Date: May 1st, 2015. time: 2100 hours. Location: Vipers' Den, somewhere in the Colorado Rockies.
"Hey Doc." The voice pulls him out of his reading. He puts down his well worn copy of "The Real Ironman. The Autobiography of Tony Stark" and glances at the clock on the wall.
He doesn't try to correct the man. He had tried for a while. He was told a degree didn't matter, he was the one keeping them all healthy and alive. Besides wasn't Hawkeye one of the doctors on MASH. He'd given up after that. Now everyone calls him Doc.
"Yes?" Sitting alone behind the desk in the large and currently unoccupied infirmary the long time Mediviper looks at the Rockviper standing in front of him. "What's up John?"
"Oh nothing much. Just thought I'd come check on how my favorite Doc is doing." He pulls up a chair and flops down into it. "Whatchya reading?"
"Tony Stark's autobiography."
"Yeah? I'm more of a Steve Roger's fan myself."
"Oh yeah. Big fan." He pauses for a minute getting a faraway look in his eyes. "That Steve Rogers was everything I wanted to be. Did I ever tell you about my time in the Army?" He hadn't but Hawkeye had read his file and knew all about it.
“I was in the 10th Mountain Division:
We are the 10th Mountain Infantry,
With a glorious history
On our own two feet,
All our foes we'll defeat,
Light fighters marching on to
We go where others dare not go,
Through the heat or cold or snow,
We are proud to be in the Army of the free.
Climb to glory, Mountain Infantry.
Climb to glory, the Light Infantry."
He sits silently as thoughts race across his face. "Four years. Four of the hardest years of my life." Another pause. "I enlisted right after 9/11. Figured it'd be a good job. Support my wife and kids. Help the country. All that good Patriotic crap ya know." He doesn't pause for an answer. "Anyway, there I am in Afghanistan getting shot at by jihadi pieces\\] of shit and my wife is stateside shopping with food stamps. Fuckin' food stamps. I'm risking my life and the government won't pay me enough to support my family.
They drop over 60 billion dollars on a plane that doesn't work while my wife goes hungry so our kids can eat. Fuck is that about?
So there I am in the shit. Getting shot at. You know something, that didn't scare me, being shot at. You know what did? Not knowing if the electricity would stay on back home. I had done it all the right way; graduated high school, got an Associate's Degree, was gonna get a BA in geology but then the Twin Towers…” He goes still remembering back to the day that changed the United States forever.
“…anyway I enlist. You know what an Associate's Degree gets you? Jack and shit. Oh sure I was a Specialist, fuck everyone and their mother were Specialists. You know what a BA gets you? A chance at OCS, better pay, business recruiters waiting to swoop you up, a real life after the Army. That's what they get.
I'd get letters from home, an email about how my wife had to get groceries donated to her. Donated! Why does my wife need donations?
Four years I was in. 3 deployments. I was up to re-up my enlistment, Carol and I fought about that. I don't know what I was thinking. Anyway, one night we really got into it. Yelling at each other. Kids crying. I left. Went to the bar. I was nursing a pint when a guy sat down next to me. Said he was a recruiter for a PMC firm. Wouldn't say which one, Opsec and all that he said. I swear he knew everything about me. Said he had a job to offer me. Slid me his card. Told me he'd written a number on the back of it, my starting salary. He said not to look at it till he left. He ordered us a round and told me all about the benefits my family would get; relocation, rent free housing in a house with a yard, the medical, dental, the whole nine yards. He told me I'd do 3 months on 3 months off. It'd be a 5 year contract, after that we'd renegotiate.
He paid my tab and told me he'd call me in a few days, I hadn't even given him my number. I went home, we had a small 2 bedroom apartment off base. My kids shared the larger bedroom, my wife and I in the smaller one. It was more like a glorified closet if I'm honest. I didn't tell Carol at first. I needed to make up for the fight.
Carol is the best thing to happen to me.
So a couple days later I tell her. She's suspicious and said if something sounds too good to be true it's cause it is. But she said I could check it out. He called the next day. I went on a tour. A tour. He showed me where I'd be trained and showed me a model home. He asked if I wanted to talk to my wife some more. Maybe bring her by. No hard sale. No pressure. I told her all about it and signed up.
On day one I met everyone else in my training unit. All of us had similar stories. It was a week before we learned we had signed up with Cobra. Don't get me wrong we weren't a bunch of idiots. We had suspicions but when we walked in to an amphitheater and saw the back drop it became clear. We were all Vets mind you. We all served our countries, every one of us honorably too. Not a slacker among us. No POGs either. We had heard about Cobra, who hadn't? They were fucking terrorists. They murdered civilians. They were the dregs the worst of the worst of society. We had heard that Cobra was in 'Stan supporting those assholes.
Turns out Cobra was there.
Did you know Cobra Commander sent two squads of Rock Vipers to Afghanistan to help find those POS? They worked with the Special Forces several times doing stuff the US couldn't do themselves. You'd never see that reported on the nightly news. The Commander hated Bin asshole. Hated that he killed innocent people." The Rockviper sits forward, "Did you know the Commander did everything he could to keep civilian casualties to a minimum? Yeah Alley Vipers cause havoc and mayhem but how many civilians have they intentionally killed? No carpet bombing. No accidental drone mishaps. I'm not delusional Doc, I know innocent civilians die, that's the cost of war, but not nearly the same number. It's not comparable. You ever met the Commander?" He pauses clearly hoping for an answer.
"No I haven't had the pleasure."
"I did. You know what he asked me? He asked me to tell him about my family. I told him Carol, little Tommy and Bethany. He asked how my kids were doing in school. How we liked our neighborhood. He asked me how we were doing with the deployment schedule. If I was holding up okay. He literally looked me in the eyes and said, 'Sergeant, I know that this is probably not how you saw your life going. Secretly working for a group labeled terrorists, but it is for a common good and in the end you'll realize that this was the best decision you've ever made.' Then he shook my hand and left. There was no cackling or grandiose speech, just one man talking to another man.
You know Brian, you and Emily should stop by for dinner soon. The kids love your dogs."
"I think we can do that."
"Great. I'll let Carol know. Anyway I should get going. My squad is next on patrol rotation. I should check over my gear. Good talking to you Doc."
"See ya later."
"See ya." And with that the Rockviper known as Cairn, Sergeant Walden, John pushed up from the chair and walked off. Hawkeye had gotten used to these interactions. He and John really were friends so he didn't mind the sharing. If letting his buddy unload meant he was more focused and safe out in the field then it was well worth the time. It was just another hat he wore in his infirmary. He thought about putting up a sign, Psychiatrist .05 cents. Nah better not.
Date: March 9, 2015. Time: Unknown. Location: Somewhere 65 miles from New Springfield
It's been six years since that fateful night. The tragic 911 call that came to announce the rising of the undead. The screams had been played by the media over and over again in the early days. The screams became symbolic of the times.
