I wheeled the Ford back onto Highway 70 just as I caught sight of the military Humvee barreling right for us. I hit the gas and saw Kel fall back into his seat, hand gripping the side door.
“We’ve got company,” I said, before he could ask. The Humvee was faster than I expected and caught up to us within a minute. I made a quick decision and jerked up on the handbrake, locking the back wheels as I spun the wheel. Blue smoke flowed from the rear of the Ford as I released the brake and hit the gas again. The car bounced across the median, turning back the way we came. The driver of the Humvee wasn’t able to turn as quickly, but the high clearance vehicle slewed around and he was soon right behind us again.
“There’s only two of them,” I said.
“You sure?” Kel asked, turning to scope out the pursuing vehicle. “I would ask what the hell they want, but who the fuck cares. Drive, girl. Drive!”
“I have a better idea,” I said, eyes glued to the road ahead.
“We need to get into the White Sands base, right? We could either sneak in, break in or let them take us in.”
“Are you nuts? Let them capture us? That’s your plan? Mind if I throw up an opposing viewpoint?”
“It’s the fastest way in. But we’re going to have to make it look good.”
“Wait,” he said, “How do we even know these guys are from the lab you’re looking for?”
“Seriously? Where the hell else is there around here that would actually have military personnel still alive? I’ve lived around here my entire life and haven’t seen a military vehicle since the pandemic. My best guess is that they’ve been holed up until now.”
“That is a whole hell of a lot of speculation, Rock.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know.” I just had a feeling and I’d learned a long time ago to trust my gut. I ran the plan by Kel in just a few sentences. He was silent; his eyes wide, but nodded in acceptance. It would be a dangerous game to play. I prepared myself. What choice did we have? No time like the present. “Hang on,” I said, reaching for the handbrake again.
The Ford’s rear tires screamed for mercy when the axle locked up. I whipped the steering wheel to the left and then steered into the slide. The car rocked to a halt and I stepped out, guns drawn, at very nearly the same moment. Kel rolled out and hit the ground on the opposite side of the Ford.
I expected the windows in the Humvee to be bulletproof, but I was mistaken. It only took three shots to take out the passenger. The driver turned the truck around, the side of the vehicle blocking my view of him, giving me no open target. I heard his side door open, and even though I I knew it was coming the burst of automatic gunfire shook me, as I dove for the pavement. Bullets ripped into the Ford behind me and I hoped Kel had kept his position. I was spread-eagle on the road as the soldier shouted at me.
“Stay where you are! Do not fucking move!” I didn’t. I had let my pistols fall a few feet from my hands and made no attempt to retrieve them. It seemed to take forever for the soldier to make it around the Humvee to me. I heard him kick Wilma and Betty away and felt a twinge of loss. Nevertheless, it was my plan. I had no one to blame but myself.
“Why are you after me?” I asked, using the singular to indicate I was alone.
“Where’s the other one?” he asked, pressing his boot against the back of my neck.
“What other one? It’s just me. You started chasing me. Why?”
“Shut up!” He knelt down and I heard him pull something from his pocket or belt. He grabbed my hands and slid a plastic zip tie around them. Pulling back on the tie to latch it, he lifted me from the pavement. I winced in pain as my shoulders were jerked up and back. I was on my knees when I heard him hiss out, “Shit.”
“Drop the weapon, asshole,” Kel ordered.
Even as the soldier dropped his rifle to the ground and raised his hands, Kel rapped him on the head with the barrel of the Beretta and forced the guy to get down on his knees. The blow wasn’t hard enough to knock him out but certainly enough to convince him we meant business. Kel kicked the rifle away before moving beside me.
Covering the soldier, Kel flicked open a knife with a snap of his wrist and squatted to cut the zip ties from my hands. I stretched my arms and shoulders as I stood up, even though I hadn’t been cuffed for very long, being yanked to my feet with my hands tied meant I couldn’t ease the strain, my left shoulder felt bruised.
I didn’t move to retaliate for the rough treatment; frankly, I was surprised the soldier hadn’t just gunned me down when I shot his partner. That was always the risky part of the plan; we had to assume these guys wanted us alive for some reason. I didn’t want to think about what would have happened if I’d guessed wrong.
