By Brent Acuff
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the
judgment that something else is more important than fear"
~ Ambrose Redmoon
This book is dedicated to my loving and supportive wife. Thank you for believing in me.
The Truth of Alex's Past
The .45 caliber ammunition clicked in rapid succession as Alex quickly loaded the clip of the Glock 45. Slamming the full clip to the table, Alex grabbed a second with fluid motion and filled the empty before Liam and the others had completed their first.
Everyone at the table stopped to looked at Alex, unasked questions on their faces.
"Those magazines aren't going to load themselves, gentlemen." Alex said as if this were something they were all used to. "We've got a lot of work to do, and those bullets are your tools. The more the merrier."
Slowly each man set again to the task in front of him, throwing wary glances to Alex. Liam was the first to speak.
"So," he began with a playful tone. "Just where did you learned to slap rounds in a mag like that?"
"Read it in a book." Alex replied.
"Bullshit," Liam quipped. "Skills like that are learned by doing, not by reading. And from the looks of things, you've been doing for quite some time."
"I'm a good reader," said Alex. "Always have been."
"Bullshit," Liam said again, this time with a little more emphasis than the last. "Stop bullshitting us all. We're in a mess of shit right now and you're pulling our leg. Out with it."
"Books," Alex responded absently.
"Fuck that!" someone yelled, slamming his half full clip on the table. Startled, everyone turned to the man. John Tolbert was on his feet, red faced and glaring down the table at Alex. Alex had not moved.
"You are fucking lying to us! We're being held hostage, forced to go on this suicide mission, because of you, and you won't give us a straight answer." The man was panting with rage or fear, possibly both.
"You're not being held hostage," Alex explained calmly. "Your family is."
"Fuck you!" John yelled, knocking his chair to the floor and storming out of the room. Alex finally looked up, as if confirming that the man had actually left, then returned to his work loading magazines.
"Well, that was entertaining," Liam smirked. Alex snickered under his breath, a slight smile crossing his face. "So you think it funny, do you?" Liam asked.
Looking up from his work, Alex truly smiled at his friend. "I do, Liam. Yes I do." He shook his head and returned to his task.
Liam looked around the table, stopping on each of the faces looking in his direction. "Well then, how about you all?" he asked of the faces before them. "Do you think it funny also?"
Each of the men quickly turned their eyes away from Liam, not daring to be the first to speak for fear of not agreeing with everyone else. In the silence, the click, click of the magazines was deafening.
"I guess we're the only ones who feel in a jolly mood," Liam said, turning his gaze back on Alex. "It's too bad these guys can't look on the bright side of life."
"What bright side?" Trapper Lainey, a recent transplant to the New Hope colony, spoke up. "How can you say there is a bright side to all of this? My wife is being held hostage and I am being forced to...to what? Risk my life so that this guy," he spat, indicating Alex, "can save his own family? How can this possibly be any good?"
Liam turned to the man, a soft expression washing across his face. "Are you dead yet? How about your wife? Is she dead?" Liam waited for the man to answer his questions.
"Well," Trapper hesitated. "No..."
"Then this is your chance." Alex was now speaking, his voice soft, just barely above a whisper. "This is your chance to save that. It is not me that is forcing this situation you, but I will get you through this." Alex now stopped what he was doing and looked directly at the younger man. "You do this, and your family lives. You don't, and all of you will not see the morning. Someone else will take your place. Someone else's family will be made the pawn in this game. The lieutenant colonel will see to that."
"But-" Trapper began. "But, this is suicide. We'll never get in, let alone out again." The fatigue and resignation in his voice was almost palpable.
"There is a chance," Alex assured him, eyes once again on his methodical task. "There is always a chance."
The room returned to silence once again, save for the sound of the ammunition being loaded. Quietly, Liam rose from his seat and moved to Alex's side.
"We need to talk," Liam whispered into Alex's ear. "Come take a walk with me." With a sigh of resignation, Alex set down what he was doing and followed his friend out the door.
"Spill it," Liam asked of Alex. The two men had been walking in silence for a half an hour, circling the complex of New Hope twice before either spoke. "I want the truth from you. You owe me that much for pulling your ass out of the middle of those rotting meat heads a couple of months ago. Spill it, and no more lies."
Alex stopped walking. His eyes never left his feet.
"Spill it," Liam commanded. Alex looked him in the eyes.
"This isn't the first time I've had to do this," Alex stated. "This isn't the first time I've had to deal with the walking dead."
Liam laughed at Alex's statement, but the sound quickly died in his throat when he looked at Alex's face. After all the years they had know each other, Liam could tell that his friend was not kidding.
"What are you talking about, Alex? What do you mean, this isn't the first time?" Fear and confusion crept into Liam's voice. If his friend wasn't making a joke, what could he possibly be talking about?
"You know that I was in the military, right?" Alex asked the question knowing full well that Liam knew the answer.
"Yeah, man. You were a grunt, right? Infantry in the Army Reserves, right?" The doubt in Liam's voice was obvious. He knew what Alex had told him, but now he wasn't sure.
"Military yes, but the Marines. Not Army. And in the Special Forces...a special unit of the Special Forces. Secret." Liam was again doubting what his friend was saying. This was sounding like the beginning to a bad Michael Bay movie.
