this is Lieutenant Colonel Smith. Are you and Dead Eye in a safe place?”
“Yes, ma’am. We are in one of the outer office rooms.”
“Can the door be locked?”
“Standby … yes ma’am.”
“Get everyone into that room and lock the door. Let me know when that is done. I’ll stay on the line.”
“Yes ma’am … standby.”
“Brian, tell Blue Two to stand down and withdraw. Tell them to prepare a ‘hot foot’ for the main stairwell.”
The gunfire slowly wound down.
“This is Angela. We’re all here and the door is locked. What are your intentions?”
“Blue Two is preparing a ‘hot foot’.”
“Roger that. Let’s us know when you light it.”
“What on earth is a ‘hot foot’?” Jess asked.
“Incendiary weapon,” Kwan replied. “Developed during the Nudist War specifically to burn out nudist infestations. Essentially a fuel bladder with a mix of gasoline and diesel plus a detonator. I plan to incinerate the stairwell.”
• • •
The problem with a ‘hot foot’ was getting it set up without the nudists overrunning you. In this case the plan was to position a fuel bladder with a mix of gasoline and diesel against the wall next to the stairwell door. An igniter would be affixed to it and a hot air balloon inflation fan positioned a safe distance away aimed at the stairwell. Then with exquisite choreography, chancing that the nudists would not take this exact minute to come boiling out, open the door, push the bladder over into the stairwell, spin up the inflation fan, then torch off the igniter. With the rooftop stairwell door open, the stairwell becomes a chimney, assisted by the inflation fan at the bottom.
In this case the plan was to incinerate any nudists actually in the stairwell and force the remaining nudists back into the Z hive. Once the fire burned out in the concrete and steel stairwell, the Angels would evacuate to the roof for extraction. Kwan and the Angels would then be able to develop a new plan of attack while at a safe and relaxed distance from the Zs.
• • •
“Blue Two is ready to ignite on your orders,” Brian announced.
“Notify Radar and confirm that they are ready.”
“How long will the ‘hot foot’ burn?” Jess asked Kwan.
“Fed by the inflation fan, it will burn hot and fast. Maybe fifteen minutes. The Angels carry respirators for Z hive operations. They’ll have them on during the evacuation to protect them from the fumes.”
“The Angels report that they have their respirators on and are ready to evacuate.”
“Thank you Brian, notify the helo to go airborne and get eyes on the stairwell door. The tell Blue Two they are go for ignition.”
“Roger that, Kwan.”
• • •
Four Blue Two team members opened the stairwell door and pushed the fuel bladder over into the stairwell. Another soldier turned on the inflation fan. All five then ran back away from the door as fast and as far as possible.
“Clear for ignition.”
“In three, two, one …”
A fireball erupted from the stairwell door and billowed up the outside of the building. Then slowly the smoke and flames began to be sucked into the open door eventually to emerge from the open stairwell door on the roof.
“Incineration in progress.”
“Radar, this is Brian, prepare to evacuate. A helicopter is moving to the EZ.”
“Helicopter in position. Fire dying out. You are go to evacuate.”
• • •
Full-face respirators in place, the Angels made their move to the stairwell. Their night-vision goggles had been readjusted to fit over the full-face respirators allowing the respirators to protect both lungs and eyes from smoke while still allowing for night vision. Lucretia took the lead, climbing over the still warm bodies of the dead Zs. Angel followed and waited by the stairwell door with Lucretia. Next were Mama Cass and Dead Eye. Erika was going into shock and the morphine was taking effect. Cassandra had to manhandle Erika from the office to stairwell, over the pile of dead bodies, because Erika was beginning to loose consciousness. Sarge and Radar assisted as best they could.
With everyone at the stairwell door, Lucy opened the door and tossed first one then another grenade into the stairwell and down the stairs. As soon as they had gone off, Lucy was in the stairwell and down the stairs to the next landing down. Cassandra and Erika with the assistance of Doris and Radha followed Lucy into the stairwell, but proceeded to the roof. Angela was last into the stairwell, she and Lucy guarded the backdoor as they climbed the stairs up to the roof.
As Cassandra and Erika emerged from the stairwell door to the roof, they were met by the flight surgeon who helped get Erica to the chopper. By the time the rest of the Angels were in the Black Hawk the flight surgeon had an IV started and Erika was getting badly needed fluids.
• • •
Kwan, MAN, Jess, and Eddy watched the monitors in silence. The Black Hawk rose off the roof top of building six and swung around to land at the CDC lab helipad. Four soldiers deplaned and helicopter immediately lifted off.
“Angels retrieved. Erika and Cassandra en route to Ellington, the others heading down to their quarters,” Brian announced.
