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Benjamin Kinney

The tourist on a vacation from Hell...

0 · 924 views · located in The Haven Universe

a character in “Live Together or Die Alone”, as played by Messiah

Groups

The Citizens of Haven

Description

Age: 22

Gender: Male

Appearance: Ben is fairly tall, standing an inch or two above six feet. He's not overly muscular, but he has gained some muscle mass since the outbreak. His light brown hair was longer before the outbreak, but he's since cut it shorter. But, he normally keeps his head covered with a baseball cap.

Background: Ben Kinney was born in Seattle, Washington. He had a fairly normal and unremarkable childhood, with an older brother and a younger sister, and both parents at home. Although he was smart, he was always an underachiever in school. Instead of studying, he would spend his time hanging out with his friends or playing computer games - usually with his friends. Not that he didn't get good grades, he was just a procrastinator. He was never really popular, either; he wasn't all that into sports, or into partying, or anything else that made the popular kids popular.

After high school, he went to community college to study computers, giving him an even greater knowledge of them. Once he finished with college, he made the decision to take a few months off before applying for a job anywhere. One of the things he wanted to do during his time off was to visit the UK, and in late July of 2013, he did just that.

Unfortunately, just days before he was to go back home, the outbreak struck. With the collapse of society, he's been unable to get back to America. During the early days of the outbreak, he stayed in his hotel room, only venturing out when he was in need of supplies; his sole focus only on survival. But, even the most resourceful of individuals runs out of supplies sooner or later, and that's just what was happening to Ben. Not only that, but treks out into the world became longer and more dangerous as supplies around him became increasingly more scarce.

It was on one of these trips that he came upon Haven, and was allowed to stay. He wants to get back home and check on his family, but he also feels obligated to stay as thanks for taking him in when he was getting increasingly desperate.

Personality: Ben isn't afraid to voice his opinion when he feels the need to. It isn't uncommon to see him questioning something, whether it be the situation itself or the decision makers. At heart, though, he's kind and optimistic, choosing to believe the best in people and he retains hope that things can return to normal, or at the very least, it isn't bad other places as it is in the UK. Despite his nature to question things, Ben is generally willing to help out around Haven with whatever may be needed.

Abilities: He's a quick thinker and a quick runner. Having survived on his own for as long as he has without much to begin with (due to being on vacation) has also made him rather resourceful. Aside from basic firearms training he received from his brother (who was in the U.S. Marines) when he was much younger, he doesn't have much other combat training. With his quick thinking, quick running, and resourcefulness, he discovered a natural affinity to get in and out of dangerous places without being noticed. It was a little rusty in the beginning, but he's honed it in the time since the outbreak. Ben also knows computers, but that's more or less useless now.

Equipment: More often than not, Ben wears a faded Seattle Mariners baseball cap, and commonly long sleeve shirts or jackets to offer some kind of protection against the undead. When going out, he wears a backpack with essentials in it. His weapon of choice is a hatchet that he keeps sheathed on his belt, and he also carries a knife, but he doesn't often use that in combat.

So begins...

Benjamin Kinney's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Jonathan Monroe
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#, as written by Messiah
Helping hand

Ben rolled out of his sleeping bag and onto the floor of the farmhouse. He didn’t know for sure what time it was. In the time since the outbreak, he’d gotten pretty good at guessing the time, but it was getting further and further into October now, and the days were getting shorter. But, the time didn’t particularly matter; he’d taught himself to get up with the sun in the months since he became stranded here. You know, get as much out of the daylight as possible.

With a groan, he stretched and searched through his clothes for something that was suitable to wear. The unwritten rules of the world had changed. No longer could he be so picky with his clothes anymore – not that he was beforehand, but now even less so. He got dressed, wearing a t-shirt, a light sweatshirt, blue jeans, and his regular pair of black and white sneakers. Thankfully, the advancing of the months also made it cooler. His dressing habits hadn’t changed much since the outbreak in summer, not because it was comfortable (it certainly wasn’t), but because long sleeves offered some minor protection.

As he went downstairs, he pulled on his backpack, his faded dark blue baseball cap emblazoned with a white ‘S’, and the belt that held his knife and hatchet. Even when asked, he wasn’t particularly willing to give these up to a communal equipment area. These tools had served him well and he’d gotten used to the weight and balancing of the hatchet. Not to mention the only time he allowed himself to use the knife in combat is when he couldn’t get to his hatchet (which has been never, as of yet); he was trying to make a point of keeping it from getting contaminated with the blood of infected. And every night, he ritually cleaned both tools, just to be safe. An accidental cut from a contaminated weapon was just as bad as getting bitten.

Once downstairs, he passed by both Callie and Monroe, giving them both a nod as he did, and then pushed out of the house and into the compound. Immediately, he went to the job board. Today, he’d have to go out since he had stayed in yesterday to help around Haven. He was around long enough to see both… what were their names? Toby and Laney return from their respective trips. Toby seemed… distant, but Laney really looked upset.

He felt like trying to console her, but he decided against it. She was tough; she had to be to still be alive and he didn’t really want to make her think that he was still under the impression that he was still living in the old world. Or something. Maybe it was because he found her attractive. Apparently she’d been some kind of celebrity in the old world. Not that that really meant anything now. Ben had seen so many celebrities in his life that sometimes the names and faces ran together, so he didn’t immediately recognize her. Really, the only reason he knew is because he overheard Callie talking about her one day.

There was nothing on the job board, but that was pretty much guaranteed to change soon, so he decided to take a walk around the compound. He knew the people around Haven, but he hadn’t had much interaction with them. It wasn’t for a lack of want, he just felt a little… awkward. Since the outbreak, he’d been alone pretty much all the time and gotten used to not talking to anybody. Maybe he was just at Haven to be around other people, not necessarily to spend a lot of time talking to them.
The truth was, even amongst the people here, he felt a little bit alone. He was American, and so was his family, and that meant that he had no way of reaching them, and he had no way of knowing what was happening there now. Had there been another outbreak in the states? That was the question that bothered him the most.

Either there was and his family was in danger, or already dead, or there wasn’t and they were worried to death about him with no way of contacting him. And that wasn’t all. If he ever managed to make his way back to Seattle, returning to a “normal” life would be extremely difficult. He’d killed things. He’d stolen things. It was a way of life that he’d gotten used to now. Going back would be hard.

By the time he returned back to the job board, there was something new on it. He pulled the job down and looked it over. There was a guy named Timothy in trouble, trapped by a crowd of walkers. They were worried that it might be an ambush. The job really wasn’t his forte, but it was his turn to go out.

It said that Monroe would give him a couple things; a big-ass gun and a firework satchel. He was also given the standard sawed-off shotgun and sent on his way.

In another minute, he was making his way out the gate and towards this place… Davis Crag. Whatever a crag was. He wasn’t exactly up to date on his British English. Not completely, anyway. Once he was out into the open world, he pulled his backpack up onto himself and stepped out onto the road, headed in an easterly direction.

It was quiet now. It was always quiet. Even in the cities. It was a stark contrast to what he was used to. Seattle was one of the larger cities in the United States, and there was almost always something going on. Cars, police sirens, people. He did like Seattle, but the quiet was nice too. Except now it was too quiet. There were hardly any cars, no police sirens, and people were few and far between outside of Haven. The people you did come across weren’t always friendly, either, so you had to watch for that.

In a world where the dead were coming back to life, they were rarely the most dangerous thing out there. You’d think that a disaster like this would pull the species as a whole closer together, since the numbers were dwindling fast. But… that wasn’t the case.

And now certainly wasn’t the time to dwell on the human condition and what this world did to it. He had to focus on what was going on now. If he wasn’t careful, he could run into a horde of zombies, or he could run into a group of unfriendly humans.

Checking his map, he had to make sure he was going in the right direction. The thing is, though, that there wasn’t much to tell where he was. Some trees here, some rocks there. But, his map was labeled with both Haven and Davis Crag, east of Haven. He looked up to the sky to see the sun below midway to its highest point. Good. He hadn’t been walking too long to have completely lost track of things. Ben looked down to the map again.

Davis Crag was still probably an hour or two away. Along with the standard kilometer markers, Monroe had also marked the miles on his map, probably at Callie’s urging. That meant that, if he was on course, he should arrive at the crag when the sun was near its highest point in the sky.

The whole thing seemed a little fishy, he had to admit. On one hand, how could this guy have gotten himself trapped by that many of those things, unless he’d done it on purpose? Maybe he was that stupid. But, on the other hand, he didn’t feel right just abandoning this guy to die there, one way or another. So, that was why he was on his way there.

On his way there, he stopped just twice. The first was to give himself a small drink. Even in October, it still got warm out, and he was wearing a sweatshirt. Thankfully, he wore a hat that kept most of the sweat out of his eyes, but that left the inside of his hat smelling oddly and gave it a slight brownish tinge, as opposed to the dark blue of the rest of the hat. The second time was to get another drink and to have a meager breakfast of dried fruit. Although, by then, it was getting close to lunch time. At least, it would have been lunch time by old world standards.

“Jesus.” He muttered to himself about an hour after having his breakfast, “Where is this crag thing?” It had to be around here somewhere, but when he looked around, he didn’t see many distinguishing features. No sooner had he said that when he noticed the ground getting less soft and more rocky. And then he heard it. It was the unmistakable sound of the dead, growling and snarling. Then, he heard something else that sounded more like a person. One of the living types.

Ben ducked down and looked around, but he didn’t see anything. He moved forward and soon discovered that he was near the top of a cliff-like formation. As he approached the edge, he found what he’d been looking for.

Below and about a hundred feet in front of him was a man stuck in a tree, surrounded by a large group of walkers. The man had dark hair and a beard, and was wearing a blue long-sleeve button-up shirt. He had a backpack on that looked fairly full.

Ben checked his supplies, notably the gun and the satchel he received and made his way down. There were less-steep paths on either side of him, leading down from the crag. On his way down, he stopped, seeing more human shapes heading towards the tree from the other side. By the way they walked and because they were holding weapons, he could tell that they weren’t undead, but actual people.

“Great.” He whispered, “It is an ambush.” He peered at the approaching group, trying to decipher who they were, but they weren’t people who he recognized. The zombies turned their attention from the man in the tree to the approaching figures. However, within a minute, each of them had been cut down by the five others.

Timothy climbed down and approached the four men and one woman who comprised the group, obviously grateful, “Thank you! Are you from Haven?”

Maybe this wasn’t an ambush.

The man in front – a Caucasian man in his mid-twenties, who had only stubble on his face and on top of his head sneered for a moment, “Haven? No. We’re new in the area. Looking for a place to stay. Do you know where this Haven is?”

Ben scowled, hoping that this Timothy guy didn’t know where they were at. He didn’t like the look of these guys.

“A few kilometers away. Not sure which direction.”

The leader sighed and shook his head, “Thanks.” Then, he drew a revolver and, before Timothy could protest, he fired a single shot into the poor man’s head. Blood, brain matter, and bits of skull ejected out the newly formed hole in the back of his head violently and he fell down onto his back, dead.

He tucked his revolver away and nodded to the man to his right, a man of Indian descent, “Search him.”

It was time, Ben decided, that he left and went back to Haven. These guys could be on their way, and he had to warn them. As he made his way back up the path, he slipped on some rocks, sending them back down the path and making some noise.

Ben heard the leader speak up, “What the fuck was that? Ethan, go check that out.” At this prompting, Ben rushed to the top of the path and looked for a place to hide. About fifteen feet away was a large rock that stuck up out of the ground enough to hide him. Hopefully.

He dove behind the rock just as ‘Ethan’ reached the top of the path, looking around for any signs of the one who’d caused the small rocks to crash down the path. Ben could hear his heart pounding in his ears, as he pressed himself flat to the earth.

“I don’t see shit!” ‘Ethan’ called back down to the leader.

“Then get back down here. We’re getting out of here.”

Ben braved a peek above the rock, breathing a quiet sigh of relief when he saw that ‘Ethan’ was no longer up at the top, looking for him. But, he wasn’t going to hang around and wait. Now was the time to get back.

Although, he was fairly sure that the group wouldn’t be heading this way – at least not for a while – he kept checking over his shoulder every few minutes, just to be sure. He didn’t want to lead those guys straight back to Haven, especially considering how callously they executed Timothy, and for no reason. There was no doubt in his mind that they’d be willing to murder them all for their home.

Not only was he paranoid, but he was quicker on his way back to Haven than he was out to Davis Crag. He managed to return to Haven by the early evening, although by then, it wouldn’t be long until it got dark.

When he returned to the farmhouse to give his report, he was given a curious look by Callie, and a cross one by Monroe (though he seemed to be happy to see his gun back in his own hands).

“What the hell happened?” Monroe asked.

“Where’s Timothy?” Callie cut in.

“He’s dead.” Ben explained. “Some group got to him before I could. I saw them kill him and take his stuff.”

“Who were they? How many?” Two more questions by Monroe.

“I didn’t recognize them. Didn’t think it’d be a good idea to ask, either. Five of them.” Ben rubbed the back of his head, “But, the thing is…”

“Yes?” Callie looked to him curiously.

“They asked about Haven. This guy Tim didn’t know exactly where we are, but he did know we’re within a few miles--” Ben gave a brief shake of his head, “—I mean kilometers.” He corrected himself, “So, I don’t know. They’re dangerous. We definitely don’t want them finding this place. Good news is, they didn’t see me.”

Ben turned to leave, muttering as he went, “Probably would have killed me if they did.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Jonathan Monroe Character Portrait: Delaney Byron
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#, as written by Messiah
Chicken Run

Collaboration with Faith Fanon


Part One: The Trek


The morning came earlier than Ben would have liked. The previous day left him pretty tired, and he'd gone to bed earlier than normal. Even so, he still felt like he hadn't gotten enough rest, but he wasn't one to complain. He would push through like he always had. Once he had adequately prepared for the day, he made the trek downstairs and outside to the job board. At the top was a notice, warning of an armed gang looking for Haven. Inwardly, he felt a small sense of pride; he was contributing.

Laney came up behind Ben at the jobs board. "They're sending everyone out in twos now? Makes sense. Tilo pretty much saved my life out at the lake."

Ben turned at the sound of Laney's voice, hiking his backpack further up onto his back and nodded, "Yeah, there's some people running around looking for us." His mind's eye saw the leader of the gang execute Timothy in cold blood again and he shook his head briefly before adding, "Dangerous."

She stepped closer and reached around him, taking a job off the board and scowling once she saw what it was. "Ew, catching chickens? I don't like the sound of that."

He raised his eyebrows at that, trying not to laugh. "There's a joke about calling you a chicken somewhere in there, but it feels too easy." The laugh that he'd held back before came up now, almost involuntarily. "You're not, are you?"

"No, just... they're all shitty and scratchy and... just ew, okay?" By now Laney was laughing at herself. The tall American, she realised, was just teasing her. "Anyway, you don't look like much of a farmboy to me, Ben."

"Nah. Not much room for farms in an area where millions of people live. It gets crowded."

"I'm from London, blud. You're telling me?' She looked up into his grinning face. 'Right. Let's do this. I'm game if you are."

"Sure." He nodded absently, his expression fading slowly. Secretly, he wished that she'd relented so they didn't have to go bring back the chickens. Truth be told, chickens freaked him out a little bit, and he had no idea why. They just... did. Laney stepped away from the board and disappeared back into the farmhouse, leaving Ben to take out the map and look it over. There it was, Brakenbacker Farm.

Monroe glanced at her quizzically when she stepped into the armoury. It wasn't his usual glare of derision; she wondered briefly if he knew about Tilo's lie.

"I want one of those shotguns," she said petulently. His scorching glare returned, as if Laney was putting him out by risking her neck out there among the Zeds and the armed gangs. She glared back, her lower lip jutting out. Eventually Monroe reached behind, then placed a shotgun heavily on the counter, the clang of its metal echoing around the room.

"There's this too," he said, gently placing beside the rudimentary weapon a far slicker, sleeker, cared-for rifle. Even in the gloom of the armoury it seemed to gleam. Laney's lips parted in a hungry smile. She'd never fired a rifle, but it was oh so pretty.

"Look what we got," she beamed at Ben, who was still poring over the map. "Hey, you ever fire something like this before?"

"Hmm?" Ben intoned before looking up from the map and back to the young woman that had returned from the farmhouse. With a furrowed brow, he gazed at the rifle, then motioned for it. After a brief hesitation, Laney handed it to him and he looked it over, "A few times, and never at moving targets. My brother taught me to shoot a couple years ago. Mostly pistols, but he gave me a little bit of rifle training." Offering the rifle back, he noted her puzzled expression, "He was a Marine. He thought I should know how to protect myself." A pang of sadness hit him as he thought of his family, "How about you?"

"No, pistols and things, nothing like this," she said, taking the rifle back. "My dad was a bit of a nut about personal security. Bit paranoid. Had a bunch of handguns, taught me to shoot them. All unlicensed of course."

"Well, you might get your chance." Hopefully not, "Go ahead and carry it if you want. You look like you'd enjoy it more, anyway." Ben had seen the look on her face; like a kid getting a brand new toy. "Ready to go?"

"This is my rifle, this is my gun," Laney chanted, slinging the weapon over her shoulder. "This is for fighting, this is for fun." She finished the obscene rhyme by grabbing her crotch and thrusting it at Ben. The American looked slightly uncomfortable at her gesture. Had she been overfamiliar? "You going to take that shotgun?"

Ben nodded, "Yeah, sure." He took the shotgun, then approached the gate and pulled it open, allowing her to exit before pulling the gates closed behind them and setting off into the open world. "Oooh, a gentleman," Laney quipped. He wasn't crazy about traveling with another person to get something done. Other peope had a tendency to slow him down, or so he thought. This was actually the first time he'd done this kind of thing with anybody else, but he felt like he'd be better on his own. Then again, maybe it was time for a change. With that gang out there and who knows what else, it might be good to have some backup. And it didn't hurt that his first partner was Laney.

For a while, he was quiet, debating on whether or not to bring up her expedition from the day before, but he knew that sometimes, people didn't like to talk about the things they've seen. There were things that he'd seen that he'd be hard-pressed to talk about. But, as the saying goes, never say never. He didn't know if this was one of those cases for her, but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, and that's exactly what he did.

"I saw you and that guy, uh, Tilo talking yesterday after you got back. I don't know if you noticed. Seemed important. Mind if I ask what that was about?" Then he quickly added, "I mean, you don't have to tell me if you don't feel like it. I get it."

Ugh, Americans, Laney thought. So polite but so bad at minding their own business. Her good mood at strolling through the countryside on a crisp, clear morning with a cute guy her own age quickly evaporated.

'Okay,' she eventually said, 'I lost most my clothes swimming in the lake yesterday. We got attacked by Zeds and I couldn't get them back.' Damnit, already she felt she was getting tripped up by Tilo's lie about the survivors on the boat. It was her lie too, now. All of a sudden she wasn't sure how far she could trust Ben. He was practically a stranger, after all. Everybody was practically a stranger.

"Well, he just said a few inappropriate things on the way home. I was just telling him to back off."

Pursing his lips, he relented, fearing that he'd upset her, "Sorry. I was just wondering." He shrugged helplessly, "Are you alright?" There was genuine concern in his voice.

"I can handle myself, Ben."

"Okay, okay. I didn't mean any offense or anything." Ben went quiet after that, not wanting to make things worse. "This world brings out the worst in people." Thinking back to the gang, again. Apparently, he'd actually spoken that aloud; he could've swore he'd only thought it.

"Return of the savages," she muttered. "Just look at that gang you saw yesterday. Callie and Monroe might be a pain in the ass, but at least they're keeping the old world alive. If that gang takes Haven, or if that way of thinking takes over, we're all dead. Well, you're dead anyway. Worse for me." Laney hadn't meant to sound so gloomy when she'd started speaking, but acknowledging what might happen, what could happen, filled her with dread, left her standing immobile with the weight of the challenges the future held.

Ben knew exactly what she meant by that and he shuffled uncomfortably and looked away. What could he say? He didn't want to see that happen to her, or anybody, really, but she'd already said she could handle herself.


Part Two: The Visitor


As he looked around, something caught his attention way off into the distance. It was a figure of some sort, and it looked like it was still living, based on how it was moving, but he couldn't tell for sure. He didn't want to take any chances, "Get down!" he hissed at Laney and dropped to the ground. Immediately, he took off his backpack and rolled onto his back to open it, taking out a set of binoculars and rolling back onto his stomach to peer through them. Sure enough, the figure seemed to be walking at a pace and a manner that seemed consistent with that of a living, breathing person.

Offering the binoculars over to her, he pointed to the figure, "There. See that?"

Laney was nursing the back of her head where the rifle had dug into her when she'd dived to the ground, and scowled as she took the binoculars. "It's a survivor, not Zack. Where's he going?" In her excitement over the rifle, Laney had forgotten to study the route to Brakenbacker Farm.

The Lake District wind was rising as usual. Darker clouds were closing in from the west, pushing out the innocuous grey. "If he's heading for the farm, he could take the only chickens left," Laney whispered urgently. "Or bring down a bunch of Zeds."

"Yeah." Ben muttered, taking the binoculars back and stuffing them into his backpack once again, "We should get moving. It's not far now, I think, but we've got to be careful." He raised himself up, remaining in a low, crouching position. Laney followed suit.

Keeping a hedgerow between them and the unidentified survivor, Laney and Ben picked up the pace. But their prey crested a hill and disappeared from view. Ben stopped, and grappled with his map, wrestling it to the ground as the high winds tried to whip it out of his hands. "Yeah, the farm should be right over there," he confirmed.

From the top of the hill, they could see Brakenbacker Farm sitting squat and ugly in the valley, a perfunctory block of concrete amid the wild, dappled greens and browns of the Lake District countryside. Mother Nature was doing her best to fight back; bushes of weeds sprouted from the concrete forecourt amd trailed up the farm's outer skin of chain-link fence. A wisp of smoke coughed from one of the chimney stacks. Callie had been right; there was still some automated function. But of the survivor they'd been following, there was no sign.

"Might as well get in there," Laney sighed as the first fat drops of rain fell. "Maybe we'll get lucky and our friend will have done all the Zeds."

Ben scoffed, muttering to himself, "I wouldn't count on it." Nothing was ever easy anymore.

They were about 50 metres from the chain-link fence, heading for a vehicle entrance/exit manned by a forlorn booth, when the smell hit them, the stench of several months' build-up of chicken shit and piss. Ducking beneath the vehicle barrier, noting the broken, bloodied windows of the booth, Laney noticed another note to the foul odour, one she'd smelled several times on her trip north; rotting flesh. She gagged. Ben coughed and grimaced before pulling his shirt over his nose and mouth.

"Oh fuck. I'm not going in there. Oh god."

"We don't have a choice. It's this or the rain, Laney." Ben was right. The drops that had started moments ago was turning into a downpour.

With the improvised masks covering their noses and mouths, Laney and Ben circled the factory. "There," said Laney pointing to a warehouse-style metal door that hung ajar, buckled by some heavy impact.

"I don't hear any chickens," replied Ben, inching up to the gap.

"Well, I can still fucking smell them," she shot back.

The metal door opened onto the side of a corridor; branches went off it left and right, and directly in front was a double door, in metal just like the one they'd just come through. One of the doors was also ajar. "Looks like our friend got here before us. Be careful."

Laney unhitched her hatchet, and pulled back the door slowly. The stench of rot and shit, strong before, hit them like a wall, forcing its way up their noses and down their throats. Under blinking neon lights, stacks of two-foot square cages reached to the ceiling and back into the gloom, like some nightmare supermarket. Every few seconds, there was a metallic click and clank, as an automated hopper spilled seed into the cages. That was the only sound until, suddenly, a thick, glistening black cloud sprung up from the cages and obscured the lights. Laney screamed and slammed the door, and promptly vomited all over the floor.

Ben had the sensation like he was going to vomit too, so he pulled his shirt away and doubled over, wretching, but nothing came up - nothing more than a dry heave. Of course. His stomach was empty. Still doubled over, he managed to cough out, "There's no way he's in there." The metal door they'd come in then creaked and Ben turned, but he wasn't fast enough. They'd let someone get a drop on them.

It was a young man, around their age with dark hair and dark eyes, and he was scowling fiercely as he pointed a revolver at them, "You're from Haven, aren't you? I saw you come up over that hill there."

Ben didn't answer. This guy didn't look like one of the gang that had executed Timothy, but, admittedly, Ben hadn't studied their faces closely enough to be certain of that. But, it was unlikely that any of them would be traveling alone. This was somebody else. He stood and held up his hands in surrender. There was no way that he was going to beg for his life.

"Which one of you assholes killed Tim?"

"What?"

"You heard me."

"Ben..." Laney faltered.

"We didn't. It w--"

"Bullshit!" The man cut Ben off, "I don't have time for this. Hand over your weapons."

Ben looked over to Laney. Maybe he could talk him down. After all, he'd been there when Timothy had been killed. He just hoped that Laney wouldn't do anything rash.

"Hurry up!"

Slowly, Ben lowered his shotgun to the floor and unhooked his knife and hatchet from his belt and kicked them over to the man. He looked to Laney again, this time, leaning towards her and whispering, "Just trust me. He'll kill us anyway if we don't." She nodded, wide-eyed. The man was getting impatient, now looking towards Laney as well, and pointing his revolver at her.

Laney slipped the rifle from her shoulder slowly and laid it on the floor. It didn't seem like such a toy now. She dropped her hatchet next to it.

The man bent down to pick up everything, keeping his eyes on the pair as he did. "Come on. Outside." He backed through the door that he'd come into with the two of them following after and motioned for them to keep walking, so they were facing the way they'd come and he stood behind them in the factory parking lot.

Ben spoke up again, "We didn't kill Tim."

"Then who did? Because he sure isn't alive anymore."

"It was a gang. Five people. They're looking for Haven, so they can kill us too." Ben glanced to the woman next to him, "Or worse."

Laney nodded, fixing the newcomer with deep, scared, vulnerable eyes.

"How do you know?" He seemed hesitant now, as if he was starting to believe what Ben was saying.

"I was there. They asked about Haven. He didn't know much, but then they shot him."

"Why didn't you do anything about it?" His voice rose, "Tim was my friend!"

"They would have killed me too. They'd just taken out that group of the dead by themselves." Ben turned around to face the man, his hands still in the air, "I'm sorry about your friend, I am. Actually, I feel downright shitty about it. If I'd gotten there sooner, I could have helped him and we wouldn't be in this mess right now, but I'm telling you, you've got the wrong people." There was a moment of silence, "Look, she wasn't there. The rest of Haven had nothing to do with it. It was only me. If you have to kill anybody, it should just be me."

"Ben, no!" Laney shouted, taking a step towards the American.

Maybe it was stupid, but he didn't want anybody else to die because of what happened, "Let her go and leave Haven alone."

At that, the man raised his eyebrows in surprise, and lowered his revolver entirely, sighing deeply, "I don't know. I can't j--"

"They're... they're coming!"


Part Three: The Horde


Laney's shout, a different register of fear, cut him off and Ben wheeled around to see it was true. A horde of the undead creatures had rounded the west corner of the factory and was bearing down on their position. Almost all of the thirty or forty zombies were wearing green factory overalls, and they looked hungry. Well. They always looked hungry.

"Shit." Ben hissed and looked back to their captor, "Our weapons." There was hesitation on his face, "We can help you!"

Backing away, his revolver switching from Ben to the horde and back, he yielded and offered the weapons over, "Don't make me regret this."

"Fuck fighting, let's get the fuck out," Laney yelled, snatching the rifle and sprinting for the vehicle exit and booth they'd passed on the way in. She skidded to an abrupt halt and fell backwards as a group of ten more zombies came round the other corner, cutting off the escape. Scrambling backwards to her feet, she felt as much as heard a bullet rip through the air above her and punch through the throat of one of the lead zombies. Ben turned and allowed the other two to move before he himself did.

The trio darted inside the doors of the factory. Whatever impact had damaged them stopped them being pulled completely together and locked. Not wishing to face the fetid, poisonous air of the cages warehouse, Laney looked up the other corridors. To the left, a rough woollen carpet began, and a row of office chairs were just visible round the corner. To the right, the floor was bare and the wall hung with industrial fittings.

"Come on, it's got to be safer down there. Might be something we could use at least."

The right-hand corridor opened onto what looked like a machine room, two stories high. The air was thick and warm, with an oily aftertaste, and metal pipes criss-crossed the room just above head height. Tools lay scattered around workbenches, and the floor was stained with patches of what Laney hoped was oil. Around the edges of the room, one floor up, ran a metal walkway, accessible by two enclosed ladders. At the back, chugging quietly to itself, was a large generator - the source of the power that was keeping the automated feeders going. A system of pulleys ran from the generator and out a dark chute in the ceiling.

Behind them, the outer metal doors rattled and clanged, and the savage, mindless groans of the horde grew closer. Laney scurried up a ladder, Ben right behind her, and the newcomer doing likewise on the opposite side of the room. They gathered near the pulley chute as the first zombies shambled into the machine room.

"Okay, now what?" the newcomer asked. "I don't have bullets for all of them. Do you?"

"Monroe gave me 20 bullets for this," Laney said, tapping her rifle. "That wouldn't do half of Zack, even if I got him with every shot." Out of immediate danger, she felt a little confidence return. "Can we get out there?" she said, nodding at the chute.

"Not while the pulley's going up it, you'd be ripped to shreds."

Ben was silent, staring down at the horde below. He moved 10 feet away from Laney and the newcomer. Several of the zombies followed him. Others milled around below his companions on the walkway.

"Hey! You ugly motherfuckers!" he yelled, banging his hatchet on the metal railing. Several more shuffled to below where he stood. The others looked on as he continued to shout and curse; soon, nearly half the horde milled around below him.

"Laney, you need to hide. Give... um..." he gestured at the newcomer.

"Jake."

"Give Jake the rifle. Jake, you make like me and draw them away from the ladder. Laney, you've got to get down and turn the generator off."

She stared at him wild-eyed, then down at the horde, a seething pit of grasping arms and gnawing jaws. Conflicting emotions rose up. Pride that he was asking her to help leached into her terror and gave her courage she didn't know she had. She slipped into the small space behind the pulley chute as Jake joined Ben, shouting, stamping and waving their arms against the far wall. Four shots rang out and, upon re-emerging from her hiding place, Laney saw no zombies more waited below her. Ben was reloading Jake's revolver; their new companion had the rifle sight to his eye and the stock to his shoulder. "Come on, girl," he shouted. "We'll get any that come off the back of the gang."

Laney slipped down the ladder as smoothly as she could; there was no great need for stealth considering the noise Ben and Jake were creating, but she knew alerting just one zombie to her presence would bring them all down upon her and her end would be quick and bloody. She arrived at the foot of the ladder as the rifle barked and a zombie slumped to the ground; she bit through her lip suppressing her scream.

Constantly glancing over her shoulder, she arrived at the generator, and lifted a clear plastic lid that covered an instrument panel. There were dials, sliders, buttons of several sizes and colours; all were a mystery to her. She gestured back to Ben, her palms up and shoulders hunched, imploring him for instruction.

Three zombies must have seen the movement amid the milling frenzy, and turned away from Ben and Jake. One fell almost immediately as Ben leaned right out over the rail to hang above the forest of grasping arms and plant a shot through its forehead. Another turned back as Jake renewed his screaming and shouting, getting hoarse as "Do something, fucking quickly!" tore from his throat. The third stood still for a moment, registering what it had seen, and slowly lumbered through the press of bodies, arms stretching up and out, jaw working. Sweat sprang out on Laney's forehead as she turned back to the instrument panel and hacked at it savagely with her hatchet. Sparks flew up from the panel, a mechanism behind it crunched and whirred. Behind her, gunfire crackled and Ben screamed "Laney, get out!"

She turned, and her heart quailed and her knees nearly gave out beneath her. Two zombies had broken away from the pack and were halfway to her ladder. Several more had fallen to the floor under Ben and Jake's fusilade of shots, but just at that point, Ben had to stop and reload. Now only half of the original horde were focused on Ben and Jake, and more were turning away all the time, and, as the instinctive messages ploughed through their rotted brains, began to step towards her.

The eyeball of the zombie closest to Laney exploded as a rifleshot burst through its head, and Laney was galvanised into action. An involuntary scream escaped her lips as she charged towards the horde and towards the ladder. She got her feet on the bottom rungs and was swinging herself up as fast as she could, almost daring to think she was safe, when a vice-like grip closed around her ankle. Expecting any moment to feel teeth tearing through her flesh, she looked back. The grabber had thrust his arm through the bars enclosing the ladder, and couldn't pull her to his mouth. Laney screamed and kicked, and was suddenly free again when a bullet found its mark. She scrambled to the top of the walkway and lay flat, panting and sobbing.


Part Four: The Finish


Ben pulled off his baseball cap and wiped at his brow, which was drenched in sweat. He allowed himself to breathe a sigh of relief, but they weren't out of the woods yet. They were still trapped up there. Well, maybe not trapped, but they certainly couldn't get back down the way they'd come up, seeing as the zombies were still down there. "We're not done yet. We still have to get out of here."

Tugging on his hat once more, he moved over to Laney, gently placing a hand on her shoulder, "Nice work. Rest a little. I'm going to go up." he motioned to the pulley chute, and offered a faint smile, trying to reassure her.. Then, he reached over, taking the rifle from Jake, giving it back to Laney and returning his revolver to him. "You wait here, too. If something happens up there, you two should find another way out."

Without waiting to give either of them a chance to protest, he hopped over and disappeared up into the chute. It was dark and cramped inside. So dark, in fact, that he hadn't noticed when the chute opened up into a hole in front of him, causing him to fall with a shout of surprise onto his back. Thankfully, the landing hadn't been so rough. Even so, he grunted and pulled himself to his feet. The sight in front of him caused him to blink and smile a little bit.

"Holy shit," he muttered, taking a few steps forward. In front of him and below him was grain. Grain, everywhere. Mounds of grain, both large and small were spread out around the massive room. Anemic gray light filtered in through a window on Ben's left, and there was another window on his right. Maybe one of those windows was their way out. An all too familiar sound pulled him back to reality; the moaning sound of the undead. Ben crouched down, listening. Thankfully, it sounded like there was only one. Then, he heard another sound. The squawking of a chicken was a sound he knew, but it wasn't a sound that he'd heard much before, especially since the outbreak.

Slowly, he ascended to the top of the tallest mound of grain and looked out over the room. Sure enough, there was a 'Zed' as the people of Haven often called them. Those funny Brits. It was chasing one of the chickens, but that wasn't all Ben noticed about it. Somehow, it had gotten a chicken cage stuck on its head. When he saw this, Ben just stood up and started laughing and approached the lone walker, "How the hell did you manage that?" he called out. It turned towards him and snarled, immediately moving towards him. A person was much larger and would give a much bigger meal than a chicken.

Before it got too close, Ben stuck his leg out, kicked it to the ground and pinned it down on the ground. Its muscles were weakened by months of chasing chickens and were unable to provide enough strength to lift itself up from underneath him. ITs jaws snapped uselessly inside the cage. He took ahold of its clothes at its shoulders and began savagely slamming the back of its head against the cage that held it. With a groan, the walker stopped struggling and, just to make sure it was dead, Ben pulled the cage off of its head and brought his hatchet down onto it. The chicken that it had been after clucked a little bit, and then ran away as Ben made his way past it and towards the other window. It looked like it opened outwards, as there was no hint of any way to open it any other way. He pressed his hands against the window and pushed, but it wouldn't give, and put more weight and strength into it. Finally, it slowly opened with a rusty squeaking noise.

Ben stuck his head out the window to look down. It looked like a drop of about ten feet - low enough that they could get out without causing serious injury. Good news. Even better news, there were no walkers to be seen. Quickly, he jogged to where he had emerged, calling down the chute to Laney and Jake, "It's all clear. I found a way out. Careful of the drop at the end."

As Laney emerged from the chute and onto the ground, Ben was grinning.

"What's that look for?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and dusting herself off.

"Guess what else I found?"

"What did you find, Yankee boy?" Despite her ordeal only moments ago, Ben's grin was infectious. That was life in the new world, Laney told herself. Staring into the jaws of death one minute, the sparkling smile of a cute boy the next. Forget non-stop partying in London's most expensive clubs, this was really living for the moment.

"Exactly what we were sent here to get. Chickens. Living chickens."

"No shit?"

"No shit."

Jake dropped down onto the ground behind them, and Ben led them both to the window on the far side of the room, pushed it open and held his hands out, "Voila!" he was still smiling, clearly proud of what they'd accomplished, despite the earlier troubles.

"And the chickens are running around the room somewhere."

As Ben and Laney were about to go and collect some chickens, Jake stopped them, "Hey, so, I think I was wrong about you guys. Thanks for your help. I'm not sure I would've made it out without it." With a shrug, he continued, "I should get going. My group's going to be wondering where I am. I'll tell them what you said and that you saved my life."

Ben stuck out his hand in a friendly gesture, to which Jake responded by shaking it, "Thanks," Ben said, as he nodded, "And keep an eye out for that gang that killed your friend. Remember, there are five of them."

"I will, thanks."

And, with that, Jake turned and hopped out of the window and down onto the ground below. Ben watched him as he disappeared around the corner, then turned to Laney with a sigh, "Ready to get some chickens?"

An hour later, Laney and Ben fell to the floor, wheezing, sweating and covered in dust. The aftershocks of the hysterical laughter that had overcome her still rippled through Laney's body. Watching the the tall American run, bent double, after chickens had been one of the funniest things she'd ever seen. His lithe, self-contained grace disappeared and he became a collection of elbows and knees. Of course, her pride at showing him how it was done had been short-lived; the captured chicken she'd held above her head in victory had promptly shat on her. At last, though, they had secured a clucking, squawking, wriggling bag of three chickens, and a small bag of grain, to take back to Haven, and news of their encounter with Jake to report to Callie and Monroe as well.


Epilogue


On the way back, Laney agreed to let Ben take the rifle and carry the chickens and the feed herself. His joyous mood from before had settled down as he came to realize how close they had actually come, not just from that horde, but with Jake and his group as well. Still, he was happy that they managed to get out mostly unscathed and with what they'd gone there for. He was silent for most of the trek back to Haven, until, nearly there, he spoke up.

"Laney?"

"Mm?" She had seemed a little surprised, worn out and lost in her own thoughts.

"Could you do me a favor? Nobody else needs to know that I offered myself up."

"It was really brave," she blurted out, then fell silent again, not wanting to interrupt his flow.

"I mean, nothing came of it, and I feel a little silly about it. I just didn't want anybody else to die that didn't need to. We're already going to be fighting that gang. I didn't want to be fighting Jake and his group, too."

After a brief pause, she nodded, "Sure."

"Thanks," he mumbled, returning to his thoughts. The truth was, there was so much more he wanted to say; so much more that he just... wanted to get off his chest, but he couldn't do it. Not without sounding whiny, or weak. Besides, he wasn't sure if he knew anybody well enough to tell them the things he wanted to.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tilo King Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Mark Lawson Character Portrait: Jonathan Monroe Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: October "Toby" Harrison Character Portrait: Erin 'Hoppy' Hooper
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#, as written by Bosch
Friday, November 1st, 2013.

Haven

0830.


The three chickens pecked around the Coop Monroe and Mark had built and for a change Callie was happy with their work. She had a hard time christening the birds, Monroe had wanted to call them Pellegrini, Hart and Nasri, he figured it would piss off Herrera too much though so it was Callie who chose the names in the end. So it came to be the three chickens were known as Liz, Natasha and Katona after British pop group “Atomic Kitten.” Although everybody had taken to calling them “Atomic Chicken”.

“It’s my era.” Callie explained with a slightly embarrassed smile when Toby raised a questioning eyebrow.

Atomic Chicken seemed to enjoy their new home in Haven and Callie was already incredibly pleased with how the mission had gone. Monroe however was more concerned with the chance meeting Laney and Ben had with Jake. He was speaking to Callie while she fed the new arrivals.

“I don’t know, at least he didn’t kill them. Last thing we need is the whole thing turning into a bloody shootout. We need to clear this up with the Caravaners. From their perspective we look guilty as sin.”

“They did well though, their runner knows the truth and they survived together.”

“We still need to speak with their leadership, get this thing cleared up.”

