WAR

The following is a flashback at the beginning of the section BIOME: WAR. The story behind that flashback continues in BIOME: ATTACK.

 

Alex heard a thunderclap and burst out of the campground restroom to see a giant plume of smoke rising above a hill of trees whose leaves had just reached their peak autumn colors. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

 

A family of four looked nervously in the same direction, but only one concerned him. His new girlfriend Amy was on a small knoll, its dry red soil and dying grass looking as out of place as her summer slacks and tank top.

 

“Did you see that?” she asked when he joined her.

 

“No,” he said, having already estimated the distance to the base of the plume along with the wind conditions. He turned at the sound of an approaching helicopter.

 

“I saw a flash right before the smoke,” Amy said.

 

“Like a bomb?” he asked.

 

“No. It was above the ground.”

 

Suddenly there was a large explosion in the air. He instinctively threw himself at Amy, pinning her to the ground, and braced for the impact of debris from the helicopter that had been at the center of the blast.

 

Amy wriggled underneath him as he realized they were safe. Rolling to a sitting position, he caught his breath and looked around. No one seemed to be injured, and what was left of the helicopter had apparently fallen behind the tree line near the original fire.

 

He let Amy help him to his feet, and felt a surge of joy as she pulled him to her and gave him a deep kiss.

 

“Thanks,” she said, smiling up at him.

 

“Any time,” he said, smiling back.

 

“What just happened?” she asked after a moment.

 

“I think we’re under attack,” he said.

 

“By who?” she asked as he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.

 

“I don’t know,” he said as he peripherally noticed the others checking their phones. There was no service, not even digital roaming. “The cell towers are out, so this is bigger than just an attack on the helicopter.”

 

“That first explosion…” she started. “Was possibly a missile that missed,” he finished.

 

He knew his first responsibility was the safety of the people in the campground, who were very exposed to both the spreading fire and the source of the missiles. “How many other campers are around here?” he called out to the adults. Amy followed him as he ran to join them, holding out his badge.

 

“I think we’re it,” said the man. The teenage girl and her younger brother nodded. “You might want to check out the other side of the river, just to be sure,” the woman suggested.

 

Alex glanced beyond the river as flames just become visible over the hill. “What kind of vehicle do you have, and how fast can you get it on the road?”

 

“We’ve got a pickup with camper,” the man said. “We can leave right away.”

 

“I saw a few buildings about two miles north. Head there and call 911. Hopefully they’ve got a land line. What are your names?”

 

“Harvey and Toni Howard,” the woman said, turning to leave.

 

“Can you take another person?” Alex asked. Amy shook her head.

 

“Sure,” Harvey said.

 

“Go,” Alex told Amy. “I’ll take the car and be right behind you, as soon as I check the sites.”

 

“No,” Amy said defiantly, “you’ll need help.”

 

“I can’t risk you getting hurt,” Alex insisted as the Howards looked back expectantly. “I’ll be ten minutes behind you, tops.”

 

“I’ll be at the buildings,” she said after a moment, disappointed but resigned. “Don’t be late!”

 

 

Alex stopped at each of the five camp sites and looked for signs of recent use. He found a middle-aged woman named Martha at the fifth one, sitting on a log with a bloody cloth wrapped around her right leg.

 

He sterilized and bandaged a large gash on the leg as she explained that she had been taking a break from hiking when a shard of metal rained down from the disintegrating helicopter.

 

“You’re going to need stitches,” he said, “but we have to get out of here fast.” The smell of smoke was growing strong, indicating that the fire was moving in their direction.

 

He helped her into the passenger seat and sped across the bridge just as embers began to fly around the car.

 

Half a mile down the road, he was forced to stop at a roadblock manned by armed military personnel who he instantly recognized as Air Force security officers.

 

He got out of the car and was confronted by a muscular brown haired woman just a few inches shorter and about a decade younger than him. “Get back in the car, sir!” she ordered.

 

“No,” he said evenly. Just then a helicopter flew over, and he waited for the noise to die down. “You let me through. I have a medical emergency here.”

 

“What kind?” she asked.

 

“A large cut on her leg.”

 

She looked into the car, and then called out “Medic!” One of the men approached, carrying a bag.

 

“Are you Alex Rideout?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” he said, relieved that Amy had told her to expect him.

 

“I’m Special Agent Ambrose. We have some questions for you.”

 

 

© Copyright 2018 Bradley W. Jarvis. All rights reserved.