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Delaney Byron

Actress. Singer. Celebrity. Doesn't matter now.

0 · 636 views · located in The Haven Universe

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

Groups

The Citizens of Haven

Description

Image
Name: Delaney Orchid Byron. Nicknamed Laney

Gender: Female

Age: 20

Born/hometown: Mayfair, London

Occupation: Former actress/singer/celebrity. Now she's just doing what she has to survive.

LOOKS
5'7", 120lb. She is slim but athletic. Her nose, lip and ears were pierced, but Laney took them all out at the start of the outbreak, so now just has tiny scars there instead.

PERSONALITY
Laney's been used to getting whatever she wants her entire life, and is struggling to adjust to a world where her name and face mean nothing any more. The loss of so much power and privilege has humbled her and made her doubt her self-worth, but she still displays occasional flashes of A-lister temper tantrums, particularly with people she knows well. She hasn't had a chance to indulge her celebrity party lifestyle, and most of the time she keeps to herself, and is embarrassed if people recognise her. When they do, she feels under pressure to contribute and prove her worth.

EQUIPMENT
As she was onstage when the outbreak began, Laney wears a black leather jacket with inch-long metal studs on the shoulder, skintight black leather jeans, studded belt, and biker boots. Under the jacket she wears layered vests, and has a red hoodie in her pack.

Thanks to her overindulgent and paranoid father, Laney is proficient in firing a handgun.

HISTORY
The only daughter of a famous 70s rocker and his third wife, Laney has grown up in the glare of celebrity as her mother eked out every advantage of her famous - and short-lasted - connection. She first appeared in TV commercials at the age of three, and by five was starring in the TV show, Laney's Street. By eight, she was appearing in children's films, and in major films by 10. By 14, she'd moved into music, but soon became frustrated with the clean image her record company insisted she keep, and started to act out, getting drunk, swearing at concerts, all the things normal teenagers do - except normal teenagers' mistakes aren't reported by a slavering celebrity media. Her mother - by now divorced - sent her to live with her father, who told both Laney and the hordes of celebrity reporters who dogged her every step that he'd done far worse at her age.

Within a month of her turning 18, a sex tape of Laney and another girl was released online, she and her father together beat up a paparazzo, and she was arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana. Her record label dropped her as a result, and Laney formed a band so she could play the music she liked. She refused her father's offer to sign her to his record label, trying to make it on her own merits. Of course, her huge celebrity meant disproportionate attention for her band, and even more reasons for serious rock critics not to take her seriously.

Laney was onstage when the outbreak began, escaping with a minder. His refusal to let her return to her Mayfair apartment probably saved her life, as London was quickly over-run. They headed north, away from population centres but got separated. Near exhaustion, Laney stumbled upon Haven by following one of the Scavs home, crawling the last mile before collapsing at the gate.

So begins...

Delaney Byron's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Jonathan Monroe Character Portrait: Delaney Byron
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Is there anybody out there?

'Is this it?' Laney pouted. 'I can't fucking kill Zeds with that.'

She dragged her eyes along the pitted length of the rough-and-ready weapon, and up into the steely gaze of the Haven leader. There her sneer died as he raised a gray-flecked eyebrow.

'I'll be quicker without it. It's just... I'm not...'

She flounced from the pantry that served as the armory, leaving the sawn-off shotgun and the taciturn Monroe behind. If only she still had her Kel-Tec P11, she'd show him what she could do. Barney hadn't let her go back to Mayfair for it, and the decision had probably saved her life. Nobody got out of London alive, that was the rumour. Still, it wasn't fair for this grumpy soldier to look down on her like she was a useless little girl. She'd seen the same look on other musicians, people who thought they were more 'real' than her just because she'd had the leg-up of her famous dad. She grit her teeth. She'd show Monroe too.

Callie was in the kitchen, still poring over the large-scale area of the map. Laney had dragged herself to Haven by following Callie, so she felt a sense of gratitude to her she didn't feel towards her co-leader. But the Scavs leader had recognised her straight away, even seeming momentarily star-struck - even though that behaviour really belonged to what Laney thought of as the old world - so Laney had to assume Callie also had her preconceptions about her. What they were, Callie hadn't let on, but preconceptions about her were invariably bad, Laney had found. So she was determined to show Callie too.

It was early in the morning. Back in the old world, Laney had been used to rising at midday - fuck it, sometimes she didn't even get home until midday - but over the course of the months it had taken her to travel the 300 miles from London the the Lake District, dodging zombies and raiders alike, she'd got more in tune with the natural world. Complete withdrawal from alcohol, weed, coke, and everything else she'd been popping and snorting, followed by a week's rest and recovery in Haven, had left her feeling fit and fresh. Even so, she wasn't the first one up. Callie and Monroe had been in their Communications Centre when she'd got there; she'd also passed the timid Dr Short on her way there. Still, she was first of all the Scavs to get out the gate.

'So, anything else I need to know?' she asked, picking up one of the backpacks from the pile on the floor. She'd been assured they were identical - map, radio, first aid kit, food, water - and Callie had told her her mission wasn't going to require any special equipment.

'We don't know much about the wood, and less about the camp, so probably the less I tell you, the less you'll be mistaken.'

Laney raised an eyebrow at this sophistry, unconsiously mimicking Monroe.

'Just be careful is all I'll say, Delaney.'

***

Weak sun was struggling to burn away the hill fog as Laney stepped out of the fortified gates. Her hand instinctively went to the hatchet tucked into her belt as the bars slammed shut behind her. Monroe took no risks with the settlement's safety. She fought the instinct to hammer on the gate and ask to be let back in, or given a companion for her mission. There was a feeling of all hands on deck around Haven at the moment. Laney had never visited the Lake District before, but it was the kind of place you'd see wreathed in snow every year on the news. Its isolation had disadvantages as well as advantages.

She sucked in a deep breath of the cold morning air and set off down the road. She'd been assured the road was safe a mile or so either side of Haven, and she'd checked and rechecked the Command Centre map and her own, smaller map, for the point where she'd strike off cross-country. Tull Hollow was about 10 miles away by road, slightly closer cross-country, but striking through the rough, overgrown fields was going to take time. Laney was counting on two hours to get there, two hours looking around, max, and two hours back. Easy.

The day brightened, but didn't get any noisier. As a born-and-bred Londoner, the silence of the countryside had always unnerved her. Now, the world was even quieter still, robbed of the vast majority of its noisy inhabitants and their noisy habits and past-times. She looked up at the clearing sky. No vapour trails, for what must be the 100th day in a row.

She arrived at the S-bed that marked the safe extent of the road - how the Haven leaders had ascertained it was safe she didn't know. Now straining her ears and eyes, Laney crept around the first corner. More empty road. She chided herself for her over-reaction. It's not like every Zed or raider in Britain was going to be waiting just outside Monroe's safe zone. Double-checking her hatchet was secure, Laney mounted the stone wall that deliniated the road, and jumped down into the field below. Checking her map one last time, she set off almost perpendicular to the wall.

***

An hour later, Laney's boots and leather jeans were soaked through from the dew that clung to the long grass. Her hands and face were scratched from fighting through hedgerows. Maybe it was longer than an hour. Certainly the sun felt warm. Maybe she was sweating at her own frustration. The sweat dripping from her brow stung her scratches. Only the trail she had tramped through the long grass behind her stopped her panicking at being lost. Only the fact that she was still heading downhill convinced her she was on the right path.

'Fuck. This,' she muttered, throwing herself down by the latest hedgerow she'd clambered through. She pulled her water bottle out of her backpack and took another swallow. It was half-gone. She should really slow down on it, she knew, but she was thirsty. She'd just have to fill it at Tull Hollow. Throwing an evil look at the radio and again casting from her mind the idea of checking in at Haven, she pulled the map out again. She'd already folded and dog-eared it from over-use, but she had to check it again, just for reassurance. Yes, there was Haven, marked with a big red H. There was Tull Hollow, and there, half a mile beyond the wood, was one of the lakes that gave the district its name. It was downhill all the way, right? So why could she see neither wood nor lake, just rolling hills?

Laney looked back the way she'd come. Haven was out of sight now, too, and she left a little pang of separation. The other Scavs had probably set off on their missions now, too. They probably weren't having these kinds of problems. Even that skinny, jittery guy, William, seemed like he could take care of himself in a fix, or at least get himself out of a fix. That short, muscly woman and the cute American, they were definitely doing okay.

It's too hard. It's not fair. Tears prickled Laney's eyes. Then she sprang to her feet, wiping angrily at her face with her sleeve. That was the old world Laney sneaking back in. She shoved everything back into her pack and set off again.

***

She hadn't expected to come across this stream. She knelt on its edge and splashed her hot face with the deliciously cool water. She was just about to fill her almost-empty water bottle when she stopped. Better check where the stream comes from first, she thought.

Pleased with this survival instinct, Laney was even more pleased to discover from her tattered map that the stream had to be running out of the lake below Tull Hollow. On further scrutiny of the battered document, she surmised she'd set off from the wall by the S-bend at the wrong angle - 100 degrees perpendicular instead of 80 degrees. She stood on a tuft on the side of the stream and looked to her right. Over the crest of the hill, she thought she could make out the tops of pine trees. A triumphant smile split her lips, and she allowed herself a little fist pump - after checking first that no-one was watching. Old world habits die hard.

She walked along the stream for five minutes, observing its clarity, and enjoying its tinkling music. Then she walked back to where she'd first come across it, filled her water bottle, and followed it upstream again. She rounded the shoulder of the hill, and gazed across yet another field to the wood and the lake. She checked her hatchet once again and stepped out into the field -

- and stopped immediately as movement just inside the treeline caught her eye. She dropped to the ground and watched. Moments passed. Laney crawled to her left to see if she could get a better view, and again movement caught her eye, as did a flash of red canvas. She drew the hatchet from her belt and crawled closer, stopping below a natural swell in the sloping field about 250 yards from the treeline. She peered, and caught sight of the red canvas again. It wasn't moving, and Laney surmised it must be a tent. Then it was blocked from view, and reappeared. Something had walked in front of it!

Laney looked all around her, as Barney had taught her on their flight north. Check all escape and approach routes. Any settlement would have scouts or outposts out. Monroe had tried to teach her the same thing yesterday, even used the same words, and she'd told him to fuck off. She'd been upset at the reminder of her last remaining friend from the old world.

Seeing nothing, she crept forward, over the safety of the swell and out into the open. Ever watchful for more movement as she approached the woods, Laney could hear her heart beating. And then she froze, a good 150 yards from the woods. Standing between two pine trees as upright as pillars was a distinctly human form, in a distinctly unhuman stance. Its head was slumped forwards onto its chest, its shoulders sagged, its arms hung by its sides. Every few seconds it would take a listless step. It was gradually turning to face the path Laney had taken up from the stream.

Her throat dry, her heart thumping, sweat beading her brow, Laney backed up the hill as quietly as possible, angling her retreat to remain behind the zombie as much as possible. She was at the edge of the field, almost in the hedgerow, when a waft of foul air struck her nostrils.

Gagging and screwing up her eyes, Laney spun round, brandishing her hatchet in two hands, more like a shield than a weapon. In the hedgerow lay a body, still as a log. Covering her mouth and nose with her sleeve, she looked closer.

Around its neck and hands, the skin was a putrid, pink-grey colour. Yellowy white teeth and jawbone protruded rudely where its lower face should have been. She guessed a zombie had bitten the face off this person, when they had been a person. It was hard to tell what the initial zombie had done to its victim's upper face; from the nose upwards, the head was a pulp of mashed flesh, blackened gore, and bone fragment. Someone had put an end to this re-animation.

***

The adrenaline had seeped from her body, leaving her feeling light-headed. A glance in the direction of the cloud-shrouded sun told her it was the afternoon; certainly time to eat. This mission was taking much longer than she'd anticipated.

Moving away from the body, Laney looked back at Tull Hollow and pondered her discoveries as she chewed some dried meat. There had been some sort of settlement here; the body - once a look-out, probably - and the red canvas within the woods suggested that. But the death of the look-out and the presence of the wandering zombie in the wood suggested it had been abandoned. She peered back at the wood. The zombie was out of sight now, but movement beyond the wood caught her eye. Shielding her eyes against the sun, Laney looked out to the lake. After a momentary squint, she realised something was floating on it, some sort of boat. It was impossible to make out movement on board at this distance, but a few minutes of watching told her it wasn't drifting in the wind - it must be anchored.

A few more minutes left, and she was on her feet. Recalling her new job title, Laney crept back over to the body, but it didn't look like there was anything worth scavenging. It didn't even have shoes. Looks like its former friends had done all the scavenging here already. That made up her mind; there wouldn't be anything worth having in the woods. Whoever was out on that boat would have it all already. Callie's final words of caution replayed in her head as she struck out for Haven.

***

Fuuuck, it got dark quickly this far north. This far into the year, too. Laney berated herself for every delay - for getting lost, for sitting in the field despairing just hours into her mission, for approaching Tull Hollow so slowly, for taking so long for her lunch break. It had turned cold too, but she hardly noticed as her panic rose with every degree more the sun slipped behind the horizon. Now her every step was blind. Now her every step could be right onto a prone zombie, or right into a zombie's grasp. Now her haste was making her incautious, now the occasional whimper of fear escaped her lips. She was gripping her hatchet so tightly, she thought she'd never be able to prise her fingers from it.

The hedgerows were the worst. Every rustle was amplified into a zombie's step. The wind through the bushes and stunted trees was a zombie's moan. Every time a bramble snagged her sleeve, that was it, grabbed by a zombie! Her eyes stung, her pulse roared, her breath was ragged in her throat as even the dusk dwindled. Just like the unworldly silence, the utter, utter darkness was alien to this city girl. There was no way, no way at all, of telling if she was going in the right direction. It was like one of those dreams about endless falling. Haven would be blacked out by now, only the bare minimum light used, and only then safely indoors behind heavy curtains, so as to avoid attracting human and unhuman intruders alike.

Straining her eyes, Laney could just make out that she was coming to another hedgerow. No, wait, this one was different, it's outline more uniform. She reached out her hatchet, and metal chinked on stone. The road wall! She vaulted it in one bound and immediately started sprinting up it, not caring whether she was on the safe mile yet or not. Indeed, she dashed through the S-bend without even pausing.

Her chest heaving, soaked in sweat, tears and snot pouring down her face, Laney gave the special knock on the door of Haven.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Mark Lawson Character Portrait: Jonathan Monroe Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: October "Toby" Harrison
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#, as written by Bosch
Epilogues.


The petrol would help keep the generator running long enough for Gary to get the information they needed as soon as the hard drive was recovered. Toby had done well for her first mission although something about the woman troubled Callie. After Toby had retired she asked Monroe about it in the kitchen but he remained unconvinced.

“You really can’t see it?”

“See what Callie? She’s fine, no broken bones and still breathing. That’s ok.”

“No she’s... heavy. Something happened out there that’s weighing her down.”

“We’re all heavy now Callie. We all got something to carry. She’ll be fine in a couple of days, just needs to compartmentalise.”

“Don’t you mean process?”

“No... I don’t. Something’s you can’t process. You just lock ‘em away keep ‘em real deep and then dig ‘em up every so often. I tend to do it over a bottle of Bushmill’s. We all deal with things in our own way Callie. It’s not like the kids you taught, just leave her be.” Monroe shrugged and left the living room. “I’ll get the kettle on.”
He was walking through the hallway of the Farmhouse when Delaney practically collapsed through the door looking like hell. He was about make a quip about this being a far cry from the O2 Arena or Simon Cowell’s yacht but stopped himself when he saw the stress on her face. There was a time for humour and this wasn’t it.

“Well done kid. Go get cleaned up suppers almost ready.” He offered with his best approximation of a smile.

Delaney’s report was what Winters and Monroe had expected but they needed her to check it out any way. The boat was news though.

“A boat could be a way outta here.” Winters said and Monroe rolled his eyes.

“Callie there’s nowhere else to go. This is home now.” Callie shook her head, she’d been running for so long it just seemed natural to keep going. “We’ll need to get someone on that. They might be open to trade, maybe they fish or something.”

“I’ll put one of the Scavs on it.” Callie nodded.

#

The next morning Monroe was still working with Mark augmenting the defences of Haven by building a large fence. Mark was still grieving the loss of Kim but as Monroe expected labour was helping keep his mind off it. Monroe believed a lot of depression was due not keeping the body active, at least that’s what he told himself. He knew the real reason he worked so hard to exhaust himself was so when he went to bed at night all he could do was sleep and not think about the things he’d buried.

They were just adding struts to the walls they had already built from lose wood and spare corrugated cladding. Monroe knew the job was great but it was already October and Winter could take down his walls faster than a crowd of Zombies.

“MONROE! QUICKLY!” Callie yelled out of the Kitchen window.

“Sounds bad.” Mark said. Monroe nodded and ran to the kitchen where he saw Callie fiddling with the dial on her Radio set.

“There’s someone on the radio.” She said frantically.

“What are they saying?”

Callie held her hand up and spoke into the radio.

“Yes that’s better we have you now. Who is this?”

Monroe heard tinny voice on the radio but couldn’t hear what was being said.

“Right... Right... Ok... just calm down... How many? Hello Hello?” Callie tried to get the signal back but had no success.

“What? Is one of the Scavs in trouble?”

“Not one of ours. A guy called Timothy says he’s been chased up a tree but a crowd of about ten Zombies.”

“Well sounds like Timmys shit out of luck.”

“What, you want to leave him?”

“I don’t want to but we can’t ask one of our people to risk themselves.”

“So we leave him to die?”

“What if it’s a trap?”

“You sound like Ackbar.”

“Who’s that?”

“Nevermind point is. He sounded scared. We can’t leave him to die.”

“It’s acting. We could be sending out a Scav to save evil Daniel Day Lewis!”

“We could be but WHAT does it say about us if we don’t?”

“It’s say’s we’re realists.”

“He could be one of the Rands or the Caravanners. This could be our in with those groups.”

Monroe went quiet which was a sign he was thinking deeply. “Ah... I don’t like it.” He finally grumbled.

“You don’t have to.”

Jobs.


I’m on a Boat.

Area- The Lake near Tull Hollow.

Objective- Investigate the Boat sighted by Delaney Byron

Information- One of our Scavs was out on a job in Tull Hollow where they found a devastated campsite however while there she also spotted an anchored boat in Tull Lake. We need you to investigate the boat, make contact with any survivors or scavenge the place for whatever you feel will be of use.

Be careful as you will have to a bit of swimming to get on board and the lake could contain Zombies. Also try not to get the Sawn off wet. Won't fire if it's sodden.

Monroe.



Helping hand.

Area- Davis Crag.

Objective- Rescue Timothy.

Information- We have just received a panicked cry for help over the radio and need a Scav to go check it out. We have currently lost radio contact with Timothy who is at Davis Crag and was able to climb a tree to evade a pack of about ten zombies. Unfortunately now he’s stuck up a tree and is exhausted. He needs someone to lure the zombies away to give him time to escape. That’s where you come in.

Monroe isn’t convinced this is safe though and is worried it’s a setup so he’s authorised use of one of his special weapons. It’s called a Webley revolver. Apparently it was pretty popular during WW2. Monroe was able get one working again by cannibalising an assortment of other guns. It’s ugly as sin and very heavy but it can hold six rounds which is a step up from the sawn offs. We only have one of these revolvers and Monroe would very much like it back safe and sound.

We’re also giving you a firework satchel. It’s just a satchel filled with things that go bang. Use it to lure the Zed’s away from Timothy so you can both escape.

Use caution on this one. You are guaranteed to find something. Either a crowd of Zeds or an ambush.

C. Winters.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tilo King Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Mark Lawson Character Portrait: Jonathan Monroe Character Portrait: Delaney Byron
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(Co-written with Faith Fanon)

Tilo King had arrived in Haven about a week now, and he was still getting to know everyone. He came unexpectedly, that might be an overstatement. At the time, surviving settlements were consolidating, and he just showed up on the doorstep as if the zombie horde had only just begun. For the student of history, and father of two, it did. After eluding the first wave on the day the stiffs came, Tilo had been trying to survive and find his family ever since. Seeing the situation at Colchester, Tilo didn't know what to think. Maybe, maybe they survived. Both boys could care for their mother if anything had happened to Tilo himself. He knew that, or maybe he didn't. He didn't know.

He wasn't that physically fit, or able compared to most of the others at Haven. However, he realized that it was something he'd have to manage or he'd be left behind. The group here, in his mind, consisted of various peoples from many walks of life. He was surprised to see the diversity when he first showed up. One of his fears was that this little place would be overrun pretty soon, it had happened at various other places that he stopped at. Maybe he was a bringer of ill-fortune.

Rubbish.

Forget about it, he thought. He was suprised at how superstitious he'd gotten. But sometimes, and this might be one of them, a person must find some consolation, or solace in what ways they can.

----

She got the distinct feeling Monroe wanted her to stay on the farm and help out, but after last night, Laney had set her mind against getting lumped with the domestic chores, and helping out on the barricades with Mark was creeping her out. The man was almost like a zombie himself now, methodically lifting and securing lengths of wood, backwards and forwards, unspeaking, almost unseeing. Any attempts at conversation were met by a dull stare, utter silence and then the cold shoulder. Sure, he'd lost someone - a fellow Scav, who'd died right here in Haven after being bitten on a mission - but who hadn't? So when the new guy, Tilo, had volunteered to go back to Tull Hollow to check out the boat, Laney had blurted out her offer of help immediately.

She felt some resentment towards him, for volunteering for what should have been her mission, and towards Callie and Monroe for accepting. It just reinforced her fear that she'd let the group down, that she could have done more. She felt like letting Tilo go on his own. He wasn't all that, let him face the unknown by himself. But after an hour on the barricades with Mark, she'd swallowed her pride. When she saw him sitting outside, hunched and nervous, she realised all new Scavs were scared. It was only natural. This guy was just trying to make his way same as anyone else.

