August sat back from the table and smiled at Holden. "Thanks, Holden. It's nice to camp in the wilds again, but there is great pleasure in a soft bed, a hot shower and a clean set of clothes."
Holden smiled back and started to speak when the door to the room flew open. August was on his feet in an instant, his pistol in his hand pointing at the newcomer.
"August!" Hemanth, clean-shaven, newly washed and wearing clean clothes walked into the room. His feet were still bare. He wrapped his thin arms around the bigger man, squeezing him, tears leaking from his eyes. "You could have killed me, August. You didn't, though. You saved me. You saved us all." Hemanth stood back and looked up at the bemused giant. "I can never repay you for that."
Frank, wearing a white doctor coat, stood grinning behind Hemanth. "We think it works using a receptor in the brain stem. We developed a drug that blocks that receptor temporarily. We don't know how long it lasts," Frank looked at Hemanth, "but it gives us a cure of sorts."
Hemanth couldn't stop grinning. "Whatever it takes, guys. I'm glad to be back. I'm glad we have a workable solution."
"We'll need to keep you confined until we understand how the drug works on you, what kind of dosages you need to maintain." Frank wrote on a tablet computer with a stylus. "We can make pills for you to take, too. The shot I gave you should work for at least half a day, but we need to keep some records." He looked at Holden. "We already have teams loading the drug into tranquilizer guns."
They sat down, Hemanth running his hands down the smooth sides of his glass of water. "You guys have no idea how beautiful this is." He drank deeply, smiling.
"None of us can ever repay you, August." Holden grinned at the big man. "We'll get our people back, and our skills will be available again." The smile dimmed. "We'll still miss the ones who died, of course, but you saved our community. In fact, considering the work we do, you might have saved humanity."
August frowned. "Well, that's a little much, Holden, but thanks. Let's not spread that around. That's a heavy burden to carry."
Holden grinned at him. "Okay." He paused. "By the way, we did fix the radio last night, but we can't contact Selah Ranch."
August raised his eyebrows. "I thought Jed would be expecting your call." He shook his head. "Even if the radio broke since I left, which I doubt, Sam should have been able to fix it."
"Sam?" Hemanth sat straight in his chair. Holden and Frank looked at each other, clearly upset. "Dark hair? About my height? Multi-talented? That Sam?"
"Yeah," August looked at them. "Great scavenger. World traveler. That Sam." August shrugged. "What's the problem?"
Holden cleared his throat, staring at Hemanth. "We think he was the source of the virus that infected us."
"Sam? The source of the virus? How's that possible?" August stared at Holden.
"We think he's an asymptomatic carrier."
A low growl came from Hemanth and his eyes shone darkly. "More than think. I was in bed, sick, just before he disappeared. He came by, patted me on the shoulder, and said 'Call it the W Virus.' Then he leaned down, whispered in my ear, and grinned at me. He grinned at me! And he said 'It makes werewolves.'"
They looked at Hemanth, watching his chest rise and fall rapidly.
"Are you okay, Hemanth?" Frank pulled a syringe of clear liquid from the large pocket of his white coat, preparing to inject Hemanth.
Hemanth swallowed hard, and visibly shook as he struggled to control his breathing. "Yes," he said, his voice cracking. "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." He grinned at Frank. "It's a good thing anger doesn't trigger a relapse, isn't it?" Hemanth took a deep breath. "But it might weaken the control or something. I could feel myself changing…"
Frank put a cuff around Hemanth's arm. "Let me check your blood pressure and pulse. We should get a blood sample, too."
Hemanth agreed. "Yeah. Okay." He looked at August. "If Sam is in Selah Ranch, you have some trouble, August."
August stood up. "I'd love to stay and help you round up your people, Holden, but Hemanth is right. I need to head back." He turned to Frank. "I'll need some things from you, too, Frank." Looking back at Holden, August added, "It's a three-day hike if I go at speed, unless you can loan me your cycle."
"Loan it to you? August, it's yours, with our greatest thanks." Holden stood up and shook August's hand, then leaned in and gave him a one-armed hug.
August hugged him, stepped back and smiled. "Awesome," he said.
Thirty minutes later August drove out the gates, headed for Highway 25 and Selah Ranch.