Annette lifted her pack, then her duffel, and shoved them into the back of the transport truck. Before she climbed into the truck she looked behind her one more time and hoped her mother and sons were somewhere out behind the fence watching. A foolish hope, but one she held anyway; they weren’t there, anywhere, and neither was her husband, she hadn’t expected him to see her off. She had already said her goodbyes though, dried her sons’ tears, and kissed her mother bye the night before, now they were leaving the staging area having received supplies, replacement vehicles, pistols, and all the accouterments of a Military Police Company.
There were ten people in her new squad, and the squad was commanded by Sergeant James, a veteran of Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan; she felt comfortable with him in command, but still, she wished she wasn’t going, especially where they were going. Campbell couldn’t understand why they were being sent to Los Angeles, there had to be MP companies down south.
“Specialist Campbell, would you care to join us?”
Annette looked up and met James’ dark eyes and black face below the rim of his helmet, “Yes, Sergeant!”
“Then maybe you should climb in before the convoy leaves without you?”
“Yes, Sergeant!” Annette climbed in and two other soldiers, the driver and the assistant driver, both of whom were women, closed the tailgate. As she sat on the bench she immediately wished she had gotten in earlier, she was sitting next to Corporal Bing and knew she was going to regret it. Unlike Sergeant James, who was around five foot eight, black, and wiry, Bing was a good six foot four, blonde and a full on red-neck who thought every woman in the Company wanted to sleep with him, probably a holdover from his High School football days.
“Waited to see where I sat so you could be close to me?” Bing asked.
Before Annette could respond James did, “Knock that crap off, Corporal.”
Bing straightened a bit and pulled his leg away from Campbell’s, “Sergeant!”
Lieutenant Banks appeared at the back of the truck, “Sergeant James, we’ll be leaving as soon as the Captain is ready, are you squared away?”
“Alright, we’ll be taking the 99 south through Bakersfield and there’s some talk now that we may be issued additional weapons at the Guard post there, are your personnel qualified with the M4?”
“Anyone qualified as a Designated Marksman?”
“Not officially, but Specialist Campbell,” James pointed to Annette. “Has qualified expert with the M4 and has a reputation of being a damn fine marksman.”
Banks looked up at her, “Is that correct, Specialist?”
“What’s your experience level, Specialist?”
“I’ve been shooting pistol and long-range competition with my father since I was twelve, Sir.”
“Good, Sergeant James, if we are offered a DMR, issue it to Campbell unless you discover someone else you think might be better.”
As the Lieutenant walked away Bing snorted, “Shit Sergeant, I could outshoot any woman any day.”
“Funny,” James commented. “I don’t remember seeing that in your file. In fact, it seems to me you failed the last two times you tried to qualify with the M4.”
“I qualified the second time around both times!”
“Barely, with the minimum score possible.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s better than me, Sergeant!” He sneered at Annette, “She said she competed, she didn’t say how well she did!”
James locked eyes with Annette, “Specialist?”
“Top five the first two years, first or second ever since, Sergeant.”
“Good enough for me.”
The trucks around them started up as the exhaust pipes belched black smoke and began to pull forward, one following the next. “Get comfortable people,” James said. “It’s going to be a long ride to L.A.” He crossed his arms and let his chin rest on his MOLLE vest as the trucks bounced into the street and then turned onto the 50 Freeway.
Annette and seven other members of the squad were laying down heavy fire into the crowd of infected storming up Main Street in downtown Los Angeles. Most of the squad were using abandoned cars or trucks to steady their aim and were using their M4s on single fire; the three round burst option was too wasteful of ammunition. Annette sat cross-legged on the roof of a car and was using the additional height to see her targets more clearly, almost every shot was hitting the heads of the on-coming crowd, but there were so many!
She slipped an empty magazine from her M4 and inserted a fresh one, “Campbell! Where the fuck is Bing?”
She looked down and Private Huron was looking up at her, “He said he was going for ammo!”
“Bull fucking shit! He probably bugged out again! What the hell are we doing? There are too many of the fuckers!” Huron was on the verge of panicking.
Annette fired three rounds, and then answered him, shouting above the gunfire, “We do what we were told to do! We hold this intersection until the shelter is evacuated! Now return to your position and start killing Locos!”
“We’re running low damn it!”
