The nomads’ old home was in the third, fourth, and fifth floors of a ten-story apartment complex. As we walked up to it, there was an old wooden sign by door that once proclaimed this building was the Park Estates but had been spray-painted over sometime in the last couple years. Now, it read “Headquarters of the Chicago Gents” in fluorescent orange and had a few splatters of blood on it.
“So you actually had to fight your way in, I see.”
“Yeah. Most of the patrols just ran, but the guards out here stayed and fought. I’m having Lucas look around for any more patrols, though”
“Sounds like you underplayed what you did to capture their base, Camille.”
“Not really. I had Lucas cover our backs and left one person to shoot at their defensive position at the front door while I led everyone else to the roof. They didn’t have anyone up there or ever watching all sides of the building since every other door and window on the first two floors is sealed. So we cracked the door and cleared them out. They were panicking when we started shooting and we just took them down. I’ve got a sniper on the roof scaring off anyone who pokes their head out, though.”
“I can’t wait to get some rest!” I stretched my arms and sighed. “It’ll be nice to sleep for a few days.”
“That’ll have to be later, unfortunately. There’s some cleaning to do, though I had everyone I could spare get started on it. We made a mess.” Camille wrinkled her nose and popped open the door. “Honey, I’m home!”
One of the Wayfinders, came down the stairs carrying a body wrapped in plastic and smirked. “Great, now help us haul around everyone you killed. There are a lot of them.”
“We’ll need one of the small supply sleds to move the corpses, so just dump it here for now and help carry supplies upstairs.” Camille gestured out the door at the Nomads who’d stopped to gaze around their old home. “I think they might need a few minutes to get used to how everything has changed.”
“Right away, Lieutenant.” the Wayfinder dumped the corpse inside an apartment and I got a glimpse of the other corpses inside, waiting to be hauled away.
“Any of them still alive?”
“No. I tried to leave a few injured but alive and they just kept trying to grab their guns so no it’s on Lucas’ group to capture someone alive.” Camille shrugged. “From the duty rosters we’ve found, I’m pretty sure that are at least a dozen other patrols out there.”
“Eleven or fewer, now.” Natalie walked up with her pack and an armload of papers. “We took out one of them on our way to the rendezvous. Once Lucas gets back, I should have their maps and routes copied into my maps so we can make sure we won’t run into any of them.”
“I’m more worried about them coming back here at some point.” I gestured for Camille and Natalie to step aside so people wouldn’t have to walk around us. “You’ve got a sniper on the roof, but what about someone on the ground to grab them if they sneak up?”
“That’s my job. Now that you’re back and once you’re unloaded, I’ll be going back outside to do a circuit of the neighborhood.” Camille moved toward the door. “Speaking of which, let’s get you unloaded.”
It took us a few trips to get everything up the stairs, but we managed it by mid-afternoon. It would have been faster, but there was, as Camille said, a lot to clean up and the Nomad parents didn’t want to expose the children to all of the blood and gore. It took most of the rest of the day to get the corpses moved since there were more of them than I wanted to count. Camille had led the Wayfinders in an absolute slaughter. As the sun began to set, the Nomads began walking through their old home, setting everything to rights and gathering everything the bandits had left behind onto a table in the central rooms while I led the Wayfinders in getting a meal started.
Once we’d finished cooking, using most of the perishable supplies after checking that they were still good, Lucas and the scouts showed up. By the time we’d served the food and the Nomads started going over everything they’d found with Natalie, Camille returned.
“Any luck?” Lucas looked over at her as he scooped stew into his mouth.
“Yeah. I found a small patrol. They’re cooling their heels in one of the lower areas. We’ll get to them in the morning. Now, I just want food and a bed.”
“Ask and you shall receive!” I placed a bowl of stew and an ancient biscuit in front of Camille. “Soak the biscuit before you bite it. I recommend using the stew, but Lucas seems to be enjoying his biscuit water well enough.” Lucas raised his glass and swirled it around, sending the soggy lumps dancing again.
