Chapter 1

Caution: This Action/Adventure Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, Romantic, NonConsensual, Heterosexual, Fiction, Science Fiction, Post Apocalypse, Horror, Slow, .

Desc: Action/Adventure Sex Story: Chapter 1 - An ex-assassin tries to bring order into a world devastated by plague.

My name is Michael.

I used to have another name, but that was long ago before the Change.

I had never believed in werewolves, witches, vampires and such. There were enough real life monsters on TV and walking the streets. There was no need of anything more to scare a sensible person.

I was a loner after I left the Army, never quite fitting in with civilian society. I had my pickup and my travel trailer, and that was more than enough for me. I could pick up my home and travel from town to town and from job to job whenever I took the notion. And I took the notion about every 3 or 4 months.

I joined the Army at age 17 to avoid going to jail. The recruiter had promised me that the Army would teach me a trade. I did learn a trade in the Army and they taught me all too well. When I left the army 20 years later, the one thing I could do better than almost anyone else was kill people. Point me at a target, and the target dies.

There is the regular Army. Then there are the Special Forces. Then you have guys like me.

Ever wonder who gets the jobs that are too disgusting or "sensitive" for even Delta Force or the Navy SEALS?

We did. They called us, "The Ghosts." Because we weren't on any military payroll, we never lived on any known military base. Officially, we didn't exist. Did someone want to make an example out of someone and their whole family? Send in the Ghosts.

Twenty years of killing men, women and children. Two decades of putting my soul in a box and forgetting it existed. Over half of my life being one of the most evil fuckers ever to walk the planet. Then the day when they decide that it's no longer "politically expedient" to keep us around.

'Thank you, have a nice life, and please try not to kill anyone. And by the way, since you were never on any military records, you won't be getting any retirement check or VA benefits."

Thanks a fucking lot.

Those of us with any sense had accumulated a tidy bankroll stashed away somewhere. A lot of the others suicided.

I bought myself a camper and a truck and started drifting. I had to. Too long in one place and everybody starts looking like a target.

After three years of being a loner. Avoiding making friends. Finding a hooker when I needed to have that need met. And then traveling on again.

I wasn't worried about my ex-employers sending out someone to get rid of me. They knew better. If the hit team missed, I would go after the ones who gave the orders. And there wasn't a single person in the country that any of the Ghosts couldn't get to eventually. Not even the president.

Then some idiot managed to release the Hellbug.

I still don't know who or why, or even what the Hellbug is exactly. But I damn sure know what it does. When people get infected with the Hellbug, they either die horribly, or they Change. The ones who die are the lucky ones.

I was up in Montana, way the hell up in the mountains when the Hellbug plague hit.

In less than a month, 80% of the world's population died. Most of the rest Changed, becoming something less than human. But at the time it all started, I had no idea that anything unusual had happened. I was too busy enjoying the solitude of my mountain cabin. No TV, no radio, no mail, and nobody else within 30 miles.

I had just come down from the mountains to get some supplies. I had noticed the lack of traffic on the way into Billings, but didn't give it much thought at the time. Billings itself was like a ghost town. I pulled my truck into a Wal-Mart parking lot and sat there a moment to take stock. There should have been people moving in and out of the store, to and from their cars. There were vehicles in the parking lot, but there was an eerie stillness to the scene.

I reached under the seat and hauled out my gun belt and strapped it on. As I got out of the truck, I finally heard something. A woman screaming in terror. I am real familiar with that sound, having been the cause of it myself so many times. I drew my .45 and checked the load, then headed toward the noise.

As I rounded the side of the building, I saw that there was not one, but two women there. And what was attacking them was straight out of a nightmare. I had been isolated in the mountains, and I hadn't heard a thing about the Hellbug plague.

But I knew that what had just now ripped the throat out of one of the women wasn't something that I wanted to get any closer to. While it was feeding on the still quivering corpse of the first woman, I put two 230-grain hollowpoints into its head.

The second woman looked up at me when she heard the gunshots and scrambled to her feet. She looked at the dead bodies for a moment, then came running over toward me. "Come on!" she said as she passed me. "Where there's one of them there's more."

