TNW – Day 56

This is the sixteenth chapter.
Start at the beginning or read the previous chapter.

Copyright © 2017 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.

All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.

The Nudist War – Day 56

In the long run, we are all dead.

~ John Maynard Keynes, 1923

• • •

Sleep. Sweet delicious sleep. Warm, safe, clarity regenerating sleep. In 2013, researchers determined that sleep is critical for flushing neurotoxins and other metabolic waste from the brain and spinal column. These toxins accumulate during the day as a result of normal brain and neurological processes. If not flushed away every night they begin to poison the brain, inhibiting clear thought, reasoning, and memory. This more than anything else explains the importance and the necessity of getting a quality night’s sleep.

The new and amazing part of this was the discovery that nerves, the spinal column, and the brain shrink in size during sleep and re-expand during wakefulness. It is this expansion and contraction cycle of wake and sleep that flushes the cerebrospinal fluid through the brain and spine, carrying away toxins and metabolic waste. Anyone who has been awake over twenty-four hours doesn’t need the results of clinical studies to know that sleep is necessary for clear thinking.

Jess and MAN were sleeping soundly, spooning in his bed. Brian was asleep in his room. Kwan slept deeply in her quarters confident that she had left operations in the competent hands of Corporal Freeman. The Angels were enjoying the mental and physical rejuvenation that only sleep can bring. Maggie was asleep in her usual spot under the ops room table.

They had been sleeping since mid-afternoon of the previous day. While they slept Corporal Freeman slowly, carefully, and methodically cremated one floor after another of building six. It was slow, methodical … boring. Eddy sat in the ops room watching the monitors. By 11:00 PM Eddy had had enough and went back up to the eighth floor to his room … to sleep. Corporal Freeman continued the cremation. By 1:00 AM he was down to the sixth floor.

• • •

“Corporal Freeman, status report?” Kwan asked over the intercom.

“We’re getting ready to torch the sixth floor, maybe in ten minutes or so.”

“When do you expect to be finished?”

There was a pause as Corporal Freeman did some mental calculations. “Hmmm, it’s 1:00 AM, Six floors to go. Ninety minutes per floor. 10:00 AM, noon at the latest.”

“No ops this morning, then,” Kwan announced. “Oh … good morning,” Kwan greeted MAN as he unexpectedly wandered into the ops room. Maggie looked up briefly from her sleep, swished her tail, and drifted off again. “You might as well go back to bed. Nothing’s going on today.”

“I’m good. Are you planning ops for tonight?”

“If Freeman finishes the cremation by noon, we should be able to re-secure the garage and perimeter streets and then start sweeping building seven after sundown.”

MAN processed this for a minute. “I feel pretty well rested now. I’ll stay up for a while, but I ought to get a nap in before this afternoon. Coffee?”

“Sure, I could use a cup.”

“Okay, back in a minute.”

Jess caught MAN in the hall in time to ask him to bring her a cup too and then walked into the ops room. This time Maggie decided it might be morning. She got up slowly, yawned, stretched, and then walked sleepily over to Jess, tail wagging. “Good morning Maggie, you still look sleepy.”

Maggie let out a half hearted “Woof,” and then turned, plopped down, and curled up at Jess’s feet, promptly going back to sleep.

“Good morning Kwan. How is the cremation going?”

“Morning Jess. Slowly. Slowly and carefully. A little over halfway through. Corporal Freeman expects to be done before noon.”

“And then?”

“And then … We secure the garage, the perimeter streets, and start sweeping building seven. We should be back to the nightly grind and well on our way to having established a one-block safe zone around this complex. Then we chopper in more troops, set up quarters in the surrounding buildings, and establish a safe corridor between here and the airport.”

“How are you holding up?” Jess asked.

Kwan was taken aback by this question. No one had asked her this question in a long time. She had to stop and think for a minute. “What do you mean?”

