Chapter 5 - Allies and Enemies
The Reclaimers continued their long journey the next day with a renewed sense of purpose. The group finally had some answers and, while depressing, the knowledge appeared to have energized them toward their goal. Once they reached Theia, they might have even more answers and, hopefully, find their loved ones as well. It was a thought that kept everyone slowly moving forward.
Jason limped along in the column of marching elderly people feeling every painful step in his own aging knees. Normally, people’s bodies deteriorated slowly as they aged, giving their owners time to adjust to their new limitations. It was how nature and time worked, but this very unnatural situation was driving Jason crazy. He remembered his young body working perfectly. He had been at an age when your body worked so well, that you had no idea how well it actually was working. It was the blissful ignorance of youth and something that Jason was sorely missing. His mind was still calibrated to his young, vibrant, energized form and was constantly confused when his body painfully resisted even the simplest physical commands.
Jason had already passed on his turn to ride in one of the wagons, thinking someone else could use the rest more than him. He was quickly regretting that decision and allowed his mind to drift in an attempt to distract himself from the pain. Where was Beth? What was she doing? Would he ever see her again? Was she even alive? Since awakening, Jason had intentionally forced these questions from his mind. The potential answers were too painful to contemplate, but they once again came bubbling up to the surface of his conscience, like stinging jellyfish floating on an already stormy sea.
“You look like you could use a rest,” stated a gruff voice, startling Jason out of his dark thoughts. Gerald Farmer had moved up beside Jason in the column. He was walking, holding the lead of his horse which slowly ambled along behind him. He was obviously giving the decrepit creature a rest from carrying him.
“I’m fine,” Jason lied. “But it sure would be nice to find a few working trucks.”
Gerald shook his head, “I’m afraid you won’t find anything like that. In the early years, the drones swept through everywhere collecting vehicles, motors, electronics … just about anything they could recycle for useful materials. It was one of their first activities.”
Jason looked disappointed, “Well that explains a lot, but it’s a shame. We could get there in less than a day if we had some trucks. At this rate, it’s going to take us months.”
Gerald’s expression turned serious, “Do you really believe this machine of yours will still be working thirty years later?” he asked in a lowered voice. “I understand you need to keep up morale and everything, but, honestly, what are the odds?”
“There’s a good chance, provided no one intentionally destroyed or looted anything. Like I said, it was all built to last,” Jason answered honestly.
“And it can find anyone, anywhere? No bullshit?” questioned Gerald.
“Yes,” Jason replied emphatically. “As long as they’re alive and we can build a proper target profile, we can find them.”
“What do you need to build this ’profile’?” Gerald asked with concern in his voice.
“Typically, a DNA sample is enough. We can even run it from related DNA samples, like a parent, sibling or child,” Jason paused and eyed Gerald critically. “Who are you looking for, Gerald? Who did you lose?” he asked with a gentle tone.
Gerald’s gruff exterior seemed to crumble instantly and Jason could detect the clear signs of grief on the older man’s face.
“My daughter,” he finally answered. “She’d be about your age. She was living out west in California when it happened. She was ’gonna make it big’ in Hollywood,” he said making sarcastic air quotes with his fingers. “We disagreed about many of her life choices and we hadn’t talked in over two years before the Capture.” Gerald’s gaze softened as he continued. “For you people, this has been instantaneous. Confusing and frightening, sure, but it was instantaneous all the same. I’ve had thirty years of regrets. Thirty years of thinking, if I had not been such a gaping asshole, I could have at least had those last two years with my little girl. Thirty years of torture that the very last words I ever said to the person I loved most were ‘you’re gonna end up as a filthy hooker, you spoiled brat.’”
Jason cringed and then felt the urge to put his hand on the other man’s shoulder as some pathetic comforting gesture, but resisted the impulse. “If she’s out there, we’ll find her,” Jason assured him confidently.
Gerald's face morphed back to his normal frowning demeanor, “I’m not pinning any hopes on this magic fairy tale machine of yours. But, if by some miracle it does work, you would have the everlasting gratitude of this old man.”