---

Tilo sat on one of the logs that was set aside on the grounds as part of what was formerly a firepit. Now it was just a hole in the ground. He sat with his knees bent and his hands clasped together. He didn't sign up for this job, but on the day he came, Jonathan Monroe, one of the leaders of Haven, made it clear that everyone would have to do their part if they wanted to eat. Tilo's stomach told him that even though he was in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, he still had to eat. Tilo's head told him that even though he was hungry, he was in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

He didn't care, the primary goal on his mind was to survive and find the whereabouts of his wife and kids.

So he sat there and waited. One of the other 'scavs,' short for scavengers, went out to Tull Hollow the other day to check for any survivors. As an urbanite, Tilo wasn't much familiar with Tull Hollow, perhaps he might have overlooked the place as he referred to the Romans and their northward expansion. If there was anything important at Tull Hollow in history, it was perhaps a camp for some druids and their followers. Nothing more than a footnote in history.

Having a guide who survived a trek to and from the region seemed a prudent idea, on the part of the volunteer who chose to lead the way. Delaney Byron, Tilo remembered hearing something about her in the news. He didn't really keep up much with popular culture, as he relied on his sons to do that for him. From what he knew, she was the daughter of Morris Byron, or rather, the late Morris Byron. Tilo didn't know if the rocker had survived, but he did enjoy the man's music. Tilo's adolescence practically revolved around the man, him and other musicians such as Elton John, the Beatles, and Rod Stewart.

The thoughts dissipated, as Delaney Byron appeared from the farmhouse, or as Monroe put it, the 'command post.'

----

"Hey," she nodded at him. "I'm Delaney." She looked him up and down. He was younger than her father, but still what she would call old, even though he was probably not much older than Monroe. It was the educated air that clung to him, she guessed, compared to Monroe's robust physicality, that had that effect, she supposed.

"Okay, let's do this thing," she announced, setting off down the road. She'd been here a day or two longer than Tilo, no more, but the fact she'd been out on a mission and he hadn't, that she'd survived and come back, made her feel capable, at least in his presence.

"Right then," he gestured for her to lead the way and he followed.

The way they went about, it seemed like he was on a hike, since he had to carry a bag among other things. The hatchet was something that he was never accustomed to using, but he knew he'd eventually have to learn. He held it with both hands, almost with a death grip. They came to the S-bend, Laney casting sly glances at her new companion. He wasn't of the generation that would know much about her career. Mostly she was glad, but part of her was disappointed - that same disappointment she always felt when confronted with the transcience, the artificiality of her celebrity. It wasn't important, in the grand scheme of things. Not like her dad's had been. People would remember things he'd made forever. At least, that's what people had thought, back in the old world.

"So I hear you're Morris Byron's daughter?" Tilo attempted to socialize, although it wasn't a priority for him at the moment. His eyes scouted the surroundings, trying to spot any zack.

'Yeah, I am,' she replied, glad to be talking about her father, not her own career. 'You... I don't know... you into him? This way," she said, vaulting the stone wall.

Tilo climbed over the wall, and once he got back on the ground, he began, "Well I'm a history professor, or I was. Before that I rocked out to your old man, the Beatles, Elton John, that sort of thing."

"Elton John? Yeah, my dad knew him, believe it or not. He used to play me Goodbye Yellowbrick Road all the time when I was little, the whole thing, on vinyl."

"Oh, no kidding?"

"Yeah, taught me to play it too. On piano. The song, I mean, not the whole album."

"Well I'm not surprised, I suppose Sir Elton was very much a family friend."

"Not really, I think they fell out when I was little. When they were both cokeheads." Laney saw they were nearing where she'd come across the stream, and directed them to the right, towards Tull Hollow.

"That's one of the things I miss most about the old world, my piano. I used to write all my songs on it. I wouldn't even mind if I just had a guitar again." She pointed out the tops of the trees to Tilo. "Over there. I mean, do you think we'll ever get things like that back again? Pianos, records, that kind of thing?"

"Honestly? I don't know. They seem like luxuries now. But um, I think everybody needs some music these days. And I'm hoping it comes back."

It was the most Laney had spoken to anyone since the outbreak. Come to think of it, she was struggling to remember the last time she'd spoken to anyone like this. Tears of loneliness pricked her eyes. "What about you, what do you miss?"

When posed with the question, he wasn't sure if he should answer it, or rather, could answer it. He wanted to give the most obvious answer. However, a part of him was afraid that, by doing so, he had already accepted that they were gone. They were people, not musical instruments. Once they were gone, they were gone, and he wasn't prepared to accept that.

"Um...well...," his head shifted away from her, trying to find some comfort in the trees. He perceived that they offered none, so he went out with it.

"I miss my wife, and my sons," he paused, continuing along behind her, "I don't know if they're still alive."

Laney opened her mouth to fill the silence. She'd resigned herself to her family being dead long ago. It wasn't her place to tell this man how to deal with his grief, so she kept quiet.

"That's the aspect I hate the most, the uncertainty," then he began to chuckle at himself, "In the end, it's just fear."

"Look at me, I'm a history professor," he paused and let out a low sigh, "The subject teaches you to realize the uncertainty of the future."

As he said this, he heard a slight crunch among crumpled branches on the ground.

"Speak of the devil," he whispered.

They crouched low, keeping their line of sight in the direction of which the noise came. Tilo's hatchet grip only tightened.

It was a loner, the thing moved at a snail's pace through the woodland. Its entire left jaw was gone, and the irises of its eyes were a milky white. It was male, Tilo knew that, but genders didn't really matter any more with those things. Blood, both wet and dry, was smeared across its face in random patterns almost like tribal markings. Its skin had turned a very sickly pale brown, some had turned into the literal definition of white, and various other colors that fell in between the two.

"Should we let him go?"

Laney recalled the sting of cowardice she'd left when she told Callie and Monroe she'd left a Zed wandering around the trees, and hefted her hatchet. "Come on, there's two of us. Besides, we don't want any of them waiting for us when we come out of the lake."

Tilo looked at Laney, then he eyed the zombie once more, and he agreed that she was right.

"You go left, I'll go right. Which ever one it turns its back to... Pow!" Laney didn't let on it was Barney's tactic. It had served them well.

---

They stood by the water's edge, looking out at the boat. "Looks like one my dad had in Jamaica," Laney said. "Could be 10 people out on it. Fuck, that water looks cold." She looked Tilo up and down, then flung her backpack, jacket and hatchet to the ground. "I used to swim every day nearly, I got this." Then she stripped off her jeans, hoodie and T-shirt. "Oh, come on," she said, looking the staring man levelly in the eyes. "I wore less than this in my videos." With that, she threw herself into the water.

"No, it's I just I was about to jump in myself. But I see I've been relegated to rearguard," he shrugged it off and kept watch on their rear for any more stragglers.

For all her bravado, for all that she'd braced herself, the shock of the cold took her breath away and momentarily she foundered, sinking below the surface. Then she found the bottom with her feet, breached the surface again and took a deep breath. 'Fuuuck,' she cried, looked back and winked at Tilo, still standing on the shore, and struck out with powerful strokes towards the boat. It was a good 100 yards out from the shore, so Laney was able to observe it at length as she closed on it. The truth was, it was a lot less sleek and stylish than her dad's Caribbean yacht, but it was about the same size, so there could be as many as 12 people squeezed onto it, the survivors of the camp. But there was no-one to be seen above board, no signs of life at all. No deck chairs, no casually discarded clothes, leisure items, nothing to indicate it was inhabited at all. Then, about 30 yards from the boat, Laney thought she glimpsed a face at one of the port-holes but, treading water and looking again, she couldn't make it out. She swam closer, and then, when she got within 10 yards of the boat, a head popped up from where she guessed there was a short stairs down into the cabin. It was a red-haired boy, somewhere between 10 and 14, she guessed, and he was struggling against something. Something was pulling him back.

"They're u-ugh," he choked out, craning his neck, then disappearing from view. Laney trod water, trying to catch another glimpse of the boy. A quick glance behind her failed to locate Tilo on the shore. Sudden fear, a sudden feeling of exposure, rattled her nerves. The boy shot up from below deck again and she heard him cry, loud and clear, "They're underwater, under the boat," just as bone-cold fingers closed on her toes.

---

Water closed over her head and rattled into her lungs as Laney was pulled under, then, with an instinctive kick she broke free from the tenuous grasp. She rose spluttering, and swam several strokes away from the boat. Unable to catch her breath, she found it hard to keep her head above water. On the deck of the boat, a red-haired man now stood behind the red-haired boy, their struggle evidently over. Laney tried to tread water, her throat retching against the swallowed lakewater, her lungs tight as a fist.

From afar, Tilo could not recognize the situation, was Laney drowning? He wasn't sure, but she looked as if she was being pulled under. Zombies under water? She was taking in water, and everytime she went up, her gasp for air was much larger than the last.

"Damn!" he swore, and paced about, with his eye on the girl and the two figures on the boat, whom he could not seem to make out.

She held out a hand beseechingly to the boat's occupants, black smoke and red dots beginning to float before her eyes. She felt a hand brush against her thrashing legs. She kicked away again, and coughed, water gouting from her lungs, and finally drew in sweet, life-giving air. The pair on the boat continued to look on, both mouths open, eyes gaping. The man held the boy's shoulders. The chilling terror at drowing gone, rage at their inaction surged through Laney.

"You fuckers!" she screamed impotently, her throat raw.

She looked around again; her struggles had taken her almost round to the other side of the boat. Certainly she couldn't see Tilo on the lakeshore any more. The lake was murky, and the sun reflecting off its surface made even harder to see what lurked beneath, so, hoping she had put enough distance between her and the submerged zombies, Laney dunked herself. In the grainy, dark silence, a solid wall of limping, crooked bodies shuffled towards her, a forest of reaching arms and grasping hands. There was no way of getting closer to the boat; the horde of zombies must spend every moment under it, mindlessly drawn by the sounds of its inhabitants. Laney came up for air and looked again at the man and boy on the boat, noticing the deep, dark hollows around their eyes.

"What the hell are you waitin-" Tilo stopped his cry as he tried to assemble the pieces of the puzzle. Why weren't they reaching out to help her?

His call would only attract more from beyond the woods, if there were any.

He searched about on the shore trying to find a sizable boat that would not tip over if more of the swimming ones came for him like they did for Laney. But he only managed to find a canoe with a passenger capacity for at least two people. He dropped the hatchet into the canoe and immediately grabbed the wooden oars and began rowing to her. He struggled furiously, paddling toward the yacht, and from the corner of his eye he spotted more zed coming above the waterline.

Oh bloody hell. Where did they come from? It didn't matter, he had to focus, she was struggling to maintain her breath, while avoiding the teeth of those things that were once human. He had to get to her before she was bitten. Meanwhile, the man and the boy on the boat just stayed there, not moving an inch, indifferent to her cries.

"For God's sake help her!" Tilo growled, still no movement, what was the matter with them?

"Delaney, swim toward me!" He motioned with one hand, paddling with the other.

She kicked and kicked, while her arms stretched to their limit with each stroke as if she tried to pull the boat toward herself. Tilo paddled even more, trying to close the gap between the two of them, with the swimmers, or gurglers floating behind her. She grabbed onto the side, and he hauled her over, letting her lay across the canoe, as he rowed them back. She was still breathing hard, her voice almost gone. The scream in the water that she gave was taxing on her singer's vocal chords, not to mention lungs.

"On the boat," she gasped. "There's something.. wrong with them."

"We can't go back there, those things will swarm us," Tilo was just focused on getting out of there.

"Keep your hand on my hatchet, and watch out for any that might try to board," Tilo rowed, and breathed. Rowed, and breathed, trying to calm himself. Laney let herself be dragged through the water. She didn't think she'd have the energy to strike out at anything that approached them.

"Don't say anything, just check if you were bitten anywhere," he looked back after every other stroke he made to keep track of the distance he was putting between them and the yacht. Just a little bit more, just a little bit more. They were going to make it, they needed to make it.

He lifted Laney up from the boat, while the zeds were still on their approach. They had landed far from where Laney had ditched her backpack and clothes for her swim, and the closing zombies made it too dangerous to return for them. Tilo gave one last look at their dreadful faces, of the zeds, and of the two survivors on the small yacht. They kept a pace that was just shy of sprinting, his equipment slowing him down, and Laney's exhaustion slowing her down.

----

Back at Haven, Tilo panted, and took very long breaths, his hands on his knees, as he tried to recirculate what little saliva he had in his dried mouth. He sweated, he squinted, and he realized he was old.

He may have been old, but he still had enough breath to ask Laney, "Are you alright?"

She nodded, still a bit shaken by the encounter. "Tilo?" she asked.

"Yes?"

"Lend me your shirt?"

----

Tilo stood there for a second, in front of the two leaders of Haven. Should he tell them that there were two survivors still trapped on the yacht? Or should he keep that to himself, and leave the two to whatever fate they chose?

"Everybody was turned, as far as Laney and I could tell. From the boat to the lake, the place is swamped with them," Tilo turned to leave, but he stopped himself and added, "But...if you do come back there, remember to pack some firepower."

Then he left the 'command post,' leaving Callie and Monroe to their devices.

"Yeah, forget Tull Hollow, forget Tull Lake," Laney added. "The place is swamped. Okay, I've got to get dressed." She hurried out of the room after Tilo.

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: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Jonathan Monroe Character Portrait: Delaney Byron
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Don’t want to be down with the Sickness.


After the relief of having a normal, girly chat with Hoppy last night, Laney knew she should have woken in a good mood, refreshed. Instead she felt groggy, her breasts were sore in the sports bra she wore in bed, and she had that familiar thick feeling below her waist. And that would explain the painful spot high on her forehead.

'Oh fuck,' she groaned, scrabbling underneath her bed for the box she kept discretely hidden away. Four left. Well that wasn't going to do. She'd determined last month to sort it out, and then she'd forgotten all about it. As usual. She dragged herself out of bed, full lips pouting, and wrapped a bandana round her head, to hide the spot as well as keep her hair back. Dawn had barely broken. On her way to the kitchen, a scrap of paper on the mission board caught her eye in the half-light.

Moments later, Laney was shrugging into a Scav Pack and rueing the nicks her hatchet blade had picked up hacking the generator in Brakenbacker Farm. She should have talked to Monroe about fixing it up last night. Never mind, it would still do the job. Even he wasn't up yet, meaning the armoury was still locked. The shotgun would have to do instead of the rifle. Easier to use, at least.

As she passed the designated safe radius outside Haven, Laney reflected on how far she'd come in her month as a Scav. When she'd passed this point on her way to investigate Tull Hollow, she'd been petrified but at the same time careless, not making good time, not taking notice of where she was going. But the near misses she'd experienced since had shocked her out of her comfort zone; finally she'd accepted Barney wasn't there to hold her hand any more. She was responsible for her own life, and those of her mission companions; she'd enjoyed feeling like Tilo and Ben's equal.

She had one leg over the wall and into the field when the sound of feet dragging on the road reached her ears. She scrambled the rest of the way over just as the zombie began its snarl and rushed at her. It was a tall one, and she backed away from its long grasp, wincing as she noticed almost all the flesh had been eaten away from its face. Twice she made towards it and had to back away to avoid being grabbed. She stared at it, plotting her next move. She swung her hatchet to hack off the first arm. As metal bit through rotting flesh and into bone, she realised...

Will?

Was it?

Laney hadn't seen the energetic Scav around Haven for some time now, and he hadn't been particularly close to anyone who would miss him, not like Mark and Kim, or Callie and Monroe.

The creature's left arm dangled uselessly, a shard of broken bone jutting out through the skin. The long, thin cheekbones were the same...

She hesitated again. It kept trying to grab her with its one good arm, kept growling and snapping its jaws at her. Will or no, now it only wanted one thing. She stepped forward, felt its clammy, steel-strong fingers close on her left shoulder, and brought her hatchet straight down on the crown of its head.

The fingers released. The zombie slumped onto the wall. The growling didn't stop. Laney whirled around, hatchet out, and by luck as much as anything else shoved the child-sized zombie to the ground. Judging by its jerky movements, it was an old one. She caught her balance, put her boot on its back, and struck it in the back of the head.

Fuck it, Laney, she chided herself. Just as she thought she was getting the hang of it, she'd been careless again. Even if that zombie had been Will once, it wasn't any more.

For all her caution for the next hour, Laney didn't see any more zombies. That was the benefit of Haven being uphill. Just by law of averages - or maybe gravity, she ticked herself off for not knowing - unless they had a reason, they tended not to go uphill. Of course, that meant they congregated downhill. And Cromwell was downhill.

-----------

Laney paused by an old-fashioned telephone box that overlooked the village. There was no movement, which suggested no-one living had been here in a while. She double-checked her map, and pinpointed the corner around which she'd find the GP's office. Just beyond the corner, there was a pile of bodies. She pocketed a handful of pebbles from the road

She crept into the village, hatchet at the ready, crouching low, a hand out for balance and ready to burst into a sprint at any moment. Every doorway she approached came in for close scrutiny; she ducked below every window. As she drew closer, she could see the pile of bodies for what they were: long-decomposed remains. She checked the way out of the village behind her was still clear, and threw a pebble at the pile, just to be sure.

She missed. She'd never been a good throw. The pebble skittered up the road, clicking and ringing in the deadly silence. She froze, barely daring to breath. Nothing but the sound of a window somewhere creaking in the cold breeze.

Peering round the corner, Laney spied the GP's office halfway down the street. It abutted a pharmacy, just as she'd hoped. At the end of the street appeared to be a street market. The remains of stall, awnings and barrels cluttered created a road block. Produce long perished, empty containers, plastic and wood alike, littered the street.

The door to the GP's office had been smashed off its hinges. Deep gashes in the wood suggested a fire axe had featured in this entrance. Laney's first careless steps inside crunched on broken glass from the windows. She backed up and picked her way in gingerly. The waiting room had witnessed a human-on-human fight, judging by bullet holes around the nurse's counter and the arc of blood sprayed on the wall and a door behind it. Zeds didn't have blood pressure like that. Out of habit, Laney scanned the headlines on the glossy magazines scattered in one corner. A year-old Grazia - she never featured in that, too upmarket - and, yes, there is was! Heat Magazine's splash headline 'Let Byrons be Byrons', from when she and her father had attacked a paparazzo outside a London nightclub last Christmas.

She gazed on her father's face on the front cover. Even contorted in violence, he seemed to be laughing. He'd never taken a single thing seriously. Laney shook the shards of glass off the magazine, rolled it up and put it in her backpack.

Just as she was zipping it up, she realised something was missing. What? Flashlight! Of course. The mission order said the supplies were in the basement. In her haste to leave, she'd forgotten to stop off for a flashlight. Fuck.

Looking down the corridor, past two open doors Laney presumed led to surgeries, the signs were that the office had been ransacked. There was more broken glass, more bullet holes, and a set of bloodied footsteps led from one of the surgeries to a door at the end of the corridor. The basement, Laney guessed. She crept along the corridor and listened at the door. Nothing. She pushed it open and it struck her that the bloodied footsteps only led down into the basement, not back up again.

A blur of growling faces, snapping teeth and reaching, gripping fingers flashed before her as daylight poured into the basement. She slammed the door shut, and bodies slammed frantically against it. 'Hungry bastards,' she gasped, and dashed back to the waiting room. She could still hear the muffled sounds of the zombies trying to escape the basement. The door had held them before, so it would hold them again, but it couldn't be long until the noise brought more zombies.

Laney slipped through the door behind the nurse's counter. A small hall held a stairs and the door to the pharmacy. It, too, had been thoroughly looted, it's large plate-glass window smashed in. No bloodstains or bullet holes here, at least, but the shelf she sought out was empty. Someone had had the same idea some time ago. Damn. But on the shelf next to it... What's this? Better take a few.

------------

She was just browsing bottles of conditioner when she heard a creak from the street outside. The creak grew, and climaxed in a crash of something heavy falling to the ground. A familiar groan went up, more than one. More than a few. Darting her head out the window, Laney saw zombies rising from the wreckage of the street market. Five, no ten, eight or ten more behind that stall, and more again.

Without sparing the breath to swear, Laney spun on her heel and up the stairs. The door at the top of the stairs was locked, but fear made her frantic, and the lock gave way under a flurry of blows. Laney made it to the upstairs front window before the zombies had crossed the street. She hurled a coffee table through the window, shards of glass cutting her arms, and leant out, shouting.

'Zed motherfuckers! Hey! Fuck you!' The pack - there must have been 25 at least - gathered in the street below her, snarling and grasping uselessly. At least none would think to venture into the pharmacy and climb the stairs. Not yet. She was safe until she stopped shouting.

Ten minutes later, she was reduced to shouting 30 seconds or so, just enough to keep their attention, but her voice was nearly gone. She needed help.

The walkie-talkie! Thankfully they came prepacked in the Scav Packs. Thank you, Callie, for your foresight! The walkie-talkie crackled to life

'Haven? Haven? Hello? Anybody there? C'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon. Hey Zack, I fucked your mother!'

'What did you say?' Monroe sounded gruff as usual, but also bemused.

'Monroe? Oh thank fuck. Monroe, I'm stuck in Cromwell, I'm fucking surrounded.' Laney realised how far away help was, how little help a voice over the airwaves could be. The panic began to rise from a tight knot in her stomach.

'Who is this?'

'It's Laney. I'm stuck in a house...' Her voice cracked, completely hoarse. She lifted a mirror off the wall and threw it out the window. The zombies howled anew. More were streaming in from the main street and out of houses.

'Delaney? What are you doing out there? No-one said you should go out to Cromwell.'

Some came back out onto the street from the pharmacy to investigate the latest noise. She was running out of time, and the horde must have swelled to 50. Her mind turned briefly to Chip's death, and the shotgun on her back. Then she remembered Hoppy's wan smile, and Ben's laugh.

'Delaney, how many? Where exactly are you?'

'Fucking... all of them, blud! I'm upstairs, but they'll be here soon.'

'How fucking many, girl?' A part of her secretly whooped at the concern and stress in Monroe's voice. 'It's your pop star,' she heard him say to someone else.

