Chapter 22

Surprisingly, we weren’t the first team from MHI to arrive at Valley Forge Military Academy. About a half-dozen had arrived before us, including Earl Harbinger and his team. Any doubts the rest of us had about whether or not the situation was serious were squashed the moment we saw him: Earl’s team was MHI’s equivalent of Delta Force. They were the most experienced Hunters in the company, and they were only called out for the really, really big jobs.

The MHI Teams, MCB Agents, and National Guardsmen – there were maybe two hundred of us total – had all congregated in the rear of the Academy’s property, out next to the baseball diamonds on the big, flat field the Academy used for PT testing and obstacle courses. A huge tent city had been set up by the Feds on one side of the field, while a humungous television screen had been set up on the opposite end. There was a hastily-erected stage at the base of the Jumbotron with a podium in the center.

A handful of people were up on the stage; I recognized Earl, Julie, Owen, and Sam Haven: a big ex-Navy SEAL with a cowboy hat, duster jacket, and a walrus moustache. Sam had been one of my instructors in the Newbie course all those months ago, but he normally headed up MHI’s Boulder, Colorado team. Sam hadn’t been thrilled with his temporary reassignment, and he hadn’t been shy about letting us Newbies know it. Still, he was a warrior to the core, and he was fiercely loyal to MHI and all of its employees. He was the kind of man that soldiers would follow into the gates of Hell if he asked them to. I know I would if he asked me.

There were four MCB Agents on the podium as well. I recognized Willard and Simpkin right away. With them was an older man in a cheap suit who reminded me a little of Mark Harmon, and a huge, ugly gorilla of a man who looked like the only thing he knew how to do was smash skulls. I heard one of the other Hunters refer to him as “Franks.” She didn’t sound all that pleased to see him, and somehow I couldn’t blame her. The guy gave me the creeps.

After about a half-hour, a few more Hunter teams showed up, and the Mark Harmon look-alike stepped up to the microphone.

“Attention,” he commanded like a military general. The MCB Agents and National Guardsmen all immediately snapped to, but a lot of the Hunters continued to chat loudly amongst themselves. The Agent at the mic frowned.

“Attention!” he called again. Most of the chatting Hunters ignored him.

“I said Attention!” Again, MHI paid him no mind. He gave Earl a withering glare. Earl just shrugged and sauntered to the edge of the stage.

“EVERYBODY SHUT UP!!!!” Even without the aid of a microphone, Earl Harbinger’s roar could be heard clearly across the entire field. All conversations immediately ceased. “Thank you!” Earl gestured for the MCB Agent to continue before sauntering back upstage.

“For those of you who don’t know me,” the Agent said, “my name is Myers. I am Director of the Monster Control Bureau.” A few Hunters shouted catcalls, and I think I heard one or two jeers or ‘boos’ too. Meyers bristled, but ignored them.

“As you are all aware,” he continued, a slight edge creeping into his voice, “we are facing a grave threat. The city of Philadelphia is currently the epicenter of what looks to be the largest zombie outbreak on record.” A map of the city appeared on the Jumbotron behind him. Large portions of it were shaded red. “As of ten minutes ago, there were an estimated six thousand confirmed zombies in the city, and that number appears to be growing exponentially. Now, we have already blocked off all routes leading in and out of the city, and we have advance teams on the ground dealing with the infestation, but we estimate that at the current rate of growth, the city will be completely over-run in twelve hours. It is imperative that we—” He got no farther, as Earl once again sauntered up to the front of the stage.

“What Myers is trying to say,” Earl said, “Is that we’ve got us a shitload of zombies in Philly and, much as I wish we didn’t have to, we have to go in and save the city and all of its inhabitants. Well, the ones who are still alive anyway.”

“Harbinger…” Myers growled, his cheeks suddenly going flush. If looks could kill, Earl Harbinger would have been reduced to a smoldering pile of ash. Earl ignored him.

“If we don’t,” he continued, “then the city goes even further to hell than it already is, and more importantly, the zombies will overwhelm the government checkpoints and spread all across the East Coast and, potentially, the entire country.” That garnered a few nervous murmurs and whispers from the crowd. Earl gestured to Julie, who walked up to the podium, brushing past Myers to get to the mic.

“We need to get into the city and begin securing it as soon as possible,” she said. As she spoke, the red-shaded portions of the map disappeared and were replaced by three green shaded areas. The edges of the city, especially the easternmost end along the Delaware River, turned green as well. “Phase One of this operation will be establishing beachheads in the city. The MCB already has people on the ground at the waterfront who are slowly making their way inland. We need to link up with them. To do that, we’ll be inserting large numbers of you via air to these three locations.” She gestured up towards the screen. “Fairmount Park, Philadelphia International Airport, and the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.”

“Well that figures,” I muttered to myself.

“Command posts will be set up at all three locations. Casualty collection points will be established in the park and at the Sports Complex. Once the airport has been fully secured, we will begin flying in supplies and personnel, as well as evacuating civilians. Any questions?”

“Isn’t there a ball game tonight?” a Hunter shouted.

“Yes,” Julie said, “I believe it’s Yankees versus Phillies at Citizens’ Bank Park.”

“Do we have to save the Yankees too?” the Hunter pressed. Most of the Hunters and a few National Guardsmen laughed at that.

“Yes, DeSoto, we do,” Julie admonished with a smile, then her face grew serious again, “Once these three areas have been cleared, sweeper teams will be dropped, again by air, at various locations through the city. Their job will be to move through the city, clearing buildings, rescuing survivors, and of course, eliminating zombies.”

“What about supporting fire?” an MCB agent asked.

“Such as?”

“Air support or artillery,” the Agent clarified, “Can we bring in that sort of firepower on an infested building?”

“Anyone tries to reenact the MOVE fiasco,” I shouted over the crowd, “And I’ll kill the bastard myself!” That garnered a series of cheers from the Hunters.

“We will not be bombing civilians, Sambor,” Myers said as he shoved past Julie to regain control of the mic. “Now, are there any other questions?” There were none. “Good. Report to your team leaders; they will have your assignments waiting for you. Everyone load up; the advance teams take off in twenty minutes. Good luck, and Godspeed.” He stepped away from the mic and shot another furious glare at both Earl and Julie as the crowd broke up. I already had my weapons and equipment on me, so I set about looking for Dominique.

“What figures?” I turned to find Odette standing next to me.

“Huh?”

“When Julie said we’d be landing at the Sports Complex, you said it figured. Why?”

“Oh. Well, about ten years ago, the city was just starting to have financial problems, so our then-mayor decided that the best way to solve the problem would be to demolish our old stadium and build two new ones.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I wish I was. Seems the guy was more concerned about giving the city a physical monument to his legacy instead of actually helping the town recover economically, so they build the Linc and CB Park and then demolished the perfectly-good Veterans Stadium.”

“The Linc and CB Park?”

“Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park. Our football and baseball stadiums, respectively. So anyway, now we’ve got two of the ugliest stadiums in the country and the city’s pretty much broke. And my family wonders why I hate politicians.”

“There you guys are,” Dominique said as we finally found her. “Get your stuff together; we’re on one of the advance teams.”

“Which one?” Odette asked.

“The one hitting the Sports Complex.” Dominique gave us both a really strange look as my jaw dropped and Odette burst out laughing.

Chapter 23

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