Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter 47: Inside Operation Bullfrog

Chapter 47: Inside Operation Bullfrog


  “Look Doctor Redstone I see your point but  ...” The athletically built tall woman is acutely aware her words have no effect on the other woman seated at the table. That woman’s scowl alone makes her words feel about as meaningful as a recipe for butternut squash in the winter. She chews on her full lips in frustration at the others woman’s bully tactics. She catches herself staring down at the crease in the pants of her fatigues. They sit in a vast sterile white conference room. The room is identical to any one of a thousand nondescript such rooms in America. The one exception being is this room is part of a fortified installation sitting more than two thousand feet below ground. There is huge computer console against a wall to their left. The massive black screen dominates the room like a gaudy painting. A meek young soldier in fatigues and a black t-shirt sits bolt upright in a chair at the console. There is a wireless microphone perched on his buzz cut head. One a female scientist and the other a career solider the women sit eying each other with the unease of a pair of scavengers coming together over a carcass. At the far end of the table, four men in pristine white lab coats sporting clipboards flank the heavyset woman. “This isn’t a maybe Major Castleberry ….” The brutish woman at the opposite end of speaks with the air of a Wall Street executive. “ …. This isn’t a discussion this is me telling you and you doing it.” The last phrase comes with an open palm slap to the large faux mahogany table at which they sit. Doctor Redstone’s meaty hand moves up to push her thick black glasses back upon the bridge of her nose. “Doctor Redstone …” Major Donna Castleberry puts on her best diplomatic face. This buys her time to stifle the rage bubbling its way up inside her. The pressure increasing with every second she has to speak to this cow of a woman. Her instincts are urging her to stand up vault over the table and clamp her fingers around Dr. Redstone’s doughy neck. Major Castleberry’s emerald green eyes settle on the immense woman packed into the leather office chair.


  Major Donna Castleberry was not about to be bullied by some egghead from the CDC. “I assure we will offer you whatever help we can with your research doctor.” She pauses as the two women’s eyes lock somewhere near the center of the table. “One thing I can assure of is this Doctor.” Major Castleberry leans up onto the table feeling her brown hair in its no fuss ponytail tickle the back of her neck. “You are correct this discussion is not up for debate.” She says her breath exiting her lungs with such force her nostrils flare. Doctor Redstone leans back in her chair causing its metal spring to emit an almost helpless groan. “Doctor Redstone under no circumstances will we bring what you call specimens or what we call Rotters, Trotters or zombies into this secured base.” Doctor Redstone’s face is an unmoving mask of angry red blush rising up into her jolly pink cheeks. She maneuvers her meaty frame forward huffing angrily like an antagonized bull elephant. The highly intelligent Virologist despises having to wastes time dealing with soldiers. The Doctor starts to formulate a plan as the idea grows so does the smile on her face. Soon the devilish grin slides across her thin pink lips. “Look honey why don’t you run along and get your handler” the doctor says condescendingly waving a contemptuous hand towards the soldier. The dig clearly meant to antagonize the Major. A chorus of chuckles erupt from the men in white lab coats behind Dr. Redstone. They have the look of a high school chess club in the midst of giggling at a private joke. She uses her near genius level intelligent to turn the tables on the pretty Amazonian Barbie doll across the table. Major Castleberry’s eyes cut briefly to the young soldier sitting at computer console. Castleberry the decorated soldier fights to maintain her composure.

