Archive for December, 2012

Trouble Will Follow

Omar had insisted I return for medical attention.  I refused.  They were all grazes, and truthfully, it was my damn ear that hurt the worst.

The last five days we were out beyond the border, the radio crackled almost constantly.  On the fifth day of this, Omar’s Commanding Officer had personally tried to reach us for several hours.  Omar and I decided we had pushed it as far as we could.  I don’t speak Punjabi, but it was obvious that the Colonel was angry as hell, of that I could be certain in any language.  I was worried for my friend.

Knowing I would likely be stripped of everything once we were found, I made two copies of my notes, and paid two separate locals to trek into town and mail them as instructed.  Having an armed Army Captain at my side gave the task an extra legitimacy, and failure an added potential consequence; this infidel may not ever find you, but the angry Indian soldier surely will.  I paid both men enough to feed their families for months to come.

When we finally headed south back into India we were met by a virtual convoy of Indian military vehicles right at the border.  It was not a welcoming committee.

I was arrested, and Omar was taken into custody as well.  Though I never saw my crusading Indian brother again, I did speak with him one time before the End came.

“I’ve been discharged from the Army, my friend.”

I was speechless.  I recall trying to apologize in some way but my throat and mouth couldn’t seem to work together at all.

“Do not trouble your mind, Joe, I beg you.  I knew perfectly well what we were doing, and that something like this could happen.”

“But your career, Omar … your family.”

“I took them to see it, Joe.”  I knew immediately what he meant.  “They cried, my friend.  Each of them; Murret, and the boys too, just like us.  There was no more talk of my decision.  They understood completely.”

“I’m glad, Omar.”

“The governments of the world are keeping this from everyone, Joe; mine, yours, all of them.  Get it out to the people.  You have to tell them that they are in terrible danger, and that they must make their governments be accountable. Do this, Joe.”

“I will, Omar.  I promise.”

How I wish I could’ve kept it.

After 48 hours in lockdown at some obscure facility, I was escorted on a plane, and sent home without a meal or a bath.

My reception stateside was only a little better.

I was “questioned”—aka, interrogated—by a member of every United States acronym ever created.  For three straight days I was “debriefed.”  The subtlety with which I was warned not to publish anything concerning that which was never directly mentioned was unnerving.

Like sitting in front of a big, shiny red button, and having some scary-as-hell NSA spook say, “You need to understand, Mr. Jacobs, what I mean when I say ‘National Security.’  Two words bigger than any man, or any family for that matter … yours included.  Words to be feared, Mr. Jacobs; feared more than any, save two: God, and Damnation, but still running a close second.  Do you understand me, Mr. Jacobs?”  And before I could answer, “So if you find yourself with a tingle in your brain—just a little tingle—that might be the conception of a thought to tell your hand to reach out and do something it shouldn’t,” Meaning press the button. “think of your family, Mr. Jacobs, and think of those two words; ‘National Security.’”  Then he walks out.

In short I was just told that if I threatened National Security I, and even my family would be at severe risk.  What exactly would be a threat to said National Security was left wide open.  Don’t touch the button.  Yup, got that.  But don’t even think about touching the button, or touching anything-fucking-else while you’re at it.

It’s hard to translate, but it left more shaken than the Mujahidin attack.

Once I got some food and sleep, I found I had two words for them as well; Fuck, and You.

But still, all in all, it was a cake walk compared to coming home and facing Peggy.  I had some vain hope that with a passionate oration of my experiences she would fall right in line and praise me, as Murret had Omar in the end.

Nope.

I had promised to be home by Christmas, by God, and I had not even left India until the 11th of January.  I walked through my front door, eight pounds lighter, and eight years wearier at 9:16 ET, on the 16th of January, 2013.  Only about 24 days late.

At home, as I attempted an apology, I was quickly served more threatening words; three in fact:

“Don’t you dare…”

It hit something hard in side of me, and threw off a spark which sailed into the dry tinder that was my weary, threadbare soul, and it only took a few moments of quiet smoldering to burst into flames.

I let Peggy have it; both barrels.  All my anger at who had done this, who was hiding it, the nameless “company men,” and their “two words,” all of it I just blasted into Peggy.  She wasn’t my loving wife who I cherished and respected above all others, or my dear, darling Peggy who had laid on the lawn at Columbia University and stared at the clouds and dreamed of a life we’d come to make together, not anymore … not in those few cruel, and forever regrettable moments.  No, she was the Ugly American who willfully turned her back on the world in need, whose shattered Christmas was more important than 19 million murdered souls.

The shame I carry to this day…

I don’t want to go to Hell, that “G-Man” was right about God and Damnation, but if offered, I will refuse Heaven.

Oh God, had I only known … had I only thought for just a single moment, What if this is the last thing you ever say to her?

Every zombie I have put down in my fight for survival has two faces.  One of them, something deep down welcomes.

I slept in the basement, and did what I do; worked manically and medicated with Scotch and an occasional beer.  I snuck upstairs to get food when I’d hear her leave.  We’d been as ugly as two people can be to each other without violence, the great crime being that we loved each other so.

I spent weeks compiling my notes and writing my report.  I felt it was strong and showed significant evidence to warrant an international media investigation that would really put the pressure on Big Brother; all the “Little Brothers” around the globe.

My Network didn’t agree.  My report, comprised of hundreds and hundreds of man-hours of work, and for which I had sacrificed a piece of my ear, and nearly my life, was shelved.

Outraged, I protested.  Then I was shelved; given an “indefinite leave of absence.”

I had touched a raw nerve, and the shock went all the way up to the very top.  I couldn’t be the only reporter on the entire planet working this thread, and if not, then that mean that each and every one, whoever they were, had also been shut down.

God, it was scary.

In my report I speculated that if indeed one or more non-allied countries had possession of the “Zombie Plague Pathogen” (designated, I later learned, RAV-3075 by the CDC), then mathematically, the chances of another outbreak was about 107:1.  Moderate, but still in the probable zone, and again, we are talking about the probable loss of tens of millions.  If an enemy country had possession; say, a right-wing zealot-driven Islamic country, or—God forbid!—an independent jihadist sect, then the factors increased drastically to the tune of a 5:1 likelihood in the next year, and according to my paradigm, became an absolute certainty within just five short years.

I researched property in remote regions of the U.S.  I engrossed myself in survival tactics, hunting, and wilderness skills.  Only academically, of course, but still with great fervor.  I began purchasing firearms and ammunition, and hoarding water, non-perishable food, and supplies.

Peggy and I hadn’t spoken in weeks.  She was too damned angry, and I was too damned ashamed.  She heard me early one morning unloading yet another mysterious cargo in the basement, and finally came down the stairs to investigate.

The maze of munitions and MREs, Guns and gear, everything imaginable, nearly made her faint.  She was literally speechless.  I looked about too, and realized that I had stocked my entire 1,250 sq. foot basement to the ceiling for the coming Zombie Apocalypse, and could only guess how crazy I looked down there, all sweaty and dust covered in my army surplus BDU pants and boots.  I was just trying to get used to them.

Peggy just shook her head.  Her eyes wandered over the stacks upon stacks of miscellaneous gear, her mouth hung open and her head just shook left-to-right real slow, as she began to form an image, a judgment about the state of her husband’s mental health.

I moved quickly to cut her off at the pass.

I snatched up my real estate brochures from Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and beyond, and handed them to her and told her how we’ll have a beautiful place in the mountains somewhere.  Then I told her how safe we’d be, as I handed her the brochures for military-style bunkers and bomb shelters, and the DIY variety as well explaining how we could all pitch-in and build one as a family.

She shook her head some more, now looking at me, eyes tearful.

I assured her that she would see the dangers of staying—I’d show her—and she’d come to understand it’s the only smart thing to do to protect the family.  She was just afraid of change, and that was understandable.  Yes, it was sudden, but that’s how disasters happen; suddenly, but we’d be prepared and safe.  Because It was going to happen, and we just couldn’t be in population when it does.

“We have to take to the high ground, honey.”  I declared, pointing North.  I am certain that statement is the one that broke her.

Peggy left the basement without a word, and took Kyle that morning to her Parents’ in Richmond.

The last words I ever received from my sweet Peggy were hastily scrawled on a bumblebee post-it note from the refrigerator, and left on the coffee table for me to find:

I’ll come home when you come to your senses.  Your family needs you, Joe! -Peg

I couldn’t have agreed more.  My family did need me, and I was undeterred.  The Goddamned Zombie Apocalypse was coming, and it seemed like only I knew it.

I boarded a plane for North Dakota the morning after Peg left me.  That was February 16th, 2013.

It happened while I was in the air, bouncing about in my third plane of the trip—a Beechcraft Kingair twin engine turbo prop eight-seater loaded with my survival gear—and riding out some hellacious chop.

Sometime around 3:30 that afternoon, while I was taking a bruising ride through the white skies of North Dakota, life on earth changed irrevocably, as the Zombie Plague, RAV-3075, was released across the Western world.

All I cared about, as I road unknowing in that plane as the fate of billions was being decided, was the lumbar damage I was sure I was sustaining to the small of my back.  Was I on a plane or in a fucking rodeo?

I was indescribably relieved when we finally landed on what I can only assume was a runway; all I saw was white blanketing everything.

Max Krager, my guide and real estate agent, was there to greet me when I disembarked.  The wind hit my face like a thousand microscopic daggers.  God almighty, it was cold!

Of course there were pictures of Max on his website, and so forth, and from looking at them it was obvious that he was a big man.  No… Max Krager was not a big man.  He was an enormous man.  Mountain Man Max, or Man-Mountain Max as I liked to call him, stood 6’7” tall and weighed in, I’d guess, at 300 lbs of mountain man muscle.  His full bearskin coat—yes he killed it and skinned it—and thick beard made him look like a giant.  But the man had a look in his eye that made you smile and like him right away.  I read a lot of good things about Max Krager that convinced me to see him first.  My first impression did not disappoint one bit.

We made introductions and then got my gear loaded into his big crazy 4×4 snow truck.  No, not a pick-up truck.  This was like a large SUV with four huge independent snowmobile-like treads instead of wheels.  It was really cool.  It sure as hell sounded like a monster truck though; big 740 hp turbo diesel.  Awesome machine.

After only 10 minutes of chucking my gear I was becoming increasingly convinced I already had frostbite.  Even Max seemed to be feeling the bite of the oncoming winter, though without complaint of course.

He noticed my shivers immediately.

“Jump on in the truck, Mr. Jacobs.  I’ll finished up.”

“N-n-no, I’m f-f-fine.”

“You’ve been out here longer than any of them boys expected.”  He gestured to the single building that, combined with a runway somewhere under the snow, made this an airport.  I could see several people watching through the frosted glass.

“Yeah, w-w-well let’s really sh-shake ‘em up and h-h-have a snow b-b-ball fight.”

Max grunted a laugh.  Then leaned in close—God, he was huge!  “Do you remember reading the part where it says as your guide I give instructions and you follow them?”

Oops…  I nodded shivering.

“This is one of those times, Mr. Jacobs.” He pointed at the truck dramatically.  At first I was put off by it, then I realized he was doing it for me … so I could save face; making it obvious to the gawkers that he was ordering me into the truck.  I wanted to hug the man, I tell you, because I was cold like I don’t remember when.

Max finished loading then climbed in.

“You sure got yourself worked up on this property.  If I thought I could avoid offense, I call ya a damn fool for coming up here in the winter months, Mr. Jacobs.”

“I would take no offense if you did, Max, because I am most certainly a damn crazy fool.  I had forgotten what cold really was.”

“It does remind you real fast up here.”

“Yes indeed.  And please call me Joe.”

“Sure thing, Joe.”

He threw the snow-truck in gear, and off we went over the rolling drifts; no road needed, thank you.

Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Dallas, Detroit, and Washington D.C. were some of the first to get hit with the plague.  Quickly other major cities were to follow, and it just moved on inland, as if multiple persons of unimaginable evil were simply driving down the interstates from coast to coast and tossing out contagion by the handful in every city along the way.

All that preparation I did, and I didn’t even know it was happening, and wouldn’t for days, as Max and I got snowed in, and the shortwave radio was out as well.  The world changed forever, and we were, for the time being anyway, totally oblivious.

Max and I had a good time up at that cabin.  He was what I wanted to be; a man who prepared for everything.  We could’ve been snowed in for two months and done just fine.

We chatted away that first evening as the snow came down outside by the ton.  It’s get dark very early in the day during the winter months up there, and Max brought some Scotch; his preferred libation, he said.

I dug my 25 year old Glenmorangie from out of the depths of one of my bags, and revealed that we already had something important and fundamental in common.

We had a taste and settled back.  The fire was great.  The feel of the rustic cabin—very large rustic cabin!—was just what the soul wanted up here.  Any other type of dwelling would be out of place, it seemed.

Max broke the silence of my revelry.

“Tell me something, Joe, you’ve travelled the world and seen things all over—what makes you want to pack it all up and plant yourself up here?”

I had no desire to breach the subject of my growing zombie hysteria.

“It’s like you said, Max, I’ve seen the crazy world.  Now I’d just like some peace.”

He eyed me from under those thick, bushy brows.

“How about you wife, Peggy, and your boy; are they ready for this?”

“They’ll come around.” I answered lamely, and took a healthy gulp form my glass.

“I like ya, Joe—and I mean that—I don’t much like the city-types who come around here, but you I do like you, so I’m gonna talk straight to ya…”

He paused, waiting for my “go ahead” I presumed.  “Let’s hear it.”

“You don’t have the air of an ignorant man.  I’m guessing it’s because ya covered the news all over the world, and experienced a lot doing it, but you do have a desperate look about ya, Joe, like you can’t wait to run the hell away from something.”

“You might very well be on to something there, Max.”

“Might nothing.  I can see it as plain as a redtail deer against a snow drift.”

“Or a deer in the headlights.”

“That’s you alright.”

We had a good laugh at that.

“Well, whatever ya got on your tail, it’s gonna follow ya, even way up here.  It’s just the nature of things.”

“Not this one, Max m’man.  Not to this place.”

“Oh, it may not be the same vehicle—troubles take many forms—but trouble will find a way back to you.  Always does.”

“You’re losing me, Max … ‘same vehicle?’”

“Troubles are like a plague,” That got my attention. “You never know what or who is going to bring it to you.  But until the basic fundamental trouble is eliminated, there will always be a carrier for it, bringing it right to your doorstep.”

“What if this trouble can’t make it here—I mean, physically can’t make it here?”

“Like I said, it can take many forms; mutate like them plagues.”

“I can tell you have a point that you’re itching to make, Max, so why don’t you make it.”

“If I’m overstepping..?”

“No, I just don’t like talking about plagues.”

“Who does? The scary thing about them is how sudden they come and that no one ever knows from where.  Same with troubles.  What I’m saying, Joe, is that you can run from whatever you like, and it may not be able to make it up here.  But it’ll find a form that will, one you may even bring yourself—that of your wife’s unhappiness, or your son’s, or both.”

He took a swig of his Scotch.  I remained silent, and got more curious about this mountain man every minute.

“Ya see?  It looks like your wife’s lonely, isolated, and unhappy, but that’s just another form of the same trouble that you running from brought to you.  It’s all the same.  In a desperate attempt to find peace in this crazy world, you do just the opposite; bring discord into your family.”

I had to admit that it made a crazy sense, though looking those issues square in the face had not been on my agenda for this trip.

“What about you, Max?  You dissect me, and talk like you know exactly what you’re saying.”

