Read Forest Park: A Zombie Novel Online
Authors: Jamie Marks
THE SOUTHERN CAUCASUS
Captain Yerik Konovo placed his hands deep inside his coat pockets as he waited outside his security office and watched the rolling, white clouds slowly turn gray.
It looked like it may storm
“The sky is becoming dark, sir,” said a young conscript standing beside him.
“A shame, isn’t it? We’ve had such lovely weather of late,” Konovo answered. The conscript nodded in agreement.
The morning had started like every other winter’s day in Southern Georgia, beginning with a light frost during the pre-dawn, followed by clear blue skies at midday, then late afternoon storm clouds and rain in the evening.
Captain Konovo was a tall and slender officer on the easy side of thirty, who was considered a veteran after seeing extensive action in Chechnya. However, since those bloody days, he did his best to influence the odds in his favor in an attempt to avoid any other risky endeavors. The front line wasn’t for him. It was way too dangerous for a man who believed he was on his way to the top, and you can’t climb the ladder to the top while being six feet under, a conviction he steadfastly believed.
A young captain had to impress the correct people, be in the right places, and rely on a little luck. However, what did any of that matter when you were posted to a backwater? An adjective that effortlessly described the Batumi Russian Federation Military Complex perfectly, until the scientists arrived.
Only weeks before the 2008 border war, something secret began happening deep underground in the old laboratory complex. What that something was exactly, Captain Konovo had no idea, nor did he really care. However, for the first time in his career, he saw an opportunity, one he had only dreamed of before.
It would be his opportunity to impress the powerful people; something he believed he would excel at when given the right circumstances. Once Konovo had shown everyone that he was a great success, he expected to be promoted and transferred triumphantly home to Moscow where he, and his new wife Karina, would be the toast of the town. Such are the dreams of some men.
Now, a few years after the scientists had first arrived, the Batumi Complex was finally closing. With his future looking bright, and the Batumi Complex commander on extended sick leave, Konovo was finally in sole command. However, life was about to change for Captain Konovo, and in a way he could have never foreseen.
As he stood outside under the brewing clouds, a message had arrived from Moscow, and it told of someone who was very important and making his way down south, an FSB General, and someone who could be the catalyst to Konovo’s future.
HIGH ABOVE GEORGIA
The Antonov An72 roared across the night sky at 600kms per hour, cutting a wedge through the turbulent and swirling clouds far above its destination --- a Russian Federation controlled airfield in Southern Georgia, only thirty kilometers from the Turkish border.
The An72’s pilot leaned forward and glanced nervously from the cockpit’s small side window and into the darkened sky as the plane dipped and shuddered in the heavy turbulence and driving rain. Ignoring his uneasiness, he reconfirmed the transport planes heading once again and began to descend toward its destination.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the violent, ongoing conflict in Chechnya, many Russian Federation transport planes had paid a high price in people and busted metal while flying over the Caucasus. Most of this carnage was due to the recent introduction of the American made Stinger missile --- an infra-red homing surface to air missile, supplied by rich Saudi benefactors and secretly given to the Islamic freedom fighters of the Caucasus.
That night, on the transport plane was General Aleksandr Shapinkov, Head of the Services for the Protection of the Constitutional System and the Fight against Terrorism, a branch of the Fedaral’naya Sluzhba Bezopasosti or FSB. Shapinkov sat surrounded by his security detail, a small team that consisted of six members. They were specially trained in anti-terrorism tactics and were led by Captain Sergei Bragin. He was a brutally scarred and very violent man, who was a member of the Ortyad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniya or OMON, an organization that endorsed the maxim, ‘shoot first and ask questions later.’
During Sergei’s service with OMON, he had participated in countless anti-terrorist and anti-drug operations, most of which had been successful --- and certainly bloody. However, before joining OMON, Sergei was one of thousands of Russian conscripts who were forced to serve in Chechnya. The war changed Sergei; it haunted him, and followed him like a ghost.
As Sergei sat, his belly churned. He never could stomach flying. His feet nervously fidgeted, and his chest felt so tight he could have sw
orn he was about to have a heart attack. He never had been able to relax while flying, it just wasn’t in his bones.
“Your Bizon is no good to you now, is it?” The old general said, referring to Sergei’s weapon strapped across the captain’s chest.
Sergei chose to ignore him, and instead focused on the man sitting in front of them both.
The man in front had a large, circular, bald patch at the crown of his head and a peculiar almost abstract-shaped mole that was beginning, according to Sergei, to look like a crucifix.
If only I believed in God, I would say a prayer.
“A parachute would be a great deal more useful for this height, my friend,” the general said.
The general was attempting to get a rise out Sergei. He knew the captain hated flying.
Sergei looked at the old general and gave him a steady defiant stare, but he still couldn’t hide his obvious discomfort.
Shapinkov smiled with a bemused grin. “You know you don’t have to go through with this. It’s my problem to deal with in the end.”
The huge plane suddenly jolted as it had begun to turn in a wide arch and continue to descend, causing much of the remaining color to drain from Sergei’s face.
“I’m an old man, Sergei,” Shapinkov began. “I’ve had my family, and I’ve watched that family gradually crumble from a thousand miles away, year after year, as I worked on one scheme or another. I was never home, but I always thought I was never home for all the right reasons. How things change. I was wrong, terribly wrong.” The General paused for a moment. “I say this to you because you’ve become more than just a comrade to me, Sergei, you’ve become a friend, and as a friend, I want to offer you one last time the chance to walk away from this.”