  “Attennnnnnhut” The door to the conference bangs open behind the Major. The anger drains from her face like water flushing down a toilet, as she stands bolt upright. Castleberry steps to the side snapping a crisp salute. “General O’Malley” as disembodied male’s voice shouts out. An old grandfatherly looking man strolls confidently in almost on cue. The General’s facial features are hard like granite. Weathered brown sunken eyes appear alert under pure white eyebrows, which is the only hair on his otherwise clean-shaven face. His fatigues neatly pressed and ornately decorated with patches and ribbons rustle as he strides in. On his feet, a pair of highly polished pair of black combat boots reflect the sterile white light in the room. He returns the salute to Major Castleberry passing the statuesque woman. The old man slips right into the seat his subordinate had previously occupied. “At ease” he says watching the young man take his seat at the monitor with the keen eye of a high school principal. The Major falls into a parade stance her well-toned arms behind her back. The door slams shut behind him “My apologies Dr. Redstone …” General O’Malley clears his throat. “I couldn’t attend your hastily called meeting earlier I was busy.” Across the long, table Dr. Redstone rolls her eyes in contempt adding a snort for good measure. “General O’Malley it’s no wonder your subordinates don’t take my mission seriously.” She huffs “clearly they see you do not place any importance on it.” Dr. Redstone spits. The two ranking members of the factions occupying the bunker square off as they usually do. If one were to remove the zombie threat, bunker, uniforms, lab coats, and place the pair in the kitchen of a rural farmhouse. They would look more like an old married couple. “Doctor I assure you I take your mission seriously.” Helping you research this plague and increase our understanding of what we face is one of my top priorities.” “There is where you are wrong General …,” Dr. Redstone blurts. “It should be your only priority!” General O’Malley’s lips press together in a sneer as he leans back in his chair. He glances up at his second in command. By the tension in her jaw, muscles he can tell the doctor must have been giving her hell. O’Malley feels a slight twinge of guilt at sending Major Castleberry into the lion’s den on his behalf. His thoughts go back to the young Private he’d spoken too over the radio. Then a spike of remorse drives itself into his heart turning it ice cold. Here they were placating this scientist and her desires around curing death. Meanwhile outside the dead were consuming more and more people every day. He had reached his fill of this woman and his orders from the President were clear when he took his post. Operation Bullfrog’s primary objective in the event of a total electrical failure was to help open a line of communication covering the entire continental United States. This Operation would allow for communications with U.S. forces and other humans across the globe. The five Bullfrog units would be strategically deployed Pennsylvania to California. “The Event” as they were calling it had all but crippled the entire global. Anything not running or in their case buried several stories underground was sparred.


  “Major Castleberry what was the current topic of conversation with the good doctor before I arrived?” Brigadier General O’Malley speaks running his tongue around the inside of his cheek eagerly waiting his answer. Castleberry responds barking her words aloud. “General Sir Doctor Redstone believes that soldiers here do not take the mission here seriously Sir.” The old man huffs crossing one leg over the other. “General Sir she believes as stated previously the reason soldiers do not take the mission seriously is because the General does not take the mission seriously Sir.” O’Malley turns to his subordinate in mock surprise. “Do tell …..” He muses. “General Sir her words not mine Sir.” Major Castleberry says her face a stone mask of discipline. “General Sir Doctor Redstone also demanded that we bring her team infected specimens from the surface for further study.” Deep down inside the undisciplined part of her soul Major Castleberry was enjoying this. She tells General O’Malley of the doctor’s transgressions with all the glee of a child telling her father about her evil stepmother’s indiscretions. “General O’Malley if you wanted to know what I said you could just as easily ask me.” Dr. Redstone calls from the end of the table. “Oh I’m getting to you Alberta,” he says throwing down a gauntlet with his intentional breech of etiquette by using her first name. “Please tell me what you think our mission is. Share with me why you think the government built this bunker and the Bullfrog unit?” The General speaks with all the grandeur of a condescending host at a family Christmas dinner. The look on Doctor Redstone’s face said it all. She was a seething cauldron of bubbling ire. She had finally met the one man in all of her fifty plus years of life who was immune to her tactics. “My orders were clear our goal is to find a cure for  ...,” “Wrong” O’Malley shouts repeatedly stabbing an accusing gnarled finger in the doctor’s direction. “My mission as ordered by the President of the United States was to ensure the deployment of the communications array atop the Bullfrog unit first.” He sits forward holding the finger aloft as if counting off a list. He now adds a second finger up with the