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Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

A quirky geek who isn't sure where she fits in.

0 · 458 views · located in Season 3

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

Description

Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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 Profession
Recently the new Press Secretary, Hillard for Governor; music reviewer, blogger

 Age
29

 Gender
Female

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 Height/Weight Eyes/Hair
5'1" / 135 lbs. Brown/Brown

 Nationality/Ethnicity
American

 Tattoos/Scars
Scar on bridge of nose, between the eyes; long scar across her lower belly; small tattoos on the insides of her wrists; tattoo of a giant red Phoenix stretching from shoulder to hips on right side of back; large blue bird from mid-back to left side of ribcage; snowflakes behind her right ear; massive Orion/Cassiopeia constellation piece on right side of ribcage; fireworks across middle of the back

 Clothing/Outfit
Knee-length navy blue jumper with a long red t-shirt, navy blue leggings, yellow asymmetrical leather boots, burnt-orange coat

Traits:

MBTI Personality type: INFJ (Introverted Intuitive Feeling Judge)



 3 Strengths

Perceptive
Stevie's got sharp instincts and loves to make guesses about outcomes of situations. Her first inclination is to follow her "gut" feeling.

Book-Smart
She loves to read anything educational; was definitely the kind of kid who read encyclopedias for fun.

Honorable / Positive
Stevie has a very strong sense of values, and holds herself to very high standards. She doesn't like the idea of breaking ethical or moral standards, and works hard to keep herself from going down that path. She's also an ardent Roman Catholic; but like most modern Americans who are Catholics, she's not particularly strict and doesn't follow all of the Church's laws, but she does believe in basic teachings of right versus wrong and the concept of Reconciliation.

 3 Flaws

Emotional
Stevie can operate in both highs and lows. She is so often overwhelmed by her internal feelings, which can sometimes change her behavior or block her logic. This can make her prone to moodiness.

Anxious
She's a high-anxiety type and can become very nervous or introverted during conflict.

Bad Eyesight / Childhood Health Condition
Stevie has been near-sighted since the age of 7; it was discovered when she was showing struggles in school, and when she couldn't spot paratroopers jumping out of a C-130 one afternoon with her mother and sisters as they were out at a jumpzone with other families during a training several years ago. On another note, that same year she spent a month in the hospital due to a kidney condition. Almost three years later she underwent surgery to fix the problem, but still heeds caution: too much physical exhaustion occasionally sidelines her for a few days at a time, even as an adult.


Personality:


 Fears
Aggressive people, losing her eyesight, heights, compromising her values

 Aspirations
To publish a book about music, live in Europe again, have a family

 Dominant Emotion
Cautiously optimistic

 Demeanor
Loves to connect with others. Stevie has a sweet, sparkly personality, and feels happiest when she can help someone who has a problem. She does not see listening to people in a crisis as a waste of time, and regularly volunteers in her community to work in soup kitchens, pick up trash, mentor children, and assist women in need, amongst other endeavors. She's most happiest when she is useful and can put a smile on someone's face. However, she becomes withdrawn and nervous around conflict, and has worked hard to try to overcome being a very sensitive person. When faced with dire conflict, she either doesn't react to it at all, or meets it head-on. Her best bet is to walk away, cool off, and come back after she's had time to think through a proper level-headed response. Her rebellious streak causes her to only give in to demands opposing her own internal code as a last resort. Sometimes she can surprise people in this way, as she's not afraid to push back forcefully when the need arises. She doesn't always feel very good about herself after doing that when the situation isn't clear about who exactly is right or wrong, and hates the idea of alienating people she actually likes. She enjoys being alone from time to time, listening to music or writing, as she can burn out easily. She's very attached to her family and works to nurture close friendships. She loves to laugh. She keeps a lot of her closely-held thoughts and feelings to herself, not in the habit of wishing to burden others with her troubles. Stevie prefers to view the world through a happy lens and feels miserable if she can't find something to be happy about. She's an optimist at heart and has a hard time containing joy.

 Quirks/Oddities
Tends to be quirky in general.

 Skills/Proficiencies
Knowledgeable/book-smart, firearms, kayaking, knitting/sewing/crochet, guitar/piano/bass/drums, public speaking, Italian, French, German, geography, literature, music knowledge, applied chemistry, leadership training, DIY'er (house repairs, art, cooking, etc.)

Equipment:

 Carries a travel bag with a road map of California and a highway map of the United States, spare change of clothes, Ruger pistol
 Case full of knitting needles of various sizes, a few balls of red and black yarn
 Black scarf that was a gift from her mother


History:

 Born to a military family; her father, an infantry officer, underwent Airborne and then Special Forces training throughout her childhood, ready to rapidly deploy anywhere in the world at a moment's notice; mom kept the house together miraculously with three daughters during frequent, sudden deployments
 Lived around the globe, living in Germany, Italy, and Spain in addition to installations around the U.S.; this results in her becoming adaptable and friendly, but also prone to acts of rebellion due to the at-times suffocating nature of military dependent society
Graduates from high school in Heidelberg, Germany, in 2003, ranking 3rd in her class
 At 18, moves back to the States to attend the University of Texas at Austin and studies journalism and writing; becomes news director of her college radio station and a sharp advocate for the campus in the student government; also does a semester exchange in New York City, a semester exchange in Siena, Italy, and internships in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta; cuts her teeth with music journalism via SXSW, changes mind and decides to devote her talents to writing and talking about her two of her favorite subjects: music and politics
 After graduating with honors, she works for a prominent music blog reviewing albums, and hosts occasional radio gigs spotlighting specialty music; highlights of her career include election/music discussions on MTV News and pieces published in Rolling Stone
 Lives mostly in Seattle during her adult life, working on her own schedule and preferring to spend most of her time at rock shows, political debates, and music festivals; keeps a close circle of friends who don't typically see eye-to-eye with her on political or philosophical views, but enjoy the same hobbies and interests; her oldest friend in Seattle, Mark, was actually a classmate and close friend all through their time at UT, and the two had decided to move to Seattle after graduation for work
 Asked to come on board with Hillard for Governor campaign as Press Secretary after meeting Hillard at a museum bash; Mary Hillard is a U.S. Representative currently seeking to become governor and is currently topping polls as a moderate politician, in the habit of employing team members with more experience than just being busy political workers
 Plans a trip down to L.A. for a campaign training, then a week off with Dean, her boyfriend of several months, to drive back up to Seattle for fun


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So begins...

Stephanie "Stevie" Darden's Story

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Stevie Darden


Stevie crouched low inside the lifeguard shack, still trying to make sense of what she had seen. She clutched her shoulder bag close. She knew that the car wasn't far away at all; in fact, if she looked around the corner of the building, she could have even spotted it at about three hundred feet away.

Dean had flown down with her to Los Angeles, opting to visit college friends during the day while she studied away for five days straight at seminar after seminar about the ethics and expected behavior of campaign staff, particularly media liaisons. She'd always loved almost every subject under the sun, and the unique opportunity to break away from music writing and branch into politics was irresistible. The gig would last less than a year, decent pay plus a victory bonus, and getting this trip approved was a pretty good deal. A fun way to try her hand at this career without a long-term commitment.

Before she'd taken the job, things were getting pretty serious with Dean. The handsome Berkeley graduate turned record producer was very different from her, but still a lot of fun. For several months, he'd been the perfect companion to go to shows with almost any night of the week, even waiting patiently for her to fix her hair before heading out. He listened to her when she became frustrated, and cheered her on when she enjoyed victories, no matter how small. She felt comfortable around him, comfortable enough to share long-held thoughts or even silly secrets that still needed to be guarded. They'd moved in together. He met and exceeded the standards of her hard-to-please family, while she impressed his. They started to talk about a life together.

