V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 26
Pulling open the fire door to the seventh floor, I held it with a foot and waved Rachel and Irina out of the stairwell. Keeping my foot in place, I stretched out and peered over the rail. The Russians were just passing the fourth floor landing. Turning, I signaled for the girls to stay where they were before quietly closing the door.
I put my back against the wall and raised the rifle. And waited. I’d thought about dropping a grenade down the stairwell, but my head had endured enough for one day. It didn’t need to be exposed to any more blast waves for a while.
The two Spetsnaz kept talking and laughing as they climbed. It’s hard to tell when someone is speaking a foreign language, but I was pretty sure they were half drunk. Had probably been sitting in the bar the whole time Rachel and I had been prowling around the hotel.
Finally, they began climbing the flight to the level where I waited. Stepping away from the door, I suddenly appeared several feet above them at the top of the stairs. The alcohol they’d consumed had dulled their reactions, and for a moment they stood there gaping at me.
Then I fired. Two rounds into each chest. When the bodies dropped, I dashed down the stairs and fired an insurance policy into each of their heads. Kicking one of the bodies out of my way, I ran back up and retrieved Rachel and Irina.
“What the hell was that all about?” I asked Irina.
We were in the Humvee, driving west on a small state highway. I wanted to get away from the city so there wasn’t the constant threat of attack by the infected while we waited for our ride.
“They were a squad that got separated from their platoon. There was a big battle with the infected when they first arrived at the base. After they escaped, they started talking and decided they were done. Were not going back.”
“Why did they take you?” Rachel asked, turned sideways in the passenger seat to talk to Irina who was in the back.
“They had already found the hotel and were out scavenging. When I came along in the Cadillac, they thought I was a local woman. They were disappointed I was Russian. I did not fit their fantasy of finding an American.
“Everything cooled off and was fine for a bit. I thought they were going to release me. Then the Senior Sergeant in charge of the squad started asking questions. He was already drunk, so it had taken some time for him to think things through.
“I told him I had been taken prisoner and managed to escape. But I made a mistake. I told him my real name and that I was a GRU officer. I did not expect that he would know who I was. They tied me up and were planning to contact their command and tell them they had captured me. Explain that they had left their platoon to pursue me. They had visions of being given medals and promotions.”
We were now far enough out of the city that I felt it was safe to stop. I pulled into a gravel turnout and came to a stop next to a large field.
“Did they hurt you?” I asked, unsure how to phrase what I really meant.
“No,” Irina smiled at me. “They were more excited about the prospects of being heroes for capturing me.”
I nodded, trying to hide my embarrassment at having asked the question. It wasn’t any of my business. Shutting off the engine, I stepped out to have a smoke and call Jessica. Rachel and Irina joined me, Irina immediately wrapping her arms around my neck and squeezing me tight.
“Thank you for not leaving me,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” I said, feeling a little awkward.
I hugged her back, tentatively at first, then really wrapped her up in my arms when she didn’t let go. After several seconds, she stepped back, kissed me on the cheek, turned to Rachel and pulled her into a tight embrace.
When the love fest was over, I got the sat phone and file folder back from Rachel and placed my call. As normal, Jessica answered on the first ring.
“Glad you found her,” she said immediately.
“How do you…” I stopped, looking up at the clear, night sky. “Never mind.”
“I see everything, sir,” she chuckled.
“Can you see where my ride is?” I asked.
“They’re on the way, sir,” she said, a smile clear in her voice. “A pair of Ospreys left Groom Lake two hours ago. They should be overhead in about two more.”
“Jessica, you’re amazing,” I said, relief that I’d soon see Katie flooding over me.
“Yes, sir. I am. And, there are a bunch of Marines on each, but it looks like you don’t need reinforcements.”
We talked for several more minutes, about nothing in particular. I was just so happy that we were going to be picked up that I was in a chatty mood. When I disconnected, I filled in Rachel and Irina.
“Oh, thank God,” Rachel said, smiling. “I’m so looking forward to a hot bath.”
Irina seconded that and I couldn’t help but laugh at both of them. Soon they were describing the details of the bath each wanted and I had to walk away before I said something completely sexist.
Walking and smoking, I slowly circled the area. Thought about Katie. Remembered how we’d met. Our whirlwind romance and sudden marriage. A marriage that had saved me. Injected some humanity into a life that was little more than all the death and destruction that came with my chosen profession.
My heart ached as I remembered all of the good times we’d had together. I guess I’d been fortunate, as there had rarely been a bad one. Sure, we had occasionally gotten on each other’s nerves. What married couple doesn’t? But at the end of the day, each of us had always put the other first, and it had worked well. We’d had a great life together.
I was startled, looking up at Rachel. She’d walked over to where I was still walking in a small circle as I thought.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to smile. “Just thinking about Katie.”
“Good things, I hope.”
I looked out across the dark landscape before answering.
“Yes,” I said. “But I just realized I was thinking as if she were already gone. She’s not gone.”
