Less Than Human

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Who is less than human? You decide. Also posted as a four chapter book.

Cover image: pixabay.com.

Submitted: July 20, 2019

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Submitted: July 20, 2019

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Less Than Human

 

1/ The Briefing

The door to the office was firmly closed as the Major walked towards it. Thick, heavy, foreboding, just like the atmosphere. Although the words had yet to be spoken he had all too good an idea of what he was about to hear.

He reached out, knocked sharply on the door and waited.

The door was opened by a suited man who stood aside to let the Major enter before slipping quietly out of the room and pulling the door firmly shut behind him.

In spite of the blazing sunshine outside, the room was dimly lit. The blinds were pulled shut against the outside world, and the only illumination was from a lamp placed on the desk. The Major straightened his back, walked towards the desk with his hand held before him. “Sir,” he said, while they exchanged a quick shake of the hand. He stood until the man behind the desk said, “Sit.”

I believe you already have a good idea of what I am about to tell you, Major.”

Yes, Sir,” the Major replied.

The situation has spread. The efforts, such as they were, for...containment have proved themselves to be totally inadequate and now the outbreak has spiralled out of control.”

I understand, Sir.”

But do you?” The President gave the Major a measuring look. Did the man really know the orders he was about to issue? If he did, he must be trembling in his shoes. “This...farce, this failure of curtailment, has left me no other choice but to bring in to force Operation Obliteration.”

The Major, for all of his apparent composure, paled slightly. Clearly trying to pull himself together before answering, he paused, stared towards the blinds.

Is there no other way? I thought there was a vaccine.” He was uncomfortable questioning the man who was after all his boss, but he was sure he had heard about one, and how successful it was.

There was, is...the thing is, it does not work. And even if it did, we simply do not have enough to treat all possible exposures. The failure of it we kept to ourselves. No point in causing a global panic, and it is for that very reason that we have to act hard, we have to act tough.”

Have measures been taken to contain the threat now?”

There is a curfew in place. All official borders and exit routes have been closed and sealed. You know as well as I do that total isolation, absolute quarantine, is not something that can be achieved. If there is a way out, and there will be many more than one, people...infected people, will use it.”

When?” In spite of his position, in spite of his ruthlessness that had got him there, the Major felt shocked by the enormity of what he was now being ordered to do.

ASAP! Every minute, every second that we hesitate, puts the rest of the world at risk. There is no place here for compassion, not unless you want to be held accountable when the first case appears here.”

No, Sir. I understand, Sir.” The Major stood, preparing to leave.

Just one thing. If there was any other way, I would not be giving you this order. I don’t want this any more than you.” For a moment the President showed his true age. But it did not matter, not now. Action was called for and that action would now be delivered.

 

2/ The Bombers

Maylor and Hicks! Baxter and Fraser! Briefing room now!”

The four fliers looked at each other as they straightened out their uniforms, raked fingers through their short hair. Even at sudden notice they would, they knew, be expected to look like what they were. Representatives of their country first, fliers second.

What?” Baxter asked his flying partner, Fraser.

Search me,” Fraser replied. “Any hints for us, Lieutenant?”

Fraser didn’t receive an answer, but that came as no surprise. He’d not expected one.

All I know is that you four are wanted in the Briefing Room, like yesterday, so I’d suggest that if you don’t want my boot behind you, you’ll all get a move on and get there fast.” The Lieutenant seemed relaxed enough, so it was more than likely nothing too important. An escort duty, perhaps, or a flyby.

Not one of the four anticipated the graveness of the face they were to encounter once they arrived, ready to receive their orders. They all saluted smartly; this was a senior figure, much more important than those they were used to dealing with. Hicks allowed his eyes to slide towards Maylor, but his pilot was staring straight ahead.

At ease,” the man seated behind the desk said, then ran a weary hand over his face before continuing. “You men have been selected to carry out a very important mission; you have been chosen for your performance records and for your thoroughness in carrying out orders both quickly and efficiently.”

The fliers stood and accepted the praise. None of them felt in any way better than any other members of their squad, but there was no denying that their training scores were right up there at the top of the table.

You will be required to fly out immediately. You will be given the coordinates and you will carry out a ‘Scorched Earth’ manoeuvre. Following that, you will return to base. The entire mission will be kept hushed. Any questions?”

Maylor was the first to speak. “Sir,” he said, “we will need time to prepare the planes.”

No. They are already being seen to. By the time you leave this room they will be all set to take to the sky.”

Are we to know where we are going?” Fraser did not like the idea of flying blind but that seemed to be the instructions.

Your orders are to fly. The coordinates will be preprogrammed, the bombs will launch themselves when the target is reached. You will be given the coordinates, but you have no need to know where you are going.”

Sir,” Hicks shuffled his feet before looking his superior straight in the eye. “Is this to do with that outbreak?”

