Authors: M.D. Massey
Tags: #dystopian, #werewolf, #shapeshifter, #horror, #vampire, #vampire hunter, #post apocalyptic, #zombie, #werewolves, #werewolf hunter, #zombie hunter, #apocalypse, #post apocalyptic books, #Zombie Apocalypse
I hated to burst her bubble, but saving her from botulism poisoning ranked higher on my list of priorities than keeping her feelings intact. “Gabby, I hate to tell you this, but all those meals are going to be rancid by now. In the Texas heat, they’re only good for a year, tops.” Her face fell at that. “Aw, hell, it’s not all bad news, kid. The candy is probably still good. Ever had hard candy before?”
She shook her head. “Well, let me tell you, it’s going to be a treat. Pull out your knife and let’s start opening these up. I’m sure there’s still some candy and a few other thing we can salvage.” Within a few minutes, we’d pulled out a pile assorted hard candy and gum from the packages, as well as several packets of instant coffee, sugar, and iodized salt. The salt alone was worth its weight in ammo these days. We took it all back in the room by the entrance and sorted it on the counter, splitting it equally between us.
“Can I try some, Scratch?”
I nodded. “Sure, but let me just warn you—it’s going to be super-sweet. Sweeter than anything you’ve ever had. Just eat a couple, otherwise you’ll get a sugar rush and then crash hard after your insulin spikes.”
I laughed. “Insulin. It’s a hormone in your body that controls your blood sugar. Along with other hormones, it tells your body to use the energy you get from your food, or to store it.”
She looked at me quizzically as she popped a candy in her mouth, and then her eyes rolled back in her head and she squeezed them shut. I thought for a moment she was going to spit it out.
A moment later her eyes popped wide open. “It tastes like fruit!”
“Yeah, courtesy of pre-War tech. They could make anything in a lab back then.” I paused for a moment to let the shock of the candy wear off, and then asked her something that I’d been curious about. “So, how’d you learn to read?”
She kept sucking on the candy and shrugged. “My uncle taught me.”
I considered that. “His English must’ve been pretty good.”
The kid nodded, still enrapt with her candy. “I guess so. Some people have told me I talk funny, but doesn’t everyone?”
I nodded in agreement. “I suppose you’re right. Before the War, people from up north thought I talked funny, too. I have what’s known as a ‘Texas drawl.’ But I also found that some women from up north liked it, so it never much bothered me any.”
The kid nodded. “I want to learn how to speak like Captain Perez. She sounds smart.”
I chuckled at that. “Well, kid, there are worse things you could aspire to in a postapocalyptic world. Now, why don’t you eat some real food, before you get sick on sugar?”
She crinkled her nose at me. “Aw, man, you’re no fun.”
“Furthest thing from it, in fact.” I threw her some jerky and trail bread. “Now, eat this tasteless crap and be thankful we have real food.” She stuck her tongue out at me, and for a moment I chose to see her as just an innocent kid.
- - -
ithin a few hours the rain had stopped and we decided to head out. Bobby hadn’t showed, and that had me worried, but not by much. He knew more or less where the Facility was located, so I suspected he’d catch up with us before nightfall. Gabby and I packed our horses and Donkey, and headed off in a southwesterly direction toward the heart of the installation. After a few miles, we turned off on a gravel road that ended at a gate. The fence was down beside the gate, so we went around it and continued on, roughly another half mile as the dirt track on the other side ended abruptly in an open area about fifty meters across. There was what looked like a sewer or drainage pond in the middle, with a largish metal building beside it. Odd thing to have in the middle of nowhere, but certainly not anything that would look out of the ordinary in a satellite image.
Gabby led us up to a weathered and plain metal door at the front of the barnlike structure and dismounted. “Captain Perez says this is where we’re supposed to meet her. She showed me this place before she sent me off to find you.” The kid peered around like she expected the doc to step out from behind a tree at any minute. The fact that Captain Perez wasn’t here to greet us obviously had her worried.