6.8 billion people hunted down to unknown millions. Could be hundreds of millions. Could be 1 million. Billions joined the ever growing ranks of the undead. Hundreds of millions more died due to the nuclear fallout. Still more found their end due to starvation, dehydration, the resurgence of once extinct illnesses, others to suicide, then there was the unspeakable loss of life at the hands of monsters.
Right now none of that mattered. Right now all there is is survival. The lone stranger needed to make it to New Springfield, come hell or horde.
He had hunkered down when it all happened. He had supplies to last several years. They'd run out 2 years ago. He'd spent the intervening time scavenging. There hasn't been much to find. Living things are scarce. Living things that are easy and safe to eat even more so. Then there's the water.
He'd seen all the movies growing up. He'd been a fan of that one show the Walking Walkers. Stupid name, "walkers." Were they all related to that Texas Ranger? His kids perhaps? Or had the people in that show never seen a zombie movie?
That would be some weird alternate reality shit. A world where no one made zombie movies. Or tv shows. Or t-shirts, bobble heads, candy. Mmm. He'd chop off his own hand for a candy bar. Perhaps a Snickers. He can see the commercial now; some undead bastard is chasing a bunch of people on a soccer field and someone yells, "Hey Mark eat a Snickers." The dumb fool holds his hand out to the zombie, candy bar in hand, the thing turns, grabs the arm, and tears into it. Blood squirts wildly into the air. The shambling piece of crap looks up, flesh clinging to its chin and winks at the camera teeth glistening. The fresh maker.
No. That's not right. Damn it. His thoughts are jumbled. It's hard to focus on any one thing for too long. Except for his goal. Get to New Springfield. The last people he came upon had told him all about it. They have big strong walls with armed guards at the top. Enough food and water for everyone. Enough food to plump them up. He was tired of thin, bony, wiry meals. He dreamed of fat, soft, scrumptious morsels.
He licked his lips just thinking about it. New Springfield. The ultimate all you can eat buffet. He was nearly there.
Date: March 7, 2014. Time: 0735. Location: Free World Radio, Dodge City, Kansas.
"Hello..." :indistinguishable mumbling: "... Are we broadcasting?" :indistinguishable mumbling:
We've been off the air for so long, actually we thought we were done for. We were surrounded. We'd been cut off. We had to stop reporting to defend our small retreat. Out of ammo, out of food, and out of hope. Our water had gone dry two days prior. We knew about the "Rule of 3s" and the "3 days without water" was weighing heavy on our minds. We were resigned to our fate. We would soon be dead. Then undead.
"If you can hear this know you are not alone. There are pockets of resistance around the world. Cobra is leading the charge of reclaiming our lands from the hordes of undead flesh eaters. You heard that right. Cobra has established multiple safe zones around the world. The largest is New Springfield. If you can get to any Cobra controlled territory you will be protected and provided for."
The rifle fire came quick and controlled. We had no idea who it was. We had hoped it was the military, we had heard the stories, hell we reported the stories of rouge military factions. They would be better then being eaten alive. At least they'd kill us quickly first.
We were able to smell the cordite. The staccato of shots went on for what seemed like forever. Then just as suddenly as they began they stopped. "HELLO TO THE SURVIVORS INSIDE." The voice projected over a bullhorn sounded commanding. "WE HAVE SECURED THE AREA. IF YOU ARE IN NEED OF FURTHER ASSISTANCE PLEASE SIGNAL." We were definitely in need of assistance. So we took a chance and opened the door.
We couldn't believe what we saw. Men and women all around our station. Most in blue uniforms. Other in varying types of camouflage. All armed and wearing masks. Then we saw the sigil. The Cobra. We knew we had made a mistake. Several large tanks, HISS Tanks, rolled up followed by several other vehicles of varying size.
A man approached. He wasn't wearing a mask and his rank insignia identified him as a Major. "Sir, I'm Major Clay Moore. You're safe now." He extended his hand. A smile on his face. I was in shock. I took it unsteadily. The big man before me turned and shouted "Medic!" Several soldiers ran up red crosses on pouches identifying them as medics. "Take care of these people. Full once over." He turned to look back at me, "Sir are you and your people hungry?" I was barely able to nod my head. He turned back to the medics, "Fill 'em up too. Food. Water. Give them whatever." He once again turned to me, "Sir you go with these folks. They'll take care of you. I'd stay with you but we've got a lot to do if we're gonna get your station up and running again." The medics took each of us off to a tent that had been set up. As we walked we saw all kinds of activity. People moving bodies of the truly dead. Others with all kinds of tech gear moving into the station building. Others doing what I came to learn was sentry duty. Everyone was doing something.
That was two weeks ago. Since then the station has been secured; a large stockade was built around it with lookout posts at the corners. Our signal has been boosted with all kinds of technology that had only been rumored to exist before the undead. We have a round the clock compliment of soldiers. Major Moore has moved on to secure more areas but he left us in the hands of Lieutenant Garcia. He apparently worked in broadcasting before the apocalypse. As for supplies, we have all we need and then some. The extra is for anyone who makes it here alive and infection free.
"We will be broadcasting around the clock the locations, longitude and latitude, as well as local identifying land marks of all Safe Zones held by Cobra. Know that help is finally here. Our government failed. But rest assured Cobra will not."
We all know there's propaganda mixed in to our broadcasts from this point on. But wasn't there always? And isn't a little propaganda okay if it helps save lives?
Date: February 1, 2013. Time: 0900. Location: South America, somewhere along the Amazon River.
In a small office on a lower level of the Vipers’ Nest the men who had been the original guardians of the post gathered.
“Why are we leaving here man?”
“Because those are our orders Crouch.”
“With all due respect, screw orders man. They don’t make sense. We have a stronghold here. We have food, water, supplies, weapons. Look at this place. Look at all the guys who fought to get here. Now we’re just gonna leave it all? Just like that?”
“Not all of it. We’re keeping this base active with a small unit just like before.”
“Then why the hell do we have to leave?”
“Because your Commander has bigger plans for you.” The voice catches the Vipers off guard. It always does.
“Agent, didn’t hear you come in.”
Turning towards Captain Onesi, “And you never will.” Turning slowly back towards Viper Crouch, “The Commander has placed a lot of trust in you and you have proven yourself worthy of that trust. I’ll assume you don’t want to disappoint the Commander. Am I correct?”
“Very good. Now if you’ll excuse me gentlemen I have to see to a few last minute arrangements. I suggest you men find your way outside.”
The air is alive with the energy of the amassed troops; excitement, anticipation, apprehension, and under it all permeating everything fear. Upon the arrival of Cobra Commander preparations had begun immediately from readying transports, to issuing new uniforms, armor, and weaponry. The men and women gathered at Vipers’ Nest had known what the end goal was, returning to the United States and reclaiming it for Cobra. Now the day had come.