“I do, Joe … I do.  I wasn’t born in these mountains.”

We drank to that, and I ruminated over the shitty choice that was no choice at all.  I had to get Peggy and Kyle somewhere safe.  The only way I’d ever be vindicated or forgiven is if an outbreak really happened, but that’s the last thing I would ever hope for.  The impossibility of my predicament became painfully clearer.

“I had a look at your rifles.  They’re no different than any of your other gear—it’s all brand-spanking new.  At this, you are brand-spanking new.  What did you do, read a few books?  Watch some YouTube how-to videos?  Go to a Bass Pro-Shops seminar?”

I waved off his query feeling somewhat belittled, and poured myself another drink.  Max gulped his down and followed suit.

I was feeling pretty buzzed, and I guessed that Max probably was too, and I began thinking that this isn’t the direction I want this conversation to go between two drunk strangers locked in a cabin.

“I’m not insulting ya, Joe, I can tell you’re hell-bent serious; ya mean to move up here.  What I’m doing, Joe, is asking ya, man-to-man, what the hell happen to ya?”

God I wanted to tell him.  I just wanted a sympathetic ear to unload the unbearable weight.  But a man like Max, grounded in the practical, living up here in this isolated wilderness of simple, straight-forward, life-or-death dangers, what would he think?  I didn’t think I could handle ridicule at this time.

I looked Max in the eyes while I finished my third Scotch, and decided that I didn’t believe Max was the kind of man that would ridicule another for speaking his honest truth.

“I am certain that the disease that broke out in India last year is going to happen again—here, on US soil—and I want to be as far from civilization as I can get.  You’re free to laugh.”

Max didn’t laugh.  He regarded me again in his intense way, but this time it seemed with further scrutiny.  He took down most of his glass in a single swallow.

“What makes you so sure?”

“I went there—to India—infected civilians crossed the borders of Pakistan and China, but are unaccounted for.  I built a program to estimate if and when it could happen again.”

“And?”

I followed Max’s lead and downed my Scotch.  “It’s only a matter of time.”

Max nodded.  “The we better get you situated so we can get your family up here safe.”  And just like that, Max became my new best friend.

 

There is more of this chapter to come…

SACRED is Thy Duty

I was thankful when the helicopter finally banked away and I could no longer see the scene below.  I felt sick, not nauseous, but emotionally … utterly heartbroken.

I heard someone yell over the din of the chopper, “Is the President safe?” I remember thinking, What a ridiculous questionWe’re on a helicopter with the President’s Seal … of course the President was safe.

At the time I really wanted to know who asked such an asinine question and really let them have it. Funny, the things you feel and remember so well at such times.

We descended at Andrews Air Force Base, and there, impressive as always, was Air Force One. Our helicopter landed about 500 feet away. Before we even touched down military jeeps were hurried over to be at the ready.

We were helped off the helicopter and into the jeeps and rushed over to the hangar next to Air Force One. There we joined a small group of waiting people who appeared to be assistants, secretaries and aides. We were offered a variety of refreshments.

I thought I would fall to the floor from shock, or hysterical laughter when I saw the tables covered neatly with red, white and blue table cloths and littered with every kind of hors d’oeuvre and snack imaginable.  The paper plates had the President’s Seal.  The forks were red, the knives were white, and the spoons were blue.

But then again, it was the President’s plane waiting just outside this hangar, and I guess it isn’t all that surprising that for the President and his guests, even through Armageddon, there will always be hors d’oeuvres and refreshments.

I knew I must be hungry if my head was going places like that, and I felt that eating because I was hungry was the normal thing to do, and so I should eat.

I realized that no one was gathered around the tables of food. Everyone was huddled somewhat close together looking anxiously at the President’s plane. I thought they should all probably eat too. 

Well, I thought, I’ll lead them by example.  Then on second thought; No, I’ll just lead them.

They looked miserable and I felt someone should do something. I was a Congresswoman after all.

“Everyone … everyone, may I have your attention please?”

The group of huddled penguins slowly turned.

“I am Congresswoman Cynthia Lovewell, and I am very aware that this is been an afternoon of shock, and for some of us horror, but it’s not over, and may not be over anytime soon, and if most of you, like myself, take a lunch on or about noon, then we are all way past our snack time. It could be quite a while before we get a chance to eat again. The excellent serviceman of Andrews Air Force Base has seen to it to provide this assortment of food for us. I know you may not have an appetite, but that’s only in your head. It’s late my friends; I assure each and every one of you that your body is hungry. So I want you all to come over and get something to eat. Come on over and find something whether you want to eat or not. Come on, let’s get something in your bellies.”

I began to shoo them over insistently.

Eventually every one of those people came to the table and grazed if only for a short while. I myself put two little half sandwiches on my President’s Seal paper plate, and was contemplating fruit salad when something caught my eye.

I looked up to see the President of the United States standing in the open door of his plane speaking to a Secret Service man and pointing my way.

No.  No way. The President is not pointing at me.

He waved me over. I couldn’t believe it.

Like a commandment to the hypnotized I immediately walked to the stairs of Air Force One. I ascended to stand before the President of the United States of America for the first time. He was very tall.

“Congresswoman Lovewell, will you please come inside?”

He knows my name?

“Of course, Mr. President. Thank you.”

The President of the Free World led me to a large comfortable chair and gestured that I sit, and so I did. He sat down across from me, crossed his legs, rested his right elbow on the arm of the chair, and then set his chin in the crook of his thumb with his forefinger extended along his sharp cheekbone.

This was, I assumed, his customary posture for such occasions.

The President regarded me a moment.

“I saw what you did out there Congresswoman. You weren’t really concerned with whether those folks were hungry were you?”

“Only a little Mr. President.”

“Tell me why you did it then.”

“I looked at them and I saw bunnies, scared bunnies, and I

thought they needed to be given something to do, and were probably hungry too, even if they didn’t know it.”

The President gave a nod that said, That’s what I thought.

“I want you on my crisis staff Congresswoman Lovewell. I need someone like yourself who can make the right decisions in difficult times; simple, practical decisions. Are you willing to help me?”

“Of course Mr. President. Anything to help.”

The President stood, patted me on the shoulder and said, “Excellent.” and then sauntered off.

I remained in that big comfy chair flabbergasted that on the same day a viral infection was released across my country killing unknown thousands, I was offered a promotion by the President himself to serve as a special staff member. It was unreal.

I think that’s why I fainted.  It was that, or from the unbelievable embarrassment I felt as I realized that the whole time I had been talking to the President—The President!—I had been carrying around my paper plate and my two little pathetic cold cut sandwiches.

When I awoke I was alone. Someone had taken my sandwiches away. I could hear voices further upfront. I could hear the President’s deep and resonant voice above all.

I got up and headed that direction. A Secret Service man gestured for me to enter the room where the President, the remaining Joint Chiefs, and about fifteen White House advisers and a few other members of Congress were deliberating.

TV screens showed the progressive expansion of the epidemic.

The President gestured for me to enter and sit. He introduced me as his Special Adviser on Civilian Requirements and Deficiencies. Nobody asked for my credentials.

We took a few more rescued members of government on board and since we had room we took on the remainder of the aides and secretaries that were waiting in the hangar. Then Air Force One taxied and took flight.

At one point I was very politely but directly excused from the meeting for matters of discussion above my pay grade, so to speak. I took a notebook out with me, sat down and thought of what a Special Adviser on Civilian Requirements and Deficiencies does.

I wrote SACRD on the page.

I looked at it a moment, then below it I wrote SACRED.

I nibbled on the end of my pen for a moment then began writing.

I was startled as a stack of folders were set on the table in front of me. I looked up to see the President looking down.

“Go over these, Congresswoman. Make a projection as to the disposition of the ‘scared bunnies’ we will be dealing with and give me a recommendation as to how we get them to ‘go to the table to eat.’ What do we need, and what are we lacking? Can you do that for me?”

“Yes sir. I can.”

“Excellent.” He patted me on the shoulder again as he left. Then he stopped mid stride, and gestured to my note book.

“May I?”

“Of course, Mr. President.” I handed him my notebook feeling insecure.

The President pulled a beautiful fountain pen from the breast pocket of his shirt, made some scribbles, then returned my notebook.

The only changed was: SACREDHe has highlighted all the letters except “E.”

He tapped it with his pen.

“I like that. To care and provide is our sacred duty.”

I began to write that at the top of the page. My pen died at “provide”.

An advisor without a pen? Embarrassed, and unsure why I was, I made large swirls on the corner of the paper trying to bring my cheap ballpoint back to life.

The President hooked his fountain pen over the top of my notebook then strode away.

It was beautiful. Hand painted with brilliant lacquers; deep lapis blue with a pink and orange Koi fish swimming past a startlingly green lily pad, and every detail outlined with a thin highlight of gold. It was a work of art.

It is with that very pen that I now write this chronicle.

For the next number of hours we circled lazily above Washington DC, escorted always by four F-16s. I worked on my recommendations. Every half-hour or so an update was dropped on the table that had become my desk.

I learned a lot on that flight, a lot indeed.

The reports were staggering. It became obvious why India felt its only recourse was thermo-nuclear detonations. These infected people were, for all intents and purposes, and by all accounts, zombies. Dead people were coming to life and attacking living people. They were difficult to stop because they were already dead. Reports said some of the zombies were faster and stronger than live humans. I found that a terrifying prospect.

The United States was not the only victim. All across the Western Hemisphere capitals, large cities, hubs of commerce and industry were all willfully attacked by subversive extremists who, with malice and intent, released the zombie plague upon the world.

Asia, more or less, had been left untouched. That didn’t last.

Across Russia and in northeastern China the plague sprang up days later. Of all major industrial countries Japan held out the longest. They made their island a fortress. It was months before the first infection hit there. But with their dense population, small landmass, and fortress mentality Japan was wiped out almost overnight.

The so-called zombies were not cannibals exclusively. Reports confirmed they would chase down and consume anything but their own kind. There were reports of zombies eating packaged meat. Why they do not turn their voracious appetites on each other is a matter of much speculation since they will eat the dead flesh of anything else they find.

I heard mention several times regarding the Centers for Disease Control doing studies on the pathology of the alleged virus. The details I was not privy to. All I know for certain is that Atlanta is now a big red circle on the map, though apparently the President and his staff are still in contact with the CDC.

Air Force One banked sharply. I had almost forgotten we were flying, so accustomed I had become to the lazy circles we had to be doing over DC.  A Secret Service agent informed me that we have been diverted because Andrews cannot support Air Force One’s need for air cover. The Base was on the verge of being overrun.

Air Force One now had a full squadron of F-16s that had been scrambled in a panic before the zombies overran the base. I could see the fighter jets out the window. We and the “little birds” topped-off our fuel via air-to-air tanker and were now looking for a secure airfield to continue operations from. Not that I thought I could be of service, but because I was curious, I open the map and marked “X” where we had strategic Air Force bases and then I drew circles representing the current areas of infection, then I drew a second larger circle around each of those projecting at a current rate of expansion where the infection would be 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, and then one week.

According to my circles, we were in a heap of trouble; in 3-7 days we would have no secure ground bases. I was sure that the President and his staff were looking at their own red circles and thinking the same thing.

The situation was, however, far worse than anyone knew.

Within hours after the first signs of infection in the primary target cities, outbreaks began in cities and towns inland such as Phoenix, Richmond, Pittsburg, Indianapolis, Portland, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Boise, San Francisco, Reno … and the list kept growing.

By the 18th hour I received a report of a severe outbreak in Oklahoma City that was quickly surging outward, and I realized my thinking had been incorrect in regards to rural areas.

Oklahoma City has a vast and heavily populated urban center—1.3 million in the metro area—and the wave that surges from its epicenter will have nothing to stop it or slow it down. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of zombies will descend into the sparsely populated country farmlands like my sisters ranch. The cattle ranches will draw the infected en masse. I have to have faith that Sean will stay and he and Eric will take care of them all.

I can’t think about that now! was my constant mantra.

With the loss of Oklahoma City, Tinker AFB, was no longer an option. When I was summoned to offer my recommendation the word was our current destination now was Whitman Air Force Base outside Kansas City. Whitman was a secondary choice because they had no F-16s only T-38 pilot training craft.

Our F-16s were “BINGO” fuel, which I learned was near empty. Air Force One could stay aloft another eight hours, but the “little birds” would have to set down soon whether the landing site was compromised or not. If we couldn’t get the fighters fueled, Air Force One would be flying during a state of National Emergency with no escort whatsoever.

The meeting was interrupted with the news that Kansas City was compromised with an outbreak. Whitman was about forty miles from K.C., that gave us two and a half hours at the infected maximum rate of speed. The call was made to go for Whitman to refuel the fighters, and if possible, AF-1.

As we approached, I became painfully aware of how close my family was. Hundreds of miles away of course, but on a map, they were just “right there!”

We began our circling pattern. Whitman radioed they were prepped to receive and refuel AF-1 should we choose to land her. They reported that infected were indeed closing on the base, though still many miles off.

The President ordered the fighters to get down on the deck and get topped off since we were far from BINGO fuel; at this point about 3/4 empty.

The pilots refused the direct order though they were flying on fumes. The President rescinded, and AF-1 began her descent. It seemed to take forever. AF-1 is an amazing plane but still it is an enormous aircraft. It takes a while to land and take off when you’re over 600,000 pounds.

Once we were taxied in and secure, the Whitman servicemen went to work to get the Boeing 747 refueled. It would be a process apparently, because they were neither trained nor equipped for the operation. Many of the 26 crew members of AF-1 pitched in to get it done.

The F-16s started coming in right after we were settled.

I followed a number of people off the plane to stretch my legs and take in some fresh air, with the polite but stern command from our Secret Service detail, “Not out of my sight, please.”

I wasn’t going anywhere. It was nearly three in the morning and I was exhausted.

As I ascended the steps to AF-1, I noticed that the airmen trying to refuel the plane were having some kind of trouble with their equipment. I didn’t give it much thought. I went inside, flopped into one of those big comfy chairs and was instantly asleep.

I awoke from my catnap to the President’s deep voice.

“So what does that mean, Colonel, in minutes or hours?”

“Another sixty to ninety minutes to finish refueling, at best…”

“So two hours. Go on.”

“At the hostile’s current rate of approach we have maybe ninety minutes.”

“So one hour or less. Goddamn that’s wonderful.” He headed back to the situation room. The base Colonel followed, and I followed the Colonel.

“Get me that Lt. Colonel who’s leading our escort up there on the horn. Put it on speaker.” The President calmly ordered.

The pilot came over the speaker.

“Fireball One copies, Big Bird. Over.”

“Colonel, this is the President. Good to speak with you again.”

“Roger that, Sir. What can I do for you, Mr. President?”

“We’re having some refueling difficulties down here, and we have hostile infected approaching.”

“Correct, sir. We have been monitoring on IR.”

“I need you and your boys to buy us some time. Can you do that?”

“Yes, sir. We will do what we can. Fireball One. Out.”

A few minutes later the sky lit up a brilliant orange. It was followed a second later by a muffled “WHUMF”. This repeated eight times. We all were excited and feeling that we’d have plenty of time now. Then the light show ended.

The Colonels fighters weren’t armed for air to ground anti-personnel attacks. They blew hundreds of the infected to pieces, but there were thousands coming. They did buy us time, but minutes only.

Then we got the bad news.

AF-1’s communications officer, Captain Wendell, hurried into the meeting room. He whispered to the General who then whispered to the President.

