There was one thing, at least, on which we all agreed.
If we were going hunting, we’d need some better weapons.
“Now, this is more like it!” Jaspers enthused, practically bouncing up and down on his seat as I guided the convoy of trucks towards Fort Hood. “Now we’re talking about getting some serious bloody firepower, and I’m going to feel a hell of a lot happier with a big gun at my side!”
“Hey, take it easy,” I told him, although I couldn’t help but smile at his obvious enthusiasm. “Remember, it’s just a civilian truck, so you can’t mount a machine gun on it or anything!”
“That’s what you bloody think, you nay-sayer!” Strange how, despite being almost stiffly British in so many other ways, Jaspers shared an American’s love of pure old-fashioned firepower. I’d seen him practically drooling over tanks and armored vehicles before. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dirty magazines buried at the bottom of his locker back on base were all featuring two-page spreads of guns and ammunition. I decided to smile and keep my mouth shut, focus on continuing to drive.
For some reason, I’d expected Fort Hood to still be under guard, as if the Event hadn’t happened here. I’m not sure why, but I slowed the truck as we neared the front guard booth, reaching to pat pockets for an ID that I didn’t ever think to bring with me off the ship.
It took a second before Jaspers reached over to tap me on the shoulder. “No one’s here, Brian,” he said, his voice a little softer and more gentle than usual. “Go through.”
“Oh, right.” Somehow, it was that ease of entry, that simple act of driving onto the deserted military base, that freaked me out more than anything else. It really drove home the impact of the Event, just how many people were totally, completely, irreversibly gone.
I tried to pull myself together as we reached the main buildings. “We need to walk a fine line, here,” I announced to the others as they gathered around, rolling down windows and leaning out of their trucks to listen. “We don’t know what this… person…” I lingered on that word, not wanting to call the thing a true monster in front of Sara. “We don’t know what he’s capable of doing. Remember the Boy Scouts’ motto.”
A sea of blank faces looked back at me, and I remembered belatedly that I was dealing with a team of foreigners. Thankfully, Sara came to my rescue. “Be prepared!” she piped up, her voice high and strangely out-of-place amid the rumbling trucks.
I pointed a finger at her. “That’s right! But at the same time,” and here I shot a look at Jaspers, “let’s not go overboard. We don’t have supply lines. We can’t be driving across the countryside in a tank.”
“Not with that bloody attitude,” I heard him grumble, but he at least kept the comment mostly to himself.
I turned around to look out at the scattered buildings of the base. I’d spent most of my training and time between deployments here, so I knew the area. “Armory’s over there,” I said, pointing to the building in question. “I’m going to do something which I already suspect is a mistake, now.”
Henry grinned, bouncing up and down in his seat so much that his whole truck creaked on its shocks. “Oh, I do love when the boss gives us far too much freedom!” he called out, eliciting a laugh from the others.
I rolled my eyes at him. “I’m letting you split up. Get whatever you need, and then meet back here at…” I glanced down at my watch. “…noon.” That would give them a little over three hours to decide on what weapons they’d haul along, what sort of equipment they felt would be necessary.
It would also give me enough time to complete a side trip, one that I fervently wished I could skip. I had to know the answer, but I feared, all the way down to my warrior’s soul, to find it out.
Thankfully, I kept any expression about that side trip off my face. The others hooted and hollered and gunned the truck engines – but I held up a hand, keeping Corinne and Henry from driving off.
“You two need to catch rides with the others, make your supplies fit in with theirs,” I told them, eliciting twin groans. “Go on, get out.”
“But they’ve already pulled away!” Corinne protested as she stepped down from the driver’s seat of the truck. She wore a wide-brimmed hat that she’d picked up at a gas station; it shielded her face and pale skin from the sun, but it also made her look ridiculous, like she was about to mud-wrestle a crocodile in the Australian outback.
To be honest, I bet most of the men would pay money to watch that happen – and the smart money would be betting on Corinne to win. I shook my head, getting that distracting mental image out of my brain.
“It’s not that far of a run,” I countered, stepping up to take Corinne’s place behind the wheel. “You lot are supposed to be Special Forces, aren’t you? Can’t handle a morning run, before the main Texas heat has even set in yet?”
“No one ought to be living in a hellhole like this,” Henry grumbled, but the two soldiers broke into an easy, long-distance lope towards the armory, chasing after the other two trucks.
With them gone, I climbed up into the truck I’d commanded them to leave behind. I paused to glance back over my shoulder at the other passenger, the one who hadn’t disembarked. “Ready to go on a trip?” I asked.
Sara blinked those big, innocent eyes back at me. “Where are we going?” she asked, countering my question with another question.
Once again, that horror and fear rose up in my stomach, clawing its way up higher into my chest like a demonic form of acid reflux. I pushed it down with a swallow, my fingers tightening around the steering wheel until my knuckles were white against my skin.
“My house,” I said softly.
“Oh.” Sara frowned for a moment, digesting this information. “You live near here?”
“I do.” I paused for a second. “I did. This was my home base, when I wasn’t being sent abroad on missions.”
“Is that where you met everyone else? They all have funny accents. They’re not from here, right?”
I nodded. Talking about my past helped fight down the fear, made it a little easier to keep on talking. “They’re from all different countries, yes. We’re a joint team, with experts from each different country bringing their own background and expertise.” I briefly wondered if this was too much for a young girl, but Sara didn’t seem to be having trouble.
“My dad does that,” she said, and another spike of pain pierced my bruised and battered heart. “He hires lots of people from different places. He says that adding different ingredients makes a tastier cake.”
“Your dad sounds smart,” I said.
“Yeah.” Sara paused for a minute. “You’re going to kill him, aren’t you?”
That dagger slid home, no problem. “I hope not,” I said. “We want to try to help him, first. But if he keeps on hurting people…”
“He won’t. He’s a good guy.” Sara’s voice trembled a little, and I saw her shrink back into herself in the backseat. For a moment, I thought she was about to cry, but she swallowed it down.
She was strong, but she shouldn’t have to face this hardship. Not so young.
“Let’s go to your house,” she finally said, seeking a distraction from her own internal fears. “I want to see it.”
I nodded, taking a deep breath and putting the truck in drive.
To be continued…