Thankfully, the base had plenty of walls to put up between folks with disagreements; it even had a sturdy brig to throw in the worst of the troublemakers if the occasion called for it. While our people were happy to have four walls and a roof over their heads again, we all had an uneasy feeling that the base wasn't quite as abandoned as it first appeared. Turns out, we were right.
A few days ago, we had come up on the base and found the front gate wide open. That should have been our first sign. The government didn't spend tax dollars on hundreds of yards of coiled razor wire and shiny placards that essentially said, "We shoot first and ask questions later" just to leave the front door wide open. The Captain surmised that since the full force of the military had been called out against the threat - a force that soon found their asses decidedly kicked - it was likely that any surviving servicemen and women returned home to their families. The Vice President himself still hadn't returned from his extraterrestrial vacation so apparently all further operations were at a standstill. All well and good for the government, but we common folk still had our survival to think about.
The further we ventured onto the base, the more surprised we were. We had expected a hostile welcome, either from the former soldiers who used to occupy the property or from any new tenants who had taken up residence here. We found nothing but silence and stillness. Failing a welcome wagon, we next looked for signs of a battle and still found nothing. A few Jeeps and tanks were parked askew on the concrete pads but there were no scorch marks or burned buildings or craters from exploding shells. Captain Rex and I took the first cursory tour of the base before splitting up the group into search parties.
"John, I want you to take Hutch and Roy and search the buildings on the northwest quadrant," Rex ordered. "Don't forget that magic bow of yours." A rumble of encouraging laughter met his comment, just as it had each time since the day I struck the first blow back against the alien invaders. I remembered hoping we'd find a much-needed cache of bows and arrows on the military base and then laughing at myself for how absurd a wish that was. Then again, these were absurd times.
Hutch, Roy and I took the Jeep and cruised to the far corner of the base. The only thing out of the ordinary was the complete lack of any kind of presence, friendly or otherwise. We saw what used to be a few vehicles along with rifles and handguns, their various pieces scattered across the ground by the alien dismantling rays. Whether the survivors had fled, been vaporized, or captured, we had no idea.
"This one says 'Officers' Mess.' I say we start here!" said Roy. Each supply run we went on recently seemed to be met with diminishing returns. A boon here would be good for morale and the groups' rumbling stomachs.
"We check it out, clear it and move on to the next one," I reminded him. "The sooner we get it done, the sooner all of us can eat and take a rest." Roy and Hutch nodded their agreement. We cleared the mess hall and found a blissful bounty of preserved foodstuffs but no survivors. I practically had to drag Roy out of there by his collar. He still managed to snag a tin of sliced peaches in light syrup which he stuffed into his pocket.
It wasn't until we got to the second to last building in our quadrant that we ran into a bit of a surprise. The building had no signage out front and was bare bones on the first floor, except for a reception desk and an elevator. With the power still on - either from solar-powered roof panels or some sort of underground generator - we decided to take the lift. It only had one other option: a basement level. Roy volunteered to stay topside so he could go for reinforcements should we need them - and probably so he could tuck into his peaches. Hutch and I took the short ride down into the unknown.
"Same as before, stay behind me with your gun at the ready," I said, bow drawn and arrow nocked. "If it's a hostile, I'll take it down whether it's human or not." The elevator dinged and settled on the lower floor. "Here we go."
The elevator doors opened and two faces appeared in front of us. Hutch let go with a shotgun blast that nearly burst my eardrum. The sheet of glass across the hall in front of the elevator was completely obliterated, along with our reflections that Hutch took for enemy fighters. I patted him on the shoulder.
"Well, that's one way to knock," I shouted at him over the ringing in my ears. If I could have heard anything but a high-pitched whine, I might have sensed the creature shuffling towards us. As it was, the thing was right on top of us before I fully registered what exactly I was seeing.
It had a wide head atop a ballooning blue body. It was roughly human shaped with two arms and two legs but was ungainly in its motions and muffled in its attempted speech. Its face was a reflective sheet of shiny foil within plastic that prevented me from seeing more. I could however see Hutch raising his gun barrel in the reflection.
"Hold it!" I shouted again. "Friendly!" I put a hand on the barrel and lowered it until it pointed at the linoleum tile of the hallway. What was left of the wall sign in front of us read "BSL 3" with an arrow pointing toward our suited friend. "Friendly, right?" I called out, just to be sure.
As the suited figure put its hands up and waved frantically, Hutch and I relaxed just a bit. The figure reached behind its head and struggled to remove it. The plastic shell peeled away and revealed the long dark hair and rather pretty face of the woman who had been hidden inside it.
"Friendly! Friendly! My God, you nearly gave me a heart attack!" The woman had a surprisingly refined British accent for being in a basement bunker of a U.S. military lab somewhere in Southwestern PA, but the peculiarity of that particular fact didn't bother me so much. Her glasses had gone askew on her slender nose as she tried to separate herself from the bio-hazard suit. I'd forgotten exactly what we were doing there until Hutch nudged me with his elbow.
"Sorry, ma'am. You gave us a bit of a fright as well," I gestured to the shattered glass, "as you can probably tell. I'm Sergeant John Rysk of the," What had the Captain called us again, as a joke? "Roughnecks. This here is Hutch."
The woman shimmied the rest of the way out of her biohazard suit and stepped over the deflated plastic pile in order to shake our hands.
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Dr. Maria Reynolds," she said in a rush. "Now, if you would be so kind, please get me the Hell out of here!"