Book: Nomad Supreme: A Kurtherian Gambit Series
Author Notes - Craig Martelle
Author Notes - Michael Anderle
Craig Series List
Michael Series List
They say behind every great man, is a great woman,
but what if the woman is a Werewolf?
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The Terry Henry Walton Chronicles
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NOMAD SUPREME (this book) is a work of fiction.
All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Sometimes both.
Copyright © 2017 Craig Martelle and Michael T. Anderle
Cover by Andrew Dobell, creativeedgestudios.co.uk
Cover copyright © LMBPN Publishing
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First US edition, 2017
The Kurtherian Gambit (and what happens within / characters / situations / worlds) are copyright © 2017 by Michael T. Anderle.
“General Lance Reynolds, son of a bitch!” Terry exclaimed out of the blue, slapping his thigh and nodding to himself. “We need to go there.”
He sat up straighter, proud of himself for reaching a conclusion based on information he’d had in his mind for only the past twenty-five years.
“You don’t think a couple thousand miles is far enough to travel? Not good enough for my hunk of man candy?” Char asked, sticking her tongue out. She tossed her head, sending her hair flying in the wind. Her purple eyes seemed to drink in all that was Terry Henry Walton.
“Huh? What I’m thinking is that he commanded an Army post outside Denver. That one was drawn down during the BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure, but those generals all stick together. Where’d his 2IC, his second in command, send their stuff? NORAD. He wasn’t there at the fall, but I bet he was ready for it. We need to get into the mountain.”
“What if it’s still glowing?” Char countered, not dampening his exuberance.
He paused a moment before shrugging. “That would put a crimp in my plans.” Terry chuckled. “As long as it was an air burst, then the radiation would probably be gone already. If they hit it with a nuke penetrator, well, then no one will ever know what was stored in there.”
They’d ridden from northern Chicago, leaving the others behind, a week prior. Although Terry was driven to get back to New Boulder, he was taking it easy and treating their return trip like a honeymoon. They’d stop whenever they wanted.
To do as newlyweds did.
He had promised to do his best to make up for the two lost years. Char was holding him to that.
A lead running from Terry’s saddle pulled the third horse along. They’d taken to using it as a pack animal, loading it with food and other items they’d scavenged as they went.
Terry continued to search for a thermometer, because curious minds, and all that. And clothes. He wanted a pair of jeans. His camouflage utilities were growing threadbare.
And they rode on at a leisurely pace, expecting to take a month to make the trip, getting back to New Boulder around the end of November. If they could encourage the townspeople to leave a week or two after that, the group would travel past the Wastelands in the heart of the winter.
It would be the coolest period for a while. Who knew what kind of blast furnace next year would bring?
As they rode through what used to be Minnesota, Terry and Char saw people in the distance, but they disappeared before the two could get close, like mist evaporating as the sun rose.
Terry wanted Char to point out the strangers so he could yell to them that he and Char weren’t a threat.
She vehemently declined, telling him emphatically that winning them over wouldn’t be done through intimidation. In fact, yelling at them would simply reinforce their fear and avoidance reaction.
“But I don’t intimidate people!” he argued. “Just look at me. I’m a big pussycat.” He gave her his winningest smile.
“Of course you are,” Char purred, giving him a sultry look.
He bit the inside of his cheek. “Next time we come back, we’ll send ambassadors to say ‘hello.’ Who could refuse the likes of Antioch and Claire?”
“No one in their right mind,” Char smiled. She looked away for a while, then turned back to Terry, her face serious. “How many people have you killed, TH?”
She stared at him intently as if his answer was the most important thing in the world.
Terry looked into the distance. He didn’t know how to answer that. He’d kept track at one point in his life, as a source of Marine Corps pride, then it became part of doing the job, then it was critical for survival. And now he killed to save mankind.
Tallying the number didn’t make sense.
“Too many,” he finally answered. “I’m afraid we’re not done with that either, not by a long shot.”
“Does it matter?” Char dug deeply into his mind, his very soul, further solidifying their partnership as one, greater than the whole.
“Don’t all lives matter?” he replied. It was obvious that he wasn’t finished talking, so Char waited, still watching him intently.
They had spent a great deal of their relationship in silence. That was how they knew they were a perfect match, because they were equally comfortable conversing or not.
“If we are to help humanity recover, we need people to live. We need people to thrive. They can’t do that if they are afraid of getting killed. Like those people we see in the distance who run from two people riding nearby.”
“The Force is about security, right?” Char asked. Terry nodded in agreement. “The sooner people know that, the better off they’ll be. Keep the people safe and they’ll be free to do what they do best. You only create the conditions. The people have to take care of the rest, but the name could be a little off-putting, don’t you think?”
“Force de Guerre?” Terry asked.
“The War Force with you as the Secretary of War, not the Secretary of Defense. Maybe something a little kinder to the civilians, as you call them, something like the Force for Defense and Grandeur,” Char said. She couldn’t think of another word starting with G that made sense.
“Grandeur? Gravitas. Gillyweed. Goonballs.” Terry snickered to himself as he recited words that began with ‘g,’ and then took a deep breath of the humid air. Winter didn’t feel like it was right around the corner. It felt more like late summer. “When I was conducting those first interviews, the only thing I could think of was, ‘Fucking Dickless Groupies.’ They were just bullies and thugs. We didn’t have much to choose from back then, did we?”
“Gillyweed? More Harry Potter? Dickless? Do you mean me? I say, Terry Henry Walton, had I known your vocabulary was so limited and vulgar, I’m sure I would not have married you,” Char countered, laughing.
He turned in his saddle to look at her. “Do you believe in fate?” Terry asked, watching Char’s purple eyes sparkle as they rode toward the setting sun.
“As in, we were meant to be together. We were meant to be in the here and now, doing what we’re doing, even though we may feel like we’re fighting tooth and nail for every inch of ground that we gain.” His eyes got a far off look for a moment before focusing back on her. “Fuck, I don’t know. Just the thought of doing anything without you is debilitating.” Terry seemed to struggle with the words.
“The course of true love never did run smooth,” Char quoted with a wry smile.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s apropos. How about, if music be the food of love, play on.” Terry’s mood lightened.
“Play on, indeed, lover. Fate? No. We are simply attracted to what we ourselves want to be—beautiful, strong, intelligent, honorable, selfless. Pick your poison. You are such a man, TH, uncomfortable talking about how you feel. Clearly, Werewolves had a bad rap somewhere in your history. It turned your world upside-down when you fell in love with one, like, the first day you saw this hotness!” Char taunted, her smile widening, her eyes radiant as she looked at her husband.
“I think we’ve traveled far enough today,” Terry suggested, smiling and reaching for his wife.
“Me, too.” Char winked, leaning into his embrace.
“We have to work them out. Assuming we’re leaving, the people need to be ready, Mayor.” Mark stood across the table from Billy.
The mayor’s patience had grown so short that he’d removed the chairs from his office, not giving his visitors anywhere to sit. Most of them heard the message loud and clear.
Sue worked from a chair at the side of the table. Everyone noticed her, a beautiful blonde woman with yellow eyes and Clyde curled up at her feet. They had to look past her to see Billy, Felicity ever present behind him on the couch.
Visitors kept their trips short.
The biggest issue was the freezers. They weren’t eating the food down quickly enough. It wasn’t a bad problem to have.
“You have a grizzly bear running around free out there, Clyde ate my lunch again, and the people are walking around in circles. Can’t you do something different?” Billy wondered.
Sue tried not to snicker. Felicity had taken a liking to the dog and always made two of whatever she was going to feed Billy.
“I guess we could set up something to go outside the city. I’ll work on it, Billy. Tomorrow we take a different route and the Force de Guerre will be there with the people every step of the way!” Mark stated proudly. He stood tall, nodded, and walked out, a far different man than the one who’d walked into that very room on Terry Henry’s heels two and a half years earlier.
“We’re all different,” Billy said. Sue looked sideways at him not knowing what he was thinking.
Felicity had been there at that time and had seen it all. She knew exactly what the mayor was thinking. Mark’s face had been bruised and swollen, as were the others’. Ivan’s face had been smashed in, and he still wore those scars, but now, he wore them with pride.
He was no longer fat or slovenly.
They were all different. “Shows you what one person can do, doesn’t it?” Felicity offered.
Marcie lay on the floor, wiggling her hands and feet, not yet able to roll over. She giggled and watched as her mother dangled things in front of her small face.
“It only took one person to believe and get us walking in one direction.” Billy looked at the paperwork on the table, a striking woman sitting nearby, Felicity his wife, a baby, and a dog under the table. “Terry’s not even here, hasn’t been a whole lot these past couple years, but he doesn’t need to be. We still believe, and we’re still walking in the same direction. The only difference is that now we have a dog, a bear, a bunch of people with rifles, a herd of cattle, and three times the people.”
“No one is getting beat up, and no one is hungry, Billy dear,” Felicity drawled.
Sue had kicked back and was listening. Clyde was starting to get anxious. He strolled over to sniff the baby, but got too close. The little hand reached up and grabbed a handful of whiskers. She wouldn’t let go. Felicity intervened so no one got hurt. Sue excused herself and headed outside with a whimpering Clyde. Clemson sat outside the front door, waiting in case he needed to run somewhere with a message.
“Damn! You are one fine looking woman,” Billy said, smiling as he took in his wife and child.
“Why thank you,” Felicity smiled back.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Billy chuckled as he slid over and picked up his daughter.
“One of the wolves is injured!” James yelled, running into the plant and waving his arms to get someone’s attention. Ted jumped down a flight of stairs and ran as if his hair were on fire. The man continued outside and unerringly ran straight for the shaggy beast without James having to point him out.
The wolf had a gash on his side that was caked with mud and dried blood. Ted slid to a stop and looked at the injury before picking him up and carrying him into the plant. “Get the sewing kit and water, as much water as you can carry.”
James yelled for Lacy and then dashed sideways once outside the big door to the power plant. The building was eerily silent as no equipment was currently functioning. They’d hear a bang or screech every now and then as Timmons tested this or that. He was still making a list of tasks that needed to be accomplished.
Timmons couldn’t do much of the work because of a stump where there should have been a hand, but he didn’t let that hold him back. He was in charge of people who had all their limbs intact He kept the whole group hopping, but they also had their own daily routines on top of working at the plant.
Terry had given each of them something to do, and then put Timmons in charge.
Every day was a full day of hard work.
James and Lacy had taken their daily ride to the north and tried to make contact with the people they’d seen in that area. After a week, they had yet to realize any success. The active farms would play an important role when the town’s people arrived.
James and Lacy had just returned from their morning ride, when James saw the injured animal.
He returned with the sewing kit at the same time Lacy appeared with four flasks of water.
Ted scrubbed the wound with his own shirt and then started pouring water trying to cleanse the area. The wolf was trembling and snarling. Ted talked and growled to the young male soothing him as best he could.
“What happened?” James asked.
“Someone went after him with an axe, it looks like,” Ted said matter of factly. The wolves had grown used to people and had probably gotten too close.
“Where?” James asked softly, his lip curling with his anger.
Ted looked at a spot in the distance and then shrugged. He put a hand on the heaving chest of the beast in an effort to calm him, then plunged the needle into the first fold of skin. The wolf bucked, but Ted held him. James started to reach in, but Ted warned him off.
“He’s upset and in a lot of pain. Give him space, James. You don’t want to get bitten, and he’d probably take your whole arm off,” Ted said, trying not to sound alarmist to further upset the shaggy beast. James took an inadvertent step backwards while Ted continued to work. He made big stitches and sewed the worst of the wound closed, tying large knots that would be easier to remove later.
“Where was the pack?” James asked. His hands clenched and unclenched as he kept looking out the door as if an enemy would burst through at any moment.
“I think northwest of here, toward the forest.” Ted finished and wiped his hands on his shirt. He made to throw it away, then looked at it, realizing that it was his only shirt. He folded it and set it aside. The wolf panted, anxious at being indoors. Ted helped the animal stand and they slowly walked outside.
“Go get Gerry and Kiwi. I’ll get our horses,” James said as he rotated his rifle from his back to the front and checked to see if he had a round chambered and a full magazine inserted. He followed Ted outside.
The expression on Lacy’s face said that she couldn’t wait to find the one who had done that to one of the wolves.
“Something big,” Char said as she lay next to Terry on their small blanket. The three horses grazed nearby, feeding heavily on the thick green grass at the edge of a Minnesota lake.
Terry stood, looking around for his clothes. Char pointed at nearby bushes. “I could have sworn I left them on the ground,” he pondered, running the few steps to grab his camouflage uniform.
When he finished dressing, he found Char leaning against a stump and watching him. She was still naked. “It’s been awhile, TH. I’m going to go hunt,” she told him. One second later, she was a magnificent wolf with a sleek brown pelt and silver belly fur. She bared her fangs at him, lips pulled back in a dog smile, then turned and loped away.
“Don’t get hurt,” he whispered. He checked his rifle and his gear, then grabbed the nearest saddled horse and swung aboard. He pointed the animal’s nose in the direction Char had gone and spurred it forward.
Char quickly outpaced the horse, sprinting, reveling in her own strength as she blasted through the grasses of the field.
Terry thought he knew what she was running after. He wasn’t sure if she could take down a buffalo all by herself. He was hoping her prey was a deer.
That idea was quickly dashed when he saw the small herd of buffalo ahead. There were no calves. She is going after an adult. Terry urged his horse to greater speed until it galloped, and even then, it was barely able to keep pace with the Werewolf.
Char never slowed as she ran straight into the middle of the herd.
Mark found that he almost had to body block people to keep them from turning where they’d turned for the previous week. They had their heads down and were soldiering on. Today’s route was different and even though he’d already told them, they were on autopilot.
The new route would take them about five miles out of town. They’d turn at a stream where they could get a drink, and then they’d be free to make it back on their own.
The Force was spread along the route to help people and keep them moving. Mark had them run back and forth so the townspeople would not see the Force as overlords, but as comrades on a tough journey.
Which was what they would be, but perception could become reality.
Mark didn’t want to give them any grist for the mill. So the people walked, the Force walked, Clyde walked, and so did Hank. The bear had become a crowd favorite, although Blackbeard wouldn’t let anyone get too close to the grizzly. Hank was still a wild animal, although Blackie had to admit that the beast liked people, because everyone he met was nice to him.
The day’s efforts took longer than planned, but the farmers hadn’t been that far outside the town in forever. They hadn’t had the time to be away from their greenhouses and fields, so getting out was like a vacation for them.
Who would have known that the daily conditioning walks would be the social event of the season?
Mark walked with Billy and Felicity. He felt like he was their personal security, even though no one in New Boulder was a threat to them.
The Force sergeant standing at the mayor’s side. Maybe he felt like it was a partnership between the military and civilians who ran the town. Although the colonel and the major had tried to explain the separation of power, no one understood it or why it was necessary.
To Mark, it made perfect sense to be walking at Billy’s side. They talked about everything and nothing. Mark even took a turn carrying the baby. He could tell from Felicity’s discomfort while walking that she would be unhappy for the duration of the move. Mark wondered how he could manage that. They had to keep the spirits of the people up, so he couldn’t have the mayor’s wife casting a dark cloud over the town.
Hank ran past the small group that had clumped together with Blackie hot on his tail. The grizzly cub swerved and disappeared into the brush, shortly reappearing halfway up a small tree.
Billy watched it all. “I’ll be damned. I didn’t know they could climb trees.”
Felicity shook her head.
“Good thing he’s on our team, eh, Mayor?” Mark added.
Char picked the smallest, a cow that looked to be nearly five feet tall at the shoulder. She rammed into the thing’s side, hoping to knock it off balance to get a better angle to the animal’s neck.
She only bounced off, but quickly recovered for a second attack.
The bulls weren’t too keen on having a Werewolf in their midst. As Char crouched to pounce, a two-thousand-pound bull rammed her and threw her into the air. Her cry of pain ended when she landed on another buffalo, frightening a cow. As it bolted, she rolled to avoid getting stepped on. The bull pawed at the ground as it eyed her.
Adrenaline surged through Terry. He crouched low over his horse’s neck and turned its head as it approached the herd. He dove off, cradling his weapon as he rolled and came up running.
Char was crawling backwards to get away from the bull. Terry pulled his whip and cracked it as he ran, trying to get in between Char and the angry animal.
Chaos as the herd scattered. The first cow that Char attacked ran at Terry, her eyes wide in panic. He dodged as it passed. He cracked the whip in front of the bull’s nose to get its attention. It didn’t budge. Its eyes were focused on Char.
He snapped the whip against its head. The great beast snorted and tore the ground as it turned and plowed toward its attacker. Terry slid to a halt, fumbling with his left hand to get his rifle up. The charging bull was too fast. With all the strength in his enhanced legs, Terry jumped straight up. He cleared the bull easily, but the bull had stepped on the end of his whip. Terry didn’t let go and was yanked onto the creature’s back. He bounced off it, finally letting go and flopping into the dirt. With his right hand free, he rolled to a prone position, aimed, and prepared to fire, but the bull was finished. It continued running toward the rest of the herd.
Terry stood stiffly and jogged to where Char, still in Were form, lay panting. He looked her over, happy to see little blood, but knew the pile-driver she took in the side had injured her greatly. She changed into her human self, wincing as she ran a hand down her purpling ribs.
She stretched her arms over her head, grunting with the effort. Her ribs were misshapen and clearly broken, but as Terry watched, they stretched back into place, the purple darkened and then lightened until the bruises disappeared in entirety.
“Holy shit!” Neither one had been hurt badly since the day they killed the boar hog.
Char flexed and twisted. “Good as new,” she said, turning slightly to strike a demure yet alluring pose for her husband.
“Holy shit!” Terry reiterated. He liked what he was looking at, but he wasn’t happy with the risk she’d taken. “I wish you hadn’t done that.”
“Heal?” Char asked innocently.
“Yes, that’s what I meant,” Terry said coldly, but he couldn’t stay angry. He hugged her naked body and whispered into her ear. “I can’t lose you, Char.”
“My feelings, exactly,” she replied, biting his neck.
James, Lacy, Gerry, Kiwi, and Ted rode four horses up the street. Kiwi was not armed with a rifle, but she carried the ad hoc sword that had cut her arm. She considered it her prize, earned in combat with an enemy. It was part of her native tradition to carry the souvenirs of your enemy’s weapons into battle, and she carried it with pride.
Gerry had even made a scabbard out of untanned deer hide.
Ted urged his horse into a trot and the others followed suit. They were heading northwest to where Ted knew the rest of the pack was located. He’d find the wolves and see if he could learn about the people who attacked one of the pack. James said he wanted to talk with these people, but no one believed that.
They were all angry. One of their friends had been wounded and they sought revenge.
Ted was the angriest of all. His jaw was set and eyes narrowed as he scanned the way ahead. His senses were on high alert as he took the group unerringly toward the pack, now nine members strong while the injured animal found his way back to the power plant, staying there after his treatment. Ted hoped the young male wasn’t chewing out his stitches. He’d told him not to.
But he was a wolf.
Ted led them into an urban forest. Trees were heavily overgrown, pushing out houses and other structures. The wolf pack was gathered under a large tree, but they weren’t laying down. It was like they were waiting.
Ted waved a hand, and they trotted away.
He motioned for the others to follow.
They continued through the forest, through more urban sprawl, and then started across an open field. The wolf pack stopped. On the far side was a house with a tendril of smoke coming from the chimney. High stone walls surrounded the building.
They’d been traveling for hours and that explained why the crazies that attacked the FDG hadn’t made their way out this far, but the wolf pack had gotten here by following game.
Ted became even angrier thinking about the injured wolf who walked all the way back to the plant.
The poor creature must have been in agony.
Ted screamed in rage and spurred his mount forward. The others on horseback galloped across the field. Kiwi hung on tightly as Gerry leaned low over his horse’s mane. As usual, he rode to the side of the main group, preferring to be in a place where he could see ahead, riding freely to respond if needed.
He was the best horseman of the group.
And he didn’t mind that Kiwi hugged him tightly.
Ted pulled the reins back on his horse, making the animal buck as it slid to a stop. He jumped off and started yelling for the people to come out.
“Fuck off!” someone yelled gruffly from inside the small compound.
“You hurt my wolf and now I’m going to hurt you, asshat!” the usually sedate Ted yelled back.
“That’ll entice him to come out,” James told Lacy in a low voice, but Ted heard him, whirling and glaring at James.
Lacy adjusted as James froze. “Let’s find out what happened, Ted,” Lacy offered. Ted grit his teeth, then turned away from the compound, swinging his arms angrily.
Lacy climbed down and made a wide arc around the Werewolf.
“Hello!” she called. James followed her, holding his rifle across his arms, thumb on the selector lever.
Gerry climbed down as well and stayed to Lacy’s side. The group approached a rough door set into the wall, aware that they looked threatening.
“We just want to know what happened. It looked like somebody took an axe to our friend. There must have been a reason,” she called out, hoping that her feminine voice would disarm those inside.
“He went after our cattle! We can’t afford to lose no more seeing as we only got three left,” an older voice called.
Ted sighed heavily and walked toward the pack. They laid down in the field as Ted reached them. He leaned down and scratched some ears as he talked to them in a way that only he understood. When Ted turned back to the compound, he nodded, hanging his head and slumping his shoulders.
Revenge didn’t look so tasty.
“This sucks!” someone said from up ahead. Billy craned his neck trying to see who said it. There seemed to be a small skirmish, then more people joined as sides were chosen and people waded into the fray.
Billy started running. Felicity shook her head and adjusted the blanket keeping the sun off Marcie. She slowed to a stop and watched from where she was.
Mark ran after Billy, catching him easily, then staying close to his side. Mark didn’t want the mayor in the middle of a brawl.
When they arrived, that was exactly what they found: twenty or thirty people rolling around, throwing poorly aimed punches, grabbing and yelling. Someone got bit. There was howling and crying.
“Just fucking stop!” Billy yelled. His fists were clenched and he looked like he wanted to get into the middle of it. Mark put a hand on his arm to hold him back. Billy glared at him. “Well? Do your fucking job!”
Mark wasn’t sure what that meant, because the colonel had never mentioned anything about riot control.
The people hadn’t been in a position to riot before. Maybe they’d grown comfortable in their lives and this was their external manifestation of their anxiety over leaving New Boulder behind.
Mark had no idea about the philosophy of anxiety. All he knew was that he had just been made responsible for stopping the fight.
“Fuck it,” Mark said, jacking a round into the chamber and shooting into the air. Ammunition wasn’t that easy to come by, but the reloads that Adams and Xandrie had made helped a little. The gunpowder they provided smoked to high heaven, always throwing a huge white cloud from the rifle.
Just like a blunderbuss.
The people slowed but didn’t stop. Punches kept flying. Mark fired one more time and then re-slung the weapon over his back. He looked for other members of the Force, but found himself alone.
“Fuck it,” he repeated. He grabbed two people who were rolling around on the ground. One was from the third greenhouse and one from the last. The woman from number three bit him as he pulled her to her feet. He punched her in the head and she dropped like a sack of potatoes. The man who had been fighting her yelled and took a swing.
“Watch it, dickweed!” Mark growled, tripping the man and shoving him back to the ground. Mark waded farther into the fray, randomly punching people as he passed.
At the middle of it all, Mark found Pepe and Ernie, the farmer who ran the third greenhouse. He grabbed them both by their collars and leaned into them, grinding their faces into the dirt until they let go of each other.
Then stars exploded before Mark’s eyes and the last thing he remembered was falling over the two men he held on the ground.
“Okay, your way,” Char conceded. They were both on their horses and Char used her Werewolf sense to locate the herd of buffalo. Terry would try to bring down the small cow with his rifle, unsure if it had enough knock-down power. She scoffed, and he accepted the challenge. She made sure her pistols were ready, because they wouldn’t leave a wounded animal.
Once the first shot was taken, the animal would have to die. Terry wanted it to be clean, limit the beast’s suffering. Char wouldn’t say it, but she felt like she’d failed. She thought that she should have been able to kill a cow in her enhanced state.
But she didn’t even make a dent. She was stronger, but was she worse off?
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“About what?” Terry asked.
“Not being able to bring the cow down. We should be cleaning it right now, getting it ready so we don’t go hungry the rest of the trip. Am I losing my edge, TH?” Char wondered.
“Bullshit!” he exclaimed. “Bad tactics, that’s all. Overconfidence. You tried to body slam a one thousand pound animal, probably not the first thing you should have tried.”
Terry started to laugh, thinking about how Char bounced off the buffalo, but reality slapped him in the face when he had seen the bull charge into her. He wanted both vengeance and to show that sometimes prey is still prey, even if they won a battle.
Char just wanted to eat.
“Let’s go kill us a buffalo,” he said, looking serious and kicking his horse into action. Char rode with Terry to round up the other horses that they’d left behind.
When Char was in her own saddle, pulling the second horse, Terry’s horse trotted in the direction that Char pointed. Over a rise and into a small valley they rode until coming across the small herd grazing within a stand of short trees. Terry circled to get the best view, keeping the wind toward his front as best he could.
He dismounted slowly, walked a few steps, and took a knee. He aimed into the shadows, walking the front sight post of his rifle past the buffalo until he found one at the right angle. He couldn’t count on shooting behind the front leg. The round may not penetrate, so he decided on a head shot, but a buffalo’s head was low to the ground, with a great deal of bone in the skull.
The cow ripped up a mouthful of grass and chewed, not knowing that its fate had been determined.
Terry exhaled and squeezed. The rifle bucked and the herd jumped at the noise. Terry fired another round, then another, before jumping up and running at the cow. Char sat with the other horse a hundred yards farther away.
“My turn,” she said. She leapt from her saddle and tore her clothes off, changing into Were form while running after Terry Henry.
TH had no intention of taking on the herd. He only wanted to get close enough to take a shot or six, try to get one to penetrate to the beast’s heart. The cow was stunned, but the bulls were prancing and not running off.
Terry took a position behind a tree trunk and braced the rifle against the bark as he aimed. He didn’t have an angle at the shoulder, so he fired repeatedly at the cow’s head.
It dropped to its front knees, settled to the ground, and flopped onto its side. Terry waited, watching the bulls who weren’t moving. Sleek brown fur ran by him and into the woods.
Char danced around the much larger buffalo and enticed them to chase her. They had no chance of catching her and as long as she was running, they weren’t a threat. She led them away, then reappeared after Terry made sure his target was dead. He didn’t like the fact that it took him ten shots to do it, but looking at the quantity of meat they’d get, the round per pound was a good trade-off.
A Werewolf stood next to TH. They both looked at the buffalo. Terry turned back to Char, waiting for her to change back because he didn’t mind seeing her naked, but she remained a Werewolf.
She dipped her muzzle toward the cow.
“What? You want me to cut out some choice bits for you, is that it?”
She nodded, then pointed her nose back to the cow. He scratched behind Char’s ears and kissed her hairy forehead. He held her face and looked into her purple eyes, watching them dilate as she looked back.
After a few moments, she bumped his hand and pointed back to the cow.
“Fine,” he replied, pulling the knife without the silvered blade and got to work.
Water splashed into his face and brought him around. He spluttered and coughed as he blinked the water away.
“Cock!” he blurted out. There was a group of people, all dusty and many with bloody lips, standing aside and watching. Billy leaned over him, smiling.
“Good, you’re awake,” Billy said pleasantly. He sported a black eye and his knuckles were raw and bleeding.
Mark rubbed his head, feeling the knot. “Which peckerhead hit me?” he demanded.
“None of that. The fight’s done. People needed to blow off some steam, although I applaud your courage in walking into the middle of it. Stupid, but courageous as all can get out. I applaud you!” Billy clapped softly.
Mark was confused.
Ivan showed up behind Billy, shouldered his way past, and helped Mark to his feet. “Nightwatch, what the fuck?”
“Billy has it under control. That’s it for today. We’re heading home. Back at it tomorrow, same route, and Billy said he was going to walk with those two knuckleheads who started it,” Ivan said as Mark stood unsteadily.
“Who hit me?” Mark demanded. Ivan shrugged.
“Let it go.”
“No!” Mark yelled, swaying. “Which one of you douchebags hit me?”
Pepe had an arm draped over Maria’s shoulder. She raised one hand and waved it.
“God damn it!” Mark declared and tried to storm off, but tripped and fell. Ivan picked him up.
“I told you to let it go.” Ivan maintained a tighter grip on the sergeant so he didn’t escape a second time.
The door cracked and an old face looked out. Lacy was facing the old man from twenty feet away. Gerry and James flanked her and watched. They had their hands on their rifles, but the weapons were pointed away.
“The wolves came after my cattle!” he declared boldly through missing teeth. “Ain’t seen no wolves out here ever before.”
“They came with us. They know that those are your cattle and they will leave them alone from now on. Won’t they, Ted?” Lacy yelled over her shoulder.
Ted was sitting on the ground and the wolves were packed in tightly around him. He had retreated into himself and the wolves were keeping him company.
“I’m Private Lacy. That’s Corporal James and Private Geronimo. Kiwidinok is holding the horses. Gunner Ted and his wolf pack. We’re from the Force de Guerre and we’re here to bring civilization back,” Lacy mimicked what she’d heard the colonel say.
“Civilization? What kind of nonsense are you spewing, girl?” The old man curled his lip as he spoke. Lacy clenched her fists.
“Private. Private Lacy, not girl,” she coldly instructed him.
“Yeah, whatever,” the old man said. James stepped forward and grabbed her arm to keep her from beating the crap out of the old man.
“Stop that, you son of a bitch,” an old woman’s voice called out, followed by the sound of a slap.
“God damn it, woman!” He ducked back behind the door. There was the sound of another slap and then the door was flung open.
“Holy shit!” Gerry said as he looked at the woman who could have been Mrs. Grimes’ twin sister.
“You look like nice, young people, nothing like others we’ve seen,” she offered as she approached, wiping her hands on her apron. It was hard for the three to look unkindly on the old woman, although they remained fearful. They each shook hands with her. “I’m Betty and this train wreck is Lester.”
“We just wanted to get to the bottom of what happened to our friend. Now that we’ve learned what there is to know, we’ll be on our way. We have a bit of a ride. We are at the old power plant in Waukegan, I believe it’s called. Within a year, we expect to have the power turned back on and we also expect to have three hundred and fifty more people settling in this area,” James said.
The old lady raised her eyebrows, whether in surprise or disbelief, they couldn’t tell.
“We will be looking to trade with anyone who has something to offer, especially in the way of food. We will have our own cattle, so maybe we can work something out. Or you could move closer to us where we’ll take the responsibility to keep you safe.” Lacy sounded confident, but nothing was swaying the old man. “Nice wall. I expect it kept out the crazies. You won’t be bothered by anyone like them again. It’s our job to make sure of that.”
“Thank you for your time,” James said, then he turned and headed toward his horse. The others followed, leaving Betty and Lester to themselves. Nothing speaks as loudly as actions. They had no intention of getting into the old couple’s business.
Gerry swung by the wolf pack to see if Ted was okay. It took ten minutes of calmly talking with the man before Gerry convinced him it was time to go back to the power plant. When Ted finally agreed, he sent the pack ahead. As one, the nine wolves stood and loped away from the small walled compound and toward their new home.
“My God! I can’t eat another bite,” Char complained, sitting back. Terry looked at her stomach, distended, almost like a snake that had choked down a turtle.
Terry pointed to her stomach and then held his hands up. He lifted his shirt and tapped his six pack. She lifted hers and slid her hand around in a circle as if she were rubbing a genie’s belly.
“What am I going to do with you?” he playfully asked.
“Nothing, until some of this digests,” she parried, continuing to sit with her shirt pulled up and distended stomach exposed.
The fire was smoldering, just as Terry wanted it. The meat was packed tightly within his field expedient smoker, a blanket keeping in the heat and smoke. He’d have to keep turning it to make sure everything was fully treated. They needed the buffalo meat to last for the next month.
Which was what he figured it would take Char to digest all that she’d eaten. She gorged as a Werewolf, but after changing back to human form, she had eaten again.
“The injury?” Terry thought out loud.
“I think that was it. Those little mutant nanocytes are going to town in there. They need food to replace all the energy they expended fixing me.” She sighed contentedly, closed her eyes, and fell asleep.
Terry watched her, enjoying how she looked, while knowing that her real beauty was on the inside.
He turned to the buffalo hide, a massive thing that he’d mostly skinned in one piece. Terry used a rock to clean off the inside and scrape the leather free of any residual tendon, fat, or muscle. After that, he’d use a mixture made from the animal’s brain to tan it.
He thought it was disgusting, but when that was the only thing available, that was what was used. It worked perfectly fine. He wanted the hide to soften so he and Char could use it as a blanket while traveling in the cold or as a floor covering. He wondered if Clyde would want to chew on it.
He wondered how Clyde was doing.
“Our Billy Spires?” Adams asked.
Sue sat on the couch after a full day. Clyde was across her lap, snoring softly. She absentmindedly stroked his fur. Adams and Xandrie were looking at her, waiting for her to answer.
“Yes, Billy seemed as happy as a pig in shit when he was wailing on those people,” Sue finally replied. “At the end of it all, everyone was smiling and laughing, everyone except Mark. Maria brained him with a rock!” Sue recounted the story of the brawl.
“These people are lunatics,” Shonna offered, amused at the situation.
“But they’re our lunatics,” Adams answered.
The smoke from their barbecue wafted in through the open windows. Xandrie bolted out the door to check on their dinner. Although they preferred their meat closer to raw, the current stock had just thawed. To the Werewolf palate, the difference between fresh and frozen was best offset by a few minutes on an open fire to sear the outside and bring the inside temperature up. They’d eat it rare and enjoy it.
“Where’d you get this stuff?” Sue asked.
“Hunting has been off a bit, and these people eat a lot! So we had to help ourselves to one of the freezers.” Adams looked smug.
“Oh no,” Sue cried. “Billy’s conducting an inventory tomorrow to start rationing out the frozen foods. All new stuff is to be turned into jerky. He told you that. I was right there!”
“So what? We need to eat.” Adams stood and put his fists on his hips. “We’ve already done the starvation thing and fuck no.”
He stormed outside to join Xandrie.
“There’s going to be hell to pay,” Sue called out the window.
Maria held a rag with cold water on Pepe’s face. He winced when the rag touched.
“I can’t believe you were rolling around in the dirt like that. What? Are you fifteen again, fighting for the honor of taking me to the dance?” The smile lines around Maria’s eyes crinkled as she looked at her husband.
“He wasn’t very nice, and I’d had enough. To say that the heat and drought was Terry Henry Walton’s fault was stupid. Ernie’s stupid, and I had to punch him right in his stupid face!” Pepe whined.
“That’s fine, dear,” Maria cooed.
“And I’ll do it again, too, if he opens his stupid mouth!”
“Now, now, my little fighter, we’re not going to have a next time. Leave him be. It’s going to be a long enough walk as it is without the great greenhouse feud to keep us company. It’s too hot outside to let those fires burn,” she told him, making it clear that her tolerance was at an end.
Pepe didn’t have to think for long as he nodded to Maria. He couldn’t have everyone mad at him. “Okay. No fighting.”
He hoped he could live up to his promise. He thought of Ernie. He still wanted to punch him right in his stupid face.
The horses were loaded with hundreds and hundreds of pounds of smoked buffalo. It had taken two days to prepare that much and Terry was out of patience.
“I’m not hungry for buffalo. I may never be hungry for buffalo again,” Terry said. Char felt the same way after eating to excess and then staring at their ad hoc smokehouse for the last two days.
“I’m going to have to be pretty hungry before I take another bite and judging from my metabolism, that’ll be about two-thirty this afternoon,” Char replied, surrendering to the situation.
“What’s happening to us?” Terry asked.
“Did you know that your eyes glowed red when you fought Timmons?” Char declared.
“What? You never thought to share that tidbit with me before now?” Terry was surprised by the revelation.
“Ain’t nothing but a thang,” she answered, letting the words roll off her tongue slowly.
“Vamps glow red,” Terry stated.
Char nodded. “I know, but you’re not one of them.”
“How can we be sure?” Terry wondered, looking into the distance as he contemplated the possibilities. He only felt stronger, not like he wanted to drink anyone’s blood. He couldn’t feel the etheric like the Werewolves and definitely not like a Vampire.
“We’re sure,” Char told him. Her tone suggested that the topic was at an end.
“I’m still not hungry for buffalo…” he replied.
Mark looked at the platoon, standing at attention in formation. Billy was stopping by soon to talk with the Force.
The sergeant wondered what kind of wisdom Billy Spires was going to share. Mark’s head still hurt from getting hit, even though it had happened days ago.
“At ease!” Mark called from in front of the formation. The people kept their right feet planted while they stretched their legs and their bodies.
Hank was making a great deal of noise. They had shut the gate to his enclosure, but he wanted out. He was standing against the fence, watching the people.
The grizzly cub decided to take matters into his own paws and started to climb over the fence. The top board of the gate split and cracked in half as Hank balanced his entire body weight before going over. He fell outside the enclosure, no worse the wear.
He ambled to the formation where he nudged Blackbeard, before sitting by the young man’s side.
Mark and the others had watched the whole thing and missed Billy’s arrival.
“Ah-ten-SHUN!” Mark ordered and the group snapped to attention.
“This is me, Mark, relax,” Billy said, slapping the man on the back.
“Sergeant,” he whispered back.
“Yes, Sergeant!” Billy perked up, pleased with himself.
Mark wondered if Billy had found a stash of anti-psychotic drugs and was helping himself. He seemed different and not in a good way. He was too happy.
“At ease!” the sergeant ordered.
Blackie instantly dropped a hand to scratch the bear behind the ears. Hank sat quietly, enjoying the attention from his human friend.
The others leaned to and fro in order to see the mayor.
“I wanted to talk to you about the security of the people of New Boulder,” Billy started, holding his hands behind his back and shuffling in the dirt of the barracks’ front yard. The smile had disappeared and he looked like the Billy of old, the one before Terry showed up in town.
Billy’s voice was gruff.
“The fight that we saw, that Mark got into the middle of, wasn’t the only one you’ll see. There will be more, many more. What do we do?”
Billy paused, pursing his lips and chewing over his next words. “Terry, Char, and I spent some time talking about this. The question is, when we are traveling, will your attention be better spent watching out, away from our people, or watching in, seeing what they are doing and keeping our own people from making trouble. What do you think your colonel said?”
No one answered so Mark stepped up. “That we look outward, watch for threats to the people of New Boulder.” He knew that was the right answer, because the colonel had said repeatedly that the town’s people were not the threat.
“That’s right,” Billy called out, loud enough for everyone to hear. “But who will keep the peace within the town? We don’t have enough people to have a police force.”
“Why not?” Mark asked without thinking how that question might resonate. “Not trying to argue, Billy, but when we leave, everyone’s job is going to be walking. Can’t we get some of the older people to watch over the others, stop them before they get to swinging at each other? Like Mrs. Grimes. She keeps us in line.”
The snickers from the platoon suggested Mark had hit a chord. Billy watched them closely.
He hadn’t considered that. “Wait here,” he told them, and he walked to the front door. He called inside to see if Mrs. Grimes was there, although he could not have imagined where else she would have been. She must have yelled back because Billy opened the door and walked in.
Mrs. Grimes started yelling for him to remove his shoes, followed by Billy arguing, followed by the sound of a wooden spoon impacting flesh.
The platoon chuckled uncontrollably. They wanted to hear Mrs. Grimes giving a good one to Billy.
Everything quieted down and the platoon lost interest. Hank decided it was time to play and rolled over Blackie, continuing down the squad and knocking the rest out of formation.
When Billy returned, it looked like a scrum with the bear in the middle of a pile of bodies. He stopped and watched, then continued toward Mark.
“I’ll tell you, Mark, that I was starting to worry about all this, but bringing Mrs. Grimes and those like her into the mix, that was genius. I expect even Terry Henry Walton would approve!” Billy reared back and took a full swing, slapping Mark on the arm.
