Chapter Twenty Seven

Every other word told us they were making most of this up, assumptions based on the limited data the government had gathered in the short space of time since the world had gone to shit. The cause of the power cut was certainly an educated guess, thought to be an explosion at a distribution site. Most of us standing here had seen for ourselves the electricity was out across the South West. The details were hazy, in a hurry to tell us a surge of power from the unbalanced grid blew out the protection to an MOD containment facility in Truro. Think Boscombe Down, but on steroids. The Admiral’s exact words.

The upshot was the release of a contagion. A virus or bug, they didn’t know which and none of us were doctors, couldn’t tell the difference, all they know was it was important enough to trigger a huge evacuation the like of which never seen in a western country. Protocol was out the window, shouts came from gathered officers, people wanted to know what the contagion did, why there was such a panic. When the responses didn’t come, more questions fired their way. Should we be worried about our families?

The Admiral cleared his throat and looked at his notes, but we all knew he was buying time for hard answers. And they came. The virus, was fact acting, infecting as it blew through the air.

“What about us?” came a cry from near the front.

“You’re all fine. We would know by now. The virus is too heavy to drift at anything greater than a few metres off the ground,” he said and a rumble of discontent rose again. “And we predict with great certainty the exposure was nowhere near Culdrose when the air bridge was in operation.” His words didn’t help the murmuring, no one was buying his bullshit. Still, he told us the virus was already changing. It was no longer airborne, the cold had killed it off, but was still spreading, now by contact alone. He told how the infected would become stuporous, unable to converse, could barely control themselves. The pathogen attacks the hormones, sending adrenaline, testosterone, cortisol flooding around the system. The mix sends the victims into fits of irrational anger. Then came the answer to the question we all didn’t want to hear.

There was yet to be a cure.

Everywhere I looked I could see confounded expressions at the words, their fixed stares at each not changing as the Admiral continued to tell us the evacuation went long into the night, but stopped as the first signs of the virus showed up in the lines.

“What happened to those people who didn’t get out?” I said. All eyes fell on me, then back to the Admiral.

He let the pause fill the space until forced to answer by the rising discontent from the audience.

“It is our understanding all those not infected have been successfully evacuated.”

There was an uneasy silence across the room. No one questioned it. No one wanted him to be lying and before we could question, we found out the reason we were being told.

They were sending us back into the exclusion zone.

No one needed convincing, were more than willing to go behind the line and take the only action we knew would stop our families from suffering.

It was night again as we stepped outside, the winter window short, the chopper heavy with ammo, stacked rifles and a GPMG. We took to the air, cruised around. The place was properly dark. Night vision picked up a few glowing white spots of light, but nothing like we were looking for. It looked like the Admiral might just have been right.

We flew for the full four hours our load would allow, with the worst sight being the fires. The sky glowing orange at each turn. We were glad to refuel, no shots fired, glad to take a quick break, even if just to be reassured the air station was still operational. Our houses were fine too, a short diversion showed the lights still on in each and served us well as a reminder why we were doing this job.

Staying at the base for another couple of hours, a debrief, relaying out what we’d found, the locations of the fires and not much else to report. We were told the other crews had come back the same and were back in the air, lighter this time, we’d offloaded half the ammo and the grenades to give us maybe an hour’s more time in the air.

It was two hours into the run, the time had gone much like before, the unnatural green of the night vision straining our eyes, when we caught the first signs of what we hadn’t wanted to see. In the middle of the road two figures fought, neither taking notice as we flew closer, as we watched their aggression rage. It was clear one of the pair was stronger than the other, the weaker taking notice as our unmissable din flew over. Circling back, I set a hover, letting James take a good look, facing down, leaning out on his stomach, shouting to get closer. He wanted to see if for himself and was narrating as one of the infected overpowered the other as he bit down into the other’s arms. I had him repeat over the radio and he did, adding detail. The stronger was biting, ripping flesh with his teeth.

I put distance between us and James let a single burst release. The chatter of the gun took me back to Afghan, took me back to those days I had such mixed feelings about, but as each round flew from the machine gun, I knew we were closer to keeping our families safe.

It was another hour of flying and even knowing what we were looking for, we were still unprepared as we came across a moving glow of heat on the horizon. With the first signs of the morning at our backs, we each removed our goggles and saw what could only be described as a herd. Tens of people, maybe a hundred, we didn’t take an accurate count, were walking, stumbling, falling into each other. It was clear these people were in pain. Stubbs reminded us in our ears, there was no cure.

We had a job to do. We had to protect our own.

I called it in, but knew what the response would be and had already turned the airframe side on, thought of my kids, thought of my wife as Spicer racked back the slide and began decimating the crowd.

 

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