“Then fire with more accuracy!”
“Bing left, why are…”
Annette turned and faced him fully, “Return to your position, Private, and do as we were ordered!”
“Shit!” Huron jumped onto the hood of the car Campbell was on and started firing again.
Annette slipped another empty mag into her dump pouch and reloaded. The infected were getting close, too damn close. She looked over her shoulder and saw the last of the civilians running up Main from the shelter. “Okay, Team One! Continue to fire! Team Two! Withdraw fifty meters and lay down fire as Team One bounds!”
The fire towards the infected slackened as the second Fire Team ceased fire and ran back up Main before stopping and then starting to fire again. “Team One! Withdraw!” Annette leaped from the top of the car to the hood of another and then to the pavement while she ran as fast as she could past Team One and stopped fifty meters past One. She climbed on top of another car and began to fire as Team One began to withdraw.
Behind her she heard a shrill whistle and when she looked around, she could see Sergeant James waving frantically, he signaled “form on me” and then pumped his fist up and down rapidly. She brought her own whistle to her lips and blew a long blast; the firing tapered off as everyone looked at her and she pointed to James and pumped her fist up and down. “Team One fire until Two reaches us and then withdraw!”
She starting firing again as Team Two raced to where she was and then all eight of them ran for their lives. When she reached James he waved everyone past him and then caught up with Annette, “Where’s Bing!”
“He said he was going for ammo!” She shouted as they ran between cars.
“We’re going up two blocks and then east three blocks as fast as we can!”
“Negative! Another shelter and we do the same thing again!”
“Sergeant James! We… are running out of… ammo!” Desperation was creeping into Annette’s voice.
“Campbell, shut up and run!”
They reached the final intersection and James waved for everyone to stop as they gasped for breath. “We make a stand here while second squad escorts the civilians out of the next shelter.”
He looked at the gasping faces around him and then he pointed to five members of the squad, “You five, keep the mags in your weapons plus one, and give the rest of them to the other four of us!”
Huron’s mouth fell open, “What?”
“You heard me! You five are the worst shots at longer ranges and the four of us are better.”
“Bullshit! What the fuck do we do when we run out of ammo?”
“Use your fucking pistols, and when you run out of ammo for those, fix your bayonets!”
Huron took a step back, “Bullshit! I’m not giving up my mags and I’m not fixing bayonets!” He turned and started up the street through the cars.
“Private Huron!” James shouted, “Stand where you are!”
Huron held up one hand and gave James a one finger salute as several others began to inch away in the same direction. Sergeant James looked at them, shook his head, and then before anyone else could move he brought his weapon to his shoulder and put a single round through Huron’s head. The soldier collapsed in the street unmoving.
“Specialist Campbell, get that deserters weapons and ammo!”
Annette stood there frozen for a moment, and then, “Yes, Sergeant!”
She ran to Huron’s body and started stripping his carbine, pistol, and ammo. She felt queasy as she rolled him over to remove his vest and fluids seeped out of the holes in his helmet. Jesus, the Sergeant shot one of his own men!
James looked at the rest of the squad, “Anyone else want to disregard a direct order?”
Everyone was quiet as Annette laid Huron’s gear on the sidewalk next to the Sergeant’s feet, “That’s all his gear, Sergeant James.”
“Four loaded, eight empty for the M4, Three for the M9.”
“Give me one, you take one, give the remaining two mags to Hodges and Burke. The rest of you, like I said keep the mag in your weapon and a spare, and then hand over whatever else you have.” The four remaining soldiers started pulling magazines from their pouches and handed them over; when they were done Annette had three more magazines, not a lot, but more that she had before. Bending back down to Huron’s gear she removed his dump pouch and had Hodges add it to the back of her MOLLE vest. Bing might show up with ammo, but he had been more than a bit flaky lately and she doubted he would.
“Campbell, did Bing say where he was going to find the ammo he was going after?”
“Alright people,” He waved his arm through the intersection. “Space out along this line and when the crowd reaches the far intersection those of us who just received extra mags will open fire. The rest of you do not fire until the infected are within fifty yards. I do not want any more wasted ammo.”
Campbell climbed back on top of a car, sat down, and rested her folded arms are her knees. She started making a concerted effort to control her breathing as she watched the intersection three blocks away. Finally, they appeared and turned in the squad’s direction.
