* * *
Ashlee leaned against the carcass of a burned out bus, gasping short shallow breaths. She knew her lack of planning would cause her difficulties, just not this much. She had already left behind her Colt AR-15, where she downed the General. Even with the extra magazines, she quickly ran out of ammunition. Even her beloved Glock, a gift from her deceased wife, was useless without ammunition. Currently, it was safe in its holster. It cried out to be used, but those cries were those of an old toothless junkyard dog. She had depleted her entire supply of ‘teeth’ getting this far.
After unexpectedly eliminating her first target, she tried to flee, but found herself trapped in the compound. She was beseeched on all sides by soldiers infected, but not currently in the throws of madness the virus bought. Nonetheless, these “men” were a force to be reckoned with, even without the General’s leadership. She had finally escaped the compound, but still she fled from he General’s conscripts. They were few now, but it only took one to end her mission.
As she gathered her composure, she recalled the disaster that led her to be a mercenary, hunting not the afflicted, but non-symptomatic people just like her.
It was fifteen years ago. A pharmaceutical conglomerate wanted to market an untested weight loss drug. The Food and Drug Administration was staffed by corrupt, greedy opportunists. They pushed through the drug based on what they called “endowment funds.” It was a bribe – plain and simple. The amount had to be obscene based on the rapid deployment of the drug. It was marketed aggressively and the side effects weren’t discovered until it was too late.
Haunting her, the images of planes plunging into the ocean broadcast by the national news caused a shudder.
Angry noises from her pursuers that remained focused her attention. She had trained to overcome her fight or flight response, but being chased by so many of the afflicted tested her resolve and the limits of that training.
Why do they persist? The General is dead!
She almost wished the virus was active in these soldiers. When they were mindless eating machines they were easier to deal with. Right now, they chased her with a zealotry usually reserved for the paparazzi of old.
She heard noise over her shoulder and the training kicked in before she was aware something was amiss. When she yanked her blade from the throat of the soldier, she shoved the body down and sprinted away. Her bloodied blade casting spatter on her arm and jacket.
* * *
“Ashlee! What’s going on?”
“I don’t have time for you right now, Quentin. I’m kinda busy.”
“I gathered as much. I’m away from the mic for only a few minutes, and all hell breaks loose. What happened to waiting until first light?”
“I saw an opportunity and I took it.”
“Well, look where your opportunity has gotten you.” He heaped as much sarcasm on the word as he could, while still maintaining protocol.
“You gonna blather in my ear all night, or are you actually gonna help me?”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
Ashlee couldn’t help but smile. Quentin had a nervous tick. When he was excited, he spoke in triplicate. Before the collapse, she and their friends invested so much time into manipulating him into triggering his tick. All their friends were gone now…
She and Quentin were off base at a clandestine rendezvous when a plane, attempting to return to the United States crashed, destroying the Navy base to which they were assigned.
She tripped over something, faltered, but caught her balance. A loud squawk escaped her lips. Before she clamped her free hand over her mouth.
“What the hell’re you doing, doing, doing?”
Her focus had lapsed while she thought about the past.
“I’m sorry, cue ball. My mind wandered for a minute.”
Quentin snorted before he replied, “If you keep it up, you’ll wander into a ravine.”
“I’ve had no contact with hostile targets for a bit. What’s the sit?”
Quentin groaned at the obvious pun. “You’re running for your life and you still got time for jokes?”
“Well I ain’t gonna die laughing, if that’s your concern.”
“If you hadn’t jumped the gun, we would have satellite imagery to assist.”
“Estimated acquisition time?”
After a brief pause, “Asset Sierra two twenty-four on grid sixteen foxtrot in seven three niner.”
“God, you’re such a spaz! Why can’t you just tell me the satellite will be available in seven minutes and thirty-nine seconds?”
“Twenty-one seconds, now.” He corrected her.
“I see a boulder with defensible space and clear sight lines. I’m gonna hunker down there until we have eyes in the sky.”
“Acknowledged. Radio silence until imagery acquisition.”
She reached up and pressed a button on her earpiece seven times. The earpiece clicked seven times, starting a seven minute countdown.
Quentin will guide me out of this.
She sat with her back to the boulder. Knees drawn to her chest. She hugged her legs and felt a shiver envelope her as the sun was setting behind her. Her useless Glock pressed against the small of her back. She couldn’t bring herself to leave behind such a sentimental tool. Once reloaded, it would transform from dead weight into the killing instrument she was so comfortable with. The satellite would have limited usefulness as the light faded, but the intel it provided would be invaluable. Although she was trapped in enemy territory, armed with only her training and the KA-BAR owned by her grandfather during World War Two, deep within, she knew she would survive this mission.
After all, she still had two more targets to eliminate.