“Time, Captain?” The President asked Wendell.

“None, Mr. President.”

The President sat back and crossed his legs, rested his right elbow on the arm of the chair, and set his chin in the crook of his right thumb. This, I learned, was his customary posture for any occasion.

Tell those boys to abort fueling and button us up. Give the order for the evacuation of the base. Let’s get in the air while we can.”

His calm was uncanny.

When Capt. Wendell said “none” in regards to the time we had he was completely accurate. Zombies were storming the airfield as we taxied out. We had to stop because there were so many of them and, it was explained, the intake of the enormous Boeing engines would suck them right in and that would be the end of our flight plans.  So we all watched them through the port windows from twenty feet up as they came from the east; our first look at zombies.

Taken individually they didn’t seem so fearsome; just sick crazy people. But then the main mob came, and seeing them move together like a pack spread out across the airfield … that was frightening. Some aide exclaimed what we all felt.

“Good Lord, there are thousands of them!”

There were murmurs of agreement but no real conversing on the matter; no one felt like talking. Then, not unlike the mob, we all moved as one to the starboard side of AF-1 and watched as the wave of infected swept through the airfield. All of us except the President, that is. He sat in his chair, his face gravely concerned.

Gunfire erupted beyond our point of view. It went on for several minutes then was silenced.

Just like that it was over. We all took our seats and buckled up as Air Force One revved up her jet-turbine engines. Then 227,000 pounds of thrust sped us down the runway and into flight.

We took to the air at 7:45am Washington DC time. I learned that we didn’t get any fuel into Air Force One at Whitman. The attachment for the nozzle that locks into the fuselage was faulty and would not connect properly and therefore we were down to less than a quarter of our fuel and had just burned a lot taking off again. Estimates were conservatively at three and a half to four hours max flight time remaining.

Four hours goes by very quickly when you’re busy trying to figure out how to save the President of the United States, and yourself too. There was no place Air Force One could land and refuel that was not already compromised. So the next best thing was to find somewhere uncompromised to land regardless of refueling. Our little bird escorts were once again flying on fumes.

There were Air Force bases and city airports in rural areas of Montana and North Dakota that would be perfect in a different season, but at that latitude this time of year those options could be unavailable to us. Unmanned runways in the winter north would be impossible to land on.  It was decided though that we would give Minot AFB, in central North Dakota, a try.  It was a strategic bomber base and could accommodate AF-1 comfortably.

Less than five miles out, and already beginning our descent, the Pilots were informed that somehow, beyond all poor luck or possibility, an outbreak had occurred within the enormous base.

“An attack, Mr. President,” the General said. “Planned in detail and willfully executed.  It’s too perfect, too strategic.”  He went to the map and reviewed the progression of the outbreaks inland; always near a major military base.  You could see the timing of the events in the progression, and almost imagine Them formulating their pan, of which, I can only describe as Pure Evil.

So Minot was scrapped and we searched for another improbable option.

The Boeing engines roared as power was increased, and we banked back up to get above the weather.  Many of us stared out the windows and watched the snow-covered earth—our lost sanctuary—vanish beneath the shroud of clouds, and with it vanished much of our hope.  Only the President remain outwardly unshaken by our declining fortunes.

We had another problem as well; we were limited in choices by length of runway. A 747 requires minimum of 9,000 feet for absolute safety. The pilots of Air Force One apparently could land her with only 6,000 feet; 5,500 if the point was really forced.

It was decided that we would try for Perryton-Ochiltree County Airport in the Panhandle of Texas; a random little airport that no one had ever heard of before. Regardless of its anonymity, it had a 6,000 foot long runway.  We were all excited.  Then we learned that the width was only six feet wider than AF-1’s wheelbase—six feet for 600,000 pounds at over a hundred miles an hour in a crosswind.

Faces were pale.

The President stood and went to the cockpit.  Someone said that that was a first.  He returned with what appeared to be an honest grin of good humor.  Then he chuckled and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Captain Douglas had this to say regarding the rather narrow runway; ‘Plenty.’ I am inclined to bet on that kind of confidence.”

I could hear the collective sigh throughout the aircraft

harmonize with my own.  Then I realized what he’d done.

I don’t know why I didn’t second guess myself—if I had, I would’ve never done it—but I didn’t, and so I waltzed on over and helped myself to the seat at the President’s right, leaned over, and whispered, “Scared bunnies again?”

He smiled and offered an acknowledging nod.

I felt something indescribable.  I had just shared a private moment with the President of the United States, just me and him; the most powerful man of the most powerful country of the entire world. Well, as was anyway.

I know it sound goofy, like some kind of star struck schoolgirl crush, but it wasn’t anything like that at all.  You can’t understand until you’re in the same room with that kind of man, that kind of power.

I sat back and took in the view from the President’s end of the Joint Chiefs table.

A tap on my left shoulder snapped me back to reality.

The President gestured to my right. “I believe you have usurped the General’s chair, Congresswoman.”

I looked up to my right to find a none-to-please General Booker frowning down at me.

All at once I realized what I had done; what a terrible breach of protocol I had committed.

I apologized emphatically, and humbly slinked away determined to not show my face in that room for the foreseeable future.

It’s a fond memory.  I will have it forever I hope.

Well, according to the President, the Pilots said they could get us down safe. The airport was isolated and the surrounding area thus far had given no specific reports of overwhelming infection. The President gave the thumbs-up, and we started our approach.

The F-16s did a flyby on the airport at 6:41 on the evening of the 17th. As far as they could tell there were no hostiles anywhere near the area.

As we made our approach Captain Douglas made it perfectly clear that until we came to a stop it was his aircraft and he was in command. We were all to remain seated, buckled tightly in, and prepare for a crash landing.

As it was, those men in the cockpit of Air Force One showed why they had been promoted to their positions, and they certainly earned their reputations that day. The landing was rough but we all came through.

The Secret Service agents and others that including some ex-military and bodyguard detail personnel armed themselves and left the aircraft. We all watched anxiously out the windows as these fourteen men and six women, headed back down the runway towards the main airport structures.

No one had come out to greet us.  Air Force One had just landed at their airport—an event rarer than a UFO encounter, or winning the lottery—and not a single soul had shown their face. It was very quiet. Unnaturally quiet.

Radio reports came back all clear, no hostiles, no one. We all breathed a sigh of relief

So we had landed safely; ended one journey at the beginning of another. We were in the middle the Texas Panhandle, a region surrounded by legions of infected zombies, with the President of the United States, and perhaps all that remained of our government, and we had no resources other than what was on board the modified 747 on BINGO fuel.

 

Next: Mountain Man Max

The Devil’s Petri Dish

PROPERTY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AND THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

TOP SECRET:
The following transcriptions are the mission logs transmitted by Major Jamal Ali Hassad; code name: Juliet-six, special operative to the DOD/NSA Joint Special Operations Command headed by Brigadier General Thomas Sullivan, U.S. Army; code name: Overlord.
The transmission containing all the following logs was received November 25th, 2012 at 0214 Zulu.

(for definitions of military jargon and acronyms, move mouse over darker word)
——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–
(transcription continued…)



Juliet-six, mission log.
11-20-12, 1130 Zulu, 0600 local
Storm has finally passed. After inspecting my equipment, I have a significant amount damaged. I’ve destroyed and abandoned what I can’t repair. I have also suffered some physical damage from exposure. I am going after my targets to re-acquire.

I’m starting to understand why the shrinks in the psych-department recommend personal logs to deep solo operatives. I am definitely feeling the ragged edge right now.  The mission feels personal so I am combining my logs.

I had to remove two of my toes this morning—half of them anyway—so I don’t much feel like sticking to protocols.  I have several other moderate cases of frostbite; my ears, the end of my nose, and the tips of two fingers all had to have the destroyed flesh removed to avoid infection and gangrene. I’m in no mood for formalities, Overlord, and for the record; not unleashing me on my Tangos while I had them was a bad COA, now I’m in a total Charlie Foxtrot, and I’m pissed.

There’s only a light cloud cover today.  Sun’s getting through pretty good.  Some drifts of snow are deeper than I am tall. Crazy how these mountain winds can whip this snow around and pile it up.

I managed to find the road. I may have lost some of my equipment to the elements but at least my damn snow shoes are good to go. For expediency I’m moving on the road.  It’s flat and I can make good speed, but I am completely exposed. I need to make up time so I’m taking the risk.  My severed toes hurt like hell every time my right foot falls.  FISHDO, motherfuckers.  My anger keeps me going.  I’m easy to spot down here, but frankly, the way I feel right now, I almost have pity for anyone who crosses my path today.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, 1355 local.
I just found one of the Tango-Victors.  I’m about 22 klicks east of my camp.  A snow drift covers the exposed passenger’s side.  Checking for booby-traps.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, supplemental…
The vehicle wasn’t booby-trapped.  Cargo’s been transferred of course.  It appears that the problem is with the fuel injection system—a simple fix with the right tools.  With what I have, it may take as many as four hours.  If I fail, I’ve just lost a third of my daylight.  If I succeed, then I can really make up some ground.  To hell with it—I’m going for the repair.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, supplemental…
Hard to work in these conditions.  Very little feeling in my fingers.  Fucking SNAFU.  I spread my poncho out under the engine to catch the tools I keep dropping.  I built a fire to warm my hands and some of the parts.  I can’t adjust them because they’re frozen.  This may take longer than I anticipated.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, God-damn supplemental!
I got the son of a bitch started.  Tangos thought she was Tits Up.  The bastards took all the extra fuel but I still have a hundred miles in the tank.  Let’s see how this baby rolls!
She’s in gear, and… Hot damn!  Juliet-six is Oscar-Mike!  Woo-yeah!

Fucking T-bags couldn’t fix a cracked coffee cup with super glue, an instruction manual, and Goddamned divine intervention.  But a Delta Operator can MacGyver the shit out of a Toyota 4Runner with a Swiss Army knife, and a little American ingenuity, baby!  That’s right!

Okay.  Getting dialed in here.  The ROMA Data I’m guessing is they’re making 25 KPH in these conditions, tops—‘specially with precious cargo.  I figure max safe is 35, so I’m hitting 50.  It’s a long way down the mountain over on the passenger’s side.  Got to be ready for a quick bail-out if I lose control on the snow.

Yeah, this is some hairy shit.  It feels like a sleigh not a truck.  I’m signing off.  Got to concentrate.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, supplemental…
Can’t check my watch.  Estimate 1630 hours local.  I have company.  A HELO of unknown origin just vectored in to my Three O’clock from the west and is pacing me level with my passenger’s window.  He’s checking me out.  I’m waving—that’s right, doing my best “I’m one of you assholes” wave.
Oh there he goes.  I don’t see any markings at all.  That’s not a friendly.  Time to pull this rig over and think.
(00:00:26 pause)

That HELO is radioing my position and speed ahead.  I slowed to about 25 KPH.  A competent armed unit at the ready could deploy to an ambush position in half an hour at the earliest, an hour realistically.  So they will be setting up about 22 klicks down the road.  If I maintain a 50 KPH average I will hit the ambush positions way before they’re set up.  They will adjust.  I can’t guess their mobility beyond a first deployment.  My SWAG says I’m good to go for maybe 40 klicks then.
Alright, let’s roll.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six has passed the 10 kilometer position.  No Tangos.  Out.



Juliet-six…
I just saw a spotter.  I am at the … looks like 17 klick position.  Are they set up already?  They must be, why else have a spotter.  There’s a left bend about 4 klicks ahead.  I will be out of LOS of their spotter and can make my move.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, 1754
Position is 34.57 North, by 77.40 East.
I know where I am now.  About 15 klicks down, another road intersects this one.  It’s a perfect place to ambush any Victor traveling down this road.  They’d be able to get there and set up with plenty of time to spare.

They’re gonna be disappointed.  I sent the 4Runner over the edge and am making my way vertical.  It’s a steep mountain face here but I can still free-climb.  I need to find cover.  It’ll be dark soon.  Temp’s already dropping.  They won’t look for me on a steep slope like this in the dark.  I don’t intend to stay hunkered down.  I’m going to try and move through the night and pass their position.  I need cover to prep my gear.
Goddamn toes hurt.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, 1814 hours.
I’m on the low ridge now and moving east toward enemy’s suspected position.
Out.



(whispering)
Juliet-six…
I was dead-on.  I got maybe 25 Tangos in 3 ambush positions overlooking the road.  They’ve got to be going nuts trying to figure out where I am.  Hope you’re all freezing your ball off.  Only way down is right past them unless I want to climb up and along the high ridge which I don’t have time for.
Juliet-six heading down, and out.



Juliet-six…
I’m past the ambush without detection.  I found clear terrain behind them and was able to move at a decent pace.  I did have to hold up for several mikes mid-way for some T-bag with a weak bladder.  He was looking right at me while he pissed.  They have camp fires going.  His night vision was shot.  I’d trade my night eyes for hot tea and soup in their position for damn sure.  I could smell it.  If it wasn’t for the wind they probably would’ve heard my stomach growling.  It was loud, like a real growl.  I would love to make those fuckers pay for reminding me how long it’s been since I’ve eaten.  Three days?  Four?  I’m heading down into a lowland valley so there will at least be some rough vegetation to chew.  I’ll take what I can get.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, 0517 local.
I found some good cover.  There’s a strong scent of hoofstock in the little cave, and I found spore outside—some species of mountain deer.  I hate to ruin the their hideaway—if I use it they won’t ever again—but I have no choice.  If I had time I would wait, and take one down when they return.  God, I can almost taste the meat.  This cave’s deep enough to build a fire too.  I could roast it.  I saw something about 400 mikes back but I can’t pop off any rounds of course.  Get the T-bags all riled up.
Heading in to make camp.
(00:00:46 pause)

Yeah, this’ll do nicely.  It’s not altitude friendly—gotta stoop pretty low in here—but it’s deeper than I thought at first glance.  The deer have matted the floor with grass.  Hell yeah, I can stretch out.  Juliet-six is happy.  Yup…  Funny where you find luxury out here.  Real funny…
(00:01:00 pause – log ended, recorder auto shut off)



Juliet-six, 1507 Zulu, 0937 local.
I passed out.  No fire.  No equipment check.  Nothing.  I remember laying down.  That’s when the lights went off I think.  I feel refreshed today though.  My damn toes hurt.  I guess technically it’s my stubs that hurt, since I haven’t got toes there anymore.
(laughter)

I don’t know why that was funny.  I gotta check my toes.  This’ll be good news or bad news, but nothing in between.
Let’s see…
(00:00:18 pause)

My boots have taken a beating … 4 months and done.  Who goes through boots in 4..?  Oh shit…
(00:00:08 pause)

That’s bad news Ladies and Gentlemen.  What we have here is definitely bad fucking news.  Medic!  Oh, I am the medic.
(laughter)

Those of you who will eventually be listening to this mission log—that means you, Overlord—be thankful this is radio and not smell-o-vision, because this is nasty.  Of course it’s always worse when it’s your own flesh that’s infected and rotting and you have to cut more off.  Kinda fucks the head up.  Yes, I will be waking up to that for some time I’ll bet.  Where’s my FAK?
(rummaging)

Ah!  Here it is, right where I put it.

So here’s the SITREP on my right foot: The 4th and 5th toes had to be amputated yesterday—was it yesterday?  No, two days ago?  And the time keeping device says..?  It’s the 21st.  Okay, so it was yesterday.  So I snipped a digit off each toe yesterday.  The stubby bits are infected so those gotta go too.  Warm toes are way more painful to amputate, believe me.