Mark saw it coming and braced himself, tightening the muscles in his body as he’d been taught how to take a blow without getting hurt.
Billy’s hand stopped cold. “Force de Guerre workouts making you as hard as woodpecker lips!” The mayor laughed as he walked away. The sergeant watched him go, understanding that Billy had been trying to put on a brave face while stress had been tearing at his insides. The happiness was feigned, which Mark had thought to be drugs.
It was just Billy’s small body screwing with him.
We could all use a little stress relief, Mark thought as he turned to face the formation, which had degenerated into rolling bodies surrounding one young grizzly. “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” he yelled.
“Stop chewing your stitches!” Ted said in a huff as the wolf looked at him with its big yellow eyes. He stared back, his eyes just as yellow, until the upstart young male looked away.
The wound was healing and the wolf’s licking was helping to keep it from getting infected, but he was biting at the stitches. Gerry and Kiwi watched Ted work with the shaggy gray beast.
“I have a question, if you don’t mind me prying,” Geronimo started.
Ted motioned for him to continue.
“You are so gentle, a kind person. If I hadn’t seen it, I would never believe that you’re a Werewolf, not anything like what we saw from the others,” Gerry haltingly said. He didn’t want to say Timmons’ name, but when he was in his Were form, he was violent and vicious. Until he lost his hand, he had maintained that persona in human form, too.
“Werewolves are like people,” Ted replied, smiling and petting the wolf at his feet. “There are all kinds, just like our lives. I liked my life before, and I like my life now. They are different, but both good.”
Gerry wasn’t sure what Ted’s answer meant. He’d have to think further.
Kiwi approached and put her hands on Ted’s arm. “When you know who you are, when your mission is clear and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will, no cold can touch your heart; no deluge can dampen your purpose. You know that you are alive. This is what Black Feather has told us.” Kiwi’s eyes were unfocused as she repeated the quote.
Ted stopped petting the dog and put a hand on the young girl’s head. To her, he would have looked like a man not much older than Gerry.
“Thank you, Kiwidinok. Never lose the wisdom of your people.” Ted had looked at her, cupping her young face in his hand as she looked adoringly at him.
As one of the beautiful people, he’d seen it before, and knew that pouring cold water early was the key. “I’m not for you. I have a mate, and we are both over one hundred years old. Go on, now. I thought you two were set to explore to the south.”
Kiwi looked away quickly, embarrassment reddening her cheeks.
Ted closed his eyes, and looked to the south as far as he could see. “Animals, but no people to the south. If you don’t ride farther than an hour away, you should be free to explore.”
Gerry thanked Ted and waited for Kiwi to join him. She squeezed Ted’s arm, turned, and hurried out the main door to the plant.
Gerry rushed to catch up to her as she made a beeline for the horses. “Hey, wait up!” he called when she broke into a run. She jogged, slowed, and stopped, her shoulders slumped and her head down.
The young man was torn, having no experience with women. He had a major crush on Kiwi, and that threw his mind into disarray. He stood there and looked dumbly at her.
Kiwi’s hair was jet black and like a raven’s wing, looked blue in the sunlight. She always looked well-tanned, because that was the natural color of her skin. Dark brown almond-shaped eyes were set wide in a round face. Her body was lean from always running, always doing something. She had boundless energy and used it.
When she finally looked up, her eyes were glistening, but no tears ran down her face. “What are you looking at?” she snapped.
Gerry took an involuntary step back as if he’d been slapped. “Nothing,” he replied weakly, then he turned and walked toward the horses. She watched him go. He was nothing like the young braves of her home village. She liked him, but had no experience with men.
She stalked up behind him and kicked his foot as he was trying to take a step. Gerry stumbled and fell. “Ha, ha!” she called and ran past him.
“What the fuck was that?” Gerry’s rifle had smacked against the ground when he fell, and he took a moment to check it over to make sure it wasn’t damaged.
“Don’t be a dick,” she shot back, the smile disappearing from her face. She wanted to kick him while he sat on the ground looking at his precious rifle. Didn’t he know that he was supposed to throw it all away and chase after her? The other braves would have.
And when they caught her, she’d kick their asses a second time.
Gerry watched her, wondering. He would have to talk with James and Lacy later, because there was something he was missing and had no idea what it was.
Kiwi saddled one horse while Geronimo saddled the other. They both mounted their rides and sat comfortably. Gerry was a master horseman, but Kiwi had been raised with horses and was almost as good as him.
With one look, that was how it started. Gerry saw it as a challenge and bolted out front, but Kiwi was hot on his heels.
They climbed the bank on the roadway in front of the plant and settled into a flat out race. After two minutes of galloping, the horses naturally slowed until Gerry’s pulled up and started hobbling. The young man forgot everything else as he reined back and dismounted.
The horseshoes had disintegrated during the journey, and although they’d repaired them at the time, Gerry had removed the shoes when they finally settled in to their new home, and they had not yet found replacements.
Racing the horses without shoes was ill-advised. Gerry’s mount had split its hoof and it was all Gerry’s fault.
“FUCK!” he yelled as he stroked the horse’s nose. Blood trickled along the crack. It was deep. He had been religiously trimming the hooves of all the horses, but saw where it was off balance where the crack had happened. He hadn’t gotten the trimming correct.
Kiwi joined him and bent down to study the hoof. “We need to trim it and then staple it together while it heals. It will heal, but it will take time, maybe a year. We’ll be right here with her the whole time, making sure that it’s taken care of.
Geronimo looked past the tears in his eyes. Kiwi looked confident, nodding as she held the reins of her horse. Without thinking, he leaned down and kissed her. She pulled herself into his embrace. When they separated, they were both breathing heavily.
Then Kiwi stomped on Gerry’s foot and danced away.
“God damn it, that hurt!” he exclaimed but after his first kiss, he couldn’t be angry. He looked to his horse. “It’ll be okay, girl, but we have to get home and tell Ted he has another patient. I think we’ve got more than a mile to go.”
Gerry led the horse into the soft dirt at the side of the road and started walking. A hard wind was blowing off the lake. He looked into it, seeing boats bobbing in a small harbor.
“Kiwi! After we get the horse settled, we need to come back and check that out,” he said, pointing at the boats.
He didn’t know that she was deathly afraid of the water.
“I thought there was more to see,” Char complained, looking at the barren lands through which they traveled. North Dakota was still a grassy plain with wide open spaces, but it wasn’t the Wastelands. Those hadn’t encroached that far north.
“It looks different heading the other way,” Terry said matter-of-factly.
Char turned in her saddle and looked. She was confused. “Does not.”
Terry bit his lip to keep from laughing.
“You bastard!” Terry knew when a beating was imminent, so he kicked his horse into a gallop. They raced through the open lands, following the path cleared for the old interstate. When Terry saw a small lake, he veered toward it.
Char couldn’t catch him because she was pulling the third horse. She couldn’t even match Terry’s pace. He increased the distance between them until she watched him slow and turn toward something.
The horse stumbled and fell. Terry went with it, disappearing into the grass. Moments later, the sound of the shot was clear in the still air. Char let go of the other horse and urged her animal to greater speed. The second shot alarmed her even more.
Terry launched himself from the falling horse and into the grass, unsure where the round had hit his mount. He crawled quickly to the side and assumed a firing position, aiming through the heavy grass in the direction from which the shot had come. He couldn’t see anything, but heard the crunch of furtive footfalls. A second shot rang out. The sound of it hitting his horse was unmistakable.
Terry heard the horse running from behind him. Char was racing into an ambush.
He leaned backward, coming to one knee, and looked for the enemy. He still couldn’t see anything. They’d gone to ground as Char raced closer.
He jumped up. “Get down!” he yelled, diving to the ground as he did so. The round whizzed over his head. Terry crouched low and shuffled away, listening for the horse and hoping that the last shot fired was at him and not Char.
Terry broke into a run, exposing himself to the enemy, but he increased speed to something that no human should have been capable of. He angled in a semi-circle to his right to come in behind the enemy. A break in the grass suggested someone had trampled it down. He headed toward it.
He waved at Char, pointing at where he thought the attacker was located. As he closed the last thirty feet, he thumbed the selector lever to full automatic, fired into the space, and then leapt into the air, preparing to finish the job.
But there weren’t any targets, only a door, flat against the ground. Terry landed next to it and dodged, diving again into the grass beside the small open area. He studied it quickly, the door, then looked outward for firing ports of any kind.
He saw none.
What was hidden beneath that door?
Char approached the area, unsure of what Terry had seen and wondering why he fired his weapon on automatic. The shooter must have surprised him.
She remained low, using Terry’s horse for cover. She had a hand on the beast, but her sense had already told her that it was dead. She also knew that there were a number of people underground.
Char pulled both pistols and stood, walking at a ninety-degree angle to the tunnel entrance. She stayed to the side and walked casually to Terry, who watched her closely, understanding that she knew where the shooter was.
“They’re in the tunnels, down there.” She pointed.
“Tunnels? They?” Terry considered the new information.
“Five, from what I see,” she whispered, then held a finger to her lips. She motioned Terry to the left, while she moved right. They took positions to either side of the door and waited, as if they were hunting a ground hog by watching for it to stick its head out of a hole.
The door was soundless as it inched open. Terry and Char kept their feet out of sight. She signaled that it was just one person. They waited.
It inched open farther and farther. When there was a gap of almost a foot on the front side, Terry jumped into the air, coming down with both feet to drive the door into the head of the person opening it. The door whumped to the ground. Terry jumped aside and ripped the door open, throwing it backwards.
Rough-hewn stairs descended to a small platform, then continued deeper into the earth. A young boy was lying on the landing. Terry climbed down to him, checking his pulse.
The boy was alive, but his head was bleeding freely. Terry pulled the boy’s shirt off and held against the wound. He saw that the child wasn’t armed.
Char looked into the darkness of the tunnel before checking on the boy. “What kind of asshole would send a boy to check on the people they just shot at?” Char whispered angrily.
“Where are they?” Terry growled.
“Coming up.” She tipped her chin for him to hide at the side. Terry crawled away as the first round ripped through the boards of the platform, barely missing the unconscious boy.
Terry held his rifle at arm’s length and fired blindly down the tunnel. Char scooped the boy into her arms and in two steps, was out the door. Terry clicked the lever to full auto and waved a figure eight as he fired into the tunnel until his bolt locked to the rear. He followed Char outside, then slammed the door.
A bullet tore through the wood of the door, sending splinters into Terry’s arm.
“I’ve had about enough of you fuckers!” Terry called as he ripped into the grass, pulling up great bundles until he had a full armload. He put the pile in front of the door, then gathered a second bundle.
Char waved at him frantically and pointed at the door, signaling that two people were on the platform behind it. Terry locked a fresh magazine into place and let the bolt go home, chambering the next round. He selected semi-automatic and standing near the door, walked the rounds through it, sweeping left and right.
“Where’s the food?” Billy said, staring at the empty freezer. “Who stole the food?”
He looked at Sue, who had been dutifully taking notes as they conducted their inventory. She shook her head although she knew very well who had emptied the freezer. She’d enjoyed some of its fare the night before.
Billy hurried through the rest of his inspection. Once complete, he ran back to the mayor’s house. Sue was torn whether to tell him or not. She decided against it, hoping that no one had seen the others.
He stormed into the house, yelling for Clemson. The young man was nowhere around.
“Sue, can you run to the barracks, get Mark for me?” Billy inquired, although it didn’t seem like he was asking. “We’ve got criminals to find and punish.”
Char drew a finger across her throat. Terry pulled the door open slowly, keeping himself to the side. He flicked his head past the opening and away. Two people were down. He held the door open with one arm and kicked the two piles of dry grass inside. He shut the door, took a knee, and pulled his flint. A small bush became the target of his sparks and once it caught, it went up like a torch.
He opened the door, kicked it through, and let the door slam back into place.
There was enough air flow within the tunnel that the dry grasses caught. Soon, they could hear the flames crackling against the back side of the door. It cracked and the fire licked through.
“Time to go,” Terry snarled. Char held her hands out.
“What do we do with him?” she asked.
Terry had forgotten that they’d pulled the boy out. “I guess we’re going to be kidnappers. Add it to our list of crimes against humanity.” Terry ran his hand through his hair.
He looked back at the door as the fire was consuming it. “Fuck you!” he raged. “Why did you make me do that?”
“We better go,” Char said, picking the boy up and throwing him over her shoulder as she started to run.
The prairie grasses were on fire.
Terry, tipped the buffalo meat onto the ground, unbuckled the heavy saddlebags, and ran after Char. The bags bounced against his back. He threw a glance over his shoulder, seeing that the fire was already around the horse, destroying it—the meat, the saddle, all of it.
Terry had his rifle, his knives, his bullwhip, and two saddlebags heavy with ammunition and other small supplies necessary for survival.
His flasks had been tied to the pommel. The pommel was on the saddle, which was in the middle of a growing conflagration.
They were down to the water that Char carried, but there were three people who needed to drink.
The fire burned between them and the lake.
Char caught her horse and used it to run down the second one. Terry ran to them, mounting quickly so they could ride away without getting trapped.
“Good job back there,” Char said, shaking her head.
“Penis pullers made me angry,” he replied. “Fuckers shot my horse.”
“You showed them. No horse for them. I wonder if that was a family or if they were starving.” Char looked ahead, breathing a sigh of relief as they’d gotten past the end of the fire and were leaving it far behind.
“That’s not fair,” Char said, arguing with herself. “They weren’t going to go without a fight.”
A titanic explosion rocked the ground, sending dirt flying from the hole where the door had been. A pillar of flame followed the debris upward.
The horses bucked and whinnied. Terry and Char looked at each other. “What the hell did they have in there?” Terry wondered.
Sue ran into Clemson on her way out the front door. She intercepted him and sent him after Mark. When she returned after being gone for two minutes, Billy was incensed, looking like his head was going to explode.
“I found Clemson. He’s on his way out there right now. He runs faster than me, so you’ll get Mark more quickly. You have to relax, Billy.” Sue tried to sound calm.
Billy was having none of it. He stomped his feet as he pounded his way around his office. Felicity started to leave but he stopped her by blocking her way. She raised her eyebrows at him.
He looked at her and sighed, then stepped aside, hanging his head. She stayed where she was.
“Just when I thought we were getting through to them,” Billy said, pursing his lips before he continued. “Somebody stole from the town, they stole from me, Felicity.”
His voice was gruff, but his tone was that of a small child. Felicity pulled him to her and hugged her husband.
“We’ll find out what happened. I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation, dear,” she drawled pleasantly, unperturbed by Billy’s take on the issue. She didn’t believe anyone would simply steal a freezer empty. No one was getting fat. In her mind, they’d progressed to the point where she expected people simply to take what they needed and replace it when they were able.
An attitude that she would not have had years ago when she first arrived in New Boulder.
“Let’s take a drive, Billy dear. The baby would love a nice nap in the backseat,” Felicity offered.
“But Mark is on his way and the car isn’t running right,” Billy said softly, feeling his world weighing him down.
“Sue can handle Mark, get him turned loose on trying to figure out what happened. And we’ll stop by the plant. Maybe one of those two nice engineers down there will be able to help you.” Felicity lifted his head and the two slowly walked away.
Sue sat at the table and wondered how in the hell she was going to resolve the situation.
“I told them this was going to be a shit sandwich, but nooooo, who would believe little old Sue?” she mocked as she sat there by herself, with only the walls to take pleasure in her dilemma.
“What’s your name, little guy?” Char asked the boy when he finally awoke. He winced and tried to squirm away until he discovered that he was on a horse and a long ways away from his home.
Char had him facing her so she could better hold him. When he leaned back, he saw her eyes for the first time and froze, staring. She winked at him and let the setting sun reflect the sparkles.
The boy visibly relaxed, but didn’t speak. He leaned against her. She kept one arm wrapped around him, just in case he got an idea about running off.
But he didn’t.
They continued riding west, Terry keeping his horse close to Char’s. They urged the horses into a trot, and then kept that pace for as long as they dared. The distance wasn’t the problem, water was. They needed a lake and according to Terry, it would take most of the day to get to the next one.
The adults declined, determined to go without water until they could refill the flasks. They let the boy drink and fed him some buffalo, which he ate like he was starved. His body didn’t suggest he was malnourished. He seemed fine to them.
“Maybe he was just hungry,” Char whispered as the boy drifted off to sleep.
Terry didn’t know what to think. He didn’t care, either. They had plenty of food. If he was hungry, there was plenty to eat. If he was thirsty, there was enough for him to drink.
The horses were unfazed during their easy travel across the open plains, and Terry’s worries turned out to be unfounded. When they made it to the lake, they dismounted, putting the boy down and watched to see what he’d do. Terry started to dig out a fire pit, piling stones around it on the beach of the small lake. The horses ate some of the grasses along the bank before wading in and drinking their fill.
The boy wandered around in a circle, then sat by the small fire.
“Are you hungry?” Terry asked.
Char sat down next to the boy, draping an arm over his small shoulders. She tossed the two empty flasks to Terry.
“I asked him a question,” Terry defended himself. Char waved him away with her free hand.
He walked away from the horses to find the clearest water. Frogs jumped into the lake, little more than a pond, as he walked past them.
“What’s your name, little guy?” Char poked him playfully. He giggled.
Terry heard the boy from where he was across the lake. All is not lost, he thought.
“My name is Kaeden,” he said in a small voice.
“How old are you, Kaeden?” Char prodded.
“Nine, I think,” the boy said noncommittally.
Char had thought he was seven due to his small size. It was the curse of the Wastelands that people were growing up undersized. Being malnourished did that.
“Do you know what happened back there, Kaeden?” Char asked, lifting the boy’s chin so she could look into his eyes. Terry watched closely, assuming that she was using a Were mind trick on him.
“Yes,” the boy whispered, then spoke more loudly. “I know what happened back there. They thought they were in charge, but they weren’t. Then all their stuff blew up.”
“Who was in there with you?” Char was in his mind, enough that he would answer, although he was starting to get anxious.
“Boys. Just us boys.” Kaeden was back to whispering.
“What boys? Older, younger? Where were the adults?”
“We came from somewhere else, but the adults died and the girls were taken by the bad men. We found the hole a long time ago and have been there ever since,” the boy told her.
“Do you want to go swimming now? The water is warm and I think you need a bath.” She opened her saddle bags and took out a bar of soap. She handed it to the boy and sent him into the small lake.
Terry returned with two full flasks. He held Char’s hand as they watched the boy strip and tentatively walk into the shallows until he could duck his head. He shivered when he came back up and wiped the hair out of his eyes.
“Maybe we can drop him with the natives,” Terry suggested.
“We will do no such thing, Terry Henry Walton!” Char hissed. “We are all he has now, thanks to you.”
“Could you make me feel any worse? A bunch of kids? What a total fucking nut roll. They shot my horse!” he said weakly.
“He’s nine and looks like he’s seven. They were starving, but for some ungodly reason, they had a rifle. I’m not surprised they knew how to use it. What bothers me is raiders taking the girls. We have to find them, TH!”
“He said it’s been a while since they found the tunnels. We’ll ask the people on our way back, but we have to go to New Boulder first. We’ll find them, but it won’t be today. My promise, lover.” Terry squeezed her hand tightly as they watched Kaeden wash. “I guess this means the honeymoon is over.”
Char made an unhappy face that Terry couldn’t have agreed with more.
Sue dutifully escorted Mark and Ivan to the freezer in question. They both looked at it, confirming it was empty.
“Now what?” Mark asked. There was a significant amount of frozen food remaining. Mark was not worried that they’d run out. “What’s the issue?”
“Somebody stole from Billy and he’s pissed,” Sue answered, arms crossed, and looking miffed.
“You can tell Billy that this is a pimple on the ass of progress. Why in the hell would we want to pole-vault over a mouse turd?” Sue threw her hands up in surrender. She didn’t want to be there either, but for different reasons than Mark was so eloquently giving.
“Say we catch the person who did it. Then what? Tell them they can’t come with us? Give them dirty looks? Waste more time on them? Bah! This is bullshit and I’m going back to the barracks.”
Mark didn’t wait for an answer. Sue had no idea what she was going to tell Billy, but she was certain it wasn’t going to be ‘this is bullshit.’
Felicity yelled for Shonna, finding her elbow deep into a makeshift patch. She was shaking her head. The plant was making a great deal of noise. Things were banging and the whistle of escaping steam was incessant.
“We’re losing her, Billy,” Shonna surrendered. She dropped the wrench she was holding, and it bounced off the catwalk as it fell to the ground below. She stood and wiped her hands on an old apron. “How can I help you?”
Billy looked, alarmed, at the water that bubbled around the patch. Shonna encouraged them to hurry away from the break and down the stairs. When they reached the bottom, there was a pop, nothing major, but the lights started to flicker and the whine of the spinning turbine changed tone as it slowed.
Then the lights went out.
“What can I do for you, Billy?” Shonna asked again as she took off her leather apron and threw it on the floor.
“The car isn’t running right,” Felicity offered as Billy looked at the plant in disbelief.
“Let’s go take a look at it, shall we?” Shonna turned her head and yelled. “Merrit! Let’s go work on something that’s not already dead!”
“Just need to shut down the boiler!” he shouted back. The plant didn’t become as silent as it should have been. They didn’t need to bleed off any pressure because it was already bleeding from the hundreds of holes in the compromised piping.
When Merrit jogged up, he was in good spirits, just like Shonna. Billy was in shock. His baby had died, and he had been there to see it. He was on the verge of being traumatized by the situation. The other three adults stood there waiting for Billy to do something.
“There’s nothing you can do?” he asked after a few moments.
“The plant died weeks ago, Billy. It was held together by spit and bailing wire, steam and a prayer. I’m amazed that it lasted this long. When do you think we’ll be leaving?” Merrit asked.
“I don’t know,” Billy mumbled, barely above a whisper.
Felicity nodded toward the doorway. Shonna took one arm and Merrit the other as they guided Billy after Felicity on the way from the plant.
“But, but…” Billy stammered.
Kaeden ate more than they thought he should have been able to. Char finally cut him off, so he didn’t explode.
He curled up on Terry’s blanket and was soon asleep.
“How are we supposed to trust him?” Terry asked.
“We sleep on our knives and with our weapons. I doubt he’ll be able to take anything away from us.” Char smirked as she looked at the blanket.
Terry unwrapped the bundle that was the buffalo hide
“That thing stinks!” Char wrinkled her nose. They’d used her blanket to wrap the smoked meat and it was ruined for sleeping.
Char sat on the ground and leaned against her saddle. Terry leaned against his, unhappy that he couldn’t get close to his wife. He was used to the heat she generated. She was unhappy, too, because they were newlyweds and Terry’s efforts to make up for the lost two years weren’t just admirable, they were exceptional.
“My mate,” she whispered. Terry wriggled across the space between and they laid, side by side, on the ground.
Kaeden started to fuss, so Char picked him up and put the small boy between them, still wrapped in the blanket. “He had to be terrified, every time he slept.”
Terry watched the boy as he calmed and went back to sleep, and Char watched Terry, seeing the concern in his eyes.
Saving the world one life at a time, after having ended six others. It was not a banner day, and that was all Terry could think about.
Sue sat in the office, cleaning up her notes from the inventory, when the lights blinked and went out. Billy had both a refrigerator and a freezer. The two appliances stood in the kitchen, eerily quiet. Sue walked through the house to make sure that it wasn’t a circuit breaker within.
It wasn’t. It was early afternoon and the street lights hadn’t been switched on. She went outside and listened carefully, letting her Werewolf senses take over. There were no sounds from the plant.
It had died for the last time, as Shonna and Merrit had been saying it would for weeks now. They needed the extra food because they were working their asses off to milk the last few days of power from the old girl.
Billy and Felicity had been there when it happened. She wondered if he did something, but she’d find out later. Sue hoped the loss of power would make the great freezer raid a moot point.
They needed to move everything from the freezers and start parceling it out. Fresh stuff would be smoked. They had a whole plan of attack to prepare for the walk to Chicago.
Sue accepted that the work needed to be done, because the alternative was to die of thirst as the Wastelands crept in and claimed New Boulder.
Ted wasn’t happy seeing the split hoof, but that was nothing compared to how Gerry felt.
The young man was torn, because the animal’s injury had helped him take the step that he was unable to take on his own. Although Kiwi was quiet on the return walk to the area where they were keeping the horses, she kept sneaking glances at him.
He caught her more than once.
He couldn’t tell if she liked him or not, but as a private in the FDG, he had a role to fill and a mission to carry out.
Ted looked at the hoof and then to Gerry. “I’m afraid I have no idea. I know wolves, and I know nuclear reactors and their power generation systems, but I don’t know anything about horses.” Ted shrugged.
He’d assumed that Ted had a link with animals since he was a Werewolf. It was a letdown to find that wasn’t true.
“It’s up to you two, if this animal is to recover. Otherwise, we need to put her out of her misery,” Ted said, tapping a hammer that he carried with him while working in the power plant.
“No!” Gerry exclaimed as Kiwi joined him in bristling at the thought. “We’ll take care of her.” Kiwi wrapped an arm around Gerry’s waist as they continued to look at the hoof.
“We need wire, something that can be used as a staple, and a new horseshoe,” Gerry told Ted. The older man nodded and walked away.
Kiwi gathered a few hands full of grass and offered them to the horse. The mare munched slowly as they waited for Ted to return.
While they waited, their hands found their way onto each other’s body, caressing and rubbing. They both looked away as if they weren’t doing anything.
In the morning, Terry got up first. He didn’t have to wake up as he hadn’t slept. He took his clothes off and waded into the lake, using the bar of lye soap that Char had produced the day prior.
He cleaned himself in the near darkness of the false dawn, scrubbing harder than required because he felt the need to punish himself.
He tried to reason how he could have gotten the boys to surrender, but they were armed and storing explosives. Did he need to burn it at all? They had rifles. He had no way of guaranteeing he and Char could get away before the rifles barked at him.
They could have dropped the dead horse on the door, but if that was the only way out, they would have killed the boys slowly.
The boys had made their decision when they continued to shoot at Terry and Char. He wouldn’t risk her life no matter what.
No, there was nothing they could do, besides save one of them.
But the boys were only trying to defend themselves.
One of them had shot the horse out from under Terry and then summarily executed the animal with a second shot.
But they were only hungry!
He and Char had hundreds of pounds of meat with them.
When an enemy shoots, there’s no time to do an ID card check to see if they’re old enough to make war. Their fate was sealed when they shot at Terry. And kept shooting.
But bad men had taken the girls. Those men could have looked just like TH.
Their fate was sealed when their parents died, leaving them to fend for themselves. He wondered what the parents died of that the children found themselves immune to.
Was the newest generation resistant to radiation? He wondered.
“I still need to know who stole from me!” Billy demanded.
“This is food we’re talking about,” Felicity drawled, rolling her eyes as she continued to argue. “Why do you think it was yours? Was that your power of life and death over the people?”
“It was everyone’s food, but it was my responsibility to store it for them.” Billy continued to stomp around the room while Marcie cried. Felicity tried bouncing her but gave up. She blocked Billy’s way and held the baby at arm’s length.
“Then no one stole from you. They stole from themselves, and they hurt your ego.” Felicity turned to Sue. “What did Mark say again?”
Sue was trying to make herself invisible by not moving, but it hadn’t worked.
“ENOUGH!” Sue screamed and pounded both fists on the table. “Werewolves! We eat twice as much as an average human and you are working us to the fucking bone! So we took it and we ate it so we could keep up the God damned pace. How in the ball-twisting ninth level of Hell did you think they kept that plant running as long as they did, Billy? Every fucking thing on this planet comes at a cost.”
Sue’s eyes blazed as she leaned over the table and glared at Billy Spires, Mayor of New Boulder.
“Why didn’t you just ask?” Billy said softly.
“Because we don’t ask humans for food. We’re not your fucking pets. We answer to the alpha and the alpha only. If you’ll excuse me, I need some fresh air.” Sue stormed out. She wanted to body-slam Billy against the wall so he understood his place in the big picture, but he was holding his daughter and Sue liked the little girl.
“Come on, Clyde!” Sue huffed on her way past. The dog followed, tail down as he knew his master was angry.
Billy looked to Felicity for support, but she glared at him, too. “I told you to let it go. Sometimes, Billy, you are the smartest man I know and then there’s the rest of the time where you’re dumber than a box of rocks.”
She stormed off, heading out the door after Sue.
Billy looked at Marcie, whose face was scrunched up as she prepared to cry. He bounced her, smiled at her, and cooed. “There was a day when I was a king and such beautiful women were at my beck and call. Sue said it. Everything comes at a price, and I’m paying.”
Marcie didn’t cry and started to giggle. He smiled at her and chuckled, looking around to make sure no one could hear. “Yes, little sweetheart, although it’s been chewed on, daddy still has his ass!”
It took three days of easy riding along the Missouri River before Terry, Char, and Kaeden arrived at the native settlement. As they approached, they were met by one of the middle-aged men who’d helped Black Feather last time.
“Please follow me,” he said cordially after they greeted one another.
Char held the young boy’s hand as they walked behind the men. The boy’s eyes were wide with wonder at the size of the town. The bustle of activity mesmerized him.
The roar of the nearby river was a constant reminder of nature’s power.
Nothing was out of place. It was business as usual.
The man held a tent flap aside for Terry, but he waited, letting Char and Kaeden go first. He followed them in, coughing when a cloud of incense hit him.
The old man was bundled into his blanket, his head propped up, his wife by his side. Both looked feeble. A younger woman was behind, sitting on her knees and watching. She nodded respectfully to the visitors.
Char took a knee at the chief’s side. Terry joined her while Kaeden stood next to him.
“You look great,” Char lied, but she tempered it with a big smile.
“Welcome back,” the old man croaked, breathing heavily from the effort.
“Kiwidinok is a gem. She has earned her place in building our future,” Terry said softly.
“I am happy,” the chief said raggedly. A racking cough seized him. The old woman helped him sit upright as he worked through it. He looked pale at the end as he collapsed into his bed.
“One earth,” he managed to whisper. And with his last breath, he said, “One people.”
The old woman started to cry.
The man who’d escorted them into the village entered the tent when he heard his mother crying. He put a hand on her shoulder, then took the chief’s headdress from a stand nearby. He put it on his head and adjusted it.
The man stood tall and proud. Terry and Char didn’t know what to do, after they’d stammered their condolences. “Please give us time to honor our departed chief,” Foxtail said as he motioned toward the flap.
The three of them left. A keening cry came from within the tent. The ululations were picked up by other women from the village. Foxtail shouted and called to Mother Earth. The men in the village echoed the call.
Kaeden wedged himself between Terry and Char as they wrapped protective arms around the boy.
They watched as the bustle of activity ground to a halt and the mourning began. Men started carrying firewood toward the river. Terry and Char couldn’t stand around and do nothing, so they joined the men, with Kaeden carrying three small logs as well.
In a short amount of time, the funeral pyre had been built. The men stood around and waited. The women stood at intervals from the chief’s tent to the pyre, creating an avenue for the funeral procession.
In the before time, the chief would have laid in state for a full day before the pyre, but times had changed and disease had claimed many when the deaths overwhelmed the living. They’d changed their tradition and surrendered the dead to the flames as soon as possible.
Two men and two women emerged from the tent carrying Black Feather’s small form. They walked slowly, solemnly forward, looking nowhere but at the funeral pyre.
Foxtail wore the headdress of the chief. He stood tall and walked confidently beside the body of his father.
When they reached the wood stack, they carefully arranged the chief on top. One young brave chipped at a flint, sending sparks into the kindling. The fire started quickly and worked its way through the logs.
The entire village formed a semi-circle around their former chief. On the earth he rested as fire carried him to the sky, and water surged in the background, ready to take over if the other elements failed.
It took nearly an hour for the fire to burn itself out, but everyone stayed. Some of the children grew anxious, but parents reined them in. Kaeden watched the other youngsters closely. He’d lost some of his childhood, but there was no need to lose it all.
Chief Foxtail declared the mourning over and gave a whoop of joy. The other villagers joined him for a brief celebration in song and dance. Five minutes later, people drifted back to their lives.
Terry and Char headed for those with children and introduced Kaeden. The youngsters ran off to play a game of tag. Terry looked at the horses, tied to a hitching post, but still wearing their saddles and carrying the bundles of buffalo.
Terry found his way to the new chief and got in line behind others who sought a moment or two of the man’s time. When he reached him, the new chief spoke first.
“Black Feather had a great deal of respect for you, and I, Chief Foxtail, will continue his wishes that we share our lives, because our futures are intertwined.”
Char unsaddled the two horses, putting their loads carefully on the ground, and started to brush them.
When Terry got his chance, he didn’t waste any time. “We have a couple hundred pounds of buffalo that we would like to give to the people of your settlement.”
“Jack fucking dickless shitbag ass blasting fuck!” Timmons yelled. He reared back and started beating on a valve housing. The observers weren’t sure which would give first: the hammer, the valve, or Timmons.
Ted looked at James and Lacy. “Two to one that the hammer breaks first,” he offered.
“I say Timmons gives up first and throws the hammer,” Lacy replied, watching the man swing his hammer at Werewolf speed.
“I think that I don’t want to be here when he picks his next target,” James suggested.
Timmons gave in more quickly than Ted imagined. He tucked the hammer under the arm ending in a stump and wiped his brow with his good hand. When he saw that he was being watched, the yellow in his eyes seemed to flare. James had been right.
“You ball grabbing sons of whores! Get the fuck up here!”
Lacy held out her hands, smiled, turned, and walked out as if she were stepping on eggshells.
“You think he means us?” Ted asked with a shrug as he took one step forward.
“FUCK!” Timmons roared from the catwalk.
“I’ve been called worse,” James said, dashing toward the stairs.
Sue, Felicity, and Clyde returned together. They walked in the door with their arms crossed, and together, they glared at Billy.
“What did I do now?” he asked. They started to laugh. “I’m in Hell. The Wastelands are already here, and I live in Hell.”
“Stand up, Billy,” Felicity drawled.
“Please don’t kick me in the balls,” Billy begged, moving his chair at glacial speed. Felicity tapped her foot. Sue called for Clyde and left.
“What are you going to do?” Billy asked, still not standing.
“We’re going to go outside. There are people waiting.” Felicity jumped toward Billy and he almost fell backward out of his chair.
“For fuck’s sake, what have I become!” He surged to his feet and strode out, looking down his nose at Felicity as he passed, while keeping one hand over his twig and berries.
Just in case.
She giggled and followed him into the street where half the town waited. When Billy showed, they started cheering. Sue waved him toward the crowd, where they greeted him as if he were a rock star.
When he looked back, Felicity was holding Marcie and both were smiling at him.
All is not lost, he thought. Maybe it’s the opposite.
The evening meal was buffalo in honor of the new chief. Terry and Char had had enough buffalo, but the tribe’s cooks prepared it differently enough to make it unique. They were going to eat it anyway. Kaeden couldn’t seem to get enough. He curled his lip at the vegetables, but Char gave him no choice in the matter.
“Eat them, as a sign of respect for our hosts, and they’ll help you grow up to be big and strong. Look what vegetables did for him!” Char pointed at Terry.
The boy smirked.
At least he was unconscious for Terry’s tirade that ended with the burning of the prairie, otherwise the boy could have been scarred for life.
The Wastelands were the embodiment of a harsh new world. Shooting the horse out from under Terry Henry Walton was not the best way to live a long life.
The worst part was having no one to blame. It wasn’t easy to look at what happened and not feel guilty. Maybe it was those who pushed the big red button, sending devastation across the globe.
Terry didn’t know and neither did Char. In the end, it didn’t matter. It was a crappy situation and more people would die before the survivors felt safe.
The new chief joined them, offering a small sweet to Kaeden before he sat.
“I’m sorry. Last time I didn’t see that you had a son,” he apologized.
“Adopted, circumstances left him in our care,” Char smoothly replied. The chief nodded.
“One earth, one people, Black Feather told you. What do you think it means?” Foxtail leaned close to better hear their answer.
Char shook her head. Terry had thought about it, but hadn’t talked with Char.
“I think, just my opinion, that he was talking about the rebuilding of civilization. We are all in it together. Everyone gets a seat at the big table, a chance to make decisions in the best interest of all,” Terry offered, his perspective that of an executive.
He’d grown used to making all the decisions over the years. Char was still trying to break him of that. He smiled thinking of their throw-downs, then frowned, wondering when they’d next be able to couple. He didn’t see it happening any time soon. Char poked him in the leg and looked angrily at him.
He came back to the present.
The new chief was as astute as Black Feather. He sat and patiently waited until he had Terry’s attention.
“How do we do that if we live out here?” Foxtail asked. Terry sat still, unwilling to reply. The answer was obvious to him. Rome didn’t go to Caesar.
“I know, Terry Henry Walton, that it is not an easy question. You will return this way with the people from your village?” Foxtail asked, but he already knew the answer to that one, as well.
“Yes, I see that you will be back,” the chief snickered to himself as he tried to settle in to his new role, use his gifts as wisely as the old man. “We will send a delegation with you at that time, blaze the trail to your new home, then return to us so we may discuss the matter of our future. They will represent us, while working to make the community strong.”
“We could ask for nothing better from you and your people, Chief Foxtail,” Char said, bowing slightly. Evening had settled and Kaeden looked tired. It was time to put the boy to bed, but they were lacking something.
“We have a buffalo skin that we are willing to trade for two blankets. We lost one on the road in an unfortunate attack.” Terry looked at the chief hopefully. Foxtail stood, then Terry, then Char. The chief waved his mother to them. When she arrived, he whispered something to her in Cheyenne. The old woman shuffled away.
“Peace on your journey,” Foxtail told them, holding his fist over his heart. He walked away, finding another group of well-wishers. He walked from one group to the next, sharing a few words with each.
The old woman returned with a stack of blankets. “But we only wanted two,” Terry said.
“You only get two. The deal was two blankets for one buffalo skin. Choose which two,” she said, pointing.
Terry felt like an idiot, but Char didn’t. She’d been thinking the same thing and was happy that Terry had spoken first.
Terry didn’t care about the colors. He wanted a blanket. Char relieved him of the responsibility of picking poorly by gently pushing him out of the way. He didn’t understand, but the women had a good laugh at his expense. So he kneeled down to be more at eye level with Kaeden.
“This is a life lesson, little man. Learn it well,” Terry said cryptically. Kaeden had no idea what he was watching. He only wanted to go to sleep, so Terry found a place on a gentle slope not far from the horses. He moved the saddles and the saddle bags, the remaining mountain of buffalo, and set up a small camp. Kaeden curled up, but his eyes were wide open. Terry laid down next to the boy and pulled him into the crook of his arm.
He closed his eyes and was soon asleep.
It hadn’t been that long ago that the boy was alone with other boys. They had probably huddled together at night, afraid of the dark, afraid of everything. He didn’t have to be afraid anymore.
The boy didn’t know that the two adults who swore to protect him were two of the most dangerous people in all the world. Kaeden was safer than he could have ever imagined.
“I don’t get her,” Gerry complained to James.
“What don’t you get?” James tried to sound like a sage old man, but he didn’t understand women any better than Gerry.
“She’ll kiss me, then she stomps on my foot or punches me or something like that. Why can’t she just like me?”
“She does like you, maybe she doesn’t know what men like? Look at Lacy. Look at the major. Women with spunk, my man. That’s where it’s at. You’ve watched the ass-whoopings those two give each other. Is there any doubt that they were meant to be together? There’s a lot to be said for a good wrestling match,” James said, raising his eyebrows and nodding.
He walked away smiling.
Gerry was confused, but he’d give it a whirl. He’d confine it to wrestling. He had no intention of punching Kiwi’s beautiful face.
He headed for the last place he saw her, which was the small field where the horses were kept. She was there, brushing one of the mares.
He strode boldly up to her, grabbed her, and pulled her to him for a kiss. She tried to knee him in the groin, but he dodged and jumped to the side. She looked angry.