Mike loaded the heavy box of canned vegetables onto the back of the wagon. Their foraging trip had gone well and their wagon was almost filled with the needed supplies. The Reclaimers were quickly becoming experts at earning their self-given name. Mike Hagen, in particular, had discovered a real talent for finding forage. It was almost as if he could smell the undisturbed cannery they had found several miles from the main camp.
It turned out that the cannery was an almost perfect depot for supplies. After thirty years, canned goods left exposed to the elements often ruptured and quickly spoiled. But this cannery’s basement warehouse had been well protected and they could not have asked for more than its vast wealth of canned food. Mike and his team of three other Reclaimers had laboriously loaded their small wagon to the tipping point and a quick look at the setting sun told Mike it was way past time to go. They had lost track of time and would most likely not make it back to camp before it was dark.
Nighttime in this new world was an entirely different experience than the night time of pink sodium lit street lights in Sunrise, Florida where Mike grew up. Having been raised in a modern suburban sprawl, Mike had always known the illumination of the next streetlight just twenty feet away no matter where he was or how dark the night became. Despite his numerous Boy Scout camping trips to the everglades, he found it truly disturbing how utterly black the night became on a moonless evening in this new reality. Even the flickering firelight of a torch seemed to be quickly pulled into the vacuum of the surrounding blackness. Mike realized that the situation always activated a very ancient and primal fear in him. For the fear of the dark was not an irrational one. There truly were dangerous things lurking out there, and despite his confident looking, forty-seven-year-old outward appearance, Mike Hagen was really just a sacred seventeen-year-old kid from the suburbs. After checking the cargo straps one last time, he climbed up into the driver’s seat and released the brake on the wagon, then whipped the reins to get the horses moving as quickly as possible.
At some point in the past, the road that Mike and his team were travelling on was probably a beautiful major thoroughfare lined with manicured trees. But, the long years of abandonment had allowed the merciless surrounding forest to quickly reclaim the land that had once been so meticulously maintained by mankind. The road was now nothing more than a winding forest path punctuated by large chucks of broken asphalt and thick tree roots breaking the surface of the road in places like a sea serpent snaking its way along the ocean.
Even in the middle of the day, the road was treacherous for a horse drawn wagon. Now in the quickly fading light and with the shifting, top heavy load, the bouncing and swaying wagon was making Mike extremely nervous. He knew that if he wrecked one of the Reclaimers only wagons, it would be a major setback for the entire group, not to mention he might kill himself and his whole team in the process. So, despite his fear of getting caught out in the dark, Mike slowed the horses down as he squinted into the gloom of the darkening forest.
After about a mile of slow going, any remaining sunlight had finally dissipated, leaving the broken path lit only by a lone flicking torch which the team had rigged to the wagon. Mike could barely see the heads of the horses much less the path ahead of him. The horses themselves were also not happy with the situation and were starting to resist moving forward no matter how much Mike prompted them to continue.
Tad Lawson, who was standing in the wagon behind Mike, holding on for dear life, tapped him on the shoulder, “This is messed up, bro. We need to stop and wait until morning.”
Mike pulled on the reins and stopped the wagon. He then turned and looked at the rest of his team. “What do the rest of you think? It’s probably only another two miles of this crap before we hit that main road again. I know I for one don’t want to sleep out here.”
“Bro… it’s totally messed up. You can’t see shit out there. You’ll wreck the wagon if you keep going in the dark, bro,” announced Tad, again voicing his opinion.
Tad’s compulsive use of ‘bro’ annoyed Mike tremendously, but the once fifteen-year-old had a point. The other two Reclaimers looked scared but agreed with Tad that the road had become just too dangerous to continue. Mike knew that the main group would be worried but it wasn’t the first time that a foraging crew hadn’t made it back until morning. They wouldn’t leave without them and it was probably the smart move to wait for the light.
