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Snippet #2443744

located in The Haven Universe, a part of Live Together or Die Alone, one of the many universes on RPG.

The Haven Universe



Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Tilo King
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(Co-written with Messiah)

November 9th, 2013, 0900


Part 1: A Quack And A Zed Walk Into A Bar

Ben woke up to an empty bed. He sat up and shook his head, getting rid of the cobwebs.

After getting dressed, he made his way downstairs, he was intercepted by Doctor Short.

"I need to change your bandages," she said.

In response, Ben grunted, reluctant, but he went along with it. He didn't want to risk infection.

"I don't think you should be going out in your condition," the doctor told him as she wrapped him up again like he was a Christmas gift.

"I don't have that luxury," Ben answered, "Haven needs me."

Her face had contorted into an disapproving frown, but she really couldn't argue with it. With Monroe and Toby dead and others unable to go out, they were dangerously low on manpower. As much as Ben would like to stay in Haven and rest, he (and the rest of the settlement) couldn't afford it.

After being bandaged again by Doc Short, Ben was out the farmhouse door and up to the job board.

He approached the job board and took down the notice with his right hand, his left arm hanging loosely at his side. The more he read the notice over, the deeper his scowl became.

"What the hell is this?" he muttered. Rishi really was certifiable. This read like it was going to be a relatively simple run-and-grab job. Cameras, laptops, cell phones. But, it was in Cromwell. Cromwell is where he got fucked over last time. It was never going to be simple.

Better than Edinburgh, he thought.

That wasn't what concerned him the most, though. It wasn't a secret that Rishi had been keeping one of those things in one of the houses. Laney had almost killed it and the doctor. That was bad enough, but the fact that he'd named it and called it a man? That's what got him. This thing was no longer a person, and it sure as hell wasn't a pet.


Tilo was up for the day's job. He bent and turned his head in several motions trying to prevent the onset of vertigo while increasing his declining flexibility. He made some arm circles, trying to warm up his shoulders. Damn he was getting old. He had just finished breakfast, eggs, as usual. He walked along until he reached the job board where he saw another fellow. This other fellow had brown, unkempt shaggy hair. If it wasn't for the outbreak, he probably would have had a haircut. Tilo wasn't one to judge, seeing as how he was starting to look almost like Gandalf, without extensions of course. He needed a shave, a haircut, and much much more. Referring back to the younger man, Tilo had no idea who he was, probably another scavenger.

He approached the lad, gave him a quick nod before he checked the board. There was only one brief there, and beside it was a notebook that had been pinned to the board. The title page was listed as "The Zombie Guidebook." It piqued Tilo's interest, it was a new kind of volume. The first one produced in this world, or at least in Haven.

Normally, Ben might have been a little more friendly, but he just wanted to get this over and done with. He turned slightly at the sound of the approach of another; it was the old man. Ben hadn't had a chance to talk to the guy, well, at all. Though, he had heard that this was the guy that had went to the Rands a few days ago.

They weren't trustworthy either, as far as Ben was concerned.

"We've got a bit of shopping to do," Ben said, tapping the job on the board, "Cameras, batteries, phones maybe." He didn't waste much time getting to the point. "I don't want to hang around here longer than I have to. You can bring the book with you if you want."

Tilo sensed that he was a terse fellow. He was going to be a tough nut to crack, but the professor did not expect everyone to be an easy socializer. Especially anyone around Haven, they had all seen their share of the apocalypse.

"Uhm, I don't think that would be necessary," Tilo stated, unsure what use the guide would have. He would have preferred time to read the guide and decide whether it was worth bringing along.

"We should probably pack our things," the old man pointed with his thumb back to the farm.

The place was Cromwell. Tilo had been halfway to the town before so he knew the direction somewhat. All they needed were shotguns, and a pack to carry things.

Ben had forgotten his own backpack - or maybe forgotten wasn't the right word. He wanted to see what the job had been first, and now he was glad that he did. The gun that he'd taken from the brothers at their farmhouse was still in it. Now that they'd be packing things in and out of bags, he wasn't fond of explaining why he had a gun, nor was he fond of explaining why he had hidden the weapon. That probably wouldn't go over well, but refusing would be suspicious. Maybe he could hide it and the ammunition.

"Yeah. Probably. I'll take care of it. Wait here. Unless you need to get your own backpack."

Whether or not the old man decided that he wanted to get his own pack, it didn't matter to Ben. He would go get his own and then the shotguns.

First, he went to his room to get his backpack. It was a round-about way to do it, but he wanted to hide what he had in his backpack first. Some of his clothes littered the floor and, he decided, that would be enough until he got back. Quickly, he pulled out the gun and the ammunition for it, gathered up his clothes and hid everything within them.

Shortly after, he made his way back downstairs. Things were still tense between Callie and himself. He had made no effort to talk to her since their heated exchange upon his return a few days ago, and once he got to the command center, he only uttered a single word: "Shotguns." which she returned with shortly, not uttering a word in response. Once he had the weapons in hand, he returned to the job board.

Tilo had his pack ready with him as the younger man came back with a pair of sawn-offs. He did not have anything inside, since this was strictly a grab and go sort of deal. No maps, no binoculars, no fireworks, and no torches. However, he did have his walkie-takie with him; if there was one thing that was important, it would probably be the walkie-talkie. Without it, scavengers were pretty much blind in the wilderness.

He took one of the firearms and gestured to Ben, "After you?"

With a nod, Ben stepped towards the gate, pulled it open and, after the other man had passed through, pulled it closed again. He was glad to be off. Even though it was nice to get some rest, he had been going a little stir-crazy over the past couple of days, and really wanted to get going. Now that they were out of Haven, he felt a sense of relief, as if a large animal had gotten up off of his chest.