Things were going really, really well.

Until, that is, he got dragged away by some awful... person, thing? She hadn't gotten a very good look at it.

The night before had been the first in many nights that didn't require her to be up at dawn the following morning. Instead, they slept in until 11 and decided to go for brunch on the beach after checking out of the hotel.

But brunch didn't happen. Instead, they decided to take a detour out on the beach to stick their feet in the water. Some cute thing to do while waiting for a nearby restaurant to empty out a little.

She watched a few surfers hulk up behind him. At first she thought they were messing around and being funny. "Hey, Dean," she said teasingly as they ambled closer, "you've got a couple of jerks behind you trying to—"

One grabbed him around his head, digging fingers into his eyes. Another sunk its teeth into his forearm, the other took a hold of his opposite shoulder. Dean let out a scream. "St—GO!" he spat out loudly as the three large figures pulled him away, momentarily focusing on him.

Stevie stood there for a nanosecond, trying to size up what she could do to help him. Her gut told her that there wasn't anything she could do. So she obeyed—and ran.

The beach was clear at the moment. She ran along as best as the sand would allow, hoping for dear life that maybe Dean had wrestled himself free and was right behind her.

She spotted the lifeguard shack in the distance, working her way toward it. She still didn't see anyone around, not even a lifeguard. This was not normal. Not one single bit.

Hours later, she was still crouched there, occasionally peering through the crack of the door to check on the activity outside, which had picked up considerably. She heard screams in the distance, but not up close. She saw figures similar to the surfers who had attacked Dean walking in and out of the ocean, dragging their feet by the shack. Walking right by it.

No sign of Dean. Not for hours.

Her adrenaline had been rushing for a while, preventing her from wrapping her head around what had happened to Dean. She frowned, noticing that no bars were on her phone, as she continued to crouch out of sight.

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Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Thomas Blackthorne

"This is the Los Angeles Police Department. Do not attempt to engage the enemy in hand to hand combat. Seek shelter. Barricade your doors. Wait for help to arrive."

The message was playing like an endless loop on every single civilian radio station that Thomas could get a fix on. He was trying everything he could to get some news of what might be going on elsewhere in the country but nothing was working. The emergency broadcast network had been activated. He supposed it was probably for the best, people might take some unnecessary risks otherwise.

Around him the half dozen survivors of Charlie and Delta Companies were sitting in a half daze as they gazed towards the city. Most of them were new to the teams but had seen combat at some point in their short military careers, such was the job of Americas elite warriors. What they had seen beneath the surface was another thing altogether however.

"Command is ordering us to assist local civilian authorities where we can." Their reverie was broken by the young voice of Lieutenant Donald Summers. He was probably a year or two younger than Thomas but he had earned his position like the rest of them and all turned to listen to him without complaint. "It sounds like the harbour has gone straight to hell so we won't be entering it. I am recommending we simply beach the boats, leave a guard, and find as many as we can and pull them off with us. Any thoughts Sergeant?"

He turned to look at Thomas who, in the last twenty minutes, had become the ranking NCO of the outfit. The men looked at him intently as well, all of them knew who really ran the platoon even if the orders came from someone else. He nodded in assent, they had to do something, anything was better than sitting out here.

"Agreed sir. I recommend that the boats hold off shore until we signal them in, those things are under the water as well. They could easily overwhelm the boats if we're rammed up on the beach. I volunteer to lead the beach landing party sir. I recommend you stay here to maintain contact with command."

The Lieutenant tried to argue but Thomas insisted firmly. The officer has a family of his own, Thomas had none. It was agreed, they would leave the two boats at sea with two men each, and one wounded man who said he had torn his suit on coral when he rolled over the side. Perhaps if Thomas had not been in a state of shock he might have thought to look more closely at the wound the man was pressing a bandage to.

The boats moved swiftly into the shore, nudging their bows up onto a stretch of sand deserted save for the dead. Thomas leapt into the surf, counting off his half dozen men before they gave the boats a push and watched them move out into deeper water. A quick weapons check and the team moved off, seven men moving swiftly up the sands, weapons ready.

At first Thomas thought they were going to be alone for the first while until he noticed that some of the "bodies" were still very much alive and thrashing in the sand, unable to move because of damage to their legs. They halted by one, she would have been a very good looking blonde girl not long ago. Her bathing suit had been torn from her body to reveal $10,000 worth of plastic surgery that jerked and bounced in odd contrast to her maniacal struggles to reach out towards them. She had bite marks all over her and dried blood pooled all around. One arm was hanging by threads and both legs had been torn off. He shot her between the eyes.

That one shot was a mistake. Within moments more of the creatures began to appear along the formerly deserted boardwalk and start slouching towards them.

"Fuck..." Muttered one man. "That might not have been such a great idea Sarge."

Thomas didn't reply but only nodded as he took a quick count of the oncoming creatures. He glanced up and down the beach and saw an elevated lifeguard shack some distance away. It wasn't much but it had sturdy steel pilings beneath it and was at least twenty feet above the sand, it would make for a decent back up if they couldn't return to the boats.

The thought had no sooner entered his mind then screams sounded from the water and he spun. Something was happening on the boats, he could see figures struggling on one of them as the other moved in closer, the men with their weapons raised. He hauled out his binoculars and aimed them at the scene and his heart sank into his gut.

Their wounded man seemed to be biting at the throat of the young Lieutenant, blood splashing across the side of the boat as he tore his fellow soldiers helmet free. The second boat, moving in close, opened fired and the reports of gunfire came swiftly over the water to them. The attacking soldier collapsed into the boat and the Lieutenant staggered back as the soldiers, remembering what Thomas had told them of the under water attack, shot him as well. Their gunfire served to attract even more of the shuffling undead towards them.

While this drama had been playing out, the boats, pushed by incoming tides and waves, had drifted closer to shore and as Thomas watched with helpless horror, arms reached up from beneath the waves, grasping at the sides of the boat. For a moment they could find nothing to hang onto but then one of them found the lifelines that hung along the sides. Normally used for divers to hang onto as the boat pulled them through the water it now allowed the under water creatures to find a purchase and in a moment more hands and then a head appeared as they hauled themselves over each other, trying to climb into the boat. The boats crew noticed within seconds and began firing into the water. Bullet after bullet spat into the waves but there were to many and slowly the boat began to list and then finally flipped over, the screams of the boats crews muffled by the water. They never resurfaced.

"Jesus fucking christ..." Thomas could think of nothing else to say as he stared at what was supposed to have been their salvation. His attention was broken only by the first of the heads that now appeared out of the surf as the creatures began to appear, shuffling slowly up the slippery sand. The men around him muttered similar comments.

"We have a serious fucking problem gentlemen." Thomas said as he glanced around. He estimated at least three hundred of the creatures were coming from the boardwalk and half that from the ocean now. "Make for the lifeguard shack, go."

They began to run along the sand, avoiding those bodies that still moved. The moans of the enemy were loud all around them as they ran. Being in excellent shape they did not have any difficulty out pacing their pursuers. He made a mental note to himself, Rule Number One: Cardio. If they could just stay ahead of their enemy they had a good chance. The main concern was going to be how would all seven of them fit into the lifeguard tower.

Thomas made a quick decision. "Stand your ground here. Try to hold of firing at all. Let them get real close if you have too. Use bayonets when possible, destroy the brain. I'm going to see if we can find a way out of this from up there."

No one questioned his orders and he thanked the gods for such highly trained soldiers as he began to climb the ladder into the lifeguard shack. He had barely got a foot in the door when he noticed a human figure crouched in the shadows, in one fluid motion he drew his weapon and began to bring it up, finger already on the trigger.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Stevie heard the piercing gunshots blast outside, a commotion of voices occasionally ringing through, as well. Something was happening out there. She peeked through the crack of the door and spotted what looked like several divers carrying weapons as they worked to trek across the sand. Stevie's stomach twisted. What the hell was going on?

