Hunting The Snark: An Alice in Deadland Adventure (Alice, No. 4) (9 page)

BOOK: Hunting The Snark: An Alice in Deadland Adventure (Alice, No. 4)
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Alice nodded and went aside. Edward was kneeling beside
Bellman and holding her up slightly so that he could make her sip some water
from a glass. As Alice approached, she turned towards Alice and screamed out
one sentence before she collapsed.

‘Stop them! The Snark is a Boojum!’

 

***

 

SEVEN

 

‘White Queen, this will be tougher than I thought.’

‘What’s up, Beaver?’

Josh had headed out for a more detailed recce to plan their
escape and was now reporting back on the radio headsets they all carried. What
he saw was not reassuring. The two gun turrets that he planned to take out were
guarded by no fewer than a dozen Zeus troopers and getting through them would
require numbers and firepower that Alice and her companions just did not have.
The older Edward walked over to Alice.

‘You need to create a diversion from the inside if you want
to get to those guns.’

When Alice asked him what he had in mind, the old man
smiled.

‘For the last year, all their news reports have talked about
how you are an evil dictator who is oppressing the people of Deadland, and how
you support Biters and terrorists in destroying humans. There have of course
been rumors of what’s really going on there, so imagine what would happen if
you got in front of all the people in this camp.’

‘How would I do that?’

The younger Edward who had his son on his knee spoke up.

‘Dad’s got a point. This evening, they’re going to have
their daily dose of propaganda. They play some silly news reports and then the
camp commander goes live and says some junk. All we need to do is to get you
inside the communication room where he sits in front of the camera and we’re in
business.’

Cynthia had also just come in and sat down next to Alice.

‘I swear I’ll break their hands the next time I meet them!’

Alice smiled as Cynthia swore for a few more minutes. She
had gone out into the camp and tried to get information out of the Zeus
troopers, pretending to be a hapless new inmate. Of course, several of them had
tried getting fresh with her. Her anger aside, it did look like she had got
some useful information.

‘I chatted up one of the guys who guards the armory, and he
thinks we have a date this evening at five.’

At about four-thirty in the evening, all three generations
of Edward John Hayeses accompanied Alice to the communications room. There were
two guards in front of it, and they greeted the older man.

‘Hey, Doc. Are you guys planning a family picnic or what?
Who’s this girl with you and why is her face hidden?’

Alice tensed as the guard extended his hand towards her
hood, but then he stopped abruptly as the older man intervened.

‘Son, she’s got a highly infectious skin disease that I
can’t seem to treat. She’s already infected three more people and before this
spreads through the camp I need to talk to the commander.’

The guards opened the door and let them in. The younger
Edward and his son went back to their tent, the plan being that he would see
Bellman to safety when the attack began.

A man in civilian clothes was readying a camera and other
equipment and a thin man in the black uniform of Zeus sat at a table. The older
Edward repeated his story and the camp commander called Alice forward. As she
came within reach of him, he asked her to pull her hood back. When she
complied, his eyes widened. It took him a second to register what his eyes were
seeing and then he reached for the pistol in his holster. He never made it.
Alice grabbed his hand and twisted it, hearing bones snap. As the man began to
scream out in agony, Alice cut his cry short with an elbow to the throat that sent
him down. The second man in the room looked on in shock and Alice took the
commander’s gun and pointed it at him.

‘Operate the camera and videos as you normally do and no
harm will come to you.’

Half an hour later, all the inmates of the camp gathered in
front of the giant screen. News reports talked of new drone strikes and new
atrocities committed by Biters. Then came the now familiar ads promising a
better life in the Deadland and asking people to volunteer. And then came
something that took everyone’s breath away.

When Alice’s face first appeared on the screen, many
believed it was another propaganda video about her. But then she began
speaking.

‘My name is Alice Gladwell, and I think it’s about time you
all learnt the truth behind my tale and what has happened in the Deadland.’

As she continued speaking, a buzz went through the crowd,
and the guards gathered around the crowd began to move back, many of them now
raising their weapons. A Zeus officer kept trying to reach the commander on his
radio but got no response. Many in the crowd started shouting as Alice told
them about Shanghai and the truth behind The Rising. Some men in the crowd
pointed towards him and one or two of them began to pick up stones. The officer
retreated and then it struck him what was happening. He ran towards the
communications room, where two guards loitered outside.

‘You fools, she’s inside!’

Before he could say any more, shots rang out and he fell to
the ground. A split second later, both guards were down.

