Read The Left Series (Book 3): Left On The Brink Online
Authors: Christian Fletcher
I recognized Chief Cole huddled with some other military guys leaning over a desk
, which was illuminated by a bright lamp. The Navy Chief was a huge, muscular black guy, whose physique more resembled a boxer rather than a member of the armed forces. He still wore green military fatigues and a dark blue peaked baseball cap with a U.S. Navy insignia emblazoned across the front. Cole told us when we last met that he had been running the show at the Airbase, since the chain of command had broken down in the absence of any commissioned officers.
“Hey, Chief,” Milner called over.
Chief Cole turned his head and waved us over. We tentatively approached the desk that Cole and the other three men were huddled around.
“We found who sent up that white flare,” Milner said. “Look who it is…”
Cole stepped a few paces away from the desk and scowled at us standing in the gloom. His face suddenly changed to a look of pleasant surprise when recognition set in.
“Smith, Wilde,” he croaked and turned to look at Batfish. “You found your friend
, I assume?”
Smith proffered his hand and the Chief shook it vigorously. “Good to see you again, Chief. Yeah, we went through hell in New Orleans but still successfully completed the mission. We got Batfish out of there.”
I shook the Chief’s hand and gave him a pat on the shoulder. Batfish returned with a brief handshake and an even briefer smile.
“Batfish? As in U.S.S. Batfish?” Cole beamed a smile.
Batfish nodded. “My dad was a submariner in the Navy and he served onboard. He gave me a cap when I was little, a bit like the one you’re wearing.” She pointed to Cole’s headgear. “I always wore it and the name kind of stuck with me.”
Cole nodded, still grinning. Somehow he didn’t look right with a happy expression. It was as though his facial expressions were destined to always be serious and stern.
“We saw the red flares going up, Chief and wondered if you were in trouble,” Smith explained. “We were passing along on the river and came to see if you needed a hand after you and your guys saved our asses last time.”
Cole shrugged, his mouth still hung open but the grin slipped from his face. Deep furrows appeared in his forehead as he raised his eyebrows towards the peak of his cap.
“Ah, we weren’t in any kind of trouble here,” he sighed. “We were just lighting up the airfield a bit so we could see if we had a clear path to refuel and load the C-17. As you can imagine, the bird attracted a bit of attention when it landed.”
“What’s going on here, Chief? Why all the sudden movement?” I asked.
“And what was Milner talking about when he said you were heading to Europe?” Smith cut in.
I turned to look for Milner but he had slinked away
and out of the room at some point. I noticed two young looking military personnel, a man and a woman, sitting at separate control consoles. They both wore black headsets with the narrow frames pressed over the center of their heads. They talked softly into the microphones in hushed tones.
“Okay, guys, let me explain.” Chief Cole
rubbed his hand across his chin as though he was at pain to tell us what was happening. He pointed to the three guys still huddled around the desk. “This is Captain Remmick, First Lieutenant Novak and Major Capaldi of the Air National Guard and the flight crew of that big old bird out there on the runway.” Cole pointed to each one in turn as he recited their names then gestured towards the window at the aircraft outside.
The three men moved slightly away from the desk and nodded in acknowledgement but showed no expression of welcoming emotion. Their faces remained grim and determined, as though they were slightly frustrated at our distraction.
Capaldi was the oldest of the three men, around his mid-forties. He was tall and thin with a prominent hooked nose between hooded eyes and a shock of gray hair. The Major looked as though he hadn’t slept for a month.
Novak was probably the youngest, maybe in his late twenties. He was shorter than Capaldi and his bright blue eyes seemed alert as his gaze flicked between Cole and the three
of us opposite him. First Lieutenant Novak had short brown hair and a closely cropped full beard and moustache.
Captain Remmick looked as though he’d been a football jock in high school, with a big square jaw and military style buzz cut that I always associated more with the U.S. Army or
the Marine Corps. He wasn’t what you’d term tall but still maybe close to six feet but he was broad-chested and the sleeves of his greenish military fatigue shirt strained against powerful biceps and forearms. Remmick was probably in his early thirties and had the grizzled demeanor of someone who was permanently pissed off with the world.
“These guys are from the 172
Airlift Wing Squadron, based in Jackson, Mississippi, not too far from here,” Cole continued.
Capaldi took half a pace forward. “We only just had enough aviation fuel to travel the distance here,” he said. His voice was soft and nasal. “It was only around 160 miles but we really struggled. Our airbase at Jackson is completely overrun. We had a tough time even getting up in the air. The whole operation took months of planning and we lost many good guys trying to even reach the fuel dump. We landed here a few hours ago in the hope we could find some more gas. That’s when we bumped into Chief Cole and the rest of his people.” He jabbed a thumb in the Navy Chief’s direction.
I racked my brain and tried to remember where I was a few hours ago and why I hadn’t seen the huge aircraft overhead. I realized I was probably half drunk in some sleazy nightclub in the center of New Orleans at the time. They may have flown around and bypassed the city’s airspace anyhow.
“There are only eighteen of us left from Jackson,” Remmick interjected. His voice was deep and loud as though he’d been used to speaking to large numbers of people. “While we didn’t have much fuel, we did have communications still up and working.
Incoming messages were sporadic but we finally managed to keep regular comms with an air traffic control center in Scotland.”
“Scotland?” Smith repeated.
“Yeah, a British Royal Air Force base called Prestwick in Ayrshire, Scotland,” Capaldi continued. “They said it took them a long while, but basically they’ve managed to clear the infected personnel from the country. They’ve locked down the border with England and keep the major ports well guarded.”
