Recovery: V Plague Book 8 (5 page)

BOOK: Recovery: V Plague Book 8
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8

 

It was 0300
by the time Katie, Dog and I walked out of our suite and down the hall.  We
were both freshly showered and wearing thick, terrycloth robes that had been
hanging in the bedroom closet.  I probably looked ridiculous with a rifle slung
over the robe and flip-flops on my feet, but I didn’t care.  I was in the best
mood I could remember being in for some time.

Martinez
looked up and smiled a bright smile when we entered the bar area.  Katie smiled
back and I groaned inside, just waiting for it to start.  Mercifully, Martinez
somehow managed to keep her mouth shut, but the look on her face told me she
had several good one-liners prepared.

“Seen the
Colonel?”  I asked as we walked over to where she was sitting with a tumbler of
something from the bar in front of her.

“Nope,” she
said, taking a sip.  “Still sleeping as far as I know.  Care for a drink?”

“Maybe some
food first,” I said, looking at Katie.  She nodded and sat down next to
Martinez, leaving me to wander into the kitchen to get us something to eat.

Sometime
later we had finished our meal and Katie went to rummage through the back area
of the bar, hoping to find her favorite brand of Vodka.  Dog had inhaled his
breakfast and lapped up what had to be a quart of water from a silver-serving
bowl I’d filled and placed on the floor.

“So, what’s
your thoughts on that Pave Hawk?”  I asked, taking a sip of the Tequila I’d
poured.  “Is it worth trying to get in the air, or are we better off to pump
the fuel into the Huey and stick with it?”

“I’ve been
thinking about that,” Martinez said as Katie let out a small cry of triumph and
held up a bottle.  I glanced over at her and grinned.  “I think we should just
transfer the fuel to the Huey.  There’s too great of a chance that something in
the Pave Hawk is going to cause us a problem once we’re in the air.  Not that
the Huey isn’t older than my grandmother, but it seems to have been well
maintained and quite airworthy.”

I nodded,
taking another sip and watching Katie walk towards us with a glass in one hand
and a bottle in the other.  I wasn’t wild about any of us drinking, me
included, but we were probably as safe and secure at the moment as we would
ever be again.  And all of us had earned a little break.

Then I
thought about Scott, Irina and Igor out there somewhere.  They had gone out to
help me, and I doubted they were getting a break.  But I didn’t have a clue
where to even start looking for them.  The best idea I had come up with so far
was to get airborne in the Huey and start transmitting blindly, hoping they
would pick up our signal.

Thinking
about them soured my taste for the alcohol and I pushed the glass away, drawing
curious stares from my two companions.

“Thinking
about Scott and company,” I explained, pushing my chair back and standing up.

“What are
you doing?”  Katie asked.

“Going to
find us some clothes,” I answered.  “I’m guessing out of all those people in
the group that held you, at least some of them had some spare clothing with
them that will be clean.  Want to come with me, or do you trust me to pick
something out for you?”

We all
looked toward the stairs when Dog whined.  He was sitting near the first step,
staring at us.

“You’d
better walk your dog, first.”  Katie said.

“I’ve got
him, sir.”  Martinez pushed her glass away and stood up.  “It’ll give me a
chance to check over the Pave Hawk one more time.”

I nodded my
thanks and headed for the casino floor.  A moment later I heard the slap of
Katie’s flip-flops as she hurried to catch up with me.  When we pushed through
the door she wrinkled her nose at the smell from the bodies, but stayed right
next to me.

“So what’s
the plan?”  She asked.

“Find our
missing people and get our asses to the Bahamas.”  I answered.  “Nothing left
here for us and I hear the beaches there are topless.”

“Down,
boy.”  She said with a laugh.  “You have a plan to find these people?”

“I have an
idea, but don’t know if it will work.  Once we find them it should be easy
enough to locate a plane that Martinez can fly and we’re on our way.”

“Then
what?”  Katie asked, reaching out and taking my hand as we walked.

