"C'mon. You knew August would escape," Jed said, leading the small group toward the sounds of the alarm.
"I hoped he would escape. He has not yet done so." Lone Wolf frowned and grabbed Jed's shoulder, pulling him back into the shadows of the building. "I think we are here."
The parking lot in front of them had dozens of uniformed guards in small groups. More arrived from the Bellagio as they watched. Most had clubs and bats, but some had pistols and a few had rifles.
"So how many…" Jed asked, eyebrows raised.
"Oh, the Doc has about a hundred soldiers, but a lot of them are out of town gathering supplies," Rosa said. She squinted her eyes and looked around the corner. "So he has, maybe a little over fifty?"
"But he might have snipers on some of those rooftops," said Caru, pointing to buildings across the parking lot.
"Very few people are as good as you are, my friend," said Lone Wolf. "He might have one or two good snipers, but there are not many good locations for them." He pointed at a short building to the west. "If he has any snipers at all, that's the rooftop they'll be on."
"The Doc isn't well loved. Most of these soldiers are addicts and don't want to lose their supply of blood wine. He's the only source, so that's their motivation," Rosa added.
"Yeah, so take him out and the rest might fold," said Annie. She shrugged. "Well, most of them."
Jed's eyebrows raised. "Great. I thought this would be hard. Caru can shoot him when he shows up and we can all go home."
"You fools! I need him alive and relatively unharmed."
They heard the voice and Jed looked more closely. "That voice is coming from, what? That big mechanical tank?" he asked. He pointed at a rolling vehicle, large weapons mounted on each side.
Annie glanced at the robot. "Yup. That's the Doc inside his personal tank. His robotic body is inside it. You should see him up close." She shuddered. "He's really creepy looking."
"Why would he have a robotic body?" whispered Caru.
"Well, the Doc is a …" started Annie.
The blare of the speaker interrupted her. "I don't care about the girl, though. You can kill her."
"What girl?" asked Maddie.
Lone Wolf grinned. "Fae," he said. Maddie's eyes opened wide. Lone Wolf raised his hand. "A long story. The short version is that she is quite capable, though untrained." He smiled more broadly. "And August is not alone, which makes me feel better."
"If you surrender, August, I'll spare the girl," the Doctor's metallic voice boomed. "I promise," he said.
"I hope August doesn't fall for that one," Rosa muttered. She tapped Jed on the shoulder. "Annie and I can go to those rooftops and remove any guards up there," she said.
"I'll go with them," said Caru. He looked at Lone Wolf innocently. "What? It's a good place for a sniper. You said so."
Annie straightened the front of her torn and patched dress. "I'll need a lot of help anyway," she said, deadpan.
"Take these." Lone Wolf handed his quiver of arrows to Caru. "You will make better use of them than I can."
"Send a signal when you secure the rooftop," said Jed.
Annie pulled her gold lighter from somewhere on her person. "I'll use this like a mirror," she said. Caru, Annie and Rosa jogged back the way they came so they could weave around the buildings and get to the rooftop.
Jed pulled the pistol from his holster and ejected the clip. "Let's see. Wilson left me twelve and …" He slid the clip back into place and checked the spare he had in his pocket. "Another twelve. So I have twenty-four shots."
Lone Wolf checked his gun. "I have eight. My gun is a nine millimeter or I'd give you the ammo."
Maddie didn't even check her gun and clip. "I have nine in the gun and two clips with another thirty. The wounded guard liked to be prepared, I guess." She looked at the small army in the parking lot. "I can get other weapons as we move into the crowd."
"I think you should take the guns and cover us from here," said Jed. "We're dressed in uniforms, so we blend in." He looked toward the rooftop. "Now we wait for the signal."
Lone Wolf scowled. "I wish someone would turn off that alarm. You can hear it a half mile away."
"It isn't like there are tourists to annoy, Lone Wolf," said Jed. "It looks like most of Vegas is right out there."