I thought of Lazaru and his fragile barriers guarding what remained of the uninfected area of New Orleans. It didn’t take much for the undead to break down those protective blockades.
“We explained our situation to the British military and they said they would welcome us to Scotland, if we can get there,” Remmick said.
“That’s a very big
,” Smith sighed.
“You got that right,” Cole said. “It’s a logistical nightmare but we think we can do it. We’ve managed to just about fill the C-17 tanks with all the aviation fuel we have but it’s not going to be enough.”
I felt a sudden jolt of excitement and hoped these military guys were going to ask us to tag along. I didn’t care where I lived as long as the place was free of zombies.
“How far is it from here to Scotland?” I asked.
Remmick took a glance back to the desk. I followed his gaze and saw the desk surface was crammed with spread out maps and aviation charts. He turned back to face me. “It’s around 3,800 nautical miles, if we fly in a straight line.”
“And how far does the aircraft fly on a full tank?”
“Approximately 2,400 nautical miles,” Capaldi answered.
I quickly calculated the math.
“Fourteen hundred miles short,” I sighed.
throat went dry, my guts lurched and my newly acquired excitement evaporated almost immediately.
“So what are you guys thinking?” Smith asked.
“Come over and look at this chart, Smith.” Cole waved Smith over to the desk.
Smith and I shuffled over towards the lamp light and bent over the desk either side of Cole. The three Air
Force guys leaned over our shoulders behind. Batfish stood to the side of the desk.
“We’re here.” Cole pointed to the New Orleans Airbase on the map.
“We need to refuel someplace. My thinking was we try, Halifax in Canada.” Cole moved his finger upwards and placed it on the eastern tip of Nova Scotia.
“And what’s the distance from Halifax to Scotland?” Smith asked.
Cole stood up straight. “That’s the risky part,” he sighed. “It’s slightly over 2,300 nautical miles as the crow flies.”
“That’s some fucking crow if it can fly across the Atlantic,” I
Nobody else found my attempt at humor slightly amusing. Everyone else in the room stood in grim silence and I felt my face redden.
I expected a wind rush to blow through the control tower to further my embarrassment.
“Hmm…not much margin for error,” Smith said, rubbing his chin.
“The only other option is to stop and try and refuel in Reykjavik, Iceland after Halifax.” Novak spoke for the first time since we entered the control room. His voice was gravelly and had a Southern drawl. “That route takes us off course a little and we’d have to make another stop but it would guarantee us enough fuel to get to Scotland.”
“Of course, that’s assuming you have the facilities and the opportunity to refuel at these locations,” Smith said.
“What about ATC comms?”
“Extremely limited at best,” Novak sighed. “We’re hoping we’ll get a clearer broadcast from the UK once we’re over the Atlantic.”
“No response from Halifax or Reykjavik?” Smith asked.
“None.” Novak shook his head.
“The comms guys keep trying.” He jabbed his thumb at the young man and woman wearing the headsets, sitting at the control panels.
“On the plus side, the C-17
can land and take-off on small airfields and can spin around real easy. As long as we have enough space, we can put the bird down pretty much anyplace,” Remmick chipped in.
“I know it’s a huge gamble and there are a lot of ifs and buts,” Cole sighed. “But what alternative options do we have? Stay here and eventually either die of starvation or become one of those walking pieces of shit out there?”
Smith shrugged. “You got a good point there, Chief.”
“Personally, I think it’s worth taking the risk,” Cole said, nodding his head. He turned and gazed out of the window onto the airfield. “Those guys out there can’t wait to get out of here either.
They’re cooped up in that squadron building all day, just knowing there’s nothing left in this country out there for them but a never ending battle for their lives. At least if we try and get to Scotland it gives us all a little bit of hope. And hope is something we haven’t felt for a long time, Smith.”
Chief Cole turned and looked Smith straight in the eye. “There are eighteen of the guys from
Jackson; there are fifty-one of us in total here. That aircraft is capable of carrying over one-hundred fully equipped men and stores. There’s room onboard if you want to come with us. What do you say?”
Smith sighed and looked to the floor. “Sheesh
…I don’t know, Chief. Jesus, you’ve sprung this one on me.”
“We could use a guy like you, Smith.” Cole glanced towards the window again. “Anyone who has survived this long is a very resourceful guy.” Cole turned to look at me. “If you’ve survived the last six months, you can survive anything.”
I bit my bottom lip; an immense emotion of uplifting euphoria engulfed me. “I want to go, Smith,” I blurted. “I think we should all go.” I grabbed Batfish by the biceps and almost physically shook her. “We should go to Scotland, Batfish.” I was blabbering and almost hysterical with elation. “No more running away, no more fighting zombies…we might actually get to sleep in a nice comfortable bed.”
Smith gave me a sideways glance with his mouth hanging open. He was telling me I was behaving like a dick without having to say a word.
“Calm the fuck down, Wilde Man.” Smith’s voice was calm and controlled as usual. “We haven’t even lifted off the ground yet.”
“Well, please make up your mind soon, guys,” Capaldi interrupted. “We’re going to get a few hours shut eye
and take off at first light.” He gave us a nod and headed for a doorway to the right of the control room. Remmick and Novak followed Capaldi.
“Give us a call when you’re ready, Chief,” Remmick called over his shoulder.
“You got it,” Cole replied.
We watched the air crew disappear through the double doors.