Hot air blasted Eastwood’s face from the moment he was taken off the C-5 Galaxy. The flight from Ramstein was long and fraught with crazy bouts of unconsciousness. He’d lost time. The two nurses aboard had said very little in between making sure his IV was fed a cocktail that could knock out a horse, and he found their closed-mouthedness frustrating. He remembered asking twice where they were taking him. Once when one of the nurses showed up in his hospital room with a paramilitary escort—a couple of over-muscled dicks who’d unhooked his monitors and then unceremoniously lifted him onto a gurney despite his protests and grunts of pain, and again at the airstrip leaving out of Ramstein. Both times he’d been shut down quickly and drugged into silence.
By the time he’d awoken mid-flight he was royally pissed off, confused from the sedatives, and in pain. He knew if he asked again, he’d just get the needle full of nighty-night juice, so he kept his mouth shut and observed his surroundings through narrowed eyes. From what he could gather, the paramilitary dicks were hired mercenaries. One of the two glared at him and the other men on the gurneys, the hostility rolling off him in waves. He wore a camo jacket with the sleeves rolled up revealing a black snake tattoo wrapped around his right wrist. The other one wore his hair long and tied back. He ignored the patients, keeping his distance. Their mannerisms bespoke their previous military background, but their appearance showed a parting of ways with chain-of-command and regulations. He’d met these types before out in the field. Blackwater blokes hired by foreign governments to infiltrate and rein in rogue factions and take out the opposition. They killed for money, so what they hell were they doing here?
The interior of the C-5 was massive, one of the largest military transport aircraft available, but the cabin area was occupied solely by the two nurses and two mercenaries who kept an eye on not only Eastwood, but two other wounded soldiers. One had black hair with bandages covering his right eye and more wrapped around his right hand. Eastwood could see there were a couple fingers missing. The other was a blond male. His right arm was gone. Both were unconscious, probably still under the effects of the knockout cocktail administered by the nurses.
Although he’d tried to listen for any tidbit of information, none was forthcoming. It was as if he’d entered some bizarre twilight zone where no one spoke. A beep to his right alerted him to a pump attached to his IV. Eastwood noted the machine now pumping fluid into his line. The sedative hit hard and fast.
“Aw, fuck this shi…” Disturbing dreams plagued his rest. The loud whistle of an incoming RPG. The explosions that knocked him out of his hospital bed at Base Camp 10 inside Kuwait. His buddy, Doc, and the nurses, Leisl Craig and Angie Nelson immediately going to work applying a tourniquet to his leg. Damn-near the entire hospital had been wiped out before the attack by ISIS insurgents was stopped. He didn’t remember much after that. He’d awakened to discover his lower left leg gone and life as he knew it—over. The despair, a lingering remnant of the dream, was the last thing he remembered before the blast of hot air engulfed him. A new medical team arrived when the C-5 landed. They wheeled his gurney down the ramp to the tarmac. He glanced around. There was nothing but miles and miles of desert in every direction.
“Where the fuck am I? Where’ve you taken me? Is this Kuwait? Iraq?”
A tall black woman wearing a scowl and the insignia of major approached. Eastwood noticed a slight limp, but it was the scar above her left eye that drew his attention before his hand automatically lifted in salute.
“Sergeant Tyler,” she said, acknowledging the gesture, “I’m Major Sydelle
Maxwell, your new commanding officer. Welcome to Camp Lazarus.”
“Ma’am,” he said, a look of confusion crossing his face, “I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard of Camp Lazarus. Where, exactly, am I?”
“No one has, Sergeant. You’re in Nevada, Area 51, to be precise. This is where you’ll be rehabilitated. The army has invested a great deal in you, Harold Tyler. It’s time to get a return on that investment. You will do as I say, when I say, and you will work hard. There is no turning back. But first, you’ll be turned over to the medical team to get you back on your feet.”
Eastwood’s eyes popped. “My feet? I only have one, Major—”
“Don’t interrupt!” she barked. “After they get you back on your feet, you’re mine. That’s when the hard work begins, do you understand?”
“No, I can’t say that I do,” he mumbled.
