Tate couldn’t catch his breath due to the duct tape over his mouth. He was still handcuffed and tied to the back of the jeep, and his new captor had just parked it. Every expansion of his left lung stung him like a knife, but he couldn’t calm himself in the slightest.
The former chief had seen and killed plenty of feral vampers. They weren’t much stronger or quicker than before they were turned. The blood suckers were predictable to the point of stupid. Tate had only ever seen balding vampers with red eyes and filthy teeth.
Now Tate was trying to process Deborah. He remembered the first time he saw her, how she looked like a walking skeleton with dirty blonde hair. Then she had captured him hours earlier. Her hair had turned platinum blonde, her body was filled out like the healthiest person he had ever seen. Too bad her eyes are still red.
Tate felt the jeep shift as the driver stepped out. The bald man was paler than Tate, with green veins glistening in the moonlight. His ears rose to subtle points; his chin and nose were just as pointed. The vamper stared at Tate as he walked to the rear of the jeep. His icy blue stare almost dared Tate to look away.
The captor stepped onto the jeep with wrinkle free black pants tucked into knee-high, black leather boots. He wore a clean white long sleeve shirt with a high collar. Around that was a black, form fitting vest with a gold chain loop dangling from a breast pocket.
A polished, chrome revolver was holstered on his left hip. He casually tugged his pantlegs up before he knelt down to Tate’s level. Clammy white hands with stubby claws reached out for Tate’s face.
Almost hypnotized by the stranger’s stare, Tate couldn’t make himself twitch away or even think about fighting back. The young man gasped for air as the creature tore the tape from his mouth.
The blue eyed vamper flourished his hands to his sides and subtly nodded his head without breaking eye contact. He had a smooth voice that seemed to echo inside his throat before producing a sound, “Call me Ishmael.”
Tate couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows together. Before he could think of a response, the vamper buckled forward with a distorted laugh that was inhaled more than exhaled. The laugh seemed genuine and hearty, but not the kind to be heard often in public. More than anything else, the creature’s laugh outright paralyzed Tate with fear.
With a fast exhale, he continued, “Sorry, that was a joke.”
Tate’s confusion was slowly clouding over the fear.
Still chuckling, he waved a dismissive hand before grabbing a black knife from his back. “I guess you don’t get many books out here,” he tilted his head and looked to the stars, “Did he say that in a movie? Ah well, never mind.”
Tate twitched as the rope was sliced away. The fuck?
“Real name’s Gian Volonte,” he tapped the knife to his narrow chin as he stared at the handcuffs. “I imagine Deborah has the key, huh?”
“I… not sure.”
“Nice grammar caveman. No problem.” Gian grabbed Tate’s other wrist and pulled the chain tight. Then he slid the knife through one of the links and twisted until the chain snapped apart.
The fuck is grammar? Tate felt immediate relief with his arms dangling to his sides. “Why help me? How do you know the vamper bitch?”
Gian inhaled another awkward laugh, “Ha! Vamper. The title is so charmingly unrefined. Makes you even cuter.” Gian sheathed his knife behind his back. “My den mother thinks you have promise. I’m here to offer you a deal.”
“Oh boy. I’ll get into detail later, but for now, I’m on a deadline. Basically, you join my tribe, or I take you back for dinner regardless.”
“You need water, we need blood. Join us willingly, and we all live a little longer. I won’t even chain you in the dungeon.”
Tate barely feigned a laugh. Great options. “Fuck you.”
Gian smirked, “I cut you free to at least give you the illusion of trust. You probably think I’m no different than the beasts that destroyed your camp.”
“Last pitch. Join us, and I’ll help you get revenge. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.”
Shit. Tate sighed, “Did any of my people make it out?”
Gian twitched his head and winced, “Three.”
Tate’s eyes widened.
“I’m surprised too,” Gian pressed his right ear and spoke, “Is it a trap? Hmm. She’s putting up a good fight. Affirmative.”
“Who is it?”
Gian briefly paused, “Young woman, a boy and a baby.” Gian grinned, “New deal: we secure the survivors, take them someplace safe. Whether you join or not determines how safe they’ll be.”
Fuck. Tate could physically do no more than sit and listen. I’ll just get my strength back after a while, then sneak all of us off. Tate nodded, “I guess you chose for me. Show me they’re safe, and you got me.”
Gian grinned, “Excellent,” he pressed his right ear again, “Go for extract, all three are priority. Then we sweep the drones and bring in Deborah, alive.” Gian looked back to Tate and grabbed his face, “Pucker up.”
Tate was high the first and last time he made out with another man. There was nothing attractive about Gian, especially when he kept his blue eyes open during the very open mouth kiss. Too weak to fight back, all Tate could really do was squirm.
Then he felt Gian’s tongue tickle the back of his throat. Tate gagged even more when something wet popped in his mouth. Gian pulled away, licking off yellow slime from his mouth and chin. “You’ll thank me later. Wanna ride shotgun?”
Tate tried to spit out all the slime he could, “So you can cop a feel ya ass?!”
Gian twitched his nose and nodded, “I’ll let you cool off in the back.”
Deborah finished the headcount of her feral vampires. When she had found the small nest there were only nine. She had then killed the alpha and a hesitant second-in-command. The Red Bones hadn’t put up much of a fight. Deborah realized how much she had overestimated the tribe by eyeballing the remaining seven’s wounds.