“What do I mean? Well, you are involved in a war against relatives, friends, and neighbors. Except that now they act like crazed animals bent on eating you and anyone you know, without compromise. Your tactics are less like war than they are genocide. The goal isn’t to conquer the Z, but to exterminate it. At the end of the day, regardless of justification, you are waging a genocidal war of extermination against your fellow men and women. You and your team are executing a death sentence on sick people whose only crime was succumbing to that damn HZV virus. So … How are you holding up?”

Before Kwan had a chance to answer, MAN was back with three steaming cups of java.

“Ah, the morning ritual,” Kwan said as she took her cup changing the subject and deflecting the question.

But Jess was not to be deterred. After taking a sip of her coffee, she repeated the question. “How are you holding up?”

Kwan took a deep breath and sighed. “What do you want me to say? You said it yourself, every night we go out to slaughter things that used to be just ordinary folk. We may call them Zs, nudists, nekkids, whatever, but they used to be Joe and Mary and Billy and Kelly. They used to be mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, lovers … folks. They’re not evil, just hungry. I won’t lie. There are days when I’m not sure I can go on. Then I find opportunities like this to provide a safe haven for hundreds of families and singles, where they can go back to living normal lives without fear. I’m good.”

Jess nodded acknowledgement. “So assuming Galveston Island is secured as a safe haven within the next few months, where do you see us in the long run?”

“In the long run we are all dead. Unless the Zs begin breeding, the human species should replace the Z within a few generations. Short term we continue to eradicate them on the mainland. Maybe you and scientists like you can figure out how to cure them or at least make them less of a threat. Until then my job is to make the world safe for the rest of us.”

• • •

“Good morning all. Thank you to whoever made coffee,” Brian checked in over the intercom.

“You’re welcome,” MAN answered. “How come you’re up? No one called you.”

“Guess I had enough sleep.”

Kwan proceeded to update him on status, “… so as you see there is no need for you to be up until noon, when we start re-securing the perimeter.”

“Hmmm, I could go back to sleep. Good thing I haven’t touched the coffee yet. Okay, I’ll be back before noon. Goodnight all.”

• • •

“Time to get up and out of bed,” the nurse announced as she walked into Erika’s room. “You have a busy day ahead of you. Can’t have you lolling around in bed all day. Let’s have a look at that thumb.” The nurse removed the sling from the IV pole which had been suspending Erika’s forearm and hand and gently removed the bandage. “Hanging your arm from the IV pole has done a fair job of reducing the swelling, but it looks like leeches are still in order. Can you move your thumb?” Erika gritted her teeth and stared intently at her thumb … it moved. “Good. Very good. I’ll lightly re-bandage your hand until the leeches arrive. Now let’s get you bathed, dressed, and out of bed.”

“Knock, knock. You’re up early.” Cassandra walked cheerily into Erica’s hospital room.

“They said I can get out of bed,” Erika said looking at the nurse then back at Cass.

“After we’ve cleaned you up and changed your gown. All the surgeon and the surgical staff cared about cleaning was your arm, hand, and thumb. The rest of you is still filthy.”

By 8:00 AM, with the help of Cassandra and the nurse, Erika had been bathed and dressed, to the extent that a new hospital gown can be called dressed. She had been moved to a chair in the morning sun, her arm re-slung from the IV pole.

“The sun feels good, but I’d really like to take a walk outside,” Erika told Cass.

“Let me see what I can find out,” Cass answered, before heading off to the nursing desk.

“Good morning,” Cass greeted the nursing staff. “What is Ms. Erika’s schedule for today? Do we have time to step outside and get some sun?”

“Not yet, but she can get up and walk around the floor if you want to push her IV pole. She is still getting IV antibiotics and needs to keep that arm elevated,” one of the nurses replied. “She is scheduled for a leech treatment as soon as they arrive up here, followed by physical therapy.”

• • •

Eddy woke up and looked at the clock. It was 9:00 AM. He had had the usual dreams, but none of them were bad enough to wake him. “Hmm, nine o’clock, wonder what MAN and crew are up to?”

He showered, dressed and took one of the working elevators down to the sixth floor. Kwan was sitting at the operations table talking to Corporal Freeman on the intercom. “… agreed. We are still targeting completion by noon.” She noticed Eddy walking into the room. “Good morning Eddy, you’re looking well. Just a minute … Corporal Freeman, check back when you are ready to torch the first floor.”