Off to Cromwell again. He didn't like the idea, naturally. They needed to stop sending Scavs there. There had been too many close calls in the otherwise innocuous town. Laney had nearly been killed. Ben and Hoppy had been separated by a horde and both had nearly become victims of the cannibal brothers. And it wasn't like the town had a lot to offer anymore. It had nearly been picked clean of most things useful. Except Rishi now, he wanted them to find cameras for some scientific documentation, or something.

He was wasting his time.

But, maybe with the explosion at the other farm, they would have time to look around town without being hassled by the undead.

"Waste of time," Ben muttered indignantly.

Tilo caught the tail end of that statement, "What was that?"

The fellow had muttered something about the mission, but Tilo didn't hear him. He spoke with an American accent, and as far as Tilo knew he was perhaps one of only two Americans in camp, the other being Kiera. He stood a bit taller than Tilo, and his hair fit the description of 'Ben.' However, he didn't want to jump to conclusions regarding this younger man's name.

"I'm sorry, uh I didn't catch your name earlier? My name's Tilo," the old man said as they continued on the gravel path toward Cromwell.

"Ben," he answered, glancing to the man, "I said it's a waste of time. What's he trying to accomplish? A cure? It's a waste of time. We should be trying to survive, not trying to find a cure."

So this was Ben. That explained his bleak outlook of the future. Tilo couldn't blame him, if the rumors were true, then he'd been through a lot. He didn't want to interject with a comment, but the young man seemed very cynical, more so than Tilo. And the professor thought he was the old man.

The sun was rising along the east, but the orange rays eventually caught them in the eyes through the forest.

The old man squinted as they continued, "Well...I never thought I'd meet an American who was so...out of hope, if you will," Tilo tried to tailor his words, careful not to offend the younger man.

"As far as I can tell, we're...surviving. At some point though...we have to look to the future," Tilo paused, "I don't think I could fault him for trying. The past few weeks, or months for some, have been hell. I don't know how much longer we'll need to survive."

What was that supposed to mean? 'An American who was so out of hope'? Did all Americans have to be twits with their blinders on? Ben shook his head a bit.

"It's naive to think there's a cure. He's got us going out on these things, and they're just pipe dreams. We spend too much time thinking about the future, we forget about what's going on, right here, right now."

He sighed, "Truth be told I might have been like him, but then I realized that's not how the world works anymore. You're not guaranteed anything. You're not even guaranteed to be alive tomorrow."

"And now he's got one of those... things in our camp, and he's named it, like it's some pet. It's idiotic, and it's dangerous."

He didn't say it, but he was under the impression that Rishi probably wouldn't be of much use if he weren't doing whatever it is he was doing. Ben also got the feeling that Rishi himself felt that way too.

Maybe he wouldn't feel that way if he'd get out of that room every once in a while and do something useful. It might not be a bad idea to have mandatory weapon training, in case of attack. That way, there wouldn't be any liability when it came to defending Haven.

Tilo tried to comprehend the process of thought that Ben was going through. He felt the urge to interrupt him at several points, but he decided to hold off until he was done. Politeness and listening used to be British past times, they weren't any longer.

"I...I don't care what he does with it. As long as he doesn't let it loose. But tell me then, if we're not even guaranteed to be alive tomorrow...why does it matter that it's dangerous?"

Ben scoffed and smirked, though it was not out of humor, but rather because of how ridiculous that had sounded to him.

"Because survival is the name of the game, and that thing puts us in danger of not surviving. Haven's the only thing that matters to me anymore, and I don't want some nutjob who thinks that there might be a cure screwing it up."

Ben's scoff, followed by game, made Tilo raise his eyebrows. He didn't really know what to say.

"Okay, so we go back there and we put two shotgun shells into its head. And then what? Continue on like this? Go out and find food and stuff and try to pass the winter and hope that we don't freeze to death. And if it's not winter, then here's to hoping that we don't get our heads blown off by some rogues. And then after that we can hopefully repeat this each day, each week, each month, each year. And then we die of old age right? Is that what life is now? I don't know about you mate, but four or five months ago, my oldest son just got accepted into university," Tilo paused, his lips quivered.

His breath faltered, maybe it was the cold of winter setting on.

"That was eighteen years of work between my wife and I, raising him. Dreams, hopes, ambitions...and in a matter of days, gone like the flickering of a candle," Tilo swallowed, "You know growing up in Colchester, I never," Tilo had an anguished smile, "I never thought that by the time I turned forty, I'd have to be fighting for my life. But to call this, life...this?" he gestured to the woods, to the both of them.

"Is this life? Is this worth...surviving? This existence?"

"I think it would do the world, and myself, a lot of good if I just offed myself right now with this," he shoved the shotgun forward.

"I'm sure you have family and friends back in the States, and I'm sure you missed them like I miss my family. Giving up on them, would be like this," his eyes went to the shotgun again.

Then he fell silent, he said what he wanted to say. Whether or not it would catch on, he didn't know, and maybe he didn't care. He was old, and he was tired, and he knew he was tired of living like this.

"Nobody ever said it was fair. The world now, it takes and it takes, but it never gives anything back," Ben said flatly. Maybe he could have been more understanding; he had certainly been at the point Tilo had just described.

"But, offing yourself right here is not the same thing. We would be weaker without you. Could you just kill yourself knowing that your death might result in the death of someone else because you weren't around to help?" His brows had furrowed, but he was staring straight ahead, "That's why I came back. I could have given up and let those assholes kill me, but I didn't. Haven is weak enough as it is."

It was a little bit callous, maybe, seeing the people of Haven just as numbers to make it stronger, but if you weren't strong, you didn't get to survive. And then you could be out on your own again, if you had even managed to survive at all.