“I’m sorry,” he started to stutter, but she was on him, dragging him to the ground while twisting his arm. He kicked out a leg and pushed, rolling her away from him.
She hit the ground and was back up in an instant with a flying roundhouse kick. Gerry had seen her use it before, and he was ready. He dodged underneath and rushed her, hitting her mid-thigh in her supporting leg. She went to the ground hard, momentarily stunned by getting the air knocked out of her.
Gerry crawled on top and straddled her waist, holding her wrists in his hands. She relaxed fully, and he let go.
She rabbit punched him in the throat. He gagged and rolled to the side, all sense of fighting back forgotten as he gasped for air. He fell on the ground and she was there, cradling his head and rubbing his neck.
When he was able to take a breath, he whispered, “Please don’t do that again.”
Mrs. Grimes and Margie Rose weren’t too keen about being the police force for New Boulder, but Mark and Billy kept after them. Mark carved a walking stick that looked like a wooden spoon and gave it to Mrs. Grimes. After that, Margie Rose wanted one too, all the while lamenting the sacrifices she was making for the greater good.
They recruited a few other matriarchs, like Claire Weathers and Maria. Mark was adamant about not including Maria since she tried to cave in his skull with a rock, but Billy overruled him. If the little old woman could take on a Force de Guerre sergeant, then there was no one in town bad enough to challenge her.
They called her the enforcer.
Mark didn’t see the humor in it.
But the walks went a whole lot smoother with the older women strategically placed.
Billy and Felicity seemed happier than ever. Shonna, Merrit, Adams, Xandrie, and Sue blended in with the town’s people, spreading out and regaling them with stories from their past.
The townsfolk didn’t know if the stories were made up or not. To them, this group was far too young to have lived in New York City during its heyday, but they didn’t care. The stories helped the time pass more quickly.
The town’s people were up to ten miles a day. Mark wanted one push where they would walk twenty-five to show them what they were capable of. The colonel had said something about twenty-five miles as the gold standard for a one-day hike, and Mark felt like he had to reach that goal.
When the colonel returned, Mark had to have the town ready to go. The power plant was dead and within a year, most of the town would be, too.
Mark never contemplated that the colonel would fail. He didn’t consider it possible, especially not since Akio’s appearance. One call and an angel would swoop down to save them. That was how Mark saw it.
Kaeden rode with Char most of the time, but occasionally, he would ride with Terry. Char would glare at her husband until he’d start talking with the boy, about everything and nothing.
“You love Harry Potter so much, why don’t you read it to him?” Char suggested one day.
Terry remembered every word he’d ever read. It was a gift and a curse. He thought about it for a second and then started. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive…”
After that, the boy rode only with Terry.
Although he recited J.K. Rowling’s books, in the back of his mind, he was thinking about a return trip through Sheridan, where they’d met the creepy people and their tasty-looking longhorn cattle.
Terry wanted to catch a few rainbow trout to get a break from their steady diet of buffalo.
The boy didn’t care either way. He was being fed better than ever and he had to do very little. He didn’t say thank you, but he carried firewood and he was learning what it was like to contribute to the family. Everyone worked within their abilities. His were improving day by day, thanks to getting enough to eat.
He understood and appreciated that he was being taken care of. Char was worried about the amount of trauma he had been subjected to. He lost his parents, then he lost the girls of the families, and finally, he lost the other boys.
She worked with him when they stopped for the evening, easing the strains on his mind. Char was helping him build a wall between his past and his future, where Terry and Char were there to protect him, teach him. In other words, they had to become his parents.
At least we aren’t brother and sister, Char thought, shivering in revulsion at the thought.
They rode from the river bed and into the outskirts of the ruined town of Sheridan, Wyoming.
Char’s lip curled as she looked at Terry. “They’re here.”
Timmons had been frustrated because of the amount of pressure he put on himself. He wanted the plant up and running yesterday, but was hindered at every turn, if not by his lack of a hand, then by the amount of work that needed to be done to bring the plant back to life.
Most of the electronics he checked were fried. Timmons knew that he’d have to build a system that could be operated manually, but he wasn’t sure if that was possible.
He wanted a source of electricity so he could run further checks on the systems, rehabilitate some power tools, and do those things that needed done to bring the behemoth to life.
Terry said that he thought he knew where there was a nuclear reactor. He had also suggested that the design was shielded from the electro-magnetic pulse, the EMP, as modern, military-grade systems were. It didn’t take much. A thin layer of lead surrounding a housing.
No one expected war, but that didn’t mean people were unprepared for it. Contractors had charged a paranoid government a fortune to build the systems.
Timmons sat with his elbows on his knees, leaning his head on his one hand. The Waukegan Power Plant was not one of those systems. Military bases could be found in almost every state, but the big ones were nowhere near the north side of Chicago.
Then again, Terry had told them that Great Lakes Naval Station was right next door. He cautioned the human members of the FDG against going there without a Werewolf, to limit surprises, but it was close enough that they could sense the entire abandoned facility.
“Ted!” Timmons called out, wiping his hand on his pants. He stood and headed for the main floor where Timmons was working with the boilers to determine which one would be best to revive.
“Road trip!” Timmons yelled when he saw the other man. Ted threw his hands up and shook his head.
“Who has time for a road trip?” Ted replied, leaving a partially dismantled junction box in complete disarray. It looked like he’d yanked all the wires out. He wouldn’t admit that that was exactly what he’d done.
“We do. If we can find some circuitry that isn’t fried, we save ourselves a lot of grief,” Timmons said
“And time,” Ted added. “Ok, I’m with you, boss. When do we leave?”
Timmons looked for the others. “Corporal James!” he bellowed. They waited but didn’t hear a reply. They went outside to check the ad hoc enclosure where Gerry kept the horses. The mare with the repaired hoof was standing there by itself. The other three were gone.
“I guess we wait,” Timmons conceded. Since losing a hand, he found that being a Werewolf didn’t offer a respite. Running on three legs sucked. Plus, they’d have to walk back if they found anything they needed to carry.
Which reminded him that he wanted to talk with Gerry about fashioning a cart of some sort. They would have to scavenge anything that remained from the before time. Although much had been picked clean, there was a great deal that had not been.
They needed a truck, but there were no trucks, not that they knew of, and no fuel. They had horses, which meant a horse-drawn cart or a wagon, since the roadways were in decent shape. Dead cars were scattered throughout, but at some point someone had driven a bulldozer down the road and plowed the vehicles to the side.
Timmons silently thanked whoever had done that and hoped to find that heavy equipment someday. He knew that he could make a biodiesel substitute if he could only generate a small amount of electricity first.
Mark, Jim, Boris, and Blackbeard stood to the side of the formation.
After Mark pummeled Boris into submission, he’d been far more accepting of orders. Mark didn’t trust him, not fully, but Boris was both a good leader and a gifted fighter. Mark needed him to help train the others in hand-to-hand combat.
The colonel always told them that it was the leader’s responsibility to carry the unit to the goal; that once the order was given, it was to be carried out with fanatical dedication. It had been the way of the Marine Corps and would be embraced by the Force de Guerre.
That was Mark’s interpretation of what the colonel had said based on what Mark could remember, but the colonel and major had been gone for a long time. They’d been in New Boulder for maybe a month total out of the last year.
The colonel’s words were starting to fade.
And Mark was starting to lose faith. He put on a positive and supportive front every single minute when he was in front of the others, but the anxiety he carried within was starting to burn a hole in his stomach. It ate away at him because he didn’t want to fail.
But he didn’t have enough tools to guarantee success.
He could sympathize with Billy Spires and why he would run away. Colonel Walton set a standard that your average person couldn’t hope to meet. The colonel didn’t demand that of those in his charge, but the good people he’d taken under his wing didn’t want to let him down.
Like Mark. He’d been trusted with the security of the town and to prepare the town’s people for a two-thousand-mile trip.
All he could see was the disappointment on Terry’s and Char’s faces when they returned.
And the weight on his shoulders seemed heavier with each day. He felt it as they walked, felt it crushing him into the pavement.
“Where?” Terry asked. Kaeden looked questioningly at the two adults. He had no idea what they were talking about, but his story with Dobby had gotten interrupted and they seemed upset.
“Right where we want to go fishing,” Char answered in disgust.
Terry took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and slowly shook his head. “I think we should go say hi, and let them know we’re back.”
Char pointed with her elbow at the small boy. Terry understood.
“Can you do something for us, Kaeden?” Terry asked. The boy looked at him and shrugged. “Can you hold our horses while we go talk with some people? It could be dangerous and we want you to be safe. We can best protect you by keeping you away from it.”
“Protect me from who? I don’t see anybody,” the boy said in his small voice.
“Char is special. She can sense things that you and I cannot. Right over there—” Terry pointed to a row of houses. “—is a nice green park and a stream filled with fish. There’s also eleven people and eighteen longhorn steers. They weren’t very friendly the last time we passed through here, so there may be a bit of a scuffle. We’ll need to talk with them alone,” Terry explained.
“No!” Kaeden yelled in an ear-splitting scream. Terry clapped his hand over the boy’s mouth and got bitten for his trouble. Kae yelled, “Don’t leave me!”
“We won’t leave you. We won’t leave you,” Terry chanted, trying to calm the boy. Terry rolled his eyes at Char.
“New plan,” she said.
Sue’s duties had deteriorated into the distribution of food, but that was the entirety of the logistics effort besides telling people what they couldn’t bring. She told Billy that was his job. She refused to be the nope-master, delivering the word ‘no’ like snowflakes in a blizzard.
Adams and Xandrie spent days at a time in the mountains hunting. The deer were getting scarce, having gone to higher and higher elevations. Elk were already above ten thousand feet.
So that was where they went, higher and deeper into the Rocky Mountains. Days to get there. Days to get back. They’d deliver the game, turn around, and head right back into the mountains. They stopped shooting deer as a waste of ammunition. They needed the bigger elk to feed the populace.
Being out in the wilderness offered them the opportunity to hunt in Were form. They stopped reporting their ammunition usage to Billy. He suspected they were hunting as Werewolves, but hadn’t asked. The town needed the food as they stocked supplies for the trip. Billy didn’t care how they brought it in.
Terry, Char, and Kaeden led the two horses toward the park. With the boy’s outburst, it was obvious the family knew that someone was coming. They had arrayed themselves in a line between the cattle and the visitors.
Terry leaned as he rounded the corner to be the first to see the group. Kaeden looked at the children and waved. They didn’t wave back. When Char reached the corner, the men focused on her.
Eli stood behind the cattle, leaning heavily on his walking stick. “Kill him. Take the girl,” Eli ordered.
The men moved forward, brandishing their staffs.
“Isn’t this cute?” Char asked, handing the reins of her horse to Terry. He took them and leaned down so he could talk with Kaeden. The boy had started to shiver as if a cold wind was blowing.
Terry put a hand on his small back. “Watch carefully, son. Char is better than all of them put together and on their best day.” Terry lifted his chin and called out, “Tell me when you’re done, honey, so I can start dinner.”
Eli fumed in the back. His three sons and two daughters marched forward, trying to spread out to surround Terry, not expecting that Char would block their way.
“Move, woman,” one of the men ordered.
“Whip, please,” Char asked, holding a hand out but not taking her eyes off the five siblings.
Terry scooped the boy into one arm and pulled his whip with the other. He ran forward the five steps, put the snakeskin-wrapped handle against her palm, and jogged backwards to re-grab the horses’ reins.
Char tested the whip a couple times, snapping it in front of the strangers.
“Remember that we didn’t start this, you creepy fucks, but as with every fight we’ve ever been in, we will finish it,” Char snarled, baring her teeth and flexing her legs as she prepared to call down the thunder.
The siblings must have been used to bravado, because they didn’t flinch.
Char waded into the middle of their half-circle, assessing which of the five needed to go first. The one directly in front of her leered while slapping his staff into the palm of his off hand. The others were dancing back and forth, as if getting ready to charge.
She couldn’t have that, so Char went first. With a kick of Werewolf speed, she launched at the man in the middle, jumping and twisting to increase the speed as she drove her fist toward his face.
He started to lean backwards, started to raise his staff, started to lift a hand to block the punch. He started a lot of things, but ended none of them before the power of Char’s blow exploded his face.
The man dropped to the ground and flopped uncontrollably in his death throes. The closest looked at their brother in disbelief, before screaming in rage and charging.
Char ran to her right, body-blocking the closest person, the woman called Cassandra. Char drove her backwards into her brother and knocked both of them to the ground, but that stopped her momentum.
She danced away and used the whip to hold the other two off. She inched in and kicked the prone man in the head as he was struggling to his feet. He toppled and was still.
Cassandra snarled as she fought her way from under her brother. “I’m going to rip out your throat, bitch!”
“Why do you have to use such hurtful words?” Char asked pleasantly.
The other two hesitated. The man pointed his staff at Terry and took two steps toward him.
“Come on over here, meat. I got a big bucket of ‘blow me” with your name on it,” Terry said with a smile, stepping in front of Kaeden and holding one hand backwards as he had no intention of letting go of the boy’s hand. If the man approached, Terry had every intention of killing him with one arm held behind his back.
Cassandra screamed as she threw herself at her enemy. Char’s eyes glowed purple as she let the rage quicken her actions. With a step forward, she caught the woman by the throat and lifted her into the air, shaking her until the woman stopped kicking.
Char threw the body to the side. The man on the ground made the mistake of grabbing her leg. She jumped straight in the air and spun, ripping her foot from his grasp and kicking him in the face with the other, shattering his cheekbone. He grunted and rolled to his back, holding his face in his hands.
The other two charged, taking aim and swinging their staffs to hit her at the same time. She dropped the whip and caught one staff in each hand. She pulled the people forward, using their momentum against them.
Char let go of the staffs and stepped into the blows as she used her arms like baseball bats, hitting both of her attackers mid-chest. They doubled over backwards and fell to the ground.
The man with the shattered face reached for one of the dropped staffs.
Char pulled a pistol and calmly shot him in the head.
“Anyone else?” she asked.
The old man fumed, gasping for air as he contemplated the deaths of his children. One of the older kids ran at Char. She caught him and spun around, lifting the teenager and throwing him at Eli. The human projectile hit the old man in the chest and both tumbled to the ground. The young man scrambled to his feet and ran into the stream, across it, and kept going.
The old man gasped more and more, unable to get enough air to pull himself to his feet. Char casually approached him, stopped, and placed one foot on his chest. She put more and more weight on it until Eli started to turn blue. The old man panicked, flailing with his aged and weak arms, unable to move Char’s foot from his chest.
He jerked a few more times as his eyes finally glazed over and the wheezing stopped after the old man had taken his last breath.
The two adult survivors sat on the ground, rubbing their chests where Char’s single sledgehammer blows had taken them down. The fire behind their eyes was gone and they degenerated into two sad-looking people.
“Take the kids and the cattle and leave the park to us. When we next come this way, you can join us. Your cattle would be most welcome and you too, if you can act like decent human beings. If not? Well, then you can fuck off,” Char told them. The remaining four children started to cry. The two adults stood tentatively, carefully picking up their walking sticks and working their way behind the cattle.
Terry moved the horses away from the egress where the cattle’s impressive horns wouldn’t be such a threat as they passed.
With a great deal of mooing and shuffling, the group finally departed, leaving behind four dead bodies and cow pies that covered nearly every square inch of the park.
Terry removed the horses’ saddles and packs, then turned them loose. “Do you know how to fish?” he asked Kaeden.
Three horses with four riders left in the early morning fog that had rolled in from the lake. Thick as pea soup, they used to say. No one said anything anymore. They were happy not to be roasting alive, the life they had been condemned to on the border of the Wastelands, the Fallen Lands.
Ten wolves loped in front of the group, setting a slow pace as they hunted small game.
James and Lacy doubled up while Ted and Timmons each rode alone. Gerry and Kiwi stayed behind, ostensibly to watch over the plant. The loss of one horse held them back.
And that made scoring a wagon even more important. Sometimes you just needed to haul a lot of stuff, which was what Timmons cared about, but to James, keeping the group together when exploring strange areas was more important.
The ride to Great Lakes was uneventful as it took a sum total of eleven minutes and when they had made it, they found that they weren’t the only ones who considered the military base to be a refuge.
It looked like the military had put up a staunch defense, erecting barriers in front of the fences, but that it hadn’t survived the onslaught.
What gave Timmons hope was seeing signs that the military had used heavy equipment and that the naval station had remained functional well after the people panicked, which meant that it was operational after the WWDE and the EMP that had wrought devastation with the precision of a supernova.
It wasn’t difficult to find a way in because the bulldozer that had been used to clear the roadway had been used to plow a route through the main gate.
“I want that dozer!” Timmons told them.
“What for?” Ted asked.
Timmons couldn’t articulate why, so he gave Ted the finger. It had more impact since Timmons only had one hand. Ted bristled and replied with a two-handed ‘up yours,’ New York style.
James and Lacy watched, unsure of what was going on. Neither could visualize a bulldozer since they’d never seen one.
Timmons stopped, looked around, and nodded. “Nobody within miles of us. There’s some animal life, but nothing to worry about. There is a dog pack nearby. I expect our shaggy friends will remedy that situation.”
Ted nodded and called the pack to talk with them. After a few moments, the old alpha led them in the direction that Ted indicated. The injured wolf was limping along happily in the middle of the others, head and tail held high.
“Where do we start?” James asked.
“I suggest we start by the lakeshore. That’s where the power plant was, if I remember correctly. It was a long time ago when I was here,” Ted stated, studying the buildings as he tried to get his bearings.
“What the fuck?” Timmons exclaimed. “You were stationed here and never bothered to mention that before now? What the hell else aren’t you telling us, dickhead?”
“I’m not telling you all kinds of things, but I’m not sure they’re all relevant. I went to Catholic elementary school in the Bronx, but that was an awful long time ago, I’m afraid. Sister Mary Anna Mae was an old battle-axe. She spanked me one time, not because I’d done anything wrong but she suspected I might, so she lined up four of us and wailed away. I have to say that I’m still a bit put out about that. And then…” Ted droned.
“STOP!” Timmons howled. James and Lacy snickered. Ted took things literally and one had to be careful with the questions asked.
Ted looked distraught.
“I get it, Ted. Let me rephrase that. Is there anything relevant that you haven’t told us, very specifically as it relates to our dilemma here?” Timmons clarified.
“I’m not sure what dilemma you’re talking about?” Ted’s ears perked up as the wolf pack expressed its displeasure with the dog pack. There was some barking and squealing. Ted expected that the pack would kill the males and fold the females into the pack, although he hadn’t ordered that.
Sometimes one had to leave wolves to do what wolves did.
“No power, Ted. We need power and we need electronics that haven’t been fried. That’s our dilemma. I want electricity, because I need that to make more electricity, bring the city back to life.”
“Ahh,” Ted sighed, nodding. “To the lake!”
“Hang on, fuckstick,” Timmons interrupted. “Split up. Ted and I will go to the lake. You two start checking these buildings, see what’s left. We’re looking for anything we’ll need to support the people of New Boulder. Plus, keep your eyes out for any electronics, heavy piping in good condition, and tools—you know, stuff like that. Meet back here at high noon.”
James gave him the thumbs up, before turning the horse and riding toward an open field beyond the small museum by the entrance gate.
Timmons motioned for Ted to take the lead and they headed into an area that had once been majestic.
Kaeden didn’t have Terry’s enhanced vision, but once he understood how to position his shadow, he could see into the shallows of the stream. The boy’s eye-hand coordination needed work, but all that took was practice.
Terry encouraged him to stick with it. After Kaeden speared his first, he claimed that he was tired. Terry wouldn’t let him stop, then the tears started, Char waded in and all three of them ended up fishing together.
Terry was getting used to seeing the stink-eye. He’d been earning them at a cyclic rate of speed.
“But we’re still newlyweds,” he blurted.
“Come on, TH, what about our relationship would you ever consider normal?” Char prompted, putting her spear down while Kaeden continued to watch the water.
“Nothing, but we’re responsible adults now,” Terry answered. “I thought I had two years to make up for.”
“I relieve you of that burden, because I can’t have my husband fixated on his dangling dino o’ doom,” Char taunted.
To Terry, it didn’t sound like she was joking. He was sixty-five and should have stopped being fixated on sex decades ago.
But look at her! he told himself. He must have been ogling more than normal, because Char had to wave her hands to get his attention.
“We’re parents now, and you better start acting like one!”
Kaeden started to squirm. For a boy raised in a time of conflict, of humanity fighting nature for survival, he didn’t like arguments. Whenever Terry and Char had a spirited debate, he’d crawl into a shell.
“I’m sorry, Kaeden,” Terry started, then took a knee in the stream. The cool water bubbled and swirled where it struggled to get past the human dam. “I can’t describe how much I love her. I’m not good with those kinds of words, even though I’ve read plenty that I could quote. In my own words, though, I’ll say that I would readily die to save her life. And yours too, little man. That’s how important both of you are to me, so why don’t you go dry off. I’ll finish up here and we’ll have a good dinner, somewhere else, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to sit in cow shit, sorry, cow pies.”
The boy giggled. Char took Kaeden’s hand, purple eyes sparkling at Terry as she led the boy away.
“We were at the wrong power plant!” Timmons cried in joy. “Look at you, my precious!”
Timmons was running around inside the plant. Everything that wasn’t nailed down had been removed, but the plant itself had been shut down systematically. It hadn’t been taken out of service because its systems were destroyed by the EMP.
And Timmons was ecstatic. They only needed fuel oil to fire the plant, which he considered to be far easier than trying to build a manual system on a plant that had died an ugly death.
Like Frankenstein, it could be resurrected, but only if he had power. The best of both worlds stood before him.
All he needed was fuel oil or something that looked like it.
“Tanker cars, Ted. We need to find us a sealed tanker car and drag that bitch up here.” Timmons continued to look at the small plant like Alexander standing astride all the worlds he’d conquered.
Ted liked what he saw. Not that Ted was lazy, but he hated doing more work than he had to.
“And maybe when we’re looking for tanker cars, we can look for the Mini Cooper?” he suggested. Ted wanted nuclear power, because he found it most mentally engaging. He didn’t care about too much besides his animal friends and nuclear engineering. Every other thing in the world was secondary, even the She-Wolf Sue, his mate. She knew that and wasn’t bothered by it, because he left her alone to do whatever she wanted. It had been that way back in New York City and had never changed.
Geniuses were like that.
“Char told us to wait for them,” Timmons said flatly, but he wanted the reactor as well and wasn’t keen on waiting.
“How much fuel oil do you think is still in these pipes?” Timmons asked, looking at the pipe racks that ran into the back of the plant.
Ted shook his head impatiently. “Simple calculation, radius of the pipe squared times pi times the length of the pipe. Probably make two calculations, one for the pipe at one hundred percent capacity and one for the pipe at twenty-five percent. We’ll assume that the off-base pipes lost their pumping power before the plant lost its capabilities. There would be oil in the pipe. The rack holds four pipes…”
Ted’s conversation with himself tapered off as he ran through a laundry list of variables for his simple calculation. In the end, he threw up his hands and demanded more data before he would put pencil to paper to calculate anything.
“And what about the tanks we saw as we rode up?” Timmons instigated. He expected those would be empty, but it wouldn’t hurt to check.
Simple rapping using the butt of his knife confirmed that the one closest to the plant was empty, but another fifty yards down the road was a much bigger storage tank. Timmons knocked on it, but he couldn’t be sure. They climbed to the top of the tank, finding the cap locked with an industrial strength padlock.
Rust had done its work on a heavy chain holding everything together. The orange stains suggested it hadn’t moved in a very long time. Ted put his ear to the top of the tank and tapped it with his knife.
The smile that split his face told Timmons everything he needed to know.
Terry, Char, and Kaeden mounted their horses after remaining overnight in Sheridan. They dashed across the area where the dust storm had left its mark and rode straight to the hillside where they knew the spring flowed.
At each point, they refilled flasks and prepared for their next run. Besides the blankets, Foxtail had supplied them with four more flasks made from animal bladders, contained within deerskin covers. It gave them the edge they needed to continue along the border of the encroaching Wastelands.
Although Terry was wary, Char assured him there were no bears in the area, or threats of any other kind. The spring and hillside looked far different than the last time, because they weren’t there in a deluge. It looked like a nice retreat, somewhere people used to go on vacation.
They found the bridge abutment where they had sheltered from the dust storm. A trickle of water was working its way from the mountains down the old riverbed, and was already carving a channel. They stopped, drank, and refilled again.
From there they found themselves in unknown territory. They had no idea what the dust storm had done to the world between the abutment and New Boulder.
But they were close to home. They could feel it, as if it were the next exit off the interstate.
They pushed on, finding that the dust storm had left its mark. It created a broad, flat waste of dirt that was as hard as concrete. The only breaks came from the streams that had powered through the mud, cutting new beds from west to east.
Even the worst that humanity could do to the planet couldn’t change the continental divide.
They pressed ahead for three long days of riding, because they wanted to be home, sleep in a bed. Eat something more than buffalo or weeds that they thought were edible.
They pushed the horses hard into the evening, surprised to arrive in the early darkness. The streetlights were out and the town of New Boulder sat in warm silence.
“This can’t be good,” Terry said. Char sighed in reply. “We better stop and see Billy on the way home.”
Conveniently located within spitting distance of the power plant was the base guest quarters, which were in disrepair but that didn’t dissuade Timmons.
He’d been put in charge and was taking charge.
“We’re moving here. We’re going to set up shop in the plant and we’ll live right in the guest quarters. We need to clean it up, but we have everything we need to fumigate that place, get rid of the creepies.” Timmons looked smug. The others wondered what he was talking about.
“Right next door is an old pharmaceutical manufacturer. They’ll have the most toxic crap you can imagine. Only Ted and I will be able to go in there and recover some of it. Even twenty years later, it could do a number on your human bodies.”
“It’ll be nice sleeping someplace other than the floor of the plant or on the ground outside. I wake up every morning and I’m soaked from the fog,” Lacy complained. No one disagreed.
“Take the horses back to the old plant and get our stuff. We will stay here and search for the chemicals we need,” Timmons said.
The others prepared to go, but Kiwidinok started talking to herself while pacing.
Gerry stopped and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“They can’t go in there,” she replied, shaking her head. Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched.
“We’ll be fine,” Timmons said with his hand out, palm down, trying to soothe her.
She wasn’t having it.
“No!” she insisted, spreading her arms wide as if to block them from getting past her. The Werewolves far outweighed her and despite her intent, she could not have physically stopped them.
Ted shrugged. He inherently trusted the innocent, which is what he considered Kiwi to be. “I guess we don’t go, then.”
Timmons looked surprised. “But we need what’s in there,” he stated matter-of-factly as if that would end the discussion. “We regenerate if we’re hurt. We’ll be okay.”
Kiwi put her arms down and stepped close to Timmons. “Not from this you won’t. We can’t lose you, Timmons,” she turned her head, “or you, Ted. We can’t lose any of us. Mother Earth has condemned that place. Please let it be. Can’t we find what you want somewhere else?”
Ted joined Kiwi and faced Timmons. “I don’t have a good feeling about this, Timmons. An acid bath would do us in. We can’t recover if we can’t get out.”
“God damn it!” Timmons yelled, shaking his fist at the sky.
A candle in the upstairs window suggested that Billy and Felicity were still awake. “Billy Spires!” Terry yelled, hands cupped around his mouth.
A familiar face appeared in the window. Billy waved at them, then disappeared. The door was thrown open a few seconds later and Billy strolled out, Felicity behind him carrying the baby.
“What’s the word, TH?” Billy asked nonchalantly, but he was relieved to see the man. His fears and burdens seemed to fade away. It took two seconds before Billy couldn’t contain himself and grinned, reaching for Terry’s hand to pump it almost uncontrollably.
Kaeden crouched behind Char, firmly holding her hand in both of his. She kneeled and pointed to the two people he didn’t know. “This is Billy Spires and his wife, Felicity. They are responsible for all the people here. The little baby is Marcie. Please say hello, Kaeden. These are good people who will watch out for you, just like we are.”
“No, don’t leave me!” the boy cried, wrapping two arms around Char’s neck. She picked him up as he pulled himself close.
“We’re parents now,” she said simply. “And someone is tired, so we’ll be going home.”
Terry hadn’t asked any of the questions he wanted to ask, but Char tipped her chin toward the horses.
“Here’s the twenty-second summary,” Terry started, while slowly backing up. Then he blurted everything in a single stream of consciousness. “Found a great place, North Chicago. We have a trail and need to leave soon. Rivers are good. There’s food. And we need to run south and take a look at something. Taking the FDG with us, but won’t be gone long. Why no lights? Are the people ready to go? Hi, Marcie! Where’s my dog?”
“I’m sorry to say that the power plant died, along with the engineer and the mechanic,” Billy said, hanging his head. Terry and Char stopped what they were doing.
“Damn! I’m sorry, Billy. We liked those guys. An accident?” Terry asked.
Billy looked to Felicity, then to Terry. “Old age. The plant was too much work. Shonna and Merrit did great to keep it going as long as they did. It crapped out not too long ago and yes, we’re ready to go. Sue’s dog Clyde is becoming a well-behaved friend of the family. You suck at training dogs, TH.”
“Wow, Billy. Just wow. You know how to hurt a guy,” Terry said, throwing his hands down. “I love that dog.”
Char snickered. Kaeden was interested, because he’d never had a dog.
“Looks like you got your hands full, so we’ll let you go. I’m sure Margie Rose will be happy to see you and the new addition to the family. She and Mrs. Grimes are the town’s sheriffs, by the way. But that’s a story for a different day. I’m glad you’re home, TH, and we’re happy to meet you, Kaeden,” Billy said. He waved, wrapped an arm around Felicity, and together, they went back into the house.
Terry, Char, and Kaeden climbed back into the saddle for the short ride to Margie Rose’s house. Compared to the ride they’d just taken, another fifteen minutes in the saddle didn’t seem like anything.
They rode up to the old house and smelled something wafting through a kitchen window cracked slightly open. Margie Rose had been baking. Where did she find cinnamon? Terry wondered.
They removed the horses’ saddles and brought the buffalo inside along with their saddlebags. “Time for bed, Kae. You have your own room, but we’ll be just down the hall.”
“No!” he yelled, but Char looked at him sternly.
“This house is a sanctuary. It and everything in it is under our protection. You are safe. There’s a very nice bed in that room. I know, I used to sleep there.” Char hugged the boy.
“Terry? Char?” the old woman called down the stairs. Terry used his flint to bring a smoky candle to life.
“We’re home, Margie Rose, and we brought company.” Terry spoke loudly so she could hear.
She hurried downstairs and ran to hug both the adults before standing back and assessing the young boy. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Kaeden,” he replied, looking back with his head held high.
“I’m Margie Rose. Pleased to meet you.” She smiled and hugged the boy. He resisted for only a second. Margie Rose looked questioningly at Terry and Char.
“We’re his adopted parents. Kae is with us now,” Char told her.
“Well, then, Kae, you can call me Grandma!” The old lady beamed. Terry rolled his eyes, earning himself a slap in the arm.
“Everyone to bed, shoo! Upstairs with all of you,” Margie Rose ordered. Char and Margie Rose settled Kaeden into his room, although he was anxious. Char would not compromise on the issue, despite his pouting.
They left his door open, while going to their rooms. Margie Rose left her door open, too.
Char joined Terry, closing the door behind her and locking it. By the time she turned back, Terry was already naked.
Mark stood in front of the formation as usual. They started each day with PT, physical training. They were warming up their muscles for another day of labor in the greenhouses and fields. The entire town was converging to milk the last bit from the farms before abandoning them.
Anyone who could hunt was already in the mountains, running snare lines and shooting anything that moved.
It was almost like a scorched earth retrograde, something Terry described to the FDG during one of the classroom training sessions.
The sound of horses drew Mark’s attention. When he saw who it was, he called the platoon to attention. With a wide grin, he saluted the colonel and the major. “All present,” he reported.
Terry saluted crisply from the saddle. Mark motioned for two privates from the formation to take the horses. Terry and Char climbed down, then Terry helped a young boy to the ground.
The bellow from the grizzly made Kaeden jump. Blackie walked out from behind the formation, the bear cub at his side. Terry thought the beast had doubled in size. Neither he nor Char could keep from rolling their eyes.
Kaeden froze at the sight of the animal. Terry picked him up.
“This is our boy, Kaeden. Adopted. We’ll share the story when we’re on the road,” Terry told the formation. He shifted the boy to his left arm and walked up to Mark, offering his hand.
In that one moment in time, Mark was at peace. The smile on the colonel’s face told him that he was okay. The FDG had measured up.
“Sit down, Hank! You big goof,” Blackie yelled. The bear sat, almost rolling over backwards before catching himself. “Do you want to say hi to Hank?”
Blackbeard held out his hands, but Terry shook his head and carried the boy over. After petting the rough fur of the bear’s head, Kae dangled from Terry’s arms until he was sitting on the bear. Hank bucked once, but the boy held on. Terry stepped back.
“You make sure he doesn’t get hurt or I’ll have your ass, Corporal,” Terry cautioned. He turned to face the platoon. All eyes were riveted on him.
“Bring it in,” he told them. He knew that he should have put them back at the position of attention and given the command to fall out, but it was a new world where he needed a different kind of discipline. Plus, it gave him the opportunity to keep a hand on Hank’s neck, just in case.
“The rest of the Force is currently in North Chicago working to bring a power plant online.” Terry smiled and nodded as he spoke. They needed to believe that the grass was greener on the other side, because in this case, it was true. “There’s fresh water, food, and infrastructure. It is everything we were hoping for. The major and I returned as soon as we could, and I’ll tell you, we are both tired of being in the saddle.”
Many in the platoon nodded knowingly. Others listened, trying to catch every word.
“We met with Billy last night, briefly, to let him know that we need to leave as soon as possible, get everyone on the road north. The sooner we leave, the sooner we get there.” Terry stopped. There was so much to tell them, but now wasn’t the time. He’d work with them on the road where they would be bored out of their minds.
“But first, we need to make a run to the south. We have a lead on a place that might have the military stash I’ve been looking for. You old timers know what I’m talking about, but for the new ones, here’s the deal. I used to be in the Marine Corps and if our base was ever compromised, we would have stashed our gear and bolted. We don’t kill civilians, unless it’s a last resort. I want to think that others believed the same thing. And that means, somewhere out there, someone has stashed weapons, ammunition, hell, could be anything. And I want it because the FDG needs to be the deadliest force on this planet. It is up to us to keep the peace and we’ll have a hard time doing that if someone shows up with more firepower.”
The platoon gave a round of hearty ‘oorahs’ as they high-fived each other. Mark’s face dropped, and Terry knew why. He clapped Mark on the back. “We are all going on this mission. Every single one of us and we’re walking, my pretties, and that doesn’t mean we’re lolly-gagging. This is going to be a power hike of something like one hundred miles. We’re going to make it down there in three days and back in four. Do you understand me?” Terry finished with a yell and a fist in the air.
Mark brightened and howled with the others.
“When do we leave, sir?” Mark asked.
“Tomorrow morning, daybreak. Full kit, four mags each, food for three days per person. We’ll take all the horses to haul extra gear. Is this thing coming along, too?” Terry pointed at Hank’s head.
Mark and Blackie both nodded.
“Make sure he keeps up. We’ve got places to go, people to see. Take charge, Sergeant, and carry out the plan of the day!”
Mark saluted smartly, grinning from ear to ear.
Timmons waited for the others to leave. James and Lacy were riding north while Gerry and Kiwi continued their time-consuming search of the buildings on the base.
“Let’s go,” Timmons told Ted.
“The pharmaceutical plant, of course.” Timmons had no intention of letting a little girl tell him what he could or could not do.
“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” Ted countered, not moving as Timmons walked away.
“It’s the only idea I have, so get up here.” Timmons waved impatiently and turned. If Ted didn’t join him, he’d go by himself, but it would be easier having someone with two hands along.
“I don’t think we should,” Ted argued, walking reluctantly behind Timmons. If he didn’t go and something happened, Ted wouldn’t be able to live with himself. He determined to go for the sole reason of looking out for his pack-mate.
The wolves joined them, loping alongside as Timmons walked briskly. He looked around, angling to walk in the shadows. Ted wasn’t pleased.
“If you have to hide what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it!” Ted yelled. Timmons shushed him, but it drove Ted’s point home. Timmons stopped.
“How about a compromise?” Timmons offered, but Ted continued to shake his head. “Fuck it. Where can we find the chemicals we need, then, asshat?”
Ted brightened. “The hospital!” he said. Timmons wrapped an arm over the other man’s shoulder and grasped his neck.
“Sometimes, Ted, I want to choke the life out of you!” Timmons scowled.
“What did I do?” Ted wondered.
“Nothing different than always. You are the same Werewolf that we knew in New York. At least we know what we’re going to get, huh? And I need to talk with that Indian girl and find out what the hell has her so spooked about that place.” Timmons looked up and saw Gerry and Kiwi riding toward them.
When they got close enough, Kiwidinok stared into Timmons’ yellow eyes. “Thank you,” she finally said.
“What the fuck, little girl?” Timmons said in his most abrasive tone.
Defiance contorted her face as she slowly raised one hand and dialed up her middle finger, shaking it at the Werewolf. His yellow eyes blazed.
“Death, that’s what the fuck, butthole!”
“Let’s go there and I’ll show your dumb ass,” she yelled and stalked back to the horse, where Gerry offered her an arm to pull herself up and behind him. She glared at Timmons the entire time.
“Come on, Ted, let’s see what this is all about. Lead on, ma’am,” Timmons replied sarcastically.
He stormed away, followed by Gerry and Kiwi on their horse. Ted jogged after the group, waving at the wolf pack to follow.
Terry sat backwards in the chair as he always did. Kae sat on the floor and played with the baby. He couldn’t remember seeing a baby before and found the little girl to be fascinating, but also, there were real toys to play with. Felicity sat between them and watched Kaeden stack blocks into a variety of shapes, then take them down and restack them, almost as if he was telling a story.
“Mark has been working their asses off,” Billy said. “He’s been walking them every day, farther and farther. And you should have seen him!”
Billy and Felicity started to laugh. “Pepe and Ernie got into it, I mean they were throwing down, then the brawl starts as people take sides, so Mark wades into the middle of it all, throwing people around. He finally gets to the two who started it and picks them both up by their collars. I was impressed, but then Maria sneaks up behind him and bashes him over the head with a rock, knocking him cold.”
Terry wondered where Mark’s partner was. No one should have waded into a bar fight without backup.
“That ended the fight, then everyone felt bad. So Mark accomplished exactly what he intended, at great personal sacrifice. It took three weeks for the lump on his head to go down.” Billy chuckled to himself thinking about it.
Terry heard Billy’s car start. The sound was impossible to miss. Terry pointed to the window.
“That’ll be Shonna and Merrit running the car to give the freezers a little juice so we can keep our stuff frozen for a little while longer. I guess now that you’re back, we can start defrosting and finish off the frozen stuff. I thought it would all thaw, but they found what was wrong with my car in about two minutes. Fuel filter was plugged, or so Shonna said. We hit the freezers for about thirty minutes each, every day.”
Clyde was under the table, leaning against Sue’s leg. Terry was deliberately trying to avoid thinking about his dog, but he could smell him and finally it was too much.
With a sorrowful look in his eye, he turned to Char. “My dog…”
Sue hung her head.
“Let’s go outside and play with the dog, but at the end of the day, he’s going home with Sue.” Char put her foot down. She made eye contact with Sue. “I already have two little boys to care for.”
Terry sighed and stood up, spinning his chair around. “Come on, boy, let’s go outside.” Clyde’s nails scratched the floor as he ran after Terry.
“Meeting adjourned?” Char suggested. Billy didn’t think so, but had no choice since Terry was already gone.
“Come on, Kae,” Char called. The boy jumped up and ran after Char, grabbing her offered hand on their way out. Billy helped Felicity before picking Marcie up and carrying her as they hurried to join the others.