“Roger that.”

“Where is everyone?” Eddy asked.

“They went back to bed until noon.”

“What happens at noon?”

“Building six cremation should be over and we will begin securing the perimeter prior to sweeping building seven. With any luck, that was the worst of the Zs.”

“Is it safe to go up on the helipad?”

“Should be safe enough. The second floor has cooled down and the first floor is the last of the scheduled burns. Freeman should be igniting it shortly. Go on up if you want,” Kwan offered.

“Thanks, I think I will.”

• • •

“It feels good to be up and walking around,” Erika told Cassandra as they walked around the floor. “I don’t mind the leeches,” she added as an afterthought, ” but the PT hurts like a sonofabitch!”

“No pain, no gain. You suffered worse in training,” Cass replied.

“No, I don’t think so. It felt like they were trying to rip my thumb off again.”

“Well, they did say it would get better.”

“At least tonight’s leeches come without PT. I wonder how long I’ll be on the leeches?”

“I assume at least until the swelling is completely gone. I think you are doing great, much better than I thought, considering the injury. Not everyone gets a thumb bitten off by a nudist and lives to tell about it. You’re one lucky girl. Regarding the PT, suck it up Dead Eye, we need you back as our shooter sooner rather than later.”

“You’re right, of course. No pain, no gain. Have you been running your dailies since we got here?”

“Too busy playing nursemaid to you. Are you up to it?”

“Once around the floor?”

“You’re on.”

They took off at a brisk walk.

• • •

The view from the helipad was singularly unspectacular. Eddy leaned out and peered far out over the railing. Only the faintest wisps of smoke wafted out of building six. When the wind blew from that direction, it carried the smell of burnt meat, very burnt meat … with the slightest hint of fecal funk.

The sun was now almost directly overhead, shining in a deep blue autumn sky. The sunshine felt good on Eddy’s face as he looked up to check its position. A low “whoosh” caught his attention and he looked back over the railing in time to see the ignition of the first floor. He quickly jumped back to avoid the hot updraft of the flames. The smell of burning kerosene was strong as the initial heat pulse passed, but faded quickly.

“So,” he thought, “based on all of my previous dreams, things ought to start going to hell right about,” he paused for dramatic effect, “now.”

And yet, nothing happened.

• • •

By the time Eddy had wandered back to the sixth floor ops room, everyone was up. MAN, Jess, and Kwan were seated around the table, drinking coffee, and chatting with both Brian and Corporal Freeman on the intercom.

“Roger that. Brian, time to start waking up the troops if they aren’t already up. Corporal Freeman, as soon as you think it is safe, come back in and get some sleep … that’s an order. Guess I better head down for the pre-ops briefing.” Kwan stood up and looked at the clock. “Twelve o-five, Freeman, you timed it pretty accurately! Folks I’ll be back up as soon as I talk to the troops.” Kwan left the room headed for the nearest working elevator.

Jess turned to Eddy, “where were you?”

“Up on the helipad having a look-see. Not much to see yet. Might get more interesting once the troops are redeployed. Do you realize that we have been cooped-up in this building for over a week?” Eddy looked directly at MAN. “We haven’t left this building since you moved in. Aren’t you getting bored? I need to do something. Build the Z trap. Study the Surf Pack. Anything. Anything to get out of here for a while.”

• • •

Kwan stood at the front of a tightly packed assemblage of troops. All of the teams, save the Angels, were present and accounted for. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is our last push in securing a safe perimeter around this complex. After building seven is swept and secured later tonight, we can concentrate on clearing a corridor to the airport. You all know your roles and responsibilities. Any questions?” The room was silent. “Dismissed … and good luck.”

• • •

Eddy was wrapping up his lament regarding their voluntary incarceration when Kwan walked back into the room. “What’s this about being bored?” she asked. “I’ve got a helo inbound from Ellington. Plan to fly over to the airport, look for the best route. Anyone care to come with?”

