The conversation with Katie went pretty much like they always did. I apologized for being an idiot and she forgave me and told me she loved me, called me an asshole then gave me a kiss. Crisis averted, I divested myself of some of my weapons and made another tour of the house.
A massive fireplace was the centerpiece of the great-room. It was made of smooth river rock that had been set in mortar and went all the way to the soaring ceiling. The firebox was large enough that I could have sat inside if so inclined, but there wasn’t any wood in the two storage areas built in on either side.
“Have you checked outside for firewood?” I asked the girls. They both shook their heads.
“We weren’t sure about lighting a fire and having smoke coming out of the chimney,” Rachel said.
“I’m going to check around outside,” I said after a minute. “I think we’re probably OK. The infected, even if they could survive the cold, shouldn’t be able to recognize the smoke for what it is. Besides, I want to see what’s around us.”
I called Dog, who probably needed a break by now, wincing for him as he limped towards me. Slinging my rifle, I went to the back door and looked out before opening it. A deep, covered patio led out onto what was probably a lush green lawn hidden beneath the snow. Nothing was moving and the snow was undisturbed, so I opened the door and stepped out with Dog at my heels.
Making a tour of the perimeter, I kept a close eye out for any marks in the snow. Finding nothing other than the tracks Katie and Rachel had left when we arrived and the same path Dog had used several times, I made sure the garage where the Jeep was parked was secure then returned to the rear yard to search for wood.
A large shed sat to the side, a hundred feet from the patio, and I plowed my way to it. Dog followed in my wake, taking full advantage of walking on the path I was blazing. I paused a couple of times to give him a chance to relieve himself and was glad to note that all of his plumbing was functioning properly.
The shed door was locked with a heavy knob and deadbolt that matched what was on the house. A burst from my rifle shattered the lock and a second burst blasted it free of the surrounding wood. Pulling the door open I stepped back and aimed my rifle in, flashlight on. I didn’t really expect there to be any infected inside, but then why take the chance?
I didn’t see anything and Dog remained quiet so I stepped through the doorway. There was a smooth concrete floor and a workbench that was way too clean to have ever been used for any real work. The back wall had a variety of sleds hanging from hooks and against the remaining wall was a large stack of split wood. I grabbed one of the sleds and carried it outside, returning and filling my arms with firewood.
It only took a couple of minutes to load the sled down with as much as it could hold. Pushing the door shut I leaned one of the pieces against it to hold it in place and to provide a visual alert if someone or something opened the door and went inside. Grasping the loop of rope attached to the front of the sled I dragged it across the snow back to the patio.
Rachel and Katie must have been watching through a window as they came out to help carry the wood when I reached the patio. Soon, I had a crackling fire going, made another trip to ensure we had a good supply of wood in the house, then settled into an oversized leather chair that faced the fire. Dog stretched out on the floor close to the hearth, but moved away when the wood began popping as the fire reached pockets of trapped air and moisture.
“I need to talk to you two,” Rachel said as she settled onto a long sofa. Katie was sitting in another of the big leather chairs, legs curled under her the way only a woman can sit.
Uh oh. Several thoughts ran through my head when she said that. Were we going to have to talk about her feelings for me? The feelings I had for her? This wasn’t going to be good.
“I’m worried about the Terminator virus,” she said.
Oh Thank God! Not a talk about feelings!
“Why?” Katie asked when I didn’t say anything.
“Because of you,” Rachel said. “With what you went through, you shouldn’t be alive, let alone up and running around and apparently healthy. I think John might be right about what’s going on. It has to be something to do with either the vaccine or the virus itself strengthening your body.”
“OK, but why are you worried about the Terminator virus?” Katie asked.
“Because it might kill you.”
“What?” I said after a long stretch of shocked silence, even though I’d heard exactly what Rachel had said.
“Alright. Remember, I’m not a virologist. But the idea behind the Terminator virus is that it will target the specific DNA of the infection and destroy it. If Katie is partially infected, or whatever the correct term is, and is exposed to the Terminator, there’s a chance it could kill her. If we’re right that the infection or vaccine is the reason she’s alive and well.”
I looked at Katie who was staring at Rachel with her mouth open and a terrified expression on her face.
“How do we know? What do we do?” I finally stammered, reaching across and taking my wife’s hand in mine.
