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para  /  Paranormal stories.

This story is part of a series. For your convenience, here is a list of stories in this series.
hm    50fa    50fa2    50fa3    50fa4    50fa5
New story with Ant, Nancy and Bomber out now! Three Little Snowmen (The Damned of the 2/19th #1). Buy it here.

50 Foot Ant's Third Story

Prelude

Prelude
Evening, July, 2011
Texas, USA

It may have been almost a decade since I'd been there, but once I go somewhere, I don't forget how to get there again. We'd gotten off of the freeway and headed south from Austin. The mood in the car was somber, and had been since we'd gotten the phone call a little over a day before. My eyes were pretty raw, dry and scratchy, and I'd been driving for over 11 hours straight since I'd last slept in the passenger seat, stopping only for gas and impatient to get back on the road.

I saw the mailbox and slowed down, matching the place with my memories, and elbowed my wife, who slept solidly in the seat next to me, exhausted from her turns of driving and watching me with worried eyes as I drove like a man obsessed. She snapped awake, old reflexes like mine instantly bringing her out of sleep.

"Take the wheel." I grunted, getting out. The heat hammered on me like a physical thing, the sweat instantly covering my body as I breathed in the hot and heavy air.

I walked up to the heavy gate, my boots ringing on the cattle guard, pulling out my D-Ring where I kept my keys, and pulled out a key I hadn't used in almost a decade, unlocking the heavy padlock and pulling the chain off the gate before dragging open the gate and waving my wife through. She drove onto the dirt driveway and I drug the gate shut again.

"Ant, get in the car." She called out to me. I shook my head, reaching into my pocket and tugging out a piece of cloth I'd stitched together. I tied the armband to my biceps, and walked in front of the car, a penance beneath the hot sun.

The ranch house and the three barns gradually got larger as I walked toward them. To my left a cow watched me with dull, incurious eyes as it chewed on grass but I ignored it. Above me, in the clear blue sky, a big bird was circling, and my mind summoned up the image of a vulture watching me with a hungry eye.

I could see there was a couple of pickup trucks and a Mustang in the circular area between the houses and barns, two the trucks battered looking with rifle racks in the back window.

My chest was burning by the time I reached the circular area, my damaged lungs protesting the long walk, but I embraced the pain, wallowed in it, and used it to flog myself for my failure.

On the back porch were three people, two women and a man, sitting on a porch swing. The two women were drawn up close to the man, supporting him silently, and even from the distance I could feel the awful weight settled on the man. It was silent as I walked for, my battered old combat boots thudding on the dry grass.

I knew they could see me, but kept coming forward, straightening up to my full height, throwing my shoulders back, and changing my stride from habitual shamble into a purposeful, ground eating pace that had my arms swinging in precise arcs at my side. My knee screamed in protest, my shoulder grumbled, but I ignored them both, marching across the lawn and back through the years. I took off my glasses and put them in their case and then slid the case into my pocket. My dentures were in the car, so I didn't have to worry about them.

The car shut off behind me as I climbed the steps. The man's face was black, holding the women's hands, and both women watched me with hard eyes, the chubbier woman's eyes glittering with unshed tears that threatened to spill over. I didn't care about the women, the man was the focus of my attention as he sat silent on the porch swing, his eyes staring through me and past me.

"It's about goddamn time you got here." The scar faced woman snarled. "You should have flown instead of being a coward about it."

"If you don't want another scar, shut it." I snarled, letting the rage fill me as I stopped in front of the man.

"Look at me." I let my anger fill my voice. His eyes didn't focus.

"Leave him alone." The chubby woman told me.

"Shut it, bitch." I snarled again, then reached out and slapped the man across of the face as hard as I could, throwing him back against the swing.

With a roar he came off the chair, his hands reaching for me, and I brought my hands up between his, changing his lunge to wrap those large heavy hands around my throat into a lunge that ended up with his arms around me as I grabbed him tight around the chest and squeezed. His charge took us through the railing, and I spun slightly so we both landed on our sides. The sun baked earth was hard when we hit, but I ignored it, doing everything I could to keep the enraged man from killing me.

We rolled around in the dirt and dried grass, cursing, yelling, swinging fists, until ice cold water sprayed on us and we jerked away from each other to flinch away from the cold water.

Heather stood there, the hose in her hands, and she twisted the little brass valve to shut it off as she stared at us, but I ignored her, turning to the man who sat on the wet ground with me.

Heather walked up and knelt down in front of the man before holding out her arms.

"John..." She said, her voice full of sympathy and grief.

John fell into her arms and began sobbing, huge wracking sobs that shook his whole frame. Heather rocked him back and forth, pulling him into her lap as I stood up and looked at the two women.

"What happened?" I asked, taking two staggering steps forward, rubbing the side of my jaw where John's fist had about broken my jaw. The chubby woman held out a bottle of Wild Turkey that hadn't been broken into and I ripped the tab off and unscrewed the bottle while I listened, drinking deeply as John sobbed in Heather's arms.

"He woke up on Monday and she was stone cold dead in the bed." the chubby woman told me, and two tears trickled down her cheeks. "We went to see her today, and the mortician said she didn't suffer, her heart just stopped, a defect." She choked back a sob as I swished the whiskey around in my mouth and swallowed.

"Why didn't you break him out of it?" I asked the scar faced woman, glaring at her. She glared back, but I'd been married for almost 20 years and the glare shattered on my marriage thickened skin.

"You don't think I tried, you fucking idiot?" She said. I stared at her and she dropped her eyes.

"So you left it to me." I nodded, taking another drink before touching underneath my eye. It was already puffing up, but that didn't matter. I put on my glasses, wincing slightly as the metal edge touched the puffiness under my eye.

Taggart and Nagle swam into view, no longer vague shapes defined by a few characteristics. I took another drink and staggered to the car, my knee burning with pain. The toe of John's cowboy boot had caught me in the knee during the fight, and I could barely walk. I grabbed my hat and my dentures out of the car, slapping one in and the other on, then turned around and watched as Heather half-carried John into the house.

"Where's his boy?" I asked.

"Bringing in one of the herds." Nagle answered. "Him I could keep busy."

"There going to be dinner?" I asked, looking around. John pretty much owned everything as far as the eye could see. Well, John or his sister. When their parents died, John and his sister split the family ranch, John got the horses and cows, his sister got the majority of the land.

"Pot roast." Taggart said, stepping forward and hugging me. "It's good to see you, Ant." I inhaled, taking in the scent of her. She smelled good. Sure, I was married, but that was a fairly recent thing compared to the way she smelled, so one didn't have much to do with the other.

I let go of Taggart and hugged Nancy Nagle, feeling her body mold against mine just like old times. "I can't believe you're wearing that black band again, Ant." She murmured into my shoulder. "It seems like every time I see you, you're wearing it."

"Let's go inside, Heather will need our help with John." Taggart said, and I nodded, letting go of Nancy and taking another drink off the bottle. Six years of sobriety, sacrificed.

No regrets.

I realized, walking into the house, that my wife was the only spouse still living.

The thought chilled my blood and the hunger for dinner was replaced by nausea.


Prelude
Night, July, 2011
Texas, USA


Dinner had been delicious, and the wreckage of it was strewn across the table. John's son had come in, eaten, then gone to the south side of the house where his girlfriend was waiting, hugely pregnant and waspish tempered. The Mexican girl disapproved of me, more than she disapproved of Nancy, Taggart, or Heather, and it seemed to irritate her that her dark eyed glare didn't seem to phase me.

We sat in his frontroom, looking out the windows at the Texas night, no light on in the room, comfortable in the shadows and darkness. I could smell them, even over the smell of my cigarette. The girl's perfume, John's cologne, the smell of sweat, leather, and a faint fragrance that tore at my heart.

The fading smell of John's wife's perfume.

I knew my wife was sitting on the couch with John, holding him and rocking him gently back and forth. She'd been athletic when we married, put on heavy muscle when she was in the military, but 3 children, the duties of motherhood, and caring for an insane husband had turned the lean and mean fighting machine into a matron. But a matron was what John needed, and there wasn't so much darkness and blood attached to her as there was to Nancy and Taggart.

He'd started crying during dinner, and his son had joined him, both of the men sitting silently at the dinner table with tears on their faces. His son's girlfriend had tried to comfort John's son, but he'd turned away.

Heather had just leaned over and turned off the lights so we ate in darkness.

It was warm in the house, something the hugely pregnant girl had complained about, her shirt stuck to her belly and back by her sweat, but John had just grunted and walked into the frontroom, waving at me.

I'd left my dinner unfinished and followed, grabbing a bottle of whiskey from the liquor cabinet on my way by.

Now we sat in the darkness, our eyes adjusted, and I could faintly make out everyone. It was strange how the darkness rolled back the years and instead of the old men and women we'd survived to be it seemed like our younger leaner selves were gathered in the frontroom.

"I miss her." John whispered.

"I know, honey." Heather whispered back.

Intimate, yes, in a way that other men might feel jealousy pull at them, but an intimacy that's earned, not stolen, freely given to someone who has proven time and time again they deserve it is built out of nothing but love.

There was sadness in the frontroom, but love too.

"You gonna be OK?" I asked in the darkness, taking another pull off the bottle. I'd taken out my dentures, the swelling at the side of my mouth making them push painfully into the gum, so my speech had the odd careful cadence I used to make sure I didn't sound mush mouthed.

"Yeah. Better now. Thanks, Heather." I heard movement, and after a moment John's bootheels thudded against the floor and he moved in front of the window. I pushed myself up, hissing slightly at the angry throb in my knee, and limped over to where he was standing, looking out at the fields and the herd that his son had brought close in. I silently handed him the bottle and waited for him to take a long pull on it before he handed it back.

"How's your eye?" He asked me.

"Someone put a fist in it." I said, taking a drink. Six years of sobriety, and the tolerance was still there, and alcoholics tolerance earned in ice, cold, and fear.

John chuckled and put his arm over my shoulders, leaning against me.

"Love you, brother." He said.

"Love you, brother." I answered.

We were older now, with nothing to prove, with a lot of blood, pain, fear, and darkness binding us tightly together, so saying those words wasn't awkward, just truthful.

A true man, son, is honest with his emotions and feelings. My Father's words, echoing through the 15 years since his death.

"Better now?" I asked him.

"Still hurts." He drank deep off the bottle and handed it back. "God, it hurts so much. I can't bear to go into our bedroom where... where..." Words failed him and I hugged him tight as he sobbed for a moment.

I knew how it hurt. A brutal amputation of part of your life that bled and hurt while leaving you keenly aware of the loss and reminding you of just what you had lost.

There was nothing I could I say, and I could tell that the girls were sitting tight, leaving this to me. Taggart had whispered to me the same thing Nagle had, that John hadn't been anything more than a frozen shell of man before I'd goaded him into fighting me.

Taggart had slapped me in the bathroom hallway and called me a bastard in the darkness for doing that to him.

Nagle had punched me in the bad shoulder as she walked by without saying anything.

Heather had kissed my cheek and told me she loved me before wrapping her arms back around John and rocking him gently while he wept for everything he had lost.

"Is there a burn ban?" I asked. "Half of Texas has burned down, but can we start a bonfire?"

"Down by the creek, we'll have to take the truck." John answered.

"Let's go apart from the children, and talk." I told him.

"We go armed." Nancy growled from the darkness.

I nodded.

Prudence demanded it.


Prelude
Evening, July, 2011
Texas, USA


Texas nights are dark, something you have to experience to understand. The girls waited by the truck while John and I drug the wood out of the back of the truck, dug the pit, then put the alcohol in the old laundry bag and put it in the creek to keep it cold. When the fire started, they joined us, sitting on whatever was handy.

We began the ritual that we'd somehow put together over the years, after someone important died. We were like that.

We were all shirtless, the firelight painting our skin ruddy. Scars stood out on our skin, strangely highlighting the old ones while the newer ones vanished in the red light of the fire. All of us were tattooed, none of them without meaning, and just as soul baring as the scars we showed one another.

Nagle was almost aggressive the way she pushed her breasts out, as if daring any of us to say anything about the inevitability of life and gravity. She was usually like that.

A green camou stick had been passed around, and we'd all used it, passing around the whiskey bottle as we painted out faces. Heather had her hatchet, she'd known this was coming and had taken it from the closet where it rested. Taggart had an old lever action .30-.30 across her lap that she'd brought from home. Nagle had a Colt 1911 that she'd stolen when the unit had been shut down. John had his 12 gauge resting beside him.

I had the Gerber that I'd thrown away and John had retrieved. He was like that sometimes.

Heather was still a bit of a mystic, she was like that on occasion, and had started it by dancing around the fire alone at first, and then pulling Taggart and finally Nancy into it.

Taggart had called for a toast, and we worked our way through a litany that seemed to get longer every year. Her voice choked, even on names she didn't know. She was sensitive that way.

Afterwards Heather had started speaking, baring herself as she told everyone about what she had done and where she had gone in 1996, words for our ears alone, that left her with tears running down her face. Taggart had gone next, talking of the time after her husband was buried when everything was so bleak and empty and she'd put a pistol into her mouth. Nagle talked of what had happened in Iraq and how it felt to slowly bleed out. John spoke about waking up next to his dead wife and how everything had turned to ash around him.

There, in the firelight, they all turned to me, and stared. It was my turn.

It was time for truth that I'd never let go before. That I'd never spoken aloud after it was all put behind me. Nothing minor, it had to come from where the pain and darkness lurked, from the hurting places.

Anything less would dishonor the memories of the dead.

"I lied about something to all of you." I started. They all nodded. "There was no vehicle wreck, no field exercise, and there was no training accident." There was silence. Around the fire, there was no judgement.

I took a deep breath, and let the memory out.

"Site Kilo-29 was real..."

Off in the distance a coyote howled.




Chapter 1

Site Kilo-29-External Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day One


The wind was cold and bitter, and the smell of snow carried in the air brought back memories of darkness and death that I pushed away. That place was eight thousands miles away, blown up and burnt down, and I'd pushed it behind me.

"That's it? That's what they sent us out here for?" One of the guys behind me bitched. I restrained a sudden urge to turn around, grab him by the front of his uniform, pull him close...

And ram my knife up under his sternum.

The smell of snow mixed with the smell of blood... for a second before I could push it and the unreasoning anger flooding through me away. I fished the little bottle of pills out of my pocket, uncapped it, and shook one into my mouth, chewing it into paste as I stared at the steel door that was mostly hidden by the overhanging rock.

I looked around in the last few minutes of sunshine we'd have for almost 12 hours and took in what was around us.

Just bare rock, and an almost hidden road that led into the woods that I knew would lead to a concealed helipad, painted to match the surrounding terrain. Next to the door was a peeling sign, white with red letters.

Governmentese for "Get the fuck out" was on the sign, a phrase I was long accustomed to. Order of the Secretary of Defense, Authorization for Lethal Force, Restricted Area, Prepare for Search and Seizure.

No graffiti, unlike a lot of the sites I'd been to in the last year.

"Hey, Sergeant, I thought you said they sent some guys from the Engineers and the Air Force up here." One of the guys said.

I hadn't bothered learning their names. I didn't care.

"Yeah, if they're up here, where's their vehicles?" Another asked. Meathead #5 was what I referred to him as.

"Ask the Major, how the fuck should I know?" I said, looking at the Meathead and waving my hand at the other Humvee pulling up. There was a black civilian car carrying three guys in black suits that claimed they were with the Department of the Interior, but weren't fooling me. They moved wrong, had pistol rigs under their suits, and an almost insulting sneering. Either No Such Agency or the CIA, and my guess, from the arrogance and general assholishness, CIA mooks with little to no field experience and puffed up egos.

"What is this place?" Another meathead asked, throwing a rock at the door. The rock shattered with a tink that meant to me that the door probably wasn't steel.

"It's a hard site." I grumbled, taking a swig off my canteen and swishing it around before swallowing. My head was starting to pound, but the pill would take care of it. I'd been suffering migraines for the past two years and had finally gone in and gotten medication for it.

"What's a hard site?" The same meathead asked.

"It's a Cold War bunker." I answered, closing my eyes and reaching behind my glasses to pinch the bridge of my nose.

"More Cold War garbage." One of the privates sneered.

how would you like a punch in the mouth?

I ignored their bullshit and looked around, taking a good look at the terrain around us. Heavy woods on the mountainside, an old road made with green colored concrete, snow probably 500-700 vertical feet above us. And nothing for over 50 miles in any direction. I'd payed attention on the way up, checking the ambush points, sighting points, and everything else.

It isn't paranoia if something is really out to get you...

One thing that was missing was the carefully concealed piles of tailings that I'd seen at other sites, meaning either there wasn't any or they'd carted off the rubble from creating the site. This was the 8th site since 1991 I'd been to, but I'd learned on the 3rd one to take nothing for granted. No tailings could mean many things.

My money was on a natural cave system that had been expanded and carefully modified to serve the interests of the site.

I heard doors slam and turned around, seeing the Major, some more Meatheads, and the Suits walking toward us. The Major was looking around, looking confused.

"Sergeant Ant." He called out. I dropped my cigarette, toed it out, and headed over at a trot.

"Yes, sir?" I asked, stopping and snapping a salute. Used to be, you didn't salute in the field or when on mission, but things were different in the New Army.

"Are you sure that this is the right spot?" He asked me.

"Yes, sir." I answered.

One of the Suits sneered and I ignored him. He was the tough guy with the toothpick in his mouth all the time, who liked to shoulder his way through the privates when they were gathered up, taking a petty sense of power in his authority over them. He'd tried that shit on me in the hotel the first night and I'd knocked his ass down the stairs.

The Major motioned for us to gather around, and turned around to where one of the Meatheads were carrying a box of books which were little more than a 3 ring top binder full of leaflets. I recognized them immediately as code books, instantly reminding me of War Fighter tunnel code books.

Keep up the pressure! sounded in my mind and I squeezed the bridge of my nose again to force back the memories.

"All right, listen up." The Major was unnecessarily loud, and I stepped back twice and lit up another cigarette, closing my firing eye out of habit.

"We don't have much on this site, looks like records were lost or misplaced, probably through negligence or stupidity."

slap a hand across the mouth, thrust downward between the third and fourth ribs

I shook out another pill as he went on with his little speech about the incompetence that surrounded these hard sites and ground it into paste between my teeth. My nice plastic teeth. Earned in the service of the very department he was in shit talking.

Why the fuck couldn't I have had a real goddamn team, and not this bunch of fucking meatheads? The last sweep and clears I'd done had been with real teams, Air Force and Army both, removing the evidence of our old plan to keep the enemy at bay by strapping dynamite to both of us and dancing around holding his trigger while he held mine.

While I smoked my cigarette he told them that this was an underground bunker, in case the Russians dropped nuclear weapons on our skulls, but beyond that he had been unable to locate any other information on how big it was. He added that it couldn't be that big, since it was built into a mountain. I mentally sneered, he'd obviously never been to NORAD. Then he told them all about how we'd be looking for any sensitive data that might have been left behind.

"...we have Staff Sergeant Ant if that proves to be the case." The Major finished up. The Meathheads and the Suits all turned to look at me and I just stared at them without blinking, locking my teeth.

"Do you have anything to add to my briefing, Sergeant Ant?" The question was polite, cordial, but I didn't much care. I could hear the dislike in his voice, and saw his eyes flick to my right shoulder. He'd gotten angry when I'd refused to answer his questions about how I'd earned my combat patch, and the fact that I'd sliced it off my sleeve the day before right in front of him before dropping it in my pocket had pissed him off even more. It had been right after his lecture to me about minding my place and not back talking him, about how he'd been officer since 1988 and I better know my place around him.

I didn't care. Not about much any more outside of my wife, children, and my blood brother and sisters. I shook another pill out of the container and slowly chewed it up, staring at them.

"Well?" He asked.

"No, sir." I said, and ignored the flicker of satisfaction in his eyes while I kept grinding the pill down.

"All right, go open the door, Natchez." He ordered. I kept myself from smiling as the Meathead moved up to the door and looked around for a moment before turning back around.

"How, sir?" He asked.

I shook my head and walked to the vehicle, glancing at the codebooks. One of them was a copy of the Civil Defense manual, and I grabbed that one and started limping toward the door.

"Look for a keypad on the door." The Major shouted.

The top page of every manual had "R-12-2C-U-6" on the top of the page.

I started at the edge of the door while the Major yelled at the Meathead and counted off four paces, then turned and looked at the rock face in front of me.

The keypad was embedded in the rock, about six feet up, tilted down slightly. It was a heavy one, an older design, from the late 60's or early 70's. I reached out and held down the "A" key on the pad. The readout stayed blank.

I crouched down and felt in the rocks, finding the plug pretty quickly.

"Sergeant Ant." The Major called out.

"Yes, sir." I called back, standing up and looking at the box again. The top had a 528 at the beginning of the serial number, which meant that pulling the box open would fire off a goddamn anti-personnel charge into my face, so something as simple as opening the box to replace the goddamn batteries couldn't be done without access to the maintenance records, something we didn't have, so I wouldn't know which screw or screws would trigger the charge.

"What are you doing over there?" He asked. He was being cordial so I was willing to be.

My meds were kicking in, making the cool trickle down my spine that had become my constant companion warm up, and I felt like maybe me and him had just gotten off on the wrong foot.

"Checking out the keypad." I answered.

"Well, open the door, Sergeant." he snapped.

"Battery's dead, sir, we're going to have to charge the system." I said, standing up and rolling my shoulders.

"Just replace the battery." One of the Suits snapped.

"The keypad is rigged with a security charge, I open this box, it'll blow my fucking head off." I shouted back. "Just grab the damn jumper cables and bring the Humvee over here."

"Why?" The Major asked.

"The system was updated in the 1970's or so, it's got a 24 volt charging plug, which is pretty standard on all Civil Defense and military vehicles." I answered. "We'll have to plug it in and probably have to wait for the air cylinders to charge if it's an older system or our luck is for shit or the generators to fire if it's newer and our luck is good."

"Private Wilkins, take Humvee Six over there and do what Sergeant Ant tells you do." the Major sounded confused.

Sounded to me like someone hadn't read the technical specs on post Atlas/Titan sites.

I waited for the Meathead to drive the vehicle over, letting my eyes roam over the rock. In the fading light I couldn't see any obvious marks of the cliff face having been cut away and then replaced like in West Virginia, but that didn't mean anything.

I plugged in the jumper cable to the truck, then pulled the plastic cap off the charging plug and walked back to the vehicle. The Meathead stared at me through the window till I sighed and motioned at him to roll down the window.

"What?" He asked. I stared at him till he added "Sergeant."

"Rev the engine, don't let off the gas, keep the RPMs up above 4 Kay." I told him. He snorted and I walked back.

The engine roared and I plugged the cable into the socket. The engine sputtered and almost died but the private slammed on the gas and the engine settled down. I held down the "A" key and about five seconds letter the little red LED's, old 1970's ones, flashed "NOT READY" then faded out.

The Major walked up and stood next to me, staring at the readout. "How long will this take?"

"Depends on how bad off the system is." I told him, lighting another cigarette. "If we're lucky there's generators and the power from the Humvee will move the fuel into the system, then fire the generators. If we're unlucky the system will be from the 1950's, will use compressed air for the hydraulic system function, and it'll take about an hour or two for the cylinders charge."

"How big is this place?" He asked me, reaching out and toeing the cable. I noticed the cable kept the impression of his boot.

"Shit." I said, turning around and walking away.

"Sergeant Ant!" The Major yelled.

"We've got about 90 seconds before that cable catches on fucking fire." I told him, climbing into the back of the truck and pulling open the toolbox to grab the fire extinguisher.

"What?"

I grabbed it and jumped down, moving up and spraying the jumper cable. Something I'd learned from an Air Force Technical Sergeant a few sites back. Dropping the temp would lower the resistance which would help with the massive current draw the doors were pulling. From what I'd seen it would take awhile before it needed hit again, probably 10 or fifteen minutes, and the extinguisher would last for five to seven hits.

"Have one of the privates put their hand on the cable and tell us when it heats up." I suggested.

"Will it help?" He asked me.

"Hopefully." I answered. "We've gotta open that door, and we didn't bring enough C-4 to blow that door open."

"We didn't bring any C-4." He told me.

"We brought the demo kits." I answered, holding down the "A" again.

"Right. You told me they were for engineers." He said, sounding puzzled.

The systems flashed "NOT READY" at me again, but this time kept flashing.

"How big is this place?" He asked again.

"It's a Kilo site." I told him. "From what I've heard, they're massive." The readout changed to "CHARGING" and I smiled.

"How long can this take?" He asked.

"A couple of hours, or if the generators fire, five to ten minutes." I told him.

"I thought this was like an ammo bunker." The Major said.

I turned and looked at him in surprise. "Didn't you read the data sheets?" I asked.

"There weren't any on this site." He told me.

"Didn't you read it on any Kilo sites?" I asked. He shook his head. "Any of the sites?" He shook his head again. "What kind of drawdowns have you been doing?"

"Ammo sites, fuel dumps, stuff like that on bases closing down." He told me.

"Sir, do you mind some advice?" I offered.

"Like?" He asked.

"I'm a hard site specialist." I admitted.

"So?" He asked.

"What else do you know about me?" I asked.

"Nothing. General Harmon wouldn't tell me anything except you're an expert at this." He told me.

"I am." I answered. I took a chance. "Look, sir, I've survived in some of the worst conditions the Army has to offer, I've done shit you wouldn't believe, and I've survived." I turned and faced him. "Every. Fucking. Time."

The Major looked at me for a moment, then glanced over my shoulder. "It's flashing ready."

I spun around, scooping the codebook off the ground and ran up to it, pushing my thumb against the ENTER key. The screen went blank and I quickly punched in the Hexidecimal code on the left hand margin of the book and waited. When it started flashing a code I started flipping through the book as quickly as I could.

"Those codes are all too long." The Major said.

"See the 2C on there? That means that I ignore the last 2 of the code its giving me and the code I put in." I told him. "Got it." I punched it in, then held the Enter key.

"OPENING" the keypad told me.

Off in the darkness, to our left, the door opened with a crack that echoed off the mountain.

Out in the woods, somewhere above us, something gave a howl of rage.

"What was that?" The Major asked.

"Probably a coyote or wolf bitch with puppies warning us off." I answered. Still, something about it really raised the short hairs on the back of my neck. It sounded... wrong.

"We'll probably have to use nightvision." I told the Major. "The generators for the door won't power the lights."

"What will be inside?" He asked.

"I have no idea. I've never been to a Kilo Site before." I answered.

"Major, the door is opening." One of the Meatheads yelled.

I jogged over to the door and looked in.

Another door greeted us, with three logos on it. The Continuity of Government seal, the US Government seal, and the one that chilled my blood.

"548th Strategic Missile Command (MILCOM)" on the crest.


Chapter 2

Site Kilo-29-Civil Defense Entry Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day One-Night


I stared at the logos for a moment, then moved into the entryway, keeping the codebook tight in my hand. There was another keypad panel in the entryway and I ignored the flickering lights as the internal systems tried to warm up. The entryway was 20 feet high, 30 feet wide, and twenty paces deep, which translated to around 60-75 feet deep. I'd measured my stride years back, coming in at a meter after I checked again once I'd started limping.

On the right wall there was a stencil that warned everyone to proceed immediately to decon once parked, another one that warned of vehicle decon spray on the other side of the massive door.

The door was huge, OD green, and impressive. I knew from previous experience it would weight nearly 100 tons and moved by hydraulic pistons the size of a fucking Buick. When dealing with nuclear weapons, nothing could be too heavy or too thick or too tough.

Once at the keypad I shuffled through the book, looking for the red bordered pages. I'd learned the Civil Defense standards over the years, so I knew red pages were for either "impact imminent" or "post-impact" conditions. If I tried anything else the doors would either act as an airlock or the inner door would lock the hell up.

After the keypad security charges blew and turned me to fucking mincemeat.

Holding down the "E" key brought it online and I had to cycle through two null-set code prompts to get a good one before it would work. "A" for generic entry, "E" for "impact" entry.

There was a loud clank, and a countdown timer started on the display. I could faintly feel a vibration and knew what it was. On the other side of the door was a huge cylinder with one flat side that was being slowly pulled out of the tunnel. It would be anywhere from 10 to 20 feet long, in 2-4 pieces with huge springs the size of a VW Bug between each piece. Blast absorption plug, designed to keep a direct ground penetrator hit from collapsing the tunnel.

I could blow the charges on the doors, we'd had to do that in West Virginia, but that would trigger a kiloton level blast, blow doors that would weight 100s of tons, and open the site.

BUT, it was a Kilo site, and I didn't want to take the risk of blowing the doors firing some kind of security charges for the whole site. That had happened to another team working in Eastern Washington and it had registered as a 1.4 earthquake and the site imploded.

And that was just a Bravo Site.

"What the fuck?" One of the Meatheads blurted out as the door fully withdrew, exposing a tunnel nearly 20 feet high and thirty feet wide. Several lights flickered on, two of them exploding in sparks.

Sprayers had cut on, filling the hallway with fine droplets that stunk of rust and worse.

"Bunker thinks we've been exposed to fallout." I called out, then turned around and headed back to the Major.

"What now?" The Major asked. "Do we wait for the water to stop?"

I barked a laugh. "Sir, more than likely it's tapped into the aquifier and artesian taps, it'll never run out of water."

"Can you shut it off?" He asked me. I shook my head. "Then what do we do?"

"We either walk through it, or drive through it." I told him. "I saw the motorpool markers, as well as personal decon and a medical bay."

"We'll drive." He said, and started to turn away.

"I'll walk once we get to the other side of decon, sir." I said. "Have one of your Meatheads drive my Humvee."

"They have names, Sergeant." The Major told me.

"So do pets." I answered, walking back into the entrance. He sputtered something behind, but I didn't care. My hand drifted to my pocket and I pulled out the pill bottle, shaking it for a few steps before jamming it back into my pocket.

The smell of rust was fading, and there was steam mixed in, meaning the heaters had come online. Most people thought that you'd need special chemicals for initial decon, but the main thing was to get the fallout and irradiated dirt and debris off of the vehicles. High pressure water would knock it off, and the water would probably be dropped through the steel grates and into the non-potable storage, used for God knew what. I'd seen a complex where the water was used heating and cooling exchangers near the surface to get the air exchangers to release air close to ambient air temperature to avoid thermal scans to find it.

It had taken four days of working with torches, prybars, and hacksaws to pull the system apart.

My battered Humvee was driven in by a Meathead I hadn't bothered numbering and I swung inside, slamming the door shut and motioning him into the water spray.

"What's all this gear?" The Meathead asked me.

"Mind your business." I growled at him.

"How come you have your own vehicle?" He wouldn't get the fucking clue and had to yell over the sound of the water spraying against the vehicle. I'd been right, the weight of the vehicle on the grates had made it go from a heavy spray to a spray that would probably knock a man down.

"Issued." I grunted.

"Where'd you get that patch you were wearing?" Another fucking question as we were leaving the water.

"AAFES." I answered. "Stop here." He followed orders and I got out, grabbing a flashlight off the floor board. When I clicked the light on I could see "PROCEED IMMEDIATELY TO MOTORPOOL AND REFUGEE DECON" on the ground, with "ALL CD LDRS PREPARE HEADCOUNT" on the left wall and "CASUALTIES TO CD MEDICAL" on the right with a yellow stripe underneath.

My boots thumped faintly on the concrete. The tunnel a cylinder with the bottom flattened. It would keep a nuclear blast from collapsing the tunnel since the vaulted design was immensely strong. The slight curvature would rob the blast of some of its power, and in 500 paces I counted three blast depletion panels that I knew would blow inward and allow some of the force of the blast to exit the tunnel and blow out of small tunnels that led to the outside of the mountain. Explosions were a lot like water, it followed the path of least resistance. The blast crumple panels were outlined in yellow with yellow X's on them.

Every mountainside hard site featured the same thing, even NORAD, Raven Rock, and Black Briar Ridge.

The wash of the headlights behind me showed me the doors almost 200 paces before I reached them. The motor pool door was outlined in blue with a blue X across it. It was marked in such a way that people who were barely hanging onto their sanity after a nuclear exchange could still follow the instructions.

I held up my fist, signalling the Meathead driving my vehicle to stop, then bent down and checked the floor. The floor was in good condition, but I'd thought I'd seen something that now I couldn't find.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

I shook my head and walked up to the door, checking it quickly. Almost 15 feet tall, probably fifty feet wide, and only the gods knew how thick. I held up my fist again and walked past my battered Humvee to the next vehicle in line where I saw the Major, crossed to the other side of the vehicle, and waited for him to roll down the window.

"Wait here, sir, I need to check something." I told him.

"I'm in charge of this mission, Sergeant Ant." He told me.

"Sir, I respectfully request that you wait here with the others while I ensure the integrity of the remainder of the blast deflection tunnel and determine if this facility is intact enough to safely explore." I said formally over the echoing rumble of the engines.

"It might collapse?" The Major looked a bit wild eyed at that and I suppressed a laugh.

"No, sir, this tunnel was designed to handle a blast pressure wave of 20psi overpressure, to channel the firestorm of a direct nuclear blast. I need to ensure a couple of things." I reassured him. He nodded at me, his eyes still wild and looking at the top of the tunnel. I shrugged and began jogging down the tunnel, ignoring my knee.

Exactly 275 paces beyond the motorpool was the yellow outline door of the Civil Defense medical bay. I knew that it would be set up as a triage to handle burn victims, blast victims, those who were starting to show radiation sickness, and possibly those injured in fighting if the Soviets jumped the pole.

Four hundred paces beyond that was a huge doorway with the logo of "568th STRAT MSL (ICBM TITAN)" and the logo of the 548th next to it. I knew that this was the military entrance. Fifty paces beyond that was a door simply labeled "NO CIVILIAN ENTRY PERMITTED WITHOUT SPECIFIC AUTH" on it. That would be the main egress for the military personnel.

Another five hundred paces had me slow down. Up ahead I could see what looked like a massive steel plate with four small plates set into them. Blast triggers. If the internal pressure of the tunnel grew to 0.75 psi overpressure, then the door's charges would go off, throwing the door off the side of the mountain and out from under the rock facing that had been carefully replaced after putting the door into place. That would allow the oncoming blast wave to exit the blast deflection corridor without destroying the egress doors.

It fit with the West Virginia and the Alabama sites I'd been to.

Except the distance between the Civil Defense area and the military area. Either there was two separate facilities, which wouldn't be unheard of, but I had a feeling that the two facilities had at least 100 feet of solid stone between them.

Which made my job for shit.

I glanced down at my BDU blouse, checking the top of the pen-shaped radiation detector I had in the pen-pocket of my BDU blouse pocket. Still good, not even a tick, but I'd still need to be careful. The Alabama site had been fine too till we'd made a mistake. It had taken us almost 36 hours to pump the water out and even then we'd had to go back in fully suited.

I jogged back toward where I'd left the Meatheads, Suits, and Major High Speed and had just passed the military motor pool, the curve finally allowing me to see the wash of the headlights, running through the options in my head.

When I'd told the Major that Kilo sites were supposed to be massive he didn't really understand what I was talking about. They were mostly rumors, the data sheets largely hidden behind layer and layer of code names, operations, agencies and departments. But if it was big enough to get Civil Defense, ARMCOM, and MILCOM, and units that probably were little more than a cover involved, they were probably bigger than even a Bravo site, and a Bravo site was big enough that it usually took 200 of us almost 3 months to sweep it, extract and/or destroy confidential material, and then implode the place if that was our orders or just walk off and let the Army Corps of Engineers know that it was all theirs.

So why the hell would they send just me, a bunch of Meatheads, and some Suits to clear a Kilo site?

The Major and the Meatheads had exited the dripping vehicles and were looking at the keypad and the door. The Suits were somewhat apart, and one nodded toward me and the one next to him sneered. I had a brief flash of plucking the toothpick from his mouth and shoving it into his eye.

"Did you find out what you needed to, Sergeant Ant?" The Major asked.

"Yes, sir. It's a hard site for sure." I answered.

"Fine, then open the door." He ordered me. "I'm having Privates Donaldson, Natchez, and Meyers bring up the Hemmits. We'll park them here in the tunnel."

"Why?" I asked. "Nobody's going to sneak up and steal them."

"It's snowing out there and the temperature is dropping fast." The Major said.

fuck...


Chapter 3

Site Kilo-29-Civil Defense Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day One-Night


The Major wanted to park the vehicles in the Civil Defense Motor Pool and I wanted him to park them in the tunnel and leave the Hemmits and at least 1 Humvee outside under guard with instructions on how to open the door, but he overrode me, the Suits sneered at me, and I ended up examining the keypad.

"Can you open it?" The Major asked.

"Yes, sir." I told him, holding down the "E" key.

"What are those pills you're always chewing on? You a painkiller addict?" he asked me.

"Medication, sir." I answered.

"What kind of medication, Sergeant?" He asked as I checked the serial number on the plate. It started with 640, which I'd learned meant it was not only security charge trapped, but would lock down the facility if it was tampered with unless the outer detectors had detected a burst of radiation within the last few hours.

"Medication." I repeated, paging through the book to the red section again and looking up the code group again.

"Sergeant." His voice held a warning.

"Sir, the medication I take is none of your business. You aren't my CO, you're just the mission commanding officer, and I won't tell you about things I don't have to." I told her, pressing "ENTER" on the keypad.

"I could..." Whatever he could do vanished as the klaxons cut in, red lights embedded in the walls began to rotate, and the door dropped two feet away from us and began to retract into the stone wall.

The door was obviously five feet thick and locked into the slot on the far side, a two, maybe three foot thick tab of the door.

On the other side of the door lights were turning on, hanging lights with standard bulbs. Probably a dozen exploded in sparks, but enough stayed on for me to see dozens of pickup trucks, cars, some civilian ambulances, and more than a few cop cars that were painted white under the thick dust.

Something started nagging at me.

"You, stand here and hold your thumb on the 'ENTER' key and watch the readout. If it flashes a number or letter at you, hold down that key instead." I told one of the Meatheads. He nodded and moved over to the keypad, staring at it.

On the ground was a thick dotted yellow line and I started following it. The Major called out my name, but I ignored him.

I'd made the decision.

I didn't know why he was assigned this duty, I didn't know what the deal was with the Suits, and I sure as shit didn't give a flying fuck about the Meatheads, but as far as I was concerned since I was the only Special Weapons troop on the mission, they were here to facilitate my orders, not the other way around.

The emblems of the MILCOM and US Army Strategic Missile Command told me that this was a Special Weapons hard-site, and if there had been one thing I'd learned about Special Weapons is that things quickly got... complicated.

The Major and his Meatheads didn't belong in my Army, and I didn't belong in theirs.

The dotted line curved and led me to the side wall, where "SECONDARY DECON" and "PRIMARY DECON/ENTRY MEDICAL" was stenciled on the doorway.

I stopped, running through my head the possibilities. If you wanted to do maintenance on the vehicles, you wouldn't want to go through decon every time, but at the same time, there was no choice but to park contaminated vehicle next to uncontaminated ones, so they'd always go through a decon station just to be sure.

I tried to decide if I should bother trying to explain it to the Major. I'd tried to explain to someone what I did when I was gone from First Cavalry for such long amounts of time and they laughed at me and told me I was full of shit, that there was no such things as underground bases.

Even though I was currently standing with hundreds of feet of solid rock above my head.

It made sense that motor pool access would link up with the medical bay, in case of injuries, and dual decon stations just in case.

I moved over to the door and checked. No code keypad this time, just a heavy lever on the right side of the door. It was currently in the down position, and from what I'd seen it didn't matter which position it was at, the bar would have to be flipped the other direction and then the lever on the other side thrown to close the door unless the weight pads didn't detect anyone for the duration of the timer. I'd seen the inside of the mechanism and knew that when the lever was thrown it wound a timer and locked a tab into a recess that slowly retracted unless pressure was put on the plate, in which case the tab would move back up. The tab kept the winder from starting, but once it started, the door would shut after a minute or two and give a warning. It was a brute force, non-electronic system. Most of the systems in the outer sections of the site would be analogue systems and mechanical, rather than solid state or digital which could be blown by a EMP pulse.

Back in the day we'd found out that Soviet Union's weapon only put out a maximum of 300 Watts of EMP, so we'd built everything for a 350 Watt tolerance, then some smartass from the New York Times found out about it, published an article, and two years later we'd managed to get information that the Soviets had started using enhanced jacketed weapons to produce a 400 Watt pulse, meaning we had to go hard, most of becoming mechanical, or having repeated shielding, breakers, and grounding to keep the system from blowing out. That meant heavy gauge wiring everywhere. It wasn't uncommon to find aluminum strips in a web around high profile electronics.

My Army was strange and only made sense if you believed what I'd been taught.

Nuclear war was winnable.

None of that mattered at the moment, except for the way my brain was running to try to figure out the Kilo Site based on the limited data I possessed.

The motor pool was massive, I could count thirty vehicles receding into the darkness, and twenty rows on either side. Its sheer size started giving me suspicions about what this Kilo Site was.

Vehicles were being pulled into the motor pool, and I could see a dusting of snow on the Hemmits, the Suits car, and two of the Humvees. The sight of the snow made my blood run cold.

Fuck you and your snowmen! echoed through my brain and I felt a cold trickle down my spine. I pinched the bridge of my nose to drive the memories back.

We made it, Ant, we made it... bubbled up in my brain. I reached into my pocket and fished out the bottle, rattling one of the small bitter pills into my mouth, then put the bottle away while I chewed on it.

I threw the lever and the door slowly opened over the course of about 5 seconds. It was only about a foot thick and only recessed about six inches. The lights came on, and only two blew out, with only about a third not coming on at all. The hallway wasn't too long, about five feet, with another door which stated "DECONTAMINATION" on it. To the right of the door was a sign of a cartoon man standing under a cartoon shower scrubbing himself with cartoon bubbles hiding his crotch. "WASH THOROUGHLY!" was the caption beneath. On the left was a sign that said "INTERNAL PERSONNEL THROUGH LEFT AFTER DOOR" which made me smile. I'd be able to haul my gear through a dry area. I had wet weather gear in my ruck, and everything else was wrapped in waterproof bags or Glad bags, but I'd rather stay dry. The sign just to the left of the doorway I was standing in read "CD MOTORPOOL, CAUTION OF CONTAMINATION!" and on the right was what looked like an old microphone but what I recognized as a sensitive chemical and radiation detector. The circular readout above it showed green, and I knew that if it detected anything it didn't like it would flip to red or yellow. Judging from the size of the green wedge, it had at least 8 wedges, probably 2 safe, then chemical and radiation warnings.

The place was complex, and that warned me to be careful.

"Sergeant Ant." The Major. I was saved. Hooray. I turned around, and he waved me toward him. He waited patiently while I closed the door behind me and walked back over to him in roughly the center of the motor pool.

"Yes, sir?" I asked politely.

"Private Meyers says that visibility is less than 10 feet out there." He said. "There's also no radio reception, so we might as well find a place to bunk down and then see if the storm breaks."

...five miles, we won't make it a mile out there...

"There shouldn't be any security charges in here, but you'll need me to find out where we can bunk down and to make sure that it's clear." I told him. "Trust me, Major, you want to let me do my job."

"There weren't any site blueprints." The Major said.

"Doesn't matter. If I get some time, I can figure out the layout." I answered.

"How many times have you done this?" he asked.

"Enough." I answered.

"I'm starting to get fed up with your insubordination, Sergeant." The Major snapped. "I'm tired of asking you questions and you not answering them."

I turned and faced him.

"General Harmon told you all about me that you need to know." I told him, just staring.

"He didn't tell me anything."

"He told you what you needed to know." I reiterated.

"Sergeant Ant, I'm in charge of this mission." He said.

keep fucking thinking that...

"And I think you need to start answering questions." He told me.

"It's called 'Need to Know', sir." I told him, staring at him square in the eyes. "Which is why I'm attached to your team. You don't have a need to know."

The Meatheads were wandering around as the Major's eyes hardened and he opened his mouth, jumping when the klaxon suddenly kicked on again.

"Fuck, the doors!" I said, whipping around. The Meathead was missing, which meant the system was automatically closing the doors unless someone punched in the reply code the system would be demanding. I had about a minute to get to the control panel and punch in the code again. It was a security in case the people coming in only had the strength to get inside and had died, or were too busy to shut the doors or too nuke-shocked.

The Major grabbed my arm.

"You'll start talking to me right now." He told me.

"Sir, I need to punch in the code or the doors will shut." I warned him.

"I ordered Donaldson to park Humvee Sixteen and Humvee Eight in the door paths." His voice was full of his own cleverness, and I just stared for a second, shocked.

"Why?" I knew the answer, but I couldn't believe his stupidity.

"To keep those doors from closing. Now I want..."

"You fucking idiot!" I yelled at him, knocking his hand away and running for the keypad.

"Sergeant Ant!" he called after me. "Stop him!"

Ten feet from the interior keypad two of the Meatheads grabbed me, and I tried to push them off me, unwilling to go full force.

"Where the hell are you going, Sergeant?" Meathead #6 asked me.

"Let me go, I've got to punch in the code!" I yelled, trying to pull free. I could hear the thumping of the hydraulic cylinders hammering the air.

"The doors won't close, I had a vehicle parked in front of each of them." The Major had come up behind me.

"It's not going to matter." I said, trying again to pull free.

rip... tear... smash... My mouth filled with a hot coppery taste.

"Those are armored military vehicles, I hardly think..." The Major started.

The scream of warping metal filled the air, a howling scream that shuddered through the air like the screaming of lost souls.

"They won't close all the way." The Major tried.

"Those are fucking 200 ton doors powered by hydraulics capable of moving them after they're warped and maybe even jumped the goddamn tracks!" I yelled over the sound of the metal shrieking. "The front of those doors are wedges, so that it will reseat itself."

"Then we can open them." The Major didn't sound as confident as he did before.

"Goddamn it, you don't get it, do you? This is a fucking hard site, a See Oh Gee and ARMICOM hard site, designed to not only survive a nuclear war but fight one!" I yelled back. "Kilo Sites are God knows what, and you JUST FUCKING LOCKED US IN HERE!"

The squealing stopped, and I could hear the other Meatheads shouting that the motor pool door was closing.

...show me what you've got, bitch! Come on, show me what you've got, you pussy!... sounded out in my skull, and my missing earlobes burned, my nose burst into cold pain, and an icicle drove into my shoulder.

"I DON'T KNOW HOW THE SYSTEM IS GOING TO REACT TO BLOCKAGES, YOU GODDAMN MORON!" I shouted at the Major.

"Call off your idiots." I told him. "Or it'll get ugly."

"Stand down!" The Major yelled. They let me go.

Toothpick Suit was coming over, one hand in his jacket.

"You pull that pistol, I'll fucking feed it to you." I snarled, taking two skipping steps forward and moving right into his face.

The motor pool door closed with a solid boom, and the PA came on.

"ALL SHIFT LEADERS TAKE HEADCOUNT AND REPORT TO CIVIL DEFENSE LEADER!" Boomed out. "ALL REFUGEES TO MEDICAL AND DECONTAMINATION!"

I stood eye to eye with Toothpick, willing him to pull the pistol so I could jam it under his chin and blow his smarmy fucking brains all over the ceiling.

The message repeated itself as we stood there facing each other. I was grinding my teeth, my shoulders bunching up.

"Sergeant Ant, post!" The Major yelled. I kept staring at Toothpick. "Sergeant Ant!"

"Do it." I whispered. "We both know it's coming, Company Man, let's do it right now."

I hated CIA agents.

The message repeated, and I noticed that it had a dragging sound to it.

Toothpick shook his head, fear flickering through his eyes. I heard a noise behind me and turned around, seeing the Major coming up.

"What do you mean we're trapped here?" He asked. I felt Toothpick move and turned to look at him, stepping back so I wasn't caught between Toothpick and the Major.

"I don't know how the system is going to react to the blockage." I told him, staring at Toothpick, who was slowly pulling his hand out of his jacket.

"What do you mean, 'react', Sergeant Ant?" The Major asked. "Computers can't react."

"The system might decide the blockage is due to a nuclear war disabling the vehicles, if either vehicle caught fire the system will register the temperature and might think it's the thermal bloom." I told him. I pointed at the Meatheads, who were coming back over. "We need to get one thing straight, Major."

"What's that?"

"Your Meatheads touch me again, I'll start hurting them. Don't do anything unless I tell you that it's OK, I don't want the system doing a 'purge' on us." I snarled. "And if I even think the Suits are threatening me, I'll fuck them up."

"I'm in charge of..." The Major said.

"Fine, sir, then what do we do?" I asked, folding my arms. "This is your show, give the orders."

"Open the door." He ordered me.

"How?" I asked, fumbling for my pill bottle and opening it with my thumb and forefinger.

"Punch in the code, you moron!" He snapped. I rattled a pill into my mouth and started chewing it.

"Fine. Which code?" I asked.

"Out of the book." He told me like I was a simpleton. I shook my head, stuffing the pill bottle back into my pocket.

"I won't do it." I told him.

"Private Smith, get the codebook." He ordered.

"You have him punch in any code, he's dead." I warned. "The security charge will turn him into hamburger if the system has gone into lockdown."

"How do you know?"

"Because while you've been taking apart bases belonging to the regular Army, I've been taking these places apart." I told him.

"It's just an underground storage bunker, and I don't believe conspiracy theories." He told me.

I couldn't help it, I started laughing.

"Look the fuck around you." I told him, waving my arms around. "Does this look like some bullshit?" I pointed at the now closed heavy blast deflection door. "Tell me again how you don't believe in 'conspiracy theories', sir." I pointed at the Suits, gathered up and glaring at me. "Look at them, tell me that you even know what they're here for."

The Major was just staring.

"THIS ISN'T YOUR ARMY!" I yelled at him. "THIS IS MINE!"

The migraine came flooding in, bringing a hot copper taste to my mouth and the feeling of something icy cold sliding into my shoulder. My head was pounding, and I wanted nothing more than to remove the obstruction in front of me.

With a knife.

I knew that I needed to calm down, that I needed to stop before it went to far, so I took a deep breath while the Major just stared at me.

"Sir, what happened to the Private I told to keep the doors from closing?" I asked.

"I tasked him with putting vehicles in the way of the doors." He told me.

"Listen to me, Major." I tried to get through to him. "These facilities represent hundreds of millions of dollars out of black budgets. They were beyond cutting edge when they were retrofitted, and you'd be surprised how much you can do with simple decision trees when you're programming." I took another deep breath, and the pounding in my head started to ease. "The system wasn't programmed by some kid in a basement, this was programmed by NASA, and they sent a man to the Moon with little better than solid state punch cards."

"Fine, Sergeant Ant, since you seem to know everything, what do you suggest?" The Major was being snide, but I didn't care. He was about an inch from getting stabbed anyway. I'd huck his body down a shaft and claim he fell or just vanish him. Worse came to worse I'd just stab his ass and stuff him in the trunk of that Air Force sedan. The throbbing in my temples was slowly receding, but that had nothing to do with the fact I'd kill him in a heartbeat.

Four times officers had almost cost me my life, four times they'd actively tried to kill or injure me and my friends.

Never again.

"Keep your men in here. Unload the trucks, wait for me. If I'm not back in two hours fort up here and wait for extraction." I told him.

"Where are you going?" He asked.

"I'm going to see if I can gain access to the Civil Defense control room, see if I can get access to the computer system." I told him. "I'll need one of your Meatheads, but you better warn him that if he doesn't do exactly as I say, I'll kill him before he gets me killed."

"CIVIL DEFENSE COORDINATOR PLEASE REPORT TO COMMAND!" rang out over the PA system. The system repeated it again and I stared at the Major.

"Sir, I don't know this site's mission, I don't know its protocol, I don't know what the system will do."

"How can it do anything?" One of the Meatheads asked. I ignored him. The PA repeated itself.

"The system might have some serious defenses." I warned. "Not much is known about Kilo sites."

The Major stared at me for a long time, and I could hear the Meatheads mumbling. The fact that the Suits were not struck me. The PA repeated itself twice more, cutting off with a click in the middle of the second time.

"Fine, you can have Donaldson." The Major told me. "Donaldson, post."

The Meathead ran over and saluted and I restrained a sigh.

"Go with Sergeant Ant, do what he tells you." The Major stated. "He's going to try to reopen the doors."

I walked off while the Major was telling the Meathead not to fuck with me, slamming my shoulder into Toothpick. I went over to my Humvee and opened the rear passenger door. I grabbed my rucksack, gas mask, chemical gear, and tossed the Meathead two of my duffle bags. I pulled on my LBE, strapped on my gas mask, hung my chemical gear on my LBE, then shrugged into my rucksack. I dropped the Civil Defense code book onto a D-Ring attached to my LBE, letting it tap on my right hip.

"What's in these?" The Meathead asked me.

"My gear." I answered. I threw him two dufflebags. "Pick those up and follow me."

Off to the side the Major was telling the Meatheads to take inventory on the food in the trucks as well as the water.

I stopped when I heard what sounded like slithering off in a patch of darkness, then shook my head and feed myself another pill to grind up between my teeth.

Throwing the lever back up, I waved the Meathead in, then threw the other lever up so the door shut, then threw the lever on the Decon room door.

It looked like a locker room, and I knew the metal door on the other side of the locker room led to high pressure showers. To my left was a door marked "INTERNAL PERSONNEL ONLY" and I headed toward that after closing the door.

"What the hell is all this?" the Meathead asked.

His name is Donaldson...

I didn't care. I refused to care.

"Decontamination shower changing room. In the lockers will be jumpsuits, coveralls, maybe old radiation or chemical suits, and probably the uniform for this site." I answered. One of the lights buzzed and then exploded in a shower of sparks. The room was still ice cold, but that didn't surprise me. The Meathead jumped but I ignored it.

The system repeated its demand that the Civil Defense Coordinator report to the command center, and I noticed it was still crisp.

"What the hell is this place?" The Meathead asked as I threw the lever on the door.

"A Kilo Site." I answered.

I counted, the door took 10 seconds and looked about 18 inches thick.

"What the fuck is a Kilo Site?" Meathead, no, Donaldson asked.

"Nobody's sure." I told him. "There was an... error and the data got lost." I told him.

"Wasn't there any backups?" He asked as we started into the short hallway that curved around, and was forty steps according to my count before hitting another door. I'd noticed the curve in the hallway and the fact that it had started off at a slight angle from the door, meaning it went deeper into the mountain.

"Nobody knows." I told him. I stopped. "How long you been in?"

"1992." He told me.

"MOS?"

"Fifty-Four Bravo." He told me. A Combat Engineer. That might help, he'd know the basics of explosives, so I'd have a helper monkey if I had to wire anything up. "What about you?" He finished.

"I don't have one." I told him, unable to keep the bitterness out of my voice.

"Everyone has..." He started, but I cut him off.

"Look, this isn't taking apart a drawdown post, this is going to be something you've never experienced." I threw the lever and kept talking. "Some of the sites I've been to covered square miles of area and were as far as five hundred feet below ground."

The door was grinding, it sounded like maybe one of the gear teeth was busted, or one of the hydraulic cylinders was blown. The door was quivering.

"Just pay attention to me, kid." I checked the chemical sensor at my waist but the LED's burned a steady green. The system repeated another demand for the Civil Defense Coordinator.

"Is it going to open?" He asked. I nodded, and there was a thunk as the system took the damaged part out of the equation and shifted to backups. The door quivered and began to raise.

From under the floor billowed a stench I was familiar with. It coated my throat, filled my nostrils, and felt like it settled on my exposed skin like a thin coat of grease.

"Back, get back." I warned, sweeping him behind me and shoving my hand under my BDU top to the small of my back.

"What the fuck is that?" He coughed, then shouted as my hand came back out with the bayonet gleaming in my fist. "Why do you have a knife?"

"Shut the fuck up." I snarled, crouching down to look under the door.

It was the smell of rotting meat and rotting blood.

The bunker should have been empty.


Chapter 4

Site Kilo-29-Civil Defense Entry Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day One-Night


"God, it stinks." Donaldson the Meathead coughed, but I ignored him, looking underneath the door. It was dark, the lights just starting to glow as the system gently fed them power to avoid weakened filaments from blowing out. My NVG's were on my helmet, which was attached to my ruck, but I wanted to avoid those as long as possible. I'd learned last year that sometimes NVG's didn't help.

...Captain Lewis coughing over the radio, the bubbly sound of a punctured lung audible. "Get out of here, boys, we're already dead here..."

I shuddered slightly, exhaling and scooting under the door as soon as my ruck would clear it.

The light was dim, but I could still see well enough. The door opened up into a room about twenty by twenty with the overhead ceiling about ten feet up and slightly bowed in such a way to let me know that this room was probably an "eggshell" design, which meant it was in the middle of a circular area, the area outside of the room nothing but heavy duty springs who's coils would be as wide as a fucking horse and up to thirty feet tall. It could take the shocks of a direct hit on the mountain. I scanned the room, but all that it contained was a desk, some plastic plants, and rows of chairs. Above the desk it said "SECURITY CHECK, PLEASE HAVE BADGES READY!" and there was an empty weapon's rack on the wall behind the desk.

The room felt slightly warmer that the outside had been, and the stench of rotting meat and blood filled the room, making my eyes burn.

"Sergeant Ant?" Donaldson the Meat Head's voice was shaky.

"I'm all right, son. Wait for the door to open." I told him. The lights came on, and two of them blew out spectacularly. All told, out of three rows of four, only three lights came on, barely illuminating the room.

It was pastel blue, with the CoG logo on the door to my right, the CoG logo on the door to the right of the desk, and a half dozen clocks on the wall. None of them were right.

"Check the desk drawers." I ordered when Donaldson came in. While he moved to the desk I grabbed one of the chairs and pulled it over to where I'd spotted a air vent in the wall. Climbing up, I sniffed, and the odor almost knocked me off the chair. Shaking my head I pulled it to each of the 8 vents in the room, checking all of them.

The odor was the same from all of them.

I closed my eyes, trying to visualize the "egg" and how the venting would be routed.

We hadn't smelled it in shower decon, or the hallway, so it had to be in the venting that serviced this room, and that venting had to be separate, but that meant that they'd made 2 air duct channels past this into the interior, which didn't make sense. Carving through solid rock was rough work.

...unless these were caves, Ant... I squeezed the bridge of my nose to banish Nancy's voice.

"Nothing, Sergeant." Donaldson told me.

"Roger." I answered, and headed to the interior door, pulling the lever up. More sirens sounded, but it only lasted ten seconds before cutting off.

A warning in case the Soviets breached the facility or starving refugees.

The door took 10 seconds, which looked like Site standard, to raise up, and the lights didn't come on at all.

"Shit." I grunted. I shrugged out of my pack and pulled my helmet off, then dug in one of the cargo pockets of my extra-large infantry ruck, yanking out a second set of NVG's, these ones in much better shape than the battered ones on my helmet.

"Go to IR lamp, stay sharp." I told him.

"Yes, Sergeant." He sounded scared.

I didn't blame him.

...Ant, I love you... My shoulder twinged and a cold shiver ran down my spine from the base of my skull.

The IR lamp on the NVG's brought the hallway into sharp relief. A series of bad paintings was on the left wall, and the right said: "CONTINUITY SITE K-29 CIVIL DEFENSE ACCESS CORRIDOR" on the right. The air was slightly warmer, but didn't reek of rotting blood.

"Shut the door." I told him once we'd moved into the hallway.

"How? The bar is straight down like the one on the other side was when it was closed."

"Just pull it up, it'll cause the system to shut the door." I told him. "I don't know if we can open the inner door with that one open."

I walked up to the other door, staring at it. The door had the US Seal on it, and the name "Blue Rabbit's Burrow" underneath it. Great, a named site. That meant it was like Raven Rock, Lamb's Knoll, Black Briar, Mount Pony, The Dead Men, Mount Weather, or Big Painted Horse. Except none of those were Kilo sites.

This was not going to be fun.

I threw the lever and stepped back. I had that tight prickly feeling between my shoulder blades. The door rattled, and I heard it clunk twice, trying the Tertiary systems before it began to shudder it's way up.

"We leave this one open." I said, then saw the shape inside the room.

It was man shaped, in a camouflage uniform, kneeling on the floor with something in his hands.

"GET DOWN!" I yelled, lunging through the door to my left. The guy was right handed from the way the rifle was held, which meant he'd be an split second slower pushing the rifle outward than if he had to pull it to my right, across his body.

There was a pinging noise, and I heard a zipping sound as I came in fast, low, with my bayonet by my waist.

The rifle cut loose, rattling on full auto, for about a micro-second before my knife hit him under the chin. Everything was slowed down, my options flashed through my head, I was instantly aware of the shape of the room, and that my blade came in right under his chin, striking solidly at the front of his neck, my thumb wrapped around the hilt, the guard against the bottom of my hand, my arm straightening out. The blade hit solidly and I felt the shock run up my arm.

And his head came off.

What the fuck?

The body twisted, and the rifle's bolt shot back as it was hauled into the air. His body looked wrong when he hit, and his head rolled across the floor.

A fucking mannequin?

"Are you OK?" I shouted, my ears ringing from the gunfire in the enclosed area.

"Holy shit, Sarge!" the kid yelled.

"Looks clear." I called out, waving him in.

I looked around the room, and saw what was going on.

There was a rope strung across the roof, down the rifle, and it looked like when the door opened 3/4 of the way up it dropped a weight which triggered the rifle.

"You fucked his ass up." Donaldson said, and I nodded absently, kneeling next to the mannequin and pulling off my NVG's. I grabbed the flashlight clipped to my LBE and switched it on, squinting and leaning down. I had the opaque white disk in to lower the visibility.

The uniform had several holes in the chest, was covered with blackish crust that blended with the camouflage, and was Air Force patched.

"Take the rifle." I told the kid, patting down the pockets.

"There's no ammo." The kid complained. I grunted at the fact I didn't find anything in the pockets, not even lint. The nametag read 'DRYERS" on it.

"Don't leave material for the enemy behind." I warned, tugging back on my NVG's and looking around.

The room was good sized, with multiple doors leading off of it. The steel walls had been painted a pastel blue, and the doors were labelled.

Or they had been before someone had spraypainted over them.

Still, they hadn't covered the edges of the door, leaving the color coding on the doors. Five doors, yellow, red, blue, green, and orange.

If Kilo Sites followed the standard, I wanted green. It was from when the uniforms were OD Green, which meant it was off limits to most personnel, and probably led to the main control area.

And maybe an access to the military area.

"Why would someone boobytrap this room?" The kid asked.

"To keep people out." I grunted. My hand twitched toward my pocket by I ignored it. I needed to stay sharp, not dull my nerves with micro-doses of medication.

"Duh." He muttered, but I just grinned.

The doorway had a normal handle, and I could see the hinges. I checked the handle but it was locked.

The hinges were recessed, and I recognized the door type. 2/19th had used them for every light security access, including outside.

...hurry up, Ant, I think he's behind us... I gritted my teeth till Taggart's voice went away.

"Give me the rifle." I ordered him. He handed it to me, and I started bashing the buttplate against the handle.

"If we had bullets, we could just shoot it open." The kid said.

"And we'd have shrapnel flying around in here." I warned him, grunting as I finally knocked off the handle and started working on the cover plate. It took over a dozen blows before it suddenly popped off and I could see the inner workings of the lock.

I dug my Leatherman out of my pocket, and crimped a couple pins and ripped free a spring, then used the pliers I carried in my back pocket to twist the post. The door clicked and swung open when I pulled.

"Where did you learn that, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked.

"Been doing this awhile." I told him.

Cold billowed out of the hallway beyond, making my nose hurt. I ignored it and followed the hallway, walking by doors where the labels had been spraypainted over, some with the handles snapped off, and two of them welded shut.

"Should these doors be in this condition?" Donaldson asked.

"No." I answered.

"Why would they..." I held up my fist beside my shoulder to shut him up.

What was that?

"Shut up, I'm trying to listen, and breath through your nose." I said softly.

There it is again...

It sounded like someone talking far away, or maybe singing, I couldn't tell, but it was definitely a man's voice.

Up ahead I could see that the passage curved, a 90 degree turn that took about 5 feet to accomplish. I'd seen that before in the War Fighter tunnels, it was designed to be a turn that didn't allow someone to hide behind the corner and spray 'n' pray, but still act as a choke point. I glanced at the ceiling and growled.

The mirror that let defenders see down this passage was shattered by three neatly spaced bullet holes.

I heard it again, just barely.

"Move quiet, walk on the outside of your boots, heel first, then toe, move slow, breathe through your nose, kid." I said softly. "Don't whisper, just speak low."

"What's going on?" He breathed. Smart kid.

"Something's wrong." I answered, and started moving down the hallway, keeping tight to the left hand side of the hallway. Every time I went by a door my skin crawled.

...a pair of white hands, with blackened flesh at the ends of the fingers that was tattered and left tips of exposed bone, at the end of inhumanly long arms clad in ice and mud crusted BDU's....

My head started to ache. My heartbeat picked up, I could feel sweat bead between my shoulderblades.

I dropped down and crawled to the corner, looking around it, and saw that there was another corner less than 20 feet away. A desk had been tipped on its side so the top face me, and I could see dimples in it. The mirror above the desk was shattered and I could see marks on the steel where bullets had hit it.

...they fought and killed each other in that place, up there on the mountain...

I needed Heather to hold me. I needed my baby daughter to hold.

I popped back up and moved to the end of the corridor, watching for anything that looked like a wire and hoping they didn't use a steel wire, with the brushed steel floor I wouldn't even see it, so I kept an eye out for any suspicious bulges on the walls.

I leaned out around the corner, half expecting to get shot, but saw nothing but another desk flipped on it's side in front of a doorway. In front of the desk someone had thrown the heavy steel door that should have stood in the doorframe. The range was long for my IR lamp, so I could only make out a few shapes beyond the desk.

"Are those bullet holes?" Donaldson hissed.

"Shhh." I warned him.

There it is again...

I could barely hear it, it sounded male, but something sounded wrong.

If that idiotic Major hadn't had locked us in, I'd be in my Humvee heading down the mountain to go collect a full team.

I jerked my hand and moved down the hallway in a rush, hurtling over the desk and door. My form was perfect, my old track coach would have been proud.

I hit the tile floor, skidded, regained my balance, and caught myself a desk.

The Operations Center.

One screen glowed and I pulled off my NVG's as I got close to it.

"OBSTRUCTION ATTEMPTED AT ACCESS DOOR 1A" greeted me, the softly glowing green letters almost accusing me.

I almost started weeping when I saw the prompt. I half expected the keyboard to be shattered, but it was clean.

"chdgrp" was the first thing I used to check the groups.

All the listed groups had "RESTRICTED ACCESS" on them but it said my default group was 8868, which I recognized.

Admin.

There it is again...

This time I was able to tell it was off to my left, and instead of vanishing, I could hear it. It was slowly getting quieter, not just stopping, and I snapped down my NVG's and started moving past the desks, which were welded to the steel floor that I could see under the torn up parts of the carpeting.

I found it as it was getting louder, sitting on a desk.

A Sony Walkman, with a pair of headphones. There was a tape in it, and it was slowly turning.

There was a grunting sound from behind me.

"Donaldson?" I asked quietly. I'd left my bayonet on the desk.

"Yeah, Sergeant?" He stayed quiet.

"Stay by the door, tell me if you see anyone come through any of the other doors." I told him, poking the stop/eject button twice on the Walkman. The top popped up and I slid out the tape.

Billy Ray Cyrus.

"Stay sharp, Private." I said, moving quickly back to the terminal. I dug in my top pocket and pulled out my little green notebook, paging through it real quick till I got to the file names that the Air Force Tech had taught me.

I typed in the name of the file that should have been the main door controls.

"COMMAND NOT FOUND"

"Goddamn it." I hissed. I checked the name again. I'd typed it in right. I did a quick directory check, dropped into the backup files and did another directory check.

The file was missing.

So was the one for the cameras, interior door controls, and almost everything else. I popped back up to root and did a directory check.

Only a handful of diagnostic programs, and the program that displayed any alert messages.

That one had been loaded less than two hours ago.

"We're not alone in here." I said softly, staring at the green directory letters.

And the file name that said simply: "runforit"


Chapter 5

Site Kilo-29-Civil Defense Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day One-Night


"Let's go. We've gotta get out of here." I hissed, and scooped up my bayonet from the table.

"What's going on, Sergeant?" I couldn't blame him for the tremor in his voice.

"Let's go, stay quiet." I warned him, climbing over the desk and the fallen door.

I waited for him to struggle across the desk and door, the dufflebags slowing him down.

"Please don't leave me behind." Donaldson said. His face was pale around the NVG's.

"I don't leave my men behind, kid." I reassured him. "Give me one." I held out my hand and he handed me one of the duffles. I jogged down the hallway, hurrying around the corners. We went past the door I'd forced open then stopped in front of the door we'd taken to get into the room. I told him to pocket the NVG's when he tried to hand them back, and flipped mine up.

"Oh, shit, Sergeant, what's going on?" Donaldson asked, puffing.

"I don't know. Something bad." I told him. "Stay close, anything comes at you, remember your bayonet training."

"I don't have a bayonet."

"Trust me, kid, you hit them with the muzzle and it'll still hurt, but go through the whole routine." I advised him, turning and looking at the other doors.

I threw the handle, and listened as the door tried to use its primary systems then clunked over to backups.

The smell of rotting blood was thicker if anything in the egg room.

When the door opened far enough, I ducked through and Donaldson followed me, slapping the lever on our side down. We hustled to the next door and followed suit, moving quickly into the locker room.

We were halfway across when something flew off the top of the row of lockers at me.

"SERGEANT!" Donaldson yelled, but I'd already seen it, bringing around the dufflebag between me and the shape, tightening my grip on the knife.

I slammed down on my back, my ruck taking most of the shock, and the stench of rotting blood rolled over me. There was the sound of canvas tearing and something hissed, the stench of rotting carrion flowing over me.

I threw it to the left, rolling to my right and coming up to one knee. Whatever it was bounded off the lockers and came at me again as I came up to my feet.

Rather than flinching from it, I ducked down and moved in, blocking what looked like an arm swiping at my face with my left arm and stabbing into the middle of the figure with my bayonet. It coughed something wet into my face but I kept stabbing.

It knocked me down again, and I heard something rip as whoever it was kicked at my legs. I stabbed it in the side, twisting the blade, and there was a snarling yowl. I threw it off me and rolled, coming up just in time to see it leap up on top of the lockers and then bound away.

...that's too light for a cougar, Ant...

...I know, Bomber...

"Get that door open, kid, I'll hold it off." I barked, watching the lockers and the space on either side.

...it'll rush you, Ant...

I know, Bomber.

Donaldson moved by me, and I thought I saw a shadow flicker against the wall on the right hand side.

The smell of rotting meat and blood was a miasma.

"What is it?" Donaldson asked as the bar clacked down.

"I think it's an animal that got in through an access point." I reassured him.

...liar...

Shut it, Nagle.

I heard sheet metal deform and pop back and checked to both sides, checking the top of the lockers as I did so.

"It's opening, Sergeant."

"Tell me when you're through."

Two of the lights shattered, plunging the left hand side into darkness. I snapped my head down, and my NVG's popped down over my eyes as the two lights on the right shattered and dropped that side into darkness. I snapped on the NVG's and the room instantly lit up.

WE OWN THE NIGHT, BITCHES!

There was another series of pops, and the room went black and green.

"Almost, Sergeant." he told me.

I scooted forward, grabbed my duffle, and slung it behind me. "Throw it through." I used my left hand to pull up the snaps on my ruck straps, yank the tabs then pinch the points, dropping my rucksack. "That too."

"Leave it." He suggested.

"No, leave nothing behind for the enemy." I told him.

I heard a rapid scraping, like a dog trying to get purchase on a tile floor, from the other side of the lockers.

"Sergeant, come on, you can duck through." Donaldson told me.

I started backing up.

ON YOUR LEFT! Bomber yelled.

I pivoted to the left, and it came at me in a rush. Even with the NVG's I couldn't get a good look at it, it was just a strange four limbed lean mass that came straight at me. Rather than back up I stepped forward and kicked like I was going for a field goal.

My boot took it right on the chin and it still crashed into me, bringing both of us to the floor. Something grabbed my left arm in a vise and started shaking it, something was tearing at my legs, but I rammed the knife into its side twice before it screeched and sprang off me again.

"Sergeant, come on!" Donaldson screamed, his voice raw with barely suppressed panic.

I rolled over and scrambled toward the door.

"Sergeant!" Donaldson yelled again.

I rolled to the left and whatever it was landed on the floor. It went to crouch down and I swung my blade hard, catching it on the side of the knee. It screeched and jumped away.

"Throw the lever!" I bellowed as I scrambled forward.

"You're not..."

"THROW IT, DAMN YOU!" I bellowed. Donaldson slammed the bar into place and the door reversed.

I managed to scramble under the door, which was rapidly closing.

Something grabbed my boot, twisting my foot, and I rolled with it, ending up on my back. Instead of trying to kick it away, I braced my foot against the door and shoved hard, pushing myself out from under the door.

Blackish green paws were attached to my boot, long white claws sinking into the leather. My damaged knee began to burn.

Donaldson gave a Basic Training perfect war cry and slammed the weapon down on the slender arm. There was a screech and the paws let go of my boot.

The door thudded down and I scrambled to my feet, turning off my NVG's and flipping them back up.

"What the fuck was that?" Donaldson yelled. I put the bayonet between my LBE and my shirt and grabbed my ruck and the duffle.

"Cougar? Hurry." I urged.

We rushed down the hallway to the door to the motorpool and I dropped the ruck and duffle then pulled my knife back out.

"OK, when this opens far enough, throw the stuff through. Do not go through until I give you the signal." I said.

"Why not?" Donaldson asked.

"Because whatever that was might have killed everyone already or might have a mate or cubs in the motorpool." I warned. The kid went pale and I nodded. "We're in hostile territory, kid, don't think the mission's over till you're in the NCO Club drinking whiskey with at least two fingers in a blond and a brunette sucking you off."

Donaldson grinned, and some color came back into his face.

I nodded and he threw the bar. The door began lifting and Donaldson waited nervously. My nerves were singing, every sense running in overdrive. A soon as it lifted out of the countersunk drop we could hear a klaxon wailing.

When it lifted high enough, he began chucking stuff through as soon as he could stuff them through. I kept watch behind us.

The bulb by the door went off in a shower of sparks.

"Hurry, kid." I hissed.

A second light bulb went out and something made a thick, choking, coughing sound.

I set my feet, bringing my left hand up, ignoring the burning pain my forearm, and my right hand, knife point down, right below it, flexing my knees and bouncing slightly on my toes.

Come on, bitch, let's see what you got.

Another light exploded, and I caught a glimpse of something reddish black with no muzzle, just a flat face, that was on all fours.

"Let's go, Sergeant!" Donaldson yelled, and I ducked through as half the bulbs exploded in rapid succession.

Donaldson slapped the bar into place without being prompted.

Something came at us, but the door slid into place before whatever it was reached us, and I looked at Donaldson, breathing heavily.

"You all right, Sergeant?" He asked.

"Fine." I grinned.

"What happened to your pants?" he asked, and I looked down to see huge rents in my pantlegs, with bloody scrapes below.

"Whatever it was raked me." I told him, lifting up my knife. It was covered in blackish crap, and I wiped it on my hip before tucking it back behind my back. I could smell rotting blood from it.

I could hear the Major or his dumbasses running up. I looked at my forearm, and the blood running down my hand and fingers.

When I turned around, I could see four of them running up as I fumbled my field dressing out of the pouch.

"Did you manage to open the doors?" One of them asked. I'd stopped what I was doing, just staring.

"Christ, what happened to Sergeant Ant?" one asked, but I wasn't paying any attention. I'd just finally noticed something.

There was an Air Force sedan sitting there, without any dust on it.

My head started to pound.

I could smell blood and snow.


Chapter 6

Site Kilo-29-Civil Defense Motor Pool
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day One-Night


The Major had stopped, and was just staring at me as I stood there staring at the Air Force Sedan. The scrapes on my shins stung, my right shoulder burned from over-exertion, and my forearm throbbed in time with my heartbeat. I was exhausted, even though it had only been a few seconds of fighting. His mouth was working while I held the field dressing in my mouth and unbuttoned my cuff on the injured forearm. My knees felt shaky, and my stomach was upset, making my feel like I was going to throw up, even though all I wanted to do was curl up and sleep.

It doesn't matter how much you've trained, combat is exhausting. You train so you have the endurance and stamina to fight longer, but you're still exhausted at the end of it. You need to keep going, push through the exhaustion, and you can bounce back pretty quick if you've trained right.

In my pocket was a small squirt bottle of iodine and a small tube of bactine, I made a mental note of them then I went back to tearing open my field dressing with my dentures, shaking my arm to let the sleeve fall down and expose the wound.

"What happened? Why is Sergeant Ant wounded? Why aren't the doors open?" The Major asked.

...he's been plotting with them against you, you know it, Ant, don't trust him... Taggart whispered in my ears. ...kill him first...

I pushed her voice away, looking at the injury and tearing my eyes away from the sedan. The meat on the outside of my forearm had a half-moon on either side of it, and I squinted at the injury. The holes were deep enough to bleed, but the wound didn't look right for an animal. I'd taken a dog bite across my other forearm, and it had been all the way across, straight line teeth marks. The holes were also straight, not round. I pulled out the bactine and the iodine, smeared first one then the other on the wound, then pressed the pad of the field dressing on the wound.

What the fuck had bit me?

..his minions are moving behind you...

...I know, Bomber, watch my back...

I moved backwards toward the duffles, elbowing one of the Meatheads hard in the gut as I went by, masquerading the motion as trying to wrap the field dressing around the wound with one hand and my teeth.

"Hey!" the Meathead said

"Move." I grunted, sitting down on the dufflebag and finishing wrapping my arm as the Major questioned Donaldson.

Goddamn it, he had a name now.

...you're a sucker...

Shut up, Nancy

I tied it off with my teeth and looked at my legs. They were scraped, but not the claws I expected. They didn't look right, they weren't keep and steadily gushing blood, and the scars on my left leg hadn't been sliced through like I had expected them to be.

Donaldson was telling the Major about the mannequin and the bullet holes, and the Major was making him repeat it, but I ignored it while I opened up my rucksack and pulled out my first kit. I'd learned the hard way to make sure that I had access to as much medical supplies as I could. During Desert Storm I'd swapped boxes of .45 caliber ammunition to specific units to get bags good enough to do surgery in the field if we had to. Most units had switched to 9mm, and the only .45 had been coming out of Europe, and were grabbed by whatever units still had .45's, making them high priority. You'd be amazed what people will trade you to "accidentally" drop a few boxes of .45 ball off of the truck.

I poured iodine on the scrapes, then bactined them. Donaldson was telling the Major and the other Meatheads about the thing, even though they were calling bullshit. I ignored them, grabbed my shit, and headed back toward the Gypsy Wagon.

Not a half-second after I'd dropped the tailgate and thrown the two dufflebags in the back the Major yelled at me.

"Sergeant Ant!"

I ignored him, dragging forward an ammo can and pulling it open. Inside were the foam pads Heather had cut for me, and I knew inside were two tools I wasn't sure if I wanted the Major to know about.

"Sergeant Ant!" Great, the goddamn monkey was yelling louder. I wasn't deaf, just ugly. I turned away from my truck, looking at him as I picked up my ruck, yanked the straps to close the top, and hucked it in the back.

"Yes, sir?" I asked.

...don't trust him, he's plotting to kill you...

Shut up, Dana

My head was pounding as I watched him walk toward me. I was aware of the weight of my knives, and a hot copper filled my mouth in rush.

I dug out my pills and shook two into my mouth, crushing them between my plastic teeth as he started speaking. "We drove for over 10 hours to get here, my men are tired and I don't want them sleeping in here. Get the doors open, Sergeant."

"I can't, sir. The Civil Defense terminals are down, and I need to rest before I take a crack at the military side." I told him, feeling the saliva thinned paste making my gums and throat tingle.

"That's not possible, there's nowhere for my men to bed down, so you need to open the doors. How hard can it be?" He asked. My head was throbbing harder, the back of my skull feeling like it was going to split open.

"Sir, already I've noticed that this bunker is something different. Your meathead and I already ran into booby traps, and there's evidence of fighting in the corridors." I told him with exaggerated patience. "I'm not completely aware of the dynamics yet, and I don't want to proceed until I have a better idea."

He crossed his arms on his chest and made a pinched face. "Sergeant, go get the doors open."

I straightened my shoulders and spine, standing straight up from my usual slouch, and stepped up into him.

"Sir, I respectfully advise you to wait until I can get some rest." I stared down at him. Six foot tall isn't really huge, but I'd learned how to use my presence over the years. "Don't push me on this, sir."

I watched his eyes, seeing him take in my eye patch, the scars on my face, then saw his eyes flick downward and I hid a smile as I purposely clenched my hand, the knuckles crunching.

...KILL HIM NOW!... Nancy yelled from behind him, her hand coming up with the Gerber that was in my boot, her lips drawn back in a snarl, her eyes glittering with rage and malice, the scar on her face a living thing...

I squeezed my eyes shut as I turned away from the Major, turning back to my truck.

"Don't be a fool and send your own men. You don't know how to use this equipment, and if your men lock me out of the system, we'll be stuck here till a rescue team is dispatched in like a week or two." I warned him. Having my back to him made between my shoulderblades itch. "Some of these have security charges, the explosives will blow your men in half, destroy the code box, and seal the doors. Just leave the alone." I warned.

"Sergeant Ant, I'm ordering you." He started.

"Doesn't matter." I told him, pulling back open the tailgate on the Gypsy Wagon. I pulled out the bottle and opened the top with my thumb and forefinger. "It isn't going to change reality. If I try to do this without getting some rest, there's a good chance that I'll screw it up and get us stuck."

"Don't force me to write you up, Sergeant." The Major snapped. "I'll press charges, and don't think I won't."

...kill him, kill him now...

...quiet, Taggart...

"You do what you have to do." I smiled at him. "Write up, file charges, whatever you have to do, sir." I didn't look at him, instead shook another pill into my mouth. "Just don't forget to add that thanks to your decisions you've locked us inside a fucking bunker."

I smiled, showing the teeth the Army had given me, and put the bottle back in my pocket.

"Painkillers?" He asked.

I ignored that. "Tell your men to bunk up by the trunks. Get chow into them, post guards." I told him, using the same tone I used on my men.

"Sergeant Ant." The Major said.

"You don't have to listen to me, Major." I told him. "After all, I'm sure you have years of experience dealing with hard sites." I finished facing him and smiling.

"I'm ordering you one last time, Sergeant, go and open those doors." He warned me.

"Sir, I respectfully refuse your order." I told him, using formal tones.

"Is that your final word?"

"It is, sir."

He turned around and stalked away, and I sighed, going back to my bags. What the hell was he going to do, bend my dogtags and make me do stand to in the shower on a frozen mountain in Germany?

I changed quickly into my PT grays, then sat on the tailgate drinking out of a bottle of water and watching the Major. He was busy scribbling on a clipboard, and I knew he was writing up my insubordination.

...kill him now. he plots against you. he plans to kill you like Lieutenant Colonel Felding tried to...

...shut up, Dana...

Her voice vanished but I could hear women singing to me, faintly, going over my sins, my mistakes, my failures. They were faint, but getting stronger. I reached into my side pocket of the rucksack and pulled open the pill box I pulled out, using both hands to open it, and dropped the pills into my mouth, washing them down with a drink of water. I closed my eyes and I could hear the alarms of the Blackhawk and the tearing snarl of heavy weapons fire in my mind, my teaming cursing. I shoved the 7 day container back in the pocket and pinched the bridge of my nose, feeling that cold trickle down my back as my body flooded with combat chemicals. The Fates got louder, a chorus of women I'd failed over my life, that I'd disappointed, that had needed me and I'd dropped the ball.

I dropped down and started doing pushups, wide armed so that I had to strain, that it made my wounded forearm throb, made my damaged shoulder erupt into pain. I ignored it, ignore the Fates, and kept doing pushups to get my heart rate up, to get the medication into my system faster.

Boots stopped in front of me and I recovered quickly, my knees coming up and letting me stand straight up. The Major stood in front of me, holding out his clip board toward me.

"Sign this." He stated. I took it and glanced it over. He was counseling me on my disrespect for his rank, my refusal to carry out his lawful orders, and my insubordination in my actions and manners.

I smiled, drew a line below what he wrote, and simply wrote: "Service Member warned officer that tampering with equipment and not following instructions may result in severe damage to facility and jeapordize completion of mission objective. Service Member instructed officer that service member was not in condition (after suffering injury attempting to overcome officer's bad decisions) to follow through on orders given, and refused to follow orders that would result in possible injuries or death to fellow soldiers as well as possibly damage the possibility of completion of mission."

Then I initialed it, signed it, and handed it back with a smile. The Major read it, and stared at me, turning red.

"Think you're funny?" He asked me. The Fates were practically howling that I was a failure, a murderer, a coward, a failure. Nancy, Heather, Taggart, and Dana were whispering in my ears. to kill him before he killed me.

I shook my head, more at them than the Major, but the Major took it as me answering him. "You think this will matter?" he asked, tapping the part I'd added to the statement. "I'll still see you court martialled." He said.

"Not till we get out of here." I replied, grinning at him.

The howling was staring to diminish, the pushups had burned off the combat hormones and chemicals from my system and pushed the medication into my system.

"Now go do what I ordered." He told me, and I laughed.

"Answer is still the same." I told him. "I've been up for over 72 hours." I admitted. "I drove from Washington DC straight, and before that I was in briefings about what little they know about Kilo sites." I went to shake another pill into my mouth.

He grabbed the pills from my hand.

I lunged up, snatching it back before he could even get it to his face and took two steps to the side, snarling at him.

"Don't touch touch my goddamn meds."

"What are they?" He asked, taking a step back.

"None of your goddamn business." I told him, realizing I was crouched down and straightening up, trying to relax. "Look, sir. I'd rather it didn't be like this." The chemicals finally kicked in, and I felt weary, wanted to climb under my truck and go to sleep, and wake up after a few hours. I yawned when he started talking.

"I'd rather my orders were obeyed." he told me, and I yawned again. The Fates had gone silent, back to wherever in my head they slept. Nancy was murmuring, but now it sounded like she was trying to get me to go to sleep. Heather's voice joined hers, singing softly to me.

The Major was still talking as I walked over to the truck, pulled the tailgate down, and sat down on the tailgate.

"Set guards." I yawned again, leaning back against the dufflebags. "I already took my meds, sir." Another yawn, I leaned back, closing my eyes. "I'll be out for a little while. Feed your men, bed down."

"Sergeant Ant, on your feet." He said, pulling on me. I was limp, boneless, and I didn't even bother pushing him away, just yawned again.

He kept talking, but I was already being pulled down by the drugs.

I dreamed of Desert Storm and the hospital.


Chapter 7

Site Kilo-29-Civil Defense Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Morning


I could feel someone near me and my eyes popped open, one hand reaching out to sweep them away, the other grabbing the knife from the rucksack next to me. One of the meatheads squawked as I threw him hard against the railing. I was growling as I came up to a sitting position, everything blurry around me.

...never swing until you can verify your target, son...

"Sergeant Ant!" Donaldson said, falling against the side of the Humvee bed.

"Don't fucking touch me." I snapped at him, reaching around blindly.

"I've got your glasses." He said, and I held my hands out. "I didn't want you to roll onto them." He told me.

I was wide awake, my nerves thrumming and my head clear. Donaldson put my glasses in my hand and I put them on, the motorpool swimming into focus.

"What are you doing over here?" I asked, looking around. The motorpool was completely silent.

"The Major had all of us bed down, I'm on guard." He said.

I reached out and grabbed a bottle of water, cracking it open and guzzling down half of it. Damn meds gave me dry mouth.

"You cry in your sleep." he told me.

"Yeah, I've been told that." I answered, standing up and stretching. "How long was I out?"

"About 3 maybe 4 hours." He told me.

Already I could feel the strength returning, my head had cleared up, and it was silent in my head for the first time in two days. I felt a flush of guilt, knowing that Heather would be disappointed in me for not taking my medication when I was supposed to.

"Me and the other guys, we were wondering." He paused for a moment. "Can you really get us out of here?"

I looked at the motor pool, almost completely black as the majority of lights had shut off. I guessed that they had probably been on some kind of timer, and when whatever system was watching over the motorpool had sensed that none of the doors had been opened in over an hour, they'd shut the lights off.

"I'm not sure, kid." I admitted. "I want to check a few things first." I looked at him. Young, short blond hair, pretty much Generic Soldier that it starts to seem like fills the lower ranks some days. "How well do you know the other guys?"

"I've been working with them for about three months." He told me. I nodded and scrubbed my face for a minute.

"Wake your relief, get someone you trust who isn't a goddamn spaz, and meet me back over here." I told him. I lifted my arm and glared at the field dressing on it. "I've had enough sleep, let's see what the fuck is going on in this place open."

"Yes, Sergeant." He said, then went to turn away.

"Tell them to put on full battle rattle with NVG's, but come back here while they're dressing, I what you opinion on what you saw." I told him. He nodded and jogged off.

Everything was fuzzy since I'd driven through Ohio, I could remember that I'd had problems with the Major, but couldn't remember why. I'd probably started acting like a nut again, or at least extremely erratic.

I'd have to apologize to him now that I wasn't getting screamed at constantly by people who weren't actually near me.

The water was tepid, but I still used it to wash down my morning meds before I got dressed quickly, throwing on my Kevlar vest under my LBE and gear. Where I'd been bitten was puffy and red, but didn't look any worse than any other time I'd been bitten by something. Knives in both boots, two on my LBE, one down my back, one at the small of my back. I pulled out the ammo box and opened it, running my finger over the foam pad before shutting it again.

Just in time for Donaldson and some meathead.

"Sergeant Ant, this is PFC Kincaid." Donaldson told me.

Shit, now another meathead had a fucking name.

He was the one who would probably get me killed this time. Fucking little lost lambs.

"Donaldson said you want to try to open the doors." the meathead said.

I shook my head. "No, before I open this place I want to know what the hell is going in here." I looked around, then back at the two men.

God, they were so young looking.

"The Air Force team got here, they parked over there." I pointed off into the darkness. "I want to find out if the engineers got here, and I want to figure out why someone erased the goddamn computers in the Civil Defense C&C."

I turned back into the back of my Humbee and pulled out a dufflebag.

"Something bad went down here, gentlemen, and I need to find out what so I can make my report." I lied, undoing the clip of the dufflebag and opening it. Both of the privates stared as I pulled out two M-16A2's, then handed each of them one before closing the dufflebag up I had hidden in it. I pulled another ammo can over, opened it, and took out a brass padlock with a key in it, then locked the dufflebag.

"Are we going to need these?" Donaldson asked me as I pulled over a wooden box that had formerly held 2 APDSFSDU-T's.

"With luck, no." I told them, and opened the box to reveal carefully stacked 30 round magazines. "Fill your ammo pouches, put one in the well, put another one somewhere else." I told them. While they followed my instructions I grabbed the two duffelbags, the CD codebook, and the ARMILCOM book.

"Sergeant, are we going to need this?" the new meathead asked me.

"With luck, no." I repeated, standing up and shrugging into my rucksack.

"What is all that stuff?" New Meathead asked, looking at the other wooden boxes, ammo cans, and dufflebags.

"None of your business." I told him, standing up and closing the tailgate. I bounced the camera in my hand. "One thing. Donaldson already learned this, I need you to learn it." I faced New Meathead directly. "Do what I say. Don't hesitate when I tell you to do something. Your life, and mine, might depend on it."

The Meathead nodded, licking his lips and I nodded. "Look, something attacked me and Donaldson, and it might come back."

"What was it?" He asked as I flicked on my flashlight and started heading back to where the Air Force sedan was.

"I think it was a sick cougar." I lied.

...liar...

shut up, Nancy

"Why do you wear an eyepatch and glasses both?" NM asked me.

"So I can see out of my one good eye." I told him, panning my light over the cars.

Most of them were 1950's and 1960's vehicles. Solid Detroit steel, none of them with government markings. The liscense plates were a large sample of the main 48 states. I passed by makes and models of all colors, from cars with fins to the pickups I'd grown up with.

"Where did all these cars come from?" NM asked.

"Detroit." I grunted, suppressing a grin. When neither of them caught the reference I sighed.

"What the hell is this place for?" NM asked, and I grunted. "Seriously, why did they even build this place?"

"Fight and win on the nuclear battlefield." I admitted, slowing down as the car finally came into the light of my flashlight.

...watch it, it'll cut out any second...

...that place is years behind us, Bomber...

I pulled my pills out of my pocket and shook one into my mouth while New Meathead kept babbling.

"You can't win a nuclear war." He told me, with all the sincerity of an idiot.

"Wait here." I told them, carefully looking at the ground as I moved up the car. No blood on the cement, no broken glass, no scrapes or cracks in the cement, no spent brass.

"Look at all the taxpayer's money they wasted on this bullshit?" NM said, waving his hands at all the vehicles. "Hell, these things all cost like 3 years pay, and there's dozens of them."

"Try over a hundred." I said, moving around the car, making sure to stay back from the car.

"Why would they put these cars in here?" NM asked.

"This place is EMP shielded, we're looking at hundreds of feet of rock and God only knows what kind of shielding they built into the place." I told him, staring at the car. "There's probably fuel dumps and the mechanic's bay in the military section." I lifted the camera and started snapping pictures.

"Why in the civilian area?" Donaldson asked, watching me snap photos.

"Control. You control the fuel, the repairs, you can decide when excursion teams can leave and when they can't." I said, leaning forward and looking in the windows. Nothing, bare vinyl seats. "The cars probably have fuel tanks, and there's probably a switching system to allow the vehicles to be fueled in here, but the main tank access is probably in the military motor pool."

"It isn't like they could leave for like 10,000 years, Sergeant." NM sneered.

Unlike the day before I didn't have the sudden urge to kill him for being such a dumb ass. I didn't feel like explaining radiation half-life or exactly what kind of radiation was created by the detonation of a nuclear weapon.

"Let's go." I told them, stepping back from the car after checking the doors. Locked.

"Where are we going?" Donaldson and Dumbshit asked at the same time.

"Military section." I told them, heading off into the darkness. I could hear them following me, with Dumbass still babbling about how this was nothing but bullshit, that nothing could survive a nuclear war, that these places were a waste of time.

...people like him made it so we didn't have jobs after the Cold War, Ant, you should kill him...

...hush, Taggart, it won't bring back our jobs...

My meds were working and she took her Midwest accent with her when she left. The back of my skull, on a weird flat spot, throbbing sharply.

I stopped at the thick heavy door that led to the decon showers. I turned to the two privates and put on my game face. "OK, soldiers, we're going to cut through the decon showers if possible and into Civil Defense emergency medical. If there isn't access through the showers, then there should be access through the primary reception room."

Donaldson's face was pale in my flashlight. "You saw it, you saw how fast it moves, make sure your lines of fire are clear, but don't hesitate to shoot if you have a clear shot." Donaldson nodded, and I turned to Dipshit. "Be careful with that weapon." He nodded, but I could see in his eyes that he didn't take it too seriously.

"Donaldson, you're behind me, What's your fuck, you're pulling drag." I said, opening the access door. Dipshit said his name, I guess, but I couldn't hear it.

Mainly because I wasn't listening.

When the door opened up to the locker room, I'd replaced my softcap with my helmet, my NVG's were already on and I had a knife in my hand. Two knives look good in movies, but I'd always preferred one. The Gerber's weight was comfortable in my hand, the thin calfskin I'd wound around the hilt as comfortable as it was stained.

"Stay sharp." I said softly.

The room smelled of rotting meat and blood, and rather than go straight between the eight rows of lockers and expose myself to three avenues of attack on each side, I skirted toward the side we'd already gone toward, ignoring the door that led to the egg, and headed toward the far wall.

I kept watching the rows between the lockers, the tops of the lockers, and the ceiling. I tried to listen but goddamn Dipshit McGee was a mouth breather and was panting. It irritated me but it wasn't that big of a deal, I should be able to tell the difference between something bouncing on the top of the lockers and Dipshit the Mouth Breather.

We moved up to the decon shower and I stared at the door. There were deep scratches across the pain, and someone had painted on top of the scratches, obliterating the words. I pointed at Dipshit, then at my NVG's, then at the locker room. He nodded, and I moved over to the heavy switch and motioned for Donaldson to take the other side of the door.

When I threw the lever the door began to slowly raise. Mist poured out from underneath, reeking of rotting meat. Dipshit began to cough and swear.

"Shut the fuck up, Kay." Donaldson hissed. Great, the goddamn meat-head a fucking nickname and now I knew it. I. Don't. Care.

The door raised all the way up and I could smell hot water, rotting meat, and rust.

"We going through that, Sergeant Ant?" Donaldson asked. I could see that he had on his NVG's.

"I'll lead the way, you two follow." I told him. Donaldson nodded, Dipshit did too. I made a fist and shook it, putting out first one finger.

Then two.

On three I swung low, moving in the door, trying to see through the steam, breathing in the stench of rotting meat, blood, and rusting iron as little as I could.

I could tell by the layout it was a 1950's group shower. Probably 2 banks of showers on the inside, creating 3 rows total, split down the middle. With 10 shower cubicles per side per section, it meant 120 showers total, each other them with a nice 6x6 shower.

You could even decon people if they were unconscious. You could process hundreds, thousands, in the space of hours.

The largest I'd ever seen before a shower decon room with twenty-four total.

I moved quickly across the shower, my boots thudding and crunching on the wet steel grate that made up the floor. I could hear them following me as we moved through the steam and the stench. Twenty-five paces moved me across the room, roughly 75 feet, matching up with the map I was building in my head. I glanced left as we were moving through the room and I saw a door in the middle of the wall, lining up pretty much with the egg.

I threw myself flat on the wall, watching the other two hit the opposite side of the door. I counted to three with my fingers again and hit the lever. The door made clicking sounds for a second, weirdly muted with the hissing of the showers, then slowly started to raise.

As soon as it was up high enough I crouched down and spotted another door roughly ten feet away.

...how far it needed for 2 men carrying a stretcher...

The three of us moved quickly into the "airlock" and Donaldson threw the locking bar. Dipshit started to turn around and face the other door and Donaldson stopped him as the clattering of mismatched or stripped gears sounded..

"It isn't over till you're sitting in the E-Club drinking whiskey with two fingers in a redhead." Donaldson told him, jerking his head at the still open door and bringing the rifle up to his shoulder even though it was closing. I hid a grin.

"Open the other door!" Dipshit yelled.

"It's an airlock, while one is open the other can't be." I told him, watching the door drop in slow motion.

Something moved in the steam.

There were three loud clunks, the door shuddered, then began to move downward smoothly.

Another something moved in the mist.

The door crunched into the frame and I threw the other lever, tightening my grip on my knife.

The door didn't start clanking, but instead raised smoothly. I put my fingertips against the wall and took note of the lack of vibrations. As soon as it raised out of the six inch deep well, a sliver of bright yellow light filled the air-lock. Cursing, I turned off my NVG's and flipped them up. The door lifted up far enough and I crouched a little further to see under it.

"Holy shit." I breathed as the med-bay came into sight. Donaldson let out a soft "fuck!" and Dipshit screamed.

It wasn't a medbay, it was an abattoir.


Chapter 8

Site Kilo-29-Entry Areas
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Morning

The medical clinic was half the size of a football field, old emergency beds, cabinets that were supposed to hold medical instruments, oxygen bottles, old surgical lights, and everything from a state of the art 1960's emergency room.

Except for the rotting meat on the floors, on the beds, on the tables. Kitchen knives were stuck into the meat, jutting from hacked apart rib cages, and blood was spattered all over the walls, covering every surface, and the floor was covered in brown crust so thick that it had broken and come up in potato chip sized chunks.

Dipshit was still screaming, and without turning around I swung backwards with my off hand, catching him across the side of the face.

"For fuck's sake, shut up." I hissed, looking at the room.

"Sergeant, are those?" Donaldson began.

"You hit me!" Dipshit yelled, and I turned around to face him. He wasn't pointing his weapon at me, so I leaned toward him and ignored Nancy's voice urging me to stab him before he killed me.

