They see you as small and helpless
They see you as just a child
Surprise when they find out that a warrior will soon run wild
– Jeff Williams, “This Will Be the Day”
Katie stared at her dad, unable to process what he just told her. He can stop this? That guy can stop all this? She opened and closed her mouth half a dozen times before she managed to speak.
“Katie, it’s a very long story. What’s important is that we ensure his safety.”
Her dad exhaled heavily, his breath misting in the chill air. Katie felt strange, like her whole world wasn’t quite in focus. He knew this the whole time? He knew about the virus too. What else did he know that he wasn’t telling her?
His gaze turned from her, following the direction of the truck. For long moments, silence stretched between them. Katie wanted to ask him why he didn’t tell her this, why he’d keep such a secret from her? Why he kept any secrets from her at all. Didn’t he trust her?
“Okay. We need to get back to the bunker. We’ll never beat them there but they’ll have to pass near the base. If I can get through to Bill…”
He was already pushing hard through the snow, heading back the way Katie had come. He was a good ten yards before he realized she wasn’t following. Turning, he frowned at her, a bewildered expression on his face.
“Katie? Let’s go. We need to hurry.”
“How do you know that guy, dad?” She gripped the tactical strap tightly, the weapon attached to it suddenly felt like a live viper. He’d taught her how to use it, trained her to survive yes, but also how to fight, how to kill. He’d trained her. She’d thought it was all fun and father-daughter bonding, but now she wasn’t so sure. Your dad is a liar, Katherine. Her mom’s voice had shouted those words at her the night before she’d left. Are you a liar, dad? Are you lying to me?
“What? We don’t have time for this, Katie. Let’s go.”
“Not…” She swallowed hard. “Not until you tell me.”
The expression that settled into her dad’s face unsettled her. It was closed, impassive. Unreadable. He’d always been so open with her, so warm. This look was cold.
“Katherine Leigh, I’m sorry but right now we need to move. I’ll tell you everything you need to know, but right now we need to move.”
“No,” she said, feeling an overwhelming sense of despair wash over her.
He took a step towards her, his jaw clenching. “Katie, we need to move. Infected are all around this area. Don’t be stupid. You’re acting like a child.”
I’m your child, dad.
“Yes, sir,” she said, her voice barely more than a whisper as she brushed past him. He growled, then sighed and fell in step beside her. They walked briskly, making good time. Katie’s anger and frustration and uncertainty washed away any fatigue. In that state, she felt like she could walk forever.
They were within sight of the bunker when he put a hand on her arm and stopped her. She didn’t look at him, opting to just stay where she was and look at the copse of trees with the solar panels suspended in them.
“His name is Doctor Allan Kirchner. He works for Kurama Pharmaceuticals. He’s treated the virus in the past… in a way.”
“In a way?” she frowned, turning her gaze on him again. “The hell does that mean, dad?”
“If the virus hasn’t reached the later aspects of Stage 2, it can be treated. It doesn’t get rid of the virus, but it does delay the effects.”
“For how long?”
He shrugged and opened his mouth to say more when a shriek came from the woods directly ahead. It was quickly answered by another and another. Soon the howls of infected were numbering in the dozens.
“Shit,” he said and pushed her forward. “Go!”
The sun was already low and the overcast skies turned the forest dark early. They came out of the woods like wraiths in the night, skin pale and dead, mouths open and hungry. Katie ran for the bunker entrance, her hands grasping her rifle and flipping the safety off. She found the trigger and fired, trying to drop any that were close to her destination. Firing while moving was hard and she missed more often than she hit. Her dad was right behind her and was far more accurate. Every time his rifle barked, an infected fell. He might have trained her, but she was barely a beginner in comparison.
The hatchway began to lift with a click of her dad’s remote and Katie sprinted for it. Just as she was about to jump for the stairwell, a man in the remnants of a national guard uniform appeared around the hatchway door. His hands caught her shoulder and she was lifted off her feet and crashed heavily to the ground, stunned. Her head rung and an intense dizziness overtook her.
She didn’t have time to cry out as the infected fell on her, hands reaching for head. Instinctively she brought a knee up and wedged it between her body and his. She tried to kick him off but he was too heavy. Her rifle was pinned between her leg and her chest as well. Useless. Cold, dead hands grasped her face and pulled it towards his open mouth.