A few crossbow bolts decorated the beasts, but the vampires helped each other remove them with ease. Regular round-nose bullets riddled a few hides. Deborah knew from experience that with a vampire’s rubbery flesh, they wouldn’t even notice the shallow indents in their skin.
Shallow slashes and fresh blood decorated the rest of the creatures’ bodies. Deborah cringed a little as they licked each other clean. At least they’re listening to me. She glanced up the steep driveway leading out of the crater. The young woman struggled to run away with her two children in tow. I wonder if any of them will try to hunt me down.
Deborah rubbed her thumb over the tip of her spear. The Red Bones had crafted three other spears, capped with fifty caliber, armor piercing rounds. She was surprised she hadn’t thought of the concept before. Maybe because unfired rounds are worth more for trading.
The incomplete family was finally out of sight. Oh shit. What if she could hotwire the jeep? She quickly glanced up to where she had parked Tate, and he was missing. Deborah’s eyes widened and she reflexively inhaled to scream into the air, “FUCK!”
Her scream made her small nest jump back and freeze their attention on her. Deborah grabbed handfuls of her nearly white hair. He could barely crawl when I found him! I have the key to the cuffs! She stopped and listened.
Absolute silence. Someone found him.
A few of the feral vamps twitched their heads in different directions.
It was too quiet. They’re moving in. The baby’s distant wailing faintly echoed in the night.
Her nest looked out to the looming horizon of the crater. Deborah realized she was standing in one of the village’s brightest spotlights. She heard a tiny bit of dirt and rocks slide in the distance. “Follow!”
Deborah turned on her heel and sprinted for the large ivory and emerald mansion. She didn’t bother to turn around when she heard gunfire. However many there were, the dozen or so all seemed to fire in perfect sync. There was only one eruption, followed by countless echoes.
Deborah dove through the massive double doors she had left open. After sliding on the blood splattered tile floor, she twisted around to see that none of her vampires had followed. They were lying in the plaza, motionless. She had never heard of a bullet that could kill any vampire in the middle of the night, even with a hailstorm or well placed shots. The fuck did I get into here?
The young woman lunged to her feet, ran, and skid to a halt to slam the doors shut. Then she ran to the nearby furniture and started sliding two heavy chairs to barricade the door.
Okay, think. Definitely a group out there, everyone fired a heavy round at once. So they’re organized. Deborah ran behind a heavy, green embroidered couch with a corpse still lounging in it. As she pushed it towards the door she felt some relief.
They targeted the feral vamps first, maybe they’ll spend more time on the tribe to make sure the bodies don’t turn. With the couch upended over the chairs and against the doors, Deborah sprinted left to the nearest, curtained window. She put her back against a heavy wooden bookshelf, with her feet against the wall, and slid the shelf in front of the window.
Wait. If these guys know how to kill vamps so easy, they must be damn good hunters. Feeling like she was wasting time herself, Deborah ran to the window to the right of the doors. She carefully peaked through the thick green curtain.
Outside, Deborah counted six men or women in black, military style uniforms. Long sleeves, gloves, masks and helmets, Deborah couldn’t distinguish any markings or tattoos like most tribes loved to flaunt. Four vehicles were slowly coasting from the village’s only road.
Deborah jumped at an unfamiliar hiss. She remained still as she tried to scan the plaza. Three soldiers she hadn’t seen before were wearing chrome backpacks with hoses stretching to a thick nozzle in their hands. They approached the Red Bone corpses sprawled about, and from the nozzle, sprayed a thick white gas over them.
The hell they doing? Am I even a priority? Maybe they’ll wait until sun up before coming in here. She almost laughed, As fast as they killed that nest, they won’t have to try much harder for me.
One of the tall vehicles was facing the mansion’s doors. Like the others, it was painted in desert camouflage. They were all somewhere between a truck and a tank. Heavy plated walls, no windshield, just black orbs where there should be windows. It rode on six thick tires, but not the airless kind Deborah was used to. The center wheel was much bigger, surrounded by black tubes. Don’t see those too often.
A head and set of hands poked out of the top of the nearest vehicle. Before she could react, a blinding spotlight engulfed Deborah’s vision.
She spun from the glass, only to be prodded with something metal, but not sharp. Still blind, she lashed out to grab the pole that was poking her. There was a quiet click, and Deborah felt like her insides caught on fire.
Through the surprise, Deborah had a faint idea of what was happening. She remembered playfully wrestling Tsara in her apartment while James was working on the kitchen counter. Deborah had pinned Tsara with a laugh and pissed off her sister.
Tsara yelled, “Get her James! I can never beat her.”
Deborah was panting as she rose to her knees and lightly slapped Tsara’s abdomen. “You’re getting better at least,” she pointed to James, “This one thinks he doesn’t need training.”
James smirked and held out a metal rod with a black handle, wired to something else. “Wanna see why?”
James had shocked Deborah with a zap as quick as a blink, but she had still pissed herself.
The electricity coming out of this weapon felt a hundred times worse. She couldn’t make herself let go until the current stopped. Still blinded with a massive spot, and paralyzed, Deborah had no way of preventing the stab to her heart.
Now Deborah’s vision was fading to black. She remembered putting James in a headlock for shocking her, and then she had wrapped Tsara in a triangle hold with her legs so she couldn’t help him. Deborah remembered the three of them laughing until they lost their breath. She thought she felt herself smiling.