The helicopter was a patchwork of mottled camouflage contrasting with the flat black sections where it had been repaired. A light wisp of black smoke trailed from the engine, dissipating with the speed of the aircraft. Flying low to stay off radar and out of sight of the people on the ground made the blades change in tone as it flew to match the earth. Chopping the air as it gained in elevation; a dull hollow when it descended.
There was urgency in its behavior that even the animals that shared the sky with it understood. The grim-faced pilot glanced into the troop bay of the combat helicopter in time to see the medic start compressions on the woman on the stretcher. The stretcher flexed under his weight, giving animation to the still form. The man who had boarded with her squeezed the bag attached to her mouth rhythmically when the medic paused the compressions. The pilot absorbed the very bizarre dance with a single glance into the bay. His heart numb with the business at hand. He had seen too many people die in that bay in his career. The copilot’s white knuckles on the stick in front of him seemed to scream out as the pilot keyed his radio’s microphone.
“Lima, Charlie, X-ray. This is Kilo, Echo, Six. We are inbound hot and bingo on fuel, possible fire, clear the pad.” The pilot looked into the bay again. The medic pulled his fingers away from the patient’s throat and nodded to the pilot, “We have one medevac in need of transport.”
Five minutes later the helicopter banked and gained altitude to clear the height of the ramparts as it came up on the walled city, its blades beating the air as it braked to slow its speed. The soldiers standing guard on the wall took notice. This was not a normal arrival.
The air curling the dust from the pad, the helicopter touched down hard, planting itself on the tarmac. The smoke from the engine gushed into the sky, creating its own cloud cover. Firefighting equipment and medical crew were already waiting on the landing pad with the triage doctors springing to life as soon as the bird rested on its skids and the crew opened the door. The fire crew waited nervously for flames that would never come.
Once the stretcher carrying the woman had been handed over to the ambulance crew and the engines of the aircraft were winding down, the pilot opened the canopy door and unbuckled his harness. As he crawled out of the cockpit on unsteady, adrenalin soaked legs, he couldn’t help but focus on all of the bullet holes in the cowling surrounding his seat. Everyone exchanged quiet glances, the dripping of blood from the cargo bay and the clicking of the cooling engine solidified the hypnotic spell.
The soldier who had been pumping the Ambu bag broke the spell, “Sorry that LZ was so hot. I owe you one. If she lives, it was because of you.” The pilot had no answer. His eyes went back to all the holes in the helicopter, not fully grasping how no one was hit inside the aircraft. He was not sure who this man was, but he was positive he never wanted to ride with him again.
His only clear memory of the drop zone in all of the confusion was this soldier walking, across the flat open ground, carrying the wounded woman. It seemed to take an eternity. The entire world shooting at each other across that field. The uniform he wore being the only thing about him that stood out as unusual. He had heard about sterile uniforms, with no rank, unit insignia or nametags. He had just never seen one, until today. When he had gathered himself up enough to respond to the thank you, all he saw was the soldier’s back as he walked down the ramp. Behind him, he could hear his co-pilot sobbing.
Three helicopter rides later, Marcus entered secured peerage territory. Shortly after that, the capital building in Monticello, Minnesota. The peerage had never bothered to fix the exterior of the capitol building, leaving the bullet holes as a reminder of the troubling past everyone wished to forget.
As he entered, he could see the layered design. The outer halls were mostly public servants. Small courts and public appeal areas. The more serious courts were one level up, with government administrators above that. This would be Marcus’ first time in the capital building. His first time dealing with his handler in his native environment. Deeper into the building the décor became more presumptuous; leather seats and dark woods prevailing. The waiting room for the peerage councilman felt more like a gentleman’s club. The only thing distinguishing it from a turn-of-the-century smoking lounge was a monitor on the wall above a small wet bar, displaying a newsfeed. The feed played an interview that had already started. It caught Marcus’ attention because the woman in the interview looked familiar.
