Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 30
Secret operatives who had immediately reported Hannibal’s machinations to him over the years.
And Hannibal would wish to hell he’d never gone into the ministry by the time Jerald finished with him.
While it was warm enough for Victor to fly Sunday morning, he hated like hell that he had to leave Donna alone with Uni. Not that he doubted his partner’s ability to protect and comfort her, but that she had to suffer through this and he couldn’t be there for her because he had to go do his job.
Friday night and Saturday had been rough. She’d spent the time in bed, crying in their arms, barely talking. They had to force her to eat and drink.
Omega had made a couple of calls and ventured out, coming back with a prescription of pills to help calm her and ease her through it. Victor was afraid that, without the chemical assist, her sanity might fracture. She’d never had to deal with grief like this in her life. On top of everything else—and the fact that she could no longer go back to her life—maybe it was better they gave her a couple of days to recover.
Meanwhile, even though Uni could be spared today, Victor was the unit’s only helo pilot and he had a job to do.
He picked up the convoy of four trucks and an SUV about twenty minutes south of Peachtree City. He and Quack, who’d come up as a spotter with him, didn’t see any tails. One of the trucks was a refrigerated unit filled with equipment and samples for the lab, while the others carried both equipment and supplies they’d need to start outfitting the satellite safe house.
“We’re safe,” Quack radioed back to Omega. “Go for rendezvous.”
Victor flew on ahead to scope out the meeting place about five miles from the new satellite safe house. After circling the abandoned shopping complex for several minutes in ever-increasing spirals, they didn’t see anyone there, either, who looked like they didn’t belong.
“All clear,” Victor said, picking up the convoy again. Their six was still free of anyone following them.
He kept track of the convoy, giving Omega the signal to pull out of the parking lot just ahead of them.
“Convoy, you’re clear to follow lead vehicle.”
“Fly ahead and check the site,” Omega said.
“Roger roger.” They did, radioing back the all-clear.
Ten minutes later, the convoy was safely parked at the site, the gate securely locked behind them while Victor set the helo down in the field.
Quack removed his headset. “One of these days, I guess I should learn how to fly.”
Victor smiled. “Trying to take away my job security?”
“No one could replace you, dude.”
They got out and made their way over to the side of the building where a flurry of activity had commenced. The first truck was backed up to the loading bay, and Omega had the large door open already.
A concrete walkway ran parallel with and next to the loading bay. Victor and Quack stood there. “How you want to handle this?” Victor asked Omega.
“You two stay back. You don’t have bunny suits. Just keep your eyes open. Don’t think we’ll get unexpected company but you never know.”
“Roger roger.” The loading bay area remained shaded most of the day due to the tree line behind the building and its orientation to the north. He stepped back to lean against the metal railing and caught himself as his foot slipped on a small patch of ice.
“Watch your step,” he warned. “It’s still slick.”
“I’ll need to get some salt,” Omega said.
Mama, Sin, Doc, and Delta were suited up and unloading the first truck. Victor had been talking with Clara, who had driven one of the trucks, when Victor caught sight of Mama slipping as she stepped out of the truck and right onto a small icy patch on the concrete.
In her hands, what looked like a sample case, securely wrapped with heavy plastic bags and duct tape.
Without thinking, as she started to go down, Victor dove in and grabbed the case, rolling onto his back to cushion the impact as he hit the ground. He wasn’t quite good enough, one corner of the case still managing to hit the concrete. The sound of glass breaking jolted through his brain a split second before pain sliced into his left hand.
“Ow! Son of a bitch!” A small cut, about an inch and a half long, lay from between his thumb and index fingers across toward the center of his palm.
He’d started to instinctively raise his hand to his mouth to suck at it when Mama grabbed his wrist in a death grip, her eyes wide behind her protective face helmet.
“No!” she screamed.
The impact of what he’d just about done hit him.
And what had happened.
“Fuck.” He lay there, removing his right hand from the case, which still rested mostly on his chest. He stared at it as Doc put down the case he’d been carrying and hurried over to grab it.
“Are you—fuck.” Doc stared at him through his face mask.
“What do we do?” Omega asked.
“Everyone stay back,” Doc warned. “If you’re not suited, don’t come close.” He carried the case into the temporary lab area before he returned, not approaching. “I need to decon my suit. Clara, suit up and take care of him.”
Mama still had a grip on his wrist. Blood trickled down his left palm, and she turned his hand so it would hit the ground instead of running into the sleeve of his jacket.
“You’re going to need stitches,” Clara said as she looked at it from a distance.
Victor stared at the blood. “Time?”
Omega looked at his watch. “0817.”
“Why do you need the time?” Mama asked.
“Stick tests,” Sin said. “Right?”
Mama finally met Victor’s gaze. “It does not matter.”
He wasn’t sure why her words were hopeful but her tone sounded anything but. “Why doesn’t it matter?”
“Because the samples in that case will not trigger a blue positive stick test. They are mutated strains.”
