Neal glanced from monitor to monitor. The small, dark room was filled with screens and two operators. Neal often enjoyed walking in to get candid updates from around the manor and from the numerous drones, scouts and stations across the region.
With Deborah’s recent killing spree and kidnapping, his time in the security room as of late was far from pleasant. The man on the communication panel pointed out something. Neal snapped his attention to a dark blur. The screen was divided into four smaller screens, each camera feed was from their drone. He ordered, “Check it out.”
Dark skinned Olivia replied with a hasty, “Yes sir!”
Staring into the monitor, Neal found himself leaning forward. He grabbed the back of Olivia’s chair, out of habit. Glancing down, he noticed bits of the plastic chair were missing. When he had ordered Olivia to ram the drone into Gian’s smoldering face, the woman had hesitated. Neal remembered grabbing the chair to slide her out of the way, but he didn’t realize he had snapped it apart. I wonder if she was on board with Gian. Well that shouldn’t matter anymore.
The drone’s footage of the blur was transferred to a more prominent monitor. It swept over the shallow waves of sun blasted desert until the blur divided into coherent shapes. Neal took stock of the vehicles as Olivia slowed the drone down to a steady hover. Truck number 1, salvage pickup… Julie’s Humvee?
Olivia sternly announced, “Drone has been reduced to stealth propulsion.”
Neal was stunned to see three people standing out in the open. “Has Julie checked in yet?”
The second operator wore a headset that only covered his left ear. He tapped through a few screens and shook his head, “No sir. I’d hack into her dash camera, but she never let it be installed.”
“What? Who let her leave the garage without it?”
Olivia and Anders shared a glance. He answered simply, “Anyone. Sir.”
Neal would’ve taken the time to close his eyes and rub his temples, but he was beyond that. Landing the killing blows against Gian hadn’t even helped his mood. Bat-faced bastard never stopped laughing. The drone zoomed in above the gathered vehicles around to the Humvee’s driver window. Neal saw Megan outside, talking to Deborah in the driver’s seat. “What the fuck happened? Get me audio.”
Anders hesitated, “Sir, you—the microphone was damaged… sir.” The young man made eye contact with Neal for a moment, and changed his tune, “I’ll make it work sir.”
Neal added, “Is the EMP still working properly?”
Olivia tapped a few buttons and held out the thumbs up, “Ready to fire. We can get all three vehicles if I rise a few meters.”
“Do it. Don’t worry about being quiet. I want these sand hicks to wonder what the fuck they’re looking at.”
The drone’s feed quickly rose equally between all three vehicles before Olivia said, “Targets in position. Charged.”
Neal almost smirked, “Fire.”
There was no visual confirmation that the pulse had worked, but the drone lowered itself regardless. Rough static arose with a slight breeze in the background. Anders said, “I rerouted sound between some of the onboard, salvaged cameras. There’s going to be some feedback on the drone’s end though.”
“So they can hear me?”
“Uh, sure. If you want sir.”
Anders went to work as Olivia asked, “We have their attention sir. They’re looking straight at us.”
“Move in. Let’s talk.”
The camera showed the ground rapidly approach and slide away. Then the monitor switched to a horizontal camera feed at the front of the drone. Olivia casually moved it towards the three humans, who were staring at it, frozen. She stopped moving forward when Megan and Tate inched backwards.
Neal grinned at Tate and Megan’s mix of fear and obliviousness. He noticed that the second man appeared more curious than afraid. Neal asked, “Who is the skinny guy with the bed head?”
Olivia answered, “He was the prisoner taken with Tate to aid in our negotiations. Tate referred to him as James.”
“Is that two-way communication working?”
Anders held a thumb up. Neal winced at the immediate high pitched feedback until it died down a little. The room filled with the voice of Tate, almost distant-sounding, “dad saw one before. Why can’t this be one?”
James spoke up, “UFO’s only come out at night.”
Neal interrupted, “Tate, Megan, James and… can you hear me from the car, Deborah?”
A middle finger protruded in the background and disappeared back into the vehicle.
Neal continued, “If you haven’t noticed by now, you won’t be able to start your cars,” he waited for them to share a glance and back to Deborah. Megan jumped to the truck and Tate dove for the pickup. James looked curious now.
James spoke up, “Who are you?”
“Neal Hamilton. You have something that belongs to me.”
“Ditto.” He looked between the shouts from the rest of the group that the cars wouldn’t start. “Is this how you start negotiations?”
“Oh no. This is me telling you your options. You make my people hunt you down at sundown and wipe you out, or you kill Deborah in front of me and come to me as welcome guests.”
“Boy, that’s just, overwhelmingly fair of you.” Tate and Megan were slow to rejoin James on either side.
“Go ahead and ask Megan what she ran away from. Free food and clean water for her family in exchange for some blood bags. I have a feeling Tate might’ve been happy here, but he’s too in love with Megan to let her leave on her own.
“Tate, I’m disappointed in you. You had so much potential.”
Tate sneered, “Thanks mom.”
Neal told them all, “One last chance to come in quietly. Kill Deborah with whatever weapons you have left, and you are all welcome to join our family.”
