Gunnery Sergeant Marianne Beaubien, USMCDay: E-Day +3
Time: 1330 hrs EST / 1830 hrs GMT
Location: Bishop International Airport, Flint, MI
"Gunny!" Corporal Frias looked up at Marie as she came through the hatch connecting the main cargo area with the flight deck. He was wrapped in a blanket, his big arms surrounding one of the survivors they had recovered the day before. Frias smiled easily, his eyes bright with hope. His companion glanced once towards Marie and then quickly turned deeper into the blankets, hiding her face from them. She gave a shiver, perhaps to indicate some chill, that her movement was a necessity of the weather and not an effort to avoid looking at Marie.
Marie knew better and she was getting tired of it.
None of the survivors had said a single word to her since they took to the air, moments ahead of a cloud of death that swept over the airfield. Not that there had been a lot of talking over the last twenty four hours. But, she had been the one to decide, rather arbitrarily, who would and who would not be saved. She had been the one to shoot the one man who had defied her and attempted to board the plane without her permission. She had killed someone.
She had left a lot more to die.
Marie pushed these thoughts from her mind as she crossed over to the corporal and his companion. The briefing on the flight deck had been long and lack of sleep was really starting to take its toll on her. While it had been three hours since the last reported meteor strike, they still had no idea who was responsible for the transmission that had warned them and allowed them to get airborne ahead of each of them. The Major had wanted options but none of the officers or she had any real solid ones to offer him. They were still isolated, out of communication with the squadron and any higher command for three days now, and unable to get a solid transmission from any of their communication channels.
"Walk with me, Lefty." she kept her voice even, low and plain. As much as the survivors wanted to keep their distance from her, she was content to allow them to. Major Thompson had been livid that there was even a hint of anger among the survivors directed at Marie, but she was not anxious to add to the tension. She absolutely agreed that they should have more respect for the crew that was there to save them, but all of them had lost someone as well. There would be time to force reconciliations later.
Frias unwrapped himself from the woman and then returned the blanket to her shoulders, tucking it up under her and encasing her in its warmth. He had earned a break to sit with his new friend. She glanced up at him, then at Marie. There was a moment where the two shared a long stare. Marie did not know what the girl was looking for or if she was able to find it before she turned back away again and stared out the back of the aircraft.
"At least it's not as cold as yesterday," Frias observed as they made their way down the open ramp of the plane.
"What'd they say? We headed to Montreal next?"
"Doesn't look like it," Marie answered as they walked down the ramp together. "The Major wants to keep us in US Airspace until we hear something conclusive from higher." She held up a hand to briefly shield her eyes from the bright sun. "It's the right call."
She surveyed the field around the aircraft. A short distance away a 717 sat parked as two ground crew walked around it. They had joined up with it after their last landing, adding another hundred souls to their survivor count. Among them had included four members of the JFK International ground crew headed home for the holidays as well as three Marine privates, two Air Force mechanics, and a Vietnam Vet who kept calling her "Sarge" and then apologizing when he corrected himself. It did radically increase the number of mouths to feed, but it had been good to have what felt more like a proper ground crew.
"So what is the plan, Gunny?" Frias sounded anxious. "We stay here?"
Marie nodded once. "We stay here. Here's as good as anywhere else right now. We've got fuel, some shelter in the terminal, and sooner or later we should get something definitive as far as orders go." Her lips turned upwards in what she hoped as a reassuring smile. "Listen, Lefty, I want you and Larry to take some people into the terminal and have a proper Christmas Dinner. You’ve got the Major’s blessing to take a break from the foraging and get some real food in you. There's got to be a food court or something where you can sit at a table, pretend to be civilized for a while. Get people started on it now and you should have something serviceable by 1500."
"What about you?"
"You let the Gunny worry about the Gunny. You've got civilians to worry about now."
Frias stared at her for a few moments, his mouth slightly open. "What, you're gonna have an MRE for Christmas Dinner? When we've got real meals right there?"
"Do I need to repeat myself, Corporal?"
"No, Gunny," Frias answered reflexively. They both stepped to the side to make room for one of the other survivors as he carried a box of dried soup mix up into the cargo area. Everyone was working at collecting supplies where they could find them and storing them aboard the two aircraft. Marie had felt good about their chances. The airport appeared to be fairly well stocked still. The survivor did not look their way as he walked up the ramp, his eyes low as he avoided having to acknowledge the Marines. The Major would say she was burying her own head by avoiding the civilians herself. She had no interest in celebrating the holiday; keeping the peace was just a side benefit.
Marie broke the silence. "I'll be fine. It will give me a chance to review your inventory from the last few hours and catch all the things you two knuckle-draggers missed."
"Won't be much to catch, Gunny. We've stripped two of those inflight-meal trucks pretty bare. We've got pretzels and peanuts to last us for a few weeks, plus bottled water for a few days."
"Just make sure it's all catalogued."
"And have Larry bring me a manifest from the 717 as soon as he's done over there."
At this Frias nodded again. He started back up the ramp and then paused. "You had plans for Christmas didn't you?"
She shrugged. "Nothing big. Thought I might catch a flight home for a day or two. You?"