His heart sank. “Well, fuck.”
* * * *
While the unloading proceeded, Clara got suited up and took Victor off to the side. She got everything she’d need pulled from her kit before touching him so she didn’t contaminate everything else.
“This is bad, isn’t it?” he asked her, his breath misting in front of him in the icy air. “Don’t bullshit me. You’ve been with us long enough.”
She glanced up from where she was pouring a bottle of sterile water over his palm to wash off the blood. “I don’t know,” she said. “Keep your hopes up.”
She sprayed his hand and the wound with disinfectant, then laid a piece of gauze over the wound before she sprayed the ground under him where the water and blood had drained. The disinfectant, with a name Victor couldn’t remember, killed even the most pernicious strains of the virus. Then she sprayed down the spot on the concrete where his blood had dripped after he’d fallen.
“It’s cold, right?” he asked, trying to keep his pulse rate slow. “Cold kills this shit.”
“It’s cold,” she agreed.
He wanted to touch her, to make her look at him again, but he didn’t. “Clara,” he said, his voice low. “Tell me the truth.”
She finally met his gaze again. “I don’t know,” she repeated. “But you have to do a full twelve hours of quarantine, at the very least. You can’t go back to the safe house yet. The stick tests won’t work on it even if you do get it. If you’re not showing symptoms by—”
“But if it’s a mutated strain—”
“Stop. We don’t even know if you’ve caught anything. Just stop thinking like that.” She checked his wound and prepared a suture kit.
“Promise me that if—”
“I refuse to po-clo any of you unless you end up in violent end-stage,” she flatly said without meeting his gaze. “I won’t let anyone do that, and as long as I’m alive and able to stop them, I’ll
He managed a harsh laugh. “Kneecap ’em, huh?”
“Castrations, kneecappings. What happened to first do no harm?”
“Do no harm, but take no shit,” she muttered. “Now shut up and let me stitch you up, dumbass. Doc caught it without going blue and he survived. Some of the blue strains we have samples for aren’t deadly to the average healthy adult. So nobody is getting po-cloed unless they’re raging and about to kill someone and I don’t have another way of subduing them until they get through the other side of it to see if their minds are still intact. They’d have to be a safety hazard to personnel before I’d even consider putting any of this group down.”
But he didn’t miss the way her gaze flicked up to his briefly before returning to her task at hand. Well, his hand.
“And Korey was practically fucking neon blue and didn’t rage,” she softly added.
“Korey’s mind was wiped from Kite the drug, too. Plus she was weak with hunger and dehydration. She shouldn’t have survived as long as she did.”
“But she did,” Clara said, beginning to suture. He ignored the sting of the needle. He’d felt a lot worse. “And some of the samples that were in that case are cultured derivatives from her original blood samples.”
Twenty minutes later, his hand was stitched up and Omega had scrounged a clean set of scrubs for Victor to wear after he got a decon shower. Clara bagged all of Victor’s clothes to run through a wash cycle in one of the three new machines the facility now had, which Omega needed to get hooked up.
Omega plugged in a space heater for Victor, who sat in a chair in the far corner of the lab area. Once Clara took his vitals, including his temp, and did a stick test just for procedure, she left him sitting there to get back to work unloading and rearranging. They hadn’t finished building out the lab unit, the area consisting of heavy plastic sheeting on all sides and above the area stapled to a wood-frame shell.
Doc, who’d rebagged the case and sprayed down his suit, stood a safe distance away from Victor. “You stupid asshole,” he lightly said. “Only you would go throwing yourself at a case full of Kite samples.”
Victor smiled and shot him a bird. “You’re welcome.”
Doc’s smile faded. “You want me to call them for you?”
“No, I’ll do it if someone’ll get me a phone.”
“You know, they’re not expecting you back until later today. We can let you wait it out and see what happens. No use stressing her out any more than necessary if you’re the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet. She’s already been through enough.”
Victor thought about it.
Really thought about it.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Let me think about it. Not telling Pandora didn’t work so well for you.”
Doc smirked. “True.”
Victor shivered in the chilly air while the others continued working. They wanted to keep the lab area cold to help contain the virus. The harsh winter weather was doing a great job of that, but the thin scrubs Victor wore, along with his damp hair, wasn’t helping him any. He couldn’t tell if the chills he felt were due to him being cold or due to something going on inside him at a cellular level.
Omega found him a couple of thermal survival blankets and brought them over, tossing them to Victor from a safe distance.
“Thanks.” He unfolded the thin material and wrapped it around him, instantly feeling a little better.
That gave him hope.
Omega studied him. “It’s been nearly an hour. You okay?”
“Yeah. Just freezing my nuts off. It’s what, thirty-five in here?”
“Forty-four. It’ll get better once the door’s down.”
“Maybe keep it open longer. That shit don’t like cold,” he said, trying for a confident tone he didn’t feel.
“No, it don’t.” He pulled a burner out of his pocket and held it up. “You want to call them?”
