In a post-apocalyptic future overrun by rabid vampires, Peter Masterton and the Night Killers squad fight to protect the domed cities while maintaining their own humanity.
Facing abandonment by the cities, Peter discovers the vampires are working on a new mutation of the vampire virus that could tip the balance and destroy humanity.
Fighting lingering effects of his own infection, Peter and the squad race to stop the vampires or die trying.
Rebecca M. Senese says her name rhymes with "menace." Which is a mantra I always think about when I read her darker stories. (Sometimes she writes more light-hearted fare. I know. Hard to imagine.) Rebecca is one of my favorite writers, and I've been wanting to include one of her books in a bundle for a long time. She writes a lot of horror, and I didn't plan on doing a horror bundle ever. But once I settled on fear, Rebecca was the very first person I contacted. You'll see why when you read The Night Killers. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The air still held the bite of coldness an hour before dawn. The old truck rumbled over the cracked asphalt, every bump telegraphing through the seat into Josh Masterton's rump as he drove. He'd left the pillow with his brother Peter in the van following them and he missed it now. Beside him in the passenger's seat, Sister Theresa gazed out the window, her hands on the submachine gun in her lap.
Just one more hour before they could relax, one more hour for the sun to rise over the distant hills and bleach the desert floor in pale tans and white. One more hour before the safety of daylight burned away the worry about the vampires. Until then, the whole squad stayed alert in their small convoy with Josh driving the lead truck, the van with Peter as spotter in the center, and the last truck in the rear. Anything could come at them in the dark.
Josh itched for the sun to rise. Another few hours drive after that and they'd be back in the domed city, stocking up, hitting the bars, maybe even get a few days off before heading out on another patrol. He'd lobby hard for that vacation. Let some of the other squads take care of the vampires for a few days. He wanted some time off.
Before him, the headlights traced the broken trail of the asphalt. This far out of the domed cities, no one looked after the conditions of the road. As they drove through abandoned small towns, Josh watched the fingers of the desert sending tendrils of sand everywhere, even across the main highway. In the headlights, sand drifted across in the breeze. Without the blazing heat of the day, that sand reminded him of snow. It felt cold enough at times. Another few years and this road would be impassable. Then he'd really need that pillow during patrol.
"Josh, report in." Rick's voice buzzed in his earbud. As squad leader, he rode in the back truck. Josh touched the throat mic.
"All clear ahead," he said. "You see anything, Sister?"
The old nun shook her head. "I think there's an old farm house out there." She pointed ahead and to her right. Josh peered through the windshield. Was that darker shadow an actual building or just a play of the darkness in the desert? After so many years, he still couldn't be sure.
"Might have some buildings off to the right," Josh said.
"Keep alert," Rick said.
"Roger." Josh released the mic. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel. Another jolt tugged the truck to the right, the headlights flashing a beam of light across the landscape in a brief flare, illuminating sand drifts, stunted vegetation and rocks. For a moment, Josh thought he saw movement. Was that the building in the distance? Had he seen a crumbling barn or did it just remind him of the innumerable crumbling barns he'd seen over the last ten years? Had there been real movement?
"Did you see that, Sister?" he said.
She leaned forward against the seat belt. A frown wrinkled her face even as she scrutinized where he pointed.
"I don't see anything," she said.
Josh squinted. He was sure he'd seen something move. He turned his head to watch the spot roll by on the right. A blur caught the corner of his eye to the left. A large male vampire landed with a thud on the roof of the truck. In the darkness, all Josh could see was the flash of teeth as it snarled.
"Son of a bitch." Sister Theresa lifted the submachine gun and blasted through the truck's windshield. It shattered, showering her in tiny flakes of shatterproof glass. The male vampire fell back on his heels. Before he could get up, she leaned forward as far as the seat belt allowed and sprayed again.
