Chapter 24

It took hours to clear the Sports Complex. The stadiums were massive structures with labyrinths of passages both above and below ground. CB Park took the longest because it had been full of people, and as a result, was chock full of zombies. By the time my team and I had finally staggered back into the parking lot, the sun was slipping below the horizon and there wasn’t an undead left anywhere in the Complex.

Fortunately, the National Guard hadn’t sat around doing diddlysquat while MHI had been busting zombie skulls. They’d cleared out most of the vehicles that had been in the parking lot and set up what amounted to a small military base. Tents had been erected in neat rows and columns up and down the asphalt, and a decent-sized heliport had been created on the far side of the lot. Giant portable spotlights similar to the ones in the stadiums illuminated everything.

No sooner had we staggered out of the stadium (we were all pretty exhausted) than a National Guard Hummer pulled up and ferried us to a long tent filled with empty bunk beds. We all stripped off our tactical gear and removed portions of our armor before flopping down on the bunks and getting some much-needed Z’s.

Sadly, my blissfully peaceful sleep (okay, it wasn’t really; I dreamt about killing zombies with a machine gun that never ran out of ammo) was interrupted by Julie after three painfully short hours. The MCB and National Guard had begun pushing their way into the city, but weren’t making headway fast enough, so we going to be choppered in to augment them. The team and I had just enough time to shake the sleep from our eyes, replenish our ammo supplies, and grab a quick bite to eat before we were loaded into the back of one of MHI’s choppers for the flight out to 69th street.

Until recently, MHI only had one helicopter, a Russian-made Mi-24 Hind-D. It was designed primarily as an attack chopper, but could also hold up to eight passengers. After the Cursed One incident a few years back, which had netted the company over half a billion dollars (The bounties on the Cursed One plus six Master Vampires really added up), Earl Harbinger had decided to use some of the massive PUFF Bounty to augment MHI’s “Air Force” and had purchased trio of Vietnam-era American choppers: two UH-1 Hueys and a CH-47 Chinook.

We’d flown out in one of the Hueys with Doug’s team. It turned out that our pilot, who went by “Bud,” had flown Huey gunships with the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company out of Lai Khe during the Vietnam War. He’d been a cop for a number of years before having a run-in one night with a pack of goblins. He’d been off-duty at the time, and was cursing along in his vintage Pontiac Trans Am when five of the creatures jumped him. Fortunately, he was packing heat – a beautiful customized Colt Commander – and had dispatched the creatures in short order. He still had the Colt, but the goblins had totaled the Pontiac. Earl had recruited him a few weeks later, and he’d been with the company ever since. He’d been thrilled when Earl told him about the “new” Hueys and had jumped at the chance to fly one again.

Bud had dropped us off in front of SEPTA’s 69th Street Terminal where we’d rendezvoused with a light company of National Guardsmen and a handful of MCB Agents before making our way into the city. It was incredibly slow-going. Every single house had to be cleared from attic to crawlspace (few had basements), and there were an average of 16 or so houses per block on each side of the street. And when survivors were found, we had to ferry them back to the Terminal to be evacuated by helicopter to one of the central command points – usually after having to convince them that we were, in fact, humans and weren’t there to hurt them. Shepherding the survivors back to safety meant that a handful of us had to go with them. We occasionally got reinforcements, but the group was slowly shrinking down to nothing.

Midnight had passed long ago, and we’d only made a few blocks worth of progress. We’d somehow made our way north, up Landsdown Avenue and were presently winding our way down 64th Street towards Haverford Avenue. By now it was just our team, Doug and Griz, and a pair of very nervous National Guardsmen. We had one more house to clear on this block, but if we found survivors, we’d have to wait for reinforcements before we’d be able to continue. We’d just be stretched too damn thin.

“Hey,” one of the Guardsmen said, pointing to the intersection in front of us, “Check that out.”

I’d spotted it when we were about three-quarters of the way down the block. The intersection was littered with zombie corpses. I hadn’t really paid it any mind when I’d first seen it, figuring the carnage to be the work of one of the MCB’s helicopter gunships, but now that we were closer, I noticed something unusual. The bodies were far too intact to have been the targets of strafing runs by chain guns or miniguns. In fact, nearly all of the zombies looked like they’d been dropped with a single rifle shot to the head.

