Trooper Mags "Spice" O'Dwyer
Time: 1842 CST / 0042 GMT
Location: WWIZ Station Headquarters, Milwaukee, WI
The office building was quiet, the sound of heavy boots the only noise to cut through the silence. Maggie moved around another desk, scanning her field and she covering the team’s left flank as they crossed over the open work area. Long shadows reached up and around the rows of cubicles to create long lines along the walls and forcing her to look twice with nearly each step. Carefully she stepped over another skeletal corpse, the fourth they had seen. She motioned quickly down once with her left hand before returning it to support her rifle.
They had found no survivors thus far.
“I’ve got sounds still this way,” Sparks reported with her light southern twang. Maggie looked up to see the other trooper pointing at an access door, a small listening device in her off hand. She held up the display to show the green lights and then returned it to her tactical vest as she stood ready. A larger man, Nitro, took a position behind her, stacking up for entry. They both looked at the rest of team to get into position. Maggie moved up with the others and dropped to one knee, her rifle aimed down a hallway.
“Go.” Katana’s voice was low, quiet, and firm. Maggie did not look up from her coverage but could hear the door’s handle turn and the pair enter the room.
“Clear up,” his deep baritone echoed out of the room, the resonance sounding like a stairwell.
“Clear down,” Sparks’ voice followed almost immediately. “Sounds are down. We’ve got a bomb shelter down here.”
“Nitro, Sparks, Sid,” Katana ordered in a steady tone, “head down. Colt, cover the stairs up. Spice, Arrow, hold here with me.”
Wordlessly the team moved into positions. Maggie rose quickly and stepped over to press her shoulder to the wall adjacent the stairwell. She kept her eyes down the hall and covering the area, trusting the team to each do their part. The sounds of boots echoed in the hall as they moved. Nothing entered Maggie’s field of vision.
This was their second mission and Maggie struggled to stay focused. Three hours in the air, three on the ground and another three in the air. This was the fourth building they had swept on this mission and so far they had found no survivors. Nothing but sinewy skeletal corpses remained where a thriving downtown had once been. There had nearly been a cheer when Sparks announced that one of her tracking devices had picked up some kind of voices in this building.
A heavy banging echoed up from below as a fist slammed against a hollow steel surface.
“Hello?” Sid called out. “We are with the United States search and rescue. Is anyone in there?” Maggie could hear him bang on the door again and repeat the request. “It’s locked,” he called back up the stair.
Katana responded. “Still got voices?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sparks answered. “Definitely am getting something from behind this door. Don’t know why they aren’t responding.”
The sound of Sid’s fist on the door rang again. “We are a recovery team with the Bastion Project. We are here to move you to safer location and rejoin other survivors.” His voice was loud, easily understood up a flight of stairs. Maggie felt her heart drop at the silence that greeted it.
The motion of Katana shaking her head caught Maggie’s eye. “Spice it up.”
Maggied looked to her commanding officer and nodded quickly. “Bringing the spice,” she called and moved next to the doorway. Sid and Nitro returned through the opening and she started down the stairs. Fluorescent lights were mounted on the walls of the well, still shining with their dull glow. At least this area still had power-- the miracles of automation. She slung her rifle over a shoulder as she descended, freeing her hands for work. At the bottom of the stairs a small landing waited, Sparks next to a large steel door. A massive sign declared it “Fallout Shelter” in neat vintage print. The paint was fading and the metal edges were well rusted. Despite this, the door still looked solid enough.
“Oh yeah,” Maggie breathed. “This one is all mine.”
Sparks clapped her on the shoulder and retreated up the stairs. Maggie went to work, slipping several explosive packs from her gear and placing them strategically. It was good familiar work, the kind that gave her mind something to do rather than dwell on the bigger picture. She took her time, careful to place the charges to open the door but not blast through to the occupants on the other side. The heavy door muted their voices, making them impossible to understand, but they were one good blast away from possibly finding their first set of survivors since Omega had been declared. They were not the only team to have come up empty so far, but that number was dropping as more and more survivors began to appear in the Bastion Complex. It had been hard to sleep thinking about how little they had done, how little was left, and how much more work remained.
She started back up the stairs. “Moving to MSD,” she called as she set the remote detonator. At the top of the stairs, the rest of the team had already retreated out into the office work space. Maggie received a confirming nod from Katana and then knelt down herself. “Fire in the hole.”
The sound of the blast echoed up, a solid single bass note to match the controlled charges she had placed. She rose and began back down through the familiar smoke and smell of explosives. The door stood, slightly ajar from the detonation. “Breached,” she called up to the team and stepped to one side on the landing as Nitro, Sparks and Sid moved down past her, pulling the door open and entering the bomb shelter.
She could hear the voices now and stepped up to listen. As the door swung open they became clearer and she could make out the words.
“... 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-”
Sid turned off the radio, swearing. Maggie scanned the room. Dozens of people had taken shelter here from the clouds of death. And from the state of their flesh-picked corpses dozens of people had met their end here as well. Maggie felt the full weight of her pack as she started to lurch forward and braced herself against the door frame.
Another sortie, another empty transport.
“There,” Sparks said, pointing at one of the windows near the ceiling. “The clouds got in there.” Maggie glanced up and saw where the weather stripping around the window had cracked with age. It was likely that the clouds could have gotten in a number of other ways, but if it helped Sparks to find a specific cause, more power to her.