“Fire when you’re ready, Campbell.” She began to squeeze the trigger and the infected began to fall, sometimes she missed, but almost every round downed one of the approaching mob. At two blocks from their position, James and the other two soldiers began to fire and at one block the rest joined in.
From her left she heard Hodges shout, “Sarge, left flank!” She turned her head for a quick look and was stunned to see infected within seventy-five feet, a lot of infected and coming their way!
James blew his whistle in three sharp blasts and started running north as the squad’s gunfire tapered off, “North!” He shouted, “Head north!”
Annette leaped from the top of the car and ran after him, if she had to keep running like this she wasn’t going to get far. James cut to the east at the next block and then north again. Campbell didn’t even know what street she was on anymore, but she doggedly stayed close behind him. Somewhere behind her she heard a sharp cry for help and then a scream, she kept running.
After two more blocks James slowed to a walk and kept plodding on. “Sergeant, where are we going?”
He looked behind and so did Campbell, they were being followed by only three men, they were down to five now.
“The assembly area,” he gasped. “Any squad over-run is supposed to report to the assembly area.”
“Where is it? I have no idea where we are,” She said.
“Close, should be just another block, or so.” He pointed ahead, “That way.”
“What about the civilian shelter we were supposed to protect?”
He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder in the direction they had come from, “That way.” He took several breaths, and then, “I’m not losing any more of my people.”
“Shut up, Campbell.”
She allowed him to pull ahead and followed him. On the one hand she was glad he was pulling them out, on the other, she wondered what was going to happen to the civilians at the shelter they were supposed to protect. She wanted to go back, but her family; her children were the other way, away from this insanity.
Another block and the squad passed an M240 team covering the road they had just come up; she nodded to them and wondered if her expression reflected their own, hopelessness and fear. Finally they reached the assembly area and Sergeant James waved her past the Command Post as he entered to report. Campbell led the remaining three men to a supply truck and they accepted MREs that were handed to them and Styrofoam cups of coffee. When she walked around the side of the truck she heard his voice.
“…the position was untenable, but the Sergeant ignored me. Then the fuckers just swarmed over us and the only thing to do was cut and run.”
“Yeah,” another soldier was saying. “That seems to be happening with a lot of regularity.”
Annette stepped around in front of Corporal Bing and looked down at him, “So where’s our ammo Bing?”
Bing looked up with his eyes wide, “Shit Campbell, you made it out too?”
“How the fuck would you know one way or the other? You took off as soon as the shit got deep.”
“What? Bull shit! We needed ammo, so I showed some initiative and went for it, for the good of the squad!”
“Two hours ago! You son-of-a-bitch there’s only five of us left!” She lifted her booted foot and kicked the coffee cup from his hand. “We could have used that damned ammo!”
Bing leaped up, grabbed Annette and pinned her to the truck, his hands around her throat, “Shut the fuck up, bit…!” His voice silenced as she pulled back the hammer of the M9 she had pressed to the soft area under his chin.
“Stand down!” James said as he walked into Annette’s peripheral vision.
“Put her down and release her, Corporal! Now!”
Bing lowered her to her feet, her automatic still pushing his chin up.
“Campbell! Holster that sidearm! Now!”
Annette lowered the pistol and settled it into its holster. “Next time, Bing,” she choked out, it was difficult to breathe.
“Christ!” James shouted. “Isn’t it bad enough the Locos are killing us? Now we’re going to kill each other! Bing, take Hodges to the ammo truck and requisition two cases of ammo for the M4s, and then get your asses back over here; see if you can find your way back this time!”
Annette sat down on the box Bing had been using and rubbed her throat before using her bayonet to slice through the packaging of the MRE. James squatted beside her, “I need every soldier I can get for now, but Bing has some shit hanging over his head, count on it!”
Annette nodded and then a tear trickled down her cheek, she quickly wiped it away before anyone could notice. “He’s a liability, Sergeant. Sooner or later he’s going to get someone killed, maybe all of us, and I want to get home to my kids!”
“I know, for what it’s worth it looks like you may get your wish, not right this moment, but soon.”
She looked at him, “Why? What’s going on?”