#

1230


“Aww fuck.” Monroe moaned when he heard the report of Chip’s death and the trip to the solar plant. He had known Chip to be one of the more capable members of the Haven community and his loss would be felt. “We didn’t need that. Chip was a good one.”

Callie noticed Monroe was now calling Chip by his name, before he had called him “The Rescue Ranger”. Apparently dying meant you got your name back. Callie and Monroe were in the kitchen going over the new information gathered by the scavengers and listening intently to Gary Fowler’s report.

“What did you find Gary? Is the Solar plant worth anything?” Callie asked.

“Yeah can we tap into their system?”

Gary smirked, Monroe was one of the many people who viewed computers as a magical box that could achieve anything. In Gary’s experience it was usually due to a combination of ignorance and Hollywood.

“No we can’t tap into their system.” Gary explained enjoying his chance to display a bit of technical knowledge to the shaved Ape and Callie. “We’d need to lay a lot of cable and... it’s just not feasible. However we could install some of the Panels here.”

“How could that work?” Callie asked. “Those things are massive.”

“That’s logistics which makes it a problem for the Scavs. They’re not too heavy, just awkward and long.” Gary said with a shrug.

“Yeah.” Monroe said absentmindedly, he was already trying to come up with ways to get around the problem. “Can we take the panels apart? Move them in chunks?”

“I wouldn’t. Putting them back together would be a nightmare. You’ll need to dig them out and bring the whole structure back here in one piece.”

Monroe nodded the job would be a tricky one but with planning anything could be achieved.

“What about Hoppy?” Callie asked.

“What about her?” Gary asked.

“She was pretty close to Chip, how’s she taking the death?”

“Seemed uh... a little shell shocked but I guess that’s normal considering. It was pretty bad in there. Didn’t really think we’d make it out... but we did.”

Monroe nodded. Gary wasn’t big on feelings and in a way that was a good thing.

“I’ll keep an eye on her just the same.” Callie said.

#

Eden Valley Camp Site.

17:30.


The sun had already begun to dip below the skyline which meant and communal fire had been lit. It was covered over with a tarp to block the majority of the light and there was a strict no green leaves policy to avoid too much smoke. It was a risk but Jane Meadows, the leader of the Caravaners, knew the importance of warmth and light especially now. Before the outbreak Jane had worked a lot of odd jobs, just enough to pay for her next holiday. In no particular order she’d been a taxi driver, masseuse, weed dealer, fast food employee, cleaner, Pet Smart employee, Tesco shelf stacker, dry cleaner, Waitress and holistic therapist.

By far her worst job had been in a call centre. The hours were long and she remembered some days your shift would mean the only time you’d see the sun was through the window and 15 minutes at lunch. There had been one guy who brought a special lamp to work that was supposed to mimic sunlight. He claimed he had a condition call SAD, which stood for something but Jane couldn’t remember what it was. She just thought it was utterly tragic that someone had to spend their days looking at a fake sun while working in a shitty call centre.

It was true though people did tend to go a little funny when they don’t feel the warmth of the sun. That’s why she ensured the communal camp fire was always lit at night. Kept the place and community warm.

At least that was the idea, on this evening the community wasn’t feeling too warm towards Jane Meadows. She was trying to lead a group discussion with a group of incredibly pissed off runners when Jake returned from his mission. The rabble was lead by Samantha Low and they were demanding some action be taken against Haven.

“Tim was executed, Jane. Executed. These Haven people are bad news. We all knew the outbreak would have caused some people to go a little crazy, that’s what’s happening at that farm.” Sam said reiterating the point she’d been making for the past half hour.

A roar of support came from the assembled runners while Jane held up her hands in an attempt for calm.

“Sam you’re drawing conclusions here based on incomplete information. I agree it looks bad for Haven but they have never done anything like this before.”

Samantha was about to respond when Jake stepped forward and cleared his throat. He'd had to take a much longer route back to Eden Valley due to a horde of Zombies. He'd only just entered the conversation and figured it would be best to explain what he knew.

“I met some Haven runners while I was out. They saved my life, well we saved each other’s lives. They were just a couple of kids, said their guys had nothing to do with Tim getting killed. In fact they said there’s a gang roaming around the place and they shot Tim.”

“Lies!” Samantha cried, although her outburst didn’t get the same roar of approval this time. Jake was offering new information and he was a trusted member of the Caravaners as well as a respected runner. His word carried weight and went a long way to strengthening Jane’s appeal for calm.

“It’s not Sam. I liked Tim too but if they wanted to take me out they had more than enough opportunities.” Jake explained.

Jane felt the need to press the advantage.

“Sam is right, we need to be sure about what is going on, however I don’t think Haven have anything to do with Tim’s death. They are in as much danger as we are so maybe we should just go talk them.”

“All right but I’m going.” Sam said in a tone that made it clear she stating a fact not asking permission. Her argument had taken a hit but Haven wasn’t off the hook yet as far as Samantha Low was concerned.

#

Saturday, November 2nd 2013.

Haven

0700


Callie woke and took a few a seconds to shake off the drowsiness of her night’s sleep. It also took her a few seconds to notice her breath in the air but when she did she moaned. She pulled herself out of the sleeping bag and wandered to the window. She raised the blackout blinds and saw the rolling hills of the Lake District were covered in Snow.

“Bugger.” She muttered.

She got washed and dressed then went to Kitchen where she saw Monroe sitting at the table wrapped in a couple of Layers with one of the white lab coats Hoppy had scavenged on top.

“Didn’t take you for the scientist type.”

“You seen outside? It’s camo.”

“Where were you?”

“The roof, it was my Stag.”

Callie knew he meant he had been on guard duty the previous night. She had quickly picked up the odd vocabulary a mixture of a Northern Irish childhood and career in the army had given Monroe.

“You want a coffee?”

“Naw I’ll crash out now, be up by noon.”

Callie nodded and was about to speak when the radio crackled to life.

“Haven. This is Eden Valley Caravan Site. We need to talk.”

“Aw bollocks. I’ll get a coffee after all.”

Callie dropped into her seat by the radio while Monroe poured two cups of Coffee.

“This is Haven did you say Eden Valley?”

“Rodger. My name is Jane Meadows I’m the leader here. Who am I speaking to?”

“I’m Callie Winters and I’m with Jonathan Monroe.”

“Are you in charge?”

Callie looked at Monroe who shrugged.

“I guess... I mean we’ve been here the longest.”

“Well I understand we might have had a bit of a misunderstanding...”

#

0955

Monroe was in awe, somehow Callie had had tuned Jane Meadows from a mysterious voice on the radio into a what any passerby would assume as a life-long friend. It was a power Callie had that Monroe just didn’t possess. He called it witchcraft, Callie called it basic social skills.

“So the problem seems to be this wandering band of psychos, you say your runn... sorry, Scav said they asked Tim about Haven before shooting him?” Jane concluded.

“Yeah our Scav saw the whole thing.” Callie was being careful not use any real names as, while she was getting on with Jane Meadows, the fact remained she was just a voice on the radio. For all she knew she could be talking to the very person that had killed the Caravaner runner.

“What do you say to a joint investigation? Maybe we can track these people down?”

“Your runners and our Scavs?” Callie repeated to buy time so she could look at Monroe who nodded and shrugged at the same time a gesture Callie took to mean “I’m ok, if you’re ok.”

“Alright we’re game.”

“We’ll send two runners to you. One of them will be the same one your runners met earlier so you’ll know it’s us. I’ll send them on Monday.”

“Alright Jane it’s been real nice talking.” Callie said as she hunched over the table and let her tone drop. “I gotta warn you though don’t try to fuck us Jane, don’t you ever try to fuck us. So long as we both keep that in mind, everybody will stay happy.”

“Sure thing Callie, we just want to get these assholes out of our area. I’ll send our runners with another freq so you guys can have a more secure line to us.”

“Great can’t wait to work together.” Callie said, her tone bright and cheery again.

She ended the conversation and turned to Monroe.

“So whadda you think?”

“ ‘Don’t ever try to fuck us?’ I didn’t have you pegged as a Scarface fan.”

“A Uni boyfriend loved it, I must have seen ten times. I couldn’t think of anything intimidating to say!”

“Clearly. We should get a notice up.”


#

1600

Monroe took a swing from his coffee and eyed the battered pair standing in front of him. He’d seen it before, the thousand yard stare. Tilo and Toby had clearly been through the wringer. They delivered their report and Callie made no attempt to interrupt.

Once they concluded their harrowing tale silence fell on the room.

“I’m sure he was glad of the company in his final moments. At least you were able to give the dignity of not turning.” Callie said finally.

“Aye and good work securing those supplies. They’ll come in handy.”

Tilo handed over the wallet "I um...want to go on that one, and tell them personally."

“Of course Tilo, you’ll get first refusal. It might be a good idea to explain what happened and the family will probably appreciate this.” Callie said as she accepted the wallet from the sad eyed man. She’d heard his story and couldn’t begin to imagine the pain over his missing family.

#

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013.

1103


'Fuck you Monroe, I had to get tampons,' Laney snapped. The soldier's jaw dropped, his eyes bulged. The vein throbbed double-time. In the end, he muttered 'You deal with this'.

“You owe me a fucking Radio, X-factor.” Monroe growled before turning on his heel and leaving.

Callie sighed before turning to Laney. “He’s right you know that was pretty reckless. You should have told me. I’d have sorted it. What if the walkie thing hadn’t worked? We would have had to send someone out to get you, endangering them. That’s why Monroe’s pissed, don’t take it personal. He wants us to be a bit more Girls Aloud and a bit less Mariah Carey...” Callie said with a smile hoping the joke would help break the tension.

Delaney looked at the floor and reminded Callie of one of her students. Some responded to yelling while others responded to the “I’m not angry just disappointed” routine. Callie patted her on the back and took the mooncup.

“Thanks and chin up. I’ll handle Monroe, his bark is worse than his bite.”

#

1115

Monroe was seething and walked outside to get some fresh air. Discipline was sorely lacking in Haven but he was working with Civilians, what did he expect? It’s not like he could beast them, He supposed that’s why he had Callie. It was her job to do the people stuff, it was his job to do the zombie stuff.

He took a deep breath and tried to regain a sense of calm.

“You ok?” It was Gary.

“Yeah sure.” Monroe said although he wasn’t ok. He turned to look at Gary. “Piece of advice though, Never work with children, animals or people you have been on top of the pops.”

“I’m pretty sure Top of Pops got cancelled, like a couple of decades ago.” Gary offered.

Monroe shook his head and trudged off through the snow. For some reason he found himself looking at the wall he and Mark had built together that kept the farm secure. It was obvious to him the bits he’d built at the start compared to the bits he’d built later. His ability was getting better with practice. A few weeks ago he couldn’t mend a chair but now he was building Chicken Coops. This resulted in one of the few epiphanies Jonathan Monroe would experience in his life. The last one had occurred in 2004 in a bar in a the Philippines when he realised few women have Adam’s apples and fewer still have a five O’clock shadow to rival his own.

Unlike the epiphany of ’04 this was a happy one.

He left the wall to go see Mark who was asleep in one of the converted outer buildings. The Farmhouse was starting to get a little cramped.

“Wakey, wakey hands off snakey!” Monroe cried as he stuck his head round the door.

“Aw Christ Monroe, what is it now? I was on guard last night. I’m knackered.”

“I know you were. Problem is X-Factor got out past you and near got her face chewed off by some Zeke down in Cromwell.”

“Oh shit is she alright?”

“She’s fine. My radio is another story...” He mumbled but quickly moved on. “Point is I want you to know this situation has led me to a conclusion. Youse uns don’t know the first goddamn thing about Soldiering. How would you? It’s my fault and I’m gonna fix it. 1500 hours today in front of farmhouse, I’m going to be taking a little class. Pass it on.”

Then Monroe was gone leaving Mark huddled in his sleeping bag. “When the hell is 1500 hrs?” He wondered.

#

1500

Monroe looked at the assorted faces assembled in front of him. Gary, Mark, The Doc and some of the Scavs had come to listen to his little presentation.

“Right ladies and gentlemen I know its cold but this important. Today I’m gonna teach you all a little bit about what I know. What I know is soldiering. Today everyone is going to become competent in three things, weapons handling, fire and movement and orientating. We don’t have a lot of ammo to spare so all the drills are gonna be dry.”

After this Monroe went into his spiel about the various weapons available in the armoury, even weapons the Scavs didn’t usually get to use. They covered the use of the Webley revolver (Monroe’s prized possession), the Harrys, how to work a hunting rifle scope as well as reload and maintenance drills for all weapons. He then explained the basics of fire and movement which for their purposes basically amounted to covering retreats. He explained these in the context of a gun battle but explained the same principals could be used to create distance between a small team and a horde of the undead.

“It’s pretty much like leap frog, while someone is moving someone else is firing. You just keep leap frogging until you extricate yourself from a situation. The trick is you need to trust your team, it all falls apart if you break rank. Nobody never won nothing on their own.” He glanced at Laney and smiled. It was as close as Monroe could get to extending an olive branch.

“What about Olympic sprinters?” Callie called from the rear of the group. “Far as I can tell they do that all alone.” She had enjoyed learning more about the weapons and the skills Monroe had taught. It had been a fun day and a way for the group to let their hair down while taking part in exercises.

“You know what I mean.” Monroe moaned with a smile on his face.

Finally he moved on to basic orienteering skills like how to work a compass, how to read a map, what a contour line is and how to orienteer one’s self using the sun and stars.

“Right so that’s enough for one day. If any of you have any questions I can help with I’d be happy to. I’ll be holding these little classes every week and they’ll get more advanced as we go. I know Doc Short wants to give you all a brief about basic first aid tomorrow, it’s always good to know what bit goes where. If anyone else would like to step up and teach us a little something about what you know that would probably be worthwhile too. Now though I think it’s time for dinner.”

“Yep, it’s Omelettes tonight.” Callie said with smile but the news was met with a groan, the egg based cuisine was getting old.

“Poached eggs then...” She said hopefully.

#

2100

The farmhouse was quiet as everyone had taken themselves off to whatever nook or cranny they’d claimed as their own. Callie and Monroe were in the kitchen going over the jobs they’d post the following day.

“So Monroe was the school thing today your attempt to make peace?”

“No, idea what you’re talking about. I’m just helping out the only way I know how, and my way is educating feckers.” Monroe said deflecting her question. “It was a bit of Craic though.”

A silence passed between them and Callie sighed. She had gossip and had to tell someone, it was bad habit she’d picked up in the staff room. Monroe wasn’t perfect but would have to do, it was too good not to.

“Soooo have you heard the gossip?” She said in the least nonchalant way possible.

“I don’t really do gossip.” He said without looking up from his map.

“Everyone does gossip Monroe, it’s what separates us from the animals. The gossip is, right, you know Laney and Ben...” Callie raised her eyebrows what cocked her head to the side. “You know.”

“What X-factor and the Kid who looks like Scooby-Doo’s stoner mate.”

“Ben doesn’t look like Shaggy.”

“Shaggy! Thank you that’s been on the tip of my tongue since I met the guy.” Monroe cried with satisfaction. “Anyway what about them?”

“They’re... Boom chicka wow wow.” Callie sang with a smile on her face.

“What even is that... are you saying they’re bumping uglies?”

“Well no I think they’ve just kissed but you know... it’s adorable.”

“Shaggy took his time, that’s for sure, he was following her around like a wee love sick puppy. Scrappy doo.” Monroe said with a glint in his eye.

“Oh be nice. It’s cute.”

“Yeah, well just look at Mark and Kim. These days it’s best to keep feelings like that at arm’s length.”
Callie was silent for a moment. “Jesus, Monroe I can see why you don’t do gossip, you depress the hell outta everyone. What’s on the to do this week?”

“Well we got the date the Caravaners so we’ll need to send three on that and I’ve got an idea for the Solar panels but we’ll need supplies.”

“Ok Rishi said he needed some help with things, so he’ll be taking two as well. He’ll write his own briefs though.”

“Bloody right he will. Looks like our dance card is all full up so lets get these things written up.”

They sat down and began writing their briefing packs, abruptly Monroe stopped writing.

“Aww no...” “

“What?” Callie asked suddenly concerned.

“I was just thinking about X-factor and Shaggy.”

“And?”

“Tilo’s gonna be crushed.” Monroe said while shaking his head.

Cassie face palmed and let out a long moan. “Never in my life have I met someone so rubbish at gossip. You don’t even try to pay attention do you?”

Monroe tutted and returned to his briefing.

#

Monday November 4th, 2013.

Jobs.

Getting to Know You.

Suggested Number of Scavs- 3 (plus 2 Caravaner runners.)

Area- Netherland Wood, around Eden Camp Site and Haven Farm.

Objective- Work with the Caravaner runners to learn more about the Gang of Five currently in the area.

Special Equipment- Scoped bolt action Hunting rifle with twenty rounds.

Information- We’ve made some friends, which is nice. They’re from Eden Valley Camp Site which is where the Caravaners call home. It looks like there was a lot of confusion on their end about our involvement in the death of one of their runners called Tim (The call their Scavs, Runners weird right?) It’s all been cleared up now though and we’ve been in touch with their leadership via radio.

Anyway we’ve decided the best course of action is to go on a joint mission to see if we can’t learn more about the Gang of Five. The two Runners you’ll be going out with are called Samantha and Jake. Jake is the guy who helped out Laney and Ben while they were picking up ‘Atomic Chicken’. From what they said he seems pretty cool, we have no information on Sam.

Their leader has suggested they have some information relating to the location of the gang but we’ll see how that goes. Monroe has issued the use of scoped rifles for this mission, hopefully you were paying attention during his class.

Callie.

GTA


Suggested Number of Scavs- 2

Area- Cromwell, Gill Mechanics.

Objective- Retrieve a flatbed truck and stash it.

Special Equipment- Bicycles.

Information- Right our resident Tech Geek Gary seems to think he can jury rig up a couple of solar panels to give Haven some electricity. This is vital as the nights get longer. We need to start using rechargeable batteries and quite depending on the generator anytime we need some juice, petrol is scarce enough.

Gary, Hoppy and Chip went on a mission out to Silent Valley and scoped out the solar panels problem is they are a pain in the arse to carry especially when you got a couple of Zombs on your back. Not to mention we’d need to make several return trips even if everyone in Haven was helping.

So we need a vehicle and a big one at that to accommodate the panels.

As luck would have it there should be a flatbed truck in Gill Mechanics in Cromwell at least there was when Kim was last out that way. They mainly do agricultural machinery so even if the Flatbed is gone you might be able to find something capable of carrying the panels. All you gotta do is get to the mechanics, get an appropriate vehicle and stash it somewhere that’s not at the front door but close enough we can get to it easily. Beauty part is the mechanics should have the keys so you don’t even need to hotwire it or anything.

Once you get the Truck stashed we’ll work on a plan to retrieve the panels. You may as well take the recovered bikes and throw them in the back of the flatbed once you get it.

Monroe.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Jonathan Monroe Character Portrait: Erin Hooper
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#, as written by Messiah
GTA

Collaboration with Rann

November 5th, 2013

Part One: Introductions

Morning

Ben watched Laney exit to the farmhouse. The encounter had left him a little... empty. Ever the optimist, he was hoping she would have said something a little more positive. But, he knew what she meant. One or both of them could be dead by this time tomorrow. Nothing was certain, but, if you asked him, that was an argument for taking a chance. He sighed, turning back to the job board.

The crunching of snow from behind him alerted to the presence of someone else approaching. Hoping and half-expecting it to be Laney again, he turned around to see that it wasn't. It was a different girl - perhaps the most unique-looking out of any of them, particularly with that red hair. Silently, he wondered if she was able to keep it that color since the start of this whole thing. Surely, hair dye wasn't a common thing. Then again, it's not like it's very valuable anymore. If people had it before, they still probably had it sitting around in their house.

"Caravanners or a truck. Truck seems easy enough, right?" he asked, partly to himself. Then he added quietly, "I hope."

"I'm going to get the truck. You want to come?" It was blunt, but he wasn't the type to beat around the bush. At least, not mostly.

"Eye-ah" The girl, Hoppy, said cheerfully, in greeting. "Don't mind knockin' about wit' ya." Silently, she added that finishing with the power business would help give her closure to the whole Chip being dead thing. She had jumped into the room where he had slept just this morning, so the reality of it still hasn't completely sunk in just yet. That's not no business of Ben, here, though, and chances are that he wouldn't see past the Stepford smile. "Just get in, nab the truck, get the 'ell out, easy quickie."

"Time to check in with administration. I'll be back."

He returned to the farmhouse and to where Callie and Monroe were situated. They both gave him funny looks as he approached. Hers was more of a look you got when a mom learned of her son's first girlfriend, and his was a little more scrutinizing. He could just imagine it: 'What the hell are you doing, kid?' Monroe would say. And then they would argue, inevitably leading to one of them storming out of there in anger.

Thankfully, none of that happened.

But, she'd probably already told him. Great. With an eyeroll, he set down the notice for the job down onto the table in front of them, not bothering to say anything.

"The bikes are around the corner," Monroe announced.

"Bikes? What good are bikes going to do in the snow? They're just regular bikes, right? We're going to end up wheeling them along, or leaving them somewhere after we get stuck."

Typical city boy, right? The only time he rode a bike was when it was on a city street - a clear city street, at that.

"Fine. Don't take the bikes if you don't want," Monroe snapped back impatiently. He was always impatient, or he seemed that way, anyway.

Ben exited the farmhouse to find the girl lounging against the board, waiting for him. "Ready to go?"

Hoppy nodded, flashing her signature grin, and a peace sign. "Aye-aye" She had already gotten her cleaver, just in case things went down badly like it did on her last job. Still, and this was pretty unusual for her; she had one of the Harry's slung over her shoulder. She still didn't want to use it, of course, but like Chip had shown her, you never know when it may be needed. Being afraid of it wouldn't help none, 'specially after attending that class by Monroe. She knew the basics on how to use it, it's just, the noise. The goddamned noise. "Its main purpose is the dignity of not turning, if there's no other way out of a rut," Monroe had said during the class. "And it leaves one less bastard to deal with later." She'd wanted to die with a bunch of people she loved, though, not with half her face blown off. Not that she brought it up during the class at all.

She had a request, though, to get things clear before heading out. Her awesome hair dye was fading, and that was a crisis, if there was any. She saw the brown roots not too long ago while examining herself in a mirror... so she had to ask. No point stayin' quiet 'bout that, at the very least. She just didn't feel... right, if that mattered in this world. She didn't feel right, and at the moment, Hoppy really wanted to have as many things going for her as possible. and having obnoxiously red hair was like having moral support, or something.

"C'n we make a small bit of a side route?" Hoppy asked the American casually, hands still buried in the wide front pocket of her hoodie."Fancyin' more red dye. Oh, and, m'name's Hoppy." She stuck her hand out to greet the American, since this was probably their first ever conversation.

"Ben." He put his own hand out, shaking hers in return. "You don't really need the dye, do you?" Ben murmured, but shrugged, and the girl took that as permission to raid the salon in Cromwell before getting the truck for their job.

With a bit of a hop and a skip, as well as a flash of a snide smirk, Hoppy left the farmhouse first, anxious to get things over with as soon as possible, rubbing the handle of her cleaver as she walked, and shuddering slightly as the cold wind hit her straight on. It was crisp, and uncomfortable, but at the very least it lightened the air, making for easier breathing. With a dark murmur, "Least it in't pelting."

It took him a second to realize what she'd said. Her accent was different than any of the others'. Quite a bit different, actually. "Yeah. Still cold as shit," he complained, pulling his jacket over himself with an annoyed grunt. This weather was making it difficult to stay positive. It wasn't that he didn't like winter, but the cold got to him, and this was colder and snowier than he was used to back in Seattle. Having a city close to bodies of water kept the climate rather temperate. It didn't normally get too hot in the summer and it didn't get too cold in the winter.

Still, despite his less-than-positive attitude, after a while in silence, he decided to try and make conversation.

"So, where are you from?"

"Wales." She explained easily.

"Oh yeah? That explains the accent. Not really an expert on the subject," he shrugged. She seemed pleasant enough, but at the same time, it was kind of off-putting. The world had gone to shit and here she was, acting a bit like it hadn't. Unless...

Then he remembered, Chip had gone out once and brought her back. But, he wasn't around anymore, so that meant...

"I'm sorry about Chip. I didn't really know the guy, but he seemed like he was a good one." It was awkward and it was a downer, but he really felt for her - losing someone that she cared about a lot in this world, maybe her only real friend anymore. At the same time, he considered her lucky in some respects. Lucky in that she knew what had happened to him. But, Ben... he would probably never find out what happened to the people from the old world that he loved - not unless there was an afterlife and he got to see them there. And he never really was a staunch believer in God or Heaven. If anything, this... apocalypse... it made him doubt the existence of such things even more. Certainly, many prayers had gone unanswered in the last few months, and the ones who did pray, it didn't do anything for them. The only thing he could be sure of anymore was his own actions. Nothing more.

"Mmm." She said absently, now purposely looking away from the American. Everyone seemed to bother her about Chip, and she really didn't want to get into it. It was easier to just pretend that everything was okay; that she was mostly getting along happily. So in typical Hoppy fashion, she decided to pull the subject onto Ben. "How's it gone fer you, Ben? Bein' away from ev'ryone you know and such."

"It sucks," he said flatly. "I have nobody to look for. I had nobody with me when everything went to shit. Pretty much everyone I've run into is either looking for someone or had someone they were with." Angrily, he sighed, "And you know the worst part? I know that I'm probably never going to know what happened to all of them. They could be alive. They could be dead. They could be undead. I have no idea," He threw up his arms in exasperated defeat, turning his head away from her to keep her from seeing the tears that had begun to well up in his eyes.

He wiped at his eyes before turning his head back to her, "Sorry. I just-- It's hard." His voice then went quiet, "You know, sometimes, I think that maybe I'll get to see them again after we're all dead, and I think that maybe if I... end it, that I'll get to see them sooner." Again, he turned his head away, shamed over his admission, "But, then I think... that's not what they would want. They'd want me to keep fighting for as long as I could. So, I keep fighting. I don't give up."

Why had he just told her all of that? He barely knew her. She'd only just given him her name earlier that morning. Maybe he really was desperate to get that off of his chest.

She didn't really know what kind of response to expect from Ben, but in hindsight, she supposed she was kind of an idiot to spring it on him and expect anything good. Everyone was missing people, but for Ben, it was probably even worse than anyone else. He'd have to fight and eventually die over here in Haven, unless somehow society fixed itself and he could go back to America. She made a little frown at his words- was this suicidal ideation? It couldn't be, right, or else he'd already be gone. Still, it was troubling and she didn't entirely know how to deal with it. Thinking quickly, the girl bumped his shoulder, forcing a wider grin. It'd be better to try and keep this easy, and not bring up the super emotional topics. That was her mistake.

"Eye-ah, c'mon, mun" She smirked. "You 'oughta stick around- there're rumors, y'hear, you and Laney..."

Hoppy giggled a little bit, a tiny blush showing on her cheeks. "They're true, right? Wherever the 'ell your family and friends are, imagine when you tell 'em 'bout the little baby Bens you made!"

With a grunt, he rolled his eyes, but he couldn't help but laugh a little bit at that, "I guess it was stupid of me to think that people would keep something like that quiet, right? There's really no point in denying it, so, yeah. We kissed. It's true." And then he raised his eyebrows,"I don't know about that. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but..." he sighed, this time, a little calmer, "But, maybe I have another reason to stick it out, now. Another reason to come back."

Just as long as she kept the dumb excursions to a minimum, anyway, he thought.

At Ben's blatant admission, she giggled nervously. He was meant to squirm uncomfortably, but he wore it proudly, that they had kissed. The fact that romance even bloomed in a hell like this, it was almost like a beacon of hope for some of the scavs. It was like an idealistic hint that not everything is completely gone, that one day things might go back to how they were meant to be. And it seemed Ben was successfully talked out of the possibility of suicide, if he even considered it, it seemed the diversion was a success. Hoppy mentally pumped her fist, and unconsciously developed more of a bounce in her step.

"And, oy mun." She laughed again. "They cun, you know, use guns o'er there, amirite?" She paused a little, trying to work it out in her head without sounding like a ridiculous twyp. While she wanted to appear generally happy and totally okay, there was a limit before it got obnoxious. "Prob'ly awready dealt with the whole thing over there, and are workin' on gettin' society back up."

"Could be. Let's hope they send reinforcements over here soon. I want to get the fuck out." He adjusted the weight of his backpack a little bit, "But, if anyone can keep them safe, it's Chris," he mumbled. He turned to look back at Hoppy, "You remind me a little bit of my sister."

"Then she be'er be tidy splendid like me." The girl smirked at Ben, lightheartedly, and suddenly feeling even more than when first taking it, the change in weight she still needed to get used to. The stupid sawed off shotgun was messing up her stride, since most of the time she just went with the cleaver. And she knew if things, somehow went bad, she wouldn't be able to run as fast as she was used to; obviously something to worry about. Making a bit of an uncomfortable frown, she shifted the Harry a bit, before making a brief but sure scowl. "Stupid. It's just a run 'n grab job anyways, 'innit a bit thick to bring it?"

"You never know what you're going to run into. Hordes. Gangs. Can never be too careful these days. One thing I've learned is that there's no such thing as simple. Not anymore." As much as he would like to believe that this would be a simple run and grab, he knew that the likelihood was much less than the likelihood of shit going bad.

"I s'pose." The girl looked a little miffed, but she accepted the answer, because it was most definitely true. She still didn't want to tote around the heavy Harry, though. It was an almost pointless hassle, because she was pretty sure she could outrun all but the fastest Zeds. "If there weren't no snow... biking this'd be easier." She mumbled to herself, disgruntled.

Part Two: Cromwell

Afternoon

It didn't take much longer until Cromwell was in view. Ben stopped, surveying the area. It was quiet, but he knew that was a deception. Somewhere underneath this peaceful place was a powderkeg about to explode. This is where Kim had been bitten. This is where Laney had nearly gotten herself killed. This was not a good place to be. At the very least, he hoped that the snow would slow any adversaries down at least as much as they did Hoppy and himself.

"Let's be quick. I don't want to be here any longer than I have to be." This probably wasn't the best time or place to be looking for hair dye, but he had doubts as to whether he could persuade her to give up the task. Besides, people still had to hold onto some of the things from the old world, or risk becoming something other than human, "I think the store's on the west side of town. Get in, get out, and I'll keep watch from outside. Gill Mechanics is on the north side of town, it looks like."

"That's posh." She murmured and after peering at Ben a little, she tried the front door to the hair salon, finding it locked. She made another scowl before smashing the glass window with her cleaver, raising her arm gingerly to shield her eyes from any of the flying glass shards. Once that was cleared, the girl hopped over the sill and quickly tried to navigate herself around the place. The lobby looked pretty gruesome, for certain, dreary and abandoned, with faded peeling posters on the walls and one of the seats were stained with what looked like old blood. If the door was locked, Hoppy wondered, how could there have been blood? Deciding not to think too hard about it, she moved past the lobby into a lightless corridor.

She clicked her tongue distastefully, and with a minor shrug, turned her flashlight on. It was weird how creepy things were when you could only see a little bit of it at a time, the small light patch swamped by darkness, but there it was. She needed the dye, in any case, and was willing to search the whole frickin' place to get it. Not like anything would decide to just jump out at them, right? And, sure enough, she eventually found herself in one of the unlocked rooms where the actual styling was done, seeing a few bottles scattered on the floor, as well as a plugged in hair straightener. Looking at it made her feel more than a little wistful, because her poofy mop of hair wouldn't flatten no matter how much she brushed it. Sure, it was a trivial thing, but she still wanted to at least feel like she looked nice. Was that too much to ask for in this sort of world? Probably, she thought, probably. But it didn't matter, since all she had to do was find where the dye was stashed.

Accidentally cutting her finger while trying to reach into a cabinet on some remnant glass, Hoppy shone her flashlight into it and found exactly what she was looking for- about two bottles worth, maybe enough to last her a couple months. Hoppy hastily shoved it into her pocket. Smirking victoriously, she sucked the blood off her finger while faintly hearing a familiar and terrifying moaning noise. A zed, somewhere in here. She knew better than to fight it though; it was dark and she couldn't see a damn thing. Panicked, but almost silently, she made her way out, and ran to catch up to Ben, waving at him.

"Got the loot!" She cheered brightly. "Just in time, there perhaps be a Zed followin' us now jest."

It seemed like he'd been out there forever. Every little noise got him on edge, and when she re-emerged, it was all he could do to avoid breathing a sigh of relief, "Right. Okay. Just keep an eye out for it, then. We should get going." If he seemed a little antsy - a little on edge, it's because he was, "I don't like this place," he mumbled, mostly to himself, "I don't want to be here any longer than I have to," he repeated, making his way north towards Gill Mechanics.

Gill Mechanics wasn't far; Cromwell wasn't a very big town. The trek was eerily quiet, especially for what he knew was lurking in the shadows. He just hoped they could get in and out before attracting too much attention.

A short time later, they came upon the building for Gill Mechanics. He approached the door and pulled on it, to no avail; it was locked. Turning to look at Hoppy, he held his hand out, "Stand back." Once she had, he took the sawed-off and slammed it into the glass on the door, shattering it. Slowly, he reached inside, unlocking the door before pulling it open, "I'm going to take a look. Keep an eye out, okay? Let me know if you notice something."

"Ben?" Hoppy asked him, almost jittery, nervously. "That zed earlier, I reckon it's got friends, so, er, let's hurry it up. And you weren't quiet when breakin' the glass.." She heard the defininte growling moans, and clutched her Harry in a hard sweaty grip. This was lookin' more and more like a repeat of the Silent Valley mission... she didn't want to see someone else end up dead because of her.

It didn't look like anybody had really been in this place since the outbreak. The windows weren't barred, and there was nothing on the walls that indicated anything; no blood, no bullet holes, nothing. There was a clerk's desk in front of him and, to his side and behind him were waiting room chairs.

With windows unbarred, there was light enough for him to see around the room. Behind the clerk's desk, he saw a door that perhaps led into a garage. And that's where he decided he would go. First peering over the counter for any hiding monsters, he hopped over the counter after discovering that there were none.

Luckily, the door to the garage hadn't been locked - though he couldn't figure out why the front door was and the garage wasn't. Once the door opened, he took a cautious look around. The truck was there, but slumped against it was a body. It looked either dead or undead, he couldn't be sure. That was until he saw its arm move ever so slightly. Unhitching his hatchet, he walked cautiously towards it, raising the weapon up. Before it could react, he brought the hatchet down into the top of its skull and pulled it out, causing the body to slump down even further.

The garage had one of those metal corrugated doors that you could slide up, and whatever was inside could drive out. He approached it, put his hands underneath the bottom of it and began to lift, as slow and careful as he could. Thankfully, it wasn't too heavy.

Part Three: Separated

As he lifted the door up, he could've swore he heard a whistle. He stopped, listening for the noise again. When he didn't hear it again, he continued to pull the door up. Once it was at the top of the track, he exited the garage and rounded the corner where he saw Hoppy waiting.

"Psst. Over here," he called as quietly as he could while still getting her attention. He ushered her into the garage and towards the truck, "Can you drive?"

"I'm a bad job at it," she responded.

"It doesn't matter. We need to go," he whispered, turning around at the sound of the moaning and groaning of the undead. They were starting to emerge from their hidey-holes, and there were a lot of them. A lot.

As Hoppy was trying to start the vehicle, Ben had gone to the entrance and was looking out. More and more of the things were gathering and they had seen the pair and were ambling towards them.

"Shit," he muttered and then called to Hoppy, "Get it going!"

"Aye, I- it i'nt working!!" she cried out, frantically turning the key over in the ignition again and again.

"Give it some gas!"

She did and the engine roared to life. Once it had, she brought it forward and out into town, leaving Ben some fifty feet behind it. The truck had gathered the attention of most of the horde and they were now stumbling in that direction. Now the horde was directly in between Ben and the truck.

"Go!" he called to Hoppy in the truck, "I'll meet you back at Haven!" There was no real time to argue. If she did, the truck would be surrounded and she would have a difficult time getting out, very possibly leaving her trapped with no way out, aside from, well, the shotgun.

With a dark sense of dread, Hoppy nodded and left Ben behind, to fend for himself. "I'll come back fer you." She muttered angrily, thumping the wheel. "Fuck, I will. Laney's waitin' fer you too." The girl gulped unsteadily as she kept driving, seeing Ben's figure get smaller and smaller in the distance until she couldn't distinguish him from any of the zeds that were now swarming. Who knows where they'd come from, maybe even from the damned detour she basically forced upon him. That had wasted time, and obviously attracted a few of the zeds in the beginning. Not as if she could go back for him now, though, and she narrowed her eyes, finally letting down the mask, with no one to see.

Once again, someone's been lost, and it's her fault. She killed yet another person. She hadn't meant to, of course not, but that's just how it worked. Hoppy mentally cursed herself even more, and her mood continued to spiral darker and darker as she frantically hunted for a safe place to hide the truck. First it was Chip, her stupid attempt to make a diversion ended with him taking the aggro and killing himself. And now, she abandoned the American because of her need for some useless red hair dye.

She was just a burden, after all; something to bring the whole community even farther down. And Hoppy began to hate herself for it. She finally found a place near the outskirts of Cromwell, after breaking into a house and forcing open the garage, she wheeled the truck into it clumsily, and closed the garage door. So no loners could find it, and steal it away for themselves. What would she do now? Go back for Ben? Or just give up, and not even-

No. Just giving up wouldn't solve a thing. If she did, it'd be the same as simple suicide, and Hoppy knew pretty well that there was no way she'd just throw away her life like this, when she still had yet to find out if her father or Laura had survived the outbreak at all. She wouldn't let herself die before then.... so she had to try and make herself even marginally useful. So she grabbed the radio and tuned into Haven.

"Haven?" She asked uncertainly, holding back the despair in her voice to try and soud as neutral as she possibly could. "Uh, anyone... anyone hearin' this? It's Hoppy."

She heard a male voice at the other end. Monroe. Cursing herself again, Hoppy fine tuned the dial until all that annoying static disappeared, or at the very least kept to a minimum.

"We've got a rut 'ere." Hoppy said again, and heard Monroe gruffly mutter 'well, talk then'.

"Got separated from Ben, um, I dunnae if 'e's even alive just now. Got the truck, 'n I hid it in this place, but... what do? There were lots of Zed and I, um..."

"Did you even pay attention during damn class?" Was the harsh response, and Hoppy sucked in her breath hesitantly. "Not... completely, sir. Uh-"

"Just get your ass back here, we'll think of someway to fix this."

She nodded numbly. "We ain't gonna abandon him, 'aight?" Her voice betrayed her frailty as it trembled; tears threatening to form in her eyes, but she successfully choked it all down. "Won't be the reason another'un buys it."

Back in Cromwell, Ben stood, having watched Hoppy drive off in the truck. Most of the horde had gone off in chase of it, but he couldn't count on it drawing them all away. There was no way he could just stand around. He had to find a way out of town, and fast. There was no telling how fast that horde would be back on him, as soon as they realized they couldn't get at Hoppy.

Now he had to find a way back to Haven on his own. It was possible that they would send somebody back for him, but he couldn't count on it, and he wouldn't have asked anybody to come back for him. He was on his own now, but this was not a time to panic, nor was it a time to despair. He wasn't dead yet.

A sound caught his attention, and he looked around for its source, but saw nothing.

Part Four: Brothers

There it was again: "Psst." This time, there was more; it was definitely a person, "Hey! You! Over here!"

Frantically, Ben looked around and saw the face of a man peeking around the corner of a building and, perhaps against his better judgment, he ran to the man, who pulled him around the corner and out of sight, allowing Ben to rest against the outer wall of the building and catch his breath. The other man did little to acknowledge Ben, instead keeping his eyes focused on where he'd come from.

He was shorter and considerably more pudgy than Ben was, and he also appeared to be at least ten or fifteen years his elder, as he had begun to bald.

"They'll go back to the shadows soon enough. Just don't let them see you here."

The next ten or fifteen minutes were spent in silence as the man kept watch and Ben leaned up against the wall. Once the man was sure the threat had passed, he turned to Ben, gave him a smile, "Lucky we found you, huh?"

Ben glanced around quickly, "We?"

