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James Marshall (NPC)

A fiery old man with some fight left in him.

0 · 237 views · located in Season 3

a character in “The Walking Dead: Online”, as played by Captain Calamity

Description

.: James Marshall :.


Image



Description:

 Name
James Avery Marshall

 Portrayed By
Clint Eastwood

 Profession
Pot Farmer

 Age
68

 Gender
Male

 Height/Weight
6'1" -- 187 lbs

 Nationality/Ethnicity
Irish, American

 Tattoos/Scars
A few scars on his right calf from getting caught on a barbed wire fence as a kid, plus several scars from taking buckshot to the shoulder during a hunting accident.

 Clothing/Outfit
His only wardrobe is one consisting of overalls (coveralls if its cold), white tees, and woolen plaid shirts. He has a brown leather cowboy hat that he wears from time to time with a custom-made metal buckle on it -- of a marijuana leaf.



Traits:

 3 Traits
Tenacious -- Doesn't give up easily; will do anything to get what he wants.
Good Judge -- Is an amazingly good judge of character; can see right through someone.
Fearless -- Never shies away from danger; habit of old age.

 3 Flaws
Stubborn -- Difficult to talk out of things; very persistent.
Old-Fashioned -- Has a hard time accepting change; has an indifference to others.
Provoking -- Knows how to rile someone up; gets under their skin to weaken them.



Personality:

 Fears
Afraid of Being Alone, Afraid of the Open Sea, Afraid of Losing His Sight.

 Aspirations
Wants to build his own ranch one say, Wants to be a grandfather, Wants to live to a 100, etc.

 Dominant Emotion
Pride

 Demeanor
James is what you would call old-fashioned. He is certainly set in his ways, and hates to be proven wrong or even challenged. Having grown up amongst seven other siblings, he developed tough skin early on and learned to fend for himself. He has a hot temper, but channels his anger into his work. Though he doesn't respond well to change, James is able to adapt to new circumstances quickly -- always the survivor. He is not one to let somebody ill-equipped for a job, stumble their way through it. He knows one's strengths and takes advantage of them if he can. He doesn't come off as a warm conversationalist cause he would prefer some peace and quiet over some good company any day of the week.

 Quirks/Oddities
Even through his rough disposition, James is quite the songbird. He has adopted the 'whistle while you work' approach, boasting a vast catalogue of songs.

 Skills/Proficiencies
Can Whistle, Horseback Riding, Farming/Agriculture, Hunting & Trapping, Tracking, Outdoor Survival, Knot Tying, Knives, Handguns, Shotguns, Rifles, Motorcycle Use, Spanish, Automotive Repair, Basic Mechanics, Sailing, Fishing, etc.



Equipment:

 Any item/weapon that your character typically has on them?
A lucky dollar coin.

 Do they carry any keepsakes, trinkets, or valuables on them?
Keeps his grandfather's class ring on is right hand.

 What is their weapon of choice?
James prefers guns with some kicks to them -- shotguns and rifles mostly.

 Is there a special piece of clothing or jewelry that they typically wear?
He often wears a worn brown leather cowboy hat with a medallion in the shape of a marijuana leaf on it.



History:

 One of eight siblings raised on the ranch together.
 Dropped out of school at 17.
 Served eight years in the Marines as a Sniper.
 Worked at brother's ranch when he returned to the States.
 Won small lottery fortune at 43; $500,000
 Lost one brother to leukemia in the Winter of '87.
 Takes a shotgun blast to the shoulder during a hunting trip; doctors say he may not have full radial movement of his arm again.
 Retires from his job at the horse ranch to pursue other things.
 Purchases a farm in Southern California where he dabbles in pot farming amongst other things.

So begins...

James Marshall (NPC)'s Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC)

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.: Calvin Hawke :.


The sound of running water was the only thing Calvin could hear as he ran his hands over his face. It had felt like forever since he had had a bit of peace and quiet. Bloody streaks swirled around the porcelain sink and down the drain. Calvin tore a few paper towels from the dispenser and patted his face dry, staring for a moment at his tired eyes in the mirror. The automated faucet stopped itself, and a gentle silence hung over the bathroom as he just stared. The eyes looking back at him weren't the ones he remembered, nor the ones he needed right now -- but sleep was still far away. He wondered where Sarah was and whether she was having better luck. Hopefully she had friends to help her get away because Calvin knew there was nothing he could do to help her now. If there was time, he would come back for her... but it just wasn't safe to stay in the city any longer.

Calvin stepped out into the hallway, brushing his hands dry on his shirt. Nathan leaned against the wall with a couple bottles of water. He tossed one to Calvin and twisted his own open, taking a long nice pull from it. "Thanks," Calvin said, opening his. Nathan chugged the last of his water and executed a hook shot into the trash can at the end of the hall. The empty plastic bottle ricocheted off the rim into the waste bin with a clunk.

"What a crazy day," Nathan lamented, wiping his face clean. "I wish I knew this was going to happen. I wouldn't have bothered doing my taxes this year."

Calvin choked on his water a bit, laughing. "I'm sure there's worse regrets than being a good taxpayer," he mused. Nathan shrugged and started down the hallway. Calvin followed as the two of them entered the tiled floor break room. Motion-sensored fluorescent lights flickered to life above them. On top of the fridge in the corner, a small TV showed Harper on the roof mid-report. The camera slowly surveyed the cityscape, trails of billowing smoke reaching up to the sky in what looked to be a city in flames.

"There's a career-maker," Nathan said as he tossed Calvin a bag of chips from the snacks shelf.

"Probably more of a career-ender really..." Calvin replied, pulling the bag open. He put on a voice: "I'm Harper Hopkins, signing off from the end of the world."

Nathan swung his leg over a chair nearby, saddling it as he dug into a jar of peanut butter with his finger. He licked his thumb clean and jerked it at the television. "You think she's gonna be OK?"

Calvin crunched down on a chip. "Who, Harper?"

"She was kind've quiet on the drive back."

"We all were," Calvin said, thinking. "She's probably just trying to make sense of this like anybody else. She may actually be doing better than we are. Harper's had experience with this kind of thing, after all, working out in the field like she has."

Nathan looked back at the TV at her. "I guess you're right..."

Calvin saw the look in his eyes as he watched the reporter do her thing. Whatever it was, there was something there -- something in that look.

"What about you," he started, "are you alright?"

Before Nathan could answer, his eyes widened at something on the screen. Calvin turned to look just in time to see Harper's camera operator swing around to focus on a truck careening through the parking lot towards the station. The two of them took off sprinting towards the garage to receive the incoming survivors. As they burst through the main floor, Nathan grabbed Chuck and one of the nearby assistants to help. The four of them tore down the stairwell and into the garage. Nathan immediately hit the button for the door as the rest of them scrambled to find weapons nearby. Chuck grabbed hold of his old bat, while Calvin acquired a crowbar from a shelf nearby. The automatic door began winding up into the roof as the sounds of chaos spilled in from outside. Screeching tires preceded the truck as it suddenly came spinning into view from around the corner. A couple of walkers clung desperately to its frame as it came barreling towards the garage. An older man was behind the wheel, gripping it for dear life as he fought control. A couple of men stood in the bed of the truck attempting to knock off the clinging monsters. Calvin retreated a few steps out onto the loading dock as he waved his arms to flag down the incoming survivors.

"On your left, Calvin!" Nathan shouted out from somewhere behind him. Calvin turned to see a handful of walkers stumble down onto the main portion of the ramp beside him. He felt the others at his back as he approached the first of them. He jabbed the straight end of the crowbar through the forehead of the closest walker, its body crumpling into a heap before him. Nathan came flying into sight next to him, driving a screwdriver into the temple of his assailant as the others swung their weapons wildly at the remaining walkers, warding them back away from the door. The truck cruised between the railings, laying on its horn loudly. Calvin hugged the railing as the truck skidded to a stop behind the news van. Once they were clear of the door Nathan hit the button again, sliding it closed. A rogue walker fell loose from the truck and tumbled to the ground in front of them. One of the men in the back of the truck hopped down beside the creature and plunged what appeared to be a fire poker into the back of its head. The man twisted the weapon free from the back of the walker's head and wiped it clean on his pant leg.

The other guy, a black man in a beret, jumped down from the bed of the truck and clapped a hand on Calvin's shoulder. "Thanks for the assist, man." Calvin nodded as he passed, eyeing the rest of the group as they exited the truck. The cab door opened up and a small girl stepped down. She was quickly pushed out of the way by the older man who had been driving. He reached into the front seat and began pulling out a fifth member of their group. Another young girl, this one maybe 18 or 19, fought back tears as they moved her carefully. She put her arms around the black guy and the man with the fire poker as they lifted her from the truck, and it became apparent to that she was severely injured and still bleeding.

"God damnit, get her upstairs!" the old man shouted at the two of them. Nathan gestured for them to follow him as he ran ahead. Calvin followed behind as the group of survivors burst into the newsroom loudly. Someone shouted out an order to clear some space as they set the girl down gently onto one of the desk. The girl screamed bloody murder as they struggled to keep her in place.

"Jack," the old man shouted at the guy with the fire poker, "get us some towels -- something to stop the bleeding!"

"C'mon--" Nathan said, motioning at the messy-haired man to follow him. The two raced off down the hallway as Calvin took the man's place lending his hands to help the flailing girl. In the corner of the office, the little girl watched silently as she hugged her little stuffed panda to her face.

"What happened?" Calvin asked.

The old man shot a look his way. ”She was attacked by one of those damned things." He explained, applying more pressure to the girl's neck. "Would've torn her right out of the car if we didn't get out of there like we did..."

"It's the little one's babysitter. We found them in a grocery store." The black man went on to explain. "I'm Wayne, by the way... this here is James. The kid is Lily." Calvin nodded to them. "And this here is Amber, I think." He finished, looking down at the injured girl.

"Not for long she isn't... where are those damned towels?" James growled.

He dabbed at the bleeding wound with the collar of her shirt, revealing more of it to Calvin. He could distinctly make out deep bite marks around her collar bone. It had already turned a nasty greenish-purple and begun swelling. "One of those things did this?" Calvin wondered aloud. Whatever these creatures were, they were not to be underestimated. He had seen the damage they could do, not to mention the damage they could take. If they were to do anything else, they were going to need to arm themselves or they wouldn't last long. Calvin looked into the eyes of the poor girl on the table and saw her eyes fluttering, desperately clinging to consciousness -- he feared there would be more blood shed before the day was over.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

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Harper Hopkins


Nathan dashed down to the stairs to the photographers' floor, where a large set of lockers and even showers hung off via a hallway from the main room. Jack wasted no time behind him, cycling his legs down the concrete staircase.

He'd only just landed in L.A., and this was the kind of greeting he'd gotten upon his long-awaited return. It had been a surprisingly uneventful arrival; calm flight, calm disembarkment, calm afternoon and night... but not a calm late morning, when his plans were interrupted by a lousy, ghoul-faced tourist in sandals who thought it would be a great idea to bust his door down. One broken lamp and a short car ride later, he found himself clutching his pistol, hiding behind a dumpster not far from the Los Altos Apartments on Wilshire Boulevard.

Nathan skittered to the lockers and snagged a hold of the stash of spare towls. "Here, man, thanks," he said as he tossed two rolled towels to him, then plucked the first aid kit from a higher shelf. "Let's head back up."

Jack said nothing as he continued to keep pace with the tall blond-headed jock with the vest. Now wasn't the time to ask or answer any questions.

Nathan burst through the door to the newsroom and came upon the scene--Steve Hilpin and the old man arguing, while the girl continued to bleed on the desk. The news director looked as though he was having far better luck at containing his frustration, while the old man's face was burgundy as he pointed to the desks. The little girl gripped her panda for dear life and the producers and editors buzzing in the newsroom stood nervously, unsure of what to do.

"Sir, we can appreciate your position, but, once again, we need those desks to do work," Steve insisted firmly.

"Goddammit!" James fumed. Calvin was still perched next to the girl, gripping her white-knuckled hands as she dug her nails into her own palm to brace against the pain. "What 'job' are you doing, staying on the airwaves so your coporate shill ratings will go through the roof??" he demanded.

"People are depending on us to give them information on how to survive," Steve responded immediately. "There is no handbook on how people can work through this."

"Hey!" Calvin interjected, "we're wasting time!" He, Jack, and Nathan were working together furiously to press and hold the towels straight onto the girl's gaping neck wound. James abandoned the argument and joined in, providing a fourth pair of hands in holding her shoulders down as she started to shake vigorously, her body in shock due to the blood loss she'd sustained by that point.

# # #

"Clear," Schantz piped after the newscast's director buzzed into her ear to let her know the broadcast was wrapped. "George and Maxine want to talk to you."

Harper nodded as the two started to pepper her ear. "Next time pick it up a little, Harper," Maxine's voice edged up, making a poor attempt at covering her needless criticism with sappy sweetness. "You look like you haven't slept in days."

Harper rolled her eyes. "Wow, Maxine, you try having the afternoon we had," she shot back flatly. She pulled off her blood-flecked jacket, the warm night air and her nerves starting to become uncomfortable. She smoothed out her gray summer cotton slacks and re-clipped her mic to her lavender-purple tank top.

Maxine huffed. "You have no idea," she said, "one of them came at us when we were downstairs in the lobby coming in to work. Chuck smashed it in the head with a baseball bat. You have no idea, Harper, how awful that was!"

Harper rolled her eyes. "We'll talk, Maxine," she said dismissively, finding the idea of being lectured by the nearly-geriatric plastic surgery addict about who had the worse experience with walkers quite repulsive.

"Hey, Harper," George broke in. "We're sitting on the desk and... whoa, a bunch of people just came in... they've got this gir--WHOA. She's bleeding!?" George's voice was usually smooth and contained, but now it sounded startled and scared. "They've put this girl on the desk. Harper, she's bleeding. Two people running away--Steve and this old man are starting to get real mad at each other... Whoa, Maxine, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she insisted, clearing her throat a little. "My eye's itchy, that's all."

"Actually," the newscast director broke in, "Maxine, you look sweaty. Are you hot under the lights?"

"No, no," Maxine snipped in. "I'm feeling fine. Just fine. In fact, I'm actually a little cold." She cleared her throat again.

"We've been sitting here for five hours and you haven't gotten up once," George stated. "But in the last few minutes your eye's gotten really red."

"What?!" she exclaimed. A moment of silence over the earpiece as she clicked open her mirror compact. "Jesus! I've got to cover this up!" A rustle of activity as she forked her way through her portable makeup bag that she kept pegged behind her chair in case of on-air makeup emergencies.

"On again in 30," the director spoke calmly, "can you do this, Maxine?"

"Of course I can," she retorted back. She cleared her throat.

"Schantz, Harper, standby. George and Maxine, stand by."

# # #

Nathan breathed a sigh of relief as the bleeding seemed to stop beneath the pile of soppy towels. He kept his blood-soaked hands on his corner of the towel to continue to apply pressure, not daring to lift his hands.

The staff who had been staring wide-eyed at the scene while phones continued to ring off the hook were on the receiving end of a very harsh stare from Steve. They immediately set about going back to their work. Calvin stood up, catching the glimpse of the petrified little girl standing all by herself. He smiled tepidly, a sudden thud of guilt pounding his head about her having to see all this unfold right in front of her. He looked down at his bloody hands. Not exactly the most reassuring-looking person in the room.

James rose and turned back to look at Steve. The news director glared and shook his head. "Hey, sweetheart, I've got coloring books in my office," he said to the girl, beckoning for her to enter his glass-paned office. He walked over slowly to her and started to help her along. Calvin watched as Steve quickly set her at his desk and pulled out a box of coloring books. Clearly, he must have been a parent.

Calvin looked through the window to the studio and noticed that the older, platinum-white-haired woman at the desk was raising a fist in front of her while coughing frequently. Her left eye was looking red and swollen; several minutes before, he hadn't taken notice of that detail when he'd first entered the room. "Is that the green room over there?" Calvin asked out loud to the staff. A few nodded toward the direction of a black door beside the studio. "All right. I'm getting that lady some eyedrops. She looks like she could use them."

Nathan and Jack remained with the prone girl breathing raspily on the desk. In front of them a television monitor played the broadcast, rolling back and forth between the two anchors on the desk and Harper up on the roof. Both men watched, catching bits and pieces of the low audio. "Oh, who's that?" Jack asked casually, his eyes lighting up a little too enthusiastically for Nathan's liking. "She's on the roof?"

Nathan looked sidelong at him, a brief pang of irritation coming out in his facial expression. "No one you need to know," he retorted quietly.

Jack raised an eyebrow. He'd not known this guy for twenty minutes and already found a trigger. "Geez, sorry, didn't realize she was already taken," he responded, knowing how he sounded every ounce like he'd intended to provoke the defensive younger man.

"It's not like that," Nathan blasted back sharply. "Seriously, don't even tal-"

"Uhh, guys," Calvin broke in. He hadn't even entered through the door to the green room when he saw the older lady pass out on the desk, hitting her nose head-on. He watched as George cast his eye quickly to her, and Harper came on the monitor suddenly to cover the brief interruption caused by the commotion.

"Shit," Nathan muttered as he saw Maxine's head thunk down. In all the year's he'd worked at WEND, he'd never seen Maxine sick, weak, or with a stitch out of place. Instead, he knew her as being a ragingly disconnected old bat who took vacations when sweeps weren't in effect. Now she was a ragingly disconnected old bat burying her face in a hard, shellac'ed surface.

Nathan watched George jump visibly after Harper signed on, who worked hard to disguise her nerves as she no doubt heard the commotion in her earpiece. He mouthed something to Maxine, who didn't respond. George reached over to shake her, and she fell heavily off of the desk. George's hands clasped to his mouth in shock as he let out a yell. The newcast director's voice blared out over the newsroom's PA system. "Steve, everyone, we've got an emergency," the voice smoothly but tensely called out. "Maxine's not breathing."

Next to him, Jack jumped just slightly. "Hey, guys, she's not doing so good," he nervously barked. "She's not breathing..."

Nathan snapped his eyes downward and watched as the girl's jaw slacked open. He lifted his hands up and watched for a moment. This was the second dead girl in one day. He stared for just a second.

It was then that he remembered what had happened to the secretary. Without even thinking, he swept his arms out and pulled Jack back as teeth clicked up viciously toward them. Jack reflexively whipped his fire poker out from a spot on the desk in front of him and slashed it down on her torso. Nathan jumped back and watched helplessly as she leapt from her spot, having turned her attention on a producer just feet away who felt like he'd been on hold for hours.

