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Authors: Craig Dilouie

Tooth and nail

Table of Contents Also by Craig DiLouieTitle PageCopyright PageDedicationAcknowledgementsABBREVIATIONSPraise Chapter 1 - The end of the world will not come without a warThis place is starting to sound like BaghdadIf you shot a dog, you couldn’t eat itWe have bayonets. That should make an impressionThe best way to take down a police helicopter with an RPG while playing Grand ...I’m going to kill you dead Chapter 2 - Beginning to wonder if we actually did leave IraqThings will be just fine, sir, if we keep right on movingThe cops aren’t answering the phoneIf you’re AWOL for more than thirty days, you are technically a deserterWar has rulesThe worst thing I ever smelledClear the fucking netA place we can hold up while the world endsRun, run, goddamn run Chapter 3 - I’m Security, not Facilities Chapter 4 - New York has always seemed like a foreign country to meWe could use a gun, thoughWouldn’t it be cool if you could kill everybody you hate?There is some major shit going down here and we are walking into the middle of ...Full battle rattleSecurity haltHey, Army! Can you hear me?Not here to reenact My Lai or Custer’s Last StandExactly what you were trying to avoid Chapter 5 - I can’t work like this!We are trying to cure the wrong diseasePuppets Chapter 6 - No sign of blue forcesHow a rifle platoon seizes control of a buildingA greater obligationAnother notch in the belt for the killahPayback time Chapter 7 - Can you help me?Get the hell out of my labThank God he is not a Mad DogTrust me Chapter 8 - We are the world’s most powerful military and we are being beaten ...Gaps in the chain of commandYou don’t see that every dayEvery kill is a broken chain of infectionThe more I see her, the more I think it’s unfair that she’s scared of me, and ...It’s us or them, gentlemen Chapter 9 - They do not deserve to take it all from usDon’t look behind you Chapter 10 - You know, my dad. . . .One man, at the right place at the right time, making a differenceJob securityFinal protective fireWhile there is life there is hope Chapter 11 - I want to tell my story first so you won’t forget meAny, um, other last requests?The real problem isn’t people leaving the Army. . . . The real problem is the ...“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”The last man standingA simple misunderstandingOne of you is a traitorThrust and hold, move. Withdraw and hold, move. Attack position, moveWe will carry this action with the bayonet Chapter 12 - We’re the U.S. ArmyI survivedThey wanted to make a better worldTime to kick my ass?Brave or stupid, take your pickNot quite saving the world, but I’ll take itI must be in good hands with soldiers who have a name like thatIf you can’t run . . .Wrong answerMoments later, it’s raining body partsI’m not afraidOne last card to playContactI had no choiceThe opposite directionYou made it this far for a reasonA fool’s errandWho will inherit the earth?Also by Craig DiLouieParanoia The Great Planet RobberyThis is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious and not intended to represent real people or places. Although the locale where this story takes place is a real one, various liberties have been taken, and this book does not purport to offer an exact depiction of any particular place or location. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher. TOOTH AND NAILCopyright © 2010 by Craig DiLouie   Schmidt Haus Books.A Salvo Press ImprintPortland, Main cover istockphoto image by Ninjaprints, LondonCover istockphoto image of gas mask by Andreas Gradin   ISBN: 978-1-60977-003-7eISBN : 97-8-160-97700-3For Christine and MiekaAcknowledgmentsA lot of people helped make this book possible, but I owe special thanks to two: Anthony McCurdy, friend and veteran of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and Chris DiLouie, my brother, writing comrade and always ready editor.ABBREVIATIONSAG: Assistant gunnerAO: Area of operationsAWOL: Absent without leaveBDU: Battle dress uniformBGE: BrigadeCDC: Centers for Disease ControlCO: Commanding officerFEMA: Federal Emergency Management AgencyFPF: Final protective fireHE: Heavy explosivesHEAT: Heavy explosive anti-tankHK: Hong Kong (as in Hong Kong Lyssa)HQ: HeadquartersH&S: Headquarters & SupplyHVAC: Heating, ventilation and air conditioningID: Infantry divisionIED: Improvised explosive deviceKP: Kitchen policeLAV: Light armored vehicleLAV-R: Light armored vehicle (recovery model)LT: Lieutenant1LT: First Lieutenant2LT: Second LieutenantMIA: Missing in actionMG: Machine gunMGR: Machine-gunnerMP: Military policeMRE: Meal ready to eatNCO: Non-commissioned officerPFC: Private First ClassPOGs: People other than gruntsROE: Rules of engagementROTC: Reserve Officers’ Training CorpsRPG: Rocket-propelled grenadeRTO: Radio/Telephone operatorSAW: Squad automatic weaponSINCGAR: Single-channel ground and airborne radio systemSPC: SpecialistTOW: Tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missileUSAF: United States Air ForceUSAMRIID: United States Army Medical Research Institute forInfectious DiseasesVCIED: Vehicle-concealed improvised explosive deviceWP: White phosphorousXO: Executive officer“Never will I fail my country’s trust.Always I fight on—Through the foe,To the objective,To triumph over all.If necessary, I fight to my death.” —From “The Infantryman’s Creed”“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.”—Friedrich NietzscheChapter 1The end of the world will not come without a warStanding at the checkpoint behind concertina wire and sandbags, sweating in his body armor and holding an M4 carbine, PFC Jon Mooney closes his eyes and instantly falls asleep on his feet, nodding under the weight of his Kevlar helmet. Then his eyes flutter open and he believes, just for an instant, that he’s still in Iraq manning a roadblock in Baghdad’s Adamiyah District, with Apaches throbbing overhead and Iraqi kids hawking cold sodas and sniper rifles popping in the windows.His heart racing, his eyes flicker, assessing threats, and settle on the giant billboard across the intersection for what seems like the hundredth time. The big ad, packed with models frolicking in a frothy pink bubble bath, is mounted over a Burger King nestled between a nameless electronics store and a discount clothing shop. He doesn’t understand the ad, doesn’t even know what it is supposed to be selling. It calls to him, promises some sort of escape he desperately wants right now, but cannot name.This is not Iraq. This is New York City.The Burger King and all of the stores are closed on this part of First Avenue due to the epidemic, their fronts screened by black metal grates as if the street were a giant prison. Abandoned cars and litter choke the streets and sidewalks radiating out from the checkpoint up to the concrete roadblocks placed a block away.This is supposed to be home.Midtown Manhattan looms over this grimy street scene, skyscraper windows winking in the sun. Mooney squints into the light until he finds the gleaming crown of the Chrysler Building. Everything looks quiet, almost serene up there. A man could stop and rest for a while in the breeze.Forty-six hours ago, he was sitting on a runway halfway around the world with the rest of Charlie Company’s Second Platoon, waiting for his ride home. Of course, they weren’t calling it a retreat. The Brass called it the Emergency Redeployment, the officers on the ground called it the Extraction, and the enlisted called it Suckfest and the Mother of all Clusterfucks and “a great way to get killed.” Whatever you wanted to call it, the military began pulling out tens of thousands of soldiers all at once while the Iraqi government folded up into the Green Zone and the tribes-men returned to settling old scores when they had time between fanatical attacks on the retreating Americans.The soldiers, returning home on anything that could fly or float, were redeployed throughout the United States. The logistics of the withdrawal of forces from bases around the world back to the homeland boggled the mind. Mooney’s light infantry rifle platoon, still burned by the Middle Eastern sun and digging sand out of their pockets, got assigned this stretch of First Avenue in Manhattan.The mission: Provide security for Trinity Hospital.Not exactly the homecoming that Mooney had been looking forward for the past year, but at least nobody was shooting at him anymore.Near the checkpoint, the old man has returned and is again hounding people trying to get through the soldiers and into the hospital. “I wouldn’t go in there if I was you,” he warns. He’s clean shaven, with long, scraggly gray hair. He wears a T-shirt that announces: THE SMARTEST DUDE IN THE ROOM.“But I’m hungry,” a man says. “The stores are low on food and I’ve got nothing.”Corporal Eckhardt, Mooney’s team leader, waves through a young woman obviously infected with Hong Kong Lyssa, supported by a man who could have been her husband or boyfriend. The woman is lit up with fever and twitching.“Sorry,” Eckhardt is saying to those next in line. “We are not doing food distribution at this post. Here’s a list of sites you can try. The list is from the City Government.”“People go in there,” the old man says, nodding at everybody within eyeshot. “But they don’t come out.”The old bastard is practically gloating over this news.Mooney sighs as he watches people streaming through the abandoned cars, seeking care among Trinity’s rapidly dwindling beds. The infected never seem to stop coming. He’s tired of military service. But soon it will all be over for Jon Mooney. Twenty-seven days and a wakeup, his discharge comes through and he’s out of the Army, and Alpha Mike Foxtrot—adios,motherfucker—to Iraq, New York and the rest of it.The days are crawling by. He and most of the other guys in the platoon are kids, nineteen or twenty years old, but they wear patches on both shoulders, indicating that they have combat experience, that they are veterans. They are infantry: lean and fit and hungry. Mooney is tired and he has already seen too much that he’d like to forget. He just wants to go home and return to collecting vintage records and staying up until two in the morning watching bad TV. He’d like to see if he can get things going with Laura again. Maybe get his own place, some secret refuge where he can be alone for a while.“Next!” barks Eckhardt. “Come on, let’s go, people.”“Everybody goes in there, but nobody ever comes out!” the old man crows.“Mister, I believe it’s time for you to shut your dicktrap,” says Specialist Martin from Weapons Squad, leaning over his tripod-mounted .30-caliber M240 perched on a pile of sandbags and aimed up First Avenue. Sitting on the ground next to him, the assistant gunner, the guy everybody calls Boomer, laughs.
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“So is this how you treat—?” the old man starts, then begins jogging away as Martin swivels his machine gun just enough to communicate threat. “You boys are in the right business, all right,” he calls over his shoulder as he weaves through the abandoned cars. “Because the end of the world will not come without a war!”“Alpha Mike Foxtrot!” Martin calls after him with a grin and a friendly wave, making the assistant gunner cackle again.“A war of fratricide!” the man calls back.Mooney is only vaguely aware of what that word means, but it makes him shudder for some reason.“Only in New York,” says Boomer, shaking his head.This place is starting to sound like BaghdadAt the south checkpoint, a small crowd is arguing with Second Platoon’s CO about whether the Army is hoarding a secret government vaccine in the hospital.Second Lieutenant Todd Bowman of Fredericksburg, Texas has pale blue eyes and the blond, all-American good looks of a choir boy. Bowman studied history in college before joining the Army to see first-hand how it is made. Tall and lanky, he has been a competent leader but has not yet shaken his habit of glancing at Sergeant First Class Mike Kemper, a thirty-year-old veteran from Louisiana, for confirmation of his boldest orders and deepest fears. Kemper, small but with large hands and a wiry, lethal build, usually winks back. With his short-cropped hair and intense stare, his normal expression is menacing until he smiles, which dramatically changes his appearance. To the boys, the platoon sergeant is a rock. They call him Pops.On the other side of the double line of coiled concertina wire pulled across First Avenue and weighted down by sandbags, a large woman is pleading with the LT to share whatever vaccine his troops are guarding inside the hospital.“Ma’am,” says the LT, “if we had a vaccine, why would we be wearing these masks? Do you know how uncomfortable it is to wear these masks all day and night?”The woman stares at him uncertainly. “Well, it could be just for show.” “That makes no sense to me whatsoever, Ma’am.”“I told myself I was going to come down here and I’m not budging an inch until I get some vaccine for my babies. Do you understand me?”Another man says: “Look here, officer.”“How old are you, anyway?” the woman says. “Twelve?”The man continues: “Look at me, officer. Thank you. The President of the United States said you have a vaccine. Why would the President say that if it weren’t true?”Bowman answers matter-of-factly, “Sir, the Commander-in-Chief passed along no such information to his chain of command, who surely would have told me about it.”“Hey, I asked you if you understand me,” the woman says.Another man jumps in: “My wife’s got it and I asked her sister to come over and help but now she’s got it and I can’t control both of them. They’re back in my apartment doing God knows what, ripping the place apart. I need help. What should I do?”“The best you can,” Bowman answers. “You can bring them here for care or try to get a neighbor to help or maybe call the police, if they have the resources. But I can’t spare a single man to leave this post to help you. I’m sorry. I really am.”A long series of single gunshots erupts to the north, popping against the steady background roar of New York, the sound of eight million people trying to stay alive. Bowman stiffens for a moment and turns towards the gunfire’s distant echo, his instincts aroused by a vague sense of threat. Moments later, the sound is drowned out as a Blackhawk helicopter zooms overhead, skimming the rooftops.Corporal Alvarez has meanwhile hustled up, and reports to the LT that the Trinity people want to talk to him. It’s urgent, he adds.The man is still talking: “You’re not listening to me—”Bowman nods vaguely, unable to shake his feeling of unease, and tells the crowd: “We’re done here.”Dr. Linton, the hospital chief, and Winslow, one of several heavily armed city cops providing security inside the building, stand outside the city transit bus parked in front of the hospital emergency room doors, wearing N95 masks and looking worried. Behind them, the line of victims of the Hong Kong Lyssavirus and their families wait their turn to go into the bus, coughing and blowing their noses. Inside, nurses perform military-style triage to separate those infected with HK Lyssavirus from those with other infections or nothing wrong with them at all other than panic and imagination.Those who have Lyssa are separated into priority groups using colored tags. If you get green, the nurses send you back home for home care. If you get red, you are considered a high priority for the ICU if one is available. If you get yellow, you might do well in the ICU and you might not, so you are hospitalized but have to wait.If you get black, they make you as comfortable as possible until you die.The HK Lyssavirus’ mortality rate is high, somewhere between three and five percent of clinically ill cases, as much as twice as during the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are already dead and another two to three million are expected to die later. So many are dying, in fact, that corpses are being stacked in refrigerated trucks continually idling on the other side of the hospital, which, when full, drive their loads out to mass graves being dug in New Jersey.The problem is not the number of dead, however, even though the number is horrifying.HK Lyssa is a new airborne flulike virus—likely to have originated in Indian fruit bats, according to the CDC—that evolved to become easily transmissible between humans. It knocks you off your feet like severe flu, with additional symptoms such as twitching, rapid blinking and a powerful sour-milk body odor. Most people recover in about two weeks, but if infection is severe and the virus enters the brain, it causes dementia: The victim foams at the mouth, refuses water, becomes paranoid and prone to sudden violent movements, and eventually cannot speak except to make an unnerving growling sound like an idling motorcycle. Somebody on cable news called them Mad Dogs, and the label caught on. It fits. They are dangerous, and the soldiers know to be careful of them. Mad Dogs have hurt and killed people, even their own family members. They always get the black tag. They always die, usually within three to five days.But the small numbers of Mad Dogs complicating an already horrifying epidemic is not even the real problem.The biggest challenge facing the United States is simply the staggering number of people who are sick, unable to do anything except lie there and require constant help.Because the human immune system has never encountered this virus before, it has no natural defense and almost everybody is susceptible to catching it. As a result, tens of millions of people are sick around the country, including many of the people who treat them, maintain public order, produce and distribute food and pharmaceuticals, make the water flow, and keep the lights and air conditioning and refrigerators and elevators and gas stoves working. America is already starting to come apart at the seams.There is a proverb that says the USA is always just three days from a revolution. Stop delivering food to the supermarkets and see what a country of three hundred million citizens, with a strong sense of entitlement and more than two hundred fifty million guns, has to say about it. This is why the government declared a national emergency and recalled its military forces from overseas—to protect America from itself.“Stay close, Mike,” Bowman tells the Platoon Sergeant. “I have a feeling I know what they’re going to want this time.”Kemper takes off his patrol cap and runs his hand over his closely cropped skull. “It was inevitable, sir,” he says. “We knew this would happen.”“But we couldn’t really plan for it. We’re not equipped.”“We trained with non-lethals, but now that we have to actually use them, there’s none to be had,” says Kemper, refitting his cap. “All that training, down the drain.”Linton foregoes the usual token effort to make some sort of friendly contact with the military men protecting his hospital, and gets right to the point.“Lieutenant, we have no more room for new patients. No beds, no staff, nothing. We’re running out of gloves and gowns and masks. We’re shutting down and will be focusing on our current caseload for the near future.”“I understand,” Bowman says.The hospital chief extends a clipboard with one gloved hand. “I’ve had the addresses of several local alternative care sites written down. Last I heard, they are still in business. Hospices, too, for the Mad Dogs.” The doctor clears his throat politely at his use of the common but politically incorrect term. “I’m asking if you can tell people who come here wanting care that they should go to one of these other sites.”Kemper takes the clipboard while Bowman says, “We’ll take care of it.”Linton opens his mouth, closes it, then says simply, “Thank you, Lieutenant.”Watching the men return to the hospital, Bowman shakes his head and Kemper nods in agreement.“It’s a bag of dicks, sir, that’s for sure,” he says dryly.Bowman sighs loudly. “I’ve got to report this up to Captain West. Mike, find me my RTO.”A sudden crash of automatic weapons fire to the west, deep inside the city. The soldiers turn towards the sound, their faces wearing expressions of puzzlement. They exchange a quick glance. Every day, it seems, there is a little more gunfire. They’re thinking: This place is starting to sound like Baghdad.And the epidemic is only a few weeks old.If you shot a dog, you couldn’t eat itEight days earlier, Charlie Company sat around for thirty hours surrounded by their gear on the runway in Logistical Support Area King Cobra in Iraq, alternately sweltering by day and freezing by night while waiting for a ride home. King Cobra was a virtual city of sandbagged tents and concrete bunkers sprawling for miles in all directions and surrounded by concertina wire and guard towers. The Army’s ongoing exodus from the country was a marvel in its overall speed and orderliness, but LSA King Cobra nonetheless steadily unraveled in the confusion, constant attacks by insurgents, and the massive ongoing labor of trying to provide shelter and medical care for the infected. An estimated twenty percent of the forces in Iraq caught Lyssa and were suffering in quarantine tents.At the time, the boys thought they were being redeployed to Florida, which started a debate about the relative merits of Miami girls versus girls from every other state represented in the Company. They shouted to make themselves heard, as some POGs—people other than grunts, support troops—in a nearby motor pool company had started a musical duel, one side picking gangster rap, the other heavy metal anthems.The second night, the boys began to worry. Nobody in charge seemed to know they were there, and they were out of food and hungry. Some snuck out to beg or steal some MREs and barely made it back alive. One couldn’t walk to the latrine without being attacked by wild dogs or shot at by nervous replacements. Dogs caught Lyssa too and you needed to bring a shotgun to the can so you didn’t get bit, and for the same reason, if you shot a dog, as a sniper from Third Platoon did, you couldn’t eat it.A Humvee parked near the edge of the runway took a hit from an RPG and was burning, its ammo cooking off and popping. Marine Cobras roared overhead in the darkness, setting up strafing runs. In the middle of a densely populated camp with fires all around, thermal and night vision optics were useless, so the boys sent up flares and took potshots at the shadows. The swacked Humvee exploded, shooting flaming shards of metal fifty feet into the air, making the boys whoop. A SAW gunner in Second Platoon showed up laughing with a bottle of cheap Iraqi gin he’d bought from some kids at the perimeter, and the boys passed it around, savoring the slow burn on their parched throats.A firefight broke out in the distance, then another, red tracer flashes bursting along the wire. A single mortar round whistled and burst in the center of the camp, sending pieces of tent flying. A squad of heavily armed MPs jogged by, telling everybody to keep their heads down. Buses packed with soldiers drove onto the runway as if nothing was happening, their headlights playing on the tents and Stryker vehicles lined up in neat rows while a C130 cargo plane touched down dangerously close. The headlights briefly illuminated two soldiers locked in a fist fight, then swerved away, returning them to darkness. Somebody in the quarantine tents was screaming. Shots rang out.The boys lay on the ground shivering in their armor, using their helmets to rest their heads, dreaming of forbidden pleasures—hot showers, plates piled high with French fries and, of course, sex. Some were so exhausted they dreamed of sleep, or not at all. In the middle of the night they woke up, Iraqi dust caked in their ears and mouths and nostrils, to the sound of gunfire close by. The air stank of oily smoke and hot diesel fumes.At least it’s not like this at home, they thought, and sighed. Soon, it will all be over.Green tracer rounds from Russian guns streamed into the cold night sky over Baghdad. The city appeared to be tearing itself apart. Word went around that the militias were shooting Lyssa victims down in the street. People went Mad Dog and roamed the city along with animals who’d also caught it, spreading infection.It was a disaster beyond the soldiers’ comprehension.“We tried,” PFC Richard Boyd said, watching the distant fireworks, his voice quivering with rage. “We really did. Now they can die for all I care.”At dawn, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer Armstrong, silver-haired and looking fierce with his arm in a bloody sling, mustered the battalion and gave everybody a rousing speech just before they boarded chartered United and Air France planes and started the long journey home.Operation Iraqi Freedom has been scrubbed, he told them.
