Deborah slid feet first through the moving Humvee’s moon roof. She angled over to sit in the black leather passenger seat. After James hit a button, the black tinted glass above closed and sealed itself. Deborah’s sandblasted, dried eyes quickly adjusted to the dark interior.
James waved to the dashboard of dim red lights, knobs, switches and a few empty slots. “If you want to know what does what, your guess is as good as mine.”
Deborah glanced ahead through the windshield. The sunlight had been overwhelming outside. When Deborah had made the leap from the trailer to the moving vehicle she remembered when Tsara and she would play tag with all the lights off. It had been just as difficult to see, no matter how long her eyes had had to adjust.
Looking through the windshield and other black tinted windows had no ill effect on her vision. Deborah wasn’t sure how many days had passed exactly since she was turned, but seeing the desert the way she remembered it felt conflicting. Her light-sensitive disadvantage was gone, but she also felt the reminder that she wasn’t human.
She snapped out of it, “What?”
“I asked if there’s anything in the trailer we should keep. I can get out and disconnect it from Megan so she can have a speed advantage over the other truck.”
Deborah lifted the filled tactical vest from her lap, “I grabbed a first aid kit, no-thrills survival kit, and a tire iron.” She grabbed the shotgun from the floor that she had lowered into the vehicle before herself, “I got this from the manor. Megan has one too, but we never did a shell count. We have a few handfuls I believe. I’d say we can drop the trailer and haul ass.”
“Uh, no. Did you forget they have three of our people?”
“Do you really think they’re alive?”
“Tate said they were.”
“You believe him?”
James stated his reasoning matter-of-factly without getting heated, “He killed two of them right in front of me and helped me kill one of their fucking, blue eyed vamps. In fact, if there’s anything left of her body, it’s still dangling from Tate’s truck. He told me they’d be kept alive for blood bags back home.”
“Okay, let’s say he lied about that. We’re going back for Gian right?”
“The man’s been around for thousands of years, apparently. He’ll be fine. We need to get these people back to Anthill.” She felt James staring at her, “What?”
She looked him in the eye; he looked confused as he asked, “No offense Deb, but it’s kind of odd to see your maternal instinct kick in. I thought you only had animal instincts.”
“What the fuck is up your ass?”
James quietly pounded the steering wheel between watching ahead and forcing eye contact. He spoke firmly without raising his voice, “We were a few hours from home, and you left me in the middle of a sandstorm. You didn’t wake me up for an explanation, no note, nothing! I couldn’t track you, I couldn’t radio you, so I waited a whole day and night for you! Do you have any idea how crazy that made me?! Then you, what, wipe out this kid’s whole fucking village?”
James pointed his thumb over his shoulder. Deborah looked back to see Tommy buckled in and asleep, using bundled clothes for a loose pillow.
Deborah locked her eyes on James. The man had always been too skinny, but now he looked gaunt. His arms vibrated, and she could smell his blood pumping too quickly. I had no idea he even liked me. “I’m sorry.”
James broke eye contact to stare ahead. “If you were anyone else, I’d say ‘Is that all you got to say to me?’ But you? I’ve never heard you apologize for anything or anyone. I’m not saying ‘sorry’ is good enough, but still, what the fuck were you thinking?”
“You seem to be leaving out the part where I tried to grab your cock and open your throat.”
He didn’t make eye contact, “It wasn’t you.”
“Yes it was. I knew what I was doing but I couldn’t stop myself. I was hungry, and I was going to drink you in your sleep. I didn’t trust myself to stay away from you, so I went hunting. My… hunt kind of just turned into a massacre that I justified as a crusade. I didn’t expect to survive against Tate’s people.”
James took a deep, shaky breath. “I should’ve let you kill yourself.”
I know. “I’m glad you made it back home safe. What did you tell Tsara?”
“Don’t say her name.”
As fast as his heart was pounding, Deborah thought James might have a stroke. “Did she dump you because of me? Why?”
James slammed the brakes until the vehicle skid to a stop. Deborah hit the dash to stop herself. James suddenly had a pistol aimed at her face. Tears streamed down his cheeks, “She’s dead because of you! Because of you! I told her to stay behind but she wouldn’t listen. I didn’t even tell her you were a fucking leech until yesterday.
“So I thought, maybe if I told everyone you were infected to begin with, no one would’ve put a rescue party together. But no. You know what would’ve been best? If I never would’ve gone into that cave for you. Then you’d just be a mindless drone starving for the rest of your life until some slayer took your head off. At the very least, you could’ve just been another dry corpse for those monsters to add to their pile.
“If I had left you behind… Tsara would be alive. I’d still have some sanity left. And you… You’re fucking Death incarnate. That would be the end of your body count. This kid would still have a family, and our friends wouldn’t be prisoners to the scariest mother fuckers I’ve ever heard about.
“And I let it all happen. I let you live, and unleashed the fucking apocalypse.”
Deborah knew she wasn’t a good person. Most of James’ cause and affect had washed over her, no worse than the nightmares she had committed before he had even known her. She was still processing the one affect that she had never considered, “Tsara?”