It was then that Maxine also sprang into life, almost in a reanimated fashion. George sprang from his seat, forgetting that he was leashed to his desk via the IFB in his ear and the lapel mic clipped onto his suit jacket. He tugged back sharply, and lost his footing and fell off of the raised platform the desk was mounted on. Through the window, one could see him grasp at his ankle after he hit the ground, his other hand trying to yank his earpiece out of his ear. Maxine darted over the desk rapidly.

The director's voice came over the PA system again. "Guys, Maxine's attacking George."

"Jesus Christ!" Wayne shouted in bewilderment as he backed away from the commotion.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

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.: Calvin Hawke :.


It was like somebody had flipped a switch and all hell had broken loose. Calvin watched as several WEND employees abandoned their cameras and desks, frantically running for the exits, as if outside was going to give them any reprieve. A scream rang out behind him as the once-dying babysitter lunged over a nearby worker. Jack's fire poker dangled from her chest like some sort of weird fashion accessory as she chomped down on her victim's shoulder. Calvin had a brief remembrance of watching preying mantis hunt and trap food in the grass behind his house when he was younger. Though much more graceful and infinitely less terrifying, the approach and execution were nearly identical.

To Calvin's left, Harper's head director, Steve, took refuge behind his large oak desk with the little girl, trying to get out of sight. Jack had dropped the rest of the towels and scrambled to find his footing as he ran back into Nathan. Another scream... this one from in front of Calvin. He turned just in time to see a cloud of papers float through the air as the lead anchorman was set upon by his co-anchor. Calvin turned and locked eyes with Nathan, the only guy in the room he knew he could rely on -- and no words were spoken. They knew what they needed to do.

Nathan took off first, heading for the stairs to the rooftop accessway. He bolted right past Chuck, who clutched his wooden bat for dear life, unsure of how to help. Jack gestured at Nathan as he ran off. "Where the hell is he going? We've got to get out of here!" he shouted.

"Back to the truck, GO!" Wayne called out, grabbing Jack by the sleeve. The two of them raced down the staircase towards the garage, without hesitation.

Calvin went for the office, nearly pulling the glass door from its frame. "Steve, we've gotta go!" he shouted, "grab the girl." The two peeked out from behind the desk.

"I'm not abandoning this office," he said, gripping his chair.

Calvin narrowed his eyes. "Do you really want to die here? It's not the time to be honorable, it's time to survive."

The office director gulped, and looked at the little girl. He looked past Calvin at the chaos unfolding all around the newsroom. With all the glass windows it felt like he was inside some kind of fishbowl. He turned to the girl. "C'mon, stay close to me."

They retreated out from under the desk and lined up beside the door behind Calvin. He peered through the blinds out at the newsroom floor, measuring what they were up against. Calvin suddenly recognized the feeling of cold steel against his lower back and remembered the pistol had taken from Ross' office. He pulled it from his waistband and checked it to confirm what he already knew: there were two bullets left. Calvin handed his crowbar to Steve, who took it reluctantly. "Aim for the head," he advised, "and do whatever you have to to keep that girl alive."

The man nodded his understanding, and Calvin pulled the glass door open by the handle. The cacophony from outside the office spilled in, as Calvin's heart began to beat faster. Nobody was going to call cut if he missed his mark here. There were no do-overs or re-takes. He couldn't afford to screw up now. There were too many people counting on him.

As they stepped out of the office, Calvin shielded the other two with his back, aiming the revolver at the babysitter and her first victim. She had taken a nice piece of the WEND employee's face off during the assault, but enough of it remained to turn and see Calvin. It's hulking frame rounded on Calvin, oblivious to anything around it as it stumbled towards him. The girl noticed too, growling with anticipation as she shambled behind.

Nathan still hadn't returned from the roof with Harper. He knew it would be a deathtrap to follow after them, but they were running out of time. The two newscasters and a couple of their camera crew had already broken through the partition to the studio, dragging their bloodied bodies across tables of equipment and soundboards.

Steve hugged the girl close to him as he rushed towards the stairwell to join the others. Calvin backed towards the door, stretching his neck to see if there were any other survivors on the floor, but all he could make out were the droning walking corpses of his undead pursuers. He stood defiantly in the doorway, unwilling to closer the door... knowing full well he'd be closing out any hope of Nathan and Harper getting back safely.

The first walker was within arms reach now as it groped the air trying to get ahold of Calvin. He leveled the revolver at its head and placed his finger over the trigger. Two bullets wasn't a lot, though, and it seemed like a waste. Cursing to himself, he holstered the gun and drew out the pair of scissors he had swiped earlier. Calvin launched himself at the babysitter, driving the blade through her temple and kicking her to the floor. He composed himself barely in time to receive the next assailant, but the walker tripped over the babysitter's corpse and latched itself onto Calvin's pants. The two of them stumbled backwards to the floor with a crash. The walker snarled and snapped its teeth, ferociously, clawing at Calvin with its sharp nails. He kicked and kicked at it trying desperately to separate himself from the walker's clutches, and eventually gained some traction on the ground. Calvin scuttled towards the stairwell using the doorknob handle to pull himself up. He felt the tug of something at his leg and looked down to see that he was partially entangled in the walker's headset.

A thought suddenly crossed Calvin's mind as he grabbed hold of the mic and earpiece and rolled through the doorway. Steve slammed the door shut behind him, blocking any other walkers from entering the stairwell. The little girl watched precociously from a few steps further down. The old man helped Calvin to his feet, and brushed him off. "Close one..."

"You're tellin' me..." Calvin said between breaths. He lifted the headset to his ear and called out, hoping to god that the lifeline to his only friends would somehow come through. "Harper? It's Calvin? Do you read me?"

Silence. And then-- her voice.

"Calvin?"

"Harper! Are you guys alright?"

He could hear the wind blaring against her mic. "We're stuck on the roof," she began, "Maxine and some of the others are blocking the stairwell and we don't have any weapons up here."

Calvin closed his eyes, silently cursing to himself. Steve took the girl by her shoulders and started to lead her down to the garage. As the pair stepped through the door, Calvin could make-out loud voices coming from inside. "There's even more of them down in the newsroom. Steve and I and some of the others made it to the garage..."

Her voice cracked slightly as she said, "We're separated?"

"Looks like it," he said as he ran his hand through his hair. It seemed to be one thing after another. Every person, every minute, a new obstacle. "Sit tight. I'll think of something."

Calvin plugged the earpiece into his ear and jogged the rest of the way down the stairs. He had a feeling he was about to step into a whole different shit show.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

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.: Calvin Hawke :.


If this was some kind of joke, Calvin didn't want to be around for the punchline.

He stepped out of the coolness of the stairwell into the garage. Jack, Wayne, James, and Chuck were heavily engaged in some argument. Steve had taken Lily to the corner and sat her down on a spare tire, trying to distract her. Calvin stepped into the huddle of men to interject.

"What the hell is the problem down here?" he asked in frustration.

Chuck backed up against the control panel to the door, wielding his bat as he tried to fend off the others. Jack circled the newscaster like a prowling cat. The mustached man, thankful of Calvin's return, tried to appeal to him in his moment of need. "They were trying to open the door and let in every one of those drooling freaks from outside!" Chuck shouted. "They'll compromise the entire station."

Jack thrust a finger at the bumbling man. "Compromise? Did you see what just happened up there? You already lost the station."

Calvin threw himself between the two of them, pushing them back from one another. Getting under Jack's arms, he was able to get him pinned against the side of the truck. They were now face-to-face, eyes locked. "I don't think we lost anything. I think a some cowboys came riding in and dropped a damn bomb on our lap... that's what I think happened." Jack wrestled himself from Calvin's grasp, glaring at him as he walked away.

"Where are the others?" Chuck asked, quietly.

Calvin shook his head. "I don't know who's left, but some of them are trapped on the roof. I just talked to Harper," he said, tapping his earpiece. He hoped they had figured something out, because he had no idea how he was going to get through to them with the newsroom in the state it was. "Look, we're safe in here, OK? There's no point in rushing off before we've had a chance to talk things out."

Wayne scratched his head, "Alright. What do you have in mind?"

Calvin looked around at the others, face-by-face. "I was thinking about this earlier. We need to get to high ground. Somewhere entrenched... secluded. If there's any chance of us getting rescued, it's going to be from somewhere accessible. We have got to get out of this city before we go down with it."

James, who had been sitting in the truck the whole time, chimed in from behind the wheel. "What are we waiting for then?"

Calvin bit his lip, a bit unsure of how to proceed. He suddenly remembered what Harper had said to him. "There should be some lockers in that storage room over there. Wayne, why don't you take Jack and see what you can find in there," he began, pointing to one side of the room. "Chuck, search the news van for anything useful... see if you can find us some radios." The man nodded and crossed over to the vehicle, sliding the side door open to reveal its cluttered interior. Streaks of bloody handprints still covered most of the panelling from their close call with the walkers earlier.

Calvin ducked his head into the open passenger seat window of the truck. James had lit up a cigarette at some point. He held it in his lips with no hands, puffing away. "James... you uh, keep doing what you're doing."

The man grunted, a plume of smoke billowing out from beneath his stubbled lip. "Mmhmm."

"Steve, can I get your hand over here?" The ex-news director stood up and came over to Calvin. "How's she doing?"

The two of them looked over their shoulders at the little girl on the tire. She had found a loose rock somewhere and was scraping out little chalk drawing on the concrete floor. "Honestly, I don't know," Steve replied. "I haven't heard her say a single word this whole time."

Calvin couldn't blame the kid. "Listen, can you help me rummage through the garage. We're looking for anything that'll help: weapons, tools, food, clothing. Pack it into the truck if you find something." Steve nodded his head and put an arm on Calvin's shoulder.

"I'm glad somebody down here's taking charge."

Calvin shrugged. "I'm nobody's leader..."

"Why not?" Steve asked, lowering his voice. "Seems to me you're just the kind of guy they need right now. A face they recognize. A face they can trust."

The thought was interrupted by Chuck, who sat on the edge of the van grunting as he struggled with some tangled cords of various gadgets and recording equipment. Steve wandered away, beginning to scrounge through different drawers and cabinets for any supplies.

"Why aren't we packing the van?" James asked, sternly.

"We can't take both of these. If they happen to make it back down--" Calvin stopped a second, weighing the chances of that ever happening. "I just don't want to leave them without some way out of here."

Between them all they only had a bat, a crowbar, a knife, some scissors, a gun with two bullets, and a rifle with however much ammunition. They weren't necessarily equipped to throw down, but they could manage. At least they were in greater numbers now. Both a blessing and a curse, really.

Calvin joined in and began scouring the garage for stuff just when his mic chirped from the other side. He put his hand up, adjusting it in his ear for better sound. "Harper? Hello?"

"Calvin..." Her voice sounded a bit thinner now that they were further apart.

"Hey... are you alright?"

"We're fine, listen Calvin... we've got a way off the roof and we've got a plan. Just sit tight, and we'll--"

KSHSHSHSHSSHSHHHhhhhhh

"Harper? Hello? ... Shit."

The feed cut out with a sharp hiss as something loud drowned Harper out on her end. For whatever it was worth, they had found a way to get off that roof. But it sounded like Calvin and the others would be on their own for awhile. That changed things only slightly. Calvin grabbed a small toolbag off of one of the shelves and started packing anything that caught his eye, a wrench, a handsaw, duct tape, wire cutters...

Suddenly, something echoed out in the stairwell. Wayne had just unloaded arms full of gear into the bed of the truck and heard it too. "Did you--"

THUD!

Another one. This one was closer. Wayne and Calvin approached the door, leaning their ears close. The sounds were unmistakeable, as splintering wood signaled the walkers descent down the stairs. Wayne jumped back from the door.

"Shit, you guys, we gotta hustle!"

Everyone in the garage kicked it into overdrive as James keyed the truck's ignition and revved the engine. Jack came jogging out of the storage room with another metal bat and some backpacks jammed full of stuff. He swung them up into the back of the truck and hopped in himself. Lily got into the middle seat next to James and began buckling herself in.

Calvin turned to Chuck and the van. "Guess you're with me. Hit the door and let's go." The newscaster dropped the wires he was working on and threw the equipment back into the van. He ran to the control panel near the garage door and looked back at the others to make sure they were ready. Jack tapped his bat against the side of the truck.

"If you're done pressing my buttons, maybe you can press that one," he offered up, dryly. Chuck tossed him one of the walkies he found in the van and punched the controls as the door rose to reveal the blackened lot outside. James kicked the truck into reverse, tearing back out of the driveway and spinning it around to point the nose the other direction. Calvin started the van and followed, giving one glance at the news station through his side mirror. Every part of him hated leaving Nathan and Harper like this... but they had to do it to survive. On top of the roof he could see the rotors of the news chopper start to spin. He could see Harper and the others climb into it as the gentle hum of the blades grew louder and louder.

Calvin just hoped it wasn't the last time he would ever see them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: Calvin Hawke :.


"Drive right up onto the trail here..." Calvin chimed through the radio in his hand. James and the others followed closely behind in the truck, kicking up dust as the front wheels jumped the curb onto the dirt path. The idea to head behind the Hollywood Sign came as Calvin watched Harper and the others take off in the helicopter. The bright white letters served as the best beacon while it was lit. Surely others would have the same thought and approach.

They had to.

As Calvin slowed the van to a stop, he was finally able to look over his shoulder at the beautiful vista of Los Angeles. It was usually a jaw-dropping view, but the night's events had cast a gloomy look over it now. Fires burnt brightly in the corners of the city while smoke billowed out into the blackness. Lights of stalled cars shone from the freeways, unmoving and lifeless like the dead that walked amongst them. Calvin stepped out of the car and pocketed the keys, walking back to receive the rest of the group.

James pulled up beside the news van and pulled his parking brake. For the first moment since this had all started, they were finally feeling like they may have found some refuge. Doors opened on both sides of the vehicle as people poured out of the insides and bed of the truck.

"You sure we're safe up here, man?" Wayne asked without delay. The others gathered around Calvin, awaiting an answer.

He nodded, gesturing around him. "I was just up here the other day filming a scene for something, and I remembered them having trouble getting the equipment in because the trail is only accessible from two sides." The others looked around, taking notice. "If we can get a couple of more cars to block the ends, we'll have steep hills and fences at our front and back, plus a view of the city. It's our best bet of getting seen."

"It sounds perfect," Steve declared from the back.

Calvin grinned. "That's because I think it is."

Chuck pushed his way towards the front of the group. "So what now? We have no food, no weapons... nowhere to sleep, other than that filthy truck and the house of wires," he said, jerking his thumb at the news van. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I still feel exposed.

"You're right, Chuck. That's the next plan..." Calvin said, moving over to the van. From inside the glove box, he pulled out a map of the city. "I saw this in there back at the station." The group huddled around him as he laid the map flat across the hood of the truck. Wayne unpocketed his iPhone and used it to flash some light. Calvin laid his finger on the map just south of where they were. "There's a small strip mall that we passed on the way here that should have food and gear we could use. I'll take a small group of us there to see what we can find, and also see if we can't grab another car or two. In the meantime... James, Steve, Wayne, Chuck and Lily will stay behind to setup camp, start a fire, and settle in."

"I brought all my camping gear in the truck. Not enough for everyone, mind you," James called out from near the driver's side.

"Then we make do with what we have," Calvin replied.

Wayne pulled a knife out from a bag in the passenger's seat. "I'll check out our perimeter and see how far down we should put these cars."

Calvin nodded. "Good. We can rotate one guard at each end throughout the night so we can all get a little shuteye. Or try, at least..."

Jack leaned over the top of the cab from the bed of the truck. "And that leaves you and I to go on the suicide mission then, yeah?

"I can't split us up too much. Some of you have to stay here," Calvin reasoned. James and Wayne were hardly enough to defend against any number of scenarios that could happen while they were gone. They'd also be able to move quicker and quieter with fewer people. "We'll head out in 15 minutes. Make a list of anything specific you want us to look for and we'll try our best to bring it back. Let's line these vehicles up in their positions, pointing the way we came in case we need to make a quick exit."

Everyone looked around in the dead silence once Calvin finally stopped talking. He had been mulling all these ideas in his head ever since they fled the station. Steve had said that these people needed somebody to call the shots. Calvin knew he was no more qualified than any of the rest to be making any decisions -- but they seemed to trust him... or at least agree with his ideas. He'd see how they warmed up to him after a bad call.

"Ready, break?" Wayne asked. Calvin nodded and begun folding up the map as the group divided up. James reached into the cabin and grabbed his rifle off the dash. He checked it for ammo and shoved the butt of it into Calvin's hands, forcefully.

"If you're going on foot, you'll need this..." he said. "There's more shells in the glovebox." The old man started walking away, but stopped and turned back. He took off his leather cowboy hat and ran his hand through his hair. "You know, there was a time when I'd have told someone to go fuck themselves if they asked me to move my truck..."

James removed his pendant from the hat and pocketed it. Then tossed the hat to Calvin who caught it, smiling.
"But I guess you're the sheriff around here now, Hollywood."

Calvin set the hat on his head, evening it out. Even with less hair than James had it seemed to fit pretty well. The old man stalked to his truck and turned it around, following Wayne up the path a short ways. Jack lingered nearby, waiting for to be told what to do. "We're going in on foot, so why don't you grab a backpack and something to defend yourself with."

Jack smacked his forehead, dramatically. "That's what I was forgetting," he said sarcastically. He shook his head laughing at Calvin as he stalked away. Chuck, who had watched the whole exchange, approached. He stood in front of Calvin for a beat, unsure of how to say what he wanted to say.

"I want come with you," he finally blurted out.

"Uhhh, I dunno--"

"I don't trust you going out there with Jack alone," Chuck continued, cutting him off. He glanced in Jack's direction nervously, to make sure he wasn't being overheard. "Having me there might force him to cooperate, ya know?"

Calvin shrugged. It wasn't like Chuck would be more useful if he stayed behind. "Fine," he began, "Grab your bat and a bag. We'll head out soon."

Chuck excitedly scurried back to the van to collect his things. Calvin scanned the road, watching as everyone busied themselves with their tasks. At least they were able to follow instructions, he thought happily. He hoped he was making the right decision by having them stay here -- but how could be any worse than the rest of Los Angeles? At least here they had a view.