From the other side of the shack she heard other gunshots and noises. What she had thought must have been the sound of crashing waves distorted through the shack's building material was, in fact, a loud series of scraping and grunting noises on the boardwalk she'd seen about a hundred yards or so beyond the shack. What was causing that?

Stevie retreated from the door and sank back against the wall. She felt stupid for staying up in the shack for what had been several hours by then. But something told her to stay inside, and not come out, despite the fact that their rental vehicle wasn't far away at all. She had no idea what had happened to Dean... if those surfers had aimed to rob him, or hurt him somehow, then it made sense for her to run, right? She was starting to feel immensely guilty about it. But what was she supposed to do? She'd tried the "Emergency Call" feature several times by then, with nothing but a tone at the other end of the connection.

Then there was the sound of footsteps clanking up the ladder. She backed up further against the wall, dragging her back back with her. Who was coming up? Was it one of those divers? Was it one of the people who attacked Dean? Or maybe was it Dean?... She looked panickedly around the dark interior of the shack, not sure if she really was hoping for any of those outcomes; the surfers would surely attack her, Dean probably wouldn't be in great shape... and she had no clue what to expect from the divers.

The door burst open. A diver. He raised his weapon quickly. She looked down and raised her hands just above her head.

"Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" she repeated quickly. "I've been up here for hours. I don't have a gun. I have no idea what's happening out there!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Thomas Blackthorne

"Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" The words registered in Thomas's brain immediately and yet they somehow seemed so alien on this day when everything had gone wrong that he almost shot the girl anyway. His finger fell off the trigger but he snapped on the flashlight attached to the bottom of the barrel and quickly played it over her, reassuring himself that she wasn't bitten.

He panned it up to her face and realized with the jolt that the look of terror on her face would be as much for the Walkers as him, he hadn't done anything other than almost shoot her and was now shining a bright light in her face. He lowered it at once and shoved it back into its holster.

"I don't think anyone really knows what is happening out there miss. We just lost our commander and well over half our team. I'm Sergeant Thomas Blackthorne, 41 Canadian Combat Engineers." He gave her a strained smile. "I'll fill you in a moment but right now we've got to find a way out of here."

He turned away from her and looked towards the boardwalk. Roughly three hundred Walkers were slouching and moaning towards the tower across the sand, most of them still well over a few hundred yards away. His team below was staying calm, no shots were fired, and he even heard a couple of strained jokes that all men tell when they're afraid.

They had come ashore into an area of boardwalk that was backed by a big residential neighbourhood. Big expensive homes lined the background, palm trees waving in the wind as screams filtered out of the streets and the first fires began to pump black smoke into the sky. It seemed that the majority of the Walkers were located on the inner streets, drawn there by the screams of civilians. One point in particular he could see that was drawing the largest number of Walkers was a Police Tactical unit. The team had clearly been clearing a house and been attacked from behind, they were now in the process of being overwhelmed.

Only half a black away their two black armoured cars still sat idling, the drivers having run to try and assist their buddies and even now were being dragged down screaming as they tried to engage hand to hand. He made a mental note to not try and wrestle with the things. Thomas lowered his binoculars and turned to the woman.

"We're moving out. I recommend you join us at once."

He hurried to the head of the ladder and dropped swiftly to the sand. His men looked at him with relief. They were all clearly nervous, their youth showing through, their eyes wide, fear plain on all their faces.

"Listen up boys. There are two police tactical trucks about half a klick west. We're going to make for those. The cops didn't make it, do not, and I repeat DO NOT, try to engage these things in hand to hand combat. I also found a civilian woman up there who we will be taking with us." He jerked his thumb at the tower, his back to the ladder so he couldn't be sure if she'd followed him or not. He saw their eyes light up and nods all around. He smiled to himself despite the situation. Take a bunch of tough guys and give them a woman to defend and they would be like the Knights of the Round Table, someone to fight for..

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Stevie Darden

Stevie looked out of the shack as she approached the doorway, and suppressed an urge to gasp loudly upon seeing the mayhem that had developed while she'd been hiding. Her brief glimpses out of the door didn't reveal anything like this.

She turned around and swooped her arms down to the rails on either side of the ladder and descended after Blackthorne made quick work of heading down. Her brightly-colored ensemble she'd carelessly put on earlier in the day was a stark contrast to the gathered soldiers' attire. Briefly in her mind she collected observations while the sergeant discussed a plan to take two armored cars. It certainly brought back memories—visiting her dad at work, primarily, and watching and interacting with the soldiers there. Being the commander's daughter often meant that she was treated with a high level of hierarchy-derived respect, but she held such a solid and fond appreciation for what these folks did that she was not at all prone to abuse that respect. It had been several years since she'd really been on an installation; she always felt a little bit nostalgic driving by Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which was a stone's throw away from Seattle.

They nodded to her respectfully, still as if she were the CO's daughter. She nodded back. The lingering stares then made her realize that it wasn't at all like she was the CO's daughter. The military sure looked different at 28 than it did at 12. Some things never changed. But, as she had to admonish herself promptly, this was a stupid time to worry about stereotypes, and decided instead to just laugh it off internally.

Blackthorne barked out instructions to the group, then turned to her and said in a far lower tone of voice, "You, just stick behind me." He beckoned for her to follow as he started to head forward. She obliged and started to sprint as best as she could to keep pace, regretting immediately that lately she hadn't had the time to enjoy a simple run and keep her physical endurance up.

It was then that she saw him. She paused in her run, having recognized Dean standing still off to the left, about 50 feet away, all by himself, his right-side profile visible to her. His clothes were spattered in red. His shoes were missing. His shaggy blond hair was matted at the ends, and he had a wound on his forearm.

Without thinking, she broke her path following Thomas and beelined for Dean. "DEAN!" she screamed, her eyes welling up. "Dean, are you all right?!"

His chin jerked up haphazardly, and he turned his body to face her. His shoulder was shredded, chunks of flesh blackening ominously, even staining his blue shirt. His left arm was conspicuously missing, as was his left eye.

Stevie stopped in her tracks and covered her mouth with her hands. Her heart jumped into her throat and her face turned as white as a ghost. He began to amble toward her, his remaining arm reaching forward and his head twisting uncontrollably. His eyes were flat and blackened, no longer the bright blue they'd been before. Clearly, Dean wasn't Dean anymore.

She reached into her bag and pulled out her Ruger, something that Dean had repeatedly poked fun at her for having and even bringing with her on the trip. Her father had taught her how to shoot and respect the value of a firearm. It wasn't a popular view to have in her social circles, but she wasn't one much for letting others tell her how to think. And she'd definitely lied to Blackthorne about not having a gun; she just didn't have it at the ready when he had burst through the shack's door earlier.

Those thoughts whirled through her head at a million miles an hour as she started to defensively step backward as Dean started toward her. She kept the pistol aimed downward; after all, as her dad said, you shouldn't directly point a gun at anyone unless intending to kill them. And she wasn't exactly sure if she really did want to kill him.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Thomas Blackthorne

"Dean!" Thomas stopped so suddenly at the scream that Bishop almost ran square into him. Both men reacted at once, turning, kneeling and levelling their weapons, expecting to see the girl with one of the creatures on top of her. Instead she was running towards one, calling out loudly and attracting the attention of every Walker within a hundred yards that wasn't already paying attention to them.

