Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.
All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.
The Nudist War – Day 55
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
~ J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita after witnessing the first atomic bomb detonation, 1945
• • •
“Mnnn … get off me … unh … Get OFF me you bitch … unh … my thumb … my thumb … mmm … no … NO … NO”
“Wake up Erika. You’re dreaming,” Cassandra gently shook Erika. “You’re safe. You’re in the hospital.”
“Hnnn … my thumb … my hand … hurts.”
“I know. It will for a while. Let me see if I can get you more pain meds.” Cass pushed the call button for the nurses station.
“Can I help you?” came over the intercom.
“Can she get more pain meds?” Cass asked.
“I’ll send the nurse in.”
• • •
The Angels were preparing to break-in two new team members for the sweep of the bullet riddled hulk of building six. Marcy and Felicia had been pulled from Red Two and Blue One, respectively. After being recommended by the Lieutenant Colonel, Marcy and Felicia were interviewed by each of the remaining four Angels one-on-one, followed by all four Angels together re-interviewing each of them, and finally the six of them together having one final meeting with Kwan.
“The consensus is that we can work together,” Angela reported.
“Do you agree?” Kwan asked, looking back and forth between Marcy and Felicia.
“Yes ma’am,” they almost answered in unison.
“Very well then, your first task as new White Team members will be to finish sweeping building six. It should be safe by now. You will need to wear respirators and HAZMAT suites as a precaution against fumes and biowaste. Angela, Lucy please make sure they are fully checked out on the respirators, HAZMAT suits, NVG, and coms. Ops begin at 2:00 AM sharp, that’s less than an hour from now, so get ready.” … Pause … “Angela, stay behind for a minute please.”
When the rest had left, Kwan continued, “Angela, are you good with Marcy and Felicia?”
“Ma’am, permission to speak freely?”
“Ma’am, we were a team with Cassandra and Erika. We were all on the same wavelength, the same cycle. We each knew what the team would do in any situation. Now we’re a partial team … plus two. They don’t know us and we don’t know them. Nothing against Marcy and Felicia, but I am concerned about breaking them in during ops.”
“Concern noted, but I don’t see that we have any other choice. Carry on.”
• • •
By 2:00 AM, Kwan had been up thirty hours straight. They all had been, with the exception of the remaining four Angels who had somehow managed to get twelve delicious hours of sleep before tonight’s ops. When Kwan finally made it back to the sixth floor ‘command center’ only Jess and MAN remained. “Where did Eddy go?” Kwan asked.
“He left just after you went down to brief White Team. Muttered something about being too tired to think or see straight,” MAN replied.
“Why are you both still here then?” Kwan asked.
“I told you that I planned to observe operations as long as I was welcome.”
“Okay, but what about you, Jess? ”
“I’m as interested in all of this as MAN, er Matthew, is. I’m also curious to know if the nudists in the building six Z hive were the same Zs that were in our garage a few nights ago.”
“There’s not much hope of that. For sanitation reasons, we need to ‘cremate-in-place’ any remains left in that building. The bonfire isn’t over yet.”
“Can you at least take photos of all of the bodies and faces?”
“You do realize that what is left of those nudists has been riddled with bullets and in many cases charred beyond recognition?”
“Hmmm,” Jessica pondered Kwan’s statement. “Yes, I guess you are right. We may never know the identity of those Zs in the garage.”
• • •
The Angels (old and new) had assembled outside the main stairwell of building six. Decked out in HAZMAT suits, respirators, night-vision goggles, and communication gear they looked more like interplanetary storm troopers than Army special ops.
Angela keyed the private com link and went through a final verbal checklist. “Before we enter, let’s review. Faceplates and respirators in place and functioning? NVG secured over face plates and working? Coms channels active? Everyone check-in in order.”
“Lucy here. Respirator, check. Night-vision goggles, check. Comunications, check.”
“Radha here. Respirator, check. NVG, check. Private coms, check. Public coms, check.”
“This is Marcy. My respirator is functioning. My faceplate is secure. Night-vision goggles are working. My radio is working.”
