Authors: Mainak Dhar
She came into a clearing as two attack helicopters passed
ahead in the distance, flying away from the combat zone. She took cover behind
a tree but they did not seem to be paying her much attention. Then it struck
She ran on with renewed resolve. Too many of her companions
had given their lives to get her here. She would not fail them.
After a few more minutes of running, she entered dense
foliage and the smell hit her. The smell of burning trees, and of burning
flesh. As she looked around, she began to see several Biters lying, most of
them badly burnt. Yes, a Biter would be put down for good only by a head shot,
but many of these had lost their arms and legs to bombs and shrapnel and could
no longer move. They lay there, watching Alice as she moved among them. She saw
a child, with yellowed skin and dilated eyes, and with blood and pus running
down his face, but a child nevertheless. He had lost both legs and was trying
to crawl towards her. Alice pulled back her hood and knelt beside the boy. As
he tried to snap at her, she held his head down.
‘Shh…I will avenge you all.’
Josh and Cynthia had caught up with her, and they stopped,
stunned at the carnage they saw around them. Alice looked at Josh.
‘Someone sitting in a helicopter or in a drone control
center presses a button and does this. They don’t smell the burning flesh, they
don’t get splattered by the blood and brains, and they don’t hear the screams.
Yet they claim that they are waging war. What kind of war is this?’
Alice got up and Josh saw her eyes turn red.
‘I will show Zeus what war really means.’
‘White Queen, get down!’
Alice wanted badly to wade into the troopers she saw ahead
of her, but she heeded Josh’s cry on her radio earphone and went down to a
crouch, giving Josh and Cynthia time to catch up with her. Both of them were
carrying rocket launchers captured from Jabber’s men, along with two rockets.
As they saw the odds they faced, Alice was glad they had brought the added
firepower. Up ahead, in a small clearing in the forest, more than a dozen Zeus
troopers were standing as two large transport helicopters filled with
black-clad troopers hovered overhead. One of the choppers lowered a rope and
the first man began to rappel down.
‘Once those troops get down, there’ll be fifty or more
troopers there and there’s no way we can fight our way through those kind of
odds.’ Without saying anything more, Josh reached out and gave his rocket to
‘Beaver, what are you doing?’
‘Baker, you get the White Queen to where she needs to. I’ll
slow these guys down and give them something to think about.’
Cynthia tugged at Alice’s arm and began to pull her to one
side. Alice wanted to say so much, to tell Josh that he should not needlessly
sacrifice his life, to tell him it was madness for him to try and slow down so
many troopers. In the end, she just looked into his eyes and saw a man who,
like Vince, Tom, John and so many others she had known and lost, had found that
their lives perhaps got meaning when they got a chance to sacrifice it for
something greater than themselves. After all, wasn’t that Alice’s story as
She ran into the forest with Cynthia close behind as Josh
‘There she goes!’
Sam looked where Brian was pointing and saw the footage
being beamed back from a camera mounted on the chin turret of one of the Apache
attack helicopters. Four rockets snaked out towards the white aircraft below,
and as Sam watched with growing exasperation, all missed as the aircraft dove
and rolled out of the way.
‘Why the hell aren’t the missiles hitting the damn plane?’
Brian replied through gritted teeth. ‘Those are not
air-to-air missiles. We didn’t expect to be dogfighting in the skies with
Biters. Our pilots are using air-to-ground rockets and their guns, and this
pilot knows his stuff. Must be ex-military, but it’s just a matter of time
before we get him. Watch this.’
On another display, this one beamed down from one of the
orbiting drones, another Apache took up the hunt. Both drones had been diverted
to this new mission, and while the troopers on the ground were now effectively
going in blind against Biters lurking in the forest around them, if they
finished Alice then they could get to the bunker at leisure. As the second
Apache fired with its cannon and the tracers homed in on the light aircraft, he
began to think of how he’d frame his mail back to the Executive Committee,
proclaiming his triumph. Sam King, the man who destroyed Alice, the greatest
threat to the New World Order. That would ensure his place in the upper
echelons of the Executive Committee and also make sure that he was no longer
dependent on the mercies of men like the Baron for his family’s continued
‘Damn that pilot!’