first. “Second we were to assist and or rescue any civilians we could in the event of a national emergency.” The dull sound of the wheels echo off the carpeted floor as General O’Malley pushes the chair back rising to his feet. “They threw you eggheads in from the CDC at the last minute like unwanted houseguests.” He adds coming around his end of the tablet. “Washington was hoping we could cure this thing whatever it is but you can’t cure death can you doctor?” He says passing the kid at the console who squirms in his seat. Doctor Redstone looks thunderstruck for a moment her supreme confidence waivers. She settles back and says, “I wouldn’t know doctor you haven’t given us the opportunity to see what we are up against” with sarcastic a smile. “We don’t even know if we have a national emergency on our hands or not. We sit down her sequestered with only your word as to what is happening top side.” She continues as the officer gingerly closes the distance. “No you don’t doctor I do.” Stopping turning back to face the nervous teenager seated at the console against the wall besides him. “Corporal Jones I want the live feed from the Bullfrog’s drone we launched earlier today?” “Sir yes Sir.” The boy croaks startled into action. His hands be move with a well-practiced grace flowing over the large console before settling onto a large black joystick. Within seconds, he has taken over control of the drone from its autopilot. “Major the lights if you would.” He motions over to his subordinate. She moves over to the light switch with a silent nod. The room goes dark like a movie theater light casts off the massive wall sized monitor bathing the room’s occupants in its glow. “We purposely took the drone up this morning before the solar eclipse.” The gravelly voice calls out from the darkness. “We looked for the nearest major population center as instructed in our immediate vicinity.” He continues after clearing his throat. “Which was Pueblo Colorado forty four miles North, North East of our current location.” Slowly the General’s shadow materializes off to one side of the monitor.


  Clouds filter across the screen as the color starts to sharpen and come into focus. The view looks down on what they all now know is Pueblo Colorado. At this height, the lay of the land looks like it does from any transcontinental flight cross the middle of the country. The patchwork quilt of terrain that makes up southern Colorado farmlands and national parks give way to the city of Pueblo. Black smoke wafts up from several dozen unchecked fires partially obscuring the view from the drone’s camera. “We are minus two minutes and counting until the beginning of the eclipse.” He narrates the images before everyone gathered in the room. “Corporal maintain your current holding pattern and I want you to zoom in with the camera. I don’t want any civilians to hear the drone and compromise themselves believing this to be a rescue.” “Sir Yes Sir” Corporal Jones responds. The ground slowly comes into focus the lens of the camera adjusting in slight jerking motions. The air near the ground is clearer. The scene that greets them is a chaotic post-apocalyptic nightmare. Hundreds of figures shuffle aimlessly though wreck-strewn streets. They can see bodies littering the landscape in various states of desecration. Limbs lie torn from sockets scattered about like a demented little girl’s doll massacre. They witness large mobs hunched over shapeless mounds of once human meat. The entire scene before them had the look of a Jackson Pollack painting. The only difference the spatters and spays adorning almost everything in this macabre masterpiece were all a single color blood red. Corporal Jones feels the telltale sensation of a cold sweat dripping from the crown of his head. He absently wipes his clammy palms on his fatigues. He struggled to stench the flow of bile attempting to fight its way up his throat. From somewhere in the room comes an audible gasp “one of her peons no doubt” Castleberry thinks to herself. Although she herself could not blame whichever bespectacled, nerd had made the utterance. Based on what she knew from her discussions with the General. This scene in all of its brutal high definition color surpassed even what her imagination had concocted. She did not know about the others but her thoughts went to her parents. She prayed they had made it to their assigned Bullfrog bunker in rural Pennsylvania. A fact she would not able to confirm until they got their relay up and going. “Notice the large number of Rotters Doctor Redstone.” General O’Malley starts. “Infected General if you please?” The old man glances off in the darkness towards the woman’s voice. “Well I do and please don’t interrupt me again Alberta.” He says turning to the screen. “The limited intelligence we have received in the wake of the first three Bullfrog units’ successful deployments is as follows.” The old man folds his arms across his chest. “For reasons yet unknown these things …. These zombies cluster together.” He points to the screen at a large pack of the dead. They appear like confused humanoid insects meandering through Pueblo’s small downtown district. “Near as we can tell they don’t retain the ability to intentionally organize as a group in their current state. We believe the presence living humans and their individual drive to consume said humans is their driving motivation. This alone we feel allows the individuals to work together for a common goal.” Pausing