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Steve Hilpin (NPC)

A News Director separated from his family.

0 · 203 views · located in Season 2

a character in “The Walking Dead: Online”, as played by Fear of a Female Planet

Description

- Portrayed by: Lee Ranaldo

- Profession: TV News Department Director

- Age: 53

- Gender: M

- Height/Weight: 6' / 190 lbs.

- Hair/Eyes: Gray-black / brown

- Nationality/Ethnicity: American

- Tattoos/Scars: Facial scars from car accident several years prior

- Clothing/Outfit: Work slacks, oxford blue shirt, leather shoes

Image

Traits:

MBTI Type: ENFJ (Extroverted Intuitive Feeling Judge)

3 Strengths:

Calm - Steve sees no reason to get visibly upset on a regular basis. After years of field reporting around the world, he's been in some risky situations that required him to think fast, remain calm, and think up the few words he knew in the applicable foreign language

Caring - Steve hides it well under a no-nonsense veneer that he cares deeply about those around him. It helps make him a strong leader in newsrooms that he sets foot in, to think enough of his staff's preferences in order to make the best use of their strengths in creating a better news product. At home, he's a loving father and is very good to his wife.

Quick Thinker - If anyone can come up with a solution when in a jam, Steve is it. He won't impose himself on others that he perceives as more capable leaders than he; while he's got an ego that an L.A. newsman should have in order to get to where he is, he still knows how to stand back and either lead or follow, and be a vital part of any solution to a problem either way.
 

3 Weaknesses

Hard-ass - Steve is calm, and he's a nice guy, but if there's a job to be done, there's no stopping him in getting it done. He seeks results. He believes in setting people up for success with well-placed encouragement and constructive criticism, but when the clock is running, Steve knows that every second goes by is a second wasted.

Somewhat Removed - Sometimes, Steve is so fixated at getting something done that he doesn't see "the bigger picture." It's a flaw that he's had to work on as years go by, as he grew more patient and taught himself to mind the rest of the world. This doesn't happen too often these days.

Getting Older - Steve's had a long life, indulging in all the things a thirty-three year career in journalism would offer. He stays in good shape, but isn't equipped to handle very strenuous activity for too long at a time.


Personality:
Steve is a rad guy. In the newsroom and on the clock, he's a very efficient, organized, impersonal leader when he's in his element. Outside of that, he's a fairly warm guy with a good personality and many stories to tell.


Fears:
Not knowing the local language, haircuts, not having enough coffee


Aspirations:
Win another Emmy, see his children through college, retire to Oregon with his wife


Dominant Emotion:
"Problem-solver"


Demeanor:
Rushed but fairly friendly


Quirks/Oddities:
Loves blue shirts, grows his hair out past his ears, loves coffee, left-handed


Skills/Proficiencies:
Talented musician, writing, negotiation, French, Spanish, Thai, Yiddish, some Arabic, Kendo


Equipment:
- Pen & paper at all times
- Swiss Army knife
- Stress ball
- Silver aluminum water bottle

Image

History:
- Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, to a middle-class Jewish family in 1961
- Graduates from private school in 1979, heads to Columbia for journalism school
Finds Greenwich Village to be an easy enough transition from his hometown of Greenwich, and joins a punk rock band to help occupy what little spare time he had at school
- In 1984, accepts a job with Reuters; in 1986 is sent to southwest Asia as a correspondent for the same news organization
- In 1990, makes the jump to television when he is asked to come on board with CNN as a reporter to Iraq to cover post-Desert Storm days
- In 1992, moves back to southwest Asia to do more coverage for CNN
- In 1994, moves back to Washington, D.C. to report in White House reporter pool
- In 2005, sustains life-threatening injuries in a serious car accident, nearly ending his television career due to the time it took to recover and scars on his face
- In 2006, meets and marries Gale, decides to take job in Los Angeles as News Director of WEND-TV
- Children born in 2007, 2008, 2010

So begins...

Steve Hilpin (NPC)'s Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Edmund Remington Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

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Harper Hopkins


Steve was waiting for Harper as she rushed to his office, ascending the stairs with Chuck.

He was tall and thin, with salt-and-pepper hair and an air of tension about him wherever he went. Everything had to be done quickly, whether it was ordering coffee, tying his tie, or even a visit to the doctor. At the moment his hair, usually neatly coiffed, was ruffled. He'd removed his suit jacket and rolled up his oxford blue sleeves up around his pointy elbows. He'd long ripped off his tie. His face was lined with concern and fraught with nerves, and his hands were shoved into his pockets.

Harper caught the look on his face the moment she whirled into the newsroom and spotted him standing up straight as a rail in his office door frame. She'd come to appreciate his mannerisms over the months she'd spent at WEND, but this was a look she'd never seen before.

"Hopkins!" he called out from his side of the newsroom, shouting out over the sound of phones ringing. The landlines hadn't gone out yet. "Did McDonald bring b-roll? Evans is looking for it."

She flicked the SD card from their dashcam at the aforementioned editor, who rushed it down to the edit bay to cycle it into the video rotation. Through the large plexiglass window looking into the studio she could see George and Maxine at the desk, shuffling through papers and glancing up at the camera while speaking. They obviously weren't relying on the teleprompter, but instead relying on expedient handing-off of new scripts and snippets of information ferreted from the newsroom. The corner of the studio with the greenscreen reserved for weather was dark. Weather was not the most sought-after topic on tonight's broadcast.

"What's the plan?" she zapped out as she hurried in, dropping her bag on her desk.

"First off, let me just say I'm glad you're here," Steve started. "We had Reeves out there, but we lost the signal with the live truck about an hour ago."

Harper's face drained of its color. "You don't mean--"

"No, I don't know what happened," he interrupted impatiently, "but whatever it is, it isn't good. If he and Ann got out safe, then they're on their way. But we need you up on the roof."

