~~~

Russell stood behind a tree on the top of a ridge on the southern border of the forest and studied the structures surrounding the small airport terminal. Aside from the armed men who vigilantly patrolled the area in pairs, there was no other activity revealing what was happening down in that camp, especially from within those structures.

“Seems quiet,” he said, turning to Gina. “If there was a massive search to find the man you… to find him, they’ve either given up on the search, found his body already, or… they never bothered to search the woods at all.”

Gina nodded, pacing anxiously from three feet back. On the thirteenth morning of her exile, she’d finally convinced Marcus to come with her to the airport. After carefully advancing through the woods, avoiding the dead along with Mother’s potential patrols, they had found a better vantage point to observe the airport undetected. “His name was John… John Sterling,” she said.

“Of course.”

“I don’t believe he was lying to me,” she added. “He was genuinely afraid of these people. Maybe… maybe they don’t realize he’s missing yet?”

“Perhaps. But unlikely. If this group is associated with Mother, then we can’t rule out the possibility that they simply him go.”

“Yeah, I thought of that,” Gina said. “What do you mean ‘if’?”

Russell sighed. “I’m not doubting you, Gina. I’m just trying to add up the facts. From what I’ve observed, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency at that camp. We’ve seen no one in these woods. It looks exactly as you described it to me when you first found the airport, other than it looks like they doubled up on the guards. And that could be attributed to your gunfire the other night. Did this… John… actually say the group at the airport was Mother, or did you say it, and then he agreed with you?”

Gina looked irritated. “You weren’t there, Marcus. The way he described these people… how dangerous they were… how terrified he was to get away… no… he never actually called them ‘Mother’… but he might as well have. That’s them Marcus! I’m sure of it.”

“Okay. Let’s assume that for the time being,” Russell said. “What do you suggest we do about it now? Whoever this Lady Clementine is, we’re clearly not going to get to her. She’s well defended down there.”

Gina stopped pacing. “I haven’t figured that all out yet. I just wanted to show you what we’re dealing with. So… you know… we could start coming up with a plan.”

“A plan to kill this woman, who may or may not be the leader of Mother?”

Gina suddenly wanted to push Marcus off the ridge. Since rescuing her from the farmhouse two days ago, Marcus had done everything he could to avoid coming out here. He’d insisted that she rest yesterday at the ruins camp while he retrieved her weapons bag from the forest. After that, they’d played “catch up”, when she had a chance to fill him in with more details about what John Sterling had told her.

Marcus had told her about his three weeks with the mysterious woman who had saved him from the fall off the cliff, or some of it, since it was clear he was holding back.

Every time she’d mentioned the airport, Marcus had found some way to stall, complaining about his own ankle needing rest, or that they needed to recover some of the food she’d hidden in the woods. Finally, she got him to come out here, and now, he was treating her like an idiot.

“If you don’t want to do this, Marcus, just say so. But stop trying to get me to doubt myself. I know who these people are, and I intend to make them pay for what they’ve done!”

Russell frowned. “Sorry, Gina. I’m just trying to keep you alive… again. I don’t care who those people are. What I do know is that they’re heavily armed, and apparently, content to stay right where they’re at. Why stir up the hornet’s nest?”

“Because they’re fucking Mother, that’s why! Do I need to remind you of how many friends we’ve lost directly or indirectly because of them?”

Russell shook his head. “No. I understand. But we’re clearly outnumbered here. We just can’t sneak into their camp, find this leader, and then kill her, and expect everything to be square again. Do I need to remind you of how well that worked out last time when we killed those kids who shot Greg?”

Gina felt like he’d just slapped her across the face. “That was different… and you know it!”

“Do I, Gina? You were seeing red then, just as you are now. Going after these people with rage in your heart is just going to get us killed.”

“Fuck you!” she growled. “Don’t you dare make this about me!”

Russell changed tactics. “Then prove it to me. Why should I risk my life on such a dangerous endeavor just because you clearly don’t value your own life?”

Gina was about to speak, then stopped. She turned away and started walking. “We’ve seen enough. Let’s get back before it gets dark.”

Russell shook his head.

Fuck me, boss. With that temper she could set this whole fucking forest ablaze! We’re not really gonna get into that mess down there, are we? As much as I enjoy a good slaughter… I don’t enjoy the thought of getting filled with bullet holes. Seems like a suicide mission.

We will do what we must, Russell thought back.

I don’t like the sound of that, boss. Not… one… bit. What’s your game plan here?

Russell smiled, and offered nothing.

He silently followed Gina back toward the ruins camp.

Russell continued to calculate.

~~~

They hadn’t spoken much since returning to the ruins camp and Russell wisely kept his distance, allowing Gina time to simmer down as he collected wood to build a new fire in the ancient stone fireplace.

Gina had kept busy by making another inventory of their small supply of weapons before dark and then patrolled the small perimeter of their camp to privately sulk. Between the two of them, they shared one shotgun with four full boxes of shells, two handguns—she’d lost her other gun with the silencer. Six boxes of 9mm ammunition. Two hunting knives. And of course, one machete.

They sat down to share a cold canned meal. Gina finally broke the silence.

“I’m sorry for being so damn… hot-headed. You’re right. I was acting impulsively because I’m so damn… angry.”

“It’s alright, Gina. I’m sort of used to it.”

She glared at him.

He smiled with a wink causing her to lower her shields and laugh.

“I guess you are,” she said. “It is good to have you here. Being alone out here has made me… volatile… more so than usual.”

“You’ve been living on the edge, Gina. A little bit of volatile mixed with paranoia is to be expected… if you want to survive.”

“Well, that doesn’t give me an excuse to be a crazy woman. You’re right. I really need to calm down and think things through.” She then added emphasis. “But I am going to kill that woman, with or without your help.”