Eddy was the first to respond. “I’ll go. How soon?”

“Helo should arrive within the half hour. Anyone else?”

MAN and Jess looked back and forth at each other. “We’re good. We’ll stay here and hold down the fort,” Jess smiled.

“Suit yourself. Eddy, meet me on the roof in twenty.”

“Roger that. Let me stop off on eight first.” Eddy stood up, excused himself, and headed off to the elevators. Kwan left right behind him.

• • •

The Black Hawk helicopter banked in a clockwise turn over Scholes International Airport as Eddy peered out the open door at the ground.

“So far so good,” Eddy heard Kwan say over his headset. “We’ve spotted no nudists since we left the CDC complex.”

As they banked, they flew over the terminal complex. The aftermath of the attack on MAN’s folk, a week ago, was clearly apparent. The abandoned pickups, the bloodstained concrete, all were visible from the air. Eddy shuddered as he recalled MAN’s description of the scene.

One pickup truck appeared to be abandoned at the main gate to the runway with all of its windows down, yet all of it’s doors closed and locked, the engine still running. The other sat in the grass at the end of the short approach to the main gate with its rear bumper wrapped around a power pole and all of its doors wide open, engine off.

Despite the deployed air bags, there was little blood in the cab of Patrol Two. The bed of the pickup told a different story. There was significant blood splatter on the inside of the bed and on the outside of the back window. Numerous firearms were scattered about the bed, all of them empty. The bed was filled with spent shell casings. Blood soaked clothing littered the bed of the pickup.

The cab and the pavement around the cab of Patrol One was spattered with blood and blood-soaked clothing, the floor littered with spent shell casings, and firearms with rounds still in their clips and magazines. Patrol One was taken by surprise.

“Got a problem here,” Eddy heard over his headset. It was the pilot. “Number one turbine is overheating and we are getting a low oil pressure warning.”

“Can we make it back to CDC?” Kwan asked.

“Negative, we’ll need to set down here. I’ll call Ellington and get another helo out here to pick us up ASAP.”

Eddy listened as the pilot spoke to Ellington explaining the situation. It would be at least a half hour before rescue would arrive.

“I’m going to set her down near the main terminal building. We can wait in there if necessary.”

• • •

“Kwan’s chopper has landed at the airport with engine trouble,” Brian announced over the intercom. “They have notified Ellington and are awaiting rescue.”

MAN and Jess looked at each other. “Rescue mission?” Jess asked.

“Let’s go. Wait here a minute.” MAN left the room and returned a few minutes later with four shotguns, four side arms, and two boxes of ammo. “Take these,” he handed Jess a holster belt with two pistols and two of the shotguns. He strapped on the other holster belt, shouldered the remaining two shot guns, and picked up an ammo box in each hand. “We’ll take the freight elevator down. Brian,” MAN keyed the intercom. “Jess and I are going to take a drive out to the airport.”

“Roger that,” Brian answered.

• • •

The freight elevator opened to a view of soldiers milling about the parking garage. They turned in surprise as MAN and Jess stepped out. “Lieutenant Colonel Smith’s chopper has landed at the airport with engine trouble. We’ve decided to drive out there and assist.” MAN announced with a tone of command.

“Good luck sir,” the soldier in charge answered. Man and Jess walked briskly to his pickup, then loaded the weapons and got in. The soldier in charge spoke something into her radio and waved MAN out of his parking space and out onto the street.

MAN drove slowly away from the complex, mindful of the soldiers patrolling the streets. Within a block the streets were empty and he sped up to, and then well beyond, the posted speed limit. “You and Eddy always drive so fast,” Jess remarked. “Aren’t you afraid of hitting something?”

“What’s there to hit besides a lone Z? They tend to hear cars well ahead of time and hide. Even packs don’t mess with rapidly moving vehicles. Besides, I’m in a hurry. Buckle up and hold on.” Jess tightened her already fastened seatbelt and clenched the passenger side roof handle with her right hand.