“Thank you Brian,” Kwan replied. “You’ll have to excuse me,” Kwan got up to leave. “I’ve got to debrief the Angels.”
Eddy looked at the clock on the wall, then at MAN and Jess. It was 5:00 AM. “It’s going to be a long day.”
• • •
“Building six is forfeit,” Kwan told the Angels. “I’ll instruct Red and Blue Teams to set up a ‘hot foot’ in each of the stairwells and then shoot out all of the lower windows. I’ll bring in helos to shoot out the upper windows, then ignite the fuel bladders. One way or another, we will smoke them out or burn them out.”
“What is our part to be, ma’am?” Angela asked.
“Assist on the street. Take out any nudists that escape. Protect the other troops.”
“Another thing, Erika is likely to be out of action for some time. We need to find you a replacement for her. I have some recommendations I want to review with you.”
“At your convenience ma’am.”
“Very well. Dismissed.”
• • •
The assault on building six began at 7 AM with ground troops, including the remaining Angels, riddling the lower floor windows with a hail of bullets. This continued until 8 AM when two Black Hawk gunships arrived from the mainland. The ground troops were then withdrawn to safety as the helos rained death and destruction into the upper floors.
At 9 AM one of the helos landed on the lab’s helipad while the other returned to Ellington. The ground troops then began setting up incendiaries in all of the stairwells.
At 10 AM the stairwells were ignited. Within minutes smoke began billowing out of the missing windows on the upper floors. Individually and in groups the nudists hiding out on the upper floors began to move to the openings in an attempt to get fresh air and escape the heat and smoke of the fires. Out in the open, they were easy pickins for the ground troops and the remaining helicopter gunship. Despite their lack of language, the nudists loudly vocalized their fear, pain, and some might even say grief, with sobbing, crying, wailing, and screaming. No soldier who heard those cries was left unmoved.
• • •
Cassandra paced the hall outside of the operating room. Erika had been in surgery since they arrived back at Ellington just after 6:00 AM. Mama Cass looked at the wall clock for the nth time. Erika had been in surgery for over five hours. In an attempt to fight off the impending sleep, Cass walked down the hall to get a cup of coffee.
The surgeon was waiting for her in the hallway when she got back. “Erika is in the recovery room now. The surgery went well, but it could be months before she gets the use of her thumb back … if at all. She should be back in her room within the hour. You can see her then.”
• • •
At noon the stairwells were refueled and reignited. The Angels and the Red Teams were given the opportunity to get some sleep prior to the start of night operations. The Blue Teams continued to guard the stairwells to make sure no nudists escaped alive.
• • •
“Hey kiddo, how are you feeling?”
“Hmmmmm, sleepy,” Erika replied.
“Are you in any pain?” Cassandra asked.
“Nnnnnno, just sleepy.”
“Okay, well you get some sleep. I’ll check back in on you in a little while.”
Cassandra left to find radio operator Shelly Walters and contact Lieutenant Colonel Smith.
• • •
“I’m Sergeant Cassandra Cross. I need to contact Lieutenant Colonel Smith at the CDC lab on Galveston.”
“Sure, no problem. You can you use the phone in the office across the hall. I’ll buzz you when I contact her.”
“Thank you.” Cassandra walked into the office and closed the door. She sat down behind the desk and realized that she was still wearing the blood-soaked combat fatigues from the night before. “Of course I am, when have I had the chance to change?” she thought defensively. The Nudist War was by far the bloodiest war the Army had fought since the Civil War or perhaps the Pacific theater of WWII. Up-close combat tends to be that way.
“Lieutenant Colonel Smith on Line One,” Shelly reported over the intercom.
“Lieutenant Colonel Smith, this is Sergeant Cassandra Cross, I want to request an extra day or two to stay with Dead Eye.”
“How is she doing?”
“Well”, she paused, “as good as can be expected, I guess. She’s out of surgery and sleeping now, still pretty groggy. She was in surgery over five hours. The surgeon said it could be months before she regains full use of her thumb, if at all.”
“You just stay there for a while. We’ll make do on our end. Consider this a temporary reassignment. Your new job is to assist Dead Eye in getting back to full health.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Carry on soldier.”
• • •
By sundown the fires had been allowed to burn out completely and the Red Teams replaced the Blue Teams on watch. The four remaining Angels were allowed several more hours of sleep before they began a repeat of the previous evenings sweep and clear operation. At 9 PM, well past sunset, the remaining Black Hawk lifted off with thermal imaging equipment to look for hot spots and surviving nudists. Any suspicious hot spots were “softened up” by the helicopter’s .50 caliber machine guns. The goal was to provide the remaining Angels with a smoother sweep and clear experience than the previous night’s attempt.
As Eddy had surmised, Day 54 turned out to be a very, very long day.
• • •