Larry ran into view, carrying a rifle they had liberated
from the guards at the armory, and Cynthia was a step behind, a rifle in her
hand. He spoke into his headset.

‘Butcher here, we’re secure with the White Queen. Beaver, do
your bit!’

As Alice ended her transmission, Edward was standing near
the crowd, and he picked up a rock and threw it at a Zeus guard. His
five-year-old son also picked up a rock and threw it, imitating his father. Two
more men near Edward joined in, and soon the guards were being pelted with
stones. Having caused the chaos he wanted to, Edward retreated to his tent
where he picked up the prone body of Bellman and went outside.

Most of the guards were now either trying to take cover or
waiting for orders from the camp commander, which were not going to come
anytime soon, since he was lying unconscious in the communication center. Those
few moments of paralysis proved decisive. Josh was now armed with a rifle and a
handgun taken from fallen guards and he went close to the two gun turrets. Both
were automated, controlled from somewhere inside the compound. The men who
operated the turrets were presumably now caught up in the chaos unfolding in
the camp. He leaned into the first one, exposed the control panel on its rear
and cut open the wiring with a knife. A Zeus guard below shouted up at him and
brought his rifle up to his shoulder but then went down as Cynthia brought him
down with a shot to the legs. Josh cut the wires on the second turret and then
spoke into his headset, choosing an open frequency so that his comrades waiting
outside would also hear.

‘Beaver’s done his job. We’re good to go.’

The assault on the camp was beginning in earnest.

 

***

 

Alice saw two Zeus officers climb onto the walls in an
attempt to rally their forces. One fell from a direct hit to the head. As the
second officer looked around, trying to spot the attacker, he went down
himself. Tom’s voice came on her headset.

‘Broker’s got you covered. Just stay back from the wall for
a few minutes. Barrister’s got a surprise coming.’

The mention of Barrister aka John Garner told Alice that she
should expect something by way of explosives, and she was not disappointed. A
pickup truck, its accelerator pressed down with a brick, sped towards the walls
of the camp, aiming at a point between where the two disabled gun turrets were.
Inside it was packed a jury-rigged bomb made of grenades and TNT. A Zeus
trooper clambered onto the wall and began firing with his rifle, trying to stop
the incoming truck, but he fell to another bullet from Tom’s sniper rifle. As
the truck hit the wall, it exploded in a huge fireball, tearing a gaping hole
in the wall.

Even before the smoke cleared, Alice shouted to her
companions. ‘Come on. Zeus will have its choppers on the way.’

Larry, the biggest of them, had Bellman draped across his
shoulders and Alice, Cynthia and Josh jogged beside him as they made for the
wall. Alice looked back and saw all three generations of Edward John Hayeses
waving to her. With an old man and a young child, they were in a no position to
fight their way out, but Alice hoped that they would find safety.

She spotted movement to her right as a Zeus trooper raised
his rifle at her. She rolled on the ground, coming up in a crouch, and sent
three rounds from her rifle into him. As he fell, two more troopers ran up, but
when they saw Alice, they froze with fear and astonishment. That hesitation
cost them dearly as Alice and Josh sent them down with another volley. By now,
several of the rioting inmates had seen Alice and before she climbed out of the
ruined wall, she turned to call back.

‘Get out! Learn to live like free men, not as slaves of Zeus
and its masters.’

Several of them ran to follow her, but many others remained.
It was perhaps human nature than when presented with a choice between an unpredictable
and risky freedom on the one hand and a familiar tyranny on the other, many
chose the latter. But that was not Alice’s concern. She could but hope to open
their eyes to what was really happening in the Deadland. Whether they chose to
fight for freedom or cling on to the crumbs thrown at them by tyrants was their
choice.

They were well outside the gate, and a muzzle flashed up
ahead, and Alice turned to see another Zeus trooper fall from the wall behind
them.

‘Broker’s got you covered, now just run straight to where
you see me shooting from.’

They were running straight for Tom’s position when Josh
shouted, ‘Shit! They’ve already got reinforcements!’

To her right two Jeeps came into view, each filled with Zeus
troopers. Perhaps a nearby patrol had been alerted by the guards at the camp.
With still more than a hundred meters to go till the relative safety of the
undergrowth where Tom was hidden, she knew they would never make it in time.
Satish’s voice came on the radio.

‘Alice, try to make it. We’ll cover you.’