After what I had just seen, I figured that the best place to be was elsewhere, so I turned and followed her. "The blue truck with the trailer!" I called out to her. She altered her course towards my truck.

By the time I got there, she was trying to open the locked doors to get inside. I used my remote to unlock the doors, and she scooted inside and shut the door as fast and she could move.

Once I was inside the truck, I turned to the woman, the gun in my hand now pointed at her, and asked. "OK, you want to tell me what the fuck is going on around here? Where IS everybody?"

She looked at the .45 and went very still. "My name is Melissa Carter. And that was a Changeling that you shot back there."

"What the hell is a Changeling?"

Melissa brought me up to date on the whole Hellbug plague. "A Changeling looks like a stereotypical Hollywood werewolf. You saw the damn thing, and like a werewolf from the movies, they can transmit the virus or whatever the hell it is, through a bite or a scratch. If the person bitten or scratched survives the attack, within days, they either die, or Change. Thank God the Changelings don't have the intelligence to use weapons or vehicles."

"So you mean to tell me that that creature used to be human?" I asked incredulously.

"Yes, and you saw how it acted. More beast than human," she replied. "They kill anyone who isn't a Changeling, and when there are no humans around, they kill each other."

"Fucking wonderful." I spat.

"We'd best be getting out of here before more of those things show up." Melissa said nervously.

I holstered the .45 and started the truck. "Where can I find some gas around here?" I asked. "And sooner or later, we're going to need some supplies."

Melissa thought for a moment. "You could probably siphon some fuel out of the tanks at a filling station. If you're quick enough, we might even avoid attracting the notice of a Changeling pack."

I followed her directions to a gas station on the outskirts of town. It had a clear field of fire in three directions. Only the shell of the station building offered a blind spot.

"Can you use a gun?" I asked Melissa. She nodded. I reached into the back seat of the truck and hauled out a gun case. I handed it to her. "There's a 12 gauge shotgun in there loaded with five rounds of 00 buckshot. You see anything at all, shoot it and figure out what it was later."

She unzipped the case and slid the shotgun out. She kept the muzzle pointed at the floor as she worked the slide to chamber a round. I eased out of the pickup and reached into the back for my siphon hose and pump. As Melissa prowled on the other side of the truck, I pried open the lid to one of the big underground tanks and started feeding the hose down the hole. I filled two 10-gallon cans and used them to fill the tank on the truck, then filled all five 10-gallon cans that I had with me. I stowed the siphon hose and pump and loaded the gas cans into the bed of the truck.

"Cover me," I told Melissa. "I have to get inside the station and see if there's any thing there that we can use."

'Just hurry up," she said. "The longer we're out here, the more likely that a Changeling will catch our scent." I didn't bother replying. I just headed for the station, keeping low and fast.

Inside the station, there were a couple of long dead bodies, but nothing living, I grabbed a flat cart that still had boxes of canned goods on it ready to be stocked on the shelves. To the load I added anything that looked useful, including a few cases of motor oil. As an afterthought, I took every scrap of tobacco and every lighter, and every flashlight and battery I could find. I hauled the cart with its precarious load out to where Melissa waited and started stacking the boxes into the bed of the truck.

Just as I finished fastening a tarp over the load, I heard the shotgun boom twice in rapid succession. I turned around and saw two dead Changelings about 10 feet from the corner of the building. "Into the truck and lets get the fuck outta here!" I said.

Melissa was in the truck before I was, and was cranking her window down to poke the shotgun out. I was starting to like this gal.

As we pulled out and headed off down the highway, I could see the rest of the changeling pack emerge from around the side of the station and begin feeding on the bodies of their fallen comrades. When my pulse had slowed a bit, I looked over at Melissa. "Good shooting back there." "Thanks," she said. "I used to hunt ducks with my dad when I was a kid."

"So who was that that got killed back where I found you?" I asked. "That was my sister in law," she said. "We went into the Wal-Mart to look for guns, but there was a pack of Changelings laired up in there."

"Have you had any contact with anyone else that is still human?" "Only by radio." she said. "And that stopped a week or so ago."

"How did you manage to avoid catching the Hellbug?" I asked. "Same as you I suppose," she replied. "There was four of us living way the hell out in the country, and we stayed put through the worst of it." She shuddered. "Our husbands went into town a week ago to scavenge supplies, but they never returned, so Amy and I went looking for them."

