“Why do I only hear from you when you need something?” Steve asked with a petulant tone in his voice.
Katie suppressed the sigh that wanted to escape from her mouth. She knew better than to let him hear that she was frustrated with him. It might very well push him over the edge and result in his refusal to help.
“I talked to you when I got to Tinker,” she said patiently. “You know I couldn’t have made it without you. After that, things were crazy and I didn’t have a chance to call you. Then I was kidnapped.”
“You were what?” The switch to concern in his voice was immediate.
“Kidnapped,” she said again. “Some psycho Air Force officer tasered me and tied me up and took me off the base. He killed the pilot he had forced to fly us, and I thought he was going to kill me.”
“Oh my God!” Steve exclaimed. “How did you get away? What happened?”
“John found me and rescued me, but not before I was shot.” She said.
“What? You were shot? Are you OK?” He was nearly shouting into the phone.
“I’m recovering,” she said, not willing to give him any more details. “But we all need your help. Tinker has been evacuated. It’s overrun with infected. There are four of us still here. We stayed behind to find a small group that was out searching for us. That’s what I need your help with. Finding them.”
“I can’t help you,” Steve said after a long moment to digest what she’d told him.
“Please, Steve. It’s not for me. It’s for the three people that stayed behind to find me.” Katie hated begging, but she would do what it took to enlist his assistance.
“No, you misunderstood me. It’s not that I won’t help, it’s that I can’t help. All of the satellites over North America have gone dark. Don’t know if it’s the Russians or not, but I can’t connect to any of them.”
Katie cursed, this time letting Steve hear the sigh of frustration. “There must be something you can do,” she said.
“I don’t know what,” he replied. “I’ve been trying for days, and nothing is working.”
Katie stood quiet for a few moments, watching Dog as he wandered around the far end of the roof looking for a good spot to take care of some personal business.
“Wait a minute,” she said, feeling a little hope. “I’m talking to you on a satellite phone. If all the satellites are down, how is that happening?”
“Hang on,” he said and she could hear his fingers flying over a keyboard. “You’re signal is heavily encrypted. I can’t pull your location or number or any other data. You must be coming over an NSA satellite. If it was commercial or even military I’d be able to get in. Who’s phone are you using?”
“I know just who to ask,” she said. “I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
Katie broke the connection and whistled for Dog. He came running, following her through the roof top door that she had propped open. They descended the stairs and she found the rest of her group still sitting at the bar. She explained the situation to Colonel Crawford and he jumped to his feet.
“Call him back and let me talk to him,” he said. “He’s right, it is an NSA satellite. He won’t get in, but I’ll bet he can put me in touch with Pearl Harbor.”
Crawford and Katie headed for the roof, Martinez turning to me and smiling.
“So you were saying? They were engaged and you took her away from him?” She prompted.
“I didn’t even know about him,” I said, shaking my head in emphasis. “I met Katie and, well, it just happened. We’d known each other maybe three weeks when we got married. I don’t know when she told him, for sure, but he didn’t take it well.
“Now, enough soap opera. It sounds like the Colonel will be talking to Pearl soon, which means we’ll probably have a location on Scott soon. We’d better get busy transferring the fuel from the Pave Hawk to the Huey so we’re ready to go.”
Martinez frowned that I wasn’t going to tell her anything else, then stood up and drained her glass.
“We need to find a hose and some tools,” she said.
“We can probably find that in the maintenance room,” I stood, leaving my drink unfinished. “Don’t need a pump?”
“Nope. Going to disconnect one of the fuel lines from its engine, connect it to the hose and use the Pave Hawk’s fuel booster pump to move gas to the Huey. It won’t be fast, but it will get the job done.” She said.
Nodding, I took a moment to return to the suite Katie and I had slept in, retrieving my boots and vest. I’d also found clean socks and was very happy to have them when I pulled the boots onto my feet. Martinez dressed in clothes Katie had found for her while I was getting ready then we went scavenging.
We easily found what we needed, lugging it through the casino and up the stairs to the roof. Crawford was still on the phone but I couldn’t tell if he was talking to Steve or had managed to reach someone at Pearl Harbor.
“Steve got him through to Pearl,” Katie said when she walked up. “I think he’s still trying to get through the maze and talk to some Admiral. And Steve’s going to try to get access into the satellite in case we need his help again.”
I nodded, keeping my mouth shut when it came to Steve. Dropping the long, coiled hose next to the Pave Hawk I bent and removed the ties that were keeping it neatly rolled. Martinez already had the aircraft opened up and was pulling maintenance panels off to access the fuel lines. While she worked I grabbed an end of the hose and started stretching it across the roof towards the Huey.
“I’m kind of surprised Steve is willing to help you,” I said to Katie who had fallen in next to me as I dragged the hose. OK, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut forever.
“I feel bad every time I talk to him,” she said. “He’s not over me. That’s obvious, and I feel like I’m playing with his emotions to get him to help.”
“You know you’re doing what you have to,” I said. “His feelings don’t stack up against peoples’ lives. You feel bad because you’re a good person.”
I had reached the Huey by now and stuck the hose deep into the fuel port. Looking back across I could see Martinez still working on her end.
“Yeah, well, that doesn’t make me feel any better.” Katie said.
Reaching out I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her to me. There really wasn’t anything else I could say.
I looked up to see Crawford waving at me. Removing my arm from Katie’s shoulders I took her hand and led her across the roof. The Colonel was just wrapping up his conversation when we walked up.
“Where?” I asked.
“They’re about fifty miles east-southeast from here. Heading towards some canyons.” He said.
“They’re still looking for me,” I said. “How did they find them so fast?”
“They’re in the only Bradley that’s moving in all of North America,” Crawford replied. “It wasn’t hard, at least according to the Petty Officer I just spoke with. How long before we’re ready to go?”
I shrugged and stepped over to the Pave Hawk where Martinez was just climbing in to the cockpit.
“How long, Captain?” I asked.
“I can’t remember the flow rate of the booster pump so I’m guessing an hour. Could be more, could be less. Sorry, sir. Best I can tell you at the moment.”
Crawford had walked over with us and nodded his head when she spoke.
“We’ve got another problem,” he said. “The plane Rachel was in was shot down.”
At first I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. I stood staring at him with my mouth hanging open. Martinez had frozen with her hand hovering over the switch to activate the pump.
“She and the pilot ejected,” he continued. “They made it down but they’re in the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho. Damn rugged country and they’ve got weather coming in.”
“SAR on the way?” I asked, hoping a Search And Rescue flight was in the air.
“No go, Major,” Crawford said. “The Russians have surged. Thousands of troops and hundreds of aircraft. They’re flying a 24-hour CAP over most of the western US. The Navy has already lost multiple aircraft trying to get to them. We can’t put anything in the air.”
I stood there, controlling my emotions. I wanted to rage. Wanted to throw something or break something, but that wouldn’t help the situation.
“So we go on the ground,” I said. “We know where a perfectly good Bradley is.”
“We do,” Crawford nodded. “If we can get there in time. Bradley’s are slow and it’s a long way to Idaho. There’s a weather front coming in, dropping down from Canada. The temperature is going to drop and it’s going to snow. And there’s infected.”
“There can’t be that many,” I said. “There were something like seventy million or more bearing down on Tinker. Right?”
“That was infected out of the mid-west, northeast, Texas and Colorado,” Crawford said. “These are herds moving out of the west coast cities. The Admiral thinks the Russians are moving them as they prepare for occupation. California is emptying out and the problem in Idaho is what’s coming out of Portland and Seattle. More than six million infected between the two cities and they’re heading due east.”