Tate looked over at Megan, who avoided his gaze. James suddenly looked over his shoulder and walked to the Humvee.
Neal felt his eye twitch.
Deborah handed a shotgun through the window to James, who then checked the weapon’s breach. The woman walked out into the afternoon sun. Faint streams of steam flowed from her face, but the rest of her body was protected.
She turned her back to the drone, but Neal could hear her, “We had a good run. Megan, I’m sorry I couldn’t fulfill my promise. Tate, I’d still like to kick your ass. James.”
Neal felt his fists clenching as Deborah dropped to her knees in front of the camera. James rubbed his eyes as he stepped closer and put the barrel to the back of her head.
Too easy. “Olivia—”
Before he could order, James snapped the shotgun up and fired a barrage of shots. The camera went wild, unbearable blasts and feedback flooded the small room. Neal and the operators were overwhelmed until the sound cut out, and after a few flashes of James’ face with a knife, each camera went black.
Neal spun around and put a small dent in the steel door with his fist, “Fuck!”
Deborah looked ahead to James, tearing into the flying beast like a chupacabra tearing into cattle. The white machine was sleek and stretched like two dinner plates stacked against each other by the rims. It was large enough for all four adult members of the party to spoon each other on. James was kneeling on top of it on his knees, and had somehow managed to find an edge to pry apart.
She was sure he was being methodical, but Deborah was still thrown off by how savagely James was tearing into it. “James?”
The mad mechanic turned around with a look of crazed determination. “Did you really think I was going to do that?”
After our last conversation? Deborah shared a glance between Tate and Megan as she undid her vest so she could yank it over her face for shade. “I didn’t think you’d jump on… whatever that is, the way you did.”
James went back to work, hasty, but clear focus in his voice, “I’ve seen some cool toys, but this was too sweet to walk away from. I’m just glad you gave me the gun.”
Tate spoke up, “Okay, so that UFO is down. We still have no wheels, and twelve vampers waiting for nightfall. Anyone got a plan B?”
Megan shrugged, “More like plan C.”
James barely turned around to yell, “Someone pop the hood on the pickup.”
Deborah stared at Tate until he sighed and reached into the cab for a lever. Then Deborah moved to the front of the hood, still shielding her face from the sun.
Megan stepped in front of her, and genuinely offered, “I got it.”
Deborah stepped back and let her. “What’s the plan James?”
The mechanic emerged from the crash site with a black brick. “You can pop the mini-tank’s hood, but I have a feeling this battery won’t suffice.”
Deborah cocked her head to the battery in James’ palm, “That’s nowhere near the size of what the truck needs.”
James handed the small brick to Megan and began unfastening the pickup’s battery. “It’s not the size that counts.”
James didn’t let Tate stop him, “This has enough charge, trust me. You should be able to run a full two days and two nights without stopping to charge it too.”
Deborah stepped over to help James haul the hefty dead battery from the hood. “What do you mean me? You, Megan, and the kids go home. Tate and I stay and fight. That’s the plan.”
James started connecting the smaller battery, “That plan might’ve worked when you had the yellow beast on your side. Now you’re just two people on foot with a few guns.”
Megan spoke up, “So we’re all going to Anthill in this?”
Tate stepped out of the cab and added, “If it works.”
James cleared his hand of the motor, “Start it.”
Tate rolled his eyes and got back in the truck. He waited a moment, “Nothing bro.”
James was taken aback, “What? The only thing they could do was hit us with a pulse.”
Tate squinted, “A what?”
James leaned in the hood again, “Try again.”
Tate sighed and a moment later just shook his head.
James held his shaking hand up before grabbing his forehead. “Shit.”
Deborah tried to soften her tone, “It was a good try James. We’ll just have to make a stand. At least they won’t kill any of you.”
Megan stepped forward, “Deborah, a few of the other, guests at the manor told me what happens to the less cooperative of the bunch. I don’t know how much is true, but I’d rather die.”
Tate looked dumbfounded, “The prison? Megan, compared to what we used to do to lawbreakers, their prisons are like heaven. Air conditioning, soft beds, food and water. And sometimes they get back out when they—”
“Tate. They showed us the best of what they had. Someone else showed me more. I couldn’t stand to see more. I couldn’t believe there was worse things to see in this world. If I let my children feed off of that society, I’d never forgive myself. Even if they never saw what I saw, they’d be under the wings of those monsters until they died. Tate, I had to run. If I didn’t, or if we still get caught, I won’t let them go back.”
Deborah looked at Tate. The blue sky was slowly giving way to an orange horizon. Deborah stopped shading her face and spoke softly, “Tate. Start the engine.”
Tate’s head twitched to Deborah. His mouth opened, but he shut it and turned the key. The truck started. Deborah glanced to James. She expected him to yell or start a fight, but James just closed the hood with a gentle slap. Megan was crying on her way to the big rig.
James walked to the bed of the truck and asked, “Are you coming Deb?”
She watched Megan retrieve Tommy and Angelica and looked back to Tate. The young man sighed and stepped out of the truck. Deborah walked past him to James. “I’m going to get our people back, and meet you back home.” She offered a handshake.
James scoffed and shook her hand, “Go get ‘em Ice Queen.”
“You know I will.”