Hunting The Snark: An Alice in Deadland Adventure (Alice, No. 4) (4 page)

BOOK: Hunting The Snark: An Alice in Deadland Adventure (Alice, No. 4)
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Vince had joked about him being like a lost puppy following
her around, but headed into an unknown and dangerous land, Alice decided that
she didn’t mind having Bunny Ears around. He reminded her of home, and of who
and what she really was.

As the helicopter approached the airport at Kolkata, Vince
shouted at them to hold on. It had been raining heavily and he expected a rough
landing with the strong winds that were still blowing. The landing did nothing
to soothe Bunny Ears and as soon as the chopper landed, he tumbled out,
screaming. Two startled soldiers near the landing zone raised their rifles to
fire when Alice shouted at them to stop. They lowered their rifles, but when
Alice stepped out, their eyes widened. A dozen more soldiers ran up to them and
whispered among each other. She heard her name mentioned repeatedly, and as one
of the soldiers came towards her, Satish put himself between them, his rifle
half-raised.

‘Now, young man, you need to reconsider your next move.’

The American soldier started to protest when Vince stepped
out of the helicopter.

‘Marine, stand down! Let me introduce all of you to Alice.’

As they walked into the control tower that also acted as the
headquarters for the small Marine detachment there, Vince leaned towards Alice.

‘Don’t worry about their reaction. To them, you have been
something of a legend, so if they’re excited or spooked on seeing you, they
mean no harm.’

Alice smiled back, though with her currently stretched skin
it came out looking more like a grimace.

‘Don’t worry, Vince. I’m used to people looking at me in a
funny way.’

The US forces had reclaimed the airport just over six months
ago, in an effort to recover Doctor Edwards and the blood samples, and now it
had become a permanent base, the link between the Deadland and the US Homeland.
Flights were still scarce, but when they really needed it, it was the only way
to travel between the US and India. Their onward flight to the Homeland the
next morning was to be in an old reclaimed DC-3 Dakota that looked like it had
been taken out of a museum, which was in fact the truth. Not having enjoyed the
flight to Kolkata, Alice wasn’t looking forward to the longer journey ahead,
but she reminded herself that if the key to protecting her people lay there,
then that was where she was headed.

Everyone else had settled down for the night, and Alice was
sitting in a room reading to Bunny Ears from the charred book that the Queen of
the Biters had given her long ago, a book that held the key to why she had been
thrust into the center-stage of events in the Deadland in the first place. A
book called Alice in Wonderland. To Protima, the Queen of the Biters, the book
had contained a prophecy for how a girl called Alice would restore peace to the
Deadland, but to Alice it was a symbol that ensured the Biters followed her.

She was less than halfway into the book when gunfire broke
out and one of the Marines screamed, ‘Biters outside the gate!’

Alice calmly gathered up the book and motioned for Bunny
Ears to wait. She walked past the Marines who were getting their weapons ready
and stepped towards the gate, saying, ‘Don’t fire. Let me have a word with
them.’

 

***

 

Konrath was at his desk, listening to the reports coming out
of Kolkata. Even before Alice had stepped foot on US soil, her legend was
spreading. More than weapons or ammunition, what the resistance needed was
hope. Alice was living proof that the Biters were not a supernatural evil, and
she was also the only person who could bring about peace between humans and
Biters so that they could focus on fighting the Executive Committee. Konrath
was sure that legends grew in the telling, but in this case he didn’t mind it.

The first reports, radioed in by the Marines at Kolkata,
spoke of how Alice had walked out into the rain among a hundred bloodthirsty
Biters, and by holding aloft her book and speaking to them, managed to subdue
them. Within minutes, they were following her around. Over the last few months,
the Marines had expended lives, ammunition and effort holding off the Biters
who stumbled onto the airfield and attacked them. Alice talked to the Biters,
her bunny-eared Biter escort standing next to her, and told them to leave the
humans at the airfield alone. Even a couple of hours after she had left, the
Biters made no move to attack. Everyone in the communications room had clapped
and cheered and many had come over to ask Konrath if she could work the same
kind of magic in the US.