The audio from the feed was the only noise in the otherwise quiet room, “So, Commander Voriksardottir could you explain your last name to the public who may not be familiar with Icelandic tradition?” The camera zoomed in on the woman.
“Yes, I can, Phil. Our last name is traditionally the father’s first name and daughter or son after it. So Voriksardottir is the daughter of Voriksa.”
“But, that is your mother’s name,” the commentator interrupted. “Not your father’s, correct?”
“Yes it is. I chose not to use the traditional name of my father and took my mother’s name instead.”
The large maple door in the room opened and a well-dressed woman stepped out, “Commander,” she said. “He will see you now.” Marcus stood and followed her out of the room and into an office that seemed overly Spartan for accommodation with no real art or decoration. Just two chairs with a desk between them and a monitor on the wall broadcasting the same interview as was playing in the waiting area. The chair on the far side of the desk had its back to him, a phone conversation taking place on the other side.
The interview playing on the monitor was shot wide on the well-lit set. It almost seemed purposeful, to exaggerate the scars on the pilot’s face. “So that is how your mother got the nickname, The Wyvern,” the interviewer inquired. “Was that the deciding factor in you joining our air force?”
“Yes, Sir. They played that video of her ramming the side of the building with the nose of her helicopter while firing the nose cannon over and over again. They played until even I thought it looked like a dragon chewing up the side of the building.”
The monitor silenced and Marcus realized the chair had turned around. The councilman in front of him had the demeanor of age, but not the appearance. The council’s access to medicine and the easy lifestyle had been good to him. “Well that did not go exactly as planned did it, Colonel Schiffle?”
Marcus sat up in his chair wondering if he would actually be reprimanded for the mission. “No, it did not. There will be a lot of collateral damage in Pennsylvania. It was a decision of which I am willing to accept the consequences.”
The council member on the far side of the desk folded his hands and leaned forward, “Intel or oversight issue?”
“Neither Sir. We had good intel, good logistics, and good handlers between us and the personnel on the ground.” A stark inhale and the pursing of lips let Marcus know that his answer was not what the councilman had anticipated. It was clear he wanted to be able to take measures to prevent it from happening again, but he had a hard time understanding that. Even though there were no mistakes, the outcome was not always what one desired. The immaturity of his stance was obvious to Marcus, after being so long in the field with professional soldiers.
The man behind the desk turned around in his chair, leaned back and looked at the territorial map on the wall. After a few moments, he turned back around, “Then could you please explain to me what the fuck happened?” Obviously, the councilman thought it was Marcus’ turn to posture.
Marcus refused to engage. He sat perfectly still with his hands in his lap, “Sir, there are things that we could not have known. Situations that presented themselves only when we were operational. The report will…”
The councilman cut him off, “I could give a shit what the report says! I want to know how this benefitted us. There is a string of bodies all the way from here to Pennsylvania, not to mention the loss of equipment.”
“Sir,” Marcus paused, “we encountered a group of indigenous feral …”
The councilman’s interruption raised the tension of the exchange, “I could give a fuck about some piss-ant group of chimps flinging shit at low flying helicopters.” Marcus silently waited to see if the rant continued.
When it didn’t he felt compelled to defend his team and their actions, “That is not what we encountered, Sir. This group was organized and led. Feral to be sure, but learning rapidly. We saw a chance to give them an opening against some Rhode Island militia to see what we were dealing with and they exploited the weakness as well as we could have. We have never seen anything like it.”
After much eye rolling, his handler fired back, “You expect me to believe that? You expect me to believe that some group of chimps just popped up out of nowhere and took down a well-trained group of Rhode Islanders. A group of chimps that no one has seen before.”
“Yes, Sir. We think they are using the park system as a thoroughfare through the Pennsylvania territories hopping from state park to state park hiding in the national forests. They are huge there, millions of acres.”