“My turn? This is Felicia. Respirator, faceplate, NVG okay. Communications working. ”
“Doris here. Respirator, check. NVG, check. Coms, check.”
“Lucy and I will take point,” Angela reminded them. “Doris will take the back door. Following Lucy and I are Radha, Marcy, and Felicia … in that order. We are just making sure no hearts are beating. Be careful. We will sweep bottom to top, floor by floor, room by room. Blue One will follow, dousing the remains and setting the remote igniters. Let’s go.”
With that Lucy opened the stairwell door and one-by-one they followed her in.
• • •
Kwan, MAN, and Jess watched the Angels enter building six, then settled back to listen on the intercom and try to stay awake.
“Coffee?” MAN asked.
“God yes,” Kwan answered, rubbing her face. As an afterthought, “as soon as we finish cremating building six, we are going to stand down and get some sleep.”
MAN headed off to make coffee.
• • •
The main stairwell to the roof of building six was clogged with ash and bones so thick that getting to the top was an ordeal for the Angels. It was more like climbing up a chimney than climbing up a stairwell. It was with great relief when they broke out onto the relatively empty roof. Several nudists had managed to escape to the roof, only to be gunned down by the helicopter gunships. Their crumpled and shredded bodies lay scattered here and there.
The scene on the fifteenth floor was even more grisly than it was when they left the night before. The outer windows were gone, rimmed in shards of glass. The fallen bodies of the nudists killed the previous night had been chopped up like coarsely ground beef by the hail of bullets and flying glass. Nothing stirred, which was just fine with the Angels. Even with respirators in place the slaughterhouse stench still made it through, albeit only as a faint whiff.
“Brian, White Team has re-swept the roof and fifteenth floors. Now to continue where we left off yesterday. Moving to the forteenth floor.”
“Roger that Radar,” Brian’s voice echoed in Radha’s ears. She switched over to the private com channel.
“Angel, update to Brian complete,” Radha announced. “Ready to move.”
“Okay. Team, let’s get this damn place swept and get out of here. Move out, down to the fourteenth floor.” Angela patted Lucy gently on the back. “Wash, rinse, repeat.”
• • •
MAN came back with three coffees. “You know, if we were characters in some fictional novel,” he commented, “the reader would probably be thinking that all the author ever thinks about is coffee.” He smiled as he passed out cups of hot, black liquid.
“That reader can jolly well imagine staying up and reading that novel for 30 hours straight without coffee.” Kwan laughed.
Jess took her cup in both hands feeling the warmth and inhaling the strong slightly smokey aroma. “What she said.”
With the windows shot out of building six it was now possible to watch the Angels as they swept each of the floors. At least it would be, once they got low enough for the cameras on the roof of the CDC complex to look directly across at them. With the roof of the CDC complex at the equivalent of the ninth floor, the camera angles were such that the Angels would only be fully visible from the tenth down to the eight floors. However, as each floor was cleared Angela would walk to edge and wave. As Kwan, MAN, and Jess watched the monitor intently for any activity, only the occasional wave of Angela was visible.
“Radar reports that they are preparing to enter the Z hive on the eleventh floor,” Brian reported.
“Thank you Brian,” Kwan replied, stifling a yawn.
• • •
3:20 AM, Lucy opened the door to the eleventh floor and carefully stepped in. Despite her respirator, the smell made her gag. “Oh boy are y’all in for a treat now,” she spoke on the private com channel. “Mmm mmm. Step carefully. It’s slippery in here.”
Angel followed her in. “Whoa … yeah watch your step and balance. This is a slip-n-slide. There’s blood and urine and feces everywhere. Wait, what is this? … Bones, piles of bones. And clothes, bloody shredded clothing. Marcy, Felicia, be sure to photograph all this.”
Marcy and Felicia followed the others into the room. “Oh god,” Marcy whispered on the private channel. “I’m going to be sick.”
“Suck it up soldier,” Angela responded. “Retch if you must, but whatever you do don’t take off your faceplate.”
“Yes ma’am,” Marcy answered, struggling to keep her stomach contents down.
“Hang in there, girl, you can do it,” Felicia added, offering her support.