“Then… I
don’t know,” I said.  “I guess we live our lives.  I don’t know.  Haven’t
thought that far ahead.  I’ve been focused on staying alive and finding you.”

“Do you miss
her?”  Katie asked after a few minutes, referring to Rachel.

“Of course I
do,” I answered honestly.  “But not in the way you’re probably thinking.  She’s
my friend.  We walked through hell together.  I wouldn’t be here with you if it
weren’t for her.  But I’m where I want to be.”

Katie tugged
on my hand and when I stopped and looked at her she stretched up on her toes
and kissed me.  I wrapped my arms around her, pulling her to me, enjoying the
feel of her body against mine.  We stayed that way for a few long moments
before continuing on.

I had
guessed right that the group had brought luggage with them.  A large pile of
duffels was in one of the rooms they had used for sleeping.  Picking my way
through the rubble and broken bodies in shower shoes wasn’t exactly fun, but it
had to be done.  We’d stopped at a large gift shop and found plenty of T-shirts
and sweatshirts, but no pants.  At least they had underwear and both of us had
found a package in our sizes.

As I pulled
each duffel free of the pile, I turned and tossed it through the missing
window.  Katie grabbed them, took them to an area that wasn’t carpeted in glass
and started going through the contents.  It took a while, but we were both
eventually dressed.

I had hoped
for cargo pants, which are much more practical than jeans, but didn’t find any
so jeans it was.  A rough, canvas shirt completed my ensemble.  It would be hot
but it would also provide some protection.  Katie found a pair of jeans that
were so tight they looked like they had been painted on, but every other choice
was way too big.  We stopped in the gift shop on our way back so she could grab
a bikini top.  She hadn’t found any bras and that part of the bathing suit would
work as a substitute.

It had taken
us a while and when we walked back into the VIP area Colonel Crawford and
Martinez were sharing a drink at the bar.  Dog was sprawled out near them, his
tail thumping the floor when he saw me.

“Major. 
Ma’am,” he greeted us.

“Please,
Colonel.  It’s Katie.  Ma’am is my mother.”

Crawford
smiled and nodded before turning his attention to me.  “The Captain tells me we
need to transfer fuel to the Huey.”

“Yes, sir.” 
I said, joining them after pulling a stool out for Katie.  “I’m thinking let’s
get in the air and start broadcasting for Scott and hope he’s in range.  Unless
you have a better idea.”

“I do, but…
well, this is a little embarrassing.”  Crawford reached into his pocket and
placed a satellite phone on the bar in front of us.  “I had this and a charger
in my pack.  I’d love to place a call to Pearl Harbor and have them look on
satellite and find Scott, but I don’t know the number.”

“Sir?”  I
asked, not understanding.  I knew he’d been talking to Admiral Packard for weeks.

“This isn’t
my phone,” he confessed.  “Somehow I picked this one up when I was throwing
stuff in my pack and none of the working numbers at Pearl are in it.  Blanchard
had programmed them into my phone for me, so I just hit a speed dial button
without ever even seeing the number.”

We all sat
there for a few moments, staring at the phone as if we could magically cause it
to have the information we needed suddenly appear.  I knew how Crawford felt,
but it didn’t have any bearing on my plan.

“May I?” 
Katie asked, reaching out and holding her hand above the phone.

“By all
means,” Crawford said, giving her a quizzical look.

Katie picked
the phone off the bar and powered it on.  She sat staring at the screen for a
couple of minutes before standing.

“No signal
in here,” she said.  “I’m going to the roof.”

“Dog, go
with her,” I pointed.  He stood up, shook, and ran up the stairs ahead of
Katie.

“Who’s she
calling?”  Crawford asked.

“An old
boyfriend,” I said, suppressing a laugh at the look on his and Martinez’ faces. 
“He’s with the CIA, stationed at a listening post in Western Australia.  He’s
how she got out of Arizona and to Tinker.”

“OK, sir,”
Martinez poured a drink and pushed it towards me.  “We’ve got time.  Give with
the story.”

