Friend or Foe
For some reason, the sudden silence amused me greatly. My laugh made Molly sit up.
I decided my fun wasn't done with just yet, I got out of my seat and attached the extension cord to the headset. I stuck my head out the
top hatch again and invited Molly to join me. She did and was lifted out on to the top of the Mastiff. I kept the dog standing on a dog
reference to myself but it only improved my humour.
I pointed at the camera and waved, Molly looked from me to the camera and back, tail going berserk like it was some form of game,
which I suppose it was but not so much for her benefit. I kicked the VOX in.
"What?...was it something I said?!" putting on a joking impression of indignation for the unseen crowd.
"This frequency is no longer secure, move to alternate." Came the terse response but I suspect not meant for me.
Several persons of, I think, varying nationalities, acknowledged and it went quiet. I looked at Molly, shrugged and switched off the VOX.
"Well, so much for that nice chat eh babe?" I gave her a goodly amount of fuss and stroking. "Come on, we have a home to go to."
I secured the hatch as Molly made herself comfy again in the passenger seat; I brought the Mastiff back up to 20mph and continued on
my merry way. I decided it was time to call home and keyed up the little T-80 radio. Max was answering in a flash and asked if I was ok.
"Indeed my little angel, me and her fuzziness are on our way and should be with you in about fifteen minutes.
All okedoke at home sweetheart?"
"It is and we are all very happy to hear your voice!" She sounded in good spirits.
I answered a tad cryptically.
"Well I'm glad someone is, others not so much it would seem."
I could envision her expression at that comment but told her I'd explain it all when I got home. I finished and turned my attention to the
rest of the journey. My attention got side tracked again by a voice on the Bowman.
"Happy Wanderer, y'all still there sugar?" The southern lady was back.
I glanced at Molly, shrugged again and answered which only seemed polite.
"For you dear lady, I most certainly am."
She seemed pleased by that response but I still hit the GPS function and looked at the latitude and longitude coordinates for the sending
station. Somewhere in London it appeared but I was not completely sure as to where.
"Ah have been authorised to speak to y'all on behalf of the organisation I work for."
Well that was nice of them I thought. There was only one answer that came to mind.
"If you are about to tell me that you work for Umbrella, I am going to be more than a bit disappointed sweetheart."
There was a lack of mirth in my voice which she certainly picked up on. She assured me that was not the case, she worked for a different
organisation and she said it was the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance otherwise called the BSAA. I responded that I'd never
heard of them but please continue. I brought the Mastiff to a stop before I made the turnoff to Whitton Road, I knew the GPS worked
both ways on a Bowman and was not about to give up my destination just yet.
"So what is it your outfit wants exactly?" The answer was swift in coming but not hurried in delivery.
"We are first making a search for survivors, getting them out of the area then we will be dealing with the biohazard in London
and the surrounding areas, we believe y'all could be of help in this."
The words 'Oh do you now' ran through my mind but this lass sounded genuine. At the time I couldn't explain it but for reasons unknown,
I trusted what she was saying. Not completely but the mistrust in my mind was in a minority, my gut was saying she's ok. I considered
my response with care and decided to speak my mind honestly, as I saw the situation.
"Ok then, assuming you're on the level and I place those I care for in your hands and they actually want your help to get out,
where do we go from there then?"
That seemed to throw her for a second but she came right back with what I took for the same level of honesty.
"Happy Wanderer, Ah don' expect you to trust us straight out, from what we have seen of you so far, you are more than
capable of taking care of yourself and others."
It was my turn to be thrown for a second then it occurred to me, CCTV cameras. Again, I decided to be honest as this seemed to be the
theme for this little chat.
"All right then, I'll discuss this with my group and see what they have to say but be advised that another outfit that I know
and do trust has offered to get them out, and will be with us soon. That's another thing I have to speak to them about."
We made an agreement that I would contact her again at 6pm tomorrow.
I asked her "So who do I ask for? You know my call sign, what's yours?"
I liked that and said my goodbyes. She told me to take care of myself and it was the most genuine use of that term I had ever heard
anyone say to me. I can tell you now, it did give me a warm glow for reasons I can't explain. I was about to shut down the radio and
drive for home when Southern Belle was back on and the concern in her voice was palpable.
"Happy Wanderer! I think there are people in trouble and y'all are closer than we are, can you help them?"
Her distress was both obvious and, my gut was telling me, genuine.
At this point, as it always does, my overdeveloped public duty gland kicked in. I asked her to tell me the details and bless 'er,
she was right on it. She directed me to Cole Road which was off of London Road less than a quarter mile from me. I had already
floored the accelerator pedal while she relayed the information. The Mastiff engine roared as it took off with a fairly impressive
turn of speed for something this heavy.
She mentioned that the cameras she had happened upon were not that close and she couldn't tell exact details but her feelings were this
was someone in trouble. I was turning in to Cole Road in less than 5 minutes, I could see the problem at the other end and it was at the
junction of Cole and Cole Park Road.
A mob of some 15 walkers were surrounding a car, I could already see that they had taken at least one person. No time for the subtle
approach here, I glanced at the cameras and they showed the rear still clear so brought the beast to a halt some 40 yards short, taking
the G36 and putting a round up the spout, I jumped from the Mastiff and got busy.
Molly followed as always and I told her to heel, stepping forward some 10 yards, I brought up the weapon, clicked the selector to single
shot and gave them the good news.