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We’re going back to the World.The mission has changed. Our new mission is more important. In fact, it is possibly the most important thing the Army has done since the founding of the Republic.We’ve got to see America through the Pandemic, he said.The boys glanced at each other in formation, exchanging quick, discrete grins. It was actually happening. They were finally going home.As Charlie Company boarded the planes, First Platoon found that Private Tyrone Botus, the kid everybody called Rook, had gone Elvis. He had ventured out near the quarantine tents to refill his squad’s canteens the night before. They couldn’t find him anywhere.We have bayonets. That should make an impressionJake Sherman, the platoon’s radio/telephone operator, hands Lieutenant Bowman the handset attached to the SINCGAR radio pack on his back. “War Dogs Six on the net, LT,” he says, his mouth full of gum.War Dogs is Charlie Company’s call sign and War Dogs Six is the commander of Charlie Company, Captain West.“This is War Dogs Two actual,” Bowman says into the phone. “I send ‘Metallica,’ over.”This is War Dogs actual. I copy “Metallica.” Wait one, over. Um, roger that, over.“Request riot control gear, over.”Wait one, over. That’s a, uh, no go, over.“Request to be relieved by riot control units. How copy? Over.”That’s another no go, War Dogs Two. I’ve got nothing to send you. You’ll have to make do, over.The LT grinds his teeth and says, “Roger that, sir.”Hearts and minds, son. Good luck. Out.Bowman turns to face his squad leaders. His rifle platoon is divided into three rifle squads of nine men plus what’s left of Weapons Squad, decimated by Lyssa infection back in Iraq, leaving a single gun team. Each of the rifle squads, in turn, is led by a staff sergeant easy to pick out because, like Bowman, they are the only ones wearing patrol caps instead of Kevlar helmets. The men lean into the conference.To the east, across the river somewhere in Brooklyn, a splash of small arms fire.“Gentlemen, our position here is changing,” says the LT.The platoon occupied the block in front of the hospital, where the City parked a bus in front of the emergency room doors. Double strands of concertina wire were laid across both ends of the block, weighted down by sandbags, with nests for the platoon’s thirty-caliber machine gun. In the intersections beyond, concrete barriers blocked off the adjoining streets, but people simply drove around them using the sidewalks and abandoned their cars in the intersections. Beyond the roadblocks, the streets are jammed with cars in slowly moving traffic, drivers yelling at each other and leaning on their horns. Looking at the bumper-to-bumper traffic only a block away, you could almost believe things are still normal here. At least normal for New York.“Until now, our mission has been to protect the hospital and ensure the orderly flow of cases through the triage process,” Bowman adds. “Now the hospital is full up, as I’ve just informed Captain West using the mission code. This means the orderly flow of cases is about to hit a dam. We’re shutting off both entrances in thirty minutes.”“The good citizens of New York are not going to like that one bit,” Sergeant Ruiz points out. “Could get ugly fast.”“Any word on the non-lethals, sir?” asks Sergeant McGraw in his heavy South Carolina drawl.“The Captain says that’s a November Golf, Pete.”In other words, a “no go.”McGraw rubs his nose. With his barrel chest, handlebar mustache bristling on his upper lip, and heavily tattooed forearms, he has an intimidating appearance. When not soldiering, he is usually riding a Harley across the Bible Belt with his young biker girlfriend, hammering down on the big slab. “Kind of hard to do crowd control with what we got, LT,” he says. “We’re armed to the teeth and can’t use any of it. You know that.”“We have bayonets. That should make an impression. Hopefully, it will be enough.”“And if it ain’t, sir?”Bowman looks into his non-coms’ eyes. He knows what they are thinking. Back in Iraq, they’re thinking, the streets are still littered with American good intentions, blood and bodies and undetonated munitions. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died there, many as a result of stray American ordinance. You simply can’t use the kind of firepower that American infantry carries around and not expect civilians to get killed, especially in built-up areas. Accidents happen and they cannot afford accidents now that the civilians are their fellow citizens. To do this mission properly, the soldiers need batons, shields, riot control dispensers, snipers on the roof and birds in the air. But they have none of these. There are Army units all over the country needing the same equipment and there is simply not enough to go around. Due to the usual logistical foul-up, they do not even have CS gas grenades commonly issued to infantry in urban deployments.Instead, they are packing heavy firepower and plenty of bullets.“We stick with the ROE,” Bowman answers. “Remember that we’re in somebody’s house here.” The rules of engagement for this mission in urban terrain: Return fire only if you are fired upon directly by a hostile force that is clearly visible. Which should be almost never.He adds: “And we keep our force concentrated. Between Lyssa and everything else, we’re down to seventy-five percent strength. I don’t want to see any part of this platoon peeled off and overrun by a mob of pissed-off civilians looking for medicine.”They know they are basically in a no-win situation, a “bag of dicks” in Army lingo. Ruiz whistles through his nose. Lewis mutters, “Man, this is jacked up.” Kemper smiles and says: “Embrace the suck, gentlemen.”Bowman raises his eyebrows. “OK. If the crowd gets out of hand, we’ll put on respirators, fire some smoke grenades and maybe the civs will think it’s tear gas and run for it. It’s a long shot, I know—”McGraw is grinning. “Satisfactory, sir. It’s worth a try, sir.”“All right, then. Get your men ready to muster in thirty minutes.”The best way to take down a police helicopter with an RPG while playingGrand Theft AutoThe boys of Third Squad are the night shift, and this being day, they are enjoying some rack time, sprawled on their bunks in a large room in the cool basement of the hospital, where Second Platoon has been billeted. Three of the boys are sleeping soundly after a debate on the best way to take down a police helicopter with an RPG while playingGrand Theft Auto. Corporal Hicks, sweating bullets, does push-ups on the floor. Grunting, he switches to sit-ups. Boyd smokes quietly and reads a letter from home, idly running one hand over his bristling skull and mouthing the wordsoh, manrepeatedly, while McLeod, the platoon ne’er-do-well, leafs through a copy ofPlayboy, calling out, for anybody caring to listen, names, hobbies, measurements and, assuming unlimited funds, how much he would pay to have sex with them. The Newb sews a rip in his uniform, cursing steadily at having to perform yet another goddamn mind-numbing Army chore when he could be dreaming, while Williams cleans and oils his M203A1 carbine and grenade launcher and at that moment is pretty sure he’d shoot somebody in the face for a hot fajita burrito with sour cream and extra corn salsa. A good soldier can break down a rifle in fewer than thirty seconds and reassemble it in less, and Williams knows his business. He grew up in Oakland hustling and gang banging, and he is a long way from that world, even though he feels right at home with the big, dumb, earnest kids of his platoon, this melting pot Army. He shakes his head, smiling and remembering. He has some stories to tell when he gets back. He is still alive to tell them. A boom box stolen from an upstairs nurse’s station plays a loud, steady stream of music. Today it is hip hop, yesterday it was rock and roll, tomorrow who knows. As long as it’s loud.“Man oh man, at least a million dollars,” says McLeod, checking out the centerfold. “At least. I mean, Jeezus. Hey guys, what’ll you give me for a quick look at these hooters? Do I hear a buck? I swear they’re real. Any takers?”Williams shakes his head. It’s all they ever talk about—that special Suzie Rottencrotch back home, their mythical sexual prowess, the hot nurses upstairs and what they are going to do to the world’s women when they get out of the Army. He looks up as Sergeant Ruiz enters the room and says, “Hey, Sergeant. What’s the word?”“The word is you morons aren’t sleeping when you’re supposed to be getting your Zs,” Ruiz barks back at him, glaring with his intense eyes. “And not wearing your masks when you’re supposed to, either.”“We didn’t wear the masks in Iraq, Sarge,” McLeod says. “How come we have to wear them here?“Because in Iraq, we weren’t living in a hospital filled with people dying from the Black Death, shit-for-brains.”McLeod grins, racking his wit for a good retort, but Ruiz has already moved on. “Get out of your fartsacks and get your shit on, ladies. LT has some work for us and we’re on the move in ten minutes.”Boyd looks up, his eyes gleaming. “My sister’s got Lyssa. I got this letter from home.”The boys stop and stare at him.“My mom says they’re burning bodies outside town. She even told me how they do it. They dig a trench to make an air vent, right, and then they build the pyre with wood. They put the bodies on top and burn them up. The town council got totally freaked and started doing this. This is all the way on the other side of the country. The letter took over a week to get to me.”“Sorry about your sister, Boyd,” Ruiz offers.“This was over a week ago,” Boyd says, staring at the letter in disbelief. “She could be dead by now.”“Did somebody say they were burning up bodies?” says Ross, whom everybody calls Hawkeye because of his uncanny accuracy with an M4 carbine. He has just woken up and is still bleary from sleep. “Man, that is extreme.”“It’s got to be bullshit,” says McLeod. “Some cities are digging mass graves to store the bodies temporarily, but they’re not burning them up, for Chrissakes.”“If they were paranoid enough, they might,” Williams says.“What I’m saying is: What am I doing here in New York?” Boyd wonders. “Why aren’t we guarding a hospital in Idaho, like in Boise? I should be there. I should be home with them. I could at least be in the same lousy state. I have to call my mom.”“I’ll bet we got guys in Boise and the towns around it just like we’re here in New York,” Ruiz tells him. “Some of them are probably New Yorkers and wishing they were here. And they’re watching over your family just like we’re watching over theirs. The same way that everybody in this platoon has each other’s backs. All right?”“Hooah, Sergeant,” says Boyd, without enthusiasm.The boys quietly begin to pull their gear on: battle dress uniform, boots, kneepads, body armor, harness, watch, ammo, knife, gloves, primary weapons and Kevlar.“Okay, so we’ve reached the point where we’re setting people on fire, but if you look at this whole global plague of death in a glass-half-full kind of way, there are some things we could actually be pretty happy about,” McLeod says to break the ice after a few moments. “For example, we’re getting three squares a day, eight hours of rack time a night, and we even got running water. Plus we don’t have to go out on patrol in neighborhoods that all look like Tijuana after it’s been cluster-bombed, getting our balls blown off by elevated IEDs and crazy Hajjis.”“Shut up, McLeod,” growls Ruiz.“I’m just trying to cheer everybody up by pointing out it may be true that two hundred million people are going to die and the world is probably ending, but at least we got out of that Arab Hell with our butts and balls intact and we don’t have to shit in an oven covered in flies, so mission accomplished, am I right or am I right?”Most of the boys are laughing, but Ruiz is now standing in front of McLeod, who snaps to attention, staring straight ahead into the void, his mouth carefully zipped and primly holding back a smile. Ruiz takes a step forward until their eyes are inches away, Ruiz’s probing, searching for an excuse, McLeod’s respectfully vacant. Finally, the sergeant shakes his head in exaggerated disgust and walks away. “Vamos, ladies!”Williams slaps McLeod on the back after Ruiz leaves the room. Their friendship goes back to basic training, where they were battle buddies and McLeod often got them both smoked with pushups and barracks maintenance—usually scrubbing toilets—by falling asleep in class and otherwise pissing off the drill instructors.“You go on being a buster and Magilla is gonna chunk your ass good, dawg,” Williams warns. He means it: Ruiz is an articulate and thoughtful NCO but has a short temper and, thanks to constant exercise, a thickly muscled body, making him resemble a bulldog. The boys call him Magilla behind his back, short for Magilla Gorilla.McLeod replies with a cartoonish shrug.Corporal Hicks, watching Boyd slowly pull on his gear while muttering to himself, says, “Get yourself squared away, Rick. Almost everybody in this platoon has somebody on the outside who’s got the bug.”“I should be there with them,” Boyd says. “They’re all I’ve got in this world.”“If we stay focused, we’ll all get through this and I mean everybody. If we start falling apart, with everybody going off his own way, well, then God help us all because we are surely jacked. Because this thing is going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better. Until then, make the pain your friend and it will make you stronger.”McLeod grins and says, “Wouldn’t it be cool if the Sergeant got Lyssa in his brain and turned into a Mad Dog? ‘Get out of your fartsacks and get your shit on, ladies!’ Snarl, snarl!”The boys burst into laughter.I’m going to kill you dead
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Sergeant McGraw roars, “Squad as skirmishers, move!” and watches his squad deploy in a line, weapons held at safe port so the friendly citizens of New York can clearly observe their bayonets. Beyond the concertina wire and the sandbags, people keep on streaming through the cars. They break into a run after seeing the soldiers begin to close the checkpoint, and when they finally reach the wire and confirm their dashed hopes, they try to shout or beg their way in.Help me, they say. I think my kids have it and I don’t know what to do.Their faces are turning blue.Corporal Eckhardt hands them the yellow sheets, but the people do not want to leave. Many of them brought a sick loved one with them, and the prospect of walking ten blocks to a Lyssa clinic set up in some school or bowling alley does not seem promising. They scream, they shout, they beg. They fall to the ground and sit, numbly clutching their yellow pieces of paper. The air fills with that sickly sour smell people give off when they’ve got Lyssa—the stench that keeps on giving.A woman is crying, I can’t do it by myself, I can’t, I just can’t. “Couldn’t we let in just a few more people?” Mooney hisses.“Shut up,” says Finnegan, standing next to him. “You know the answer to that.”“This is horrible.”Sergeant McGraw says into his handheld, “We’re good at this end, sir.” Gunfire rattles just a few blocks away to the west, loud and echoing among the buildings. The seemingly constant wail of police and ambulance sirens appears to multiply in volume.McGraw pauses, looking west, and says, “I’ve got—”A deafening boom sends a brief tremor through the ground and shatters windows in nearby buildings. The soldiers break formation to look as a fireball mushrooms into the air on a plume of black smoke, rising up over the buildings across the avenue to the west. A shrill wail goes up from the civilians.“Holy crap!” says Wyatt. “I felt the concussion.”“Back in formation!” McGraw roars, his face red. “Right now!”“Whoa, what was that?” says Rollins. “It practically blew out my eardrums.”“Dude, this is seriously jacked,” Mooney whispers.“We got to trust the Sergeant,” Finnegan hisses at them. “He’ll get us through this. If he don’t, Pops will. Now just shut up and do what you’re told. It’s all going to be okay.”“No talking in the ranks, you hear?” McGraw says, then finishes his report to the LT on his handheld.Mooney is not listening. He is watching two men jogging towards the crowd at the wire. There is something not right about them. The way they move as they weave purposefully through the cars. A strange, loping gait with their hands splayed into claws pressed against their chests. Like they aren’t people, but some kind of animal. The thought chills him.“Sergeant?” he says.“Next man who talks is going to get my boot,” McGraw growls, fed up.Mooney has lost sight of the two men. One of them had no shirt on and what looked like blue pajama bottoms. The other wore a baseball cap, denim shirt and blue jeans and had a black stain on his face, around his mouth.The civilians are screaming. Mooney cranes his neck, trying to see past McGraw’s broad shoulders.Then the sergeant moves, running fast, and Mooney can see the checkpoint. The two men are there, one of them pulling the long dark hair out of a woman’s head by the handful while the other systematically bites her stomach, drawing blood and leaving a smear of drool. The other civilians are screaming and trying to get out of the area fast. The men wrestle the woman to the ground. She lets out a horrible high-pitched whine and suddenly seems to give up, her body starting to go slack, her eyes glassy and pleading.McGraw is shouting, stop, stop or I will shoot.Corporal Eckhardt takes a step forward. “Sergeant—”The sergeant sees what they’ve done and screams, “I’m going to kill you dead—”But remembers his training, fires his Beretta into the air. Warning shots. The men’s heads jerk up with a spray of blood and spittle, looking like birds startled while feasting on carrion. The one wearing pajama bottoms leaps to his feet and takes a run straight at McGraw but immediately becomes entangled in the concertina wire, thrashing and making sounds like a dog being strangled.Concertina wire is lined with two-inch-long razors set four inches apart. The man shreds himself until he falls to the ground, his legs soaked with blood and bleeding out from a severed femoral artery in his thigh.The other man jumps to his feet, runs, leaps over the wire—Several carbinescrackandpopat once and the man twitches in mid air, lands on the ground in a heap. Instantly, a widening pool of blood begins to form under him.“Cease fire! Cease fire!”Mooney lowers his carbine. The sharp tang of cordite hangs in the air. “Did you see that?” McGraw says to nobody in particular. “What was that?”Bowman is shouting, running towards them from the other checkpoint, demanding to know why weapons are being fired.The woman is still alive, lying on the ground and in the throes of some sort of convulsions. The two assailants lie still in their own blood, obviously dead.“Ma’am, it’s all right now,” McGraw says, holding the Beretta behind his back and extending his other hand across the wire. “Come to me. We’ll take care of you.”The woman stares at him in terror, panting as she pulls herself unsteadily onto her feet.He lowers his mask. “Look at me. Miss. You’re going to be okay.” She begins twitching and blinking rapidly.“No, don’t—”But she has already turned and started running. By the time the squad can make an opening in the wire enough for McGraw to give chase, she is gone.Chapter 2Beginning to wonder if we actually did leave IraqThe night is alive with police sirens and car horns and shouting and gunfire. The warm, muggy air smells like smoke. The streetlights dim and occasionally flare up as the city juggles its power problems. Down First Avenue, past the roadblock, the traffic lights are all blinking red and the traffic is snarled and honking with fury as thousands continue their flight from Manhattan in anything that can get a little gasoline in it.Everybody thinks things are better somewhere else.The boys of Second Platoon’s Third Squad pace the wire nervously, wired on black coffee. A police helicopter roars overhead, its powerful spotlight exploring the area briefly and ruining their night vision before moving on.“I can’t believe this,” Corporal Hicks mutters to himself, squinting down First Avenue and listening to the deep thuds of heavy machine-gun fire. “Are those tracers?”“No, I’m just happy to see you,” McLeod says, strolling up with his SAW. “Sounds like a fiddy-cal. So what?”“Because this is New York, not Baghdad, shit-for-brains. What is somebody down there doing firing an MG in the middle of New York?” Then, as an afterthought: “Beat your face, McLeod. Give me twenty.”“Are you serious? We’re in the middle of a war zone here.”“You want thirty?”While McLeod counts off his pushups, Hicks raises his carbine’s telescopic close combat optic to his eye. A red dot is centered in the optic for easy targeting. The tracers form a stream of light over the hoods of cars crawling in bumper-to-bumper traffic and the heads of people running through the cars.Hicks can’t see through buildings, though, so he can’t tell who is laying down this steel rain and who is getting rained on. Just a few hundred meters away, and yet even this close he feels isolated and can barely tell what is going on. He wonders where all those big bullets are ending up. A fifty-cal round can travel four miles. It can blow through vehicles and, at close range, concrete walls.Now imagine what it can do to a human being.“Six. . . . Seven. . . .”The firing stops. It lasted only a few seconds. Somebody screwed up big time, probably some green recruit in a Humvee who got spooked. Hopefully, nobody got killed.Rather you than me, he thinks.Hicks is about to lower his weapon when he notices two people at the periphery of his scope image and focuses on them. One is a middle-aged man wearing boxers. The other is a teenaged girl dressed in a long T-shirt that comes down to her knees. They’re staring vacantly and doing that strange, jittery neck roll that people with the Mad Dog strain of Lyssa often do and that always gives Hicks the creeps. Their hands are clenched into fists in front of their chests. They look in his direction, open their mouths, and bolt away in the direction of where the MG fire had come from.He mutters, “And what are all these Mad Dogs doing running around without a leash?”The last thing we need, he tells himself, is another bunch throwing themselves at our perimeter and getting themselves shot. Getting caught in that kind of fire incident will follow you around for life.The MG starts thudding again.“I’m beginning to wonder if we actually did leave Iraq,” McLeod says, then resumes counting.Things will be just fine, sir, if we keep right on movingThe armored Humvees, butterbar Todd Bowman commanding, race up Haifa Street through dense smells of burning trash and gasoline fumes. The boys in the lead vehicle bob their heads in time to Dope’s “Die Motherfucker Die” played loud enough to be heard in the mosques. A year ago, the government of Iraq tottered on the edge of collapse and the U.S. Army reentered the cities in force to prop it up, unleashing a new generation of martyrs, foot soldiers and mad bombers in a war that has no end.The street karma is constantly shifting, but Bowman, brand new to the country and command, is not prepared for how much hate he has to eat here on a daily basis. The walls of the high-rise apartment buildings, pockmarked with bullet holes from years of strife, radiate it. The very streets cry infidel. The very bricks want him dead.“Contact, right!”The RPG zips across the front of his Humvee and strikes a parked minivan, which explodes and rockets a spinning blur of metal against his windshield, where it bounces with a heart-stopping smash and leaves a spider web of cracks. Kemper, driving the rig, whistles through his teeth but otherwise barely even flinches at the impact.They did not prepare Bowman for this in ROTC.The air hums and snaps with small arms fire while the fifty-cals on the Humvees chew up the walls of nearby buildings. Tracers flicker and zip through the air. The top of a palm tree explodes, scattering burning leaves and blistering their windshield with pieces of shrapnel.Bowman, wide-eyed and shouting himself hoarse, forces himself to calm down. His men are counting on him to lead them, and he doesn’t’twant to let them down on his first mission. They need to stop and start directing aimed fire at the insurgent positions. In an ambush, if you can’t’twithdraw, you assault.He starts to key his handset, but Kemper turns, winking, and tells him that things will be just fine, sir, if we keep right on moving.The cops aren’t answering the phoneBowman’s eyes flutter open and he looks around the facility manager’s office with a flash of panic. Had he been dreaming? For a moment, he’d thought. . . . Then he’d heard a noise. A knock? He listens to the hum of machinery in the hospital basement.Somebody is muttering outside his door.“Come in,” he says.Kemper enters the room, dimly lighted by a single desk lamp, followed by the squad leaders. Bowman is expecting them. He requested a squad leader meeting. The room’s smells of sweat, stale coffee and lived-in gear grows stronger.“Pull up a chair, gentlemen,” says the LT, rubbing his eyes. “Yeah, Pete, just push that aside. Ah, coffee’s not fresh but it is hot if you want some.”Ruiz stands, grinning, and heads for the pot. “Don’t mind if I do, sir.” His squad will be manning the wire for the rest of the night until relieved at oh-six hundred.Bowman clears his throat and says, “Gentlemen, the situation has changed. Again. In fact, it’s become fluid.”Puzzled expressions behind their masks. “Sir?”“About thirty minutes ago, the RTO came to see me,” Bowman tells them. “He shared with me some interesting information about messages he’s been intercepting on the net. Gentlemen, there are units in our area of operations that are under attack by civilians.”The sergeants are squinting in disbelief.“Confirmed, sir?”“Captain West confirmed it.”“Coordinated?”“No,” Bowman answers. “The attacks are entirely random.”“Just what do they hope to gain from doing that?” says Sergeant McGraw. “Are they looking for food, vaccine or are they, you know, lashing out at the government?”Bowman looks him square in the eye. “We were one of the units that was attacked.”The men gasp. These are men not easily surprised. But they have just learned the attacks are being made by Lyssa victims suffering from Mad Dog syndrome, and it floors them.“We were attacked,” McGraw says slowly.“Yes, Sergeant. We were attacked.”“By unarmed Americans. American civilians. Sick people.”Bowman turns to the other sergeants. “As I said, the situation is changing.”McGraw shakes his head. “Sir. . . .”“Pete, you may feel that your men have something to atone for after what happened on the wire today. I don’t. Captain West agrees with my view on this. Whatever your feelings are, you’re going to have to get yourself squared away on this.”McGraw chews on his mustache and mutters, “Yes, sir.”“Well, this makes sense,” Ruiz says. “We’ve been turning away a lot of people who caught the bug, but also a lot of people asking for help controlling a Mad Dog, or saying a neighbor’s gone Mad Dog and attacking people. More than we should be hearing about.”
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“What do you say to them?” Sergeant Lewis asks. He is a giant of a man, nearly six feet and four inches tall, and was once considered the unit’s finest athlete. Back then, the soldiers called him Achilles behind his back, with admiration, but not anymore, not for some time. After his son was born and he quit smoking, he got a little soft and put on some weight. It did not dampen his natural aggression, though. If anything, he has only grown more aggressive over time. He adds, “What do you tell them to do?”Ruiz shrugs. “To go back home and call the cops.”“And is that all right for them?”“They, um, say the cops aren’t answering the phone.”Lewis gestures with his large hands and says, “We got to get out there and start helping these people.”“Negative,” says the LT, shaking his head for emphasis.“It’s why we’re here, ain’t it, sir?”“It’s a no go. It’s not our mission. The Army is a weapon of last resort in civil disturbance situations. We’re not cops. We trained with the non-lethals but we don’t have any. We go out there, and we’ll end up in situations like today where civilians get killed.”“Sounds like people are getting killed all over, and we’re sitting with our asses in the wind,” Lewis says bitterly. “What’s the Army for if not protecting the people here?”“I don’t have the answers you’d like me to have,” Bowman tells him.“What matters is our position here. Our orders are the same. Keep this facility safe. Out there, we’d only do more harm than good.”Kemper nods. It makes sense. You can’t kill a fly with a hammer.Bowman clears his throat and adds carefully: “I should add, however, that in light of recent events, the rules of engagement have changed.”The NCOs begin swearing.If you’re AWOL for more than thirty days, you are technically a deserterPFC Richard Boyd follows the girl down the street, both of them sticking to the shadows to avoid being seen. He had no idea things have gotten this bad out here. The streets are alive with packs of healthy and infected hunting each other in the dark.The girl’s name is Susan. He guesses her to be about nineteen, his own age. Pretty face. Nice body, slim and athletic. A girl next door type who seems out of place in New York. Being in a Muslim country for the past ten months made Boyd forget how much skin comes out in the West when the air is warm and muggy like tonight. She is wearing a tank top and cutoff jeans and the humidity is making her sweat. He pictures droplets of sweat trickling between her breasts and feels the pull of arousal. Maybe she will kiss him for helping her out. Maybe she’ll do more than that.Susan disappears into the doorway of a jewelry store and he follows.“What is it?” he whispers near her ear.They are standing close and he wonders if he should try to kiss her.After a few moments, she says, “Nothing. They’re gone.”She showed up at the post just after midnight, while Sergeant Ruiz was in the hospital with the LT, and asked for help. Williams said she had a junkie look and suggested some sort of quid pro quo if he could get her something tasty out of the hospital pharmacy, which got the guys excited and joking. They stopped laughing when she told them her story: Her father was sick and went Mad Dog and starting beating the crap out of her mother. Mom hid in a closet in their apartment and Dad was tearing the place apart. She called the cops but kept getting a recorded message saying all circuits are busy. That’s when Corporal Hicks showed up and told her that there was nothing they could do for her in any case. If the cops could not help her, she was on her own. The boys suddenly ached to help, although Williams hooted and said it was all BS, you white boys almost got taken.Some of them wanted to get taken. She really is pretty, they thought. That’s when Boyd decided to go “over the hill.” AWOL. He waited a few minutes, then slipped out through the wire and joined up with her. They have been making painfully slow progress to her apartment building in the Lower East Side ever since.His plan: Save the girl’s mom, be the hero, split for Idaho. He should be there, with his family, right now. Donna had Lyssa and Mom needed him. She said so in her letter. She said she was afraid his sister would go Mad Dog and then the Sheriff would come and shoot her and throw her body on one of the big fires outside town. The fact that everything in the letter happened a week ago does not matter to Boyd.The only problem with this plan is he is not even sure where he is right now, much less how he is going to get to the suburbs of Boise during a plague, when all the planes are grounded and the streets, apparently, are alive with homicidal maniacs.If you’re AWOL for more than thirty days, you are technically a deserter. If he becomes a deserter, they might even shoot him if they find him. After what he has seen tonight, he is certain they will. These are hard times and getting harder.Maybe he will go back after he helps this girl out. The idea of being executed is starting to loom large in his imagination, and he does not like it. He did not really think things through before slipping out of the post. His plan is already falling apart.Susan darts into another doorway, and he follows.“What is it?”She shushes him, their bodies pressed together.Then he hears it. Mad Dogs howling in the dark.Two teenaged girls enter the glow of the sputtering street lamps, crossing the street. One stops and stares directly at where Boyd and the girl are hiding in the shadows, and emits a low guttural growl, shoulders slouched and trembling, her hands balled into fists at her sides. Drool drips from her clenched teeth, staining her T-shirt.The other girl, her long hair falling in tangles over her face, continues limping along, dragging a leg that appears to be bleeding and broken. Then she too stops and begins growling at where Boyd and Susan are hiding.Boyd raises his M4. The first girl growls louder. Susan is shaking, breathing in short, panicked gasps.“Shoot her, shoot her. . . .”He licks his lips as a sickening wave of horror blanks out his mind. His heart begins hammering against his ribs and he can feel his bowels turn to water. He blinks, tries to shift his mind back on his training, but he never trained for this. The fact is he has no idea what he will do if the girl charges him. In Iraq, things were never clear cut but fighting American civilians who have turned into some kind of psycho zombie is something new and beyond training. Instead, his mind begins obsessing on the theory he heard that Mad Dogs are not really growling when they make that noise, they are actually talking, but their throats have become partially paralyzed so it comes out as a creepy gurgle. Once he thinks of this, he cannot get it out of his mind.He wonders what they are trying to tell him.A mob of young, muscular Asian boys, wearing wife-beaters and jeans, emerges from the darkness and falls upon the girls with metal pipes and baseball bats. The girls’ bodies topple to the ground under the blows. Except for the scuffing of their sneakers against the street as they lay convulsing and flailing and dying, they don’t make a sound. Boyd hears the pipes and bats connecting with flesh and cracking bones when they hit, clanging off the asphalt when they miss.“Jesus,” he says, sick to his stomach.One of the boys straightens and stares in their direction.“Shut up,” Susan hisses beside him.“Why? They aren’t infected.”“I’ve seen those guys before,” she says. “You do not want to fuck with them.”Their work done, the mob moves on without a word, stretching and swinging their homemade weapons.“Come on, Rick,” Susan says, sighing. “We’re almost home.”War has rulesIn Bowman’s headquarters in the hospital facility manager’s office, the rules of engagement are changing and the non-coms are swearing.Bowman presses on, “You are now authorized to use deadly force against any civilian who makes a threatening gesture towards a member of this unit. Even if that civilian is unarmed.”Now everybody is shouting.“This comes straight from Battalion and presumably from Quarantine and the Old Man himself.”War has rules. Rules of engagement are spelled out by command authorities to describe the circumstances under which military units can use force, and to what degree.They are also supposed to follow the basic precepts of law.The LT runs his hand across his buzz cut. “Gentlemen, I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. I’m open to suggestions.”Kemper glances at him sharply.“It’s illegal,” says McGraw. “We don’t have to obey an unlawful order.”“Suppose we don’t pass on the new ROE to the men,” says Lewis. “What happens if we are attacked? How do we defend ourselves, and with what force?”“I’m not shooting American citizens,” McGraw says, his face burning.“I took an oath to defend them, not slaughter them, for Chrissakes. Even the goddamn dirty hippies.”“So we’re going to let the Mad Dogs here attack us and kill us or infect us,” Lewis says. “That’s your ROE?”McGraw snorts. “How many people are we talking about here? We can handle a few at a time without killing anybody. Not that many people go Mad Dog. It’s pretty rare.”“If that’s true,” says Ruiz, “then why are we getting these reports of Mad Dogs attacking Army units?”Nobody has an answer to that.“I mean, did you ever wonder why America had to pull its forces out of almost every one of its military bases around the world? We’ve got what, more than seven hundred bases? More than two hundred fifty thousand people overseas just in the Army? Think about it. Almost every one of them is home now.”“They’re not telling us something,” Lewis says. “That’s for damn sure.You can take that straight to the bank.”“Our situational awareness is very limited,” Bowman says.“What happens later, sir?” Ruiz is asking. “Suppose we do shoot some people who are honest to God trying to kill us. What happens after, when the Pandemic is over? Do we end up in court charged with murder or what? Could we get sued?”“They’re going to die anyway,” says Lewis.“I want some assurances,” says Ruiz. “About the legalities.”“So I say if they’re trying to kill us, we should be able to kill them first.They can’t give the whole Army a court martial, can they?”“I’m not shooting anybody,” McGraw says. “The question is not whether we refuse the order, but whether we tell the Captain that we’re refusing the order to make a point up the chain of command.”“We can’t be the only unit refusing to fire on sick people,” Ruiz says.“These are dangerous times,” says Lewis. “I wouldn’t go around announcing to the chain of command that you’re refusing to follow orders, know what I mean?”“Are we even supposed to be here?” says Ruiz. “Isn’t it against the law for the Army to be pointing guns at people at all in our own cities? You know, Posse Comitatus?”“We trained for this type of domestic emergency before we shipped out for Iraq,” Lewis tells him. “Why would they do that if they didn’t mean for us to use that training now?”“Yeah? Then where’s the non-lethal equipment?”Lewis glances at Kemper. “Back me up on this, Pops.”Kemper wants to shout them down, remind them that they are professionals and that they should shut up and listen to the LT, but Bowman is not doing anything, only sitting there with his mouth open and grumbling to himself that the whole thing does not make sense: If only three to five percent of the sick develop Mad Dog symptoms and die within a week, how can they be that big of a threat? At any given time there cannot be more than ten, maybe fifteen thousand of them in all of Manhattan. That’s a lot if you put them all together, but they are scattered far and wide.How can there be this many Mad Dogs?Kemper looks away, suddenly wondering if the Lieutenant is going to be able to get them through this in one piece. After serving together a year in Iraq, it is a disloyal feeling, and he does not like it.He also finds himself agreeing with Lewis: The Army is not telling them something vital. Like the LT said, their situational awareness is very, very limited, and Kemper wonders what it is going to cost them when the bill comes.The worst thing I ever smelledPFC Jon Mooney lies awake on his bunk in the dark, restless and staring and dry-mouthed from wearing an N95 mask all day and night. He plays the shooting over and over in his mind: Did they do the right thing? He can’t get the image of the Mad Dog squealing and flopping in a puddle of blood, tangled up in the wire, out of his head.Around him, the boys of First Squad snore gently in the dark. Collins is speaking in tongues while he slumbers, gibberish for the most part but ending with, “Fried chicken?” and a throaty chuckle. Somebody else farts and turns over. Mooney likes these guys, they are like brothers to him, he and them have gone to hell and back together, but he can’t stand them anymore and he would really, really like to be alone for a while.He turns onto his side and sees PFC Joel Wyatt staring back at him, his eyes gleaming in the dark. Wyatt takes off his headphones and says, “You still awake, Mooney?”“Can’t sleep. You?”“Chillin’ like a villain, partner.”“All right. Well, good night, Joel.”“’Night.”Mooney closes his eyes, forces the shooting out of his mind, and tries to remember what Laura looks like. They are technically not together but he is trying to forget that. Before he left for Iraq, he told her that maybe they should break up. He still thinks that was a sound decision at the time. Plus he’d been feeling spiteful because sometimes he wondered if she is really all that good looking and that maybe he deserved better. He hadn’t anticipated, however, how hard things would be overseas, how lonely he would get, and he clings to the idea that he still loves her—a lifeline in his violent world.
