Earth Undead Chapter 3
The hangar was a large, open air building with an aging sheet metal roof. Pigeons, or some sort of birds at least, were nested up in the heights of the iron girder frame. Ace noticed them, along with the large shop fans and an old, aging Cessna 182 parked against the far wall. Although he wasn’t cuffed any more, the guards still tailed him and led him to a couple of rectangular collapsible table and rusty and some fold-up chairs.
A tall, thin guy wearing tiger-striped camouflage pants, identical to the ones he’d just been outfitted with, and a sleeveless olive drab tee shirt looked up from a collection of maps that were spread out across one of the tables and extended his hand.
“Hi,” he said. “Mike Adams. I’m going to be your pilot”
Ace shook and shrugged and muttered, “I guess you know who I am.”
Adams smiled wryly and said, “Yeah, unlucky contestant number six. Nice to meet you, but damned if I’d want to be you right now. Billiot and McCallister should be out here any minute now.”
Adams opened up an ice chest grabbed a bottled water and looked up at Stabler and said, “You want a water?”
Stabler hesitated and Adams grinned and added, “It’s not poisoned. I’ll take the first sip if you want.”
With that, Stabler smiled took the bottle, opened it and took a swig.
“Thanks, so what’s all this?” Stabler asked, glancing over the maps.
“Your itinerary,” Adams said. “Just think of me as your own personal trip advisor with feet and wings. We’ll get into it soon. McCallister and Billiot should be here any minute now.”
Stabler glanced over Adams’ shoulder, nodded and said, “Here we are now.”
“I take it you two have met?” McCallister said as they walked up.
McCallister dismissed the two guards and motioned for Stabler, Adams and Billiot to sit.
“Allright ramblers, let’s get rolling,” McCallister said. “It’s nuts and bolts time. The analysts have done their thing with the tape Barger brought back. It’s authentic and they believe both Parker and the mad Colonel are alive, actually holed up together in Miami. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Initially, we thought this was going to be a simple T&E mission.”
“Terminate and extract,” Stabler said.
“I see you haven’t lost an ear for the lingo,” McCallister chided. “But yeah, get in, take out the Colonel and bring back the good doctor. There have been some unforeseen complications though.
“I don’t like complications,” Stabler grimaced.
“Neither do we, but it is what it is,” McCallister said. “Besides, I thought you ranger types were adaptable.”
“Get on with it,” Stabler said. “Play the tape.”
“Time is of the essence, so Billiot’s going to give you the abridged version without all the extra scientific mumbo jumbo,” McCallister said laughing.
“Great, let me give the bad news,” Billiot said. “Okay, like we mentioned before, the recording is 28 days old.”
“”How the fuck did that whack job Barger make it here, wherever the hell here is, from Miami, with small pox no less, in 28 days? Riddle me that Batman?”
“Straight answer, we don’t have a clue,” Billiot said, and added, “please save your questions and comments for after. This won’t take very long.”
“Okay, 28 days ago, the recording was made. That recording date marked a 40 day period.”
“40-day period for what?” Stabler asked.
“Since the Colonel had suffered a zombie bite,” Billiot said.
“So he turned?” Stabler asked.
“No, quite the opposite,” Billiot said. “which is why he sought Parker out; to be put under quarantine.”
“So you’re telling me that Mad Dog Moore himself is one of the one-in-five-billion people that scientists believed may be completely immune to the zombie disease?” Stabler asked.
“That’s exactly right,” said McCallister. “To our knowledge, he’s the only one that’s ever been found.”
“Well, at least they found one thing the bastard might be good for,” Stabler said.
“This basically means that the terminate part of your mission has changed,” McCallister said. “We need Moore alive, along with Parker. We have it on good sources that the two of them are working on a vaccine. Parker by force, he’s basically Moore’s prisoner. Word is that once the antidote is perfected, it’ll be for sale to the highest bidders, who more than likely won’t be good guys.”
“That sure complicates matters,” Stabler said.
“They said you ranger boys were sharp,” McCallister said.
“He’s not going to just come along peaceably,” Stabler said. “What do you suggest I do, drug him?”
“Not a bad idea,” McCallister said. “I don’t care if you drug him, stun him or just knock his ass out with a shovel. We need him back here alive and that’s that. That’s it – get in, secure them both and bring them back. It’s pretty cut and dry.