to crane his neck to take in more of the giant screen General O’Malley continues. “However some of these walking corpses turn feral and display patterns of hyper aggression when the Sun goes down.” The pack of zombies seem to be in a constant motion. They bump into each other changing course only to repeat the same process over again. By his glowing watch face General O’Malley can see the eclipse has begun. “Now Pueblo is just a small city of over a hundred thousand people. Near as we can tell best case estimates have over eighty percent of the population is infected, turned or whatever we are calling it.” Blackness seeps into the picture becoming slowly visible on the outer edge of the camera’s field of vision. “Imagine how bad the destruction is New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles tightly packed metropolises once full of life. They now team with the undead like cockroaches not afraid of the light and emboldened by the night.” The camera grows darker still. “Corporal decease altitude by half” he orders. On screen, the effect is immediate as the unmanned aircraft’s nose begins to dip.   


  “Uh General Sir” A nasally male voice chirps from the darkness. “Sir what is the point of all this?” “We need to see their behavior during this rare chance to study them. We will pair what you with what we learn today.” He answers. On screen, the eclipse reaches its brief climactic total stage. In the gloom, they watch as sporadic zombies pulse to life from amid the horde. Like random frenetic kernels of exploding popcorn, they leap up pushing and shoving their slower kin about carelessly. “Now team I give you our enemies secret weapon the Trotter. A zombie menace complete with the powers of speech, coordinated movement, blood lust and most dangerous of all thought. They pursue humans with a relentless energy born from lungs that don’t need oxygen to breath and muscles that don’t fatigue.” The air in the room is suddenly stuffy, as those gathered there stare transfixed at the horror. The camera pans around catching a cluster of Trotters tearing away from the edge of the great teaming mass of zombies. From its perch above the undead, the drone buzzes on unable to render aid in any way. The Rotters turn on decayed limbs slowly stumbling behind the Trotters like nosy little brothers and sisters. Over a dozen of the corpses emboldened by the early gift of fleeting daylight descend upon a tiny red building. “What is that?” the General asks to nobody in particular. “General Sir it appears to be a fire station Sir?” Major Castleberry answers the rhetorical question. Surrounding the red brick building on every side the Trotters begin tearing at barricaded doors and boarded up windows. “Jesus there must be survivors in there.” The General moves to a spot in front of the screen to get a better look. He steals a glance down at his watch. The totality of the eclipse would end in seven minutes they had just passed the halfway point. Soon the dull Rotters join their intelligent kin in the assault on the tiny firehouse. The zombies attack the structure with the ferocity of unbridled feeding frenzy. Until with all the pressure of a dam bursting, the dead exploit a weak point gaining entry through a front window. “Good Lord can we help them?” A voice cries out. Major Castleberry breaks discipline turning her head towards Doctor Redstone’s voice. “The drone is unarmed.” Jones utters in a panic looking up to General O’Malley. On screen, the futility of their compassion plays out in stomach churning horror. Terrified frantic figures appear in various windows on the second floor. The wretched souls toss themselves out of the windows landing in the roiling horde below. They met their demise with gut wrenching silent screaming up turned faces. Putrid hands slowly pull the ensnared humans down devouring them alive in seconds. Zombies topple out the windows like lemmings behind their fleeing victims. The dead crash onto the pavement dragging themselves on decimated limbs towards the slaughter. They all lust for scraps of human meat. The firehouse is vomiting Rotters and Trotters out of the top floor as the dead pour in from the bottom. Without warning, the front door of the fire station explodes outward in a jagged spray of metal and splintered wood. A massive red fire truck with its lights blazing through the gloom plows from the building battering a swath through the walking dead. A few intrepid Rotters cling to the metal battering ram seeking the people inside. The truck makes a wild turn throwing some of the flesh leeches off in the process. The truck and its inhabitants break free of the densest part of the herd. It speeds towards the edge of town without stopping. As suddenly, as it had begun the eclipse’s hold on the town of Pueblo loosens. The Sun pulls itself slowly from behind the moon’s dark cloak. The dead short circuit whatever triggers that had been lighting up their decomposing brains ceasing for the time being. They stare skyward as the darkness fades some of them perplexed by the tiny flying object in the sky. The zombie’s diseased and decaying brains are unable to comprehend the meaning of the drone overhead. “Stay on that truck Corporal that’s an order.” The General screams. Jones nods he is too scared to speak. “Find the Pueblo’s emergency frequency list and try them all until you raise whoever’s in that truck.” He says leaning in so close he can see the red pores on the boy’s clean-shaven face.