Vince, Satish, Tom and John all opened up with their rifles,
and one of the Jeeps veered to the right as the driver was hit. The troopers
jumped out and took cover behind the Jeeps and began firing back. Larry shouted
out and Alice saw that he had been hit in the leg. There was no way they were
going to carry Bellman across open ground with the Zeus troopers within such
close range. Firing came from behind her and she thought they had been trapped
in a cross-fire by troopers from the inside, but several of the inmates of the
camp were on the walls, firing at the troopers. They didn’t score many hits but
forced the troopers to take cover, which gave Alice enough time to stand up.
She roared out as loudly as she could.

‘Bunny Ears! I need you!’

A bullet whizzed past Alice’s face but then everyone stopped
firing. All of them, Zeus troopers and camp inmates, paused to see the sight
unfolding in front of them.

The bushes parted and a tall, thin Biter wearing bunny ears
came out. He looked at the Zeus troopers and roared in fury. A couple of the
troopers thought of shooting but abandoned that line of thinking when several
hundred Biters stepped out of the forest and stood together. The people of the
Homeland had never seen anything like it before. Like Alice when she had been
growing up in the Deadland, they had always thought of Biters as mindless
ghouls, capable of nothing but wanton destruction. Now, the Biters were
standing together, and they were all looking at Alice.

She pointed at the Zeus troopers and shouted, her voice
carrying across the battlefield.

‘Retreat or the Biters will come for you!’

A young trooper panicked and fired a shot, grazing Alice’s
shoulder. As she reeled from the impact, Bunny Ears charged at the troopers,
the Biters close on his heels. About half of the troopers ran, knowing that
they faced impossible odds. The remaining stayed and fired, but they never had
a chance. They dropped perhaps a handful of Biters before the others were on
them. It was less a fight than a slaughter, and in seconds, all the troopers
lay dead. Bunny Ears looked up at the camp and the armed men and women ringing
its walls. He took a step towards it, but then Alice shouted out to him.

‘No, Bunny Ears! Ordinary humans are not our enemies. Don’t
attack them, and stop the others from doing so.’

She followed her companions into the forests, leaving behind
hundreds of astonished camp inmates. As they escaped, they carried with them
tales of the incredible event they had just witnessed.

Soon, word began to spread like wildfire. Not only were
Alice and the events attributed to her real, Alice was in the Homeland.

 

***

 

‘General, it’s good to hear from you again and to know that
you’re safe.’

‘Don’t worry about me, Alice. We need to find out what
Bellman knows fast. With the messages the Exec Committee is sending out about
resettlement of the Deadland, I have a really bad feeling about what they’re up
to.’

Alice looked at the woman lying unconscious on the ground a
few feet from her and spoke again into the radio.

‘She still has not regained consciousness and we need to get
her some medical help. Otherwise, I’m afraid that she won’t make it. Butcher’s
also bleeding from his leg wound.’

Larry waved his hand and mumbled, ‘It’s just a scratch.’

Despite his bravado, he was weakening and his face was now
almost yellow. They had patched him up the best they could, but at least one
bullet was lodged inside his leg, he was weak from loss of blood and was unable
to walk without someone’s support.

Satish had been looking at a tablet in his hand.

‘I just got a report from Danish back in Wonderland. They
made contact with a few survivors in Shanghai on the Net and what they say
confirms that it was a nuclear weapon that destroyed Shanghai. There’s nothing
much left now, just a few survivors hiding in the outskirts and Biters
streaming in from the countryside. It’s much, much worse than the Deadland has
ever been.’

Alice turned to Satish and Vince, who had been professional
soldiers, hoping they would know more about the subject.

‘Guys, they can’t just destroy Wonderland with such a weapon
if what they want are our lands and farms, can they?’

Vince’s downcast expression told her all she needed to know.
Satish elaborated.

‘I’m no expert on nukes but they are of two types. Surface
blasts like the one they used on Shanghai destroy most of what’s on the ground
within the impact zone. However, there are what are called airburst weapons,
like the ones many governments used in the days of The Rising, hoping to
destroy the Biters. They explode high up in the air and kill people on the
ground, but usually leave very little radiation or destruction of buildings or
infrastructure.’

Then it struck Alice. This was what the Executive
Committee’s resettlement plan was all about. Having been unable to conquer
Wonderland, they were now planning to kill everyone there and set up their
slave camps there to work the farms, manned by labor they would fly in from the
Homeland. Alice stood up.

‘We need to get going. Did the General give co-ordinates of
where we could go to get Bellman and Butcher some help?’