Now that the immediate action was over, Melissa slumped down in the seat and gave way to the shakes. I looked over and saw the tears streaming silently down her cheeks. "I'm sorry that I wasn't in time to save your sister in law." I said. "But at least you're safe now."

She wiped the tears from her eyes and sat up a little straighter. "I didn't really know Amy all that well, and she could be a real dumb bitch at times, but she was all I had left," she said after a while. 'I met her when Charlie took me out to his brother's ranch so that we could work on saving our marriage," She made a noise that was half snort and half sob." The day I made up my mind to tell him that it was no use and that I was going to go back to L.A., the TV started showing the news about the Hellbug plague. So I stayed were I was. It was too risky to go back to a city where the plague would spread like wildfire."

Melissa looked around. "Where are we going?" "Back up into the hills," I answered. "It stands to reason that we have a better chance of finding other survivors away from population centers, and most likely, a lot fewer Changelings." She shrugged. "Makes sense I suppose," was all she said.

Actually, the main reason I wanted to get back to my place was to get my hands on my weapons cache. I had enough serious firepower there to fight a medium sized war. Damn near all of it was illegal, not that that was a consideration anymore. And I figured that we were going to need more than a shotgun and a couple of .45's if we were going to survive for very long.

Several hours later, we were at my cabin. Melissa helped unload the truck and unhitch the camper. I nodded to myself. She was willing to pull her own weight, she didn't ask a lot of questions, and most importantly, she had proved that she could shoot and kill without hesitation.

Once we had everything stowed, I left Melissa to fix something to eat while I went up to the cave about a mile from the cabin to raid my cache.

On the way up and back I had the time to think. If there was a God, he had one sick sense of humor. I finally get away from killing people, and some dumb fuck in a lab sets something loose that kills more people than anyone else in history. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the irony. I put those thoughts from my mind as I approached the cabin with my load of weapons and ammunition. The only thing to do now was concentrate on survival. Crying over the past was a waste of time.

When I returned, Melissa had a meal ready on the table and had even done the dishes that I had let go for a couple of days. I took an appreciative sniff of the tempting odors wafting up from the table. "Smells heavenly," I said. "Even more so since I didn't have to cook it."

She gave me a wan smile and seated herself across from me. The food was as delicious as it smelled, and I told her so, "Thank you," she said. "I wanted to let you know that I am not going to be dead weight around here." "Never thought you were." I replied. "Anyone who can shoot like you do is welcome to ride with me anytime."

After dinner, while she cleared and washed the dishes, I unpacked the weapons I had brought down from the cave.

"Who the hell are you anyway. Rambo?" I looked up to see Melissa staring in awe at the weaponry laid out on the living room floor. "Naw," I said with a grin. "Rambo was a pussy." Melissa chuckled. Not a girlish giggle despite her apparent youth, but a full-throated laugh from deep in her belly.

She sank down easily to sit cross-legged beside me. "Teach me how to use them."

As I started to describe the function of each weapon, I covertly studied Melissa as she sat there absorbing every word I said. She had taken off the flannel shirt she had been wearing when I found her, and was now wearing a tight sleeveless T-shirt and jeans that looked as if they had been painted on. She was about a foot shorter than my 6'1" and couldn't weigh more than 110. Small breasted and lean, she looked to be in better shape than I was. Her hair was a bit past shoulder length and she had pulled it back into a ponytail. When I realized I was staring, I turned my eyes away from her and picked up another weapon to demonstrate. When I had run through all the weapons, Melissa picked up each one and repeated everything I had said, word for word. I was impressed.

She caught my look and gave me a smug grin. "I was an Army brat," she said. "Daddy never had any sons, so he taught me all the 'boy stuff' instead."

I loaded all the weapons and positioned them around the cabin for easy access. Melissa watched my every move without stirring from her spot on the floor. When I was done, I opened a cabinet and took out sheets and blankets. "You can have the room down here. I'll sleep upstairs where I can have a clear field of fire out of the upper windows."

