It turned out that you couldn’t get lost in a crowd of kitted-out soldiers. When James tried to retrieve a full kit from the armory, he had to sign for it. He couldn’t believe it. At the end of the damn world, he had to sign out gear. As a pilot, all of his gear was cared for by the squadron’s logistical officer. That it hadn’t occurred to him that regular firearms and armor would be locked up and guarded, he took for a sign of his distress.
For a brief moment, he considered putting down someone else’s name but gave up on it. The man looking at him through the plexiglass window knew him. Just about everybody did. There was no hiding for James Fitzpatrick. Not here anyway.
“I don’t suppose you’d forget you saw me, would ya?” James said, trying to look as pathetic as he felt. The guard on the other side of the plexiglass, Michael Treynor, only smirked.
“You know I can’t do that, Jimmy. Your dad would have my hide.”
“But they’re going after Jazz. I want to be there.”
“I know, so do I, but I can’t. If I even sign in your name, it’ll come up restricted and lock down this whole place.”
“Afraid so. Your father was very clear.”
James closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. This was ridiculous. All for punching Holden? Getting a little drunk? What pilot didn’t get drunk? Holden didn’t, but he wasn’t a pilot. He was barely a fucking soldier. James didn’t buy any of that crap about serving in the Human Intelligence group. All the HIs he’d met were personable and could get in your head. Holden was just an asshole.
“For what it’s worth?” Treynor said, smiling at him. “I’m glad you did it. That guy had it coming. Too bad he didn’t have it coming after the op.”
“Yeah,” James said and slapped the counter with a sigh. “No kidding. Nothing you can do?”
“Nothing, Jimmy. Sorry.”
“Thanks,” he said and went out. The trucks were packing up the last of their guys. The A-10s were all roaring off the runway or in the air. They were leaving, without him. Again.
“Didn’t work?” Bubbles called from behind him. He turned to see her standing there in the field between the Armory and the runway. It began to snow and her dark hair was powdered with white. He had a sudden memory of Elena on the day he met her. She’d been standing in the rain, waiting for an officer to accept her papers at the gate. When he asked her why she didn’t have a car, she told him the trains in Korea were supposed to be better.
Only Bubbles wasn’t waiting in the rain. She wasn’t a new recruit. Her one arm was crossed in front of her sling, her face pinched with both understanding and resignation. He went up to her and nodded.
“Bitch,” she said. “What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know. Get drunk again maybe.”
“What would that solve?”
“My hangover? Piss my father off? Take your pick.”
She nodded and turned as the last A-10 roared into the sky. She held up her good hand as if to wave goodbye. James did the same. They both cursed at the same time.
“I’ll buy the first round,” she said.
“They likely have a standing order against me going in there too,” James said, staring out into the night sky. In the distance, shots were fired into the darkness. More zombies. Maybe he should just go grab a gun and help out there. Not that they’d give him a gun. A shovel maybe? A broom?
“I feel so fucking useless,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t fly, I can’t fight, and I probably can’t even get drunk.”
“That may not be true,” Bubbles said.
“What do you mean?”
“C’mon,” she said and led him into the barracks. He’d never been to the women’s quarters and it turned out to be exactly the same as the men’s, only less crowded and smelled a little more like soap. Her own room was the same as his, only it had less in it. No pictures, no books, nothing. When she closed the door, he held up his hands.
“Uh, look, you’re an awfully good looking girl but…”
“Oh get over yourself, Cubby,” she said and pulled out a flask from her nightstand. She swished it.
“Is it Jeremiah Weed? Because fuck that shit.”
“No, shitbag, it’s bourbon. Here,” she said and handed it to him. He smiled, opened the flask and took a drink. He coughed violently. It was Jeremiah Weed.
James sighed and took another drink anyway. They finished the flask and went to work on the back up she kept in another drawer. Together, they sat on her bed, slumped against the wall and talked. At first, it was about the job. About flying. About doing something worthwhile.
It turned from that to the virus.
“My mom and dad were in Colorado,” she said with a shrug. “Haven’t heard shit. Your mom?”
“I haven’t heard.”
“Got a husband? Boyfriend? Girlfriend?”
“Nah. One bad decision was enough. You punched him, thanks for that. How about you?”
“Wait,” he said, smirking. “You dated Holden?”
“I said it was a bad decision, now, answer me.”
His grin slowly faded away.
“I did but… no word.”
She nodded and knocked back the last of the whiskey in the flask. They said nothing for another few minutes. James thought she might have fallen asleep but when he looked, her eyes were open.
“How the fuck did this happen?” she said, her voice very quiet.