I stood there staring at Rachel. A moment later, tears began running down my face. Wiping them away, I realized my throat had gotten tight. She stepped forward and held me close. We stood like that for a long time, the wind whipping her hair across my face.
“I’m cold,” she said after several minutes. “Let’s get in the Hummer to wait.”
I followed her over, getting behind the wheel and starting the engine so we had some heat. My maudlin mood killed their enthusiasm at the prospect of a hot bath, so the three of us sat in silence. Rachel held my hand while we waited.
Close to two hours later I was startled out of a nap by the vibration of the sat phone. It was resting on the dash where it had a clear shot at the sky. Sitting up, I grabbed it and accepted the incoming call.
“Sir,” Jessica said. “The Marines are getting close. I’m guiding them in, but they’re trying to contact you on the radio. Is yours working?”
I reached for my ear to check, finding the earbud still in place. Removing the main unit from my vest, I saw it was dead.
“Out of power,” I said. “How close are they.”
“Ten miles,” she said. “They’re looking for verification the LZ is clear.”
“Stand by,” I said.
Popping my door open, I stepped out then climbed in back and into the gunner’s position. This gave me enough elevation to see for a long distance across the flat terrain. I turned a complete circle. Nothing moving.
“LZ is green,” I said to Jessica a moment later. “Tell them to sit down on the road to the east of my location. It’s clear of any debris.”
“Copy that, sir,” she said. “Safe flight.”
With that, she was gone. I climbed down and lit a cigarette, slipping the sat phone into a pocket.
“Ride’s here,” I said a couple of minutes later when I heard the sound of approaching aircraft.
Rachel and Irina got out, standing next to me. We watched two Ospreys approach, slowing as
We walked forward as the rear ramp began lowering. It was dark inside the aircraft and I didn’t see the shape streaking across the asphalt until the last minute. I barely had time to get my hands up before Dog slammed into me and both of us tumbled to the ground.
He was frantic with excitement, tail whipping side to side as his whole body shook and he tried to lick every inch of exposed skin. I started laughing, wrapping my arms around his thick, furry neck and holding him tight. After almost a minute of his assault, he realized Rachel was there and she received a similar greeting.
When I looked up, Igor was hugging Irina, lifting the much smaller woman completely off the ground. Not exactly the proper way for a Sergeant to greet a Captain. But, who the fuck cares?
Setting her on her feet, Igor extended his hand and pulled me to mine. Dog danced around my legs for a bit, then ran to do the same to Rachel, then back to me.
“Good see you,” Igor said, clapping my shoulder with his big hand.
“You, too, my friend,” I smiled.
We all loaded onto the waiting Osprey, the pilot getting us in the air before anyone had time to find a seat. I wound up with Rachel next to me and Dog stretched out across my feet with his chin on her boots. He wasn’t about to let me go anywhere without him knowing it. Igor and Irina sat behind us, catching up on events in their native tongue.
“Do you really think they’re going to be able to help Katie?” I asked Rachel after we were settled in.
She was quiet for a long time, staring down at the top of Dog’s furry head.
“Look,” I said after it didn’t seem she was going to answer. “I’m not asking you to tell me what I want to hear. I’m asking your opinion.”
Rachel turned and looked into my eyes for a few moments.
“I just don’t know,” she said, squeezing my hand. “I really don’t know anything about the virus or how it works.”
“That’s not much of an answer,” I grumbled.
“It’s the best I can give you,” she said with a sad smile. “I’m not going to get your hopes up, or paint a doom and gloom scenario, either. I just don’t know.”
I sat there thinking, absently listening to the animated conversation in Russian from behind me. Tried not to dwell on the topic of my wife, but failed miserably.
Pulling out the Athena Project file, I removed the elastic band that held it tightly closed and opened it on my lap. The interior of the Osprey was lit by a dim, red light to preserve the passengers’ night vision, and I quickly gave up trying to make out the text. It would have to wait. Putting it away, exhaustion took over and I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Rachel shook me awake some time later. I opened my eyes and stared around, unsure where I was for a moment until my brain started functioning again. Dog hadn’t moved and both feet were numb from the weight of his body.
“We’re landing,” Rachel said.
I nodded, then leaned forward and poked Dog with a finger until he shifted enough for me to retrieve my feet. He grunted his displeasure, but sat up and put his chin in my lap. I ruffled his ears as the Osprey transitioned into a hover and gently came to rest on the ground.
The squad of Marines were already on their feet, the back door whining as the ramp lowered. Cool, dry air flowed through the opening, flushing out the funk of too many fighting men crammed into a tight space. It also woke me up.
The Marines were down the ramp and out of the aircraft quickly, the rest of us following more slowly. I was anxious to see Katie, but at the same time wasn’t in a hurry to continue the nightmare.
Dog squeezed between Rachel and me, walking down the ramp with us. At the bottom, waiting on the tarmac, was Blanchard and Joe Revard. The Colonel smiled when he saw us, stepping forward to shake my hand.
“Good to see you again, Major.”