Standing before his assembled troops Cobra Commander looks out assessing each man and woman before him. He has come to know every one personally, learning their fears, their passions, hearing stories about their families. He has used the passing months wisely, uncovering what drive them, what motivates them. He knows many have lost everything, unbeknownst to his troops he also knows that there will be reunions for some when they reach New Springfield, reunions that will only solidify their loyalty to Cobra and more importantly to him. Now is the time, they haven’t lost anyone in months, the locals who have survived have turned to them as saviors, and that is what they have come to believe themselves to be. He raises his hand and immediately a stillness spreads over his army.
“I stand before you humbled by your perseverance and strength. I will not lie to you both of those qualities shall be tested as we are about to embark on the next stage of our journey. The expedition we are about to undertake shall be drought with peril. We will undoubtably be forced to confront untold hordes of the undead, vicious bandits and marauders, and let us not forget the natural and man-made threats; disease, the unforgiving elements, nuclear, chemical, and biological fallout, not to mention the destruction of infrastructure. We will be paving our own paths for much of the journey. And through it all we must stand together. We must stand as one, united. It is true some of us may not survive the the trek, however we must not let our loss be in vain.
We shall fight shoulder to shoulder to protect each other. We shall offer refuge to those who seek it and we shall defend them as vehemently as we do ourselves. We shall travel as a beacon of light in this dark new world. We shall be a place of hope for any and all who need it.
We return to the United States not as a hostile force determined to take over, but as saviors looking to restore peace and order. Our order.
Along the way some of you may feel the calling to spread the word of our mission, of assisting those who need a guide. I encourage you to answer that call.
Already our ranks grow in the north. As we speak Lieutenant Colonel Bludd along with Captain Claymoore are working to reestablish routes of communication, travel, and trade in preparation of our arrival.
Men and women of all races, creeds, religions, and backgrounds are flocking to our New Springfield. They have thrown off the shackles of corporate control, influence, corruption, injustice, inequity, and inequality. Those that are able are joining our cause. They are taking up arms to defend our future.
We shall rise from the ashes of the old world. We shall stand with open arms accepting, assisting, protecting those unable to defend themselves. We shall stand as leaders for humanity.
We go forth now with glorious purpose. To New Springfield. For the innocent. For Cobra.”
“COBRA!” The thunderous response shakes the very ground of the jungle.
As the convoy begins to roll out the men of Vipers’ Nest look back at the place that had become their home. Nearly 8 years of living and working in the isolated listening post had left an indelible mark on the tight knit unit. As they drove off they watched the jungle close around the dirt road enveloping the reinforced doors.
Date: August 23, 2011. Time: 1221. Location: Somewhere in the Pacific.
“Aye aye sir.”
6 hours earlier:
Date: August 23, 2011. Time: 0621. Location: Somewhere in the Pacific.
“She’s within visual range sir.”
“Bring us up and along side. Prepare to board.”
“Yes sir.” The crew of the Hammerhead Poseidon’s Trident work quickly and efficiently in the cramped confined space to make ready the team that will enter the large vessel above them.
Once the pride and joy of the Joe Naval Fleet the USS Flagg sits in the water little more then a floating refuge camp. Long ago the crew had distributed the last of the rations, immediately afterwards small scale rioting had erupted requiring the use of what little ammunition the dedicated men and women had left. Once depleted the crew found itself forced to improvise, making it near impossible to more difficult by the day to maintain any semblance of order. It wasn’t until Admiral Keel Haul ordered that those disturbing the peace be summarily disciplined that he regained control over his ship. A series of stocks were made out of the available materials on board and placed on the center of the deck, those who chose to break the rules were made examples of. The addition of the stockades made the ship feel more like a medieval castle then the flight deck of a multi-billion dollar naval vessel, yet they got the job done. Using a hastily made whip the Admiral would deliver punishment to any wrongdoers. With each lash a small piece of Keel Haul’s soul died. It only took two men being punished to reestablish relative peace onboard the ship.
It had been months since those days. While the violence had ceased the death and disease hadn’t. The bodies of civilians received a burial at sea, while the bodies of service men and women were held below deck until such time as they could receive proper burial befitting their service. Illness and starvation only added to the deplorable conditions. The decks that had once overflowed with makeshift tents humming with the sounds of survivors now held the silent faces of fewer then 100. Those that remained were little more then walking skeletons. If it wasn’t for their ability to speak one could almost mistake them for the undead.
“Sir the men are ready.”
“Breach the surface. Come around her starboard side. Paul. Cruze. You two stay here and keep the old girl running. I want eyes and ears on everything. While we’re up there if a whale shits below us I want to know.”
“Well Admiral you ready to take us aboard?”
“Yes.” Like so many survivors in this new world Admiral Keel Haul had resigned himself to fate. Gone was the loud commanding figure of a hardened Naval Veteran, that had died slowly piece by piece with each body sent to the bottom to join Davy Jones. All that remained was the hollow shell of a man trying desperately to survive. No not to survive, to not die. His small band had watched from the control room of his massive ship as the Hammerhead made landfall on the atoll. It was then that the idea he might be able to lead a small team to gather supplies was born. He hoped they could find just enough to perhaps prolong the lives and ease the suffering of a few people under his watch. He knew it was a long shot. He knew the vessel couldn’t hold enough supplies for all that looked to him. But it was something.
Since their capture the men and women of the Flagg had not been mistreated. They were given food, water, and were even allowed to clean up using the outdoor shower system that had been set up, the best part being the bar soap they were given. They had long ago run out of such a luxury. The Captain of the Hammerhead had offered nothing but respect to the Admiral and his team. For that Keel Haul was eternally grateful.
For a moment he thought perhaps things could turn around, that this mission had led them to their unlikely saviors.
The boarding of the Flagg was uneventful. The Hammerhead hadn’t tried to conceal their approach so as they entered the ships belly they were met by a handful of men and women, uniforms clinging to their emaciated frames. In their hands they held a menagerie of melee style weapons; hammers, pipes, wrenches, lengths of chain. Each wore a holstered pistol which Captain Wright knew to empty. Hanging from sagging chest rigs and belts were fixed blade knives. The site would have been amusing were it not so depressing. Admiral Keel Haul seeing his people so fragile and frail yet still attempting to be strong in the face of certain death felt the last of his heart break. “Stand down. These men are here at my request.” His voice dripped sadness.
“Sir they’re Cobra…”
“So was Munita. Those labels… They mean nothing now. These men are the first contact with the outside world we’ve had in months and may be all that stand between us and a watery grave.”
The frightened crew had neither the strength nor the will to argue. They simply sulked back towards the top deck without so much as a word.
It was no wonder that the people on board the Flagg had abandoned the lower decks, the heat and humidity were unbearable. “Captain if you’ll follow me topside.”
“She’s your boat Admiral, by all means.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “Lead the way.” As the Admiral stepped forward Captain Wright turned to his men, “Stay sharp.”