Vince was scribbling something on a piece of paper.

‘Yes, he did. Another safehouse located about a hundred
miles from here. It’s getting dark so could take us three hours to get there.’

‘Then let’s get going.’

Josh had gone back into the camp and come back driving an
armored car that had been abandoned there, and they all piled into the back,
other than Alice and Bunny Ears, who sat next to Josh.

‘What about all those Biters?’

Alice looked at a couple of the Biters lurking in the
shadows as they passed. ‘They would like to follow us, but I tried to explain
to them that we can’t take them along.’

‘No, I mean, will they…’

Alice answered when she saw Josh’s hesitation.

‘Will they attack humans again? That depends on the humans
as well. They now follow me, and will stay away from humans. But if humans go
out of their way to inflict pain and suffering on others, they should not be
surprised if once in a while they are bitten back.’

They drove in silence for some time and then Alice was
suddenly on guard.

‘Stop the car and pull into those bushes there.’

Josh did he was told and a minute later, they all heard what
Alice had heard—the rotors of an attack helicopter hovering nearby. Vince
shouted from the back.

‘Bellman’s going into convulsions. We need to get her on a
drip or she’ll not last long.’

The sleek black shape of a Zeus attack helicopter came into
view through the trees. She had seen first-hand the devastation such machines
were capable of causing. Their own assault rifles and the machine gun mounted
on the armored car would be no match for the armor-piercing missiles the
helicopter carried under its stubby wings. As she watched in growing
frustration, a second helicopter appeared. One of the choppers turned on a
spotlight in its chin and began scouring the area, while the second hovered a
few feet higher, waiting to attack any target that was discovered.

‘Should we try and surprise them?’

Vince, who had been a helicopter pilot in the US Marines
before The Rising, heard her and answered.

‘All we’d do is commit suicide. Those are Apaches, and
they’ll destroy us before we cause any damage.’

‘Well, we can’t just wait…’

Alice stopped in mid-sentence as the blinding light of the
spotlight now shone directly into the armored car.

‘They’re onto us!’

Vince opened the hatch on top of the armored car and leapt
up to man the roof-mounted heavy-caliber machine gun. He had few hopes that its
bullets could penetrate the armor that covered the attack choppers, but he was
not going to go down without a fight.

The second chopper was now coming closer, and no doubt the
pilot had already locked in on the armored car when a smoke trail snaked up
from the treeline below towards the chopper. A rocket slammed into it, and the
helicopter was obscured in a giant plume of smoke. The second helicopter began
to peel away to take evasive action as Vince fired on full automatic, raking it
with shells.

The stricken helicopter fell to the ground, and its rotor
blades hit nearby trees as it careened into the forest, exploding in a
fireball. The remaining helicopter, now realizing that the hunter had suddenly
become the hunted, dodged another rocket snaking up towards it, but was not so
lucky when a third rocket hit it squarely behind the cockpit, breaking the
helicopter into two with the force of the explosion.

Alice was wondering who their saviors were when familiar
figures emerged from the trees. Kayla was in front, the tube of a rocket
launcher on her shoulder, a dozen of the Night Witches behind her. Kayla came
up to the armored car and looked at Alice with a smile.

‘You told me to try and fight for others, and by doing that
I’ll now have Zeus hunting us down. Get out of here, and make all of this worth
it.’

 

***

 

EIGHT

 

Aaron had never seen his boss quite this drunk at work, nor
quite this angry.

It was an open secret among the staff that Sam King drank
during office hours, and Aaron thought that was a pretty stupid idea. Not
because he had any lofty notions about workplace etiquette—when half the world
was a radioactive sludge and the other half was overrun by Biters, having a
drink at your desk hardly seemed to be a material issue. It was dumb because
Zeus and its masters kept everyone on a tight leash—as head of Sam’s security
detail, he knew that most offices were bugged. Supposedly, Sam was exempt, but
Aaron suspected that people way over his pay grade had arranged that behind his
back.

With his years both inside the system, and working to
overthrow it, he knew that the Executive Committee was not just ruthless, they
preyed on weakness, sniffing it out like sharks would sniff out blood. For Sam
to show such a glaring weakness was pretty stupid of him, but then Aaron had
bigger worries than his boss’ career prospects, and if Sam did disappear into
some FEMA camp, he would just keep spying on whichever toad next occupied the
office.