9

 

Tech
Sergeant Scott cursed in frustration, barely restraining himself from smashing
the FSOC communications panel.  It had worked fine the last time he’d spoken
with Colonel Blanchard but ever since, the system would not lock onto the
orbiting satellite.  He’d tried a dozen times, from an equal number of
different locations, with the same result on each attempt.  A little wheel
would spin on the display while it flashed a message that the system was
attempting to make a connection, but that’s as far as it ever got.

He’d rebooted
the system.  He’d climbed onto the roof of the Bradley and inspected the laser
system that transmitted the beam.  He’d cleaned the lens.  He’d even said a
prayer, not thinking about the irony of using every four-letter word in the
book as part of a plea to God.  None of it helped.

“Still not
working?”  Irina asked.  She was seated in the back of the Bradley, sharing an
MRE with Igor.

“No,” Scott
said, frustration clear in his voice.  “The goddamn thing won’t lock on, or
maybe it will lock on but the software won’t sync, or… who the fuck knows
what’s wrong with it.”

Irina
translated and Igor laughed before saying something in Russian.

“Igor says
you should try the Russian fix,” Irina translated.

“Yeah,
what’s that?”  Scott turned to look at them.

“Drink some
Vodka and slap the side of the computer really hard.”

“Tell him if
he’s got some Vodka I’m happy to give it a try,” Scott replied with a snort.

Irina
translated and Igor smiled and shrugged.

“So what do
we do now?”  She asked.  “Tinker is abandoned.  We don’t have comms with
anyone.  Should we head back towards the canyons where we found Rachel?”

Scott sat
back and let out a long sigh.  Forcing himself to be calm he reached out and
hit the button to reboot the FSOC system.  Once it completed the restart he
initiated the sync process, willing the spinning wheel to go away and the
status to change from red to green.  But it didn’t.

“That’s our
best option at this point,” he said.  “But we can’t spend much time looking for
the Major.  We need to head to Idaho.  Rachel’s on the ground.”

“And where
in Idaho do we start looking?”  Irina asked with her eyebrows raised.  “I
believe it’s a fairly large state.”

Scott looked
at her but didn’t have a good answer.  His frustration threatened to boil over
but he held back.  There was no point in losing his temper with Irina.  She was
right.  Idaho was big.  And it was a long ways away.  Shutting down the comm
app he loaded the navigation system and started looking.

Idaho was
about 1,400 miles away from where they were sitting on the windswept Oklahoma
prairie.  And the damn state was over 80,000 square miles.  Clicking a couple
of icons he had the system generate a route to Idaho.  Once it came up he had
the system calculate drive time.

A Bradley’s
top speed is 40 miles per hour.  Maintaining that speed for 1,400 miles wasn’t
reasonable, so he calculated using a 30 miles per hour average.  44 hours
without fuel stops, but they’d have to stop five times to fill the big
vehicle’s tank.  Best time would be 48 hours, but it would probably be longer
than that, depending on what they ran into along the way.  Then, once they got
there, where the hell did they start looking?

“OK, so
going to Idaho may not be a smart move.  Let’s get rolling and see if we can
find the Major.” 

Scott
cleared the route to Idaho and set up a new path that would take them back to
the area where they had found Rachel and Joe.  At least they had a starting
point to search for the Major.

Irina
finished up her meal and went back to the front of the vehicle where she
climbed into the driver’s station.  Starting the engine she goosed the throttle
and put them on the route Scott had sent to her nav station.

10

 

“Why do I
only hear from you when you need something?”  Steve asked with a petulant tone in
his voice.

Katie
suppressed the sigh that wanted to escape from her mouth.  She knew better than
to let him hear that she was frustrated with him.  It might very well push him
over the edge and result in his refusal to help.

“I talked to
you when I got to Tinker,” she said patiently.  “You know I couldn’t have made
it without you.  After that, things were crazy and I didn’t have a chance to
call you.  Then I was kidnapped.”

