Since the attack, Sutton, Jeanue, and Mitchell had overseen the care and aid of the refugees, which turned out to be a bigger job than even Detrick’s emergency standard operating procedure could handle. Thankfully, FortDetrick’s mess halls’ staff had adapted quickly to the situation and provided nourishment for the shell-shocked survivors, while others grappled with how to handle the growing number of people.
For Mitchell, the work of lending a hand to feed and comfort the human survivors was a welcomed change from squeezing a trigger. Never in her extended lifetime had she ever believed she would see lycans overrun the world, and it terrified her beyond words.
Sutton’s skills as a neurosurgeon were of little use in the refugee area, but regardless of her specialty she was still a doctor with trauma training and experience. She could tend the injuries resulting from the nuclear blast and subsequent rioting.
She toiled quietly beside Jeanue and Mitchell, each trying to process what had happened and to what degree it would affect humankind.
Jeanue had done relief work prior to being assigned to FortDetrick. She had aided many countries that had been ravaged by hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis. She was, and always would be, a humanitarian first and a soldier last. She considered being a soldier the quickest way to assist anyone anywhere in need. Now with her oldest friend Neville Odem dead, being a soldier didn’t seem half bad. In fact, she relished the added weight of a pistol strapped to her thigh and a rifle across her back. She was frightened by the situation, but exhilarated by it at the same time.
Jeanue was tending a young twenty-something with burns, but there wasn’t much she could do for him or any of the other burn victims like him. He had radiation poisoning and past cooling his body and giving him morphine, there was nothing more she could do.
“I’m dying,” rasped the young man. From somewhere nearby a toddler cried, adding to the misery of the moment. The child’s angry, confused vocalizations could be heard clearly over the talking soldiers and moaning, sobbing injured.
“I’m afraid you are,” answered Jeanue, patting his head with a cold surgical cloth. The fabric pulled patches of his skin away. She’d studied the sores that came from radiation poisoning, memorizing everything she could. The training, photos and studies she’d done did very little in preparing her. “God help us all,” she muttered it aloud more as an afterthought to the survivors than the dead.
She was about to swab his arms when Mitchell placed a hand on her shoulder. “Colonel? Do you have a moment? Please.”
“Hm?” she responded, turning to Mitchell. “Yes. But only two seconds, Cameron.”
Jeanue placed wet clothes over the man’s arms, face and legs. He had hours to live, at best. If morphine hadn’t been smartly rationed she would have given him an overdose to ease his suffering.
She turned to Mitchell, startled by her appearance. The youthful lycan sergeant looked to have aged in the time since the initial attacks.
Mitchell’s hair, normally kept in an immaculate bun, had stray strands and locks jutting from everywhere and her eyes held a weariness that Jeanue had never seen before.
Jeanue wiped her hands on a towel, looking as softly as she could at Mitchell, and lead her to a quiet corner. “Again… it’s either Maggie or you don’t address me at all. Clear?”
“Roger that ma’… Maggie.” Mitchell fiddled with a surgical towel unsure of what to say next.
“Well? Out with it, Cameron.”
“The General’s ordered the gates closed. This is all we’re going to get for a while.”
Jeanue wasn’t surprised at the news. Hughes had compassion, but he was a soldier first. If he closed the gates it was nothing more than a security measure.
“He’s doing what he has to do. That doesn’t mean we have to like it, but we have to live with it. Does it bother you?”
“It does, but what can I say? What can I do to change it?”
“What indeed. Are you okay? You’re shaking.”
“I’m good. I’m good. I’m just a little shaky from everything. I’m a soldier, not a doctor. We can’t save these people and it just bothers me.”
Jeanue took her hand and looked into her eyes. “You’re a good soldier and an even greater humanitarian. You can handle this. I know you can. Is it the amount of injured, or the dead that bothers you? You’ve seen plenty in the past few months.”
“I have… but… it’s not the injured or dead that bother me. It’s the mercy killings. I’ve done six in the past thirty minutes. I don’t-” Mitchell trailed off.