"The sun's down!" Harper interjected furiously, pointing out the window at the dark violet sky. "You've got to be kidding me!"

Steve raised his hands and waved them. "We've got no live truck," he emphasized again, calmer than usual. "You're the only reporter here."

Harper opened her mouth to say something, but stopped. She looked over her shoulder at the newsroom. George and Maxine had been working at the station for at least two decades, but no longer had reporting duties. Producers and editors shuffled their way from desk to desk, answering phones, taking down notes, and typing updates and printing them for submission to the anchors on the desk.

There were zero reporters in this newsroom. Except for her.

Her mouth hung halfway open in shock as she turned back to Steve. Her lower lip quivered uncharacteristically. She wanted to throw up.

"Harper," Steve said slowly. She'd never seen him handle a serious crisis, or heard him call her by her first name, but now she realized that this usually-buzzing character was hired as News Director of a top-market station for a reason: he was cool under duress. He moved his forearms in front of him and gently held the sides of her arms, and looked her right in the eyes. "I hired you for a reason. I hired you because I know you'll do what it takes. Get your IFB, grab a mic, and head out on the roof. Schantz is already up on the roof with a camera ready to go."

She stared back, and pulled herself together. She swallowed reflexively and nodded, glancing briefly at the family photos on Steve's office walls. He was keeping it together despite having several reasons to be scared, himself. "You got it, Steve," she responded weakly, and quickly ran to her desk to pull out her earpiece. She fished her compact out of her bag to check her makeup, quickly blotted her face with a bit of foundation and blush, smeared gloss on her lips, and took off for the elevator after snatching her bag from the desk.

The ride up felt like an eternity, the first several seconds that she had in hours where she'd stood still. She wondered if this was happening all over the city. She wondered if this was only happening in L.A., or if it was happening in more places. What about her parents? What about her friends? Her brothers? Her sister? Her grandparents? Were they worried about her like she was worrying about them? She started to think again about Steve's family pictures again.

The elevator door opened the instant that her stomach squeezed into a ball. She looked around for a brief second, found that she was alone, and vomited into the trash can beside the elevator door. She stared at the white wall blankly for a moment to refocus herself, then spat the remnants out of her mouth, yanked a Kleenex from her bag and dragged it across her mouth, then set straight out for the double-doors leading out onto the roof.

She burst through and caught Schantz's eye as she hurriedly paced toward her. Tara Schantz was another photographer, who had always expressed preference for doing rooftop shoots, and had been working at WEND for about four years. "Harp, it's you!" she exclaimed. "Steve just told me to come up here and wait for whoever he could send up. I'm really glad to see you."

Harper tossed her the other end of her IFB, and Schantz tossed her a mic. Schantz plugged the connector into a box by her feet while Harper clipped the lavaliere mic on her shirt collar. She paused for a moment to look over the ledge of the building, up several stories from the ground. Street lights lit the ground sparsely, aided by the glows emanating from buildings. Car alarms blared down from the newsroom parking lot as a vehicle screeched around. On another side of the building, a crowd of people just like the secretary, Ross, and others they'd seen on the road swarmed a red Corvette. In other spots, people who still seemed to possess life about them ran toward buildings, zipping about, some carrying children or helping others limping along. Her heart sank as she thought about what the UCLA Medical Center must have been like at the moment, and what those with the children must be thinking.

"Ready?" Schantz broke in, aiming the camera lens coolly at her face and focusing. She flicked on the camera's light. It seemed as though either she wasn't bothered by the whole thing, or that it hadn't sunk in yet... or she just wasn't going to let any concern cross her face. "They're going to toss to you soon."

Harper's IFB flickered on. Maxine's voice filled her ear.

"Welcome back. You'll notice that the station currently isn't airing advertisements but instead we're airing public service announcements from the United States Department of Homeland Security, urging you to stay in your homes and remain safe. We at WEND-TV are urging you to do the same thing."

George's voice. "One of our reporters made it back to the station and we've got her live on the roof of WEND-TV... Joining us now is Harper Hopkins. Harper, are you up there?"

Harper's eyes shot up to the camera's eye. The way Steve had made it sound, they simply needed someone to tell them what was going on down below. She understood why he sent her up above now. Her brain flexed quickly into the uncomfortable position of being the person in front of the camera being interviewed. "George, Maxine, I'm here," she responded in a conversational manner.

"Harper, describe the day you've had and how you got back."

"Well, the day started out with WEND-TV photographer Nathan McDonald and I heading out to interview Hollywood's Calvin Hawke. While we were there, we encountered a couple of, uh..." her brain scrambled for the right words.

"Walkers," George's voice broke in, "we hear that they're being referred to as walkers."

Without skipping a beat, Harper coolly pressed forward. "Thanks, George. We encountered a few walkers at our interview location and had to leave. We managed to climb out of the building after a Jeep crashed into the side of it and started a fire. We got into our WEND-TV news van and left. We actually brought Mr. Hawke with us. That's the short version of the story."

"Harper," Maxine started, "you came into contact with these walkers. What do you recommend to our viewers that they should do in case they encounter one?"

Harper blinked and felt her stomach jump again. This was heavy, to be making life-or-death recommendations to whoever may be watching. "Well, the best thing to do is to avoid them entirely. If you're in a safe place, stay there and do not risk coming across one at all. That's the first thing. But if you can't stay where you are because you're in a dangerous place, grab something to defend yourself with. A long object like a bat or a golf club might be the best thing. If you have a firearm, even better. You have to keep them away from you. They're very strong. Keep your eyes open and move quickly to where you have to go to be safe. But I really don't recommend moving anywhere unless you absolutely have to."

"WEND-TV's Harper Hopkins, joining us on the station's rooftop," Maxine summarized for those who may have recently tuned in, "Harper, can you describe what's going on around you?"