"Silencers." Sergeant Holloway said quietly and Thomas mentally kicked himself for not thinking of it sooner. Each man on the team carried a silencer for his side arm and long arm, it was hard to do a low key insertion without one. In the time that it took them to screw the silencers on the girl was standing there, a pistol held loosely in front of her, staring at the creature shambling slowly towards her. She took a step backwards.

"Grab her." Thomas snapped at Bishop and Clarkson. The two men seized her by the arms and, with Holloway in the lead, made towards the trucks again. Thomas stayed for a moment, staring into the blank eyes that had once been human. He fired one round, the creatures head snapping back with the effect of the shot before the body hit the sand with a thud. Contrary to popular Hollywood science, a silencer does not make a gun sound like a pee shorter, rather it makes a whip-crack sound that, even with the moans filling the air, still seemed dangerously loud.

Thomas turned and hurried after his team, noting that the girl was still staring at her fallen friend where his body lay in the sand. Bishop and Clarkson had her under the armpits and we hustling her along as fast as they could go in the loose sand. Holloway and Butskiy led the way, hand guns drawn, only engaging those Walkers close enough to be considered an immediate threat, ammunition was going to be scarce for a while.

They reached the APC's at a dead run and Holloway ripped open the door to one and immediately leapt back with a yell of surprise as a German Shepard narrowly missed tearing part of his face off. The dog was in a rage, snapping, biting, snarling, lunging at the soldiers as it tried to break free of the harness that held it into the seats.

"Shit. We'll grab the other truck." Holloway said turning towards the second one.

"Dude, we can't leave the dog here to be torn apart." Bishop had let go of the girl and was trying to calm the dog who was having none of it as it continued to lunge at them.

"Well there is no way I can get to his harness, he'll attack us as soon as he's free. These guys only respond to their handlers, the body of which I suspect is over there somewhere." He jerked a thumb towards the house where the SWAT team had been massacred.

They were wasting time and Thomas knew that they couldn't argue about this forever. He pushed Bishop aside and shot the dog twice in the chest. It gave a whine, sagged, and then collapsed onto the trucks back seat. Bishop looked at him for a moment with a look of horror on his face.

"Sarge, what the fuck..."

"Can't leave him and can't take him with us, no other way, and we don't have time to coax him out."

The others nodded though Bishop looked disgusted for a moment before sagging slightly in his combat harness. "You're right, sorry."

"Anytime guys." Holloway interrupted from the second truck. He was already behind the wheel, the girl buckled in to the back seat. The remainder of the team quickly hurried to join him. The truck was large, armoured, and fully prepared for SWAT operations with bullet proof windows covered by metal cages. It looked like the perfect vehicle for the situation until Holloway gestured towards the dashboard.

"Half a tank, takes diesel, and I don't know how to tell you this, but with gas stations being so automated these days and my credit card being at the base, we aren't going very far."

"Let's get a move on Holloway, we can worry about this when the times come."

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Stevie Darden


Stevie shoved her bag at her feet and squeezed herself against the window to give as much room as possible for the armed men piling quickly into the vehicle. Her heart pounded in her throat. Already it felt like it had to have been a lifetime ago that she saw Dean's head fling backwards, body completely horizontal in the air as the bullet dragged him backwards into stillness. After the two soldiers had tucked her up and away from Dean, they took her gun and rushed her along. Everything after that felt like it may or may not have happened, even the sudden shooting of the angry dog. Her mind felt like a record skipping every few seconds and starting the song over.

The APC lurched forward, jolting Stevie out of her head and back into the vehicle. She turned to her right and noticed Thomas occupied the spot next to her. She edged toward the window to give him room to turn to talk to his colleagues. The sun was on its way down.

The vehicle rumbled ahead, mainly street lights acting as the source of illumination along the road. A fire was burning just down a ways. Several disabled cars littered the road, forcing the APC to maneuver carefully through them. Not far away, two hunched-over figures were crunching their teeth on a screaming woman pushed up against the inside of an open car door. Stevie watched in complete silence, noting the similarities between that and the surreal sequence of Dean's attack. Whatever this was, it was happening everywhere. The occasional dead body sprawled out on the ground amongst the cars.

She kept her mouth shut while the group talked amongst themselves. At this point she couldn't see what she could contribute. Right now it was her job to just follow along and stay out of the way. Except... She pulled her bag up to her knees, unbuckled it and retrieved a folded-up map of the Los Angeles metro area. She opened it up and offered it to Thomas cautiously, having the strongest desire to be helpful. "We're not far from Santa Monica, right here," she said, pointing to a specific spot.

Holloway looked back over his shoulder. "Sarge," he said, trying hard to hide any kind of bewilderment upon the sight of a group of approximately twenty pallid, dead-faced men and women shuffling in place about fifty yard ahead, the largest group they'd seen yet. "We've got company."

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Thomas Blackthorne


The first part of the drive through the suburbs was surreal. Most people here had heeded the broadcasts from the LAPD and were barricaded into their homes. Small groups of walkers were battering away at locked doors and in many cases the doors, or windows, had been smashed in and figures could be seen staggering around the inside of the houses, screams came from all corners.

The Team spoke quietly amongst themselves as they went, excluding the woman due to her civilian status. It was a fast urgent conversation. They had to reconnect with command but all of their radio equipment, save for the short wave sets on their combat harnesses, had been in the boat that flipped over. They could still pick up snatches of military, police and civilian broadcasts but even the radio within the APC was virtually useless. Someone, somewhere, was holding down, or more likely had fallen onto, the transmit button which made it impossible for others to get a word in edgewise.

Thomas was wracking his brain for a plan, he didn't know the area at all, none of them did. Salvation came from an unexpected quarter when the woman suddenly piped up, shoving a map into his face. At that moment he could have kissed her. It was a little old fashioned but it didn't require a cell tower or data streaming so it would do nicely. He quickly folded it down so he could make out the majority of the waterfront. Bishop identified the intersections they passed through and Thomas quickly located them on the map. They were indeed somewhat near Santa Monica, but they were also near to Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach. They might be able to find other soldiers there, or at least make contact with the command.

Holloway interrupted his thought process. He sounded bewildered and Thomas couldn't blame him. Only an hour or so ago they had been engaged in training to combat living, thinking, and well armed enemies but now they were faced with something that no amount of training could have ever prepared them for.

50 or so Walkers were shambling down the street. Some of them were bare ass naked, others in their house coats, and even a few in civilian issue hunting camouflage, for all the good it had done them. They were in slow pursuit of a cat that was staring at them in surprise as it skipped a few feet ahead of them. It sensed danger but was clearly one of those few felines that genuinely liked people.

"Run them down, and then take your next right." Thomas said, his finger on the map.

The big trucks engine roared, the cat fled, and the Walkers turned just in time to get hit by a tonne of speeding metal. They bounced off the armoured sides like a bouncy ball does off a wall. Their reaching, grasping arms, made no impression on the armoured plating. Most of them vanished underneath the truck as it roared through them but one, taller than the rest, was hit so that its head tore lose, slammed into the window and for one horrible moment they were face to face with it as it tried to bite through the window. Holloway gave a shout of alarm, hit the windshield wipers and the head vanished. It was almost funny. Thomas hadn't even looked up other than to make sure they didn't miss their turn.

They stayed close to the water as they went. The vast majority of people would likely have headed towards the edge of the city, those that could flee at any rate, and the growing fires further inland testified to the horror that would be taking place there. Street after street flashed by, the entire Team having to avert their eyes every now and then as they saw Walkers, whose numbers seemed to by multiplying swiftly, break into houses and the screams of those inside mingled with the moans as gunshots rang out.

"We can't stop lads, I know it's hard." Thomas felt a great ball of anxiety in his own chest as he spoke. The Team was riding in tense silence now as they watched the city dissolve. "We don't have nearly enough ammunition to be effective out there."