  “Lights” The General barks blindly. Most of those present squint furiously blinking away the spots before their eyes. “Major Castleberry” General O’Malley does not let up. Major Castleberry falls in before the General her body a rigid statue hands at her side. “How many scientist are there here in my bunker?” He quizzes “General Sir there are Sixty Sir.” O’Malley stares a hole into the doctor now “And how many soldiers are there in my bunker Major?” He stops crossing his arms over his muscular but bony chest once more like a kid daring another to hit him. “General Sir there are twelve hundred twenty soldiers with Operation Bullfrog in this bunker all under your command Sir.” He slowly moves on his heels towards the end of the table. He squats by Dr. Redstone’s chair. “Now doctor tell me again how you don’t think this is a military operation.” He smirks “I want the Bullfrog prepped and ready to move within the hour is that clear Major?” His eyes never leave the bulbous woman at the end of the table. “Sir yes Sir.” Castleberry responds and with a dismissive salute, he sends the soldier on her way to do as he instructed. “Doctor Redstone ….” He speaks wet spittle on his lips. “Alberta you are more concerned about bringing the dead into my bunker than the living.” The scientist and her cadre of yes men look around at each other. A few men vigorously shake their heads “no.” “Think about it all of you do you really want what we just saw down here with you in a locked bunker?” As with most “smart people” General Patrick O’Malley believes they are too smart for their or anyone else’s good. “Get this straight your mission and the mission of your dancing monkeys is to do as I say understand?” He looks around not seeing the response desires. “Okay let me put it this way is anybody ready to go top side and see how long they last?” One-man recoils back into the dry erase board behind them that his glasses topple to the floor. “Good I thought so.” The General gingerly stands up on his aching arthritic knees. “Doctor I made contact with a Private who was with the unit assigned to guard St. George’s the day after the turn. She says she is hold up with a few soldiers from her unit and some civilians.” His voice and tone are softer now. “By God I pray they survived this eclipse nightmare. Because if they did I will be bringing them back here once, we set up that array.” He places a hand on the woman’s thick shoulder. “I need you to stow all you data and samples. Form this point on you and all your people will be on medical detail is that clear?” Alberta Redstone bows her head in understanding and rakes her fingers nervously though her thick black hair. “Yes Patrick it is.” She speaks chest hitching with emotion. She claps her hand over his “For all of our sake Patrick put down anyone that gets bit don’t bring them back here.” She says all the pride gone from her face. “Finally doctor something we can both agree on.” The General exits the room without another word. On his orders, the bunker has become a beehive of activity. All around him, all soldiers hustle about making ready for the rescue mission. For the first time since “the Event,” they will be going topside.
Well  now we know something more about the folks heading up Operation Bullfrog!
Stay tuned for chapter 48 and as usual follow me on Twitter @TheLivingDark
The Living Dark