Somewhere near Colorado Springs, around the turn of the new year, Sergeant Reeves instructs his driver, Wilkins, to pull over their vehicle—a command center type hybrid capable of both petrol and battery powered travel—at the top of the hill overlooking the blacked-out city below.
“Satellite history shows a vehicle matching one the Pollard family owns, traveled through here, not two weeks ago.”
“Yes, Sir,” Wilkins answers, deferential. “And beyond that?”
“That’s what we have to find out. Satellite data quit soon after.”
“Find out? Like, interact with the infected?”
Sergeant Reeves rubs the long stubble grown in on his cheeks and chin. “You, Dodds and me might have gotten chummy this last month. But this task isn’t some part-time hobby we can opt out of, the situation gets gritty.”
“Sorry, Sir. It’s just that…”
“Just that nothin’, son.” Reeves closes the battle-hardened laptop and taps it with a grimy finger. “Our monoclonal treatments might keep us upright for a while, but it’s this Pollard woman, the research that she stole from the U.S. Government, that is key.”
“Critical, corporal. That is all we need to know.”
Wilkins sighs with his entire body. “Yes, Sir.” He slips the vehicle into drive and inches forward into the desolate, urban landscape.
They find the four lane miraculously free of blockages, as if the path has been purposefully cleared, directing them into a choke point. Wilkins twitches and turns right, east, onto side streets that now show evidence of the debilitating trauma of a dying, now dead, society: charred husks of cars, spires of sentry chimneys standing guard over fire-gutted homes, and the occasional building, still intact, boarded up but with no light leaking through. Grim hallmarks to blaze their trail north.
Wilkins dogs further east to avoid a growing number of intentionally placed obstacles.
Dodds grumbles awake in the back where he’d fallen asleep. “You done swerving like a La Mons wannabe, Wilkins?” He leans forward into the dashboard-lit front seat. “Seen anybody alive lately?”
“Don’t like my driving? Maybe you’d like to hitch a ride.” Wilkins slows and stops. Outside, the scant snow provides some illumination to the naked eye. He’s been driving dark since entering the city, dropdown IR-goggles allow him enhanced vision. He scans to the left, up a long drive. ”But no. There’s been a few heat signatures, mostly dogs or nests of cats, no civilians. But up there,” he nods up the drive, “I see a solid glow, a fireplace no doubt.”
“Cool,” Dodds says, leaning back. “So, we gear up for recon, Sergeant?”
“Let me pull up a map, make sure we can orientate any intel.”
Dodds struggles into a mil-spec haz-suit. “Where are we, anyway?”
“Springs. Had to detour around some blockades,” Wilkins says.
“Huh. So, some survived long enough to try and protect themselves.”
“Or game potential victims.” The sergeant pulls up stored maps on the computer. He taps a few keys.
“Shit. You think?” Dodds preps his weapons system.
“Millie says this place used to be full of preppers, militant types.” Reeves fingers the screen. “You two better watch for traps, tripwires.”
“Dodds, hand me my gear would ya?” Wilkins tilts his seat back.
Dodds passes up a pull-over haz-suit and Wilkins’ own compact fully-auto. Over Reeves’ shoulder he checks the on-screen map, looks down the driveway flanked with azaleas. “Non-linear approach. Let’s come up the right side neighbor’s fence. We still seeking intel on that SUV?”
“Roger that,” Reeves confirms. “The Pollard family, three adults, two tender-age.”
“We using the same threat suppression level?”
“We need information, Dodds. So, ask first, shoot second.”
“Copy. You ready, Willie?”
Wilkins gives his whole-body sigh again. “We’ve talked about this.”
“We have?” Dodds grins widely. “Back in a flash, Sergeant.”
“Intel, Dodds,” the sergeant drills. “Intel.”