Maddie's face was grim. "Well, the ones we need to worry about, anyway." She sighed slipping the two other guns into her belt. "Too bad I didn't have a chance to get an army of my own together. There are a lot of people who would love to topple this little dictator."
Jed looked at the milling guards. Some wandered back into the Bellagio, trying to be unobtrusive. "What about his armor? I mean, how weird is that?"
Lone Wolf shrugged. "He didn't have that last time, but we didn't have to fight him either, so who knows?" He grunted. "He is brilliant, though, so don't underestimate him when we fight."
A faint voice came from the cinder block building on the other side of the parking lot.
Lone Wolf grit his teeth. "I couldn't hear that."
"Yeah, I could, clear as a bell," said Jed. "August said they're talking it over, but what assurances does he have that Fae will be safe?"
The Doctor's voice boomed from the small tank-like vehicle. "My word, August." There was a long pause, punctuated by static. "That's the best you'll get, I'm afraid."
"We have to move, now," Jed said. He kissed Maddie on the lips. "Wait for the chaos then join the fun. Don't be late."
"Not a chance," she replied.
Lone Wolf and Jed walked forward into the parking lot. The other guards barely glanced in their direction. "We should get closer to the Doc, you think?" whispered Jed.
Lone Wolf nodded. "As close as we can get to the head of the snake."
As they moved toward the small building the number of guards increased. Guards started giving them curious stares as they moved closer to Doctor Doctor.
A small glint of light flickered from the top of the building to Jed's right. He whispered to Lone Wolf. "I guess now…"
"You two need to move back, buddy." Lawrence's huge body blocked the sun as he moved toward them. "Only the guard gets this close to the Doc." He pointed at the red stripe on his sleeve. "You should know that."
He stared at Lone Wolf, looking closely at his face. "Hey, man. I never forget a face…"
"Neither do I. It's Corporal McKenna, isn't it?" asked Lone Wolf.
Lawrence reached for his gun, yelling over his shoulder at the same time. "Hey, Doc. We've got that other Indian guy…"
Lone Wolf hit him in the solar plexus, slapping the gun from his hand. Lawrence punched at Lone Wolf but he moved to the left. Another guard pulled a gun and aimed it at Lone Wolf, but Jed drove his elbow into the woman's neck. She dropped to her knees choking.
Shots rang out and guards near the other side of the parking lot started dropping, blood running onto the ground under them when they fell. Guards started to drop to the pavement, arrows sticking from their bodies. Chaos erupted.
Three guards came toward Jed, two of them vampires. They raised clubs to hit him, but he dodged under the first and punched the man in the chest. Bones cracked as the man flew backward into the guard behind him. Jed's hands didn't stop moving, as he spun through the crowd crushing chests and skulls with his fists, getting farther from Lone Wolf with each step.
Lone Wolf dropped two other guards before Lawrence advanced on him again, this time with a long club in his hand. "You cost me my stripe, you little bastard." Lawrence said, glaring at Lone Wolf.
Lone Wolf dodged the club, aiming at Lawrence's windpipe. Lawrence blocked it and stepped back a pace. "That was a long time ago, Mr. McKenna. I'd advise you to let it go. Unresolved anger can be a great burden," said Lone Wolf.
Two guards behind Lone Wolf advanced, the first dropping to the ground as Lone Wolf hit him across the neck with the side of his hand, and the second fell when Lone Wolf struck him with his foot in a straight kick. Lawrence caught Lone Wolf on the left shoulder with his club, the pain radiating down Lone Wolf's arm.
Lone Wolf stepped back, looking up at Lawrence with a calm visage. Lawrence advanced toward him. "My anger will be resolved by death, little man," he growled.