"Shut up. Anyone near a ventilation shaft can you hear you squalling." I snarled. "Unless you want to find out who all did that, shut up."

Dipshit jerked back from me and I turned away from him.

...he's going to kill you, Ant, do him first...

Nancy's voice was soft, but perfectly audible in the sudden silence. She went away without any urging.

"Sergeant?" Donaldson started.

"Shh." I waved at him, looking at the meat scattered around. "Come on."

They followed me into the room, and I stopped at the first set of hacked up rib chunks. Behind me Dipshit was retching, either from the stench of rotting blood and meat, or from the sight. I ignored the smell, I'd smelled worse, and poked at the ribs with my knife, ignoring the sickly wet tearing sound as the meat rolled.

Pig, cow, not human. Ribs were wrong.

I waved Donaldson and the Meat-Head with a name over to the door on the right then prowled around the room. I found a couple of spears made of kitchen knives and broom/mop handles, all the drawers pulled out, the cabinets smashed in. A couple of scalpels with broken blades were scattered around, and several boxes of scalpel blades had fallen all the floor, amid the broken glass of syringes, IV bottles, and crushed pieces of metal.

Dipshit was puking when I moved to the left door, which would lead further in, probably to the egg. Under the dried blood smeared on the door I could make out "Civil Defense Interior Personnel Only - All others must decon shower before entering facility" only someone had crossed out facility and written in blue paint "Bunny Hole"

Great, the fucking site had a nickname.

Walking I stared at the entry panel, knowing I was frowning as I walked toward Donaldson and the Dipshitm sheathing my knife as I moved.

Despite my outwardly cool appearance, which they basically pound into you at BNCOC, I was worried. I was missing an Air Force team and two engineer teams, I had 3 (probably) CIA (definitely) assholes with an unspecified job, a Major with no fucking combat patch, and I was beginning to suspect that the psychotic episode they'd warned me about was starting to onset. Oh, and my liver and kidneys ached and had off and on stabbing pains, which made me worried it wasn't a psychotic episode, but more of what happened two months before. Oh, yeah, and I'd been attacked by something, something that may be somethings and might be interested in having another go around. And I didn't know enough about what this Kilo site was all about.

Why the fuck butcher stuff in here? Whoever had done it had to have access to the kitchen to get the kitchen knives. Did they steal them down the mountain and drag them up just to butcher them in here instead of the kitchens?

There was a security lock on the door further into the facility, but it was a standard key punch, not a high security lock like I'd seen on the outside of the medical bay. The heavy blast door didn't have a keypad on the inside of the lock, which immediately raised questions in my head.

I leaned over the vomiting Dipshit and grabbed the heavy bar, pulling it up and locking it into position. I half expected to hear the gears or hydraulic cylinders start to the thump, but the door rose up smoothly.

Red lights kicked on and a speaker exploded in sparks and a howl as the door raised up. I knelt down to get a look, startled by the light coming on out there and the red cherries flashing.

There were a handful of ambulances, old 1950's civilian ambulances, up on jacks with the tires removed and the hoods up. It wasn't a big motor pool, but it was one anyway.

"Don't say anything, follow fast, Donaldson, you slap the bar then eyes left, Kay eyes right." I ordered, then led the way, moving quickly to the massive blast door. Behind me I heard Donaldson slam the bar upright and the two follow me. It wasn't to many ambulances, just 3 rows of 2 on each side.

"If we end up with weapons free, and you recover your magazines, put the expended magazine upside down in your magazine pouch so you don't grab it by accident." I told them in my best Wednesday, no, it was Thursdays now, Training voice.

The lights on each side of the little motor pool exploded in sparks, and I could hear something scraping on the concrete. Two more steps and the next row of lights blew. Five after that and random ones started going out in a cascade of sparks.

I slid to a stop in front of the keypad, pulling the Civil Defense book up and holding down "E" while I hung the book on the hook on the side of the keypad. The display lit up and I held down enter till it flashed the serial number at me. Donaldson was already flipping through the pages and he found the code.

"Ignore the last two letters." I snapped.

"There's something moving back there." Dipshit said.

"Eyes on it." I muttered, punching in the digits as fast as he could read them. I'd have three chances before a lockout, so I was hoping Donaldson was reading them right.

I didn't know how many times it had tried and failed, the last thing I wanted was to hit enter and have the goddamn security charge blow me in half.

When I hit enter the alarms cut on. "Civilian Medical Access Opening! Warning! Civilian Medical Access Opening!" blared over the loudspeakers. I could knew it was echoing in the blast tunnel as I watched the huge 100 plus ton door start to move.

That's when the last of the lights went out.

"As soon as it opens, get through it." I told them. "I don't know how the system is going to react." Donaldson nodded, but Dipshit looked like he wanted to argue but Donaldson glared at him and his flapping hamburger eating device closed with a click.

Two feet before the angle started to appear, and the wedge was nearly five feet wide. I could hear the thumping as it was drawn open, and was bouncing on my toes as it finally cleared enough for me to see out into the blast deflection tunnel. I'd drawn my favorite knife again, and it fit in my hand smoothly, the honed edge glinting.

...wanna watch me shave with it, Ant?...

...God, yes, Heather...

"Kay, go, all the way across and against the wall." I said as soon as the door opened. Like they'd taught us at PLDC, most dispensable is used to trigger the trap.

"Why..." he started, and I just looked at him.

"Yes, Sergeant." He grumbled, but he went. I counted to five.

"Donaldson, come here." The kid leaned forward and I whispered instructions. He looked nervous but nodded and went through.

Something clattered behind me and I heard the thumping of a roof indenting and popping back out. I waited, feeling the hairs on my neck rise and the patch between my shoulderblades start to tighten as I knelt there in the darkness, my back to the motorpool, and something moving in the darkness.

NOW, ANT! Bomber bellowed.

I I lunged forward, took two steps, and dove, arms outstretched, to bellyflop on the hard cement. It drove the wind out of me and I rolled. Kay was screaming, but I could hear the pop-pop-pop of someone pulling the trigger. I rolled to my left and scrambled up as something screeched long and loud.

I scrambled to the door and pressed my thumb hard on the "CLS" button.

Donaldson was on one knee with his rifle to his shoulder and his mouth pulled in that grin/grimace you get, popping shots through the open door roughly ever two heartbeats. Kay was standing against the wall, just staring and screaming. The door, still opening, sudden shivered and I felt and heard the THUMP of the system going into neutral.

"No eyes, Sergeant, no eyes!" Donaldson yelled.

"Keep shooting, soldier!" I yelled back, my ears ringing. While the curvature of the tunnel was great for blast deflection, the goddamn acoustics were punishing.

The door trembled and began to reserve direction.

Dozens of car horns began blaring from the room, and we could see strobing flashing lights as the headlights started cutting on and off.

That's when Donaldson dropped the magazine out of the well.

...it's coming, sweetheart...

I nodded to Heather and shifted the grip. Donaldson thought I was nodding to him and gritted his teeth as he quickly pinched the release on his ammo pouch and started to pull.

Donaldson slapped the magazine in, let the bolt shoot forward, slapped the forward assist, and started banging.

That's when something screamed, loud and long.

Donaldson kept firing, and the door slid shut and we could hear the scream of the system's brakes slowing the door enough that it just thudded home with authority rather than shaking the whole goddamn world.

Kay was still standing there screaming as I stalked across the tunnel and up to him. He'd backed up against the wall, the words "ARMILCOM" above him in letters two feet high, his eyes wild and still shrieking. His fucking rifle was at his feet.

I slapped him.

Before he could do anything else I stepped into him, slapping one hand over his mouth, getting right into his face, and held my knife up, the blade at a slight upward angle so he could see the whole length, the guard, my hand.

And the point an inch from his eye.

"You goddamn little coward." I hissed. "Private Donaldson assured me you weren't a goddamn Lunchmeat Larry, and when the shit hit the fan, all you could do was scream like a little bitch." I ground my dentures together for a moment. I didn't care that my hand was shaking, it wasn't fear, and if Kay was dumb enough to think it was and tried me

I'd kill him.

"You support your team." I grated. "I don't care if you cry, scream, piss yourself, shit yourself, or get a fucking erection, you support your fucking boys." His eyes were even wider, but he'd stopped fucking screaming. "If you don't, you don't have to worry about them.

"I'll kill you myself." I told him, and watched his eyes as it sunk in. "Blink if you understand."

He blinked once, slowly. I lowered the knife and then pulled my hand away.

"Good. We're in the shit, private, and I need you to have my back the same way you need me to have yours." I stepped back slowly. "Pick up your rifle." I turned around and took a step, stopping when I heard him lift it up, the muzzle or the ring for the sling on the butt scraping on the pavement.

"If you're thinking about shooting me, you better kill me." I warned him. "It's not a threat."

"What are they, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked, swapping out his magazine then picking up the one he dropped and putting it upside down in the magazine pouch.

"Pick up the brass." I told him.

"Leave nothing for the enemy." He replied, bending down.

"Private Kay, come here." I said, shaking a pill into my mouth and looking down the tunnel toward the military section. He moved slow, warily, but I ignored it.

...it's just prudence, beloved...

...I know, Heather...

I could smell CLP. Everyone usually used it to clean rifles. Some nights she'd dab a tiny bit behind each ear.

I told myself it was the rifles.

"Private, I don't know what your MOS is, I don't care." I turned to face him, sheathing the knife. "But your MOS doesn't matter right now." I made a vague motion at the facility. "I'm not an snake eater, but I've ran with them repeatedly. That doesn't make me a snake eater, but when we were on mission, I was held to a certain standard."

I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder, ignoring the jerk. "Right now, you need to think of what kind of standard I'm going to set for us to live through this." His eyes were blue, and locked with mine. "I won't lie, Private, even if you reach that standard, you might not live, but if you set a standard, remember your training, and trust me, I'll do my best to get you through this."

He nodded jerkily, swallowing.

"I will not leave you behind if you are alive, or I even think you have a chance of being alive." I promised him. "ChemCorps word of honor."

There was still hate and fear in his eyes, but I could live with that. Most importantly, so could he. I didn't care if he hated me forever, built a shrine to Bhaal and sacrificed goats and prayed that Bhaal murder me, make voodoo dolls of me, if the hate carried him through, he'd live.

"What's your name again?" I asked.

...don't ask that. Who cares what his name is? You shouldn't care, it will just get you killed...

...He's my troop now, Nancy...

"Private First Class Kincaid." He said.

Donaldson came up, his pocked clinking, and I turned to him. "We might need that brass." I told him. He looked confused, but nodded.

"OK, Private Kincaid. We're not in too bad of trouble. We've got adverse weather outside, and someone in here is trying to kill us, but things aren't as bad as it could be." I told him, turning away from the military side and walking toward the blast doors.

"It isn't?" He asked. Good, he wasn't stupid enough to ask how it could get worse. God always showed you about 10 seconds later. That's how PV2 Vencilla took a bullet through the hinge of the jaw from a sniper that probably didn't even exist until he'd asked that question.

"We're armed, I've got equipment and supplies to let us fight, survive, and win, and we're acting instead of reacting." I told him. I looked at him and smiled and he jerked back from me.

"And the winter can't get in."

...you're scaring him, honey, and he doesn't understand...

...yes, dear...

"Private joke." I told him, still thumping forward.

"What are they, Sergeant Ant?" Donaldson asked.

"We're going to go to the main door to check on the blast shock absorber." I answered. "I want to see how badly it's out of position, and maybe see if I can get it to rotate back out."

"It can't be closed all the way, that was an armored Humvee." Kincaid told me.

"You wouldn't believe what these sites are capable of." I warned him.

"Pfft, it's old Cold War junk. It isn't like anything from the Cold War is worth a shit." He sneered, then stumbled as I stopped suddenly and he did too.

"Private, the very thing you are mocking is a goddamn facility is fifty miles by road from the nearest town, built eight thousand feet up into a solid goddamn mountain in an area with less than 5 people per square mile, without any public knowledge of its construction or existence, that so far seems to hold two civilian motor pools, what should have been a decent emergency room, has only God knows how much living area for those civilians, untold thousands of gallons of gasoline, and may be square miles in size." I told him. He opened his mouth and I glared at him until he closed his mouth before he answered.

"I'm from the Cold War." I told him. "The US Army built me to fight and win against the Soviet Union in the event of a full out MAD scenario and taught me to win." He was going pale, but I didn't care. "Stop insulting the Cold War, kid, you don't know what you're talking about."

His eyes flicked to my chest and collar, and I knew he was seeing nothing that he was used to seeing, only U.S. ARMY above my left pocket.

"Sergeant, why did you cut off your combat patch?" Donaldson asked me suddenly.

"What?" I asked, turning to look at him. He started walking and I followed, ignoring Dipshit.

"Why did you cut off your combat patch?" He asked again.

"Your Major kept asking me questions about it every time we stopped, and I got tired of him asking." I told him honestly. "It's none of his business how I got it beyond I earned it in Desert Storm."

"You were in Desert Storm?" Dipshit asked.

"No." I told him. "I fought in Desert Storm. Big fucking difference." I ground my teeth for a second remembering all the fucking Billy Badasses I'd run into after the war who acted like they'd held off the entire fucking Iraqi army by themselves armed with only a sharp stick.

If I had one more motherfucker tell me that they had Saddam Hussein in their fighting sights only to be called off I'd go on a fucking spree.

"Did you kill anyone?" Dipshit asked, and I sighed. Why do they always ask the same fucking question? How come they never asked me if I got any ass? Like that cute little blond medic, or that Air Force girl, or that hot mulatto redhead Marine. Why didn't they ask fun shit?

"I'm a soldier, just like you." I answered.

"You Special Forces, is that why you don't wear any patches?" Dipshit asked. I sighed again.

"No. I'm not a snake eater." I reminded him. "I'm just a deniable asset."

"What's a snake eater?" Dipshit wouldn't stop with the fucking questions that didn't matter.

"In Ranger school and SERE they make you eat a snake." I told him.

"What's a deniable..."

"Sergeant, what's so important about how much wreckage might be blocking the shock absorber?" Donaldson interrupted as we passed the civilian motor pool.

"Because I need to see how badly it is blocked so I can hazard a guess at how the system might be interpreting it." I shrugged. "If the wreckage caught fire, the computers might have decided it was thermal bloom from a nearby strike, if the wreckage held up well enough the system might have guessed it was a Soviet BMP and might be locking down the systems in preparation for an enemy attack."

We came around the curve well enough to see the inside base of the huge shock absorber.

"What if there isn't any wreckage under it?" Donaldson asked in an odd tone.

That was a very good question.

The plug was set properly.


Chapter 9

Site Kilo-29-Entry Areas
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Morning


"Where's the wreckage?" Kay asked, standing stock still as I moved forward to the blast absorption plug. "I saw them park that Humvee right there."

"Gone." Donaldson replied, keeping step with me.

"How far past this?" I asked him, slapping the end of the plug. Solid steel, and if its size was any basis, the whole plug probably weighed in at two hundred or more tons.

"Five, maybe 10 meters." He answered, and I nodded, looking down.

The grating for the showers terminated roughly six inches on our side of the plug, and I could see where the rust had been torn away on the leading edge. NVG's and/or flashlights showed us nothing beyond the grill. I did notice scratches in the stone where the grate met the stone of the facility on the left side and our side, with the scratches being longer on the left side of the inner lip.

"Anyone got a penny?" I asked. Kay pushed his hand into his pocket and pulled out some change. "Give me a couple." He nodded and handed me about a nickle in pennies. I check the penny against the grill and noted that they would fit if I turned them kitty-corner.

I let the penny go.

one-one thousand

two-one th

Before I could finish I heard the penny bounce on something, bounce a few more times, then come to a little copper ringing stop. That's 9.9 for the first second, and halfway through 19.8 for the second one, giving me a total of about 18-20 meters down to where it hit. Sixty feet.

I closed my eyes trying to visualize it. A sixty foot gap under the plug, a metal grate on top, scratched on the grate at the edges and on the stone. Never think small where hard sites are concerned, they were made with 1950's brute force technology and that doesn't mean that nothing could be accomplished. The Romans built aqueducts that stand to this day with nothing more than mathematics, stone, block and tackle, and brute force.

"The gate's some kind of trap door that dropped the crushed vehicle into a lower area, isn't it, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked, and I nodded.

"The springs and stuff for the trap door would have to be massive." Kay blurted.

"Think massive." I answered, moving over to the code box on the inside wall. It was flashing red letters and I lifted up the codebook and began flipping the pages, looking for the code it was telling me.

"Think about it, Kay." Donaldson was saying. "If enemy vehicles got crushed, the trapdoor would drop down, dropping the vehicle down into another room, clearing the way for the shock absorber to properly deploy."

"And letting the inhabitants of the facility use the vehicle for scrap." I added, going down through the page where the first couple digits added up. "If I could get the shock absorber to retract I'd cut a hole in the grate and rappel down there in order to bypass the security."

"This is a Kilo Site, Sergeant." Donaldson reminded me. "You keep telling me that, so I think it's probably booby trapped."

"Shit!" I kicked the wall and backed up, dropping the codebook onto the ring on my LBE.

"Sorry, Sergeant." Donaldson said, and I turned around to stare at him and Kay.

"It isn't you, kid." I shook my head. "The system's warning me that this terminal's been taken offline until further orders from the Civil Defense Control or the Military Command and Control systems. I turned around and kicked the shock absorber.

It ignored me.

"We'll have to try the military section." I told them.

"Why not the civilian area?" Kay asked as I stomped back toward them.

"It's trashed, useless." Donaldson told him, keeping up with me.

"Oh." Kay's voice sounded small as we passed the civilian motorpool door.

Just the sounds of our boots on the cement as passed the civilian motor pool and the long empty swatch between the civilian area and the military area. We passed the heavy door with the logo of "568th STRAT MSL (ICBM TITAN)" and the logo of the 548th next to it. Slowly out of the dimness the door simply labeled "NO CIVILIAN ENTRY PERMITTED WITHOUT SPECIFIC AUTH" drew closer and I stopped in front of it. I toyed with the emergency escape option, but pushed it away. We wouldn't survive an hour outside if we couldn't take our vehicles with us.

"We don't know how things are going to look on the other side of this door." I warned. "I want you two behind me. Don't pull your trigger without checking your field of fire, I don't want shot in the ass. Kay, you cover the left quadrant, Dee, you cover the right."

"Yes, Sergeant." The chorused, and I flipped up the hard plastic covering and held down the "E" key. The system sprang to life, giving me a code group, and this time I pulled out the Army code book, moving to the blue edged pages and rapidly scanning until I found the code. The code told me to skip every other letter and the first and last numbers. I let go of the "E" key and held down the "ENTER" key and the system flashed me the new code group. I took me about 30 seconds to find it, and I tapped it in as quickly as possible. The system flashed "ACCESSING" at me and I dropped the codebook to my hip.

"Get back." I warned as the small door trembled and began to pull to the side.

"WARNING! PRIMARY MILITARY ACCESS OPENING! WARNING!" sounded out, a woman's voice. I briefly wondered what long-dead Air Force soldier had recorded that message, and wondered how big her titties were.

The message repeated as I watched the door open up, the lights coming on as soon as the wedge cleared the door. One of them blinked a few times and give it up, but the other three stayed on. I could see another door on the other side of the short room that was maybe 5 or six meters deep. There were benches on the side and I nodded.

"We're about to get wet, aren't we, Sergeant?" Donaldson said it in a way that made it more of a statement than a question.

"Probably, son." I answered. The door locked back with a faint "boom" that was felt more than heard, and I moved into the room, looking up. There were nozzles above us, a grate for a floor, and large lockers on the far side. I moved over, opening one of the lockers, and noted it was about six feet deep. The insides had labels such as "NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK" and "NO EXTERIOR PLANT LIFE" as well as a yellow and red one that red "NO OUTSIDE ANIMALS" on it.

"OK, start throwing your gear into these lockers and strip down." I told them, pulling off my ruck and slinging it into the locker. "I think I know what this is."

"Are you sure, Sergeant?" Kay asked.

"Yes." I lied.

I was standing there naked with my clothing and gear in the locker before either of them had gotten their tops off. I kept my Gerber, prowling around and looking at the benches, the overhead lights, and trying to figure out what the inset steel panels in the ceiling were for. The inside door had a smaller keypad next to the bar on the right of the door, and some helpful soul had scratched 5521 next to it, but I wasn't sure if I trusted someone I'd never met.

"Hurry up, we don't have all day." I warned. Donaldson was tossing one of his boots into the locker and Kay seemed nervous about undressing. "Just pretend its Basic Training bay showers." I reassured him. That made him look more nervous and I shook my head, going back to examining the inside of our little decon room.

The placards showing a stick figure industriously scrubbing his balls, or a stick figure standing under a showerhead with his legs spread open slightly and his arms raised slightly higher than his shoulders, a female stick figure soaping her boobs, a warning to check with "DECON NCOIC" after we passed through, a bunch of stick figures sitting down with an annotation to keep one arm's length apart, and a rotating wedge display that was currently showing green.

"Ready." Donaldson said.

"Sit on the bench." I warned him, moving over next to the door and the keypad. Kay stood there, his thumbs in the bands of his boxers. "Take 'em off, they're going to get wet if you don't, and then they'll bunch up and rub you raw." I turned away and looked at the pad. "Close your eyes, God knows how long the water has been in the pipe's."

Donaldson stripped off his boxers and threw them into the locker, slamming the door shut.

I hope you're right, mystery guy...

I flipped up the plastic shield and typed in "5521" and waited. The nozzles above us began hissing and I repressed a shudder.

...gas gas gas...

Then there was a low, shuddering moan that filled the room, making the air tremble. Finally, a sputtering noise. Then the water sprayed down. Hot and clean, almost too hot to stand, and for a split second I worried about getting boiled alive, but the temperature didn't raise. I ground my dentures together and forced myself to stare at the placard of 568th on the door, willing away the flames and the pain and the screaming. I fumbled at my bare thigh for a second before remembering my pills were in the locker.

The spray cut off after about 90 seconds, and when something above us went "KLACK!" I looked up to see that about half the panels had withdrawn. The lights that suddenly came on dazzled my vision and I looked away, feeling the heat radiating from the lights.

Donaldson was wiping his hands down his body, scraping off the water, and after a second I followed suit, with Kay starting last. The heat stayed on till the count of sixty, drying us pretty well, then they shut off and the panels snapped back into the recess.

"Let's find out if I'm right." I mumbled, standing up and throwing the bar up.

The door slid aside easily, revealing a locker room. The lights came on, and only one failed in a shower of sparks.

"EGRESS TEAM REPORT TO COMMAND! EGRESS TEAM REPORT TO COMMAND!" the woman's soothing voice was amplified into godhood over the intercom.

"What about our gear?" Kay yelled, and I motioned at the locker doors behind us, not taking my eyes off the locker room. The lockers were set into the walls, only a few benches in the middle of the floor. The lights were recessed, behind old plexiglass, and the far door was another heavy security door with a keypad next to it in addition to the throw bar. On the walls were reminders to take a Geiger counter, chemical detection equipment, to monitor your radiation intake, and that desperate people were dangerous people. On the right was the logo for the 568th with the logo for 548th next to it and on the left was the Continuity of Government, Department of Defense, and US seals. I turned around and noted that the door to the decon chamber was offset maybe two or three feet from the door across from it, and that on either side of the door were placards forming checklists.

The room was a killing floor. No cover.

I moved toward the first locker, continually scanning the room.

"You gonna get dressed, Sergeant?" Kay asked me.

"In a minute." I told him, reaching out and flicking the lever up so I could open the locker. Inside were the old OD greens, socks, underwear, a softcap, a shaving kit, but no boots. On the inside of the door was a checklist again, and the outline of a man with points to check for ticks as well as signs of radiation poisoning, including a graphic description of the kind of deep radiation burn that doesn't show up for an hour or two. No key cards, no keys, no nothing beyond what someone would need if their uniform was ruined.

The other two were mostly dressed, pulling on their tops and battle rattle when I went over to the locker, set down my knife, and started to dress. The inside of the door had a warning: "SIREN WILL SOUND WHEN EXTERNAL EGRESS WILL BE OPENED! REMOVE ALL GEAR IN 30 SECONDS OR DOOR WILL CLOSE AND LOCK" on it. I pulled the door, feeling carefully, and noted there was a slight resistance to being opened. The door was spring loaded or had a hydraulic cylinder somewhere.

"ALL EGRESS TEAMS REPORT FOR DEBRIEFING!" The woman's soothing voice thundered.

"We better hurry before she has a stroke." Donaldson advised, and I chuckled at it.

"Eyes out." I warned them, pulling up my pants and bucking the belt real quick. The fact that there wasn't a second door leading to the motorpool told me that either the motorpool was still going, or the planners had separated it from the facility by multiple locks in case it was lost.

Or both.

"What's the plan, Sergeant Ant?" Kay asked me when I shrugged into my Kevlar vest and snapped my LBE closed.

"We find Command and Control, check the status boards, and see if we can open the facility up." I told him. "If we can't, then we explore, map, log, and take inventory for when the main drawdown team arrives."

"Wait, we might not be able to get out?"

"It depends on if the system is in lockdown or not." I told him. The "ICBM (TITAN)" part of the logo bothered me. I knew why the missile targeting and control sections of the later generation missile field facilities had been removed, advances in inertial mapping and targeting had made them obsolete, but that didn't mean this system wasn't armed to the teeth for what was known as "Tertiary Strike Capability", which was just fancy mil-speak for "knock the piss out of the area again" and "blow the ever living fuck out of targets that might not have been hit in the first 2-5 go arounds".

"I really don't want to starve to death." Kay said as I pulled my rucksack on. Both of the privates had my dufflebags on their backs and were carrying the M-16's I'd given them.

That made me laugh.

"No chance of that." I told him honestly. "We might be on short rations, one MRE a day, but I doubt it will come to that." I waved at the other security door. "Stop thinking of this as some kind of hole in the ground, kid. This was built to win a nuclear war."

He opened his mouth, and I won my mental bet with myself by what he said. "Nobody can win a nuclear war."

"Let's go, kid, and I'll show you what's down the blue rabbit's hole." I grinned at him.

"Never thought I'd be exploring a rabbit's hole." Donaldson grumbled and I chuckled. A bitching soldier is a happy soldier. It was when they grouped up in small groups, muttering to each other, each group sharing members at different times, that you seriously needed to watch out. A soldier complaining about the food, or digging a foxhole, or standing guard is just blowing off steam at the inconveniences of being a soldier. Ones that gathered in out of the way places and mumbled were getting dangerous.

God knew I'd gathered into a small group before.

...tell me who else works for the Soviets!...

...go away, LT, I killed you in the dark and snow...

The door had a simple keypad, and I flipped up the plastic cover and typed "5521" just out of curiosity. "ACCESSING" flashed three times, and I could feel the hydraulics kick in.

The door started raising with a scream, the door shuddering in its track. The wedge was six inches deep the leading edge stained black and crusted with a wide smear at the midway point.

"Get on the stick." I warned, dropping down onto my stomach to look through the doorway. There was thick blackish brown crust on the floor, a trail of it leading down the hallway, and spatters on the walls.

I tensed to wriggle under the door and stopped, something catching the corner of my eye. I turned my head and saw a small red light glowing steadily about eight inches up. Curious I dropped my NVG's down and turned them on.

A beam of white light sliced across the doorway.

"Oh shit." I said.

"What is it?" Kay asked.

"This level's boobytrapped." I warned. The door was over halway up and another pencil-thin white light shot across the doorway. "There's IR beams, don't go through the door until I tell you."

"Roger that, Sergeant." Donaldson said.

"Yes, Sergeant." Kincaid answered as I stood up. The fact they were using IR surprised me, since the beams were more than obvious with NVG's.

...NVG's weren't invented then, silly boy...

...you're right, Nancy...

I was starting to worry I'd have to figure out a way around the beams when the door finally locked into place and the lights winked out.

"Can we go through?" Kincaid asked.

"The IR beams cut out when the door opened, weird." Donaldson added.

"I think if the beam gets interrupted, the door drops down in free fall." I told them, stepping through the doorway and feeling very aware of what was probably between 2 and 5 tons of door above me. If it dropped it wouldn't just knock me down, I'd vanish in an explosion of gore.

I was back in the motorpool at Fort Hood, the master hydraulic cylinder of the crane exploding, the M1A1 tank engine sudden going into freefall as the boom swung, out of control, to the left. The shadow covered SPC Leventhal for a split second as the multi-ton box swooped down on him. I could hear Nancy screaming for both of them since Lev wasn't even aware of the heavy cargo container dropping on him like an avalanche, she made a sound of soul crushing loss, and then he was just... gone and there wasn't even a gap between the bottom of the container and the tarmac. Blood and worse spattered across my face, my glasses, and into my open mouth as the tank engine, still in the heavy metal box, slammed to the ground before I could take much more than a single step, and Nancy was screaming in denial at the Gods, at Fate, raw hatred and black loss as I stumbled, realizing it was too late to save him that I was too slow that I'd failed Nancy and that her hopes for happiness had just vanished like her husband under...

The pill rattled into my mouth and I began chewing it, refusing to close my eyes, staring at the hallway in front of me that I'd taken a half-dozen steps into while the scene had replayed before my eyes. My spine went cold as adrenaline coursed into my system, my body responding to the memory that had been so real I almost pawed the blood off my face and could still feel the hot Texas sun on my shoulders. I could hear Nancy sobbing in the back of my mind as I rattled another pill into my mouth and started chewing it to paste.

"Sergeant?" Kincaid asked.

"Don't touch him." Donaldson warned. "He's all right."

"I'm all right, Kincaid." I reassured him.

...don't say his name! Then he'll be real! Now he's going to get you killed...

...hush, Dana...

I shook my head and pulled off the NVG's when I was sure there were no IR beams in the hallway. The left hand wall had "568th STRAT MSL (ICBM TITAN)" on the left with "548th Strategic Missile Command (MILCOM)" on the right. Only two lights came on, making the corridor strangely dim, the air almost yellowish like before a storm. The floor was the ever present cream colored tile that had been buffed in the past. Despite the dust, it still dully gleamed and I noticed that the middle was scuffed, with black streaks here and there on the wax.

"Someone's been here." I told them, walking down the corridor. Twenty five paces they were both silent as we drew closer to the inset security door that read "BLUE RABBIT BURROW" for the first line "US ARMY MISSILE COMMAND" for the second line "DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE HARD SITE" for the third line and "SITE KILO-29" for the last line. On the right of the door was a throw bar in the upright position, above the bar a placard that read "AUTHORIZED MILITARY PERSONNEL ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT, HAVE IDENTIFICATION READY CIVILIANS ALLOWED ONLY WITH ESCORT LETHAL FORCE AUTHORIZED" silently warned anyone who came along.

I reached up to grab the bar. "Private Donaldson, you wear your NVG's, don't turn on the IR lamp, and warn me if you see any beams."

"Roger, Sergeant." Donaldson answered.

"Private Kincaid, if you see any movement you can't identify, give one verbal warning, fire one warning shot." I told him.

"Then what?" The kid sounded nervous. I couldn't blame him.

"Shoot to kill on my authority." I told him.

"Yes, Sergeant." He answered, and I nodded in approval at the steadiness in his voice.

...don't trust him, he's green, and will get you killed...

...we were all green once, Taggart....

I threw the bar down, dropping down into a crouch and waiting as the door began to clunk.

"WARNING! WARNING! ENTRYWAY ACCESS IN PROCESS! QUICK REACTION FORCE ALERT! WARNING! WARNING!" The woman tattled. The door kept clunking, and when I reached out two fingers the door was trembling. She repeated her message twice more and the door kept quivering until there was a loud thump. She repeated it again as the door began to slowly and smoothly rise, light from the other side spilling into the dimly lit corridor.

"Nothing yet, Sergeant." Donaldson told me as the door slid up the first foot. I crouched down lower, a chill running from the base of my skull and all the way down my spine. As the unknown woman repeated her warning the door slid up past my eyes and I could see the room beyond.

There were two rows of waist high barricades, each one having a clear field of fire from the others, even the ones in front not interfering with the field of fire from the barricade behind. The front row had 3 of the small steel barricades, the rear had four. The far wall had the logos I'd gotten so used to seeing, from the US seal to Department of Defense to the two different missile command units. There was a desk with an old-style monitor against the far wall, a red line arcing through the middle of the room on the floor with "DO NOT CROSS LINE UNLESS INSTRUCTED" on our side of the line. There were two doors to each side of the desk, and a door on the wall to our left, all of them had writing on it that my brain didn't bother to decode as my vision swept across the doors. The bars on all the doors were in the upright position, and none of them had keypads next to them. I could see four speakers, one on each wall to my right and left, one above each "inner" door on the far wall. The lights, recessed into the ceiling with plexiglass over them, were burning brightly, illuminating the whole room.

And the Claymore land mine pointed directly at the door, a wire in one of the blasting cap wells trailing toward us on our left.

"MOVE!" I bellowed, taking a step out and turning around.

Someone had glued a fork with the middle tines removed to the bottom of the doorway, which was rising toward another fork that had been glued to the wall. There was a single D-Cell battery above the fork on the wall, and I knew that when the four tines touched it would complete the circuit.

If I sliced through the wire with my knife I might have enough static electricity built up, between my wet hair and my uniform, that it would trigger the Claymore anyway. If I tried to bend the tines on either one I might still have enough static electricity to fire it. The wires were sloppily soldered to the battery, which was held by a clip that looked like someone had pried it out of a stereo, the clip glued to the wall. I could see the thick wad of cloudy glue whoever had set the trap had used to not only put the maimed forks in position, but also glue the battery and some spots of the wire to the wall. As well as glue the battery into the clip and plastic to make removing it difficult at best. It was crude, but it was functional and would be risky to disarm while the tines moved into position.

I did the only thing I could think of as Kincaid and Donaldson sprinted by me. Kincaid went left, Donaldson went right, both of them moving quickly to get out of the arc of the Claymore.

I threw the bar, which was in the upward position, back down.

"Second mine!" Kincaid yelled, his voice high and tight with fear as I turned and followed Donaldson, who had moved to the second row of barriers and ducked down. I passed the first barrier and ducked behind the barrier next to the wall.

"Eyes closed, mouth open!" I yelled, all the advice I had time for as I stuck my head around the barrier, glancing at the door. The door was still moving upwards. Surely enough time had passed between me throwing the switch and me cowering behind the barrier for it to have reversed.

As I watched the door shuddered and something clanked loud in the room, breaking the silence.

"Come on, baby, come on." I said softly as the door began to hiss. That much weight still had a lot of inertia, and the designers probably had tried to offset the pull of gravity in order to keep control of the door. Doors that used gravity to slow them ran the risk of the brakes failing and the door falling shut, the weight damaging the system. Still, it was slowing, but it was still rising, which made my heart leap into my throat as the tines of the forks slowly came closer and closer to one another.

"EGRESS TEAM REPORT TO DEBRIEFING!" the woman's soft voice blared from the speakers.

The door finally hissed to a stop, with a handspan to go, and then slowly reversed. All three of us breathed a sigh of relief as it slowly moved back down.

"EGRESS TEAM REPORT TO DEBRIEFING!" the woman blared. There was an audible click over the speakers. "WARNING! SHIFT CHANGE IN FIFTEEN MINUTES! WARNING! SHIFT CHANGE IN FIFTEEN MINUTES! WARNING! ALL SHIFT LEADERS PREPARE FOR SHIFT CHANGE!" she informed us. As the door slid into position, the six inch wedge vanishing, I moved over to Donaldson and the woman blared another warning: "PRIMARY ACCESS SEALED! QRF STAND DOWN AND REPORT TO SUPERVISORS! ALERT LEVEL GREEN!"

"Can you recover that?" I asked over the woman repeating the shift change message, pointing at the Claymore. Donaldson nodded, shrugging out of the dufflebag's straps as I moved over to where Kincaid was crouched down behind the barricade. The door near him read "PRIMARY MOTORPOOL ACCESS-SECONDARY" and I could see another set of forks glued to the door and the door frame, with a second Claymore behind the far left barricade of the leading row. I'd missed it, it was hidden from sight of the door we'd entered in. Kincaid was in the last row, trying to watch the doors behind him and the motorpool access door at the same time.

"You all right, Private?" I asked him over the sound of the woman repeating her message, crouching down next to him. He was shaking, his knuckles white where he held tight to the rifle I had handed him. Kincaid nodded in a tight spastic motion, still hunched down behind the barrier. "You did good, Private Kincaid, you got the fuck out of the way and didn't bother asking questions."

He looked at me, and I could see the fear in him. "I told you I'd do my best to get you through this alive, soldier. Glad to see you trust me." I smiled as I fumbled out my pill bottle and opened it. "Lord knows I was scared that goddamn mine was going to blow us into hamburger." I shook a pill into my mouth and put the bottle away, looking at him.

"You were scared?" He asked me while I glanced at Donaldson, who had his Leatherman out and was peering at the wire that led out of the well.

"Fuck yeah." I admitted. "Ever seen what a Claymore does to a man?" He shook his head. "It's not pretty." I watched as Donaldson clipped the wire then began unscrewing the well cap to get at the blasting cap. "Take a drink off your canteen, take a few deep breaths, you'll be fine, Private."

Donaldson pulled the well cap off, the blasting cap coming with it. He looked at it for a long moment then turned to me. "Someone glued it in place, Sergeant." He said, barely audible over the shift change warning.

"Recover the mine, leave the blasting cap by the barricade next to you." I told him. Donaldson nodded, moving over and gently setting the cap down as I walked toward the desk. "There's a second mine over here, disarm that one too, Donaldson."

"Yes, Sergeant."

The outer door on the left read "EMERGENCY MEDICAL", the inner door read "QRF STAGING", the inner door on the right read "PRIMARY ACCESS" and the outer door on the right read "DEBRIEFING AREA ECHO", with at least five paces between each door. I didn't see any boobytraps on the doors on this side, but that didn't mean the other side wasn't ready to turn us into shredded meat a second after we opened the doors. The ceiling was one of those hanging ceilings, there were two heavy duty security cameras above the desk, and the floor was covered in creme colored tile. I noted that there were a lot of scuffed paths in the wax, while behind the desk was unmarred. I stared at the cameras, noting that one had a red light underneath that was glowing sullenly, while the camera panned slowly back band forth. The other one had the same light, but was staring at the door we'd come through.

I stopped behind the desk and looked at the room. Kincaid was walking toward me, putting his canteen back into the pouch on his LBE, I could see Donaldson's legs where he was laying down disarming the other Claymore. Common rumor had it that if you were behind the Claymore when it went off you had a chance to live, but I hoped that Donaldson wouldn't be forced to find out if rumor control was right.

The monitor was black and dead, but I could make out ghost images where whatever the screen had been displaying had been burned into the screen.

"SYSTEM STATUS: HIBERNATION" was the first burnt in line. Beneath that was "AMBIENT TEMPERATURE", "FACILITY STATUS: SECURE", "ALERT STATUS: BLUE", "ACCESS PORT STATUS (1A): SECURE", "ACCESS PORT STATUS (1B): SECURE", "ACCESS PORT STATUS (2A): SECURE", and roughly fifteen other access port statuses.

Access port 4C had been listed as "UNSECURE-ALERT!" long enough that it had burned into the screen. At the bottom "SECTION 4CB1-4CC4 UNSECURED" was burnt in.

"Are you going to turn it on?" Kincaid asked.

"Not yet." I told him, looking over the desk. The woman repeated the shift change message, only telling us that 10 minutes were all that was left.

"Finished, Sergeant." Donaldson said. "Do you want me to carry them?"

"Give one to Kincaid." I answered, looking over the keyboard. Not much dust, but then a facility like this wasn't exactly known for high dust content. Just a thin layer that had taken God only knew how long to settle.

All of the keys were dusty.

I opened the top right drawer, seeing nothing but standard Skillcraft pens, a couple of the ever present green notebooks, and some old Specialist-5 rank insignia pins.

"Here, Kay." Donaldson said as I closed the drawer and opened the next one. Empty.

"What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?" Kincaid asked. Not hostile, when I glanced over he'd taken the mine and was staring at it.

"Leave nothing behind for the enemy." Donaldson told him, unbuttoning his top and shoving the Claymore between his brown T-shirt and BDU blouse, the LBE belt holding it in place. I closed the drawer and opened the bottom one. File folders, and when I flicked them open, one at a time, they were all empty.

"What's the plan, Sergeant Ant?" Donaldson asked.

"Not sure yet." I admitted. "We still don't know what this site's mission is, and I haven't found a map yet."

"Who mined the doors?" Kincaid asked.

"They did." Donaldson said, as if that answered all the questions.

I caught a wiff of something dead and rotting as I gently pulled the chair back and looked in the seat. Nothing.

"Smell that, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked, and I heard him take the weapon off of safe.

"Yup." I answered, standing behind the chair and pulling open the top middle drawer. Inside was a booklet that simply stated "KILO-29 M.E.T.L. - MILITARY ENTRY" sitting with a stamp I could read "K-29 ENTRY NCOIC". I pulled out the book and held it out. Kincaid grabbed it.

"What is that?" Kincaid asked, opening the book and flipping through it.

"Look for a map." I told him, moving over slightly and glancing around the room. Nothing. Yet.

"We don't know." Donaldson answered while I opened the first drawer. Empty. "But we smelled it right before we got attacked." I nodded and pulled open the second drawer. Empty.

"An animal of some kind. It must have gotten in through one of the ventilation shafts." I lied, pulling open the bottom drawer. This time the files had paper in them and I started spreading open the file folders with my fingers so I could get a look at the contents.

"But who set up the mines?" Kincaid repeated. The first one held nothing but blank log sheets, the type usually used by CQ to log anything that happened. The second through the tenth held more of the same.

"Maybe one of the previous teams." I answered. The next set held nothing but blank vehicle dispatches.

"Probably to kill any of the animals that got in." Donaldson answered before Kincaid could asked. I noticed the very slight emphasis on "animals" but doubted Kincaid did. Incident reports were next. All of the sheets were prior to the 1980's, but since I saw a set that listed the Privacy Act I knew that the facility had been refit after 1974.

"So not us, just animals?" Kincaid sounded doubtful.

...men are just a different type of animal, son...

...yes, Father...

"Yeah." Donaldson answered as I shut the steel drawer and went back to staring at the monitor.

"I doubt this thing is anything more than a dumb terminal." I said, looking at the top where "PROPERTY OF US ARMY" had been melted into the top. "Get back in case this thing is wired." I warned them.

When they'd moved a couple paces away I stood to the side and pressed the power button on the front, hoping that a charge wouldn't blow and take my arm with it.

"NO NETWORK CONNECTION" flashed at the top and I shook my head.

"Can you use it to open the doors?" Kincaid asked.

"No. This thing probably doesn't have much more than a skeleton operating system, if it has one at all." I told him, switching it off. "Without a network connection I doubt it has any use further than an expensive paperweight."

"What now, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked. Donaldson was looking at the doors. "Back out through the motor pool?"

"No, further in. I want to see if I can get command and control unlocked." I told him. I looked at the two of them. "Both of you have notebooks and pens?"

Donaldson shook his head but Kincaid nodded. "Get one from the drawer." I told Donaldson.

The woman reported that shift change was in 5 minutes.

"Donaldson, I want you with the NVG's on, warn me if there's any IR beams. Kincaid, I want to follow up the rear. Once we get past any security doors, throw the bar and close the door behind us." Both men nodded. "We'll head down primary access and see where it leads us to."

Donaldson finished tucking the green notebook in his pocket and buttoning up, putting the Skillcraft pen in the pen pocket. I'd seen Kincaid grab another notebook and two more pens.

"Have you figured out what this place is for, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked as we moved over to the security door marked "PRIMARY ACCESS".

"No. Not enough data." I told him, checking the door over. Nothing obvious except the bar.

"Why bars instead of something normal?" Kincaid asked as I wrapped my hand around the bar. I waved him to the other side of the door and he stepped back.

"The switch is heavy enough to withstand a 450 or greater Watt EMP pulse." I told him. "You use the bars to throw the switch because it's all brute force." The switch moved smoothly, no grinding or any other sign of damage. "They didn't take any chances on these sites." I finished as the bar locked home. I tried to visualize how the inside worked so that the bars opened the doors no matter what the positions if one bar was thrown, and the nearest I could figure out is some kind of geared system.

The door groaned and began shuddering up. Donaldson was crouched down looking, waiting for the wedge to rise and a gap to appear. I noted that like the others, there were thick rubber flaps to help seal the gap. Most sites could lose the external areas without the mission being affected. The rubber seals probably combined with the wedge to make the whole thing air tight. Most of the systems were designed to be completely sealed for over a year if necessary, with heavy duty ventilation systems designed to bring in air, decontaminate it by scrubbing out the particles and contaminates from God knew what, then move it into tanks for testing before mixing it in the primary atmospheric tanks.

"Clear so far. Looks like a hallway on the other side." Donaldson told us. "The lights haven't come on yet, and I can't see the far wall, looks like it curves and slowly drops down. I don't see any booby traps."

"Eyes sharp." I muttered, probably unnecessarily.

The smell of rotting meat got stronger, and I glanced up by the ceiling. I couldn't see any air vents, but the white tiles of the ceiling, with holes in them, could have hidden any vent systems above.

"No triggers yet." Donaldson said. I glanced back and the door was half up. "Lights on, some just blew out."

The smell was getting worse.

"What is that reek?" Kincaid asked, coughing.

"Not sure." I answered, digging in my top pocket and pulling out a pack of Marlboros. I lit one and tucked the pack away.

"Smoking's bad for your health, Sergeant." Kincaid warned me.

"Almost up." Donaldson said.

"Shut the fuck up, Kincaid." I looked around the room again. "Get through quick, I don't like this."

"Go now." Donaldson said, and I heard Kincaid moving. I turned around from the room and followed the two of them, throwing the bar as soon as I cross the threshold, watching the room as the door took about 15 seconds to close.

The smell was definitely coming from the room we'd just left.

When the door locked shut I turned around and looked at the corridor.

The corridor definitely curved to the left, and while it wasn't immediately obvious it did drop gently, the lines on the walls pulling the eyes straight so you didn't really notice it. It had a suspended ceiling, white tile on the floors and up to waist high on the walls, and steel plating on the walls. There were lights every ten feet or so, and I could see corridor intersections further down, along with doors on either side.

"LIVING AREAS" was in blue letters with a blue stripe. "MAINTENANCE" was in red with a red stripe. "ENVIRONMENTAL" had a brown stripe and finished off the listings on the left wall. "ADMINISTRATION" was in yellow with a yellow stripe. "OPERATIONS" was in white with a white stripe. "SUPPLY" was in orange with an orange stripe. "SUBSECTOR ACCESS" was green with a green stripe. "COMMUNICATIONS" was in black with a black stripe and finished off the right hand listing.

"YOU WILL ALL DIE HERE" was in blackish crust on the floor about twenty feet in front of us, surrounded by blackish splatters on the wall.


Chapter 10

Site Kilo-29-Military Section
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Morning


I grinned at the threat, written in what I could only assume was blood. Maybe human, maybe animal, but blood still. I'd been threatened before with a hell of a lot more weight behind it than some scrawling on a tile floor. When Kincaid went to ask a question I held up a hand to stop him and went back to staring at the floor.

The wax was almost gone, scuffed away and dull, with black streaks that combat boots make on tile everywhere. In front of the warning was a large blackish stain that was crusted, with spatterers on the walls to either side and a spatter on the ceiling above. More than likely someone had been butchered right there, but that was then, and this was now.

"We follow the blue stripe down the rabbit's hole." I grinned. Kincaid's features were tight, same with his whitened knuckles on the rifle, but he nodded. Donaldson looked at me blandly and popped a piece of MRE gum into his mouth and started chewing. Lord, to be as hard dicked as these two. "We'll check out the living area first in case we have to hang around for awhile, then we'll check out operations and hope that we find a way to get the doors open."

Both men nodded, and I led the way. "Donaldson, keep an eye out for any IR beams, let's not get cocky."

Our boots thudded against the tile and I listened to the echoes as moved deeper into the mountain. For a split second I was aware of the millions of tons of rock above us but shrugged it off after a sweating second.

It was nearly five hundred paces to the first corridor intersection. Fifteen hundred feet, a quarter mile. Five football fields. Every twenty paces I could see rubber all the way around the corridor. If this site kept to the same plan those were blast doors that would drop down. The small steel plate on either side of the rubber seal had a yellow border and yellow lines forming an X. Under that plate would be a hand crank connected to gears that would allow someone to easily and smoothly raise a multi-ton door in only a few minutes. At the intersection I could see the same type of sealing set back about two paces from the intersection itself, which meant that doors could be dropped off to either resist the blast or seal off damaged sections. I stopped at the intersection, looking to the left and then the right while I dug in the thigh pocket opposite of my medications, my fingers looking for the little Crown Royal bag.

The red and brown stripes went down the left, while a black stripe vanished into the darkness of the right side. The crossways was circular and the yellowish light above us flickered and buzzed while I carefully took a deep drag of the cigarette and slowly exhaled above my head.

Smoke swirled for a second and then drifted to my right, away from the left hand corridor, and while I watched it tattered and streamed off to the left, one tendril floating down the corridor that led further into the mountain. I pulled out the Crown Royal bag and opened it up.

"What..." Kincaid started.

"Shhh." Donaldson cut him off.

I set the marble down and watched it. It rolled further into the circular area, slowed, then rolled back and to the side. While I watched it settled into the middle of the room and smiled as I went and got it, putting it back into the bag and stuffing the bag into my pocket with the other gear that bulged out that pocket.

"Probably a shock absorber right here to keep the intersection from collapsing." I told the other two men, waving them forward. "Intersections are a weak point in a structure like this, so they usually make an oval with massive shock absorbers above and below, with huge iron spikes drilled into the rock to hold steel straps to increase the integrity of the room."

"Would it work, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked.

"Oh yeah, in tests in New Mexico and Nevada back in the 50's they collapsed tons of prototype facilities, then dug them back out." I grinned at him. "Did you honestly think all those detonations were just to make sure that they worked?"

"Never thought about it." He admitted as we kept following the lines deeper into the mountain. "Everyone knows they were just doing it to scare the Russians as part of some kind of nuclear dick measuring contest."

"Yeah, I hear that a lot." I told him. "Usually from people who don't know what the fuck they're talking about."

The corridor to the left sported the blue stripe and the logo "LIVING QUARTERS, ENLISTED/LOWER NCO" while the one to the right sported a green stripe and an orange stripe with "SUPPLY" and "SUBSECTORS A THROUGH F" on the walls. They were silent while I repeated the cigarette and marble trick. Air went off to the right and deeper in, the air currents eddying from behind us and the air to the left dead and still. We kept walking. We slowed down at the next intersection, just a single corridor to the left.

I stopped at the edge of the circular intersection and did the marble and cigarette trick. I watched the marble slowly come to rest. The left hand wall read "UPPER NCO/JUNIOR OFFICERS" on it. We were going still deeper in, the size of the place surprising me. I watched as the marble slowly circled and came to rest. I bent and picked up the marble.

"Are we going to check these living quarters?" Kincaid asked.

I caught a wiff of something dead.

"No, we'll follow the blue further in." I told him. The smell began to disappear, if it ever existed.

Our boots thudded as we headed deeper in, the only sound still our breathing. The lights were still on, and I wondered how the system knew where we were. We hadn't passed any IR beams, but that didn't mean that we hadn't passed a motion detector or that the plates didn't track weight shifts. I was thinking about Heather when we started slowing down as another intersection came into sight.

A blue line went left, with "COMMAND OFFICERS" above it. Yellow and green went right, with "ADMINISTRATION" and "SUBSECTOR ACCESS F3 THROUGH J" respectively. Ahead of us was a single white line.

Kincaid waited for me to repeat the smoke and marble trick. The marble was off center by about a foot, and the smoke eddied into the subsector access after a long moment. When I picked up the marble he started toward Officer Country and I grabbed his arm, putting my finger to his lips. I cocked my head down the hallway with the white line.

Without saying a word I broke into run, waving the other two forward, and began keeping a nice steady PT run pace down the corridor. I could tell that the corridor arced slightly to the left and then to the right as I counted off the paces.

Two hundred and fifty to a heavy blast door that had been dropped down. There were paint chips knocked out of the huge logos of the Department of Defense, 548th, and 568th. I spotted the shell casings on the floor, and the blackish stains on the floor and walls.

The small keypad was busted, laying on the floor, and the place where it had been was bent outward, the metal ripped into sharp fangs.

"What happened?" Kincaid asked.

"Security charge went off." I told him, moving up and looking into the hole.

Asbestos had been shredded, the wire leads were missing who knew how far up into the walls, and I found the other side only a steel plate, dented and warped, but not breached.

"The charge didn't destroy the keypad on the other side." I told them, running my hands over the steel door frame.

"We can't get in?" Kincaid asked.

"No, we can, just give me a few minutes." I told them, stopping at the plate that felt different from the others. There were faintly engraved lines surrounding the plate, with a set of diagonal lines connecting the corners.

"Kincaid, I need that duffel." I told him, feeling the edges of the plate. I found the slot, almost hidden but still there. While Kincaid dropped the dufflebag next to me, I reached in my top pocket and pulled out a thin metal strip with a set of teeth on it, like an old key.

"What are you doing?" Kincaid asked.

"Going to fix the door." I told him, sliding the key into the slot and carefully lining up the teeth by feel. You never shoved it in, you just slid it in until you felt a slight resistance then pulled it out one slot. Pushing it in further would either fire a security charge or just cause a wedge to cut the key and drop it down inside the wall. My money was on the wedge.

I pulled once the teeth were set and the panel just swung open, revealing a wheel with a single hole in it set into the wall. "We're golden." I murmured, turning and opening up the duffelbag. Under a few other things were was the box that held the folded handles, and I matched one to the oddly shaped hole in the wheel.

When it was locked in I checked the wheel. It was slightly rusted, but I could still make out the arrows on it, and began moving the wheel counter-clockwise. It was stubborn at first, but then moved easier and easier.

"That'll lift the door?" Donaldson asked. When I glanced at him, he was staring down the corridor. The only part that hadn't gone dark was about a ten foot area we were standing on.

"Yeah, it'll just take awhile." I answered.

"Can we just have someone crawl under and then punch in the code?" Kincaid asked. He was staring at the door.

"No. That isn't the way these work." I told him. "The door won't raise until I finish this and hit that red lever." The lever was embedded in asbestos.

"What does the lever do?" He asked.

"This is normally used in the event of total power failure. The wheel raises the counter-weight into position. Once it's locked into position, I hit that lever and it switches the system from the gears and hydraulics to the counterweight, which then slowly lowers and the pullys and gears raise the door while charging the hydraulic cylinder."

"So the door stays open?" He asked.

"No, it'll stay open for two or three minutes, then slowly lower back down." I could smell something rotting again, the smell getting stronger as I worked. My shoulder was burning and my forearm throbbing, so I leaned back and waved Kincaid at it.

"Get to it." I told him. The system was working, I could feel the resistance, and it was a job for Privates anyway.

"Smell that?" Donaldson asked.

"Yeah. I was hoping to get into Operations before they caught back up with us." I told him.

"They're using the ventilation shafts." He said, and I nodded.

"They must have ripped through the security grates." I told him.

"What do you think they are?" He asked again.

"It doesn't matter." I answered. "They're the enemy, that's all we need to know."

"Do you think they killed the Air Force guys?"

"That's one possibility." I told him.

Around the curve light came on, spilling into the darkness of the corner, and the smell of something dead got thicker. I rattled a pill into my mouth and started chewing on it.

"Kincaid, hurry." I told him. "Something's coming."


Chapter 11

Site Kilo-29-Military Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Morning


A shadow slowly moved across the light, too long arms, weirdly jointed knees, and a narrow thin body. I looked hunched over by the shadow, and I heard Donaldson inhale sharply.

"Steady, lads." I said. It wasn't as hard to stay calm as it would have been if I hadn't been shackled to 2/19th all those years. "Kincaid, it would be great if you would expedite opening the door."

"How will I tell when it's ready?" The private was breathless.

"The wheel will lock. Then hit the red lever." I told him, watching the shadow slowly get smaller. A trick of the light, as he moved away from the light he blocked less of it, but something about the shadow made my mouth go dry.

I could hear Kincaid puffing away, the almost silent whisper of the wheel rotating, Donaldson breathing fast and shallow, and a faint whine coming from somewhere. The smell of rotting meat was getting stronger, almost choking us where we stood waiting for whatever was casting the shadow to show itself.

Come on, bring it, come on, let's see what you've got...

For a split second the shadow resolved itself into a large man wearing an extreme cold weather mask, arctic parka, and cold weather pants/boots. The rage filled eyes, one of them bloodshot and swollen bored into me and the axe held in his hands was dripping blood from the bit. I blinked hard, squeezing my eyes shut, then opened them.

Only the shadow remained.

The wheel locked into place with a loud thump. I heard something rattle and there was a strange sigh behind us.

The door...

"Donaldson, check it for IR." I snapped, still watching the shadow. It was still shambling forward, a strange gait I didn't exactly recognize. Either whoever it was didn't have all their wires connected right or they didn't know exactly how a human moved.

"Clear for the first foot." Donaldson answered.

"Go when clear." I told them.

"But what about..." Kincaid started.

"Just do it, Kincaid." I snapped, still watching the shadow. It had slowed down, and stood there scratching itself for a moment. That might not have been what it was doing, but it sure looked like it was standing there scratching its ass.

Another larger shadow eclipsed it.

"Two feet." Donaldson said.

"Roger." I watched the shadow slowly move to the right of the first one.

"Sergeant." Donaldson sounded worried.

"Just more to kill." I told him, drawing my knife and waiting, breathing slow and deep and centering myself.

"We can get under." Kincaid said. His voice was tight but steady.

"Throw the duffels through." I told them. I heard two thumps, then heard boots on tile.

Another shadow was joining the first two. This one raised an arm straight up and then made circling motions with it.

...take the one on the left first, don't let them stay on your blind side...

...I know, Bomber...


"Come on, Sergeant, it's clear." Kincaid yelled.

"Pull the handle, tell me when it stops." I told them. I heard the bar clunk into position and felt something vibrate under my boots. The shadows were getting smaller, better defined. One dropped onto all fours and started moving forward, and I watched the side of the wall where they'd appear coming out of the corner.

"It's dropping, come on, Sergeant, you don't have much time!" Kincaid yelled.

"Cover, moving." I told them, turning around and dropping down. I lunged through the doorway and turned back around.

The shadows were still moving along the wall, but something looked wrong to me.

A closer light snapped on and the shadows moved into the new patch of light, the one on all fours scurrying to underneath the light and pausing for a moment.

"What. The. Fuck?" Donaldson sounded odd.

I kept watch as the door lowered all the way down, watched as those shadows moved into the newer patch of light.

Without anything to cast them.

The door thudded down with multi-ton finality.

"What the hell was that, Sergeant?" Kincaid's voice a bit a shrill.

"Your guess is as good as mine." I told him, looking at the hallway we were standing in.

Multiple doors with legends such as "Egress Team Operations Command" and "Civilian Population Coordinator" were on both sides of the hall. The lights were flickering, but providing enough light to see by, and I started moving down the hallway.

A piece of plexiglass was on the wall, with a piece of red labeling tape informing us "YOU ARE HERE" with a small red arrow.

It would have been nice if there had been a map behind the plexiglass.

"Sergeant, we have a right to know what's going on." Kincaid told me as we moved further into Operations.

"As far as Need to Know goes, yeah." I answered. "Did you have a question?"

Donaldson snorted.

"What the hell were those things? And what did you and Donaldson mean about "they" back there?" He asked.

We passed "PAC" on the left and "Site Coordination" on the right.

"They are whatever was casting those shadows. Whatever tore up my uniform when I was fighting with it in the locker room." I told him. "As far as what 'they' are, well, I've only got one guess."

We passed "QRF OIC/NCOIC" on the right and "Infrastructure Operations" on the left.

"What kind of guess?" Donaldson didn't sound like he wanted the answer.

"My grandmother had a saying that might apply to this." I told them.

"S.A.C. Operations" and "ARMILCOM Operations" went by.

"What?" Kincaid sounded like he was starting to get irritated.

"Old dark places attract old dark things." I told him.

I stopped next to "Site Operations Command" and stared at the door for a long moment. It was a heavy blast door, with a card swipe keypad combo, an older looking keypad, and a throw lever.

"What the fuck does that mean?" Kincaid asked as I reached out and grabbed the bar, throwing it up, hoping for a little luck.

"It means that places like this, if left abandoned, attract dark things." I told him, smiling as the door began to slowly raise up.

"What the fuck are dark things?" Kincaid was getting more frustrated.

...a dark liquid chuckle, full of frozen mirth and evil, echoing through the stairwell...

...Boots slamming to the floor after an unintelligible shout...

...the sound of a little girl singing in the fog that filled the hallway...


"Things." I told him. "Donaldson?"

"It's clear, Sergeant, no IR beams." He told me.

It wasn't surprising to see that it was an airlock about 10 feet deep. The door locked into place and I moved in, ignoring Kincaid repeating his question about what dark things were.

If I knew, I wouldn't wake up covered in sweat, positive that Tandy was right behind me, reaching for me with sharpened bone talons and a maniacal grin.

I threw the lever and waited for the door to lower.

"What do you think happened to the crews that came up here before us?" Donaldson asked while we waited for the door to shut all the way.

"Not enough data." I told him again.

"They're probably just fucking with us." Kincaid said.

...yeah, they peeled off their skins to fuck with you...

...hush, Taggart...


I rattled a pill into my mouth and started grinding it up.

"What do you keep taking?" Kincaid asked.

"Medicine." I answered, walking to the other door and throwing the bar.

"What kind of fucking medicine?" He asked. I glanced back at him. He was holding the rifle by the pistol grip, the barrel pointing at the floor, and he was rubbing the back of his neck with his other hand. No threat.

"Mine." I told him, hoping he'd take the fucking hint.

The hallway beyond was steel walls, suspended ceiling, and tile floor, and two of the lights exploded when the door hit the halfway mark. The door shivered it's way up, once squealing with the ear tearing sound of metal tearing. The door dropped about a foot before it came to a stop with a scream, then we waited for the clunking to stop and the door to rise again.

When it was high enough, I led the two other soldiers through the door and threw the bar. I didn't want to stress the brakes or the retaining bolts again. The door dropped about a foot suddenly as soon as the bar locked before it squealed and shuddered to a stop.

"That's not good." Donaldson said.

"No shit?" I grinned at him.

The hallway was 20 paces long, and ended in another heavy door, this one only sporting the locking bar.

"Sergeant, I think we have a right to know what it is you keep taking." Kincaid tried again.

I wheeled around on him, glaring at him.

"Your rights?" I snarled. "Your. Fucking. Rights."

Kincaid took a hasty step back.

"This is the goddamn US Army, in case you forgot." I told him, stepping back into him. I was very aware of the knife in my hand.

...under the sternum, half twist, Ant...

...shut it, Bomber...


My head was pounding as I glared at him. "You have the rights accorded to you under the UCMJ, and nowhere in the UCMJ does it state that you have the right to know anything about another soldier's medical treatment if you are a subordinate or not in their chain of command."

I stepped back and took a deep breath.

"So mind your fucking business, Private." I turned back to the door and threw the bar.

"It's another airlock." Donaldson said from where he was crouched down to get a fast look. "No IR beams." Nothing seemed to fluster him, or he was trying to break the tension.

I turned back around and waved the two Privates into the airlock. This one was only about 10 feet long. Placards told us to have ID ready, that only authorized people were allowed past this point, that it was a secure area, that no cameras or other recording devices were allowed, that the current OIC was just a blank bracket, and that we were welcome to Kilo-29 Operations Center, along with the same logos that we'd been seeing the whole time. The two missile units, the DoD, and the CoG.

Once they were in, I made sure to keep Kincaid on my right, where I had peripheral vision to track him, then threw the bar.

"Kincaid." He jerked when I said his name. "Just trust me, but don't ask me personal questions and don't expect me to breach clearance just because you have questions. If the shit hits the fan, I won't leave you behind and I'll be right with you."

He nodded as the door sunk in with the familiar thump. I moved over and threw the inside bar and we waited for the door to raise.

A door was on the other side, less than six inches from the blast door.

...this is new. It means Kincaid is plotting to kill you! Kill him first!...

...shut up, Taggart...


Once the door locked, the door on the other side shivered. I reached out and grabbed the lever and turned it.

The door swung open to reveal a large dark room. As soon as I stepped in the lights came on, a few of them exploding, but enough remained for me to be able to see the room. There were computer banks in a series of circles, with a large desk at the middle of the room. I could make out three sets of stairs on the sides of the room. There were large television monitors on the sides of the room and I wondered which terminals controlled them.

Several of the terminal monitors facing us flickered and came on.

"Can you open the doors?" Kincaid asked.

"I'm not sure." I admitted, walking along the outer ring. The monitors and terminals were labeled with terminology I didn't quite understand.

And hadn't seen before.

Of course, "Tracking Station 3" didn't need any explanation even if I hadn't seen it outside of an Atlas site.

It took about ten minutes to check the room, but I couldn't see any of them that might be the master system control.

"You two stay here, I'm going to check downstairs." I told them. The far stairwell from the door had "OIC OPERATIONS" on it with an arrow pointing upwards. The arrow pointing down told me that it was "MAIN COMPUTER OPERATIONS", and that's what we needed.

I pulled out my little green notebook as I walked down the stairs. Old as dirt computers waited on me, most of them either asleep or turned off. Only four terminals sat there, and the curved walls let me know that this room was at the bottom of the egg.

Following the instructions that the Air Force Tech had taught me, it only took a few minutes to find out what I needed to know. A few minutes after that and I'd taken the time to set the codes, override the keypads on four damaged doors, and done the best I could.

When I came back upstairs Donaldson went from a hopeful smile to worried looking. Kincaid was opening the desk drawers and glancing at the contents before shutting the drawer again. When he saw me, he had a hopeful look on his face.

"Well, are we getting out of here?" He asked.

I shook my head.

"Why not?" He asked.

"Is the system trashed?" Donaldson asked.

"No." I told them. "The facility is in full lockdown mode."

"Can't you unlock it?" Kincaid asked.

"No. Nobody can for the next 100 hours." I said.

"Why not?" I couldn't tell if Kincaid was pissed at me, or at the situation.

"Because some fucking genius cut the links between this site and NORAD and the other key facilities, so the site thinks that we've gone to total war mode." I told them. "But, I have good news, bad news, and angry news."

"What's the good news?" Kincaid asked.

"I turned the power from standby to active, so we can use the living areas, and the food stocks are logged as being at 100%."

"What's the bad news?" Donaldson asked.

"Someone accessed the system in the last hour and tried to lock me out." I told them.

"Who?" Kincaid asked. "Was it 'them'?"

"Nope, that's the angry news."

"I'll bite. What's the angry news?" Donaldson asked.

"Those CIA guys know why." I ground my teeth.


Chapter 12

Site Kilo-29-Military Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Morning


"The CIA?" Kincaid asked, confusion on his face. "I thought they were here to help us."

I laughed, bitterly, remembering the goddamn Company and the way they'd acted during our all too frequent meetings. "The CIA is on the CIA's side, kid. Don't ever think they're your friends or here to help you." I lifted up my little green notebook. "Get out your notebooks."

The two of them pulled out their little green notebooks and opened them. Both of them to the first page. I opened mine and thumbed three quarters of the way through until I reached the stuff I'd written down and laid it down on the desk beside us.

"Write those down. Those are the door codes I put in, all override access, which means you'll be able to open almost any door in the facility."

"Cool." Kincaid said, starting to copy.

"Be careful though, I don't want you getting killed." Kincaid looked at me in confusion. "You can override safety locks, and if the section past the door you're opening is flooded, when you open the door thousands of gallons of water can rush past and drown you." Kincaid swallowed and went back to copying the codes.

"Why would the CIA try to lock you out?" Donaldson asked.

"Why do those assholes do anything?" I answered, shrugging. "They have their own agenda, and the CIA is perfectly willing to sacrifice as many of us line slime as they need to in order to accomplish their agendas." I spit on the floor. "Fucking spooks."

A quick walk around the egg showed me the terminal I wanted, and I rehearsed what I was going to say in my head as I walked over to the terminal.

...leave them there to die, Ant, they wouldn't save you...

...we don't leave anyone behind, Dana...

The silence in my head was slightly sulky.

I sat down, cracked my knuckles, and hit the powerup on the clunky computer terminal. I watched the data flash on the screen as the computer booted up. It took a minute for the context menu to come up, but that gave me time to find the stylus. It had rolled to the back of the drawer, and by the time I fished it out the menu was displaying choices.

Civilian side. Civilian Motor Pool. PA System.

Each tap of the stylus highlighted the choice and flashed to a new screen. I tapped the words "LIVE MICROPHONE" and then turned and picked up the microphone.

"This is Sergeant Ant." I said, using the cadence to my speech that had been pounded into me during Basic Training for radio operations. "You cannot reply on this channel, there are no live microphones in the motor pool area."

I grinned, knowing what I was about to say would infuriate the Major.

"Gather up equipment, weapons, and supplies. The outside doors are under high security lock for the next 96 hours, but Privates Donaldson, Kincaid, and myself have managed to unlock the military living quarters as well as gain access to Operations." I paused for a moment, running the map in my head. "I will open the main civilian motorpool access door when we return, and we'll move to the military section. The food supplies are adequate for the entire facility to operate at 250% capacity for 5 years, so we do not face any worries about starvation. We have potable water access, as well as individual quarters."

I paused for a second.

"I remind you that I cannot hear you. Please be ready to move out within the next 30 minutes." I stated, still grinning. "Sergeant Ant, out."

I tapped the PA system off and then leaned back in the chair.

"The Major isn't going to like that." Donaldson warned.

"He doesn't have to like it." I told him. "When he screwed up this operation he dropped the whole goddamn mess into my lap."

I spun around and faced the two privates.

"I can track the access codes I gave you. Do not give them to anyone else, if I even think you did, I'll revoke your fucking access so fast it'll make your head spin." I took a deep breath and let it out. "For the next four days I've got to figure out what this place's mission is, figure out if it needs torn down or refurbished, and collect as much data on it as I can."

I sighed and scrubbed my face for a moment, then adjusted my eye patch back where it belongs under my glasses.

"As far as I could tell from the main operations terminal, this place is six levels, and sprawls out quite a bit." I smiled. "We've seen barely any of the site."

"How big?" Kincaid asked, disbelief evident in his tone.

"It looks like these were natural caverns, retrofitted to place the bunker system in here. There's six levels, and enough room for over six thousand people if they do hot bunking." I told him.

"Hot bunking?" Donaldson asked.

"That's when whoever has sleep shift uses the bunk while the other two members assigned to the bunk are on duty or recreation time. It triples the capacity."

"Six thousand?" Kincaid said. "That's a small city."

"Yeah." I told him. I waved at the touch screen. "Plus, if I'm right, this place underwent SLEP in the early 1980's."

"SLEP?" Donaldson again.

"Service Life Extension Program." I answered. "It keeps it up to date, upgrades the technology, and makes sure that it's still current. I'm not sure when touch screens came out, but the computers aren't as large as the ones in the Atlas sites, and there's floppy disc access to the operations computers."

"You've got that look, Sergeant." Donaldson said, snapping his little green notebook shut and pocketing it. "What's the bad news?"

...he's reading your mind, kill him! Kill him now!...

...hush, Nancy...

"I checked the entry logs." I admitted, looking up at the suspended ceiling for a moment, debating on whether or not to tell them the truth. I decided to take a chance. "Three groups have entered in the last 30 days, but I have no logs that match up with them leaving. In all cases they accessed the main doors, the civilian motor pool blast door, but then the logs are blank.

I stared at them for a moment.

"Someone deleted data." I admitted.

"Who would do that?" Kincaid asked. He closed his notebook and put it away.

"Them." Donaldson answered, nodding at the outside door. He grabbed my green notebook and tossed it to me.

"Maybe." I said, catching the notebook and putting it away. I could faintly hear the sound of women singing, just at the edge of hearing.

I ignored them.

"Let's head back." I told them, standing up and reaching in my pocket.

"What if 'they' jump us again?" Donaldson asked.

"We'll cover that when we come to it." I told them.

We headed out the air lock, and I noticed that the lights in the Operations Center shut off as the door slowly slid shut. I'd turned on main power, but the system was still programmed to keep power saving measures on.

I didn't like what I'd seen for one of the primary power options, the one I'd ignored in favor of the hydro-electric option. From what I could gather there were not only artesian taps, but a good sized underground river and a small lake or large pond. Whoever had designed the site had cut secondary channels for the river and about eight taps, lined them with hydro-electric equipment, and made it into sustainable power. Two of the channels had been non-responsive, one of them reporting a blockage and the other showing a failure to raise the access panels.

But that other option still bothered me. It couldn't be serious, could it?

As soon as we opened the door to the main hallway the smell hit us.

Something old and rotting, the smell of rotting blood and rotting meat, two distinct smells you never forgot once you smelled them. When the door lowered back down I could see blackish streaks across the door that had been missing the first time we'd come through. I'd bypassed the keypad so all we needed to do is throw the lever.

I'd unlocked the barracks areas, the kitchen, the dining hall, the recreation room, and the theater too.

We might as well be comfortable.

"Major Darson won't like you making decisions without consulting him." Kincaid said as we walked down the hallway.

"I'm pretty sure I'll survive any dislike from his end." I told them, shrugging.

The smell was present, but not thick if you know what I mean. More of an after stench than the thick cloying reek that had filled the hallway before. Still, it stayed with us the entire length of the corridor, through the gentle curves that were supposed to aid in the defense of the site. Once we reached the blast door with the happy greeting "You Will All Die Here" I'd almost gotten used to the smell.

I thought about scraping up the warning, but figured it might entertain the Major and it would be interesting to see the Suits reaction to it. It was a warning in blood, sure, but without a lab and a lot of knowledge I didn't have I wouldn't be able to tell if it was cow or pig blood, or even human.

I'd pretty much slept through biology class.

Before we lifted the door I chewed down another pill and lit another cigarette. The door shuddered and groaned, the lifting mechanism worn or slightly damaged but not enough for the system to shift over to secondary or trinary systems.

At the main entry I waved at both of them to stand back and threw the switch for the door, backing up on the other side of the blast barricades while the door slowly raised up.

When the tines of the forks met the blasting cap went off with a sharp crack, like a fire cracker. We moved through the facility and into the decon system, sitting on the benches while the water sprayed over us. It was warmer and smelled faintly of iodine. Standing under the thermal lamps I wondered if the Major was going to order his men in fully clothed or make them strip down.

It gave me an idea.

We dressed quickly then headed back out to the main blast deflection tunnel. Moving the system from "secure hibernation" to "facility activation" had made it so we only needed six digit codes on the high security doors like the armories, operations, primary military motorpool, the NBC warfare rooms, the lower levels and a handful of sub-levels. Everything else was a simple four digit code and throw the locking lever. I'd thought about overriding the need for the four digit code, but had decided I'd rather have the system record who used the codes so I could get a good idea of who had gone where. Add in the method that Air Force Tech had shown me to dump a record every two hours in a nice innocuous place under a simple filename, and I'd be able to track everyone who moved around.

...it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you. you should kill them first...

...hush, Taggart...

The Fates were winding back up, I could hear them faintly singing as we walked toward the civilian motorpool access. Not clear enough to hear words, but enough to hear the faint sounds of a chorus. The back of my head ached, under where I'd won myself a soft spot for a few weeks a lifetime ago.

"Get your gear. Donaldson, you drive my Humvee, Kincaid, throw your gear into my vehicle along with Donaldson's." I told them. "The Major said you're with me, so right now you two are my whole crew. That means we sleep together, eat together, and work together." I flashed them a grin. "You two did good, you listen and did what I told you to do, and that's all I can really ask."

"The Major did tell me that I was supposed to do what you say." Donaldson agreed.

Kincaid was chewing on his lower lip but nodded. I reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "I know, you didn't sign up for shadows on the walls, butchered meat, and warnings written in blood, but you'll do fine." He nodded again. "I'll do my best to get you out of this, and I won't run off and leave you to die."

...Get back here, Captain, you god damned coward!...

I squeezed my eyes shut and pinched the bridge of my nose under my glasses for a second, pushing back the sound of the yammering of automatic weapon fire, the quail covey taking flight and explosions of incoming light mortar fire, the screaming of the wounded, and the crackling of a burning vehicle. I could hear the Fates singing, their voices slightly louder, and my shoulder burned. I could smell burning metal, burning flesh, blood, and cordite, and feel the agony from broken ribs.

...no, no, not now, no...

"Are you OK, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked me, his hand suddenly touching my shoulder, shattering the memory and sending it back where it belonged. I felt like I'd suddenly been drenched in icewater, and was grateful that the memory had shattered before it could fully form.

"Yeah, I'm all right." I told him, opening my eyes. I'd come to a stop and leaned against the tunnel wall. I was breathing heavy and shaking, my body reacting as if the memory was real, as if it was happening all over again.

"Do you need another pill?" Kincaid's voice startled me. It sounded like he actually gave a shit.

...don't trust him! he's trying to lure you into letting your guard down! Kill him, Ant, KILL HIM NOW!...

...go away, Nancy, please...

"In a few minutes." I told him, pushing myself off the wall.

"Are you sure you're OK, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked. The compassion was honest and shocked me bad enough that I answered before I could stop myself.

"I took a bad head wound a few months ago. I get bad headaches." I told him. He nodded. I was aware that I was babbling a little as we started walking through the tunnel again. "I take meds to combat the headaches but sometimes they just come out of nowhere and make my want to claw my eye out to relieve the pressure."

I skipped the part where sometimes the pain was so bad all I could do was lay on the ground or floor and scream while my limbs shook, unable to even curl into the fetal position, every light a stabbing agony, every noise tearing apart my brain. And the part where I didn't so much as remember something that had been traumatic as relive it, or that I heard voices of people who weren't there, who were dead, and had women singing all of my sins to me.

The last happened to a lot of the men in my family as we got older. My uncle had returned from Vietnam with them singing so loudly he'd eventually put a pistol in his mouth to silence them.

The girls never had that problem. Except for Aunt Lois, who'd returned from Korea missing her left hand and left eye. But she was an exception who didn't sit with the matrons but rather with the old men.

"I don't sleep much, either." I admitted, stopping for a second to take a swig out of my canteen. Water mixed with lemon juice, it cut through the sticky paste in my mouth and the bitterness washed away the taste of blood that existed in my mind not on my tongue. "You two will have to get used to it. I sleep maybe two to four hours a night."

"We'll be bunking together?" Donaldson asked.

"Would you rather I have to track you down if shit hits the fan, or would you rather be right there?" I asked. "I doubt the Major is going to let his men be armed." I finished. Kincaid shifted his M-16 almost unconsciously, nodding.

"Should we tell him about those shadows?" Kincaid asked.

"No. He won't believe you anyway." I knew my smile didn't hold any amusement. "He won't believe it right up to the point where they rip his fucking guts out and start feeding."

...too long arms clad in mud and frost rimmed BDU sleeves that were tattered at the cuffs, the fingers too long, covered in blackened flesh except where the tips of sharpened bone poked through, coming out of the darkness of the room and grabbing tight just above the collarbones, the fingers sinking in with an obscene crunch. The look of pain and confusion turning quickly to terror right before the hands snatched him back into the darkness, leaving behind a boot that steamed in the cold...

"Sergeant?" Kincaid's voice cut through the screams of agony and I opened my eyes again.

"Yes?"

"What are they?"

"The enemy." I told him, starting to walk again. "We'll find out soon enough if we can kill them."

"And if we can't kill them?" Donaldson asked.

"Then we survive them." I told him, stopping in front of the civilian motorpool access. The main door, heavy and silent and foreboding. A monument to paranoia and the drive to fight and win. I punched in my code that not only would open the door but leave it open for two hours after the last time the code had been punched in and then just stood there as the warning lights began to flash and the siren sounded.

I rattled another pill into my mouth as we waited for the motorpool door to open.

"Sergeant Ant, post!" was the first thing I heard when I walked into the motorpool, my two Privates following me.

Well, it isn't like I hadn't given him a reason to be pissed at me.

Another pill rattled out of the bottle and into my mouth as I walked toward where the Major was standing in a pool of light, his face flushed and his body language angry. He had a clip board with paper on it and was looking at me with an expression like he had to piss really bad.

"I'm the one who gives orders here." He told me, discarding any preamble and coming straight to the point. I was looking around, taking headcount. All three suits were sitting by the sedan they'd driven up to the mountain, and Toothpick looked a little smug with himself.

...bet you wouldn't be so smug with a second smile carved under your chin...

...that's my wonderful Ant. Kill him now...

...not yet, Heather...

The Major was telling me all about the chain of command and how it worked, ending it with he had written me up for insubordination and usurpation of his lawful authority.

I guess he figured that the chain of command was going to be used to beat me with.

"Sir, I'm sure that you consider this your mission." I told him, taking the offered clipboard and glancing over it.

Service Member flaunted authority... Service Member refused to coordinate with mission leader... Service Member overstepped authority... Service Member ignored the proper chain of command... Service Member blah blah blah.

Basically: Service Member hurt my feelings.

"I'm in charge of this mission." The Major stated.

I sighed and dug in my pocket, pulling out my orders, which were rumpled and creased from where I'd folded them up into a square and jammed them into my pocket.

"You have no authority to decide where everyone bunks down, much less what duties anyone will be performing." The Major continued as I unfolded my orders. "I don't know what makes you think that you are in charge of decommissioning this site, but seeing as I'm the ranking officer here, I have command of this mission."

I flipped over the first two pages, glancing at the third and seeing that the pertinent section started about 2/3rd of the way down.

"Here, read that." I told him, clipping my orders to the top of the clipboard and handing it back unsigned.

The Fates were getting louder. I could almost make out words, tantalizing snatches that sounded like my name.

"What is this?" He asked, taking the clipboard.

"My orders. This is what they gave me at the Pentagon before I left." I told him. "I think you'll find that what you think the orders are and what they actually are happen to be two wildly different things."

The blood drained out of his face as he read the last 3rd of the page and started at the top of the fourth page. I stood there silently, rattling another pill into my mouth and grinding it up with my wonderful plastic teeth. I knew what he was reading and could tell it was making him more and more angry.

"Before you tear those up, I'll have you know I have several other copies of those orders stamped and signed secured away." I warned him, watching his nostril flare. "I trust that you understand now why I feel comfortable in telling you what to do."

"This set of orders are illegal and outrageous." He said, tearing my orders off of his clipboard and throwing them at me. I grabbed them and began folding them back up. "That isn't the way the Army does things."

"It's the way my Army does things, sir. I don't know about your Army, I've never been in your Army." I answered. "Now, would you be so kind as to hand me your orders so that I can check a certain section of them?"

"You don't have any need to review my orders." He snapped, then shook the clipboard at me as I started digging in my back pocket. "Are you going to sign this or not?"

"No." I told him, pulling out another set of orders and unfolding them.

...stab him in the eye with his stupid pen and break his trachea with the clipboard...

...hush, Bomber...

"What are those?" The Major asked.

"Your orders." I told him, staring him in the eyes. "Before I left the Pentagon I asked for copies of everyone's orders so that I could coordinate this mission." The smile I gave him made him flinch slightly. "There was a small chance that whatever officer they put in charge of the troops that were supposed to assist with this mission might decide to take it upon himself to decide he was running the show. I wanted to ensure that the orders he had been given told him that this wasn't his show to run."

He made a grab for the orders as I flipped to the third page, but I just stepped back and out of his reach.

"Says right here you are to 'facilitate the inspection and possible decommissioning of the mission site by providing assistance and leadership for enlisted work crew to mission commander." I looked at him. "That would be me according to my orders."

"An officer is a mission commander." He told me, stepping forward, I just stepped back and folded up the orders, stepping back again to put the orders in my back pocket.

"Sorry, sir, but I'm the one in charge of the mission." I told him. "You're just here to make sure your crew follows my orders."

"That's preposterous. That's not how it works. As ranking officer I immediately assume authority of the mission in the absence of a higher ranking officer. That's according to SOP, and something you should well know, Sergeant." He glared at me. "You should be aware of how the chain of command works having spent time in the military."

...in the cold, the snow, the darkness...

I shook my head. "Sir, that isn't how this is going to work." I told him flatly. "I'll give you three choices: You can either view me as the NCOIC of this mission and make sure my orders are carried out, you can leave and get clarification once the doors open, or you can place me under arrest and take charge of the mission yourself."

I paused and waited for him to open his mouth before finishing.

"You decide which one is the choice that probably won't land your ass in Leavenworth breaking big rocks into little rocks." I shrugged. "Nothing that will happen to me will ever be worse than what the military has already done to me."

"You've got a real smart mouth on you, Sergeant Ant." The Major told me.

I shrugged and walked a few paces away into the shadows, waving him over. After a second he stomped over to me.

"Sir, trust me when I tell you that this is not uncommon at the level you are now involved with." I told him gently, trying to smooth things out. "Have you ever worked with SOCOM?" He shook his head. "OK, spheres of authority are slightly blurred in the operator world, but that's not the point. The point is is that whenever I worked with them when it came to my sphere of knowledge and authority the team leader deferred to my decisions in order to let me do my job so they could accomplish their mission."

The shadows in the motorpool grew closer and I rattled another pill into my mouth, chewing it up and watching the Major's face.

"So you think I should just let you tell me what to do and be happy about it?" The Major probably didn't know how petulant he sounded. "I'm supposed to be happy about taking my orders from a drug addict?"

"No." I told him. He looked surprised. "I'm going to tell you what I need done in order for us to accomplish our mission, and you'll make sure your crop of hammer heads do it. I'm not going to walk around barking orders at you, I'm going to be too busy with my mission to stand over you like some little tin god."

The shadows grew closer and a bulb deep in the motorpool exploded into a shower of sparks.

"I know these places, I know the dangers they hold." I told him. "If I tell you not to open a door, it's not because I don't want you to discover Blackbeard's treasure, it's because opening the door is dangerous and might kill people." Donaldson was standing a few feet away at parade rest, his eyes locked onto something above our heads and far away.

...he's plotting against you with this shammer officer, get him before he gets you...

...leave me alone, Dana...

"Have you ever commanded a company before?" I asked him.

"Alpha Company, Twenty Second Forward Support." He told me. "I was there for a year."

"All right. When orders came down did you yell about them, or just have your men take care of business?" I asked.

"I just made sure they were carried out." He told me.

"Right. The important thing is accomplishing the mission." I reminded him. "You were tasked to me, to assist me in my mission. Your mission is to basically ensure that my mission succeeds." He nodded, still looking slightly angry. "Right now this whole site is pretty much an unknown. I've explored a tiny fraction of it so far, but according to the site's system the barracks area has been sealed for almost ten years, which means it should be safe to bunk down."

He nodded again.

"Me, Donaldson, and Kincaid will go check the living areas to make sure they're intact and livable, then we'll let you know. I want everyone together, not separated in case there's an emergency. Once the troops start getting settled in, you and I will check the mess area and see what can be done about getting everyone a hot meal." I shrugged. "These sites can be strange, the mess area might be damaged, or the living area might be unlivable, but we'll figure out what to do when we come to various problems."

"Why wouldn't the living area be usable?" He asked.

Good, he was starting to think past his wounded pride.

...it's a trick, kill him now!...

...hush, Nancy...

"Over the last decade or two a small water leak might have started as water from the artesian system works through cracks formed by the construction. The water might have run down main support beams, rusting them out and weakening them, until the weight of the area caused it to collapse into a pile of wreckage. Or part of the load bearing section of the ceiling might have collapsed due to a minor earth tremor and the are might be buried under tons of rock." I told him. "Or worse, the section might have never been finished, might be filled with millions of gallons of water, or poison gas might have filled the area somehow."

"I didn't think of any of that." He admitted.

"That's why I'm in charge and you're here to facilitate my mission." I told him. "I've worked in these kinds of sites for awhile." He nodded again, looking thoughtful instead of angry.

"Plus, we have a small problem, another reason to keep your men together and make sure they always go places in groups of three." I told him.

"What problem?" He asked.

"I think there's some kind of wild animal loose in here." I half-lied. "It probably got in here a couple decades ago and their descendants view this whole site as their den."

"The thing that attacked you and Private Donaldson."

"Right. The ones we're stuck in here with for the next four days or so. Did you bring weapons and ammunition?"

"No. I didn't see the need for them just to draw down an old bunker." He admitted. I silently cursed the man for a fool.

...he's planning on hunting you, murdering all of you, that's why he didn't allow them weapons, it's 1988 all over again...

...hush, Bomber...

"All right, sir. I suggest you make sure your men are ready to move out. It would probably be best if we stored the vehicles in the military motorpool. While you make sure that happens me and my two Privates will check the living areas. When we're done, we'll return to the military motorpool and I'll let you know what I found and give you my suggestions." I told him.

"Anyone ever tell you that you sound like an officer?" He said, chuckling. It surprised me, the sudden absence of the tension that had surrounded him.

"Just right before we started fighting." I answered, smiling back. "I'll need Kincaid and Donaldson with me. If you'd be so kind as to release them from duty and hand them over to me, I'd appreciate it."

"Why them?"

"They've already begun accruing experience with this site, and I'd rather not have to retrain someone else." I told him half of the truth again.

I didn't trust the majority of the weasel faced morons he had following him.

"This isn't how it's normally done." He told me.

"It is this time." I told him, shrugging. "I'd been working on a chapter and a good two week bender before they made me sober up and do this shit. I'd rather be home with my wife and kid than dealing with this Cold War Bullshit."

He nodded and walked away, and I felt suddenly exhausted from the confrontation. He was going along with it all on the surface, but I had a bad feeling about him.

Donaldson walked up and went to at ease.

"Kincaid and I are ready, Sergeant. We moved our gear into your vehicle." He told me and I nodded, waving at him to walk with me as we headed over to the Gypsy Wagon. The three suits were still leaning against their vehicle, talking together.

...they're plotting against you, Ant...

...I know, Nancy...

"How did the Major take it?" Donaldson asked.

"Not well." I said. "I think he gets it now."

"What if he doesn't get it or tries to put you under arrest?" He asked.

"Then I'll wait till he does something stupid and kills himself." I told him, shrugging. "Remember the Claymores?"

"Yeah." He shook his head. "You think there's more traps?"

"There's never just one land mine." I told him.

"Sergeant?" The seriousness in his tone made me stop and turn to look at him. "What do you think our chances are of making it through the next four days?"

I took a deep breath then gave him the truth. "I don't know."

He nodded and we finished walking over to the Humvee, where Kincaid was sitting in the passenger seat, looking out the window at the deepening shadows. It was like the lights were giving it up and the darkness was pushing in on us.

People claim that darkness is nothing more than just the absence of light. Physics proved that darkness isn't real, just an indication of absence.

I'd learned in 2/19th that sometimes darkness was something malevolent.

The darkness gathering in the motorpool felt like that.

Donaldson took bitch and I slid in behind the wheel, firing the Gypsy Wagon up.

I'd been shocked to find it in the depot lot at Fort Hood. How it had gone from the 2/19th motorpool in West Germany after Desert Storm to a base in the center of Texas only God knew, but it was definitely the Humvee I'd lived in during Desert Storm, had drove all over Europe after the war. When I started getting assigned to help drawdown the old CoG sites, my CO hadn't been to willing to part with a vehicle from the motorpool for months at a time, so I'd convinced him to get me the Gypsy Wagon out of the depot yard before it had been parted out to the frame. Two weeks in the mechanic's hands and it ran as good as it ever did before. It had only needed a new transmission and transaxle and a few other little things. The CO got to keep all his vehicles, and I got one to drive to various sites that wouldn't matter if something happened to it. It was battered, dented, and had waay too many miles on it.

It still had the bullet holes in the bed and tailgate.

We were all silent as we pulled into the blast tunnel and I basically let it idle down the tunnel. The lights flickered a few times as we came to a stop in front of the military motorpool access door.

"Donaldson."

"Yes, Sergeant?"

"I'm gonna get out, you drive. When I open the door, I'll see where we can pakr, come back, and then I'll ground guide you in. We'll park this beast and then figure out which living quarters we want to bunk everyone down in." Both of them nodded.

My boots thumped when I got out, and Donaldson scooted behind the wheel and closed the door as I walked up to the keypad and held down enter till it flashed ready at me. I punched in my code and stood there waiting.

I could hear more engines mixing with the Gypsy Wagon's rumbling as the Major's men started their vehicles to bring them into the blast deflection tunnel. The door was soundless, and I wasn't sure it was even going to open until it suddenly quivered and there was a huge shuddering sound that I could feel in the air of the tunnel. It began to slowly retract into the wall, two feet before the slope of the wedge was visible. The wedge was over five feet according to my estimation, and when it finally opened the track it sat in was large enough I could have laid down with my arms over my head and barely touched both sides. A metal blast shield above the door had retracted, revealing a bar of lights that shone down on the Gypsy Wagon and the tunnel.

They'd put a door almost as heavy as the main entrance on the motorpool.

There was a large opening, easily big enough for a semi-tractor and trailer to fit inside, with the logo's of both missile units, the Continuity of Government seal, and the US government and Department of Defense logos on the opposite door and walls.

In the center of the opposite door was the Blue Bunny Burrow insignia.

It took a couple seconds, but the yellow and black striped metal rose up and filled in the gap left by the door. I walked across the strip and onto the metal grate, looking up at the sprinkler nozzles. Inside the room were two doors reading "CREW DECON" on them, as well as instructions for the driver and crew to exit the vehicle during decontamination.

The code I had punched in told the system that we had not been outside, and bypassed the decontamination procedures. I didn't feel like having all my gear sprayed down, and dealing with the decon areas.

I'd explore them later.

Moving up to the next door I punched in the open door code and the override code to force the door to open even though the exterior was open. The system flashed red WARNING at me, but another input of the override code was enough to get it to change to "OPENING".

The door took nearly two minutes to begin opening, and once again I was struck by the sheer size of the door. Almost a foot before the two foot wedge, and the track was nearly four feet wide.

Beyond the door a handful of lights flickered on, some off in the dimness exploding in a shower of sparks that rained down on the vehicles that I only glimpsed before they vanished into darkness. The motorpool extended off into the darkness to my right and left, and the few lights that had turned on deeper in showed me that the motorpool was massive.

There was a pool of light at the door, with isolated pools further in. None of the lights did much more than illuminate a small circular patch in the darkness, and the malovelence seemed to roll out of the room as I waited for the black and white "bridge" to lift up and fill the gap.

In some of the puddles I could see a handful of old Sheridan tanks, and I counted three Abrams tanks, along with CUC-V Chevy Blazers missing their tires and suspended from heavy cables, some old jeeps suspended on cables, and even some M113 APC's. I couldn't be positive, but it looked like further in there were even some artillery pieces. I counted three ambulances, a M113 NBC Recon vehicle, and good ol' US Army 5-tons in the first few rows. All of the non-tracked vehicles were on blocks with the tires on the hoods. I could even see a crane and two bulldozers. What I guessed was the fourth or fifth ranking had Bradley Fighting Vehicles in different configurations. I even recognized the heavy version, which most people thought was nothing more than a rumor. Probably two or three companies worth of vehicles that had proven their effectiveness in 1991 and were probably the NBC Warfare models.

Everything we need to fight on the nuclear battlefield.

Enough lights remained to show two aisles between the between the vehicles parked in neat rows, with about 20 meters between the door and the first row of vehicles. There would be plenty of room to park the few vehicles we had.

There was a red line heading to the left that was labeled "POL" and a blue line to the right that read "MAINT" the headed off into the dimness. A yellow line that broke into 4 separate lines that darted toward the gaps read "EGRESS POINTS", telling me that somewhere off in the distance the motorpool joined up with the military section.

I held up my fist to tell Donaldson to wait a moment and headed deeper into the motorpool toward the first rank of vehicles, being careful to stay in the light so Donaldson and Kincaid could see me. The dust on the vehicles in front of me was only a few millimeters thick, covering the whole vehicle. The first row was nothing but Duece and Halves, heavy cargo trucks that had been in service forever. There were tough, reliable, could be converted to Ethanol with ease, and if worse came to worse you could manufacture the majority of parts with a high school metal shop.

The dust was grayish brown and when I wiped some off of the grill guard and rubbed it between my thumb and middle finger it was fine and non-abrasive. I took out my little camera and took a couple of pictures, the flash quickly swallowed by the darkness, then tucked it back into my pocket.

Someone honked in the tunnel, the sound echoing in the huge motorpool. The echoes were flat, slightly distorted, and faded quickly.

The light in front of the inner door, illuminating the first few yards of a motorpool that looked like it went on forever, imploded in a shower of bright sparks, the ones surrounding me imploding with it, showering me with sparks and dazzling me. I heard popping behind me and knew that the lights in the decon entrance had blown out, and probably the rack of high intensity bulbs had gone with them just for good measure.

I had a split second warning as the stench of rotting meat reached me. I'd spun around, dropped my hand to my knife on my LBE and had just started to draw it before it was on me.

The Fate's song swelled to a triumphant chorus as whatever it was locked its hands around my throat and squeezed, the claws digging into the back of my neck and rancid breath smelling of rotting blood and worse puffed into my face.


Chapter 13

Site Kilo-29-Military Motorpool Area
United States of America
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Afternoon


Whoever had me by the neck was just squeezing, an amateur strangler move which did nothing but make my head feel like it was swelling, blood hammer at my temples and ears, and my eyes feel like they were bulging out. The talons were scratching at the back of my neck, and the face that couldn't be far from mine was panting hot air into my face.

My brain conjured up an image of the mouth opening wide, like a snake's jaws, and coming forward to clamp down on each side of my head before pulling back and closing, tearing my face off and laying my skull bare.

...this is how they killed the others...

...I know, Bomber...

One hit me at the back of the legs from under the truck, and I stumbled forward, sparks appearing in my vision. My shoulder was nothing but pain, and my knee buckled, the metal brace hinges squealing as it twisted wrong. Something bit into my calf, sinking into the thick muscle, and the one that had me by the throat made a huffing sound.

...FIGHT, ANT, FIGHT!...

The Fates, my Father, Bomber, Nancy, Taggart, Dana, Heather, all screamed at me at the same time and I responded with a roar of my own, my knife clearing the sheathe.

They'd taken the others in the darkness, using the fear of the dark that everyone has deep inside to give them the edge, screeching and yowling as they came to cause even more fear, scrabbling at them with claws and ripping at them with bites in the darkness.

They were nothing.

Stateside I got weird looks all the time. I pushed myself remorselessly, 2-3 hours a day pumping iron alternating with days where I ran 10 miles runs in full gear. Every. Fucking. Day. I went to every range I could, ran 2 miles in MOPP 4 every Sunday, practiced with my pistols at the Rod & Gun Club, practiced with my knives when I could, fought at bars, pushed myself with everything I had. I got my ass beat, but you could even learn from an ass kicking. How to let pain be your friend if nothing else. When I exercised I felt calm, the smooth play of muscle and tendon over bone slowly eating away at the rage that the pills only held back.

The only thing better than physical exertion was Heather's arms and the baby's soft breathing as I held her in my arms as she slept and dreamed baby dreams.

I brought both arms up in a sweeping motion to break the chokehold as something slammed into my legs, thinking I was off balance, that I would be stumbling with fear and weakly pawing at whatever had my neck.

I'd survived 4 winters in 2/19th.

My hand shot out and grabbed something made of meat, digging my fingers and thumb in with everything I had, twisting at the muscle as I drug it toward me, letting the rage and the singing of the Fates sweep away the medication that made so slow, so logy, so tired all the time. Rage poured strength into me, and I could hear Nagle chanting "kill kill kill kill" as I went to work.

Darkness and cold held no fear for me. Twisted steel and sex appeal.

Two more hit me, and I staggered, but didn't go down, slashing and stabbing with the blade, my fist hitting meat more often than air, and my eye was starting to adapt to the dimness. The one on my thigh fell away, screeching and crawling and I helped it along with a kick that picked it up and filled the air with the snapping of thick dry branches.

