Tate tugged at his black shirt collar. Why does everyone like shirts so much? Under the soft yellow lamps in the trailer, Tate could see that everyone else wore the same black uniform. Comfy boots at least. Tate shifted his nylon vest like a turtle shell, anxious to take it off already. He had lost count of how many zipper compartments the vest held. I got this far with just two pockets.
Broad shouldered Mike Ford sat across from Tate. The red haired man smirked as he stroked his goatee. “Not much for clothes huh?”
Tate grunted, “What gave me away?”
“I used to be in a pretty wild tribe myself. Didn’t wear anything but armor plates.”
Tate noticed a few sidelong glances from the other soldiers, but he laughed, “That sounds awesome!” He shrugged, “Kinda sad to see you all tamed down and old and shit.”
“I’d look older without that leech juice.”
One of the vampers next to Mike cringed, “Do you have to call it that?”
Mike tilted his head, “What do you call it Dante?”
The slim vamper slid his hands over his black hair to tie a short ponytail at his neck, “White elixir.”
Tate saw an opening, “Hey Mike, when’s the last time someone swallowed some of your white elixir?”
Mike narrowed his eyes and slowly chuckled. The ponytailed Dante already looked disgusted by the conversation, now he looked repulsed. Mike’s chuckle became an uncontrollable roar. “Can’t wait to tell that to Nance. Right after she gets it too! Gonna be hilarious.”
Dante was still cringing, “What a lucky woman.”
Tate glanced between the vamper and Mike, “So, what was Gian doing back at my old home, exactly?”
Mike’s grin faded as he looked to his side. Dante stared at Tate, “He was supposed to see if there were any more survivors, of if you had any scouts or allies that had returned to check it.”
I already told him there was no one left. Tate lied, “Makes sense.”
Dante stared back, no trace of emotion. Before Tate could tell him to piss off, the trailer slowed to a stop. Mike gave a loud clap, “Looks like we’re here.”
Tate followed suite with the rest of the soldiers and grabbed the rifle from the wall behind him. Haven’t seen a model like this before. Tate cocked the assault rifle, impressed with the spring’s speed and stability. Brody had assembled a similar rifle with flawless, undamaged parts once. This weapon felt even tighter, with fresh gun oil glistening at the seams.
Mike chimed, “Nice piece, huh? Smelted from scrap, manufactured and assembled all at Wayne Manor.” He cocked his own rifle and rotated it in hand, “The Hamilton-Volonte Assault Rifle, third generation. HV-30 for short.”
“Volonte? As in, Gian Volonte?”
Dante turned to leave, “Yep, he did something right.”
Tate felt his eye twitch. He hadn’t realized that he actually liked Gian until now. Gian saved me and Meg. He could’ve easily let us die or have us for a snack when he found us. “Hey Dante.”
He turned back, “What?”
Tate threw a punch. Dante instantly caught Tate’s wrist and twisted until something snapped. Fuck! Tate yelped as he fell to a knee.
Dante kept Tate’s arm locked in his grasp. “Stick to jokes Red Bone. You’re even worse at fighting.” Then he released Tate and followed the other soldiers out of the trailer.
Mike hauled Tate to his feet and picked up his weapon. “Better learn to cool it son. You’re here out of courtesy.” He handed the rifle over.
Tate grabbed the gun in his left arm, cradling his sprained wrist to his chest. “I thought we were supposed to be partners or some shit.”
Mike glanced to the rest of the empty trailer. “We can be equals. You just gotta earn some respect first.”
Tate walked past him, “Thanks. But fuck that.”
Stepping down the trailer’s ramp, Tate squinted through the dark. The soldiers ahead had activated small blue LED lights on the back of their vests. The lights didn’t cast a beam of light, they merely looked like blue dots at the right angle. Tate clicked a button on his right shoulder to turn his on as well. He had been told earlier the lights were how they followed each other at night.
Without any moonlight, Tate’s eyes slowly adjusted to the pitch blackness. The ground was firm; a familiar scent of limestone caught his nose. Home. Smooth, flat terrain gave way to a rising incline.
Someone squawked over the radio in Tate’s right ear, “Split into positions.”
Tate slowed a step as the soldiers ahead of him divided to the left and right. The young man veered left as he had been told earlier. As he followed the single file line, the glow from below became visible. A few more steps to the right and he’d be at the cliff’s edge of the oasis.
The eight soldiers ahead of Tate spread out a few meters from each other before lying down with their scoped rifles. Tate’s father and the occasional scout had warned him how vulnerable the village was, but Tate hadn’t truly believed them until now. We were never safe here…
Tate continued jogging past the snipers to the oasis’ only safe entry. He slid into a seating position at the flat surface at the top of the driveway. After hearing everyone else report, Tate tapped his earpiece, “Chief in position.” He knew the others had given him the nickname to make fun of him, but Tate had said it with pride to spite them. Fucks.
A gloved hand clasped Tate’s mouth and a dry voice vibrated next to his ear. “You’re not very quiet caveman.” Gian removed his hand and circled to Tate’s left, aiming a slim rifle to the plaza below.
Tate scoffed, “My new nickname’s Chief. Fucker’s think they’re so funny.”
“You’re still new. Give them time and they’ll get even funnier.”
Tate had expected Gian to laugh uncontrollably as usual. He must keep quiet on stealth missions. “So, why call me in her tonight?”