Lone Wolf looked at him sadly. "I suspected as much, Mr. McKenna." He stepped forward, crouching on one leg and sweeping the other under Lawrence, knocking him to the ground. Lone Wolf brought his right elbow down on Lawrence's windpipe, crushing it. Lawrence's eyes grew wide as he tried to draw a breath, his face growing more agitated, his hands clasping his shattered throat.
Lone Wolf sighed and moved on.
A man near the Doctor lifted his rifle, sighting it on Lone Wolf. An arrow appeared through his neck, the blood spraying onto the Doctor's robotic body. Other arrows dotted fallen bodies around the parking lot, most with guns near their dead hands.
Jed moved toward the large robot, weaving between blows and dodging the clubs swung at him. He had a club in each hand now, swinging left and right, crushing bodies and creating a swath of destruction as he moved. A bullet grazed his shoulder, but he didn't notice.
As he neared the robot, a large man appeared next to him, bodies flying in all directions.
"Hello, Jed," said August. "Nice timing."
"Hi, August," Jed said. He pointed toward the buildings. "Maddie is behind us shooting people."
"And Fae is back there somewhere, too," August said. "She thinks she's bulletproof."
A shotgun blast tore through the guards in front of them, blasting them to fragmented chunks of flesh. The speakers crackled again. "Did you think I developed the suit to keep me alive, August?" Laughter echoed from the robot. "No, I developed it to control this tank, to combat you, to be unbeatable."
"Careful or you might hurt me, Doc," yelled August. The guards around the machine were moving away from it now, looks of dismay on their faces.
The robot turned toward the retreating guards. "Capture him now! Overwhelm him or I'll blast you into kibbles and bits, too," the Doctor's voice boomed.
Thirty guards stopped their retreat and advanced toward August. The robot aimed a rifle at Jed, repeatedly firing. Jed dodged to the right, away from the bullets. "You idiots. Over there. Get him and kill him!" A robotic arm pointed at Lone Wolf. "And his little friend, too," the robotic voice shouted.
A bullet dropped another guard. "Would someone please find who is shooting us and take care of it?" The speakers crackled again. "Imbeciles. I'm surrounded by imbeciles." The doctor tried to whisper, but the speakers amplified his voice.
A large group of guards advanced toward August, clubs ready. August looked to the far side of the parking lot, where Fae was running through the guards, her swords a moving blur. Jed, another blur, moved deeper into the Doctor's army, away from August.
August pulled his pistol from its holster and fired rapidly into the oncoming guards. One after another dropped to the pavement. The others paused but continued moving forward as August holstered his empty pistol. August sighed and picked up two clubs from fallen bodies, waiting for the next wave of advancing guards. His eyes glared at the partly visible features of the snarling skull of the Doctor in his robotic carriage. He looked at the small cinder building behind him and thought of going back through the door, but that would mean leaving his friends to fight on his behalf. He squared his shoulders.
"Retreat is sometimes a wise option, August." Claire appeared at his side. "Though I see you don't plan to exercise that choice at this time."
"Claire? I thought you were back at Selah." The first of the large group reached them now, falling to August's clubs and Claire's sword. The rest tried to encircle them, but Claire and August dashed forward and cut them down.
"Was. Couldn't let you come here by yourself. Followed the sirens." She shrugged, slicing through another guard's neck. "After all, you owe me a story."
August glanced at her. "As do you, I think."
"Dammit!" The Doctor's voice screamed. "How many friends do you have, August? How many guards do I need to send against you?" His voice rose an octave. "Capture him and you can have a thousand gallons of blood wine!"
Claire looked at the skeletal visage behind the clear robotic casing. "Oh my god. What is that?"
"That's Doctor Davenfeld," said August. "The suit keeps him alive. He's a smart zombie."
Claire frowned. "Is there such a thing?" she asked.
"He thinks so," August answered.
More guards, spurred by the offer, joined the group attacking Claire and August. Maddie was with Jed, Lone Wolf and Fae on the fringes of the parking lot, fighting the endless streams of guards coming from the Bellagio. Dozens of guards separated the two groups of friends.