“All right, we stay here for the night,” Mike proclaimed. “Let’s get the horses unhitched and see if we can get them some water. There was a small creek a little way back. Jimmy, Tad, why don’t you two take care of the horses, while Kevin and I get a proper fire going.” He paused and looked up at the sky through the trees. “At least it’s not raining,” he said, hoping he hadn’t just jinx them.
Tad and Jimmy grumbled but obeyed Mike’s orders as they unhitched the horses and led them back down the road carrying another rigged torch to light their way. Mike once again used his eagle scout skills and quickly got a nice campfire going, then began making bedding for each member of his team using leaves and branches as none of them had brought their sleeping gear. It was only supposed to be a day trip, after all. That was a change that Mike was going to suggest to Jason when he got back. Every foraging crew should always bring their gear, just in case. “Always be prepared, was more than just a motto. It could save your life,” Mike thought. The idea sparked another fear in Mike’s mind as he fished the groups’ only hunting rifle out from under the driver’s bench. He quickly checked to ensure that it was loaded then grabbed a handful of additional shells from the small ammo box and put them in his pocket. After thirty years of no human interference, wolves, bears and mountain lions had made one hell of a comeback in North America. The Reclaimers had already lost one of their own to a mountain lion attack and Mike was more than aware that he had heard the howl of wolves just a couple of nights ago. When they were all together in the main group, no animal would dare attack, but a small number of humans isolated in the woods, might make a tempting target for the more ambitious predators out there. Mike knew that the fire should keep them safe but he laid the rifle down beside his makeshift bed, just in case.
After the horses had been cared for, the small group sat around the fire and shared a satisfying dinner of thirty-year-old canned corned beef and sliced peaches. It was always risky to eat food that was so old, but Mike had carefully inspected the cans and was confident that the seals were still good. Before long and with their stomachs fuller than they had been in weeks, the four men had slipped into a deep sleep in various positions around the fire. Mike Hagen resisted falling asleep for as long as he could, but the physical excursion of the day’s events had left his new, older body exhausted and unconsciousness finally overtook him. He fell into a dream featuring the moment he had been trying to forget since waking up in this strange new world.
Despite the tears dribbling down her cheeks, Sally Smith was still shockingly beautiful. She possessed the type of looks that did not require makeup to artificially extenuate her gorgeous, natural features and Mike was sure she’d continue to be just as pretty far beyond her current seventeen years of age. Mike still could not believe his good fortune at having Sally as his girlfriend. He was definitely the envy of all his friends despite their constant teasing that she was far too good for him. But now Mike gazed down at his sobbing girlfriend with a mixture of confusion and worry. He had no idea what she had wanted when she had asked to talk with him alone before school, but he knew enough that it probably wasn’t good.
Now Mike sat in the driver’s seat of his beat-up car trying to think of anything he could have possibly done wrong to cause the scene happening in the passenger’s seat. There was no way that Sally could have known that he had kissed Jessica. That had happened two states away and the two girls did not even remotely know each other. Even still, Mike had kept a hawk-like vigil on all his current forms of social media just in case. The guilt he had experienced over the short drunken make-out session had taught Mike that cheating just wasn’t worth the effort.
“Babe, you have to talk to me and tell me what’s wrong. I’m not a mind reader,” he said gently, attempting to prod her into saying anything.
Sally wiped away several tears and dabbed a tissue at her nose. “I’m late,” she finally said in a wavering voice, never looking at Mike.
Confused, Mike looked up at Piper High School through his windshield and then back down at the car clock. “We’ve got plenty of time. First block’s not for another half an hour. Just tell me what’s wrong, Babe.”
Sally burst out crying with renewed passion then buried her face in her hands.
“What did I say?” Mike almost shouted. He was frustrated and was having a hard time controlling his own seventeen-year-old emotions in the face of his girlfriend’s sobbing.
Sally suddenly ripped her face from her tear-soaked hands and whipped around to meet Mike’s dumbfounded expression with one of intense anger. “I’m pregnant, you idiot!” she snapped at him.