The side streets became MAN’s private expressway. Early on, his team had cleared most of these streets of abandoned vehicles. He had personally supervised much of the work and knew where any potential roadblocks might be and avoided them well ahead of time. In no time they had reached the airport and drove through the open gates.

The Black Hawk was parked on the runway in front of the terminal building. No one was in sight. MAN drove his pickup all the way around it. The side doors were open and shell casings littered the ground from the two door gunner’s M134 miniguns. The concrete was stained with copious fresh blood and drag marks showing where bodies had been dragged away.

Jess gasped. “Oh god.”

• • •

Erika and Cass sat at a table in the common room. It had large south-west facing window that allowed sun light to stream in. The cool air and warm sun was relaxing as they cooled down after their extended walk.

“I thought you said once around the floor,” Cass said to Erika.

“After the first lap, I was just hitting my stride. It felt good, even with my lame hand. Once they let me, we should get back to running every day while we are here at Ellington.”

“It should certainly help the circulation. I just don’t want you to over do it.”

“I’ll be fine,” Erika answered. “Without the ability to use my thumb, running is about all I can do.” She paused to look at the position of the sun in the late afternoon sky. “I suppose we should be getting back to my room. I would hate to miss my leaches.”

They left the common room and went straight to the nurses’ desk. “What time do I get the leeches again?” Erika asked the first nurse she saw.

“Let me check.” The nurse consulted her computer screen. “Looks like you are down for top of the hour. Stay close.”

The two women went back to Erika’s room to wait.

• • •

“Nudist ambush,” MAN muttered. “Drag marks could be nudists dragging away there own. Don’t jump to conclusions.” MAN and Jess sat in his pickup surveying the scene. There was no indication of which way Kwan, Eddy, and the crew had escaped … or even that they had escaped. “Let’s check out the terminal building. Maybe they retreated to there.”

MAN drove over to a side door, grabbed a shotgun, and got out of the cab. The side door was unlocked. “It’s open, let’s go,” he said to Jess as he reached in to turn the engine off and take the keys. Jess grabbed a shotgun and quickly ran around the front of the pickup and through the side door that MAN held open.

They were inside the expanse of the ticket lobby and waiting room. “Eddy? Kwan? Anyone home?” He yelled. No answer. He yelled again. They strained to hear any reply. Nothing. MAN looked around for a stairwell. “Over there, stairwell,” he motioned,”GO!”

Jess ran over to the stairwell door with MAN close at her heels. He opened the door and yelled. “Don’t shoot, we’re clothed.” He listened intently for a minute. “Let’s go,” he said in a low voice and took the lead up the stairs. At the top he stopped and put his ear to the door. After a minute he shook his head, took a deep breath, and opened the door a crack.

Kwan, Eddy! Are you in there?” No answer. He opened the door and they walked in, shotguns ready.

• • •

“Who’s ready for leeches?” the overly cheerful nurse practitioner asked.

Both Erika and Cassandra rolled their eyes. The bubbly personality of the nurse practitioner was more than either of the battle hardened soldiers could stomach.

“Yeah, that would be me,” Erika piped up and pointed to her left hand still suspended from the IV pole. “The bandage is a dead giveaway,” she said in a sarcastic tone that went right over the nurse’s head.

“Oh yes,” the nurse said as she laid out a sterile field on the hospital room table. She pulled over a chair, “Sit.” Erika sat as the nurse disconnected her arm from the sling, removed the bandage, and laid her hand on the sterile fabric. The nurse opened the container labeled “Medical Leeches – Handle With Care” and fished out a leech and let it attach to the tip of Erika’s thumb. It immediately latched on and began feeding. The nurse did not wait for the first leech to finish feeding. She methodically added more leeches to the swollen thumb which began feeding greedily.

After about forty minutes the first leech, full to bursting, released it’s grip and fell off. It was promptly replaced. As the remaining leeches fell off, they were also replaced. Erika marveled at how much the swelling in her thumb had gone down since the day before. Eventually the second batch of leeches had swelled to capacity and dropped off as well.