Slowly but surely, the mob of walkers thinned out and within a minute none were left standing which suited me just fine.
I did take some pains to avoid putting any rounds directly at the car they were so interested in. Oddly though, very few turned in my
direction when the G36 started laying down the law to them. I started looking over the situation.
The car had come to a stop it would appear but mainly due to a couple of walkers under the front axle, both of them were still gurgling
and the Gerber took care of that. Mindful of the racket I'd just made, I had to move fast. The car was an old VW golf and looked like
it had seen better days even before this lot got their grubby paw marks all over it. The number plates were not UK ones, they had the
RUS marking and the Russian Federation flag.
The two former non walkers had been dealt with by the mob in grisly fashion and it was pretty fresh but this had not happened five
minutes ago, they had been here for a while, possibly at some point during the night judging by how much the walkers had scoffed.
I checked the car; the inside was unoccupied as far as I could tell. Doors locked with one side widow open just enough to let air in but
not to even get a finger through.
I couldn't understand what the walkers were so interested in. There was a mixture of supplies, some tinned food and bottled water but
beyond that, nothing I could see that would attract their attention.
I was in two minds about what to do when Molly suddenly went to the car, came up on her hind legs and had a sniff for whatever reason.
Then started pawing at the door. Odd behaviour and I'd never seen her do that unless she wanted out to take care of personal matters.
Time was not on my side but just to make sure, I reached in to my gear and got my auto center punch. It's one of them small engineering
tools that looks like a small screw driver but with a spring loaded hardened point. Useful for marking hard materials but as we in the
regiment had taken to using them, excellent for breaking toughened glass with ease.
Just push against the glass and the self-trigger would fire the point.
Two tries and the driver's side window collapsed. I unlocked the door and opening it, took a look inside.
Nothing that I could see but something was peaking my furry sidekicks interest. She seemed insistent about something by the way her tail
was wagging but no growling so that indicated no danger as far as I could tell. Looking in the back, the rear seat was strewn with the stuff
I'd already seen.
Then, in the foot well, something under a blanket moved.
I pulled it aside to reveal a slightly matted mane of blond hair attached to a child, no more than five or six years old. She was hunkered
down in the foot well, only moved slightly and I could hear her breathing. I came out for a quick visual check about. Nothing around but
I was starting to think I was pushing my luck here.
I folded the driver's seat forward and gently but quickly lifted the little girl out, she was as light as a feather and didn't resist, in fact she
moved very little and made no sound, her eyes wide but seeing nothing. I could only conclude she was traumatised by what she must have
experienced. I held the poor little lass close and wrapped her in the blanket she was hiding under.
I spoke softly as I could. "S'ok sweetheart, you're safe. I got you now and nothing's going to hurt you."
I feel no shame in admitting that when it comes to small kids and dumb animals, I'm as soft hearted a bastard as you'll ever find.
Wasting no more time, I got the little girl secured in the passenger seat of the Mastiff and Molly lay down in the foot well. While I was
doing that, Southern Belle was on the Bowman asking what the situation was. I felt better once I'd closed the door with that reassuring
heavy armoured clunk and took a deep breath.
"Southern Belle, have one live one, a little girl. I think I was several hours too late to do anything for those she was with.
She's breathing ok and seems physically unharmed but I think more than a little traumatised."
"Ah understand, do you want medical evac to come to you?"
I could hear the emotion in her voice, making it ever so slightly shaky even though she was doing a very creditable job of keeping it
under control. I was somewhat impressed that they had medical evacuation capability but decided against that.
"Thanks sweetheart but not required, one of our number is a doctor and she will take care of her, she'll be safe with us but if
we need help, I'll be straight back to you, you have my word."
Just as she acknowledged, my T80 started to sound off, Max's voice.
I asked Southern Belle to excuse me and made an offhand comment about suddenly being very popular these days. I answered Max,
she sounded a little concerned when she asked where I was and if I was OK. Something popped in to my mind to have a joking word
back about getting nagged and we'd only known each other five minutes etc. but I decided to save that one for later.
I told her all was well, informed her about the slight detour but promised I'd explain it all and could she tell Martha to be on hand,
she has a little patient to care for and we had a new house guest.
Max apparently decided to hold off on any more questions and said she would look forward to seeing me home and safe.
Well that makes two of us I thought.
I got back to the Bowman.
"Right then sweetheart, I'm off home and I'll speak to you tomorrow at 18:00 hrs."
The "Don't y'all dare stand me up now." definitely came from a mouth that was smiling.
I informed her sincerely that I would never do such a thing, signed off and shut the radio down.
On arrival, the few walkers there were either bypassed or squashed, not that it mattered much but the run up to and the bridge itself
was nice and clear. With no small care, I backed the Mastiff up to the bridge and stuck her in there nice and tight. Moving quickly to
the back, I opened the rear doors and got the piece of cage armour in to position and tied tight to the Mastiff and the uprights for the
bridge handrails. It fitted well and nothing apart from small animals could get through there.
I locked the Mastiff down and got on the walkie-talkie.
"Home base, Happy Wanderer is at the bridge and in need of helping hands to unload some very precious cargo"
The return message was quick and swift footfalls sounded from the other side of the fence. I could see the ropes being loosened and the
barricade slid aside. Max ran up and practically jumped in to my open arms, her smile as broad as mine. If I was any less in physical
stature, she would have busted a couple of my ribs for how hard she hugged me and I don't think I would have minded that much
if she had.
