Clive had been moving at a brisk pace all day. He was completely covered in sun blocker clothing, his black goggles were designed to tolerate the sun for a few hours at best. The man’s eyes had been nearly squinted shut since noon.
The steep hills he had been hiking through for the last two days had given him a few spots of heavy shade here and there. Moving slower in the day time was still eating at his stamina. When night fell, Clive could nearly run at full tilt without wasting much energy.
With the sun nearly set, Clive felt like his body was still on fire, but now it felt like a smaller fire at least. The sun blocker clothes weren’t a hundred percent effective, but Clive didn’t want to imagine how he’d feel without them.
Clive climbed to the top of a steep tower or dark stone. He scanned the more subtle terrain to the southeast. A faint cloud of sand hovered between two boulders a kilometer away. Yes. The man slid back to the somewhat flatter plateau at the base of the pillar and started running.
Physically, Clive felt as if he could crash soon. Mentally, running around in the sun for the first time in decades was both painful and refreshing. Yesterday, Clive had wondered if he had gone insane. He had thought, Why am I chasing Deborah after she had so easily slaughtered a dozen soldiers as good as me? The easy answer had been that Hamilton would put him in the meat locker for a year of punishment.
Chasing Deborah might be Clive’s own undoing, but he had to chase her down. Why? He blamed the sun for his suicide mission. The fuck am I going to do to her? A distant memory had washed by him. Oh yeah. Just follow them until I have an opening… To what? Fuck.
Clive tried again and again to remember his original plan, but it wasn’t coming to him. Maybe I’ll remember when the sun’s off of me for a while. The man continued running until he saw a perfect opening.
Ahead of him and the faint cloud of dust was a bridge formation that the truck would have to go under. They’re going around the canyons I’m on, right? He second guessed himself as he studied the more spaced out boulders and ridges further south. The land bridge looked skinny, and old, but it stretched out to another nearby boulder well over forty meters away. They’ll drive under that, or go the whole way around if they’re paranoid.
Clive stood there for a few moments, not moving. Shit! He shook his head and body before slapping his head. Come on Clive! Sun’s down. Get with it.
The athletic man ran over steep plateaus, climbed peaks, and leapt between them with unnatural grace. When he started to forget what he was doing, he landed with a thud or caught a glimpse of the truck and trailer slowly driving just on the other side of more boulders and pillars. Almost there.
The bridge wasn’t far. Why do I care about the bridge? Oh, right! Clive slid to a stop behind some cover. He was only a quick sprint from the bridge, and the truck was closing in. Definitely coming under the bridge… What am I doing? She wouldn’t be driving in the daylight. Oh! Two hostages are up. I saw them, right?
The truck was crawling closer and closer. Do I jump on the hood? No, it’s bulletproof, I’d never get in. Deborah mush be in the trailer. So… jump on the trailer, open it, shoot. No. She probably has a fucking mine set to blow or some shit.
Clive peeked around the corner of his pillar. The cab windows were blocked. Go! Clive ran and jumped over the last gap of boulders and had a clear runway to the trailer. No! He skid to a stop and immediately began to untie his boots. The cab cleared the other side of the bridge. Clive tied his boots around his neck and slung his rifle to his side.
He didn’t need to, but Clive instinctually took a few deep breaths before running over the bridge. Stopping after a few steps, the man leapt over the edge and dangled by his arms. The trailer was a meter or farther down. Fuck it.
Clive let go and managed to land a three point landing quieter than he even registered. Oh. I landed? Wait, why didn’t I just radio them to pick me up? Clive sat down and tapped his earpiece, “Aidan, Kim? Clive here. Open the door.”
He waited, but no response. Another effort lead to more silence. Confused, Clive laid on his back and pushed his goggles to his forehead. His eyes readjusted to the darkness on their own. Are they pulling my leg? An image popped in his mind of shooting at someone’s leg. The target was behind someone else, and Clive didn’t have anything else to shoot at.
Deborah felt the trailer slow to a complete stop. She heard Jake’s voice over her earpiece that it was getting too dark to drive without headlights. The only time scouts drove with headlights on was when they were well within Anthill’s territory.
Between Jake, Tess and Deborah’s experience, the three of them had gathered that they were skimming the southern border of the former Red Bone tribe’s maze of canyons. They had agreed that the trailer wouldn’t make it through the maze, so they had been steering around it for a day and half now.
Being at the southern tip of their land put them in a narrow stretch of no man’s land. Loose groups of marauders were known to skulk about the scattered boulders and barren ridges. Deborah and other scouts had eventually labeled the citizens here as Rat People. There was no natural vegetation or known water supplies, they just seemed lucky enough to scavenge on passersby that hadn’t known any better. Deborah wasn’t too worried about the Rats as they weren’t known for their discipline, often noted as wildly shooting any firearm they found without any proper stance or noticeable form.
Working her way to the back of the trailer, Deborah was beginning to notice an improvement in her night vision. The soft orange bulbs on the ceiling had been turned off to give the truck batteries every bit of power they could. Deborah had needed some light before, but this time she could manage her footing between the corpses without issue. Too bad I can smell them better too.
Deborah stood at the gate next to a panel with a pair of buttons on the driver side. She tapped the green button on top and watched the gate open from the floor and roll into the ceiling. Cradling her assault rifle, she anxiously waited to get out of the warm meat locker.