"Wow. You sure know how to show a girl a good time, big guy." Claire's face darkened as she saw the number of guards advancing on them.
"Maybe next time will be better," replied August, swinging his clubs in rotation.
The guards rushed toward August and Claire, but their momentum paused as a blaring horn sounded behind them. An old red truck jumped the parking lot curb and flew through the air, smoke belching from the tailpipe. It tore through the crowded group of guards at over sixty miles an hour, broken bodies flying through the air in all directions. Claire and August dodged to the side as it careened into the cinder block building, collapsing the wall over its shattered and bloody windshield.
"Ted!" Claire screamed as she moved toward the truck. The last half dozen standing guards looked at their fallen comrades and rushed August. The first died with a crushed skull from a forward swing of his right club. The second fell when the backswing of August's left club caught him across the bridge of the nose. The third and fourth died in similar fashion, after August dropped under their clubs and came up swinging both clubs at once. The fifth man died as August drove the end of the club through his chest, shattering bones as he did so. The last died when August hit him in the back of the head with his remaining club.
"No! No! No!" The tinny voice screamed like a train whistle, drowning out the other sounds. "This can't happen!" The robotic body pivoted, looking over the battlefield littered with his troops. Jed, Lone Wolf, Fae, and Maddie walked across the bloody parking lot toward August and his nemesis, dispatching the few guards that were brave or foolish enough to stand against them. Blood dripped down Jed's left sleeve. Fae limped with her right leg. Lone Wolf cradled his left arm against his body. Even Maddie had blood dripping from a sliced shirt.
The bloody skull inside the robot screamed, the echo hissing from the speakers. Spittle flew from Dr. Doctor's mouth, settling on the inside of his clear faceplate. "I'll kill you all!" Doctor Doctor yelled. He turned the robot carriage toward August. "I'll kill you first," he hissed loudly.
The sound of a small cannon blasted through the remaining noises of the battle, overwhelming the noise of the shrill alarm. Everyone paused for a moment as a crater appeared in the side of the mad Doctor's armored suit.
A loud voice rang out from the dim area near the trees at the edge of the parking lot. "Her name was Ellie!" The cannon sound roared again and sparks flew from a small box on the Doctor's left side as the man/machine turned to face the voice. "She didn't deserve to die." Another shot rang out and everyone could see the muzzle flash coming from a shadowy form crouched next to the broken masonry of a sign, a handgun with an impossibly long barrel braced on the top. "Nobody deserved to die like this, you crazy madman." Flames shot from the end of the barrel again, and sparks flew as the screaming slug slammed into the right side of the Doctor's chest plate.
The Doctor's voice rose in pitch, the speakers sparking as they transmitted his yell, causing it to echo from the walls. His robotic right arms hung limp at his side, but the left-hand sub-machine gun aimed at the figure by the trees. Fire sputtered from the barrel…
Another yell broke the silence that fell after the machine gun finished, the yell of a giant, a raging force of nature unleashed among men.
August stood on the eight-foot robotic form, his massive arms straining as he grabbed handfuls of wire and pulled, hoses and connections breaking apart under his onslaught. He grabbed one of the right arms of the machine and his muscles bulged for a moment, a great sound exploding from his lungs. The metallic arm tore loose with a shriek of metal and the scream of a madman coming from the speakers. August raised the arm above his head and brought it down on top of the robot. Again and again, he hammered the metal dome of the machine until it shattered under his attacks.
August reached into the cracked carriage and pulled a decayed lump of humanity from its cradle. He lifted the Doctor's zombie body above his head and crashed it down on the ground. Leaping after it he picked up the robotic arm and smashed it into the writhing creature. Concrete, blood and bone flew.
August dropped to his knees, the huge robotic arm slipping to the ground next to him. He closed his eyes, sweat and blood streaming down his face.