"As for my family and friends..." he paused, swallowing, "It's not giving up, it's moving on. I should have moved on a long time ago. They're thousands of miles away, and even if they're still alive, I'm not going to get to see them again. I've decided to accept that and move on. Focus on the present instead. And right now, in the present? Haven is all I've got."

"Yeah," Tilo replied solemnly.

Everyone had their stories and their reasons.


Part 2: A Finger and A Revelation

They had spent about an hour or so walking in pure silence, silence of voice that is. Nature was always restless, there would always be a bird chirping, or some leaves falling. And then of course there was the wind that murmured, and the snow that fell.

Tilo decided to break the proverbial ice this time. He was curious about the stories of Ben being tortured as the tale went. And if it was true, he didn't want to pry deeply into the wound. Ben did make a mention of "assholes" before, which seemed to confirm his thoughts. He must have been through a lot. Tilo did not really have the vocabulary to describe people going through traumatic experiences anymore. Everyday, somebody at Haven would have experienced one. In his mind, the thought went about in circles to the point where it had lost its meaning, almost like if one were to say 'peanut butter' over and over again. In time it just becomes an unintelligible pile of deformed mush. He wanted to empathize, but how could he? Death was part of him and part of everyone at Haven wherever he, or they went.

In the old world, death was just a word, or a world that seemed far off in the distance. It was something that people didn't think about until they were Tilo's age. It was something that made people think of how they were going to "leave" the world. For people younger than him, it was all about invincibility and carpe diem and living fast and being young. Or that was how life told the story. All of those things dissipated like the vapor of breath that Tilo exhaled in the cold weather.

"So, I heard you were captured," Tilo said.

There it was. Ben knew that it was only a matter of time before he brought it up. He goes away, gets captured, beaten up, and loses a finger, then, when he comes back, everyone suddenly wanted to play counselor. Mark. Laney. All he wanted to do was to move on - to forget about what had happened as best as he could, but with everyone reminding him of it made that mighty difficult to accomplish.

Ben was a little resentful of how people treated him since then, like he was on the verge of a breakdown, or that he was dangerous. There wasn't anything that was going to make him hurt another person from Haven, no matter how crazy he thought they were. At least not until they became a danger to the settlement - if it ever came to that.

And he wasn't special either. Plenty of people had gone through more than he had. What about the people that the brothers had actually killed? He had been lucky. He had been stupid. He had been weak. All he wanted was to move on and learn from the experience, but everyone else wouldn't let him move on.

"I don't want to talk about it," Ben said simply, hiding the resentment that still lingered.

Ben seemed hesitant to talk about his experience in Tilo's eyes, and when he finally opened his mouth, those were his words. So was it traumatic? Tilo wanted to know, but he stopped himself. Maybe that was the reason why he said those things earlier, or maybe it wasn't. Maybe he was still reeling from the fact that he had been captured and tortured. And Tilo would have guessed that the people around Haven were just as eager as he was to know. They might have been pestering him for days. That deflated a man's ego faster than a needle popping a balloon. Ben reminded him a bit of his son, Edmond. Prior to the outbreak, Edmond was in the phase of secrecy, as if every question was like a bullet that needed to be dodged. Tilo was just doing his job as a parent. The old man respected Ben's wishes and chose not to pursue the subject any further, despite his curiosity. So he simply replied with a curt nod.

He was glad for Tilo's reaction. It had seemed that nobody really cared what he wanted in regards to the situation. When he told them he didn't want to talk about it, it didn't stop them from coming back sometime later and asking if he was sure. Ben knew they cared about him and what happened to him. They wouldn't ask if they didn't. But, there again, they weren't willing to let it go. If Ben wanted to talk about it, he would do it on his own terms, not on theirs.

In response, Ben nodded as well, "Thanks," he said, flexing the fingers on his left hand. He could still feel his missing finger. It was moving in unison with the others as he clenched and unclenched his empty hand.

If there was anything he could take from losing that finger, it was that he was thankful it wasn't a more useful one, like his thumb, or his index finger, or even... his middle finger.

Inwardly, he chuckled, thinking about flipping someone off. It wasn't an obscene gesture over here, but he was sure they knew it was in the States.

Then, he glanced to Tilo briefly, and he remembered one of his first conversations with Laney, about her trip out with the man he was out with now. At the time, he had been angry about what she had told him, that Tilo had "said some inappropriate things". He had forgotten all about that until now but, now that he had talked with him, he didn't seem like the kind of person that would say some inappropriate things as she said he did.

It was old news, but he was curious about it.

"That time that you and Laney went out, what happened?" he asked bluntly. He purposely neglected to mention what she had told him had gone down.

That was quite a long time ago in Tilo's mind. He wasn't even sure if he remembered the general details about it. They...went out to investigate something. It was a boat, if Tilo remembered correctly. He also remembered about the conversation they had about music. And about how she was Morris Byron's daughter, looking back, at the time she seemed big. Big as a celebrity, she wasn't a 'muggle,' if that was the appropriate popular term for it. She was related to a rocker, that was definitely something. Now she was...Laney, just a normal human being who had been through a lot.

They talked about the things they missed, she missed music, and perhaps deep down maybe she missed her father. Tilo missed his family, and he missed music, or the pleasure of music. It was a facet of civilization, something that used to exist. It was beautiful and melodious, and it was one of the things that made life worth living. Tilo knew that Laney would have been able to put it into better words, music was her domain. People could all agree that music was a sort of universal language as it was known then, before the outbreak. It was something that brought people together, and it was powerful indeed. Then Tilo drifted back to the mission that he and Laney went on. They were in the forest, and they reached the lake. The boat rested in the middle of the calm waters, and Laney decided to be the one to try and swim to it.

"," Tilo wasn't sure if he wanted to talk about it. Perhaps it couldn't hurt to tell someone about it, what was there to hide? Was there something to hide? If there was, Tilo had forgotten it.