Much like the boarding process the trip topside was entirely uneventful. Once on deck the full scale of the tragedy that was the USS Flagg came into view. The survivors, if you could call what they were doing surviving, were living in abject squalor. Despite having thousands of square feet on the deck they were huddled in one section, the rest home to abandoned tents and other waste and detritus. The smell hit the men of the Hammerhead first, it was somehow worse then the stale stench below deck. Even in the open air the odor was horrendous, a vile mixture of shit and piss mixed with the unwashed body odor of the living. Captain Wright swallowed back a mouthful of bile fighting to escape his throat.
Areas of the once meticulously maintained flight deck were now slick with human excrement and urine. The stink of death clung to the men’s throat with each inhalation of breathe. Each man, woman, and child on deck looked like they were little more then a half step away from death’s door. “My god.” Was all the Captain could muster. Taking it all in he turned to his men, “Mack. O’Leary. Go gather any supplies we can spare; food, water, medicine. Get Paul to go cast some nets, let’s try and get some protein in these people.”
“Yes Sir.” Without another word Mack and O’Leary set out to complete the mission assigned to them, glad to no longer have to witness the suffering on deck.
“Admiral with your permission we will distribute what we can to those most in need.”
The Admiral’s response, “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. We certainly do not have enough for everyone but we will do what we can.”
Minutes later the two EELs arrived back at Poseidon’s Trident. They related what they had seen on the ship to Sergeants Paul and Cruze. No one argued about how scare their supplies were, or even questioned how they would restock what they were giving up, hands just went to work collecting what they could. As soon as it was amassed the men rebounded the Flagg and headed straight for the deck, ignoring the creaking and banging of the large ships underbelly. What little they had filled two rucksacks and was distributed faster then it had taken them to load the packs. They went to the few children first, then the sickest adults. The recipients meek “Thanks” and tear wet eyes of the refugees made the men of Poseidon’s Trident see just how lucky they had been all this time. It took several hours but eventually Paul returned having been able to locate and net a school of small fish, no easy task from the one man submersible he had taken. Nevertheless there were enough of the little fish to put something warm in the bellies of each person on deck.
After doing all they could up top the men of Poseidon’s Trident accompanied Keel Haul below deck to check on the integrity of the large ship. “We’ve done all we could but honestly she’s seen better days. We ceased all non-essential operations, we have plenty of fuel to keep running what we’ve been using; desalinator, communications, basic engineering. We could probably get her fully operational we just don’t have the man power.” Looking at the men behind him the Admiral ends his conversation. They continue on in silence. Their footsteps echoing off the bulkheads of the narrow lower decks. As they pass a crossing hall a slight hum, vibration, and something else catches the Captain’s attention, “Wait.” Stopping abruptly his men instantly brought their weapons to the ready, aiming down empty corridors. “Did anyone else hear that?”
“Hear what sir?”
“I’m not sure Ganson. I thought I heard something.”
“I assure you Captain all you heard was the settling of this big lady. She makes quite a few…” His words are stopped by the loud banging coming from down the hall.
“Admiral, is there anything we should know?”
“No, I swear.”
BANG! The sounds of faint shuffling comes from down a dimly lit hall. “Captain. I’m hearing something.”
Turning on the Admiral, Captain Wright grabs the man by the collar of his shirt, through gritted teeth, “What is down that hall Admiral?”
“Just… Just the bodies.” Tears streaming from his fearful eyes.
“What bodies?” The question comes out as a controlled growl.
“My men. I couldn’t throw them overboard. They were dead I swear.”
“And you didn’t make sure they were down for good?”
“Sir!” Anxiety growing in Ganson’s voice at the sound is unmistakable moaning. Slowly the sound of scraping feet grows in volume. The men target their rifles on the empty space before them knowing what is coming.
“Whatever you do don’t fire.”
“If there’s one there are likely more. You fire and all your doing is signing our death warrant. Not to mention we’ll all go deaf.”
“Should we head topside?”
“Negative. We need to eliminate the threat.”
The seconds tick by. After what seems like hours the creature is visible in the weak light. “Good god it’s Travis. He was on duty in engineering.” Hearing the cracking voice of the Admiral the creature lets out a bellowing moan.
“Sir what should I do.”
“Stand down Ganson. I’ve got this.”
“Sir…?” Before the EEL can protest Wright pulls his knife, a blacked out Kabar BK2, walks the distance between his men and the approaching creature, and sinks the blade hilt deep into the temple of the beast. It falls to the ground with a wet thump yet the moaning persists. First one distinct groan then another, followed by more. Each passing moment the noise grows in strength and ferocity. “Men I think we need to take this topside.” The men do not hesitate. Weapons hot they make their way through the dank maze of passageways following the Captain’s lead. The whole time the Admiral’s eyes dart side to side terror plain on his face. “Men if you have your ear pro use it. If you see one of those things light it up.” One by one in perfect since each man takes his ear plugs out of the small container dangling from the collar of their shirts and places them in. “Admiral, you failed to mention you were storing the dead.” There was no response from the man, the look on his face was enough. “Move it EELs.” They moved faster as one, like a well oiled machine, each man maintaining his post and covering their assigned firing line.
Making their way through the corridors Keel Haul swallows back his fear, “Captain through that bulk head and up those steps 3 levels and we’re out.”
“You heard him, go.” Pointing in the direction the Captain stops to look behind. Coming around the corner a pair of outstretched graying hands leads the way for the snapping jaws behind. “Go. Go. Go.” They double time it out into the waiting sunlight. They move as one onto the flight deck, the sight of the armed men weapons up and pointing in the direction they just came from causes panic amongst the withering refugees. It doesn’t take long for the creatures to topple out of the doorway. Lead screams and the smell of cordite fills the air, as do the whimpering shrieks of the unarmed survivors. Men and women, Naval uniforms sagging on their rotting remains stream out arms outstretched seeking their next meals. “Hold them back!” The Captain barks the order as he changes the magazine in his sidearm. The shots are well timed and well placed, one after another the creatures meet true death, only to be replaced by more of the snarling horde. Captain __ grabs Keel Haul as he tries to back away, “Look at what you’ve done. You’ve brought this on yourself.” Between sobs the Admiral replies, “I swore an oath to protect those men and women.”
Shaking the blubbering man, “How many?” Keel Haul doesn’t answer.
“Magazine!” The shout of Mack is answered by O’Leary, “Last one.”
“Shit I’m out.” Ganson pulls his blade ready to meet the enemy hand to hand.
Looking at his men, the refugees, and the monsters flowing from below Wright barks out his order, “EELs! Abandon ship! NOW!” Knowing their escape route is blocked and not being familiar with the layout below deck the EELs take the most expeditious route off the Flagg. One by one the men run for the edge of the deck and take a flying leap into the cold water below.