“Good to be seen, sir,” I said, shaking his hand before passing over the unread folder and the pack full of papers we’d taken off the Russians. “I believe Admiral Packard is rather anxious to see this.”
“I’ve already heard from his aide. Three times.”
Blanchard grinned as he accepted the file and pack. I glanced around at the stark landscape that reminded me of Arizona, then focused on Joe.
“Hello, Injun Joe,” I said.
“Stupid fucking white man,” he grinned, stepping forward to shake my hand.
“How’s my wife?” I asked, the question wiping the smile from his face.
“Let’s talk,” he said, gesturing towards the entrance to a low building a hundred yards away.
I told Dog to stay with Igor, but he was having none of it. Refused to obey. Just stuck to my side as I began walking with Joe. I paused and turned when Rachel didn’t follow.
“Coming?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” she shook her head. “I’m here if you need to talk.”
I looked at her for a moment, nodded and followed Joe towards the building. Dog hesitated, looking between Rachel and me. I told him to stay with her in a firm voice, and this time he listened.
“So, tell me,” I said as we strode across the tarmac.
“Let’s find Dr. Kanger,” he said.
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” I asked.
“It’s not bad, but it’s not good, either,” Joe answered. “Sorry. I’m not trying to be evasive.”
We didn’t have anything else to say. Entering the building, he led me through a maze of corridors, then we took an elevator several levels down. Stepping out of the car, we were in a well lit hall with a shiny linoleum floor.
“Through here,” he said, indicating a large door labeled Conference 7A.
I stepped through and recoiled, whipping my rifle up when I came face to face with a female infected.
“WHOA, WHOA, WHOA!” Joe shouted and grabbed my arm, pulling the rifle off target. “She’s not an infected!”
I glanced at him then back at the woman. She had the blood red eyes, but shrank back in fear when I’d pointed a weapon at her.
“She’s OK,” Joe said, still holding my arm. “Trust me.”
“I’m not dangerous. Really,” the woman said.
I stared at her for a moment, slowly lowering my rifle, but not taking my eyes off of her.
“What the hell, Joe?” I asked.
“Long story,” he said, taking a deep breath. “She’s got the eyes, and is strong as hell, but there’s no mental impairment or rage. We’re still trying to figure out why.”
“I see you’ve met Nicole,” a voice said from behind me.
I didn’t look, not ready to take my focus off the woman. After a moment, the new arrival pushed past and turned to face me, extending his hand.
“I’m Dr. Kanger,” he said.
After a long moment I shook his hand and let myself be directed to a seat at the table. Kanger, Joe and the woman took seats at the opposite end, all facing me.
“Where’s my wife?” I asked.
“She’s in an isolation room under heavy sedation,” Kanger answered. “It’s better for her, and much safer for us when we need to perform an examination or run a test.”
“Is she OK?”
“She’s being well cared for, if that’s what you mean. Being fed intravenously. But she’s infected.”
“Can you cure her? Help her?” I finally succeeded in tearing my eyes away from the woman and focusing on Kanger.
The group exchanged a glance, then Kanger began talking. Told me about the Terminator virus he’d created. And the cure.
“So if you cure her, she’ll be brain damaged. Is that what you’re saying?”
“That is a distinct possibility,” he nodded. “However, we have some hope. It was actually Nicole’s suggestion. Induced hypothermia. We cool her body in advance of administering the cure. The belief i
“Have you tried it yet?” I asked, hope flaring anew.
“No. We haven’t had an opportunity. Test subjects have been brought in and are currently in the cooling phase. It takes several hours. But I have spoken with some imminent physicians in Australia and Hawaii over the past few hours. They believe that as long as the cognizant deficit is not the result of damage from the plague virus, there is a good chance this will work.”
“When will you know?” I asked.
“Several days, I’m afraid. The subjects’ bodies are almost cool enough. Once they reach 32 degrees Celsius, I will administer the cure. It will take 48 hours for it to burn out the plague. Then another four to six hours to slowly raise the subjects’ body temperature back to normal.”
I took a deep breath, trying to restrain the hope that was surging in my chest.
“John.” I looked up and met Joe’s eyes. “You need to understand. We have no idea if this will work. I’m sorry. I just don’t want you to get your hopes up prematurely.”
At first I was angry at Joe for the admonishment, then realized he was right. After a bit, I nodded.
“I want to see her,” I said.
“She’s unconscious,” Kanger said.
“I don’t care. Take me to her.”
He nodded after a pause, looking over at Joe who got to his feet.
“I’ll take you,” he said.
Katie and I held hands as we walked across a grassy field. It was a glorious, sunny day. Birds were singing in the trees and butterflies were flitting from flower to flower. Ahead, Dog nosed along the ground, following the scent trail of some animal who had passed through earlier. Just beyond where he hunted, a crystal blue lake reflected a handful of small, puffy white clouds.
“We should build a cabin here,” Katie said, stopping and looking around the meadow. “There’re probably fish in the lake, and I’ll bet there are deer in the woods.”
DIRK PATTON SERIES:
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