"Missed you too my little angel"
Martha and Reg were right behind her; I slightly reluctantly had to put Max down and climbed in to get our new guest. The poor little lass
hadn't budged an inch. I gathered her gently up, carried her to the rear doors and delivered her safely to Martha's waiting arms.
I jumped down and then helped Molly off the Mastiff and told her to go with Martha and asked Max if she would go as well and help
Martha if she needed anything. Max nodded and stood on tip toe to give me a peck and then went off after Martha. Reg shook my hand.
"Glad to see you back ok Ben." I had the feeling this was Reg in 'mildly excited' mode.
"Trust me Reg when I say it's bloody good to be back, let's get this gear off and then time for a cuppa. My mouths so dry I'm
beginning to spit feathers 'ere mate!"
He understood and in short order, we were unloaded and sitting down with a cuppa in comfy surroundings. A small slice of heaven for me
after the past couple of days. Martha and Max were seeing to the little girl and I could see Reg had questions but being the seriously
considerate soul he is, left off asking anything until the ladies were present.
Martha told me the little girl was physically ok if a little dehydrated, they had cleaned her up and got some fluids in her. She was resting
in the back bedroom but had said nothing and had made no moves to resist. She said it was shock and being traumatised by whatever
she had experienced and the entire group could appreciate that.
I told them of the Chinook and the things discussed and apologised to Max about inviting them here without her permission, and to the all
for making that decision but stated I thought it best to give them the option of making that choice to stay or go themselves with the means
on hand should they wish to leave. Also, I told them of the chance communication between myself and the BSAA.
Martha did say she had heard of them, something to do with countering bioterrorism. They had been active during the start of the
Racoon City incident which had required the use of a tactical nuke. I then remembered that all happening as the Americans still had
understandably bad feelings about losing a city and worse, using nuclear weapons on their own soil but it was necessary to contain the
outbreak they had there. I recall that it had come right down to the wire on keeping the infection bottled up and they had very nearly lost it.
Apparently the BSAA were convinced it wasn't some naturally occurring disease or accident and someone was responsible, the rumour
mill was pointing the finger at the Umbrella Corp. but nothing stuck to a globally powerful outfit like that. All of that seemed to back up
what Laura, Sam and Kevin had told me about what Umbrella had been up to. It was looking like someone needed to be taught the error
of their ways and then some.
Martha and Max seemed undecided about the stay or go option, Reg was firmly in the 'don't know' camp and suggested we hear from both
of the new groups which seemed prudent and everyone agreed. I checked my watch and it was just past 1pm, I told Max it was time to
play lumberjack if the Chinook was to have any place to land. She was up for it and Martha mentioned about getting the best china out.
Reg said he would come along to help and stand watch and Martha would attend to the newest member of the group so we all got about
our jobs. I chose the area in front of the three largest houses right on the river bank.
The adjoining and thankfully not fenced front garden areas would be space enough for the Chinook with just a smidgen of room to spare.
Two small trees and one large one stood in our way, a seldom used but serviceable chainsaw and axe, it was a done deal and we had
firewood to last us a while. I made a mental note that the amount of apology notes to most of the hopefully temporary absent house
owners we'd either cleared out or removed the greenery from, was going to take a while to write out.
That night, Martha stayed in the back bedroom to watch over the little girl. Reg got the sofa and I made do with the floor next to Molly.
Max was the only one to get to use her own bed and a bit of a slightly smug smile was noticed and would be dealt with later.
Probably with a stern look or something.
The next morning after breakfast, I said I'd be taking radio watch in the Mastiff if Max and Reg were agreeable to go sling a yellow smoke
grenade in the landing area and meet the new arrivals if the Chinook turned up. Advised them to take red as well just in case we had to
wave them off for and gave them both a quick run through on grenade operation. They said that was fine and Martha said she would see
if the little girl was up to some breakfast. I told them I'd clear out to give the wee one a bit of room rather than having a hulking great
gorilla like me about the place.
I had no clear idea how long I could be out there and before I went, Martha kindly made me a flask of tea and a little packed lunch.
Max provided a Raymond Chandler paperback and that was most welcome. I told Molly she would be staying here for today and while
no answer was forthcoming, I believe she understood and showed no intention of shifting from her comfy basket for once.
Wise girl that one.
I took pretty much the same weapon load as I had before and went to the Mastiff, switched on the Bowman, set the frequency and
waited for something to happen. There were a few walkers about but they hadn't noticed me and I was in no mood for target practice
today unless I had to. Live and let the not living go on for now.
I sat in the back of the vehicle and read the book, Chandlers' Farewell, My Lovely. which is one of his best I have to admit. As decent
literature and a spin on social criticism for the 1940's go, it's one of the better ones you'll find. Excellent prose and a corruption verses
conscience tale that I think any writer would be proud of.
That was how I spent several hours and had just demolished the lunch Martha had made for me when the Bowman piped up and
Kevin's voice came on.
"Happy Wanderer, this is Frequent Flyers. We are five miles out and awaiting permission to land."
I acknowledged the call and told them to circle and approach from the south, watch for yellow smoke to land, red smoke would be
a wave off and there would be no more comms. Kevin confirmed. I called up Max on the T80 and told her what to do. I closed down
the Bowman, secured the Mastiff and made my way to the landing area after roping the barricade shut once more. Within a couple of
minutes I had reached the landing area, Max and Reg were already there and we could all hear the rising noise of a heavy helo approaching.