Screams fill the air as the disheveled refugees fall prey to the ravenous zombies. Others fall from the deck into the briny depths pursued by the undead.
The men climb onto the Hammerhead and quickly get inside and seal the hatches. Immediately the crew get to work moving the vehicle away from the death trap before them. Looking out the small portholes the men watch as the ship falls into utter chaos.
“Captain what should we do?”
Knowing what that ship holds the Captain has no choice.
Date: August 23, 2011. Time: 1221. Location: Somewhere in the Pacific.
“Aye aye sir.”
Without another word Sergeant Paul presses a button, the torpedoes speed away from the retreating Hammerhead. They run true to their target.
Date: July 4, 2015. Time: 1436. Location: Aguilar, CO.
"Wh-wh-what do you mean you're pregnant?"
That was seven months ago.
Shaggy remembers the conversation as if it were yesterday. He had known Velma since high school, she had never had interest in boys.
He thought about the conversation in the coffee shop. The Mystery Incorporated Gang had decided to go to college together but when that didn't work out they chose the next best thing, the Western Massachusetts Five College System. They each attended different schools but were always within a short bus ride of each other. In fact they were all able to take classes together, usually on the paranormal. Fred went to Amherst College, Daphne to Mount Holyoke, Shaggy to Hampshire, and Velma to Smith. Shaggy even found the pup he named Scooby Doo at a UMass Amherst frat party. When not studying they met up in downtown North Hampton at Woodstar Cafe, a quaint local coffee house specializing in fair trade coffee and fresh baked goodies. They had been sitting around talking about their next adventure, a trip to the Northampton State Hospital, a long abandoned insane asylum with decades of reported ghostly activity.
Velma, who was normally very chatty, had been acting distant all night, "Hey guys… I have something I need to tell you…" She took her glasses off rubbing her temples before replacing them on her thin nose, "I don't know how else to say it other than to just say it, I'm a lesbian." She wasn't sure what to expect.
"We all know. C'mon V we know you better than anyone." Daphne said while putting her arm around her best friend.
"Yeah, like we always knew." Shaggy said tucking the bill into his wallet.
“What's with the money?" Velma asked confused.
"Oh. That. Well Shaggy and I had a bet as to when you'd come out. I said after Graduation…"
"And I said before." Shaggy interrupted with a smile.
"Look Velma you're our friend…" Fred started.
"My best friend." Daphne said with a smile.
"You can't do it alone Shaggy."
He squirms under her intense stare. "I won't really be alone, right Scooby." The big dog's usual huff came in response. “And besides like, I don't see another choice. You can barely walk. You'd be more of a hinderance then helpful."
Velma scrunches her brow, hand on her stomach. She knows that it's coming soon. "Okay." Her voice defeated eye intense, "You take Scooby. I'll stay here and wait for you. If you need to get out quick I'll drive up and we'll scram."
The place had been packed. When it all went down people had flocked to hospitals, clinics, police stations, and places of worship, anywhere they thought they could find help or be protected. Shaggy, Scooby, and Velma had spent the last several years avoiding them. Now Shaggy finds himself walking up to the doors. He gave the handles a quick jiggle, "Locked Scooby." He knelt down and got to work. One of the many skills he had excelled at over was lock picking. In under a minute he had the cylinder turned and the door unlocked. "Okay Scoob. This is probably gonna be bad. You ready?" The Great Dane lowered his nose to the bottom of the door and let out a low whimper. "I know. I feel the same way. But… It's for Velma." He raised to his full height, cracked his back, and stretched. First putting in the big dog's ear protection, then his own he shouldered his rifle and reached for the knob, "Here we go." Before he could fully open the door the weight of one of THEM slams into it. Jaws snap at the open space between the door and its frame. Shaggy, caught off guard, stumbles back the door flying open. The thing locks its dead grey eyes on Shaggy. With its jaw dropped open it stretches blackened and broken hands as viscous ooze stains the finger tips where nails once grew. It would have been the last of Shaggy if not for the bravery of his loyal companion throwing his himself against the creature's legs knocking it back. He wasted no time in regaining his composure and putting a 5.56 between its eyes.
And it was on.
The dinner bell had been rung.
All the starving abominations fought to sink their teeth into Shaggy and his four legged pal moving towards the duo en masse, "Scoob this is bad. It's too open." To his right he saw a short hallway, "This way." He backtracks his way into the hallway. Doors stand shut on either side, he glanced at them, "No time to check 'em." The narrow hall acts as a choke point allowing THEM to come at him in near single file. Scooby stood defiantly in front of Shaggy his deep barking mingling with the echoing rifle fire. One by one they went down, though not all were truly dead when they fell.
Movies and TV shows pre-TEOTWAWKI* had people believing that anyone could make a headshot every time. That just wasn't reality. In reality the swarm in front of him, had once been the sick, ill, and injured, now they stumbled and shambled some dragging IV stands and other medical equipment in tow. This meant their heads bobbed this way and that. Add to the situation the varying sizes of the people some tall and some short and Shaggy found himself constantly readjusting his aim. Most shots rang true, others didn't.
Bullet casing littered the floor, he found himself reloading more then expected. As the bodies piled up those not truly dead continued scratching and clawing their way towards the two survivors. On his last magazine he began picking off heads as they came over the wall of dead. Choking smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder mixed with the putrid odor of the fetid undead. Carefully placing each shot Shaggy fought off the urge to vomit. Behind him the doors had started to buckle. He had noticed them moving as soon as he stepped in the hall. Always aware to keep them in his peripheral he knew it wouldn't be long before what was behind them got out. The way in front of him was completely choked by bodies, stopping his fire to check his magazine, "Well Scoob, looks like we've got about 5 rounds. We're gonna have to go into one of these rooms and hope that we don't miss and we have more bullets then they do brains." Scooby cocks his head to the side in response. Shaggy had noticed that none of the windows had bars over them, being a small town it made sense. Now he was glad. He turned to the door through which the room on the other side would bring him closer to the Mystery Machine and more ammo. The door shook, "Okay one more time." Rather than turn the knob he kicked in the door, his foot nearly going through the cheap hollow veneer. The thing on the other side was knocked off its feet. Shaggy went in rifle ready saw the downed thing and ended it. A quick scan showed him it was the only one in the room. He slung his rifle, "Looks like that's it. Now I wish I hadn't kicked in the door. Closing it behind him he pushed a large metal exam table in front of it. He knew the things wouldn't get through the pile of dead but, "It's better to be safe then sorry eh Scoob." The dog seemed to nod in agreement.
Shaggy went to the window and saw the Mystery Machine two buildings down. Velma was still safe inside. From his vantage point he could see a few walkers roaming the street, "Okay Scooby Doo we gotta get outta here, back to the van, grab ammo, and finish clearing this place out. All without getting bit. Think we can do it." The big dog wagged its tail. Reaching down Shaggy scratched behind the dog's ears.