So here’s how this is done…

I sterilize my knife, then place my foot on top of the sterile gauze and then hack the knobs back far enough so there’s no infected toe left.  Then I have to cut and peel back the skin and expose raw meaty toe.  That has to be hacked off.  Then the now excess flap of skin gets sewn over the raw exposed meat.

I didn’t do this procedure yesterday and that’s why I am infected today; too much exposed flesh.  I couldn’t do it though because my foot was too cold.  Had I tried to peel skin back it would’ve just torn off like leather or something.

So now you know what I’m doing, and can imagine it as I do my best to manage my audio output lest I give away my position; sound carries in this thin air … it’s incredible.

I won’t be able to report, I’m afraid because I’ll be biting down on my knife sheath.  Here goes.
(00:37:28 of muffled exclamations of intense pain and heavy accelerated breathing)

Don’t try that at home, folks.
Juliet-six, going down.



Juliet-six, 1245 local.
I’ve had better days.  All evidence of my stay in the cave has been removed and I’m moving out.  There is a village about 10, maybe 15 klicks southeast.  My intent is to reconnoiter the village and if all’s clear, go down and play Taliban with the locals.  Hopefully I can dig up some Intel on my Tangos.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, 1601 local.
Position: 34 North, 77 East.
I got an OP on a bluff overlooking the village of Bradjibir from about a half-klick out.  I am not alone.  I have spotted 6 two-man teams spread out across the slope about 500 mikes below my current elevation.  Each of these teams is intent on observing the village.  I cannot confirm it, but I suspect that there are matching teams across the valley on the ridge there doing the same.

I have been observing all six teams for an hour, and I can’t figure out what the hell they’re doing.  I did kill a rodent of some kind though.  I had to eat it raw.  It was food.  I feel better.  That’s all I have to say about that.

This activity is out of the norm so I am going to stay and OODA.  I can’t set up a proper OP because that equipment was damaged in the storm.  I have binoculars and my sniper’s scope.  I will not be breaking out The Long Ranger.”  He stays safe in his case.  Loose that and I lose my life.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six…
I may have just made one of the Tango-Victors.  It’s driving on the road heading south west.  It was in the village the whole time.  I had no LOS on the bastard.  I just can’t confirm from this range.  I’m moving down the slope to do some CTR.  The two-man teams look really tense.  They are dead-set focused on the village.  Gotta take eyes-off for a minute while I double-time it down.
Juliet-six out.



(whispering)
Juliet-six, 1641 local.
I’m about 100 mikes up the slope from the nearest Tango team.  I’ve confirmed that the SUV that left the village is one of my targets.  I unpacked the sniper scope to get confirmed visual.  The truck stopped about a klick away.  The passengers were out of the vehicle and, just like the teams on the slope, they were watching the village.
Now I am watching all of them.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six…
I have confirmed sighting of Bhahmr Khazad.  He’s climbed on top of the 4Runner and I have a clear view.  I can’t believe I’ve got you again you jihadist cocksucker.  What the hell do I do now?  I have got to get to that truck and inspect the cargo.  Overlord, I may have to disregard the ROE, from here on out.  The theater has change entirely.  I’m coming for your ass, Khazad.  You just stand up there and enjoy…
What was that?
(00:00:06 pause)

What’s..?  There a strange noise… Ah, hell, that’s screaming from the village. What the hell is going on down there?

Oh, my God…  Overlord, there’s some kind of riot in the village.  Indigenous personnel are attacking same.  It’s a frenzied riot, that’s all I can describe it as and … oh, shit!  A pack of the rioters just tore a chunk out of a man’s chest then ran on to attack another.  This is crazy!  What the hell’s happening down there?

Fucking Khazad, you had a bio-agent in those containers.  Holy shit.  Overlord, I definitely have a Danger-Red confirmation now.  Moving to gather Intel.
Juliet-six out.



(italicized indicates Arabic, bold indicates Prisoner dialog)

Juliet-six supplemental…
I have taken a prisoner.  This is an interrogation.
Name?
Makhel
What are you orders?
Wait for order to advance on the village.
And do what?
Kill them.
All of them?
The prisoner is indicating an affirmative with a nod.
Get down.  Face down.  You move, you die.  Understand?
(00:00:11 pause)

It’s still happening down there.  What the hell did they give these people?  About twelve-hundred people live… Oh, God… Overlord, some of the villagers are eating the bodies.  Now they’re swarming on the fallen and tearing them apart.  What could do this?

What did you give those people?
I don’t know what they did.  I am ordered to come, so I come.  I don’t know anything!
What does Khazad have in those crates?
I don’t know anything.
I’ll cut your fucking eyes out!
Please, they make me do this!  They make me join the party.  I’m no jhihadi.  They made us all come.
I can tie you up and leave you for them to find when I’m gone, or I can kill you after I take everything you’re going to want in the afterlife.  Your eyes, ears, tongue, and your manhood.  You’ll be deaf, dumb, blind and impotent for eternity.  How’s that sound?
Please, don’t.
Then answer; Khazad came with two trucks … where’s the other one?
Yes, I saw it.  Another like that one.  Yes, it was here day before yesterday, but it left.
Direction?
Southeast.
Toward India?
Yes.
Anything else?
No.  I know nothing else.
I believe you.

(enemy radio transmission)
[All Soldiers of God advance immediately.  All Teams, all Teams, advance now.]

Son of a bitch!  Is that the order?
Yes.
Oh shit.  This could be a problem.  Stay down.
(00:00:11 pause)

They’re advancing all right.  I’m guessing about 200 armed Tangos in two-man teams like this one are advancing from positions surrounding the village.  Distance similar to ours—just over half a klick.  How well are the big dogs monitoring each team though?

[Team Red-5, you have orders to advance.]

Red-5, is that us?
Yes.
Shit.  That answers that.

[Red-5, advance now!]

This is no good.

[Team Red-5, you’ve been ordered to advance.  Join you brothers or you will be fired upon.]
 
Come on Makhel.  Let’s play the part.  Do anything funny and you die first.

I am going to keep this rolling because I have no idea where this road leads.
(00:00:48 pause)

Makhel has an AK with an empty clip.  He looks like he’s about to die of fright.  I think these poor fools were actually forcefully conscripted, halfway at least.

Oh hell, here come the rabid villagers.  This is crazy.  They saw the advance of armed men, and are now running right at the line.
(rifles fire – distant reports in background)

Our tardiness has put Makhel and me about 600 mikes behind the main advance.  It’s a good vantage point to assess how this develops.

Good God!  The conscripts are unloading on the villagers, and not putting them down.  What the hell?  These are not disciplined soldiers, they are going to run out of ammo soon.
Shit, I have some bee-lining on our position.
(rifle fire – immediate proximity)

Holy shit!  Three vital hits and the woman is still coming.
(rifle fire – immediate proximity)

Head shot put her down.
(rifle fire – immediate proximity)

Confirmed.  Head shots are the ticket.
(rifle fire – immediate proximity)

Oh hell… another wave, denser this time.  Some of the line has already been compromised.  Some are fleeing.  I’m halting advance.  There’s more behind this wave too.  Where did they all come from?  I got a hundred in my zone of containment and they’re coming fast.

Makhel, we’re on the same side now.  You know that, right?  Good.  Lock and load and stay calm.  

I’ve just armed the enemy

Short controlled bursts, Makhel.  Head shots only.  You got that?  Head shots only!  Here they come!
(rifles fire – immediate proximity)

Head shots, Makhel!  Head shots!
There are too many of them!
Don’t run!  Fire, move!  Fire, move!
(rifles fires – immediate proximity)

Don’t run!
(screams)

Makhel!
(rifle fire – immediate proximity – continuous for 00:02:41)
(immediate proximity sidearm fire – continuous for 00:01:05)
(growling – apparent hand-to-hand melee for 00:00:16)

Motherfuckers!
(mortar round incoming)
(ordinance detonation)
(log ended…)



Next: SACRED is Thy Duty

Behold Ground Zero

Taffy’s video played for weeks and he received many posthumous awards for his courageous sacrifice to bring the truth of the Indian epidemic to the Western media.  The general consensus was that he was killed in the nuclear blasts.  I didn’t offer any information to the contrary.

Even with all the emotions and drama entwined, the Zombie Plague had fallen to page two updates in the Western papers and reports in less than a few short months.
Modern American homo-sapiens,  being digitally-stimulated emotion-based organisms, are intrinsically drawn to the Headline, with a seemingly instinctual need to have a frequent tragedy in which to pour their sympathies. Yet just as powerful is the paradoxical penchant for phasmophobia; we want our morbid moment but not the ghosts of our messy memories haunting us. Most anyone will chose amnesia over psychological torment. Westerners live to forget, and with the help of some juicy tabloid headlines, a minor-league adultery scandal in the Senate house, and a mega-hyped Super Bowl showdown they did just that.

Christmas came at an excellent time for the American psyche. The atmospheric fallout of ten airborne nuclear detonations didn’t deter good ol’ St. Nick one bit. The few RADS in the snow that blanketed the east coast with holiday cheer was shrugged off, and every good little Johnny Q got his favorite video game that would steal hundreds of hours of his life away. The Zombie Plague outbreak and nuclear deterrent was followed by the most lucrative Christmas shopping that retailers had seen since 2008 as we purchased our pain away.
New Years was another chance for us all to purge. All across the globe in 1,890 cities the ball-dropping of Times Square was duplicated and we all shared the New Year together as one Global Community. As party horns blew and confetti flew, 2013 was born, a fresh and pristine new year, unsullied by the blood and ashes of last year’s horrors. Between “bottoms up” and Auld Lang Syne no mention at all was made of the terrible cost that was paid only weeks before so we all might party on … not a word, not a whisper, not a single one for nineteen million souls.

I felt a fierce loathing for my culture growing inside me, and deep shame for my generation. I could not forget; simply turn my back and pretend that Hell had not been on Earth for two days. Maybe because I was one of the first Westerners to really know what was going on, or maybe because I felt that in some way I was there with Taffy when he died … I don’t really know. I just couldn’t let it lie. Like I said; something inside me had broken.

So on December 12th, against the emotional protests of my wife, I requested assignment to cover the Indian disaster firsthand and on-site, promising Peggy I would return for Christmas.

My editor, Carl, was not thrilled about the idea.
“It’s a dead story, Joe.”
“Yeah, Carl, but they come back to life there.”
I put my foot down. Carl caved. I packed my bags.

My goal was to play the role of an independent “watchdog” of sorts. I wanted to know if any infected subjects had been quarantined for research or if the virus had been captured in some way or otherwise contained and was being studied. No mention was being made, and there were no answers to the “What/When/Where” and I found that both suspicious and disquieting.

The flight to India was long. Getting approved to enter the country was longer. India Immigration was playing hardball over my network visa. I called my boss—God bless his cantankerous ass!—he loves hardball. Gary stepped up to the mound and pitched a fucking shutout. When pressed to use it, my Network carries some serious weight.  Eighteen hours after landing, I finally could get to work. Ground Zero was first on the agenda.

It’s hard to explain the feeling I had while I stood on the observation tower with high-powered binoculars and surveyed the devastation that had previously been the state of Punjab. The current landscape was simply plain blackened earth as far as you could see. It was a wasteland, a crime scene, a graveyard. I felt a strange sensation of being privileged to be there. I couldn’t help but imagine the buildings, the trees, the people—everything!—as they perhaps had been—ghosts haunting the mind.

My escort, an Army Captain, explained the basic principle behind the deployment of the warheads. Seven of the detonations were directly above the ever-expanding concentric ring that was the advancing wave of zombies. The remaining three warheads were deployed in the center of the ring to achieve “maximum mortality”.

Maximum mortality … Jesus Christ…

Suddenly I had no legs. They had simply collapsed beneath me. I sat there on the platform of the observation tower, my back against the rough wood of the railing, and broke into tears, shamelessly and without regrets, except one; that I did not have nineteen million tears … plus one for Taffy, for it was his graveyard too.

I looked up to the Captain and found that his eyes also were tearful. It was his first time to the site as well. Such was the power of that land of ash and sorrow that it drove through all walls and facades, right down to ones most human emotional core.
The Captain, whose given name was Omar, sat down next to me and we remained there for half an hour in silence, each with his own thoughts, feelings, and gratitude. When finally we stood we embrace as brothers. I do not exaggerate in this. The raw emotion of the place cannot be quantified.

Though my itinerary was tight, and I had a thousand miles to cover and a thousand questions I wanted answered, I had no desire to hurry from the tower that first day. So Omar and I remained there until dusk, sharing things about our lives; our families, and the simple moments that bring the heart true contentedness. In those six hours on the tower I came to understand the impact this catastrophe had had on those Indians that had survived it.

As we left Ground Zero I accepted an invitation to join Omar and his family for dinner. He had a fine family; a beautiful wife, two healthy sons. They were all cheerful and welcoming. The meal was splendid, but I missed Peggy and Jimmy immensely.

The following days were spent circling westward and studying the perimeter of the blast zone. I went about this quickly, as my real interest was in making my way to the Pakistani border.

The perimeter of the infected zone was close to the borders of Kashmir, Pakistan, and China. The detonations were aerial which sent fallout high into the atmosphere and therefore spread it across the planet in limited concentration. Had the nukes been ground bursts, prevailing winds would ensure that the next eighty years would see many Chinese mothers with malformed babies. Thankfully that was not the case.
But it was not the drifting of wayward radioactive particles that concerned me; it was the proximity of the containment perimeter to three borders, and the very plausible scenario that one or more of these sovereign countries had encountered infected “strays” and zombie-napped themselves a specimen or two, or maybe even had a mini-outbreak on their soil.

I asked Omar to translate for me so I could ask any locals we encountered some basic questions.
He was “…expressly not permitted to do this; all foreigners are to have no contact whatsoever with the citizenry.”
“What if an infected got across … just one? What then..?”
“Don’t do this ‘what if?’ to me, my friend.”
“I need to talk to them, Omar.”
“You have no reason to, Joe.”
“Yes I do, Omar. I have nineteen million reasons, and so do you.”
That cracked his resolve. Twenty minutes later it broke entirely, and once decided on the matter, Omar joined in the hunt for the truth with real fervor.

All three bordering countries had emphatically denied any incidents of infected on their soil. But the locals Omar and I interviewed told a different story.
We were definitely getting somewhere, and I felt a story taking shape—a story that needed to be told.

We camped just off the mountain road rather than waste the many hours driving all the way from Kashmir to the nearest barracks. We slept in Omar’s army jeep, but it was damn cold at night in those foothills.

I awoke early one morning and looked at my watch; 0612, 12/25/12. Something “clicked” in my head, like there was something that we were supposed to do that day. I dug out my notebook but found no special notes on the day’s schedule.

With my notebook in one hand and TP in the other, I wandered out into the morning chill to relieve myself a discreet distance from the jeep. The frost-covered weeds crunched under my feet. It sounded like walking on snow. It made me think of home; snow in Maryland, Christmas with Peg and Jimmy, our fireplace, and…

Oh no…

I looked at my watch again; 0621, 12/25/12.

Oh my God…

It was Christmas Day! The day I had promised to be back by. In my zeal I had completely lost track of anything else.

How am ever going explain this?

To make matters worse, cell phones were useless and we couldn’t use the army radio in the truck unless it was an absolute emergency because we were pretending to have radio trouble so we could disregard any order to return if it was given.