Melissa seemed to flow to her feet. "I'd rather not sleep alone" she said. "All I have to bring to this partnership is myself." She reached down and pulled her T-shirt off in one smooth move, exposing her pert breasts with the small pinkish brown nipples already starting to stiffen in the cool air if the cabin. "All of me."

I wasn't about to turn her down. It had been a long time since I had been with a woman, and God only knew if I would ever get the chance again. I put the bedding back in the cabinet and gestured for her to precede me up the stairs to the loft.

In the morning, we were both up at dawn. "Time for weapons practice." I told Melissa after breakfast.

She followed me outside to the area I used for target shooting. I took an H&K MP5K out of the duffel bag I was carrying and threaded a suppressor into the barrel. "We can't afford to attract attention with gunshots." I told her. "So we'll practice with suppressed weapons for now."

Melissa proved to be an apt pupil, and by the end of the morning could feather the trigger to get off three shot bursts in full auto mode. She shredded the hell out of any target I pointed her at. After the target practice, I told her to police up the spent brass for reloading while I went up to the cave for the rest of the weapons and explosives.

When I came back down, Melissa had a surprise for me. She had seen movement down in the trees and had gone to investigate. What she had found was a very scared teenager named Sandra. Sandra was filthy and stank to high heaven. I had Melissa take her into the bathroom and clean her up.

Over the next few days, I wondered just how Sandra had survived for so long. She was lazy, uncooperative, and thought she had all the answers to life. Typical 16 year old.

Even Melissa was losing patience with Sandra. The teenager refused to help with the dishes or any of the other chores, instead spending her time bitching about the lack of electricity, TV, etc. Me, I would have simply thrown the little bitch out on her ass the first day if Melissa hadn't taken such an interest in her.

About three weeks after Sandra showed up, we found another couple of strays. A woman named Connie and her 9-year-old daughter Ashley. Connie's story was all too familiar. Her husband and teenaged son had gone into town for supplies and had never returned. With all the extra mouths, it was time for another run to town. We left Connie and Ashley at the cabin. Sandra insisted on coming along with us since Connie had steadfastly refused to tolerate her bullshit.

We approached Billings cautiously. This time when we stopped at that gas station, Melissa had more than enough firepower to handle anything that might arise until I could get into action as well. Sandra refused to even touch a gun. "They're icky," she sneered.

Once we had all the fuel the truck would hold, we moved carefully toward downtown Billings. There were burned out houses and businesses everywhere we looked. But finally we found a store that looked relatively intact. I posted Melissa at the door as a guard while I explored the interior of the store. I loaded cart after cart with canned good and staples like beans, flour, sugar, rice and canned shortening. We had gutted the camper trailer to better use it for cargo, and in a couple of hours I had the trailer as full as I could safely get it.

When I signaled Melissa to return to the truck, I noticed that Sandra was missing. She had been sulking in the cab of the truck when I'd entered the store.

"Hey," I called to Melissa. "Where the hell's the kid?" "She stomped off a while ago. Said she was going to try to find a CD player and some music. I told her to wait, but she gave me the finger and took off that way." And she pointed toward the center of downtown.

"Let's go find her before the Changelings do." I said.

As we got into the truck, I looked at Melissa and said, "I'm gonna beat some brains into that little bitch before she gets us all killed." She just nodded her agreement.

We spotted Sandra walking downtown. She had changed clothes and was wearing a half T-shirt and low slung jeans with brand new Nikes. She had a portable CD player in her hand and headphones over her ears. "She must be suicidal!" exclaimed Melissa.

I pulled the truck to a stop a half block ahead of her and got out. "Sandra!" I yelled. "Get your ass over to the truck right now and quit screwing around." She gave me an insolent look and slowed her walk even further.

I spotted a movement out of the corner of my eye and went for my gun. But the Changeling was too close and already moving. I got off one shot just as it buried its fangs into Sandra's shoulder. The Changeling fell dead as Sandra tried to scramble away from it. The teenager managed to get to her feet, and started to stumble towards us, crying and holding her bleeding shoulder. "It's gonna be OK." I said comfortingly as she got closer to me. I put my arms out to her just as a three shot burst sounded from behind me. As I was looking at Sandra at the time, I saw the bullets rip into her belly, jerking her upright. She swayed there with a look of blank astonishment on her face, then another three shot burst nearly tore the girl's head off.