“You can give us a tactical edge.”
“I saw this place get torn apart by Deborah and a small pack of feral vamps. You guys came in and took over even quicker than she did. I know you don’t need me.”
Tate thought he saw Gian smirk, “Not really, but sometime we will. My people tend to forget how important our relationship is with humans.”
“Probably an easy thing to do.”
“You’re right.” Gian lowered his rifle, “Any idea who’s invaded your home?”
Tate raised the scope to his eye and scanned below. The buggies and truck didn’t look familiar. “Aside from that bloody buggy, the vehicles look well-maintained. No idea though.” He thought he saw movement inside the main mansion. “Are you going to recruit them?”
“Like you said, the vehicles are in good shape. They loaded up some of your delicate equipment and non-perishable food. I’d guess they’re part of a town that’s pretty well off. In other words, they don’t need us as badly as we’d need them.”
Tate scratched his wild hair, “So we’re taking them out?”
“Those resources are better suited for the manor. I’m sorry, but this isn’t a good place to live.”
“I noticed. Let’s get my shit back.”
Gian seemed to smile wider as he tapped his earpiece, “Begin suppression in ten seconds. Chief and I are moving down.” He released his ear and looked at Tate, “Let’s go.”
Tate blinked, and Gian was leaving a dust trail halfway down the driveway. Okay. Tate ran down after him. The dilated leech juice in his system was still pumping. He felt his heart thump, his muscles pulsed, but he wasn’t panting for breath.
Running faster than he could ever remember, Tate also noticed his balance felt more fine-tuned as well. Gun shots echoed back and forth through the crater. He ran full speed after Gian towards the two smaller houses on the right.
Gian stood in the doorway of the further house, waving Tate in. Tate noticed a fresh corpse at the doorstep. There didn’t seem to be much of a body left. Must’ve been three or four vampers digging in at once.
Tate slid through the hallway on some fresh blood. Before he fell, Gian grabbed his elbow, “Easy, easy.”
Gian released Tate and pointed to the basement door. “I smell a few dead ferals down there. What do you keep down there?”
“Uh, used to be our garden. Looks like they put everything in the truck out there.”
“Hmm. Smells like they were burnt. Any ideas?”
Gian leaned his rifle against the wall and drew his black revolver as he grabbed the door knob. “Wanna go first?”
Tate shouldered his rifle as he slowly walked down the concrete stairs. The sound of water dripping and spraying was the easiest thing to hear. Behind that noise was metal on metal, like tools on the workbench. Did Brody make it? Tate shook his head to clear it. No one else made it.
Easing his way around the corner, Tate saw a skinny man with spiked brown hair working at the far bench. The man looked more fidgety than the last time Tate had seen him. He put the man in his scope after lowering the magnification. “James?”
The man froze. He had been doing something to a light bulb and some wires. When he looked into Tate’s eyes, James sighed and closed his eyes.
“Where’s my tank, asshole?”
Gian chimed in from behind, Tate smiled when he saw James’ eyes widen in fear and back away. “Friend of yours?”
Satisfied that James wasn’t armed, Tate lowered his rifle for a hip shot. “My world went to shit the day I met this fucker. Him and Deborah.”
Gian stepped beside Tate, gun still trained on James. “Friend of Deborah’s? Lucky man.”
James managed a step forward, “She’s alive?”
Tate handed his rifle to Gian. “Barely. I’ll make sure to put you in the same cell.” Tate cracked his neck and whirled his arms around, ready for a fight. “Come on tough guy. Let’s see how good you are without a fucking club to the back of my head.”
James seemed to reluctantly slide into a fighting pose. Tate almost laughed, Has he ever been in a real fight? Fucker doesn’t even know how to center his weight.
James made his fists and shook his head, “I let you live.”
Tate scoffed and quickly closed the distance. He saw the surprise in James’ eyes before planting a jab in Jame’s stomach. After James stumbled backwards and caught himself, Tate spoke up, “Last time I tried to fight you, I was trippin’ hard. This time—”
James slammed a wrench into Tate’s face, sending him into the nearest garden bed. The cold water from the ceiling helped Tate get back in the moment. He shivered the cold out of his spine and pushed himself up.
James said, “This time, I’m not afraid to kill you.”
Tate smirked and rubbed the pain out of his left cheek. “Gian here will kill you before you kill me, and how do you expect to find Debbie without me?” Tate launched forward, blocking James’ second swing, and twisting the man’s wrist until he held James in a chicken wing.
James grunted, “If you think you can control that woman, you’re already dead.” He stomped Tate’s foot and kicked off of the workbench at the same time. The two men fell and slid through a puddle of water and under a table holding an empty garden bed.
Tate squirmed his way out from under James and to the other side of the table. “Sounds like my kind of woman.” James stood up across from him, cradling his right arm. Tate quickly jumped on, and over the table to tackled James into the workbench.
The two men collided with a dull thud, and then Tate picked James up, spun him, and dropped him on the bench. James grabbed the middle of his back, then he started laughing. “I’m done, you got me.”
“The fuck’s so funny?”
James tried to control his laughing, “You think I ruined your life? When Deb finds out what happened… You better hope she kills you fast.”
“Shut the fuck up.” Tate punched James in the face until he stopped laughing.
Gian leaned on the bench, “You wanna keep him too?”