“Contact!” Doug called suddenly, “Zombie at twelve o’clock!” We all looked over to see a zombie slowly lurch into the intersection.

“Got it!” Griz called. He snapped his accurized REPR sniper rifle to his shoulder, and an instant later the loud CRACK! of a rifle shot echoed down the street. The top of the zombie’s head exploded and it went down hard.

“Nice shot, Griz,” Doug said.

“Uh… thanks boss,” Griz said as he slowly lowered his rifle, “only… that wasn’t me.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, I, uh, I didn’t drop the hammer on him.”

“Well who did?” Dominque asked.

“There’s another one!” We all turned to spot another zombie shuffle into the intersection from the opposite direction.

“Hold your fire,” Doug ordered, “Let’s see if—”

Crack! The zombie went down hard as a second rifle shot completely destroyed its skull.

“I’ve got it,” Odette said, “The house on the other side of the intersection, left side of the street.”

“You’re sure?” Doug asked.

“She’s right,” I chimed in, “I saw the muzzle flash. Second-story window closest to us.” We all looked at each other for a long moment, unsure of what exactly to do: this was the first bunch of armed civilians we’d come across all night.

“We’ll finish the block,” Doug suggested, indicating Griz and the National Guardsmen, “You guys take the house?”

“Sure,” Dominique said, “but take Chris and Shannon with you.”

“Okay,” he replied, “Everyone move out.” Doug’s group moved into their house as the five of us sprinted across the street. Fortunately, there were no more zombies in sight. We took cover behind a half-demolished police cruiser – no telling whether or not the people inside the house would take a shot at us too – and formed a half-circle facing outward to provide cover while Dominique fished out her little bullhorn from wherever she kept it.

“In the house on the corner!” she called, “Hold your fire! We are friendly, and we are here to help you! We are going to come to the front door! I say again, we are friendlies, hold your fire! We are coming to you now!” She put the bullhorn away and turned towards us. “Steve, Odette, Scotty, move in.” The three of us rose to our feet and jogged out from behind the police car, heading for the house. We’d just hit the front steps when the door suddenly swung open. I snapped my FAL up before I recognized the distinctive uniform of the Philadelphia Police Department. To my surprise, the officer was carrying an old Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle. A second later, I realized I recognized the officer.

“Dan?” I asked in disbelief. Sure enough, it was the very same Daniel Hampton of OnTarget Firearms who’d sold me pretty much every single weapon I was carrying at the moment.

“Steve? What the hell, man? What’re you doing here?”

“Killing zombies,” I replied, “What’re you doing here?”

“The whole department got mobilized to try and take out these… zombies? They’re really zombies?” I nodded, “No shit? Anyway, I was supposed to head over to the 69th Street Terminal, but I got cut off. Zombie things attacked my car. Luckily I’d thought ahead and packed my Mosins in the trunk. Department would have my badge in a heartbeat if they knew I was carrying those around. So I fought my way out of the car to the house.”

“Uh, sorry, I don’t mean to break up the reunion,” Scotty said, “but can we get inside, please?”

“Oh, sure, sorry.” Dan cleared the doorway and the three of us hurried inside, quickly followed by Dominique and Jon.

“Is there anyone else in the house?” Dominique asked.

“Yeah, the family who owns the place is upstairs,” Dan said, “This way.”

The family consisted of a mother, a father, a daughter who couldn’t be older than five, and two little kittens. All of them were scared to death, though the daughter – Layla – visibly relaxed upon seeing us. Odette and Jon quickly moved over towards the family to try and comfort them further.

“Doug, we’ve got a family in here, plus one cop,” Dominique said into the radio, “We’re gonna need to extract.”

“Copy that,” Doug replied, “We’ve got a family here too.”

“How many people?”

“Five. Two adults and three kids. You?”

“Three adults, one child, and two cats. What do you want to do?”

“Well, it’s a long way back to the terminal,” Doug said, “And we’re stretched thin enough that we can’t leave anyone behind to escort them.”