'I don't know, 50. More. I need to distract them, there's no back way out.' A wave of fear washed over her at the thought of being utterly trapped. Of the tearing teeth. Of the pain. Of dying, of losing her body, of becoming a monster. A sob escaped her lips.

'Okay, cut your mewling and listen up, Delaney. Have you got something to cushion the walkie-talkie?' She spotted a couple of seat cushions and nodded. 'Laney! Are you there? Have you got -' 'Yes, yes, yes.' 'Okay, here's what you do...'

She could hear zombies moving around in the pharmacy as she worked. Soon they would find the stairs, and she would be swamped. But it wasn't long until Monroe and Callie's voices hollered and whooped down by the street market. Soon they were joined by a couple more voices from Haven. Turned up to maximum volume, the walkie-talkie she'd wrapped in cushions and her bandana and thrown out the window would have about 20 minutes battery life.

Laney lay low, unable to see how many zombies had gathered at the decoy, not wanting to draw them back to the pharmacy. That sounded like Hoppy's Welsh lilt, and Ben's West Coast drawl. Was that Tilo's educated tone? Ten minutes dragged by, slow as tombstones. The voices on the decoy were ragged and hoarse, and Laney knew it was now or never. Inching down the stairs, hatchet at the ready, prepared to make a last stand in that narrow space, lifting and dropping her weapon until the strength left her arms, Laney arrived in the pharmacy. Empty. She backed through and into the waiting room of the GP's office. Empty, although she could hear the zombies in the basement thudding away at the door, alerted by the decoy.

She crept out onto the street. Every zombie in Cromwell was milling around the trampled street market and the walkie-talkie. Already the sound was fading. Hugging the wall, she slid back to the main street, which was mercifully clear of zombies. Throwing caution to the wind, and surges of relief giving her new energy, Laney sprinted back to the telephone box, shut herself in it, and burst into tears.

------------

Monroe was black with anger when she arrived back at haven. She thought she saw a vein thumping in his forehead. Callie stood beside him in the Command Centre, anger and relief conflicting on her face. Monroe lanced Laney with a stare for 30 seconds, then opened his mouth to begin his tirade.

'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' to Callie and stormed off.

'But I couldn't get any, they were all out. Fucking zombie apocalypse, huh?' Laney reached into her backpack and pulled out a device that looked like a small rubber eggcup, but with a longer stem and no foot. 'But I got these. It's a Mooncup. Don't ask me, I've never tried. But it's better than rags, right?' She handed it over to Callie. 'I got a few each, you know? Oh, and I got conditioner.'

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: Jonathan Monroe Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: Jesus "Matador" Herrera Character Portrait: October "Toby" Harrison
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A collaboration with Romaneck and UnderSavaveEternity
November 4th
Part 1: Hello
Laney stomped through the snow, unhappy. She wasn't at all sure she'd said what she really wanted to Ben. She'd felt his heartbeat under his fingers. She hoped she'd get to feel it again.

She wrapped her layers around her tightly. Ugh, she hated snow. Sure, London had seen some cold, white winters in recent years, but up here, exposed, away from the comforts of the city, the wind bit sharped and dug its icy fingers deeper. There was no diving into a Costa for hot chocolate up here in the hills.

She rounded a corner and found her partners for this mission waiting for her, Toby and Jesus. Toby she'd seen around Haven quite a bit, but it was hard to get a conversation going with her. Jesus, well. she'd not gone out of her way to talk to him. It wasn't because he had been an even bigger star back in the old world than she was. Not entirely. But he wore his fame so easily, hardly even noticed in fact. And Monroe knew who he was, whereas he called her 'X Factor'. Even Ben knew who Jesus was, even though Laney had thought Americans didn't like soccer - what little she knew about the game anyway. But no, Mexico were America's big rivals, apparantly. Still flustered by her brief meeting with Ben, she merely nodded at her two companions and picked up the rifle and Scav Pack she'd left at the door.

Jesus was deep in thought. Things were simply not the same anymore, and it wasn't just the fact that the whole doomsday had come. It was simply that without Kim... things simply could not be the same, did not felt the same. The task at the forestry office had been his opportunity to redeem himself, to prove his worth... He had done scavenging tasks before, simple things like delivering and retrieving satchels, bringing bottles of water back home - simple stuff. But the minute things began to get dicey, for some reason he had dropped it completely.

And people had not been blind to the fact. Jesus had insisted to be left more scav hunts on his own, yet Monroe had been wiser than that. When a man who has tasted success for so long suddenly can't clean his defeat, they tend to be reckless in their pursuit to reafirm their self-worth, so now seemed to be a good time to have him deployed in a way that would have him be of use without fear of getting himself killed.

Monroe knew that Jesus was a team player, and he also could tell that the safety of others would take priority to the Mexican... or at least he could hope so.

Still Jesus had his doubts. He had heard that there was another group ganging up on them. The so-called rescue mission had turned into an armed assault report. In hindsight, Jesus should have passed on this one. He had never fired a rife before. He had premier aim, yes, but that was with his legs. The only way he could see this working was if at some point he would have to kick the bullets into a goal keeper. The chances of that seemed less than unlikely.

Jesus walked towards the others, he had been the last one out. "Hello people." He had not spent much time around them but they were all Scavs now. Jesus would see if he could have them all wear sport jerseys with numbers on them, to keep the team spirit. "Jesus Herrera at your service, call me J if you have something with taking the Lord's name in vain". He was slightly shocked at how reluctant the people of the old world had been to calling him by his full first name. "Or Matador will do if you remeber my shoots."

"Actually I think we had already met?" he said to Laney. " I think I saw you with one of my mates, Carlos Romano was it? I don't remember really, might be mixing you up with someone else."

Carlos Romano. Ugh. Laney glared at Jesus for bringing up an ugly part of her life in the old world. She'd briefly dated the footballer when she was 17, when the tabloids were just cottoning on to the fact that the child star was becoming a wild child. the Mexican played for one of the London clubs, Arsenal or Chelsea, she wasn't sure, but he was the polar opposite type of footballer from Jesus. Carlos was slow and brutal and had a habit of dirty play - and he was much the same in bed. She'd been blamed for breaking up his marriage, but judging by the number of starlets who had flirted with him that night the Mexico team took over The Cat Club, the damage had been done a long time ago. She hadn't noticed Jesus there, but when 20 millionaire footballers go raging in a nightclub, it's hard to keep track of everyone.

'He was an asshole,' was all Laney replied.

"Well..." Seems like they hadn't parted ways warmly from the disgust in her face. "He was kind of full of himself." He certainly was hoping for a happier reaction, or at the very least a nostalgic one, but they all dealed differently with it. For himself the answer came simply, be swallow, be simple and dont think to much.

Toby hung back as the two other Scavs were speaking. She had noticed the girl - Laney - around Haven quite a bit but never felt any real urge to talk to her. The other one she didn't remember really ever seeing around. Jesus or something, though she had a bit of a problem calling him that. She approached them quietly, as if not actually there in body but definitley in mind. Toby didn't know what to make of them yet, but from the sounds of their conversation they at least had a bit of knowledge on one another. That's good though, the less they knew about her the more leeway she had in a conversation. "Hey there," she started, looking at each of them inquisitively, trying her hardest not to act as awkward as she felt. She would rather have not said anything at all, because at least then she could go along the mission quietly without too much awkward conversations between them. "I'm Toby," she said, though she knew they probably already knew who she was.

The Caravanners' runners - what they called Scavs - arrived shortly afterwards. Laney recognised Jake as he strode forward to shake her hand; he obviously believed in this mission's secondary purpose of fostering good relationships between Haven and Eden Valley Caravan Park. Laney introduced him to Toby and Jesus. Turned out Jake, too, was a Jesus Herrera fan. Behind Jake, a woman in her 30s scowled and toyed with her rifle strap. 'Come on, United Colours of Benetton,' she snapped. 'Let's go find this mystery gang of killers.' Jake made a calming gesture to the woman, patting the air with one hand. 'Sam is still upset about Tim. We all are.'

'Yeah, well, that's why our guy who saw it isn't coming today,' said Laney. 'Too much tension. You met him, Jake, down at the chicken factory.'

'Ben. I remember. Good kid.'

After poring over the map, the group set off for Davis Crag shortly after midday. Thick cloud cover prevented the sun from melting the snow, but there were no further falls. The Caravanners kept up a brisk pace, knowing daylight would be short and they would have to return to Eden Valley before dusk. At least it kept them all warm. Sam strode ahead silently, mouth set in a steely grimace. Jake was pressing Jesus about his soccer exploits.

"The way you scored that goal against the Ajax was the thing of legends!" Jesus was getting to know the so-called Runners. Jake gave off the impression that he was a sport enthusiast; he was a fan of the Chelsea "Yes, im not going to say it was a lucky shot, but the pass that Glenn gave me sealed their fate"

Laney fell back with Toby. 'You okay?' the younger girl said after several minutes.

Toby didn't quite know how to answer the question. She didn't assume the rest of the group hadn't seen their share of horrors, but it felt like since she'd come to Haven, all she'd seen was death. Human death, not just Stiffs. The hanged mother and the starved child down on that abandoned farm appeared in her dreams still, and she'd avoided Tilo since their mission to the Hamilton Hotel; she didn't want to relive the despair in William Rand's eyes.

'Yeah, okay,' she huffed eventually.

That was the extent of their conversation until they arrived at the crag. Sam brought the group to a stop where she'd found her friend's body. The way she glared at the Haven crew, it was clear they weren't beyond her suspicions yet.

'The way Ben told me,' Laney spoke up, 'he was behind some rocks, kind of looking down on it, so he must have been... up there?' She pointed to a crest above them. 'And the gang left...' she pointed up a gravelly ravine up the Crag, 'in that direction.'

Part 2: The Hunt
After an hour examining the area, and with no real leads, the decision was easy to take the path the killers had taken up into the mountains. The going was slow, a 40ft climb with the snow turning to ice in patches. Toby's cheeks burned as she slipped for what felt like the hundredth time; Sam and Jesus had already reached the top of the ravine, a third of the way up the mountain. 'Makes sense, no zombies are going to climb that,' she heard the Caravanner say as she finally joined them. Toby briefly wondered if that was a jibe at her lack of dexterity.

Catching their breath, the group turned to look out over the valley in front of them, taking turns to point out some of the landmarks they'd visited. Laney quickly noted Tull Hollow and Tull Lake, but kept to herself what she'd seen there; she didn't know how far to trust the Caravanners. Toby nodded to Hamilton Hotel, and Jake pointed the road that rounded the shoulder of another high hill that hid Eden Valley Caravan Park off to the east. Everyone automatically turned to the west, where Haven lay over several more horizons.

'If they're up here, they'll have seen us going about our business the last few weeks,' Laney muttered.

'They're not up here,' replied Sam testily. 'There's nothing up here, too exposed.' As if to prove her point, a sharp gust of wind tore at everyone's clothing. Racing through the rocks above them, the wind did a reasonable impression of a groaning zombie. 'No-one came up here, this Ben is telling fibs. Why's that, d'ya think?'

Anger flashed through Laney like a slap. 'Hey! Back off, bitch,' she snapped.

It was a good thing that Jake and Jesus had almost instantly found a common ground. Laney had grown a thick skin even before the fall - being a public figure either hardened or burned you - and this Sam looked like she was a great example of a female canine.

Jesus and Jake were between the pair in an instant. 'Alright Sam, alright," he soothed. 'I'm telling you, that kid's okay. I believe him. And you know Jane does too, so let's just get on with it. Besides,' he said, pointing over the woman's shoulder, then turning her around, 'what's up there?'

A wisp of white smoke contrasted with the dark clouds. It was coming from the other side of the crest of the mountain. Sam turned away from Laney and led the group up a raised ledge of rock. They found themselves looking down on a secluded little valley, almost as if a giant had scooped a handful out of the mountain. Inside the gentle slope stood a stone cottage with smoke rising from the chimney, and behind it a few wooden outbuildings.

'There must be someone inside,' said Jake. 'What about the smoke? Jesus, you want to check it out?'

Straight out of a poor slum, there was a building that had not been subjected to some good maintenance, but there was no question about it... that chimney had not lit itself. "What do you make of it?" Jesus had a bad feeling about this, but then again he had not had a good feeling about anything since Kim had been bitten.

The Eden Valley runners joined Jesus at the cottage. Laney slipped her rifle to her shoulder and squinted along its barrel. Jake gave the door a gentle shove, and even as Sam muttered 'Be careful,' a now familiar growl went up, and from out of the darkness stumbled two of zombies. Jake dispatched the first, a tall, slender being, with a practised stab of a sharpened iron bar through the eye. The creature fell awkwardly and dragged the bar from his hands. As the second creature, a ragged, torn, grey thing that might once have been an old woman, stepped up to him, Jake reached out to grab both its hands to keep it at bay. His right hand passed through thin air - this zombie was missing its left arm from the elbow up - and it pivoted round and buried its face in Jake's chest. Sam and the Scavs sprang forward as Jake tumbled to the ground, but as even as they did, from the door of the cottage a seething wedge of zombies burst out and fell where Jake lay to feast.

'Jaaaaakkkkkke!' The scream burst from Sam like something solid, the woman bent double in shock and anger. Immediately, the zombies who could not get near Jake were alerted; seven or eight stood clumsily and turned towards them. Fear gripping Jesus tightly, sprang to action admist his colliding sorrow and fear being the closest to the cottage when the zombies emerged, blasted one in the chest with his shotgun and sprinted past it as it was knocked to the ground. 'Back to the ravine,' he shouted, dragging Sam after him, his arm trobbed with the kickback of the firearm, but right now his golden rule was in play - Focus on not losing before going for the victory

From their vantage point, Toby and Laney could see at least 12 zombies in the chasing pack, two in particular closing ground on Jesus as he struggled to bring Sam with him. Laney checked her aim and fired. The rifle bucked wildly and slammed back into her shoulder. Beside her, Toby picked up a stone the size of her fist and threw it in a high arc. It caught the nearest chaser in the chest, knocking it to the ground. Then they, too, turned and ran.

The group slipped and slithered down the ravine and, ignoring cuts and bruises, turned to watch as the first zombie stepped onto the steep, rocky incline. It immediately lost its footing and plunged headlong down the 40ft drop, hitting almost every rock on the way down and landing in a crumpled heap. The rest of the pack followed mindlessly; soon there was a pile of smashed bodies at the foot of the ravine. A number tried to stand or crawl on shattered, buckling limbs; the Scavs watched uncomfortably as Sam strode among them, slashing and hacking with a wicked-looking machete. Finally, covered in gore, she sank to the ground, her arms wrapped around her knees.

Part 3: Crosshairs
'Sam?' Toby asked cautiously as she caught up to the woman, who seemed to be feeling a mulitude of angry emotion at the loss of her friends. Toby got it, she really did, but she also knew it wasnt quite healthy for Sam to be holding things in like this. Sam gave her a heart-stopping look that sent nervous jitters through Toby. She tried to keep her facial expression calm and collected. She was still on the ground, hugging her knees in a position that looks all too feeble for the woman. Toby didn't quite know what to say, but knelt down anyway, looking Sam dead in the eye despite the feelings of anger radiating from the woman.

'I know this sucks, but you've got to pull it together, Sam, its the only way you'll make it through this.' The words rushed out of her mouth like a tidal wave she couln't seem to stop, and she somehow felt some of the anger edge off of Sam. 'It hurts to lose someone close, to feel that they aren't here anymore,' Toby stopped to take a stuttering breath. She herself felt weak-kneed now. She stood before giving Sam her final words, 'But he wouldn't want you to lose your mind because of these feelings of anger.'

Laney cautiously approached them. 'Listen, Sam, I'm sorry bout Jake but we're starting to lose the light. We should go...'
'I'm not leaving Jake up there,' Sam stated grimly, hauling herself to her feet. 'Not to become one of them.' It might have been due to their sudden bonding but Jesus could understand Sam here. If he had given the choice to go back for Kim at the hearth of the zombie onslaught he would have done it. "I can go with her" Jesus blurted, but as far as he could tell it had gone unnoticed.

'We should really get back to Haven. Or Eden Valley. You can't help Jake now.'

'Jake bought your little story, you and the Yank. But maybe I don't. So we keep looking for this gang, or maybe I'll start thinking Haven did kill Tim.'

Laney felt she had to speak out, Toby and Jesus weren't going to. 'This is bullshit, Sam, soon we won't be able to see a thing. We're walking into a trap, or more Zeds.'

The older woman whirled around, grabbed Laney by the shoulder, dragged her face up to her own, wild-eyed.

'It's not like before, little girl,' Sam snarled. 'There's no daddy's millions to protect you now, no coppers. It's just you and your friends now. You find one of your friends dead - killed by human hands, not zombies - it's up to you to kill the fucker who did it." She reached behind her and pulled out a pistol, pointing it back up the ravine for emphasis. 'That's what I'm doing for Tim. You telling me you wouldn't to that for your Latino friend there, or or this Ben guy or any of the other happy clappy family you got up at that farm?'

Toby could have ignored the way the woman grabbed at Laney, spouting put-downs. But then, that would have weighed heavy on Toby just as everything else has done. She held her weapon steady, pointing at Sam. She knew this could be viewed as an attack but Toby had her own moral codes to live by, even if she didn't exactly hang around like the others as she could. Any moment Toby could simply choose to be the lone wolf, but at this time she decided its time to stand up and stop acting like she can get by without making a few good friends. 'Back off missy,' Toby hissed. 'I know you think this is the best way to get a point across, but all you're doing is making us all a hell of a lot more nervous.'

'You can think what you want about Haven, but putting other down isnt going to solve your problems.' Toby knew all too well that this was true. 'Lets just stop being assholes to each other so we can get shit done.'

Sam, standing nearly half a foot taller than Toby, appeared to deflate in the face of her harsh words. She let go Laney's jacket, even straightened it for her. She briefly looked down at the ground, swallowed, and then faced the Haven women. She opened her mouth to speak.

Blood splattered across Toby's face.

Toby could have lived a million years without feeling the blood of another woman on her face, she gasped like a fish out of water. Laney leapt between them, thinking Sam had struck Toby, but the Eden Valley woman staggered into her arms. Steam rose into the frigid air from a hot, thick gush of blood streaming from the crook of Sam's neck. As her weight dragged Laney to the ground, another shot rang out from above. Five figures stood at the top of the ravine, two pointing rifles down at the Scavs and Sam.

'Where the fuck - ' Laney cried out, trying to gather Sam in her arms and scramble to her feet at the same time.

'Get down!,' said Jesus, his quick reflexes already having taken him into cover next to a thick tree. 'Its a fucking trap and we took the bait.'

Toby dragged Sam off Laney and behind an rocky outcrop. Laney slid in next to her, dragging the rifle off her back and resting it on the rock. She set it to her shoulder as Monroe had demonstrated, looked along its length and yanked the trigger. There was no way of knowing where the shot went, Laney only knew Monroe would have yelled at her for not using a gentle squeeze on the trigger, but the crack of the rifle reverberated around Davis Crag and the five figures above them dived for cover.

'She's still breathing,' Toby bit out as she pulled the first aid kit from her backpack. 'Can't say more than that.'

Laney racked her brains for more of Monroe's military teachings. There was nothing about leapfrogging with an injured party, but the gang had the higher ground and that was never good news. She fired again, this time with more precision, and was satisfied to see a plume of snow jump up from the top of the ravine. At least that shot had gone somewhere near where she'd intended.

'We've got to get her back to Doc Short,' said Toby. Sam's breathing was ragged but regular as she slipped in and out of concsiousness. 'But that lot will just pick us off.' As if to emphasise her point, a bullet from above ricocheted nearby.

'Eden Valley's closer, right?' replied Laney. 'And the way's less hilly.' She caught Toby's wary look. 'Their leader's spoken to Callie and Monroe. We'll be safe. And we can't lead them back to Haven.'

'How do we...' Another shot whizzed by, and Toby and Laney ducked instincively. Laney wondered if Toby even knew she'd covered Sam's body with her own.

'Jesus,' she called out to the soccer star, louder and slower than necessary. 'Get back to Haven, bring help.' She hoped he didn't think she was being loud and clear because he was foreign. She hoped he could see her winking from here. 'Lose them along the way,' she whispered.

"We'll be here by nightfall" he shouted back. There was going to be vegeance for this outrage. He was going to make sure Monroe took everyone who could use a gun here. They had to bring the flamethrowers and the assault rifles and the AK-forthysomethings here, make a crater the size of Belgium with these cunts.

The Mexican crouched into a sprinting position and Laney let off a volley of shots at the top of the ravine. That much she remembered from Monroe's lessons. Squinting against the failing light, she thought she saw at least four figures moving parallel to the direction Jesus had taken. After giving them a few minutes to clear the area, Toby spoke up. 'Come on, we've got to get her out of here.'

'We're not going to make it to Eden Valley by nightfall,' mused Laney, patting her hatchet without thinking.

'You want to leave her here?' Toby snapped.

'Come on,' Laney replied, slinging the rifle over her shoulder and fixing in her mind the Eden Valley road Jake had pointed out earlier that day. 'I fucking hope Jesus is going to be okay.'

Part 4: Run for their lives
Here he had to think and do it fast. Part of his third world chivarly wanted him to go back and help the women out... there was something just plain wrong about the ladies staying behind while the man took to the hills, but he was the fastest of them all and God knew that, had he stayed, their current predicament would have gone further downhill.

He regained a boost to his pride when he saw that he was being followed... by people with rifles! Motherfuckin' rifles.

The first thing he had to do was lose them. Jesus was not going to chance it on poor aim - if he was caught in an open field he knew he was as good as dead and that, with the snow, the option of hiding was out of the window. The only choice was diving deep into a hive of Z's and praying that they would be more interesed in the second servings than in the appetiser, and with the sunlight starting its rapid decline this was the only outcom that could see him alive and well.

Well, the first option would be getting to the nearby gas station and from there work his way from there. He had gone there only once and it had been a quick lookout for a tire... there were so many things that could go wrong, but as the thunderous roar of a firearm shook his ears he suddenly found worrying less and less about what could go wrong in the far future and more in what could be done to get there.

