Last Stand (Part 3)
The capitol towered high in the sky over officer James Matthews. The capitol was a complex by itself. The front, which if he went to his left up to the blocked road, it would take him to the historic capitol. It was just a museum, flanked with marble obelisks. One to the Seminole Wars and one to the Civil War. Opposite of where James stood was the Senate Office building. He imagined the road on the other side, Madison Street, was likely clogged as he had seen Monroe Street to be. There was the Knott Building, and then the center and tallest structure in the city was the Capitol itself. The arrangement created a courtyard in the center of the buildings that was filled with statues and memorials.
James stood between the City Hall building and the House Office Building. He was acutely aware of the shambling figure he had seen in the bar behind him earlier. Being left out in the open, exposed, and alone, he had no other choice than to move forward.
He headed up the North Plaza. The plaza would allow him to cross between the House Office and the Historic Capitol into the courtyard. If he was lucky, there would be something or someone around.
With the thought of luck ringing in his head, he couldn’t help but notice how absolutely quiet the surrounding area was tonight. The distant sounds of horns, fires, and gunshots still sounded from areas far off, but his immediate area was like a graveyard. The unnatural, surreal silence sent a shiver up his spine.
James stopped by the replica Liberty Bell. He decided to try his own radio, despite the abysmal news that the Lieutenant had left him with at the graveyard. He tried scanning the network. He could hear garbled chatter. He turned his radio up, but nothing intelligible was coming through.
“Break, break, any officers this net. I’m cut off by the capitol. Anyone read me? Over.” He waited. The scrambled chatter came back.
“Fuck.” He spat out. He wasn’t transmitting, or something wasn’t right. He took a shot in the dark and hit his emergency button.
The emergency button would go out to all the agencies and dispatch. His mic would also open on all nets for thirty seconds. “Any units, I have an officer potentially down, and cut off at Jefferson and Monroe.” He let the radio go through its cycle.
The radio was silent for a moment, and then the static chattering came back.
He rolled his eyes up to the sky, a desperate plea to whatever entity might be there, and asked for a break.
How can things be so bad that radios aren’t working?
“Officer Matthews—it’s officer Sneddon, Capitol Police. What’s your 10-20?” His radio cracked.
My God, I’m not alone after all.
“Liberty Bell by the Historic Capitol.” He responded to his radio.
“Come to the courtyard. We’ll receive you there.”
Oh, thank God, finally.
James imagined multiple officers, the Capitol Police were the smallest department. Still, he would accept any win. He imagined that the other officers from the barricade would likely be there. They must have fallen back to the courtyard, set up a command center there or in the capitol building itself.
James jogged up the gap between the Historic Capitol and the House Office Building. Eager to be reunited with his fellow officers.
The courtyard was a long rectangle with burnt orange bricks that made a scenic walkway. But tonight was a grisly scene to take in.
There were bodies scattered at various distances. Several piles of bodies had been moved, as if stacked, along the sides of the buildings. The bodies were a mix, and indiscriminate. Some were even wearing police uniforms.
Directly ahead, from the tall capitol, came a man wearing the forest green uniform of the Capitol Police Department. Behind him came a more heavily armed man wearing fatigues, a multicam pattern, with a dark green vest that read “NATIONAL GUARD.” The officer waved him forward.
Thank you God. Thank you.
James ran forward to the men. It was a short distance, and a pit grew in him during that distance. There was no other movement. Both men seemed to be cautious, guarded. The soldier was alert in scanning the surrounding area.
“Office Sneddon?” James asked as he finished the distance.
“Yes, c’mon we need to get back inside.” Officer Sneddon hurried without explanation. The three men headed into the main entrance of the Capitol. Once inside, Officer Sneddon hurried to lock the plexiglass doors and then pull down the emergency shutters, locking them closed as well.
Finally, the pasty man stood, a thick film of perspiration coating his face. He rammed his hand out to shake James’s hand.
“Jacob Sneddon. Good to see you made it, man.”
“James, like wise.”
“Specialist Nick Nisbet.” The soldier offered.
Handshakes complete, James asked the next question. “Where is everyone?”
There was a tentative glance between the two men.
“We have one more guy up top. Otherwise, we’re it.” Nick answered.
“The last six hours have been a nightmare, and honestly had we not been inside when most of it went down, we’d likely be out there among the dead.” Jacob added.
James eyed the two and then rested on Nick. “I was told the Guard was cut off by traffic, you guys made it here then?”
“No, the rest of the unit is stuck on the North side of town. Myself and one other guy were sent here the other day when the stand-to order came from State. They wanted a sniper team to supplement security as the Governor decided he was going to try to ride it out here. Whole lot of good that did.” Nick snorted.