Josh yanked the wheel to the left. The male vampire flew off. Josh hit the brakes. The truck skidded to a stop. As he opened the door, he heard vampires snarling and the answering blasts from the squad's guns. As usual they were giving as good as they got.
"Let's get them!" Sister Theresa shouted. She threw open the door and jumped out. Her short, wiry body disappeared into the night. Josh scrambled to follow her, grabbing the Uzi he kept strapped under the steering wheel.
The headlights of his truck illuminated a scene from a nightmare. Six vampires were attacking the squad. The sound of their snarls made his blood freeze. To Josh's right, Rick Collins jammed his shotgun under the jaw of a blonde vampire and pulled the trigger. She howled, fangs glinting in the light, as the top of her head exploded in a red spray. Her body convulsed, fingers twitching. She landed on her ass in a cloud of dust, then struggled to rise. From behind, Sami Jamspar spun and slammed a wooden stake into her back. She spun again and kicked the stake home. The vampire screamed and collapsed face first in the dirt.
Sami grinned, her teeth white against her black skin. "Come join the party, Josh," she said.
He didn't have to be asked twice.
They fought until a few minutes before dawn then the two remaining vampires fled. Rick motioned with his shotgun for them to pursue. Josh raced back to the truck, heading for the driver's side.
"Wait!" Sister Theresa's shout stopped him.
He looked around. She was standing by the spotter's van. Her lined face was grim, dust streaking her greying hair and coloring her black pants and top in broad brush strokes of grime and dirt. Josh's heart began to pound. Fuck, he thought. He took a step towards her.
"What's going on?" Raj al Abulah called from the other truck. He hung out the driver's window. Josh noticed absently a small cut oozing blood over his right eye. They would have to patch that before the next run. Fresh blood brought the vamps coming from miles.
Beside Raj, Sami peered over his shoulder. Rick, who was pointing out directions, spun to look at Sister Theresa.
Josh ran toward the spotter's van.
Sister Theresa stepped back as he came closer. He didn't like her expression any more than he had a moment ago, and he liked it less when he saw the back of the van.
Made from the same reengineered alloy as the city domes, the van was virtually impenetrable. It had to be, carrying the most precious equipment and cargo that a squad carried. Josh swallowed when he saw the damage.
The doors had been ripped open, twisted on their hinges like so much taffy. Inside the van, the equipment was trashed and tossed in a mess, but Josh didn't give a fuck about the equipment.
"Shit," Rick's whisper came from just over his shoulder.
Josh leapt forward, pushing past the ruined doors. He tossed aside several shattered consoles before he spotted a worn running shoe.
"Peter," he whispered.
"Let's get him out." Rick helped him move the torn bench seat. Peter, Josh's younger brother, lay underneath, his blond hair tousled like he'd been tossing in his sleep. His arms were twisted up by his face, his forearms a mess of scratches.
"Oh Christ, oh Christ." Josh whined it like a mantra.
Rick's face was stone. "Let's see if he's bit."
They grabbed his legs and pulled him out. As they laid him gently on the ground, he began to stir.
"What... what happened?"
"Ambush," Rick said shortly. "Did you pick up anything beforehand?"
Peter shook his head and winced. "No, I didn't feel anything."
"A jammer," Sister Theresa said. "That's the only way they'd know to distract us and hit the spotter van."
"Are you bit?" Rick asked.
"Give him a break, Rick," Josh said. He knelt by his brother. "He just woke up."
Peter blinked. Josh could see fear forming in his blue eyes.
"I don't think so," he said.
Rick's expression was flat. "Check." He nodded at Sister Theresa. As she bent down to inspect the young man, Rick turned away to stare at the rising sun. He pressed two fingers to his throat.
"Sami, come in."
"Sami, here, Rick. We've tracked the last two to an old farm house. Shall we go in and take them? Over."
"Hold off. There could be more than two. They hit the spotter van and Peter didn't sense them. Could be a jammer among them. Over."