“Dad said some company called Kurama started it.”
“Kurama? Really? The wonder drug company?”
“Yeah. H1Z1 was their baby. Carnival just deployed it.”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t know much of anything, as it turns out.”
“Think anyone does?”
“Other than my dad?”
She smiled at him, then chuckled and nudged him with her left shoulder. Another companionable silence followed, but this time, James felt restless. His mind was turning something over. He thought about the man in the cell, Chris Fox he said his name was. Supposedly he was from Kurama. His dad said so. Could this guy know anything? Surely his dad’s people had already questioned him and knew all there was to know.
But did he trust his dad to share that information? No, no he did not. When he was eleven, his mother left them. She packed her things and went in the middle of the night. When James and his sister woke up, she was gone. His sister asked their dad where she went.
“She’ll be back,” was all he ever told them.
Eventually she did come back, three months later. His parents ended up in counciling, though James was twenty-five by the time he found out about any of this. His dad claimed he was protecting them.
Was he protecting them all now?
“I think I’m going to sleep,” Bubbles said. He felt her hand on his arm and looked over at her. She smiled again, very faintly, almost shy.
“Want to… would you want to stay?”
“Your arm and—“
“I’m fine,” she said and reached up, pulling down the zipper of his flight suit. He momentarily forgot about the man in the cell, about Kara and the plague.
She kissed him. Her lips were dry and cracked, her breath slightly sweet from the alcohol. The kiss was tentative and gentle, but then grew stronger and needy. His mind went to Elena, and how different kissing her felt. With Elena, it was powerful and comforting. With Bubbles, it was more desperate, like being on the edge of crying. He knew it was the alcohol and loneliness and frustration and fear that drove them both but he surrendered to it anyway.
They had awkward, halting sex that had more laughter than moans of pleasure. Her injuries were more extensive than she’d let on and left them with few options for movement. When it was over, he felt more drained than satisfied.
She drifted to sleep soon after and he got up to leave. As he pulled on his underwear and flight suit, he looked at her in the faint light of her alarm clock. She wasn’t Elena but she was here. She was humanity, warmth, life.
But she wasn’t love.
He didn’t return to his own room, but went back out into the cold. The gunfire had ended but there was no sign of any returning planes or trucks yet. They’d only been gone two hours and the radio station was a good two hours flight south. With the trucks, it’d be four hours or more.
He had time.
There wasn’t anyone in the administration building’s front desk when he entered, so he went past and down the hall. He turned quickly to the steps and descended down, further and further into the depths of the bunker. When the reached the cells, there was only one guard on duty.
“Hey,” James said to the guard, whose name brick said “Thomas” and rank indicated he was a corporal.
“Lieutenant,” Thomas said without even offering a salute. This was likely the same guy who saw him get hauled down here. From his smirk, he could tell how much joy that’d given him.
“I need in,” James said, nodding towards the cells.
“Caught again? So soon?”
“Visiting, corporal. Now open up.”
Thomas did and James passed through the heavy metal door, pausing until he heard it shut and click behind him. Most of the cells were empty, though he did spot a sleeping man in one of them that he didn’t recognize. He made note of that and went to the far end, where he and Chris Fox had been placed.
“Hey, Fox, I wanted to ask you about—“
He stopped, staring. The cell was empty. The bed was stripped, the whole placed cleaned. It was like no one had been there at all. Letting out a curse, he ran back to the entrance and knocked until Thomas let him out.
“Where is the man in the far cell? Last name was Fox?”
“Big guy, was in the last cell on the right?”
“Oh, they moved him.”
Thomas shrugged. “Some guys, just a few hours ago.”
“Did they say where?”
Thomas licked his lips and consulted his notebook. For several seconds, he just flipped through papers, humming a rhythmless tune to himself. After a few agonizing moments, he shook his head.
“Didn’t say and didn’t record it. Couldn’t tell ya.”
“Do you have a goddamned guess?”
“Hey, lieutenant, sorry. I just watch the door.”
James cursed again and left, dragging himself up the stairwell. Halfway to the top, he sat down and leaned his head against the wall, shutting his eyes.
Your father is going to do something very dangerous. This is connected, all of it.
Chris Fox’s words echoed in his mind. He’d forgotten them until this point. What the hell had he meant? And why did he ask all that shit about his discharge? He had to find this guy again, if only to find out why.
He needed answers but finding where they took the man would be hard. His dad would never tell him. Holden certainly wouldn’t. Well, he wouldn’t talk to him anyway.
“Fuck… I’m sorry about this,” he muttered and stomped back towards the barracks.