It came by the eastern end of the island at a couple of hundred feet and I told Max to do her thing with the smoke grenade. She handled
it like a pro and a nice plume of yellow smoke drifted in to the air, very little wind about so that was a bonus. The rotor blades of the
Chinook cut the air with their own distinctive beat; Sam brought her in sideways and settled on to the turf very gently then went through
the shutdown. I moved to the rear and greeted Laura and Kevin who were in good spirits.
Handshakes and introductions to Max as Reg already knew them, same again when Sam stepped off and we went up to the house, radioing
ahead so Martha would take precautions the little girl wouldn't get frightened by all the new arrivals. We got there quickly enough and
Martha was already on top of things which came as no surprise to me, with a stack of mugs and a boiling kettle. Tea all round as Reg
and Max talked with our visitors. I asked Martha how the smallest one of the house guests was doing.
"She's fine so far, at least physically. She seems to have taken to Molly quite nicely."
I smiled "Who doesn't?" Martha returned the smile and continued.
"Molly must have been curious about our new visitor, she stuck her head round the door and that got a reaction but a calm one
from the little girl. Molly came over and she started stroking her, which we all know Molly never seems to get tired of."
I wholeheartedly agreed and asked if that was where Molly was now and she confirmed she was, it seemed to make the little girl happy
and she knew Molly was a very placid dog so left them to it. I looked toward the bedroom door and then spoke to Martha.
"Looks like being with Molly's doing some measure of good then."
Molly had come out and the little girl was right there with her, both standing a few feet away from the door looking at us gathered around
the table. Martha went to meet them and the expected questions were asked. I quietly related the tale in short order of how I found the
girl and the radio chat that had led up to this.
Sam said that they had heard something about this group when they were back at their base. It appears they had a temporary base in
London and were getting ready to take the Umbrella place in the city at least that was what the rumour mill was kicking out at the Air Corps
place before they came here. Word had it that they were working on behalf of, or with the full backing of the United Nations to take care
of the problem and take the lead in starting to sort it out before handing it over to UK government. My trust level for this BSAA went up
a notch or two but hadn't hit the top rung just yet.
I let them talk as Martha led the little girl out in to the living room; she seemed quite calm though still silent. It showed promise so I didn't
disturb Molly from her new found duties or small friend. She was quite a pretty little thing, big mane of blond hair and the brightest blue
eyes I think I'd ever seen. The now clean pink dungarees and t-shirt cranked up the cute-o-meter quite a bit. She accepted the drink of
orange squash Martha gave her.
Then came the discussion of what we were all going to do, Sam and Laura told us that the Windsor evacuation site had been cleared and
everyone moved to a new camp just outside of the RAF base at Brize Norton. If anyone needed repatriating then it would certainly make
that easier. The powers that be were in the process of recalling the last of the troops from overseas to reinforce the cordon to contain this.
From what they knew and Kevin added his own knowledge, Dover Castle and Leeds Castle in Kent were holding their own quite nicely and
getting resupplied by airdrop so doing ok. There are other places where they have managed to get barricades up to create safe zones.
These have been located and supplied but the powers that be are intending to clear those out and devote all the resources they have to
getting rid of the undesirable elements now walking the streets.
So it came down to the crunch question, who wanted to leave? They chose their words carefully while the little girl was within earshot.
I turned to Martha.
"Perhaps our little house guest would like to take Molly for a walk?"
She agreed and went along too. It also gave her time to think over the question of staying or going.
I could only really speak for myself and said that this BSAA mob might need a hand from yours truly as they had mentioned so I would
have to wait to hear what they had to say before making my decision. Max was mulling it over and so was Reg. Sam, Laura and Kevin
did say that they had taken this task while awaiting redeployment proper as communications were still a bit of a shambles so had a little
time to spend here but they needed to know to get back to duty soonest and everyone understood that.
I told them of my impending chat with the BSAA representative on the radio at 6pm so more would be found out then. Until that time we
were all on hold and tinned beef with potatoes and peas was on the dinner menu so everyone was invited to stay for the early evening meal.
This was served and everyone enjoyed it including the little girl who for the first time spoke and said "Thank you" when the plate of food
was placed in front of her. This raised every ones spirits a fair degree so on to a winner there I thought.
I asked Max to come with me for the radio chat as it may involve having someone come by and I didn't want to make the decision without
her say so, which she said wasn't necessary as she trusted my judgment but appeared to appreciate the thought very much.
At 5mins to go we were in the Mastiff and I was powering up the Bowman. Max spoke in quiet voice.
"So what do you think Ben? Are they on the level?"
I had to admit I didn't know for sure but spoke honestly to her.
"Going from what the contact had said and the extra info that Sam, Laura and Kevin offered, it appears this mob where genuine
but we'll see for certain soon enough."
She accepted that and we waited until the appointed time, may as well show punctuality I thought so as soon as the second hand swept
round to 18:00 on the nail by my watch, I hit the transmit button.
"Southern Belle this is Happy Wanderer, it’s that time..."
She must have been hovering over the set at her end as the response was right there and that pleasant southern accented voice came
from the speaker.
"Ah am indeed Happy Wanderer and you are as good as your word ah am happy to hear."
There was definitely a smile in that voice and Max didn't miss it either. I told her of our situation and the arrival of the Chinook and crew.
I spoke of their offer and we were mulling it over at this time.