Mike instantly felt all the blood drain from his face. All he could do was stare blankly at her with his mouth gaping open. He knew he was acting exactly like a movie cliché but he couldn’t help it. There were so many thoughts and feelings simultaneously bouncing around in his young brain that he just couldn’t pick one to vocalize. It was as if too many people were attempting to pass through a small door at the same time. They all became wedged in the opening and no one could get through. She was staring at him expectantly with her head cocked to one side. She needed him to say something… anything, but Mike remained frozen. One second became two, and then a third and fourth passed before Sally finally acted.
“Asshole!” she shouted before angrily pushing open the car door and quickly jumping out of the parked vehicle. “Call me when you’ve found the balls to talk to me… or don’t!” she screamed before slamming the door and storming off into the school, wiping her face in a vain attempt to cover up the fact that she had been crying.
Mike sat in his car for what seemed like an eternity. He was lost in all the possible and now impossible futures swirling around in his mind. Sally’s words had dramatically changed the direction of his entire life one way or another. He was an idiot, he decided. He needed to talk with her. They needed to figure this out together. After all, there were a lot of options, right? Maybe her parents could raise the kid, they could get married, adoption, or even abortion. Mike suddenly realized he had no idea what Sally’s feelings were on abortion. They had been dating almost six months, but the subject had never come up. After all, a seventeen-year-old boy had one overriding hormonal goal when it came to girls and nothing killed the mood faster than having a lively discussion about abortion.
A dirty hand roughly shook Mike’s shoulder and he was suddenly yanked out of his thoughts...or was it his dream. Mike was groggy, confused, and angry as he slowly cracked open his eyes and saw the filthy face of a strange man shaking him awake.
“Wakey, wakey mister. It’s sharing time,” he said with a crooked smile and stinking breath.
Mike’s cloudy mind finally grasped the dangerous situation and he shot up from his sleeping position. Immediately, a rifle barrel was pressed against his cheek and Mike ever so slowly lifted his hands in a surrendering gesture. His heart sank as he realized that the rifle being pointed at him was his own.
“Take it easy, man,” Mike said calmly as he moved his eyes around the camp trying to assess the situation. He could see in the dim firelight that there were at least ten of the strangers. They had the rest of his team in similar helpless positions, but it appeared that only one other wild-eyed bandit had a weapon and he was using the shotgun to cover the other three members of Mike’s team. The strange gang hooted and yelled like a troop of monkeys, obviously excited by their catch. The wild bunch was already ripping open the boxes of canned goods in obvious delight.
“You take it easy,” repeated the stranger childishly while poking the gun barrel into Mike’s face for emphasis. “This is mine now. You hear me? Mine!” screeched the man with the gun. He then looked to the rest of his gang, “See guys, I told ya! I knew we could take’em!”
“Fuck yeah, Seth!” howled the other gun toting bandit in response before he pointed his double barrel shotgun up into the air and fired in celebration.
Mike winced at the sudden blast before its deafening noise dissipated into the surrounding dark forest, but the troop of thieves seemed to become even more excited as if the sound had signaled the start of a raging party. They began to wildly throw boxes from the wagons and cheered as their contents burst out onto the ground. The scene reminded Mike of Anthony Simons’ prediction on the night before they had reached Fairfield. He was truly seeing the darker side of human nature.
Mike finally realized who they were. They had heard tales of these crazy gangs from some of the more recent folks to join the Reclaimers. It was obvious by their behavior; however, their outward appearance had temporarily obscured their true nature. They were children, probably no more than twelve and likely even younger. Of course, in this bizarre world, they appeared to be filthy men in their mid-thirties, but their grown bodies only held the underdeveloped minds of young boys.
Last year Mike had been forced to read Lord of the Flies in English class. To his surprise, he had really liked the gruesome tale of adolescent boys marooned on an island with no supervision. In fact, he had often fantasized about what it would be like to be trapped on the island with no rules. Now he found himself in the middle of a very similar situation and, if he survived, he would never think of that book in the same way again.
