It had to be Draper of course. Max didn't like the man much; ever since the Colonel left him high and dry at the train station in Chicago he had a burning desire to kick the man's ass, or at least to wipe the smug smile off of his face. Yet here he was, in another helicopter, hovering over the building helping Max and the people with him into his already overloaded bird.
“Of course it is you.” Draper yelled at Bill as he helped the man inside. “Lucky does seem to suit you as a nick-name.”
“It’s one I can live with, Colonel.” said Bill. His feelings about the man were not as antagonistic as Max.
“Still slumming with the magician, I see.” Draper said referring to Max. Draper had seen Max demonstrate his abilities before they left Iowa, but had not been impressed. Whatever was happening to the humans who came into close contact with the zombies, Draper preferred to use the skill God had given him over those inherited by being in the proximity of zombies when they were killed. “At least you had the good sense to bring the cop with you.”
“Yeah and I kept the old man and the kid with me too.” laughed Bill referring to Ruben and Javier.
“You lost the Oriental though.”
“Couldn't find him.”
“I'm surprised you looked. He was a bit of a whiner. Probably he made it out with the others.” said Draper in a voice that denied what he was saying.
“Others made it out?”
“A few broke out east and headed to the beach, they got picked up by boats from the ship. A bunch more headed west, we haven't heard from them.”
“You won't. Max says there were zombies there, thousands of them.”
“He would know.” said Draper.
Bill nodded and settled onto the floor, trying to shrink into himself and not take up so much room. He didn't bother trying to communicate with Draper again, the helicopter noise made talking to each other almost impossible without headsets, which Bill didn't have. Draper, however, did and he pulled away from Bill to talk to someone else using the radio.
Max took that moment to lean over and shout in Bill's ear, “Where are we going?” Bill just shrugged and shook his head.
None of them had to wait too long, their destination was a strange looking ship a short ride into lake Michigan, there were two spots for the helicopter to land and they had to hover while they waited for another to take off and make room for them. Once they were down they were dragged below deck almost immediately and put in the galley, or the lunch room for landlubbers like Max. The group of those who had been snatched off of the top of the building was isolated pending a medical screening by the ship's physician and they waited in uneasy silence for the man to arrive. It turned out the 'man' was a woman and she cleared the cooks out of the galley so she could use it as an impromptu screening area to give her patients a small amount of privacy. Stewart was pulled in first and two nervous looking young sailors were stationed to watch over the rest of the group.
“We're not zombies, so you guys can relax.” Bill said by way of opening a conversation with the sailor closest to him.
“Sorry, ah...sergeant, but until you are cleared we have to treat you as possibly contaminated.”
“Oh I figured that, I've done my share of clearing people too.” said Bill, thinking back to Sioux City, where his squad had screened refugees that made it across the rail road bridge they had been guarding.
“We aren't supposed to talk to you.” the sailor said.
“Can I ask why?”
“We might have to shoot you.”
Nodding Bill shut up and sat back down next to Max, “Makes sense, when you think about it.”
“Yeah, I guess it does. I feel like I've spent half my time traveling going through checkpoints and being screened though. So I don't have to like it.”
“You ladies bitching about the screening?” asked Stewart who came in buttoning up her shirt.
“Ma'am.” said the doctor sharply, “That side, no mingling until I clear them.”
Stewart nodded and walked to the side of the room away from Max, “You gotta keep ‘em separated.” she said in a singsong voice. “So who’s next boys?” Pointing at Max she said, “If you take him make sure to use two fingers and be extra thorough.”
Max beat Bill to volunteering and a few minutes later he joined Stewart.
“Thanks for that ‘two fingers’ remark, I didn't know I might have a bite on my prostate. How'd you get through? I thought you had some problems back at the base?”
“She just checked for bites, scratches and other breaks in the skin. Same as for you.”
“But I thought you had...”
“Had. That is the word Max. I had some injuries, my head, mostly, does it look damaged to you?” Stewart tilted her head down and Max gingerly touched it where she had been hit a couple days before. He felt a small lump, but couldn't see any damage or breaks in the skin. Moving from her head he traced his finger down to her shoulder and looked pointedly at her breast, where blood stained the front of her shirt.
“Gone. Hardly a bruise now. It's been less than an hour.”
“Geez Stewart, it's like you're in overdrive now.”
She nodded and said, quietly, “Let's keep that on the down low, shall we. The doc there didn't have access to the medical records for us, I didn't feel like going back into a holding cell and as remember you had some injuries that seem to be all healed up now too.”
“Yeah, I kept quiet about it.” said Max blushing.