Terry was throwing a stick that Clyde was running down and bringing back. Kae was trying to keep up with the dog and failing miserably, but as long as Terry and Char were watching, he was happy.
Billy sidled up next to Terry. “A family man, huh?”
“Whether we wanted it or not,” Terry replied.
“It suits you,” the mayor told him as he bounced his daughter on his hip. “What are our chances?”
“It’s not a bad route, Billy. There was enough water. That was the main thing I worried about. There’s a native village, probably the same size as New Boulder. They’ll be hospitable. They’re good people and some of them will join us on the trip. Hell, we already have an Indian girl with us. The chief gave us his granddaughter as Geronimo’s bride.”
“What does she look like?” Billy asked, earning himself a glare from both women and a disgusted look from Terry. “Whatever!”
“We’re heading out first thing in the morning, going to Cheyenne Mountain, take a look around. I have a feeling…” Terry drifted off.
“You have more than a feeling, TH! We’re getting ready to walk two thousand miles, but the desire to go a couple hundred extra appealed to you for some ungodly reason. You don’t do shit without a reason, so don’t lie to me, bitch.” Billy tried to look large and in charge, but bouncing the baby ruined his moment. And Felicity slapping him in the back of the head undid any other pretense of being The Man.
But he’d made his point.
“We will see.” Terry grinned.
They stood outside the massive complex. Timmons wanted to start in the back, in a place with the most piping and tanks. Ted agreed that was where they’d probably find chemical storage tanks.
Kiwi was so upset she was shaking. Gerry tied the horse to a tree and hugged her. He glared at Timmons. “Why are you doing this?” he asked.
Timmons looked confused. “We need certain chemicals to help us restart the plant. We need to clean some elements and it takes a more delicate touch than elbow grease. That’s why. I won’t risk breaking anything if there’s a different way.” He stepped aside and waved to the pharmaceutical plant. “And here is a different way.”
He stormed away. Ted ran after him.
“Rope!” Kiwi yelled. Gerry pulled the coil that he carried in his saddle bag. They ran after the two Werewolves. The wolf pack got excited, but they stayed as far from the buildings as they could get.
“Here,” Timmons said as he examined the piping entering a brick building. He sniffed. Twenty years had not been enough for nature to reclaim the toxic waste that man had created. The place reeked of man-made chemicals.
The door was closed, which made it an oddity in an area where decades of scavenging had left a mark.
Timmons seized the heavy handle and yanked with all his Werewolf strength. The door screeched for just a moment, then stopped. Ted joined in and between the two of them and their three hands, they yanked the door free.
Ted immediately dove out of the way while Timmons watched him. Nothing happened. Timmons waved him off and strode boldly inside.
The sound started as a low groan, then turned into a rumble that turned into a screech. They heard Timmons yell from inside the building. There was a huge crash and a wave of noxious chemicals poured through the open door.
“TIMMONS!” Ted screamed. The wolf pack bolted for somewhere else. Gerry and Kiwi danced away from the liquid run-off. Ted took two steps into the chemicals and his shoes started to smoke.
“Ted!” Gerry called and threw the end of the rope at him. He caught it and ran inside, coughing and gasping as soon as he made it through the door. Two seconds later, he stumbled back outside and waved at them to pull the rope. Gerry and Kiwi pulled, hand over hand, feeling the resistance as they dragged Timmons out.
He fell through the door. The flesh on his lower legs was eaten mostly away. His stump was only a bone. He gagged and spit blood.
Gerry and Kiwi stayed back. Ted grabbed him with one arm and staggered out of the chemical puddles littering the ground outside the door. When he was clear of them, they both fell. Ted wheezed, while Timmons was barely breathing. The wounds to his body were horrific.
Kiwi leaned aside and started throwing up. Gerry retrieved a blanket and their water flasks to rinse the wounds and cover Timmons. Gerry had no idea what else he could do.
Ted moaned softly until he passed out.
Terry and Char rode their horses to the barracks in what felt like the dark of night. Kaeden was sleeping while Terry held him. There was no way they could have left the boy behind, although Margie Rose was willing to watch him.
So they brought him along. Terry didn’t expect any tactical actions, although they’d exercise various formations as they traveled since everyone would be walking. They brought the horses just in case.
And the bear. A fucking bear, because one never knew when a grizzly would come in handy. Terry wasn’t amused.
The platoon was forming as they arrived, so Terry didn’t wait. He climbed from the horse and directed Mark to establish seven people to pull the seven horses loaded with food and water.
Adams and Xandrie strolled out of the shadows. “Mind if we tag along?” Adams asked.
“You’re more than welcome,” Char answered, shaking hands with the man and hugging the She-Wolf. She directed them to bring up the rear.
Terry carried Kae in his arms and without further ado, they headed out. A trick he’d learned in the Corps was to hike for ten or fifteen minutes, then stop to let the people fix socks or pack straps or whatever could chafe or blister. Then they were back on the road. Two hours on and thirty off. The day passed quickly and after twelve hours, Terry knew they’d gone thirty-five miles. That was a great day walking, no matter who you were.
The platoon was dogged when they settled in for the evening. Hank was in a bad mood, but he’d made it the whole way. Blackie was completely exhausted from chasing the bear.
So Terry took no pity on them. “Sergeant! Establish a watch, four on at a time. Set the perimeter. Corporals will check everyone on and off watch, but they won’t stand it themselves. Do you understand?” Mark said that he did.
Char wondered what Terry was up to.
He leaned toward her and whispered, “We’ll see how they set it up. Two hour shifts which would benefit the corporals or one hour shifts to better take care of the platoon. We shall see.”
“Why?” she asked. “Sergeant!” Mark had gathered the corporals. He ran to the major. She waved the others over.
“One hour shifts, a different corporal will check the new watch into duty. Three corporals, you only get woken twice and the platoon members only have to stay awake for an hour at a time,” she instructed them. Mark nodded and gave a thumbs up, then saluted and turned back to the corporals.
Char expected to see Terry pouting, but he was smiling. He’d have to test them in some other way.
Char sat up and looked toward the Wastelands. Terry knew the look. “Game?”
“I think a small pack of javelina,” she whispered. “A single Werewolf can probably kill them all.”
Terry nodded and Char motioned for Adams and Xandrie to join her, then the three disappeared into the night. Kae curled up against Terry and went to sleep. The boy had walked a few miles on his own, riding the rest of the time, and he was exhausted.
Mark stopped by to report that the watch had been established. Terry told him that three people were out hunting and that the watch shouldn’t shoot them. He called for weapons tight until they were back and dismissed the sergeant, who ran off to make sure the watch received their new orders.
Terry didn’t remember falling asleep, but when he woke up, Char was asleep on the other side of Kaeden, and she was holding Terry’s hand.
A small fire crackled not far away. Terry could smell roast pork. He closed his eyes and dreamed of breakfast.
They decided to carry the two men back to the base, taking Timmons first. They hated to leave Ted behind, but the wolf pack had returned.
“You watch over him until we come back,” Kiwi told them. She didn’t know if they understood. The two youngsters wrapped Timmons’s legs in the blanket and with Gerry holding him under his arms, Kiwi lifted the blanketed legs and they started walking toward the gate and further to where they were staying. Timmons was heavy, but Gerry didn’t complain. Kiwi held up her end, but was sweating profusely and panting when they finally arrived and lay Timmons on a halfway decent mattress that occupied the floor of his room.
They dribbled a little water into his mouth, but he was still out cold. His features were ashen and he was cold and clammy. They all knew that Werewolves should feel hot to the touch.
Kiwi held her head in her hands. “I didn’t try hard enough to stop them!” she bawled. Gerry held her as she sobbed.
“Timmons was in charge. It was his call. It was always his call, and he made it, despite what you told him. By the way, how did you know?” Gerry pushed her to arm’s length so he could see her face. Her eyes were red and puffy.
She looked almost like a little girl. It tore at Gerry to see her like that.
“Mother Earth showed me through Mateguas, the ghost rabbit. He shows up in places that lead to death. Water that’s not safe to drink, I’ll see her sitting at the water’s edge. The rabbit leads us to safety by showing us where the danger is,” she explained, wiping the tears from her face. “I don’t know how or why. Many of my people share the same bond with Mother Earth. It’s our gift, or like this, it’s a curse. I could see it all, the ghost rabbit warning us. Timmons walked into the blackness, and I stood there and watched.”
She broke down again and cried more. Gerry held her through it, but he was getting anxious. Ted was still out there.
“We need to go get Ted,” he whispered into her ear as he rubbed his cheek on her head. Gerry let go, and dribbled more water into Timmons’ mouth before they walked out the door. Halfway across the open area in front of their building, they saw Ted walking slowly toward them, surrounded by the wolf pack.
They hurried to help him.
He was no longer wheezing. Kiwi felt his head and he was hot, as a Werewolf should be. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“I need to see Timmons,” he said softly.
The second day walking was much like the first, with more antics from Hank, the grizzly bear. Terry refused to slow the formation to let Hank and Blackie catch up, so they never took a break. Every two hours, they’d rest for thirty minutes. Inevitably, Blackie and Hank would roll in as they were gearing up to continue.
Terry only cared that they caught up.
“You won’t be able to do that with the civilians,” Char said. Terry knew that, but he’d need a reminder because stragglers would make him furious.
“You know me so well.” Kae was sitting on Terry’s shoulders with his hands on the man’s head, watching and taking it all in.
Adams and Xandrie were engaged in friendly banter with one of the squads regarding how to properly run down and kill an elk. Char looked oddly at them, because sometime while they were gone, it had become common knowledge among the platoon that the newcomers were Werewolves.
The young men continued to ask Xandrie to turn into a Werewolf, but Char suspected the only reason they wanted that was to see her naked, so Char intervened.
“That’s enough, gentlemen. She will not dance for your entertainment,” Char growled. One smart-ass waved at Char to go away while he continued to ogle the beautiful Xandrie.
Char didn’t hesitate. She lunged forward, grabbed the young man by the throat, and with one arm, lifted him off the ground. “I think I gave you an order, Private,” Char reiterated. He looked at her in terror, unable to speak.
She tossed him to the side where he landed in a pile. The young man rolled to his back, rubbed his neck, and backpedaled along the ground to get away from the major, his fascination with Xandrie forgotten.
“Get your shit together,” Char snarled at Adams and Xandrie. The two Werewolves stood, mumbled an apology, and retreated, putting distance between themselves and the humans.
When Char returned to Terry, he shrugged. The Werewolves were a distraction for the young men. The FDG didn’t have a dance bar just outside the base gates, something he had to deal with when he served back in the old days.
During his time in the Marine Corps, Terry considered those places to be a blight on humanity. Now? He was starting to reconsider his opinion on the matter.
“Are they afraid of me enough?” Char asked.
“What do you mean, something like they’re being chased by a rhino down a narrow street afraid, or ooh, that might hurt afraid?” Terry sought clarification.
“Chased by a rhino? Is that a real thing?” Char wondered.
“I can neither confirm nor deny…” Terry started and then let it linger.
“Let me guess, a macho Marine effort to do it better than running with the bulls, because that wasn’t manly enough,” Char suggested.
They’d been together for over two years and Terry hadn’t narrated his life story to her. There was a great deal she didn’t know about him, as he didn’t know about her. Much of their lives from the before time didn’t matter, experiences helped them become the people they were. The future was in front of them, not behind.
Terry wasn’t surprised that she’d guessed one of his many secrets, almost as if she was in his head.
She was always on his mind, as he thought about it, so the idea of her opening the curtains of his brain and taking a peek inside wasn’t alarming. She said she couldn’t read minds, but then again, she knew things that she shouldn’t have. He’d continue to have his suspicions, but in the end, it didn’t matter. If she asked, he would tell her everything.
That was how partnerships worked.
“Those fuckers are faster than they look,” Terry said in a low voice, angled away from Kae so the boy wouldn’t hear.
Char snorted. “What if he does something like that?” Char tipped her head toward the boy.
“The cold water of reality suggests that the stuff I didn’t tell my parents was in their best interest.”
“Any other death-defying moron moments you care to share?”
“Well, you need to sit down, this will take a while, but hey, look at that,” Terry said, picking Kaeden up and standing. “Mark has us heading out for one more leg on today’s hike. That means we’ll get there tomorrow or first thing the next day.”
“What if we can’t get in?” Char asked, dampening his glory moment.
Timmons didn’t wake up for two days. During that time, the humans were amazed at how his legs were healing, but then everything stopped. They carried him to the lake and washed his wounds twice a day. Even Ted found comfort in the lake’s waters and his skin had barely been touched.
Ted and Timmons both lost their shoes to the toxic waste. In a world nearly twenty-three years after the fall, footwear was a considerable concern. Once you had shoes that fit, you took good care of them.
The group outlined the Werewolves’ human feet on paper and each person—James, Lacy, Gerry, and Kiwi—carried that template with them to size footwear they ran across in their seemingly never-ending search of the base.
On the third day, Timmons woke up and was ravenously hungry. Ted had told them to expect that, so they were ready. James and Lacy had traveled half a day away to find game as the wolf pack widened and expanded their hunting grounds.
The roe deer provided a good meal for Timmons. He ate all the meat and then changed into Were form so he could crack the bones and clean them out, too. Lacy and Kiwi made themselves scarce for when he changed back to human form.
He changed back and put on the clothes they’d found for him. The healing process started again, more rapidly this time. He thanked them all for their help and called for Kiwi.
When she arrived, he took a deep breath. “You haven’t known me long, but for those who have, I don’t apologize, because I do what I want to do, within the loose guidance that the alpha has given me. But this time, Kiwidinok, I am sorry that I didn’t listen to you. Tell me more about how you knew, because my Were senses couldn’t detect danger. I’m in charge and that means that I have to make decisions that are best for all of us. Better information means better decisions. You have earned my full trust, all of you, and that’s something I do not readily give.”
The others nodded. Kiwi stepped closer to Timmons and took a seat on the floor, cross-legged so she could talk with him about Mother Earth. She started with one of her favorite sayings.
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. That’s a quote from Chief Seattle. I don’t know which tribe, but that doesn’t matter. We are all children of Mother Earth, each of us a single thread…” Kiwi looked older than her sixteen years as Timmons listened intently.
The others would have liked to stay, but Ted led them out because there was an endless list of things they needed to do in preparation for the arrival of the people from New Boulder.
“Time to get to work,” Ted said happily, back to his old self. They watched as he headed toward the small power plant, not surprised that he was on his own mission without giving them any guidance.
James was ready, as usual. “Family billeting for us.” He pointed to Lacy. “We’ll need what, a hundred units ready by the time people get here? And Gerry, you keep working the barracks for singles.”
“A question, Corporal,” Gerry said, raising a hand. James nodded. “When is this going to suck less?’
Lacy chuckled, and James smiled. “I’m with you. Cleaning out these shit-holes isn’t my idea of FDG work but that’s what the colonel left us here for. We clear two units a day, then we’ll be ready in two months. Every sixth day we take a day off. I’ll run it by Timmons.”
“To the salt mines!” Gerry called as he turned and walked toward the barracks he’d been working in.
“You ever work in a salt mine?” James asked.
“I don’t know what one is, but that’s something the colonel always said when we started doing grunt work,” Geronimo answered over his shoulder, continuing his hike to the barracks.
The salt mines called.
According to Terry’s mental map, they were four miles short of Cheyenne Mountain when they stopped. The men were holding up, but tiring. They couldn’t have kept that pace much longer, but it gave him little hope for twenty-five miles a day for those who weren’t as well-conditioned as the FDG.
The Werewolves seemed unaffected, shrugging off the hike as if it were a day in the park.
The natural growth in the area suggested that radiation was no longer toxic, at least not at that distance.
Terry absentmindedly stroked the ever present communication device in his pocket. He doubted they’d be able to get inside without Akio’s help, assuming that General Reynolds had shared the information with the advanced computer system he knew as ADAM. Assuming the general had a code since he was a base commander at a different base in the area and that code hadn’t changed, which it probably did twenty times between the general’s departure and the WWDE.
All of a sudden, Terry wasn’t so enamored of his plan.
“Fuck, fuck, fuckity, fuck,” he said under his breath, eliciting raised eyebrows from his wife.
“What if they changed the code?”
“You are just now thinking of that? By all that’s holy, TH, you have got to be shitting me.” Char rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“The EI should be able to access it in any case, right?” Terry said hopefully.
“What if Akio doesn’t want to talk to you?”
“Then I shall embrace my most creative expletive-laden tirade ever!” Terry claimed, standing tall with his fists on his hips, chest puffed out. “It will be epic,”
“Already planning that, are you? Planning for failure or are you holding out hope that you can get in?” Char challenged him. Kae was riding on Hank with Blackie keeping a close eye.
“Hank seems to like the boy,” Terry said, pointing.
“Oh no you don’t, mister. Hope is your plan, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” she pressed him.
“There was a little bit of hope sprinkled on top, but I suspected ADAM would have the code, because he knows everything, or so I’ve heard.” Terry sat down. So close, yet if they couldn’t get the door open, there was no other way in.
Despite what people watched on StarGate SG1, there wasn’t an air vent with a flimsy lock that hid a ladder into the bowels of the mountain. They had to go through a massive door covering the roadway in.
When it turned dark, the sergeant established the watch. Terry asked Blackbeard to watch Kaeden for a while. The boy was comfortable with Blackie and even curled up against the grizzly cub to sleep.
Terry, Char, Adams, and Xandrie headed out for a quick run to the mountain, to get the lay of the land.
Terry couldn’t wait until the morning. He had to know that evening whether the trip had been wasted, whether he’d been wrong to push the effort to find his white whale.
It rushed to the front of his mind that it hadn’t turned out well for Ahab.
They ran at a dangerous pace for Terry. The Werewolves could see better in the dark, so the other three changed into Were form. Terry ran with a backpack stuffed with the Weres’ clothes and boots, sprinting nearly the entire time. When he arrived, he stumbled into the clearing in front of the entrance, out of breath. They’d been running for less than fifteen minutes. The others were lounging as they waited for him. He always found their endurance disconcerting.
He wasn’t a prude, but maybe he was. Seeing beautiful people naked should have been like walking through an art gallery.
It wasn’t. They were just naked. “Here’s your clothes,” he managed to say as he removed the backpack, avoiding looking at Adams or Xandrie. Char laughed at his efforts as she flaunted her nakedness before him.
“Come on now, clothes on. Places to go, people to see.” Terry clapped his hands. The sound echoed from the face of the mountain. The growth was all new, from within the past twenty years. No old trees stood in the area. Weeds cracked through the pavement as they fought for life. In another twenty years, the whole area would be overgrown and the entrance to the mountain hidden.
Once changed, they walked through the tangle that had been a fence and found where the road disappeared under a pile of rubble. Part of the mountain had come down and filled the cave mouth.
Terry walked from left to right, back left as he examined the landslide’s remnants. He looked up the mountain, but couldn’t see well enough to determine how much rock had been dislodged.
He asked Char, but she couldn’t guess.
Between two large boulders, Terry started pulling out rocks and throwing them to the rear as he cleared a path. The others joined him and soon, they’d carved a tunnel that led to open space beyond. He peered into the darkness but couldn’t see through the pitch black. Char led the way, holding his hand as she guided him through rubble that had been thrown into the tunnel’s mouth.
“I see a light,” Terry said. A faint glow outlined a square on the wall. When they reached it, Char pulled it open. Adams and Xandrie leaned around to see what they found.
A key pad that had power to it.
With more than enough food and unlimited water, Timmons healed at an incredible rate. From an injury that had chemically burned him to the bone from his knees down, in addition to the stump of his arm, his skin and muscle had grown back.
An odd thing happened as well—Timmons’s hand was growing back. He watched it in wonder. Ted seemed unsurprised.
“The toxic waste dissolved the silver that barred the healing process. I didn’t care to test my theory out, but I’m pleased that it worked out for you,” Ted stated matter-of-factly.
“I’m pleased, you say?” Timmons never could figure out Ted’s thought process. “This means that we’ll be able to get twice the amount of work done, my friend. Next up, the pipe. Let’s find us a pig to send through there, to drive any remaining fuel oil into that tank. Give us a working reserve until we can find that Mini Cooper.”
A pig was the term used for a device sent through a pipe to clean it or flush it. Timmons wanted to send one through the end as far away from the plant as they could find, to drive any residual fuel oil to the plant. Ted had calculated a quantity in excess of a thousand gallons within the pipe that fed the plant.
That would get it started and keep it running for a little while. With a little work, they could convert the burners to use biodiesel, but they needed the plant to run to set up the conversion process.
It took power to make power.
Timmons didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to depend on a source of energy that was difficult to maintain with the limited manpower they had available. It would take a small army to ensure a continuous supply of biomass from which to brew the biodiesel.
Ted watched Timmons flex his fledgling fingers as they stretched and grew.
“Would you leave them alone?” Ted demanded.
“Why? Will I go blind if I keep playing with them?” Timmons joked, before turning serious. “You don’t know what it was like, missing a hand. I had to fight to tie my own God damn shoes! Take it from me, Ted. You don’t ever want to lose a hand.”
With his jaw set and a new determination, Timmons strode proudly to the plant. He felt like a new Werewolf. His alpha had a mission for him, and he didn’t want to let her down.
“No!” Char insisted as Terry gripped his communication device, ready to activate it.
“I want to see if they have the code. Isn’t that what we came for?” Terry asked, convinced he was right—that they should try the door right then and there.
“If the door opens, you’ll go in and we won’t return to the platoon. They deserve to be here for the big moment, and if the door doesn’t open, it’s only four miles, we’ll be on the road home before noon. Either way, they should be here. Protocol. The officers shouldn’t go alone into new territory,” Char said, pursing her lips and nodding.
“We always go ahead without the platoon,” Terry argued.
“But we shouldn’t. Sorry, Colonel, overruling you on this one.” Char put her foot down. “Excuse me, Adams, Xandrie, if you could give us some privacy to discuss this, I’d appreciate it.”
Terry was getting angry. He jammed the communication device in his pocket and watched the other two Werewolves fade away from the glow of the keypad as they left the tunnel.
With her inhuman strength, Char picked Terry up and slammed him against the heavy door. With a grunt, he reached around her head and grabbed her hair, but she already had his neck in her teeth, rolling the flesh playfully, painfully.
She let him slide down the door until he was standing. He winced and slapped a hand to his neck. He felt the sting and the wet. He was bleeding.
“Your mate is hungry,” she teased.
Ted stood in the open field that used to be a parade deck. It reminded him of the open area at the Air Force Academy where they’d found such fertile hunting ground. The wolf pack was running in circles around him, chasing each other and acting like puppies.
His mood was carrying over to them. Things were starting to go right for the group. Timmons had his hand back and was his happy self from a long, long time ago. The plant was in good shape and with the last systems check, they figured they could have it running inside a month.
The humans were systematically cleaning out rooms and houses, scavenging the things they needed to keep moving forward. Ted looked down at his combat boots, which had been hidden above a ceiling panel in the barracks. They had been stiff, but he rubbed a little animal fat into them and they softened up nicely.
Timmons had a pair of old tennis shoes that were cracked, but they would cover his feet until the searchers found something else.
They hunted every other day, simultaneously scrounging for any kind of vegetable or leafy green that could be eaten. The problem was that winter was coming. There were no greenhouses with a winter crop started like they had back in New Boulder.
The group had high hopes that the colonel would return with the town’s people before next winter, so they could get things planted, start living, start growing.
Timmons wanted the people to have power by then, unlimited power. He walked up behind Ted, but Weres weren’t surprised by things like that.
“We need to go to that railroad yard, all of us, and look for the Mini Cooper,” Timmons said, sounding more desperate than he intended. He felt hopeful. He wanted his luck to hold. He’d ask Kiwi to ride up front, to sense the things that the Werewolves could not.
“I like these humans,” Timmons said in a low voice.
“Of course, because they saved our lives, even though they could have left us to die, maybe they should have. They’ve never been anything but kind, but they fight like devils. No worse enemy, no greater friend. They remind me of the Marines.” Ted looked contemplative as he spoke. While in the Navy, his dealings with the Marines had always been professional.
He’d recognized Terry as one the second they walked up on the fateful day the pack returned to find Char. Are we there yet, Ted had asked for the umpteenth time. And they weren’t until they were here, at Great Lakes. Ted finally felt at home. With a nuclear reactor to run?
He would be home.
Timmons had said something, but Ted was oblivious. He’d retreated into his own mind, so Timmons waited and then repeated himself.
“We’ll talk with James and the others tonight, head out tomorrow, hunt on the way, find what we need to find. Do you think you and I can pull a train car twenty miles?” Timmons asked.
“We have horses, too, you know,” Ted reminded him.
“Indeed,” Timmons answered. “Indeed we do and things are looking up, Ted. Things are definitely looking up!” Timmons flexed the fingers of his regrown hand, reveling in its feel and savoring what that one hand was capable of when matched with its right-handed partner.
Gerry and Kiwi were riding together on the horse. They slowed to a walk when they reached the parade deck.
“Are they doing the mambo?” Timmons asked.
Ted looked at him like he’d grown a third head.
“I guess it doesn’t matter, but I think they are.”
Ted called the pack to him and settled them down so they wouldn’t spook the horses.
Adams and Xandrie got tired of waiting and returned to the platoon on their own. They stayed in human form and walked easily. As they approached the camp, Terry and Char caught up to them, out of breath and laughing.
Xandrie wasn’t amused. “You wanted us to stand around while you two played hide the salami?”
“Wow. You make it sound so…dirty,” Char emphasized the word, ‘dirty,’ but seeing the look on Xandrie’s face, she decided not to toy with her any further. “We go first thing in the morning and that’s when Terry will call Akio and see if there’s any magical fairy dust they can sprinkle on us from wherever the hell they are. Go get some sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day, no matter what happens.”
Adams and Xandrie departed. There was a brief period of shouting as the two encountered the night watch.
Ivan. It was Nightwatch himself standing guard.
They passed the gauntlet and Terry and Char followed, presenting the appropriate challenge to enter the camp without issue.
“I guess I should have told them how to do it,” Terry said, looking away.
“So what if they got shot? They’ll heal and they’ll have learned an important lesson about messing with the FDG,” Char suspected.
“Something like that,” Terry answered. “Did you sense anything back there?”
“Nothing. The mountain is shielded in ways that nothing came through. So, that was another reason for my diversion. I couldn’t tell you what was behind that door, and it bothered me.”
Terry reached to his neck, feeling the spot where Char had drawn blood. It had healed already, but the memory of the painful pleasure remained.
And she had been right. The FDG needed to share in the victory or the failure. He needed to include them on his adventures. He needed to include Mark and make him a true lieutenant, not just a caretaker for the times Terry was gone.
That was what the morning would bring.
“Twenty miles?” Ted asked.
“Twenty miles. That’s what the colonel said. We’ll follow the tracks that swing inland. We don’t care about O’Hare. The railroad classification yard is next to it, and that’s what we’re looking for, people.” Timmons sounded confident.
James and Lacy rode their horses and Gerry and Kiwi were doubled up as usual. Ted and Timmons decided that they’d run as Werewolves and would run with the pack. Kiwi and Lacy turned away as the two men stripped and handed their clothes to James.
A moment later, two Werewolves stood surveying the area. With a single leap, both were off, loping toward the front gate and the railroad tracks beyond. The horses trotted after them.
They’d worked out a way to communicate while Ted and Timmons were in Were form. If the two sensed any humans, they’d stop and point, then tap a paw on the ground for how many. If they found game that needed hunting, they’d stop and point, then take the pack and go.
The humans trusted them. Conversely, if Kiwi sensed anything, James would whistle to get their attention. Then she’d tell them what she felt or if the ghost rabbit was near.
And so it went for the first ten miles—no interruptions, nothing to hunt, no humans to threaten them.
They’d slowed to a steady pace, but Timmons was in a hurry. He was determined to get there early to give them more time to search. According to Terry Henry, the yard was massive and could contain thousands of rail cars.
The group brought their usual kit, enough to remain overnight wherever they happened to find themselves. James was committed to a final determination on the existence of the Mini Cooper.
It was mile fifteen where the massive structures of the city dominated the horizon. They stood as silent monuments to a time that was and maybe never would be again, unless you trusted Terry Henry Walton, and he seemed confident that it could all be brought back.
Seeing the crush of buildings, James wasn’t sure he wanted it back. He preferred open spaces and fewer people.
Timmons and Ted stopped up ahead. One of the wolf pack started to howl. Timmons ran back, spooking the horses. He changed into human form as he approached and told James to join them while the others needed to wait.
James was intrigued, but Lacy dismounted.
“You stay,” he told her.
“Why?” she demanded.
To James it was simple.
“Because the warrant officer is in charge and he said so. I’ll tell you as soon as I know. Please.” He held out his hands to demonstrate his sincerity. Timmons told him to get up there.
The corporal jogged away, happy that Lacy stayed behind. Good order and discipline, the colonel always preached. Sometimes, just follow orders. Trust the leadership to make good decisions.
James found the two naked men studying a body on the ground. He’d seen thousands of dead bodies. He didn’t think much about them anymore. Why?
“Look here.” Timmons pointed to the man’s neck.
“Puncture wounds in a shriveled neck. So what?” James asked, leaning closer, thinking that he was missing something.
“This body’s freshly killed,” Ted said barely above a whisper.
“Fuck off!” James exclaimed.
“Ever hear of the Forsaken?” Timmons asked, standing and sniffing the air before turning to face James.
He always found it uncomfortable to talk with the Werewolves when they were in the buff. They didn’t care about being naked, but James did.
“No. I have no idea what a Forsaken is,” James replied.
“Vampires, the kind that suck blood because that’s how they feed. This was done by a vamp and not too long ago. I don’t sense anything nearby, but it might not be a daywalker. That’s to our advantage and disadvantage.” Ted and Timmons scanned the horizon, eyes unfocused as they reached out with their senses.
“Everyone needs to know this. Are we safe right now?” James asked. Timmons nodded, not looking away from the horizon.
James waved the others to join them. They dismounted and walked ahead, studying the body as they approached. Lacy had seen Ted and Timmons a number of times, but not Kiwi. She tried not to stare, but failed miserably.
“Kiwi, any ghost rabbits out and about?” James wondered.
She smirked at him. “I would have told you already if there were. I don’t see anything except clouds in the sky, a ruined city, and a dead guy.”
James pursed his lips. Timmons repeated what he’d said about the Forsaken. Kiwi became visibly shaken.
“Abominations. They insult Mother Earth.” Fear gripped her as she stumbled through the words. She closed her eyes and started chanting.
“What the fuck do we do now?” Lacy asked, fingering the selector lever on her rifle as she looked around as if expecting the boogeyman to jump out of the nearest bushes.
Terry pushed the FDG, getting them up before dawn and moving out at daybreak at a brisk pace that forced those with shorter legs to jog. They made quick work of the four miles to Cheyenne Mountain.
Once there, Terry ordered Mark to establish a perimeter with one squad, even though the Werewolves confirmed that they were alone.
One squad would breach the opening and move in, weapons aimed as they prepared to engage a dug-in enemy. The third squad was placed in reserve, weapons tight and ready to go where ordered, exploit a gap or heaven forbid, cover a retreat.
They lined the tunnel entrance with candles and moved into position. Terry put Mark up front. “This is where the rubber meets the road, Sergeant. All the training you’ve done over the past two years was for this moment. Remember your training!” the colonel yelled. The squad responded with a hearty ‘Oorah.’
Char lifted the covering on the panel as Terry keyed his communicator.
“Good morning, Colonel Walton,” Akio answered formally. There was no static, nothing to indicate that the connection had gone through. Terry was taken aback, but only for an instant.
“Akio, my sincere apologies for the interruption. We are at the entrance to Cheyenne Mountain and there is a digital keypad. I was hoping that ADAM would be able to share the code with me.” Terry kept it simple.
“ADAM is not here,” Akio replied. Terry had no answer to that. “But we have someone who may be able to help. I will ask Eve if she knows.”
Terry let out the breath he’d been holding for too long. Char joined him in exhaling.
She thought they’d made the trip for nothing.
“Good morning, Colonel Walton, Akio has asked me to help you. I believe I have the information you seek,” a pleasant female voice spoke over the small device that Terry held in his hand. He gave it to Char to hold up while he focused his attention on the keypad.
“Shoot,” he told her.
“Are you in trouble?” she asked quickly.
“What? No, not at all. I’m ready to enter the code,” Terry replied.
“Yes, fifteen digits, try these…” Terry entered the digits. He nodded to Mark as he prepared to press the last number. When he did so, the panel flashed red once and returned to its former green glow.
The squad looked at each other, not understanding.
“That didn’t work. It flashed red after the last digit,” Terry said into the device.
“I was afraid of that. That was the last code on file. It had been changed after I received the information. The operators of this system changed the code using a random number generator, but in the computer world, nothing is really random, now is it?” They thought they heard the Entity Intelligence, the EI, giggle. “I have a list of possibilities based on the equations derived from the last seventy-four codes…”
Two hours later, Terry’s back was hunched and he was convinced that he’d worn his fingerprint off by punching numbers on the key pad. He and Char started taking turns holding the communication device as they punched the nearly endless string of fifteen digit codes into the keypad.
Red flash, start over. Half the breaching squad was asleep. Mark was fighting it by standing and jumping in place, but his eyes were half rolled back into his head.
“You suck, TH,” Char whispered. He couldn’t argue with that.
“He’s not nearby,” Timmons and Ted finally agreed. “Stay on mission. To the railyard.”
The two men changed into Were form, rallied the wolf pack, and started running, much faster than before.
Fear drove them. They’d run thousands of miles to escape the last Forsaken they had the misfortune to sense and they didn’t even see that one, having used the daylight to cover their retreat.
This one was in Chicago. They were in Chicago. Timmons’s mind raced. The vampires would have to make peace with the locals, but would the humans be willing to sacrifice their own to keep the Forsaken fed?
Timmons was willing because he didn’t want to die, but he knew that Terry and Char would have none of that. He suspected that those two would go to war with all Vampires rather than serve up a human.
The Werewolf stopped and looked at the humans accompanying him. Which one of them would he hand over?
He growled as he realized he wouldn’t be able to do it. They needed to be ready to fight. Timmons had gotten his ass kicked by a human and by another Werewolf. If he had to fight the Forsaken, he’d die. That was his attitude, defeatist but realistic.
It was also the worst attitude to have.
Timmons stopped and looked around. Ted hesitated and brought the wolf pack to him. Timmons changed from a shaggy gray Werewolf into human form. His shoulders were hunched and his head hung as he walked to those on horseback.
“I can’t take him,” Timmons confided. Ted wondered what he was talking about.
Timmons was a magnificent specimen as a man. Tall, well built, but not overly muscular. He was lean and chiseled. Ted looked less cut, but still appeared like the underwear models of old.
“If we run across a Forsaken, I can’t take him. He’ll kill me and then he’ll kill you all, one by one.” Timmons appeared to be talking to the ground.
“Bullshit, Mr. Ass-slappy McFuckface!” Lacy bellowed. James looked at her, wondering about her new fascination with creative cursing. “What are we going to do with these while all this is going on?”
Lacy held her rifle in the air. She pulled out two extra magazines and waved them with her other hand.
“We’re going to be pouring so much ammo downrange, he’s going to think he’s been run over by a buffalo. And what about them?” she asked, pointing at the pack lounging nearby. “I expect they’ll be right in the mix, too. And what about you?”
Lacy pointed an accusing finger at Ted. He froze, unwilling to move and incur any more of the young woman’s wrath. “Like I said, bullshit. If that lame-ass shlong-lapping night crawler comes around here, he’s not walking away. One for all, all for one, right?”
Terry had used that expression during training often to reinforce why they never left a person behind. Every single member of the Force needed to know that they wouldn’t be abandoned.
“I guess Lacy told us how it is, so Gunner McFuckface, shall we continue, on mission, as you suggested?” James interjected. He turned to Lacy, “Nicely done, babe.”
Ted chuckled. “Gunner McFuckface…”
Char pressed the numbers that Eve called out, and when the panel light flashed green instead of the expected red, Char jumped backwards. Terry almost dropped the communication device.
The grind and squeal of oversized but rusty gears echoed through the oversized door.
“It’s opening! Get up, you bastards, and stand to!” Terry yelled. Mark was instantly alert and dropped to a knee, aiming at the overlap of the two doors, where he expected to see it crack apart. The others behind him fell in line, shaking the cobwebs from their minds.
With a hideous screech and loud bang, the doors popped and one side started sliding outward.
Adams and Xandrie stood easy behind the squad. They had no expectations for what was inside. Char waited impatiently for the door to grind open. At least they were on the side away from the opening door, until the one closest started grinding its way through the dirt. They stepped back.
The cloud of air ejected from the inside carried a stench that most wouldn’t recognize.
Adams and Xandrie ripped their clothes off at Werewolf speed and changed into Were form, growling and snapping at the darkness beyond the door.
Char pulled her pistols and stepped backwards.
“What do you sense? What’s in there?” Terry asked urgently.
“Death,” she whispered.
“I smell that, but how?”
“The Forsaken. They’re in there and very much alive,”
“Thanks, Akio, gotta go,” Terry called into the communicator before shutting it off and stuffing it into his pocket.
Akio looked at the screen in front of him. He stood in a secret stronghold in Japan. His pod was hidden in a small valley nearby along with three Black Eagles, the X-Wing style fighter that Bethany Anne had left behind for Akio’s use.
The screens in the remote command center carried images from all over the planet. Terry Henry Walton was not the only effort to consolidate survivors and recover. His wasn’t even the most advanced, but his was the only one that Akio trusted was being done on behalf of humanity and not solely for the individuals in power.
Europe had several factions setting up. Asia was far and away the largest. Chinese farms bordering mountain ranges were mostly untouched and accounted for the majority of the world’s population. The cities were devastated, but those in the most rural areas had stayed out of the eye of the WWDE storm.
The electromagnetic pulse had no effect on them. They continued living their lives as they had for millennia.
In nearly every enclave, a Were could be found. They were blending in as they’d always done. But the Forsaken, with the reduction in the human population, their feeding grounds had shrunk. When ten people out of twenty-five million died, no one noticed, but when ten people out of a thousand were sucked dry, people became afraid.
Yuko looked at him, ready to wish him well. The android, Eve, stood next to Yuko. Eve’s skin seamlessly flowed as she moved. She was built by ADAM using a combination of alloys and Yollin technology. It had taken a year, but ADAM had built her specifically to ensure a long and healthy life for Yuko.
She was to remain unseen and manage the Unknown World, the survivors who would be loyal to Bethany Anne, and be ready for Michael’s return to Earth, whenever that would be.
Akio’s job was to handle the Forsaken. He was slightly put out that Terry Henry would close the channel without asking for his help. There was no way Akio could monitor them within Cheyenne Mountain. He’d have to wait, unless he went on his own.
Akio never expected that the Forsaken would all die, but had they built a stronghold within a modern fortress? He wondered.
He couldn’t fathom.
“Please, prepare the pod, just in case,” he asked Eve, before sitting on his cushion to meditate. Akio had told Terry to be judicious in asking for his help.
With Eve’s assistance, Akio had planted the seeds in Terry’s mind regarding the Cooper Mini Modular Reactor and the equipment within NORAD. He hadn’t known that Forsaken were in the mountain with the convoy.
Had he helped Terry Henry Walton, his partner Charumati, and the rest of the Force de Guerre or had he condemned them?
If the human took on the Forsaken, could he win or would he call back to summon Akio?
Akio had to be ready in either case.
Terry uncoiled his bullwhip and took a position in the middle of the squad. Char stood next to him. He’d only seen her this tense once before and that was the night Marcus raced across the Wastelands toward them. She had thought she was going to die that night.
This time, she was afraid she wasn’t going to see the sunset. The Forsaken had a way of dealing with intruders on their lives that didn’t end well for the intruders.