“Easier said than done,” he said.
“Now that you understand the mission, let’s talk specifics,” McCallister said, nodding over to the old Cessna. “You’ll leave here immediately following this debriefing. We’ll fly you out and drop you and a crate of supplies over St. Louis.”
“St. Louis, that’s it?” Stabler asked.
“You didn’t think we were going to fly you all the way to Miami International did you,” McCallister said, laughing hard. “Plane fuel, all fuel is at a premium nowadays. We’ve got some drilling and some production going on up near Alaska, but we’re nowhere near what we used to be. If you look hard enough on the ground, you might find gasoline in an in-ground storage tank, but most of them have been tapped by berserkers or by us. But even if you do, the gas is probably so old it’ll ruin an engine. No, the best bet once you get down there is to hijack something and fly it back. Either that or horse and buggy but I don’t suggest that because it’s too noisy and it’ll attract zombie herds. They like horses just about as much as they do humans.”
“Besides,” Billiot said. “The Cessna’s old. We’ll be lucky if it gets you there and makes it back here.”
“Montana huh,” said Stabler.
“You finally figured it out boy,” McCallister said. “How did you do it?”
“Simple math,” Stabler said. “So I drop in St. Louis, then what?”
“You’ll rendezvous with Cochise,” McCallister said. “He’s civilian now but an ex ranger, like you. You two should get along great. He’s also one of the best damned trackers on the face of this godforsaken planet. He’s going to get you down river.”
“The Mississippi,” Stabler said.
“No the Rio Grande you dumb ass,” McCallister said. “Of course. Yes, the Mississippi.”
“The Mississippi was impassable back when I was locked up,” Stabler said.
“Not impassable, just highly congested,” Billiot said. “It’s mined in some areas, but mostly north of Illinois. That’s a long story, part of a failed offensive, at the onset of the pandemic. It was a defensive actually, an effort to isolate the infected. It didn’t work. Nothing did as you well know. Anyway, the biggest problem you’ll probably face going down river are hippos.”
“Excuse me?” asked Stabler.
“You heard him right,” Adams said. “He said hippos. They’re the largest and most aggressive land mammal on the planet. And the Mississippi River is teeming with them, especially the further down south you go. When it all went to shit, most folks in charge of zoos just freed the animals – lions and tigers and zebras oh my. A lot of species didn’t make it. But a lot of species in the southeast flourished because of the warm temperatures and lack of their primary natural enemy – man. Reptiles, primates of all kinds, large cats especially jaguars and hippos are just a few of the species that really adapted and overcame, a regular Darwinist wet dream.”
“Jesus,” muttered Stabler.
“You betcha,” McCallister said.
“How do I find this Cochise?” Stabler asked.
“Don’t worry about that. He’ll find you,” McCallister said.
“And then what?” Stabler asked.
“Go downriver and get off at Baton Rouge,” McCallister said. “It’d be shorter to just hit New Orleans and then find a boat or plane to Miami from there. Like I said earlier though, I would avoid New Orleans at all costs if I were you. Like I said, you want to get off at Baton Rouge and take the I-12/I-10 corridor until you hit Pensacola, Fort Pickens. I-12 is part of your old stomping grounds, so if you want you could even avoid the interstates and take the old state highway along the beaches through Gulfport and Biloxi. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to get to Fort Pickens.”
“Not those crazy bastards,” Stabler said.
“Those crazy bastards, mostly ex special forces like you, have basically held their own, with practically no infection and no casualties since the zombie outbreak started,” McCallister said. “From what I understand, they still even have hot and cold running water.”
“They’re not ex special forces. Last time I checked, they were nothing but a bunch of nutty ass preppers,” Stabler said.
“Nutty or not, they had the foresight to put the plans into motion long before the infection even started, to fortify themselves for the long haul, which is exactly what they’ve done,” Billiot said. “The demographic must have changed somewhere along the line because like the General said, they’re primarily ex special forces now. Whatever the case may be, find them. They will get you into Miami, out of Miami and then back to Fort Pickens. Once that’s done, get Parker and Moore back to Pueblo.”
“Do you have any questions?” McCallister asked.