“What’s left of our squad and six troops from second squad are all that’s left of our platoon. Lt. Banks is combining us with 1st platoon under his command and he’s going to send us, our reinforced squad, to hook up with what’s left of the CO’s platoon over in some place called City of Industry. Once we locate them we’re bringing them here and then we’re heading back to Placerville.”
“Placerville, really?” He nodded. “Why not just radio the CO, get them rolling and we can meet up with them somewhere?”
“They lost contact last night, so we have to go find them.”
A chill ran down her spine, “Nothing since last night?”
“No, finish your chow and draw enough MREs for four days for twelve personnel. Then load up every magazine you can beg, borrow, or steal. We’re going on foot and I want every round each man can carry. No SAWs, they waste too much ammo, but get a shitload of those Bee Hive rounds for three grenade launchers.”
“Yes, Sergeant. One favor though?”
“Ask it, if I can you have it.”
“I don’t want Bing behind me at any time.”
“You got it. That boy is a real thorn in my side.”
The Sergeant’s fire team was thirty feet ahead of Annette’s and he was scanning the Freightliner dealership with binoculars. It had taken a day and a half and two more people to reach where they were. Someone, probably the CO’s platoon, had tipped a bunch of the trailers on their side and attempted to use them as protective wall. There didn’t seem to be any movement they could see between the gaps and twice today they had seen infected in National Guard uniforms, one of them Annette had known personally; he was the coach of her oldest son’s Little League team.
James looked back and waved her team forward, when she crouched next to him he said, “Bing and I are going in to check things out, has the RTO made contact with the Lieutenant?”
“No, not for over three hours.”
Bing shifted around and looked at James, “Why am I going? I should be here in command of the squad while you do the recon.”
“Campbell has it covered and I don’t want you going on another ammo run when I’m not looking, that’s why. Anymore questions?” Bing looked away and James said to Annette, “Anything goes down you’re in command, take what’s left back to the assembly area, got it?”
She nodded, “Yes, Sergeant.”
James waved Bing forward and then followed him from one abandoned car to the next. Stopping at the overturned trailers they studied the area and then slipped inside. A few minutes later they worked their way back until they rejoined the squad.
“Dead, they’re all dead.” He rubbed at his eyes and sighed.
“Any ammo we can use?” She asked, “We’ve got more empty mags than full.”
“No, it looks like they ended up with fixed bayonets.”
Annette shivered, “What now?” she asked.
“We head for the assembly area and get the fuck out of Dodge.”
Annette peeked around the corner of the building, raised the binoculars to her eyes, scanned the assembly area, and then shifted back out of sight. The whole area was swarming with infected. God, she thought, we’re not getting out of here.
“You see the same thing I saw?” James asked.
She nodded, “Yeah, it must have happened fast if they couldn’t get a call out.”
Anders moved up next to James, “Sergeant, just received a general call over all frequencies, any surviving military units are to withdraw immediately and try to reform at someplace called Gorman on the I-5.”
James removed his helmet and scratched his head, “Gorman? Where the fuck is that?”
“The night we pulled in here,” Annette said. “We passed it on the freeway. It’s up above the Santa Clarita Valley.”
“Okay,” James said. “Let’s clear out of here and see if we can find some kind of transportation; it doesn’t look like we’re going to get our own vehicles back anytime soon.”
The squad spent days trying to work their way up Interstate 5 only to be turned back time after time by hordes of infected. Finally, in desperation they headed east instead. Then came the Big One, the earthquake, and they lost three more men when the building they took refuge in for the night partially collapsed. Days turned into weeks as they creeped east and when the solar charger for the radio batteries took a shit they lost all communication with command; they were totally on their own.
“Campbell, hey, Campbell!”
Annette rolled over and looked up at Corporal Bing, “What?”
“Sarge wants us to go on a supply run.” He looked nervous, “I think it’s bullshit, but you better get up because you’re going.”
Annette crawled out of her sleeping bag and groaned. They were holing up in a damaged high rise and the concrete floors were killing her hips. “Give me a minute to work out the joints, okay?”
“I’ll be with the Sergeant; I’m going to check on the fact he’s sending me instead of someone else, hell, Anders hasn’t been out in a while.”
Bing hurried out, as Annette pulled on her boots, “Yeah, you do that,” she mumbled to herself. When she was dressed she emptied her pack, slung it over one arm, and then left to find Bing and Sergeant James.
