Surprisingly, nothing new went wrong until we got back to base. Even more surprisingly, things didn’t go wrong for a while.
That’s not to say, however, that things weren’t completely fucked around us. Throughout the entire trip to the base, I could see scenes of destruction through the window of the Bearcat I was in. Planes of all shapes and sizes had crashed to the ground. Most of them were civilian airliners carrying people fleeing from the expected Dragon’s Teeth amphibious attack, but there were plenty of military and cargo planes as well. A few even appeared to be Dragon’s Teeth.
There was also the expected mass exodus of civilians and police and military frantically directing them. People were angry and scared, and the fact that we seemed to be “cutting” when we were traveling via evacuation route pissed a lot of people off. Most of the populated roads we were passing were in good shape, but some were blocked by fallen planes, collapsed buildings, and wrecked, broken or abandoned buildings.
Then you’d get to a place where there had obviously been some sort of battle. Apparently, the Dragon’s Teeth had been raiding the line of evacuees. We’d see hastily barricades hastily erected by civilians and cops and the remains of pitched combined arms battles. Apparently, the Dragon’s Teeth had tanks, too. Like the Charons, they looked a lot like stealth bombers. There were also Charons with missiles and four-barreled miniguns for AA purposes and what appeared to be their answer to the Hummvee, except disguised as a luxury SUV. When you looked at how many wrecks Abrams tanks, Bradleys, Strykers, and Humvees there were per equivalent destroyed Dragon’s Teeth vehicle, you began to realize that the only reason the Teeth weren’t in control of that area was sheer numbers.
The worst part, though, was seeing what the civilians had faced when the battles began. Trapped by the sheer number of cars, they were essentially in a shooting gallery. Many wrecks had to be pulled off the road and body bags had apparently run out, as many unlucky enough to be hit were pulled off the road and left for all who drove past to see. Occaisionally, I’d see a mixture of civilians, soldiers, and first responders digging mass graves and checking ID. Most of the time the manpower seemed to be needed elsewhere.
As we moved on, I noticed that I could always hear gunfire and explosions. Mostly it was the thunder of big guns and impacts of those and missiles. When I say big guns, I’m talking stuff like 120mm mortars and 150mm Howitzers, things that were making my chest rattle just by firing at distances so far I couldn’t even see them. And they must have been firing faster than intended. Occaisionally, we’d hear small arms fire chattering. Sometimes it was even disturbingly close.
However, the scariest bits were the blue-white flashes of light off in the distance. We couldn’t get a good look at them, but I could tell that it was from Dragon’s Teeth plasma weaponry. That could not have been a good thing.
Eventually, we came got to a Guard base. It wasn’t a real base, more like a hastily fortified town near the Arizona-Utah border. The basic layout was an irregularly-shaped town with various sandbag emplacements and vehicles around it. Traffic was so bad that you simply could not cut through it, so makeshift bridges had been constructed. A little ways away, planes were landing on makeshift runways. They were mostly big C130s, and they were dropping off supplies, vehicles, and soldiers and taking away VIPs and wounded. I hoped I was a VIP. I didn’t want to get captured by Dragon’s Teeth.
We staggered out of the Bearcat, having been standing for what felt like several years. We couldn’t get a chance to sit because we were instantly swept up in a tide of mostly uniformed people. Some were attempting to herd us in different directions, others were accidentally shoving us along like a stream. I can’t speak for anyone else in that Bearcat, but I went along with it mostly because I was dead tired. Every few seconds, someone would pull on my forehead to see if I had a mask. Eventually, I was placed where I was supposed to be: an office of some sort that had been converted to VIP area. I fell asleep instantly.
I woke up after a while. However long I had been asleep wasn’t long enough. I’m not sure what woke me up because nothing had really changed. The TV that was on had been on since I’d come in, the guns were still going, and vehicles were still moving.
Speaking of the TV, I was now awake to tell what it was saying. A bunch of talking heads were sitting around, saying stuff that was probably completely wrong. Behind them was a map of the United States. Much of it was blue. However, there was an L-shaped area of either solid red or cross-hatched blue that started at Washington State and Montana, then went down the coast. Once it hit Mexico, it then headed East, taking New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, and Florida as well as much of Texas and taking chunks out of states immediately to the North.
I blinked at the map uncomprehendingly for a few minutes until I realized what it was of. It was of the area the Dragon’s Teeth had taken. The four anchors on the screen were talking about the morality of the US breaking out the chemical weapons. My first reaction was outrage. Of course it was a good idea! I admit, normally I’d say the kind of stuff they were talking about was immoral, but if it was effective, then that was probably the only chance we had.
I was wondering whether or not poison gas would be effective (probably, at least at first, the Deets had this filter on their masks that could remove their own gases but not more permanent stuff,) when one of the anchors asked the question I should have asked at the beginning. “Hell yeah,” he was saying, trying to shout over the over three who were shouting over him. “We got-excuse me-we got all this stuff lying around and they ARE INVADING OUR COUNTRY! The only Goddamn question is why the hell aren’t we using our nukes?”