Calvin turned to look out at it once again and saw Lily, sitting on a large rock. She looked out upon the city with childlike wonder, both seeing something for the first time and seeing something for the last time. He sauntered over to her and sat next to her. She had sort of kept out of sight since the other survivors arrived at the station. Calvin figured she was likely in shock. He still hadn't been told the whole story about how this crew got together. That was something he would have to remember to do at some point.

He looked over at the little girl. "Crazy day, huh?" he asked, softly.

Lily shrugged, wiping at her eyes. She wasn't crying anymore, but it was evident that she had been. Her nose sounded slightly stuffy as she spoke. "Are you a cowboy now too?" she asked him.

Calvin remembered he was wearing the hat now. "Oh, uh-- I guess I am. James made me sherrif."

She turned her gaze back to the view. "Like Woody from Toy Story?"

He couldn't help but smile at that. "Yeah. Just like that."

"That's pretty cool..."
Calvin looked back at the city too. This poor girl was traumatized. It was slowly catching up to her, and he couldn't help but wonder how she'd be a week from now. A month? A year? Would this even last this long?

"Hey, you know what?" he asked. The girl raised an eyebrow in anticipation. "While I'm gone, I'm gonna need someone to look after the camp. Someone with good instincts."

Her eyes lit up a bit. He had her attention, finally. "I have those!" she said in a hushed whisper.

Calvin leaned in, talking quieter. "That's why I came over here to talk to you. I need you to be my eyes and ears while I'm gone. Can I count on you?"

She held out her pinky. Calvin embraced it with his and the pact was made. He clapped her on the back as he got up. "What's your name?" she asked.

"Calvin..."

She nodded, looking back out through the "O" in Hollywood towards the city. "Come back quick, OK?" He nodded back, and traipsed over towards Chuck and Jack who waited near the news van. James and Wayne were just now returning from the other end of the path with some gear -- a tent, firewood, axe, canopy...

They had enough to stay occupied for awhile. Calvin met eyes with James from across the way and waved goodbye. The three men gathered their belongings and started the walk back down the hill into the city. Sadly, the night was just beginning.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: Calvin Hawke :.


James grabbed one of the unlit logs and used it to fiddle with the fire a bit, opening it up so the fire could breathe. He tossed the piece of wood into the center once he was done with it and leaned back into his folding chair. A half-empty beer rested loosely in the built-in cup-holder-- he grabbed it, taking a sip, and looked across the fire at Wayne. The ex-DJ sat on top of the trucker cab with his feet on the hood, clutching a metal pole in his hands. He spun it lazily in his fingers as he gazed out towards the vista of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Lily and Steve sat with their backs against a fallen tree trunk they had managed to drag over for seating. They huddled under a blanket, warming against the flames.

None of them had been able to sleep all night, what with the constant helicopters, explosions, and gunfire. The scariest part of the whole night happened to be the sudden lack of sirens. It was as if all emergency personnel suddenly went silent-- and there were too many ways that could have become a possibility. As per Calvin's prediction not a single walker ended up stumbling upon their camp... nor any survivors. They had lucked out with their location-- a small sanctuary amidst the chaos.

Suddenly they heard footsteps from down the path...

The first rays of sun were just beginning to break over the hills, silhouetting whoever was approaching in darkness. The figure scrambled up the dirt road, tripping over himself in his haste. Wayne and James had already jumped to their feet and taken their positions behind the truck, shielding themselves from whatever was coming-- James with his knife, Wayne with his metal pipe. But as the figure drew near enough they recognized it as Chuck. Although it looked more like a walker than the Chuck who had left the camp the previous night. The right half of his torso and legs were covered in blood and residue, smeared to bloody perfection all over his body-- the fabric of his clothing torn and shredded as if by some animal. His bat dragged on the ground, as he slowed to a stop and collapsed in front of the truck.

Wayne hurried over to him and cautiously helped him up. "Chuck?! Holy shit, bro! What happened to you guys?"

Steve tossed Wayne a water bottle from over the truck and he handed it to Chuck, who uncapped it-- splashing half of it on his face before drinking the rest. He threw it to the ground and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand-- staring at the questioning eyes of the men standing around him. Tears ran down his already wet cheeks as he struggled to find the right words to begin...

"Chuck? Buddy?"


< + >


...Two Hours Earlier...

Calvin held his flashlight close to the back of the food label, carefully inspecting its date of expiration. The cleared ones went into his backpack, like the can of fruit cocktail he had just cleared. He put the flashlight in his teeth as he knelt down to unzip his bag and stuffed the can inside-- zipping it up.

In other rows of the store, Jack and Chuck perused other stocked merchandise. It had seemed that during their rush out of the city, not everybody had thought to hit the local stores. At least not the obvious ones. They were presently inside a Save-For-Less discount store. It didn't have the quality food or diverse selection of the more name brand grocery stores, but the food was in bulk-- and it was still food. The men had entered quietly from the back after crossing from rooftop to rooftop to get down the street. The van had been parked just at the bottom of the hill behind a construction site, so as not to draw to much attention to their entrance into the city-- and then they walked the rest of the way. It didn't feel like a typical LA late night, with the roads still full of moving cars and people walking the streets. Since the night was almost over, the city had quieted down as the living hunted for some place to hide and the dead hunted for the living. They still had to get while the getting was good-- and this was the third store they had hit that night. If all went off without a hitch, they'd be returning with a van full of awesome stuff.

Calvin had just begun browsing a new aisle when he saw a few signal flashes from Chuck's flashlight on the other end of the store. He shouldered his bag and walked over to him, where he also met Jack. He hadn't been over to this side of the store yet and quickly understood Chuck's urgent signals when he saw the massive find... the three of them stood in front of what looked like several rows of camping equipment, outdoor furniture, hiking gear, etc.

"Jackpot," Jack growled, clapping his hands together. He was nursing a cigar in his mouth, worrying Calvin as to how hard he was actually scavenging for useful supplies.

"Good find," Calvin said, clapping Chuck on the back. "Let's find a couple duffle bags and see what we can get back to the van." The other two nodded and split off to different aisles. Calvin swung his flashlight to face the aisle he was in and saw various gardening tools and equipment. He squinted his eyes, and tipped his hat back with the flick of a finger. He was already liking his options...


< + >


Chuck was the last of the three to drop his duffel bag in a pile by the back door. They had gathered some prime equipment for the campsite-- almost to the point where they were sad at how much they'd have to leave behind... surely they weren't the only ones who realized the opportunity in looting what they could now and not waiting til the sun came up. By the end of the week the city would be stripped of supplies and goods.

"Why don't you guys bring these first three bags out to the van while I load the last couple. I want to do one more sweep of that other corner of the store before we take off. Now that I've seen this, I bet they have pharmaceuticals and meds here..." Calvin said, craning his neck towards that part of the store. Chuck picked up one of the bags, and opened the door for Jack. Jack grabbed the other two overly-stuffed duffel bags and started to walk outside.

"You're covering me then," Jack argued on his way out. "I ain't carrying two bags by myself." Chuck laughed as the two disappeared into the night. Calvin let the door swing shut as he grabbed an empty bag and headed towards the opposite corner of the store. He passed a group of weirdly placed mannequins, some of which had fallen to the floor during the night's events. Calvin rounded the corner and found himself facing rows of medicine, kits, creams, ointments, and the like. Apart from the specific ones they would need, Calvin tried to grab anything that looked like it could be useful. The door to the back office had been left open in their abrupt exit, and Calvin helped himself to the few brands of sleeping aids he was familiar with. There was no knowing when a normal night of sleep would come again. As an afterthought, he grabbed some nicotine gum and patches too-- for the inevitable raging withdrawals someone was bound to have.

He was half-way through the label on the back of a box called Niconol, when the front door burst open-- nearly flying from its hinges. A man in a sweatshirt and beanie came barreling inside, slamming the door behind him. He reached up and shut the blinds covering the window, moving across the storefront in a low crouch as he peered outside at whatever he was running from. Calvin had already ducked down in the aisle and drawn his revolver-- all two bullets of it. He crept back down the aisle, taking refuge amongst the cluster of mannequins he had passed earlier. He watched through the legs of one of the porcelain statues as the intruder nervously wiped the sweat from his brow.

Headlights danced across the shuttered windows, playing shadows across the whole of the store. The vehicle creaked as it swung to a stop in front of the store. Calvin could hear feet hit the ground as several individuals exited from inside. Whoever this man was... he was outnumbered-- and in a horrible hiding spot. For a brief moment, Calvin considered calling out to the panicked man and offering him solace amongst the mannequins-- but he knew how likely it was that the man was just as dangerous as the ones hunting him. That wasn't worth risking his own life for, unfortunately.

He could hear someone outside rustle with some chains as the sound of metal on metal echoed from the front door. The intruder had barred it shut with something he found, so that they couldn't get inside, but by the sound of it-- they had conceived a backup plan. An engine revved itself into high gear, tires burning rubber against the concrete as it peeled out. They finally caught tread and the truck ripped the front doors out of their hinges-- the glass partitions shattering as they were dragged down the road. Whatever these guys intent, subtlety was not part of it. It was likely they'd alerted every walker within a mile radius with that display.

"Woo, doggie!" one of the men yelled from just outside the door. "What say we tie those there chains to this fuckers teeth when we find him, Reggie?"

His chubby friend stepped through the door first, his rifle at the ready. "That's a dumb fucking idea... teeth is too small for chains. Besides, Bronson wants him alive."

Wherever their prey had gone, he was no longer anywhere near the windows. He had probably sunken deeper into the aisles once he realized what they were doing. Calvin looked at the back door, wondering how long he had until Jack and Chuck walked carelessly back inside. That could blow this whole thing up all too quick.

"Come out, come out, wherever you arrrre..." the bigger of the two sang out. Whoever these guys were, they wore identical coveralls-- though it was too dark to make out the logo or insignia on them. Could be a rogue biker gang for all he knew...

Calvin shuddered. Nothing sounded more dangerous right now.

*CLANG CLANG CLANG*

Several metal objects rang loudly on the linoleum floor from another corner of the store. The intruder had just given away his position, and the two men went into hot pursuit-- splitting up to approach the corner from both sides. Calvin held his breath as he heard the men struggle with their prize, forcing him to the ground. His shoes squeaked against the tile as he fought to gain traction. Shortly enough, he heard the bone-crunching blows of gun against bone as they subdued the poor man and dragged him towards the front of the store. The captured man screamed and begged for his life as they dropped him near the front door.

Their driver wasn't as stupid as he had looked-- having driven around the block to distract the horde of walkers from the grocery story to open up an exit route. The roar of the truck rumbled back into range as it approached from down the street. One of the two men stuck his head out the window to see how far out it was-- and then said the last words Calvin needed to hear...

"Shit, man..." one of the thugs whispered.

"What?"

"There's two fools bee-linin' towards the back of the store... you see 'em?" he said, pointing at the hill.

The man cocked his rifle. "Oh, I see 'em alright."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC) Character Portrait: Everett T. Bronson (NPC)

0.00 INK

.: Calvin Hawke :.


"And so you just left them there!?" James shouted furiously. Chuck had finally finished his rambling tirade as he regaled the group with the night's events and his friends' demise. Finally having a moment to gain his bearings, Chuck realized that there were more people in the camp now. A Volkswagen bus and Toyota Corolla parked on the other side of the path, making a large wall against any roamers. A few unfamiliar faces looked on from the distance as all eyes were on him.

His hands shook a bit as he tried to twist the cap back on the water bottle. "It was the only chance I had! I-I swear!" James slammed his fist down on the hood of his truck and walked away.

Wayne crossed his arms. "And that's the last thing you heard -- gunshots?" He asked anxiously.

Chuck nodded, lowering his gaze to the ground. Whichever way he put it, he looked like a coward. But he was alive -- and that was all he cared about. Steve rubbed Lily's shoulders, trying to comfort the young girl who had already seen her fair share of loss and death for the day. James suddenly came marching back to the small huddle with a canvas bag. He pulled down the hatch of his truck and threw the bag down, spreading a small array of weapons across the bed of the truck.

"Some of the others pitched in..." James said gruffly, he pulled a handgun from the pile and offered it to Wayne, who took it and began inspecting the weapon.

Chuck looked around, enamored. "N-No! No fucking way are we going back out there!"

"You aren't," James replied, handing a small rifle to Steve, "we are." The man had to let go of the little girl's hand to grab the rifle. He looked at the girl as he accepted it reluctantly. Chuck threw his hands up in the air, laughing obnoxiously. James marched straight over to him and grabbed the collar of shirt-- throwing him against the side of the truck. "You left our friends down there... not to mention the van. I don't know what those men intend to do to them, but I'm not gonna sit around and find out." He lifted his elbow from Chuck's throat and the man fell to the ground gasping. James walked back towards the driver's side.

"Let's go."



* * *



All he could hear was the metal clanging of the chains struggling to hold the door shut as a group of walkers banged against it from the other side. Calvin had tossed their previous tenant over the edge of the building as fodder for the walkers -- possible bait to lure them away from the stairwell. They had searched his body beforehand finding a half-empty pack of American Spirits, a lighter, a map of Los Angeles, and a pair of binoculars -- along with his pistol and a spare clip. Further exploration of the roof had shown no alternative ways down, save for an unpowered window-washer's lift and a locked fire escape, unfortunately -- and so they waited.

Jack laid in the nook of the wall's corner where the most shade rested. He closed his blistered eyes -- trying to catch whatever sleep he could while they waited. Calvin had torn off part of his pant leg to wrap Jack's burnt hand until they could go back and get the bag of medical supplies.

Calvin sat with his legs dangling over the storefront, almost far enough to touch the huge unlit "S" of "Save For Less". The red truck had come and gone twice in the last couple of hours, but the density of walkers in the area made it nearly impassable. He had surely returned to find his two lost comrades -- or what was left of them. Calvin felt a nasty taste in his mouth and spit over the edge, landing on one of the walkers' heads below.

In the distance, a tight cluster of planes had circled back around for another pass. They had been roaming the skies as far back as he could remember since the Sun had come back up... but he had never seen them land for anything. Small helicopters would occasionally break out of formation and hover closer to the city to get a better look at things, but they seemed to be searching for something... or someone. The biggest plane in the lead veered its nose turning them north as they soared up the coastline -- far far away.

It had been the most momentous 24 hours of Calvin's life -- not that he felt like reflecting on the particular events that had to do with those 24 hours... Calvin looked over at Jack, realizing that he knew nothing about the man. He had no idea what his last name was, what he did for a living, where he grew up... yet somehow their paths had become intertwined indefinitely. He doubted either of them would ever forget what went down between them. At least Jack was somehow managing to sleep a little bit of it off.

His train of thought was brought to a halt as the distant whine of a blaring siren overcame the maw of walkers. A low rumble of roaring engines accompanied the assembly of vehicles as the truck from earlier led the motorcade into the shopping mall parking lot. At the center of the pack, riding proudly, rode a fire truck -- an American flag flying like a banner from its back. Men hung off of its top and sides as if it were some kind of amusement park ride. The vehicles rammed through the mob of walkers in the lot as the beasts clawed at its sides to no avail.

Calvin hopped back over the ledge and ran over to Jack. "Hey, man! Wake up!" He said, shaking him by the shoulders. Jack's eyes rolled open -- coming into focus.

"What? What the fuck is it?" He moaned, ribbing his eyes as he sat up. Calvin was already scrambling around him gathering their stuff. "What's that noise?" He asked -- the sirens even louder now as the vehicles had plowed their way into the parking lot.

Calvin grabbed the full pistol and loaded a fresh clip, then handed Jack his shotgun. He grabbed it, letting out a huge yawn. "They're back," Calvin said, running over towards the front of the building. Jack finally began to get the picture and followed with his weapon. They crouched against the short wall above the store's sign and peeked over into the lot below. The other vehicles had abandoned the fire truck now and it stood alone -- a bright red mass in a sea of walkers, their hands groping and pawing from all sides. The truck was just tall enough that its inhabitants were safe inside and above. One such inhabitant crawled through the porthole onto the ladder and stood up. Like the others, he wore a grey jumpsuit -- on top of which he wore a sleeveless black leather vest. He stroked his beard as he raised a megaphone to his mouth and waved his hand.

"Hello up there!" The man shouted through the megaphone. "It's OK, you don't need to stand up or anything. Chances are if one of my men has a shot, he's gonna take it -- so I'd advise keeping your head down." Calvin looked at Jack, unsure of what to do. "Fact of the matter is, I've got reason to believe you killed some of my men. Now, I don't know how many of you there are up there... I don't imagine it would take more than one of you two kill those two idiots, but one of those idiots happened to be my younger brother."

Jack rubbed his face with his hand. "Shit..."

"So I hope you don't mind if me and my boys come up there, and we can figure out what we're gonna do about that..."

The whinnying of the motorized ladder rang out as the front began to extend out and raise toward the roof. Other men began climbing out onto the top of the fire truck to start their ascent, assessing their weapons and gearing up. Calvin thought back to his earlier assumption of some biker gang affiliation and realized how way off he must have been. These men were armed, dangerous, and prepared. Calvin hoped he was at least one of those things as he peeked over the edge of the wall to get a view.

"What the hell do we do, man?" Jack asked, his voice shaking a little bit. Calvin shook his head and looked backed up at the sky. The cluster of aircraft from earlier had doubled back already but were even further away now.

"We have to get off this roof," Calvin said -- searching around for options.

Jack stood up and followed him. "How? We already looked for a way off..."

Calvin suddenly got an idea -- but it was going to take both of them. "I think I have something... follow me," he ordered, running back to the front of the wall. The white tip of the ladder was just coming into sight over the ledge. They hugged the side of the wall right beneath it, with their weapons. Calvin turned to Jack. "We're gonna take their ladder to get to the next roof. Hold off whoever tries to come up and I'll, uh--"

Jack pumped his shotgun. "Do the rest?"

Calvin grinned and braced himself against the wall. "On three..." Jack nodded, readying himself for the count. They bobbed the three count and Jack sprung up from the wall firing off two blasts towards the men on the ladder. Bullets rang out on the metal and stone around the two of them as the thugs returned fire. Calvin grabbed the center rung of the end ladder piece and pulled down on it, using the wall as leverage. He used all of his weight to pry it out of its bracket but it wouldn't budge.