“Thanks, I’m better now. After the first wave of nausea, it subsides.”
Doris was the last to enter. “Back door is closed and secure,” she whispered.
“Okay, let’s move ahead,” Angela announced. “Be sure to check every room. Don’t waste bullets. Use your bayonets to make sure any dead nudists really are dead.”
They moved slowly ahead from room to room. “Brian, this is Radar,” Radha whispered onto the general com channel. “We have entered the eleventh floor. It’s bad, really bad. Even with the respirators and HAZMAT gear the smell is really bad. There are feces and urine everywhere mixed with blood. We have observed several piles of bones. So far we have found very few nudists on this floor.”
“Roger that, Radar,” Brian responded. “Will update Kwan.”
• • •
“They have cleared the eleventh floor.”
Kwan had just watched Angel wave out of the broken outer window . “Thank you Brian.” It was 4:05 AM.
MAN looked at Jess and then back at Kwan, “only ten more floors to go. Let’s see 2:00 AM to 4:00 AM,” he said thinking out loud. “That’s two hours. Including the roof, that’s six floors. Twenty minutes per floor. So what … three more hours before the cremation crews move in?”
“That’s what I get,” Kwan replied. “We start soaking down at, say, 8:00 AM. Brian, please confirm that the two choppers with fuel bladders and hoses are fueled, loaded, and ready to depart. I need the first one here at 7:00 AM, followed sixty minutes later by the second one. We will stage the fuel on the roof of building six and drag hoses down to the top five floors. From there it will be easier to carry the fuel down than to haul it up. Once the first helicopter is off-loaded, have it land here to pickup the first cremation crew and ferry them over to building six before the second chopper arrives.”
“Roger that,” Brian answered.
“It’s going to be another long day,” MAN said as he rubbed his face in an effort to stay awake.
“As soon we set the torch to that place, I am handing off command to Corporal Freeman and getting some sleep. I suggest you do the same.”
“Mmmmmm, that sounds wonderful,” Jess replied, beginning to doze off.
• • •
“Hurts … It hurts … Nurse?”
“It’s okay Erika, I’m here,” Cass reassured her as she reached for the call button. “Can we get a nurse in here please?”
“Where am I?” Erika asked, suddenly remembering. “Oh yeah, did they get my thumb stitched back on?”
“Hey there kiddo. You’re back with us. Yes, they successfully reattached your thumb. Now we wait and see if it worked. They said it could be weeks before they know how much use you will have.”
“But you’ll begin physical therapy with it today,” the nurse said as she entered the room. “They will unwrap it and probably attach medical leaches to it.”
Cass shivered, “leaches?”
“Medical leaches. They suck out any stagnant fluids and improve the circulation. Once the bandages are off, if the surgeon determines that circulation is at risk he will order medical leaches attached to suck out the pooled blood and lymph. You could easily get the leach treatment every day for a while. Then the med techs will gently move the thumb through a range of motion to make sure the joint doesn’t seize up.”
“Doesn’t that risk re-breaking the bone?”
“The bone is pinned. Believe me, they won’t risk re-breaking the bone … but they do want to maintain mobility. Let’s get your vitals.”
The nurse proceeded to take Erika’s blood pressure, blood sugar, and temperature.
“Can I get something for pain?”
“Yes. I’ll be back in just a minute.” The nurse left the room.
“Well kiddo, looks like you’ve got a busy day ahead of you. As soon as you get your pain meds you should try to get more rest.”
• • •
Eddy opened his eyes and looked at the time. 5:00 AM “Strange, no dreams tonight,” he thought. “May as well get up and go see how things are going.”
He got dressed and wandered down to the bathroom to finish his morning routine. Looking in the mirror he spoke out loud to his other self, “a good night sleep does wonders for you buddy.” His bloodshot eyes were a thing of the past. “Let’s go see what’s happening on six … and get some good coffee.” He headed down the hallway to the elevator bank.
Eddy had to admit that he really welcomed the return of working elevators. Walking down the stairs to six was okay, but he enjoyed not having to walk back up. With the elevators running, the trip down to six and back was trivial. The only time anyone used the stairs anymore was to go up to the roof or down to the garage.
