When Hemley and the rest of the Phasewalkers walked back out, The three motorcyclists were already waiting in the open. Caity keenly saw them exchange an uneasy glance when they realized how many men and firepower the squad had, but the leading motorcyclist quickly walked up to them. He located Hemley as the leader in a single glance.
"Welcome to Kaneton!" The man established dominance over the area within the first line. "My friends call me Bob."
"Bob, huh?" Hemley reached out and shook his hand. "My name is Hemley. My friends and I are just traveling. As I said, we just want to be on our way." He was playing hard-to-get to be less suspicious. Just like he expected, Bob bit the bait like a fish.
"Please, come over to our settlement. Take a break and we'll send you on your way tomorrow!"
After a period of "very difficult" thinking, Hemley finally agreed. Just before they departed, Bob suddenly glanced at the three Humvees and the green camouflage suits on the Phasewalkers and said something to Hemley. "Good for you guys. By the looks of it, I'd say you guys looted a military base or something?"
Hemley let out a carefully-crafted expression on his face. 50% surprise. 30% proud. 20% smurf. Bob saw all of that, and his lips curved up in a vicious smirk.
As the leaders parted ways, the minions on the other side separated as well. Caity bit her lips. While Bob and Hemley were talking, she could sense one of the two men behind Bob looking at her in a way that made her feel really uncomfortable. This was the look wolves give bunnies, right before they eat them. But Caity was no bunny. She returned the man's glare by staring straight back. It was when her hand slowly rested on her SMG that the man finally looked away.
The Phasewalkers walked back to their Humvees, and the three men from Kaneton returned to their ride. As they mounted, Bob suddenly turned to the others.
"Ride forward and tell Jeremy we met a group of kids on the road. They have top military equipment, so we can't do our usual thing, but they are naive and unsuspecting. Tell Jeremy to play it nice. Be quick. If these kids ask, I'll just tell them you two reported back first so our people at home won't think they're being attacked."
The men nodded before mounting and speeding away.
Not far away, Caity tilted her head.
"Welcome to Kaneton!"
After crossing a line of barricade created by stocking cars, rubble, rocks, and a million other components, the convoy finally entered the place that Bob referred to as Kaneton.
Caity watched outside the passenger seat window. She could see many people. Human beings. A handful of sentries stood behind the barricade with weapons she has never seen before. Curious men peaked out from houses along the way at the three military Humvees. For a moment, Caity thought she just walked into a safe haven where people were safe from whatever lurked outside the barricades.
Bob led the three Humvees to a parking spot. As all 15 Phasewalkers got off, a man with grey hair walked up to them. Bob followed him tightly. To Caity's dismay, the man whose gaze she didn't like was here as well.
"Welcome to our settlement, guests." The grey-haired man held his hand out and shook Hemley's politely. "My name is Jeremy. I am, well, I am technically the leader of this settlement, but I don't really lead anyone here." He smiled warmly. "Now, you are guests and we are hosts, and even in a time like this, it is only right for us to do our sacred duty as hosts. You have come a long way. Please, join us for a feast." He held his hand out in invitation.
Hemley nodded, and he and a few Phasewalkers followed. Caity included, and this brought a smile to Bob's face. Kids. Give them a hundred weapons, and they would still be kids. But that smile turned into a frown when he realized half of the group didn't follow Jeremy. Seven Phasewalkers stayed behind. Among them was a man with a long rifle and a blank face.
"Hemley, do your friends don't feel like eating?" He asked.
Captain Hemley turned around with an innocent smile. "Oh, yeah they don't have the appetite. You know, sitting in a car for too long does that for some." Needless to say, there was no way he was leaving the three Humvees and all the weapons inside by themselves to the mercy of these people.
Bob nodded in understanding, but he was cursing under his breath. He should've known. No one still alive at this point would be that stupid. It looked like they had to change their plans up a bit. Shouldn't matter. These kids made a mistake as soon as they walked in here. Here, behind the barricades, this was their home field! Plus, these kids had military weapons, but did they really think Kaneton didn't?
Both sides thought they would end up the final victors, but like everything else, at the end of the day, there could only be one of them standing.
Caity followed Hemley and six other Phasewalkers across white, marbled steps and into a house. She could distinctly recognize the house used to be some sort of mansion. Even in a time where the road was covered with wrecked cars and human skeletons, this mansion still stood tall.
Inside the mansion, a line of table has already been filled with all sorts of food. Noodles. Burgers. Chicken wings. The eight Phasewalkers sat down on one end while Jeremy, Bob, and the others sat down on the other side.
"These look delicious," Caity commented as she sat down and carelessly rested her sniper rifle next to her seat. It quickly slid down onto the ground with a loud clank sound, but she didn't care. She made sure Bob and Jeremy saw that. Underestimation from the enemies was always a blessing. Plus, in the indoors, handguns and sub-machine guns were better than sniper rifles.
Hemley nodded. He had to admit that even he was a bit hungry after everything that has happened today.
The feast began without much more delay. Hemley made sure he and his men ate the food the locals have already eaten. This was to prevent the food from being poisoned, but neither Jeremy nor Bob had plans for something as delicate as poison. Their methods were much more direct.
But now wasn't the time to fight. Not yet.
"So," A few minutes into the meal, Jeremy finally started a conversation. "if you don't mind me asking, where are you planning on going?"
"Nowhere in particular," Hemley answered cautiously.
Jeremy nodded slowly as a plan formed in his head. "Well, if you want, you can settle here. We can always need a few extra guns and men around. You know, with those things out there."
Yes. His original plan was to lure these kids in and then slaughter them and take their weapons and vehicles, but now that he saw they didn't completely fall for his act, taking them by force seemed counterintuitive. His men would die. Quite a few of them. If he could instead incorporate these people into his settlement, then he would not only not have to lose men and bullets, but he would even gain some.