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Plus she had agreed a little too readily to his suggestion of seeing other people, and it has been eating at him ever since he deployed.“Hey, Mooney.”“Yeah, Joel?”“I feel like some TV. They got TV upstairs in the patient rooms, right? You in or not?”Something like electric current floods Mooney’s system, jolting him out of bed. Within seconds, the boys are quietly pulling on T-shirts and pants and tip-toeing into the hallway on bare feet, trying not to laugh as they dart past the facility manager’s office where the LT, platoon sergeant and squad leaders are huddled together in a tense pow wow.They pause to listen.“My wife and kid are out there and I am going to protect them,” they hear somebody saying.Lewis? Mooney mouths to Wyatt, who shrugs.“That’s right,” says somebody else. “She’s out there. So what happens if she becomes one of them? Do you want us to shoot her too?”“I’ll tell you what,” says Lewis. “If I become one of those things, I want you to shoot me in the grape.”“What the hell, over?” whispers Mooney.“What the hell, out,” Wyatt whispers back, shrugging.As enjoyable as the spying is, the lure of mindless entertainment is stronger, calling them back to their original mission. The hallway is dark and shrouds their movements. The hum of machinery conceals their footsteps. The whole basement stinks of ammonia and disinfectant. We are ninja, Mooney thinks, totally hidden. The thought makes him smile.“What’s on this time of night?” Wyatt wonders as they reach the stairwell and begin climbing the stairs.“Who cares? I just want to turn my brain off and forget who I am for an hour.”“Better than sleep!”“Who can sleep?” Mooney wonders.“So where are we going, anyhow?”“Let’s go up to the sixth floor and then walk back down, checking out each floor until we find a room that has a working TV in it. Hooah?”“Whoop,” says Wyatt.By the time they reach the sixth floor, the boys are panting and stop for a rest. They are in good shape but exhausted from months of hard work and lack of sleep and barely enough calories. They sit on the top step and share a cigarette. Mooney is starting to warm up to Wyatt, the tall, skinny red-haired replacement from Michigan with Army glasses who always seems to be looking over your shoulder while he’s talking to you. Most of the boys think he is a little off.“Ready for some infomercials, cuzin?” Wyatt says. “SomeGirls Gone Wild?”Mooney flicks the cigarette down the stairs, where it bursts in a shower of sparks, and puts his mask back on. “OK. Let’s do this.”Wyatt hands him some latex gloves, which Mooney pulls on. “Remember, Mooney, if a nurse or somebody sees us, we just say we were sent to find that cop. Winslow. That’ll be our cover story.”They open the door and immediately gag as the stink assails them, the horrible sour body sweat of Lyssa victims lurking under a sickeningly sweet combination of air fresheners and perfume that the Trinity people apparently sprayed everywhere.Mooney hears people moaning, and realizes that the walls of the darkened corridor are lined with gurneys, a Lyssa patient in each connected by a tube to an IV bag to keep them hydrated. Some snarl and struggle against restraining belts, while most simply lie moaning, their breath rattling in their chests.Other than the Lyssa victims, there’s not a soul in sight.Wyatt whistles at the ambiance. “Spooky.”Mooney nods.“I mean,” Wyatt adds, “wouldn’t it be cool if they all jumped up and attacked us?”They turn a corner. There are no patients in this part of the corridor and the lights are on for the night. Mooney and Wyatt blink at the fluorescent light.“We shouldn’t be here,” says Mooney. “This whole place is crawling with virus.”“Dude, how about that smell? Every time I think I’m used to it, I get the urge to puke. And I even got a scratch-and-sniff perfume sample in my mask from an ad I tore out of a magazine.”“Abort mission?”“Hell, no! These are patient rooms up here, yo. There’s gotta be a TV in one of them. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they had PlayStation?”“I’d love to playGuitar Hero,” Mooney admits.Pinching their noses, they creep up to a doorway. Inside, Lyssa victims lie in the dark in their own sweat and stink. Mooney can hear their ragged breath. One of them, a young woman lying on a cot on the floor, is alternately weeping and apologizing to somebody named Ron in fevered delirium.“Bingo,” says Wyatt. “The sound’s turned off, though. Gotta find the remote, unless you like the close captioning they’ve got on. Me, I can’t read that fast.”“What’s on?”“CNN, I think. Some kind of riot going on in Chicago. No, wait. Now they’re talking about Atlanta.”“Hello?”The raspy voice electrifies them, making them jump.“You scared the shit out of me, whoever you are,” Wyatt hisses, and starts laughing.“Same here,” the voice says. “Are you the cops?”“No, sir,” Mooney answers. As his vision slowly adapts to the dark, he can now make out the figure of a man sitting up in bed. “We’re U.S. Army.”“Somebody was screaming down the hall earlier tonight. Probably just somebody out of their head with fever, right? But it sounded awful. Like an animal being slaughtered. You might want to check it out. I’d tell a nurse but I haven’t seen one in hours.”“How are you feeling, sir? It is bad?”“A little better today, thanks. My fever’s broke, but I could use some water—”They jump again as they hear the crackle of small arms fire coming from outside the building. Stepping carefully, the soldiers approach the window and peer through the closed blinds to see who is shooting at whom. Far below, they see muzzle flashes and hear the reports.Third Squad is lighting somebody up.“What the hell, over?” says Wyatt.Mooney is starting to feel naked without his rifle.“Oh, God,” he says, and runs from the room.Wyatt chases after him, finds him retching over a wastepaper basket.“I breathed it in,” Mooney says, spitting and trying to catch his breath.“I forgot to hold my nose for a second. It was the worst thing I ever smelled in there. Holy shit. It smelled like a rotting grave.”“Dude, put your mask back on before you get sick,” Wyatt says nervously.“Are you guys all right?” the Lyssa patient calls from the dark room.“Don’t leave me alone, okay? Bring me some water, please?”“Hey, look at that,” says Wyatt, pointing at the floor.The bloodstain begins five feet from them and ends at a pair of doors twenty feet distant. The blood is smeared, as if somebody dragged a mop soaked with blood through the doors.“You gotta be kidding,” Mooney says as Wyatt approaches the doors.They should be getting back. If Third Squad’s engaged outside, McGraw’s probably mustering the squad. Right about now, he is working himself into a blind rage looking for his AWOL riflemen, chewing his massive handlebar mustache and grinding the molars in that big square jaw of his.Mooney also has no interest in seeing what’s on the other side of those doors. What did that guy say?Awful, he said. It sounded awful. Like an animal being slaughtered. “We’d better go back,” Mooney says. “McGraw’s gonna kill us.” Wyatt grins. “I’ll just take a quick look. Dude, this place is like a haunted house. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were zombies on the other side of these doors?”He presses a button on the wall with the palm of his hand. The doors swing open automatically.Clear the fucking netJake Sherman, the platoon radio/telephone operator, sits in a janitor’s closet with his feet up on a box containing cheap toilet paper, eating a packet of instant coffee mixed with hot chocolate powder and washing it down with Red Bull while listening to the traffic on the military nets. He started mainlining caffeine after too many sleepless nights in Iraq, and hasn’t yet kicked the habit of getting completely wired while on duty.Blackhawk flight, this is War Pig Three directly below you, what’s your call sign?War Pig Three, this is Red Baron Two.Red Baron Two, request flyover east of us, about three blocks. We hear a high noise level in that direction, possibly a firefight in progress. What is happening at that location? Confirm, over.Wait, over. . . . War Pig Three, we see multiple, uh, estimate fifty, civilians at an intersection three blocks north and two blocks east of you. Break. Riot in progress. Break. Some are armed. Break. They appear to be fighting each other. Over.Roger that and thanks for the eyes, Red Baron Two. Out.Then the excitement is over and the company’s voice traffic quickly returns to the ongoing rhythm of units talking to each other in the night about location, condition, supply and all the other mundane communications required to keep two infantry brigades functioning on the ground in New York. Sherman switches from the company to the battalion net and listens in on the chatter. War Pig (Delta Company) continues to collect and pass around intelligence about the riot. War Hammer (Alpha Company) is requesting a medevac for a grenadier who got his ear bitten off by a Lyssa victim. Warmonger (Bravo Company) is asking the last calling station to authenticate its identity.He switches to civilian traffic, looking for more information about the riot. The authorities provided more frequencies than normally needed based on the extreme nature of the epidemic, and he has access to everything. The police are aware of the riot but cannot scrape together enough manpower to do anything about it. A fire is also raging in a warehouse in Queens but there are not enough firefighters to respond to the call. Police units are overwhelmed with domestic disturbance calls and looting. Violence is reported inside Lyssa clinics and one of them has apparently been firebombed with Molotov cocktails. Despite several major arteries in the City being blocked off for official vehicles only, traffic has virtually ground to a standstill almost everywhere.Sherman laughs to himself: The voices on the SINCGAR, while edgy and tense, could still make the Apocalypse sound like just another logistical foul-up. Glancing at his watch, he switches back to the company frequency for a commo check. He hears:War Dogs Two, War Dogs Two, this is War Dogs, how copy, over?Sherman recognizes the man’s voice at the other end. It’s Doug Price, Captain West’s RTO. He fires back, chewing on hot chocolate powder: “War Dogs, this is War Dogs Two, I copy, over.”War Dogs Two, message follows, over.He takes out a small notepad and pencil.“Roger that. Send message, over.”War Dogs Two, I send “Nirv—”Sherman can’t hear for a moment; men are shouting in the background and it sounds like somebody is shooting a rifle.“Negative contact, War Dogs. Say again, over.”I send “Nirvana.” How copy? Over.“That’s a good copy, War Dogs; I copy ‘Nirvana.’ Wait one, over.” He looks up “Nirvana” on his code card, his cheat sheet for routine communications requiring encoding, but it’s not there. He digs out his mission code book and looks up the term.It means: “Unit is under attack.”Sherman coughs on hot chocolate powder. He takes another swig of Red Bull to clear his throat and lights a cigarette, thinking for a moment. Who would be stupid enough to attack a platoon of heavily armed U.S. infantry in Manhattan in the middle of the night? But there it is: an authentic message from the company commander, announcing that the company HQ and First Platoon is under attack.He says, “Roger, War Dogs.”War Dogs Two, this is War Dogs, second message follows, over.“Standing by to copy, over.”I send “Motorhead Slayer November Sierra Oscar November,” over.“War Dogs, I copy ‘Motorhead Slayer November Sierra Oscar November,’” Sherman says, scribbling the message in his notepad. “Wait one, over.”He looks up the code, translating: “Rendezvous at our location at ohseven-thirty.”LT needs to hear this message right away.“Roger that, War Dogs. Stand by. Wait, out.”Jake? Jake, are you there?Sherman tenses for a moment, unsure how to answer this breach of protocol. Finally, he says, “Yeah, I’m here, Doug.”Be careful coming over here, okay? There are thousands of them.“Thousands of who?”Somebody lied to us, Jake.The radio screeches, making him flinch.War Dogs, this is Quarantine. Clear the fucking net.A place we can hold up while the world ends“That’s it,” says Susan, pointing at one of several rundown-looking prewar apartment buildings across the street. “Home.”“Don’t worry,” says Boyd, trying to put on a brave face.He cannot understand why he is so scared. He’s a soldier. He has seen men die. He’s even killed some himself. Well, at least the one that he is sure about. He has a locked and loaded carbine and should not be afraid of one homicidal but weaponless guy tearing apart some crummy New York apartment.And yet he’s so scared he can barely think straight.They enter the building, and Susan points up.“Fourth floor.”They walk up the stairs slowly, quietly, Boyd first, holding his carbine, Susan hugging the wall behind him, clearly terrified.On the second floor, Boyd flinches as he hears screams behind one of the doors. A woman’s voice pleads with somebody named John not to hurt her. The screams become high-pitched until they dissolve into sounds of furniture being tossed aside and an ensuing struggle on the floor and a long, shrill peal of terror.
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Then silence.Boyd swallows hard and turns to Susan, sees tears running down her face.“I know that woman,” she says. “I know her and her husband.”“Can you go on?”“They have a baby.”“I don’t know what to do. I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”“I’m so sorry, Rick.”“You’re a brave girl.”He feels very close to her now.I could fall in love with this girl, he thinks.“Don’t give up yet,” he adds.She nods, visibly trembling, and they continue their climb. On the third floor, he hears an ominous gurgling growl behind one of the doors, the sound of pacing feet, reminding Boyd of an animal in a cage.The wall vibrates from an impact.“Let me call home first,” she says. “See if anybody answers. Okay?”“All right,” he tells her, thankful for the break in the tension.Susan takes out her cell phone and calls the number, but hangs up after a few seconds.“Nothing,” she says, paling.He wants to comfort her, but can only nod and glance up at the ceiling. They climb the next set of stairs. She points to a door and says, “This is it right here.”Boyd wipes sweat from his eyes, blinks, nods, steadies his carbine against his shoulder. “Let’s do this,” he says.He hears a door open behind him. Before he can turn, something heavy cracks against his right leg, which gives out beneath him, forcing him onto his knee. Hands tug at his carbine. The barrel of a pistol is pushed roughly against the side of his head.“Let go of it, man,” he hears.“Susan!” he cries, reaching out, but the girl flings herself into the arms of a tall, muscular boy. “I did it, baby,” she says, kissing him passionately. “I did it.” Her boasting quickly turns into hysterical sobbing, her face buried against his chest. “I did it, you goddamn bastard.”The boy says to another holding a length of pipe, “She should never have had to go out there to do this.”“And yet she did, and she got back alive, and mission accomplished.”“She’s a wreck, look at her. She could have died out there.”The whole thing was a setup, Boyd realizes. The cell phone call was the signal.“Williams said your story was shit and that you were a junkie,” he cuts in, blinking tears of shame and rage. “I should have listened to him.”“Junkie?” says the grinning boy holding the gun. “We’re NYU students. I’m pre-med. Susan’s a freaking philosophy major.”The boy with the pipe crouches and looks Boyd in the eye. “It’s nothing personal, guy. I’m really sorry I had to hurt your leg. We just need your rifle and any ammo you got, then you can go home.”The boy with the pistol chimes in, “We need to cross over to Jersey tonight, and we got to have some weapons in case we have to fight our way through any drooling wackos. We grabbed this pistol off a dead cop. Then Bob and Susan cooked up this lunatic idea to get a couple of you guys out here and do a snatch-grab on your guns.” He laughs crazily. “Seeing you actually here in the flesh, I can’t believe it worked. It was a stupid plan.”Glaring, Boyd asks, “What’s in New Jersey?”“A place we can hold up while the world ends.”“The world’s not ending.”“Are you blind? Did you not see what’s going on out there, friend?”“I’m not your friend,” Boyd seethes.The jock holding Susan says, “You know, you could always come with us.” His friends try to shout him down, but he presses on: “We got your rifle but we don’t even know how to use it right. We need a guy like you with us. I almost had a heart attack when we mugged you. But you have experience with this sort of thing. What do you say?”The others look at him expectantly.Fifteen minutes later, Boyd limps briskly down the street, wincing at the jolt of pain lancing through his leg with each step.He is alone.Those crazy dumb kids won’t make it to New Jersey, he thinks. They’re not going anywhere. Weapon or no weapon, if it’s going to get as bad as they say it will, they’re going to die.He sees a body lying face down in the middle of the street, twitching, and gives it a wide berth.After everything he has seen and heard tonight, the safest place to be is smack in the middle of Charlie Company’s Second Platoon, with natural born killers like Hicks and Ruiz watching his back. He would rather be with them, with Ruiz kicking his ass black and blue for going over the hill and losing his M4, than take his chances with a bunch of gun-slinging, middle-class, smart-ass college kids.Another three blocks and he’ll be home.He tries again to think up some good excuse for abandoning his post and losing his weapon and ammo, but his tired brain still isn’t giving him anything. An infantryman losing his rifle is like aSamurailosing his sword. He is never going to live this down.He hears gurgling in the dark. He turns, seeking refuge, a place to hide, but nothing is in easy reach. Down the street, two dark figures are moving towards him at a loping gait. He quickens his pace, but the pain in his leg flares until he sees stars. The figures have already drawn closer, their faces in shadow.Nothing to do but fight, then. So be it.For the first time all night, Boyd is perfectly calm. This he understands. The college kids took his carbine and bayonet but they did not take his personal knife, a bad-ass pigsticker he keeps in his boot.He draws the knife and waits.Run, run, goddamn runThe hospital corridor beyond the doors is packed with people standing or shuffling along in pajamas and paper gowns and hospital scrubs. They twitch and roll their necks in the bright fluorescent light, their eyes wide and staring at nothing, snarling and scratching as they bump into each other in their aimless wandering.Their faces are scarlet and shiny with sweat. Their eyes gleam with fever. Their bare feet track blood and excrement along the floor.The stench is incredible.“Holy shit,” Wyatt says aloud.Heads turn. Eyes flicker and focus. The snarling grows louder.“Joel, come away from there,” says Mooney, taking a step backward.One of the Mad Dogs, a woman with long graying hair, takes three rapid strides forward and screeches at Wyatt, spraying spittle.“Help,” Wyatt says quietly.An enormous balding man with a nose shaped like a potato and a tattooed arm gurgles, leaking drool, and begins shoving his way through the others to get at Wyatt. A small boy, no more than six years old, dashes up to him and begins jumping up and down, wild-eyed and whimpering and pawing at his running nose.“Run, Joel,” Mooney says, his voice shaking.“Help. . . .”The corridor suddenly comes alive with bodies pushing and shoving at each other until a boiling point is reached and they all come rushing forward in a flood.“Run,” Mooney screams. “Run, run, goddamn run!”He turns and sprints on bare feet, sparing a single glance over his shoulder to see Wyatt gaining on him, his eyes big and watery, a horde of maniacs snapping at his heels. They reach the stairwell and plunge down the stairs two, three steps at a time, wincing at the jolts of pain in their feet and screaming their lungs out.“Mooney, wait for me!”A skinny, bearded man in a hospital gown hurtles from above, kicking and clawing at the air in his descent, and strikes the floor below with a sickening smack.“Mooney! Don’t leave me here!”“Keep moving, Joel!”Mooney reaches the door at the bottom of the stairwell and holds it open, sweeping Wyatt inside with his arm and then slamming it shut.“Get the Sergeant! Go, go, go!”Wyatt bolts down the corridor, limping on a hurt ankle, yelling bloody murder while Mooney pushes against the door with all his might. Instantly, he is almost thrown to the far wall as the first Mad Dogs press against it. Regaining his balance, he leans against the door again, digging in his heels, but the crush of bodies is too strong.He can’t hold them, slowly loses ground.Finally, he lets go and rushes after Wyatt, shouting the alarm.The boys are already spilling into the corridor, some still in their underwear and rubbing their eyes, all of them armed and swearing and asking for orders.“What’s going on?”“Who’s that chasing Joel?”“Are we shooting or what? What’s going on?”“God, what’s that smell?”“What the hell is that?”“Out of the way!”The LT pushes through them, unholstering his nine-millimeter handgun and flicking off the safety.“Halt!” Bowman calls out.The Mad Dogs ignore him.“Halt or we will fire on you!”He is almost pleading now.“Please. . . .”His panic evaporates as he realizes he has no choice.“Get down!” he shouts, waving at Mooney and Wyatt. “Now!” Mooney, his lungs and legs burning, makes a last dash at Wyatt and tackles him to the floor.“LT—” Kemper says behind him.Bowman takes careful aim and shoots the lead Mad Dog in the face. The other Mad Dogs do not even notice. They keep running at the soldiers, howling.“Fire!” he says, squeezing off another shot. “Fire!”The soldiers form a firing line and start shooting with their carbines at almost point-blank range. The effect is devastating. The rain of hot metal rips through flesh and muscle, cracks bone. A fine mist of blood and smoke fills the hall. Some of the boys close their eyes while they shoot, unable to watch the slaughter.In less than a minute, it’s over and Kemper is calling, cease fire, cease fire.“What the hell just happened?” one of the boys is shouting. “What’s happening?”Bowman blinks and sees the corridor carpeted with broken, bloody bodies, some moaning and thrashing in puddles of blood. The battle was a blur to him. Despite the incredible firepower delivered into the narrow kill zone, the Mad Dogs almost made it to the firing line. His ears ring and his teeth are still vibrating from the deafening rifle reports. He feels oddly exultant, then fights off an urge to vomit.He turns and sees a few of the boys crouched against the wall, puking and retching and bawling. A flash goes off as one of the soldiers takes a picture with a digital camera, then resumes staring at the carnage in disbelief.Third Squad is probably crapping itself in front of the hospital as well, Bowman tells himself. They had their own firing incident, reported moments before this crazy horde showed up, and they’ve got a man AWOL.We will all be like that within a few minutes, puking and paralyzed with guilt and shame, unless we can stop thinking and keep moving.The LT still has doubts that he made the right call to order his men to fire, but he has a job to do and he must keep his unit combat effective.What he wants to know is: Where are all these Mad Dogs coming from? “Sergeant McGraw!” he barks. “Pull your men out of there and get them cleaned up and disinfected. I expect a full report on how exactly they brought these civilians down here. Sergeant Ruiz!”“Sir?”“Check on your squad,” the LT orders. “Not with your handheld. Go in person. I expect a full report on their firing incident. And go easy on them. Sergeant Lewis!”“Sir!”“Stay close to me, Grant.”The discord of their meeting in the basement office is gone. Bowman is pleased to see the NCOs pulling together as a team. These men are professionals.Wyatt and Mooney are already trying to stand, pushing bodies off of them, moaning at the mauling they received as the Mad Dogs trampled over them.Wyatt gets to his feet unsteadily and starts laughing. “That was so freaking cool!”Mooney, covered in blood and swaying drunkenly, takes a wild swing at him and by sheer luck manages to connect with the side of his head, knocking Wyatt against the far wall and sending his glasses flying. Then the boys pull them apart.“Sergeant Kemper!” Bowman calls.“Sir,” says the platoon sergeant.“Get these people sorted,” he says. “Separate the dead and wounded and find a place to put each.”“Morgue’s full, sir.”“Find something, Mike. I want them out of here.”“I’ll see to it, sir.”“Sergeant Lewis will lead a squad to round up any stray Mad Dogs and then re-establish contact with Winslow and the hospital staff. If you’re not helping here, I want you helping him. I want everybody doing something.” Bowman notices two soldiers waiting for a chance to speak to him. “Well, what is it? What do you men need?”“Just what the hell is this plague, Lieutenant?” asks Finnegan.“We just shot all these people,” Martin chimes in. “What are we going to do, sir?”“Sergeant Lewis, see to these men.”“All right, morons! You heard the Lieutenant! Get your dicks out of your ears and un-ass this hallway!”The effect is electrifying on the boys, who snap out of their funk and spring into action.“Hey!” a voice calls from the stairwell. “You all right?”“Come forward slowly and show yourself,” Lewis orders, raising his rifle.Winslow steps into the corridor holding his pistol at his side, breathing heavily, looking at the dead and dying with wide-eyed horror. Stepping carefully through the bodies, he approaches Bowman.“Are you infected?” Winslow asks him.“We were attacked,” Bowman explains. “We fired in self defense.”“Are you infected?”“We’re trying to see to the wounded, but we could use some of the hospital people down here. Some of these people are still dangerous. They have to be sedated before they can be treated.”