As soon as the elevator doors opened, he stepped jauntily out and walked briskly to the sixth floor kitchen where he immediately poured himself a fresh cup of coffee. “Mmmm, that smells good,” he thought. “Wherever did MAN find this coffee?”
He found MAN, Jess, and Kwan at the usual place monitoring operations. “Hey Eddy, you’re looking chipper this morning,” Jess greeted him.
“I feel chipper. Best I’ve felt in a long time. What’s going on?”
“The Angels have swept building six. All the floors have been soaked down with jet fuel. We were just getting ready to go up on the roof to watch the bonfire. Want to join us?”
“Sure, I love the smell of burning jet fuel in the morning,” Eddy quipped.
En masse they took the elevator to the eighth floor, then the stairs up to the roof, and finally up to the helipad.
“Hi Nora, Jan. Ready for the light show?”
“You mean the bonfire? I guess so. Anything that will get rid of that stench. When the wind shifts direction it gets pretty putrid up here,” Jan replied.
“Hand me a head set,” Kwan requested. “Brian, tell them to ignite when they are ready. … Okay, we are standing by.”
It began quietly enough on the roof of building six. Eddy craned his neck to see what was happening six stories above the helipad. He heard the muffled boom of the roof igniting before he saw the smoke billowing into the sky.
Then the fifteen floor ignited. This was different. The blast blew out any remaining window glass, some office furniture, and other debris. Eddy felt the heat from the flash seconds before the blast took out his hearing and replaced it with a loud ringing.
He was instantly reminded of Robert Oppenheimer’s thoughts upon witnessing the first atomic bomb detonation.
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
He looked up at the debris blown out by the blast and realized that he really didn’t want to be where he was standing. “RUN“, he yelled, not looking back, as he scrambled down off of the helipad running toward the stairwell door. As he ran, the fourteenth floor blew, then the thirteen, twelfth, eleventh, and tenth. Eddy opened the stairwell door and skipped two steps at a time down to the eight floor. The ninth floor blast blew open the door he just came through. Swirling flame filled the upper reaches of the stairwell. He reached the eighth floor, unlocked the door, and threw himself in as the eighth floor of building six exploded directly across from his position. The floor shuddered, knocking Eddy off his feet. As he lay on the floor, the building continued to be slammed, as if by a giant sledge hammer by the explosions of the seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth, third, second, and first floors. Never had he been so happy that the lab complex had no windows above the second floor.
Eddy thought briefly of trying to contact Brian, but realized that he was still deaf as a post, the ringing in his ears drowning out all other sounds. He would need to physically go down to the sixth floor. Perhaps later, but now he had to get back up to the roof to look for survivors. Eddy put his palm on the door to the stairwell to check the temperature. The door was warm but not hot. He tentatively opened the door expecting to be hit by a hot blast of air. “Not too bad.” He cautiously made his way up to the roof door and tried to push it open, but something was blocking it. He put his shoulder against the door and pushed. The door slowly swung open enough for him to squeeze out.
The first thing Eddy noticed was the searing heat radiating from the inferno across the street. The second thing he noticed was Jess’s crumpled and charred body slumped against the door. As he looked across the roof he could make out the forms of MAN, Kwan, Nora, and Jan splayed out on roof, felled mid-stride in their run to safety. Eddy closed the door and retreated down the stairs to sixth floor.
On the sixth floor he immediately ran to the radio room to find Brian, but Brian was nowhere to be found. “Strange,” Eddy thought. He checked the surveillance monitors … nothing was out of the ordinary. The stairwells were clear. The garage cameras still functioned, but all he could see was the smoke and flames billowing over from across the street. All of this continued in the surreal silence and persistent buzzing of his blast damaged hearing. As Eddy was pondering his next move, the lights went out. Something clicked in Eddy’s mind. “Am I dreaming?”
“Edward, you need wake up!”
Eddy opened his eyes and looked around. He was in his room. It was 5:00 AM.
• • •
Eddy rushed into the sixth floor operations room, startling Jess awake. “STOP,” he yelled.
