Authors: Ever N Hayes
We walked back to the store, climbed the stairs behind the giant waterfall and fish tank, and crawled exhausted into our sleeping bags. It didn’t take long, despite our worries, for us to fall asleep, but the break was short-lived. I was jolted awake, with Danny’s hand over my mouth, two hours later. He held a finger to his lips, handed me night-vision goggles, and pointed towards the front door.
. He and Cameron woke everyone else up quietly and I crawled forward with the two of them to the railing, expecting the worst.
Instead we watched in stunned curiosity as four large white men in overalls staggered through the front of the dark store with as much grace as a grizzly bear in a butcher shop. Through our night vision gear and scopes we could tell they were each armed with hunting rifles or shotguns and were headed directly for the gun section of the store. They began collecting more weapons and didn’t seem to have any idea we were here. We could hear them talking now.
They moved about with ease and seemed to know the layout of the store. Clearly they’d shopped here before. There were doomsday preppers throughout the country. Who knew how many of them had actually survived? Either these guys fit that bill, or they were simply as lucky as we were to have somehow been beyond the chemical impact radius during the attack. It didn’t matter. They weren’t doing anything to mask their activities or heat signatures, and if anyone else had followed them here we all could be in danger. As thrilled as we were to have run into more survivors, we decided we were safest staying hidden. Danny crept down the stairs to the back door and peeked out enough to see two trucks parked in back, motors running, and both with at least one passenger behind the wheel. He came back and reported to us.
This was not good. They were being far too careless
Cameron moved the group into two military-grade tents back in the corner. U.S. forces used these tents to avoid heat signature and overhead radar detection. Danny had brought one up to the cabin last fall, and we felt invisible while hunting in them. Animals would come right up to the tent without knowing we were there. It was almost an unfair advantage.
As if all the other tech toys we use aren’t
. If it worked on animals and their senses, it probably worked just as well on humans. We were fortunate Cabela’s had a few. It was a fair advantage now.
Danny signaled Cameron to follow him back to the glass wall of the aquarium. As they reached the wall and relocated the four men, one of them shouted, “Mark, we’ve gotta go. Now, man!” We heard them crash through the store towards the back door and open it. Seconds later, the back of the store was rocked with a pair of explosions. Just what we were afraid of. Someone else was here.
TEN: “Hitting the Fan”
When the five Qi Jia companies arrived in Grand Forks around midnight, they set up camp at the Grand Forks Air Force Base a few miles west of town. Several men raided the local liquor sources and brought plenty of alcohol back for the large groups of soldiers settling around fresh-built fires. They were content to party a little tonight before heading out on their mission in the morning.
Eddie couldn’t wait. He sent four three-man patrols out on quick recon assessments. He listened to the accounts of dead bodies his men found everywhere, and marveled at the comprehensive effectiveness of Qi Jia’s attack. He was curious if there were any surviving Americans around at all, as eager as the rest of his men for some form of action. Perhaps even a little too eager.
When one of the patrols pulled into the Cabela’s parking lot around 4 a.m., their THIRST screen picked up two large heat signals behind the store, and after a closer scan, some additional movement inside. As the movement inside the store headed towards the back door, the soldiers moved in. When the four men emerged from the back of the store, the soldiers fired RPGs at the trucks, exploding them both and taking out two of the four men who had come out the back. The other two reversed course into the store, and the Qi Jia troops followed, unaware there were others inside. A close personal friend of Captain Eddie’s, Markus Malik, radioed to the other patrols to inform them they had found survivors and were in pursuit. Back at the base, Eddie listened intently and gave a clear order, “Markus, wait for backup.” But Markus had already shut off his radio prior to entering the store. Neither he nor his men heard the command.