“You’re doing the best you can under any circumstances. No one can ask any more than that. It sounds awful, but hang in there. You’re needed here.
Mitchell sighed. She glanced around the tent before looking back to Jeanue. Before she could say anything further she looked toward a group of soldiers outside the tent.
“What’s wrong?” Jeanue followed her gaze to where the four soldiers stood. One held a radio and all listened to it intently. She couldn’t hear what was being said, but Mitchell could. The soldiers stared at the handset like they could see what was occurring.
“Shhh,” whispered Mitchell. “Sorry.” Whatever captured her attention caused her concern. “Lewis is in trouble. His column’s come under fire. I think they were trying to link up with another rescue party or something.”
“Is he okay?”
“I think so. I can hear him. It sounds like he’s pulling back.” Mitchell looked at Jeanue. “We’d better prepare for more casualties.
“Just what we need.”
As if to compound Jeanue’s remark, gunfire and explosions rocked Detrick’s perimeter. The potential for new casualties had increased exponentially.
“Woman’s lost her ever loving mind,” fumed Kunpai, walking to the meteorological station. He was at a loss for words and he needed to see Demarti.
Demarti was monitoring the wind conditions effect on the fallout from the DC attack. The concern was the possibility of winds shifting toward Detrick, making them the unlucky ones and not the detonation’s victims.
Early forecasts showed that Detrick and the surrounding areas would be safe as long as the wind patterns continued toward the Atlantic. The winds were subject to change, but the meteorologists hoped their luck would hold.
“Demarti!” shouted Kunpai, entering the room, startling everyone, Demarti included. “Has anyone seen Captain Demarti?”
Demarti stood at the opposite end of the room shielded from sight by a large Plexiglas map of the nation. He winced at Kunpai’s voice as he shouted his name again.
Demarti saw a young woman pointing in his direction, and he stepped from behind the safety of the map. “What’s up, Omi?” He spoke placidly. His problems were more pressing than Kunpai’s.
“We need to talk. Got a moment?” Kunpai didn’t wait for an answer. He grabbed Demarti’s arm and led him away.
Work in the immediate area stopped, but only for a moment. Those that had looked feigned refocused energies but all eavesdropped for information.
“I can’t spare much time, Omi. I have this nuclear fallout thing to deal with.” Demarti mentally kicked himself for the remark’s flippancy. He hated blowing his friend off, but the aftermath could be as lethal as the explosion.
“Well, I got something just as pressing and unlike you, there’s only one of me dealing with this. Whatever crazy you have isn’t as crazy as Brenda.”
Demarti surrendered. “Okay,” he said, folding his arms. “Shoot.”
Kunpai looked around the room at the people who weren’t hiding their eavesdropping. “Outside. I don’t want so many nosy numbnuts listening in.”
They walked outside. Each lit a cigarette before Demarti spoke.
“What’s this about, Omi? What’s Brenda done that got your back up?”
Kunpai took a drag from his cigarette. “She’s recommended to the Old Man that we let only a few, select civilians in. I’m talking like families only. The rest can go take a hike.” Kunpai’s eyes flashed and his nostrils flared in anger. Just thinking about the conversation worked him up again.
“You’re serious? Brenda wouldn’t. And Hughes? No way.”
“No shit, buddy. They’re talking family-only admission. The rest be damned.”
“I have to see this to believe it. Where are they now?”
“Gate Three, the last time I saw them.” Kunpai pointed aggressively into the distance. His agitation had grown into anger once more.
“Lead the way.”
“I’m telling you she’s flipped her fucking lid, Paul,” said Kunpai as they walked. “I mean she’s gone ape fucking nuts. She’s different, dude. Very different.”
A Hummvee manned by lycans stopped beside them. The driver leaned out the window.
“Hey, Major, Captain,” said the driver in an underlying growl that all lycans spoke in when changed. “You guys headed to Gate Three?”
“That’s right, Corporal. What’s up?” asked Demarti. The sight of a lycan in uniform, even a friendly one, still made him edgy.
“You’d better hop in.” The lycan corporal hiked his thumb to the back seats. “Call came in that Three is getting’ hot. They’re pulling some of us off perimeter to lend a hand.”