"Yeah," the man nodded and, as if on cue, a man dropped down from the roof onto the ground behind Ben, causing him to start, "Me and my little brother." The first man adjusted his pants slightly before nodding, "The name's Mike, and that's Shane."

Shane was tall. Taller than Ben. And he looked like he weighed more, but not in the way Mike did - it looked like muscle. Frankly, Shane looked rather intimidating.

Nodding to Mike before turning and doing the same to Shane, he responded, "Ben. Thanks for the save."

"Sure thing! We try to do our part to help people out, now."

"Well, that's nice of you. Not enough of that going around these days."

Mike chuckled, "Tell me about it!" He gave Ben a rough pat on the shoulder, "Say, where are you from? Your accent doesn't really sound local."

"Nah. American. I was on vacation when shit hit the fan."

"Shit," Shane muttered.

"Sounds rough. Got a place to stay for the night?"

Ben didn't really know these guys. And this seemed a little fishy. No matter what he said, there could be problems.

"No," he lied. He didn't want to risk Haven on a couple of unknowns like Mike and Shane.

"Damn. How have you managed to survive this long?" Mike asked, seeming a tad surprised.

"Luck, I guess. And family." Another lie.

"The girl in the truck?"

"Yeah. She's my sister."

"Won't she be worried about you?"

"Well, yeah, but--"

"Let's go back for her!" Shane suggested, perhaps a little too eager. Unnoticed by Ben, a derisive look was given to him by his brother.

"No. We already came up with a plan if we ever got separated." Lie upon lie was stacked up now, all in the name of protecting everyone else. He feared he was too deep to get out of this. Then again, maybe these two really were okay and he was just being paranoid.

"Tell you what, Ben. We've got a little place you can stay, if you're sure your sister's going to be alright."

A frown crossed Ben's features briefly. He really had no idea whether or not to trust these guys. But, he'd dug himself into a hole with his set of lies. If he said no, they'd become suspicious and he'd have to come up with even more lies to cover those up. Pursing his lips, he nodded, "Okay."

"Great!" Mike clasped his hands together and they marched out of town, Mike in front and Shane in back. Most of the trek was taken in silence, except for a moment in the middle where Mike spoke up again, "You said you came here on vacation. Family vacation?"

"Oh. Yeah. My parents, my brother, my sister, and me."

"So, is it just you and your sister now?"

"Yeah."

"I know how that goes. Everybody's lost somebody. I'm sorry to hear it."

"Thanks," Ben mumbled, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly

Several minutes later, they came upon a farmhouse flanked by a barn. They looked like they were fairly taken care of - well, at least under the conditions of the world. The wood on both structures was dark, almost black, but it looked natural. If Ben knew more than nothing about carpentry or forestry, he could say what kind of wood it was, but he didn't, and he couldn't. The house was two stories tall with a window that looked out directly onto them. It reminded him a little bit of Haven, but not as well fortified, and not nearly as busy. Both probably because of its location. It seemed more out of the way than Haven was, but he knew nothing about how things were before.

Ben squinted at the house, trying to decide if he'd actually seen someone in the second-floor window, or if he'd just imagined it. If there had been, it was gone now.

Part Five: Trouble

Evening

They walked up the steps and Mike pushed the door open. It seemed pleasant enough inside, and it reminded him a little bit of what he'd imagined the inside of a ski lodge to look like; a fireplace, a couch sitting next to it, a simple dining room, and a kitchen with no walls separating any of it.

"Nice place," Ben said absently, taking off his jacket and hat and offering them to Shane when the younger brother held out his hands for them wordlessly.

"Thank you. We do what we can to keep it presentable. You never know when guests are going to show up. It's gotten a little more difficult these past few months," Mike responded, smiling pleasantly. Shane returned from putting Ben's jacket and hat away, giving his brother a knowing nod.

Ben took a seat on the couch, looking into the inactive fireplace, and folding his arms over his chest. He wanted to spend as little time as possible here. Maybe he could spend the night, and then sneak out early in the morning. He'd have to come up with a way to cover up his tracks so they couldn't track him back to Haven.

While he sat at the couch, Shane and Mike were in the kitchen. Ben couldn't really see them, even when he tried, but Mike was quick to re-emerge, "You look hungry. Would you like me to make you something?"

Ben was getting hungry. He had barely eaten since he'd woken up, "Yeah, sure."

"Something to drink while you wait? We've got beer. You Americans love beer."

"Sure, I guess," Ben shrugged. An odd request, but he hadn't had the luxury of alcohol in a long time. It was probably worth a lot these days, though.

"Great! Shane?" The brother nodded and fetched a bottle of beer, popping the cap and offering it to him as he sat down.
Ben nodded a thanks and took a drink, smacking his lips. It tasted a little funny. Maybe just a little stale, but he didn't really know what stale beer tasted like.

"Something wrong?" Shane asked, raising a brow.

"No, just... a little different than I remember."

"Hmm. Maybe your taste buds are different than ours. American and all."

And then everything started to get fuzzy. Apparently, he'd said something to Shane in response, but he couldn't remember what it was, for some reason. He tried to focus, squinting his eyes in the direction of the brother who was sitting next to him, but it was getting harder as the seconds went on. Then, he couldn't be sure, but it looked like Shane was smiling at him. Something was said behind him, but he couldn't make it out.

Then, everything went black.

Part Six: Captured

Ben began to come to some time later, and he shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs from his head. He realized then, that he had woken up because someone was slapping him.

"Time to wake up, piggy! We're in for a long night!" Ben's eyes hadn't quite readjusted, but it had sounded like Shane.

Once his eyes were open and he was aware of what was going on around him, he found himself in a different room with no idea how long he had been down there. It was cold. A basement, maybe. He was sitting down, and his hands and feet were taped to the chair he was seated in. But, what he noticed more than anything was that he was now completely naked.

He looked up to see Shane standing over him, holding one of those multitools, and the blade was out. Immediately, Ben realized what had happened. How could he have been so stupid?

Shane laughed, leaning much too close to Ben; he could smell the man's breath, rotten. The man brought the knife up to eye level, keeping a steady grin on his face.

"You and I? We're going to have some fun."


To be continued...

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Mark Lawson Character Portrait: Erin Hooper Character Portrait: Jesus "Matador" Herrera
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#, as written by Messiah
GTA 2

Collaboration with Rann

November 5th, 2013

Part One: Hopeless

Late Evening

Click. Click. Click.

Shane sat across from Ben, silent. The latter kept his head down, but he knew that the younger of the two brothers was staring at him. He could hear the clicking of the man's knife blade. In and out. In and out.

Ben looked up and Shane looked to him, smirking lopsidedly, "Does that bother you?" to which Ben gave no response.

Shane held in his hand a wallet now, and Ben recognized it as his own. He pulled out his driver's license.

"Benjamin Robert Kinney. Born August 20th, 1991, from... Seattle, Washington." He looked up, "Seattle, huh? How is Seattle?" Again, Ben gave no response. "The silent treatment, huh? Fine, then. But, you won't be quiet for long." Shane stood up, circled around Ben, and leaned in to whisper, "I promise."

He sat back down and looked to his license again, and laughed, "Oh, would you look at this. You're an organ donor, too! How... poetic."

The brother went silent again after that, putting Ben's license back into his wallet, and the wallet back in his pocket, and then resumed his routine.

Click. Click. Click.

Part Two: Getting Ready

After hearing her name, Hoppy left the briefing. She didn't care about Mark, or Caravanners, or whoever else was going to accompany them on the rescue hunt. None of that mattered. She fidgeted restlessly in the front of the barn, watching Monroe leave, as she gripped the cleaver tightly in her hand, occasionally swinging it around with a frustrated grunt. This was bullshit, wasn't it? It just wasn't right! While Ben might be lying, dead in a gutter from the zed swarm, she was sitting around, idly, as if none of it mattered in the slightest, while the higher ups did their thing, just talking about useless crap. What did it matter? What needed to happen was saving Ben! With an angr snarl, she thought about Laney. The actress... was it too much to think they've become friends in that short time? The small girl swung the cleaver again, wiping sweat off her brow at the exertion. Then again. It felt... good, imaigning a zed was there, taking the blow; blood and sinew fracturing as the stel blade chopped its way through. It felt natural. And that Laney, thinking that she couldn't handle it, because she was just a fucking little girl, or whatever it was, that pissed her off almost as much as the sitting around and chatting. In her mind, if she was ready to go up and charging into the rescue, after all this endless toil and weariness, then why couldn't anyone else grow the damn balls and get moving?

She scowled as she swung the cleaver down once more, this time striking at one of the bottles of dye; red ooze gushing out in spurts, a few drops getting onto her hoodie even, other parts splattering out onto the ground. It was red- it could have been blood. And the object she had just obliterated could have been a zed.

It should have been a zed. They should have been on the way to Cromwell by now. It's damn cold, and Ben was still out there.

And it was the idiotic girl's own fault, anyways, wasn't it?

"Best t'go alone..." She muttered to herself, drinking a swig of water; gulping the liquid down. "Else I might kill whoe'er else knocks about with this mess." She glared angrily at the red dye spurts. There's no way they were worth Ben's life. If getting rid of them would somehow help them find him, then she'd gladly destroy it all. The girl then set down the second bottle and began practicing her cleaver swings again. The better to kill Zeds with, right?

Part Three: Witnesses

Shane was getting impatient. With his head lowered again, Ben could see Shane's leg shaking. He even stood up once or twice, paced around the room and circled around Ben again. Ben had even once heard the brother muttering to himself, "Hurry up. Hurry up."

Finally, after what must have been ten or fifteen minutes when he heard a door creak open. It sounded wooden, and it sounded big.

Where the hell was this place?

Shane had noticed the noise as well, and stood up and walked out of the room they were in. Ben could hear them speaking, but if he were to guess, they really had no intention of hiding what they were saying.

The first voice was that of the young brother, "Can I start now?"

"After I talk to him," Mike responded.

In response, Shane seemed to giggle with delight before entering the room once again. As he did, he stepped towards Ben, brandishing his knife, but didn't use it. Instead, he simply stood a foot away, looking down on Ben. A moment later, Mike entered the room as well, bringing in a folding chair of his own. He set it down and took a seat upon it. What Ben found odd as he looked at the older brother was that he held a pencil and a notepad.

Mike leaned forward and looked Ben in the eyes, "Ben. I'm going to be honest with you. You won't be leaving here alive. But, you can help us."

"Fuck you," Ben spat.

"Let me explain. I'm here to record your final moments, but if we were just to kill you here and now, we wouldn't get to experience this intimate moment with you, and pain is a powerful way to get people to reveal the kind of person they really are." He looked to Shane at that, "And that's why my brother is here."

Ben looked to the man standing over him as well; he was shaking - no doubt with excitement - and he was grinning. With a disgusted scoff, Ben shook his head and turned back to Mike.

"So, please. If you would like to cry, scream, beg, or anything else, don't hold back. This is a haven for your feelings."

Haven. The word echoed in his brain, and he shook his head once more, as if trying to shake it out of his mind.

"Fuck you. You're both psychopaths."

Mike shook his head, then narrowed his eyes at Ben, "Don't even pretend like you know us." He motioned to his brother,"Okay," Mike said, leaning back in his chair, "You can start now."

Part Four: Going Out Again

"So that's where you were, Hoppy." Mark had come out, giving Hoppy somewhat of a cautious wave- she was in the middle of another swing of the cleaver, the second bottle of dye already exploded, and red spurts of liquid decorated the area where she sat. "I... hey, you mind if I sit down with you?"

The girl shrugged, and hooked the cleaver back into her jeans strap, looking almost dazedly at the spattered dye. Her restless fidgeting should have been a sign to any, really, that she really wanted to head out and just find Ben, alone or otherwise. That made her, at least at the moment, a loose cannon, and possibly a danger to the whole mission, if they had to chase and restrain her at the same time looking for the American. So he placed a hand on Hoppy's shoulder, getting her attention.

"Right, let's get going." He said kindly, looking into her eyes. "The Caravanners will rendezvous with us at Cromwell; they're probably already moving out. It won't be long until we're there, and we'll have Ben safely with us, with the truck. You'll see, it'll all-"

"Dun' be on spec, you twyp." Hoppy spat, before quickly getting up to her feet with a dirty scowl. Mark let out a sigh, before talking again.

"Look. You lost Chip, you think you'll lose Ben, and that's shit, okay?" He paused. "You probably lost all your friends and family from before too. We all have, right? You're not the only one here who's lost people, so you know we're working our asses off to keep that number a minimum." His voice started shaking as he thought, almost wistfully of Kim. "I lost someone... really important to me... and I don't want anyone else to feel that, if I can help it, okay?"

She shrugged impassively, frowning again; the two of them leaving Haven; next destination would be Cromwell. It was chilly, still, and Hoppy's body was worn, but the faster they went, the more they'd warm up.

"We're doing our best here. Don't think we don't care if Ben buys it or not, Hoppy." He gave her a reassuring smile; anything to try and make sure she wouldn't just run off at her first chance and recklessly shoot herself into Cromwell. "Just think, the smile on old man Monroe's face once we're all home safely, and he walks in, sees Ben home alive, safe and sound. Hell, something like that'd even make that guy grin."

He considered again, and let out a little chuckle. "Well, maybe a small grin."

"I en't need any o' you." Hoppy murmured, looking away. "I bet I could find 'im all on me own, an' be back on time. I oughta-"
The hand on her shoulder squeezed it tight, trying to calm the active girl down at least a little bit. She was already itching to get moving, and leave Mark behind. He'd only slow her down, right? "At least give us until we secure the truck." Mark offered. "You need at least one of us for driving it back, don't you?"

Hoppy grunted, obviously disliking it, but it was true. She doubted her driving skills were sufficient in doing anything extensive with the truck. So as much as it irked her, the frustrated girl paced herself along with Mark's stride, scowling at the man. "If youer'all 're too slow..." She trailed off. This really was a drag, waiting like this. Moving a bit away from Mark, she started, once again, practicing her swing to work off the pent up stress.

A minute later, Jesus arrived. Mark turned and offered a small smile, "Okay, then. I think we're ready to go." Looking between both Hoppy and Jesus, noting the awkward silence, before nodding and heading out, the other two following him close behind.

Part Five: Torture

Shane stood close with his knife in hand, looking Ben over carefully, as if looking for a good place to start. In fact, that seemed to be exactly what he was doing.

After a minute or two of this, he stopped searching and held out his knife. The metal blade stung the flesh on the right side of his abdomen. He winced, but he didn't allow himself to show more than that. In fact, he held his head up and looked at Mike in a specific act of defiance.

The younger brother stood up once again, looking Ben over carefully again, before stabbing the metal into his right bicep. Pain shot through his arm. He ducked his head down, letting out a quiet groan. There was no way he was going to scream or beg; he wouldn't give them that satisfaction, no matter what they pretended they were doing.

The two brothers looked to each other, and Shane spoke up, "He's a tough one, isn't he?"

"Mm," Mike grunted, looking back to his notepad, tapping it with his pencil, "Remember Edmond?" he asked, perhaps a little too casually.

"Oh yeah. Seemed like a real tough guy at first, didn't he?" He chuckled, leaning down to Ben, "Had him squealing about his girlfriend before too long and how she died in his arms. Turns out he wasn't as tough as he'd pretended to be."

"Ben, do you have a girlfriend? It's okay. You can tell me."

It reminded him of the typical therapist that you'd see on TV, 'How does that make you feel?' Except this was one fucked up therapist.

Then, his thoughts went to Laney. How was she taking this? Did she even know yet? He didn't imagine it would be long if she didn't already, and he could only imagine what she might be feeling right now.. If their positions were switched, he'd be going crazy and probably would have done something stupid by now, like go out and look for her, probably on his own.

"No," Ben responded. It wasn't entirely untrue.

"How about family?"

"I already told you about them," he murmured.

"You didn't tell me their names."

"Fuck you."

"Have it your way. Shane?"

"With pleasure."

Part Six: Runners

"You know." Mark tried to break the uncomfortable silence. Hoppy was clearly rushing. Earlier on, she'd only subtly increased the pace in their walk, but now she was moving on pure adrenaline in a light jog; Mark was starting to pant too, but Jesus was more used to this kind of thing. But they both knew it'd be useless to try and convince her to slow down. He wasn't keen on it, either, seeing the glinting cleaver in her pocket; seeing how emotional she was at the moment, and wondering just a little bit if it was that time of the month for her, she just might end up turning the blade on him. If that made him a coward, so be it- but maybe it was better she keep her energy up like this. So she wouldn't lose her motivation and completely wear herself out.

The girl cocked her head in his direction, making labored breaths as she walked with short, quick steps.

"Tilo." Mark said, remembering their talk not too long ago. "I think he's worried about you, you know."

A little 'hmph' from the girl.

The man let out a bit of a sigh as they kept on their tiring trek.

"Doctor Short also told me about your..." He coughed. "Confr- talk. Talk with Laney."

"Her own fault." Hoppy muttered, shooting him an angry glare. "Dusn't think I c'n handle this." She was still angry at that whole thing. Who was Laney to tell her to just leave it to Monroe? Couldn't she understand that she had to do this? That it was her job to fix? It was infuriating. It was frankly, insulting .She's doing fine, isn't she? Just ignore the bags under her eyes, and the fractured mask that couldn't form like it used to. She still had fight left. She'd get Ben back.

No matter the cost.

"Laney en't gunnae be able to do shit. anyways." Hoppy gestured at nothing in particular. "Hurt like she i-"

"She had to watch Toby die, Hoppy." Mark interjected with a tense frown. The girl stopped in her tracks, whipping her head back at the man behind her. Someone had died? No one told her anything about that! How could- no, that;s just the nature of this shit, isn't it? This stupid new world they found themselves in; and the more people they lost, the darker this world became. And Ben could just possibly end up on that growing list, too. "More than that, the two others with them all died, too."

A forty percent survival rate. That's just insane. Hoppy shook her head, now feeling the beginnings of guilt for what she'd said to Laney. She was already in shock and mourning for the ones lost, wasn't she? And then now Ben could be one of them too. And, Hoppy realized darkly, it was her own fault. Laney was right to lash out at her. Hoppy'd have done the same, if things were reversed.

It wasn't too long until the pair reached the outskirts to Cromwell- a sight Hoppy dreaded to see. This was where she'd messed up bad, wasn't it? It was almost like a haunting reminder of her sins. She gripped the handle of her cleaver hard, and made out two figures waiting there. The Caravanners, two men who looked friendly enough, waved them over.

"You're the Caravanners, right?" Mark talked first, while Hoppy stayed behind with an impatient frown and Jesus stood behind her, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly. Goddamn introductions were a waste of time. "I'm Mark, and this is Hoppy. She's the one who got the truck earlier. And that's Jesus," he motioned to the third member of their group.

The older man, maybe thirty or early forties with greying hair introduced himself with a nod of the head, as Ronnie. He regarded the two Scavs almost apprehensively, reserving judgment for now. He then turned to the younger man, younger than Hoppy herself was, in fact, probably mid-teens. He was missing an eye, or maybe it was injured- an eye patch was over it. Not that it really mattered- they were just cannon fodder for the Ben search, after all, Hoppy figured. The younger man called himself, ironically, Benson, earning a dark glare from the hoodied girl.

"What first, then?" Ronnie asked, seemingly taking charge. "You need the truck secured, but there's also that... Ben, of yours, we need to find."

"If he's even alive," Benson said sardonically, chuckling a little. It was that instant that Hoppy brandished her cleaver and pointed it towards him, almost quivering with anger. There was a tense silence- all eyes on the girl. Benson held his smirk; a lip curling almost cruelly, utterly ignoring the blade aimed at his throat. This was frustrating. And Hoppy really really wanted to lunge forward and cleave him with it... but that wouldn't solve anything. It might just start even more trouble between the two groups. And everyone would blame it on her- another fuck up made by Hoppy.

"Shut up." She said quietly, and let Mark pull her aside and give her a disapproving glance. As the three chatted and planned, Hoppy thought- there was no way she's hanging around with these idiots. She'd rather bash her head against a wall for eight hours, and that's a stupid idea, of course. In her head, a plan formed to leave them behind, and she; with an almost twinkling smile, feeling triumphant at the return of her mask, "Truck first." She said. "So we c'n up an' get in an' get Ben out ASAP. 'e might be injured."

Yeah, definitely no way she'd hang around with these fools, even as they shrugged and more or less agreed with her. Benson still gave her a hard, piercing look, though, making the girl return it coolly.

Part Seven: Threshold of Pain

Ben's vision had gone blurry, and his right arm had started to go numb. Shane hadn't let up. In addition to the gash on his abdomen and the stab wound in his arm, he had accompanying gashes on his left leg and his back, near his left shoulder blade. The younger brother had also taken to hitting Ben in the face to the point where his right eye had nearly swollen shut, and his head had become increasingly difficult to hold up.

But, Ben wouldn't give up. He didn't scream, and he didn't beg, and it seemed to frustrate the brothers - Mike in particular, who kept prodding him for information.

"I guess you really are a tough guy, huh?" Shane grunted out, rubbing the fist that he'd used to hit Ben, and then struck another blow, this time in Ben's ribs.

Ben doubled over and coughed, having just had the wind knocked out of him. When he'd recovered, he lifted his head to look at Mike once more. This time, he chuckled, seeming to catch him off-guard, "I bet this frustrates the shit out of you, doesn't it?" Ben spat out some blood at Mike's feet, "You're used to people just howling like banshees, aren't you?"

Mike sighed and stood up, then looked down at Ben, "Defiant to the end." He motioned to Shane, who turned and looked at his brother. They both exited the room and Ben lowered his head so that his chin nearly rested on his chest, thankful for the respite, as brief as it might be. All he wanted to do now was cry, or scream. The pain was getting to him, and he just wanted to be back at Haven with the people that he cared about. But, he would not give in. He wouldn't give the brothers the satisfaction of letting them know that they'd gotten to him. No. If this is where he was to die, he would die strong and defiant.

"This isn't working!" Shane said. He was getting frustrated too.

"I can tell. Maybe we should just move forward."

"Yeah. Fine." Shane sounded indignant. Probably because he wouldn't get to play with their captive much more.

"I'll be back. You wait out here until I get back."

This could be an opportunity. With Mike gone and Shane outside for who knows how long, he might be able to start getting himself free. He had to believe that he could still make it out of this alive. What he would do after getting himself free, he didn't know, but giving up now wasn't an option.

His arms and legs were held to the chair with duct tape. First he tried wiggling his left arm, and it budged a little, but he had to think of something else; it was unlikely that the wiggling alone would be enough to free his hand in time. After a moment of thought, he ducked his head down to his wrist and began chewing on the tape. This might not be fast enough either, but maybe... both at the same time would be enough. The door creaked open again and Ben quickly pushed the tape back down with his chin, trying to make it look like he hadn't been doing anything. Hopefully the brothers wouldn't notice.

Both brothers entered again, and what Mike was holding made Ben's heart race, and his eyes go wide.

The older brother held in his hand a set of bolt cutters.

No. No. No. What were they going to do?

It didn't take long for him to find out. Shane approached and held him down with one forearm while holding the fingers of his left hand - all but his left pinky. Then, Mike stepped up, holding the bolt cutters. He pulled the arms open, to open up the head of the tool. The opening was then placed so his pinky finger was between the blades. He struggled, trying to move his hand out of the way, but he hadn't chewed through enough of the tape.

Ben could feel the metal pressing into either side of his finger, and the moment before seemed to last forever.

And then, with a grunt, Mike closed the arms.

Ben screamed. Blood poured.

He remained conscious long enough to see the brothers step back, and the older one bent down to pick something off of the ground.

Then everything went dark.

Part Eight: Tricky Hoppy

It was really terse. Hoppy couldn't help but wonder why, exactly, did the Caravanners even come to help? What use would they be? What if they killed Ben upon finding him? She frowned more as she realized that they most likely didn't know what he looked like- and if Ben is bloodied and hurt, they might even mistake him as a zed and kill him with those rifles of theirs. The sound still echoed in her mind- when Chip had done himself in. Ridiculous. Do guns have to be so loud and terrifying? That's just... she had to stop thinking on this track. Not like she'd be with them for much longer.

"So, where'd you leave the truck?" Ronnie asked her, turning away from his talk with Mark about random, useless things.

"Just somewhere." Hoppy muttered, trying to block them out. The house wasn't far- just a few more turns and then that'd be it. It's weird how empty these streets were though, not even a hint of zed. WAs something going on elsewhere that might be luring them away? Hoppy didn't care all that much about the reason- as long as there were less of them. She knew she probably wouldn't be able to slash through the skin with the heavy blade of hers, in her current state. So damn tired.

Benson caught up and nudged her, startling her into a jump. "Didn't drive it back?" He jeered. "You can't drive, or something?"
Another chilly glare found itself on the younger boy. "I c'n drive fine." She said with a pleasant smile. "'was more convenient t'ave it 'ere."

"Don't see how." The boy prodded her again, shrugging. "I mean, driving back to Haven or whatever, then driving back here, it's faster than just walking."

He really was getting on her nerves. If it took too long, Hoppy really thought that she might end up snapping and driving the cleaver into his gut. This cocky kid sure as 'ell deserved it, didn't he? The bastard just didn't know when to shut up. Boiling internally, she made a self deprecating smirk. "Might be I'm stupid, en't it?." She said, and turned back to the deerted streets. The house was right there now, the garage door was still closed. So no one had broken in and taken it. Hoppy let out a relieved sigh, and saw a few other houses with garages around. A nasty grin appeared on her face.

"So." She said, getting Mark and Ronnie's attention, and gesturing at the assorted houses. "It's 'round 'ere, somewhere. I... summat forget which'un." She made an apologetic face.

"We'll have to just search each one then." Ronnie said, cracking his knuckles, and moved up to the closest one. Hoppy quickly glanced over at Benson, Mark, and Jesus, all watching the older man. As he forced the garage open, he looked back at them, calling out, 'Not this one!", and tilted his head in the direction of the next house; Mark and Benson following. No one was paying attention to Hoppy, were they? She immediately bolted in the other direction, towards Gill Mechanics, where she'd last seen Ben, leaving the four men behind.

Part Nine: Now's Your Chance

Ben regained consciousness a while later. He had no idea how long he'd been passed out. Slowly, he opened his eyes, but kept his head down. The realization of what had just happened came over him again just as the pain did. The throbbing in his left hand was nearly unbearable. There was no end to it. But, he had to keep himself quiet. The brothers didn't need to know that he'd regained consciousness. His jaw clenched and he kept quiet, despite the pain.

Not far away, he could hear them talking; apparently they still thought that he was unconscious. At least for the moment.

"Someone's going to come looking for him," Mike was saying, "He mentioned a sister."

"So, what do we do?" Shane asked in response.

"What do you think? We go get them."

"We?"

"Me."

"I should go."

"No, Shane."

"Why the hell not? You think I can't handle it?"

"Remember earlier? You got way too eager to go back and look for her. You almost fucked it up." Mike was getting impatient.

"Fuck you."

"Shane, I need you here to look after him, make sure he doesn't try anything."

"Fine," Shane grunted, agreeing reluctantly, "Don't take too long."

"I won't. Oh, and if he's dead when I get back, there's going to be hell to pay."

"Yeah, yeah. Get going. You're wasting time."

Ben expected Shane to return, but he didn't. Thank goodness. He could go back to trying to free himself, and he had to hurry. It wasn't just his life in danger now. If anybody had come looking for him, they were now in danger of being captured by the brothers, just as he had.

Again, he ducked his head down, this time to his right arm which, as if in response to the extraordinary pain in his left hand, had gotten its feeling back. It still hurt like a bitch, but it was a duller pain than in his other hand. He began to chew on the tape and wiggle his arm back and forth. A few times, he bit his own arm, drawing blood, but he didn't care. All that mattered now was getting his arm free.

Finally, after a few minutes, he was able to yank his right arm free of the tape. Wasting no more time, he began pulling the tape off of his other arm, and then his legs, careful not to make too much noise.

He was free.

Part Ten: Where Are You?

The four that remained continued to search for the truck. It wasn't until a minute or two later that Jesus piped up, finally noticing they were one short. "Guys? Where's Hoppy?"

Mark looked around frantically, "Shit. Where the hell did she go?"

"Probably ditched us, stupid f--"

Ronnie stopped Benson from finishing his sentence by putting a hand on his shoulder and shaking his head, before offering, "She couldn't have gotten far, could she?"

"I hope not." Mark looked around, "Alright, let's find the truck and get to Cromwell. Maybe she's there somewhere."

Seriously, this was ridiculous. They hadn't followed her so far, at the very least. Hoppy buckled over in the last place she'd seen Ben, almost balking at the gloominess of the building. No zed in sight whatsoever. What was going on, where were all of them? It was creepy, and she didn't like it. At least there was no trail of blood or anything, or even worse: Ben's corpse. That's probably the only mercy here. But that had the problem- there's no real trail to track Ben at all. She scowled and kicked an idle can at the wall, with a grunt, before taking the cleaver out and tossing it into the air, catching it by the handle with apparent ease.

"Fuck." She muttered quietly. "The 'ell are you, Ben?"

She was frustrated. She was tired. She had no idea what to do now, so she just plopped herself down, her limbs sighing in great relief, being finally allowed a little rest. The world seemed to twist around her, making her almost lurch with a sudden wave of nausea. Gripping her head irritably, she realized that she'd pushed her burdened body to it's limits, hadn't she? And it was all to no end- there was still no sign of Ben at all. She'd failed, miserably and utterly. And she didn't have enough energy to head back to Haven either- nor had she remembered to bring a radio.

It was almost funny- going this far only to be, pretty much stranded, and having it entirely her own doing. She had tried though... but there's nothing really to show for her effort.

A quiet sound came through the darkness. Almost like a hiss. But, it was hard to tell where it had come from, or maybe it hadn't been real at all.

But, again, the sound came, accompanied with words, "Hey! You!" And a man approached, slowly, and carefully, "That's not really a good place to be resting, don't you think?"

Hoppy turned towards the voice, surprised. It wasn't Ben, he didn't have that almost barbaric American accent, but it was someone else. Maybe he had, at the very least, food or something, right? She got up with great effort, before steadying herself by leaning on the wall.

"Who's you?" She asked pointedly. "I c'n rest where I want..."

"Sorry, I didn't mean-- There could be those dead things hiding out here, you know? It's not safe." The man stepped forward, offering a hand, "I'm Mike."

She looked at the hand for a few moments before deciding that there couldn't really be any harm in it. "Hoppy." She replied, giving her own name, with a bit of a shrug. "An', there arn't any zed 'round today... the streets're stupid quiet. I dun' like it."

"They could come back here anytime." Mike adjusted his pants a little bit, "What are you doing here, anyway?"

Hoppy took one more cursory glance around the room, not really wanting to accept any help. But, unfortunately, there was still no sign of Ben at all. "Jus' lookin' fer sum'un." She sighed tiredly. "Some'un I was with til yesteday, last saw 'im 'roud 'ere." She turned to the man, Mike. He might have seen him, right? There was always that chance. "You seen 'im?"

Then she wondered- what exactly was Mike doing here, anyways? There's not really much except for a truck that was no longer there, right? "What're yew doin' 'ere?"

His face seemed to light up at her admission, "Oh! Maybe you're the one I'm looking for. We might have found this person you're looking for. Me and my brother saved him from a horde, but he got hurt, so we had to take him back to our place." He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, "He wouldn't tell us if he had anywhere else to go."

A rush of relief poured through her body. In that instant, the weary and on the verge of giving up Hoppy shot up; eyes bright and considerably lightened. If anything, she looked almost like how she used to, before the stress kept on piling up. "Take me to 'im, then." She said quickly, with new enthusiasm. "'How bad's the injury?"

"Nothing too serious. We're not doctors or anything, but I think it's just a sprained ankle. But, lucky for him we came along. He might not have gotten away otherwise." With a waving motion with his arm, he added, "It's this way. Follow me."

Cracking a bit of a grin, Hoppy followed along, staying just a few paces behind him. "Thanks." She managed. "I'm all tired; been runnin' non-stop since we got split up. 'e'll be glad t'see me, though, innit right?"

"Definitely. He seemed worried about you."

"You got, I dunnae, a drink or anythin'?" She asked. "At youer place, I mean. I'm sorry t'ask, but... I cud really use a refresher before takin' 'im back."

"Yeah. We've got drinks." He continued to lead her away from Cromwell. It didn't take long for the silhouette of what appeared to be a house to appear on the horizon, "It's just up there."

Mike was friendly to Hoppy. Maybe a little too friendly.

Hoppy looked pensively at Mike, noting the house. Something seemed a little off to her, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Now that the elation had burned out, she could actually think, at least, a little bit. And she had that weird prickling feeling she always got whenever someone was lying... but why would he be lying? It was a bit unsettling, but that might just be due to the antagonizing Benson from earlier, or the eerily empty streets with nary a hint of a zed wandering around.

They had found the truck and had made their way into Cromwell - which was eerily quiet. In the past, Cromwell had always been ready to explode with activity, but the dead seemed to have vacated the area entirely. After a few minutes driving around town, they had found Gill Mechanics.

"This must have been where they found the truck. Maybe this is where they got separated," Mark announced as he brought the vehicle to a stop. Mark and Jesus exited the cab while Ronnie and Benson hopped down from the back of it. "Can anybody track at all?"

"I can, just a little," Ronnie responded, "That's why I was brought along."

"Convenient," Mark nodded, "Well, do your thing. Let us know what you come up with."

The two members of Haven kept an eye out while Ronnie searched the area for clues and Benson just... stood around looking indignant, as youth tended to do, even before the world went to shit.

"Here!" Ronnie called, "It looks like somebody was sitting here recently. Someone must have come up and led them away. It could have been your friend."

"Great. Where do they lead?" Mark asked.

"South out of town."

"Back in the truck," Mark ordered.

"Fantastic," Benson grumbled, climbing back onto the bed of the truck with his fellow Runner.

"Where are you going, Hoppy?" Mark whispered to himself, starting the vehicle and heading south out of town.

Part Eleven: The Tables Have Turned

Slowly, Ben pushed himself against the door and peeked out to see Shane with his back to him and looking out into the open world. They were in the barn. It had been dark, and he couldn't see much past the room he was in at the time, but he probably should have figured it out. The room he'd been captive in was one of the feed stalls that you saw in a barn.

Shane had the barn door open, and distilled moonlight passed through clouds and into the barn.

Ben could get the jump on Shane, but he had to find a weapon first. He crept out into the large open area of the barn and looked around frantically. At his left was a piece of wood - a 2x4. Quickly and quietly, he picked it up, then approached Shane from behind. He raised the piece of wood up, just in time for Shane to turn around. Without so much as a second of hesitation, Ben swung, hitting him in the face and knocking him down to the ground, stunned.

He then reached down, taking Shane's knife off the ground, which had been dropped when Ben delivered the blow, and pointed it at him.

"...please..." Shane mumbled dazedly, "...don't kill me..."

Ben stood where he was, staring down at Shane with contempt and rage. He deserved worse than death. He deserved the same treatment that he'd delivered to Ben and probably to countless others who hadn't been as fortunate as himself.

"I guess we're finding out what kind of person you really are, aren't we?" he sneered. All he wanted to do was to cause pain to this man, and he wanted to do it slowly, but...

"No," Ben said aloud, "I'm not like you." He then crouched down and put the blade to the man's throat, "But, I can't let you live."

And, with a swift motion, Shane's body went limp and collapsed to the ground with a steady pool of blood gathering beneath him. Ben stood back up and spat at Shane's lifeless body, "Coward." Before stepping away from Shane's body, he searched his pockets and found his wallet with his license in it. Really, he had no reason to keep it, but he didn't want to lose it. Maybe it was a connection to the old world, like with Hoppy's hair dye.

That hair dye. If she hadn't made them stop for it, they might not have gotten separated, and he might not be where he is now. He grew angry, and he couldn't tell if he was angry at her for making them stop, or if it was at himself for being so stupid as to trust these guys. Whatever it was, he wheeled around, flinging Shane's knife at the back wall. It thunked into what looked like a door - a door that didn't seem like it belonged. As if it were made sometime after the barn had been built.

He walked to the back and to the door. It wasn't locked. He pulled the door open. As cold as it was in the barn, it was even colder in this room.

But, what really got him was the contents of the room. For almost a minute, he stood staring in shock, unable to find proper words. He had to shake his head, and then he closed the door, turning to leave the barn. How--

An explosion sounded and Ben ran towards the entrance of the barn as fast as he could and ended up in the snow - still naked - and looking around. Off in the distance, he could see a fire burning. That was likely the source of the explosion.

"What the fuck..." he muttered to himself, squinting at the blaze. That couldn't have been good. He only hoped that nobody he knew was in trouble.

No matter. There would be time to worry about that later. Now, he had to focus on Mike. As long as he was alive, Hoppy and anybody else was still in danger, but Ben couldn't just go chasing after him. He had to find a way to get the jump on the other brother just as he did with Shane.

First thing's first. It was getting cold, and he had to find his clothes. The house was a good a place as any to start.

The door to the farmhouse wasn't locked either. Obviously, neither of the brothers had expected Ben to escape, so there was no need to lock it, right? The house was warm. Well, not all that warm, but it was better than the barn or the cold night air. He went upstairs, looking through the rooms, hoping to find his clothes. There were three bedrooms. One of them was neat, the second was slightly less neat, and the third...

The third bedroom was the largest of the three. In the center of the floor were piles of clothes. This must have been where they put the clothes of everyone they'd captured before. Right on top of the piles were his own clothes, right down to the hat and socks. And off to the side, amongst all the shoes, were his boots. His backpack was hanging on a hook in the closet.

Gingerly, he pulled on his clothes. They stung, but if they kept him from freezing to death, then he would have to push through the pain. He also made sure to pull the left sleeve of his jacket down to cover his hand.

The bed in the room was neatly made and didn't look like it had been slept in in months. Off to the side of the bed was a dresser. Maybe there was something in there.

He pulled open several of the drawers and most of them had nothing in them. There were two that did, however. They were small drawers, normally used for socks or underwear.

The first one seemed a little heavy, and as soon as he opened it, he understood why. Inside was a pistol and a few magazines. Before he took them, he looked around, as if expecting someone to be watching. Carefully, he took the weapons and its ammunition and put them in his backpack. Nobody else needed to know about these yet. But, he couldn't help but wonder where these came from.

Then again, no doubt the brothers had come across all types. It stood to reason that at least one of them had a gun and some ammunition for it.

Once the drawer was emptied and its contents were in his bag, he closed it and opened the other. Inside this one, he found a book. It didn't have anything particularly distinguishing on its cover. He took the book and set it on the bed. Also in the drawer, previously next to the book was a set of various personal identification cards. He pulled them out and looked through them, sitting down onto the bed as he did.

These were all the people that they had captured in the past. Men and women both.

Putting the cards down, he turned his attention to the book. He opened it and began to read...

Part Twelve: On Their Way

She hadn't really thought of the risk before, but it's entirely possible. Being a girl... it made her inherently more vulnerable to predators, didn't it? Not just because of being, in general, physically weaker than men, but because of the fact that... well, 'making love' would hardly be anyone's priority right now. Or even worse- the birth-giving capabilities her body had might be a good pick for extremist groups trying to survive. She knew that that was why Chip had been so protective of her, before he died, for sure. Because of the risks involved. And with her, possibly overly keen instinct, she had to make sure this wasn't some sort of trap. Of course, that explosion earlier might have been why she's so on edge too. It was loud and sudden, and too similar to the shot of a gun. It reminded of things she really didn't want to remember at a time like this.

Before they could take another step, Hoppy slid the cleaver over Mike's shoulder, resting against his throat. Her face was dark, impassive.

"Youer lying." She muttered. "I dunnae what exactly- but you arn't talkin' to me straight. So I suggest now start bein' straight with me." She pressed it closer to his neck flesh, hoping the cold of the steel alarmed him. "Or I might ju's kill you, 'ere an' now."

Mike straightened himself up and stopped his progress. Despite his predicament, he remained calm. Maybe he was used to this kind of reaction. It was hard to tell.

"Alright. You want to know what your friend told me? He told me that you were his sister, but I can tell by your accent that isn't true. You're not American." He shuffled his feet a little, "As soon as you opened your mouth, I could tell he lied about that. And he also told me that he had no where to go, but that was probably a lie too, wasn't it?"

