Authors: JT Sawyer
After Shane was ready, he went down to the
sub-basement where the other three men were preparing to depart in their
Humvee. “Stay in radio contact with your handheld units and keep me updated on
your progress, the road conditions, and eventual return to base,” said Shane.
The men shook hands and hastily climbed
into the tan vehicle while Rory stood at the security entrance. After tapping
in the security code to the concrete barrier door of the subterranean garage,
the Humvees sped up the entrance ramp and into the wave of heat in the streets
Once his men were on their way, Shane
and Rory grabbed duffle bags of weapons and gear and made their way up the
eight floors to the roof. The rotors of the helo were already in motion, as
Matias was inside preparing for departure. After all three men were strapped in,
Shane gave the thumbs-up sign and Matias eased off the helipad.
Veering to the southwest, they flew over
downtown Tucson, past crumpled cars, shattered storefronts, and thousands of
mangled corpses lining the crimson streets below. Three combat tours overseas couldn’t
compare to the staggering death toll Shane observed beneath him.
How could this have happened here in our
own country? My God, this looks more like Somalia or Tikrit.
of his men speeding home to their families. Would they make it and would he
ever see them again? And what of Carlie—was she one of the agents still alive
at the university?
If those creatures haven’t gotten her, then the
triple-digit heat will. I sure as hell hope she and the others are alive and
that this is going to be a quick snatch-and-grab.
As Matias swung towards the north end of
campus, Shane scanned his laptop map and pointed ahead to the L-shaped
pharmaceutical building in the distance. “It’s only two stories, and those
things might be able to get to us. You’ll have to set it down on the taller
research building two hundred meters to the east,” he said, staring back at the
Matias circled around the large cluster
of medical facilities. Shane and Rory both strained to see any signs of
movement on the roof. “Set her down and let’s see about getting into the service
tunnels. My laptop shows the route to be clear of hostiles.”
Matias landed fifty yards away from the
stairwell entrance. As the rotors wound down, Shane and Rory jumped out and
dashed for the entrance with their M4s in low-ready. The wind had increased
considerably and they were pelted by a driving rain. Rory pointed to the south
and they could see a mile-high wall of sand and dark clouds moving in over the
After they regrouped, they headed down
the dark stairwell with their night-vision goggles on while scanning the
landings of each floor they descended. Arriving at the first floor, Shane
raised his left hand in a fist for the others to halt. He pointed below, where
they could see several creatures bustling around the lobby.
Shane and his men secreted themselves
against the cinderblock walls while peeling off to either side of the door and
keeping their rifles at low-ready. He could approximate the footsteps of three creatures
slogging along the tiled floor outside the door.
He thrust his index finger down the
stairwell and the three deftly sprinted down the cement steps, taking up
positions behind a row of water-storage containers. Shane pulled out his laptop
and scanned the thermal images in the area. He could see the Secret Service
group still at their location and then glanced at the other dwindling clusters
Shit, there were eleven other groups earlier and now there are
only five. These things are systematically devouring everything in their path. That
one group is still alive next door in the mortuary sciences room though
for how long?
He closed the screen and inserted the
laptop in his backpack, then motioned to his men to continue moving forward.
They floated down the corridor, and after several turns and another half-flight
of stairs, arrived at the tunnel entrance by the elevator service doors. Matias
used bolt cutters and removed the padlock. They climbed inside and made their
way through the murky passageway for another two hundred meters.
Rounding the corner, Shane could make
out six figures crouched beside a vent outlet, most of them appearing to be
asleep. One was standing guard with a rifle while the familiar shape of a woman
was resting a few feet away.
Shane removed his NVGs and took out a
flashlight. He flashed two patterns of three flashes. “Carlie, is that you?”
Shane whispered into the darkness, hoping it was indeed Carlie who would be on
the receiving end. “Carlie Simmons—–can you hear me? It’s Shane Colter with the
DEA. Do you copy?”
“It’s starting to warm up in here,” said
Jared, who had unbuttoned his shirt while looking over at Amy, who was standing
nearby, sipping from a water bottle. She had just come from checking on the
other students, who were strung out around the large room.