I spun around, and pointed my gun at Melissa. "Why the hell did you do that?" I yelled. "The wounds weren't anywhere near fatal." Melissa let her H&K dangle from its sling as she sobbed. "She was dead already!" she cried. "Do you think I wanted to kill her?"

I put her back into the truck and then got into the driver's seat. As we drove back to the cabin, Melissa leaned against my shoulder and cried as if her heart were broken.

When told of what had happened, Connie shrugged. "She did the right thing Michael. If she hadn't put Sandra down, she either would have died a horrible lingering death or became a Changeling herself. And we would still have had to kill her."

I sat down and put my head in my hands. God knows I'd killed girls Sandra's age and younger while I was a Ghost. Hell, I took out whole damn families. Too many to count. But I hadn't lived with them, started to care for them, thought of them as part of my family. I'd gotten out of the habit of thinking like a Ghost. But if our little band was to survive, I had to put my soul back in the box and become what I had always hated being.

I felt something settle in the pit of my stomach. An all too familiar feeling. The same damn sensation I always got before a mission. These abominations could not be allowed to exist. I looked up, and the women recoiled from the look in my eyes.

"Connie," I said. "Tomorrow, you, Melissa and Ashley take the truck and visit every farm and ranch in the area. If you find survivors, try to bring them back here. If you find any other working trucks, bring one back with you. Especially any 2 1⁄2 ton work trucks." "Ok," said Connie nervously. "What do you have in mind?"

I gave her a humorless grin. "We're taking the fight to the enemy." I said. "We're going to war."

Melissa relaxed a bit for the first time since she had killed the girl she had come to see as an adopted daughter. "I want to kill every damn Changeling in Billings!" she said.

"For a start." I replied. "But that's just the beginning." I shook myself and stood up. "Let's go get that trailer unloaded."

The next morning, I saw the women off on their search with a few last words. "If you see any signs of Changelings, leave the area immediately and get right back here. Don't try any heroics, don't get separated for ANY reason, and come home safe."

Melissa gave me a kiss before she climbed into the truck, and little Ashley gave me a hug before climbing in to sit between the two women.

The way I saw it, good recon would be the key to our success. The women were out of the question. They didn't have the training or the experience. But I could slip in and out of town easily enough. It had to be easier than some of the missions I had been on in the past. And if I could find a small airfield with an undamaged plane, there was a meadow about a mile from the cabin that would make a suitable airstrip. Air support could come in very handy, as well as providing a swift evacuation if needed. Flying various types of aircraft had been part of my training, and I figured to have no trouble with anything I would find at a small regional airport.

I sat in the kitchen and studied maps of the area, looking for places that might have Changeling lairs.

From what the ladies had told me, Changelings preferred to hole up in abandoned buildings such as the Wal-Mart where I had found Melissa. Emerging from their dens to hunt and feed. Changelings tended to band together into packs, and each pack had a well-defined territory, attacking anything, human or otherwise, that entered their turf. That could come in handy to know.

When I had memorized the maps, I packed them away and put on my battle gear. Out in the back of the cabin was a small shed where I kept a motorcycle. I wheeled it out into the open and started the engine as I settled onto the seat. It was time for me to go do what I did best.

About three miles from Billings, I shut down the bike and coasted into a driveway. The place looked deserted at first glance, but I knew better than to trust initial impressions. I eased the kickstand down and got off the bike, slipping the safety off the H&K that had been slung across my back.

There were three Changelings in the garage. They came charging out as soon as they heard the bike. I spotted them coming around the side of the house and opened fire. The suppressor on the H&K did its work, and the three Changelings dropped in a heap with a minimum of noise. Further recon of the house and garage showed nothing else living, so I pushed the bike into the garage and closed the door.

I faded back into the trees behind the house and made my way towards town. I found the carcass of a dead dog and deliberately rubbed it all over my body. Hopefully the smell would help disguise my human scent long enough for me to find what I had come for and get away.

I found traces of Changelings everywhere, and even spotted a few skulking around buildings that they lacked the wit to get into. It seemed that if there wasn't a window broken or a door already open, it never occurred to the Changelings to simply use the doorknob.