"Jack!" He shouted, "Give me a hand here!" Jack fired off one more round at the attackers and then dropped his shotgun, grabbing hold of one of the rungs and joining Calvin in his attempt to snap off a piece of ladder. Scattered bullets rang out around them as the men began filing up the ladder. Losing one's balance meant plunging into the mob of walkers below. Whoever these men were, they wanted revenge badly enough to risk their lives doing it. There would be no time to explain that what was done was done in self-defense -- Calvin was sure they didn't care. This was personal to them... and it was about to get very public.

"Cover me, for a sec..." Jack requested as he let go of the ladder and scooted down its length a bit. He took out his pocket knife and began unscrewing the bolts to release it from its track. Calvin hung from the edge, looking over and meeting eyes with whatever brave thug had volunteered to come up first. The man saw him and raised his gun for a shot, firing one off wildly. Calvin ducked quickly, and jumped up -- firing off a couple of his own. His target ducked, catching one of the bullets in the neck. He fell sideways off the ladder, trying to grab hold he was lost to the walkers like a bottle at sea. "Two more bolts on this side," Jack continued, biting his lip.

"The harder you make this, the worse off it's gonna be for you..." the bearded man hollered out from below. He laughed into the megaphone, hoarsely -- a voice addled by too much tobacco.

"I got it," Jack called out, happily tucking the knife in his pocket. The end section of the ladder unhinged and fell to the rooftop, clattering loudly. Calvin gestured to the east side of the building where the gap was smallest.

"Set us up," he ordered, "we're getting out of here." Jack nodded and scurried away, holding the ladder piece with his good hand. Calvin peaked over the ledge again, checking the thugs progress, and saw that they were already half-way up. A streak of red light sped into sight as a flaming bottle came soaring by Calvin's head and splashed against the roof in a fiery pool.

"Not so close to the ladder!" The bearded man scolded.

Calvin looked to Jack for his signal. Across the way, he deftly slid the ladder into place -- spanning the gap between the neighboring building. He wiped his brow and looked back at Calvin, preparing for what was next. "GO!" Calvin shouted out. He knew it would take Jack longer to get across with his injuries, and he had to buy him more time. Before he even had a chance to make a plan, the first raider reached the wall -- lunging over with one arm and grabbing Calvin by the neck. Having heard Calvin's shouts, he knew exactly where he was and took full advantage. The two struggled in an awkward position as the thug tried desperately to hold on. His grip was the only thing keeping him from falling.

Calvin reached above him and grabbed his attacker by the hair, pulling him over his shoulder with a fistful. He used the butt of his pistol to smash the man's hand -- his knuckles audibly crunching against the metal of the gun. The thug yelped, retreating his hand away -- just in time for Calvin to kick away with his foot. As his assailant reeled in pain on the ground, Calvin struggled to his feet and walked a few steps towards the stairwell.

BANG! BANG!

The second shot broke the chain, freeing the dozens of trapped walkers behind the door. They spilled out onto the rooftop ambling in all directions as Calvin tore off towards the side of the roof to join Jack. His injured friend had just made it to the other side and offered his hand to Calvin -- who carefully crawled across the ladder, trying not to look down. Bullet fire sang out behind him as the invading thugs were intercepted by the horde of biters. Calvin gripped Jack's hand as he was pulled over to safety on the preceding ledge. He looked back at the swarm of bodied mauling, flailing, and fighting and felt happy for one second that he was on a different roof.

"Let's keep going," Calvin suggested as he pulled in the ladder. So far, it had done a better job of saving their asses than Chuck ever did...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)

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"What the hell was that?!" Nathan said as the car came to a jarring stop after spinning out wildly off the side of the road.

The firetruck had seemingly come out of nowhere, sirens blaring and lights obnoxiously flashing, causing Schantz to lose control of the vehicle as it clumsily lurched to avoid them. The urgency with which it flew down the road just served to heighten their nerves; just moments ago they saw what almost looked like a straight line of fire cut through the congestion of buildings not far from them. It was hard to register what they'd seen--this kind of thing just wasn't supposed to happen.

Schantz quickly put the car back on the path and continued climbing up, up, and up the hill. They followed the heavy tracks of the firetruck that had just whirled past them to a small clearing featuring about ten nervous people, shielding their eyes from the oncoming headlights.

"Hey, they came into the newsroom with the girl who got bit," Nathan said, pointing toward Jack and Lillian. Neither Harper nor Schantz had been in the newsroom during the chaos that had erupted after those newcomers had entered, leaving Nathan as the only one capable of making that connection.

Schantz stopped the vehicle and stepped out onto the dusty ground at the same time as Nathan did, both approaching the group. Harper took the opportunity to quietly sneak a tablet out of the clear orange prescription bottle from Stevie's satchel and wandered to stare out at the view over the city, featuring rapidly-catching fires that originated with that first strike from the sky.

She couldn't even pay attention to the conversation going on with the main part of the group. Schantz and Nathan were talking with the man in the leather jacket and a few other people who stepped forward, filling them in about what had transpired. She watched the fire spread over the metropolis below, her mind suddenly freezing as she began to think about her family back east, Stevie at the camp, and other co-workers and friends who must have been worried about the same things she was... if they were even alive.

Harper felt the back of her pant leg tug. She turned to look down, and saw a small blonde girl staring up at her. "You're only wearing one shoe," she said simply.

Harper looked down at her feet and smiled at the one worn white flat. It was a little pathetic. She laughed a little and turned to the girl and nodded. "You're right," she said. "Looks like I'll need to fix that soon, huh?"

"I hope so," the little girl responded, "because it looks like you're going to need them." She looked down and dug her toe in the ground. "I'm Lillian. I remember seeing you on the TV in that office. Are you Harper?"

Harper nodded. "I am. It's nice to meet you. Have you seen Steve?"

Lillian shrugged. "He and James and Wayne went to go look for Calvin... but Calvin came back and they haven't yet."

Harper's eyes widened. "He did? Where is he?" she asked, looking around in all directions and preparing to step off toward him to ask him what happened--and instead saw a familiar figure lying on the ground, his head drenched in a thick pool of blood starting to turn to mud thanks to the dust. Her face went white. "I... Lillian, is that-"

"Yes, that's Chuck," she said. Harper noticed that she was nervously keeping her back toward the corpse. She then began to spill the beans in a somewhat jumbled but precocious childlike fashion. "No one's telling me anything. But I think that Calvin and Jack got into trouble. Chuck came back alone a long time ago, and then James and Wayne and Steve went to look for them, and then Chuck set off fireworks even though people told him not to. Then Calvin and Jack came back with the van, and then this firetruck showed up with these people. They shot Chuck in the head and took Calvin with them." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a familiar-looking set of keys. "Calvin dropped these. But I picked them up after the firetruck left. I think they belong to the van."

Harper's mouth hung open in shock. She looked at the small group talking, and caught Jack's eye and then looked back to Lillian. He looked back at her for about a second too long before Nathan was able to track what Jack was looking at. Nathan's face twitched just slightly, veiled frustration in his expression as he looked back at Jack and continued to participate in the conversation.

"Thank you," Harper said to Lillian as she took the keys. "Stick with us, all right?"

Lillian smiled and pointed to the group. "You need to go talk to Jack and the others."

Harper complied, wondering if she was strangely obeying a child's orders or if the little girl just happened to say exactly what needed to be done.

"Harp, we've got to make a decision," Schantz said as the taller woman approached. "Chuck's dead, and-"

"I know," Harper said quietly, bringing her hand up to her mouth anxiously, partially annoyed that the Xanax hadn't yet kicked in and partially to demonstrate interest in the conversation. "Lillian's filled me in." She tossed the keys to Nathan and looked toward the van, thrilled to see a familiar large green rucksack stashed in the back, visible through the open back doors. Excellent--they'd brought the bag containing a few things she kept at the station in case she had to rush out of town for an assignment or stay late due to breaking news: her flak vest and helmet from her overseas assignment, an extra bag of makeup and a hairbrush, a blanket, a few bottles of dry shampoo kept for emergencies, a few books, a change of clothes and a pair of backup boots, and odds and ends from her desk such as pens and notebooks and even a flashlight. She'd even had that rucksack overseas with her to carry whatever she had.

A few other people were packing up their vehicles, and preparing to leave. Harper watched them momentarily and then looked again at the others. "It might be good if we left." Her eyes also looked up to the sky to watch another jet careening high above their heads. Larger, clunkier aircraft rumbled low over the city below.

"Where would we go from here?" Nathan asked. "Higher ground seems safer."

Jack shook his head and pointed at Chuck. "Are you kidding? Now those assholes know where we are. We can't stay here."

"But where do we go?" Nathan asked irritably.

"There's an underground tunnel system," Schantz volunteered, "that's got the railway, and lots of other spots, too. I think it's our best shot. We have to go underground."

"What makes you so sure that the bombs won't affect that?" Nathan posited curiously.

Schantz shrugged. "I dunno, we used to do it during tornados back home. We had a shelter under the house through these doors we'd lock behind us. If the sky turned green, we had to be down there in three minutes or we were going to be screwed. Same principle could apply here."

The jet soared once again above their heads. A couple of cars took off down the long dusty path to the highway.

"Jack and Schantz are right," Harper said quickly, seeing Chuck's stiff corpse still down in the muddied pool of blood in the corner of her eye. "Those people sound absolutely horrible. We have to plan how we're going to get Calvin back."

Nathan nodded, and Schantz shook her head. "We can't worry about that right now," she quipped fast, "for all we know, he's dead and the same thing can happen to us if we go near those creeps."

Harper took a breath. "You're right, we should first worry about where to go," she said, "but we have to go back and get Calvin."

The jet circled above again.

And then it hit Harper fast. They were surveying the area before letting another set of bombs cascade down onto the ground. The hill might be next.

Harper pointed fast at Nathan and the keys. "Nathan, get the van prepped and ask if anyone wants to ride with us, right now," she instructed, "Tara, get the SUV cranked up. Lillian and I are coming with you." She worked hard to keep the panic from showing in her voice.

Jack turned to Schantz' direction, but looked mostly at Harper. "I can drive if you wa-"

"Nope, you're coming with me," Nathan broke in quickly, "let's get these people in." Jack stared again at Harper and then took off with Nathan, rounding up the remaining four at the hastily-made camp.

"Follow me!" Schantz called out at them as the three headed to the SUV, Harper quickly snatching her pack out of the back of the van before running with them. Harper sat up front with Schantz and let Lillian take the backseat as the engine started and hummed to life. Within moments the two vehicles were on the ground, thrumming down the hill.

"Look!" Lillian pointed from the backseat at a truck coming up the hill. "It's James and Wayne and Steve!"

Schantz clicked the headlights at the truck, which complied in stopping and turning around to follow the news van down the hill. Harper was glad that the other three would be able to join them, after all.

After a short few minutes but several miles away, as Schantz once again drove as fast as she could, the rearview mirror showed them a massive blast of fire, followed by loud rumbling bangs. These bombs were close. Lillian scrambled into the cargo area to gape out of the back window as Schantz guided everyone toward the nearest underground metro entrance as fast as she could.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

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The small group rushed down the still-running escalators and down into the tunnels, the electricity somehow providing light despite the odds. The entrance had been smartly but simply barricaded and they'd left the vehicles in that vicinity, hauling whatever they could out of them just in case they weren't there later.

Harper dashed ahead, finally wearing a pair of boots and able to rush and keep pace with the others, hauling her tan rucksack on her back. The trains weren't running, and the platform was oddly vacant. Lillian held Schantz' hand, who carried her own duffel bag that had been pulled out of her own locker. All three rushed down, two other women accompanying them. The men had insisted on them going ahead while they kept an eye on the walkers lumbering their way toward the metro. A train filled the tunnelway; Schantz and Harper forced the doors open and crammed themselves inside, ducking down onto the floor. The others filtered their way down and stuck themselves through the train's door.

The ground rumbled above them.

"Hit the ground NOW!" James shouted out loud.

Everyone dove down onto the rubberized floor of the train, a huge "BOOM!" shattering through the underground tunnel and nearly shaking the stopped train on its tracks. The lights flickered on and off. Steve covered Lillian's head with his arm.

Another "BOOM!" cracked above and rumbled the train off and on its tracks again. Nathan spotted streams of dirt flying down onto the platform from the ceiling, but the foundation still held, all the same.

"BOOM!"

The train jumped upward off of its tracks, thumping heavily down at an angle, lying almost on its side, propped up by the ledge of the platform. There were surprised yelps or exclamations of pain as everyone slammed up against seats and windows, unprepared for the impact.

"BOOM!"

The car jolted and shook over and over again.

"BOOM!"

"BOOM!"

"BOOM!"

It went on and on and on, until finally the train stopped shaking and the noises stopped.

Harper opened her eyes, which she'd squeezed shut as their safe haven tipped over. She also found her hand squeezing Jack's, who was hunched uncomfortably by a nearby bench seat. Jack grinned broadly at Nathan, who glowered darkly at him from just a few feet away, even though he was just as shocked and jarred as anyone else by getting bounced around like a town inside a snow globe.

And then the lights flickered off, even inside the car. A long, awkward pause followed.

"You've GOT to be kidding me," Wayne blurted out with nearly perfect timing.

# # #

It had been a long, awkward trek downward. Nathan and Jack didn't click back at the station, and they certainly weren't clicking now, either.

After James' truck screeched to a stop and whirled behind them, they finally hit Mulholland, and followed Schantz as she wound through. Nathan wondered if she wasn't trying to get everyone into the underground metro.

"You're awfully quiet." Jack finally broke the silence. "Your name is Nathan, right? Didn't catch your name back at the station. Things kinda happened fast."

Nathan nodded. "Yep. That's me. Jack, huh?"

There was another long pause.

"Calvin told me your name. So that's Harper, huh? You're her camera guy." Jack cracked a small grin in the corner of his mouth. "You must love your job."

Nathan bristled. He didn't at all like the idea of this guy being near or talking about her. "We're a good team," he warned, "I've been working with her for months."

"So is that why you ditched us?" Jack asked slowly. He saw Nathan's face turn red. "Help your girlfriend out?"

"First off, nobody ditched you guys," Nathan insisted angrily. "We couldn't go down. Walkers in the hall and in the elevator. We had to fly out. Crashed in the water. Got out, somehow. You try it sometime," he added, curling his lip as he jerked the steering wheel to follow close but expediently. Those jets were continuing to circle up above.

"What's the second part?" Jack queried nonchalantly. Nathan looked toward him, confused. "You said, 'first off.'"

"Oh." Nathan frowned. "Second off, she's not my girlfriend."

Jack glanced out the window and nodded. "That's interesting." He knew full well that he was getting on Nathan's last nerve, for no other reason than to simply entertain himself at Nathan's expense.

Nathan felt his stomach flip. He could feel his dislike intensifying for Jack. He inwardly resolved to do what he could to keep Harper away from someone that he just had a bad feeling about.

"We've got company," Jack broke in, pointing to the concentration of walkers just ahead.


# # #

Harper steadied herself and pulled the pack from her back, reaching inside and pulling out her flashlight. "Is everyone okay?" she asked as she flicked the switch on and a circle of brightness shone through the window facing the platform. She directed the beam around the car, taking note of everyone's faces with alert expressions. "Everyone here?" Several noises came back acknowledging her question.

James let out a long sigh. The still darkness made it difficult to understand others without seeing their faces. "We've got to get out of here," he said simply. "Think that everyone can lean over and tilt this tin can back up?" The group promptly climbed up toward the diagonal ceiling. "On the count of three... one... two... THREE!"

The effort exerted by the ten people hurling themselves against the railcar's window proved laughably futile. As this railcar was connected on both sides to others, weighing it down considerably.

"Worth a shot, right?" James cracked, his dry voice trying hard to shield any worry. "Can we get that door open?"

Harper continued to shine to the flashlight through the window, spotting the silhouettes of a couple of figures out on the floor. She froze as she studied their movements, and could feel a collective silence and holding of breaths as others noticed them. Luckily, they were not staggering around lifelessly or aimlessly... they were real people. She tapped her flashlight on the glass and shifted the flashlight's beam quickly back and forth, hoping to get their attention and obtain help.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Molly LeFleur (NPC)

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#, as written by Zephon
Rafiq Chedidi

---

“Another can of beans.” Rafiq placed it next to the others.

“Well, at least we won’t be lacking for beans for a while,” Molly said while scribbling it down in the notebook. Feeling useless because of her ankle, she had asked Rafiq to help out making an inventory of everything that they had. Figuring out rations was probably a good idea.

“I don’t like beans,” Sam said from behind his comic. His mother looked at him reproachfully. He did not notice, as he was already back in the wonderful world of the Marvel universe. It suddenly hit Rafiq that the kid was probably reading the last story Marvel would ever publish.

The door flung open and Niobe and Carl sashayed in. Annabelle peeked in behind them, smiled and then returned to her watch duty.

“Where is George?” Niobe asked, dropping a stuffed backpack near the others.

“Hello to you too,” Jessica responded with a tinge of sarcasm.

“Yeah, yeah, where is George?”

“On watch,” Rafiq said and nodded towards the other door. “Did something happen?”

She simply looked at him for a second and then went to find George without saying another word. Carl shrugged at them apologetically.

“What’s her problem?” Molly asked indignant.

“Nothing,” Carl said. He reached over to a bag of potato chips, but thought better of it when he saw the way Molly was looking at him. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Anyway, we ran into some people. Niobe wants to talk with George first before we decide... uh... on things.”

Rafiq looked at Molly, who seemed equally confused. “Things?” He asked, “what things?”

Carl thought for a second but then figured there was no point in lying.

“We got to Capitol Records, where we ran into a bunch of-“


BOOM!

The sudden noise made him shut up as a shock all went through them. For a moment, they all just sat there. Stunned.

BOOM!

“The bombs!” Rafiq shouted, “Get down!” He hoped he could hear them, but if they did not, they all seemed to have the same idea, as they all crouched down on the floor. Jessica ran to her son and covered his ears.

BOOM!

BOOM!


Annebelle scrambled back into the room, having realized that the room was safer then the tunnel outside. Jessica had told them earlier that this room was as earthquake proof as an underground place could get. They had hoped this would be the same for bombs as well.

BOOM!

BOOM!


It felt different from an earthquake though. There was a lot more noise for one thing. And it was apparent that the danger came from above. Rafiq had instinctively wrapped his arm around Molly, who in turn was holding his other hand.