Sergei glanced over at Shapinkov, and for what seemed the first time he noticed the general looked very tired, and worn. “Well, since we’re friends,” Sergei answered with a wry smile, “I’m not just doing this for you, Aleksandr; I won’t lie to you. I need the money; my family needs the money. With a few hours’ work, I could retire tomorrow --- I’d see my children, my wife. It would be a new life. However, those are not the only reasons why I can’t just walk away. This mission is personal to me. I hope it will close a very sad chapter of my life. During my time in Chechnya, and with OMON, I witnessed many of my comrades dying a beggar’s death in some dusty shithole in the middle of nowhere.”
Sergei reached out and touched the general’s forearm. “I don’t want the same, Aleksandr. I don’t want that for myself, my men or my children someday. So I’m not walking anywhere.” Sergei paused for an instant and then added, “Except off this damn plane when it finally lands.”
Shapinkov laughed, causing the balding man in front to turn about with a raised eyebrow, but once he saw the general’s wide shoulder boards, he quickly turned back again. “Yes! Yes, my friend, let’s get ourselves off this flying death trap, but first we’ll have a little drink.” Shapinkov reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a silver flask with the old emblem of the Soviet Union blazoned across it. “This flask was my grandfather’s,” he said with a sense of poignancy. “He used to find some solace from within during the dark days of the Great Patriotic War. How about we find a little in it for us now? It might even bring some color back into that face of yours.”
Sergei smiled as Shapinkov lifted the flask to his lips and then gulped down a large mouthful.
The general’s large hands were shaky, and Sergei wasn’t sure just how much fire the old man had left in him.
The Antonov72’s landing gear gradually lowered as the plane completed its last approach before landing. The pilot corrected the aircraft’s position, while idly chatting to the radio operator as if it were just another day at the office, which it had been.
The flight had been uneventful, except for the FSB general and his OMON security detachment being on board; otherwise, it was just another day. A few returning soldiers from leave and some long awaited snail mail delivered, and now the only thing the pilot wished for was a quick turnaround. The sooner the flight crew could make the return flight back to Moscow, the chance lessened that they might be diverted before they were homeward bound, which happened more often than not.
The gigantic wheels of the Antonov touched down with a bump, which was then quickly followed by a loud piercing screech as the brakes took effect on the dark, rain-soaked tarmac. The landing was smooth, but it still shook the inbound passengers about in their seats.
Shapinkov and Sergei’s team waited patiently while the other passengers exited the plane before they walked toward the exit. Shapinkov then ambled down the narrow mobile stairway rolled up against the plane. When he reached the base of the stairway, he paused for a moment and searched the sky. Way above him, thick rain clouds moved swiftly across the night sky like giant black waves hiding much of the moon behind a veil of black.
Waiting beside two Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty (Armoured Personal Carriers or BMP-2s) was a tall officer with a sleek frame who wore a high-peaked cap at a slight angle. As Sergei watched the man cautiously, his finger curled around the trigger of his Bizon. The officer approached them alone.
The peaked-capped man came to halt before the general and raised his hand in a sharp salute, clipping his heels in the old Soviet fashion. “Welcome to the Batumi Russian Federation Military Complex, it’s a pleasure to have you, General Shapinkov,” the young officer said. “I am Captain Yerik Konovo, Acting Commander of Leased Military District Batumi, and I’m here to help you in any way you consider necessary.”
The old general returned the salute and then shook the young officer’s now out-stretched hand firmly. “Thank you, Captain, for such a warm and wonderful welcome, but where is your commander?” The general asked, already knowing the answer.
“He is now on extended convalescent leave in Rostov-on-Don,” Konovo said.
“Well, I’m sure his absence won’t affect our visit in any way, will it?” Shapinkov said. “Now, may I introduce you to Captain Sergei Bragin, the head of my security team?”
Konovo extended his hand toward Sergei after also saluting him.
Sergei remained motionless, and after a moment or two it became plainly obvious to the now affronted Captain Konovo, that Sergei was neither going to salute, nor shake his outstretched hand.
Konovo then gave an uncomfortable and self-conscious smile to both Shapinkov and Sergei as he withdrew his hand. “Well!” Konovo said, after he thought,
What else would one expect from a hired OMON thug?
“Will everyone please make their way over to the BMPs, which have been waiting for us, and we’ll head over to the main area of the Complex, which I’ve prepared for your inspection. If that is the reason for your visit, I just wasn’t sure,” he added. “I still hadn’t received any clear conformation as to the reason of your visit here. So I’m sure you can understand that if I’m not entirely certain what the real purpose of this visit is, then how could I really be of help to you.”
“Well, that’s very unusual, Captain,” the general answered. “Perhaps your convalescing commanding officer possibly neglected to mention the reason for my visit to you? Before leaving for Rostov-on-Don, that is,” he lied, “but I’m sure that any conformation you need, will come through in due course. If not, I’ll look into the matter personally when I return to Moscow, and we’ll see where the error lies, in my office or with you directly.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Captain Konovo answered before suddenly being called away, leaving Shapinkov and Sergei alone.
“You could have shaken his hand, Captain,” Shapinkov said.
“I’ll do a lot more than that before we leave here,” Sergei replied, keeping his voice low.
“You can do whatever you like with him, but for now, let it rest,” Shapinkov answered.
As their short conversation ended, a heavy rain began to fall. The general once again looked up into the night sky as a large flash of forked lightning raced across the underbelly of the clouds, and was quickly followed by a thunderclap that echoed through the mountains surrounding them.
“We had better hurry before we get soaked,” Konovo said from a distance.