“Yeah, welcome to the Southwest—where
life in the summer is only possible through air-conditioning,” Amy said.
“You grow up here or are you a transplant
like everyone else I meet?”
“I grew up in Williams, a small town
west of Flagstaff. Tucson is as big a city as I ever want to live in but it has
an awesome emergency medicine program, which is what brought me here.”
Jared let out a half-smile. “Scraping
street drunks off the pavement and being their taxi service to the hospital every
night doesn’t sound like my idea of fun, no matter how much it pays.”
She stopped sipping and scowled at him.
“What is it that you said
do for a living?”
“Oh, I’m self-employed. I come up with
investment solutions for people who have significant holdings and wouldn’t mind
seeing them go to better use.”
“So, you’re an economic advisor?” said
Amy, whose hands were clasped tightly around the water bottle.
“More of a personal finance specialist—I
bring many decades of field experience from wealthy patrons around the U.S.,”
he said, running his tongue over his front teeth. “It’s a rewarding and lively
field,” Jared said, barely recalling the canned speech he had recited so many
times over the years to women of Amy’s age.
Jared heard some heavy breathing to his
left and saw Bird Beak, a rotund man with a sweaty bald head, dozing off. Jared
leaned over towards Amy and whispered in his coy southern accent, “You gotta
wonder how a basted pork chop like that made it out of the clutches of those
things up above. I mean, some people just pop into this world bein’ lucky
“With all that’s happened today, you can
smugly sit back and just mock people? I’ve been standing here sipping my water
for maybe three minutes and I’m already questioning my decision to open the
door and let you in.”
Jared chuckled and stood up. “Ah, but what
happened to that caregiver’s oath of yours? Besides, with my pistolas, I’m the
best bet you have of getting out of here. You know you made the right
“That’s the only thing about today I’m
unsure of,” she said, tossing the empty bottle past his face and into the trash
bin beside him before walking away.
Carlie was half-awake, her ponytail
pushed back against the cool cement wall. Her mind was vacillating between the
horrific events of the past eighteen hours and her now seemingly trivial
frustrations from the other life she knew.
She thought about how things had been
swept away so quickly and the world brought to its knees. Her mind raced over
past intel reports and security briefings about bioterrorism and pandemic
Did someone release a virus or is God just punishing us for our
ever-growing culture of moral decay?
She knew the latter thought was the
vestige of her strict Roman-Catholic upbringing, but one she had hardly felt
the need to consider since adolescence.
There is no God. That was always the
patriarchal establishment using religion for social control, not unlike the way
politicians use the mainstream media today. There are puppet-masters everywhere,
always trying to manipulate human lives and social destinies,
while looking over at the dim outline of Phillip nearby.
She reached by her side and felt for her
water bottle, forcing the tepid fluid down her throat. She peered into the
black tunnel ahead, wondering, dreaming, doubting, her eyes still heavy from
sleep. No future, no past. Then she slipped into a familiar scene that
unspooled in her dreams. It happened the same way almost every night—a teenage
boy’s face shrouded in a head-wrap. He was smiling at her, the sweet look of
youthful innocence amongst a backdrop of palm trees and attendant parrots flitting
across the cobalt sky. Then she saw him pull out a pistol from his jacket and a
second later his white cotton shirt was sprayed red as he fell backwards onto
the dusty road while the flock of birds scattered.
“Carlie, are you there?” a voice
whispered from the void, sending a shiver down her neck. She shook her head and
forced away the nightmare while wiping a tear from her cheek. “Carlie Simmons—are
you there?” She wondered if she was still dreaming and pried her eyelids open.
In the distance, she saw something flickering, the ends of its shadows lying
between the light and dark.
“I hear someone,” said Eliza, who was
tugging on Carlie’s sleeve.
“Yes, I heard it too,” said the
professor, pointing to the flashing light.
Carlie sat up, shaking her head and sliding
her MP-7 back into her palm. She leaned forward, straining her eyes towards the
sound. She pulled out her flashlight and shined it down the corridor towards
the distant outlines of a vaguely familiar face that had just come into view.