The bombs went on for a while longer, but then eventually died away. Rafiq could feel his heart racing and sweat was trickling down his forehead.

Once they were sure it was over, Rafiq helped Molly up. She was a bit pale, but otherwise not in any visible signs of panic. The others seemed to cope as well, considering the situation. It was unnerving to think what would have happened if they had not been here. This was not the moment to just sit down though.

“We have to make sure the others are okay,” Rafiq said. He picked up one of the flashlights they had collected earlier.

“What about Sarah?” Molly asked. Rafiq swallowed hard. He did not want to think it, but if the girl had not gotten underground, she was probably dead. It made him feel sad.

“One thing at a time,” he heard himself say, although it came out a lot colder then he meant too. He turned around and left the room. Carl and Jessica followed.

The tunnel was dark. The bombs must have cut of the power, Rafiq thought to himself. Thankfully, George would not have gone far.

Just as that thought came into his head, they could make out George and Niobe leaning against the wall. They appeared alright.

“Oh my God, you are okay.” Jessica said loudly and ran towards them. George held up a hand and indicated for them to be quiet.

“Yes, we are alright,” he said in a low voice, “and you guys?”

“We are all fine,” Rafiq whispered. “What’s happening?”

Niobe took a step away from the wall and looked at something a bit away from them. It was a train, derailed. “Just before the bombs fell, this group ran inside that train. They have not seen me or George. We were lucky. That railcar not so much.”

They carefully shuffled closer to the train. Those people might be in need of a help. At the same time, they might be trouble. Or worse, they might have died and turned into walkers. George lifted his gun and Rafiq and the others did the same.

Suddenly a light fell upon them. It danced away and around them. Someone inside that train was trying to get their attention.

“They are trapped,” Rafiq said.

“That they do,” George said in a flat tone.

Rafiq was the first to reach the train. Through the glass, he could make out a number of people. There were ten of them, including a little girl. They would outnumber his little group, but then again, they did not seem particular dangerous. It was quite a mix match of people.

The woman with the flashlight was shouting something, but he could barely make it out through the thick glass. It was clear what she wanted though. Getting out.

He looked at George, remembering what happened earlier that day with the man in the wheelchair. If he did not want to help these people...

Thankfully, George was not that cruel. “Alright,” he sighed, “let’s try to get them out. Still, be careful everyone.”

Rafiq gave the woman in the train a reassuring smile, which seemed to ease her tension a bit. She said something to her fellow people and backed away. Together with Carl and George, Rafiq tried to pull the door open. With the way the train had fallen, this proved to be quite difficult, as the door was heavy and gravity against them. Yet, they managed and after a couple of grunts and cursing, the door swung open.

The woman with the flashlight was the first to get out and was about to say something, until she saw the gun in George’s hand, who was pointing it straight at her. “What the...” she began.

“Look,” George said, “we don’t want to do you guys any harm. But I’m sure you understand that we have to make sure you are not the wrong kind of people.” He placed a deliberate emphasis on the word 'we'.

A man propped his head behind the woman. He was angry, “Come on! We already had a shit day!”

George narrowed his eyes, but focused his attention on the woman. “You seem like a reasonable lady,” he said, “I only ask of you people to get out of the train one by one and see if you are carrying any weapons.”

The woman nodded. “That is only sensible,” she said.

They did as George asked and got out of the train one by one. They all lifted their hands in the air upon coming out, indicating that they were not holding any weapons.

“Alright,” George said, “that was not that bad, was it?” As he said that, he lowered his gun as a sign of goodwill. They all just stood there, not sure what to do next.

At that moment, they could hear another bomb falling in the distance. It was not close enough to do any damage, but nearly all of them looked up at the ceiling regardless.

Another bomb fell, clearly audible this time.

Later, he would be amazed at the fact how he was the one who had made the decision. But at that moment, all Rafiq could think of was to get everyone to safety.

“George!” He shouted, “we have to get back to the maintenance room! We’ll figure this out later!”

Niobe and George briefly exchanged looks.

Another bomb.

Niobe nodded.

“You heard the boy! Let’s go!”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Natasha Dean Character Portrait: Dyomie Thornes Character Portrait: Marie Thornes (NPC) Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Phillip Wilson (NPC) Character Portrait: Sarah Hawke (NPC) Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Molly LeFleur (NPC) Character Portrait: Everett T. Bronson (NPC) Character Portrait: Oliver O'Brien (NPC) Character Portrait: Dax Faraday (NPC)

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.: Calvin Hawke :.
# Sarah Hawke #


BOOM! BOOM! B-BOOM!

Thunderous quakes shook the ground as dozens of convicts shepherded a hooded man down the halls towards the kitchens. Their riotous noise-making was almost enough to overpower the sound of the distant bombs dropping, but not quite. The captive was corralled across the kitchen tile and thrown into the walk-in freezer. Sarah struggled on the tips of her toes to see what was happening, but the halls were packed with too many bodies. Through the heads of the men ahead of her, she managed to see Oliver force himself into the freezer with a bearded man and the prisoner.

BOOM!

Another explosion in the distance, followed by the aftershock of a neighboring building crumbling to the ground. Sarah looked at the mob of strangers scrambling for cover all around her, feeling absolutely lost and alone. A passing shoulder knocked her to the ground, and Dax -- having witnessed Sarah's fall -- limped over to help her off her hands and knees.

Her eyes lit up when she saw who it was, his bright red hair like a lighthouse amongst the chaos. "T-Thank you," Sarah managed to blurt out. Dax pulled her to her feet, nodding curtly.

"This way," he ordered, starting down one of the side halls. She took his arm, helping to steady the man as they moved away from the frenzied crowd. Sarah looked over her shoulder one last time, hopelessly checking for Oliver in the mass of convicts. She hoped that whatever was happening behind that freezer door had nothing to do with him -- however serious it looked.

If only she knew...


* * *


Inside the freezer, Bronson slammed Calvin against the metal rack, cuffing his right hand to one of its legs. Oliver closed the door behind him as he entered, turning around just as Bronson ripped the bag from Calvin's head. He squinted against the crystal blue fluorescent light -- a bandana crudely tied around his head and mouth in a makeshift gag. His reddened eyes glared back and forth between his two captors as he sat on the freezing plate floor, shackled to the rack behind him.

Oliver shook his head, running one hand over his face to calm his nerves. He waited a beat for Bronson to speak, but knew that the man probably felt he had nothing to explain. Since things had gone down, Bronson had assumed total authority over the surviving convicts, including Oliver -- so much so that the men had coined the monicker "The Warden" for their bearded leader. The assumption was that his orders went without question, his means and deviances without mention -- and in return he would provide security, safety, and sustenance for those who followed him. And the cycle continued, and continued... leaving Oliver as the only real voice of reason. Had things gone down differently, Bronson would have likely killed him during their escape from the prison bus, but he recognized that Oliver was the only reason they survived in the first place. He wondered how long that immunity would hold out for -- given the way things had been going lately.

"What the hell is this, Everett?" Oliver asked, jabbing a finger at Calvin.

Bronson sighed, dramatically. "Now why would you go and use my name -- my God-given birth name -- in front of our prisoner?" Oliver rolled his eyes, as if that was the point here."Are you fucking stupid?"

"Explain this before I get pissed," Oliver replied, already tired of these games. Calvin wrestled with his wrist against the pole, testing the strength of his bindings. Bronson served up a sharp kick in the knee to shut him up, and Calvin yanked his leg back in pain.

"Maybe if you had been around today when I needed you, we wouldn't be in this situation," Bronson chided, circling the floor. "This man murdered my brother," he explained, turning to look at Calvin. The two glared at each other for more than a moment, reveling in their dislike for one another. "He was smart enough not to resist me when I found him, and so I've brought him here to serve his sentence."

Oliver shook his head at the ego of it all. "Serve his sentence? Listen to you! Did you really just break out of prison to start another one?" he scolded. "You ever think of asking him why he killed your brother?"

"Finally, someone with some sense," Calvin chimed in from the floor. Bronson delivered another sharp kick, this time to his shin. His handcuffs rang taut against the rack as he winced in pain, grasping for his leg. Oliver leapt forward, placing his arm across Bronson's chest as he wound up for another kick -- this one aimed at Calvin's stomach.

"You really gonna put hands on me, boy?" Bronson asked, calmly. Oliver eased up, eyeing the man with suspicion. He knew from their time together in the joint just how unpredictable the man could be. It was a very calculated impulsiveness -- one that treaded the fine line between genius and suicidal. But there was something in Oliver's eyes that Bronson didn't like. He wound back, quickly striking out with his elbow against Oliver's jaw. The man reeled backwards into one of the other metal racks, gripping it with all his strength to keep himself steady. Cansan d bags of food clamored on the ground as they were knocked free of their shelves. Bronson was already on him again, this time driving his knee into Oliver's stomach. His limp frame dropped to the ground, effortlessly. This was the real Everett T. Bronson... the "Warden" that everyone whispered about. He reached down and drew a knife out from Oliver's waistband.

BOOM!

The Warden turned to Calvin, examining the knife in his hand like a surgeon with his tools. He inched a few steps closer to his prisoner, pondering his fate...

BOOM!

Another bomb dropped as he placed a foot on Calvin's chest, pinning him against the rack. His other hand grasped Calvin's handcuffed wrist and braced it to the pole, holding the knife close. But, no... it didn't add up. His brother was an idiot -- too much so to be considered his right hand man. Besides, such a small knife would take too long for a proper severing, and Bronson hated doing a messy job. He backed off a bit, watching Calvin wreathe and squirm against his restraints in protest.

BOOM!

Dust sifted down from fresh cracks in the ceiling, falling past Bronson's judging eyes. What was his brother to him? What punishment fit the crime? He supposed that in a way, he was his eyes and ears. Always the talker, never the thinker -- his dear baby brother. That seemed fair enough -- an eye for an eye.

Having finally decided, he looked Calvin straight in his... for the last time.


* * *


+ Niobe Kajja +


The bold young woman kept her weapon held high as she popped out from behind the corner of the overturned train car. The girl kept a steady aim on Niobe as others from the group crept out from behind the car. Niobe watched as the girl's eyes widened and she adjusted the grip on her gun.

"Easy there now, kid," Niobe muttered, keeping as still as could be. Another girl came up from behind the armed one and put her hand on the gun, lowering it.

"There's a little girl with them," she said, nodding in Lily's direction. Dyomie noticed what she was talking about and dropped her guard a bit. Natasha joined them, sauntering out from her hiding spot with her weapon drawn -- Phillip close behind. They looked just like the rest of them... as if they had just been through Hell and back.

BOOM!

They all braced themselves as the entire platform shook again, the metal rails ringing like church bells as parts of the ceiling crumbled from above loosening the tracks. Niobe sized up the four newcomers.

"Look," she called out, "this is the most people I've seen in one place since this all started... so I know I'm not crazy when I say we need to stick together if we're going to have any kind of future here. None of us know each other, I know... but that's the situation we're in." Harper looked at Nathan -- and Steve, who stood behind Lily with his hands on her shoulders. "There's no more how do-you-do's, no more shaking hands and talking about the weather. There is only one thing... survival."

BOOM!

The hanging silence was stifled by yet another explosion. "She's right," Rafiq added, pushing to the front of the crowd. "We can't keep pointing guns at each other when the real enemy is out there." He pointed up towards the streets above. "We have to go deeper into the tunnels until the bombings stop."

Dyomie squinted her eyes, still unsure of what to do. "We don't know you people," she protested in defense of her situation.

Niobe lowered her weapon, slowly -- too tired to put up with anymore of this. "And you're not going to at the other end of a gun," she preached.

Jessica lovingly squeezed her son's shoulders as she edged towards the front of the group. "There's a junction about a quarter mile down the tracks that could hold all of us. It might be tight, but the foundation should hold until all of this settles down," she advised, looking around the group.

Jack crossed his arms. "One of our friends is still out there," he protested, pointing behind him. "Calvin could have made it somewhere safe before the bombs got this close..."

Harper's gaze lowered to the ground. "So the best possible scenario is that Calvin's holed up somewhere with a bunch of psychotic escaped convicts?" Molly stood next to her, chewing her lip in thought. Something they had mentioned caught her ear, and it all suddenly added up in a flash.

"Calvin... Hawke?" She asked, hanging on their every breath. Harper looked around at some of the others, not quite understanding. He was enough of an established film personality that anyone with a TV would know the name, but Molly's face didn't show the excitement of a fan... it showed nothing but worry and panic.

"Uhh, yeah... Calvin Hawke," Harper replied to the girl.

Molly looked Rafiq dead in the eyes. "That's Sarah's brother..." she said, loud enough for everyone to hear. Rafiq furrowed his brow, sad that she wasn't here to rejoice in the news that her brother is alive... or at least, was a minute ago. Only time would tell how many deaths they'd be mourning in the inevitable aftermath of the bombings.

"Who?" Harper asked eagerly, her interest peaking.

Rafiq shook his head. "One of our own is missing too," Rafiq replied, somberly. "Sarah." Harper traded a look with Nathan through the crowd.

"Two of our own," George corrected, bristling at the thought of his poor dog.

Rafiq nodded. "His dog went with her..."

Niobe holstered her gun and took in the group. "There's nothing we can do for them now," she insisted. As much as they all hated the thought, she was right. It was only them now -- they had to keep moving. "Jessica, lead on..." Niobe commanded. The group slowly started trudging along, helping each other around the wreckage of the train cars and debris. Dyomie glanced back at Marie and the rest of her group, slowly stowing her pistol and following suit. Jessica pulled to the front, guiding the group deeper into the blackened metro tunnel. The pitter-patter of over a dozen different footsteps trailed behind her as more bombs thudded against the surface above. Niobe gritted her teeth as she ran, hoping she knew what she was doing. Whatever this new world was, it was clear that the rules were made up as you went along.

If this really was the end... she had a feeling it was only just getting started.


.: END OF SEASON :.

The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC)

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Harper flickered her eyes open quickly, hearing footsteps pattering not far from her head as she rested on the cold cement floor. She tilted her head and looked up; Nathan was crouching down low, resting his hand on her arm. "Hey," he said softly, "I saved you breakfast. I think it's time to wake up now."

She blinked and stared ahead vacantly for a moment, and then leaned up on an elbow and rubbed her wrist across her eyes. "Yep. Sorry. Just got tired... really tired."

Actually, she wasn't telling him that the only way she could get to sleep at night was by taking a tablet of Xanax, making getting up in the morning far more difficult. She was well over halfway through the bottle that Stephanie had been carrying in her leather satchel, still being kept safe by Harper herself.

And the only person who knew Harper even needed any Xanax was Stephanie herself, wherever she might be, and she hadn't mustered up the desire to tell anyone else about it at that point.

Nathan put an arm out and took a seat next to her as she sat up. "I've never seen you this tired. It's been like this for a few days, hasn't it?"

Harper nodded and smiled only the very slightest bit. "Yeah, I guess... maybe I'm just having a hard time, you know, adjusting."

The corners of Nathan's mouth curled up as he offered her a Snickers bar and a small bottle of apple juice. "Looks to me that you're doing just fine. At least you can sleep."

Harper took a bite of the candy bar, chewing politely but just slightly ravenously when as she studied the purple lines beginning to show under Nathan's blue eyes. She wasn't sure that she looked or even felt better than he did. "Maybe a little too much." There was an awkward pause. "What are you up to today?"

"Steve and Schantz need someone to go on a run. Turns out that that's me, so I'll be out with them. Need anything while I'm out, dear?" he teased.

She smiled and unscrewed the cap to the juice. "Oh, you know." She took a sip. "Face wash. Lipstick in this one shade called 'Purple Plasm.' Lots and lots of feminine products." She laughed.

Nathan rolled his eyes and put his hands up. "You could just say, 'No thanks, Nathan, I'm totally good, thanks for asking!'"

"I'm totally good, thanks for asking," she parroted with a silly wink, and continued to drink. "Actually. What I would do for a cup of coffee," she said speculatively.

Nathan snapped his fingers. "Done. You will have a cup of coffee."

"Thanks, Nathan," she laughed after she finished the juice. "I really appreciate you helping me out."

# # #

Nearly everyone at the station was headed to the Society of Professional Journalists L.A. Chapter's Distinguished Journalist Awards Dinner. After the event, the WEND-TV crew decided it was best to leave the venue and hit the town on a busy Saturday night.

Harper didn't have much of a social life; she went to work, came home, slept, got up, read newspapers and websites, and went in to work. Occasionally she went to go have a drink with co-workers, but maybe twice a month. By far, her closest friend at work was Nathan On her days off she'd go running at Venice Beach or go for a drive up and down the coast, all on her own. Despite her outward friendliness, she still felt painfully shy and didn't much feel like exposing her flaws to others at work. That's how drama and rumors get started.

But tonight, she was happy to go out with the group. It was a good night to get dolled-up, pull out pairs of high heels that ordinarily would never fly in most situations, and have fun.

The night flew by, eventually finding the group dwindled to about seven people gathered in a small hotel bar at 1:30 a.m. Nobody had designated themselves as a designated driver, and by this time most of the group had sought cabs home.

Nathan turned to Harper and glared at her challengingly. "Are you going to wimp out and go home?" he asked teasingly.

Harper giggled profusely. She'd had way too much to drink. "I'm no wimp!" she declared, slapping her palm on the table before her. She took another swig of the beer in front of her and shook her head. "You're the wimp."

"That makes no sense!" he retorted, shaking his head and raising his hands inquisitively in front of himself.

Kyle waved his hand as he picked his wallet up from the table. "I'm out!" he announced. "You guys gotta get going. Things are closing down soon and all the cabs are going to get taken."

"Ehhhh, go home, smartypants," Nathan drawled back mockingly.

Kyle rolled his eyes and left the two alone.

Harper laughed and stared up at the ceiling as she leaned back into her side of the booth. She wore a short emerald-green cocktail dress, her dark hair pinned back. A pair of sparkly earrings dangled from her ears. Nathan only owned one suit, not because of being particularly disadvantaged, but because he hated wearing them. "Harp!" he said to her nonsensically.

"Nathan!" she bellowed back, propping herself up on her arms to sit up properly and look ahead at him. "I'm drunk!"

"So am I!" he blasted in return. The two laughed. "I've never seen you this drunk!"

Harper cracked up again and grabbed her purse and put it on the table. "Really. I better get a cab like Kyle said. So I can go home."