“You were
what?”  The switch to concern in his voice was immediate.

“Kidnapped,”
she said again.  “Some psycho Air Force officer tasered me and tied me up and
took me off the base.  He killed the pilot he had forced to fly us, and I
thought he was going to kill me.”

“Oh my
God!”  Steve exclaimed.  “How did you get away?  What happened?”

“John found
me and rescued me, but not before I was shot.”  She said.

“What?  You
were shot?  Are you OK?”  He was nearly shouting into the phone.

“I’m
recovering,” she said, not willing to give him any more details.  “But we all
need your help.  Tinker has been evacuated.  It’s overrun with infected.  There
are four of us still here.  We stayed behind to find a small group that was out
searching for us.  That’s what I need your help with.  Finding them.”

“I can’t
help you,” Steve said after a long moment to digest what she’d told him.

“Please,
Steve.  It’s not for me.  It’s for the three people that stayed behind to find
me.”  Katie hated begging, but she would do what it took to enlist his
assistance.

“No, you
misunderstood me.  It’s not that I won’t help, it’s that I can’t help.  All of
the satellites over North America have gone dark.  Don’t know if it’s the
Russians or not, but I can’t connect to any of them.”

Katie
cursed, this time letting Steve hear the sigh of frustration.  “There must be
something you can do,” she said.

“I don’t
know what,” he replied.  “I’ve been trying for days, and nothing is working.”

Katie stood
quiet for a few moments, watching Dog as he wandered around the far end of the
roof looking for a good spot to take care of some personal business.

“Wait a
minute,” she said, feeling a little hope.  “I’m talking to you on a satellite
phone.  If all the satellites are down, how is that happening?”

“Hang on,”
he said and she could hear his fingers flying over a keyboard.  “You’re signal
is heavily encrypted.  I can’t pull your location or number or any other data. 
You must be coming over an NSA satellite.  If it was commercial or even
military I’d be able to get in.  Who’s phone are you using?”

“I know just
who to ask,” she said.  “I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

Katie broke
the connection and whistled for Dog.  He came running, following her through
the roof top door that she had propped open.  They descended the stairs and she
found the rest of her group still sitting at the bar.  She explained the
situation to Colonel Crawford and he jumped to his feet. 

“Call him
back and let me talk to him,” he said.  “He’s right, it is an NSA satellite. 
He won’t get in, but I’ll bet he can put me in touch with Pearl Harbor.”

Crawford and
Katie headed for the roof, Martinez turning to me and smiling.

“So you were
saying?  They were engaged and you took her away from him?”  She prompted.

“I didn’t
even know about him,” I said, shaking my head in emphasis.  “I met Katie and,
well, it just happened.  We’d known each other maybe three weeks when we got
married.  I don’t know when she told him, for sure, but he didn’t take it well.

“Now, enough
soap opera.  It sounds like the Colonel will be talking to Pearl soon, which
means we’ll probably have a location on Scott soon.  We’d better get busy
transferring the fuel from the Pave Hawk to the Huey so we’re ready to go.”

Martinez
frowned that I wasn’t going to tell her anything else, then stood up and
drained her glass.

“We need to
find a hose and some tools,” she said.

“We can
probably find that in the maintenance room,” I stood, leaving my drink
unfinished.  “Don’t need a pump?”

“Nope. 
Going to disconnect one of the fuel lines from its engine, connect it to the
hose and use the Pave Hawk’s fuel booster pump to move gas to the Huey.  It
won’t be fast, but it will get the job done.”  She said.

Nodding, I
took a moment to return to the suite Katie and I had slept in, retrieving my
boots and vest.  I’d also found clean socks and was very happy to have them
when I pulled the boots onto my feet.  Martinez dressed in clothes Katie had
found for her while I was getting ready then we went scavenging.

We easily
found what we needed, lugging it through the casino and up the stairs to the
roof.  Crawford was still on the phone but I couldn’t tell if he was talking to
Steve or had managed to reach someone at Pearl Harbor.