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“Hospital people?” Winslow says, looking confused.Bowman steps forward. “Sir, are you all right?”The cop’s voice cracks. “These monsters killed half the night shift. They tore my men to shreds. Like tissue paper.”A wounded middle-aged woman moans at their feet, wide-eyed and panting, holding a bleeding hole in her ribs.He adds, “Stand back, Lieutenant.”And shoots her through the forehead.Chapter 3I’m Security, not FacilitiesAfter the mob swarmed into the lobby, the Bradley Institute of Graduate Microbiology and Virology Studies went into lockdown. The scientists couldn’t get out, and the mob couldn’t get upstairs and into the laboratories.Most of the staff went home last night, leaving only a few diehards in the labs working on a vaccine for Hong Kong Lyssa. They are now trapped for the duration of the siege.Bleary from lack of sleep and his large belly growling with hunger, Dr. Joe Hardy, director of research, watches the tall, beautiful blonde on the security screens and wonders where he has seen her before.“There she goes again,” Stringer Jackson, the security guard, says next to him. “Check it out. She’s writing another message.”The mob easily overwhelmed the two National Guardsmen posted in the lobby and took them hostage. The blonde, apparently the leader of the group, has been communicating their demands by holding up signs to the security cameras and miming shooting the soldiers in the head.“She a tough bitch, that one,” Hardy says with respect, his hands buried in the pockets of his labcoat. “Like my ex-wife.”Jackson grins appreciatively.The blonde triumphantly holds up a sign. It says:GIVE US VACCINE OR FREEZE.Hardy snorts derisively, then blinks. “Uh, can they do that?”Jackson says, “I’m Security, not Facilities.”But air conditioning is blasting through the air vents and the temperature in the Security Command Center, already maintained at a chilly sixty-five degrees to keep the guards awake, is already dropping.“Lovely. Is there anything we can do to shut it off, chief?”“Not that I can think of, Dr. Hardy,” Jackson shrugs.The Center is about twice the size of the scientists’ private offices, with a desk in the center of the room where Jackson is now sitting in an ergonomic chair, reeking of nervous sweat and stale cigarette smoke. The operator’s workstation contains a control console and PC with a graphical user interface, telephone, randomly scattered office supplies, and storage. A digital projector mounted on the ceiling displays the security camera images on large screens on the wall facing the workstation.Hardy has only been in this room once before. It is strange to think that behind a random door in one of the Institute’s utilitarian, blindingly white corridors is a highly sophisticated security apparatus enabling a single operator to monitor all of the public spaces in the building on giant wall screens.Unfortunately, while the Security Center’s equipment allows them to watch the mob downstairs, it offers nothing in the way of help to get rid of them.This is too important, Hardy thinks. The nation is counting on us. We have grown pure samples of the virus. We are working on genetic characterization. And after that is wrapped up, we can start in earnest on a vaccine. If only you will let us.There are so many lives at stake right now.“Actually, there is maybe one thing we can do,” Jackson says quietly.“What’s that?” Hardy says with interest.“We could always, you know, give them what they want.”“But we don’t have a vaccine yet!” Hardy explodes.Jackson shrugs, unconvinced.“Maybe I should go down there with some syringes and pump them full of saline,” Hardy sneers. “Then they’d leave and we could get back to, you know, trying to save millions of lives by developing a real vaccine.”“I don’t know,” Jackson says. “I don’t think that would be very ethical.”“Say it with me, Stringer: ‘There is no vaccine!’”“I heard you. You don’t have to shout at me.”“And we’re not going to get one with this mob of assholes down there, either. We’ve got maybe ten people at most working in the labs right now.”“I mean, they really don’t pay me enough to put up with this. I used to be a cop, you know. People in my neighborhood used to show respect when I walked down the street.”“CDC said they were coming to secure the facility, but so far they haven’t come. We have almost no food, no place to sleep, and no way to keep up the current level of our research effort with this skeleton crew. And that means no vaccine, okay? All these people are doing is taking a big risk of getting themselves killed when the Army shows up.”And even if they could work without interruption, it would still take months before a vaccine is produced in any real quantity, Hardy reminds himself. After they create the formula, factories have to manufacture enough of the stuff to inoculate the health workers and then the government and then the Army and then the rest of America’s population of more than three hundred million. By the time they start inoculating the general population, it will be months after the vaccine is created.By then, the Pandemic will be over—in North America, anyway.But that’s not the point. The point is they have to make a vaccine to stop the virus from flaring up again months after that and starting this whole nightmare over again. Pandemics occur in two to three waves. A vaccine will stop the second wave in its tracks. It could even purge the world of Lyssa entirely.On the five-foot-tall security screens, the blonde’s gloating smile gradually fades and she eventually tires of holding the sign. She passes it on to somebody else. The mob has become listless after a long night of doing nothing. When the facility went into lockdown, not only were they locked out of the labs, they were also locked inside the building.It’s called Code Orange. Nobody goes in or out.The two National Guardsmen sit on the floor looking glum, their hands tied behind their backs. Behind them, a teenaged boy turns away from his friends, takes a sandwich out of a brown paper bag, and begins wolfing it down.Hardy watches him, his belly snarling, practically drooling with hunger. He tries to guess what kind of sandwich the kid has. Ham and cheese with mustard? Turkey with tomato and bacon? One of those Cuban sandwiches they make around the corner with ham, roasted pork, salami, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread?His belly roars.“Well,” Jackson says, “that’s fine, but all I’m saying is there’s only about thirty people down there. If you had a vaccine, surely you could give them a little.”Hardy feels himself start to burst, but his large shoulders deflate and he shakes his head sadly. “There’s no magic cure, Stringer,” he says. “I wish there were.”Then he sighs loudly and begins walking towards the door.“Where’re you going, Dr. Hardy?”Hardy pauses at the door. “To the labs, Stringer,” he answers in as heroic tone as he can muster, like something out of a movie. “I have a lot of work to do yet if I’m going to defeat this scourge.”Then he snorts and leaves the Security Command Center in search of something resembling breakfast.Chapter 4New York has always seemed like a foreign country to meSergeant First Class Mike Kemper nods to Mooney and Wyatt, who are busy mopping up blood from the floor in the hallway, and enters Bowman’s makeshift office, all the while wondering if the LT is still cut out to command the platoon.Kemper knows Bowman better than anybody in the unit, even better than Captain West does. It is his job to do so. The NCOs take care of the enlisted men in their unit. As platoon sergeant, however, part of his job is also to take care of and advise the LT.Earlier tonight, the Lieutenant waffled over new orders and opened those orders up for debate by his NCOs. Then he ordered the platoon to fire on civilians.Kemper showed Bowman the ropes for nearly a year in Iraq, and watched him mature into an intelligent officer who respects his men and leads from the front, not the rear. But this is an entirely new situation. In a horrifying situation like this, a commander can become indecisive, rash or both. Rash or indecisive commanders can get their men killed.It was the right call to open fire on the civilians, given the size of the crowd attacking them. If Bowman hadn’t ordered the platoon to shoot, it would have been overrun and destroyed. But it turned out to be the right call only in hindsight. It could just have easily turned out to be a small group coming at them. In that case, the LT would now be considered an officer overeager to implement a new ROE allowing him to shoot civilians.The point is the LT could have been wrong. Horribly wrong. And this has Kemper wondering whether Bowman made an intelligent, calculated risk or whether he panicked. He wants to believe it was a thoughtful decision, because he actually likes the man, but he isn’t sure.He finds Bowman sitting in a pool of light from his task lamp, glaring at the radio on his desk. The LT looks up and gestures wearily. He’s not wearing a mask.“If you’ve come to arrest me, I’ve already tried,” he says.The Platoon Sergeant blinks. “Arrest you?”“For violating Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Mike.”“Murder?”The LT nods and says, “For turning my men into a bunch of baby killers.”“Hell, I was just coming to see if you wanted to do an After Action Review.”Bowman says, “In a way. . . .”Kemper sits, takes off his own mask, lights the stub of a foul-smelling cigar and sighs, exhaling a long stream of smoke.“You want to know what I think?”“Yeah, Mike. I do.”It is a hard thing to explain, but Kemper is not concerned right now about the morality of shooting those people. Morality is a luxury in a situation like this. What worries him instead is the open question of the Lieutenant’s judgment.A question to which he may never learn the answer.“LT, what happened here tonight was a terrible thing, but you were acting within the ROE and had only a few seconds to make a decision to protect the platoon,” he says truthfully. “While a man’s conscience is one thing, the Army will say you made the right call.”“That’s what Captain West said.”“You told him what happened? What’d he say?”“He said his own hands are full and that I should follow my fucking orders. End quote.”Kemper leans back in his chair, absorbing this information.“All this. . . . It doesn’t make much sense, does it?”“It makes no sense at all.”“Have you talked to any of the other platoon leaders?”“That’s just the thing, Mike. Quarantine is restricting the net to emergency traffic only. Something big is happening, and we’re isolated. I’ve got no intel. No big picture.”Kemper is beginning to understand what is going on inside the LT’s brain. The situation has changed and with it, the ROE, and Bowman is trying to figure out why. If he understands why, he can make good decisions and, perhaps, justify to himself why he ordered his men to shoot down more than forty civilians in cold blood.“Everybody’s feeling like crap right now and unfit to wear the uniform. Morale is shit. But we’re the professionals. We can’t appear indecisive in front of the boys. They need us to lead them.”Bowman stiffens, then smiles shyly. “So this isn’t all about me then, is it.”“No, sir, it ain’t,” Kemper says quietly.“What’s so weird about this whole mess is it’s like this is a foreign country and we’re the enemy. I feel like we’re in thisTwilight Zoneepisode where we did something terrible in Iraq so God warps reality and turns America into Iraq. And we have to figure out what we did wrong or repeat the same mistakes against our own people.”“Sir, with all due respect, you think way too goddamn much.” Bowman smiles grimly. “Mike, I just saw a cop shoot a wounded American citizen in the head. A cop who watched his best friends get ripped apart by a crazed mob in a rare terminal stage of a new disease. I’d say anything is on the table at this point.”“We’re all tired.” The NCO exhales another cloud of smoke and grinds his cigar against his boot heel. “We’re wiped out. In any case, New York has always seemed like a foreign country to me.”The LT regards him for a moment, then laughs out loud.“It gives me an idea,” he says. “The situation demands that we treat the city as hostile. So we do just that. If your force is isolated in hostile country and you need to move from a place of security to a new AO, what’s the first thing you do?”Kemper suddenly smiles.“You reconnoiter,” he says.“Right. We have just enough time to do a recon mission before we have to be on the move. It might give us the answers we need so we know what we’re facing here.”“Satisfactory,” says Kemper. This is the Todd Bowman that the platoon sergeant trained to be a commander in Iraq, and it is good to have him back. “I know just the men for this mission.”We could use a gun, thoughMorning brings a cool, dewy feel to the air. The windows on the taller buildings gleam in the first light. Several buildings near the site of yesterday’s explosion are still smoldering, and a sudden change in wind rains ash and the acrid stench of burning furniture. The boys check their rucksacks and top up their ammo, coughing into their fists. They’re getting ready to move.Second Platoon is exhausted. They spent hours clearing out the hospital and cleaning up the mess. Small groups of infected attacked the wire through the night and had to be shot down, their bodies left out in the open until dawn among the ruins of the cars.
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The scuttlebutt about the platoon moving to rejoin the company is they might be lined up and shot for what they’ve done, the LT included. The boys fought in Iraq and they know their duty but they signed up to shoot bad guys, not Americans, and what they are doing doesn’t feel like real service anymore. Instead, they feel like war criminals, regardless of what the new ROE lets them do. Some have had it and are ready to quit and go home. Others want somebody to blame. This is a dangerous mood. The NCOs sense it, and kick ass to keep the boys hopping while keeping an eye peeled for symptoms of post-traumatic stress.In the lobby, the LT says his goodbyes to the hospital chief and the cop. “Sorry we can’t stay and continue to support you,” Bowman tells Dr. Linton, who appears to have aged another ten years overnight. “What are you going to do?”“We’re staying right here, Lieutenant,” Winslow cuts in, answering for Linton. “The doc and I are going to try to keep the place running and convert it into a recovery clinic.”“We’ve got plenty of food and water, gas and a generator,” Linton adds. He clears his throat politely. “We could use a gun, though.”“Are you sure, sir?”“I’m certain.”Bowman hands Winslow back his Glock 19 handgun.“I’ll arrange for the sidearms and ammunition to be returned to you that we recovered, um, from your men, sir,” he says.“Thank you, Lieutenant,” the cop says, grimacing.“Well. Good luck to you both, then. You’re very brave.”Brave and doomed, he thinks.One psycho cop with a couple of handguns won’t be able to protect an entire hospital against people who will certainly use force to break in and demand medical care for their families. That, or junkies looking for drugs, will finish them.If only his platoon could stay in place, they could remain secure and finish what they started here. But orders are orders.“Somebody has to survive, Lieutenant,” Winslow tells him.Bowman frowns in response to this odd statement. He puts on his patrol cap and salutes, then leaves Trinity Hospital without looking back.Outside, the boys are sitting on the ground with their gear, cleaning their weapons and chowing down on MREs. They look at the LT expectantly, with scared eyes, but say nothing. The silence, in fact, is the first thing Bowman notices upon walking out of the hospital. The boys are all business. None of the usual sparring and grab-ass this morning. They are still trying to wrap their heads around what they have done.Today, Bowman will lead them northwest to a middle school that has been turned into a Lyssa clinic and is the current area of operations for First Platoon and Charlie Company HQ. The distance is over a mile. They have no transport, so they will hoof it.Bowman nods to Sergeant McGraw and says quietly, “All right?”“Managing, sir,” replies the leader of First Squad.“Find Private Mooney and Private Wyatt and bring them to me, Sergeant.”“Right away, sir.”Kemper approaches and salutes. Bowman returns it.“Good morning, sir.”“All right, Mike?”“All present except for Private Boyd. He’s still MIA.”“Well, we combed the hospital good last night. We’ll have to assume he slipped out past the wire and went AWOL. Let’s take a walk and see what we can see.”They move out past the wire and climb onto the roof of an abandoned car to get a good view down First Avenue. Bowman uses the close combat optic on his rifle, Kemper a pair of Vortex Viper binoculars. The road is choked with abandoned vehicles as far north as they can see. Smoke hangs like a pall over the scene, drastically reducing visibility. Some of the cars are on fire, billowing thick, oily smoke.They see no people.Gunfire snarls in the distance, intense and violent.A chill trickles down Bowman’s spine.“Other than that shooting, things seem pretty calm this morning,” the Platoon Sergeant says.“Right. No sirens. No traffic. For that matter, I don’t see any new patients trying to get into the hospital. It’s eerie.”“I sure would like to know where all the people went who were driving those cars. Looks like some kind of battle took place out there last night, just outside those roadblocks. Maybe you are right about one thing, sir.”“What’s that, Mike?”“Maybe we are in aTwilight Zoneepisode.”Behind them, Mooney and Wyatt hustle up in full kit, followed by McGraw.“Sir, Private Mooney reports!” says Mooney, standing at attention.Wyatt repeats the ritual.Bowman turns and regards them. “So you’re the guys who like recon missions.”Mooney and Wyatt exchange a glance, fidgeting.Wouldn’t it be cool if you could kill everybody you hate?The endless lines of abandoned vehicles stretch into the gloom, surrounded by piles of luggage, clothing, junk and dead bodies. The soldiers weave slowly through the wreckage, carbines at the ready, heading north. Mooney fights the urge to vomit as he notices that the driver of one car has been mostly decapitated with the exception of his jaw, which sprouts a red beard. Wyatt excitedly points out another car that plowed into a McDonald’s restaurant and now stands riddled with bullet holes, blood splattered across the windshield, the driver nowhere to be seen.Shock and awe, Mooney thinks.“Some kind of war happened here, cuzin!” Wyatt says. “Hey, lookit!” He rushes forward, leans his carbine against a car, and starts stuffing his pockets with something he found on the ground. “I’m rich! Too bad all the stores are closed.”Mooney coughs on the toxic haze. The unending horror of this patrol is sucking the life out of him. Every step feels sluggish, like swimming through air, like running from his worst fears in a dream.“This lady is naked!” Wyatt crows. “Oh, gross, I can see her brains! Hey Mooney, you want some of this money? It’s everywhere.”“Joel, put that back. We’re already in enough trouble without you looting. And you’re going to get sick if you keep picking stuff up off the ground.”The stress is causing an incredible headache to bloom in the front of his skull. He can feel the veins in his forehead begin to throb. He squats, leans forward and retches over a pile of clothing soaked in black oil. Baby shoes, a bra, a couple of pairs of gym pants.Wyatt appears in front of him and says, “You don’t look so good, dude. Maybe you’re the one who’s got the bug.”“I don’t have it.”“Oh, you got vertigo. Just pretend we’re back in Iraq. Then it’s all good.” His eyes widen and he does a double take. “Wow, that cop car is upside down!”“Shut up, Joel,” Mooney says, spitting. “Please shut the hell up.”“Don’t tell me to shut up when I’m just trying to help!”“Just keep your voice down. You’re going to bring those things down on us again.”“Oh my God, wouldn’t it be cool if we woke them all up and they came at us again in a human wave, like a million of them?” Wyatt laughs his shrill laugh. “No sweat, boss. I’ve got a gun this time. There are many like it, but this one is mine! If the crazy people show up, I will terminate them with extreme prejudice. It’s like Christmas came early this year. It’s legal to kill people!”Mooney stands, ready to resume their expedition, but immediately sees a dead young girl with vacant eyes seemingly staring back at him from the rear window of a Volkswagen Jetta. He closes his eyes.Shock. And. Awe.Wyatt says, “I mean, wouldn’t it be cool if you could kill everybody you hate?”“No, Joel, I don’t want to kill anybody.”“More for me.” Wyatt swaggers away, puffing his chest out. Exhaustion has only made him more manic. “Back to work then, dude. The Lieutenant said to haul ass.”“In fact, I swear to God I’m not going to kill anybody if I can help it.” Wyatt checks his watch. “It’s almost time to report in on these cool Icom radios they gave us. You coming or what?”Mooney sets his jaw and hurries to catch up, his boots crunching on broken glass. He dulls his sense of vision until he has “fly eyes,” not focused on anything in particular but able to take in subtle movements everywhere across his entire field of view. He used this technique during patrols in Baghdad.As he passes a truck in the next block, he hears a rustling.And beneath that sound, a bestial growl from deep in the throat.He whistles at Wyatt to halt.Wyatt immediately crouches, looks around, then turns back and signs,What?Mooney shakes his head. He’s not sure what the sound was or where it was coming from. It could have been a plastic bag caught in the wind. Except there is no wind.Wyatt motions for Mooney to join him.Mooney stands and out of the corner of this eye sees the leering face in the truck.The creature lunges, snapping its foaming jaws and slapping its hands against the window, leaving bloody smears on the glass.Yelling, Mooney staggers backward and fires a burst point blank into the face, which disappears in an explosion of smoke, glass and blood.“Holy sheepshit, killah!” says Wyatt, appearing at his side. “You smoked that chick. Give her a chance to surrender next time, why don’t you?”Mooney turns away from the wreckage, holding his hand over his face, and groans.Romeo Five Tango, this is War Dogs Two actual, over.“Uh oh, War Dogs Two-Six wants to know who you murdered for scaring you,” Wyatt says, then keys his handset. “Standing by to copy, over.”We heard shots fired in your vicinity. Give me a sit-rep. Over.“Private Mooney got surprised by a cat and accidentally discharged his weapon. Break.” Wyatt grins at Mooney and pumps his fist to produce the universal sign language for masturbation. “Be advised that we are within a block of our designated turnoff and about to head west. Over.”Your mission is to observe. Do not attract any unwanted attention. How copy, over?“Roger that loud and clear, sir. Solid copy, out.”Out.“LT’s cranky.” Wyatt winks at Mooney. “Let’s move out, killah.” They’ve gone about half a mile. The soldiers step over scattered open luggage strewn across First Avenue, then turn onto Forty-Second Street.Halfway up the block west of their position, they see a soldier standing guard outside an office building. Beyond, far down the street, they can see cop cars parked at roadblocks set up to keep sections of Forty-Second clear for official traffic. Figures are moving around the cars, barely visible through the smoky haze hanging in the air.“Hey!” Wyatt says, giving a big wave.The soldier turns but does not react to them.“Does he see us?”From the east, across the river, they hear intermittent bursts from a heavy machine gun, the sound distant and booming and angry, like a primitive war drum.“Hang on,” Mooney says. He raises a pair of binoculars to his eyes.The soldier is PFC Richard Boyd.“It’s Rick Boyd,” he says, his eyes stinging.Wyatt grabs the binoculars, takes a look, and gasps.“Jesus Christ,” he says.“I’d better report this to the LT.”“Jesus Christ,” Wyatt repeats. “They bit his nose off.”“War Dogs Two-Six, this is Romeo Five Tango, over,” Mooney says into his handheld, sounding calmer than he feels.“There are goddamn flies in the wound,” Wyatt says, gritting his teeth.This is War Dogs Two actual. Standing by to copy, over.“We found Richard Boyd, over.”Good work. What’s his status? Over.“He’s, ah, wounded, over.”Can you provide medical attention and get him moving, or should we send you the doc? Over.“Negative. There’s more to it than that.”Wyatt snorts and whispers, “You could say that again.”Mooney waves at him to zip it.Speak clearly, over.“He’s one of them, sir. He’s been bitten and he is . . . one of them now.Over.”Explain “one of them,” over.“He’s showing symptoms of being a. . . .” He suddenly can’t remember the politically correct term the soldiers have been told to use. Finally, he sighs and finishes, “A Mad Dog, sir. He’s a Mad Dog, over.”A long pause.“Negative contact. How copy, over?” says Mooney.Are you absolutely sure of these facts, over?“Affirmative. One hundred percent, sir. Over.”Roger that. Wait, out.The soldiers crouch and keep an eye on Boyd, who wanders aimlessly around, then stops and stands still, his jaws moving.“There are flies in the hole, laying babies,” Wyatt says, lowering the binoculars and glaring at Mooney, “where his nose used to be.”“We can’t do anything about that right now,” Mooney says. “Keep an eye out behind us, will you? We don’t want anybody sneaking up.”“Okay,” Wyatt says, sounding strangely tamed.They wait like this for several minutes. Mooney sighs loudly. “Come on, already. Let’s get on with it.”As if on command, his handheld comes to life.Romeo Five Tango, this is War Dogs Two actual. Message follows, over.Mooney keys his handset and says, “Send message, over.”You will mark Private Boyd’s position but take no further action related to him. Break. Abort mission and return to base immediately. Avoid detection by civilians. Break. Follow the new ROE strictly if you are threatened. How copy, over?Mooney and Wyatt exchange a glance.“Um, roger that, sir. You want us to avoid detection and abort mission. Wilco, out.”Out.Mooney stands. “You heard the man. Time to go home, Joel. Joel?” “We can’t leave him out here like this, Mooney.”
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The skinny soldier raises his M4 and takes careful aim down its barrel using its iron sights.Mooney says, “He’s one of us, man.”Tears are streaming down Wyatt’s face. His eyes are wild.“I’m just going to put him out of his misery. I knew him, too.”“Stand down and secure your weapon, Joel.”“I just want to help him.”“Put the goddamn gun down.”Wyatt says, “But he’s already dead.”He pulls the trigger.Nothing happens.His M4 jammed on a double feed. He has two rounds stuck in the firing chamber.“It’s not fair,” Wyatt says, racking the bolt back.Down the street, a car alarm blares. Boyd’s head jerks towards the sound. He runs off.“I guess it’s Rick’s lucky day,” Wyatt adds bitterly.“Let’s just get back to base,” Mooney tells him, utterly exhausted.“Before you give me a heart attack.”He starts thinking about what the Lieutenant said. It was strange: The LT explicitly ordered them to leave behind a member of their unit who is sick and wounded. This offends him but he knows better than to refuse orders or even question their wisdom. Besides, as a grunt, he’s used to receiving orders he thinks don’t make a lick of sense. Something to do with his limited situational awareness, or the incompetence of his superiors, take your pick. This is not what is bothering him. What’s bothering him is the way the LT’s tone got under his skin. The LT sounded worried.No, scratch that.The LT actually sounded terrified.There is some major shit going down here and we are walking into the middle of it and that’s wackedAt oh-six-forty-five hours, with the return of daylight, the invisible war slowly resumes, filling the air with scattered booms and popping of gunfire from all directions. In another time, one might mistake the sounds for fireworks. The boys of War Dogs Two-Three huddle around Sergeant Ruiz. Toting an M4 Super 90 shotgun and wearing rows of red shotgun shells across the front of his outer tactical vest, the Sergeant tells Third Squad that they will be leading the platoon to rejoin Charlie Company, and that they are authorized to shoot civilian targets, even those who do not have a weapon.PFC McLeod considers Ruiz a gung ho mo fo when it comes to God, guns and the Army. It’s not just the man’s freaky black eyes, his intense stare. The man is something of a legend in the Army as a natural born killer. Without his shirt on, the Sergeant’s thickly muscled torso is emblazoned with a large, ornate black cross tattooed on his chest and abdomen.Once, in Iraq, he surprised an RPG team and when his weapon jammed, he killed the men, by himself, in a struggle lasting fifteen minutes, with his knife.McLeod often tells people that it is because of psychos like Ruiz that pussies like him can sleep at night no matter how bad things get in the field.But now the world is turning upside down. In the middle of America’s biggest city, Sergeant Ruiz’s voice shakes with something like fear as he tells them they are authorized to shoot any civilian who makes a threatening gesture towards the unit.“What if it’s some guy giving me the finger—should I light him up, Sergeant?” McLeod grates. “Hell, this being New York, the whole city is now a free-fire zone.”“Shut up,” Ruiz says absently, then tells them to deep six any personal effects, which will be stored in the hospital, and otherwise drop anything that is nonessential.“And dump your Kevlar,” he adds. “It’s staying here, too. We’ll be wearing the caps. Otherwise, bring as much ammo as you can carry. Let’s go, ladies. We’re on the move in ten minutes.”After Ruiz leaves them, Williams nudges McLeod with his elbow and jerks his head towards the NCOs huddled in an intense pow wow with the LT. “Look at them hashing their shit out over there. No more Kevlar, dawg? Something is definitely up.”As his fireteam’s grenadier, Williams carries an M4 carbine fitted with an M203A1 grenade launcher under the barrel, which fires forty-millimeter grenades.“Magilla didn’t even react to my joke,” says McLeod, completely stunned.“You know all those people we lit up last night? I’m thinking there’s a lot more of them than they’re telling us.”“By all rights, I should be smoked with push-ups, nailed with extra fatigue or getting my ass chunked, as you so quaintly put it yesterday. But all he did was tell me to shut up. That just ain’t right. My God, man. I think the Sergeant is scared.”“You’re not listening, Ace,” Williams says. “Let me break it down for you. There is some major shit going down here and we are walking into the middle of it and that’s wacked. You feel me?”“What I feel is terrified right now,” McLeod tells him, nodding rapidly.“And we thought the suck was back in Iraq where all you had to worry about was getting your nuts shot off in hundred and thirty degree heat. Gentlemen, welcome to the real suck.”The remainder of McLeod’s and Williams’ fire team, Corporal Hicks and Hawkeye, join them. Hawkeye begins gathering up their helmets while Hicks calls out to Corporal Wheeler, who leads the squad’s second fireteam, and asks if there is any news about Boyd. Wheeler shakes his head, looking glum.Wheeler already lost one man back in Iraq to the Lyssa virus, and then Boyd disappeared into thin air on his watch. Still shaking his head, he returns to his pre-combat inspection of Private Johnston, the sole surviving member of his fireteam, who everybody calls “The Newb” because he is only two months out of boot camp.“What am I going to play drums on without my Kevlar?” says McLeod, but nobody gives him a reaction, making him feel even more agitated.Ruiz jogs up and tells the squad that he got the OpOrder, and to gather around.“All right, this is it. We’ll be moving north on First Avenue in close column file on the west side sidewalk with scouts on our three o’clock.” He turns to Hicks. “Ray, you’re going to lead us there. I’d like you second in line. Who do you want on point?”The soldiers blink and glance at each other. Even with the aggressive ROE, they expected to fall into a standard traveling formation with road guards to help block traffic. Instead, Ruiz is describing an attack formation, essentially a jungle file formation, for their one-mile foot march through the middle of New York City.“Hawkeye,” says Hicks, recovering quickly. “He’s stashing our Kevlar. I’ll tell him when he gets back, Sarge.”“Fine.” Ruiz now turns to Wheeler. “Adam, the LT will be right behind you with Headquarters and Weapons Squad. Keep a tight hold on them.”“Roger that, Sergeant.”“After Weapons Squad, McGraw and First Squad will bring up the rear. That’s the order of march for our column. We’ll have Lewis’ people moving parallel on our three o’clock for additional security and recon. They’ll be marching down the middle of the Avenue, through the abandoned vehicles that are out there, so they’ll be setting the tempo for the platoon’s movement. Any questions?”McLeod and the other boys understand the tactics. The LT chose column file as their traveling formation because the street is clogged with vehicles, and moving in single file provides easy communication and mobility. Adding a second column file is ideal for moving fast through dense foliage, hence its nickname “jungle file,” and the LT probably believes it will be just as practical for quick movement through bumper-to-bumper vehicles and rubbish on the road. The second column complicates communication and movement but mitigates the main disadvantages of column file, which are greater vulnerability to a flank attack and inability to deliver much firepower against targets in front of the column.The question on everybody’s mind is about the big picture.“We’re treating a short march in Manhattan like a combat patrol,” says Hicks. “Who exactly is the enemy and what is the threat level, Sarge?”“Civil authority is breaking down,” Ruiz says. “As we saw last night, the police here can’t control the growing number of Mad Dogs. We’re not cops. We don’t have non-lethals. But we have to defend ourselves. We have been cleared to shoot anybody who attacks us even if they are unarmed. If you have time, call in the target. If you don’t, take your shot. We are taking no chances with the Mad Dogs. Understood?”“Hooah, Sergeant,” says Hicks.The other boys simply nod sullenly. They’re not buying any of it, but they know better than to ask questions that have too fine a point.“There’s one more thing I want to tell you before we move out,” Ruiz continues. “LT sent out a scouting party that got back just a little while ago. Word is we may see some horrible things while we’re on the move. I will understand if what you see makes you sad, mad, whatever.” His face darkens. “But if you break discipline and put the rest of the platoon in danger, I will put my boot so far up your ass I will be tying my laces in your mouth. Understood?”“Yes, Sergeant,” the boys answer.“Like you mean it, ladies.”“Yes, Sergeant!” they shout.“Any other questions?”McLeod opens his mouth, but says nothing.“All right then,” Ruiz tells them. “Now fix bayonets.”Full battle rattleThe platoon steps off, two column files bristling with bayonets and strung out over sixty meters of ground. The boys are in full battle rattle, each carrying weapon and ammo, body armor, rucksack and two canteens full of New York City drinking water. It is a lot of weight but the boys feel light without their two-and-a-half-pound helmets. The air is muggy and the temperature is climbing in this late, last gasp of summer, making them sweat in their universal camouflage uniforms colored dark tan, light gray and brown in the desert/urban pattern. They move with weapons loaded, safeties off and cleared hot. Each soldier in the main column is spaced about two meters apart. Despite the low-grade racket caused by their clinking and banging gear, the platoon moves relatively quietly, shocked into silence by the scenes of devastation they’d been warned about by their squad leaders.Behind them, the doctors and nurses who turned out to see them off begin to retreat back into the hospital, looking worried.“Jesus,” Williams says after several blocks, wagging his head. “This is mad, major-league, mother of all wacked.”“Are you rapping, Private?”He glances behind to see McLeod, who grins and waves breezily over his weapon.“Thought you were all nervous back there. This shit don’t bother you?”McLeod stares back wearing an innocent expression. “What are you talking about?”Williams shakes his head in wonder.The truth is that after nearly a year in Baghdad’s most dangerous neighborhoods, seeing dead bodies and scorched property has become routine for PFC McLeod. The fact that the bodies are now American does not bother him. Instead, he feels annoyed. They offend him. McLeod has gotten through most of his young life using scorn and derision as a way to rationalize his failures, avoid traumatic stress reactions, and generally feel superior to everybody else. Scorn got him through Iraq, for example. He considered the Iraqis to be suicidal for continually taking on the world’s most powerful military, and therefore one couldn’t be blamed for helping by killing them.And these New Yorkers, well, what we have here is a bunch of rich, successful people who got their comeuppance with a strong lesson in How the World Works. Specifically, that bad things happen to everybody regardless of who you are or what you’ve done, so it doesn’t really matter who you are and what you do.“When was the last time we were asked to fix bayonets?” Williams wants to know. “Boot camp?”“What I don’t get is if it’s so bad out here that we can’t walk a mile without a bullet in the chamber and bayonets fixed, then why didn’t we just stay where we were?” McLeod wonders aloud. “It’s like they’re trying to get us killed.”“All I know is this place gives me the creeps,” says Williams. “There must be hundreds of dead people on First Avenue all the way up to the East River Tunnel. And nobody’s picking them up for burial. For some reason, that’s the worst part of it.”From the back of the file, they can hear two guys from First Squad sing:Study up on weaponry,The M16, the M15,Sammy knows the enemy,Flim flam, big slam, tell the Major what you see.Hut, hut, hut, hut!The boys are starting to clown around to get their spirits up. Like McLeod, the other boys of Second Platoon have seen the worst and are already adapting to it, taking it in stride, getting their swagger back while they let their rage build up bit by little bit. Right about now, the new ROE does not sound so shocking to them. If Mad Dogs did this, then the soldiers are itching for some payback.“Don’t tell me Rollins is trying to rap back there,” Williams adds, disgusted.McLeod laughs. “Oh, man. It’s even better than that. Him and Carrillo are actually singing that old Blondie song, ‘Military Rap.’ That’s brilliant.”“Blondie who?”“Come on, dude. Blondie. Blondie!”“Like I said. Who?”“Oh, man, this is really great,” McLeod says with genuine feeling.“This mission has finally found its rock and roll soundtrack.”He suddenly notices that the singing cut off abruptly several moments ago.“Private McLeod, shut yer dicktrap!” Sergeant Ruiz roars inches behind his ear, making him jump. “We are in a potential combat situation, and that means no singing and no chatting with the other girls! Williams, your muzzle’s lazy: Don’t point your weapon at Hawkeye’s ass! He’s on our side! Johnston, put that goddamn camera away: Stay alert and watch your sector, you moron! And Hawkeye, what the hell are you looking at up there? You’re supposed to be leading this platoon.”“Sorry, Sergeant,” Hawkeye responds.
