Puncture 1.8

Deborah’s body shimmied as James parked the tank beside a small chain of boulders. She looked out past the mismatched shards of windshield. The headlights clicked off; Deborah’s vision adjusted to the darkness. Purple clouds streaked across the night sky. Faint moonlight gave the sand a pale, lifeless glow.

Stiffly, Deborah readjusted her seating at the base of the cockpit’s bubble windshield. Soft blue, green and white light lit James up like a series of spotlights. Why did he make the monitors so bright? She felt like palming her forehead. Doesn’t matter how bright they are when you have permanent night vision.

James seemed to have sensed her mood, “What’s wrong?”

Deborah didn’t realize she was frowning. She grimaced and shook her head, “Nothin’.”

The mechanic looked like he was going to ask again, but dove back into the monitors. Clicking a few off and narrowing his eyes to the screens he left on. “Looks like a sand storm’s on the way.”

“This thing has a weather monitor?”

James shook his head, “No. Just a few cameras with night vision. Wind’s picking up a good bit.”

Deborah tried to read James’ face. A faint wrinkle in his forehead looked deeper than she remembered. His hands were still vibrating. Trying to hide the shaking from me. She’d never seen James outside the village before they had left it two days ago. He’s too soft to be out here.

Tsara had tried to convince Deborah to turn James down for the scout. Deborah knew how badly she loved him. It wasn’t just because he made her life easier with his handiwork and salvaged luxuries. James made Tsara smile just by walking into the same room, even after six years.

James was a respected member of the community. Deborah had never heard anyone speak ill of the man. There was a general consensus among the scouts that if James ever went on strike, most would give in to his demands.

Tsara and Deborah’s family was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Deborah may have been adopted, but the elders didn’t hold back from treating her as such. She was never told why, but over the years, it was obvious to Deborah that Tsara’s family was on the elders’ shit list.

Deborah could barely contain her disgust over the uselessness and pettiness of the village’s class discrimination. Spending most of her life in the sand, alone, Deborah was just grateful to have a safe place to call home. She glanced at James again, still watching the monitors while fighting sleep.

James doesn’t care what our family did. He just wants Tsara to be happy.

James leaned forward to squint at a monitor.

“Trouble?”

He pursed his chapped lips to the side. “Thought I saw movement, but my eyes are probably just tired.”

“Wanna switch? The glass is comfy if you sit the right way.”

The tired looking mechanic slowly waved a dismissive hand and barely shook his head. “I’m good. You’ll be better for spotting anything out the front than me anyway.”

Deborah looked to the floor, then outside. He’s just tired. Doesn’t know he pissed me off. She glanced back to James, sleeping in the chair with his mouth hanging open. Deborah thought it odd that she could still use her lungs to sigh.

Physically, her wounds in her chest and thigh were throbbing mildly. I’d need good pain killers right now if I was human. Mentally, Deborah was exhausted. Unlike the advanced healing abilities for the body, the infection had left her mental state fairly untouched.

She caught herself staring at James’ neck again. I guess my mind isn’t quite mine anymore. I crave blood; obviously never wanted it before. Maybe the infection is altering my mind. If it’s sentient enough, it makes sense to try to remove my suicidal thoughts as well.

Deborah snapped her gaze back to the desert. During the day, her exposed skin had felt like it was being steamed. Nightfall hadn’t brought the same chill it usually did, even though the windshield was missing nearly a fifth of its glass. Deborah tried to place the feeling. Room temperature? Not quite. Numb maybe. Is that an altercation of my body, or my mind?

Grunting to herself, Deborah was tired of thinking about how much the infection had taken from her. Are we close enough to the village for radio? James had told Deborah the tank’s batteries were just above ten volts, and he wouldn’t risk more power usage until he could activate the solar orbs. Deborah forced a sigh again.

She glanced around the cockpit to the backsides of the monitors. Deborah pushed herself up and squeezed to James’ left. There was less room than it looked. She hunched her shoulders forward, and kept her injured left leg above her right knee.

Above the windshield were three decently sized monitors. They seemed to show the surrounding area with a green glow. First time I see something in night vision is right after I become light sensitive. That’s ironic, right?

Outside, the sand blew past the tank in spurts. The worst of the storm hit the rear, but some of it found its way through the cracks in the windshield. Deborah stared blankly at the green glow of the monitors.

The last monitor James had left on was above the steering sticks at his knees. It had a slight crack across the screen, and had a dull white glow. Deborah found it difficult to look at, but it seemed to be monitoring the twenty batteries spread throughout the tank. Don’t need that on now.

After Deborah clicked the white monitor off, her eyes quickly adjusted to the dark even better. A radio handle was wired to the monitor she had just turned off. She picked it up and traced the long spiral chord to a separate box behind the monitor. There was a single knob for power and volume, and two others for tuning. A radio doesn’t use that much power.

Deborah clicked the radio on to the lowest level of background noise she could hear. A quick glance let her see she that James wasn’t disturbed. Green digits illuminated beside the tuning knobs: 105.7.

Someone was speaking, faintly on the other end. Deborah carefully turned up the volume until the words were audible. The static was louder than the slow, gruff voice, “-another truck. No sign of Tate, nothin’ ta salvage. Movin’ on.”