The really troubling sight was when I spotted a female changeling carrying a baby.

The mutation was breeding true.

Inside a Radio Shack, I found what I had come for, two-way radios and batteries. I also found a couple of battery chargers and added them to the already stuffed duffel bag across my back. I exited the store and carefully secured the door behind me. I might want to come back here and didn't want to find it full of Changelings.

It took me almost three hours to reach the garage where my bike was stashed, then another four hours back home to the cabin.

Melissa was standing guard on the porch with an AK47 when I rode up to the cabin. As soon as she was sure it was indeed me, she let the rifle dangle from the sling and came running to throw her arms around me. She backed off in a hurry and wrinkled her nose. "Phew! You stink like hell," she said.

I handed her the duffel bag and looked around. I saw another pickup and a nice big farm truck with a wooden livestock rack on the back. "You ladies did real good." I told her, and she flushed with pleasure at the praise.

"Come on in," she said. "We found a few people, but I think we're going to have trouble with one of them." "As soon as I get out of these stinking clothes and get a quick dip in the stream." I told her.

I had a spare set of battle dress utilities in the saddlebags of the bike, and I took them along when I walked to the stream. I stripped off the clothes I had been wearing and dove into the icy cold water, scrubbing hard with handfuls of sand to remove the smell of deceased canine as best I could. I put on the spare clothes, and strapped on my gun belt and slung the H&K. The smelly old clothes I picked up with a stick and hung them from a tree branch a few yards from the cabin clearing to let them air out.

When I entered the cabin, everyone went silent. Melissa came over and stood by my left side, leaving my gun hand free. "This is Michael," she said.

There were about a dozen people sitting around the living room, mostly women and children, but a couple of men as well. One of the men stood up. "Melissa here tells us that you're in charge here," he said. "My name is John Betts, and I've lived here all my life. Why should you be the one in charge?"

I looked him over, a stocky man about 40 with graying hair and a challenging air about him. "I am in charge because this is my cabin. Because I have training and experience that none of you have, and because with me, there is a chance that we can retake at least Billings from the Changelings and eradicate them."

Betts looked at me sourly. "But how can you challenge God's plan?" "What the hell are you talking about?" I asked as patiently as I could. "You are living in sin with that woman," he pointed at Melissa, "And yet you dare to challenge the test that God has set us in the form of these Changed Ones?" "As for my living with Melissa, I really don't see that as any of your business," I replied evenly, "As for the 'Changed Ones, ' I suppose that you have a better plan?"

Betts fairly shook with rage at my demeanor. "The Changed Ones were transformed by the power of God because they had lost their faith and strayed from the Teachings of the Bible!" He shouted. "It is our duty to God to guide them back to the paths of righteousness so that they may regain their humanity and shed their bestial forms." "You're nuts." I told him.

"The unrighteous must be cleansed from out midst!" he screamed. "And the insane must be driven from our midst," I replied as I drew my .45. "The door is over there. Don't let it hit you in the ass." He crossed his arms and stood there with his legs apart. "I shall not be the one that leaves," he said, "You are no longer welcome here in this house of God." I put a bullet between his eyes. "Anyone else want to go preach to the Changelings or challenge my leadership?" I asked. Only Melissa and Connie moved, and that was only to draw their own guns and hold them ready.

One woman stood up, still staring at Betts' rapidly cooling corpse. "I cannot stay with you," she said. "Are you going to kill me like you did my husband?" "I gave him the chance to leave. He refused." I answered. "If anyone else wishes to leave, they may do so now without repercussions. Those who stay must acknowledge me as the leader and follow my orders and the orders of those whom I place in charge over them."

Mrs. Betts looked around at the rest of the people, but none of them moved to join her. "Then I will take my leave." And she started toward the door. "If you wish to remain until morning, we will see to Mr. Betts and give him a proper burial." I said. "Thank you," she said in a tight voice. "But I cannot remain in this place with you any longer."

I watched her open the door and slip out.

Turning to the people, who had stayed, I pointed at a couple of the men. "Take the body outside and lay it in the shed. Tomorrow morning we will bury him as promised." I looked at Melissa. " Get some of these folks to help clean this mess up, and then come to the kitchen." She nodded. "You and you," she picked out a couple of the steadier seeming women. "Come with me and we'll get this place cleaned up so that we can all get some rest." The men I had tasked with carrying out the body returned and sat back down with their families.