Sam was snapped back to the present by Brian’s exclamation
as the small plane rolled away at the last minute from the tracers snaking out
towards it. Sam gripped the table in front of him tightly as he willed the
shells to hit home, but in vain.
‘What other assets do we have that can bring that plane
Brian hesitated before replying.
‘We could retask the remaining three Apaches supporting our
boys in the combat zone, but that would…’
Sam glared at Brian as he completed.
‘That would mean that our boys would have no air support and
no warning of what was coming at them in the combat zone.’
Sam nearly shouted as he stabbed at the screen with his
finger. ‘That bloody plane and the half-Biter bitch in it
zone. Getting them is the only mission that matters now. Do what you have to,
but I want that plane to be burning on the forest floor before it gets any
closer to the bunker.’
Brian did as he was ordered, but he also passed on another
order to his men. He asked the next round of reinforcements ready to be dropped
into the combat zone to be held back, and also ordered his men in the forests
to pull back to secure positions. If the drunken fool he had to take orders
from had really meant what he said, then he would shoot this damn plane down
and present Alice’s head on a platter. But then there was no need to get more
of his men killed in the slaughterhouse that the forests below had turned into.
He watched the plane snake in and out of the trees as the
Apache pilots fired on him. Part of him admired the skill and courage of the
pilot, who in an unarmed light aircraft was taking on five heavily armed Apache
attack helicopters in an attempt to get to the bunker, but part of him just
wanted this to be over so that he and his men could go back and no more lives
would be lost in this senseless mission.
Finally, one of the aircraft’s wings disintegrated from a
direct hit and the plane went into an uncontrollable spin, skimming the tops of
the trees before crashing in a ball of fire and smoke. Brian turned to Sam.
Alice was running at full tilt through the forest, gun in
one hand and knife in the other. Cynthia was struggling to keep up with her,
but telling Alice to slow down was futile. Cynthia had seen it plenty of times
before—men and women caught up in the heat of battle, oblivious to everything
and everyone around them. To see it in such intensity in someone who was still
a child was a bit unnerving.
Alice came upon two Zeus sentries and without even breaking
her stride, she shot one in the chest and in the same fluid motion brought her
right hand around, slashing the other trooper across the neck. She continued
running deeper into the forest. When Cynthia passed the two troopers, both were
badly wounded and crying out in pain. One of them was saying something into his
radio headset. Cynthia paused for a second, wondering why Alice had not
finished them off. Was it because she wanted to keep moving fast, or was it
because she actually wanted to make them suffer?
Alice ran on, focused on getting to the missiles that had
caused so much death and suffering in Shanghai, the pursuit of which had lost
her so many friends and companions. Another two-man Zeus squad stumbled upon
her, and one of the troopers asked her to stop, perhaps confused as to how a
young girl had entered the combat zone. His eyes widened in fear as he saw her
face, which was the last thing he saw before Alice shot him in the head. The
other trooper fired, but Alice slid along the ground towards him, the shots
going over her, and then stabbed him in the thigh. The young trooper screamed
out in pain as she shot him twice. As he fell, Alice continued running.
She saw the abandoned helipad that Bellman’s map had
indicated, and turned right as Bellman had told her to. There was still
sporadic gunfire in the forest around her, but they were not the sounds of the
pitched battle she had been expecting. She did not know that, thinking her to
be dead, the Zeus forces had been asked to hold back.
Alice looked behind her, seeing Cynthia running on. She
beckoned for her to follow and then ran into the forest ahead of her. That was
when she came face to face with a Biter.
Sam King had pulled out his bottle of Scotch and placed it
on the table in front of him.
‘Come on, Brian, have a drink. We need to celebrate.’
Brian tried to look straight ahead, as if conscious that
looking at Sam would betray his feelings.
‘Sir, I am on duty and in a combat zone. I cannot drink.’