Claire looked at Lone Wolf, who nodded at her silent question. She moved forward and sat next to August, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Fae ran forward on the other side of August and did the same.
"It's okay, August," Claire whispered. "He's dead. The Doctor is dead."
Jed walked to the edge of the parking lot, now riddled with bullets.
"Charlie? Holy cow, Charlie. Is that you?" Jed cradled the limp form in his arms, using a scrap of cloth to wipe the blood and stone chips from Charlie's face.
Charlie chuckled, bubbles of blood appearing on his lips. "Hey, Jed," he whispered. "Like my new gun?"
Jed stared at Charlie, trying to stop the free-flowing blood from his chest with his right hand. Charlie's face twisted, a grimace crossing his features. "You know," he said, "I hated you for being a vamp. When the big guy dropped me off, I headed west." Charlie coughed, spitting small drops of blood into the air. They landed on his face and Jed tried to clean them off. "There was this girl, a lady vamp. A bear got her. Isn't that funny?" Charlie's voice dropped to a whisper. "She's a vamp and a bear got her. I wanted to hate her for being a vamp, but I couldn't do it. She reminded me of Ellie. She was beat up and hurt and dying. So I sat with her. We ate the bear that killed her. That's irony, isn't it?" Jed leaned closer to hear Charlie's whispers. "She said she escaped from Vegas, that this crazy doctor lived here, did all sorts of experiments on people. That he made the virus." Charlie's voice dropped to a whisper, the bubbles of blood lessening as he spoke.
"So I hated the Doctor. Been waiting weeks to get a shot at him." Charlie's voice disappeared, his chest barely moving up and down, blood seeping from the chest wound. "Hate is funny. It gets to be a habit. When you don't have it any more, you sort of miss it."
Jed rocked him, tears flowing from his blue eyes. "Unless you replace it with something else, Charlie."
Charlie responded in a whisper. "Yeah, I guess so. I don't know. It's funny. I don't hate you anymore. I don't feel happy that all these vamps died. I feel…empty."
Jed didn't have any words.
Charlie's eyes opened wide and he grabbed Jed's shoulder with his left hand. "Do you think it will be a better place?" he asked in a suddenly strong voice, his eyes pleading with Jed.
Jed nodded. "Better than this? I'm sure of it." A tear from Jed's eye splashed on Charlie's forehead.
Charlie's eyes closed, his voice fading away. "I'm glad. This wasn't that good, anyway." Charlie's chest rattled and his body shuddered. Charlie died.
Maddie kneeled down across from Jed, reaching out to touch his hand. "He's gone, Jed."
Jed nodded. "Yeah, I know. From here, anyway." Maddie helped him lay Charlie down. Jed picked the pistol up and checked the chambers. "I only ever saw one fifty caliber pistol before. Quite the weapon…" He looked at Charlie's lifeless body. "Quite the man."
They put Ted's body next to Charlie's body, under the trees in the still green grass of the small yard next to the parking lot.
"Ted died saving us," whispered Claire. "I told him he could come, but to help me drive. I told him to wait in the truck for me."
"He followed your orders, Claire. He also followed his conscience. That's why he came, to protect you. To help us," whispered Jed, giving Claire a quick hug.
A tear rolled down Claire's cheek. "He was a hero, even if he wasn't transformed." She looked up at the distress in August's face and looked at the others in the small group. "You're all heroes."
"I am the cause of the Z-virus," whispered August. "I'm not a hero. I'm a monster."
Jed looked back at the parking lot, where birds now started to circle overhead. "No, August. The monster is dead. The hero killed it."
August said nothing, staring at the ground, his eyes full of pain.
Lone Wolf looked at the bodies of the two men. "We will take Ted home and bury him. We bury our own," he said.
Jed looked around at the small group. "We'll take Charlie, too," he said. "At the end, he was one of us, or close to it. We can bury him at the ranch."
The setting sun cast a red hue against the sky as they turned toward the Bellagio.