James pulled the trigger. Deborah flinched, but the gun was empty. He pulled again; Deborah still flinched. She could feel her tear ducts operate, but her eyelids filled with crusty bacteria before any moisture escaped. James’ gun hand flopped to the seat.
Tate’s voice came in over the radio, “Uh, what’s wrong guys? Are we all stopping?”
Deborah’s hand shook as she reached for a radio handle that wasn’t there. James rigidly turned to the steering wheel and held a button down. She heard the background static die, her que. “Yeah. We’re gonna disconnect Megan’s trailer. It’s useless, and we might be able to set a trap for the other truck. Sound good? Over.”
James stared at her and released the button. “You really don’t care how many people you kill do you?”
“I cared about Tsara. If these people killed her, then no, I really don’t.”
Tate replied, “Um, okay, should we back up to you guys… or, what?”
James held the button without looking and replied, “Just stop. Over.”
“Okay, we’ll get started I guess. Do you two need help?”
James answered again, “We’re fine. Over.”
Megan jumped in, “Just to be clear, we’re not using my children for human shields anymore, right?”
James replied, “Yeah, no more of that. Over.”
“Can you leave Tommy with me in the truck then?”
James shrugged, Deborah nodded and spoke up, “We’ll do that. You can run off if you want, but I think you should follow James back to Anthill.” Deborah noted James’ expression of anxiety and continued, “We don’t have an oasis, but we have a lot of good people with a lot of good defenses. You’ll be safe. Over.”
Tate asked, “What about you? You’re gonna wipe out a dozen vampers by yourself or what?”
Deborah glanced at James. “I have a pretty good record. And now I have a small tank. Over.”
There was a brief pause before Tate chimed back, “You know what? I believe in you.”
“That’s good, because you can help. Over.”
“I trust James to get Megan and the kids to safety. I don’t trust you to let him live long enough to get there. So if you help me free our people, and we succeed, I’ll start trusting you. Over.”
“Uh, fuck that. You lead your own suicide mission, and the people that can’t survive a bullet storm leaves. That’s fair.”
Megan cut in, “Do it Tate.”
“The fuck Meg?! We don’t owe them shit! Deborah wiped out our family, and James’ people followed to clean out our supplies! If we go to their home, who’s to say they don’t just kill us?”
“Tate, we have to go somewhere. It’s either with James, or the next tribe that doesn’t kill us on sight. I’m choosing the devil we know. No offense you two.”
Deborah and James glanced at each other. In unison they replied, “None taken.”
After a moment’s silence, Deborah looked back at Tommy. He was awake, but staying still and quiet. James also looked at him in the rearview mirror, and eventually put the vehicle in drive. Deborah noticed the man was straining his eyes to see ahead. She imagined that, for James, seeing through the tinted glass would be like driving at night without headlights. Deborah almost asked him about it, but decided to stay quiet.
Tommy broke the silence after a minute or so, “Are there a lot of ants where you live?”
James actually smirked, “No Tommy. Just a regular amount. We only call it Anthill because a lot of our town is built around a hill, all the way to the top.”
Deborah tried to share a smirk with James, but the man kept his focus ahead. I thought we called it Anthill because everyone answers to the nobles like drones. Deborah was suddenly aware of why James never laughed at her jokes. After all this shit, he still cares about the future. He wants our people back, maybe for peace or hope or something. Not like me. I just want to kill anyone that hurts us.
Tommy continued, “We had lots of fire ants at our home.”
James humored the boy, “Ever get bit by one?”
“Hurts like hell, huh buddy?”
“Yeah. The grown-ups taught us to stomp on them, but I didn’t like that.”
James adjusted some curiosity into his soft voice, “Why not?”
“They were just hungry, I think.”
“Yeah, maybe they were.”
Deborah saw Megan and Tate’s trucks parked ahead. James casually pulled ahead of them and parked in the direction of the pursuit truck. Tate was looking around the trailer’s hitch, scratching his head. Megan was standing outside the big truck with her arms crossed. She was intently watching the Humvee and inside her truck’s opened door.
James turned off the Humvee. “Go get your mom Tommy.”
Deborah winched at the bright light when the boy whipped the back door open and jumped out. James touched a button next to his elbow and the door closed itself. The glare disappeared in time for Deborah to see Megan catch Tommy in her arms with a wide smile and spun him around. The teen mother kissed the boy’s face more than a few times. Tommy tried to wipe his face clean.
James continued watching as he spoke up, “So I suppose I’m going to get out of this beast, take the family away, and you and Tate are gonna try to kill a dozen vamps by yourselves. That’s your plan?”
“Yep. Not much of a plan, but I can wing it pretty good when I try.”
“These vamps won’t run straight at you like you’re used to.”
“I’m aware. They’ll come at me like the most well trained marauders I’ve ever dealt with, and they’ll be just as hard to kill as the leeches. A great combination.”
“Too bad they’re not dumb and fragile. I’d have a lot more faith in your mission.”
Deborah wheezed a laugh, forgetting that air was required. “That would be nice.”
James hesitated, “We really don’t think alike do we?”
“No. Never did.”
“I don’t know which one of them took Tsara,” he stopped with a quivering chin, but caught himself, “Just kill them all.”