“Looks like everything is over.” Nick said to the group behind him. He didn’t see any sign of Hank or Juan and the gunfire had all but stopped. Nick had led the group down a path into the swamp. He was stopped in front of a wide, round patch of damp sand with piles of brush along all its edges.
It looked fresh and smooth like the beach before anyone trod on it. A beach 60 meters around in a perfect circle.
“Where are your friends?” Darlene asked.
“I have no idea, usually when they are involved in something it’s…not as quiet.” Nick climbed over the embankment and placed a foot tentatively on the wet sand. It held firm and he climbed off the vegetation.
“Watch it, there’s no cover there.” One of the men said.
“I think he realizes that, Brad.” Darlene said, “Seriously you don’t have to walk right across the clearing. We know they had guns, just stick around the edges.”
“I bet Hank and Juan finished them off.”
“If so, where are they? I don’t see any sign of your friends or the people they killed. There hasn’t been a fight here, I don’t think. Your friends didn’t walk through here either.”
Near the center of the sand the sand started puffing up in the air. Nick ran toward it, “Hank!”
“Jesus, kid!” Shouted Darlene, “You don’t know what that is!”
“It’s Hank, he’s the only one I know who does this.” Nick called out over his shoulder, however as the words left his mouth he came to a slow stop. Actually, Hank doesn’t spew out all this dust when he goes under or comes up. It’s like he gets out of a pool by walking up some steps.
“What?” Brad called.
“I may have made a mistake.” Nick admitted. The sand settled, and a devilish little boy zombie stood there, not looking at Nick, but off to the north. Nick stood still and waited, hoping the kid was friendly. The boy turned and saw him and charged. The sand in his path formed a flat, beat down path as he ran, and Nick just crouched down and put one hand out toward his opponent. The people he was with, however started firing their weapons.
Sand rose up around the boy as he moved on Nick, absorbing the bullets with geysers that threatened to cast the entire area into a gloomy fog. When the boy was within 10 meters Nick concentrated and started draining him. The zombie didn’t slow, his momentum might have carried him on or he was just too powerful for Nick to affect quickly. Once he made it to Nick he was down to a walking pace, then he took one last step that put his forehead into direct contact with Nick’s outstretched finger. He stood there for a moment, a mask of feral rage twisting his features, then he puffed into a fine dust that settled on the ground on top of the sand.
“What the hell?” Brad called.
“What was that, Nick?” Darlene asked, she had run up close to him, weapon pointed at his waist.
“It’s what I can do.”
“To anyone?” Brad asked.
“I’m better against Zeds. But yeah I can hit the living too.” He noticed the entire group was shifting uncomfortably.
“I don’t just go around vaporizing zombies!” He yelled at them.
Darlene grinned sheepishly, “Of course not! No one said you did.”
“Well don’t look at me like that! Surely you’ve seen super humans before?”
“Yeah, of course, but nothing like you. Most of them are just fast and tough. Some can do other things, like this guy Max in Miami. He’s the real deal, a real superman.” Darlene said.
“Yeah, I know Max.” Nick said.
“I’ve eaten at his place in town.”
“Oh, so you don’t know-know him?”
Nick thought about it a moment, then shook his head, “I guess not.”
Juan landed off to one side of them, with Hank in his arms.
“What the fuck!” Brad yelled, shifting aim.
“Hold on!” Darlene yelled at her people. No one fired.
“Sorry to give you a scare there, but once he jumps he can’t really change direction.” Hank said, he took in the circle, including the pile of dust near Nick, “I take you ran into the zombie boy?”
Nick nodded, “He seemed angry.”
“We ran into his people. Could deal with him though.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess I get that.” Nick said, “They were just telling me that they haven’t ran into a lot of super humans around here with diverse powers.”
“I didn’t say that.” Darlene said, “There are all sorts of diverse powers, but they aren’t actually as useful as yours or as…as overt as your friends.”
Nick made introductions all around and Hank shared the story of how they had had a run in with the people in the swamp. The group of zeds was still wary about them, but seemed convinced that trio was not part of the other group.
“Hell, Darlene, it kinda sounds like they warded off a hostile takeover. I don’t know if we could have dealt with this zombie boy like Nick here, without their help.” Brad said.
“Maybe. Good thing we won’t have to find out. What were you doing with that car back there?”
“We can get it running, if we can find tires.” Hank told her.
She shook her head, “No gas.”