The councilman seemed to be coming around, “I will read the fucking report, but we have business at hand, we are on a timeline. You understand the seriousness of what we are attempting, right?” Marcus nodded a single time. “Your cadre is in place at the recovery center. I think with the assets we have gained there, you should be able to handle this one.” Marcus could feel the meeting coming to an end. He asked, “How long has that interdiction battalion been in the wild?”
The councilman stiffened, “Not long enough to have lost them, if that is what you are asking. Anything else, Commander?”
“Yes, there is,” Marcus pointed at the monitor screen. “Get her there as well. I am going to need a good pilot.” The councilman turned around in his chair. His seat back represented an end to the meeting. “As soon as your logistics are in order you should start heading South.” Marcus stood and headed toward the door.
“Yes Sir,” Marcus slowed his step toward the door, but didn’t turn around.
“Be careful. You’re getting expensive.”
Survivor Processing Unit—South West Treatment Wing
The village had a medieval appearance to it. The tall grey walls built of adobe and brick surrounded the small city. The small gates opened inward. Corner towers stood taller than the rest of the wall. This type of structure had become very common on the western front of the wilderness that used to be Arizona, Nevada and California. While the design had become common, this particular city was not.
The footprint of the village was huge compared to most in the region. The large landing platform, while uncommon, stood out because of the military aircraft that took up residence over half of it. The most unusual feature being the large clover shaped building editions growing from one wall. Marcus could not understand why they would jeopardize the strength of the wall by building out from it. He would find out soon enough.
* * * *
The white of the hallway felt out of place. Even a little confusing to anyone who had lived outside for any length of time. It just had an unnatural feel to it. That much clean all in one spot? The adobe and brick castle walls had been covered, plastered and painted until the surface appeared smooth. This meant it could be cleaned efficiently. Marcus hated the walk to the processing wing. Glaring sterility and artificial lights made his eyes hurt. Other people would kill to be here and Marcus couldn’t wait to leave.
The offices, built inside the walls of the village, held all of the admin and diagnostic personnel. A tall slender woman noticed Marcus’ arrival and met him at the top of the hallway leading to the clover shaped growth on the outer wall.
Marcus acknowledged her as she closed the distance between them, “Doctor DeAngelo, did the boy survive?”
“Yes, Sir, he did,” her reply absent of any emotion.
“Did all of the recovery team make it back?”
“No, Sir. They did not,” this time Marcus detected emotion, but could not get a handle on it. Disgust? He thought. The Doctor led him through the office hallways and into the diagnostic rooms.
The last room had an observation window. In the room, a boy of ten or eleven sat quietly on a hospital bed. He looked better than most that came from overrun settlements. With the locating and retrieval time being weeks, usually the survivors were rail thin. This kid looked unusually healthy, his ribs barely visible. His group must have been very stable. The child being male would improve its chances of survival; they tend to bounce back faster. The faster he recovered the more relevant his information would be.
“Did we lose him?” Marcus asked.
“No Sir, we did not!” Ah, that emotion he understood. She apparently did not like his position or power. He wondered what had happened and then decided it didn’t matter. “He had lost two trainees that had showed remarkable ability.” Her anger was palpable, “If he keeps losing them, we may never be able to train enough for full teams.”
“Mrs. DeAngelo, if they were any good, he wouldn’t have so much trouble keeping them alive.” Her thumbs flexed the clipboard at his response, but verbally, it went unanswered.
“Take me to him, please.” Growing weary of the political nature of her answer and the meanings, she tried little to hide. “Sir, his condition is...” her voice trailed off with the lack of appropriate words.
“What, Mrs. DeAngelo?” He purposely omitted her title of Doctor—to lend a hint that her behavior had become childish.
“Sir, you don’t know how he gets when he first returns, especially after he loses people.”
“I would like to talk to his support team, if you don’t mind.” He kept his voice as emotionless as possible. Scientists and researchers required more finesse.
“Yes, Sir.” If she could not make him understand, then getting rid of him would suffice.