Omega tossed it so it landed in Victor’s lap. Then he left Victor alone and returned to supervise the unloading.
As the weight of the situation settled on him, Victor realized how truly badly he’d fucked up. Not only had he put himself and the team at risk, but they were down a helo pilot, and the helo was there.
He’d fucked up safety and logistics in one stupid fell swoop.
He knew if he was in Uni’s shoes, he’d get pissed off if his partner didn’t call him. But then again, factoring Donna into the mix, Victor wasn’t sure if scaring her was the right call, either. She was still in emotional shock over the deaths of her friends, terrified for her parents’ safety.
Except the Donna of today was a vastly different Donna of a week ago when they’d first met her. She no longer tried to keep her head in a bubble of happy, in denial about what was going on. The blindfold had been ripped off and now Donna was all-in.
He made the call.
Uni answered his sat-phone. “Hello?”
Victor took a deep breath. “It’s me.”
“Hey. How’s it going?”
“How’s Donna doing.”
From the change in Uni’s tone, Victor knew his partner suspected something. “I got her to lie down and take a nap. I’m in the living room with Ax. What’s up?”
“Hold on.” After a moment, Uni spoke. “What happened?”
“You’re… Oh, fuck. How?” Victor told him. “Dude. Wow. When you do something, you do it right. Fuck. How do you feel?”
“Freezing my ass off in this place, but maybe that’s not a bad thing if this shit doesn’t like the cold.”
“Shit, shit, shit.” Uni groaned. “Fuck, Quent. What am I supposed to say to her?”
“I…don’t know. Nothing yet, if you can. I’m not symptomatic. I might very well be coming back tonight feeling like the stupidest asshole in the world, but healthy as fuck.”
“Or you might not.”
Victor didn’t need to reply to that.
“Shit, man,” Uni whispered. “You can’t do this to me. I need you. She needs you. You’re my brother. We promised her.”
“Believe me, I don’t plan on dying yet.”
Omega brought Victor several bottles of water and a couple of MREs. “Sorry the accommodations aren’t the best. I wasn’t expecting anyone to need quarantine this quickly. We’d planned on putting anyone in an isolation unit at the CDC.”
“Hey, how are you going to get Mama and Sin over there?”
“By land, I guess. I’ve got Chief and Lima picking up another SUV since our pilot is apparently a dumbass.” He grinned. “Woulda been a great catch in football, but dumb as shit in Kite.”
“I can fly,” he said. “Put me in a bunny suit.”
“Not worth the risk,” Omega told him. “And FYI, Papa said to tell you you’re a dumbass and you’re lucky he likes you.”
Victor groaned. Of course they would have immediately reported to Papa and the others what happened.
Clara walked over. “Okay, you,” she said to Omega. “Scram. Let me do my job.”
When he left them alone, she started taking Victor’s vitals. “How you feeling?”
“Dumb as shit.”
He shivered. “Cold, but it’s cold as fuck in here and I’m in my bare feet.”
“Sorry. I’ll spray down your boots for you so you can put them back on.” She took his temperature in his ear, looked at it, and checked again before writing it down.
“Nothing. You’re sitting in front of a space heater with two thermal blankets wrapped around you.”
“And freezing my ass off. What was it? Am I running a fever?”
“Just one degree. Don’t panic. If I took everyone’s temp in here who’s moving shit around and unloading, t
She also drew a couple of vials of blood from him. “Just in case,” she said.
He didn’t interrupt as he watched her take the samples over to a long folding table functioning as one of their temporary lab counters and she started prepping one of them to look at under a microscope.
It was more what she didn’t say, and what her body language revealed as he watched her, that told him what he needed to know. When she started prepping a protein test sample, he said it.
“I’ve got it, don’t I?”
“Don’t know yet,” she insisted. “Nothing conclusive.”
“Don’t lie to me, Clara.”
She turned to stare at him. “What do you want me to say?”
“There are some antibody markers in your blood. But that can be from the trial vaccine we all got after Seattle. I don’t have your previous samples here to compare them with.”
“Run that test then.” He nodded toward it. “That’ll tell you, right?”
He didn’t speak again while she prepped the test and ran it. Five minutes later, as she studied the results, he knew from the sudden tension in her posture.
“Get Omega,” he quietly said.
“You need to move me to the CDC before I deteriorate,” Victor told him once Omega had returned.
“If,” Omega insisted.
“You said it yourself, you’re not capable of handling it here. Take me in.” He had a thought. “Seriously, put me in a bunny suit. We can fly there in twenty minutes from here. I can take Sin and Mama and whoever else with me. Get me set up there. It’s secure, right?”
“What about the chopper?” Omega asked. “We can’t just leave it sitting on their helipad.”
“Call their chief of security. Bubba said he’s in Arliss’ food chain, right? You and I both know that means SOTIF. Every SOTIF team has a helo jockey.”
The large man blew out a breath. “This is fucked up, man.”
TYMBER DALTON SERIES:
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