Sister? How could that even- no matter, it was still a lie nonetheless. Hoppy pressed her lips tighter together as she thought, not moving the cleaver a centimetre from the intended victim. Why would Ben have lied about her? Couldn't he just say 'a friend'? Or perhaps- well, for one, it meant for sure that Mike and his unknown brother were untrustworthy. And such, it'd be better to leave out any details about Haven, she thought. Hell, that might've been why Ben lied too. To keep them out of Haven. It made sense- the more people, the harder it'd be to feed everyone. Less food to go around, of course.

That didn't change that it was a lie. But then again, everyone lied, old world and new world alike.

"Dusn't answer me." She said coldly. "Yew still arn't tellin' me the straight, Mike. Why were you so... quick t'agree to me havin' a drink? That stuff's rare these days, an' you dun' gain 'nythin' from lettin' me 'have some."

"Look, we really don't want you two around any longer than we have to. No offense. My brother doesn't do well with strangers. If a drink will help you get you on your way faster, then that's what I'll give you." Again, Mike shuffled, but kept his eyes and his head facing forward.

That also made some sense, didn't it? Hoppy considered... but then something else came up. If the brother didn't do well with strangers, why not just leave Ben to die? Surely that's a normal thing to do these days- you look out for your own, and fuck all the others. They didn't matter in the slightest. And that was still nagging at her.

"So why'd yew save 'im in the first place." She shot at Mike with her words. At least he wasn't trying to get away from the blade; it'd be a quick and easy chop, just in case she had to do it. And she would, wouldn't she?

Mike sighed impatiently, "I couldn't just leave him to die, not in all good conscience. My brother wasn't around when I found him, but he'll manage, at least until you both go. Besides..." Mike turned his head to look at her, "Do you think he's going to take kindly if you walk up to the house without me?"

Things were still nagging uncomfortably at her mind, but she was anxious to find Ben and go, already. Then find the others, and get the hell back to Haven and get some well earned sleep. In a different situation, Hoppy would have continued the questioning, but she was pressed for time here. Her strength was ebbing away, in any case. Hoppy lowered the weapon grudgingly, refusing to look Mike in the eyes.

"Fine," she spat. "Let's jus' get this over with, then. Hurry up." She took a few steps forward before the world went all wobbly once again, almost losing her footing. With an irritated curse, she steadied herself. How pathetic, showing weakness after a threat like that. If it really was a trap, she really couldn't do anything about it like this. The sooner they ended this, the better.

When the weapon was lowered, he relaxed a little bit and rubbed at his throat, "The sooner, the better," he mumbled.

Part Thirteen: The Journal

The inside cover of the book had a name written on it.

Michael Beckett

Ben opened to the first page.

August 18th, 2013:

Mom got bitten today. We went to Cromwell to look for food, but there were so many of them. We managed to escape, but only just barely. I don't know why I let her come along. She just wouldn't take no for an answer. When the time comes, I'll have to put her down. I can't ask Shane to do that. It would destroy him. He feels bad enough about letting her get bitten in the first place.


He turned to another page further along.

August 29th, 2013:

We're running out of food. It won't be long before we starve. Shane has suggested that we go to Cromwell to look for food again, but the last time we went, Mom got bitten. He's determined that it won't happen again. Maybe he's right. We have to do something. If I die, I'd rather do it trying to stay alive, rather than sitting here hiding while we slowly starve to death. Yeah. He's right. We need to go to Cromwell.


The next entry.

August 30th, 2013:

We ran into a couple people who had the same idea that we did. They wanted to check Cromwell for supplies - food in particular. The four of us were chased off by a group of them before we could get any food or supplies, and now they want to stay with us. We can barely support ourselves, how are we supposed to do anything to help an extra two people? I don't know what to do.


The next entry seemed to be written in more of a hurry, and certain parts of the page were wrinkled, as if those specific spots had gotten wet.

August 31st, 2013:

We had to do it. Our food is running out, and we can't go to Cromwell without risking being attacked. We didn't have a lot of choices. I pulled Shane aside and once we'd talked about it for a while, we agreed that we had to do it. They fought back, so we had to knock them out and put them in the barn. The father was first. His name was Alan Rogers. The young woman, his daughter Katie, is still alive. I think I can still hear her. I almost couldn't hold it down. What would Mom say about what we've done? We had to do it. God forgive us.


Ben stared at the page, not daring to turn it for the page. Not yet. He'd remembered seeing their faces when he looked through the identification cards. Alan, an older man with gray hair and a beard, and Katie, a woman maybe a few years older than he was with bright red hair. Not like Hoppy's, but they called that hair color red, even though it was usually more orange.

He flipped to another entry.

September 3rd, 2013:

We had nothing left from Alan, so we had to take from Katie. She cried, and she screamed, and she begged. I told her that I was sorry, and we had to do it. We would starve without them. Her screams are gone, but I can still hear them in my head. They won't go away. I'm so sorry. I'll never forget you two, sacrificing yourselves so that we can live. She'll last us another few days.


God. It was almost enough to keep him from reading on, but there was some morbid sense of curiosity in him that wanted to know more.

He skipped ahead some more, and some other words caught his attention.

...found some more in Cromwell...

Some of that he didn't want to read, but some other things caught his attention.

...I think Shane is starting to... like all of this. He told me that he enjoyed hearing Katie cry and beg that night. He asked if he could start... hurting them while we held them. I didn't want to disappoint him. I said yes.

There was so much that Ben would be willing to do for his brother, but letting him torture people?

Ben continued.

September 16th, 2013:

I've decided to write down what people say when Shane is doing what he does. A lot of them confess things they've done, or tell us about their families, or their lovers. It's really touching that they would share these things with us, but they are their final moments, so it's... not all that unexpected, I guess.


September 20th, 2013:

Shane suggested we keep mementos from everybody. These people are giving up their lives so we can survive, so I told him yes. He suggested we keep their heads first, but I told him no. That would suggest that we do this only because we like it, like we want to take trophies. We should be respectful of their sacrifice, so I told him we'd take fingers only, and bury the heads.


October 15th, 2013:

God, what have we become? Shane has enjoyed this almost from the start, but I keep telling myself that I don't, that I'm only doing this to survive. And then I let him torture them. And then we started taking their fingers. It's too late to stop. I can't tell Shane to stop. I can't stop. There's no going back. If God exists, He will not forgive us.


What the hell did that mean? Of course he could stop. What a load of bullshit. He probably enjoyed it as much as Shane did, but just didn't want to get his hands dirty.

At last, Ben turned to the final entry in the journal.

November 5th, 2013:

We came across another person in Cromwell today. His name is Ben, and he's an American. We haven't had any Americans yet. I wonder if they're any different? He's tied up in the barn now, but he won't talk. He won't cry. He won't tell us anything. Why not? We're just trying to help him get his feelings out there. We don't normally take their finger until after they're dead, but I think if I do it before he dies, it may help get some of those feelings out there. We also have to be careful. His sister drove off yesterday when they attracted a horde. She may come looking for him. I'm going to have to try and find her.


That fucker.

Part Fourteen: Reunion

November 6th, 2013

Early Morning

Ben stood up, closed the book and tossed it back onto the bed angrily, before pulling on his backpack.

It was then that something caught his attention outside. He crept to the window and peeked out to see Mike returning, but he wasn't alone; Hoppy was with him.

"Shit," Ben muttered to himself as he unsheathed his hatchet and made his way downstairs. He found the downstairs bathroom and stepped inside, moving to the shower and hiding behind the curtain, just in time to hear the front door open.

"You said you wanted a drink, right?" Mike asked, his steps getting audibly louder.

"Make it quick." Hoppy grumbled. "Don't fancy passin' out 'ere when we should be gettin' outta the way."

Ben poked his head around one side of the shower curtain and saw Mike walk past the open bathroom door as he did. He had to do this right, and he had to it quick. It was more than likely that the drink he was going to give her would be laced just as his own had just hours ago.

"You like beer?" Mike asked, "We've got plenty of that."

Hoppy shrugged with distaste. "Get rid of the headache, innit right?" She glanced around a bit. "Where's Ben, then?"

"He might be out in the barn. I told him he could look around while he waited for me to come back." There was the unmistakeable sound of a bottle being opened, "And it might help with the ankle. 'Walk it off', you know?" Mike chuckled.

"Aye, I'll jus' take a bit o'it.." Hoppy murmured, grabbing at the bottle. "Ta, maybe."

Ben was now out of the shower and hiding in the dark of the bathroom. Mike walked past once to give her the bottle, back again to the kitchen, spoke up, "I'll go and check for Ben in the barn. I'll be right back." And then, again, Mike walked past the open bathroom door, intending to go outside. No doubt he believed that, by the time he got back, Hoppy would be out of it.

Ben wouldn't let that happen.

As soon as he saw Mike pass the door, he leaped out from the shadows, brandishing his hatchet. Before Mike could react, Ben had buried it into the back of his head. The older brother was dead, but Ben didn't stop. He brought the weapon down onto his head over and over and over again. Blood splashed his face and his clothes as he lie on top of the man who had nothing but a bloody pulp left for a head. Finally, Ben let the weapon slip from his grasp and it clattered on the floor.

With his chest still heaving, he looked to Hoppy, "Don't... drink that."

Hoppy was staring at the scene. Not exactly in shock, per se, but it was a surprise. And it made things clearer in her mind- why she had that nagging feeling of a lie in her head. Where was the other brother, then? And what was the trap, in the first place? She had the burning desire to ask those questions, hoping it wasn't anything too bad.. Ben was alive, wasn't he? She had to do something first though. Hoppy lowered her head just a bit, not having the will to see his face.

"Sorry." She said in a strained voice, threatening to cry again. "It's my fault, an', I- I'm sorry. I'm... I tol' Laney an' she's... she's worried fer yew an', I jus'... She paused, gathering her breath. "I'm sorry, Ben, It should'a been me who got left be'ind."

This was the last thing he wanted to hear right now. The assault on Mike had taken a toll on the strength he had left, but with what he could muster, he picked up his hatchet and pulled himself to his feet. He wiped his face off with the sleeve of his left arm and stared straight at Hoppy once more.

"Just stop. Don't cry. Don't apologize. It doesn't matter who should have been left behind. It was me. Unless you have some way of going back to change that, move on."

The words stung more than she'd wanted to have been affected by them. It hurt like, like fuck. And she deserved each bit of it. In a way, this hurt even more than if he'd had struck her, because at least she'd have the physical pain to ease her mind of what she did. She held the tears back, out of shock and guilt and pure willpower, and straightened up. In a meek voice, "Ta, fer savin' me..." and gingerly turned away to hide her face from him, burying herself deeper in the hoodie.

Part Fifteen: The Truth Revealed

Right now, he looked bad. His right eye was nearly swollen shut, and his expression was filled with rage, and in a way, the rage dulled the pain - like some kind of anesthetic. So much so that he didn't realize that his left hand was still in pain until he looked to his sleeve and saw that it was still covering his hand entirely.

He watched her carefully until she turned away, "Be glad I did. Things wouldn't have gone well for you."

"What'd they do?" She asked, still refusing to look at him; shrunken into herself. "Why're yew all... like this, now?"

Ben stepped past her and out into the open air, motioning for her to follow him, without actually saying it. He led her into the barn. Still at the entrance to the structure was Shane's body with his throat cut open. At the back of the barn was the door that didn't quite look like it belonged.

Behind the door was a grisly scene. It was like something you'd see at a butcher shop, or a market. The room was ice cold and, from the ceiling, hanging upside-down from hooks were three human bodies - two male and one female. They had each been disemboweled and decapitated. In addition, each of their left pinky fingers were missing.

Hoppy took a glance at the scene and instantly buckled up; body collapsing onto her knees at the heel realization. Eyes wide, pupils dilated, and guts hurling, sick globs of vomit leaked through her fingers as her body shook in the crumpled pile she was. It was sickening and horrifying all at once... and it had almost happened to her. She lay there for a few minutes, registering the scene. Recovering as best as she could from the retching, she wiped her hands on her hoodie gingerly and took an aside glance at Ben's arm. Was his pinky finger, also... Idiotically and impulsively she pulled on his left sleeve, not saying a word.

"Hey!" Ben shouted in a mix of pain and anger, "Don't. Fucking. Do that." The look in his eyes was one he'd never had - one that nobody had ever seen. For a moment, he looked about ready to strike, but he stopped himself, remembering who he was staring at. He pushed his way past her and stood at the entrance of the barn, resting against the doorway. Though the body was still there, Ben didn't seem to notice. In fact, he seemed to shut out the rest of the world around him for a moment or two, closing his eyes. God, he was so tired.

And, indeed, once she had pulled the sleeve back, there it was, a bloody stump where his left pinky finger had been.

Hoppy shrunk again; both at the stump of a pinky finger, and the almost violent reaction of someone she'd once considered a friend. She squeaked out a miniscule 'sorry' before closing her hand over her mouth again- not wanting to anger Ben even more. With one last look at the grisly barn, she followed Ben out, looking down at her feet as they moved.

"Yew... did th'right thing." She mumbled quietly. "Killin' 'em. I'd- I'd 'ave dun it too. They'ere, they were scum, Ben! Worse'n that. Be'er off dead"

"I know," he said quietly, opening his eyes slowly. Truth be told, he knew it was the right thing to do. They probably would have come across another member of Haven in the future, if it hadn't been him. They might not have been so lucky. But, he'd never killed a person before. Within an hour, he'd killed two and had come dangerously close to harming a third - someone that he could trust. Killing someone, no matter how necessary, wasn't something that he could just get over. Not right away.

He should have thanked her for coming to look for him. He should have apologized for how he'd talked to her - how he'd almost hurt her.

But, he didn't.

Instead, he chose to change the subject, "Did you see that explosion? Any idea what that was about?"

"Aye, I saw it." she said, still in that tired and tiny voice. They just had to find the others now, and then get the hell out of this stupid town. But Ben- was it really okay? He... he's changed. And, he might be dangerous now... Hoppy shook her head fiercely. No, it'd be fine. It's Ben. If anything, a certain red-haired girl deserved the shaft more than Ben did. At least he wouldn't accidentally get people killed or traumatized or whatnot. At least he was useful.

"Dunnae what it was 'bout, though." She raised her head a tiny bit, slightly relieved at the more neutral topic. "We c'uld check i' out on the way back...if yew'd like?"

He thought about it for a moment, but then shook his head, "No," he decided, pushing himself up from his resting position. "I don't think either of us are in any kind of shape. The explosion probably drew every dead asshole from miles around."

"'Splains why the streets're empty." She sighed sadly, still keeping a careful distance behind him. "Least that's goin' fer us, innit?"

Ben nodded, "Right." He looked back to her, his face more neutral now, "We'd better get going while it still is going for us."

Right, Ben still didn't know, just yet. Might as well tell him, right? "Mark an' two 'vanners came with me t'find you." Hoppy said, and made a scowl. "The kid's a fuckin' twyp, callin' me stupid an' shit... 'E's got yer name, sorta. Benson. Complete arse'ole."

"And now they're probably looking for you too, right?" He sighed, "Jesus Christ. What the hell's Monroe thinking? Caravanners?"

Hoppy let out a nervous laugh, as she realized that yes, they probably were looking for her. Not that it mattered much either way- they were useless. "Din't need'em t'find you, anyways." She said, then turned her mind to Monroe. What had he been thinking? He said he'd- right. Hoppy decided to tell Ben- "'e said 'e'd 'ad sum'thin' to deal with." She offered, hopefully helping a little. "Erm, I dunnae what exactly.. c'uld it be related t'the explosion?"

He had a brief sinking feeling as soon as she said that he had something to deal with, and he'd come to the exact same conclusion she had, just a millisecond before she had said it, "Could be." If it was true... Well, there was nothing they could do for him.

"Whoever's idea it was. Trusting Caravanners is a bad one."

Part Sixteen: Safe At Last

Briefly wishing Monroe well in her mind, Hoppy gulped it down, and turned her thoughts to the Caravanners. Ronnie hadn't talked much- but there was that Benson. That damned despicable bastard. "Arrogant trash." Hoppy muttered, unconsciously gripping the handle of her cleaver more tightly, feeling the pressure in the back of her head grow with the tension. Before she could reply to Ben in agreement, they heard a voice wafting back at them. It was Mark's, in an imploring tone. Quickly, Ben pulled his sleeve back over his left hand and turned his attention to the sound.

"-not as bad as she seems, okay?" Mark was saying, as he and the two Runners got out of the truck, while Jesus sat in the passenger seat. "She's.. just impulsive. Probably at the end of her wits, I daresay. Don't be so quick to judge her."

Benson's sneering voice. "Praps she thinks she's too good for us." He laughed snidely. "thinks she can take on armies of zed by herself. From what we've heard, this is her fault anyways, isn't it?"

Hoppy's teeth clenched- hand gripping her cleaver hard. At least they found them, and sure enough, the truck was there too.
"Shut up!" She hissed, making the four men notice her and Ben- at least a relieved smile from Mark. "I found 'im on my own, d'in't I?"

And she'd nearly gotten herself captured for her trouble.

"So you're good for something after all, what a shock."

The girl really wanted to kill the kid. She wanted to stick her blade through him. He deserved it, didn't he? He was such an arrogant little bastard. Ignoring her fatigue, Hoppy made to lunge forward for the kill.

Ben had seen her grip her weapon tighter. Just as she made to lunge for the Caravanners, Ben stepped in front of her and towards them, "Look, kid--"

"Benson."

"I don't give a shit. Shut up."

Benson opened his mouth to speak and Ben stepped even closer, "I said shut up." He looked between both Caravanners, and then to Mark, who now had something of a frown on his face, "If you continue down this road, you're not going to like where it ends." And to accentuate his point, he put his right hand on the handle of his own weapon. "Get out of here and walk your worthless asses back to your camp before I get impatient."

The three in front of him seemed a little taken back at the words that had just come out of his mouth - particularly Mark. Here was Ben, this normally friendly man, all but threatening these Caravanners who had been sent to look for him. For a while, neither Ronnie nor Benson moved. Ben continued to stare the pair down until, finally, the older man took hold of Benson's arm and began leading him off.

"Come on. Let's go," the older man said.

Ben continued to stare after them until they were far enough away for him to be sure they wouldn't come running back. He then turned his attention to Mark and Hoppy, offering nothing more to say than a simple "Let's go."

Hoppy shot Ben a grateful smile- so he hadn't gone completely psycho. And it stopped her from having to kill someone- Hoppy faintly knew that she'd have regretted taking a human life, no matter how much shit they talked. Climbing onto the truck, she held out a hand for Ben to join her, hoping that he'd take it. "Ta, Ben." She smirked. Mark opened his mouth, almost as if he wanted to ask what had happened to Ben, but in the end he just murmured a 'welcome back, you two', before starting the engine with an ease that made Hoppy annoyed and envious at the same time.

Ben took her hand and used it to help pull himself up onto the truck.

They left the truck in the same area Hoppy had earlier, but in the garage of a different house, and made the remaining trek back on foot. It wouldn't be long now. Ben would be home soon.

Home.

He'd never considered Haven home before. If this were the old world, it wouldn't be, but this was close as he was going to get, probably until the day he died.

The four of them finally pushed their way through the gates of Haven. Ben had no idea what time it was. It was sometime in the morning.

He didn't really care, though. He was just glad to be back.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tilo King Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Mark Lawson Character Portrait: Erin Hooper Character Portrait: Alison Carter Character Portrait: Shinji Yamada
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#, as written by Bosch
6th November

0430


Ronnie and Benson were hiking their way home in silence when Benson finally spoke. “So what the fuck was that all about?”

“I know.”

“We risk our necks to save their guy and they freak out?”

“I know.”

“What was with that guy, he looked like he weighed about as much as a friggin spaniel dripping wet and he’s going all Billy Badass.”

“I know.”

“And the girl... actually I don’t know about her. Was she all there?”

“All there?”

“You know all that Eye-ah, Yew stuff. Was she like, retarded?”

“She’s Welsh. My Mother was Welsh so watch your mouth.”

“That’s unlucky.” Benson said with a frown. “Doesn’t excuse them pulling a fucking blade on me. Haven is fucked up.”

“I know.”

#

6th November

0520


Jane listened as Ronnie and Benson gave their report and felt hopelessness wash over her. She had worked so hard with Callie to improve relations between the Caravaners and Haven and this latest escapade would just fan the flames.

She had no doubt Ronnie and Benson would waste no time telling all the Runners how terrible Haven was and that all the Scavs were psychotic. She decided to wait until later though to speak to Callie. She was tired and annoyed. There was no sense in speaking now.

#

6th November

0940


Callie was still in bed when Gary rapped on her door.

“Callie, it’s Gary. Someone called Jane is on the radio she wants to talk to you or Monroe.”

Callie rolled over and sighed. She’d been crying but now she just felt empty. Monroe for all his faults had been her closest friend and now he was dead. Now Haven needed her but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to help.

She thought about the old adage “If you save a life you then become responsible for it.” She and Monroe had saved everyone in Haven that made her responsible for them.

It was that thought that made her get out of bed.

#


6th November

0950


Jane Meadows was extremely pissed off and it took everything Callie had to calm her down, eventually she did.

“Look Callie I like you, but your people are not doing you any favours at the moment. My Runners are annoyed and sceptical, the last thing they need is your people running around pulling blades on them when they are trying to help.”

“Jane I know they were under a lot of stress. Our guy was missing.”

“And my guys helped find him.”

“I know, I’ll deal with it.”

“Ok I think it would be best if you keep you keep your people out of our area for the time being.”

“Agreed. Cuts both ways though.”

“Yeah I have them briefed, they can follow direction.”

With that the call ended and Callie felt the implication of her last comment.

#

6th November

1100


"Where's Monroe?"

Callie looked up from the spot on the table she had been staring at and looked up to see Tilo standing in the doorway.

“Dead.” Callie said quietly. “How was your sleepover?” She remembered Tilo’s radio call from the previous night with a chuckle. Tilo relayed the efforts of the mission and gave Callie the contact information he had received from the Rands. She was intrigued by the mention of Richard Brand. She had never heard of the man but Tilo’s description gave her the Heebie- Jeebies as one of her old students might have said.

“Good work I’ll get in touch with them and see if we can’t work something out.”

Tilo got up from the kitchen table and said his goodbyes. Before he could leave though Callie stopped him.

“Oh and Tilo.”

He turned with a questioning look in his eyes.

“There’s no need to call me Ma’am on the radio. I’m not the Queen.”

Tilo gave his agreement with a smile and left. Callie sighed and felt a little better, at least something had gone right. Her next meeting was going to be more difficult.

#

6th November

1230


Ben looked like shit but Callie found it hard to find sympathy for him. He’d been though a terribly traumatic experience but at this point it was harder to find someone who hadn’t. Jesus was shuffling uncomfortably at the back of the group and Hoppy looked a little nervous.

“Good to have you back Ben and well done taking out those freaks. Hoppy and Jesus good job getting him home safe.”

She then sighed.

“Bad job pissing off the Caravaners though. Do you have any idea how hard it was to get on good terms with them? Then you three muck it up because you can’t keep your emotions under control.”

The dam had broken and she was shaking with anger now but doing her best to keep her voice measured. “What do you think, this a game? They were there to save your life Ben. Your life that needed saving because you messed up, a screw up that cost people their lives. You got off light losing a finger. Hell you should have been happy to see them, but you got prissy because someone made a joke? Your actions may have lost us an ally and put even more Scavs at risk. Then Hoppy you pulled a fucking blade on our allies. Jesus Christ, what were you thinking? Were you thinking?”

She shook her head and tried to let the anger fade. “It’s not a fucking action movie and none of you are Bruce Willis. We have to work as a team the actions you took will have an impact on somebody down the line. Just, just... grow up.”

Callie sighed and pointed to the door. “Get out of my sight.”

They shuffled out and Callie dropped her head into her hands. She had hated being so brutal but it was true their actions had knocked Haven back.

Then Mark cleared his throat and walked in.

“Would you like a cup of tea. Kettle’s on.” Callie said trying to appear perky.

“I heard about Monroe. What happened?” Mark said unable to keep the concern from his face.

“He led a horde Zombies away from Haven and rescued the helicopter pilot. Got bit in the process.” She was speaking matter-of-factly as if Monroe was someone she had never met.

“So what, did he turn?”

“I told you he led the zombies way. Blew up the Jones Farm and drew them in for miles. Cleared the way for you guys.”

“Woah...” Mark said as he sat down at the table opposite Callie. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah fine... it’s just...”

“What?”

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

“What doesn’t?”

“Who lives and who dies. I mean Monroe was worth something, he could have helped. Yet he dies and we get Ben back. Monroe dies and we get Hoppy back who can’t tell friend from foe. What do we get for his sacrifice? We get a fucking cripple pilot who crashed the first helicopter I’ve seen in months. How is that a fair trade? A useless boy, a stupid girl and a cripple in exchange for the only actual person around here worth something?”

Mark sat in stunned silence. “Callie you don’t mean that... Ben was tortured.”

“Was he? That sounds terrible.” She deadpanned. “He was the idiot who got caught. He felt his life was more important than the people who would have to go save him. That’s the reason the Scav’s have Harry’s. Nobody says it but that’s why. So the Scav won’t put anyone else at risk saving you.”

“Callie, he was drugged, he lost a finger.”

“Monroe lost his life because Ben fucked up. We lost the only person worth a damn around here because a pilot couldn’t keep her Helicopter in the air. We might have lost an Ally because Hoppy couldn’t keep her emotions under control. You think anyone here is able to do half the things Monroe could? So what you want me to feel bad because he’s got to hear high four jokes for the rest of his life? You want me to feel bad because the pilot is going to have a limp? Please.”

“That’s life Callie. We don’t get to choose who lives and who dies.”

Callie wiped a tear from her eye and shook her head gently.

“Besides Monroe was crap at carpentry.” Mark said with a hopeful smile.

Callie took a deep but didn’t smile. Instead she stood and pushed her chair in.

“It’s time to go see our guest.”

#

6th November

1300


Carter woke slowly and shook the grogginess from her head. She felt like tenderised steak but at least she was alive. She was wearing an oversized tee-shirt that said “Med in Cumbria” that had a small cartoon of a mountain above it and a pair of lose shorts. In addition she had a few blankets thrown over her but her feet were cold and she when she took a look she saw a large cast on her left leg.

“Great.” She muttered. At least she had been taken care of which was a good sign. The downside was that her right wrist was tied to the metal headboard of the bed. Carter groaned again.

The room appeared to be some kind of medical centre, in the corner of the room she could see her flight suit in a waste paper bin. It looked like it had been cut to ribbons.

She then heard approaching footsteps and quickly feigned sleep.

“She’s still asleep?” A man’s voice asked

“She should be awake by now...” responded a woman.

“That’s fine it’ll mean less screams when we cut her up...”

Carter was filled with panic but remained still.

“We saw you flinch, you’re fooling nobody.”

Carter cursed inwardly and opened her eyes. She saw two women and a man standing in front of her. She recognised one of the women vaguely but the other two were a mystery.

“Captain Carter, My name is Callie Winters, this is Doctor Short and this Mark. Welcome to Haven, we have a few questions.”

Carter remained silent and just stared at Callie.

“Captain, We fixed your leg, the ropes were necessary because we didn’t know if you’d turn violent, still don’t. One of our people died saving you and you have taken up our time and supplies. I’d start talking if I were you because I’m at about the limit of my generosity.”

Carter thought quickly back to her escape and evasion training but found it lacking. It had been based on the idea that if caught a pilot would only have to hold out for a day so operational security wouldn’t be impacted. There was no operation to secure though.

“I’m not a Captain, I’m a Flight lieutenant. No such thing as a Captain in the RAF.”

“Riveting. Where were you going?”

“North.”

“I don’t have time for this Lieutenant, can you be more expansive?”

“Scotland, BUTEC.”

Callie raised an eyebrow.

“BUTEC. The British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre. It’s where the sailors test out their new toys. Submarines and that kind of thing.”

“Why there?”

“It’s the last location we received a transmission from. Sounded like they were holding out better than we were.”

“Where was that?”

“RAF Valley in Wales. We were being overrun so we pulled the plug.”

“Are there other helicopters in the area?”

“They’ll be long gone by now. There wasn’t a lot of fuel so it was rationed. Nobody had full tanks and everybody knew it was a one way trip. BUTEC or bust.”

“So do you still believe BUTEC is the best place to be?”

“I heard it was, good luck getting there though. Last we heard the place was pretty much under siege. We were only going there because we had choppers.”

“Callie I need to check her for infection.” The mousy doctor said.

“What she hasn’t been checked!” Callie said in shock as the man aimed his sawn off shotgun at Carter.

“Oh no I meant her wound.” The doctor said.

Callie and calmed down and the Doctor set about her work.

“We’ll be back later... Thank you for cooperating.”

Carter shrugged and lifted her tied hand. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Callie smiled faintly and walked toward Carter. She cut the ropes with what appeared to be kitchen knife.

Carter nodded and let the doctor go about her work.

#


November 8th 2013

2130


They had been afloat for months and Shinji Yamada was starting go out of his mind with boredom. There was nobody to speak to on board and his smattering of English wasn’t enough to have a conversation with anyone. So far he had please, thank you, yes and no. It made conversation difficult to say the least, this was compounded by the fact his bride spoke excellent English.

His Honeymoon trip had been the doing of his new father in law Okamoto-san whose hatred for his new son in law was only out weighted by his love of his daughter. Shinji had to admit it was something of a Cinderella story. He had been working as an intern at Okamoto communications alongside Kaiko Okamoto, at first he didn’t make the connection between the pretty girl and corporation she was interning with. Apparently Okamoto-san believed his daughter should learn the company from the bottom up even though she was the heir apparent.

Shinji’s easy going personality and fondness for practical jokes at the expense of their stuffy manager piqued Kaiko’s interest. Shinji’s friend Jou convinced him to ask the girl out knowing full well who the beautiful girl was in the hope that he could prank the pranker. To Jou’s surprise Kaiko agreed. It wasn’t exactly a world wind romance and Shinji nearly passed out when he learned he was dating the bosses daughter. The first meeting didn’t go well due to a combination of Shinji’s fear and Okamoto-san’s intense dislike. Nevertheless the older man could see Shinji made his girl happy and he accepted him only for this fact.

It was a long relationship but the engagement was short and the wedding lavish perfectly befitting a daughter of a powerful businessman, Jou of course drew attention to how much of a fish out of water Shinji was in such decadence.

With that the pair where packed off of their travels. They had visited New York, Las Vegas, Paris, Berlin, Lake Como, London and Edinburgh on a detour. Shinji had become slightly obsessed with finding the perfect bottle of Whiskey to present to his father in law on his return knowing the man was something of a connoisseur he hoped this would make him happy.

Thus far his efforts had been in vain. It was then that he had the idea to visit Ireland in the hopes that he could find an Irish Whiskey to present the old man with. Scotch whisky was so cliché these days and a good Irish whiskey would be an interesting talking point for his father in law. Kaiko was happy to go but only if they travelled by Ferry as she was sick of flying. Shinji was happy to accept and they set sail on P & O European Highlander Ferry for what they were assured was the shortest fastest crossing from Cairnryan to Larne.

That had been four months ago when the outbreak was in its infancy. They had been refused entry at Larne due to the quarantine and when they tried to return to Cairnryan the same thing had happened leaving them adrift in the middle of the Irish Sea. In the early days some of the passengers had stolen life boats in an attempt to get to land but that happened less often now. They had heard stories of how bad things were on land and most people knew they were safer on board the Ferry.

Shinji passed the time reading books on his Nexus Seven Tablet. He’d been smart and stocked up on as many books as he could before he left, he also spent some time trying to pick up English so he would know what was going on around him. His English was still remedial though and he knew that Kaiko got frustrated trying to teach him all the time. For the time being she had to act as their voice onboard the Highlander.

Also on board and having difficulties was Alice Oakes. Alice had been travelling on the Highlander with her two young children Ben and Katie. She had booked a cabin on board was only seen on the decks to get food and never with the children. While some may have thought this strange most put it down to Alice’s fear of the other passengers. They’d seen the Walking Dead and everyone knew things could get a little strange in close quarters under such strange circumstances.

Alice however was hiding a much darker secret.

Ben and Katie were infected.

Katie had been running a fever when they boarded but back then nobody was checking for signs of illness. She’d died on the first night and attacked her brother. Alice was able to restrain the child using belts but she knew her son was infected as well. She had considered getting help but she knew what would happen to her children and she couldn’t bring her self to do it. Instead she simply tried to nurse them back to health even as they snapped at her.

In the cabin mounds of uneaten food lay in piles beside the tied children, they were hungry but not for what she offering. She had to gag the children to prevent the moaning but there was little she could do for the thrashing.

It had been four months and questions were starting to circulate that eventually came to the attention of Stephen McFadden. McFadden was a deckhand at least that’s what it said of his pay check in actuality he was a waiter. It wasn’t a bad job though kind of like being an air steward except on a boat, going to less glamorous locales, for less pay. He had wanted to be an air steward but got Airsick, for some reason though his sea legs were strong though.

McFadden had heard the rumours of the strange woman who nobody saw very much and decided it was time to do a courtesy call. Stephen knew what it was like to be different but he’d learned it was better to be honest with people as with a lack of information people often came up with their own erroneous ideas.

He informed the Captain who agreed that Stephen should check it out. He told Emma Riley, another water waiter, to help him. Stephen was pleased as he’d been trying to ensure everyone on board was kept entertained and calm. His mother had always said the devil made work for idle hands. It was about the only piece of his mother’s ideology he could agree with, the rest had driven a wedge between them the size of the Irish sea.

Emma and Stephen approached the door and gave it a quick rap. The response was a knock on the door and a muffled voice.

“That sounded like come in right?” Stephen asked.

“I think so.” Emma replied. She was only seventeen but that was same age Stephen had been when he’d started four years ago. Emma was still saying all the things he’d said back then.

“I’ll only be here of a year or two then I’m travelling...” Was a popular one.

Stephen saw a lot of himself in the young girl but the truth was they were stuck on the boat, not because of zombies. If the outbreak had never happened both of them would still be on the boat. They were victims of circumstance and apathy. The Highlander was their home.

Stephen produced a key card and slid it into the lock. “House keeping! We’re just here to make sure everything is...”

He stopped as he took in the nightmarish scene in front of him.

A woman was lying in the middle of the room with her entrails strewn liberally around the floor of the cabin. Hunched over her was a small blonde girl and boy. The girl was wearing a set of Beauty and the Beast pyjamas which were covered in blood and gore while the boy was wearing an oversized Manchester United jersey with Herrera on the back.

The little girl lifted her head and with a burst of speed neither was expecting sprinted towards Stephen and sunk her teeth into his thigh. Stephen screamed and kicked the girl away before following Emma who was screaming down the corridor. This of course led to more confusion as people exited their own cabins to see what the problem was. The children raced around the corridor causing chaos wherever they went.

Shinji was in his Cabin with Kaiko when they heard the screams.


“何?” Kaiko asked as she went to the door but Shinji stopped her.

“それは危険に聞こえる. 外出しない”

“なぜ?”

“悲鳴は通常悪いです ”

Kaiko nodded and sat beside him on the bed. They listened to the screams and held hands while Kaiko sobbed quietly.

#

0045

It had been almost four hours since the outbreak and the Highlander was now firmly in control of the undead. While the crew and passengers had tried their best to contain the outbreak they had failed and now the undead were in every part of the ship.

Including the bridge.

Of course there was simply no way for Kaiko and Shinji to know this which why it came as such a surprise when the ship finally ran aground. It sounded like an explosion had gone off below them and the impact threw Kaiko clear across the room. She smacked her head with a sickening thud on the dresser and Shinji screamed as he raced to help her. She was breathing but out cold.

Shinji lifted her and placed her in the bed before spending a few moments considering what to do. Finally he decided he would need help.

He lifted a pen and some P&O trademarked stationary and scribbled a hurried note. That explained he was going for help and that she should remain in the cabin. The words were in Japanese which he hoped would prove to her he was the one who had left the note.

He was about to leave when he got an idea. He pulled on a thick Barbour coat he bought for travelling through the rainy UK. Now he wore it in the hopes the tough material might prevent anything from sinking it’s teeth into him.

He then slowly approached the door and placed his ear to it. He could hear nothing so he slowly unlocked and opened it.

The hall way was clear but he could hear faint moaning coming from every nook and cranny of the ship. The ferry was beached on its side so the hall way wasn’t exactly level as the Bow was lower than the stern but the angle wasn’t so pronounced that walking was impossible. The boat did shift on the loose sand however as waves crashed against the side.

He locked the door behind himself and pocketed the key before slowly creeping along the halls. Kaiko had her own cabin key he had set on top of the note.

Shinji didn’t like being on the cabin deck. There was nowhere to run except back the way he came and the narrow hallway meant if he did encounter something he’d be unable to get past. He hadn’t seen a real live zombie yet but knew enough from movies and what Kaiko had told him the others were saying.

He made it to the staircase when he heard a roar from behind him. He turned and saw two bloody zombies behind him.

“くそ” He exclaimed before racing up the staircase and slamming the door shut behind himself. He let out a sigh of relief and turned to see he was standing in the middle of the shopping area of the ship. There was a small shop that sold Irish and Scottish themed tat, a coffee shop and about twenty zombies.

Shinji didn’t say anything he just ran for the nearest door which led outside to the deck. There was no time to close the door behind himself and soon he found himself running for his life across the deck that was slick from seawater and heavy rain. He threw himself up a set of stairs but the undead were still on him eventually he came across a ladder that he quickly mounted and rapidly climbed. Below him at least twenty zombies were clawing after him. It appeared they had no idea how to use the ladder.

“少なくとも彼らは愚かであ” He sighed before he kept climbing.

He was about to peak over top of the ladder and take look at the upper deck when a body suddenly flew over the top of him and plummeted below. Shinji nearly let go of the ladder through fright but held firm. The falling zombie was followed by two more that landed with a sickening thud beneath him. Even on the way down Shinji could see them grasping for him.

“本当に愚か”He climbed to the top of the ladder and pulled himself up onto the deck and looked around. The upper deck seemed clearer but it was difficult to tell in the night.


He crept along the deck straining to hear of signs of movement over the lashing rain. He was making his way towards the stern when he noticed the rainwater running along the deck was getting darker. A few seconds later he found two mutilated bodies huddled together on a bench. He avoided looking at them and kept walking but one of the bodies lunged forward in an attempt to grab him. Shinji threw himself against the railing and nearly fell over while the zombie slipped and smashed it’s face off the deck with a sickening crack. Shinji screamed but the zombie was unfazed and struggled to its feet.


Shinji ran as fast as he could toward the stern but quickly ran out of boat. He was overlooking the lower deck which was bathed in darkness apparently electricity wasn’t working on all parts of the boat.

The zombie was advancing on Shinji when its head popped open in a flash of brilliant red light. And it collapsed to the ground. It landed beside the flare round that had killed it.

“Are you normal?” Emma Riley asked over the howling wind while still pointing the empty flare gun at Shinji. Her P&O uniform was soaked through and the Flare gun was shaking in her hands.

“私は英語が話せない”Shinji answered.

“I can’t hear you!” Emma called.

“ありがとう. 私が死んだと思った” Shinji replied.

“You don’t speak English do you?” Emma said as she approached the strange man.

“No English.” Shinji said. “Kaiko. 妻. キャビン内の無意識.” He then mimed hitting himself on the head and falling unconscious.

“Yes you need to hit them in the head to kill them.” Emma nodded.

Shinji, not understanding what she had said, was pleased though as it appeared the young woman was less stressed now and she had lowered the weapon.

“It’s ok. I’m going fire another flare and we’re going to get rescued “Ok?”

Shinji knew Ok but that was about it. “はい!” Then realising he had spoken in Japanese repeated “Yes.” In English.

Emma then reloaded the Flare gun and aimed at the sky. She fired the round and let out a little squeal at the recoil. She watched as the little flare hung in the air for around thirty Seconds before it fell back down to earth and the beach below. Shinji mean while had used the brief flash of light to look at the lower deck. It was swarming with zombies and all of them were straining to reach the upper deck. It was surreal because Shinji couldn’t hear them moan over the wind just see them stretching soundlessly upward in the dim red light. They would be unable to reach him but if he wanted to get off the boat he’d need to find a way down from the upper decks to the lower ones and a way to safely get to Kaiko.

