THE 2% SOLUTION (Part III)
by Robert Mathis Kurtz
On a Friday the biggest aircraft that Riggs had ever seen came roaring in over the city. Oliver, Jean and Ron all came spilling out of their rooftop aerie to see what was making the noise.
The sound had begun as a minor whine, so subtle that at first they didn’t pay it much mind. The family was making supper and the home was filled with the smells and sounds of the meal that was simmering in pots on the stovetop. Poke salad boiled, seasoned with venison. And a stew of that same meat swimming in broth with potatoes and carrots harvested from the sprawling gardens near the hospital added to the wonderful bouquet of food smells.
Thus, the three were moving about, talking about the supper and the day’s accomplishments instead of paying note to a faraway mumble that was growing into a gigantic, dish-rattling growl.
The first to race onto the rooftop was Ron and he was suddenly a sculpture frozen in place, his eyes to the heavens. Jean followed, only belatedly realizing that she’d emerged through the door gripping a pan she’d been about to store away. And Oliver popped free of the nest last, pointing and hopping about. His thin finger aimed toward the looming sight of the gigantic airframe that was tilted slightly to the left as the great thing banked, turning toward the airport.
“Look!” Oliver’s cracked, boy’s voice rose above the vibrations of the enormous engines that were shaking everything from hundreds of feet in the sky. “What is it? What is it, Ron?”
Feeling the boy beside him, Ron put his arm around the kid’s shoulders and pulled him close. “Biggest goddamned plane I’ve ever seen, son. It’s called a Galaxy C5A. When I was a kid, it was practically the biggest transport vehicle in the US Air Force.” He turned to track the thing across the blue sky. It seemed to lumber in the unpolluted Carolina cobalt blue. In truth, it was travelling very fast indeed, but because of the sheer mass of the thing, it only seemed to be creeping through the atmosphere.
“What’s it doing?” Jean asked. “I had no idea…” he voice trailed off.
“Well, the work crews have been working overtime to clear the airstrips at the old airport,” he reminded her. “They didn’t reopen the route from downtown to the old terminal for nothing. I figured something was going to happen, but I had no idea…” His own voice went to nothing as he thought about the implications.
“Who are they?” Oliver piped. “What’s going on? Won’t all that noise bring in the deaders from around the city? We’re going to be swamped with them,” he pointed out.
“Oliver’s right,” Jean agreed. She transferred the stainless steel pan to her left hand and put her fingers in the loops of Ron’s pants and tugged him toward her. “All of that noise and movement is going to draw the walking dead right out of the woods and into town. It’ll be like it was before. Maybe worse,” she added. “Goddamn it.”
By then, the ponderous thing was making its approach toward the airport. And it was only at that point that Ron noticed the lights glittering from formerly ruined and decrepit Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. And then it was his turn to point.
“Fuck if they don’t have the place powered up!” His voice rose as that of the growling jet retreated. “I didn’t notice it. But they’ve got the place lit.” Ron’s hand indicated the area to the east of the strip. “Damned if they don’t even have the radar working!”
As they watched, the C5A came in on its final approach and seemed to glide in almost gracefully to the tarmac. It appeared an impossible dance for such a gigantic and gravity-laden mass.
“If they don’t turn off those lights, the zombies are going to swarm that place like flies on shit,” Jean said. “As soon as it gets dark.” She tugged on Ron’s arm until she was able to peel his attention free of the transport as it taxied to a stop.
“Ron. What are we going to do? They’ll be back in the city again. It’ll be like before. Maybe worse! I don’t know if we have enough food socked away for a long siege.”
He peered into her eyes and could plainly see the worry that had been at rest come clawing back to the surface. Her heart-stopping perfect features were etched with the fear that had been held in check for so long. His arms went around her and he hugged her tightly.
“I’m not sure what they’re up to,” he admitted. “But we all knew they weren’t clearing out the airport for nothing. Dale told me that there were plans. But I figured a few small planes.” Riggs nodded toward the airport that was growing shadowed as the sun began to dip toward the horizon. “I didn’t reckon on a C5A to come in.”
“What kind of jet is it?” Oliver asked.
Ron released his grip on his wife and smiled at the boy. At least Oliver’s face wasn’t painted with fear. He was just curious.
“It was the biggest transport in the Air Force. At least it was when I was a kid. Now, I’m pretty sure it has to be the biggest aircraft on the planet. The thing can carry something like 270,000 pounds of cargo. Tanks. Helicopters. Even bridge sections.”
Together, they watched for a while until darkness began to overtake the scenery. Lights glittered at the airport. Control towers were revealed. They could see tiny forms—men scurrying around the monstrous aircraft and moving to and from a cleaned and refitted hangar. But soon the trio headed back to their shelter, remembering the meal that was waiting for them.
“What did they bring on that jet?” Oliver asked as they pulled the door closed behind them.
“Hell, son. I don’t know. But I’m sure we’ll find out. If I have to, I’ll go ask the Colonel what’s going on.” And, then, together, a sense of unease creeping into their home as they closed and locked the door, they went back to their meal.
Whatever was going on, Ron knew that soon he would know what it was. He could only hope that he would like the answers he’d find.