They've spent the last month holed up in the abandoned clinic.
"They're getting closer Shaggy." The man says without looking up.
"Okay Velma, you're gonna have to push." the now familiar voice says, tone even. Looking down at the man and woman helping his long time friend Shaggy is terrified something might go wrong. He had met them while scavenging for supplies in the small burg of Aguilar, Colorado. They had nearly shot each other. Now the newcomers were delivering a baby that shouldn't be, that couldn't be, but was. Velma had never been with a man. The closest she had ever come had been back in Maybury when she was tied on top of Shaggy.
She had tried to figure out how it was possible. How she had become pregnant. Velma wouldn't tell Shaggy her worst fears. They had both seen the truth of the church of Crystal Ball, a.k.a. ‘Father Flagg’, the ritualistic orgy. She was worried that they had participated the day prior. The thought terrified her.
Another contraction, "Push!"
Velma does as Brian asks, she pushes with all her might. All dignity having left her. She knew that childbirth wasn't the beautiful natural thing that movies and television tried to sell it as. She knew she was going to defecate, bleed, sweat, scream, and cry. She was okay with all of that. What she had a hard time accepting was not knowing who the father was. Flagg had said Shaggy would be the seed, she the vessel, did that mean it was Shaggy's? She cries out.
"It's crowning. Keep going." Brian stays cool and level headed. As does Emily his wife acting as nurse. For years he had travelled the globe under the guise of being a Medic for Hire. Working for companies that supplied personnel to regions in need. The reality being that he was a Cobra Medi-Viper attached to Cobra Special Operation Forces. He travelled the globe treating wounded Range Vipers, Swamp Rats, Snow Serpents, and their ilk. Since the SHTF he and Emily had stayed in the Rockies trying to stay one step ahead of THEM. He was hoping to meet up with a Cobra Unit and get Emily to safety but instead found himself in this run down medical clinic. He was surprised to see how well stocked it was. Yeah it was trashed by the things that had been trapped inside but it had never been the victim of looters. He was putting all his training and the gathered supplies to good use now. "Just a few more and it's out." There's a moment when Brian, Hawkeye to his comrades in Cobra, almost lost his composure, "Emily hon' get me a blanket. One more push Velma. C'mon you're almost there." Her scream reverberates throughout the room as the child clears her birth canal. Quickly Brian wraps it up. A regular doctor would have had the child removed from the room, perhaps he would have suggested early termination, but Hawkeye had trained under Dr. Mindbender. He had been involved in numerous grotesque experiments and abominations to the world. This barely phased him.
"Is everything okay doc?" Shaggy says worry plain in his voice.
"Shaggy come here please." Hawkeye rubs the newborn's chest unsure of what to do.
"What's wrong with my baby?! Give me my baby!" Velma tries to sit up only to be met by the caring hands of Emily.
"Please you've been through a lot. Your baby will be…" Just then the small creature cries. A sound heard in every nursery the world over.
Without a word Hawkeye hands the bundle to Shaggy, "Let's see…" His voice trails off. The thing in his hands is no human baby. He has no words to describe it.
"Shaggy give me my baby." The pleading tone in Velma's voice turns him towards her. He hesitates, the bundle in his hand squirming. Slowly he hands the small thing to Velma. With open arms and fear on her face she takes the child quickly pulling it to her breast before looking. "He's mine."
"V-v-velma look at it."
Slowly she begins to look down. The bundle still held close. She let's down the blanket. Her eyes light up, “Isn’t he beautiful?” She looks up beaming, “He has your eyes Shag.”
* TEOTWAWKI - The End Of The World As We Know It
Date: July 3, 2013 Time: 1200. Location: Central United States.
Deep in the heart of what was formerly the United States of America a long abandoned small town has been re-occupied; debris has been cleared, barricades erected, watch towers raised, homes transformed into barracks, the small town clinic reestablished, armories, dining facilities, and entertainment spaces opened. Life inside the walls passes each day as normally as possible. There is a buzz of activity in the air as men, women, and children go to and fro, outside the walls people tend various crops all under the watchful eyes of the guards standing ever vigilant, always on the lookout for walking corpses or marauders. What is it that makes all this possible?
Just outside the town, beyond the cultivated plots, on the forest's edge men and women take up arms. The training is brutal yet all those who are here are survivors. They have survived; the raising dead, the plagues of diseases thought long gone, looters, and the military in-fighting. They have come to this place seeking protection behind its walls and a warm meal. What they got was more.
They found the opportunity to fight back. To gain the skills necessary to no longer live in fear of the undead. They hope to no longer be survivors hiding from the undead but to become saviors to the living.
Over the course of 16 weeks they are drilled day in and day out in land navigation, threat assessment, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), and most importantly enemy eradication and disposal. They are taught how to fight the enemy in unarmed combat, with the use of blades and bludgeons, and while looking down the barrel of a sidearm or rifle. They work on minimal food and water with almost no rest. No one opts out of the course though most will never complete it falling victim to THEM. Their only saving grace being the promise that their families and loved ones, if any, will be cared for. There has been no shortage of volunteers. Men and woman from all walks of life sign up. There are no judgements based on a person's past, all who volunteer are given the same opportunity. Police train with men they arrested, former US Military personnel train with conscientious objectors. The man leading the training isn't preparing the new modern US Army. No, Lieutenant Colonel Bludd is preparing the next generation of Cobra Viper one specialized in urban pacification with an affinity for the exterminating the undead, their official designation; Cobra Reapers. A play on the character of the Grim Reaper as these men and women are to be the hand of true death for the shambling carcasses polluting the continent.
The final stage of training is called the Gauntlet. It is a two mile long quarter mile wide corridor made up of sections of neglected interstate, deserted homes, and forsaken forrest bound only by the occasional makeshift fence or wall. Haphazardly strewn about are the stalled, smashed, and burned out hulks of family sedans, pick ups, SUVs, delivery trucks, and an overturned semi. Walkers and draggers roam the grounds unhindered. A raised walk way allows Bludd to watch each trainee's progress.
Bludd watches from above as the man starts to make his way toward the growing pack of creatures. He is no stranger to combat. He has fought on six continents and been involved in every major battle of the last two decades. He found himself stateside when it all happened. For over a year he survived watching his beloved country become a desolate landscape of death and pestilence. He offered help in the form of training to those he came across, his motto being "Give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he'll eat for life." In this new world that's what people needed, training and he had undergone the best.