“There’s nothing we can do. If we were in Seattle I’m sure Joe and the other virologist could run some tests that would let us know for sure.” Rachel spoke in a quiet voice as she delivered this information.
My mind was racing. What the hell could I do? I wasn’t about to give up on my wife was the one certainty.
“We have to get to Seattle,” I said. “We have to know and they either modify what they’re working on or stop working on it all together.”
“They can’t stop,” Katie said. “Not if there’s a way they can wipe out the infected.”
“I don’t give a fuck,” I said. “We can keep killing the infected one at a time if we have to. I’m not going to let them create something that will kill you.”
“We don’t even know if that will happen,” Katie said, trying to calm me down.
“How likely is it?” I looked to Rachel for help.
“I can’t answer that,” she said, shaking her head. “Not without knowing what has enhanced Katie’s ability to heal and recover. Maybe it’s the vaccine, but I don’t think so.”
“Why not?” Katie asked.
“Because he’s had the vaccine and he’s not healing any faster than normal,” she said, pointing a long finger at me.
“Difference between male and female?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Rachel conceded. “But, everything is a maybe at this point. I agree with you. We need to get her to Seattle so we know what’s really going on.”
“That’s a long way. In bad weather,” Katie said. “And didn’t we hear something about the Russians starting to move into the west coast cities?”
“We did,” I said. “But we don’t have a choice. If they succeed in making the Terminator virus it will get released all across the planet. There’s not anywhere to hide. It will find us. And I’m not prepared to live with a sword dangling over your head. Are you?”
Katie finally shook her head and squeezed my hand.
“What did you do with the sat phone? I need to make a call.”
“It’s on the charger in the Jeep,” Rachel said.
I stood and headed for the garage, making Dog stay where he was. He wasn’t healing any faster than normal, either.
As soon as I walked into the garage I could tell Katie had been the one driving. The Jeep was at an angle and barely pulled in far enough to allow the door to clear the back bumper on its way down. It was parked almost exactly like she used to park my truck when she drove it.
I plucked the phone off the front seat and headed to the back yard so I had a clear line of sight to the satellite. Pressing the speed dial button I checked the shed to make sure the piece of wood was still in place, then scanned the snow for any tracks that weren’t Dog’s or mine. Everything looked untouched.
“Good to hear from you, sir.” Jessica said when she answered the phone and recognized my voice.
“Good to be heard from,” I said. “My wife told me the news.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you couldn’t have known.”
“Thank you, but I didn’t call to talk about that. Fill me in. What are the Russians up to? Infected in the area? And I need to get to Seattle.”
“First off, no movement at all within twenty miles of your location. No infected or Russians or anything. That’s the good news. The bad is you’re stuck where you are for the moment. There’s only two ways out of Ketchum. On up into the mountains, which are impassable, or down to Twin Falls which is currently full of infected.
“The Russians are still pouring into the country. Air and sea lift. There are big troop carriers in Seattle and San Francisco unloading troops right now. They’ve taken over more Air Force bases and are landing personnel and materials around the clock.”
“What’s the status of our research personnel in Seattle?” I asked.
“So far they’ve gone undetected. The SEALs that are on sight have buttoned the building up and gone as dark as they can. The Russians shouldn’t find them unless they start a building to building search, but there’s no reason for them to do that.”
“OK. So, I need to get to that research lab. How do I do that?”
“You don’t, sir. At least not right now. You’ve got the weather where you are, infected in Twin Falls and more weather as you get into Washington State. The Cascade Mountains, just east of Seattle, are getting a big storm right now. Lots of snow falling. No way you’re crossing them on the ground.” She said.
“Not acceptable, Petty Officer,” I growled into the phone. “This isn’t a pleasure trip. It’s vital, and I’m going to do it. Find me a way, even if I’ve got to dip down into California and come up the coast.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll see what I can come up with, but you’re still stuck until the infected clear out of your area.” She answered.
“How many are there?”
“A herd. Hundreds of thousands, at a minimum. Probably over a million.” She said.
“Are they moving, or just staying in the area?”
“The main body has already moved through. These are the slower ones. The weaker ones and the ones with more serious injuries that are having more trouble moving. It’s probably going to be at least a day before they’ve thinned enough for you to try it.”
“Thanks, Jessica. Work on a plan for me and let me know if anything changes.”
I broke the connection and said a few choice words. Why wasn’t it ever easy?