“Keesler AFB this is Nairobi 308 Lima Victor bearing forty degrees, come in, over.”
“Keesler, this is Nairobi 308 Lima Victor requesting permission to land, over.”
The Sarge, who had moved up front and sat with everybody’s favorite yeti, looked back at us, “Keesler, do you read, over.”
“If they don’t read, and we can’t land, it’s going to get messy in here,” Kat said, her legs crossed.
“Think about your grandmother naked being spanked by Mickey Mouse.”
She looked down for a long three seconds, then looked at me all weird, “What,” she demanded with hear palms up.
“Did you think about what I said?”
“The grandma thing? I really kind of couldn’t think about anything else for a moment.”
“Do you still have to pee?”
“Boom.” I folded my hands together behind my head and leaned back victorious.
I looked back to Reynolds, who didn’t appear happy. He was pointing out the starboard side of the plane. Alvarez was asleep, buckled in the back. He had fallen asleep within thirty seconds of the wheels leaving the tarmac.
Kat and I moved to the right and looked out the window. The entire area was crawling with infected. Fires raged. Things wearing the skins of people shuffled about in groups, hunting
Same old. I yawned. We were screwed.
I yelled up forward, “Sarge, any luck?”
Apparently, I was either not worthy of a reply, he didn’t hear me, or he was too busy, because he didn’t say shit to me.
But he did say; “Roger that Keesler. Negative, five on board, none bitten. Reynolds, Sergeant First Class and PFC Alvarez, over. Negative Keesler, all civvies, over. Copy, Runway zero three, out.”
I looked out the window as we banked right. We were going to land here? Are you shitting me? The whole city was screwed. Half of it was on fire, and the other half absolutely crawled with them.
“Reynolds,” I yelled, “Sarge!”
He turned and looked at me from the cockpit.
“We can’t land here, it’s toast!”
“The base is secure son, and every other place we might want to land will look just the same.” He turned right the F back around, this conversation was over.
I looked at Kat, and she seemed nervous. Can’t imagine why. We came in low over the smoking city, and approached runway zero three. The chain link fence surrounding the base seemed to be up, but there were dead hands pulling on it or milling on the other side in countless places. It looked all too familiar.
As we landed, we saw several Hummers whip past us. I thought they were coming to greet us, but they kept going. When we taxied off the runway, one of those armored things, not a tank, was waiting for us, the barrel of its gigantic gun pointed forward, and mercifully away from us. A deuce and a half truck full of gun toting military types was also waiting, and they had their guns on us the moment we stepped off the plane. There were different types of clothing on the troops, but they were all some type of that military camo shit.
Reynolds opened the hatch and let down the stairs, we all followed. A little guy stepped forward and shined some weird light in each of our eyes, then yelled “CLEAR,” and the guns lowered. The kid looked twelve.
A guy who looked exactly like Captain Simmons walked up to Sergeant Reynolds, who immediately saluted. The guy returned it, and began to speak, “My name is Captain Gregg US Army. I’m to escort you to the brass for debrief and reassignment. The civilians will have to surrender their weapons and all of you will be inspected for bites immediately.”
This shit again, he wasn’t getting my guns. Nope, not happening.
An average sized guy moved to Ship and tried to take the big guy’s rifle. Ship wouldn’t give it up. “Sir I have to take your guns, I’m sorry.”
Gregg stepped up, the top of his head came to Ship’s midsection, “Sir you and your friends will need to give up your weapons.”
“I’ll vouch for them Sir,” Reynolds added quickly.
The Captain shook his head, “Doesn’t matter Sergeant, this is still a United States military base. Civilians will not run around armed.”
“Sir.” Reynolds looked at us apologetically, “Gotta give em up. Sorry guys, he’s right.”
I could see there would be no arguing with this asshole, and they had way more guns than we did, plus that armored thing with the friggin cannon. Oh man did this feel familiar, and last time we got to keep our guns, not that it did any good. What was I going to do, go all Josey Wales on their asses and get us all killed? They had us, and all my toughness fled. I reluctantly handed over my stuff, even my pack, and they took it. Ship and Kat did the same. Now we had nothing but my sharp wit to fend off a continent full of zombies.