“What should we do with them, Seth?” asked the large man pointing the shotgun at Kevin. “Can I shoot him?” he asked excitedly.
The one called Seth lowered the rifle from Mike’s face then brushed a lock of his greasy red hair out of his eyes before shrugging nonchalantly, “I don’t care.”
Without hesitation, the large man smiled then pulled the trigger. Kevin’s head exploded in a loud, wet cloud of red mist and bone. His kneeling, headless body was blown back to the ground and blood poured out of the jagged hole where his head had been just a split second before. The blood quickly pooled behind the body like a grotesque cup dropped by a clumsy child.
There was total silence for a brief second before the gang erupted in cheers and shouts of joy. “That was awesome!” someone yelled. “Bitch’n!” screamed another of the deranged children.
Mike could only stare in horror and growing fear at Kevin’s corpse. They were going to kill them all. They had a taste for it now and were not going to limit themselves to just one brutal murder. Mike had to do something. He had to think and do it fast. He knew that he had only loaded one shell into his rifle and that the murderer had not reloaded his double-barreled shotgun which meant that it should be empty for the moment. Using the bandit’s momentary distraction, Mike shot his hand into his pocket and grabbed the rifle bullets he had placed there earlier. He then tossed the handful into the campfire. Fortunately, the bandits were still being far too loud to notice the plinking sounds of a dozen tiny objects as they crunched into the hot coals of the pit.
“Do another one,” shouted one of the gang members. “Yeah, fuck’em up,” agreed another. The large bandit smiled then pointed his shotgun at Tad’s head.
“Don’t shoot me, bro!” pleaded Tad, his sobs being drowned out by the laughs and jeers of the others.
Mike realized that he had no idea how long it would take for a bullet to ignite in a campfire. For all he knew it might take hours if it happened at all. The fire had burned down quite a bit since he had fallen asleep and it was possible that it might not be hot enough to cook the bullets. Then another more dangerous thought crossed Mike’s already frantic mind. He was sitting very close to the fire, a fire full of quickly heating bullets which he actually wanted to explode. He was counting on the bullets to make a loud distraction; however, he had not considered the fact that they were still going to shoot a bullet off into a random direction when they ignited.
“BOO,” screamed the bloodthirsty crowd in unison quickly followed by roaring laughter.
“Look, he pissed himself,” someone called out in mocking glee.
Mike’s attention immediately returned to Tad and the shotgun wielding maniac-child on the other side of the campfire. He understood what had happened instantly. The big man had actually pulled the damned trigger, but thankfully he had forgotten to reload as Mike had hoped. Thinking a grisly death was certain, Tad’s bladder had indeed released causing a quickly expanding dark circle of urine in the front of his pants.
The gang of children couldn’t contain their laughter at Tad’s body’s natural reaction to imminent death. What could be funnier to a group of ten-year-olds than someone wetting themselves after all? Many were literally rolling on the ground clutching their stomachs with uncontrolled glee. Even the more serious Seth could not resist a few chuckles at poor Tad’s expense. The timing could not have been more perfect.
The first bullet finally cooked off and exploded with a loud ‘crack’ sound that startled the bandit gang. A second and a third explosion quickly followed and Mike was ready. He sprang from his seated position like a coiled snake and knocked Seth down as he sprinted toward his friends. A fourth bullet exploded in the campfire and Mike grinned as ‘Shotgun’ man crumpled in pain, crying.
“Ahhh! They’re shooting at us, Seth,” someone yelled in horror.
“Get down and take cover!” Seth ordered as if repeating something he had heard in an old war movie.
Mike wasted no time. He sprinted to Jimmy and Tad, grabbing them both by their shirt collars and pulling them to their feet as he ran by. Stumbling, the two quickly got the point and followed Mike as fast as their feet would take them toward the dark woods as two more bullets cooked off in the smoldering campfire. The three men ran blindly through the pitch-black forest tripping over fallen logs and being whipped in the face mercilessly by branches as they sped past. Finally, Mike stopped them to get their bearings and to check for any pursuit.