They were in a damaged fire corridor. “Anders is down with the flu or something, so he’s out of the rotation. I’m sending Campbell with you because she has her shit together.”
“Sarge, shit, we don’t even have any ammo in case we run into trouble, at least give me your magazine for the M9.”
“I’ve got seven rounds left and you know what they’re for, so just shut up and do what I told you to do.” He looked over and saw Annette, “Both of you take an empty pack, that collapsed grocery store we passed is probably your best bet. This time see if you can find something besides concentrated canned soup, I want something I can chew for a change!”
Bing stomped down the stairs as Annette joined the Sergeant, “Any chance I can get someone else to go with me?”
“I know he’s a pain in the ass, but he has to pull his weight like everyone else. What am I supposed to do, let him sit out every detail because he doesn’t want to do it?”
Annette pulled her bayonet and after testing the edge attached it to the end of her M4. “I guess not, it’s just he complains constantly and does exactly what you said; he doesn’t pull his weight.”
Downstairs, Annette gathered up Bing and together they set out through the parking lot of the building and into a residential area. “A lot of good these bayonets are going to do us,” Bing muttered.
“Keep your voice down and quit your bitching,” Annette responded.
“Hey, I’m the fucking corporal and I intend to talk when I want to talk.”
Annette didn’t answer; she just sped up and took the lead while he talked to himself behind her. God, the man was scared shitless, yet constantly did things that made everyone’s lives more dangerous! Walking ahead she kept an eye on the surrounding homes and wondered if they should try scavenging them instead of the market, they were closer, but most of them were in pretty bad shape. She discounted the thought and moved on. After an hour they approached the market and she hid in some tall grass while watching the ruins, there was a substantial portion of the roof collapsed, but it was mainly still intact. If they could work their way in there they might find quite a bit.
“Fuck it, Campbell. Let’s go back and we’ll tell James we couldn’t find anything.”
“What the fuck! Why doesn’t he come out here and do this shit! What makes him so special!”
She turned to Bing, “Shut the fuck up! God, can you go five minutes without bitching?” Not waiting for an answer she rose to a crouch and ran forward to where she had a little better view, then forward again and waited. She was preparing to move again as Bing joined her.
“Look over there,” he said while pointing. “See those cans?”
She nodded, “Yeah, I see them. I also see how out in the open they are and with little concealment if another band of Locos wander by.”
“So? We run over there, fill our packs and haul ass before any of those fucks show up.”
“Good idea, Bing. Have you got a schedule of when they’re going to come?”
“You know what? Fuck you!” He jumped to his feet and ran into the depression where the cans rested, pulled off his pack and started filling it.
Damn it! She thought. She rushed forward and started filling her pack also, but the cans of food were not enough. When they had gathered all that was available she started moving through the rubble picking up some cans and discarding others. At one point she froze and listened, for a moment she thought she heard the faint sound of a car, or truck, but she didn’t hear anything else.
After a half hour Campbell had her pack almost full and started putting cans into the empty magazine pouches of her vest when she caught movement down by the road. She rose up a little and saw a large group of Locos walking by in front of the market. Bing was bent down pulling cans from under a collapsed shelve unit.
“Bing!” She whispered, and then motioned him to stay low. “Locos!”
He froze for a few moments and then raised his head and looked over the top of the rubble before dropping back down. “Shit, they may have seen me!”
“You asshole!” He started to rise up again and she pulled him down “Stay down!”
“What if their coming!”
Annette could see the panic growing on his face, how could this asshole have survived as long as he has? She wrapped her hand around the collar of his jacket, “About fifty meters that way,” she pointed. “There is what appears to be a cavity under the roof. If they…” Bing jumped up and ran in the direction she had pointed, “Shit!”
She rose partially and saw the Locos starting to move towards Bing, she jumped up and ran after him. Bing entered the opening as she heard a gunshot, followed by several more and then she was inside; she spun around and faced the opening. “Bing! Someone’s out there and shooting at the Locos, let’s guard the entrance and together we can stop any that try to…”
She lunged forward and impaled the right eye of one of the infected as it tried to enter the opening, “Get over here, damn it!” More gunshots, but of a different type, sounded and she saw several of the infected around the entrance to their shelter fall, others began to turn around and move away. She stabbed another as it tried to enter, and then another. The long fusillade of gunshots stopped and she stepped into the entrance and looked out.