Machine gun fire from the gate echoed through the air. “Shit,” growled the corporal. “We gotta go.” Two vehicles sped past them, kicking hot air and dirt at them. The corporal pressed the accelerator and the vehicle moved forward.
“Hold up,” shouted Kunpai. “We’re coming.” He and Demarti climbed into the vehicle. The corporal stepped on the gas again before Demarti could close the door. He almost fell out, but managed to keep his balance as the door slammed shut.
“You got something other than your nine mil?” Kunpai realized his friend had nothing more than a pistol for combat.
“You didn’t even give me a chance to grab my helmet. Do you know how exposed I feel?”
“Totally my fault for your bad memory, buddy.” The joke felt empty to Kunpai, though it didn’t stop him from saying it.
A series of semi automatic rifle shots rang out from close by.
“Was that one of ours?” asked Demarti.
“Maybe,” answered the lycan solider in the passenger seat. Could be a civilian AR15.”
“Holder Three, Holder Three. Poppa One-One. Requesting sitrep. Over.” The vehicles’ fifty caliber machine gun barked as an unofficial answer to his question of whether things had gotten hot. “Gate Three, Gate Three, do you copy? Over.”
“Poppa One-One, Holder Three,”. Be advised we have hostiles mixed in with civilians. Situation is hostile, selective fire only. We’ve got kids in the crowd. I say again, children mixed in with hostiles. Selective fire only. Out.”
“Fuck,” groaned the driver. “They’re making us earn our pay today, ain’t they?”
Kunpai leaned forward, ordering the passenger to give him the handset. “Holder Three, Poppa One-One. What is Chief Walinski’s status? Over.” The weapons fire became constant and an explosion to their left was followed immediately by the loud whoosh of something combustible going up.
“For the first time in your life, please don’t be acting stupid, Brenda.” Kunpai said. “Holder Three, do you copy? Over.”
“Copy, Poppa. That crazy bitch is firing into the crowd. I say again: she’s firing into the crowd!” The voice on the other end was nearly frantic.
The vehicle swerved hard right one hundred yards from the gate. The maneuver threw Kunpai against the door. A deafening roar followed a second later, lifting the vehicle’s driver side tires off the road. The driver got the vehicle under control before stopping ten feet from other vehicles inside the fence.
A Hummvee sat fully engulfed inside the gate. A lycan MP lay on the ground, aflame and thrashing violently. Two others were attempting to extinguish the flames. One used a blanket, the other a fire extinguisher, but they could do nothing for the howls that came from the one on fire.
Another whoosh and explosion rocked their vehicle. The impact of a rocket propelled grenade sent a nearby vehicle, careening into Demarti and Kunpai’s. The impact sent Kunpai reeling into Demarti as Demarti slammed into the door.
The gunner had ducked inside at the last second. The collision sent him falling onto Kunpai. Excruciating pain shot through Kunpai’s shoulder as the lycan soldier landed on him.
Kunpai spat curses in Chinese as he righted himself. He felt hot liquid seep down into his flak jacket. He reached up to his right ear, disliking what he felt. “Worry about you later,” he muttered, shaking his head. The world sounded muffled in that ear. He didn’t have time to worry about that. Engaging whoever was shooting at them was his primary goal.
Turret gunners in other vehicles opened fire on targets Kunpai couldn’t see. Kunpai was grateful to be hearing impaired. It made the sound of the heavy machine gun bearable.
He opened the door and fell out. He tried to stand but collapsed. Demarti had bailed out a moment earlier and appeared at Kunpai’s side. Demarti grabbed him by his plate carrier and began dragging him away.
“I got you, Omi!”
It sounded like Demarti was underwater. Kunpai hoped he didn’t have another concussion. If he did it’d make his sixth occurrence. Any more and Kunpai figured he’d be classified as mentally challenged.
“Where’s my rifle? Get my fucking rifle, Paul!”
Demarti dragged him behind the guard shack. “I’ve got your freaking rifle, you ignoramus.” He laid Kunpai and his rifle side by side. “Don’t move, okay? You’re going to be all right.”