The door opened to Tess with her red ponytail, nervously smiling with her own assault rifle. Jake had his shotgun in hand at the ready, he gave Deborah a stern nod. Jake may have gotten a little softer behind a desk, but he remembered how to carry himself out in the sand.
The sky behind them was a dark blue with the stars beginning to show themselves. The northern hills to Deborah’s right weren’t terribly high, but they were steep and too rugged for anything much bigger than a jeep. Tate must’ve been really good with that tank.
More rounded hills rolled off to the south and back west where they had just come from. Deborah saw a few trails of boulders and a natural bridge formation that would’ve been ideal for an ambush. So far so good.
Deborah stepped off of the trailer, almost half her height to the ground, as if she had just taken a casual step down some stairs. Before Jake and Tess stepped up, Deborah cut in, “The bodies are really starting to wreak now guys. I think you should sleep in the cab tonight.”
The pair traded a glance, then Jake said, “I thought we all wanted someone in the back so we’re more spread out for an attack.”
Deborah shrugged, “I know, but I don’t even breathe and the smell was getting to me.”
Jake insisted, “We’ll just leave the door open.”
Tess cocked her head, “While we sleep?”
“We can just leave the radios on full volume for Deb to wake us.”
“Unless she doesn’t see anyone, then we’re dead.”
Deborah interrupted, “Guys, I can go a few more days without eating. I’ve learned to control it.” Mostly.
Jake slightly cringed, Deborah could tell he wasn’t handling her transformation very well. Tess grimaced as well, rolling her feet back and forth. The tan redhead nodded as she said, “Deborah, I trust you. And if, or, when, I guess, you um, need blood… I’m more than willing to you know, donate.”
Deborah almost felt bad for hiding the radio in the cab. She had heard Tess offer the solution to Jake, but to hear Tess make the offer face to face, Deborah was a little stunned. “Oh, uh, wow Tess. I… thanks.”
Tess awkwardly grinned back, “It’s not like you haven’t bled for us before.”
Deborah smirked. She had lost her share of blood and tears for Anthill. For Tsara. For Linda. Deborah snapped herself out of it, “Okay. Let’s get moving while we have some juice.”
Jake walked around the girls to the passenger side, “Shotgun.”
Tess shook her head, “What about it?”
“I’m calling shotgun. Last think I need is to seat between you two and your girl talk.”
Deborah narrowed her eyes.
Jake grinned, despite himself, “Okay, while Tess makes the girl talk.”
Deborah nodded and walked alongside Tess to the driver side. She asked the shorter woman, “Tess, how’s he doing?”
Tess slung her rifle, “Well he’s used to the desk. Safe, you know? I think getting caught did a small number on him.”
“Especially when you weren’t expecting the blue eyed vamps.”
Tess furrowed her brows and nodded repeatedly, “Yeah, right? Red Bones got a few guns and spears. None of us were worried about the Rats or the chupacabras, but these leeches in the back? I still can’t believe it.”
Deborah waited to climb into the cab as Tess jumped in, “That’s why I kept the bodies. Can you imagine me trying to tell this story to Cliff?”
Tess settled into the middle seat as Jake closed his door. He asked, “Which story?”
Deborah slid in behind the wheel and closed her door, “Any of it. Hence all the proof I could muster in the back.”
Jake laid his shotgun on the dash with a yawn, “Yeah, our sheriff likes his evidence alright.”
Deborah started the truck and started moving at a slower than casual pace. “I wonder if James came this way.”
Tess checked her safety on her rifle as she laid it on the dash with Jake and Deborah’s firearms. “That Megan you mentioned might know her way through the canyons. They’ll probably beat us back to town, no sweat.”
Deborah stared out into the darkness as the last sliver of orange sky faded to black. “I’ve never been too optimistic.”
Tess stifled a yawn, “Not to be rude, but do you have to bite me?”
Deborah tilted her head, “Uh, no. I’d prefer not to actually. I’ve bitten into a few people already, but it’s usually been for a killing blow, or if they were already dead. It’s not very practical for you. I’d probably just waste a lot more blood than I’d want, and I’m sure that wound wouldn’t heal very well.”
She glanced over with a double take to Tess and Jake staring at her. Deborah stammered, “I mean, we’d waste more blood than we’d want…”
Tess narrowed her eyes, “Thanks?”
Deborah shrugged, “Pretend I didn’t say that.”
Jake puffed a dry laugh, “What part?”
“All of it. I guess.”
Tess asked, “Do you have to cut me with a knife then?”
Deborah shook her head, “No. Not if one of you knows how to draw blood,” she felt their stare again. “These blue eyes all have some gear on them for making blood bags. We’ll just have to figure out how to fill a bag so I don’t have to suck it out of you myself… Is anyone, comfortable with that?”
Jake leaned back in his seat, “Not really.”
Tess tossed her palms up, “Maybe when we’re parked?”
Deborah nodded, “Sounds good.”
Deborah slammed the brakes when a pair of black boots landed on the hood in front of her window. A black man dressed in tactical black gear lost his balance and fell in front of the hood. Deborah slammed the truck in park and threw the door open. She scanned the dark horizon with her rifle, then to the back of the trailer.
The woman jumped out and quickly ran around to the man, flat on his back. His icy blue eyes managed to glimmer in the dark. He pointed at Deborah with a wide grin, “Scared you didn’t I?!”
Deborah flicked her safety off, “Who the fuck are you?”
The man stopped laughing, then his smile faded, “Oh. Shit.”