“Sergeant, the Forsaken can be held up by a certain volume of fire. You shoot them with everything the squad has to offer, and we’ll finish him,” Terry said calmly. “Spare magazines?”
The squad responded instantly, slapping pockets and pouches, wherever they carried their spares.
“Finish them,” Char corrected. Terry’s shoulders hunched, his body language not signaling defeat, but not as confident as it was seconds prior.
“Four, I think.” She turned back to the two Werewolves snarling behind the squad. They nodded.
Four and a number of humans, a big number.
“How do we tell them apart? We can’t just kill the humans,” Terry retorted, angry at the situation, not the information or the person who delivered it.
“You’ll be able to tell them apart. The humans will look sickly, frail. The Forsaken will look young and strong.” Char continued to stare into the tunnel.
“We save as many of the humans as we can. The Forsaken all need to die. How can we kill them?”
“Wood stakes through the heart,” Char replied.
“Really?” He shook it off, before yelling over his shoulder. “Third squad! Sharpened sticks, at least twenty, thick as my thumb, you have two minutes to get them in here. Move!”
As they stood there peering into the darkness, two minutes seemed like an eternity. Terry was counting in his head. When he reached one hundred and twenty, he yelled again. “Where are my vampire-killing stakes?”
There was a great deal of shuffling and cursing outside the entrance and Blackie burst in as Hank wedged himself into the opening. Someone handed a bunch of hastily sharpened sticks over the bear and Blackbeard passed them out, three per person with extras going to the colonel and the major.
“Bring the bear,” Terry said. Hank sniffed at Adams and Xandrie, who sniffed back and bared their teeth. Hank stood on his back legs and roared his disapproval of the shaggy beasts in front of him.
Char walked back and grabbed the two Werewolves by the scruff of their necks and dragged them away, putting them in the middle. The sergeant, Jim, and Charlie were up front. Four squad members were between the Weres and Hank.
Terry shook his head, “I think we’ve lost our element of surprise,” he said matter-of-factly.
“That happened the moment those big bastards started squealing,” Char said, nodding toward the massive doors. These weren’t even the vault door. These were there to keep out most of the bad guys, but anyone with the right type of explosives could have taken the big doors down. It had taken them two hours to get through, and it was the easy one.
Mark moved forward, ultra-cautiously. Terry wanted him to speed up, but as his first action, Mark needed to learn as he went. That gave Terry and Char time to look around. On the wall of the tunnel, there was a junction box that looked like a light switch.
Light would make their lives a whole lot easier.
Char tried it and with clunks and bangs, the lights came to life, sequentially, from where they stood downwards. The roadway into the mountain was wide, with sidewalks on either side. In one lane, it looked like a convoy had parked. The vehicles looked fresh, as if they would drive away at any moment.
“There’s no one in or around the vehicles,” Char called out as Mark had started to issue orders to search and clear the trucks.
Terry climbed into the back of the closest vehicle. The five-ton truck was facing downhill, as if someone drove the convoy in and locked the mountain doors behind themselves.
He threw the flap open, revealing a stack of crates. AT-4s. Shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets. He used his knife to pop the top and look inside one of the olive drab wood crates, pulling out a sealed plastic case that said it contained one fully capable AT-4.
He wore a big smile on his face as he looked at Char. “Bingo,” he told her, but her mind was elsewhere.
With well-practiced hands, he opened the case, took the rocket out, did a quick check, and slung it over his shoulder.
Terry knew that the Forsaken were inhumanly fast. He’d never be able to hit one with the slow moving rocket, but in case he needed to blow a door open, the AT-4 would come in handy, while also doing a number on anyone hiding inside a room breached by an AT-4 warhead.
A total of twenty five-ton trucks, four HMMWV with turret guns, and a tanker sat in the silent convoy. The tanker was filled with diesel fuel.
Terry had found his white whale, but just like Moby Dick, carrying his spoils away wasn’t going to be easy.
Timmons stopped and stood on his back feet, trying to see out over the mass of confusion that was the classification yard, a place where trains were configured for movement elsewhere. On the WWDE, they must have been full and every other train in Chicago tried to squeeze in on top of them. It was a spaghetti mess of train cars.
Or maybe this was business as usual for a busy classification yard. On the WWDE, when the EMP hit, everything not shielded stopped where it was.
Did that mean the diesel engines were unaffected and kept the trains traveling?
Ted and Timmons got dressed as the wolves spread out and started hunting rats.
“Holy shit! Tanks,” Timmons said, pointing. Fourteen above ground storage tanks sat at the far end of the railyard. “I wonder what’s in there.”
They turned the horses loose in a grassy area. To the north of them, there was open ground that had been O’Hare International Airport. The runways were now partially overgrown. The tails of aircraft stood at the long-abandoned terminal. One of the busiest airports in the world was empty and graveyard quiet.
Timmons didn’t care about the airport. Those planes wouldn’t fly again. But the trains. He did some quick calculations in his head. Fifty tracks wide for a mile and guesstimated one hundred cars per mile, that was five thousand cars packed into the yard.
Ted verbalized what Timmons felt. “That is one fuck-ton of trains.”
“Okay, people, we start at one end, label the track with chalk or charcoal. We’re looking for what we call a Mini Cooper, a nuclear reactor that looks like a grossly oversized tanker car. It should be shiny silver, but they may have painted over it to hide it. So, you’re looking for an oversized tanker car.” Timmons started to point out where they should start with one person going down every other row, meeting at the far end, then doing it again until they were finished.
Kiwi raised her hand. “What’s a tanker car?”
Timmons took a deep breath. “Kids nowadays,” he said with a chuckle. He looked down the first couple lines and saw only cars carrying standard forty-foot shipping containers. Many had been broken into. By the fourth line, a series of tanker cars were lined up.
“Here we go. This is a tanker car, made to carry liquids of all types. Here are the basic components to look for and the Mini Cooper won’t have things like this.” Timmons pointed to the top fittings and bottom fittings. “They have to have a way to fill the tank and then empty the tank. If you see things designed specifically for fluids, move on. Questions?”
They looked at the tanker car for a while longer, gauging its size.
“We start at this end and meet on the other end. Then do it all over again. Keep your eyes peeled, people,” Timmons cautioned.
They lined up and started down the rows. Ted and Timmons jogged as they knew what they were looking for. Kiwi and Gerry took longer because they weren’t sure.
One mile and it took nearly an hour for the younger people to finish. Timmons was beside himself and insisted that the humans check out the surrounding area and that Ted and Timmons would run through the yard.
So they took off at Werewolf speed, while James, Lacy, Gerry, and Kiwi looked for something else to do. “Check the tanks?” James asked.
No one disagreed, so that was where they went.
After a quick check of the vehicles, Terry wondered what they could take with them, happy to have the challenge of too much modern firepower. He shook his head and gritted his teeth. If he wasn’t careful, he’d be buried in the bowels of the earth with his nanocytes coursing through some Forsaken’s body after it fed on him.
He wondered if his nanocytes would make it stronger. He decided it was best to keep his nanocytes to himself, sharing with Char as far as he’d go.
Char heard the footsteps first, small ones coming from behind them. “Don’t leave me,” Kaeden called. Terry turned and hurried back, fury raged within him.
“Kae, we are not leaving you, but you can’t be here with us. Blackbeard, you cover our six. Anyone gets past us, you kill them. Keep him with you.” Terry pulled one of his knives, flipped it over to hold it by the blade. He handed it to the boy.
“You know how to use this?” he asked. The boy nodded. “Your job is to protect Hank. Anyone tries to hurt him, you stop them, do you understand?”
Terry didn’t wait for the boy’s answer as echoes of a rifle’s report cascaded up the tunnel. Then more shots from multiple weapons as the squad fired en masse.
Terry ran past the trucks as Char yelled to cease fire.
Mark and the front members of first squad were kneeling, still holding their aim. A body was on the roadway ahead. Adams and Xandrie’s shaggy fur bounced as they ran past Char. They stopped to sniff at the man, then jogged ahead as if sensing game. Char started to run.
Terry didn’t know what was going on, so he ran too, unsure of what he was running for or where.
The body he passed was riddled with bullet holes. A man of indeterminate age, features sunken as if he hadn’t eaten in months. His body was mostly shriveled. The telltale sign of Vampire bites on his neck suggested they’d fed on him repeatedly.
Not enough to kill him, but keep him in a state of living death.
Terry ran faster. The Forsaken. The enemy of all mankind.
They needed to die.
Xandrie yipped as something blazed in from a side passage and chopped into her body. Adams barked and leapt, but the creature was already gone. Xandrie bolted in panic down a different passage.
“Adams!” Char yelled, but he was gone, heading down the passage to the right after his mate.
Char fired the pistol into the darkness to the left. A figure burst into the open, moving beyond Werewolf speed and diving directly for Char.
Terry took a half-step and swung with all the power in his body. He stopped the creature cold, but it felt as if he’d punched a rock wall. The Forsaken grunted and dropped to the pavement. Char stomped his knee and then danced aside.
He flipped backwards and flexed his shoulders as he raised his fists. Terry lunged forward, moving to maintain his balance over the balls of his feet. The creature’s eyes blazed red, Char’s glowed purple in the shadows of the side passage, and Terry’s glowed a faint red, getting stronger the deeper he backed the Forsaken into the side passage.
“What the fuck are you?” the Vampire asked.
“Are we alone?” Terry asked.
“Yes,” Char answered.
Terry pulled the rocket launcher from his shoulder, but the Vampire ran forward and grabbed it with both hands. Terry leaned back to hold the creature in place as he drove the silvered blade of his small knife into the rib cage of the Forsaken.
The creature let go of the rocket and jumped on Terry, but the colonel twisted and spun, throwing his enemy into the wall. Terry moved to one side and Char moved to the other, trapping the Forsaken between them.
“You’re going to take us to the others,” Terry growled.
“I think not,” the man said, looking at his hands where vicious claws stood from the end of his fingers. He flexed his hands, not bothering to look at Char.
“Since when have Werewolves grown so bold? You will die as your reward for freeing us from this prison.”
Terry’s white whale was going to come at a steep price.
The tank farm was mostly untouched. One tank had burned, probably decades earlier. They avoided that one, but the fire hadn’t reached the others. They climbed the stairs leading upward and at the top was a locked system that they couldn’t get into to see or smell what was inside.
But they did have a great view and used it to look over the railyard at the airport. So much to see that they hadn’t seen before.
Kiwi pointed toward the towers of Chicago. Black smoke drifted skyward. They couldn’t tell how far away it was, but Timmons needed to know.
They hurried down the stairs circling the tank and ran into the railyard. They jogged along one side, looking between the lines of cars until they spotted the two men. James whistled, but Timmons motioned at them to join him and Ted.
They jogged down the row where the two Werewolves stood leaning against a box car. They pointed to a tarpaulin-covered car that crowded over the space between the tracks.
“Is that what I think it is?” James smiled. Two decades of sitting in the weather made the tarp frail. James and Lacy climbed the ladders to get atop the thing. Although they were ready to use their knives, it took little effort to rip the tarp free.
Underneath was a shiny car, bulbous at the sides and standing far taller than the other cars of the train. It looked like a tanker but didn’t have any fittings. Everything on it looked to be stainless or higher grade steel. There was no rust on it. It looked pristine.
Ted was all smiles.
“There’s a fire.” James remembered as he stood near the top of the Mini Cooper. He pointed toward the city. Ted and Timmons climbed the reactor and looked eastward.
“Time to go, humans,” Timmons called as they hurried from the car. Ted stroked the Mini Cooper’s sides lovingly as he walked next to it. Timmons started to run, in the direction opposite the fire. “Get the horses!” he yelled over his shoulder as they cleared the last of the rail cars and crawled under a pair that were wedged into a bottleneck with the other half of the yard.
Ted looked dismayed. “We’re not going to make it,” he sighed and sat down. Timmons closed his eyes.
“Nope,” Timmons agreed. “He knows we’re here and he’s coming. A daywalker, might not be too powerful.”
They started running again, to get free of the tracks and into the open, as a figure appeared not far away. He wore all black, long sleeves, long pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. The young humans hadn’t seen anything like it.
Timmons and Ted had.
The Vampires preferred the all black leather look to keep the sun off themselves. Even a few daywalkers had adopted the look so they didn’t appear as fourth or fifth generation Vamps.
They wanted the mystique, but some of them were weak, weaker than a well-trained human. Some vampires could read minds. That would give him a distinct advantage over humans, no matter how well trained.
Timmons turned to the four people. “I need you to think about sex, the best sex you’ve ever had, and keep thinking about it. Help each other out for fuck’s sake. It’s not hard. Haha! Maybe it should be, eh, Ted? We’ll take care of this joker,” Timmons said with false bravado as he joined Ted to stand between the Forsaken and the members of the FDG.
James and Lacy were surprised at the order, but their minds instantly disappeared into their past. James couldn’t help it, even though he wanted to watch what was going on with the newcomer that they’d called the Forsaken.
Gerry and Kiwi didn’t have any memories of sex. They both looked at each wondering what to do. Gerry pulled her to him and kissed her hard, then she pulled him away to a spot in the shade behind a boxcar.
The wolf pack took their place at Ted’s side and everyone was ready.
Xandrie was injured. The Forsaken had clawed her side, and it hurt like liquid fire had been poured into her chest. She’d raced down passage after passage, twisting and turning as she fled in pained terror. She couldn’t hear Adams anymore.
She found a nook and crawled into it, licking her side before giving up and changing into human form where she could try to clean out the wound with her more agile human hands.
“What brings you here, my pretty?” a cold voice spoke from the darkness.
She tried to reach out, but the pain was messing with her senses. “Who’s there? Show yourself, pussy!”
A young man appeared in the corridor, blocking her into the small room. She could barely discern his outline even with her Werewolf vision. To a human, it would look pitch black.
“I have to thank you, sister, for what you and your comrades have done for us.” He let the remark hang. Xandrie changed back into Were form, wincing as she put weight on her front paw.
In that moment he was on her, his claws jabbing against her throat. She struggled weakly. “Change back to human form or I’ll slice your head off right now.” His voice was soft, almost dainty, but the command wasn’t.
Xandrie reverted to human form and hung limply in his arms as she summoned her courage and her strength. From far off she heard the footfalls of a Werewolf’s pads.
“Adams!” she yelled before the claws clamped down and stopped her air.
“As you wish,” he said, turning her around as he ducked and bit deeply into her neck while his claws sunk finger deep into her naked stomach. She gasped as he drained the life from her.
She fell to the floor as he disappeared into the darkness.
The Forsaken looked at his claws, smiled at Char, and then winced as a spasm from the wound that Terry had given him announced that it shouldn’t be forgotten. Char felt the impact through the etheric, too.
“Xandrie’s dead,” she told Terry. He clenched his jaws. He thought of saying something witty, but decided that killing these things was in everyone’s best interest.
“A Werewolf, pregnant with a strange human’s baby,” the Forsaken said.
Terry was done talking, no matter the subject. He feinted with his left hand in a move too fast for the eye to follow. The Vamp’s hand raised defensively to block the attack. Terry’s second hand followed, slashing the fingers from the Forsaken’s hand.
The creature jumped back against the tunnel wall. Terry’s spin kick caught him in the mid-section and crunched him against the stone. Char’s roundhouse caught him in the side of the head and knocked him down.
Terry stepped back and cracked the whip tip into the Forsaken’s neck. He howled when the silver from Margie Rose’s old necklace burned him. Char leapt and drove her wooden stake under his rib cage and pounded it toward his heart. He jerked away before it went deep enough.
Terry whipped him again and again, until he curled into a fetal position and rolled over. Char drove her last stake under the creature’s shoulder blade and into its heart.
It shivered and jerked, unable to get the stake free, but it was already too late. Its death throes continued for another few seconds before it collapsed into itself, a dead shell of what it had been.
It needed energy, and the pitiful state it was in allowed even a piece of wood to do it in.
Terry breathed heavily. “How many are left?” he asked.
“Three. This way.” She walked with a purpose.
“That way,” she pointed.
“Adams!” Terry bellowed in his best Marine voice. The rifle fire started from up ahead. Char pulled her pistols and ran with Terry hot on her heels.
“How you doin’?” Timmons called in his hardest New York accent.
The creature remained unmoving, watching them from under the shadow of his hat.
“What a fuckstick,” Timmons said, working the adrenaline. He had both his hands and wasn’t as weak as he had been. Ted was at his side with his pack. Timmons knew Lacy was right.
This wasn’t a one-wolf fight.
The Forsaken started to walk toward them. He’d recently fed, so he shouldn’t have been looking for a quick meal. They had that small advantage.
A hungry Vampire would have been far more dangerous.
The Forsaken stopped before them. “My name is Joseph,” he said as if they should have already known. “What brings you to my town?”
Ted stared at the man, showing no fear and no remorse. Timmons looked closely, wondering if Ted was catatonic.
“Scavenging. We’re playing with a power plant not far from here, seeing if we can bring it back up,” Timmons said, expecting that his feeble efforts to shield his mind weren’t successful.
“A Mini Cooper? Right here for all these years? No matter, I have no idea how to make it work and neither do you, but he does.” Joseph pointed to Ted.
“What are you thinking, little man?” Joseph leaned close, but Ted’s eyes remained unfocused. Timmons had given him away.
The Werewolf growled at the Forsaken.
“Dogs, how apropos,” Joseph sneered before continuing. “Civilization? Yes. I’m all for bringing it back. Give me one of them and I’ll leave you alone to accomplish your mission.” The Forsaken looked at James and Lacy as they held hands and looked at each other.
“No can do, boss,” Timmons said, nudging Ted to break him from his self-induced trance or whatever he was doing to shield his mind from the Vampire.
The pack started to spread out.
“Corporal!” Timmons shouted. “Your rifles would come in handy about now.”
James and Lacy unslung their AK-47s and moved to better firing positions.
Joseph watched them with little concern, unable to see anything worthwhile in their minds. The two humans had no time to think. They went from sex to executing, according to their training. Good sight picture, good sight alignment, clear the field of fire, then repeating that over and over as they prepared to shoot.
“Well trained minds, all except you,” he taunted Timmons.
The Forsaken backed away after seeing in Timmons’s mind the engagement fought by Terry and his people against the crazies in Waukegan. Then Timmons’s mind went to the day that he foolishly challenged Terry to be the alpha, the spark of red in his eyes, getting body-slammed at the speed of light. His mate, every bit as strong.
“How interesting. The alpha of your pack and his mate. You don’t know what he is, do you?” Joseph said, narrowing his eyes in concentration and giving up when he realized that he couldn’t kill them all and that these people worked for someone who was stronger and faster than him, considerably so if Timmons’s thoughts were to be believed.
“Two greater than the whole,” Joseph suggested. “I can’t wait to meet them. For now, tata, Were folk. Until the next time our paths cross. Take the Cooper if you wish. I look forward to visiting when the lights are on.”
He walked backwards to be sure he wasn’t going to get attacked until he was far enough away to turn. He looked like he wanted to say something, but held his tongue.
Joseph walked away, quickly disappearing into the distance.
Terry’s mind was twisting in different directions. Char was pregnant? And they had three Forsaken they needed to keep from escaping. Xandrie was already dead and Adams was running around somewhere in the tunnels. And his people were firing at someone or something.
When they reached the main tunnel, they stopped. Bullets were ricocheting past them and further down the slope.
Terry was not a patient man, but he had no intention of running into a hail storm of bullets.
“Cease fire! This is Colonel Walton and I said cease fire!” he commanded. The firing stopped. “We’re coming out!” He stepped out where they could see him.
“What the hell were you shooting at?”
Mark pointed at something past Terry and Char, farther down the road into the mountain. Terry turned and crouched. The AT-4 swung off his shoulder with the quick motion. He caught it before it hit the ground and threw it back over his shoulder.
He couldn’t see anything. “I see you, fucker!” Char screamed and bolted. Terry tore after her. The Forsaken had staked his ground, but seeing the two coming his way, he started to backpedal. Char picked up speed and Terry gave it all he had to keep up.
She ran past the Forsaken and slid to a stop. She knew Terry was behind her and wanted to bracket this one just like they did the last one.
Terry’s eyes started glowing again, faintly, but he was skylined against the lights behind him. The Forsaken stayed in the shadows.
“My brother has died at your hand, a Werewolf and a scum-sucking human,” a gravelly voice said. Terry threw the AT-4 to the side. It had been a stupid idea to carry that thing around.
He uncoiled his whip.
A scream sounded from nearby. Adams. Terry flicked his arm, sending the silvered tip of the whip licking across the Forsaken’s chest.
The Vampire grunted as he leapt toward Char. They met mid-air with a crash, a flurry of blows, and they both fell separate ways, with Char between Terry and the Forsaken.
He dodged around, but the Vamp had sprinted away. Char fired into the darkness until both pistols were empty. She carefully ejected each magazine, catching the empty ones and pocketing them after the full mags were in place. Terry fired where he thought Char had been aiming, but stopped when he heard a human groan after his bullet went through an innocent’s body.
“Dammit!” he snarled as he ran downhill. Char was coming after him. The claw mark across her cheek was already starting to heal.
She fired past Terry and he dodged left. She was a good shot, but the bullet had whizzed too close to his head for comfort. His eyes were still recovering from going from the light to the darkness, when Mark and the FDG started firing again. A few bullets ricocheted down the tunnel past them. He dodged into a side tunnel as Char jumped the other way.
Claws raked across his back and he felt as if he’d been napalmed. Attack into the ambush was what he’d always been taught.
So he powered backwards, trying to pin his attacker against the wall. That earned him claws across his arm and slamming into the wall without pinning the Forsaken there. It was too dark for Terry to see anything beyond shadows. He crouched and drew a figure eight in the air before him with his silvered blade as he rallied himself through the pain.
The Vampire casually stepped back. Terry howled in rage. His eyes glowed more fiercely, lighting the area in front of him and highlighting his enemy. Terry slashed his whip left-handed while keeping his knife poised and ready to strike.
The first touch of the silvered end of the whip shook the Forsaken’s confidence. He mistakenly thought the red glow was a reflection of his own eyes. He backed away. “No human can stand up to us,” the creature intoned, as if forcing his propaganda on Terry would get him to yield.
Terry was done talking. He cracked the whip to the left of the creature, stepped right and buried his silvered blade in the thing’s neck. Terry picked the Forsaken up and drove him into the wall, where he continued to twist the knife.
The Forsaken gurgled through his destroyed throat. Terry spun the creature around and started hacking through its neck with his blade. It caught on the spinal column, but that didn’t stop him. He reared back and plunged the blade into the creature’s chest.
It spasmed and rocked back and forth. Terry left the blade in its chest as he fumbled for the stick he’d tucked through the belt loops in the back of his pants.
It was gone.
“I guess we do it the hard way,” he grumbled as he picked up the Forsaken by its head and started spinning around until he slammed it into the rock wall. When it hit, he twisted it until the neck broke and the head came free. He jammed the knife in through the back of the skull, scrambling its brains with his silvered blade.
“Eat a bag of dicks,” Terry told the head as he dropped it to the ground and kicked it soccer style into the darkness. The scratches hurt, but he was still riding an adrenaline high. The shining knight within insisted that he find his pregnant wife.
“What did you tell him?” Ted demanded.
“I didn’t tell him jack shit! He was in my mind,” Timmons argued.
“Your undisciplined mind. He wasn’t in their heads!” Ted pointed an elbow at James and Lacy. “Couldn’t you think of sex or something?”
“What the hell were you thinking of? You looked like a stoner!”
“Nuclear calculations. I was running through the fuel we’ll need to start the reaction in the Mini Cooper. All kinds of stuff needs calculated, why not take the time when we have it?” Ted stated logically.
“But a Forsaken was standing right in front of you. How could you ignore that?”
“Easy. I was too busy to be bothered,” Ted said dismissively.
“Talk about bothered, how are we going to move that damn railcar?”
“Steam.” The answer was simple for Ted.
“A steam engine. EMP wouldn’t affect that. Good call, Ted. Where do we find one of those?” Timmons pressed.
“I don’t know.” Ted shook his head emphatically.
“That’s round two. We finished round one by finding it, right where Terry said it would be. Round two is finding us a damn steam locomotive. Let’s head back. There’s a lot to think about.”
James didn’t see Gerry or Kiwi and was worried. He ran around the train car and found them both naked and going at it pretty vigorously, so he backed away, trying not to make any noise. Lacy was following him, but he stopped her. Then he made a motion with his hand and finger. Lacy nodded knowingly and tiptoed away.
They collected the horses and groomed them while they waited. Finally, Timmons was out of patience. “Time to go!” he bellowed.
It took two more minutes for the love birds to show up, flushed and out of breath.
“Well, you suggested it,” Gerry said as he helped Kiwi to the front of the saddle and he sat behind her.
Ted and Timmons started undressing and soon, two Werewolves were running at the front of the pack, with three horses carrying four people trotting to keep up.
Adams staggered along a corridor. Char was calling his name, but he couldn’t yell back. A slash across his throat left him unable to howl. He thought that if he changed back into human form, he’d die. His wolf fur was holding his shattered body together. The Forsaken had left him for dead when the second of their kind had died.
You go, Terry and Char, kill all those evil fuckers, he thought. He staggered two more steps and flopped to the ground. The cool stone felt good. If I can only sleep for a while.
“Adams!” Char called as she strode boldly from one corridor to the next.
“Char!” came a call from behind her. She could sense Terry coming after her. He had taken a wrong turn.
“Not that one, to the left,” she yelled back, while feeling her way. Two Forsaken left, but she couldn’t pin down where they were. Humans were starting to appear from the lower levels of the complex and the mass of humanity was cluttering things.
Terry backtracked and hurried down the corridor to find Char. He was relieved when he saw her and she seemed uninjured. His adrenaline rush was fading away and he was having a hard time seeing again.
Char’s eyes glowed purple in the darkness. “Got you good, didn’t he?” she asked.
“Just a flesh wound,” he said in his best Monty Python imitation. “Adams?”
“Up ahead. He’s still alive.” She walked away. Terry followed her more with his hearing than with his eyes. We need to turn on the lights throughout the complex to help the less gifted among those of us trying to kill each other, Terry thought. He stayed on Char’s heels until she whispered into the darkness. “Adams.”
They heard the scrape of wolf’s paw on the stone. Char crouched, finding him on the floor, tragically injured.
“We carry him.” There was no room for discussion. Terry felt his way around the Werewolf and tried to decide how he would pick the beast up.
She started to lift Adams around his chest. Terry ran a hand under his narrow waist and lifted there. He used his off-hand to cradle Adams’ legs, making it awkward to walk.
“We need to hurry. They’re flooding the corridors with people. The platoon will be overwhelmed and then they’ll escape. I can’t have that,” Char stated coldly.
Terry shuffled while twisting and lifting awkwardly. Char hurried forward, pulling Terry along. He kept up by gripping hands full of fur to keep from dropping Adams.
As they approached the main tunnel, light provided a respite so Terry could see what he was doing to improve his grip.
Char yelled that they were coming out and to hold fire. She turned left as soon as she made it into the tunnel and hurried up the ramp. They were relieved to make it past the front line with the men aiming their rifles down the hill.
“Corporal, call up the reserve and get the security squad in here, too. The threat is in here, not out there,” Terry ordered. Blackie ran off with Hank running close behind. Char grabbed Kaeden’s arm to keep him from running, too.
“Just wait here, Kae, he’ll be back,” Char said soothingly.
“What happened to everyone?” Kae asked innocently. Terry couldn’t see himself, but Char gritted her teeth when she looked at him. Adams was in a terrible state as he lay on the roadway, barely breathing. Blood was caked heavily in his fur. Terry was covered in his own blood, the Vampire’s blood, and Adams’s blood.
Terry jogged to the front line of riflemen. “Sergeant,” he said to get Mark’s attention. “There are two Vampires left down there and they’re driving a bunch of people in front of them to confuse us so they can escape. No one gets past you. Don’t kill any of the people, but don’t let them pass you by until we say it’s okay. We’ll set something up farther down the ramp to give us room, multiple kill zones if necessary.”
Second and third squads rolled into the tunnel following Blackie and Hank.
“Third squad, remain here. No one gets past you,” Terry directed, pointing where he wanted them to set up across the entrance. “Stage the survivors in front of you. Have them sit down cross-legged and wait. No one leaves the tunnel.”
Corporal Blackbeard settled his squad into a line of four up front, two behind. He and Hank were to the side to intimidate people into obeying. Kae was just behind them.
Char looked at the setup, wondering how she had brought her adopted son into a life and death fight.
She’d have to rethink her parenting strategy.
Terry moved second squad into position where first squad had been. He ordered Mark to move the squad down the hill and set up a blocking position at the first intersection to keep the refugees and remaining enemy from getting behind them until after they’d been vetted by Char.
“Listen up, people!” Terry called as he walked back and forth across the roadway behind Mark’s squad. “Be kind and courteous to every single person who comes up this ramp, and you better have a plan to kill every one of them, too. This is a battle at the far end of sanity. You will have non-combatants thrust into the middle of it all, being used as human shields. I would rather see you throw that person to the ground than let a Forsaken get past you. Now get ready! Trigger discipline, gentlemen.”
Terry coiled and uncoiled his whip. He worked his way through the front line and walked downhill to recover the AT-4. No sense giving the bad guys ammunition to kill members of the Force.
He saw the first people struggling up the slope, barely more than ghosts, shriveled and wearing dirty clothes.
“Hold up, people. We’re going to take you out of here, get you away from the leeches. Just point them out to us and we’ll take care of the rest.”
The refugees were unresponsive. They shuffled along, even while Terry tried to hold them up, almost as if they were automatons. Char bumped him as she took her place at his side. The fury started to grow within him again. Once proud people had their minds ripped from them as they became the personal buffet for four Vampires.
Char tapped Terry’s arm. “Showtime.”
“Do you remember seeing a phone book anywhere?” Timmons asked the four humans. In unison, they shrugged.
“You don’t know what a phone book is, do you?” They shook their heads. If he had one to show them, then he wouldn’t need them to find one.
“Anything that could be burned was used as kindling a long time ago, Gunner,” James offered. “Paper? That stuff’s mostly gone. We’ve found scraps here or there, but no books. It’s easier to find shoes and boots.”
“Maybe the people up north might have one?” Timmons was grasping at straws.
“They’ve taken stuff we’ve left behind, but we’re no closer to talking with them. It’s only been two months of near daily excursions, what do you expect?” James said sarcastically. He was getting tired of all the overtures without making any progress.
It would only take one to break the ice, but they hadn’t found that one person yet.
“I recommend we back down to once every three or four days to go up there. That will still give us exposure and show commitment. Maybe absence will make the heart grow fonder and all that,” James suggested.
“That’s fine,” Timmons agreed.
“O’Hare should have a big old map in there somewhere, baggage claim by the taxi stand?” Ted asked.
“We’ll need the map after we know where we’re going,” Timmons replied. “I just want the yellow pages, man, to look up a steam locomotive and see if we can find one. The alternative is we follow railroad tracks in all directions and look for one, but that would be pretty inefficient, don’t you think, Ted?”
The smaller man agreed.
“But, without a phone book, I fear that we’ll have to do just that.” Timmons leaned back and sighed. The wolf pack was lounging around. The evening was cool with a nice breeze blowing in from the lake. The sky was blue and the air clear.
It isn’t such a bad place, Timmons thought. But it would be so much better with a little power.
Every day they seemed to get closer, while at the same time getting farther away. Timmons looked at his left hand, fully regrown, fully functional. Don’t take shit for granted, he told himself.
“We need to stop fucking around and bring that plant online, Ted. We bring it up on fuel oil to make sure it works. Then we start checking the grid, blocking sections that short out. First order, some power, then we start working on better power.”
“The tanks at the railyard seemed full,” James offered, having forgotten about them after the encounter with the Vampire.
“Ted?” Timmons asked.
“Diesel for the locomotives, maybe jet fuel, not sure where the piping went from the tanks. We’ll have to go back and take a look. But that puts us back in the position of having to move tanker cars. We need that steam engine.”
Timmons threw his hands up in surrender. “In due time, Ted. Everything will happen in due time.”
“Get out of the way,” Terry hissed. The survivors were unperturbed and continued shuffling. Terry started grabbing the people and throwing them out of the way, but gently. He sympathized, but if he was to liberate them, he needed them to be somewhere else. Char stayed behind him as they waded through the crush of bodies.
The Vampire gave up trying to hide behind the too thin forms of the refugees and launched himself through a gap. Terry had seen it coming and was braced. He rotated at the waist, building extra power for a right cross that caught the Forsaken in the side of its head and drove the creature to its knees.
Terry stepped forward, ramming his knee into the Forsaken’s face and snapping its head backwards. It looked up through dazed eyes, earning it another flurry of punches as Terry used his enhanced speed and strength to wail on the creature.
Char watched for a moment or two, feeling satisfaction in the merciless pummeling that Terry was giving the Forsaken. This one seemed weak, but one of these last two had killed Xandrie and injured Adams. Her money was on the other one.
“Finish him, TH. It’s the other one we want.” Char looked through the crowd. He was close.
“Give me a stake,” Terry asked, but Char didn’t have one.
“Okay, the hard way,” Terry said once more as he wrapped the end of the whip around the Vampire’s neck and pulled it tightly. The silver started to cut deep into the creature’s flesh. It started bleeding profusely and the Forsaken started to scream.
Char moved to the opposite side of the tunnel to get away from the commotion Terry was causing.
A hand reached between two people and grabbed Char by the throat, the long claws digging deep into her shapely neck.
She tried to cry out, but couldn’t get any air, so she used an attack that Terry had taught her, charge forward.
The bull rush. The attacker gets far more than they bargained for.
Char pushed off and plowed two shriveled humans out of the way as she continued forward, catching the Forsaken by surprise. He stumbled backwards, down the hill as she bore down on him. He went down, and Char fell on top of him, ramming her knee into his groin when they hit the ground.
Terry saw what was going on. “Fuck it,” he said, yanking his whip free from the Forsaken’s throat. He took two steps and dove, catching the arm of the creature that Char was fighting before it could dig its claws into her back.
He rolled, holding the hand tightly and keeping his elbows tucked in close. The creature was pulled sideways, giving Char leverage to free herself. She gripped the Vampire’s other hand and they pulled it to its feet.
It tried to kick, but Terry avoided it, then followed with a series of vicious roundhouses to the Vampire’s lower back until something gave and the Forsaken lost control of its legs.
Together, they slammed it face first into the roadway. They looked at each other, nodded, then picked it up and slammed it again. Terry pulled his silvered blade and started hacking away at the thing’s neck. Blood spurted, but soon slowed.
Char was leaning against the wall when the first Forsaken recovered enough of its strength to get up and run. Char bolted after it while Terry struggled with a dull knife.
Char ran the injured creature down and tackled in from behind. She pinned it to the ground, pulled her pistol, and emptied a magazine into its head.
She holstered it and reached for the second pistol, when a hand stayed her. Terry tossed the Vampire head on the ground, in front of the last one’s face. “My knife can’t cut butter,” he told her.
“Somebody bring me a fucking stake!” Terry bellowed up the tunnel. Mark wasn’t far away, but had to fight his way through the human beings who were little more than vegetables.
With a stake in hand, Terry made quick work of the last Forsaken. He leaned back against the tunnel wall, watching the creature shrivel as its body died.
“Smoke if you got ‘em,” he said aloud.
There was no time to relax, or as Terry saw it, no rest for the weary. A hundred walking dead were crowded into the tunnel.
“No. NO! No, no, no,” Billy repeated. Ernie was adamant about taking his favorite chair. He said he had to have it because that was where he did his best thinking.
Billy was shaking, he was so angry. Felicity guided him outside. She didn’t want to watch him kill another man, not because it bothered her, but because it bothered him.
He cared about these people more than he would admit.
He also wanted them to be more helpful as he tried to save their lives. They resisted the second notion, and that got under his skin.
“Maybe Sue can talk with them? With that blonde hair and beaming smile, she can convince them that traveling light is in everyone’s best interest,” Felicity drawled casually.
“What if they decide to stay? What if the whole town decides to stay?” Billy asked, furrowing his brow as he adjusted the blanket to cover the baby’s head and protect her from the sun.
“Most of them will go, Billy. The rest will have a hard life here, a very hard life. In the end, they’ll realize that you were right. You can’t force them to go.” Felicity laughed to herself. “Who has the energy for that?”
Billy Spires, Mayor of New Boulder, took a deep breath and smiled. “Exactly.” He kissed Marcie on the head and walked back in to the greenhouse.
Ernie stood defiantly with his fists on his hips.
“I’m not going to fight with you, Ernie. Here’s the deal. We can’t take the chair. Your alternative is that you can stay here. I’m not forcing anyone to go,” Billy said calmly and evenly.
“Who’s going to hunt? Who’s going to fix the pump? Who’s going to help me work the fields?” Ernie asked in a panic.
“My problem, Ernie, is getting people across two thousand miles of the Wastelands. To do that, we travel light. If you stay, then those things are your problems. Maybe you can see a little bit of what I have to deal with.” Billy slapped the man on the shoulder and left.
“All I can do is create the conditions for them to survive. Isn’t that what TH is always telling us? There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, right? We don’t need Sue to woo them into playing nice. I’ll give them the option, do the right thing or stay. Their choice. Thanks, beautiful,” Billy said happily, kissing her fully, before strolling to the next greenhouse and delivering the same speech he’d already given three times.
Timmons worked like a man possessed. He looked at every day as gravy, a day that he probably had no right to enjoy. He had been as close to death as he’d ever been, and the humans had saved him. In doing so, he’d also gotten his hand back. He didn’t believe in a deity, or so he said, but when he was alone, he thanked God for giving him his third chance.
He didn’t want to waste it. It was important to Terry Henry Walton and Charumati that they had power. He wanted the lights on to welcome them home.
That meant signs, too. He remembered that he wanted to post something at the old power plant to direct the people to their new homes. They’d roll in exhausted. Timmons and the others had talked that they wanted a welcome celebration that would show the town’s people that their sacrifice in moving had not been in vain.
Since the plant had been sequentially powered down, it didn’t require any repairs to bring it back to life. What it needed was dismantling to check gaskets, fittings, and buildup within the systems that had existed prior to the power down. It was time-consuming but not overwhelming.
Timmons and Ted had yet to find a broken part that needed to be replaced beyond new gaskets, which they were making from certain roofing shingles and only the part of the shingle that had not been exposed to the sun. Other gaskets were being fabricated from soft metals. It was a laborious process, but one that the others in the group could help with. Two hours every day were dedicated to gasket fabrication.
It wasn’t sexy work at all, not like hunting or scavenging. And then there was boating.
Ted had recovered a small sailing boat from the Navy’s dock. He’d pulled it ashore, scraped the hull clean, and lathered deer fat onto the sail and ropes, to give them new life. It smelled a little gamey from the deer fat, but beggars can’t be choosers. He’d been puttering around with it since they moved to the naval station.
One day as they sat around the evening fire, Ted announced that the boat was ready for a test sail.
James, Lacy, and Gerry weren’t interested. They’d all been raised on the border of the Wastelands where water was at a premium. The lake scared them. Kiwi wanted to go as a way to fight her fear of the water.
She’d been raised to respect nature, no matter which form it took.
First thing in the morning, if the winds were fairly calm, they’d head out. Even Timmons couldn’t argue with that. There was work to do, but sometimes you had to take a break, and the small boat would give them a completely different look at what used to be Chicago.
They could even catch a few fish. Timmons had gained a taste for fish during the trip to Chicago, as had the wolf pack. They hadn’t had any since they arrived, and with a good catch, everyone could win.
Blackie had had to take Hank outside and a ways away. The grizzly wasn’t too keen on having all the people who smelled of death wedge in around him.
Char looked exhausted from carrying Kae around, watching over Adams, and trying to keep things moving.
With the Forsaken out of the picture, Terry instructed the platoon to move the refugees outside. The walking dead, as Terry referred to them, went where they were told, but they had no purpose outside of the simplest of instructions.