Schantz plucked the camera off of its heavy tripod, and Harper moved along to step toward and gesture at the street. Schantz pointed the camera downward as Harper spoke off-camera. "Obviously there are walkers out on the streets, and people who are working to scramble to a safe place," she narrated. "You can see cars through the streets. Walkers are coming after the cars. What you're seeing now really ought to show you why you need to stay indoors and out of harm's way-"

"Harper, can we rely on you to stay up on the roof and provide us with updates from time to time?" Maxine interrupted quickly. "We've got a few new breaking news updates."

The camera turned back to Harper. "Sure thing," she responded politely, "back to you, Maxine and George."

# # #

Down in the studio, Steve himself handed a paper to George, only his hand and shoulder visible on viewers' televisions. George popped his eyes on and off the sheet and the camera as he read through the updates.

"We're getting reports that traffic is at a standstill on all outbound lanes. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the State of California, and the Los Angeles Police Department highly recommend that you stay in your homes. All medical centers and hospitals are asking media outlets to spread the word that no more emergency patients are being accepted at this time and all ambulances are occupied."

He continued to sputter off news updates from the sheets, inwardly panicking at having to read these unbelievably grim sentences.

# # #

Nathan shoved his foot down on the gas pedal, burning black marks onto the pavement as the van hurled forward, sending the small crowd of walkers throwing themselves on the hood of the van reeling backwards. Nathan grinned at the satisfying crunching noises from below his feet and kept the van on a hard trek forward. He flipped down the driver's seat visor and jammed his thumb on the garage door opener, whirling the van toward the opening door.

Calvin's eyes were flashing giddily as the vehicle pulled into the safe bay. Nathan quickly thumped the button again in order to hasten the door's closing. The thick, heavy metal doors careened down steadily as walkers stumbled toward them, closing just in time to keep them out.

After the door thudded shut, Nathan leaned back in his seat, looking up at the broken sunroof and laughed hysterically. "HOLY SHIT!" he shouted, "dude, I canNOT believe we just pulled that shit off!"

Calvin let himself laugh for a moment. "You're... you're not kidding," he said, his head spinning. "I wasn't really sure what was going to happen for a bit there."

Nathan opened his door, exited, and beckoned for Calvin to follow. He inspected the outside of the van... messy bloody prints were everywhere. The smell was horrendous. Nathan stopped in his tracks when he noticed a series of long scratches, peeling the paint off in messy chips. A fingernail was embedded into the end of the trail. He let out a sigh of relief for being on the inside, and not on the outside again with them.

The stairwell ended up being safe after keying in. They hustled up the stairs and entered the newsroom. Nathan nodded to the other staff in there, about eight that he could spot.

"Nathan." Charlie waved his hand at the pair, standing beside a tall, handsome man with glasses who looked extremely uncomfortable.

Nathan stared at the stranger briefly. "Who's Mr. Cool, over here?" he asked quickly.

"Nathan, this is my nephew, Edmund." Nathan reached out to shake Edmund's hand. "He came here because it's safe."

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)

0.00 INK

.: 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 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."

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Natasha Dean Character Portrait: Dyomie Thornes Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC)

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...

The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

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Steve kicked aside the destroyed lampshade next to the small red Honda. "Think there's some fuel in here?" he called out to Nathan and Schantz.

Schantz popped over with the red gas can she'd found a little earlier, and connected the garden hose and with a quick breath started to siphon some of the fuel from the tank. "This'll be good to take back," she said quietly, shielding her eyes and nose from the quick burst of gas vapors in the air.

Nathan kept an eye on the road before them, looking for a few of the landmarks around to identify the way to the ammunition shop. "We'll have enough to be on the road to a better place soon," he observed out loud.

"If we can only agree on where to go," Schantz cracked as she continued to work on getting fuel into the can. "No one can agree on anything, though, so... yeah."

"Harper's trying to talk to people," Steve pointed out, also keeping watch on the street. "She's trying to get people to come to a consensus."

"Well, some of us know what the right answer is," Nathan quipped sullenly. He tossed his golf club back and forth from one hand to the other. "Some of us actually know where the safe places in the city are."

"Everyone's got a lot of considerations to make," Steve countered mildly. "And everyone has to compromise and agree. Everyone has to win somehow. You know how that works."

Nathan laughed and rolled his eyes slightly. "Much progress it's made for us, that approach," he whistled, grinning at Steve. "I know you know how bullshit that really sounds."

Steve laughed back. "Yeah, it's not easy, is it?" he said. "Still gotta try."

Nathan peered ahead. "We're not far, you guys," he called out to the others, pointing ahead. "Let's get going. We'll find it in there."

Schantz capped the red can and gripped its handle as she walked ahead, slinging the spiky garden tool over her shoulder. Steve offered to take the can but she politely refused, simply shaking her head and continuing forward. Nathan led them to the storefront of an ammo shop with opaque black windows. Just the day before he'd come into the building and found that the place was mostly cleaned out, except for a stash under the floorboards by the cash register. He was too rushed to count, but he did estimate that there was over 500 rounds of ammunition that could be dug out from that hiding spot. Of what calibers and sizes they were, he had no idea... he just knew that those things would be useful.

Not that he wanted to be the one holding a gun. He detested guns. The mere thought of them reminded him of a story he was told as a kid about someone's son who accidentally shot himself in his home. It always depressed him a little. In the present, though, Nathan knew that having firearms really wasn't a bad thing considering the situation... but he still preferred to not have to handle such a thing if he didn't absolutely have to.

The three were stopped dead in their tracks when they heard a voice ring out. "Hold up, don't move!"

Steve instinctively focused the shotgun on a uniformed man kneeling behind a sportscar.

"Put down your weapons!" called out another voice.