“Stop what?” Kwan asked.
“Eddy, you look like hell this morning,” Jess greeted him. “What’s wrong?”
MAN chimed in. “Are you okay, Eddy?”
“Stop what you are doing. You’ll all be killed.”
MAN stood up and pulled out a chair, “sit down. Let me get you some coffee.”
As MAN went for coffee, Jess and Kwan tried to calm Eddy down. He began telling them about his dream. Eddy finished just as MAN returned with fresh hot coffee for everyone.
“No wonder you look like hell,” Jess quipped, as MAN passed out the coffee. “Thank you, Matt.”
“Okay. Well, for one thing the fuel is a 50/50 mix of diesel and jet fuel. Not explosive. In fact we need to construct special igniters to get it to light reliably,” Kwan said trying to reassure Eddy. “For another we light up one floor at a time and wait for it to burn out before we light the next floor. You were right about the burn being top-down. As for being killed, every one will be safely inside before ignition. We don’t take any chances. Despite our best attempt to control the burn, there is no guarantee that the building won’t pancake if the heat weakens the support structure.”
“Oh, yeah.” Eddy’s mood turned solemn as he recalled the Twin Towers.
“So, while not guaranteed,” Kwan continued, interrupting his reverie, “we try to clean up Z hives as safely as possible.”
Eddy was beginning to calm down now and began to sip his coffee. The warm, slightly smoky, slightly acidic liquid caressed his tongue and warmed his throat as he swallowed. He inhaled the fragrant steam wafting up from the surface of the coffee sloshing in his cup. He sighed as if the weight of the world had been lifted off of his shoulders.
“Better?” MAN asked.
• • •
The surgeon slowly and carefully unbandaged Erika’s hand. Cassandra and Erika looked in horror at the swollen purplish appendage that used to be Erika’s left thumb.
“Hand me a leech.” The nurse fished out a slender leech from a container labeled “Medical Leeches – Handle With Care”. The surgeon held the hungry leech to the tip of her thumb. It immediately fastened on and began feeding. As it fed it got plumper and plumper. The surgeon continued to apply leeches over the entire surface of her reattached thumb. Soon the first leech was full to bursting and dropped off on its own. The nurse immediately picked it up and dropped it into a second container.
As the leaches fed, the swelling in the thumb began to ever so slightly subside. When all of the leeches had fallen off, the surgeon asked, “can you move your thumb?”
Everyone stared at the motionless thumb.
Suddenly it twitched. Erika let out a squeal of joy … and pain. “Excellent!” the surgeon exclaimed and then began to slowly and gently move the thumb back and forth, taking care not to strain the sutures. This time there was no doubt that Erika was squealing in pain. “The stitches look good. No infection. It will continue to drain for a while where the leeches were attached. We’ll apply an antibiotic ointment and re-bandage your hand for now. We’ll also continue the IV antibiotics for at least a week. Leeches every twelve hours.”
• • •
By noon, the Angels had finished sweeping building six, its floors had been soaked with fuel, the troops had returned to quarters, and Kwan had handed off command to Corporal Freeman … sort of.
Eddy sat with MAN, Kwan, and Jess in the sixth floor ops room watching the large wall monitor, which was tuned to a remote camera aimed at the roof of building six.
“Go ahead, Corporal Freeman. Let’s get this party started,” Kwan spoke into the intercom.
A bit of smoke appeared, wafting off the roof, followed by a hint of flame. Both soon built in strength until the roof was a roaring conflagration. Eddy watched with a tinge of concern as the fire roared. After a half hour or so the fire began to die down.
“We’ll let it cool for an hour or so before igniting the fifteenth floor,” Corporal Freeman reported.
“Roger that,” Kwan replied. Then to the others at the table, “I’m off to get some sleep. I suggest you do the same. Corporal Freeman has done this many times before.” With that she excused herself and left for her quarters.
Jess looked at MAN and then at Eddy. “Eddy stay here if you want. Matt and I are going to bed.”
MAN looked at Jess then back at Eddy. Flustered, he blurted out, “what she said.”
• • •