Once outside, they shielded their eyes from the sun and stood wherever they happened to be when they stopped walking. It was heart-wrenching and taking its toll on the platoon members.
Mark was holding it together, but many of the others sat with their heads in their hands.
Terry suffered through watching for only so long.
“Sergeant, what’s the total count of refugees?”
Mark was ready. “One hundred, thirty-seven, sir.”
Terry whistled. He had a hard decision to make. Taking them along meant drastically changing the plan.
“Bring the platoon together, all of them, inside the tunnel. We have some work to do before we have to make any decisions.” Terry felt tired, too. He didn’t think there was any adrenaline left in his body. His nanocytes were busy repairing damage and not boosting him in other areas.
And it was still the morning. Not enough sleep, too many fights, and for some ungodly reason, he was craving a doughnut. He looked back to Char. So many things to do and none of them as important as what he needed to prioritize as number one.
He joined Char as they walked back toward the big doors that led to the tunnel. “Was the Forsaken right? Are you pregnant?” Terry asked.
“I’m over a hundred years old and I’ve never been pregnant before, but I think so, yes.” She forced a smile through her tired expression.
“How long?” Terry felt put out that she hadn’t shared anything with him. He put his hand on her abdomen, but couldn’t feel any difference.
“I think one day,” she replied in a whisper. He didn’t argue, not understanding how she could know that soon, but it brought back vivid images. He pointed to a spot against the wall not five feet from where they stood. There was a faint trace of blood from where Terry had touched Char’s bite on his neck and then the wall, the place they’d made love the night before.
Kae looked at them, not following the conversation. Terry picked him up. “We think you’re going to be a big brother, so there’s a lot to talk about, but later, when we’re on the road to Chicago. We’ll have plenty of time, little man.”
Kaeden nodded and tried to twist out of Terry’s grip when he saw Blackie and Hank. He let the boy run to his new friends. Terry took a moment to hug his wife and be mesmerized by her sparkling purple eyes.
She looked around at the people, but asked him out of the corner of her mouth, “You know stakes don’t kill vampires, right?”
Terry nodded, slightly, “Yes, but when fighting those fuckers, you have to give everyone a totem, something to believe in. If the vampire is mostly dead, the stake will kill them.” He admitted, before adding, “Just like ripping off an arm, or their head.” He shrugged, “The nanocytes can’t heal it.”
She put a hand on his arm and he cradled it with his own a moment before returning to life’s duties. At least she was always with him and that was the big difference between now and before the fall.
Melissa had stayed home. Char had no intention of ever staying home. They fought Forsaken within sight of Kae and that was how they protected him, by showing him that the real world was a hard place and his parents would fight for him.
And that reminded Terry that he needed to sharpen his silvered blade. Sawing like a mad man at the Vamp’s neck couldn’t have impressed anyone.
Terry and Char joined the platoon. The colonel waved the group to silence.
“I’ll start by saying that these people are the worst thing that you’ll ever see. It’s like when the concentration camps were liberated in World War Two. People, barely alive after having survived horrific torture. Keep your heads up, these people need your strength and empathy, not your sympathy. ‘Oh woe is me’ won’t bring them back. ‘That sucks but here’s what we have to do to move forward’ is the approach we’ll take. Because we have no other option.”
Terry looked at the men. They were still torn. “First, we need to check this place. We have us a convoy right here if these vehicles are functional. Need to check that, too. How in the hell do they have power? We need to find the source and see if there’s anything we can use, and most importantly, we need to turn on every light in this God damn stink hole!”
“Yeah!” Mark yelled. The others looked at him.
“Sergeant, Corporals, send everyone out in teams of two, partition each level and work your way down. If you can’t turn on the lights in an area, don’t go there, understood? Report back every hour, but if that slows things too much, then every two hours. Questions?”
“Are there any more of those creatures down there?” Boris asked.
“There are no more Forsaken, that is, no more bad Vampires. The major can sense them. There shouldn’t be anything alive at all down there.”
“Nothing left down there at all,” Char confirmed. Then choked up, a tear wiped away a moment later. Xandrie’s body was down there and they needed to recover what was left of her.
“Any more questions?”
“There are good Vampires?” someone asked. Terry didn’t see who it was.
“Yes. Bethany Anne and Akio are examples of good Vampires. They don’t get in your business and they absolutely don’t do to people what was done here. This is unconscionable. Those people were trapped in here for over twenty years with four bloodsuckers for company. No wonder they look like they’re dead.” Terry took a deep breath.
Thinking about it gave him the willies. He couldn’t imagine. “Most likely it was one, maybe two, but ended up creating more over the years.”
Terry looked around, “The sooner we start, the sooner we finish. Sergeant, give me two people to watch our refugees, please.”
Mark detailed Ivan and Boris to the colonel, before leading the platoon into the depths of the mountain.
Terry and Char checked on Adams to make sure he was healing. Kaeden wanted to follow Blackie and Hank, but they wouldn’t let him. He started to cry, but Terry put his foot down. “We take care of our injured. This is Adams, in his Were form. Just like your adopted mom. She can change into a Werewolf, too.”
Char hadn’t decided to tell the boy yet and was not pleased that Terry took that decision away from her, but they had misjudged how much the boy saw.
“I know, but Blackie and Hank are my friends,” Kae said, looking up at Terry and Char.
“And they’ll be back, honey. We need to make sure Adams is warm, has water and food. That way he’ll be able to heal more quickly.”
Kae looked at Terry as if he wanted to ask a question, but decided against it. He sat down and started playing with Adams’ tail. They took food and water from their staged backpacks and provided it to the injured Werewolf. He opened his eyes as they dribbled water into his mouth. A few pieces of jerky later and he changed into human form, surprising Kaeden as the tail in his hands suddenly disappeared.
Terry left the tunnel to find Adams’s clothes. Some of the refugees were sitting down. Others were talking quietly, still shielding their faces from the sun.
One man noticed Terry and shuffled slowly toward him. The man’s neck was horribly scarred from the repeated feedings he’d been subjected to. Terry held out a hand. “I’m Terry. What’s your name?”
“Blevin,” the man finally uttered in a raspy voice.
“Those four are dead. You’re free, Blevin, free to start living,” Terry said, trying to sound encouraging.
“Probably too late for most of us. We were here back then, when the world ended. We brought that convoy into the mountain, joined others who had holed up here. There was almost a thousand of us back then,” the man managed to say after stopping twice because of a racking cough.
Terry saw his opportunity. “We want to take that convoy out of here. Who can help us do that?”
“We’ve been doing maintenance on them since we arrived. They’ll start right up. You could back them out, except for those rocks there, but hell, just use the dozer to clear the way.” Another racking cough.
“I didn’t see a bulldozer,” Terry wondered.
“Down the hill, left turn at the bottom. That’s where the garage is located.”
“What?” Terry’s ears perked up. “You mean there’s more equipment?”
The man looked sideways at Terry, before snorting once, which probably passed for a laugh among the walking dead. “That stuff on the ramp is what wouldn’t fit in the garage.”
Pepe looked at Billy. Billy and Felicity looked back. Maria stood to the side watching.
“Do you want the bun or not?” Pepe asked, holding it in front of him.
Billy continued the stare.
Pepe slowly raised the bun to his lips. Billy’s eyes burned. Pepe stayed strong, but the smell of the bun was too much.
“Mine!” Billy called triumphantly, ripping the bun from Pepe’s hand and stuffing half of it into his mouth. He gave the other half to Felicity.
“I thought I had you this time,” Pepe laughed. He turned to the greenhouse. It was winter and the weather was congenial. He’d planted a few things, just in case they were held up, but he had his seed boxes packed full and ready to go. “Only a few more days, and we leave all this behind.”
“Without your help, we wouldn’t have made it this far,” Billy replied, gripping the man’s arm. Tears were running down Maria’s face. “As soon as Terry returns, we go, while the weather is cooler. It’s going to be a long walk, but thanks to everyone, I think we have enough food. Terry and Char said that we might be able to find buffalo on the way. We’re going to need to keep up our strength and for anyone who’s gained extra weight? Well, they’re going to lose it.”
Pepe didn’t have that problem. He and Maria were both thin as most survivors were. Food was rarely in excess, but the previous two years had been kind, despite the increase in heat.
They shook and Billy and Felicity left. Once outside, a big coonhound came running at them. Billy tried to dodge, but Clyde mowed him down. Sue ran up after him.
“You could have called him off in time!” Billy cried as he pushed the dog off and crawled to his feet.
“I know,” Sue said as she slowed and called Clyde to her. He joined her, tail wagging furiously. “Go on, find yourself a rabbit.”
Clyde loped toward the nearest brush, then made a big loop and headed for the field.
“Pepe doesn’t like that dog in his field,” Billy told her.
“At this point, Billy, what does it matter?” Sue asked.
The mayor agreed, but somehow, that statement rubbed him the wrong way. Sometimes, things just mattered.
“You’ve been taking the pulse of the town, so what does it tell you?” Sue asked.
“That they are ready to get on with it. But there will be those who stay behind, because I’m not forcing anyone. If they want to take their chances here, more power to them and I wish them well. I don’t want to drag dead weight. I’m pretty sure the people won’t be able to get their heads wrapped around how much this sucks until day three, when they realize that we only have six more months of exactly that in front of us.”
“Since you put it that way…” Sue shook her head. “Head up, Billy. You need to be the positive and supportive guy. Me? I’m going to change into Were form and run that shit in a week. Then it’s beach chairs and martinis while I wait for the rest of you.”
It was Felicity’s turn to shake her head. “Clyde is going to run that with you? As you said, what does it matter if he can’t keep up?”
“Point to the short girl,” Sue said. “Okay, I’m stuck with you people so you better be walking with a smile and something nice to say!”
“You mean, something like, walking a thousand miles has done wonders for your ass?” Billy asked.
He danced out of the way as Felicity took a swing at him.
“Of course that’s what I meant, Billy, you putz,” Sue said, looking at him. She knew that he said it to get a rise out of Felicity. He had a quick wit, but few people were privileged to see it. He needed that if they were to survive the trip with their marbles intact.
Terry knew about the complex, but it was far larger than he fathomed. They spent the rest of the day going from room to room, disgusted by much of it, but surprised by the advanced hydroponics section that supplied much of the food the refugees were consuming, along with a warehouse of dehydrated meals that was close to empty.
There was much that they could have taken, so Char was the one who told Terry no. He decided that they’d maintain the place as their storehouse.
He didn’t need surface-to-air missiles, but some day he may.
He knew where they were and the code to get in the door.
Blevin wasn’t kidding when he said all they had to do was start them up. The vehicles came to life readily. The ones that were dead were clearly marked. In the garage, Terry ran from one vehicle to the next. He stopped in front of the lone M1A2 Abrams main battle tank.
“Fuck no!” Char shouted at him, her eye aghast.
“But, sweetheart, look at it!” Terry swept his arm in front of it. Pristine, a cap over the barrel. The massive beast loomed over them. “Just look at it.”
“That’s some serious bullshit right there, Terry Henry Walton. A fucking tank? You’re not taking the tank. Put it back in your pants and zip up tightly, because you’re not getting to drive a sixty ton phallic symbol.”
“But…” he stammered. She crossed her arms and tapped one toe. Her lips were white from clenching. “Fine.”
He pouted, but only until he saw the next vehicle—a Special Forces dune buggy. It mounted a fifty caliber machinegun and was a two-seater with a netted area for a small amount of cargo.
“If you want that one, you can have that one, but that is the last toy just for you,” Char said as if she were talking to an infant.
He mumbled to himself as he slid off the Abrams, “Who wants a stinky old tank anyway?” Terry climbed into the driver’s seat of the buggy, caressing the steering wheel before firing up the engine. He looked at the high-tech no-air tires.
It would make for a rougher ride, but they’d never fail unless the terrain tore them up. Most of the trucks had the same tires. Someone in the service had been prescient regarding the storage time for the vehicles.
Normal tires would have been nearly useless after twenty years of sitting, like with Billy’s car. Those pneumatic tires were on their last leg.
Terry sat behind the wheel, beaming. He reached up and stroked the oiled barrel of the mod deuce fifty cal. Two crates of ammunition were tucked into the cargo area. He noted that a limited load of ammunition was pre-staged with each vehicle that mounted a weapon.
It was better than showing up at a motor pool and filling out a request for a ride.
Terry used a chalk stick to tag a variety of vehicles. Char and Kae simply watched, although the boy seemed to most enjoy the dune buggy that Terry had picked out as their ride, as Char assumed they would be riding with Terry.
There was a semi-tractor to tow one of the two tankers of fuel. “Quick math, how much fuel do we need?” Terry asked Char.
“A lot?” she ventured.
“Think twenty-five hundred miles, four miles a gallon per vehicle, that’s six hundred, twenty-five gallons per truck. The tanker holds eleven thousand, six hundred gallons. That means we can use eighteen vehicles, maybe twenty if we assume at least one will break down, using the two buses down here. That reduces our personnel carrying requirements, so the trucks carry equipment, buses get better gas mileage, two for the price of one…” Terry continued with a stream of consciousness as he worked the calculations in his head.
“Both buses, both dune buggies, the tanker truck and fifteen five-ton trucks. And we should have extra fuel for when we arrive,” Terry said confidently.
“What if each truck carried a couple hundred gallons extra using the barrels we saw next door?” Char asked.
“Son of a glitch!” He raised his eyes to the ceiling, “Terry Henry, you dumbass!”
Terry started running back through his calculations.
“I can’t watch this,” Char said as she took Kae’s small hand and walked out of the garage. The smell of death lingered throughout, despite the powered air handling system.
They’d found that the mountain complex was powered by a geothermal system. With little maintenance, it would have provided energy for an eternity, the amount of time that the people would have suffered.
Char couldn’t get out of there quickly enough.
She wasn’t surprised when she heard the massive turbo diesel driving metal tracks climbing the ramp behind her. Terry was at the controls of the bulldozer wearing a stupid smile.
They hadn’t let anyone know that someone was going to try and bring half the mountain down. Char stopped in the middle of the road and glared at her husband. He ground the dozer to a halt, settled the blade on the pavement, and shut the engine down.
She crooked a finger at him. He rolled his eyes as he climbed down.
“Not used to answering to people, Colonel?” she started pointedly. He pointed to himself and tried to look innocent. “Who the hell were you going to tell before you rammed that thing through the doors and brought half the mountain down on yourself?”
“I was going to do exactly as I’m doing. Stop before going outside and chasing the people to a safe distance. Survey the rock and move it a little at a time, control that slide as much as I can. That’s what I was going to do, but that wasn’t your real question, was it?” He waited until she threw her hands up, shaking her head in ignorance.
“You don’t want me to get hurt,” he said. She narrowed her eyes as she looked at him.
“My husband is very astute,” she conceded.
“And my wife is beautiful and with our child. There’s no fucking way I’m going to kill myself now. Way too much to live for.” Terry looked at her as he usually did, amazed at the wonder of the universe that put her into his life. “If I get stuck, I’ll need you in here to help dig me out. Deal?”
“Deal.” She held out a hand so they could shake on it. He squeezed a little tighter than she did, so she responded, until they were both grimacing as they tried to out-power grip the other. A casual observer never would have suspected that this amounted to foreplay.
Terry let go first and Char beamed in triumph, turning without noticing that he had winked at her. She told him to wait as she walked up the ramp and went outside.
She chased people away from the area in front of the mountain, moving the walking dead away from anywhere a rolling boulder could come at them. When she returned, she circled a finger in the air, signaling Terry to fire it up.
He laughed as the engine coughed to life, sending a cloud of diesel smoke into an air vent in the roof.
Terry rolled forward, taking the greatest care going through the doors. They hadn’t opened the whole way. He didn’t want to twist one of them where they couldn’t get it closed again. His long-term storage plan required that they lock the mountain down before leaving.
The dozer blade impacted the main blockage, but the boulders wouldn’t move. Terry gunned it, to no avail. He backed up and tried to clean the smaller blockage to one side. He found relief, going slowly as a small part of the mountainside moved. He waited for the boulders to finish rolling and the dust to settle, before he backed up and hit it again.
Each time he attacked the fall, more rocks dislodged. It took an hour, which in the big scheme of life wasn’t a long time, before the dozer broke fully into the daylight. Terry continued forward, clearing the road away from Cheyenne Mountain.
Blevin waved to Terry after he parked the dozer to the side.
“What’s your plan, Colonel?” the withered older man asked.
Terry hadn’t told any of the refugees his rank or that they were a military force. Blevin must have been talking with the two people Mark sent to watch over them. Coming out of their shell was a good sign, even if it were only a few of them who did so.
“We plan to take a convoy to North Chicago, where we’re refurbishing a power plant. We have about three hundred and fifty people north of Denver. The convoy will make things much easier, since they were willing to walk the whole way. You’ve been out of the sun for a while, but it’s getting hot out here. The nukes lit the world on fire, at least the middle of it. We call it the Wastelands and it is coming to your doorstep.”
Terry didn’t know if there was a leader among the group. He assumed that he’d take them all along, but as Char had been teaching him, he shouldn’t assume things. Char peeked over his shoulder almost as a reminder.
“We invite you all to join us. I promise you that if we run across any ass-hugging bloodsuckers, we will fight them with every ounce of our strength. The rest of it is up to you.”
“I think that’s the best offer we’ve had in two decades. Let me talk with the others, but you can count me in.” The man smiled through a wreck of broken teeth.
“One thing, Blevin. My people are all too young. They don’t know how to drive. Can you rustle up drivers for about twenty-five vehicles?” Terry asked hopefully.
After he walked away, Char made eye contact. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?” she said, smiling and eyes sparkling.
“I can’t help falling in love with you!” he serenaded her.
“Okay, Elvis.” Char rubbed his arm. “Your white whale, TH. A little better than you imagined, huh?”
“Pinch me, I must be dreaming. You, children, Akio, all of it. If the Wastelands has a heaven, I get to live there.”
As if Akio had heard his name spoken, he watched the monitors in his command center. The appearance of the people and then the bulldozer outside of what used to be NORAD suggested that Terry Henry Walton had been successful.
Akio keyed his communication device.
Terry answered, “Konnichiwa, Akio-sama.”
“Konnichiwa, Walton-san,” Akio replied. “I take it that you have been successful in dealing with the Forsaken?”
“We have, Akio-sama. It turned out that there were four of them, but they were pretty damned weak. We’ve rescued one hundred, thirty-seven people, but we lost one of our Were folk, the She-Wolf Xandrie,” Terry reported.
“You defeated four Vampires by yourself?” Akio asked politely.
“Charumati and I, yes, but we fought them one at a time,” Terry said.
Akio thought about that. He needed to pay a visit to Terry Henry Walton and find out more about how one enhanced human and one Werewolf could defeat four Forsaken. From what he heard in Terry’s voice, Akio got the impression that they hadn’t been injured either.
“Thank you, Walton-san. Please do not hesitate to call me in the future,” Akio kindly added, modifying his earlier guidance.
Three people fit in the small boat. If they added a fourth, they would have been cramped. Ted gave Timmons and Kiwi instructions on what to do, whether to tighten the sail, when the boom would snap from one side to the other as the boat crossed the wind to tack. He would man the rudder and do most of the work since the boat was meant to be operated by one person.
Gerry stood on the shore, well back of the water. Kiwi waved and even blew a kiss. Timmons rolled his eyes while Ted focused on the task at hand.
“Cast off!” he called. Timmons unlooped the mooring line from the rusty cleat bolted to the old dock and threw it aside.
“In the boat!” Ted said. Timmons sighed as he pulled in the wet line.
The lake looked smooth, with slight ripples from a gentle breeze. The water was clear and the boat cut an easy V as it sailed slowly from the small man-made harbor.
Once into the lake, Ted tightened the sail and turned at an angle to the wind to pick up speed. The boat leaned and Kiwi cheered, her knuckles white from the death grip she maintained on the railing.
The boat slid silently through the water, the sail cracking as it tightened and loosened with the slight changes in the wind direction.
It was the little things in life.
Ted had enjoyed sailing ever since he learned it while serving in the Navy. Man and nature working together to go somewhere. He looked at the sky in an impromptu weather check. He didn’t want to get lost and have to beach somewhere, possibly damage the boat.
All good sailors brought their ship home.
And Ted was a good sailor. It required a certain technical perfection along with something that challenged him, which was the feel of the water and wind against the boat. That was what he found exhilarating.
He turned the bow to the south and tacked back and forth as he played with the boat, driving it closer to the ruins of a once great city.
It took a full day, but Blevin recruited plenty of the others to drive the vehicles from the mountain. They wanted nothing more than to get away from the place where they had been buried and dead for so long.
Getting them back inside was shaky. Once they got used to the sun, they wanted to remain in it. Only ten people could keep going after they passed through the doors. Terry didn’t hold it against any of them. He, Char, and Kae walked with the group, doing all the talking as they became silent.
Terry started singing the Marine Corps hymn. One man chimed in for the first verse and they left it at that.
“Semper fi!” Terry bellowed.
“Semper fi, sir,” the man replied softly.
“Name and rank, Marine!” Terry called.
“Corporal Heitz, sir,” the man said more loudly.
“Corporal, good to have you on board. What about you, Blevin? Rank and service,” Terry continued.
“First Sergeant Blevin, U.S. Army, Motorpool,” the man answered.
Terry looked at the man like he was an attractive blind date, “You’re my new best friend, First Sergeant.”
When they arrived, Terry asked Blevin which trucks were in the best shape. He pointed them out and Terry assigned drivers. “You drive the big rig, First Sergeant.”
“It’s been a while, sir,” Blevin answered, getting into the spirit of being back in the military even though by all rights, he was an old man and should have been long retired.
It was a new world, and age no longer limited a person’s service, not in Terry’s mind.
“It’s okay to scrape the paint, Blevin, just don’t break an axle or leave a flaming rig in the tunnel. Ha!” Terry thought it was funny.
Blevin? Not so much.
Terry headed for the dune buggy, but Char cut him off. “Where are you going?” He was instantly wary. She knew exactly where he was going. He stood there as they looked at each other.
“Help me out here, Kae. I’m missing something,” Terry asked the boy.
Char huffed and said, “I’m driving.”
She turned and headed for the driver’s seat while the five-ton trucks turned over and roared to life. The big rig belched smoke and rumbled powerfully. Terry went to the second dune buggy. He was happy to see Kaeden strapped in with a seatbelt in the passenger seat of Char’s ride.
He knew that Billy would be ecstatic to drive one of the Special Forces vehicles. Hell, Terry was like a little kid in the thing.
Char led the way out. The trucks followed and Terry motioned for Blevin in the big rig hauling the fuel tanker to stay in front of Terry.
They took the one turn and climbed the ramp slowly. There was some grinding of gears as the drivers re-familiarized themselves with the clutch. The dune buggies were automatics and crawled easily up the steep slope of the road out of the mountain.
They carefully negotiated the partially blocked exit. Blevin scraped a long line down the side of the tanker. Terry could see his plan unraveling before his eyes. If they lost the tanker, they were done before they started.
After Blevin cleared the entrance, Terry followed, sliding sideways to a stop. Char furled her brows and harumphed. “I married a child,” she mouthed.
Terry wanted to check the tanker, and he wasn’t the only one. Blevin slowly climbed down and shuffled around the truck to survey the damage. Terry mounted the ladder on the side to get a closer look, but the damage was superficial.
“Just scratched the paint, boss!” Terry yelled for all to hear.
Mark was still in the garage putting barrels on trucks and filling them in addition to all the other equipment that Terry had told them to load. They were traveling heavy.
But oh my God what a white whale!
He left more behind than he was comfortable with, despite Char’s reassurances that they weren’t going to fight the Chinese Army. Even with the trimmed down supplies, she suspected they’d be able to.
“You’re like a kid in a candy store, and there’s no one to stop you,” Char complained.
After everything was outside, Terry looked and then apologized to everyone as he told them to unload three truckloads of gear. The antitank and surface-to-air missiles all needed to stay. He instead gathered clothing from supply, uniforms for fifty people, including blue jeans from those who had been locked in the mountain and died. Their clothing had been consolidated over the years. The Forsaken had given the survivors something to do, anything to do to keep them busy and give them a limited sense of purpose.
With the Forsaken dead, some of the people were coming back to life. Terry and Char declared unlimited rations for the survivors, raiding the final stocks of MREs, Meals Ready to Eat.
Or as Terry had called them in the Marines, Meals Rejected by Ethiopians.
He wasn’t proud of it, but some people wouldn’t eat them, even if they were the last thing on earth.
He’d eat the ancient MREs and the survivors could eat his stash of elk and venison, mainly because Terry was glad that he hadn’t been trapped in that mountain like they’d been.
He would always treat them differently for how they suffered and still managed to survive.
Just like the Marines who survived Chosin Reservoir. Or the Bataan Death March. He’d read everything he could on those, remembered it all. He’d met a few Marines from the frozen Chosin, the Chosin Few as they were sometimes called.
Terry, Mark, and Blevin went back into the mountain to shut off the lights. The vault door within stood open. With those stationed in the mountain trapped there, they had opened the door and kept it open. Most of the long-term supplies were outside the vault.
They worked their way up the slope until at last, Terry shut down the lights over the main roadway into the mountain. He walked out last, then punched the fifteen digit code into the panel. The doors ground backwards and sealed against each other. The panel remained lit. Terry shut the lid over it and walked away.
“People!” Kiwi told Gerry as Ted pulled the sail down expertly, letting their momentum carry them toward the dock. Gerry leaned down to grab the rope that he tied to the dock’s cleat. Ted held the boat steady while the other two climbed ashore.
“We saw lots of people, but we didn’t get close enough to talk with them,” Kiwi added. Gerry hugged her tightly as they stood on the dock.
Ted untied the knot that Gerry had made and wrapped the rope over the cleat in the appropriate nautical fashion. He put the case over the sail, rubbed a dirty spot clean, and climbed out of his new favorite toy.
It was also their best way to explore the old city without exposing themselves to a different gang of crazies. Would the six of them be able to hold off a mob like the one that attacked when they first arrived?
“What are you thinking about, Ted?” Timmons asked, not taking the question lightly as Ted didn’t think like normal people. His mind was often elsewhere, maybe even on a different plane of existence.
“I’m not so sure we want to turn on the lights yet,” Ted delivered the conclusion to his internal conversation.
“What is Joseph doing down there?” Timmons pondered.
“Feeding, but not enough to scare the people away,” Ted replied.
“We’ll get the plant ready and run it, but not at night. No sense summoning the demon.” Timmons wasn’t amused, but he wasn’t afraid. The wolf pack stayed outside their lodging, watching over them all and keeping them safe. Ted said they were patrolling.
James called it the wolf watch.
Everyone else was loaded and ready to go. Seven members of the Force de Guerre rode the horses that they’d brought from New Boulder.
Adams sat in the passenger’s seat of Terry’s dune buggy, ashen but sitting upright, in human form, wearing clothes recovered from the warehouse.
They’d recovered Xandrie’s body and to her wishes, they burned her in a small funeral pyre. Adams remained stoic throughout, his injuries causing him physical pain to match his emotional anguish. He needed to leave the mountain behind. He looked forward as he sat there, refusing to look back because he didn’t want to break down, not again.
Last to get on board was the grizzly cub. Already weighing in at a hundred and fifty pounds, he staunchly refused to get in the truck. They tried to walk him up the steps of the bus, but he wasn’t having any of that either.
“Leave him!” Terry ordered. Char glared at her husband from the driver’s seat of the second dune buggy. He rubbed his temples to forestall one of those headaches.
Blackie looked as if Terry had just sentenced his mother to the gallows.
Kaeden jumped out of the dune buggy and ran the short distance to the bus. He and Blackie talked with the bear, then Kae climbed into the bus, waving the bear to follow.
Blackie pleaded. Kae pulled a meat stick from his pocket. Terry wondered where he’d gotten it from. Hank lumbered up the stairs and followed Kae in. The bus was filled with survivors, sitting stoically, most looking straight ahead.
With a thumbs up, Blackie climbed aboard and the driver closed the bus door. Char shrugged and motioned for Terry to take the lead.
He drove to the front of the convoy, stood in his seat, and twirled his arm in the air. “Wagons, ho!” he yelled, sat back down, and took off. They headed out slowly, to get too far ahead of the horses, but the plan was for the horse riders to travel at their own pace. Terry estimated that forty to forty-five miles an hour would yield the best gas mileage, which was far more critical than traveling together.
Terry knew that his people could protect themselves.
He focused on the task at hand, making sure the road was clear enough and that he didn’t take them over a bridge that wouldn’t support the weight of the tanker truck.
He knew one bridge by the native’s village that they couldn’t cross. He wondered how many more there were, hoping that he hadn’t noticed because there was nothing to notice.
Blevin had done a favor for Terry by welding a metal grate onto the front of the semi, in case they needed to push dead vehicles or other refuse out of the way.
Just like Mad Max, Terry thought as he maneuvered through the streets and ruins of the town. He stayed to the outskirts, where there was less debris, and swung north on the side roads they’d traveled when they engaged Sawyer Brown.
Terry sped up, letting the dune buggy race ahead on stretches of wide open road. The semi was behind him, then the buses, the five-tons fleshed out the convoy, and Char brought up the rear.
“Test, test, test,” Char’s voice crackled through the radio. “Tail End Charlie, here. Lead, are you out there, over?”
“Lead here, have you five-by-five, over,” Terry replied. The nomad was on top of the world, leading the only military force left in existence, with equipment as if it had been just delivered from the factory.
This nomad was supreme. He smiled at the wind in his face.
“SLOW THE FUCK DOWN!” Char yelled over the radio.
He instantly took his foot off the gas, realizing that he’d raced far out front of the others. The equipment hadn’t been on the road for over twenty years and there he was at seventy miles an hour.
He started laughing. He wasn’t even the king in his own castle and here he was leading a convoy that would enable him to make war. That was what the FDG was all about, to annihilate the dictators like Sawyer Brown, like Marcus, like the Vampires who lived in the cave.
Kansas City? He wondered how they were doing, but didn’t let it bother him. They’d be doing better if they simply talked. Walk softly and carry a big stick. Terry knew how the game was played. The one who carried the most firepower dictated the terms of the conversation. It was what he learned in the Marines, and what he knew from his private security work afterwards.
The only thing that prevented him from using his authority and weapons for his own purposes was his own moral compass.
And a lady Werewolf.
“Yes, dear,” he said into the microphone. “All drivers, all drivers, this is Lead. It’s time to do an equipment check. Pull in behind me. Five minutes and then we’re back on the road.”
Terry drove the dune buggy to the side of the road and stopped, an old habit. The others did the same. That gave Char the opportunity to drive to the front.
She parked and got out. Terry went into survival mode. “I’m sorry, just stretching the old girl’s legs, that’s all. I won’t do it again.” He sounded like he was whining, even to his own ears. So said in a deeper voice, chest puffed out, “I won’t do it again, because that’s what I decided.”
Char rolled her eyes and put a hand on his chest. “Listen here, TH. One of the trucks is leaking oil, another two are belching smoke and running like crap. Bits and pieces of this convoy are going to be scattered between here and Chicago.”
“Buzz kill!” Terry proclaimed. He stroked his chin. “Well now, that changes the crap out of everything. If only two of the trucks break down, then we’ll have to leave weapons and ammunition on the open road. You’re telling me we might lose three before we get to New Boulder?” His head felt like it was going to explode. He turned to face the Wastelands.
“FUCK!” he screamed. He was going to scream again, but the drivers were watching him.
He motioned for them to join him.
“All the trucks aren’t going to make it, are they, Blevin?” he asked up front.
“No, sir,” the first sergeant answered.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen, here’s the situation. I can’t leave any of this weaponry out in the open. If a truck breaks down, we spread out its load. We will leave dead trucks behind. When we run out of room to spread out the loads, then we’ll have to leave equipment behind, too. I won’t do that. I won’t leave weapons and ammunition in the Wastelands. We have twenty-two trucks. We need to drop that to fifteen, with only three carrying equipment, supplies. The rest will carry fuel. I’m okay leaving diesel behind if we have to, but nothing else. We need to go back to the mountain and unload.” Terry hung his head, feeling like a complete failure.
“I think we should take as many trucks as will go. We can use them for parts as they die. We’ll need some spares,” Blevin suggested.
“Then that’s what we’ll do, people. Unload, reload, and then we’ll try it again.” Terry felt better about his chances.
The drivers walked back to their vehicles. They were physically weak, exhausted from the trials of their lives. They’d worked hard alongside the platoon to get the convoy ready in a mere three days, but he needed another day from them, and with only half the platoon.
The men on horseback would continue north.
Now he’d have to ask his people and the survivors to work hard again. It would be months for many of the old and shriveled people to recover their strength.
Terry would work harder than any of them, because the mistake was his. He expected Char would be right beside him, taking some of the load from his shoulders.
It was what she did best.
Because the nomad couldn’t be supreme without his other half.
“Kid in a candy store and now I’m suffering through a stomachache of titanic proportions,” he told Char.
She kissed him and looked into his eyes. “It’s how boys learn best.”
“And men,” Terry corrected.
“I thought that’s what I said,” she toyed with him, looking coquettishly from under a lock of hair. “Terry Henry Walton, you need to get your ears checked.”
She strolled away with an extra hip swing as she walked
“By who?” he wondered.
The FDG had been gone for nine days. Terry had told Billy that he’d return no sooner than eight days.
Billy Spires was antsy. The people were ready to go. Once they convinced the town’s people to leave everything behind, the rest was easy. The bad news was that a number were going to remain in New Boulder, even though Billy tried to convince them that the town was dying.
“Better to die here than on a road to nowhere,” they answered. He was tired of fighting them. Fewer mouths to feed was how he decided to look at it.
Sue had grown more vocal in the planning process. Since Billy had put her in charge of the cart loading, she was quick to say what could go and what couldn’t.
She wasn’t the most popular person in town at the moment. That didn’t bother her. The people would figure it out rather quickly that the draconian restrictions were for their own good.
They sat around, waiting, unwilling to start something new, unwilling to do anything.
Billy’s car was parked out front. He’d thrown a few extra things into it, but those were for the baby. He carried one of the AKs and ammunition. He didn’t have a change of clothes and he’d rolled one blanket to throw over his shoulders for whenever the car died.
His plan was simple. The waiting was hard. They weren’t getting any closer to their new home by sitting on their asses.
The rumble in the distance sounded like thunder. Billy couldn’t figure it out. The sky was clear. It was hot, too hot for that time of year.
As the sound grew closer, they all recognized it at the same time. They headed for the door, but Clyde ran between them, hoping to be the first outside.
“Son of a bitch!” Billy called out as he saw the convoy approach. A couple vehicles were belching smoke. He could hear them missing and coughing. A dune buggy with a machinegun mounted on the top pulled up first. Char stood in her seat and waved for the following vehicles to park behind her.
A semi, two buses, and a long line of military trucks ground to a halt and one by one, shut their engines down. The silence was odd after all the noise, the man-made noise they enjoyed living without but missed terribly.
“Son of a bitch!” Billy yelled for a second time, running by Char’s ride and high-fiving her as he passed on his way to the second dune buggy.
Terry stood in the driver’s seat, leaning on the barrel of the fifty cal.
“We’re riding to Chicago!” Felicity called, sitting on the front step of the house as she started to cry. Sue turned Clyde loose and he ran barking at the strange vehicles.
“Clyde!” Terry called as he extracted himself from the buggy.
A commotion behind them signaled that the bear had climbed out of the bus. Kaeden was running after him. Char took off running after Kae.
Terry was pleased that Clyde came to him and their reunion was joyous, if not too short, as Clyde decided that he needed to join those chasing the grizzly. Sue tried to look humble, but Terry intercepted her.
“I guess you’re a dog owner now,” he started as he pulled her into a hug. She drew back. Alphas weren’t supposed to be nice. Terry’s smile disappeared, but it wasn’t because of Sue. “Can you help Adams, please? We ran into some Forsaken and lost Xandrie and almost lost Adams, too.”
The breath caught in Sue’s throat. She nodded without saying anything, hurrying to Adams’s side. She helped him out, then they stood there, holding each other and crying.
Terry had seen too many people die in battle to continue mourning for too long. He remembered them all, fondly, as warriors who’d gone somewhere else to fight evil. That thought comforted him. Terry didn’t want to believe that someone died and simply was no more.
He hadn’t spent much time with Xandrie, but Char had. Adams was Xandrie’s mate. Sue was in the pack, too. He expected Shonna and Merrit would be crushed.
The pack had been together for decades.
But it was a new and harsh world. Integrating with humanity had come at a steep price, but they’d earned the respect of good people. They made a difference for all of humanity, even though they hadn’t wanted to.
Char had taken an indifferent, self-serving pack and turned them into pillars of a new world. For that alone, Terry was proud of them all. He’d take them to Chicago, and they’d start fresh.
Every single person would get a new chance in the new place.
Terry shook himself from philosophizing and met Billy. They walked from vehicle to vehicle so the survivors could introduce themselves. Corporal Heitz was Terry’s favorite and First Sergeant Blevin was nominally in charge of the new people.
Many remained in their zombie-like state, tragically damaged from their ordeal, but their friends were becoming more and more helpful. And Billy had a town full of people to help the survivors, too.
Billy rushed through the greetings because he wanted to see the trucks.
After jogging from one to the next, he stopped at the last in the convoy, looking confused. “I thought they’d be loaded with stuff. Doesn’t look like much,” he lamented.
“We had them completely full, Billy, but one of the trucks went tits up within ten miles. These are well maintained, but old. First Sergeant Blevin wasn’t sure how many would make it two thousand miles and the absolute last thing we can do is leave arms and ammunition in the middle of nowhere,” Terry droned through his reasoning on the truck count. “If ten percent of the trucks make it, we’ll be able to carry what we took. If we must have what we left in the mountain, we’ll have to ask Akio for help, or do it the hard way.”
Until then, they’d make do with what they had, AK-47s and knives. In the end, the only things that were on the trucks was a ton of C4 explosive, a few claymores, pistols with ammunition, one crate of grenades, and a handful of AT-4 rockets. Members of the Force de Guerre were dressed in a mix of U.S. Marine Corp and U.S. Army camouflage utilities. They wore web belts and harnesses over their standard-issue flak jackets. They had helmets, too, but weren’t wearing those.
Not yet anyway.
Terry looked at his pants. He’d opted for blue jeans because he found a pair that fit like a glove. He had utilities too and would wear them later. He tapped his shoulder holster, feeling the comfort that it brought him. That bastard Sawyer Brown had destroyed his last pistol. Now he had a trusty M1911 tucked on his person. His whip, an AK-47, and one silvered knife blade rounded out his armament. He and Char decided to let Kaeden keep the other knife. This was a new world where you never knew when you’d be in a fight for your life.
And his thoughts drifted back to Xandrie. Sometimes good people died.
“Fuck the funeral dirge!” Terry said out loud. “Let’s get our asses in gear! When the horse troop arrives, we’re getting the fuck out of here.”
Terry’s jaw was set. He wasn’t willing to waste any more time. Chicago called to him.
Two weeks passed and the six of them collapsed every evening. Timmons was driven like a madman.
He and Ted fabricated a pipeline pig, but getting it to drive the fluid into the tank was a different matter. They didn’t have a compressor to build air pressure of the capacity to drive the pig, so they rigged a pulley, running rope through the center of fence post piping. It took all the horses to haul enough pipe to push the pig past the first bend. They worked it past access hatch after access hatch, repositioning their rope and pipes each time. It took three days of work by all six of them to push seven thousand gallons of old fuel oil into the tank. Ted’s original estimate was off. When he recalculated, he determined that they had about fifteen thousand gallons.
They figured they’d burn forty-three gallons an hour. The math was simple after that. They had enough fuel for three hundred and fifty hours of electricity.
“We need a locomotive,” Timmons told Ted.
“That hasn’t changed since we found the Mini Cooper,” Ted replied. He’d bugged Timmons every single day asking to return to the railyard.