“Steve got
him through to Pearl,” Katie said when she walked up.  “I think he’s still
trying to get through the maze and talk to some Admiral.  And Steve’s going to
try to get access into the satellite in case we need his help again.”

I nodded, keeping
my mouth shut when it came to Steve.  Dropping the long, coiled hose next to
the Pave Hawk I bent and removed the ties that were keeping it neatly rolled. 
Martinez already had the aircraft opened up and was pulling maintenance panels
off to access the fuel lines.  While she worked I grabbed an end of the hose
and started stretching it across the roof towards the Huey.

“I’m kind of
surprised Steve is willing to help you,” I said to Katie who had fallen in next
to me as I dragged the hose.  OK, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut forever.

“I feel bad
every time I talk to him,” she said.  “He’s not over me.  That’s obvious, and I
feel like I’m playing with his emotions to get him to help.”

“You know
you’re doing what you have to,” I said.  “His feelings don’t stack up against
peoples’ lives.  You feel bad because you’re a good person.”

I had
reached the Huey by now and stuck the hose deep into the fuel port.  Looking
back across I could see Martinez still working on her end. 

“Yeah, well,
that doesn’t make me feel any better.”  Katie said.

Reaching out
I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her to me.  There really wasn’t
anything else I could say.

“Found
them!”

I looked up
to see Crawford waving at me.  Removing my arm from Katie’s shoulders I took
her hand and led her across the roof.  The Colonel was just wrapping up his
conversation when we walked up.

“Where?”  I
asked.

“They’re
about fifty miles east-southeast from here.  Heading towards some canyons.”  He
said.

“They’re
still looking for me,” I said.  “How did they find them so fast?”

“They’re in
the only Bradley that’s moving in all of North America,” Crawford replied.  “It
wasn’t hard, at least according to the Petty Officer I just spoke with.  How
long before we’re ready to go?”

I shrugged
and stepped over to the Pave Hawk where Martinez was just climbing in to the
cockpit.

“How long,
Captain?”  I asked.

“I can’t
remember the flow rate of the booster pump so I’m guessing an hour.  Could be
more, could be less.  Sorry, sir.  Best I can tell you at the moment.”

Crawford had
walked over with us and nodded his head when she spoke.

“We’ve got
another problem,” he said.  “The plane Rachel was in was shot down.”

At first I
wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.  I stood staring at him with my mouth hanging
open.  Martinez had frozen with her hand hovering over the switch to activate
the pump. 

“She and the
pilot ejected,” he continued.  “They made it down but they’re in the Sawtooth Wilderness
in Idaho.  Damn rugged country and they’ve got weather coming in.”

“SAR on the
way?”  I asked, hoping a Search And Rescue flight was in the air.

“No go,
Major,” Crawford said.  “The Russians have surged.  Thousands of troops and
hundreds of aircraft.  They’re flying a 24-hour CAP over most of the western
US.  The Navy has already lost multiple aircraft trying to get to them.  We
can’t put anything in the air.”

I stood
there, controlling my emotions.  I wanted to rage.  Wanted to throw something
or break something, but that wouldn’t help the situation.

“So we go on
the ground,” I said.  “We know where a perfectly good Bradley is.”

“We do,”
Crawford nodded.  “If we can get there in time.  Bradley’s are slow and it’s a
long way to Idaho.  There’s a weather front coming in, dropping down from
Canada.  The temperature is going to drop and it’s going to snow.  And there’s
infected.”

“There can’t
be that many,” I said.  “There were something like seventy million or more
bearing down on Tinker.  Right?”

“That was
infected out of the mid-west, northeast, Texas and Colorado,” Crawford said. 
“These are herds moving out of the west coast cities.  The Admiral thinks the
Russians are moving them as they prepare for occupation.  California is
emptying out and the problem in Idaho is what’s coming out of Portland and
Seattle.  More than six million infected between the two cities and they’re
heading due east.”

BOOK: Recovery: V Plague Book 8
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