...I love you, Ant!...

Heather, Dana and Nagle's voices. All the ladies love a killer.

Their eerie screams changed in seconds, from feral snarlings to something else as I punched, kicked, stomped, tore at them, and went to work with my knife. I felt more than anything else the one that jumped from the top of the cab just before it landed on my back.

...dumbass...

I reached back with one hand, finding meat, and squeezed and twisted, seeing one skitter forward and kicking its elbow as the one behind me howled. I let go when it felt like something tore and reached back again, finding skin, and twisted and squeezed. It felt mushy in my hands, but I didn't care. The weight dropped off my back.

...Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because I'm the baddest motherfucker in the valley. Say it with me, boy. I know it hurts but you'll be at the hospital soon...

...yes, Father. Yea, though I walk...

They were screaming and making too human sobs, I was bellowing, cursing and mocking them, full of nothing but roaring red fury and a driving need to hurt them, destroy them, all the while the Fates had returned and were screaming their chorus in my ears.

There was the roar of an engine and lights suddenly lit up the area as clear as day, blinding me for a second. The Fates scattered, their song vanishing in the light.

Screams came from multiple voices, and I could hear the scrabbling of claws on concrete and the feeling of those things vanished. I looked around, my light dazzled eyes showing me only darkness again.

Something huge and dark roared up out of the darkness, stopping less than five feet from me, bathing me in light. I raised an arm to block the light, blinking as my eyes tried to adjust from near darkness to shocking white light.

I was bent at the waist, one arm blocking the blinding light, the other keeping the knife up, knees bent and slightly hunched. I knew I was smiling, and could feel blood running down my neck. My shoulder felt like a chunk of ice was lodged in it and throbbed in time with my heartbeat.

"Christ, Sergeant, are you all right?" Someone called out.

I shook my head for a moment, trying to figure out what he'd said. It was just noise. It didn't mean anything. I bared my teeth and spit.

I was alone again in the darkness, my head swimming from being kicked in the face repeatedly, stabbing with my knife into darkness, Nancy sobbing as she crawled away from me

"Sergeant, are you all right?" Someone else. There was a weird noise, metal on metal. I shook my head again, ignoring the sting of the blood running into my eye and glaring at the light. Blood ran into my mouth and I could taste it.

"Dude, stay back, don't go near him." Another voice, the same noise again.

"Come on, bitches, come on, let's see what you got." I growled, flicking the knife.

"Sergeant Ant, they're gone, it's all right." The voice cleared my head and I started to straighten up. The voice continued. "We need you to turn on the lights, Sergeant Ant. We've got to finish the mission."

Where I was came back in a rush, and I straightened all the way up, looking at the two soldiers who stood at the fenders of the Gypsy Wagon. Donaldson and Kincaid, the two Privates given to me by that the lousy officer those assholes at the Pentagon had saddled me with.

"Sergeant Ant, are you all right?" Donaldson asked. I wiped my knife on pant leg and sheathed it, then pulled out my pill bottle. I stood there for a second with it, aware of Kincaid and Donaldson staring at me as I held it in the light of the Gypsy Wagon's headlights.

And put it back without opening it.

"Yeah, I'm fine." I said, ignoring their expressions and turning around to look at the front of the deuce. Strips of what looked like blackened cloth hung from the grill guard, and there was a spatter of something black and thick at my feet.

"Sorry I almost hit you, Sergeant." Donaldson said, "But when the lights went out it took me a minute to swing the vehicle around to get it in here, you parked it too far forward to just turn straight into the motorpool."

"'Sarite, kid." I said, my stomach clenching and my limbs shaking as the remainder of the adrenaline rushed through my system. "You did good." My stomach heaved.

I took two steps forward, grabbed the grill guard, and leaned forward to throw up. I retched for a couple of minutes until my stomach was empty of everything and I was surprised my toenails hadn't come up. Donaldson and Kincaid kept asking if I was all right, and I kept waving them away while I heaved up bile and stomach acid. When I straightened I took a swig out of my canteen to swish around in my mouth before spitting it on the ground and taking a second swig that I swallowed.

"How many were there, I didn't get a good look." Kincaid asked.

"At least six." Donaldson told him. I nodded, running my hand through my hair. I'd left my Kevlar helmet in the Humvee, and my fingertip found where something had bitten me on the top of the skull, leaving welts and small cuts with swollen lips on my scalp.

"You're bleeding." Kincaid noticed when I brought my hand back and looked at the blood on my fingertips.

"Fucker bit me." I answered. "Scalp wounds bleed a lot." I told them, staggering around to the driver's side of the Gypsy Wagon and sitting down. I was shaking from the adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine that had flooded my system, not to mention my body's typical reaction to combat stress when it was all over. My medication was a dim memory, the fog lifted from my brain.

A vehicle pulled in behind us and flashed its lights.

"Donaldson, you drive, I'll ground guide." I said, pushing myself out of the seat. I grabbed my softcap off the dash and pulled it on. The headband would keep blood from running down my neck or into my eyes. The thick cloth would keep teeth away from my skull, that was the important thing. I didn't think they'd be back, but I hadn't survived as long as I had and still counted on assumptions to carry me.

"Are you sure, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked. When I looked at him I saw something in his face that I'd seen too many times before.

"I'm sure." I moved by him and stood at the rear of the vehicle till Kincaid and Donaldson got back in. I waved Donaldson backwards and right till the vehicle was lined up. I held up a fist for him to stop then moved up the door. Donaldson rolled down the window and looked at me.

"We'll find the lights and get everyone parked." I told him. He nodded. Kincaid has his rifle in his lap and was looking out the window. I turned and then walked further down into the motorpool, heading off toward what would have been my right if I'd still been standing in the door.

The dark pressed in on me despite the lights, and I ran my mind over what I knew, my thoughts faster than they'd been since I'd started taking the pills. Whatever they had been, they hadn't weighed a hundred pounds. They'd been all leathery feeling, sticky and damp, mushy when you got your hands on them. They fought like wild animals, biting and clawing, and preferred to work in packs. The odd one or two might have figured that we were easy prey, but now they were using numbers. They felt pain, though. And fear.

That meant I could kill them.

I walked deeper into the motorpool, waving at Donaldson to follow me. I unclipped my flashlight from my LBE and panned it across the walls. Lights followed and I held up my hand for Donaldson to stop. When the vehicle came to a halt I walked back to the lead vehicle behind the Gypsy Wagon.

The goddamn CIA assholes.

I tapped on the window and Toothpick grinned at me for a few seconds before rolling down the window.

"Wait here till we find the light switches." I told him.

"Whatever, Sergeant." He grinned, mocking me with a two finger salute off his eyebrow. I stared at him for a long second, and his grin turned a little sickly. His eyes flicked from the knife on my LBE to my face, back to the knife, then to my hands, which I knew were streaked in blood on some kind of thick black shit. He clenched the toothpick between his teeth and swallowed, his eyes jumping back to mine.

"That's what I fucking thought, Company Man." I sneered. He flushed and rolled the window back up. I reached forward and tapped it with my knuckles, making him jump, and waited till he glanced at me to smile and chuckle at him.

I wondered how long he'd last in the dark and cold as I walked back.

...Never trust the CIA, they'll fuck you over, piss on your grave, and call it patriotism...

...I know, Father...

At the end of the motorpool we found nothing but bare concrete. I rolled my shoulders, feeling my LBE and Kevlar vest shift into a more comfortable position, then walked back to the vehicle.

"Go back to the aisle, then follow it to the far end." I told Donaldson, who nodded. "I'm going to walk down this wall." He opened his mouth to say something but closed it as my knife whispered out of the sheathe. "I'll be fine, kid."

I gave him a quick instruction. He didn't look happy about it, and Kincaid just swallowed and nodded. I ground guided Donaldson back to the aisle then waved him past me into the aisle between the vehicles before heading back to the far wall.

Whatever it was would home in on me, not on the vehicles. Inside the vehicles, they were probably safe. They didn't have much strength, not enough to peel apart a vehicle and get at the occupants. I'd seen a bear do it once to get at a cooler some idiot left in the back seat of their car, I knew what it took to rip apart a car. They couldn't get at the soldiers in the vehicles so they'd come after the only target I'd left them.

They'd come for me.

I grinned at the thought. They'd have to try again if there were still fit to fight. The alpha would still want to take me down, and I smelled of blood, which they might take as a weakness.

...like Tandy did...

...these things aren't Tandy, Dana...

I walked down the side aisle, keeping my flashlight on the wall, looking straight ahead so I could watch the darkness and the wall both. The loss of the left hand side of my vision nagged at me, and I kept turning my head to compensate, loosing sight of the wall for a moment before I pulled my vision back to it.

Something skittered in the darkness and I smiled. The heaviness of my limbs was vanishing and I could feel my muscles almost thrumming with anticipation. The headache at the base of my skull, my punishment inflicted on me by my medication, was a welcome addition to the pain I used to fuel me.

I walked by two rows of Sheridan tanks, dust all over them, silent sentinels waiting for a war that never happened. I veered over and ran my hand across the heavy tracks, feeling the cold steel under my hand of the machine that had patiently waited in the dark and cold and was now forgotten, replaced by younger and leaner models.

You and me both, brother. I thought sadly. They built us well, and had us sit in the cold and the dark.

Sighing I kept walking, deeper into the mountain, past all of the forgotten equipment, dark and melancholy thoughts filling part of my mind, dark and angry thoughts as I walked past dusty and forgotten war material hidden deep within a mountain. My boots thudding on the concrete poured inside a mountain to create something that I had a lot in common with.

"They built you, and abandoned you." I whispered as I traced my fingers over the side of M113 APC. The admission awoke the anger that was always with me, the rage that had built up over the last two years. What had led me to where I now was, below a mountain in the dark and cold. The thoughts that my pills normally kept me from thinking, the memories that enraged me when my pills lapsed. The 'intrusive thoughts' the mental health techs had given me pills and mantras to ignore.

Those 'intrusive thoughts' were how I had ended up what I was and where I was. I wasn't supposed to be that person any more, and the pills would keep me from being that person any more.

Except I had put the pill bottle back into my pocket and the fight had swept all the other medications out of my system.

"We're relics." I whispered again, to all of the vehicles, to Kilo-29, the mockery my career and life had become.

The Soviet Union had been the big boogeyman for almost half a decade. I'd lived under the specter of nuclear war my whole life. It wasn't a question of if it would happen, it had been a question of when. NATO couldn't win the war, and as soon as the Soviet Union felt confident enough, they'd just roll over us. The Soviets had 10 tanks for every one of ours, our tanks couldn't match them unless it was two of us on one of them. The Apache was worthless. The A-10 would be knocked out the air by infantry rifles. MiG's would shoot down our planes at a 6 to 1 ratio. The Marines' strength had failed, spent in the rice patties of Vietnam. The Air Force had lost the will to fight, nothing more than dim memories of victories they could never hope to achieve again. The Navy wouldn't last 10 minutes, blotted out in nuclear fire and destroyed by the superior Russian Navy. The Army wasn't what it was and we were weak, our spirit and ability to fight lost in the jungles of Vietnam after the death blow of Korea. The Soviet Union had a hundred times the nuclear weapons we had. Their Spetznaz could walk through walls and kill with a light tap of their fingernails. The KBG was everyone and everywhere and killed anyone who got in their way of their masters in the Kremlin. Their weapons were better, they were tougher, NATO didn't stand a chance. That was the mantra I had heard, everyone knew it. But they'd built me and men and women like me and then stationed what they'd built in Germany with only one mission.

Punish the enemy.

The same people who had ordered weapons like me built had shelters like this one built in tectonically stable areas, designed not only to shelter government leaders, but allow a coordination to keep fighting in the radiation, the chemicals, and the biological weapons. Civil Defense had been a priority, then collapsed into nothing more than dusty notebooks in courthouse basements next to forgotten fallout shelters. Units had been shuffled around and hidden behind paperwork to protect critical assets. Men lied to their families and spouses and whether or not they actually died their deaths were listed as training accidents, with those who still lived even giving up who they were. The Cold War got colder and depots were built, plans were laid, all to fight even after the Soviet Union and NATO went toe to toe and the world turned into a poisoned charnel house.

I'd been trained for that battlefield. To arm my comrades with the nastiest weapons we could, even if we had to carry them by hand, even in the face of the enemy if he attacked our sites, no matter what it took we were to arm them, empty our bunkers, and take the fight to them. After our bunkers were empty our mission was fight on the NBC battlefield, take the war to the enemy, break his ability to fight, lay waste to his cities, help commanders coordinate strikes that would break his will, enable my brothers and sisters to fight with weapons that nobody wanted to use. We were not defense. We were offense, and we'd make sure the enemy's troops, factories, and cities were blasted with nuclear fire, his people and animals died choking from chemical weapons that would poison the ground for decades, and I'd spread death over his cities and rural areas with pestilence and disease that would kill for generations. Nobody thought we had the will to do it. Books and movies had us refusing to fight as the Soviet Union blotted millions of people from the nations of NATO, the soldiers pictured crying out that it wasn't right, that they wouldn't do it. That nobody could win, and so they wouldn't fight.

But reality was different. I would fight. I'd sworn an oath. And so would my brothers and sisters, who had sworn the oath to defend their countries, their civilians, their way of life, no matter what the cost. Not just American, but the British, the Germans, Spaniards, the French, the Fins, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Canadians, everyone who refused to knuckle under to the Soviet Union and stood on the line with us and stared at our counterparts on the other side of the Iron Curtain. We subscribed to the old adage that you can always take them with you, and knew that our enemy knew it too. We met their resolution with our own.

As for me, every single life the Soviet Union took from the nations of NATO, I would return tenfold on the Warsaw Pact. They built me to survive, destroy the enemy, and win.

And the Soviet Union knew it. They'd stared us in the eye, knew who we were from our own personnel files thanks to traitors, mistakes, and espionage, and knew in their hearts that we were willing to pull the trigger on the pistol we held to their head as soon as their finger tightened on the trigger of the pistol they held to ours. They knew us because they knew that the men and women on their side were the same as we were. Just as determined, and just as willing to do to us what we were willing to do to them. Nothing noble, just grim duty.

It was insanity, but the insanity itself was a weapon, just like we were.

But then the Soviet Union had collapsed, and the war was over. NATO had won. The world stood shocked for a long moment in disbelief and then rejoiced as the fight everyone had lived of fear of vanished from the horizon. Everyone celebrated the victory for mankind.

Terrible, terrible victory.

Now we were forgotten. An embarrassment to those who knew that it had been acceptable to create men and women who were willing to count bodycounts by the tens of thousands. Something that everyone pretended was rumor rather than admit what had been done during those insane years. My MOS was gone as if it never existed, my 201 file had a blank spot where my MOS should have been proudly listed, most of my records were altered or just plain 'lost' as time went on. Our units broken up in disgrace and silence, our guidons cased and hidden if not burned, the bumper numbers of our vehicles sandblasted off, our records burned, our sites destroyed or left to quietly decay, our brothers and sisters shifted from unit to unit, sometimes the day we got to a new unit we were sent back to 21st Replacement or found new orders waiting for us when we reported in. Those who knew what we had been trained to do considered us monsters, we were often shunned or worse, mocked as useless failures, sneered at for 'having never done your jobs'. We were told that we had nothing to be proud of, that we were nothing and had contributed nothing. Our pay was frequently lost and sometimes a month or two would pass without a single paycheck, sometimes our records were 'lost' and the only proof we were even in the military was the 201 files in our hands, and more than a few of my friends had just packed their stuff in a U-Haul, left their ID cards and dogtags on the CQ desk and gone home quietly or loudly and graphically left after a screaming match and a spectacular flameout that was quickly swept under the rug. Some had put their pistols in their mouths instead. Some of us refused to reclassify to a different MOS and hovered around the edges of our old jobs, doing things that nobody else wanted to, that nobody wanted to admit needed done, things like destroying the very things that everyone had relied on and now nobody wanted around. We were ragged ghosts at the banquet. We were told we were 'in the real Army now' and we were 'relics' and 'embarrassments' by lousy motherfuckers who had never...

The far wall jerked me out of the memory of us sitting on a porch of a house that bulldozers waited to demolish, watching some goddamn REMF from V Corps come and take our hand-made guidon. Hatred coursed through my veins, filling my mouth with a hot bitter taste, I was unreasonably angry, shaking and breathing hard, and wanting nothing more than to hit and smash and break something, anything.

Anyone.

My head was throbbing as I started walking along the far war, shining my flashlight. Behind me something skittered on the concrete, moving deeper into the motorpool, keeping pace with me in the darkness.

I smiled and clenched my fists, my knuckles popping loudly in the darkness. The knife felt right, and the anger and hatred the memories had aroused warmed me and strengthened me. Pain was my friend who helped me overcome injury and exhaustion, the darkness held no fear for me after 2/19th, and my own death was nothing more than an eventuality that I'd welcome as a brother after Desert Storm.

Off to my left something growled.

They bled, they screamed, they sobbed. They could be killed.

Wood and steel floated out of the darkness and into the light of my flashlight, heavy switches that looked like something out of an old 50's Frankenstein movie instead of installed in a state of the art facility.

...get ready...

...Always ready, brother...

The smell washed over me, familiar now, as I drew closer to the switches. I counted five of them in all, none of them locked upright. Above them was the words "SHUT OFF BEFORE EXITING" in big red letters, with the letters A through E below them. A high voltage marker was at both ends and between each of the switches. The switches could handle all the EMP that was thrown at it and just sneer, if it was outside the fireball itself they'd be intact and might even survive on the fringes of the fireball.

Three steps till I reached them. My whole body was tingling, I was breathing slow and deep. The headache at the base of my skull faded to a dull awareness. The metal was old and corroded but little amber lights could now be seen at the base of them. Something winked at the base of them, a broken line at about floor level.

Two more steps. I could hear something skitter and stop, the growl still audible but only barely. It was animalistic, filled with a need. The hinges of the switches gleamed with thick blackish-green grease in the light of my flashlight. I could see a scattered line of glinting brass where the floor met the wall near the switches.

One more step. In front of me I could see the headlights of the Gypsy Wagon steadily brighten on the wall no more than fifty feet from where I was. There was the glint of another door on the far wall that I knew would lead deeper into the mountain, to probably join up with the maintenance section. The gleams turned into expended brass and the cold part of my brain whispered that they were 5.56mm NATO and approximately 30 of them.

Another step and I was in front of the switches, my boot kicking an expended brass and sending it tinkling into the darkness. I turned and faced them, breathing out and shifting my grip on my knife.

I could hear scrabbling behind me as I reached up my left hand for the wooden handle of the middle switch. The lights of the Gypsy Wagon were angling toward me, sweeping across the wall as Donaldson turned the vehicle toward me.

With a roar I spun around, the light clipped to my LBE swinging with me, illuminating something that was coming straight at me.

It was red and black, a black and red ball for a head that lacked ears or a nose, what looked like patchy hair on its head, apparently dressed in black rags over its torso, groin, and legs. Its clawed feet were bare and the talons on its hands were reaching for me as it opened its mouth and hissed at me with a mouth full of small triangle teeth. It wore silver chains with medallions around its neck and its eyes were white with huge pupils that suddenly contracted as my light caught it in the face. The face was full of glee, thinking that the talons that were leading the way would tear into me and rip my life away before I could do much more than scream.

I stepped into it, my left hand slapping away one reaching claw, shifting to my left so it missed with the other claw, the thumb talon digging into the side of my jaw for a second. My hand grabbed the chains that dangled from its neck and I yanked hard. The chains snapped, leaving the medallions in my hand.

The shock ran up my arm as I buried my Gerber into its gut, the blade angled up.

It screamed then, and clawed at my chest, its talons raking my gear, and I kneed it in the crotch as I tensed my shoulder and curled my arm. Lights swept over us both and I could see the pain and fear in its eyes. My lip curled as it ripped the right sleeve of my BDU top with its talons and tried to push my arm away, to push the knife out of it.

The smell of raw sewage flooded the air as I stared in its eyes, wrapping my left arm tightly around it and pulling it tight against me, still pulling my knife upward, putting all the power I had into it. Something crackled and hit the floor with a wet noise. It went silent, its mouth an 'O' and eyes wide. I noticed that it had a hole in its face where there should have been a nose.

"You got nothing." I whispered, smiling.

It pushed feebly at me with one hand, the other reaching behind to to claw at my Kevlar vest, its mouth opening and closing as I felt the knife hit the ribs. A gush of blood rushed out of its mouth and splashed across my chest, steaming in the cold air. I twisted the knife as it pawed at me and shook its head in denial, its mouth opening and closing, the bloody little triangular teeth appearing and disappearing.

"Goodbye." I told it.

It was shaking, trembling, and it lost its bladder and bowels on my boots as I stared in its eyes. It reached one hand up and pawed weakly at my face, sending my glasses askew and pulling my eyepatch from over my dead eye. I just stared, twisting the knife again as another gush of blood, smaller this time, rushed out of its mouth, dark red, almost black in the headlights of the Gypsy Wagon. Bloody froth mixed with green mucus was bubbling from the gaping hole where a nose should have been.

It went limp and I let go, angling the knife so it slid off instead of tearing it from my hand, and it fell to the concrete floor with a final thud.

I stepped back from it, wiping my knife on my pants legs and sheathing it before turning back to the switches. The Gypsy Wagon idled closer as I started throwing them one by one. The engine sputtered and died, the headlights going out between the first and second switch. Between the third and fourth I heard the doors slam.

With each one thrown another bank of lights came on. Some of the lights stayed dark, others exploded in sparks, but the motorpool lit up all the same, revealing a cavernous area full of old vehicles.

When I turned from the switches Donaldson and Kincaid were standing a few feet from me. Kincaid was looking out into the motorpool, his weapon at high ready. He looked a little green around the gills. Donaldson was looking at me when I turned, and he took a step back when he saw my face. My glasses were skewed, my eyepatch down around my neck, my face bloody, and my wide eyes and smile.

I reached up and straightened my glasses as I grinned at him and he flinched again. I ignored that and turned to look at the thing that had charged at me, half expecting it to be gone.

...that's what always happened before...

...I know, Taggart...

The creature was still there, laying on its back. Its open eyes were staring at the ceiling with its stomach torn open and guts hanging out. I could see a couple of the thin silver necklaces that had been around its neck laying near it.

That reminded me.

I looked down at my left hand, lifting it up and opening my fist to reveal the medallions I'd pulled off its chest.

They were dogtags. Eight of them.


Chapter 14

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Primary Motorpool
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Afternoon


As Donaldson and Kincaid moved up to me I began turning over the dogtags in my hand, looking at each one. None of them were from the same person, and one of them had BC CCCP on it along with some numbers rather than name, SSN, blood type and religious preference. I dropped that one in my front pocket and tucked the rest in my BDU top, under my Kevlar vest, as the other two men came up.

"You all right, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked.

"Looks clear." Kincaid said, stepping up near the body of the thing that had attacked me, keeping his weapon at high ready while he scanned the brightly lit motorpool.

"I'm fine. It didn't lay a finger on me." I told him, rolling my shoulders to settle my vest and equipment better. Donaldson nodded and moved away while I turned back and threw the last power switch.

"It's human." Donaldson said.

"Huh?" I wasn't thinking too clearly. My head was pounding and the Fates were screaming at me.

"It doesn't look like it at first, but it's human." Donaldson repeated. I turned around and he was down on one knee, looking at the corpse. "I think these are BDUs."

I moved up next to him and looked, kneeling down to look at the blood slimed teeth while Donaldson pulled out his canteen. They were small, triangular, and irregularly spaced.

"When I was a kid, I read that cannibals in the South Pacific used to do that." Donaldson told me. I just nodded.

...Gaping open jaws, full of broken and jagged teeth that were too long for the mouth. White skin, with the edges of the mouth pulled up in a horrific grin...

He began dribbling water on a strip of what I had mistaken for peeling and blackened flesh. The water was reddish black as it poured off and through the cloth.

"Yup, BDU's." He told me.

...Grimy, dirty, tattered BDU's, covered with frozen mud and a rind of frost...

"Good eye, Private." I stood back up and waved Kincaid over.

"You two find a tarp in the back of one of the five tons and cover him up." I told them. They both nodded and headed for the row of cargo trucks that stood only about 20 feet from us. As soon as they had their back to me I opened the pocket at the back of my gas mask carrier and pulled out a box. In addition to decon wipes I kept test strips inside, and I pulled out a packet, broke the seal, then wiped the test strip I pulled out on the body before replacing everything but the test strip.

When the two other men returned with the tarp the strip was still inconclusive. I wadded it up and dropped it.

"Let's go see the Major." I told them. They both nodded and followed me, Donaldson sitting bitch again on top of the metal box I'd had welded in between the two bucket seats. I backed up the Gypsy Wagon then pulled into the aisle the two Privates had driven the Humvee down. Going slow reminded me of just how big the cavernous motorpool was, with rank after rank of vehicles in cold storage. Wheeled vehicles with the tires removed hanging from cables to prevent wear on the suspensions, tracked vehicles with the tracks hanging loosely to prevent tension fatigue, all of them cold and silent without a single identifying mark on them. No bumper number, no unit designation, just row after row of painted cold steel covered by dust.

...they left us in the dark and cold...

The Major was standing next to his Humvee, watching the Privates who were drawn up in a couple of small groups, standing under lights, smoking cigarettes and talking to each other. I hit the switch to flip to blackout drive so I didn't blind him, and drove the rest of the way up to him.

One of the Suits was talking to him by the time we got up to where he was at.

"Leave your weapons." I warned. They both nodded, putting their weapons on the floor boards instead of securing them with the handles that had been provided to hold M-16's. I'd never seen anyone actually use them.

When the Major turned and saw me his eyes widened and he took a step back.

"Sergeant Ant, how bad are you wounded?" He asked.

"Most of it isn't mine." I told him, shaking my head.

"Sergeant Ant killed the animal that attacked him." Kincaid didn't exactly lie.

"What happened to your eye, Sergeant?" The Major asked.

Oh, yeah, my eyepatch was still around my neck. He could see the dead eye, the way the whites were bloodshot and it looked more like a demonic eye than a human.

"Old head injury." I explained, pulling the eyepatch back into place under my glasses. He nodded and let it drop.

"So what's your plan now, Ant?" The Suit sneered.

...he can't tie you to a chair if you kill him first...

...I know, Nancy...

"You shut the fuck up." I snarled, taking a step toward him. Donaldson grabbed my arm and shook his head. I took a deep breath and stepped back, returning my attention to the Major.

"To repeat the Special Agent's question, what now?" The Major asked. He had a look like he expected me to go after him.

"The two Privates and me will go check out the living quarters. Have your men park their vehicles and form up at the back of the motorpool." I suggested. "Have them draw weapons and live ammunition in case any of those animals come back."

"We didn't bring weapons or ammunition." The Major told me. "I was told that this was a simple case of assessment, inventory, and drawdown."

shit

"I highly doubt that some animal is going to attack a whole group of soldiers." The Suit sneered.

"I told you to shut the fuck up. I ain't telling you again." I told him between gritted teeth.

"Still, I'll have my men park the vehicles in the first two rows, then we'll wait at the rear of this motorpool." The Major said thoughtfully. "I'll have them go ahead and have some chow."

"Good plan, sir." I said, nodding.

"You and your two Privates see if the living quarters are up to hosting us, and find the safest route for my men to get there." He continued.

"Yes, sir." I said, keeping my face neutral.

"Make it happen, Sergeant." He told me. I nodded again, snapped off a parade ground salute, then turned back to my two Privates.

"Let's go, gentlemen, we've got out mission." They nodded and followed when we went back to the Gypsy Wagon, climbing back inside. We turned around as the Major began waving his men over, presumably to get them to line up the vehicles dress right dress on the ready lines.

"Sergeant Ant, can I ask you a serious question?" Kincaid was staring at the motorpool as we idled toward the back wall.

"Go ahead, troop." I fished out my smokes and offered them.

Neither one of them took them.

...goddamn New Army...

"Can we trust you?" He looked like someone had just handed him a live grenade.

"Yes." I told him. "I won't abandon you, I won't waste your lives needlessly, and I won't tell you to do something and then leave you hanging." I glanced over and both of the Privates were nodding.

"Where did you learn to knife fight like that?" Kincaid asked.

"The Army." I answered, lighting the cigarette.

"Not in any Army I'm in." Kincaid mumbled.

...all right, boys and girls, a knife is a weapon of choice. In the right hands it is deadly, in the wrong hands or in untrained hands it is more of a threat to the wielder than the opponent..

...young boys and girls watching the tall heavily built man in a military uniform standing in front of them, love and trust on their faces...

"Why didn't you say anything about the Major just taking your plan?" Donaldson asked.

The blackout drive lights were dim, barely lighting the flanks of the vehicles on either side of the aisle and the cement in front of us.

"It's called saving face." I told him. He nodded, and I dropped it.

"How bad was the head injury?" Kincaid asked.

"I almost died." I told him.

...Ant, honey, I think you're blind...

"Oh." He was silent for a few moments.

"I take pills to control migraine headaches." I told them. It was only half the truth, but all they needed to know. "Extreme stress or anger gives me a migraine headache, if they get bad enough I'll go blind for a short period of time."

The far wall was coming into view, along with the massive door that was at least 15 feet high and twenty feet wide. Above it was the legend "PRIMARY MOTORPOOL MAINTENANCE" in red letters.

"I also take medication to keep me from dreaming, and even then I only sleep for a few hours every day or so." I half lied.

...If you tell them your weakness, they'll use it to kill you. Nancy told me from the back seat, where she sat with all my extra gear...

I ignored her, and she sat there silently, watching me.

The Humvee slowed down and I killed the engine, getting out.

"Time to load up." I smiled, getting out. We went around to the back end, and I dropped the tailgate, the bulletholes on both sides of the metal. I grabbed a metal ammo can and opened it up, pulling out the foam that Heather had shaped by hand, and opening that. Inside the foam was nestled two pistols, an old M1911A1 that I'd stolen when the unit had been deactivated (like a lot of people had) and a Glock 17L that Dana had bought me for my birthday but ended up giving me right before I left for the then un-named Desert Shield weeks before my birthday.

The other two men were silent while I drug out holsters and magazine pouches already filled with loaded magazines. The Glock replaced the knife at the small of my back, and the .45 went on my hip. I dropped one of my canteens to put the magazine pouches on my LBE and shifted my gas mask carried to make room.

When I cracked open another box and started breaking open the cardboard tubes Kincaid whistled. I handed them each two CS grenades and a pair of flashbangs. "Put these in a cargo pocket." Both men nodded.

I climbed out of the back of the truck and slammed the tailgate, moving over to the smaller door next to the big heavy door. As soon as I punched in the code and threw the lever the other two men moved over next to me, Kincaid buttoning his pocket.

"We'll cut through Maintenance, then check the Living Quarters to make sure that we have a place to stay." I told them. The door was still quivering, but the pistons hadn't worked up the pressure to move it. "After that we'll check the mess storage and see about some hot food." I grinned at them. "And after that, we'll check the TV station and see if we can find some good stuff to put on so we can do more than stare at each other."

"A TV station? Seriously?" Donaldson looked at me like I'd grown a second head.

"As a heart attack." I grinned at him.

"Door's opening." Kincaid told me.

I glanced back and saw Dana leaning against the back of the Gypsy Wagon, blowing a bubble she'd somehow coaxed out the shitty MRE gum. I turned back to the door and hoped she'd go away.

The airlock section on the other side was dry as a bone, and it only took us a minute to get out the next door. Having the correct codes for fast entries really helped.

The Maintenance section was massive, eight different hydraulic lifts over pits big enough to lift a semi and powerful enough to life a tank, tool racks, benches, and stand up tool boxes on the far wall. The left wall had two doors, one stating it was the Tool & Parts Room, the other proclaiming itself to be "POL", where the mechanics would have stored grease and oil. The right wall had a single door marked "Locker Room" and little else except for manuals held together by a single ring hanging from hooks. There had to be at least a hundred of them, all of them technical manuals.

You could train an entire company of mechanics to fix every vehicle in the motor pool with the books and tools in the room.

Bomber was sitting on one of the middle benches, playing with a socket wrench by holding the socket and twirling the wrench, grinning at me and dressed in desert BDU's.

...Go away, you're stationed at Fort Hood...

I turned away and walked to the locker room door.

"I hate this place." Kincaid muttered.

"So do I." I answered. Donaldson nodded.

We threw the lever and waited for the door to open, then passed through the air lock and stopped at the edge of the locker room.

Bathrooms on the left, showers on the right, banks of lockers in front of us.

And only two lights out of the eight that came on that stayed lit instead of exploding in a shower of sparks.

In the darkness, there was the 'bong' of metal popping after weight was lifted off of it.

"Night vision." Kincaid said.

"Call it out." I told him, cursing that I'd left mine in the Gypsy Wagon. Way to go, Fearless Leader.

There was another bong, and suddenly Kincaid yanked his weapon around to the left and started squeezing the trigger, pulling off five shots in half as many seconds.

Something snarled and there was the skittering of claws on tile.

"Think I got him." Kincaid said, going back to scanning the room.

"Donaldson, flashbang." I said, pointing over the lockers to the other side of the room. He nodded and pulled one out of his pocket, the canister held tightly in his hand when he brought it up to chest level, one finger in the ring.

"Now." I said conversationally. It's never a good idea to startle someone holding a live grenade.

Something screamed and there was a clatter from deeper in the room.

Donaldson yanked the pin out with his left hand and threw the grenade in a flat arc over the lockers. All three of us turned away and I know I squeezed my eyes shut. It went off with a loud crack that made our ears ring, but the rows of lockers shielded us from the worst of it.

"Let's go kill it." I said. The other two men nodded, both hefting their rifles.

I kept scanning each aisle between the lockers, and I counted three before I held up my hand to stop the two Privates.

On the floor was a dented grate, and above it was a dark hole in the ceiling where whatever it was had escaped.

"Dammit." Kincaid growled.

"If you wounded it bad enough, it'll just lair up and die." I offered.

"Except it knew what a flashbang was." Kincaid said.

"Maybe, maybe not." I told him.

On the far wall was another couple doors. One read "MOTORPOOL OPERATIONS" and was bordered by white with red stripes every 2 feet at a 45 degree angle, another read "LIVING QUARTERS" and was surrounded by blue with red stripes, the third read "PRIMARY MAINTENANCE" and was red with orange, while the last read "MAINTENANCE SUPPLY" and was orange with red stripes around it.

"Let's check out our new barracks." I said, throwing the lever.

Kincaid went down on one knee, watching when the door started to rise.

"Got IR beams." He warned.

The door rose up slowly, until it locked into position, and Kincaid stood up, stripping off the NVG's as the lights on the hallway in front of us came on.

"The beams shut off when the door locked." He told me.

I nodded absently, looking at the hallway. It was brushed steel on the sides, tiled on the floor, with a suspended ceiling. I could see picture frames on the sides, even if I couldn't see what the pictures were.

"Onward and inward." I said, leading the way.

The first picture was a fairly standard one of a lake surrounded by forest. The clear blue sky was blameless and the water looked so good it made you want to go swimming. Opposite was a forest scene with sunlight streaming down. The second set of pictures were of the Rocky Mountains, showing them in all of their rugged beauty.

At the third picture on the right I stopped dead and stared. The temperature in the hallway plummeted. My nose and my missing earlobes started to ache.

"Sergeant?" Kincaid's voice sounded worried. My shoulder gave a throb of agony, like an icicle piercing it through and through.

...Ant, I love you!...

...I'm gonna die, aren't I, brother?...

...US RANGERS, WE'RE HERE TO GET YOU OUT!...

...YOU FUCKING TRAITORS!...

...it's the only way I'm going to survive to have this baby, isn't it?...

...Ah ain't ah tellin' yah nuthin...

...hold me, Ant, I'm going into shock...

The 2/19th barracks, with a foot of snow covering the lawns, sat in the picture.

I started to shake.


Chapter 15

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Living Quarters (Motorpool Entry Hallway)
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Afternoon


"Sergeant?" Kincaid's voice was far away.

Memories tore through me. The cold, the fear, the isolation. Seeing my brother land on his back with a chunk of metal sticking out of his eye socket. Bomber laying on a mattress, pale and sweating, dying of a ruptured appendix. Fighting in the dark and snow with a killer who had been stalking us, unaware that I was blind from repeated head trauma. Stokes moving her hands from her abdomen to reveal blood covered hands, the gunshot reaching us a second later as she crumpled down. Tied to chair while LT Gregors screamed questions and Oakes pounded on my face with her fists and I grinned at her.

Most of all...

Tandy.

"Sergeant?" Kincaid again.

"Don't touch him." Donaldson hissed. "Dude, step back."

The cold. The dark.

I closed my eyes and turned away, reaching up and squeezing the bridge of my nose. "I'm all right, Private."

"Sergeant..."

"I'M ALL RIGHT!" I yelled, then deliberately lowered my voice. "I'm all right." I shook my head then started stomping forward, staring at the tile on the floor.

It was a few seconds before they started following me.

I couldn't blame them.

We passed more pictures before we hit a crossroads in the hallway, but I stared at the tiled floor, refusing to look at them.

"What the fuck was that all about?" Kincaid whispered.

"How the fuck should I know?" Donaldson whispered back.

"The brass on the frame said it was Site Lima-219, think he knows something about it?" Kincaid's voice carried even over the thumping of our boots on the tile.

They both went silent when I stopped at the cross passage, almost running into me.

The passage on the left read "UPPER NCO/JR OFFICERS" with "COMMAND OFFICERS" below it. The passage on the right read "MAIN ACCESS CORRIDOR A" in white. The one in front had the logo "ENLISTED/JR NCO" on it as well as "ELEVATORS A1-A4" underneath that.

"Elevators?" Kincaid asked.

"You don't want to risk elevators in these places, kid." My voice was more of a growl than I'd intended.

"Rusted cable?" He asked.

"Or floor." I added, heading straight.

The hallway still felt freezing cold to me and goosebumps covered my skin.

The first doorway we hit, past more pictures that I refused to look at, was a heavy blast door blocking our way. On our left was another door that simply read "INTERIOR DECON" with a pad, a radiation/contamination detector and/or display, and a shutter-style display that was blue with the words "CLEAR" in white. The door in front of us sported a sign warning us that if there was any possible type of contamination that we may or may not have been exposed to, do the right thing and use the decontamination chambers.

Or be shot.

"Ready, gentlemen?" I asked. They both nodded and I threw the lever. the door thumped for a few moments then slowly rose up.

"Got IR." Kincaid said softly.

I knelt down and looked through the opening of the doorway. The hallway beyond only went for about 20 paces before ending in a cross intersection. One side was marked for JR NCO's, the other for Enlisted. The hallway forward read "MESS AREA", "REC AREAS", "GYM", "ELEVATORS A19-A22" and "MAIN HALLWAY"

Twenty two elevators in the Alpha section? Fuck, this place was going to be massive.

"We'll start on the enlisted" I told them, rolling my shoulders.

When the doors went all the way up, Kincaid told us that the beams had shut off. The hallway went down about fifty feet before we saw the first door. Two nameplates, the top one with simply A and the bottom with simply E.

"Check these, first?" Kincaid asked.

"Which do you think is more likely, the Major making everyone go to their sections, or allowing everyone to decide where to stay?" I asked.

Donaldson thought a minute. "He'd probably make us split up according to section."

"Let's start at the end, then." I told them.

F through J, K to P, Q to U, and U through Z. The hallway ended at a single door reading "ENLISTED NCOIC".

"Camera." Donaldson pointed out. I nodded. I'd spotted them, but they all had been covered with a dust cover. The one at the end of the hallway was uncovered, panning slowly, and the little LED at the bottom glowed a soft green.

"Think someone's watching us?" Kincaid asked, moving under the camera.

"Maybe." I admitted. I reached out and threw the bar, opening the door.

It slid straight up, smoothly and in under a second. The lights came on, all of them recessed, and none of them exploding. The inside was an office with light blue carpeting, cream walls, a desk with an old computer sitting on it with a pair of chairs facing it, a set of five filing cabinets behind the desk, and a chair. A door to the right had the symbol for male and female bathroom, a door on the left was blank, and the door behind the desk read "PRIVATE" on it. The doors were standard knobbed doors, just set in steel frames. I walked around the desk, each footstep thudding up little puffs of dust. The computer was off, the keyboard thick with dust and the monitor off.

"This is fucking creepy." Kincaid said, stopping in the room and looking around. "This must have cost a fucking fortune."

"From what I've seen, comparing it to other sites? Probably about as much as a couple of aircraft carriers." I told them. "Probably built over about five to ten years, hidden in the FEMA budgets." I shrugged. "Maybe more, depending on how big this place is."

I flicked the computer on and sat down, coughing at the dust I raised from seat.

Donaldson opened the door while I sat there, looking at the small bathroom, then moved to the un-marked door. Kincaid opened the door marked "PRIVATE" and disappeared inside, leaving the door open.

"Holy shit, Sergeant, you gotta see this." Donaldson said.

"What is it?" The computer was done booting up and loading up something. I'd spotted the size RAM, clocking in at 1,024 KB, and the size of the hard drive. Sixty megs, pretty goddamn big even in 1993. The BIOS had been dated 1983, and a network connection had been found. The size of the network storage it was hooked up to boggled me. Over a thousand goddamn megs. That had to impossible, a 1 GB Hard had cost me almost a half month's pay earlier that year.

"Multiple monitors, and what looks like some kind of control banks." He told me.

"Barracks surveillance." I told him. The system wanted me to give it my name and access code. Normally, it might have caused problems, but I'd logged myself into the system when we were at operations as the site commander.

My code-name and password worked just fine.

I recognized the program almost immediately. It was the same one that my unit used on those monstrous computers we had. No mouse input, but pretty easy to navigate. No data had been entered beyond place holders.

No hints. No messages from anyone who had come before.

Dammit.

...See what kind of network access it has, Ant...

Heather was sitting in the chair, a tie-dye T-shirt and a pair of cutoff on, the bottom of her feet were dirty. She had her shirt hiked up and was feeding our daughter.

I nodded at her, and searched the menus for the network access. While I could access old archives of the placeholder files, I couldn't find anything else.

...check the file sizes...

I grinned at her and she smiled for me. Donaldson came out from the side room, and she stood up, holding the baby close, and walked out the door of the room.

Without opening it.

"Donaldson, come check this out." Kincaid yelled. I nodded at Donaldson, and watched Bomber walk out of the security room. He sat down in the chair.

"There's something off about this place, Ant." He told me, leaning back and lighting a cigarette. I followed his example, raising an eyebrow for him to go on.

Something didn't feel right, but I wasn't sure what.

"Check the inventories, Ant. That's how the Russians figured out about FSTS-317, our inventory sheets were off by the size of the site and they found that we had explosive weight waivers." He told me.

"They tallied up the conventional inventories, checked the bunker types, sizes, and number, and figured out what was really going on and that we were a hot site." I mumbled.

"Right in one, brother." Bomber told me, winking and making a shooting motion with his left hand. He blew out a cloud of smoke when I turned to the inventory list, punching up the ammunition and then an inventory for the small arms storage.

SMALL ARMS AMMUNITION INVENTORIES
1. Live Storage
2. Secure Storage
3. Cold Storage
4. Deep Storage
5.
WARNING-STOCK OVERDUE FOR ROTATION. CHECK LOT NUMBERS.

I hit 5 and then waited.

UNSECURE TERMINAL flashed at me.

I looked back up, and Bomber was gone. I shrugged and figured he'd left.

Cold storage I'd seen in Bravo and Delta sites. It was usually large underground bunkers usually packing only a few tens of thousands of rounds. But Deep Storage was new to me.

And new meant dangerous.

"Sergeant, come here and check this out!" Donaldson yelled. he sounded excited, not scared.

I turned off the computer, got up and headed into the area marked private.

It was a picture perfect front room. A couch, a recliner, two pictures (one of ship, the other of a meadow), a large television in a massive wooden cabinet, and two exits. Donaldson was holding the door on one, showing me a small kitchen and dining room, Kincaid was holding the door on a bedroom. The walls had wood paneling on them, carpet, and easy lighting.

"This place is fucking nice." Kincaid said.

"Yeah, the barracks in the later models are pretty nice." I told them. "Let's go check the other sections."

They nodded and followed me out.

"I figured they'd be bays, like we had in Basic." Donaldson said.

"Not if the VIP's and politicians had nice living quarters." Kincaid said.

"What makes you say that?" I asked. We were coming up on the last doorway.

"If I had a weapon, and they put me in shitty bays, while the rich and powerful had nice suites and the world was over?" I looked at him, and he grinned. "They'd be outside in the radiation with the mutants, and I'd be living in their suites."

"That's what the sociologists told them in the 1960's, so older places were retrofit and newer sites were constructed to have two or three man rooms." I told them, throwing the lever. "No single man rooms, too high of a chance for suicide once the balloon went up and the bombs started flying."

The doorway showed a hallway that had emergency lights that reminded me of the ones at 2/19th. Nancy was standing underneath the nearest one, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. While I watched, she walked down the hallway, swaying her hips, and went into one of the doors.

"You OK, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked.

"Fine." I lied, wiping my mouth and walking down the hallway. "Let's check the rooms."

Each room in all the hallways was the same. Three small bedrooms, no wall lockers, a small kitchenette, a small living room. Individual bedrooms to prevent the "I'm going to kill him if he keeps staring at me while he sleeps." Individual closets and dressers to keep down the fighting.

"Check out the sprinkler heads." I told them, pointing out how each room had them.

"So?" Kincaid asked.

"Look at the base." I told him. Kincaid squinted, then pulled over a chair.

"What the fuck?" He poked his finger in a small hole. "Is this a tube?"

"Might be for incapacitating agents, might be for VX." I told him. "Maximum security, maximum precautions for all situations." I shrugged. "It was a different time."

"Jesus." Donaldson said.

"Let's check the NCO and Officers sections." I told them.

They were laid out the same way, only the junior officer and NCO rooms were 2 bedroom rooms, and the Command level officers, broken down by rank, two, three, or four bedrooms. Kincaid looked a little sick at the cribs and childrens stuff in the rooms that held them.

"Is it going to be like this in the civilian area?" Kincaid asked as we tromped down the hallway on our way back.

"We're going to ignore the civilian area for now. Nothing important will be there, anything of any importance will be over here." I told them. "They'll be some cool stuff, but it'll mostly be to keep the civilians busy while the war is fought here."

I glanced at the picture of 2/19th on the wall as I walked by, half expecting to see Tandy standing there. Or worse yet, Bomber, Nagle, and myself.

When we stopped at the door I turned to face the other two men.

"We'll bunk in the enlisted area, and I'll advise the Major that staying in the NCO or Officer areas, with all the kid's stuff in there, might not be the best thing at this time." I told them. They all nodded. "Once they bunk down, we're going to check some shit out."

"What kind of shit, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked.

"I don't know. Nobody has ever managed to get into a Kilo bunker intact." I told him.

"You keep saying that." Donaldson said. "What exactly does that mean? Did someone try to open one before?"

I stared at him for a long time.

"They did something wrong." I told him.

"It registered at as an earthquake."

They both stared at me.

"Let's go move into our new home." I told them, and threw the bar.


Chapter 16

A little reminder of insanity.

it was the Summer of 1989 and Colonel Hurlock had been taken away by the MP's, struggling and screaming during a psychotic break. He'd been getting crazier and crazier over the last few weeks, hiding in his office during work hours.

He even started up setting a live Claymore mine on his desk, facing whoever was called onto the carpet, and he'd ask us questions to "verify who we were." That was the day before they hauled him away screaming after they hauled him out of the orderly room broom closet, where he'd been sleeping.

About a 1/4 mile from the barracks were 3 bunkers, back from the Nazi Germany days, and refurbished briefly in 1987 while they were rebuilding the building.

The new CO was having a hell of time finding the records. Col Hurlock had started using code on everything and nobody had the key to it. He'd gotten to the point where he could write it freehand without looking at his key, so about a month's worth the records and Smith File updates were in this code.

I got sent by the Platoon Sergeant to check out those bunkers, since the records were missing from supply as to what was held in them. I remembered that it was old furniture in one, the other two pretty much empty.

Nalge, Bomber, and our friend Jackson cracked open the first two with no problem. One had furniture, the other was full of MRE's, concertina wire, gas cans, and other weird shit.

It was when we opened the other little bunker that the weirdness got ratcheted up to 11.

First of all, on the other side of the door was welded steel, with a second door for them and firing slits. Painted in spray paint was "GOT YOU NOW, MOTHERFUCKERS!" on the steel.

There was also Claymore land mines fitted into the steel.

We got the door open after Jackson defused the mines. (He was one of the four EOD guys assigned to the unit)

Inside we found a TV, a shitload of video tapes, posters on the walls, cans of water, more MRE's, a bed, three porta-potties, all kinds of shit.

On the back wall was painted "HURLOCK'S SECRET SPOT! KEEP OUT!" along with a list of people he could trust as well as "Special ID Questions" written down.

Nagle was to be checked to make sure she wasn't a "Hypersexual Pod Person" by making sure she didn't have a hammer and sickle on her tongue. Bomber was to be checked to make sure his head didn't come off.

I was to be checked to make sure I wasn't a werewolf.

TLDR: Unit commander went apeshit, built himself a hidey-hole which just made him into a bigger nut.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Living Quarters
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Evening


Kincaid and Donaldson sat at the little kitchenette table facing me. We'd swept the living areas and found nothing out of place and the rest of the group had moved in. The Major had taken a spot in Officer Country like the 3 Suits, even though I'd tried to tell him he'd be better off nearer the rest of us. Kincaid had finished sketching what we'd explored on a couple of pieces of paper, Donaldson had written down his observations, and I'd added mine. While they'd moved their stuff into the lockers and made their beds I'd heated up an MRE.

It pretty much added up to the fact we didn't know jack or shit.

"You're sure this site would have some kind of purpose beyond survival, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked. I was a little blurred from having taken another dose of all the medications they'd given me, and was back to chewing on my boosters. My head was silent, and the three of us had been alone in the room for a couple hours.

I couldn't even smell the corn beef hash and brown gravy that Heather had cooked before she vanished.

"The more advanced sites do." I told him. I'd made a decision, and it was time to bring them inside.

I set my hands on the table, spreading my fingers. "OK, troops, listen up. It's crunch time and I need to know where you stand." Both of their expressions shifted, becoming more intent. "What are your clearances?"

"I've got a Confidential." Donaldson said.

"Secret." Kincaid added.

"OK, what we're looking at in here is beyond Top Secret." I waved at the room. "It requires special side clearances, periodic re-evaluation, mental health tests every few months, and all kinds of fun stuff." I looked at both of them silently for a long moment.

"If you want in, you leave the Army you've been serving in and enter the one I'm in, and you might be stuck there for the rest of your career." I told them.

"What's the difference?" Kincaid asked. Donaldson was chewing on his lower lip.

"You won't be an operator unless you later go through the schooling, but you might get tasked by SOCOM to run with them. At those times you might be referred to as 'the package' or 'support element' and the whole thing hinges on you, but you're still not an operator no matter how many runs you do. You're expected to keep yourself in a high state of physical fitness. If you have a unit, it'll be one that you see maybe 2 months out of the year." I grinned. "Most of all, nobody will believe jack shit that you've done, you won't get very many medals, and you might be called upon to kill whoever gets in your way."

"What's the weirdest thing you've seen?" Kincaid asked.

"Aside from someone fucking a Bigfoot?" I asked. Both of them looked at me like I was nuts and I grinned at them. "How about c-beams glittering off the Tannhauser Gate?"

Kincaid suddenly laughed. "Got it, Sergeant."

"If I vouch for you, you'll be re-investigated and they'll be climbing us your ass to see what you had for breakfast. Your relatives will be interviewed by FBI agents, you'll be under surveillance at odd times, and you'll be tasked for the stupidest and weirdest shit." I told them. "The biggest thing to remember, is that everything you know is wrong."

Both nodded. Kincaid looked like someone at Christmas. I locked eyes with him.

"In your Army, outside of combat, the penalty for failure is fairly light." I took off my glasses and flipped up my eyepatch. "In the Army I'm in, the penalty for failure is a little different." I put the eyepatch back and put the glasses back on.

"What went wrong and damaged your eye and the side of your face?" Donaldson asked. I stared at him for a minute until he laughed. "Got it. Questions aren't answered."

"Unless you were there." I told them. "So, you in?"

Both nodded.

"OK, as far as this site is concerned, I've got some ugly suspicions." I admitted.

"Like what?" Donaldson asked. Him and Kincaid copied me in pulling out the little green notebook.

"First of all, this place seems to have extra storage facilities. Then, we're missing about twenty people, maybe thirty." Kincaid held up his hand and wrote something down real quick on his notebook and then slid it to me.

"Is this right?" He asked.

Written on his notebook was "Camera behind you just went live and shifted" and I nodded.

"That's about right." I said. "Let's go check out command and control again."

They both nodded, and we put away our notebooks and grabbed our weapons before heading out. I'd moved a lot of the equipment from the Gypsy Wagon to the room. It was all field expendable as far as I was concerned. The only thing I'd bother grabbing if given a chance was my battered large infantry ruck.

Donaldson and Kincaid grabbed their new equipment that I'd given them a crash course in. The radiation detectors and the chemical detectors that were the easiest the use.

Instead of going straight to Operations we went to the NCOIC area first, checking the security room. It was empty. From there we jogged down to the Command Officer section and went into the Security OIC room.

It was empty, dust still undisturbed on the keyboard and on the joystick in the security monitor room.

We jogged to Operations. When we went into the egg, I caught the wiff of rotted meat, but no hint that anyone had been in there.

"What the fuck?" I asked, prowling around the monitor stations.

"Someone was using the cameras, and not from any of the stations we've found." Kincaid said. Donaldson nodded.

Upstairs had maps of the United States and Western Europe , obviously a tactical operations center. I took a quick look around and went down to the bottom and checked again. It looked undisturbed.

"You said there was parts we haven't found yet, Sergeant." Kincaid said. "Maybe a different level?"

I thought for a second. He was probably right, whoever was watching us hadn't been doing it from any of the places we'd found.

"OK, our biggest problem so far is the only maps we have are the ones we made." I told them. They nodded.

"Someone stripped them out. Maybe to deny them to someone else?" Donaldson suggested.

"That's what I've been thinking." I said, lighting a cigarette and looking around at the egg.

"OK, so what are they?" Kincaid asked.

"I don't know what they are now, but they were people." Donaldson said.

"The things that keep attacking are part of the group that is missing. I'd say no more than a dozen or so." I told them, turning away from the egg and heading out. "Thing is, remember that room full of rotting meat?"

"Ew, yeah." Kincaid said.

"They either took it from the civilian freezers, or from somewhere else." I said. "The freezers in this section are empty and the inventory sheets show they were never filled."

"Could they have brought them from outside?" Donaldson asked.

"Then that shows we've got another problem." I told them. "Guess."

"There's an access point open." Donaldson said. He sounded less than pleased. I agreed with the sentiment.

"Which means the main storage freezers for this section are on another level." Kincaid offered. I nodded.

"OK, let's search for an elevator or stairwell." I told them. "Kincaid, you map it as we go, I don't want to get lost in here." Kincaid nodded and pulled the small yellow spiral notebook out of his cargo pocket.

"I thought we were going to avoid elevators." Donaldson said as we left the egg.

"You're about to find out a secret." I told them. "It's in some of the high security sites, and should be here."

We moved through the cold and empty hallways. Most of the lights either gave out in a shower of sparks or didn't come on at all, meaning that a lot times the hallway was completely dark except for our flashlights.

"Wait." I said, holding up my hand. "I wanna check this, I've never seen this before."

The door next to us had "EVENT RECOVERY SECTION" on it. It had a keypad and a lever as well as a card reader. Unlike the heavy steel doors of the section, this one was an obvious blast door, not just a normal door made thicker and heavier.

I punched in my number and waited a second.

"ACCESS DENIED" flashed.

My code should have worked facility wide.

"Fuck it, I'll figure it out later." I told them. It took about an hour after that for us to find an elevator.

There were 4 of them, marked C1A through C1D, spaced about twenty feet apart. In between the second and third was a steel panel with a black and yellow border around it. I knocked on the panel and was rewarded with just dull thumps that made my knuckles ache. I ended up searching the whole bank until I found what I was looking for. A little rubber grommet covering a plug that was fairly familiar.

I dropped the rucksack off my back and dug out a Claymore clacker, pulled back on the ruck, and fitted the clacker to the plug. I waved them over next to me and waited till they were slightly behind me.

"Fire in the hole." I told them, then squeezed it three times in rapid succession.

There was a sharp crack and the plate shuddered for a moment before slowly and stately fell against the far wall. Smoke eddied out and the smell of cordite was mixed with rotting meat.

"Jesus, the stairwell was hidden?" Kincaid coughed.

"Yeah." I coughed, waving my hand. I could smell scorched asbestos and wrinkled my nose while I walked over to the now gaping opening. There was a metal grate landing, with stairs going down. I pulled out my loop of 550 cord, tied it off on a steel outcropping that didn't look rusted and the bolts looked good, then turned my attention to looking down while I looped the 550 cord through the D-ring and got ready.

Circular metal stairs looped into the darkness, vanishing below me. There were lime smears on the walls of the shaft, a rusted winch sat across from me with a greased steel cable on it.

The whole shaft stunk of rotted meat.

"Stay here." I told them. "The stairs are rusted, and some of the bolt heads don't look too stable." I checked my gear real quick, patting the rifle I'd slung on before leaving the room.

"What if the stairs collapse?" Kincaid asked.

"If I'm alive, I'll fire a red cluster." I told him, patting the M-203. "If I'm injured, I'll fire off a green cluster."

"And if your dead, then what?" Donaldson asked.

"I'll fire off white." Kincaid frowned, then laughed.

"Wait by the exterior doors. After another 72 hours or so, the code I gave you should open the doors." I told him, stepping out on the steel grate. The whole thing thrummed and something below me popped. I grabbed the railing and shook it back and forth, listening to the sounds of popping and creaking as I got the whole thing swaying. Huge springs that looked like they belonged on semi-tractors flexed back and forth, and something let go with a snap down in the darkness.

It only took three seconds for it to go back to rock solid.

"How far down you going?" Kincaid asked.

"To the bottom. I'll count the access points." I told them. I undid the 550 cord and handed it to Donaldson. If the stairs collapsed a thin nylon rope wouldn't do anything but tangle up the tons of falling steel that would crush me like a little grape.

"Wish me luck." I grinned, then started walking down the stairs.

The smell of rotted meat grew thicker the further down I went.

I'd overplayed the dangers of the stairwell. These things were designed to flex and shift when the earthquakes from nuclear hits rocked the mountain, they'd only been there for 40 years or so, not centuries.

If they collapsed on me it was because someone had rigged them collapse, and my little rope wouldn't do jack or shit.

A couple times I stepped on diamond plate steel and small little lights flicked on. Not enough to light up the whole shaft but enough to let me see the stairs without tumbling down them and breaking my stupid head open.

There were thick PVP pipes that I knew would be full of wiring and cables, steel pipes of all kinds of thickness. Ventings and ducts on the walls. Twice I passed massive air circulators and purifiers. Once I smelled the ozone smell of a working air purifier. Notices of high voltage were here and there on the walls as I walked steadily downward. More than a few warnings of hot pipes, or hot steam. Lime stained the walls here and there, but there were no cracks in the solid stone that surrounded me. Even where the three inch wide bolts that secured the staircase were set into the wall there were no cracks. Those bolts were three inches wide, with 1/2' deep threads, and I knew from previous experience that they were 10-15 feet long, only a few inches outside the rock.

According to my watch, it took me nearly 20 minutes to walk the whole the way down. I'd passed six "entries" for lack of a better word. I could see the charges on the door, carefully placed plastique charges that were designed to break the panel off and that was it.

At the bottom I sat on the steps and rubbed my knee.

Someone had popped the bottom panel off.

Not fired the charges, but knocked it clear. The panel was lying on the floor, and the small black and yellow striped squares were still fixed to the panel along with the wiring that was broken and laid across the door.

My knee ached, and I flexed it a couple of times, the metal brace on it creaking in the silence. Somewhere water dripped, but the bottom of the shaft below me only held an inch or so of clear water. I could see open ended pipes beneath the water. Looking up the way I'd came into the shaft wasn't even visible. Just meter after meter of darkness.

Something stunk of rotted meat, just a wiff of it.

I pulled the flashlight off my LBE and turned it on, moving up and looking out the door. Solid concrete walls, no steel this time except for where it held the concrete strips stable. I'd seen that kind of construction before, it was so that the hallway would flex, the structure would flex, instead of shattering if it was exposed to serious force.

You saw it in the subways of New York and below old buildings.

The corridor vanished off into darkness to my right and left and the air felt old and musty. Still, the smell of rotting meat was stronger in the hallway.

...Maybe now isn't the time to play the Lone Ranger...

...No shit, Bomber?...


I kept the light on and headed back up, shining my light on the walls. I was looking for torn ducting, or maybe and open vent, but found nothing the whole way back up.

The little square of light made me hurry faster. I could hear noises below me. Were those echoes of my own steps on the stairs, or was something coming behind me? I resisted the urge to turn around, half afraid that I'd look behind me, see nothing, and then find out that whatever it was had moved in front of me. Right before it bit my face off.

Still, I drew my knife.

When I reached the square Donaldson and Kincaid were relieved to see it was me.

"How deep is it? You were gone over an hour." Donaldson told me.

"Deep." I said, flashing my light over the ductwork above me. "Six, maybe eight levels below..." I trailed off.

Ducting, PVP pipe, and steel pipe filled the overhead about 15 feet above me, disappearing and reappearing from thick asbestos. I could see a large duct, labeled "PRIMARY AIR EXCHANGE 552" in stenciled letters that was buried in the asbestos, almost four feet wide.

My flashlight had caught the ductwork.

And the hole in it, as wide as I could reach across. The metal torn outward.

Two yellow eyes caught the light of my flashlight from inside the duct.

Something hissed, a bubbling sound.

"Shit."


Chapter 17

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Living Quarters
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Evening


I stood there, staring at the hole in the vent and the two molten yellow eyes glaring at me from the darkness. The hiss echoed through the shaft, rebounding and twisting, the echoes increasing and making it sound as if the entire thing was full of angry snakes.

I heard my own voice echoing in the stairwell, but didn't remember saying anything.

"What?" Donaldson said, looking up to see what I was looking at.

Kincaid didn't fuck around.

His rifle came up to his shoulder, his eyes narrowing, and he pulled the trigger as soon as the vent came into his sight picture, the weapon's fire doubling and redoubling in the shaft until the very air vibrated and shimmered. I was still standing and staring at the hole as holes started to get punched into the metal, leading toward the torn open hole.

Nancy, heather, and Taggart were embracing on the thick PVP pipe holding wires and cables, and I ignored them squirming around, knowing I was starting to grin.

"Kill it kill it kill it kill it!" Donaldson was yelling.

Kincaid's lips were drawn back in a snarl, and I could see the brass fly out individually.The brass ejected from Kincaid's rifle to fall to the steel grate, dancing on the metal before dropping through the slats.

He was yanking the trigger back, not on full auto, his eyes squinted mostly shut. Kincaid walked the rounds down the duct the direction of the faint flash of movement.

Donaldson turned to look at me, his eyes opening wide. I was trying to ignore the way Nancy was draped across him, one arm around his waist, the other arm around his chest with her hand in his BDU top, grinning at me over his shoulder.

Something hissed in the vent, the eyes narrowing, and whatever it was Kincaid hadn't walked his fire into it.

Three trigger pulls from my Glock on the hand punched right through the opening. One eye went out, and there was an ear splitting yowl that overwhelmed the thunder of the M16 in the stairwell shaft. The ductwork shivered and something banged over to our left.

I turned and fired, not where the nose was coming from and the thumps were coming from the heavy steel ductwork, but right in front of them. Kincaid was shooting where the thumps were coming from, his lip curled back in a snarl.

The yowl cut off.

The stairs were still shuddering from the hammering of the M16A1, the air still shimmering. Dust was falling from the asbestos, coating us in a whitish yellow powder. Something gave out with a loud "PANG!" and I could hear it ricochet around for a moment while I stared at the other two men. Something in the ducts rattled and banged as it dropped down the shaft of steel ductwork.

"Sergeant!" Donaldson yelled. Nancy grinned at me over his shoulder then kissed his neck before running her tongue from his collarbone up behind his ear.

...you don't have the balls to shoot me, Ant, you ain't no killer...

...Nancy kneeling in front of him, bleeding from a wound across her forehead with his .45 pressed against the back of her head, kneeling in the grass with blood running down her face and dripping on her breasts which were exposed by a long tear in her shirt...

..the .45 in my hand, the hand I couldn't feel that blood dripped off of onto the grass from where the bone in my forearm had torn through the skin...


"Sergeant!" Donaldson was still yelling, Kincaid was dropping his rifle down, turning toward me. Nancy was still smiling even as the blood dripped out of the clean slice down the side of her face that curved right at her jaw-line where the bayonet had slid down her skull before slamming into the top of her breast. The tip of her nose was black and the skin on her cheeks was peeling.

"Sergeant!" Donaldson yelled.

"It's gone." I told him, my mouth thick and feeling like it was full of gummy cotton.

"What the fuck was that?" Donaldson asked. Kincaid didn't say anything, just quickly reloading his rifle and putting the magazine upside down back in his ammo pouch.

"The enemy." I told him. Nancy licked up the back of his neck.

"But who.." Donaldson said.

"The enemy, Private." I told him, moving past him and thumping my shoulder against his. "Let's not get sidetracked."

"The camera." Kincaid grunted.

"Bingo." I said, walking out into the hallway.

"What was down there?" Donaldson asked.

"Not sure. But we're looking at something serious in here." I told him, walking down the hallway. My leg brace was creaking with every step.

...the white wave swept over the motorpool, slamming into the barracks and causing the whole structure the vibrate and creak...

...aaaaand we're stuck in the barracks again. So much for convalescent leave...

...the weight bench creaking as we each took a turn pumping iron, strengthening damaged muscle and bone that had just started to heal in Nebraska only a week before...


"Where are we going?" Donaldson asked. Kincaid was silent beside me, his eyes scanning the ceiling and darting a look behind every once in a while.

the 2/19th stare

"I wanna find out who's playing with goddamn cameras." I told him.

We weren't that far from Operations, but instead of running them straight to the main access corridor, I led them in a looping path until we were back by Auxiliary Environmental, opening the door to the secondary air scrubbers and leading them into the room. Once we were among the heavy air pumps I stopped.

"Check this out." I told them, digging in my pocket and pulling out the dogtag I'd pocketed earlier.

"What the hell is this?" Kincaid asked, passing it to Donaldson.

"Russian." Donaldson said after one glance.

...no shit...

..hush, Taggart...


"How do you know?" Kincaid asked. I just grinned again.

"CCCP was what they used, it stood for Soyuz Sovyetskikh Sotsialistichestikh Respublic since in Cyrillic 'C' is used for the 'S' sound." Donaldson said, turning the dogtag over in his hand. I was impressed, it even sounded like he pronounced it right. "Thing is, this one looks a little weird."

...he's KGB, kill him now...

...quiet, Bomber...


"That's impressive, Private." I said, dropping back so he was on my left and holding out my left hand, making it look like I was leaning against a huge air circulater. He put the dogtag in it. "How do you know that?"

"I'm not some dumbass Private, Sergeant, even though I was home schooled." He answered. "My father was a big communism supporter and thought the Soviet Union was God's gift to the Earth." His face twisted for a second. "It cost me my goddamn clearance so I got booted from MI in AIT. Him and his stupid bullshit and goddamn collection of 'authentic' Soviet shit."

I nodded and took a couple of steps forward, not worrying about him standing behind me anymore. Well, not too much, I didn't really like anyone behind me any more. Not since 2/19th. Still, an expression like that, with the hard angry glint in his eyes, was tough to just pull out of thin air like that. Still, the Cold War was over and it wasn't like he looked Chinese, and that was who we had to worry about now.

"What else do you know, Private?" I asked him, leaning against a big machine who's whole purpose was to pull the air through and running it past a handful of filters and some kind of ionizing particle attractor. I only half understood it, but then my job was just to...

Shit, I didn't even know what my job was any more.

"You think this place was refurbished in the mid-80's, right?" I nodded. "Well, what the hell would a Russian dogtag be doing in here? Maybe a souvenir?"

"Yeah, maybe someone had it in their pocket as a souvenir." Kincaid said.

I shook my head. "No."

"Why not?" Kincaid asked.

"That's a real Soviet tag." I told them, pulling out one of the dogtags I'd taken and holding them both in my hand. "Notice the difference in the size, shape, and metal? This isn't a fake." I tucked them both into my pocket. "So, if it isn't a souvenir and it isn't a fake, why is it here?"

"I don't know." Donaldson admitted. "What do you think?"

"Kincaid?"

"If you'd have asked me before I'd seen this place, I wouldn't have thought this." Kincaid started. "What would happen if Russian troops were caught on American soil poking around?"

"It was the Cold War, they'd be held over for espionage and then traded if the Soviets grabbed a SOCOM team doing dirty deeds somewhere in the Warsaw Pact." I told him, nodding. "The dogtags are important, they identify us as combatants, so they'd have to treat us like soldiers and not spies."

"Seriously?" Donaldson asked.

"Seriously." I nodded. "Rumor control had it that it happened all the damn time, and you heard now and then at the back of the NCO Club after-mission bragging that you tell yourself is bullshit but there's a just maybe."

"If I heard the enemy was building places like this, I'd send in the Special Forces to sneak around and check it out." Kincaid said. "But that's some shit out of spy movies, not real life."

I chuckled and pulled out my pack of cigarettes, ignoring Nagle doing a strip tease on top of an air cooler. "You know who 007 is, right?"

Both nodded.

"They might as well called it: My Life With MI-6 by Ian Fleming." I told them, citing a pretty common rumor. "The books are a hell of a lot different from the movie, and the best way to hide real life ops is behind fiction."

Kincaid opened his mouth, then closed it again. I nodded to him. "Yeah, the Cold War looked a lot different standing in the Fulda Gap or on the 1K Zone than it did sitting in California or New York and watching it on fucking TV."

...Stoke's hands going to her abdomen as she grunted sharply. As the sound of the gunshot from the 1K Zone rolled over us, her hands came away covered in blood and she went to her knees with a surprised look...

...my hand cupping his chin, knee in the small of his back, bowing him backwards, then slitting his throat before dropping him and standing up. Staring East and smiling, daring them to hit me too,
wanting them to try for me. Bomber was standing up, his twitching in the grass with a broken neck. My brother was behind me, back in West Germany, helping Nancy keep Stokes alive till the medevac came in...

"There's only two ways this got here." Kincaid said. "Either it was in someone's pocket for some reason." He sighed and looked around, then rapped his knuckles on huge machinery he was leaning on. "Or some Russain agents got in here checking it out." He paused for a second.

"And never got out." I finished for him, then bounced the back of my head twice off the heavy metal behind me. Nagle vanished after the first bounce. "We need to ask why. The Soviets wouldn't have sent some bunch of suckasses, and despite the 'Chair Force' bullshit, the Air Force ain't the type to just lay down and die."

"You think they all got killed?" Kincaid asked.

"I think we'd be better off if they'd all gotten killed." I told them, pulling out my knife and sniffing along the edge. "It doesn't smell right, for one." I sheathed it. "So we're missing two engineer teams, one or more Air Force teams, and possibly a Spetz team. Say... 30 of them left."

"What do you think happened?" Donaldson asked.

"That doesn't matter." I told him, giving him my best ANCOC stare. "During the fight you don't ask why they're the enemy, you ask how you can beat them."

Both of them nodded.

"So, we've got about a platoon strength of the enemy, with limited weaponry, but their on their home terrain. They'll try hit and run tactics, try to catch us one on one, and use ambushes. We've got weapons, NVG's, and are in better physical condition." I said, ticking off each point on my fingers.

"Wait, you think what's been attacking us are people?" Kincaid looked a little surprised and I just stared at him.

"OK, Kincaid, let me catch you up. I killed one in the motorpool, it was human, they've jumped me a couple times, they are or were human." I knew I was laying on the sarcasm, but the question surprised and offended me. "That doesn't matter. They're the enemy, that is all. that. matters."

Kincaid shut his mouth.

...downward stab, through the third and fourth rib...

...I know, Father...


"But we've got more problems that a platoon element of the enemy." I told them.

"Like what? Donaldson asked.

"I know why I'm here. I know why you guys are here." I told them. "You know too, right?" Both of them nodded. "OK, why the fuck would one of the alphabet groups send three motherfuckers with us?"

The two Privates looked at each other then shrugged.

"Bingo, we've got three fucking alphabet boys in here with us, and I've got no idea why they're here." I shook my head. "And there's one thing you need to know, now that you're in this with me."

"What?" Donaldson asked.

"Anything new, anything you can't explain, anything different, is dangerous. And anything dangerous is the enemy."

Donaldson nodded. Kincaid's hand went to his M16A1 then he nodded.

"So we're stuck in here with 30 people who obviously want to kill us, and three guys who might have orders to kill us, right?" Donaldson said.

"That pretty much sums it up." I told them.

"And someone's using the cameras." Kincaid added. "Is that why we're standing in here?"

I nodded, when he opened his mouth I held my hand up. "I'm thinking." I told him, banging my head twice more on the metal behind me. I looked up and stared at the metal ceiling. It was about two feet higher than the hallway ceiling.

Kincaid said something but I held up two fingers, still staring at the ceiling. It was fitted steel into a lattice framework, and for some reason my brain was counting the steel plates.

Twenty five plates on one side, forty on the other, each plate with three feet on each side, for a total of one thousand plates even and a total of nine thousand square feet in this room. Each railing looked about four inches wide, for an extra six feet on one side and twelve feet on the other. The plates had a triangle wedge about three inch per side, with two 1/2" bolt heads holding each of them in place.

My head was running the numbers, multiplying up the bolts and everything else when I noticed that some of the plates were missing bolt heads but instead steel lugnuts with silicon on them..

"What are you..." Donaldson started, I held up my hand, scanning the plates.

One over each door, one on my right. The other one was dead center.

And missing the bolts.

"Sergeant?" Kincaid asked. I held up my hand again.

...think too long, you're wrong, brother...

...on line, on time, Bomber...


"I think that I'm starting to figure a few things out." I said, suddenly pushing myself off.

"What did you figure out?" Donaldson asked.

"We need to go on the offensive." I told them. "First thing is, we find out where the cameras are being used from, then we figure out who was using it, then we hold off whoever the fucking enemy is until we can get the fuck out of here." I threw the locking lever on the door.

It rose up nice smoothly for a change.

"We're going to try the elevators." I told them, heading for one of the offices.

"I thought you said they were dangerous." Donaldson looked at me. "And what did you figure out?"

"Ever seen Aliens?" I asked.

"No." Donaldson said.

"Dude, seriously?" Kincaid asked. "You've never seen Aliens?"

"No, we didn't watch TV." Donaldson told us. "No movies or TV shows or any of that shit, my dad said it was just pro-government propaganda."

"Shit, I can't believe you've never seen Aliens." Kincaid laughed.

"Just help me out." I told them, opening the door to one of the offices. "Help me carry this desk to the elevators."

Kincaid kept teasing Donaldson the whole way while we dragged the desk all the way to the elevators. The scrape set my non-existent teeth on edge at times. We paused so I could hand off one end to Kincaid.

When they moved in front of me I rolled my shoulder to pop it back into place, popping one of my pills into my mouth and chewing it into paste.

"Ready to do the elevator check?" I asked. They both nodded. I waved Donaldson to one side, Kincaid to the other, then drew my knife and pressed the button with the point.

There was a large groaning noise that made the air shiver, then popping noises.

"Mind if I ask a question, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked.

"GA." I told him, watching the doors. he didn't turn his attention to me.

There were more popping noises.

"Why does it seem that your first instinct is to go for your knife?"

"Habit." I told him.

...The knife looped out, around his neck, and I grabbed the top of his parka, pulling his head backwards, and the Gerber, a birthday gift from my brother, sliced around the front of his neck, biting deep and catching on something for a moment...

"Why don't you like the rifle?" Kincaid tapped the fingers of his left hand on the handguards of his rifle.

"I suck with a rifle. I'm better with a pistol or my knife." I admitted. "I'm good with the rifle in combat, but I suck at the range, so I don't trust my aim."

There was a cracking noise, and a long scraping noise echoed through the hallway.

"Why don't you practice more?" Donaldson asked. I chuckled and shook my head, still keeping eyes on the elevator.

"Stay on the stick." I told them. I rolled my shoulders, ignoring the little spike of pain that almost took my breath away. The shoulder had been repeatedly injured. Stab wound, broken collarbone, broken bone at the top of the biceps, shrapnel, and worse. I'd spent 2 months with my right arm paralyzed below the shoulder.

I'd worn a sling and was deployed to do as I was told and shut the hell up.

I'd told one doctor about the way it felt, how it felt some days like there was an icicle stuck in it. How sometimes I'd wake up and there would be a purple bruise in the center and I'd be shivering and shaking, freezing cold.

He'd written me a consult to Mental Health and lectured me about psychosomatic symptoms. Heather had detached the baby, put her boob away, lowered her shirt, then stood up, taken my left hand to gently pull me to my feet, and politely suggested that the Doctor kindly take a flying leap up his own ass in a clown suit.

There was another shuddering noise that hurt the ears, then a metallic thump. The doors shuddered and squealed, shaking in their tracks.

"Get ready." Kincaid's voice was a growl.

The doors opened, and Donaldson popped a shot into the far side of the empty elevator car.

"Nice shooting, Tex." Kincaid said, stepping forward.

"Wait a minute." I told them, then counted to twenty.

Nothing happened and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. I checked the sides of the elevator looking for rust. There were no rust or lime on the walls, and a quick glance showed that the escape hatch had a slight bit of asbestos showing along the edge. it was ten feet wide and fifteen feet deep with another door on the far side.

"Let's shove it in. Don't walk in there yet." I told them.

It squealed, hung up for a second, then slid in.

There was a snapping noise and then a metallic groan.

And the whole floor dropped away, Kincaid stumbling forward as the desk dropped into the suddenly revealed gulf.

A quick grab got a hold on the back strap of Kincaid's LBE and I snatched him back. "I gotcha, Private." I told him as he yelled and windmilled his arms.

"Holy shit." He said, pressing himself against the wall when I let go. "Holy shit holy shit holy shit."

"Yeah, that's why I wanted to do this." I told him.

"Let's do it again." I told them.

The next one held steady, and we piled three more in before I had Kincaid hold my LBE belt while I leaned in and punched a button at the bottom marked "EL1" and then had Kincaid yank me back.

We stood there waiting while the elevator screamed and groaned, the sounds seeming to get louder as the elevator went down into the mountain. The sounds stopped after nearly 10 minutes.

"Jesus, it's a long way down." Donaldson said.

"Shut it, incoming." I said, tilting my head to the right to indicate down the hallway.

Down the hallway was walking the Major, the Suits, and three of the Major's little minions.

"Sergeant Ant, what the hell is going on?" The Major yelled.

I reached out and tapped the button and the hallway filled with a loud popping noise and the scream of metal on metal.

The Major looked pissed as I put a hand to my ear and mouthed 'what?' at him. He said something that I couldn't make out. He kept coming forward, still talking, but I couldn't make it out over the racket.

Someone had never bellowed out commands to his men over the hammer of rifle fire and the hammering of mortar fire and I had to restrain a sneer.

...he's working with the Suits, kill all of them now...

Nancy was leaning next to the elevator doors, rough stitches holding the long slash on her face together. She had frostbite on her earlobes and the tip of her nose. She blew me a kiss as I rattled another pill into my mouth and started chewing it.

"Was that gunfire we heard?" The Major hollered over the sound of the elevator drawing nearer.

"Enemy contact, sir." I told him.

"What enemy, Sergeant?"

Toothpick smirked and a cold trickle washed down my spine.

...you're going to end up killing him, bunny...

...I know, Heather...

...I'll still love you, bunny...

...thank you...


My vision sharpened and the heaviness went out of my muscles. I could feel the oxygen flooding through my body, the muzziness leaving my thought process and everything coming into sharp focus around me.

Toothpick's friends looked eager, hungry almost.

"The things that attacked Sergeant Ant, sir." Kincaid offered.

"Who gave you permission to shoot, Private?" The Major asked.

"Sergeant Ant is well known for exceeding his authority." Toothpick offered. "He seems to think that he's exempt from the rules."

"Kind of like you spook motherfuckers?" I asked, smiling widely.

The Suit on the left shuddered and doubt appeared in his eyes.

"What the hell are you doing that's making all that goddamn racket?" The major asked. The last half of what he was yelling was loud in the sudden silence as the elevator came to a halt.

He flushed, then opened his mouth to continue when the doors started shuddering and groaning.

"Back on the stick, gentlemen." I pitched my voice loud enough to be heard.

"What the fuck is going on here?" The Major yelled.

The doors opened up to reveal the four desks we'd put in the elevator, and nothing else.

"Sergeant Ant!" The Major yelled, pulling all our eyes back to him.

Toothpick was grinning, stepping up, with a pair of handcuffs in his hands. His two little butt buddies were right behind him. The Major's three minions looked a little confused and I wrote them off as non-entities, tracking them with my periphery rather than pay close attention to them. If they got frisky I'd upgrade and handle them.

"Sergeant Ant, you need to relinquish your gun and knife." Toothpick told me.

"They're called weapons, dumbass, unless you want my cock." I told him, he flushed and stepped up next to the Major.

There was a clatter of metal in the elevator, but everyone was watching me, the Major, and the Suits.

"We can do this easy or hard, Sergeant Ant." Toothpick said.

Two of the lights exploded over our heads, and the whole hallway plunged into darkness, lit only by the lights from the elevator.

That's when they swarmed out of the elevator and hit us.


Chapter 18

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Operations Area - Elevators
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Evening


Two of the lights exploded, showering us with sparks, while lights went out in the entire hallway. Someone screamed, something yowled, and things came out of the elevator, swarming Kincaid, Donaldson, and me.

Kincaid got off a handful of shots, but one landed on his chest and took him to the ground, even though he had the rifle between him and it. Donaldson swung a Basic Training perfect buttstroke, sweeping his first attacker to the side in a spray of blood, then kicked the next one in the face.

"Hold on, Kay!" Donaldson yelled.

Three came at me, but I was moving as soon as the lights exploded. The first one ran point first into my knife and I pivoted at the waist, using its momentum to throw it off the knife. One tackled me around my waist and the third went at my legs. I cut the throat on the one around my waist, the rabbit punched the one on my thigh then stomped it in the middle of the back.

I'd made the mistake before of not going full lethal when I should have, and I'd almost paid for it with my life, and Nancy had almost paid for it too.

...Clifton, lets see how funny she thinks this is when you fuck her in the ass...

I was roaring, not really making sense, just loud noises, vocal aggression nothing more, and I lunged at the Major, my bloody knife in my fist.

Two more gunshots rang out, and I heard Kincaid shout "NVG's! Go to NVG's!" over the din. The Major's eyes were wide and he lifted his arms as if to protect himself from me stabbing him.

I grabbed his wrist, pivoted at the waist, and flung him into the open elevator.

"Cover the Major!" I shouted.

"I'll kill all of you motherfuckers!" Kincaid bellowed.

Someone was screaming, and I bulled past the three suits, seeing them fighting with one or two each in the light from the elevator, taking the time to slash my knife across the back of whatever ones I could reach and following it with a a backwards stab.

Movies give you the wrong idea. A quick slash looks like it just grazes the body, laying open a thin cut. I habitually held my knife in my fist with the blade pointing down, and when I made a slash the knife was angled forward slightly, and pressure on what I hit tried to push it back. I spent time honing my knives, I could literally shave with them, alternating between a ceramic rod and a razor strop after I shaved. The knife didn't just scrape across them, but laid them open all the way to the bone as it bit in deep. The knife would whip forward when it cleared the body and I'd stab backwards to reset where the knife was.

I'd practiced it so often it was muscle memory that I didn't even need to think about it.

The ones on my left I threw elbows or rabbit punches as I bulled my way through the bunch in between me and the three troops that had been following the Major.

...fuck you Suits, I don't owe you shit...

...that's right, Ant, remember what they did...

...I won't forget, Catherine...


Two of the Privates were on the ground, dark shapes on top of them, the other one was fighting with two but still on his feet.

Another couple gunshots from behind me and something cracked by my ear.

"You want some of this? You want some of this?" Kincaid bellowed out.

I kicked one away, and it slid across the tile on its side, curled slightly, then grabbed the other one up by the shoulder, yanking it up into the air. One of them on the ground was screaming a high, whistling, bubbling scream, the other's hands went to his face and he was squirming on the tile.

"Kincaid, Donaldson, I need you!" I bellowed, palming the back of the head of one of the ones fighting with the guy against the wall. I put everything I had into it, twisting my waist, and slammed its face into the wall while I slammed the knife into the back of the other. "Bring the Major!"

The one I'd kicked across the floor was coming at me again, but I was trying to catch the guy who the two things had been tussling with.

"You want some? You want some?" Kincaid shouted, firing his rifle again. The one scrabbling at me curled into a ball, screeching and clawing at the tile as it writhed and squirmed.

"Form up on me, form up on me!" I shouted, lowering the kid to the floor. The one I was holding got his legs under him and stood up.

"I'm OK, I'm OK." The kid said.

"Where's the Major?" I bellowed out. Two more gunshots hammered out.

Something dropped down from the suspended ceiling, my limited peripheral vision catching the movement. I blocked her with an upraised forearm and saw something coming at my face. I swept it to the side, feeling something thud into my shoulder as the thing went down. My knife fell from suddenly numb fingers as something went in my shoulder with a snap.

"We're on our way, Sergeant!" Donaldson yelled out.

"Major, come on!" Kincaid yelled.

"Form up on me!" I bellowed as I stomped on the thing at my feet, bringing my heel down on the side of the head.

One of the guys on the floor was getting to his hands and knees, the other was making bubbling noises, holding onto his face.

"Fuck you, fuck you!" Kincaid screamed out. There was another gunshot. "Don't fucking touch me!" he yelled.

Something jumped on the kid who was on all fours and I kicked it off of him before scooping up my knife. My right arm was limp, tingling numbness shooting up and down the arm and my hand exploding in pins and needles. The shoulder joint itself was a burning mass.

...medic! medic! sergeant ant is down...

...get me to my fucking feet...


I rolled my shoulder, and felt it crunch and pop, then it gave a strange squishing feeling and my whole arm erupted into pins and needles, but I could suddenly feel my fingers. I swapped the knife from my left to my right hand and drug the kid up.

"On your feet, soldier, get up, get up, get up!" I bellowed out, dragging him by the front of his uniform. "Form up on me, men!"

I bent down and went to grab the other kid. Someone hit a flashlight and I could see that his whole face was torn up under his hands.

"Kincaid! Donaldson!" I yelled.

The one I'd kicked off the kid came at me again. I threw a punch with my right arm, my fist hitting it square in the face and my whole shoulder feeling like it tore apart at the impact. Something crushed under my knuckles and it stopped dead, dropping onto the floor. I followed up with a downward stab with my knife, the blade crunching into it. I tore it free with a yank and blood sprayed across my face.

Someone screamed, a sound of pain and agony. A glance behind me showed that someone had a flashlight on, and I could see Kincaid firing into the elevator, the muzzle flash lighting up the corridor.

Donaldson was next to me, dragging the Major.

"You two, grab him, drag him with you." I pointed at the kid on the ground as I stood up. "Donaldson, cover them."

Three more gunshots.

"Kincaid, quit fucking with them and come on!" I bellowed out. One of the Suits slammed into me and I knocked him against the wall before grabbing another of them and throwing them behind me. Toothpick had his pistol out and fired twice, his weapon pointing in Kincaid's direction.

...kill him now, Ant!...

I didn't say anything, just grabbed Toothpick by the back of his jacket and flung him behind me.

"Come on, Kincaid!" I yelled.

Kincaid fired again, then turned around to me.

"We're bugging out." I yelled to him. "Donaldson, get them to Operations!"

"Roger that!" Donaldson yelled back. "Pick that man up and carry him. Major, come on, we gotta get out of here!"

"We gotta hold them off, Kincaid." I said. My head was ringing from the gunshots and my arm hurt like a motherfucker. "They've gotta evac the wounded."

"I lost my NVG's." Kincaid told me, turning his head to face me. He had blood streaming down his face and neck. "I'm injured."

"We're all injured, soldier." I told him.

The whole corridor shook as the elevator doors closed, cutting off the light.

"Cover me!" I shouted over the din. I pushed my hand into my thigh cargo pocket and pulled out a package, stripping it away with my wonderful plastic teeth to reveal the plastic tube. I put one end in my mouth, bent it sharply until there was a crack, then shook it.

A soft blue glow filled the corridor and I threw it on the floor before grabbing out another handful of them. I held my hand out to Kincaid and he grabbed a couple. We stripped the OD packaging off and popping them. Kincaid yelled Donaldson's name and threw a couple of them that he'd already lit up behind him, holding his weapon by the pistol grip.

Something moved, and Kincaid fired one handed, yanking the trigger twice real quick.

One of the shadows shrieked, but the other came at me, swinging something.

I dropped the chem-lights, bringing up my forearm and feeling the shock of impact on it. I was beyond pain, charged with adrenaline and combat chemicals. I stepped in, slamming my knife into the stomach, then swept him away with my left arm and hand. Kincaid dropped down and scooped up the chemlights I'd dropped, firing once more.

We were backing up step by step as Kincaid jammed the chemlights into his thigh cargo pocket and then swapped out his empty magazine. I had two chemlights jammed behind my LBE at my waist.

Donaldson fired twice from ahead of us.

"Left at the intersection!" I yelled.

"Already on it, Sergeant!" Donaldson yelled back.

The Major was yelling something, but it didn't really register, just that he was gabbling a lot of bullshit that didn't matter.

"Sergeant, behind you!" Someone yelled. I spun in place, but something caught me in the bottom of the ribs with a crushing blow, throwing me into Kincaid. We both went down, the magazine clattering from Kincaid's hand and bouncing away into the darkness.

Something was on me, scrabbling up me, and my vision went out with a bright flash as something hit me in the face with a crunch. Kincaid was swearing, fighting with something in the dim blue light.

I started stabbing, getting one hand one whatever it was, rolling and pinning whatever it was underneath me. It was clawing at my legs as we rolled and I got my hand on its face, ignoring the pan and whatever it was bit my palm.

This time I knew to keep my thumb out of the way as I pushed my knife under the chin and gave it a twist. Whatever it was convulsed under me and I climbed to my feet. Kincaid was on his feet, his rifle hanging from the sling as he slammed something over and over against the wall.

"You think you can touch me? You think you're tougher than me?" He shouted, pulling it back and slamming it again and again.

"Kincaid, come on!" I shouted, yanking him back by his LBE. "Quit fucking around!"

He grabbed his rifle and fired twice into the shape at his feet.

"FUCK YOU!"

I glanced back, seeing the corner was almost there. Donaldson had dropped chemlights on the floor to show us the cross corridor. Two more shapes were coming at us.

"Kincaid, waste 'em!" I yelled, sheathing my knife with tingling fingers and grabbing my weapon. Kincaid started firing behind me, facing the way we were going and moving jerky as he was crouched down, his weapon up in the socket of his shoulder, his face pressed against the rear sight.

The two figures scrabbled away, down the corridor heading toward the living quarters.

shit

"They're splitting us up!" Kincaid yelled.

"Can't be helped, we got wounded." I yelled back. I jacked open the M-203 and fumbled a 40mm shell out of bandoleer wrapped around my torso.

"The other guys are helpless." Kincaid told me.

shitshitshitshit

I stumbled, going down on one knee as my head swum and my vision went static filled.

"We've got wounded, I'll use the PA." I told him.

"Sergeant, come on." Kincaid pulled me up by my LBE and I stumbled with him around the corner.

"Double time!" I told him, pushing myself into a jog. I bounced twice against the wall. Something screamed behind us.

"Flare out!" I yelled, turning and firing the M-203. The round bounced twice before cracking out behind us, but by that time we'd faced forward.

"Are you fucking crazy?" Kincaid yelled as the white thermite flare bloomed to life behind us.

There was screeching behind us as we pounded down the hallway.

Donaldson was standing in the doorway to Operation's airlock.

"Behind you!" He yelled. Something hit my left arm but I kept on running. Looking down, there was a goddamn arrowhead poking out of the inside of my forearm and fletching sticking out of the outside of my forearm.

We ran into the airlock and I threw the locking bar, lifting it up and slamming it back down.

The door dropped suddenly, suddenly braking with a hiss and a thud before slowly dropping the last six inches.

"WARNING! POSSIBLE FIRE DETECTED IN OPERATIONS! WARNING! POSSIBLE FIRE IN OPERATIONS!" rang out.

"There's a fire?" One of the Suits asked. His face was pale in the lights.

"It's just the flare." I told him. Donaldson was pushing forward, his weapon smoking and hanging down from the sling. He started punching in the code. "I'll take care of it when we get into the egg."

"The egg?" The Major asked.

"It's a hardened section of the facility where you can control the whole fucking place." Kincaid said, reloading his weapon. He had a bleeding gash starting above between his eyebrows that went above his eyebrow, then pulled down across the side of his face and tore through his ear.

"You all right, Sergeant?" Someone asked me.

"I'm fine." I said, raising my arm to look at the arrow stuck in my forearm.

"Is that a fucking arrow?" The Major asked.

"I think it's a crossbow bolt." I told him, looking at it. "Too short for an arrow, and it's a pointed head, not a cross head or an arrowhead." I rotated my arm, staring it. "Ain't that some shit?"

"The fuckers ambushed us." Kincaid snarled, closing his magazine pouch. Only one magazine was upside down, a gap between the two remaining inside. One of the Meatheads had another slung over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, blood dripping on the floor from the guy's face. Another one was holding his neck, blood bubbling out of his mouth and nose as he struggled to breathe.

"They use weapons." I said.

The door started rising.

"Donaldson, I'm on point, cover them." I said, pushing between people. "Get the wounded into the egg and start first aid."

The door finished opening and I moved in, hurrying over to the terminal I'd ID'd earlier that had a label that read "FACILITY MONITORING STATION #3" since it was the closest.

"Use their own pressure dressings, not yours." The Major reminded them.

"First aid kit here." Kincaid called out.

"Grab it." The Major said. "Kincaid, sit the fuck down."

"No, sir, I'm all right." He said.

"You're bleeding everywhere." One of the Meatheads said. Same one that had been talking.

"Scalp wound, they always bleed bad." Kincaid answered.

I grabbed the microphone with my left hand, ignoring the pain when I tensed my muscles, and grabbed the pen with my right hand. My fingers were purple on my right hand, clumsy and still shot through with pins and needles. I tapped the boxed words "ENLISTED LIVING QUARTERS" and then "LIVE INTERCOM" when the menu came up.

"This is Sergeant Ant. We have a situation. If you are not in your room, immediately move to your room." I said, using the steady cadence they taught us for radio communication. "Once in your room, or if you are already in your room, close the door and grab the bar on the left hand side of the door and pull it down until it rotates to point down and locks. Do NOT open your door no matter what you hear. Do not panic." I paused for a second. "Get ready to move out, I'll be there as soon as I can to get you."

"I can't stop the bleeding, sir." Someone said. I dropped the mic and pen and got up, wincing when the vanes poking out of my arm brushed the seat when I turned.

Kincaid was standing by the wounded, facing the door, his rifle held tightly.

"Kincaid, get your ass over here." I snapped, moving up the steps to where they'd pulled everyone over. "Donaldson, come on."

One of the Meathead's had gouges and clashes on his face, and I could see teeth marks on him. Another one was standing up, pushing away the Major every time the other man tried to get him to sit down. He was holding just under his chin, and when he coughed blood sprayed out of his nose and mouth. The other Meathead had blood staining his forearm. I knelt next to the box that Kincaid had pulled off the wall, popping the latches.

"You're first, come here." I pointed at the guy holding his throat. He moved up, stiff legged and his eyes slightly glazed. "Lay down." He looked panicked. "Lay your ass down." I snapped. He kind of folded down, and I managed to help him lay down. I pulled out gauze and stared him in the eyes.

"I'm not going to let you die, kid, I'll do everything I can to keep you alive." I told the Meathead. He looked scared but nodded slightly. He coughed again, blood spattering both of us. "Move your hand, I got you." I held up the gauze.

..."I don't know what to do, Ant." Nancy admitted. "I don't think I can save Jacobs or Bomber." More tears spilled from her eyes. "What do I do, Ant?"...

The wound was ragged, and when he inhaled the blood stopped and when he exhaled he coughed and bubbles mixed with the blood.

shit shit shit

"Kincaid, Donaldson, I need you." I turned and looked at the Major. "Sir, I need your help. You too." I told the Meathead standing up. "Sir, hold his legs, you, Meathead, grab his arm." I looked at Kincaid. "Pull the trays out of the medical kit." I looked back down at the kid. "Put your arms at your sides." He nodded, then coughed and choked again. I straddled him, making sure his arms were pinned.

"This is going to be scary as shit, kid, but if I don't do this, you're going to drown." I told him. He nodded, and I drew my knife from my boot sheathe. His eyes widened. "Donaldson, hold his head between your knees and press on his forehead to keep him still. Kincaid, hand me an alcohol pad." Donaldson and Kincaid followed my direction, and I wiped off the blade. The kid coughed again, and I could feel underneath me that he was having a hard time breathing.

"Kincaid, see if there's a trach tube in there." I snapped, then held up the knife. "Stay with me, Private." I could see the fear in his eyes, but he held still as I bent down.

And slid the point of my knife into the hollow of his throat.

"What the fuck are you doing?" The Major screamed.

I ignored the Major, pushing through until the resistance vanished, then made a horizontal slit in his throat. "Kincaid, hurry up."

"Got it!" Kincaid said.

"Strip it, give it to me." I snapped. I twisted the knife slightly to open up the wound and the kid drew a whistling breath. I held out my hand and Kincaid slapped the tubeinto my hand. The knife clattered on the floor when I dropped it, and I lined up the end and pushed it past the wound, ignoring the crunching noise, then when the kid exhaled through the tube I slid the guard down.

"Someone prop him up." I said when I climbed off him, turning to the kid with the mangled face. Donaldson half pulled him into one of the station chairs while I moved over to the kid with the torn up face and poured my canteen over him, washing away the blood to get a look. "Shit, this is gonna be tough, hold him down."

Kincaid straddled him and pushed his hands into his shoulders. "Cold War medical?" he asked as he pulled the aid kit closer. It wasn't a standard first aid kit, but an emergency trauma kit, which was pretty standard in the "egg" sections of some sites.

"You might say that." I told him.

..."Hold him, goddamn it!" Nancy screamed. "Taggart, hurry your pregnant ass up!" Raleigh had dropped down next to Nancy on her knees, her eyes wide and face pale as she saw the horrific wound on Hendricks' chest. Nancy didn't even look at her. "Raleigh, get in there, hold him down, goddamn it!"...

..."Hold him down, you worthless bitches!"...


I poured more water on the kid's face, looking at the wounds. I couldn't see any bone, it just look like something had torn up the skin. I turned away from the kid and dug through the top level, pulling out the suture kit.

"Painkillers?" Kincaid said.

"He's already out, we need to move fast." I answered.

"Open your eyes, Franks, keep your eyes open." Donaldson was saying.

"Sergeant Ant, do you know what you're doing?" The Major asked.

"Do you want to fucking do this?" I snapped, pulling out a mid-grade needle and some suture thread. I had no idea what the numbers on the thread packets meant, and didn't really care. I threaded the needle, ignoring the dull steady throb of pain in my forearm.

I followed Nancy's instructions, almost reliving her lessons to Bomber, Taggart, and me. Making each stitch, tying it off, then not bothering to snip the thread but moving to the next stitch. It seemed to take forever, and I almost passed out when I caught the fletching on the kid's uniform and it tilted in the wound.