“Did you blush when she made you strip in there?”
Max shook his head, “No, I am used to getting naked in front of doctors now.”
“But you still blush when you are caught in bad behavior, like withholding information so you don't get put in lock down.”
Max turned even redder.
“That's so cute!” Stewart said, reaching across the table to grab his hands in hers.
“Cut it out!” he said, jerking his hands away. Stewart laughed and looked up as Bill came out and sat next to them.
Looking them over he asked, “Why's he blushing?”
“He was thinking about the examination.” said Stewart.
“She was, ah, 'thorough', like you told her to be Stewart.” said Bill, “I think she saw parts of me that I haven't even thought about in years.”
“Too much information there, Bill.” Stewart said, raising her hands to her ears.
“Seriously though, where are we going to go from here?” asked Bill, looking at Max.
“Florida.” Stewart answered, cutting Max off. “We've decided to go to Florida and sort this Sentry fellow out. Then we are heading back to Iowa to live with you and the missus.”
Bill looked at them, letting his gaze shift from one to the other, “Like, together-together?”
“Sure, why not? We make a good team.” Stewart said.
Shrugging Bill said, “First thing though, how are we going to get to Florida?”
The group was chatting about it when Ruben and Javier were finished being processed and the other two had a few ideas to chime in as well. The groups of them were still talking when Draper came in fifteen minutes later. The galley was open again and the colonel got himself a cup of coffee and came over to stand by their table.
“Yes?” asked Stewart.
“You planning on leaving?”
“What do you think about that?”
“Going after that guy in Florida?”
“ We've got nothing more worthwhile to do.” answered Stewart. “You want to come along for the ride? Or maybe you could drop us off, saying you were going to help, and then bug out on a mission of your own at the last minute?”
“Ouch. You make it sound like I wasn't following orders, or that what I did wasn't important.”
“We can fly again can’t we? My boys took care of the anti-aircraft battery, captured it intact. You took care of the other thing. It seems to me that everything that needed to be accomplished was and we are all the better for it.”
Stewart nodded to that, “I supposed it was, when you look at it that way.”
“I do look at it that way. But to answer your question, no, I won't be going along to Florida with you.”
Max sighed, he had been hoping that Draper could get them closer to where they needed to be, hopefully by flying them there. Noticing his reaction Draper raised an eyebrow, “Now why would you look disappointed, we had a bit of a falling out and I don't seem to have made it up to you, not even by saving your life…twice now, unless I am miss counting.”
“Says the man with the helicopter.” Stewart added.
“I've been meaning to ask where you came up with that helicopter a couple days ago in Chicago. The last time we saw you guys you had a couple of armored cars and motorcycles.”
Draper paused for a moment, as if thinking of his response, he shrugged, “It doesn't matter now. We took out the air defenses, not too far from the RTC, but they were expecting an attack from that direction, we hit them from an angle they weren't expecting and got the base back. Losses were light for my team and heavy for the zombies. We called in for pickup to circle back and extract the rest of my team.”
“Weren't they dead?”
“We didn't know that. Lucky for you though, wasn't it? Hey do you guys want coffee? You'd better get it now; I have the feeling it is going to be hard to come by in the next few years.”
The group took him up on his offer and though they were expecting Draper to leave, he was still waiting for them after they had cups in their hands.
“I hope you don't mind my asking Draper, but why are you here? You don't seem like the type to make social calls, especially so far below rank.” Stewart said.
“Social calls? This isn't a social call little lady. This is all business. I spoke to the doc, you know what she told me?”
“Your case of the clap is all cleared up?” guessed Stewart.
“Not just that, she said you three.” Draper pointed at Max, Stewart and Ruben, “were in perfect health. No bandages, no open wounds, no bites. Just a little bruising.” Draper looked pointedly at the bloodstain on Stewart’s shirt, “That is why you were cleared. I didn't mention that your head was bashed in two days ago. Or that I saw an x-ray of your skull fracture then, and that I saw another one last night, which showed a past fracture that had healed up. Not to mention that blood on your shirt there. And you.” Draper said, pointed at Ruben, “Lemme see your hand gramps.” Draper extended his hand and tentatively Ruben held his left hand out. The black man's skin made a sharp contrast with Rubens as he turned it over in his own. “Not a fucking mark on it. Now, I may be just a Colonel, but I don't know how an old man who gets fourteen stitches in his hand less than two days ago can show me the same hand without even a scar on it now. Pretty goddamn nice trick if you ask me.”
Ruben slowly took his hand back, “So what do you want us for?”
Draper's ivory teeth gleamed white as he looked at them with a huge smile on his face.