“Follow us topside. I can explain as we go.” James followed Jacob and Nick up through the stairwell. “The agencies were caught trying to coordinate everything here when panic spread through the people. They responded like it was a riot, but shit hit the fan, and when people started eating each other—everything fell apart. The Governor and some of his staff had decided to evacuate. The first helicopter came and got them out of here. We had barricades and shield walls, but they started collapsing in. We basically watched as our flimsy perimeter was consumed by waves of bodies. North Monroe? Forget it. It’s a nightmare along that entire road. Cars went right through officers as they were trying to set up. Every officer that fell just became another one of them. It’s like a contagious delirium.”
They reached a floor, James hadn’t counted the flights, but when he emerged through a door Jacob opened they were halfway up the capitol building. The windows were looking East up Apalachee Parkway. A hellish landscape stretched far up the road. Lights still lingered on some businesses, many vehicles up and down the major four-lane parkway were trapped with their lights still going. One way was all red tail lights, another all white. Still, there was the creepy movement of fleeting figures among the lights. Fires burned like chaotic stars, and charred husks left dark plumes rising in their wakes.
“I was in one of the barricades closer to the college when some of the shield walls fell. I couldn’t get anything on the radio, neither could my lieutenant,” James noted.
“Makes sense. Come here, I’ll show you.” Jacob directed.
The two men led James to a Southern window. Another soldier was posted there, prone, behind a large scoped rifle, peering out into the nightmare. James noted the amount of shell casings that flickered on the floor from all the dazzling lights from the outside world.
The window came into sight to the Senate Office Building. A large charred hole still smoked off the South-East corner.
“The command staff that had set up outside were waiting on another helicopter to get staff and civilians out of here. That’s when our barriers gave out. Just too many bodies. I don’t know what exactly happened, but that helicopter went sporadic in the sky and went down right there. Our radios rely on relays around town to get their reach. Turns out, the top of the Senate Building was one of our relays. When that bird went down, it took it out, cutting this area of town off from being able to talk. You were close, so we heard you transmit.” Jacob noted.
“I see you found him.” The soldier in the prone spoke, but didn’t move from the rifle he laid behind.
“This is Sergeant Williams.” Nick introduced the men.
“Pleasure.” The Sergeant again spoke without moving.
“How about the Guard?”
“We brought our radios as an emergency. We have coms like you, and then military radios—similar issue. We don’t have a power-amp that would push us to being able to talk to our guys on the other-side of town. We can hear them, but can’t talk to them.” Nick explained.
“What are they saying?”
“Nothing good.” Nick injected.
“I’m not sure if you have a cellphone, but they are out of commission too, unless you have one designated as a responder phone. Some genius at the FEMA control station thought they were doing the right thing, activated the Emergency Alert System for all phone towers. So unless it’s a responder phone, you’re carrying a brick.” Jacob explained.
“What about landlines?” James asked.
“You get a busy signal.” Nick answered.
Sergeant Williams spoke up. “Yeah, I always said Tallahassee should put its power and phone lines underground. Too big of an expense, they said. Look at us now.”
James zoned out into the distance as he considered their situation. His eyes tried to find some place to rest that was not chaotic, but the entire landscape denied him that reprieve. He rested his eyes finally at the intersection of Madison and South Monroe. An ambulance was crushed up against two other cars and the street light there. The lights of the ambulance were still going, but nothing else moved in the flashing lights.
“So, is this nationwide?” James finally asked.
“Nationwide?” Sergeant Williams chuckled. “It’s planet wide man.”
“We’d been able to listen to some news before the television went out. The press secretary gave some vague answers. Every major city was in upheaval. What looked to be people upset with a racial dispute or possible pandemic lockdowns was tossed to the wind when we saw images of London that looked like they were bombed.” Nick explained more.
“So, what? We’re at war?” James grasped at straws.
“I think this is far beyond that.” Nick denied, shaking his head.
James let out an exasperated sigh. “I don’t get how this spread so quickly. One moment we were going for a riot response, next thing these, these—zombies are pouring out of the buildings!”
“Oh, they aren’t zombies.” Sergeant Williams chimed in again, still calm and cool behind his rifle as he monitored the area outside via his scope. “They drop just like people. Cracked out people, but they go down the same. I think to be a zombie you have to be dead.”
“I don’t think that’s a necessity.” Nick sniped.
“Are you a zombie expert?” The Sergeant chided.
“Look, that’s not the concern right now.” James cut off the childish game. “How did it spread so quickly?”
The Sergeant broke his cheek weld and looked back at James. There was a momentary pause, and then he went back to the rifle. “I think it’s that we’ve been lied to in what’s going on. This was brewing for a while.”
James tried to swallow, but found his mouth dry.
“We’ve already tried to break this down. The best we could figure is everyone they thought was sick over the last few weeks became these, um, things.” Nick explained. “The riots probably were a mix of issues, but most of it was probably these infected people turning.”
“This is all guesswork?” James wanted clarification.
“No, there’s more. Might as well tell him.” Jacob pushed the subject.
James saw a tenseness wash across Nick. There was a tentative look he gave down to the Sergeant.
“Tell him.” The Sergeant said without moving from his rifle.