"So what are you saying? Black Ops? Come on, man. You know I don't believe you." Liam tried to force humor in his voice, but was failing miserably.
"No, not Black Ops. We weren't even on the books." Alex moved to the berm they had been walking around and sat down, his eyes once again on the ground in front of him. "Do you want me to tell you, or are you just going to question everything I say? You said I owed you, so now you're going to get it." Alex looked up at his friend, his eyes asking for an answer.
Liam stood motionless, dumbfounded at his best friend. "Um...yeah, man. Let's hear it."
"Then sit down. This is going to take a while." Alex motioned for Liam to sit down next to him and took a deep breath to gather his thoughts.
"I was a member of the Situational Response Team, specifically the Intelligence Division of that unit. We were a small unit of specialized individuals tasked with the purpose of monitoring and developing response plans for...unusual situations." Alex sat up and spread his arms wide indicating the complex. "I was second in command of a small squad. Eight men in total. It was my responsibility to develop the overall plan to deal with a very specific situation."
"Zombies? Are you telling me you came up with a plan to deal with zombies?!" Liam's voice rose in pitch as realization dawned on him what Alex was getting at.
"Yup. Zombies. You still want me to finish?" Alex's voice was relaxed and steady. He had resigned himself to the fact that someone was going to find out.
"Umm...yeah?" Liam said, trying to convince himself he wanted to hear this.
"My squad had the designation Neoguard. We were dropped into deep China, the Ningxia province. They were having a...problem." Alex looked at Liam again and smiled a knowing smile.
"Zombies?" Liam asked.
"Bingo. The Chinese government was having a problem and they asked our government for help."
"Wait, wait, wait...are you saying that our government KNEW that these things were real?" Liam was having trouble believing anything that Alex was saying.
"The government knows a lot more about things you don't want to know about," Alex said. "Concerning zombies? Yes, they knew. And they had a contingency plan."
"What do you mean, had?" Liam asked.
Alex's smile widened. "They had one, because I designed it." There was a look of pride on Alex's face, but Liam couldn't quite figure out why.
"Okay, so I'm going to ask the obvious. If there was a contingency for this, well...did they use it?" Liam was growing more confused with each word that Alex spoke. He knew that if he didn't get his mind around this now, he would never understand it. That was, if he ever could understand it.
Alex shook his head. "They HAD a contingency plan, but they got rid of it. I told you I wrote it...never said they accepted it. When I was...um...let go, they decided that it was too risky to use. No one else in my unit had been tasked to come up with a different plan, so they scrapped it all together. Government bureaucracy at its finest."
"Define, 'let go'. Seems there's a bigger story there that I need to hear?" Liam asked.
"No. That one is only for me right now. There are still a few ghosts that I'm not ready to deal with." Alex's somewhat playful demeanor suddenly changed. Once again he was drawn inward and did not want to let anyone in. Liam saw this and decided not to push, figuring that if Alex shut down too much, he would never hear the rest of the story.
"Okay, Alex, okay. I won't push for those details...now. But tell me about this contingency plan of yours. And why would they only ask you to design one and not someone else?" Alex cut his eyes toward Liam.
"No, wait...that's not what I mean. I'm sure you were the best for the job, but the government always duplicates everything, so I just thought..." Liam backpedalled as quickly as he could to reconcile his slight.
Alex laughed. "It's okay. I know what you meant." Alex slapped his friend on the shoulder. "Normally, you would be right, but in this case, the project was so secret that those in charge didn't want to risk having too many people in the field. Based on my past record, they gambled sending just one intelligence officer into the field along with an action force to observe and document. They were right, but after my dismissal, I guess the brass thought my judgement may have been skewed enough that I would intentionally cause the plan to fail." Alex lowered his head again and took a deep breath. "After everything we saw, there's no way any of us would have knowingly caused our contingency to fail. Doing so would only bring about the end." Looking up Alex said, "I guess we were right."
Liam sat quiet for a moment, gathering his thoughts and formulating his questions. "It couldn't have been anything this bad, Alex. It couldn't..." Liam was cut short.
"You're right. It wasn't this bad. It was worse." Alex closed his eyes and shook his head to clear the images that he had witness year ago.
"How on earth could it be worse? We're being overrun by the dead..."
"But in China, they play by a different set of rules. No one life is more important than the whole. Your wife, daughter, mother and father could...and were...sacrificed for the greater good." Alex paused, again remembering the ghosts in his past. "This country would never do such a thing; sacrifice its own people on a whim? No. We always try to save everyone. It's part of our problem, I guess. Part of why we are in this mess."
Liam interrupted. "Now wait a minute. Trying to save everyone is not a problem to be dealt with. It should be our goal, our mission. No man left behind..."
"So we all die." Alex spat with a little more venom than should wished. "Listen, I'm not saying that 'No man left behind' is not an honorable and worthy assumption. But look around, Liam. This world is coming apart at the seams. Saving everyone is not possible. There's not enough food and supplies, let alone shelter and protection from the walking dead to accomplish it. Sacrifices have to be made." Alex stared hard at Liam, desperately wanting his best friend to understand. He knew he wouldn't.
"Bullshit, man. That's utter and complete bullshit." Liam pushed himself up from their seats and brushed the dust off his pants. "Are you going to tell me that you had that in your plan? Sacrifice?"