Taking quick and misleadings turns, the Mexican was gowing bolder that his hand was for once stacked. He glanced backwards looking for signs of his assailants but found nothing. The lingering question on how long had it been sine he lost them left him puzzled. Also it was a relief that came with a sharp guilt, for it was almost a certainty that resources that were not being spent on his persecution would be deployed on targeting those he had left behind. He was not a guy good with math or logistics but the chances of the Scavs and the dying runner were slim, and that was if one was wildly optmistical.

Legs throbbed with pain and his huffed breath against the winter's cold was visible... he was not going to walk out of this as a bastion of health. A flu would be in order and there a the fact that he was working against time, time that drew ever shorter for those that so desperately needed it. Gotta get to Haven... Old man Monroe will know what to do

He clutched the radio tight enough to squeeze juice out of it. He only had to get near enough to get the message, each step taking him closer and closer as the hot sweat clashed against the cold winter winds. Every once in a while he gave a look backwards to confirm if he was leaving a trail or if he had a tail, but all he was could see was the darkness of the night accompanied by the silence of the grave.

The running had slowed down to a jog and from that to a fast walk, pain flared through his kneecaps, the wearied body urging him to stop and take a rest and the temptation to take a seat and catch his breath was eve more alluring. He could get farther and faster if he took one quick break right? Then the image of Toby´s blood-splattered face came crashing to his mind and he found himself renewing his efforts, all that was needed was that he gave the message.

It was all he had to do, dodging zombies was a cakewalk compared to dodging bullets, you could fool zed, you could rattle some cans and zack would answer... but a group of armed nutcases out for blood was frightening. They had always killed at least one of the runners or the scavs on each engagement - people who risked their lives daily to outdo the infected.

But he could not crack, he had to stay focused. It was just a change in the game. Some of the slow people would fall, yes, but those who were up to it would bite back. Nobody fucked up with Haven. Jesus had the feelin that Monroe would wrap this up in no time. He had this "retired badass" feel and look to him, they would sort them out good, and recall these adverse times to pull the through in the dark days ahead.

His radio cracked. He had been pushing the transmiting button all this time... who knows how much time had passed since he had been in range. He was still some 40 minutes or so away from Haven. "Answer back who is this?! Over?" He let the message through and then with his dry and rasp voice gathered as much sense as he could. "It was an ambush, one of the runners is dead and the other gravely wounded! Toby and Byron left beind, over." The answer was inmediate. "Who the fuck is this? What's going on?" Herrera had fallen on his knees. "This is scavenger Jesus Herrera, you need to tell Monroe that it was an ambush, we got an armed group preying on us, Toby and Laney stayed behind to make me slip! They need all the cavalry they can get!"

There was some silence as surely the other reciever chewed on what he just had told and the numerous ramifications that this all entailed. 'Get back here, son,' Monroe snapped. 'Out.'

Soon Jesus sat before Monroe and Callie, panting, gasping. Even for one with his peak fitness, it had been a long run. So he hardly had breath to object when Monroe refused his request to send out the rescue for Toby and Laney. 'We can't see shit, son. We can't risk more lives when we don't even know where they are, if they're alive.'

Part 5: Carry the weight
Laney was happy to let Toby carry most of Sam's weight. With thick bandages swaddling her neck and shoulder, the bleeding had mostly been stopped, but still she was drifting in and out of consciousness, stumbling and occasionally falling. Sam grew heavier as Toby continued on, huffing with the exertion of keeping the woman's weight from dragging them down. It had been a while since she'd had to lift a body, and she was definitely having a hard time lifting one thats nothing more than dead weight in her arms.With Laney insisting on the precaution of following the road from the field side, getting Sam over hedgerows took up valuable minutes.

As dusk fell, progress got even slower. The snow had one silver lining, as it were. Though it hampered movement, it reflected what little light remained. It was this that enabled Laney to see, as she jumped down from the hedgerow into another field, the outline of cluster of zombies up ahead. She couldn't see their exact movements, but the rising howls were enough to send her scrambling back over the hedgerow. Toby had heard it too, and was half-dragging, half-carrying Sam back the way they'd come.

'Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,' Laney muttered under her breath as she took Sam's other arm. The hedgerow held the zombies up a bit, but soon Laney's regular glances over her shoulder revealed darker shadows against the light grey of the carpet of snow. 'Go,' she hissed to Toby. 'Get over the next hedge and we can maybe hold them off.' She shrugged out from under Sam's arm again, and turned to face the oncoming zombies.

Not for the first time that day, the different ages and physical conditions of the zombies had spread out the pack. What must have been a particularly recent victim was closing fast. Laney swung her hatchet down in an overhead chop, hoping to avoid its arms and hit the head in the poor light. She must have swung a fraction of a second too late; her fingers smashed down on top of the zombie's skull as the thick, heavy blade lodged in the back of its head. The now incapacitated creature slumped and tumbled past her, wrenching the hatchet from her hand with a vicious twist that sent shocks through her wrist. There was no time to react to the pain; another dark grey shape loomed up in front of her. With her left hand, she reached across her shoulder and grabbed the rifle by the muzzle and swung it like a club. Her wild lunge caught the creature in the side, sending it sprawling, one grasping arm tangling in the rifle's strap and ripping it from her grasp. She glanced back at Toby and Sam, peered at the approaching pack, and turned on her heels.

'Leave her,' she barked at Toby. Even in the gloom, she could see the shock on the older woman's face.

'Leave her!' Laney screamed. 'Leave her, drop her, or we're all fucked!' She wrenched at Sam's loose-hanging arm with her left hand, tried to pry Toby's grasp loose with her right, only for the pain in her damaged wrist and fingers to make itself felt and force her to give up the fight. A body barrelled into the back of the trio, tumbling them to the ground. Laney sprang to her feet and instinctively held out her hand. The grip that fixed to it was warm and firm, and Laney dragged Toby to her feet, barely conscious of how foolish she'd just been.

As they reached the last hedgerow they'd crossed, the sounds of crunching and ripping reached their ears. As they slithered through the gap they'd made - Laney first, Toby close behind and panting - there was a brief scream; Sam must have regained conciousness just before she died. Laney tugged on Toby's jacket to make sure she followed, didn't return for the doomed woman. Then she remembered her escape from Cromwell, and rummaged around in her backpack for her torch. Switching it on, she threw it as far as she could away from them. Then they clambered over the stone wall, crossed the road and re-entered the field on the other side. Hopefully the multiple barriers would be enough to hide them from the pack of zombies once their distraction was gone. Any more movement would either see them run into zombies in the dark or alert the pack behind them as to their location.

'Toby?' Laney hissed as they hunkered down. 'Toby?'

Don't tell her. You can't be sure.

Laney knew the older woman was the quiet type, but didn't know if the brooding silences were signs of emotional fragility or just unfriendliness.

You have to tell her.

The way she'd spoken up for Laney, the way she'd carried Sam, Laney feared it was the former. 'Toby, there was nothing we could do.'

Quick or slow? It's your last choice.


Her lips were practically on Toby's ear now. 'Toby, we've got to keep warm til it's light.' She huddled up as close as she could get to Toby. Toby was as tense and still as a stone.

Don't touch me, don't touch me.

'Toby?' Laney whispered falteringly, rubbing her fingers together. 'Is this... Where's this blood coming from?'

No no no no no no no it can't be real.

There was silence in the field as the two women sat with their heavy thoughts. The bite on Toby's shoulder stang a little, but the cold creeping over her mostly numbed it. She thought of the woman she'd found hanging from the rafters in the farmhouse, and the child starved in the cupboard. She thought of William Rand, dying alone in that hotel room, his last thoughts with his son. She had no child to think of in this moment, no parent, no lover. Perhaps this was the right thing to happen. The hanged woman waved at her. She heard the starved child's cries. William Rand reached out to her, his lips moving. She leaned closer, staying just out of the reach of his embrace, to hear what he was saying.

'I have Sam's pistol,' he said.

'Toby, I have Sam's pistol,' Laney whispered. 'Do you... do you want me to do it?'

She took the pistol. It was satisfyingly heavy. Things shouldn't be light, not when they're about to do this.

Laney picked up Toby's axe and peered through the darkness. She couldn't make out much, but the reflected light from the snow showed up in Toby's eyes. They were clear, dry and wide open.

'Give me five minutes to get away.'

November 5th
Part 6: Goodbye
Shortly before dawn, as she drifted in and out of consciousness in a small copse, Laney had realised her injured hand had stopped hurting. Her wrist had stiffened up completely, and her first and middle finger were badly swollen. She'd been unable to pull herself up into the high branches of one of the trees because of it, which is why she'd spent the night in a hollow at the base of the tree. Now, as she fumbled left-handed with the gate into Haven, she was thwarted by the shivers that ran through her entire body. She kept seeing Toby's eyes, kept hearing the muffled shot that had cracked open the silence of the night as she'd stumbled away, and cracked open the hard shell Laney had wrapped around her pain and fright at Toby's fate. She'd wept then, and she wept again as she fell into Jesus's arms when he raced down from the farmhouse, his face etched with tension and frustration.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: Kiera Trennan Character Portrait: Rishi Sharma
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Mission Impossible
Collaboration with Selene Durlan

Waking Bad
Stiff and sore would be a major understatement for how Kiera's injured shoulder currently felt. Rest had not helped to relieve the constant ache that pulsed down her arm in waves, a small mercy at least was that her blister seemed to be healing well, which meant no more awkward hoping around on one foot for her. Really Kiera should have allowed Dr. Short to take at look and make sure nothing was permanetly damaged from her tumble down the hill. But with the recent deaths and the appearance of a critically injured pilot, Kira would have felt guilty for taking up the doctor's time for a relatively minor injury, so she was determined to grin and bare it for the time being.

Why did the Apocalypse have to happen in Winter? Kiera thought wryly. Why couldn't it have been Spring? Taking a quick leap from her warm comfortable nest, Kiera rapidly tossed on a thick sweater, hat, gloves, sweatpants and boots before even thinking about braving the cold weather just outside the Farmhouse door. Halfway out the door, she suddenly remembered her stash hidden beneath the floorboards in her room. Kiera had been rationing the pills for a while now, but eventually they would run out and then there would be a problem. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that and an upcoming mission would provide an opportunity for Kiera to replenish her dwindling supplies.

Once Kiera felt suitably clothed she headed out to the job board. With the other jobs taken, the only one that remained was another mission for the reclusive professor that spent most of his time scribbling on walls and scaps of paper if the rumors were to be believed. Kiera really hoped it wouldn't involve any more contact with live Walkers, she still felt unsettled after her last encounter and would prefer not to repeat such an event.

"Edinburgh, I wonder how far that is." Kiera wondered aloud, her breath forming small clouds in the early dawn's chilled air. In times past, she would have clung to sleeping in even for a few minutes longer, but now the early risings felt natural and even enjoyable to Rookie Scavenger. Kiera attempted to rack her brain, trying to think of who might be available to accompany her on this task. Finally the answer presented itself, though she had doubts if it was really the best idea. Laney had been recovering ever since her disasterous last mission where two of Haven's recently aquired allies and a fellow Scav, Toby had lost their lives. Laney had suffered an injury to her hand and who knows what kind of emotional trauma from the experience. Maybe she would welcome a chance to "get back on the horse" so to speak and start to put the mistakes of the past behind her.

Kiera approached Laney's room with caution, unsure if she was about to awaken a slumbering wolverine. She entered the room and called out to the sleeping figure, eventually able to rouse the snoozing Laney, though she gave Kiera an aggravated look. Which was actually understandable, given the fact that they hardly knew each other if at all and Kiera had just invited herself into Laney's room without asking permission first. Cringing mentally, she needed to turn this first encounter around or this first impression might hang between them like rotting meat.

"Hi, sorry I barged in like that, I should have knocked before entering." Kiera said guiltily. "I'm Kiera by the way and I believe your name is Laney. I've never met a celebrity in person before, I guess I should have brought something for you to sign." She said with a smile in an attempt to brighten the mood as Laney propped herself up on her elbows, her face screwed up in displeasure at being woken. It was probably best to leave certain topics alone while in Laney's presence or at least until Kiera had a better grasp of what type of person this former actress really was. Kiera decided to press on with the interaction. "There was a job posting on the board today, I know you're still recovering, but it is more of a team job rather than a lone wolf one. Would you be interested?" Realizing she had left out any details about what the mission entailed Kiera hastily glanced to the paper and summarized the first few parts of it. "We're supposed to travel to Edinburgh, to the Ros-"

'Edinburgh? Gimme that.' Still scowling, Laney snatched the job list from Kiera's hand and peered at Dr Rishi's tiny, neat script. That was a bit rude. Kiera said to herself while she waited for Laney to read the description of the mission herself.

'Edinburgh's hundreds of miles from here.'

What? Kiera's eyebrows shot up in surprise, Traveling hundreds of miles in a heavily populated Walker territory, that would be crazy!

Her frown deepened as she scanned the job. 'Watson... outbuilding... perceptive capabilities of the reanimated...' Laney stared at Kiera. 'Man in the outbuilding? Does this mean what I think it means?'

Kiera shrugged her shoulders, "I don't know what he does with his time."

Laney held her tongue at the American's answer, and returned to the notice. 'Dangerous substances... apocalyptic disease... combust the entire...' She couldn't hold it in any longer. 'Combust the fucking facility with us inside it?' she shouted. 'What the fuck? Have you actually read this shit?'

Slowly it was beginning to dawn on Kiera that maybe this had been a bad idea to wake Laney. From the colorful language she was currently using, it was obvious this task was not a great idea according to Laney. "Well I-" Kiera tried replying, but Laney continued with her line of questioning without pause.

'And you're okay with this? Heading out like happy fucking campers for a city crawling with Zeds, hundreds of miles away, to pick up deadly fucking poison and bring it back here? And if we spill any we have to set ourselves on fucking fire?!' She balled up the piece of paper and hurled it across the room. The lightweight missile bounced unsatisfyingly against the wall. Laney had wanted it to smash, to destroy the wall, anything to reflect the anger that seethed inside her. Monroe was dead, Toby was dead, Ben was as good as dead, and this pampered Indian doctor, who had yet to set foot outside the safety of Haven, wanted her and this American to go on some suicide mission. And that wasn't all...

'Does this guy seriously have a live zombie in Haven?'

"Listen, I'm not happy with the situation either, but we are both Scavengers for Haven and it is our job to go out there and do whatever is necessary to ensure this small farm continues to exist. If that means treking a long distance for something, then so be it. And yes there is a Zombie in Haven, Tilo and I risked life and limb by going out and managing to capture a live one. I do not want to see all that hard work go to waste by us not at least giving this mission a shot. At least it will give you something to stay busy with." Kiera felt commited to seeing this through to the end, one way or another she was getting Laney out of that bed and into a better mindset.

Laney heaved herself off the bunk, rolling her eyes. She saw the bunk opposite her was empty. 'There's something I gotta do first. Stay busy.' Kiera left as Laney dragged on warm layers of clothes, hampered by her splinted right hand.

Breaking Bad
She eventually found Callie out by the chicken coop, standing alone in the half-light of dawn, wobbling the imperfect workmanship. Laney recalled who built them, who'd given the chickens such stupid names. Nasri was the only one she could remember. She hoped she wouldn't forget humans' names so quickly.

Now that Monroe was gone, Kiera had to find the right equiptment herself. Eventually after several tries she was able to successfully assemble both packs, though Kiera hoped they wouldn't need to use the fireworks or flares. Stringing a pair of binoculars around her neck, she did a final gear check before walking to the Farmhouse door. Laney was still speaking with Callie, so Kiera leaned against the door frame while she patiently waited for them to finish.

'I'm sorry, Callie,' Laney whispered. It felt so inadequete, and a hot wave of shame rolled through her. She put a hand on Callie's shoulder, felt how slender she was. Laney realised the former schoolteacher wasn't a lot older than her, in the grand scheme of things. There'd never been the slightest hint of a physical relationship, but Callie and Monroe's friendship, strange though the pairing was, had been obvious. She wondered if Callie had come to respect the short-tempered soldier by the same route Laney had. She wondered if he'd given her a nickname like the rest of the Scavs?

'It's how he would have...' She couldn't finish the phrase, it seemed such a hollow sentiment. How could Laney know how Monroe had wanted to go? Really, she'd barely known him. 'We won't forget him, okay?'

Callie simply nodded, her back still to Laney. The resignation Toby displayed in her final moments sprang to mind, the perfect balance of weakness and bravery, and Laney struggled to push from her mind the thought that every single one of them was doomed.

She turned to find Kiera watching from the door of the farmhouse. 'Come on then, what's the plan? Got everything we need?'

Handing a pack to Laney, Kiera began to lay out the plan. 'I think we should stay away from Cromwell, you know how dangerous it is. So maybe the Jones farm, where Toby found gas - sorry, I should say petrol now, shouldn't I? The Jones farm, where Toby found petrol -' she gave Laney a wan smile '- is the best place for finding a vehicle.' She kept it simple, not wanting to draw more scorn from her current companion.

Laney half-listened, not objecting - yet. It all hinged on finding a vehicle, then on finding one with enough petrol to get them to and from Edinburgh. If that unlikely eventuality came to pass, she'd speak out then. She hefted her share of the equipment awkwardly with her left hand and followed Kiera down the road. Her right hand ached in the cold. The snow that had fallen in the last couple of days had settled in, reinforced by a typical British winter day. Grey clouds hung heavily over the hills of the Lake District, obscuring the higher peaks. It hardly seemed as if the sun had risen at all. Cold gusts of wind blew the damp inside the girls' protective layers. After half a mile in silence, Laney realised her reluctance for the mission was making her surly.

'So, um... Where in the States you from?'

Taken by surprise at Laney's sudden interest in talking, Kiera was unsure of how to respond at first, as she still felt wary after witnessing the woman's earlier outburst. "I'm from Colorado. It's about in the middle and has the shape of a square."

'Colorado? Yeah, you're gonna... I mean, over here we know about New York and California and not much else.' She shrugged. 'Whatever's on TV. I mean, everyone was an expert about Albuquerque all of a sudden, back in the old world...'

"Well I can't say I would be much better at identifying the geography of Europe unfortunately." She replied with a short laugh.

'You know Breaking Bad though?'

"I know about that show. I didn't know it was broadcasted to other countries." Maybe this mission wouldn't turn out so bad after all, Kiera had just found a common interest with the former pop-star.

'Yeah, did you watch it? I wonder how that was gonna end."

"You bet, every Sunday evening I was glued to the tube. Me too, I always envisioned Walt getting away scott free, though that's probably not how it ended." Kiera said with a small sigh. "I guess we won't know how a lot of things turned out."

"True that. Hey, you know what I'd love?'

"I would personally love to eat a funnel cake again, dusted with plenty of powdered sugar."

'Yeah?' 'I'd love just to order a pizza and watch TV. Smoke a couple of joints and veg out. Weird, huh?'

Kiera mentally paused for a moment while she tried to remember what type of drug a joint was. "Whatever works, I guess." Kira replied while looking away, talking about drugs made her uncomfortable especially since collecting supplies for Dr. Rishi wasn't the only reason she was keen to get to Edinburgh.

Laney watched her turn away. She didn't feel like she was getting through. Maybe she'd been a bit too upfront about her party lifestyle. she'd forgotten Americans could be a bit staight-laced. How come so many teachers had made it to Haven anyway? First Callie, then Tilo, now this subdued maths teacher. Hell, even Monroe had been a teacher at heart. She remembered his praise for her at his military lessons and smiled, then recalled how poor a shot she'd been with the rifle, and the outcome of that failure, and fell quiet again. Fuck making an effort.

The silence prevailed until the road began to climb towards the crest of a hill, then a low groaning reached their ears. As they approached the top, the noise amplified and seemed to come in stereo. Kiera and Laney stopped at the top of the hill. Half a mile ahead stood the smoking ruins of the Jones farm. Around it, and dispersed throughout the farmyard, milled more zombies than they could count. The thick press of creatures had spilled out across the road and down the hill. The women scampered back into cover, shocked at the numbers massed in front of them.

'It's gonna take a long way to get round this lot,' Laney whispered eventually. 'I think we should get back to Haven.'
'What about Edinburgh?' Kiera hissed. 'What about the stuff for Dr Rishi?'

'Look, we're two steps outside our front door and there's a hundred Zeds. How many more do you think we'll see before we get to Edinburgh? How many do you think are in Edinburgh? I don't know if you were near any cities when the old world went to shit, Kiera, but you gotta know that's where you find them most.'

'So that's it? You're not even going to try?' She could feel her chance slipping away. Had she really thought the unpredictable former celebrity would be the one to help her? Pretty soon she would be forced into more drastic action.

Laney caught the pleading tone in Kiera's voice, but pushed it to the back of her mind, angered by the second suggestion of the day that she wasn't committed to Haven. She'd never say others hadn't done more, and she'd never forget the ones who'd paid the ultimate price, but she knew damn well she wasn't going the same way as Monroe, Ben or Toby just because this brainbox American wanted to suck up to the rest of what represented Haven's intellectual cadre.

'Haven't you been listening to me, White Bread? Hundreds of miles, millions of Zeds. And that's not all.' She took a theatrical look at the hills around them. 'That gang that got the Caravanners is still out there, and there'll be a lot more like that, and worse.'

'I can't believe this,' Kiera snapped back, struggling to keep her voice down. 'Are you giving up on us, on Haven? It doesn't work if we just sit there waiting for the zombies to finish us off. At least Dr Rishi is trying to do something. Monroe and Callie were trying to do something. I'm starting to think you didn't even want to come on this mission!'

'You know what? You're right! I never wanted to go with you,' Laney spat. 'Don't you think it should be the army or the government or whoever else official is still out there should be the ones dealing with anthrax and a cure and all this heavy science shit? Instead of some guy - one guy - in a shed on a farm? Don't you think "just outside Edinburgh" is a bit vague? I mean, Ben and Hoppy went looking just outside Cromwell, and only one of them came back, and all they were looking for was a fucking truck!'