There was a single man dressed in what appeared to be faded black motorcycle leathers and helmet stabbing an infected with a bayonet attached to an old M1 Carbine. The weapon was jerked from his grasp, but he didn’t try to recover it, instead he used a tomahawk to kill the final two and then finish off the wounded one on the ground. She stepped out of the cavity and started walking towards him as he returned the tomahawk to its sheathe and then swapped magazines in the carbine.
“Clear,” he called out.
It was hard to tell anything about him; even his face was covered by some sort leather covering. He was wearing old style web gear and there was a longer rifle hanging on his back. When he turned and looked all around himself she thought the second rifle on his back looked like a Russian Dragunov, but she wasn’t sure.
As she approached he turned and asked, “Don’t either of you have ammo?”
Annette looked at Bing and then answered, “No Sir, we ran out about three days ago.”
“How many are there in your group?” He asked.
“There are seven of us.” Bing answered.
“And none of you have ammo?”
Annette shrugged, “Sergeant James has seven rounds for his M9. He was saving them for us if it came to that.”
“Where are you holing up at?” He scanned around us as he spoke.
“There’s a five story building about two miles east of here, which is still standing…” Annette answered.
Bing interrupted, “Sort of standing.”
He nodded, “Follow me,” he said and then walked away. Annette looked at Bing and raised her eyebrows in an unspoken question; Bing shrugged, so they followed.
They followed the man for a short distance where he retrieved a bicycle hidden among some bushes and then several hundred more yards to a Jeep parked beside a tree. At the Jeep the man told Annette to put her pack in the back behind a half-cab and then get inside, Bing he told to ride in back with the packs and the bicycle.
“Hang onto my bike,” he said.
He climbed in and started the motor and Annette was surprised by the sound of a diesel motor, she hadn’t known Jeeps came with diesels. Putting the vehicle in gear, he pulled out and starting weaving his way through the streets.
He wasn’t headed for the building though, he was going the other way. “Where are we going?” She asked.
“A place I know.” That was informative.
“Why are we going?”
“Supplies.” The guy certainately wasn’t very talkative.
“What kind of supplies?”
“Some you need some I need.” The only thing he knew for a fact they needed was ammo; did he know where there was some?
“You’ve been there before?” She asked.
“Once, long time ago.” Well, it might still be promising.
“Why do you wear the covering over your face?”
“I don’t want to get bit.”
“Is that the reason you wear motorcycle clothes?” She asked.
“Yes.” It had to be hot though, dressed it all that leather.
“It’s a good idea. I’m going to ask the Sergeant if we can do the same thing. Can’t be much hotter to wear than all the shit we’re wearing now.”
He didn’t say anything though, he just watched the road ahead and the sides of the road as he passed, continually looking in the rearview mirror. His head was moving constantly and Annette realized he had to be guarded all the time. She wondered if there were others he was holing up with and if so, where? Finally he pulled onto a street that ended in a cul de sac, parked the Jeep pointed back out the way he came in, and got out.
There was a pedestrian tunnel passing under the freeway and Annette eyed it warily. “Why did we come here?” She asked.
“In order to get to where we need to go.”
“Look,” she said. “We appreciate the help you gave us, but I’m getting a little nervous about this whole thing. I am disobeying orders by being here. We were supposed to forage for food and return, what are we doing?”
He looked at her for a moment, and then sighed. “Ammo, you need ammo.”
“You know where we can get some?”
He nodded, “It’s not certain, but a good possibility.”
Bing climbed out of the back after the man took his bike down. He reached behind the front seat of the Jeep and removed a shotgun and a bandoleer of ammo for it that he handed to Bing and motioned for him to put the M4 in the cab. He removed two cans from Annette’s vest and put six magazines for the Carbine in the pouches, and then handed her the weapon. Reaching back behind the seat he pulled out a pouch, which originally was made for a military gas mask, but now looked as though he used it to carry the spare mags for the longer rifle. Then he directed both Annette and Bing to dump the contents of their packs on the passenger side floorboard of the Jeep and he removed a pack of his own from behind the passenger seat.