“I know what you’re thinking, Ted. We are wasting time with crumbs when the seven course meal is just a few miles away. As of right now, it might as well be on the other side of the planet. Not only do we need a locomotive, we need track space so we can move stuff around to get to the train we want. It’s a Rubik’s cube puzzle for sure.”
“My record with the Rubik’s Cube is thirty-three seconds,” Ted stated proudly.
“But were you blindfolded?” Timmons asked sarcastically.
“Of course. Would it count if I wasn’t?” Ted asked with a confused look.
“Of course you were, Ted. I’m sorry. Once we make sure the plant will fire and the turbine spins, we’ll go find us a steam locomotive, no matter what it takes. Deal?”
Timmons held out his hand.
Ted shook it. “Deal.”
Two weeks later found Terry fuming. “Settle down, lover,” Char said soothingly. They’d pulled into Sheridan having lost three trucks already.
The cattle, four horse-drawn carts, and one squad on horseback were somewhere far behind them.
The farming seed packs were split between the carts, the trucks, and the buses.
The people were crammed into the buses and the remaining trucks. They were refueling from the barrels and dumping them on the side of the road to free up space inside the remaining trucks. They were filling quickly as vehicles dropped out.
The dune buggies were running like brand new and for that, Terry was thankful. Billy drove one with Felicity and Marcie, while Terry and Char shared driving duties of the other, squeezing Kae into the space between them.
It took far longer to leave than Terry wanted, then they traveled at an average of twenty miles an hour. The roads were clear enough that he wanted double that in order to get the gas mileage to help them make it all the way.
At the rate they were losing trucks, he wondered if they’d all be walking the last half of the trip.
“So what? Any part we don’t have to walk now is gravy!” Char argued. It made sense, but Terry was still angry. “Thank God we didn’t bring fully loaded trucks. We would have been in a real shit sandwich, so for the second time, settle down. Things are going way better than I expected, if that’s any consolation.”
“You expected me to fail?” Gloom darkened Terry’s features. He was being caustic but only because of the circumstance, not because he thought his beautiful partner had lost faith in him.
“Of course not,” Char said dismissively. “I have no faith in twenty-year-old trucks that haven’t been driven. That’s all. I honestly think some of the vehicles are going to make it the whole way.”
“That warms my heart,” Terry answered. “I’m still irked at how many people stayed behind. Seventy people risking their lives, taking a huge chance.”
“There’s just as much risk out here, TH,” Char replied, getting close to him, their faces inches apart. “My man who cares so much that he wants to throw the rebels over his shoulder and carry them to a better life.”
Terry chuckled. “Something like that.” Terry turned toward the people and took a deep breath.
“Rally up! Stopping for the night,” Terry bellowed. The trucks were already shut down and the drivers were running through their daily preventative maintenance checklist.
The bus door popped open, and once Hank clamored out, the people started to get off. Many would walk a few feet and then sit down. That was where they’d remain until morning.
It tore at Terry’s heart. Incrementally, one or two were coming out of their shells, but the others could be gone forever. The colonel wanted to leave them behind, but the human being said that they deserved every ounce of effort that Terry could give.
The ruins of Sheridan were as they remembered from their last trip through. Surprisingly, five children, two adults, and their eighteen head of longhorn were still there. When they saw Terry, they collectively hung their heads as the man detached himself from the group and approached.
Terry felt sorry for the people, but it didn’t make him like them any better.
“I’m sorry, mister. We did as you asked. Now what?” the man intoned humbly.
“Join the parade. We’re going to Chicago. There’s a group that’s probably a couple days behind us. Join them and their cattle,” Terry said slowly, trying to assess the man’s level of duplicity. “You know what would help us out? We’d like to butcher one of these cows. We have a big number of people and need a lot of food. Choose one.”
The man pointed to a cow. “She’s the oldest, probably won’t have no more calves. She’s good for meat, but we need the rest if we want to grow the herd.”
“Thank you and done,” Terry replied. He saw Blaine and waved to him, asking him to bring a few people to butcher the cow. The old hunter waved back and hurried away to make it happen.
“It’s good to see him when he’s not so afraid,” Char said, having magically appeared next to Terry. Kae was running after one of the Weathers’ boys. She thought that one was called SC because South Carolina was too long.
“I thought we lost him too, after he saw…after he saw what he saw.” Terry didn’t want to say Char’s pack.
It was the same pack who’d joined the town, but Blaine didn’t know that. He’d stopped hunting, but he was a good butcher and had done a great deal of work preparing jerky and smoked meats to support the journey. Nearly four hundred souls counted on him.
And Claire Weathers. The old lady was a dynamo. Billy Spires had done what a mayor was supposed to do: find people who were good at stuff and put them in charge of it.
Every vehicle carried food. Every person carried food. Blackie forced Hank out to graze because the grizzly needed grain, fruits, and vegetables in his diet, too. Clyde had finally taken a liking to the bear, but never got too close, just in case the feeling wasn’t mutual.
Sue was trying to manage the camp at each stop. She had her work party established and put them to digging a latrine after picking a spot that wouldn’t foul the water supply. They always stopped near a stream, understanding that they could do without food, but not without water.
Adams led a hunting party at each stop, but they were rarely fruitful. Their route didn’t take them past lucrative hunting grounds. The interstate was in good enough shape that they didn’t have to deviate. They used the ram on the front of the semi a few times to clear space for the other vehicles, but outside of that, it was clear sailing.
Pepe and Maria rode the bus with the survivors. From what Terry heard, they maintained a constant litany of stories to entertain the people as they traveled.
Ernie had stayed behind. He didn’t want to leave his home, claiming that he was too old to start over. Charlie from the FDG expressed a desire to stay behind, but Terry squashed that. As a member of the Force, they’d given up some of their free will.
Char argued, but not for long. They needed everyone they had. It ate at Terry because he saw it as a lack of loyalty to the unit, to the mission.
Then he realized that he had kept them tactical. Just like when Mark expressed his reservations because Terry hadn’t sold them on the mission.
Terry found his sergeant.
“Mark,” he said in a soft voice. “Rally the platoon and bring them here. I need to talk with them. Not an emergency, so no yelling. I’ve heard that upsets the civilians.”
Mark nodded, saluted, and ran off.
Char cocked an eyebrow at him. “Sometimes people need to know that what they’re doing is important and why, how it fits into the big picture.”
“READY?” Timmons called from the plant floor. One by one, the others sounded off—James, Lacy, Kiwi, Gerry, and Ted—from their positions at critical junctions of the plant. Ted was running the boiler, while two people were responsible for two valves each for manual operation. Timmons was at the turbine, his keen hearing dedicated to listening for any anomalies. One person was at the condenser and one, Lacy, was standing by to go wherever she was needed.
Both James and Lacy were mechanically savvy, but Lacy had more experience in a power plant than everyone else except Ted.
On the roof of one of the buildings had been a wind generator, but thanks to a heavy door that no scavengers had a key for, the roof had been untouched. Ted climbed up the outside of the building, showing the agility of a monkey, and removed the entire system because he needed the little power it generated to run the startup systems of the boiler.
The vent valve was open and the steam valve closed.
The fuel had been circulated through the system and was slowly pre-heating. The power from the wind generator wasn’t substantial. They needed the plant to run in order for the plant to run. It was a dichotomy of modern systems in that the designers assumed there would be electricity before the electrical generator came online.
They filled the boiler drum with water to a point just above the low water line. They had to rig a bypass that fed the boiler with water from the lake after filling one of the water storage tanks outside the plant.
The slow whirring of fans and pumps were loud within the normal silence of the plant. When the boiler came to life, it sounded like a blast furnace. The jets sprayed the fuel oil that became the flame licking the broad surface area of the heating pipes.
Heating the water from room temperature took more time than Timmons expected, but Ted had it calculated and looked bored until five minutes before the steam was of the sufficient pressure that they needed to open valves. Then Ted ran to and fro, giving orders and watching the analog gauges that were in the plant as a backup to their fully digital system.
The steam finally reached the turbine, driving it faster and faster.
When the time came, Timmons threw the switch and the plant came to life.
Ted held his hands over his ears and the others bolted from their positions, heading for the exit. Ted took his hands away, then shrugged and went back to work.
“That was awesome,” Timmons chuckled, earning him a one finger salute from the humans.
The platoon looked at Terry as they gathered around, unsure of whether to stand at attention or at ease. The colonel looked upset about something, and they had no idea what it could be.
“Why are we here?” he asked rhetorically. The two squads were confused, but tried to answer.
“Because it’s the best route to Chicago.”
“To keep these folks going.”
“Because there’s water.”
Terry put his hand up to forestall further comments. “I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant. The Force de Guerre, the unit that we’ve created. We do little things, and eventually they’ll add up to something big.”
The men were all eyes. A number of the former military from Cheyenne Mountain joined them. The first sergeant, Corporal Heitz, the only other Marine and some of the other drivers.
“Our mission is to bring civilization back to humanity. To do that, we have to be the biggest and the baddest,” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder to the civilians. “So no one fucks with these good people. You’ve seen what we went through with just the power plant and the freezers. Imagine that on the scale of a city. We need to mine the ore, move it to the factories, manufacture things, then make more things. How do you do any of that without the factories working in the first place? It took hundreds of years and a hundred million people to do what we’re asking these four hundred to do. And you know what?”
Terry stopped to take a drink from his flask before he continued.
“They’re going to do it. Why? Because they feel safe. We’re going to make sure they can work without being bothered. We’re going to find help for them, people who’ve been surviving but want more.” Terry looked around the small group. He would have liked to have the whole platoon, but Boris and his squad were riding shotgun with the cattle being driven by the oldest Weathers boys.
“We’re bringing humanity back to civilization,” Terry said, waving an arm to take in the camp, the vehicles, and all the people. “We will carry them on our backs if we have to, because we are the only ones capable of providing stability. Chicago isn’t the end-all, just a place with enough infrastructure for us to grow. If it gets hot there, we’ll head north, start over again; not because we want to, but because we have to. We are the bedrock for these good people. They need to believe that everything is okay because we are confident. Everything we do must be done with the utmost conviction and flawless integrity.”
Terry took another drink. He felt like he was rambling. “Simply put, they need to trust us, that we know what we’re doing, that we can protect them from any and all enemies. That’s our role here. We’re creating the conditions where humanity can thrive once again. I’m not going to invent a new power source, but one of them may.” Terry pointed at the people with a nod.
Mark took the cue and started clapping. He turned away from Terry and the others followed as they cheered for the civilians, who were completely befuddled. Terry followed the group, clapping over his head. “Here’s to you, New Boulder!” he hollered.
Char shook her head. The people looked mildly amused before going back to what they were doing. Terry clapped his people on the back. “Force de Guerre!” he yelled.
They thrust fists into the air, screaming, “Force de Guerre!”
Only one man dropped his rifle. All eyes were instantly on him.
“Drop and give me infinity,” Terry ordered in a stone cold voice.
Adams had lost his mate and almost lost his life to a Forsaken, but his alpha had come to his rescue. The Forsaken were dead and Xandrie was avenged. He was fully healed, physically, but still distraught. The hunting outside Sheridan had been fruitless, so he told his small team that they were heading back early. They hadn’t been gone long.
To the others, it seemed like he was giving up.
When they made it back to the camp, they were happy to smell beef on the barbecue. They would eat well tonight, even if they hadn’t killed it.
Char pulled Adams aside. “What can I do to help?” she asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” he muttered. He wouldn’t look at her.
She lifted his chin, forcing his head up. He mildly resisted, until he gave in.
“It matters and you matter. We need you with us, Adams, and we need you to make sure the cattle get to us. That group is going to experience a great deal of hardship. They are going to be on the road for months. The cattle aren’t going to want to walk day after day after day. The people are going to grow tired, lose focus, maybe even lose their way. I need someone I trust to carry them, and that person is you.”
Adams curled a lip in disgust.
Char grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, catching his attention. “She’s gone, Adams! And that sucks. We can’t go back and tell her not to run herself into a corner. I wish we could, but we can’t!”
Adams got angry and sad at the same time. He clenched his jaw as he didn’t know how to respond. Then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“You know, Xandrie always thought you’d make a better alpha. She was happy that you took Timmons down and stepped into the role you were always destined for. I wasn’t so sure,” Adams whispered, his eyes still closed.
“But I am now. I will do what you require, my alpha. Shall I head back to them or wait here?” Adams resigned himself with the situation, but internally, he was relieved. He had a mission with responsibility, and he had the confidence of his alpha.
It had been his job to watch over his mate, but he failed. Adams was being given a second chance, just like Timmons had gotten after his failed challenge. To prove himself, all he needed to do was get a bunch of humans and their cattle to Chicago.
How hard could that be?
Once the plant was generating electricity, their challenge was in sending electricity into the base, one circuit at a time. There had been some damage over the years, but most of the power lines appeared to be intact.
One by one, Timmons threw switches to add circuits to the feed. One resulted in an immediate pop of the breaker. Timmons marked that one and moved on. Some drew more power than others, but the generator supplied enough electricity for most of it. Timmons understood that the small power plant was a backup system and that was why it had looked so new. It was relatively unused.
Until the end days when they ran it, but then it was too late to make a difference.
Timmons made mental notes as well as handwritten ones regarding the circuits. They had more research to do when the power was off. When Timmons returned, Ted was covered in dirt.
The plant had been clean.
“What happened to you?” Timmons wondered.
“Exhaust vent was plugged. It’s fine now, but we have a little mess that needs swept up.” Ted looked at Timmons hopefully.
“I’m not doing it and everyone else is busy!” he declared. “Let’s power her down. Things are looking good out there. Besides the vent, how’s she running?”
Ted held his fingers up in the okay sign.
They shut down the fuel pump and let the fire die. The steam quickly subsided, then the valve shutting began. They idled the plant and walked outside. It was early afternoon, far earlier than Timmons believed possible.
Nothing like a successful test of a five megawatt power plant to raise one’s spirits.
Timmons pulled everyone together after venting the last of the steam and finalizing the shutdown sequence. “It doesn’t get any better than that. We’ll check tomorrow how much fuel we used…”
Ted interrupted. “By my calculations, some eighty-seven gallons.”
Timmons blew out a breath. They needed power to make more power. He started thinking how to energize the pipeline pumps to deliver the remaining fuel, or they could move fuel from the railyard. The young folk had told him the big tank seemed full. Even if it was diesel, they could make that work.
“We need the locomotive, Ted. Tomorrow, first thing, we start our search and we don’t come home without it,” Timmons declared as he smacked his fist into his hand.
“What have I been telling you?” Ted said with a hearty head shake.
“It’s like talking to a wall,” he groaned.
The others started to laugh.
“Liberty is sounded,” Timmons joked.
“I don’t know what that is, but I found this behind a medicine cabinet in the barracks rooms,” James said, holding a small bottle of bourbon whiskey. Ted waved a hand dismissively.
“Go ahead and enjoy it. Don’t go too far and don’t get near the water. I don’t need any drunk people to fall in and drown. I’ll never hear the end of it.” Timmons told them, waving that they could go.
The four headed for the fire pit.
“I think it’d be nice to take a sail, don’t you, Ted?”
Ted brightened remarkably. “Why yes, I think that exactly.”
“I’m taking Adams and the buggy to find the cattle and our people,” Char called after refueling it herself. Terry looked at her. It was getting late and what she proposed was a two-hundred-mile roundtrip. He waved at her to stop, but she turned away, yelling over her shoulder that he needed to watch Kaeden.
Of course I’ll watch Kaeden, what kind of derelict parent do you think I am? he thought as he turned around, his eyes narrowing. Now where are you, little man?
He figured if he could find the bear, he’d find the boy. But he couldn’t find the bear either. “Sergeant, where’s Corporal Blackbeard?” Terry asked.
“The river, sir. Hank is fishing,” Mark said, sighing.
Terry understood. He jogged toward the stream. It sounded like there was whitewater rapids were crashing downstream, but when he arrived, he found Hank splashing around like a puppy. Kae was on the beach, jumping up and down. Blackie was close by.
Sue stood on the bank with Clyde. The dog shied away from water as every time he got in, someone washed him.
Terry took a knee next to the dog and scratched behind Clyde’s ears. “How are we doing, Sue?” Terry asked.
She looked down at him. “What do you want me to tell you?” she asked sharply.
Terry was instantly angry. Char had just driven away. If she wanted to throw-down, so be it. He wasn’t afraid of her or any of them.
“I want the truth,” he said, leaving it ambiguous. He stood and glared at her, jaw set.
“I’ve never seen her happier or more driven, Terry Henry Walton. And you take that Marine glare of yours and shove it up your ass!” She jutted her lower chin out. Shonna and Merrit appeared out of nowhere.
“What’s going on here?” Merrit asked, covered in grease and oil.
“Dickweed can’t take a compliment,” Sue replied.
“I can too take a compliment!” Terry insisted, balling his hands into fists.
“Ah ha! So you are a dickweed!” Sue started to laugh. “I told you I’d get him. You each owe me one rabbit.”
“Son of a bitch! How could you fall for that?” Shonna shook her head in disbelief.
“How about fuck all you all, fuzzy-assed, tail-wagging, ball lickers?” Terry kicked dirt at them.
“Name-calling, and two She-Wolves are ball lickers? I can’t wait to tell Char. She’s going to owe us,” Sue taunted.
Terry closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. His head started to throb.
“Fine. What’s it going to cost me for you not to tell Char?” The Werewolves high-fived each other.
The game was afoot and Terry had been pummeled in the opening move.
Ted and Timmons had sailed north. The wind allowed for a high speed tack so they ate the miles up quickly. Before they knew it, they weren’t far from Milwaukee.
They pulled close to the shore where they could drop a couple lines in the water and fish. They were using lures they’d found in an old tackle box. They had no hope of catching anything but the fish had other ideas. When no one has fished in the entire lifetime of every fish in the lake, they hungered for anything thrown their way.
So they bit, even though the lure wasn’t right for the season or the fish. Soon, they had the deck of the boat covered with largemouth bass and another type that they didn’t know, but hoped was equally tasty.
Ted’s eyes unfocused as he sensed the world around. Something had wandered into the area, something beyond the small smattering of humans. Timmons pulled his latest fish in and triumphantly unhooked it, letting it drop into the pile already filling the bottom of the boat. He saw the look on Ted’s face and joined him searching using their senses.
“Well now,” Timmons said. “That could change things.”
Ted nodded, coiled his fishing line, and raised the sail. “Let’s get out of here before it spots us,” Ted suggested.
“Too late, Ted. Head out into the lake until we lose him then we’ll turn south.” Timmons said as he grabbed a line.
“We don’t need a Werebear following us.”
Char drove faster than she would have if Terry had been watching. She’d already driven the road once and that was good enough to give her confidence that she wasn’t in any danger. They drove straight through without taking any breaks. She pushed the vehicle. They’d already tested it for a few hundred miles.
It ran like a champ.
They covered the ninety miles in an hour and forty-five minutes. They sensed the cattle and horses before they saw them, but there they were, ambling up the road. A small group of people walking with them, one cart in front and three behind, with Boris and his squad on horseback arrayed on both sides of the group.
They parked the dune buggy out front, and Boris rode to meet them. He was surprised that the colonel wasn’t there, but it didn’t matter. He’d had his ass kicked too often by the major to question her authority.
“Anything new?” she asked.
“Same ol’,” he answered.
“Adams is going to ride with you. He’s going to be in charge of this mob, responsible for getting you all the way to Chicago,” she said in a low voice, watching his reaction. He didn’t flinch. “You’ll be picking up some more people and cattle a little ways ahead, in old Sheridan. Continue north out of the city for a ways, then you’ll turn east. It’s all downhill from there. Adams knows the way.”
“Sounds good, ma’am,” Boris replied and nodded to Adams. “Welcome aboard. This is some seriously boring shit, man.”
Adams snickered. “Yeah. I’m good with that. Boring is good, exciting has a tendency to get people killed.”
“Oh, fuck, I’m sorry, man,” Boris backpedaled, remembering that Adams had just lost his mate.
“It’s all good, bro.”
“That’s Corporal Bro,” Char, in her role as a major, corrected. “You are a warrant officer in this man’s army, effective immediately, Adams. Now, tighten up!”
Adams looked at Char as he pulled his pack from the back. They shook hands and without further delay, she fired up the dune buggy and spun a U-turn, scaring the horse. She gunned it and raced away. Twilight was settling in and she wanted to get back. She drove at dangerous speeds, counting on her Werewolf reflexes to keep her on the straight and narrow.
That worked for the first hour. After that, the headlights were weak and she slowed down, but was still driving past where she could see. When the old wreck of a car appeared out of nowhere, she started to swerve, but the high-tech tire caught and the dune buggy twisted and rolled, bouncing over the dead vehicle and continuing down the road before coming to a rest on its roof rack.
Char dangled upside-down, still strapped into her seat.
She groaned as she tried to unbuckle her harness. When it released, she fell, landing on her head. Char rolled over to look around. The engine was off and it was twilight, but she could see well enough to find her way out. She crawled through the passenger window, dusted herself off, and looked at the damage.
Char gripped the cage of the dune buggy and with her inhuman strength, rolled it upright. She reached into it and tried to start the vehicle, but it wouldn’t turn over. As the adrenaline surge faded, she realized how sore she was.
“Terry is going to be pissed,” she told the vehicle while rubbing her arms and rib cage. The pain was undeniable.
She looked at the sky, then the road ahead. She had a long way to go to catch up with Terry, Kae, and the rest of the convoy. She started to unbutton her shirt to prepare to change into her Were form.
But Char felt tired and needed to heal. She climbed into the passenger seat of the buggy and reclined the seat as far as it would go. It was only a few inches, but it was enough. She was soon fast asleep.
They were almost out of sight of land when they could no longer sense the Werebear. Ted made a lazy arc south, then picked up the pace with a strong wind coming from the east. He tacked and the small boat picked up speed, bouncing and skimming across the wave tops.
“You could probably clean those fish while you’re sitting there doing nothing,” Ted offered.
Timmons carefully removed his clothes while remaining seated and stuffed them into a small space under the seat, probably a cooler for drinks. Then he changed into a Werewolf, where he struggled to stay balanced while feasting on the fish.
“Leave some for everyone else!” Ted yelled from two feet away. Timmons snarled at him before gulping down one more of the bigger fish. He changed back and casually put his clothes back on.
“Your turn, Punky Brewster,” Timmons said with a healthy belch. Ted looked around to see if someone had magically appeared in their boat. He never understood why Timmons made up names.
“No, thank you. I think I’ll enjoy mine cooked over an open fire,” Ted replied.
“You like the humans, don’t you?” Timmons asked.
“We’ve always been with the humans. It’s our destiny,” Ted said softly. “I enjoy their company. I enjoy the company of the pack, too, but I prefer human form. I feel more comfortable this way.”
Timmons nodded. He decided that he’d never understand Ted. Timmons enjoyed the power he had while in Were form, but conceded that both forms had their unique appeal.
He would never turn his back on the Werewolf side of him. That defined him more than anything else.
Timmons wondered if the humans had gotten drunk and were having sex. He was glad to not be there for that. They were young and inexperienced. He figured that they’d get better at it, especially since the partners got along well. Love, they called it. Over a hundred years and he’d had his share of flings, but never a real partner.
He wondered about eternity. Was he meant to spend it alone?
He pulled his knife and gutted the first fish, blinking through the tears that threatened to fall.
Serve the alpha, serve the alpha… he chanted to himself.
The darkness descended rapidly after the sun disappeared behind the Big Horn Mountains. Then it got later and later.
The steer roast fed everyone, with some left over. Hank was treated to the parts that the humans wouldn’t eat. Clyde treated himself depending on who wasn’t paying attention as they sat with their plates in their laps.
Everyone had carried their own plate and utensils from New Boulder, because there was no kitchen. Each person cleaned up based on where they were directed, downstream for cleaning, upstream for drinking.
Terry was getting antsy and Kaeden knew something was wrong. They were walking around together, but Terry was distracted. He held the boy’s hand, but his mind was elsewhere.
“You’re worried about Mom, aren’t you?” the boy asked. Terry’s breath caught as that was the first time Kae had referred to her like that.
“You’re pretty astute, Kae. What do you think we should do?” he asked as he kneeled in front of the boy.
“We go look for her,” he said simply, cocking his head as if wondering why Terry hadn’t already come to that conclusion.
Terry and Kae found Sue lounging and asked if she’d go with them since they were heading out in search of Char.
“Don’t sweat the load! I’m sure she’s fine. I’m tired and want to sleep,” she whined and turned on her side away from them, hugging Clyde to her.
Terry saw Shonna and Merrit not far away. He made the same approach to them, and was relieved that they seemed more concerned.
“I’ll go,” Shonna replied. Merrit tried to stop her, take her place, but she put her foot down. He capitulated. Terry pulled her after him as he picked up Kae and ran for Billy’s dune buggy. The three of them squeezed in. As Terry put his hand on the key, Billy’s face appeared in the window.
“Whatcha gonna do with my ride?” Billy asked slowly, pointedly.
Terry turned on the radio and called for Char. He was greeted with static.
“Char’s missing and I’m going after her,” Terry said, punching the starter. The engine purred to life. The dune buggies were stealth vehicles, with heavily muffled exhausts. They made little noise while idling and barely more at slow speeds.
“What if I told you that when she left she took her chances? We need you here and I don’t want you to go,” Billy said, reaching for the button to turn the engine off.
Terry caught the smaller man’s arm in his iron grip. He leaned close to Billy. “You can’t stop me, Billy, so don’t waste your breath. I will never leave anyone behind if there’s any way to save them. Now get your fucking hand off this vehicle so it doesn’t get torn off when I drive away.” Terry shoved Billy harder than he intended.
The mayor stumbled backward and fell, landing heavily. He was angry, but the only thing hurt was his pride. Felicity was there, standing and watching.
Terry spun the wheels as he power-slid to point the buggy’s nose to the south. The vehicle climbed onto the interstate and drove away.
“I hope if anything like that ever happens to us, you’ll do just like TH and fight the world to come after me. In case you were wondering, Billy dear, that’s what true love looks like,” Felicity drawled, then turned and walked away, Marcie cradled lovingly in her arms.
“Fuck you, Terry Henry Walton,” Billy snarled.
Ted expertly maneuvered the small craft into port, pulling the sail at the right time so he slid the boat next to the dock. Timmons grabbed the cleat, stopped the momentum, and jumped to the dock. Ted furled the sail and carefully wrapped the cover over it.
He handed the cleaned fish to Timmons, who dumped them into a bucket they had staged on the dock for just that reason.
It looked like a good meal, but wasn’t enough to feed the wolf pack. “I’ll go without,” Ted said without further explanation.
The young people had done exactly as Timmons suspected, but there wasn’t enough alcohol to knock them out. They’d had their fun and were coming down off their cheap buzzes. They stumbled into the open area, both couples holding hands.
“Just in time!” Timmons bellowed. He dropped the bucket by the fire pit. “Better get these cooking before the pack digs in.”
Ted greeted the wolves as they yipped happily and ran to him. He took a few extra moments with the wolf who’d been injured, but the shaggy beast was healed, although he carried an ugly scar.
A scar was better than the alternative.
“I’m sorry, my pretties, we caught a lot, but we didn’t bring back enough for all of you.” Ted looked harshly at Timmons. The others missed the exchange.
James checked the bucket.
“We’ll share one,” he said. Gerry and Kiwi nodded. “They’ll share one, too.” James pulled two fish from the bucket and put them on cooking sticks. He handed the bucket to Ted, who knew that there were exactly ten fish remaining.
He handed them out as if he were Santa Claus at Christmas. Each wolf took one and ran a few steps away to consume it, bones and all. Ted seemed extremely pleased with himself.
Timmons was sullen, feeling like he’d betrayed his own pack. He’d expected Ted to stuff himself on the boat as he had done, but Ted was putting the others before himself, a very human trait.
Timmons walked away, leaving the others in peace. They’d all sacrificed, if only just a little, and he had not.
“Ted,” he called. “Tomorrow we search for the steam locomotive. We won’t return until we can bring the Mini Cooper and tankers of fuel back with us. My promise to you.”
“We aren’t done getting rooms and homes ready yet. We’re not even close,” James replied.
“That can wait. Power first. Wouldn’t it be nice to use a shop vac to clean up some of those rooms?” Timmons asked.
They all agreed, even though none of them knew what a shop vac was, but they figured it was something that would make a crappy job a little bit easier.
“Getting us into an accident isn’t going to help anyone,” Shonna cautioned. Terry was pushing past the area lit by his headlights. He slowed down right away, knowing that she was right. They were belted in, but Kae was wedged in place. If they hit anything, he’d be ejected.
Get your head out of your ass, he scolded himself. He slowed down further, barely crawling at twenty miles an hour. The drive proceeded agonizingly slowly. Terry fought with himself not to speed up. Kae had fallen asleep. Shonna could have been a crash-test dummy for as active as she was. She watched out the front, barely blinking.
They were well into the second hour when Shonna stirred. “Not far now.”
“Thank God,” Terry sighed. He sped to the edge of what he could see and held the speed there. Adrenaline surged into him at the thought of finding Char. “How is she?”
“Alive, but she’s not moving. She may be asleep. She’s by herself, but there are coyotes closing in,” Shonna offered, eyes unfocused as she searched the etheric.
“There!” Shonna shouted and Terry leaned heavily on the brake to slow the buggy. It slid the last few feet as the tires locked up. He jumped out and ran. Char had not stirred from within the wrecked vehicle.
He ducked through the bent window frame and reached to Char’s neck to feel her pulse. He wanted to know for himself that she was alive. Her eyes fluttered at his touch.
“Hi, honey,” she groaned, barely above a whisper.
Shonna growled and yelled at the shadowy figures at the edge of the darkness. Kae climbed into the wrecked dune buggy and found his way into Char’s lap. “Mom!” he yelled at her face.
Char’s eyes popped open, but they twirled in her head before she closed them again. One arm moved slowly to wrap around Kaeden and pull him tight.
Kae was crying, like a little boy, not a little man of nine.
Terry was on the verge of tears too, but from frustration more than anything. There was no one to beat the hell out of to make him feel better. He couldn’t move her from the dune buggy as he’d have to twist her around too much. His option was to stand there and do nothing.
That chapped his ass more than anything in the whole world.
Shonna turned into a Werewolf and ran the coyotes down, killing two of the braver souls before the others fled. They’d turned from predator to prey and didn’t particularly like it.
Terry stalked back and forth alongside the dune buggy, examining it for want of anything better to do. He saw right away that the mod deuce fifty cal was missing. It only took a few steps to see bits and pieces of it scattered as a trail of wreckage behind the buggy.
Shonna reached in and punched the starter button. The engine wouldn’t fire. She moved to the back and looked at the engine, but needed more light. She moved the second dune buggy closer and left it running, its headlights pointed at the damaged vehicle.
“These things were made to roll over, so we should be able to get it running again,” she mumbled to herself. She inspected the wheels and frame. It was probably bent slightly, but nothing that would prevent them from driving slowly. Once the light was on the engine, the problem revealed itself. Some of the electrical wiring had been ripped out, having caught on something when the buggy rolled over.
“I can fix this,” she claimed, using her pocket knife to pry the bundle free and started to strip wires.
Char took a deep breath and opened her eyes. They were clearer and focused. “Just needed a little nap. How long was I out?”
“No idea. What happened?” Terry asked.
“Almost hit something. Rolled over. I flipped it upright, but then I was too tired and sore to move. It wouldn’t start, so here I am.” Her eyes sparkled as she held Kae against her and looked at Terry.
“The baby?” Terry asked.
“Okay. Just my head got banged up. Well, my ribs, too, but those are better already.” She flexed to test them and nodded. “Okay. Here, take Kaeden.”
Terry reached through the window to pull the boy out, and although he mumbled and groaned, he didn’t wake up.
Char slowly worked her way through the window and then stood on shaky feet. “I probably shouldn’t drive. They’d think I was drunk.”
Shonna put her knife back into a pocket and walked to the driver’s side. She touched the starter button and the dune buggy came to life. She smiled, pleased with herself.
Terry nodded to the beat up dune buggy, “Shonna, you drive that one, we’ll follow.” she didn’t complain. Shona relished the opportunity to get behind the wheel. She climbed in, placed her foot on the brake, put it in gear, and slowly drove around the other dune buggy.
Char climbed in with Terry’s help, Kae next, and then he took the driver’s seat. The camp was less than two hours away. He knew Billy would want his vehicle back. He thought about apologizing, but decided not to. Leave no one behind. That was Terry’s mantra. It was what the Knights of the Roundtable would do, and more importantly, it was what any husband would do for his wife.
It was what Terry would always do, especially when the one lost in the wilderness was Charumati.
The fourth horse’s hoof had not healed sufficiently to take out yet. The decision to leave her behind was tough and Gerry was distraught, which meant that Kiwi was distraught.
Timmons rolled his eyes. It was dawn and they were ready to go, but not moving.
“How about Lacy and I stay behind. We’ll take care of the horse, defend this place and keep working on cleaning out those rooms. If we’re not ready when the others arrive, the colonel will have our asses. Have you ever been on the receiving end of one of his beat-downs?” James asked, not expecting Timmons to answer.
“Oddly enough, I have, and I understand. That sucked a whole lot and wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Timmons said matter-of-factly.
“Take three horses. We’ll stay here, fish in the harbor, hunt close by. We’ll be fine.”
Gerry shook James’ hand vigorously. “Thank you,” he mumbled and mounted his horse. Kiwi climbed in front of him, while Ted and Timmons took the other two. Without further delay, they headed out the front gate.
Timmons stopped them, then turned his horse to ride back to talk with James and Lacy. The wolf pack was running behind them, but stopped as well, confused.
“I thought you’d be going with us, so hadn’t shared that we sensed a Werebear when we were up north. Look for a person who seems too healthy, and big. This guy will be big. They are usually loners, and if he senses you, he may avoid this area altogether. But if he doesn’t, be careful around him. He’s not a big teddy bear. He’s a killer, orders of magnitude stronger than a Werewolf,” Timmons cautioned.
He rejoined the others and they headed for the tracks. They would continue to follow lines until they found what they were looking for.
James and Lacy watched them go, having no idea how long they’d be gone.
Terry pulled in behind Shonna as she parked next to the buses. Billy was nowhere to be seen. No one was up besides the members of the Force tasked with protecting the town’s people.
Shonna waved and stumbled away. Terry helped Char and Kae to the spot they’d selected earlier and wrapped up for what remained of the night.
It seemed like mere seconds later when people where hustling around the camp, cleaning up and getting ready to go. Billy loomed over them.
“What do you want?” Terry asked gruffly. Char blinked sleep from her eyes and looked at the mayor. Kae rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
“I just wanted to say that I’m glad you’re okay, Char,” Billy said, looking at the beautiful woman sporting a full head of pillow hair. When he made eye contact with Terry, he gave him the finger and stomped off.
Char looked at Terry questioningly.
“He wasn’t a fan of me borrowing his dune buggy. I may have said some things that he took the wrong way.” Terry smiled. “How’s your bruised brain?”
“Getting better by the minute. I could really use another day’s worth of sleep,” she whispered, rubbing her temples. “And it looks like Kae would like to join me.”
The youngster wasn’t going to be allowed to continue sleeping. Char pulled him to his feet as she stood. Terry shook out the blanket and rolled it up. He took their packs and threw them in the back of the dune buggy while she washed up.
His poor dune buggy was bent and scratched. The impact with the ground at highway speed had not done the fifty cal any favors. The cocking handle had been torn off and the barrel bent, so he left it behind.
The ammunition strapped into the back was still in place, giving them two loads of ammo and one machine gun. Terry needed to make sure that there weren’t any more accidents because Terry didn’t want to lose his second mod deuce. That weapon was his heavy hitter, plus he had every intention of killing a buffalo with it, specifically the bull that had rammed his wife.
Payback, motherfucker! he thought. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight and don’t bring your bullshit as Terry Henry Walton is looking at you over the barrel of his fifty cal.
First Sergeant Blevin reported that the remaining vehicles were operational. He wasn’t pleased looking at the dune buggy, but didn’t say anything. He produced a roll of electrician’s tape and tightened up the work that had been done on the wiring pigtail.
The convoy left Sheridan not long after dawn. They continued past where Terry and Char had taken their group on the previous trip. Those were narrow backroads, while the interstate was mostly free and clear. A nice blue sky and light breeze suggested the day would be a good one.
And it was. They made it into Montana, then turned east on I-90. The EMP hadn’t hit that part of the country so the dead and abandoned vehicles were few and far between. They convoy cruised at a steady forty-five miles an hour, even though their dune buggy shook at that speed. Terry kept his fingers crossed until they passed the native village across the river. It was still morning, but Terry directed the group to stop and set up camp by the bridge that the wolf pack had been afraid to cross. Terry parked his dune buggy where it blocked the entrance. He couldn’t have any accidents.
He told the drivers to stay off the bridge and they’d continue on the north side of the river to Billings before crossing, maybe later that day or maybe the next.
Billy wondered why they were stopping. “More of your bullshit?” he said in front of the drivers. Terry dismissed them to their PMs and turned to Billy in a low and dangerous voice.
“I’d take it as a kindness if you didn’t do that, Billy, especially since it undermines your authority and not mine. You look petty.”
“I’ve had about enough of you!” Billy screamed, raising his fists. Char looked at him sideways. Felicity’s eyebrows shot up. She’d told Billy not to challenge the man who’d saved them.
Terry Henry didn’t hesitate. He slapped Billy’s hand away, spun him around and grabbed him by his collar and the seat of his pants, carrying him out onto the bridge as if he were carrying a bale of hay. Billy flailed helplessly, suddenly afraid.
“I still need you, fuckface, but not that badly, so here it is. Sink or swim.” With one heave, he sent Billy face first over the guardrail, dropping fifty feet into the rapidly flowing water.
Billy disappeared beneath the surface, coming back up downstream sputtering and slapping his hands helplessly against the water.
“Terry!” Char yelled.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Terry called as he took two steps and dove over the railing, executing a swan dive as he raced toward the rapids. He hit the water with his hands cutting the water for his head. He didn’t let himself go deep, hitting and coming back up quickly. When he surfaced, he stroked powerfully as he swam after Billy. He caught up to the small man, grabbed him under his chin, and headed for the nearest shore, where he found a contingent of natives waiting for him. He dragged Billy out of the water opposite the direction of the village under the watchful eyes of the natives. He wondered how they’d gotten there ahead of him.
Char and Kae had crossed the bridge and were jogging toward the two drowned rats. Felicity walked casually. She thought that Billy deserved it not for his impertinence, but for defying her.
She wouldn’t let him soon forget the cost of such transgressions.
At least she could save the kick in the balls she was ready to give him. Felicity wondered what had gotten under his skin to make him so contentious.
Maybe he’d come clean with her, but she wasn’t holding her breath.
Terry greeted the group. “Have you eaten?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you. Have you?” the chief replied with a smile.
“I have to say that I just swallowed enough water that I’m not really hungry.” He let go of Billy, who continued to cough and hack. Terry shook the chief’s hand. Foxtail turned and walked to Char. She held Kae’s hand as he hid behind her.
“Who is this?”
“Say hello to Chief Foxtail, Kaeden,” Char said as she pulled the boy from behind her. The chief shook the small hand and looked deeply into the boy’s eyes. They stayed that way for a while. Billy was angry and opened his mouth to make demands, but Terry caught him in time, putting a finger to his lips for silence. Terry tapped his whip as a sign that Billy was on borrowed time.
Billy gathered his wits and watched Felicity stroll up behind Char.
The chief finally finished with Kae by picking him up and carrying him. The boy held on to the man’s neck as they turned to address the others. He looked briefly at Felicity and nodded tersely before looking away.
Terry was fascinated by it all. Billy bumped him as he assumed a position at Terry’s right hand.