As Laney's voice rose, Kiera peered over the crest of the hill. Peering through the binoculars, it looked like a couple of zombies' heads had turned in their direction, though none made a move just yet.

'Laney, keep it down,' she hissed, gesturing towards the horde around the ruins of the Jones farm.

'Fine. Fuck you, fuck this mission and especially fuck Dr Rishi. I'm going back home and put an end to his fucking science experiment before someone else gets fucking bitten.'

Taking It Badly
Laney turned on her heels and began striding back to Haven, her fingers playing across the grips of the hatchet she'd taken from Toby. Though she'd had a head-start, and she was normally fit and strong, the after-effects of the fever had weakened her, and Kiera caught up with her easily before they reached the gate to Haven. Laney scanned the farm's outbuildings.

'Which one is it?' she demanded, pointing with her hatchet.

'What are you going to do?' asked Kiera.

'I told you, White Bread. I'm going to smash its head in. Then Rishi's.' Laney stomped towards one of the outhouses.

'But he needs it!' Kiera responded, hurrying close behind. 'He's working on a cure or something.'

'A cure? You for real, girl?' Laney spun round abruptly, bringing her face to face with Kiera. 'He's working on a cure in a fucking shed?'

The American returned the Englishwoman's stare. Although she normally avoived confrontation, Kiera was beginning to feel like Laney had been unfairly blaming her all day for the troubles that had befallen Haven and its inhabitants. Annoyance at the way she was being treated began to well up inside her, a secret rebellious voice. She followed as Laney peered in the window of one of the outhouses.

The outhouse contained tools, lengths of wood, and other building materials, but the windows of the building behind it were blocked out with black plastic bags. A padlock held the door shut. 'What's behind door number 2,' Laney muttered, drawing Toby's hatchet from her belt. Unused to swinging with her left hand, and unused to the different length and weight of this weapon, Laney's strike skittered weakly off the lock and jarred her arm.

'Laney, stop it!'

Two more blows in quick succession found their mark more accurately, but still were too weak. Cursing in frustration, Laney shouldered past Kiera and smashed one of the windows with the back of the hatchet. The sharp smash of shattering glass was almost immediately followed by a muffled growling from within the outhouse. Laney ripped away the black plastic and peered into the gloom. Despite Kiera's story, she hadn't quite been able to believe someone would keep a live zombie on the farm, but there, strapped to a chair by arms, legs and neck, was a savagely writhing figure. The drawstring bag over its head couldn't disguise its hungry lunges.

'Laney!' Kiera grabbed her by the shoulder, tried to turn her away from the window, to face her. She felt her pulse jump at the prospect of physical confrontation.

Laney shrugged off her grasp with a flick of her arm, at the same time wriggling the backpack off her back. 'Get the fuck off, White Bread!' she snarled. For Monroe, for Toby, for Ben, the captured zombie had to die.

'Hey! What is happening over there?' came a call from the farmhouse itself. The sound of smashing glass had brought Dr Rishi out.

Laney dropped her hatchet, reached inside the backpack and drew out a flaregun. 'I'm gonna blow this fucker's head off.' She leant in the window and aimed, recalling all the time she'd spent at the gun range with her father. It was only a distance of feet. Even firing left-handed, she was confident of ending this threat to Haven's safety. Suddenly she was flung backwards onto the cold, wet ground, and cried out as her injured fingers instinctively tried to break her fall.

Kiera stood over Laney, shocked at herself. 'You can't...'

The pain from her fingers and the humiliation of her tumble soaked through Laney just as the mud soaked into her back. Tears of self-pity filled her eyes as she slowly picked herself up. Just then, Dr Rishi arrived at the outhouse.

'What are you girls doing here?' he cried, puzzled rather than angry. 'Why aren't you going to the Roslin Institute?'

From her half-crouched position, Laney barrelled into Dr Rishi at the waist, knocking him to the ground. All the complaints she'd made to Kiera about the mission, about the unfairness of Dr Rishi, all of her pain at the loss of Monroe, Toby and Ben, burst out in an incoherent roar. She stood over him, brandishing the flare gun, her teeth bared. Mud dripped from her hair and tears from her eyes as seconds ticked by and she stared through Dr Rishi's askew glasses. Once again she recalled the bravery, the nobility almost, of Toby's last minutes. There was nothing but fear in this man's eyes.

Kiera could feel herself holding her breath. Tempermental and distraught the former star might be, but surely she wasn't going to kill one of Haven's leaders? She was on the balls of her feet, ready to throw Laney to the ground again, but scared her intervention might trigger the flare gun.

'Laney!' The voice calling from the farmhouse was cracked and tired, but still strong. It was a voice Laney had feared she would never hear again. She flung the flare gun to one side and rushed to the farmhouse.

Kiera watched her go, then knelt down to Dr Rishi. 'Doctor, I'm so sorry about that. Are you okay?' The mission had gone badly to say the least and now she was left to explain the reason for the failure as Laney stopped suddenly in front of Ben. She looked at his bandaged hand, the dark hollows around his eyes.

'What happened?'

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: Kiera Trennan Character Portrait: Rishi Sharma
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November 4th through to November 6th

Things were going swimmingly, even with the limited equipment Rishi had. Once Watson was secured, Rishi went about tailoring the surrounding with plastic bags and paper and staples to further isolate the room from its surroundings. Great care was taken so that the room could be completely blacked out if need be, and footsteps muffled out. Rishi’s adrenaline was rushing through his system, keeping him awake for longer than normal. The idea that he could be helping, contributing to the situation in some way gave him solace, and gave him excitement he hasn’t experienced since before the outbreak.

The tests were fairly simple, and they could be crucial in the creation of a guidebook or manual. Every bit of information he could garner about the subjects would be useful. It was unfortunate that he didn’t have the appropriate facilities or test groups to be able to come up with solid results, be he worked with what he had. The first thing Rishi did was leave Watson alone once the room was properly set-up. He would leave for an hour to write up several hypotheses, and return to see if the subject ceased its writhing. It could be different from subject to subject, but it would give Rishi a starting point to work with. Seeing that Watson was completely still after he returned, he lightly brushed the Watson’s left arm to see if it would elicit a response. Strangely enough, it didn’t begin writhing violently as Rishi had suspected, but it did turn its head to the direction of the touch. It looked as if it were trying to move its body to investigate the touch. It didn’t even vocalize as much as he thought it would.

That was new.

Rishi waited and watched quietly for a full twenty-two minutes before Watson began to regress into a more apathetic state. Rishi waited for a full half-hour before it returned to its apathetic state, and repeated the procedure on its opposite arm. Watson imitated its response again, but instead of calming down in twenty-two minutes, it took nearly a full hour for it to return to its vegetative state. Rishi brushed its left arm once more, in the same place as before, with the same pressure as before, and Watson once again attempted to move its body towards the feeling. Watsons activity continued for slightly over an hour, and once it had calmed down, and Rishi had repeated the procedure again on its opposite arm, it’s vocalizations became slightly louder, and it took nearly an hour and a half for it to calm down.

Interesting. There is an increase in time length of activity every time I graze its arm. It’s not aggressively pursuing interest though…Its sense of touch remains intact. The fact that it isn’t trying to engage in violent actions might be some sort of mechanism to store energy. That could mean it is able to differentiate between its target and its surroundings. Though it is likely that executive functions are absent, its actions are reminiscent of more instinctual patterns found in earlier organisms. Parietal lobe is functioning…It has a functioning brain, which means it’s getting the required fuel. Drawing breath is necessary…But…how does that explain the reanimations? Potential electro-chemical reactions brought on by the contagion itself is plausible, but that would require blood flow. Perhaps transmission vectors are different than expected? Hmm...I’ll put that aside for now.

Dr. Rishi moved onto the next part of his test, and physically grabbed Watson’s left arm. This immediately drew its full attention, and Watson began writhing aggressively and moaning loudly. Rishi let go of its arm and waited for it to calm down. Instead of regressing back into full vegetation, it gradually calmed down into its apparent ‘search mode’ after a half hour of struggling, and an hour and a half after that it completely regressed back into its vegetative state. Rishi repeated the procedure on its opposite arm and garnered a similar response, with the writhing and the searching lasting only slightly longer than previous. Dr. Rishi collected himself and withdrew into the main building to refresh himself with some water and a couple eggs. He pondered over the results as he took his time eating.

So it is able to clearly differentiate between being grabbed and simply brushing by an object. The time difference suggests that its amygdala could be putting it on higher alert the more sensory information it receives. One rustle in the bushes is something to investigate, but two rustles isn’t a coincidence. It does retain some sense of predation, basic instinctual concepts. So far, as a whole, they seem to lack idea of self-preservation, and only seem to act on some morbid sense of hunger…This seems very reminiscent of parasites. Ophiocordyceps, Paradoxum, Sacculina, these are all parasites that take control of the host’s cognitive functions in order for it to complete its lifecycle…But, where is the cycle? Maybe this isn’t parasitic…

He continued his musings all the way back out to the outbuilding, and once again quietly slipped into the room with Watson, careful not to disturb it. With him, Rishi brought his sewing needle. His next test was to determine its ability to sense pain. He quickly pricked its left forearm, and it brought Watson to its investigative state. Dr. Rishi continued through most of the night repeating the procedure in different parts of Watson’s anatomy, and it drew nearly identical responses.

Quite intriguing. Watson, and likely the rest of the reanimated population are unable to sense pain, though they are clearly aware of touch and pressure. There must be damage to that part of the brain…but if it is consistent with every subject, then that clearly shows that there is some sort of intentional re-wiring that happens after death…no, that may not be correct. Based on the reports, people expire after being bitten at different rates…this could mean that there is some sort of catalyst in the saliva that sets off the chain of events…The rewiring happens as the person is dying, which would explain the vastly different rates of expiration and reanimation. Since every brain is different based on personal experiences, the contagion would have to work through more or less connections. If what I’m thinking is true, then that means not only does body mass and heart conditions affect the rate of degradation and alteration, but also how many neural connections the subject has. Essentially, people who are generally more intelligent may take longer to turn than others, which would explain why the athletes tend to last longer than their obese counterparts…

Dr. Rishi retired for the night, content with his results. After approximately four hours of sleep, he was up again, ready to complete more tests. He moved onto testing its thermoception, and placed a lit candle underneath its hand. It didn’t move its hand away, even as its flesh began to cook. In fact, it even began to lean towards the heat, shifting its body weight towards the warmth.

You are just full of surprises aren’t you? Its sense of temperature seems to be intact, though I have a suspicion that is simply in order to find body heat of its currently living counterparts. Watson is also slightly cooler to the touch than I am, though that could just be because of the environment. Attracted to heat, attracted to feelings, but you only react violently towards something recognizably human, at least, from what I gather…

Dr. Rishi pulled the candle away after searing part of Watsons hand, and it seemed to fall back into its normal vegetative state almost immediately. Rishi waited for fifteen minutes, weighing his options, before going back to test a new hypothesis. He once again grabbed one of Watsons arms, and it immediately began to move to attack Rishi. Instead of pulling away, Rishi held onto its arm. He held its arm for a full hour before letting go, noting the lack of change in Watson’s behaviour.

Confirmed. Watson is capable of discerning my human nature, though I’m still not entirely sure how. It could be a combination of factors, but regardless, it can tell the difference between the clasps on its wrists and my own hand. This is very disturbing…

Instead of waiting for Watson to calm down, Rishi took the bag off its head and unwrapped the duct tape around its nose, unplugged its nostrils, and put the bag back over its head. He left the room and returned several hours later to a dormant Watson. He made his way into the corner of the room, and sat for approximately half an hour before Watson became active. It went into its search mode, unclear of which direction it should be heading, and after fifteen minutes of whipping its head in multiple directions, it eventually focused its attention in Rishi’s corner of the room, and began writhing. Rishi sat there for nearly two hours, and placed the plugs back into Watson’s nostrils, and left the room with more thoughts to ponder.

Sense of smell is acute. It’s able to smell my presence, and it doesn’t seem to adapt to my scent, which means my smell in particular is its main focus. Lack of sensory adaptation, as well as sensory amplification indicates a very strong change in perception of smell. Could it be because of a change in olfactory sensory neurons, or another change in the brain itself? Memory retention of smell and forms of humans is remarkable, though this could be a by-product of some sort of neural pruning…The lack of regression in terms of aggressive behaviour when in contact with a living human suggests that its ability to adapt to new circumstances may be hindered…maybe its ability to form new memories is non-existent…Too many variables to look into at this point as far as that is concerned…

He left the outbuilding to make himself some breakfast, and jotted down some point form notes from his observations.

• Three stages of awareness: Dormant, Searching, and Attacking.
• Feels no pain.
• Is able to differentiate people from objects, as far as touch and smell go.
• Enhanced sense of smell.
• Incapable of turning away from obvious human presence.
• Goes dormant with lack of stimulation within two to three hours
• Rate of change from living to reanimated could be partially determined by neural pathways.

Once he finished his breakfast, he left his notes on the table. When he came closer to the outbuilding, he hear the voices of a couple women. Why was there anybody else in the outbuilding? It sounded like the girl he met earlier and another familiar voice which he could not put a face to.

“What are you girls doing here? Why aren’t you going to the Roslin institute?” Those words landed him on his back with the dark skinned woman on top of him threatening him with a flare gun. Rishi nearly shat his pants when she pointed the weapon at him, and rightly so. Luckily for him, she threw the weapon aside and flew away in another direction shortly after. “Phew.”

After getting to his feet, he had a few questions for Kiera about the events that had conspired while Rishi was busy in the outbuilding.


November 8th

It was jarring, to say the least. Even without the events of the deaths and torture of the people of Haven, and the refusal of anybody to go on the Roslin mission, Rishi was experiencing feelings of dread. After going over several dozen more tests with Watson, he came to the conclusion that whatever it was that had decided to bring it back to life had repurposed it entirely for one mission: to spread. It may have been painfully obvious to most people that of course it would spread, but the difficulty wasn’t in the what’s. It was never with the what’s. It was in the why’s, and that was Dr. Rishi’s speciality. Why was that its mission? Why go through that process? Why go through all the work of jumpstarting a host back to life, or semblance of? Something of the level of complexity shown in the whole process would take generations and generations of evolution to come to be. There was absolutely no indication of the contagion to have evolved from anything remotely resembling anything analogous to any other human affecting contagion. Even in cross species contamination, there were no contagions that even closely resemble what was present in Watson’s case. That meant it was more than likely engineered. For what purpose remains unclear, but that hardly mattered. But that meant if it was engineered, there would be an origin source, and if Rishi were able to locate the original sample…

Of course, that was just a pipe dream. There was no way he could find it. He was more likely to be struck by lightning. Regardless, Dr. Rishi has gained valuable information based on his tests that he was working into turning into a sort of ‘zombie guidebook’ for the Scav’s to use as a reference when dealing with the undead. Of course, there was only one copy at the moment, but left it out on the table by the job board for the Scav’s to peruse at their leisure while he compiled more notes. In it contained rudimentary notes and observations regarding the entire spectrum of the undead's sensory perception, as well as behaviour patterns and likely timelines for turning into one of them, based off of level of fitness, proximity of bite wounds to major blood vessels, physical make-up, and level of brain activity.


Job

Recording

Suggested number of Scavs – x

Area – Cromwell/any farmhouse along the way.

Objective – find devices capable of recording video, and record your surroundings on your way back to Haven.

Information – Understandably, there seems to be a lack of interest in travelling towards Edinburgh. Of course, the Roslin institute is the closest facility I am aware of to our current location, which for the time being, makes it inconvenient. The results of my baseline tests on Watson have revealed quite a number of surprising facts, which I have detailed in the pages of the ‘book’ nearby for your benefit. While I’m sure you are well acquainted with a large portion of the material covered, there are a few portions which you should read over, as I have gleaned some new information from the man in the outbuilding.

As for the mission at hand, it certainly sounds like a simple task. No doubt there are still piles of working batteries lying around, and any cellular device works wonders. The small electronics shop or the pawn shop in Cromwell will no doubt still have a decent supply of working camera’s, batteries, and memory cards available, if most people’s priorities remained reasonably intact. Gather as many as you can to bring back to Haven, and if possible, several laptops as well.

What I require is for you to take these cameras with you wherever you go. It will be unnecessary to record absolutely everything you do, but from this point forward, you should carry a recording device of sorts with you. Aside from the obvious properties of capturing evidence, depending on the device, you could create a reliable distraction for the undead or even living people, which may come in handy in certain situations.

That’s all for now.

Rishi

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: Erin Hooper Character Portrait: Shinji Yamada
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#, as written by Rann
The Love Boat.

Collaboration with Faith Fanon

November 9th 2013, 0020

Part 1: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Laney barely heard the knock above the noise of the storm lashing Haven. She crept to the door to find Callie there, looking tired and drawn.

'Callie,' she whispered. 'Everything okay?'

Callie stared vacantly for a moment, as if looking over her shoulder, then returned to the real world. 'A ship has run aground. There are survivors. It can't wait.'

Laney flicked a glance back at Ben's sleeping form. They'd argued over the last few days about the dangers of trusting strangers. 'I'll get Hoppy. She's pretty fly at getting in and out of places.'

Soon the three women were sitting around the table in the Command Centre, the younger pair looking at the map as Callie outlined the mission. The information imparted, Laney and Hoppy spent 10 minutes around Haven gathering equipment they might need; Laney went to Monroe's armory for a scoped rifle - for all the good it would do in this kind of dark - and a flare gun; Hoppy grabbed a couple of blankets and, almost as an afterthought, a large man's full-length raincoat. She would be swamped in it, for sure, but it might do someone some good. Hoppy almost decided on ditching the cleaver - hell, she was attached to it far too much as of late. But in the end she brought it along with her, hugging it to her body as if it were a beloved pet.

Callie stopped them at the door. 'Remember, be careful with your torches.'

'We know. Light discipline,' Laney replied. She reached out and squeezed Callie's arm. 'Get some rest, okay?'

They donned waterproof layers and ducked out into the driving rain. As if by way of greeting, a gust of wind sprayed cold water straight into their faces, taking their breath away.

'Fuck it, Hoppy, we're gonna drown before we even get to the sea,' gasped Laney, turning west at the gate onto the road. 'Hey, where are you going?' Hoppy had turned east.

'Y'don't think I'm walkin' all that way, do ya?' she shot back. 'I'm usin me head, not me legs.' In response to Laney's puzzled grunt, she expanded: 'Still got that truck stashed down Cromwell. pretty sure I remember where it is.'

After a couple of minutes outdoors, their eyes had adjusted to the dark enough that they could see the outline of the road and the verges; they broke into a light jog, silent but for the rasp of their breath, until they reached the outskirts of Cromwell. They slowed to a cautious walk as Hoppy cast her mind back to the events of that traumatic day in Cromwell, and Laney, hatchet in hand, tried to stare through the dark and hear above the howling wind for dangers, dead and alive. 'C'mon, Hoppy, where is it?' she asked nervously.

'It's 'ere, it's 'ere. Stay close. It's just...'

Hoppy's thoughts drifted back to the rescue mission to save Ben. After scaring off the 'vaners, essentially, the four from Haven, after some thought, stowed the truck in a different area - still a ways from Cromwell, in a reddish house that looked oddly barnlike in its design. There was a garage there too, of course. Originally, Hoppy had wanted to just get the hell back to Haven with the truck - but Mark was in charge, and he was set on leaving it a bit away from Haven. In any case, Hoppy returned to the present, and located the quaint red house, thinking that it looked pretty different in the middle of a storm. "That'un," she pointed, anxious to find a roof to block the rain.

Laney was almost as glad to get out of the freezing rain as she was to find the truck. She threw back her hood and dragged off her woolen hat, using it to wipe the rain off her face.

'Yew wanna drive?' offered Hoppy.

'Um...' Laney paused. Oh well, there was no getting around it. 'I don't know how.'

'Heh,' cried Hoppy, secretly amused, secretly glad of this talent her friend didn't have. She shot Laney a little devious smirk; head sideways at her. "Another'un of Laney's little skills, aye?"

'What? I lived in London and I was stupid rich. I got taxis everywhere.' Somehow Laney didn't feel as defensive about this failing in front of Hoppy as she might have in front of Tilo, Callie or any of the others.

'Aye-uh, well get in then. I'll be youer taxi t'Seascale,' Hoppy teased. She started the engine, slipped it into gear, and eased the truck out onto the road. It was nerve-wracking, really, as Hoppy stared at it. Driving it out to the road, sure, why not. But actually driving it... last time she'd done something like that, it resulted in Ben... Hoppy shook her head, not wanting to fall back into the old doldrums of after the rescue mission. She had to focus to prove that she wasn't a waste of space. After a couple of minutes of silence, as Hoppy got used to the mechanics, she asked: 'Sooo... whose bed did Callie drag yew out'a tonight?'

'Hoppy!' Laney screamed in pretend outrage, laughing at the girl's cheek.

Hoppy grinned at the reaction, and that she'd guessed right. 'So it's official then?'

'Official?' Laney smiled to herself, recalling the stolen nights she'd spent with Ben. In an environment like Haven, she hadn't expected it to go unnoticed. 'I'd hardly call it that, it's just a coupla rolls, y'know?'

'Oh.' Hoppy was disappointed Laney had poured cold water on the subject so quickly. 'Was lookin' forward to knockin' 'bouts with baby Bens!'

Laney fell silent for a moment, staring out the window as they passed Haven. Light discipline seemed to be in full effect there.

'I don't know. I should be okay,' she said quietly. Hoppy glanced over. The singer had suddenly gone very serious. 'I mean, I should get my period any day now anyway, so I should be okay, right?'

Hoppy realised the reason for the sudden change in Laney's demeanour. It wasn't advice she felt particularly well-equiped to give - unwanted pregnancy in the zombie apocalypse. With an uneasy frown, and a bit of an unsettling thought - would she ever have children of her own one day?- before turning her attention back to the road, feeling slightly more awkward in the silence. She was racking her brain for something to say when, in the headlights in front of them, a zombie stumbled onto the narrow road. She fought the instinct to floor the accelorator and run it down, instead slamming on the brakes, not wanting to risk damaging the truck. There was a much better, up-close and personal way to deal with the damn thing, after all.