The others nodded and he was grateful for their silence.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Stevie Darden

Stevie gripped her seatbelt as she watched walkers. Her first estimate had not been correct; there were far more of them than she'd originally thought that the vehicle sent hurtling off in all directions. She gripped her leather bag and watched in stunned silence as the walker's head gnashed its teeth upon the reinforced window, flicked aside by the swiping windshield wipers thanks to Holloway's quick thinking.

She watched as the APC turned and commandeered a pedestrian walkway as it navigated close to the coastline, avoiding main thoroughfares with more cars lined throughout. Bicycles were still hitched into concrete-laden racks, some in disarray. One person lay clutching the back wheel of a bike; obviously, he hadn't unlatched his lock in time, or had just plain attempted to grab any bike in sight to get away from whatever got him.

The APC remained ensconced in silence as they headed south toward Seal Beach, just outside of Long Beach. Stevie didn't want to open her bag and possibly risk a distraction or annoying the others, so she started to mentally recount what was in her bag. She was in the habit of carrying a bag on long trips; her suitcase was now a long ways away, and held spare changes of clothes, a hair dryer, materials from the conference that she decided she'd just unpack after returning home, and a few small souvenirs she planned to send to her family stationed in D.C. Her parents, and most recently Dean, always poked fun at her for over-packing the bag she'd actually carry with her. Previously she'd had her Ruger in there, and made a mental note to ask for it back when the time was right. She'd had the metro map in there, and also had a map for the entire Pacific coastline stashed within, as backups in case their map apps on their phones were sidelined by sparse rural California cell coverage; other contents included a makeup bag, packs of gum, fruit leather, a cell phone charger, Kleenex, a spare shirt and leggings in case she spilled coffee on herself (as she was prone to do) and didn't want to dig in the packed suitcase for a change of clothes...

Her mental inventory was interrupted by a swift interjection. "Hey, we're not long at all," someone said, "it's just up ahead."

She didn't realize how far they'd traveled; it was almost 40 miles, according to a quick glance at the map's distance key. She peeked carefully over Holloway's shoulder and noticed that the red line on the gas tank was pointing dangerously close to the "E" on the left. She kept her eyes ahead, looking for signs of the black iron fence that typically surrounded most small installations.

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Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Thomas Blackthorne


They saw the Walkers before they saw the fence, hundreds of them, all of them moaning and trying to climb the high fence, even ramping up in some places. Massive floodlights lit the space beyond, affectively back lighting the entire horde like some grotesque nightmare.

"Go left, go left!" Blackthorne shouted to be heard over the din of the Walkers. "Access gate should be two hundred yards up on your right!"

Holloway spun the big trucks wheel and it drifted slightly, smashing into the crowd of Walkers with a dull meaty thud. Tires screamed, the smell of burning rubber mixed with cries of the Walkers and then the truck leapt forward again, ploughing through the Walkers like an NFL line backer through a little league team.

Blackthorne strained to see into the Naval Station and what he saw did not fill him with much hope. Small arms flashes were everywhere, bodies littered the tarmac and he could see desperate hand-to-hand combat on at least two of the three moored ships. The first two were old class Frigates, one was even on fire, it was clear that their crews were not winning the battle. The third, and furthest down the wharf, was a big Guided Missile Cruiser and he could see the name Bunker Hill printed on the gangway that led from shore to ship.

"Hang on!" Holloway yelled as he swung the truck to the left and then slammed the wheel to the right so that the heavy vehicle tore into the massed Walkers that were already surging through the broken gates. A dozen paces inside the gate a military police truck was rocking violently as Walkers dragged the passengers from inside and began to tear them apart. The APC narrowly missed the back end of the MP's car, two walkers crunching brutally under the reinforced tires.

"Make for the third ship!" Blackthorne roared at Holloway as he popped the hatch above his head and stood. He turned in place and fired a short burst into the head of the struggling MP closest to him. The man was missing half his leg already but the mercy kill would save him the pain of what came next.

Blackthorne turned back around so that he could see down the length of the wharf. Small arms fire pricked the night from the flight deck of the big cruiser and he could see her lines beginning to snap one by one as power was given to her engines. The gang way was falling free. It hung for a moment and then plunged into the sea.

"Mother fuckers! NO!" He swore and then, with the vehicle swaying beneath him, he aimed and fired a burst at the super structure of the ship. He saw sparks fly as the bullets cut a path high above the heads of the human defenders but it sure got their attention. They looked towards him, finally, and he waved frantically. He almost cried in relief as he saw someone wave in response as they grabbed a radio.

Then the APC gave a cough and the engine died.

"That's it!" He heard Holloway shout from inside. "We're walking!"

They were still a hundred yards from the Bunker Hill and he could hear the men on the flight deck screaming at them to run, the ship was going to begin making way shortly. Fifty or more Walkers lay between them the ship and, as the others piled out, Thomas began to fire into those nearest to them. He emptied his last clip for the MP5 and threw it aside, drawing his pistol as he dropped through the hatch and clambered out on the pavement.

"Move your asses!" Someone on board the Bunker Hill had gotten their hands on a megaphone and was encouraging them as only the military mind can.

More men appeared at the rail of the flight deck and a murderous barrage of fire was laid down, clearing a path for the refugees. Blackthorne grabbed the woman about her waist, amazed she was still with them, and began to run with her, firing at the Walkers with his sidearm. The big ship was still moving slowly forward and her last lines snapped with a sound like a gunshot.

He threw aside his pistol as the last round was expended and focused all of his efforts on running. The woman was in good shape but nothing compared to the special forces soldiers and he could feel her tiring.

"Holloway, her other arm!"

The big black Sergeant fired his last round and grabbed her other arm. Together the two of them virtually lifted her off the ground as they ran. They were gaining on the ship and Blackthorne could see a mass of white foam pour out from beneath the stern as someone ordered the engines reversed for a moment to hold the ship steady.

"Heads!" A shout came from the flight deck and a rope curved high and then fell towards them. It struck the tarmac thirty feet in front of them and Bishop hurried forward to take hold of it.

"Girl first!" Blackthorne panted as he and Holloway rushed up. They took the rope and made a quick sling out of it, placing the rope over her head so that it was beneath her arms and then hurried her to the edge of the jetty. It was a good forty-foot drop and Blackthorne made certain she kept her eyes on him as he spoke quickly.

"Hold on here, with both hands." He guided her hands with his. "Close your eyes and don't open them until you're on board." She nodded and he pushed her into space. She gave a small scream and then spun crazily for a moment, bouncing off the steel hull before she shot skyward as dozens of willing hands took hold of the line and dragged her upwards. She vanished over the edge of the flight deck in moments.

"We've got company Sarg." Butskiy shouted, still kneeling and firing. The Walkers, while not terribly fast, were relentless. Dozens of them were slowly pushing forward and though the gunfire from the upper decks remained undiminished it was clear that the shooters didn't know they had to hit the head to kill them. Blackthorne saw countless little pops of grey flesh as bullets passed through torsos. He turned and shouted up towards the flight deck.

"Head shots! Head shots!" It was no use; they couldn't hear him over the blaze of gunfire.

Three ropes came sailing over this time and landed virtually on top of the small party. Blackthorne tapped Butskiy on the shoulder and took his weapon, jerking his head towards the waiting ropes.

"Up you go. And don't fucking argue." He snapped as the other man opened his mouth to argue. "Move yourself."

The three corporals went next while the Sergeants, Holloway and Blackthorne, stayed on the tarmac, firing carefully as the horde drew ever closer. Blackthorne risked a glance over his shoulder, the other three were only half way up to the flight deck. He swore and fired the last round from his weapon. He fitted his bayonet while Holloway did the same next to him.