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“Right now you are the eyes of this platoon and you are looking at everything except the street. What’s the problem, son?”“Well, I never been to New York before, Sergeant,” Hawkeye says shyly.“What’s that, Private?”“Somebody told me the United Nations was around here somewheres.”“You were sightseeing,” Ruiz says in disbelief.“Yes, Sergeant. Like I said before, I am sorry about it.”“Get a good look before it’s gone, Hawkeye,” says McLeod.The squad leader shakes his head, darkening with barely controlled rage. “Stay sharp and keep it zipped, ladies!” He turns around and sees Corporal Hicks trailing him, looking pale. “Corporal, I could use your help keeping this freakshow in line.”“Yes, Sergeant.”Ruiz lowers his voice. “You all right, Ray?”“Yes, Sergeant,” Hicks says. “I just saw. . .she looked like my. . . . Never mind, Sergeant. It doesn’t matter.” He looks dazed.“Put it out of your mind, whatever it is,” Ruiz growls. “We got a job to do.”“Roger that, Sarge,” says Hicks.Hawkeye suddenly turns and extends his flattened palm for all to see. Immediately, the column stops.Security haltThe boys get behind the nearest cover and crouch, continuing to scan their sectors and provide three hundred sixty-degree security around the platoon. Within moments, Lewis’ column on their right also scatters behind cover and stops.Hawkeye makes a throat-cutting gesture, indicating danger ahead, and then taps his chest twice, asking for the squad leader to come forward.Keeping low to the ground, Sergeant Ruiz scurries to join Hawkeye.“What you got?”“Not sure, exactly. But listen, Sergeant.”Ruiz closes his eyes. He can’t hear anything. He wonders if maybe the platoon should do a listening halt, where they all get comfortable and settle into a complete silence. Finally, he says, “I don’t hear—”Hawkeye raises his hand, silencing him. Ruiz raises his fist for the platoon to see, telling them to freeze. Don’t move an inch.The screams become audible, carried on the shifting breeze on an east-west street ahead of them, barely penetrating the background hum of New York City.“Some kind of trouble up there, seems to me,” says Hawkeye. “Kind of sounds like a girl screaming for help.”“Like a lot of people screaming,” Ruiz says. “Screaming bloody murder.”He keys his handset and softly relays what he has learned to the LT. Bowman, about forty feet behind him, replies on the commo.Is the sound coming from Thirty-Eighth or Thirty-Ninth Street, over?“We think it’s Thirty-Ninth Street, over,” says Ruiz, glancing at Hawkeye, who nods.War Dogs Two actual to all War Dogs Two squads: Fragmentation order follows, break. We will take an alternate route to the objective, break. Turn left here at Thirty-Eighth Street and proceed west, over.“Turn on Thirty-Eighth. That’s a solid copy, out.”Hawkeye looks down at his rifle wearing a sour expression. There are American civilians up ahead in trouble and the LT has ordered the platoon to march the other way.Ruiz nudges him. “We’re not police, Hawkeye,” he says. “There’s danger all around us here. LT’s intent is to get the platoon to the objective on time and in one piece. It makes sense.”“I guess so, Sergeant,” says Hawkeye. “I mean, it’s not my place to say.”The Sergeant’s eyebrows lift in surprise. He has never seen his boys so uncertain and sour about a mission. “You heard the LT. Go on, then. Lead us out of here, Private.”“Roger that, Sergeant.”Ruiz stands and moves his arm in a wide forward-wave, giving the signal to advance.Hey, Army! Can you hear me?The platoon hauls itself back onto its feet, grunting at the weight of rucksacks and armor and weapons and water, and trails after Hawkeye, making the turn onto Thirty-Eighth Street. Soon, they cross Tunnel Approach Street, where they weave their way through a pile-up of cars that crashed into each other during the night and became hopelessly ensnarled in a massive sculpture of chewed-up metal. Nearby, an ambulance is parked, its doors open and its lights still eerily flashing, a dead man lying on a gurney outside atop a glittering carpet of broken glass. His throat has been torn out.They are moving into a residential neighborhood. As they approach the middle of the block, they hear the screams.The cries appear to come from all around them, as if a crowd of howling ghosts were passing through them, making them shiver.Then a man shouts down at them from an open fourth floor window, “Hey, Army!”The soldiers of Third Squad look up at him.The man is young, with swarthy skin, long black hair and heavily muscled arms.“There are these two guys banging on my door trying to get in and I have to go out and pick up my insulin,” he says. “Can you help me out here?”Negative, Ruiz hears over his handset.“Keep it moving,” he tells his squad.“The screaming is coming from these buildings,” Williams says. “Hardcore, dawg.”“Hey, Army! Can you hear me down there?”Williams glances up and sees people leaning out of other windows.“Are you going to do something about these homicidal maniacs?” an old woman shouts down at them, immediately joined by a chorus of others.“Isn’t there anything we can do for these people, Sarge?” says Williams.“Keep moving,” Ruiz says.The falling girl strikes the blue Toyota Camry on McLeod’s right with a heart-stopping crash, her face plunging through the windshield in a spray of blood and hair. The car sags for a moment at the impact, setting off its grating car alarm.“Christ!” McLeod shrieks, almost dropping his SAW.Three of Lewis’ boys open up on the fourth floor window, making the swarthy man flinch and duck back inside.“Cease fire, cease fire!” Lewis is shouting. “What are you shooting at, dumbass?”Kemper’s voice grates over the radio:War Dogs Two-Five to all War Dogs Two squads, cease fire, over.“Hold your fire,” Ruiz tells his squad. “Keep your cool.”The squad is gathering around the corpse.Keep it moving, out.“Her freaking leg’s twitching,” McLeod says. “Oh, God.”“LT says, keep moving,” Ruiz tells them, raising his voice to be heard over the car alarm. “There’s nothing we can do here.”“LT’s got no heart,” Williams says, shaking his head. “That shit is ice cold.”“She’s dead, Private,” the Sergeant says. “And we’re not. Let’s go. Now.”Williams is starting to get a bad feeling about this mission, and his hunches are usually correct. He can feel the boys around him tense up, mad and powerless and itching to fire their weapons at something. He has a feeling that once they start shooting, they will all cross a threshold, and they may not like what they find on the other side.“War Dogs Two-Three to War Dogs Two-Six. Coming up on Second Avenue now, over.”Proceed north on Second Avenue, over.“Affirmative. Turn onto Second Avenue, out.”A moment later, Ruiz gets back on the commo.“War Dogs Two-Six, this is War Dogs Two-Three. You better get up here, over.”I see them. On my way, out.The intersection of Forty-Second Street and Second Avenue is dense with people fighting each other around a line of cop cars set up to block off access to Forty-Second. Several food delivery trucks are parked beyond, half unloaded.There appears to be a pitched battle in progress.Not here to reenact My Lai or Custer’s Last StandThe LT has called together the NCOs into a close huddle and tells them the situation on the ground has changed and as a result there is a new OpOrder for the unit. He speaks quickly, as the unit’s presence has begun to attract the attention of desperate civilians in the area and the platoon needs to get back on the move fast. The people stand as close to the platoon and its umbrella of protective firepower as possible, wringing their hands and begging for help, while Third Squad holds them at bay.“I can’t contact Captain West,” he says. “We appear to be on our own.”The non-coms glance at each other.“Think we should take another route and go around?” says McGraw.“Negative. We already tried that. We’re now on Third Avenue and out of time. We pushed our luck as it is. I think this is like Iraq where the bad guys sleep from four to eight and then the bullets start flying. This city is waking up and it is like an ocean rising under our feet. We’re just going to have to push through or we could be overrun before we reach our objective.”“Roger that, sir,” the NCOs tell him.They know as much as he does because he told them about Private Richard Boyd, the soldier who was bitten by a Mad Dog and within hours turned into a Mad Dog. The soldier who made him aware that the rules of the game had changed.The infection is spreading at an exponential rate.The Army gave him a big hint that this was happening with the bizarrely aggressive ROE. New York gave him a big hint with all the gunfire indicating flashpoints of Mad Dogs attacking Army and police units. And the Mad Dogs themselves gave a big hint when they began showing up everywhere in force.But he knows they are spreading infection through their bites and spreading rapidly because PFC Richard Boyd went AWOL in an almost perfect state of health and several hours later turned up bitten and a Mad Dog.Every hour, there are more infected and fewer of everybody else. At some point, it could be hours, tomorrow or the next day, the streets of New York will likely become too dangerous to walk even for a platoon of U.S. infantry armed to the teeth.There isn’t a military on the planet that has the force to meet this threat. Infection will keep spreading and spreading until there is simply nobody around to bite.It’s a simple numbers game.“Stand back,” Hawkeye says to the civilians.“As you can see—” Bowman pauses as a civilian runs by, emptying a .38 at a pursuing Mad Dog and missing except for the last shot, which topples his assailant. The man continues on, stumbling and crying, unaware that he now has a dozen rifles trained on him. “We are facing a major open danger area ahead. The government is distributing food, and some type of riot appears to be in progress, which we are not going to try to suppress or we’ll end up with another bloodbath on our hands. Understood? Speed is going to be our ally. We will cross the intersection in a platoon V formation, with each squad acting independently once we enter the open danger area. Any questions?”“Satisfactory, sir,” says Ruiz.“Stand back, Ma’am,” says Hawkeye.“The rally point is the other side, if clear, or the Company HQ, if not. The squads getting across first will set up a defensive line until the platoon is reunited. Lewis, you will take the left. Ruiz, you will be going up the middle with HQ and Weapons Squad; I want good security for our gun team as they’re going to be useless in this fight but I have a feeling we’re going to need their services later. Okay? McGraw, you’ve got the right.”“Yes, sir,” McGraw says.“Stand back, I said!” Hawkeye barks at the crowd.“One last thing, gentlemen,” Bowman says. “We’re not here to reenact My Lai or Custer’s Last Stand. Regardless of what you see happening, our mission is to rejoin the Company with as few bullets and bodies as possible. That is our mission. Understood?”“Hooah, sir,” they say.“Step off as soon—”“What the hell are you doing?”The civilians scatter as two men and a bald woman, drooling and gurgling, step forward and latch onto Hawkeye’s limbs, pulling at them with their full strength. In an instant, he is shrieking and flailing.Ruiz fires his shotgun, deafening all of them, knocking both of the men to the ground. The woman loses her balance and falls backward, then comes back snarling. Ruiz clubs her senseless with a single stroke of the butt of his weapon.Lewis helps Hawkeye back onto his feet. The other boys look at the bleeding and dying civilians, and then Ruiz, with something like awe.“Did they bite you, Private?” the LT asks Hawkeye.“You saw what they were doing, sir,” Hawkeye says, barely concealing his irritation while he rubs his left arm. “They tried to pull my arms off. Hurt like hell, too.”“I’m not making fun of you, Private. Did any of them bite you?”“No, sir. Nobody did.”Bowman nods to Ruiz, then says, “All right, back to your squads. Let’s move while we still have the freedom to do so.”“Hooah,” they shout.The soldiers deploy as fast as they can through the wreckage of the abandoned vehicles choking Second Avenue, then Bowman gives them the order to step off.Speed is a type of security. If they can move fast enough, they can punch their way through with minimal loss of life and ammunition.People come running past them, screaming for their lives, hugging or dropping their food parcels. Some begin clinging to the soldiers, who shrug them off and keep moving while their sergeants howl at them toGo go go, cursing a blue streak.“Stay close to me, boys,” Bowman tells Martin and Boomer.Nearby, a man has jumped into one of the abandoned cars and is trying to close the door while a Mad Dog slowly forces it open. One of the soldiers drops the Mad Dog with a single shot. Bowman shoulders his carbine and unholsters his nine-millimeter sidearm. A woman flies by on rollerblades, shouting, “Heads up! Coming through!”The platoon wades into chaos.Exactly what you were trying to avoid
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Third Squad moves fast among the cars and approaches the intersection, which is a scene of chaos. There are people everywhere, many of them infected. Mad Dogs are fighting uninfected people, uninfected people are fighting each other around the food trucks. Nearby, incredibly, two New York City police officers have wrestled a Mad Dog to the ground and are trying to cuff him, while five feet away a man is beating a woman to death in a frenzy with a broken hairdryer. One of the officers is bleeding from bites on his arm. The police cars’ lights strobe red and blue, sparkling in the soldiers’ eyes.Mounted above the chaos, the intersection’s traffic signal mundanely turns from red to green as it is programmed to do.The air crackles with small arms fire and several people collapse to the ground. Second Squad has entered the intersection and is plowing ahead, shooting anything that looks hostile. First Squad is bogged down by civilians clinging to them for protection, their formation broken, while McGraw lays about him with the butt of his shotgun, trying to untangle his unit. The screaming is grating and endless, shredding their nerves.“Get off me!” McLeod shouts, shoving his way through the civilians.The infected appear to focus on whoever fired last, which is unnerving.Hicks is crying as he bayonets a Mad Dog.“Keep going!” he shouts.“Don’t make me shoot you!” McLeod is pleading, pushing against a woman’s back with the butt of his SAW. She screams and drops a television set she’s been carrying, which falls to the street with a crash.People are running everywhere, but the soldiers are moving into the current, forming a dam, and then it’s hand to hand.Bowman fires his pistol into a snarling face, which disappears.This is exactly what you were trying to avoid, he tells himself. “Reform!” he cries, but there are too many civilians in the way, drawn to the soldiers’ uniforms like metal to magnets. The civilians hold onto the soldiers’ rucksacks, which are already heavy, and slow them to a crawl.Williams fires a series of warning shots into the air, without effect.A taxi and a delivery truck are lurching along with the flow of people in fits and starts, the drivers leaning on their horns. A woman climbs onto the roof of the cab and lies down, hugging her child close. Across the street, a man is defending his family with a baseball bat. Behind him, the plate glass front of a convenience store shatters and people begin looting. Its owner comes stumbling out, his head split open and pouring blood. The police cars’ strobing lights bathe the scene in a surreal glow.The stink is incredible, the dense sour-milk stench of the infected. Then a wave of heat and thick, oily smoke descends upon them from a burning city bus down the street, choking them as it billows through the crowd until it suddenly lifts as fast as it had come.“Go, go, go!”Third Squad passes a group of people, drunk and staggering along through the melee, laughing and shouting, “Fuck it!” while working on popping the cork on a champagne bottle.One of the revelers is shorn away and mauled to the asphalt.The Lieutenant is panicking now, breathing hard, his vision shrinking to a box. He can’t keep track of the blurred shapes around him anymore. The smoke falls upon them again like a wave, choking and blinding.The last reveler throws the champagne bottle into the air, screaming, “I don’t care!”“Why aren’t we moving?” Hicks is saying.SPC Martin is wrestling with an uninfected man and teenage boy for possession of his machine gun. Next to him, the RTO is trading punches with a man twice his size. People are screaming and a civilian, his shirt off and leaking blood from his eyes and ears, begins shooting people randomly with a pistol.Ruiz roars as a stray bullet takes off the top of the skull of a man who is running by, spraying him with blood and brains.Two bullets rip into Sherman’s radio pack, spinning him like a top.The Newb grunts and falls to his knees.“Sir, we can get through this,” Kemper is shouting.Bowman’s field of view unfolds. His stress suddenly takes an entirely different and beneficial direction. Time dilates and he calmly, almost serenely, watches the horror unravel in slow motion, able to take in every detail.His squad is still intact and they can get through this if they do whatever it takes. But if he chooses to live, life after today may not be worth living.For some reason, at this instant, he remembers Winslow telling him, “Somebody has to survive, Lieutenant.”As Bowman did in the hospital, again, he makes his choice.Loading a fresh clip, he quickly identifies the people bogging down his squad and shoots them one by one.“Watch out, Mike,” he says, and puts a round in a teenager’s throat.Slowly, the knot unravels and the squad is able to begin moving again. The people he shot were not infected.“Coming through, sir,” Kemper says.He racks a round in his shotgun and blasts the crowd in front of the squad.A hole is instantly created as people moan and fall in a tangled heap of limbs.“All right, move out,” Bowman roars.A block past the intersection, they stop, reload and set up a defensive line, panting. A woman is shrieking at them to go back and HELP THESE PEOPLE, HELP THEM.“Sergeant, keep those civilians back or consider them hostile,” the LT says.But Ruiz isn’t listening. “Where’s Johnston?” he demands.Two of the boys hurry over, huffing, carrying The Newb on a makeshift stretcher.“He’s dead,” Corporal Wheeler tells him, sounding dazed. “Got hit by a stray bullet. It looked like friendly fire to me, Sergeant. One of our own guys shot him.”Ruiz spits on the ground, purple with rage.“Second Squad, probably,” the Sergeant says. “They were shooting everything that moved back there. Goddamnit. He was a good kid.”“Civilians, Sergeant,” Bowman says quietly.“I’m on it, sir,” Ruiz tells him, glaring. “Wheeler, get his tags.”“Here comes McGraw and First Squad, LT,” Kemper says.First Squad is limping away from the intersection, firing behind them, dropping anybody who comes close. Two bloodied cops have joined them, toting shotguns.“Where’s Sergeant Lewis?”“No sign of him,” Kemper says.“Try him on the commo.”“Friendlies coming in!” Lewis calls from behind them, running up with Second Squad.“Friendlies on our six!” says Corporal Hicks, then calls out, “Reloading!”“We made it through and set up a defensive line another block up the road,” Lewis tells the LT. “Didn’t know you wanted to rally here. Sorry, sir.”“It’s all good, Sergeant.”Ruiz glowers at Lewis and says, “You and me are going to have some words later, motherfucker.”Lewis says, “Go to hell, Sergeant.”Second Squad begins covering First Squad’s movement. The carbines pop and the bullets hum and snap through the air.Bowman almost does not recognize Second Squad. In Iraq, they were boys who were much older than their years because of what they had done and seen. But now they are beyond even this scale. They are ancient now. It is in their eyes, he realizes. Looking ahead with thousand-yard stares, their eyes burn like cold stones as old as war itself.The boys have become killing machines, like something out of myth. He looks at Kemper, who also has the look. He guesses that he himself might have it.There are two types of soldiers in the platoon now. Those who shot non-combatants, and those who did not. Those who shot uninfected people to save themselves and their comrades, and those who would have stayed in that intersection.Those who will in the future, and those who won’t.Kemper nods to Bowman. He now understands the choice that the LT made back in the hospital. The choice to be damned, as long as it saved his men. A choice that was not expedient, but necessary.“It was an emergency food relief operation,” one of the cops is saying, his eyes gaping. “The food trucks drew a massive crowd of people, thousands. Then a couple of gangs of Lyssa victims came at us the other way, attacking and biting people.” He’s pleading with the soldiers around him. “There was nothing we could do!”“You’re all right now, buddy,” one of the soldiers says to him.Kemper whispers near the LT’s ear, “Sir, if they’re broken, we’re it.” The other cop glares at Lewis’ boys and says, “We’re not staying with these murderers, Brian. We’ll find another way back to the station.”Bowman checks his watch. The movement across the intersection—and intervening battle—lasted all of four minutes, and left them exhausted, bloodied and dispirited.“You’re on, uh, fire, Jake,” he says, noticing smoke rising up from his RTO’s radio pack.“It’s the radio, sir,” says Sherman, sporting a black eye. “It’s toast. But who knows, maybe I can fix it.”Bowman nods. If the radio is broken, the platoon is now cut off from the rest of the Army. They are officially off the reservation, at least until they rejoin their company.“Sergeant Ruiz?” Corporal Hicks says. He is standing over Hawkeye, who sits on a curb, rocking back and forth. “He don’t look so good, Sergeant.”Ruiz wipes blood from his face and crouches down to face the soldier.Hawkeye shivers, sweating and pale, with his face buried in his hands. Getting the shakes is common after combat due to an excess of adrenaline.The Sergeant put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.“You all right, son?”Hawkeye removes his hands from his face. His N95 mask is gone. Ruiz sees a jagged hole where a Mad Dog bit and tore away a chunk of flesh from his cheek. The skin around the wound is swollen and inflamed.“Sergeant,” the boy says vacantly. “I don’t feel so good, you know?”“Just a scratch,” says Ruiz, involuntarily jerking his hand away.Hicks is calling for the medic.They have little time to patch up their wounds and take stock of themselves. Bowman is issuing new orders. They are still shooting and using up ammunition, there are too many civilians in the area, and they are not secure. Time to move. Their objective is very close now. Within just a few blocks, they’ll be back with Charlie Company in a defensive position behind some thirty-cals. Then they can rest.Bowman will be happy to turn this mess over to the company CO and let him decide what to do.The chain of command appears to have figured out the Mad Dog threat as well and is trying to consolidate its forces in New York. It’s the smart thing to do, he believes: Hold what can be held and give up the rest. But the politicians are not going to want to give up anything. They are going to give the Army an impossible task. And officers do not always make smart decisions when surprised. It is going to be chaos.In any case, it may be too late to consolidate in a city that is already beginning to swarm with infected.Bowman, in fact, is now wondering how long, given a probable exponential spread of infection in the general population, Eighth Brigade will be able to remain effective as a fighting unit. He is aware that the ramifications go far beyond the Army and his tiny corner of it. He is just not ready to face them yet.Right now, the end of the world is simply too big to even contemplate.Chapter 5I can’t work like this!Dr. Joe Hardy hustles into his office with Dr. Valeriya Petrova in hot pursuit, their labcoats flapping behind them.“Here it is,” he says, grabbing his putter from behind his desk. “Now we’re in business.” He turns around and begins to head back out the door, but his colleague blocks his way, staring at him coldly.“Really, Doctor, this is no time for golf practice,” Petrova says in her Russian accent.“Watch me,” he says, pushing past her.“Are you drunk, Doctor?”He laughs derisively. “No, hungry,” he says, patting his enormous stomach. “Both make me irritable, so be warned.”She gives chase. “We need to discuss my findings.”“Findings!” He pauses a moment to face her. “Findings?”“Yes. The implications are significant.”“Honestly, Valeriya, do you really think anybody gives a flying shit about your findings right now?”“But they are significant, Doctor. Did you not agree?”“Agree with what? Do you realize that we’ve got some serious problems that we are dealing with here?”She looks surprised. “You did not get my email?”Hardy laughs again and keeps walking, swinging his putter. Petrova stomps her right foot in frustration, her face flushed, and hurries to catch up with him, marching along at his side. What a strange woman, he thinks. Smoky, exotic looks and foreign accent that inspire lust. A masculine, abrupt manner that inspires loathing. Half the time, he doesn’t know if he wants to buy her flowers or kill her.Now Dr. Lucas steps out of his office, hastily repositions his glasses on his nose, and says, “Ah, Dr. Hardy, good to see you. Are you going to do something about the air conditioning or not? You may have, ah, noticed that it’s freezing in here.”“He is right,” Petrova says. “It is cold in this building.”Hardy sighs. “People, I’m the director, not the facility manager. Who, by the way, is MIA. There’s nothing I can do.”“Well, I can’t work like this, sir!” Lucas challenges him. “If you want me to keep at my research while we’re going to be stuck living here for the near future, you could at least try to provide decent working conditions.”“Tape some garbage bags over the air vents,” Hardy tells him, brushing past.Dr. Saunders steps out of his lab, his wide balding head gleaming under the fluorescent lights, and shouts down the hallway, “Hey Joe! Any word from CDC or USAMRIID yet on our rescue before we freeze to death and starve?”