"This'un's mine." Hoppy said with a bit of eagerness. Gripping the black handle of her billhook cleaver, Hoppy made a small jump down onto the road and into the dark, whipping wind and rain. She shivered a bit; goddamn it was cold, wasn't it! But when she heard the characteristic moan under the storm, she knew what she had to do. The zed made an attempt at a lunge - Hoppy stepped to the side, before slamming the side of the cleaver down onto the neck of the undead monster, smashing it to the ground. She made a small celebratory sound, relishing this. She hadn't killed a zed in so long, after all. She made a few quick chops, and the head of the zed fell, severed unceremoniously. Seeing the flesh and sinew, Hoppy felt exhilirated. She'd done it, after all! The girl then pulled the damn thing off the road, with a grunt of effort - damn, was that tedious. Wasn't long, though, until she returned to the vehicle, drenched but with a new light in her eyes.

"Feeling 'bit like the old me ag'in." She said cheerfully to the singer, before revving the engine once again. Laney grinned back, pushing her previous worry to one side.

Part 2: Superzombie, Dah-Dadada-Dah-Dah!

'Gosforth Road and Cross Lanes. Turn left,' Laney confirmed, flicking her torch from the road sign back to her map. 'We can dodge the village and get to the golf club. There's a little pier where we might find a... Hang on... what the...' she trailed off.

Hoppy shot her a concerned glance. 'What is it?'

'Sellafield's just up the road.'

'The nuclear power station? Wow. Is that still... y'know... active?'

'Yeah.' Laney cast her mind back about 10 years, certainly to when she was a clean-cut child star. Her father had been invited to discuss Sellafield on a lot of serious news programmes, due to the charity single opposing nuclear power he'd written and performed in the 80s, alongside a bunch of other stars of the time. She seemed to recall the serious news programmes were discussing Sellafield's decomissioning. 'I don't know. Better ask Tilo. Or Rishi.'

'Radioactive zombies.' Hoppy chuckled. "Nuclear zombies. Superpowered zombies!"

'Like we don't have enough to worry about.' Laney sighed and folded her map. Hoppy eased the truck back into gear, and they drove down the little lane, rolling to a stop in front of the clubhouse. Laney was about to jump out when Hoppy jerked the gears again and performed a neat three-point turn, almost surprised at the fact that she'd pulled it off with aplomb. 'Easier t'get out,' she explained, using the mask to look as if she knew she could do it. 'Always plan youer way out, learned that in Cromwell with Ben.'

From the safety of the truck, Laney flashed her torch across the front of the clubhouse, picking out the smashed remains of floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows that must have afforded little protection from the undead horde. There was no reaction to the little lightshow, and the Scavs jumped down from the truck. Laney paused in thought for a moment, then slid the rifle back onto the passenger seat. The rain hammered down as they dashed to the corner, and Hoppy was just about to dart round to the back, where the pier was located when Laney grabbed her arm.

'Hold on,' she hissed. 'There's a bar in there.'

'Laney, no detours!' Hoppy shot back. 'I tol you what 'appened in Cromwell.'

'Come on, girl, when's the last time you had a drink? Come on, one bottle.' And with that, Laney stepped over a remaining shard of window and into the bar. She could feel the shattered glass grinding and crunching under the soles of her boots, but no sound could reach above the driving rain and howling wind. She flicked on her torch, and immediately wished she hadn't. The walls and the bar were all splattered with high splashes of brown - dried blood - and wide pools of the same dead fluid marred the once-plush carpet. Avoiding these, she sidled over to the bar and flashed on her torch once more, and bit down on her lip to stop crying out. Under the cash register, lying on its side, was a head - just a head - and when the light landed on it, its eyes flew open and it began to mash its jaw up and down. Not having any lungs any more, it couldn't produce the charactaristic moan, but even in this extreme condition, its monsterous instincts remained. Laney lifted her hatchet - she barely thought of it as Toby's any longer - to finally put an end to the creature, when her eyes fell on a metal icebucket.

'Look what I got,' she cheered when she returned to Hoppy at the corner. 'Vodka!' She held up a cardboard box holding three bottles and a bucket.

'What's under the towel?' Hoppy sounded cross at Laney's reckless detour. Moreover, it was for liquor. Not only did she dislike the bitter and strong taste, but Hoppy was bitterly reminded of the two brothers, and how they used beer to... get their victims, essentially.

'It's a surprise,' Laney shot back, hurrying to dump the box on the flatbed of the truck. 'Come on.'

After a few minutes pacing the shoreline behind the clubhouse, they found the pier. Several small boats moored there were half-submerged or more, but at the end, riding high on white-capped waves that flashed in the torchlight, was a sleek-looking motorboat. They stood at the end of the pier, watching the craft rock up and down. Beyond it, they could see huge bulk of the ferry ship a little way, listing slightly to the left. To port, Laney corrected herself, recalling a luxury cruise with her father. They called left port when at sea.

'Y'know anythin 'bout speedboats?' Hoppy queried nervously, clutching the giant raincoat closer to her, further dwarfing herself in its bulk.

Laney tried to make herself sound braver than she felt. 'I steered my dad's a couple of times. It was... uhhh... nicer weather.' She sat on the pier and lowered herself gingerly down, then reached up to help Hoppy in. She pulled uselessly on the starter cord of the motor with her left hand. Hoppy had a couple of turns, to no avail. Finally, taking a joint grip on the handle, they threw themselves backwards and the motor sputtered into life. Laney laughed as she picked herself up, took the handle and gunned the engine.

Her laugh was cut short as the engine screamed and the boat lurched high into the air.

'Laney, yew twyp!' Hoppy yelled from where she lay in a puddle in the bottom of the boat. 'Yew din't undo the rope tyin' us to land!'

A deft blow of her hatchet set them on their way, and Laney guided the boat out to sea towards the stern of the ship. 'I don't want to be too near land,' she yelled over the whipping wind and the roaring engine. 'Zeds probably fell off the ship, and if we're in the shallow, they can reach up and grab us.'

By the time they reached the stern of the ship they were about 100 metres from land. They were drenched from sea spray and rain, but the breakers had given way to swells of five feet or more. Hollow booms and metallic rattles emanated from the ship as it rocked gently with the power of the sea. Either side of the raised car ramp on the stern was a railed platform, pretty much at sea level. Laney brought the boat as close as she could to the starboard platform and, at the top of a swell, Hoppy reached out and grabbed the rail. The falling swell dropped the boat from under Hoppy's feet, leaving her hanging on for dear life, her feet kicking to find purchase beneath her. The boat clattered violently against the platform and caught underneath it as the swell rose again, pitching the boat sideways and throwing Laney off her feet. She grabbed at the rail as the freezing seawater rushed in around her up to her waist, shocking the breath out of her. Hoppy grabbed her under the shoulder, and together they scrambled over the rail, gasping for air, and watched the motorboat sink below the surface. A stairwell led up to a walkway that wrapped around the body of the ship at lower-deck level and they dragged themselves up it, out of the rain.

'That din't go well,' Hoppy spat out eventually. Laney already had her backpack off.

'Radio's bust. Flares are bust. Food's bust,' she said, throwing each item into the sea as she named it. 'Hey look,' she said, showing Hoppy the bottom of her nearly-empty pack. 'Water bottle's still in one piece!'

Hoppy stared back at Laney dryly, looking almost ridiculously unimpressed. She was wet and annoyed, and there was still a whole damn lightless boat to search, wasn't there? It took her half a mind to keep from freaking out at Laney, only relenting at the last moment, luckily not having grabbed at her favorite blade. Hoppy scowled and murmured something that sounded akin to 'useless twyp', but otherwise didn't respond. So they had no food, in case this damn thing would take days to search. No flares, so they can't call for help. There's rain anyways, so was there really any use in using them? No radio, so they can't report into Haven in case things go wrong. Hell, they didn't even bring any Harrys, did they? But at least they had water, something they oh so desperately needed right now.

Damnit, this was going to be tiresome. And terrifying. It really wasn't one of her favorite prospect things to do; head into an abandoned ship in the dark with enemies that could possibly be surrounding you, with no way of knowing, until it's too late. She whipped out the cleaver; of course she was foolish to even hope for a gleam to shine off of the blade, wasn't she? Everything was going wrong - going to hell, just like all her other missions. Would the same pattern follow? Would it be Laney who got hurt for her sake this time? Hoppy made a defeated shrug, trudging forwards, aimlessly, making sure of her footing - the leaning ship meant all the walkways were at an angle. Least it'd be better if she could be the one to get hurt this time. And on top of all of this was a treacherous climb. And almost as if sensing the sudden foul mood, Laney spoke up.

"Hey, c'mon. Least we're at where we wanted, right? And you still got your pack."

Yeah. There's at least that.

"Sorry." Hoppy said quickly, forcing an easy grin. "Jus' wasn't prepared fer that! Bit on edge, it's nuthin'!"

'Okay. We gotta hurry up though, I'm gonna freeze in these wet jeans.'

Part 3: Boarding Party

The two girls went navigating through the ship, ears peeled for the sound of moaning, too afraid to dare calling out to Emma. You never knew was was lurking in the dark, after all. Still, Laney looked tempted to search the rooms, just in case there was something valuable hidden away - Hoppy almost had to drag her away from looking in one port-hole; too paranoid to want to do anything but finish as soon as possible. She was freaked out and on edge, and the iron smell of the boat now seemed to mix with an iron smell of sanguine. Definitely unpleasant. Her boot kicked against the soft squish of a corpse, and Hoppy screamed immediately, blindly slashing ahead of her with the cleaver, almost knocking Laney's head clean off.

"Hey!" Laney shouted, indignant. "Be careful where you wave that thing!"

The singer felt around where she heard the squish, and sure enough, her hands touched the cold meaty flesh of the corpse. Both girls shuddered deeply as they realised what had happened.

"M-me bad." Hoppy uttered bashfully. "Dunnae what came over me righ' t'ere."

The now brown-haired girl wiped the sole of her foot on the wall, wincing at the squeak that resounded against the cold steel. And it was right at that moment that they heard that same nightmarish moan - they couldn't tell from where. Hoppy shot Laney a fearful glance. What the hell, man, how do you fight when it's so dark? She swung the cleaver blindly, not hitting anything but empty air. Sudenly remembering Laney, Hoppy sheepishly stopped swinging it, and instead held it in a defensive position, ready to lash out in case anything came out of the darkness.

'Okay, we got to stick right together, I mean right together,' Laney demanded. 'Give me your hand, I don't want my head chopped off.'

The moaning continued, but it didn't get any louder; maybe the zed just wasn't approaching them. Hoppy wanted to leave this part at least; the corpse lying there was disgusting her more and more.

"Le's get on wit'it." Hoppy murmured, pulling on Laney's finger and continuing down the walkway. "Shudn't waste time 'ere."

The growls increased as the two girls walked - just how any of them were around, anyways? Must've been a hell of a lot, just barely out of sight. Where the hell are they? Hoppy was on edge, jittery and nervous, and she had a feeling that Laney wasn't really taking this so well, either, if the tight grip on her hand was anything to go by. If they were suddenly swarmed, both of them were fucked. Utterly fucked. Nothing they can do about that either; helpless to luck right now. She had to think of a way to alleviate this tension - she couldn't damn take it at all. Talk more about Ben? Or maybe thank her for the mooncup? It had come in handy, after all. Then she thought- dude, there were so many zed on-board. If they managed to get on land... that would make everything harder for Haven in the long run. What's the best way to get rid of them, when they're all here, in one spot?

"Explosion." Hoppy muttered. She paused, to listen for any growls that might've been getting closer - none that she could tell - and extrapolated. "Dun' wanna risk more'o these gettin' on land, y'know? P'raps we culd, I dunnae, blow up the ship?" She shrugged, unsure how to even go about blowing it up, but damn wasn't it a tempting idea?

'I like your style, you fucking psycho,' Laney whispered back. 'Let's get to the survivors first. Callie said one was crew, maybe they'll know how.'

Laney tried to recall all she could about the luxury cruise liner. It had been a lot bigger than this, but surely the principles would be the same.

'The survivors radioed Callie, so the best bet is they're on the bridge or nearby,' she whispered in Hoppy's ear. 'That's gonna be up on the top deck. So all that moaning and groaning must be coming from the cabins on the other side of this wall. Or on the main deck.'

Hoppy was about to respond, when her foot slipped - for no apparent damn reason. Walking at an angle like this was exhausting, especially in the dark, with all the zeds all over the place. She grabbed onto a door handle at the last second, stopping her from completely falling and possibly slipping down to where they'd started. She cursed in annoyance, but steadied herself before catching up with Laney - accidentally pulling down on the handle by accident. Of course, as you'd expect, the door swung just a tad. And all of a sudden it seemed as if some of the groaning, at least, had lost a muffler.

"Well, shit." Hoppy sighed. "Dunnae ev'n where we are, do we? Or 'ow t'get to the bridge? Outrunnin' this many of'em in an upright ship's not my style."

'We've got to find a stairs. That'll take us onto the main deck, right where that moaning's coming from.'

'Oh great.'

'Yes, but listen,' Laney went on. 'The angle means most of them will have just naturally ended up on the lower side of the slope, so if we find a stairs on this side, we should be able to sneak right past them.'

"Unless I trip ag'in." Hoppy said dubiously, deadpanning.

'You trip again, I'll chuck you over the side. Come on, there's a stairs up ahead.'

Laney put a foot on the first step, and tried to push out of her mind what lay above them. There could be any number of Zeds immediately above them, and she could be poking her head out into the midst of them. Still, that was the risk they all took now. Stepping outside of Haven, climbing a stair, death could come at any minute. But staying put - holed up in Haven, at the foot of a stairwell - meant death too, just a slower form. She swallowed, trying to bury her fears, and climbed the rest of the stairs, hoping the dark and the howling wind would mask her whereabouts from the zombies' senses.

There was slightly better light on the deck than there had been on the ramp-level walkways, but a fresh assault from the wind and rain at the greater elevation. Laney shook her arms and legs, trying to get the blood flowing in her numb limbs again. The moaning was louder but it seemed to be coming from the port side of the deck: as Laney had predicted, gravity had naturally brought the zombies to that side. She gestured to Hoppy to follow, realized the Welsh girl might not be able to see her, and hissed back: 'All clear'

Hoppy was grateful that Laney had whispered - she was just sort of standing there, staring at nothing in the blackness. She nodded - before foolishly realizing that Laney couldn't see it, and then whispered her thanks with a hushed, 'Ta'. Carefully managing her footsteps, the younger girl took an experimental step - she was more unsteady than she thought - but she managed to follow Laney without much incidence. She took a sad look at her cleaver as she heard the moaning increase - no way the little guy could take them all on for her.

Laney took her friend's hand again and led them forward until they spied the next stairs. When they emerged again from the shelter of the stairwell, they were both nearly driven to their knees by a blast of wind; there was no more cover now they were on the top deck, and the wind was even more ferocious at this height. A metallic banging sounded ahead. Laney tried to curse, but the gusts ripped the air straight from her mouth. Instead she pointed with her hatchet at the silhouette of the bridgehouse ahead of them, a slightly darker outline against the heavy black rain clouds. Leaning into the wind, they struggled to keep their footing as they crossed the wet top deck. As they reached the bridgehouse, the wind died suddenly and, no longer pinned shut, the wheelroom door slowly creaked open. Hoppy's grip on Laney's hand grew that much tighter. The wind picked up again and slammed the door shut with an almighty clang, and both girls yelped.

'If they're anywhere, they're in here,' Laney yelled over the wind. 'Got your torch?' As Hoppy reached into her backpack, Laney yanked the door open, bracing it against the buffeting wind.. Hoppy played her torch across the interior as Laney called out: 'Hello?'

The torchlight lit up the inside of the wheelroom, and the girls just had time to see the nautical instruments drenched in blood and gore, before three zombies jerked into life and dashed towards them. Laney let go of the door and the wind slammed it shut, crunching on a dark-uniformed sleeve from which protruded a grey-skinned hand curled into a claw. Hoppy lost no time in hacking the hand off with an almost eager grin, heavy thumps came from inside as the zombies thrashed against the door. It flew open again, spilling the undead creatures, clumsy as they were, onto the deck in front of them. In a flurry of falling blades, they were dispatched.

'Now what?' asked Hoppy, almost shouting.

Laney pointed to another door on the bridgehouse. Hoppy pointed her torch at it, picking out the word 'Security' stamped on it. Laney tugged her towards it, but Hoppy pulled Laney back and gestured over the bow of the ship towards the village. 'I thought I saw a light.' The two girls scanned the village, and so were caught unawares when the door behind them opened. 'Hello, are you the people from Haven?' came an Irish accent. 'I'm Emma.'

Part 4: Shot In The Dark

Finally out of the howling wind, and with a locked metal door between them and the zombies, Laney realized how cold she was. The Asian man Emma had indicated was called Shinji went wide-eyed and turned away as Laney kicked off her boots and peeled the soaked, freezing denim from her legs. As Hoppy got on the radio to Haven, Laney dragged a blanket from her backpack and wrapped it around her waist.

'Sorry bout that,' she grinned. 'Our leader warned us about hypothermia. Didn't realize she coulda been talking about us.' She handed a blanket to Emma, taking a close look. The Irish girl was younger than her and Hoppy, although not by much, and looked tired but resolute. As she slipped the blanket around her shoulders, her mask of determination slipped, and an expression of pure exhaustion crossed her face, but the Asian man put a comforting hand on her shoulder, and she rallied.

'Callie? Callie? Haven, aye-uh, are yew gettin' t'is? Hoppy 'ere.' The radio crackled and buzzed. Clearly the storm was interfering with reception. '... ferry... Emma... back...' was all they could make out.

'Callie, if yew c'n 'ear me, We've found the survivors. We'a gun bring'em back t'Haven now."'

'... Hoppy... careful... Haven...' Then the radio cut out entirely. Hoppy shot Emma an annoyed glare, before desperately pressing the power button again.

'There's no power,' Emma said apologetically.

'We know. We just climbed it,' Laney smiled ruefully. She flashed Hoppy's torch around the security room. 'Nice place you got here. Got any trousers?'

The windowless security room was a tight fit for four people, about 10 foot square. Opposite the only door was the radio set. To its left, there was a tiny table and two chairs, and to its right were two lockers. Laney flung them open. The first contained two bottles of water, six chocolate bars, and four tins of tuna. Obviously supplies were running low, though a bottle of vodka seemed almost untouched. The second locker contained a handful of flares - Emma had the flare gun tucked into her waistband - and two boilersuits. The Asian man turned away again as Laney threw off her blanket and stepped into the boilersuit. It was much too big for her, so she improvised by tying the arms around her waist.

'Okay, let's get out of here,' she stated, dragging her boots back on. 'Know how to lower the lifeboats?'

'Yes, but...' replied Emma. The Asian man grabbed her arm and pointed to his ring finger which, Laney noticed, bore a silver wedding ring. 'Shinji's wife is stuck in a cabin. Kaiko. We can't leave without her.'

'Well, that's a 'ell of a rut.,' Hoppy grimaced at Laney. 'Fancy I shud'nt run off like last time, aye?.'

Emma pointed out the location of the cabin on the lower deck. Laney figured it was near the door on the lower deck Hoppy had opened when she slipped.

'And how many Zacks?' she asked.

Emma's face fell as she considered the question. 'It was summer when we set out, so we were nearly full. Probably seven hundred.'

'Fuck...' was all Laney could muster. She heard Hoppy's deep intake of breath beside her, who muttered 'explosion' again, almost dreamily.

'But a lot of them were in their cabins when they... when they turned,' Emma said quickly. 'And they can't open doors.'

'This ship doesn't have cabins for seven hundred,' Laney queried. Shinji's eyes darted from one to the other as he tried to grasp the tone of the conversation

'Okay, okay,' replied the Irish girl. 'But on minus one, most people were in their cabins. The biggest group of them is on the outer main deck or in the bar and food court on the inner main deck. If you avoid them...'

'Laney, we can't leave 'er there,' Hoppy said matter-of-factly. 'C'mon.'

The Scavs made for the door. Shinji followed, but Laney put her hand on his chest. 'Sorry, man, we're used to this. You're not.' He said something she didn't understand, and Laney turned to Emma. 'Look, tell him to stay here. Hoppy and I got our backs, he'll only be in the way.' He stepped forward again, and Laney raised her voice. 'No,' she shouted, pushing him in the chest.

Stepping back out into the cold and the wet and the dark, the temptation for the Scavs was to rush to the lower-deck door. But over the sounds of the ship and the howl of the wind, they could hear the moans of the zombies on the main deck, and proceeded with caution, again holding hands. At the door, Hoppy held up the torch: 'We goin' in?'

'I'm not going in there in the dark, Hops,' Laney shot back. Her teeth were chattering, half from the cold, half from fear. She pried open the door and Hoppy flicked the beam inside. The corridor was narrow and, most importantly, empty. They crept inside, glad to shelter from the elements, but hearts beating hard at the thought of exploring this zombie-filled dungeon. Hoppy shone the torch on the nearest doors.

'Room 40, 41,' she muttered. 'All the forties are on this corridor, Emma said, so all the thirties are the next corridor, and the twenties the next, and Kaiko's in number 24.'

They were passing Room 44, on their left, on the way to the main connecting corridor, which ran perpendicular to the forties corridor, when a thump came from the other side of the door, and a low moan started up. The girls froze in terror. There was another thump from 44, and the moan rose in volume, and was answered by a similar sound from Room 45, on their right. The eerie chorus was soon echoing from every room on the corridor. Hoppy flashed her torch down the connecting corridor, found it clear, and the girls scampered to the intersection with the thirties cabins corridor

Hearing a sudden voice and catching sight of beams of torchlight, Hoppy pulled her cleaver out, holding it out nervously and shushing Laney. She could almost make it out; it was somewhat of an argument, in the direction of the twenties corridor, mixing in with the steady groan of the zeds that littered the ship. As if acting as a scout, the almost-brunette went ahead, her footsteps pattering across the floor in time to catch a brief snippet of conversation.