Nathan sat up quickly. "So soon?" he asked, a lilt of disappointment in his voice. She nodded wobbily. "But Haaaaarperrrr..."

"You are SUCH a whiner!" she said through a crinkly laugh. "You are always griping about something! Or at someone!" She hiccuped quickly. "It's like you never shut up!"

Nathan balked and laughed. "Oh, now you're going to share what you think!" he returned. "I see. I see. You have to be drunk to do that."

She finished off her beer. "You just happened to get me at a great time," she slurred.

Nathan rolled his eyes. "But we always work together."

She laughed. "You see me every day and NOW you want to complain to me?"

He chewed the inside of his lip. He felt nervous. "No, I'm just stating the obvious!" he zapped out.

"Nice comeback, but I've got to go home," she said quickly, pretending to be annoyed.

"Hey, I'll walk you," he offered rushedly, whipping out his wallet and tossing a few dollar bills onto the table. He scurried after her as she made her way to the door. "You can't go out there by yourself!"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, yes I can. Watch me."

Nathan kept pace with her as she waltzed playfully ahead on matte satin black high heels, humming some silly tune. He stuck his jacket across her shoulders, the arms flying below the hem of her dress. She stopped briefly and cast a squint-eyed glance at him. "Fine, walk with me until I find a cab." She hiccuped again and resumed her silly trot down the sidewalk. She always came out of her shell once she'd had a few drinks.

Nathan was thrilled. He had waited how many months to talk to her outside of work, one-on-one. At work they had a job to do, and he couldn't waste time on socializing. She was always kind to him, very bright, and flat-out gorgeous.

Of course, he had no idea what to do or say.

Just as he worked up the courage to put his arm around her narrow shoulders, a cab rolled up. She whisked into the backseat and waved Nathan in. "Let's split the fare!" she offered brightly.

He climbed in next to her and watched her as she sank into her seat after giving directions to her apartment. His ears pricked up. "That's where you live??" he remarked. "I'm just a few blocks away!"

She laughed. "Then the fare won't cost much at all!" She sat up and stared up through the sunroof at the tall buildings towering above. Nathan stared, watching her eyes sparkle and her lips curl into a smile. "I love tall buildings!" she sighed contentedly. He watched her knees shift into a comfortable position. She looked unbelievably happy, being drunk and staring up at the sky.

There weren't many times where Nathan was tongue-tied, but this was one of them. No music blared in the cab. Just the sounds of the air rushing past the windows. He watched her soak in the sights, not even looking back at him. Clearly, she was very comfortable in his presence.

Just as he summoned the nerve to move his hand over hers, the cab stopped. He recovered by grabbing his wallet and forking over enough money to cover the fare. Harper blinked, not even done rustling through her small purse. Nathan waved her off nervously. "I got it." She smiled and exited the cab.

Harper stood on the sidewalk and waited for him. It was a serene ride back, the two utterly exhausted after a long night out. She suddenly remembered that she had Nathan's jacket around her shoulders and pawed at the sleeves. "I'm swimming in this," she declared through her hazy state. Nathan slowly ascended onto the sidewalk from the street. His face was drained of color, and he'd shoved his hands in his pockets. She frowned. "Are you all right?"

Nathan withdrew his hands and held her shoulders carefully, staring her right in the face. Clumsy drunk move. "... Harper, I..."

Harper's face froze in the expression she'd been wearing. Suddenly, it registered. Oh. No.

"Harper, I've really liked working these last few months with you," he started, "and I really think..." He trailed off. Harper stared back, trying very hard to hide her surprise. Her arresting bright eyes were very exciting, but also very intimidating. "I really like you, and I really think that..." He trailed off again. He blinked and sighed. "Ahhh, I don't know what I'm doing here... Help me out..."

She chewed the inside of her lip, her intoxicated state lifting greatly with the fast twist her stomach took when he'd started talking. She smiled meekly and took a breath. "Nathan, that's very nice of you," she offered calmly.

There was a long pause. Nathan's heart sunk. He'd finally met someone who piqued his interest for more than two days, and finally decided to say something after months of cautioning himself to slow down, and... this.

His caution didn't extend beyond that moment. "That's it?" he asked, taken aback. "I... I tell you that I think you're incredible, and that was very nice of me?"

Harper shook her head and brought her wrists up to pull Nathan's hands from her shoulders. "I'm sorry, Nathan," she said confidently. It didn't sound unsympathetic, but she was clear.

"Harper," he said, "I work with you almost every day and I really feel like... like, I like you. A lot. We get along really well."

Without skipping a beat, she answered, "But you had no idea I lived so close by. Obviously we aren't that close." Nathan swallowed and looked down at his feet. That hurt. "Nathan, we spend a lot of time together. I see you more than I see anyone else." He blinked, while still looking downward. "You're my best friend in Los Angeles. If I don't want to date *you*, then how can I want to date *anyone*?"

The argument appealed to him in a way, but it still didn't settle well. "I think... I'm not just anyone. I really think that we would make a great match," he said quietly, still running a few syllables drunkenly, wanting badly to lean his head in and just kiss her, like he should have already been doing.

Harper stepped backwards just slightly, and bore a restrained but friendly smile on her face. "I love seeing you every day. The way things are now are... nice. Maybe it'll work someday. But today it won't." She held her purse in front of her and nodded. "I'll see you on Monday morning?" she asked quietly.

He nodded wordlessly as he tried to casually mosey off as though nothing had happened. It was a failure. A dismal failure. It had gone so poorly that she hasn't even gotten mad at him. He played the exchange again and again in his head, angry at himself and wondering if she seemed to play it off like he had said something insignificant and meaningless.

He dropped his keys on the kitchen counter as he walked into his apartment. He didn't even bother to remove his shoes as he walked into his bedroom and collapsed onto his mattress. He rolled over on his back, incredulous that she lived so close by without him knowing. That, and he completely forgot to get his jacket back from her. He picked up his phone and sent a quick text. His wristwatch bleeped to tell him it was 4 a.m. He looked up at his headboard and shut his eyes.

# # #

Harper popped the pill in her mouth and took quick sips of water to help it coast easily down her throat.

She couldn't believe Nathan had done that. Of course she liked Nathan—he was funny, he was handsome, he was talented, and he was just the kind of guy any girl would love to meet. But not only did she just not want to be tied to anyone at the moment, but she just didn't think that dating a co-worker was a great idea.

At least that's what she was telling herself, she wisely reflected. Things hadn't been easy for her since moving out west. Los Angeles was completely different than what she was used to. The weather was nice, of course. She really enjoyed her job, especially spending days laughing and working smoothly with Nathan. By far, he was the best videographer she'd ever worked with in her seven years as a reporter, even easier to work with than the cool-headed videographer, Mark, who'd accompanied her during her embed assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what could she do in a place where she didn't feel quite so comfortable yet? As much as dating Nathan sounded like it could be fun, she just didn't see it working out long-term, either. Staying in Los Angeles did not seem like a goal worth planning for. And what was the point in getting physical if it was just going to be messy in the end?

She settled onto the floor pillows by the loft's window, wearing an oversized gray t-shirt and a pair of short red gym shorts. The view outside was terrific, looking over West Hollywood toward the shoreline, at least on a smog-free day. The palm trees were a novel addition along the streets and the beach, glowing green thanks to streetlights.

She took a deep breath and felt her brain become slow. She bit her thumbnail and continued to stare outside. She wondered how Nathan would be Monday—angry? Sad? Calm? Would he pretend that it never happened?

Harper's body started to feel warm. She curled up under her blanket and sighed heavily. Maybe she could date him. Maybe. Wouldn't he be a fun person to be with? Maybe. But tonight, she just didn't have those answers.

Her phone chirped low. A text from Nathan read, "Whatever you say, boss."

She smiled slightly and stretched out, a little relieved as she drifted off to sleep.

# # #


Nathan blinked and smiled back. "You're welcome... well, I guess I better go find you some coffee. See you later," he said as he straightened his legs and stood to quickly walk away, trying hard to avoid the urge to reach out and touch Harper on the arm. It was getting worse. For about a month he hadn't forgotten about being turned down and had tried his hardest to forget the attachment, but had been unsuccessful, even before the disaster struck. Add several days' worth of surviving together and that made it all so much worse. And it was especially getting bad now that people in the group were starting to talk more amongst one another.

"Nathan," a low, calm voice spoke, interrupting his concentration. The shorter man nodded to him from his spot keeping watch with Carl, the guy with the comic shop. "Ready when you are."

Jack. Nathan especially despised Jack. He hadn't liked the remarks he'd made about Harper at the station, and didn't like the way he looked at Harper back at the sign several days ago, or the way he'd stuck by her at the metro station. He didn't know anything about the guy but just knew he couldn't stomach being around him. Harper was kind to him, which made things worse. She'd smile and ask him a lot of questions about his background, where he came from... and he'd answer them. That sure got under Nathan's skin.

"Yep, just letting Harper know it's time to get up."

Jack looked at him directly in the eye. Nathan was a lot bigger than he was physically, but not mentally stronger. "Oh, she all right?" he asked, making sure to let as much concern creep into his voice at possible.

Nathan inwardly seethed. "Just having a tough time getting up," he said simply.

Schantz stepped through the two men and started off toward the exit. "Hurry up, it's already 9!" she said quickly. "If we don't get a move on someone's going to find that stash we came upon."

"Yeah, yeah, Miss Manners, real intimidated," Nathan volleyed back airily. "We're all getting out pretty quick, here. Don't worry."

Steve caught up, holding a found shotgun. He tossed a golf club to Nathan and a long-handled garden cultivator to Schantz. "Any minute now," he said as he looked over to Jack and Carl. "Anything we should know before we duck out, gentlemen?"

# # #

Harper checked over her list before popping her head into the office. George looked up from his spot, staring down at the surface of the table staring at the assembled ammunition. "Hey," she greeted, holding up a small box. "Brought something for you guys."

She set the cardboard box down on the table. George eyed Harper suspiciously, then the box. "What is it?"

Harper gestured her palm at the table. "I've thought a lot about it, and I think you guys should have this."

George picked up the box carefully and thumbed the flimsy cardboard lid open. An assortment of 9mm shells, about two dozen. He looked back to Harper. "Where did you get these?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "We met a girl last week and she ended up getting sick at the camp we were at," she recounted. "We have her stuff."

"Where's the gun?" George inquired, picking up a few shells and inspecting them under the hanging flashlight's beam.

"She didn't have it when she was with us," Harper volunteered. "If she's still around, she still might not have it. These should help. I think she'd want these to go to good use."

George smiled and placed the box alongside the shells already on the table. "Well, thank you, that'll go a long way," he remarked. "But I have to ask why you took this long to share the wealth."

Harper nodded, her face bearing a slightly annoyed expression. "Well, I didn't know if I should be giving someone else's possessions away, so it kind of took me a while to justify." She then pulled her notepad out of her back pocket. "And I want to help. I have a lot of ideas on how we can make things work."

George raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really? In what way could you help?" he laid out heavily. "I think that we've got things under control."

Harper nodded. "No, you're doing a great job," she assured him, "I just have some ideas about what we should do about how we organize our time and manage our resources. Such as, we should be recording everyone's clothing and shoe sizes so that way when someone goes to-"

George held up a hand. "All willing to hear your ideas," he said slightly irritably, "but I'd like to have everyone all sit together and talk about it."

Harper nodded. "Sure," she said as she tucked the notepad back into her pocket. Seemed like George didn't want to discuss it at the moment. "Thank you," she nodded at him, turning on her heel calmly to head over to the de facto rec room.

Jack and Annabelle sat at the table over a deck of cards, talking quietly. Harper pulled up a chair to sit at the end of the table, and laid her notepad down in front of herself. "I'm sorry to interrupt you," she said plainly, and slightly airily thanks to the medication. "James. Annabelle. I want badly to help, but I don't know if I can get them to listen. I'd like to ask your advice."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC)

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Stevie wheeled around once she heard Schantz' uncharacteristic scream of panic, and lunged into the car through the driver's seat. She shelved her handgun near the pedals and shoved her arms underneath Schantz' armpits in an attempt to drag her across the console and remove her from the reach of the walkers.

"Quick, help us!" Stevie called back to the two who showed up. "Take the gun!"

The pretty black woman and the curly-headed man with the glasses sprang into action; she rotated about the car to distract a few of the walkers from the window, while he snagged the Ruger and followed suit. Stevie pulled Schantz into the driver's seat, Schantz kicking her legs frenziedly, narrowly escaping a series of bites and scratches. Schantz yanked a utility knife from her jacket and held it up tepidly, still weak. Stevie grabbed the knife from her hands from behind and then pulled the driver door shut, cramming a protesting Schantz uncomfortably into the seat as she scrambled feet-first over the console. As she slid into the passenger's side, she slammed her feet against the door, knocking the three gathered walkers back a few feet.

Stevie noticed that the other two had easily taken care of the walkers they'd drawn away, and had looped around to the back of the vehicle to grab the unconscious sandy-haired man off of the ground. She let one of the walkers that had reeled back come closer to the open passenger door as she flicked open a blade on the knife, and sank it into its forehead with a fast jab to stab through its skull.

One of the other walkers had resorted to crawling on its hands and knees back toward the door, and raised one hand to grip the door itself, and before Stevie knew it, had taken a hold of her right foot with its other hand. She let out a desperate shout, cuing herself to stab the knife ahead, but as she let the blade run downward, it sank its teeth into the yellow leather. She let out a loud scream as she drove the knife into the biter's skull. "Help!" she shouted as she kicked her foot. The walker's teeth stubbornly held fast onto the boot.

The black woman whirled around within view of the door and drove the Mazda's antenna, which she'd wrenched off of the hood just moments before, into the eye of the other walker hovering nearby and pulled Stevie from the seat. The other stranger set the unconscious man into the spot Stevie had just occupied and slammed the door behind them. Schantz cast a concerned glance out the window, but knew better than to try to get out again after getting her leg battered by the door.

The pressure that the walker's teeth had dispersed onto the boot was miserably painful. Stevie held back a scream and dug the knife into the walker's skull again in an attempt to loosen its trapping jaw. No luck.

The other woman pointed to the sidewalk and began to drag the deadweighted walker toward it. "This way, now!" she cracked sharply. Stevie hobbled her good foot over and obeyed the woman's command to stretch her leg out. "You've been bit?!" she asked hastily.

Stevie set her foot with the attached walker down on the sidewalk's edge as the man in the glasses directed Schantz to try to drive the remaining blocks to the metro station for help. "Hey, hey, you can't take that!" Stevie shouted.

"It's not far, and we'll get together from there!" he responded.

The woman smashed her foot down on the walker's jaw, just so that it would loosen Stevie's foot, but not without excising another pinch. It almost felt like her foot was very quickly run over by a large truck. Stevie shut her eyes and fought back another shout of pain.

She kicked off the walker as the woman looked down at the boot to inspect the bite. Curiously, there was no blood; just a set of incisor indentations and two embedded teeth. But no blood. The leather boots had been the right choice, after all, when she'd picked them out to wear nine mornings ago. The woman looked up briefly at Stevie and nodded. "Can you walk?"

Stevie nodded as she only slightly winced in pain. "Yep," she said, then saw the Nissan cruising up out of the corner of her eye. Lisa was plastered against a window with a white face, looking back at the wrecked truck, while Althea very calmly drove ahead. "Hey!" she called to the man, "wave them in, they're with us!" He nodded and pointed ahead for them to follow the Mazda, then looked to the couple of walkers that came upon them after the several they'd just dispatched.

Just then, several gunshots rang out, mowing down four of the dozen or so walkers who'd just come into view.

# # #

Harper followed Laura, one of the women from the Hollywood sign who'd opted to accompany them a week earlier, to the largest common area of the station, carrying her vest and helmet with her. "What's going on?" she asked as she walked in.

James gestured toward the wall, where the few guns that the group possessed were propped up along with items such as a few golf clubs, Nathan's metal bat, and a few garden tools. "Take your pick, kid, I know you can shoot," he scratchily instructed. "Jack says he's heard gunshots and our three ain't back yet. Got a hunch that this has got something to do with it."

Harper knew she wasn't strong enough at the moment to handle a bat, choosing instead to grab the scoped hunting rifle. "You sure about that?" she asked somewhat skeptically.

Jessica popped her head in, panting heavily. "There's a car coming," she managed between breaths, "Tara. George. Not going good. People out there. Better go!" she insisted.

Harper followed James and Laura down the long tunnelway to the exit of the station according to Jessica's instructions. They met Jack at the top of the stairs, who motioned for them to follow closely behind.

"The hell's going on out here?" James growled raspily.

"A crashed truck down the way there," Jack responded as the Mazda drove up, "and we've got two coming in."

The Mazda slowly wheeled its way closer, followed by the Nissan. Not far behind was Jessica, who stepped out to assist Schantz in getting out of the car. The Nissan also parked; a tall black woman exited and immediately ran to the Mazda to help extract George from the seat and drag him to safety. A smaller woman with shorter blonde-brown hair exited to help, both following Jessica's lead.

"They're fine," James barked sharply as the group ogled the scene, then turned their attention the other scene in the street. "Carl and Niobe, see 'em? Let's go!"

They made a run for it down the street. At one point Harper climbed into the bed of an abandoned truck and decided to peel off the walkers closing in on what turned out to be a small trio.

"Just like shooting deer," she murmured, hoping to assure herself as she concentrated on landing shots with the assistance of the scope. She let off about four shots before climbing down from the truck bed to join them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC)

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Stevie continued to work in tandem with the other two strangers in heading off the oncoming slew of walkers. When the four went down in a rapid succession of gunfire, she was thrilled to see more people jump into the fray: a younger brown-haired woman with a bat, an agile poker-wielding man in a white t-shirt, and an older man with a machete.

"We've got to help everyone back there!" Stevie insisted to the newcomers, pointing back toward Thomas and the rest of the crew as they frantically worked their way into the overturned truck.

"Not so fast, Glasses!" the old man barked as he whirled his arm and wrist to expertly topple a walker with a clean swipe of his weapon. "Thanks to your mess, our location's blown! We've got to get out of here!"

Stevie looked down the short road and felt her heart jump into her throat. There was no telling what had happened to anybody riding in the truck. Nathan and the older man belonged to this group of people, as far as she could tell. And Thomas, Holloway, and Clarkson had been there with her longer than anyone else had on this strange journey... Especially Thomas. The thought of leaving without him and the others made her chest tighten with anxiety.