The stitches were roughly a finger width apart and I went through two packets of stitching thread before the worst of cuts were closed. He was still bleeding, but I put gauze on his face and wrapped gauze around his head, keeping his eyes, nose, and mouth as clear as possible, then turned around.

"Who's next?" I asked.

"Me." Kincaid said, climbing off the other kid. "My face really hurts, Sergeant."

"I'll fucking bet." I told him, waving at a chair. "Sit down."

"What about you?" The Major asked.

"I won't be able to use my hands in a little bit." I told him. I coughed and my ribs flared with agony, making me partially hunch over.

"Sergeant, I think I can do it." Donaldson said, moving over next to me. "I watched you pretty close."

"It won't be pretty." Donaldson said.

"Just do it." Kincaid answered.

"You want painkillers?" Donaldson took the offered suture kit.

"Fuck it." Kincaid said, tightening his hands on the seat of the chair. "Just fucking do it, Dee."

I stood up, then raised up my arm to look at the crossbow bolt sticking out of it. It was aluminum, with plastic fletching and a copper head. Blood had just oozed out of the wound on both sides and my whole forearm was swelling up.

"Who's got hands free?" I asked, sitting down at one of the chairs.

Two of the Meatheads were down, the third was keeping the one with the trach awake and talking to him, holding his hand. The Suits were moved away from us, and I just ignored them the way they ignored me.

"I do." The Major told me, moving up to where I was sitting. "What do I do?"

"You're going to have to pull the fucking crossbow bolt out of my arm, we'll know what to do next." I told him. "You got a Leatherman?" he shook his head. I fumbled at my belt and pulled mine out of the leather pouch, handing it to him. "Use that to pull it out backwards." I grinned at him. "Don't pay any attention to any noises I make, just do it."

"Agent Pierson, I need your help." the Major said. One of the Suits started coming over toward us.

"Get the fuck away from me." I snarled at him. He stopped, and I looked at the Major. "You bring any of those three alphabet assholes near me, and I'll kill them."

The Major looked at me for a long moment, then nodded. I grabbed my wrist to hold my arm stable then hissed when the Major grabbed the back of the crossbow bolt with the pliers.

"Just fucking pull it out." I told him. He nodded and started pulling, the blood slicked steel sliding out of my arm. "Goddamn that burns." I could feel the groove between the shaft and the head of the bolt tugging on the muscle inside my arm and groaned, dropping my head down for a second, knowing I was covered in sweat.

I lifted my head up and looked at Kincaid, who was trembling in the chair as Donaldson made sloppy stitches, sliding the curved needle too deep some times, too shallow others, but still trying to close the wound across his forehead and the side of his head. Kincaid saw me and let go of the seat to give me a thumbs up with his right hand, then went quickly back to holding the seat.

"It's out." The Major said. "It's not bleeding too bad."

"Missed the artery and the major veins. Put gauze on each side then wrap it." I told him. "We aren't done."

I held still, managing to get my pill bottle out of my pocket and shake a pill into my mouth so I could grind them up. When I tried to put it away I dropped the bottle on the ground when my hand spasmed. I groaned at the pain in my shoulder and the Major paused for a second.

"Just do it." I told him. He nodded.

"Done. I didn't do a good job." Donaldson said.

"How badly is he bleeding?" I asked.

"Just oozing, Sergeant." He answered.

"Then you did good." I told him. While the Major was binding my arm I looked at Kincaid and grinned. "Don't worry about being ugly, Kincaid. We're guys, we're supposed to be ugly. If God wanted us to be pretty, he'd of made us girls."

The Major and Donaldson laughed at that, and Kincaid grinned then groaned.

"At least then I'd have tits and could dance in front of the mirror." Kincaid said, and I laughed while he stood up, picking his rifle back up.

"You've got a huge knot on your forehead." The Major said. When he lifted his hands toward my face I flinched back, then groaned, listing to the side as my ribs ground.

"Sergeant, where else are you injured?" The Major asked.

"I'm all right." I told him.

"Sergeant, you aren't Rambo, where else are you injured?" His voice was full of officer's authority for the first time since I had met him.

"I caught something in the ribs, and my shoulder is fucked up, but that's recurring." I told him.

"Strip." He said, standing up and dragging me up by the front of my uniform.

"Yes, sir." I told him, feeling relief for some reason.

After two tries at getting my fingers to work, the Major undid my LBE and peeled it off of me, then helped me out of my Kevlar vest, and BDU top.

"Can you get your T-shirt off?" he asked, staring at my fingers.

"Yeah." I told him, peeling it off. I groaned in pain as it came clear and the Major inhaled sharply.

My shoulder and chest were purple, and there were heavy yellow bruises on my ribs with red splots in the middle. When the Major pressed on my side I hissed and flinched.

"I think your ribs are cracked. What hit you?" The Major asked.

"Dunno." I answered. "It was pretty chaotic."

"Tape them?" Donaldson asked, coming over next to the Major.

"No, I won't be able to breathe and it doesn't really do anything and I run the risk of pneumonia." I told them, repeating why the medics and doctors at the dispensary at 2/19th didn't tape ribs. The Major nodded, then reached up toward my shoulder.

"Hold still, Sergeant." He snapped when I flinched.

"I thought you taped ribs." Donaldson said.

"Most doctors do." The Major said. "But Sergeant Ant has other ideas." He pressed his fingers into the puffy flesh at where my collarbone joined my shoulder and I almost passed out from the pain.

"I think your collarbone is detached." The Major told me. He traced the wide scar on the front of my shoulder that went all the way around with his fingernail. "What happened?"

"Got it fucked up." I told him. I made a fist, raised my arm up to straight out, and there was a loud snapping noise. "Shit that hurts."

"What happened to your back, Sergeant Ant?" One of the Suits asked.

"Shut your fucking mouth." I snarled at him.

"Sergeant." The Major warned me.

I shut up.

"I don't know what to do." He told me.

...I don't know what to do! Nancy wailed...

"We gotta get your men." I told him, pulling back on my T-shirt.

"Do you think they're in danger?" The Major asked while I pulled on my Kevlar vest and BDU top, buttoning the top after the vest was on but not closed.

"Two went toward the living areas." Kincaid said from where he was walking back and forth. Blood was still oozing out of the stitches, but he wasn't feeling any pains. "Those assholes get in with the other guys, we're gonna lose them." I closed the vest and grabbed my LBE, ignoring the pain.

"Shit." The Major said. "Sergeant Ant, you've got combat experience

I barked out a harsh laugh at that, shrugging into my LBE.

"What do we do?" He finished.

"Sometimes you have to cut your losses." One of the Suits said. "They're on their own."

"THOSE ARE MY MEN!" The Major bellowed, shoving by me. "THOSE ARE MY FUCKING MEN YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!"

Toothpick smirked. "Soldiers die, that's their job."

The Major let out a roar of rage and lunged forward, his hands reaching for Toothpick's neck. One of the Suits stepped forward, and the Major was flying through the air to land on the other side of the circle of stations.

Kincaid and Donaldson both came forward, Kincaid's rifle coming up and Donaldson balling his fists.

Toothpick and his friends drew pistols.

"Stop right there, soldier." Toothpick said. "Don't do anything stupid."

...they're making their play...

..No shit, Dana...


"Don't even move, Sergeant Ant, keep your hands in sight." One of the Suits said.

"I saved your fucking lives, and this is how you're going to fucking repay me?" I spit on the floor. "Fucking alphabet boys, you're all fucking scum."

"Some things are more important than you think, and you're expendable assets, Sergeant." Toothpick sneered at me. "You would do good to remember that we have authority over any operations we deem fit."

"Like Desert Storm?" I stared at them.

...those are my fucking prisoners. What the fuck do you think your doing to them?...

...This is CIA business, Sergeant, not yours...

...the fuck it is, these men are accorded rights under the Geneva Convention...

...they have what rights we give them...


"Or like when you fuckers came to FSTS 317 and tried to rape one of my troops during one of your little 'interrogations'?" I finished. Kincaid made a low growl in his throat.

...KILL THEM ALL!... My voice echoed in my head. The Major stood up, his nose bleeding, and found himself staring down the barrel of one of the Suit's pistols.

Toothpick grinned at me. "It was war, Sergeant, even someone as stupid as you should understand that war demands certain actions."

"What about my men?" The Major asked.

"They'll just have to survive on their own. We're staying here till the doors open up." Toothpick stated. "I'm sure Sergeant Ant will be willing to put some extra effort into opening the door."

"Why are you here?" I asked.

"National security." One of the Suits told me.

Typical.

There was a rattling above me, faint, something scrabbling on metal. Kincaid opened his mouth, turning toward me.

"Kincaid, can you work a computer?" I broke in before he could say anything, pointing at a terminal near the Suits then gasping with pain, letting my arm drop, and grabbing my shoulder.

"Umm... Sergeant?" Donaldson said.

"Go stand by the door, Donaldson, I'm OK." I said. Donaldson nodded, moving over to the door we'd come through.

"Help me over there, Kay, I'm having trouble breathing." I told him, pointing at the terminal. I was gasping, my breath hitched, holding onto my shoulder and hunched over.

"Don't be stupid, Sergeant. You're outnumbered and injured." Toothpick sneered as Kincaid came over.

"Hear that?" Kincaid whispered in my ear as he bent down next to me.

"Get ready." I said softly back, then raised my voice. "I'll show you what to do, we might be able to override the system."

"You can't just leave my men to die." The Major said, his face bright red and his fists clenched.

"Sacrifices must be made." Toothpick answered. "Maybe we can give them a medal." The disdain in his voice ignited my blood, sweeping away my medications, the pain, the exhaustion, and bringing everything back to crystal clear.

"Help me over there, Kincaid." I said, my voice was weak and I coughed again. Blood ran out of my mouth.

My fucking tongue really hurt.

"Goddamn you're heavy." Kincaid said, half dragging me toward the Suits.

...you should try having him on top of you...

One set of lights flickered.

Toothpick laughed as we got close, taking a step back from the terminal I'd pointed at, almost bumping into the two Suits behind him.

The lights went off, only the glow of the chemlights me and Kincaid had stuck between the straps of our LBE belts providing light.

"Dee, hit the door, pump it twice!" I yelled, shoving Kincaid behind me.

I was already moving while I was shouting, diving over the monitors and landing hard on the floor. They'd expect me to come charging in. I landed on my right arm and almost screamed, but still scrabbled forward in a high crawl. "Kay, get them out!"

"Fall back to living quarters!" The Major yelled.

"This way, this way!" Donaldson yelled.

"Grab Franks, let's go!" Kincaid shouted.

Two pistol shots went off.

Three rifle shots went off.

Something yowled in the darkness.

And something else answered.


Chapter 19

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Primary Hallways
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Evening


The Fates were howling in my ears as I yanked out my pistol, did an infantry 'spray and pray' over the desk, then reholstered it.

One of the monitors exploded as I crawled across the floor, my ribs and my shoulder full of pain that I just acknowledged, accepted, and let pass through me, heading for the others.

I heard a double clack and there was a scream of overpressured hydraulics and the door shot up with a scream. Someone was briefly silhouetted in the door and sparks flew from the doorframe as a bullet whined off the steel frame. The sudden light made my eyes water and illuminated the Meathead with the injured forearm lunging through the door right after Donaldson, Franks the Meathead slung over his shoulders.

"Eat this!" Kincaid yelled, firing as he backed up.

There was several pistol shots and Kincaid went down between the first row of stations and the second row of stations, his rifle flying up and clattering to the floor.

"Kincaid!" The Major yelled. I saw him dive toward where Kincaid was at.

"Fuck." Kincaid grunted. "Fuck fuck fuck"

"Airlock's clear!" Donaldson yelled.

"Don't kill Fifty Foot Ant, we need him!" Toothpick yelled out. "Kill the others!" More pistol shots.

I yanked two objects out of my cargo pocket where my pills normally were, pulling first one pin then the other and throwing them toward the Suits.

"FLASHBANG OUT!" I yelled. "GAS GAS GAS!"

"You son of a bitch!" Toothpick yelled.

"What now, bitch?" I yelled back, crawling as fast as I could. The Major popped up, Kincaid's arm thrown over his shoulder, Kincaid coughing and stumbling, then going limp as there were two more shots that made him crumble. I crawled under one of the station, coming out where I'd worked on the two Privates. My knife was right where I'd left it.

The flashbang went off, filling the whole room with light and a thunderous roar pressing at the ears and making them ring. I knew the CS grenade was spewing out high concentrate tear gas at the same time.

The Fates were still howling, undisturbed by the ringing in my ears.

"You should have worked with us, Ant..." Toothpick's comments were cut off by coughing.

...just work with us, Sergeant, and let us do our jobs. We'll just go over the incident with each of your soldiers and then be out of your hair...

...Ant, help, Ant...


The Fates were howling, overriding Taggart's screams.

"How you like them apples?" I shouted back, scrabbling to my feet and lunging for the door out of Operations. They were yelling behind me, choking and coughing, and something was screeching loudly. Something bounded over me before I got all the way up, a hunched over human-like shape.

Donaldson popped around the corner of the doorframe, kneeling down with his weapon up. He fired three times and someone screamed. Two shots answered and Donaldson vanished back into the airlock.

I lunged through the door, a shot hitting the far wall and dimpling the steel.

"Hit the lever twice!" I yelled. The Major grabbed the bar, pulling it up then pulling it back and slapping it down. The door dropped down in less than a second, slowing for the last six inches with the scream of overpressured hydraulics. "Throw it to halfway." He left it sticking straight out.

"Fuck, that really hurt." Kincaid groaned. He was trying to stand up. "Bastards shot me."

"Open your vest." I told him. He nodded, unbuckling his LBE and then unbuttoning his shirt. When he opened it, there wasn't any blood on his shirt but he was gasping. "No penetration, but you're going to be fucking hurting."

"I'm all right." He told me, coughing. "Fucking ribs hurt."

"Your Army sucks." Donaldson groaned from where he was leaning against the wall, holding his chest. I chuckled and spit red on the floor. My goddamn tongue hurt from where I'd bitten it to get blood in my mouth. Fucking dentures, you can't tell how much pressure you're really putting on something.

The Major didn't say anything, just held out his hand then hauled Kincaid, Donaldson and myself to our feet. Donaldson picked back up his rifle and moved to the door.

"I lost my rifle, Sergeant." Kincaid said.

"Happens when you get shot, don't sweat it." I told him reaching out and putting my hand on the wall to steady myself. I spit again, still bloody.

"Sergeant Ant, can we get back to my men?" The Major asked.

"We've got to regroup, we're going there now." I told him, stumbling up next to Donaldson. "Throw the bar."

The door took a minute to hiss open, revealing that the main hallway was dark. I fumbled another shell off my bandoleer and loaded the thumper, letting the shell ring on the floor of the airlock.

"203 out!" I called out, puling the trigger and launching a flare down the hallway, angling it so it wouldn't bounce off the roof. It went down the hallway, bounced, and popped, the parachute deploying and the flare lighting up the hallway.

Donaldson banged a couple rounds at the three shapes that darted into the side corridors.

"Let's go, men!" The Major yelled, half dragging the kid with the bandaged head by throwing one arm over his shoulders and pulling.

The light was white and harsh, sputtering on the ground. It made my eye water as we hurried toward it, my hands swapping out the 40mm shell for another flare. When we hit the intersection I fired one down the hallway, then reloaded and fired the other way in one smooth motion. Shapes moved away from the lights when they cooked off a few seconds later.

Unmoving shapes littered the hallway down by the elevators, silent witnesses to the savagery of only a little while before.

"Sergeant Ant, hurry up." The Major said. "The flare's going out."

I hurried up, my knee brace creaking, and caught up to the others.

"My goddamn ribs hurt, Sergeant." Kincaid bitched.

"My fucking chest hurts like a motherfucker." Donaldson added.

"Suck it up, troops." I told him, grinning at them. They grinned back. My head swum and I went to sag against the wall, jerking back when my shoulder hit.

"Keep moving, Sergeant." the Major snapped.

The Fates were barely whispering.

I put my feet in front of each other and kept slogging.

Snow whipped around me and I shivered.

"Donaldson, help Sergeant Ant." The Major said.

"I'm fine." I mumbled, trying to push the other man away.

"Good to go, Sergeant, come on." Donaldson said, grabbing my LBE and half dragging me by it.

The light was flickering, the flare guttering out. They only lasted a few seconds, and this one was a guttering, flickering red glow behind us.

"Almost there, men." The Major told us.

I knew that the egg would be full of CS gas, and with the damage to the terminals the whole egg would be offline, control shifted to a secondary part of the facility that we hadn't seen yet.

"Come on, we're almost there." Donaldson said, and I nodded.

I'm running out of steam...

no not again!


Energy filled me, and I pulled free of Donaldson, standing up and shaking my head with a growl. I moved by the others in the wide hallway, leading the way back to the Enlisted Living Quarters, stopping at the air lock to the section.

"Major, gather up your men, we're going after my vehicle." I said.

"Why?" The Major asked. "What's so important?"

"I've got weapons and ammunition, we can arm up, protect ourselves." I told him.

"You have unsecure weapons?" He asked, then shook his head. "Never mind, I don't care right now." he glanced at everyone. "We've got wounded, let's get to the others and then you can go after the vehicle."

"We've got to do it now." I argued.

"Sergeant, look at yourself, look at our men." He said. "If you go without reinforcements, you might not make it."

I looked at the men surrounding me while the airlock door rose up.

"SECONDARY OPERATIONS CONFIRMS CONTROL! REPEAT, SECONDARY OPERATIONS CONFIRMS CONTROL!" sounded out over the loudspeakers, making me grin.

The men were all wounded. Blood had seeped through Frank's bandages, the other guy was wheezing through the trach tube. The Major's nose was definitely broken. Donaldson was gasping, clutching his chest, and Kincaid was standing there with the whole side of his face covered in crusted blood that had dried on his neck and soaked his uniform.

"I need you, Sergeant." the Major told me. "You can trust me."

...those are my men you're talking about...

There were no snide comments from people who weren't there, so I took a risk and I nodded, the hallway swimming. The doorway locked up, and we moved into the airlock. I leaned against the wall while the interior door raised up.

"Sergeant, how badly are you injured?" The Major asked me softly while the door was thumping and slowly raising.

"I'm still good to go." I told him.

"You're staggering." He told me.

"I'll be fine." I told him, spitting on the floor. It was almost clear. "I'm still on my feet."

He stared at me for a long moment then nodded.

The hallway on the other side was clear, and the Major led us into the hallway.

"Form up in the rec room, I'll gather up the others." The Major said. I nodded, and headed for the rec room. I opened the door and hit the lights, the fluorescent lights flickering for a moment before they lit up the four pool tables, the ping pong table, the old arcade games, and the TV. The other men moved by me, and Franks was set on the pool table at my suggestion. Kincaid and the kid with the trach sat down in the chairs.

"Donaldson, come here a second, bring a flashlight." Donaldson looked up then moved over by me, pulling his flashlight off his LBE. "Shine the light in my eyes, one at a time, tell me if they don't move." I took off my glasses before moving my eye patch.

I winced slightly at the light spearing into my eye, then Donaldson checked my bad eye, then repeated it twice before stepping back. Kincaid had got up and picked up the rifle Donaldson had sat down, pacing back and forth.

"Your left pupil is a little sluggish." He told me. "Is that normal?"

"No, it should work normally." I told him. "I'm concussed."

The door opened up and two men came in, stopping when they saw all of us.

"What the fuck happened to you guys?" One of them asked.

"We got our asses kicked." The Meathead with the injured arm said quietly. "What the fuck does it look like?"

"We got ambushed, but fought our way free." I said, lifting my head up. Kincaid was turning around, glaring.

"Speak for your fucking self." Kincaid snarled, stepping forward. "I'm still on my fucking feet, I'm still alive, and I sure as fuck did not get my ass kicked."

"We didn't get our asses kicked, Meyers, we got fucking ambushed, like the Sergeant said." Donaldson added, yelling at the guy who'd asked. He sounded more than a little pissed. "Be glad you weren't fucking there."

"Not to mention those goddamn CIA assholes trying to kill us." Kincaid said, kicking a chair and send it crashing against the wall.

Three more of the Major's men came in. That made 10 total, if I was remembering right, there was ten more to get. All three of them stopped and stared at Kincaid, who was kicking another chair across the room, a badly stitched wound on his face and blood covering the side of his head, his neck, and soaking the top of the side of his uniform.

"Dude, what the fuck?" One of them asked. One of the Meatheads I hadn't bothered numbering.

"Shut the hell up!" Kincaid yelled.

"At ease that shit, calm down, Kincaid." I said, standing up. My knees went weak and my vision swum. "Take a seat, I don't like repeating myself, so when the Major comes back we'll fill you in." I told them, waving at the chairs.

The four that had come in went over and sat down while I walked over to Kincaid and grabbed his arm.

"Get it out of your system now, Kincaid. I need you, and you need to be thinking straight." I stared at him and he finally nodded, his pupils widely dilated. "You did good, Kincaid, I'm sorry I treated you so rough. You aren't a coward and I shouldn't have called you one. I overreacted."

"Now I know why." He said. He shuddered. "I thought we were going to die by the elevators. It's nothing like training. We could have been killed."

"We didn't. You and Donaldson had what it took when we hit the sharp end of the stick, and know we know how you'll react." I told him, speaking softly and slowly. He was trembling, the effects of endorphins, adrenaline, pain, and rage. "Donaldson, come over here."

When Donaldson came over we moved on the other side of the pool tables from the others as another three came in. Kinciad handed Donaldson back the M16 on the way, pausing long enough to grab a chair and sling it against the wall. When we were as far from the others as we could get, I motioned them close.

"How many of these meat heads can I trust?" I asked quietly. "Don't think if they're a good guy, what kind of shit they talk, but how you think they'd react if they were at the elevators with us."

"Fuck 'em, none of them." Kincaid said.

"Not many." Donaldson answered. "Maybe Natchez...

"He's a punk." Kincaid said, reaching up to touch his sutures. I grabbed his hand.

"and I think Wilkins and Meyers. PFC Purett has a combat patch." Donaldson finished.

"We'll see. I've only got 8 more M16's, not enough to arm everyone, and Kincaid gets one." I sighed. "We're going to need people we can trust with us, there's something we don't know, and we need to find out what it is."

"Can I kill that son of a bitch who's always chewing on a fucking toothpick?" Donaldson asked. "Bastard shot me."

"We see them again, we fucking kill them." I told them, smiling. "Unless we can take them alive." I drew my knife and held it up. "There's a few questions I'd like to ask them."

Donaldson and Kincaid both smiled, the young men who'd I'd met not too long ago long gone, replaced by hard faced men with blood on them.

Four more came in, both repeating the same fucking questions.

"I see what you mean. We'd be halfway done explaining when we'd have to start over." Donaldson said, nodding at the four of them exclaiming over the injuries.

"Go stand by the door." I drew my .45 and handed it to Kincaid after thumbing off the safety. "It's locked and loaded, has a nasty kick, don't fucking drop it or I'll send you to get it even if you drop it down a goddamn shaft." I nodded toward the injured men. "Which one is Franks, things were a little confused."

Kincaid nodded, smiling, as Donaldson answered my question. It was the one with the trach, not the one with the bandaged face like I'd thought, who was Murchison. The two men walked over to the door while I walked over by the TV and turned to face the men, who were all talking animatedly. The kid with the bite on his forearm was showing it to the newcomers.

"Take your seats. As soon as the Major returns, you'll get a briefing and brought up to speed." I told them. They turned and looked at me, seeing me standing in front of them at parade rest, staring at them.

"What's going on?" One of them, with Clark on his nametag, asked me.

"I'll explain when everyone gets back. Take your seat." I told them.

"Fuck that, I want to know now." He continued. "What the fuck happened to Franks and Murchison?"

"Sit down!" I barked. They all found their seats.

The Major came in a few minutes later with the last of them. He moved up next to me.

"What do we tell them?" He asked.

"Let me handle it. Just stand there and look like it's all under control." I answered, then turned back to the gathered Privates. Counting the two wounded men, Donaldson and Kincaid, myself and Major, there were 22 of us. A whole platoon.

"Listen up!" I barked, and the conversation stopped.

"While exploring the facility we were aggressed by a small force of enemy combatants of unknown numbers armed with hand weapons." I said. "At that time Private Franks, Private Murchison, and Private Kincaid were seriously wounded."

They turned and looked at Kincaid, who glared back.

"We managed to break contract and pull back with our wounded to the operations center, leaving behind an unknown number of dead and wounded of the enemy." I continued, pulling their attention back to me. "Once we were in the operations center we gave emergency first aid to the worse cases."

I took a deep breath, the Major shifted uncomfortably next to me.

"It was immediately afterwards that the three Special Agents that accompanied you here attempted to take command of the mission, ordering us to abandon the rest of you here to defend yourself against an enemy you were unaware of." I told them. "At that time Major Darson refused their insistence that he follow their illegal orders and another fight broke out."

The silence was thick.

"At that time the enemy attacked again, and Major Darson ordered a retreat back here, to both inform you of the enemy and the betrayal by the agents. At that time Privates Kincaid and Donaldson were injured by gunfire turned on them rather than the enemy." I could see that some of them didn't believe what they were hearing.

"The following people will accompany Privates Kincaid and Donaldson as well as myself to retrieve equipment from my vehicle. When I call your name, go stand by Private Kincaid." I stared at them. "Private Natchez." The soldier nodded, getting up. "Private Meyers." The Private who'd I'd met a couple of times got up. "Private Purett." I waited till he started moving. "Private Wilkins." The kid looked nervous, but moved over pretty quick. "And you." I pointed at the one who'd been bit on the forearm. "What's your name?"

"Pee Vee Two Shads." He said.

"Go over there." I told him. He nodded and moved over there. "The rest of you will stay here with Major Darson." I pulled my Glock from behind my back and handed it to the Major, who looked startled but took it anyway.

"I'll get my team ready to go then carry out the mission." I told him, then saluted him.

Major Darson passed the pistol to his left hand and saluted me back. "Carry on, Sergeant Ant."

The Major I'd met and disliked was nowhere in the face of the man who faced me.

I moved over to the Privates I'd sent over by the door.

"Anyone got any combat experience?" I asked, having seen Purett's combat patch. It was 7th Corps, I was authorized to wear one just like it but preferred the interlocked triangles of 3rd CosCom myself.

"I do, Sergeant." Purett told me, smiling. "I was in the Storm."

"What unit?" I asked.

"I was with 82nd Airborne."

Did he think I was fucking stupid?

"See any action?" I asked.

"My unit was twenty miles outside of Baghdad when they called everyone off." He told me, puffing out his chest. "We jumped in the day the Ground War started. I killed a bunch of ragheads on the way into Baghdad."

"Report to Major Darson for your assignment." I told him, my lip curling. "Get the fuck out of my face."

"What?" He asked.

"You're a goddamn liar and now I don't trust your ass." I told him. "Now step."

He glared at me but stomped off.

"I do." Shads said quietly.

"Go ahead." I told him. He licked his lips nervously.

"I was on the DMZ in Korea, I came under sniper fire a couple of times." He said, shrugging. He looked like he was about to start walking over to the Major. "They shoot at us all the time."

"And nobody believes you, do they, kid?" I said. "You were with us, you're OK with me."

He looked grateful and I suddenly felt bad for him.

"All right, gentlemen." I said, opening the door and leading them into the hallway. "We're going to the motorpool. I've got weapons and ammunition in my vehicle, we're going to retrieve what we can, then doubletime it back here." Behind us, the door to the rec room locked.

I paused at the door to the main Living Quarters hallway.

"Any questions?" I asked.

"Yeah, what happens if we get attacked?" Shads asked quietly. I wondered if that was his normal tone.

"We kill them." I said simply, and threw the bar.

The door went up and I led them toward the motorpool.

The picture of the 2/19th barracks mocked me as we passed it, but I averted my eyes.

please don't let it be like it was there I begged.

"Hey, was those there in the picture earlier, Kay?" Donaldson asked.

"I don't think so, that's kind of weird." Kincaid said.

I couldn't help myself.

I looked.

In front of the barracks were three snowmen.

One had a bright red slash down the side of the face and snowball sized breasts.

Another had a pink spot on the right of its belly.

And the last had no eyes and a bright red spot on the upper right of the middle part.

oh shit...


Chapter 20

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Primary Hallways
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Evening


I stood staring at the snowmen, my left hand going up to touch my right shoulder, pressing slightly as I stared at it in horror. The drapes were closed on the windows, the glass entrance to the building acting as a mirror, and the snow in front of the barracks was flawless and unbroken by footprints or disturbed snow. I knew my mouth was opening and closing as I stared at the picture.

Were we in there? While I stood and stared at the picture was Bomber, Nancy, and I fighting for our lives?

Was Tandy in there?

Was Tandy in here?

"Sergeant?" Someone said.

"Don't touch him!" Kincaid said.

The picture was massive, six feet tall and twenty feet wide, a man, or something that wore the body of a man, could walk across the lawn and step out of it, right? Could get in here with us, right? The picture couldn't be the same as letting the winter in it, could it?

I tore my eyes away from the picture, shuddering, covered in goose pimples, shivering, and sweating all at the same time. It felt like an icicle was jammed into the socket of my shoulder, the freezing cold spreading out over my chest. My feet ached every step I took away from that picture and I could feel cold wind trying to get inside my uniform and steal my life away.

"Do you recognize that place, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked. He was close to me, but not too close, just out of arm's reach.

"You might say that." I laughed.

"What is it?" Donaldson asked.

"My old unit." I told them. "2/19th Special Weapons Group."

"You were stationed at a Lima site?" Kincaid asked. "That... explains a lot."

"We didn't know it was a Lima site. We thought it was like the rest of the Army." I told them, wrapping my arms around myself and shivering. "They left us there in the dark and the cold. They left us there in the winter to die while something stalked us and killed us."

...Ant, I love you!...

...I think I'm dying, brother...


"Sergeant?" Donaldson asked. I was leaning against the wall in front of the doors shivering.

"My men kept dying. He kept stalking us, killing us, and nobody cared." I was vaguely aware I was crying. "I got hurt real bad. They left us to die there."

"Sergeant, we need you." Kincaid yelled, moving around in front of me and grabbing my face. He was staring at me, his face pale. "I know you've got problems, but we need you. Take one of your pills or something, or those goddamn things are going to kill all of us."

I blinked a couple of times.

...it isn't Tandy, bunny, it's something else...

...don't forget the CIA boys, brother...

...don't let them down, bunny...


"Right." I said, pushing off the wall. "Flashback."

"I'd have figured he'd have them from Desert Storm." Someone, I think it was Meyers, whispered.

I laughed at that, reaching out and throwing the bar. "No, that was just men trying to kill me, nothing personal in it." I was starting to warm up.

Shads started to step through the door as soon as it was high enough, but Donaldson grabbed his arm. "Don't, there's IR beams across the door, let's not fuck something up."

Shads just nodded, biting his lip and looking at the door, suddenly aware of just how thick the door was and how heavy it must be. He was a small guy, and kind of scared looking.

I led them back to the motorpool, not saying much beyond instructions on how to use the door. Once the massive door to the military motorpool opened up, we hustled over to my vehicle and I breathed a sigh of relief as soon as I could tell that nobody had messed with it while we were gone.

Nancy sat on the wheel well in the bed, leaning back and sunning herself, tanning her boobs in the Saudi Arabian sun. Her hair was down to the middle of her back. She opened one eye and looked at me before smiling. "Nobody paid any attention to what's in the truck."

I reached for my pill bottle, but all my fumbling fingers found was a single CS grenade.

"Let's grab the gear." I told them, moving up to the truck. Nancy laughed. I dropped the tailgate, then pulled the locked dufflebag close enough to unlock. Once that was done I started pulling M16A1's out. None of the serial numbers would show up at any unit, I'd taken them from an Alpha site and stashed them in the Gypsy Wagon over a year ago.

I handed out ammunition next, giving them the same speech about putting the empty magazines top down once they were expended and warning them that while I had more ammo, I didn't have more magazines.

In other words, I lied.

Kincaid was perfectly happy to trade the .45 for an M16A1/M203, and I handed him a bandoleer of shells.

"Top three are HE, next three are frag, the rest are flares." I told him. I handed him a second belt. "Same with this, except the bottom three are WP rounds and three APERS rounds." He nodded, slinging on the bandoleers over his gear and then loading the M-203 with an APERS shot.

"How come you don't use a gunners vest like my old unit?" Meyers asked.

"I'm used to bandoleers." I told him, shrugging. "Army's changing really fast right now, and when the shit I helped test with Force XXI for a couple of months hits, you'll see it change even faster." I pulled a box full of .45's I'd snagged from a Bravo site close then tossed it to Natchez. "Those are pistols, keep 'em close."

"You planning on fighting a war?" Wilkins asked when I opened a box full of Claymore land mines.

"It's a fucking war now." Kincaid growled.

"You should always be prepared to deploy within 90 minutes." I told them, reciting the 2/19th mantra. "The enemy's not going to wait around while you get your shit in order. You pack for deployment and you stay ready at a moment's notice."

"Seriously?" Meyers asked. Shads was nodding, I moved his story up a notch on the believability scale.

"I've heard you Cold War guys are paranoid, but..." Wilkins started.

"Does this look like fucking paranoia?" Kincaid asked, whirling around and pointing at his face. I closed my mouth, cutting off my own reply. "Because it sure as shit doesn't feel like paranoia."

"Kincaid." I kept my voice soft. When he turned I tossed him a bag. "Keep track of that, it's an SF surgical bag." He nodded and slung it onto his back, wincing at the additional pressure on his ribs.

I pulled four boxes up. They were heavy, about a hundred pounds a piece. I broke the lead seals, then the inspection seals, and opened them up.

Someone whistled.

Engineer demo kits. Full of C-4, det cord, fuses, wire, and everything a good engineer needs to destroy other people's shit.

"You four are carrying these." I said, snapping the boxes shut. I tossed Donaldson the bag with the Claymore kits in it. "You carry those." Then I hefted the box of ammo, ignoring the fiery twinge in my ribs when I lifted it up on my left shoulder.

"Let's move out." I told them.

"QRF TEAMS TO PRIMARY OPERATIONS! QRF TEAMS TO PRIMARY OPERATIONS!" rang out over the loudspeakers.

"Sounds like they're getting frisky in there." I grinned, leading them over to the door.

"What?" Wilkins asked.

"The system is ordering the quick reaction force to deploy to the operations center we left the Suits in, probably thinking their either an intrusion or rogue elements." I said. I knew I was gloating, but couldn't help it. "That whole room will be locked out now."

"Maybe the place will gas their asses." Kincaid said. "Fucking dicks."

"All right, let's get the hell back. Doubletime it." I said. The others nodded.

The trip back was quick. Once we heard the sound of claws on metal, but we kept jogging, stopping twice so Kincaid, Donaldson, and I could catch our breath. We were still faster than if we'd tried to walk, but even so it seemed to take forever before we were knocking on the door to the rec room.

When the Major had the door opened by Purett, I noticed he was standing back from his troop, but with a clear line of fire for the doorway. We hustled in and Purett shut the door.

"Sergeant, as soon as you are able to, I need a report." The Major told me, waving me over as soon as I dropped the bags I was carrying.

"Drop the gear here, then break open that box of MRE's and eat." I told them. I turned and walked over to the Major, saluting him. Something in my shoulder made a sharp snap and he frowned.

"Never mind that." He told me. I dropped my arm. "How did it go?"

"We retrieved all the weapons, ammunition, and explosives from my vehicle." I told him. Something flickered in his eyes, but it passed before I could tell what it was. "We grabbed additional equipment and some food."

"What's your take on our situation?" He asked me, nodding at what I'd told him already.

"Sir, we have seven additional M-16A1 rifles and six .45 caliber M1911A1 pistols. I've got around a dozen Claymore land mines, so we can defend this area if preparations are made to fortify an area." I looked at the rec room. "I wouldn't suggest this one, it's too open." The Major nodded. "Additionally, we have an unknown hostile force of unknown capabilities who perceive this area as their home ground, we have three or less enemy saboteurs who may or may not be operating under orders from their superiors within the US government, and we have two serious wounded."

"Four." The Major told me.

"Sir?"

"You forgot to count yourself and Private Kincaid." The Major told me. "However, you two are ambulatory and combat effective." He stared at me for a moment. "I need you to be honest with me, how combat effective are you, and will your medication affect your combat effectiveness?"

I took a deep breath, then leaped.

"I'm combat effective right now, but once I go down, I'll go down for at least eight to twelve hours." I was honest. I knew my limits, even if I'd pushed them far beyond what my limits had been 5 years before. "My medication is to handle flashbacks and the after effects of several serious head wounds."

"How serious?" He asked me.

"I was blind for awhile after the first. The others affected my memory and I get migraines." I sighed and rubbed the side of of my face. "My medication keeps me from having migraines or flashbacks as well as... memory problems."

He was silent for a long time, his eyes steady, weighing and judging what I'd told him and what he'd seen me do.

"Can my men rely on you?" He asked.

"Yes, sir." I told him. It wasn't insulting.

"How much pain are you in?" He asked, glancing at my shoulder. That reminded me that it hurt, and for a second before I let the pain pass through me and beyond me, it took my breath away.

"It's not too bad. I've been injured worse and was able to drive on." I reassured him. "But we've got a mission to complete, and I can't do it by myself." I sighed, and glanced at Bomber, who was standing behind the Major watching our conversation with approval. "I'm not trained for solo operations, I've always had people at my side." I grinned suddenly. "I've already poached Donaldson and Kincaid from you, I hope you don't mind."

He glanced back at where Kincaid was sitting on a pool table, eating an MRE. He was glaring at everyone, almost daring them to say something. Donaldson was putting peanut butter on top of his brownie, his rifle in his lap.

"Are you able to discuss your mission?" The Major asked, turning his attention back to me. His lack of discussion let me know that as far as he was concerned, Kincaid and Donaldson were mine.

"I'm supposed to examine this site." I told him.

...son, we don't know what's in there, and normally we'd send a full team, but with the situation in North Dakota, you're all I've got. I know you were supposed to be assigned to a new team after the incident and once you were cleared by Mental Health, but as you should understand from what I've already told you, we can't wait that long...

...yes, sir, I understand, sir...

...good man. I'm going to give you a lot of leeway in interpreting your orders...


"The only reason we know this site exists is it was on a list of three sites listed as Kilo sites with the Department of Energy. None of the others of the Big-13 had any data on them." I took another leap. If I was wrong, well, it was the Major who would pay the penalty. "The Department of Energy's records were... sparse at best. Only a few archive files existed, ones on paper rather than on computer record. This site was listed, but no details."

"It's nuclear powered." The Major broke in, putting it together a lot faster than I had.

I nodded. "Additionally, Continuity of Government and other documents from various Projects," I made sure he understood the capitalization of the word. "Pointed that Kilo sites were built with specific missions in mind.

"Sadly, records were lost during the shuffling around of paperwork following the 1974 Release of Information Act and then a lot more recently."

"The Fall of the Wall?" He asked.

"No. The Iran Contra Hearings." I told him. "Paperwork got misfiled, and nobody knows any more what these sites were designed to do."

I could see the gears turning in his head for a moment before he shook it to clear his thoughts. "So now my men and I are involved in black bag bullshit."

"Right." I told him, then grinned. "But at least you'll have fun."

"You call this fun?" He asked, glancing at Kincaid, who was exploring the gash on his head with his fingertips.

"Beats sitting in the barracks pulling police call or playing with myself." I told him. "You'll have a story nobody else will believe, you'll grow old wondering just what the fuck it was all about, and you'll find yourself getting amazingly lucky with schools and duty stations."

"If we survive." He said. "We've still got those things and the CIA agents out there."

"Sir, I was once hunted for sport by an axe wielding maniac during a blizzard." I told him. "This? This is nothing."

"I'm of the mind that our next step should be engaging and eliminating the hostile forces within this site." The Major told me, loud enough to be overheard by anyone being nosy.

Kincaid looked up, smiling.

I'd have to watch that boy.

"I respectfully disagree, sir." I told him. The Major I'd met outside the door, the Major who'd insisted I'd tell him about my combat patch would have argued. The Major in front of me just nodded and waited.

"We need to explore the facility, me and a team, we're missing the teams that came before use and I think that finding out..." My voice trailed off.

Cathrine Taggart was standing underneath a camera, her second child, the one that she'd named after me, slung in her arm and sleepily nursing at her breast. Her free hand was pointing up at the camera.

Which was pointing at the Major and me, a green light steadily glowing underneath it.

"Just a moment, sir." I said. He watched me as I moved past him, digging out my Skillcraft pen and my green notebook as I hooked a chair with my toe and swept it toward the camera.

The camera followed me.

I wrote something in big block letters on the page then stood up so the camera could see me clearly and the words would be obvious on the page.

"BOB THE CAMERA IF YOU CAN READ THIS"

The camera held still for a moment then slowly glided up and down before settling on me. I scrawled another message.

"Sergeant?" The Major asked. I held up a hand, then went back to writing.

"ARE YOU A MEMBER OF A PREVIOUS TEAM? UP/DOWN = YES L/R = NO"

The camera moved slowly up and down three times before settling on me.

"ARE YOU TRAPPED?"

"We've seen a camera move before, sir, it's why were trying to access the other levels, to find out who was running it." Donaldson said.

The camera moved in a circle.

"DO YOU RECOGNIZE ME?"

The camera moved up and down.

"ARE YOU INJURED?"

Yes.

"ARE YOU ON FLOOR 1?"

No.

It took a couple of moments, but they confirmed they were on the 7th floor.

Once again, I had a nagging feeling something was wrong.

"2/19th?"

No.

"WE'RE COMING TO EVAC YOU"

No.

I tapped it again, then stared at the camera.

Yes.

"Kincaid, Donaldson, mount up. We've got a previous clearing team member trapped and in need of rescue on the seventh floor." I said, hopping down off the chair. "Shads, Wilkins, Natchez, load up, we're mounting a rescue operation."

"Everyone else, grab the gear Sergeant Ant and his team brought and get ready to move out." The Major said, walking to the table where Donaldson had set the .45's and M-16's. "We're falling back to the Officer Quarters OIC office." He picked up one of the .45's and checked the action before loading it.

"Sergeant Ant, thank you for the loan of your personal firearm, but I believe I'll be fine with this." He told me. I nodded and walked over to him, feeling the tiredness and pain wash out of me as my mind went through the layout we'd explored so far, coming up with a movement plan. He handed me my pistol.

"There's cameras in the office, sir." I told him. "Give me your notebook." He handed me his and I dug mine out again. I scrawled a handful of numbers. "Issue out the six digit numbers to your men, the eight digit number is for you. They'll have non-secure access, this will give you access to most of the secure areas."

Something in my memory tried to get my attention, but I lost it before I could focus on it, a blinding spike of pain radiating from where I'd cracked my skull.

"Thank you, Sergeant." He lowered his voice. "Are you sure this is a good idea to do right now?"

"They have to know more than I do, that means they're an asset." I told him. "And I don't leave men behind."

He stared at me again, and I knew he was looking at the scars on my face. "No, I don't suppose you would either."

I cracked open one of the demo kits, pulling out blocks of C-4, the small plastic box containing fuzes, a roll of wire, and a clacker. "Kincaid, you've got the demo." I said. Kincaid came up and I held out my empty hand. "First, gimme my pistol back." He handed it back, then began jamming stuff in his pockets. "Everyone, grab at least six chemlights." I turned to the Major. "Wilkins, grab two Claymore bags." I pointed at the SF bag. "Donaldson, you're on medical, they're injured and might need treatment." Donaldson nodded and grabbed the bag, shrugging into the straps. I turned to the Major.

"Kincaid lost his NVG's in the fight, and I'm not sure we can recover them."

"Right." He said. "Purett, you've got NVG's, turn them over to Kincaid."

"But they're mine." Purett answered.

"This isn't a discussion." The Major told him. Purett came over rather sulkily and handed the NVG's to Kincaid, who checked his helmet and then told Purett to give him the helmet retainer, since his was broken. Purett looked even more sulky.

"Ready, gentlemen?" I asked. The men who were going with me nodded. Shads looked a little sad for some reason.

"We're ready, Major." I said, turning to the other man.

He held out his hand, and I shook it. "Good luck, Sergeant."

"We make our own luck." I grinned.

"Let's go men." I said, turning and heading toward the door. The Major was snapping out orders, telling men to distribute the remaining Claymores. Someone asked where I'd gotten all the equipment, the Major told them that the information was need to know, and they didn't need to know.

Once out in the hallway I led them to the elevators. When Wilkins reached for the button Kincaid grabbed his arm and shook his head.

"Stairwell?" Donaldson asked.

I thought for a second. In the stairwell shaft we'd be ripe for the picking. Those things could swarm us and if we fell we were as good as dead. In the elevator we'd be sitting ducks.

"They're on the 7th floor, I don't know if the elevators in this section go to that section." I told them.

"I thought you said this place only had six levels." Kincaid said, turning to look at me. "You're sure they said they're on the seventh floor?"

"EVENT RECOVERY" flashed through my mind, as did the other sealed doors in the stairwell shaft and the oddly labeled button in the elevator. Each of the sealed access points went by in my mind and I could feel the cold and damp of the stairwell.

And the crossbow bolt the Major had pulled out of my arm, which throbbed in time with my heartbeat till I pushed the pain back down.

There were rumors about...

"Sergeant?" Natchez asked. My train of thought derailed and exploded, the back of my head throbbing. I reached for the small bottle of medication, only to remember I'd dropped it back on the floor of the Operations Center.

"Yes, Private?" I asked, resisting an urge to yell at him. It wouldn't do any good, and I'd already badly mistreated Kincaid.

"Why can't we take the elevators?" He asked.

Kincaid laughed, a harsh barking sound.

"They might be damaged or booby trapped." I warned him. "Private Kincaid almost went down the elevator shaft when the floor gave away in one of them."

"If we take the stairs, they might ambush us again." Donaldson said.

"Let them." Kincaid sneered.

"What stairs?" Meyers asked me, looking around.

"Right here." Donaldson said, reaching out and thumping the wall panel with the black and yellow border around it.

"Fat lot of good it does us behind a steel plate." Meyers grumbled.

"That's no big deal." Kincaid told him.

"Fuck it, let's go." I told them, leading them away from the elevators.

"Where we going?" Meyers asked.

"The elevators we've already tested." Kincaid said, making his guess sound like concrete certainty.

"Bingo. We'll pull two of the desks out and use it." I told them.

"Flip the other two desks up and use them for cover?" Donaldson asked.

"They're steel, 1950's models, if nothing else they'll slow the bullet down so it doesn't hurt so much if it hits your vest or doesn't tear your fucking arm or leg off." I said.

"These vests aren't bulletproof, they kept reminding us of that fact during Basic." Meyers said.

"Did I sound that like?" Kincaid asked me, trying to raise an eyebrow and wincing.

"Yup." I told him.

"It's fucking annoying." Kincaid said, ignoring Meyers glare at him.

"Yup." I answered, grinning at him. Meyers glared at me, but I was married, he didn't have shit on the glares Heather could hand out.

...I miss you, Heather...

...We're right here waiting for you to come back, bunny...


"They aren't." Meyers insisted.

"Since I'm not laying on the ground with a sucking chest wound, they're close enough for me." Donaldson grunted.

"It must have been a ricochet." Meyers insisted.

"Whatever." Donaldson waved it off.

I stopped at the door and turned to look at them. "On the other side of this door we have a high chance of encountering the enemy." I locked gazes with each of them for a second before moving on, before continuing. "They're fast, they know how to cut the lights before they hit, they drop down out of the removable panels on the suspended ceiling."

Meyers made a scoffing sound and of all people, it was Shads who turned to glare at him.

"They're fast, but weak. Last time they jumped us, they used weapons instead of just biting and clawing. They aren't coordinated, they don't use tactics, but they're surprisingly resilient." I grinned and touched the haft of my knife. "But they die just like anyone else if you can get them clean."

"I saw Sergeant Ant kill one of them in the motorpool when it jumped him." Donaldson said. "It went down and stayed down."

"But, there's three men on the other side of this door that may or may not have been able to get out the Operations Center where we left them." I said. "They're trained field agents, they have good aim, just ask Donaldson and Kincaid, and they are out to kill us in the name of 'National Security' for some goddamn reason."

"They're dicks." Kincaid offered up.

"That too." I said. "But, these men are best at ambushes, hitting you when you don't expect it. They won't announce their presence, they won't warn you, they will just come up behind you and shoot you in the back of your melon head. If you even think you see them, no warning, shoot to kill."

Kincaid, Donaldson, and Shads nodded. Natchez, Meyers, & Wilkins looked doubtful but nodded.

"Think 007 with a serious case of being an asshole." Kincaid threw in.

"It's why you have weapons." I reminded them, then threw the locking bar.

The hallway beyond stunk of rotting meat, cordite, blood, and burned metal.

We passed by the holes that the flares I'd fired off had melted in the floor, moving quietly. The chemlights that Donaldson had dropped were giving off a faint glow, the chemical reaction slowly dying down.

Down the passageway to the elevators there were still chemlights glowing where Kincaid and I had dropped them. The elevator doors were closed, but there was a faint light from the stairwell access we'd opened up. Our boots thudded loudly in the silence as we moved into where we'd fought for our lives briefly before. Kincaid, Donaldson, and I turned on our flashlights, panning them over the hallway.

"They drag off their dead." Shads said, his voice almost lost in the echoes of our boots.

"And what? Eat them?" Meyers taunted the smaller man.

"Yes." Kincaid said, stopping and bending down. Meyers made a sound of disbelief but we ignored him. "This is where you and I got jacked, but I don't see whatever it was he hit us with."

"They recovered their weapons too." Donaldson said, looking around. "I wonder why they didn't take the chemlights?"

"They don't like the light?" I offered.

Kincaid led the way, sweeping his flashlight over the spatters and pools of blood on the hallway walls and floor. From each blood pool was the marks of something being drug down into the stairwell shaft.

"I think they might be too busy to jump us right now." Kincaid stated, tracing his light across the large blood smear that had been made by multiple bodies being drug into the stairs.

"Yeah, nobody wants to miss the feast." I said, moving past him, keeping my eye on the shaft as I passed it. I pressed the button and the doors shivered and groaned before opening up.

There was a figure inside, dressed in BDU's, arms raised up with an axe held tightly, ready to plunge it down. It had a cold weather mask on its face, and the axe started to come down as it lunged out of the elevator, leaning forward like a predator.

...He turned and faced me, standing up straight and holding the bayonet in his fist, point down. Standard downward stabbing hold. I could see his bloodshot eye through the hole in the cold weather mask, his teeth, missing one of the front ones, bared through the little slit in the mask...


Chapter 21

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Primary Hallways/Lower Levels
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Night


Gunshots rang out as Shads, Kincaid and Donaldson pulled their triggers. I'd kicked the figure square in the balls and it lifted up while my pistol cleared the holster.

And collapsed.

The arms went disjointed, the legs twisted weirdly, the torso folded over the groin, and the axe fell to the floor.

The head bounced into the hallway with us.

I put two shots into it without thinking, the head shattering.

"Fucking mannequins." Donaldson snarled.

"Holy shit." Meyers breathed. His hands were still empty, he was staring at the dismembered mannequin. "Holy shit."

"It must have been leaning against the doors." Kincaid said, breathing hard.

...in front of me stood a dark figure, dressed in a parka, with an extreme cold weather face mask across his face. His hands were hidden by trigger mittens, but the left one still held the bayonet tightly up next to his head. He was close enough that I could see every detail about him...

..His one good eye glared bloodshot rage at me as the knife came down...


I was panting, staring at the shattered head with the intact cold weather mask on it. I turned and looked at the uniform. Without thinking I stepped into the elevator and grabbed it's left sleeve, yanking it straight out.

The interlocked triangles of 3rd CosCom sat smugly in the circle. I glanced at the chest and my blood ran cold.

My name was on the breast, complete with first and middle initial.

"That looks like the tattoo on your shoulder." Shads said, moving up to look.

"Yeah." I mumbled, straightening up. I was sweating and shivering at the same time.

"You OK, Sergeant? You're shaking." Shads asked, putting his hand on my arm.

"Don't touch me." I snarled out of reflex, pulling my arm loose. I shook my head. "Sorry, I'm OK, Private."

Shads nodded, but backed up a step anyway.

"They think well enough to set boobytraps." Kincaid said, stepping next to me and tapping the broken mannequin with his toe. "This isn't the first trap we've found."

"No, this feels different." Donaldson said. I shot him a look and he shrugged. He grabbed the torso and flipped it, hiding the nametag that I knew he'd seen. "No bulletholes, someone wasn't killed while they were wearing this one."

"Help me pull the desks out." I said, stepping into the elevator. I grabbed the bottom edge of the top of the desk and lifted, relishing the bright pain from my injured ribs and shoulder. The pain was real, and I really needed real at that time.

It had been wearing my uniform. Not one of the ones I wore now, there was no reason to have my initials on the uniform when I wasn't stationed in the same unit as my brother. Plus, I hadn't worn that patch on my left shoulder since I'd left Germany, 2 years ago.

This was new.

And new was dangerous.

It was also old.

And I knew that it was dangerous.

We muscled two of the desks out of the elevator, flipped the other two on their sides so that one faced each set of doors, then crowded in. I looked at the buttons. In addition to the six numbered ones, it held two other buttons. One with a simple 'X' on it, the other labeled 'EL1'. The 'X' was the seventh button, so I hit that one and the elevator doors rumbled shut, squealing and groaning.

"Get behind the desks." I ordered, following my own advice. I unslung my rifle, reloaded the M-203 with a CS grenade, then loaded a magazine into the well, letting the charging handle slap home before tapping the forward assist.

The elevator shuddered at times as it slowly moved down. Kincaid kept watching the open access hatch in the ceiling. Donaldson faced the opposite way as me, his rifle over the edge of the desk, finger on the trigger. Shads was facing the same way as me, his expression slightly sad, but the tension in his shoulders told a different story.

Meyers kept glancing at Natchez, and I caught him once rolling his eyes and had to reign in the urge to smack his stupid ass.

The elevator slowed down and came to a stop.

..."Third floor, ladies evening wear." Nancy said, pressed tightly against the button panel, her helmet missing, wearing chocolate chips, her rifle held close to her body while she tensed to go around the corner...

I ignored her.

The doors groaned then shuddered open. The hallway beyond wasn't steel plate, not decor by US Army, but rather wood paneling, the lights soft and gentle from their recesses in the ceiling.

Across from us were three seals.

"Oh, fuck." Kincaid breathed.

Three seals that I recognized.

"What the fuck?" Donaldson said softly, turning around when his doors didn't open.

An FBI seal, only with "FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION-EVENT RECOVERY DET." on the bottom.

"That's not right." Meyers said, probably the most obvious thing he'd ever said.

A CIA seal, complete with "CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY-EVENT RECOVERY DET." on the top.

"This isn't good." Shads said quietly.

And an NSA seal with "NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY-EVENT RECOVERY DET."

"I think I know what those agents are here for." I said, feeling goosebumps erupt down my back. "And I think I know who they each work for."

"You think?" Donaldson asked. I was willing to excuse the sarcasm from him.

"Don't care, still gonna kill that bastard with the toothpicks." Kincaid said.

"We don't need to question them now." I said, standing up from behind the desk and stepping over it. "Let's get a move on, we've got a retrieval to get done."

"Yes, Sergeant." Kincaid and Donaldson said. I almost missed Shads voice. He was really quiet.

"Keep an eye out for a camera." I told them, looking in both directions.

The wood paneling was smooth. There was artwork on the walls, not your standard AAFES prints that you'd find in the PX, but honest to God artwork complete with brass plaques denoting the painting's name, the artist's name, and the date. The lights showed me that there were several alcoves that I could see statues standing in. There was T intersection to my left and to the right it ended in a door with the NSA seal on it.

"There's one." Kincaid called out, pointing a little ways down the hallway. The light was red but I went and stood in front of it anyway, pulling out my notebook and writing in it. The camera was within reach, so I'd be able to show them the writing without jumping or hoping it had zoom capability.

"What are we waiting for?" Natchez asked.

"For whoever it is we're rescuing to focus in on us." I said, waiting. "I don't think they're here."

"But this is the 7th level." Wilkins said.

"Only from that elevator." I answered. "Whoever it is might have taken a different set, and might be on a different level, or there might be sublevels that you can only access from certain elevators."

"How big is this fucking place?" Meyers asked.

"Fucking big." Kincaid said. "I don't think they're here. If I was waiting on a rescue party, I'd be watching the camera by the elevator."

"I think you're right." I turned from the camera. "Back in the elevator, men."

"Maybe they're in the civilian side, Sergeant, that's where we saw the majority of fighting damage." Donaldson reminded me.

"Could they access the cameras here?" Kincaid asked, stepping into the elevator.

"I'm not sure. Probably not." I waited for Shads to get in then hit the "EL1" button. The doors didn't make as much racket and I saw grease ooze out of the tracks as the doors set into place.

Self-greasing mechanism. Clever.

If I remembered right, the next floor was only about 40 feet below the floor we'd just left.

The elevator kept going down, ignoring what I thought.

"Damn, this next level is far." Kincaid said, reaching up to rub his sutures then wincing as soon as he touched them.

...event recovery...

Finally the elevator slowed, causing us all to kneel and get ready. This time the doors that shuddered and screamed open were on the opposite side of the ones that had opened normally.

A seal I'd seen only in the older sites was waiting for us on the other side. You have to say one thing about the US Government, well, governments in general, when they own something, they want everyone to know it. They slap seals, stencils, labels, decals, patches, and paint all over it. It'll say like 5 million places that they own it.

My uniform said the US Government owned me. A patch on my shoulder would show they owned me. My rank showed they owned me. The US ARMY over my heart told everyone they owned me. My ID card said in like 3 places they owned me. My dogtags said I was their property, like a chain around my neck. In my dreams they still owned me, trapping me in the dark and the cold. Hell, I even had their ownership tattooed on my shoulder.

Across from us the seal was triangle with the American shield on it. Around it read "FEDERAL CIVIL DEFENSE ADMINISTRATION". Like the others, it wasn't simply painted onto the wall, this was a full seal, a carved thing then painted in bright colors.

On the left of it a placard said "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY" with the threat of "live fire authorized" as well as jail time. On the right was a placard that warned us that we should be prepared to show ID at any time or be subject to immediate detention and "possible termination" at the leisure of the facility commander.

The air smelled slightly off, reminding me faintly of standing in a walk in refrigerator. It also reminded me of somewhere else.

...we killed each other in the dark and snow, in the War Fighter tunnels and in the barracks, our blood freezing to the floor and walls and spattering the snow where it had crept into the barracks, our war cries echoing through the dark tunnels and halls as we hunted and killed with knives, bayonets, rifles, pistols, grenades, and bare hands...

...the eight of us standing there, panting in the cold, outside the lower entrance, snow whipping around us. Shouldering our rifles, we started walking down the road and into the snow, toward main post...

...behind us the door to the War Fighter tunnels stood open silently, the lights from inside illuminating the blizzard, until the automatic mechanism slowly shut it, but by that time we were out of sight, walking through the snow towards Dead Man's curve, only six of us making it main post...

...Tandy taking two of us in the dark and cold of the road...


I shuddered involuntary before covering it by stepping into the hallway.

"Sergeant, camera." Kincaid said. I turned and looked in time to see it panning over to lock on me. I held up my notebook.

"WHICH WAY?"

The camera swiveled around to point down the right hand hallway.

Thank God, the elevator sat at a 5 point intersection. Someone had spraypainted over the labels for the lines on the floor.

"DO WE NEED TO TURN?"

No.

"IS THERE ANOTHER CAMERA BEFORE WE CHANGE DIRECTION?"

Yes.

"EXTRACTION ENROUTE"

Yes.

I pocketed my notebook and reached for my bottle of pills, only remembering after my hand was in my pocket that I'd dropped the bottle.

"Are you sure you can trust this person, Sergeant?" Meyers asked.

"If they jump, we'll kill 'em." Kincaid growled.

I needed to watch that boy.

"I don't leave men behind." I said, and started heading down the hallway.

"I knew he was going to say that." Shads said quietly. Donaldson and Kincaid chuckled.

The walls were different. Where the rest of the facility had either steel plating, maybe some tile, or wood paneling, these hallways were bare concrete, a barreled ceiling with heavy support vaulting every ten paces or so. The concrete was in strips, with steel strips connecting each strip. It looked raw, unfinished, and I'd only seen it in a few places. I knew that inside each concrete strip was an inch thick steel rebar. The hallway wasn't straight, turning and curving, and it wasn't long before I lost reference toward north and south. It narrowed and widened at random times, but it didn't fit the pattern for defensive chokepoints like 2/19th's War Fighter tunnels. We passed hallways with the labels spraypainted over that vanished into the darkness to our left and right.

Only the lights in the tunnel we were in stayed lit.

Our boots thudded on the strips of concrete that made up the floor, but didn't echo, instead the corridor seemed to swallow up the sound. Several times we passed cameras, but they all pointed in the same direction.

"Sergeant." Kincaid said, his breath steaming in front of him.

"I see it." I told him. I hadn't noticed that it was getting colder until he'd spoke, and my breath plumed out in front of me.

Up ahead was a sharp corner, and a blood smear was across the floor, leading around the corner. The blood was old, dried and black, soaked into the concrete strips that made up the floor.

"Stay sharp, hold your fire until you confirm your targets." I advised them, unholstering my Glock. "Donaldson, Kincaid, you're with me, Shads, you have drag, the rest of you, you're center, watch our flanks."

"It's just walls." Meyers said.

"Look." Kincaid said, pointing with his rifle.

A vent was higher up on the curve of the rounded ceiling, the cover missing, just a dark space two feet high and three feet across. There was blood smear up the wall to the vent.

"Watch our flanks." I repeated, then moved toward the corner, Kincaid and Donaldson spreading out.

The hallway was wide enough we could stand two abreast with our arms stretched out and not touch each other or the walls.

There were bullet holes in the wall, with blood spatters near them. There was blood on the floor, a streak heading toward us, under our boots, and around the corner behind us.

Up ahead was another corner, with a wooden desk on its side. There were two of the small crossbow quarrels stuck in the wood.

...they killed each other, down here in the dark and cold...

"What the fuck happened?" Meyers asked, his voice hushed.

"Maintain noise discipline." I hissed, moving up and watching the floor. Getting closer to the table I saw it, on the gap to my left of the table. Holding my breath I moved up and glanced over the top of the table.

A goddamn M-16A2 mine sat on the other side of the table, the tripwire deployed and attached to the far wall. I could tell by the offset of the fuze that it was the A2 version. Someone had hammered a nail into the concrete and dusted the wire with concrete dust. To top it off, the fucking prongs had been bent slightly, putting pressure on them, meaning the goddamn thing would go off if you looked at it wrong. Another line, this one black, was two feet behind the dusted one, and was the one I'd seen.

Someone knew their shit.

"Get back." I hissed, waving at them. I could feel sweat beading on my forehead as I stared at it. I couldn't see any modifications to it, but I knew how to make the fucker pop if you so much as touched it, so that didn't mean shit.

"Go back around the corner, right now." I warned them.

"What?" Kincaid said softly. I could hear at least some of them following my instructions.

"Someone mined the fucking hallway." I warned them. "I'm going to cut the wire and pray that the fucker doesn't go off."

"I'm staying." Kincaid said.

"I need you and Donaldson back there, if something happens to me, it'll be up to the two of you to get those men home." I told him, holstering my pistol and pulling out my Leatherman.

"Roger that." Kincaid said. I heard him moving off, and could hear the others whispering, but I shut it out of my mind.

I hate dealing with mines. I had scars on my legs and my arm from them, once where we'd hit an old Nazi mine from WW-2 during night land-nav that had killed 2 of us and knocked me cold with a broken jaw, and another time from an unexploded MRLS bomblet that the truck in front of me in the convoy had hit, throwing shrapnel through the right hand windshield of the Gypsy Wagon.

People who called me unlucky didn't understand.

I was real lucky.

I took a deep breath, crouched down behind the table, wondering if I was inside the shrapnel arc, then leaned around to put the grips of my Leatherman on either side of the dusted wire. I closed my eyes, wrapped myself in the feel of Heather's arms, the warmth of the baby against my chest, the feel of her tiny heartbeat against my bare skin, the small baby noises she made, and the smell of Heather's hair, the taste of Heather's lips, and cut the wire.

Nothing happened.

My balls tightened up as I curled up into a ball, praying my Kevlar vest would protect my insides. My legs were under me, my arms in front of my chest with my hands covering the back of my neck. My ass and head was exposed, but it was the best I could do.

Three to eight seconds, that's how long the mine would wait before the deployment charge blew, throwing the main body of the mine about three to five feet into the air, where it would go off and spray the whole area with shrapnel.

My Father had scars on his cheeks where one had gone off almost in his face in Vietnam, he'd lived because both steel sleeves had rusted through and the mine had blew into pieces instead of blowing him into pieces. One of my brothers had been killed by one in the same war while on patrol in 1969, the same day I was born. Aunt Trudy had only one breast and had lost her left ear and eye thanks to one that had gone off in a cantina that she was in with a few other nurses, she'd lived, none of her friends did.

Ten seconds passed and nothing happened.

"It's clear." I called out, starting to relax.

That's when I heard the deployment charge go "POP!"

...sucker...

I had enough time to curl tighter, tight against the table.

"Hea..." I didn't finish her name.

The world vanished.

------------------------------

"Goddamn it, hold him down!" Kincaid was yelling, but it sounded far away and tinny, my ears ringing and my vision blurred. My whole arm burned from the shoulder down, and the asshole had his foot in my armpit, my wrist held tightly in a cravat he'd wrapped around it, the ends of the cravat in his hands.

"He won't hold still!" Meyers yelled.

"Sergeant, you've got to hold still, can you hear me, Sergeant?" Shads' face was above mine, and my head was held between his knees.

"Goddamn it, he's strong." Wilkins bitched. "Why is he fighting us?"

"He doesn't know where he is, the blast knocked him goofy." Donaldson said, "Now hold him."

"Just do it, Kincaid, you pussy." Nancy said, standing behind Kincaid. "He won't stop fighting, he's a boy."

"Fuck it." Kincaid snarled, and suddenly leaned backwards, dragging my wrist with him.

My shoulder gave a loud POP and I screamed, both in pain and sudden, almost orgasmic, release from the agony. He yanked again and there was another pop, and another when he yanked the third time.

I screamed through all three pulls.

"He's awake!" Shads said.

"Heather?" I asked, trying to look around. I could smell the soft smell of her hair and a faint whiff of breakfree. "Where's the baby?"

"He's a little confused." Shads finished.

"Someone married him?" Meyers sounded like he didn't believe it.

"Nancy, I'm coming, hold on, babe, hold on." I said, tears running out of my eyes.

"Sergeant Ant, it's Kincaid, are you all right?"

"Kincaid?" My mouth felt weirdly disjointed. My tongue hurt from where I'd bitten it again.

"He'll be fine." Kincaid said, unwrapping the cravat from my wrist.

"The Suits, where's the fucking Suits?" I said, trying to sit up. Shads put his hand on my head. "Did we get everyone out?"

"Don't worry about them, Sergeant." Shads told me. "We're in one of the lower levels, that was awhile ago."

"What happened?" I asked.

"Here, give him his glasses." Donaldson said.

"A mine went off, it dislocated your shoulder." Shads reached down and I tried to flinch back, but he was only putting my glasses on me. "It was bent behind you when we found you under the table."

"You're lucky you're alive, Sergeant." Wilkins said. His voice sounded different.

Shads stood up and I looked to the side. The top edge of the table was ragged, a large chunk torn out of it. The concrete walls around us were scarred and pitted. It was face down on the floor, the damaged edge facing me.

"Luck, hell." I said, trying to sit up. This time nobody was holding me down, so I managed after the third try.

"It knocked you cold, I thought you were dead." Donaldson told me.

"I hate mines." I groaned, trying to stand up. "Where's my rifle?"

"Here, Sergeant." Donaldson said, handing it to me. "We had to pull it off your back so we could set your shoulder."

I looked over, and Kincaid was replacing the FM in the SF aid bag. I tried lifting my arm, and except for the soreness I usually had after it dislocated, it felt better than it had since the fight in the hallway. It must have been partly dislocated and I hadn't noticed through the swelling.

Chronic dislocated joints can be weird like that.

"You did a good job, Kincaid." I complimented him, flexing my arm and wincing as the abused and over-stretched muscles protested.

"Glad the manual was in there." Kincaid answered.

"Let's not stand around, we need to keep moving. The enemy might know where we are now." I told them, rolling my shoulders to set my gear properly. "We still have a mission."

"Are you sure you're all right?" Wilkins asked. I looked at him, and his face was pale, his eyes a little wider than normal.

"I've been hurt worse fucking." I grinned.

"You're face is fucked up." Wilkins told me. "I think you broke your nose."

That would be from the blast slamming my face into the concrete.

"He's a dude, he's supposed to be ugly. If God had wanted him pretty, He would have made him a girl." Kincaid quoted and I gave him a thumbs up. Donaldson and Shads chuckled. Natchez laughed, and Wilkins cracked a smile. Meyers looked offended.

I moved around the table. Down the hallway a little ways was the outer steel shell and I kicked it down the hallway.

Two passages later the camera was pointed left. The hallway in front of us was dark, same with the one on the right, but the right hand hallway was lit up.

"Deeper into the rabbit hole." I quoted, remembering the site's name.

"Who do you think set the mine?" Wilkins asked.

"Someone prudent." I answered.

"No shit. It would have killed one of those things." Kincaid said.

"Does that mean they're trying to kill us?" Natchez asked.

"No, it means that they're afraid of the other things." Shads said.

The tunnel suddenly ended in a heavy steel door. Someone behind me whistled, long and low, as we stared at it.

"Is that a submarine door?" Meyers asked.

"Same design." I told them. There was no keypad and I stared at the door a long time.

"Well, are you going to open it?" Meyers asked.

"In a sec." I said.

"Want to see a mine go off up close and personal like Sergeant Ant did?" Donaldson asked.

It looked clear, but that didn't mean shit.

...the dark figure who had been standing by the stairwell door stepped around and swung an axe.

And hit John in the stomach...


"Well, luck favors the bold." I said, stepping up and grabbing two of the spokes off the wheel. I tensed up, then hauled on it as hard as I could, expecting the door to be stiff with neglect and age.

The wheel spun, throwing me off balance, and I lost my grip and staggered against the wall. The wheel stopped suddenly with a loud THUMP. I straightened up, reached out, and pushed on the door with two fingers.

It swung out silently, the counterweights functioning perfectly.

Beyond the door a massive cave stretched in front of us. It was full of construction equipment, pallets of bags, pallets of plywood, stacks of windows and drywall. I could see temporary buildings in there, huge tanks that had to contain diesel fuel, and crates and crates of God knew what. To our left and right there were sandbags piled up higher than we were tall. The bags were ripped and torn in places, and sand had dribbled out. Above us was plywood, scarred and torn where shrapnel had done to the plywood what it had done to the sandbags. The little tunnel was about ten feet deep, and looked like it had been built recently.

"Don't fucking move." A woman's voice called out. She was nowhere to be seen, but I had that crawling feeling between my shoulderblades that told me she had me in the sights of a weapon.

Or I was standing next to a mine.

"Is that Sergeant Ant?" The woman called out.

"Debby?" I asked, suddenly matching the face with a person.

"If you're Ant, then you'll know the answer to the next question." She paused a second. "If you're wrong, I'll kill all of you and figure out who you were later."

"I can't see her, Sergeant." Kincaid said.

"I can hear you assholes." She shouted.

"Then ask, bitch!" I yelled back.

"Close the door first, you one eyed bastard." She shouted back.

"Shads, close the door." I told him. We stood there silently until we heard the wheel stop with another "CHUNK".

"Where did we first have sex?" She yelled out after the echo of the door locking died away.

"In a cornfield in Nebraska." I shouted back. "The scarecrow fell on us and scared the shit out of us."

"What did I wear to your wedding?"

"Your Air Force dress uniform. The baby spit up on you."

"What did Heather say to me when you got out of the hospital last summer and I came over to your house to see you?"

"Thank you for bringing her husband back alive, and that she loved you."

"Ant, oh thank God, Ant." She called out, and came around from behind what I'd thought was a pile of sandbags. She ran straight at me, her rifle still held tightly, and when she got close enough, she threw herself into my arms and started kissing my face, crying.

I held her tight, kissing her back. Her eyes were sunken and haunted looking, and she didn't close them when she kissed me, her eyes still darting around, watching the men behind me.

Someone cleared their throat, and Kincaid hissed for them to "shut the fuck up" when Deb began to sob in my arms, crumpling against me.

She was wearing OD green, not BDU's, and they were baggy on her, either because she hadn't been eating well or because they weren't hers. Her brown hair was hidden under an OD green cravat. She had bruises on her neck, her left cheek, and her bottom lip was split.

Debby suddenly straightened, stepping back from me, and hefted her rifle.

"Follow me, I want to grab my gear before we go." She said, and I nodded. She turned around and began walking into the cavern and I lengthened my stride to catch up with her.

"Debby, what the hell are you doing here?" I asked her. "I thought you were involved in that mess in North Dakota."

"No, I came with the reclaimation team. What happened in North Dakota?" She asked.

"A team clearing a site hit a bioweapon storage that was breached, casualties are pretty bad and their talking about just pouring concrete down the access shaft and sealing it up." I told her.

"I knew that shit was going to happen sooner or later." She said, her voice grim.

The slightly chubby faced Air Force woman I'd known was gone, in her place was a lean hard woman who moved furtively and who's eyes constantly darted around. Her rifle was an old M16A1 like mine, not the A2 she usually carried.

"What happened?" I asked again.

"I'll tell you when we get to where I've been hiding." She told me.

I noticed she was leading us on a meandering path, and there were prepared fighting positions. I saw extra weapons, ammunition, land mines ready for use, food, and coffee cans in each of the positions. Once she led us in the front door of a temporary building and then through a hole that had been torn in the side. A chainsaw was sitting on the ground outside the hole that she warned us not to touch.

I'd seen the wire attached to the handle.

"What the hell is all of this?" Meyers asked.

"Are they cleared to know?" Debby asked me.

"No. Just Kincaid and Donaldson." I answered.

"How long have you been down here, Ma'am?" Donaldson asked.

"You tell them who I am, Ant?" She asked. I noticed she looked angry at the thought.

"You aren't wearing rank." I reminded her. Her face softened.

"I don't know, soldier." She answered. "Forever?"

"Which team were you with?" I asked. "Before or after the engineers?"

"What engineers?" She asked.

That answered that.

She stopped suddenly in front of a small temporary building surrounded by plywood on top of pallets and turned to face my troops. I could see "RECOVERY OPERATIONS CONTROL" on a plate beside the door.

"Walk where I do." She warned. "Don't step on any other pieces of plywood or you'll kill yourself and anyone around you."

She carefully stepped on a piece and I followed her.

"You mined all of this?" Natchez asked.

"And I replaced the ones that went off three days ago." Her voice was hard.

It was a weaving pattern, and I saw she was counting to herself, keeping track of the route, and it took us a couple of minutes before we reached the door to the building. Debby reached under the edge of the door and I heard a switch click.

"Welcome to my humble abode." Debby said, opening the door and stepping up and inside.

Inside was divided into four rooms. The doorways were open, the doors missing. A cot and a small table with a single chair was in the middle of the main room we'd walked into. There were FM's, TM's, notebooks, and what looked like a map on the table. There was a the lower part of a porta-john along with several empty white plastic bottles and some bottles full of blue liquid in one room off to the side. I could see some 5-gallon steel gas cans and the edge of a generator through the same door. The other had stacks of MRE boxes and OD green 5-gallon cans with "POTABLE" stenciled on them visible. The doorway on the left showed me a security station setup with cables strung along the floor, a chair, and some computers.

Sandbags covered the walls, all the way to the ceiling, droplights were strung up, rifles were by each firing slit, all that was visible of the windows, plywood was nailed to the ceiling, and black trash bags were in front of the back door. A steel plate with a handle on it was off to the side of the far wall, and a welder sat nearby. I saw four cardboard boxes, one marked "Medium/Small Tops", one marked "Medium/Small Bottoms", one marked "BRASSERIES, ASST." and the last marked "PANTIES, ASST." I knew where she'd gotten her clothes from now.

"Been busy, Deb?" I asked, looking around.

"Might say that, Ant." She said. "It isn't much, but it's home."

"How many times have they come at you?" Kincaid asked, walking around and peering out of the firing slits.

"At least twice a day until about two days ago." She said.

"About when we got here." Donaldson said. "Mind if we sit?"

"Mi casa es su casa." She waved her hand at the room. "Relax, gentlemen."

"Natchez, Meyers, Wilkins, Shads, pick a firing slot and keep your eyes out." I ordered. "Let's not get overconfident."

"The mines will warn us first." Debby told me.

"Like the one in the hallway?" Meyers voice sounded a little nasty.

"Don't make me smack you, Meyers." Kincaid said.

"You didn't lose anyone, did you?" Debby looked suddenly worried.

"No, everyone's fine." I told her. I waved her over to the room where the food and water was. Meyers was in there.

"If you sit on the toilet, you can see out the firing slit." Debby told him. He opened his mouth and I raised my hand.

"Confidential discussion, you aren't cleared." I growled at him, frowning.

He left.

"God, Ant, I couldn't believe it when I saw you sitting there with those other two in the Living Quarters." She told me. I sat down on a stack of MRE boxes and she sat next to me. "I'd just finished patching my cludged together system into the main system and was checking the cameras, looking for those things, when I saw you sitting there."

"We thought you were the CIA assholes we had with us." I told her.

"Had?"

"We had a... falling out. So that was you in the Civilian Operations Center?"

"Yeah, I left behind my Walkman." She glared at me suddenly. "Did you steal my tape?"

"Yeah, sorry about that." She smiled and leaned against me. I put an arm around her. "What happened, Deb?"

"Fuck, Ant, it was all normal at first, you know? A normal sweep." She shuddered against me. "We had a double strength reclaimation team, my guys and the Army guys, plus a couple of Army Corps of Engineers surveyors.

"We managed to access the site, and moved in, checking the areas. I'd found a map in the hallway, and we'd cut through the living areas to get at Operations quicker, and that's when shit got weird."

I felt goosebumps rise on my skin. "Weird, how?"

"The guy in charge of the Army side saw that big picture of the building, the one with some guy named Tandy..."

"What?" Everyone turned to look at me, and I realized I'd spoken a lot more harshly than I'd meant.

"There's this big picture of a Lima site in the hallway. There was a guy I was told is named Tandy standing out front of it." She told me. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Go on." I lied.

"Anyway, Lieutenant Colonel Bishop got kind of freaked out."

"Black guy, buff, southern accent, smokes Kools after tearing off the filter?" I asked.

"That's him. You know him?" Deb asked me.

"Yeah." Deb kind of stiffened for a second, then relaxed. "He was my first CO."

"Anyway, over the next couple days Colonel Bishop got kind of weird. He called me Stokes a few times. Some of our crew told me they saw him standing in front of that big picture just staring at it." She shivered again. "On the sixth day, when we'd finally managed to unlock the sites security on the elevators and found out about this place, we got attacked."

She sobbed, and I hugged her tight.

"Ant, they killed three of my people, including LT Rolands, remember her?"

I nodded. She'd been an Air Force technician, specializing in computer security. A cute little bubbly blonde woman with a fat ugly girlfriend that she'd call when she had the chance.

"One of them bit her fucking throat out while four others held her down, chewing on her. She was screaming at me to save her right until that happened." Her sobs got stronger and I hugged her tighter. "She was only 24 years old."

"That's when everything went to hell?" I asked when her sobs died down.

"Kind of. We got the motorpool, but the system had locked us in here." I nodded, it had done the same thing to us. "But Colonel Bishop had a plan."

"He's smart like that." I said.

"Well, a small group of us went for one of the secondary access tunnels. Colonel Bishop, two of his guys, Tech Sergeant Blanchard, and me." She shuddered again. "One of Bishop's guys got killed on the third level, took what looked like a little arrow through the eye."

"Crossbow bolt." I told her. She nodded.

I could see Kincaid and Donaldson standing by the door, leaning slightly inward.

"We blew open the access point and Sergeant Blanchard started setting up the satellite radio." She shivered again. "It was dark and snowing, we were in the trees, and Bishop was really agitated. He told his guy, Sergeant Richardson I think, to check the perimeter and the guy went into the bushes."

My balls tightened. Richardson.

...I thought I'd never PCS from this shithole, Ant...

...Good luck at Fort Lewis, Richardson...

...Only a couple of us First Twenty left, Ant. Don't worry, you'll PCS soon, and this place will be nothing but a shitty memory and stories to tell at the NCO Club...


"A couple minutes later, while Blanchard was trying to align the dish, we heard Bishop's guy start screaming." She shivered and pressed close. "He sounded like poor Rolands did when they were biting her, and Bishop went into the woods with his rifle, yelling for him."

She looked at me, her face shiny where the tears had made clean streaks on her face.

"You have to believe me. The next part sounds crazy, but I'm not lying. I didn't imagine it." She shuddered and more tears came from her eyes. "I'm not mistaken, I see it every time I try to sleep."

"Tell me, Debs."

"I heard Bishop or the other guy fire his rifle, then there was silence. It was snowing, it was dark, but the light from the access tunnel provided enough light for me to see everything." She shook her head. "You're not going to believe me, Ant."

"Trust me, Debs, you'd be surprised what I'm willing to believe."

She was silent for a moment, and I was aware that none of the other soldiers were saying a word.

"Bishop came out of the trees, walking all stiff, I thought maybe he was hurt and he didn't have his weapon. He was walking toward us when Blanchard finally got tone. I was looking right at Blanchard when Bishop just reached out killed him." She looked sick for a second. "He just grabbed Blanchard's head with one hand, reached in Blanchard's mouth and grabbed the bottom of his jaw with the other hand, and... and..."

"Tore his jaw off." I finished.

Deb sobbed against me for a moment.

"You ran." I said.

"Fuck you, Ant." She pushed at me, but I pulled her back in. "You don't know what I saw, Ant, it was horrible, he just stared at me while he grabbed Blanchard's tongue and started pulling it out. Blanchard was making these horrible gobbling noises. Such horrible noises..."

I held her while she cried.

...Deep, sunken eyes, nothing but black pits full of hatred and dark mirth. Gaping open jaws, full of broken and jagged teeth that were too long for the mouth. White skin, with the edges of the mouth pulled up in a horrific grin.

Grimy, dirty, tattered BDU's, covered with frozen mud and a rind of frost.

A hand held in front of my face, at the end of a too long arm, the wrist and forearm protruding from a ragged torn BDU sleeve. The fingers were blackened, long, and twisted, with the fingerbones thrust through the blackened flesh...


"It's OK, Debs." I told her, holding her close. "It'll be OK."

"No, it won't." Deb sobbed. "You don't understand."

"What?" I asked, knowing the answer.

"He's in here too. He followed me in here and helped those things kill the rest of the team." My balls shrunk and my head started to pound. "I've even seen Bishop kill those things. He grabs them from out of the darkness and drags them away."

"We'll get out of here, Debs, you watch." I told her.

"No, we're all going to die in here." Deb sobbed, holding tight to me. "You don't understand." She shuddered and shivered in my arms. "A week ago there was four of us left."

"Bishop took Tech Sergeant Wreath last night."

She started crying again.

"I could hear Wreath screaming for hours." Debs wailed.

"Sergeant Ant, the lights all just went out!" Shads yelled, the loudest I'd heard him.

An icicle slid into my shoulder.

A bubbling chuckle floated through the air and Debs went still like a rabbit with a hawk swooping down on it.

"Oh, God, he's back." Air Force Colonel Debra Killain whispered.


Chapter 22

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Event Recovery Area Charlie Seven
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Night


Tiredness, pain, hunger, the fact I suddenly had to pee, all of it vanished in a rush of adrenaline. I let go of Debs and jumped to my feet, bringing my rifle around.

"We're pulling out, we'll exit this building and extract to Enlisted Living Quarters!" I called out. "Donaldson, you still have NVG's?"

"Yes, Sergeant." Donaldson called back.

"Give them to Colonel Killain. The rest of you, break out chemlights, have someone attach it to the back of your LBE." I turned to Deb. "Colonel, I'll you need to lead us on the safest straight route to upper level access."

"All right." She said, straightening up.

The terrified girl was gone, replaced with a woman with the aura of command, a leader and a survivor. The Debs who had cried in my arms was still there, I knew, but she'd be back later, when we were safe. Colonel Killain stood up and grabbed a rifle leaning against the MRE boxes.

"Get whatever you need, we probably won't be back, Ma'am." I said, turning around. "Kincaid, load a white cluster flare and get ready. You're going to be right behind me, and I'm going to be behind the Colonel." Debs flipped on a flashlight and rushed by me, moving into the room and quickly sorting through the papers, shoving them into a satchel.

"Grab extra weapon and body sling them, I want everyone with at least one extra weapon. If you see any ammunition you can easily carry, secure that also." I turned on my flashlight and panned it across the room. Just food, water, what looked like boxes of vitamins, an open box of tampons, and a large medical bag. I grabbed that and pulled it over my head. A Kevlar helmet was on the floor and I grabbed it, plopping it onto my head. It was too big, but a quick adjustment of the headband had it sitting right.

"Colonel, grab your battle rattle, I don't want to lose you to a fucking crossbow bolt or a spear." I said.

The temperature seemed to drop to below freezing in the room.

Debs whimpered. Colonel Killain finished shoving papers into her bag and turned to pull on her Kevlar vest and LBE.

There was another chuckle, coming from everywhere and nowhere.

Corporal Ant whimpered. Staff Sergeant Ant readied his rifle and swapped out the CS grenade for a white flare cluster.

"Colonel, where does that hatch go?" I asked, moving into the frontroom. My men were grabbing what they could, loading up. Donaldson threw Natchez a satchel full of magazines and Kincaid was looking through the firing port.

"Theres a ladder that leads to the sub-level." She told me.

"Can we get to the main facility from there?" I asked, moving over to the hatch and kneeling down.

"Yes, but the level is unfinished."

"Will it be faster and safer to move through there or stay up here?" I asked.

"I don't know."

Outside of the house there was a loud squealing noise, the sound of metal being peeled.

"Listen up, men, we're going to move through an unfinished level." I turned to Kincaid. "Kincaid, Donaldson, the Colonel is the package, nothing matters beyond getting her back to Major Darson. Do you understand?"

Both men nodded.

"Colonel, do you have any flares in here?" I asked. Debs nodded, pointing at a wooden box in the corner. "Men, load up on flares, Kincaid, toss me one."

The men started stuffing them in whatever spare pockets they had. Kincaid sent one my way with a smooth underhand toss.

I pointed at the door then pumped my fist twice. Everyone looked at me confused.

"Colonel, come here." I snapped. She moved over next to me. "Colonel, kill those mines and move over by the door. When I give the word, lead us out, fastest route to the elevator hallway." She nodded.

It was weird. She was 10 years older than me, outranked me by a phenomenal amount, and had that thing, that aura that command level officers get, but she was looking at me like I was something different than the brain damaged knuckle dragging thug I knew myself to be. It had nothing to do with our torrid affair before I met Heather, it had nothing to do with the fact she'd sat on my couch and watched Ren & Stimpy with me and laughed.

It was trust.

I yanked back the hatch and kicked the flare off, tossing it down into the hole I'd revealed, then moved over by the door, ignoring the access shaft and ladder. Debs moved up next to me and nodded.

"GO GO GO!" I bellowed, leaning back and kicking open the door.

Colonel Killain shot through the door and I waved Kincaid through. "GO GO GO!" I kept shouting, waving the men out the door.

From the hatch I heard a low, bubbling hiss.

"FUCK YOU, TANDY!" I yelled at the hatch, then darted out of the room. I could see the bobbing chemlights and put on the speed. I caught up right before Colonel Killain led them to the right along a line of sandbags. We moved along the line before she spotted a stake sticking up out of the ground and vaulted over the waist high wall that she'd helped build.

"Keep going!" I called out. "Follow the Colonel, remember your training!" I stopped and knelt down at the line, fingering the barrel of the M-203.

"Sergeant Ant!" Donaldson called out.

I could hear the screeching of something tearing at metal back the way we'd came.

"Flare out!" I called, bringing the M-203 up to my shoulder and firing it in one smooth motion.

The cave was only about 100 feet high, big enough to use a crane to move stuff around, and a wholly natural formation except for the concrete floor. Still, it gave the flare enough time to arc out then start to drop.

Before it went off, I had the M-203 emptied and reloaded.

The white light filled the cavern, the flare hissing and sputtering as it waved back and forth below the parachute. It had deployed only about 50 feet up, but it gave me enough time and enough sight to do what I needed to do.

I'd caught LT COL Bishop in the doorway of the temporary building, in the act of scraping his fingers down the inside of the door.

"Sergeant Ant!" Donaldson called out.

Bishop turned his head slightly.

and locked eyes with me.

...Deep, sunken eyes, nothing but black pits full of hatred and dark mirth. Gaping open jaws, full of broken and jagged teeth that were too long for the mouth. White skin, with the edges of the mouth pulled up in a horrific grin.

Grimy, dirty, tattered BDU's, covered with frozen mud and a rind of frost.

A hand held in front of my face, at the end of a too long arm, the wrist and forearm protruding from a ragged torn BDU sleeve. The fingers were blackened, long, and twisted, with the fingerbones thrust through the blackened flesh...


I shivered, my body heat vanishing, my nose and non-existant earlobes aching. An icicle slid deep into my shoulder and shifted around below the butt plate of the M-16.

His face was the ashen gray African descent people get when they die, his careful corn-rows were puffed out in places and full of ice and/or frozen mud. His uniform, usually immaculate, was torn, muddied, and had patches of what had to be dried blood. His arms looked too long, his hands malformed, and he stood with his legs bowed slightly. His eyes were dark pits with black eyes that glittered, holding malevolent joy and hatred.

His mouth was too wide, full of broken and ragged teeth, too many teeth in a too large jaw, hanging open in a wide joker's smile, his purple tongue flopping around in the dark pit of his mouth.

He knew I could see him, and knew that I knew.

I didn't say anything to warn him. I'd seen myself how fast he could be. Not just whatever it was that Tandy was, that was now my first CO, but Bishop himself. A Golden Gloves boxer, a man that took joy in his training.

I pulled the trigger on my M-203, and without bothering to watch the short flight, I pivoted in place and came up to my feet in the same motion.

Behind me was a roar as the 40mm HE grenade went off, but I wasn't paying any attention, instead rushing to catch up to the others.

"Sergeant Ant!" Kincaid called out.

There was an eerie scream of rage behind me.

"KEEP GOING!" I bellowed, lowering my head and picking up speed. I wasn't a sprinter, I was a distance runner.

please don't let me hit a mine

The flare dropped too low to do much more than illuminate the ceiling and I cursed, running half-blind in the near-darkness. I bounced off something massive and almost went down when I hit an bucket full of 30 round magazines.

...oh God, RUN ANT!...

...no shit, Nancy...


I hit sandbags that I couldn't see in the dimness and flipped forward, coming down hard on my bad shoulder, and I screamed for a second before I ground my plastic teeth together and cut it off.

"Sergeant Ant!" Donaldson yelled.

"Flare out!" Kincaid yelled.

It bounced off the ceiling and then deployed as I scrabbled up, the light letting me see I was about to run head first into a bulldozer blade. I angled and bounced off it, my leg brace squealing as I twisted my knee wrong and something began to burn in it.

Something chuckled off to my right and I reversed direction, hurdling over a fighting position, then cutting back right, knowing he'd cut back in front of me and was waiting for me to run straight into his arms in the dimness.

The original flare was strobing, almost finished, making the whole cavern flash weirdly.

"Where's Sergeant Ant?" Meyers called out.

"He'll be fine, run, soldier!" Killain snapped back. The authority in her voice drew a little more speed out of my legs.

I caught up with them just before they hit the tunnel. Colonel Killain was just grabbing the wheel to spin it when I slid to a stop on the concrete. I turned around, dropped down to one knee, and hosed an entire magazine into the darkness behind me.

"Who was that?" Shads asked while I reloaded my rifle.

"It's not a who, it's a what." I snapped, fear and adrenaline making me shake.

"Let's go, men." Colonel Killain snapped.

"Fall back, Colonel. Donaldson, cover the package, Kincaid, you're with me, we're on point." I said, pushing my way forward. "Shads, you're on drag. You see anything behind you, use lethal force, no warnings." I reached out and squeezed Deb's shoulder as I passed. "We stay together, and we'll live to make it back to the others."

Donaldson was fingering a tear in his BDU sleeve that revealed his forearm and the two bleeding scratches on it. He looked up at me.

"Something came at me in the dark, I managed to get my arms up." He said. He swallowed thickly. "Sergeant, it was fast, and I don't think..."

"You're alive, son, worry about it later." I told him. He nodded, his eyes huge in the lights of the tunnel. "Colonel, do any of the military Living Quarters section elevators come down here?"

"No, Sergeant." She answered as moved next to Kincaid and bumped him with my shoulder. He grimaced, not quite a grin, and bumped me back. I stepped into the hallway and turned around.

"Stay in formation, stay close, do not leave formation no matter what you hear." I told them. "I don't care if you hear Mary Joe Rottencrotch down a side tunnel, if you break ranks, you're fucking dead." I jerked my thumb over my shoulder to indicate the tunnel behind me. "It's about a mile to the elevators, visibility is for shit and it's going to get worse."

"Sergeant, you aren't going to believe this." Shads suddenly spoke up.

"What, Private?" I asked, pushing down the irritation at being interrupted.

"It looks like it's... snowing in the cavern we just left." Shads voice was very very quiet.

Someone scoffed.

"Ant?" Debs voice was scared.

"That's enemy territory now, son." I said. "Stay close and keep up." I turned and started to jog down the corridor.

We didn't make good time. We kept having to cover the side passages and move into the corners like it was urban assault training. Colonel Killain wasn't in good shape, weeks of fear, living like a trapped animal, and lack of sleep leeching away her endurance. Wilkins was puffing heavily, loaded down with everything he could grab that looked important from Deb's hidey-hole. He had six rifles piled on his back and several cloth bags hanging from his neck.

It hadn't been more than a few minutes before the lights cut out, plunging the tunnel into darkness.

A liquid chuckle floated out of the darkness.

"You know what's hunting the Colonel, don't you." Kincaid said after a couple of minutes, as we moved through a tight twist in the corridor. It wasn't a question.

"Something that shouldn't be here." I answered, coming around the corner with my weapon ready.

My flashlight flickered.

"What is it?" Kincaid asked. Not accusatory, just a question.

"If it is what I think it is, I don't know." I told him honestly. Kincaid's flashlight flickered and went out.

"Dammit." Kincaid smacked his flashlight a couple of times as we moved through the tunnel, coming up on the table where I'd been knocked goofy.

"Don't bother." I told him. He cracked a chemlight and shook it.

It just changed color.

"What the fuck?" he stared at it for a second then dropped it. "Must have been defective."

We passed the table and my flashlight flickered and then went out. I slowed down. I could hear the men behind me cursing and banging on their flashlights. A few tried chemlights, but they only provided enough light to see their color in the darkness of the tunnel.

"Colonel, do your NVG's still work?" I crossed my fingers.

"There's a lot of static and sometimes the image freezes, but they still work." She told me.

"Give them to Donaldson." I said.

"What's wrong with the lights?" Meyers asked.

"There's a blizzard outside, the mountain's probably ionized." I told them. "There's probably lightning strikes out there right now, the charge just killed our batteries."

"And the chemlights?" Meyers challenged.

"They're old, from war-stocks from almost a decade ago. They're early versions, they have around an 80% failure rate." Colonel Killain said. "Use your head for something besides a way to keep your helmet from falling off."

"Oh." He paused. "What about the flares? I've got a bunch."

"Save them, they won't help in here, the tunnel twists and curves too much." I told him. "They'll help the enemy more than us."

"Ready, Sergeant." Donaldson told me, moving up next to me.

"Can everyone see the cat's eyes in front of them?" I asked. There was a murmur of assent.

"Before we take off, sound off quietly." I told them. They quietly called out their names, confirming that everyone was there. "Doubletime, troops. Kincaid, stick close to the package."

"Roger, Sergeant." Kincaid said.

"Move out."

We ran through the darkness, Donaldson leading the way. There was no use in clearing the side passages, nobody had any working flashlights or chemlights.

I knew why Tandy had come, or rather whatever dark, malevolent force that inhabited what had been Tandy. Tandy had been a nice guy, quick with a smoke or a joke or an offer of a pull off the bottle in his pocket. He'd been sent to 2/19th after failing out of Track-2 alcohol counseling and a drunk driving incident that left 8 other soldiers hospitalized. That didn't make him evil, just stupid and careless. He had honestly felt bad about what happened, and helped keep the 17 year old me from being depressed at being sent to 2/19th.

Then he'd vanished out of that fucking bathroom, to reappear at ARTEP the follow spring.

At least 2 members of the First Twenty had been here. There'd been a picture of the barracks. It was dark and cold up here on this mountain, and it was an isolated mountain in the middle of nowhere.

But two members of the First Twenty was just too good for whatever it was to pass up. Just the picture would have evoked fear and terror in Bishop and Richardson.

I was willing to bet that one of the creatures had been taken first. Then once it had caused enough fear in the creatures, it had possessed enough strength to take Richardson. Once it had taken Richardson, well, Bishop was the best for fear.

And now I was here.

Whatever it was planned on going for a three-fer.

Donaldson stopped and I nearly slammed into him.

"The elevators." He told me. I could hear him clicking the button.

The whole hallway filled with the shriek of metal on metal and a groaning noise so intense it shook the air and made my eye water. The tunnel was wide in front of the elevators and the troops crowded around as the doors began to slide open.

There was a strangely disjointed shadow on the floor, and before I could stop myself I fired three rounds into it.

Kincaid and Donaldson fired too.

Debs put two shots into it.

The mannequin took the abuse silently. They were like that.

"Get in." I said. "Kincaid, you're on the package."

Kincaid went by me, holding tight to Colonel Killain's arm, and I did a headcount as everyone went by.

We'd made it through the tunnels without losing anyone.

It was a fucking miracle.

I moved into the elevator, hitting the button for the first floor. I moved between the two desks, pulling Colonel Killain next to me. Donaldson moved to one side, Kincaid on the other.

The doors shuddered and started to close.

"What the fuck was all of that about?" Meyers asked, turning around and facing me.

"You wouldn't understand." I yelled over the noise of the doors closing behind him.

"I want to know what the fuck is going on! Who the fuck was chasing us?" Meyers yelled.

Long arms shot through the gap, the cuffs of the BDU's frayed and smeared with mud and reddish frost. Too long fingers settled on Meyers' shoulders, the ends of the long fingers nothing more than sharpened bone poking out of the tattered greyish skin.

The fingers tightened, puncturing Meyers' uniform and into his skin right above his collarbones, a weird popping noise that somehow carried over the howl of the doors closing.

Meyers mouth was opening, pain just starting to register on his features.

And Bishop pulled him through the gap in the door a second before the doors slammed shut.

Meyers started screaming.


Chapter 23

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Main Facility
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Night


Donaldson and I threw ourselves against the door, screaming Meyers name, Kincaid yelled in denial, still sticking to Colonel Killain like he was glued to her. I was hammering on the door with my rifle, Donaldson was yelling, hammering on the door with his fists. The scream tore up the elevator shaft after us, sounds of animal agony as Tandy/Bishop took his time with the unfortunate soldier.

I spun and reached for the button panel, intending on going back for him.

Colonel Killain grabbed my wrist, pulling my hand away a second before I touched it.

"Sergeant, no." She snapped.

I tore my arm out of her grip. "I don't leave my men behind!" I screamed at her, reaching for the buttons again.

She grabbed my wrist again, her other hand coming up to touch my face. "Ant, he's gone." Deb told me softly.

Donaldson had fallen back from the door, sitting on the edge of the upended desk, his hands in his face, weeping.

Kincaid stood next to the Colonel, his face impassive.

