The start of REND, chapter 8

18 June, 0731 hrs local
FBI Forward Field Headquarters
Quantico, Virginia
Alistair Reston set his coffee cup down and sat behind his desk. Then he inserted his identification card into the card reader and typed his password to unlock his computer. Within seconds he was immersed in his morning routine of checking emails that came in over the course of the night so he could prioritize his schedule for the day.
He read through a few standard situation reports of actions that were occurring all over the United States. Since he’d been tasked as the lead for the artifacts recovery mission he’d been able to disconnect a little from the day operations of the entire Bureau, but his normal position as the Deputy Director of the FBI still required that he stay abreast of every situation in case the director became ill or was called away for any number of reasons.
A new message notification popped up in the lower right corner of his screen. Normally he just let those fade and go into the queue of emails that he would read when he got to them chronologically, but this one was from Ryan Blackhurst, the Site Lead at the FBI Mission Staging Site Aberdeen Proving Ground, and had an extremely urgent symbol attached to it. He set down his coffee mug and clicked on the message and read it quickly.

Importance: Extremely Urgent
To: Kelly Flannigan
CC: Alistair Reston, Keith Eubanks
From: Ryan Blackhurst
Subject: S-SB Mission
Ma’am, I’ve tried calling the Emergency Operations Center at Quantico, but can’t get an answer. We’ve lost communications with the team that inserted into Baltimore a few minutes ago. There was a message from one of the pilots that they were landing and there’ve been no updates since then. Helicopters and team communications are down.
Ryan Blackhurst