"Hmmm…" Hemley lowered his head in pretended consideration. "well, I haven't really thought about this. It's actually not a bad idea."
As the two leaders went back and forth, Caity suddenly stood up. All the eyes turned to her, and she could see more than a few hands reaching for the weapons. She quickly held her hands out innocently.
"I just need to go to the lady's room. Had too much water in the car."
"Ah. Walk out into the hallway. Three turns to the right."
After the initial surprise, the nice, fake smile returned to Jeremy's face. Now was not the time to fight. Sensing their master's desire, the few hands that reached out quickly retreated.
On the other side, the Phasewalkers returned their weapons into their holsters as well.
Caity walked out of the dining hall and followed the instructions. Despite all the turmoil and suspense, she really did need to go to the bathroom. There was no trick involved. She found her way to the bathroom, finished, and came back out. Before she could walk back to the feast, she heard a muffled voice.
"Please...please! No! Somebody help me!"
Caity frowned. This was a woman's voice. She could tell. She knew the proper thing to do was to return to the dining hall and find a chance to tell her commanding officer what she saw or heard. Only then would they take action. Yet, all of those thoughts quickly disappeared when another cry for help came.
Fuck it. No one could do anything if they had to constantly report back and ask for proper orders. Caity might not be a selfless heroine, but when she had two fully-loaded automatic weapons on her, she would be a coward to turn her back right now. She quickly walked down the hallway, falling the voice as she went. It didn't take her long before she came to the room where the voice was coming from. With a decisive move, she turned around and shoved the door open with her shoulder. Her APC9K SMG raised.
Inside the room on a bed, a man with lowered trousers was working on a fully naked woman. Hearing the sound, the man turned around. "Who the fuck is this…" His words came to a halt when he saw Caity and the gun she was holding.
Without even pulling up his pants, he leaped for the counter. He took out his handgun and put it on the counter before he proceeded with his business for safety reasons. Now, it was the very reason he was unsafe.
Caity didn't let him reach the weapon. Piu. Piu. Piu. The muzzle to her SMG jumped briefly and sent three bullets into the man's chest. Caity might be a soft-looking woman who always had a few jokes ready, but her experience in Section X has turned her into a qualified soldier. Perhaps she wasn't as determined as Ryan, but once she struck, she made sure she was striking for the kill.
The silencer on her SMG made sure the only sound in the room was the man collapsing onto the ground.
Caity walked up to the naked woman, and even she had to admit she was a bit enraged by what she saw. Scars covered nearly every piece of the woman's skin. Some, she recognized. Cuts made by blades. Burns by either candles or cigarettes. Others, she didn't. Wait, were those bite marks?
Caity quickly stepped to the dying man on the ground and pumped a few extra rounds into his head. Finally, she returned to the woman. A jacket was on a couch to the side. Caity grabbed it and wrapped it around the woman.
"Relax. You are safe now." She reassured while stealing glances at the door to make sure no one would walk in on this. "No one can hurt you anymore. I promise."
The girl whimpered, a sound that sent metaphorical daggers into Caity's heart. This girl was no older than she was, yet, she has been put through torture beyond what Caity herself could possibly understand. With pain, came fury.
"What happened to you? Who did this to you?"
It took the girl a few more minutes to calm down enough to answer Caity, and as the girl told her story, Caity couldn't help but feel an urge to charge back into the dining hall and pump some bullets into that Jeffery's head.
Six months ago, something terrifying happened. From what the girl said, monsters came out of nowhere and overwhelmed the military and the police. There were countless dead, and eventually, the people of this town, Kaneton, decided to band together and protect themselves.
First, everything was nice and fine. The girl, she said her name was Katherine, watched as her father organized the locals to set down barricades along the key roads to keep those monsters out. Those with firearms in their homes used those weapons to protect the weak and the unarmed. Supplies were collected and then redistributed based on need. For a few weeks, everything was fine.
But soon, discontent rose. The militias with strength and firearms, the protectors of the town, felt like they should be treated better than the rest. After all, they were the ones fighting for their lives out in the front. At least they shouldn't have to have their food rationed like the rest of the town, right? And while we were at it, having a few women to help us relieve our pressure sounded fair as well…
Katherine's father declined that offer without a second thought. He was an honorable man. A man with a code. Unfortunately, in the age of chaos, honor was no different than poison: both could take the greatest men to the graves overnight.
The so-called protectors rebelled. Two militias charged into Katherine's house and shot his father in front of the marble steps. After that, it was a free-for-all. The strong reaped everything the weak had to offer. Resist and you were dead. Those with guns feasted on all the food and enjoyed all the women in the town.
Katherine could still remember several boys who she has known since childhood. They joined the town militia for a noble cause, but when Jeffrey, the captain of the militia, led the rebellion, these boys stood by and watched. There was a light in their eyes that Katherine didn't recognize. The light of untamed lust.
When clashing against the right to do whatever they wanted, ethics and honor melted away with a single touch.
The months that followed were hell. Katherine was the town sweetheart, and more than a few men wanted to have a taste of her. People she saw in school. Her neighbors. Even her friends. Within a few months, the people she knew and loved turned into monsters.
Caity was dead silent as Katherine finished her story. "I can't change what happened to you, Katherine." She finally said quietly. "But I can promise you, I will take you to a world where things like this will never happen again. I will take you to a world with peace and order."
She grabbed onto Katherine's arms and was about to help her to leave when Katherine said something that made her freeze.
"There are more of us. Those sons of bitches locked us in the dungeon. The only reason I'm up here is...is so he can have me...in a nicer environment."
Caity bit her lips before grabbing onto her SMG and checking the magazine.
"Take me there."