Shads was staring at the door, the sad expression gone, just grim.

Wilkins was still staring in shock, his rifle forgotten in his hands. His mouth was opening and closing silently.

Natchez's eyes were wide, and he was trembling, but other than that he was silent, his face pale in the lights of the elevator.

The young men were gone.

Meyers went quiet, and I knew she was right. He was gone.

"Ant, we need you." Deb told me softly, pulling my eyes back to her face. Her eyes were wide, luminous, and deep deep blue. The wrinkles around the corners of her eyes were dark with exhaustion and fear, and her hair had gray in it. She made sure she had my attention before she continued speaking. "There's hundreds, maybe thousands of those things in here, even without Colonel Bishop we're in trouble, we need you."

"Don't forget those fucking suits." Kincaid said.

"What was it, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked, turning and facing me.

"I don't know." I told him honestly. The elevator shuddered, drowning out my words, and I waited for a second to try again. "It looks like a man, but it isn't. It's something else."

"Something old and dark?" Kincaid guessed.

"Yeah." I said, hanging my head. I was exhausted, in pain, and almost at the end of my rope. Being knocked out by explosive concussion isn't pleasant at the best of times, and my headache had gotten worse.

"You've seen this thing before?" Colonel Killain asked me, looking suddenly angry.

"Yeah." I reached up and rubbed my shoulder, which was warmer now but still throbbed. "I've seen it before."

"You said it was your old CO?" Natchez shook off the shock of seeing Meyers snatched through the narrowing gap.

"He was. Well, not what's chasing us now, but the man was." I told them.

"You're not making much sense." Donaldson told me.

"Is there anyone who isn't out to kill you?" Kincaid asked.

I stared at everyone, one hand on my knife. "I don't know. Is there?"

Wilkins opened his mouth and started to raise his rifle, but Kincaid grabbed the forward handgrips, pushing it down. He stared at Wilkins and shook his head.

"You don't want to do that, Wilkins, trust me." Shads said softly. "If we all went for him right now, he'd probably kill us all before the doors open."

Wilkins got a stubborn look on his face, but Kincaid jerked on his rifle to get his attention. "You haven't seen him in a fight, Wilkins, Shads, Dee and me have." He shook his head. "I'll back the Sergeant." The barrel of his rifle pushed up under Wilkins' Kevlar vest. "Make your decision."

"Sergeant, you said you know this thing. What is it?" Donaldson asked, moving next to Natchez.

"You wouldn't shoot me, Kincaid." Wilkins was saying.

I pulled my knife out about an inch, shifting to the side at the same time.

...kill them all, before they can betray you...

...Tandy's there, it's every man for himself...

...kill the new guys, Ant...

...don't do it, bunny...


"It isn't Capt... err.. Lieutenant Colonel Bishop any more." I told them.

"I'll blow a hole in you as big as the Texas sky, Wilkins." Kincaid's voice was soft, cold, deadly. "See if I won't."

...that's your boy, right there, brother...

...I know, Bomber...


"What is it?" Donaldson asked, staring at me. His eyes flicked at Natchez, who was alternating staring at me and staring at what was going down between Wilkins and Kincaid. Natchez was pointing his rifle at me, but not really paying attention to it, fixated more on what I was saying and Kincaid's obvious willingness to kill Wilkins.

"We don't know. You can't kill it, it strikes when we didn't expect it, drug men away into the dark and killed them." I shook my head. "That's all we know."

"Sergeant Ant may know what it is, but I don't think he caused it." Shads said, sitting against the desk. The elevator shuddered and groaned, almost drowning out his voice. "It came for the Colonel here. No offense."

"None taken." Killain waved it away.

"Like I said, we don't know what it is. We just knew it killed." I told them, shrugging. "I survived four winters with the fucking thing outside and sometimes in the barracks with us."

"How?" Killain asked. "How the hell did you survive?"

I shrugged. "Didn't give up."

The elevator slowed, and without prompting Kincaid and Donaldson turned to the elevator doors, their weapons up and ready. Killain ducked down and I flattened against the wall, rifle ready to go.

The lights were still out in the corridor, but the elevator lights showed us that the hallway was clear.

"Natchez, Wilkins, you're on the Colonel." I said after glancing into the corridor. "Kincaid, you're with me, Donaldson and Shads, drag."

I glanced out. Looked clear.

"Get her there alive." I stepped into the hallway and looked around. In the distance I could see two small blobs of light where the chemlights were still putting out enough to outline themselves but that was about it.

"Where are we going?" Colonel Killain asked me, looking around. "You didn't bunk down in the Civilian Living Quarters section, did you?"

"No." I answered. "Military section. Protect the package, gentlemen."

"Stop calling me that." Killain snapped.

"No, Ma'am. Until we get you back and debrief you, you are the package. If Kincaid, Shads, Donaldson, or even me have to die to make sure you can get back there, then that's what it will take." I looked at her. "You have operational knowledge that Major Darson doesn't, you're trained to make the system sit up and beg, and you've explored this site and know its mission."

I turned away from her and started down the hallway. "I'm just paid to break shit."

Moving through the darkness I really missed Bomber, Nancy, and Jackson. They'd learned to move silently over the years, learned to control their breathing so it didn't sound like a hallway full of hound dogs after a fox hunt, and didn't let their gear clink around.

I'd have to show them how to silence their gear.

"Those things won't be out, not with Bishop having taken a victim." Killain said.

"His name was Meyers, Colonel." I growled at her. "He was one of my men."

"Sorry. Since Bishop took Meyers." She amended. "That was always a warning he was coming for last week or so. Those things would scatter, then we'd hear Bishop out there."

That reminded me. "How many did you say there were?"

"Hundreds, maybe thousands." Killain told me.

"Hmph." I didn't trust myself to answer.

"How do you know?" Donaldson asked.

"One of the Bishops guys said he saw them moving through a corridor, said they took almost 20 minutes to all go by." She answered.

Deb, you should know better than to lie to me.

"What happened to him?" Wilkins asked.

She was silent for a moment. "Bishop grabbed him from inside a vent."

I made another non-committal noise.

That wasn't Tandy's style. Bishop was a tank, he liked to come in hard, no dancing, and trade blow for crushing blow until his open was on the floor.

It wasn't Bishop's style either.

I watched Colonel Killain's eyes as we moved through the airlocks and past the various doors. She kept catching me watching her and twice gave me a questioning look. I just kept staring till she broke eye contact and looked away, flushing at her neck and the backs of her ears.

We moved into the Officer's Living Quarters area and hustled to where the OIC's office was. The camera above the door tracked us and I waved to it. Before we could even get to the door it swung open, one of the Major's meatheads standing there and hurrying us in.

A quick headcount showed me that they were all there.

"Where's Private Meyers?" Major Darson asked me.

"He's dead." I said. "We couldn't recover the body or his gear." I moved over to where one of the meatheads was sitting in a chair and waved him away. He sat there for a second until I glared at him, then he finally moved. Major Darson told one of the meatheads to go secure the door we'd come through by leaving the bar straight out, and he saluted and left.

"Colonel Killain, United States Air Force." She introduced herself.

"Uh, Major Darson, United States Army." The Major saluted her and she returned it.

"Everything been OK back here, Major?" I asked, lowering my head in exhaustion.

"I managed to secure this section of the living quarters.

I made a show out of digging in my rucksack and pulling out medication bottles while the others told Major Darson what had happened. They mostly got it right, so I didn't bother with correcting them, except to tell Kincaid to go prepare the room next to this one for Colonel Killain and to go to the one across from this one with Donaldson when the Major was done interviewing them. Kincaid nodded, and Donaldson went over and began gathering up the three of our's gear. I asked one of the meatheads to borrow their canteen so I could wash down some medication and took it in few view of everyone.

Colonel Killain watched me with glittering eyes before going back to telling Major Darson how they'd come in and started exploring the site when they got attacked. I put my chin in my hand and stared at the floor, listing slowly to one side and slowing my breathing. After a few moments I closed my eyes and let the painkillers ebb away the pain from my shoulder, ribs, and head. Plus, my left ass cheek hurt for some reason.

"Sergeant Ant, are you all right?" The Major asked me when my chin slipped out of my hand for the third time and I jerked up swearing and rubbing my shoulder.

"Took my medication, I'm kind of fading out." I told him, slurring my words. "I'll probably be out for a couple of hours."

He nodded, then waved at the door. "I'll talk to you when you wake up, Sergeant. The Colonel and I are almost done, then I'll post hallway guards and try to come up with a plan of attack."

"Roger that, sir." I said, staggering my way out the door.

I caught Kincaid in the hallway and talked to him for a moment, handing off my battle rattle to him before going in the room.

The room was dark and quiet. The vent was covered by a dresser that had been pushed in front of it, and a T-Shirt was hanging over the camera to preserve the occupant's modesty. It had two bedrooms off of it, a bathroom complete with a tub big enough for three people, a kitchen and dining room, and even a small room I knew was basically for a servant. I prowled through it, checking the vents, but Kincaid had paid attention and made sure they were all blocked. I returned back to the doorway and leaned against the side of the door opposite of the light switches.

Time seemed to drag on, but I waited in the dark thinking dark thoughts about dark things. I took off my eyepatch and put it in my pocket, knowing that I'd be better off without it.

It was nearly 20 minutes later when the door opened and Colonel Killain came in. She hit the lights and walked toward the middle of the room, setting her rifle down on the coffee table in front of the couch and stripping off her gear.

I locked the door.

She finished dropping paper she was pulling out of her pockets while I walked up behind her and stopped only a pace from her.

When she turned around and saw me, she let out a short scream then laughed nervously. "Ant, did you want something?"

"What are you holding back, Debs?" I asked her, staring at her. She was staring at the left side of my face.

"Nothing, Ant, I swear."

"We were lovers, Debs, what are you holding back?" I asked again.

"Nothing. You're getting paranoid again, Sergeant, take your medication." She tried the command bit.

"If that's how we're going to play this."

I stepped up and pushed hard against her chest, so she fell back against the couch and ended up looking up at me while I slowly drew my knife, letting her see it.

"Ant?" She sounded scared.

Good.

"You lied, Debby." I told her, looking down at her.

"No, Ant, I've told you everything there is to know." She told me, licking her lips.

Oh, Deb, you know you've never been able to lie to me.

"No. You haven't." I answered, sitting on the arm of the overstuffed chair.

She swallowed and nodded, her attention fixated on the knife. "I did tell you and Major Darson everything."

"You're equating my looks with my brains again." I glared at her. "What are you holding back?"

I could see it in her eyes, weighing whether or not she could take me, whether or not she could lie to me. Her eyes went to the knife again, then back to my face and I knew she was staring at my ruined, bloodshot eye.

"It's about to get really unpleasant in here." I told her, standing up. "I will find out, Colonel, you will tell me."

She swallowed.

"Won't you?" I asked, moving around the coffee table.

"WAIT!" She almost shrieked it, her eyes darting from my knife to my face. "I'll tell you!"

I backed up and sat back down.

"Start with those things." I told her. Her head jerked.

What she told me made me physically nauseous.


Chapter 24

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Main Facility
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Night


It was lit in the room, but the lights were behind me, a conscious decision that I'd had done to me more than once. It put me in shadow, but she'd be able to see my eyes and mouth while she talked.

She'd known me as Sergeant Ant, a drunken, somewhat lecherous young Army sergeant who suffered from nightmares but worked hard and kept his mouth shut. The perfect lover for a lonely officer, since I didn't go for the public displays of affection, understood the difference between on duty and off duty, and was perfectly willing to keep my big fucking yap shut and everything a secret. Then she'd known me as a fairly homely guy besotted with his pretty wife and infant daughter with an Army career that was going nowhere fast.

What she was seeing wasn't the person she'd made love to, drank with, watched TV and played with the baby with, the person who's wedding she'd attended.

Staring at her, I was the same man that 2/19th had made me. The man who survived 4 years in that hell hole, who'd been sent back again and again, and who'd done whatever it took to survive.

...we killed each other in the dark and cold, howling out our blood lust and stalking each other through hallways and tunnels...

I knew what she was seeing, and I didn't care.

"Start talking." I growled at her.

"Are you sure you want to know?" She asked. I narrowed my eyes and she held up her hands. "Just knowing this might put you in a world of hurt." She glanced up at the camera, saw it was covered, and smiled.

"It can't be worse than what they've done to me already." I told her. She raised a questioning eyebrow.

...Captain Lewis coughing over the radio, the bubbly sound of a punctured lung audible. "Get out of here, boys, we're already dead here..." and then horrible silence...

...Bomber thrashing on the mattress, burning up with fever and dying by inches...

...my hands tied behind my back as Oakes pressed her thumb into my one good eye at the LT's instructions...


"It might put your wife and kid in danger." She tried. "If I tell you, someone might decide to give you a warning about keeping your mouth shut by paying a visit to your wife and that little daughter of yours."

"Nobody in their right mind would hit my family and leave me alive." I told her. "Nerve gas doesn't care who it kills, and I helped write the manuals on using it in an urban environment." She paled slightly and I smiled. "Yeah. It'd be like that. Read my fucking psych file." I stood up. "Start fucking talking, Colonel."

She shrunk back and almost seemed to deflate.

"How much do you know about the Continuity of Government project?" She asked me.

"Enough. Keep talking."

"You know what it was tasked with."

"Stop dancing around it and fucking tell me."

"This site was initially complete in the late 1950s, one of the largest ones to that date, but some sections of the government weren't sure if a shell shocked civilian populace would be able to handle living in a facility like this, much less be any good to rebuild the US." She said. She stared at me for a long moment. "Someone got permission to gather up a 'sizeable population' mostly drawn from transients, with a handful of people from asylums that were wards of the state with no families."

Oh Jesus...

"Since the civilian populace was to be directly taken to this facility from staging areas without any detox or mental health care the people in charge figured that it would be the best simulation of how the civilian populace would be after a nuclear exchange. They had to know if the weak link in the whole plan, the civilian population, was worth even bothering to bring into these shelters." She told me. The look in her eyes chilled my blood, and I wondered if the Deb I'd made love to in that cornfield had ever existed. "For 36 hours they were sequestered, underwent sleep deprivation and no food, with taped messages that Russian bombers had penetrated US airspace and that World War III had started. Sound effects and drugs were used to make them more pliable and more consistent with what experts thought that survivors would be like, emotionally and physically. They were brought up here in convoys of various vehicles, forced to drive no matter what their condition, and brought inside, being told that this was their only chance to survive the atomic holocaust."

I felt sick. I'd heard rumors, but to actually hear it said so matter of factly...

"Once they got here, they were assigned to the civilian living quarters and the doors sealed." She shifted on the couch, an innocent looking movement. "They were supposed to be sealed for 365 days, long enough for the effects of living in an area like this, with the data gathered to be used to help improve living quarters in other sites."

I kept silent while she shifted again, sitting on her hands.

"Something went wrong during the tests, they lost contact with the bunker less than sixty days in. When the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission investigated the various programs that the Office of Scientific Intelligence had performed at the time, the Civil Defense Agency found hints about Kilo Sites due to an unredacted cross reference file number, thought the sites were theirs, and the sites were opened back up and refurbished."

You can't lie to me, Deb

"They did it again." I interrupted, watching her hands slide back toward her butt.

...her butt was warm in my hands, firm and smooth despite the 10 years that separated us, the muscles clenching as she moved up and down above me, the scarecrow staring down at us as we strained against each other in the Nebraska night...

"What? No." She looked startled. "Don't be ridiculous." She scoffed.

"Looks aren't brains, Colonel."

"No, Sergeant, they didn't do it again. But the later refurbishing teams saw no sign of any people, so they carried out the upgrade and rotated the stocks." She shifted again, inhaling deeply so that her plentiful breasts lifted.

"Apparently they were still down there in the lower levels where the work was never finished. The areas slated for later expansion that were left unfinished due to budget cuts."

liar

"And they've been in here the whole time, breeding?" I asked.

"Apparently." She told me, shrugging.

"How much of the military section have you been in?"

"Not much. I couldn't gain access to it, I didn't have the codes." She told me. "And I was afraid to use the elevators."

I thought about the tape in my pocket, and the blown free panel in the stairwell.

"So your team got jumped by them?"

"Yes. When we went down to check the civilian Event Locker we got jumped."

"Wait, what the hell is this 'Event' shit I keep seeing?" I already knew, but she might let something slip I didn't know yet.

She stared at me for a long moment, then shifted uncomfortably. "They're areas where the US can rebuild after an 'Event' like nuclear war. They have everything needed to restart society. Buildings, vehicles, educational materials, decon equipment, the whole nine yards."

"And how did you find all of this out?" I asked her, slumping slightly. I pulled a small medicine bottle out of my pocket, rattled two small white pills into it, and swallowed them without taking my eyes from her. "Anti-psychotics." I told her when she raised her eyebrow. "Helps prevent flashbacks." She nodded.

Yeah, aspirin is a great anti-psychotic.

"Some of it was in my briefing, the rest I figured out from records left behind that my team and I found going through the offices over on the civilian side." She shrugged. "As near as we could figure, they didn't use the military side, the people in charge figured soldiers would just do as they were told and weren't worried about the psychological factors."

She grinned at me. "They planned on staffing the military side with Army, mostly. You guys are good at just doing what you're told. No offense."

I shrugged.

"What about the Spetz?" I asked.

"Spetsnaz? What Spetsnaz?" She asked. "What makes you think they were involved?"

"Nothing. Sorry, my meds are kicking in and I got sidetracked." I lied.

"So you were exploring, you found these records, and didn't think to pull back and scream for a security team?" I asked.

"We honestly didn't expect to find anyone, Ant. Honestly." She smiled at me, warmth and affection in her expression and body language. "You saved my life, another day or two and Bishop probably would have killed me."

She leaned forward, taking the weight off of her butt, and her hands slid back a tiny bit.

...her hands reaching behind her to cup her buttocks and spread them open, her tongue running across her lips as she whispered 'there, in there' in the corn field...

"Why are you still Army, Ant?" She asked, licking her lips. "Switch to the Air Force, you'd do good in the Air Force, and I'd make sure that you got decent postings instead of those crappy places they send you." She smiled wider.

It didn't touch her eyes.

"You don't need the knife, Ant." She told me, her voice low and soothing. "I'll tell you what you want to know." Her smile turned wicked. "Then we can get reacquainted."

I nodded and resheathed the knife, putting my hands on my knees.

"Transfer over to the Air Force, we'll get some of those scars fixed, fix your knee and shoulder, and get you into a nice MOS where you can spend time with your family instead of running all over the US cleaning up old Cold War refuse." She tilted her head to the side, shifting her body slightly and bringing her left up up to rest on her knee.

The shift put her in position where the coffee table was no longer between the two of us.

"Aren't you tired of getting busted up only to be sent right back out again?" She asked me. "You told me about what they do to you. Cancel your convalescent leave and wave honor and duty in front of you so you go right back out there. Aren't you tired of it, Ant?"

I nodded and let my arms and legs relax, let the tension drain out of them.

"How many days did you spend in the hospital after the last time they sent you out?"

"Twelve." I told her, letting my head drop to the left and sighing.

"So they sent you out here on painkillers, told you it was just some old Cold War junk heap, didn't they?" She sounded sympathetic. "Just like Desert Storm. You were only a week out of surgery when they sent you to that, still on convalescent leave, weren't you?"

"Yeah." I sighed again.

"And after Dana died, they didn't even let you go to the funeral, did they? They just told you to suck it up and sent you off again, didn't they?" She probably thought she was really twisting it in.

"I'm tired, Debs. I just want to go home." I told her honestly.

"And make love to your wife? Hold your baby?" Her tone was low and soothing, but she was leaning forward just right, her hand out from under her butt, but pushed into the gap between the arm of the couch and the cushion.

I nodded.

"Been awhile since you've made love, Ant?" I nodded again. "Yeah, I thought so. Remember us?"

I sighed again and rubbed the left side of my face, nodding to her.

"Remember how much you liked titty-fucking me?" She asked, leaning a little further forward and shimmying, sending her breasts swaying, smiling invitingly at me.

...straddling her stomach, her hands pushing her breasts together as I thrust between them, her lips open slightly and her eyes bright as she watched me, urging me on with wicked whispers of encouragement...

I'd suckered her completely. She was seeing me as going under from medications, pain, and exhaustion. She'd either jump me, and I'd kill her. Or I could yank the rug out from under her and put her off balance.

I made my decision out of sentimentality.

"Seriously, Deb?" I asked, suddenly straightening up and staring at her. "You think you can take me with that knife you're hiding in the cushions? Think you'll just jump on me, stab me, and that'll be the end of it? You'll just poke me with your secret agent stabby and I'll fall down dead?"

She flushed and glared at me in hatred.

"I'd take that knife from you and feed it to you by inches if you tried it." I told her. "Then, I'll tie you to that fucking chair, invite the Major and my crew in here and find out everything I want to know so they can hear it too." She shrunk back slightly, even though I didn't raise my voice. "When did you join the Company?" She opened her mouth to protest and I cut her off. "Don't even fucking try. I spent three days trying to find information on Kilo sites, and you just happen to have a full fucking briefing with information I couldn't even get out of the DIA? I'm not fucking stupid."

She was silent for a long moment. "Last year."

"Do you really think it'll be like training when you jump?" I asked her. "Did you think Debra Killain, Secret Agent, was going to just be able to jump on Sergeant Dumbass and it'd be just like training?"

She flushed deeper and glanced at her hand. When she glanced back at me my knife was in my hand and her eyes went wide.

"Yeah." I told her. "You actually did." I pointed my knife at the coffee table. "Set it down, Debs, and you might live to get out of here."

"Or what?" She asked me.

"Or I'll take it from you, you'll scream for a little while, then you'll tell me what I want to know, and afterwards

I smiled.

"I'll cut the bottom of your spinal cord you and leave you in the tunnels at the bottom level in the dark."

Her hand was shaking as she put the knife on the table.

"It's the vaults down there, isn't it?" I asked her.

"What vaults?" She tried.

"Don't play fucking stupid with me, Agent." I snapped. "I put it together why those other three dipshits were here as soon as I saw the goddamn seals."

"Put what together?" She tried again.

"Please. Those are records from prior to all the shit-storms of the 70's and 80's, complete and unredacted records from the biggest dirty dealers in America." I told her. "No lost or destroyed records in those sections, just all of the information that the FBI, NSA, and CIA had at the time this place was built. Probably whole vaults full of microfilm so it could survive any kind of EMP and wouldn't be subject to someone cruising ARPANET stumbling across it."

She looked startled and it pissed me off. I was ugly, not stupid.

"What was it they tested on those people? A bioweapon or chemical?" I asked her.

"I don't know." She told me. She did.

"Doesn't matter. If I have to I'll brew up some mustard gas and flood the lower levels with it." She stared at me in horror. "What's the big deal? Hell, there's probably chemical weapons in here anyway, I can just flood the lower levels with thickened Tabun and that'll take care of the fucking problem right there."

Her face went even paler.

"So there are chemical weapons here." I chuckled. "No matter."

"You wouldn't..." she whispered.

"Why the fuck not? They're the enemy. You said there were a couple thousand of them, that they killed your whole team." I grinned. "I'll just gas this place, rig charges on the blast panel in the deflection tunnel, and we'll get the hell out."

"But..." She started.

"Then the world would find out, and you'd be fucked." I said. "Plus, you know as well as I do that there isn't 'thousands' of them. How many are there?"

"I..." She was trying to come up with a reason for me not to gas the place. I should do it just to fucking spite her.

"You don't know." I said, shaking my head. "And you didn't come here with a full team, you came here with Bishop and a handful of others." She looked surprised again that I'd figured it out and I wanted to smack her.

"How did you..." She asked.

"I saw LT Rolands a week ago." I grinned. "She was heading to that cluster fuck in North Dakota, Heather and I had dinner with her and her girlfriend. It was a nice story, though, almost believable, except you went a little too Hollywood on it." She flushed angrily again, and I remembered how that blush would cover her breasts when she came.

"How long has Bishop been tracking you?" I asked her. The fear in her eyes was real this time.

"Two weeks. That part was real." She insisted, and I shook my head.

"No, it wasn't. What really happened?" I asked her. "Why'd you kill him?"

She opened her mouth then closed it, and the fight went completely out of her. "He was talking about telling the world what happened here." She said quietly. "He wouldn't shut up about it, him or Sergeant Richardson. I'd made the mistake of telling them where those people had come from." She looked at me. "You have to understand, Ant, I had to do it, it would have ruined my career if he'd told the press."

Her precious fucking career. She'd killed the CO that had stood up for my brother and I when we'd made honest mistakes or done some stupid shit, the man that had dragged me out of a crashed CUC-V and half carried me two miles to help, that had come to define in my mind the quintessential officer. For her fucking career.

She was still talking, pleading with me to understand. "I caught him setting up a satellite phone outside one of the egress tunnels. I tried to reason with him, I even ordered him to stand down, but he wouldn't listen."

...kill her, Ant...

...cut the whore's throat, Ant...

...leave her in the dark and cold with a broken leg, brother...

...do it quick, bunny, for who she used to be...


"He kept babbling about that goddamn picture of your old barracks, he was screaming at me that we were all going to die." She kept saying. "He wouldn't stop, he said he was calling for immediate evac, that everyone had to know what happened here."

She looked away.

"I pointed in the woods and asked if that was 'Candy' or whatever he was raving about, and when he turned around, I shot him." She told me, then looked at me. "He was going to violate National Security, Ant, I had to do it."

She expected pity or understanding from me, I could see it in her eyes.

Bomber was standing behind her, rage and betrayal on his face, his eyes wounded from her admission of murdering a man we'd both respected. Nancy looked physically ill. My brother looked murderous, staring at her and clenching his hands, his shoulders bunched up.

"You of all people should understand that hard choices have to be made to protect America, Ant." She was telling me. "Just because the Cold War is over doesn't mean there isn't still threats! People wouldn't understand why it had to be done."

I knew what she was going to say next.

"Is a bunch of homeless and crazy people worth the damage it could do to National Security if this all came out?" She asked me, her tone telling me damn well what she believed.

Had the woman I'd known ever even existed? Already those moments were contaminated, the woman I'd made love to replaced with the murderous betraying bitch in front of me.

"It didn't work, did it?" I asked. "He came back and started killing your team, didn't he?"

She nodded. "I thought he was dead, but now he's on some kind of Rambo revenge kick."

You stupid bitch.

I leaned forward and picked up her knife. "What happened to Richardson?" I was looking at the knife, not her.

"I don't know. He might still be in here somewhere alive." She told me. "I think he's working with Bishop. Why? Are you going to help them?"

"And the rest of your team?" I asked.

"Dead." She told me. "Between those people and Bishop, they're all dead. We held out where you found me." She half lied.

"And now we're here." I told her.

"And now you're here." She smiled. "Along with the three agents who were tasked to retrieve me when I didn't report in."

I stood up and backed a few steps back.

"You know, Ant, if you get me out of here, I can make sure there aren't any repercussions for you." Agent Killain smiled. "Wouldn't you like to be on the winning team for a change, instead of living in the goddamn dirt like an animal?"

My back hit the door.

"I'm serious, Ant. Help me accomplish my mission, help me get out of here, and I give you my word that I'll make sure you can change from some faceless Army grunt to something where you'd be more appreciated. Spend some more time with your family." She was smiling.

"My Father would kill me himself." I told her. "No thanks. I'll be fine in the Army."

"But will your wife?" She asked, smiling.

I opened the door behind me. Kincaid was standing there with his rifle, rage just pouring off of him in an invisible cloud.

"She'll be fine." I told her. I handed her knife to Kincaid and drew my pistol.

She went pale, realizing that she might have gone too far.

I put two bullets into the light switches and the small suite went dark.

"Goodnight, Agent Killain." I told her, and shut the door before the echoes of the gunshots faded away.

"Jesus." Kincaid breathed.

Major Darson was coming out of the office, his face pale.

"Did you hear it all?" I asked him.

"I heard." He said. "Was she really telling the truth?"

"Most of it." I told him. "She can't lie worth a damn to me. I don't know why, I just know when she's lying." I shrugged. "As far as she knows, a lot of what she said was true."

"She executed an Army Lieutenant Colonel in cold blood. As far as I'm concerned, she's a murderer." The Major told me.

"Want me to go in there and shoot her?" Kincaid asked hopefully.

"No. I don't condone murder." The Major told us. I nodded. Kincaid looked a little disappointed, but he nodded too. "When we get out of here, we'll make sure she's turned over the proper authorities."

I grinned at that.

"MAJOR DARSON!" One of the meatheads was yelling. All three of us spun. The meathead was only about 50 yards away.

"Meyers made it!" He was saying, reaching for the locking bar. "He says OK."

"DON'T OPEN THE DOOR!" I yelled, breaking into a run.


Chapter 25

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Main Areas
Winter, 1993
Day Two-Night


The meathead froze when Major Darson shouted "STOP!" at the top of his lungs. He was staring at me coming straight at him, his hand only inches from the bar. He flinched back as I moved up next to him, putting myself between him and the handle.

"It's Meyers, he said he's OK." The guy protested.

"It can't be." Kincaid said. "Nobody screams like that and is OK." Kincaid was staring at the Colonel's door, his expression carefully neutral. The way he was holding his rifle spoke volumes though.

The Major came up next to us while I was talking to the meathead. "You can't trust anything you hear right now. If someone went missing and you hear their voice, you can't be sure it's them. If it's someone you know who isn't with us, or someone you know was killed, and you hear their voice, dont. open. the door."

"Sergeant, are you sure it isn't Meyers?" The Major asked me.

There was a knocking sound on the door, a ringing metal sound like you'd get rapping your knuckles on the fender of 50's Chevy. "Come on, guys, it's cold and dark out here, and I think that crazy guy's after me." Meyers said from the other side of the door.

"See, I told you, he's just fine." The meathead said.

"Sergeant, it sounds like Meyers. Maybe you're wrong, maybe he got away." The Major told me.

I shook my head and pointed at the door. "Sir, what kind of door is this?"

Another ringing knock. "Guys, come on, I'm starting to get scared."

The Major looked at me like I was crazy. "A blast door, the same thing that separates all the sections." He told me.

My knuckles made a dull thump when I rapped them on the door. "Right, sir." I told him. "A foot thick door with a steel lining and only God knows what for the core, set in a six inch deep track with rubber seals."

I knocked again. A dull thump that was only audible to us.

The ringing knock answered that even Kincaid could here from where he was walking toward us.

The Major suddenly got it and went pale.

"Major, don't let Sergeant Ant convince you and Caruthers to leave me out here, please." Meyers said.

The meathead jerked back suddenly as if the door had been revealed to be made completely of hissing spiders. "Wait, how does he know who's..."

"Caruthers, goddamn you, open this fucking door." Meyers' voice suddenly turned cruel. "Your mother was right, you're a goddamn dickless wonder. No wonder your step-father beat you up all the time, he was right, you're a fucking coward."

Caruthers staggered back a pace or two, the words hitting him like physical blows, the blood draining from his face.

The voice changed, becoming female, but no less cruel. "Come on, Loius, you wouldn't leave me out here, would you?" The Major's eyes bulged out. "If you open the door, we can do all those things we played at when we were kids."

"Get away from the fucking door." I told them, moving back. "Look at the center of it."

Ice glittered on the door, a thin coating of frost that thickened toward the middle, a diseased looking splotch with tendrils starting to spread.

"How... who... what is it?" The Major asked, his face horrified.

"You liked touching my butt when we were kids, Louis, if you open the door, I'll let you touch it again." The girl's voice was younger, preteen or just into adolescence now. "Maybe you'd like to stick something in it?" There was laughter, the tinkling of a broken bell.

I could hear a dark bubbling mirth beneath it.

"We never knew." I admitted, taking my own advice and backing up.

"That's right, Ant, run away." My brother's voice. "You always get your ass kicked in a straight up fight. Why don't you tell them all about how you weren't man enough to save any of those kids in the crowd?"

Another laugh.

"Just ignore it." I told them, turning around and walking away. "It's just words, it can't get in right now." I rolled my shoulders and dug my cigarettes out of my pocket.

The packet was crushed and the first two I pulled out were broken. Fucking figured.

Caruthers was backing up slowly, shaking his head. "How did it know who was on the other side of the door?"

"Who gives a shit, as long as it's on that side of the door?" Kincaid asked, reaching up to scratch the cut on his head and yanking his hand away when his fingernails caught the edge of the wound and tugged on it.

"Pretty much." I agreed, catching up to Kincaid. "How much did you hear?" I asked him. Donaldson was standing outside the rec room, leaning against the wall and looking bored.

"Everything I needed to know that your friend is a murdering whore." He said. "I think she left the others to die to save her own fucking skin."

"There could be another reason they died. She could be telling the truth that they tried to fight." Darson said, turning away from the door with hunched shoulders. "She deserves the benefit of the doubt." He started walking toward the rec room, and I figured that he'd moved everyone in there while I was waiting for Agent Killain so that he could watch the surveillance cameras without the rest of the troops hearing or seeing what was going on.

Behind us we could hear laughter, like an old man with pneumonia.

"She's responsible for the deaths of two people I liked." I said. "She admitted to flat out murdering one, and I think she either murdered the other one or let them die. She's used up her 'benefits' as far as I'm concerned." I reached out and went to open the door to the rec room.

"What do you mean by that, Sergeant?" Major Darson asked me, grabbing my arm. I looked down at his hand, then back up at him, then down at his hand again.

He let go of me.

"It means, if I even think she's endangering any of our men, I'll cut her fucking throat myself." I told him. I looked him square in the eyes. "Those are your men in here, and by proxy, mine, and I won't let her put them in danger for her career or that bullshit line about National Security."

He looked startled at that.

"People like her always spout that fucking National Security line. They usually use it to justify the worst shit. Killed some little kids? National Security. Ran away and left an innocent person holding the bag so they went to jail or got executed? National Security. Enabled the murder of innocent people and sold drugs and weapons to terrorists and assholes? National Security." I sneered. "Most of the ones I've met were self-serving scumbags on a power trip who thought they were untouchable and could do whatever the fuck they wanted."

"Sound like you have history." Kincaid said.

"You might say that." They all took the hint and dropped it. I opened the door and we went inside, where everyone was scattered around. Some of them were playing pool, four guys were playing spades, others were telling jokes, and a couple were sprawled out in the chairs sleeping. The guy with the bandaged face was sitting up, listening to the others telling jokes, and the guy with the trach tube was playing spades, holding up his fingers to bid 3 books of his own.

Everyone pretty much stopped and stared at us when we came in.

"Carry on, men." The Major said, then turned to me. "I think we need to talk privately."

"No." I told him. He looked startled, and I raised a hand to cut off his objections. "Just trust me. If we talk privately, out of sight of everyone else, something will happen to one of us, and it'll tear our little group apart."

...There was forty of us when the snow started to fall again...

...we killed each other in the dark and cold in a frenzy of hatred, blood lust, and insanity...

...eight of us left the lower egress, six of us made it to post...


"Then what do you suggest?" He asked. I pointed over by the television, which was off in a corner by itself and pretty much away from everyone else. He nodded, and turned to his men. "Jackson"

The name itself brought back painful memories.

"Douglas, and Caruthers, you three stand guard outside the door. The Colonel is hereby confined to her room until further notice and is to have no contact with anyone else unless Sergeant Ant or I say differently." He told them. One of the guys telling jokes sighed and one playing pool made a disgusted noise before they both headed toward the door.

"Take weapons." Kincaid told them. He turned to me. "I'm going to get Donaldson, I'll be right back."

"Have Wilkins, Natchez, and Shads take their shit into the room too, they're going to bunk down with us. Don't take long." I told him, then followed the Major over to the corner, pulling a chair with me so I could sit down. He heard the nose, saw what I was doing, and grabbed one for himself.

He waited till I sat down before starting to speak.

"What do you know about what we're facing?" He asked.

"You heard like I did where those things came from." I told him.

...what about the shadows, smartass?...

...hush, Nancy...


He nodded, and I continued. "She was lying about the test in the 1950's being the last test. If I had to guess, I'd guess they did it after every SLEP completion."

"SLEP?"

"Service Life Extension Program, basically overhauling and refitting." I told him. "Which means that the newer ones have probably been in here for at least 5 years, but I'd guess closer to 10 years." He looked as sick about that thought as I felt. "I don't know if they just abandoned their test subjects, or if that's part of the experiment."

"Would they really go that far?" He asked.

"Your talking about the Office of Scientific Intelligence." I told him. I pulled out my pathetic pack of cigarettes and found one that wasn't broken. "We're talking about a group who views that American public as nothing more than guinea pigs. Read up about some of the experimentation they did back in the 50's and 60's."

"So how many do you think there are of them?" He asked me.

I thought for a couple of minutes, thinking about 2/19th and how the place could reduce us to animals in the space of a couple of weeks. "I think there's probably at least three different groups, probably more, and each group has anywhere between twenty and thirty members."

"How'd you come up with those numbers?" He asked.

"Simple. Too many, and they'd need too big of a place to live. They'd need more food, and I think they probably eat the emergency stores and each other. Plus, I haven't seen any signs of rats, and since this place looks like it was a natural cave formation, we should have seen some sign of rats or bats, which means those animals are either all gone or have learned to hide. Probably a little of both." I pulled my sleeve back to show him the bandage on my forearm. "Plus, some groups don't use tools, these ones did, and I think the crossbow came from an Event Locker. Some groups prefer to use hit and run and only a few attackers, while others have jumped us en-masse."

He nodded at that. "OK, it all tracks so far." I waited, I knew what the next question was. "Do you think that Lieutenant Colonel Bishop is doing the killing, or was she lying?"

...His face was the ashen gray African descent people get when they die, his careful corn-rows were puffed out in places and full of ice and/or frozen mud. His uniform, usually immaculate, was torn, muddied, and had patches of what had to be dried blood. His arms looked too long, his hands malformed, and he stood with his legs bowed slightly. His eyes were dark pits with black eyes that glittered, holding malevolent joy and hatred...

"She's telling the truth, as far as she knows it." I told him.

"What aren't you telling?" He asked me.

"It's not Colonel Bishop any more." I stared off to the side, my mind flooding with images of all the times I'd gotten a look at Tandy. Never a good solid look, just enough to fill me with bone deep terror. "I believe her when she said she killed him. From the way she said she set it up, she shot him in the back of the head, and she probably left his dead body in the snow that night."

To his credit, he didn't scoff at what I said, so I kept going. "I think that it was already in here before that, and that Colonel Bishop knew it. That it got in here somehow before Agent Killain killed him."

She wasn't Debs any more, and I refused to use her Air Force rank. She'd turned her back on the right to that when she'd murdered my former CO.

"How what got in?"

"I don't know." I answered. The door opened and Kincaid and the others came back into the room, all of them carrying MRE's and moving over to sit down to eat in their own little group.

"How it got in, or what it is?"

"Both."

...the huge picture of the 2/19th barracks sitting in a foot of snow, with three bloodied snowmen on the lawn. The drapes were closed on the windows, the glass entrance to the building acting as a mirror, and the snow in front of the barracks was flawless and unbroken by footprints or disturbed snow...

"So you're telling me that something you don't know what it is, got in somehow you don't know, and is using the dead body of your former CO to hunt and kill people?" He asked me. He shook his head. "Sergeant, I'm prepared to believe that someone committed a horrible atrocity and experimented on innocent people and now the survivors of that experiment are a bunch of deranged killers roving through this facility killing anyone who dares enter it, but I draw the line at dead men stalking the living."

I shrugged. "I'm just telling you what I know."

"I will acknowledge you probably believe that." He graciously told me. "But I'm going to take into account that you've admitted to taking several serious head wounds."

...let's see how he feels once Tandy gets up to speed...

...it's not Tandy, Nancy, it's Bishop now...

...same thing, Ant, you'll see...


"Either way, I think we all need some rest." He told me, looking around. "I'd suggest getting a meal, then taking your medication and getting some sleep."

I stood up, saluted, and after he returned it I moved over to Kincaid and Donaldson.

"It's really your dead CO, isn't it." Kincaid said, handing me an unopened MRE. Chicken Ala King, my favorite. He was eating the dehydrated mixed fruit by just biting off chunks, chewing it and then taking a drink off his canteen, swishing the water around and then swallowing the slurry.

"You two believe me?" I was a little startled.

Kincaid snorted, then bit off another chunk of his mixed fruit brick. I waited for him to swallow and continue. "Sergeant, I saw that picture, I saw how you reacted to it." He looked at Donaldson, who nodded. "There sure as fuck wasn't any snowmen in that picture that first time we went by it."

"And when you saw them, you started rubbing your shoulder." Donaldson said quietly, looking at the three men who hadn't been with us. "The same shoulder as one of the snowmen had a bloody mark on."

"When you took off your shirt, I saw that scar on your shoulder." Shads told me. "I've had shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff from baseball. I've got a scar about three inches long." He tapped his right shoulder. "Yours is a lot different."

I nodded, opening up the brown bag and pulling out the heating pack. I put in my Chicken Ala King and added water to the bag to make the whole thing heat up while they kept talking.

"I looked behind us right before you fired your grenade launcher." Natchez told me. "I saw that guy in the doorway." He shuddered. "For some reason just looking at him I about shit myself."

"Did he hit with the grenade?" Wilkins asked.

"That depends." Natchez answered, then looked at me. "Were you aiming at him or the building?" I shook my head, watching the package swell up as the water reacted with the chunk of fibrous board, heating the water and pouring steam out of the end of the plastic envelope. "Sergeant Ant hit the plywood in front of the building, setting off the mines right as it started to walk across the plywood."

They were all quiet at that, the clacking of the pool balls loud.

"And he was still able to pull Meyers out of the elevator." Donaldson said. "If that one mine knocked Sergeant Ant out, those mines should have killed Sergeant Ant's old CO."

I nodded.

"Were you ever able to stop this thing before? In the place where they took that photo?" Shads asked.

...Kebble began screaming from inside the stairwell. I looked over in time to see her bloody face slam against the glass, her face distorting as something pressed her ravaged face against the ice and glass. Blood bubbled from her nose and sprayed from her mouth as she screamed again. Kebble was suddenly yanked away from the window. She was still screaming as darkness filled the window and the blood that Bomber had spit on the window froze solid...

...we spun around, and Tandy stood behind us, mostly hidden by the dark, only his pale face, with its merciless grin and dark eyes plainly visible. As one Taggart, Nancy, John and I opened fire with our rifles, the bullets shattering the glass behind him, Tandy not even reacting as a bloodless bullet hole appeared in his forehead. The wind swept in from outside, and he vanished in the blizzard driven snow that swept into the CQ area through the broken glass of the doors and windows, leaving behind only that nerve wracking chuckle of his...

...oh god, he's right outside the door...


"No." I said quietly, letting the envelope fall open so the steam could empty out and I could grab my Chicken Ala King without the metallic envelope burning my fingers.

"Then we're fucked, aren't we?" Wilkins said, staring at the remainder of his MRE. It was obvious he'd lost his appetite and that it had nothing to do with the shitty food in his lap.

"No." I told them. The all looked at me in disbelief. "I survived it, so did other people. If we can get out of here, get off this mountain, he won't follow us."

...unless it's snowing, Ant, then he'll kill you all in the dark and snow...

...that's not helping, Catherine...


"But if we stay here?" Donaldson asked.

"I don't know." I told him honestly. "Usually we ended up abandoning the barracks or getting rescued, we never made it a whole winter."

"Jesus." Shads muttered.

"Well, it could be worse." Kincaid said, grinning.

"How?" Wilkins asked.

"We could have to be anally mastered by a yeti every morning." He upended the package and poured the last few crumbs of mixed fruit into his mouth. "That's be worse."

"We could have to blow a leper." Natchez offered.

"We could be back in Basic Training." Donaldson chuckled.

"We could be tankers." Kincaid tossed out.

"We could be forced to have pineapples jammed up our asses then eat them." Shads said.

"We could be in the Navy." Wilkins laughed.

That got us all to laugh. A few people stared at us, but we ignored them, trading "We could be..." back and forth, getting more and more outrageous the entire time. Within a few minutes we were all breathlessly laughing when Shads mentioned cleaning out Singapore hookers with our tongues after Fleet Week.

We ate in silence after that, finishing up the odds and ends of our MRE's. I went over and checked on the two wounded guys, giving them a several of the Percocet from the big bottle of them in my ruck and telling them to take them and get some rest. I talked with the Major and set up a sign/counter-sign password with him so we'd know when to open doors or not.

"Let's bunk up. We'll take turns on guard shifts, don't open the door for anyone but the Major or that knows that password." I told them. "Wilkins, you and Natchez play rock paper scissors who goes first. Whoever loses goes second, then wake up Donaldson, then Shads, then Kincaid."

"Why am I last?" Kincaid asked.

"Because you're going to take some antibiotics and some painkillers and heal up." I told him. He nodded and went in the room.

Everyone took turns in the bathroom, Kincaid took the big master bed, Wilkins lost the throw with scissors and took one of the kids beds, Shads took the other. Donaldson crashed out on the couch, and I sat in the big overstuffed chair after wedging all the doors open. We left closet lights on with the doors almost shut, the bathroom light with the same, and the nightlight in the two kid's rooms, so that while the room was really dim, it wasn't completely dark.

I sat in the dark and listened to them doze off. I'd taken a maintenance dose of my medication and a couple of Percocet, so while I felt a little tired, I didn't exactly go to sleep. Unless I took a 'bedtime dose' I wouldn't sleep anyway.

I sat there and mourned the loss of someone I'd thought was a friend. Mourned the loss of a man I admired and a man I'd worked with, drank with, and partied with.

...we love you, bunny...

...I love you too, Heather...


When everyone's breathing told me they were more or less asleep, I got up quietly and went to my rucksack, quietly opening it and digging something out of the back pocket. Natchez watched me, but turned away when he saw what I had in my hand.

I went back to the chair, laid back after propping my rifle into between the side and the bottom cushion so it stood up at a 45 degree angle.

Then I cradled my sock monkey and closed my eye.


Chapter 26

Site Kilo-29
Military Area
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Early Morning


Although my eye was closed and it looked like I was sleeping, I never went any further down than just brushing REM sleep. I dreamed of my mother breaking my elbow with a meat tenderizer the last day I lived there, before my twin brother and twin sister went to a foster home.

In the 5th grade.

The worst part of the dream was reliving it all. Every sight, sound, scent, and tactile sensation. From the sickening crunch the meat tenderizer made to when my twin sister had knelt over me protectively in the hospital, taking the kicks meant for me before the police had gotten in there to stop my mother from taking my 'betrayal' of her out on me.

During the dream Martin the Sock Monkey had nuzzled against me, making small noises of comfort as I relived it all. The scrambling out the back door. The walk in the rain to the school cradling my arm against my chest. Sitting in the nurse's office at the elementary school, not speaking, even when the police came to get me and pulled my sister and twin brother out of class to take them too because my mother had told the office workers that she'd be right there to 'pull that lying little bastard out of class and take him home so she could teach him not to tell lies.'

Martin the Sock Monkey's face was wet with tears after reliving the examination by the doctors with the police standing there and the doctor put stitches in my face from where my mother had swung the meat tenderizer and broken my cheekbone before I could get away. I had multiple old breaks, some obviously untreated, while my sister had the same, complete with recent scars on her crotch and the inside of her thighs from where our mother had beaten her with a belt buckle because she was 'sinful and nasty willful little slut' at the age of 10. A well know age for promiscuity, evidently.

Our brother didn't have anything that showed what my sister and I went through.

He was mother's special little angel.

The only one of the triplets born without a caul.

I relived every little bit of it, right down to the fear of the foster home, and the fear of the huge man with the scarred face who took us to live with him a week later. Martin hugged me with his little arms as I remembered sleeping under the bed, convinced our mother was going to pull me out the window and hurt me more.

The man with the scarred face had adopted us into his family, with all the other boys and girls, and had waited patiently for four months for me to speak. When he found me under the bed, he'd take the blankets off the bed and gently tuck me in under the bed. He held me on the nights I woke screaming and crying. Despite his fearsome appearance, his heart was larger than it should have been in a man so big, so battered and scarred up, and there was plenty of room in his heart, not only for my sister and brother, who were good kids, but for the silent and strange little boy he'd taken into his house.

The last time I'd seen my mother and father was in front of the judge, when he granted my Father's adoption request. It had helped that my father had shown up drunk, as usual, and my mother spent more time justifying the beating I had coming with Bible verses than actually giving reasons that any of us should be returned to her care.

Martin ooked to comfort me as my mother turned her burning gaze my way, the hatred in her eyes searing me, as the judge gave custody of us triplets to the very thing she despised the most. A soldier.

When I'd come home on leave with Heather and the baby, my mother had spit on me and called me a murderer before backhanding me and telling me never to come back.

My twin brother had smirked from the porch. Mommy's little angel.

I stopped talking for 3 days. Heather just held me when we weren't driving back to Fort Hood. The first thing I said was to her. Something simple and cliched. I love you.

Heather's face replaced my mother's burning gaze, love and affection in her eyes, on her face, and in her heart.

I love you she mouthed. Now, forever, and always.

The nightmare shattered.

When I pulled myself free of the dream, Natchez and Donaldson were awake, their guard shifts overlapping to make sure there was always two men on duty at a time. They were sitting by the door, BSing about girls from AIT and from before they'd joined the military.

I gently returned Martin to his nest in the inside back pocket of my rucksack, making sure he was curled up comfortably, then pulled on my eyepatch and went to get an MRE, grabbing my rifle on the way to the boxes we'd stacked up. I ate sitting against the wall, staring the doors to the rooms.

"You all right, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked.

"Fine." I told them, breaking up the tinfoil wrapped crackers without opening the vacuum sealed package. "Any screams?"

"No, Sergeant." Donaldson told me.

"Anyone knock on the door and try to get you to open the door?"

"No, Sergeant." Natchez tossed in.

"Good." I grunted, pulling my canteen free then ripping open the crackers. I sat there quietly chewing on crumbs and washing them down with water.

"How long did you know Colonel Killain?" Natchez asked me.

"Agent Killain. She gave up her military title when she murdered a fellow soldier." I growled. Natchez flinched, but I ignored it. "And I met her a little while before I met my wife again."

"Did you seriously titty fuck her?" Natchez asked me. Donaldson rolled his eyes.

"That's between me, my wife, and her." I told him, pouring some more cracker into my mouth.

"Oh." Natchez finally took the hint.

"CIA pull shit like this on you before?" Donaldson asked.

"They were worse during the Cold War." I told him. "Bastards figured they could get away with whatever they wanted to as long as they waved national security, the Soviet Union, and patriotism in front of politicians." I was still angry from the dream, from reliving the memory of my mother spitting at Heather and instead hitting our infant daughter. The tone of my voice made Natchez look worried.

"Vietnam they really pushed their limits." I shook my head. "They started seeing the military as deniable and expendable assets that they didn't have to pay or train, that could be killed off and pressure could be brought to bear to list them as 'training accidents' or 'death by misadventure' or even 'AWOL' if worse came to worse."

"The same CIA who couldn't keep Watergate quiet?" Natchez sounded like he believed the public image of the incompetent CIA that they'd worked so hard to promote.

I smiled at that. "Take a look at what the CIA was up to, what the public attention was pulled away from, and think if you were in charge of the CIA. Which would you rather have come up before Congress and the press, the Watergate scandal, or evidence of experimentation of un-witting American citizens." Natchez went to say something and I held up my hand. "Oh, I'm not saying the military is blameless, that all the fuckups and immoral shit we've done isn't our fault, I'm just saying that the CIA is used to doing whatever they damn well please and getting away with it."

"You think they're going to try to kill us, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked.

"Bet your ass." I told them, finishing off my crackers and pulling out the Chicken ala King packet. "They figure they'll kill some of us, promise the others anything they can to get them to surrender, then shoot those poor bastards in the back of the head, and then list us all dead as a horrible accident, probably caused by either the Major or me."

"Yeah, they've probably all ready got their cover story, boys." I laughed, and the bitterness and self-mocking tone of it making someone toss and turn fitfully.

"Then we're fucked." Natchez sounded like he was ready to give up right there.

"No, Private, we aren't." I told him. "Number one, I refuse to just lay down and die for them. Number two, I won't stand there and let them kill my troops. And third, I've got goddamn good reasons to get home."

"What?" Donaldson asked.

"You don't talk about it till the mission's over." I grinned. "And the mission ain't over..."

"Till you're sitting in the NCO club with two fingers in a blonde and brunette sucking your dick." Donaldson and I finished together.

Natchez grinned at that, and I finished my MRE in silence, tossing it into the trash can in the kitchen after pouring the kool-aid into my thermos. I refilled my thermos then flipped on the light above the bar table separating the kitchen from the dining room. The lights didn't really light up the suite, so I sat down and started making lists.

PROS: I had ammo, weapons, food, and trained men at my back, and a plan to bust out if worse came to worse. I was still combat effective, and had experience fighting multiple enemies in close quarters with bad lighting.

CONS: 1 agent in custody, 3 on the loose that may or may not be injured. Three men injured, two seriously. (Not counting me) A facility of unknown purpose that was beginning to look like the largest site I'd ever even heard of.

And Tandy/Bishop

ASSETS: Whatever we could recover from the facility. Maybe Wilkins and Natchez, probably Shads. Kincaid. Donaldson. Me. The Major and the other men were unknowns.

PROBLEMS: Tandy/Bishop was loose for some reason. Probably through the picture, but how and why? Three agents, maybe on the loose. Agent Killain, locked up. The facility would be locked down for about 48 hours more.

I leaned back in the chair and looked at the lists, trying to figure out where I could eke out any advantage out of our situation. That was one thing 2/19th and hanging out with the Rangers had taught me. Find any advantage and use it. When the guard shift changed Donaldson asked me if I needed something while Shads stood at the door. I shook my head and went back to sketching what I knew of the facility, remembering how many paces each section was, and then tried making some guesses via dashed lines instead of steady ones.

There was a plan. Not a good one, but it used advantages that we had and that the others didn't have. First the men would need sleep, then we'd have to gear up and I'd have to check with the Major about whether or not it was all right with him.

If it wasn't, I'd do it anyway. An insubordination charge beat death any day of the week.

Sitting there in the dimness of the dining room/kitchen, at the bar counter, I unwrapped the bandage from my forearm and took a hard look at the wound. A simple through and through, with a thick scab on it. It had closed to a narrow slit, not the dime shaped circle I'd expected. The muscles hurt when I clenched my fist, but I didn't think my grip was compromised. I shucked off my BDU pants and checked the scabs on my legs for infection. They looked clean, and I decided to risk a shower.

The hot water sluiced off the dream and the memory of my mother's hatred. Heather had made one simple rule for when we raised our children. We do not hit them. A simple rule, but the cycle of abuse is tough to break. At least I had the example of my Father to follow, Heather didn't even have that, having been in and out of foster care most of her teenage years.

My chest was nicely bruised up around my right shoulder, but the advantage to a chronically dislocating shoulder is that it bounces back pretty fast. I needed another round of surgery on it, I was supposed to have surgery instead of coming out to this shit hole, but instead I been pulled off of convalescent leave and sent out on what I'd been assured would be a milk run. It was the only option with the cluster fuck going on North Dakota. That run had the prospects of turning into something that couldn't even be hidden behind all the rest of the bullshit going on if it got loose.

Standing under the hot water I wondered if they had deployed a hard option bioweapon team yet. Grim eyed men and women in semi-armored biohazard suits, armed with flamethrowers with authorization to call in air strikes of napalm or fuel air bombs. They're the ones who killed every living thing within a biohazard zone if the agent turned out to be too virulent to risk it getting to a major population zone, be it natural or lab born. An entire town would be erased over night if need be and an excuse of a tornado or earthquake killing everyone but a few pitiful survivors.

It wouldn't be the first time, and it definitely wouldn't be the last.

My knee was swollen, light bruising on the inside of it. The scars had faded nicely over the last 2 years, only faint white patches. Heather said I was lucky I didn't scar, I kept trying to get her to understand that it robbed me of tangible proof that things happened. She told me that proof didn't matter to her, it didn't matter what I had done, it was what I did with her and the baby that mattered.

Another wave of rage and pain went through me at remembering her hugging me on what I thought was just another day of work, and I wondered how worried she was when I didn't come home that night, just called her and told her that I'd pulled a mission. She'd needed me home, needed me to hold onto.

She was pregnant again.

Her belly softly rounded, the baby squirming inside of her, at the stage where a woman likes having her husband around to show his devotion by finding the things she's craving as well as the emotional and moral support she had due.

The water would stay warm forever, but the damn bathroom had a 10 minute timer on the shower, so the water cut off and I stood there dripping in the shower, leaning my head against the wall.

Two years before my life would have been an acceptable price to get everyone else out.

Now, I was more important to other people than I was to myself.

My daughter already cried when she couldn't find me while I was at work. She seemed to know when I was going to get home, climbing out of her playpen or crib or running on chubby little infant/toddler legs, happy as only a baby can be.

I'd give my left hand to have Bomber, Nancy, Dana and/or Taggart at my back again.

Kincaid had prospects, but needed watching. He'd locked up the first time, then I'd threatened him, and I wasn't sure if he was overcompensating for that first lockup or if he had found that piece of steel inside of him. If it was he found the metal in his soul, he'd need to temper it, not run around flailing at everything with it.

Donaldson was a quick study, not making the same mistake twice, and listening to the 'voice of experience' as he'd called me when he thought I was fully asleep. He'd shown the natural leadership ability that the Army used to value and nurture, but with the New Army, I wasn't sure how far he'd get.

Shads was quiet. The kid had something in his background that made him potentially dangerous. I doubted he was keeping too many secrets, or a danger to everyone else, but I couldn't predict what he was going to do in a given situation, and that made him potentially dangerous.

I needed to be able to predict what each man would do given certain stimulus. It was why operator teams stayed together for years at a time. It made it so you instinctively knew what your other team-mates would do.

For example, when I went prone, I usually went to the left, so my firing arc covered the left forward. John Bomber went right for some reason, Nancy went full 90 degrees to the left, and Taggart went a full 90 degrees right. We'd just meshed that way. Dana always went straight and flat. We knew what the others would do, and it showed in how well we worked together.

The problem was, is you only discovered how you instinctively moved when the shit hit the fan.

The heatlamps was still on while I went over what had happened in the ambushes we'd gone through, my skin drying under the IR from the bulb.

Kincaid dropped to one knee, and used semi-automatic. He had a tendency to cover the right, part of it because he was a right handed shooter. Donaldson had a tendency to stand upright.

Good. That meant I'd go prone, Kincaid would kneel, and Donaldson would stand, giving us three weapons clear arcs of fire.

The light clicked off and I stood there in the darkness for a long moment.

Something about Agent Killain's story bugged me. I couldn't put my finger on what it was.

...we'd killed each other in the dark and snow, our war cries and howls of blood lust filling the dark tunnels and freezing hallways...

I went back over what she had told me. Something bothered me about the whole thing.

FACT: She'd been lairing in an Event Locker area.
FACT: Bishop was there, on a Tandy-like spree
FACT: She had been an Air Force Colonel with SAC over 15 years.
FACT: She was now a CIA agent who had... insufficient data
FACT: She had taught computer use and maintenance in the Air Force for 5 years
FACT: She had supervised the drawdown of hard sites before.
FACT: She thought she was now Super-Agent Killain
And just for spite:
FACT: She liked to lick it clean after it had been up her ass.

What had I come to know about her, aside from sexual proclivities. Knowing the enemy was the first step to defeating them.

She thought she could take me in a knife fight. That was a sign of someone who had done well in training, and maybe taken one untrained and probably panic driven target. Which led to...

She was overconfident. That comes from being told constantly you're the best and smartest of everyone out there. Her overconfidence had led to...

She underestimated everyone and everything. A sure sign of 'just out of training' that you saw in raw recruits, and newbie NCO's. You saw it for sure in ROTC butterbars all the time. Her underestimation had led to...

Her team getting wiped. By Tandy and the things that lived here. She'd maybe sacrificed her team to keep from dying, another 'ends justifies the means' that I'd come to associate with CIA agents. Still, they got wiped by the things that lived here. Those things led to...

...we killed each other in the dark and cold...

I jerked suddenly, realizing what had bothered me about Agent Killain's story.

I got out, used my shitty little brown towel to finish drying off, and dressed in a clean uniform quickly, my mind racing through the things she'd said, the things we'd seen, and where my train of logic had led me.

Shads and Donaldson sat in the frontroom in the dark and quiet, both of them just staring at the doors in the suite.

I walked by them and turned on the television where it sat in the huge cabinet. Nothing happened at first.

"Is it broken?" Shads asked.

"Give it a minute, the vacuum tubes are warming up." I told them. A second later a little white dot appeared in the middle of the TV. "There she goes."

I carefully turned up the volume until we could all hear it.

A woman's voice.

"Excursion teams returned today with radiation and acid levels after a quick reconnoiter of the conditions outside. After careful analysis military command has determined that it is still unsafe to leave the shelter." The woman was saying. The dot expanded to a line. "Food stocks remain within tolerance, as do medicine and water levels." The line expanded to show a woman, dressed in her Air Force dress uniform sitting behind a desk. "This upcoming week Red Shift will be taking inventory of the recovery equipment. Blue Shift will be taking over facility maintenance. Green Shift and Yellow Shift will undergo physical examinations. Contamination of the lower levels has restricted levels four through nine off limits. Anyone seeing any of the refugees who obtained access to the facility should alert the nearest military personnel. Do not attempt to subdue them yourself, as they are to be considered armed and..."

I slapped the off switch.

"Goddamn it." I growled.

"Why was she on television?" Shads asked.

"Because we aren't supposed to be here." I told them.

"Then why did they send us out here?" Shads asked.

"Because the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing." Donaldson said. I nodded.

"But what about the CIA agents?" Shads asked.

"I think that the records to this place might have been lost during the Iran/Contra Hearings, hidden then destroyed in the shuffle." I told them both. "Agent Killain was sent to check it out for the CIA, while the Air Force and the Army was sent to do their missions afterwards once they got the teams together. More than likely when they didn't return, we got sent, and the CIA probably leaned on the military to send someone proficient in urban combat and fighting in a situation like this."

"They fucked up there." Donaldson laughed. "I don't know shit about it."

"But I do." I told them. "I've fought in tunnels and bunkers before."

"Desert Storm?" Shads asked.

"Kind of." I half-lied.

..."Fuck you then, we'll just kill you both and throw you into the snow!" Nagle yelled after another flurry of bullets tore through the air. She handed me my weapon, the buttstock cracked, and I racked the charging handle to make sure it operated smoothly. "Lock bayonets!" she bellowed. "Two nineteenth!"

"Finish the fight!" All four of us answered, our shouts drowning out the gunfire...


"You have a plan." Donaldson didn't ask. Something about the way I stood told him that I did.

"I have a plan." I assured him. "When Kincaid is done with guard duty, we'll put my plan in motion."

"Hopefully I'll get to shoot that smarmy motherfucker with the toothpick." Donaldson said. "Bastard shot me."

"That's part of it." I told him, then walked over to my rucksack and dug around till I found my old white Sony Walkman. It was scratched, battered, and the lid had cracked around a cratered divot in the plastic.

I pulled out the tape of Achy Breaky Heart.

Colonel Killain had hated country music.

I popped in the tape, rewound it all the way, and listened closely.

Fast forwarding it halfway through the first song, I found what was so important about it.

Top level access codes to the site.

The other side was nothing more than strange sounds after about 30 seconds of song.

Computer data.

I recognized it from the days I'd worked on my Vic-20 and Commodore-64.

In the darkness I smiled.

Once Kincaid finished guard duty and everyone was rested, I was done playing defense, done reacting to the situation and the actions of the CIA.

It was time to go offense.

If worse came to worse, I'd leave Site Kilo-29 nothing more than a smoking empty spot inside the mountain.


Chapter 27

Site Kilo-29
Military Area - Main Facility
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Early Morning


We were standing in the military motorpool's mechanic's area, waiting for the door to raise. I'd talked to the Major, and he'd approved of the plan I'd come up with. Natchez, Wilkins, Donaldson, Kincaid, and Shads were with me. We were all armed with M-16's and I'd passed the ammunition around, making sure there were two of us with M-203's. I'd given a crash course in how to use the extra gear I'd passed out, and all of us had the same bags clipped to the back of our LBE's.

The door we were waiting to go into through was next to a much larger door, a door big enough to take a vehicle through. The large door had spraypaint over what it was used for, same as the small door we were waiting on, but I had a pretty good clue what it was for.

"You know, this is starting to get kind of cool." Kincaid said to nobody in particular. "How can't it be? You've got lost underground bases, covert operations creepiness, and even the walking dead hunting us, along with cannibals."

"Dude, shut up." Wilkins told him.

"No, seriously." Kincaid said, and we all winced as something was pulled out of the system with a shriek and the clunking noise stopped. I glanced back at Kincaid, and he was grinning. "Sure, I can't tell anyone about it, but come on, when's the next time we're going to have a chance to face off against cannibals and rogue CIA agents?"

"Infrared beams, Sergeant." Shads told me.

I chuckled, ducking down to look under the door.

There was an airlock on the other side.

"You're a fucking nut, Kincaid." Donaldson said. Kincaid just laughed.

"You know most of us might be killed." Wilkins bitched. "We'll be lucky if one or two out of all of us survive."

"Yeah." I glanced back at Kincaid, who was grinning widely. "Sucks for you guys, huh?"

Everyone laughed at that.

It was common thinking, but important. If you told 100 soldiers before a battle that 99 of them will be killed, every one of the soldiers will be thinking the same thing.

Sucks for them.

Captain Bishop had told me that, told me that it made it so that they all fought to the best of their ability, and told me to encourage that kind of thinking. It was good for morale.

"IR beams went off." Shads told me right before the door locked in the upright position with a clunk.

"All right guys, let's check this shit out." I told them, leading the way into the airlock. Once everyone was in, we threw the lever, waited for the door to shut, then opened the near one.

"No IR, Sergeant." Shads told me, and I nodded. The airlock had sprinklers at the top, lockers on each side of the door, but we weren't worried about undergoing decon since there was a small lever to throw if you needed decon.

"This what we were after?" Wilkins asked when the door opened up and the automatic lights kicked on.

In front of us was a large vehicle bay, it was empty, and the room was obviously built for decontamination. It was pretty much empty, but it was the large grate in the middle of the floor surrounded by warning markings that had caught our attention. There were a set of levers on the far side of the room, as well as a small control box hanging from a cable to our right, and finally a small stand with a control board on it on the far side of the grate.

"Yup." I told them, moving in first. The grate echoed when I walked across it. It was over a 100 feet long, thirty feet wide, and my brain ran through the measurements.

It was big enough to park a semi-truck and a trailer on it.

The others followed me, Kincaid paying attention to the corners of the room, as well as both him and Donaldson checking the upper walls and the ceiling.

"Vents look undamaged." Donaldson called out.

"Walls are clear." Kincaid added.

Written on the walls in stencils were warnings to stay clear when lift was in operation, four step procedures to hit the decon, other instructions regarding the steps that had to be taken to put a vehicle back into "deep storage" or that had to be taken when one was removed.

"I don't think anyone's been in here." Natchez said, wandering around the room. "No spraypaint, no markings, not like in any of the other rooms we went through."

"That's why we're using this way." I told them, checking the upright control stand and the area around it with my flashlight. I had a handful of extra batteries in my cargo pocket, wrapped in paper, then in tinfoil. I'd instructed everyone else to do it too. Natchez had acted like I was a nut, the others had just followed my instructions and went along without comment. The paper kept even a trace a conduction from the battery, while the tinfoil worked to somewhat shield it.

Lessons learned in 2/19th.

From what I could tell, the control box matched up with the cable that ran under the floor. If I was right, the controls would work only when the grate was locked in at the top and bottom.

Once we started down, we were committed.

"Gather up, men." I said, flipping the lever to hit the board with power. Top level was green lit, bottom level the little lights were yellow, which was fine. Power, check, and the rubber covered thumb button for test was yellow lit, while the rubber covered button for engage was red lit.

While the others got onto the grate I pressed the rubber nipple and heard the the system grind. The whole grate shivered, and Donaldson grumbled something that I couldn't hear over the shivering of the grate. After a few seconds the test lights turned green and the engage button lit up green.

"Ready, gentlemen?" I asked. They were, so I hit the rubber button and the grate shivered. The grate started vibrating hard enough to make my eye water, then started moving down with the screech of ungreased metal on metal.

It was slow, and we couldn't talk over the noise, but the room dropped away, becoming nothing more than a lit square above us that got smaller and smaller and angled away from us. There were channels in the shaft that held steel and electrical cables, with lights every twenty feet or so. Still, the darkness seemed to press in on us as the elevator shivered and groaned.

"How far down?" Natchez yelled.

"A long ways." I yelled back. "Probably the lower levels."

They all nodded.

The vibration from the grate moving down made me feel like I had to piss, the whole thing shivering so bad that it felt like my internal organs were bouncing around in there. I clamped my false teeth together to keep them from bouncing out of my mouth. The last thing I wanted was to lose my dentures and have them fall to the bottom of the shaft and shatter, leaving me to do nothing but gum my food, if I survived.

It was a small and petty worry, but it was better than dwelling on what might be waiting for us at the bottom of the shaft.

There was a horrible screeching noise, and I felt the pressure in my bad knee as the platform's breaks slowed it down.

The lights on the control panel were dark, the control runs not connected. Sure, they could have had cables draped through the shaft to keep the controls connected at all times, but those would have been subject to the possibility of failure, could have gotten caught in the gear teeth of the massive I-beams that the elevator was supported on.

Brute force all the way.

In front of us the shaft vanished suddenly in the sharp edge of a ceiling, and I breathed a sigh of relief as the platform settled into the floor of the lower bay with a loud thunk. The control panel lit up, one of the bit possible flaws in my plan, and I reached out and turned it off.

The bay we'd dropped into was virtually identical to the one we'd left, except the doors out were labelled "To Deep Storage" on them, one for vehicles, one for personnel.

"What are we going to find down here?" Wilkins' asked.

"Don't know." I reminded him. "We're looking for external access points."

"As long as it isn't something like 500 cannibals, I'm happy." Kincaid said.

"Let's go." I told them, moving over to the door and throwing the bar. The door went up nice and smooth after a few moments delay. no thumping, no clunking, no damaged sections. Either it was built better, or it had had better maintenance, or it hadn't been used as often.

On the other side of the airlock the door led directly to the tunnel that would be used to bring vehicles to Deep Storage. The tunnel was made of six inch wide strips of concrete about five feet long, with heavy bolts about every foot on the strips. Fluorescent lights hung down from the arched ceiling, with thick cabling hanging in loops from the ceiling, held every ten feet or so by big iron rings that hung from inch thick bolts. A yellow line was stenciled "EVENT STORAGE" beneath the blue line that read "DEEP STORAGE" on the wall.

"That's what we're after." I said, jerking my thumb at the "Event Storage" label. "That's where Agent Killain hid out, and I'm beginning to wonder if she was hiding there for a reason."

"What do you think might be down here?" Natchez asked.

"Backups for that level we found?" Donaldson wondered.

"Maybe." I told them. "But that's not what we're here for." I reminded them.

They were silent for awhile as we walked through the tunnel, which curved slightly back and forth.

"You know what would be cool?" Kincaid broke the silence.

"What?" Natchez asked.

"Getting a look at some of that stuff in those CIA files." Kincaid said. "Just think, unredacted files, complete and everything. How cool would that be?"

"About as cool as a bullet to the back of the head." I broke in. "You think you'd be allowed to live after going through those files."

"Killjoy." Kincaid said and I chuckled.

We finally hit an intersection, one direction heading for Deep Storage, the other heading toward the Event Storage, and a smaller corridor that led "Event Facility". We headed toward the "Event Facility", stopping about a hundred feet later at a heavy blast door that had no keypad, just the familiar throw bar. The door just had the Continuity of Government seal on it with "EVENT LOCKER 29K" under the seal.

Throwing the bar caused the door to slowly rise up with the hiss of hydraulics. Shads called out that the door didn't have any IR beams, and the first thing I noticed was that the door was at least a foot and a half thick. The hallway beyond was about 10 feet wide and had hanging standard white bulbs that hung down about a foot from the ceiling. On the walls were pictures of farms, small towns, school, with the American flag being prominent. The pictures had bloodstains underneath them, there were paint spatters and worse on the walls, and at the most only one out of five lightbulbs were working.

The stench of rotting meat rolled over us.

"Bingo." I said.

Kincaid growled, moving up next to me, and Wilkins was coughing.

"Goddamn, it stinks." Shads coughed.

"It's gonna get worse." Donaldson told them.

We moved down the corridor, only getting about ten paces before the equipment hanging on Shads LBE started beeping.

Without even conscious thought my hands moved as I stopped breathing and closed my eyes.

Left hand coming up, hooking my glasses and the string for my eyepatch, pulling them off and dropping them on the ground as my hand kept moving up and brushing off my Kevlar. Right hand letting go of my rifle before darting across my waist. Cover popping open, hand dipping inside. Left hand moving down to meet the right one as I pulled the object from the carrier. Right and left hand spread it open, bringing it up to envelope my face. Use my ring and pinky fingers to drag the harness over my head, then three quick pulls with each hand to snug it up. Both hands to the filters, press, then sharply exhale before pulling the hood over my head.

Less than 10 seconds.

"MASK! GAS GAS GAS!" I shouted, muffled by the mask. Only Shads had his almost on, the others were still either staring in shock at me, looking confuse, or fumbling at their masks. Kincaids wasn't stored properly, the hood down the back and folded. His eyes were bulging in horror as he fumbled at the mask.

I was lifting up the detector from my waist, staring down at it.

One bar was flickering slightly.

The older detector on Shads' LBE was chirping steadily.

"Piece of shit." I snarled, dropping the newer detector.

Shads had his mask on, glancing at the detector tape I'd put on everyone's wrists, but it was still the same brownish gray it had been when I'd put it on them. Donaldson was pulling his hood over, Natchez was pulling his straps tight, Wilkins was blowing the mask out, and Kincaid was still unwrapping his.

"MOPP Four." I snapped.

My hand when to my back and I pulled the bag out with my left hand. With my right I popped the plastic buckle on my LBE, shrugging out of it and letting it and my rifle drop to the floor in a clatter. I tore the packaging open, pulled out the suit, and started pulling it on. I was buttoning it up by the time Kincaid started pulling his on.

Thirty seconds.

I popped the tight plastic bands on the wet weather boots, snatching up one of them and pulling them on as quickly as possible, then buttoning them up and pulling the elastic cuffs of the pants over the tops before moving to the gloves.

I bent down and checked the detector on the back of Shads discarded LBE. It wasn't built to tell me much, but I shut it off then turned it back on.

It started giving out the alarm tone, then cut off and went back to chirping again.

"Make sure you seal up, gentlemen." I told them.

The older detector could be set off by diesel fumes, too close to the latrines, or just because it decided it wanted to scare the living shit out of everyone, but the newer one was a lot more sensitive. I'd fucked up the alarm threshhold, or it hadn't decided to cut loose with the audible tone yet.

I pulled the tape from where I'd hung it on one of my LBE straps, and wrapped it around my wrists, being careful to make sure it wasn't tight, then putting a strip on each of my thighs and finishing it up with a strip on my helmet.

By the time I'd shrugged back into my Kevlar and my LBE, leaving them loose hanging instead of tightening it up and running the risk of fucking up my chemical suit, everyone was masked and starting to pull on their gear.

"Stay here." I told them, heading further down the hallway. There was a sharp corner, ending in an airlock.

The door was starting to open.

The other alarm started letting me know that it was hitting threshhold, beeping steadily.

My balls were trying to climb up into my abdomen.

According to the newer chemical detector, there were low levels of blister agent vapor present.

shit

The door was rising slowly, and I knew that there was an invisible cloud rolling toward me as the door opened further and further.

The lights in the airlock were flickering, and I could see legs through the gap in the door.

The alarm went off, a steady tone.

I turned and ran.


Chapter 28

Site Kilo-29
Event Locker Area - Access Hallways
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Early Morning


In the cold and the dark I'd faced off against someone with an axe who'd been one step ahead of us all the time. I'd faced off against the enemy in the desert. I'd faced off against a lot of different threats over my life, and never flinched. I'd retreated, I'd backed off, but with the exception of Tandy, I'd never just plain ran.

With the chemical alarm wailing, I took off running.

I wasn't afraid of whoever it was on the other side of the airlock door. I wasn't afraid of the CIA agents. I wasn't even afraid of Bishop/Tandy anymore.

I was afraid of what I couldn't see.

Kincaid was pulling on his left glove, his gear still dropped on the floor behind him.

"Back out!" I yelled. "Kincaid, hurry the fuck up."

"Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit." Kincaid was saying under his mask. "oh god oh shit oh god oh shit"

I grabbed Kincaid's gear and waved at Shads. "Get to the door, open it up, we gotta get out of this hallway."

Shads nodded, and we waited for Kincaid to finish pulling his sleeves and pant legs over the gloves and boots. At least he hadn't had to use the 5 point tie boots, those took forever, and the military had replaced them with the wet-weather boots for both speed and ease of use.

Less than 180 seconds had passed.

I could hear the clock ticking in my head.

Were the vapors strong enough now to affect Kincaid? Had I been affected? Was my headache from the mine and after effects of my head injuries, or was I affected? Was the trembling I could see in Donaldson the beginning of the shakes from VX?

fuck fuck fuck

"Sergeant, the door won't open!" Shads called out.

Fuck. With the door to the inside of the hallway open, the door to the outside airlock on our side wouldn't engage.

"Pump it twice, real fast!" I yelled back.

Something screamed, rage and pain in the voice.

"I tried, it isn't doing anything!" I couldn't hear the panic in Shads voice, my fear not helping.

"Get ready!" I called out. "Hold your fire till I give the word." I brought my weapon around, pulling back on the charging handle and loading a round into the chamber of my rifle. "Don't let them get on you." I flicked it from safe to semi.

"Sergeant, what about..." Kincaid started. I could hear the panic in his voice.

"Worry about it later." I told him. "We've got enemy incoming."

"Ready, Sergeant." Kincaid told me. I dropped his gear and he snatched it up, pulling it on, and grabbing the rifle.

There was another screech, and the light at the corner went out.

"Here they come." Donaldson said.

"Shads, leave the bar in the locking position and get back here." I called out, checking the ceiling. There were no vents, the ceiling vaulted to help resist collapse.

They had to come down the hallway at us, or back off.

From the sounds of the screeching, they weren't backing off.

Another light shattered, plunging the corner into the hallway. Something glanced off the hallway wall and bounced to the floor. I tightened my grip of the handgrips of my weapon. Wearing a mask made the iron sights useless, but it didn't really matter to me. I was a shit shot with an M16 anyway, barely passing at the range after my first or second retry. I'd never shot Marksman or better on the first try in my entire career. I'd been to remedial ranges, even taken by Captain Bishop to the Rod & Gun Club every weekend for months while he tried to teach me to shoot the rifle right. When the bullets were flying, I was fine. In a rush on the enemy, I was fine. In the back of a truck firing at enemy light vehicles, I was fine. At the range... I just sucked.

One time we'd been out at an old farm, and Bomber had teased me that I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if I was inside it. I pointed at the barn, told him I could too. We'd put 5 rounds in a 30 round magazine, I'd walked into the barn after loading the rifle and switching it to semi.

And tripped

I'd accidentally pulled it to full auto, fallen forward, and my trigger finger went back.

All five rounds had went into the dirt.

I'd never lived it down.

Still, it was the rifle or nothing.

Something darted around the corner and I saw it throw something. The intact light between us went out.

"Steady." I said conversationally, lifting my M-203. "Shads, throw a flare on the next steady."

Over my over-loud breathing I could hear the skitter of claws on cement.

"Ready." I told them. They were getting closer.

"Steady." I closed my eyes. I heard Shads grunt and the white light could be seen through my eyelids.

"FIRE!" I opened my eyes.

They swarmed us, a mass I couldn't pick individual members out of, a mass that just poured around the corner all squat and low, hunchbacked and drooling. Their skin was red and raw, weeping, their noses were gone with only snot oozing holes in their faces. They had on black rags that shone with fluids draped on their bodies.

They held hatchets in their hands as they flinched from the light, caught between the flare Shads had thrown and us.

I started pulling the trigger, dropped down but not on my knees. Everyone else was firing, and someone was bellowing something that was drowned out by the punishing thunder of the weapons. The normal flat recoil was amplified by the tunnel, by the close quarters of the cement, turning into a roar that pounded at the ears and seemed to press my mask against my face.

Some lost arms. More went down as their blood shot from their backs. I clearly saw that one went down with its leg severed at the knee. There were those who went down with shattered heads.

They started screaming, their cries mixing with the deafening thunder of the rifles.

They'd started charging, and they learned a simple lesson about the modern age.

You do not charge into modern infantry weapons.

Movies make it seem like a bullet just magically stops when it hits a body. An M-16 was an assault rifle, designed to kill men, penetrate light cover, even disable vehicles. While a bullet starts to tumble, it would still punch straight through a body if it doesn't hit anything more than a bone. At the close ranges we were shooting, the bullets went straight through any of those things they hit, hitting any of them behind.

The only way someone with hand weapons beats someone with a firearm is if the person with the firearm lets them get close.

We didn't let them.

"Reloading!" I called out, the magazine dropping from my empty weapon. I'd participated in so many NBC rodeos over the years that reloading my weapon, hell, taking my weapon apart and putting it back together, chemical gloves or not, was reflex. The next magazine was out before the first had fallen to the floor and I slammed it in, slapped the bottom of the magazine, let the bolt slide home, and tapped the forward assist.

I resumed firing as the others reloaded, keeping the pressure on them, firing in front of them, leading the way I'd been trained, and moving the barrel in a short sideways figure-8, firing quick bursts to keep the recoil from getting ahead of me.

Maybe I sucked with a rifle, but in the close confined of the hallway, it didn't matter. Rounds that missed richoceted, howling around their end of the corridor. Even a round that shattered did damage, even a round that barely missed caused injury, as fragments sliced into them. The pictures lining the wall shattered, and blood and tissue spattered the cement the entire length of the hallway.

In seconds the hallway had turned into a charnel house.

And they were still coming.

The fact that it was an enclosed area wasn't in my head right as my hand dropped down to grab a grenade.

"TWO NINETEENTH!" I bellowed, my hand on the grenade sitting on my magazine pouch. The fact that there was no "Finish the fight!" answering me jerked me out of pulling the grenade free and killing all of us.

This isn't Desert Storm, dumbass!

Nancy's voice.

Oh, yeah...

They only got within 10 feet of us before they suddenly began turning around.

"Keep up the pressure!" I bellowed out, hoping they'd be able to hear me over the sound of the gunfire in the hallway and the ringing in their ears. I slapped the forward assist and kept shooting.

Only those furthest from us, closest to the corner, got away.

Within the space of a handful of seconds, just barely enough time to dump two and a half magazines, they were all down, only two twisting in agony as the echoes shuddered away. The far wall was cratered where the rounds had hit, but not as deep as I'd expected. An M-16 round will blow through a cinderblock, but they hadn't penetrated very far into the concrete.

My brain filed that information as I walked forward.

"Reload." I ordered, my voice sounding odd. My ears were ringing and my hearing was probably shot for a couple of days.

One of the ones twisting was crying out, an eerie wordless cry that was somehow less than human. It's insides had fallen from a ruptured abdomen and its claws were tearing into them as it mindlessly tore at itself in agony.

I put a single bullet into the bald earless head.

The second one reached up at me, snarling, its eyes slitted in hatred.

I put a single bullet between them.

"Kincaid, Wilkins, you're with me. The rest of you, fall back to the airlock, Donaldson, you're in charge." I raised my voice enough to be heard over stunned hearing, reloading myself.

Both of them caught up with me as I rounded the corner, skirting around the flare that was hissing angrily on the floor. The airlock was open but empty, the far door open to a dark hallway.

Something screamed in rage and hatred in the darkness.

"I OUGHTA COME IN THERE AND KILL EVERY LAST FUCKING ONE OF YOU!" I screamed back, stepping forward.

Instead I grabbed the lever, and pumped it down twice.

I wasn't going into the darkness, on their territory, without NVG's.

I was ugly, not dumb.

My hearing was screwed up enough I couldn't hear it thud into position as it just dropped. I pulled the bar back up and left it sticking straight out. The flare was burning merrily as I bent down and picked up the hatchet that one of them had thrown at the light.

It had an eagle surrounded by an arc of stars on each side, the weapon good steel and honed to a sharp edge. The handle was metal, and wrapped with leather colored plastic. On the bottom of the handle was serial number, only six numbers and letters long. No manufacturer markings I could see, which struck me as odd. The leather was stained and covered in some kind of blackish mucus-like substance.

I dropped it.

"Open the door, stay on the stick." I called out. Shads reached threw the lever down and the door shuddered before it started to lift. Donaldson knelt down, his rifle ready, and watched the gap rise. I checked the detector again. I couldn't tell if it was sounding off any more, the ringing in my ears the same pitch as the noise it had been making.

One flickering bar.

We went through the airlock, and I reset it and checked it again.

Nothing.

"oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck" Kincaid was still saying. "My mouth feels dry. I think I'm shaking. Am I shaking?"

"You're fine." I told him, reaching up and pulling off my mask. The seal and the Event Locker stencil seemed off color to me, but then that could have just as easily been the dazzling from the muzzle flashes and the flare.

Was my mouth dry?

"Sergeant!" All of them yelled at once.

I hefted the detector. "We're clear." I looked at them. "We're OK. I don't think it was enough to get us." I hefted the detector again. "I have these cranked all the way up. We could have gotten a false reading."

"Really?" Kincaid stopped pacing.

"Yes. I've seen these things go off from diesel fumes." I grinned. "Hell, one time, during REFORGER 88 a female soldier squatted near one, took a piss, and it went apeshit, told us we were being hit with mustard gas. We practically rolled on the Russians over that."

"No way." Wilkins was laughing.

"Serious as a heart attack, man." I told him.

"Oh man, that pussy musta been foul." Donaldson said, reaching for his mask.

"Don't." I told him. "Keep 'em on till I've been OK at least 5 minutes." I shrugged. "Most expendable."

"I thought..." Shads shuffled for a second. "I was taught that lowest ranking pulls the mask."

I shook my head. "No. Not this time. You guys could get back, you could just hunker down with the Major and try to ride out till the doors are ready to unlock. You've got the door codes and the exit sequences, you could unlock the doors yourself."

"If we could just ride it out, why are we doing this?" Wilkins asked.

"Because we still have a mission." I told them. "I'm supposed to examine and evaluate this facility within my expertise and decide if it is worth rebuilding or if it should be stripped, imploded, and sealed up."

"What's your opinion so far?" Kincaid sounded like he was levelling out. Hell, I didn't blame him, he didn't panic, and my asshole sure slammed shut when that chemical detector went off.

"My opinion?" They nodded, and I grinned at them. "Pull back and nuke it from orbit."

"It's the only way to be sure." Kincaid finished, and everyone chuckled, even Donaldson, who didn't really get the joke.

"We going to try another way?" Shads asked.

"Yeah." I told him. "We're going to cut through the Deep Storage, I'm going to look for something." I waved at the wall, the motion encompassing the whole facility. "I know just the fucking thing to even the odds."

"What?" Kincaid asked.

"Trust me, Kincaid, you'll find out when I find it." I told him. Kincaid was big enough, had enough endurance, and hell, looked and acted like the type who'd enjoy what I had planned.

Fuck those cannibal cocksuckers. They got to die.

"What is it?" Kincaid sounded like he'd just come downstairs and found his stocking filled with hookers.

"I made a mistake." I admitted. "I fucked up big time, and I think I might have gotten us in trouble because of it?"

"Fuck you're mistake, what is it?" Kincaid wasn't about to be diverted.

"I figured there'd only be between ten and thirty cannibals, maybe five to six groups." I said, holding up my hand to silence Kincaid before he started jumping up and down. "I took a quick guess count. We just killed about fifty motherfuckers."

"Warriors." Wilkins guessed.

"More than likely." I agreed. "So, if they're willing to throw away that many warriors in one shot at us, what does that tell you?"

"There's a metric fuckton more." Donaldson said.

"Bingo." I nodded. Then I jerked my thumb at the hallway. "So we're gonna go get something for Kincaid to even the odds."

"What is it? Is it a missile launcher?" Kincaid asked.

"Dude, calm down before you wet yourself." Wilkins told him.

"You were serious. You're actually having fun." Natchez accused Kincaid.

"Fuck yeah I am!" Kincaid said behind his mask. "Come on, killer cannibals, killer CIA agents, like, the coolest squad leader ever, and an underground base right out of a fucking comic book! What isn't fun?"

"But we might get killed." Wilkins reminded him.

"Fuck that. They die like any other motherfucker." Kincaid told him. I leaned against the heavy door, content to let Kincaid run himself out. "We're fucking soldiers, we go out and fight when we're told to. Ant told us to fight, so we fight. This beats the shit out of dying in some Third World shit hole."

"But, weren't they Americans?" Shads asked.

"Were, man, were." Kincaid told him. "Did you see those cock suckers? They filed their teeth. They're all fucked up from whatever the CIA did to them."

"It's still murder." Wilkins said.

"The fuck it is!" Kincaid told the other man. "Those assholes went to town on my face. They fucking tried to eat one of our guys." He stepped forward. "One of those assholes tried to gnaw its way through my goddamn Kevlar, and I don't think it was because he thought I was hot and wanted to suck my nipples." He pointed at the door. "They used to be Americans. They used to be people. Now they're goddamn cannibal mutants."

"Now they're the enemy." Donaldson said quietly.

Everyone just turned and stared at him.

"They tried to kill us in the garage." He continued. "They've killed god knows how many other people. I half expected them to drop from the ceiling or some shit on the lift. They aren't human any more." He shook his head. "They're just the enemy."

Kincaid pulled off his mask, one of his stitches popping and a trickle of blood running down his face. "They did this to me. Nobody does some shit like this to me and gets to brag about it."

I noticed he wrapped it properly when he put it away.

"You guys can unmask." It was redundant, but it reminded them that I was in charge.

"So what is it?" Kincaid swerved right back to Christmas.

"You'll see." I told him, limping toward the intersection.

"Are you wounded, Sergeant?" Shads asked me.

"You know that thing that drug that guy through the doorway?" I asked.

"Yeah." Shads answered.

"It broke my knee the same year I cut my acting CO's throat in the snow after he attacked me and a couple of other people with an axe." I told them.

There was shocked silence as we walked down the hallway.

"Dude, your Army sucks." Kincaid said.

"That's Sergeant, Private Kincaid, not 'dude'." The effect was spoiled by my laughter though.

"You didn't really..." Wilkins said.

"He tied me to a chair and interrogated me. He attacked us with an axe. He facilitated the attempted rape of one of my troops. He was directly responsible for the deaths of multiple soldiers." I told them, wiping my forehead. Even in the chill of the deeper tunnels, MOPP 3 was fucking hot. "I should have killed him days before, but held off for stupid reasons that sounded like good ones at the time."

"Jesus." Someone breathed.

"Jesus had nothing to do with my old unit." I growled as we approached the intersection.

The hair started to raise on the back of my neck.

...Christ, Ant, he's in here with us... Catherine was hunkered down by wall, her rifle in her hands, snow on her uniform and ice in her hair. She was chattering, dressed only in the winter BDU's.

At the far end of the hallway darkness suddenly covered the access door.

"RUN!" I yelled, turning the corner and limping down the hallway to Deep Storage as fast as I could.

"Why?" Natchez asked.

"Just run!" Donaldson yelled. I could tell by his voice he was right behind me. Kincaid got right next to me.

"Oh shit, it's him, isn't it?" Kincaid asked, keeping pace with me. Donaldson pulled up on my left.

"Anytime it goes dark for no reason, assume it's him and run." I told them.

"What are we running from?" Wilkins asked.

"Smurfs." Kincaid tossed over his shoulder. "Now smurfing run!"

The tunnel twisted and turned, reminding me again that the whole fucking site was probably built around an existing cave system. Mocking laughter followed us as ran, drowning out our bootheels but not our breathing.

Three hundred paces. We had to be deep in the mountain. Down where it was dark and cold.

...we'd killed each other in the dark and cold in an orgy of violent revenge and raw hot sweet hatred...

We came around the last gentle corner and slid to a stop in front of the Deep Storage Locker door.

The door was massive, big enough to drive a vehicle through, unlike the Event Locker. The Continuity of Government Seal was at least six feet wide, and the strokes of the stenciled letters that read "DEEP STORAGE-Site KILO-29" were a foot thick. The keypad was there, but I'd written down Agent Killian's codes, and the first one I typed in was an instant go.

When we hit the bar, sirens echoed through the cavern.

"Think they know we're here?" Kincaid asked.

"Shut up, Kincaid." It was becoming reflex.

The door drew up slowly, the thumping of the hydraulics a physical thing that pressed on the eardrums, pushed on the eyeballs, and made the internal organs resonate. The door was three feet thick, set at least a foot into the floor, and it looked like it was set at least a foot deep into the walls. I could see a heavily greased gear toothed track in the middle about a six inches wide, that weird crusted look on the grease that it gets after a long time. The door was probably steel lined with a concrete core, although we'd found a door that one of the Air Force techs told us was some kind of alloy that made just the door worth several million dollars, so I wasn't putting any bets on just steel.

I ducked down and tried to get a look at the other side and was rewarded with a face full of medal plate with yellow and black striping on the edges.

When it was halfway up I turned around to face behind us. The light on the gentle curve of the corner was getting dimmer. Something tickled my face and I brushed it away irritatably.

"Holy shit." Someone, maybe Natchez said softly enough that I barely heard it over the hydraulics.

"It's snowing." Donaldson said, pitching his voice loud enough to be heard.

"Sergeant?" Shads sounded worried.

Fuck, I was worried.

"He's coming." I said, turning around and hammering on the door. "Come on, you big bastard, hurry the fuck up!"

The door ignored me.

"Jesus, look at that." Kincaid said.

When I turned back to look, I could see what he was talking about. It was snowing in the corridor. Not heavily, but noticably. And the entire arched ceiling was slowly covering with ice, the tendrils starting at the corner and slowly moving toward us. The walls were starting to glitter with frost.

"Can we kill it?" Wilkins asked.

"No." I told him, then turned around and glared at the door as if I could make it lift up faster just by staring at it hard enough.

"It's getting darker." Donaldson said. I glanced back and looked.

The lightbulbs were dimming, the ones farthest away only putting out enough light to see that they existed, they did nothing to light up the darkness that was starting to fill up the corner.

Natchez raised up his rifle, and I knocked the barrel downwards and turned on him. "Don't be fucking stupid." I told him.

"I just know there's more of Kincaid's fucking cannibals on other side of this fucking door." Wilkins said.

"They're not my goddamn cannibals, so fuck you." Kincaid told him.

Wilkins opened his mouth to say something when the voice came down the hallway on a spray of glittering frost.

"Kiiiiincaaaaid..." It was low, and liquid, and just plain wrong. It slithered through the thumps of the hydraulics, an almost oily serpentine sound you could almost see.

"FUCK YOU!" Kincaid yelled down the hallway.

The door was almost all the way up.

"Sssssshaaaaadsssss...." Again, and Shads jerked like someone had pinched him.

"Sergeant?"

"FUCK YOU, TANDY! GO HOME!" I yelled in the same voice I used to be heard over the roar of gunfire.

A long exhale, sounding pleased, was audible over the thumping of the hydraulics.

With a bone rattling thud the door locked into position.

"Wiiiiilkiiiinssss...." Tandy/Bishop whispered.

The internal door shuddered, and I told myself it was the vibration of the air that made two of the bulbs in the hallway explode in sparks.

"Get ready to run." I told them. Visibility was dropping fast.

The internal door pulled back in less than five seconds.

"GO GO GO GO!" I yelled, turnign around and grabbing a handy dandy OD green baseball with a yellow stripe around it. The others ran by me as I yanked the pin out.

"FUCK YOU, TANDY!" I yelled, and threw it as hard as I could, geting a good lob on it, and jumped through the door way.

There was the standard bar, but best of all, there was a red button behind glass.

I threw the bar twice, and the steel inner door slammed shut.

If the grenade went off, we didn't hear it.

We could feel the outer door closing, the vibration of it hammering at the air so hard that it made the walls seem to dance.

There was a knock from the other side of the door.

"Ant?" It was Catherine's voice.

I wasn't the only one staring at the door.

"Ant, please, open the door, I'm freezing to death. My baby is going to freeze to death." We could faintly hear her weeping, even over the almost prehistoric sound of the hydraulics.

I turned my back on Taggart's voice.

The lights had come on to reveal a concrete hallway with a nice set of stencils on it that handily gave us color coordinated lines to "VEHICLE STORAGE", "PREFAB STORAGE", "INFRASTRUCTURE REPAIR", "CIVILIAN AREA", and exactly what I was hoping for.

"MILITARY DEEP STORAGE LOCKER"

Hoo fucking ah.

I started jogging down the hallway, smiling to myself.

"Sergeant?" Wilkins asked as we moved far enough away that we could hear ourselves think.

"What?" I asked, well, snarled to be exact.

"How could we hear..."

I cut him off. "It doesn't make sense. It never has." I told him.

"Did you know her?" Shads asked.

"Yeah."

"Did she die?" Shads sounded worried.

"No, she didn't. I saw her a few months back." I told them.

"Christ it's cold in here." Wilkins bitched. "Did it start snowing because of the door opening and letting this cold out?"

"Sure, why not." I answered. The red line took the second left, and I followed it. The hallway ended in another blast door, this one with all kinds of signs that warned me that if I didn't belong here I'd get my ass shot off.

Big deal. I'd helped put up those signs in places.

The doorway was thick, but not nearly as thick as some of the other's we'd seen. A nice blast door, but it was went up in less than 30 seconds and didn't have an airlock on the other side.

"They're not kidding, are they?" Natchez wasn't asking.

There were stencils and lines, and I knew without asking which ones he was asking about. I didn't care about either of them, I was more interested in the one that read "PRIMARY DEEP STORAGE MILITARY ARMORY" than the two everyone's attention was fixated on.

"No way." Wilkins tossed in.

"Yesterday, I'd have said that." Kincaid said. "Now, oh fuck yeah."

"Just ignore it." I told them. "It's one of the reasons they sent me."

We walked past the two stencils, and I could feel them breathe a sigh of relief when we turned and the two lines went on without us.

They were something I would have to check out.

Or, someplace I'd go to get what I needed to make this goddamn place a fucking smoking hole in the middle of the mountain.

"I don't know how this place is going to be laid out." I warned them outside the door that led into the armory. "I've got an idea, but nothing sure positive." I punched in Agent Killain's code and the door opened nice and smooth.

"Hail Mary, full of grace." Kincaid said, pointing at the wall.

For the first time we weren't being mocked with a framed piece of plexiglass with a sticker that said "YOU ARE HERE" over a bare wall.

There was an honest to God map of the Armory on the wall.

"Look at the size of this place." Donaldson said.

"That's what I want. Kincaid, get it out." I told him. "And if you rip it, I swear to God I'll beat you to death with my cock."

Kincaid just grinned, and carefully edged it out of the plexi.

Thanks to the map, it only took about an hour for us to rearm, and for me to get what I was after.

"Seriously, Sergeant, I get this?" Kincaid asked when I popped the banding on the box. Just the nomenclature was giving him a steel hard boner.

"Yup." I told him, popping the catches. I lifted the lid, then pulled the foam aside. "Ain't they the prettiest ladies you ever seen?"

Kincaid looked like he was going to spray jizz all over the contents of the shipping container.

"It's all you, baby." I told him. "Manual's on the lid, put her together and give her a PMCS. Natchez, you're with him, the rest of you, come with me."

"Where are we going?" Wilkins asked, staring at the container's contents in horror, contents which Kincaid was stroking like other men stroked their wive's thighs.

"We're getting Kincaid ammunition." I told them.

Fuck defensive. I was trained for offensive.

The things the CIA had made out of normal people were a goddamn biological and chemical threat to the civilians that lived on and around this mountain.

In the playbook, I had an option. According to the playbook, cut off from communication with my superiors I had doctrine that told me what I was permitted to do.