I spoke up so that they could all hear me. "If you listen to me and do what I say, most of us will get out of this alive. I am going to train you as best I can, and then we are going to put that training to work. I don't care if you pray or not, just don't let it get in the way of our work. If you have any suggestions or ideas, feel free to come to me or Melissa with them."

I looked them over for a moment. "Melissa is my second in command not because she is my lover, but because she has proven that she can and will kill when needed, even to killing our own adopted daughter when she was bitten by a Changeling. When she gives an order, obey it as if it came from me."

I gave them a moment to absorb all this, and then continued. "As soon as possible, we will start construction of living quarters for everyone. In the meantime, find a place to sleep here in the cabin on the furniture, the floor, or wherever you can find room. No one leaves without permission, and from now on, everybody goes armed at all times. Any questions?"

No one spoke for a long moment, and then a little boy raised his hand. "When is supper?" I started laughing. "As soon as possible son." I replied.

Connie holstered her pistol and gestured for a couple more of the women to join her in the kitchen to prepare supper. I went to the big closet under the loft stairs and started taking out pistols and ammunition. "Strap these on and load them. Wear them at all times except when sleeping or bathing, and keep them within arms reach while you do that." I said.

Without having to be told, a teenage girl came over and started to take the gun belts from me and pass them around. One young man looked at the gun in his hands helplessly until one of the others showed him what to do. A good sign, the new folks were starting to help each other already.

When supper was ready, we all sat down to eat wherever we could find room. One of the women said Grace, and then we all dug in.

After the meal, I spoke to each of the new arrivals, getting their names and some of their background. One of the women, Becky, had been a Trauma team nurse at the hospital there in Billings. I promptly put her in charge of everything medical. The others all had useful skills except for the youngest children, and I was sure that we could find something for them to do. The teenager who had helped with the guns was named Vicki. She had come in as a loner, having lost her entire family to the plague early on. She attached herself to Melissa much the same as Sandra had, but with a much better attitude.

We buried Betts as promised, putting him in a grave overlooking the valley below. Connie read from the bible over the grave, and one of the men burned his name into a wooden slab to mark the grave.

Most of the people thought that I had chosen the gravesite because of the view. In reality, I had chosen it because there was plenty of room for more graves. I knew better than most that we would be losing people before this was over.

With all the new people around, it was hard to find the privacy to make love to Melissa properly. Finally though, I got tired of waiting and took Melissa up to the cave. I hadn't shown anyone else the cave yet, reserving it as a last ditch retreat if worse came to worst.

After we made love, I leaned my head down to kiss her, and thought about how hard it would be if I had to kill her someday.

After the first week, I sent teams out to scout the surrounding farms and ranches. They were to scavenge any supplies and weapons that they found, and to report back what they had seen.

One team didn't return, and I led a heavily armed patrol out to look for them. Melissa was left in charge at the cabin with strict orders to keep everyone inside and on alert until we returned. We found the team and their vehicle about 40 miles from the cabin, their truck was shot full of holes, and the bodies had been looted. This wasn't the work of Changelings. They didn't use weapons and had no use for anything the men had carried.

I scouted around and found where the ambushers had laid in wait. Someone had at least rudimentary training. There was a clear field of fire from the ambush point, and nowhere for the people in the trap to retreat. This was a far bigger danger to us than the Changelings. It was up to me to see that this didn't happen again.

I sent the patrol back to the cabin and set off to track whomever had ambushed our scout team. It didn't take long to find their trail. Evidently they weren't expecting anyone to be following them. I allowed myself a grim smile. This was what I had trained for.

It was well after midnight when I came upon the ranch house that the ambushers were using as their headquarters. The full moon gave me more than enough light to pick out the lone sentry at the main gate. Typical amateur mistake, forgetting that there was more than one way in and out of there.

I eased up behind the sentry and wrapped an arm around his throat, cutting off any outcry. I drove the point of my knife into the base of his skull where the spinal cord meets the brain. One convulsion and he went limp. I rolled the corpse into a ditch and headed for the ranch compound.

