The house wasn’t just big, it was massive. 6,000 square feet if it was an inch. It was the following day and I’d recovered enough to be out of bed and wandering around. I’d fallen asleep the prior afternoon while Katie described where we were and gave me a rundown of our tactical situation. She hadn’t thought about several things, playing soldier wasn’t her bag, but she and Rachel had done a great job of finding us a place to lay up and heal.
My lungs had cleared and while I still had an occasional cough, I felt much better after two days of IV fluids and what I now knew was a ventilator. I was still weak, but getting stronger and no longer felt like I was moving and thinking in slow motion. Dog was healing as well, having benefited from the rest and antibiotics Rachel had given him. He was a long way from a hundred percent, but he was out of danger.
As I walked the house, getting a feel for the layout, he limped along at my side. I’d tried to get him to lie down and stay put, but he insisted on staying with me. Despite my concern, I knew this was best for him as long as we didn’t over do it and cause too much stress on his wounds.
Katie and Rachel were getting along, but seemed to be keeping their distance from each other. When they did communicate it was strictly business then one of them, usually Rachel, would find something that needed to be attended to in a different part of the house. I had several ideas about what might be going on but was old enough and wise enough to not feel the need to insert myself into the dynamic.
Once I’d finished my tour of our temporary residence, Katie ushered me into the kitchen where Rachel was preparing a cold meal. A camp stove they had been using to heat water for coffee rested on the stove, but Rachel shook her head when I asked for some. There hadn’t been much fuel in it and it had run out quickly.
It was cold in the house, but still better than outside. The sun was shining weakly, but snow was piled in drifts and a strong north wind moaned through the building’s eaves and around the corners of the walls.
Before I sat down at the kitchen table I looked out a window at a large thermometer mounted on the patio. 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Probably below zero with the wind chill. I was glad for the cold weather gear I was wearing since it probably wasn’t much above freezing inside. It was cold enough to see my breath.
“I talked to Jessica on the sat phone yesterday,” Katie began, taking a chair across the table from me.
“Good,” I said, having completely forgotten about our eye in the sky. “How does the infected situation look?”
“None moving that she can see in the area. There’s a large herd passing through Twin Falls, but it’s just too cold here. They can’t survive.”
I smiled at the good news, getting a bad vibe when Katie and Rachel exchanged glances.
“What?” I asked, looking back and forth between them.
“She got the archived sat imagery working, or at least partially working, and found out what happened to the rest of our group.” Katie said, nodding her thanks when Rachel set a plate of food on the table in front of her.
“That’s great,” I said, smiling. “Are they on the way?”
Katie sat there looking at me, not touching her food. Finally, she took a deep breath and continued.
“Remember Jessica telling us she found the Bradley abandoned?”
I nodded, not liking where this was going.
“From what she can tell they encountered a Russian patrol. A helicopter. It looks like Irina talked them down and they were able to overpower the crew and take control. They flew east to refuel, then headed in this direction. Jessica lost them when they went under the cloud cover a few hundred miles east of here. Apparently thermal imaging doesn’t write to disk so she doesn’t know where they went after that.”
Katie tried to hold my eyes but gave up and stared down at the plate of untouched food. Maybe I was still thinking slow, but what she was telling me finally dawned. My stomach dropped as I stared back at her in disbelief.
“What kind of helo were they in?” I finally managed to speak in a whisper.
I just sat there, staring at her, mouth hanging open. It couldn’t be. Could it? Had I killed my friends? Part of me refused to acknowledge the possibility while another realized that was probably exactly what had happened. I hadn’t given any thought to why a Russian helo would have been up in the mountains until now, and try as I might I couldn’t come up with a reason other than it was Martinez and the rest looking for us.
Rachel was standing by the sink, behind Katie, looking at me with a mix of pity and concern as tears rolled down her face. Katie was crying too, sniffling softly and wiping her eyes. Both of them were doing their best to hold it together.
“I need to be alone,” I whispered, standing up so abruptly the chair tipped over backwards and crashed to the floor.
Neither of them said anything further as I walked out of the room. I didn’t know where I was going, just knew I needed to do something. The urge to throw up was almost overwhelming, but I fought it down as I wandered, eventually winding up at the front door. I glanced down and saw my pack. Bending, I dug through it until I found what I was looking for then opened the door and stepped out into the frigid wind. Dog had followed me and pressed against my leg.
I was standing on a large, covered porch. The storm had blown snow onto its surface, coating everything. At the far end were several wrought iron chairs and I walked over and sat down. The air was sharp, the wind bringing tears to my eyes. At least I blamed it on the wind.
Looking down at my hands I was surprised to see the pack of cigarettes I’d just retrieved from my pack. I didn’t even remember getting them. Extracting one, I cupped my hands and lit it, inhaling deeply and immediately coughing. Not too smart after just having fluid in my lungs, but at the moment I didn’t give a shit.
Dog lay down at my feet, head turned to keep watch on the large expanse of land that dropped away from the house. Even though the sun was weak, it reflected brilliantly off the virgin snow that blanketed the landscape. I sat there, wiping tears out of my eyes and smoking, trying not to picture the faces of the people I’d killed.
I sat on the porch for most of an hour, smoking and thinking. Unable to handle the inactivity any longer I went into the house and loaded up with my knives, rifle, pistol and a bunch of spare magazines. I was in the mood to get lost in a fury of violence. Shock and sorrow had given way to anger. White-hot anger that events begun by a madman in Russia had led to me killing some of the best people I’d ever known.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Katie stood between me and the front door, hands on her hips, eyes flashing the way they do when I’m about to do something stupid and she’s intent on stopping me. Rachel stood a few feet away, a similar expression on her face.
“Going to get us some real food,” I mumbled. “Can’t take another MRE.”
“Bullshit!” She stepped forward and looked up into my face. “You think I don’t know you better than that? You’re going looking for a fight. Kill a few infected. Blow some shit up. Exorcise your demons. It won’t bring them back!”
Tears were rolling down her face as she spoke, her voice growing loud and rough with emotion. And she was absolutely right. That was exactly where I was headed. What I needed to do before I completely lost it. Lose myself in an orgy of violence.
“Fine!” Katie snapped after I just stood there staring back at her for close to a minute. “Go do what you need to do. You never fucking listen to me anyway.”
She turned and shoved past me, disappearing down the hall. A moment later the whole house shook when she slammed the door of whatever room she went into. I had watched her storm away, turning back to head for the door and stopping when Rachel stepped in front of me.
“Seriously?” She said.
“Everything you’ve done, we’ve done, to find her and this is how you treat her?” She folded her arms across her chest and shoved her face into mine.
“How I’m treating her? What the hell did I do?”
“You’re being an ass! That’s what. Twenty-four hours ago you were flat on your back in bed and now because you’re upset you’re ready to go out into freezing weather and pick a fight you don’t need to fight. A fight you might not come back from because you’re weak.”
Rachel punctuated the last word by reaching out and pushing me. Hard. I took a couple of steps back and she advanced on me.
“You’ve beaten the odds up until now,” she said in a calmer voice. “And if this was something you really needed to do I’d go with you, but this is bullshit. Suck it up and deal with it like a man, not a boy. Put the goddamn weapons down and go talk to your wife.”
I just stood there, staring at Rachel. Pissed off at first, I slowly cooled down and realized she was right. It was foolish to put myself at risk needlessly, especially when I wasn’t in the best shape. Nodding, I turned and headed down the hall to find Katie and confess that I was a moron. Not the first time I’ve had to do that, and somehow I suspected it wouldn’t be the last.