Ruthless, inhuman doctrine that required those who followed it to do ruthless and inhuman things.

That was all right. Without Heather and the baby, I wasn't really human anyway.

...vile nasty stupid boy...

I was going to use that doctrine to bring war and suffering to the enemy. God help them if the CIA got in my fucking way.

Kincaid was going to love it.


Chapter 29

Site Kilo-29
Deep Storage Area - Military Area
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Morning
Status: Full Offensive Measures Engaged


"This is illegal." Wilkins said as I checked the seal on the feed lines from the tanks.

"Shut it." I told him, flicking away some of the silicon sealant with my thumb nail. It was a faint translucent gray and looked as thick as a kid's snotty nose. "All right, Kincaid, flip up the red safety catch."

"Done, Sergeant." He told me.

"Use your right thumb to flip the lever just above your thumb to a downward angle." I told him. I heard a hiss and the tube that led from the small propane tank jerked and I could tell by the way the tube spread open on the top arc. "Now, flip the switch that was underneath the safety catch to the forward position."

The pressurized hiss was loud to my ears.

...burn every goddamn one of these bodies where they've fallen. Do not check for life signs, do not approach any closer than five meters. Decon teams, deploy...

"Sergeant, this is against the Geneva Conventions." Wilkins tried again.

"You think they matter here?" I asked, rotating the small levers on the hose connectors after loosening the flow screws on the tanks to pressurize the system. "Kincaid, put light pressure on the trigger until the trigger pushes back."

"You can't use this!" Wilkins shouted at me. I turned around to face him.

"Are you trained in NBC warfare?" I asked him, moving into his face. "Do you know the proper doctrine for high threat decon work? Do know what we are supposed to do, in this situation, according to NBC warfare doctrine?"

...Colonel, we've got a live one. Oh my god, she's alive...

He shook his head.

...wrong. nobody survived. you try to assist, Sergeant, and I'll shoot you down where you stand...

"Then shut the fuck up." I told him, turning to face the ammunition pack on Kincaid packs. "Kincaid, you got this?"

"Fuck yeah, Sergeant, I've got this shit." He told me. "What's the range on this? The manual said twenty-five to fifty meters."

On the other side of Kincaid Bomber hefted what he held in his hands and grinned, his eyes and smile wild and savage. Bomber looked at me, sweat streaming down his face.

...kill anything that lives, brother...

"It's twenty-five to fifty meters." I told him. "Pressurized focus system, based on improvements after Vietnam."

"No way, it's probably got a range of about ten feet." Wilkins said.

...shut up, you lousy little bitch...

...hush, Nancy...


I rapped on the left hand tank. "This thing is fueled by a binary tank system, propane to keep the igniter lit, and if I'm right this is a mid-80's model." I glanced over my shoulder at Wilkins. "This is not a World War Two weapon, old Korean left-overs, or even Vietnam War surplus, this is state of the fucking art. Hell, the fuel isn't even pressurized diesel any more. These tanks contain a binary solution of oxygen infused thermite and magnesium enriched napalm solution that burns at over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. It's under pressure, and the dial just behind the arming trigger will tell you how much is left in the tank."

"You can't use a flame-thrower on the people in this bunker." Wilkins tried again.

"Fucking watch me." Kincaid told him. "Anything else I should know, Sergeant?"

"Don't engage a target closer than ten feet. Once you engage a target, move on to the next, they're already dead but don't know it." I told him, grabbing the case lid off the floor slapping it over the tanks and starting to button it up. "Don't worry about accuracy, engage them as far as possible, and remember that you might have to back up to properly engage."

"What if they get by me?" Kincaid asked. "Or come from the side or drop on me."

"Donaldson has pistols, he'll be on your left. Keep that in mind." I told him, slapping the long heavy machete sheathe I'd dropped over my shoulder. "I've got your back, any drop on you or get close, I'll put them down." Kincaid turned slightly and grinned at me, his eyes bright and glittery.

"Anything else?" He asked.

"It's gonna get hot when the heat starts reflecting off the walls and ceiling." I told him, picking up his helmet and stepping around in front of him.

He was dressed in an armored J-Suit. You didn't see them often outside of an offensive NBC warfare unit. The suits had flexible metal strips to keep slashes from debris from slicing open the J-Suit, a layer of Kevlar to protect from shrapnel and to add another layer of protection against slashes from debris, a thin layer of asbestos to keep you from cooking if a someone popped a therm nearby or you ended up doing a particularly nasty decon and needed to run a flamethrower. The suit could be run on a positive pressure system in a facility or vehicle, could run positive pressure from tanks/recirculator/uptake system, or simply have the vents open.

Kincaid was going to be running on the uptake box on the bottom of the flamethrower fuel frame and plugged it into the intake and outtake systems.

"OK, Kincaid, it's going to get hot as hell in there, your sweat will be up to your shins inside of twenty minutes." I warned him. "Did you thread the dick-wire?"

"I'm not going to put in a catheter, no fucking way." Kincaid told me, laughing nervously.

"Then you'll have to piss down your leg, because you ain't unassing that suit till it's all over." I told him. I stepped up into his face, pitching my voice so only he could hear. "Once this helmet goes on, it doesn't come off until the mission is over, soldier. Do you understand?"

Kincaid stared at me and swallowed, the nodded.

"We're depending on you, Private Kincaid." I told him, then clapped the hood on him and began sealing it.

"Where did you learn about that kind of stuff?" Natchez asked me.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." I answered.

...once you gentlemen enter the next chamber, you will be in a full chemical environment with higher levels than anything you will encounter outside of an industrial accident or direct exposure to weapons being deployed in on the chemical battlefield. This is your last chance to drop on request before entering that chamber...

"Sergeant, are you serious about all of us staying in MOPP-4?" Shads asked, snapping me out of my memory.

"Look, unless you want me to autopsy one of them..." I trialed off and everyone stared at me. "Donaldson, make sure everyone is in MOPP-3 with their masks ready to go, make sure everyone is armed and ready to go."

"What are you going to do, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked.

"Wait, why is Donaldson in charge? I outrank him!" Wilkins said.

"Donaldson, until further notice, you're brevet pinned Specialist." I said, moving toward the door, running over the inventory control sheets I'd glanced at. "I'm getting my gear together." I stopped at the door and turned to face them. "Welcome to Special Weapons, gentlemen."

"He can't do that!" Wilkins yelled as I left.

"You argue with him." Shads said.

"I'm backing the Sergeant." Natchez added.

"Fuck yeah." Kincaid said. "Flamethrower, baby! I'm loving this shit!"

The door closed, cutting them off, and I started heading down the hallway, following the stripes. I'd need a full kit, but it was going to weight about sixty pounds, and I was already at max load with the extra tank pack. I'd have to pass it off to Natchez, since Wilkins was already packing one. Donaldson was on action front duty, and I was on recovery and flanks.

Everyone in my new unit looked at me weird for running with a full basic ruck on my stomach and a full infantry ruck on my back with 50 pounds at the bottom. I ran every goddamn day, at least every other day, pushing what was left of my body to limits.

I'd run out of gas when everyone depended on me before

...I couldn't see, lost in the dark and snow, but I could hear Nancy's sobbing in the darkness...

and I wasn't about to let it happen ever again.

So I knew I could pack the weight. I didn't have the space to pack the field kit, but if I transferred the tanks to Wilkins, I could still pack my gear and the field kit.

It was an unassuming door, with a label that gave no hint as to what it meant. Kincaid's suit and the flamethrower were in the armory and the excursion team equipment area.

What I was after was more specialized.

Nancy was waiting for me inside the room. She pointed out where the things I needed was, reminded me when I almost forgot to add something, and reminded me to get down the portable kit.

I ripped it apart, putting it back together with the extra stuff I'd need, Nancy reminding me of things I'd need that I almost forgot about. By the time I was done, I was pretty sure I had everything I needed, and Nancy was satisfied with my choices. All told, it weighed probably 50 pounds, but was bulky as shit. I'd need Donaldson to carry my infantry ruck, and the gear was only for a few moments, but those few moments would help me decide what option I wanted to go with.

And if I'd have to betray everyone sitting upstairs with the Major.

North Dakota would turn into a cluster fuck anyway, and if that had bloomed to the point they were dressed and armed like Kincaid, nobody would ever know what happened here. Someone was going to be thrown under the bus to divert the public's attention from North Dakota, and the little mess I was going to cause wouldn't even be noticed during whatever public shitstorm was stirred up to hide North Dakota.

Nancy reminded me of something I might need.

I pulled the grenades out of my satchel, leaving them on the table, and went and loaded it full of what I was afraid I was going to need. I needed what was in one of the ammunition cans I'd pulled out of my truck and put in the room I was using. Hell, one of the vaccines was still experimental, but I still packed the goddamn thing.

Like Nancy had reminded me, they hadn't gone through what I had, none of the Major's men had. I was vaccinated and inoculated against everything known to man, the CDC, the WHO, and NATO. Hell, I'd got inoculations for shit that didn't exist outside of a goddamn lab. Part of graduation was a cocktail of 130 different protective measures. If you survived and weren't crippled, then you passed.

It was brutal, it was inhuman, and ruthless.

My knuckles and the scars on me spoke silently of my brutality.

Missions and circumstances had shown I was ruthless.

My mother had made sure I wasn't human any more.

...vile, disgusting, horrible boy, ruiner of women, you're nothing more than a monster and I should have drowned you, you disgusting, vile little creature...

Heather's eyes appeared in my mind, and I could feel her arms around me.

My mother's voice vanished.

I finished packing the kit and grabbing the rest of what I would need. My "go to hell" kit, in case everything went to shit and the fallback plans and contingency plans were nothing but dust and death.

I'd promised the Major that I'd do everything I could to keep our men alive.

I hadn't lied.

I slung the gear and made one stop at a supply room on the way back to grab something I needed, no, that I needed Kincaid and Donaldson to have.

When I got back to the others Kincaid had shut the system down and was bitching to everyone about how hot the suit was already, how he had to pee, and how everyone needed to quit bitching about "bullshit ass MOPP-3". He had leaned the tanks on a table to take the weight off of him.

"Don't lean on shit." I snapped as I walked through the door. "Act like you're wearing sponges, boots, and gloves and that everything you touch is covered in liquid poison." Kincaid turned to stare at me. "You'd have failed initial testing." I snapped.

"Roger that, Sergeant." Kincaid said, standing up.

"This is for you, Donaldson." I told him, handing him a package of corporal rank. "Just put one on your left collar." I held up the specialist rank. "Once we're done down here, this is for you, Kincaid."

"Hot damn, a flamethrower and a promotion." Kincaid said. I could see him smiling through the Lexan shield in front of his face.

"They aren't legal promotions." Wilkins said.

"I'll have the Major sign the paperwork tonight, they'll be legal." I told everyone. I made sure I had everyone's attention. "Look, we're about to go into combat against an unknown enemy with unknown capabilities." I started. "I don't want any confusion regarding the chain of command when we make contact with the enemy."

Wilkins opened his mouth and then closed it.

"It's mission time." I told them. "Kincaid, you're in the lead. Donaldson, half a pace behind him on his left. Donaldson, you take my pack, Natchez, you're carrying an ammo pack for Kincaid."

"Sergeant, I officially wish my objections to this ‘operation' of yours to be recorded, and wish to formally remind you of the illegality of what you are proposing to do." Wilkins tried, his voice formal and clipped with stress.

"Fine, drop the tanks. You can either wait here until we return, at which time I will have you repeat your objections to Major Darson." I shrugged. "We might not come back, so after a few hours, you can go down and use the lift." I opened my MOPP top and dug into my pocket, pulled out my notebook and pen, and jotted down some numbers before tearing it off and handing it to him. "Those codes will get you back up to the Major and will open the doors for you."

Wilkins paled, but I kept going. "I won't ask you to do anything you have a moral or ethical objection to, Private Wilkins, but this operation is going to go on with or without you." I shrugged again. "All that you bowing out will do is make it a little more difficult for us to accomplish our mission." I unsnapped my mask carrier, the sound loud in the sudden silence. "But we will accomplish it."

"This is against the Geneva Convention." Wilkins said. "It's gotta be illegal according to the UCMJ."

"Anyone else want out?" I asked.

"I'm in." Donaldson said, grunting as he shifted my ruck.

"I'm with you, Sergeant." Shads told me.

"I have no objection to the mission." Natchez said almost grudgingly.

"I want some fucking payback." Kincaid said, and there was a sudden pressurized hiss as he kicked on the flamethrower.

...you have your orders, men...

...the brutal hissing of the flamethrowers broke the silence as we stepped forward as one...


"If we aren't back in three hours, make for the lift, don't go into any darkness, and if it starts to get cold, run for it, Wilkins." I said, pulling on my mask. I cleared the mask and stared at him. "Good luck, soldier."

"You aren't going to leave me here, are you?" Wilkins asked.

"I can't afford to reduce our combat effectiveness by sending manpower to escort you to the lift." I told him, pulling the drawstring on the hood. "I won't ask you to do anything you feel is illegal." I grabbed my helmet and clapped it on. "I'll have you returned to the regular Army as soon as possible, and all of this can just be a nightmare."

"Your Army rocks, Sergeant." Kincaid said, popping the pressure on the flamethrower so the hiss stuttered. "Flamethrowers, killer mutants, underground bases, and rogue secret agents." He turned toward me. "You get lots of pussy in your Army?"

I laughed. "No complaints, Kincaid. Just the woman look as mean as they are and would cut your throat in a hot second."

"I can hang with that." Kincaid said. "Let's go before I fucking drown in this suit before I can get some pussy."

...I'd fuck that boy to death...

...I know, Nancy...


"Good luck, Private Wilkins." I said, pausing at the door. He stared at me in shock, unable to believe that I'd leave him behind.

"Sergeant, you can't..." He started.

I stared at him for a long time. "The mission comes first." I told him. He just kept staring. Behind me Kincaid was playing with the pressure trigger, popping the hiss repeatedly in impatience. "Wilkins, I'd rather have you with me, I need the manpower, this is going to turn into a total clusterfuck, we'll be lucky if half of get out of here."

He wavered physically. "I was just following orders isn't an excuse, Sergeant."

"You have to make that decision yourself." I told him. "This is going to get ugly."

...he's not a coward, Ant, he wouldn't have stepped up like that if he was a coward...

...I know, Bomber...


"They might court martial you." He told me.

"If that's what it costs, then I'll take the court martial quietly." I told him.

"Really?" He asked.

"Yeah, really." I told him, and started to turn away.

"Is it that important?" he asked.

"It's more important than you'd understand." I told him.

"Wait!" he called out. I slowed down, and he caught up to me. "Is it that important?"

I was silent until we caught up to the others at the Deep Storage Locker door.

"Gather up." I told them. Kincaid popped the flamethrower again, but kept the nozzle pointed down the hallway the way we'd came, away from everyone.

"Wilkins brought up a legitimate point." I told them. "What we're doing may or may not be illegal under the Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention, and the UCMJ, but that doesn't matter." I paused.

"Fuck it, they get to die." Kincaid snarled, popping the flamethrower twice, the double metallic hisses punctuating his statement.

"This is the hard choice." I told them as if Kincaid hadn't put in his two cents. "This goes beyond killing a man, this goes beyond anything you've been trained for. " I shook my head, suddenly tired. "As soldiers our primary duty is to defend the Constitution and the civilians of America from all threats." They all nodded, this wasn't anything new. "This goes beyond dying on a battlefield though. This is way above your guy's paygrades."

"This is where it hurts." I told them. "At this time, I know what we have to do, and I know what we're going to will be investigated, and I know who will be thrown under the bus if someone has to take the fall."

Beside Kincaid, Bomber was making a yadda yadda yadda talking motion with one hand and rolling his eyes.

"That's me." I told them. "But it doesn't matter. What matters is that we have a serious threat down here, a threat that we cannot allow to spread outside of this facility."

"No offense, Sergeant, but fuck the speeches, let's go kill those assholes, see if this works on your old CO, and go the fuck home." Kincaid snarled. "If you're trying to explain why you're going to turn this goddamn place into a fucking volcano, fine, I'll help you wire the nukes."

Everyone nodded, and for a second they were replaced by my old crew.

...get out of here, boys, we're all dead down here...

They went from ready to go to bloodstained, cut, stitched, and bandaged, and my blood ran cold. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, my old crew was gone.

Shads threw the bar and the sirens howled as the doors slid back and the main door slowly began to rise.

Without being told Kincaid squatted down and triggered the flamethrower, a solid bar of white cored fire shooting under the door as he panned it from side to side. When he stood up, a few drops of flame fell from the muzzle.

"Just in case that asshole's out there." He told me. "Goddamn this thing rocks."

When the door was up high enough we moved underneath and I threw the bar to make it lower back down.

"Mask up, gentlemen." I told them.

It was more than just for their safety. It was psychological, both for the enemy and for us. I wanted them to take what we were going into seriously, and the sight of men in gas masks had been part of the American subconscious for decades. From The Wall to shitloads of movies, everyone knew that soldiers in gas masks were about to kill everyone and all of your rights were so much wishing.

That image was a cultural fear, and I was gambling that it still existed in the darkest nightmares of whatever those creatures had become.

...yes we're from the government...

...no, we're not here to help...

the brutal hiss of two flamethrowers kicking on, and the screams as the people realized what was about to happen


I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing the image back.

neverhappenedneverhappenedneverhappenedneverhappened

Kincaid led the way to the Event Locker, popping the igniter over and over. It bled the propane tank, but not enough to sweat it.

Besides, I did it too. So did Bomber. So did Nancy.

So did Taggart.

The door opened to reveal the hallway, the blood splashed walls, the shattered pictures (some fallen), and the still bodies.

"Give me a few minutes." I told them, moving forward and dropping the pack off my back. "Wilkins, Shads, cover me. Natchez, drop the door. I opened the pack and pulled out the case.

"Sergeant?" Shads asked when I pulled up the battery operated saw.

"Stay back." I told them. I sliced away some of the ragged skin. Took swabs of the sores. Then I took the saw and got to work.

Someone retched behind me. "Don't puke in your mask." I snapped, not bothering to turn around. "Deep slow breaths." I took a handful of blood samples after putting the samples in the small glass tubes with tweezers.

...Christ, Ant, stick to stabbing people...

...shutup, Bomber...


The CDC would have shrieked at my methods, and my old trainers would have slapped me with a NOGO and made me retake the whole damn test, but I was pressed for time, without facilities, and had to do it fast and dirty, field expedient.

I wanted Heather.

I wanted my sock monkey.

It took me a looong time, I was out of practice. I was a field specialist, this was shit for the lab boys, for the specialists, not for a ground pounding meat head like me. When I was done, I stood up and stepped back next to Kincaid.

"Burn em." I told him. "Apply it directly for the count of fifteen, then move on to the next one."

"Yes, Sergeant." Kincaid told me, stepping forward and hitting the trigger.

Natchez puked at the stench of roasting meat and the sticky hot-fuel smell of the enriched napalm. Kincaid was lucky, his suit went through three filters, so the majority of the smell was scrubbed out of the air that was pumped into him. The rest of us the masks didn't help, the smell of charred and burning pork filled our lives.

I kept flashing back to fire of my own. The sudden horror as I realized what would happen. The bloom of fire, the agony that snapped instantly into cold across my back.

There were other memories there, memories built of fire that were suppressed by the jet, but still bubbled up as Kincaid played the flamethrower on the bodies, moving back to other ones that hadn't completely burned away.

It was brutal, inhuman work.

Kincaid took to the work like a duck to water.

I stood by lock to the airlock, holding onto the lever.

"Are we ready?" I asked.

Everyone, even Wilkins, nodded.

They'd seen the pockets of pus I'd hit when I'd cracked open the second chest, the lungs surrounded by pus, white with strings of green and blackish-red clotted blood. I had ignored the questions that they'd asked and warned them it might be worth their lives if they puked.

The far door was open, even though the door on our side of the airlock slid open without a need for an override or anything else.

From inside the darkness, something screeched in hatred.

"Daddy's home, bitches!" Kincaid shouted.

They came at us in a rush.

We were ready.

Kincaid laughed as they burned.


Chapter 30

Site Kilo-29
Event Locker Area - Military Area
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Morning
Status: Full Offensive Measures Engaged


Picture a snowman clad in rags, ice and snow packed into a solid form. Now picture that same snowman being hit by a hose running warm water, the way it corrodes, the way the water just eats away the snow.

That's what happened when the flamethrower hit bodies. The core was around 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, flesh was converted to steam as soon as it brushed the bodies of the things that rushed Kincaid.

When I'd been in training they'd used a flamethrower like Kincaid was using to melt a car down to nothing more than a lump of slag in order to demonstrate to all of us idiotic hammer heads just how dangerous the weapon was. It had taken around ten minutes before the vehicle was reduced to a glowing mass with rivulets of running metal flowing off of it.

The area we were moving through was the Event Locker Administration section, rooms of desks, classrooms, meeting rooms, and file cabinets. We moved into the darkness, only our flashlights and the NVG's giving us any edge in the hallways and rooms as we swept through the facility and cleared the creatures out of it.

Kincaid wielded it like an expert. He kept it to short bursts, aiming center mass and hitting the trigger with light touches. The flame would gout out, striking the creature in the chest, and if Kincaid held it for longer than a few heartbeats the flame would burst out the back of the creature.

When the creatures tried to take cover Kincaid just splashed it onto their cover, and more than once they lunged up from behind the cover, already on fire, screaming in agony, and Kincaid would wash it over them again. He ignored the way they sometimes danced around, screeching in agony before the fire seared their lungs and they fell to curl into a fetal position as the flame tightened the ligaments and then slowly charred them to stick figures. He'd often wait for Donaldson to open the door to a room, then step into the doorway and slowly sweep the bar of flame across the room, incinerating anything inside, from files and furniture, to creatures that screamed in agony for a few short heartbeats or just dissolved.

By the third room the sprinkler system kicked on, but the water did nothing to put out the merciless rod of fire Kincaid played over the creatures while they screamed and Kincaid laughed. Steel sagged, concrete glowed sullenly, and Kincaid burnt the bodies to ash and steam without hesitation, without mercy.

The steam clogged our filters, making it hard to breathe, but we followed Kincaid as he moved down the hallway, Donaldson throwing the lever, Kincaid just sweeping it into the room and burning down anything that showed itself or sometimes just to burn the room to cinders.

One of the rooms he stopped, stepping back.

"Sergeant." His voice was muffled, but he'd stopped laughing.

I looked inside, and there were several of the females, the first ones we'd seen, crouched down like beasts in front of smaller version of themselves. The little ones had eyes that didn't look right, most of them had hairlips that expanded into snot encrusted holes, only two had ears and those were lopsided and deformed. There were misshapen heads, waterheads, paddle-like arms, and eyeless sockets in unfinished faces.

There was nothing human in that room.

I pulled a grenade off of Donaldson's LBE and pulled the pin.

"Fire in the hole!" I called out, then threw the grenade into the room, stepping back by the side of the door and pressing my back against the thick concrete wall.

The blast seemed weirdly muffled.

Kincaid stepped back into the doorway and went back to work with the flamethrower.

With that exception, Kincaid kept up a running commentary the entire time, mostly lines from Aliens, taking to the work like he'd been born to it. Maybe he had, maybe he'd just been born too late and had belonged with Special Weapons from the day his father had knocked up his mother, same as me, same as Bomber, same as Nancy, and the same as we found out Taggart had been.

At one point the ceiling plates collapsed, giving us a second warning that they were trying to drop on Kincaid, to get behind him, but by the time they dropped to the ground I had the machete clear of the sheathe. My first swing sheared into it with a crunch that spilled all kinds of important things out as my swing pulled the blade free of the body, the body flying against the wall as I kicked the second one away with one boot and took on the other two. Donaldson shot the one I'd kicked, a slash opened up one, spilling its intestines on the ground, and my back slash slammed into the last one's head. I had to step on it to pull the machete free while Donaldson shot the one screaming and trying to push its insides back in.

It was sheer butchery, both with the flamethrower and with the machete, but sometimes butchery is all that's left.

They tried twice more, but I was ready. One got inside Kincaid's safety radius, jumping over one desk and ducking under another, but two shots from Donaldson and it went down. Kincaid burned it as he backed out of the room. Once those things came at us from behind, but Shads and Natchez opened fire with their weapons and chopped them into mincemeat.

Kincaid turned around and roasted the bodies.

It became obvious after awhile that we were herding them ahead of us, that they'd finally learned to fear us. Once we caught them in a hallway and Kincaid arced up the stream and obliterated the creatures almost the entire length of the hallway, laughing as he did so.

"Burn, bitches, burn!" he howled, loud over the sprinklers, the muffling of his suit, and the roar of the flamethrower. The bulky suit made him look nearly twice his size, and for an odd reason I struck by the legend of Prometheus, bringing fire to humans.

Only I doubt he howled with laughter and used that fire to incinerate them.

The last group was in front of a heavy blast door, most of them clawing at it, some of them breaking and charging us, others rolling on their back to show their bellies. Kincaid roasted them all, against the room, his movements slowing as exhaustion and heat began to sap his strength and endurance.

He'd been running the flamethrower for hours, and was on his third tank.

"We'll wait for the door to cool down, then keep going." I said. It was the first words I'd said since I'd thrown the grenade in the den. There were slow nods, but that was all. We were hot, it was like a sauna in the hallways, and it had sapped everything from us.

Shads took out his canteen, popped the plastic tab on the top, and connected it to the small drinking hose on his mask before upending the canteen. Just the sight of it made my dry gummy mouth water, and I copied him, drinking from the warm water of the canteen. I cut mine with lemon juice, it made it tart, but it got rid of the gumminess, even under my gums.

I stepped through the charred remains and splashed a little on the door, and it didn't crackle away, just hissed and then ran down the door, the leading drops bubbling from the heat.

"Open the door, Donaldson." I told him. Whatever was painted on the door was covered with blood and worse, some obliterated by the fire, so it was a total unknown as to what lay beyond it.

The siren kicked on when Donaldson threw the lever, and the door took nearly three minutes to raise.

On the other side was a huge cavern, only a few of the lights kicking on automatically as the door raised, most of the lights little more than small glowing fireflies in the distance. The door ground back down as I panned my flashlight over the walls until I found the switches. Once again, huge brute force swivel switches that clacked loudly and sparked brightly in the darkness. The lights came on in banks, clacking loudly.

Idly, I wondered why they always did that, almost as if the light itself made the noise.

First thing that lit up was a bulldozer the size of a house, a huge behemoth with a blade over 15 feet high, heavy tracks over my head, an armored cab, painted an OD green and the tracks sagging due to the tension being released from the tracks to put it in storage mode.

It reminded me of ‘Godzilla', its massive brother that I'd used to rake the roads at FSTS 317. I'd eaten in that cab, slept in it, even had Nancy ride me in the cab. It was part of the site, and FSTS 317 was part of 2/19th, and 2/19th was an inseparable part of who I was. Just seeing it brought back the sounds and smells of the FSTS.

I pulled off my mask, walking toward the bulldozer.

Behind me Kincaid popped the flamethrower a couple of times.

"I'm down to an eighth, Sergeant." Kincaid's voice was muffled.

"You'll be fine." I told him. "Natchez, you have the last tank, make sure Shads is ready when Kincaid runs out."

"They fear us now." Shads, and I could tell without looking that he'd pulled his mask too.

"Everyone except for Kincaid, get out of your suits. If we have to suit up again, we'll use the fresh ones I handed out in the Deep Storage Locker." I told them, stopping next to the bulldozer and running my hand on the massive gear toothed wheels, looking up at Taggart and Nancy, who sat on the top of the track, topless, glinting with baby oil as they tried to tan in the German sun. Taggart winked at me, and Nancy gave me a wicked smile as I walked around to the back, where Bomber and Jacks sat eating MRE's and bitching about having to pull the TOW missiles and replace them with TOW-II's.

Beyond them was FSTS-317, our home away from home. Bunkers full of chemical, nuclear, and conventional ammunition. Everything from rifle ammunition to FASCAM 8" artillery shells. Everything my assigned portion of 8th Infantry Division and Third Armored Division would need to push the Soviet Union back into the Fulda Gap, to roll them into East German territory and take the war to the Warsaw Pact. Behind me was the covered vehicle rows, the tin warehouses where body bags, concertina wire, uniforms, and everything outside of ammunition the units might need was stored, as well as the upper helipad, the fuel tanks, and the office building that the German Bundeswher guards hung out in when they weren't walking the wire. The building that had showers, my shitty little office, and a room with a gambling machine based off of three wheels that spun and if you hit the number right, dropped German Deutchmarks that we all slept in. The single bathroom and decon shower were lifesavers. After being dirty for almost all of Desert Shield/Storm, showers were almost better than sex.

The sun was setting behind me as I looked at the wire that separated my site from the 1K Zone. Unlike two of the other points, my point didn't have a shitty little building where the Soviet dudes hung out, just vehicles once in awhile.

"Sergeant?" A voice I didn't recognize startled me, and I whirled around.

The scene dissolved, leaving a serious and sad looking young man staring at me worriedly, ignoring the machete I brought up into guard position.

I was in a cave, lights handing down, wires and vents on the ceiling, surrounded by heavy duty construction vehicles, bags of cement, pallets of rebar, and stacks of varying sizes of lumber.

"Are you all right?" Shads, that was his name. Behind him Nancy snaked an arm around his waist and held him possessively, running her tongue up the back of his neck.

He didn't seem to notice.

"I'm... OK." It took me a minute to get that out.

"Corporal Donaldson wants to know what we're going to do next." He told me.

I shook myself, throwing off the hallucination. "I need to find medical. I gotta run some tests." I answered honestly.

"For what?" Donaldson asked, coming up next to him.

"I need to find out a few things about our friends." I said.

"They're flammable, that's all I need to know." Kincaid tossed in. "Flamethrowers rule!"

"How long is he going to stay in that suit?" Wilkins asked.

I grinned at Kincaid, if you wanted to be generous. "How bad you want in on what I do?"

"Why, what's up?" Kincaid asked.

"You'll have in one of those suits for five days, MOPP-4 for 72 hours, and you'll have to do live weapon decon as well as operate in a ‘dusted' environment." I told him.

"Do I get to use a flamethrower some more?" He asked.

...the flame washed over the side of the house, burning away the wood, tearing a hole in the wall as the pressurized flame overcame the resistance of the suddenly charred and ashen wood...

Neverhappenedneverhappenedneverhappened

"Only when it gets bad." I told him.

"Fuck yeah, sign me up, Sergeant." He told me.

"Who the hell are you, Sergeant?" Natchez asked me. "Some Special Forces?"

I shook my head, resisting an urge to laugh at him. "No, I'm not an operator. I'm just a relic."

"Being a relic rocks." Kincaid said, snapping the flamethrower's igniter rapidly.

"Until you're over your shelf life." I told him, turning away and heading deeper into the cave.

We passed cars hanging from cables, tires deflated and beside them, doors cracked open to keep the rubber from turning into a solid mass. We passed the drums of oil, of gasoline, behind plywood and chicken-wire with "NO SMOKING 50 FEET" on it.

I didn't bother putting out my cigarette.

We passed by the disassembled temporary buildings where they were stacked, with signs saying what they were to be turned into. We passed massive tanks designed to be sunk into the ground with the fuel pumps and the piping next to them. We threaded our way between the crated books on pallets, until we came to the far wall. I closed my eyes, trying to visualize the twists and turns, then gave up and made a guess, heading left.

The lights began to turn off around us, bank after bank going dark within seconds of each other.

"We need to move." I said, picking up the pace as fast as I thought Kincaid could handle it. I knew he was flagging, but I wanted the flamethrower in case we got jumped again.

"Maybe he's flammable too." Kincaid said, breaking into a shuffling run.

"If Molotov's didn't work on him, I don't think the flamethrower will help either." I told them, ignoring the pain in my knee as I kept up the pace. The cold made my knee ache, the old breaks in my thighs blossom with bright sharp pain, and for a moment I was back in 2/19th.

...one hand wrapped around my ankle, squeezing tight enough that it felt like the bone was crushed like glass, cold flooding up the bones of my leg, freezing the marrow and making my balls ache. With a hard yank, my foot went in between the two steps, and I did the splits on the stairs, my groin muscles screaming...

...I screamed when my leg was torqued to the side, the sound of a green branch breaking sounding over my scream as my knee snapped...

...dark laughter filling the stairwell as Nancy and Bomber frantically pulled me free, Taggart shooting into the darkness of the stairwell below us...


"You tried fire?" Donaldson asked.

"We tried everything." I replied.

"You sure?" Kincaid asked, snapping the igniter.

"Knock yourself out." I told him.

Dark laughter rolled over us again, and I was suddenly away of the tiny snowflakes I hadn't really registered growing larger, falling from the ceiling of the cave.

"How can it be snowing?" Natchez asked.

"Because he owns down here now." I told them. "Now run."

We kept moving, until we hit the wall. I had no idea which was to go, but going left meant we'd be moving toward Tandy/Bishop, and I could no more head toward him than I could flap my arms and fly.

"He's coming, Ant, hurry." Taggart told me, waving at me from the darkness. She was dressed in full battle rattle, snow on her shoulders and helmet, and I followed the cat's-eyes on the back of her helmet into the darkness.

"Do you know where we're going?" Wilkins asked.

More laughter from deeper in the cave. My bone marrow shivered as cold washed through me.

"Away from that." Kincaid said, his shuffling feet picking up the pace.

Nancy and Bomber came out of the darkness next to me, ice and snow on their shoulders and in their hair, looking so much younger than I remembered. Nancy's face tight with fear and Bomber looking grimly determined. Nancy was carrying a fire axe, Bomber one of my Gerber's, and for a second my rifle was replaced by a bayonet. Then another, longer moment as the rough cavern wall beside us turned into baby-shit yellow painted cinderblocks.

Then I was moving through the hallway, staggering from cold and exhaustion, holding my stomach against the crippling pain that filled my abdomen, taking my breath away. I needed to shit. I needed to puke. I needed to do both at once, but most of all, I needed to stop, curl up in the snow on the hallway floor, and moan in pain.

"A little farther, Ant, you can make it, baby." Nancy told me.

"Can't." I said, staggering, swallowing around stomach acid. I'd already vomited my guts out at the end of Titty Territory, but I needed to puke again.

"We gotta keep moving, brother." Bomber told me. "Nancy will take care of you as soon as we get back to Cathy."

A heavy steel blast door floated out of the dark and snow, coated with a thin film of ice. "PRIMARY RECOVERY FACILITY" in heavy red stencil under the thin glaze of ice.

Bomber and Nancy exploded into snow, swirling around me before the wind whipping through the cavern tore them away from me. I had the urge to grab at the flakes, try to keep them with me just a second longer. The loss of the bayonet punched me in the stomach, an echo of the ruptured appendix I'd been staggering with. It didn't matter that a bayonet was in its sheathe at the small of my back, it wasn't the same without my crew.

Phantom pain still twinged as I ran toward the door, the others keeping up with me.

...look at me, brother, just keep looking at me, Nancy's got you...

...fight, Ant, fight. Stay awake, stay with me, Ant, Nancy found it...

...as long as he's screaming, he's still alive, I'm almost done stitching him up...

...stay with me, brother, stay awake...


The scar from just under my navel to my right hipbone ached and pulled at me as I ran.

Shads broke out ahead of us, running up and throwing the bar. The klaxon's wail filled the cavern, echoing off of everything, doubling and redoubling as the volume increased until it was no longer just a warning siren, but something that hammered at us, the sheer force of the sound staggering us. I almost went down, stumbling forward and slamming into the vibrating door.

Wilkins was yelling, inaudible over the roaring howl. Snow blew against us, sweeping over Natchez and Wilkins, turning Donaldson and Kincaid into shadows.

The roar got louder.

The door added its own almost subsonic moan to the howl as the main door started raising behind the steel blast shield in front of us. I could see blood starting to trickle from Shads' nose, and knew by the tickle on my upper lip and the wetness on my lips that the same was happening to me. Wilkins and Donaldson suddenly appeared out of the snow, both of them bleeding from the nose. A second later Natchez and Wilkins came out, Wilkins still screaming silently in the steadily growing roar of the klaxon, blood streaming from both men's noses.

A shadow moved through the snow behind Wilkins, an ashy gray hand, the skin stripped from the ends to reveal sharp bone, at the end of a too long arm poking from a desert BDU sleeve with a frayed sleeve crusted with ice and frozen blood.

Wilkins stumbled, and the hand missed him, knocking his helmet free but missing a firm grip on him.

My balls tried to climb up inside me, my mouth went dry, and I bit back a scream of terror.

It was dark and cold down at the bottom of the facility.

Tandy loved the dark and cold.

Donaldson yelled something, his mouth moving silently, pointing at Wilkins and looking at me.

My bones felt like they'd turned to ground glass, my joints ground as I let my rifle fall to the hang on the sling, pulling my MOPP top free to reach back and draw my bayonet.

Donaldson was looking at me like I'd gone crazy as I stepped forward, tilting my head back and letting my helmet slide off, bringing my bayonet up under my chin.

The scream boiled up from somewhere deep inside me as I took step forward, the pain in my joints and bones doing nothing more but fuel the rage and hatred that filled me.

Wilkins stopped dead in front of me, his eyes wide as he looked at me coming at him with the bayonet in my fist. His mouth was opening and closing, his face getting even paler, and he started shaking his head.

I snatched him by the LBE and flung him behind me, taking another step forward.

The snow whirled around me, the ice chips mingled with the flakes stinging against my skin as the wind pushed against me. I stood in between the five men and Tandy/Bishop, the bayonet I'd stolen when 2/19th had closed down tight in my fist.

Even over the roar of the klaxon I could hear the low bubbling chuckle.

...Oh God, Ant, run!...

...fuck that, I'm done running...


I was back in the hallway, dressed in my BDU pants, a Guns & Roses T-shirt, my Levi jacket, and my combat boots, willing to toss my life away to buy Taggart and Nancy a few seconds longer to get away. I only had a few seconds before Bomber would wrap me in a sleeper hold and pull me backwards, I had to get at Tandy before them, maybe slow him down, maybe hurt him bad enough Bomber could take him.

Something drug me backwards, and when I tried to turn a hand grabbed my forearm to keep the bayonet out. I struggled for a second, trying to pull free, trying to get at Bishop/Tandy and finish it once and for all.

"Let me go, Bomber!" I yelled, but I was still pulled backwards, my knee buckling underneath me but Bomber still...

Wait...

I was drug past the doors, and it came back in snap. It wasn't the barracks, it was Kilo-29. It wasn't my crew, but little more than raw recruits behind me. If I had been killed in the barracks, my crew could have kept going without me. If I fell here, the ‘cruits were lost. Tandy/Bishop would pick them all off one by one in the dark and cold.

As soon as I was past the door, Shads threw the bar, and the steel doors started to slide shut.

Kincaid was staring down the dimly hit hallway we were standing in. He had enough pressure on the trigger that the ignition flame was burning brightly in the dimness. Donaldson was yelling at me, pointing at the darkness and shaking his head. Shads had pumped the bar twice and was making hurry up motions with his hands. Wilkins and Natchez were staring at me, both of them were wide eyed.

The outer doors slid shut slowly, the gap steadily shrinking as the four parts of the door panels slid into place.

Ten feet, snow was still billowing in, driven by the wind in the cavern.

Then five, the sound of the klaxon still hammering at us.

Four feet

Three feet

Two

One...

Two hands shot through the gap, ashy gray flesh covering the too long forearms, the flesh missing from the end inhumanly long fingers to reveal sharpened bone talons. The cuffs of the DCU's were crusted with ice and frozen blood, the cuffs frayed and one hanging open wider than the other, the button missing from the cuff.

The fingers wrapped around Natchez's bicep, sliding down the arm as the hands pulled Natchez's arm toward the doors.

The moment was frozen in time.

Natchez's arm straightened out, the fingers locked around his wrist, pulling his arm through the shrinking gap between the upper and lower doors. The side partitions were locked into place already.

The metal edges, only three inches thick, pressed on Natchez's arm right above the elbow.

Flesh bulged as the pressure increased, the door sections still sliding together.

The skin deformed, flattening out along the edges of the door sections.

The door crashed shut.

The klaxon cut off.

Natchez was screaming, blood spraying from the stump of his arm across the metal door shield.

As the massive blast door slowly lowered, we could all hear laughter.

Liquid, bubbling, wheezing laughter full of cruelty.

"Something's coming." Kincaid said.

...do something, Ant!...


Chapter 31

Site Kilo-29
Sub-Levels
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Early Afternoon
Status: Full Offensive Measures Engaged
Facility Status: Alert Two


Natchez was screaming, Nancy was yelling in my ear, Donaldson was stepping forward, the Fates were howling out their choir, Kincaid was squinting down the hallway, Wilkins was staring at the blood spattered door shield as the massive door shut, and Shads was just frozen.

Blood splashed across my face as Natchez went down, bright red arterial spray coming from the severed arm, the tissue at the end blackened and frostbit looking, his mouth a raw red wound in his face that bellowed screams of agony as he went down on his knees, grabbing at his stump.

I kicked him in the chest, knocking him over backwards, and he ended up half sitting because of the flamethrower fuel pack on his back. I reached down, popping the quick release tabs, and drug him off of it, ignoring his screams of pain. Flat on his back, he stared at his arm, holding just above the stump and screaming. I straddled him, reaching for his mask carrier and pulling the leg strap off as fast as I could.

"Sergeant, I've got movement." Kincaid said it again, or maybe the first time was just registering.

"Handle it." I snapped, putting a knee in his chest and putting all my weight on it. Natchez was still screaming, still flailing his arm.

"Shads, grab his arm." I yelled out.

In the movies, I could knock him out. One punch to the chin would put him down.

Reality, he was pumped full of adrenaline, his body responding to massive physical trauma, terror, and everything that had gone on. I doubted even a sleeper hold would work in time to save him.

Shads dropped down on his knees, his hands shaking as he grabbed Natchez's arm at the biceps and pinned it down.

Natchez kept screaming.

"Three fingers above the wound, you don't have to worry about saving his elbow joint." Nancy told me, bending down and peering at the wound. "He's got frostbite on the flesh from where Tandy grabbed him, so that'll go necrotic anyway."

She turned and looked at me, from where I had reached back and yanked out the bayonet sheath from behind my back.

"Move, you goddamn ape!" she snapped. "His life depends on it."

"I'm hurry, Nancy." I told her, looping the mask carrier leg strap around the stump, about three fingers up, like she'd told me. Shads gave me a worried glance, but kept holding the arm as I tugged it tight, then slid the bayonet sheath in and used it as a lever to tighten the tourniquet.

"Only till the arterial spray stops, Ant." Nancy told me as I began turning it.

"I remember, Nancy." I told her.

...Hutch jumping out of the CUC-V and vanishing in a cloud of sand and the crack of an explosion...

...Stay in the Gypsy Wagon!...

...Hutch silently staring at the wreckage of his leg, shredded meat from the knee down...

...my ears ringing from when the MRLS bomblet went off as I helped Nancy tie off his leg...


Shads opened his mouth, then closed it again.

"I can't tell what it is, but it's coming closer." Kincaid called out.

"Donaldson, Wilkins, take Kincaid's place." I snapped, watching the blood flow from Natchez's arm. It was just a steady trickle, about what you'd get from a bloody nose. "Kincaid, get back here, I need you."

"No, Ant, don't do it." Nancy told me.

"Shut up, Nagle, I'm the closest thing we have to a doctor." I told her without looking up from Natchez's arm.

"It'll cause problems to fit him with a prosthetic, you fucking hammer head." Nancy told me, jabbing a finger at Natchez's arm.

"I can't carry him, Sergeant, not with my baby on my back." Kincaid told me, stepping up next to me.

Shads face went pale when he realized what I was about to do.

"Hit the ignition button, but don't fire it." I told Kincaid. "I need that igniter flame."

"Ant, I'm telling you, do not do this." Nancy said.

"I said shut up, Sergeant Nagle." I put all the authority I could in my voice. "Unless you have a better idea what to do when he won't get medical attention for at least 48 hours."

I could hear the hiss of the flamethrower just over my shoulder. It was a living, metallic thing, it spoke of pain and destruction and was malevolent in its own right somehow.

Nancy looked at Natchez, then shook her head.

"Do it fast." She told me. "He'll go into shock, and he'll need an IV as soon as possible, possibly a blood transfusion."

I nodded.

"Shads, lift up his arm, keep back." I said. Shads nodded, his face pale and his eyes looking sunken.

"I get it, Sergeant." Kincaid told me.

"Do it fast." I told him. "Hit him with the igniter flame, run it over the whole wound." I looked at Shads. "Hold him, he'll go berserk on us."

Shads nodded again, and leaned back from Natchez's arm.

Kincaid lowered the barrel of the flamethrower and ran the ignition flame over the stump. The smell of cooking human meat filled the corridor. Fat crackled, blood hissed, and flesh bubbled and seared.

...I turned from where I'd dropped the kid, facing the flames that roared up...

...yanking on her arm to pull her free of the flames, the flesh tore just above my hands and slid down her arm, the meat and fat cooked through and sliding from the bloody yellow bone...

...The Burning Man burst from the flames, a child under each arm, his body composed entirely of flame. He shone in his glory, an angel made of fire, and plunged back into the crowd. I screamed my adulation and hatred from where they held me down...


Natchez's eyes popped open and he screamed, a raw animal sound of agony, his eyes rolling, an animal that didn't understand the pain that had suddenly become all of existence.

Tears were running down Natchez and Shads' faces, one from agony, the other from what was happening right in front of him.

"What are you doing?" Wilkins shouted.

"Pay attention to the hallway, we don't want to get jumped right now." Donaldson barked. "Eyes front!"

...even an enemy soldier wounded puts stress on the enemy. It takes at least three enemy soldiers out of action to care for one wounded, where a dead enemy soldier is just one out of action...

...shoot to wound. The screaming will let others know what will happen if they come at us again...

...the khaki covered knee poked out from behind the building, and I grinned. His cover wasn't as good as he thought it was. Bomber nodded when I told him where it one, and a single trigger pull sent the Iraqi tumbling out from behind the building, screaming and holding his knee. We killed the two who ran out to help him and left the first guy to scream...


"Sergeant!" Shads' yell yanked me out of the desert.

I looked at Natchez, who'd passed out again, then at the stump. The flesh was blackened and raw looking, but no blood oozed past the tourniquet.

"It'll have to do." I said, standing up. "We have to move him, we can't stay down here." I turned to Wilkins and Donaldson, who were still staring down the large hallway. It was big enough for two 5-ton trucks to sit side by side with room on either side for people to walk by.

Only a few lights were on, the tunnel dim, and I could see the blast deflection curve less than 200 feet away.

Goddamn this place was big.

"You fucking maimed him, you one eyed moron." Nancy told me, looking up from where she was crouched down next to Natchez. "You forgot to tell him to open his hands. I fucking told you how important that was."

"Shut up." I told her, then put her complaining out of my mind. The Fates were still howling, and my mother was whispering I was a failure, but I brushed all that aside and motioned at Kincaid. "Let's swap out your tanks, we'll leave that one here."

"There's nothing down there." Wilkins told Donaldson.

"Bullshit, there's something moving down there." Donaldson answered.

"Papa Kincaid got somethin' fer them in about a country fried minute." For a second Bomber stood where Kincaid did, and I shook my head to clear my vision.

"Shads, swap out his tank." I reached under my chem-pants and dug in my pocket, pulling out a bottle of painkillers. I rolled two into my hand, then capped the bottle and shoved them back in my pocket.

"You're getting paranoid." Wilkins said.

"Dude, I've been attacked by killer cannibals like a dozen times, I'm not paranoid, I'm prudent." Donaldson answered.

Natchez was unconscious, his mouth open, but tears still coming from his closed eyes. I opened his mouth up, and dropped both painkillers into the back of his mouth, then shut his mouth and pinched his nose.

He swallowed reflexively, and I let go, standing up. They were Hydrocodone 7.5's, it was probably enough to keep him knocked out.

"Wilkins, Shads, you two carry Natchez. Donaldson, you're on drag, Kincaid, you're on point and I got your back." I told them. I reached for the machete sheath and found it empty.

Where the fuck had I dropped it?

"Where are we going?" Wilkins asked.

"You'll know when we get there." I snarled at him. "Mind your job, let me handle this."

"Like you handled what happened to Natchez?" He asked, stepping forward. "So far you've gotten one of us killed and cost Natchez his goddamn arm."

"Step off, Wilkins." I warned him. "I'm not in the fucking mood."

"Casualties happen in combat." Kincaid said, his voice muffled.

Wilkins took two steps toward me, starting to raise up his rifle. "Fuck that, we need to go back upstairs, not whatever bullshit plan you've pulled out of your ass." He told me, still moving forward, his rifle no longer pointed at the ground but right at my belly button.

Behind me, I heard Shads slap the top of Kincaid's helmet to let him know he was ready to go.

...do him, Ant...

...we're going to die here, aren't we, brother...

...STAND AND DELIVER!...


Wilkins pushed the barrel of his M16 into my stomach hard. "You don't know what the fuck you're doing. I'm not getting..."

I used my left hand to brush his rifle to my left, stepping forward at the same time. The bayonet was back in my hand ???where did I get it from??? and came up to push the flat of blade against the underside of his jaw.

Shads dropped the almost empty tank pack.

"Do you understand what is going to happen if you say one more fucking word?" I asked him gently, pushing on the blade so his head tilted back.

...just kill him and get on with the mission...

"Shut up, Nancy." I said, looking to Wilkins' left, where Nancy stood in chocolate chips, a bandage on her face and a pressure dressing on her leg. When I looked back, Wilkins was pale as death.

"Someone stop him." Wilkins said. Sweat was running down his face. "He's fucking crazy."

"So?" Kincaid asked. "I'd be crazy too if some dead dude was hunting me for sport."

"You're a fucking idiot, Wilkins." Shads said, shaking his head.

"I'm with Sergeant Maniac." Donaldson chuckled. "Never bet against the crazy guy with a knife."

"Don't ever point a weapon at me again, or I'll cut your fucking throat." I told him, reaching up and grabbing him around the throat with my left hand and squeezing. Wilkins grabbed my arm, but my fingertips and thumb were dug into the flesh around his trachea. I brought up the knife and rested the point just under his left eye.

"Do we understand each other, Private?" I asked him, letting up on the pressure.

"Yes." Wilkins whispered.

"Yes, what, Private?" I asked, smiling.

"Yes, Sergeant." he said. Sweat was pouring off of him.

"Good." I let him go and stepped around him, sliding the bare bayonet into my LBE, next to the buckle where the nylon belt gaped open.

"And in case you're thinking of shooting him in the back," Kincaid added, "I'll burn you down as soon as you raise your fucking rifle." He popped the igniter for emphasis.

"We need to get our bearings." I said, moving up next to Donaldson. "Any movement?"

"Something's down there, but I'm not sure what." He told me. "Got a plan?"

"Always have a plan." I told him, then grinned. "We're still golden, I haven't hit the go to hell plan."

"What's that?" Donaldson asked me.

"Everything burns!" Kincaid yelled his plan. I chuckled.

"Pull back..." I started.

"Nuke it from orbit." Donaldson, Kincaid, and Shads finished.

"Let's move out." I said. Shads nodded, grabbing Natchez and pulling him into a fireman's carry.

Kincaid moved up slightly ahead of me, and we started moving down the tunnel. Something crunched under our boots, and a glance up told me what it was.

"You should have killed that Wilkins kid." Bomber told me. "He's not another Kincaid, he's never going to forget that he pissed himself and he hates you now."

"Shut up, Bomber." I told him. He shrugged, the hole in his cheek edged in frozen blood and frostbit flesh, then dropped back, hefting his rifle and slapping bottom of the magazine in the well.

We rounded the corner, and trudged down the dark hallway. Natchez's groaning echoed in the tunnel, reverberating and mingling with out bootsteps into something eerie and unworldly.

"That Bomber dude you were just talking to and that Nancy chick you were talking to when you were working on Natchez's arm still alive?" Kincaid asked me.

"Yeah." I told him.

"Good." Kincaid answered. "Were they ever in shit this bad with you?"

"Worse. Way way worse. More than once."

"Even better." He kind of shrugged under the armored J-Suit and the flamethrower weight. "At least I know that I'll get out of this alive then."

"What makes you so sure?" I asked.

"Because I'm motherfucking Spec-Four Kincaid, baby. Made of iron, never run, fight to the last, go out in a blast, baby." I recognized the cadence, someone had pounded it into his head during Basic Training. "They might hurt me, hell, they already have hurt me, but I refuse to die in this fucking hole."

I nodded, then remembered he couldn't see me. "Keep that in mind, Kincaid."

"I understand now why you do the thing with the knife." He told me. "It was a huge deal at the time it happened. You scared the ever living fuck out of me." He paused for a second, the snapped the flamethrower igniter. "But that was nothing compared to when that bastard carved my goddamn face." Another pop. "I thought I was fucking dead, I just froze, all I could think of was that I was going to die in this goddamn hole in a fucking mountain."

We walked in the darkness, both of us silent for a long moment.

"Then I saw your face while you were fighting." There was a shift in the suit I knew was a shrug. "I saw over its shoulder, and realized that you wouldn't die here."

"They might get me, but it'll be the most expensive piece of land they ever fucking bought." I said, unable to keep the snarl out of my voice.

...come on, bitches, who's out to buy a farm?...

...you're a fucking dead man, Ant, just like your fucking bitch...

...please, Ant, don't kill me, I'm sorry, plea...

...enough, Ant, he's fucking dead...

...IT'S NEVER ENOUGH! I'LL KILL EVERY FUCKING ONE OF THEM!...

...let him go, Nancy, Bomber, it's time to finish this...


"Sergeant?" Kincaid's voice brought me out of the dark and cold, away from the howls of bloodlust and hot sweet revenge.

"Sorry, flashback." I told him. "You were saying?"

"I'm not giving up." He told me. "I'll burn down the whole goddamn world and then blow it up if that's what it takes."

I chuckled. "You'll be fine."

"Watch Wilkins, Sergeant. He's a punk." Kincaid told me.

"Hold up." I said, raising a fist up, elbow at about a 45 degree angle to my shoulder. I couldn't raise my arm all the way up since the last surgery, which wasn't a surprise, since the last surgery didn't take, and instead of fighting fucking cannibals in an old supervillian base under a goddamn mountain I should have been laying on a table about to have two broken pins and a screw torn out of the bone removed. I'd dislocated it, and from the feeling, I was pretty sure that I'd wrecked up some more of the hardware.

I'd checked the date before we'd started out.

I was supposed to be having surgery today.

I couldn't feel my pinkie or ring finger any more.

"What's up, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked me.

"There's something ahead of us, staying just out of vision range." I told them. "Keep an eye out, might be a scout, watch for any side doors or any side corridors."

"Yes, Sergeant." Donaldson's tone basically told me that I was telling not to smash himself in the nuts with a hammer while masturbating.

"Yeah, sorry, Corporal." I told him.

The tunnel turned again and up ahead there was a single light on in the middle of a four way intersection. I glanced up, and saw that the light bulbs were broken. The darkness above me sparkled.

"It's a trap." Kincaid said, almost a perfect imitation of the good Admiral.

"Ya fucking think?" I asked. "Get ready."

"Always ready, baby." Kincaid imitated me this time, popping the flamethrower. The kid was good at imitations, that was for sure.

We drew closer to the intersection and I could feel the hair raise on the back of my neck, the itching starting between my shoulder blades.

A football field from the intersection, my shoulder felt like someone slid an icicle into it, the cold spreading out from my shoulder.

It looked like static was in my vision and I shook my head, watching the static sweep across the light in the intersection. I could feel the tickle on my face.

"Sergeant?" Donaldson's voice.

From the darkness behind us there was a low chuckle.

"Keep moving." I said.

"We gotta hurry, he's behind us." Wilkins yelled.

"Stay together." I snapped.

"Fuck this, he's behind us." Wilkins yelled. I could hear boots as he came up behind us. He ran by us, racing toward the light.

"Don't!" I yelled, I tried to grab him, but he got by me, my hand missing him the same as Bishop/Tandy had missed him in the snow of the cavern.

"Stay in formation." I barked out. "Don't break formation."

"I should burn your ass down, you fucking coward!" Kincaid bellowed.

"Stand down, Kincaid." I snapped.

Wilkins reached the small circle of light in the middle of the intersection, bending forward and gasping. He turned around to face us.

"We've got to get in the light." He yelled at us. "He won't take us in the light."

Klaxons cut on, filling the tunnel with their wail, the howl echoing and re-echoing through the tunnel, and the air shuddered around us. Wind shrieked down the tunnel, blowing snow around us, and the temperature dropped.

Tandy/Bishop's chuckle floated down the tunnel, still audible through the screams of the klaxons.

Steel panels recessed in the wall snapped back, and strobing red lights kicked on, the snow filled air turning bloody around us.

We couldn't see Wilkins any more, lost in the bloody snow.

...Ant, don't look...

...don't, brother, you don't need to see this...

...come away, Ant, come with me, honey...


My temples were pounding, reliving the memories pushing combat chemicals through my bloodstream, adrenaline licking down the my spine like cold fire, and that thrumming feeling my muscles got when the metal met the meat.

"You gotta be getting cold." Kincaid said. "I'm starting to feel it."

"Stay sharp." I told him. I figured we'd crossed half the distance.

"Roger that, Sergeant." Kincaid popped the igniter again and kept up the pressure on the trigger. Flame was spattering from the end of the muzzle, telling me I'd made a bad mistake. The barrel, feed line nubbins, and everything the barrel needed to keep fuel pressure up without it leaking out corroded and probably warped by the heat. I should have grabbed one of the spare barrels.

The klaxons cut off, the panels over the red lights snapped shut, and the hallway was dark again.

The snow got thicker.

Tandy/Bishop's laugh was loud in the silence, seeming to echo around us.

"Where is he?" Shads asked, his voice showing the strain from carrying Natchez.

"Everywhere." I said. "Shit, nowhere."

"Where are you guys? Hurry up!" Wilkins yelled.

"I'm going to kill that asshole." Kincaid said, barely audible through his suit.

I was counting the steps. Something wasn't adding up.

"Wilkins!" I yelled.

"Sergeant?" He yelled back.

Behind us.

Or to the left?

Oh fuck.

There was a scream, and another one of Tandy/Bishop's chuckles.

Something came at me out of the snow, arms outstretched and the figure lurching, and I yanked my rifle up and out of the way.

"No threat!" I yelled, grabbing one wrist and pulling him tight to me.

It was Wilkins.

"Stay close, you goddamn idiot!" I yelled at him. He looked half frozen, his eyes wide.

He nodded.

"Help Shads with Natchez." He nodded and moved toward the back.

He had frostbite on the back of his neck.

The snow was coming from everywhere, I could barely see.

"My NVG's are fucking useless, Sergeant." Donaldson called out. "It's too goddamn cold."

"Keep going." I yelled. "Donaldson, Shads, Wilkins, get close."

Tandy liked to pick us off if we spread out too much.

...between one step and the next, the door flew open, and Tandy snatched Kebble into the room...

Or when we least expected it.

The snow suddenly cut out, leaving the corridor bare of snow or ice, but ice and snow was all over our uniforms, Kincaid's suit steaming in the sudden cold. He had to be hotter than hell in there. When I'd taken my test, during the day it felt like I was baking.

The lights suddenly cut on, over half of them broken, but still filling the corridor with white light.

"What the fuck?" Shads said.

"He's fucking with us." I said.

"What, he's fucking magic?" Wilkins scoffed.

"Fine, then nothing happened." I snapped. "Whatever gets your fucking dick hard."

"How can he do that?" Shads asked.

"We don't know." I told him honestly. "But this isn't too bad, the site itself doesn't hate us."

The sprinklers took the chance to cut on, dousing us again in water.

For some reason it ran through my mind that the charcoal in my chemical suit was soaked, completely compromising it.

And ruining another fucking uniform.

Goddamn it.

"I think the site hates us." Kincaid said.

The line on the wall was white with a red stripe. Above it was a blue line striped with white, and below it was a yellow line striped with red.

"If it did, we wouldn't be in this corridor." I told him. "We're heading toward medical." I waved at the white and red line.

"Can you help Natchez?" Shads asked, he was panting.

"I'm not Nagle." I said. "I'll try."

"Who's Nagle." Wilkins asked.

"Someone who would break your goddamn neck." Nancy snarled from next to me.

"I know, Nancy." I told her. She smiled, hungry, wolfish.

"Who's he talking to?" Wilkins asked.

"People." Shads said.

"Leave the Sergeant alone." Donaldson said. "Mind your fucking business, you chickenshit bitch."

"He's talking to goddamn people who aren't there." Wilkins said.

"And he's led us this far. He can just keep on being fucking crazy." Donaldson told me.

"Tell Natchez that." Wilkins said.

"Tell me and Kincaid that we aren't doing good." Donaldson snapped back. "He might be fucking crazy as a shithouse rat, but I don't think we can do this without him."

"He's right." Shads said quietly. "I've heard of him before this."

I stopped dead, turning to look at him. My knife was in my fist.

Donaldson had lifted his rifle up to his shoulder, pointing it at Shads.

"One of the guys in my unit talked about you." Shads said, not stopping. "Natchez is getting heavy."

I put the bayonet back in my LBE. "Start fucking talking." I snarled at him.

"His name was Carter, big dude, pumped iron all the time." Shads said quietly. "He got busted from E-5 after he broke a guy's skull in a fist fight."

"I remember him." I said, trying to hold back the memories.

...US RANGERS! WE'RE HERE TO GET YOU OUT!...

"He drank. A lot." Shads voice got lower. "One night just before Christmas I came back from the E-Club and he was sitting in there with a pistol. He made me sit down. He told me story."

"Which one?" I asked.

I felt like I'd never be warm again.

"The guy with the axe." He said quietly. "When you all went crazy and killed each other."

It was dead silent, only our boots thudding.

"About what he heard when your acting CO beat you almost to death." Shads said. "And the worst part was later that winter."

"Stop." I said.

I didn't want to hear it.

"Please stop." I begged.

I couldn't hear it.

"He told me how you all killed each other."

I stumbled, falling against the wall.

"He told me about how it started, how it happened."

"Sergeant?" Donaldson asked.

"neverhappenedneverhappenedneverhappenedneverhappened" I mumbled, sliding against the wall.

"Sergeant Ant?" Kincaid was turning around.

"What they did to her." Shads voice was almost inaudible, but I couldn't make his words go away. "He kept talking about how much blood there was, how long she screamed."

"Jesus." Wilkins said softly.

"IT NEVER HAPPENED!" I screamed, spinning around. My bayonet was in my hand and I stepped toward Shads. "YOU SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!" Wilkins jumped back, away from me. "HE WAS A GODDAMN LIAR!"

Donaldson stepped in front of me, putting his rifle across my chest and pushing me back. "Sergeant Ant!"

"YOU SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!" I screamed, dropping the bayonet and reaching past Donaldson to try to grab Shads. "I'LL CUT YOUR FUCKING HEART OUT!"

"Sergeant Ant!" Donaldson yelled, dropping the rifle and grabbing me by the front LBE straps.

"Shut up, Shads!" Kincaid yelled.

"Carter said you didn't give up. That you and what was left of your crew killed all of them and hiked out in a goddamn blizzard." Shads was still talking.

"GODDAMN YOU! SHUT UP!" I screamed.

"Carter said you never gave up. You kept going. Even when Nagle cut you open, you kept going." Shads wouldn't shut up. I couldn't get at him, I couldn't get past Donaldson. I couldn't make him shut up.

"He doesn't give up." Shads kept talking, staring at me but talking to everyone. "Carter gave up. He blew his fucking head off in my goddamn room."

"Shut up, Shads." Kincaid stepped forward, raising the flame thrower. "So help me fucking God, I'll burn you fucking down."

"Carter gave up. Ant doesn't give up." Shads eyes were still locked on mine. "Will you, Sergeant Ant?"

I straightened up and shoved Donaldson away from me.

"No." I told him. I made sure I had his complete and undivided attention. "If you ever so much as breathe her name I'll cut your goddamn heart out."

Shads nodded, his eyes dark and shadowed.

Now I knew what he was carrying with him, why he looked at me like that.

"It was just a dream." Nancy told me, coming up from behind Shads and stepping through him and Natchez. It left a streak of blood across her face. "Carter lied. She died in a vehicle wreck."

"I know it was really a vehicle wreck, Nancy." I answered, turning away from Shads. "Will you help me save Natchez?"

Donaldson made shushing noises at Wilkins when he opened his mouth, raising his rifle.

"I'll tell you what to do, Ant." Nancy promised me, stopping and letting Shads step through her. "His blood pressure is dropping, he's lost a lot of blood. He's in shock, and his heartbeat is thready."

I nodded, turning and walking again.

"He's going to die unless you get him somewhere where you can work on him." Nancy told me. She waved the Field Surgery FM at me. "I'll help you, Ant. Trust me."

"I trust you, Nancy." I told her. "You tell me what to do, I'll do it, if you'll save him."

"She was killed in a car accident, remember that, Ant." She told me. "Say it back to me."

"She died in a car wreck, Nancy."

"What the hell is he..." Wilkins started.

"Don't." Shads whispered. "Just be quiet."

"It wasn't your fault, there was nothing you could do, Ant." Nancy whispered. "Say it with me."

"Nothing I could do." I repeated. "I couldn't save her."

"Who's he talking about?" Wilkins asked.

"For the love of God, Wilkins, shut up." Shads panted.

"Give me Natchez, Shads." Donaldson said. "Sergeant, stop."

"You're almost there, brother." Bomber told me. "Line's pretty narrow, only a couple hundred feet." I looked at the line on the wall. He was right, it had dropped from about 2 feet thick to a little over six inches.

"Only a couple hundred feet, Bomber, right." I said.

"I got him." Natchez breathed. "I've got him."

"How does he know? Why are we listening to him? He's fucking crazy." Wilkins said.

Donaldson didn't even turn around, just backhanded Wilkins in the mouth.

"Because he's the fucking Sergeant." Donaldson yelled.

"That's your boy, him and Kincaid." Bomber told me.

He stopped by a door marked "EVENT MEDICAL THREE" on the wall beside it.

"Hurry up, Ant." Nancy told me.

Kincaid let go of his flamethrower long enough to throw the bar, and the door hissed up almost immediately.

We crowded into the airlock, and stood underneath the water as the old decon system kicked on. The warm water felt good after the snow and the cold, even if it smelled like iron and iodine.

The inner door raised up, revealing a lit area that looked just like any ER trauma room in any hospital in Europe or America. Operating bays on the right of me, triage on the left.

"Get him in one of those bays." I snapped, pulling off my gear. "Pull his tags, get his blood type, we need a transfusion. Kincaid, you're on watch, kill anyone that isn't wearing a US Army uniform."

I dropped my LBE and vest on the floor, my NBC top following it.

"Donaldson, your with me, I'm going to need help." I told them, pulling off my BDU top. It was dark with charcoal. I bent down and started undoing my wet weather boots. "Wilkins, you're going to hold the manual for me, Shads, you're going to keep him on O2."

"I see the books." Shads said, pointing at the long shelf full of medical books as he moved toward the bay. He was shuffling, almost out of gas.

"What book am I supposed to fucking grab?" Wilkins asked.

"Get the blast and crush trauma manuals." Nancy told me. Shads pulled open the door and staggered into the room.

"Blast and crush trauma, they should be labeled." I told them, kicking off the boots and pulling the pants off. "We'll need to look for crush amputation." Shads laid Natchez down on the bed.

"How the hell do you know this?" Wilkins asked, still not moving.

"Correspondence courses and OJT." I told him, unbuttoning my pants and dropping them, then pulling off my T-shirt.

"Sergeant, catch!" Donaldson yelled. I looked up in time to see a plastic wrapped pair of scrubs coming at me. I snatched them out of the air and tore open the plastic with my dentures.

"What the fuck OJT?" Wilkins asked, still not moving toward the books.

"On the Job Training. Do you need a goddamn lecture?" Donaldson asked, moving to the books. "Found three on crush and blast trauma. Which one?"

"Find amputation. Check the index." I tossed the scrubs on a gurney and hustled over to the decon shower.

"Can you really do this?" Kincaid asked me, throwing the bars to all four entrances to the medical bay to the middle. I hit the switch with my elbow and stepped under the spray. It was real cold, then almost scalding hot.

"We'll see." I said honestly, scrubbing at my head. "Donaldson, if they have medical terms in them, put them back. Look for one that is step by step, in plain English, that uses small words and has lots of diagrams. Wilkins, find something useful to do."

"You're going to kill him." Wilkins told me.

"Shut up, Wilkins." Kincaid snapped, then turned to me. "Do I stay suited?"

"No, strip down. Hit the shower." I said, stepping out. Donaldson tossed me a towel, then went back to looking through the books.

"Thank God." Kincaid said. He set the flamethrower down on a gurney. "Don't worry, baby, daddy ain't goin' nowhere."

I started pulling on the scrubs.

"Found one. Reads like Baby's First Surgery." Donaldson said. "It has parts where it reminds me, the reader, to tell you, the surgeon, not to pass out from the blood."

"That's the one." Nancy said, grinning.

"Nancy says that's the one." I said.

"And what happened to her wasn't your fault, Ant." Nancy said.

"I know it wasn't, Nancy." I said.

"You're seriously going to..." Wilkins started.

Kincaid stepped out of the suit in his boxers, took two running steps forward, and hit Wilkins square in the face with a straight arm punch.

Wilkins lifted up off the floor and flew backwards spread-eagled, hit the tile, and slid about a foot.

"I told you to shut the fuck up." Kincaid snarled, stepping forward and kicking the semi-conscious man in the side. "I mean shut up!" He bent down, grabbed Wilkins weapon, and slung it across the room. It flew through Bomber and hit a tray filled with still vacuum packed instruments and it all went down with a clatter.

"I cut off his uniform. His tags say O-Negative." Shads said, coming back in. He looked at Kincaid, who had drug Wilkins up by his top and was shaking him. "Problems?"

"No problem." I said, moving past him.

"I'll stay out with the chickenshit." Kincaid said, walking back over and sitting next to the flamethrower.

"Don't kill him." I said.

"Just save Natchez." He said.

"Open the book up to surgery preparation." I said. Donaldson nodded, skimming through the pages of the thick book till he found the page.

"All right, tell me what to do, step by step." I said.

"I'll help you, Ant." Nancy smiled. "You helped me study, I'll help you now. Tell him to look up how to turn on the equipment, hook up the oxygen sensor, the heart sensors, and then how much anesthetic to mix in with the oxygen."

"Nancy says to look up how to turn on the equipment, hook him up to the oxygen sensor, and how much anesthetic he needs." I relayed.

Neither man blinked an eye.

"Oh, and look up how to administer charcoal to someone who is unconscious." Nancy said, moving over by Natchez and looking down. "You need him to empty his stomach, so he doesn't puke during surgery."

"Find out how much and how we give him the charcoal to make him puke." I said.

"Says right here, Sergeant." Donaldson said.

"Let's fucking do this." I said, walking up and looking down at Natchez.

"Sergeant!" Kincaid yelled. I looked over to see him yanking on the backpack for the flamethrower on his back. "Incoming!"

The far door was rising.

"Get him on a gurney!" I shouted, and ran for my weapons.

They swarmed out of the door at us two steps from where I'd dropped my gear.


Chapter 32

Site Kilo-29
Event Sub-Levels
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Early Afternoon
Status: Full Offensive Measures Engaged
Facility Status: Alert Two


The once-human things swarmed out of the door while I was two steps from my gear, clad only in a surgical gown. My weapons were dropped in a pile, under my Kevlar vest and my NBC suit.

Kincaid was in between me and creatures, stark naked except for the flamethrower tanks on his back and the projector in his hands.

"Come to papa Kincaid, assholes!" He yelled out. The young man was gone from the tone, in its place was a growling voice promising pain and destruction.

With a whoosh he triggered it, and the flame streamed out, arcing across the first ones in a blazing yellow arc of burning fuel. Some of them had a chance to scream, but most of them went down almost instantly, without anything more than the crackle of their fat igniting and a strange muffled sound when their abdominal cavities ruptured from the intense heat.

"Save Natchez, Sergeant, I've got this!" Kincaid yelled, stepping forward. The other man was covered in sweat, running the flamethrower stark naked as he forced our attackers back into the airlock. "Come get some!"

I pulled my rifle and LBE out from under the pile, dragging my Kevlar vest along with it since I'd attached the two by running the straps under the shoulder protection. Moving quickly I retreated to the operating theater, dropping it near me.

"Donaldson, we need to start." I barked, running my hands under the sink again.

Outside the Plexi, Kincaid was standing all the way to the door of the airlock and blasting the interior with fire. I could see him lifting the muzzle to arc the flame as far as he could down the hallway on the other side of the wide open and compromised airlock. Wilkins was backed up against the wall, his rifle out and pointing at nothing, but Shads and Donaldson were with me.

Nancy stood at Natchez's head, looking down at him.

"This isn't going to be easy, Ant." She told me. "You'll need to excise some of his tissue, connect the artery to the vein, and remove the lower nerve cluster to hold off some of the phantom pain and sensations." She sighed and looked up, her face spattered with blood, frostbite on her nose and earlobes. Her cheeks were waxy looking and peeling. "I'll walk you through it."

I nodded to her.

"OK, Nancy's Field Surgery qualified. She's going to walk me through it." Donaldson nodded, same as Shads, as if they could see her too. "Anything we miss in the book, she'll point out."

We could hear Kincaid laughing through the Plexi.

It took over two hours before I folded the flaps together and stitched him up. It was ugly, but my stitches were small and neat from long practice. We woke Natchez up at one point and screamed at him to open his hands, that we needed him to open his hands, until his only remaining hand opened, and then we put him back under. Sewing the artery to the vein was strange, but Nancy told me it would keep blood flow proper through his arm.

What did I know? I was just a knuckle dragging thug, she was the educated one of all of us. Bomber was a brain damaged Texan, and I was nothing more than a waste of space with nothing better in my future than dying on some forgotten battlefield.

Twice more they came us.

Twice more Kincaid forced them back. I knew he had to be almost out of fuel, but he never called on Wilkins to reload him.

At least he'd forced Wilkins to help him back into his suit, so he wasn't running the flamethrower with his dick swinging around.

When I staggered out of the trauma bay, I was exhausted. My hands shook, my forearms were cramped, and my back felt like I'd been hit across the kidneys with a bat. I slumped down in one of the chairs by a gurney and went boneless, depending on the chair and physics to keep me in place.

I sure as shit didn't have the energy to.

"He gonna live, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked me, stomping toward me. I just nodded, and he kind of squatted down. I could hear the fans running on his backpack. "Listen, Sergeant, I don't care if you talk to Abe Lincoln in a Speedo and play trivia games with a lizard who lives in your ball sack. I've got your back the whole way, Sergeant."

"Thanks." I told him, rubbing my face. "If I take my meds to make them go away..."

"You'll go to sleep." Kincaid said, nodding inside his helmet. I could see him through the Lexan shield. He was sweating pretty hard, and he looked like he had a sunburn from running the flamethrower without protection. "I'd rather have you awake and talking to old friends than asleep while they kill us all."

He paused for a long moment, looking thoughtful. "The people you talk to, they were with you the whole step of the way, right?" I nodded again, and he suddenly grinned. "Cool, so even if these fucks manage to waste me, as long as you're alive, I'll still be around." His eyes glittered suddenly, and his smile looked... wrong. "I'm immortal. I so fucking rock."

Before I could say anything, he stood up and clomped over to where Donaldson was stripping a gurney and Shads was checking its undercarriage. "Shads, load my last tank, will you?"

Shads nodded, and the two men moved over to where the last fuel pack had been dropped.

"See if there's an extension cord or have him stand next to an outlet so he can charge the lithium battery." I said. I was starting to feel better.

"You OK, Ant?" Nancy asked, kneeling down next to me and putting her hand on my leg.

"I'm all right, Nancy." I told her, looking at her and trying to smile.

"Surgery's exhausting, honey." She told me. "I'd felt better after a 2 mile full gear run than I did after some of the practice surgeries we did." She shrugged, and leaned her head against my leg. "During training, they brought us goats or pigs that had been hit by rifle fire or shrapnel to practice on. By the time I'd be done, I felt like I'd been drug behind a truck."

I nodded, trying to massage out a cramp in my hand.

"Who's he talking to?" Wilkins asked Donaldson, who was standing underneath the decon shower and rinsing off.

"Dude, go away." Donaldson told him, flicking his hand so water sprayed Wilkins. "Probably that Nancy chick."

"But she's not really there." Wilkins sounded almost pleading.

"She is as far as I'm concerned." Donaldson told him, turning his back on Wilkins. "There were a couple things that the book had different than she told him, and his stuff worked better."

"What if he got it wrong?" Wilkins seemed more concerned with Nancy's real or not real status than the fact he was trying to talk a naked man who was busy soaping his balls.

"Dude, go the fuck away." Donaldson turned around and hefted his dick at Wilkins. "Or were you coming over to dry off my cock with your tongue?"

Wilkins stomped away, Donaldson's mocking laughter following him.

I stood up and stretched, feeling my muscles bunch then relax in my shoulders. I winced when I tried to straighten my right arm when it was above shoulder level. I could feel something in there moving and grinding.

When Donaldson got out of the shower, I took his place, putting one hand on the decon button and leaning forward, letting the almost scalding hot water run down my back.

"This ain't nothing, brother." Bomber told me, hopping up on the counter next to me and lighting a cigarette. "Remember when the LT had the shit beat out of us because he was convinced we were KGB."

I nodded, then rolled my neck to crack it.

"We were locked in our room, with nothing but our bare hands and a few knives, and we got out of that shit." He grinned without a bit of humor. "We killed every fucking one of them, and you sure as shit did for the LT. You've got this by the ass."

"True. Could be like later that winter when... when..." My brain suddenly shuddered and stopped, my thoughts freezing up as I approached something I didn't want to remember. Bomber hopped down and touched my shoulder, the water spraying through his solid looking skin. The Fates song began to sound in my ears, gaining volume, telling me what a failure I was, how I'd failed everyone.

I could feel the warmth of his hand.

"Stop. It was a vehicle accident while we were stuck up there again." He said softly. "Just a vehicle accident, brother. Say it with me." His voice drowned out the Fates, her were whispering a single name over and over.

"She died in a vehicle accident while we were at the barracks." I said softly, aware I was crying under the hot water. The song was getting louder.

"There was nothing you could have done to save her with what was going on, Ant. Nothing." Bomber told me, squeezing gently. "Say it with me, brother." I could barely hear him over the sound of the Fates' cruel triumphant chorus.

"I couldn't have saved her." I said softly. I was sobbing and didn't know why, but it felt like a knife was twisting in my gut. "There was nothing I could have done to save her, I was hurt too bad, blind, and dying." I couldn't even pick out individual voices from the Fates' song, just one overwhelming litany of my failures.

Bomber nodded, and I was aware of a hand on my other shoulder. I knew without looking it was Heather's hand. It was warm, comforting, and I could feel our wedding ring on it.

"Hush." Heather told the Fates.

The swelling song of the Fates shattered, and I could hear the spray of the water, everyone moving around, and the noises that the facility made.

"Leave him alone, Bomber." She whispered. "He'll be OK, you're just confusing him."

Bomber nodded, backing up.

"What the fuck is he talking about?" Wilkins asked, loud enough for me to hear.

"That's his business. Mind yours." Kincaid said. His voice wasn't muffled again, he must have taken off his suit while I stood in the shower.

"I'm telling you, he's crazy. He shouldn't be in charge." Wilkins said. "We don't have to listen to him if he's incapable of command. He's on goddamn medication because he's crazy."

"Wilkins, I'm going to tell you one last fucking time." Kincaid snarled. "Sergeant Ant has gotten us this far, we'd all be fucking dead from those things or the goddamn CIA assholes if it wasn't for him."

"But..." Wilkins started.

"Shut the fuck up." Kincaid continued. "I don't give a shit if he thinks he's the goddamn Energizer Bunny, he's the reason we're fucking alive, and that's all I care about."

"But..."

"Say one more thing, Wilkins." Kincaid's voice was soft, deadly. "One. More. Thing."

"One of us should..."

I turned in time to see a naked Kincaid bury his fist in Wilkins' stomach, the other man folding over and retching. Before he could recover Kincaid drove an elbow into the back of Wilkins' head, throwing him to the ground. Kincaid dropped down, a knee in the middle of Wilkins' back, grabbed him under the chin, and hauled him backwards, so he was arced back painfully.

"I don't know if the Army calls what you're trying to do mutiny or not." Kincaid snarled at him. "I don't give a shit. Either shut your fucking mouth or..." Kincaid dragged his thumbnail across Wilkins' exposed throat. "I'll fucking do you."

He let let go of Wilkins and walked toward me, grabbing a towel off of one of the gurneys and tossing it to me when I stepped out of the water.

"I'm gonna wash the piss off my legs." He said, stepping by me. "I think I'll thread the dick-wire when I put the suit back on."

"Good plan." I told him, drying off. Wilkins was getting up, his face beet red. I could tell Wilkins was furious that Kincaid had man-handled him again, embarrassed him in front of the conscious members of our little squad. When he reached for his rifle, Donaldson grabbed it and just stared at him.

"Problem?" Donaldson asked, dropping out the magazine and racking the charging handle so the loaded round flew across the room.

Shads bent down and picked it up.

"I'm fucking sick of Kincaid thinking he can get away with hitting me." Wilkins said, fury making his voice shake. "I don't have to take that shit off of him."

"Then keep your goddamn mouth shut and stop trying to undermine me." I told him, stepping up from behind him. "Do you think I can't fucking hear you?"

He turned around, his mouth opened and closing wordlessly.

"I'm ugly, not deaf or stupid." I told him.

His eyes flicked down to my chest, to the scars, to where the bruising from my shoulder colored the flesh in various yellow, purple, red, and brown bruising. The tattoo on my chest, and the tattoo on my shoulder. He glanced down at my waist, where the scar went from under my belly button to my hip bone.

"Yes, I should be taking my medication." I told him. His eyes jerked back to mine. "Yes, I suffer from headaches and hallucinations unless I take my medication." I waved at the heat discolored airlock that Kincaid had held.

"Adrenaline flushes my medications out of my system unless I take a heavier backup dose or other medications to help bind with the adrenaline." I told him. "The side effect is that I go to sleep for a few hours."

I pointed at the charred and greasy remains of the creatures that attacked us.

"Do you think they'll wait till I finish a fucking nap?" I asked him.

He shook his head, a spastic, jerking motion.

"Then either head back on your own, or stick with us." I pointed at the airlock we'd come in through. "There it is. Step or shut the fuck up."

His eyes looked a little wild when he looked at the airlock we'd come through. He looked at me, and I could see he almost tried calling what he wanted to believe was a bluff.

"Wilkins, we have to work together, if we don't, we'll get picked off one by one." I told him. "Natchez got nailed even though we were together, think of how long you'll last in the dark by yourself."

He nodded, the flush fading from his face as he paled.

"You saw it. It's snowing in those tunnels. There's something in those tunnels that is stalking us, playing with us. How long do you think you'll last till you find out what it is?" I asked him, still trying to be reasonable. He swallowed thickly and nodded. "Stick with us, worry about your part of the mission, and we've got a better chance to survive."

He looked doubtful, stepping back from me, obviously uncomfortable with the fact I was naked and still damp from the shower. Behind us Kincaid was (badly) singing "I always feel like, someone's watching me! When I'm the shower, I'm afraid to wash my hair, I might open my eyes and find cannibals standing there!"

"You might be right, I might be totally crazy." I admitted. He nodded, and opened his mouth. "But! I know how these places are laid out. I know how to open the internal doors even if the power goes out. I know how to decipher what the labels on doors and hallways mean." I grinned at him. "I can even restart the emergency reactor, bring it off of standby, and if I absolutely have to, I can bring the reactor out of storage mode and get it hot and running."

I stepped back from him and started drying off my stomach. "Do you?"

He shook his head.

"Just do what I tell you to do, and I'll do my best to get you out of here." I told him. "Alive."

He nodded again.

"Now go help Shads get a gurney ready for us to transport Natchez on." I told him, flipping the towel behind me so I could dry off my back. He nodded again and I watched him move over by Shads, who had him start stripping the extraneous crap off the bottom of the gurney.

Above them the camera tracked Wilkins, then slowly moved back to me.

I looked at Donaldson, who had moved back over to Natchez to check his vitals on the various machines we had him hooked into. He tilted his head at the camera and then nodded.

Someone was watching us.

Good call, Kincaid. I'd almost missed it.

When Kincaid got out of the shower, I had him search all the cabinets and shelves, looking for any uniforms he could find. He came up empty, so we put back on our damp and charcoal stained uniforms after we each showered. Natchez was moved to the gurney, wrapped in blankets, then strapped down, covered in more blankets, then his Kevlar was put over his chest before another thin blanket was put on top of him. The IV pole had extra bags hanging off of it. He was low on blood, but I was hoping the ringers would help him out. I couldn't risk having any of the others give him a blood transfusion and weakening themselves.

It was a shitty decision, I didn't like it, but I made it anyway.

The memory of what I'd done, how I'd done it, was already fading, receding into some kind of mental fog where I could only remember snippets, some of it weirdly enough as if I was standing just over my own shoulder and watching.

"Everyone ready?" I asked when we were gathered up next to the airlock that we'd come in through. The entry door was already open, and Shads was going to throw the bar on the external door then rush back behind Kincaid.

Everyone nodded, grunted, or said they were ready. Well, Wilkins grunted, Shads nodded from where he was holding onto the bar, Donaldson said he was ready, and Kincaid popped the igniter on the flamethrower.

Natchez didn't say anything, but I figured he was as ready as he was going to be.

"Let's move, men." I said.

Shads threw the bar twice and moved behind Kincaid. The sirens and lights kicked on, but no spray came down, and the door started to raise.

Snow blew into the airlock from under the door, swirling around our feet, and we could all feel the temperature drop suddenly.

Too long fingers, their ends nothing more than tattered flesh with sharp fingerbones poking out, appeared under the door, curling around the bottom on our side, and a low chuckle could be heard even over the wail of the sirens.

"Close it! Close it!" I bellowed out.

"FUCK YOU!" Kincaid howled out, stepping forward and crouching down, his knee almost touching the floor but not quite. He triggered a burst from the flamethrower, hosing it under the door, spattering the steel door and the floor too.

There was an unearthly scream of rage and pain, impossibly loud, that pushed us, made us stagger back, as something on the other side of the door howled in fury and sudden surprising agony.

"Fall back! Fall back!" I shouted, grabbing Kincaid and tugging. "Fall back!"

The hands, blackened and wreathed in flame, were still on the bottom of the door. I could hear the gears and hydraulic pistons screaming as pressure was put on those hands.

Shads jumped forward, grabbing the bar and pumping it twice before scampering behind us. Kincaid stood up when Shads moved in, backing up with me, and I could sense Donaldson and Wilkins pulling Natchez backwards into the emergency treatment center.

The door slammed down, the fingers vanishing a split second before the door sunk into the socket. The alarms cut off, and the lights panels snapped closed again.

"Fucker was waiting for us." Kincaid yelled. Even through the muffling of the suit I could tell he was pissed. "Goddamn it, how did he know? This is goddamn bullshit. I swear to God I'm going to burn his ass down."

"I don't think it will work." Shads said. "It hurts him, but I don't think it'll stop him."

"What makes you say that?" I asked him, moving over to the only airlock we hadn't opened up. We knew one led to wherever those things were lairing up, the other led back to Tandy/Bishop, that left the third one, which simply read "MEDICAL OPERATIONS" on the door.

"The flesh on the fingers didn't char or blacken, even though the hands were on fire." Shads said, moving up next to me and taking the bar. "I'll do it. I think the fire was just residual fuel burning off that got on it."

"Makes sense." I told him, dropping back next to Kincaid and bringing my rifle back up to port arms.

"He was screaming. It hurts him. That means I can kill him." Kincaid said, popping the igniter again.

"I scream when I cum, that doesn't mean you're hurting me." Nancy laughed, reaching out and running one hand across the fuel tanks. "Maybe Tandy thinks him and Kincaid are going out since they had a little foreplay."

"Did anyone else hear something?" Kincaid asked, turning slightly, trying to look behind him. "I thought I heard a woman's voice."

Nancy grinned from next to him.

"You overheating in that thing?" Donaldson asked. "There's no woman here."

"Can I keep him? He can wear a collar, sleep at my feet in bed, and I'll even feed him off my plate, slip him goodies under the table when he isn't licking my pussy at dinner." Nancy grinned.

"I'm telling you, I hear a woman." Kincaid said, twisting around the other way. "Are the speakers turned down low? Does this thing have a radio?"

"Drink your water." I told him. We'd refilled his water-pack using IV bags. He'd need the saline and the other stuff in them. "Shads, climb up and put your ear to that speaker, see if the system is broadcasting."

Shads let go of the bar and nodded, climbing up on the counter and listening close to the speaker.

"No, but I think I hear something too." He said, moving over to the vent. He peered into it, then put his head next to it. "It's coming from here." He looked at us. "Kincaid's right, I can hear a woman."

Nancy grinned at me, then walked through the closed door.

"Open the door, Shads, let's see what we've got." I ordered. Shads dropped off the counter and moved up to the door, grabbing the bar and throwing it from the down position to the up position.

The door shuddered, and we could all hear the sound of the master cylinder pressurizing. It took a minute before it began slowly rising, only a faint thump heard through the wall the door was set in. Shads knelt down to look, and blinked when the lights cut on on the other side of the door before the door was even up more than a few inches.

"...GENCY TECHNICAL TEAMS TO MAIN COMPUTER SYSTEMS! REPEAT! THERE IS NO CAUSE FOR ALARM. ALL EMERGENCY TECHNICAL TEAMS TO MAIN COMPUTER SYSTEMS FOR BRIEFING AND TRAINING! ALL SHIFTS AND SHIFT LEADERS FOR ALL EMERGENCY TECHNICAL TEAMS TO MAIN COMPUTER SYSTEMS!" blared out, immediately looping and repeating the message again.

Fuck. That wasn't good.

The hallway on the other side was tiled, white and antiseptic looking. Signs warned that whoever was in the hallway was about to enter an emergency triage and operating center and were warned that washing their hands prevented the spread of disease.

The hallway was immaculate. Only a few lightbulbs exploded, and the sudden brightness was almost blinding, even though the operating bay I'd used was lit better, this seemed brighter somehow.

"Let's go. Stay close." I told them. "Kincaid, you're behind me."

If anything happened, either Kincaid would move up past me, or I'd drop behind him. Shads was supposed to provide support to both Kincaid and me, Wilkins was supposed to push Natchez, and Donaldson was supposed to pull drag, keep an eye out for anyone running up our ass, and protect Natchez.

We passed by the doors marked patient recovery, inpatient quarters, operating theaters, nuclear medicine, stopping at each intersection to stare at the placards and hoping we were heading for the elevators and not in a big circle.

The elevators were in sight when the lights flickered twice and died.

The woman's voice, who had been haranguing the tech teams, slowed down to a crawl and died all together.

"If it wasn't for the dark I'd be happy she finally shut up." Kincaid said, popping the igniter.

"Give it a second, and shh." I listened closely.

No air pumps, no fans, nothing. Just silent and dark. I reached up and flicked on my flashlight.

The white hallway shone in the bluish white light from my flashlight. I'd bought hot-shit lightbulbs, Xenon or some shit, or maybe Krypton, all I knew is that the Shoppette had bragged they had about 10X power as a normal bulb. Of course, it was $4.50 for a pack of 2 instead of 5 for a dollar.

"This doesn't feel right." Wilkins said quietly.

"The fans are off." I said, moving up to the elevators and waving them.

Even the little white ring was dark.

"What does..." Shads started to say.

The lights came back on suddenly. The woman's voice went from a slowed down rumble to a high pitched gabbling scream that made no sense. The lights throbbed, going from pale yellow to bright white. The fluorescents almost seemed to scream as they flickered faster and faster until they were nothing but a harsh white bar.

"Cover Natchez!" I yelled out, turning away and shielding my eyes from the light.

The woman's voice was nothing more than one long screeching yowl, and I was aware of sirens kicking on, strobing faster and faster, until they joined the howl. I could hear fans roaring, and faintly smell scorched metal.

With one long rippling crack all the lights exploded. The woman's voice cut back out, and the hallway went silent except for Kincaid's suit fans and the hissing of the flamethrower.

That and our curses, that is.

"Shit." I said, looking back up.

Plates slid back in the walls, revealing red emergency lights that snapped on, bathing us all in blood.

"What now?" Wilkins asked. He didn't sound sarcastic, just scared.

"Back up, Sergeant Ant needs room to find the access." Donaldson said, and I could hear the wheels squeak on the tile as they backed Natchez up.

I searched the wall until I found the small plug set into the tile. It was in between two normal wall outlets, both of them covered with child-safety tabs.

"What's he doing?" Wilkins asked when I pulled the Claymore clacker out of my pocket and plugged it into the wall after thumbing down the safety and clicking it twice to check the little white spot to see if it went orange. The clacker was good, which was a nice change in our luck.

"Opening the doors to the stairs." Donaldson said.

"What fucking stairs?" Wilkins asked.

"Fire in the hole." I said, clacking it three times.

On the far side of the elevators a wall plate jumped off the wall with a ringing clang. Tile exploded from it to shatter on the floor. A thick layer of asbestos and insulation covered the inner side of the steel plate, scorched and smoking from where the micro-charges had gone off.

"Those stairs." Donaldson told him.

Shads and I threw the plate out of the way, grunting at the weight. It was heavy as hell, a lot more heavier than it looked. Then we used our feet to scrape the tile away so that they could get the gurney up to the opening.

"Kincaid, for the love of all that's holy, don't fire that fucking thing in the stairwell access, you'll fucking cook us." I told him. He nodded behind the face shield, licking his lips.

I turned to the others. "Donaldson, Shads, Wilkins, you'll trade off carrying Natchez up the stairs. Kincaid, you have drag, Wilkins, hand me your M-16." Wilkins looked a bit rebellious, but handed it to me anyway. I pulled out my Leatherman tool and popped the trigger guard off so it swung free. "There, you should be able to use this." Donaldson had thrown off all of Natchez's blankets and was trying to pull him into the Kevlar.

Kincaid nodded when I handed it to him, turning off the flamethrower and hanging it from the backpack in a smooth overhanded motion.

The boy was born to run one.

"I'll take point. Stay a flight behind me, don't come up to the next landing until I reach it." I told them. They nodded. Shads had helped Donaldson sit Natchez up so they could drape his battle-rattle around him as best the could. Shads put Natchez's boots back on him and tied them quickly and sloppily.

I looked up the stairwell. It vanished into the darkness, and I caught a whiff of rotting meat.

"He's ready." Donaldson said.

"Shads, Wilkins, you two first." I told them. Shads nodded, and grabbed the shoulder pads of Natchez's Kevlar vest. Wilkins grabbed his boots, and they slid the man off the gurney, Wilkins stepping between his legs and grabbing him at his bare thighs.

Donaldson pulled out a handful of chemlights, quickly stripping off the metallicized plastic wrappers and snapping them. He shook them, then moved to each person, tucking them where he could. He stared at Kincaid for a moment, then shrugged and shoved one into the fuel case and just handed the other to him. Kincaid tucked it between the armored suit and his LBE.

Down the hall, one of the red lights in the distance exploded.

"Sergeant, I think we need to get moving." Shads said as another one, this one closer, went out in a shower of sparks.

"Move out." I told them, hustling into the stairwell. My flashlight wasn't much help, the shaft was about sixty feet across, the stairs at least six feet across, and they wound up to vanish into the darkness.

I moved up the steps, deliberately stomping, feeling it rattle under me. When I got to the first landing, I grabbed the railing and started pulling back and forth, trying to set up a rhythm to get it to start swaying. It didn't work too well, the stairs just groaning.

"Clear." I told them, heading up the next set of spirals to the landing. I tried shaking it, then told them to come up before heading up again.

"Fucking rust." Shads sputtered, trying to spit out the rust flakes that were showering down on them as I moved to the next set and shook it. It swayed slightly, and something went "PING!" in the darkness.

"Goddamn, this is creepy." Kincaid bitched.

The stench of rotting meat got stronger.

"Stay sharp, I think they're around." I told them as I moved up to the sixth landing. That was the first one with another panel, the plastique and det-cord wired on the door and the wires leading into a length of PVC pipe and vanishing at the wall of the shaft. On the back of the plate, my side of the plate, was stenciled "SUB-NINE".

"Move up." I told them, leaving the door behind and moving up.

The spiral wound around about six times before I caught sight of the next access point.

This one was missing the plate. The stench of rotting meat was billowing in from the missing plate, and I suppressed an urge to retch. In between me and the landing were stacks of cardboard boxes, soggy and foul smelling, broken chairs, a mattress, and unidentifiable debris.

Cursing, I set to work, and cleared it out fairly quickly, throwing the pieces over the railing and into the gap between the spirals to fall into the depths.

When my flashlight panned over the opening, I could see the hallway beyond. The walls were smeared with primitive designs in either shit or blood, or maybe something that their shamans or wise-men brewed. Crude mushroom clouds. Crying small stick figures holding onto the hands of larger crying stick figures. Crying little stick figures with dead stick figure dogs.

The floor was covered with a thick blackish looking gunk.

That wasn't what held my attention though.

My light must have alerted them, or maybe my big clomping clown feet as I moved up the spiral steps.

There were six of them, crouched down and waiting, and as soon as I reached the landing and turned, then exploded into motion, charging at me. One knocked me off balance, knocking my rifle out of the way, and another grabbed my arm with both hands and bit deep into my forearm, the wrenching on my arm making my shoulder scream in agony as the arm was pushed past the max rotation I could do after the last surgery. Something inside my shoulder gave with a weird tearing and popping feeling, and my whole arm went numb, my rifle dropping from my hand. Another went low, wrapping his arms around my low while still another went for my left arm.

I managed to get my arm out of the way, to my waist, and pull my knife free as I let myself be shoved against the railing, setting my feet as soon as my back hit.

"Sergeant!" Someone, maybe Shads, yelled from down at the last landing.

I could see more in the hallway as I drove the knife into the back of the one that had me around the waist, the one trying to lift me up and throw me over the railing. The one with my arm was wrenching at it, like he was trying to take it off at the shoulder joint, and I could feel the burn from where he was biting me through my BDU's. One was grabbing at my leg, trying to lift it up, and the one that had initially hit me had a hold on my rifle, trying to pull the sling over his buddy's head.

"I'M THE FIFTY FOOT ANT AND THIS HERE'S MY FUCKING STAIRWELL!" I bellowed as the one at my waist screamed and let go. He collapsed into his friend, and I pivoted at the waist and stabbed the guy holding onto my arm twice under the bottom of the right side of his rib cage. Blackish blood poured out of his mouth as he collapsed, and the one tugging at my rifle looked at me with wide eyes.

My legs were free, and I stepped sideways into the one still holding onto my rifle, slamming the knife up under his sternum and twisting it before kneeing him off the knife.

My arm fell to my side, and my rifle fell down the steps. The tingling changed, and the way it ground inside let me know it was dislocated again.

Two more came at me, I kicked the first in the gut, drove my knife into the second and brought my knee up into the gut of the one I'd just stabbed before pivoting to let him fall off of the knife. The one leaning forward and retching I stabbed in his left, making sure I didn't hit the shoulder blade and hitting just to his left of his spine.

He dropped off the knife.

The one that had grabbed my leg and tried to fling me over the railing had managed to push his buddy off, and I stepped forward and kicked him under the chin as hard as I could. Dead or not, he dropped, and I turned as two more came through the doorway. I dodged the first one and stepped into the second one, letting him impale himself on the knife and fall away. The other one had hit the railing, and when I turned around, he was holding onto the railing and trying to keep from overbalancing.

I punched him in the back of the head and he flipped forward, vanishing into the darkness with a wailing scream.

When I spun around, knife up and ready, the entry was empty.