"Dude, her accent." A gruff, loud, and self-important voice shot out. "I don't even know what the hell she's saying."

"Might be others." Another one, slightly nasally. "If we kill her off -"

A third, distinctly female voice broke out, panicked and slightly accented weirdly - was she over-stressing certain consonants? Hoppy wasn't really sure, but it wouldn't be a stretch to assume that it's Kaiko, right? The wife of that Shinji, that they left back there. "Don't kill me!" Kaiko cried. "We have food, supplies, anything but please, I -"

The sound of flesh hitting flesh, and a 'shut up, bitch". It was certain, though, that there were others here. Hoppy scowled, figuring about four or five in the other group, if you didn't count the woman... presumably Kaiko, and pattered her way back to Laney, biting at her lip, apologizing at leaving her without a torch. In a strained tone, she described what she'd just seen and heard, and then turned to Laney for a judgment. She really wanted to just lunge in and kill them - didn't Laney even have a gun? But, well, she'd learned at least a little from Callie's angry lecture - it'd be better to not act on her stupid impulses right now. "Ta," she hissed."Fer not bringin' Shinji in 'ere with us. 'E'd prob'ly rush in."

'Where the hell did these guys come from?' Laney whispered back.

'Remember tha light I saw in the village?'

'We're not the only ones who saw the flare then. They must have found the door open.'

'Can't let 'em catch us, if'n that's the way they gun' treat a woman,' Hoppy snarled. Her mind flew back to the ordeal Ben had suffered. Unconsciously or not, Hoppy's fist clenched harder on her blade.

The moaning from the corridor behind them was dying down. Maybe even zombies had an attention span problem.

"So." Hoppy took a worried glance back in the direction the voices were coming from. "What d'we do? Save 'er? Go back?" She was at least relieved that the zeds had apparently quieted down. The incessant moans were screwing with her head.

Laney hesitated. She'd come on this mission intent on saving two people. On finding there was a third, she'd resolved to rescue that third. She couldn't turn back just because an additional difficulty had presented itself. 'We gotta save her,' she replied. She knew it was what Hoppy would have done regardless, and her friend's instinctive bravery lent her courage. 'Just gotta be smart.' There was another smack of fist on flesh from up ahead, and another scream. Fuck smart, Laney reasoned. Gotta be quick. She grabbed Hoppy's hand and pulled her back to the forties corridor. Outside Room 44, she stopped and gripped the handle. She mimed counting one-two-three and swinging her weapon. Hoppy nodded and readied herself, cleaver up. Laney yanked the door open, the zombie lurched out, and Hoppy stabbed it straight through the eye, stepping nimbly aside as it fell.

'Open all the doors, then book it in here,' Laney whispered. In no time, the doors to 40, 41, 42 and 43 were open, and seven zombies were stumbling into the corridor. Laney and Hoppy had already slipped into 44, and listened as the undead passed their cabin, honing in on the sounds of Kaiko's tormentors. Once the zeds were at a safe distance, the two girls gently opened the door to Room 44. They shared a silent nod as they stalked their way down. This was going to be tough, of course; timing had to be impeccable. If they were too slow, the zeds would either be all dead, or they'd have already killed all of the new arrivals. If they were too fast, well, the Scavs themselves would be targeted, wouldn't they? It was a tense few moments; especially when the guns started firing - two shots echoed, so... two guns? Immediately upon hearing the chorus of gunfire, Hoppy let out a whimper and knelt down instinctively to block her ears; memories of Chip flashing through her mind. His suicide. The damned roar of the Harrys.

Laney noticed the shorter girl stop and turned back to help pull her up. "It'll be okay," she said encouragingly. "C'mon, Hops, get it together."

Hoppy nodded weakly, and gulped hard.

"Ta." She murmured, forcing herself to ignore the loud sounds of gunfire. She shot Laney a grateful little grin, before the two girls heard one man cry out: "Give 'em the girl! Let's just run for it!" Hoppy clicked her tongue angrily and charged forward with a sudden burst of speed - Laney not far behind, muttering 'shitshit' as she followed.

The first thing Hoppy did, with no hesitation whatsoever, was swing her cleaver into the back of the knee of one of the men holding some sort of pistol, making him cry out and buckle down onto the ground. He fired a reflex shot - and the bullet embedded itself into Hoppy's chest. She fell, back hitting a wall, and then sliding downwards, before hopping back up, silently thanking her adrenaline for blanking out the pain. She was obviously slower now, though, and heard the sounds of more struggle, and one of the zed was already chowing down one one of the men; unearthly screams shaking the slanted corridor. Did Laney even notice that she got shot? Once she found an opportunity, she swiftly eliminated the zed, as well as the man, before he could turn. Better than he deserved, Hoppy thought. It'd have been better for him to suffer as an undead.

Laney, meanwhile, after kicking a zed away from the terrified Kaiko, was met with a sudden "You look familiar." The singer glanced back and, in the intermittant light from swinging torches, saw one of the men, tall and shaven-headed looking at her in recognition. "Like a celebrity that I don't quite... Byron." He nodded. "Delaney Byron. Yeah, I remember your sex tape." Swinging a bat at a zed, the man crushed it's skull with ease, before roving up and down Laney's body with lewd eyes. "Looks like we got lucky." He said with a sick smirk. "Your friend -" gesturing at Hoppy, who gingerly slashed her way through another undead, "- isn't so bad, either. Didn't expect to see a celeb, though. Thought there was a whole high-class shelter for people like you, the 'rich' people."

"That doesn't matter now, prick" Laney spat, rushing at the man with her hatchet, only to have her swing blocked by the bat, and the man's greater strength let him muscle the hatchet back and deliver a swing to Laney's body - only just dodged with a step back, before grunting and doing an overhead swing. The man smiled cockily as he blocked that hit too, and aimed a kick at Laney's stomach, who didn't have enough time to react. She crumpled, and the man chuckled lasciviously as he leaned down to lift Laney - Kaiko, frozen in horror, could only stare at the scene - before the blunt end of a cleaver slammed into the man's arm, knocking him off balance. Hoppy grimaced as she grabbed Laney's hand.

"T'ey got all the zed already." She scowled with urgency, oblivious to the blood leaking through her shirt. "Only one'a 'em dead. I en't lettin' 'em get us, Laney!"

'Hoppy, you're...' Laney couldn't bring herself to say it. Depending on the nature of the wound, her friend could already be dead.

Hoppy seemingly ignored her and, with Kaiko between them, the three girls rushed through the corridor, going as fast as they could to return to Shinji and Emma back at the bridge, ignoring the indignant yell of the man, trying to make them come back. "We're not leaving yet!" He shouted. "We'll get you, you sluts!"

While Laney focused on her injured friend, and the careful way she ran, rather than the typical reckless sprint of hers, no one noticed that Kaiko was nervously hiding her hand under her sleeve, not letting anyone else see.

"You okay, Hops?"

"Just tidy."

Part 5: The Breakfast Queue

Hoppy looked pale, not tidy at all. It was already pretty hard to move very much; she wondered just how much blood she'd lost. Back at the bridge, the rain still slicking down, Kaiko and Shinji embraced each other in desperate relief, whispering in rapid Japanese. Although the Scavs couldn't really understand it, the most common word or phrase used was 'yokatta' or 'shinpai' or 'sukidaiyo', not that anyone really could understand it. Hoppy recognized 'arigatou', though.

'What are you doing out here?' Laney demanded, cradling Hoppy's head on her lap. 'You should have stayed put.'

Emma walked up with a worried glance and tore up some strip of plastic. In her other hand was a bottle of vodka. Hoppy recoiled a bit in Laney's arms - wasn't that going to sting like fuck?

"I only know a bit of first aid. You'll need a doctor to take the bullet out..." Emma muttered, looking at the wound after she'd pulled the shirt off. It looked pretty deep - and, well, the pain was slowly ebbing in now. Hoppy's face contorted in pain as Emma's hands prodded it. "Okay, you ready?"

"Do I really gotta?" Hoppy whined, glancing at Laney, who nodded. The cleaver girl acquiesced and stayed still, hissing in pain as the alcohol seeped into her irritated wound, mixing with the blood. It hurt. It hurt like fuck, and Hoppy flinched backwards when she felt it. She felt Laney's fingers dig into her shoulders as her friend held her down. Sure, it was necessary, but it still hurt real bad. At least she wasn't bleeding out or anything. Damn bullet's good for something, at least. Just in case, though, Emma carefully tied the strip around her waist, over her shirt.

"Why's it plastic?"

"Since it's a chest wound." Emma paused a little. "Some air might travel in and out as you breathe. It's called a sucking chest wound. I did what I could; plastic to stop air from exiting, but we should get to Haven quickly. Else your lung's going to collapse."

"Ta." Hoppy grumbled grudgingly, still smarting over the first aid. She knew she should have felt gratitude for the help, but she just glared bitterly at Emma. Goddamn did her chest hurt, and she figured it wouldn't be long until she was too weak to move and help out. A few hours at least? Calm though, despite possibly dying. Maybe she got used to it all already.

"We can't stay here." Laney said, after looking Hoppy over. "They'll know we're here; we have to move."

Emma looked up, chewing her lip. "How long until we can get off the boat?"

"Not until it's safe. Hoppy's injured, and I don't know if any of you three' - gesturing at Shinji, Kaiko, and Emma - "can keep up if things get bad."

Kaiko turned to her husband and muttered things rapidly back and forth to make sure he understood. Hoppy looked a little irritated, but, well, it was necesary, unless they were just going to keep the Japanese man in the dark. It sickened Hoppy more and more, seeing how people can get once the world more or less ends and civilized society bails out. The people get ridiculous. Disgusting. Hoppy briefly wondered if she was getting just as bad as they were too. Months ago, killing people was the farthest thing from her mind. Months ago, she was a happy, carefree university student, with tender feelings for an old friend. An old friend who could very well be dead by now. Damn if that wasn't a depressing thought.

Kaiko and Shinji turned to the group with thankful smiles.

"My husband and I would like to thank you all for saving me." Kaiko said cordially. "We're sorry for the trouble, and for you getting hurt!"

Time to use the mask. If she didn't stay energetic, everyone'd start worrying, wouldn't they? "I'm doin' fine." Hoppy shrugged, gritting her teeth. "Aye, Emma?"

"Yeah?"

"Anywhere we c'n 'ole up?"

"Just the security room." Emma said after some thought. "Yeah. We can lock the door, there, and if we're careful with food,.. yeah. Just have to wait the pirates out, right?"

'Alright, it'll do for now,' said Laney. It was time to take charge. 'But we're not holing up long. I don't know how long Hoppy's got, and I'm not risking her life for yours.'

Shock at Laney's bluntness crossed Emma and Kaiko's faces and, after the translation, Shinji's. Regardless, Laney hurried everyone into the security room, locking the door behind her.

'Emma, you know how to lower the lifeboats? Can you do it while you're in it?' The Irish teenager nodded. 'Good,' Laney continued. 'Now, are there any left?'

'There's one, maybe two on the portside main deck,' she replied. Laney rubbed a hand across her face in frustration. The same side as the mass of zombies. She looked down at Hoppy, lying under a blanket, pale and shivering. The Japanese couple were huddled in a corner, holding hands and conversing quietly but urgently.

"G'damnit, Laney," the injured girl muttered. "I'm tired."

'I know, hun. Don't worry, I'm gonna get you back home, don't worry.' Hoppy squeezed Laney's hand gratefully, and lay back down.

With that, Laney grabbed her hatchet, Hoppy's torch and Emma's flare gun and stepped back out into the driving rain. She wished she felt as confident as she'd sounded. But trapped on this giant, foreign hulk of machinery, with hundreds of zombies and an unknown number of raiders standing between her and rescue, with her friend's life depending on her, Laney felt utterly overwhelmed. As a lump formed in her throat and, as she began to panic at her indecision, Laney wondered whether this was what Monroe had felt every day. Was this the pressure Callie seemed to be cracking under?

And that thought got her moving. First she crept behind the bridgehouse to the port side of the top deck. It was still hard to see anything, but Laney fancied it was getting lighter. Certainly she could make out a packed wedge of bodies standing against the rail on the port side. In fact, they filled half the whole deck, from bow to stern. There were hundreds, as Emma had suggested, but she could only make out one lifeboat. Laney calculated she had perhaps an hour of darkness before dawn. After that, no diversion, no matter how big, would keep Hoppy and the others from being seen as they made for the lifeboat. That would mean staying in the security room for an entire day. Hoppy wouldn't last that long, even if the raiders didn't find them.

Almost as if on cue, gunfire echoed from the lower deck. The shaven-headed raider who'd taunted her as they fought had hinted that there were more of them on board, but there was no way of guessing how many. Since they hadn't appeared yet on the main deck, Laney guessed they must be looting cars on the vehicle deck or cabins on the lower deck where she and Hoppy had rescued Kaiko.

Taking a deep breath, Laney scampered down the starboard stairwell to the main deck. The moaning of so many zombies mixed with the howling wind to create a bone-chilling sound. On and on and on it droned, almost hypnotic. Laney felt like she would be hearing that sound in her sleep forever. Luckily, more gunfire from below snapped her out of her reverie, and she snuck down to the lower deck walkway and prised open the outer door to the cabins Hoppy had opened hours ago. Holding her breath, she dragged the corpse from Room 44 and wedged the outer door open. Then she dropped a flare in the doorway, fired a flare into the corridor and, ignoring the yells from within, retraced her steps to the main deck. She dropped another flare halfway up the stairs to the lower deck walkway, then, heart in her mouth, cracked as third flare and stood out in full view of the horde on the main deck.

'Breakfast's ready, bitches!' she screamed. She had only to wait a split second before the horde began to move towards her like a damburst. She dropped the flare at the top of the stairs and followed the path of flares she'd laid.

The headstart she'd given herself was only just enough. She dashed past the doorway to the cabins, remembered at the last second to vault the corpse Hoppy had freaked out at when they first boarded, and slipped more than stepped down the stairs to the ramp-level platform she and Hoppy had climbed onto from the speedboat. She held onto the rail, again lashed by sea spray, ready to jump in and take her chances in the waves if some of the horde followed her.

But a minute's wait told her nothing was coming. The shuffling and groaning from the walkway above told her a seemingly endless procession of zombies were now trudging into the lower level, following the trail of flares. If the raiders survived that, well, she'd ask to join them, no matter how sleazy they were. Laney tightened her makeshift belt, thrust her hatchet into the folds of her clothes, and then threw herself into the sea.

Even though she'd steeled herself, the shock of the water took Laney's breath away. She surfaced momentarily, gasping and spluttering, and then sunk beneath the foaming surface again. The cold seemed to have sapped the strength from her muscles, the very lifeblood from her arms. Then she thought of Hoppy in the security room, shivering and pale as shock set in, and she flailed her arms, reaching air again. She thought of Ben, sleeping with the kind of peace he thought he'd left in the brothers' barn, and she kicked her legs. Inch by inch, stroke by stroke, Laney struggled from the starboard platform to the portside platform, and hauled herself up over the railing. Safe again, she lay gasping like a fish out of water, then struggled to her knees, and finally her feet. She dragged herself up the stairs to the lower deck walkway, and stood listening at the foot of the stairwell up to the main deck. The night sky was a little lighter, she noticed, but the hypnotic stereo moaning of hundreds of zombies appeared to be gone.

As lightly as she could on legs that appeared to be turning to jelly with the cold and tiredness, she sprang up the stairs, and the next flight, and banged on the security room door.

'C'mon, c'mon, c'mon,' she urged. Slower than she would have liked, the door swung open.

Part 6: Dawn

There was blood pretty much everywhere. On the walls, stained over the security systems, the radio, pools of it covering the floor. The stink of the iron-like odor seeped through the entire room. Two bodies lay on the floor, seemingly locked in an embrace, drenched in bright red gore. The Japanese man stood over them, still as a statue, Hoppy's cleaver hanging loose in his hand. Eyes wide in horror, Laney took it in. It was, really, a scene for even the strongest stomach to churn over. Her gaze scanned quickly over the huge, blood gouge hacked into the dark hair of Kaiko, then the bloody, chewed, pulpy mess of Emma's throat. The only other girl still alive glanced over with a labored breath - her world was spinning, the edges of her vision were greyed out and fuzzy, she wanted to throw up the little food she had in her, and she didn't know how long until she fainted - but someone had to explain it to Laney, what the hell just happened.

"Fuck." Hoppy wheezed. "Kaiko... she turn'd." She gestured at the now visible bite mark on the japanese woman's hand. "Bit Emma. 'ad to kill 'er. Got... tired an' then this'n - " pointing tiredly at Shinji. "kill't her 'imself. Let it 'app'n, too, 'e let 'er turn."

Laney was speechless as her horrified gaze flitted form Hoppy, to the grieving Shinji, to the mangled bodies on the floor.

"I'd 'ave kill'd 'im, if'n I could." Hoppy sat down; legs no longer really supporting her. "'Bout to faint 'ere, Laney."

'We'll deal with him later, Hoppy. Now, we gotta move,' Laney urged. 'We don't have much time.' She tried to lift Hoppy's dead weight, but her own tiredness foiled her. 'Come on, help,' she growled at Shinji. The bewildered tourist was still kneeling by the body of his dead wife, seemingly immoveable. 'Come the fuck on,' Laney snapped again, and grabbed him by the arm. He looked over woefully, uncomprehending. Laney swore again, then began rattling off words. 'Go. Safe. Leave. Home. Haven. Fuck. Please.' At 'please', a light of recognition entered Shinji's eyes. Laney repeated herself, gesturing at Hoppy's prone form, then the door. Finally, he helped lift Hoppy, and the threesome staggered out the door.

'Gonna be alright, Hoppy, gonna be alright,' Laney found herself muttering. They reached the stairwell, and to her relief, the main deck seemed empty of movement in the pre-dawn grey light. They manouvered Hoppy down the stairs and halfway down the length of the main deck to where the final lifeboat hung. Laney was just pondering that only Emma had known how to release the lifeboats when the sound of crashing glass rang out behind them. Hoppy slumped to the ground as Laney and Shinji spun around to see zombies tumbling awkwardly out of the window of the food court situated at the back of the main deck.

'Aw fuck,' groaned Laney, drawing her hatchet. 'Get her in the boat.' Shinji's lack of movement told her he hadn't understood. 'Hoppy! Boat!' Laney screamed at him, pointing at one and then the other, and turning to face the first zombie to approach. An overhead chop split its skull, and a glance behind her revealed Shinji struggling with Hoppy.

"Yew c'n ju's- ... ju's leave me." Hoppy protested, even as the Japanese man more or less hustled her over the high edge of the lifeboat. She was trying as best as she could to not just get in; wasn't she slowing them down, anyways? And to follow with the traditions of her past missions, well, someone was going to die, or at least get left behind or something. Might as well let it be the one with a bullet in her chest.

'Stupid talk, Hoppy,' Laney growled. 'Get in the fucking boat.' The zombies were obstructing each other climbing through the broken window. The long shards of glass were tearing terrible holes in their limbs and torsos, but still they pressed on. Another flopped out, and as it righted itself, Laney darted forward and hacked at the back of its head. She danced back from the grasping hands protruding from the window.

With a frustrated sigh, the cleaver girl gave the aforementioned weapon to Shinji, and pointed him at the zombies after she acquiecsed to Laney. It wasn't really worth distracting her right now, anyways. The Japanese man took it and, looking hesitant, afraid; but also determined to avenge his wife, joined the fray, hacking off at an undead hand.

'Laney,' came a weak cry from the lifeboat. 'Look 'oo's here.'

Laney dragged herself up the side of the lifeboat. In one end lay Hoppy, looking like a rag doll. In the other, bleeding and battered, but still able to aim a gun, was the Delaney Byron fan they'd tangled with outside Kaiko's cabin. Blood was crusting up on a snarled, ragged wound on the back of his shaved head.

'Take me with you,' he panted, pointing the gun at Hoppy, who just sort of stared at the feared weapon. The barrel was long and thin. Rimfire, Laney realised. That's how Hoppy was still alive. That didn't mean the threat could be ignored, though. A headshot or a hit to a major artery would prove as fatal as the biggest caliber ammo.

'Fuck off,' Laney snapped.

'Take me with you or your girlfriend gets it.'

Laney threw herself over the side of the lifeboat, weighing her hatchet.

'Put the axe away, bitch,' the man screamed, the pistol waving from Laney to Hoppy and back. .

'Gotta get the boat loose, don't I?'

"'E's bit, Laney." Hoppy murmured, tense. "I see the teeth marks."

'Take it easy, Hoppy,' Laney soothed. 'I'll take care of both of you.' Just then Shinji launched himself into the lifeboat. His jaw was clenched, and Hoppy's cleaver held aloft. His right arm was smeared with thick gore, but there was no sign of fresh blood. He screamed something at the sky. Laney thought she made out the word 'Kaiko'. Suddenly zombies thudded against the high side of the lifeboat, arms reaching for the living inside. Shinji turned the cleaver on the arms; soon the bottom of the boat was littered with limbs. Laney looked wildly around for the release mechanism. The moaning grew louder, and as a grey dawn broke, hundreds of zombies were now visible on the main deck. They began to climb up on the backs of the armless zombies at the lifeboat; soon they would fall right in.

'Aw fuck,' Laney groaned again, and swung her hatchet at the four ropes holding the lifeboat in its cradle. The boat lurched as the first rope gave way, and everyone fell to one side. Holding on to the side, Laney severed the second rope with a single blow. Laney grabbed Shinji, pointed to the cleaver, then to one remaining rope, then to her hatchet and the other remaining rope, and held up three fingers in front of his face. He nodded, they braced themselves for the fall, and, as Laney screamed 'Three!' swung at the ropes.

Everyone screamed as the lifeboat plunged, and the screams stopped abruptly as the boat splashed down, jarring everyone to the bone.