“Well, let’s look around a bit. She might be camped out somewhere near here, or maybe she left to scavenge supplies.” After securing the animals, I began a sweep around the drainage pond and building perimeter, and came across a trail around the backside of the building that started at what appeared to be an underground-access entrance. There were heavy metal doors made out of rusted diamond plate covering the entrance, and no visible means of unlocking or opening them. I tried to get my fingers under an edge to lift them, but they wouldn’t budge.
Gabby appeared around the other side of the building, and a tilt of her head told me she hadn’t found anything. I waved her over and nodded at the door and the trail. “There aren’t any signs of recent activity here, so I’m starting to think that the doc never made it. And, she sure didn’t come in the way we came; otherwise we’d have seen her tracks.” I pointed at the trail that went off into the trees. “My best guess is that she normally comes in through here. Let’s take that trail and see where it leads.”
We followed the trail for roughly a half mile, and it came out on an old gravel road that went in a more-or-less north-south direction. We followed it north, and within another mile I saw why Captain Perez never made it back to the Facility. From the tracks I found, it looked like she’d come this way and then abruptly turned tail and ran. A little further on I noticed her boot prints getting further and further apart; the heel strike and depth of the prints told me she was running from something. What exactly, I wasn’t sure yet.
A few hundred yards further, her trail veered off into the woods. About fifty yards in, we found some 5.56 shell casings and a bit of blood. So, either she got hit, or she’d hit one of her pursuers. Based on the scattered shell casings that were left along the trail it looked like she was running and gunning in retreat. Another hundred yards in and it looked as though she’d been flanked; four larger sets of footprints converged with hers, and there appeared to have been a minor struggle. Her footprints disappeared after that, leading me to believe she’d been incapacitated and carried off.
The larger footprints looked military. I chewed my lip a moment or two before deciding what to do. “Gabby, I need you to head back to the airstrip and find Bobby.”
“But what about Captain Perez? If these were punters, you’re going to need help getting her back.”
I shook my head and pointed at the tracks in front of us. “Those prints were made by military-issue boots—I’d stake my life on it. Something tells me that these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill punters, and that puts us in uncharted territory.” It’d been years since I’d seen any military personnel, and most of them had been ragtag units that were almost as bad as punters. I strongly suspected that this group had long ago gone rogue, and that getting the captain back wasn’t going to be easy.
The look on the Gabby’s face told me she didn’t want to be left behind. Despite any feelings she might have had on the matter, there was no way I was taking her with me; at least, not until I knew what this group was all about. I knelt in front of her and placed my hands on her shoulders. “Look, all I’m going to do is run a scouting mission, find out where they have her, and then I’m coming back to get you two so we can spring her together. But right now, what I need for you to do is find Bobby, and then wait for me near the Facility.”
She nodded, but the look on her face told me it was with reluctance. “Alright. But if you don’t come back by tomorrow morning, we’re coming after you.”
I shook my head slowly. “Uh-uh, no can do. Under no circumstances are you to come looking for me. I need you two back at the Facility, guarding it in case these guys show up.” She looked unconvinced, but didn’t object. “Just remember to stay out of sight, and don’t engage with them unless they try to get into the place. I know you and Bobby can do that. I’ll be back by morning—just go find Bobby and wait for me near the Facility.” She nodded again with a bit more confidence, and then took off into the trees.
- - -
nce she was gone, I picked up the trail and headed after whoever took Captain Perez. I had no intentions of heading back to get Gabby and Bobby at the moment; that was just a ruse to get her out of the way. I also sincerely doubted that they’d run into anyone that far off the roads; getting them to “guard” the Facility was just a way to get them somewhere they’d be safe.
I was hunting people now, and having those two stumbling around would only complicate things. Not to mention how conflicted I was about turning an eleven-year-old kid into a killer, or rather, more of a killer than she already was. And with Gabby and Bobby safely out of the way I could do what needed to be done without worrying about anyone else getting hurt. Well, except the clowns who nabbed the doc. Without her, I didn’t have a chance in hell of getting Kara back... and in my mind that made them as good as dead. They just didn’t know it yet.
Their trail wasn’t hard to follow, which told me that while they might be military, they were undisciplined. The last time I’d seen the doc she’d been in uniform, albeit sans rank and name tags. If this group was former military, I was certain she’d have tried to pull rank on them; that they’d snagged her anyway pretty much confirmed they were a rogue unit. Based on past experience, I also suspected they would be a mix of former military and civilian, since any two-bit self-made warlord would be actively recruiting in order to increase his numbers.