* * * *
The long walk down the passage leading through the wall was supervisor/staff silent. He preferred it that way. He really didn’t want to know about her life outside of the facility. Her being just an employee, a safer option for him. Known as “the pretty one”, he’d heard that she had a reputation for being pursued by her peers. He didn’t see it.
The door at the end of the hallway, now outside the original wall had a simple sign.
Badge and Clearance
The door slid back and they presented their badges to the guard behind a simple desk. DeAngelo smiled when he handed hers back to her. Marcus knew the identification procedure, a formality only because of his presence. Everyone condoned relaxation of the rules as long as they kept it discreet. Surprisingly, he knew the guard from the founding of the facility, back before the higher walls were built around the village by the military. He seemed to have done well for himself, noticing the captain tabs on his body armor.
How long has it been? Did he recognize me? Marcus thought to himself. Then he noted the guard taking a long gander at the doctor as they passed.
The hallway ended at a three-point intersection. To the left, the section labeled Pod Three was a mass of chaos. She turned left and waded into the entropy. The large room purpose built for the pods with sections for medical triage, transportation, extraction and surgery. Each area stood out by the equipment it contained. The middle, a hub of communication and computing. The only other exit in the room was a hallway leading directly away from the entrance. Marcus seemed to be the only person to notice dried blood on the floor.
“Can I have a status report, please?” DeAngelo asked. The activity level didn’t change. When the request went unanswered, she took a step back.
“I want a status report,” Marcus ordered. “NOW!” The boom of the last word stopped the room cold. DeAngelo, her job now complete, exited the room the way they had come in.
The head of the team stepped forward to report, “Sir, we have one D.O.A., one K.I.A. and one casualty that could still recover.”
“Captain…Sparks,” Marcus said, while reaching down to lift up his badge to read his name. “What is the nature of the injuries to the D.O.A.?”
The captain winced at the request, he felt ill-prepared to give a detailed description of the injuries that lead to death to his supervisor. “He suffered an amputation during the mission. The amputation was at the shoulder and the trainer could not get a clamp on the axillary artery. He bled out before we could get him to surgery. Frankly, we were surprised that he was still alive—he had been travelling with the injury for thirty-six hours. We think the indigenous subject who was with them used some form of holistic medicine to stop the bleeding. We will know more when he is… ah….better?”
“And the K.I.A.?”
“We assume killed and left at the scene.”
“Take me to the subject,” Marcus tried to keep his tone in check for the benefit of all of the anxiety in the room.
“Sir, he is not communicating yet.”
“I know. I just want to see his state.”
“Yes, Sir.” Captain Sparks turned and led his supervisor out of the room through the short hallway on the far side of the room. The next room over was a completely different atmosphere. It was quiet and focused. “Good morning Sir,” came from a white-coat-wearing shadow against the wall in front of an obvious one-way mirror. Through it, a voyeuristic view of a very normal appearing hospital room.
“Good morning, Dr. Jeffries.” In his short time on assignment here, Doctor Jeffries had been his most competent acquaintance. His tall frame, salt and pepper hair and reserved demeanor fit his abilities perfectly. “How is the patient?” Dr. Jeffries paused too long for comfort, staring through the glass into the room. Drawing a deep breath as he readied himself to give his report.
“He arrived very dehydrated and anemic. We think he did a transfusion of his own blood to the wounded trainee in the field, but we cannot determine how. That and carrying the trainee really took its toll on him. When he arrived, he started an I.V. on himself with the supplies in the room, and then blacked out. As soon as his actions looked stable, we entered the room, retrieved the two trainees and the recovered male and exited. He was just finishing the I.V. and lying down. There were no hostile actions toward us. The soldier with the amputation died of his wounds. We are not even sure how he kept him alive long enough to get here. The third trainee is recovering in the medical ward from shock, dehydration, and P.T.S.D.”
“Why is he not in the medical ward with the trainee?” asked Marcus, “He appears to be in much worse shape.”