Danny and Cameron watched as the two large white men raced across the store and one of them went down with a bullet in his back. The other made it to the gun cases and began loading a rifle. Three men in dark uniforms were closing in on him. There didn’t appear to be anyone else with them. Danny tightened the silencer on his R11 and slowly stood. Cameron followed suit. Danny motioned to Cameron he had the guy on the left, and indicated Cameron should take the guy on the right. He showed Cameron three fingers, and pointed at himself. Cameron nodded. Danny tapped his foot once, then twice, and on the third tap they both fired—suppressed but still audible ‘thwomps’—easily taking down two of the soldiers. The third soldier clearly heard the discharges and instantly became aware he was in trouble, but it was too late. Three seconds later he joined his comrades, dead on the floor.
Danny grabbed Cameron and pointed at the rest of the group. “We’ve got to go,” he whispered, maintaining watch over the man behind the gun case, who by now had realized he wasn’t being hunted anymore and was heading towards the stairs. Danny kept him in his sights.
Then the man spoke. “Who’s up there? I know someone’s there. You have to help me. We’ve got to get out of here.” He was climbing the front stairs towards Danny as Cameron was leading everyone else down the back staircase.
Danny shook his head. He had to make a choice. Take this guy or leave him behind. “Put the guns down and raise your hands,” Danny ordered.
The man stopped and did as he was told.
“All of them,” Danny emphasized.
The man pulled out two handguns and set them on the floor with the others.
“Okay, you’re good. Stand at the back door and don’t leave. Got it?” Danny ordered him.
The man nodded and followed the instructions. Danny hurried over to the fallen soldiers and searched their pockets but came up empty. The dark uniforms turned out to be red, but he found no other identification. Danny hurried to the back door. Outside, he unplugged the large THIRST screen and radio from the soldiers’ jeep and then raced down the block toward our trucks. The man from the store, Mark, lumbered after Danny and hopped in the first truck with him and Cameron. If there was one jeep of troops out here, there were probably others, and that was confirmed by the back and forth on the radio Danny had grabbed. They had to be part of the army described in the coded message heard at the cabin.
It was clear the troops in the Grand Forks area knew one of their patrols wasn’t responding. Accordingly, several patrols were now closing in on the site of the last radio contact. Apparently one of the men killed was a close friend of one of the men yelling on the radio. He was frantically asking for the man named “Markus” to respond, or for someone else to relay any news related to him.
Must have been related to each other somehow.
Danny led us north and west through the back streets and out of town. Cameron believed the troops had probably come from the Air Force base west of town, so we skirted the base a few miles to the north, mere minutes before a drone was launched towards Grand Forks. Radio communication told us several jeeps had arrived at Cabela’s and reported back on the casualties of the Americans and their own Qi Jia men. They didn’t yet know where we were.
Back at the base, Eddie was reluctant to admit to the other officers he’d sent scout troops out, and he definitely didn’t want them to know some of his men had already died. He kept the news to himself and his troops on a different radio frequency. He figured the perpetrators had to be close by, and he knew he could find them with the drones, if he could get another officer to sign off on their launch. They had been ordered not to fly them at night, but Captain Eddie, knowing his friend Markus was dead, needed to find these people before they escaped.
He sought out one of the officers he’d had a good conversation with earlier and convinced him it would be wise to know what they might be facing in the morning. The other officer agreed and signed off, just once, for that specific intent. Eddie said he’d get back to him with what he found and went to the tower to watch the drone search. Focusing only east of the base, the drones found several dozen civilians either hiding out or attempting to accumulate supplies across the city. His soldiers sought them out, killed them, and brought their bodies back to the base along with their own three fallen men. As Eddie checked each of the bodies, he couldn’t help but notice two of his men, including Markus, had been taken out from the back, center mass, in the same spot on the spine. They never had a chance.
He said a silent prayer for his friend as he scanned the civilian bodies. Only a few had even been armed, and clearly none of them were professionals. Whoever had taken out his good friend, and his other men, had done so with a precision beyond the capability of these dead Americans. It was likely they were still out there. And now they had his attention.
He stood up to walk away from the jeep and stopped when he saw the other jeep his men had brought back. Eddie swung open the door. The radio and THIRST tracker were gone, but with the system ID he could trace its location. He ran back to the other jeep, looked up the ID, and used the touchscreen to plug in the number for the missing THIRST system. Its location began flashing on his screen: two miles northwest of the base. The signal wasn’t moving. He scrambled his men together, and they took off.