He heard a shout as the three soldiers made the flight deck but didn't have time to turn as the first of the Walkers reached them. He ducked a clumsy swing and stabbed swiftly with the bayonet. It struck the creature right in the eye and it collapsed with a gurgle. He kicked the bayonet free and jabbed towards the next attacker, the long blade travelling up beneath the jaw and forcing its head back but failing to reach the brain.

He tried to drag the blade free but it had become lodged somehow and the weapon was torn from his grasp by the Walkers frenzied movements. He kicked out, sending the Walker tumbling back into several of its advancing fellows. Then he heard it, the blessed call from above.

"Heads!"

Whoever had made the throw deserved a pitchers job in the Major League. The throw landed on his shoulder. He didn't even bother to flip it under his arms. Instead he wrapped it around his right forearm and with a quick step hurled himself into space. He felt a hand grip his harness and heard the grunt of a Walker as it came off the jetty with him.

Their combined weight made their drop, and subsequent fall, happen that much faster. They slammed into the side of the ship and the creature lost its grip, plunging down into the water, still trying to reach towards him. Pain had exploded in his brain and lights danced before his eyes but he held on for dear life as the rope rose swiftly towards the flight deck. Above him he could see Holloway vanish over the side.

Then it was his turn, willing hands reaching down to pull him to safety. He gasped a thank you to the men who had grabbed him before collapsing onto his back on the flight deck. Never had non-skid decking felt so welcome in all his life. His entire right arm and side were on fire. Beneath him he could feel the rumble of the ships engines as they engaged and began to drive them forwards once more.

A Petty Officer knelt next to him and offered him a bottle of water. "Rest easy buddy, we've got you."

"Thanks." Blackthorne responded as he chugged the water even as he turned to look for his team. Four grins and thumbs up told him that they were okay. He painfully dragged himself to his feet and staggered over to the woman they had brought with them. She was sitting staring towards the city and he knelt next to her, wrapping his good arm around her.

The city was burning. Somewhere something had exploded and the fire, unchecked by man, was raging out of control. Walkers seethed everywhere, in every street, on the beach and even in the harbour where the water was choked with floating, writhing corpses in lifejackets. The APC sat forlornly amid the sea of Walkers that had flooded through the broken gates and behind them one of the warships shivered from an internal explosion.

"I’m sorry about Dean." Was all he said as he gave her shoulders a squeeze.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Stevie Darden


Stevie swiveled her head over to meet the Sergeant's exhausted, wired eyes. It took her a few seconds to process what he had said. She nodded and pulled her knee-length orange coat, spattered with rust-colored flecks of blood, off of her shoulder opposite from Thomas. After all the running combined with the warm night air, it was beginning to get hot. Earlier in the day, when there was a breeze in the morning, the coat had seemed like a good idea, even though Dean had made fun of her a little for wearing it.

She felt as stiff as a board, surprised at just how calm she really was being. Freaking out wasn't her go-to reaction during a tough situation, but she still found it incredible that she hadn't been in an all-out panic mode. "Don't be sorry, you did what you had to do," she responded quietly. The image of Dean with his arm missing and his face torn to shreds filled her brain. She took a deep breath, feeling her chest start to tighten. She exhaled and shook her head, still looking ahead at the burning city. "By the time you did it... it... it wasn't him anymore. Don't even worry about it."

Everything felt like a blur. Even the beach felt like a blur. Even the hours spent hidden in the shack felt like they might have never happened. Her head spun and her heart pounded. On the surface, she looked exhausted, with flushed red cheeks and blinking eyes. On the inside, she fought against her body's urge to pass out, the fires starting to form sparkling, cloudy dots in her vision. It was everything she could do to keep from passing out.

She looked over her shoulder in the other direction at one of the men who'd helped her onto the ship. "Hey," she called out, "you don't have a way to access a DSN line on here, do you?"

The Petty Officer furrowed his brow, unsure of how a civilian knew what that was. "We've got VoIP capability, but good luck even getting on right now," he responded. "Why?"

She took in another deep breath to clear the clouds from her eyes. "Pentagon," she managed simply, "my dad's at the Pentagon. He and my family are in D.C. I have to know that they're okay."

He nodded. "Sure," he said slowly. "First chance we get, we'll try that. But for now we still need to make sure we get out of here safe."

Stevie sighed again. "Okay, thank you so much," she answered politely as the man sauntered off quickly to learn what else needed to be done. She had a feeling that her family was going to be okay. If anyone were to be able to survive anything like this, it would be them. Dad might have made it to the point in his career where he spent more time behind a desk than being out and about, but his years' worth of experience as an infantryman was never going to go to waste. Add one determined mother and two unbelievably tough sisters, and a family contingency plan they'd always talked about while growing up: stick together at all costs. Stevie suddenly felt bad for anyone who might cross paths with the four, and her heart sunk a little at the thought of being separated from them to the tune of thousands of miles.

But being on a frigate was the second-best possible outcome. In a strange way, it felt at least a little normal. She'd spent most of her time around the U.S. Army, a lot around the Air Force, and not as much around the Navy or Marines, but still a bit. A quick study of Thomas in her mind told her that he wasn't American. Canadian, maybe? His accent wasn't too far off.

"What do we do now?" she asked him, somewhat comforted by the feeling of his arm around her, reminding her that everyone else was probably just as scared as she was.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

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Harper Hopkins


Schantz jammed the tripod in the door's handles as Nathan pinned the door shut. While Harper shut off her IFB channel, the small helicopter started to prep for takeoff, its rotor blades starting to whir centrifugally to life.

Harper ran over to grab her large purse and her jacket that she'd removed earlier. "Harp, those people are STRONG," Schantz called over the noise. "I don't know how long that thing is going to last."

They got their answer when they heard the sharp whine of fast-bending metal. The top-of-the-line, titanium-reinforced tripod was no match for the walkers in the hall as they succeeded in busting the doors off of their secured runnings. A few more good pushes and that thing would crumple out onto the ground.

Schantz ducked under the spinning blades and hurled herself into the seat next to the pilot, motioning for the two to join. Nathan and Harper started to sprint ahead, just as the tripod predictably sprang apart. Maxine and two editors started to break toward them, snarling like vicious primeval predators. Nathan looked over his shoulder as he pushed Harper ahead, shocked that the wild-eyed, messy-haired, thrashing bony walker rushing toward them was so much unlike the old Maxine, slow and dramatic and sour-faced, without a single hair out of place.

Nathan skittered under the helicopter's blades and climbed in. Harper threw her bag ahead into Nathan's hands and made her way inside. A lot easier than they thought it would be. Nathan pulled the small hatch shut seconds before the trio smashed into the side of the chopper, their bodies smashing against the hull. The small craft lifted off of the ground and took off southward to Seal Beach. Harper was glued to the window, observing the fast-moving rush of bodies, face and arms as they got smaller and smaller. "Buckle up!" the pilot attempted to shout over the engulfing noise.

Too late. Harper fell face-first into the wall as the craft banked a hard left to circle off in the correct direction. Nathan, who had already secured himself in the bench seating behind the pilot and Schantz, instinctively pulled her away and close in, wrapping both arms around her waist. She kicked her feet onto the wall to stabilize herself. Nathan pulled her in a little more. She reached a hand up to her face and grimaced as she felt a trickle of blood. "FUCK!" she burst out, the first moment she had shown any sign of real panic in hours. Nathan kept her pulled in as the craft leveled once again, gripping tightly to keep her head up and away from the door or the ceiling. It briefly made him think of the night he met her, after the station welcome party when a group decided to go out on the town. The two danced for what had seemed like hours to Nathan. Very enjoyable hours.