When Sam called him in to get some files, he saw that Sam
was on a video link to the Executive Committee. The Baron was not there, but
two old men were on the screen and as Aaron began to close the door on his way
out, he heard one of them scream out in exasperation.

‘Alice is in the bloody Homeland. One FEMA camp has fallen,
and the escaped inmates are spreading her tales. We’ve had a riot at another
camp already. How much longer do you need to get the Snarks ready?’

His heart almost stopped at the words. Alice was in the
United States? The same Alice whom General Konrath had written about—the person
who had overthrown the Central Committee with little more than ragtag bunch of
guerillas? The girl who was half Biter and held out the hope that humans and
Biters could co-exist?

He left the door ajar and then continued listening in as Sam
replied.

‘We’ve got a map based on Bellman’s interrogation. The
problem is that she indicated an underground bunker right in the middle of
Biter territory outside Cape Canaveral. It seems she sabotaged the entry from
the base, so the only way in is from the secondary overground entry that is
teeming with Biters. I can organize a Zeus force to try and get there, but
it’ll be bloody business.’

The other old man spoke in a low voice.

‘Losing a few troopers is nothing compared to what happens
if we cannot get control over the Deadland. That brings me to another open
issue—why did you leave Bellman alive?’

Sam paused, and while Aaron could not see him, he knew from
the slightly wavering voice that Sam was struggling to maintain his composure.
He suspected that the half-bottle of liquor was not helping matters much.

‘When we found her, she was running a high fever. She gave
us all the information we needed, and by the time our boys finished with her,
she was as good as dead. We need to focus on getting the Snarks now.’

One of the men raised his voice.

‘It does matter, because Alice now has Bellman, and if she
learns what Bellman’s map shows us, then she and her friends will try and get
there as well. Need I remind you—she has a slightly better chance of getting
through Biters than your men.’

From the pause, Sam had no answer to that.

Aaron was back at his post when Sam called him.

‘Tell the boys to get my car ready. I need to go on a trip,
but no big detail. Just you and me.’

Sam heading out with no protective detail was not only
unusual, but struck Aaron as a bit suicidal. Thirty minutes later, Sam
whispered from the back seat of the Humvee he was driving.

‘How far are we from New Jersey?’

‘About fifty miles or so.’

‘See that old gas station there? Stop there.’

Aaron was intrigued as to what was going on as Sam got out
of the armored Humvee and stretched. Motorcycle engines roared and on reflex,
Aaron’s hand went to the submachine gun lying on the seat beside him. Sam
motioned to him and shouted out.

‘No sudden movements, please. These guys can be trigger
happy.’

Aaron looked out the window to see three Harley-Davidsons
come into view. He resisted an impulse to grab his gun when he saw who was
riding them. The first man was huge, and when he dismounted, Aaron reckoned he
must have been at least six and a half feet tall and built like a tank. He was
dark-complexioned and had a thick bunch of gold medallions and lockets around
his neck and was wearing a robe and black turban of the sort that, in a
previous life, Aaron had known Jihadi fighters to favor. A large, curved knife
hung from his belt and as he extended a huge hand to shake Sam’s, each of his
fingers was topped by a diamond ring.

He turned to look at Aaron, and Aaron found himself looking
away. In his time he had seen all kinds of tough guys, but this man, with his
huge size and with one eye missing, looked like bad news all around. His
companions were similarly dressed, but looked far less intimidating, though
with both of them carrying assault rifles and rocket launchers strapped to
their backs, Aaron quickly gave up any notion of taking them on in a firefight.
What Sam King would want with men like these was beyond him.

After talking to the men for fifteen minutes and handing
over a folder to them, Sam got back in the Humvee. His mood seemed to have
brightened considerably and he was mumbling some nonsense rhyme about a
Jabberwock. Aaron’s curiosity got the better of him and he turned to his boss.

‘Sir, you seem to be in a better mood.’

Sam had poured himself a drink from the small bar in the
back and he began talking.

‘My boy, some things you cannot do within the system, you
need to get your hands a bit dirty. This Biter bitch Alice thinks she can rain
on my parade in my own backyard. Jabber and his men will cut her head off and
stick it on a pole for her supporters to see.’

Aaron didn’t press further, but he knew that Alice was in
danger, and from an unexpected quarter. Whoever these men were, they would not
be riding into battle in Zeus uniforms and helicopters. The General and Alice
had to be warned, and fast.

BOOK: Hunting The Snark: An Alice in Deadland Adventure (Alice, No. 4)
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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