Deborah remembered the pretty-boy kid from the tank. He had put a gun to Deborah’s face with a smile. Tate. She eagerly waited for more, but after ten silent minutes, she casually made her way back to her window seat. Patience was a natural trait for Deborah, and had saved her life plenty of times.

‘Another truck’ the voice had said. Between Tate, James and herself, there were three demolished trucks nearby. I didn’t change the radio channel; Tate likely wasn’t just listening to another tribe’s communications.

The scout was sure of herself. This almost has to be Tate’s tank. The way the voice said, ‘Movin’ on,’ sounded tired, bored. Probably been searching for Tate, the tank or both for a while. How much ground did we cover? Did the storm cover our tracks enough?

Deborah listened to the radio static and the storm outside. Seeing through the whirling sand, even with her light sensitivity, was impossible. She knew she wouldn’t be able to navigate through the storm, and that staying in the tank was their best option for survival.

James had stressed that the tank shouldn’t be operated until it can gather more solar power. We’ll be a sitting snail if they find us. Probably safe, but trapped. Deborah had destroyed solar orbs before with little effort. If the searching party found them in time, they could climb the tank and take out the orbs easily.

The storm outside wasn’t dying down. Sand pelted the tank with a distinct, constant ‘pinging.’ Our tracks should be covered by now. Deborah looked back to the slumbering James. He would’ve noticed a tracking beacon or something, right?

Deborah ran a hand through her shoulder-length, blonde hair. Can’t move, can’t stay. She leaned down to examine the new pistol James had acquired from the very in-shape Tate. The material was fairly thick. It was in dire need of oiling, but Deborah recognized the gun’s frame. She had used one similar, with enough sand in it to prevent most semi-automatic pistols from firing. The gun had fired four shots in a row before it had jammed. Good model to have.

She examined her peeled thigh. The vampiric infection had turned the wound a dull yellow. Pulling her tank top from her chest, she looked down and saw the wounds in her torso were the same color.

Knowing little about freshly made vampires, Deborah wasn’t sure if the color was healthy or not. I need blood for sure. No. The infection needs blood. With her latest near death experience, Deborah didn’t think she could try to kill herself again. I’ll just let the wounds and lack of blood drinking kill me. Deborah stared out the window. Maybe I’ll just chicken out again.

The sand continued blasting outside throughout the night. No one had squawked on the radio since the last transmission. Unsure of the storm’s interference, Deborah changed the tuner to ninety-two point five.

She waited to hear anything through the static for a few minutes. Breaking the silence, Deborah grabbed the radio handle from the monitor and pressed the button, “Come in Anthill, this is Scout One, over.”

Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the background noise. Every thirty seconds, she repeated her hail, and waited for a response. There seemed to be a slight shuffling noise, but nothing sounded vocal. Should be close enough for a signal. Damn storm.

If she were alone, Deborah would try to circle around to where she thought the tank’s tribe was searching for her. She’d take on a group smaller than ten, just to make sure they wouldn’t follow her home. A larger group she could just distract, lead them in the wrong direction.

James had killed, but Deborah didn’t consider him a soldier. Her priority now was to get both of them home. After an endless silence, Deborah turned the channel back to the searching party’s.

The silence was welcome, in a way. Without any outside distractions, she folded herself back beside James and observed the monitors again. Green lit sand obstructed each camera like a wall. There was nothing to see.

I could go out and make sure they aren’t coming this way. James can’t move the tank until morning, but he’ll try to be a hero and find me on foot if he wakes up alone.

After a few minutes, Deborah moved back to the window seat for elbow room. The scout drew her pistol again and ejected the clip to her lap. Then she cocked the slide back and caught the final round mid-air. She laid the gun on her lap, reclaimed the clip, and pushed the rounds out with her thumb into her right palm.

She examined the two hollow point bullets, noting the pins inside the crater. The other three rounds were average round noses. Deborah reloaded the hollow points above the normal, worn-looking rounds.

The ammunition didn’t instill much confidence. And my machete got bent all to hell with the truck. She glanced down to James’ alloy rod, but decided against it. The shotgun would be ideal, but Deborah would prefer James stay armed while he was alone.

Deborah thought back to how she had tried to bite into James’ throat. Vulnerable as he was now, the thought of drinking him came back even stronger. I can’t stay here. The infection’s trying to force me to heal my wounds. She didn’t trust herself to stay away from James for the rest of the night. With any luck, Deborah could use any breaks in the storm to look at the stars for a westward heading.

With another forced sigh, Deborah checked the pistol and pushed the hatch release button to James’ right. The cockpit windshield opened, allowing more noise and sand to enter. Deborah climbed out and hit the button again. She paused to examine the slumbering James. He’ll be fine. Deborah descended the ladder.

Harsh wind and stinging blasts of sand swayed Deborah in every direction. She felt a vague exhilaration at the fact that she didn’t have to hold her breath to keep sand out of her mouth, though some grains still found a way up her nostrils.

The storm threatened to whip Deborah around like a rag doll. She crouched low, limping away from the tank. The vampire realized her thigh should’ve been burning with pain. There’s one benefit.

Looking ahead to the west, the storm was bad, but she’d seen heavier. It would take a while to make good ground. Deborah managed a smirk. I’ve got a few hours.

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