"Get goin' you lazy louse!" Spittle flies through the air as Lieutenant Colonel Bludd screams at the staling trainee. His voice echos over the landscape attracting the attention of THEM. The closest ghoul turns in the direction of the noise, a gurgling moan escapes its black lips. The sound starts a chain reaction as each of THEM is drawn toward the location of their next feast. Many of the dilapidated vehicles start to rock and shake as those forever trapped by seat belts thrash and struggle. Skeletal hands shoot out of broken side windows. Others scrape against the tempered glass relentlessly. The tall grasses at the roads edge sway under the movement of bodies dragging themselves towards their next meal. The cracked and broken pavement does little to slow the progress of those still able to walk. Many of THEM are wearing the uniform of a trainee; black t-shirt, black cargo pants, black boots, heavy black gloves. The bite marks on their necks evidence that they were unable to complete this final stage of training. The recruit turns his eyes up to see the face of a man who just rang the dinner bell. The sneer on Bludd's face grows in twisted amusement as he looks down. The recruit doesn't know how many of the zombies are in the vicinity he just knows that in order to complete his training he must get out alive.
Over the last 16 weeks. He has been cold, wet, hungry, and tired. He has had his physical and mental ability pushed beyond anything he faced while serving in the Special Forces. The addition of THEM to the daily training made Ranger School look like pre-school. He surveys the scene before him trying to mark a course. The yelling from above doing little to help his predicament. He knows the Gauntlet has an 80% "wash out rate" and he will not be one of THEM. He can't help but question if he has made the right decision.
He couldn't believe the stories he heard of Soldiers slaughtering innocent civilians. He knew there had to be an explanation, perhaps they were "treating" infected, something, anything. Then he saw it. He had been shadowing a Marine Platoon as it made its way West. They had come upon a barricaded warehouse. Inside was a group of 21 survivors. He'll never forget them; nine men, two boys, seven women, and three girls. Seeing help had arrived they rushed out to welcome their saviors. They were met by the raised barrels of M16s. At first he thought they were going to check them for infection, which they did. What came next shocked him to the core. The men and boys were lined up, forced to kneel in the street, and shot execution style. The women and girls… Three fought bravely, one was even able to send two Marines to their graves as she successfully pulled one of their sidearms. The others… That evening is burned into his memory as the night he was forced to kill men in uniform.
After that night he was a man lost. He cared not whether he lived or died. He's not sure when they found him, or where. Last thing he remembered was curling up in the corner of an empty house. Next thing he knew he was being carried on a stretcher. He flashed in and out of consciousness. When he finally came to he was on a bed in an unfamiliar room. Sunlight was shining across the room as a gentle breeze came through the open window. His vision swam as he turned his head towards the bright light. He heard the door click open as a nurse entered. "I see you're awake. That's good." The tall lean man went to the end of the bed retrieving a clip board turning toward the machines he jotted some notes then returned it to its original location. "Can I get you anything?"
Eyes fixed on the nurse, "Wa…"
Seeing the words struggling to escape the nurse interrupted. "Water. Well I'm not sure you're ready for that but I'll see what I can do." He left the room leaving the door open behind him. He came back a friendly smile brightening his face, "Good news and bad. Bad first. I can't give you water. But the good news is I can give you ice chips." The nurse steps to his side and gently helps him sit up. "Here ya go. Don't go too fast now." He places the dixie cup of crushed ice to his lips and tips it just so. The ice feels good on his parched throat. He takes a few more pieces.
"Thank you." The words barely audible scrape out of his throat.
"No worries. My name is John and I'll be here for a few more hours. I you need anything just ring the bell. With a smile he turned and walked out again leaving the door open. For several days John arrived each morning to help him with breakfast and left each night to be replaced by Susan another nurse with impeccable bedside manor. On the fifth day John entered as usual, "Good morning sir, you're looking much better today. Let's take a look shall we." He picked up the clipboard, checked the various instruments and monitors, and looked up, "Great news. I think today is the day." It was the day that led to this new life. Nurse John removed the various sensors and instructed him to get dressed, "You'll find fresh clothing in the bathroom." Sure enough he did. All black. After putting on the clothes he was escorted to the office of the "Commanding Officer." The door was opened and he was bid entry. The office was a standard hospital office. Plaques and diplomas lined the walls. Photos of a family here and there. A small sofa sat near the back wall. A large oak desk, richly stained, took up the center of the room. A high backed brown leather chair was turned toward the large airy windows. He couldn't see who was in the chair but knew it was occupied. John walked him in and offered him a chair. He took it with a nod. Sitting he watched as John left in without a word. Silence filled the room. A clock on the far right wall ticked away the seconds. Finally the chair turned. He stared in shock at the man filling the seat. It was not the man from the pictures.
"G'day. I 'ope your stay has been sa'isfyin'." The man locked his good eye on him, his other covered under a black patch, a smile touching the corners of his mouth making his thick handle bar mustache twitch.
Six long months later and he finds himself about to become a member of a new SOF unit for an organization he spent his entire military career trying to topple. The moment he recognized Bludd he thought he'd be subject to beatings, tortured, even killed. But that never came to pass. He was given an offer. Join or leave. It really was that simple. He could become part of something new. Or he could take his chances in the wastes. He was given 48 hours to think about it and allowed full access to the compound with the understanding that he could leave at any time should that be his choice. What he saw as he walked around amazed him; children playing, families laughing. Sure there was the ever vigilant Cobra presence but they seemed to be solely focused on protecting those inside. He learned that the people were the families of the Troopers. That anyone who could make it to the entrance of the walled in city was given admittance so long as they were not infected or somehow otherwise posed a threat to the safety of the inhabitants. He had dinner in the clinic and heard tales of rescue from others. It didn't make sense. These were his Enemy. The "bad guys." Ruthless terrorists hellbent on world domination. Yet he saw it with his own eyes, groups of people going outside the compound to tend crops. Children going to classes. His mind fought against it but in the end. He stayed.
He has not been subject to anything beyond what all the other trainees have under gone. He hasn't been the subject of extra brutality despite his former position. He has been treated like every other recruit. Even now he knows that Bludd has started each prospect's race across the Gauntlet the same way. Their is no personal animosity simply the desire for the best. Taking it all in he goes. He has been trained by the best and trained the best. This is one more training exercise, only this time the stakes are higher then anything he's faced.
He has no weapons to use and no time limit. The only rule is survival. The first ghoul that had turned at Bludd's shout locked onto his position. It lurches towards him arms outstretched. Its bottom lip had been torn away exposing teeth and bone covered in dried blackened blood. It's eyes are sunken and grey. Its broken skin secreting a puss of nauseating ooze. The other trainees had attempted to avoid confrontation with the undead at all costs, many ended up paying or that decision with their lives. Bludd watches in astonishment as the recruit runs head long at the monster before him. He grabs it by the head and smashes it repeatedly into the charred remains of a Cadillac Escalade. Spinning he turns towards the on coming shamblers his gloves caked in gore. With a savage growl he charges. He is a raw force of destruction. His expertise in escape and evasion all but forgotten. He snatches two of the closest things slamming their heads together, the sickening sound of skulls splitting is followed by rancid brain matter spattering the ground. He is far from subtle as he paves his path of destruction crushing the craniums of any who came near. For one unlucky dragger true death came under the heal of his heavy black boot. He took his time making sure he got each and every attacker who came near. Bludd watches from the catwalk in silence, awed by the sheer brutality of the scene playing out below him. He was the lone witness to a transformation that would forever change the man below, Bludd knew that when the man left the Gauntlet below he would not emerge as the Joe who took the namesake of the harsh back country of his former homeland there would be no coming back. The trail of bloodshed finally ends. Hours after entering and hearing the steel door lock him in perdition he at last arrives at the exit. He stands peacefully waiting for the door to open.