“There was gas in the tank.”
“It’s been there since the outbreak, no way it will work.”
“We can make it work.” Hank said, “One of our many useful abilities.”
“What can you do?” Darlene asked him.
“I’m good at fixing things, mechanical things and not so bad with electronic stuff either. Supernaturally good, I’m talking, forcing things to work when they might not otherwise.”
“That’s useful, we have some stuff that needs fixing. Mostly for lack of parts.”
“We can look at a few things, but no guarantees. Sometimes we have to remain touching whatever it is we fix to keep it running, so when we leave it would be broken again.”
Darlene looked at the sun and said, “Well you probably won’t finish with the car before evening, why do you spend the night with us and take a look at a few things? We’ll help you with the car.”
Hank looked at Nick and Juan, “Well we gotta sleep somewhere and she’s probably right. The more work we do on the car the better off we’ll be in the long run anyway.”
“Sure, okay” Nick answered, though he sounded a little annoyed.
“Nick, well more than make up the time once the car is running. Hell, we’d only make fifteen or twenty kilometers a day walking. We’ll do that in half an hour if we get the car working. And there will be air conditioning.”
“Oh, okay, that sounds better.” Nick agreed.
“Gina, Harry, stick around about half a klick out from the house, would you? Just keep an eye on things incase these guys have more friends than we thought. Brad, why don’t you and I help these guys. The rest of you can go home and report, I’m sure they are worried.”
There were a series of nods and okay and everyone moved off to their prospective jobs.
With Brad and Darlene’s help the car came together. They even found two tires, old but better than the donuts Ed had found to put on the back of the wagon. For batteries Juan had to hunt through several houses and derelict wreck before he found one with a small trickle of electricity still in it. With focus he brought that level up enough to turn the car over. Hank groaned when they did this, feeling the out of maintenance vehicles pain as if it were his own, which it was in a way.
“I cannot believe it is working!” Shouted Brad.
“It’s hard right now, I’m fixing things as it runs, so is Juan.” Hank said, he was pale and sweating profusely again. The car’s AC cranked up a moment later basking him in cold air.
“Hot damn!” Brad said, climbing into the back seat.
They still had to wait for a few more minutes, the process was miraculous, but not fast. Hank was muttering under his breath the whole time, “She got a cracked timing case cover, missing a couple of teeth off the timing gear. The radiator’s damaged at the core. Oil is shot. Muffler has at least one hold in it.”
“She’ll be fine.” Juan added, “Nothing we can’t handle.”
They drove the vehicle around the block a couple of times, then left the street they were on to drive back to Dorothy’s house. The girl was there with her arms crossed and a frown on her face. “When do I get my ride? You told me I could ride!”
“Right now, sweetheart. See? This is better.” Hank said as everyone else piled out of the car, “Now you got the front seat and no other people stinking the car up.”
Dorothy stepped up to the open door, but Melvin pushed her aside and pawed his way in first. “Hey! I get to ride!” she complained shoving the dog over so she could sit down. When she did, her face barely cleared the dash, so she got up on the seat entirely, resting on her knees and looking out at the neighborhood through the dirty glass.
She turned toward Hank with a big smile beaming on her face, “How fast can this thing go?”
“A lady after my own heart.” Hank said, “Not fast, it’s old, like me, but it beats walking.”
He put the car in gear and as they coasted down the block everyone could hear her yelling with joy, followed by, “We gotta go by the Thompson twin’s house, really fast, but slow enough that they see me! You promised!”
Juan and Nick stood on the curb, sweat pouring down their backs and coated with grime from working on the car.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Nick asked Juan.
“A nice ocean swim?”
When Hank finally got back he had to ask where his friends were and found them splashing in the ocean, much further out to sea than he thought they should be.
“Hey! Be careful! There’s sharks and undercurrents and things!”
Their cries in the distance didn’t make any sense to him, but soon he was walking out in the surf toward them in the luke-warm water, which wasn’t doing anything to cool him off. And he walked and walked until the water was finally deep enough to swim in, at which point it felt like it was a few degrees cooler. By the time he reached his friends he was up to his shoulders and the water was cool up to his waist.
“Better.” He told them.
“Yeah, you gotta go under to get into the cold stuff.” Nick said. “You know I never swam in the ocean before.”
“Never?” Hank asked, “I was raised maybe 40 miles from the coast, lived there a long time too, before moving to Colorado.”
“Why did you move?”