I move silently along next to the barn, listening for any sounds within. All I heard were some horses moving restlessly in their stalls. I found a loose board in one of the walls and slipped inside. I stood very still, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness as much as possible. I unhooked the flashlight from my belt and hooded the lens with my fingers. The flashlight had a red filter over the lens to protect my night vision, but I wasn't about to take a chance on someone seeing the light that I allowed to leak between my fingers. I made a fast search of the barn, but only found a dozen or so horses and a lot of hay bales.

I moved into an empty stall as the door at the front of the barn opened. I peered through a knothole in one of the boards in the wall of the stall. A bearded man was dragging a woman or girl by one arm and being none to gentle as she struggled. "Might as well relax missy," he said. "We took you fair and square, and I drew the high card, so you're mine first." That was all I needed to hear.

As they came abreast of the stall I was hiding in, I took a stun gun from a belt pouch and slipped out of the stall to move up behind them. I zapped the girl first, getting her on the back of the neck. She slumped down without a sound. As the man started to turn in shock, I drove my knife into his kidney; then again a backhand slash across his throat put him down quietly and permanently. I couldn't chance the girl coming to and screaming, so I ripped the dead man's shirt into strips, then bound and gagged her. I put her in the stall where I had been lurking and moved toward the partially opened barn door.

From the barn, I could see the house clearly. All I had to do now was to find a way inside without being seen. I left the barn, keeping to the shadows as I eased around to the back of the house.

Some fool had left the back door open. No doubt thinking that they were nice and secure here. I moved to the door, and after a quick peek inside, entered. I was in the kitchen of the house. The smell of the rotted food on the unwashed dishes nearly made me puke. I threaded a suppressor onto the barrel of my .45 and started down the hallway toward the front of the house. If they thought that they were safe, they most likely wouldn't have their weapons within reach.

The more I could kill before they woke up to the fact that they were under attack, the easier it would be to finish off the rest. I wasn't interested in taking prisoners. Well, not for long anyway.

There were three men in the living room engaged in raping a woman on the floor. Two were holding her down while one writhed atop her. The woman saw me with my gun in my hand, but didn't make a sound and turned her eyes the other way. My first shot took out the guy holding her legs. As he slumped, I shot the one holding her arms. The man on top of her tried to lunge for a gun on the floor nearby, but the woman wrapped her arms and legs around him, holding him long enough for me to put a bullet into the side of his head. She rolled the body off of her and scrambled to her feet. I grabbed her arm and pulled her close to whisper in her ear. "How many are there and where are they?" "Four more in the house upstairs with my daughter," she whispered back. "And one more that took my sister out to the barn." "The one in the barn is dead and your sister is safe but tied up out there. Go out through the kitchen and go to the barn. I'll meet you there when I'm done here." I whispered to her. Then I gave her a shove toward the hallway and moved on to the stairs leading to the second floor. I eased up the stairs, keeping my feet next to the wall where any loose boards would be less likely to squeak and give me away. The first two rooms I checked were empty. In the third a man was sleeping. My knife made sure he would never wake up again.

In the next room, I could hear the girl sobbing and pleading and male voices laughing and jeering at her. I moved to the door of the occupied room and found it partly open. I pushed the door open with my foot and saw the girl tied to the bed while a man was amusing himself by jabbing her bare belly with a lit cigar. No one looked up as the door opened until I spattered the cigar man's brains all over the wall with a pair of shots from the .45. The other two men dove for their guns. I shot the one on the right first, a double tap that put him down. The one on the left got off one shot that grazed my side before I put a round into each of his shoulders. The girl on the bed was rigid with terror, as scared of me as she had been of the men who had been torturing her. I couldn't blame her. She flinched when I approached with my knife out and opened her mouth to scream. But she closed it again when I used the blade to cut the cords holding her feet to the bedposts, and then cut her hands free. "Your mother and aunt are out in the barn. Go there and stay put until I get there. Got it?" She nodded and scooted off the far side of the bed, then sidled along the wall as far from me as she could get until she could bolt out the door. I turned back to the man I had shot in the shoulders and kicked him over onto his back. "You and me are going to have a little chat about your operation here." I told him with a smile.

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