"We were sent to investigate a boat," Tilo paused, trying to recount the event, "No, yacht, yacht. It was a yacht."

He cleared his throat, "We came to the shore. Laney tried to swim to the boat. And then...out of water there was mass of zed. They were swimmers, that's what I call them. Their heads were bobbing to the surface trying to get a bite of her. She had been pulled down into the water."

He saw the faces of the undead again. They were bloated, their eyes were milky white, and their skin discolored. Their blood was dried and wet all the same because of the water. The outer layer of their skin peeled or hung unnaturally. Their fingers had chipped or broken nails. They clawed at him with their mutilated faces and their straining screams echoed in his ears. Tilo closed his eyes, trying to shut out the blood curdling images.

"So I got on a little boat and paddled out to get her and then..." he was reminded of the two people on the boat, the man and the boy. They had on their worn, apathetic faces, and blood-shot eyes. Tilo would have mistaken them for death and his child.

Tilo's eyes went to the side, unsure if he should add that little detail, "I pulled her out of the water when I got to her and we just got back to Haven."

So he decided to keep that secret to himself. That little demon was still inside him, and he realized that he had forgotten about it a long time ago.

"That was it."

Ben nodded slowly in response. Something seemed a little fishy about it. Their stories about what had gone down seemed to match in some respects, but both of their stories seemed a little scant on details.

Perhaps against his better judgment, he asked a follow-up question.

"What was your discussion about afterwards?" Again, he neglected to say what Laney had told him.

After all, he had witnessed it, but he hadn't caught what it was about.

Tilo shook his head, his eyebrows creased confusedly, "I don't...recall Laney and I having a discussion afterward."

"Mhmm." It was evident that Ben didn't believe him, but he also didn't particularly feel like pressing the issue. Something had definitely gone on, but he had possibly forgotten it just like Ben had forgotten about what Laney had said until just a little while ago, so he went quiet again.

At least for a few minutes.

"Heard you went to the Rands' place. That seemed to go okay. I mean, you didn't come back missing a finger or anything."

Maybe the finger joke was just a lighthearted comment. Unbeknownst to Tilo, Ben had lost a finger. Nobody told him, they just said he was tortured.

Tilo chuckled, "Right, um. I don't know about them. They're living like none of this happened. I mean, they're not surviving. Their leader, Ken Rand is a pretty, pretty shrewd fellow. Hopefully he'll come around."

Tilo paused, "But there was this one fellow, Richard...he had black hair underneath a dark grey beanie. He barely shaved. And while I was there, I can honestly say...he gave me the creeps."

Ben stopped dead in his tracks, "Kind of skinny? A bit shorter than me?" He hadn't gotten a great look at the guy he was thinking of, but based on what he could tell, the man had been shorter than himself by a few inches.

"He was short, but not skinny. He definitely had a couple of kilos on him. He had this strange look in his eye, like he had not slept for days. An insomniac or something."

Maybe he had misremembered the guy's body type, but the rest of it sounded right.

"Did you ever find out about Tim?"

"Tim?" who was Tim, Tilo had never heard of him. He was never mentioned at all by either Monroe or Callie, "Who's Tim?"

"Tim's the guy who got chased up a tree by a bunch of geeks. I was sent to try and help him, but another group got there before I did. They killed the zombies." Ben paused. He hadn't forgotten about one of his first forays out into the wilderness, "Tim got down. He mentioned Haven to them, think that's where they were from. The leader of this group asked where Haven was. Tim didn't really seem sure. He said something about it being a few m--" Then he corrected himself, "--meters away."

"And then the leader executed him. I saw it all. This guy sounds a lot like the guy who killed Tim. Is he with the Rands?"

"The fellow I saw is with them, yes. He's part of their scavengers, hunters actually...because they actually have outdoorsmen, unlike us," Tilo chuckled, "Are you sure it was him?"

"Sounds about right." He scowled as he began walking again, "No. Not until I see him. I have to go to the Rands' place. If it's the guy I'm thinking of, then they're harboring a murderer who's responsible for this whole thing between us and the Caravanners." Then, he added, "Not that we can trust them, either."

"You said there was a group?"

"Five of them, yeah. Including the guy in charge."

"Now that I think about it. When I was there, he came back alone. In fact, if I remember correctly, the man had said that four others were at Cromwell, but that was on the fifth. They're probably all back at the Rands."

"Son of a bitch," he muttered, "That has to be him. Fuckers are keeping murderers there." He was angry now, but he was much more subdued on the outside than he was on the inside. This guy, the one Tilo had described, something had to be done about him.

"I have to go to the Rands'," he repeated.

"Alright mate, calm down. We need a good reason to show up there. I mean, if we come barging into the place, it's going to make them suspicious," Tilo paused before adding, "Funny thing I remember, when he came back, he started interrogating me. I think he asked me about Haven, 'how many people died,' or 'are the leaders still alive' and some other stuff. I thought it was very odd of him to ask such questions."

He still didn't trust the Rands. Honestly, the only people he did trust these days were the people who were in Haven, maybe except that military woman that he saw in the infirmary when he first went to get patched up; he didn't know her. And, although he wasn't distrustful of the man, he was wary of Rishi.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm sure somebody will think of something."

That sealed it. Without even seeing the man's face, Ben was now convinced that this was the man he saw execute Tim in cold blood.

"That's got to be him," he muttered, then spoke up a little louder, "Let's hurry up and get this thing finished so we can get back to Haven. This is important."

Certainly more important than cameras, he thought as he increased his pace towards Cromwell.

Tilo matched him, his pack not slowing him down especially with this recent turn of events.


Part 3: Holiday Shopping

It was near noon when the two men reached Cromwell. The cold was a bit more bearable up in the north of England. Unlike London, when it was grey almost all day and into the night, Cumbria did not suffer from lack of sunlight. The winter was decent, the sun at least was able to make it through the clouds in November. It was just November though, winter would not be official until December.