A wiry little doctor type, complete with stethoscope jumped from the back of the deuce. Where the other kid looked like…a kid, both Gregg and this doctor looked haggard. This was getting to be a theme. Ten of the soldiers surrounded us, and we had to strip down. I had to take the bandage off my head, and the doc looked at all of my bullet wounds, the bites that didn’t look like bites, and the bite that there was no mistaking was a bite. And he glossed right the hell over it and moved on to Kat. “If you would step over here young lady. I’m sorry but you will have to remove your clothing as well.” Alvarez stiffened noticeably, (his shoulders, perv.) but he acquiesced. They moved off behind the deuce, and were back in short order. Thank all that is holy the newest bite on my back shoulder didn’t look like a bite.
After we were all checked out by either soldiers or the doc, the doc said we were clear, and we got dressed. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, the doc casually asked me when I was bitten. Every single barrel of every single gun that didn’t belong to my friends was now pointing at me. Even Gregg had his pistol out. “Weapons down, this man was obviously bitten by a living person, the bite on his leg is weeks old and healed.”
The rifles relaxed, but the eyes didn’t.
“I got in a bar fight before the plague,” I said, “Bastard bit me on the leg. I had to get shots.”
This seemed to placate the men, and Gregg holstered his weapon.
“And the scratch on your back?”
“No idea. But nothing’s gotten close to me if that’s what you’re asking.”
The Doc didn’t even look up from his clipboard, “No, no. With your hours long plane ride, you would have been seriously ill already, I was just curious.”
Reynolds and Alvarez looked all fidgety.
My next question was for the soldier, “Captain, how is it you’ve kept the infected outside the base?”
The Captain used his hand to indicate we were to get in a Humvee, “Let’s get you debriefed.”
I couldn’t help but notice a few of the soldiers boarding our plane as we got in the vehicle.
Photographs of a little girl and a little boy playing with a spotted dog sat on the Colonel’s desk immediately next to a commemorative Super Bowl XLVI Giants statue. Terrific. An effing Giants fan. I got zombies, Runners, redneck dickweeds, ancient planes, a three-letter-organization spook douche, and now the guy in charge is a Giants fan. I HATE the damn Giants. Tom effing Coughlin can suck it, and the only thing worse than a Giant, is a Giants fan.
Ship, Kat, and I were sitting in a semi-circle around the aforementioned desk, Kat having just taken five solid minutes to pee. Alvarez and Reynolds were curiously absent.
Colonel Jessup, commander of this base wasn’t even Air Force. He was regular Army. He told us that the base had accepted any elements of the military and had promoted him to officer in charge immediately upon his arrival. The Air Force Major General in charge of Keesler, along with his entire leadership staff were dead. One of the General’s staff had been bitten early on, and had turned and infected the others. When Jessup had pulled in at the head of a big convoy, the base gates had opened and he had all new worries. Now he was in charge of over three thousand troops and just as many civilian refugees from the surrounding area.
Although well-armed now, this base was only a training base, and as such had been full of trainees when the plague started. Now every single one of those Air Force trainees was a battle hardened, ground-pounding veteran. Or they were dead.
The Colonel had given up plenty of information, but still hadn’t asked a question when he noticed I was looking at his Giants knick-knack, “I was at that game. Twenty one seventeen good guys.” He smiled and leaned back in his chair.
I couldn’t help myself, I just couldn’t. Smug New York assholes had been rubbing this in us New Englanders faces since it happened. The look of smugness on this guy’s face was irrefutable, and I don’t give a rat’s flea bitten ass what he was commander of, he wasn’t getting away with it, “That game proved that it’s possible to win but be second best.”
Immediate evaporation of smirk, “A New England fan.” Not a question.
He did smile after a second, but it was all business after that. Where did we come from, how did we get away, what gear did we have, what kind of horrible was it up north? Then the kicker: had we seen anything weird or different.