Sam poured himself a drink and looked at his tablet. Congratulatory
notes had begun flowing in, from the Baron and other members of the Executive
Committee. Sam’s message had been forwarded on, and as replies flooded his
inbox, Sam smiled. It wasn’t every day that members of the Saudi royal family,
former Presidents, billionaire businessmen and media tycoons all joined in
celebrating your achievements. The members of the Executive Committee
represented the richest and most powerful men on the planet, and now Sam King
had them eating out of the palm of his hand. His message to the Baron had a
pithy subject heading, one which he thought said it all.
At one stroke, Sam King had not just kept alive hopes of
sustaining the new world order that the Executive Committee wanted to bring
about, but finally destroyed its most dangerous enemy. Without Alice,
Wonderland would collapse, and Biters and humans would once again turn on each
other. Into that chaos would step in Zeus, and things would be the way they
once had been in the Deadland.
Alice stepped back, easily evading the bloodied nails that
swept through the air in front of her. The Biter in front of her had been a
young man, and still wore the torn remains of a leather jacket and jeans he had
been wearing when he had been transformed. One of his eyes was missing, with a
bloody gaping hole where it had once been. One side of his head seemed to have
been burnt, and his hair was singed and now was little more than stubble on his
head. His left hand hung uselessly by his side, yet he came at Alice with a
ferocity that surprised her. Normally Biters at least paused, perhaps curious
to see someone who was so like them, yet not fully one of them. This one,
maddened by the air strikes and wanting to strike out at his tormentors, lunged
at Alice again. She side-stepped him and swept his legs from under him, sending
him sprawling to the ground.
Alice turned to see four more bloodied and battered Biters
emerge from behind the trees. She gripped her handgun tightly, but then put it
back in its holster on her belt. Instead, she reached for the old book that
hung in a pouch at her side and she strode forward, hissing like a Biter.
The Biters stopped, unsure now of who or what they were
dealing with. One of them advanced towards her, and Alice pushed him back, holding
the book high above her head.
Cynthia reached the scene a few minutes later, and when she
saw a crowd of more than twenty Biters surrounding Alice, she raised her rifle,
ready to fire. That was when Alice called out to her.
‘Baker, no! Come here slowly.’
As Cynthia approached, still holding her weapon up, the
Biters turned to face her. A couple of them hissed and spat, but not a single
one made a move to attack her. As she came closer, she saw that Alice had a
book open in her hands.
She was reading to the Biters.
As Cynthia scanned the Biters’ faces, she couldn’t be sure
if they understood everything Alice was reading, but they seemed transfixed by
this half-Biter girl who had come into their midst and the book she was
holding. Finally, Alice closed the book and addressed the Biters.
‘Humans are not your enemy, but some evil men who have
brought suffering to all of us—humans and Biters alike—are. We need to fight
them together. Now go, and tell the others that your Queen is here.’
Sam was watching Brian plan the rest of the operation. He
had a map of the area showing on a large monitor, and he was using the
information from his helicopters and drones to pinpoint where Biters were
concentrated and work on a plan to get his men to the bunker with the fewest
possible casualties. Sam thought he was being too cautious, but with Alice out
of the way, for all he cared, Brian could take all day poring over the map. Sam
King was a hero, and he was no longer in a hurry. Of course, when all this was
over, he would make sure he made an appropriate report on the fitness to
command of Brian. With his newfound celebrity status in the Executive
Committee, Sam was sure that Brian would get an up close and personal look at
the inside of a FEMA camp.
He was distracted by such pleasant thoughts when Brian spoke
into the radio. ‘Sector E12 is where we have the least reported Biter activity.
The last drone pass showed no more than six on the thermal sensors. That’s just
three klicks from the bunker. Get two transport choppers out of Canaveral
there. We take out the Biters and then make a dash for the bunker. I want three
Apaches to cover them, and also have another quick reaction force of a hundred
men ready to launch. Once they get to the bunker, I want to make sure we can
reinforce the area and hold it.’