Maggie started to sweep through the space with Nitro and Sid. There were supplies, jugs of fresh water, cans of fruits and vegetables, and stocked medical kits. The survivors could have survived here for days or weeks. She knelt down and looked at another skeletal body, smaller than the rest and still dressed in a denim skirt and white shirt. Maggie blinked and became lost in wonder as to who this girl had been. Long strands of auburn hair curled around what remained of her skull, hair much like Maggie’s own. Seconds passed into minutes as Maggie continued to stare and shake her head. She had seen the remains before but this was different. This felt personal.
“Spice, clear?” Sid looked around the corner of one of the supports at her.
“Yes, sir,” she answered. “Just looking to see if we know anything about who these people were.”
Sid’s face showed his sympathy. “Stay on target, trooper. Let’s finish clearing the room and see if we can get lucky in the next building. We’re not done in this sector yet.”
“Yes, sir,” Maggie responded. She watched as Sid turned towards the back of the shelter. With a step, she moved over to the next corpse, its hand near the girl’s. In its other hand was clutched a smart phone. She tapped the button at the base of it and the screen came to life with the face of a freckled face frame with tangles upon tangles of red curls. The girl in the picture wore the same white shirt. Without a thought, Maggie slide the phone into her vest. She would find out who this girl was later. She stood up, blinked a few times and then rejoined the team up stairs.
“We had a chance to rescue a survivor,” Colt was shouting at Katana.
“Stand down, trooper,” Sid shot back at him. This was not the first flare up between Colt and Katana since they had left the girl behind two days ago, before Omega had been declared. Sid had always played referee but Maggie knew that it would soon hit a point where even he could not restore calm.
“That was the right call,” Katana answered. “Everyone from the here on up to Bastion Action Command signed off on it as by the book. I did what I was supposed to do.”
“Not everyone,” Colt growled. “I say it was the wrong call.” He put his hand up and looked around at the rest of the action team. “Who’s with me?”
Sparks put her hand up slowly. “Sorry, hon, but it killed me to leave that kid behind too.”
“Leave me the hell out of this,” Nitro swore before moving over to one of the windows to look out and remove himself. Arrow shook his head and lifted his rifle, crossing to the opposite window to take a post and pretend this conversation was not happening, again.
“Spice?” Colt was staring at her.
“This isn’t a damned democracy,” Sid said before she could respond. “You can take your high school popularity contest back to the CAT and ride it home. We’ve got job to do and you, trooper, had by God better do it, or get the hell out of the way so someone who will do it, can do it.”
Colt took a step towards him. “I never liked your attitude. Sir.”
“I never cared. Trooper.”
Maggie glanced at Katana. The CO stood watching the tempers boil up in the two men seemingly unable to act to stop what could turn into a fist fight, or worse. Maggie could not look at her any more.
Then something caught her eye, she thought. She might have imagined it, a shadow that she had not seen before. She did not hesitate.
“Contact!” She moved quickly to a cover position as she shouted. “South hallway. One target.”
The team moved with the alacrity that training had bestowed them. Katana was next to her, standing over and sighting down the hall as well. Colt was across from them, kneeling with his back to the wall. She could hear Nitro dropping down not far from them, the bipod of his heavy weapon flipped out and ready. In that moment all conflict was forgotten and the entire unit was focused on a single thought: find the contact that Maggie had called out and neutralize it.
“I don’t see it,” Katana said in a low voice. “Colt, Spice move up. Sid, Sparks, cover.”
Maggie slid from the cover and started down the hallway, watching to the left while Colt moved next to her watching the right. They passed a few conference rooms, both empty, before reaching another open work space. The team eventually filed in and secured the room. There was a long silence as they all took stock and looked at each other.
Sparks reviewed her equipment. “Sat imaging isn’t getting any other hotspots. It looks like it’s just us here.”
Katana nodded at her. “Okay, Easy, let’s back to the CAT. We get back to base, get off our feet and hit the ground again tomorrow. It’s been ten hours without a real break. Next hop we’ll find someone.” She checked her rifle. “Arrow, point. Colt, rear. Everyone else, tactical column. Move.”
The team moved out stepping through the smashed in windows at the front of the office and out onto the street. The transport was about a mile away and Maggie was anxious to get on it. Katana had been right and the long hours had taken its toll on all of their minds. It pained her to go home without at least one survivor but there was they could do. She fell in behind Sid in the column, her gaze sweeping the left of their formation as they walked. Maggie was sure now that she had not seen anything; she was mostly sure at the time. The fight between Colt and the officers was going to get him permanently benched, if it did not get him killed and she had run out of ways to help defuse it. Katana was good as XO, a solid mind for getting a job done, but Maggie was starting to wonder if she had been promoted beyond her abilities.
They were all tired. Colt had managed to go this long without opening that particular wound. A ride back to base to cool the team and maybe he could go another twenty four hours without a battle. Maggie knew she needed a break, a good run in the gym and then she would be ready for another shot at finding a someone, anyone, to bring back to the Bastion.
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Mr. Osterman's first novel FantastiCon can be found on Amazon.com in both print and eBook editions. It is also available on Smashwords