I paused. That was a good question. Why the hell weren’t we using our nukes? We had enough nuclear weapons at our disposal to end life on Earth and possibly break the back of the Dragon’s Teeth invasion. Were the people in charge hesitating to use them? Or could they not use them for some reason?
Either way, I was disturbed. My tired mind began racing with all the possibilities that could account for the lack of nuclear response. The best one was that the people in charge knew things I didn’t and the situation wasn’t that desperate. The alternative was they thought they knew things I didn’t and didn’t realize the gravity of the situation which was one of the worst options. Another was that they were worried about the political fallout as well as the other kind, or reports were so confused that they didn’t know where to aim. An even more disturbing possibility, looking at the map, was that the Dragon’s Teeth had found a way to destroy, disable, or capture the nuclear arsenal of the United States. At that point, I noticed that I was hyperventilating and made a conscious effort to stop.
A soldier, her gas mask and helmet off, wandered in. She began brewing coffee and when she noticed me staring at her blearily, she asked, “Y’all want some?” She looked to be in her thirties, but I couldn’t tell how many of those years had been added in the last few hours.
“Sure,” I said. I’m not a really big fan of coffee, but I was so tired it hurt and I wasn’t really able to go back to sleep. Since tea, soda, and hot chocolate weren’t on the menu, I’d be willing to try coffee. As she brewed, I asked, “So, how’re things going on outside?”
She laughed bitterly. “Well, I got my wish and went from a boring ass-desk job to this bullshit. You believe I wanted to be in the SEALs?”
“Careful what you wish for, sunshine,” Eliza said, opening her eyes a crack, “Y’just might get it.”
“Wish you’d told me that before today, ma’am,” the soldier said. “I’m Private Owens.”
“Don’t give me that ma’am bollocks,” Eliza said. “We might not’ve ever worn a uniform, but we’ve been in the shit before, an’ we’ll be in the shit again before this is all over.”
Private Owens considered this for a moment, then said, “Ok.” She held out her hand. “I’m Nadia Owens.”
Eliza shook it. “Eliza Henderson. And the zombie’s Nathan Jacobs.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said. “How are things going out there?”
“I been fightin’ for about twenty-four hours,” Nadia said. “Those fuckers have been kicking our asses for most of it. I was lucky. By the time I’d gotten out there, we’d managed to get enough ground fire to make it possible to send up something.”
Eliza sat up, suddenly awake. “We got shot down by those fuckers. D’you know where they’re coming from?”
“Girl,” Nadia said, “We can barely even see those shits, you think we can find where they came from? Anyway, I watched several dozen of our birds fall right out of the sky. Meanwhile, I’m with the 19th Spec Ops like I’ve always dreamed, manning 249, which is-”
“A machinegun,” Eliza said, “I know, I’ve been shot at by one.”
“What’d ya’ll say you did?” Nadia asked.
“Things,” I said. “Anyway, how’d you guys stop them?”
Nadia looked at us for a while, trying to figure out what we were. Eventually she asked, “What makes you think we stopped ‘em?”
“You’re standing here,” I said, “and they aren’t.”
“By that definition I suppose you’re right,” Nadia said, shrugging. “I say I only slowed ‘em down. When we could get the A10s and Apaches in, they’d take out a few vehicles, then they’d get shot down. We didn’t get any real breathers until we dropped some mustard gas on ‘em. Takes about five or so minutes for the gas to seep through, then they start hackin’ their lungs out.”
“Sounds bloody awful,” Eliza said.
“The reason I’m back here,” Nadia said, “is because when we came back to base to change our air supply, some bleeding heart idiot told us to take a rest. Complete fuckin’ bullshit, we need every person capable of shooting to get out there and shoot.”
“Trust me,” I said, “these people you’re fighting, they’ve got a lot of tricks up their sleeves. We haven’t seen everything, and you’ll need to be rested to counter it.”
“Is that just a theory,” Nadia asked, “or are you speaking from experience?”
“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say,” I said.
“Mmm,” Nadia said, “well, let’s just say that the things I’ve seen so far make me really hopeful I don’t see any more. No new toys, and not a single Dragon’s Teeth fucker that hasn’t already been shot.”
“Have you seen the invisible people?” Eliza asked. “Well, not seen, but experienced?”
“Invisible Goddamned people?” Nadia asked. “They haven’t graced us with their presence. I’m pretty sure those planes are invisible, but it just ain’t right that they can give their people some Harry Potter-ass shit.”
“Use thermal imaging,” I said. “They light up like fucking Vegas on those.”
“I’ll tell my people,” Nadia said. “In the meantime, coffee’s just about…”
She stopped and stared at the door she had just came in. She had the coffee pot in her hands and it was shaking wildly, the coffee making waves. “Frank?” She asked. Eliza and I turned to look where she was staring. There was nothing there.
“D’you see them too?” Eliza asked.
Nadia turned. “Do I see who?” she asked, a note of dread in her voice.
“The dead people,” I said. “If you have, we’ve been seeing them as well. You should probably listen, they know more then we do.”
Nadia slowly and carefully set down the pot of coffee. “Well,” she said, “it was nice talkin’ to y’all but I’ve got to go now.” She then hurried out of the room as fast as possible.