“Come on I know somewhere safe and dry.”Emma said and Shinji turned. He started at her blankly and she gestured for him to follow her.

#

Emma had been able to survive through sheer luck, the zombie children had attacked Stephen first and soon his screams drew more people and targets for the tiny shin chompers giving her time to escape. Well escape was a relative term, she had escaped from the lower decks which were by now swarming with undead. She was still trapped on the upper deck though.

She led Shinji into the Security room where she had been able to hold up. The CCTV gave her a pretty good view of the area. She was soaking wet but the man seemed to be quite dry in his coat. She removed her polyester navy blazer that was a part of her uniform and set it on the back of the chair beside the CCTV terminal.

Shinji immediately felt chivalrous looking at the drenched young woman who had saved his life so he removed his Barbour jacket and gave it to Emma.

“Oh Thank you.” Emma said she wasn’t going to take it but she was freezing.

“Emma? Are you there? Our Scavenger saw the Flare. Help will be there soon.”

Emma ran to the survival radio she had gotten from the small wall mounted pack she got the flare gun.

“Callie, it’s Emma. Good there’s a lot of zombies here I mean a lot.”

“You’re doing great Emma just stay calm have you found the person you saw on the camera?”

“Yes he’s here with me. I don’t think he speaks English. He seems cool though.”

Shinji watched as the girl spoke on the radio but it was all just noise to him. He considered English to be such an ugly language but he would have given his right arm to be able to speak it at that moment.

Suddenly the room was bathed in darkness and the CCTV terminal went dead.

“Callie we just lost power.” Emma said she felt her heart rate start to beat faster.

“That’s fine, the Scavs won’t miss a beached Ferry. Check the emergency pack there might be candles or glow sticks.

Emma found both but only cracked one glow stick. She figured starting a fire was far too likely with the candles.

“Ok, Ok. When will you be here?”

“I’m not coming, its a few friends of mine. When they arrive give them the radio and make them confirm their identities with me ok?”

“Yes sure.”

“They’ll be there in a few hours until then you should conserve the battery. Do you have a watch?”

“Yes.”

“Ok every half hour turn your radio on for five minutes and give me a call.”

“Ok Callie, hurry.”

“They’re on the way. I’ll speak to you in half an hour.”

Emma sighed and flicked the radio off. Immediately Shinji started talking.

“私たちは、私の妻を救うために必要” He cried. But even in the dim green light of the glow stick he could tell the woman had no idea what he was talking about.

He showed her his hand and pointed to the wedding ring.

“I know it’s pretty romantic in here buddy what with the mood lighting and all but I’m not about to come on to you.”

Shinji pointed at the ring. “Kaiko.” He said.

Emma nearly slapped her head over how dense she had been.

“Your wife? Is she alive?”

“Wife!” He nodded vigorously.

“Is she alive?” Emma said while making a happy smiling face “Or Zombie?” and she switched to a stiff armed zombie impression.

Shinji replied with a big smile on his face. “Kaiko.”

Emma then lifted the glowstick and walked across the room to a laminated copy of the ship floor plan.

“Where is Kaiko?”

Shinji didn’t know what the words meant but was able to put enough together from Kaiko’s name and the floor plan. He studied the map for a few minutes. Obviously he was having trouble reading it. Finally he produced his key card and showed it to Emma.

She looked at the card and saw the room Cabin number was 24 #1 or room 24 on first deck below the main deck. Emma sucked her teeth and made a face Shinji knew was bad in any language.

“Ok I’ll let the rescuers know.”

Shinji nodded responding to her tone rather than the actual words.

“Emma.” The girl said while gesturing to herself.

Shinji bowed slightly and then pointed to himself. “Shinji.”

#

Jobs

The Love Boat.


November 9th 2013

0020



Suggested Number of Scavs – 2

Area –Seascale beach

Objective- Investigate ship wrecked P&O ferry.

Information- Sorry to wake you. We just received a distress call from a ferry that has run aground near the Town of Seascale. From the flare they sent up it looks like they are somewhere near the Seascale Golf Links course which overlooks the sea. It’ll take a couple of hours to get their as their flare was pretty far out.

We’re in contact with a survivor of the crash called Emma Riley she’s apparently with another survivor who doesn’t speak any English. The Ship is firmly under the control of the dead but hopefully you’ll be able to get them out.

It’s been lobbing it down all night so you’d do well to wrap up warm at least it seems to be melting the ice but these days the snow is never too far away. I recommend you bring some blankets or something as Emma was complaining of being very cold. We need to look out for hypothermia.

There might also be some cargo worth taking like food or other supplies so keep your eyes open.

Callie

Bonus Missions.

Relight my Fire.

Suggested Number of Scavs – 1

Area – Woods around Haven

Objective- Collect Firewood

Special Equipment- Empty rucksacks.

Information- It’s cold. Real cold.

We need to get some kind of wood collection set up so we don’t end up looking like Arnie in that Batman movie. The mission is simple enough head out and grab some wood. Avoid green leaves as apparently when they burn they make white smoke. If everybody does a little soon we’ll have a stock pile going. Just makes sure you don’t carry so much you can’t run anymore.

Callie


Gone Huntin’

Suggested Number of Scavs – 1

Area –Woods around Haven

Objective- Go Hunting.

Special Equipment- Scoped rifle.

Information- Food is getting pretty scarce lately and with the cold weather it’s vital to keep our strength up. There’s a lot of animals still roaming around the place. Sadly I’m sure you noticed the farming livestock has taken a hit from the cold and the fact there is nobody there to look after them.
Wild Animals and Game are loving the new found freedom though.

I’m sending two of you out to go hunting in the woods around Haven it’s up to you whether you stick together or not. If you choose not to please ensure you wear the high visibility jackets. It’ll make you more noticeable sure but at least you can out run a Zombie, Usain Bolt can’t out run a bullet. God could you imagine what he’d be like as a Zombie?

Scary.

Anyway remember whatever you kill you gotta be able to carry home so don’t shoot deer or something you can’t back.

Actually now that I think about it, there’s a strong possibility one of the local farms is a dairy. If you find a Cow maybe you could bring it back. Alive. It would be nice to have milk in the coffee. Chances are slim though given how long it’s been since the outbreak.

Callie.

Characters Present

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

November 9th, 2013, 0900

Recording

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.

"Well...um," 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.

Condoms.

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 try...you 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.

------

Epilogue

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."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tilo King Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Richard Brand Character Portrait: Alison Carter Character Portrait: Jesus "Matador" Herrera Character Portrait: Erin 'Hoppy' Hooper
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#, as written by Bosch
November 9th 2013, 0430

Upton Abbey.


Ken Rand awoke with a gun being pointed in his face.

He didn’t need any light to know who was behind it.

“Richard. Come to kill an old man in his bed?”

“It’s the only way Ken, the strong keep the weak and that’s not happening at the moment.”

“And I suppose you are the strong?”

“In Upton I am.”

“Strength doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun boy.”

“It’s just a tool.”

“So what are you hoping people will believe I died from lead poisoning? You can’t shoot me.”

“I’m not going to. You’re going to take these.”

Brand tossed a bottle of pills onto the bed.

Ken lifted them to his face and tried to read the label. They were medication for his heart.

“You’ll have to shoot me, I’m not taking these.”

Richard produced a large knife with his left hand. “Or I could use this. Just know my next stop will down the hallway, Elizabeth and Eric’s room.”

“You bastard you wouldn’t get away with it.”

“Yeah I would. People want a strong leader. I tell them I saw someone running off in the direction of the Caravaners and I’m fine. People will believe what I tell them too because they’re scared. Everyone wants an older Brother.”

Ken looked at the mans gleaming eyes and knew he was serious. “You won’t harm Eric?”

“Scout’s honour.” Richard said. “Bottoms up Ken.”

Ken unscrewed the lid of pill bottle.

#


0900


Sandra was carrying a tray containing Ken’s breakfast she made her way up the stairs towards his bedroom. On the staircase she passed Elizabeth and Eric who were going the opposite direction for their own breakfast. After a cheery hello she was on her away again.

She reached the door to Ken’s room and with the grace that comes from practice opened the door with her elbow.

“Rise and shine!” She said in sing song as the door swung open and bounced off something behind it. She gave it nudge but it didn’t budge. When a grey arm reached around and grabbed her ankle she let out a loud scream and dropped the tray. She fell hard on her back as Ken Rand flung the door open. Sandra could see he had turned. His eyes were cloudy and his hand cold on her ankle. He was pulling himself towards Sandra with his teeth bared.

Instinct kicked in and Sandra drove the heel of her trainer swiftly into the Zombie’s face. After a few more kicks she was able get clear of the beast.

“Help! Ken’s.... HELP!”

She ran for the stairs while Ken crawled after her, his legs as useless in death as they had been in life.

As Sandra ran down the stairs she passed two hunters travelling the other way. Except this time there was no cheery hello.

The confirmation came in the form of a gunshot that echoed through Upton Abbey.

#

The entire of Upton Abbey was in an uproar. First there was the fact Ken Rand was dead, secondly there was the fact he’d turned despite not being bitten and lastly there was the issue of who would lead the Rands now. The impromptu meeting was being held in the dining area as the populace tried to deal with the confusion. It was perfect for Brand’s purposes.

He stepped forward and raised his arms in an attempt to calm the crowd.

“I’ll lead. It makes sense that the Hunters have more say over how Upton is run. We need to be strong now, it’s what Ken and William would have wanted.” He shot a wink at Eric who buried his face deeper in his mother’s leg. “As for why Ken turned that’s beyond me but there’s no point in dwelling. It happened and we have to move on.”

As he predicted fear was a great motivator and everyone agreed, only Elizabeth kept silent.

He had no idea why Ken had turned he thought the heart medicine would just kill him not turn him. It was of no matter now his plan was complete he had complete control of Upton. There maybe a few people that would oppose him like Elizabeth but a blue blood like her wouldn’t present much of a threat.


November 9th 2013, 1020

Callie stood in the doorway of Doctor Short’s Medical area watching the mousy woman work. It was a strange thing to see. From the second Callie had told her Hoppy had been wounded the Doctor had set about marshalling her resources. She was brimming with confidence and had no problem ordering those around her unlike her normal persona.

Carter was sitting on her bed watching the scene as well. She had offered her basic first aid training but Short had politely yet firmly declined. By the time Laney and Hoppy arrived the Doctor was ready to deal with the trauma. It took about an hour of work but eventually Short was able to stabilise her. Callie was concerned that the Doctor was having to bastardise a lot of the equipment she was using and could already see that the Scav’s would have a something of task on their hands if they were too save Hoppy’s life.

“Bollocks!” Short cried and a spurt of blood erupted from Hoppy. “Callie, get here now.”

Callie rushed to Short’s side and got her first good look at Hoppy. The girl had gone very pale and was naked from the waist up where Doctor Short was working on a small but very bloody wound. Bubbles of blood were erupting from it and Hoppy’s breathing was faint.

Short directed Callie to put pressure on the wound while she prepared some plastic sheeting and duct tape.

“It’s the pressure, it keeps blowing the dressing off. I don’t have the equipment to deal with this kind of Trauma.”

Callie kept the pressure on the wound until Doctor Short had applied her dressing.

“She needs blood.”

“What is she?” Callie asked.

“Not a clue. I’m AB negative, so I’m no good.” Short explained.

Callie shrugged. “I don’t know what I am.”

“I’m B positive.” Carter called from her bed.

“That’s no good either. We need someone who is O negative, universal donor.”

Callie nodded and raced out of the medical room in search of blood.

#

1050

She came up empty nobody had O Negative and Callie silently cursed herself for not thinking about getting a Blood Type chart up and running sooner. She was about to give up when she noticed him sitting silently on the living room couch with his head in his hands.

Callie wasted no time.

“Shinji. What Blood type are you?”

He looked up and Callie could see tears in his eyes. She remembered he’d lost his wife only hours before but now wasn’t the time for compassion.

“Hello Shinji.” He said morosely.

“Yes, Hello. What Blood Type?” Callie said.

He stared dumbly ahead.

Callie swore and ran to the kitchen where she picked up a pen, paper and kitchen knife. She returned to Shinji and showed him the palm of her hand and sliced it. She flinched at the bite of the knife and let the blood fall onto the page. She then did an equals sign and scribbled AB+.

“Oh Shinji.” Exclaimed suddenly comprehending.

He grabbed the pen and hurriedly wrote O-.

“Hoppy. Needs you.” Callie was wildly gesticulating trying to covey her meaning to the only man who could save Hoppy.

“Hoppy, yes.” Shinji said getting off the couch.

Callie took him by the hand and marched him to Doctor Short who wasted no time setting up a transfusion. Shinji was sitting a chair opposite Hoppy although he had positioned himself so he wasn’t looking at the girl given her some privacy.

“Ok Callie she’s stable but she won’t stay that way. My Blue Peter efforts won’t last long we need serious equipment to deal with this kind of trauma. I’ll prepare a list and you need to get the Scavs out. I reckon she’s got about a day. Shinji can only give so much blood.”

“Alright I’ll get people on it.”

“Good, but first let me patch that hand.”

#

Haven

1500


"And we have to end it."

Callie looked tiredly at the two men but couldn’t help the grin spread over her face which quickly turned into peals of laughter. She was giggling for a full minute before she got her breathing under control.

“We have to end it?” She said wiping a tear from her eye. “You guys sound like John Wayne or something. I’ll give you pair that you’re always good for a laugh.”

She sniffed. “Back in reality land you need to understand the Rand’s hunters are a larger group that know the area well, have weapons training and have killed in the past. You two are a History Professor and a Computing Student, so if you guys are done with the Rambo routine we have real problems. Hoppy is conscious but very sick and she’s going to get worse if she doesn’t get medical help.”

She produced a mission briefing and slid it across the table.

“Hoppy has been shot and the Doc says it’s pretty bad. She needs specialist materials if Hopster is to have a chance at survival. That takes precedent over a suicide mission to assault the Rands. Work it out amongst yourselves who goes. I’ve got Jesus ear marked for a special mission so it’s between you two, Laney and Kiera. We need those supplies within the next 24 hours.”

Job

Scrubs.


Suggested Number of Scavs – 1


Area – West Moreland Hospital

Objective- Recover Medical Supplies. Chest Tubes/ thoracic catheter, Asherman Chest Seals, as many of these as possible. Azithromycin, Clarithromycin, Clindamycin, Voriconazole, Cefdinir, Cefixime, Ciprofloxacin, Doxycycline, Fluconazole, Levofloxacin, Linezolid, Loracarbef, Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim.

Information- Hoppy has been seriously wounded but thanks to Doctor Short and Shinji she is now stable. She’s lost a lot of blood and the Doctor is worried about her lung collapsing all together. Apparently that’s really bad.

She’s put together a list of items that she can use to save Hoppy’s life however they are not in her GP practice in Cromwell. A lot of his stuff is pretty specialised so it looks like you are going to West Moreland Hospital in Kendal. The meds are all types of Antibiotics that do not need to be kept cold. It’s unlikely the hospital will have them all just grab what you can some is better than none. Kendal is a pretty big town, at least it’s big for the Lake District so keep your head on a swivel.

The Doc reckons any immediate danger to Hoppy has passed but she is suggesting Hoppy will not survive with the supplies the Doc currently has. It’s your job to get out to Kendal and back before any harm befalls her.

I’m getting pretty sick of putting up those crosses so be careful and get the supplies. If it comes down to it though your life outweighs the supplies.

Callie.

#

Upton Abbey

1900



Sandra came to her in the evening when all was quiet. Eric was asleep but Elizabeth was just staring at the ceiling. She was wondering how best to escape Upton. She had a feeling though that Brand wouldn’t make it simple. Perhaps she could reach out to Haven, their Professor King seemed nice and more importantly smart.

A knock at the door broke her train of thought. Elizabeth got out of bed and answered .

“Sandra, come in.”

Sandra slunk in like a thief and Elizabeth could relate to her feeling of paranoia. Now Brand was calling the shots the atmosphere at Upton had already begun to change. They spoke in hushed voices on the far side of the room so as not to wake Eric.

“Lizzie, I found something and I don’t know who to tell.”

“You can tell me. What is it?”

“This morning when I was cleaning up Ken’s room I found this.”

Sandra produced a small pill.

“What’s this?”

“It’s heart medication. I found it in Ken’s bed.”

Lizzie stared blankly.

“Ken has different types of Meds for his heart. Some he takes daily and I look after them. Others he takes only when he’s having an attack.”

“Ok.” Elizabeth said still not understanding the importance of the heart meds.

“This is the type he takes daily so there is no reason for him to have them, I control the administration of Meds and I’m very precise about it. Even if he did have them he would have known these aren’t the right type of Meds to combat an attack. He may as well have eaten Tic Tacs.”

“So you think he died from a heart attack but took the wrong meds?”

“That’s what I thought at first but with Heart meds being so rare I can account for every pill, this one isn’t one of mine.” Sandra said. “If he was having a heart attack he was taking the wrong Medication that he shouldn’t have even had in the first place.”

“Right that dosen’t make sense Ken is meticulous.”

“Exactly but I checked my stores anyway and they are all present and accounted for.”

“So either Ken had a supply you didn’t know about...”

“Which is impossible.” Sandra interjected.

“... or someone gave him a few of these.”

“A lot of those. I think he was murdered. In a high enough dose that would trigger a heart attack. Ken knew it would be undetectable without a clue so that’s why he dropped a pill for me to find.”

“So you think it was murder?”

“In my opinion yes.”

“That doesn’t explain why Ken turned though.” Lizzie pondered.

“I know I can’t explain that. Maybe the pills were laced?”

“If the heart pills would have done the job why... why zombify him?” Lizzie said after trying and failing to find a better word.

Sandra shrugged. “Whatever is happening it stinks and the suspect list isn’t exactly long is it?”

“No.” Lizzie said.

“So what do we do? Brand is a psycho, he can’t run this place.”

“I know I was thinking of running to Haven with Eric but it’s too dangerous.”

“I could make it.” Sandra offered.

“It will make you look suspicious though.”

“Yeah well it’s better that then letting Brand remain unopposed, nobody here is going to do anything about it.”

“Alright. I’ll cause a distraction so you can escape tomorrow morning, at guard change would be a good time. Go to Haven and give this to Professor King.”

Lizzie quickly scribbled a note and folded it into William Rand’s wallet which she then handed to Sandra.

Sandra nodded.


#

November 10th 2013,
1100


Jesus was sweating under his multiple layers and was wondering how he got himself into this situation. He was standing in the middle of Silent Valley Solar Energy Plant with Mark the Haven Guard/ carpenter and Gary Flower who was so scared he was shaking like a shitting dog.

It was a peculiar saying he’d picked up from the English locker rooms and he found it apt. It made sense though last time Gary had been to silent valley he’d seen Chip die and nearly died himself. Figured that the guy would be nervous.

They were loading up the last of the solar panels, Mark and Jesus were there for the heavy lifting while Gary was there to make sure they weren’t damaging the panels when they cut them down. Mercifully they were light but as reported they were awkward to carry even with two people, Monroe had been wise to get the truck.

In a way they were putting all their eggs in the solar basket as they had used the fuel earmarked for the generator to make this run. The truck had been used frequently over the last few days and was in the red when Mark had gone to turn it over. Callie had agreed with the decision rationalising the fuel would run out anyway so they may as well use it trying to get the solar panels.

Mark slid the last Solar panel into the truck and dusted his hands.

“Job done let’s get back.”

“Wait do we not need a battery or something, you know so we can store the energy for use in the night?”

Mark and Gary glanced at each other, both surprised at the intelligent question from the footballer.

“Ideally yes but that’s a job beyond Haven. Besides I’ve been stockpiling rechargeable... well everything. The idea is we charge everything up during the day so it’s ready for use during the night.” Gary said quietly.

“I see well let’s get the show on the road then.” Jesus nodded. Mark climbed into the back of the truck with his rifle while Jesus and Gary climbed in front. Gary was driving and Jesus was keeping his eyes peeled.

They were leaving the plant when Mark curled his nose up in disgust. It smelt like rotten barbecue. He looked to his left and saw a naked and badly burnt zombie staggering after the truck.

“Jesus Christ.” Mark muttered as he tapped on the cab. “We got one following us. Shit make that two.”

In the cab Jesus could see more in the distance.

“Shit. We’re gonna get surrounded.” He said.

Gary’s hands were shaking badly now. “What do I do?”

“Chill. Nobody ever did anything by freaking out.” Jesus said with an easy smile.

Jesus rolled down his window and called to Mark.

“Take the long way home, I have distraction devices so I’ll lead them away. Once you get to a road you can pick up some speed and put some distance between you and them. I’ll loop round and come back home later.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah I need a run anyway.” Jesus smiled, wound up his window and prepared his gear. He then stepped out of the Cab and began his run calling to the zombies as he ran.

#

November 10th 2013,
1440


The Zombs had been pretty persistent but Jesus saw that as a good thing, it meant there were less on Mark and Gary. He’d run further south than he’d intended and he figured it was time to loop back first he had to shake the Zombs.

Every Scav had their own method but Jesus found the best way was to enter a building and close doors between him and the horde. They got snarled up in the building giving him time to escape via a back door. He found a large farmhouse that looked like it would do the trick and made a run for it. He ran inside and up the stairs. He left the front door open but closed every other door. It would ensure the zombs got well and truly entangled inside the structure.

He left via a bedroom window and soon found himself on the ground leaving the house in his dust.

He slowed to a jog as he wanted to avoid making too much noise and he’d been running for hours so he figured he deserved a break. His clothes were a mess of sweat and dirt. Jesus thought it might be time to retire his teeshirt.

It was a cool day but the snow had for the most part been melted by the recent heavy rain. There were multiple ice patches and according to Gary more Snow was on the way. Jesus shrugged. He liked the snow.

He’d been running for about an hour when he stopped to check in with Haven. He spoke to Callie and gave her his position. He figured he’d be home in a couple of hours at his current pace. He was in no rush, there was a lot of bad feeling in Haven at the moment due to the number of deaths. He’d been toying with the idea of leaving as at times it felt like tensions would boil over.

Jesus was thinking about this when he heard the moan. He dropped his hand to his hammer and stopped running.

It wasn’t a normal Zed moan, no this was more controlled. He then realised he was hearing sobbing, a child’s sobbing. He kept the hammer out and followed the sound. If it was a kid he couldn’t leave them but at the same time he wasn’t about to walk around unarmed.

He found a burnt out Nissan in a clearing and approached with caution. He peaked into the back seat and saw a girl in a school uniform hugging her knees and weeping.

“Are you ok there?”

The girl looked up and wiped the tears from her face. She had long red hair and her face was blotchy from crying.

“Hi my name is Jesus. Do you need help?”

“Hey-Zeus?” The girl repeated.

“Yeah. What’s your name?”

“Natalie. I’m lost. My dad went out for food and told me to stay here, he hasn’t been back for days.”

Jesus noticed Natalie glance over his shoulder. He turned his head and in his corner of his eye detected a flurry of motion. He didn’t have time to react as the axe swung down and into the top of his head. His attacker tried to pull the axe free but it was firmly wedged. Jesus collapsed and began convulsing.

Natalie leapt out of the car and over Jesus, who was no longer capable of comprehending much, and hugged the man who had swung the axe.

“We did good Daddy!”

“Sure did pumpkin. Lot of meat on this one and that looks like a nice watch!”

“Yay!” Natalie cried as she jumped up and down.

Daddy then pulled the axe free of Jesus’ head and swung it again.

#

November 10th 2013,
1650


Gary and Mark were tinkering with the Solar panels and Callie was monitoring radio traffic for the runners still out in the field. Jesus was still out there although he had checked in a few hours ago. A knock at the door pulled her from her post. She turned and saw Carter standing in the doorway.

“Hey want some company?” Carter asked.

“Yeah sure come in.” Callie nodded. She knew this moment had been coming and how she handled it would decide a lot. She had to size up Carter while she was doing the same to her. It was the kind of thing Callie excelled at.

Carter hobbled in on a pair of makeshift crutches and sat at the end of the table.

“So you’re the boss?”

“It’s not really like that, I was just first here.”

“That’s not the vibe I’m getting, you call the shots.”

“I guess but it’s more democratic than that.”

Carter nodded. “I see.”

They lapsed in to silence for a few seconds.

“I, uh, wanted to say thanks for saving me. I know you lost one of your people.”

“Yeah we did.” Callie let the words hang. “We couldn’t leave someone out there though. There’s survival and then there’s being an asshole.”

“I’m glad you did. Your man was very professional, Forces?”

“Yeah he was army or something.”

“It showed. Very controlled. I, uh, know you were close and set this place up with him. I just wanted to say, I appreciate it.”

“Don’t mention it. Time may come you have to do something similar.”

Carter nodded.

“I saw one of your people got captured and slapped around a little.”

“Yeah Ben. He’s dealing with some issues, but he’s not a bad a kid. We just don’t really have time for mental break downs right now. We’ve lost two people in the space of a week.”

“Losing people is hard. We took a lot of casualties defending Valley.”

“RAF Valley in Wales? You mentioned that before.”

“Yeah pain in the arse it was. We should have retreated much sooner but Command and Control had totally collapsed.” Carter shook her head at the memory.

“So the military isn’t functioning anymore?”

“What can I tell you? When the police and civilian services got overwhelmed they called in the Forces to try to control the outbreak. Course that didn’t work because we had no idea what we were dealing with. Lost a lot of people, people with the skills to survive this kind of thing. The brass is probably still out there, our guts their glory you know?”

“I think I can relate, except I’m the brass.” Callie frowned.

“Heavy rests the crown I guess.”

They lapsed into silence again and this time it was Callie who broke it.

“Monroe was the only person we had trained in any kind of combat, you got any training like that?”

Carter shook her head. “I’m a chopper pilot. I got escape and evasion training and I can operate some weapons systems but I was usually above the action.”

“Sorry, weapons systems?”

“Guns. I can work most weapons the RAF are issued with, combat theory isn’t my bag though. That’s army stuff.”

Callie nodded.

“What I can do is operate a radio and run ops. We had to work our own mission plans and that meant map studies. I can help you out with that kind of thing.”

“You want to help with the admin?” Callie said with a sceptical eyebrow raised.

“Yeah it’s not like I’m running anywhere any time soon.” Carter said pointing at her leg.

“Ok you can help. We have one Scav in the field at the moment. I guess you should get familiarised with the area. Monroe organised all the maps, they’re beside the bread bin behind you.”

Carter twisted awkwardly and grabbed the files. She smiled at the cover which was very precise and neat. It was organised in the fashion of an old school Map Book. Before the outbreak it was all digital, this was something of a throwback for Carter. She buried her head in the books and started studying.

#

November 10th 2013,

1700


Doctor Short had long since stopped taking blood from Shinji, in fact she’d taken more than she should have and now had the man under observation in the bed that had been occupied by Carter. Hoppy was stabilised and was even up and talking but Short was never far from her side. She had broken two ribs, Pneumothorax, a punctured lung and blood loss. Short was convinced the equipment on the list would allow her to treat the wounds but it was a matter of time, Short’s makeshift dressings would only last so long. She needed the correct equipment to deal with injuries or Hoppy would die.

This was frustrating to Short as Hoppy’s injuries where entirely treatable it was simply the lack of supplies. She needed the chest tube apparatus to stop to lung collapsing. Once she had that inserted the treatment plan became simple. Ensuring the wound was kept clean, allowing the ribs to heal and finally the removal of the tube. It would take weeks but Hoppy was lucky to be alive. The bullet had passed straight through her and avoided all major internal organs, save the lung. She had been particularly lucky as the bullet passed close to her spine. That would have spelt the end on her Scav career at least.

With nothing else to do Short checked the pulses of her two charges.


#

November 10th 2013,

1720


The panels were up but they hadn’t got the opportunity to get a full charge. Mark was sitting in his Crow’s nest with the scoped rifle when he heard a twig snap somewhere below outside the perimeter.


He lifted his large lamp and shone it in the direction of the noise. The Lamp had once been used in rabbit hunting now it served a different purpose. The beam found a bedraggled looking woman making her way up the hill towards Haven. She had her hands raised above her head.

Sandra called out. “My name is Sandra Hargrave! I am unarmed and need to speak to Doctor, I mean Professor King!”

“Tilo?” Mark muttered. “Where are you coming from?”

“Upton Abbey! King will know me I have a message!”

“Ok approach the gate then turn around and get on your knees then interlock your fingers behind your head!”

Sandra complied and Mark went outside, by now the entire of Haven was out and looking into the darkness with weapons drawn. Mark tied Sandra’s arms and marched her to Callie.

#

Carter, Tilo, Callie, Sandra and Mark were all in the kitchen. Sandra was starting to feel like a criminal but in a way she could understand the suspicion.

“Speak.” Callie said.

“Elizabeth Rand sent me. I have a message in my jacket pocket.”
Mark started rifling through her jacket which he removed when he was checking her for weapons. He produced a small black wallet and shrugged. Recognition flashed in Tilo’s and Callie’s eyes.

Mark tossed the Wallet to Callie and sheet of folded A4 tumbled out onto the kitchen table. It said Professor King on it and reminded Callie of the notes the kids in her class used to pass.

“Guess that’s for you Tilo.” Callie said. Tilo lifted the letter and quietly read it before handing it to Callie who read it aloud.

“Professor King,

I apologise for intruding but Upton Abbey is in trouble. Ken Rand has been killed and I suspect it was murder as does Sandra who you hopefully remember from your visit here. She can fill you in on the details.

I implore you to help us, the people here are scared and are reaching out for anything. Unfortunately that seems to be resulting in the wrong people getting in charge.

If Sandra makes it this far please ensure she is not mistreated.

Yours

Elizabeth Rand.


“I’d give her high marks for penmanship.” Callie said after a beat.

“This Kenneth Rand what makes you think he was murdered?” Carter asked.

Sandra explained that Ken was taking heart medication he shouldn’t have had that would have been ineffective.

“What about suicide? I’ve seen it happen to the strongest.”

“No not Ken, besides there was no way he got those pills on his own.”

“That you know of.” Carter said.

“Let’s go back to this Zombie situation. You say he turned without being bitten?” Callie asked.

“Yes well I suppose he could have got bitten on the face. The Hunters used a shotgun to put him down, there wasn’t much left of his head. If he had been bitten though that Zombie must have been the dairy milk man of Zombies because he didn’t leave a trace.”

“Weird. I’ll ask Rishi about that.” Callie said.

“So you want us to send one of our guys over there? You know one of your people has been running around murdering other survivors? A Gang of Five of them actually.” Carter said. Callie had spent the afternoon filling Carter in on the history of Haven.

“No but I bet I know who was responsible. Brand?”

Tilo nodded at Callie. That was the man he and Ben had concluded to be responsible.

“Let me guess he’s the one you think killed Rand?”

“Yeah both of the Rands probably.”

“Ok we need to take a look at this guy. Make sure he’s not a threat.”

“So what do we do? We can’t attack them, they out number and outgun us.” Mark said.

“I know.” Callie muttered.

She thought for a long moment while staring into space. When her thoughts came back to the room she found herself staring at Tilo.

The History Professor.

“Greeks bearing gifts.”

Mark looked at Tilo who appeared to be as confused as he was.

“This Brand guy. Sounds like a narcissist or a psychopath or whatever, means he likes it when people play up to his sense of superiority. So we use that as a cover to get in there and see what the hell is happening.”

“Narca-what? I thought you were a school teacher not a head shrink.” Mark said.

“You never watch Criminal Minds?”

“What?”

“Nevermind look. If we go over there, say we want to start the trades that Ken Rand proposed and play up to his ego he might just let us inside the building. From there Tilo can work out what the hell is going on once he has a word with Elizabeth Rand. See what I mean?” Callie explained.

“What if it all goes wrong?” Carter asked.

“Well if Tilo doesn’t check in then we tell the Caravaners we know who killed their guys and see what happens.”

“You mean start a war?” Carter asked.

“Don’t be melodramatic. They are the two biggest groups around here, we side with the Caravaners and take the Rands out. It’s a win win. We get back in with the Caravaners and protect ourselves from the Rands.”

“Then why not tell them now?”

“Because they lost people to those assholes and they will want blood. It’s clear not everyone supports Brand but I don’t think the Caravaners would see it that way once the bloodlust descends. They’ll slaughter everyone or be slaughtered in the attempt.”

“Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.” Carter offered. “I mean think about it. We let the Caravaners know what we know then let them go to war with the Rands. If the Caravaners win their numbers will have been thinned making them less of a threat and if the Rands win hopefully we could steamroll the survivors.”

Everyone in the room looked at Carter with wide eyes and Mark’s jaw actually dropped.

“I’m just saying.” Carter shrugged.

“That might be too far at the moment. The Caravaners can still be allies and we can’t assume Brand is evil. The evidence is pointing that way but it’s from conclusive. We need an investigation.” Callie offered although Carter’s callousness had shocked her.

“So the plan is to use the trade agreement to play up to Brand and make contact with Elizabeth Rand?” Mark asked.

“Correct. I say we send Tilo he knows the area and has a relationship with the people.” Callie said.


“I see. Will he be able to take care of Brand if it comes to it?” Carter asked.

All eyes fell on Tilo but Callie saved him from having to answer. “Tilo is smart and knows what’s at stake he can deal with it whatever way he needs to.”

Carter shrugged. “Fair enough what are you going to trade?”

“Haven’t thought about that.” Callie mused.

“We were carrying a lot of supplies might be something there worth salvaging. Food, that kind of thing. I think you guys should hold onto the weapons.”

“Yeah I think so too. What kind of weapons, we talking here?” Callie asked

“Couple of 9mm Browings , probably a few SA-80s. Nothing too heavy.”

Callie stared blankly. “I do people stuff, we had someone else for the guns. What does that mean?”

“Pistols and assault rifles.” Carter said simply.

“Ok so sounds like we got our selves an honest to God Scav mission. I’ll prepare the briefs.”

Job


An Inspector Calls.

Suggested Number of Scavs – 1


Area – RAF crash site. Upton Abbey.

Objective- Recover items to trade with the Rands from Crash site. Investigate death of Kenneth Rand.

Information- Ok so this one is a little complicated.

A woman called Sandra Hargrave arrived at Haven carrying a letter from Elizabeth Rand for Tilo. Sandra and the letter tell us things may have gone a little bad in Upton and it would be in our interest to check it out.

Elizabeth and Sandra believe and Man called Richard Brand is responsible for the death of Ken Rand. This is part of his powerplay to take over Upton. Apparently Brand believes himself to be a strong leader and the only one who worthy of leading. We intend to use his narcissism as a method to get inside Upton.

You will visit the downed RAF chopper and try to retrieve whatever you can. Not weapons though. Use the items as a way to ingratiate yourself with Brand. Play to his ego. Once inside locate Elizabeth Rand and get to the bottom of this mystery. Find out if Brand killed Ken and try to work out what Brand’s plans are for Haven. This could get ugly and there is a very real possibility you might need to kill Brand. It would be far better if you make this look like an accident. Talk to Doc Short or Rishi about how to achieve this.

Lastly it would appear Ken Brand turned despite not being bitten we’re looking into this but be aware he may have been poisoned. Odds are they could try the same trick twice assuming that’s what they did to begin with.

If we don’t receive a radio transmission at every four hours we will assume you have been captured and tell the Caravaners what we know. We want to avoid this as it will lead to a massive loss of life.

Good Luck.

Callie.


Bonus Mission.

Sea King Down.

Suggested Number of Scavs – 1


Area – RAF crash site.

Objective- Recover weapons and Items from the Sea King.

Information- When my Sea King went down it was loaded with supplies weapons, MREs, Medical equipment and ammo. By now the Zombie activity should have returned to normal so you can pop in and pop out without too much bother. Also of note is a radio equipment that would help boost the signal of the Haven Comms allowing for less atmospheric and geological interference.

A. Carter

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Kiera Trennan Character Portrait: Erin Hooper
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#, as written by Messiah
Scrubs

Collaboration with Selene Durlan and Rann

Part One: The Americans

November 10th, 2013

Before Dawn

Ben hadn't slept well. He had an arm draped around Laney. At the moment, all he wanted was to stay where he was, but if he didn't get going soon, Hoppy wouldn't make it. He'd wanted to go to the Rands', but getting the girl lying in that room what she needed to survive was more important to him. All he'd said to people the past day is that he was going to do what he had to to keep people in Haven safe. Now, one of their own really needed him. The trip to Kendal was more important than the one to the Rands'.

So, he got up, and dressed himself. Within his pile of clothes, he still had his pistol and the ammunition that he'd found at the brothers' house. After checking the safety on it, he tucked the weapon into the back of his pants and the ammunition into his backpack. He didn't know what would be in Kendal, and he wanted to have a backup plan.

It was early. There were still two or three hours until dawn. Ben hated to work in the dark, but they needed the extra time.

Once he had all he needed, he went to the door. As he was about to open it, he turned towards the bed and the sleeping Laney and watched her for a moment or two. Briefly, he smiled, and then carefully opened the door and exited the room.

The nightmares had returned and would likely occur with greater frequency if she didn’t bolster her dwindling cache very soon. After a particularly vivid nightmare and sleep deprived night, Kiera was staring at the wall in her room weighing different solutions to her current dilemma. Traveling to the town of Cromwell and scouring the pharmacy there had crossed her mind, but it would be difficult to find a plausible reason for heading there and she didn’t have time to wait for a legitimate job listing. Kiera began running her fingers through the end of her braid in an attempt to soothe her panicked thoughts, the action barely making a difference in her anxious mindset.

Ben made his way to the door that he was pretty sure was Kiera's and knocked, lightly at first. There was no response the first time, so he knocked again, louder this time.

There’s someone at the door. Kiera suddenly realized after the visitor starter knocking louder on her door. It was odd that anyone would do that, unless they needed something. Maybe they want to borrow a cup of sugar? She thought with a small smile.

Cracking the door open just enough for her body to fit in the opening; she saw Ben standing there, though his appearance was quite different now. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise at the sight of his haircut, Kiera found herself missing his shaggy locks, but she acknowledged this new style was more practical for everyday life. What was he doing knocking at her door though, wasn’t he getting enough attention from Laney?

“Hi Ben, nice haircut.” Kiera said in a neutral tone.

"Thanks," he mumbled, rubbing his head lightly and glancing around for a moment. Not that he was expecting Hoppy to show up, but he kept his voice low, just in case. "I've got to go to the hospital in Kendal. I could use some help."

Kiera didn't know what she had expected him to say, but it certainly wasn't that. She paused for a moment, realizing this request could fix everything, she barely managed to reign in her relief before replying. "There's a hospital in Kendal? Of course I would be happy to help. I guess Dr. Short is ill-equipped to handle a bullet wound with what supplies she has now. Do you know how to get there?" She asked, her mood already beginning to lighten.

"Yeah," he replied, "It's south and east, thirty miles or so. It's not too small, so it should be hard to miss." He neglected to mention how dire the situation was. At least for the moment; he would tell her, but not while he was potentially within earshot of Hoppy.

"I'll give you a few minutes to get your things ready, if you need to. I'll be outside." Ben gave her a nod, and then headed outside. It was dark, and it was cold. He pulled on his wool hat and leaned against the job board, waiting.

"Okay, I'll see you out there then."

Self-absorbed ass. she thought venomously. Apparently he was in quite a rush to leave and he expected Kiera to fetch her own pack. What a gentleman.

Kiera dressed quickly in her winter clothes, ensuring her slingshot was placed securely in her jean’s pocket before leaving her room. She walked to the command center and was surprised by the new face she saw there. The helicopter pilot was sitting in Monroe’s old seat; it was odd to see the grizzled man’s position being given to this new woman, especially with the former soldier’s death being so recent. Still, she was making herself useful and Kiera couldn’t fault her for that. After collecting her pack and an empty duffel bag from the pilot, she left the farmhouse to meet Ben by the jobs board.

“I’m ready to go.” Indicating the deflated duffel bag, “I brought this along in case we find other useful stuff in Kendal.” She said with a smile. “Let’s hope we don’t have to walk the full thirty miles.”

"We can't afford to. There's no way we'll be able to make it back in time," he answered with a frown, feeling more free to speak now that they were outside. "This is a little time sensitive. If we don't make it back in time, Hoppy probably won't make it." Then he added, "We should probably look for a car."

