“Warren!” 10K hugged his former leader tightly. She embraced him hard, smiling.
“Don’t you look good, baby boy,” She smiled wider. “How are you?”
Good, I’m good.” 10K gestured to his fire. “I have extra fish…”
“Thanks, 10K. I was looking for you.”
“I guessed that. Not many people stopping by for a chat. Except Doc.”
“Yeah, I’m still shocked that skinny buzzard is hanging on.” Her voice held only affection. She sat and 10K handed her some fish and roots. “Thank you.” They ate in companionable silence.
“So what’s going on? 10K asked.
“First, I’m sorry about Red.”
“Thanks. She’s happier in Pacifica. And I’m ok.”
“All right.” Warren stared at the flames. “Pacifica’s infected.”
10K jerked. “I thought it was all under control, the new procedures…”
Warren shook her head. “George told me a month ago.” She sighed. “That means the only uninfected area is…”
“Greenridge,” 10K finished. “Murphy and his people.”
“You got it.”
10K studied her, poked the fire. “You’re going after him,” he stated quietly.
“Have to. Sun Mei said he holds a clue. We sent messages but well…” She shrugged. “Let’s say Murphy said no.”
“First group came back and told us he refused. Second group came back with warnings not to ask again. Third group came back, all with bite marks.” 10K flinched. “Since he knows me, I volunteered to go. It’ll be me, a small group of people. Addy, Doc.”
10K’s eyes widened in surprise. “You’re collecting the team?”
“Operation Bite mark rides again. We have more people this time, soldiers, you know.”
“This doesn’t sound diplomatic, Warren.”
“It is Murphy.”
10K sighed, shook his head. “He’ll never agree. He’s already did that lab stint.”
“He did. I still need to talk to him.” She sipped her drink, looked at him. “Could use a sharpshooter.”
10K’s heart thundered. “No,” he quickly said. “Sorry but I can’t see him again.”
“Just think about it for the night,” Warren urged. “I want you to meet the whole group, listen to our plan. You know Murphy better than anyone.”
“It’s been over a year.”
10K swallowed hard. Warren squeezed his hand. “You know he’s going to say no,” 10K warned.
“I have to see him, at least. I even miss him, pain in the ass that he was.”
10K gulped again. Warren flinched at the pain in his face, the shame. A crack of twigs and 10K snatched his rifle, looked around. “Easy,” came a voice. “It’s just me.” A husky man walked forward into the firelight.
“I told you to wait, Steele.” Warren didn’t try to hide her annoyance. 10K needed her gentle touch, not Steele’s demands.
“We need to move out,” Steele said. He glanced at 10K. “Henry Steele. You must be 10K.”
“Yeah. These are the people, Warren?”
“Murphy will laugh in your face.” 10K shook his head. “He’ll never agree.”
“I’m sure he’ll listen to reason. We need help.”
10K snorted. “You have no idea.” Emotion roiled through him. He felt nauseous, the previously tasty fish now threatening to crawl back up his throat.
“Hey, hey, 10K.” Warren touched his arm. “It’s all right.”
The bite on his wrist, the one on his neck throbbed with his heart. For a moment, 10K felt Murphy beside him, touching him. Then he shook himself.
“I won’t promise anything,” he heard himself saying. “But I’ll at least go with you part way and hear your plan.”
“That’s fair,” Warren said.
“Great! Let’s head out.”
10K gathered his gear, stuffing his backpack full. Warren buried his campfire. In the small truck, he sat in the back, stared at the stars. Murphy. Again. He had no idea what he’d do if he ever saw Murphy.
Yes I do. I’d apologize.
Murphy, I am so sorry.