Foxtail looked at Billy and shook his head, but he was smiling. “I have seen you before, a long time ago, my friend. I was drunk in the parking lot of a convenience store, and you walked by with some other young toughs. They wanted to hassle me, but you told them to leave me alone. I have never forgotten that,” he said sincerely, bowing his head at the end.
Billy shook the chief’s hand. “I’d like to say I remember that, but I don’t. We were always hassling people for no reason. I’m the mayor now, responsible, with a family. Who would have thought that?”
“I’d invite you to spend time with us, but know that you have a long way to go. I am pleased to see that you have vehicles. Someday, you must tell me that story,” the chief said. He looked toward the village. “Our delegation will be here shortly. Shall we?”
The chief motioned for the group to follow him back to the bridge.
The chief stopped as he walked past Felicity. She glared at him. He frowned, then touched the baby’s head. “May Mother Earth grant you peace,” he told them both before continuing on his way.
“Billy, you were always a good guy at heart. Who would have thought that?” Terry smiled and slapped the smaller man on the back. Billy tried to look mean, but ended up laughing.
His actions from twenty-five years earlier had earned him praise. Sometimes one had to wait, and that was giving him heartburn.
All he saw was the hardship and not the success that would be well earned. When the people established their home in North Chicago, they’d think of New Boulder as the transition from the bad days to the good ones.
A transition that Billy Spires made possible. And his friend, TH Walton.
Billy took Marcie as he smiled at his wife. “We’re making a difference, a good one,” he told her. She wasn’t comfortable with the chief, because he’d seen something from the first moment he looked at her.
“Chief Foxtail, I want to tell you that Kiwidinok has been an exceptional addition to our family. We thank you for the gift that is her company,” Terry said, trying not to sound stilted or like he was making something up. He’d thanked them the last time they came through, but didn’t think it would hurt to thank them again.
The chief nodded. “We thought so and are glad that she has found a home where her talents and wishes are best nurtured.”
The group reached the bridge before the delegation, so they talked about the weather. Terry tried to avoid talking about the vehicles, but the chief had to know.
“They were buried in a mountain, protected by evil ones. Those creatures are no more and we rescued a few people too, along with some of the hardware that you see,” Terry said proudly.
“Why the weapons of war, Terry Henry Walton?” the chief asked directly. “Why do you insist on leaning on such a crutch?”
Terry was backed into a corner. He stood quietly, but the chief had a nearly infinite amount of patience.
“Because I’m not strong enough without them,” Terry admitted. The others looked at him in wonder. Even Char considered him the greatest warrior she’d ever met. After their nanocytes combined, she thought of him as nearly invincible, but he continued to carry feelings of inadequacy.
Maybe he needs a big watch, she thought. All the operators, the Special Forces types, that she’d met in her life wore big watches. Terry had none and thanks to her recklessness, he didn’t have his mod deuce anymore either. If you couldn’t have a big watch, then a fifty cal was the next best thing.
“I’m sorry, TH,” she blurted.
The chief snickered. Terry wondered what she was sorry for. He was happy that she had quickly healed from her accident. He thought it appropriate and timely to share good news.
“I think you already know, Chief Foxtail, but for everyone here, Char and I are expecting a baby.”
Felicity’s jaw dropped. Billy laughed, happy that he wouldn’t be the only old man not getting any sleep. The chief congratulated them both, acting as if he hadn’t known. The others there also wished the couple well.
The delegation arrived, and it was led by the chief’s mother.
“Very nice to see you again,” Char told the old woman. They hugged warmly. The other three in the delegation were an odd mix: the chief’s son accompanied his grandmother, then there was another man, maybe the chief’s age, and he was the odd man out. He wasn’t native and he stood nearly seven feet tall.
Char’s ears perked up as the man approached. She had been distracted by everything going on, along with recovering from the concussion. She’d missed the fact that another Were was near.
But this one was different.
They traveled much faster than they had originally planned because they had three horses. There was nothing to hold them back.
They rode quickly to the railyard, following the lines from outside their home base. They found a diesel locomotive, but it looked to be in poor shape.
“How much work do you think it’ll take to get this one running?” Timmons asked.
“Two hundred hours,” Ted replied without hesitation. “In a full machine shop. Out here? Thousands…”
“We’ll keep it as an option. Moving on,” Timmons called. They remounted their horses and continued through the yard to the tanks. Gerry pointed to the top.
“It’s locked tight,” Kiwi said.
“We’ll see about that,” Ted said. He and Timmons ran up the stairs while Gerry and Kiwi held the horses.
“Do you think they’ll get in?” Gerry asked.
Kiwi giggled. In some ways, she was still a young girl. “Those two? Of course they’ll get in,” she replied. In other ways, she was all grown up. She nuzzled Gerry suggestively. “Maybe we can kill some time?”
Seconds later, Ted yelled from the top of the tank. “It’s fuel oil!” The two came running down the stairs, catching Kiwi and Gerry in an amorous embrace.
“No time for that. Checking the next one,” Ted called as he jogged past. They followed, curious how he was able to get into the tank. They found out quickly that after he was forced to climb to the roof to recover the solar system, he had manufactured two thin metal pieces, one to insert and hold the tumblers, while the second was used to jiggle them into alignment. Ted opened the lock as quickly as someone using a key.
The majority of the tanks were filled with jet fuel. The biggest was fuel oil and the smallest was half-full of diesel.
“A couple thousand hours is all. We can fill it with more diesel than it needs,” Timmons suggested.
“Tanker cars,” Ted yelled over his shoulder as he ran into the classification yard where the Mini Cooper was hidden in a train of tankers.
Ted went from one to the next, opening and then closing them. “Unleaded mostly, and one diesel,” Ted told them after he’d checked the cars on the west side of the track, the ones between the Mini Cooper and the power plant where they’d put it to use.
“Got a plan?” Timmons asked.
“Not yet, but I will when we need it,” Ted replied. Gerry and Kiwi were along for the ride, to provide help if needed, but they couldn’t imagine what they could do that the two Werewolves could not.
Ted and Timmons both looked toward the city. Hovering at the edge of what they could sense was the daywalker, the Forsaken called Joseph. He was there, probably watching them.
“You know what they say, Ted. Go west, young man,” Timmons stated and headed for his horse.
“I didn’t know they said that.” Ted shrugged and climbed into the saddle.
They waved goodbye to the chief and Terry led the group across the bridge.
Char stayed behind, motioning to the Were.
“You are?” Char probed.
“I’m Aaron, pleased to meet you,” he said cordially. He was tall and slender, almost emaciated, which seemed odd for a Were, who were usually abnormally healthy, but he didn’t look sickly.
“You’re a Were,” she told him directly.
“I am aware that I’m a Were, and you are too,” he parried, verbally dancing. He grinned. “Shall we join the others?”
Without waiting, he strolled towards her group. He was light on his feet, seeming to barely touch the ground as he walked. Char was nearly a foot shorter than he was. It was disconcerting. She’d get the pack together, and they would confront this man.
Terry was calling for everyone to load up and prepare to move out. He helped the delegation into the back of a truck, hoping that not too many more vehicles broke down. All the seats were filled and then some. They were carrying as many as they could carry.
Terry drove to the front of the convoy and waved at Billy to bring up the rear.
The town’s people of New Boulder waved through the windows or out the backs of trucks as they passed the small army of natives gathered on the other side of the river.
“That tall guy’s a Were,” Char told Terry. Kae was squeezed between them as usual.
“He’s a Werewolf?” Terry asked, unsure of what to believe. He didn’t get any odd sense from the man.
“No, he’s not a Werewolf, but he’s Were. I’ll have the pack corner him and get him to come clean,” Char said.
“Maybe he’s a Weregiraffe?” Terry wondered aloud, putting the dune buggy into gear.
Once Char started laughing, she couldn’t stop.
As they approached Billings, Terry slowed and pulled to the side of the road to wave Blevin and his semi past.
The semi slowed and eased dead vehicles out of the way to clear the path for those that followed.
He pushed all the way to the bridge that sent them to a fork in the road. I-94 continued east and I-90 dipped south. They wanted I-94 to Minneapolis. From there, it was easy traveling.
Once all the vehicles were across the bridge, they’d drive through the flatlands of North Dakota. Without having to worry about food or water, Terry wanted to press on for as long as there was daylight.
Or until they saw those damn buffalo.
“You have got to be shitting me…” Char said.
“When that buffalo rammed into my woman, his life became forfeit!” Terry claimed.
“Your what?” Char asked, still skeptical of Terry’s plan.
“My woman,” Terry said with less confidence. With Kae sitting between them, Char couldn’t punch Terry in the arm or the chest like she wanted to.
“Uh huh,” she mumbled. “You are not shooting a buffalo with the fifty cal.”
“Yes, I am,” he replied calmly.
“I must note that you don’t have a fifty cal,” she argued.
“I’ve already talked with Billy. You need to tell me where they are when you sense them. After that, I’m all business. And, most importantly, we need the meat. Four hundred people eat a lot!”
She couldn’t disagree with that. Food was a constant need and an eighteen-hundred-pound bull would be a nice addition. There was a younger bull in the herd, so they weren’t killing the species by taking one.
“Make it so, Number One,” Char said in her best Jean Luc Picard voice.
The convoy plodded across the prairie that had been North Dakota. A great swath of grassland had been burned away during their previous trip through. On the other side of the wildfire, the great buffalo encounter had taken place.
That was what Terry called it.
Char wanted to forget it.
Until she felt the small herd, knowing it was the same based on the number. “The buffalo are up ahead,” she told Terry, pointing.
He sped up to burn a U-turn, then waved at First Sergeant Blevin to hold up. Terry continued past the slowing vehicles until he reached Billy and Felicity.
He stopped, and they talked. Everyone got out except for Billy. He remained at the wheel of his dune buggy. Terry stood between the seats, bracing himself as he manned the machine gun. He racked the lever with a hearty pull, sending the first round into the chamber and cocking the mod deuce.
Char shook her head. Terry looked to be in the zone, or in other words, happy as a pig in shit.
Billy drove out cautiously, as one does without a great deal of experience driving. Terry reached down to tap him on the shoulder, pointing past his eyes to the plain. Billy bumped down a small bank and continued carefully into the dry grass. He continued a few hundred yards before Terry signaled him to stop. Then they waited.
The mayor wanted to get closer, but Terry said no. He had a weapon that was good at long range, and they were less than a mile from the herd. Billy could barely make out the shapes at that distance.
Terry waited until the bull separated itself from the others. Terry took aim, expecting to walk the rounds into the animal. He had no idea where the first round would hit so he estimated low to better see it tear up the dirt.
He depressed the lever that was the M2’s trigger and the metal beast barked. Almost two seconds later, he saw the round hit a good twenty yards in front of the bull. He adjusted his aiming point and depressed the lever, carefully lifting the barrel as round after round blasted downrange.
The bull had been startled by the first shot, but he hadn’t moved. The third round hit him above the shoulder and almost knocked him down. The fourth round broke his neck.
Terry watched it fall and let off the trigger as ten additional rounds flew harmlessly over the animal’s head. Terry pumped a fist in the air. When he turned, there was no cheering. Many of the civilians watching from the road were appalled.
He waved the cleaning crew forward as he climbed from the dune buggy. Billy was all smiles.
“Holy shit!” Billy exclaimed.
“Don’t ever wonder why I wanted these weapons. Imagine if they were in the hands of our enemies? Better that we hold onto them ourselves, don’t you think?”
The second day saw much of the same as the first. Mostly clear track as the trains had been consolidated in fewer areas. The locomotives hadn’t died in the middle of nowhere, but within a mass of trains where there was nowhere else to go.
They followed the Metrarail tracks to the west. All day they traveled and didn’t seem to get anywhere. Timmons was already disappointed, but he’d committed to doing this for his friend, and because they needed the Mini Cooper and cars filled with fuel.
Ted wasn’t dissuaded. He ran calculations in his head based on his estimate of the total distance of rail lines in the area. He figured that it would take them only twenty days to cover it all. By his estimate, they’d seen less than ten percent of the total.
They continued west for another twenty miles before turning north, leaving the rail line to catch the next one running northwest, then follow that back into the city.
Gerry and Kiwi understood the plan, but that didn’t make it less tedious. They wanted to hunt. Timmons agreed, pointing to where they would find deer, so they galloped ahead of the wolf pack to take care of business.
Ted held his wolves back, turning them loose at the sound of Gerry’s shot.
Timmons and Ted rode after the wolf pack, enjoying the diversion from what would be a series of long and boring days.
“Lost two of the trucks,” Blevin reported to Terry. The colonel looked into the distance as he calculated capacity and fuel usage.
“You know, Blevin, it’s amazing that the convoy has made it this far. We’ve been lucky and we could walk it from here, but we can wicker things around, tie a few more empty barrels to the tops of the trucks, and keep on going. Thanks for telling me. You know the drill, First Sergeant,” Terry told him.
“Yes, sir. Shifting people and things, squeezing ten pounds of mud into a five pound sack.” Blevin saluted and ran off.
Mark watched him go. “So this is what I’ve been missing?” he asked.
“Yes. And then there are times when it’s really boring. I’m okay with never riding a horse again, just for reference,” Terry replied. “Make sure the box of grenades finds its way into my dune buggy. I haven’t told anyone we have them, because it’s none of their business. I don’t want to be in a position where I wish I had a grenade and didn’t.”
Mark saluted and headed out to move the small crate of grenades, set the watch, inspect weapons, and do what he did as the platoon sergeant.
“Whoa! Why are you ganging up on me?” Aaron cried, looking at the stern expressions on the human faces of the four Werewolves.
“What are you?” Char demanded. “Don’t make me ask you again. It’ll be easier to rip you to shreds so we don’t have to watch our backs.”
“What does it matter?” he asked. Char grabbed his collar and yanked his face to her level.
“My mate and I have sworn to protect these people. Period. You are a threat. Change into your Were form now or die,” she growled.
He held up his hands in surrender. Sue, Shonna, and Merrit were on the balls of their feet, ready to fight. Their clothes were unbuttoned and loose. Clyde wagged his tail slowly, curious as to why his pack was upset.
Without stripping, the man shimmered for a millisecond before his clothes covered a hairy creature underneath. A Weretiger shrugged out of the clothes. Char looked at the cat, understanding why he didn’t want to change before a bunch of wolves.
And a dog. Clyde went nuts with a great cat two feet in front of his face. His hackles were up as he barked and lunged. Aaron retreated a step, then stood on his back legs to put his paws on Char’s shoulders.
“Aren’t you a tall kitty?” she said, relieved as she didn’t get any sense that Aaron would attack.
Clyde, on the other hand, saw the opportunity and darted for the Weretiger’s exposed private parts. At Were speed, the cat slapped Clyde in the head with his big paw. Clyde yipped and backed away, continuing to bark furiously. Aaron changed into human form, then dressed quickly while blushing.
“Was that okay?” he asked.
Sue was on one knee, checking the small scratches on Clyde’s head from the Were’s claws. “You hurt my dog,” she snarled.
“I did? I’m so sorry. You see, I can’t seem to remember anything that happens when I’m in the tiger’s form,” Aaron apologized.
“There are no tigers native to North America?” Shonna asked.
“China. I was there teaching English when I encountered the, you know, the conversion process,” he answered sheepishly.
“Thanks. Welcome to America. Here we are, cats and dogs and all that. Welcome to the pack.” Char held out a hand and Aaron tentatively shook it.
“What is the world coming to?” Char mumbled.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” Kiwi said, holding up a moldy old phone book. Gerry and Kiwi had checked the area and scavenged while they were waiting for the venison to cook. The wolves lounged around, having fed well from two deer they were able to run down
Ted and Timmons jumped up, startling the wolves. They reverently took the phone book from Kiwi’s hands.
“Where’d you find this?” Timmons wondered as they carefully set the book on the ground and flipped it open.
“Balancing a table with a short leg,” she replied.
“Railroad. Look at that. See Museum.” They slowly and gingerly rolled the old pages until they got to the M section. “Museum, Railroad. Where’s Union? Up front are maps. Careful, careful! There you are. Now, where are we?” Ted said, talking more to himself than anyone watching.
“There’s O’Hare.” Timmons stabbed a finger at the map. “We came west for what, twenty miles? All we need to do is find this road, then turn here. Maybe we can call them, see what they have?” Timmons laughed at his own joke.
“But the phones don’t work?” Ted replied.
“That’s why we’re going there, Ted, because we can’t call them. They have to have something we can use. Think about this, Ted. The museum of our past will deliver the way to our future!”
“Yes. I like that.”
With fresh attitudes, they inhaled their meals, roused the wolves, and set off at a brisk pace to reach the railway museum that day. They had twenty miles to go and the afternoon to get there.
If they lost one more truck, some people would have to walk. There was no space unoccupied. It was dangerous at higher speeds, so they slowed down, which drove Terry crazy.
They were through North Dakota, and the worst of the ruined lands. In his mind, they were traveling downhill. They stopped well short of Minneapolis, because Terry wanted to run straight through the city. Someday they could come back and try to rescue survivors.
His plan to use the town elders—Antioch, Claire, Mrs. Grimes, Margie Rose, Pepe, and Maria—to meet with people they passed fell flat. Char had no idea where they went, but the groups were no longer where they’d seen them last.
Margie Rose was always so courteous at each stop, checking in on Char and Kaeden. Once she found out that Char was pregnant, Terry fell out of the picture.
She’d walk past him on her way to hug the beautiful woman with the purple eyes.
He took it in stride and appreciated the extra attention so he could focus on the nit-noid details to keep people moving in one direction.
There’d been no knock down, drag out fights, but the peacekeepers, the elders, kept tempers in check.
Humanity was coming home to a civilization they had yet to rebuild.
Over four hundred people total. There were barely a hundred when Margie Rose showed him that common decency still existed. It brought Terry Henry Walton back to the world, not in a trickle but in a tidal wave.
He saw how far they’d come, but most importantly, how far he’d come since the dark days. “Melissa, wherever you are, I know that all the good in my life has come because you’ve forgiven me,” Terry whispered with his eyes closed.
When he opened them, he found Kaeden standing at his feet.
“Who’s Melissa?” the little boy asked.
Terry picked him up as he headed into the camp. “Let me tell you about her…”
Adams sniffed the fresh air blowing off the Bighorn Mountains. The seven people they found and their longhorns were in the road. The Weathers family herd didn’t seem to care about the massive horns of their fellow bovines. They intermingled to create a great herd of cattle mooing and shuffling.
Boris and his squad rode with the cattle as they pushed through the ruins of the city.
Four carts loaded with people and food followed the herd. Adams walked up front with Lousy State and EssCee. He knew that their given names were Louisiana State and South Carolina, but he called them how they referred to themselves.
“Terry said to stay south of the next river we come to and then to stay south of the Missouri River. I agree. Getting the cattle across bridges is a huge pain in my ass,” Adams confided.
“He said ass!” Lousy State laughed.
Adams shook his head. It was going to be a hellaciously long walk to Chicago.
“We used to live out there, you know,” S.C. offered. “It was bad, real bad. This is fine, like paradise. There’s grass for the cattle, water, food for us. Plenty of everything, but you know what we could really use?”
“What?” Adams bit.
“Girls,” S.C. replied. Lousy State pursed his lips and nodded.
Adams’s face darkened. “My partner, Xandrie, died not long ago, in the fight inside Cheyenne Mountain. I miss her every hour of every day, because when you have the right girl, you realize how much you were missing when you were going it alone. I have high hopes for you both. There’s nothing like finding the right person.”
Yes, it was going to be a long walk.
Ted jumped up and down like a little kid. The wolves shied away from him. All they wanted to do was lay down and sleep. They’d gorged on deer, then been forced to run twenty miles.
Gerry and Kiwi were brushing the horses down. They were in a field alongside the Illinois Railway Museum, where Ted and Timmons had broken into the massive steam shop.
Toledo and Detroit Railroad #16 sat inside where someone had lovingly taken care of it after the WWDE. It looked pristine. The shop hadn’t even been looted. It only took two minutes to figure out why.
The volunteers from the railway museum had defended it. The last to die was still in a cot to the side of the small office, his rifle in bed with him. There was even ammunition for it.
“They must have stayed well past the evacuation, the plagues, all of it,” Timmons said, before realizing that Ted wasn’t with him.
Ted was on the engine, checking it over. Grease had been lathered on most parts to keep the rust from taking hold. Oil had dripped from somewhere, leaving a large puddle below the engine.
“All we need is coal and we’ll be driving out of here tomorrow!” Ted proclaimed triumphantly.
“Coal? Try wood, Ted,” Timmons called as he checked the rifle, then they moved to the cases of tools.
“No, we can use the coal they have stored here,” Ted answered. Timmons looked up. In one of the bays, there were two coal cars half-filled with coal. “After the fall, they wouldn’t have needed to run the boilers. Coal, by its very nature, is long-lasting. Twenty years or twenty millennia, it should still burn as long as it is in its natural state.”
“You have to be kidding me,” Timmons said as he abandoned the rifle and the tools to join his friend.
“I wouldn’t kid about something like this, Timmons.” Ted’s yellow eyes sparkled as he looked at his new best friend, the old-fashioned steam locomotive that would haul his other best friend, a nuclear reactor, anywhere they wanted to take it.
The irony of steam hauling a nuke whose sole purpose was to create more steam wasn’t lost on Timmons.
The run through Minneapolis went without a hitch. The city dwellers were far more interested in the vehicle convoy than the country people, Terry observed with mild interest. He was afraid to stop because he didn’t want to lose a vehicle. Early on, breakdowns had happened, but now, as long as they could get the vehicles running, they were fine. Shutting them down seemed to cause the oldsters the problems.
Terry’s easy answer was to not shut the trucks down. “Next stop Chicago!” he yelled as he carefully cruised alongside the line of vehicles. He waved to the people and kept yelling as he passed.
Char and Kae both looked at him as if he’d lost his mind.
He turned serious. “They need to know that we’re pushing on for a reason. We can’t lose anyone now. Would you have ever thought that when we planned this, we wouldn’t lose a single person?”
Char didn’t bother answering. Her Knight of the Roundtable was consistent in putting other people first. Although he was prepared to lose people to the rigors of the road, the only sacrifices they’d made were in the trucks left along the side of the road.
The convoy continued at a steady thirty-five miles an hour because Terry wanted to get there before nightfall. A couple of the trucks were belching black smoke and running roughly. The drivers did what they needed to do to keep the trucks rolling.
With the barrels of extra fuel and the loss of trucks, they had plenty of diesel remaining in the tanker, which meant that they could keep a small fleet of vehicles running after they arrived.
Terry liked the hell out of that. He had expected to show up and then be limited to horseback or on foot, leather personnel carriers, as he used to call his boots.
They had to slow down when they passed Milwaukee so the semi could push the jumble of cars out of the way. Terry could no longer lead in the dune buggy, so they pulled it to the side of the road. Terry hopped out and ran after the semi, catching up and jumping on the running board to yell the final directions to First Sergeant Blevin.
Char ran around the vehicle and hopped in the driver’s seat, buckling Kae in before she drove off and caught up to the semi. She knew why he was hanging on the outside of the truck. There were six people squeezed into the cab.
They pushed on, speeding up where they could, hitting some of the derelict vehicles faster than they should have.
Forward, always forward they traveled.
They only had to stop three times for Timmons to manually change the switches to get on the track they wanted. Ted took the position of conductor and let Timmons do everything else, from shoveling coal to switching the track. Ted watched the dials and adjusted them according to specifications he carried in his mind.
Timmons was okay with doing the grunt work. He understood the engine every bit as much as Ted, but for Timmons, it was just a tool. For Ted, it seemed like an extension of his body.
For Gerry, Kiwi, and the wolf pack, it was a loud squealing mess that they continuously ran after.
Ted had said the hard work would be moving the trains around to clear track in front of the one they wanted. It took a whole day of shifting back and forth before they were able to hook up to the twelve tankers and the Mini Cooper. They’d unhooked the line of tankers following the reactor to keep the weight down. Ted wanted to limit the stress on his baby, who was well over one hundred years old.
Toledo and Detroit #16 spun the big wheels once on the slick steel before they grabbed and the clangs and bangs of railcars pulling tight echoed behind it. Ted pulled on the steam whistle, which made the horses jump and the wolves bolt.
Ted only laughed as he brought up the power and the train moved slowly west. It left the railyard and took a long, slow turn around the airport before heading east to catch the track that took it directly to North Chicago. Timmons only had to run ahead twice to manually switch the tracks. It would have been impossible for a single human, but with a long pry bar and his Werewolf strength, he was able to make it happen.
Terry waved as the semi passed between the farms. He knew that Pepe and Maria would be all eyes as they saw the fertile fields. The people weren’t as shy as they had been before.
Terry wondered if Corporal James had been able to make contact. He’d find out soon enough.
The convoy limped off the exit and pulled into the parking area of the old power plant. The other vehicles pulled in behind, parking in order as they always did, side to side, so if a vehicle died in place, it wouldn’t hold up the others.
Terry wondered if they were inside, curious that he couldn’t hear anything. He realized that the main door was closed. When he got to it, there was a note scratched into the rust. “Home, 1 mile that way,” with an arrow.
Terry jogged back to the others. All the vehicles were shut down and people were staggering around, confused. Terry climbed into his dune buggy and stood on the driver’s chair. He clung to the roll cage that made up the roof of the vehicle.
“Listen up,” he projected, his voice echoing oddly off the old power plant. “This is the power plant that we will eventually bring online. But our people here left us a note. It says that our new home is one mile that way. I don’t know about you, but after that drive, I could use the walk. HOME!”
The people cheered weakly. Terry hoped to hell that they were ready for the influx of people they were going to get.
“Need us to fire the trucks up, boss? One last time,” Blevin asked.
“Let’s see where we’re going, First Sergeant, then we’ll move things intelligently, one time, to the best place for them. It would be nice if you could get these into a shop, wouldn’t it?”
The old man nodded, smiling.
“That it would, Colonel.”
The clop of hooves on the roadway alerted the town’s people.
James and Lacy waved from their horses on the roadway outside the old power plant. They negotiated the hill and rode in.
They saw the colonel and made a beeline, stopping and saluting in front of him.
“Damn good to see you two!” Terry told them.
“You made some great time, sir. We weren’t expecting you for quite some time,” James started, looking around at the mass of people surrounding them, many of them new.
“Report, Corporal,” Terry ordered.
“Great Lakes Naval Base is right there,” James reported, pointing. “It has a small power plant that Ted and Timmons have already been able to get running. We’re currently cleaning out multi-family homes and barracks for the good people of New Boulder!”
James yelled the last part for everyone to hear.
“Is there room to park our trucks?”
“As much as you need, sir, and would you look at that! Where in the hell did you find all of this? Who are these people? Where’s the rest of the platoon?” James asked rapidly.
Lacy shook her head. Billy and Felicity were happy to walk or drive the last mile. They just wanted to get to their new home.
Terry smiled. “Later, once we have these people settled. Blevin! Fire up the trucks, we’re going home!”
Many opted to walk, while others climbed onto the vehicles. Three of the trucks wouldn’t start. At that point in time, no one cared. People adjusted and the other engines revved.
Terry led the way in his dune buggy, and the other vehicles followed along the cleared roadway. James galloped ahead while Lacy remained with the walkers.
They followed James through the main gate and into the base, turning and following the road past sports fields, past the parade deck, and behind the main administration buildings where the temporary housing units were located.
James directed the vehicles into the largest parking lot. Terry waved Billy to the front. He drove up and parked the dune buggy next to Terry’s beat-up ride. James started pointing as he told Billy about the available quarters that they’d already prepared. They only had half of what they needed, since they thought they’d have more time.
Billy told them not to worry. They had four hundred people to help and what would have taken two people months to do, the town’s people would accomplish in days.
Billy looked at the main building where admirals and naval captains would have once sat. “I see the mayor’s office, Felicity darling.”
“I do, too, Billy dear,” Felicity drawled.
The sound of a train whistle pierced the late afternoon air.
“I should have told you that Timmons took the others to look for a steam engine so they could bring the Mini Cooper back here.” James grinned.
“No way!” Terry jumped in the dune buggy where Char and Kae joined him.
“What’s that noise, Mom?” Kaeden asked.
“That is a train, and I expect it is pulling humanity’s future,” Char replied.
The End of Nomad Supreme
Terry Henry Walton will return in Nomad’s Fury, March 2017
Author Notes - Craig Martelle
Written February 12, 2017
I'm a lifelong daydreamer and student of human interaction. I have some degrees, but those don't matter when it comes to telling the story. Engaging characters within a believable narrative- that's what it’s all about. I live in the interior of Alaska, far away from an awful lot, but I love it here. It is natural beauty at its finest.
My commitment to the readers is that I write a good book quickly. I worry over plot and sequence, and most importantly how the characters develop within the overall story arc. It doesn’t take a year to produce a quality novel, but it does take a year’s worth of work.
How can you do that when you write a book in three weeks? You get help. Michael Anderle has established a process that brings the readers into the process to ensure that the written words are received as intended. The helpers provide additional plot details, character names, traits, and the final quality control check.
I’ve added one step Michael’s process as I send all my books to my editor first, before getting our incredible group of highly dedicated helpers that bring a professionally edited manuscript to a level of technical perfection. If there are any issues with the book at this point, then they are stylistic and they are my errors alone.
We put a great deal on the shoulders of the Just In Time (JIT) readers. They get a ridiculously short deadline to find the last of the typos or other miscues, small things that would detract from the overall reader experience. We don’t want to see any of that, and the JIT team is our final gate that we must pass before declaring the draft to be final.
Thank you to the JIT for bringing a level of professionalism to our books that rivals any traditional publishing standard. We squeeze a year’s worth of work into less than a month because we have the best helpers in the world.
My thanks to Barbara Trawick Hasebe who answered my call for help (look at me, a man, stopping to ask for directions!) to name the boy who would fall under Terry and Char’s protection. I initially picked Ethan but it didn’t flow with the narrative. Barbara offered Kaeden, shortened to Kae and there we are. Thank you for your quick help – that made it possible for me to continue writing without missing a beat.
I always feel blessed that quality people like Diane, Dorene, and Kat are in my life. They are always upbeat and help me think about the way ahead, for me professionally, as well as for each of my stories.
Norman Meredith is ready at a moment’s notice to provide military technical details as well as tie-ins with the other stories within the TKG universe. He’s a walking, talking encyclopedia of knowledge!
Most of all, thank you to everyone who reads these stories – Michael and I write these, but they aren’t for us. They are for you. If they didn’t sell, the series wouldn’t continue. This is what we do for a living, so we appreciate you taking the time to read the books, whether on Kindle Unlimited or you buy the books outright so you can have them forever, we couldn’t do what we do without you.
If you liked this story, you might like some of my other books. You can join my mailing list by dropping by my website www.craigmartelle.com or if you have any comments, shoot me a note at [email protected] I am always happy to hear from people who’ve read my work. I try to answer every email I receive.
If you liked the story, please write a short review for me on Amazon. I greatly appreciate any kind words, even one or two sentences go a long way. The number of reviews an ebook receives greatly improves how well an ebook does on Amazon.
Amazon – www.amazon.com/author/craigmartelle
Facebook – www.facebook.com/authorcraigmartelle
My web page – www.craigmartelle.com
Twitter – www.twitter.com/rick_banik
Thank you for reading the Terry Henry Walton Chronicles!
Author Notes - Michael Anderle
Written Mar 3rd, 2017
I appreciate you reading these notes at the back of the books. Not only is it an enjoyable opportunity for me to chat, or vent (I’ve done that a few times) or wax poetically about love (I’ve done that exactly zero times) it means that you care not only for the characters.
But about us authors, as well.
Mind you, I don’t mind readers who skip this section, I get it. “Give me the next story!” is the hue and cry… Just like it should be.
However, for those who are with me all the way to the end, to the credits, to the author notes? Wow, that is something special and I want to share something that I hope turns out ‘good’.
For those who listen to my interview on Len Edgerly’s podcast The Kindle Nation (http://www.thekindlechronicles.com/2017/03/03/tkc-448-michael-anderle/), or any of the other times I’ve written about why I got started writing, you will remember that 1/2 of my reason for writing Death Becomes Her was to learn enough about this Indie publishing to encourage our oldest son to pursue it.
Then, he didn’t.
Now, it hurt a little because I think he is better than I am by a long shot, and has a huge opportunity.
He and I have not been talking too much over the last year, for different reasons. But, tomorrow morning my wife and I will travel to go see him for lunch and during the last few days, he has started re-connecting with me and perhaps, just perhaps, he will get his first book out in the near’ish future.
That would be pretty damned cool. It would be the ‘finis’ on that half of my effort in Indie Publishing.
I’ve got my own half to continue to run, so no worries I will be stopping anytime soon!
You will notice Craig’s Author Notes were written about three weeks ago compared to mine. Well, that’s because we have been working on the editing (2 days) and then JIT stuff (another 2 days) and finally, we decided to wait on the new cover(s)… Which require models…which also require makeup, and guns, and camo gear and… and…
All sorts of stuff.
I’m SUPER happy to say we now have over 1,000 (that’s right, no decimal point) pictures of the models for the covers from here until #HOLYCRAPTHECOWSCAMEHOME.
I’m not sure they have that saying in England, where our cover artist lives and works. Huh, I wonder if that is a ‘west’ thing? Like, those states in the West of the United States that mess with cattle?
So, just for the record, We have a LOT of pictures. Some of Terry Henry are with ‘shirt off’ because what the hell? We are completely willing to allow the ladies to guy-oogle. Hell, I’ve done so many tight leather pants and hot female pictures that it’s about time.
Sasha (the male model for Terry Henry) was awesome and supportive from when we (and by ‘we’, I totally really mean Andrew Dobell, but what the hell) were finally able to contact him.
Our first female model wouldn’t work (too many tattoos) but our second selection for Char was all in as well. I look forward to the new covers these two helped us make.
So, I have a tiny confession to make.
(No, Sweetheart, I’m not ‘coming out of the closet’… Damn, that’s another story, but the short of it was my wife grew up in Hollywood / West Hollywood for a LOOONNG time. I swear when I first met her, she assumed since I wasn’t a jerk, I must be gay. I attribute it to her time when she was in her 20’s and went dancing with male friends at gay clubs in LA and her ability to tell a guys disposition was obviously screwed up.)
Anyway, now that I’m almost 50 (this year) I have a completely “I don’t care” attitude toward women oogling men. Actually, that’s not honest.
I find it hilarious.
When I was growing up (70’s / 80’s) we had Farrah Fawcett (70’s) and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (not that I watched much football). The only thing I remember for women was the guy on the front cover of all the bodice rippers and Chippendales.
I was SO ignorant.
Anyway, I find it really funny that women are sharing all of these guy pictures on Facebook now, when almost my whole life, it was completely frowned upon when men would pass around pictures of women.
Either way - you ladies make me laugh out loud now how these pictures are freely shared “Look Kittens!” (It’s three shirtless guys with fireman’s hats on and each holding REALLY tiny kittens.) Invariably, underneath the shared picture on Facebook, will be at least one reply, “There’s Kittens?”
I’m sure we could go into long discussions about this, but unfortunately, this isn’t a two way conversation. I get to write whatever comes to mind (Seriously? THIS is what is coming to mind at the moment? You would have to see the image of Terry Henry Walton I shared on Facebook to know…Eh, I’ll just add it here at the end, you know, so you won’t have to wonder.)
Anyway, I blame Awesome Craig because he was thinking “Let’s have enough shots to do a Char / TH calendar!” and I blame myself because I was going through 1,000 photo’s and ran across this TH image. I had already shared our Char model (Hollie) on Facebook so I though “why not be fair?”
Why not, indeed.
Now, I’ll finish this by saying “Good night, sleep tight, and I hope Char doesn’t bite ;-)”
The Terry Henry Walton Chronicles
A Kurtherian Gambit Series
Book 1 – Nomad Found
Book 2 – Nomad Redeemed
Book 3 - Nomad Unleashed
Book 4 - Nomad Supreme
Book 5 – Nomad’s Fury
Book 6 – Nomad Justice
Book 7 – Nomad Avenged
Book 8 – Nomad Mortis
Book 9 – Nomad’s Force
Book 10 – Nomad’s Galaxy
Free Trader Series
Book 1 – The Free Trader of Warren Deep
Book 2 – The Free Trader of Planet Vii
Book 3 – Adventures on RV Traveler
Book 4 – Battle for the Amazon
Book 5 – Free the North!
Book 6 – Free Trader on the High Seas
Book 7 – Southern Discontent (January 2017)
Book 8 – The Great ‘Cat Rebellion (2017)
Book 9 – Return to the Traveler (2017)
Cygnus Space Opera – Set in the Free Trader Universe
Book 1 – Cygnus Rising
Book 2 – Cygnus Expanding
Book 3 – Cygnus Arrives (2017)
End Times Alaska Series, a Winlock Press publication
Book 1: Endure
Book 2: Run
Book 3: Return
Book 4: Fury
Rick Banik Thrillers
People Raged and the Sky Was on Fire
The Heart Raged (2017)
Paranoid in Paradise (Short Story – 2017)
Short Story Contributions to Anthologies
Wisdom’s Journey (stand alone novella)
Earth Prime Anthology, Volume 1 (Stephen Lee & James M. Ward)
Apocalyptic Space Short Story Collection (Stephen Lee & James M. Ward)
Lunar Resorts Anthology, Volume 2 (Stephen Lee & James M. Ward)
Just One More Fight (stand alone novella)
The Expanding Universe, Volume 1 (edited by Craig Martelle)
The Expanding Universe, Volume 2 (edited by Craig Martelle – June 2017)
The Misadventures of Jacob Wild McKilljoy (with Michael-Scott Earle)
The Tide, a multi-author, single story extravaganza
Metamorphosis Alpha, Chronicles from the Warden (with James M. Ward – Summer 2017)
Kurtherian Gambit Series Titles Include:
Death Becomes Her (01) - Queen Bitch (02) - Love Lost (03) - Bite This (04)
Never Forsaken (05) - Under My Heel (06) Kneel Or Die (07)
We Will Build (08) - It’s Hell To Choose (09) - Release The Dogs of War (10)
Sued For Peace (11) - We Have Contact (12) - My Ride is a Bitch (13)
Don’t Cross This Line (14)
Third Arc (Due 2017)
Never Submit (15) - Never Surrender (16) - Forever Defend (17)
Might Makes Right (18) - Ahead Full (19) - Capture Death (20)
Life Goes On (21)
The Second Dark Ages
The Dark Messiah (01)
The Boris Chronicles
* With Paul C. Middleton *
* With JUSTIN SLOAN *
Justice Is Calling (01)
Claimed By Honor (02)
Judgement Has Fallen (03) Feb 2017
The Etheric Academy
* With TS PAUL *
ALPHA CLASS (01) Dec 2016
ALPHA CLASS (02) Mar 2017
ALPHA CLASS (03) May 2017
Terry Henry “TH” Walton Chronicles
* With CRAIG MARTELLE *
Nomad Found (01)
Nomad Redeemed (02)
Nomad Unleashed Early Feb 2017
Nomad Supreme Late Feb 2017
Frank Kurns Stories of the Unknownworld 01 (7.5)
You Don’t Mess with John’s Cousin
Frank Kurns Stories of the Unknownworld 02 (9.5)
Bitch’s Night Out
Frank Kurns Stories of the Unknownworld 02 (13.25)
With Natalie Grey
Available at Audible.com and iTunes
The Kurtherian Gambit
Death Becomes Her - Available Now
Queen Bitch – Available Now
Love Lost – Coming Soon
Reclaiming Honor Series
Justice Is Calling – Available Now
Claimed By Honor – Coming Soon
Honor in Death
(Michael’s First Few Days)
Beyond the Stars: At Galaxy's Edge
Craig Martelle Social
For a chance to see ALL of Craig’s new Book Series
Check out his website below!
(Go 1/2 way down his first page, the box is in the center!)
Michael Anderle Social