Kiera hadn't realized the severity of Hoppy's condition until Ben informed her, by his tone of voice she now realized why he had seemed to be in such a hurry while speaking outside her room. She felt less insulted by his earlier behavior, Hoppy needed the supplies they were going to retrieve if she was to have any hope of recovering.

As much as he would like to stop and chat - maybe - he didn't want to waste time, so he walked to the gate and pulled it open, allowing Kiera to pass through and closing it after.

He held the list of items they needed and squinted at it as it fluttered in the gentle breeze. It didn't really do him any good, not being able to read it in the dark, so he stuffed it back into his pocket for now.

"Bunch of antibiotics, chest tubes, and some other stuff," he said, mostly from memory. "I'm not really a medical professional. You know much about that stuff?" he asked, turning to look where he could make out the darkened figure of the young woman walking with him.

"Me neither, math was my specialty in school. The medications should be clearly labeled at least, but the other stuff might be tricky to find. Once there is more light I'll take a look at the list, maybe I will recognize some of the items on it." Kiera stuffed her gloved hands into her jacket's pockets, she couldn't wait for summer to arrive. The constant cold and darkness made the living dead seem even more terrifying.

"Mm. Great," he grunted, though he wasn't really directing his obvious frustration at her. Just at the situation in general. "We'll figure something out."

The pair walked in the crisp darkness, each staying alert to their surroundings and keeping a sharp eye out for a working vehicle.

"So, why did you ask me to join you on this mission?' Kiera asked quietly.

Ben didn't want to tell her outright that she was too green, so he tried to put a helpful spin on it. "You want the truth? Well, you haven't been out much. I thought this would be a good chance to get you some more experience while still having someone around who's been out more." What he didn't tell her is that he wanted to see what she could do and how well she could handle a situation like this. He didn't want her to misinterpret that as if it were some kind of test, when he really didn't mean it that way.

Kiera gritted her teeth after hearing Ben's response. She appreciated the way he phrased the statement, but the overall meaning was still clear. Ben thought she was a weakling, which didn't entirely explain why he asked her to join him on such a critical mission. Was he taking responsibility for the preparedness of everyone? In the end it really didn't matter why he had asked she decided, rather it was important that they would help save Hoppy's life and Kiera would get what she wanted out of the trip as well.

"I can appreciate that, though I'm sure Laney would have enjoyed going with you, she and Hoppy are very good friends. Always joking about babies and such things." Kiera spoke lightly, but she watched for Ben's reaction to her words.

Ben raised an eyebrow. How blatant could that have been?

"Yeah. They are, but I'm good friends with Hoppy too, and we can't all go out on the same thing. There are other important things to be done. Laney knows that," he said, intentionally glossing over the mention of babies. He hadn't even talked to Laney about it, so he definitely wasn't going to bring it up with Kiera. And it wasn't like he was good friends with her. If this had been Hoppy, on the other hand, he might be more inclined to talk about it.

"And I thought I could help you out at the same time," he continued sincerely. "That's all."

Removing her glove, Kiera resumed pulling at the tail of her braid. It helped take her mind off the building jealousy she felt. The rich and famous really did get it all, though would it last? Somewhere Kiera knew it was the withdrawal speaking, making her irritable and nasty when she would normally be calm and composed. If she had any hope of befriending her scav partner, she needed to be less prickly. With an iron grip she quashed down the roiling emotions that threatened to ruin everything till there was nothing but a vast silence in her mind. She knew it was only a matter of time before she was ambushed by the feelings once more, but for now she was free of them.

“How kind of you to think of that. It is true I haven’t been out of Haven much, but I did manage to survive long enough to reach it at least. Honestly, you don’t need to worry about me slowing you down. I understand how critical it is for us to return to Haven as fast as possible.” Kiera spoke politely, but firmly to Ben.

She could appreciate his concern for her survival abilities, after all this was the first time they had gone on a mission together. She felt actions would speak louder than words and he would just have to see her in action for him to believe.

"I'm not--" he began, frustrated. But, then he just shook his head. He hadn't meant that she was going to slow him down, either. She was a part of Haven, and because of that alone, he was willing to trust her, even if he didn't know that much about her. They were all in this together now, for better or for worse.

They took the next five or ten minutes in silence. He didn't know what to talk about, and he wasn't enthusiastic about bringing up his past; just another painful reminder of what he would never see again and how things never would be again.

Part Two: Transportation

It was at the end of that five or ten minutes that he spotted something up ahead. He couldn't quite make it out, but it definitely wasn't human or formerly human. They didn't come in square shapes. As the pair got nearer, Ben could see that it was a car. Its right-side door, the driver-side door hung ajar.

Ben stopped, and he took off his backpack in order to take out his flashlight. He clicked it on and approached the car carefully. Kiera followed close behind, both scanning their surroundings carefully for signs of the dead.

The scene before him wasn't a pleasant one. The driver's seat, the dashboard, and floor in front of it were covered in blood. There was also blood on the inside of the open door. He noted that the blood seemed fairly fresh, as if whatever had occurred here was somewhat recent.

Kiera stood near the rear of the car on the driver's side, keeping an eye on the road while Ben examined the vehicle. She gripped her weapon tightly, the steel pipe had always been handy, and its previous owner had modified the end of it. A two-inch long stake was attached to the pipe at a ninety degree angle, the perfect tool for splitting skulls open. She willed Ben to hurry up, she felt uneasy standing out in the darkness, especially while standing next to a fairly fresh crime scene.

The wind wasn't helping either, each sway and creak of the foliage made her nervous. Suddenly in the shadows, she spotted a knee-high creature moving, traveling away from the scavs through the weeds, it had the shape of a dog, but with the darkness she couldn't be sure of what it actually was. As if sensing her eyes, the animal froze and turned around. Then the dog-like animal stared towards the trees that were next to the driver's side of the car. It stayed like that for several seconds, before turning tail and trotting away. Kiera looked back towards Ben in order to tell him about what she had seen, when her eyes passed the exact spot the animal had stared towards. The color drained from her face.

A distinctly human shape was running awkwardly towards the car. The uneven and haphazard gait indicated one thing, they had a runner that was headed towards them with deadly intent. Kiera felt rooted to her spot, staring in horror as she watched the walker close the distance between the rotting mouth and its distracted prey, Ben. With that realization, she sprang to action, rushing to step between the walker and her partner.

One final exhale of breath and Kiera swung her weapon, the flat side of the pipe made a sickening squishing sound against the walker's skull. The corpse staggered but remained upright, Kiera was thrown off balance from the swing causing her to stumble into Ben, sending him sprawling forward into the interior of the vehicle. The flesh-eater recovered quickly and reached towards Kiera, the movement was halted by a decisive spiked blow to the side of the walker's skull that caused its body to go slack, bouncing off the side of the car once, before laying crumpled on the frosted ground, the weapon still lodged in place.

Liquefied breakfast sprayed across Kiera's shoes and the ground, sinking to her knees, she took in shaky breaths, hardly believing what she had just done.

Ben had heard the sound of moving feet. It didn't sound like the steps of Kiera - too uneven. He reached towards his right hip, fumbling to get to his hatchet. As he was about to pull himself out of the car and turn around, he was hit from behind and sent into the car. He reached his right hand down to the floor to brace himself, and found his hand pressed into a hard metal and plastic object that felt like a set of keys.

Wrapping his fingers around the object, he pushed himself up from his spot and turned towards Kiera, who was on her knees. His entire front was covered in blood that had been on the seat.

Well, that's one way to clean it up, he thought.

He took in the scene, and held out a hand, in an offering to help her up, "Nice work. Thanks for that." Now, he really was glad that he had decided to bring her along and not go on his own.

In his other hand, he held the keys to the car, "I found the keys," he chuckled, "I'll drive."

At the sound of Ben's voice, Kiera returned her attention to the present. She looked up at him and gladly took his outstretched hand.

"Sure, anytime." She said, her voice shaking slightly. "And here I was hoping I would get to see your hot-wiring skills." She added with a smile. Stepping up to the corpse she pulled her weapon free, wiping the gore from it, she did a quick check of the walker's pockets. A small pocket-knife and wallet being the only contents, she placed both in her coat pocket. Someone should know who the man used to be.

"Yeah. I have no hot-wiring skills. They don't teach you that at community college."

Kiera gave a small smile, "Luckily it wasn't necessary." With a shaky stride, she walked around and sat in the passenger seat.

Before going to the driver's seat, Ben opened up the door behind it and put his backpack in the seat there. He leaned to his left slightly and he got an idea.

Ben moved to the back of the car and stuck the key in the lock of the trunk and opened it up, hoping to find something.

Sure enough, there were bags back there. First, he opened a suitcase. Clothes. All he could tell from it is that there were clothes in that one. Which made sense. It was a suitcase.

The other bag, however, was a regular backpack. He picked it up and shook it around a little bit, and then pulled open the main pocket to find a can of beans, some batteries, and a roll of duct tape.

And, finally, next to the bags, Ben saw a few small cylindrical objects. Picking one up to inspect it, he found that they were flares.

"Not bad," he said to himself, "Could be a lot worse."

He shrugged and put the flare back into the trunk before closing it and making his way back to the driver's side. Without much regard to the blood that was left (he had plenty of it on him already, anyway), he sat down, closed the door, and started the car.

"Found some stuff in the trunk," he announced, fiddling with everything on the dashboard, trying to find out where everything was. Windshield wipers. Lights, which as soon as he turned on, he promptly flicked off. There wasn't much need for them. The danger of attracting attention was much more worrying than the danger of running into another car or run off the road.

"Anything useful?" She asked curiously.

"Clothes, food, batteries, duct tape," he replied, shrugging, "Flares, too."

"Useful stuff indeed. Especially the flares."

Ben brought the car out of park and started off down the road.

"This is the first time I've driven on this side of the car."

"That's not very comforting." Kiera teased. "At least you can drive on the right side of the road if you want, no cops around to stop you."

As they pulled out onto the road, Kiera unbuckled her seatbelt and turned around to examine the rear seats. Nothing but trash and old newspapers unfortunately. Worth a try, she thought before turning back around.

"And how much driving have you done on the wrong side, exactly?" he retorted quickly, in a likewise manner.

Kiera gave a mock scoff of indignation. "About none, though I planned to try before, before the...I guess now is my opportunity to do it. I would like to try my hand with it on the way back if you don't mind." Saying the last part in a sugary tone.

"Sure. I'd better not regret it, though," Ben joked, though eyeing her with a serious expression.

One dramatic eye roll later, "Please, I've only totaled a car twice, but I don't intent to make this one my third." Kiera left the statement hanging, leaving it up to Ben to figure out if she was joking.

"Twice? Jesus. You know how many I've totaled? Zero." He shook his head, but he also hadn't told her that he hadn't driven much at all in the past couple of years, having choseen to bike or ride the bus to college.

"I am going to regret this," he muttered to himself.

Kiera laughed, "That's too bad, it's an experience that shouldn't be missed." She stared out the window and watched as the scenery raced by, the usual drowsiness she always experienced during car rides, was beginning to take hold. Covering a wide yawn, she turned to Ben, "Mind if I take a quick nap?"

"Be my guest. Don't want you falling asleep in the middle of a horde," he said, smiling faintly. "We should be there in forty-five minutes to an hour." If this had been just a regular day in the old world, that thirty miles would have been over in thirty minutes, but he was driving slower now; he didn't want to take any chances.

"Thanks." Kiera said, gratefully leaning against the window, her mind already drifting to relaxation.

Part Three: Hoppy

Hoppy was frustrated. Sure, breathing was harder now. And she ran out of energy as soon as it appeared. But, c'mon, she's injured, it's just her shit healing up. No biggie, right? She sat on her bed, staring at her numb leg with furrowed brows, and a scowl on her face. The problem was that leg. It wouldn't really move right. Some sorta nerve damage or something, probably, but that'd be fine. It had to be. A speedy scav without full use of her leg? Not really a good thing. And moreover, she didn't want to be the useless one anymore. She'd had enough of that. The sooner she could actually do something, anything, the better it'd be, and the sooner she could relax.

First she had to stand up. Baby steps, baby steps.

So she tried. And once again, utterly failed to raise herself up any significant height before plopping back down onto the bed with a tired wheeze. Damnit. At least she had enough sense not to actually walk or whatnot. Because she'd probably end up dead, and dead was always worse than anything else. And, as if on cue, Doctor Short burst into the room, with a cross face.

"I thought you agreed not to keep trying to get up." She said admonishingly. "Rest up, that's all you can do."

For some reason, it seemed as if everyone around her was giving her pitying looks. Even Shinji - and he couldn't even speak english. She tried to ignore it- pity was definitely not her thing, after all. Who could possibly like being looked down upon. Hoppy pouted up at the Doctor, feeling a bout of dizziness wash over her, making her lie back down onto her back, snuggling herself into the sheets.

"I'm ju's... so bored." Hoppy whined. "The others are all out an' I'm jus' layin' 'round 'ere like some twyp. Nothin'g to do, Doc..."

There it was again. Another pitying look. Hoppy shuffled in her bed, feeling the urge to sleep come over her. She ignored it as best as she could, ignoring the pain and the trembling and the slight blue tinge of her skin that just refused to go away.

Part Four: Into Kendal

Dawn

It went quiet then, and it stayed that way for close to a half hour. Ben allowed himself to slip into his own thoughts as the car pushed on further along the road southeast to Kendal. The world around them seemed so much more threatening in the dark. Hidden dangers became even more hidden, and the cold was even colder. Thankfully, dawn was nearing and they were already well on their way to the hospital. He was confident that they could get in and get back to Haven with time to spare.

Briefly, he glanced over to Kiera, whose breathing had slowed and steadied. When he looked back up, he saw a figure wandering into the road. With a start, he came back to reality and jerked the wheel to the left, trying to avoid hitting the thing, but there was a heavy thump as he clipped it with the right side of the car.

He stole a glance backwards, but he wasn't about to stop to see if it had survived. Instead, he looked ahead again, focusing his attention on the road once more.

There was neither solace nor peace for Kiera in the dream world, the same dark scenario, set on loop kept her trapped in terror. She called out for help or rescue, the sneering faces of her tormenters closing in on her, making it hard for her to breathe or think. Suddenly everything in her dream tilted alarmingly, causing her to wake and realize that the car's sharp movement was what caused the shift in her dream.

Now fully awake, Kiera looked around in confusion. She couldn't see an obstacle outside of the window that would have caused such a drastic action.

Turning to Ben she asked, "What was that?"

"One of those things wandered into the road."

"Oh, so you just committed a hit-and-run for the first time then?" Kiera teased, trying to lighten the situation that had jolted her awake. Hopefully he had been too busy with driving that he hadn't noticed her fitful sleep.

Without a word, he scoffed lightly and looked over to her and shook his head. "We're getting close," he said, deciding to change the subject.

"Thank goodness for that, I was just starting to like being in a car again." She replied, executing a luxurious full-body stretch. "Well I should probably take a look at the list from Dr. Short before we arrive and now that there is enough light to actually read."

"Right." He lifted his hips up off the seat lightly and reached into his pocket with his right hand and offered it over to Kiera once he had it in hand.

Taking the slip of paper, Kiera pulled the Rishi's small book out of her pack and began meticulously copying the entire list to a blank page in the book. A few of the medications she recognized, but others were completely foreign and finding the equipment would be another challenge.

Handing the list back she said, "Now we both have a copy, just in case something happens to the original." Turning her attention to the slim volume in her hands. "Have you read Rishi's book yet? He lists some rather interesting observations about the walking dead."

"No. I haven't really looked at it." He offered no reason as to why, but he hadn't wanted to tell her that he hadn't read it simply as a matter of pride. With Tilo, he had done a lot of talking about how Rishi was wasting his time, and he didn't like to admit when he was wrong. As far as he was concerned, Rishi was still a little crazy. Whether or not he was actually looking for a cure, Ben still thought that way.

"That's okay, though it might be worth reading if you're bored at Haven some afternoon." Kiera left the topic at that, knowing her nerd side had been the reason that she had picked it up in the first place. The subject was unpleasant for many people, but she felt it was better to know what was ahead before encountering it yourself.

Ben smirked to himself, keeping his eyes on the road. He didn't get bored often at Haven. Not anymore, especially with Laney around. She definitely kept things interesting.

"I'll take that into consideration," he said with a nod.

Taking advantage of the lull in conversation, Kiera took the opportunity to learn more about her scav partner.

"You know it's nice to hear a fellow American accent, not that I've grown tired of hearing the unique accents of our fellow scavs, quite the opposite actually. I have been feeling left out, an ugly duckling of sorts. Have you felt the same way?"

"Never thought I'd hear another one again, myself," he said of American accents, "For a while. Not so much anymore. The problem I'm having now is trying to get people to take me seriously. I get back after this," he held up his left hand, missing its pinky, indicating the incident that caused it, "And I get chewed out for overreacting because of a joke, but I'd actually just stopped Hoppy from gutting that Caravanner. Then, I find out that the leader of that gang of five is with the Rands, and I get laughed off when I tell Callie we have to end the threat."

Kiera was surprised by how much Ben divulged to his passenger, she couldn't tell which statement required a response and which needed to simply be heard and acknowledged. Placing a firm hand on his left shoulder Kiera spoke, "Well, I take you seriously and the others can get stuffed with their own words. You have proven your loyalty and dedication to Haven over and over. No one can deny that fact and I'm sure that if push came to shove, we would all be standing there beside you. That's what family does after all."

"Thanks," Ben answered lightly, "Maybe this whole thing will help," he said, shrugging, "Not that that's why I'm doing this. Saving Hoppy's life is more important than going to the Rands'."

"You're welcome. Don't worry about Hoppy, she is a tough gal and we'll be back before you know it." Kiera would learn that she spoke too soon, up ahead there was a blockade across the road that prohibited further car travel.

Ben pulled the car up behind another stopped car, and stopped the engine, but he didn't get out right away. Instead, he peered ahead at what looked like a large sign. The car in front of them wasn't the only stopped car. Several cars were stopped in both directions and they all appeared to be empty.

"I guess this is where we get out," he said, getting out of his own side before retrieving his backpack from the back seat. "We're on foot from here to the hospital."

Then, he went to the back of the car where he opened up the trunk of the vehicle once more. He emptied the contents of the backpack into his own pack and took the flares, offering two of the four to Kiera, "Never know when you'll need these, right?"

Kiera reluctantly stepped out of the car, they would have to walk from here on out it would seem. "Right." She said, slipping one flare into her jean pocket and the other in her backpack. "Make sure to lock the car before we leave, you know this is a dangerous neighborhood after all." She reminded him, only partly joking.

Ben had gone forward a little ways to get a better look at the red and white sign next to what looked like a makeshift military barricade. With Kiera quickly following close behind him.

Identification required. Please have it ready when you come to the gate. Military presence is minimal within the town of Kendal.

There was more, mostly about how to conduct yourself in the city. Avoid contact with people who are acting strangely. Don't let anyone bite you. How it's better to be safe than sorry. Typical stuff.

"Great," Ben muttered to himself. Things weren't looking up for them. By the sounds of it, Kendal was overrun, or close to it. He didn't like it, but they couldn't turn back now. There was too much riding on their success.

"Apparently," he replied, turning back towards the car to make sure that it had been locked before making his way to the gates of Kendal again.

Kiera heaved a sigh, also having read the ominous sign she was not looking forward to what might be ahead of them. "I guess we better start walking." She said in an exasperated tone.

"Nothing else to do," Ben said, shrugging, and heading north into town. Several miles northwest of Kendal, he had come across a split in the road, and had taken the road to the right. He had to drive a little further, as that road took them southwest of town, but it would end up saving them time on their way to Westmorland.

The town of Kendal was bisected by a river, running north and south. Right now, they were on the west side of the river. Westmorland, on the other hand, was east of the river, which meant they needed to find a place to cross somewhere in town.

If there hadn't been trees right along the west bank of the river, almost all the way through town, they could have seen the hospital from where they were.

It was peaceful here, but there was a line between peaceful and eerily quiet, and Kendal definitely flirted with that line. A town of this size (granted, it was no where near the population of Seattle) should not have been this quiet, though. So, maybe it didn't quite flirt with the line. It was eerily quiet. No vehicle engines, no chattering of people. All they could hear was the chirping of birds. This was still the time of day, early enough after dawn that birds were loudest.

He knew what these quiet and peaceful towns could hold, if Cromwell was any indication. And Kendal was quite a bit larger in size and population than Cromwell.

"Keep an eye out," he whispered to Kiera, "There are lots of places for those things to be lurking."

"I will." She replied in an equally quiet voice. The silence was beginning to wear on her nerves, she tried to dismiss her fears merely as paranoia, but a nagging feeling of dread caused sweat to break out across her forehead. Kiera was thankful that Ben was leading them, he didn't seem entirely at ease but he seemed to be far less fearful than his scav partner.

Ben's heart was pounding so loud that he was sure Kiera could hear it. If Cromwell had so much hidden in it, imagine what Kendal was hiding. By the looks of it, this town was supposed to have a population considerably larger than Cromwell's. The hordes there were bad enough to chase the scavs off, then the ones here...

Ben didn't really want to think about it.

For the first quarter mile or so, the only buildings were houses on their right. On their left was a large open field. It only took a look in that direction to see that there was little threat from that direction.

The rest of the way, they would not be so lucky. For the rest of the way, they would have buildings on both sides of them, and any one of them could be hiding a horde twice the size of the one in Cromwell, or even larger.

One step at a time.

He was afraid, but he had to try and keep himself from showing it, as much as possible.

The next half mile, they stepped carefully, looking all around them for any sign of the undead - for any reason to start running. Every little sound caused his heartbeat to speed up. The tension was killing him. He almost wished they would just hurry up and show themselves.

Part Five: The Longest Mile

Mid-Morning

At the end of the half mile straight stretch, they had to make a right turn. Before making the turn, Ben stopped and looked around, holding a hand up.

"I heard something."

"Ben?" Kiera didn't want to alarm him, but she had just spotted a large group of walkers through the trees, rapidly approaching on the pair's left. The runners were already out in front of the pack, at least a dozen of them raced towards Ben and Kiera.

He hadn't been imagining things. In front of them, out of the trees, a few of the undead things came out. And then a few more. Then a lot more.

"I see them," he said, stepping back. But, then he turned his head to look where Kiera was facing. More of them.

"Shit," Ben muttered and looked back, before putting a hand on Kiera's shoulder, and urging her in the direction they needed to go; east across the bridge.

"Run. Now!"

There was no way they were going to be able to stand up to this many of them. There had to be at least fifty now, and more were coming.

Arms swinging in rhythm to the frantic pounding of her feet, Kiera glanced back to make sure Ben was following as she dashed madly to the bridge. This was not good at all. The horde marching steadily after them, while the fast ones sought to reach them first. It was a terrifying possibility, the pair couldn't afford to slow even a bit, or they would be caught. Judging distance was not one of Kiera's talents, the bridge seemed impossibly far now that they were being pursued by hungry corpses.

Chest heaving Kiera finally set foot on the bridge, a small miracle lay before them. Multiple abandoned cars created a maze like obstacle course ahead of them. Kiera smiled despite her current predicament, the uncoordinated walkers would be slowed by the vehicles, giving the pair a greater lead on the pursuing pack. Dodging doors and debris, Ben and Kiera crossed the bridge without incident. Glancing back, she was pleased to see the majority of the walkers being slowed by the labyrinth only a few fast ones managing to keep up.

The quarter mile they had just run hadn't been a picnic. But, they couldn't really afford to slow down much now. They still had another mile to Westmorland. Surely, the longest mile of their lives yet.

Several more cars littered the road ahead of the scavs, forcing them to weave in and around the hunks of useless metal. Thankfully just a scant handful of the slow type opposed their journey down Burton Road, cul-de-sacs stood empty and abandoned, broken windows and overgrown lawns showed just how many people had been lost in the few short months since the outbreak. Ben and Kiera pressed steadily forward, Ben had retaken the lead with his long legs while Kiera struggled to keep up with his pace. To make matters worse, her arches had started to burn and her duct taped shoe began to separate once more. Kiera could only hope it wouldn't trip her before reaching the hospital.

Ben only had two things on his mind right now; breathing and moving his legs. He could barely feel his legs and his lungs were struggling to take in air, but he couldn't stop. They were behind them, and there were far too many.

Breathe. Move. Breathe and move.

Another glance back showed a greatly reduced number of pursuing walkers, only six runners could be seen following the fleeing pair. Still not great odds, but it was better than the fifty-plus they had started with. Why are there so many freaking roundabouts? Kiera thought angrily, swerving to avoid what must have been the third or fourth circular mound of cement and grass that they had encountered since entering Kendal.

In the run to the hospital, Ben had made sure not to get too far ahead of Kiera, and every couple of seconds, he had looked over his shoulders, both to make sure she was keeping up and that the runners weren't getting too close. The thing about runners is that they don't get tired. They can run forever. Anybody with functioning lungs, such as the two hapless Americans running for their lives, couldn't.

It was about 100 yards from the hospital where Ben turned around fully and stopped for a half-second; long enough to point towards the hospital. He would have said something, but he didn't have the breath for it.

That half-second was long enough to realize that stopping was a mistake. His legs and his chest were on fire, but somehow, he managed to get his legs going again and his lungs to take in and push out air again.

As he got going again, the nearest runner lunged at him, only to miss and fall flat on its face comically. Though, Ben hadn't seen, he only heard a thump of a body landing on the pavement, and didn't bother to look back.

They crossed the parking lot in front of the hospital, both scavs panting heavily as they neared the homestretch. Eyes bulging in exhaustion, they had seconds to choose the right entrance. The main entrance looked fortified and likely to be locked, Kiera spotted a small side entrance with a small awning covering it. That became Kiera's only focus, reaching the door before the fast ones caught up.

"This way." She called hoarsely to Ben as she veered towards the entrance. Barely slowing down, Kiera rammed her full weight into the door half expecting it to be locked. The door gave in easily to the body slam, the unused force propelling Kiera to land face down on the linoleum floor, leaving the task of securing the door up to Ben.

Ben was through the door shortly afterwards. He skidded to a stop just before tripping over Kiera and looked around quickly. Only feet away from where he stood was a gurney. Careful not to roll it over the other American, he pushed it against the door and pulled it down so it was on its side. Then, he found some chairs by a nearby reception area and piled them against the door. He wasn't exactly confident that this would hold. What he really needed was some kind of metal piping that he could put between the door handles, but anything he could think of, he might need; a flashlight or a weapon. This would have to work for now.

Once the door had been barricaded, he turned his attention to Kiera, putting his hands on his hips, and trying to catch his breath.

"Are you alright?" he asked with some concern, offering a hand to her for the second time today.

Part Six: Getting Worse

Hoppy had fallen unconscious pretty abruptly, and hadn't really stirred or awaken in the three hours that Short had been watching her. Doctor Short sighed; there really wasn't much of a chance for the girl to survive this. Even with Ben and Kiera heading out to get the medical supplies, she wasn't very hopeful of the Welsh girl's chances. The only sign she was still even alive was her rapid, fitful breath, and the quick rise and fall of her chest. Chances are, she'd die within the next twelve hours or so, if the medical equipment didn't come in time. And even if it did, she wasn't exactly sure if she'd be able to guarantee her survival.

It really was a shame, wasn't it? The girl was already a rather important part of Haven - her brimming energy often raising morale for everyone. Short was prepared to do what she could, with what supplies she had. She was about to start doing diagnostics of her symptoms again when - A knock at the door, and the Japanese man sauntered in as he usually did, and sat down on the chair, gazing worriedly at Hoppy's form, almost the picturesque definition of guilt.

"Hoppy daijoubu?" He asked, and Short more or less blinked in confusion. What was he asking? What was he trying to say? The man looked a little more weary as he tried again. "How... Hoppy? Alive?"

Short nodded grimly, and the man sighed with abject relief. He gazed up at Short, almost as if asking for permission, and the doctor moved aside for him to approach. He stood, looking into Hoppy's pained expression, and started rattling off a speech in Japanese - presumably trying his best to connect with her, to help her heal. Short felt bad - but she couldn't understand a single word. After the speech was done, Shinji, with a bit more of a peaceable face, sat back down and waited. That was all they could really do, after all.

So they waited.

Part Seven: Westmorland Hospital

Kiera struggled to rise, but her legs stubbornly refused to cooperate, each heaving breath doing little to relieve her shaking muscles. The desire to flee remained strong in Kiera's blood, despite her limbs' inability to do so. Looking down at her shaking hands, she slowly brought them up to her face and pressed them against her pale cheeks in a feeble attempt to convince herself that everything was fine. When it really wasn't. The hallway ahead of them was long and filled with shadows, crumpled documents and sheets of paper littered the smooth floor, the walls painted a neutral cream gave an almost normal feel to the place. Their current location seemed to have escaped the bloody carnage that the battle between the living and undead had no doubt caused in the rest of the hospital. A small shelter of calm in a stormy world.

Sharp thunks and low growls could clearly be heard from the other side of the door. Silence would be the best course of action to dissuade the runners from continuing their assault on the blocked entrance. Thanks to Ben's quick thinking, the gurney and stack of chairs prevented the walkers from pursuing them into the building. Neither scav had planned on sprinting the final mile while being chased by the undead. High on adrenaline and heart's racing madly, they were both very grateful to be alive.

In another gesture of chivalry, Ben turned his attention to Kiera, who was still kneeling with her hands against her cheeks. Rivulets of salty drops trailed down her sweaty cheeks. How very close they had come to dying was starting to sink in. Kiera inhaled sharply, trying to hold back the rush of emotions that threatened to swallow her entirely. Then Ben was there, offering his hand, giving her hope and comfort. Like a person sinking in quicksand, Kiera grabbed the offered branch from the tall and sturdy American.

Grabbing his wrist, then his elbow, and finally his shoulder, she forced her legs to stretch out and begin to hold her upright once again. Barely six inches apart, Kiera noticed the amazing depth to his aqua blue eyes, the shadows creating an air of mystery to his chiseled features. The pounding of her heart and wheezing of breath left her feeling giddy.

Pressing down on his shoulders, she evened the height gap between them. She found herself nearly mesmerized by his eyes. His rate of breathing was nearly as frenzied as Kiera's, a final moment passed before she broke eye contact. Closing her eyes, she leaned in.

As her lips softly touched his, tiny currents of electricity radiated across Kiera's body, she suddenly felt warm, joyful, and safe. She thought about pulling away but found herself unable to, choosing to deepen the contact instead; till she lost all sense of the world around her. .

Ben blinked, caught completely off-guard by her reaction and her boldness. It took him a moment to realize exactly what had happened, but before he could really react, a sound down the hall behind Kiera caught his attention. He pulled his head back, and stepped to her side and walked down the hall.

About halfway down, a figure stumbled and tripped out of one of the doors, landing on its stomach. Thinking it a walker, Ben unsheathed his hatchet. It rolled over, just as Ben was raising his weapon to strike it down.

Then he realized...

Fear was plastered all over the figure's face and he seemed paralyzed, only able to brace himself for Ben's attack.

"Jesus, man," Ben said, lowering his weapon, "Say something next time. I was about to kill you."

Ben sheathed the weapon as the other man stood up, "Sorry. For what it's worth, I'm glad you didn't."

"Yeah, me too," Ben replied with a nod. He took in the appearance of the man. A few inches shorter than himself with dark skin and dark eyes. He looked to be somewhere in his early thirties, but that's not what interested Ben most.

The man wore a green uniform and a hat of a similar color to his uniform covered his head, and it had the medical symbol emblazoned upon it - the blue star with the snake wrapped around the sword within.

It didn't take long for Ben to figure out what that all meant.

"You're a paramedic," the American man blurted out, a small sense of relief washing over him, "We could use your help."

"Well, seeing as you didn't kill me just then, I think I might have to owe you one," the paramedic responded with a half-hearted smile. Then, he stuck his hand out to Ben in a friendly gesture, "I'm Jay, by the way."

For a long moment, Ben just looked down at the man's hand, as if it were a foreign gesture to greet someone new that way. But, finally, he relented and shook Jay's hand, a carefully neutral expression on his face. He didn't want to seem too happy to see the guy, as useful as a paramedic would be.

"Jay, huh?"

"Yeah. Short for Jason, but everyone just calls me Jay."

"Well, I'm Ben, and that's Kiera," the younger man said, thumbing over his shoulder in her general direction, before turning and heading back in her direction with Jay following behind.

The sudden lack of Ben's presence had caused Kiera to return her attention to the current situation. She looked around and spotted him creeping down the hallway. With a perplexed look, she recovered her weapon from the ground where it had fallen and waited for Ben to finish investigating. A man emerged from one of the hospital rooms, from what she could see, he looked to be dressed as a paramedic. She watched as the two men talked, only a few snippets reached her ears, otherwise they could have been talking about the weather for all she knew. While Kiera waited patiently for them to finish, she took a moment to inspect her gear and make sure nothing had been lost on the mad dash to the hospital. Finding everything intact she saw the two men heading back towards her.

After a moment of silence, Ben spoke up again, "I don't want to be rude, but we're a little pressed for time. One of our friends has been shot, and we don't have the proper medical supplies to treat her. Neither of us are all that knowledgeable in the medical field, so we could use some help finding what we're looking for."

"Oh! Of course," Jay responded, looking between the two Americans, "Do you have a list or something?"

Ben nodded and reached into his pocket, pulling out the piece of paper that he had taken the day before and offered it to Jay.

It went silent again as he read over the list.

"Well, not all of that medication is here, unfortunately, but you should be able to get by with what we do have here. You'll find most of it that way," he said, pointing towards the southeast part of the hospital, "The other stuff, we've got, but it's in that direction," and he pointed a different way, to the northwest part of the building.

"Go figure. We'll have to split up. Jay, you know what those chest tubes and things all look like?"

Jay nodded.

"You go with Kiera and get those. I'll go find the medication. Meet back here in..." Ben paused, shrugging, "An hour?"

Kiera was extremely relieved to discover that the paramedic recognized all of the items, this development would save them lots of time that they would have spent searching for everything on their own. Still reeling from residual endorphins, she didn't protest when she was paired up with the paramedic to get the equipment.

"Sounds good, see you in a hour." Kiera smiled, a faraway look in her eyes.

The banging on the door they'd come through intensified and Ben wheeled around, startled by the rise in volume. "We'd better not waste time," he said sternly, staring at the door.

"Right," came Jay's reply.

When Ben turned around, he saw a metal object hanging from the paramedic's belt. It looked a flashlight.

"Wait!" Ben called out, stopping the other two, "Hold up. Can I borrow your flashlight?" he asked Jay.

"Fl--?" Jay looked confused for a second, but then he realized what he meant, and pulled it off of his belt before offering it to Ben. He took it and darted back to the door and jammed the object between the door handles, offering a little more fortification against what was outside.

"You'll get it back when we leave," Ben assured him, "Kiera's got one if either of you need to use it."

“Good thinking.” She told him, sparing a quick wave goodbye before hurrying in the direction that Jay had pointed.

Part Eight: Down the Hall

Light filtered into the hallways as Ben progressed to the southeast portion of the hospital. Some doors were closed, giving the area a strange staggered lighting effect, but there was enough light that he didn't need his own flashlight. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Strangely enough, the area they had entered seemed fairly untouched by the world, but as he moved further into the southeast part of Westmorland, he saw it get more and more dire. Dried blood and gore stained the walls. There were bullet holes all over. It seemed that this area had been an area of incursion for the military, or maybe the police. Several of the doors that were closed, Ben noted, held a groaning individual behind them. He was thankful that all they knew how to do with doors was to bang on them, otherwise, well...

It would have been bad.

Part Nine: Jay and Kiera

Twenty feet down the hall, Kiera realized she had just agreed to accompany a complete stranger, who could very well be just as dangerous as the carnivorous dead she had faced outside. Who was to say he was even an actual paramedic, he could have very easily taken the uniform from the original owner. With that thought in mind, she glanced over at him. He looked normal enough, but that wasn't proof of his sanity. Kiera decided to strike up a conversation, maybe she could learn who he really was with that tactic.

Speaking quietly, Kiera complimented him. "Looks like you did a good job clearing the walkers out of here."

"It certainly took a while, let me tell you. The place was infested at first." Jay replied, a note of pride in his voice. "So, you're both Americans, did you get stranded here while on holiday?"

"Something like that. We met after the outbreak occurred." She kept her guard up, ready to fend off any specific questions about where Haven might be located.

"How did your friend get shot? Did you leave them alone? How many are in your group? Concern for an abstract patient's welfare caused the man to wrinkle his brow in thought.

Kiera felt her muscles tense, "She was out looking for food when she was attacked by a bandit. Our group has a doctor in it, that's who wrote up the list." Eyes narrowing slightly, she skirted around his last question. "Enough to keep us safe and guard the wall."

The rooms they passed stood with doors opened, Kiera was sorely tempted to enter each one and check for useful things, but she kept reminding herself about Hoppy. Without saying a word to Kiera, Jay entered one of the rooms and returned carrying a bright red fire axe that he calmly rested over his left shoulder.

I knew it! He's an axe murderer! Kiera barely kept herself from squeaking in surprise.

Noticing her overt expression Jay tried to explain. "I rarely need to use this thing, but occasionally a biter gets in somehow and this has been very useful in those situations. I figure better safe than sorry, especially with such, lovely company with me."

Creepy. She tried to ignore his awkward attempt at flattery and resume the earlier conversation.

"Have you been alone here since it started?" Kiera asked, curious to see if there were other people sheltering in the hospital that he had failed to mention. More paranoid thoughts crowded into her mind, making her feel fidgety and anxious to be reunited with Ben.

Jay paused before responding, flashes of emotions darting across his features. "There were eight of us that survived the initial wave of infected, we made small runs to the cafeteria, till one day Lori got bitten. She kept it hidden and we only discovered it after she turned and had eaten both her children while they slept. One by one everyone left or died, till it was just Doc and me. And now it's just me."

The part about the children, Kiera could have done without hearing. "I'm very sorry to hear that." She had no words of comfort for a situation like this, everyone had their own horror stories, you either lived with them or let them destroy you.

"Where did you live before all this?" She asked, trying to take his mind off the dark past.

"I'm a Kendal native, born and raised." Jay replied, thumping his chest with his fist. "I know every inch of the city like the back of my hand."

"That's handy." Kiera said, realizing his knowledge would be invaluable if they ever decided to return to the city.

"And we are here." Jay finally announced by pointing to a glorified storage closet.

Taking a quick peek inside, Kiera was disappointed to only find medical supplies, which was good news for Hoppy, but not what the American was looking for. Still she scoured each shelf for it, Jay watching her curiously. With a sigh, she gave up. There was no way she could make it to the pharmacy without being thoroughly questioned by Ben and Jay. She tried to think where else they might keep it in a hospital.

Kiera passed the duffel bag and list to Jay, "Would you please find the correct items? I'm going to take a quick look around."

"Sure, I'll see what we have." Jay agreed readily. Placing the bag on the floor he got right to work.

Taking the path in the opposite direction from which they had approached, Kiera entered a wide open room. Eight curtained off beds, four on either side greeted her, though the cabinets lining the wall caught her attention right away. Leaving none of them closed, Kiera checked each one in turn, but was sorely disappointed when they only contained cotton balls and tongue depressors. Next on her list of places to search was the first bed, pulling back the curtain she was greeted by a grisly scene. On the bed was the remains of a female jogger, or at least the lower half of her was still there. From past experience, Kiera made a quick check underneath the bed just to be sure it was clear. Thankfully it was only vacant and dusty.

She almost stepped back out into the main room, when her eyes fell to the shoes on the corpse's feet. Purple with lime green stripes and they were Nike too. Kiera felt guilty thinking about stealing from a dead body, but a glance down at her own footwear made her reconsider. In less than two minutes she had swapped shoes with the unfortunate woman, the new pair was a bit tight, but overall a decent fit.

The second and third bed were mercifully vacant of deceased patients, but also lacking in other areas as well. The fourth bed had a rolling table next to it with an assortment of tools, recognizing a scalpel she placed the sharp tool in her backpack, she also grabbed several vacuum sealed needles. The hope that she would find what she was looking for grew less and less. She turned to the other wall and was about to search the other half of the room when she heard a rhythmic thumping coming from a private hospital room.