Donaldson came running up the stairs, his rifle out, and stopped on the landing I was on, staring at the wall my light was shining on.

At our feet, one of them groaned and twitched, and I stepped forward and stomped on his head with everything I had.

"Grab my wrist." I told him, managing to flop my arm around.

"Roger." He said, letting go of his weapon and grabbing my wrist with both hands. He pulled it up, straight out, and I groaned, feeling more sweat cover me. I looped my other arm around the railing.

"Do it." I told him. He nodded.

"On three." He told me. I nodded at him, sweating, watching the opening.

"One..." He suddenly yanked, and the joint popped back into place with a loud snapping noise.

It felt like there was a rock stuck in there, but I could move my fingers and move my arm again.

"Get up here, hurry up!" Donaldson yelled as I sagged against the railing in relief. The stairs shook as the other men quickly moved up them. Donaldson threw the bodies back into the hallway, watching the opening the whole time.

I just leaned against the railing, waiting for the shakes to pass.

Finally the others were up on the landing, Kincaid had two weapons in his hands, and I recognized my rifle.

"You dropped this." He told me, grinning behind the face shield.

"What's so goddamn funny?" I asked him, waving at them to follow me as I moved up the next set of spirals.

"Do you remember what you yelled?" He asked, chuckling. Shads laughed.

"No. Why?" The stairs were stained black, and crude drawings were on the walls that made no sense. Most of them were spirals, squares, mushroom clouds, crude cars, what I thought was the moon, and a few were small crying stick figures moving into a cave with angry looking stick figures pointing at the cave.

What they might mean made me sick to my stomach.

"So, when you referred to yourself as the 'fifty foot ant', are you fifty feet high or fifty feet long?" Kincaid asked, laughing.

"Or do you have fifty feet?" Shads asked, snickering. "How much do you spend on boots, Sergeant?"

"Shut the fuck up." I said, feeling my ears redden.

"Seriously? Your nickname is the fifty foot ant?" Donaldson asked, and I could tell he was barely able to keep from laughing.

"It's a long fucking story." I told them.

"When we get back, you're fucking telling it." Kincaid laughed. "I gotta hear how you ended up with that fucking name."

"So, was like that your call sign during Desert Storm?" Shads asked, and all of them except Wilkins burst out laughing.

"Oh shut up." I told them. "Another access point's coming."

This one was blown open too, but nobody rushed us as we moved past.

"Fifty foot ant, seriously?" Kincaid chuckled.

They kept poking fun at me as moved through the darkness of the shaft. After three levels, the panels weren't blown open. The last one, we had to clear away wreckage that someone had piled on the stairs as if to block them.

"Now what, Sergeant Ant." Kincaid asked. He didn't use my name, but actually 'ant' when he said it.

"I'll blow off the panel, and we'll go back, smartass." I told him. He was panting and moving slower, the long climb in the armored suit with the flamethrower on his back really taking it out of him. We'd had to stop longer for everyone to rest, setting Natchez down on the steel grates while everyone sat down.

He'd started to come around once, and Shads popped him full of more morphine.

It took a few moments to trace the wires and find out where to stick the clacker in. There was one above the port, which should have made it obvious. When Donaldson saw it, he grabbed it and dropped it in his pocket.

"Fire in the hole." I called out, then snapped the clacker. There was a sharp crack that echoed and reechoed through the shaft, and the steel plate popped off, falling into the hallway on the other side with a loud clatter.

Blessed light streamed in. The power was on, at least up on this level. It was almost a religious experience seeing it.

I moved up through the smoke, waving my hand in front of my face and coughing, and stepped into the hallway.

Brushed steel, and instantly recognizable.

We were on the top floor, at the elevators just outside the living quarters area, between living quarters and the administration offices.

"Grab Natchez, double time it." I told them. I knew where to go.

We hurried as fast as we could, Shads slinging Natchez over his shoulders, Kincaid shuffling along in his armored suit holding onto his flamethrower, Wilkins rearmed with his own weapon and carrying Natchez's gear along with his.

I was staggering by the time we hit the entrance to the Officer's Quarters, running on adrenaline and stubborness.

"Hurry up, Ant." Bomber said while I punched in the code as fast as I could.

"I'm hurrying, Bomber." I told him.

"Those CIA goons are right behind you." He warned me.

"Kincaid, check our six, if you see those CIA assholes, burn them down." I told him.

"With pleasure, Sergeant." He replied, moving to the back.

The door thumped, and began to raise.

"Someone's back there, they took off running away when I popped my baby up." Kincaid told me. I could hear the pressurized hiss from the flamethrower underlying his words. "I think they're back at the intersection."

When the door raised up there were two of the Major's men, Meatheads I hadn't bothered numbering or naming, standing there pointing rifles at us.

"Thank God. We thought you guys were dead." One of them said.

"Major! Sergeant Ant and the others are back!" The other yelled.

"Out of the way, jackasses, I've got wounded." Shads said, pushing by me.

When the men saw Natchez, they exclaimed loudly, both asking if he was alive, what had happened, what was going on.

"Hurry up!" I said, waving everyone in.

Kincaid was backing up, flames dripping from the end of the muzzle. The barrel was obviously shot. We'd either have to find an armory that had a new one, or I'd have to figure something out, or Kincaid would have to abandon his baby.

When he reached us, I hit the bar and the door started sliding shut.

Three shots rang out from down the corridor we'd just left.

As the door slid shut, Kincaid went down on his knees.


Chapter 33

Site Kilo-29
Personnel Living Quarters
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Late Afternoon
Status: Defensive Status
Facility Status: Alert One-Bravo


Kincaid hit the floor, going to his knees, as the shot echoed in the corridor. Beside him the meathead that had been asking questions grabbed his throat, blood spraying out, and he went down gurgling. The door slammed down with a grim finality as shouts sounded out from further down the corridor.

"Treat this kid first, you've only got a few seconds if anything!" Nancy shouted, bending down next to the kid holding his throat. "He'll need a tracheotomy to start. Move, Ant!"

The last was superfluous, I was already moving, past Kincaid, who was coughing as he let go of the flamethrower and bent forward.

"Kincaid!" Donaldson yelled, moving over to Kincaid, who was holding onto his chest and leaning forward. I could hear him coughing while I moved over to the kid and knelt down.

"Oh fuck, it hurts." Kincaid gasped. "Fucking Toothpick shoot me, Dee." He coughed again. "I saw the fucker, he was the one shooting."

"I need a fucking pen!" I shouted. "Someone give me a goddamn pen!"

The bullet had hit him high in the neck, demolishing the top of his adam's apple and exiting out the back of his neck somewhere. His eyes were open, glassy, and I could tell he was trying to scream even though nothing but blood and a whistling sound was coming out. As I knelt down the kid's hands loosened and the blood bubbled out of the wound in his neck. Nancy kneeling down opposite of him, kneeling down in the pool of blood that was rapidly spreading, pouring out from his neck, from under his hands.

"Just hold him, Ant." Nancy said softly, tears spilling from her eyes. "I'm sorry, Ant." She looked old, and her eyes were full of pain.

"Goddamn, it hurts, Dee." Kincaid coughed. "Get this fucking hood off me."

"It's OK, kid, I got you." I told the young man laying on the ground. His hands went limp. slipping from his neck, and his eyes opened wide, staring at something behind me, something I knew that I wouldn't be able to see if I turned around.

"You'll be all right, kid." I lied. I took one of his bloody hands and squeezed it, reaching out with my other hand and laying it on his cheek. "I've got you, kid. It's OK."

People were flooding into the hallway, but I didn't pay them any mind, all of my attention focused on the kid in front of me. They were yelling, but it was just noise.

His eyes flicked to me for a moment, returned to looking behind me, and he mouthed one word, a very obvious word that I'd seen mouthed or whispered before too many times before. Once was too many. Even without a sound, I knew what he was whispering.

momma

The blood stopped, just oozing out, and the kid's hand changed the way it felt. The eyes changed, something disappearing from them. There was some bubbles from the wound that suddenly stopped. There was a gurgling noise, and I could tell he'd evacuated his bowels.

It was over.

Nancy wailed in pain and grief next to me, and Taggart put an arm around her and pulled her close, petting her hair and comforting her. A small part of me joined them as I laid the kid's hand on his chest and turned away to check on Kincaid.

Three people stopped at the dead kid, one going to his knees next to him, the other two just staring.

"Somebody do something." One of them cried out.

There was nothing to do, the kid was dead.

Donaldson had managed to get Kincaid's helmet off. Kincaid's face was pale, and he was gritting his teeth, his hands at the seam in the front of the J-Suit. He coughed again and groaned.

"Fucker shot me, Sergeant." He coughed. "Right in the fucking chest."

The Major was pushing through the small crowd around us, but he stopped, shushing everyone when he saw what I was doing. He turned away from us and squatted down next to the his dead soldier. I ignored him, my attention on Kincaid.

On my soldier.

"Lay back." I told him. He clumsily moved his legs in front of him while I started undoing the front of his suit. The was no bloodstain on the chest around the small hole in the upper right of his chest, but that didn't mean anything. The suit was designed in such a way that the 'sandwich' layers would seal over any puncture in an attempt to protect the wearer from shrapnel, stab wounds, or debris. Even if the suit hadn't sealed around the wound it wasn't skin tight, the blood would be running down his chest and out his back, filling the lower half of his suit. There was no way to tell how bad he was injured until we got the suit open.

Kincaid leaned back as I pulled it open, fully expecting to see the puckered wound indicative of a gunshot to the chest. Blood would be flowing out, and if it was the second worst of my fears, it would have red foam pumping out of it with each breath.

There was a huge spreading bruise, spreading around his right nipple, which was already purple and swelling up.

Kincaid was looking up at the ceiling, trying to breathe slow and steady. "How bad is it, Sergeant?" His voice was strained.

"I don't know." I told him. "This is gonna hurt."

"I'm OK, I'm OK, I'm OK." He kept repeating as I reached forward and gently probed at the bruising. He hissed in pain as I pressed, the muscle over the top of his ribs made it hard to tell, but it felt to me like the rib directly under the nipple shifted slightly.

Kincaid looked down, chuckled, then groaned in pain. "Holy shit, I was sure I dead. It felt like I got kicked by a horse or something."

"You've got a popped rib." I told him. "You hurt anywhere else?"

"My hands sting real bad and are tingling, I'm not sure why." He said, and coughed again. "Shit."

I lifted his hands and checked, but they weren't bleeding. I picked up the ejector and took a look at it.

There was dent in the heat cowling, badly deformed and dimpled.

"Ricochet." I told him, letting the whole thing drop down on the floor. "Looks like it hit the heat shroud and bounced into you. That's why your hands went numb, the shock of the bullet hitting the weapon."

Kincaid looked down, grabbing the flamethrower and tilting it to get a good look at. "Aw man, look what they did to you, baby."

"How's Private Kincaid, Sergeant?" The Major asked. He'd moved up while I was checking Kincaid out, and when I glanced at him I saw he had blood all over his hands.

"Broken rib, soft tissue damage, probably deep tissue bruising." I told the Major, standing up. "It didn't collapse the lung, but it's probably bruised."

"I'm right here." Kincaid bitched, leaning back against the fuel tanks still on his back. "Shit hurts."

"Can you breathe OK?" I asked him, standing up.

"Yeah, but my chest hurts when I inhale too deep." He told me.

"Donaldson, stay with him. Help him up when he's ready to move." I said, turning to the Major.

"What the hell happened, Sergeant?" The Major asked. Behind him one of the meatheads was draping a blanket over the dead soldier, covering his face. He looked like he was in pain.

"The recon went bad." I told him honestly. "Natchez got his arm cut off during a door malfunction, and when we got here someone that's been ID'd as the government guys we came in with fired three shots as the door was closing. One of the shots hit one of your men, killing him, and another shot hit Kincaid's flamethrower, ricocheted and hit him in the chest, but the armored J-Suit held."

"Walk with me, Sergeant." He told me. He paused by the dead killed. "Move Houser to one of the bedrooms, cover him up. We'll take him with us when we leave." The two privates kneeling down by him nodded, their grief plain on their faces.

We walked a way down the corridor, both of silent. My knee was throbbing with each step, and my shoulder was throbbing in time with my heartbeat. I was running on fumes and anger, but I wasn't about to show a bit of weakness. Not because I disliked the Major any more, but because if I collapsed in the hallway and curled up in a ball, God only knew what effect it would have.

"What the hell is Kincaid wearing?" The Major asked.

"Armored J-Suit, we use it during real world exercises, it's designed for the NBC battlefield." I told him. He grunted, like he didn't trust his own words. "I issued him a flame thrower based on my estimation of the situation, and following the guidelines and protocols in the NBC warfare handbook."

He made a face, I didn't really understand why. "A flamethrower, Sergeant?"

I stopped and looked at him, holding his eyes with mine. "Sir, I'm about two steps from declaring this a Bravo Class biological incident." I shook my head. "I need to get to the Event biolab, or someplace I can run tests on the samples I gathered."

"Samples?" he asked.

"I took samples of the things that are attacking us. They're showing signs of infectious disease as well as chemical weapon exposure. I need to find out what disease they're suffering from." I told him.

"Then what?" The Major sounded horrified.

"Depending on the biological agent, it could be something I can ignore, it could be something I have to declare a biological incident and then take steps."

"What kind of steps?"

I stared at him for a long time. "From insisting that teams in the site wear protective equipment, to emergency full site decontamination."

He shuddered for a second then licked his lips before changing the subject. "What happened down there, Sergeant?"

I filled him in on what had happened, starting from the elevator ride down to the lower levels, and finishing up with the gunshots through the door way. He let me go on uninterrupted except for asking about my motivations for promoting the two soldiers. I didn't pull any punches, not even with my threatening of Wilkins.

"All right. I'll back the promotions, but I want you and the soldiers who accompanied you to write up an after action report." I nodded. "Write up a separate incident report regarding your suspicions regarding the biohazard."

Kincaid came walking up, someone had given him a towel that he'd wrapped around his waist. He was grinning, his eyes sparkling, and it looked like he'd gotten over the huge bruise forming on his chest. The cut across his head was oozing again, he'd popped another stitch.

"We still on the clock, Sergeant?" He asked me.

"Yup. Now for the fun part, writing up reports." I told him. He gave a Homer Simpson-esque groan and I grinned at him. "Get the rest of the squad, make sure everyone washes thoroughly, changes their uniforms, and after that bring them into the entertainment room. Then we'll go in and do the reports right away in the entertainment room." I shrugged. "I've gotta put my samples in the fridge, then I'll join you."

Part of me cringed at just tossing my samples into an unsecure fridge, and I was slightly worried about cross-contamination of the samples, but all I was really after was confirmation of what they were exposed to, so cross contamination didn't really mean shit.

Kincaid and the others went into rooms to shower, and I went to one of the rooms that nobody was using, just tossing the whole medical kit into the fridge after ripping the wire shelves out of it and leaving them on the cheap tile floor. Afterwards I went in, showered, and pulled a clean uniform out of my duffles to change, feeling good that I'd changed into something clean that didn't crackle with dried blood and wasn't soaked with charcoal. It took awhile to get the stains of the charcoal out of my skin, and the heat from the shower felt good on my wounds.

By the time I got back, the Major had pulled the paperwork out of his briefcase and Donaldson, Shads, and Kincaid were writing. The Major was talking to Wilkins, who looked plenty upset.

He was probably telling them about how Kincaid had assaulted him, how I'd threatened him with a knife, and how he'd tried to stop us from using the flamethrower, not to mention playing up how he figured I was crazy and needed to be relieved and possibly sequestered.

If Wilkins thought that I'd allow myself to be sequestered, allow myself to be put under arrest, or anything else, he was a goddamn idiot. If the facility was fully contaminated, if it was one of a dozen or so nasty diseases I could identify easily, then I'd have to get everyone out, blow the self-destruct charges, and have everyone put in quarantine to make sure none of us had contracted the disease. I had way to important stuff to do to allow myself to be placed under arrest. Like making sure all of us wasn't infected with some goddamn disease that would turn all our internal organs into liquid shit.

The bite wounds I'd taken burned at the thought.

It wouldn't be the first time Heather'd visited me in quarantine. She'd stood on the other side of the Plexi in her uniform, putting her hand on the polymer wall, so I could match her hand. It looked corny as hell in movies, but standing there in a paper robe, with my only human contact being the nurses and doctors that were poking and prodding me, it meant everything to me at that moment. If my career kept going the way it had been, it wouldn't be the last time I'd be in quarantine, the last time she visited me with a Plexiglass wall separating us.

It beat the hell out of being in 2/19th.

Filling out the paperwork was boring, but routine. It wasn't the first time I'd had to do an after-action report that took about ten pages. It wasn't the worst one I'd had to fill out either, either from before, or after. It still didn't make it any less difficult. I told the truth, not glossing over threatening Wilkins, not hemming and hawing over ordering Kincaid to burn down everything with the flamethrower, noting Wilkins' objections in my report. Halfway through the reports the Major came over so I could sign the promotion paperwork for Wilkins and Kincaid. DoA PERSCOM would undoubtedly back the promotions up, and it wasn't like the circumstances would be put in a file easily accessible by any future commanders.

Unless Kincaid and Donaldson stuck with me.

I waited for the others to finish before calling them together, excluding Wilkins. That took our little group down to me, Shads, Donaldson, and Wilkins. I wish I had access to more men, part of me wanted to drop Shads but I couldn't remember why, but the kid had had what it took when it all went down, and that was good enough to keep him with us. Everyone was exhausted, but the fact the lights kept dimming and brightening the entire time we were writing our reports bothered me.

That, and the fact that the Alphabet Boys had ambushed us.

Dicks.

We met with the Major in his little office. He was sitting behind the desk, and we all pulled up chairs so we could cram into the little space on other side of the desk, waiting for him to finish reading the paperwork.

He questioned us about what we had seen, our actions, and our reasoning behind our decisions that led to those actions. I could tell that he wasn't exactly happy with some of my decisions, but he didn't let if effect his questions, and I was hoping it wasn't effecting what he was writing.

When it was over, he let Shads, Donaldson and Kincaid leave, but I stayed behind. The other three took their chairs with them. It was silent in the room for a few seconds, while he glanced over his yellow notepad.

"How bad is it, Sergeant?" He finally asked me, breaking the heavy silence.

"So far, it's looking really bad." I told him, sighing and rubbing my face. My shoulder hurt when I did it, but I ignored it. "If we didn't have a serious Class Alpha situation already at another site I could get a bunch of Warfare troops here pretty fast. Hell, if we could get the doors open, I could radio for instructions. As it stands, I'm left with doctrine and protocol."

He nodded at that, then tapped his yellow notepad. "What about these civilians victims? Is there anything you can do?"

I shook my head. "Sir, they're all suffering years, some of them decades, of exposure to God only knows what, and to top it off, I'm starting to worry they might have also been exposed to selected bioweapons. Either as part of the experiment, or accidentally when they broke into one of the biowarfare storage areas."

"Then what do you suggest we do?" The Major asked me, flipping over the notepad page to give him a clean writing surface.

"Right now, the options are only impossible, difficult, or ugly." I told him. He made a motion for me to continue. "We can pop the doors, but I'm not even sure that will work. I can try to seize control of the system and try to get it to unlock the doors, but I'm not sure I should yet. We can kill everything in here, wait out a possibly infection timeline in one of the isolation areas. Or, we can try to wait till the doors are unlocked and hope that the system hasn't locked the whole site down. Or I can follow protocol and see where that leads us."

He'd been jotting notes. "What does the protocol say?"

"Protocol says that I lock the whole area down, try to determine the nature and type of the chemical exposure, try to determine if these people have been exposed to a bioweapon and if so the nature and type of the weapon." I told him, closing my eyes and pushing memories away. "Normally I'd have a full team, all trained and experienced, with some of the military CDC liaisons for backup, and for something like this we'd have Air Force assets on standby."

That made him raise an eyebrow. "Air Force assets?"

"The Shiva option." I told him, shrugging. It had an official name, a harmless little name probably dreamed up by some cobra blooded little man in a gray suit in an office somewhere, but it was mostly referred to as "Shiva" to cover about twelve different solutions.

He opened his mouth, then closed it for a moment before starting again. "Since you don't have any of that, what do you plan on doing?"

I was honest with him. "I'm not sure." I sighed again. "I'm just a ground pounder, sir. The officers I work with normally make all the decisions and I just do them."

"I have no idea what to do, Sergeant." He admitted. "The most complicated thing I've helped decommission was an old ammunition storage point."

I nodded. "And this is rapidly becoming a cluster-fuck."

"Have you ever worked on something like this before?" The Major asked me.

"I cannot confirm or deny that I may or may not have ever taken part in any type of operation that you may or may not be referring to." I said. He nodded.

"Come up with a plan, Sergeant." He stared at me. "Then we'll compare notes, and I'll help figure something out."

I nodded, and he dismissed me.

Donaldson, Kincaid, and Shads were sitting in the room we'd pretty much staked out for ourselves. Kincaid had the handbook open for the flamethrower, looking over barrel and ejector assembly maintenance, he'd pulled the toolkit out of the canvas bag and had taken the ejector assembly apart. Shads was sitting on the couch, his boots on the coffee table, reading a field manual on medical treatment. Donaldson was in the kitchen, frying something up that smelled terrible even in the frontroom. Bomber was sitting at the kitchen table, sharpening a knife and looking bored. Nancy was sitting on the couch next to Shads, wearing PT sweats and reading a medical FM that had the name blacked out, probably a field surgery manual. Taggart was sprawled out in the other over-stuffed chair, her helmet tilted down to hide her eyes, probably asleep.

They all looked up at me, watching as went over to the overstuffed chair and sat down. I noticed that my gear was all sitting by the kitchen table, still set up the way I'd had it set up. It looked kind of stupid, more like what you'd see on a shittily researched movie.

It sure as shit wasn't a basic load.

Sometimes I wished I was in my wife's Army. The one where it was pretty basic. No more underground bases, just a regular basic load that didn't include chemical detectors, biowarfare kits, or radiation kits depending on the mission. No more sealed bullshit. No more getting my mail sent to a unit I'd never met but had all my mail and paperwork sent through.

Being part of a regular unit was as much of a fantasy as my dreams of a white picket fence and a normal job.

I was born to die in a ditch somewhere, bleeding out and alone. People like me didn't get the good ending. Monsters don't get the happy ending in the movies. We get to die.

It was nothing personal, just the way it was.

"I think the barrel's fixed, Sergeant." Kincaid said, tapping the disassembled ejector assembly on the table. "I pulled the feeder valve nubbins, like the manual says to, and replaced them with the steel ones that were in the weapon's kit. According to the manual, we should have replaced the valves before we used it, the brass ones are only for test firing."

"What about the bullet hit?" Shads asked before I could.

Kincaid tapped the housing. "I hammered the dent out on the table, so it fits back over the barrel, the barrel's fine even though it's a little discolored and I followed the advice in the TM and rotated it."

"Good going, Specialist, good initiative." I told him. Kincaid smiled and went back to work, putting the heat shroud back on.

I heaved myself back out of the chair, moving into the kitchen and digging in my gear till I pulled out the little plastic tray that had 14 separate little compartments, each labelled with a day of the week and either blue or purple. My morning meds, and night-time meds. I slapped it down, then dug further until I found the 7 slot tray, which contained my mid-day meds. I dug a couple out and dropped them on the table before pouring the rest into my hand. I dropped the ones I'd pulled out back in the box, then snapped the lid closed.

I got a glass of water and swallowed my pills before shaking two Vicoden into my mouth and swallowing them too, then dumped out the water, set the glass upside down on the counter, and walked back over to put my meds away.

"How long are you gonna be out?" Donaldson asked me, scraping the mixture he'd fried up in the pan onto a plate. When I raised an eyebrow he shrugged. "Ham slices, the egg shit, potatoes all rotten, and some tobasco."

"Yum yum." I grinned. "They'll make me a little sleepy, but I'll be able to stay awake. I've got too much shit to do."

"Like what?" He asked, sitting down and squirting ketchup packets on his food. I noticed they were Burger King ones. He was like a lot of guys I knew, that snagged the ketchup and mustard packs to take with them when they went to the field.

"Gotta figure out a plan of action." I told him. I sat down, dug in my ruck to get a yellow pad, and laid it on the table. I started sketching a map the best I could remember, as well as listing the areas I'd read off on the walls or seen lines heading for.

Donaldson sat watching me, eating his crappy food while I drew maps based on my best recollections.

"That's why you keep counting steps, isn't it, Sergeant?" He asked at one point. I nodded and went back to work. He didn't take offense at my lack of answers, just rinsed off his plate, mixed himself a glass of red Kool-aid, and sat down to watch.

I listed what I'd seen the people wear, their weapons, the way they attadcked, and the markings on the walls I'd seen. I wrote down the symptoms I'd seen on the smaller ones and the females, as well the various symptoms I'd seen. After I was finished, I leaned back. Donaldson moved over the microwave and punched in a little bit of time, then leaned against the counter.

"How's the plan coming?" He asked me.

"Got a couple snags." I admitted.

"You need a live patient and access to one of the hospitals." He guessed.

"I'd prefer the biowarfare lab." I told him. "There should be one in here somewhere, and I need to quit screwing around and gain control of key parts of the facility."

Donaldson nodded, then turned back to the microwave when it beeped. He pulled out a cup, grabbed some small brown packets off the top of the microwave, set it all on the table, and pushed it toward me.

Hot coffee, creamer, and sugar.

"Thanks." He nodded as I stirred in the sugar and creamer. "The bio lab will let me run tests, and have the manuals I need to check to find out what's going on." I sipped the coffee and smiled. "Goddamn that's good. Anyway, this place is fucking massive, but it's gotta follow a few rules. I need to stop reacting and start following my training."

"I heard you tell the Major that you don't have troops. How many more do you need?" He asked me, smiling at the compliment for the coffee.

"I'd rather have a full team of twelve, but I can do this with just the four of us if I need to. Kincaid's an asset, he won't flinch and will more than likely do whatever needs to be done with a smile. Shads don't flinch, and you're doing just fine as the assistant squad leader." That brought another smile. He didn't look as young as he had before we'd come inside Kilo-29.

"I want to gain access to the primary control area, then move to the backup areas, then, gain control of the primary computer operations center. Once we do that, we figure out how to get the site to do what I want, I lock the site down, and we find out what those creatures are infected with."

"So, we're not going to open the doors?" I shook my head and he nodded slowly. "You don't want to open the doors until you find out if we're all infected or not, right?" I nodded again. "And if we're infected with something really nasty..." his voice trailed off and he glanced at Kincaid before looking back at me.

"Yeah." I told him.

"Jesus." He wiped his mouth off, then took another drink of his Koolaid. "What do you think?"

"I don't think it's going to be something nasty like Lassa Fever or anything like that." I shrugged. "I can't think of anything that leaves heavy pus around the lungs and in the abdominal cavity right off hand, but it might have been an old Soviet weapon."

"Why would the site have old Soviet weapons?" He asked. "Why have biological weapons at all?"

"I won't know till I can figure out what the site's mission is." I shrugged. "We've got Event Lockers, Deep Storage Lockers, so this isn't a normal site." I sipped the coffee. "I think this is something different."

"And in this job, different is dangerous." He said thoughtfully.

We sat there for a few moments in silence while I kept working, sketching things down.

"I think it's fixed, Sergeant." Kincaid told me, coming back in dressed in a clean uniform. "My baby should be good to go now." He sat down in one of the chairs and smiled. "So, what are we talking about?"

"Sergeant Ant's trying to figure out our next move." Donaldson told him.

"What's it going to be?" He grinned again. "Kill that asshole with the toothpick?"

I nodded, tapping on my list where the To-Do list was. Underlined twice was "Feed Toothpick his fucking pistol" at third place.

"So what's the problem?" He asked me.

"Gotta get a map to this damn place and find out what the goddamn mission is." I told him. "Without finding out the mission and seizing control of key systems, we're playing catch up."

His grin got cruel. "Why don't we ask that fucking bitch you have locked up?"

I shook my head. "She won't tell us shit."

"Then make her tell us." Kincaid said. "What's she going to do, complain?"

Donaldson shook his head. "She's still got rights, Kincaid. We can't just go in there and beat the information out of her."

"Bummer." Kincaid said, then yawned. "I'm gonna hit the rack. I'm fucking exhausted, that suit's fucking heavy and hotter than shit."

He stood up and went back to the bedroom, vanishing inside but leaving the door open. Shads swung his feet around and kicked them up on the arm of the couch, pulling his softcap down over his eyes.

"Grab some shuteye, Donaldson." I told him, tapping my papers. "I'm going to talk to the Major, see if he can help me come up with a plan."

Donaldson nodded and got up, heading into the frontroom, vanishing into one of the other bedrooms. I figured that they'd settled it by rank, leaving me one of the bedrooms. I waited a little bit, till I could hear Shads snoring, then pulled my medical bag up on the table.

I took a few tools out of the kit, dropped them in the breast pocket of my uniform, and quietly left the room, stripping off my eyepatch and shoving it in my pocket as I left. I lit a smoke, pulling the drags as fast as I could.

There was a pair of guards in the hallway, leaning against the lowered blast doors with their weapons held loosely. I smoked three cigarettes real quick, knowing what it would do to my already damaged voice. Neither one of them paid any attention to me as I walked down the hallway, but the closest one paid attention when I stopped in front of the room we had sequestered Agent Killain inside.

"Sergeant?" He asked.

"Checking on the prisoner." I told him.

"We fed her about two hours ago. She's still in there." He told me.

"I've got a few questions to ask her." I reached out and tapped the door. "Unlock it, will you? Lock it behind me, don't unlock it unless I tap 'shave and a haircut with three hits instead of two at the end."

He nodded, quickly unlocking it. I opened the door and went inside the darkened room. There was no sense in trying to flip on the lights, I'd put two bullets into the switches.

Agent Killain was sitting at the table, and when she looked me up and saw me standing in the doorway she stiffened, obviously unable to tell who was standing there.

"Who's there?" She asked. I could hear a trace of fear in her voice, but didn't say anything, just took a deep breath, letting my shoulders raise and fall slowly. "Who's there?" She asked again.

She pushed the chair back and stood up from the table, backing up from the table when I just kept standing there.

"You better answer me or you'll be in a world of hurt, soldier." She told me. Her voice was shaking. I just kept standing there, rumbling a low growl.

"Who's there, goddamn it!" She cried out. She moved around the table and started moving toward me.

As soon as she stepped past the lit doorway of the kitchen/dining room, I took a single step forward, rolling my shoulders, and growled again.

She jumped back.

"I demand you leave this room at once." She told me. I could hear the fear in her voice, smell it from where I stood. I knew I was frightening her, and a small part of me filled with glee.

I just kept standing there.

"You can't be in here. Your OIC stated he has to be present if anyone comes in here." She tried again.

I took another step forward. I knew that I was still completely in the dark. Unlike the rest of the soldiers under the Major's command, I wore jungle boots, desert boots when I was off duty, and as soon as she spotted my boots, if she was thinking clearly she'd know who I was.

I wanted her to be plenty scared.

"GET OUT!" She shrieked at me.

I answered by drawing my knife slowly, knowing she'd be able to make it out.

"I'll scream. I'll scream and they'll come running." She tried. "I'm a federal officer, don't think I won't report you."

A nice low chuckle, making sure that it rumbled so it was more a growl than anything else, was the only answer I gave her.

She stepped back again, running into the chair, so she was backed up against the table and unable to move back.

"Please... no..." She pleaded. "I didn't do anything to you guys. Whatever it is, it isn't my fault."

I took another step forward and she leaned back from me. I knew she could see my boots and pant legs.

"Please... leave me alone... I didn't do anything..." Super Agent Killain was gone, in her place was a terrified woman.

Several slow steps took me into the light, and I stopped just out of reach from her as her eyes widened and she started to smile. Then her eyes dropped to my knife and when her eyes returned to my face the blood had drained from her face.

"Fifty... fifty..." She stammered, her voice a hoarse whisper. She licked her lips and tried again, managing a sickly looking smile. "Come for some fun, Fifty?"

I just stared at her, silent, and her eyes locked on my face and I knew that she was staring at my bad eye. Where a normal eye was white mine was blood red, the iris, normally hazel, was red tinted like the pupil. It often leaked pink tears, and I hadn't bothered to wipe off my face. I could feel a drop of liquid running down the side of my nose and my face, and knew it would leave a red streak down my face. Hell, I was depending on it.

"What do you want, Fifty?" She tried to make it sound sexy, but the fear robbed her voice of anything but her fear.

Her nervousness got worse as I just stared at her, tilting my head down slightly to emphasize to her how much shorter than me she was.

"What? WHAT!" She yelled. She went to take a step toward me and I suddenly lifted the knife. She scrambled around the table and pressed herself against the wall.

Without a word I just grabbed the table and threw it across the room one handed, the table crashing against the wall and staying on its side. I kicked the chair away as she plastered herself against the wall, leaving only the chair she had been sitting in between us.

"What do you want, Ant?" She was starting to panic and left my first name behind, hoping that a snap of command and my last name would work.

"Sit down, Agent Killain." I told her.

I knew how my voice sounded. I'd almost had my voicebox crushed in 2/19th, told to talk as little as possible for a month. I'd spent a week coughing and spitting up blood after the injury, and my voice was rough and low. The smokes had made it worse, making it sound like I ate cigarettes instead of smoking them.

She shook her head, her eyes wide. I moved over by the counter, grabbing the chair and flinging it behind me before running my knife, all the way down by the hilt, against the chrome edge of the counter. A thin sliver of fake chrome curled up, and I made sure Debra saw me flick it away.

"Sit down, Agent Killain." I growled again. She shook her head and I stepped forward, grabbing the other chair and sliding it behind me.

She flinched when it crashed against the wall next to the other chair.

"Sit down or I'll make sit you down." I told her, carving another sliver off of the counter edge. I avoided putting any special emphasis on any word, and I could see that she was shaking in fear as she moved and sat down in the chair.

I walked behind the chair and shoved her forward with my boot. She grabbed the edges of chair as she slid forward on the cheap tile, ending up in the middle of the room.

"Stand up, Agent Killain." I ordered. She stood up, and I could tell she was shaking in fear, trying to control her breathing but hyperventilating anyway.

"Strip down to your panties and bra. Now, Agent Killain." I told her, moving in front of her and letting her see the knife in my hand.

She shook her head and I grabbed her jaw, locking her head in place. "Your uniform. Remove it." She flinched, but started undoing her top as soon as I let go of her jaw.

The whole time she stripped her top and T-shirt off, I just stared. I didn't care about her tits, she wasn't even a person to me right then. She was a thing. Something that stood between me and what I needed to get the Major and his boys out alive. A thing that stood between me and my crew doing our jobs.

And she'd killed Captain Bishop.

Captain Bishop had called me in his office a few months after the barracks had burned down. The CO that had replaced him as acting CO had given me a site a couple of months prior, and my crew were hard workers, and I wasn't sure why he wanted to see me, since he wasn't in my chain of command. It turned out that the fact I didn't speak unless it was necessary, and then I used as few words as possible was "disturbing" many of my fellow soldiers as well my crew. He asked why I didn't talk, and accepted my explanation of "No reason." He'd taken several meetings to convince me that it would fine to start talking to people, and had told my chain of command that it was all right, I was just "one of those quiet guys" and, as I found out later, had told my platoon sergeant to have me give classes, give briefings, and even give safety lectures.

Captain Bishop was the one who taught me that it was all right to talk, as well as providing one of the few officers that proved to me that officers could be trusted, were not all waiting to betray me, kill me, or screw me over.

And the woman in front of me had shot him in the back of the head, supposedly for wanting to do the right thing.

I let all my hate for her show on my face.

Her hands started moving faster, and I heard stitches pop with how fast she pulled her T-shirt off. Her belt jangled as she undid it, then hurried up and took off her pants, boots, and socks.

"Sit down, Agent Killain." She went to put her arms over her breasts and I growled. She froze, staring at me with wide eyes, then sat down.

"Arms at your sides and legs together, Agent Killain, or I will tie your arms behind your back and legs to the chair." I told her. Her hands were shaking, and when she grabbed the edges of the chair her shoulders shook. "Right now, your arms and legs being free is a privilege that I will revoke at my whim, Agent Killain."

The constant use of her CIA rank was to remind her that we were no longer comrades. That she was no longer Deb, or Colonel Killain. To dehumanize her in a way.

"What do you want?" She whispered. Her lips were dry, and even when her tongue ran across them, they stayed dry.

She cried out when I slapped her on the cheek. "Do not speak, Agent Killain." She shrank back, my handprint reddening on her cheek.

"Nobody knows I am in here." I kept my voice a low, hoarse growl, and spaced my words. I knew it made her strain to hear me clearly. "Nobody will be coming in here to rescue you, Agent Killain. Not the other soldiers, and certainly not your fellow Agents. They are more concerned with murdering people who might be able to talk about what happened here, giving them a lot on common with you, Agent Killain."

She looked around, and I could smell the fear from her.

"I am going to ask you questions, Agent Killain." I told her. "You will answer them. You will answer them truthfully."

The smell of fear got stronger as she nodded jerkily.

"You know I've been trained in this, Agent Killain." I reminded her. Her face looked almost sick. "You told me you read my file, so you read how did well in that class." She nodded again, still nervous jerks. "So you know that there will be serious repercussions if you so much as try to lie to me, Agent Killain."

"You... you can't do this..." she tried.

Another slap, right in the same spot, rocked her head to the side. "Do not speak, Agent Killain."

She flinched back.

I moved closer, staring down at her. "Or what? You'll kill my family? You'll go after my wife and kid like you promised, Agent Killain?" Being reminded of her threat against my family made her look even sicker. "There is nobody here to stop me." I paused for a long moment to let that sink in. She swallowed thickly. "And unlike what you did, everything I am about to do actually does fit under the National Security umbrella."

I took sick glee in throwing that in her face, watching the knowledge of what I had just told her seep in as I sheathed my knife.

"I'm willing to answer a closed session of the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee why I subjected a murderous rogue member of the CIA to strenuous interrogation." My smile got wider, and I knew the nerve damage to my face was pulling one side up higher than the other. "You are withholding vital intelligence that will allow me to complete this mission, information that might prevent extensive civilian casualties." I paused again. "And since I have not been able to take my medication as directed after you destroyed them, I doubt I will be found liable, Agent Killain."

When she opened her mouth to protest the last part, I slapped her.

"Do not speak unless I ask for an answer, Agent Killain." I told her. Her mouth opened again, and I slapped her again, same force. Just enough to redden her cheek, to sting, not a full power strike that would knock her ass out of the chair. This time, her mouth stayed shut.

"Seeing as you won't be any condition to testify by the time I am done, and seeing as the CIA and I already have a history, and adding in that you threatened to have my family tortured and killed, I'm sure that at the most they'll just quietly discharge me with full benefits. There is nothing stopping me or holding me back during this interrogation, Agent Killain." I pulled some surgical tubing out of my pocket and draped it around my neck.

She licked her lips again.

"Do you understand, Agent Killain?" I asked her, putting a hand in my pocket and pulling it out closed.

She clenched her jaw. I waited a moment, then took the surgical tubing from around my neck and slapped it across her bare thigh, just above the knee, leaving a wide red welt that wrapped around her thigh almost the whole way. She screamed and I just stood there.

I draped the surgical tubing back across my neck before asking her if she understood again.

She said nothing, her jaw clenching and her body tensing up.

I slowly removed the surgical tubing and slapped her across the leg in the same place.

"Do you understand, Agent Killain?" I asked her when she stopped screaming. I opened my hand, allowing to her to see the small carpet nails in my palm.

"Yes." She choked out as I draped the tubing back around my neck. I nodded, and put the carpet nails back in my pocket instead of following through with the threat of pushing a few through the surgical tubing before using it on her again.

"Now, Agent Killain, let us begin." I paused for a moment. "You will talk. We have both been through anti-interrogation training, Agent Killain. Keep in mind one simple fact, Agent Killain: the trainers showed me when they waterboarded me

"Everyone has a breaking point."


Chapter 34

Site Kilo-29
Personnel Living Quarters
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Early Evening
Status: Defensive Status
Facility Status: Alert One-Bravo


The entire interrogation took a little over four hours.

I started with basic questions. How old she was, where she was born, her parents names, how long she served in the Air Force, stuff like that. During the time I was able to tell when she was lying or not. There was probably some kind of subconscious cue that I was picking up on, something that my subconscious recognized that my conscious mind did not. I used it ruthlessly, not allowing her to get away with the smallest lie.

Her first lie I simply tied her left foot to the chair. Her second lie, her right foot. Third lie, her right hand. Her fourth lie, her left hand. When she lied for the fifth time, she was obviously expecting me to start in on the pain.

Instead, I looped the tubing around her throat and tied it off to the back of the chair. I tied it tight enough that the flesh bulged out on top and bottom of the tube, but not enough to restrict her breathing.

I'd been taught that it made it so the subject could feel their pulse in their throat, that it was a constant reminder that they were in someone else's control. The subject wouldn't get used to it, and when they swallowed it gagged them for a moment.

She almost seemed to wilt.

She told me the truth when I asked who she worked for and what section. It turned out she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency's Office of Scientific Intelligence, and was part of something called Project Pilot Light.

She tried to hold back, but I kept reminding her that I was in charge. Most of it slaps with an open hand or a strike with the tubing. I didn't bother going for her nipples, my trainers had taught me that hurting a woman's nipples had three problems. First was their design, the pain would cut out quickly or stop altogether pretty quickly. The second was that it could easily become sadism. The Third was that it added a level of sexuality you wanted to avoid. By the time you had moved to nipples, the interrogation should be at the level of 'direct stimulation' already. The breasts were to be considered merely expanses of flesh, not breasts. Avoid hints of sexuality, that ran the risk of turning the power over to the female subject.

With a female subject, you want to do as little physical harm as possible. You wanted her to feel exposed, helpless, completely in your power. By stripping away social and cultural protections, by letting her know that she had no control over the situation in any way, you could accomplish much more you could with just direct stimulation. If you had to apply direct stimulation, you wanted to perform it on someone else, a third party, so that the other party was punished in her place. A loved one was best, but anyone would suffice. The fact that her actions were causing someone else torment would break a woman quicker than direct stimulation applied to her.

The problem with Agent Killain, is that she was also trained as a man would be trained. She'd gone through anti-interrogation classes, she'd been in situations where she didn't have any power over the situation and had to do what she was told, which was a pretty powerful resistance right there. Add to the fact that I didn't have a third party for leverage, and she should have been able to resist my interrogation pretty easily if I stuck to the normal methods used on women.

So I mixed the two. Rendering her powerless, rendering her vulnerable and helpless, but also applying direct stimulation to her when she lied to me. I didn't move the level of stimulation up very quickly. I didn't go to punching her, breaking bones, dunking, twisting joints, waterboarding, chair dropping, electric shock, or anything else. I stuck with the surgical tubing, leaving welts across her skin. I didn't slap her once she was in place in the chair, sticking to the tubing, unless I wanted to reinforce just how helpless she was. Toward the end I merely put a carpet tack in the surgical tubing I used to hit her, letting her know that for every lie she told me it would be worse when I finally did strike her with the tubing.

It worked.

God help me, it worked.

She told me everything.

Project Pilot Light centered around seizing control of the largest, best equipped, and most well maintained sites from the old Continuity of Government Project. Any sites that had ongoing 'projects' with them were to be examined and possibly re-purposed or have the old project restarted under a different name.

Kilo-29 fell under what was known as 'Project Bed Check', was the largest site involved in that project, and had been running since 1957 through three completed tests until the site had been lost during the Iran-Contra Affair paperwork shuffle. Now they were going to use it for the latest one that Agent Killain was supposed to assist in setting up.

This time it involved making use of the large number of homeless and mentally ill street people. They would be gathered up, exposed to chemical weaponry and radiation through contaminated food and clothing, and injected with several common diseases that were expected to make a comeback. Typhoid, TB, and a swine variant of Influenza. Those 'subjects' addicted to street drugs were divided into three categories. The first would receive not only regular injections, but a supply of drugs to be carried by the subject. The second would be given regular injections, which would stop as soon as they entered the facility. The third would be forced to go cold turkey, but would be allowed the knowledge of the first two groups.

The goal was to find out if order could be maintained without military personnel if the pool was drawn from people who had been damaged severely.

Agent Killain and her team were supposed to prepare the site, which had been listed as 'decommissioned' in CIA records. However, when they got here, they came under attack within the first 48 hours. The site had locked down, and they'd been unable to escape.

Colonel Bishop had figured out that she wasn't Air Force, that her team wasn't military, and eventually discovered what was going on.

She'd executed him outside, in the snow, after he managed to open one of the secondary egress points.

I'd changed the subject at that point, on the edge of switching from interrogating her to torturing her to punish her.

It was very tempting.

Instead I began questioning her about the site. It turned out that Kilo-29 had originally been designed to shelter thousands of people, almost four times the normal amount if they went to hot-bunking. There were pens for animals, where you could have hundreds cattle at a time in pens that didn't allow movement. Caverns dedicated to chicken farms. Hydroponics areas based off of NASA research, as well as massive caverns kept at freezing temperatures that stored prepacked food, caverns that held storage areas full of grains and other stock. I'd already seen sections where there was fertilizer and farm equipment, but Agent Killain had told me that there was enough farm equipment and supplies to scrape away the contaminated soil and then replant literally square miles of reclaimed farmland.

Event Storage was designed for any type of cataclysmic event. From meteor strike to nuclear war. Anything that wiped out 80%+ of the human race and damaged the surviving landscape. It was to enable the survivors to stay safe and hidden for up to 20 years, then allow them to exit the facility and begin to rebuild.

That part didn't surprise me.

What did surprise me was that everything I'd seen, it was a 'support site' in the Event Recovery Program, that despite hopes, it turned out that Kilo-29 was not the primary control facility. Apparently the primary Event Control facility was lost at one point, and nobody had ever recovered anything more than hints about it.

The Deep Storage lockers were pretty much the Event Recovery part, only more focused around vehicles, weapons, and building equipment. Deep Storage lockers were part of all Kilo and November Sites. Kilo-29 was one of the largest Deep Storage facilities Agent Killain or the people who briefed her had ever found any record of.

The whole site was designed in the mindset that if it was the only site that survived, those inside would be able to rebuild America faster than any enemy's, domestic or foreign, would be able to build their own societies.

Site Kilo-29 consisted of 9 primary military levels, 5 primary civilian levels, 4 Deep Storage Locker levels, 6 Even Locker levels, and 4 sub-levels. It went over 2000 feet down into the mountain.

Part of me wanted to call her a liar. That nothing could be that goddamn big.

But when she told me that there were huge sections beneath the facility that were natural caves that had not been used, had been blocked off by concrete and steel, I knew she was telling the truth.

When I was a kid, I'd toured Carlsbad Caverns, as well as several mines that were carved from solid rock by people working with no more than pickaxes. Add in modern jackhammers, explosives, and construction methods, changing the caverns beneath the mountain into a massive complex didn't seem that far-fetched.

Her team had been unable to access the NBC weaponry lockers, and as far as she knew, they were intact and secure, which was one good bit of news.

There were two pieces of information that let me know how serious things were.

The first, was this was what was labelled as a "War Fighter" facility. She didn't know what it meant, but I did. The "War Fighter" section was a part her and her team were not able to access. From what she was able to tell, it had its own dedicated computer systems that were not even hooked into the site.

The second was that this site had a "Recovery Section" important to her supervisors.

Kincaid had been right, from what little he guessed. There were CIA, FBI, NSA vaults containing un-redacted records. Additionally, there were vaults for the IRS, as well as the rest of the Big-13. Plus bank records from 1982, mortgage records, business records, all kinds of data to 'rebuild civilization' and allow the government to maintain control.

I had a mental image of some guy trying to grow crops in a nuclear blasted wasteland when some suit from Bank of America rolls up and demands he pay back his student loans from before the bombs fell.

She knew Toothpick intimately, but neither of the other two. Toothpick was a "Case Handler", which pretty much meant he was a dirty tricks asshole, by the name of Kevin Fellman (I figured it was just the name he was using or had been assigned most recently). Apparently he'd been with the Company since the mid-70's and was considered one of the guys to go to for difficult missions. She didn't know much about him, except for the fact that he'd apparently specialized in wet-work.

That explained a lot to me. He probably considered himself a badass.

Finally I pulled a chair up and sat down, facing her. She had welts across her legs, across her shoulders, and across her breasts. There was one blood one across her thighs, from where I'd pushed a half-dozen carpet tacks into the hose and smacked her once when she'd tried to lie to me.

I'd left her face unmarked.

She was sobbing, her head down and tears falling on her red-striped breasts.

Bomber was sitting on the counter, sharpening his knife. Nancy was sitting on the floor, thumbing through another medical field manual. Taggart was leaning against the wall that separated the dining room/kitchen from the dark frontroom. Heather was sitting on the floor next to me, nursing the baby. All of them were trying to look like they weren't paying attention to what I was doing, but I could tell they knew what I was doing.

They just didn't care.

Agent Killain finally looked up at me, no longer weeping.

"You'll never get away with this, Ant. The CIA won't let anyone get away with doing to one of their agents what you've done to me." She told me. She tried to sound defiant and menacing, but instead it just came across as petulant.

I just shrugged.

"I'm going to take personal pleasure in it when they use your wife and kids to teach you a lesson before they come for you." She told me.

I just shrugged again.

"This isn't something you can sweep under the rug." Her face was angry, and her voice was gaining strength. "I'll make sure that you pay for this."

"You realize, don't you, Agent Killain, that you aren't going to be in a position to make sure of anything?" I asked her, standing up. I smiled at her and she flinched. "You seem to be under the impression that I'm going to let you live."

All the fight went out of her. "Please. Please don't kill me." She whimpered.

I laughed at her, kneeling down in front of her. "So quick to beg for your life, right after telling me you're looking forward to your buddies butchering my wife and kids while they plead." I reached out and undid the tubing holding her ankles to the chair.

"Fuck you, Ant." She went to kick at me but I drove my fist into her thigh. She cried out at the muscle cramp and I stood up and moved behind her.

"What are you doing?" She was trying to be brave, but I'd torn it out of her.

"Untying you." I undid the tubing on her throat and her wrists. "Stand up, get dressed."

"Why?" She asked, trying to look defiant as she stood up and crossed her arms over her breasts.

I snapped her across the ass with the tubing, slapping right at the juncture of her upper thighs and her buttocks. She screamed and I did it again.

"Get dressed, Agent Killain." I told her. She scrambled to get dressed, and I just stood there, watching her, while I rolled up the tubing and put it back in my pockets.

"What, what are you going to do?" She asked.

"Move over by the door." I told her. She moved over to the door and waited. I moved up next to her, staying slightly behind her, but far enough away to be able to react in case she tried to whirl around and go for me, or any other dirty trick I knew of.

"I'm going to take you to your little friends, and the four of us are going to figure out what to do next." I told her.

It wasn't exactly the truth.

"You think they'll let you live?" She asked me, sneering. "Agent Fellman seems to think you can't be trusted." She glared at me. "I think you sure as shit proved that."

I chuckled. "Except Agent Fellman doesn't know shit about nuclear reactors, and I do." She turned to look back at me, and I stepped back, still smiling. "My team and I fired up one of the portable reactors, but I overrode the programming and set the system to pull the cooling rods if I don't punch in the twenty-four digit code." it was a lie, my programming skills stopped at BASIC and some machine language, but all she'd know from my files is that I taught computer classes back in 2/19th and had been investigated by MI all the damn time. "I didn't set up a meltdown, Agent Killain." Her face went pale again. "I set it up to detonate. Flood the whole mountain with radiation, fire, and radioactive steam." A total lie, but it didn't matter.

"Why would you do that? What about the other soldiers?" She whispered.

"I don't like to lose." I told her. "I told the Major, and he approves."

"What have you done?" She asked.

"Exactly what I was trained to do." I smiled again. "Mutually assured destruction, remember?"

"You're mad."

"Keep that in mind before you try to do anything stupid." I warned her. I touched the hilt of my knife. "If we come back here, we're going to have a discussion with Ms. Pointy Thing, and I'll finish it up by killing you after I get done amusing myself. It won't be an interrogation, Agent Killain, it'll be revenge for that Private your friends killed, pre-emptive revenge for my family, and in revenge for Colonel Bishop."

I could see she wanted to plead with me, but instead she just hunched her shoulders.

I just knocked on the door as an answer, smiling. Shave and a haircut with three knocks at the end instead of two. After the third try to door opened up to reveal the Private that had locked me in the room.

"Let's go, Agent Killain." I said, stepping by her and out of the room. She hung back, staring at the other soldier and at me, then moved into the hallway.

"Where are you taking her, Sergeant?" The Private asked me as we walked toward the door.

"Agent Killain has cooperated, and I've agreed to allow her to mediate between myself and her fellow federal agents." I told him.

"Maybe I should tell Major Darson." The Private said.

"Private," I glanced at his nametag. "Thurston, it doesn't matter what the Major says, he left what was going to happen next to me, and Agent Killain has cooperated fully with me. As part of that, she's going to mediate between me and the other agents so that we can all get out of here."

"No I'm not." Agent Killain said, obviously not wanting to go anywhere with me alone.

"Then we will return to your room and continue our discussion." I told her. "We'll resolve our discussion as I warned you we would." She went pale again. "Would you prefer not to mediate?"

"No. We can go." She said.

The Private looked a little confused and worried about the byplay, but shrugged and walked with us to the door.

"Just the two of you?" He asked.

"I don't want a firefight breaking out." I told him, stopping in front of the door. "That's why Agent Killain will be leading the way, to prevent them from acting aggressively first." I smiled at her. "I'm sure we can come to some kind of compromise with the feds."

He looked doubtful, but opened the door anyway. I tilted my head, and Agent Killain went first. I stopped on the other side and motioned for him to lower it.

Agent Killain stood silently until the door lowered.

"Do you really think they'll trade me for your safety?" Her tone was disbelieving.

"Hey, I can be pretty convincing." I smiled. She just snarled and started walking down the corridor, hissing in pain as her uniform rubbed on her skin.

"You better hope I never get a chance to return the favor, you asshole." She told me.

"Just shut up and head for the Military Operations Center." I told her. "If they aren't there, we'll use the PA to tell them we're waiting for them there."

She opened her mouth and I backhanded her across the back of the head. "Walk, bitch."

Her shoulders slumped, and she kept walking. She wasn't doing the semi-shambling walk that people who were completely broken did. She probably thought I was buying her act, but I knew she'd bounced back from what had happened and was trying to figure out a way to get the drop on me.

She probably figured she'd throw a monkey-wrench in any plans I had, that she'd convince the agents to shoot me dead, or maybe strap me to a chair so she could get a turn.

"So what are you going to do when we meet up with Agent Fellman? Are you just going to ask him to let you and the other go?" She sneered. "I don't think he's going to be interested in listening when I tell him what you did."

"We'll see when we get there. Now shut up." I slapped her across the back of the head again.

"Following the three second rule?" Bomber asked me. He was walking along next to me, dressed in BDU's without battle rattle. I looked at him and he pointed at Agent Killain and then put his finger over his lips in a shushing motion.

I nodded, and he grinned.

"I hate it when you do that shit." Nancy bitched from behind me. She was wearing Daisy-Dukes, sandals, and a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. I shrugged.

One of the things we were taught was that no plan survived past three seconds of contact with the enemy.

So I didn't have any plan beyond my initial encounter. I had an overall plan, what my mission objectives were, but as far as a detailed plan, I didn't bother.

I was more heavily armed than it looked. My trusty .45, five knives, and a CS grenade.

I knew better than to believe that I wouldn't need them.

"What do you think is going to happen, Ant? Do you think you'll just trade me for those worthless fucker's lives and we'll just you go?" She asked. "Maybe some of the Privates, but you, that Major, and those two idiots that were with you are all dead men."

"You know, you aren't exactly giving me a reason to keep you alive or to trust any of your word?" I told her. "Maybe I shouldn't try to bargain, maybe I should just kill you, then kill your three friends and claim you never arrived."

She stopped and turned around, staring at me in disbelief. "You.. you wouldn't..."

I backhanded her. Not hard enough to knock her off her feet, but hard enough to get her attention. "Keep walking, Agent." When I raised my hand again, she turned around and kept walking, moving faster.

The only sound were our breathing, footsteps, and somewhere the sound of sirens. The sirens were muffled, coming from a long away.

When we got the Military Operations Center the door was closed, the bar returned to the normal position. I'd been worried that the feds knew how to reset the bars, how to override them, and the site of the bar we'd left sticking straight out locked into the down position gave heavy evidence that they did.

"Throw the bar, Agent." I told her. She glared at me, but did it anyway, and we stood there till it locked into position, exposing the airlock. "After you, Agent."

When the door shut, we stood there for a long moment while she glared at me. Her body tensed, and I laughed.

"Seriously?" I just laughed at her. "You're going to try me where I'm at my best?" I raised my hand and she flinched. "I'll just bitch slap you, then take the boots to you."

The tension went out of her and she slumped. I lowered my hand.

"Throw the bar." I told her. She did so, and the door started to raise.

"I'm coming in. I have Agent Killain with me." I shouted out as soon as the door started to raise. "I just wanna talk."

"Anyone else with you, Ant?" Toothpick's voice.

"Nope, just me and Agent Killain." I said. "The Major wants me to try to negotiate a cease-fire. We're in a lot of trouble, those cannibals are swarming out of the lower levels, and we've already lost guys."

The door was almost halfway up. I could see all three agents crouched down behind work stations. I stepped to the side of Agent Killain and showed my hands.

"So he sent you?" one of the agents laughed. "What's to stop us from just killing you?"

"Don't do it." Agent Killain half-shrieked. "He's wired one of the reactors to go off."

"And you believed him?" Toothpick sneered.

"He's a hacker, and he's been trained in reactor operation." Agent Killain told them, and I just grinned.

"Trained at Charleston, South Carolina at the Navy Reactor facility learning how to run them, fire them up, and shut them down." I grinned at them. "Software was pretty basic, written in COBOL, pretty easy to mod since they taught us how to check the code after a power surge." The last part was a lie, plain and simple.

"He's got it on a timer, if he doesn't put in the code, it'll explode." Killain had bought it all the way.

Thank you, Hollywood, for making people think that anyone who knows how to turn on a computer can use it to do magic. Using a sector editor to hack copy-protection was a world of difference between trying to hack a proprietary operating system written God only knew how long ago.

That and I'd only seen one of the 'portable' reactors.

"We'll find it out." Toothpick said, standing up and waving us in. "Get in here, Ant, let's work something out."

"Keep your hands in sight." One of the others said.

The third waved his hand at Killain. "Come over here, Agent. Get away from him."

Agent Killain almost fell over herself trying to get away from me. It made me chuckle.

"Come over here and sit down." Toothpick told me, pointing at a chair. I moved over to the chair and kicked it away.

"I think I'll pass on the offer of taking a seat." I told him, putting my hands behind my back and standing at parade rest.

I could feel my .45 at the small of my back.

"So what does the Major want?" He asked me.

"He wants to make sure you aren't going to kill his men. He just wants to get his men out of here." I told him. It was close enough to the truth.

Toothpick just laughed.

"The bastard tied me to a chair and tortured me, Kevin." Agent Killain said. She lifted up her top and t-shirt, showing the fading welts across her stomach. "Look what he did to me."

Toothpick shook his head. "Tsk tsk tsk, Sergeant Ant, you know that's against the Geneva Convention. I'm disappointed in you. I guess we won't be able to be polite to each other after all, seeing how you treated Debra." His smile was cruel, and I remembered what Agent Killain had told me about him. "That's OK, I think I'm going to enjoy questioning you. We'll let Debra take a couple of turns on you while we get you ready to give me the answers I want."

"The Geneva Convention doesn't cover interrogating some soul-less CIA whore, since she isn't listed as a combatant." I told him. "Besides, I'd already knocked those boots, and it wasn't good enough to bother trying to seduce it out of her." I said.

"Asshole." Killain snarled.

"Shut your mouth, Sergeant Ant." Toothpick added.

"Might have been different if that pussy wasn't like two miles of bad road by the time I was done with it." I continued. "Plus, I don't think I'd want the CIA's sloppy seconds." I grinned at Toothpick, making a jump based on the detailed information Agent Killain had given me. "Or yours either, shrimp dick."

Toothpick flushed, and he started to step forward. I could hear footsteps from behind me and knew what was coming, relaxing my neck muscles so I could roll with it.

Toothpick slapped the barrel of his pistol against the side of my face, and right afterwards someone punched me in the back of my head. I staggered a step to the left, the pistol having hit me on the right side of my face right after I'd started to move with it, but I stayed on my feet and made it look good. I could feel a trickle of blood running down the side of my head.

"Sorry about busting her out, dude." I told him, straightening up and turning slightly so I could face Agent Killain and Toothpick both. "If I'd known some baby dicked three stroke joke..."

He hit me again with the pistol, but I saw it coming and managed to roll with the majority of the blow. My head was starting to pound, the pistol-whipping starting to overcome the handful of painkillers I'd downed while I was interrogating Agent Killain. He raised the pistol again, but Agent Killain stepped in between us.

The other two Agents had drifted toward us, the blond one having shut the airlock door.

"Don't." She warned. "He's already got repeated brain damage, if you keep hitting him, he'll either go blind or might even die."

"He needs a lesson to teach him not to fuck with us." Toothpick said.

"He was in a coma less than two months ago from a head injury, if you keep hitting him in the head you run the risk of killing him." Agent Killain said. "We need him to do something about that reactor."

"Thick headed Army guys like him only understand force." Toothpick said, glaring at me.

"It won't do any good if he's blind or you fuck up his brain." The blond one said.

"He's a fucking punk." Toothpick said. "The only thing dumbass Army guys like him understand is an ass kicking."

They were closer.

"Trust me, Kevin, beating on him won't do it." Agent Killain said, moving up next to Toothpick. "He's one of those Army retards who likes to fight, he gets off on fighting."

"You all right, Debra?" He asked.

"I'm fine, he just used a hose on me, and not that much." She grinned. "He doesn't like hitting girls, so he didn't use it much on me. He fell for it when I lied to him."

Toothpick stared at her for a moment. "Did he break you, Debra?"

She shook her head. He looked at me and I grinned.

"Did you give him any information?" He asked, turning slightly to look at Agent Killain. She shook her head, looking at him almost defiantly.

"Everyone has their breaking point, Kevin." I said. "Don't they teach you CIA retards that when they're teaching you to rape nuns?" I glanced behind me as I was saying it. The other two agents were only a feet behind me, the blond one holstering his pistol, the other one had already put his pistol away and was reaching toward me.

Tootpick's turned his head so he was looking at me again, eyes narrowed, the pistol came up and he brought his arm back behind him, then swung his pistol at me, telegraphing it the whole way.

The three seconds were up.

I ducked under it and started moving. The pistol came out smoothly from the holster at the small of my back, the knife came out of the sheath on my side.

Agent Killain's eyes widened when I started to move, and Toothpick was off balance from his missed swing at my head.

Out of all four of them, only Agent Killain had any idea what was about to happen, and she started to scream.

I shot Agent Killain twice in the chest, shooting from the hip. The thunder of the pistol echoed and re-echoed through the egg. She went down, falling back as her body tried to save her by throwing itself backwards.

Before the echoes died away I stabbed Toothpick two times, in the back of the thigh, tearing through all the muscle and twisting it as I pulled it free, then in the side straight in. He went down screaming, his pistol falling from his hand as he grabbed his side.

The third and fourth shots went into the legs of the agent who had his hand in his jacket, the first bullet hitting him in the left knee, the second bullet hitting him in the right thigh. He went down screaming, grabbing at his legs.

Blondie was grabbing for his pistol, his eyes wide, as I lunged forward and slammed into him, both of us going down. I drove my knife through his right shoulder as we went down, ending up straddling him as I pulled the knife out and slammed it into his left shoulder. He was screaming, and managed to get a hold of the front of the pistol, his palm over the front and his fingers curling over the top of the weapon.

When I pulled the trigger two of his fingers came off, and he went from trying to grab me to grabbing his hand and screaming as I stood up.

Less than 30 seconds and it was over.

It was easy enough to pick up the three pistols and set them on the keyboard of one of the work stations. Blondie was bleeding bad, but I didn't much care. The other guy was still screaming, but I ignored it.

I'd learned to get used to screaming in 2/19th.

I walked over to where Agent Killain was laying on her back, blood pumping from the two wounds in her chest and out of her back. She was in a pool of blood, her mouth opening and closing as she stared at the ceiling. I looked down at her, and her eyes tracked to me. She was mouthing the same word over and over.

please

"You shouldn't have threatened Heather and the babies. You should have known there was only two ways this would play out." I told her, pointing the pistol at her. I didn't know if she could hear me, I didn't care, but I had to tell her. For Deb's sake if nothing else. "Goodbye, Agent Killain."

She mouthed it again.

I pulled the trigger.

The bullet hit her in the forehead and she twitched once.

A quick glance showed me the other two were out of the fight. I turned from her and stepped over Toothpick, kicking him in the chest so he fell onto his back, then sat on him.

"Didn't quite work out how you thought it would, did it, Kevin?" I asked him.

"Fucking bastard..." he managed to get out.

"Now, now, Agent. You should be more polite." I told him.

Then drove the knife high into the right side of his chest. He screamed, loudly, and I let him.

"I thought about questioning you, asking you a few questions." I told him, reaching behind me to put the pistol away. I held the knife in front of him where he could see it.

"But then you shot and killed a kid, which basically told me that you didn't intend on any of us surviving." I told him. "Now, think of something that might save your life. I'm the only one who can save your stupid ass before your lungs collapse and you suffocate."

I stood up and moved over to where the black haired agent was still holding his legs and screaming. When I squatted down, he made a grab at me, so grabbed his knee and squeezed, feeling the blood run over my hand as I savaged the already shattered knee.

"No touchy." I told him. I waited until he stopped screaming. "Who do you work for?"

"You can't do this." Toothpick yelled out.

"Go fuck yourself." He told me. I squeezed again, grabbing what was left of the kneecap and twisting it. Something tore free of the skin, but I couldn't tell under his pants leg.

"You're a fucking dead man." He told me. I squeezed again, twisting, then let go and patted him down. I found his little flip wallet and took a look.

Louis Grandoln, National Security Agency.

"Well, Agent Grandoln, anything you want to say?" I asked him.

"Go fuck yourself." He repeated.

I dropped the wallet, made a fist, and slammed the bottom of it into his knee. When he finished screaming I smiled at him. "Anything that might save your life?"

"You wouldn't fucking dare." He told me. I just smiled. "You're fucking with National Security, you goddamn dumbass."

"You guys keep saying that." I told him. "Tell me why it's National Security." He gritted his teeth and shook his head. "Project Pilot Light? Maybe Project Bed Check?" He shook his head again. "Does it have to do with the records vaults down there?" He closed his eyes and shook his head again.

"Don't say anything, Agent." Toothpick yelled.

I punched Grandoln twice in the knee and when he went to grab his knee I grabbed his wrist, lifting his arm up, and pushed the knife in between the bones of his hand, sawing it back and forth before pulling it out.

"Define National Security, Agent Grandoln." I told him once he was done screaming and had switched to holding his hand and making sobbing noises. He looked at me and I smiled again. "Define National Security, or it'll get ugly."

"I'll... I'll tell you..." Blondie said, trying to sit up and then screaming and falling back. His arms were useless, flopping when he tried to use them. Blood was still pouring out of his hand. "Please, help me, and I'll tell you."

"Then I don't need you, Agent Grandoln." I told the NSA agent. I put one hand against his chest, holding him down, and stared at him as I put the tip of the blade against his chest and slid it in, angling it up. He spasmed once as the blade quickly slid in. He gave a long sigh and shit himself.

I pulled Grandoln's tie off, went over to Blondie, and quickly bandaged his hand. It was sloppy, and I used part of his button up shirt for the pressure dressing. I wasn't trying to be nice, or kind. So far, Blondie was about the only one who had a chance to survive.

"Stay there. Don't fuck around, or I'll kill you too." I told him, then walked back over to Toothpick while he was still nodding frantically.

Toothpick was glaring at me, hatred pouring off of him.

"Well, Kevin, now we're back to you." I squatted down, and when he grabbed at me I punched him in the side, over the stab wound. I let him scream, smiling at him the whole time. When he stopped, I flicked his nose. "Think of anything that'll keep you alive, Kevin?"

"I'm not going to tell you shit." He told me. "You better kill me, like you did Debra, otherwise I'm going to rape your wife before I kill her myself."

"That's not exactly encouraging me to let you live, Kevin. I mean, with all the shit you bragged to Agent Killain about that you did in Central America, I don't even feel bad about this." I told him. I shrugged. "Since you don't have anything worthwhile to say..."

I raised up the knife.

"Remember how you thought it was funny when that farmer begged you to let his kid live, so you cut the kid's throat in front of him?" I asked. "Remember how funny it was to have your assets rape women while you cut their children's throats?"

"How did..." I smacked him.

"How did I know? Agent Killain gave it all up. Told me all about this whole thing, told me about you." I kept smiling. "Guess it's time to see if you think it's funny when it's being done to you."

"I'm a CIA agent, you can't do this." He said quietly. Blood was coming out of his nose, but that was to be expected, I'd deliberately punctured his lung.

"Actually, I can." I told him. "See, right now, the fact you're some CIA super-star doesn't matter. It's just you, me, Blondie, and the corpses."

I leaned close to him.

"And compared to me, you're just a fucking jumped up schoolyard bully."

He spit blood in my face.

"You're used to killing farmers and women, Kevin. You're used to thinking that you're James Bond, that you're untouchable."

I drove the knife low into his abdomen and twisted the blade.

"Touch."

Nancy laughed.

It took him a minute or two after I pulled the knife out to stop screaming. I checked back, and Blondie was just curled up in the fetal position. I stood up, walked back to him, then knelt down and lifted his pants legs up.

He had a snub nosed revolver in an ankle holster.

I took it away, tossing it underhand into the egg. It clattered on the metal, was silent for a moment, then clattered again, more silence, and I heard it bouncing on rock. I pulled his head back so he was looking at me while the pistol was still clattering.

"You were almost stupid there, Blondie." I told him. "That makes me think you don't want to be friends." I let go of his hair. "You do want to be friends, don't you?"

He nodded and I stood up, moving back over to Toothpick.

"So, Kevin, anything to say?" He shook his head. "See, Agent Killain told me all about the rumors around you, all the shit you bragged about after you and her got done having sex." I smiled. "She let you put it in her ass?" He glared at me. "She loved that. She loved licking it off afterwards even more." I could tell he hated me more than anyone he'd ever met before.

"Do you know what kind of biological agent they've been exposed to?" I asked. "Or do you even care?"

"I'm not telling you..." He started.

I grabbed his wrist, pulling the arm straight. He screamed as the punctured chest muscles moved, then started coughing as blood from his lung went into his mouth.

"Everyone has a breaking point, Kevin." I told him. I put my knee against the stab wound in his side, pulling him against my knee as I put the tip of the knife against his palm. "Let's find yours, tough guy."

For someone who had taken part in Central American operations, who Agent Killain had told me was known as a hard ass that didn't mind torturing and murdering women and children, it didn't take too long for Ms. Pointy Thing to convince him to talk.

I didn't bother asking him questions, just brutalized him with the knife. Fingernails, one ear, nerve clusters in his arms and hands. A couple strikes to the previous stab wounds. Maliciously breaking his nose with a hard downward strike. A couple of broken fingers, and deliberately breaking the bones in his hands.

At one point I just let him scream, and moved over to use the surgical tubing to tie Blondie up, as well as checking on his stab wounds. He'd lost a bit of blood, but the bleeding had slowed down. It's not like I cared that much whether he lived or died. The way he flinched from me told me that the fight had gone out of him. I didn't even bother threatening him.

He could see what I was doing. He knew that it could just as easily be him.

He had CIA ID in his wallet.

"I'll talk... please, Ant, I'll talk." He whispered after I used the knife to cut into the nerve cluster in between the eyes, at the top of the bridge of the nose.

"Let's start with something easy, Kevin." I told him, wiping my knife off on his pant leg. "How long had you'd been fucking Agent Killain?"

"Just over a year." He gasped. His breathing was coming faster and faster, shallower and shallower, as his chest cavity filled up with air from his punctured lung. His breathing had the whistling indicative of how bad it was getting. "Right after she graduated."

"Very good, Kevin." I held up the bottle of Vicodin from my pocket, then shook one into my hand. "Open. It's Vicodin." He opened his mouth, and I dropped the pill in. He swallowed and I smiled.

"Where is the next set of Project Bed Check subjects?" I asked him.

"We haven't gathered them. I was supposed to report as soon as this place was ready." He coughed. I gave him another Vicodin.

"What were your orders regarding us?" I asked him.

"If you found out, we were supposed to eliminate you all." He coughed, and his breathing went faster. "Can't... can't breathe."

"Yeah, sucking chest wound does that to you." I gave him another Vicodin and then lit a cigarette. "What disease are the inhabitants infected with?"

"I'd been advised that I'd probably have to kill you." He ignored my question, continuing on with what he'd been saying. Blood sprayed from his mouth when he tried to laugh. "Christ, I didn't know... I didn't know... Christ, they didn't tell me you..." The coughing interrupted him.

"The file isn't the man. You guys always forget that." I told him, giving him another Vicodin. "The disease. What's it called?"

"I figured you were just a loser." He coughed, still ignoring the question. "Got told only reason you joined was so you didn't go to jail." More coughing. "Read you almost got killed in that joke of a war. Thought you weren't shit."

"Lotta people have thought that over the years." I admitted, feeding him another Vicodin. "Come on, Kevin, what's the name of the disease?"

"Figured, with your history with the Company, nobody would be surprised I had to kill you." Another bout of coughing, another Vicodin. "Didn't think you could move that fast."

"How long until our backup arrives?" I asked him. I gave up on the disease angle. Either he didn't know, or he'd hold that just to spite me. I didn't bother to hold up the knife. I doubted he'd feel it anyway, between what I'd done to him and the Vicodin.

He laughed, this time there was bubbles in the blood. "No backup for you." He coughed some more. "Before we came in we called it in that we'd met with the other teams, and the site was secure." The blood was thicker when he coughed that time. "Said you guys had it under control and didn't need another team." I fed him four Vicodin that time. "No backup for you."

"When does your backup get here?" I asked. He grinned with bloody teeth.

"Tomorrow." Cough cough Vicodin. "Open access. Lower levels. Be here soon to help kill you all." I waited for the coughing to end. "Families probably been notified you all died. Gonna kill all of you. Agency sweep and clear team. My old team."

Shit.

"Guess that's all I need from you." I told him. He swallowed the two sets of four I dropped in his mouth, almost coughing the second set up.

"Proud to die for my country." He said.

"It ain't proud of you." I told him, standing up.

"Not going to leave me like this." He managed to cough.

"It's better than you deserve." I told him. "Goodbye, Kevin."

I ignored Toothpick's cursing and coughing, and instead I moved over to Blondie and sat down next to him. He was still awake and looked terrified.

"How long have you been with the CIA?" I asked him, tapping his ID fold with the point of my knife.

"Eight years." He said. "I'm with the Office of Scientific Intelligence."

I nodded. "Did Agent Killain's team deploy any biological hazard?"

He closed his mouth, his jaw clenching. I sighed and shook my head, holding up the knife. "Do you really think I can't just cut it out of you like I did Kevin? Do you really want to stop being friends?"

He shook his head. "Not yet. Subjects are going to be infected while their being prepped." He moaned. "God, it hurts."

"Open." I said, putting out my cigarette. I pulled out the bottle and rattled it. "Vicodin, heavy duty ones." He opened and I shook two into his mouth. "It won't take long to start working." Behind us, Toothpick was mumbling to himself and coughing.

"Did you guys manage to gain access to the computer system?" He shook his head. "Which one of you was watching us through the cameras?"

"Nobody. I swear." He told me. I raised an eyebrow and he repeated his answer.

"Do you know how many of those things are in here with us?" That was one of the fifty-dollar questions.

"No." he said.

"How many are in the team coming in?" I asked.

"Ten." He told me. He sighed and relaxed. "It's working. Thank you." There was no way it really was, but his brain thought it was, so the pain was receding. "I'm really cold."

"Yeah. The floor's cold." I told him. "Nothing I can do about that." He was dying from blood loss.

Not like I cared.

"Were you involved in putting Project Bed-Check together this time?" I needed to know. His answer would affect what would happen to him.

"Yes. I was handled the project, and told to reactivate it and head it." He told me. "They gave me a project group, Agent Killain and her team to set the site up, Agent Fellman and Agent Grandoln were to make sure the military teams I'd requested did their jobs and were eliminated on schedule, and my other project groups are tasked with gathering up the subjects and transporting them here, as well as oversight on the project." He groaned and I fed him two more. "I planned on supervising the whole thing this time, unlike the other failed projects. I estimated that direct oversight could give us more data and keep the project from collapsing."

Fucking monster.

"Have they already rounded up the subjects?"

"Yes. They started two weeks ago, and I was notified they had everyone two days before we got here." He sighed. "I'm feeling a lot better." I nodded, and fed him two more. "They won't be infected until they get their medical checks when they arrive here."

"Will they be waiting for a signal to bring the people up?"

"Yes. They'll wait for us to contact them." He shook his head. "I was going to contact them after Agent Fellman killed you and the others." He groaned in pain. "He said you'd be no problem."

"What happens if you don't contact them?" I asked.

"They'll either abort the project and release them or use the secondary site." He told me.

"If they abort it, will those people be killed?" I asked. He shook his head. "What did the NSA have to do with it?"

"He was here because of the vaults." He told me. "He was a wet-work specialist, Agent Fellman and him were friends, he was here as backup."

"Did his supervisors know he was here?" I fed him two more. He shook his head. "Why not?"

"He's been on loan to the CIA for as long as I've known Agent Fellman." His eyes were glazing, pain and the drugs. "They're pretty tight." He was slurring his words, and I fed him three more. "Fellman was in charge of the overseas ops usually, Grandoln handled stuff here in America."

I couldn't really think of anything else I wanted to know, but I wanted to keep him talking. Fellman had quit breathing, either blood loss or the Vicodin doing their work.

I fed him three more. "What kind of stuff were they usually involved in?"

He told me, rambling, about how before the two agents had gotten involved in Project Bed-Check they had been cleaning up old Cold War refuse. Not Warsaw Pact assets, but American assets. He remembered a couple of names, since apparently the two agents liked to get drunk and laugh over the stuff they'd done, bragging about stuff to the agent bleeding out on the floor.

I recognized two of the names. One of them had been arranged to look like a suicide. The other had been arranged to look like a drunken car wreck on the way back from a bar. Both of them had been in 2/19th with me, one of them in my platoon, both had left when the unit was deactivated. One male. The other a resident of Titty Territory.

He finally dozed off, mumbling about how Fellman and Grandoln had laughed about raping a girl I'd known before pushing her in her car into the river.

I stood up, walked over to the desk, and picked up Agent's Fellman's pistol. 9mm Beretta, standard government issue. I checked the load, then walked up to Fellman, staring down at him for a long moment.

I wondered what the two people I'd known that he'd killed had done to get the attention of the CIA. Was it just cleanup, nothing personal? Had they planned on going to the press with information about what 2/19th had been all about? Had they been planning on selling information they'd learned later or in 2/19th to China?

It didn't matter.

I put one in each of the men's heads, then dropped the pistols into my BDU top pockets. It felt weird, it was the first time I'd carried something in them in years. Half the time I even forgot they were even there.

I left the dead behind, left the airlock open, and went into the site alone.

I knew I'd stared into the abyss too long.


Chapter 35

Site Kilo-29
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Late Evening


When I arrived back at the personnel quarters I went directly to the Major's room and knocked on the door. I had to knock twice more before he finally answered, and when he saw me his eyes widened.

"Are you all right, Sergeant?" He asked me.

"Just a headache." I told him, telling pretty much the truth.

"What happened?" He asked.

I'd made the decision walking back. If I told the Major, he'd be called to testify eventually. As it stood, the only people who knew what had happened were me, three corpses, and the site. If I told the Major the whole story it would just put him in danger, drag him into the whole mess that was probably going to happen if we got out of the site alive.

"Agent Killain told me she'd mediate between me and the other agents. I was going to try to work something out so we weren't killing each other in the hallways." I was standing at parade rest, looking over his head. "During the discussion Agent Fellman, the one with the toothpick in his mouth all time, decided that he was going to eliminate me first, then move on to the rest of you."

"They'd made a mistake, gathered up around me, and when it was all over, they were dead and I was still alive. I came back immediately to let you know something that Agent Fellman let drop to rub it in that you guys didn't stand a chance." I said.

"What's that?" His tone showed me that he believed there was more to the story, but didn't want to push it.

"He called in another team, one who's job is to kill all of you. They'll be here soon, using the egress point that Agent Killain told us about." I said.

"Why do they want to kill us? We're on the same fucking side?" He asked.

"Because we've seen what happened here. The site and us would lead to massive cluster fuck. We're talking Congressional inquiries, the press having a field day, and probably protests and people losing their jobs. Maybe even doing jail time." I shook my head. "Since it would cause a major shakeup in the intelligence community, maybe even expose ongoing operations, they're using National Security as an excuse to kill everyone."

"Can we get out of here?" The Major asked.

I shook my head. "There's no way we can make it from the egress point to safety. We've got wounded, we've got one man dead, one missing."

"We can't negotiate with the CIA team, can we?" He asked.

"No."

"What's our options?" He asked.

"Same as before. Seize control of the site, open the doors, call in a biological incident team, and hope we didn't get infected with anything too bad." I told him.

"All right, let's plan it out." He told me, waving at the table in the kitchen/dining room. "I don't want to lose any more men."

"Yes, sir." I nodded and followed him in and sat down at the table.

I didn't know what to do any more.

What had happened in the egg had proven I couldn't be trusted any more.

Maybe I should have had Heather admit me to the psych ward.

Maybe it would have been better if I hadn't woken from the coma.

Maybe I should have just died in 2/19th.

Monsters don't deserve the good ending.

Maybe I didn't deserve to make it home.

Maybe I didn't deserve to make it out alive this time.

A man could find redemption under fire, but could a monster?

------------------------

"So what's the plan, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked when I finally came back to the room. The three of them were awake, eating a meal of crappy MRE's heated up on the stove and spiced as best they could while sitting on the couch.

"The four of us are going to head down to the military command center." I told them, sitting down in the overstuffed chair. Donaldson stood up, went into the kitchen, and poured some water into a cup, putting it in the microwave. "We're going to figure out which of the egress points are open, see if we can seal it, then try to open the primary doors."

They all nodded except Kincaid.

"Sergeant, we've tried that, what, twice? It doesn't seem to work." Kincaid said, sprinkling more tabasco on his food. "Anything beyond that?"

"The Major is going to pull the vehicles into the blast deflection tunnel and fort up by the primary exit." I pulled out my notebook where I'd jotted down the notes that I'd made while planning with the Major. "We're going to take control of the system, seal the site, and pull out."

"You trying to convince us, or yourself, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked. "And I've got a little question for you."

"Shoot, Private."

"What happened to the side of your head, and what's with the blood all over your uniform?" He asked.

shit

"I tried to mediate a cease fire between the suits and us. I took Agent Killain with me." I started.

"And then you killed them all." Kincaid said, breaking into a huge grin. "Toothpick die hard?"

"Yeah. I used my knife, that's never pretty." I told him. Donaldson came in and set a cup of coffee on the coffee table. "Thanks, Corporal." He nodded and I poured in the sugar and creamer.

"Fuck yeah." Kincaid said, and dug back into his meal. Donaldson sat down and picked back up his plate.

"So they're out of the way." Shads said. "That just leaves us with the things that live here and whatever the hell your old CO is."

"Yeah, you could say the suits are out of the way." I answered.

"Is it just going to be the four of us?" Donaldson asked.

"No. The Major is going to task four others, boost us up to eight." I shook my head.

"If Wilkins goes out with us, I'll beat the shit out of him." Kincaid said around a mouthful of food.

"No, Wilkins won't be going with us." I told them.

That's when the lights cut off.

"Oh you have to be fucking kidding." Kincaid snarled.

"I've got a flashlight on my LBE." Shads said. "Give me a second."

There was a thump from deeper in the suite, back by the bedrooms. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and it felt like ice slid into my shoulder joint.

"Get your gear, gear up, we gotta get out of here." I told them, getting up.

Plates clattered down as Shads flicked on his light, panning it around. Kincaid ran over and pulled on his Kevlar and LBE, reaching for the flamethrower. Shads already had his gear half on, and Donaldson was pulling on his gear as fast as he could. I ran for the kitchen, grabbing my scattered gear.

There was another thump.

"Ready, Sergeant." Shads told me, his flashlight moving over by the door.

"Help me out, Dee." Kincaid said.

"I'm hurrying." Donaldson answered, flicking on his flashlight.

I left behind about half of my gear, not bothering with the majority of my gear. My Kevlar, LBE, gas mask, chem gear, and my weapon were first. Shads kept his flashlight on my gear. The biowarfare kit, the surgical kit, and my helmet got left behind, but I slung my ruck over my shoulders and hustled into the frontroom, turning on the flashlight attached to my LBE.

"Ready." Kincaid said, and the flashlight Donaldson was carrying moved toward us.

There was a crash from deeper into the suite, and Shads whipped his flashlight toward the noise as I opened the door.

The corridor beyond was covered in frost, snow falling from the top of the corridor, from the blank ceiling. Doors were open, and I could see flashlights in the corridor.

"Form up at the end of the corridor!" The Major yelled out. "Grab your gear and move out!"

"What the fuck?" Kincaid yelled. "Sergeant! Sergeant!"

I turned around, spotting instantly what Shads had his flashlight held on.

It was one of the things. It was missing both ears, about five foot six, skinny. Reddish, peeling flesh hung from the face. It was dressed in rags and barefoot. Hanging from a thong on its neck was strange pieces of twisted metal and colored wires, obviously some kind of decoration. Its mouth was gaped open, revealing black teeth that had all been filed down so they were sharp meat tearing teeth. Its eyes were black pits that stared at us with hatred.

It was also covered in frost.

It hissed at us, a cat-like sound that made goosebumps rise on my skin.

The door to the other bedroom crashed open, and I turned, my flashlight revealing another one. This one was missing part of its jaw, its tongue hanging down and glittering with frost. It was missing its left arm at the elbow, hanging strips of flesh glittering with frozen blood. Behind it I could see another stumbling forward, mostly hidden by the one in the doorway.

Out in the hallway, someone screamed, and someone else fired a rifle.

"Fall back to the doors! Fall back to the doors!" The Major bellowed. There was a fusillade of gunshots, and someone else screamed.

"Smith! SMITH!" Someone shouted. There was another couple shots.

Kincaid was fumbling with the ejector to his weapon.

"No! You'll fucking cook us." I called out. "Fall back." I backed out of the door, running into someone who almost knocked me down.

"They're fucking everywhere! What do we do, Major?" Someone shouted.

"On me! Form up on me!" The Major yelled.

Someone went by, half-carrying the kid with his whole head bandaged, Franks, and only half dressed himself.

"Donaldson, Shads, get the fuck out of there!" I bellowed as Kincaid moved past me, flattening against the wall. "Kincaid, pull up the rear."

"The door's opening!" Someone called out.

Donaldson and Shads moved past, and I slammed the door. I caught a glimpse of the ones in the room. They glittered with frost, staggering forward woodenly.

"What the fuck are they?" Kincaid asked me as two more men moved by. There was screaming from further down the hallway.

"I don't fucking know." I told him. Something thumped against the door.

"Stay together, men. Don't get separated. Make sure Franks and Murchison have someone with them at all times." The Major called out. I could see red lights at the end of the corridor for second before the snow thickened up. "Sergeant Ant, you and your team bring up the rear."

There was another gunshot, and someone began screaming.

"Who is that? Sound off!" The Major shouted. Everyone began yelling out their names, and I added mine to the list.

"Come on, Kincaid." I said, hefting my rifle and heading toward the screaming.

"Missing two! James and Smith!" The Major called out. "We're falling back to the motor pool!"

"Roger that!" I yelled back. Wind swept through the corridor, blowing the snow around.

It was snowing heavily in the corridor, dropping visibility. Ten steps and we saw who had been screaming.

One of the privates I didn't know was down on the tile, face down. His M-16 was in one hand, and three of those things were crouched over them. They were hacking on him, two with steak knives, the other with a meat cleaver. The kid's arm was severed, and he wasn't moving as they kept hacking at him. All three of them were badly wounded, but not bleeding, covered in a layer of frost.

All three looked up at the same time, their eyes black pits as they stared at us.

As one they stood up, and took one stiff step toward Kincaid and me.

Suddenly I knew what Tandy/Bishop had been up to.


Chapter 36

Site Kilo-29
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Night


The kid on the ground was done, even if his eyes were open and rolling in the sockets, even if his mouth was open in a soundless scream. The three crouched over him had savaged him with their blades, tearing him apart and completely severing his arm.

I drew my pistol from behind my back and shot him between the eyes, switching aim and firing three times more.

Post Pistol Team Competition Powers activate!

All three of them took bullets directly through the forehead, but all they did was take one step forward toward us.

"Burn 'em down, Kincaid!" I bellowed out over the snow.

He didn't need told twice, bringing up the ejector and triggering it.

I shot the kid in the head before Kincaid triggered the flame-thrower. I wasn't going to let the kid burn alive, fuck that. I'd have tried to save him, but he was dead and just didn't know it yet.

The bar of flame took the three of them, melting them like snow hit with a hot water hose. Kincaid moved forward, the weird stagger-step he'd come to use while deploying the flame-thrower, and washed the bar of fire across the dead Private.

Steam billowed out as the snow was instantly converted to steam, enveloping us, freezing to us, only to be layered on thicker as more steam covered us.

"Door's open! Everyone fall back!" The Major shouted.

"What about James and Smith?" Someone else yelled.

"James is gone!" Kincaid shouted, letting his finger off the trigger.

The snow swirled around us, and my balls started to hurt from the cold.

"Fuck 'em, they're gone!" Someone else shouted.

"Sergeant, here." It was Donaldson, he had the surgical kit. I grabbed it and pulled the sling over my head, letting it fall against the side of my ass.

"Here, Sergeant." Shads. He plopped my helmet on my head and I quickly strapped it. Between the ice and the snow, we couldn't see shit.

Without being told Kincaid started moving forward, Shads taking position just behind his left shoulder. The igniter was sputtering and popping, from lack of fuel or the snow, I couldn't tell. I could see the gauges at the back of the tank.

He had less than 10% of a tank left, and the other tank was reading empty.

"Are we falling back with the others?" Donaldson asked. The hallway was full of snow, driven by a wind that was shrieking through the hallway, making speech almost impossible. The snowflakes cut and bit on the exposed flesh of my face and my hands were already going numb.

"We've got one more." I yelled back.

"I see him, he's finished, Sergeant." Kinciad called out.

Two shadows detached from the snow, moving on Kincaid, arms outstretched, lunging at him from either side.

Shads kicked one back, lifting up his rifle and firing twice, both bullets taking it in the head. It slid down the wall as Donaldson stepped forward and swung his rifle in a basic training perfect buttstroke, the butt of the rifle taking the thing in the middle of the face with a crack. It dropped, and Donaldson put a bullet into the back of its head.

The one Shads had shot pulled its legs up and began trying to struggle up, using the wall as leverage.

"Get back. Get back!" Kincaid burned down something in front of us, cut the bar off, then swung it around as he backpedaled. Shads got out of the way, and Donaldson shot it again as it tried to rise up. Kincaid washed the fire over the first one, then the second, the flame throwing up sheets of steam that reeked of cooked human flesh and scorched blood.

"Fall back, back to the others." I turned, just in time to see another one lunge out of the room, swinging a knife at me. Its eyes were black pits, the gleaming eyes frost covered, and its mouth open in a snarl that revealed blood frosted teeth. I blocked the knife, thrust the pistol out, into the open mouth, and pulled the trigger. It dropped, two teeth shattering on the pistol's barrel as its jaw death spasmed.

We couldn't see anything in the hallway, just blindly moving forward, hoping we didn't end up going through a room door. Three times more shadows came out of rooms, hungrily reaching for us, and three times we dropped them with bullets, Kincaid burning the bodies as we moved past.

Another shadow appeared in front of us, and I lifted up my pistol at the same time as Donaldson raised his rifle.

"Don't shoot, Sergeant. Oh fuck, don't shoot!" The kid was standing in the airlock, both doors open. I dropped my pistol down, but all Donaldson was shift his aiming point to the left of the kid.

"Throw the bar, Shads." I said. My muscles were trembling, fatigue and adrenaline making the nerves sing.

With the ear splitting clattering of something blown out, the door started to lower in fits and starts, jerking as it did so. I turned to look out through the closing door, moving up next to Kincaid.

"My baby's almost done." Kincaid hollered over the din. I just nodded.

Out of the blinding snow a figure appeared, standing defiantly, obscured by the flurries of snowflakes around it.

Dressed in frost covered desert BDU's. Grey skin glittering. Eyes like two holes in his face. Jagged, broken teeth that looked more like a mouthful of meat tearing teeth than anything human. Arms that were too long, with the hands down by the knees, extending at least six inches past the frayed and frozen cuffs of the BDU blouse. The fingers too long for a human hand, the flesh on the ends missing to reveal the ends of the fingerbones, sharpened somehow into claws.

And the smile. The mouth was jerked up into a rictus, exposing all of his teeth and the blackened gums, the flesh wasn't bunched from the muscles pulling, the face slack and dead beneath the grin.

Tandy/Bishop stood in front of us, mostly obscured by the snow, still visible as the door slowly and jerkily dropped down.

My shoulder throbbed once and went numb, cold spreading out of the shoulder joint, down my arm, and into my chest.

"EAT THIS!" Kincaid half screamed, raising up the flamethrower ejector and squatting down. He hit the trigger, the igniter bringing up the sputtering blue flame and the hoses on the back of the tanks shaking, tapping against the tanks, valves, and frame.

Fire sprayed from the ejector before it sputtered out. Less than a 10th of a second worth the flame before the whole thing cut out. Kincaid shouted in pain, pulling his hands off the flame-thrower ejector and letting it fall by the strap.

I could see where he'd left skin behind on the frost covered metal.

The flame hit Tandy/Bishop square, the burning fuel catching him in the chest, and fire bloomed, covering him in an instant.

There was a low, liquid chuckle as the fire wreathed figure took a step toward us.

"close close close close close" Shads, almost a religious mantra.

"shit shit shit shit" Donaldson, barely audible.

"DIE, GODDAMN IT!" Me. I raised up the pistol and began pulling the trigger, aiming center mass at the fire coated figure that was moving toward us. Each shot went where I was aiming it.

It was then I realized that the snow had gotten thicker, not fatter snowflakes, but more of the sharp-edged almost microscopic snowflakes that cut and bit like tiny razors when they found exposed flesh.

The flames began guttering as Tandy/Bishop took another step toward us.

The slide on my pistol locked back, the weapon empty.

Tandy/Bishop took another step, and the fire went all the way out.

He was unharmed, his uniform not even singed by the heat.

Something gave in the door with a loud crack, and the door slammed down, hitting the slot hard enough that it vibrated the air. The lights in the airlock blew out, glass and sparks shooting out. Shads yelled and pawed at his sleeve where sparks had landed on his frozen clothing. In the hallway, where the Major was leading his men toward the motorpool, the lights burst, plunging the whole hallway into darkness. Right before the lights went out, I saw the vents starting to spew snow into the hallway, and the temperature began dropping fast.

Another chuckle sounded in the darkness.

"Fall back, Shads, stick with Kincaid." Shads nodded, pulling the rifle off his back and handing it to Kincaid. He must have grabbed Kincaid's rifle when we pulled out of the room.

"Shit, he's coming, isn't he?" Donaldson's flashlight threw crazy shadows around the hallway and turned the other men into half-formed monsters.

"Holy shit, did you fucking see that? I hit him fucking square." Kincaid said, clenching his fists and wincing. "I fucking hit him square. Why isn't he dead?"

"Because he's not human any more." Bomber said from beside us. His flashlight was on, but wasn't doing shit to strip away the darkness.

"Just like old times, eh, Ant?" Nancy grinned at me. The skin on her cheeks and nose was peeling, the flesh beneath looked bruised. "Goddamn I like this boy." She reached out and stroked Kincaid's cheek. "Watching him run that flamethrower makes me wetter than hell."

"Did someone say something?" Kincaid asked. His eyes looked a little wild.

I shook my head.

"Huh, I could have sworn I heard a woman's voice." He mumbled.

"Sound off!" the Major yelled out as we moved through the darkness. Shads cracked chemlight and handed it to the kid that had gotten stuck at the airlock with us. The dim blue light made his face look corpse-like, and his expression looked like he was going to be sick.

We all shouted out our names, one after another, a reflex hammered into us in Basic Training.

"Let's go, we're falling back to the vehicles." he said. "Sergeant Ant, take the lead, I don't want us getting lost."

"Kincaid, you and Shads pull drag. Don't fuck around." I thought fast, then grinned. "Shoot to wound. Go for his knees, that might slow him down."

The snow was getting thicker in the darkness as we moved through the crowd of what was left of the Major's team, bumping into them in the darkness as we moved up to the Major.

"What the fuck is going on?" The Major asked.

"Something new." I told him. I dug a pack of smokes out of my pocket, grimacing at the red smears on the cellophane revealed in the light of my flashlight.

"And that's bad." Donaldson finished. I nodded as I pulled out a cigarette.

"When we get to the motorpool, I want to know what the hell is going on." He told me. I nodded, and lit the cigarette. The lighter's flame barely illuminated the cigarette, and for a split second I even wondered if the cigarette would light. The flame puffed out on my second drag and wouldn't relight, leaving me to try to get the cigarette to stay lit with just a small bit.

"Snow. Fucking snow from the vents." I heard the Major say as I moved up into the darkness.

"Hold up, Sergeant." Shads said. His voice was no longer quiet and sad, but had an edge to it. An edge I'd gotten used to hearing in 2/19th when it came down to survival at any costs. The edge that replaces a young man or young woman's nervousness and insecurity when they realize that only are they in terrible danger, but they can survive if they just hold it all together.

I stopped, and felt Shads hands at my back, high up between my shoulder blades where the chest straps of my LBE looped over my shoulders to meet up. After a second he patted the top of my helmet.

"Got the glowstick on there, Sergeant." He told me.

"You're a good troop, Private Shads." I told him.

"Fuck yeah he is, boy stuck with you the whole way." Bomber said. "Goddamn it's dark in here."

"It's because we're underground, you inbred hick." Nancy told him. "Christ."

"Nancy." Taggart's voice held that edge of disapproval she used to pull us back in line. Nancy flushed.

"Sorry, John."

"Really, Sergeant?" Shads asked. I glanced at him, through the snow flurries, to see he was blushing.

"Yeah. Glad you've got my back." I told him, stopping at the next airlock and throwing the bar. The sound of the hydraulics kicking in made the air tremble.

Behind us the men with the Major were talking to each other nervously. The Major was letting them talk, get it out of their system, since talking about it would take the edge off of the panic, allow them to categorize it and process it. Their voices didn't sound paniced, but I could hear the stress in it.

They were worried about their immediate survival, angry that they'd been attacked, and grimly determined not to be the next ones to die.

That was good. Anger kept you going, anger kept you from lapsing into depression and making you easy to take down.

The airlock door raised up and Shads and I led the way to the motorpool. Corridors were covered with frost, but after that airlock we didn't encounter snow blowing from the ventilation systems or wind plucking and pulling at us.

Several times we had to stop for the wounded to catch their breath. Once I gave the kid with the bandaged face and the one with the sloppy trach each a Vicoden to keep him going. Blood loss, exhaustion, and pain were taking its toll on the kid, but when I asked him if he was good to go he gave me a thumbs up. The other kid, the one with the trach tube I'd sloppily done just hefted his rifle with a grin and mouthed 'good to go' when I asked him if he was ready.