“Holy shit, did you see what those assholes did to Kevin?” huffed Jimmy as he tried to catch his breath.
“Shhh,” Mike responded as he pulled pieces of cobweb off his face and tried to listen for any sounds of them being chased.
He heard distant shouts and a few more gunshots, which he assumed were the last remaining distraction bullets he had thrown into the fire. However, he did not believe the sounds were coming any closer.
“I don’t think they’re chasing us, bro,” whispered Tad while still trying to catch his breath.
Mike nodded in agreement, “They’d be crazy to try and follow us at night in these woods.”
“No shit, but now we’re just as screwed. Where the hell are we and how do we get back to the Reclaimer group while avoiding those assholes?” Jimmy demanded in a voice tinged with fear and anger.
“We’re not letting them have that wagon,” Mike stated flatly.
“What? Are you crazy, Mike? In case you didn’t notice, we barely got out of there with our lives. They killed Kevin, for God’s sake. They blew his head clean off. Shit, I still have some of him on me,” responded Jimmy hysterically.
“Calm down,” snapped Mike. “They caught us by surprise. We should have had someone on watch. It was my fault that I didn’t even think of it. But now the advantage will be with us.”
“What advantage, bro?” asked Tad. “They have at least two guns that I saw, maybe more. By my current count, our gun inventory is at zero. Not to mention that there are at least ten of them and only three of us.”
“They’re just little kids, Tad. Despite what they did to Kevin, they are still just dumb, scared kids. The leader, Seth, and ‘Shotgun Man’ are the only ones I’m worried about. I’m guessing they might be twelve or even thirteen judging by their behavior. I’m betting that if we can take those two out, the rest are just going to run away.”
“That’s just crazy, Mike. We need to get back and let the others know what happened. We can get help and come back then, but going up against these guys by ourselves is just plain insane,” said Jimmy.
Mike shook his head emphatically. “By the time we got back here, they’d be long gone with our wagon and horses. And besides, we can’t let those fuckers do this to anybody else.”
Without warning, the three arguing men were blinded as a flashlight was turned on and destroyed the oppressive darkness of the forest.
“That’s good enough for me. Check them for weapons, Lieutenant,” commanded a deep voice from behind the flashlight.
Mike tried to shade his eyes from the blinding glare and squinted in a vain attempt to make out any shapes beyond the wall of light. “What the hell is this?” Mike demanded, fearing he had let the baby bandits sneak up on him for a second time.
“Take it easy, son. We’re not going to hurt you, unless you make us,” replied the same deep voice as a woman stepped out of the glare wearing dirty blue coveralls and approached Mike.
“Raise your hands out to the sides of your body,” she ordered in a smooth, commanding, yet very feminine voice. It was definitely not the deep voice from behind the flashlight.
Mike eyed the woman’s gear which seemed to be a full military kit, including a slung assault rifle and sidearm. Wearily, Mike and the two other men did as they were told and raised their arms out.
Quickly and efficiently, the woman patted all three of them down, apparently looking for weapons. She removed Mike’s pocket knife and threw it back at the steady beam of the flashlight.
“They’re clean except for that knife, Captain.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
The flashlight was turned off and Mike was left, once again, totally blinded as his eyes slowly readjusted to the darkness. “Who are you?” Mike demanded with as much bravado as he could muster. “You’re obviously not with those punks back there.”
A much gentler red light was turned on and Mike saw a man approach and stand beside the woman who had just patted him down. He looked to be at least sixty but very fit and carried himself in a confident manner.
“My name is Carlo Olvera,” he then gestured to the woman. “This is my Lieutenant, Amy Hammersmith. And you are most certainly correct that we are not with those punks back there. In fact, we’ve been tracking them for days. We thought that you were part of those criminals, but you convinced me otherwise with what you said. I respect the fact that you were actually concerned for what might happen to others if you did nothing and that you were willing to fight.”
Mike was confused, but no longer as frightened. “So…. are you guys in the Army or something?” he asked.