For several seconds she was torn between investigating the sound or ignoring it and continuing her search. Curiosity won out. Kiera slowly approached the room, clutching her pipe tightly she carefully looked into it. Just as she had expected, a walker was inside the room and it was causing the noise. The decaying thing was facing away from the door and was fixated on a standing wooden closet, over and over it crashed against the wood, gnashing its yellow rotted teeth. While she stood there, the door of the closet opened a fraction of an inch, allowing a small black furry body to squeeze through and make a run for the door. The rodent sized animal raced towards Kiera, as it passed around her shoes, she uttered an involuntary shriek of alarm, dropping her weapon and stomping her feet to discourage the animal from climbing her legs.

In her panic over the furry creature, Kiera had completely forgotten the true danger that resided inside the room. It was also bad luck that it was a runner, by the time she raised her eyes the thing had crossed half the room, arms outstretched to hold her in a bloody embrace, Kiera turned sharply, tripped, regained her footing and raced back towards the spacious area she had just left.

She looked for a weapon of some sort to fend off the approaching monster. A toppled IV stand was what she decided to wield. Holding the pole like a spear, the runner rushed straight onto the end of it without thinking. The force of the attack drove Kiera against a blood splashed wall, driving the pole deeper into the abdomen of the walker. With a wet squish, she had completely impaled the walking corpse and still it walked closer, sliding down the pole to its pinned prey. The rollers of the stand pressed against her chest, Kiera watched in horror as certain death drew closer. Clawed hands reached for her. Milky cataract covered eyes staring hungrily into her own.

Upon entering arm's length the walker caught her right arm in a death grip.

Drawing her arm to its hungry mouth, the walker sank its gnarled teeth into her forearm. The agony was intense. Kiera's scream echoing across the large room and to the halls beyond.

Just when she was accepting her fate of being eaten alive, the jaws suddenly relaxed, a fiery red blade splitting open the head of the walker. Kiera fell to the floor along with the limp body of her attacker, she cradled her injured arm.

Jay stood above her, the axe's blade dripping inky walker blood on the floor as he pulled it free from the biter's skull.

"Let me see your arm." He said quietly, but firmly.

Kiera tentatively raised it up for him to see. Jay gently held it with both hands, calmly taking stock of the injury, he pushed back her thick coat sleeve. His fingers expertly checking to see if her arm was broken.

"You're lucky, the coat saved your bacon. Though you're going to have one helluva bruise after this." Jay told her with a bemused expression.

"I guess." She said grumpily. Kiera's arm felt like it had been caught in a vice. She found that moving her hand was slightly painful, but tolerable. Lucky indeed.

Jay quickly helped Kiera to stand. Once she was upright, he held her hand for several seconds afterwards, half-closed eyes shifting across her entire form. Heat crept up Kiera's throat under the scrutiny of Jay's intense gaze.

Politely extricating her hand, Kiera mumbled a hasty thank you and hurried to retrieve her weapon. The close call had thoroughly banished any thoughts of continuing her search. Jay and Kiera walked back to the supply closet in silence. Jay had nearly filled the duffel bag before being forced to leave in order to rescue her. Along with the requested items, he had also packed additional useful supplies. Which probably made it way heavier than it would have been otherwise. Great.

While they finished packing the duffel and Kiera's pack, she began to wonder if there was another place that contained medications besides the pharmacy. As casually as possible, Kiera turned towards Jay and asked, "So, is there a place where meds are stored besides the pharmacy?"

"Yes, but isn't your friend going to get that stuff?" His eyes narrowed, searching her face for answers as to why she wanted to know that kind of information.

Sensing his suspicion, she shrugged in a casual manner. "I think it's better to be prepared by having plenty rather than too little. Where is it located?"

Jay stopped packing to take a side-long glance at Kiera. "I can understand that. Those cabinets are located in the southwest part of the hospital. Though by what your companion said, time is short and the sooner you get back to your wounded friend, the better."

The smallest trace of rage began to infiltrate Kiera's thoughts, to be so close but unable to reach her goal was infuriating. Her frustration grew as they finished loading the two bags. In a gallant gesture, Jay placed the duffel strap over his own shoulder as they exited the supply closet, saving Kiera the burden of carry the bulging duffel. Turning back the way they had come, Kiera stopped and gestured in a suspiciously southwest direction.

"Where does that hall lead? Can we get back to our meeting place by going that way?"

"It does, but it will take longer to get there if we do. I really think we should go back the same way. That way isn't very safe." Jay replied, his eyes darting back and forth between the two paths.

"Good to know. I still think we should take, may as well see if there is anything useful, right?" Kiera said with a wide smile.

Power walking in the chosen direction, Kiera was pleased to see Jay dutifully following her. Reasoning that taking the longer route would give her time to convince Jay to lead her to the cabinets. The tall man pulled at the strap across his shoulder, his axe held tightly in his free hand, he kept his eyes trained on the woman ahead of him. Unaware of his stare, Kiera tried to scan each room as they passed, but in truth she was only able to view a brief shot of the possible contents in each. All the doors are opened and walker free. Why is Jay saying it's dangerous? Didn't he claim to have cleaned all of them out?

A soft humming broke the eerie silence of the clinical environment. Jay repeated the tune several times.

"Hmmm, hhmm, hmmm, hm. Hmmm hhmm, hmmm, hm. "

Looking back at Jay, Kiera had a weird sense that she had heard it before, but couldn't quite place what is was or where she had heard it.

"What are you singing?" She asked pleasantly. Kiera had slowed her pace a bit so they could walk shoulder to shoulder.

"A silly rhyme that popped into my head. Sorry if it was disturbing you." Jay gave Kiera a wink, "You'll be back with your friend before you know it don't worry about that." He started to pick up the pace on his own.

That was a rather quick topic change.

Just as Kiera was opening her mouth to express her desire to drop by the medical cabinets, she saw a closed patient door. Which was a curious sight alone, but the extensive amount of blood smeared across the door jam and floor outside of it was a shocking contrast to the limited amount of blood she had seen in other parts of the hospital so far. At least a dozen crimson handprints outlined the opening, there also seemed to be a large puddle spreading out from the door. Kiera turned back to Jay, looking for an explanation.

"What's in there?" She choked out. The fact that Jay had the expression of a caught fox wasn't reassuring in the slightest.

His response was instantaneous. "Nothing!" He exclaimed in a blatantly deceitful voice. Jay quickly stepped in front of her to block any further scrutiny of the door. "Let's keep moving."

Kiera felt drawn to the door, trapped by a desire to know what lay beyond, regardless of the consequences.

Side-stepping the paramedic, she grasped the slick door handle, out of the corner of her eye she saw Jay dart towards her.

Part Ten: Medicine

Late Morning

Ben proceeded down the hallways. A few signs here and there had directed him in the direction of the storage room. He figured that would be the best place to start.

As he rounded the final corner to the storage room, he had to stop. In front of him was a group of ten or twelve walkers. They were idle, and didn't seem to notice him yet. He pressed his back against the wall, around the corner from the small horde. They were right in the way. And he couldn't turn back.

Resting his head up against the wall and closing his eyes, he took in a few deep breaths. He was so close now. He just needed to find a way to get past--

The flares!

Jerking his head up, he reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the flares he had kept for himself.

After a little bit of trouble, he ignited it, before rounding the corner and tossing it as far as he could. It landed at the end of the hall, a good ten or fifteen feet from the group of undead. They all raised their heads and turned towards the burning flare. As their idleness wore off, they began to stagger towards the bright light.

As soon as his chance came, he moved from his spot and slipped into the storage room that they had been guarding.

The room was lined with metal racks that served as shelves. Ben didn't really know where to start, so he just turned to his right as soon as he entered the room. He had no idea whether or not the things would be coming back, or if they'd stay where they were at, by the flare, once it had burned out. Every time he came to a new medicine, he had to check the list again to see whether or not it was on the list. Too many -nols and -cins and -cilins.

A groan sounded from behind him and he turned around to see a walker wandering back to in front of the open doorway.

"Shit," he whispered to himself, looking into his backpack at what he'd gotten. He had some of what was on the list, but there was no way he was going to get a chance to check everything in the room and still be able to get out.

When he turned towards the door, he saw a large round bottle of pills in the center rack.

'Prenatal' it read on it.

God damn it. There were just reminders everywhere.

"Fine," he muttered indignantly, taking the bottle and stuffing it into his open backpack. Still open, he threw it on his back and ran out the open door.

The undead immediately turned their attention to the living, breathing, fleshy thing that had crossed their path and became alert. As he exited the room, he barely managed to avoid the arms of the nearest one. They were after him now, and he took off in a dead sprint, not bothering to think about what direction he was headed. He just needed to be anywhere but here.

Then he heard a scream.

Almost involuntarily, his head snapped towards the sound. He took off again in the direction that he'd heard the sound.

No. No. No.

If something had happened to Kiera--

Then he rounded another corner, only to come face-to-face with another group of them.

Not that way.

Now he had two groups after him.

Finally, he managed to find a hallway that looked familiar. The rooms all looked the same, but he recognized a spot of blood and brain matter that decorated the wall.

In another minute, he was standing at the entrance that he and Kiera had come in at, but they weren't there. He wasn't sure how long he'd been, but he wasn't willing to wait much longer, so he called out.

"Jay! Kiera! We have to go!" He had no idea whether or not they were near enough to hear him, and he made sure to look back to the hallway he had come from every few seconds, just to make sure that nothing was coming. Unfortunately, he wasn't so lucky. It was another minute that he saw the first of what was sure to be at least fifteen walkers, so he ran again, into the northwest portion of the hospital, where he figured the other two were going to be.

Around a corner, he stopped for a moment to catch his breath, before taking off again.

He skidded to a stop at an intersection and called out again, fearing the worst.

"Kiera! Jay! Where are you?"

At first, there was no reply, so he bolted to his left and continued down the hall. Every time he came to an intersection, he called out but still, there was no reply.

Where the hell did they go?

Finally, having made his way into the southwest part of the hospital, he called out again, his tone a mix of concern, impatience, and exhaustion.

"Kiera. Jay. God damn it, where the hell are you?"

Kiera's ears were still ringing and she felt nauseous, but at least she had finally gotten what she wanted. Four bottles rattled quietly in each coat pocket. She was itching to leave the whole bad event behind her. Returning to Haven with Ben would be a huge relief to her exhausted psyche. At the sound of Ben's voice, she felt her heart skip a beat, a delighted smile covering her face. Jay had a very different reaction to hearing Ben's voice, an expression of complete surprise flitted across his face, almost as if he had just heard a ghost call his name.

To Ben's relief, another voice sounded.

"We're over here." It was Jay.

Finally. What were they doing all the way down here?

Ben followed the sound of his voice and soon found the pair standing near an open room.

"I heard a scream. What happened?" Ben asked, looking between Jay and Kiera, who seemed to be doing their best to avoid looking at each other, "She didn't get--"

"No. It tried to, but it didn't break the skin. That coat she's wearing saved her," Jay replied.

Ben allowed himself to exhale a little in relief. As long as they could make it back to the car now, he wouldn't have to explain why he was coming back with another dead Havenite, or why he wasn't coming back with one at all. But, he couldn't spend too much time at ease. For all he knew, the horde could be on their way to them. At the very least, they couldn't go back the way they'd come.

Overwhelmed with relief, Kiera bolted forward and wrapped Ben in an affectionate embrace.

Surprised yet again by Kiera's actions, Ben patted her awkwardly on the back with one hand, "Good to see you're alright," he said genuinely.

Ben had wanted to ask what happened to cause them to end up here, but they didn't have the time."We have to go. There could be any number of those things on their way here right now. Where's the closest exit?"

"There's a side door that way," Jay said, nodding in an easterly direction.

"Take us there."

Several minutes later, they stood at the exit at the east part of the complex.

"Look," Jay piped up, "You sound like you've got a good group. If you let me come back with you, I can help with your friend who got shot."

The paramedic looked between Ben and Kiera hopefully.

Ben was silent for a while with his head lowered, considering the options. To be honest, the only reason he could think of to not let him come along was that he might do something dangerous. But, he couldn't condemn him for something that he might never do. Finally, he nodded, allowing the paramedic to join them on their way back.

Kiera wanted to speak up, to shout NO WAY! but she didn't and her silence gained them a third person, a paramedic, and something else.

Part Eleven: On the Brink

This was bad. This was really bad. Hoppy's heart rate had skyrocketed, and the wrappings around her chest were bleeding through again - and she was letting out little whimpers, as if in agonizing pain. Doctor Short turned to her, and did her best to try ad stabilize her - but there wasn't much she could do, was there, with the current equipment? Shinji himself looked in alarm, and knowing that his medical expertise was most likely worthless, he dropped to his knees, as if in prayer to the Shinto Deities, and started muttering random Japanese, 'Kami-sama wa Hoppy tasukete kudasai, onegaishimasu" frantically, as if it could help.

If gods really existed, would any of this have happened? Would they have allowed the dead to walk the earth? If yes, then why would they save the life of one girl? Why would they remotely give a shit; they'd probably be occupied with other, more grand scale things.

It was pointless. Both for Shinji's worthless pleas, and for Short's attempts. Hoppy was quickly deteriorating - pale blue, almost constantly shivering, weak shallow breaths going out as quickly as they went in. She didn't have any more time; no time at all, and for her to survive, the rescue team had to hurry up and get back to Haven. It was crunch time now, if they wanted any chance of saving her. Short, torn between continuing to watch Hoppy, as well as wanting to try and make contact for them to hurry up, finally decided to rush over to Callie at the transmitter; short of breath, puffing.

"Callie." She said in a rushed voice. "Hoppy's not going to make it unless they hurry up. Please -" She panted hard. "Call them . Tell them to get back here. There's no time. There's just no time."

With that, the doctor sprinted back to the med room, and continued to do what she could to delay the girl's death as much as she could, with a deep sinking feeling at the back of her mind that all of this would be for naught. There was only so much she could do, but she couldn't shake the thought that Hoppy was going to die.

Part Twelve: Urgency

Early Afternoon

Thanks to Jay's knowledge of the area, they managed to get out of town a different way and avoid the horde that was surely waiting for them on the return trip through Kendal. The route had been a little longer, going south from the hospital, then west, and then north until they got to their car, but they avoided any contact with the undead.

Ben tossed the keys to Kiera, allowing her to drive on the way back as he'd agreed. He sat in the passenger seat, while Jay took the seat behind him.

The drive on the way back started out quietly with Kiera focusing on the drive, while Jay seemed distant, and Ben's mind was elsewhere. Ben was grateful that nothing had happened to Kiera, and maybe he had Jay to thank for that, but he was also concerned about why they'd ended up where they had. Jay knew the hospital; at least he gave off the impression that he had. Something was up. Maybe he shouldn't have suggested they split up.

He just hoped they weren't too late to save Hoppy, or this would have been all for nothing.

"-ell- is any--dy g---ing th--?" A voice crackled over his walkie-talkie.

Ben picked it up, "Hello? Who is this?"

"--s Callie," came the reply, "Is th-- Ben? What's ---r sta--s?"

"We're on our way back."

"--rry. Hop-- won't -ast much lon--r."

"We're hurrying," Ben said, his heart dropping. Hoppy was right on the brink. They might not make it back in time, but they had to try.

Ben looked over towards Kiera, who had apparently been looking his direction when something in the road caught Ben's attention. Two somethings, actually.

The first thing, clearly a walker, was wandering out towards the middle of the road. But, the second something, lying out in the middle of the road, trying to crawl away...

"Stop!" Ben shouted, and the car screeched to a halt. Ben jumped out of the car and ran up to the undead, brandishing his hatchet. He took one swing and planted the blade into the top of its skull. Then, he turned to the figure lying in the road.

It was a woman, probably a few years older than he was. She looked frightened, and in a considerable amount of pain.

"...help, please..." she cried out weakly to him. Ben took a look at her. Her dark brown hair was matted, and her face looked like she had been crying, but that's not what concerned Ben the most. The woman's left leg was bent in a manner that legs weren't meant to bend. He had to briefly turn away, where his eyes caught tire marks on the pavement, contorted in a manner as if the car had swerved to miss something, not far from where the woman was lying.

Ben shook his head, and Jay came up to him.

"Help me with her," Ben said, motioning towards the car.

"Right," Jay answered with a nod and stepped over to open the door on right side, behind Kiera's seat.

"This might hurt a little," Ben told the woman, as he put his arms underneath the woman's shoulders and lifted, while Jay was on the other side of her, lifting her legs, careful to not move them as much as possible, but, sometimes it just wasn't possible.

The woman screamed out in pain, as they brought her into the car and set her in the back seat, lying down. Jay got in the other side and put her head so it was resting on his right leg. Finally, after closing all the doors, Ben got back into his own seat.

"Go," he said, nudging Kiera. And then the car was off again. Once they had accelerated, Ben looked over to the other American, "Faster. You're American. I know you can."

Kiera shot Ben a look, but nonetheless accelerated well past the posted speed limit.

Ben then looked over his shoulder at Jay and the woman, who had her eyes closed.

"How is she?" Ben asked.

"She'll live."

With a nod, Ben went silent again, looking out the window at the world passing by.

In another twenty minutes, they saw Haven. When they stopped, Ben got out and took the supplies, "You two, take care of her. I'll get these to Short."

Without bothering to wait for a response, Ben had the gate open and was running towards the farmhouse, both bags in hand.

The woman was heavier than Kiera had expected. Being worn out from the long journey and the events that transpired, Jay was forced to shoulder most of the woman's weight on the slow walk to their makeshift hospital room.

He burst in through the door and was by Doctor Short and Hoppy in another few seconds.

"How is she?" Ben asked, catching his breath, and thrusting the bags towards Short.

"Not good. I just hope you didn't get here too late. Where's Kiera?"

"She's coming."

Short then took the bags and took out what she needed - the antibiotics and the other supplies from Kiera's bag, before handing them back to Ben.

Finally back in Haven, with what they needed, Ben walked out of the room slowly and all but collapsed into one of the dining room chairs, waiting to hear good or bad news.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: Kiera Trennan Character Portrait: Dominic Fields Character Portrait: Rishi Sharma Character Portrait: Alison Carter
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#, as written by Bosch
November 10th. 2013

Haven.

Early afternoon


Carter was getting sick of being off her feet the entire time and had taken to pacing the kitchen as a way to keep active. She was standing by the window when a flake of snow impacted on the pane. She looked up and saw the clouds had turned a light grey but she knew better.

“There’s a white out coming.”

“How can you tell?” Callie asked from the table.”

“My office was the sky. Trust me.” Carter answered.

A silence fell between the two for a few moments before Carter spoke again.

“The colonials are back... and they brought a friend.”

Callie’s chair screeched on the tile floor as she pushed it back and raced to meet them. By the time she arrived at Doctor Short’s medical bay the doctor was already working on Hoppy.

Callie went back outside where she met with Ben, Kiera and the new arrival.

“So I take it this guy is trust worthy?”

Ben shrugged so it fell to Kiera to speak0. “He helped us get the things Hoppy needed. He’s an EMT.”

“You’re a Paramedic?”

“Yep. Name’s Jay I...”

“I don’t care right now. We have a wounded girl in there. Go and see if you can help Doctor Short.”

"Yeah before I do though there's a dead woman in the back of the car."

"What?"

"You said she'd live!" Ben stood anger or possibly grief flashing in his eyes.

"Yeah she would have if we got her to a hospital in time. Could have been an internal bleed."

"Alright I think I have a man who can deal with that. For now get in there and help Doctor Short."

Jay nodded and stepped back into the room. Through the door Callie could hear muffled voices which quickly went from annoyed to calm and professional.

“Good find. We need someone like him, I don’t think we’ll be able to dispatch Doc Short if something happens to a Scav in the field so he can fill that role. Anything else to report?”

“Who’s the new kid?” Carter said stepping into the corridor.

“Jay, a paramedic. Ben and Kiera say he’s ok.” Callie said, the fact that neither of the scavs had actually said that slipping her mind.

“Good. Another saw bones is... good.” Carter said nodding as she turned and hobbled back to the Kitchen.

#

After Callie had received a fuller debrief from the pair she returned to the kitchen where Carter was updating the medical supplies list.

“What’s with the new hairdo?” Carter asked Callie.

“What? I haven’t had a chop in weeks.” Callie said as her hands instinctively went to her hair.

“I meant Ben.”

“Oh, I like it.” Callie noted. “Reminds me of Britney.”

“Britney?”

“Spears.”

Carter shook her head. “Your taste in music is terrible. It’s not a bad idea though. Long hair can be grabbed and pulled down. He’s thinking.”

“Yeah I suppose so. You know I’ve been thinking too. It’s been weeks since I’ve been outside Haven...”

“So? You’re not missing anything, it’s not exactly Ibiza out there.”

“Yeah I know, that’s what I mean is I’m worried about being out of shape.”

“Oh my God Callie, we’re not having a ‘does this make me look fat talk’.”

“No I mean before we found Haven and defended it Monroe and I ran everywhere. I mean we had to live on our wits. Now I’m thinking about what I said about Short.”

“What?”

“That now we have Jay he’ll be able to respond if the Scav’s get into serious trouble. Like an ambulance. I was thinking though what happens if we have to run?”

“Well I’d be up shit creek.” Carter said lifting her crutch to demonstrate her point.

“Well we’re not going to leave you are we? I mean the support people at Haven are getting it a little too easy. The Scav’s go out most days so they’re pretty athletic and Mark works out but apart from that everyone is just sitting.”

“Mark lifts weights. Great for manhandling, sure, but not so great for running.” Carter said finally seeing Callie’s point. “You want to run a PE class?”

“I think so. If Zack is going to get me, he’s still going to have to work for it.”

#

Tilo was fully briefed for his trip to Upton Abbey and Sandra was under close watch although no longer bound. Callie was feeling nervous again but instead of fretting and going over the endless maps of the area or searching the airwaves for traffic she pulled on her running shoes.

She spent an hour just going around the perimeter of the Farm. It wasnt a long distance but she did it multiple times. It reminded her of a Louis Theroux Documentary about American prisons and how the inmates just endlessly did laps of the exercise yard while devising new ways to stab each other with toiletries.

It was cold and as promised the snow had begun to fall lightly but it wasn’t lying becuase of the wet ground. The grey clouds had turned a nasty looking black though and Callie hoped Carter was wrong.

Callie had surprised herself and she had been able to run for quite some time. Her problem had always been pacing. She’d go too fast at the start and have nothing left in the tank for later. It was a constant battle to refrain from going too fast. She came to a halt and resolved to do the same thing again the next day.

She jogged back to the farm house and got ready for bed.

#


September 21st 2013

The M6.

North of Liverpool.


Callie wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked slowly while she shivered in the wind. The cold air was cutting under the motorway overpass and the column she was leaning against provided little protection. She was somewhere north of Liverpool on the M6 and was dog tired. She glanced at the street light overhead and remembered the weird orange light they used to emit. Now it did nothing but she could see the stars.

At least she would have been able to if she wasn’t under a motorway underpass.

Her outbreak story was similar to most. She’d fled to her mother’s house and spent a few weeks there but she’d left after the old woman turned. She then travelled to the Anfield Evacuation site when she heard military choppers were on the way. However on her arrival she could see the place was chaos. Thousands of people were straining to get in and it was clear the place was a powder keg. The sight reminded her of the pictures of the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.

Callie was smart enough to turn back, if America couldn’t get it together enough to make that work there was no way the country that elected David Cameron would be able to.

Without a plan or place to stay she decided her best bet was move north, the City was becoming increasingly dangerous and the undead seemed to be everywhere. This was how she found herself on the M6 with nothing to her name.

Then she remembered the weight in her pocket.

She snaked a hand into it and produced a tin Heniz Baked Beans. She flipped the tin and looked for the ring pull. She checked the other end and came up empty. That was Callie’s breaking point.

“Oh fuck it!” She roared.

“Shhh!”

Callie nearly jumped out of her skin when she noticed a man standing at the far end of the underpass. He was dressed warmly and was carrying a large rucksack.

“S-s-s-sorry.” Callie stammered.

“What’s the matter?” The man asked as he slowly approached.

Callie quickly got to her feet and took a step back.

“Look I ain’t gonna hurt you.” The man said as he took another step forward. Callie dropped her hand to her pocket and produced a large kitchen knife.

“Ok. Ok. Be calm.” The man said as he raised his hands. “I just want to give you something.”

“I bet you do creep.”

“Look it’s not like that. You want to stab then stab away.” The man said as he slowly took off his rucksack and opened it. After some rummaging he produced a tin opener. “I see your problem.” He said pointing to the dented tin of Baked Beans that Callie had dropped when she sprung up.

“Oh.” Callie said but she kept the knife pointed at him.

“Look, my name is Jonathan Monroe and I don’t want to hurt you. I haven’t eaten in a while and I was wondering if you’d like to split that?”

Callie glanced wildly from Monroe to the Tin of Beans. “You Scottish?”

“Northern Irish. Your accent is all over the shop.”

“Born in London, but I grew up in Liverpool.” Callie replied.

Monroe nodded. “They give you a name in either of those places?”

“Callie Winters.”

“Ok Callie. I’m going to pick up the beans and then open the beans. Are you ok with that?”

Callie nodded and the man approached the tin like it was liable to explode at any moment. His overly dramatic gestures brought a faint smile to Callie’s face. He fanned his fingers like Indiana Jones might do and quickly snatched the tin off the ground. He then exhaled loudly and mock wiped his brow.

“That was a close one.” He said as he opened the tin. He then returned to his rucksack and produced a white plastic spoon. He sunk the spoon into the cold beans and took a bite.

“Yeah, they’re clean.” He said with his mouth full. He then walked up to Callie and gingerly handed her the tin.

Callie took the tin with her left hand but still hand the knife in her right.

“Gonna have to put something down.” Monroe said with a smile.

Slowly Callie slid the knife back into the pocket and Monroe relaxed slightly. She took a bite of the cold beans.

#

? ? ?

Broadgreen Primary School,

Liverpool.


Callie was back in her classroom now, looking at a room full of people. It wasn’t her class though. Instead of children sitting at the desks there were adults. Slowly she realised who they were. Tilo, Shinji , Hoppy, Monroe, Mark, Laney, Ben, Carter, Kim, Toby, Gary, Rishi, Kiera and Jesus.

“What is going on...” Before she could complete her thought the bell rang and Kim, Toby and Monroe stood and shuffled towards the door. Monroe stopped and picked up the rucksack, or as he had called it his Bergen, he’d been carrying the first time she met him.

“Monroe wait. What’s happening?”

Monroe stopped and looked at Callie like she had two heads. “It’s the bell, I’m going home.”

“Wait but what about the rest?”

“You’re the teacher.”

“But I don’t know what to do.” Callie protested.

“You’ll figure it out, Heinz.” He said with a wink.

He then walked to the door and stepped out of the classroom. Callie was going to run after him but stopped. The rest of the class needed her.

#

Haven

November 11th

Morning.


Callie woke abruptly as if from a nightmare but instead of the usual weighty feeling in the pit of her stomach she felt good. Hopeful, for the first time in a long time, this was a feeling she could grasp.

She swung her legs out of bed and made her way down stairs to Gary’s room. She knocked the door but didn’t get a response. She twisted the knob and stepped in. Much like where she had been sleeping many unconscious bodies were strewn about the place. Despite the recent losses Haven was still a very small place.

She found Gary curled up in a corner and gently shook him awake.

Gary flinched and knocked his head against the back wall.

“Jesus Christ Callie, you scared me half to death.” Gary muttered.

“I need help with something.” Callie whispered.

“What now? It’s...” He looked for an alarm clock that wasn’t there. Gary wasn’t much of a morning person. “It’s really early.”

“It’ll only take a moment.”

“Yeah... just give me a sec, I’ll meet you down there.” He said defensively.

“No you’ll fall back asleep. Come on it’s important.”

“I know Callie, just, just give me a moment.”

“Gary you would sleep thought anything, get up.” Callie said.

“Callie I’d put a tenner on it he’s sporting morning wood.” Mark said from across the room followed by a few muffled laughs from the supposedly sleeping room. “It’s biology.”

“Gross.” Callie said as she stood back up. “Meet me downstairs when you’re... awake.”

Callie then left the room.

“Thanks Mark.” Gary moaned.

“What? It’s a natural thing.” Mark replied.

“Yeah well I don’t have one and now Callie thinks I do.”

“Really?” Mark said with an eyebrow raised.

“Really, I don’t.” Gary replied.

“Stand up then.”

Gary waited a moment. “Fuck you.” He said, beaten.

“That’s what I thought. Think about Grandma or a sad puppy or something.” Mark said as he rolled over in his sleeping bag. “Usually works for me.”

#

Ten minutes later Gary joined Callie in the room Gary was using as a tech lab of sorts.

“Mark was only kidding around earlier, I was just prett...”

Callie raised a silencing hand. “Enough biology. I’ve had my fill of bloke problems for the day and I haven’t had breakfast yet.”

“Uh ok so what’s so important?” Gary said happy the conversation was moving on.

“I want you to get this working.” Callie said as she produced a small black mirror.

“Really? Is that the best use of resources?”

“Yes it is. There’s surviving and then there’s being an asshole.”

Gary nodded. “Sure all it needs is a charge.”

#

Later

Carter was already getting pissed off with the crutches. She’d only ever broken one other bone, her finger during a squash game. As she hobbled down the hallway and into the Kitchen though she could hear something new.

Something Bad New.

Carter stepped into the kitchen and saw a beaming Callie Winters sitting at the kitchen table with a very depressed looking Mark Lawson and a very confused looking Shinji Yamada.

“You must be kidding me.” Carter exclaimed.

“She’s flipped.” Mark said. “I haven’t heard this since the nineties.”

“Is this Aqua?” Carter asked.

“You bet ya!” Callie said happily as her head bopped to the music.

“これは地獄です” Shinji said.

“In English.” Callie said in what Carter assumed was her teacher voice.

“Shite.” Shinji said slowly trying to approximate Mark’s scouse accent. Mark tapped him gently on the shoulder and nodded.

Carter walked up and approached the source of the music. It was a black I phone with a photo of an elderly woman as the desktop. Carter turned the volume down and turned to Callie.

“What is going on?”

Callie frowned like a thespian but quickly explained. “Things have been a little tense around here recently and that’s not healthy. I figured the group could use a morale booster. Then I saw Laney and Tilo singing so I thought music would be a good way to build morale.”

“So you got them Aqua?” Carter said. “That would drive anyone to suicide.”

“Hey that’s my best play list.” Callie said. “Ok it’s not to everyone’s taste but I’ve said to Gary, it’s ok if people want to charge MP3 players and listen to some music. It’s not that big a drain on the Solar panels and he says if the only thing they having running is music a charge should last for ages.”

“So I’m guessing the phone can’t make calls or get internet access?”

Gary, who had just entered the kitchen, answered her question.

“No, while the Net and phones are all controlled by computer programmes those programmes and hardware need engineers to keep them running, not to mention electricity. Callie’s I phone is little more than a cruel and unusual torture device now.” Gary said while shaking his head. “I feel like Oppenheimer.”

“Right. One more question.” Carter said.

“Shoot.” Callie said.

“Does this thing have Candy Crush?”

#

Later

Carter and Callie had decided on a playlist that suited both of them but to an observer it sounded like the playlist of someone in the grip of a dissociative identity disorder episode. It swung from bubblegum pop to dubstep.

Carter adjusted her leg which was propped up on a chair opposite her and took a drink of tea.

“You know it’s funny. This feels like any other office job.” She commented. “I don’t know why you stick to that coffee, you haven’t even touched it.”

“Yeah but I like the smell. It feels like the staff room at school.” Callie said with a shake of her head. “We used to fight over the radio in there as well. Radio 1 vs Classic FM. Well the rest did I was normally too busy getting caught up on marking.”

Carter laughed. “A school teacher. I was thinking about that earlier when you told Shinji to speak English. Guess you’re still teaching in a way.”

“Yeah, it’s a pretty big career change I guess in some ways. Similar in others. You want what best for the kids but want them to be able to cope in the real world. Back then it meant singing ‘Head Shoulders Knees and Toes’ now it means making sure everyone is armed.”

“So that means you view us a kids?”

“No that’s not what I meant... I mean I just feel... responsible. Does that make sense?”

Carter smiled and returned to her notes. “Completely.”

“Excuse me, I wondering if I might have a word.” It was Rishi standing in the corner of the room nervously.

“Go for it.” Callie said casually.

“It’s a delicate matter.” Rishi said shakily.

Callie looked at Carter who shrugged.

“Ok.” Callie said as she left the kitchen and stepped into the hall with Rishi, the man kept walking though and brought Callie to the room he had been using as his lab. He sat on his chair and exhaled loudly. Callie eyed Watson suspiciously.

“This thing had better come up with a cure. God the risk we’re taking Monroe would have had kittens. You still got that shotgun?”

“Yes it’s... Where is it now?” Rishi mumbled

Callie shook her head and lifted a stack of papers covered in insane scribbles from the top of the Harry. “You need this in case that gets lose.”

Rishi didn’t respond.

“Ok Rishi you’re freaking me out now.”

“I reviewed the Tape of Byron’s last outing.”

“Ok and? She got the guns and did your research.”

“Perhaps you should watch the video.”

Rishi played a short video clip of Laneys encounter with Benson and Charles.

“What the hell?” Callie said when the recording had ended.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was going to go to Byron with it directly but...”

“No do not do that. Tell nobody of this we don’t know how Laney will want to play this situation. Let her work it out on her own and come to us if she needs it.”

“Alright. What about her attackers.”

“I know the name Benson, it’s not exactly common.”

“Really? Well I’ve done my part now back to the research.”

"What about the woman Ben, Kiera and Jay brought in?"

"The test are on going but she..."

"She turned." Callie said flatly.

"Yes but that doesn't mean the theory is completely sound."

"Good indicator though."

"Yes but more tests are required."

"So where is she?"

"Dead. For good. I thought two test subjects might be a little dangerous even for me. Now if you don't mind..."

He bundled Callie out of the room and towards the door she stopped just short though.

“I have one question, Rishi.”

“I removed Watson’s vocal cords. I’m attempting to study communication between the undead.”

“How’d you know I was going to ask about that.”

“Of course you were its elementary my dear Winters.” Rishi said with massive smile obviously pleased with his attempt at humour.

#

Callie went directly to the radio and got in contact with Jane Meadows.

“Jane I was wondering about two of your runners. A guy called Benson, he was part of the rescue mission to save one of our runners and another older guy.”
“Charles, have you seen them?”

“Uh no why?” Callie lied.

“Both have gone missing. They left camp just after they rescued your man.”

“Missing?”

“Well maybe that’s a bit far. They left took weapons and supplies too. We guessed they had just left the group.”

“Right well they assaulted one of my people.”

“My God, what?”

“They assaulted one of my people.” Callie repeated.

“Are they alright?”

“Yes I think so but I’m just giving a heads up. Those guys are dangerous.”

“That doesn’t make any sense Benson was always so... I mean he was always one of the first to volunteer. He volunteered to find your man.”

“People change I guess.” Callie said.


#

1430

Haven.


Dominic Fields stumbled towards Haven with Elizabeth and Eric Rand in tow. When a voice called out from the town. Instinctively he pushed himself in front of Elizabeth and her child.

“Who’s that?” A Scouse voice called out.

“Do not fire! We have a child!” Dominic shouted.

“I know retard, I can see you. Who are you?” Was the reply.

“I’m Dominic Fields, from Upton. I’m with Elizabeth Rand. Tilo King sent us.”

“Did he? Well then he would have also mentioned told you we don’t let armed strangers inside our walls. Drop the guns.”

Dominic complied and set his weapons on the ground in front of him. After a few moments a squat but strong looking man was standing in front of him.

“Hands behind your back there chief.” He ordered

Dom got a sinking feeling as his hands were tied behind his back and he was marched into Haven with Elizabeth and Eric in tow.

#

Later.

He was sitting in a kitchen looking at two women who had introduced themselves as Callie Winters and Allison Carter. He could tell Carter was forces from her demeanour, maybe Green Slime or something, but the other woman was different, He couldn’t draw a bead on her.

He’d briefly seen Sandra when Elizabeth and Eric had been reunited with her. Dominic though had been marched straight to the kitchen.

“You say you’re from the Rands?”

“Yes. Tilo king told us to come here, if you want we’ll be on our way...”

“Where is Tilo?” Carter asked.

“He’s back at Upton.” Dominic answered.

“Why isn’t he with you?” Callie asked,

“He got... held up.”

“Held up how?” Callie asked but she could feel the bottom of her stomach in free fall.

“I didn’t have time to check he...”

“Held up how?!” Callie repeated, this time shouting.

“He was shot.”

“What?” Callie screamed. “So you fucking left him?”

“You cunt!” Mark roared as he lifted the butt of his rifle and crashed it into Dom’s face.

“Enough!” Carter screamed and Mark stopped before he could land another blow but he kept the weapon held high. Mark’s eyes shifted to Callie who nodded almost imperceptibly. Mark lowered the Rifle and exhaled loudly like a bull getting ready to charge.

“Take a walk, Mark.” Carter said.

Mark slapped his palm against the wall and roared but he complied.

The passage of events had surprised Dom, Mark looked like a goon but he was a goon who knew his place. It was also apparent while Carter appeared to be in charge the loyalty was to Callie.


“Where was the last place you saw Professor King?” Carter asked. Callie was sitting in her chair quickly going through the map books.

“I don’t know... at Upton Abbey.”

“Be specific. I can have Mark come back in.”

“The library on the ground floor. It’s a mess over there Zombies breeched the walls, the place is crawling. ” Dominic replied. Silence fell as the two women started scribbling on their respective pieces of paper. Dominic thought for an instant about attempting to flee but there was a small Asian guy clutching a shotgun staring directly at him.

“Got it.” Carter said after a few brief seconds and she slid a page to Callie.

Callie lifted the page and her maps then raced out of the kitchen.

“You better pray they find that guy alive or these people will kill you.” Carter said matter-of-factly. The only other person in the room was Shinji so only Dom comprehended her words.

Dominic looked at the floor and remembered the wound he’d seen Tilo with. There was no way, bar a miracle, that King had survived.

#

Callie crashed into the room and bundled a crumpled piece of paper and a map into the hands of the first Scav she saw.

“Tilo’s hurt.”

Job.

King among Men.


Suggested number of Scavs
– 3


Area – Upton Abbey


Objective – Rescue Tilo King.


Information – Tilo King is missing presumed wounded somewhere inside Upton Abbey. He was last seen in the Library on the Ground Floor. Attempts to reach Tilo via radio have proved fruitless. We believe Upton Abbey has been over run. Bring the Paramedic Ray, whoever to provide first aid to Tilo.

A. Carter.

“Hurry.” Callie said as she returned to the Kitchen.

#

Dominic was scared but he could understand where the fury was coming from. Haven had lost one of their people and in a way it heartened him to see them react in this way. It was clear to see they cared for each other, something that had been missing in Upton.

“Were you one of the Hunters?”

“Yes.” Dom replied honestly.

“What happened to Richard Brand?”

“Don’t know. Last I saw of him he was face down outside the Library.”

Callie allowed herself a smile of satisfaction but it occurred to her she had better warn the Scavs of the possibility that Brand was still alive she stood and walked into the hall of the kitchen where the Scavs tasked to get Tilo were prepping.

“There is a possibility Richard Brand is still alive. I’m going to talk to Elizabeth Rand but theres time for you pair to wait. Go and I’ll brief you on the run.”

The Scavs nodded and stepped out into the cold air.

Callie continued to where Sandra and Elizabeth were sitting. The boy was clinging to his mother and clung tighter when Callie entered. She figured in a year or two he would have old enough for her class. Gary was sitting in the corner with a Harry on his lap watching the two women.

“Hello I’m sorry about all this but we’ve had some real problems with the Hunters and Richard Brand over the last few weeks. You understand the need for caution.”

“I was just explaining that to Mrs Rand.” Sandra explained.

“Yes I understand.”

“Good. Now I’ve just sent out a few of our Scavs to rescue Professor King but I need to know what the situation is at Upton Abbey.”

“It’s overrun. Dead everywhere.” Elizabeth said.

“What about Richard Brand?”

“He ate the poison Professor King brought. Last I saw he was bent double in pain.”

“What about Tilo, Professor King?”

Elizabeth looked at the ground. “I am so sorry. Had I known when I sent that...”

“Did you see him die?”

“Excuse me?”