The three stopped in their tracks. Schantz' face went white as she set the gas can and the garden tool down at her feet and her hands behind her head. Steve placed the shotgun in front of him on the ground and stood back up, raising his hands at elbow-level. Nathan stubbornly held onto the golf club, until he saw two more heads pop up from around the store with accompanying rifles. He gulped back his panic and obligingly set the club down on the ground.

"Into the building!" a third voice called, this one in a British accent, markedly different from the other two. "Hands up!"

The three gunmen approached the three scavengers and scooted them toward the door to the store. Schantz studied their faces, and then finally let out a relieved sigh. "Hey! I know you!" she said to the tallest one, the surprise in her voice evident. "I gave you Stephanie's wallet and phone!"

Nathan stared ahead, and his eyes widened. Schantz was right. "Holy shit, it IS you!" he confirmed.

"Shh, shh, voices down, you'll draw the walkers in," the black soldier broke in quickly. "We'll get your weapons in a few. Sergeant, do you know these people?"

They were ushered into the door, where five non-uniformed people were huddled behind a glass counter, digging the ammo stash from the floor near the cash register. A familiar-looking figure popped up--the girl with the glasses and the brown hair from the frigate.

Schantz let out another surprised gasp. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "It's you!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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The atmosphere was way more relaxed in the ammo store. Nathan, Holloway, and Clarkson hauled heavy cases filled with the found ammunition out the door and into the backseat of the Mazda, parked not far from the entrance.

Steve stood with Lisa, Stevie, and Thomas, tracing along a roadway on their map of the city. "We're less than twelve blocks away from the entrance to the station," he commented, tapping his finger a few times trailing from the store to their destination.

"There's no more room in the Mazda except for the front two seats," Lisa remarked.

"Althea can ride with you and Tara," Stevie said. "Let Jordan, Alejandro, and Maria stick around in the truck. I'll drive the Mazda."

"Your guys can come walk with us," Thomas said to the calm gray-haired man. "But you'll have to switch your shotgun out. We put bayonets on to make things quieter."

"Yep, I'll take Tara's tool," Steve agreed. "Smart."

"We'll walk along with the vehicles to provide cover in case something goes wrong," Thomas continued. "I'll walk ahead with Stephanie. Who's coming with us?"

Steve gestured toward Schantz. "Actually, I'll send her up with you," he suggested. "She'll be able to talk to whoever's on watch to get you guys inside. And showing them all that ammo will be your golden ticket to joining us. If you guys want to."

"We'll see," Thomas asserted. "Half yours, half ours. We don't know if we're going to stay."

Steve shrugged. "Well, the invitation still stands," he said politely. "Seems like you guys have had a good handle on taking care of yourselves."

Stevie decided to herself that it might not be a great idea to tell them how they'd all spent the last couple of days, in light of how exhausted and tired that Schantz and Nathan had looked as opposed to when she'd seen them a week prior. Maybe they'd have to explain where they'd gotten the supplies... if the discussion came up at all.

"So, we've got Terrence, Steve, Nathan walking with the other two vehicles," Stevie pointed out. "Spencer's driving, right?"

"Yeah, gotta keep the weight balanced in that truck," Thomas answered. "It's kind of hazardous as it is right now. We'll figure it out."

"Okay," Lisa said, gesturing toward the others gathering around. They'd finished loading the ammunition and were ready to depart once again. The first vehicle would ride about a mile ahead, and the others would follow at a moderate pace.

# # #

As though on cue, Schantz caught a loose rock toward the end of the short trip over. She toppled down and smashed face-first on the ground, trying not to let out a loud yelp as she went. She gritted her teeth and pushed herself back up on her feet, limping ahead, her nose gushing with blood.

Thomas heard her hit the ground. He shot her an inquisitive look. She just glanced back and shrugged, pointing ahead with her finger repeatedly instead of shouting out loud. Her nose was gushing awfully fast. The car's engine and the sound of tires peeling forward on the road were enough to possibly attract walkers. Anything else could draw in a swarm quickly... and considering the fresh bleeding new on the ground, their chances of being targeted went up sharply.

Schantz hobbled onward, leading them through the quiet streets that were getting warmer and warmer under the late morning sun. Finally, she pointed ahead. "See that outcropping?" she called restrainedly across the car's hood to Thomas, leaning forward and allowing her nose to drain out onto the ground, "that's where our lookout spot is."

She started to wave her arms to signal the watch, thinking they were home free. Unfortunately, she suddenly felt very dizzy and passed out, heading back toward the ground yet again.

Stevie stopped the car, and watched Thomas grit his teeth then wind behind the moving vehicle to help Schantz up off of the ground. She spotted a figure making a run for them, right from the landmark that Schantz had pointed to just seconds before. Thomas held up a hand to Stevie from the rear-facing mirror by her window. She parked the vehicle as he went to go help Schantz up on her feet.

Suddenly, a stranger turned the corner from the entryway to a building off to Stevie's left, immediately pointing his gun at her. She held her hands up and carefully exited.

"Whoa!" Stevie belted out. "I'm not armed!"

"I don't believe that," he whisked out sharply, walking her along to stand in the front of the vehicle. "What did you do to our people?! I just saw one of ours go down."

Stevie shook her head while she stood in place. "No, we're not—"

"Don't say a word!" the man sparked back, continuing to maintain his aim on her.

Stevie's face drained of color as she stared ahead at what looked like a half-crazed man holding his gun a little too tightly. The pupils of his eyes were constricted dangerously. She wondered if he really had it in him, in that half-second where she absorbed his expression. Better to not test it.

"What are you doing?" Thomas asked, his rifle up high and aiming at the man's head as he circled from behind the SUV. Schantz propped herself weakly against the side of car, wobbling on shaky legs. "Drop your weapon."