Russell gave her a thoughtful glance. “May I ask a question without you getting upset?”

“Probably not… but go ahead.”

“Say we go down to that airport and slaughter everyone, will you be satisfied?”

Gina gave him a strange look. “I didn’t say ‘everyone’… just the leader. You know, like chopping the head off the fucking snake and causing the rest to scatter. And what do you mean, ‘satisfied’?”

“Well,” Russell carefully said. “Leaders come, leaders go. Surely Mother has other camps with other leaders. So, unless you intend to hunt them all down wherever they are, and kill every last person associated with Mother, there’s no guarantee that attacking the airport will accomplish anything.”

“Yeah, but it’s a start,” Gina defended. “Mother is much bigger than this airport camp, I know that, but maybe this is the only camp they have left around here. We’ve already stopped them at the compound and seized that place. Maybe by eliminating them at the airport, our friends will have a little more time to breathe and figure shit out.”

“So… you believe that striking this camp, and this leader, will make a difference?”

“I don’t know, Marcus,” she said. “For all we know, that airport is a central staging area for everything they’re doing, and planning to do, to everyone and everything on this side of the Interstate. If taking that one snake out will mess up their agenda… even for a few months… then I believe it’s worth it. Let Mother have the rest of the fucking world… for now. But they won’t be here. Not in my damn backyard!”

Russell nodded. “And you would risk your life to achieve this… even if it was temporary fix?”

“Absolutely,” she said. “Our lives have been in the ‘temporary’ status since the beginning of all this bullshit. I’ll do whatever it takes to give the people I care about one more damn day out in this mess.”

“But… they kicked you out, Gina. Why does it matter if you can’t have one more day with them?”

Gina sighed heavily and nodded. “Yeah. I hear what you’re saying, Marcus. I do. But I don’t resent them for exiling me. They probably did themselves and me a huge favor.”

“How so?”

She smiled. “I’m not like them, Marcus… probably never was.” She looked around at the trees and inhaled deeply with a smile. “I’m getting used to this… getting used to me. With the others, I questioned everything I did. I felt… well… I felt wrong.”

Russell raised an eyebrow in surprise. “What does that mean?”

Gina laughed lightly. “Shit, Marcus. I’ve done horrible things… and justified them in the name of the greater fucking good. What kind of person does that make me?”

“No. You did what you had to do, Gina. The world was never so black and white, light or dark… it’s always been this way… like it is now. Life and death are one in the same. The only difference is that all those morality illusions from that obsolete world have been stripped away. Only the truth remains… as it’s always been.”

She shook her head with a smile. “Most of the time, I can’t follow your logic, Marcus. I’ve tried but failed. But then again, you’ve always had an unusual perspective of this new world. You probably understand it more than anyone I know… even if I don’t. But I’m starting to understand my place in it.”

Russell grinned from ear to ear. “And what is Gina Melborn’s place in this new world?”

Gina smiled and looked out at the trees. “I belong out here, in the dark. There’s no judgment out here. I do what I must, when I must, and… frankly… I find it-”

“Liberating?” Russell finished.

She laughed. “Yeah. That’s a good word for it. Say what you will, Marcus, but the others, my family, they belong in the light where there’s rules to follow and consequences for breaking them. And they need them to feel good about themselves. But… there aren’t any rules out here… not anymore. Good, bad, indifferent… doesn’t matter. Out here, I can just be myself, no matter how dark or ugly that really is. I don’t know if that qualifies me as evil or not, but what I do know is that I can help them… and those who belong in that light… by operating the way in need to out here… in the darkness. And that is my place, Marcus… for better or worse.”

Russell was speechless. He felt like he was no longer listening to the words of his friend, but rather, the words of the Lady, herself, manifesting through this unique woman.

Do you see it now? he thought. Can you understand now why the Lady finds this one so precious?

For once, the savage remained silent.

“Well, say something?” Gina said. “You’re starting to make me feel like a freak for saying all that.”

Russell laughed. “That’s the last thing I would ever think about you, Gina. You are… very special to me.” He looked away, genuinely embarrassed.

She smiled. “I feel the same about you, Marcus. And not in a weird, I’ve-been-alone-in-the-woods-too-long sort of way, either. So, just relax.” She added a wink.

Russell smiled. “I completely understand. You and I… well… our relationship doesn’t require anything further.”

“Are you saying that we’re not going to fuck each other’s brains out after dinner?”

“Excuse me?”

“Gotcha,” she teased.

Russell relaxed. “I wouldn’t have put it so… bluntly… but, yes… no fucking required.”

This made Gina snort with laughter.

Russell laughed and nodded. “I’ll help you.”

Gina stopped. “Seriously? I mean… you’re right… I don’t want you risking your life for my crazy shit. That’s the last thing I want. I’ve lost too many friends already, so I’d completely understand if you’d rather-”

“But if we’re going to go after this leader… Lady Clementine… and we want a chance at succeeding… then we’ll have to do this my way.”

Gina folded her arms across her chest and smiled. “I’m fine with that. I know you’re good at the ninja stuff. Why do you think I dragged you to that fucking airport in the first place?”

“It will require some patience from you, Gina,” Russell said. “We can’t rush in with anger and expect to succeed with this mission. Can you be… patient?”

She sighed. “I can try. What are you thinking?”

Russell smiled. “I’m thinking that you and I need to prepare for this mission.”

“Which means?”

Russell added cryptically with a devilish smile, “If you’re going to live in the darkness in order to serve the light, you’ll need some training in how to do some very dark things.”

~~~

Next Episode 45-6

Previous Episode 45-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 45-5: Predators” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

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