Harper breathed heavily, briefly staring ahead, adrenaline rushing. If she had a reply, Nathan didn't hear it over the noise. He loosened his grip so that she could set herself into her own crash webbing, seated close to him on the bench.

The pilot shouted above the noise once more, knowing full well that not everyone in the craft had a headset to hear him better with. "JUST AHEAD, IT'S SWARMED!"

Harper's jaw dropped as she saw Seal Beach from overhead. The Naval Station stood out sharply, fires blazing off of the customary cookie-cutter buildings littered across the installation. Just off the shoreline a few frigates sat atop the orange water, some spewing flames of their own. One, however, featured people dotting along its surface, broken away about one hundred yards away from the others.

The pilot took a hard dive toward the frigate. Nathan swiped his arm behind Harper and covered her head. Schantz gripped the edge of her seat and turned behind to the two. She mouthed something, but the pilot inexplicably lost control of the craft and suddenly the water was above their heads.

SMASH.

Shutting his eyes, he unbuckled Harper's restraints and set himself free next. The doors had blown their way open. Harper's bag flew off of her, becoming disattached from her shoulder, as she sped kicking for the surface, grabbing Nathan's hand and pulling him up with her.

The four popped their heads above the surface of the water, drifting in a messy spiral thanks to the still-spinning blades as the helicopted submerged further and further beneath the surface of the water. They'd barely missed the frigate.

"HEY!" Nathan managed up to the crew looking over the edge of the floating safe haven, his boundless energy powering the volume of his shout, "A little help?!"

Harper blew the salty water out of her nose and worked her way to Nathan to float beside him. Schantz approached as well, her wet hair matting flat on her head as she struggled to keep above the choppy water. The pilot had started to swim on his way over, but let out a yelp as he was dragged beneath water. He splashed back up. "HELP!" he called out.

"Just swim!" Schantz responded to him. "Just swim over!"

Harper yelped suddenly when she felt a cold, squishy hand grip her heel. "They're in the water!" she screamed, kicking her white flat off along with the walker's hand.

The pilot disappeared back below the water, then popped back up, a raw, salt-rotted face ripping his collarbone to chewed ribbons.

Harper screamed again, feeling some kind of relief when she saw Schantz lift up into the air. She looked over and saw Nathan struggling similarly, kicking his legs down and smushing a face below the surface. "Come here!" he shouted to her as he took a hold of a lowered harness.

Without thinking she flailed her way toward him, the cold blast of Pacific water switching fast into frigid ocean breeze as she sailed into the air. Nathan held her again tight around the waist, very close, and she flung her arms around his neck to stay stable. The next thing she knew, Nathan hurled her over the metal rail aboard the surface of the frigate. She coughed and rolled over on her side, curling into a ball as she caught her breath. Nathan followed suit, flat on his stomach beside her.

Schantz was already up, a blanket draped around her shoulders and holding a bottle of water, standing in front of a small group of assorted sailors and a few others. She stared at them wordlessly, too tired to think.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Thomas Blackthorne


“What do we do now?’

Those words hung in the air and Blackthorne found that he had no answer to give the woman. He suspected that he and his team would soon be reassigned or split up, depending on how the situation looked to command. She would probably be kept on the ship or relocated.

He was saved from vocalizing his thoughts aloud by the arrival of two men, one of them a heavily armed Marine, the other wearing the red cross of a medic on his shoulder.

“Need to do a full visual inspection Sergeant, sorry. No one stays on the ship without one. CO's (Commanding Officers) orders.”

Blackthorne didn’t bother arguing. He gave the woman another shoulder squeeze and then stood with, offering her a short smile. “I’ll be right back.”

He followed the two men to a temporary screen that had been rigged to hide the view. As he stepped behind it he saw a burly female soldier and a female medic approaching the woman for what he assumed would be the same conversation.

Behind the screen he was asked to strip naked. The medic quickly and expertly checked him over for signs of injury. All the while the Marine who had come with them stood with his firearm leveled at Blackthorne. He offered the Canadian a slight shoulder shrug.

“Sorry Sarge, had a couple turn on the boat while we were preparing to get clear, can’t be to careful.”

Blackthorne nodded. He was tall enough to see over the screen and he managed to catch the eye of the woman he had brought aboard as she head behind her own screen and offered her a wink.

The inspection finished quickly and the Marine lowered his weapon as Blackthorne began to redress. The Medic stepped out and returned a moment later with a set of Marine fatigues.

“Probably a bit more comfortable than your dive suit Sergeant.” He passed the uniform over to Blackthorne who nodded his thanks and stepped thankfully into the warm dry clothes. His legs were raw between the thighs from running in his dive suit and he winced slightly as the cloth rubbed over the sore patches.

“Thank you Sergeant. I’ll check the rest of your team and we can move you guys onward.” Said the Medic as he gestured that Blackthorne was free to go.

Holloway was next. The remainder of the team sat quietly under guard at the rear of the flight deck. Whoever was in charge of this operation wasn’t taking any chances. All of the new arrivals were spaced out, at least four feet between them, if someone turned they would be shot before they could infect someone else, hopefully.

Blackthorne, for the moment alone, took a moment to sit on the edge of the flight deck and look out into the harbor. The Bunker Hill was swiftly approaching the breakwater and the open sea. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a helicopter and he glanced up to see a small helicopter labouring across the sky. It was clearly overloaded and losing its battle with the strain on the engine. For one horrifying moment Blackthorne thought that the pilot was going to try and land on the Cruisers flight deck but then the helicopter gave a last despairing chop at the air and its engine died. He had an impression of scared faces staring at him from the window as the chopper fell and then it slammed into the water no more than twenty feet off the port side and in an instant sailors rushed to the side, harness and ropes in hand. Blackthorne, already seated on the port side could see four heads appear around the quickly sinking aircraft.

One of them vanished almost immediately with a scream as something grabbed him from beneath and Blackthorne shuddered at his own memory of the grasping hands below him in the inky water. He was about to offer to assist the sailors at their task but more rushed from the hanger and quickly had the three new arrivals dragged onto the flight deck.

The helicopter had sank from sight and Blackthorne was turning to study the new arrivals who were quickly being hustled into the medical inspection stations when he found himself face to face with a strange officer he did not know. The man looked exhausted and strained but he offered a genuine smile and shook Blackthornes hand.

“Welcome to the USS Bunker Hill Sergeant. I am Lieutenant Jack Georges, Deck O (Officer). I am sorry to tell you this but we have to put your team back in. Sergeant Holloway tells me he can pilot a chopper and I have two SeaHawks, orders to airlift out as many survivors as I can and no pilots. Holloway said he wouldn’t fly without his team so I have to put you guys back in.”

Blackthorne nodded. His side was still on fire from his clash with the steel hull but it was minor compared to the fate that awaited those still out there. “Yes sir. Permission to re-arm my lads from the ships armoury?”

“Granted. I need you lifting out of here in no more than 30 minutes. My boys are wheeling the chopper out now.”

Even as he spoke the huge hanger door began to grind open and the tail rotor of a SeaHawk helicopter appeared in the flood lights as sailors rolled it onto the flight pad. It was a long lean grey aircraft, identical to the Blackhawk helicopter made so famous by Hollywood, only a fe minor modifications made for firing torpedoes.

The survivors still seated around the flight deck were moved into the now empty hanger as the flight crews began to prep the helicopter. Blackthorne waved his team over and gave them the news. None of them complained and he thanked the gods for their stoic calm in the face of what was the greatest disaster he had ever heard of. It probably helped that none of them had close family or friends, the military was their family.

Georges led them down to the armoury where each of them was outfitted with their choice of weapons and the far more comfortable Marine battle dress, their dive suits tossed over the side to prevent any of the matter on them from contaminating the ship.