“Yeah,” Dominique agreed, “We’re gonna have to get an air extraction.”

“Agreed,” Doug said. “This is Callahan, I’ve got two teams at the intersection of 64th and Haverford. We’ve located survivors but can’t get them back to 69th Street Terminal safely. Requesting helicopter extraction.”

“This is Harbinger,” came the reply a second later, “Are you sure you can’t get to the terminal?”

“Negative,” Dominique replied, “We are approximately one point five miles from the terminal, low on ammo, and we have children with us. We cannot, say again, cannot make it to the terminal on-foot safely.”

“I copy,” Harbinger said after a moment, “I’ll try and get you some air ASAP.”

“What’s an air extraction?” the husband – Dominick – asked us.

“Helicopters,” Chris said, “We’re going to fly you guys out of here on a helicopter.” Layla apparently liked that idea because she started clapping.

“I’ve never been on a helicopter before!” she exclaimed.

“Well you’re going to get your chance really soon,” Odette replied with a smile. I couldn’t help but marvel at how great she was around kids.

“Can Brandi and Mr. Whiskers come on the helicopter too?” she asked, gathering up her two kittens in her arms.

“You bet!” Odette replied.

“Turner, Callahan, this is Crossbow One-One” Bud’s voice came over the radio, “I’ve got a full load of Hunters inbound to your position. ETA four minutes. Be advised that Skippy is about a minute behind me in the Hind.”

“Roger that, Bud,” Dominique called, “See you soon.”

“Ah, no Bud on this channel, Turner,” But said, “Crossbow One-One out.” Dominique just rolled her eyes, then turned towards the family.

“Choppers will be here in about four minutes,” she said, “get ready to move.”

“Skippy here…” a deep, gravely voice came over the radio, the sharp accent a little difficult to make out, “Can… Cal-A-Han… and… Turner… mark position?”

“Roger, Skippy,” Griz said, “I’m gonna pop some, ah, wait one… scratch that. I’m gonna put an infra-red strobe in the northwest corner of the intersection. Say again, infrared strobe in the northwest corner. How copy?”

“Crossbow One-One copies strobe in the northwest corner.”

“Skippy under… stand.”

“Crossbow One-One; be advised, our ETA is two minutes. What is your exact position?”

“There are ten of us in the house on the southeast corner of the intersection and nine of us at the northwest corner. We’ll be coming from both sides.”

“Skippy… land in… street… by north…west corner… hut. Hunters inside… come to my… helicopter.”

“Copy that, Skippy,” Doug said.

“Crossbow copies, I’ll be setting down in the intersection. ETA one minute.”

“Copy one minute; Turner out.” Turner hefted her rifle up and turned to everyone in the room. “Let’s go.”

We reached the front door right as the big Huey set down in the center of the intersection. A minute later, the Hind set down in the street behind it. Personally, I was amazed that Skippy could land that big Russian bird in a narrow street like that.

The ten of us, plus the two kittens, raced down the sidewalk towards the helicopter as two dozen Hunters climbed out of the Huey. We loaded the family in first before climbing in ourselves. A moment later, we were airborne.

Layla had her hands clamped firmly over her ears, and she was wincing at the incredibly loud sound (the kittens weren’t enjoying it much either), but her eyes were wide with amazement as she watched the city race by underneath us.

“Were going to take you straight in to the airport,” Bud said over the PA system.

“Okay,” Dominique replied, giving Bud a thumbs-up.

“What’s at the airport?” the wife, Keisha, asked.

“Medical staff, food and water, beds,” Dominique said, “eventually you might get evacuated out of the city entirely by airplane.” Keisha and Dominick shared a worried glance at that.

“ETA to the airport is about ten minutes,” Bud said.

I gazed out of the window (we’d closed the doors before takeoff), watching the city fly by. It really did look like the set of Black Hawk Down; I could see fires burning in the darkness, flaring my night-vision monocle. Cars were wrecked, abandoned in the streets. Bodies, human and zombie, were everywhere.

Something out the window suddenly grabbed my attention.

“Hey!” I shouted into the intercom, “look there!”

Chapter 25

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