“The anti-coagulants in the leech saliva will cause it to continue draining for a while,” the nurse commented matter-of-factly. “I’m going to put a light gauze bandage on your hand to absorb the drainage and protect the sutures. Move your thumb for me.” Erika strained to move her thumb. With great pain she moved it open-closed-open-closed, then around in a small circle. “Very good,” the bubbly nurse pronounced. “You should begin gently trying to move your thumb throughout its entire range of motion every hour or so. A little pain is okay. Soreness is okay. Extreme pain means don’t do that. I’ll be back tomorrow morning. Remember, gently.” She packed up the leeches and left, singing cheerily to herself.

“People that happy should be shot,” Erika remarked to Cass.

“Roger that.”

• • •

MAN and Jess surveyed the second floor bar and waiting room. There was no sign of any struggle and no sign of Kwan or Eddy.

“Damn. Where could they have gone?” MAN muttered under his breath.

He and Jess walked over to the observation window and stared out at the runway. Not a thing stirred. The scene was as utterly motionless as an HD still image. They scanned the runway for several minutes in silence.

“Where? Where? Where?” MAN thought out loud. A glint of something caught his eye at the edge of his field of vision. He swung around to the north and brought up his binoculars.

“Do you see that?” Jess asked, then realized that he was already scrutinizing it.

“Black Hawk. Inbound,” he answered.

They watched it as it approached. As it got closer they realized that was not coming in for a landing on the runway. Once it was close enough for them to hear the whine of the turbines and the whop whop whop of the rotors, it dawned on both of them at the same time. “The roof!”

They ran back to the stairwell realizing that it continued on up to the roof. The sound of the chopper was now deafening. They ran up the stairs and opened the door just in time to see the last person climb into the Black Hawk and watched it power up and lift off the roof heading back to CDC.

“Did they see us?” Jess asked.

“I don’t think so.” … MAN paused … “The sun will be setting soon. We should be getting back to the truck.”

“Look!” Jess pointed at the parked helicopter and then at MAN’s pickup truck. Several packs of Zs had emerged seemingly out of nowhere and were converging on the Black Hawk and the truck. As they watched, the number of nudists milling around the terminal building investigating the helicopter and pickup began to increase. Soon the ground below them was crawling with nudists sniffing the air, searching the ground, inspecting the chopper, inspecting the pickup. Sniffing, scratching, touching, searching.

“Where the hell did they come from?” Jess wondered out load.

“I don’t know and right now I don’t care. This ‘rescue mission’ seemed like such a good idea at the time,” MAN admitted, “but not so much now. We may be the ones needing rescue. The rest of the weapons and ammo are in the truck, as is the radio. There are too many of them for us to shoot our way out. The sun is setting and we didn’t bring night vision goggles. It’s going to get cold out here. If I were the nudists, I’d try to get into the terminal building. We should get back down to the second floor now and secure the doors.”

• • •

As soon as the Black Hawk had touched down on the CDC helipad, Kwan and Eddy jumped out and scrambled down to the roof. They lingered a minute to watch the chopper take off for its return to the mainland. Framed against the setting sun, the Black Hawk presented a majestic image of flight and power. Eddy couldn’t help waving and mentally wishing it and its crew godspeed. By the time the helicopter was out of sight it was already dark.

• • •

“Brian, we’re back,” Kwan announced as she and Eddy settled into MAN’s sixth floor ops room. “Has White Team begun sweeping building seven?”

“Welcome back. Yes the Angels are currently sweeping building seven. No incidents have been reported.”

“Thank you Brian. Would you please patch the ops com to the intercom.”

“With pleasure.” The chatter of operations communications began full the room. It was generally uninteresting. Comfortingly so. Just the largely intermittent banter and status reports of soldiers on patrol.

“Guess I’ll go start some coffee. MAN and Jess will want some when they get here,” Kwan said to Eddy as she started down the hall to the break room.

“You do that. As for me, I am going back up to eight to see what I can find to eat. Thanks for the diversion. Other than suffering engine failure, being attacked by nudists and running for our lives to the roof of the terminal building, … and waiting hours to be rescued by another helicopter … I enjoyed the sightseeing trip.” Eddy headed for the elevator.

