Authors: Anthony J Melchiorri
(The Tide Series Volume 4)
Anthony J Melchiorri
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The Tide: Deadrise
Copyright © 2016 by Anthony J. Melchiorri. All rights reserved.
First Edition: August 2016
Cover Design: Eloise Knapp Design
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Ronald Reagan Washington Airport Metro Station
Arlington County, Virginia
ominic Holland marched along the deserted Metro track, following the dark tunnel into daylight. The other Hunters walked in his wake. They carefully trod between the steel rails and made their way to the station. Towering columns and arches heralded them onto the open-air platform. Discarded suitcases, backpacks, purses, and satchels lay splayed and spilling around the mosaic tiles.
They’d finally made it to the Reagan National Airport.
Sour waves of decayed meat drifted on the breeze, the rotten odor inescapable. Distant cries of hunting Skulls danced with the wind, reminding them of the terrifying new reality that had enveloped the United States. Then Dom spotted the source of the odor. It was yet another reminder of the price their country had paid in the days since the outbreak.
Meredith Webb sidled up to Dom, her rifle lowered to her side. “Good God.”
“So much death,” Dom said, shaking his head. He feared he was becoming used to sights like these.
His team caught up with them. Miguel Ruiz, Andris Jansons, and Renee Boland stood beside Dom and Meredith, with Glenn Walsh helping the injured Spencer Barret along. Jenna Reed still prowled with her rifle’s stock pressed against her shoulder, but her posture was less tense now. The ragged group bunched together at the side of the platform with their eyes on the gruesome tableau.
Corpses were piled in a corner. Bodies, some large and some depressingly small, had been left to rot. Flies swarmed in and out, buzzing an incessant drone.
“They haven’t been eaten,” Jenna said, nonplussed.
“Exactly,” Dom said. “We’ve never met a Skull willing to pass up a meal.”
“Which means, maybe,” Glenn said, his voice low and rolling, “if we’re lucky, the Skulls aren’t hanging around up here.”
Wasted meat was not a concept Skulls understood. The creatures had generally wreaked havoc on human populations and then devoured all morsels of sinew, organs, and flesh they could sink their demonic teeth into.
Renee turned away from the mess of corpses, pinching her nose. “Skulls or not, I don’t want to camp here.”
“Chief, who do you think did this?” Miguel asked. “I mean, if the Skulls didn’t kill them, who took their time to put a bunch of bodies in a pile?”
“My first guess is military. Or maybe it was some other pocket of resistance,” Dom said. “That might be a help or a hindrance.”
He saw the group instinctively check their dwindling ammo supplies. Since the outbreak, they’d learned to remain skeptical about not just the Skulls, but also other humans.
“We find guys with guns looking to help out, we could use the extra hands,” Glenn said, though he didn’t appear completely convinced by his own statement. “On the other hand—”
“On the other hand,” Dom finished, “if it’s military and they’re connected to Kinsey, they’re probably on the lookout for us. They’re going to want to finish the job they started at the NIH.”
He didn’t need to tell the other Hunters what was at stake. They already understood. General Kinsey wanted them dead or dragged in for questioning. Their ship, the
, was likely under Kinsey’s control, and none of them knew what had happened to those aboard it. They’d tried to cling to the hope that the crew would be okay, but they shared an unspoken fear about the fate of those who had been aboard the
when the US military had overthrown Dom’s stewardship of the vessel.
At least his daughters had escaped. Kara and Sadie were waiting for their father, and Dom wanted to make damn sure he reached them as soon as possible. He walked to the western side of the platform. It overlooked Crystal City, Virginia. A few buildings, mostly hotels, towered over the trees and roads. Tendrils of smoke twisted into the air. Flames tickled the inside of one office building with busted windows, making it look like some oversized, metallic jack-o’-lantern. Dom reached into his pack and snagged his binos. He scanned the streets. Skulls meandered in their familiar lethargic trance. They’d continue to wander like zombies until something riled them up. And once something grabbed their attention, Dom knew those creatures would make aggressive use of the jagged appendages and organic bony armor covering their once-human bodies.
Goliaths, too, lumbered along the street between crashed vehicles and overturned trash cans and fallen lampposts. The behemoths were studded with spikes. Elephantine tusks arced from their jaws, giving each a fierce underbite. Their massive arms swung by their sides as if the monsters were bulky, bone-covered gorillas, and their fingers ended in massive claws sharp enough to tear Dom’s body in half. The smaller Skulls scattered away from the giant beasts each time they took a step.
Traveling through the city wouldn’t be easy, but he hadn’t expected it would be.
All of the Hunters’ eyes were on him as he surveyed the other side of the Metro station. Short bridges led across the loading zone and into the airport. There was an array of police cars and a couple of Humvees. Two Skulls wandered aimlessly between the vehicles, but these looked ragged, possibly starving. Easy to take out if the damn things attacked. The sliding glass doors to the airport appeared intact. Even if they were locked, Dom and the Hunters could easily make an entrance. He walked back to the group.
“Here’s what we’ve got,” Dom said. “The supplies we gathered from the coffee shop before leaving DC aren’t enough to last the long journey back to the
, wherever the hell she is now. The airport could still be full of food and bottled drinks. If not the shops and restaurants, then the storage facilities and service hallways behind those places.”