He opened his mouth to say something, but instead caught sight of the pickup truck moving along as it turned the corner of the block less than a mile away, cruising along at a moderate pace. He stood there, his eyes doing a study of the moving vehicle. Thomas lunged forward quickly in an attempt to subdue the distracted gunman.

The man's hands clicked back to life, his fingers closing around the trigger. The barrel of the gun corresponded with his vision and took aim at the truck, letting loose a barrage of fire, emptying his supply of rounds before he was tackled.

The sound of metal piercing through metal and glass broke through the air, followed by the high-pitched shriek of rubber tires sliding on the hot road. The heavy bed of the truck whirled to direct itself into the side of another truck, then rolled over onto the passenger side.

Stevie panicked and ran to try to push Thomas off of the smaller man. "We have to help them!" she exclaimed nervously. Thomas ignored her. She jumped backwards as she watched him knock the man's face for the next ten or fifteen seconds, almost three or four times, before he blacked out. And he kept going. Stevie let out a frustrated yelp and once again grabbed at him, hanging on even when he tried to shoo her away. She pulled him in the direction of the truck. "Tom, Spencer is in the truck. Jordan, and Alejandro and Maria, all four of them are in there. They can die, Tom, we need to go now!"

Her voice picked up in pace and volume. She was, for the first time in over four days, afraid. It bled into her voice, despite trying so hard for so long to pretend to others that she wasn't at all afraid. She'd been lucky for those days, and knew that at some point that luck would have to run out. But the possibility of things going terribly wrong was very real. One snag could lead to another problem, and create another, like a snowball rolling down a mountain. Stevie wondered if she'd barely begun to scratch the surface of imagining how life was going to turn out.

In Stevie's mind, it was an eternity before Thomas finally stopped and turned to look back at her for just a moment, and then the overturned truck. He looked back at the Mazda and pointed to Schantz. "Get inside and lock the doors!" he barked at her. She nodded and made her way inside. He grabbed his rifle. "I need you to stay calm for them, come on," he said to Stevie, looking her directly in the eyes as he pointed ahead and made a beeline for the truck.

Stevie started to dart after him. It wasn't easy to leave a man lying in the street like that, but there were four people in that overturned truck. The Toyota was within view, as were Holloway and Nathan running alongside it. Seeing those two made it easier to stay behind to keep watch on Schantz and the unknown unconscious man. She ran back to the front of the vehicle to rummage for her Ruger. Thomas would have help in getting the others out of the vehicle; he'd end up understanding why she stayed back.

A voice from behind stopped her in her tracks. "Don't move."

# # #

Dizzy. That awful taste of iron. Headache.

Clarkson's vision finally focused. He noticed the ground above his head and the sky in the lower portion of the window. Was he on his side? From that dull weight he felt on the right corner of his temple, that had to have been it...

He brushed the glass off of his uniform and looked around dazedly. The truck's hood smoked ominously. It seemed like the flatbed cover stayed put, but there was no telling what condition the supplies were in.

He looked over his shoulder and to his right. The Mexican guy sitting next to him was motionless, as was his wife, and the college kid, who also had a bullet in his head. Clarkson blinked and tried to maintain control over his breathing. His ribs stung.

He wondered what had happened. Suddenly a tire blew and sent the truck zooming off with its heavy weighted back-end taking control. The next thing he knew, here he was... maybe the bullet explained it? But who would have shot at them?

He let out a slight gasp as Maria's eyes flickered open and stared at him. "Hola," he said quietly. "Como—" He stopped himself. Those weren't her eyes. Those weren't her eyes at all.

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC)

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The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC)

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Blackthorne & Co.

The flash that could be seen from the rooftops was nothing but a heavy “boom” sound to the small group that had taken cover in an alleyway near to the destroyed truck. They had looked up at once and then Clarkson and Blackthorne had both glanced at Holloway. The former Airforce pilot nodded in confirmation of their answered.

“Nuclear.” Was all he said. The soldiers swore, the civilians looked scared.

“We need to get undercover.” Blackthorne said. For the moment the blast seemed to have distracted the Walkers and he gazed upwards into the black smoke that was still pouring into the city from the surrounding countryside. “Soon that’s going to be radioactive ash if that southern wind keeps up.”

“Son. Of. a’fooking. Bitch.” Clarkson spat each word out as he grimaced against the pain that was tearing through him. He was upright, and that was an improvement from where he’d been five minutes ago with Maria trying to claw his face off. Holloway had offered him a small vial of morphine but he had shook his head. He needed his actions to be clear and precise no matter what for the foreseeable future.

“Agreed.” Replied Nathan, the TV cameraman, from where he stood a few paces away, his face grey with fatigue and fear.

“Where to?” Clarkson growled, his accent noticeably thicker with the pain. He was almost as white as a sheet and had begun to tremble slightly. They would need to find somewhere safe and take a look at his shoulder, fast.

“I would say up but if what remains of San Francisco starts raining down on us we certainly don’t want to be on a rooftop. I would suggest an upper floor with a clear method of escape should we need it.” Blackthorne was scanning the surrounding buildings as he spoke, darting occasional glances down the street towards where the walkers had become temporarily distracted by the explosion.

The others looked up and gauged the nearby buildings. Most of them were newer, their facades solid glass and steel with no hope of outside escape route except for shattering a window and repelling down into the street below. Not a happy option. Further down the street, away from the main road where their truck had been hit, there were several older buildings of brick with the ancient metal fire escapes running down the sides.

“Artist studios on the top two floors.” It was the older of the two civilians who spoke. “I shot a couple stories up there a few years back. Nothing fancy but they have running water and small gas kitchens. As far as I know, no one actually lives in there so the odds are good it’s empty. Lower levels are private residences, mostly Yuppies from out of town.”

Blackthorne nodded his understanding and thanked the man quickly before motioning Nathan towards Clarkson where the soldier sat slumped slightly on an overturned garbage can, his eyes glazed over with pain.