"I'm here and the owner of the property that has graciously given me house room is present so what's the deal?"
She stated that they would like to send a representative, herself along with the leader of the BSAA group here and one other as security
and back up. I looked at Max and asked what she thought of them coming here. She asked my opinion and I told her that they seemed
ok but impressed on her it is her house so her final decision. Max took it all in then nodded at me.
"Ok Southern Belle, it's agreed so when shall we expect you and your people?"
After a few seconds pause she informed me they would like to drop by at 9am tomorrow and actually asked if that was convenient which
surprised me a bit. Looking to Max for a nod which was given and I responded with the ok and told them where to find us.
"Ah will see you tomorrow at nine then Happy Wanderer, ah am looking forward to it."
Again the smile in the voice was back. I replied but felt that making one point to strangers I still knew very little about was in order.
"I have and am placing a lot of trust in you Southern Belle but advise your people that any funny business and...well they can
consider what they have reputedly seen of me so far to be a preview of their future, I trust I am making myself clear to those, other
than your lovely self of course, listening to this?"
There was a few seconds of silence and she replied.
I responded in a friendly tone to change tack. "In that case we'll see you tomorrow, tea or coffee by the way?"
The smile was back a little bit and she confirmed black coffee all round. I replied it was a done deal and signed off. I shut the Bowman
down and looked at Max. She asked if that thinly veiled threat was necessary and I replied honestly as she always deserved that in my book.
"I feel responsible for you, Martha and everyone else in that house; I don't want this BSAA outfit under any illusions that they are
going to be welcome with open arms by yours truly if they have ulterior motives."
I took her hands in mine and looked her right in the eyes.
"You and Martha saved my life, I'll not have anyone placing you in danger and that includes me. It's taking a chance here and if it
was just me then no problem, but it isn't so I'm just making sure they get the message that I'll not have it. Martha and you are far
too important to me to risk anything happening that I can prevent...okedoke?"
And I finished with a smile.
She leant over, gave me a peck on the cheek then slid in to my lap and we had a cuddle for a while. Little things
like simple human contact are important no matter what anyone sour of soul thinks, now more than ever. Nothing more needed saying so
we left the Mastiff and walked back, arms around each other's waist and happy in our company. I truly cared for her and Martha, beyond
the fact that if not for them; I would have died on that pavement, ended up a walker banquet or worse, one of those things out there,
shuffling around the streets of my city.
More chat was had that evening, Molly and the little blond lass were pretty close the whole evening and both seemed happy with that
arrangement as did everyone else. Everybody had their sleeping places, Sam, Laura and Kevin said they were ok sleeping in the
Chinook as they were no strangers to it and the rest of us stayed in the house as always. Sleep was easy to come by and I finally
closed my eyes with hope and concern in equal measure for tomorrow's meeting.
I was up to meet the sun that morning and Reg likewise, kindred spirits in being up and around at daft o'clock were we. I took time out
for a kit check after doing the decent thing and bringing tea to the crew in the Chinook which was gratefully received. Sam informed me
that they had an early call from his command and the BSAA were in place in London and the Government sanctioned mob in control of
things there. Reg got breakfast going for all which was also accepted and demolished with thanks.
I agreed it with the rest that I alone would meet with the new arrivals and show them in, I hoped that there would be no problems but
insisted that if it went south then the cavalry would not bother coming for me but dig in. Laura was up for getting that organised and
I was very happy for her help in that.
I got fully bombed up and went out for the meet up at 08:45, I checked over and climbed in the Mastiff, walkers were conspicuous by
their absence and I was not going to ask why but took it as a good sign...I hoped.
I set the Bowman and waited.
Five minutes before the off, the radio came to life.
"Happy Wanderer, this is Southern Belle at three miles away and approaching."
I acknowledged and from the top hatch gave them a read off of the surrounding area; they couldn't miss the turn and advised them of no
walker activity that I could see from my position. They came back with an ok and I readied my G36. I could hear a vehicle approaching
down Riverside toward Embankment, it came along the road and slowed as it reached me, they were travelling in some lightly armoured
style, an Iveco Panther Command and Liaison Vehicle.
A six tonne four wheeled vehicle that at a glance, resembled an armoured Hummer but in the standard olive drab of the British Army.
I wondered who they conned that out of and admired the fact they could get one to play with.
They pulled to a stop about 20 feet from the Mastiff and two immediately climbed calmly out; I met that gesture and clambered out of
the Mastiff to meet them. A largish bloke in grey combat trousers with knee pads and what looked like a tailored t-shirt but of
heavy fabric. Well-built and muscular, a clean shaven face and short dark hair. He had the look of a man who was professional and
potentially dangerous if annoyed sufficiently. I tagged him to be somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties.
About six foot tall with a square jawed face, low brows over dark eyes that seemed to take in everything around him. The face was serious
and I got the impression he didn't smile much but I immediately suspected this was more from circumstance than choice. He carried a
tricked up MP5, a sidearm and a fair amount of magazine pouches in a belt rig. He kept his hands purposefully clear of his weapons.
His compatriot was another matter.
A woman about five and a half feet tall but only just, pretty difficult to tell her body shape for all the kit and weapons she was carrying,
this lass was decked out for a war so I made a passing note not to upset her. In my book, short and armed to the teeth usually equals
either over compensating or do not mess with. I took it as the latter.