"We didn't shoot!" she countered back defensively, ramming her knife through an undead nasal cavity.

A few more shots rang out from the direction of the tunnel. Stevie clicked her eyes over briefly, instantly recognizing the slim, dark-haired woman pulling the trigger of a scoped hunting rifle, catching walkers' heads with precision. The old man immediately picked up on the expression on her face after a brief glance. "You know her?" he prodded aggressively.

Stevie nodded and then inserted herself back into the fighting fray. "As a matter of fact, I do," she said. "I met her before with Tara and Nathan!" She swiped the blade behind a walker's ear as it made a lunge at the other woman carrying the bat.

"Come on!" the man in the white t-shirt urged, interrupting Stevie and James' discussion. "Walkers are thinning out. We need to get going, right now!" he insisted to the small group.

"I can't leave them behind!" Stevie said exasperatedly, pointing back to the small group at the truck. She realized that she now couldn't see what it was that they were doing due to the flux of walkers crowding around them, obscuring her view.

"You've got no choice!" the black woman said, starting on a mad dash toward a nearby alley. "This way, you guys!"

Stevie shook her head. "No, no, I really can't--" She was interrupted by the old man rushing ahead and grabbing her by the arm as though completely unafraid of anything she might say or do in reaction. "Hey, no, I can't leave him behind!" she repeated, her voice rising in volume and laced heavily with frustration.

James didn't let go. He continued to pull her along.

# # #

Harper watched from her perch on the back of the truck as James struggled to pull a frantic Stephanie in the direction they needed to go in. She took a quick glance through her scope at the direction the smaller woman was looking in; she was surprised to recognize the man from the FEMA camp, easy to pick out in a crowd due to his height. He and another uniformed man plus Nathan and Steve were dragging someone... or were they hiding? It was hard to tell, but with the traffic of walkers flooding the expanse between the two different groups, leaving was the best option.

She hopped down and made a beeline for Niobe and Carl as they ducked between two buildings. Jack followed suit and soon James was able to convince Stephanie to come along, with Laura in tow clutching the bloody baseball bat.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC)

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"Come on, up! Up! Now!" James shouted upwards at Stephanie as she climbed up to the roof via a utility ladder following behind the others. The old man sure had a way of motivating others to do exactly what needed to be done when push came to shove. Harper watched from above as the petite woman cycled her boots upward rung by rung, climbing closer to the top with every motion. James kept pace behind her, then slowed down after he realized that he was out of reach of the walkers' graspy hands, more resembling hooks than anything human at all. "Hurry up, Glasses! We're not going to pull you up ourselves!"

Harper watched as the girl obligingly scrambled up the ladder at exactly the pace James had wanted her to go, and then decided to just extend her hand downward to assist her ascent onto the roof. That was easily about eight stories' worth of height that everyone had bounded up rapidly.

"Thanks," Stephanie panted after she knelt on the ground to catch her breath. She, like the others, was covered in dust, from the top of her head down to her ripped stockings.

Harper nodded and extended a hand to help her up. "I'm really happy to see you," she said in an attempt at an appropriate but warm greeting.

Stephanie offered a short smile before looking in the direction of the overturned truck. She rushed to the ledge of the roof in the spot where the view of the scene would be most optimal, and looked down over the edge only to gasp loudly. One of the largest swarms of walkers she'd ever seen rushed the intersection that the truck lay overturned in. Scores upon scores of undead teemed about the silver vehicle. She could have sworn that she'd spotted dismembered body parts, and, sure enough, the remnants of Maria's blood-stained shirt started to circulate through walkers that tossed the useless thing off and away to another walker who in turn shoved it away, and so on, until it spiraled out on the outer valence of the gathered horde.

Harper sauntered over to her side and watched as she swallowed the lump forming in her throat. She even had to wonder what became of Nathan or Steve... but for now she couldn't worry about that. She watched Stephanie wring her hands nervously and ball her hands up into fists, holding them against her stomach anxiously. "Do you see them?!" she blurted out nervously, her voice straining with worry. "I... I can't see any of them!"

Niobe and Carl watched as James cleared his throat and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Now, can you tell me what the fuck transpired down there and caused all this?" he demanded impatiently, tossing the massive knife he'd been wielding down at his feet. "In fact, I'm not asking, I'm not requesting--I'm telling you. Spill it. Now."

Stephanie kept her arms in front of her, freezing them in place as she gritted her teeth. "You made me leave them," she said stiffly, continuing to stare down below, looking for any sign whatsoever of Nathan, his friend, Terrence, Spencer... and Thomas. The more her eyes darted about, the more nauseous she became.

"Goddammit, you're not listening to me!" James fumed, his voice a special kind of gravelly angry.

Harper jumped back as Stephanie whirled around and clenched her fists down by her sides, narrowing her eyes angrily. On a certain level it almost looked as though she were pleading him to stop antagonizing her. "No, I'm not listening to you!" she yelled back with equal vigor. "Now back the fuck off!"

James glared at her. "Look, Glasses, I didn't see a wedding ring on your finger, which means you better snap out of it and fly right this instant!" he snapped rapidly. "If that wasn't family, you've got no room to be like this."

Harper stepped between the two and held her hands up. "Hey, hey, let's take a minute," she ordered dryly. "She'll tell you what happened. Give her a few minutes. Waiting isn't going to get us killed, is it?" She turned her face to the older man and tilted her head inquisitively. He let out an exasperated sigh from his nose and begrudgingly nodded. He spat on the ground as he turned on the heel of his boot to put some distance between himself and the feisty girl who apparently wasn't afraid to yell back at him. Harper turned back to Stephanie, who had already been returned to the ledge to continue watching the scene. Her face was fallen and ashy as she watched the horde hack at the truck filled with fresh death. One thing the walkers couldn't do was unlatch the cover of the truck bed, thankfully, but that wasn't what Stephanie was focused on.

"Is she going to be all right?"

Harper turned suddenly to meet Jack's concerned expression. Laura, Niobe, and Carl stood in a small cluster, watching with great interest. She nodded to them and looked back to Jack. "I think so," she said matter-of-factly, almost absent as she said it as she continued to focus on Stephanie. "I've never seen her like this before."

Jack blinked. "Wait, is this the girl you met on that boat?" he asked, drawing conclusions based on what information Harper and Tara had earlier shared with him as the group swapped stories throughout the week that had gone by since they went underground. Harper nodded slowly. He furrowed his eyebrows and briefly studied Stephanie's body language. "Who's down there?"

Stephanie turned around, looking as though she was struggling to hold back tears. "Tom's down there," she said, dread filling each syllable she spoke. "And so is Terrence. And Spencer. Jordan. Maria. Alejandro." She turned her eyes to Harper and sighed. "You guys told Tom to come look for me last week. And he found me." Stephanie turned to stare again at the scene below, searching for any details that perhaps they were okay.

It suddenly clicked in Harper's mind. She frowned deeply. The tall soldier that had come to say goodbye to Stephanie when they were all lined up against the cold metal wall on the frigate--the same soldier that she, Schantz, and Nathan had flagged down through the fence at the FEMA camp when things were starting to go very poorly. He'd recommended that they make a run for it after they told him that Stephanie was under quarantine in a medical unit. They'd helped Stephanie, and he helped them.

What a horrible way for their paths to cross again.

# # #

It had been twenty minutes since they'd come onto the roof. James' temper had quelled considerably and so had Stephanie's. The girl explained that their group had loaded up three vehicles full of supplies the previous night, and happened to run across a fairly skittish George after encountering Nathan, Steve, and Schantz.

After Stephanie finished explaining what had happened, there was a thick haze of silence that hung over the roof. The afternoon sun still bore overhead and the sounds of the roaring, starving walkers below was thankfully faint due to their height above the concrete below.

James dragged a hand down his jowls, blinking his eyes in near disbelief. "Well, ain't that a son of a bitch," he grumbled, looking down at his boots.

"George did seem a little bothered today," Harper observed aloud. "He was pretty tense when I'd talked to him this morning." Niobe nodded her agreement.

"We'll need to verify this," James said, putting a hand up. "I don't know if we can trust you," he said pointedly to the girl in the glasses.

Stephanie rolled her eyes and sighed. "No, it's not that you don't trust me, it's that you don't believe me," she corrected emphatically, a lilt of frustration laced into her tone. "And it doesn't matter to me if you believe me or not. I know what I saw."

"Actually, it's pretty important that we believe you," Niobe spelled out. "Who else can corroborate your story?"

"Tom," Stephanie answered simply. She then looked over at her shoulder toward the ledge and then turned her attention back to the others. "Well. Maybe Tara. Maybe she saw some of it."

"So it's George's word versus yours," Niobe countered.

Stephanie shrugged. "We never shot," she said plainly.

"But you said your guy, there, drew a weapon on him," Jack said thoughtfully. "Man's got a right to defend himself."

"Well, 'your guy, there,' drew a weapon on me, first," Stephanie corrected, her brown eyes boring intensely into his. "Tom was trying to help me."

Harper shook her head. "Well, we aren't going to solve the world's problems right now," she offered calmly. "For now, we just need to-"

And suddenly, a bright flash shone from the north. "Cover your eyes!" James shouted instinctively, years' worth of bomb drill training in childhood and tours in Vietnam taking a hold of his reflexes as he reached forward to push those closest to him, Carl and Laura, down on the ground. The others followed suit. A loud BANG! thundered out across the city and the roof refuge began to sway as the road shook. After several seconds, everyone slowly opened their eyes and stood, wandering to look north at the massive ball of fire showing up over the horizon.

"What the hell was that?" Carl asked peculiarly.

"I think that was San Francisco," James glumly answered.

A hush fell over the group.

Until, the sound of several scraping feet all heading in one direction began to heap itself toward the direction of the sound. The small group rushed to the ledge on the north end of the building and peered downward--walkers were starting to amble curiously and purposefully toward the sound of the bomb, or whatever it was, that had lit the sky.

Harper looked curiously at Jack, then back down below. Weird.

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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Christopher Jones

Christopher had found the building he was staying in 5 days ago, and so far, it was shaping up to be a decent shelter. The building had plenty of food and was adequately defended from the walkers. However, the mechanic wasn’t sure it could hold off against a horde of them, obviously attracted by the recent explosion, so he prepared to escape. As he gathered up his supplies he pondered his current situation.

While he had gathered enough food for several months, Christopher was somewhat worried. Not of any physical condition, but of loneliness. It seemed like a somewhat silly concern, but he’d seen what happened to people who were deprived of human interaction. He had seen and talked to so many of them that he could spot the signs. Basically they had behaved much as a young child would, with limited social and mental capabilities. They could also hallucinate.

Christopher knew that he would not survive if he lived without any human contact for a long time, nor would he want to. So he resolved to set out and find people he could interact with. Of course, there were a large number of walkers outside, and even if he could somehow manage to find humans without getting bit, there was no guarantee they’d be friendly.

Christopher’s thoughts were interrupted when he heard a loud crashing noise downstairs. The walkers. The former gang member stuffed whatever he could into his satchel and walked at a fast pace to the ladder to the roof. Walking at a normal speed wasted precious time, but running quickly would make him vulnerable to ambushes. There were many different routes through the building, and it was very likely that the walkers could wander up the ramp used for disabled employees at the former workplace. Christopher’s wise decision prevented him from dying in the building, as there was indeed a walker in the next corner. Christopher thought for a moment as to the method he should dispatch the walker. His shotgun, while most certainly effective, would alert even more walkers. His pocket knife? He didn’t think it had enough of a reach to take out the walker without getting too close. His fists? No. No way. Christopher bit his lip and narrowed his eyes. He was in trouble.

Just as the walker was about to close in there was a thump on the roof. This was all the chance Christopher needed. Quick as lighting, Christopher slammed the butt of his rifle into the walker’s face. The force of the impact shattered the walkers’ nose and flung him to the ground. Quick as a wink, Christopher maneuvered to the side of the walker, raised his foot, and brought it down on the walker’s head. CRUNCH! The walker’s face was now a mess of blood, rotted teeth, and skin, but Christopher wasn’t done yet. He continued to stomp on the walker and finally jump on him with all of his might.

Not wanting to look at the surely disgusting area where the walker’s head used to be, Christopher was about to continue onward when moans very close behind him prompted the man to literally leap out of harm’s way. Christopher turned around to see 2 walkers facing towards him. Christopher didn’t think that his previous strategy would work against more than one walker, and even if it did, he wouldn’t have enough time before more walkers showed up. Now would be a good time to run. Christopher bolted for the door leading to the ladder at a speed even a professional track runner would be impressed by. Once inside he slammed the door shut and was pleased to discover it had a lock. Right before the walkers busted through, he locked the door.

After that little encounter Christopher took a moment to catch his breath. He didn’t expect that little adventure to tire him out so quickly. I’m getting old, He thought to himself. The statement was not thought with bitterness or anger; merely a statement of fact. He wondered about the walker he had so brutally eliminated and pondered for a moment whether walkers feel pain. Despite everything, he didn’t hate the walkers. They were just animals following their instinct. Which was not to say he would complain if they were completely eliminated from the earth, nor would he forget the suffering they had caused. But he didn’t want them to suffer. What was the point? It wasn’t as if they would regret at the last moment their deeds, and it wasn’t as if killing them in a certain manner would help anyone. The best thing to do would be to survive.

He had rested long enough. The walkers moans’ were starting to gain in number, and if they broke through before Christopher escaped, he was dead. Christopher climbed up the ladder with haste, unlocked the ceiling door, (he had found the key and kept it in his pocket at all times) and opened it. It took his eyes a while to adjust to the sudden bright light of the sun, during which he finished climbing up. When his eyes successfully readjusted, he found himself looking at a surprised group of people. Hoping to break the ice, Christopher said, “Just so you know, there's a bunch of walkers downstairs. Say, are you looking for a group member? I may be old, but I can fix up cars, and the like, and I have experience shooting. Also, do you know what caused that huge explosion?”

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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Seven pairs of eyes set themselves upon the man who appeared seemingly out of nowhere, standing in a doorway that must have led down below into the building.

Niobe held up a hand and gestured to the others in the group. "You do not want to cross us right now," she insisted darkly, signaling for him to move away from the door and toward nearest outermost section of the roof. "Are you alone? We're searching you." She glanced back briefly at Carl and Jack, who immediately stepped forward to carry out her quick orders. She jogged ahead to the door from where the man had come in from and slammed it shut, in case there were indeed walkers that may have been making their way up to the roof, as he'd said.

"Ten bucks says that was a nuke," James drawled grittily, looking at his watch and staring northward.

Harper folded her arms across her chest, casting him a sidelong glance while facing the newcomer. "I'm not asking because I don't believe you," she started, "but I do want to know why you think it was a nuke. It could have been anything."

"That's right," he sighed resignedly. "What are you, maybe 30? You're too young to have seen old film reels about nuclear annihilation or sat under your desk in a bomb drill." He laughed out loud, mostly to himself. "You don't even know what the Cold War was. Well, maybe this old cat here could relate," he gestured toward the stranger, who cooperated with Carl and Jack in allowing them to search anything he had on him, "but anyway, that blast matched what they said would happen. A big, bright flash. A delayed blast. I learned how to count the distance between me and bombs while I was in Vietnam. Younger than you are, I might add." He turned his head back toward the north. "Don't forget the mushroom cloud. Which, you might recall, we saw. You can still see it, in fact." He gesticulated his hands anxiously toward the aforementioned cloud. "Gets worse and worse..." he muttered, trailing off.

There was a short silence that hung over the group as everyone exchanged glances. Harper pursed her lips and looked around. "Well, if that's the case, then what do we do?" she spelled out, as though detachedly and coldly reviewing their options. "The walkers are heading that way. If what this guy says is true, then this building is saturated with them and we can't go in through the door, there." Harper nodded toward the entrance the stranger had appeared at. Sure enough, the curious warbling of a couple of walkers echoed muffledly from the metal door.

Stevie peered down in the direction that two of the vehicles holding supplies had gone, spying them amidst the throng of undead piling northward, wandering in and around the entrance of the metro tunnel clearly labeled by the crooked signs close by. "There's enough room for almost all of us in those, just down there," she offered, waving and pointing down to the site. "I've got spare keys in my pocket." She shook her jacket by her side, keys jingling to confirm. "It'd be a tight squeeze, but we could do it."

"So, we'd have to go back down the steps," Harper said, turning from Stevie to the iron curling over the ledge connecting to the utility ladder they'd ascended to reach the roof, "back around the building, and get through the street, then pile into the vehicles?"

James shook his head. "I think it's better if we just go back through the building," he disagreed gruffly. "We don't know how much fuel is in those things, and we need to be under a roof, not on top of one." He looked toward the new man, who'd received a relieved nod of approval from both Jack and Carl after an extensive search. "What do you think? And what's your name, anyway?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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Christopher Jones

Christopher followed all of the young black women’s requests. They were all reasonable, and the fact that the group hadn’t shot him on sight implied that they were the people he was looking for: The ones that still understood the importance of civility. While he was being searched by the two men, he took the time to observe some of the members of the group.

The first one he noticed was the black women, for obvious reasons. She acted tough, and he admired that in a person whether they were being true to themselves or not. It might’ve been because he was raised in a tough environment, but he felt that in difficult situations, one needed to show the toughest face they could. It could literally mean the difference between life and death.

The second person he noticed was one of the men searching him, the one without the glasses. For a reason he couldn't quite understand just yet, he got a bad vibe from him. He ignored it though, as it was crucial for survival that everyone was to get along. Christopher would keep an eye on him, just in case.

Christopher then noticed the man speaking up, the old one. Instantly, Christopher could feel a kinship with this man. Although he looked quite a bit older than Christopher, the ex-gang member was probably the closest to the man in age. Christopher sensed that he’d been looking for someone he could relate to, and even though Christopher and the old man came from very different worlds, the mechanic had a feeling they shared at least one thing in common: The desire to impart wisdom to the younger generation.

Christopher stopped his analyzing of the new group and listened to the old man’s words. At the mention of, “this old cat here could relate”, Christopher’s mind skipped back to his childhood.

