The thumps grew closer. A low, gurgling growl rumbled nearby. Eva’s skin crawled. Dried leaves blew up from the forest floor around her. She gagged on the rotten smell that lingered in the air. Eva held her breath, sunk lower against the tree trunk, and hoped to appear as small as possible. A roar shook the ground. Her free hand gripped the bark behind her. Brass knuckles dug into her flesh as she gripped her gun tighter.
A decayed, duck-billed snout filled with tiny, razor sharp teeth poked around the tree and lifted into the air. Eva shifted her weight onto the balls of her feet. The nostrils flared, claws scattered over the ground, and Eva dashed forward on the least blocked path. She leaped over a few shrubs in her way, hit the ground, and raced for a clearing.
In the middle of a dirt field, Eva pulled the Glock from the holster, aimed at the dinosaur beelining for her, and fired. The monster roared, stumbled upon the muddy ground, then fell. The creature flailed on the ground, its moan broken with occasional gurgles. The sounds came from a hole of missing flesh and rotten muscle in its throat rather than through its mouth.
With the gun strapped once again to her thigh, Eva trudged forward. The bullet pierced the skull above the monster’s milky right eye. A mixture of red and gray oozed from the wound.
She balled her right hand into a fist and flicked her wrist. The brass knuckles, modified with two-inch spikes, glittered and reflected the light onto the oversized beast.
Her lip curled as she stood in front of the duck-billed creature. Missing chunks of scales and flesh flapped as it strained its neck toward the chance at a meal, mouth snapping in the air. Bones in the front legs protruded at odd angles, broken during the fall, making its struggle to stand futile.
A heavy breath blew through Eva’s lips. She raised her arm and struck down upon the dinosaur’s skull. Blood splattered up to her elbow, and her hand sunk into the spongy brain matter. The creature twitched and fell still.
With one last glare at the monster, Eva turned and continued her return to the base. The sun lowered behind the tree line before she came upon the fifteen foot cement wall that protected her camp. The solid metal gate scraped against concrete far enough to let Eva pass through. She waved a hand, and the woman in the iron-barred watch tower closed the gates.
“Thanks, Kayla.” Eva nodded an acknowledgment.
“Claire wants your head,” Kayla laughed.
“Surprise, surprise,” Eva mumbled.
The orange glow of sunset fell across the gray walls of the buildings and runways. She marched toward the farthest building, rolling her neck and shoulders to ease the tension.
“Eva!” A high-pitched voice called out.
She turned around to face her summoner. “Yes?”
A petite woman walked toward Eva with her arms folded over her chest. A scowl turned down her rosy lips. Glaring, over-sized azure eyes peeked out between stray gently curled midnight black tresses that swayed across her ivory skin with every step.
“What the hell?”
“What?” Eva shrugged. She returned to her march when her friend fell into step beside her.
“You went out alone? Again?”
“Does that really need to be stated as a question?”
Eva chuckled and yanked open the door. “After you, Claire.”
“The mess hall?”
“I caught dinner.”
Narrowed eyes shifted down to the bloody pouch hanging from the belt. “Wow, a sparrow. What’s that going to feed? Quarter of a person? Totally worth your life.”
Eva rolled her eyes. She unhooked the bird as she pushed through the swinging doors into the kitchen. The lifeless body plopped onto the counter. “It’s something.”
“We have chickens, pigs, and goats next to the farm to negate the need to hunt. Your idea, remember?”
Eva turned from her friend. “Irvin,” she hollered.
Two fingers separated the blinds in the window to the side office. A set of amber eyes hidden below a curious brow looked out. The blinds snapped shut and the door flung open.
“What the devil is this?” The man grunted and examined the bird.
“Dinner,” Eva said.
“Is this a joke?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.” Claire jutted out a hip, one arm attached to it akimbo.
“You expect me to do something with this?” Irvin sneered.
“Your decision.” Eva didn’t wait for a replay before leaving. She turned her back on critical stares and shoved through the swinging door.
Eva cut through a wide field that separated the buildings from the row of housing units, raising one hand in greeting to a man with a push mower attending to the grass.
Before Eva could climb the duplex stairs, Claire threw her body in the way and shoved her friend’s shoulder. “Stop it!”
“Yes?” Eva hissed through clenched teeth.
“What happened out there?” Claire pointed at Eva’s bloody arm.
“Ran into one. Took it out.”
“That seems to happen a lot when you go out alone.”
“If you haven’t noticed, it’s a little over run out there.”
“All the more reason you shouldn’t go. Out. Alone.”
“Doing my job.”
Eva clasped Claire’s shoulders, shifted her to the side, and jogged up the stairs to the front door.