The jet black hair tied on a short pony tail, large deep brown eyes and full lips in a strong face with Hispanic features, held an attractive
quality but the face was hard and serious at this point. At a guess maybe mid-twenties. I engaged professional mode as the
man stepped forward and the woman's eyes were everywhere else. He introduced himself as Chris R.
I recognised the voice of the American man from the radio comms the other day. I told him my name and we shook hands, a firm grip
which I could respect. I hate the dead fish handshake with a passion. The woman called clear and walked over; Chris introduced her as
Rain O. Her handshake was just as firm and she looked up at me, no wavering in that face except for the slight turn up to one side of
her mouth and she nodded and made a glance up toward my beret. Again an American.
"Special Air Service huh, that's pretty fuckin' hardcore."
She offered a fist bump which out of respect, I met with my by no means dainty fist and smiled. I asked if she was Army but she said no,
former SWAT and left it at that. Chris looked back to the Panther and made a beckoning gesture.
The passenger stepped out and came over, definitely a civvie going by the leather jacket and jeans. Dark skinned with a smooth
complexion but lighter toned than Martha, I was assuming Afro-American and hoping this was 'Southern Belle'. High and large cheekbones
and the lips spreading in a ready and very warm smile which could be quite disarming I thought. Rather stunning blue green eyes and dark,
cat like eyebrows, both of which I found most attractive but the shock of collar length light blond, almost white hair was a certainly out of
the ordinary but for some reason, I liked it. I made her to be maybe mid-twenties at a push.
Chris introduced her as Joanna C. She shook hands, the way her hand practically vanished in mine seemed to amuse her in the same way it
had Martha and her other hand came to rest on my forearm in a friendly gesture that I appreciated. I took to this lass instantly and I had no
idea why. The perfect representative, I could understand why she was along for this even if I couldn't explain why I liked her personally
right from the off.
"Ah am very pleased to meet you!" She spoke with some enthusiasm in that pleasant southern American accent.
"Likewise believe me." Was all I could say and said my name then everything just seemed to stop for me as I looked in to those eyes
which were smiling as much as the rest of her face. I finally got my act together and broke the impending pregnant pause.
"Well the coffee should be ready so if you lot don't mind some clambering, please follow me." And gestured toward the Mastiff.
Rain negotiated it first and with some agility considering all the ammo and grenades she was packing. The rest made it with little difficulty
and I make no apologies for noticing Joanna's very nice backside in those jeans. I radioed the gang and told them all was well, it was a few
minutes later when we arrived at the house. Max welcomed them all in and introductions were made all round. Coffee was already poured
and waiting for them which was graciously accepted.
We all ended up seated on the sofa and easy chairs along with some extra seating from around the table, dragged over for the occasion.
Our little house guest was not present, apparently content to play with Molly in the back bedroom and I know my fuzzy sidekick would
have had no objections.
I stood as usual and the conversation got going. Chris told us about the BSAA and why they were here, it all tallied with what I had learned
so far. Umbrella was certainly responsible though the reasons for their actions remained a mystery which Chris and his group were
determined to clear up. They had taken the now empty Umbrella facility in London and were in the process of going over it to find out what
they could; apparently they had left in a hurry for reasons unknown but had left a few presents in their wake which had to be addressed.
He did not go in to excruciating detail but stated that clearing the remaining civilian population was first priority.
Once that was complete they could get to work and our little group was one of the last ones. He told Sam, Laura and Kevin that they had
liaised with UK Government and Army command and they had jurisdiction here but preferred to work with any local forces to get the
Sam acknowledged this to all and said that he had received word as such from his boss over the radio this morning. He and his crew were
willing to fly anyone who wanted to leave out the evacuation site near Brize Norton. Chris also said that anyone who wished to join the
BSAA would be welcome but would leave that up to the individual, I noted that he looked mostly toward me as he said it.
Chris came across as a no nonsense person and I respected that. He had to leave soon but, if Max was agreeable, he would like to leave
Rain and Joanna here for the time being, for security and to answer any questions respectively but asked that people made up their minds
within the next couple of days as there was much work still to be done.
Max and everyone else had no objections so it was settled, Rain and myself saw him back to his vehicle. He departed and we walked back
to the house. After we had secured the Mastiff and the barricade, Rain spoke up in a matter of fact tone.
"We have to get these civilians out of the area as fast as possible." And I responded also in the same tone.
"I agree but it's got to be their decision and no-one else's."
She halted and I did the same "This is a war zone, we have to clear it of civilians." she said while gesturing at the surrounding area.
I wondered how a former cop would know what a war zone was like but let that go. She seemed to speak her mind and prefer straight talk
so I responded in kind.
"Correction Rain." I pointed toward the city "That is a war zone, the house on this island isn't. Unlike most of the City of London
and apparently the surrounding areas, people still live in this house and their wishes, regardless of how you and I feel about it,
will be respected unless you intend to forcibly evict them which I would strongly advise against."
I could see the objections building in this tough and professional lady and had an idea of what she was thinking but continued.
"They aren't stupid, they know the facts and I think they will certainly elect to go but it's their decision, not yours. Let them consider
what's on the table and try not to be the hard arse you most certainly are around them and this will get done with minimal fuss."
I could see she was digesting this and I added a last bit. "Just give 'em time and it'll work itself out, can we agree to do that?"
I stood with my fist up for a bump which she seemed to get and knocked hers to mine.
"Besides, you're getting paid for the overtime and extra for the baby sitting duties, right?"