Holy shit…

Then it got better; I realized this wasn’t just a matter of, “Oops, sorry I missed the holidays, Honey. I’ll make it up to you.” I hadn’t called her since I’d arrived here. It’s Christmas and my wife and son are most likely at home alone waiting for a call from anyone confirming that I am not dead.

Nope, no fucking way … you’re never, ever going to be able to make this up to her, asshole!

My high and exhilaration for the hunt just drained out of me. I squatted down in a little gully and did my business while unloading a full broadside of self-loathing and guilt at myself.

I finished doing my duty and stood to discover three silhouettes of men on horseback some two hundred yards away staring down the length of the gully at me.

My mind raced back to last evening when Omar and I were going over the map. Had we crossed the border yet or..? Yes we had, I remembered. We were maybe four miles into Pakistani Kashmir … Taliban country.

Do they know I just took a shit in their back yard?

I turned to get an eye on the jeep. I couldn’t see out of the gully. That meant even if Omar was up, and that little Punjab liked his sleep, he would not see that I might need help. My heart was racing.

Even if he did, there are three of these guys.

The trio cantered their horses toward me. Now my heart pounded in hard loud thuds.  I could hear it in my ears, and feel it at my neck. I was terrified.

I dropped the notebook as slyly as I could—I didn’t want them getting that!—and climbed out of the gully, making a point not to hurry.
Omar and his army jeep were nowhere to be seen.

Oh my God, how far did I walk? Where’s the jeep?

I scanned the ground for tracks but found none.

Wait … did I even climb down from this side.

I looked across the gully hoping to see a landmark that I would miraculously recognize. Nothing…

Oh hell…

The image of the time on my watch flashed into my head of its own accord; 0621. Then, just as involuntarily, I checked the current time; 0708.

Holy shit..!

Had I really wandered absentmindedly for maybe half an hour while imagining my fate at the hands of my family when I returned home?
Yes, that’s exactly what I had been doing, and breaking every goddamn survival guideline for this dangerous territory in the process. I couldn’t believe it. I, a twenty-fucking-year-veteran of this shit had just made a dumbass rookie-flatfoot mistake, and may very well end up in the afterlife attributing my death to a spaced-out half-hour walk to find a spot to shit.

With nowhere to go, I did the only thing I could; I stood and waited for the three horsemen, and tried to look like I owned the place. Sometimes all it took was a little confidence and some verbal magic. I prepared to deliver both as necessary.

I could see now from dress and adornment that they were Mujahidin, and they were armed. Two of them spurred their mounts into a gallop. The third leveled his rifle and fired.

The round “HISS-SNAPPED” right past my head nicking my left ear.
Confidence and magic vanished, and even though I had just crapped and peed, I did them both again.
Looking back it’s funny because, even though I nearly got my head blown off a half-second before, I was really bothered that I had shit my pants. I even made a poopy-pants face when I turned and started running and the mess did its thing in my trousers.

More shots rang out. Dust billowed up at intervals in front of me as the rounds impacted the ground. All three had to be shooting now. I looked over my shoulder.

The three Mujhidin were running me down and firing their rifles at full gallop. I would’ve been impressed had I not been fleeing for my life, and in vain no doubt.
Yes, in vain…

Fuck that! I won’t be shot in the fucking back.

I stopped and faced them, suddenly defiant, and feeling truly fearless. I was going to die. I knew that. But I was going to look them in the face when they killed me.

Again, in reflection, it’s really funny…

The reason I found this uncommon courage in a moment of mortal terror was because I had shit myself. I wasn’t going to be running and screaming and shot down like a coward and have my murderers discover I had also shit myself.

Nope … no fucking way.

So I stood there with my chest puffed out, a scowl on my face, and I’ll be goddamned if my new-found poopy-pants power didn’t give me the will to raise both my arms up and flip those three assholes the finger.
The bullets came closer and closer as they approached. One winged my hip.

Won’t be long now…

I held my double birds up high and yelled at the top of my lunges.

“FUUUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUU!!!”

I was ready.

The Mujahidin on the right mysteriously fell from his horse and flopped motionless onto the ground.
I was puzzled.
Then I heard a new rifle report from farther away.

Omar! It had to be Omar!

Yeah, fucking Omar!

I couldn’t believe it. I might actually be saved!
The two remaining would-be killers reined-in looking around confused. Then one of them slid lifeless from the saddle.
Again, the report followed a second behind.
These dead-on shots at moving targets were coming from very far away; a quarter mile at the nearest.
This couldn’t be Omar. I loved my new Indian brother, but I did not think him a world-class marksman, and I knew he didn’t have the weapon for it. Then who was it?

The last Mujahidin dismounted, quickly took the reins of his fallen comrade’s horse, and then ran away on foot between the two horses using them as shields. It was a brilliant tactic. He gathered up the third horse in his flight back the way he had come.

It was only then that I realized that my twin birds were still aloft. I lowered my arms. I felt this incredible weight of gravity pull me to the ground. Adrenaline rushed out of me and I crashed hard.

A third report echoed through the hills.
I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw.

The final Mujuhidin had fallen between his horses. The sniper had shot between the moving horse’s legs and hit that son of a bitch right below the knee. I could see, even from a distance how the limb folded when he tried to stand on it. The high-powered sniper rifle had nearly blown the bottom of the leg clean off.
The Mujahidin still struggled to get to his feet and control the animals. He failed at both, and finally lost his grip on the reins. The mounts trotted off leaving the bastard exposed.
He raised his hands and waved them in a frantic warding gesture, then pulled something from inside his tunic and held it out in offering to his unknown, unseen assassin.

The coward was trying to buy his life back.
Goddamn, that felt fucking good right then!

The yellow-bellied murdering fuck’s head became a spray of red mist. A second or so later came the echoing report.

I struggled but manage to stand on wobbly legs. I look to the west; the direction the Mujahidin had been making his offering.

Over the crest of a ridge, about the quarter-mile away I had guessed, a man appeared. He just stood there, his long rifle slung across his shoulders.

I didn’t know what to do.

This man just saved your life, shit-crack, do something!

From instinct or habit, I lifted my right arm to wave to him. I caught myself.

Wave? Are you kidding?

Instead, I put my heels together, my chest out, my chin up, and I snapped my unknown savior the sharpest salute I could manage, and held it.

I waited, holding the salute, for how long I don’t know. The sniper didn’t move a single muscle.

“Joe! Joe!” Omar shouted from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder to see him running to my position with his rifle in his hands.
I smiled. Good old Omar, he’s…

Oh no, he’s running at me with a rifle!

I looked back at the ridge fully expecting to see the sniper mistakenly taking aim on my friend.

He was gone; nothing but blue sky and the sloping ridge, golden now in the early morning sun.

 

Next: The Devil’s Petri Dish…

To see is to fear

My name is Cynthia Anne Lovewell. I’m a Congresswoman of Oklahoma’s First Congressional District. I feel it is important, no matter what happens here, now, or sometime in the future, that when, God willing, this is all behind us someone knows what became of us; the President, the Joint Chiefs, myself and the other survivors here with me.

I have thankfully found an abundance of paper here, and as we are trapped, it seems I also have an abundance of time. So I will take advantage of both and, for the record and for whomever finds this, I will tell my story which is I suspect the story of a great many people.

I remember Thanksgiving in 2012 with my dear family. It was like every year; so good to not be Congresswoman Lovewell but instead just be mom and sister, cousin and friend, adoring wife; to enjoy the simple pleasure of baking holiday wonders, smelling the aroma, the warmth of the kitchen in contrast to the sharp chill of late autumn in Northern Oklahoma.

We baked pies and made stuffing, roasted the turkey——all the holiday cooking——then set the table and feasted. Good times shared with good food and the company of loved ones. Later we watched the Sooners trounce the Huskers. It was a fabulous time. By early evening most of the adults had migrated and segregated; the ladies to the kitchen for cocktails, and the men to the back porch for scotch and cigars. We were having our drinks and chatting of family and children when my 10 year old daughter, Ellie, came in.

“Mother you have to see this, you all you have to see this.”

“Ellie, that’s why adults have come in here, so you kids can watch the TV in the den and we can visit in here without interrupting each other.”

“I know mom but you have to come, you have to see what’s on the news hurry.”

She was very excited but in a way I wasn’t used to seeing her; not with joy or anticipation, but more akin to agitation like something disturbed her. It immediately concerned me.

She was so insistent that I finally excused myself and went to see what had gotten her so riled up. I found all the children, except my thirteen year old, Kyle, gathered around the television and watching a video clip from the news.

The video showed what appeared to be a riot of hundreds of people running crazy attacking other people trying to get away. The caption read: RIOTING IN INDIA CLAIMS HUNDREDS.

“You kids shouldn’t be watching this. Let’s turn this off.”

Then my nephew Jake said, “But Aunt Cindy, look at this. I found this first. We thought it wasn’t real but then it came on the news.” He points back at the TV.

Jake was on the computer at my husband, Sean’s desk. Jake had downloaded the same video as the news but this one was longer and unedited. I moved closer to watch. All the children went with me.

In this video I was witness to the beginning of the scene shown only briefly on CNN. A video shot taken out the rear window of a car. In the beginning the car comes around the corner and halts in the center of a road in a small town only a little more than a village.

The camera zooms down the street. Screaming could be heard in the distance faintly. Then a girl in a colorful long dress stumbles out of a building several blocks away and runs up the middle of the street wailing.

One by one more people run out into the street and towards the camera. Then more and more frantic people come running up the street toward the car. All of these people seem in severe states of hysteria. Immediately behind them comes a mass of other people running in pursuit and howling like crazed lunatics. This horde of hundreds chases the fleeing people down, swarming on each, and then it appears that they literally tear them apart.

Like the CNN video it was hard to tell exactly what happened because they were a good distance away. But unlike the CNN reel, this video continued.

More go down. Then only the girl remains alive and fleeing in an exhausted broken stride. I could hear the young men in the car arguing in Punjabi until finally they back up towards a girl who’s running and crying desperately. The young men are shouting and waving for her to run faster as they back up at speed, one of them has a door open and ready.

Oh the poor thing!

So fatigued and encumbered by the dress. You can see the crazies gaining and you know she’s not going to make it. You can see it in her eyes that she knows this as well. My heart shattered. She was maybe seventeen.

They leap on her, tackling her savagely to the ground. The car accelerates away. Because it is so close, the camera catches all the horror in her expression and her shrieks as the pack of possessed rip her open and limb from limb.

“Oh, my Lord!” I shouted.

But the worst was next.

The crazies, like wild hyenas, begin eating the flesh they’ve torn away. I vomit in my mouth and have to swallow it so the kids don’t know.

I was horrified, completely horrified. In my attempt to turn off the monitor I nearly swat it from the desk.

“How did you get this Jake?”

My nephew straightened the monitor, then showed me the site were the video had been originally download and cached before any censoring could be done. Once captured with his own servers this morbid individual could make the full video available to anyone knowledgeable enough or unfortunate enough to find him on the web.

I was almost as equally disturbed that the children did not seem too bothered by it at all.

What world are they growing up in that I am unaware of?

I scolded them all and forbade them to watch it further. I went to my office to think about what to do. Do I tell the others about it? What about my sister; do I tell Carla that her son was watching something so terrible?

Once I calmed down I couldn’t see what this event in northern

India, no matter how harrowing it was, had to do with our Thanksgiving, and I wasn’t about to ruin anyone’s holiday by talking about riots and cannibals.

Composed, I rejoined the party, but try as I might I could not get the thought out of my head that I had just witnessed something as foreboding as it was horrendous.

Carla was the last to leave that night. She and others would return early tomorrow and we would attack the disaster zone that was my kitchen and dining area. There’s always been a steadfast rule to the Lovewell home; there’ll be no labor on Thanksgiving once the cooking and serving are done. So the cleaning was always left to the day after.

Sean had just come in, he had been sharing cigars and scotch with the boys out on the back porch. The brisk November night air and the scotch had turned his cheeks and nose bright pink. It made him look boyish. It made me smile.

We showered together. I washed my husband head to toe, front to back. The love of the holiday with my family had culminated to this moment alone with my husband, and it wasn’t so much lust that I felt as it was love, pure and simple love for my good man.

Lovemaking was slow, as much for the tenderness I felt as for our full bellies. But even though I felt so much love, many times during the shower and while making love I was haunted by the image of that girl being taken down and torn up—her forearm eaten like a turkey leg, a ring on her finger catching the light … so surreal.

Long after Sean began snoring I still lay awake unable to get the image from my head. I made a solemn vow that my little nephew, Jake the computer genius, will not be allowed near a computer in my house again so long as he lives.

The next day the girls came and we cleaned but not before I made several calls to Washington to see what I could learn.

It was a localized fever within the peasantry of that part of the Punjab state, a mutation of the mad cow disease able to cross the species barrier and infect humans. A reference was made to the Hindu worship of cows and regular uncommonly close proximity as to being part of the cause. My first thought was, You’ve got to be kidding? Whose theory is that? I also knew that the farther north you went in India the more predominantly Islamic the country became.

Something stank and I didn’t like it.

Over the next few days nothing else emerged. No new footage. No information. India had declared a state of national emergency. Parliament had also banned all foreign press from the country as a matter of national security, and the Indian Air Force had cordoned off the airspace above the Punjab incident and declared it a no-fly zone.

As it was, the only peoples who knew what was really going on at that time in India was the Indians. I know my own government was keeping close tabs but I was not privy to whatever information they had—I was just a lowly Congresswoman after all—but if the country and government, of which I was a Representative, knew anything more than CNN they certainly were not saying so. This bothered me more.

But I’d done my due diligence; I had made my repetitive calls, and I had left multiple messages. I had just 10 days vacation to spend home in Oklahoma. I already had used five, I wasn’t going to waste what remained.

We had a good time; the sisters and brothers, the husbands and wives, and the children. The 28th we all went to Carla’s ranch. We went horseback riding, boating on the lake—it was a big pond truly, but we like to call it a lake. The boys went shooting and horseback riding as well. They practice roping cows and found they were no better than they were last Thanksgiving. The only real cowboy was Eric, Carla’s husband.

These were all annual rituals of ours, something we did year after year after year. For me these times only brought more joy in their repetition not less.

The main point of the traditional 28th and 29th at Carla’s and Eric’s was that we would all help put up Christmas decorations throughout their enormous ranch house. It was a fun time. The dining table would be piled high with barbecue ordered from Hank’s Hickory Shack eight miles down the road in downtown Jones.

And that’s how it went Wednesday, 29 November 2012; we were all feasting on barbecue having completed most of the scheduled decorating. It was about six o’clock. As usual the boys and girls had segregated as the day wound on. The boys were in the den watching some kind of sports show. They had taken their barbecue with them and that was just fine with us ladies.

When I heard Sean holler at the top of his voice, “Oh my Lord Almighty!” I thought I’d jumped out of my skin.

And then Eric Yells, “That can’t happen. They can’t do that! What in the hell is going on over there?”

The other men shot in their exclamations as well.

I never heard anything like that from our boys; neither had the other women or the children, and it plum shocked us all. We girls looked to one another in silence for a brief moment. I then put my drink down and as calmly as I could I hurried to the den to see what the fuss was about. All the women followed me and the children followed them.