“What? I’m already all right. Why wouldn’t I be?” Another explosion and the ground next to their vehicle flew upward into a massive dirt shower. “What about the others? Are they okay?”
“They’re dead. And you’re damn lucky it wasn’t you too.”
Kunpai twisted against Demarti’s hands pressing him flat to the ground. Kunpai heard something wet make a popping noise internally and his world flared into all encompassing, unimaginable pain.
“I think… I… broke something…important.” The words felt syrupy in his mouth and throat. Kunpai realized the syrupy feeling was really blood flowing into his mouth. Kunpai turned his head to spit and what flew out was quickly replaced. He sucked in a deep breath and almost panicked as his breath caught. “Can’t… breath,” he gasped, exhaling what breath he had.
“Stay focused on me, buddy. I got you.” Demarti peeled the Velcro from Kunpai’s armor. His hissing at the sight of the metal jutting from Kunpai’s left side was drowned out by Kunpai’s scream of agony.
“You dumb shit,” rasped Kunpai. More blood inundated his mouth. “That…fucking hurt.” Bloody spittle from the cry flecked Demarti’s face and helmet brim.
“Shut up. I’m working here.” Demarti unsnapped Kunpai’s helmet. Something lumpy fell into Kunpai’s lap.
“The hell is this?” Kunpai whispered, staring at the lumpy mass. He poked it with a bloody finger and his fingers slipped against it as he tried several times to turn it over. “It’s my ear,” he said breathlessly. “My face doesn’t match anymore.”
“Your face is the last thing you should be worried about.” Demarti pressed gauze around Kunpai’s wound to stop the bleeding. He looked at the left side of Kunpai’s face, at the blackened scored flesh and the drying blood that was caking on cheek and neck. “Good news is that your face officially matches your ass.”
“Har, har, har,” whispered Kunpai as the blackness closed on him. He could have sworn he heard Demarti yelling his name, but he was too tired to care.
Walinski stayed atop of the vehicle’s roof. She watched the screaming crowd. She sensed Aberrations among the civilians but with the crowd in the hundreds it was hard to ascertain who was what. She made a tempting target for a sniper but cared little about the hazard.
She scanned the crowd, feeling almost overwhelmed by the collected emotions. With Dolly and Clarice’s help she could focus past the mass fear and hysteria.
Walinski focused her mind on the hatred directed at Detrick’s defenders. Once she, Dolly, and Clarice concentrated they found those that stood out from all others.
Walinski focused in on a male teenager first. She wasn’t surprised at him being the first; he was a teenager after all. She stared at his screaming face. Like most people, he screamed to be let inside.
Disregarding his human emotions, she moved to the next face. This time it belonged to a female lycan in human form that was up to no good. Beside her was a thirty something male and female lycan. All three wanted to kill every human around them.
What disturbed Walinski was the first female lycan appeared to only be ten years old.
They acted panicked and frustrated, but their eyes held something else; disgust. The lycan family stood in the middle of the crowd. It was certain that they felt safe with so many civilians around them. Walinski’s concern was why Aberration lycans would willingly cast themselves in with so many humans. She made a mental note of their faces and moved on to others.
She continued looking the crowd over, alarmed to discover the crowd was over a third lycan with more than half being hostile. “Lieutenant,” she yelled to the officer in charge. “Hey, Lieutenant!” She stretched her vocal range, trying to be heard over the clamoring crowd.
The crowd grew rowdier as the officer Walinski shouted at looked around for the owner of the voice.
“Eyes up here, Lieutenant!”
He looked around, finally focusing on her.
“What’s up Chief?” he answered, walking to the vehicle.
“Hostiles are mixed in with civilians. I know you’re aware of it, but have your men focused on the crowd’s middle whenever they can.”
The young officer looked at her with scolding eyes. “Damn straight I’m aware. Dismount the vehicle now, Chief Warrant Officer. I’m tired of looking at your flat ass.”