• • •

Eddy got out of the elevator on eight and headed straight to the break room. Tom and Cindy were finishing up their MRE meals.

“What’s for dinner?” Eddy asked.

Tom leaned back in his chair, opened the cupboard, reached inside and tossed Eddy first one then another MRE.

“Hmmm, Chili and Beans or … Chili and Macaroni. Decisions, decisions.”

“Where have you been?” Cindy asked.

Eddy began recounting his latest adventure in meticulous detail as he opened the Chili and Macaroni. Tom and Cindy forced themselves to listen. They were both too bored to really care. They too were starting to get cabin fever.

“So where were MAN and Jess in all this?” Tom asked. “Isn’t this just the kind of thing they would do?”

“You’d think. But they decided to stay here,” Eddy answered.

“They must be down on six,” Cindy replied. “I haven’t seen Jess up here in several days.”

“We didn’t see them on six when we got back. Maybe they’re in MAN’s room. There’s something going on with those two.” Eddy let an evil smile escape his lips.

• • •

After dinner Eddy decided to wander back down to the sixth floor ops room to see if MAN and Jess were down there. By now it was many hours after sundown.

“Have MAN, er Matthew, and Jess put in an appearance?” Eddy asked Kwan as he re-entered the sixth floor ops room.

“Nope. Haven’t seen either of them. Not in my Army.” Kwan answered nonchalantly. “Why?”

“Well … Cindy hasn’t seen Jess and you haven’t seen either of them. As eager as MAN was to observe the night ops, I would have thought he would be here.”

“Hmm, yeah, valid point. It is curious, now that you mention it.” She pondered this a moment, then keyed the intercom. Brian, please page MAN and Jess. Find out where they are.”

“They left to rescue you about four. Aren’t they back yet?”

“Please page MAN’s room. Never mind,” Kwan reconsidered. “We’ll go ourselves.”

Kwan and Eddy walked briskly to MAN’s room and pounded heavily on the door. “Matthew, Jess are you in there?” Kwan bellowed. Nothing. She tried the door. It opened. The room was empty.

Kwan and Eddy looked at each other in horror.

• • •

Kwan peered anxiously out of the co-pilot’s window as the Black Hawk made a slow counter-clockwise circle around the terminal building of Scholls International Airport. MAN and Jess were nowhere to be seen through her night-vision goggles. This was a good thing in that they could not have survived the death raining down from the twin M134 miniguns. Kwan’s two Black Hawks made short work of the Zs milling about the terminal building on the tarmac, on the roof, and inside the terminal. When it was over every window of the terminal had been shot out and the inside of the terminal was littered with glass shards and ventilated nudists. The noise of the turbines and machine gun fire, in combination with the prop wash, scared away the remaining Zs near the downed helicopter and MAN’s pickup truck. No use shooting up valuable resources. Once the immediate threat had been dealt with, the second helicopter pealed off to patrol the outer perimeter of the airport. Periodic bursts of machine gun fire punctuated the night as it hunted down the remaining nudists.

“Is the roof still clear?” Kwan asked the pilot over her headset.

The pilot banked sharply over the terminal building roof. Nothing moved as Kwan scanned the scene. Here and there the shredded bodies of nudists lay in pools of blood. Kwan turned to look back at Eddy and spoke into her headset, “let’s hope they are safely holed up in there somewhere.” Then speaking to the pilot, “okay, call in the second helo for air cover and set ‘er down on the runway near MAN’s pickup.” She then patched in to the externally mounted loud speaker, “MAN, Jess … if you can you hear me, come out of the terminal. The area is secure.” Kwan carefully studied every door and empty window frame of the terminal building without success. “Dammit, now we have to go find them. Why couldn’t they have just stayed put?”