The town of Cromwell had devolved into a village with the lack of a human presence. Before the outbreak, the town was fairly lively, now it was just an aggregate of various buildings with their comely rooftops nestled within the green hills. Automotive vehicles were abandoned in the streets, newspapers and other trash littered the ground.

The wind moved through the empty town calling out to the long abandoned homes and businesses, which replied with echoes of silence.

It only took him one visit, but Ben hated Cromwell. He hated everything about Cromwell. The eerie quiet. The hidden dangers that normally lurked there. It seemed like it might have been a nice place before the outbreak, but he didn't really care anymore. Any trip to Cromwell couldn't go fast enough, in his mind.

He drew out his hatchet once they were well inside the confines of the town.

"Just in case," he muttered to himself. Chances were that the fire and explosion had drawn most of them off. But, there was no telling if they were going to return or not. Ben didn't want to take any chances.

"Want to check out the electronics store first? I think it's pretty close to the grocery store and the pharmacists. There might be stuff we can use there." There were a couple things that he wanted to look for.

Tilo nodded. He had never actually been to Cromwell before, but he heard the reports. He wasn't one to ignore the warnings. His grip on the sawn-off tightened. The town seemed empty, but every house probably held a horde of zed ready to pour out like ants from a nest.

Their steps were marked by the cracking of shards of glass and other debris strewn on the ground. They soon happened on the electronics store. It was a small, locally owned shop as evidenced by the name, Torrhen's Electronics. It seemed as if every store in town was named after someone, Gill Mechanics, Torrhen's Electronics, Johnson's Pharmacy, and of course Rand Grocers. The store itself was smaller than the average RadioShack. The windows had been shattered completely with the pieces of glass gathered in disparate arrangements on the sidewalk by the street lamp.

Slowly, Ben crept into Torrhen's Electronics, glass crunching underneath his winter boots as he went. Aside from the natural light that filtered in through the windows, it was fairly dark.

"Keep a lookout. I don't want anything sneaking up on us."

When they had entered, a walker had begun to get up with a groan. Admittedly, Ben had missed it when it had groaned, due to the crunching of glass underfoot. But, as soon as it rose, he caught a glimpse of it.

It was a large one. Large in the sense that it was very... rotund, anyway. The man that it had used to be clearly worked here, as it was wearing a shirt with the company's logo on it.

"I've got this," Ben announced as he glanced back to Tilo.

He approached the zombie and gave a heavy overhand swing of his hatchet, burying it into the top of its skull and making short work of the opponent.

Ben glanced down at the thing, sighing a little, and shaking his head.

"See what we can get," Ben said as he looked around. Most of the store's inventory seemed relatively intact. Cameras, camcorders, some of those pay-as-you-go phones, and some batteries - though there were less batteries than there were anything else. That made sense. Batteries weren't just for cameras anymore. A lot of things used batteries. Flashlights, walkie-talkies, radios.

"There might be more in the back."

Ben stepped to the door that led to the storage and tried the knob. It didn't budge. Locked.

"Damn it," he cursed, under his breath. But, then he remembered the geek (probably an adequate description, in more than one way) he'd just killed. The guy had worked here and there might be a key on him.

He retreated back to where the walker had fallen and began searching it. It didn't take long. The keys were hooked onto one of its belt loops. First, he slid his hatchet away and took out his knife; he wasn't going to bother trying to unhook it. Instead, he was just going to cut it free.

Once he had it, he marched back to the locked door. Before unlocking it, he turned and motioned to the old man.

"Over here."

If the zed did not have the keys, they probably would have tried hacking apart the knob perhaps until the door opened and allowed for entry. Tilo followed him closely, stepping over the portly corpse of the employee with its head now smashed.

They entered the storage room which was filled with racks as high as the ceiling and many cages with small boxes, no doubt packaged with devices inside. They were labeled with images of phones and other devices. Other boxes were plain nondescript cardboard lined together behind a label on the shelf. Some had brand names on them, others had model names. The larger boxes were inside cages, denoting their value, or former value. The world now had no need for currency. The cages themselves were protected with padlocks. They could try rummaging through the cabinets near the door for the keys to the cages if necessary.

That could have taken too long.

Ben had proceeded through the locked door with caution, in case there was a nasty surprise waiting for them. The back was void of the undead, which made sense. The door had been locked, but better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes.

"This place is clear. You want to see what you can find? I want to go check out the grocery store and the pharmacist, just across the street. Maybe see if you can get a camera working?"

"Uh sure," Tilo shrugged.

"I'll be back. Shout if you need help."

"Shout?" Tilo questioned.

"Whatever. It's across the street. I'm not going to hear you otherwise. Unless you actually want to walk over to come get me."

Of course, if he was attacked, he might not be able to come across the street to get him.

The old man went toward one of the many storage shelves and decided to open one of the boxes with the image of a camera on the side.

As Ben left, in hindsight Tilo realized that it would have been best to let someone younger handle technology. He was decent as far as professors went, but he was not as savvy. The camera was buried beneath the styrofoam casing, which Tilo stripped. He searched for the power button and pressed it. No reply. He had forgotten to put the battery pack in. He opened the slot, popped the battery in, and pressed power. It turned on, fortunately, and he turned it off and unpopped the battery to preserve the power. Then he looked back at all the boxes lined throughout the large dull storage room. To go through each box and test the batteries would be like an algorithm, which wasn't very time-friendly at the moment. He would have preferred sweeping all of them into his pack, but that wouldn't leave space for many.

Ben trekked across the street to the grocery store which connected with the pharmacy. This store was even darker than the electronics store that he had just come from. As soon as he stepped into the building, he could hear the tell-tale noise of the undead. But, it didn't sound like they were alert yet. The noise reminded him of... snoring, and it sounded like there was more than one.