“How rude,” Clarice muttered. Against Walinski’s will, her finger brushed the trigger with light strokes. The motions alarmed her. She exerted more of her own personality, forcing the finger outside of the trigger guard.
The officer turned away, and in a fit of rebellion Dolly flipped him off. “Asshole.”
A round hissed by Walinski’s head as she jumped down.
Automatic weapons fire ripped into the crowd from within. Soldiers at the gate ducked behind vehicles or fell prone to the ground.
“Where’s the shooting coming from?” screamed Walinski.
Soldiers yelled out the shooters’ position. They were operating from within the crowd.
“Hostiles are firing on the civilians,” announced the lieutenant. “We can’t focus on the shooters! They’re mixed in with the evacuees!”
“Goddamn it!” Dolly took a knee and fired. A middle-aged man fell, a German made MP7 dropped from his hands. No one seemed to care about him. Most were too worried about their own safety to notice what had happened.
Walinski heard someone call her a crazy bitch. She made a note of the voice; once the shooting was over there was going to be a different set of fireworks.
More fire came from the fleeing terror stricken civilians. Hostile shooters were moving with the crowds, using them as cover, killing several gate guards.
“Chief,” screamed the rude lieutenant. “Can you see anything from your position?”
“I can’t see squat so leave me alone. I’m trying to concentrate.” Walinski ran to a nearby vehicle. Rounds whizzed by her. She was being targeted specifically and it did nothing but make her angrier.
She slid between two soldiers that were also searching for the shooters. Walinski was impressed with their restraint. It would have been easy to fire into the crowd but the men kept their wits about them. “You boys see anything?”
“Nothing,” answered one. “Crowd’s beginning to thin out. Maybe we’ll get ‘em once everyone’s scampered off.”
Out of nowhere a rocket’s whoosh filled the air and a nearby vehicle erupted into angry flame and noise. “Son of a bitch!” shouted Walinski and the second soldier. “Jinx,” she said, looking past the wreckage. Another vehicle rapidly approached. She wanted to scream at the occupants to get to cover. She knew they’d never be able to hear her.
The shouting from outside the fence was dwindling. People were making themselves scarce and Walinski took a chance on peering over the Hummvee’s hood. A shot rang out, the round ricocheted inches from her. The shooter had wasted a crucial second in acquiring her as his or her target. “Found one,” she announced proudly. “Three hundred yards, eleven o’clock in the tree line. I’m going to run back to the guard shack. Hopefully I can draw their fire again. Cover nine to two o’clock in case they go for a new firing position!”
Walinski ran to the shack as fast as she could, praying that the men would be able to deal with her hunter. She concentrated on her objective, ignoring the sounds of gunfire.
“Hostile down,” yelled one of the soldiers. “We got the shooter, Chief!”
Walinski slammed into the wall hard enough to knock most of her already ragged breath from her lungs. She gave a thumb up to the men at the moment a rocket slammed into their cover vehicle. Another Hummvee arrived in time for the flaming wreckage to slam into it. For an instant she was sure she’d seen Demarti’s face inside.
The weapons fire directed at the gate guards intensified. Walinski returned her attention to the gate. Thirty or so lycans retreated for the meager tree line under covering fire. The surviving guards returned fire, killing a few of the running werewolves.
The incoming gunfire abruptly stopped and everything turned quiet. Walinski looked over to the burning Hummvee, hoping that someone, anyone survived.
Nothing moved from within the stricken vehicle. The smell of burning hair and meat turned her stomach. She took in how horrible the battle had been and how stomach churning everything smelled. She cast her eyes to a nearby building, uncomprehending the sight of Demarti giving first aid to a bloody, battered Kunpai.
“No,” she stammered, climbing to her feet. “No, no, no. Not like this. Not now.”
She sprinted toward them. Soldiers passed by her to secure the gate. Her mind didn’t register the calls from other gates requesting support. She paid attention to nothing other than her friends. “Dear God, not Omi. Please, no. I’m sorry, Omi.”
She muttered her protests and supplications to God as she walked dead footed to her friends. In her mind, Dolly wailed in rage-filled screams as Clarice wept.