The man behind the desk gave no clues from his expression. “Indirectly. Your mission is simply to sterilize the area. You will be quite safe as your altitude will remain high.”

Has the area that we are to sterilize been cleared of all live humans?” Hicks continued, adding as an afterthought, “Sir.”

Do you need to ask?”

Was that an answer, Hick wondered? It could be taken either way, and the lack of clarity made him nervous, very nervous in deed.

Are we allowed to decline this mission?” Hicks knew he was pushing his luck in pursuing this line of questioning.

I can give you a straightforward answer to this one.” The man behind the desk allowed his lips to curve up in to a slightly ironic smile before continuing. “No! Now, your planes will be ready. Please proceed with your mission, and report back on your return.”

The four men had been dismissed. The man went back to his papers, until they had filed out and only when he was on his own did he put his head in his hands.

 

3/ The Troops

None of them wanted to be there. They could hardly be ignorant of the illness that had gripped and had got a stranglehold on the place. They were well away from the population, that was true, and they had their own rations, their own water supply. Still, there remained an air of fear among them, not of a visible enemy, but of the very air that they were having to breathe.

It’s not airborne, can’t infect me,” one of the soldiers was heard to mutter, over and over again. The truth was that he did not know if it was airborne or not. They had been sent to ensure that no one left. If they could keep it contained; stop anyone that might be infected, whether they showed any symptoms or not, from leaving the idea was that the infection would simply die out.

He’ heard them occasionally. Children screaming, adults wailing in the distance, but he had not seen anyone up close, either living or dead. He was fine. So his throat hurt and he felt kind of feverish. It was nothing more than a coincidence. His imagination was working overtime, manifesting the symptoms, simply because he knew the sickness was out there. He was strong, he was healthy. There was, he had been assured, zero danger.

The order came suddenly. Two tanks were to be deployed and he would be inside one of them.

Why tanks?” he asked one of the other troopers.

Search me,” he’d replied, “but orders are orders, better not start to question them. Not here. They’ve got a potentially fatal way of treating any that don’t.”

You’re kidding, right?” he asked, as he prepared to do as he was told. He never received an answer for high in the sky they could just make out two planes. Were they their own, he wondered.

The tanks were already on the move when the first explosion lit up the sky. Even though it was miles away, the shock of the impact could be felt from inside, soon to be followed by the smell of smoke as the ground and vegetation began to burn.

What about the people?” He hadn’t meant to ask the question out loud, and had certainly not expected an answer.

Listen, mate. Don’t think, just obey. Them out there, if they are not already dead from the sickness they soon would be. We’re helping, bringing a speedy end to their suffering.”

But you know as well as I do that they are not all sick.”

Doesn’t matter. You want to join them out there?”

He shook his head.

Well then, if you’re a soldier, you better start acting like one.”

What could he do? Desert? He could hardly walk away, not here, especially now when the flames were licking their way across the land. Another bomb landed, closer this time. He hid behind his shades and hoped the tears that were beginning to form in his eyes would hold off falling until he could blame them on the smoke.

 

4/ The Infected

What’s happening? I do not understand. One minute I am rushing from one sick person to another, trying to ease their suffering and the next minute there’s an explosion.

Not just a bang. A bang has happened here before, when someone has left fuel on to leak and then a tiny spark ignites it. We’ve had plenty of those. No, this one has made the entire ground shudder.

And now there are flames! Roaring flames eating their way towards us. Still in the distance, perhaps we can flee to safety. No sooner has that idea popped up then I hear another bang and another. It’s not clear at first, what is going on, but then the flames appear in all directions.

They have surrounded us with fire when we have done nothing more than plead for aid. They sent medicine, said it would cure the sickness but it did nothing. They said those that were not sick would not get sick. They lied. Most are ill, many have died, but not all. I am alive and I am not sick, even though I have been tending them from the start.

The children have reached a new pitch in their screaming as I try to get them together. If we keep as far as possible from those flames maybe they will die out too.

From the way that they are spreading towards us that does not seem likely. I’ll pray. We’ll all pray, everyone that is capable.

The children won’t join in though. They are too scared to do anything other than cry, scream; one boy has run towards the fire and I had to cover my own ears to try to blot out his wails of agony.

There’s a new noise now, getting nearer and nearer. Not an explosion but a rumble. What is it? Are they coming to rescue us after all. There has been a mistake and we are going to be saved.

They’re coming,” I told the children. “We’ll be safe now, you’ll see. They will rescue us and make us all well again.”

And that is what I believed, until that thing came through the flames, the smoke. They were coming, that much was true, but they had no intention of rescuing us. Helpless, I close my eyes, grab as many of the children as I can to hold them close, and I pray for there is nothing more that I have left to do.

 

 


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