Entering the motorpool I half expected to find it waist deep in snow, with a thick sheet of ice coating everything. My imagination conjured up the creatures that had once been men trapped in the ice, entombed alive underneath thick glacier-like protrusions, their eyes unblinking but still seeing.

Watching us with barely restrained hunger and rage.

Instead it was cavernous, dark, and filled with silent vehicles. We'd entered through the side door, coming face to face with Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles, all of us moving quickly into the room and shutting the door behind us, leaving the bar extended in hopes of locking it.

There were only a few lights on, and only a handful kicked on when the door had opened, leaving most of the huge motorpool sunk in darkness. Everyone started to move forward quickly, but I held up my fist in a stopping motion and the Major hushed them, telling them to slow down and keep their eyes out, to watch their flanks.

I listened for a long moment. Bomber and Nancy both were scanning the darkness, and Heather had lifted up on her tiptoes, arms spread out, and eyes closed as she absorbed the entire motorpool around her. Kincaid had dropped his nightvision goggles down and was scanning, while Donaldson was looking at the pools of light out of the corner of his eyes, and Shads was checking out what he could of the roof.

"I don't like this, brother." Bomber told me, and I nodded in return. Something didn't feel right, but I couldn't put my fingers on it. "Feels like the Warfighter Tunnels ambush." I nodded again.

"You're right, Sergeant, I think we're walking into an ambush." Kincaid said softly. I looked at him oddly, but he didn't notice. I noticed that Shads and Donaldson glanced at him, Shads' look was curious, but Donaldson's was a little worried.

"Kincaid, take left. Shads, drop back to about five meters in front of the main body, Donaldson, take right." I stepped forward. "I'll take point, watch my back, keep an eye on the ceiling." They all nodded and let me move up, my pistol back behind my back and the knives tucked away. My rifle looked like crap, and somehow the handgrip of the underslung M-203 had developed a long crack in it. The square forward receiver handgrip had a hole or two where the pieces between the ventilation holes had broken free.

I had no idea how that had happened.

Off in the distance I heard a scraping sound, something brushing against carc paint, not bare metal, not concrete. A faint clink echoed softly, barely audible. A low growl came from in the darkness, an unconscious sound, but made by something living.

Less than a 100 steps and I saw my breath steam out in front of me. A glance over my shoulder showed me that I could see the breath from the other soldiers behind me. Kincaid was frowning, and he let go of his rifle, letting it fall on the sling, and reached out to grab the ejector of the flamethrower. It was an unconscious movement, reassuring himself it was there. I saw his shoulders tense for a second before he let go of the ejector and grabbed his rifle again.

Past the Bradleys and into the rows of heavy cargo trucks. Frost was starting to glitter, not exactly a layer, but more like a feeling of frost, the glimmer on the edges of sight.

A shadow darted between the gaps of two of the cargo trucks, keeping pace with us.

"Stay sharp." I said softly.

Another shadow darted through the darkness in front of us, and I saw the glint of metal held close to it.

"Hand weapons." Bomber said softly, narrowing his eyes. "Watch for crossbow bolts, that pack hasn't attacked in a while. One of those in the throat and you'll be pushing up daisies."

I nodded, moving forward.

We crossed from the cargo trucks to the old M113 APC's, and in the time it had taken for us to move up several rows and cross two the frost had gone from a faint suggestion to a full glittering sheath that coated the vehicles, the ceiling, and the cement floor.

Everything rippled, like I was surrounded by clear Jello, and suddenly I found myself back in 2/19th, staggering through the motorpool, the sky blue and clear above us with clouds around us, no wind brushing at the hip deep snow...

...my side felt like it was on fire, my guts twisting and burning, harsh pain in tune with my hammering heartbeat stabbing me low on the right side. my face was still with frozen blood and my eyes were open, watering in the sunlight sparkling off of the snow. the sun was setting, painting everything purple, red, and pink, the clouds from the storm earlier in the day like cotton candy.

...bomber drug me through the snow, panting with the effort of pulling me after him, dragging me by my LBE and my arm thrown over his shoulder. my dislocated shoulder turned my arm into a bar of fire.

...i was aware i was making noise, trying to talk, but sounding like a babbling infant. something was disconnected in my head, keeping me from talking normally. my thoughts were sluggish and kept disconnecting.

...'tradoc tradoc! barn swallow! red grass! peach grease!' i mumbled as he drug me forward.

...'just hang on, brother, we've got you.' bomber was telling me in wisps of blue cotton candy that flowed from his lips and evaporated, leaving behind the smell of hot popcorn. a dragon looped through the clouds on wings of gossamer.

...spiders made of fire crawled over my abdomen, chewing into my flesh and disappearing into my side, where they began to lay eggs inside of me. eggs that hatched into smaller spiders that began gnawing at my insides, burrowing around, chasing each other through the webwork of gnawed tunnels and passages, giggling like little girls playing tag as their fiery feet skittered through my insides.

...'he's bleeding bad, Nagle, i think he's dying.' stokes' voice, sped up like a chipmunk. the words appeared in front of me, carved out of crystal, and shattered into snowflakes that swirled around me smelling of cherries.

...'he'll be fine, i'll take care of him.' nancy's voice, echoing in my head. the words marched up my cheeks like ants, crawled into my ears, and burrowed into the frozen gears and springs inside my skull, the smell of my Father's chili wafting from the gears to my nostrils.

...'he should be fucking dead. that explosion should have killed him.' riley, his voice warped and distorted. his words appeared in front of me, made of blue fire that dripped frost and reeked of ausbach.

...gobbets of brain began dribbling out of my nose, freezing in the cold, becoming tiny chips of ice that i could see tiny memories inside. i tried to stop to pick them up but bomber pulled me forward, and I wept tears that sang bittersweet lullabies as they slid down my face leaving behind green chemlight trails.

...the vehicles were coated with a thick layer of ice, with snow seeds embedded in the top layer, turning then all into fairy dust coated things of magic and wonder. my eyes kept playing over their fierce and brutal lines, marveling at their beauty. they smelled of strawberries and taggart's perfume.

...'not my boy, he's tougher than that fucking .' bomber, gasping with effort. 'mew me-ow meow mew meow me-ow mew meeeeow meooooow.'

...'he'll be fine. just get him into the motorpool i've got an aid bag stashed in there and I can number his gears so that we can reboot him and install a twinkie powered generator into his thoracic cavity and restart the lizard that lives in the back of his head and dances.' nancy's voice, bubbling up from under water beneath the snow that swirled around my feet warm and comforting, the bubbles shrugging free of the snow in tiny sprays of glittering ruby regrets with the voice of my mother to drift in front of me and popping to release small pale fairies that fluttered and danced on the snow around us, leaving tiny little footprints. their laughter smelled like cordite.

...'THEY'LL COME WHEN THE SUN RISES! FOR BEHOLD, THINE ENEMIES SHALL FALL ON THEE WHILST THINE EYES ARE BLINDED BY THE GLORY OF THE RISING SUN!' stokes bellowed, her voice echoing around the mountain. above us the glacier cracked and shivered, groaning as it split and settled.

...'then and we'll when they .' bomber looked at me, his whiskers twitching and his tongue running over needle sharp teeth, his hot breath reminding me of mre koolaid.

...the fairies scattered from in front us, taking flight on iridescent insect wings, putting their diminutive hands into the pouches at their waists, their only clothing on their perfectly shaped bodies, and sprinkled more dust on the vehicles, creating works of art made from diamond that smelled of dryer warm blankets.

...'it's war, stokes, and sometimes people die. ant knows that.' nancy's grinding clattering wind up voice made the sun start weeping as it set behind the lego mountain capped with vanilla bean crunch ice cream, pearly tears drifting from its coldly burning face to coalesce into the moon, which wept in the voice of my sister. her voice smelled of my Father's cologne as we passed a chevy blazer in the middle of the field of blameless snow that tandy slept beneath with his stomach full of warm red meat that screamed in weaton's voice and warmed his cold flesh with the gibbering fear that he'd drank deeply from kelly.

...the snow on the side of the cuc-v shivered, something waking up, something that smelled of hatred and rage, something that made blood bubbles boil up from the snow and then pop, spattering the cuc-v and the snow with tiny pinpricks of ruby that sang iron maiden's wasted years in my brother's voice

out of the snow it surged up with a wild violin solo, Lunging at ME from beside cUC-V twenty-9, the spear that sang in elmer FudD's voice held tight in its rePtile scaleDddddD hands. It lunged at me, the SpeaR anglangangangled UP to strike me in the throat in the throat in the

"ENEMY CONTACT!" Kincaid's voice roared out and the snow shivered and quaked, the motorpool building crumpled and collapsed and the mountain crumbled with the sigh of a lover
and it all shattered, leaving behind the frost covered motorpool.

And the thing in front of me, lunging at me with the spear, intending on hitting me in under the chin and driving the butcher knife lashed to the metal pole up into my brain.

not today, motherfucker... my voice in my head, and only my voice.

I blocked the spear with the rifle by bringing it up into the shaft of the spear to deflect up. I roared, no words, just pure rage as the adrenaline trickled down my spine, the pain and exhaustion vanishing as everything crystallized and the doubt, fear, and everything else was swept away. As everything became right again in the world.

It was a male, dressed in tattered rags with a necklace made of some kind of twisted cord and festooned with fingerbones around its neck. Its eyes were bulging, bloodshot, the whites looking more like grease fried eggs than anything else. Snaggled, broken, and sharpened teeth filled its mouth as it screamed its hatred and rage at me.

Weapons fire cracked behind me, the sound doubling and redoubling as it bounced off the concrete walls and ceiling.

The spear lifted up and went by my head over my right shoulder as I stepped close, getting inside the spear's reach, my rifle already swinging forward to smash against its side. It staggered to the side, dropping the spear, which bounced off my shoulder, and before it could regain its footing I pulled the barrel of my rifle up over my shoulder and then drove the butt plate into its face with everything I had.

It went down with a crunching noise, knocked backwards by the force of the blow. The snot encrusting nose vanishing. Another came at me from the side, and I brought the weapon around, snapping off two shots. Both missed, and it came in low, a knife in each hand, and I knew it was going to try to take out my leg. I fired twice more, missing both times, and knew it was too close for me to drop my rifle and grab my pistol.

Another gunshot and it crumpled, a glance showed me Donaldson firing past me.

I let my rifle drop and pulled out my .45, dropping the spent magazine into my hand and pushing it into a pocket and reloading as quickly as I could. When I pulled back the upper receiver I managed to slice my thumb somehow, but didn't pay any attention as I looked around me.

Over a dozen lay dead, only one from me.

"You're losing it, brother. Get it together." Bomber chided me from where he was crouched down on top of the M-113, looking around.

I shook my head wearily, trying to force back the pounding headache at the back of my skull. It had crept up on me slowly, and I hadn't even noticed how bad it was. The lights that still worked made my head hurt even worse as the dim light jabbed into my eyes.

"You all right, Sergeant?" The Major. Major Kendricks, from First Magazine Platoon, the former Marine who...

wait

Major Darson, someone who was in over his head. Someone who someone else decided was just as expendable as all the privates gathered around him.

Just as expendable as me.

Murdered by someone who was trying to take Heather and the babies away.

Boiling hot rage filled me, coating my mouth with the taste of iron and copper, and my headache twinged once and vanished. My limbs stopped shaking and my back straightened, the crushing weight of my gear vanishing.

"I think so, Major." I answered. "Let's hurry it up, before the get their courage up to come at us again."

"You heard the Sergeant, double time it, men." Major Darson's voice snapped with command, with the ingrained authority that had been missing when I first met him. "Reload on the move, even if the magazine isn't fully expended. Keep your eyes on the flanks."

I started jogging, feeling good, feeling right.

"Scan the ceiling." Major Darson reminded everyone.

A few minutes and the vehicles came into view, sitting by the door.

One look at them and someone behind me let out a groan.

The windshields were smashed in, the hoods were open, sometimes torn off the hinges, other times a huge hole ripped into the fiberglass to expose the engines. My brain picked out two alternators, a tangle of fuel lines, a valve cover, and the front pulley wheels on the ground.

Every single vehicle was savaged, destroyed. The tires were hacked, sometimes whole strips of peeled rubber hung from the metal rims.

One vehicle, the vehicle the Major had ridden up in, was nothing but a charred wreck.

"Oh fuck, now what? We're fucking dicked." Someone, I thought it was Purett, said from behind me.

"We're still good." I said turning around. The Major was looking around him, and his body language told me he'd accepted the condition of his vehicles and was now figuring out his options.

"Secure those two vehicles, pull the TM's and start doing PMCS on them." He snapped out, pointing at two 5-ton trucks suspended from heavy steel cables. "We'll figure out how to lower them down, then we'll put the tires on them and lower them down once we inflate the tires."

I started moving toward the 5-tons, already clicking through the options in my head.

"Sergeant Ant." His voice stopped me, and I turned around.

"Yes, sir?"

"Check your vehicle, see if it's secure. Then find out if we can access the mechanics bay so we can secure tools to get these vehicles ready." He told me. He looked grim, but confident.

"Yes, sir." I waved at my tiny crew. "Let's go, men."

"This is just like any other motorpool drawdown, men. We'll run the checks, get the vehicles ready, and be good to go." The Major said behind us as we moved into the darkness. "Purett, Davis, I want the two of you to check the tool boxes, take inventory of what we have."

His voice receded behind us, quickly absorbed by the armor of the M-113's we were moving between. Every bootstep, every shuffle, every clink and thunk sounded clearly.

The way the motorpool swallowed voices made the hair on the back of my neck raise up.

"Got a plan, Sergeant?" Kincaid asked me.

"A couple of them." I answered.

"I like the one where you have the reactor melt down after flooding the place with VX." Nancy said from beside him.

I ignored that he glanced over, frowned, then turned back to me. "Any of them end with us living, Sergeant?"

"All of them." I told him, grinning. "Don't worry, Private, I've been in worse situations like this and got out alive."

He nodded as we cut between two M-113 APC's to the row we'd left the Gypsy Wagon.

"What makes you think they didn't trash your Humvee, Sergeant?" Shads asked.

"Just a gut feeling, Private." I told him.

The Gypsy Wagon came into view, sitting in the darkness. The flashlights panned over it, and we all stopped dead and stared at it.

In a perfect circle around it snow was piled up, as if someone had taken a cookie cutter and lifted the vehicle out of the snow to set it down right in front of us. The vehicle was covered in thick snow that fell softly off the top and side, down the windshield, and tumbled off the front and across the grill. Icicles hung from the sideview mirrors.

The snow was at least a foot and a half thick, maybe even two feet, thick and white and perfect.

"What the fuck?" Donaldson breathed.

"Ignore it. We're just being fucked with." I told them, walking forward and slogging through the snow to the side of the vehicle. I had slam my weapon twice against the door to shatter the thin layer of ice on the door, but once I did that I pulled the door open.

The smell of rotting meat flooded out of the vehicle, making Donaldson and Shads choke and gag. Kincaid gritted his teeth.

Sitting in the driver's seat was a body, it's mouth open in a silent scream, the skin grey and tight looking with blackish veins beneath the skin. His eye sockets were empty with clotted blood underneath them like frozen tears. His hands were gripping the steering wheel, the skin over the knuckles split to reveal the cartilage and bone beneath. A palm-sized chunk of his scalp was missing, revealing that something had scored deep grooves in his skull. His nose was missing, raw bone with frozen blood on it exposed on either side of the gaping hole. The bottom of his BDU top was missing, his T-shirt shredded to reveal a frozen gaping hole in his abdomen.

His nametag read "RICHARDSON" on the desert BDU top that was covered with frost and mud. The U.S. ARMY was half torn off, hanging down and folded slightly. His combat patch, the 3rd COSCOM patch, torn off until it hung by only a few strands of thread.

and purplish black skeletal handprints were around his neck.

Dangling from his left hand was a pair of dogtags, and I reached out and lifted them up, wincing at the bitter cold of the metal.

They read "BISHOP, LUTHER A." on them.

"Aw shit." Kincaid said.


Chapter 37

Site Kilo-29
Winter, 1993
Day Three-Night


Richardson had been my friend. We'd drank together, fought with other people together, hit on the same girls and sometimes fucked the same girls after the other one was done with her. We both like 'fun girls' and the same type of girl. Well, he liked blondes with thick bodies and I liked women. He'd been part of the crew that had been sent to the barracks to clean it up and repair it after that first winter, and had been trapped there when it turned ugly. He's been there when they'd sent us back after the second winter, and both times he'd stood shoulder to shoulder with us.

The spring of 1990 he'd been PCS'd, left the unit, and both of us had figured he'd escaped Tandy by getting out of the hell hole that was 2/19th. He'd been sent to Johnston Atoll, sunny and warm and not too far from Hawaii, and rumor control said you could grab the weekly mail flight if there was space and hitch a ride to spend the weekend at Pearl Harbor.

He'd been close to Stokes, sent her pictures when he got there, and Stokes had taken a flight to Hawaii out to be there when Richardson had gotten married in June of that year to a pretty blond Navy girl.

All of us, and the crew he'd worked with that was still in 2/19th, had flown out to the States less than 2 weeks later. His wife had been crossing the street when a fucking drunk plowed her with a car. She'd taken six hours to die.

Stokes had held him for hours while he cried. I'd goaded him into punching me in the face, and we'd rolled around fighting as he took out his rage at everything that life had taken from him on me. Afterwards Stokes had held him more, and he and I and the other boys had sat in the darkness after the girls went to bed while he talked quietly in the dark.

It was ritual we'd developed in 2/19th.

Now he was dead, sitting in the driver's seat of my vehicle, dead and looking like he'd gone missing in the winter and we'd just found him in the spring.

He looked like Tandy had when we'd found him.

If he'd been strangled.

And disemboweled.

Nancy was staring silently, muscles rippling along her jaw as she clenched her teeth, her eyes glittered with unshed tears but I could tell how angry she was by her stance.

You don't fuck someone for 4 years and not know them.

Bomber stood there, clenching his fists, his teeth bared in a vicious snarl. He was angry as hell, in a killing mood, staring at his friend sitting dead in the driver's seat of the Gypsy Wagon.

Taggart stood next to Bomber, weeping softly, her hands clenched and up under her chin as she stared at one of her few friends.

"Goddamn it." I snarled, pulling the dogtags free of Richardson's grip and shoving them in my pocket. I reached out, digging in Richardson's shirt, and pulling the dogtags free. The chain broke with a snap, and I pushed them into my pocket with the other dogtags I was carrying.

"Please, be gentle with him, please." Nancy said softly.

Kincaid looked right at Nancy, then shook his head like he was shaking off a punch.

"We need to get him out of there, we can't leave him like that." Kincaid said.

"Shads, in the back right pocket of my ruck there's a poncho, will you get it?" I asked, reaching out and touching Richardson's face.

His wife had had a child before they got married, and now the little blond girl, with sun browned skin, who Stokes had showed me pictures of, was all alone.

Another victim.

I could feel Shads digging my poncho out. He came around in front of me, letting it drop out of the way I'd rolled it up after folding it tightly.

"Kincaid, help me with him." I said.

"You knew him, didn't you?" Donaldson asked softly. He pulled a cravat out of his pocket and stepped forward. "Let me, Sergeant. Let us handle it."

I stepped back, almost falling backwards because of the snow. I was shivering in the cold, but didn't care. Donaldson folded the cravat and tied it across Richardson's face, obscuring the empty eyesockets and missing nose. Shads laid the poncho on the snow, and while I watched it Kincaid and Donaldson gently pulled Richardson out of the Gypsy Wagon and laid him on the poncho.

It was then I saw the bullet wound in his leg, and I knew why I hadn't been able to tell Agent Killain had been lying. Someone had shot him in the leg, and left him where Tandy could get him.

Nancy knelt down next to him, reaching out and touching the cravat. "Oh, Richie." She said, her voice heartbroken. "Oh, Katie." Richardson's daughter.

Taggart knelt in the snow, embracing the dead man. "I'm so sorry, baby." Out of all of us, her voice was the most expressive of us, and the loss and pain in her voice almost drove me to my knees. "I thought you were safe, baby."

Bomber leaned over and touched Richardson's chest, over where the US ARMY was half ripped away. "Goodbye, brother." He straightened up and stared at me. "That's another of you guys." He chuckled, although there was no humor in the sound. "It's starting to get creepy."

Taggart leaned stood up, moving up behind Shads and leaned forward. Her lips were almost touching his ear as she stood on her tiptoes. I could see her lips move as she whispered in the young man's ear, her tear filled eyes holding mine. Shads' nostrils flared and I could see his pupils dilate. She smiled as she stepped back and walked off into the darkness.

Bomber stepped up to Kincaid, reaching out and touching the other man's chest. "You're one of us, now, K-Bar." He turned and walked away, following Taggart.

Nancy moved up to me, leaning up and brushing her lips across mine, then moved to stand in front of Donaldson. "Keep him stable, keep him from going full apeshit on everything." She leaned forward and brushed her lips across his cheek. "Bring him home to us, Donaldson, bring him home to his wife and me." She kissed his other cheek. "Do not let him go overboard, he will use nuclear weapons to decon this site." She moved by him, her shoulder passing through his.

She walked away, looking over her shoulder and smiling at me before she disappeared in the darkness.

"Come home to me, bunny." Heather's voice came from behind me, and I felt her lips brush the flat spot on the back of my skull. "Come home to us."

My headache vanished.

"Do you want to say anything, Sergeant?" Shads asked. I nodded, clenching my fists and struggling to push back the anger far enough to think.

"Long way from that mountain, brother, and you still got taken. I'm sorry." I said quietly, staring at Richardson. "I did Agent Killain, Richie, I sent her off the hard way, and as soon as I get a chance, I'll drink you off properly. Sleep easy, brother. First Twenty all the way."

I stepped back, closing my eyes. Richardson had been one of the people who had kept me alive when my appendix ruptured and I went septic. He'd kidnapped Heather from her barracks room the night before the wedding, helping to shove her in the bag and carry her to where the girls had been waiting, then gone on to help kidnap me for my last night as an unmarried man.

And now he was gone.

It hurt, somewhere inside me, a small part that was smothered by the rage boiling up in me.

"I didn't know you, man, but you didn't deserve this, not here." Shads said. "Rest in peace."

"I'll get your boy out of here. If you had a family, I make sure they know you didn't go down like a pussy." Kincaid told him. "Rest in peace, man."

"A man died down here, a man known by one of us, loved by one of us. There is no shame in a man having love in him for another man, for a brother. His death leaves a hole in the hearts of those who loved him, but we are soldiers, and his death does not lessen us. It strengthens us, strengthens our resolve, and the knowledge that he went to his death with honor and bravery serves as an example that though we may die, as soldiers, it is never in vain." Donaldson said, his voice smooth and rolling. "Now we consign him to his eternal rest, and though we carry on without him, his spirit fights on with us. Your death, Richardson, has not gone unnoticed and will not be forgotten, by us. Go unto the embrace of the Lord thy God, and await for us when we too enter his arms and glory. Amen."

"Amen." I choked. Kincaid and Shads joined me, and Shads crossed himself.

I turned away, and Shads covered Richardson with the poncho.

"Let's put him in the cab of that truck." Donaldson said. "Kincaid, help me out, Shads, keep watch and keep an eye on Sergeant Ant."

I tuned it out as the two men lifted my dead friend up, wrapped in the shitty poncho. I wished I had a bodybag in the back of my Humvee, and I mental note to get one from the crates of them I'd seen in storage. The thought of him in that truck, with his daughter playing at his mother's house, hurt something inside of me. Something I wasn't used to feeling.

I went to the back of the Humvee, dropping the tailgate and brushing the snow out of the way. The temperature was still dropping as I pulled the ammo box over and stared at it.

It normally held M1A1 main gun rounds, but those were long gone. Instead I had it packed with things that might be useful. This one and the second one I pulled forward was full of something special.

Claymore land mines, bouncing Betty's, and det cord.

I pulled them out, opening the OD green canvas bags they were in, pulling them out, and inspecting them briefly before setting them on their canvas bags. The inspections only took seconds, I'd inspected thousands of them over the years, knew how to check for cracks along the seams or warped fuse wells, decayed stand prongs, and a thump with a knuckle told me if the epoxy resin ball bearing matrix had come undead from the explosive charge. One of the Betty's had a line of corrosion around the base, but it still was field usable. I'd set it at condition code H if I was just doing normal inspections, slating it for training use or destruction, but I needed it, and the thin line didn't breach the casing.

The sounds behind me, of the door of a truck being pulled open, of Kincaid grunting, told me that they were doing what I was pretending what was happening. I pushed the sounds away, and pulled up another box, opening it and starting to stack the pre-loaded magazines beside it.

We'd need ammo, grenades, mines, and other fun tricks. Toothpick's team was going to be at the excursion point within hours, and someone should set up a welcome committee for them.

A goddamn CIA hit team. They were relics, like me, of a time when there was no limits to the lengths you could go to fight communism. At least in their minds. I drew the line at murdering civilians. I might have been a "total war troop", but you've saved nothing but ashes and bodies if you destroyed the village to save it. I'd never seen a CIA hit team that was worth the powder to blow them to hell. In my eyes, they were scum, bullies who hid behind National Security and an agency that was willing to use American civilians as test subjects.

They saw the military as expendable assets.

I saw them as walking corpses.

Bush, and now Clinton, promised a "kinder, gentler" America, and I wondered how that could be if men like Toothpick weren't "retired" and either pensioned or retired the way Toothpick and his buddies seemed to be retiring others.

I patted one of the Claymores.

There's a retirement package, right there, baby.

I probably had one like it waiting on me.

Kincaid, Shads, and Donaldson came up and stared at the gear.

"Damn, Sergeant, how much crap do you have in this truck?" Kincaid asked.

"Enough to arm a crew for an extended engagement." I told them. I moved around to the cab, folding opening the back door and pulling the stacks of duffelbags and MRE boxes out of it until I revealed two ammo boxes on the seats. I pulled them both out, stacked them, and carried them to the back.

The pain in my shoulder just made me more angry.

When I revealed what was inside the box, Kincaid whistled. "You got fuel for my baby in there, Sergeant?"

"Nope, just for these." I told him, waving my hand at the box.

Shads reached in the box and stripped the foil packing off of one of the object, revealing an M-249 SAW. Kincaid whistled again.

"Wipe it down, there's cravats in the 5.56 can, ammo in the crate right there." I told them, pointing at the boxes.

"Where did you get all this stuff?" Donaldson asked, picking up one of the two M-60's in the box.

"Decommission sites. My boss knows I've got it, he just chalks it up to paranoia." I shrugged. "Better to have too much and have to turn it in later than not have what you need when you need it."

"You don't have a fifty in there, do you, Sergeant?" Shads asked, opening the can and pulling a cravat out of it. It was stained with grease, but clean.

"Two, on the back seat floorboards, with tripods. and six boxes of ammunition." I pulled another box forward and opened it, revealing storage canisters with frag grenades in then. "I've also got a half-dozen AT-4's and a pair of Stinger missiles and one launcher."

I started peeling the canister apart and dropping the grenades in the box.

"Why this much firepower?" Shads asked, wiping down the weapon.

...fall back to the village, Bomber, Picks, set up the Claymores, they'll come at us again...

...almost out of ammo, Ant...

...divvy up the magazines, I'll give up my rifle ammo and stick to my pistol, destroy that SAW and consolidate the ammo, wire up Humvee-7 and Humvee-4 to blow in place, leave the fifties on it, Nagle, set the triggers as the doors...

...Sir, how long till extraction, they're getting ready to come at us again...

...Extract came under heavy fire by ZSU's, gentlemen, they're pulling back to get fire support, revised ETA is two hours...

...we hold here. Gentlemen, prepare to defend yourselves...

...2/19th...

...FINISH THE FIGHT!...


"Didn't have it once when I needed it." I told them, shaking off the memory.

The snow was still in the way, and slogging through it was getting to be a pain in the ass. Plus, my feet were cold.

"Let's get back to the others. Shads, you drive." I told them, walking out of the circle of snow. Shads nodded and got in the vehicle, not showing any hesitation at sitting where we'd found a dead man. The vehicle fired right up, and Shads threw it into drive, letting it idle forward.

"What's the plan now, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked me, moving up next to me. His weapon was slung, the M-60 in his hands. He saw me glance at it. "Qualified Expert in it, Sergeant."

"Good, I can't shoot for shit with it." I told him.

"Not too good with a rifle, either, are you?" He asked.

I chuckled. "No, not really. More than an expert shot with the M-203 and on the post shooting team with pistols."

"And hell on wheels with a knife." Kincaid said, coming up next to me. He had his rifle but hadn't bothered taking off his flamethrower. He slapped the ejector. "We gonna pick up ammo for my baby?"

"Hell yeah." I smiled. "Nothing puts the fear of God into people like a flamethrower."

"So you've got a plan." Donaldson said.

"We're going to prepare a welcoming party for the CIA at the egress point." I told him. "We'll fill in the Major, arm up, hit the armory to reload K-Bar over there,"

"K-Bar? I like that." Kincaid said.

I kept going like he hadn't interrupted. "Get him refueled, help the Major and his men fortify their position, then head down to the egress point and booby trap the fuck out of the entrance."

"Then kill them all?" Kincaid asked.

I thought for a moment. "No. We'll give them a warning, but if they so much as blink wrong, we fucking kill them. No mercy."

"I like this plan." Kincaid grinned.

"Then what?" Donaldson asked. "What's your plan for the site?"

"Full sweep and clear. Take control of it, determine whether or not it can repurposed, salvaged, or if it's just blow in place." I told him.

"That's the part we seem to have trouble with." Kincaid interjected.

"Once we can get the doors open, we'll call in for another team, or blow it in place." I finished.

"Sounds like plan, Sergeant." Donaldson said.

"Let's hope it works, Corporal." I told him. "When we get there, pick five men, I want eight of you. I'd rather have a full team of 12, but we'll stick with 8."

"Will do, Sergeant." Donaldson told me.

The others were in sight, pulling the HEMMITs out of the motorpool and out the door to park in the hallway.

"Let's fucking do this." Kincaid said.

He pretty much said it all.


Chapter 38

Site Kilo-29
Winter-1993
Day Three-Night


Donaldson was laying next to me, behind a low pallet of fertilizer, his helmet resting against the top of the feeder tray for the M-60. Like me, he was probably half-dozing, waiting for the CIA direct action team to arrive.

I'd hallucinated the HEMMITs, and Donaldson had insisted I take my medication once I'd told my now reenforced squad how to set up the welcoming gifts at the egress tunnel. Kincaid was fully refueled, and the Gypsy Wagon had another five sets of tanks in the back of it where it was sitting on the heavy steel grate that would pull it back up the main mechanics area.

The Major had sent a squad with us to loot the armory so his men had weapons and ammunition. He'd decided on 3 CUC-V's and a 5-ton, to cut down on the number of vulnerable vehicles. He planned on grabbing snow tires, and one of his meat-heads had located the snow-plow blade in one of the storage rooms off the maintenance section. It meant that he'd have to get one of the forklifts up and running, he'd decided against the pallet-jack, knowing his men were exhausted, and that exhausted men made mistakes. He'd had them rotate sleep shits when we left.

We'd driven the Gypsy Wagon into the Event Tunnels, heading to the egress point, and from there hauled the equipment we'd planned on using. Kincaid escorted the two men who took the Gypsy Wagon back to the steel grate elevator, and double timed them back.

It was snowing in the hallway, the same as it was in the cavern we were currently waiting in.

The cavern was huge, as wide as a football field, at least twice as long, the ceiling easily fifty feet high in the middle of the slow vaulted ceiling. It was full of temporary buildings, fertilizer, farming vehicles circa 1950's to 1060's, sacks of seed and feed, and everything you'd need to start a couple of farms.

The egress point had been opened manually, and was still stuck open. Twenty feet high, thirty feet wide, and over a hundred feet deep. A heavy shock absorber, drop grill, heavy duty doors, recessed lights, everything it needed to survive a near hit.

I hadn't checked outside.

I was sort of awake, but dreaming of years gone by. While it snowed around me I was dreaming about 2/19th again. In my dream I was laying on Nancy's bed while she was sitting on it, my head in her lap while she held my hand and had her other hand on my forehead.

"How's the shoulder?" She was asking me.

"Hurts." I told her. I was drowsy from the sunlight coming in the window and bathing the bed and the painkillers rushing through my system. I ignored the pain and reached up to cup her cheek with my right hand. "Love you, Nancy."

"I know." She said, running one finger down the side of my face. She sighed. "Ant, you can't keep doing this."

"It's OK." I told her, dropping one hand to cup her breast.

"No, it's not." She sighed. "You had surgery, what, a week ago?"

"Yeah." I squeezed gently.

"You're supposed to get 15 or 30 days convalescent leave." She shook her head. "It's a week, and you've been on light duty since they released you from the hospital." She put her hand on my cheek. "Ant, it isn't right."

"Mission essential." I quoted. "Who else is going to run the point?"

"Jackson had it in hand. We were just taking inventory." She touched my face and I smiled. She tapped one of my capped front teeth with her fingernail. "You should be somewhere healing up."

"It doesn't matter." I told her. I smiled at her, feeling a little hazy. I'd taken my pain killers about a half-hour before lunch, and we'd been in Nancy's room about 15 minutes, the painkillers kicking in. "I'm just a waste anyway. It doesn't matter."

Irritation flashed across her face, quickly vanishing. "Honey, you matter to me, you matter to John, you manage to your whole crew."

"Yeah, but I'm just a waste, Nancy. Better I go down than someone who's actually worth a shit." I let go of her breast and folded my arms over my chest, sighing and closing my eyes. "I'm not worth a damn, never will be."

Her fingers kept stroking the side of my face. "Honey, stop, please."

"Face it, Nancy, I'm just a boy. Boys die when they blow the bugles, boys hold the line while everyone else falls back, boys stand and deliver." I sighed with pleasure as the warmth moved to tingling. "It doesn't really matter, Nancy, no matter what anyone says. I know what I am."

"What would your Father say?" She asked me. We'd had this argument before, and would have it again and again. "Is that all your Father is?"

I shook my head slightly. "No. He's better than I am, like you. Like John. Like Jackson." I kind of huddled up without really moving. "Face it, Nancy, I'm just born to die in some ditch somewhere. All I can hope to do is make it expensive."

I was slipping deeper, starting to doze, and I yawned. It was silent for a long time, and just as a dream started to form I heard her whisper from far away "I love you, Fifty Foot."

Another voice mingled with hers. Heather. "I love you too, Fifty Foot."

I jerked awake, staring through the snowflakes. I could still feel Nancy's touch on my skin, still hear Heather's voice.

There were shapes moving in the snow, coming out of the tunnel. I counted six right off the bat and sighed, kicking Donaldson's boot to wake him up. Donaldson jerked, his hands moving back to the ready position on the M-60.

"You might want to stop right there before you hit a wire and blow yourselves in half." I called out, pitching my voice to be heard over the wind.

"You're already inside the pipe, and if you don't put your hands in the air, we'll blow you to fucking dog food." I called out, watching them freeze in place. I held the clacker in my right hand, the wire trailing behind me.

The shapes had resolved into men, my NVG's throwing them into sharp focus. There was nine of them, all wearing black and fake military gear, carrying rifles.

"Hit a flare, K-Bar!" I called out.

NVG-7's had flare-compensation built into them. The early ones didn't, and a flare would overload them for a few seconds, but the newer ones went blank for a half a second. The illumination round kicked off, bathing the whole area in stark magnesium white. The NVG's compensated in less than a second, but everything was bright green and I could tell from the distortion at the left hand side of my vision that the illumination round was on the edge of overloading them.

"You're bracketed by mines, and we've got an interlocking..." I started.

One of them turned, aiming his weapon at my voice, and I ducked back behind the fertilizer without bothering to finish my sentence or pause for a second.

"Light 'em up!" I yelled.

The mines had been set in 3 layers, the first rounds was angled at the mouth of the tunnel, the second set was ten paces back, angled to cover the front of the tunnel as well as the arc in front of it. The last layer was interlocked blast fields that would cover the entire area and fifty feet in front of them.

The clacker's tension popped and I snapped the lever down three times out of habit, knowing there was no way for the CIA team to get out of the carefully prepared killing field I'd set up.

I'd used almost the same setup in Kuwait, Africa, and other places.

I squeezed quickly, clacking it another three times, before dropping it and grabbing at my rifle.

Nothing happened.

I never relied on a single wire, I always ran two more, running them in parallel so that if one wire didn't work the others would fire the charges. It was a trick that I'd learned in 2/19th during Wed. training. Hell, we even wired them that way at the range.

The mines just sat there.

A low liquid chuckle slithered through the snow to run icy fingers down my spine.

"K-Bar, kick 'em off, then fall back to point Bravo!" I yelled. "Shads, make sure the boys fall back."

Sirens kicked on, loud klaxons that I'd only heard one other time inside the facility. I'd heard it in others, though, and knew what it meant.

The tunnel was closing, the heavy outside and inner doors, the shock absorber would be rolling into place to completely fill the tunnel. In less than sixty second the mountain would be completely sealed up again.

Who the fuck had triggered the door controls? They'd been hotwired, the casing pulled open and a bypass run. How in the hell had the doors closed?

Someone started screaming, Donaldson's M-60 cut loose, the heavy chugging distinctive from the SAW or a fifty, and another chuckle wound its way through the air.

It'd all gone to crap in less than ten seconds.

"Let's go, fall back to Bravo." I told Donaldson, smacking the back of his helmet before he'd pull through a quarter of the belt.

"I can't see them." He told me.

"Let's go." I told him. He grabbed the 60 and followed me as I scrambled up and headed back toward where we'd decided point bravo was. We hustled past the two temporary buildings that had already been set up.

Gunfire sounded behind us and a bullet cracked by our heads as we put the buildings between us and the egress point, hustling for the arc of construction vehicles that we'd piled fertilizer bags around and used to block the gaps between the vehicles.

There was a loud boom, then a muffled thud that I knew was the shock absorber dropping into position. The egress point was closed.

"United States Army Special Forces, drop your weapons!" sounded out.

"Fuck you, liar!" I tossed over my shoulder, still running. I hurdled over the fertilizer bags, stumbling and going down, landing on my bad shoulder and screaming in pain as the bruised flesh took the impact and the whole joint compressed, already punished nerves squeezed. Something inside crunched.

The klaxons cut out.

"Stand down, that's a lawful order!" Came from the snow.

That dark chuckle floated through the snow.

"Get on your knees, hands behind your head!" sounded from somewhere toward the egress tunnel.

I looked at Donaldson, who'd outsprinted me, who was in the middle of taking a quick headcount.

"Get down! Not another step!" rang out.

Donaldson looked at me and gave me the thumbs up.

We were all accounted for, who the fuck were they yelling at.

"Stop right there!" the same voice.

"Get on the stick. Assigned positions. Move it." Donaldson hissed out. Shads, Kincaid, and the meat-heads all nodded, scrambling to the four gaps between vehicles. I dropped down next to Donaldson and one of the meat-heads that Dee had assigned to carry ammo for the pig as well as the loader bag.

"No closer, get down, I won't warn you again!" Sounded out, same voice.

"Who the fuck are they yelling at?" The meat-head asked. I shook my head.

"I hope I'm wrong." I said.

"Morris, I got one!" Someone called out.

"Oh, shit." Donaldson breathed.

"Fall back, point Charlie, he's here." I said. Donaldson nodded. "Lead the way, Corporal, I'll pull drag."

"You heard the Sergeant, Jacobs, let's go." Donaldson said, getting up and pulling the 60 with him.

"I said get down!" sounded out. "What the fuck!" the voice turned into a scream.

"That's our cue, let's get the fuck out of here." Kinciad said. He'd been waiting at point bravo, in his armored J-Suit and armed with his flamethrower.

The screaming was going up in volume, turning bubbly.

"Hang on, Bellings, we're coming!" Someone called out.

Kincaid led the way, jogging in the suit. I'd seen him put it on, he'd lost at least 10 pounds while he wore it the last time, and I'd shown him how to fill and use the drinking system and made him eat two MRE's. He'd be burning calories like mad.

There was another chuckle as I swapped the wires out off the clacker and hooked up the Claymores at the access points for our little fallback position.

If it had just been the CIA guys we would have stayed and fought, but with Tandy out there in the snow, we didn't stand a chance. We had to get somewhere else, somewhere he couldn't just materialize out of the snow to take us one at a time.

...stumbling and staggering through the snow, heading for lower post...

...Tandy coming out of the snow, taking two of us as we headed for safety we might no make it to...

...not caring that we might not make it, just wanting it to all be over...


One hundred seventy-five yards didn't sound like much. Hell, that was short/medium range for a rifle. Through the snow and dark, even with NVG's, Kincaid couldn't hustle too fast, even though he was doing his best, weighed down by the J-Suit, the flamethrower, and the fuel tanks.

Not to mention the snow and wind, which was picking up.

"Get off him!" the cry echoed through the cavern. "Get the fuck off of him!" Gunshots sounded out, flat snaps soaked up by the snow and wind without a single echo. "Get off him!"

More gunshots, and that chuckle again.

Point Charlie was a row of sandbags in a semi-circle around the entryway to the Event Locker we were in, the main hallway that we'd brought the Gypsy Wagon in. There was a fifty there, with one of the meat-heads we'd been given on it. It was one of two I'd had on the floorboards of the Gypsy Wagon, barrels pulled, tripods folded up. Now the barrel was back in it, the 250 round belt locked into it, and sitting on the deployed tripod.

I'd drifted to the left of the spread out staggered line of troops in front of me, Kincaid had fallen back, shuffling next to me, breathing heavy. His rib was bruised badly from the bullet that had hit him earlier. He'd laughed it was his first cracked rib, and now it was slowing him down. If you'd never had one you didn't know how to breathe around it, you'd start breathing fast and shallow, which would make it hurt worse, which would speed up your breathing, making it hurt more. You had to make slow deep breaths, regulate your breathing, deal with the slow stabbing feeling, and keep breathing slowly and deeply to keep your blood oxygenated.

The snow twirled around as I slowed down a little more to keep pace with Kincaid when he curled over slightly, letting go of the flame thrower ejector to put his hand on his chest.

"Can't breathe." He told me.

"We'll hold up." I answered, squinting through the snow.

The snow swirled, and freak gap in it let me see the fifty and Donaldson slowing down.

Two guys were standing behind the fifty, and the meat-head was down on his knees, his hands up, his fingers interlaced at his neck. One of the guys had what my brain ID'd as an SMG to the back of the kid's head.

"Stay here, be quiet." I told Kincaid, pulling my rifle off my back and handing it to him. I went in low, ducking down and moving forward through the snow.

"Drop your weapons, hands in the air." One of the guys was saying. They were dressed in black too, SMG's in their hands, and I could see one of them grinning. I was only fifteen, twenty meters out. "We're Special Forces, we're here to get you out."

"Do it." Donaldson said. I could hear the anger in his voice.

"That's right, Sergeant, act smart." The one who had been speaking said.

"He's..." one of the meat-heads started to saw, behind Donaldson, but Shads elbowed him in the ribs.

"I'm Sergeant Ant." Donaldson said. "You're with SF?"

"Yeah, we got sent to save you guys, heard their was a problem here." The one said. "Put your hands behind your head, lock your fingers, hands on your neck."

"You guys with First Special Forces out of Dix?" Donaldson asked.

"Yeah." He said. "Now, get on your knees, all of you but you, Sergeant."

Two shadows moved through the snow near me, dressed in black, with two others following carrying a third between them. I hunched down, keeping a stack of concertina wire on a pallet between them and me. Two more followed them, and I ghosted after them.

"Go join the others." The one who had been speaking. I could barely see the kid that was on his knees getting up. I looked down, seeing I was moving in the other men's trails, blood spattered on the snow, already freezing up and being covered by the blowing snow.

I darted to the next piece of cover, a stack of pipes that went for at least twenty feet.

"These all of your men, Sergeant Ant?" One of them asked Donaldson.

"Yeah." Donaldson answered. "Major Dursten is upstairs with the rest of the men."

"That your CO?" Someone asked.

"Yeah, Major Dursten." Donaldson repeated. I saw someone open their mouth and Shads kick their boot from where they were kneeling down.

"What the fuck happened to Bellings?" Another voice asked.

"Some freak jumped him, when I got there the guy was ripping at Billing's face with a razor blade or something in his hands." The voice that I'd heard earlier answered. "I shot his ass and left him there dead. Some asshole in brown camouflage."

Tandy. About time he did something good, but I wasn't willing to bet he was dead.

He liked to do that.

I think it amused him.

"That was Kincaid you killed." Donaldson said. "So what now?"

"This." The guy doing all the talking said.

And shot Donaldson twice in the chest.


Chapter 39

Site Kilo-29
Winter-1993
Day Three-Night
Event Lockers


Donaldson went down without a sound, one hand moving to his chest as he went down in the snow. The guy who'd shot him chuckled while the troops, my troops, cried out in outrage.

"Shut the hell up, or you're all next." the guy who'd shot Donaldson said. "Rogers, Smith, get 'em up, let's go see Major Dursten."

"Hell, he wasn't about shit." One of them said. "Fellman was right, that dude wasn't shit."

Two of them laughed, the guy being supported by the other two moaned and kicked, his head hanging down.

"Bring Bellings, we'll go up to where Major Dursten is, link up with Fellman and Killain, lock these guys down with the others, and get to work." The one who'd been talking stated.

Shads was staring at the guy, his eyes narrowed.

"You are all going to die down here." Shads said, his voice cold and dead.

All the assholes in black laughed. "What makes you think that... umm..." the guy paused.

"Corporal Donaldson, Sergeant Ant's assistant squad leader." Shads told him.

"Well, Corporal Donaldson, keep your men under control and Sergeant Ant will be the only casualty." The guy said. "All of you, get up." He twitched the SMG in his hand. "Since you're feeling talkative, Corporal, you can lead us back to Major Dursten."

Shads nodded, getting to his feet. "Let's go, men." He stared for a long second. "If you're SF, why did you kill Sergeant Ant?"

"He pulled a gun on me, we all saw it." The guy said. The others nodded, and he laughed. Bellings groaned. "I had to defend myself and my men."

"It's like that then." Shads said.

"Shut up, get moving." the one doing all the talking said. The snow swirled heavier and a chuckle came slithering out of the darkness. "Why is fucking snowing in here? We're inside."

Shads shrugged. "Sergeant Ant knew." he moved toward Donaldson.

"I said, let's go." The CIA guy said.

"If we want to get through the doors, I need his notebook, he kept the codes to himself." Shads knelt down next to Donaldson, fumbling at the other man's pocket and coming up with a green notebook.

"We've already got the codes." One of them said.

"Bellings is hurt really bad." One said.

"He'll be fine. Drag him along." The leader said.

"No, you don't." Shads told them. "Sergeant Ant reset all the codes."

"Anything else I need to know, Mr. Donaldson?" The guy asked.

"You've killed two of our men, the Major won't be too thrilled about that." Shads said. "Even if the Major and Sergeant Ant hated each other, he isn't going to be too happy."

"We'll make Major Dursten see reason." The guy said. "Get up, Mister Donaldson." He paused for a moment. "You try anything, I shoot one of your men in the stomach."

Shads nodded and walked toward the CIA guy, shrugging. His dark face looked angry, but he kept his mouth shut.

"Rogers, Smith, stay here with Bellings, head back to that door and open it up. As soon as we hook up with Fellman, we'll get these guys in the helicopter and get out of here." The one in charge told them. "Let's go, soldiers."

They let Bellings down, sitting him on the sandbags. The guys in black marched Shads and others down the hallway, talking to each other.

I turned away, creeping back through the snow to where I'd left Kincaid. He was sitting down, holding onto his chest.

"What the fuck's been going on, I can't hear shit in this suit." Kincaid said.

"Donaldson's down, they shot him twice in the chest." I told him.

"Fuck. The others?" He asked. He shifted the backpack. "Fucking strap feels like it's pushing my ribs into my guts."

"They've got them, they think that Shads is Donaldson, and thought Donaldson was me." I told him. "Stay here."

"Where are you going?" He asked, and coughed.

"I've gotta check Donaldson, he might not be dead." I told him. "Body armor might have stopped the bullets, but he's laying there in the snow."

"Fucking Bishop's out here, watch it." He warned me. I nodded, and moved back into the snow.

In Basic Training, AIT, and 2/19th they took teenagers and broke them down before building them to survive the Cold War. We were taught to use mines, fight and win on the chemical battlefield, and Vietnam had only been a decade behind us all so the people who trained us had learned their lessons in the jungle. We learned to use every advantage, trained constantly. Qualifying at the leadership development course, training in urban combat, training for desert combat, and in 2/19th, trained to fight in the cold and the snow.

I moved slow, on my belly, slowly moving forward, looking to the side of where I wanted to go as I inched through the snow with my Gerber in my fist.

Human beings are amazing. People forget that we're the apex predator, without claws, without fangs, and we were the top of the food chain. We can feel when someone is watching us, sensing the intent of another predator, and get some kind of warning when we're in danger. If you want to sneak up on a human, you don't look directly at them, you stay out of their peripheral vision, you don't move fast, and you don't move steady. You move slow, stop, move slow again, stop, and keep your mind blank. You don't want to think about them, for some reason it seems to warn your target, like there is a connection on a subconscious level.

One was down on one knee, talking to the wounded guy, who was holding his face and rocking back and forth. The other was staring out into the snow, nervously fingering his weapon as I moved slowly toward them.

"He wasn't human, Rogers, I'm telling you..." the guy rocking back and forth mumbled from between his hands. "He wasn't human."

"He's fucking dead, man, I killed him." The guy kneeling down said.

Taking them alive would be harder than just hanging back and shooting at them with my pistol. Hell, I was down to about ten feet from them, I'd have no problem nailing them with the pistol, but I didn't know which ones I wanted alive. I needed to know a few things, and I wasn't sure which one I needed.

Be just my luck to shoot the one I needed to talk to in the face.

I got into a crouch beside the sandbags we hadn't used and gauged the distance. Ten feet, at the most, with the third guy walking back to stand next to the others. He turned around and faced out into the snow.

"I think something's out there." He told them.

"There's nothing out there." The one kneeling down answered, standing up.

"I got a bad feeling about this." the first one said, walking toward where I was crouched down.

hello, sweetums

"You always say that." The guy said, moving over next to the wounded guy and leaning against the sandbags.

"It feels different this..." he started, still looking away.

I came up from behind the sandbags, taking two steps and slamming the knife into his stomach before shouldering him off. He was screaming as he went back, dropping his weapon, his hands going to his gut, as I kept moving forward. The one sitting down still had his hands over his face, but the one who had just sat down came up, his hands going to his weapon.

too late

He brought his hand up but I wasn't going after him. Instead I kicked the injured guy in the face, watching the other guy tumble backwards over the sandbags. The guy with the ravaged face fell to the side, his hands falling away.

Bishop/Tandy had torn off one ear, ripped off his upper lip, gouged deep slices into his face, and ripped out an eye, tearing away the eyelid with it. He was missing his left nostril, same side as the eye, and I made it worse by kicking him right in the chin, broken teeth bubbling out of his mouth.

I didn't care, hurtling over the sandbags to land next to him, stomping on his upper arm when he tried to raise the submachine gun, then kneeling down to drive the knife into his chest, high on the right side, pulling it out and driving it in again lower down.

I let them scream as I walked over to where Donaldson was laying in the snow.

When I knelt down I saw his breath steam out and knew he was still alive. I patted down his chest gently, looking for any stickiness, feeling for nearly coagulated blood. He groaned when I pushed slightly, his eyelids fluttering.

"Fuck." he coughed. "Bastards shot me."

"Just lay there." I told him, undoing his LBE and pulling open his Kevlar vest. No holes in his BDU top. I pressed lightly on his chest and he groaned again.

"Oh shit, that fucking hurts." He groaned.

His ribcage wasn't shifting, and when I pulled up his shirts I didn't see any discoloration aside from two bruises on his chest, so I was pretty sure he wasn't bleeding internally.

"Get up." I told him, "You'll be fine, you pussy." I held out my hand, standing up, and Donaldson grabbed it. I heaved him up, and he groaned again.

"Christ, my chest hurts." He said.

"Follow me." I told him. We walked by the three men. All three of them were laying there, two of them screaming, the third unconscious. I led him to where Kincaid was staggering toward us.

"I'm going to send you two up the tunnel while I talk to my new friends." I told them.

"Fuck that, asshole shot me." Donaldson said. "thought I was you."

"Yeah, lots of people don't like me." I chuckled.

"We separate and your old CO will rip our guts out." Kincaid said.

"You hear that stupid shit they were spouting?" Donaldson said, stopping to cough. "First Special Forces out of Dix? They shut Dix down like two years ago, and First SF is out of Lewis." He coughed again while I nodded. "And that stupid fucker didn't even know what chocolate chips were."

"Well, I'm going to find out what they do know." I told them. "You two don't want to be here when I start asking questions."

"Fuck that." Kincaid's voice was muffled. "I don't care if you break their goddamn fingers, when you're done, I'm fucking burning them down." He snapped the igniter.

"And if I tell you not to?" I asked, pausing. Beside us Donaldson hacked for a moment before catching up.

"Sergeant, we're not getting out of this." Kincaid answered. "Say what you want, but we're dying in here, and I'll be goddamn if I sit on my ass while these assholes kill people I've worked with and eventually kill me." He popped the igniter twice more. "There ain't no going back, and whatever you do is going to splatter me. I might as well know what's going to happen."

"It's going to be ugly." I told them. Donaldson nodded. Kincaid just laughed.

I reached down, grabbing the phony ass LBE of the guy laying on the ground and dragging him, ignoring his screams, dragging him over the sandbags and into the semi-circle. I made a motion and Donaldson drug the other guy over the sandbags, dumping him on the ground.

"My fucking chest hurts like a motherfucker." Kincaid said, squatting down so the sandbags took the weight of the tanks off his chest and shoulders.

"Shut up, pussy." Donaldson grinned. "Fucker shot me twice." He coughed again. "Goddamn, hurts all the way through to my back."

I glanced at him, filing the information away. I'd need to check him within an hour or so, but right now I had other things to take care of.

My boys were tough.

I knelt down next to the one I'd stabbed in the stomach, holding up the knife and showing it to him. The matte-black steel was clean, just blood on my hand, and I made sure it had his attention.

"Well, that didn't work out so well for you, did it?" I asked him, smiling for him.

"You fucking bastard." He groaned, holding onto his stomach. "You can't do this."

"Why do you always say that?" I asked, shaking my head.

"Dunno, Sergeant." Kincaid said, snapping the igniter again.

"You don't know who you're fucking with, you little bastard." He said again, trying to sit up.

"Kick him down, Dee." I said. Donaldson kicked him in the face, knocking him backwards.

"Now, before you start crying about National Security and telling me I can't do this, we're just going to skip all that and get right to Ms. Pointy Thing." I told him. "Dee, K-Bar, go watch the other two."

Both men nodded, moving through the snow. I smiled at the guy laying in front of me, one hand on his belly, the other holding his mouth. Blood was running over both sets of fingers, and he glared at me in hot hatred as I held up the knife again.

"I'm going to ask you questions." I told him. "You'll answer. If I think you're lying, then Ms. Pointy Thing is going to ask you a question. Do you understand?"

"You wouldn't fucking dare, the Geneva..." He started.

Without even bothering to answer to drove the knife into his side, under his belly button this time, and rocked it back and forth, letting him scream.

"Doesn't cover CIA douchebags." I told him. I grinned. "Hell, why do you guys seem to think that I wouldn't dare do anything to you. Didn't you read my file?" he was still screaming. "I figured you guys would at least pay attention to the shit I've done, or do you just sit in your offices jerking off to the thought that it's still Vietnam and you can do what you want?" His screaming was winding down. "You CIA tough guys always forget that sooner or later you run into someone meaner than you." I smiled at him, pulling his hand away from his stomach and holding his forearm between my knees while I pried his fingers open. "You always think that nobody can touch you."

"You're in a shitload of trouble, you little punk." he snarled. "You really think that Fellman's going to let you walk out of here?"

I smiled, letting go of his hand and reaching into my pocket to pull out an ID folder. I opened it up, held it up where he could see it, then dropped it. "You mean this Agent Fellman? Yeah, about that, see, he looked a little different from that picture by the time I was done with him."

I grabbed his wrist and pushed my knife between his fingers, tightening my knees as I pushed the blade through his hand. "And I'm the one who asks the questions."

It got real ugly, real fast.

* * * * *

We were silent as we walked down the hallway, heading for the stairs. Kincaid was in front of us, tromping down the corridor in the armored J-Suit. Donaldson had one arm thrown over my shoulders, wheezing heavily as we half-dragged him to the medical point that I'd worked on Natchez's arm. There was ice on the walls and ceiling, most of the lights were out, and there was a light dusting of snow on the ice.

"Come on, brother, you can make it." I told Donaldson when he sagged against me.

"What's wrong with him?" Kincaid asked.

"Collapsed lung, I think." I told them, putting my arm across Donaldson's back to grab his LBE and hoist him up slightly.

"Goddamn bastard shot me." Donaldson groaned. "I'm gonna rip his goddamn eyes out when we catch him."

"Almost there." Kincaid said. "How come he's worse than I am?"

"Shot was from closer, and the guy put two bullets within an inch or two of each other." I said. "How much do you weight?"

"One seventy five." Kincaid answered.

"How tall?"

"Five ten, why?"

"Because you're heavier than Donaldson." I told him. "More meat to absorb the kinetic energy."

"Six foot, one forty-five." Donaldson gasped. "I'm fucked, right?"

"Not if I can get you to the medical center in time." I told him.

"How long do I have?" Donaldson said, trying to bend forward to cough. I kept him from folding over.

"A couple hours, I hope." I was honest with him.

"Your Nancy know how to handle a collapsed lung?" Donaldson asked.

"Yeah." Kincaid and I both answered at the same time. I looked at him and he shrugged. "I figured she'd know how to. I mean, come on, she knew what to do with Natchez." I nodded, and went back to dragging Donaldson.

A few minutes of silent struggle and I could see the door of the treatment area. A few more minutes and I pulled inside, laying him down on one of the cold gurneys. We ignored the bodies, the blood spatters, the scorch marks from Kincaid's flamethrower, and I pulled him onto the gurney as soon as I could. Normally you'd pull a sterilized cover onto it, but I didn't have time.

"We're in trouble again, aren't we?" Kincaid asked, taking off the flamethrower tank and letting it sit on one of the gurneys.

"Been in worse." I told him, starting to take off Donaldson's gear.

"Shit, I don't even get dinner and a kiss." Donaldson said, laughing and then gasping. His skin was looking bluish, his lips tinged bad.

"I'll give you a reach around." I told him, pulling open his BDU top before slicing up his T-shirt with my knife. The cloth parted with a whisper.

"Goddamn that thing's hot." Kincaid said, stepping out of his suit and picking up my rifle. "You suck with this, I shot expert."

"Whatever." I told him, looking at Donaldson's chest. It was one big bruise on the right side, but his belly wasn't distended. The large veins in his neck were prominent, and he was breathing rapidly despite having bad color.

"Kincaid, get his clothing off." I said, moving over to the cabinet. I looked at the lock for second, then held out my hand. Kincaid handed me the rifle and I hammered on it with the buttplate until the lock hasp broke off. I handed back the rifle and pulled it open. I grabbed a metal spoon-looking thing, a stethoscope, and a big ass syringe along with some needles that were next to it. I set the stuff down, then stripped the plastic off the syringe and the needles, screwing the needle onto the syringe.

Kincaid had his hands on Donaldson's shoulders, looking down at the other man. "Sergeant's got you, man. I'm here, brother."

"Can't. Breathe." Donaldson choked out.

I moved up quick. Nancy was standing behind Kincaid.

"Tell me what to do." I said, looking at her. Kincaid opened his mouth to say something when Nancy spoke.

"You're going to have to put the stethoscope against his chest, then thump on his chest with your fingers. Listen for it to sound hollow." She said.

Kincaid looked around him, frowning. "She telling you what to do?"

"Tell him to go fucking shower, he smells like a damn puma." She bitched.

"Go shower, be quick, K-Bar." I told him. The nickname fit easily. He nodded and let go of Donaldson, moving toward the emergency decon shower. "Then what?"

"You remembered the syringe, that's good. We could use the valve in the aid bag, but this is more permanent." Nancy told me. She was naked from the waist up, her breasts smeared with blood and her arms soaked up to the elbows with it. The blood was smeared and pale on her face, the flesh over her cheekbones peeling, the tip of her nose bluish black, and the outside of her ears was the some color.

scars of 2/19th

"Start at the bottom of his ribcage, work your way up to his collarbone." I nodded, pulling on the stethoscope. "Luckily all you have to do is stab him with the needle, and that's one thing you've always been good at."

"Bite me, big titties." I smiled, then put the pad on Dee's chest and thumped below it with two fingers.

It sounded fine.

Kincaid finished his shower by the time I'd found the spot. It was the size of my palm and sounded like knocking on a watermelon through the stethoscope. I looked at Kincaid, who was standing at Donaldson's head, a towel wrapped around his waist, smoothing the other man's brow.

"Hold him down." I said to Kincaid, who nodded.

Kincaid hadn't flinched when I was asking 'pointed' questions, but now he looked nervous and afraid as I lifted up the syringe and pushed in the plunger all the way.

"This is going to hurt a lot, Donaldson." I told him.

And began pushing the large gauge needle into his chest, between his ribs.


Chapter 40

Site Kilo-29
Winter-1993
Day Three-Night
Event Locker Medical


"How you feeling, Dee?" Kincaid asked.

"Chest hurts, but I can fucking breathe." Donaldson said, sitting up. He rubbed the little dot of blood from where I'd shoved the needle into his chest and withdrew the air and a little bit of bloody foam.

"Tell me if it starts to get worse, I'll use the valve on you." I told him. I slid my fingers over the top of my glasses and squeezed between my eyes.

"What valve?"

Using two fingers I tapped the right side of my chest. "Same one Nancy used on me during Desert Storm."

"She saved my life." Donaldson chuckled. "I can't even thank her."

Nancy looked up from where she was sitting on top of a gurney, filing her fingernails into points. "He can just be my cute little red bottomed slave for the weekend." She grinned. She fuzzed for a second, then snapped back into focus, going from being dressed in woodland BDU's to desert BDU's, the chocolate chips covered in blood from where she'd saved my life, saved Bomber, saved everyone who'd survived.

I laughed, but all either one of them did was glance over to where I was looking. Kincaid frowned and shook his head.

Nancy went back to filing her nails, and Bomber leaned next to her, dressed in chocolate chips and holding onto a beat up M-16A1, his desert boonie hat pulled low over his eyes. Taggart was sitting on the floor, eating an MRE with a half-finished cigarette in her hand.

"Shads and the others are still out there." Kincaid said, still dressed in only his towel. "We gotta keep them from getting killed."

"Can we take them?" Kincaid asked. I nodded.

"You heard them, they brought a twelve man team, we've already killed three." I'd wanted to leave them there, paralyzed, but Kincaid had stepped forward without saying anything or asking and burnt them down to greasy ashes. I wanted to use them to keep Tandy busy, but Kincaid's idea had merit too, since it kept Tandy from using their bodies.

My head throbbed, and I almost threw up when my stomach twisted. I had a cold shiver run down my back and my figertips went numb.

Both men nodded. Donaldson pulled on his T-shirt, putting the sliced side down his back, then gingerly began pulling on his BDU top.

"That leaves them with nine." I continued. "Shads is claiming to be you, so when the Major's crew challenges him, they'll know that something is going on, since you two don't sound alike."

"Plus he's a Mexican." Kincaid tossed in.

"Yeah, he doesn't look nothing like corn-fed over here." Bomber laughed. I nodded and lit a cigarette, taking a drag before Donaldson reached out and took it from me, sloppily inhaling. When he went to hand it back the butt was wet and I waved it away.

"Keep it." I lit another, Kincaid took that one, so I lit a third and continued. "That's if Shads leads them straight back. He's probably leading them around in circles, moving up floor by floor, and if he goes off of where we've been, they'll get lost pretty fucking quick."

"So how are we going to find them?" Donaldson and Bomber asked at the same time. Donaldson went double on me, but Bomber stayed in focus. I squeezed my eyes shut, then looked at him again. Both of them were in focus. "I mean, we gotta find 'em before you stab the shit out of them."

I grinned at that, holding up my notebook. "That part's easy." All five of them looked at me like I'd suddenly gone stupid. "We go up to military control, and I check the door entry logs."

"Yeah, but the doors don't need keycodes right now." Donaldson said, clicking together his belt and taking another sloppy drag off the cigarette. "Oh, man, never thought feeling lightheaded would be so nice."

"I should leave you two here." I told them.

"I'll bust your fucking knee." Kincaid growled. I chuckled.

"Not leaving me behind." Donaldson said, pulling at the bottom of his Kevlar vest to seat everything right. "I'm still up."

"You guys are injured." At that, all five of them laughed. Bomber had the upper right of his uniform cut away, his chest bandaged from where two bullets had gone through his chest and shattering his shoulderblade. Nancy's arm was bandaged from where shrapnel had mangled her forearm and broken her bideps. Taggart had a bandage on her left leg, another over her lower left abdomen, and a third on the side of her face. They were all dressed in first run chocolate chips, everyone but Taggart with a battered M-16, Taggart holding tight to the M-60 she'd ran until it had fallen apart.

They were all flickering, going from black and white to color and back, with streaks of static shooting across them.

"Sergeant, with all due respect, you've taken a crossbow bolt in the arm, you've dislocated your shoulder at least twice, and that mined your ass out." Donaldson said, picking up his rifle, wincing slightly. "We're just as good as you are."

For a moment I wanted to argue, tell them that they hadn't been part of 2/19th, hadn't been with me all the times the metal met the meat and it was down to sweat, blood, and bad breath.

"We all started unblooded, Fifty, even you." Heather's voice whispered in my ear. "We're not with you this time, they are, and they haven't let you down."

"You have a point about the doors." I told them, "Except Shads was quick on his feet. He told them they'll need the codes to get through the doors, which means he isn't about to tell them that they can just throw the locking bars to open the doors. He's making them punch in codes, slowing them down, probably taking them on a roundabout route. They'll make him punch in Donaldson's codes, so we've only gotta track one code."

A small rabbit ran across the room, skittering across the tile and vanishing into the vent, moving through the vent cover like it wasn't there.

I ignored it.

Kincaid stood there for a moment, taking a long drag off his cigarette. "Shit, I quit smoking in Basic." He caught my eye. "What's the story between you and Shads?"

"Someone ran his mouth when they should have shut the fuck up." I told him. "It's the past, and it's going to stay in the past."

"Clear, Sergeant." Kincaid said, taking a drag and closing his eyes. "Goddamn, this is good."

"So we head up to military control, track where they're going by what doors have been accessed, get ahead of them, and then what? Theirs nine of them."

"We fucking kill them, that's what." Kincaid put in. "They're goddamn scumbags. I don't give a shit who they work for, they came here to kill us, laughed about shooting you, and we all know what kind of skeezy bitch Agent Killain was." He looked at me, suddenly grinning, "I so hope you at least blew a load on her face once or twice."

Nancy looked up, her face interested. She liked to hear what I'd done with other women, and more than once had watched me, barely waiting till I was done to throw the other woman out and leap on me like a starving animal.

She kept flickering from dressed to naked, injured to uninjured, and twice flickered to the way she'd looked when Bomber and I had worked on her furiously while she'd mumbled instructions in between bouts of screaming the winter when...

when...

...nothing happened.

I locked my eyes on Kincaid. "Shoving it up her ass count?" I grinned back. The other two men laughed and I laughed with them.

"What's your old squad like?" Donaldson asked me, standing up. Kincaid went over and put his feet in the J-Suit, still smoking his cigarette. For a second the Africa crew stood there, armored J-Suits, flamethrowers, with Kincaid grinning at me, then it all flickered and went away.

"I ran a big crew, between eight and fifteen at any given time." I told them, giving Kincaid time to finish his cigarette. "Pulling eight, twelve, twenty hour days. During the Storm we got assigned to run ammo to units, resupply ones that didn't merit a full tractor trailer, ones that needed combat reloads."

"I wanna hear about Nancy, she's the one who saved us." Kincaid said, grinning. "She got nice tits?" behind him, Nancy bounced her tits, covered with blood from where blood had run off her gashed open face, her nipples peeling from too close of an encounter with frostbite. One breast had a deep puncture wound that oozed blood.

"Big ol' titties." I answered, watching her lick the blood off of her own nipples. "She's mean as a rattler with a sore tooth though. She doesn't believe in monogamy, she likes women too, and will get you to do the most outrageous shit."

"Like what?" Donaldson asked.

"She dared me to jump off a tenth story balcony and into a swimming pool." I grinned.

"Didja do it?" Kincaid took another long drag.

"Fuck yeah I did." I said, both of the other men laughed. Kincaid leaned down and put his cigarette out before straightening up and starting to pull on the suit. "Let's head out."

"Want your 16 back?" Kincaid asked.

"No, I suck with it. I got my metal." I told him, walking over and throwing the bar to let us deeper into the medical section.

"So you had Nancy, who else?" Donaldson asked as we walked down the hallway.

"Sergeant Bomber, my room-mate, Corporal Jackson, Corporal Lewis, Specialist Taggart, a bunch of people who came and went, but those five were with me the longest." I told them. "Sometimes I got people on loan from other crews, usually my older brother's crew."

"Wait, you and your brother were in the same unit?" Donaldson asked.

"Yeah, we got there a day apart. He was held over after AIT for a day because they only sent orders for me, he's in the Cav now, over at Fort Hood." I told them. "I'm just in whatever unit I'm attached to in between shit jobs."

We went passed the nuclear medicine section, walking slow.

"We haven't seen each other in awhile, though. My wife introduced him to his wife, we got in an argument a few months back and haven't talked." I told him.

...you gotta stop doing this, Ant, what the fuck are you trying to prove?...

...nothing, man, but someone gotta do this shit...

...you've got a wife and kid now, Fifty, you gotta think about them...

...so did those people in fucking Africa, who else is gonna do it? You? You fucking quit, remember...

...this is about her, isn't it? You've never forgiven yourself for...

...you finish that sentence, I'll break your fucking jaw...


Blood spattered across the walls suddenly, screaming echoed down the hallway, along with shouting and laughter. My vision doubled, and my stomach suddenly hurt badly. The doorway at the end of the hallway shattered, the shockwave heading toward me, and I brought my right arm up, turning my face away as the blast reached me.

"Sergeant!" Bomber was shaking me, and I looked at him, his face smeared with blood and bruised from where I'd slammed into him, knocking him down when the doors to Titty Territory had slammed into me, the blast wave picking me up and slamming me into him before skidding down the hallway, rag-doll, my vision going as I slid and the edge of the door hit me in the face, bouncing away, feeling something pop in face and the back of my head, feeling my body go numb...

no

wait

Donaldson's face snapped into focus. He was crouched down, next to me, shaking my bad shoulder. The pain rocketed out of my shoulder and into my head for a second. Donaldson vanished, replaced by Jackson, who was wearing his woodland BDU's and shaking his head.

"He's burning up, Nagle. He's really fucked up." Jackson said, looking over his shoulder.

"I'm OK." I told him, but he vanished to be replaced by Donaldson.

"No, you aren't, Sergeant." Donaldson told me, still crouched down. He lifted up my eyepatch and shined his flashlight in my eyes. "Your bad eye, the pupil isn't even moving, and you've got blood under it. It looks like you're tearing up, but it's blood. Sergeant, something's serious wrong."

"It'll pass." I told him, starting to push myself up. Donaldson put his hand on my shoulder and held me down. "That happens all the time to that eye, that's why I wear the patch, Jackson, so it doesn't run down my face."

"Sergeant?" He asked me. There were all kinds of questions in that one word.

"I think you're hurt bad, Sergeant." Donaldson said. He tilted my head and looked at my ears. "The side of your head is all bruised up, and you've got blood inside your ear, I think, or maybe just snowmelt through the blood, it's pink."

Nancy's head lifted up from where she was working on John, trying to patch him up well enough to survive the battle. She opened her mouth, frowning, but then went back to John when he screamed, a bubbling sound as his punctured lung bled into his mouth.

...pink...

why was that important?

"I'll be fine." I told him, pushing his hand away and standing up. "Been hurt worse and survived to carry out the mission."

I saw Kincaid shoot me a strange look but he held his tongue. The room tilted, and I swayed for a second. The blood vanished from the hallway when I blinked a few times. I started walking forward, shaking my head.

We walked quietly to the elevator, Kincaid thumping along behind me. I stood there, watching the gap in the wall for a long time. It kept doubling and tripling in my vision, and the two times I saw Nancy standing in front of me she was blurred, hazy, indistinct.

"We're going to have to go up fast and hard, blow through the creatures up there. Kincaid, you're in the lead." I said, leaning out and putting my hand on the wall to steady me. "Don't fire that thing off if you can help it, you'll fucking cook us in there, and we'll be below you, you'll fucking roast us."

"You take the lead, Sergeant." Kincaid said. He sounded out of breath. "Do I have to wear the suit?"

"You might get chemical exposure, and it'll protect you." I told him.

"I'm fucking exhausted, Sergeant." Kincaid said, sagging. "I'm sorry, Sergeant, but I'm fucking done."

"The boy's almost done, Ant. He's not trained for this, and that fucking fuel pack has got to be killing him." Bomber told me. He was leaning against the wall, holding his side, and threw up steaming bile into the snow on the ground.

"He's not ChemCorps, Ant. I told you that you'd have to do this, for him at least." Nancy said, looking up with red eyes from weeping.

Another rabbit scooted down the hallway, shooting by us and vanishing in the darkness.

Kincaid stared at the darkened doorway for a long moment, then sighed and rolled his shoulders to shift the suit to a more comfortable position. "I can do the stairs again, but I don't know if I'll be worth a shit afterwards."

"You know what you've got to do, Ant." Bomber said, coming up next to me. "Just like the ground war, baby."

I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose again. I reached into my pocket, where I'd shoved a bunch of pill bottles and a few pre-loaded stickers into it. It took four tries to get the right bottle, little white pills inside.

"Look, this isn't something I want to do, it really isn't." I said. I rattled the pill bottle. "Help Kincaid get the hood off." I turned to Bomber. "Bomber, come here, help me for a second."

Bomber laughed at me, and shook his head. "Ant..."

"Sergeant, he's not here." Kincaid said. "It's just me and Dee."

"Sorry, sorry." I said, and rattled three of the pills into my hand. I carefully put the bottle back together and shoved the bottle into my pocket, pulling out another bottle. I rattled two big white pills, carefully capped it, shoved it back in, then pulled out a bottle and rattled three green gel-capsules into my hand before putting the bottle back.

"Got it, Sergeant." Donaldson said. I looked over, to see that Kincaid's hood was thrown back, revealing his sweat covered face. I looked at the pills in my hand, knowing what I was about to do was dangerous as shit.

"Take one of each, the big one's a pain killer." I told them. When they stepped forward, Kincaid's hood whispering, I shook my head. "I hope you don't have any heart problems."

"Not me, Sergeant, my fucking heart's made of iron." Kincaid said, picking one of each pill out of my hand.

"I'm fine." Donaldson said. "Cross country runner in High School, lettered varsity."

"So no heart murmurs?" I asked, looking at the left over pills in my hand. Both men told me no, and I threw the pills into my mouth, swallowing them dry, then started pulling out my meds and taking them one at a time while the other two watched.

"Uhh, Sergeant, isn't that going to put you to sleep?" Donaldson asked.

I snickered, swallowing the last one. "Not after the other pills."

"What were they?" Kincaid asked, handing Donaldson back his canteen.

"The big white one is morphine." I told them. They both stared at me. "Yeah, well, we don't have a choice. You guys need painkillers. The green one is an antibiotic, experimental back in the early 80's, but it stays stable at room temperature for years, so you don't have to worry about it going bad." I grimaced. "It's a shotgun, it's going to kill the bacteria in our guts too, so we're going to end up with the shits in about twelve hours."

"Fuck it, we'll probably have bigger problems." Donaldson said, swallowing his down.

"What happens if I shit in the suit?" Kincaid asked me.

"You're boots will be full of sweat and shit, that's it." I told him, starting to light cigarettes and pass them out.

"You ever shit in your suit?" He asked me, taking one and taking a deep drag off of it.

"I wore it for nine days once, what do you think?" I told him.

"Man, that must have smelled foul." Donaldson shook his head, taking the cigarette I offered. He coughed then groaned, putting his hand up to where I'd punctured his chest with the needle.

"Tight?" I asked. He shook his head and I looked at Kincaid. "I didn't even notice after awhile. But when we all took them off, it smelled like a fucking cesspool."

They all laughed, and I watched them. "We'll smoke these, then head up the stairwell, you oughta be feeling the meds by then."

"What about the little white one?" Kincaid asked.

"Amphetamine." I told them. Donaldson jerked. "It's all right if they're used in an emergency or when the mission dictates it."

"Have you ever taken them?" Donaldson asked, almost accusingly. "You fucked jacked us up on speed?"

"A few times. The ground war I stayed up over 100 hours, we all did." I told them, being honest. "Normally their handed out to the pilots and shit, some operator teams pack them just in case, and I've been handed them a couple of times. The Storm was the worst, they jacked us up bad, but there wasn't any choice, and we'd been up almost all day when the ground war kicked off. The war lasted like 90 hours, we were heading back after the war when..." I trailed off when Nancy shook her head and put her finger to her lips.

"A hundred hours, seriously?" Donaldson asked. Kincaid had let out a low whistle at the time.

"Yeah. Taking the speed and fear does a lot to keep a man awake." I told them. My stomach cramped briefly, but I inhaled deeply to keep from throwing up.

"Scary?" Kincaid asked.

"Yeah." I told them, taking a deep drag off my cigarette.

"Bad, Sergeant?" Donaldson asked. He put his hand against his stomach. "Fuck, stomach cramps normal?"

"Yeah, they happen." I told him. "Me and what was left of my crew were in the hospital for a long time afterwards." I pinched between my eyes again, and Bomber rezzed out for a second before snapping back into focus. "Bomber, Nagle, Taggart, Jackson and I were in ICU for awhile in Saudi Arabia before they shipped us back to the States."

"Ever go anywhere people didn't try to kill you?" Kincaid asked, but he smiled, which made it all right.

I laughed, feeling the fatigue start to wash away. My heartbeat started going up, making sharp pains shoot through my shoulder, into my chest, and down my right arm. "Not since after Basic Training."

"Who tried to kill you in AIT?" Donaldson asked. He rubbed his chest, over where I'd pulled the air out of his chest to reinflate his lung. "Fucking heart is hammering."

"Yeah, it'll pass." I told him. "Training tries to kill you, man. You end up working in a live chemical environment, you have to decon a vehicle, and then there's one of the final exercises where you work in a simulated mass-cal with live VX." I shook my head at the memory. "It felt like they were actually trying to fucking kill us."

"What kind of AIT is that? Christ." Kincaid said. He stood up and rolled his head, cracking his neck. "Starting to feel better now." I just shrugged, field stripping my cigarette by pinching the cherry off, rolling the excess tobacco out, and tucking it in my pocket.

"What's with that?" Donaldson asked me.

"Tobacco will vanish in a little bit, but cigarette butts stay there for months. Leave no trail if you don't have to."

"Christ, this is going to be a paranoid life, isn't it?" Kincaid asked, suddenly shuddering. "Wow."

"You gonna stick?" I asked him, waiting for Donaldson to finish his.

"I'm not going through all this shit just to go back to being a fucking mechanic." He told me. "Fuck that, Sergeant. I used to like working on cars and shit, now I fucking hate even seeing a goddamn socket-wrench, and I hate the way motorpools smell."

"How about you?" I asked Donaldson, trying to ignore the thumping pain in the back of my head. "You gonna go back to your old unit and keep being a combat engineer?"

He thought for a long moment, closing his eyes and shuddering. "No. You can't just walk away and go back to your old job after something like this. I can just see trying to explain to my CO why I'm all twitchy now."

Donaldson emulated what I'd done, while Kincaid took the last drag off of his and followed our example.

"Let's do this shit, help me button up, Dee." Kincaid said. Donaldson nodded and helped him put the hood back on and it took only a few seconds for the forced air to push the suit back taut.

"Lead the way, K-Bar." I grinned, waving at the dark hole in the wall.

"Fuck yeah." He replied, popping the igniter.

He sounded a lot better.

We headed into the stairwell, the smell of it hitting us immediately. One of the things that I'd fought up higher was laying on the heavy I-beam, its body broken and its eyes glittering in the light of the flashlights that Donaldson and I had turned on. Both of us had the flashlights hanging off our LBE's, the little loop that we hung shit off of that was on both shoulder straps. Donaldson had a field dressing on his, mine had both a field dressing and a compass on the the left side.

Our bootsteps thudded as we climbed the stairs, heading up. Kincaid kept popping the igniter, the pale blue of the flame reflecting off the strings of something shiny in the solid rock the shaft was bored through. The dim red pinlights were spaced every ten feet, there was a faint breeze coming from above that washed over my skin, a knife was on the second landing, a meat cleaver with a cord hanging from the end decorated with beads coiled on the metal diamond plate of the fourth landing, and a ton of other details I absorbed as we climbed up to where I'd cleared off the landing.

The landing where I'd fought with the creatures was completely barricades over. It felt like my nerves were singing, and I was very aware of my hearbeat on all my injuries. The nerve damage in my left arm was like wet slick fire around my elbow.

I kept seeing things in the darkness, things that didn't make sense. Faces pushing out of the rock, people who were dead, people who I'd left behind or had left me behind, glitter covering everyone, small fairies dancing on the railings. Snatches of old conversations were coming back to me, all disconnected, none of them with anything in common but the past.

At one point I drew my knife and stepped forward, the blade whispering as it cleared the sheathe, narrowing my eyes and bringing it up to bring it down between the third and fourth ribs, angled down.

The cop had my sister against the wall, her shirt pulled up, one hand wrapped around her neck and squeezing, the other up under her skirt. Her breasts were in the open, bite marks around the nipples, her upper thighs exposed, her panties down around his wrist. My sister's eyes were wide, terrified, and her face was purple. Her hands were handcuffed behind her back, her lipstick smeared, and she already had a black eye forming.

My brother was stepping forward, reaching out toward the cop to tear him away as he ducked down to clamp his mouth on my sister's nipple. He was going to pull him back, pull the cop back, who'd go for his gun, but we'd pound him down to the ground until his partner came running down the alley and put his pistol against the back of my head.

Not this time.

I raised the knife up, and stumbled over the step.

The memory vanished, and I was leaning against the railing, my hands empty, my knife still at my waist. Donaldson stopped on the stairs, almost a half dozen above me.

"Sergeant?" He asked.

I shook my head, ignoring the heave in my stomach. I waved him forward, pushing myself off the railing, the pounding in the back of my head making me sick, and started climbing behind him.

At the level where the panel had been popped and the opening barricaded I stumbled to the railing and retched, dry heaving a few times before a thin stream of bile spattered into the darkness. Donaldson had stopped and came back to rub my back while I kept dry heaving.

"The drugs?" Donaldson asked when I straightened up. I nodded, wiping my mouth, my hand coming away with blood across the back. "Your nose is bleeding." Donaldson added.

"Yeah, the drugs." I told him. "I'm OK."

Donaldson looked doubtful, but we hustled up to catch Kincaid.

The dark hallway we finally reached seemed like it took forever to materialize out of the darkness. We were still feeling good, Kincaid chuckling at something now and then.

"What is so fucking funny?" I asked him after we'd stepped into the hallway.

"Heh, Sergeant Fifty Foot Ant." He chuckled. "I figured it'd be like 'Stabby' or something. You never did tell us how you got that nickname."

"I told someone I'd stomp their ass like a fifty foot ant, and it stuck for some reason. It beats my old nickname." I told him, leaning against the wall and closing my eyes, letting my head drop down. Before they could even ask I kept talking. "I was staggering down the hallway one morning, still drunk from the night before, after like a five day bender, and one of the girls in Titty Territory started laughing. She said I looked like Gobo off of Fraggle Rock, and the nickname Fraggle stuck for almost six months."

Kincaid laughed, sharp and brittle, the laugh telling me that he was flying high on the amphetamines.

The temperature dropped significantly, our breath suddenly steaming in the cold. From the darkness came a sibilant hiss, no words to it, but the sound of it raised the hair on the back of my neck.

"We need to move." I said, shoving myself off the wall and almost falling. My vision dimmed, or the flashlights did, but the sparkles across my vision told me that it was probably my vision. "Now."

"Let's go." Donaldson said, pushing himself forward off the wall.

"Moving." Kincaid snapped, clumping forward and popping the igniter rapidly.

"Jesus, it's cold." Donaldson said, coughing and rubbing his chest. He glanced at me. "Just aching."

"Lucky you." Kincaid said, he was panting. "Fucking hotter than hell in this suit." He picked up the pace, breaking into a shuffling run. "If it's getting cold, we don't wanna hang out and make friends."

"It's like someone let the winter in here." Donaldson bitched, and I stared at him as we doubletimed it down the corridor.

"What the fuck did you just say?" I asked. Donaldson looked at me, and his face melted off, leaving behind a skull under his helmet with bright blue eyes still in the bloody sockets.

"Just that it feels like the winter got let in here, Sergeant." The skull said. "Why are you looking at me like that, Sergeant, what's wrong?"

"Nothing." I said, shaking my head. My helmet pressed against the back of my head and I stumbled, retching, and Donaldson reached out and grabbed my right arm, steadying me. I glanced at him, and he was alive again. "Just something we used to say in my old unit."

"When that asshole showed up and started killing you guys?" Kincaid asked, breathing heavily.

"About then, yeah." I said, picking up the pace slightly. "Save it, we need to keep moving."

This time there was a low chuckle that seemed to come from all around us as we turned a corner and moved past a dying red emergency light that was dimly pulsing. Frost was glittering in the light, the red of the lights gleamed on the frost, wavered, and were suddenly coated in blood. The back of my head throbbed and I almost threw up again. I blinked hard and the blood was gone, replaced with frost glittering in red light of the emergency light.

"This one." I said, stopping at a heavy blast door.

"How do you know?" Kincaid asked, leaning the wall so the tanks were against the wall. I could hear the fans whining tiredly and wondered if the cold was affecting the batteries.

"I just do." I said, pulling out my little green notebook from where it was hiding behind Agent Fellman and Agent Rogers' little ID folders. They weren't trophies, they were a weapon, and I planned on using them for a psychological advantage on the other agents when it came time for me and Ms. Pointy Thing to have a talk with any survivors.

I wanted the one who'd shot Donaldson in the chest. Agent Thomas. Rogers had been with Fellman and Thomas for over fifteen years, both men in their forties, and had been long time friends. I couldn't wait to see Agent Thomas' eyes when he saw the two little ID folds.

Right before I cut them out of his fucking head.

It only took a few seconds to leaf through my little notebook and pick the right code out of the list of codes I'd scrawled into the book. The door began thumping, the cylinders hidden behind the thick walls pressurizing to lift the door.

"Fifty, help me, Fifty." A voice came from the speakers above me and all of us looked up at the speaker. "Please, don't let them do this, you know what they'll do to me, me and the baby..." the voice pleaded.

The pistol came out smoothly, despite the pain, and I leveled it at the speaker while it was still pleading in a voice that I denied having ever existed. I stroked the trigger twice, reflexes overriding pain, the dimness in my vision, and the pounding headache.

Both bullets hit the speaker, and it kept speaking, the damage to the speaker causing it to buzz weirdly. "Please, Fifty, please. They promised to make it fast for you guys, not like what they're going to do to me." She was weeping.

I went down on my knees, curling over the pistol, retching as the impact of my knees hitting caused my helmet to bump on my head.

"Kill it, Kincaid." Donaldson said. "Quick."

Kincaid raised the flamethrower and hit the trigger, the bar shooting out and connecting the ejector to the speaker.

"Please, Fifty, you know you're just a waste, you said you always weren't worth a damn, you can save me, Fifty, you can save..." The buzzing sound died as the flames devoured it.

Bomber was kneeling down next to me, his hand warm on my cheek. "It never happened, brother, say it with me."

"It happened." I moaned, retching again.

"It never happened, Fifty, sweety, say it with me." Nancy said, her warm hand on the back of my neck.

"It happened." I said. The pistol was heavy in my hand as I lifted it up, pressing the hot barrel under my chin. The Fates suddenly swelled to a chorus in my head.

...murder... killer... butcher... failure...

"You stupid little fucker, it's all your fault. What happened to her, what's going on now, it's all you and your war mongering butchering friends. You deserve this, she deserved what happened to you just for lying with you like a little slut." My mother's voice.

The barrel pushed deep into the flesh and I gritted my plastic teeth. Her face was in front of my eyes, both before it all started and the way she... she...

"Fifty, honey, don't." Heather's voice. I could feel her warm hand around my wrist. "It never happened, say it with me."

"It happened."

"No, it didn't, say it with me." Heather's voice.

"Dee, Ant!" Kincaid yelled.

"I failed, I blew it, Heather." I mumbled, and I knew I was crying. "She needed me."

"Do it, you fucking murderer." Kebble's voice, echoing in the hallway.

"Who the hell is that?" Kincaid asked.

Someone else's hand wrapped around my wrist, engulfing Heather's, and whoever it was started pulling the pistol away from under my chin.

"Sergeant, stop! Sergeant!" Donaldson yelled. "What are you doing?"

"Do it, you fucking butcher." Oakes' voice.

"Who's there?" Kincaid yelled.

Someone grabbed my helmet, twisting my head, the pistol sliding out from under my jaw. The hand was pulling on my wrist, pulling the pistol away from my jaw, opposite of the way my head was being twisted.

"Do it, Ant, you goddamn failure." Agent Killain's voice. "You never were worth a shit. DO IT!" A cold hand wrapped around mine, a finger going over mine, pressing down on the trigger, my finger caught in between.

"Shut up, bitches!" Kincaid again.

I managed to pull the trigger.

The pistol went off with a roar, someone yelled, and the pistol was pulled out of my hand. My hearing vanished in a high pitched ringing noise and I fell to the side. My finger was still twitching, still trying to pull a trigger that wasn't there.

Someone heaved me to my feet, throwing my right arm over their shoulder and I screamed as they drug me through the door. I was kicking and screaming as the hands drug me by my LBE out of the hallway.

The door slammed behind us, a heavy steel door, with brown paint and a lever doorknob. I caught a glimpse of the tag on the door.

ROOM 221
OFF LIMITS BY
ORDER OF THE COMMANDER


The door slammed shut, revealing who had been hiding behind it.

He stood at least two inches taller than me, wide, heavy shoulders, his heavy frame hidden by the OD green parka he had on. He was wearing Mickey-Mouse boots, cold weather boots with valves on the side, trigger mittens, and the heavy duty insulated cold weather pants.

The axe in his hands read "2/19th Motorpool"

The cold weather mask on his face had the mouth cover ripped away, revealing blood slicked teeth.

One bloodshot eye was staring at me in hatred.

I started screaming, just staring, as someone I thought was dead and gone stood there, his shoulders heaving as he took a deep breath. He looked down at where Taggart was at his feet, crumpled on the polished tile floor, blood steadily spreading out from her head. Her eyes were staring at me.

help me she mouthed.

Whoever had a hold of my shoulders, that had drug me into the room, let go, and I scrambled back, kicking and still screaming, leaving a blood trail behind me as my bloody hands slipped on the tile and my boots kicked up sprays of snow. I ran into something, and tried to climb up it, still screaming.

"Run, Nancy, run!" I yelled, trying to get up and falling over, landing on my bad shoulder. "Leave me, get out!" I pushed myself up and fell again as the whole world tilted and swum around me. "Get Taggart out, Nancy, I'll try to hold him off!"

Someone grabbed me and I shoved at them, swinging blindly as snow swept over me, blinding me.

Something chuckled in the snow.

"What's wrong with him?" someone asked.

bomber?

"He's hallucinating." Another voice. "Psychotic episode, maybe."

jackson?

Hands reached into my thigh pocket, and someone, something, began pulling stuff out of my pocket. I tried to grab my knife, but someone grabbed my wrist, and when they let go of my wrist the sheathe was empty.

I looked up, and Julian stood in front of me, one arm raised to block the wind, facing to my right. He was staggering, exhausted, dressed in what cold weather gear we'd been able to salvage. His face was white, his lips bloodless, and the tip of his nose and ears were black.

Tandy materialized out of the snow, those long fingers wrapping around SPC Julian's head, digging in and tearing the flesh as he suddenly yanked Julian into the snow, both of them vanishing.

I started screaming again. "Run, goddamn it! Doubletime! Tandy's here!"

Something hit the back of my throat and I coughed, swallowing reflexively, and it felt like I was swallowing dimes. I coughed and choked, my eyes watering, and I looked back up.

Tandy took PFC Brooks right in front of me, his talons sinking into Brooks' throat, blood spraying out of the wound, whipped away by the wind.

"Run! Get them out, Bomber!" I screamed, trying to lunge up, my hand grabbing at my boot.

"There's nothing here, Sergeant, just us!" Someone yelled at the same time as I found the boot knife sheathe empty and a hand pressed hard against my chest, pushing me back down. "The doors open, Kay, help me."

Tandy's grabbed me, and I began kicking, trying to get loose, as he dragged me backwards, down the hallway of Titty Territory, toward Queer Country and the stairwell between them.

He was going to drag me to the basement, where he'd tear me to pieces and devour me alive.

"Christ, he shouldn't have taken that amphetamine with all those pills." Someone said. "No wonder he's tripping out."

"Just get him in here and close the door." the other voice said.

"You can't run, Ant, we'll get you eventually." Oakes laughed, her voice bubbling. "There's nowhere to run this time."

"I said shut up, bitch!" One of the voices yelled. "SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

"Open the door, Sam Kincaid, or we'll take you and bring you into the dark and cold." Kebble told him. "You can spend the winter with us."

"SHUT UP!" The same voice.

"Open the door, Brett Donaldson. He's worthless, not worth a shit. Not worth dying over. The other one is a coward, you saw it yourself, and he jerks off thinking about how it would feel to take you in the ass." Oakes laughed. "Open the door, Brett, let us in. If you don't, we'll drag you off to join us in the dark and cold."

"Who the fuck are they?" One of them asked.

"Fuck 'em, they show themselves, I'll burn their asses down too." The one who had been yelling at Oakes and Kebble to shut up.

I was still being dragged backwards, my boots thumping down the steps as Tandy dragged me down the steps and into the basement. The lights were dim, I could barely see, and sparks kept dancing in my vision.

But I could see well enough to see the figure with the axe, wearing the parka and the cold weather mask, step out from beside the doorway, swinging the axe with everything he had.

And burying it in Bomber's stomach.

Bomber folded around the axe, blood spraying his mouth and spattering the snow in front of him. He started to sag to the side and figure in the cold weather mask kicked him free. The head of the axe tore free in a spray of crimson, covered in blood.

"Bomber!" I screamed, kicking, trying to get free of Tandy.

The figure hefted the axe and took a step toward me.

"Bomber!" I yelled again.

Tandy dropped me on my back, and I tried to roll over, tried to move, but I was freezing in the cold. The knife buried in my shoulder felt like ice, and cold was spreading from where the guy in the cold weather mask had pinned me the tile floor. I tried to blink, but couldn't.

"Run, Nancy." I croaked.

I could hear her being dragged up the stairs while she screamed that I was alive, that they had to go back.

"Ant, I love you!" Nancy yelled down the steps.

"I love you, Nancy." I whispered.

"You're all right, Sergeant Ant, we've got you." The face appeared in my vision, at first looking like Julian, but Julian's face melted away, running down a different face like hot butter.

"Sergeant, we're in military operations, we're OK." The man said.

I suddenly recognized him.

"Donaldson." I said, reaching up. He grabbed my hand in his, squeezing.

"Come on, Sergeant, come back to us." Donaldson said. He looked worried, but nothing else. I could barely see him in the dim light.

"I'm lost." I admitted. "It's dark and cold, and the winter's been let in."

"It's all right, Sergeant, me and Kincaid have got you." Donaldson was saying. "I think you're having a psychotic episode from the speed. I gave you more meds."

"I'm afraid." I admitted. Another face came into my vision, and I squinted to try to bring it into focus.

"Here, your glasses came off." Kincaid said, reaching down. His face came into focus as he slid my glasses onto my face. "Your nose is bleeding."

"It's dark and cold in here, who let the winter into the barracks?" I asked.

"Open the door, Sam Kincaid, you can't beat us." Oakes' voice sounded bubbling.

"Shut up, bitch!" Kincaid yelled, looking up.

"Sergeant, you're in a place called Kilo-29, do you remember?" Donaldson asked.

"I am?" I asked. The other man nodded.

Memories were starting to come back. The door. How we were locked in. Agent Killian. The shootout in the same place we were in. Natchez losing his arm. That kid dying. Killing the four agents after interrogating them. Heading out to the Event Locker area to set up an ambush.

"Shads, the others?" I asked, trying to sit up.

"Don't get up, Sergeant, you're not in very good shape." Donaldson said, grabbing our clasped hands with his other. "We drug you the whole way through the command section, and you were screaming and babbling the whole time."

"We'll take you anyway, Brett, and you with him." Kebble said. "Then we'll take your baby sister."

"I said, shut up, whore!" Kincaid yelled back.

"Nine year old flesh tastes sweet." Oakes finished. "I love the taste of untouched pussy."

"How do they know about us? Who are they?" Donaldson asked.

"They're dead. They died in my old unit barracks." I told him. "They've been dead for years."

"Fucking hell." Kincaid said.

"Let me up, we need to move, I need to find out where Shads and the others are before they get to the Major and his men." I said. "I'm feeling a lot better."

"I don't know." Donaldson started.

"Get me on my feet, I'm not dead yet." I told him, and used his grip on my hand to pull myself into a sitting position. My stomach heaved but I gritted my plastic teeth and kept everything down.

"Are you sure?" Kincaid asked when Donaldson stood up, still holding onto my hand.

"We don't have a choice." Donaldson told the other man, and heaved me to my feet.

I probably made it look easy, but it took everything I had to stay on my feet. I was weak, dizzy, and my knees wanted to buckle.

"Dead bitches, your dead CO, and snowing inside a goddamn mountain." Kincaid said. His hood was flipped back, and he was leaning against one of the consoles, sweating heavily. "Your army all this fun?"

"Only when it's not either boring or worse." I told him, staggering to a console marked "Interior Operations" and dropped into the chair, slumping slightly.

"Gimme a square, Sergeant." Kincaid said. I dug in my pocket and lit one for myself before holding out the pack. Donaldson took it and I tapped on the space bar, willing the screen to come on.

It did, softly glowing.

"We're going to rip your guts open and leave you to die, Sam." Oakes threatened.

"Hey there, asshole. Bet you wished you hadn't shot at us, don't you." Kincaid said, ignoring Oakes' voice.

"Kay, what the hell are you doing?" Donaldson asked.

I was navigating system, trying to figure it out. It was a lot like the other live systems I'd seen, but a lot more expansive, covering a lot of shit the others didn't.

"Searching them." Kincaid answered. "Maybe Sergeant Ant missed something that might help us." He paused. "I won't bother with you, bitch, I've already seen you flashing everything you have to offer."

"Just hurry." Donaldson told him.

"You know you want to, Sam." Agent Killain's voice whispered through the dimly lit egg, the same tone of voice she had when her ass had been grinding against my hips and I'd been buried inside of her. "Open my top, touch my breasts, Sam, you know you want to. My pussy's still wet, slide you hand down my pants and finger me, Sam, you know you want to."

"Shut the fuck up." Kincaid said softly.

"Open the door, and I'll be yours, Sam." Killain continued. "We'll have forever to explore each other. Look at my body. Think of your hands on my breasts, your mouth on my pussy, your cock in my ass. Such pleasures I can show you."

"Let's see what you're hiding, you toothpick chewing fuck." Kincaid said, and I heard his knees pop as he knelt down.

I found door code logs, hoping that the doors we separated by level, or at least section.

"Samuel, remember that drunk girl in AIT who popped your cherry?" Oakes voice was soft, sultry. "We can show you more than she ever dreamed. More t