“I’ve got a few,” Stabler said. “But there’s one that burns the brightest in my mind right now.”
“Yeah, what’s that?” McCallister asked.
“Is it still too late to take execution as an option?” Stabler asked.
“You bet your fucking life it is,” McCallister said, nodding at the Cessna. “Now suit up. Your chariot awaits you. So now here’s the deal, you get them both back here alive and all charges against you will be dropped. Plus, you’ll be a hero, the man who saved the human race from extinction.”
“I don’t give a fuck about that,” Stabler asked. “What about my island? I remember you mentioning earlier that I’d get my own personal island.”
“You get this done, Ace, and I’ll see to it personally that you get your own fucking continent,” McCallister said. “Is that it?”
“No, there’s one more thing,” Stabler said.
“What now?” McCallister asked.
“Call me Stabler,” he replied, turned around and started walking towards the Cessna.
As Stabler and Adams approached the Cessna, Stabler noticed another, smaller, fold-up table with supplies stacked on it.
“Not much of an arsenal,” Stabler said, as he picked up a small hatchet.
“I don’t have to tell you, but go straight for the skull,” Adams said. “They didn’t want to load you down with a bunch of heavy artillery, but there’s an Uzi and a Glock 9 mm plus some ammo. That’s about it for firearms. Everything from Maine to Key West is still overrun by zombies anyway. The only thing shooting will do is attract more, a situation you want to avoid at all costs.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Stabler said.
“Don’t worry, I will,” Adams said. “There are a few things the brass omitted.”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” Stabler said. “Like what?”
“Well for starters watch out for the crips, you know, zombies who are missing their lower torsos,” Adams said. “They pop up in the most unlikely of places, fucking ankle biters. But not just that though.”
“Then what?” Stabler asked.
“Sometimes they’ll drag a crip and strategically place it in a middle of a road or trail, or a porch or doorway,” Adams said.
“What do you mean strategically?” Stabler asked.
“They’ve figured out how to set up rudimentary ambushes, diversions and attacks,” Adams said. “Sometimes they use the crips, or supplies, as bait.”
“You’ve got to be shitting me?” Stabler said.
“I’m not,” he said. “They’re still slow as shit, but…and I know this is a strong word, but…I think they’re evolving. They’re more dangerous now than they’ve ever been.”
“That’s impossible,” Stabler said. “They’re dead. They don’t think. They don’t plan.”
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it either, but I have,” Adams said.
“What else did they leave out?” Stabler asked, his hands moving towards the parachute, which he began to inspect thoroughly. The feel of supplies, the combat knife felt good in his hands.
“Well, it’s nothing new that they don’t favor the cold weather and that they often travel in large packs,” Adams said. “Some groups have adapted to the cold though. Over the last few years, we’ve seen more and more groups push further and further into colder areas, far up into Canada.”
“They don’t freeze anymore?” Stabler asked.
“Not nearly as much as they used to,” Adams said.
“What else?” Stabler asked. “I can see it in your face that there’s more.”
“Well, there’s a flip side to that,” Adams said. “A lot of them still don’t like the cold. Those zombies have begun migrating, like birds. Late summer, early fall, millions of them start headed south in large packs, eating up anything and everything in their paths. We’re in late August now Migration started early this year, which probably means we’re going to have an early winter.”
“How early are we talking?” Stabler asked.
“Mid July,” Adams said. “Herds coming out of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, they’re just now starting to cross across Missouri.”
“As in St Louis, Missouri,” Ace asked.
“Exactly,” Adams said.
“Drop me further south then,” Stabler said. “or further west, in Lincoln or Wichita.”
“You’ve seen the bird, we’ll be lucky if we make it out of fucking Montana airspace,” Adams said.
“I didn’t want to be the one to say it,” Stabler said. “You seem like a sturdy enough pilot.”
“I’m only as good as my god damned tools,” Adams said. “And this piece of shit, is not a very good tool. Besides, it’s imperative that I get you as close to St. Louis as possible so you can rendezvous with Cochise. Just remember, if we start to go down, use the 9 mm, straight through the temple. I’ll be damned if I’m going to re-animate when I die, or have some fucking horde eat me alive after we’ve crashed.”
Stabler nodded, grabbed up his supplies and they got on the plane.