He had them.
Danny led us down Twenty-Third Avenue, weaving through the cluttered mess of crashed cars, to Highway 18. We then jumped north a few miles to 33
Avenue before cutting west again toward the town of Devil’s Lake. In case the radio and THIRST system contained a tracking chip, Cameron had disassembled the equipment and ditched it along the dirt roads, a few miles northwest of the Air Force base. It took slightly more than two hours to get to Devil’s Lake, and it was starting to get light. We found a makeshift rest stop in a game preserve fifteen miles south of town. Already deep into autumn, most leaves had fallen from the trees, and little natural coverage remained to conceal the vehicles. Danny and Cameron managed to find enough thick brush to mix with the camouflage hunting tarps to temporarily do the trick. They caked the hoods of the trucks with cool mud to further dim the engine heat. We were several miles from the main road and hoped that would be enough to keep us safe until nightfall allowed us to move again.
A great deal of that depended on what the man, watching us from the other side of the lake, decided to do.
ELEVEN: “Go Wes”
Wes had lived in Bismarck, North Dakota most of his life. He and his two sons were avid duck hunters, and their favorite place to hunt was at their custom-built lodge just outside the Devil’s Lake Nature Preserve. Okay, so Wes and Sam were the avid hunters. Isaac more enjoyed the distance from Bismarck’s big city noise and traffic. Isaac didn’t like to get his hands dirty. Sam was willing to jump into pretty much anything, and he’d helped Wes build the hunting lodge from scratch. They’d been at the lodge the entire week, completely unaware of the attacks. They had seen a few strange military-like planes pass over Devil’s Lake, but nothing had come south of town.
Yesterday morning Sam had brought a cup of coffee out to his dad and remarked that he hadn’t seen anyone passing by in days. The longer Wes thought about it, the more that fact began to bother him too. It had been a while. Almost five days. They hadn’t seen a single flying duck either, even though they were camped just outside the preserve. On the other hand, plenty of dead fish and birds had washed up on their private shoreline. These were bizarre and bad signs, leaving no doubt that there was at least something wrong with the water. Wes had to find out what was going on.
He had driven into town leery and yet not the least bit prepared for what he discovered. He found the wreckage from dozens of car accidents and dead bodies everywhere, but he didn’t encounter another living soul. He was glad he’d left the boys back at the cabin; they wouldn’t have handled this well. Whatever this was, he didn’t know how he and his boys could have possibly survived it. It had clearly spared nothing else. Their cove on the lake must have sheltered them somehow, but that had to have been pure luck. The frozen expressions and darkened dried skin on the victims suggested some powerful form of biological agent was responsible. It seemed to have taken their oxygen away rapidly, if not instantly. They’d had little or no time to react.
Wes tried to call home on his phone but there was no reply. He found another phone next to a body and tried it as well. No luck. He drove down the street to the local pharmacy and threw a brick through the door and each of the front windows, creating as much airflow as possible—in case any of the chemicals had been trapped inside.
He waited twenty long minutes before entering, then quickly loaded up garbage bags with medicine, facemasks, and wound/injury treatment supplies. Finally, he hopped behind the counter for morphine, oxycodone, and other more powerful drugs—anything he thought they might possibly need at some point. He had no idea what exactly they were up against or how much of the area was affected by it, but he knew it was severe. In all his years of war experience, including time he spent in quarantine zones, he’d never seen anything like this.
Wes made one more stop, this time at the grocery store, loading up his truck with dry supplies and bottled water, before returning to the lodge. He told his boys a condensed version of the horror he’d witnessed. Their thoughts went immediately to home as well. They too tried repeatedly to call friends and family but received no reply. Wes convinced his boys there was nothing more they could do from the lodge and everyone was likely dead. Left to assume the worst, and unable to find any radio signals on the shortwave radio, they moved their supplies into the bunker beneath the lodge and locked themselves in. This custom fortress was the only security they had.