Quietly, he crept through the store. He had to deal with these before he could really go searching through the store. Otherwise, they could sneak up on him while he wasn't as alert.

As he progressed through, he kept constantly turning and keeping on the lookout.

Finally, he spotted the source of the noise - or at least some of it. Down the aisle that was labeled 'soda' were three walkers. His presence at the end of the aisle alerted them and they turned their heads toward him suddenly.

They advanced - two of them slowly and the other much more quickly. Ben stepped back, holding his hatchet, and allowing the quicker one to get near him before he swung his weapon. It ended up in the thing's head, just as it had the one at Torrhen's. However, unlike then, he lost his grip on the weapon as the corpse fell to the floor.

"Shit," Ben whispered, eyeing the two advancing walkers. He didn't have time to pull the weapon out and strike at these two, so he had to think quickly.

He rushed to the stand that was now empty and put both hands on it and used the strength he had to pull it down. With a loud crash, it fell on top of them, trapping them.

Ben sighed and turned back to the first corpse, intending to extract his weapon from its skull. Instead, he came face-to-face with a fourth walking corpse, startling him.

Without thinking, he swung his left arm, striking it in the side of the head and sending it toppling to the floor. And, before it could get up, he raised his leg up and brought his boot down heavily onto its skull, sending blood and brain out like he had just squeezed out a glob of toothpaste.

First, he checked himself for bites or scratches and sighed in relief once he realized that he had none of either.

"No bites," he said quietly, going back to get his hatchet back from the first body. He still had to finish off the two that were still trapped by the shelf he had pulled down.

Once he had it in hand, all it took was two quick strikes to end their existence for good.

"Assholes," he muttered as he finished them off.

As he expected, the store didn't have much of anything and what it did have wasn't much use to them.

On to the pharmacist.

Johnson's was empty of walkers, allowing Ben to look around freely.

He was surprised to find some painkillers left. These might help with his hand. He had been having trouble getting to sleep some nights because of his hand. It had gotten better, but only slightly.

The pain pills were a nice surprise, but that's not what he was really looking for. And when he finally found what he was looking for, he looked around furtively before stuffing them into one of the side pockets of his backpack.


Ben then turned and was about to make his way out of the pharmacy when the thought came to him...

He might need a few other things, so he grabbed them and put them into the same side pocket.

Morning-after pills and a pregnancy test.

The last thing he wanted at this point was to have to deal with anything like that. He was pretty sure Laney didn't, either. It wasn't like she could afford it, what with her going out the same as him.

Hoppy had joked about 'Little Baby Bens', but realistically, that wouldn't be good. Not right now, and probably not for a long time.

He zipped up the side pocket and made to return to the electronics store.

Now he could leave.

Back in the electronics storage room, Tilo decided to simply unbox the phones, cameras, and batteries into his bag. The manuals did not matter, at some point people could figure out that a three pronged plug would not go into a two holed outlet. Batteries and the respective devices they went in worked the same way. After that was done, Tilo looked up to the cages at the top shelves. Those were probably the laptops.

He looked around for a step ladder or something to elevate him up there. Eventually he found one set aside in the back of the room, hidden behind the many rows of storage shelves.

As he got up to the higher levels, he pulled out the hatchet and proceeded to smash apart the latch that was held together by the padlock. He proceeded to open the door and he set aside the hatchet. He looked for the smaller boxes, which signified more compact devices. Compact devices meant an easier return trip to Haven.

Once he had found two or three suitable boxes, he proceeded to open them. Then he tried to make room inside his pack for the notebooks. He looked to the power cords, unsure if they would be of use. It couldn't possibly hurt, if in the near future the outlets at Haven were powered directly from the Silent Valley plant. At that point, they wouldn't need to make a return trip just for cords. Tilo smiled smugly, foresight, he supposed. It wasn't really much to be proud of, but then again there wasn't anything left in the world to lay a claim of pride on anymore.

Once all of that was done, he zipped up his pack, reholstered the hatchet, and grabbed the sawn-off and proceeded to leave the store.

Outside, Tilo met Ben, who had returned from the grocers and the pharmacist.

"Find anything?" Tilo shifted his pack, which had gained considerable weight.

"Some painkillers," he said as he shrugged, "That's about it. It's been picked clean for the most part." Obviously, that wasn't entirely true, but he didn't really feel like discussing his sex life with someone who wasn't much younger than his father had been.

"Mmm," Tilo eyed the streets around them. The place was a wasteland of a village. There wasn't much else left to be done. Tilo noticed a pillow in the middle of the street, strange.

"Well," Tilo sighed, "I guess..." then he remembered the truck.

"You want to try the petrol station?"

Ben glanced around, spotting the strange place for a pillow, that seemed to have something tied around it. He took a few steps towards it.

"Did you want to check out the pawn shop? I've still got plenty of room in my pack."

"I'm out of room, filled to the brim. Couldn't hurt could it?" he saw Ben walk toward the pillow, evidently the awkwardness of the object attracted them somehow.

A few more steps and he was standing over the object, "Might be worth checking out."

He knelt down and untied the cloth around the pillowed object, revealing a walkie-talkie, much like an oyster might open up to reveal a pearl within.

"I don't believe it," Ben said as he picked up the walkie-talkie. He tested it a few times, "Dead as that guy in there, though." Idly, he motioned to the electronics store.

Was that a hint of humor in his voice? It was difficult to tell.

"Hmm?" Tilo saw the walkie-talkie.

"This has to be the one that Laney tossed to save herself, right?"

Tilo was unaware of the event that Ben referred to.

Ben shrugged and clipped it to his belt, "Let's go to the pawn shop."