“We sort of knew something more was up when they asked for us here a few days back. We’ve responded to riots before, protests and such. The public doesn’t know it, but either the Guard or local law enforcement usually has over watch snipers on critical government buildings. The rules for engagement are extremely strict, so we rarely ever fire a shot. In fact, we never fired a shot in the US until today.
“When the state order came down, there was a tasking that included the expected ammunition count. We brought several cases of ammunition. To give you an idea of how unusual this is, for similar operations in the past, we each usually have ten rounds of ammunition on us.
“Then, when we started to see activity in the streets and all the agencies were still around, there was this conglomeration of guys. Some of them FEMA, local and national, a few WHO guys. They all seemed on edge, scared. We were told by them that anyone who broke through the barrier was considered extremely hostile and was to be fired upon.” Nick cleared his throat. Something choked him deeper inside than his cool young face allowed to show.
“The Specialist is right. It’s a big thing for the Guard to pull the trigger. A whole lot of red tape and fear. The State doesn’t want to deal with it, Commander doesn’t want to deal with it. The Feds don’t want to deal with it. But today… today might as well have been a range day.” The Sergeant completed the explanation.
James looked at all the brass along the floor, and the stark image of the bodies outside were still burned into his memory.
“Best we guess, this has all been going on since the talk of a new pandemic. The government either knew, or didn’t want to admit it. Once way or another, here we are.” Jacob shrugged.
James looked out at his burning city. The people they were all supposed to be protecting. The lives that were supposed to be so dear. Yet now, it was more like being a fish trapped in a filthy aquarium with a neglectful master who had left them to wallow in their own filth.
“What now then? What do we do?” James asked them all.
Jacob stepped in. “It doesn’t make sense to leave right now. The roads are thick with those people out there.”
“I noticed the power was on at the top of the building, most of the area seems to be out. What’s going on with that?” James pried.
“There was an explosion West of here that seemed to be linked to that. Just guessing, it was probably one of the substations. Power still seems to be on for most of the town. We have power, but that’s the generators in the basement providing that power.” The Sergeant answered.
The word substation brought an idea to James. “Sergeant, there’s a police substation further south on Monroe, at the intersection of Magnolia Drive. Can you see it?”
“Give me a moment.” The soldier adjusted himself and peered out into the bleak landscape. “I see it. It’s a healthcare center of some kind.”
“Is there any activity?”
“I can’t see that much. Too much in the way.”
“What are you thinking?” Jacob asked.
“The substation should have a base radio.” James explained. “We could at least get in communication with others.”
“If it’s just communication, we have one of the HMMWVs in the lower garage. There’s a power amp on it, and we can talk back to our unit.” Nick explained. “But think about it. What’s it going to change? They’ll still be far away with an entire city of the things between us. It’s not like the power amp can be brought up here. It’s part of the vehicle, and our HMMWV is not an armored one. It’s a soft top with no doors.”
“If they are making a move, we need to know about it. We have to be able to link up with other’s first chance we get,” James asserted.
Sergeant Williams rolled onto his side and pondered them. He looked as if he were chewing something, but James guessed his mouth was likely empty. “You’re not wrong. I don’t think getting out to that little substation of yours would be worth it, though. That’s a lot of dangerous terrain to cross for a little reward. The HMMWV is an asset, but it’s not moving with all those abandon vehicles out front. If we are going to move, we might as well try for the actual police station. It’s the same distance as your substation, but it’s more likely to have people there.”
“Are we really talking about doing two miles on foot?” Jacob eked out.
“It’s a mile and a half.” James corrected.
“That’s a mile and a half of those things across a city that’s basically burning!”
“We’re all ears if you have an idea.” Nick suggested.
“Ok.” Jacob straightened up. “We wait until morning. We’ll be able to see easily, and maybe your Guard buddies will be able to get through.”
Sergeant Williams shook his head at the idea. “I’ll tell you why that’s not going to happen. First, our unit is five miles North-East of here. You see how thick Monroe and Apalachee are?” The Sergeant pointed to the streets packed with the cars and the swift hunting figures below. “That’s not a one day operation. Second, there’s no one worth anything here. The Governor is gone, all the staff are gone. No one has an incentive to come here. We have limited supplies. Who knows when they’ll get here? Lastly, daylight works both ways. We might be able to see, but everyone else will be able to as well. Nick and I have night vision. So, we have a slight advantage in moving now.”
Jacob pinched his lips tight. The rejection of the idea was still there, but he could not find an argument against the facts.
“What if the station is overrun?” Nick asked. “It’s possible that they are in a worse situation than we are.”
“We can flex our plans, then. Either beat-feet back here, or try somewhere else.” The Sergeant rolled and looked at James. “As we get closer, your radio should be able to communicate with your buddies. It’s not like we are walking in blind.”
“Ok, so that’s it. We got a plan then?” James asked for confirmation.
“I’d say so,” Nick confirmed.
The Sergeant nodded.
Jacob twisted his face. He didn’t like the idea of giving up the safety they had, but he relented with a sigh. “I don’t see any point in staying here alone.”