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“No!” Hardy shouts over his shoulder, and keeps moving.“Five minutes, Doctor,” Petrova says. “That is all I ask. It is quite urgent.”They enter the employee break room. Hardy walks up to one of the vending machines and studies it for a few moments.“Stand back, Dr. Petrova,” he says.“What?”“Just move back two, maybe three steps.”“Why? You—here? Is this acceptable?”“Yes, that’s perfect, thank you.”He takes a deep breath just before swinging the putter as hard as he can at the machine. The club connects with the glass front and shatters it. The noise is startling. Glass shards spill onto the floor.“Wow,” he laughs. “Did you see that?”“You could have warned me you would do this,” Petrova tells him.“Believe it or not, it scared me as much as it scared you.”Hardy looks down at himself, half expecting to see pieces of glass sticking out of his large, round body accompanied by his mother’s voice yelling at him as a kid,See, that’s what you get for playing with things you don’t understand, Joey. Seeing himself unscathed, he pulls down his mask and reaches into the machine to plunder a package of peanut M&Ms, which he tears open with a hungry grunt.“This was necessary?” his colleague asks him. “Please explain.”“Did you not hear me just say to that jackass Bill Saunders that CDC and USAMRIID are not returning my calls, meaning we are cut off from the outside world?”Petrova nods. “I see,” she says.“Do you?” he says, munching rapidly. “There’s a mob downstairs threatening to kill people if we don’t hand over the magic medicine we don’t have. We are under siege.”“Yes, I know all these things.”“Then, to top it all off, last night my daughter calls me to tell me there are some psychos attacking people in her building, and all the 911 lines are jammed.” His shoulders sag. “Christ, between the siege and the power brownouts and all hell breaking loose outside, I don’t know if it’s even possible to finish what we started here.”“I understand things are hard,” she says.“Do you? So surely, then, you see why I don’t care about your findings right now.”Petrova eyes him coldly. “Doctor. You know well that my husband and son have been trapped in London since all flights were grounded at the beginning of the Pandemic. My boy is three years old and I have not seen him or my husband in weeks. The cell phones are jammed and I have not spoken to them in seventy-two hours. I—” Her voice cracks for a moment as an expression of pain flickers across her face. “I think I understand how serious the situation is.”“I’d forgotten, Dr. Petrova,” Hardy blusters, turning red. “I’m sorry.”“In fact,” she says, collecting herself with a visible effort, “I believe I have a unique perspective on just how serious it really is based on my test results.”“All right, all right,” he says. “I give. You’ve got your five minutes.”We are trying to cure the wrong diseasePetrova takes a deep breath and tells Hardy about what she found. The Lyssavirus is transmitted like influenza, entering the body through the respiratory tract and attacking the lungs. The most common cause of death is a cytokine storm, a situation in which the body’s immune system turns on itself. When the body encounters an invader, cytokines summon armies of immune cells to fight the infection. Normally, they stop, but sometimes, when a new virus is encountered, they can’t. The resulting storm of immune cells lays waste to everything, damaging body tissues and organs, blocking airways and drowning the body in its own bloody snot. The malfunctioning immune system kills the body it was designed to protect.In advanced cases, Lyssa enters the nervous system and attacks the brain, resulting in progressive viral encephalitis—steadily worsening inflammation of the brain—which kills its victim in less than a week. It specifically targets the limbic system, which governs a person’s emotions, motivation and behavior. The result is artificial rage, popularly called Mad Dog Syndrome.Laboratories across the country are trying to crack the disease and produce a vaccine—some competing, some collaborating—under direction from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Normally, Hardy and Petrova’s laboratory facility, a Biosafety-Level Two lab located in the heart of Manhattan, would not even be working on a virus as dangerous as Lyssa, but it is already in the community, so there would be no real threat if it escaped the lab. And besides, the CDC and USAMRIID are desperate.Hardy’s team is actually getting close to their objective. If starvation and the mob and the brownouts and the cold don’t finish them first.“This I know,” Hardy says. “Tell me what I don’t know.”“My research has led me to the conclusion that the advanced dementia variant of the disease—what people call Mad Dog syndrome—is actually a separate disease.”In fact, she continues, the Mad Dog virus appears to have preceded the HK Lyssa virus. It is HK Lyssa’s primitive ancestor. HK Lyssa is essentially a benign mutation of the Mad Dog virus that allowed it to survive by spreading more easily among humans.“But in a few cases, HK Lyssa attacks the brain,” she adds. “Once in the brain, the virus displays a remarkable trait: It reverts back to its primitive ancestor, the Mad Dog virus. HK Lyssa is therefore a—what is the term—Trojan Horse for Mad Dog. As you can see, we are wasting our time here trying to cure HK Lyssa.”“Hell, we’ve already isolated the bastardin vitroand we’re working up a complete genetic characterization,” says Hardy. “Don’t be too hard on us. We have a ways to go, but we are getting close.”“What I am saying is we are trying to cure the wrong disease,” she says.“Bullshit,” Hardy says flatly.She stomps her right foot in frustration and says, “Oh!”“What you’re saying is fascinating, but academic. You said yourself that Mad Dog comes from Lyssa, so if we cure Lyssa, we cure Mad Dog.”“Doctor, listen to me carefully,” Petrova tells him. “You know that Mad Dog and HK Lyssa come from the Lyssavirus family. Rabies is in that same family. While genetically very different, the symptoms are similar. The Mad Dog virus appears to be perfectly designed to transmit itself through bites and infected saliva. This is why the Mad Dog victim is so aggressive. He is compelled to seek out and infect others. This is an entirely new vector of disease transmission and, in my opinion, poses the greater threat.”Hardy grunts, interested now. “How does the virus operate?”“When a Mad Dog bites an uninfected individual, the virus enters the body through the bite. It attacks the nerves and, undetected by the immune system, travels to the spinal cord. From there, it is mainlined to the brain. By the time the immune system detects the virus, it is too late. Very similar to rabies.”Hardy scratches his head in wonder. There were anecdotal reports of Mad Dogs transmitting illness through their saliva, but no real research in that area. The medical research community has been focused entirely on Hong Kong Lyssa as an airborne, flulike illness, and there were so few Mad Dogs. . . .“What’s the incubation period?” he asks her.“It could be remarkably fast. My results suggest infection occurs within one hour and symptoms manifest several hours later.”“You mean weeks.”“No. I mean hours.”“But that can’t be,” he says, almost laughing. “It’s impossible. Isn’t it?”“I have a hypothesis about the incubation cycle at this point,” she tells him.“But it’s preposterous! If the disease is closely related to rabies and is a latent feature of HK Lyssa, then one would expect a period between exposure and becoming symptomatic to be more like its rabies cousin—anywhere from twenty to sixty days.” He blinks. “Wait—what is your hypothesis?”“I believe the disease may have been bioengineered and that is why it is so efficient.”Hardy breaks into a sweat. “Oh, Jesus. A terrorist weapon?”“I do not know, obviously. But that is not important right now. What is important is given the aggressive mode of transmission and the lack of immunity in the population—even those who have caught Lyssa and recovered—the disease has a transmission factor that is likely equal to or greater than R2.”“Exponential spread. Of a disease that is transmitted through aggressive biting.”“It’s almost impossible to confirm without field data,” Petrova says.“And then there’s the incubation period of several hours.”“Yes. As I was saying to you, the implications of my findings are naturally quite significant.”“You can say that again,” Hardy snorts.“I would like to speak to some epidemiologists to discuss with them what they are learning in the field. Meanwhile, we will need to shift resources from curing the version of the disease transmitted by sneezes to the version transmitted by bites. Obviously.”Hardy rubs his hand over his stubbled face, staring over her shoulder in a daze. “I mean, you’re kind of talking about the end of the world.”“You know my background. Ten years working with viruses like Ebola, Marburg, Lassa Fever. I am hardly an alarmist. I am only interested in facts. And the facts tell us that the Mad Dog strain is now taking over from its descendant because its victims are now spreading exponentially in the population. That is the disease we need to cure.”The blood suddenly drains from Hardy’s face.“Oh, God,” he says, remembering. “Amy!”Taking out his cell phone, he hurriedly punches a phone number. “Yes! It’s ringing,” he says, pacing nervously. “Come on, come on. Pick up the phone.” He suddenly feels an irrational rage at his daughter for making him worry. “I got her voicemail.” His tone suddenly changes, becoming calm and smooth, a father’s voice. “Hey honey, it’s Dad. Just calling to make sure you’re okay. Give me a shout when you get a minute, all right? I love you.”Outside the Institute, the country is falling apart because of the epidemic. Nearly twenty percent of the country’s workforce is sick, consuming resources and producing nothing. And the numbers keep growing while supplies keep dwindling. Food and gas are being rationed, world trade has ground to a halt, the economy is crashing, and prices for everything from cigarettes to toilet paper are skyrocketing. Most states have declared martial law under the Emergency Powers Health Act.On the radio, preachers are saying it’s the Apocalypse.But now this. Well, Hardy thinks, if Petrova is right, then it won’t just feel like the end of the world. It really might be the end of the world. Infection will spread exponentially until everybody gets it except for those smart and supplied well enough to stay hidden for the next few weeks. Billions will die. The survivors, many driven mad by what they have seen, will live the rest of their days scavenging among the toxic ruins.If she is right, the stakes in the race for a cure, already high, have just been raised to the ultimate level of a fight against possible extinction.After hanging up, he glares at Petrova. “You’re making me worry.”“I am simply the messenger,” she says, staring wistfully at the phone in his hand. He can tell she is thinking about her family and wishes she had a little time so that she could try them again in London. He feels ashamed by this.“Okay,” he says. “Show me your test results. Let’s hope you’re wrong.”Then he freezes in his tracks and smacks himself in the forehead.“Dr. Baird!” he shouts.And rushes out of the room.PuppetsHardy jogs down the hall trailed by Petrova, his heart pounding in his chest. He just remembered that Dr. Gavin Baird entered the Institute last night shouting for help. On his way home, he got caught in a small riot of cops and looters outside a supermarket, and a child bit him on the hand, breaking the skin and drawing blood. Shaken, he returned to the Institute for antiseptic and a bandage minutes before the tall blonde and her mob showed up. Like the other scientists, he eventually gave up waiting and went back to work, disappearing into Laboratory West with Marsha Fuentes, one of the lab techs.Hardy has not heard from either of them since.Lucas leans out of his office, adjusting his glasses. “Do you know where the trash bags are kept?”“Come with me!” Hardy roars.“Should I come, too?” Saunders asks, then falls in with the rest. “Why aren’t you wearing your mask, Dr. Hardy? Are you lifting the self-quarantine regime?”Hardy pauses at the door of the lab, looking through the porthole but seeing nobody inside. “Has anybody seen Marsha since yesterday? Marsha Fuentes?”The others glance at each other and shake their heads.Hardy looks into Petrova’s eyes wearing a sad expression. Then he opens the door and steps inside, holding the putter defensively.Marsha Fuentes walks towards him from across the room, whimpering. What is left of her, anyway.She has been beaten black and blue. The left side of her face is purple and her eye is swollen shut. Her arm appears broken and, perversely, one of her breasts is completely exposed through a tear in her shirt and bra. She winces with each step.“God, Marsha, are you all right?” he says, taking a step forward.“She is one of them, Doctor,” Petrova says.He realizes that Petrova is right: The woman’s throat is swollen, as if she swallowed crabapples that are now lodged in her throat. She’s growling, making the buboes vibrate.“Aw, Marsha,” he says sadly.“What’s this all about?” Lucas says, sounding panicked.“Christ, what is that smell?” Saunders says. “What was she working on in here?”Baird went Mad Dog and beat the crap out of Fuentes. He also bit her. By the time she regained consciousness, she was already one of them.
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Fuentes grins, leaking foam between clenched teeth.“Maybe we should leave now,” Saunders says, blinking.“Where’s Dr. Baird?” Hardy says. “We need to confirm that he’s here and then we can get out and seal the room.”He turns to the right and sees the man several yards away, behind a desk.“Jesus, Baird, you scared the crap out of me,” Hardy says, forgetting for an instant what his colleague has become.Baird is growling. His ponytail has worked loose and his long blond hair, clotted with blood, is splayed across his face and shoulders. He’s a strong man, a weight lifter. His hands clench into fists.Hardy can see his eyes through the veil of hair, burning like coals. “Oh, shit,” he says.Baird launches across the desk, scattering papers and sending a PC crashing to the floor. He brushes aside the golf club that Hardy feebly raises to defend himself, seizes the back of the man’s neck and sinks his teeth into his throat. Fuentes, her mouth foaming, latches onto Hardy’s left arm and together, the infected scientists bear him to the floor screaming.“Do something!” Lucas wails. “Somebody do something!”Saunders shouts repeatedly, too terrified to make words.Baird has ripped Hardy’s throat out with his teeth. A fountain of bright red blood flies into the air. Hardy’s scream becomes a gargle. His eyes are glassy with fear and understanding.“Mom,” he croaks.Within moments, the lights in his eyes fade. His body relaxes.The cell phone in the pocket of his lab coat spills onto the floor and begins ringing.Petrova picks up the golf club and brings it down across Baird’s back, making him flinch and yelp like a dog kicked in the ribs. She brings it down again, connecting with Fuentes’ broken arm. She rolls on the floor, weeping with agony.“Get out!” she says, wildly slashing at Baird again. “Lucas, Saunders, get out now!”Despite the repeated blows, Baird is slowly rising to his feet, bleeding and snarling, while Fuentes is working her way back across the floor towards her on her knees, holding out her good hand in a splayed claw.“Get out!”Suddenly, she realizes that she is alone and that Baird is on his feet. She backs up through the open door and hurls it shut.A moment later, Baird’s body slams against it and begins thrashing and clawing, leaving bloody prints on the porthole.Inches away, on the other side, Petrova sits on the floor hugging her knees and crying, feeling the vibrations and frenzied pounding against her back.Saunders and Lucas sit against the wall on either side of her, dazed and shaking from an excess of adrenaline.Suddenly, Baird stops. The silence is startling.Hardy’s cell begins ringing again.“He’s dead,” Lucas says, his teeth chattering. “He’s dead, right?”“They all are,” Petrova says, wiping the tears from her face.Gregory Baird and Marsha Fuentes died the moment the virus replicated enough to saturate their brains and subjugate their will to its own. The moment it began using their bodies as puppets for the sole purpose of violently passing itself on to new hosts.She adds softly, “The Mad Dog strain is a parasite, and it has them now.”Petrova slowly gets to her feet, peers through the porthole, and gasps. Baird is grinning back at her, wheezing and dripping drool onto his bloodied tie and labcoat.Viruses are the world’s oldest form of life, primordial and ancient, and yet this mutant strain is something new, she realizes. It is a new force of nature, unleashed upon the world.A new life form seeking its rightful place in the pecking order.Baird and Fuentes are no longer making decisions on their own. They are rabid, acting solely based on the virus’ simple program:Attack, overpower and infect.“Oh,” she says, backing up. “Oh my.”“What is it?”She turns, her eyes gleaming and wild, and screams:“RUN!”Moments later, the door shatters off of its hinges with a crash and Baird spills into the hallway, howling with pain and rage.Chapter 6No sign of blue forcesSecond Platoon, now a wedge made up of three rifle squads in diamond formation with HQ, Weapons Squad and the walking wounded in the center, reaches Samuel J. Tilden International Middle School ten minutes behind schedule. A growing crowd of civilians follows the platoon at a respectful distance, hoping for protection.The school is a sprawling, three-story building consisting of a central trunk and two wings, accessible via a main entrance and numerous emergency exits. In the early days of the Lyssa epidemic, the City government closed all of the schools to prevent the rapid spread of infection among children, who were then taking the disease home to their parents. As the epidemic continued growing and began overwhelming the hospitals, the government tried to alleviate the pressure by opening Lyssa clinics at sites such as schools, the larger dance clubs and even the subway and train stations.This school, turned into a Lyssa clinic, was where Quarantine placed the headquarters of Charlie Company, First Battalion, and its First Platoon. Yesterday, it was teeming with patients, medical volunteers and nearly forty soldiers, MPs, engineers and specialists, including at least one squad constantly manning a checkpoint behind a sandbag position constructed around the front doors.Today, the entrance appears deserted. The street in front of the building is also empty of vehicles, restricted to official traffic only. Nobody comes out to welcome the boys of Second Platoon.There are bodies everywhere lying on the street among fluttering papers and loose garbage, already starting to stink in the brisk air of this late September morning. The air is thick with flies.They died from gunfire.Second Squad is on point. Sergeant Lewis calls a halt. The LT hustles up, takes out his binoculars and scans the small, neat sandbag fort.No soldiers are visible.Bowman turns to Lewis and signals him to move.The Sergeant whistles softly and Second Squad’s fireteams rush across the open space to the sandbags, carbines held in the firing position.Behind him, the civilians are getting nervous and asking why the platoon is stopped and they are not entering the refuge. Kemper explains that they must check out the area to make sure it is not dangerous. He tells them to stay out of the way for their own safety.Second Squad disappears into the building. The scene is quiet except for the intermittent clatter of a machine gun somewhere far to the northeast.“Every time we stay out of the way, we get slaughtered,” one of the civilians complains.Moments later, Lewis reappears at the sandbags and whistles, waving his hand in front of face to give the signal for all-clear.“Now we can move,” Kemper says to the civilian. “See how this works?”“I thought how it worked is I pay taxes and you protect me,” a woman in the crowd says, just loud enough for him to hear.Kemper sighs, sorry that he tried.The platoon moves forward, the civilians following closely.“What the hell happened here?” Sherman wonders. The area in front of the school’s doors is carpeted with bloody brass shell casings, the product of hundreds, possibly even thousands, of rounds being fired. The smell of cordite hangs in the air.“Some kind of war,” says Boomer.“No sign of blue forces, sir,” Sergeant Lewis reports to the LT.The boys shuck their rucksacks in the hallway and take long pulls on their canteens. The civilians file past them, looking shell-shocked.“Rest up,” Bowman says. “We’re on the move in five.”How a rifle platoon seizes control of a buildingSergeant Ruiz extends his arm over his head and gives a slight wave. Williams and Hicks get into position on each side of the door and give him a thumbs up.Ruiz opens the door to the classroom and flicks the light switch. Inside, the rows of institutional fluorescent lights blink to life instantly.He steps over the threshold, holding his carbine at shoulder level, ready to fire. Williams follows on his heels and turns left, while Hicks turns right. Behind them, Wheeler and McLeod pull security in the hallway, watching their backs.The fireteam then loops around until they return to the doorway. “Clear,” Williams says.“Clear,” Hicks says.“Clear,” says Ruiz.They have done this eight times already, and they are exhausted. This is how a rifle platoon seizes control of a building, one room at a time. Once they entered the school, the LT placed his gun team and HQ, along with the wounded and civilians, near the primary doors, plugging the main entrance. This base became their foothold for action inside the building, while denying access to outsiders who might reinforce enemy forces.This accomplished, the next step is to systematically clear the building. The three squads each entered a separate wing of the building, with the fireteams in each squad alternating as assault and support forces.“All right, here’s the stairwell leading up to the second floor,” the Sergeant says, mopping sweat from his forehead. “Down there is the admin wing, which we got to clear before we can go up. McLeod, I am placing you here with your SAW.”“You’re leaving me alone?” says McLeod.Ruiz sighs loudly through his nose. “The rooms behind you have been cleared. We will be on your left, down that hallway. You lie here and point your weapon at the stairwell until we get back. Think you can manage that?”“Since you put it like that—”“Listen to me, dipshit.”“Okay, Sergeant.”“You got our backs. Do not screw up or nod off or rub one out or read a good book or whatever it is you do instead of soldiering. If you do, I will not assign you KP or smoke you with exercise. I will frag you. You will die. Okay? Do we understand each other?”McLeod nods darkly. “Yes, Sergeant.”“All right, let’s do this, ladies. Sooner we clear this building, the sooner we can kick up our feet.”“Roger that, Sarge,” says Hicks.“Take point, Private Williams.”“All right, Sergeant.”Williams turns the corner toward the admin offices and almost walks into the man standing there smiling down at him. A tall, skinny giant of a man, almost six foot five, wearing a neat suit and tie.“Oh, sorry, sir,” Williams says.He glances up at the face and his bowels turn to water. The man’s swollen, bruised throat bulges over the shirt collar, which is soaked with drool and mucus.“Shoot him, Private!” roars Ruiz.The man opens his mouth, making a bubbling, percolating sound deep in his throat, and reaches out with his long arms to embrace Williams.The rifle pops and the man staggers backward, wincing in pain, his dress shirt now soaked red.Williams blinks in surprise, then fires again as he was trained, putting the second bullet into the man’s face, blowing off his jaw and ear. The man spins like a top and eventually falls to the ground with a meaty sound, his hair smoking.The soldier laughs hysterically.“Who shot him? Was that me?”“Give me your weapon, Private.”Ruiz takes the M4 out of his hands, shoulders it and fires rapidly,bang bang bang, dropping three more figures at the end of the hallway.“I’m going to make a soldier out of you yet, Private Williams,” he says, handing him back his carbine and then retrieving his shotgun.“Roger that, Sergeant,” Williams says, blowing air out his cheeks.“Roger that.”A familiar voice from around the corner: “You guys all right?”“Shut up and stay in position, Private McLeod,” Ruiz yells back.“Sergeant, look, it’s a rifle,” says Hicks, stepping forward and picking the weapon off the floor. “It’s an M4.” He wrestles with the bolt and snorts. “Jammed.”The Sergeant nods. He was afraid that at some point they were going to begin finding the shreds of First Platoon.“And there’s a blood trail. See it?”The trail of blood droplets leads under a door to an administrative office. The fireteams quickly get into position, ready to take it down. Ruiz peers through the window set in the upper half of the door, which is similarly spotted and streaked with blood. The inside of the office is clean and brightly lit but otherwise appears empty.He counts down with his fingers,Three, two, one—The doorknob gives, but the door barely moves. Something’s blocking it.He pushes hard until the obstruction clears.The soldiers step into the room, clear it, and then converge on its sole occupant.The corpse lies tangled up in his own limbs. They recognize him as Charlie Company’s RTO. He wears a crude tourniquet tied tightly around his leg, which has been mauled savagely below the knee. The top of his skull and brains are splattered up the scorched and splintered door, which he was blocking with his body.Blocking, apparently, to keep the Mad Dogs out.“This shit is cold,” says Williams.“He didn’t want to become one of them,” Ruiz says.“Sergeant?” says Hicks, puzzled.“Nothing,” says Ruiz. “Just thinking out loud.”The man still clutches the pistol that he used to blow his brains out. As RTOs are not issued sidearms, the pistol is not his, although the soldiers recognize it as an Army-issue nine-millimeter.The Sergeant crouches down and tears off one of the corpse’s oval dog tags, then contacts the LT using his handheld.“War Dogs Two-Six, this is War Dogs Two-Three, over.”War Dogs Two-Three, this is War Dogs Two actual standing by to copy, over.