She stood up and took a deep breath. “Shane—Shane
Colter, is that you?”
“Roger that, Carlie. We’re on our way
down to you.”
Carlie lowered her weapon and felt the
creases in her forehead soften. She yanked her body away from the wall and
began moving towards the approaching figures.
Shane and his men arrived to beaming
faces as everyone encapsulated them with hugs or handshakes.
Shane embraced Carlie, which caught her
by surprise. She half-hugged him and then pulled back.
“I thought we had dinner plans tonight—how
come you never called?” he said with a grin.
“Where’s the rest of your rescue
detail?” said Eliza, cutting in.
“Ah, we’re it,” said Matias.
“You mean, here in the tunnels, right?”
“No, I mean we are all that is left in
the entire city—and maybe in the Southwest,” said Matias.
“What do you mean?” said Nadine. “The
entire region has been hit by this?”
“From what we’ve gathered during our
brief updates with D.C., this is global and everyone is scrambling for places
to hide. All of the major cities have been hit hard and some have even been completely
“Well, why are we waiting here then?
Take us to Air Force One,” said Phillip.
“There is no jumbo jet on the tarmac,”
said Shane. “We’ve got one helo for the bunch of you and that’s it.”
“What’s your plan, Shane?” said Carlie.
“We’re not going anywhere for a while.
There’s a haboob that just moved in over the city. Whether that will last an
hour or all day is beyond me, so we need to stay put near the helo so we can be
on our merry way when the weather clears.”
“Got it,” said Carlie. “This is the only
defensible place in the vicinity where we have been able to lay low without
running into any of those things.”
“This location is a little bit of a jog
to our LZ,” said Rory. “If we can get back to the top floor by the helo, we can
secure that stairwell enough that we should be good to go when the time comes.”
Shane set his pack down on the floor
and pulled out his laptop, scanning the images and route back. “Jesus, there
are only two groups of survivors left now and those things are massing in the
courtyard above us.”
Shane moved beside Carlie, brushing
against her arm. They stared at the surrounding architectural layout of the
“We are here—just below the pharmacy
building,” said Shane, tapping the L-shaped image on the screen. “Our helo is
here on this building. When we arrived an hour ago, there were five other
clusters of survivors spread around campus. Now there are only you guys and
these other two groups, one of which is right next door.”
“What are you thinking—see if we can rescue
them and make it up to the helo?” said Carlie.
Shane rubbed the whiskers on his chin.
“I have to try. Those creatures move like a swarm of thirsty bees. The people trapped
on campus aren’t going to last for more than a few hours. I think the storm may
have skewed the creatures’ senses long enough to have bought everyone some time
but who knows how long that’ll be the case.”
Phillip had moved behind Carlie and
Shane. “Your primary mission, Agent Colter, is to get Ms. Huntington and the
rest of us out of here.”
Shane gave half a glance over his
shoulder. “And who the hell are you again?”
“Phillip Alderman, with the Department
“So you work for the government too,
like me then, eh?”
“Yeah, well last I checked the American
people are who we both serve.”
“Protocols dictate that the president’s
daughter is priority one. Anyone else is of secondary concern.”
Shane stood up and moved up to Phillip.
“You’re right—you’re absolutely right. I will adhere to that protocol and get
her to safety. As for you, there sure as hell ain’t no protocol dictating that
you’re on that same flight. In fact, I may need another shooter to help me
rescue those other folks—you can join my team.”
Phillip stepped back, slouching his
shoulders. “I’m here only in an advisory capacity to observe Ms. Simmons.”
Shane looked back at Carlie and then
shot a hard glare at Phillip. “Ms. Simmons is one of the finest warriors I’ve
ever met and is probably the sole reason your innards aren’t painted on the
“Look, Agent Colter…” Before he could
finish a swath of dust broke free from the rafters above and floated down over
them. Shane swept his flashlight overhead and could see the floor rumbling,
followed by the sound of movement.
Shane turned and glanced back at the
laptop with wide eyes. “How did they find us so fast?” he said. They all craned
their necks up at the thunderous sound and then Rory pointed to the laptop as a
red amorphous mass of creatures poured over the hallway image directly above