Laney dragged herself from the bottom of the boat, scrambling for her hatchet. She spun around to face the raider with the gun. He was still pointing it, but the sneer on his face was gone. Instead, his throat appeared to be sneering; Shinji had sliced him from one corner of his jaw to the other, and blood and his last breaths made a collar of red foam around his neck. Shinji held out the cleaver, handle first, to Hoppy, and bowed his head.

'Sorry,' he stammered.

Hoppy weakly lifted her head over the lifeboat as the raider died, and let out a feeble spewing of guts; panting hard after the fact, moaning at her dizziness and her exhaustion. "Fuck," she said again, settling down, almost starting to cry. At least the gun wasn't aimed at her anymore. She gratefully nodded at Shinji, taking the cleaver and letting it rest on her lap, shivering. "I was s- scared." She admitted. With a great effort, she managed to speak again. "A-arigatou? Is that it?"

'Domo Arigatou Gozaimasu,' he replied. 'Arigatou, arigatou,' and burst into tears.

The brief respite was interrupted by a splash next to the lifeboat. They looked up and saw zombies plunging over the railing towards them. One particularly big creature fell close enough to smash its head against the side of the boat; brains, bone and ichor splashed the three of them. Laney looked wildly around for a motor, then grabbed at the oars stowed in the sides.

'Aw, fuck,' she repeated, locking her oar into place, and gesturing that Shinji do the same. 'Where's my fucking motorboat?'

Epilogue
November 9th 2013, 0805

By the time, they neared the shore, Laney's shoulders ached. The rest of her was numb from the cold. Though Shinji battled manfully with his oar, he was obviously tiring. Hoppy had turned pale blue and fallen silent again. Though it meant an extra 10 minutes rowing, Laney directed the lifeboat back to the golf club pier; at least she knew there were no zombies there. They bundled Hoppy out of the boat, then, gripping her under an arm each, the dragged her back to the truck, and bundled her into the cab.

'Do you drive?' Laney asked, then, noting the baffled look on Shinji' face, pointed to him, made a steering wheel gesture, then pointed to the truck. He nodded and jumped into the driver's seat. Laney squeezed in beside Hoppy, putting her arms around her friend in an attempt to keep them both warm.

With a trembling hand, Hoppy did her best to pat Laney on the shoulder for getting them out of this mess, more or less alive. Dazedly looking around at the relative safety of the truck, she let her eyes close and slipped into a fitful rest.

'Told you it'd be alright, Hops,' Laney said, her voice a whisper near exhaustion. 'Okay, Shinji, let's go.'

The Japanese man, leaning heavily on the steering wheel, looked puzzled. Laney gestured forwards with her spare hand. 'Please, arigatou.' He seemed to get the idea, and the truck rattled away from the golf club.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Callie Winters Character Portrait: Delaney Byron Character Portrait: Alison Carter
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Big Brother/Sea King Down

November 11

New beginnings
Laney rolled over in bed, reaching for Ben. She'd called him 'cowboy' last night. He'd liked that. But his side of the bed was cold and empty. Of course, she realised, Ben had left early. It was a long, dangerous road to Kendal. Pushing the shiver of fear she felt for him back down into her subconscious, she dressed warmly and dragged herself downstairs.

Haven was quiet, with Hoppy sedated in her sick bed, with Ben and Tilo out on their respective missions, Jesus still missing. Laney found herself wondering ruefully whether men ever realised how much their deep, rumbling baritones filled a house - a home. Of course, the most conspicuous absence was Monroe's, his sharp Ulster phrasing shot through with barely contained anger. In contrast, Callie and Carter, the rescued helicoptor pilot, had their heads together in the Command Centre, speaking quickly and lightly. Had Carter stepped into Monroe's military shoes already, Laney wondered. Had Callie forgotten her friend already?

Picking at a dry, flavourless granola bar, Laney turned away from the scene bitterly and stomped dutifully to the jobs board. Ignoring the leaflet bearing Rishi's distinctive neat handwriting, she found the only other job was indeed from Carter. Another sign she was taking over Monroe's juristiction. At least it seemed like a pretty straightforward grab-and-go mission. Despite her willingness to dislike Carter, at least the pilot shared some of Monroe's better qualities; she was efficiant, to-the-point, and her mission was directly related to the survival of Haven.

Placated slightly, she glanced at Rishi's mission, and gave a laugh that was half amusement, half astonishment. First of all, all of the Scavs were aware of what happened when you severed or crippled one of Zack's limbs. The just kept coming. And Monroe's parting gift at the Jones farm had told them everything they needed to know about the effect and the attraction of fire. But singing to one of them? Telling jokes? Threats? The man was even more insane than she'd previously imagined. Nonetheless, after a moment's thought, she reached up and pulled the leaflet off the noticeboard. If she took a couple of these cameras along to the helicopter crash site, perhaps Rishi would find enough in the footage to keep him from any more idiocy. Anything that kept him from letting his pet zombie loose could only be a good thing.

'You alright, Laney?' Callie asked as she came in to double-check the crash site location on the Command Centre map. She nodded briefly. 'Mmm-hmm.'

'Everything okay with you and Ben?' Thi time Laney looked round. Callie hadn't raised the subject of their relationship with her much; Laney wondered whether she was genuinely interested or saw it only in terms of something that could strengthen or weaken Haven. Moreover, she knew Ben and Callie had been at loggerheads recently, so she didn't want to give too much away. 'All good,' she replied, with more cheer than she felt. 'It's just a worry whenever anyone goes out, you know?'

'Hoppy needs everything he'll get.' Laney was surprised when Carter spoke up. Perhaps Carter was just trying to integrate herself, make a connection with the longer-standing members of Haven, but Laney bristled nonetheless: This new arrival hadn't earned the right to speak about her friends like this, let alone sit in Monroe's place.

After gathering her Scav pack and a scoped rifle, and extricating herself from the awkward conversation wth the women in the Command Centre, Laney knocked on Gary's door. 'Yo, M, where's my invisible car?' she called with more enthusiasm than she was currently feeling. The workshop inside was an Aladdin's cave of wires, monitors and sleek black and silver casings; Laney had the sense that the technician was making up for lost time following the installation of the solar panel.

'Well, there was gonna be a black Bond,' Gary grinned back. 'Why not a girl Bond too?'

He took her through some of the equipment Ben and Tilo had scavenged from Cromwell and, with Laney's insistance that he be able to keep her hands free, suggested a lipstick camera on a headband that strapped over her woollen cap. Initially amused with Gary's fumbling attempts to secure the headband, Laney grew frustrated when it slipped for the fourth time.

'You have too much hair,' he whined. She realised he was nervous about touching her, being in such close proximity. Some men were just like that. However, whether it was out of respect or fear of Ben, or whether he was just unused to being around women, there was no time for this kind of modesty any more.

'Oh, fuck off, Gary,' she snapped, her patience worn thin and their shared James Bond joke now long forgotten. 'Look, this isn't working. Forget it, Rishi can film Zack himself.'

'Wait, wait,' he replied with a sudden burst of enthusiasm. He rummaged through a pile of junk in a corner and emerged triumphantly with a bicycle helmet. He slotted the camera neatly into one of the structural gaps of the helmet. 'Ta-dahhh!' he beamed. Nonetheless, to fit the helmet on her head, she had to let her hair down out of the tight bun she normally wore for missions, leaving it hang in a thick curtain behind her. Laney spared Gary the embarrassment of feeding the wire under her clothes at the back and clipping the power pack and memory unit to her belt. A few tests, and she was ready to set out.

'I look ridiculous,' Laney grumbled out loud as she caught sight of her reflection in the window as she left Haven. Turning her head this way and that, she had to double-check that the camera was still tucked away in its little crevice.

Life and death
Shoulders hunched and head down in an attempt to keep out the biting wind, Laney realised she hadn't been outside Haven on her own since her imprompt mission to Cromwell's pharmacy over a month ago. More than once on the way, she found herself lifting her head to voice some concern about the mission, or quip about Rishi's sanity, only to realise Hoppy, Kiera, Jesus, Toby - all the people who had accompanied her recently - were all elsewhere. Some moreso than others...

Had it been a month ago? So much had happened. It had been the first day of her last period, of that much she was sure. She totted up everything that had happened since, losing track several times. Certainly, if Gary's camera set-up stopped working now, all she would return with was a film of her counting on her fingers and muttering to herself. There was no privacy, wearing one of these cameras, that was for certain. What would she do if she needed to pee? Finally, she thought she'd got the dates straight in her head, double- and triple-checking them with a sinking feeling. She'd miscalculated the days, counted too few. Her period wasn't as late as she'd thought, but on the other hand, the risks she'd taken with Ben were far greater.

This wasn't good news. This was fucking bad news. Like anyone who'd had a scare, Laney had contemplated what it would be like to get pregnant before. But she'd always thought her wealth and influence would protect her from the worst of it. Even if she didn't opt for a termination, she could have counted on the best medical care, and a paid army of nannies, cooks and cleaners. Personal trainers and cosmetic surgery to help her star in the 'post-baby bod' features the gossip rags loved so much. Now that the old world was gone, it would all fall on her, provided both she and baby survived the rudimentary care Dr Short was set up to provide. Her hand dropped instinctively to her lower stomach as she grappled with the enormity of bringing up a child in this new, brutal, uncaring world. Tears blurred her eyes.

Laney's next thought was of Ben, and she gave a little laugh as she contemplated that he would probably take it in his stride far more than she would. She'd seen it in him these last few days, as his anger and panic at his capture finally settled down; now, he sought out, even craved, responsibility. She knew that protecting and improving Haven, for Ben, was a way of exorcising the demons that fed on his perceived helplessness to protect himself from the brothers who had tortured him. In a sense, she realised, a baby might complete him; certainly it would give him something more to fight for, a Haven within Haven. And Hoppy too, it seemed like she'd been talking about Baby Bens since the moment they'd first kissed.

If Hoppy lived that long. The realisation hit Laney like a punch in the chest. If Ben lived that long - if she herself survived that long - or anyone else in Haven for that matter. The feeling of hopelessness that landed squarely on her shoulders stopped her in her tracks. She swallowed deeply, the strap of her helmet digging into her throat. And thus it was that she was standing still when, too late, her mournful thoughts were interrupted by the sound of pounding feet and a ragged snarl. Something slammed into her back, bearing her to the ground. She got one hand out to break her fall, but the left side of her face scraped long and hard along the road, and the heavy landing knocked the breath out of her lungs. Her rifle skittered across the road. The snarl reached a frantic pitch as vice-like fingers closed on her shoulders, and a sharp pain at the back of her scalp incongruously reminded her of schoolyard fights as her head was jerked back and forth by the hair. As she fought for breath and the savage growls rattled in her ears, Laney realised the zombie had a mouthful of her hair.

Dragging air painfully back into her lungs, Laney managed to scissor her legs and kick wildly, tumbling herself and the creature behind her onto their sides. She screamed as it yanked harder on her hair, snapping her head back, its foul stench filling her nostrils alongside the raw, metallic smell of her own blood. She swung her hatchet back behind her, but she couldn't generate enough force at the awkward angle to do any significant damage; the skull was too tough. She butted her head backwards and felt it connect; momentarily, the tugging on her scalp stopped. Laney took advantage of the brief respite to swing her hatchet over her shoulder, smashing the zombie's wrist. She wriggled out of its grasp onto her hands and knees, eyes watering at the pain in her scalp, and tried to rise, but found herself still tethered to the ground by the zombie's grasp on her hair. But seeing her scramble away, its mouth dropped open into another moan, her hair fell free, and Laney was able to dive to one side as it crawled awkwardly towards her. She was about to rear up and smash her hatchet down through the top of its head when she remembered the camera she was wearing. She sidestepped neatly as the zombie lunged from a kneeling position, and when it sprawled out flat on the road, she sat heavily on its back, her knees pinning its shoulders.

Drawing a deep breath, she hacked at its left arm just above the elbow until it hung by sinew and threads of skin. What would have been agony for the living provoked nothing more than the usual groans and snarls from the zombie. Pausing to swipe sweat from her forehead, Laney looked up and down the road. It was a risk to let the creature keep making noise, possibly attracting others, but the way was clear for now. She turned to the right arm, and once that too had been brutally seperated from the body, took several steps back and watched in horrified fascination as Zack scrabbled pathetically on the ground, unable to push itself upright with its stumps of arms. Eventually it knelt up and began staggering to its feet; without arms to properly balance itself, the zombie plunged headlong into the ground again.

'Sorry, Rishi, don't have time for this,' she said out loud, bringing her hatchet down hard. She tentatively raised a hand to her left cheek. The blood was running freely from a ragged cut; panic electified her as she briefly struggled to remember how she'd got the wound. The fall, not a bite, she recalled with relief, seaching her first-aid pack for a bandage.

'Hope that was some help,' she muttered, nudging the now-still corpse with her toe as she set off for the crash site again.

Trading places
Laney heard the gunshots before the crash site came into view. She vaulted the stone wall into the neighbouring field, unslung her rifle and hurried to a wall on the crest of the hill. Without even using the scope, she could see two figures standing on the body of the helicopter. One was firing a handgun down into a mass of zombies, while the other swung a melee weapon at any clutching hands that came too close. Several bodies lay prostrate on the ground nearby. No zombies were feeding on these, so Laney assumed they were former zombies, felled by the gunman on the helicopter. Looking through the scope, Laney saw the shooter, a man in his fifties, hold up his gun, glare at it in frustration, and holster it in favour of what looked like a crowbar. His companion was a teenager or young man, his beard growing in patchy around his cheeks and neck. She counted nine zombies still reaching and clawing at their prey. The men were high enough up the helicopter to be out of reach, but that same height meant anyone swinging at the zombies' heads risked falling from the uneven platform of the helicopter.

Taking her time, resting the rifle on the stone wall, Laney focused on the tallest zombie - the easiest target as well as the creature most likely to grab one of the men - and trained the scope's crosshairs on its head. Unlike when she was returning fire the day Toby, Jake and Sam died, Laney had time to draw breath, relax, and squeeze the trigger gently as she exhaled, just like Monroe had shown her. She practised the motions three times, then let out a whoop of delight as her first shot sent a gout of black gore fountaining up from the skull of the tall zombie.

The sudden casualty did not go unnoticed by the men on the helicopter. Both jumped back in alarm, the younger barely keeping his balance, then both crouched, scanning the horizon. Laney stood, holding her rifle aloft triumphantly, and the men waved, one letting out an indistinguishable holler. She knelt again to take out the remaining eight zombies but, under pressure to perform in front of the men, her next three shots missed, piercing the body of the helicopter. She wiped her brow, drew another deep breath, and let her mind wander back to her training with Monroe, and the next two shots found their mark. She continued until only one zombie remained - she wanted to keep her five remaining bullets - and vaulted the wall and trotted down to the crash site, scanning left and right for movement. The men on the helicopter called to the zombie and banged their weapons on the metal, keeping its attention until Laney buried her hatchet in its skull.

'Well hello,' called the older man, beaming widely. He was tall and thin, all knees and elbows. 'That was some top-notch shooting. I'm Charles, and this is Benson.' The younger man - he looked about 15 or 16, now that Laney got a closer look - nodded his thanks unsmilingly.

Benson's scowl suddenly reminded Laney what happened last time a Scav had trusted two strangers, and she stopped herself from putting her hatchet back in her belt. 'Laney,' she replied. 'Where are you two from, then?'

'Eden Valley - ' Charles began, but Benson, eyes following the movement of Laney's hatchet, cut across him. 'What you thinking?' he grunted, his stare boring into her. 'We're not gonna hurt you.'

Charles glanced nervously over at his younger companion.

'So you're Vanners, huh?' Laney queried. The adreneline of her victorious sharp-shooting had faded, leaving her feeling drained and uneasy. 'I spoke to your boss, Jane Meadows, not so long ago.'

At the mention of his leader, Charles seemed to perk up, and Benson toned down his sullen glare. 'So you must be one of the Scavs from Haven then,' the older man quipped.

'That's right,' Laney said slowly. The older man's forced cheerfulness was unsettling her as much as his companion's hostile attitude. There was silence, as if they were waiting for her to give her name.

'This stuff's ours,' Benson blurted out suddenly, fixing Laney with his stare again.

'Now, Benson - ' Charles cautioned.

'The stuff's ours,' he insisted. 'What's with the stupid hat?'

'I just saved your asses, we're closest to Haven, and the pilot is with us, so it's at least half ours,' Laney said firmly.

'We coulda handled them, no problem,' Benson spat. 'You missed half your shots anyway.' Charles looked helplessly from one to the other. It was obvious the older man couldn't assert any authority over the teenager. Laney wasn't going to get anything for free here. She clenched her jaw as frustration rose up inside her. She couldn't see how she was going to force this stubborn teenager to give up the bounty the helicopter still contained. He sat astride it territorially and crossed his arms.

'What's in there, anyway?' she said conversationally to Charles. Perhaps the older man would grow a pair if she could cut Benson out of negotiations.

'Well, lass, there's a couple of fine-looking guns, some rations, a few bits and pieces,' he replied, gesturing to two dufflebags just inside the helicopter. 'I think someone already took all the medical kits though. But look, we bagged it all up before those zombies came down. Straight out of the woods they came. Oh, they're horrible things, aren't they?'

'There's more than you can carry,' Benson spat, glowering.

'Look, your boss and mine both want Haven and Eden Valley to work together,' Laney began. She realised how weak she sounded, but she knew she couldn't beat these two men in a fight, and the thought of aiming her rifle at them struck her as ridiculous; they would know as well as she that she wasn't willing to kill them over so little.

'Trade,' Benson grunted suddely, a leering smile creeping across his face. Laney and Charles alike looked at him in surprise.

'You're Delaney Byron,' said the teenager, suddenly jumping down from the helicopter. Laney took an instinctive step backwards, looked up imploringly at Charles. The older man looked helplessly from Laney to Benson, then stammered: 'Ooh, I need a wee.' He scrambled down off the helicopter with little agility or dignity. 'I'll just be over here,' he quipped, trotting in the direction of the stone wall that bounded the field, some 20 metres away.

'You're Delaney Byron,' the teenager repeated, closing the distance on Laney. 'I seen you eat pussy.'

'Benson, be nice,' came Charles' wavering call from the stone wall, where he had his back to the escalating confrontation.
Laney's mouth felt dry as she called: 'Charles, put your puppy on a leash.' She'd mustered all her bravado, but Charles merely stared at the forest in front of him. If the situation hadn't been so tense, Laney would have laughed at how long he was taking. A dark grimace of anger crossed Benson's pimpled face.

'Trade, you dyke bitch,' he snarled, grabbing his crotch. 'Pussy for supplies.'

'Suck zombie dick, Benson,' Laney snapped back, facing him down. His fist shot out, dislodging the plaster and reopening the ragged cut on her cheek. Laney hit the ground hard, her vision blurred, and she hardly had time to struggle to her hands and knees before Benson threw himself bodily on her back, forcing her to the ground again. Above his rhythmic panting and her own yell, she heard Charles say weakly: 'Come on, now, Benson...'

Pain shot through her as Benson knelt on the small of her back. This couldn't be happening. She felt his fingers dig into her skin as he gripped her tightly belted waistband. This couldn't be happening. He slammed a fist into the back of her skull and she stopped struggling, stunned. This couldn't be happening. He flipped her prone body over and grasped the front of her belt, lifting her bodily as he wrenched at it.

Suddenly it wasn't happening.

An unearthly, high-pitched shriek whistled from the brutish teenager as he fell flat onto Laney. Hot, thick, metallic-tasting liquid splashed all over her. With a yell, Laney heaved his prone body off her. Benson's cheekbone was crumpled in like an empty eggshell. Laney spied chunks of milky-white bone - cheekbone? jawbone? teeth? - before blood flooded in the gaping wound. There was a whiplike crack, and a clod of earth flew up in the air beside Laney. She whirled around, but couldn't see the gunman.

'You shot 'im,' Charles screeched like an old woman, running over, piss all over the front of his trousers. 'You shot 'him!'

'Not me,' gasped Laney, still scanning their surroundings for the shooter or shooters. 'Hide, you fucking prick.' But Charles was already gone, skinny arms and legs pumping like a chicken, heading for the stone wall again. Laney flung herself in the direction of the helicopter, landing next to the dufflebags.

Benson sprawled on the ground, gripping grass, kicking his feet, emitting an animalistic groan from deep within. Then the groan changed to a wet choking sound as blood began to fill his throat. The sound of a bullet riccocheting off the side of the helicopter, a foot from Laney's head, made her scream, hands flying up to her ears. With a final, helpless glance back at Benson, now kicking and writhing much less, she yanked her Scav pack off her back, hoisted one of the duffle bags, and sprinted for the wall where Charles had pissed.

Halfway there, she felt like a hammer had struck the bag on her bag, bucking her sideways. As she staggered, she heard a man whoop, then, as she righted herself and made the wall, a second man shouted: 'Again, again.' Splinters of stone spun up from where another bullet struck the wall, one gashing her thigh. Staying in the cover of the wall, she crawled for a minute to where the forest came down the hill to meet it. At least this stretch of wood should be zombie-free; they'd all been drawn down to the helicopter. She took one last look back and saw two men in camoflage jackets, carrying hunting rifles, standing over Benson's now still body. Of Charles there was no sign. One of the men pointed to where she'd vaulted the wall. The other gestured to the remaining dufflebag and something inside the helicopter. Not waiting for them to make a decision, she readjusted the dufflebag and made haste for Haven.

Epilogue
A quick inspection at the gates of Haven told her what she'd suspected; her dufflebag contained two modern assault rifles, the kind she'd seen in Hollywood blockbusters, two pistols, and a couple of boxes of ammo. One of the rifles had a dent in the body, where the unknown gunmen's bullet had struck. She hoped it still worked.

Darting into one of the outhouses, she retrieved the bucket she'd brought back from Seascale Golf Club and hung it, undead head and all, on a hook by the door to the shed where Rishi was keeping his pet zombie. Then she made for the farmhouse, tearing at the uncomfortable strap of her helmet.

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.