Part 4: What Tastes Worse Than Gasoline?

The pawn shop was just like the electronics store. Windows blasted. The place was wrecked. The neon signs out front just pieces of bulbs on the street. Jewelry was taken, no doubt by bandits and looters. As if gold mattered anymore in this world, and most of the time it wasn't even real gold if it came from a pawn shop. Those poor pathetic fools. Most of the items were junk anyway, but a scavenger's job was a scavenger's job. The items were stacked in an irregular manner, lacking order, or rather separation. They weren't divided into categories, they were just assorted throughout the store. Most of the shelves were bare with the exception of large television sets and radios. Those did not work anymore.

Most of the rifles on the shelves behind the counter had been taken, leaving behind one or two. It was actually pretty hard to find something useful among a mess of items. Whether or not they would find something useful, remained to be seen.

Tilo walked around a shelf of magazines and records. He passed by several taxidermic animal heads. What in the world did people need those for back then? Tilo did not know, even though 'back then' was a mere couple of months ago.

Near the back section was a rack lined with guitars. Some had been smashed apart, their strings and wooden bodies on the ground. The ones that were untouched gave Tilo an idea. He was reminded by what Laney had told him during their trip to Tull Hollow. It would be a nice gift, he thought, especially since Christmas was rolling around. He wondered if anybody still celebrated that anymore. Still, if there was anything to raise morale, this would be one of them. He grabbed the one that looked the most pristine. He was not a guitar expert, so he simply picked the one that looked decent in his eye.

Ben had taken to looking around the shop for anything that Rishi had asked for, or anything else that might have been useful. He passed by a shelf that had a bunch of video games on it. Before walking by it completely, he stopped and looked at what they had.

Nothing but crap and old games. But, crap and old games were the only things that could ever be found at a pawn shop. Stores that sold new games usually wouldn't pay much for them if they took them at all; if a game was old, they wouldn't even take it for trade. If they can't sell it for good money then they don't buy it.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Tilo holding something big, and it wasn't until he turned that he saw it was a guitar.

"What are you doing?" he asked, raising a brow. The old man didn't really seem like the type to play guitar.

Tilo looked over to Ben, "Oh, this. I was reminded by what Laney told me. She used to be a musician, I thought this would be nice for her. What do you think?"

Of course.

Part of him wanted to protest and say that they really didn't need it, but the other part of him thought of Laney. How she was really the only person he really felt comfortable with right now.

The old man looked back to Ben, "Don't worry, I'll tell her it was from you," Tilo reassured him.

He was aware of their blossoming relationship, if one could call it that. Anybody who didn't know about it was definitely out of the loop.

"She'll like it," Ben answered quietly, cursing himself silently for not thinking of it first. He resumed his search for anything useful, while remaining mum on the topic of who it was from.

The pawn shop didn't have much in the way of what they had been asked to pick up. A few cameras, a laptop, and some rechargeable batteries.

"I think that about does it," Ben said finally, a hint of exasperation in his voice. He wanted to hurry up and get back to Haven. The news of this Richard was too important to leave for long.

"Ready to go to the gas station?"

It was a good idea. The truck would need gas. Who knows when else they would need the truck, aside from taking the solar panel back to Haven, of course.

Tilo nodded, "Let's go,"

He strapped the guitar to himself and the pair left the pawn shop.

The gas station was at the edge of town, as many were. Ben was glad to be nearly done, but he remained wary. Maybe Cromwell was mostly empty, but there was no telling if there would be anything to come at them from the wilderness.

They had a couple problems, though. They had no gas cans, and they didn't have any way to siphon the gas.

"We should have planned this better," Ben said with a frown.

"We could check inside, see if there are any jugs left."

Ben nodded, "There might be a way to siphon the gas around here, too. Let's check inside first."

The glass on the station's doors weren't smashed, but they were smeared with blood, marked with hands. The shelves were bare, most of the stocked items were probably expired, such as the candy and sweets that lined the entrance. The freezers were offline, which meant the milk and other liquids that needed refrigeration were beyond the point of consuming.

They looked around the isle that usually had petroleum-based products such as motor oil, and other liquids such as anti-freeze, and coolant. There was maybe one gas jug laying around for them to find. The question remained as to how they would get the gas from the pump into the jug, if there was any petrol left in the station.

Crouching slightly, Ben reached for the jug. Before standing, he shook it.

"Empty. Figures. Never can catch a break, can we?" He took the jug outside and set it down next to a car that had been parked at the station. "Now we need a siphon. There's a better chance we find something in the cars. I don't even know if we can get anything from the pumps."

"I'll check the counter, see if I can turn one of them on," in reality the chances were slim that the pumps were still operable, but it never hurt to try.

Most of the buttons on the keyboard didn't help their cause. The power was out. Tilo decided to just bash the keyboard with the hatchet. That didn't solve anything, he sighed.

He returned outside, "Pumps are out of the question. You sure you want to know..." Tilo was referring to the crude siphoning method that involved tasting gasoline.

"Unless you want to leave without getting gas," Ben suggested, shrugging, "Tasting gasoline wouldn't be the worst thing that's happened to me this week."

He made a good point about the gasoline, "We just came to get cameras and stuff. What do you think?"

"I think that we don't know how much gas is in the truck right now. We don't know how much we'll need, and we don't know if we'll be able to have another opportunity to get any."

"Mm, I'll look for a tube or something."

Minutes later Tilo returned from the adjacent car wash with a thin plastic hose, which he handed to Ben.

As he took it, he knelt down beside the car, pulling the flap open and taking off the gas cap. He snaked the tube down into the tank, putting his mouth around the other end and inhaling deeply.

After a few tries with no results, he pulled his mouth away, allowing himself to catch his breath and expel the presence of gasoline before he passed out. There was definitely something down in the tank.