I guess I had had enough of the same old God damned questions, “Weird or different? Yeah Colonel, there are dead people walking around trying to eat us.”
He smiled again, but it never touched his eyes and was as fake as the tits on a porn star. “I can see you’re tired. Perhaps we can take this up again after you’ve had some rest.”
He stood, we didn’t.
“Actually Colonel, we have some questions.”
Jessup sat back down and steepled his fingers, “Shoot.”
“We can’t, you took our damn guns, which is the first question; when do we get our gear back?
“Sir, you can understand why I can’t have you armed inside a military base. It’s protocol.”
Ship harrumphed. Big bastard actually harrumphed, and the babies who looked like guards in the room shifted nervously. “With all due respect Colonel, (I can’t even fucking begin to tell you how cool that sounds when you say it to an actual Colonel), your protocol is ridiculous. It’s obvious to you by now that we are capable. For Christ’s sake we’re alive. That should be reason enough to let us keep our guns.”
He leaned forward, which I would have thought was impossible given his initial position, “And how do I know you’re not a group of terrorists? How do I know you aren’t going to take your weapons and blow a hole in my fence, or kill some of my men?”
Shit. I didn’t think of that, and although it REALLY pains me to write it here, the man gained a small measure of respect when he said that. Still a dick though: Giants fan.
I nodded, “Fair enough. Ok, so how have you managed to keep the infected out. Everywhere else I’ve seen or been to or heard about has fallen, military bases included.”
“Quite frankly we haven’t kept them out. There have been repeated attacks on the fences, and dozens of my men have been killed both inside and outside the fence. Every now and then some infected get in regardless of how much we patrol. Your real question is why haven’t they overrun us? The answer to that is that they aren’t done with the city yet. As soon as they are, we estimate they will be on the way in force.”
“And then what,” demanded Kat.
“Then you get your guns back, and we fight them off or die. I have fifteen hundred acres of base, encircled by chain link fence. It’s not even electrified. Before the plague there were almost thirty thousand people on this base, but only about five thousand active military.” He leaned back, “Jesus, most of them were Air Force retirees and family members. Some contractors and civilian staff, but few real fighters. Now there are about six thousand people here, and of those probably only twelve hundred battle ready men and women.” He looked up, “That includes me. And you if you’re not terrorists, or undead sympathizers.”
“So basically you’re lined up to be a smorgasbord? Why don’t you get the f… uh, the hell out of Dodge?”
“So I’m supposed to evacuate six thousand people? To where? Where are we going to go? There’s no place left to retreat to, it’s all gone. No. No, we fortify and remain here or we die.”
I just realized how tired Jessup looked, and I felt like a total dick. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a Giants fan, but I could have been a little more empathetic to what he was dealing with.
I stood, and so did he. Bastard actually came around the desk and extended his hand to Kat, who shook it, and so did Ship and I. Did I like this guy? Shit.
“If you have any other questions, please ask one of my staff, and if you absolutely need to speak to me, I will do my best to comply, but please understand it might be a couple of days.”
“One more question Colonel?” He looked at me expectantly, “Where are Reynolds and Alvarez?”
He had no clue who I meant, and looked to one of the guard-kids, “Regular Army that came in with them Sir, a First Sergeant, and a PFC.”
“Ah. They will have been re-assigned by now. Captain Gregg would have put you three in the civilian barracks, but the First Sergeant and the Private will hot-bunk with whomever they can. I will see to it that you get a copy of their schedules so you can visit them off hours. Also, everyone here contributes, so you will be given duties as well, and can volunteer for certain things should you like.”
We said our thanks and left with one of the escorts. Actually I could really use an escort right about now... Brunette, five foot six, one-fifteen, sweet rack. You get the picture, but I digress.
It would be almost ten days at Keesler before bad things happened. Ten days of relative peace, with no running. The constant reminder of our adversary as it clawed at the fences was unnerving, but it was the first long stretch of time where I wasn’t absolutely terrified.
When the shit hit, it wasn’t the dead that started it, but they sure as shit finished it.