• • •

By the time Jess and MAN got off the roof and back down to the second floor, a few nudists were already waiting for them. MAN dispatched them effortlessly but the horde had already breached the first floor entrance. Catching his breath, he scanned the second floor waiting area for a safe haven. “There,” he whispered, tapping Jess on the shoulder and pointing to the wheelchair accessible restroom sign. They sprinted across the lobby and barely managed to lock themselves in before the next wave of Zs arrived. Jess felt for the light switch and flicked it on. Nothing happened. “Flashlights it is,” MAN whispered. They next took turns using the facilities taking care to be as quiet as possible without flushing. “We need to get as far away from the main windows as possible and hope that we don’t get hit by stray rounds when rescue comes.” They moved to the back corner of the restroom, sat down on the floor in the darkness and waited. Only the sound of Zs scraping and pounding on the bathroom door disturbed the silence.

They sat huddled in darkness for what seemed like an eternity. MAN heard it first. “Listen,” he whispered. Barely perceptible at first, then unmistakable, now slowly growing louder and louder was the sound of a Black Hawk helicopter. “Two of them,” MAN clarified. “Definitely two of them.” Then all hell broke loose. In addition to the roar of the rotors and the whine of the turbines, the ‘brrrrrr’ of miniguns and shattering of glass was deafening. MAN pushed Jess to the floor and lay on top of her, shielding her as best he could. Bullets whizzed through the bathroom shattering tiles, the mirror, the sink, and the toilet. On and on it continued … and then it was over. The miniguns had stopped firing. One of the helicopters sounded as if it were moving away into the distance leaving the remaining helicopter circling the terminal. MAN rolled off of Jess and switched on his flashlight. The floor of the bathroom was flooded with pink water. “Are you OK?” he asked Jess and then added, “I think I’ve been hit.”

Jess was too stunned to reply immediately. “I, I think I’m OK. A bit rattled,” she managed to croak. Her ears were still ringing. “Where are you hit?” She clicked her own flashlight on and immediately noticed blood stains on MAN’s right thigh and left shoulder. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath. “Can you walk?”

“Don’t know. Maybe.” He managed to get to his feet putting all of his weight on his left leg, then tentatively testing weight on his right leg. “Yeah, I think I can walk. Must have caught some flying debris. Let’s try to get out of here.” Weapons and flashlights ready they pulled open the bathroom door. 

“MAN, Jess … if you can you hear me, come out of the terminal. The area is secure.” They could barely hear Kwan’s call over the idling whine of the Black Hawk parked on the tarmac. MAN and Jess gingerly walked to the open window frame, crunching on broken glass, slip-sliding through pools of blood, and stepping over nudist carcasses. Turning toward the sound of the helicopter they waved their flashlights into the night. A second helicopter circled overhead. “We see you. We see you,” they heard over the loud speaker. “Stay where you are. We are coming to get you.”

• • •

“You’re lucky,” the flight surgeon commented as he cleaned and dressed MAN’s wounds. He had begun working on MAN as soon as they got him into the Black Hawk. “A centimeter deeper and it might have nicked your femoral artery. What is this? Ceramic?” the flight surgeon asked, examining the razor sharp chunk of hard white material held in his forceps.

“Toilet,” MAN replied matter-of-factly. “It exploded when it took the minigun round. The toilet probably saved both of our lives. Make sure you get it all out. We didn’t flush.”

“Looks like we got it all. Your thigh got the worst of it. Your shoulder was free of debris and the rest are minor cuts. I cleaned the wounds pretty well and I’ll put you on a course if antibiotics.”

The Black Hawk was coming in for a landing at the CDC as the flight surgeon finished up. Eddy and Kwan helped MAN limp down the stairs to the eighth floor elevator and then to his quarters on the sixth floor. Jess went with them. “You should get some some rest,” Kwan suggested. 

“I will as soon as get out of these clothes and get cleaned up,” MAN replied, exhausted.

“I’ll help clean you up first,” Jess announced, “then I’m using your shower for myself. I’m sleeping here tonight.”

Kwan and Eddy exchanged glances. “You let that boy rest,” she admonished Jess with a wry smile.

“My work here is done. I going to bed. It’s been a long day.” Eddy excused himself. Kwan nodded agreement and left for her quarters.

• • •

Stay tuned …

3 thoughts on “TNW – Day 56

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