What we saw there on Eric’s ninety-inch 3-D HD, eight thousand dollar television set was a series of images; satellite, hand-held camera, thermo graphic and long-range telescopic all showing the unbelievable; multiple nuclear explosions in northeast India. The “mad cow disease of the Hindus” had gotten so  uncontrollable that Parliament and the President of India felt its only chance was to detonate ten warheads on its own soil. All I could think was, What in the name of heaven’s really happened over there?

I flew back to Washington immediately.

Over time we learned of the severity of what would later be dubbed the Zombie Plague.

A virus, it was strongly suspected, attacked the control centers of its victim’s brain causing derangement in a form of primal animalistic behavior. That is how they explained the attacks and cannibalism.

Within a few months it was behind us. It was India that had the plague, and it was India now that had a vast nuclear wasteland.

Here in the glass bubble that is America, detached and protected from virtually everything, we were collectively more than happy to put the ugliness of India’s disaster behind us.

But not I.  I couldn’t let it go. The seed had been planted in my head and I could not ignore it. I pried and I prodded and persisted trying to learn more about what had happened; to find out what our various security agencies were doing about it.
I learned there were many ongoing operations in India, China, Pakistan, and throughout the Middle East dedicated to discovering if any of the original pathogen survived the detonations or if—God forbid!—any samples were collected by India or agents of any other government, organizations, or ideologies. It was, as far as our intelligence community was concerned, the number one priority. Every resource the United States had available was poured into this, for fear that the virus would fall into the hands of a fanatical enemy willing to unleash Hell upon the earth.

That fear was well founded, for that is exactly what happened.

On February 16, 2013 at 3:30 pm ET, I was in my office in the Capital Building; Congress was in session that month. It was like a wave, an invisible wave of fear; I could feel it coming before I heard it. I remember distinctly looking up from the proposed bill I was perusing.

There was a scream of shock. Then another.

I went out to the hall and I found my secretary.  She turned with red teary eyes and said the words I will take with me to my grave.

“The Zombie Plague … it’s here!”

I hurried back to my office and turned on my set. There, on CNN, was a scene not unlike what I witnessed on Thanksgiving except to say that there were many more infected zombies and many more victims in the broadcast.

The epicenter was at the airport, which had been completely overrun. The wave of infected had somehow already managed to cross the Potomac on the 395 and 14th St bridges. They were a little more than a mile from us.

Andrew AFB had scrambled F-16s and blew both those bridges to pieces, but too late. DC law enforcement, army reservists, and even civilians were already battling the horde as it surged forward.

The speed at which the mob traveled in this ever-expanding concentric ring of carnage was unbelievable. An average man can run at about 12 miles per hour for a mile. The speed at which the thousands of infected were surging was a steady and unbelievable 11 mph for miles on end! Given just a short time the hordes could out run a healthy man.

How could that happen?

The Capital Building, my floor anyway, had all but emptied in the short time it took for me to make these basic assessments. I chose to remain. It was a government building; large, and secure. What better place to be, and where would I go anyway?

Then I thought of Sean, Kyle and Ellie.

I tried to call. All the lines were overwhelmed. I use my cell phone. It was the same. Tens of millions of people all trying to make the same call at the same time, just like the millions of people trying to flee the city all with the same idea at the same time. No calls were getting through, and none of those people were getting away.

I knew we had a secure communications room downstairs complete with short wave radio, telegraph, satellite links, every form of communication known to man far as I understood.

It was the same idea at the same time again; the hall to the communications room was crowded with people shouting and pushing. The communications room itself was guarded by four armed marines with rifles at the ready.

Dejected I returned to my office and with no other options, I joined 200 million other cell phone users in redialing over and over again.

I finally realized that, even with overwhelmed cellular communications, text data transmissions should still be possible.

I texted Sean, Kyle, my sister, and then forwarded it to everyone in my contacts just to be sure and safe. In the text I communicated specifically what I knew from the news;
Washington DC, New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, and Seattle all had virtually simultaneous outbreaks on Wednesday, 16 February.

I told Sean and Kyle to get Ellie and go to Carla’s. It would be the safest place. They have wide open range property of low population for the surrounding miles, and Carla and Eric have a huge storm cellar. Eric also has exceptional collection of firearms with which I was always impressed, but never so pleased about as I was now.

I did not realize my error until its consequences compounded. I should have just texted family first, got them secured and then text-blasted everyone. I was getting multiple replies, one atop another, atop another. It was difficult to get the specifics I needed from my husband and sister. After sorting through thirty-five or so texts I finally got to my husband’s delayed reply.

My heart sunk.

His reply was: I’m federal law enforcement, baby, I can’t hunker down, they’re going to need me.

Suddenly I started crying. I felt like I would lose my husband, somehow, my amazing Sean.

I texted him back sternly: You make sure you look to your kids and my sister before you go running off to those WHO NEED YOU!

He replied: Of course I will take care of our family, babe! I only meant that they will likely call my SAR unit to duty.

Suddenly I realized I had missed the meaning of his text altogether. I felt so guilty. I hoped that whatever satellite dish, or radio transmitter, or whatever devise that would be calling my husband away, would break somehow and fail, because of this dread that I had that that call would mean the death of my husband. The tears came fresh again.

Just then two marines came to my office door. One stayed, the other hurried down the hall. The young Marine, looking as sharp in his dress blues in the midst of catastrophe as I’m sure he did on the parade ground, and in complete calm, stepped up and held out his hand.

“Madam Congresswoman, I’m Corporal Coleman. I’m here to escort you to the helicopter.”

I didn’t know what helicopter he meant. I hadn’t heard one. I just knew that things seemed to be unraveling out of my control. I reached up and took Cpl. Coleman’s hand and allowed him to lead me outside to the front lawn.

There an enormous helicopter with the President’s Seal emblazoned on the fuselage was waiting with the rotors turning at the ready.

I was ushered on board. Cpl. Coleman fastened my safety belt, looked at me, took a half-step back, and presented a sharp salute. He then turned and went back into the Capital Building to help another citizen in need. I never saw that young man again of course. But he will always be in my mind and represent forever my image of the United States Marines.

After the helicopter was loaded to capacity, it lifted off with surprising grace for its awkward and ungainly appearance.
As we banked southward I could see three groups of two F-16s each perform bombing runs on the remaining bridges across the Potomac.

Then I could see the horde of infected. They had indeed crossed the Potomac and now poured into the perimeter of Washington DC proper. I could see the slow methodical retreat of the defenders as they gave ground to the thousands of oncoming zombies. It was terrible to behold, these were not monsters being gunned down, burned with flamethrowers, and blown apart with grenades. These were people—sick infected people! My heart went out to the defenders for the bravery they showed, and for the will they must have had to summon to lay their own neighbors low like that.

There were no tears from anyone on board. No one cried out or even gasped. There was no sound at all save the rhythmical “THWUPTA” of the helicopter’s blades as they carried us to safety. We all stared in silent horror and solemnly watched our nation’s Capital be consumed by the infected hordes of Armageddon.

 

Next: Ground Zero

Sowing the Seeds

PROPERTY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AND THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

TOP SECRET:
The following transcriptions are the mission logs transmitted by Major Jamal Ali Hassad; code name: Juliet-Six, special operative to the DOD/NSA Joint Special Operations Command headed by Brigadier General Thomas Sullivan, U.S. Army; code name: Overlord.
The transmission containing all the following logs was received December 29th, 2012 at 0214 Zulu.

(for definitions of military jargon and acronyms, move mouse over darker word)
——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Overlord, transmission code: Juliet-Six, Alpha-One-Zero, Hotel-Six-Niner.

Juliet-Six, Mission log.
The date is: 11-16-12.  The time is: 1210 Zulu.

Sunrise soon. Weather is clear and holding. My OP on the ridge overlooks Bukhata, a small mountain village. I have planned two days of surveillance of the village to determine if the locals have any association with enemy personnel. I cannot send Intel at this time. COMSEC is of high concern.  Satellite feeds cross-monitored in this area. A window in enemy relays and intercept satellites estimated to open on the 11-24-12 at approximately 1210 hours Zulu. Last contact with targets: 11-14-12.
Juliet-Six out.



Juliet-Six, Personal log.

Cheeseburger. There I said it. Now forget it. Day 73. The old rule of the field “brake it, or break it” has been feeling kind of poignant this past week. I’m 43 days over max. Mental is good to go, but my body’s taken a beating. Recovery time in the cold and altitude is a No-gel with mission parameters. My right knee locks up sometimes during sleep. FISHDO.

Been some real unusual activity on the Taliban Trail lately. My targets went subterranean. Probably a massive network under the mountain. Got as close as I could. No-joy on reacquire.

I’m hunkered down on a ridge overlooking a farming village with maybe 200 indigenous. Seems like a likely rally or resupply point for my Tangos if they come this way. If they’re heading east there’s only one road through here and I’m scoping it. I hope to find out soon. Weather is holding but it may break any day, and I’ll lose visibility.

No more Intel on the satellite splashdown rumors. If an electronic warfare satellite did go down somewhere in this region, the T-bags sure scooped it up in a hurry. Local grapevine HUMINT on the subject is a No-joy.

It’s driving me bat-shit not knowing what those boys were hauling when they went subterranean on me. If they snagged the downed E-Dub Sat, that would be a hell of a find for them, depending on whose it was. No word from Overlord on that.

It’s not ours or NATO, at least no one’s reported losing one from a NATO country. I hope it isn’t true. A state-of-the-art E-Dub Sat in the hands of the T-bags is bad news. The Taliban’s getting more efficient in their reverse engineering techniques.
I should get some shut eye before sun up——recharge the old batteries. Shit, did I just call myself old? I have killed men for less. So do I kill myself now? Probably should, it would get me off this fucking mountain.
(Laughter…)

Rations are getting low. I’m already supplementing with whatever I can find on the trail, but the hunting’s scarce now that winter’s setting in.

My clothes are getting a little worn and threadbare, and my equipment has taken a beating. Amazing how this country can eat up a set of gear in a hurry. I think I’m good for another 10 days as far supplies go. I got to reacquire those bastards though. If I can designate for a Sat-track to follow them, I could drop down to Srinagar and regroup for day.

Even that doesn’t feel right though. I want to stay on these mothers. Something’s happening here in the Kashmir. It feels different somehow. I don’t know what it is yet, but something heavy’s going down. I’ve got to stay sharp and find out what.
Well, enough shop talk for the night. I’m catching some Zulus.

Goodnight my beautiful SetAreh. See you in another month, baby.
Juliet-Six out.



Juliet-six, Mission log.

11-17-12. 1845 Zulu.
Perched in OP with good LOS. No-joy on targets. Indigenous personnel only.
Juliet-Six out.



Juliet-six, Personal log.

Bone-in rib-eye steak. Mmm-mmm! That one actually hurts. Felt my stomach do a jig. I don’t know if this really works or not, or if I’m just torturing myself somehow. The psychology behind it makes sense; say what you desire and you take its power away. In other words, say “cheeseburger” and I’ll stop drooling over an imagined one. Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Temp dropped about nine degrees today. Winter seems to be coming in a little early. I’m cold and feeling distracted. Hunted for a short while today and reconnoitered the ridge in case I need emergency shelter if a real bad mother starts blowing through. Also if I do manage get something on my hunt, I sure would like to have whatever it is cooked and hot. I’ll need some kind of cave for that so a fire won’t compromise my position. Going to go up higher tomorrow. Higher means colder, but not if I can find proper shelter for the night.

Dropped below zero last night. I’m too exposed for those kinds of conditions. Being cold means upping my calories to keep my core heated. Upping calories mean more consumption of already meager rations.  So what’s up Peter, you got something for me?  Because I know this cat named Paul…
(Laughter…)

That is funny. It’s exactly what’s going on though; borrowing from Peter to pay Paul every day out here.
The temperatures dropping again. Time to hunker down.
Love you, SetAreh. You’re my beacon, baby … my shining star.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-Six, mission log.
11-18-12, 0509 Zulu.

POIs have entered the village. Four men in a white SUV. They may be recon, or heralding the arrival of my primaries. Continuing surveillance.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log, supplemental…
Time is 1212 Zulu, 0512 local.

Twilight is coming. POIs remain indoors at indigenous lodging. Going tactical and doing CTR into village to confirm ID on POIs and/or vehicle if possible.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log, supplemental…

Descending the mountain. Spotted two village trucks heading north on ridge road below me. Snowing now. Visibility becoming limited. Continuing to village.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log supplemental…
0312 Zulu

It’s dark. I found a place to keep hidden here in the village with good LOS on the building my Tangos are in. I have some details on the truck. Snapped a photo of its VIN. Waiting for photo op on POIs. The village trucks have returned with supplies. They are definitely prepping for the arrival of more personnel. Standing by.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log supplemental…
2129 Zulu

Jackpot. Two vehicles inbound. SUVs. They came from northwest. Could be my Tangos.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log supplemental…
23519 Zulu.

Overlord, Juliet-six has reacquired targets. I have confirmed the ID of the leader of these Tangos as Bhahmr Khazad, a heavy-hitter in Al-Queda’s lineup. I got a good look at the new SUVs. Both vehicles have second row seats removed to hold two long, unmarked, rectangular containers of metal fabrication, about 30″ by 72″. I have photo evidence but there is a sentry within proximity preventing use of flash. Returning up the ridge to break down base and OP. I need to move fast so they don’t get ahead of me. The village is a bad place for me to set an ambush. Too many locals and too many opportunities for the enemy to find cover. I need them exposed in the open and with their guards down.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log supplemental…
2041 Zulu

Juliet-six is
Oscar-Mike . Going to get ahead and attempt to delay target vehicles with Road Hazard, then attempt contact with Overlord for advisement. This operative’s assessment is that the containers are definitely not friendly.

Juliet-six out



Juliet-six, mission log
11-19-12, 1006 Zulu

I have moved through the night, and am positioned well in advance of the target vehicles. Road Hazard is set. Standing by for Tango-Victor.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log supplemental…
1326 Zulu

Road hazard was outstanding! Tango-Victor temporarily delayed. Moving to higher ground to contact Overlord.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log supplemental…
1401 Zulu

Attempting contact with Overlord at JSOC. (transcription of radio contact)

Overlord, Julia-six, priority-one Sat-Com. Do you read? Overlord, Julia-six … Overlord, Julia-six, priority-one Sat-Com. Do you read? Over.
[Juliet-six, this (-static-) Overlord. (-static-) copy. Over.]
Overlord, I have confirmed ID of Bhahmr Khazad in a convoy of three Tango-Victors on Taliban Trail. Two with unidentified suspicious payload. Confidence is high, repeat; confidence is high that this is a Danger-Red cargo. Request permission to engage, and seize or destroy. Over.
[Juliet-six… (-static-) …request. (-static-) …]
Say again, Overlord. Over.
[Juliet… (-static-) …permission… (-static-) …. Over.]
Overlord, say again. Say again! Over.
(-static-)
Overlord, I am in a snow storm. Moving position to reestablish in three-zero mikes. Juliet-six out.
(end of radio contact)

Goddamnit!