“Yes Sir, he is. Very much so. He refuses to come more than one doorway into the building. Claims it’s a deathtrap,” this elicited a shrug from the doctor. “That is why the recovery pods are built like airport terminals. So they are accessed from outside the wall. They were designed around him.”
“You said he took no hostile actions toward you. Is hostile behavior common?” Betraying the lack of knowledge he should have gained from reading reports. The assignment had started two weeks before and he should be caught up by now, but there had just been too much to absorb.
“We usually do something to piss him off,” the doctor quickly realized that he had sounded unprofessional. “Sorry Sir. After he is stabilized, his behavior becomes unpredictable due to the anxiety of being in the compound. He feels it is unsafe.”
That surprised Marcus, “He would prefer to be out there?” He felt unsure as to how this didn’t qualify as insanity.
“Yes Sir. The only reason he works with us is to do the recoveries and to train new recovery teams.”
“How many teams has he trained?”
“Six teams worth of people, one person at a time. There are three teams left that have a pretty good performance record.”
“So, you’re saying that out of eighteen people only nine have survived to work effectively? That’s terrible.”
“Sir, we do not have any surviving recovery personnel that the department has trained. None of them survived.” The finality of his tone belied the value of the man in the window.
“How many people did we train?”
“In excess of three hundred before we ceased and aimed to come up with a better solution. That is when he showed up carrying one of our men. He said we should stop sending them out. We didn’t see him for a couple of months, and then out of the blue, he shows up with a kid from an overrun settlement. Just drops him off on the doorstep and walks away. A few weeks later he shows up with another, but this time he is in pretty rough shape and we ask if he would like to rest a bit and get something to eat before he leaves. Viola, a partnership is born.”
“So, when can I talk to him?” The huff from the doctor exposed his amusement at the statement and his own lack of information.
“Probably never, Sir.” He turned back to look through the one-way glass. “He is too unstable,” the doctor continued to stare at the patient through the glass. “Besides there is very little time between runs.”
“Explain the process to me,” Marcus was instantly frustrated by his lack of the knowledge that he knew would be contained in the reports.
“Let me give you an example,” his body language changed to that of giving an uncomfortable report to a superior. “We get a beacon, a heat signature or distress call or something leading us to believe there are survivors. We give him all the information we have and he decides if he can—or wants—to do it. We open the outer door and he leaves. Somewhere between three days and two weeks, he returns.
“This time he shows up, middle of the day, carrying a wounded trainee on his back with the other trainee blindfolded and being led by a rope carrying the recovered male piggyback style. Three crazies are chasing them out of the scrub growth across the no man’s land. No one sees them come out of the scrub. So, after running three hundred yards carrying a dying man, he has to go hand-to-hand with three crazies by himself, because the trainee and the kid are in shock. Which we find out later, is why the trainee is blindfolded. The whole mess spills into the doorway. Screams and blood and a wounded crazy who he eventually kills with an I.V. stand from the medical equipment in the room.”
“Why didn’t the security team go in and help him?” Marcus asked.
“For the same reason we are hesitant about you going in; because he would have killed them. Shit, he almost killed the kid before it was over. He is still pretty pissed about the no man’s land being cleared out. He says it exposes him way too much. So, anyway, he starts an I.V. and blacks out. We go in, recover the two trainees and the boy and bring them out. He sleeps for eighteen hours, wakes up, drinks a whole bottle of whiskey, throws up, shits himself, and then sleeps for ten hours more. This was yesterday. We lose the guy in surgery, the kid perks up, and the surviving trainee is on psychotropics to keep him from wiggin’ out. So...our friend is still unconscious and probably will be for a few more hours. The nurse just got him cleaned up without too much of a fuss so it should be a pretty quiet night.”
“Let me know as soon as he is awake and sober,” Marcus said as he turned to leave the department, the doctor’s eyes never leaving his new supervisor as he walked away.
About the Author
G. A. Brucks is the author of the post apocalyptic novel Link State. If you enjoyed this excerpt - Chapters One and Two from Link State - you can buy the full novel now on Amazon.