"'Ell thawas a amazin' ting ta watch." Bludd stands aside making way for the man. He looks as if he had just emerged from the deepest bowels of Hell. His once red hair black with carnage. His uniform encrusted with the ichor and entrails of his enemies. The handful of recruits who had successfully run the gauntlet stood in formation eyes locked in awe on the thing that stood before them. He took his spot and snapped to attention. Bludd stood before him, "As I said, thawas amazin' ta watch. You went in there a wanker of a puppet regime and came out sometin' else." Turning his attention to the group he continues, "Once 'e was a member of our sworn enemy. 'E fought to protect the corruption and evil of a guvment 'ell bent on destroying' the world in the name of profits. 'E was a worthy foe but he has seen the light and has witnessed the wickedness that was our former adversary. The man known as Stuart R. Selkirk is no more. Reapers today we add another to our fold." Bludd turns to a man behind him holding a tray, upon it sits a silver crest, a pair of crossed sickles behind a hooded skull. He takes a step towards the man in front of him he places the pin over the mans heart and thrusts the end into his flesh, there is no outward expression of pain, "Congratulations and welcome to the Reapers. Brothers and Sisters welcome our newest bringer of true and final death…" As was the ritual each man or woman who passed the trials of training and survived was assigned a call sign, a name by which others would know him or her. Bludd knew the perfect name for the new Reaper. "…welcome Skull Buster."
Date: September 16, 2011 Time: 1525. Location: South America, somewhere along the Amazon River.
The trip has been brutal. They have had to escape the walking dead at most every turn. While the deep jungle was sparsely populated it's as if all the inhabitants of the South America, from local tribesmen to city dwellers, have converged on their location. In the sweltering heat of the jungle the weary men march. Determined to "escort" their fearless leader to his destination. He has continued to provide for the men but even his skills have their limits. Food is scarce, he has been able to gather sufficient edible plants but he keeps coming up short on protein and fat. The lack of proper nutrition is taking its toll. Minor cuts and scrapes that an able bodied healthy man wouldn't think twice about have become infected leading to illness and fevers. And still the five men trudge wearily along the game trail, each step more demanding then the last. After a near eternity they group stumbles upon the path they have been searching for. The road is little more than ruts in the mud, a clearing made by the few passing trucks capable of navigating the thick rain forest and not getting stuck in the deep mire.
They have been following a route that will lead them through the old native village and passes close by the Viper's Nest. All tactical convention has been ignored. They walk down the center of the road in an ever changing group as opposed to sticking to the sides walking single file evenly spaced. They realized long ago that the enemy they are fighting cared nothing for military tactics. On more then one occasion they were glad to be in the road as opposed to the side as they passed draggers who lurched out of the undergrowth. At their current state of fatigue even these slow half destroyed zombies could have overtaken one of the group.
"We're almost there Commander." The words barely escape from Corporal Akin's chapped lips causing a shudder to run through his body.
Silence is the answer. The Commander has done his best to provide for his men. He realized each morsel of food provided, every drop of water gathered, each fire started, every shelter built, cemented his men's loyalty to him. But now… Now a seed of doubt is taking root.
A sound stops the group in their tracks.
"Vehicle approaching." Tomax grumbles.
Cobra Commander looks at his men, "Well what are you waiting for. That could be a rogue Joe patrol. We have made it this far to die standing still in the middle of a dirt track. If we are going to die we shall die with honor." He pulls his Luger from its holster flipping off the safety. His words stir the men to action; they take to the road's sides lying in the run off ditches weapons ready. Each man knows his line of fire. It's a tactic that has been used throughout the ages of war. The idea being that should it be an enemy they will be caught in a zone of crossing fire. The men wait as the rumbling grows. The Commander recognizes the sound as do his men, it's one that they have all heard many times before. The HISS Tank moves into sight followed by the Tactical pick-up flanked by men on either side; a Range Viper leads the way followed by a pair Swamp Vipers, a Cobra Mortal, and the remaining Vipers of Viper's Nest. The Range Viper raises his fist, immediately the column stops. Hand signals flash as each man takes a knee pointing a weapon into the jungle. The Range Viper kneels down scrutinizing the ground before him. Cautiously he makes his way forward. Each step deliberate. Eye trained down the barrel of his rifle. He stops feet from the Commander bringing his rifle to bear. Looking into the brush he he snaps to attention and offers a salute, "Commander do you need assistance?"
The Commander comes to his feet. The rest of the men come out of hiding. The troops surrounding the HISS Tank remain weapons ready with a new reason, the protection of Cobra Commander. The Range Viper calls back, the men of Viper's Nest break ranks and run up to the emerging men.
Seeing the Commander Fintak stops in his tracks, "Commander Sir, Sgt Fintak at your service."
The Commander returns the salute pointing at the men he had travelled with, "Take care of these men."
"Yes sir!" Fintak Turns towards Nason and Lee, "You heard the Commander let's get moving."
Cobra Commander turns towards the Range Viper, "Is there room on that truck for the men?"
Hesitating, "Sir we brought it for you."
"Bah! Get these men on there. They've been through enough. I shall be fine walking out."
"Sir it's 10 clicks…" the Range Viper's voice trailing off.
"Then we better move."
The Range Viper answers with a salute turns towards the group of Cobra troops and shouts out his orders, " Get those men looked at. Ready that Tactical for passengers. You four perimeter guard." The men move with efficiency quickly tending the exhausted. They clear space in the bed of the pick-up offering it to the unkempt men. "If the Commander is walking out we're walking out with him." Akin states for the group. They make the final trek providing protection for the Commander as they go. Worn out and enervated by the long trek seeing the HISS Tank and Cobra troops gives them the strength to carry on.
"Sergeant, we have incoming. The package has been secured." The Tele-Viper hands the message to Kosa. Message in hand he turns and walks out of the communication room. He walks the long hall towards the main ready room where he knows Onesi is waiting uneasily for the message. He had sent out a HISS, tactical, and a squad of men on the advisement of Agent X-99 who claimed the Commander was nearby. The last several hours have been intense. Fintak enters the room, "Lietenant." He holds up the paper. Onesi knows by the look on the Viper's face that the message holds good news.
He steps around retrieving the slip of folded paper. Carefully scanning it, "Thanks Kosa. Looks like that crazy fucker was right. Ready the Nest for the Commander's arrival."