It was rare to see those kinds of groups last, though, as they tended to disintegrate eventually due to infighting and rebellion. It took a very strong leader to keep a group of violent men and women together and working toward a single purpose, and those were in short supply these days. Any fool could see why punters stuck together; criminal enterprises always seemed to thrive wherever there were people to prey upon. But keeping a paramilitary group together was another thing entirely, and it worried the shit out of me that there might still be one that was operational in the vicinity.
The reason why was simple; punters tended to work in isolated and fragmented groups, which meant that while they were dangerous, they normally steered clear of the settlements. On the other hand, an organized paramilitary group with a competent leader could become a sizable threat over time. Such a force could invade any area where a power vacuum existed, rapidly taking over the region and enforcing martial law. I’d seen it happen before, in Afghanistan, and here in the States after the bombs fell.
The last thing we needed was a tin-pot dictator trying to take over the Hill Country safe zones, especially now, considering how vulnerable and impressionable people would be after the ’thrope raids. I knew that most folks tended to take any port in a storm, and the promise of protection against the raids might be enough to make them easy prey for a warlord. I hated to think what life would be like in the settlements if such a thing occurred.
Setting such thoughts aside for the moment, I turned my attention to the task at hand, and took off at a lope to follow the trail left by Captain Perez’s attackers. Within a few hours, I began to pick up sounds and smells that indicated I was nearing their camp. I slowed my pace and left the trail, choosing instead to come upon them from an unexpected, and likely unguarded, angle. I moved as quietly as possible through the dense brush, coming over a small hill to view where the group had set up camp.
Whoever these people were, they’d taken over one of the old training areas and turned it into a makeshift command post of sorts. They’d managed to move a number of metal Con-Ex containers to form a crude stockade around their CP, or perhaps that had been done before they arrived. I also noted immediately that they’d salvaged the remains of some barracks tents in order to get four serviceable shelters for their troops. If they were using all that space it could indicate a sizable force, perhaps fifty to sixty heads. In any case, I could see at least three sentries patrolling the wall, and a dozen more of them milling around inside the compound.
There were also two quonset huts inside their perimeter, as well as a three containerized housing units. It was anyone’s guess where they were keeping the captain, but based on the number of people I’d seen already seen in the compound, this was not going to be easy. I was going to have to go in undetected, find the doc, get her out quietly, and then haul ass out of here before someone figured out she was missing.
That was if she was in any condition to travel. While I did see some females carrying weapons inside the walls of the compound, I also knew what could happen to an attractive woman like Captain Perez among a group of violent individuals. In fact, I’d hazard to say that her looks were likely the only thing keeping her alive at the moment. That, and she might have convinced them she was worth something to them due to her medical training. In fact, they probably already had her working in their med station. I decided to hunker down and gather as much intel as possible on these assholes, and then once I had an idea of where she was, I’d move in and snatch her in the lonely hours of the night.
At least, that was the plan. I’d just have to see how things went, once I got inside the place.
- - -
caught a glimpse of Captain Perez just a few hours before dark. When I saw her, they were leading her from one of the CHUs to another. There were two guards with her, and I noted that one of them entered the trailer with her while the other remained posted outside the entrance to the housing unit. They were probably concerned that she’d try to make a break for it and keeping her under close guard, a reasonable assumption. She appeared to be uninjured, if a little worse for the wear, so I figured we’d be able to get away quietly once I took out her guards.
After dark, I realized there were some major issues with my plan. For one, the relative size of the camp was small, and there were roving patrols moving at odd intervals all night long. Just one slipup and the place would be crawling with bodies looking to put a hurt on us. Secondly, I needed to know more about what this group was all about. Although their actual numbers turned out to be a bit less than what I initially guessed, from what I could tell they were fairly organized and efficient. That had me worried, since a group like this could pose a severe threat to the Hill Country settlements and safe zones, should they decide to move north. And with a ’thrope pack threatening the area, the last thing I needed was a secondary threat in the form of a group of marauders raiding the settlements as well.