“Well they legalized marijuana…”
“Hank.” Juan said.
“It’s a long story and an unhappy time. I’d rather not talk about it right now as I just got back from making a little girl very happy. Her dog too.”
“Fair enough.” Nick said, “I think I like it. I am a little worried about sharks though.”
“No worries.” Juan said, “They don’t come in this close.”
“Well, Juan, that’s just not true.” Hank began, then shook his head, “Okay, they almost never come in this close, the water is too warm. Especially on a day like today.”
“How did the car hold up? Any other problems?”
“Loads of them, but Juan has power to burn, between me and him we’ll keep it going.”
“How does it work?”
“How do you drain zeds and super humans?” Hank shrugged, “No logic in this world anymore. I’m just thankful we have the option. Walking the whole way would have sucked.”
“What will we do when your father catches up to us, Nick?” Juan asked.
It was Nick’s turn to shrug, “Hadn’t thought about it. I don’t owe him anything.”
“Nick! He’s your father!” Juan said. Hank nodded in agreement.
“Well he hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to be one and he…he thinks I can’t take care of myself. I came halfway across the continent! I…everyone thinks he is some sort of a god! Even these yahoos! You should have heard the way they talked about him!”
“You didn’t tell them he was your dad, did you?” Hank asked.
“I’m not stupid. Once they started going off on how great he was, I just said I knew him because I ate in his place in Miami and bunked up there a couple of weeks. That’s all I told them; that I’d stayed there and ate there and had talked to him.”
“Good. I’ve noticed people get weird when your father’s name is brought up. I mean, Christ, sorry Juan, you say ‘Max’ and everyone knows who you’re talking about. God forbid your parents did you the discourtesy of naming you Max too, no one would know who you were.”
“I know. I half want to know where these people’s opinions came from. I think I would learn more about my father that way than talking to him directly.”
Hank shook his head, “They would ask where you’re from. You say ‘Iowa’ and we’d have a whole other set of questions we don’t want to answer on our hands.”
“And you two are from even further west.” Nick said, “Okay, I’ll avoid questions like that. I am sure it will come up though, we don’t sound anything like these people. Well, you do, a little, Hank.”
“Not sure if I should be insulted or not.” Hank said to Juan.
“I think it was an insult.” Juan told him with a nod and glance at Nick.
“Just they don’t sound like where I’m from. Not that they are stupid or anything.”
“Sure, sure. Well try and avoid talking much and I suppose if we have to we can just say we are heading up north for Max to keep tabs on the portal.”
“Do you think they will know about that?”
“Everybody knows about it. Hell, that fella Gus made it should like there is a regular train of people going up there and back for Max. Why can we be the next set of fools to go? Me and Juan already made the trip once.”
“We still had the truck.” Juan said.
“That did makes us appear to be a bit more official. We can play it cagey, not blurt right out what we’re doing, but answer them eventually, saying we’re supposed to keep it quiet this time. Which is why we’re travelling incognito.”
“Incognito?” Nick asked, “Like on the down low?”
“And between the three of us we just wiped out an entire group of super zeds and humans. You don’t think word is going to spread about that?”
“We ask them real nice to not say anything about that to anyone. Point out that they owe us for helping them, because those people weren’t coming down here to have a picnic and trade cucumbers. Leave it to me, I mean I almost sound like them, so they should believe me.” Hank said.
Juan and Nick laughed. They swam out a little further, until the water was well over their heads, then took turns diving down to touch the bottom, dragging sand up with them as proof. Eventually only Nick could make it down to pull up the sand. Hank said he had an unfair advantage in that he wasn’t as fat as either him or Juan.
They drifted back to chest high water and looked at the shore. It was still empty as far as Nick could tell.
“What if a zombie mob started coming down the beach and toward us?” Nick asked.
“We’d let you lead the way.” Hank said.
“And if it were super humans?”
“Probably you again. Face it Nick, guns and weapons are probably redundant for you now and me and Juan do okay without them too. What’s your point?”
“I’m not afraid.”
“Not of humans or zeds.” Juan said.
“What’s that mean?”
“There are other things to be afraid of. Like whatever is beyond the portal.”
“Yeah, everyone says so.” Nick admitted, “I am a little concerned about it. What if my power doesn’t work on them?”
“It will, it works on everything.” Hank assured him.
“Let’s go back.” Juan said, “It’ll be dark soon.”
They agreed and pushed for shore.