Mission log supplemental…
1458 Zulu

Attempting again to contact Overlord at JSOC. (transcription of radio contact)

Overlord, Julia-six, priority-one Sat-Com. Do you read? Over.
(-static-)
[Juliet-six, Overlord. Your
Com is weak. Can you boost? Over.]
Overlord, Juliet-six WILCO at risk of COMSEC. Over.
[Juliet-six, your call, soldier. How hot…]
(-static-)

Shit! Fuck it!
(00:00:21 pause)

Overlord, Juliet-six has boosted signal. Do you copy? Over.
[Roger, Julia-six, we copy you loud and clear now. Over.]
Overlord, I have three Tango-Victors, two with suspicious payload. Confirmed Bhahmr Khazad is in convoy. Cargo is four metal crates approximately 30″ x 72″. No adornment. Plain polished metal. Tangos treating as high priority. Confidence is high, repeat; confidence is high that this is Danger-Red cargo. Juliet-six requesting permission to engage and capture, or eliminate Khazad, and seize or destroy cargo. Over.
[Standby, Juliet-six. Over.]
(00:04:29 delay until reply)

[Juliet-six, this is Overlord-Actual, repeat; this is Overlord-Actual. Respond. Over.]
Overlord-Actual, I read you, sir. Over.
[Juliet-six, request is denied, repeat; request to engage denied. Consider primary mission to identify cargo. Do you copy, Juliet-six? Over.]
Overlord-Actual, roger. Mission imperative: identify cargo.
(00:00:07 pause)
Overlord-Actual, I want to clarify; there are eight, repeat; eight Tangos escorting cargo. It will be difficult to get near those vehicles if I don’t go in Weapons-Hot. Over.
[Juliet-six, Overlord believes you will find a way. Regional OPSEC cannot be compromised without a positive Danger-Red classification on that cargo. Weapons are HOLD/SAFE. Is that clear, Juliet-six? Over.]
Roger, Overlord-Actual. WILCO. Over.
[Excellent, Juliet-six. Good luck son. Overlord-Actual Out.]
(end of radio contact)

Son of a bitch!



Juliet-six, Personal log.

Fuck the date and time. I marched ahead maybe eight Klick while the Tangos were delayed on the road. Became too dangerous in the storm.  Zero visibility came on quick. Found a bit of shelter. Hunkered down now. Cold, hungry, pissed off, and worried about that cargo. I have a really bad feeling.  If Khazad is willing to risk moving something in these conditions must be of major importance to the T-bag chiefs.

If only I could’ve gotten into those trucks in the village. If this storm keeps up, and the vehicles are able to stay Oscar-Mike , I won’t be able to keep pace with them. In all truth, I think I’m only good for about four to five more days out here anyway. Every day I can feel myself getting weaker. This damn knee is a constant menace now.  I’m damn near
PMC Enough cry babying.  Ah FISHDO.
(00:00:11 pause)

Thanksgiving in three days… I’m sorry, SetAreh, I will miss another holiday with you and Ali. I know you understand, but when will an apology no longer be enough?

I miss you my love, both of you. I’m sorry that I have been gone so long. I know you know my work is important. How is Ali doing in school? I wish I could be there to see him experience University, be there for the times when only a father’s ear can help. I know he understands what I do and why, but I also know it must be difficult not having me there for support.  Difficult for you too, sweet SetAreh. How do you spend your days? Do you keep yourself occupied as I do with the tasks of day-to-day life? I can see your day planner now; not a single space left on any of the pages. You were always the planner. Our wedding, vacations, even family weekends at home you planned down to the finest detail, so I’m sure you give yourself plenty to do to stay occupied and not think about your soldier-husband who is still so far away.

I know I have said it before, my love, but truly I mean it this time; this will be my last in-the-field operation. When I return, we will write my request for reassignment together, and by Spring I will have my butt permanently parked behind a desk in Washington within a reasonable commute from our lovely home that I miss so much.

Well, my beautiful wife, whom I honor above all things, I must get some sleep now, for I have still many days of hell ahead of me until that day I finally come home to you.
Juliet-six out.



Juliet-six, mission log.
11-20-12, 0705 Zulu

Juliet-six lost Tangos. The storm’s kept up for 27 hours now. Visibility is less than 5 mikes. So much snow has fallen that I can’t even find the road much less the tracks of the Tango-Victors. I have made three attempts to contact Overlord to give a SITREP, but have been unable to get through. If this storm continues, I fear I will lose Khazad and the cargo permanently. Juliet-six will do everything within his power to reacquire. I am moving out into the storm again.
Juliet-six out.



Mission log supplemental…

The storm has increased in magnitude. I’ve been forced to take long term shelter. Temperatures have dropped far below freezing. This will be my last mission log until the storm clears.
Juliet-six out.



Julia-six, personal log.

(Background wind noise, and the shivering of Juliet-six made for difficulties with the transcribing)
The storm had better end soon or you fuckers can kiss one mid-east op goodbye. Must be twenty-below wind-chill factor at least. I’m not equipped for this. This severe of a storm is unseasonably early. I’m sure it caught the T-bags off guard too. Lucky sons a’bitches have SUVs though. Wish I had killed them when I had the chance. I would be riding in one of those right now. “Regional OPSEC” my butthole! You should’ve let me have them, Overlord. Now we’ll probably never know what the fuck is in those metal containers. Two and a half months of traipsing through these mountains and risking my life for nothing! Goddammit!
(00:00:17 pause)

I should have listened to you, baby … I should have listened. I should’ve stayed home with you and Ali, and fought my personal battle from the safe, and climate-predictable, confines of a Intelligence office. I should’ve come home to you every night, shared a hot dinner, and talked with you, or maybe watched a movie curled up on the couch. I should’ve spent my nights making love to you, feeling your soft skin against me, hearing your whispers of “I love you.” I should’ve been sleeping against your warmth.

But I didn’t listen, so here I lie in the lee of this big fucking rock, not even half guarded from the storm, freezing to my very bones, and not entirely certain that I will make it through until the storm ceases. It’s so cold. The wind whips around my rock and stabs me like a hundred knives right through my gear to my bones. I can feel my marrow chill. I can’t open my eyes. They’re frozen shut. My teeth hurt from chattering. I can’t stop. All the will I can summon won’t stop this convulsive shivering and teeth chattering. I guess that’s good. When the shivers stop, when the body can’t keep it up any longer, that’s when it starts to make those tough decisions; sacrificing fingers and toes, then hands and feet to save blood flow for the core. I want to just sleep … sleep and wake with this storm gone and the sun shining. Maybe even wake in bed with you, my love.

No, no. I can’t wander like that. Sleep will kill me, kill me for sure. I don’t think my legs are shivering any more. Yes. The shivering is less intense … the chattering too. I have got to move my body. My legs feel frozen. I know they aren’t yet, but they won’t move.
(grunting and yelling)

I’ve got them moving. Using my arms to help. I have got to try and hold out.  If I can’t, sweet SetAreh, will you ever forgive me? Can you forgive me for leaving you and Ali alone? Can I forgive myself? No, I think. You’re so understanding, my love, but I know that deep down you already resent that I have spent so much time away. Ali does as well. How will you two ever forgive me if I die here in these mountains ten thousand miles from home? Yes it’s true, the day they hand you that folded flag you will hate me forever. You will nod when others speak of the honor of service and the sacrifice of soldiers, but inside you will scream, “What of my sacrifice?!?”

I know this. I know and I don’t blame you, sweet SetAreh. So hate me. Hate me if it helps you leave me behind. Right now I hate myself … almost as much as I hate this bitter cold. Too cold to sleep. Too dangerous.  So is my mind; sinking down. I have to stop. So I’m going to log off, my love, my wife, my SetAreh. I hope to wake to sunshine.
Juliet-six out.



Next: To See is to Fear

November 22rd; Thanksgiving. For the government it couldn’t have happened at a better time. With ninety percent of the nation feasting with family, watching the college games, or enjoying the holiday parades, it was easy to censor the influx of footage pouring through the internet and bouncing off satellites before too many people saw it. It was a “Big Brother” wet dream; the one-day-jump on a potential media frenzy and subsequent public panic. When that machine wished, it could move incredibly fast.

Of course you all found out eventually; spoon fed little icky bites at a time over the next few months.
I was not so fortunate, however. I was forcefully engorged on the whole reality; had it and all the terrifying possibilities rammed down my throat.

As an international correspondent, I was contacted immediately. Not to go on scene—India was not my region of responsibility—but simply because we newsies are a gossiping bunch, and when my good friend Nigel “Taffy” Tafferton, who was in New Dehli at the time, first got wind of the outbreak he just had to call. A kind of one-upmanship thinly veiled as shared gossip.

“Wanted ya to be the first to know, mate.”

Wanted me to be the first to feel the bitter sting of envy is more like it—I did too. Outbreaks always make global news. They were as dangerous to report as tribal warfare, and genocides, but you could get a Pulitzer if it was big enough. Yes, I was envious for about 6 hours. Then I was afraid … very afraid.

Even with my direct satellite feed linked with the Network, I couldn’t get a complete picture of what was happening in northeastern India. A terrifying illness had begun to spread. Violence and savagery accompanied the outbreak of what was later reported as a suspected viral based disease. Seemingly like rabies; the illness made you crazy. People were attacking other people. Wild stories of cannibalism abounded.

By the 26th of November the whole civilized world knew something was happening in India, but not how severe the disease was or how far and fast the new epidemic had spread. India had declared a state of national emergency and had done an impressive job of keeping the Western press out.

But you can’t keep us all behind the wire, not when there’s a story to be had, and definitely not with reporters like Taffy determined to get the full scoop. This big of an incident was a giant chicken coop full of plump helpless hens, and Taffy was the fox, cunning and hungry. Too hungry, as it turned out.

Because the Indian government had banned any unauthorized reporters from covering the story, what Nigel was doing was illegal. He could not feed his footage or report to his BBC station because, fearing liability and international scandal, the BBC would of course immediately call him off the hunt. The only way to keep on the scoop was to play non-com with his Network, and send his feed somewhere safe—to someone he could trust. I was that unfortunate someone. I received Taffy’s transmission at 0615 hours ET on the 28th of November.

The 26th and 27th had little to offer in the way of news. Most of America, not particular practiced in patience, had long since lost interest in the vague reports on the epidemic in Punjab, India.

Our government had to know what was really happening, of course, but they weren’t saying anything, or letting anything be said. I have never heard of such a tight lid being screwed on the Free Press in all of Western history.
Late on the 26th, and in the wee hours of the 27th, I made some international calls trying to get some more information—all that the networks had been showing was some early internet footage of what looked like a riot, and a few people being mauled by the crazed hordes, and then a bunch of clips of sick Indian peasants in tent hospitals. The feed was only a fifteen minute loop, the same as we had on Day One.
Inquiries at my Network were met with ICE and firewalls.

“Leave it be, Joe.” was my editor’s excellent advise (wish I had taken it).
“But it’s a huge story, Carl—fucking Moby Dick!”
He just shook his head. “If the Federal Government of the United States of America says there’s no story in India, then there is no fucking story in India. Is that clear, Ahab?”
“The Feds are doing direct censoring? You’ve got to be kidding me? When in the hell do they every do that?”
“Exactly! When do they ever? Never is when. So when they show up——not a call on the phone, but fucking show up!——this Network sits, listens and says, ‘Yes, sir.’ And by-fucking-God we comply! Did you miss any of that?”
I didn’t.

Strange, I thought, and scary. Extreme censorship means extreme catastrophe. None of my contacts had much more, only few vague eyewitness accounts from Westerners of some kind of mass hysteria, and that rioting crowds had definitely turned to cannibalism. Infected peasants were eating other peasants. I didn’t believe it until a close associates and friend, who had been deported back to France during the press crack-down, said he had seen at least twenty people taken down by this mass of “crazed loonies” and then torn apart, like it was a feeding frenzy.

It made my skin crawl, and every hair on my body stand straight up. It was not what Pierre was telling me that had this effect, though it was horrific enough, but how he was telling me. Pierre had seen death squads in Bosnia, covered the genocides in Rwanda—he was a hardened veteran who had seen scores of murders, but still his voice faltered when he told this story.
“It scared me, mon ami—it scared the hell out of me. I’ll tell you, Joseph, when they caught me—Je remercie Dieu!—I was happy to go.”

All that from a story the government advertised to the mainstream household of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Citizen as unworthy to cover.

I had just crawled into bed to the mumbled greeting of my lovely second half, Peggy, when my phone told me in its own melodic language that I had just received a sat-feed via my own personal encrypted wave. I crawled out of bed to more mumbles and complaining. I gave explanatory mumbles in return as I pulled on some sweat pants and a t-shirt. That seemed to satisfy my sweet Peggy, and she fell back to sleep.

My office is in the basement in a room that is as much like a vault as it can be without actually being a vault. I am not paranoid. This is a necessary inconvenience of my profession, and is, if I may have an immodest moment, a reflection of the status twenty years of excellence has gotten me. I often have very sensitive information relayed through my office. There has been several times when a competitive network, a private acquisitions contractor (thief!), and even domestic and foreign government agencies have aggressively sought to acquire information that I had possession of. With a private office like this, they’re not going to simply walk in and take it.

I punched my code into the keypad, then placed my thumb over the scanner. The heavy metal door beeped and opened.
I sat at my station and after scanning the cache for (ironically enough!) viruses, I downloaded the feed. The encryption made it take some time. While I waited I checked the wave codes—they’re a kind of signature, like an IP address is to a computer, and tells me what kind of device sent the transmission, and, if I recognize it, who sent it.
It was Taffy.

I triangulated the satellites, and then rewound for the time since the transmission was sent to figure out approximately where the satellites were when the feed was received and therefore know where Taffy was when he sent them. I finished just as the decryption ended. 31.31 N. Latitude, 75.84 E. Longitude.

I’ll be damned!

He had managed to stay in India. His signal was sent from about thirty miles northeast of the city Jalandhar.
My first thought was that he was arrested and needed a discreet bail out so his network wouldn’t find out. But he sent footage.

He’s got something!

That old feeling instantly comes to the surface. We can’t help it, we’re newshounds—it’s what we do.
An exclusive story in my hands!
It’s like getting a rare look at a near-extinct animal; it’s a privilege, and you can’t help your heart from racing.
I transferred the download to the video unit—also designed for decrypting video—hit play and sat back nearly shaking with anticipation.

Then I thought about what Pierre had said, “It scared the hell out of me … I was happy to go.” Excitement turned to anxiety.

The video flashed to life.

Arid climate, barren region, not desert, but very dry—dawn it looks like. The view bounces back and forth, and up and down in a haphazard rhythm as Taffy runs carrying the big camera. He stops and turns it to face him.
Taffy’s quintessentially British mug fills the screen.

“Oi, mate! This is crazy, you have no idea what it took to get this big bitch through the bloody perimeter.” He shakes the camera referring to it. “I’m here though, mate, and I’m gonna get the skinny on this plague business. Right past these rocks is the relief shelter where the emergency medical post is set up. Let’s see if the estimate of a thousand victims of the epidemic is fucking bollocks or not.”

He shoulders the camera and sneaks up to shoot over a rock, and down to the valley below.
“Fucking hell, this tart is heavy, mate. But I’m glad I have her.” He means for the camera’s exceptional zoom capabilities in high resolution, and the shotgun mic is excellent as well on that model.

On screen, a fenced off area roughly a quarter of a mile square comes into focus. Large tents have been pitched in neat sectors. An enormous white medical tent with its red cross stenciled on the top stood at the center of the encampment. Random trucks and jeeps were all about the interior and outside of the perimeter. A lone helicopter lies on its side on a landing zone, its props bent and broken.

“Holy Christ, mate, will you look at that?”

I did. Taffy panned around. Bodies lay all over the place. Some looked as if they just died where they stood and fell to the ground. Others were mere skeletons, entirely stripped of flesh and in pieces.
“Fuck me, Joey. God, I hope I can get this to ya.”

