The screams were coming from my left. Opposite the direction to Scott’s room. Rifle up and ready, I started moving in that direction, confused when I could see hospital staff moving about like nothing was wrong. Three nurses were seated at a round workstation, writing in charts. An orderly was pushing a linen cart down the hall and a doctor stood at an elevated counter, typing into a tablet computer. The orderly was the first to notice me and he froze in place, staring.
One of the nurses looked up at the orderly, followed his gaze and stood when she saw me pointing a rifle in her general direction. “What are you doing with that in here? No weapons in the hospital!” She shouted at me.
Thoroughly confused, I slowly lowered the rifle, looking around for the source of the screams. The doctor had heard the nurse’s shout and turned from his work. He smiled a weary smile when he saw me.
“It’s OK.” He said, raising his hand, palm towards me. “She’s restrained.”
“Excuse me?” I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. Restrained? What the hell were they doing with a live, infected female in a hospital? If she got loose in their ‘gun free zone’ she’d rip through the staff and patients in minutes. “What the hell are you doing?”
“We’re trying to treat her, Major. These people are just sick. We shouldn’t be killing them because they have an infection.” He had approached me as he spoke. He was wearing a white coat over blue scrubs with a Lieutenant Colonel’s oak leaf embroidered on the chest above his title and name.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I was too surprised to worry about rank. What the hell was this idiot thinking? “Have you seen what they do? One thing and one thing only. They kill us.”
“Major. This isn’t your concern.” He gave me a look that I knew well. It was the look I usually gave to people that just didn’t get it. I started to get more than a little irritated with this guy. The infected were dangerous as hell. Yes, I understand there’s a need to study them and possibly come up with a treatment or a cure. That would solve many of our problems, but a patient floor in a hospital is sure as hell not the place to be doing that. The female I could still hear screaming should be safely locked up in a secure facility where the researchers themselves were the only people at risk.
“Well, sir, I’m making it my concern. What happens if she gets free? There’s no guard in the hall. Do you at least have one in the room with her?” I asked, peering over his shoulder in the direction of the noise.
“I assure you, there’s nothing to be concerned about, Major.” He put a heavy emphasis on my rank, reminding me who was who in this conversation. Maybe I had been out of the Army too long, or just gotten old enough, but I didn’t give a shit if he outranked me. He was putting a lot of people in danger and as far as I could tell wasn’t even taking basic precautions to safeguard them.
“Colonel,” I said, stepping close and looking him in the eye. “We are going to go make sure that infected is properly secured, then I’m going to get a couple of Rangers up here to guard her until she is either moved to a secure location or is put down. Sir.” My tone and body language didn’t leave any doubt that I was absolutely serious.
He frowned and took a step back away from me. “Where’s your commanding officer and what’s his name?”
“His name is Colonel Crawford, and you’ll be meeting him soon enough. Now, you can either walk me to the room the female is in, or I’ll find it myself.” I moved forward into his personal space again. He looked me in the eye and I could see the anger and resentment in his, but also recognized he was smart enough not to keep pushing back.
“Fine. Follow me.” He said, spinning on his heel and heading down the hall.
I noticed a small gesture to one of the nurses as we passed their work area. I had little doubt it was a ‘call security’ gesture. OK. We can play it that way. I reached to my vest and activated the radio that was connected to my earpiece. Blanchard answered almost immediately and I told him to grab the Colonel, a couple of Rangers and meet me at the hospital. He had gotten to know me well enough to not ask why, just promised they were on their way.
The doctor led me down the hall, stopping in front of a closed door at the very end of the corridor. I could hear the guttural snarls and screams coming from inside the room, the heavy wood of the door doing little to muffle them. He stepped to the side and made an ‘after you’ gesture. I reached out with my left hand and pushed on the handle that released the door’s latch, placing my right hand on the hilt of my Kukri at the small of my back.
The door opened easily and the sounds from the infected ceased the instant the latch clicked open. I only had the man’s word that the female was restrained, so I carefully continued to open the door, stepping forward as it swung into the room. There wasn’t an immediate attack, so I kept moving forward, adjusting my grip on the Kukri and wiggling it slightly to ensure it would draw smoothly if I needed it.
Pushing the final few inches I stepped through the opening into a normal looking hospital room. Normal except for the woman lying in the bed. She was young and attractive with long, brown hair. Dressed in a blue hospital gown, she was restrained across her chest and at each wrist and ankle with sheepskin lined leather cuffs. The kind of restraints normally used in a psychiatric ward to prevent the patients from hurting themselves or others.
I stood staring at the woman, and she stared back at me with her intelligent, blood red eyes. If not for the eyes and restraints she would have looked like any other patient, but the eyes had locked onto my face as soon as I came into view. And they were coldly calculating how to get to me. This was one of the smart ones. I had no doubt.
There was movement behind me and I turned in time to raise a hand and grasp the doctor’s wrist as he tried to stab a needle into my neck. Applying pressure and twisting his arm I watched the loaded syringe fall out of his hand to the polished floor. Then his arm went limp as he collapsed to his knees and began sobbing.
“She’s my wife. Please. Don’t kill her. I can help her.” He cried.
Scooping up the syringe I turned to look at the woman. She just lay there, staring back at me. I glanced at her left hand and saw a distinctive wedding ring, looking down and seeing a matching ring on the doctor’s finger. His emotion and the whole situation took the anger out of me like it had been doused with a bucket of cold water.
What would I do if I found Katie and she was infected? I didn’t know the answer to that, but I certainly understood the emotions this man was dealing with. Releasing his wrist I pushed the plunger on the syringe, shooting a stream of whatever was in it onto the wall of the room before snapping the needle off and tossing the whole thing into a trashcan. Bending over I grabbed his upper arms and lifted him to his feet.
“I’m sorry.” I said, looking him in the eye. “I truly am, but she’s too dangerous to keep here.”
“She’s my wife.” He said again, a pleading tone in his voice. “This just happened last night at dinner. One minute she was fine, then…” He gestured helplessly at the infected. She chose that moment to scream again, loud enough to make me involuntarily put my hand on my holstered pistol.
“No!” The doctor said, reaching out and grabbing my gun hand. Normally that would get someone hurt or killed. But in this case I just looked at him and nodded as his wife let out with another ear splitting scream.
From the hallway I heard the sound of heavy boots running in our direction. A moment later Colonel Crawford burst into the room, pistol in hand. Blanchard was on his heels, also with a pistol out and ready, two Rangers pushing in behind them.
“We’re under control.” I said calmly, raising a hand to slow down the charge.
“What the hell is this, Major?” Crawford asked, holstering his pistol and looking at the infected.
There was more noise from the hall, more running boots, then excited shouting. Air Force Security Forces had arrived. The two Rangers had spread apart and had their rifles up. It was the new arrivals doing all the yelling. I know they train cops to do that as it is a great way to create a moment of panic in suspects you’re trying to capture alive. But Rangers aren’t taught that. They’re taught to shoot and get on with their day. Blanchard stepped into the hall to defuse things before some Air Force personnel wound up dead on the floor.
“This is the doctor’s wife.” I said, turning back to the Colonel. “And she turned when they were having dinner last night. I think that confirms what the Russian told me.”
Crawford just stood staring at the female. He nodded and let out a long sigh. The infected was silent again, watching us with those eyes. Eyes from a nightmare.