“Bring him along big fella, keep him as close as you can. Holloway, lets clear a path. Steve, right?” He asked the older man who nodded. “Keep close, shout out if anything starts coming up on us from behind.”

Nathan took Clarkson under his good arm and lifted him. The men were of similar size which was a blessing in disguise. Blackthorne had slung his rifle and drawn his sidearm with silencer. The less noise they made at the moment the better. Holloway did the same.

They moved off quickly down the alley. There were no walkers in the alley itself but beyond the far end, where it opened into the street, they could see a flow of Walkers moving northwards. They paused roughly a dozen feet from the mouth of the alley, partially concealed by a large dumpster bin that had been pushed part of the way into the alley entrance.

Blackthorne glanced up at the buildings on either side of them and it was an easy choice to make on which one they would access. One of them was untouched while the other had several bodies collapsed on the fire escape. One of them was still moving but it was trapped on its back and couldn’t see them, preventing it from alerting the rest to their presence.

“We are going to go hard and fast around the corner and into the front of the right hand building.” Blackthorne whispered to the group. “I will breach the door, Holloway you provide covering fire. You two,” He gestured to the civilians. “Keep Clarkson moving with us.”

Once he had nods from all of them he stepped quickly into the alley and with a few quick strides was around the corner. Two walkers were with their backs to him and he dropped them both within seconds. There was nothing to be done about the hundreds who were behind them, their moans increasing the second they laid eyes on him. He heard Holloways pistol fire as he made his way to where the front door of the old building gaped invitingly.

He stepped into the darkness, snapping on the flashlight at the base of his pistol and quickly scanning the atrium. It was empty. An elevator faced him, an old metal style cage rose into the darkness above, a staircase winding its way around the cage climbed upwards as well. He headed for the stairs.

Each floor had a small landing with four doors that opened onto it. Some were open and their interiors showed signs of a struggle but nothing lurched towards them from within. One particular room was packed with furniture near the entrance, clearly someone had just been moving in when the plague broke.

“We could use it to block the stairs?’ Holloway said as the rest of the party joined him. Below, through the metal cage of the elevator shaft, they could the walkers flooding into the atrium and slowly beginning to climb the stairs.

“Solid plan.” Blackthorne said. “Steve, keep an eye up the stairs. Nathan, set Clarkson down on the steps and then give us a hand.”

The three men hurried into the studio, a quick sweep proving it to be empty. First they grabbed a large couch and hurled it down the stairs so that it lodged on the landing below. It made a terrific crash as it landed and the entire elevator cage rattled loudly. They all glanced at Blackthorne.

“Nothing for it lads, they already know we’re here. Move it!”

Piece by piece they tossed the entire mass down the stairs until the landing below was a jumble of chairs, couches, tables, TV’s and everything else they could find. It wasn’t a very sophisticated barrier but it proved impassable for the walkers for the moment. One or two tried to worm their way through gaps but bullets to the head halted that, and plugged the gaps rather well.

“It ain’t pretty, but it’ll do.” Muttered Blackthorne as he gestured upwards. “Up we go. Upper floor if we can, We need fully intact windows and some furniture for barring the door.”

The top floor, the seventh in total, had four doors like those below but all were closed and locked. Blackthorne pressed his ear to them but could heard nothing over the moans below as they echoed up the stairs and drowned out all but shouted conversation. He glanced at Steve who pointed to the one on the left.

“That’s the one I spoke to the guys in, it has access to the fire escape on the far side of the building!”

Blackthorne nodded and then and he Holloway threw their body weight into the door and it exploded inwards. Blackthorne hit the ground, rolled, and came up weapon drawn. The space was empty save for all the materials for an artist studio. But what a studio… There were four rooms, the two with windows were white with large beds, nice sheets and look like luxury penthouse rooms. The other two were painted black with several wooden apparatus that had shackles bolted to them. Each room had comfortable looking chairs located on two sides of the room. They all looked at Steve with raised eyebrows.

“It’s art.” He said with a sheepish grin. “Porn’s a big industry.”

“I think I’ve seen this room before.” Said Holloway, gesturing to one of the white rooms and they couldn’t help but chuckle.

A continued search turned up numerous sex toys, whips, chains, latex suits, and all sorts of other strange items that none of them would admit to having tried themselves. Thankfully the space did not also come with an undead dominatrix to spice things up.

They used one of the beds and the heavy wooden BDSM frames to shore up the door. The heavy wood used in the sex props turned out to be surprisingly robust and would withstand anything but a heavy battering ram.

When they had closed the door and used one of the mattresses to back stop it, pinning it in place with the heavy timbers, they had lain Clarkson down in the other bed. He was lucid still and eyed them all as they gathered around him, strangely out of place in a room that had never seen such heavily armed visitors.

“I ain’t this easy boys.” He said with a pained grin. “Yer gunna have ta buy me dinner afore I let you take advantage of me.”

Holloway had sat next to him and carefully pulled his battledress aside to look at the joint. He gently prodded the injury, each prod bringing forth a stream of abuse in Celtic, a language only Clarkson spoke.

“It’s out of place. I can put it back in but it’s going to fucking hurt.” Holloway said at last, sitting back on the mattress with a grunt. “But it’s that or be a wounded gimp for the rest of your natural life.”

Clarkson glowered at him. “Well git on wit it then ya big ape!” He said with a snarl.

Holloway smiled faintly and then gestured for Blackthorne to hold the other shoulder. He did a few cautious movements and then suddenly gave the shoulder a solid yank. There was a moan from Clarkson and a pop as the shoulder snapped back into place.

“Fook me…” Clarkson muttered as he took an offered morphine capsule and stabbed it into his leg.

“Better be careful what you say in this place, that might happen.” Blackthorne said but his words fell on deaf ears, Clarkson had passed out.