“Katie!” her dad’s voice was close. Where was he? She wanted to cry for help but the thing was too strong.
As she was pulled upward, her eyes caught sight of a holstered pistol on the infected’s chest harness. She fumbled and drew it out, praying it was loaded and ready to fire. Aided by fear and adrenaline, she squeezed the palm safeties on the 1911A as her finger pulled on the trigger. The explosion of the bullet going off caused terrific pain to shoot through her ears and a deafening ring replaced the sound of her dad’s cries.
Then the weight of the infected was gone and her dad lifted her up and guided her towards the entrance. She stumbled towards the door at the bottom, turning to watch as her dad shoved the barrel of his rifle into the throat of an infected as it tried to climb after them. She couldn’t hear the rifle go off, but the black and gray matter that erupted from the back of the infected’s neck told her all she needed to know. Then the hatch was closed and bolted and her dad punched in the code for the main door.
Moments later they were inside and Katie fell to her knees, coughing as the memory of infected’s mouth just inches from her own made her stomach churn. She reached up and touched her ear. Despite the pain she felt, her glove came away dry. Her ear drums weren’t ruptured at least.
Arms were suddenly thrown around her and she panicked, trying to throw them off. It was only when she saw Lindsay’s face hovering nearby that she realized she was safe. The ringing slowly began to dissipate and her hearing returned, if more than a little muffled.
“Katie? Katie are you okay?”
“Yeah!” she said, likely too loud. Lindsay flinched and her dad knelt at Katie’s side. He had a flashlight and was doing something to her ear.
“Katie, focus on me okay?” Lindsay said and took Katie’s face between her hands. She found herself staring into those big, green eyes and the overwhelming fear from the last few minutes began to drain away. Minutes passed while her dad looked her over and eventually, her hearing returned somewhat to normal.
“Katie? Can you hear me?”
“Yeah… yeah,” she said, breaking Lindsay’s gaze and turning toward her dad. “Did it… did it bite me?”
He chuckled and held out a pistol to her. It was the 1911A she’d taken from the infected. Taking it, she looked up with a frown, uncomprehending.
“You’re fine. That was damn resourceful of you, shooting it with its own weapon. A Ranger couldn’t have done better.” Katie looked down at the weapon. I hit it? She’d been so panicked at the time she wasn’t sure. Guess I got lucky.
Her dad squeezed her shoulder. “Katie… I’m sorry about calling you childish. You’re not a kid and… we’ll talk soon. Okay? But right now I need to see if I can contact Bill.”
Katie managed to nod and after he disappeared into the room at the back of the bunker, she felt an overwhelming need to strip off her gear. Struggling with her vest and coat, her fingers fumbled until Lindsay reached out and stilled them. Without a word, she unzipped her coat for her and pulled it off. Dropping it on the floor, she hugged Katie again, tightly.
“I saw… on the monitor… I wanted to help but I’m so useless, I couldn’t even find a gun. I’m sorry!”
Katie tried to tell her that it was fine, but found that she had no energy for it. Her dad knew things but wouldn’t share them. The infected had almost bitten her. Just like that. One minute they were talking and the next…
“I can’t lose you.” Lindsay’s whispered, terrified words cut through Katie’s self reflection and she looked down at her. Her friend was shaking, her face buried into Katie’s shoulder. Part of her was angry. She’d been safe down here, what did she have to cry about? But another part, a part that put herself in Lindsay’s place knew exactly what she meant. And that part won out. Katie pulled her into a tight embrace and kissed her on the head.
“You won’t. I promise.”
“Don’t make promises,” Lindsay said and Katie found herself nodding. How could she, after all? Death was only a bite away. Unless they found Allan Kirchner.
“Did you have any luck with the radio?”
Lindsay stepped away and her expression slowly changed. It was nearly a smile, a tentative hope. She nodded.
“There’s a FEMA camp north of here. I talked to some guy named Zach who is a soldier there but we got cut off after a few minutes. He says it’s near Lake Seneca.”
“That’s a long way,” Katie said. “Did your mom get there?”
Linday shrugged, her expression falling again. “I don’t know. I tried to contact him again but there’s been nothing.”
“We’ll keep trying, Linds. That at least, I can promise.”