He patted his rifle meaningfully. “Most importantly, our ammo is limited. If we attract too much attention, we’ll be hard-pressed dealing with the Skulls in the streets. We might be able to raid the TSA’s stores for a little bit of ammo or scrounge up anything left behind by any other forces.”
“Hear, hear,” Spencer said, grimacing beneath the bandages covering his face. The man was still in obvious pain from the Drooler attack he’d endured at the NIH. The creature’s acid spray had left him with terrible burns. “And we’re running out of morphine. I’m a tough motherfucker, but this shit hurts.”
“Understood, brother,” Dom said. “We’ll check out the airport’s medical supplies.”
“And, Chief, what if we run into hostiles?” Miguel asked.
“You know what to do if they’re Skulls,” Dom said. “Dispatch them without hesitation. If they’re human, I trust you to assess the situation. If you think they can help, ask them to join us. Otherwise, stay frosty and stay out of sight. I don’t want to fight other people. Our real enemies are the Skulls and the Oni Agent.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” the Hunters replied.
“Let’s make this a quick in-and-out. Renee and Andris, search for ammo and weapons. Miguel and Jenna, grab food and water. Focus on high-calorie, high-nutrition food, got it?” The duo nodded. “Glenn and Spencer, keep our entrance to the airport secure. Let us know if you spot trouble. Understood?”
“Absolutely.” Spencer gave Dom a pained grin. The man seemed to appreciate being given some responsibility despite his injuries.
“Meredith and I will find medical supplies. Any questions?”
The Hunters shook their heads.
“Ready to rock and roll, Captain,” Jenna said, her fingers wrapped around her rifle.
“On my mark, Miguel take point. We’re going to cross the loading zone one at a time. I only spotted a few hostiles, but don’t let down your guard.”
The Hunters snuck across the short bridge to the loading zone. They ducked to remain under the cement lip along the sides of the squat bridge. At its end, Dom silently signaled Miguel to go first. The Hunter sprinted across the loading zone and hid behind a minivan. He gave Dom a signal to say all was clear. One at a time, the group weaved behind the vehicles and over the pavement. They joined up again near a large concrete planter full of dying flowers.
Dom pointed to one of the glass doors that led into the airport. Miguel dashed to it, peered inside, and then tried to open it. The door didn’t budge. Dom had expected as much. Miguel scanned the wide loading zone.
“Captain, can I be of assistance?” Andris whispered, motioning to a small allotment of C4 he had at the ready.
“Thanks, but we need something a little quieter,” Dom said. “Miguel’s equipped for this.”
There were plenty of doors to try, but Dom didn’t want to waste any more time. He motioned to Miguel. The Hunter nodded and opened a panel on his prosthetic arm. Two thin metal tools poked out. He inserted them into the keyhole and tapped on a small touchscreen display embedded in the arm. It took a few minutes, but his efforts were greeted with a slight click, and Miguel pulled the door open. He made a sweeping bow, motioning for the others to enter as if they were royalty and he was a humble servant.
The group filed into the atrium and formed a perimeter around the entrance to the ticketing counters. Toppled barriers, once carefully organized in winding lines to guide passengers, were strewn about the airy room. Expansive windows in the walls and ceiling let in warm sunlight. The pervasive smell of mold, mildew, and spoiled meat drifted through. But there were no bodies and no Skulls wandering about. The only remaining signs of human life were piles of dropped luggage.
Dom shot a series of swift hand signals to send his crew on their way. He and Meredith traced a path through a security entrance to the airport terminals. It went against Dom’s instincts to walk past the metal detectors and full body scanners carrying enough weapons to earn him a top spot on the No Fly list. Signs hanging from the ceiling helpfully pointed the way to the medical supplies he sought with a red-and-white cross beside an arrow.
An eerie sensation nagged at the back of his mind. Food wrappers, plastic cups, discarded bottles, and torn blankets covered the seats along the terminals. Here, too, they found plenty of abandoned baggage, but few corpses and no Skulls.
A glance at the airfield provided some insight. Black craters marred the lawn between cracked and destroyed runways. Planes lay in twisted heaps of bent metal. Skull corpses were everywhere, along with scattered bones and clothing. No doubt a battle between humans and Skulls had taken place. Judging by the pockmarked earth, Dom guessed the military had played a large role in eradicating the Oni Agent-infected creatures in the immediate vicinity. Dom caught Meredith’s eye, and she shook her head. A small gesture that spoke a multitude of emotions. Regret and sympathy for the loss of life. Worry and anxiety that this would be their fate and that of the crew and Dom’s family.
And despair. Despair in droves.
Dom didn’t have time for despair. All they could do was keep moving. They followed the red cross signs down a barren hallway. A placard above a door announced they’d made it to the First Aid station. Across the door, a handwritten note gave details of a quarantine and subsequent evacuation of non-critical airport personnel. Now things began to make sense. An airport like this, so close to the nation’s capital, would’ve been shut down at the first sign of the Oni Agent outbreak. Flights would’ve been suspended and rerouted. Maybe the military had tried to clear it for reuse but had given up due to the damage on the runways.