Taffy zooms in on a cannibalized corpse. The remains were scattered about. What could be called a body was only a spinal column, pelvis, and a single thigh bone. The meat had been entirely chewed or torn off, and bones gnawed clean. These remains were lying in the center of blood stained earth, some six feet by ten feet. Nearby were broken bones, a shattered skull, and shredded military uniform.

A layer of black flies covers the bones until the breeze causes them to buzz off in unison then to return seconds later. The carrion insects repeat this ritual according to the rhythm of the wind. The dark cloud of flies looked to me like a soul trying to leave the remains, but was somehow being drawn back again and again before it could escape to freedom.

“Time to get into character, mate.” Taffy cleared his throat. I was glad to have the view leave the bones and flies for a moment. “This is Nigel Tafferton reporting from just outside Jalandhar, India at the scene of a horrific event…”

I didn’t hear what he was saying. I could only look in shock at the carnage. Everywhere there were the corpses of the cannibalized—hundreds of them!—and this was just a limited view of this side of the camp.

It’s true then, there could be a thousand victims there.

As Taffy zoomed in I could see that many of the tents were torn down. The only things moving down there were the flies. The place was completely void of any living souls.

One thing struck me though; the obvious violent deaths of those that had been eaten was in stark contrast to the seemingly untouched corpses of those that looked to have simply fallen where they stood. Could it be that some percentage of the population is severely allergic or susceptible and have a nearly instant mortality timetable? It must be, otherwise how did those uneaten people die like that?

Taffy, I realized, had taken notice of the phenomenon as well. He was doing his best to get a close zoom on one of the intact bodies.

“I know how those geezers missing all their meat went out. What gets me, Joey m’boy, is how the others just dropped. I just can’t tell from here. I’m maybe 300 meters out, mate, it looks like those other bodies, and these here,” he pans in on a few uneaten corpses, “are drenched in blood.”

Now that he points it out, it sure looks that way.

“I’m going down there to have a closer look. Yeah, mate, I hear ya mama-birding me. Don’t worry about me. There doesn’t seem to be a living soul in the whole bloody camp.”

I instinctively looked for a radio so I could call and tell him what an idiotic plan that is. Plague and Cannibalism, and you want to get closer?

Taffy turned the camera at himself again. He had pulled on a gasmask and goggles. “Don’t worry, mate, Taffy’s got this handled.”

He heads down the slope recording the whole way. He loses his footing several times, but manages to stay upright and keep the $20,000 camera from bouncing down the hill. Once down he was definitely closer to the bodies but his level shooting trajectory made for poor discovery with the images.

“Fucking hell, Joey. Why’d you let me come down here? Now I gotta get closer. Piss and blood!”
Jesus, Taf, are you crazy? Don’t go closer!
Taffy walked onward. He stood and shot, then walked some more, stood and shot, then walked some more, then made his way closer again until finally…

“Ah, fuck it, mate. Enough of this inchworm bollocks. Time to earn the hard-ass reputation I got, right?”

“Oh my God…” involuntarily came out of me like a whisper, followed by, “Don’t do it, Taf.” I hated him for doing this, for sending the transmission and putting me through this.

Suddenly I had a realization that hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been so overwhelmed by the stimuli from the footage—hundreds of carcasses gnawed clean, maybe as many as a thousand dead at this camp alone, fallen soldiers that could mean a containment breach and widespread infections, oh the list goes on. Throw all that in with the fact that one of my best friends was marching willy-nilly into the catastrophe area and my capacity for reason had been completely shot down.

Here I was barely able to breathe when it dawned on me; Taffy sent this to me. No one else could have. Taffy couldn’t send it if he had met some grizzly end. So he’s just fine, the limey bastard is A-OK.
I laughed so hard with relief that I almost pissed myself. I paused the video and went to take care of my bladder. My legs were weak.

You were really worked up there, Joey-boy.

“Take a breather, mate,” I could almost hear Taffy’s say, “They’re not bloody-well knocking the Taf outta the game yet!”

I think that was one of the best pees I ever had; a ton of anxiety drained out of me with that pint of urine. I rinsed my face and looked in the mirror. I actually looked haggard.

Jesus, that must’ve gotten to me more than I realized. Taffy’s right, take a breather, mate!
I did just that—I took in several slow deep breaths. Still, I didn’t feel right. I had really plunged into the experience.

Goddamn, man, you’re a reporting correspondent. You’ve seen hell and death all over this globe. Get it together.

It occurred to me that this was the third mental pep-talk I’d had since getting up to piss. I decided a Scotch or beer was the way to go.

Make it a beer. That’ll be perfect—crack a cold one and enjoy the show. The “showing off” is more like it.
Yeah, that bit was true. We’d be hearing about this for a year—forever if he won the Pulitzer he was likely to. As it was, I took a glass of scotch and grabbed a beer. I sat myself down, leaned my chair back, downed my scotch, and hit “play.”

And so, with camera shouldered and rolling, Nigel Tafferton waltzed alone into the scene of a epidemic disease and mass murder of unknown proportions.

With a cold beer in my hand and the knowledge that he would make out it okay, I couldn’t help but admire the fool. It was a hell of a thing he did. I can’t think of anyone else in the world that would’ve done what I was watching him do.

When he gets to within about thirty feet from one of the mystery corpses, he focuses real sharp in on it (it sure looked like blood to me) and begin his professional narration again.
At the same time, right in the corner of the screen, I saw something move.

No way!

Taffy, oblivious, rambles on as he circles the body, maintaining the thirty foot distance.

I was about to have a heart attack from the suspense. Something had moved——I was sure of it!——and Taffy, with his peripheral vision severely limited by the camera, had no clue, and because he was circling the subject of the shot, he had put whatever has moved at his back.
< em>It’s got to be one of the aid workers or someone like that. Taffy’s probably drinking a beer with them right now and getting the skinny on the whole damn thing. The poor aid worker is probably just overjoyed to have someone besides the corpses for company.

“As it is clear to see, these unfortunate ones here…” Taffy pans over his subject and several other uneaten corpses. “…were responsible for the demise of these even less fortunate ones here.” The camera zooms in on several cannibal victims. The reality seeps in again and with it a growing dread.

What would make a human do that to another? Why is no one there?

Taffy pans back facing towards the camp.

“Some of these men are obviously military personnel, which raises questions regarding the effectiveness of an army unit at anything less than full armor-supported platoon level when dealing with this crisis. Also, how were these armed and trained soldiers overrun, and why were they not able..?”

At the top of the screen some distance in the background, stands a pair of legs in Indian Army desert camo. Taffy sees him and pans up. The soldier is maybe seventy feet away near the gate to the compound.

Why isn’t he armed?

“Oi, mate! I am glad to see you guys are here! Look, I, uh, I’ve been sent here under Parliamentary orders, yours not ours, on a joint British/Indian press assignment to document the, uh…”
The soldier starts limping briskly at Taffy.

Something didn’t look right. Though I knew everything was going to be fine, I still felt a wave of fear for my friend wash over me. I found I was holding my breath.

The mic picks up something that sounds like a grunt.

Taffy turns.

There, dead center on the screen, is the subject of Taffy’s narration, now sitting upright.

I can’t describe the feeling I had … I’ll never be able to.

The sitting zombie turns its head and looks directly into the camera, and then it growls——a low, gurgling, throaty growl. Taffy whirls around to find the limping soldier sprinting right at him. Bullet holes can be seen now in its chest and left leg. The soldier zombie howls at Taf, a hoarse inhuman sound.

Time slowed as I stared at a thing that should not exist.

A dead man, a zombie—a fucking zombie cannibal!—was going for my friend.

I know now that it didn’t matter what happened after that moment, that day, month, whatever … the second I saw that zombie and heard it growl something broke; a small but fundamental thing inside me needed to live in some semblance of normalcy just snapped. I was watching dead men come to life to eat my friend. There would be no more normal for Joe. None, ever again…

Time snapped back to speed.

“Run, Taffy, Goddamn you, run!” I couldn’t help but shout.

He did.

“Holy Christ, almighty!”

The camera drops from his shoulder. The view bounces and jerks crazily. I can clearly hear the rapid, crunch-crunch of Taf’s boots on the dry ground as he runs. Every time he looks back the camera jerks left, and his panicked breathing is punctuated by an involuntary moan of distress at what he sees pursuing him. I can hear the faint growls and howls of the things. It sounds like more than two. They are getting louder. They are gaining on him.

Taffy drops the camera. It bounces and lands on the side facing back.

Eight terrifying zombies pursue Taffy. Not hobbling, but running … like men—like living men! They close the distance to the camera at a discouraging rate and then run past, limping soldier brings up the rear.

I was left looking at the tent complex. More of them come out from the gate and around other side of the perimeter.
My God, there are hundreds of them!

Then it struck me; Taffy had dropped the camera. Damnation could not oppress my spirit more than this realization. How could he send this if he dropped the camera? The video transfer can be pre-programmed, so even if your unit is confiscated and under lock and key, it will secretly send whatever has been pre-set into the feed. Taf had done that … he had pre-set the unit to transmit to me.

Oh God no…

Taffy worked hard and he partied hard. He loved his drink and he loved his smokes. He wasn’t going to be able to keep up any kind of pace for long.

I stared at the screen——hundreds and hundreds were pouring out of the facility, many of them running to catch up to the pursuit. Some just shamble. I stared and a cried. I bawled as I listened to my friend of 17 years yell in a last desperate attempt to somehow ward off the zombies.

“Get away from me, get away! Leave me alone! Leave——no, don’t!”

I prayed … I prayed for an improbable miracle.

“Please God … please, do something—anything!”

God was on vacation that day and has never returned. He has clearly abandoned us to our miserable fate. I haven’t prayed since … never will.

And so I heard my dear friend Nigel scream as no human was ever meant to scream, suffering what no human was ever meant to suffer, as frenzied zombie cannibals tore him open and ate him alive.

The timer on the screen rolled off 34 seconds before there was silence.

I was bawling convulsively now—wailing actually. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen as if I expected his pallid limey face to pop into view as he grabs the camera and yells, “April fools, mate!” and all the zombies join in the laughter.

It was November, and the Brits don’t have April Fools.

I remained transfixed, crying until the shock finally set in. Then I just stared into the screen in numb disbelief. I watched without really acknowledging as the horde ambled casually past the camera back to the camp. Some were eating. All were bloody. Taffy’s gnawed forearm was dropped only five feet in front of the camera. His watch was still fastened around his wrist.

I held in my breath.

Another zombie picked up his forearm and bit a finger off.  It chewed the bones noisily. I could hear the crunching as it walked away.

I can’t explain the effect it had on me … I just can’t.

Most of the zombies disappeared into the complex. The zombies from in front of the gate returned there then simply dropped limp to the ground, to lie in wait once again.

Text flashed on the screen several times and brought me out of my near-catatonic state. It read: PRE-PROGRAMMED TRANSMISSION COMMENCING. PRESS CANCEL TO ABORT.

No one did.

Once the static died away and the system shutdown I was left with only the sound of my pulse inside my head until Peggy came down and called out from the stairs.

“Sweetie, is everything okay? I thought I heard a shout.”

“I’m okay. I…” Taffy’s screams echoed in my mind. I couldn’t hold back the tears. “..yes, I, uh … I’m…” The rest came out as some strange croaking.

“Sweetie?” She came in.

When she saw me she took a half step back. I have never seen the look she gave before. Then again, she had never seen me in a state like I was.

“Joe! What’s wrong?”

I tried again to talk, but just pointed at the video screen. The sobs had come again in full.

“Oh, baby!” She wrapped her arms around me.

I sunk into them and buried my face in the soft fabric of her night gown above her left breast, then I descended once more into convulsive sobs and uncontrollable moans.

“Oh my God! Baby, baby…”

We dropped to the floor where she just held me until all my anguish was spent. I don’t know how long that was.

When I finally gathered myself, I dealt with the trauma of the whole surreal mind-fuck the way I dealt with any trauma—you can only do what you know, right?—I gulped down a large glass of scotch, then just flipped the switch in my head. I went into busy-body mode. Work would keep my brain from uploading the nightmare to my mind’s eye. The world had to know. I assigned myself the task and went to work with that end in mind.

I of course told Peggy what happened to Taffy. Even after finding me as she did my own wife of twenty-two years found my story hard to believe. She thought that I had somehow just mistaken something—I had to have!—she insisted what I was telling her couldn’t possibly be right.

I showed her one minute of Taf’s video. She became a firm believer.

To preserve Taffy’s dignity, the BBC’s liability, and my conscience, I edited the piece removing all audio and video footage of Nigel, made copies, and sent it all over the planet. Fuck the government and fuck censorship! This was serious. That was the afternoon of the 28th. That night India warned any foreigners that full martial law had been declared throughout all the states in the northeast which meant the epidemic had spread over three times the area since the 23rd, and anyone without military uniform and pass would be shot right there on the spot.

The Indians were desperate, and for good reason I knew. Just how desperate I could have never of guessed.
On the evening of the 30th I stayed glued to the news. Peggy was with me. We waited together to see which network would air Taffy’s vid first and what the reactions would be worldwide. It was going to be big news.
We got some big news that night all right. Just not about Taffy’s shoot. It was bigger … way bigger.

Without warning or seeking UN counsel—much less approval—the Republic of India detonated 10 one-megaton tactical nuclear warheads over its own soil utterly wiping out five major cities, every village and township between, and reducing an estimated 19.4 million people there to ash.

The international outrage was tremendous. Threats, accusations—all conceivable reactions were had. The din of the global uproar was deafening. That is, until India released their documentation of the epidemic.

Once the global clamor ceased, the entire civilized world—and I do mean entire!—watched in terrified fascination as hordes of zombie cannibals rampaged across North India overrunning military blockades and overwhelming every city and village in their path. The estimated sum of infected dead that surged outward in a circular wave was over a million strong.

Containment was impossible.

In a tearful live broadcast the President of India reached out to the people of her nation and the world as a whole, and pleaded for them all, each and every one, to find strength where ever they may in the wake of this great tragedy and help heal her afflicted country.

The families and loved ones of the lost she addressed last.

“I cannot ask for your forgiveness, though I know that you, the blessed and beautiful people of India, even in this time of tremendous sorrow, would offer it. My brothers and sisters, for the immeasurable love I hold for all of you, I have done the unforgivable. So, my dear ones, I ask instead for you to give your love to the one next to you, give your love to our scarred earth, and give your love up to God who has let us all remain and witness, and live to love still.”

Priya Nair, thirteenth President of the democratic Republic of India, took her own life less than an hour after making her plea for love to all.

The Global Community was for the first time exactly that.

In the weeks that passed we learned how savage and aggressive this disease had been and that, in all likelihood, the incredible will and courage of India’s tragic President, by sacrificing her people, may have saved the human species entire. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

I still weep for her. I cannot comprehend facing such a decision. Even in my imagining I wither under the insurmountable weight of all those lives … nineteen million. It’s just … unfathomable.

Never in the history of humanity was a single person so honored by the world as a whole. In just a few short months after her sacrifice there were already over 100,000 statues of her across the globe, and nearly as many newborns named Priya.

The following day Taffy’s video began to appear on global networks. I had no pride in this accomplishment, and with the undead cat now completely out of the body bag, I sent BBC all but the very end of Taffy’s last report. Let them imagine him getting away. That’s what I do; imagine him still running, running straight to a corner pub in heaven.

Yeah, Taffy would like that.

Next: Sowing the Seeds