The two soldiers emptied their packs on the floorboard of the Jeep and then the man directed them to the porch of a nearby house and told them to bring the bikes that were there. They returned with two cruisers and the man set off for the pedestrian tunnel under the freeway.
“Whoa, hold it buddy.”
The man stopped and looked at Bing, a question in his eyes.
“Are you expecting us to go in there?”
He looked at the tunnel. It was black in there. “Both of you have LED lights on the weapons I gave you. My bike also has an LED head light, what’s the problem?”
Annette switched on her light and headed for the tunnel and he followed fast enough to catch her and then pass as they entered. He didn’t look behind to see if they were following, but he stopped about twenty feet in and let Annette catch up while he switched on the bike’s headlight.
“What’s your name?” She asked when she drew even.
He stared off down the tunnel for a moment, and then with a slight shake of his head, as if clearing something away, said, “Michael Moore.”
“I’m Specialist Annette Campbell, California National Guard.” She looked back over her shoulder. “The guy following us is Corporal Bing. We’re both attached to a MP unit out of Placerville, the 270th Military Police Company. They mobilized us to try and contain the plague under direction of the CDC. What a joke that was.”
Corporal Bing caught up with them as Campbell continued, “By the time we were mobilized and got down here it was already too far gone for us do anything. Shit, we saw infected in Bakersfield when we passed through. They should have turned us around then and repositioned us further north. Maybe we could have done some good.”
Bing snorted, “The whole thing turned into a cluster fuck when the Speaker deposed the national leadership. General Harris recognized the Speaker as President and ordered the California National Guard to support her claim.”
“So she’s President?” Moore looked angry.
“No,” Bing said. “Harris was taken out within hours by units of the CNG under the direction of junior officers who were loyal to the Constitution. The Army found the bodies of the President, the Vice-President, and everyone the Speaker ordered arrested. They’re all dead. Last we heard; Army, Navy, and Air Force were running the country with a military tribunal until they could find someone in the line of succession, but then we lost contact. We came down here with 116 officers and enlisted, there’s only seven of us left that we know of.”
“What about the Speaker?” Moore asked.
“Word has it she was hiding out in San Francisco with a bunch of the people who supported her overthrow of the government,” Bing answered. “If she was, she’s gone now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Frisco,” Campbell said. “It’s gone, and I don’t mean like here, destroyed, it’s gone. The Bay is three times the size it was. The only thing left is the suburbs in the hills. The whole region dropped, including the San Joaquin Valley. It’s an inland sea now.”
“What else have you heard?”
“Well I suppose the general political picture in America is going to be a lot different than it was before. Both of the coasts have been smeared pretty badly, the West Coast by the Earthquake and the Plague; the East Coast by the Plague and fire in the major cities. About the only people alive there are the infected. Rumor had it a lot of the inner states west of the Mississippi were declaring their locations as refugee centers. We also heard the New Madrid fault in the Mid-West went the same time as ours, if it did like the geologists said it would, it’s got to be bad there too. Anyway, the greatest portion of Liberals and Progressives were on the coasts and the big cities, most of them are probably dead, or infected.”
Moore said, “Turn your lights off,” as they neared the end of the tunnel.
The lights went out. “How far do we need to go from here?” Campbell was staring hard at the end of the tunnel.
“Just a few blocks.” He stopped well back of the exit, watched, and listened. It seemed quiet and no one could see, or hear, anything out of the ordinary, but what was ordinary?
“Let’s go.” Moore said as he swung his leg over the seat and pushed off beginning to pedal the bicycle to the center of the street. They got to the store fairly quickly and Annette began to think maybe they should get bikes of their own.
The store walls were reinforced cinderblock and only one story; part of the roof had collapsed, but not a large portion. The thing, which concerned them the most was the front security gates had been ripped off and were lying in the middle of the street, one end of a chain still attached. The double glass doors were shattered; someone got there before them. Annette felt a growing disappointment as she followed Moore and his bicycle into the store, shelves were overturned and the glass display cases at the back of the store were shattered. Moore leaned his bike against a counter and went to the broken display cases where there were still a large number of handguns scattered about, then he waved Campbell and Bing over and pointed at the handguns.