It may have been the sunlight creating shadows through the trees but I do believe for the first time since we met, I almost detected a smile
from her and said something to that effect asked and if it was causing her any discomfort as we walked on.
Her response was straight forward as seemed to be her way.
Well, when the girl is right, she's right on.
We returned to the house and all was well. Some general chat was going on in the 'getting to know each other' vein. I just left them all to it,
grounded my gear and had some quiet time alone just wandering round the area and doing nothing important besides considering the offer
to join up as such.
Truth to tell it didn't take long and I'd gone most of the way to deciding it, but exactly how to approach it was another matter.
I had been out of the Army for a while now and getting back in to something like this was not exactly what I had envisioned. That said I
had my own agenda and this outfit could be a means to an end there. I sat against a tree for a while and just relaxed for a bit, a short
time later felt a presence coming up behind and turned to look.
Max came sauntering up to me and just smiled as she parked in my lap, I wrapped my arms around her and giving a gentle squeeze.
We just stayed there in silence for a while watching the river go by. She was first to speak.
"Joanna said that I could leave here to the evacuation site and probably go back home to the States There was a pause
"or join the BSAA, what do you think?"
I spoke as I honestly felt.
"I'm not your dad Max, I'm your friend and I can't tell you what to do. You should do whatever you wish to do me darlin' but
just promise one thing. No matter what you decide, make sure you don't stop being who you are. Maybe not the best lawyer or BSAA
operative, just be the good and decent person that I know you to be. One whom I feel privileged to call my friend."
I let that sink in and she remained silent.
"No matter what my little angel, you are very special to me and I owe you that which I can never repay." and kissed her gently
on the head. She turned sideways, brought her legs up and snuggled in to my chest. I could tell the cogwheels were turning over.
It was a long time until either of us spoke but she eventually did.
"I am going to miss you when I go back home."
I told her I felt the same, felt also happy and relieved that she had decided against joining the BSAA. She was smart and had bravery by the
bucket load, I'd argue that with anyone who said differently. But out there fighting the un-dead? I just couldn't see her doing that and being
the same good and gentle soul I had come to care for very much. So much had been lost and I didn't want the girl I had come to regard so
highly to be any more wounded by this than she had already been. She stood and held out her hand, I rose, took it and we walked to the
western tip of the island.
In a small clearing, two marked graves were there. Max knelt at the foot of them and I knelt behind her, she rested herself back in to me
and though I could not see her face, tears were rolling down her cheeks. I held her gently as she related what had happened to her
grandparents. She needed to say this to someone and I was honoured to help her through it. Max told me that some two or three
days after it had all started, her grandparents had arrived back at the house; her grandmother had been scratched and was beginning to
show signs of a fever.
The emergency services were either snowed under or out of commission as any phone calls to get help went unanswered. The inevitable
happened and she died that night then came back. Her grandfather was bitten by her and the results of that they had already seen, he had
no choice but to deal with his wife.
Her grandfather was also a very intelligent man and knew what the result of the bite would be. It was left to Max to follow her grandfathers
instructions on what to do when he died. She followed those instructions to the letter.
I remained strong for Max and I feel no shame that a part of me wanted to weep with her. I held her tightly for a long time until the tears
subsided. It must have been late morning before we stood and started walking back toward the house, no words said apart from a
whispered 'Thank you' from Max.
As we reached the house, Joanna and Rain were outside; Joanna was kneeling and holding hands with the little girl who seemed fascinated
by her almost white hair as were most I would have thought. Max stopped just past the tree line and we embraced one more time.
Then she simply smiled, kissed me and went in with a nod and wave to Joanna and Rain as she went past. Joanna pointed at me and
then walked over with the wee lass.
I knelt down and sat on the grass as they arrived. I had been told I could be semi imposing to some so to a child, I think she'd had enough
fright to last a lifetime and I felt in no position to add to it. The three of them arrived and Joanna motioned the little girl forward. She
stepped right up to me and held her arms out. This was a surprise but a welcome one and I gave her a gentle hug.
"Thank you for saving me Uncle Ben." Now that did take me by surprise and it took a moment or two to collect myself.
"You are most welcome my little sweetheart. You know my name, so to whom am I speaking young lady?"
She told me her name was Katya; I remarked that was a very pretty name which seemed to raise a small smile from her. I made some
much needed pleasantries about how she was doing and if she was being looked after ok. I had no doubt she was and asked only for
the sake of conversation. She was a bright little thing and though subdued at this time, I had no doubt she would come through it.
Kids are like rubber bands and always spring back, a trait one should always admire as to how damn tough some kids can be and
shame a lot of adults.
I didn't ask anything of her life and family though, I had no doubt bad memories were just below the surface and would be faced in her
own good time. Joanna seemed to be enjoying this though Rain hardly blinked at it. We chatted for a few minutes then Joanna leant down.
"Now why don' y'all go back inside with Rain and see what's going on for lunch while me and your Uncle Ben talk."
She nodded and took Rain's hand as they walked away. Rain looked over her shoulder and said,
"See you later Uncle Ben!" and made the expected comment about rice dishes.
Katya looked round and waved; I waved back and called out "Now you be a good girl for Auntie Rain!"
That got me a narrowed eyes look from my well-armed friend which was not softened by my idiot grin in her direction. Joanna just stood
there laughing quietly. Once we were alone she turned to me.
"Is Max ok? She looked like she had been cryin'."
