Once again, I decided to read and review a short story from the Zombie Pirate Publishing anthology World War Four (2019). My story “Joey” is included in the anthology, and on this blog, I’ve previously reviewed three of the other short stories (for obvious reasons, I can’t review them on Amazon).
Today we visit “The Package” by Brian MacGowan. It’s a military SciFi thriller describing the conflict between the fictional Northern Free States (NFS) and the United Alliance (UA), sort of a civil war scenario as far as I can tell.
An elite team of commandos, led by Sgt. Rick Harrington invades a UA stronghold because they have intel stating that previously stolen UA encryption codes are hidden in the facility. The op is to get in, get the codes, and then evac.
The military action and heroism depicted is first-rate, but I may have missed something in the story line. The codes were initially taken by an NFS ambassador over a year ago as the story starts. Harrington’s Hellhounds quickly find two things. The first is that there’s no human resistance at all as they enter, and the second is one nearly impenetrable security door that doesn’t have any right to be there.
The reason for the door becomes apparent when Harrington discovers a bio-hazard lab where it looks as if the UA is cooking up some biological weapon of mass destruction. Like the door, it was totally unexpected. However, things get even stranger when, managing to find a route to their target, instead of the codes, they find a ten-year-old girl and a teddy bear in a cryogenic chamber.
As it turns out, the codes are in the teddy bear, but Harrington and his people are humane enough not to just kill the girl, who is the ambassador’s daughter, and take the codes.
The rest of the story is a continuous firefight to get the child and the codes to the landing zone and evac before they’re overrun by a large number of UA troops who were signaled to attack if the cryo-chamber was accessed.
Harrington and the girl are cut off from the rest of the team, but he manages to get the child to the rescue craft while sacrificing himself. No, he’s not dead by the end of the story, but he’ll have to fight his way out the old fashioned way. A UA soldier said that there was a reward for retrieving the girl, which is why they wanted her so bad, but technically, she has no military value. It’s the bear they should want back.
But then again, if the UA is trying to hide the codes, why leave them, and a human popsicle in such a vulnerable situation? Presumably the ambassador is dead, but if that’s the case, why leave the girl alive and why put her in deep freeze with the codes? Did the UA know the codes were in the bear? Harrington sure did.
Also, why put all this in a bio-hazard lab? If you’re trying to keep the girl alive (for some unknown reason), why potentially expose her to a biological weapon (which is breached as Harrington’s people are trying to escape)? It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, even though otherwise, I enjoyed the story.
Now the anthology had word count limits for the stories therein, so it’s possible that MacGowan had to cut corners to meet the limitation, but even in that case, it does leave quite a mystery.