Martinez quickly got us back on course as she climbed a few hundred feet. Clouds had moved in, the humidity going up, and the first raindrops began to fall. We didn’t see any more infected as we covered the short distance to the casino. Well, to be accurate we didn’t see any living infected. There were several bodies, all of them appearing to be male from our altitude.
Vultures were feeding on most. I idly wondered if the birds were infected, and if they were, where they’d been. I’d noted before that there was an odd absence of scavengers, especially considering the millions of bodies for them to feast on. Had they been holding up somewhere because they were infected? Maybe there had been so much readily available food in the cities that they hadn’t needed to venture out.
I started to dismiss these thoughts, but reminded myself that scavengers could become a problem, especially if infected. Normally a healthy human, or dog, had nothing to fear from vultures or crows. But what if the supply of carrion for them to feed on started running out? Would they then become predators? One more thing to keep in the back of my head.
The casino complex came into view several minutes before we reached it. As the Huey slowed I could make out the bodies of the infected we’d killed before scaling the wall. The Pave Hawk still sat on the helipad. Nothing looked disturbed or changed. I scanned the ground for the spot where Roach had landed when I’d dropped him off the roof, but couldn’t find any sign. Oh well, good riddance to a fucking waste of skin.
As we hovered in the rain, surveying the area, females began appearing from the far side of the structure. Hueys are far from quiet and we were probably drawing them in from miles around. The numbers on the ground continued to grow until I guessed there were about a dozen of them. And I suspected they would keep coming.
“What do you want to do, sir?” Martinez asked. “We’re getting low on fuel. Pretty soon someone is going to have to rewind our rubber band so the rotor keeps turning.”
“What do you think about the roof?”
I wasn’t wild about landing at ground level. Sure, we had the door gun and could clear out the group below us before we touched down, but I had little doubt there would be more showing up. Landing and getting inside safely was only half the problem. If enough infected showed up while we were in the building we would be trapped. Cut off from the helicopter. Besides, how the hell would we refuel if it was parked that far away from the Pave Hawk?
“I think I’d never try it normally, but now that’s our best option.”
The Pave Hawk occupied the spot designated for helicopters, which meant the roof was reinforced at that location. There was plenty of empty space available, we just had no way of knowing if it could hold the weight of the Huey or if the surface would collapse when the skids came down on it.
“I’m going to come into a hover, first. Everyone off, then I’ll try touching down. If there’s a problem I’d rather it just be me.” She said.
My initial reaction was to argue with her plan, but I realized she was right before anything came out of my mouth. It would be bad enough if we lost the helo and Martinez. It would be downright disastrous if all of us were onboard and it broke through the roof and crashed down to the floor below.
She got the helo in position as I told Crawford what we were doing. There had only been three headsets in the Huey and none of us had given up ours when he joined us. While he helped Katie unstrap from the door gunner’s position, I released Dog from his safety tether and removed the makeshift harness I had wrapped around his body. He shook vigorously, then sneezed in my face, happy to be free.
“Out!” Martinez shouted when she had us in a stable hover, the skids just inches above the roof.
I slapped Dog on the ass and he shot out the side door, running across the roof and waiting. Katie jumped down, sprinting to join him, Crawford and I right behind her. I was glad to see Dog let Katie stand next to him and even scratch his ears. His mistrust because of her infection status, whatever that might be, had finally passed.
We stood watching as Martinez lowered the Huey until the skids came into contact with the roof. I moved so I could see both of them, shielding my eyes from the maelstrom of water and debris that was being kicked up by the rotor wash. I nodded at her when everything looked OK. She let the full weight of the helo come down, but kept the rotor spinning at full speed in case she needed to make an emergency take off. The surface seemed solid, and after nearly a minute I waved at her and she slowed the engine before shutting it down.
“Not something I want to do every day,” she said a minute later when she climbed out of the pilot’s seat.
I grunted, wiping water out of my eyes and began digging through the weapons and ammunition I’d retrieved from the crash sight. Katie walked up and helped, and soon everyone was armed and well supplied with loaded magazines. Martinez headed for the Pave Hawk to do a more thorough inspection than she’d previously had time for.
“What’s your plan, Major?” Colonel Crawford asked, watching Dog sniff around the far edge of the roof before lifting his leg and peeing on a vent pipe.
“There’s food and water here,” I said. “And it’s secure. We’re going to get some rest and try to figure out where to start looking for Scott and the Russians.”
Katie had a look on her face I recognized. The look that says she’s not happy about something, but is keeping her mouth shut.
“What?” I asked her.
She met my eyes and let out a sigh. “Nothing.”
“Nothing, my ass.” I said. “What’s on your mind?”
“Just remembering the last time I was here,” she said. “No biggie.”
I nodded, and not for the first time wished I was one of those wise husbands who knows exactly what to say to comfort their wife. But I’m not. A long time ago a former girlfriend, on her way out the door, had told me I wasn’t capable of empathizing with other people’s emotions, whatever the hell that meant.
Maybe this was what she was talking about. That, or she was as bat shit nutty as I’d always thought. So, I settled for taking Katie’s hand in mine and leading the way to the Pave Hawk, ignoring the look that Crawford gave me.
“Well?” I asked, interrupting Martinez’ inspection of the damaged avionics.
“Radio and navigation are beyond repair,” she said, then flipped some more switches. “Plenty of fuel, and she may fly. Maybe. I need some time to go through the systems and catalog all the damage. There are a lot of systems that are mechanical on that old girl over there that are computer controlled on a Pave Hawk. I’m worried there’s too much damage to the electronics to get her in the air.”
“OK,” I said. “Food and rest first, then play with your toys.”
“I’m fine, sir. Really.” Martinez didn’t stop working.
“Do I need to make it an order, Captain?” I asked in a firm tone. “You’ve been shot, in a plane crash, and walked across half the damn state in the past three days.”
She paused what she was doing and turned to look at me. I saw the intent to keep arguing. Releasing Katie’s hand I stepped closer and looked directly into her eyes.
“Jennifer. We all thought you were dead. You should be dead. Something’s going on that is keeping you on your feet, but no matter what that is your body needs food and rest. Don’t work yourself to death and make me think I’ve lost you again. Please.” I said in a low voice.
She looked back at me for a moment before lowering her eyes and powering down the damaged Pave Hawk. Climbing out of the cockpit, she stepped over the body of the pilot Roach had killed and headed for the door to the VIP area.
“You can be a real sweetheart when you want to be,” Katie said, taking my hand and smiling. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“Bite me,” I said, leading her across the roof.