Olvera dismissed Mike’s question with a wave of his hand. “We’ll talk about that later. Right now, we need to take care of that gang before they slip away again. We heard gunshots and we were moving in to investigate when you three came running into us.”
“They killed our friend Kevin in cold blood,” announced Jimmy excitedly. “We barely escaped with our lives.”
“Unfortunately, your friend is not the first one murdered by these assholes. They’ve left a pile of dead bodies in their wake,” stated Amy coldly. “Where are they exactly?”
“About three quarters of a mile back that way,” Mike said, pointing in the direction. “We had to camp on the road after we lost the light. They got our wagon, but I seriously doubt they are getting it out in the dark on that crappy road tonight. I saw about ten of them but there could be more. We know that at least two are armed. Those are the two you really need to look out for.”
“Good,” said Olvera, nodding and handing Mike’s knife back. “All right platoon, let’s move out. Perkins, take point.”
As if the forest itself had come to life, Mike saw dozens of previously unseen shadowy figures quietly rise from the brush and start silently moving forward through the woods.
“Holy shit,” Mike whispered. “Who are you guys?”
Despite moving slowly to minimize any noise, Olvera’s platoon covered the distance through the thick underbrush quickly. Soon Mike was watching the gang of thugs cavorting around his campfire from behind the relative safety of a wide oak tree. Obviously, they had gotten over the shock of Mike’s distraction and seemed unfazed by the experience. He even saw, to his dismay, that the ‘Shotgun Man’ was still alive, although he had a crude bandage wrapped around his upper thigh.
Olvera had stealthily positioned his men all along the roadside with clear lines of fire. Mike knew that it would be a bloodbath if Olvera’s men opened fired on them now. At first, he actually felt bad for the gang of overgrown children, but then he saw what they had done to poor Kevin’s decapitated corpse. It had been stripped of its blood-soaked clothes and tied up spread eagle to one of the wagon wheels. They were taking great delight in using the lifeless body as a target in a grotesque knife throwing game. The bullseye in this depraved match was obviously Kevin’s genitalia. After seeing that horror, Mike no longer cared what happened to these vermin. Their mental age had become irrelevant in his mind. Some sins can never be atoned for and there were no facilities left in this world capable of dealing with these monsters. It was better that it end here in these woods, tonight.
Mike looked over at Olvera, who his men called “The Captain”, and saw the commander slowly raise his hand and keep it there for several minutes. Then, in a quick slashing motion, he dropped his hand, giving the men who could see it, the signal to open fire. Once the first shot rang out, the entire overgrown roadside erupted in a deafening barrage of expertly directed gun fire. The gang never knew what hit them. Within seconds, every last one was on the ground, bleeding. Olvera gave another signal and his men rushed out onto the campfire lit road and quickly finished off any survivors. Mike was shocked at the brutal efficiency of the attack and a fear of that ruthlessness planted itself in his mind at that moment.
There was no celebrating from Olvera’s men at the conclusion of the engagement. They acted professionally, following orders as they stripped the bodies of any useful supplies and started digging a mass grave. Mike gingerly cut down Kevin’s mutilated corpse, and with Jimmy and Tad’s help, they rolled it up in their one small tarp and loaded it onto the wagon. They would have a proper burial for him back with the Reclaimers.
Mike looked up at the lightening sky and realized that dawn was almost upon them. He now had a tough decision to make. Olvera’s people were potentially very dangerous, but he sensed a good moral compass from the Captain. The platoon could be an extremely valuable asset to the Reclaimers, especially given the knowledge that these sort of bandit gangs would probably only get worse over time. On the other hand, they might just represent the enslavement of the Reclaimers into a military dictatorship if he were to introduce the two groups. After looking at Kevin’s body one more time, he finally decided that having a protective force would be worth the risk if it meant that no one would have to go through this madness again. If the Captain was willing, he’d lead them to meet Jason and the rest of the Reclaimer council and he could only pray that the meeting would go well.