“Ambulans mortuus: noun. Lit. “moving dead” (lat.). A viral strain that appeared in Western Hemisphere in the early 21st century. Origin unknown. Characterized by high fever and death in infected subjects, followed by reanimation and extremely violent behavior. No known cure.”
-Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2021 Edition.
Green and black. Always the same. Nothing ever looked different through NVGs. No other hues, just different grades of green and black. Some brilliant, some muted, but it didn’t matter. At night, all that mattered was what moved, and these days, it moved en masse.
Dezba lowered his scope and rubbed his eyes. After minutes spent looking at the green and black, even pitch black looked good. Less eerie, less filtered, less fake. The arms also had a way of stiffening after holding up an A1 for minutes at a time.
The headset crackled, the voice calling on over the squad’s general frequency.
“Hold your position. Keep your eyes peeled.”
He heard a sigh from beside him. At the other side of the foxhole, Mill was also taking a break. In his case it was to stretch his neck.
“Are we even sure about this intel?”
“The Mage said it’s tight, so it’s tight,” he replied, repeating the mantra. That seemed to be enough, since Mill went right back to sighting down his gun again.
Bringing the scope back into place, he got another eerie view of the landscape. There were the glowing patches nearest them, bright from the moonlight, and only small slices of black where shrubs cast their shadows. He scanned slowly left and then right, checking out the side scenery. He spotted the other shining Humvees, the LAV, and the other foxholes that were cast in grey. Plenty of mottled green helmets and dark weapons profiles filled them.
Beyond them was the relative dead of night and the line of Ponderosa pines that was black except for the few spots where the canopy opened to let things through. Not much seemed to be going on in there, but they wouldn’t know that for sure until it chose to step into open…
He looked back to the roadway next; the thin stretch of dirt and gravel that the old man said was their spot. Others had dismissed him as a coot, somebody who had nothing better to do but tell stories of doom and apocalypse. But the Mage thought otherwise.
For months now, they’d been spotting Whiskey’s inside the perimeter. Somehow, somewhere, they were making it through to 2nd Rattlesnake’s territory. Preying on the livestock and scaring the good folks, making them think their children would be next. No one knew where they were getting through, but where that was, it had to be sealed.
This place, he reasoned was the perfect spot for the Whiskeys to be walking in. Inconspicuous, unimportant, and with a natural canopy that made it inaccessible to the UAV’s. No one suspected that the Whiskeys were capable of reasoning that out, but it made sense to the Mage. The man’s word was law so long as they they had to contend with the presence of those walking nightmares.
The call came in. “Eyes up”.
Dezba’s raised his gun into position. His heart began to pound and his hands tightened around the grips. Slowly, he scanned the horizon. No signs of movement. Mill didn’t see any either.
“Where are they?”
“I don’t see em,” said Dezba.
“What, man, I thought you Hopi fuckers could smell an enemy a mile away.”
Dezba smiled. “Wrong nation, asshole.”
He scanned left. Something seemed to be moving by the tree line. He sucked in a breath and centered the scope there. Another stirring. The bushes at the edge were moving.
Damn coyotes, he thought. If they had come all this way because of some mangy little scavengers, plenty of people would be pissed. Not the least of which would be himself. And while they waited, the real hole in their line might very well be filling with Whiskeys, on their way in towards town to find fresh victims. Tonight might even be the night that the damn things escalated and grabbed someone’s kid.
“Contact,” the Captain’s said, deep and low. He had to be right. He never lowered his voice except in the presence of the enemy. Somehow, knowing they were out there made him speak cautiously, like he worried they’d hear him.
Mill began to scan around too, moving his weapon back and forth. There was no time to reprimand him for breaking the basic rule. You move your head, not your SAW. One of the first things they taught you in basic. Spot your target, then point and shoot. Waving was for FNGs and fucking civilians.
“Shit… where?” Mill whispered. Dezba was wondering himself. As if on cue, the next call came in.
“Eleven o’clock level, in the treeline, coming towards the dirt road.”
Dezba zeroed in with his scope. He nearly swore out loud when he saw the hovering pair of eyes float into his field of view. Somehow, those eyes… they always glowed green through NV. He had never seen anybody else’s eyes do that before. Even coyotes didn’t get that sheen, and they glowed just fine in ambient light. Something about those dead, milky globes just loved to show up on night vision though.
By now, they were making their way out of the forest and into the moonlight. He had to zoom out just to get an idea of how many there really were. Luckily, the LT had a count ready just then.
“Whiskey Deltas at five hundred meters. Count two dozen plus Tangos, more coming…”
Sure enough, more followed. They moved slowly, as usual, but were gradually converging on the dirt road. Just like the old man said. Seems he was a lot less crazy than people suspected, and the Mage had been right once more…
“Standby,” the Captain ordered. Dezba did a quick check just to make sure his safety was off. At times like this, leaving it on could was just as deadly as forgetting to put it on when stowing it. With what he knew to be an armed rifle, he watched the glowing ghouls walk until they reached the road. Well over two dozen passed from the treeline, and more were coming…
“Standby,” the Captain repeated, a note of urgency creeping into his voice.