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“We have cleared most of the first floor of hostiles and have located a member of Charlie Company’s headquarters staff in the admin area of the left wing, over.”What’s his status, over?“He’s dead, over.”Any sign of War Dogs Six or other elements of his command, over?“Negative. We have something positive to report, though. The man we found is the company RTO, and he has a working combat net radio. Over.”The boys glance at each other and grin. The man’s death is horrible, the more so because this particular death, among so many, is closer to home for them as soldiers. But finding an intact SINCGAR is a stroke of luck. Communications can be as valuable as water and ammunition in the field. With a working field radio, the platoon can easily talk to Battalion. They can get things they need to live and continue functioning as a military unit in the field. Specifically, through direct communication with the chain of command, they can ask for news, orders, reinforcements, evacuation, rescue, air support, food, water, ammunition, equipment and medevac.Outstanding, Sergeant, says the LT.Can you send it back with a runner? Over.“Wilco, sir. Sending Private Williams now with the radio, over.”Solid copy, out.“Collect these weapons and any ammo you can find,” Ruiz tells the squad. “As for Doug Price here, we’ll pick him up on the way back so he can be buried with respect.”A greater obligationLieutenant Bowman established his headquarters in the wide entry hallway of the school, surrounding a sprawling refugee camp of more than a hundred panicked civilians located directly adjacent to public lavatories and a water fountain.At the end facing the main doors of the school, he placed his gun team, and at the other, facing the main stairs leading to the second floor of the trunk of the building, a SAW gunner detached from Second Squad.This simple setup provides protection for the civilians while enabling them to access water and toilets, which he hopes will keep them calm, but not the soldiers’ rucksacks, which are stacked near the front door under the watchful eyes of his gun team.Sherman, holding an M4 carbine, scans the crowd for signs of trouble, shrugging at their requests for food, medicine, diapers, beer and cigarettes, plastic cups, blankets, rubbing alcohol, chocolate bars, more toilet paper and paper towels and soap, and a toilet plunger. He frequently glances at Hawkeye, lying groaning and sweating on a blanket under the care of Doc Waters, the platoon’s combat medic.Hawkeye is starting to stink.“He’s got Lyssa bad,” the medic tells Sherman, dumbfounded. “He got bit by a Mad Dog and now he’s turning into one. In hours. Something is definitely not right here.”“You think?” somebody mutters under his breath.Bowman struck a deal with the civilians, allowing them to enter the platoon’s defensive perimeter, and thereby become his problem, on two conditions. First, that they would not interfere with the operations of the men under his command. Second, that they would report any of them showing Lyssa symptoms, especially Mad Dog symptoms, so that they could be removed from the security zone and banished from the building.So far, they have ignored the first promise and kept the second. Beyond this, he is not sure what to do with them. He has orders to link up with First Platoon and Company HQ, and he will try to complete that mission for as long as he can. These civilians are only tying him down. And yet they are American citizens, and he has a greater obligation to protect them from harm.His highest priority at this moment, however, is securing this building and giving his boys a well-deserved rest. They simply cannot keep up this pace. Already they are exhausted and using up their supplies at an alarming rate.And the worst, he knows, is yet to come. Days of it. Even weeks of it. It may take a superhuman effort for his boys to stay alive just during the next twenty-four hours.Doc Waters marches up to Bowman and says, “The men need to change their masks. They’re getting caked with sweat and soot, and the men are forgetting to change them.”Bowman blinks in surprise. The platoon has bigger issues to deal with than Lyssa prevention. But of course the combat medic is right. Bowman nods and says he’ll get on it.“And sir,” Doc Waters adds, “some of the men aren’t wearing their masks at all anymore. This is majorly stupid, sir. We’ve had a rare morning, but the chance of infection is just as high now as it was yesterday.” He glances at the civilians. “In fact, it’s higher.”“All right, Doc,” the LT says. “I’ll see to it.”“Sir, we got incoming!” cries Bailey, the SAW gunner from Second Squad. He is lying on the floor, sighting down the barrel, which now rests on a bipod. “I got seven, no, eight hostiles on the main stairs.”The LT kneels next to Bailey and studies the Mad Dogs through his close-combat optic. They are Mad Dogs, seven of them sorry-looking specimens wearing paper gowns, and one wearing hospital scrubs. Three of them grin like clowns, their mouths and gowns stained red.He wishes he could understand what motivates them. Don’t they recognize their own friends and family? Why do they want to kill us? Why don’t they attack each other?The Mad Dogs pause and stand motionless, fists clenching and unclenching at their sides. They are still thirty meters away.“What are you waiting for?” one of the civilians says. “Shoot them, for Chrissakes!”Other civilians begin clamoring for them to open fire. A baby in the crowd starts screaming.“Shall I light ’em up, sir?” says Bailey, gently placing his finger on the trigger.“You know the ROE, Private Bailey,” Bowman tells him. “We fire only if they threaten us. Right now they’re not hostile.”The gunner glances up at him. “ROE, sir?”“We’re still operating under the rules of engagement issued by Quarantine last night.”“Well, they smell pretty threatening if you ask me, sir,” Bailey says.Bowman smiles despite himself.Two of the Mad Dogs leap forward, snarling. The others quickly follow, sprinting with their characteristic loping gait.They think like animals, Bowman thinks. They hunt in packs. Look at them go. They even run like animals. Why?“You are cleared to engage,” he says.The SAW is a belt-fed light machine gun able to fire up to seven hundred fifty rounds per minute at an effective range of a thousand meters. It is a squad support weapon, typically used to set up a base of fire. It eats ammo fast and spits out a high volume of withering, murderous fire.Bailey sights the first Mad Dog carefully and drops him with a single burst. He moves on to the next. Each time he shoots, the crowd emits a chorus of grating shrieks.Bowman is starting to believe the civilians are actually trying as hard as they can to make his job irritating and complicated.Then he tries to put himself in their shoes. As if several weeks of plague and chronic shortages weren’t bad enough, their world is ending, they are refugees in their own land, and they are defenseless in a fratricidal war, hunted by a remorseless enemy that just hours ago was their son, their mother, their doctor, their priest, their oldest friend.Now they’re watching a SAW gunner cut some people in half. Christ, he tells himself, the only reason you’re still sane is you have a job to do. So try to cut these people a little slack, okay?“Good shooting,” he says.“Sir? The Mad Dogs are a lot more aggressive than we were told, and there’s a lot more of them than they told us there were.”“That’s a very good observation, Private Bailey.”“I mean, is this, like, supposed to be the end of the world?”“The Army has given me no such order,” Bowman says.The exchange reminds him of another important task he has yet to figure out how to do: Tell his people about the way the Mad Dog strain spreads, and what this means. Many of them, like Bailey, are already starting to put two and two together.His handset chirps and Sergeant Lewis’ voice deadpans,War Dogs Two-Six, War Dogs Two-Six, this is War Dogs Two-Two, how copy, over?“War Dogs Two-Two, this is War Dogs Two actual, I copy, over.”War Dogs Two-Six, message follows, break. We have found an athletic facility in the main trunk, break. Hundreds, maybe a thousand, sick people on cots here, break. Some are in bad shape. Break. I see a lot of empty IV bags. Bedpans not being emptied. Meds aren’t being passed out. Some of these people were apparently murdered in their beds. The survivors need aid. Over.“Roger. I’ll send Doc Waters down as soon as the building is cleared. Any sign of the CO or First Platoon, over?”Negative. There’s a lot of blood and brass. A lot of bodies who died of gunshot wounds. . . . No other sign of blue forces. Over.“Any sign of medical staff, over?”We see several body . . . parts that may be from the medical staff, over.Bowman is starting to piece together what happened. First Platoon only had a squad manning the front entry. This unit was attacked from front and rear by Mad Dogs on the street and coming out of the gym. The rest of Captain West’s command and First Platoon were attacked in isolated pockets, and probably destroyed. The medical staff was either slaughtered or infected and absorbed into the Mad Dog population.“Friendly coming in!” a voice calls out from around the corner.“Come on in, whoever you are,” Bailey calls. “Mad Dogs can’t talk, you know.”Bowman sees Private Williams come running up, carrying the SINCGAR. Sherman rushes to greet him and immediately begins tinkering with it.Negative contact, War Dogs Two-Six. How copy?“That was a solid copy, over.”Correction: We have just found two riflemen from First Platoon. They’re dead, over.Bowman turns and glances over the civilians, some of whom stare back at him nervously. He can sense their distrust. It is almost palpable.Somebody’s got to survive.“Have you discovered any provisions, such as food, blankets, medical supplies, over?”Wait one. . . . Roger that, over.“Continue with your mission, War Dogs Two-Two. Out.” The LT calls to Williams. “Private, how many of the enemy have you seen?”“Four, sir. All are, um, accounted for, sir.”“Go rejoin your unit, Private.”“Yes, sir.”There is no way only a few Mad Dogs overran a platoon of infantry and scattered them to the winds like this, Bowman thinks. There must be more of them, maybe hundreds. Where is the main force?“Friendlies coming in!” a voice calls from the front doors.“Come forward and be recognized!” Martin calls out, tensing behind his MG.A soldier, blood splattered on his uniform and Kevlar, steps through the propped-open door and shows himself.“Third Platoon here,” the soldier says.“Second Platoon here, boys,” Boomer says. “Hey, looks like we beat you!”“Hooah!” Martin yells, holding his fist in the air. “Yahoo!”The doors open and the soldiers come staggering in. The boys of Second Platoon still in the area let up a ragged cheer. Even the civilians are grinning, hoping this means that law and order has returned to New York. But the cheers and grins fade quickly.Some of the soldiers fall to their knees gasping, while others stare into space and walk like zombies. A few burst into tears, not even bothering to cover their faces. Several sit against the wall, light cigarettes with steel lighters, and hug their ribs.“God, there’s only fifteen, maybe twenty of them,” Boomer hisses at Martin. “What the hell happened to the rest of their guys?”An officer steps out in front of what is left of Third Platoon, wearing the insignia of a 2LT. Bowman instantly recognizes him as Lieutenant Stephen Knight.Knight blinks into the fluorescent light of the hallway light fixtures. “Where’s Captain West?”Bowman weaves through the civilians until he is close enough to exchange a salute.“Good to see you, Steve. It really is.”“Thank God you’re here, Todd.” His eyes widen in alarm. “Where are all your people?”“Securing the building. Where’s the rest of your guys?”“I’ve got to report in,” Knight tells him, shaking his head. “Can you take me to the CO?”“He’s not here, Steve.”Knight blinks rapidly, appearing dazed at the news. “But this is his headquarters,” he says feebly. “His orders said for us to come here.”“We’re still gathering intel on the situation here, but the Captain’s command appears to have been overrun.”Another notch in the belt for the killahIn the school’s east wing, Eckhardt, Mooney, Wyatt and Finnegan get in position to take down the school’s chemistry lab, while Sergeant McGraw provides security in the hall with the other three boys of First Squad.Eckhardt goes up the middle, while Mooney breaks right, Wyatt breaks left and Finnegan stays at the door in support.Mooney immediately surmises that the room was used as a bivouac for elements of First Platoon. He sees cots, rucksacks, personal effects, helmets, gear and crates of ammo.The beds are unmade. There are unfinished MREs on some of the chemistry tables.Mad Dogs have been here. His nose burns from the sour stench lingering in the air.Some kind of fight took place in this room. His boots crunch on broken glass, scatter the pages of letters from home. A light haze of smoke still hangs in the air. One of the cots is soaked through with drying blood, the blankets barely concealing a collection of body parts. Barely enough to be able to tell that whoever they belong to was human.
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On the floor next to the cot, a neatly severed child’s hand.“Oh God,” Mooney says quietly, swallowing hard.He steps over a broken M4 and a handful of empty shell casings.On the other side of the cot, three dead civilians lay in a heap on top of a soldier who died grimacing in pain. His scalp has been torn ripped off his skull and is sprouting from the mouth of one of the Mad Dogs, hair and all.“No,” Mooney says, then vomits neatly into the sink of one of the chemistry tables.The other boys halt, waiting for him to finish. Nobody razzes him, not even Wyatt. Almost everybody has lost it at least once in the past ten hours.Mooney rinses out his mouth and thinks for a moment. One squad, maybe two, were bivouacked here. Some got surprised while they were eating and were torn to pieces. Others got surprised in their sleep and were slaughtered in their beds. Most, however, seem to have vanished.“It’s okay,” Mooney tells his comrades, feeling embarrassed. “I’m all right.”“Freeze,” Eckhardt says.The boys stop in place.“I hear something,” he adds. “Listen.”A wheezing sound among the cots and chemistry tables.“I think there’s somebody in here with us.”“One of those crazy people,” Finnegan says, glowering with rage. “I’m going to kill him slow.”“Why would you say that?” says Mooney, spitting into the sink.“They’re not people anymore. They’re like animals. They don’t even know what they’re doing.”“Shut up, Mooney.”“He’s a Mad Dog lover,” says Wyatt, but nobody laughs.“It might be one of our guys lying on the floor wounded,” says Eckhardt. “Or a non-combatant. Think before you act, Finnegan. Now go get the Sergeant.”Finnegan signals to Sergeant McGraw that they have a possible contact, and the Sergeant enters the lab, toting his shotgun.“All right now, let’s clear this room,” he says. “On your toes. Nice and slow.”The boys continue weaving their way through the cots and tables. The wheezing stops, then starts again.Mooney’s heart is no longer in this. If McGraw were to suggest that they simply eat a bullet now and cop out on all this unreal horror, he would seriously consider it. He has not slept in more than twenty-six hours. During the last ten, he almost died after being chased by a horde of homicidal maniacs, hunted and shot down Mad Dogs during the cleanup at the hospital, reconnoitered the smoky horror show of First Avenue, marched a mile in full battle rattle, shot his way through a civilian riot, and cleared almost an entire floor of an abandoned middle school. He’s bone tired and his morale, frankly, sucks.Mostly, he is sick of the killing.Soldiers get sloppy when they are this tired.He feels a hand clutch his ankle. He staggers back, almost fainting.An old man in hospital scrubs, dragging his gnarled legs behind him, leers up at him, sniggering and drooling. The hand reaches out and grips his ankle again. The bloody mouth opens in satisfaction:Ah.Mooney screams and bayonets the man in the forehead, then promptly drops his rifle, falls on his ass and pisses himself.The other boys gather around.“Hardcore, Mooney,” says Finnegan, excited. “Good on ya.”Wyatt says, “Another notch in the belt for the killah.”McGraw helps Mooney back onto his feet. “You okay, Private?”“I think so, Sergeant.”“All right. Retrieve your weapon.”Wyatt laughs hysterically. Mooney glares at him. The noise returns. The boys instantly form a circle facing outward, establishing a defensive perimeter. Mooney pulls the bayonet out of the skull of the Mad Dog he killed, fighting back another urge to vomit and trying to ignore the unsettling sensation of wetness running down his pant leg.McGraw signals at them to follow him across the room. Pausing at a secondary door leading into another hallway, he places his ear against it and listens.Wheezing.The sound electrifies them.Mooney feels a hand on his ankle.He looks down, his heart racing, but sees nothing there. He shakes his leg a little to free himself of the lingering feeling.The sergeant makes a fist and punches the air several times in the direction of the door.Prepare for action.Mooney and the other boys raise their weapons, ready to fire.McGraw opens the door.The hall beyond is packed with Mad Dogs, many wearing paper gowns, others filthy and naked, waste running down their legs, shoving and drooling with their breath rattling in their chests. A wave of stink assails the soldiers, making them wince and their eyes fill with water. PFC Chen lowers his carbine and turns away, gagging.The Mad Dogs begin growling.Before either side makes a move, Mooney steps forward and kicks the door closed. Instantly, a score of hands begin clawing and banging on the door, which vibrates on its hinges.“I didn’t get to shoot my weapon!” Wyatt complains.“That was quick thinking,” McGraw says. “Private Mooney just saved our asses.”“What do you mean, Sergeant?”“I think we just stumbled on an army of them,” he explains. “The mother lode.”Payback timeThe boys of First Squad exit the classroom out the other door and enter the hallway. McGraw points at his eyes with his index and middle fingers of his left hand, telling the security team to come forward. He holds his rifle over his head and points in the direction of the corner. He extends his flattened palm towards them.The boys give him the thumbs up. They understand that the enemy has been sighted and is around the corner, and that they are to stay where they are.The Sergeant quietly approaches the corner, peers around it, and instantly pulls his head back, holding up a finger to indicate that he guesses there are as many as a hundred hostiles occupying the hallway. He flashes several number signs and then bangs his fists together, telling them the enemy is about fifteen meters down the corridor.Time to report this discovery to the LT.He signals the squad to stay put in a defensive posture, and returns to the classroom. The Mad Dogs are still focused on the door, scraping at it with their nails. He gives the door the finger, and then keys his handset.“War Dogs Two-Six, War Dogs Two-Six, this is War Dogs Two-One, how copy, over?”War Dogs Two-One, this is War Dogs Two actual, standing by to copy, over.“War Dogs Two, message follows, break. Be advised that we have identified a large group of Mad Dogs. Maybe two hundred of them, over.”Roger that, War Dogs Two-One. Outstanding. Do you have sufficient strength to engage and destroy enemy force, over?McGraw grimaces and says, “Request alternative course of action, over.”Negative, over.“I say again: Request alternative course of action. Over.”That’s a no go. We have to secure this building. This has to be done or we will be forced to evac and find another building. And we’ll have to clear that one, too. These are the facts we have to deal with. We literally do or die. Do you understand?“Affirmative, sir.”Then complete your mission. Out.He returns to the hallway. The boys look at him expectantly. Prepare for action, he signs to them, punching his first.He tells First Squad’s two SAW gunners that they will move forward, occupy the T intersection ahead, and set up a base of fire. The two grenadiers, Corporal Eckhardt and PFC Rollins, will shoot grenades into the enemy force from the flanks with their M203s, wreaking havoc while buying time for the SAW gunners to set up. The rest will provide support as well as security on their flanks.The boys give the Sergeant a thumbs-up, their eyes gleaming with excitement.They want to do this. They want action. For them, it’s payback time. McGraw raises his arm and does a single backstroke, telling First Squad to line up behind him in column file formation with the SAW gunners in the middle. He raises both arms and pushes his flattened palms toward each other until the boys tighten up their intervals to his satisfaction. The length of the column is now about the width of the hallway. Pumping his fist up and down, he tells them they will move at a slow run.Finally, he does a wide forward “follow me” wave, telling them to move out.His shooters jog into the open across the hallway, attracting the attention of the Mad Dogs, who snarl at them. A dozen immediately run towards the soldiers.“Let ’em have it!” McGraw roars, unloading his shotgun at the closest infected and knocking them down with a single blast spraying more than twenty-five pellets of high-velocity buckshot. On his left, the boys hit the ground as Eckhardt and Rollins open up with their M203s, firing high-explosive forty-millimeter grenades over the heads of the Mad Dogs, tearing apart the infected crowded together about halfway down the hall.Then the SAWs open up, tracers flying in blurred red sparks, knocking over Mad Dogs like bowling pins. They are far enough from the Mad Dogs that the weapons’ beaten zones—the area of ground on which the cone of fire falls—covers the width of the hallway almost perfectly with minimal shifting fire. In other words, a turkey shoot. The guns spit out hundreds of empty shell casings, which ring against the floor and roll away. The devastation is so horrible, so complete and so disorienting that many of the Mad Dogs run straight into each other and into walls. But they do not stop. They do not appear to know fear, only an endless murderous rage that is now directed at First Squad’s eight soldiers.McGraw crouches behind one of the SAW gunners.“You’re aiming too high, ” he says, watching the tracers. “Give them grazing fire, Ratliff.”More come spilling out of a side hallway. McGraw realizes he was wrong. There aren’t two hundred Mad Dogs.There are at least twice that.A grenade becomes armed several moments early and explodes near the ceiling, bringing acoustic tile, fluorescent light fixtures, twisted metal tubing and water falling onto the heads of the onrushing horde. A severed arm flies spinning down the hallway and sails over Mooney’s head, making him flinch.“Did you see that?” Wyatt says.“Out of HE, switching to buckshot!” Rollins calls out, coughing on dust and smoke.“All right, Mooney, Wyatt, Finnegan, Chen, it’s time to get in the game,” McGraw says.“About time,” Wyatt yelps, and begins shooting with his carbine, a sustained series of metallic bangs. “Get some!”“Rollins, you got any WP grenades?”“I got three, Sergeant.”“Keep them handy in case we need to get out of here in a hurry and lay down some smoke to disorient the enemy.”“Not a problem, Sergeant.”“Take your time,” McGraw tells his riflemen. “Choose your targets. Conserve your ammo. Make your shots count.”Mooney lines up his carbine’s barrel using its iron sights, takes aim at the center of a woman’s torso, and fires a short metallic burst on semi-auto,pop pop.The carbine recoil hums against his shoulder, the spent shell casings fly into the air from its eject port, and then she is down. In close quarters marksmanship training, the Army taught him to fire two to the chest and one to the head to decisively neutralize an enemy. Here, however, he does not have to stop the enemy from shooting back, only stop them from advancing. No fancy shooting is needed; he only has to throw enough lead at each target to put them on the floor with the least amount of physical energy.In fact, it is horribly easy for the squad to massacre all of these people. They are just flesh and bone.“Reloading!” Eckhardt cries.Mooney aims and fires again, and a man in BDUs just like his own drops onto the growing mound of corpses and body parts.And again. And again.The 5.56-mm rounds are high-velocity bullets that often plow straight through the body, tumbling in their trajectory and shredding organs and tissue as they pass through.“Reloading!”After a while, Mooney lets the training take over his body, giving his numb brain a rest and a chance to detach from the horror.“How do you like me now?” Wyatt yells.A pack of children dash towards the soldiers, snarling, hands reaching. “Oh, Lord,” Carrillo says, nearly blind with tears, and cuts them down with several bursts of his SAW.“Reloading!” Mooney calls out.The Mad Dogs never even get close.Sergeant McGraw waves his hand in front of his face and yells, “Cease fire, cease fire!”Mooney slumps against the row of metal lockers behind him and gulps air in quick gasps. The air is thick with cordite and an odor combining the rotten sour-milk stink of the infected with the sickly metallic smell of fresh blood.The smoke hangs in the air like a shroud.“That was starting to look a little dicey,” says Ratliff, checking his SAW’s ammo box. “I only got about ten rounds left on the belt.”Carrillo stares at the carnage while smoke rises up from his SAW, which started to overheat at the end.“One of those kids looked just like my sister Jenny’s boy,” he rasps quietly, as if he is losing his voice. “But they’re supposed to be in Florida. You don’t think?”“Naw,” Ratliff says. He looks around for the Sergeant, sees that the man’s back is turned, and pulls down his mask to light a cigarette. “Couldn’t be.”“But it looked just like him,” Carrillo says. “His name’s Robbie.”“I can’t believe this freaking carnage,” Wyatt says. “It’s ten times bigger than the hospital. It’s mad sick, like a video game, yo.”Nearby, Chen quietly retches against the wall, moaning and mumbling to himself.
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“It’s not a game, you goddamn psycho,” Eckhardt says, his face burning with shame. “You’re not supposed to like it.”“We paid them back for what they did, that’s all,” Finnegan says grimly, kicking at the carpet of empty shell casings on the floor. “God knows the difference between a just kill and the kind you go to Hell for.”In Iraq, they had shot up cars, some filled with families, that disobeyed their orders to halt at a checkpoint. Men, women, children. An inevitable accident of war that filled many of the boys with regret and would stay with them for the rest of their lives. But this was intentional, against Americans, and on a colossal scale they never imagined possible.And here was the Sergeant telling them they did a good job. That they secured the area and could rest soon. It’s like getting a medal for My Lai. This is payback, and it tastes like ashes. They wanted this, they were hot to kill a million of those things after what they saw what happened to some of the boys of First Platoon, and now they are ashamed.“They just kept coming,” Ratliff says, shaking his head with something like admiration. “They wouldn’t stop.”“They’re not human anymore,” Mooney says, his ears ringing and his headache returning with a vengeance.“I’m starting to agree with you on that,” says Eckhardt. “The way they looked at us. The way they moved. Definitely not human.” He shivers. “It’s like they were possessed by demons.”“Actually, they were possessed by a virus,” Mooney tells him. “But you’re not far off, Corporal.”“Did you see the ones wearing BDUs?” Ratliff says. “They were Army.Are we going to catch the bug and end up like that, too?”McGraw is surveying the wreckage, stepping carefully among the mangled carpet of flesh, blood and human waste. An old woman, bleeding from a dozen wounds, crawls towards him on her hands and knees, hissing.“I am truly sorry, Ma’am,” he says, and shoots her in the head with his Beretta.“Sergeant?” Finnegan says.McGraw says, “If they can move, if they can bite, they’re hostile. And we have to get through this hallway so we can clear the rest of this wing.”Mooney closes his eyes and wishes he were somewhere else. Instantly, his consciousness slides into black.A bloody face lunges for his throat—He jerks awake, adrenaline rushing through his body, and takes a deep breath.“I am very sorry, sir,” McGraw says. Another shot rings out.Down the hall, a door opens and a voice calls to them:“U.S. Army down here! Hold fire!”“Same here,” McGraw shouts back. “Howdy!”“Is that Second Platoon?” the soldier says, stepping out of the room at the end of the hall, coughing on the smoke and stink. “Hooah, boys! First Platoon here!”“We’ve been looking all over for you guys,” McGraw says, grinning.“We heard all hell breaking loose and stayed down. Oh Jesus, hell, what is this?”The soldier is surveying the walls painted with blood and the piles of body parts and bodies, some of which are still moving, like a carpet of giant bloody worms.His eyes roll back in his head and he faints. Other soldiers come out and gaze upon the slaughter in disbelief and shock, while a few run back where they’d come from to vomit in privacy.Private Chen pauses behind Sergeant McGraw and swallows hard. He can’t stop looking at the faces. The arms and legs, the guts and organs, the pools and streaks of blood, he can take that. But he can’t take the faces. All those eyes looking back at him.“We’re all just meat, aren’t we,” he says.“Maybe so,” McGraw answers.Chen can’t take the hands, either. All those cold, open hands that feel nothing.“I’m sorry, Sergeant.”The Sergeant turns, squinting. “What’s that, Private?”The feet. The hundreds of feet that will never walk again.“That I can’t come with you.”His voice has a shaky quality that makes everybody stop and look at him.Chen laughs nervously as he puts the tip of his carbine into his mouth. And promptly pulls the trigger.Chapter 7Can you help me?Shivering in a ball under a desk in the Institute’s Security Command Center, Petrova dreams that Dr. Baird has burst howling through the lab door.She has dreamed this dream continuously since she fell asleep.It is always the same.She flees, and at first she is able to run faster than she ever has in a dream, faster even than she can in real life, but the fluorescent hallway is endless and its brightness rapidly dims as some ominous unseen presence eats the light. Suddenly, her strength begins failing and she can barely move despite mental pushes she gives herself in her sleep.But this time the dream is different.A phone rings shrilly, and she turns to see Dr. Baird at the end of the hall, grinning in triumph with bloody teeth and holding a clump of hairy, mangled flesh high over his head like a primitive trophy. Black fluid begins gushing from his eyes and grin.Just meat, he says.His face crumbles. Faster and faster, his head and arms dissolve as his body is converted into organic black fluid.The liquid splashes against the floor and slithers forward like a million oily snakes, probing blindly, driven by an ancient program.The liquid is pure virus seeking its new host.She wants to scream, but she can’t breathe.The snakes coil and whisper in a million voices,We are life.The phone rings again.She turns and tries to run—Baird bursts through a wall in front of her, broken cinderblocks flying in a cloud of dust, bellowing with rage and pain.A phone is ringing.I’m so cold, please don’t make me get up—Baird roars, shaking the building, making the light fixtures blink and fall out of the ceiling, but he is already fading.Petrova’s eyes flash open, her heart in her throat, her body clenched and gasping for air. Extricating herself carefully from under the desk, she quickly scans the operator desk and sees a phone with a red light flashing.It rings—She picks it up warily, still haunted by the dream and uncertain of everything.“This is Dr. Valeriya Petrova,” she says thickly, rubbing at a lancing pain in her neck. “Who is this?”“Dr. Petrova?” a voice asks feebly.“This is Dr. Petrova. Who is this?”“Can you help me?”Get the hell out of my labLucas was taken first.He ran several yards before he seemed to become winded and simply laid down and curled up into a ball. He barely struggled when Baird fell to his knees and sank his teeth into his arm.After Petrova and Saunders turned the corner, Saunders slowed to a stop.“We must go, Doctor,” she said.The scientist frowned as if trying to work out a complex math problem. “No,” he said slowly. “We have to help Dr. Lucas.”“He has surely been bitten,” she told him. “Which means he is already dead.”“You know, I don’t even know his first name,” Saunders laughed.“You are ugly and I hate you,” she hissed fiercely in a sudden fit of stress, surprised at herself for saying such things, especially since they were true. “Come with me. Now. Please, William.”“See what I mean?” His voice sounded weak and thin. “It’s ‘Bill.’Nobody’s called me William since I was ten.”He turned and jogged back around the corner to help Lucas, who was emitting a strange, high-pitched mewing sound, like a cat being slowly crushed.“Please, William,” she whispered.She heard Saunders shouting. The shouts quickly turned into bloodcurdling screams.“Oh,” she said, and started running.While she ran, she tried to remember how many people were trapped with her at the Institute. Hardy, Lucas, Saunders, Sims, Fuentes . . . Ten. There were ten people on this floor, and five of them were already either infected or dead.She needed to warn the others, quickly, before Baird decided to go hunting.And after that, what?Find a safe place where they can hide and figure out what to do next. She entered Laboratory East on unsteady legs and saw Dr. Sims and Sandy Cohen, a lab tech, working in gowns, masks, goggles and gloves. Sims was busy injecting reaction fluid into a strip of PCR tubes for a polymerase chain reaction test. Cohen was snapping digital pictures of Lyssa using the camera built into the lab’s fluorescence microscope.Petrova’s eyes went straight to several glass Petri dishes on the desktop next to Sims. Each dish contained pure samples of Lyssa grown in cultured cells harvested from a dog’s kidney.At first, she was unable to speak, her mind numbed by the violence and adrenaline, somehow dumbfounded by the sight of her coworkers performing mundane tasks as if nothing had happened.“Listen to me,” she said shakily, then paused, suddenly out of breath.Dr. Fred Sims, the oldest scientist on the staff at sixty-eight, turned and glared at the interruption. Giving Petrova the once-over, he quickly sized up her sweaty face, disheveled hair, spray of blood on her labcoat, and gleaming steel putter she still clutched in her hands.“Dr. Petrova, you look unwell,” he said, peering at her over the top of his spectacles. “Don’t you think it’s a bit early in the day for . . . whatever it is you’re doing?”“We are in serious danger.”“Now, if you please, get the hell out of my lab.”“Oh!” she said, blinking and stomping her right foot.“I said, get out.”“Dr. Sims!”“You. Are. Contaminating. My. Work.”“Frederick, listen to me,” she said.Sims’ eyebrows arched with surprise. “Frederick, is it? Well. All right then, go on, tell me what’s wrong, my child.” He glanced over Petrova’s shoulder. “And what in God’s name happened to you, good sir?”Petrova turned and watched Baird limp into the lab, his head twitching violently, smacking his lips, blood and foamy drool soaking his chin and T-shirt.Cohen lurched to her feet and took several quick steps backwards. To Petrova, she seemed so helpless in her gown and mask and gloves, so cumbersome and slow.“I don’t understand,” Sims said, his eyes widening with alarm. “This is very strange. What’s this all about?”Baird’s bloodshot eyes focused on the golf club in Petrova’s hands. He suddenly stopped, glowering, and growled deep in his throat, drool pouring out of his contorted mouth.Cohen bumped into a chair behind her, knocking it over.As if waiting for this cue, Baird lunged with a bestial snarl.Cohen ran out of the Lab’s other door, followed by Petrova.Behind them, Sims emitted a single strangled cry.The hallway was empty by the time Petrova reached it. Cohen had disappeared. She bolted down the hall as fast as she could on her heels, turned the corner, and ran directly into Stringer Jackson, making her nose sting and her eyes flood with tears. She had completely forgotten about him sitting in the Security Command Center, watching over them on the security screens.She turned and pointed, stammering and blubbering, unable to express herself.“I know,” said Jackson. “I’m on it. Do you know how to get to the Security Center?”Petrova nodded.“Then go,” he told her. “The door’s unlocked. Go in and lock it. I’ll be there soon.”She briefly wondered how Stringer Jackson, the retired, grizzled, middle-aged and overweight cop, was going to take on Baird in a hand to hand fight and win. But she did not care. She had done her part. It was up to the professionals to take care of things from here.She did not see what happened next.Within moments, she entered the Security Command Center and burrowed under the operator’s desk, shaking with fear. The whirr and heat of the electronics almost instantly lulled her into a deep sleep.Thank God he is not a Mad DogMore like a mouse squeaking than a human voice.Petrova grips the phone in her sweating hand. “Who is this, please?”“I’m all alone and I need somebody to come and get me.”For some reason, she pictures her boy Alexander in her mind, speaking into a phone in a dark, bare room in London, all alone.“Please, please tell me who is speaking,” she says, panicking.“Sandy. Sandy Cohen?”“I know who you are, Sandy.”Petrova does not know her well. The woman is a lab tech like Marsha Fuentes, and has been working at the Institute for about six months. She always wear glasses with thick black frames, making her stand out in Petrova’s memory.“We just saw each other in the Lab.”“Obviously. Where are you?”“I have to speak quietly or he’ll come find me. What is happening here?”“There are Mad Dogs in the building and they are turning other staff members into Mad Dogs by biting them,” Petrova tells her.“I’m not following you,” says the feeble voice.“Where are you, Sandy?”“I’m in Dr. Saunders’ office. I’m using his phone.”“Good. Please hold for a moment.”“Is this the security room? I was trying to call Stringer.”“Please be quiet for a moment, Sandy.”Petrova scans the images displayed by the digital projectors onto the large wall screens. One shows an empty hallway scarred by a long, dark smear on the floor, while the other shows an empty Laboratory East. She looks at the computer screen on the desk, which presents a series of icons used to control the security functions of the Center. The interface is fairly intuitive and within moments she is able to access images from all of the Institute’s cameras. She’d never known the place was so heavily monitored, with cameras in all of its public spaces.