He could hear Sami swear softly in his ear bug. "Is he okay, Rick?"
He glanced over at Sister Theresa. She was running her gnarled fingers over Peter's back, looking for telltale puncture marks.
"Don't know," he whispered. "Set up a Kaminski barrier field and come back. Out."
He released the mike and turned. Peter held his left arm up and Sister Theresa was peering intently at his armpit. She looked back at Rick and he thought he saw tears in her eyes.
"Take a look at this."
She scooted away as Rick bent over. This close he could practically smell the fear radiating off Peter. His blue eyes were unnaturally wide on his thin face but he didn't say a word. He'd been with the squad two years now; he knew the drill.
Rick saw two tiny marks buried just beneath the hair in Peter's armpit, so small, they could be birth marks. But each member of the squad had all birth marks and moles meticulously documented. Rick didn't remember Peter having any under his arm.
Records could be wrong, he thought.
"Peter, do you have any birth marks under your arm?"
At first he thought the young man didn't hear him. Then Peter swallowed.
"No," he whispered.
"This is bullshit," Josh shouted. He pushed Rick out of the way and grabbed Peter's arm, staring closely at his armpit.
"Look at them, they're blemishes. Pimples or something."
Sister Theresa sighed. "No, they aren't, Josh."
"Like hell they're not. No offence, Sister, but you haven't seen a pimple for forty years."
"It's a bite, Josh," Rick said quietly.
"No, it isn't."
"No!" His voice was a wail. He jumped to his feet, yanking Peter up. Peter stumbled then stood unsteadily.
"You aren't killing him," Josh shouted.
Rick stood up, his hands outstretched. He was acutely aware of the Uzi Josh still gripped in his hand.
"Josh, he's been bitten." Rick kept his voice even toned. "He's got three days at most before he changes. He's a spotter. You know we can't let him change, he'll be able to block other spotters and something like this could happen again. He knew the risk, just like all of us. It's part of the job."
"Fuck the job," Josh said. "He's my brother. He's all I've got left. You can't take him."
"We've all lost somebody to those bastards," Rick said. "Their fucking arrogance and lust for immortality screwed all of us. It'll keep going if we don't stop it and it has to stop now." He took a step forward. "Josh, please."
The Uzi lowered and Josh's shoulders slumped. Behind him, Peter trembled as if feeling some incredible cold none of the others could feel. Rick didn't want to look at him but couldn't bring himself to look away.
"Fuck you!" Josh lunged, knocking Rick back against Sister Theresa. They fell in a heap.
Josh whirled, grabbing Peter's arm and dragging him toward the truck. Rick struggled to his feet as the truck peeled away. He hit his throat mike.
"Sami, Raj, get back now!"
"We're three minutes away, Rick." Sami's voice came back. "What's up?"
"Peter was bitten. Josh took him and the truck and fled. They're AWOL." He took a shuddering breath. "Send out a signal."
Sami was quiet for a moment then her voice came back in a hush. "Boss, you sure?"
Damn, he hated when she called him that. "Do it," he said and broke connection. He turned to look at Sister Theresa who stood at the front of the van.
"Engine's trashed," she said. "We'll have to wait." Her face sagged. "Dammit Rick, why Peter?"
He turned away from her, staring off into the distance where Josh had disappeared. The sun cast tentative rays of light across the sparse underbrush. A breeze rose up, stirring the dust hanging in the air from Josh's escape. The ground looked bleached and raw, an open sore where only stunted trees and weeds grew. When the sun rose to full zenith, its harsh light would burn the ground like blanched bones.
Why Peter? The words rang in his head. He knew exactly why, because Peter had the rare psychic ability to track the vampires better than any of the high tech gadgets the domed cities foisted on them. His ability made him priceless as a human and dangerous as hell if he changed, because as a vampire that same ability that made him an excellent spotter would make him invisible to other spotters. Virtually undetectable.
And they had three days to find him.