“Did you watch Tilo King die?”

“No, but I mean, his wounds were severe...”

“Are you a doctor?”

“No.”

“So then if you didn’t see him die and you aren’t a doctor you aren’t really in any position to say anything about who’s alive are you?” He voice cracked as she struggled to keep emotion from it.

“Callie.” It was Gary who had spoken. “That’s enough.”

Callie could feel a headache coming on.

“You’re right, sorry.” Callie said. Her rage was misdirected and impotent the only ones who could make a difference were the Scavs.

“I understand. Doctor King, Tilo was, is a good man.” Elizabeth Rand as Callie made her way back to the kitchen.

Once she arrived Carter was still in the middle of her questions. Callie didn’t say a thing but instead walked straight to the radio and contacted the Scavs on the way to Upton.

After she had identified herself she turned and looked at Dom. Both he and Carter had stopped speaking and were looking at Callie.

“Scavs, Richard Brand ate Tilo’s poison but we don’t know if he’s alive or dead. Just a heads up.” Callie said. Her eyes never left Dom’s face and he knew it was a test to see how he’d react. He tried to give nothing away.

“Ok let’s go over this again, Dominic...” Carter began.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Benjamin Kinney Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: Kiera Trennan
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(Collaboration with Messiah and Faith Fanon)

A King Among Men

November 11th, 2013

Part 1: Four's also a crowd

Ben happened to be the first Scav that Callie had seen. Oddly enough, he had just been passing through on his way to see Laney. Callie ushered him over and stuffed a crumpled piece of paper and a map into his hands.

"Tilo's hurt."

Surprised, to say the least, Ben took what she offered to him and looked down at both. The words that he'd wanted to say became stuck in his throat when she spoke. The map was, well, it was a map, and the other piece of paper gave a little bit of detail ont he situation. Most notably, the words 'missing', 'overrun', and 'fruitless' caught his attention.

"Take the medic with you. Jay."

With both map and instructions in hand, Ben rushed to the room that he and Laney had been sharing.

"Tilo didn't make it back," he announced to Laney, barely through the door, "He's missing. Injured." Maybe dead, he thought. He didn't want to give up hope, but realistically, the chances weren't good.


Quickly, Ben tossed on his backpack. Everything else he needed was with him already.

Ben's forthright manner jerked Laney out of her half-doze. Despite her panic attack the previous night, she'd slept well. Now, she pushed all those issues out of her mind as she swung her legs out of bed. Even the little information Ben had imparted spelled trouble. Relations with the Rand group Tilo was visiting were tense to say the least.

She hurried to the armory for her scoped rifle and a Scav Pack. She also grabbed one of the pistols she'd recovered from the Sea King crash site, loaded it and tucked it into the back of her jeans. It had been six months since she'd last visited a gun range, and her confidence with the rifle was growing, but it felt good to handle a pistol again. Passing the Command Centre on the way back, Laney was halted in her tracks by the feeling someone was staring at her. True enough, Callie was ignoring Carter's urgent, low tone and fixing Laney with a scrutinizing look. She'd seen the tape. Laney realized with a chill. Though she was trying to keep the memory of Benson's attack buried, so stop the feeling of helplessness overwhelm her, the fact that someone else in Haven had witnessed her humiliation threatened to rob her of all her courage and determination. Rishi must have seen it too, and maybe Gary. As if trying to escape the feeling of desperation, Laney hurried from the farmhouse.

Ben was pursing his lips and scratching his stubble as he tried to make awkward conversation with Jay when Laney barreled from the farmhouse. She took a deep breath of sharp winter air, exhaled with a sigh, and strode for the gate. The two men shared a surprised glance and hurried after her.

Kiera had slept well ever since her trip to the hospital, and the night before was no exception. She awoke refreshed and energized, ready to take on the day. The days had grown colder, so kiera hurried to put on warm clothes. After suitably bundled, she knelt down on the floor and pulled up one of the floorboards.

Walking lazily down the hall, Kiera suddenly heard urgent voices in the command center. She recognized one of them as Callie and she was saying something about Tilo being injured. Slightly embarassed at eavesdropping, Kiera quickly retreated to her room before she could be spotted. She stood just inside her door waiting for Ben to knock and tell her about the situation, when no one came, Kiera realized she would have to invite herself on the rescue mission.

With Laney leading the way, and Jay soon with them, the trio walked out into the cold, snowy air of the Lake District. As they were about to pass through the gates of Haven, a voice called out, causing them both to turn.

Like fleeing thieves, Ben, Laney, and Jay were sneaking away from the farmhouse without her. Angrily she stomped after them.

"Hey, Tilo is my friend too. I'm coming with you three." Kiera told them decisively.

Ben looked between the two women hesitantly. This is what it all led up to, it seemed. He didn't particularly have a good feeling about this, seeing as they both... wanted him, or whatever, but they would probably need all the help they could get.

"Alright. Fine," Ben relented, earning him a distasteful scowl from Laney. For a moment, he felt like giving them both a warning about trying anything, but when push came to shove, they were part of Haven, just as he was. He had faith that they would both put the needs of Haven above their own.

But, just to be safe, he allowed the two women to go ahead of him, just so he could keep an eye on them both at the same time. Jay joined Ben at his side.

"What are we expecting to find?" the paramedic asked.

"Tilo, a horde, and a whole lot of bodies," Ben replied. At least, those were his expectations.

"A horde?" Laney called back from where she'd walked besides Kiera in silence. "So is Tilo actually missing or..." She let the question hang unanswered in the air, alongside the clouds of steam that came up from everyone's breath.

"I don't know," Ben admitted quietly after a long moment of silence.

A gust of wind blew directly into their faces and Ben had to duck his head down to keep the snow from ending up directly in his eyes. He pulled his jacket tighter around himself and shivered a little. It seemed colder today than it had ever been before, at least since he arrived at Haven; even colder than the night he had escaped the clutches of the cannibalistic brothers. Laney flexed her right hand. The fingers she'd injured were healing, but they stung in the cold.

"Well, we gotta go look anyway, right?" she urged, partly to herself. "Even if... Well, we need to know what's going on over there."

Ben nodded, "Yeah," he kept his head low still, and all he could see of the two in front of him were their lower legs.

They were at a distinct disadvantage here, as none of them had ever been to Upton. The only that had, well, that's exactly who they were out looking for. "We need to be careful, though," he added, "Especially if there's a horde."

"Yeah, stick close," Laney urged. "If this snow gets any heavier, we could get split up. And we won't be able to hear Zack coming." She looked around nervously. Though the road was clear, outlines of the stone walls, hedges and fields around them were blurred. Only a mile out of Haven, the countryside should have been full of familiar sights. But now, any nook or cranny could be harbouring a deadly threat. Laney shook her head. Her eyes were beginning to water from squinting. Just then, there was a blur of movement further up the road to Upton.

"Zombies," she hissed, swinging her rifle off her shoulder. Around her, she sensed her fellow Scavs tense in preparation for the imminent conflict. There was a flurry of panicky movement from Jay, obviously unused to dealing with the undead in the open countryside. A blurred figure ahead of them shot forward. Laney gasped. It was moving faster than any zombie she had ever seen. Almost instantly it was upon them, giving her no time for a shot. The rifle was proving useless in the snowy conditions.

Kiera stepped forward, her arms out, and Ben was about leap at her and drag her from certain death when she spoke out: 'Here, boy.'

The dog's different behavior was curious. It had never approached so closely before; still Kiera reached out to the dog and tried to call it closer. The brown dog halted a few feet in front of the group, its little tail wagged slowly as it paced back and forth in front of them. Two short whines could be heard from the dog.

"Cute," remarked Laney, grudgingly amused. "What's he trying to say?"

"Any kids trapped down the well, Lassie?" joked Ben.

"I don't know. Probably just nervous about meeting so many people." Kiera said from her crouched position.

The dog suddenly seemed to lose interest in the group and with a final whimper; they watched as the dog trotted off happily in the direction of Haven, a strange reminder of the domesticity and peace of the old world. Distracted, no-one was quick enough to look around to see whether the howling behind them was the winter wind or approaching undead. It was only the slap-slap of running feet that belatedly alerted them, and Ben managed to get his hand around the throat of the zombie that crashed into him, and kept its jaws at arm's length as it bore him to the ground.

Laney rushed to the struggling bodies, instinctively yanking on the zombie's collar to keep its jaws from Ben's flesh. Kiera and Jay faced the direction from which it had come; even in the poor visibility, they could easily make out a large wedge of bodies approaching.

"There's a lot of them," Kiera called out in warning. Laney pulled her hatchet out of the zombie's skull and, as Ben rolled the corpse off him, looked around.

"Over the walls, quick," she called, pulling Ben to his feet and towards the closest stone boundary, the left-hand wall. Kiera and Jay scrambled over the wall closet to them. In seconds, the two pairs were separated by 20 or more howling zombies.

"Kiera, Jay," Ben called over the noise. The wind seemed to snatch the words from his mouth. He and Laney could just about hear an answering shout from across the road.

"Shit, Ben, we can't leave them over there."

"We can't leave this many Zeds this close to Haven either," Ben shot back, stepping forward, hatchet raised, with a grim look on his face. Laney heaved a deep, resigned breath and joined in, hacking first at the grasping hands and then at the heads of the mindless horde.

On the other side of the wall, Jay continued to call to Ben and Laney. Kiera tugged nervously at his sleeve. "Jay," she urged. "Jay."

As another body added to the press of creatures trying to reach Kiera and Jay, a stone slid from the top of the wall. Two zombies pressed into the gap, and a stone slid from either side of them. In no time at all, the wall had fallen to half its height in a metre-long gap, and zombies were tumbling over it. By the time the first zombie had righted itself and scanned the area for its prey, Kiera and Jay had fled.

Despite the cold, Laney was sweating as she felled the last zombie. Her shoulder ached from swinging her hatchet. Even before they'd taken down the last of the horde, Ben and Laney had seen what had happened opposite.

"What do we now?"

Ben chewed his lip as he mulled it over. "We go after Kiera and Jay," he then said decisively.

"But, Tilo-" Laney started.

"Laney, we have to consider the very real possibility that he's..." Ben didn't finish the sentence. He had the feeling she knew what he meant, and he saw her hang her head. "If they need us, we can't leave them."

It wasn't a decision he liked making. Tilo could still be alive, but the chances were slim.

"What if he's..?" The words died on her lips, and she hung her head, avoiding Ben's gaze. "Okay." She took one last look back at the road as they hopped the wall. She was sure they could track the zombies, given the settling blanket of snow. At the same time, the thought of Tilo lying hurt, or at the mercy of the Hunter Ben said ruled the Rands... "I hope he's okay."

Unbidden, unwanted, the memory of what Kiera had said, about Ben kissing her, crept into Laney's mind.


Part 2: Back to back

The slope was steep beyond the wall, Kiera and Jay struggled not to trip as they madly dashed down the hill. On either side of the pair, bodies rolled down ahead of them, creating a hazard for the survivors at both ends. They broke through the line of disoriented walkers, using their momentum to create an open path ahead of them. Having no idea of the pursuing number behind them, Kiera spared a glance back. About six walkers remained right on their heels, while another four or so were still righting themselves from their sudden tumble.

Jay rapidly pulled ahead of the shorter American, causing Kiera to wonder if he might actually leave her to fend for herself. Barely eighty feet had been covered by the pair, but Kiera was already feeling a sharp burning in her lungs and her legs had started to ache. Each step grew slower and shorter than the last, till she was less than two feet away from the closest walker.

The appearance of a small stand of trees caused Jay to swerve towards them with Kiera quickly changing her direction as well. Taking large strides Jay scrambled up into the first tree. Kiera felt an ominous brush across her back as she struggled towards the safety of the trees. With the help of a second wind, she reached the tree that Jay was situated in and raised her hands for help. An indifferent stare met her desperate gaze. Kiera waited a moment longer, but when no help was offered she dodged around the trunk and raced towards the next available tree.

With an uncoordinated leap, Kiera secured a handhold on one of the lowest branches. She attempted to swing both legs up, but a pair of clawed hands halted her progress. Kicking with her free leg she managed to loosen the grip, but the precious seconds that she spent struggling enabled her other pursuers to arrive and grasp her other dangling leg. Their combined strength weakened Kiera's grip on the branch, the bark scraping against her gloves. For a horrifying moment she caught sight of Jay, watching her struggle from his safe perch with a look of mild interest.

Then the branch slipped from her grasp.

The sudden lack of opposing force caused the surrounding walkers to fall backwards, with Kiera landing on top of the tangled heap. Reacting immediately, she clambered off the pile and grasped her pipe weapon, ready to take down as many as possible before they overwhelmed her. Desperation made her swing with every fiber of muscle, she managed to bring one down with a single overhead swing, but two more seemed to take its place.

Kiera's circle grew tighter as the walkers rushed in to overcome her with superior numbers. Then she caught sight of a red blur out of the corner of her eye. Jay entered into the fray, cutting down the stragglers that were nearing the circle. Slowly he made his way closer to Kiera, till the pair stood back to back against the never-ending onslaught.


Part 3: Side by side

Ben and Laney trotted across the field, following the tracks that the smaller horde had made in giving chase to Kiera and Jay. Now, neither of them were trackers in any sense of the word, but these tracks were particularly difficult to miss in the snow, considering the amount of them and how recklessly they ran after their prey.

For a while, the tracks went east, away from the road. Laney, trailing Ben by several yards, watched the movement of his lean back, his rangy shoulders, the back and shoulders she'd clung to night after night, and fought to repress doubt. After all, she considered, how well did she really know this man? Their intense love-making, their rambling, intimate, hushed conversations, couldn't make up for the fact that he'd had 22 formative years that she knew very little about. She wanted to take Ben at face value but perhaps there had been a lesson in Benson's assault on her. Perhaps men were hardwired a certain way. Perhaps, after the end of the world, certain biological urges couldn't be resisted. Perhaps there was some truth in what Kiera had said.

"I'm not giving up on him," Ben said, cutting the silence, "I just -"

"What happened at the hospital with you and Kiera?" Laney interrupted.

A dawning realization came over Ben. Was she worried that he had feelings for the other American? He saw how his choice to go after Kiera might have raised suspicions in Laney, but this wasn't about that.

"I told you what happened, didn't I?"

"Did you?"

"Yes!"

With his eyes on Laney, he had almost missed the sudden sharp turn that the tracks made.

"Do you really want to go over this now, Laney?" he asked, turning with the path of tracks.

Laney sighed, about to respond when they both saw what they seemed to be looking for. A group of undead had swarmed towards a group of trees. One of the trees held a lone figure perched in it, but that was all he could see. Then another figure rose up and started swinging something. The figure from the tree dropped down and started helping out.

Ben motioned to Laney and they picked up their pace, Laney pushing aside her irritation at Ben and Kiera alike. He drew his hatchet as he moved towards the group. About twenty feet from it, he whistled sharply, causing about half of the attackers to turn their attention towards him. They shambled in his direction, slowly at first, but then their pace increased.

"Yeah, that's right. Come on," he muttered with determination, raising his weapon up in preparation for the first runner. He planted his hatchet firmly in the top of its skull as it got near.

Another two crashed into the back of the newly dead again corpse, knocking Ben back and almost causing him to fall onto his back. His grip on his weapon had been strong, and he kept it in his hand, even with the momentum of the other two runners barreling into the back of the first. But, instead of loosening freely from the top of its head, the bladed weapon took a direct route forward, ejecting the front of its skull and bits of brain past Ben as he staggered, and leaving an open and bloody cavity in the front of its head.

He had to put his left hand on the ground to keep himself from falling completely. Pain shot through his hand as his knuckles scraped along the ground, severely irritating the wound he had sustained while in captivity.

The runners had not been quite so lucky as him. When they collided with the other, their legs got tangled up with each other and they were sent sprawling to the ground.

Laney was at his right and, before either of the two runners on the ground could get up, she executed them both. But, that left her vulnerable to another as she bent down to do it.

Ignoring the pain in his hand, he ran at it, leading with his left forearm out in front of him. Caught completely unaware, the thing was blindsided and was sent to the ground in a flailing mess of arms and legs. Ben had braced himself for the hit this time and remained standing. Then he stepped over to it and raised his boot up to crush its skull.

He turned to see the fifth and final runner they'd attracted being felled by another one of Laney's swings.

The sharp whistle that drew half the pack's number away, gave Kiera just enough breathing room to search for their unexpected saviors. Despite the still present danger, Kiera found herself smiling as she caught sight of Ben and Laney. Their presence gave her a renewed sense of hope and determination. Jay spotted the pair soon after and a similar expression crossed his face.

Fighting back to back, Kiera and Jay made quick work of the remaining walkers. The four scavengers stood amongst a field of death, staring at one another, grateful to still be alive. Stepping over the scattered corpses, Kiera and Jay went to rejoin their rescuers.

Just out of Laney and Ben's hearing range, Kiera leaned towards Jay. "I won't forget what you did." She said in a threatening tone.

"Neither will I, my dearest." Jay replied in a sickeningly sweet tone. He suddenly leaned in even closer to Kiera and inhaled conspicuously, "Mmmm." he whispered in her ear, before straightening and approaching the other pair with a pleased expression.

Ben held his wounded hand close to his chest. It hadn't quite fully healed. When Short had changed his bandages the day before, he had spied signs of healing on his stump. She had told him not to aggravate it. Slowly, he brought his hand up and saw a spot of red underneath the bandages. It hurt, but it was nowhere near how bad as it had been before.


Part 4: Stately home

A full circuit of Upton Abbey told them one thing: The ground floor at the very least was over-run. A large group, 15 or so, were gathered aimlessly at the main doors in what the Scavs were coming to understand as 'rest' mode. Others were bunched in threes and fours around the grounds. Using the scope on her rifle, Laney couldn't detect signs of life through the upper-story windows, although that wasn't confirmation that there were no survivors. The foursome took cover in a knot of trees behind Upton.

"Okay, how the fuck are we going to get in there?" Laney groused.

"What, none of you have been in here before?" asked Jay.

"No, going in blind," Ben confirmed. "You're from round here though, right?"

"Aye," Jay responded, "though I ain't ever been in here."

"Well, what's that, then?" asked Ben, pointing past some outhouses to a single-storey extension at the back of the imposing building. It was grey and dull, not ornate like much of the rest of Upton.

"An extension, a laundry or summat," Jay shrugged.

"If we can get up on that, then in a window..." Ben reached into his pack and pulled out bunch of fireworks. "Right, wait here. When the geeks go for the fireworks, get up on the laundry roof. Meet you there."

Ben took off in a low dash. Watching him go, Laney felt a pang of fear for him. Time and again, Scavs' experiences had shown there was safety in numbers. She looked from Jay to Kiera and, still distrustful of the American girl, urged: 'Jay, go with him. Watch his back.' She ignored the betrayed look from Kiera next to her. I'll keep you where I can see you, she thought to herself.

"Okay,' Laney spoke up, half to herself. 'If you own a stately house, where do you keep your ladders?"

Ben felt like a man under fire, darting from one piece of cover to the next, trying to get a good position from which to light the fireworks. At a low wall, he stopped, catching the sound of footsteps behind him. Putting his hand on the handle of his weapon, he wheeled around, about to raise it, when he saw that it was Jay and not a runner.

That was the second time he'd nearly killed the man, mistaking him for a member of the walking dead.

"Laney ask--" the paramedic began, but he stopped when Ben pressed a finger to his own lips in the universal hushing gesture.

This was a good spot, he decided; it was close enough to attract a crowd, but far enough away that Laney and Kiera, and shortly afterwards, Ben and Jay could go and get on top of the laundry room. It was also fairly near the entrance to the house itself. Hopefully, it would attract some from within the house as well and make some parts of the house safer.

Ben pulled out a matchbook that had come with the fireworks. He struck it and lit the fuse and started away in his crouching dash. But, he noticed that Jay was frozen in his spot, staring at something. Reaching out, he took Jay's arm and yanked him along harshly and gave him a scrutinizing look as they rushed for better cover, further away from where the dead were sure to come.

Minutes later, a burst of colored light erupted in the sky. Around the grounds, countless undead heads snapped up, and the horde shuffled in the firework's direction. As the light extinguished, a second firework went up, then a third. As the horde shambled to the front of the house, Laney emerged from the tree cover, followed by Kiera. They darted up to the closest outhouse. Peering in the window, Laney spied a ladder, and turned to point it out to Kiera when a zombie lunged against the window, shattering the glass and drawing an involuntary shriek from Laney. She flung herself back, landing in the snow, as Kiera stepped forward and hacked at the creature's head.

The ladder was tangled in amongst a garden hose, shears, and several other implements. Minutes passed and metal clanged on metal as the women worked together to free it. Frustrated and impatient with the delay, Laney was glad to get out of the musty, claustrophobic outhouse. Her relief turned to shock, however, when she saw a group of six zombies approaching from the trees where the Scavs had hidden. Whether they'd been attracted by the fireworks, her shriek or the noise they'd made freeing the ladder, Laney didn't care. The zombies had spied Laney and Kiera, and they were fast.

"Up on the roof," she yelled behind her, tugging at the ladder to hurry the American. They covered the remaining 20 metres at full speed, kicking up snow. Laney thrust her end of the ladder up against the gable end of the laundry extension, and shot up it almost before Kiera had planted it on the ground. As she swung herself up onto the roof, a scream came from below, laced with fear.

"Laneyyy! Help!"

Kiera was halfway up the ladder. gripping desperately to one of the rungs and kicking out at a zombie that had reached up and locked its hands around her left ankle. The first few kicks kept its head and deadly jaws out of range of the foot it had grasped, but then another zombie arrived and grabbed her right foot too. Now only the strength of her arms was keeping Kiera out of reach. A terrible thought entered Laney's mind. Two more slavering zombies arrived staggered up, threatening to unbalance the ladder. Kiera screamed again as it wobbled, staring at Laney, immobile and stony-faced, with wide, pleading eyes.

Laney seemed to shudder, then reached behind her, under her jacket and Scav Pack, and whipped out her pistol. Two-handed, she fired five shots in rapid succession. She didn't take in how many shots hit their mark, but the zombies dragging on Kiera slumped to the ground, and the American scrambled to the roof, panting and weeping. Laney put her arm awkwardly around Kiera's shoulder and patted.

"It's alright, hun, you're not bit, you're not bit." She leant over the edge of the roof and, emptying the clip, put down the remaining four zombies. She was settling down to wait for Ben and Jay when a cry rang out from inside. They were on their feet in an instant, smashing a window to gain access to the main building. Laney didn't even have a second to contemplate what she'd considered doing to Kiera.


Part 5: Ghost house

Ben and Jay remained in cover until the fireworks went off. The rudimentary explosives were sure to keep their attention for a while; long enough for everyone to get inside the house.

Once the fireworks had gone off, the pair made their way in a circle towards the back of the house, careful not to go too fast and run straight into a crowd of zombies. Part way around, they heard gunshots. Ben risked to bring himself to a standing position and looked around, but saw nothing.

"Come on," he whispered, beckoning to Jay with a wave of his hand.

They arrived around the back of the house to find the bodies of several walkers and a ladder pushed up against the laundry room, but no other sign of Laney or Kiera.

"Laney!" he called quietly, and then a little louder, "Kiera!"

No response.

Ben ascended the steps of the ladder and looked between Jay and the open window. In short order, both men were on top of the laundry room. The younger man peered through the window and noted a drop of a foot or two down to some stairs.

He brought himself back out to look at the paramedic and gave him a smile that lacked any emotion.

"You first."

"What?" Jay stammered in response.

"Don't worry. I'm right behind you." Ben was still mindful of the reaction Kiera had had towards the man when they reunited in Westmorland. He didn't want to give the man an opportunity to leave Ben alone.

"Alright," the paramedic answered uncertainly before ducking through the window and dropping down to the floor. A few seconds later, Ben dropped down behind him.

"You okay?" Ben asked.

"Dandy."

"Good. Let's go," came Ben's response, stepping down the stairs.

Once they reached the bottom floor, the pair took a left turn down a corridor. They stepped over a body who lacked a head, possessing nothing but a bloody stump there instead. As they continued, they stopped and listened briefly. There was an almost perpetual groan coming from the house, and not the type of groan you'd hear from an old house like this. This was more akin to a groan a fleshy thing would make.

"We have to be careful," Jay whispered, apparently having heard the sounds as well. Ben nodded. They were on the lookout for Laney and Kiera, for Tilo, or for anything that they could take back to Haven.

Slowly, Ben poked his head around a corner, but immediately pulled it back. Down the hallway was a small crowd of the undead, idle, and waiting for a sign of their prey to show up. Thankfully, they hadn't seem to notice them. But, that also probably meant that Laney and Kiera hadn't gone that way. Regardless, they couldn't risk it.

Instead, they decided to return the way they had come, but instead of going back up the stairs, they continued past it and down the other side of the hallway. Again, Ben looked around the corner cautiously, but saw no undead. Silently, he motioned to Jay and they moved down the hall.

Then, they came upon an intersection, and dashed straight across. That brought them to a corridor that took a right turn. This time, Jay was first to the corner and checked around the corner. He held his hands out, signifying that it wasn't stopped, so they returned to the intersection and darted across it once again, heading back in the direction of the stairs they'd come down.

Once they'd reoriented themselves so they looking across the intersection again. Left would lead them to the group they'd seen first. Straight across would bring them to the other group. Their only options wewre to go to the right, or to go back. So, they went to the right, which led to another right turn, but that led to a dead end.

There was an open door down that hall, and when they approached to it, he could hear the raspy sounds of at least one walker. Neither of them really knew if they had ways of communicating and bringing more to them. At first, they were going to turn around and go back before it noticed them, but then Ben saw its face. From his position, he could only see the side of it, but he wanted to be sure. Slowly, he entered the room and waited for it to turn and notice him.

In front of him was the face that he swore he'd never forget. It was the man who had killed Tim. It was the man who had caused the deaths of Toby and the other Caravanners who had been killed. It was the man that had caused all of the shit for Haven and the people at Eden Valley.

Richard Brand.

His reanimated face was contorted into a snarl as it lunged for Ben. Roughly, Ben shoved it back and he drew his hatchet and planted it into the top of its skull. Limply, it collapsed to the floor, and Ben freed his hatchet, but he didn't stop. He just kept hacking at it, over and over until there was hardly anything left of its head.

With his chest heaving from anger and exertion, Ben turned around to face Jay, who just stared on in shock, but was unable to find any words for what he'd just seen.

"He deserved worse," Ben breathed out. He deserved a lot worse.

Jay nodded complacently and followed Ben back the way they had come, towards the staircase they'd descended a short time ago. Towards the end of this corridor - once they'd reached it once again - was another room. The door was open on this one as well.

Carefully, they stepped in and closed the door.

Lying on the floor was a body. Ben checked it. A small red circle in the center of her forehead gave the clear indication that this young woman had been shot in the head, possibly to prevent reanimation, or, more likely, just out of cold ruthlessness.

"They're everywhere," Jay whispered worriedly.

"I noticed."

It was then that Ben got an idea.

"We can't let these get back to Haven. If that horde we came across on the road was from here, then they can get to Haven. This many could overwhelm us."

"What do we do, then?" Jay asked.

"We burn it down."

"Burn it down? What about the other two?"

"I know," Ben shot back quickly. He was already in the process of taking out his walkie-talkie. "Laney? Kiera? Anybody there?"

They got no response.

"Shit," Ben muttered and he tried again with no luck.

"We'll just have to hope they can find a way out." Ben shook his head, his features dropping slightly. Although he acted calm and detached, on the inside he was far from either. He felt helpless. Not knowing where they were was killing him. He'd never forgive himself if either of them died in the fire, especially Laney. But this was for Haven, he told himself. If they left this alone, it could potentially cost the entirety of Haven.

"If we can get this room going, the rest of the house should go with it. Pull some stuff into the center of the room."

Ten minutes later, the pair had a pile of things in the center of the room; tables and chairs mostly. Ben took out a matchbook - the very same that he'd used to light the fireworks earlier and, once a match was struck, held the flame at the bottom of the pile. He struck another match and lit the middle of the pile. Finally, he took a third match and started a fire at the top of the pile. In a few minutes, a blaze had started, with the flames licking the ceiling of the room.

The pair stepped back and out of the room and watched as the fire spread through the room; across the floor, up the walls, and finally catching the ceiling.

As the fire clawed at their feet, Ben motioned towards the stairs, "Okay. Time to go."


Part 6: Tilo

The window had opened onto a small wooden staircase that was functional rather than formal. Racing up it in the direction of the cry, Kiera and Laney passed several doors. 'High up,' Laney blurted out as they passed each one. 'It came from higher up.'

Eventually, four stories up, they came to the top of the small staircase, a metal door in front of them. Turning the stiff handle and pushing it open, they were hit by a blast of icy air as they stepped out onto a section of flat roof. Both women tensed as movement across the roof caught their eye. This movement, though, was away from them; no zombie ever moved away. Nonetheless, they remained alert as they approached what looked like a heap of rags.

Closer inspection revealed an elderly man wrapped in several coats and blankets. His formless appearance was topped off with several woolly hats.

"You're... you're... you're not one of them," he eventually stuttered, his teeth chattering behind a wispy grey beard.

"Have you been out here since the horde came?" asked Kiera, her voice full of concern. "Come on, we have to get you inside."

"Nooo!' howled the man. 'Theyre in there. They'll get me!"

"Who?" demanded Laney impatiently. "The Zeds?"

The man merely shook his head and huddled up under his blankets.

"You mean Brand and his men?" A nod from within the blankets. Laney voiced the fear that had gnawed at her since she first glimpsed the sheer number of zombies in and around Upton. "This many zombies, you're probably the only human left in Upton." There was a gasp beside her as Kiera took in the unspoken meaning. 'Brand and his men are either dead or gone," Laney finished.

"Tilo?" asked Kiera. "Have you seen Tilo King? He was visiting from..." At the sight of the man's blank face, Kiera trailed off.

"Come on, we've got to get going," Laney urged. "You can't stay up here. Come on, you'll be alright with us."

"Laney, we've still got to find Tilo," Kiera said as they reached the back stairs. Laney raised an eyebrow archly, still unhappy with the American. "Or at least find out what..."

"Hey, sir," Laney nudged the elderly man as they descended the shabby stairs. "Where's the Rands' bedrooms? Ken and them?"

"Th- third floor," stuttered the man, pointing to the door in front of them. "Right here. But you can't go through there!" He threw himself in front of the door. "The zombies!"

"We have to find our friend," Kiera countered. The man shook his head, wild-eyed, refusing to move. Kiera opened her mouth to speak again, but stopped as Laney grabbed one of the man's coats and pulled, sending him tottering off-balance. She was surprised by how light and frail he was, but she was losing patience. The longer they stayed in Upton Abbey, the more her fear for Tilo's safety turned into dread at his death. The more time she spent around Kiera, the stronger her doubts grew about Ben. She just wanted to get the job over with. She wrenched open the door, anger making her incautious.

"Tilo was looking into some guy's death," she said over her shoulder. "So my guess is he would have started in the guy's bedroom."

Kiera felt sorry for the poor man, she put a comforting hand on his arm. In a whisper she asked. "What's your name, sir?

The personal question seemed to snap the man out of his stupor for a moment. His eyes completely clear of hysterics, he replied. "Ian Wilson. Do you know if anyone else has survived? My wife Valerie?"

"Elizabeth, Eric, and Dominic made it to our gates today. I don't know where your wife might be." Kiera realized that Laney had kept walking out on to the third floor without her. "Stay here." She whispered to Ian.

Kiera followed Laney out onto the third floor. Ian's whimpers were cut off as the door to the back stairs swung shut. The corridor was wide, and richly carpeted, running from the back of the stately home where the back stairs was, right up to its front and an ornately paneled window, through which Kiera and Laney could see. Ancient portraits, mostly of men in old-fashioned dress lined the walls, and through an open door they could glimpse a luxurious four-poster bed. Soaked into the carpet, splashed onto the walls and paintings, and staining the bed sheet was dark brown dried blood. As Laney strode past the opening, Kiera spied movement within, and yanked the door shut as three zombies rushed at them.

The noise as their bodies slammed into the door, their growls, sparked a similar reaction behind a closed door in the next room, then another next to that. Kiera and Laney looked at each other in wide-eyed panic as the volume rose along the corridor. From around a corner at the top of the corridor shuffled five zombies, alerted by the groans of the others. Kiera and Laney darted down the main staircase, their footfalls muffled by the thick carpet, and crouched out of sight. Seeing and hearing nothing, the zombies stumbled to a halt halfway down the corridor, going into 'rest' mode as the undead trapped behind the doors quietened down.

"Laney, Kiera, come in," the radio crackled. "It's Ben." Kiera fumbled with the off button.

Too late. The zombies' heads snapped round and arms shot up as they located the source of the sound. Kiera and Laney were already on their feet, taking the stairs two at a time. As they approached the second floor, a group of zombies below them took up the mournful cry.

The women hesitated for a split second, then Laney pointed at an open door equidistant between them and the closing group on the floor below, and pushed Kiera ahead of her. Neither of them had time to think that it was the first time running towards zombies could save them.

Gripping the jamb, Kiera swung herself through the doorway. Laney stumbled through it behind her, her momentum carrying her to the floor, and Kiera slammed it shut. Any hope they'd had that their pursuers would continue down the corridor were dashed by the growls and the sound of fingernails dragging and scraping on the other side of the door. Kiera leant against the door, in part to catch her breath, in part to add her weight to the barrier; she was jolted and buffeted as the zombies on the other side sought to break through.

A split-second glance on her awkward entry had told Laney the room was empty of upright threats. Now, still on her knees, she had time for a better look. A cursory inspection took in the room's rich surroundings, but Laney's attention was immediately drawn to what she'd initially mistaken for a pile of clothes and debris on the other side of the room, near another door. The dramatic splashes of blood on the wall and floor, soaked into the carpet and turning brown, told her otherwise. She looked away, but a detail caught her eye. Only one other person in Haven besides her wore a black leather jacket - Tilo.

She crawled a little closer, then averted her eyes. The detail of the lapels told her it was Tilo's jacket, but the body lay in a wide puddle of blood. Laney felt the blood drain from her face, and she looked back at Kiera, tears brimming in her eyes. The American's face fell.

"Take the door, Laney," she said softly. Laney obeyed mutely, almost numb. She felt disconnected from herself as she felt the zombies thump the door behind her, watched Kiera kneel by the body. There was an ugly, gaping wound on the neck and what could only be a bullet hole in the middle of the forehead, just below the rim of his woolen hat. The story of this dark-haired young man's last minutes alive was quite clear, but it was also quite clear he wasn't Tilo. Kiera ran her hands over the slumped body, and found two small circular ruptures in the back of the jacket. Though the jacket was stained with blood, the body in it only had that sole bullet wound. Kiera slipped a small notebook from the jacket pocket.

"It's not Tilo," she told Laney. "But Tilo's..." Kiera would have liked time to express what the kindly professor had meant to them all, how he had been a solid rock in a sea of stormy uncertainty, but there wasn't time. She opened the door in the far wall and peered out. The way was clear. In the brief respite, Kiera took stock. The look of misery plastered across Laney's face as she stared dully at the body and took in Kiera's full meaning was so great she put their previous enmity to one side.

"Come on, Laney," she urged, holding out her hand. "We need to get back to the back stairs." She sniffed. It took a moment to register, but the crackle on the edge of her hearing confirmed what her senses were telling her; Upton was on fire.


Part 7: Fire with fire

For the second time in minutes, Kiera and Laney found themselves running towards danger. The flames were already licking the first flight of stairs as they reached the window out onto the roof of the laundry room. Perched on the end, huddled up against the cold, were Ben and Jay.

"Your doing?" Laney asked when she'd caught her breath.

Ben nodded. "We tried to warn you."

"And you almost got us killed," spat Laney. "Fire and zombies."

"Laney..." he said in a conciliatory tone, reaching out to her.

She flicked his hand away and pointed back to where flames were now licking at the broken window. "We could still be in there!"

A slight sense of victory flitted through Kiera as she witnessed Laney pull away from Ben, but the feeling was gone in an instant when she remembered that they had left someone behind. "Laney!" Kiera gasped. "What about Ian? The old man..."

Ben stared at Laney for a moment with a dejected look before he shook his head and turned away. His relief at seeing Laney and Kiera okay had turned to a mix of anger and sadness at Laney's reaction and the slowly dawning realization that Tilo wasn't making it out. He'd recognized it as a possibility before, but it was only just now that he was beginning to realize it as a reality.

A chill ran through Laney, but she found herself saying dully: "He would never have made it anyway."

Kiera's eyes narrowed at Laney's dismissive words about the elderly man. Perhaps she was ultimately right, but the way she said it gave Kiera an unsettling feeling.

"Uhhh, I hate to interrupt," came a cautious interjection from Jay, "but we're standing on the biggest zombie beacon for miles around. Do you think we should get moving?"

By the time any of the other three had started climbing down, Ben was on his way away from the burning abbey. He wasn't interested in staying any longer, nor was he interested in making any conversation. It was obvious that Laney wasn't going to be reasonable. In her eyes, he felt, he was already guilty; of making the first move on Kiera and of not taking Laney and Kiera into consideration when starting the fire.

The other three hung back, and Ben was grateful for it. He didn't want to talk to any of them at the moment, and if he did, they wouldn't be nice things.

Ben didn't stop. He didn't even look back. He just kept walking.

The journey home was interspersed with narrowly avoided encounters with the undead. Every zombie for miles around appeared to be honing in on Upton. Black smoke thickened the sky. The glow from the flames held back the falling dusk. The unmissable beacon meant avoiding a confrontation was a simple matter of ducking down behind hedges whenever zombies were sighted. They soon passed.

Laney kept her distance from Ben until they passed the point where the first group of zombies had chased Kiera and Jay away. Her thoughts flitted between Tilo's demise and the impulse she'd had on the laundry roof to leave Kiera to the zombies, leaving her exhausted. In the end, she sidled up to him and slid her hand into his.

Ben looked at her. He couldn't figure her out. She was pissed at him for going after Kiera. She was pissed at him for almost getting her caught in the fire. But, here she was. As angry as he was at her in return - and he was angry at her - he didn't rebuff her. In fact, he was happy to have her there, for whatever her reason was.

He didn't say anything to her, though. He just sighed and gave her hand a squeeze.

Kiera stuffed her hands into her coat pockets to prevent them from clenching in plain view. She shot daggers at the reunited pair, deeply disappointed that their squabble had been resolved so quickly. Moving her left hand in her pocket, she brushed across a small circular piece of metal and what felt like a thin deck of cards. Kiera was sure the pocket had been empty before she left Haven, so she wasn't sure where or what the objects could be. She was sorely tempted to pull them out and examine what they were, but she knew Jay would undoubtedly want to see what they were also. Kiera left the objects alone.

"What's in the shed?"

Kiera nearly jumped out of her skin upon hearing Jay's question. Her mind was confused for a moment as she tried to figure out what he could be talking about. Oh. Her first instinct was to lie, but she knew that if he went to investigate it himself he would easily discover the truth.

"A walker." Kiera stated calmly. She waited for the sound of shock or disbelief, but she was waiting for something that would never happen.

Jay grinned widely. "So that's why the Indian man spends so much time in there. I was beginning to wonder what he was up to." Dropping his voice for effect, Jay whispered: "You know, having one of them inside the walls is dangerous. It could get loose and eat people." He laughed manically at his own joke.

Kiera's brow furrowed as she realized the full scope of her dilemma. Up on the roof, the American was nearly positive that she had seen something dark in Laney's eyes just before the pop star had rescued her. It was easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and difficult to remember that anything could happen and danger could come from anywhere. The thought was chilling, to say the least. Kiera probably would have been more alarmed if it weren't for the chemicals that swirled in her veins. She felt herself beginning to drift into a calm detached state, where only the constant rhythm of her feet kept her grounded in reality.

Jay's smirk faded when he noticed Kiera zoning out. He elbowed her sharply in the ribs.

She shot him a venomous look at the rude awakening. Kiera felt the least he could do was leave her in peace after everything he had done. Crossing her arms indignantly, she was forced to watch Laney and Ben holding hands as they accompanied each other to Haven, oblivious to all else, while she was left walking with Jay.

Without warning, Jay started humming the same tune that he had performed at the hospital. After several repetitions he fell silent once more.