Infected Page 107

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Around Dew stood the squad and platoon leaders of Bravo Company from the 1-187th Infantry Battalion. The battalion was also known as the “Leader Rakkasans,” an element from the Third Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The Rakkasans were the current Division Ready Force, or DRF, a battalion that stood ready to deploy anywhere in the world within thirty-six hours, regardless of location. The fact that the deployment location happened to be about 620 miles from Fort Campbell, and not thousands of miles across an ocean, made them that much faster.

A pair of C-130 Hercules transport planes from the 118th Airlift Wing had taken off from Nashville less than two hours after Dew’s panicked call to Murray Longworth. Those C-130s landed at Campbell Army Air Field thirty minutes after takeoff. Thirty minutes after that, loaded with the first contingent of the 1-187th, the C-130s took off for Caro Municipal Airport, an active airport not quite two miles from where Dew now stood.

Back at the tiny airport, more C-130s were landing. It would take fifteen or so sorties and several more hours to bring in the entire battalion

task force. But Dew wasn’t waiting for the full battalion. With four sorties complete, he had 128 soldiers and four Humvees — that was the force available, and those were the men he was taking in.

Most of those men wore serious expressions, some tainted with a hint of fear. A few still thought this was a surprise drill. These were highly trained soldiers, Dew knew, but all the training in the world don’t mean jack squat if you’d never been in the shit. All the squad leaders, at least, had seen serious action — he could tell that by their calm, hard-eyed expressions — but most of the men carried the nasty aura of combat newbies.

Their leader was the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ogden. Normally a captain commanded the first company in, but the urgency, the unknown enemy, and the fact that they were operating on American soil demanded Ogden’s direct attention. A gaunt man in his forties, Ogden was so skinny the fatigues almost hung on him. He looked more like a prisoner of war than a soldier, but he moved quickly, he spoke with authority, and his demeanor was anything but weak. His skinniness was also deceiving: he could go toe-to-toe with any of the young bucks in his unit, and they all knew it. Dew could sense that Ogden had seen action, and plenty of it. He was grateful to have a seasoned combat veteran in charge.

“So why here?” Ogden asked. “What’s so special about this place?” “You got me,” Dew said. “All we know is that there were cases in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Toledo. Wahjamega is easy travel distance from all of those. And there’s a lot of farmland and forest around here, huge tracts of space for them to hide in. We think they’re gathering, either the human hosts or possibly as hatchlings, maybe both.”

On the helicopter ride from Ann Arbor, Dew had talked to Murray and filled him in on what little they knew about the hatchlings. Murray initially demanded that Dew keep the info from the ground troops, as they “didn’t have clearance,” but Dew fought and quickly won that argument — he wasn’t leading men into battle who didn’t know if they might be shooting American civilians or some inhuman monstrosity. Which of the two was worse, Dew couldn’t really say.

“What’s the story on our air support, Lieutenant?” Dew asked.

Ogden checked his watch. “We have three AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, ETA is twenty minutes. A company of the 1-130th Army

National Guard out of Morrisville was doing live-fire exercises in Camp Grayling, about a hundred and twenty miles northwest of here.” “Armament?”

“Each bird has eight AGM-114 Hellfire missiles with HEAT warheads,” Ogden said.

Dew nodded. Twenty-four antitank missiles would make a really big

bang. Plus, each Apache had a thirty-millimeter chain gun that could

take out an armored personnel carrier from four kilometers away. All in

all, that provided exceptional air support for this mission. He had ground forces. He had air support en route. The Michigan

State Police were throwing a cordon over the area, evacuating residents

and keeping everyone else out.

Ogden picked up a satellite photo. It showed the warm colors of an

infrared shot. Most of the photo consisted of the blues and greens typical of a nighttime forest, but in the middle was a bright cluster of reds

with a strange pattern the squints had outlined in white.

The squints had also marked what measurements they knew: width approx 135 feet, length approx 180 feet, height unknown. Dew looked at those measurements and thought of Nguyen’s painting — would it be made out of people parts? Was the painting symbolic or literal?

Ogden tapped the photo. “And that’s what we’re going after?” Dew nodded.

“So what is it?” Ogden asked.

Dew shrugged and tapped another photo, showing a different angle

of the strange construct. “We don’t know. We think it might be some kind of doorway. The victim was raving about a ‘doorway’ in Wahjamega, and we found this.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Ogden asked in his ever-calm voice. “A doorway? Like a portal or something? Are we talking Star Trek shit here, Dew?”

Dew shrugged. “Don’t ask me. All I know is that if you’d seen what I’d seen, you’d know why we’re here. You have a problem with that?”

“No, sir,” Ogden said. “A mission is a mission.” He carefully examined the picture. “Those four crossbeams, whatever they are, run directly east-west. Is that significant?”

Infected Page 107

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Infected Page 107 summary

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