"Nope. Dad's in Phoenix and he always spends it with my sis and her kids. She's not supportive of my 'lifestyle.'" Marie remembered conversations with Frias over the last several months about the family tension his enlistment had caused. She followed his gaze to look up at the woman he had been with, her dark hair now loose and half covering her face. Marie could see what he found attractive in her, her round cheeks and shining brown eyes.
"You've got someone to spend it with now," Marie observed.
Frias smiled. "Si, I do, don't I?" He started the walk again. "I thought she was latina, but turns out she's Italian.”
“That a deal breaker?”
“Nah. I’ve just been thinking the last day or so, you know, that we could be it. I could be the last man alive speaking Spanish, no? That’s a pretty big weight to bear even for my shoulders.”
“Shoulders that always seem to convince Cable to do the heavy lifting.”
“Didn’t you tell us delegation was a hallmark of leadership? Pero si, it’d be easier to share that with someone else.”
Marie did not say anything. She had pointedly avoided thinking such thoughts.
“Still,” Frias continued, “she’s Catholic, so that's three out of four."
"Three out of four?"
"She's a she and she's got a pulse."
Marie groaned. "For the love of.. tell me you're not talking to her like this."
"Oh, no, Gunny. Nothing but a gentleman."
She thought about her younger brother, Rene, and groaned. He would probably say the same thing about a girl he had a crush on. "Well, go gentlemanly tell her you need to get back to work." She paused. "What's her name?"
"Jo, short for Josephina, same as my sister's kid."
Marie shook her head and started to survey the cargo, retrieving a clipboard and making notes on it as she scanned for the listed items. She had only been working a few minutes when Lt. Sobal leaned into the cargo area from the flight deck.
"Gunny, we need you." She ducked back out of sight as quickly as she had appeared. Marie put the clipboard on a box of soon-to-spoil sandwiches and followed her. The officers were at their stations. The Major was the first to speak when Marie appeared.
"This just started broadcasting. It's on both emergency freqs, plus a few dozen others." He turned up a dial and the flight deck was filled with the even voice of a woman.
"-to the following location: North forty two, fifty three, twenty four. West eighty three, thirty, ten. Take shelter there until an evacuation party is able to recover you. By authority of the Governments of the United States of America, Canada and the United Mexican States, a state of grand emergency has been declared, and our extinction state is now at Omega. Again, proceed to the following location: North forty two, fifty three, twenty four. West eighty three, thirty, ten, immediately."
The voice changed and was replaced by a male voice, this one speaking in French. Marie easily recognized the accent; he was Quebecois. She looked at the rest of the crew.
The Major’s face was calm but inquisitive. "French Canadian, right?"
"Yes, sir," Marie answered quickly. "Where's this coming from?"
"We don't know," Lt. Sobal said. "The chart coordinates aren't far from here, maybe 10 miles, if that. We could scavenge up ground transportation for everyone and be there within a half hour."
The voice changed again, now a woman's voice repeated the instructions, presumably, in what Marie was fairly certain was Arabic. The Major looked at Marie. "How are we coming on re-supply? How much longer?"
"I haven't had time to do a proper inventory, sir. We've loaded about a week's worth of perishables, another week of non, and four day's worth of fresh water. I've got Cable working with the 717 crew to get them stocked up as well, but we're going to have the lion's share of supplies over here." She added frankly, "The longer you give them to load the more we'll have, simple as that, sir."
The Major considered this and nodded. "Your loadies still working on a dinner tonight?"
"I told them to, sir. Nothing has been started yet, so a change of plans won’t make many waves."
"No,” the Major grumbled, taking off his watch cap and scratching his head. “They need the break, all of them. Let’s keep the dinner going for the civilians. I don’t want them cracking up on us.” He pulled the cap back on. "Right, Regal, go find some ground transport and see what you can manage for a radio. CB, Ham, hell if we can get reliable cell reception that will work. You, a loadie and two civilian volunteers are going to go check out this location. Get some food before you go. I want you headed out within an hour. Gunny?"
"Corporal Cable would be the best choice," Marie answered quickly. "I'll let him know as soon as we're done here."
"Good. Gunny I want everyone working on stowing as much food as we can, civilians included. Keep things running for the dinner. It will be good to give everyone something to look forward to. I don’t want any idle hands out there. Get a plan drawn up for getting as many supplies onto that 717 as it can hold. Sobal, you and I are going to go through everything we have, every electronic manual you can find to see if we can find word one about this ‘Extinction State: Omega’ bull and what the hell we’re supposed to do about it now."
They all acknowledged the orders with practiced precision and went to their work. Marie found Frias, briefed him quickly and sent him to start scavenging for anything non-perishable in the airport they could use. He jogged down the ramp where his friend Jo was waiting for him. Marie started to stride towards the 717 to meet up with Cable and talk to the plane’s pilot about the plan. She would have to trust him to organize his passengers to help with the scavenging efforts, with the promise of a decent meal as a reward later that day.
Her mind wandered to her previous Christmas plans, briefly, before she pushed those thoughts aside. There was work to do.