With a full utility belt and arms, I carried my new equipment down the hall and over to the bike. Watching through my implant as the new components integrated, I didn’t see any error messages.
I’d tested it and knew there shouldn’t be errors, but it was nice to know that that was true in reality.
Mateo had already seated himself on his bike, “Ready?”
“Think so. It’s only a small modification and one that I’d planned for when I designed the bike. There’s no reason to think that anything will go wrong.”
His risen eyebrow was visible through his helmet’s face shield, “Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
I pulled on my helmet, “Mostly me. Are we going to Unity’s base?”
Pushing the button on the handlebar that started the engine, he said, “That’s what Working Man told us to do. We’ll follow directions until there’s a good reason not to.”
Then he drove his bike out of the garage and into the spoke and the elevator.
Starting my bike with a thought that my implant relayed, I followed him out, using my communicator to reply, “Like the base being overrun?”
“That,” he said, watching me as I stopped in the middle of the room, “but even then we might want to check if there’s anyone we can save.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
We drove our bikes into the middle of the spoke, waited as the walls came up around us, and rode the elevator up to the tower. There, after checking the cameras, we activated the door and drove out into the street.
It felt eerie and empty in a normal sense as opposed a, “full of the undead,” sense. We weren’t the only vehicles on the road, but it felt like it. Between the blocks with one house or a couple of darkened businesses and seeing headlights a long way down the road ahead, I could imagine that we lived in a post-human world.
As we passed a block that had been transformed into an urban farm, I thought I saw a pumpkin move. It was several rows back from the road, so if I wasn’t imagining things, it chose not to give chase.
I had no idea if a pumpkin vampire would be harder or easier to defeat than a watermelon vampire, but I didn’t need to find out through personal experience. Maybe someone would fight them both and tell me about it someday.
It wasn’t the only urban farm on our way. I watched for moving vegetables each time.
I didn’t see any. I did see some raccoons and a skunk. The raccoons looked up from investigating a bag with a McDonald’s logo to watch us with interest. The skunk didn’t even stop waddling across the street as we passed it.
In the back of my mind, I wondered if it would be worth stopping to see if we could reach “Skunk Lord,” the Detroit super who controlled small mammals, deciding not to. He had a tendency to show up when he wanted to and not as requested for one. For another, if the vampires (or the Dominators) got into his head, I didn’t like our chances.
When we reached the highway, it felt more normal. With the steady stream of trucks and cars, some of which were likely headed toward Canada, I could believe it was a normal night.
That belief ended when Mateo said, “Let’s get off the highway early. It’s easier for them to watch the highway exits than all the roads into downtown.”
He wasn’t wrong. We took an exit about four miles earlier than we needed to, driving upward into a neighborhood of small, rectangular houses and empty lots where there used to be more. It didn’t feel as empty as it did near the Tower, but even in the dark, I still felt the lack.
As we came to a stop at the first stoplight at the end of the exit ramp, bats fluttered down and then materialized into human shapes wearing black. Switching to the helmet’s composite view, I hoped that it would be enough to avoid looking into their eyes.
“I’ll take the one on the right,” I began.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mateo pulled out two plastic bags of white rice from a compartment on his bike and threw them in front of the vampires. The bags broke, scattering across the road.
Instead of trying to grab us, they bent down and began to count the grains. “One! Two! Three grains of rice! Four…”
We roared off and they kept on counting, one of them glaring in our direction as we did, but not stopping.
I glanced over at Mateo. He was checking his mirror, not trusting whatever he’d done either, but they were still counting.
“What was that all about?”
He stopped checking the mirror to look at me, “I read that if you throw rice or salt to the ground, vampires are compelled to count the grains. So I bought some rice while you were buying garlic powder at the grocery store.”
We’d visited it last night after the hardware store.
“I think we need to hurry. It looks like they have to count but it doesn’t look like they like it. They’re going to tell people or come after us.” Then I had another thought, “Do you think that’s where Sesame Street came up with Count Von Count?”
Mateo checked his mirror again, “I don’t know, but I think I should have just bought salt. It’s got more grains for the same space.”