He leaned back on his chair and was about to get up for a
coffee when a woman burst into the room.

‘General, our recce teams have spotted choppers coming this
way!’

‘Maybe they’re just on a recce mission themselves. They
overfly us at least a couple of times a month.’

Vicki Evans shook her head, her anxiety showing. ‘This is
different. There are at least three troop carriers. Our position may have been
compromised.’

Konrath gathered his things and they prepared to evacuate.
The restoring of some portions of the Internet and radio communications had
proved to be a double-edged sword. While it allowed Konrath to stay in touch
with other members of the resistance, it also meant that over time, Zeus was
able to intercept some of their communications and frequencies. A virtual game
of cat-and-mouse was being waged on the Internet and across the airwaves, and
the outcome was no less deadly than the battles waged in the physical world.
The losers paid with their lives.

There were only five of them at the headquarters and they
quickly gathered their communications gear and their weapons and left by a back
door. Konrath heard the approaching helicopters and turned to have a look when
the first rocket hit the building, sending shards of bricks and glass flying.
Konrath was thrown to the ground by the explosion, and Vicki helped him up as
they ran into the bushes behind the building.

‘We’ll set up a trip wire here. You go on.’

When the resistance was still new and he was not so inured
to seeing people he cared about dying, Konrath would have never allowed the
four young men and women to stay behind to sacrifice themselves. However, he
had to get away. He had worked hard to forge some sort of unified resistance
among the various groups and militias battling Zeus. His death would end any
organized resistance and Zeus would mop up what remained. He knew all that, yet
he hated himself for melting into the forests as Vicki and the three others
stayed behind to delay the Zeus troopers as long as they could.

As he ran into the darkness of the forest, he wondered where
Alice would be. She was heading into a dangerous and unfamiliar new land, and
now on the run himself, he would not be able to help her.

 

***

 

When the plane finally landed, Alice found it inconceivable
how people had travelled before The Rising stuck in a noisy, unstable piece of
metal. Satish had gone to a small room that Vince had told them they could rest
in and fallen asleep, saying something about jet lag, a concept that puzzled
Alice. Bunny Ears seemed so happy to be back on solid ground that he walked
about incessantly, growling out his pleasure. Vince and their pilot had gone to
fetch the people they were to meet, and that left Alice, sitting alone in an
abandoned airbase in Oregon, wondering what was in store for her next.

The DC-3 that had taken off with them from Kolkata had been
heavily modified to accommodate more fuel and extend its range. Yet it had to
stop at the burnt ruins of Changi airport in Singapore and then outside the
irradiated remains of Tokyo where it was refueled by the small contingent of
Marines stationed there. Alice had learnt from Vince that General Konrath had
sacrificed at least three planes and dozens of lives to secure this aerial
lifeline to the Deadland, in an attempt to get back Doctor Edwards and also to
establish contact with Alice.

While she waited for Vince to come back, she walked around
the base. A broken sign proclaimed the base to be Kingsley Airfield, the home
of the 173rd Fighter Squadron. Around the runway were littered the rusting and
often burnt remains of fighter planes. She had heard from Vince about how the
resistance could have really taken the fight to Zeus if it had more air power
to combat Zeus’ attack helicopters and small fleet of fighters. However, all
they had been able to salvage were a few small crop-dusters and light aircraft.
After the Rising, when Zeus began to grab power, many of those serving in the
US military had tried to resist, only to be imprisoned or killed by the
Executive Committee. The Executive Committee had penetrated the government and
armed forces, and many soldiers and airmen were betrayed by their own. Vince’s
own squadron had been wiped out and he had been thrown into a prison camp, but
many like Vince had sabotaged their own aircraft and weapons to prevent them
from falling into Zeus’ hands. That was what seemed to have happened at this
air base.

A poster on a wall had the flag her father had once served.
Below it, someone had spray-painted:

 

Welcome to the
land of the free and the home of the undead.

 

When she got back to the main building, Satish was gathered
with Vince and a group of armed men and women. Alice saw Vince’s expression and
knew that something was wrong.