Major Maxwell’s scowl increased deepening the scar over her left eye. “Good. Welcome to PATCH-COM, Sergeant.” She gave a pointed look to the medical team who began once again wheeling the gurney towards a hospital bus.
Eastwood could only watch, flabbergasted, as the other two patients from the C-5 were brought in behind him, their gurneys locked securely into place. The scene was surreal. He was in Nevada, in Area 51, a military site historically obscured beneath a deliberate cloud of mystery to hide top secret weapons testing, combat aircraft, and battlefield hardware development, and it was real. PATCH-COM was real. What. The. Fuck?
The bus ride lasted all of fifteen minutes before it pulled to a stop outside of a concrete structure in the shape of a dome built into the side of a mountain. The dome parted in the center, the two halves sliding back on massive rails revealing an opening wide enough to drive a bus through. The bus driver threw the engine into gear and did just that. Behind them, the thick concrete dome walls closed, the massive structures rumbling like a freight train on the steel tracks, obliterating the sunlight and plunging them into darkness. The bus proceeded down a ramped tunnel illuminated by amber lights recessed into the roof. Eastwood felt the world falling away as they descended into the earth. They must’ve driven thirty feet down by his best guess before the ramp ended in a wide-open space bustling with activity.
Uniformed personnel walked around golf-cart sized vehicles weaving in and out of tunnels branching out from the main floor where the bus parked. It was a military base buried deep into the Nevada desert, one of which the general public was unaware existed, although conspiracy theorists had suspected all along. Little did they know, they were right, thought Eastwood. He looked up at a sign posted above the largest of the branch tunnels. It read, WELCOME TO CAMP LAZARUS-WHERE THE DEAD RISE.
Eastwood’s eyebrows shot up. “Fucking Twilight Zone shit.”
“Twilight Zone?” a groggy voice said.
Eastwood looked left at the man in the gurney next to his. The bandage over the man’s eye was thick, but the unbandaged hazel eye staring back at him was filled with confusion. “Yeah. Where we are right now, man. It’s like some crazy shit straight out of Rod Serling’s imagination.”
“I thought I was going to a rehab hospital. Why is it so dark?” The younger man looked around.
“So did I. And we’re underground. That’s why it’s so damned dim in here.”
The man pulled himself up on one elbow, a grimace of pain contorting his face. “Did you just say we’re underground?” He looked out the bus window taking it all in. “Where are we?”
Eastwood grunted. “The million-dollar question. Camp Lazarus, also known
as fucking Area 51 in Nevada.”
One black eyebrow shot up. “Shut the fuck up!”
“No lie, man. I met our new C.O. on the way in. Major Maxwell. She didn’t look or sound like she was kidding.”
The man paused, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, but this all sounds crazy.”
“I’m aware. Still trying to wrap my head around it too. I’m Harold, by the way. Harold Tyler, U.S. Army Green Beret, Colorado unit. My friends call me Eastwood.” He extended his hand.
The other man reached out, shaking it. “Art Diaz, Corporal, Marines. Nice to meet you, Eastwood. Is that some Dirty Harry reference?”
Eastwood chuckled. “It is. Just too much of a mouthful to use in the field.
I’m a weapons specialist. Or…was.”
“Are. You are a weapons specialist. You never lose that.” Art made a face.
“Well, unless you’re a fucking sniper with no eye. Then maybe you lose your specialty.”
“You still have one good one, man,” Eastwood offered.
Art rolled his one good eye and glanced down at Eastwood’s body. “And you still have one good leg, I guess. Fucking broke dicks, that’s what we are.”
“Two, man. Two good legs. One to stand on to take a piss and the other to keep the ladies happy.”
Art laughed. “Because the ladies just love secondhand soldiers, right?”
“You two done strokin’ each other or can a dying man get some peace and quiet?”
Eastwood and Art looked over at the third gurney. The blond man lay wiping his eyes with his one and only hand.
“Well, shit, the dead has arisen,” said Eastwood.
“Like Lazarus,” said Art.
“It’s Matt. Rogers. Not Lazarus. What kind of biblical bullshit is that anyhow?”
“I’m Art, and that’s Eastwood, and we don’t know yet,” said Diaz. Two medical aides entered the bus and moved in their direction. “But I think we’re about to find out.”