By the time Christopher was born, the red scare of the 50’s was long since over, but the cold war’s last gasps were felt greatly during the 80’s, when Christopher was a teenager. The schools no longer taught the ineffectual “duck and cover” methods of the 50’s, but the threat of Communism was still very real. Maybe China…

No. There was no time for guessing what caused it and what it was. With his voice quieted, so as not to attract the walkers, Christopher said, “If it was a nuclear bomb, then we need to get out of here, and fast. Even if it wasn’t, there will be less walkers in a less populated area.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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"Everything is just fine."

"Excuse me?"

Stevie continued to look toward the cloud climbing further into the sky, and then back at the intersection below. The horde almost looked like it was thinning and dissipating, at least to a point. The truck looked as though it was almost completely unsalvageable. At minimum, it wasn't meant to be driven. The metal frame of windshield and doors were twisted into a nearly unrecognizable state. Bloody handprints were splashed about messily on the scratched paint. No sign of anyone... no boots, no clothing, no recognizable trace of Thomas or the others. She turned her head to look at the two other cars down by the metro entrance. Just a few blocks away. This was totally doable.

"Everything is just fine," she repeated to the group, looking over her shoulder back at them as she rested her hands on the ledge. Maybe she said it more to convince herself of that. "We can make it. They're starting to slow down. This can totally work, if we hit it right." She turned around fully. "I've got the keys and it's my crazy idea. I'll go, myself."

"You're not going down there alone, Glasses," James barked. "We don't even know if it's a good idea or not."

"We just need to drive the cars over here, have everyone get in, and we're all right," she reassured him. "And, look, the first 24 hours after a bomb are the most dangerous." She pointed up at the heavy plume of debris surging up into the atmosphere, higher as higher as the minutes went by. "We need a roof over our heads. Even if it's a car roof."

"But you're still breathing outside air," he argued back.

Niobe released an exasperated, heaving sigh as she suddenly set off toward the ladder. "I'm not going through the building just to create more work," she grumbled loudly.

Carl clamored after her. "Hey, hey!" he called quickly, visibly panicking as she made her descent. "I really don't think you should-"

"Excuse me!" Stevie rang out in rushed politeness, working her way around him and grasping the handles of the ladder to make her way down. She looked at Carl, focusing on his face rather than becoming preoccupied with the long climb downward. Her fear of heights was paralyzing, but this was no time to allow the phobia to take over. She worked her feet down one rung at a time. "Can you guys maybe... find a way to distract them?" She kept going.

# # #

Niobe motioned for Stevie to stay still. Their steady meander toward the cars had been surprisingly easy, weaving between other dead vehicles and stepping about as quietly as possible. Carl's creative approach to distracting walkers must have been manifested into the shrieks of car alarms pealing out not far away; the few walkers who had indeed been in the street had begun to stumble toward the high-pitched din and allowed them a decent way to make a break for it.

She looked over her shoulder and studied the small woman. She wasn't sure about her yet... She certainly wasn't afraid of James, as she'd demonstrated. Considering the circumstances, a little bit of emotional distress was to be expected, of course, but she seemed to be all over the map. She and Carl had watched most of the dialogue unfold and had, for the most part, remained quiet, except for a few brief interludes. Yet, here she was, the only other person down on the ground, pistol in hand and keys to two vehicles in her pocket. Crazy or just headstrong, it didn't matter, as long as she was dedicated to reaching their destination.

Niobe turned her attention back to the street before her, and slowly slunk ahead. She waved her hand, beckoning Stevie to follow. At the end of their quiet dash, success--they'd reached the cars.

Stevie smiled as she brandished one set of keys and handed it to Niobe. She nodded as she unlocked the Mazda's driver door. The evidence of Schantz' severe nosebleed was indicated by the rusty pools on the upholstery and the iron'ish smell wafting about inside the confined space. Niobe nodded at her as she climbed into Nissan. The two quickly placed their keys in the ignition and thrummed the engines to life, preparing to pilot closer to the six left behind.

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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...

The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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James shook his head as he peered over the edge of the roof while Harper stood next to him, staring intently through the rifle's scope as she followed the two women below as they snuck their way to the cars near the metro entrance. If any walkers were to pose a direct threat that Stevie or Niobe couldn't handle, she was ready to eliminate it herself from above.

"Shoulda gone through the building," he grumbled as he, too, watched them. "Woulda had a roof over our head and everything. This is ludicrous."

*CLUNK*

The top of the roof offered possibilities in terms of distracting walkers on the street. A few lawn chairs were scattered about, and a large cellophane-wrapped package of bricks sat near the door from where Christopher had come. Carl, Laura, and Jack gleefully lobbed bricks from the roof onto cars below, testing to see if they'd been outfitted with sensitive car alarms. Sure enough, a black Corvette began to shriek in protest at having been rattled by the unanticipated brick.

Carl pumped his fist and high-fived Laura enthusiastically. "Oh, yeah!" he cheered, a big grin instantly appearing on his face. "We shoot, we scoooore! Let's do it again!"

The three laughed as though Carl's joke was the funniest they'd heard in a long time. It probably was.

James rolled his eyes and turned back to Harper, who was still focused on the scene below. "Acting like a bunch of children," he gruffed bitterly. "Waste of time."

"Well, we are where we are," Harper sighed back, blinking and pulling her eye away from the scope momentarily to look at the older man directly. "You might be singing a different tune if this works."

"We could have just gone through the building like I'd said in the first place," he stubbornly ruffed, flexing his fingers and gripping the ledge distractedly. "Woulda been a lot simpler."

"Niobe said she didn't feel like creating more work for us by going through the building," Harper recounted, "and I'm pretty sure she meant she didn't feel like running into more walkers than necessary." She turned her focus back onto the street, then picked the rifle back up to her eye level. "Look. They made it."

The two watched as the silver and red vehicles slowly made their way toward their building, keeping quiet and inching along in order to avoid detection. A few walkers in the distance appeared to notice them and slowly bobbled and ambled toward them, but not quickly enough to put them in immediate danger.

"Hey! They did it!" Carl's voice boomed from behind. James and Harper jumped, startled by the sudden sound unexpectedly coming up so close behind them.

"Dammit, Carl!" James exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air.

Harper continued to look downward. "They sure did," she said flatly in an effort to hold back any premature excitement.

# # #

Both cars parked in front of the building, and both drivers peeked around in order to make sure it was safe to open their doors quietly.

Niobe paced toward Stevie. "Any reason why we didn't go into the alley, where the ladder is?" she asked quietly when she came within a few feet.

Stevie gestured to the entrance of the alley and shrugged. "It looks too narrow," she pointed out. "Let's just wave them down. And it'll be easier to get out of here this way."

Niobe stared at her for a brief moment, then walked past her toward the mouth of the alley. "Fine," she uttered as Stevie skittered after her. They jogged to the metal railing of the ladder, where Niobe turned toward her again. "After you," she permitted, waving a hand at the bottom rung.

Stevie gritted her teeth and looked up. "I'll slow you down," she said quickly. "I'll just wait here for you guys and show them the way. Mind asking your friend if he can bring my gun down with him?"

Niobe blinked, unsure of what to think. She sighed and began to palm her way up to the top. Stevie hung back on the ground, relieved that she didn't have to once again channel all her strength into not imagining herself falling and slipping. She stretched her arms above her head and glanced about. The silence was eerie... no cars, no passerby conversation, no airplaines, not even the sound of air conditioning churning from within a building. But silence also meant that nothing was coming her way.

And then it hit her. Niobe was well on her way back up to the roof and within sight, sure, but for the first time in a while, she was alone. Normally she relished the feeling of finally having a moment to herself. But not this time.

# # #

"So, where's your buddy?" James growled as Niobe took a moment to catch her breath after reaching the group's level.

"Down below," Niobe panted slightly, then took a deep breath and stood up straight. "She's down there. She said she'd help." She looked around at everyone and beckoned them toward the ladder. "I've got keys to one, she's got keys to the other. There's only enough room for maybe three in hers, five in mine."

"Shotgun!" Carl rang out cheerfully.

Niobe smirked and pitched her set of keys toward him. "After you, my friend."

His grin collapsed into a straight line. He and sheepishly looked at the ladder, then back to Niobe, then sighed as he slung a leg over the edge of the roof and began to slowly make his way down. "Y'know, I could just go last and still have shotgun," he commented as he disappeared over the other side.

Harper hid a laugh behind her hand as she stepped forward and followed suit. James, Christopher, then Jack came after, one by one, waiting until the previous person was at least safely halfway down the building before making their own climbs down, leaving Laura and Niobe up top by themselves. "Ready to roll?" Niobe asked.

Laura nodded. "I got it, you go ahead and I'll bring up the rear," she offered.

*THUD*

They darted their eyes at the door. Two snarling walkers burst from the metal barrier, taking less than a second to examine their possible prey before burling toward the two women. "Go!" Laura barked at Niobe, who vaulted over smoothly and began to make her way down. Laura pressed the backs of her legs against the inner wall of the rooftop and watched them come closer, peering back over her shoulder to ensure that Niobe was a safe distance down before she herself would descend. She then looked back at the walkers and felt her heart begin to pound.

# # #

"All ready?" Stevie asked Carl, James, and Christopher as they settled into the Nissan. She leaned through the open driver's side window and smiled at James and winked. He rolled his eyes and looked out his window on the right side of the vehicle. Stevie inwardly laughed. She loved it when she could just smile at anyone who had given her any ounce of a difficult time if it would cause them a moment of angst. A silly source of amusement at a time like this, but the plan had worked.

"Yep, just going to wait for our esteemed driver, then we ought to be hunky dory," Carl said as he buckled his seatbelt. He reached over to stick the keys in the ignition and switched the radio on, cruising through the channels. Static. Static. Static. And more static. He could have sworn he'd heard muffled voices on at least one setting--but the frequency sounded weak. Distant, maybe? "So, who wants to argue with me over what station we listen to?"

Stevie smiled and stood up straight and looked back toward Jack and Harper, who leaned against the Mazda, chatting quietly. She tilted her head in curiosity--Harper's face was tightly drawn, and even though she couldn't hear their conversation, she wondered what exactly it was that they were discussing.

Niobe dropped down, within view of the two vehicles, and motioned to the others frantically, trying not to shout and possibly draw in attention. She then pointed up at the ladder. Laura was about halfway down the side of the building and there were a couple of walkers clawing pointlessly up top. Suddenly, one of them heaved itself over the side and tumbled toward the ground. It all happened so fast--the walker fell directly onto Laura, sending her tumbling down with it. The two bodies hit the ground with a sick crunch. Stevie gasped and covered her hands with her mouth. James immediately opened his door and grasped the handle of his long knife purposefully as he sprinted toward the scene, pushing his physical limits considering his age. Jack and Niobe rushed after him instinctively. The others' faces went white as they witnessed the two bash in the skull of the offending walker before stooping down to take Laura's pulse. It didn't take long to figure out from their body language that Laura was gone.

A couple of distant guttural shouts curdled out from behind the vehicles. Harper and Stevie whirled their heads around just in time to see a sizable swarm heading toward them, and then another from the opposite side. They scrambled into the Mazda as Christopher shut the passenger door to his right, and Carl frantically pressed on the buttons on his own door to roll the driver's window up.

Harper looked at Stevie from her spot in the passenger seat, and watched her wince as the walkers began to swarm the cars. Soon they couldn't even see the Nissan through the thrashing mess of faces, hands, and teeth bashing onto the windows. The car rocked with the force the walkers pushed onto it from all sides. "Are you fucking kidding me?" Stevie breathed, hitting the locks on all the doors and gripping the steering wheel tightly, despite still being in "Park." She knew perfectly well that they were safe, but the sight was still incredibly disconcerting. No way to back up, no way to move forward.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones

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The car jerked from left to right, fists pounding on the exterior and groans waning muffledly through the glass and creaking metal. Harper clutched the shoulder strap of her seatbelt while Stevie continued to grip the steering wheel with tensed white knuckles.

"I can't see the other car," Harper muttered loudly, peering intently through the shifting series of faces outside. Suddenly the hard heel of a hand bunted like a rock against the glass, inches away from Harper's face. She let out a loud scream and leaned away from the window, backing into Stevie. She pulled Harper in and reached back for the handle of one of the fencing weapons. She yanked one forward and quickly bent the blade to point safely toward the cracking glass. Harper gripped the handle and pointed the weapon purposefully toward her feet.

"Just hang in there," Stevie said steadily, "we'll be okay, we just need to stay calm..." She trailed off, glancing around at the gray and green faces cramming noisily around them. She took a deep breath and kept her face still, trying hard to hide her panic.

Harper eased back into her seat and reached for the rifle, set on top of the boxes of ammo stacked in the back. She handed the epée to Stevie and pointed the gun ahead, preparing to shoot if necessary.

A loud horn sounded a short distance away, drawing the swarm away toward the origin of the sound. The two women held very still and sank down into their chairs. They watched as a yellow school bus pulled up in the middle of the street nearby, each window filling up with a face, arms, and firearm of some kind, targeting walkers and taking them down easily.

Harper turned to look back at the Nissan--still intact. She caught Carl's eye as he stared beyond the Mazda toward the bus, then followed the trail of a couple more straggling walkers as they went on. Niobe jogged by, accompanied by James with his machete. The old man enthusiastically chopped ahead, connecting with walkers' heads and sending them toppling down. He almost made it look easy.

Harper turned her head again and watched as Carl signaled something; Niobe beckoned widely with her arms. A small group of people with pistols raced out to the Nissan and pulled Carl and Christopher out, then ran them onto the bus. Harper let out a brief yelp when she felt the door behind her open--Jack stood there with the fire poker he'd been carrying around for days. "We're heading to the bus," he informed them, "Ni and Carl are saying they've met them, so we better go, now!"

"What about the ammo and everything in here?" Stevie asked, looking around. Would all that work have been for nothing, after all?

Jack shook his head. "Maybe we can come back," he offered carefully, "but for now, let's go!" As he offered Harper a hand to pull her from her seat, Stevie pulled a Sharpie from her coat pocket immediately after springing from her own side and began to scribble something on the driver's side window. She tossed the key under a floor mat, slammed the door shut, and darted toward the bus with the others. After everyone jumped inside and ducked into the faux-leather seats, the diesel engine roared to life as it propelled the group forward toward their next destination. Harper could have sworn that she saw Lauren struggling slowly after them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Christopher Jones Character Portrait: Silas Quinn Character Portrait: Patrick Dunn (NPC) Character Portrait: Eli Sharp (NPC)

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+ Niobe Kajja +


The nearest Capitol pulled the folding door shut as the bus rumbled to life, tearing forward across the littered street ahead. Harper, James, Stevie, Jack, and Christopher were all ushered towards the back of the bus by a few others as various weapons were thrust into their hands. They stepped into the open spots near the makeshift shuttered windows to help clear the sides of clinging walkers. A heavier-set woman rose from her seat near the back upon seeing the sudden strangers around her.

"Uhh-- excuse me?" she said loudly, waving at the driver through the front mirror.

Eli jerked the wheel to the left, his teeth clamped down on his lip as he fought with every muscle to not flip the bus. "They're friends," he shot back without taking his eyes off the road. Patrick held on tightly to the back of the driver's seat as he exchanged quick handshakes with Niobe and Carl. They held onto whatever they could to keep from falling over as the bus violently swerved through the streets. A small gaggle of walkers splattered across the front of the bus as Eli braced the wheel for impact.

"Wish we were meeting again under better conditions," Patrick said, disparagingly.

Niobe squeezed his shoulder, her face damp with sweat as she breathed quick and shallow breaths. "We're very-- thankful," she managed.

"Yeah, man--" Carl butted in, "We were in a pretty shitty spot back there."

Niobe turned to look towards the back of the bus where her friends were -- each of them involved in some activity amongst all the moving bodies. "Where's Silas?" she asked, noticing his absence.

"He's back at HQ," Patrick replied.

Eli shook his head, somehow having managed to listened to their little conversation despite the clusterfuck of a road he was navigating through. "Alright, Cobra Commander--" he teased. He glanced at Niobe in the large rearview mirror. "He means Amoeba. Y'know, the record store? We relocated there after the Capitol was hit."

Carl frowned. "We wondered what happened to you guys."

Patrick shrugged, glancing between the two of them -- until something took his focus past their shoulders. He shoved past them, walking towards the back of the bus. His gaze shot out the back window into the growing darkness of the night. "Eli!" he shouted back, pushing past some of the other passengers as he fought towards the front. "Eli-- the b-bus... it's gone." Everyone onboard lurched forward as Eli applied the brakes slowly, turning onto a side street.

"What the fuck, Speed Racer?" Jack shouted out from his spot near the window, drawing his head back in. Others around him did the same, wondering what was happening as well.

Eli stood from his seat to face the hushed crowd. "Where's the other bus?"

Muted voices and whispers bubbled up from the group as they pressed their faces against the windows, anxiously searching outside for any sign of their tandem vehicle.

"Oh, God..." somebody cried from deeper back in the bus. "C-Claire... Boone... Gus? They all made it right?"

"We can't stay sitting here!" another voice shouted out. Several others seemed to agree as the hype built inside the bus. Eli looked pleadingly at Patrick, but they both knew it before they said a word. There was no going back. Black ash had caked against the edges of the buses windows, a reminder of the ticking clock to get indoors -- lest they risk further... biological problems. Eli slid back into the driver seat and flipped the bus back into gear, lurching it forward. His white knuckles gripped the wheel as they dipped around the next corner, gunning for home.


* * *


"Once the gate's shut, you high-tail it indoors," Eli warned Patrick. "I'll back it up against the rear exit and come in that way, but you'll have to unlock the door for me from the inside." Patrick nodded his understanding and clasped the man's hand tightly as the last few passengers exited the bus and filed into Amoeba through the side exit as one of the Capitols held the door open. A makeshift, wire gate had been erected over one side of the alley -- wide enough for vehicles to move through, and fully retractable. A clever feat of engineering given the circumstances. Several of the Capitols helped the more injured members of their party inside as Harper, Jack and the others followed.

But it was Stevie who ended up coming in near to last. Her eyes adjusted to the light and met his, and their breath caught for just a moment. It wasn't love at first sight or anything like that -- but rather like the remembrance of a distant memory... as recent as it may have actually been. He walked towards the door with several other armed Capitols in tow to receive their injured allies, rolling up his sleeves as they approached and slowing to a stop and he recognized who he was was looking at.

"Stevie...?" the man's coarse voice asked -- disbelief in his eyes.

Silas knew this woman. And she knew him.