‘I have some bad news. General Konrath’s headquarters was
attacked yesterday and he is on the run so we can’t get in touch with him yet.
Our plan was to meet up with him and then co-ordinate a plan to get to Cape
Canaveral but now it looks like we’re on our own till we find out where he is.’

‘Where is the General?’

‘He was last spotted near a town called Mason in Ohio. We
had a small airstrip near there where we were to have landed, but now that’s
been taken over by Zeus.’

‘Then let’s drive there and find the General.’

While Alice and Vince had been talking, the newcomers with
Vince had been watching silently, their eyes locked on Alice. One of them, a
beefy man carrying an assault rifle, spoke up.

‘It’s almost a two-day drive there, through Biters and Zeus
patrols. You don’t want to do that, girl, it’s suicidal. We should just wait.’

Alice took a step towards the man, and looked him straight
in the eye.

‘I don’t have time to wait. My people face destruction if we
don’t get to this Cape Canaveral and take out whatever this Snark is. As for
suicidal, you may not have noticed, but you could say I’m half undead already.’

Satish bit his lip as the man blanched under Alice’s glare
and Vince stepped in.

‘Let’s get going, but we will need all the firepower we can
get.’

He turned to the group gathered around him. There were four
men and a woman, all carrying rifles.

‘Folks, you heard Alice. Are you joining us or have you
decided you’re all too chicken to go on a little road trip?’

Several of them stiffened and from the look in their eyes,
most, if not all, of them were hardly enthusiastic about joining her on the
journey. However, none of them would back down in front of his or her peers. As
they got their gear ready, Bunny Ears walked into view, and growled at the big
man who had spoken to Alice. He took a step back and shook his head, and
muttered.

‘Now we’re going to have to babysit Biters. We must be
really out of ideas.’

Vince came out of the terminal building in a few minutes,
carrying a large backpack and an assault rifle. Satish was a step behind him,
and he leaned towards Alice as he passed.

‘Without the General there, are we sure they’ll stick with
us in case we run into trouble?’

Alice had her own doubts, but she had few options. Vince
gathered everyone together for a round of introductions. The beefy man spoke
first.

‘The name’s Larry Sullivan, though I can’t remember the last
time anyone called me that. Now my call sign is Butcher.’

When Satish raised an eyebrow, Larry actually looked
sheepish, as the woman in their group spoke up with a snort.

‘Larry ran a meat shop in Atlanta when the shit hit the fan.
Was a real gentleman, doing bloody origami in his spare time. Then Zeus
confiscated his shop, and he went Rambo on them.’

Alice didn’t get the references but she liked the fact that
the group was not as tightly wound as she had thought as more than one of them
smiled. The woman was next. She was not much taller than Alice’s five feet, but
much broader and carrying a large shotgun.

‘Hi, I’m Cynthia, call sign Baker. When I’m not killing
mercs, I bake cupcakes to destress.’

The next man was black and tall, even taller than Vince, who
towered over Alice. He seemed the most friendly of the lot, and he was armed
much like Alice, with an assault rifle slung across his shoulder, a handgun in
a holster at his left waist and a large hunting knife on his right.

‘Good evening, Ma’am. My name’s Josh Baskins, call sign
Beaver. I was a Navy SEAL in the old days, and I guess the enemy’s a bit more
complicated than it was back in Afghanistan or Iraq, but the war is still very
much on. We’ve all heard a lot about you and I’m glad to have you here.’

Alice nodded at him, smiling.

The next man was slight of build, wearing glasses and
carrying a sniper rifle.

‘I’m Tom Riley, call sign Broker. I run the accounts and
supplies for our group but I’m pretty handy with this beauty here.’

The last man was a heavily bearded man who seemed to be by
far the oldest of the lot. He didn’t seem to be carrying any weapons, but he
opened the top of his backpack to reveal several cubes of C4 explosives and
cords.

‘I’m John Garner, the Barrister. I was a lawyer in New York,
and soon I realized that in this new world, my old education counted for
little. I did, however, discover a new talent of mine—blowing stuff up.’

BOOK: Hunting The Snark: An Alice in Deadland Adventure (Alice, No. 4)
5.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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