He walked behind the counter and looked at the shelves underneath; there were rows of boxes lined up. He started scanning down until he came to the boxes he was searching for and looked up at Annette, “Campbell, is the Beretta 92F the model the National Guard uses?”
“We call it the M9.”
He pulled six of them out from under the counter and pushed them towards her, “Take these.”
“Oh shit! Are there extra mags?”
“Still looking.” Moore moved to a doorway to the back as she and Bing started loading one of the packs. While Moore was out of sight Bing and Campbell searched for, and found, spare magazines for the pistols, they were only ten rounders, but definitely better than nothing. After dropping the magazines in a pack, they searched for and found, magazine pouches; they weren’t designed for MOLLE gear, but they could probably modify them.
Bing was busy loading other items in his pack as Campbell studied the racks of rifles; maybe she could find a good heavy bore rifle for longer range. Over her shoulder she heard Bing, “What did you find?”
Moore answered, “5.56 NATO, nine cases.”
“Son of a bitch!” Both of the soldiers ran into the back room and started carrying cases out. Moore followed them, but was looking for something else. He scanned the shelves, and then started carrying cases out to his bike where he left them and then returned to the stock room.
“How the hell are we going to carry all this stuff?” Bing asked.
“We’ll have to tie it off to the bicycles somehow,” Annette answered.
“Moore brought rope and duct tape, so he’s probably done this before.”
Mike returned with two smaller cases he sat down and then left again, when he returned he had two more cases the same size and Annette noticed they were nine millimeter. One more trip and he carried out two cases of .30 Carbine ammo. He turned his bike so it was pointing to the door and removed a coil of rope and a roll of duct tape from his pack and started showing Bing and Campbell how to tie off the cases so they wouldn’t interfere with the pedals of the bikes. When Bing started tying off his Moore sent Campbell to the door to keep watch.
It seemed as though Moore had tied things off to his bike numerous times; as a result he was done well before Bing finished his, so he went to the counter and looked over the pistols. He finally settled on a revolver and dropped it in his pack before gathering several other items which he also added, and then he studied the rifles as Annette had done. Eventually, he removed a lever action western style rifle and carried what he had gathered to his bike where he tied the rifle off to his handlebars.
When he was done, Moore said to Bing, “You ready?”
He nodded and looked at the rifle on the handlebars, “Why would you want that?”
“Okay, but I hope you never need to cover my ass with it. Those suckers are slow to reload and…”
“I said sentimental reasons.”
Bing looked at Moore oddly and then shrugged, “Sure, I’m just saying, you know?”
Moore walked to the front of the store beside Campbell, “We clear?”
“Let’s go.” He headed back and checked how Bing had tied off the ammo. Then he shook the bicycles violently side to side before taking his bike to the door, pushed it out and took off with Bing and Campbell following close behind. They maneuvered into the middle of the road and started for the tunnel and the Jeep. They were about half a block from the tunnel when Campbell looked behind them and saw a group of Locos following at a run.
“We have company!”
Moore stood on his pedals and turned his body to see behind him, there were six infected running down the street after them. With their bikes as heavily laden as they were Campbell was concerned if they tried to push it they might be damaged, or disabled. Moore waved Bing and her on, then braked and dismounted letting the bike lie on its side. He swung his rifle to his shoulder and fired at the first and he fell, the second was a miss, but the third shot took him out. The rest fell one after the other, the last fell less than twenty feet from him. He ejected the almost empty magazine and inserted another. Mounting up again, he pedaled to the tunnel and through it to the other side. They loaded the ammunition and the bikes; all three of them, on the Jeep leaving Bing perched precariously on top of the ammunition and hanging on to the bikes. Moore started the Jeep and they drove away in the direction of the building the National Guard was using as a headquarters/hideout.
Annette studied the masked profile of Moore as he drove and purposely pushed aside the nervousness she felt when she looked at him. He seemed strange and disconnected while at the same time hyper alert to his surroundings. What had he seen in the last months, what made him what he seemed to be? They all had seen and experienced things that would guarantee nightmares, but what had he seen out here alone all this time? What had he become? Was there something he kept hidden? Was there a darkness behind the veil he wore?
Only time would tell for sure, and for the first time in months she felt there was a glimmer of hope. There were fewer infected, and now they had a supply of ammunition, maybe she could start thinking about getting home to her mother and her children again. Maybe.