“Stay put,” Kel said to the soldier, who had a nametag stitched to his jacket that read Harmon. Kel retrieved the rifle and slung it over his shoulder. He looked at me with a grin. “He’s all yours, ma’am.”
“Whatever,” I said noncommittally. Turning my attention to the soldier, I addressed him with a measured tone. “Harmon, is it?” He just stared off into the distance, anger and embarrassment on his face. We had caught him off-guard and he was obviously not happy about it. “Listen. We don’t want to hurt you. We could have killed you. But we don’t want that, do we? I’m sorry about your partner over there.” I indicated the Humvee.
“Fuck him.” Harmon’s tone was empty, as if he really didn’t care. I wondered if it was something I might be able to use to my advantage.
“That’s cold. What, was he an asshole or something?” I asked.
“He was a total prick. Out-ranked me and never let me forget it. Even in this wasteland of a world, where it really doesn’t fucking matter.” He turned tired eyes to me. “What do you want, anyway?”
“Actually, I was going to ask the same of you. You were the one chasing us, remember?”
“Thyssen wants new test subjects. You were the first people we’d seen in months.”
I held my breath. Thyssen. That was the name. That was who I was after. I spared a glance for Kel, my eyes betraying my excitement. “Who’s this Thyssen? And, what the hell does he want test subjects for?” I asked, although I already had a pretty good idea.
“Dr. Eliot Thyssen. Scientist. Self-proclaimed genius. Always working on some serum that extends life and makes humans more resilient to disease. Always pushing us to find more people to test it on. Blah, blah, blah. Just another REMF.”
“Wait a minute,” Kel said. I could hear it in his voice, the rise of realization. “This Thyssen guy, he’s been doing this research of his since before the pandemic. Hasn’t he?”
“Of course,” Harmon replied. “Why the hell do you think we survived when everyone else is dead?” His eyes darted between Kel and me. “He said that a few would still be out here, alive, strong enough to have fought off the virus. We’ve rounded up a dozen or fifteen since the die-off, but I was surprised to see you two so close to the base. You must have been kids when it hit, huh?” He stared at us. Harmon looked to be in his late forties, so he would have lived through it as an adult.
“You’re an idiot,” Kel said to Harmon. “You haven’t got a fucking clue do you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Thyssen created the pandemic. He destroyed the world. He killed damn near everyone. How can you not get that?” Kel shifted back and forth on the balls of his feet and I saw his finger tighten on the trigger of the Beretta. I leaned in and whispered to him.
“The time will come,” I said. “But not right now. We need this guy to get into the lab. You’ll have your moment. Okay?” I knew how he felt. Thyssen had killed my parents, along with Kel’s father and billions more. Retribution was coming. It was coming hard.
“You’re lucky you’re such an ignorant ass,” Kel stated.
“I swear I didn’t know, man,” Harmon said, hanging his head. “I’ll help you. If you want to take Thyssen out, if that’s what you’re after, I will do what I can. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Kel and I glanced at each other when we realized that Harmon was crying. He really didn’t seem to know that the man who had been ordering him around for the past thirteen years was responsible for the worst genocide in human history. Nevertheless, I would keep an eagle eye on this guy. I trusted no one. Not even Kel, for that matter.
“You really want to help us, Harmon?” I asked. He wiped his eyes and looked up at me. Kel kept the pistol trained on him.
“Absolutely.” His expression changed and I saw the familiar glint of barely contained rage floating across his face. “I lost my wife and daughter to the sickness. I lost everyone. Everyone.” His fists were clenched, now, his jaw set and his teeth grinding together.
“Just get us in to the lab complex. Help us put some payback, some justice, where it belongs.”
“Thyssen.” Harmon said the name through his teeth. It sure sounded like Kel and I had a new ally. There was no mistaking the hatred in Harmon’s voice.
“Harmon,” Kel said, lowering the pistol, “I appreciate your situation. More than you might realize. But, be aware. If you try and fuck with us, I will make certain you die. Painfully. Are we clear?”
“As a bell,” Harmon nodded. I reached out my hand. He took it and stood. Looking back at the Humvee and then back to us, his eyes narrowed and he almost grinned. “What’s the plan?”