I confirmed it was so but went no further than telling her that Max had been through a lot and needed to let it out to someone. Better she
gets it out of her system then let it fester and gnaw at her. Joanna simply nodded and then her voice dropped to a quiet level.
"She sure does have a crush on you." Her broad smile as she said that was quite something.
I answered with the truth.
"I love that girl all to bits; I'd do anything for my little angel after what she has done for me. I consider her a good and dear
friend but I'll be honest, she could do so much better than me. Besides which, she's not quite a girl but not fully grown up yet,
she'll work out who she is and what she truly wants as time goes on."
This seemed to surprise her and I noticed the look she gave me.
"What?" I asked.
"Ah know she has a good friend in y'all and that's something you don't see much of these days.
Nice to know some things like that still go on."
I nodded and spoke in response.
"Though much is taken, much abides." The smile was still on her face but softened slightly and she looked at me in questioning fashion.
"It means that while much has changed or been lost, there's some things that remain, it's from the last part of
Tennyson's poem, Ulysses."
The look of surprise came back.
"Why don' y'all tell me the rest?"
There was a slight challenging tone in her voice; I was used to hearing it from people as I didn't exactly exude an educated persona, I will
freely admit that anytime. I simply smiled.
"Though much is taken, much abides. And though we are not now that strength that in old days moved earth and heaven,
that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate but strong in will.
To find, to seek, to strive," I looked at her "and not to yield."
"Wow" was her only response and I was used to that occasionally as well but couldn't help laughing at her incredulous look.
That warm smile came back and it's a rare thing with some women that when they smile, their whole face does. A quality this lady
possessed in abundance I was happy to see. I felt comfortable in her company; an odd familiarity about her that I liked but couldn't pin
down or help but return that smile as she spoke.
"Well sir, it seems there's more to y'all than meets the eye!" I assured her otherwise but she didn't seem to accept that.
"I just am who I am...I think Popeye said that." She laughed but was insistent there was more to it.
"Ah know there's more to you Ben." she turned to leave "Ah think ah would like to find out exactly what."
She walked off in to the house leaving me with that lovely smile but mine faded as she went out of sight. I knew the reality of what I was
capable of and the sort of person I could and may well have to become when the situation warranted. I considered what may lie ahead
and spoke to no-one other than the surrounding trees.
"No babe, you wouldn't..."
They say that parting is such sweet sorrow and this proved to be correct as everyone had made their minds up by next morning. Max had
already elected to go home if that was possible, Martha wanted to go to the evac site and see where she could put her skills to use and
also could help to try and find Katya a place with friends or relatives. Reg was of the opinion that people to keep the peace and lend a hand
may be required so he was off to the evac site as well. Sam, Kevin and Laura said they would be happy to fly everyone out as that was
their destination anyway.
I asked Martha to take Molly, I didn't want to have to part with my furry sidekick but I had a feeling what was ahead, it would be unfair
and since she and Katya had formed a bond, I didn't want to go breaking that. I spoke to Rain and said I had to have a word with Chris
over the radio before I made my decision. She was curious but didn't ask further and we left the gang to pack up and went out to the
Mastiff. Once in and settled, I fired up the Bowman and set the frequency with Rain spilling the beans on what it was.
I got almost straight through to Chris and let Rain tell him what the group had decided but that I wanted a word before I made my decision.
He agreed and I left it on speaker so Rain could hear out of courtesy.
"Chris, just something I wanted to make clear. You want me to help out yes?"
He responded that I could be a valuable asset, I had heard that before but unlike some others, he sounded completely genuine.
"All of my people in the Black Team are good but this is almost a military operation to deal with what we have to, no disrespect
to any of my operatives but they lack in certain areas."
Rain didn't seem to take offence at that. Chris continued.
"When it comes to dealing with some of the biohazards that Umbrella have at their disposal, we have no clear method of countering
them from a tactical standpoint."
I asked for some clarification of the word biohazard in the context he was using it. He informed me that Umbrella didn't just deal in
biological weapons like viruses and so on. They also made organic creatures to serve their twisted needs and these were the problem.
I didn't quite get the whole picture of what he was trying to tell me and I suspect he had had these conversations before.
"I can fill you in on the details properly but I'll have to show you what Intel we have for it to make sense."
I mulled this over for a few seconds.
"Ok Chris, here's the deal. I'll bring Rain and Joanna back to you, have a look at what you're facing and we'll take it from there,
that's all I can promise you for now."
It took all of two seconds.
"Agreed Ben, we will see you all soon."
Rain and I returned to the house and by that time, everyone was ready and I just had to collect up the weapons apart from the Glock and
the firearms from the police armoury. Reg said he felt responsible for them and I agreed.
There were more than a few handshakes and hugs goodbye, I could see tears welling up in Max's eyes as we embraced for the last time
and I told her not to because that would start me of blubbering, which caused a laugh and that was good enough for me. I decided not to
draw this out any more than needed and helped get them loaded as swiftly as possible.
I was very sad to say goodbye to Molly, I loved that furry lass all to bits. I'm not sure if she knew it but a goodly amount of fuss and a last
face licking was her response, she got on the Chinook with Martha and Katya good as gold.
I simply made my final waves as the rotors spooled up and they were away.
I had no idea if I would ever see any of them again but shook that thinking off and got to it.
The Mastiff was loaded up in short order, Me, Joanna and Rain headed for the city.