Zombie Apocalypse 2: WILDFIRE by author Janet Tavakoli

Zombie Apocalypse 2: WILDFIRE

Fresh blood turned the front of Tom’s white shirt bright red. Tom Peters drew enemy fire away from his companions: Mark “Coach” Landi, Claire Landi, his 17-year-old daughter, and teenagers Juliet Romero and Glen Anderson. The boy fell. No one could survive that volley. Yet Tom Peters soon rose from a prone position. He gnashed his teeth as he approached Claire and Mark Landi.

Zombie Apocalypse 2: WILDFIRE by Janet Tavakoli writing as Michael K. Clancy

“Pause the video clip,” commanded Colonel Jack Crown, M.D.

Body cameras with zoom lenses captured details that the soldiers who took part in yesterday’s away mission hadn’t noticed in real time. Tom’s blood-soaked shirt was a red badge of courage. Tom died a hero’s death. He was barely seventeen.

“Continue,” said Jack.

The next angle was slow-motion footage from Jack’s body camera. Jack was atop a car two hundred yards away. Tom Peters had been handsome. Jack hadn’t noticed as he aimed at the snarling zombie that just seconds before had been a strong healthy young man.

Jack took a clean sniper shot at Tom’s head. The high-speed bullet hit the teen’s forehead, tore through his skull, and shattered his football helmet. Tom’s head exploded in a red mist.

We all die, thought Jack. But could he have saved Tom Peters, or at least given the boy better odds?

Yes. It was obvious now. Why wasn’t it obvious yesterday? Jack knew it wasn’t just the fog of war. He was following orders. The orders had to change.

Mark Landi and his daughter carried rare genes. They were immune to the Z-Factor virus. Yesterday, Mark Landi’s party left their compound in Homewood to make the 300-mile journey to the Outbreak Compound. The other teens volunteered to go with Mark and Claire Landi on the drive. Mark was a football coach and their high school chemistry teacher.

Jack’s team rendezvoused with them in a helicopter near the halfway mark. The mission was well worth the risk of exposing the location of the Outbreak Compound.

As Jack’s team exited the helicopter and approached Landi’s car, ambushers attacked. During the firefight, the ambushers shot and killed Tom Peters. Jack ended Tom with a rifle shot to the head.

A zombie horde attacked them. In the melee, a zombie bit Glen Anderson. They fought their way back to the helicopter, and spirited Glen to the Outbreak Compound. The medical team injected Glen with Mark Landi’s antibodies, and Glen’s condition was improving.

“Replay our arrival at the rendezvous,” commanded Jack.

Jack led yesterday’s mission with seven volunteers: Major Juan Chavez, and Lieutenants Steve Markum, Karl “Kay” Martin, Peter Cook, Bill Small, Ronny Hanes, and Dusty Rhodes. They were part of the Outbreak Compound’s cadre of soldiers.

At thirty-three, Jack already had a lifetime of education and broad combat experience. Juan Chavez was a year his junior. Jack’s troops were twenty-six years old and at least six feet two inches tall. They exceeded General Gary Markum’s sky-high requirements for intelligence scores, psychological profiles, and other unique characteristics.

Lt. Steve Markum’s deft fingers tapped the keyboard as he skillfully cycled the software and adjusted the video. “Here it is, sir, in slow motion.” Steve pressed a key to project his screen’s display on the opposite wall.

Jack ran his right hand through his dark loose curls. His deep blue eyes scanned the screen. A small muscle throbbed at the side of his jaw. He edged forward on his chair.

The footage began when the helicopter flew over the ambushers’ roadblock. Cars zigzagged across the highway, blocking both lanes. Zombies, tied to the fenders, flayed their limbs. Some had ropes around their waists, others around their necks. Their lips pulled back from their gums. They chomped their teeth at the air. Lifeless bodies jerked, stumbled, and collided. But that wasn’t the most disturbing part.

Steve Markum froze the video. He gazed at the life-sized projected image. Then he swiftly looked away. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and rubbed the muscles between his eyebrows with his thumb and forefinger.

All the zombies had chest wounds. The women, girls, and young boys were only partially clothed. Blood and bruises covered the men’s faces. Pre-mortem injuries. The ambushers beat the men when they tried to defend the women and children.

The ambushers hadn’t merely created zombies. The ambushers humiliated, demoralized, and tortured their captives before they murdered them. The ambushers used their captives’ zombified bodies to terrorize any newcomer they snared.

Peter Cook, the helicopter’s co-pilot, and look-out, tapped Steve Markum’s upper arm. “There it is. That’s what I saw through the binoculars.”

Bill Small and Ronny Hanes stood with their arms crossed glaring at the screen. At six feet two inches, they were the same height as Dusty Rhodes. Dusty furiously twisted the Rubik’s Cube that he habitually scrambled and solved several times a day.

Ronny clicked his tongue in disgust. Ronny’s commanding officer during his Iraq deployment said he slept with one eye open. Some of the men were afraid of him. In those days Ronny wore a gold stud in his left ear and a headband torn from an old camouflage shirt. His shoulder-length hair covered a jagged scar on the side of his face.

Today Ronny sported a trim military cut with his scar in full view. The earring was gone. Somehow, he looked even more dangerous than he had during deployment. He always carried at least a gun and a knife. Ronny was hyper-alert, yet he was as even-tempered as any of the other men.

Kay Martin, the helicopter’s pilot, took in a sharp breath. “Those monsters. I’m glad we killed them.” His quick-moving brown eyes took in the images. His chestnut brown hair was even with the blond head of his first officer and co-pilot, Peter Cook.

“I’m glad, too,” said Peter. His blue eyes were riveted to the screen. His face looked like a thundercloud.

“Yes, Peter,” said Jack Crown. “The rest of us didn’t see those details in real-time. It was enough that they killed those people, but this makes it even more heinous.”

Peter Cook wheeled around to face him. Jack compressed his lips into a straight line His face showed determination. Peter recognized that look. Colonel Crown has something up his sleeve.

Out of the corner of his eye, Peter saw General Gary Markum, Commander of the Outbreak Compound, and a shorter man, Captain Arthur Barton, M.D., the compound’s psychiatrist. They stood off to the side, speaking in such low tones that the other men couldn’t overhear their conversation.

At five feet eleven inches, Dr. Arthur Barton was the only man in the room under six feet two inches tall. The forty-eight-year-old was the most talented military psychiatrist in the U.S. armed forces.

General Markum was in his late fifties but still fit enough to achieve top scores when he topped up training. The Outbreak Compound was the culmination of more than seventy years of planning by Markum and his predecessors.

Markum handpicked every member of his team, just as he had been chosen when he was a young man. Every year he refreshed a list of troops targeting those who were twenty-six years old. For decades, he dropped names off the list as the troops aged out. He added new names, ready for the day the young men were needed to populate the Outbreak Compound.

He identified mentally and physically healthy children with a minimum intelligence quotient of 140, some much higher. If necessary, the government intervened to nurture their education and monitor their progress. Markum dropped those who couldn’t meet a series of ongoing challenges.

The government offered the chosen children military academy scholarships. Markum steered the children to a special training program. He invited the top eighteen-year-olds to join the military.

They received more specialized training and specific combat duty. Markum invited the best performers to join a special reserve team in case a national emergency required him to activate the Outbreak Protocol. That time arrived four months ago when the Z-Factor virus infected the entire human race.