And then he was at it again.

Finally, after another try or two, the golden-brown liquid came up through the tube. Ben coughed and spat some of it out as he put the other end of the tube into empty jug.

"Okay. Maybe I was wrong. That just might have been the worst thing to happen to me this week."

Tilo stood there trying to imagine the taste. It made him self-conscious of the taste of his saliva, which in an instant turned gross. He decided to lean against the car as a lookout against a possible ambush.

And then, the ever inconvenient, annoying, and inappropriate car alarm went off.

"Oh...shit." Tilo said with a Londoner's accent.

The blares scratched the silence of the quaint village, and perhaps began to attract zed from all over. There was perhaps no way that they were going to turn it off, and to try would have wasted their time.

"Let's get out of here."

Ben jumped at the alarm and turned towards it. He scowled briefly, but then extracted the tube from the car and picked up the nearly half full jug.

He didn't know a lot about cars, but he did know that they could shut it off by disconnecting the battery, but he didn't know if they had the time. Some cars had a hood that wouldn't open unless you pressed a button while the car was on, and the alarm that was going off was part of a fairly new vehicle, so that was very much a possibility.

Ben glanced towards the main part of town and saw a few bobbing heads rising up the hill slowly. They definitely didn't have time to turn it off before who knows how many were on top of them.

"Right. The truck's this way. Follow me."

He intended to leave the jug somewhere near the truck and take the siphon back to Haven. They might have another opportunity to get gas - though probably not from Cromwell.

They made a stop in the outskirts of the town. He pulled open the garage door that they'd left the truck. His heart leaped up in his chest when he saw that the garage was empty.

"Shit. Where the hell did it go?" He took a step back to look at the house. This was definitely the right place; this was where they'd left it.

Tilo came in behind him, the garage was bare aside from old tools and cobwebs, "Are you sure this is the right house?"

"It's got to be. Look," he pointed to the ground, where he could see tire tracks in the ground, "There aren't many people who know where we hid this. Mark, Laney, the--" He stopped himself, frowning deeply.

"Who else?" Tilo noticed the pause.

"I think those Caravanners who went with Hoppy knew where it was, too."

Tilo left Ben to himself in the garage, he stepped out to keep an eye for stiffs being attracted by the car alarm. The heads were in the distance, and they were moving at a slow pace. They weren't much of a threat where they were, but carelessness could lead to death.

"We can get this sorted when we get back. You have any space in your pack? I think I'm carrying too much in mine to slow me down," plus the guitar, Tilo would have added.

"Yeah," he said, nodding, pulling open the main pocket on his backpack, after setting down the jug. All that was in there right now were the painkillers he'd gotten from the pharmacist and the few things that he'd gotten from the pawn shop.

Tilo opened his pack and transferred some cameras, batteries, and phones to Ben's pack. He didn't peer inside to see the condoms buried beneath the drugs.

"Alright, I think that's good," Tilo re-zipped the pack.

From there they made their way out of town. The car alarm still ringing in the distance. They made sure to avoid the car entirely and went around the area where the dead were congregating.

After zipping back up his own backpack, Ben tossed it back over his shoulders and trotted a ways until he was sure that they weren't going to be followed by the small horde. As much as he wanted to get back and inform Callie of what they'd discovered, there was no sense in keeping like this all the way back to Haven. It was still going to be a couple hours or so before they passed through the gates again.

He made sure to keep the jug. Truck or no truck, gas was one of the most valuable things these days.

About halfway back to Haven they decided to lay in wait at the crest of a hill and watch for any zed that had followed them. It wasn't really necessary since they had not seen any of the faster ones, indicating that the slow stiffs most likely would have lost their trail by that point.

A minute or two like this passed in silence before Ben decided to stand up slowly. As far as he could see, in all directions, there was no sign of them.

"I think we're good. The alarm was too much for them to resist, I guess."

"I suppose." Tilo relaxed his hold on the shotgun.



November 9th, 2013, 1500

Now that they were out of town and out of harm's way for the moment, Ben allowed himself to relax slightly. He wasn't particularly happy with how their trip to Cromwell had ended, but they had gotten away from it without harm, so he kept quiet. In fact, he kept quiet most of the way back to Haven. There wasn't a lot to talk about, he thought, and there wasn't a lot he wanted to talk about. At least nothing that they hadn't already.

The return trip was silent, and uneventful. Before long they finally reached the gates of the farm, where the truck sat, waiting for them.

Ben dropped his shoulders, relieved to see the truck and relieved to know that he wouldn't have to explain the missing truck to Callie.

Without a word, he shook his head and set the jug down on the bed of the truck and entered Haven.

They dropped their sacks outside of Rishi's room, the door was locked. He was probably in there writing equations, as Gary had told them. The furniture was probably stacked in the middle of the room to allow the genius space to work. And if he wasn't, he was probably locked in the southern outbuilding, experimenting. Tilo hadn't given a second thought to the man being experimented on, or what used to be the man. He was zed now, and to an extent, a guinea pig.

"Go on ahead. I'll catch up."

As soon as Tilo was out of sight, Ben opened his backpack once more and took out what he had gotten from the pharmacists and stuffed it all into his pockets.

Moments later they were both inside the kitchen of the farmhouse, Callie was beside her war map.

"The uh...truck's outside?" Tilo asked.

"Hoppy and Laney," Callie replied, "What do you guys want?"

Ben didn't waste any time.

"I need to go to the Rands."

"What?" she responded dryly, her look, one of impatience.

"The guy that killed Tim is with them," he said bluntly, "He and his gang are the ones causing all of these problems. I need to see his face. I need to make sure." He was staring at Callie grimly. "He's a threat."

"I'll go with him, they know me," Tilo added, Callie glanced over to Tilo before Ben continued.

"And we have to end it."