“Care to define what you think your job is?”
“Protecting these people.”
“Can’t do that if you’re dead.”
With a deep breath and closed eyes, Eva answered. “Haven’t died yet.”
“Yet being the operative word,” Claire mocked with a snarky grin.
One hand in the air, Eva grunted and pushed into her home. “Go away.”
“Don’t be late to dinner,” her friend called, her voice muffled through the closed door.
Eva massaged her temples, let out a sigh, and stripped on her way to the bathroom. Cold water washed away the crusted blood, dirt, and twigs. She threw on the first outfit she yanked from her closet, threw her hair into a high bun, and strapped her holster back on her leg as she closed the front door behind her.
“Eva,” a man’s voice vibrated in a low tone.
“Allen.” She stopped a few feet from the entrance. “You’re off early.”
“Claire told me her concerns about today,” he said. Dirty fingernails skimmed over his balding scalp and into his salt and pepper hair.
“You’ve come to check on me.“.
“Hardly.” He gave a small smile. “No one can stop you from your self-destruction. Least of all me.”
Eva pulled her lips tight between her teeth. “What can I do for you, Allen?”
“We need new solar panels. Our hopeful repairs last week didn’t work.”
“I’ll make a run tomorrow.”
“I’m not sure it should be you.” His eyes scanned over her, his expression twisted.
“I make every run.”
“Yes,” he sighed. “That you do. I’ll get you specifications if you stop by before eight.”
“Grab some dinner to go if you’re going to work late,” Eva said. She walked the engineer to the mess hall.
Before the door closed, Claire dashed across the room and grasped Eva’s right arm. She turned it over, drawing a yelp from her friend.
“Hush,” Claire growled.
“It was all from the roamer.”
“Did your weapon not work?”
“I didn’t want to waste the ammo.”
“Hey, Eva.” A man appeared and placed his palms on Claire’s shoulders. “She bothering you?”
“Always,” Eva laughed. “How you doing, Devin?”
“Got your bike fixed. Gave me one heck of a problem.”
“Great. I’m gonna take her out tomorrow.”
“You’re going out tomorrow?” Claire shrieked.
A few heads turned in their direction, and seconds later a group circled the trio.
“I want to go,” a teenage boy stated, his jaw set firm.
“No, Wade.” Claire pushed a finger toward him in warning.
Eva tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at Claire. “Hold on,” she said and turned to the others gathered. “I won’t need a group.”
“There’s a run tomorrow?” Irvin pushed his way through the gatherers.
“No.” Eva lifted her chin.
“I need supplies.” Irvin motioned to the kitchen. “I needed them last week.”
“We’ll discuss this after dinner. Please. Everyone,” she lifted her hands and the room quieted, “sit down and enjoy your meal.”
“I want to help,” Wade insisted.
“Enjoy your meal,” Claire said with an almost palatable sweetness. “There’s time to discuss that later.”
His cheek twitched, but Wade nodded after a moment and returned to his seat.
“Quite a day you’ll have tomorrow,” Allen chuckled under his breath.
Eva stared at his back as he proceeded past her. The edges of her lips turned down until Claire brought her attention back.
“You cannot let Wade go tomorrow.”
“He’s an able body. If we’re making a food run, which I’m still not saying we are, there’s no reason he shouldn’t go.”
“He’s too young.”
“I got into worse trouble at sixteen.” Eva shoved her hands into her back pocket and straightened her spine.
“His life is in danger the second he walks out that gate.”
“All of us are in danger every time we leave our house. Every day is a fight. Who am I to stop him?”
“The leader. The ultimate authority in our society.”
“Then I am able to say he can go. There’s no such thing as childhood in this world.”
Claire opened her mouth to speak, but Devin placed his hand on her forearm. She turned, widened her eyes, and scowled. She stormed passed Eva, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
“Her heart’s in the right place,” Devin defended when Claire had walked out of earshot.
“I know,” Eva nodded. “Sometimes that place is too far from reality.”
“Can’t blame her. Reality sucks.”
Eva turned to Devin with a blank expression. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, patted the outside of his thigh, and nodded a goodbye before joining Claire.
Side long glances followed Eva down the line of tables as she passed with her food. She pushed open the door with her back, shot a tight lined smile at Claire and Devin, and stepped into the calm evening.
She padded over the grassy patches toward the air control tower. Balancing her tray on one hand, her other hanging onto the guide rail, she climbed to the top. Bright shades of orange, pink, and lavender reflected in the water of the bay. She propped her feet on the useless controls, and dug into her dinner.
Her eyes remained on the sky, searching and waiting for movement. Moments before the sun set, she saw the wings and pointed head of a pterodactyl silhouetted against the fading rays.