The LAV’s and Humvee’s began moving their turrets into position. Their motors humming happily as their guns and cannons to target the dirt road. He could imagine how the crews felt because he was feeling the same way. They all were. Every finger poised, every heart pounding…
“Get some,” came the order.
Their line erupted in a blaze of muzzle flashes and tracer fire. For several minutes, nighttime disappeared as white phosphorous and hot lead turns the entire filed into another starry sky. The field opposite began kicking up dirt and fleshy bits too. Through his scope, Dezba saw nothing but bright flashes, pausing between shots to make sure his crosshairs were poised over a still-moving Whiskey.
“Get some! Get some!” came the calls over the line. Every soldier screaming into an open line to announce a kill. Dezba watched another one drop. Movement from an arm sent him a few degrees to the right, until he watched it fall and hit the ground. A 20mm round had turned one of them into a limbless freak, but the damn thing was still moving. A well placed sniper round hit it square in the brain pan and sent it to the ground a second later.
“Cease fire! Cease fire!” came the order.
It took a second, but silence overtook them. The last of rifle fire burst like firecrackers in the night, then died out, replaced by the sounds of empty magazines being popped and fresh ones loaded.
“How you doing?” he asked Mill. Mill checked his ammo belt just to be sure.
“Good one-hundred rounds left on this drum.”
Dezba nodded and peered through his scope again. Everyone on the line did the same, staring through whatever Night Vision gear they had on them. All wanted to see what had become of the horde.
Mill saw it through his goggles. Dezba saw it too through the scope.
Milky globes. More of them. Way more…
“Holy shit, why the hell have we stopped firing?”
“Be quiet!” Dezba ordered.
More still came. They didn’t appear too concerned about the pile up of bodies that lay directly in front of them. Only the smell of fresh flesh ever seemed to get them in the killing mood. And they seemed to have that now, judging by the way they were moving right at them…
Dezba took a deep breath.
Mill took one too.
“Count four dozen Whiskey Deltas. More on the way. Standby…”
It was the biggest group Dezba had ever seen. This was no mere breach in their perimeter. This was a big ol’ clusterfuck heading their way! Whoever the old man was, he’d be sailing high on a wave of credibility after this, assuming any of them made it home to tell!
The horde seemed to be picking up speed now. They were onto the smell of fresh flesh. And at least a dozen more moved from the tree-line into the open field. That made at least sixty that were now on the roadway. They moved with a purpose now, just like they had seen in the footage. And at this rate, they’d be upon them in less than a minute. What the hell were they waiting for? They could already see the whites of their eyes!
He could hear voices yelling from the other foxholes, cries of disbelief and panic. And yet, they held their fire, waiting for the order. The Mage didn’t tolerate no wayward scum in his battalion.
The Lieutenant didn’t even need the coms this time. He yelled it loud enough for everyone to hear from his Humvee, and everyone happily obliged. Their line opened up again and another hail of glowing metal began to litter the field with bodies. Between the constant drum of Mill’s Saw and Dezba’s own rifle firing in three round bursts, all his ears should have been able to register was the steady thump, thump, thump of the LAV’s cannons.
And yet, there was something else approaching. A different kind of thumping accompanied by the high pitched whine of jet engines. Dezba looked to the sky but couldn’t see a thing with the trees over their heads. But he heard it, the unmistakable sound of Cobras. And soon, he could hear their guns mowing too! Everybody else seemed to as well, because a cheer began to go up all along the line.
The only ones who didn’t know what hit them were the Whiskey’s. They continued to run, right through a hail of metal which began to chew them to pieces. Given the size of the bullets and the rate at which they slammed into them, no head shots were necessary. Every bastard who was hit was down for good.
And that’s when they let the rockets fly. The Platoon hollered once more as the night was lit up by fiery HE rounds exploding into the Earth and turning anything still moving into mush. The yelling kept up even as the thunderclap subsided and the coms became active.
“Viper, be advised, Voodoos are on station and bringing in air support, over.”
The Lieutenant signaled back, his voice grateful and jovial.
“Voodoo, this is Viper actual. Damn glad to see you guys, over.”
There was what sounded like a chuckle at the other end, followed by more of the airman’s measured tone.
“We have eyes on target area, Viper. No further movement or indications of infiltration. Returning to base, over.”
“Roger that, Voodoo, thanks for the assist!”
The sound of rotors began to fade into the distance. Dezba could hear himself breathing again and realized he was breathing pretty hard. His heart was moving pretty fast as well. It couldn’t be helped. What started as a simple tip had turned into the biggest firefight of his career; the biggest of anyone’s on the line, he guessed.
“Shit,” Mill said, pointing to the tree line opposite them. “Look at that.”
Dezba looked across the field, saw nothing except from some flaming bushes and plenty of chunked up Earth. Mill could tell he wasn’t seeing it.
“No, further man. Use the scope. I see fires over at the forest there.”
Dezba raised the Starlight and saw what he meant. From the looks of it, some of the Cobra’s fire had caught on some of the trees. Mainly underbrush was catching, but chances were, it would be a full flame-up by morning. The entire field of Ponderosa’s would be nothing but ash.
“Relax, Gordy,” he said. “Fire’s good. Fire cleans up a Whiskey’s mess. By morning, any undead fuckers in there will be toasted!”
Mill scoffed. “Too bad we can’t eat em!”