The deputy director cursed under his breath and picked up his phone. He dialed the number at the bottom of Ryan’s signature block. He answered on the first ring, “Mission Staging Site APG. Blackhurst.”
“Ryan, its Reston. What’s going on?”
“Sir, I’ve been trying to contact the EOC for the past ten minutes, but I haven’t gotten an answer. Just like my email said, we lost contact with everyone who went into the city and there’s been no indication why.”
“Hmm,” Reston mused. “Hang on. I’m going down to the EOC to see what’s going on. Call that number in four minutes.”
“Yes, sir,” Ryan replied. “I’ll talk to you in a few minutes.”
Alistair hung up his phone and pulled the card from his computer, which would lock it without turning it off. He picked up his folder for the Star-Spangled Banner mission and his notebook that he took everywhere. As he stepped into the hall, his phone began to ring. That would be the director. Even though it was 5 a.m. in Denver, all extremely urgent messages went directly to her phone and required an immediate response. He decided that it would no good to answer his phone and tell her that he didn’t know what was happening so he continued on to the Emergency Operations Center.
It was a short trip from his office across the enclosed courtyard and then down the steps to the basement where the EOC vault was located. He saw a figure enter the center just as he stepped into the hallway so he rushed towards the room. The acrid stench of exhaled cigarette smoke made him crinkle his nose and he knew instantly what had happened.
“Gentlemen, there’s an emergency,” he announced as he entered the EOC.
“Morning, sir,” Michael, the younger of the two men in the room, said. “What do you mean an emergency?”
Reston held his tongue temporarily. It would do no good right now to chastise the two technicians for taking a smoking break in the middle of an insertion. Instead he replied, “The mission in Baltimore. We’ve lost radio contact with everyone and I need to know why.”
The technicians’ hands began flying over the keyboards in front of them and the large video monitor in the front of the room showed the video feed from Baltimore rewinding. There wasn’t much to see through the fog except for a muted orange and yellow glow about fifteen minutes prior. The phone rang and Reston picked it up.
“Sir, this is Ryan. Have you been able to figure out what happened?”
“We’re working it now,” he replied. The video began playing forward again and the same quick orange glow emanated from the gloom. “Michael, rewind that and switch to infrared.”
Into the phone, Reston said, “Hold on, Ryan. We may have something.”
The image switched to a standard IR view and the heat emanating from the two helicopters could be seen moving right to left across the screen. The first helicopter’s heat signature got a little smaller as it lowered to the ground and increased its distance from the satellite’s camera angle. Reston counted eight smaller heat signatures separating from the bird as the first half of the team dismounted and began running towards the walls of the fort, which could be discerned because they were colder than the earth itself.
Then, the second helicopter came in quickly and collided with the first and the screen showed a blossom of white as the two exploded. The fireball receded quickly and six of the dismounts began to move towards the wreckage. The remaining two continued to glow, but they didn’t move. Shortly after the figures began their move towards the burning helicopters, they reversed course and headed towards the fort again.
Reston tried to determine what was happening from the infrared image, but it was nearly impossible to discern what caused the team members to turn away from the injured. “Zoom in,” he muttered. Michael obliged and enlarged the recorded footage in as far as he could while still keeping the six personnel in the frame.
The deputy director’s mouth went dry as he watched the heat signatures of the men and women going through motions that appeared to be fighting. Whatever they were squaring off against didn’t give off a heat signature of any kind. “Pause it,” he ordered. “Rewind until I say stop.”
The video paused and then slowly rewound. Sure enough, the heat signature in the upper left was under some kind of assault. “Stop. Now advance. Stop. Zoom in on the far right operator.”
The screen filled with the pink and white silhouette of a human being. “Advance at ultra-slow speed.” At a speed of one frame a second he watched dark hands cover the operator and then heads blocked off the heat signature, finally torsos could be seen twisting in and out of resolution as the zombies’ dead and cold bodies covered the operator. Reston winced as a spray of heat shot into the air and cooled rapidly by the next frame.
“Zoom back out. I want to see what’s happening to the rest of them.”
It was still unclear what was happening to each of them, but it was painfully obvious now that they were fighting for their lives. One by one the remaining members of the team were covered by hordes of zombies. Brilliant flashes of white indicated weapons firing, but it wasn’t enough. There seemed to be too many of the creatures.
“I thought they were wearing protective suits,” Chris, the second technician, said.
“They were,” Reston agreed. “But that will only protect against bites. It does nothing if the zombies twisted and broke their arms or dislocated shoulders, broke a neck…” he trailed off as one of the heat signatures broke away and ran towards the fort.
He scanned the overall picture and determined that the other operators were probably down. “Zoom in on that one and pause.”
The angle of the satellite was just right that he was able to see the white light of the operator’s core fade to pink near the chest and finally terminate in two red masses that weren’t nearly as hot as the rest of the body. “It’s a woman.”
He remembered that he held the phone and spoke into it. “Ryan, I need the flight information. How many women were in the first helicopter?”
“Umm, just one, sir. Allyson Harper was on the first bird, the other two women were on —”
Reston didn’t hear what the other man said. “Play the footage,” he mumbled.
The screen showed Allyson stepping side to side and once she even twirled like a running back breaking through a line of defenders. Then, she was at the wall of the fort and she began running parallel to it, looking for the gate. Suddenly a second heat signature appeared over the wall where she’d just passed. Allyson turned and ran back to where the second person was and somehow her body began to lift into the air. It appeared as if she was climbing a rope of some kind, but it may have been a ladder, Reston couldn’t be sure.
The second figure reached out a hand and pulled her over the wall. The two of them ran side by side until they disappeared inside one of the fort’s buildings. Reston mulled over what he’d just seen and said, “Zoom back out and center on the other agents who made it off of the helicopter.”
The scene showed several rapidly-fading heat sources and no more moving team members. He lifted the phone back to his ear. “Hey, Ryan, I need to hang up and call the director. There was a helicopter crash. Looks like only Allyson survived. I need you to continue to try and raise her on the radio, okay?”
“Yes, sir. We’ve been trying to raise anyone while you were watching the replay, but so far we haven’t gotten any answers. Are you sure that I should only try to contact Allyson and not anyone else?”
Reston watched as a body was torn in half. The area between the two sections blossomed pink for a moment and then the blood cooled in the morning air and faded to a dark blue. The legs jerked back and forth as the creatures played tug-of-war with them and they finally split in two as well. “Yes, I’m sure. They were attacked by zombies after the crash. There are no other survivors. Allyson made it into the fort with the help of someone else, not one of our agents.”
The phone was silent for a moment and then Ryan asked, “Who the hell is living in Fort McHenry?”
“I don’t know, but I intend to find out,” Reston answered. “Alright, I need to call the director. Continue to try and reach Allyson. We’ll be in touch.” He hung up the phone and then picked it up again. The director was probably awake anyways.

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