Her hand tightened around her fork until the metal bent. Her heart raced. She stretched her fingers over her Glock, swore, and pressed her palms against her heated cheeks.
Eva paused in her descent from the tower and watched the shadow spiral through the sky. As the colors of the sunset faded into navy and plum, the figure grew smaller and smaller before being swallowed by the unforgiving blackness of the new moon sky.
Across the grounds, she found Allen leaning against the wall of the engineering building under an outside light, one hand pressed against his brow bone, studying a list in his hand. He pushed his shoulder blades off the wall when he heard her approach.
“You’re going to need a truck,” he said. The list passed between them, and Eva tucked it into her back pocket. “Has Irvin given you his list?”
Eva shook her head. “Heading there now.”
“I should go tomorrow.”
“No. You’re needed here.”
“Better I go than we make two trips because you bring me back the wrong parts.”
Eva muffled a groan. “That happened once, Allen,” she said patting her pocket. “Hence, the detailed lists since then.”
“You’re going to need food and medication. Two separate locations, no?” Allen crossed his arms over his chest and planted his feet in a wide stance.
“Correct.” Eva pursed her lips and matched his stance.
“Already spread thin, then, aren’t you? Kenneth and I can handle the run for my parts. We’ll take the truck, and you can scoot around on your freshly repaired murder cycle as pack leader.”
She shot him a sharp side look and held up a warning finger.
Allen scoffed and shook his head. “I’m not calling you a dictator, though I’ll reconsider if you attempt to take on all three runs without added help.”
“Okay.” Eva blew out a breath between her lips. “You and Kenneth go. Bring a walkie. Stay with each other and contact the group periodically.”
“Thank you.” Allen bowed his head. “Meet with you at the garage in the morning.”
Eva pinched the bridge of her nose, shook her head, and returned to the kitchen under Allen’s watchful gaze.
“Irvin, whatcha got?”
“For the record, I hate giving you long lists. Why didn’t you go on a run a week ago when I asked?” The cook slapped the towel hanging over his shoulder onto the clean island. His amber eyes glared at her through licks of blonde hair.
“No scheduled run.”
“You’ve been out almost every day this week.”
“Not for a run.” Eva forced a tight smile.
“I’m not going tomorrow unless you tell me what you’ve been doing.” He placed his palms flat against the wooden countertop and leaned his weight forward. He locked her gaze in a hard stare.
“Did Claire set you up to this?” Eva clicked her tongue.
“Not irrelevant. You’re one of my top able bodies. Critical to most the runs. You know that.”
“Claire knows it, too,” Irvin raised his brows. “Frankly, it didn’t take much convincing on her part. You drop off a joke of a bird while covered in roamer blood, and expect us not to worry. What are you doing out there alone?”
Eva held her hand out. “List?”
“Come on,” Irvin tossed his head back with a groan.
“You’ve provided your stance. I respect that. List, please.”
“I want to go,” he grumbled. “Let us help you before you panic everyone with erratic behavior.”
“Thank you for your concern. If our people have an issue with me, they can come to me directly. The list.”
Irvin tossed a crumbled sheet of paper at Eva.
“Could you please double check this so I don’t miss anything? Had that conversation with Allen minutes ago, and I don’t like to make mistakes twice.” Eva smoothed the note out with the side of her hand and looked up with a sweet smile that rivaled Claire’s.
“Unfair,” Irvin shook his head. “We’re trying to help.”
“Yes. Leaving me a man down is definitely amazing help. Possibly the best I’ve ever had.” Eva said in a flat tone, raised one brow, and tapped her fingers on the wood.
“The list is solid and I’ll see you tomorrow morning at the garage.”
“Thank you kindly,” she winked. She folded the paper and slipped it into the same pocket as Allen’s request.
“Talk to Claire at least,” Irvin called as the door swung shut behind her.
“Not a chance,” she muttered.
Inside her duplex, she fell against the closed door and ran a hand down her face. Cool air from the partially open window in the living room blew at the sweat on her brow from the humidity.
She pushed into the bedroom, and her gaze landed on the gun safe against the far wall. Her fingers grazed along the cool metal of the sniper before they curled around the barrel. After a quick inspection of the others, she decided on only the one.
A box of ammo sat on the top shelf of a hunter green toolbox in the corner of her room. She stuffed the box into the pocket of a black vest and tugged it on. She glanced down the street to make sure no one was around, prowled past the other duplexes, the mess hall, and the air tower with her chin held high and a determined sway to her hips.
In a patch of tall, unkempt grass overrun by flowering weeds, she laid down the sniper. Without light pollution due to the ruined cities, starlight provided enough illumination for Eva to decipher the outline of the walls surrounding the base. Navigating by the position of the Big Dipper, she turned her direction slightly to the east to set up her stand.