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC)

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The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC)

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Holloway and Co.


Holloway sat by the window and watched the streams of walkers surge slowly through the streets below him. They filled every nook and cranny it seemed, an endless river of millions of living dead that had no purpose other than to destroy life.

He found himself wondering how it had even happened. The plague anyway. They had had plenty of warning, it’s not like no one had known about it. Reports had been surfacing for months all over the world and he wasn’t sure if governments had just chosen to ignore them, or if no one took them seriously. They sure as hell would be now.

The sound of Clarkson shifting on the bed behind him drew his attention away for a moment and he glanced back towards the Brit. The man was pale but breathing well, the morphine had done the trick and he had slept through them rearranging the apartment as they saw best. It would take some time but he would be back to normal soon enough, or at least Holloway hoped as much.

The two civilians were curled up on the floor, their own snores mingling with those of Clarksons and he envied their ability to sleep. There was no way he was going to be able to even though his body was dearly in need of it.

What little sunlight that had remained following the events of the day was beginning to fade quickly now, but not quickly enough to cloak the black ash that was beginning to fall from the sky.

Holloway felt a slight shudder go through him as he realized that it wasn’t ash so much as it was everyone and everything that had once been the city of San Francisco. He only hoped that they weren’t marked for a similar strike. He wondered if it had even worked.

He touched the dog tags about his neck and hoped that his folks back home were okay, though he would never know. He hadn’t seen them since he had run away from home almost 16 years ago. It was funny how, as the world collapsed around you, that you suddenly cared about people you had wished death on only a few years before.

Tilting his chair back slightly he was able to see across the hall and spot Blackthorne who was curled up on a window ledge like a cat, his gaze fixed on the street outside. Only the slow rise and fall of his shoulders betrayed that he was still alive. Holloway had to give the man credit; he had held it together well. He well knew that Blackthorne and Bishop had been close friends before they met up in the teams and though he hid it, Holloway knew that Blackthorne blamed himself for the mans death.

Then there was the girl. Stevie. Small, cute, undeniably a good time and if the sounds coming from the room were to be believed, dynamite in the sack. Holloway would have though she was a cat with the number of times that they had managed to pull her from the fire and now she was out there again and that would be eating Blackthorne something fierce.

Blackthorne had rarely spoken of anyone back home during their short time together but Holloway did know that he had three brothers and parents back in Canada. He had not once asked about them, never wasted even a moment of someone else’s time to try and find out if they were okay. It was not because he didn’t care, Holloway knew that, he just knew that there was nothing be could do from where he was but hope for the best.

He returned his gaze to the street and found he had to squint slightly as the sun continued to sink, the ash got thicker and the black smoke of the forest fires began to penetrate the streets. It was looking even more nightmarish than usual.

“Glad I’m not out there.”

Holloway almost fell over backwards in his chair as he started in shock, Blackthorne grinned at him over his shoulder.

“Gotcha.”

“Man, what the fuck. I’ve told you not to do that. You’re to fucking sneaky for your own good.” Holloway swore again and put a hand on his chest, his heart was pounding.

“Sorry buddy, trying to keep the noise down. Why don’t you knock off and grab some bed, Clarkson looks like he could use a cuddle. I’ll wake you in two hours.” Blackthrone jerked his head towards the bed and Holloway nodded thankfully.

“Wake me for anything at all, don’t be shy.” He said as he stood, stretched and then lay down on the bed next to the snoring Brit.

“Yes dad.” Blackthorne replied with a wink before turning to look out the window.

The last image Holloway had was of the Sergeant cradling his rifle as he stared into the street, the very last rays of the evening sun splitting the clouds just long enough for Holloway to realize that Blackthorne was staring down the street they had run down. He was waiting for someone.

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.

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC)

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The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC)

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Blackthorne and Co.

“We can’t stay here.” Thomas’s voice seemed so suddenly loud in the silence of the apartment that the civilians actually jumped slightly in surprise. Nathan looked around at the military men guiltily. He had been doing his best to prove he could be as tough and stoic as they were.

“Agreed.” Rumbled the deep baritone of Holloway as he stood and stretched from his place by the window. His back cracked once and he smiled, sighing with evident relief.

“Why not? We have shelter, running water, food.” Steve piped in from the other side of the room where he was lying across four chairs, one arm thrown over his eyes as if to block out the weak morning light that was filtering into the room.

“Food enough for a week maybe and the fallout will only get worse if we wait. Once it’s into the ground water, we’re all fucked.” Thomas said patiently. The news man was starting to piss him off. So far the only thing he had done was complain about their position and demand to know how Thomas was going to return them to the others. “We need to get out of this city ASAP.”

“And leave your girlfriend here?” Steve asked as he sat up at last, not brave enough to meet Thomas’s gaze as he said it. “Leaving her to die doesn’t seem very “protect the weak and innocent” of you.” He had made quotation gestures as he spoke and a slight sneer was on his lip.

Thomas chose to ignore him. The man, like the rest of them was in a high stress environment and things always began to break down when you put someone into that situation, especially those who had never had their lives in any serious danger before. He knew the man had his own family out there somewhere and guessed that this outburst was probably a result of his own fears for them.

“Where would we go?” Nathan finally broke the silence. He could sense the tension between his boss and the military men and after what he heard about the soldiers reactions to the death of their comrade only a week ago he did not doubt for a second that if Steve pushed his luck, Thomas would kill him if aggravated.

“Out of the city but I’m not sure which direction.” Thomas said as he looked out into the street. They were virtually empty of walkers now but blanketed in a white and black layer of ash that showed trails through it where the odd walker still slouched slowly by, drawn by the moans of other further away. It looked like something like the trail snails might leave in the sand at the beach in a grotesque and horrible sort of way.