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Things have changed a lot since she burrowed under the operator desk and slept.Baird is lying face down in one of the hallways at the end of a long dark smear, twitching. Probably dying by inches because of his wounds. Who knew how much damage his body had taken when she pummeled him with the golf club, or when he burst through the door, or during whatever Jackson did to him after that.On the other screen, showing the hallway outside Laboratory West, Lucas and Fuentes are hunting together, sniffing at doors.Petrova watches with interest.They do not attack each other, only us, she tells herself. Is this the reason for the odor they produce? An olfactory cue that another person is already infected, and therefore “safe”? How else would they recognize each other?They pass Saunders lying on the ground. Saunders twitches and slowly gets to his feet. One of his ears has been gnawed off, but he doesn’t seem to mind.Petrova pushes a button on her keyboard to bring up another image on the screen.The image shows the majestic main lobby downstairs, populated by a mob of people, many of them waving at the security camera. A beautiful blonde in their midst—whom Petrova recognizes from a TV series she used to watch—is holding up a sign that says,NOW! OR WE KILL THE OTHER ONE.Despite her fascination with what is happening down there, it is not her immediate concern. She forces herself to continue exploring the facility on her screens.Empty hallways.An empty elevator lobby.An empty auditorium.An empty records room.A corridor with a man’s broken body propping open the door to the east-side Men’s Room. Petrova instantly recognizes him as Dr. Sims.Her first thought: He is dead.She cannot prevent her second thought, which fills her with shame: Thank God. Thank God he is not a Mad Dog.In the image produced on the other screen, Joe Hardy lies on his back in a large puddle of his own blood in Laboratory West. His eyes are open and his face is a mask of horror. Miraculously, he survived long enough to pick up his phone, which is now in his hand. She wonders if he ever answered it.She suddenly cannot bare to look at him. She quickly brings up an image of another hallway. A pair of legs in men’s trousers are protruding from one of the offices. Another person is hurt.“Hello? This is Sandy. Are you still there, Dr. Petrova?”“Just one more minute, Sandy.”“I was just thinking about Dr. Sims. He’s dead, isn’t he?”“Please wait.”“We left him there and he died, right?”“Sandy. Please. I am working on a way to get you out of there safely.” Petrova rapid-fires through the remaining images, all of them empty spaces, and performs a quick calculation in her mind: There are now five uninfected people at most, including Sandy Cohen and herself, cowering in their various hiding places, most likely in the offices.Go back, a voice in her head tells her.She cycles through the camera images in reverse order, searching randomly until she becomes frustrated. Whatever she was trying to tell herself, she’s lost it now.“What am I looking for?” she asks out loud, feeling irritated.“Dr. Petrova? Is there somebody there with you?”“No, Sandy. I am alone.”“Stringer isn’t there?”“I am speaking to my—”The voice in her head suddenly shouts:Stringer!Ignoring Cohen’s questioning, she clicks to the image of Sims lying in the doorway to the Men’s Room.“Oh,” she says quietly.Behind Sims, in the mirror on the bathroom wall, she can see Jackson looking at himself, far enough from the camera so that the resolution is not very good, but close enough for her to see what he is doing.He is poking very gingerly at his right eye. Or rather, his left eye, which only looks like his right eye in the mirror. Yes, he is poking at his eye.Or rather, what is left of his eye.Jackson, the retired, overweight, out-of-shape cop, beat Baird. But Baird bit his face and ruined his left eye.Jackson’s clearly in shock. And almost certainly infected.He has not yet turned, but it is only a matter of time.Trust meThere are now four infected people in their section of the building, and two, possibly three uninfected survivors trapped inside with them.“Sandy, listen to me,” she says into the phone. “I am looking at the security camera feeds and they are showing me the corridor outside Dr. Saunders’ office.”“Can you see if Dr. Baird is still around?”“It is not Dr. Baird anymore, Sandy,” Petrova says. “In any case, he is dead.”“Oh my God.”Petrova grips the phone, her hand and ear slick with sweat.“Drs. Lucas and Saunders are now infected and have become Mad Dogs themselves,” she says. “And Marsha Fuentes.”“There’s three of them now?”“I am afraid so. Actually, four. Stringer Jackson has been bitten. He has not yet become a Mad Dog, but I believe he will transform soon, which is why it is essential you try to get to me now, where it is safe.”“That’s not supposed to happen. You can’t become a Mad Dog if you get bitten. You only get it if the virus enters the brain. And no virus has an incubation period that short—”Petrova sighs loudly. “I cannot get into the details, but what I am telling you is true.”“Well, I can’t stay here forever with those things around, Dr. Petrova,” Cohen says, her voice edged with hysteria. “You have to help me. You have to make them leave.”“I cannot do that, Sandy.”“Make them leave. Please. Please.”“Listen to me. I cannot make them leave, but I can see where they are by using the security cameras. That means I can tell you when it is generally safe to come to my location.”“You want me to leave here and go out there? Are you freaking nuts?”“Right now, Dr. Lucas and Marsha Fuentes are in the auditorium and heading towards the elevator lobby,” Petrova says, rapidly scanning the flipping images on the screens. She blinks, surprised at how fast the Mad Dogs move. “And Dr. Saunders, um, is now in Dr. Hardy’s office.”“Saunders is too close!” Cohen hisses.“If you go now, you can make it.”“What if there’s another one of these Mad Dogs in one of the offices?” Petrova admits the possibility to herself, but there is no other way to get Cohen to the safety of the Security Command Center without her eventually abandoning the relative security of her hiding place. There is no sure thing here. She has to take a chance or stay where she is, cut off from food and water and help.“I know for a fact that there are no other Mad Dogs,” she lies. “Trust me. Do you know the way to the Command Center?”“But after I hang up, I won’t know where they are.”“This is a good time for you to leave Dr. Sims’ office and come here.” She can hear Cohen taking deep breaths, getting up her nerve.“No!” she hisses. “I can’t.”Petrova thinks for a moment, then says, “Do you have a cell phone? If you do, then we could stay on the line together, and I can walk you here safely.”“Yes, I have one. But all the lines are jammed, aren’t they?”“It is possible to get through. So try. Please.” She reads Cohen the direct dial number of the phone in the Security Command Center. “Call now. Try a few times. If it doesn’t work, then call me again using the interoffice line, which we know so far is reliable.”Before Cohen can respond, she hangs up.The silence is startling.Panicking, she flips through the images until she sees Baird lying on the floor. He is no longer twitching. He is dead. Really and truly dead. Thank God.Aaa-aah-aaaahhhhShe bites her lip hard to prevent these little shrieks from sliding into uncontrollable hysteria. Wrapping her arms around her ribs, she rocks back and forth.The phone rings, sending an electric wave of adrenaline through her body. She snatches up the phone, bathed in the glow of the screens.“Yes?”“I got through! I can’t believe it.”“Keep your voice down,” Petrova hisses.“I’m on my cell.”“That is good. I will guide you, Sandy.”Petrova scans the images until she confirms the positions of the Mad Dogs and Jackson, who is still at the mirror, staring dumbly at himself and probing his ruined eye.“This is a good time,” she says. “You can go. But hurry.”“All right, I’m up,” Cohen tells her.Sandy Cohen appears on the left screen, dancing from foot to foot to restore her circulation. She is still wearing the white gown she had on in the lab, which flaps around her legs.“Can you see me?” she asks.“Go now. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Stop. Stop! Go into the office on your right. Now!”Cohen disappears from the screen. Seconds later, Saunders appears, his hands balled into fists clasped against his chest and his head jerking like a bird’s. He stops outside the office Cohen entered, appearing to sniff the air.“Do not move even slightly, Sandy,” Petrova whispers into the phone.Saunders turns, runs down the hall and enters East Lab.“Now. Go. Now.”The lab technician darts out into the hall on tip toes, looking both ways, holding the phone against her ear.“Turn right at the end of the hall,” Petrova tells her.Cohen turns the corner and abruptly freezes in her tracks, putting her hand over her mouth.Petrova curses herself. The horrors that she has already begun to digest are new to Cohen. She should have warned the woman about what she was going to see.“That is Dr. Baird,” she says. “He is dead. He is no threat to you.”“Oh my God,” Cohen says.“Be quiet,” Petrova says. “Dr. Lucas and Fuentes are heading in your direction. You can make it, but you must go now.”She sees Cohen nod vigorously, dance around Baird’s corpse, and begin walking rapidly towards the Security Center, looking over her shoulder every few steps to make sure nobody is coming up behind her.Petrova says, “You are doing just fine. You are very close now.” “Almost there,” Cohen huffs, already out of breath.“You can do it,” Petrova tells her.The digital projector blinks out, the lights shut off and Petrova is plunged into darkness and silence so total she wonders if she’s dead.She sits in the dark, her heart pounding against her ribcage and her blood crashing in her ears.The power has gone out.The phone in her hand is dead.She can hear Cohen shouting, “Hello? Hello?” out in the hall, the sound muffled and distant.“Be quiet,” Petrova hisses at the dark. “Be quiet or they will find you.” The woman is not far away. She’s about thirty feet down the hall, in fact.“The power’s out, Dr. Petrova!” Cohen wails. “Help me!”Petrova hears thuds against the wall.“Oh, no,” she says.“Help me, please!”Cohen is not being attacked. She is banging against the wall with her fists, which Petrova can hear in the Command Center.That is how close she is. Closer even than Petrova initially thought. “Come and get me! Please!”And if she keeps this up, she is going to get herself killed or infected. Petrova formulates a plan on the spot. She knows where the door is and believes she can find it in the dark easily. She will open it and guide Cohen to safety using her voice before the woman’s screaming brings every Mad Dog in the place running.Only she doesn’t move. She is literally frozen with fear.Cohen is still shouting for help.Petrova begins to crawl back under the operator’s desk, burrowing into the wires and the dust and the cobwebs and the residual heat of the electronics.The last thing Petrova hears before she falls asleep is the horrible sound of a struggle that she takes into her dreams with her.Chapter 8We are the world’s most powerful military and we are being beaten on our own groundLieutenants Bowman and Knight, joined by their platoon sergeants Kemper and Jim Vaughan, stand on the roof of the Samuel J. Tilden International Middle School, which their units have cleared and secured, and listen to the gunfire in the city.The school is only a couple of stories tall but even this high up, they have an almost antiseptic view of the city’s Midtown district. The buildings block their view of the wholesale slaughter going on at the street level of the city. But they can hear it.To Bowman, leaning against the parapet and gazing out into the smoky haze produced by scores of unchecked fires, it is as if New York itself were a giant body, its people healthy cells one by one being converted into virus that is beating the crap out of the body’s immune system.And to carry this analogy further, the immune system, well, that would be two brigades of infantry of the U.S. Army, about six thousand men and women in all—each a highly trained and heavily armed lean, green fighting machine.We are the world’s greatest military and we are being beaten on our own ground, he thinks. By the people we swore to protect, armed only with tooth and nail.On the other side of the roof, Sergeant Lewis fires his M21 sniper rifle. He is up here fighting his own private war, shooting Mad Dogs down in the street behind the school.“I still can’t believe it,” Knight says. “Is this really happening?”“It’s a numbers game, Steve,” Bowman tells him. “You take five guys who develop Mad Dog symptoms. They each bite one other person and that one other person turns into a Mad Dog. Then that person bites somebody else. Every couple of hours.”
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Knight whistles. “Jesus, do the math!”“Suppose just ten percent of the population of this city becomes a Mad Dog. Just one out of ten. And then suppose we had the men and the weapons and a safe position to shoot them down from.”Knight finishes for him. “There aren’t enough bullets.”Bowman nods. “It’s a numbers game. There’s no way to stop this. It’s only going to get worse. In a few hours, maybe a day, ten percent becomes twenty percent. A flood.”Across the street, a civilian in a private office has noticed them and is holding up a sign against his window that says: TRAPPED, HELP.The officers move to another part of the roof, seething with shame. They can only help those they can without risking the security of the unit. For a moment, Bowman thinks of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, which his uncle Gabe, a recovering alcoholic in AA, taught him when he was ten years old:God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.“Who could pull the trigger that many times anyhow?” Knight wonders.“Private Chen couldn’t,” Bowman murmurs. The soldier wouldn’t be the last who would rather eat a bullet than fight this war, either.Knight continues, “One of the reasons we got chewed up so bad all the way here is some of my boys just couldn’t shoot Americans.” He glances at his platoon sergeant, then looks away. “Have you, uh, shared your discovery with your platoon?”“They’re not dumb,” Bowman says. “They know what’s going on. It’s just that nobody’s said it out loud for them yet. They haven’t had a minute to think about it.”“Yes,” says Knight.“I guess we’ll have to tell them.”They flinch as the muffled boom of an explosion reaches their ears. A large cloud of smoke and dust billows out from behind a building between them and Times Square. Even yesterday, this would have been remarkable to them. Today, they take it in stride.Knight laughs viciously. “We’re going to tell them how their families, and everybody they know, are probably dying or being converted into those things out there.”“We’re going to tell them to do their jobs, Steve.”Lewis fires his rifle, which discharges with a loud bang.“It’s getting personal, Todd. You better come up with something better than that if you want them to keep fighting for a country that’s falling apart around them.”Bowman looks at Knight in surprise. “Why me?”Knight smiles sadly. “You’re the one who’s in charge here, Todd.” “We’re the same rank, but you’ve got seniority over me. You’ve got seniority over Greg Bishop of First Platoon, too. You’re in command.”“On the way over here . . .” Knight looks at Sergeant First Class Vaughan, who stares back at him stonily, his expression inscrutable behind his N95 mask. “I was one of the people who couldn’t shoot. I couldn’t even give the order. I froze. It was Sergeant Vaughan here that got us out.”“Damn, Steve,” Bowman says quietly.He glances at Vaughan, but the NCO is a professional and while his face is flushed, making the diagonal scar across his face livid, his gray eyes give nothing away.Knight says, “A lot of my boys are dead because I couldn’t tell them to shoot.”Tears stream down the officer’s face. Vaughan lowers his eyes. Knight looks away, gazing at the skyscrapers.“Twenty-five percent casualties,” he adds. “But you know what?” He hisses, fiercely, “If I could go back and do it all over again, I still wouldn’t give that goddamn order.”Bowman says nothing. He had given the order to shoot. He personally not only shot Mad Dogs, he also shot down uninfected civilians who got in his way.By any definition, he is a murderer and a war criminal. He knows it. His own platoon sergeant knows it. The two men were made from the same stuff; he saw Kemper do the same as him to get the platoon out of the riot and to safety.And if they did not do what they did, if they were not war criminals, they might all be dead right now.Nevertheless, he can’t shake the feeling that he is damned.The officers hear the piercing wail of a fire engine, punctuated by the bursts of its horn. It is a plucky sound amid the rattle of small arms fire and distant screams, reminding them that somewhere, out there, people are still fighting back against the rising tide of violence and anarchy.The sound reminds them that it is not every man for himself out there. Not yet.Similarly, the power continues to cut in and out, but somebody is still manning the controls at the power plant, and somebody is still delivering coal to burn to make electricity. In all the jobs that matter, from cop to soldier to paramedic to power plant operator, people are still doing their duty. Bowman finds strength in this idea.Knight wipes the tears from his face and clears his throat.“I wouldn’t give the order,” he says. “I guess that makes me a nice guy or something. But I have no right to lead Charlie.” He sighs. “We should have stayed where we were. We were doing some good there.”“No,” Bowman says. His eyes follow a pair of helicopters moving over the East River until they disappear behind a tall building. He takes it as a good sign that there are still birds in the air. “Captain West had the right idea trying to concentrate the Company. Warlord is spread out all over Manhattan and is vulnerable to being destroyed piecemeal. But it’s too late. We got chewed up. We should have consolidated sooner.”“Maybe you’re right,” Knight says. “We shouldn’t have been spread out in the first place, then. It’s a mystery. I have a hard time believing that either the government or the Army didn’t know about the infection rate among the Mad Dogs.”“Could be they were trying to avoid pushing an already panicked country into outright hysteria,” Bowman says. “Could be that they honestly didn’t know. Who knows? Right now, my situational awareness extends to what I can see with my own eyes.”“Well, if somebody higher up knew about this and didn’t tell us, they may have just destroyed our brigade.”Bowman stares at him intensely and says, “Hell, Steve. Forget Quarantine. If somebody higher up knew and didn’t tell us, they may have destroyed the U.S. Army.”Gaps in the chain of commandSherman tries again to raise Warlord, the call sign for Battalion, and Quarantine, which is Brigade’s call sign, without success.“Warlord, Warlord, this is War Dogs, do you copy, over?”No answer from Battalion. The Battalion net is being overloaded with chaotic messages blending together into one long screech. From what the RTO can tell, War Hammer is screaming for reinforcements and ammunition, Warmonger reports the successful occupation of the old Seventh Regiment Armory Building, and War Pig says it has three men down and where’s their goddamn medevac.“Warlord, Warlord,” Sherman says, then stops. It’s useless.Sherman switches to the Brigade net and tries to hail Quarantine. Nobody answers. The only officer he can get a hold of, as they say in the ranks, is General Confusion. The voices on the Brigade net are less panicked than Charlie’s sister companies, but equally confused. There are units missing, trying to consolidate, requesting orders, demanding resupply, on the move, taking casualties. There are gaps in the chain of command. Units are disappearing or moving without their commanders knowing it.When Quarantine’s XO finally makes an appearance on the net, it is apparently without his knowledge or consent, as he’s shouting at somebody else in the room about a story thatThe New York Timesis writing about the Army’s sudden decision to lay waste to New York and almost every other major city in the country.Somebody else, Sherman does not recognize the voice, says there is not going to be aNew York Timestomorrow morning, and then the transmission cut out.The civilian nets are even more ominous.National Guard units defending City Hall have abandoned their positions and moved north, and protestors have occupied the building and are busy turning it into a fortress. The commander of the Guard unit was found dead at his post. The Mayor is missing. Right now, there is nobody running the government of New York City.Meanwhile, operators are still calling first responder units, but units are not reporting back. The nets are going silent one by one, populated only by panicked operators asking over and over if anybody can hear them.A cop gets on the net, says he has eyes on a group of vigilantes lynching five Lyssa victims from streetlight poles, and requests backup, but there is no help to give. Frustrated, the cop breaks protocol by asking the operator if there is a fucking plan.Sherman senses that the government and the military are holding something back from the people who live here, but the people already know about it, and have begun to take matters into their own hands.It is interesting, but ultimately not his concern.He switches to Charlie Company’s net and resumes his search for Fourth Platoon, which had been on Third Platoon’s heels during the march to the school but suddenly disappeared and is now considered lost.All of this makes for discouraging work for a radio/telephone operator, but a good RTO must have the patience of a saint, and Sherman is good at his job. He is not complaining. Even though he is not getting through to anybody, the traffic is more entertaining than he has ever heard it.Things are bad, but like all crises, this too shall pass, he believes. He tells himself the government and the Army will fix it when those in charge finally get their heads out of their collective asses and do what needs doing. The United States survived the First and Second World Wars, Cold War, Spanish Flu Pandemic, Presidents Nixon through Obama, the Great Depression and the September Eleventh attacks. It can survive this lousy Lyssa Pandemic. Someday, he will tell his kids about how scary and exciting it all was, and he and his comrades will be called the Greatest Generation by their grandchildren.He likes working alone so that he can take off his mask and smoke without any hassles. Lighting one up, he realizes that he is down to four packs now and after that, with all the supply problems he has been hearing about, there might not be any more cigarettes for a while. The thought fills him with panic. A lot of the boys smoke for fun, but he is an addict. He tries to put this unsettling train of thought out of his mind by throwing himself back into his work.When he switches back to Brigade traffic, a strong, gravelly voice cuts through the babble:This is Quarantine actual. Clear the net. Break.The voice is calm, almost dry, but the effect is electrifying. Within moments, the chatter is reduced by more than half.I say again: This is Quarantine actual. Clear the net. Break.Sherman takes out his notepad and pencil, excited. He has only rarely heard Colonel Winters, the commander of the Brigade, get on the net in person.All elements of Quarantine, this is Quarantine actual. Message follows, break.You don’t see that every dayMcLeod paces just inside the doors to the school. About ten meters down the hallway, Martin and Boomer pass a cigarette back and forth, leaning on the sandbags of their MG emplacement. McLeod strolls over, cradling his SAW.“Salaam ’Alaykum, boys,” he says.The gunners nod. McLeod watches in amusement as they turn away and pull down their masks to take a drag.He adds: “You guys do realize that if one of you has Lyssa, the other now has it.”“Go to hell, McLeod,” Boomer says.“What do you mean?” Martin says.“You’re sharing a smoke,” McLeod explains. Seeing their blank expressions, he shakes his head. “Never mind.”“This is not a good time to go around scaring people,” Boomer warns him.“What a crappy post,” McLeod says darkly. “A freaking school. Look at this poster some kid made with a bunch of crummy markers: ‘Welcome back’ in a hundred languages. Christ, I’d rather be in goddamn Baghdad getting shot at.”“I’ll bet you were one of the most popular guys in high school,” Martin deadpans, making the AG snort with laughter. “Because you’re such a comedian.”“Sleep deprivation makes me hilarious.” McLeod yells at the ceiling, “I need sleep!”“Why aren’t you bunking with your squad, McLeod?” Martin says, winking at Boomer, who grins back.“Magilla’s got it in for me. Everybody else gets to sleep a few hours, while I’m stuck doing guard duty with—no offense—you guys.”Boomer bursts into laughter while Martin says, “You’re lucky that’s all you got.”“Are you kidding? What’d I ever do to anybody?”“Have you ever tried seeing what would happen if you maybe shut your big mouth, McLeod?” Boomer says.McLeod smiles and says nothing.Boomer adds, “Looks like you’re as popular in the Army as you were in high school, McLeod. Count yourself lucky you’re not shoveling body parts into the basement furnace with the Hajjis—I mean, the civilians.”“Instead, you got guard duty,” Martin says, gesturing toward the front doors of the school. “Hmm. Aren’t you supposed to be like, you know, guarding?”“Nobody’s going to come here,” McLeod tells him.“It’s a Lyssa hospital in the middle of a Lyssa plague,” Martin says, taking off his cap and making a show of scratching his closely shorn head. “Hmm.”“Yeah, I wonder if anybody’s coming,” the AG says, cracking up now.“Shush, I’m thinking,” Martin says, still in character.“Quiet for a sec,” says McLeod. “Listen.”In the distance, they hear the roar of a diesel engine.A large vehicle is approaching the school.He adds, “Oh thank God, they’re starting to pick up the trash again.” The MGR rolls his eyes and says, “Boomer, stay here, I’m going to go with McFly and check it out.”
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