Flat on the ground, sight trained to the sky, she waited for any movement of shadow upon the black night. The air cooled to a tolerable degree and dried the sweat soaked into her shirt.
The hour passed by as Eva cleared her mind, her focus trained on spying the return of the monster she saw in the skies earlier. A blink in the dark drew her attention, followed by another star vanishing for a fraction of a second.
“Gotcha,” she snarled in a whisper.
Eye against the scope, she located the shadow and tracked the shape of the head. The ability to judge distance deteriorated significantly with the absence of the moon, but she continued to line up her shot.
“Eva?” her best friend’s unmistakable chipper voice called.
“Damn it,” she growled to the dirt. She ducked her head farther, tensed her muscles, and tried to force her weight lower into the ground, all while keeping sight of her target.
“Eva, I know you’re out here,” Claire yelled, a good distance closer. “Don’t think the grass will hide you forever. I will turn on my flashlight.”
With a groan, Eva dropped her grip on the trigger and popped up from her hiding place. “I’m here.”
Claire trotted over, observed the weapon, and her face fell. “What are you doing out here alone? Again?”
“I’m within the walls. And I’m well armed.”
“Eva,” she sighed and grabbed for her friend’s hands. “I’m sorry.”
“The only thing keeping you from being my true sister is the blood in our veins. I’ve looked out for you for nearly a decade. I’m worried about you.”
“I work well alone.”
“Against men with too much power. Not undead dinosaurs. There’s a significant difference in the danger level.”
Eva crouched down and began to pack up her things. Her hands trembled from the adrenaline coursing through her veins, and her skin burned at the missed opportunity.
“Honestly, can you expect me to sit back and not say anything while you decline into mental instability?”
“You think I’m insane?”
“There’s no communication between us anymore, Eva. I don’t know what to think.”
“I go off on my own. That’s how I found most the resources that keep us all comfy cozy.”
“Not almost every day like you are now.”
“We could always be more comfortable.”
“At the expense of your life?” Claire tossed her hands in the air.
“Haven’t died yet, remember?” Eva threw her bag over her shoulder and cradled the sniper to her body.
“Doesn’t have to be me going out with you.”
“Would never be you.” Eva leaned in toward her friend and bumped her shoulder. “I promised you, I would never separate you from Devin.”
A flash of teeth glittered in the starlight. “We understand the risks, and we’re not asking you to carry that burden.”
“Unless one of you is bed ridden, no.”
Claire scratched one arm and looked around them, glancing up and down the abandoned runways. “Are you star gazing?”
Following an eye roll, Claire linked elbows with Eva and they started back toward the buildings. “You can always look for a telescope on one of your adventures. Probably better than using that.”
Eva allowed a small grin to pierce her stoic features. “Not a bad idea, twerp.”
“Good, we’re still friends,” Claire laughed.
“Did you ever doubt that?”
Claire lowered her chin to her chest and looked up at Eva with her large, puppy dog eyes. “Can you blame me?”
Eva dropped to the top step on her porch with a sigh.
Her friend followed suit and claimed the spot next to Eva. “Do you remember the time that you got outed by the Hungarian?”
“Vaguely. Is that the one that ended the excitement of my career?”
“The very same.” Claire gave a short chuckle at Eva’s sarcasm. “When I found you, the pool was red with your blood. I fished you out, resuscitated you, and got you medical care.”
“You shouldn’t have come in for me. You could have been killed.”
“Eva,” Claire steepled her fingers against her lips, “you’re my best friend. The only one I ever trusted in the agency. For an agent, you remained remarkably real.”
“That’s what almost got me killed.”
“No, a bastard traitor did that.” Claire slapped Eva’s arm. “They needed more agents like you. Human.”
“Maybe not.” Eva leaned her elbows on her knees. “Won’t do me any good now.”
“I beg to differ,” Claire whispered and pulled herself up against the railing. “Whatever you’re going through right now, I implore you, remember who you were. Who I remember you to be. You’re the one true force that keeps me going.”
“Thanks,” Eva mumbled.
“Don’t tell Devin I said that. It’ll shatter him.”
“Count on me.”
“Always do.” Claire smiled. She bent down, pecked Eva on the forehead. “Get some sleep, will you? We have a big day tomorrow. I gathered the list of medications to prepare for an early expedition.”
“You’re the greatest. I’d fall without you.” Eva slipped the lists from her back pocket and passed them to Claire. “Add these to the records and--”
“Date them. Yeah, yeah. I know the drill.” Claire skipped down the steps. “Night, Eva.”