“South maybe?” Steve finally seemed to snap out of his funk. “Mexico might be populated but at least it doesn’t have nuclear fallout.”

The other nodded at that and Thomas was about to add something more when a startled yelp came from the next room where Clarkson was still lying in bed. His shoulder was still in pain and they had slung it across his chest but it would be several weeks before he was fully recovered.

Thomas at once leapt up and hurried into the next room to find the Britisher sitting bolt upright in bed. He was holding the shortwave radio that he had been carrying at arm’s length and was staring at it like it had bitten him.

“You forget what a radio looks like?” Holloway asked he appeared in the doorway behind Thomas. The SAS man ignored them and he suddenly jerked the radio back to his ear and listened with quiet intensity. They could hear something, it sounded like a voice cutting in and out with static but clear enough to make out segments of it nonetheless.

Thomas took a step closer and knelt by the bed. Clarkson turned to look at him and he could see tears in the corner of the man eyes but the huge smile he wore across his face belayed any bad news.

“Well?” Thomas prompted him.

“You’ll nay believe it lad, it’s me bloody twin sis.” He handed the radio to Thomas who pressed it to his own ear. The signal was faint beneath the static but he heard enough in seconds for his own eyes to grow wide with disbelief as he listened to the broadcast.

“This is Lieutenant Eva Clarkson of ‘er Her Majesties Ship Ambush broadcasting on all circuits. Any military unit that can ‘ear this message please respond, over.”

There was a pause and then the message would repeat louder or quieter, depending on what channel she was using. Thomas handed the radio back to Clarkson and felt a smile crack his features.

“Congratulations Spencer. Where the hell did she come from?”

“She was up’in San Fran. I thought fer sure tha nuke ‘ad wiped ‘er out…”

“So, is anyone going to respond to the girl?” Holloway broke in. “It seems to me she wants to make contact and it’s awfully rude of us to keep her waiting.”

Clarkson nodded as if in a dream and lifted the radio to his lips.

* * * * * *


“HMS AMBUSH, this is Master Corporal Spencer Clarkson o’ ‘er Majesties SAS. We read you, over.”

Lieutenant Eva Clarkson froze, the mic inches from her lips, and she stared blankly at the bulkhead in front of her. Total silence had fallen on the control room as the men around her turned to stare at her in surprise. She was still staring in stunned amazement at nothing when the voice broke into her thoughts again.

“HMS AMBUSH, this is Master Corporal Spencer Clarkson o’ ‘er Majesties SAS. We read you, you still there little sister? Over.”

“Oh my fooking god…” She muttered in continued amazement before snapping her fingers towards another shocked looking crewman. “Isolate channel.” She took a deep breath.

“Reading you loud an’ clear Master Corporal. Woot is yer status, over.”
“Got a busted fin, an’ only two o’ tha lads I started tha week with left, plus a pair o’ civis. We could use a lift if’n yer offering, over.”

“Can ye make tha harbour?” Excitement was rising in her as she glanced at real time down looking map information from a satellite far above them. It showed the chaos of the docks but a section near the ocean was clear of any obvious debris. “Pier 33, over.”

“Aye lass, we’ll see ye there! Will update on this channel. Out.”

She put down the mic, suppressed the urge to dance with glee and then turned back to the bridge team that was still staring at her in amazement. “Green 45 if you please Mister Mowat. We’re making for Los Angeles.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC)

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Nathan and Steve looked over their shoulders as they quietly slunk through the hallway and down the stairs as the three soldiers crowded around their radio, their attention fixated, completely distracted. They silently grabbed their shotgun and garden tool on the way out, and slunk as quietly as they could. Finally they stepped outside and pulled their shirts up over their noises in an attempt to block out the falling ash from being breathed into their lungs. The two kept running until they ducked into a covered bus stop. The darkness in the sky and the falling ash created a macabre, silent setting. It reminded Nathan of a snowstorm he'd been in once when visiting a college friend in North Dakota--the falling debris seemed to absorb any soundwave that dared course through the air.

The taller man looked over at Steve, shaking the ash from his hair and off of his shirt. "What the hell?" he inquired casually. "I thought you said we were safe in there."

Steve shook his head. "You heard what they said, right?" he zapped stressedly, shaking the ash from his own messy mop of hair. "We wouldn't have had a choice. Would you rather be gone off on some submarine with a bunch of strangers or chance finding the others?"

"Dude, we don't even know if they're out there," Nathan sighed resignedly, casting his eyes down to the ground. "We should have stayed."

"I wouldn't steer you wrong," Steve insisted somewhat disattachedly, purposely trying to not sound as though he was feeling under pressure. "We had to find a way out of that situation in a way that made sure no one got hurt. Remember, Nathan, everyone has-"

"Everyone has to win," Nathan broke in irritably, interrupting the older man with a sing-song tone. "I get it. You've been telling me that for a while, every time you make a decision you know I'm not a fan of."

Steve's mouth turned into a straight line running horizontally across his face. He paused for a few beats, then took a seat on the bench and pulled the shirt off of his face, leaning ahead and holding his head in his hands. "You think I don't know how bullshit I sound right now?" Nathan blinked. Steve shook his head and continued to glare down at the ground. "The only reason I haven't taken someone's gun to my head is because I'm holding out hope for Gale. And I can't do that on a submarine."

Nathan felt his stomach twist in knots. Perhaps he could relate on a far more scaled-back level. He looked down to his feet, shifting them in this ash to study the imprints left behind by the ridges on the bottom of his shoes. The fine ash almost seemed like particulate dust, in a way. He took a breath and looked ahead down the street. "All right, Steve. I understand."

The older man lifted his head from his hands and nodded. "I know you do." He sighed heavily as he got up from the bench. He took another breath to say something, then stopped when he spotted the moving figures around the block. He stood up straighter and pointed ahead. "Come on. Let's go."