“How’s the state of our supplies?” Camille stuck her biscuit into her stew and then used her spoon to push it to the bottom of the bowl.
“With what we’ve picked up here, we can wait a week before leaving and then take out time getting to the enclave without worrying about running out. We could even wait here for the Blizzard to pass, first, if that’s what we want to do. That’d require hurrying once the Blizzard ended, but we’d still have a day or two of buffer without moving too quickly.”
Camille nodded, a pensive look on her face as she picked at her stew. “One of the bandits offered up a bit of information as I dumped them in their new temporary home. He said there’s a rumor going around, passed between bandit groups when they trade, that the Chicago enclave has some big thing happening before the blizzard.”
“Yeah?” I sat down with my own bowl of stew, sans biscuit. “Did they finally figure out where the heat was leaking out of the subway system?”
“No. Maybe. They rumor wasn’t about that. Apparently, they’ve got some kind of wall or barrier tech they’re going to put to use before the blizzard. According to the rumor, it’s supposed to fix everything including the cold so finally people can use computers outside of bunkers, grow food outside of greenhouses, and protect them against any of the monsters that show up.”
“Does it grant wishes, too? Maybe provide us all with immortality?” Lucas sniggered and took a swig from his biscuit water. “Maybe it can provide everyone with biscuits that are entirely water-soluble.”
“Laugh all you want, but this guy believed in what he said. Maybe it isn’t everything he wants it to be, but the rumors are worth checking out.”
“It’s kind of a moot point since we’re going there anyway.” I shrugged and stirred my stew a bit. “Does it really matter?”
“If the rumors are true, we should probably get there sooner, rather than later. I’d suggest skipping out on the rest we had planned and heading straight there.”
“We’d have a mutiny on our hands.” Lucas set his glass down and pushed his bowl aside. “I’d mutiny.”
I gestured at Lucas to calm down. “What would we gain by heading there before the Blizzard? If they’re testing out some new technology, better to wait until it’s been put through its paces before we put ourselves at risk near it.”
“That makes sense, Marshall, and I’d normally be one hundred percent with you on this, but there’s something you’re both overlooking.” Camille leaned on her elbows and propped her head on her folded hands. “If this group of bandits is sharing rumors with us that they’re getting from other groups of bandits, and they actually believe everything they’re saying, what do you think is going to happen to the enclave when they start up their barrier?”
“It’ll keep bandits out, so who cares?” Lucas shrugged.
“The bandits will attack and try to claim the enclave, and this barrier, for themselves.”
Camille nodded. “And if we want to keep the Chicago enclave alive, perhaps even settle down there for an extended rest, then we should go offer what help we can before it’s too late.”
“Shit.” Lucas sighed and pulled his food back towards him. “I’m going to eat, talk to Natalie about maps so she doesn’t murder me, get eight hours of sleep, and then head out. I’ll listen for more rumors and start clearing a path to the enclave. I’ll send a scout back for you all, so be ready to move by noon.”
I smiled at Lucas as he shoveled food into his mouth. “How do you know what I’m going to decide?”
“It’s easy.” Lucas shrugged. “You always opt for whatever is going to help people or protect the people trying to keep society together. Plus, they need our help. Not even the Chicago enclave could take on the full force of the local bandits.”
“Well, now you have the force of an order behind your plans. Get it done, Lucas. We’ll catch up to you tomorrow.”
“So much for resting up.” Camille spooned stew into her mouth. “I’ll revisit the prisoners in the morning, make sure they’ve shared everything they’ve got for us. In the meantime, I’m going to finish eating and then crash.”
“Get some rest. I’ll take care of guard tonight. We’ll need you in top form for clearing the way forward tomorrow.” Camille nodded and I turned back to my stew, planning how to tell everyone we weren’t going to stay here as we originally planned. It was going to be a hard sell, especially for the nomads, but the prospect of a return of at least parts of the life we knew before the collapse would be enough to tempt anybody. Even now, I had to push down the excitement bubbling up inside of me. I needed to stay focused, or else we’d never actually get the chance to find out.