They were back, fully kitted out, in the hanger within 15 minutes. They gathered around Georges who had a simple roadmap of LA covered in all sorts of markings. It was clear that the ship had not been ready for any domestic operations. The few other maps that had been posted on the bulkheads (Walls) all showed various maps of the Gulf of Aden.

“For the moment we need you guys to start taking people off rooftops. It’ll be your discretion on ROEs (Rules of Engagement) as well as who you will and will not attempt to recover. If the situation looks like total shit, don’t risk it. We can’t afford to lose you or that chopper. Command has issued strict orders that we are not to get into any pissing matches with the Walkers, nor are you to attempt to enter structures. Understand?”

The soldiers gathered around him nodded and he gave them a tired smile. “I know it’s been a long day gents but we don’t have anyone else we can rely on. God speed.”

He offered them a salute and they turned and jogged towards the helicopter. It’s blades were already slowly rotating as Holloway, the only one not in the briefing, engaged the engine. The cabin light, a low vis red light, glowed eerily on him as they ran and he gave Blackthorne a thumbs up through the windshield.

Blackthorne was halfway across the hanger floor when he caught sight of the woman from the beach sitting amongst the refugees, staring at him. He turned towards her and jogged over, kneeling down in front of her.

“We’re going back in to look for survivors.” He wasn’t entirely sure why he was telling her, maybe it was because he had no one else who might care and suddenly, in the midst of all the chaos, he needed someone to come back to. “We’ll be back.” He took her hand in his and smiled. “Keep a light on for us okay?”

She managed to smile back and then he was gone, hurrying to the helicopter that was now throttling up to a heavy roar. Lieutenant Georges stood at the hanger door and Blackthorne could see a number of the refugees and ships crew join him.

The helicopter began to lift off even as the Bunker Hill cleared the breakwater. On the flight deck Lieutenant Georges waved his hand in farewell and spoke almost under his breath. “You brave bastards. Go with God.”

Blackthorne, one leg thrown over the side of the chopper so that it hung into space, waved back as the helicopter circled the ship once and then dipped its nose and roared back towards the city in the ever increasing darkness. For a moment it was silhouetted against the flames that seemed to be growing everywhere and then it passed into the smoke and was gone.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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Stevie watched Thomas head off after saying goodbye to her, her exhausted eyes still doubting what she'd seen that day. She noticed that he'd changed clothes, then reflected on the fact that he, along with some of the others, was wearing a diving suit during the day while all hell was breaking loose around them.

It was almost absurd.

She smiled a little to herself, finally finding something to laugh a little about. It certainly wasn't in the spirit of making fun of him or the others; after all, she was wearing an orange coat and yellow boots. They did exactly what they set out to do, which was get to safety. Had it not been for them, she wouldn't be there.

She heard a voice call out from just off to the left. A tall, tan blond man was sitting with two women, one stoic-faced and one with a bruised cheekbone who looked on the verge of shock. "That your husband?" he asked. "Do you know what's going on?"

Stevie shook her head. "Nope, just met him today," she said simply. "He doesn't even know my name."

The man paused. "So, what just happened?" he asked, now obviously intrigued.

she shrugged and opened up her bag, pulling out strips of fruit leather, then offered them to him. "He shot my boyfriend," she said simply.

The man paused again. "Would you mind re-stating that so that that doesn't sound crazy?" he said slowly as he accepted the gift. The stoic woman immediately reached for one, pulling the wrapper off and chewing restrainedly on it.

Stevie paused. "Well, maybe it wasn't him," she mused out loud, then settled back against the metal wall, her feet stretched out before her. "This morning my boyfriend and I were getting ready to drive back to Seattle. We went to Santa Monica to go have breakfast before we were supposed to go visit friends in Venice Beach. While we were waiting for a place to free up a table, we went wandering out on the beach. Some of those things walked up behind him and snatched him up."

The stoic woman continued to chew on her fruit strip. "You mean you didn't help him?" she asked bluntly.

Stevie's stomach twisted. "I didn't know what they were," she said glumly. "I thought they were just a couple of assholes joking around. You know how people can be."

The woman nodded. "Sorry," she said stiffly. "Well... what happened next?"

Stevie opened a piece of fruit leather for herself. "After that, I hid up in one of those lifeguard shacks," she continued. "Then a group of them found the shack. He actually found me." She nodded her head in the direction Thomas had gone off in. "They said they'd take me with them. Right after we started to take off, I saw him." She paused as she felt her chest start to tighten. It was the first time she'd put any thought into walking herself through the day. She stopped and looked down at her hands. "It wasn't him. He was gone. He was one of those things."

The woman with the bruised face blinked as she heard the story. "That's awful," she said sympathetically, moving a hand up to her face quickly, briefly wincing in pain. "So they brought you here." Stevie nodded. "Well, we're all lucky. I'm really glad that these people were here. And back there with you."

Stevie looked at her for a moment. The pretty, slight, dark-haired woman looked very familiar. "Hey, I know you," Stevie said briefly, reaching into her bag and pulling out a pack of Kleenex and a small bottle of witch hazel, something she used every day in applying makeup. She soaked a few of the tissues and handed it to the woman, gesturing for her to put the makeshift compress on her face to bring the swelling down. "You're not friends with Mark Sanchez in Seattle, are you?"

The woman half-smiled under the compress. "Yeah, he was my photog in Atlanta," she said kindly. "You know him?"

Stevie nodded. "Yeah, he and I went to college together, then we were roommates in Seattle with a few other people," she said. "You're Harper. You've done a lot of cool stuff. I'm Stevie."

The woman smiled. "Oh, yes! He's talked about you!" she responded. "They were all so bummed when you left. I came up to visit a weekend that you were gone. I was sad that I missed you. You're the one who did the radio shows and had all that stuff in Rolling Stone?"

Stevie nodded, and the woman introduced her two co-workers, Tara Schantz and Nathan McDonald. Schantz seemed a little removed at first, but was starting to slowly stop pretending that she wasn't interested in the conversation taking place. Nathan seemed a bit obnoxious, but not particularly harmful. Harper was gracious and doing her best to be polite, even if she was a little on-edge. What were the chances of meeting someone she knew through an old roommate?

# # #

Hours later, Stevie lay on the floor, reflecting once again on her day. She had a habit of playing everything a million times over and over in her brain, wondering about potential outcomes and what may have led up to certain things happening. It was a bit of an annoying habit to have on most days.

She had been subjected to a quick check from one of the medics on board, and was pleased to get a clean bill of health and sent back out on her way. It was fast, too fast for her to possibly feel any sense of embarrassment. She was even more pleased that the group next to her that had flopped their way on the boat after the helicopter crash had reached out to her. It didn't hurt that Thomas had come to see her, either. He'd given her the most information that anyone had given her the entire day.

Harper, Nathan, and Schantz had related the story of their day, which seemed almost more incredulous than hers, going from interviewing the actor, Calvin Hawke, to hopping into a traffic chopper and crashing into the water.

After sharing fruit leather in her bag and enjoying more bottled water handed out by some of the sailors on board, the four lined up against the hangar wall to try to catch some sleep. Nathan slept like a rock just a few feet away from the women. Schantz had finally fallen asleep. Harper lay awake, staring at the ceiling.

Stevie looked at her from her spot and waved her hand just slightly. "You all right?" she whispered, picking up fast on the woman's anxiety that was becoming harder and harder to contain as the hours waned on.

Harper turned over and looked at Stevie. "I'm fine," she insisted politely. "Just hard to sleep."

"No, you're not fine," Stevie responded. Harper didn't say anything. "Do you need something?"

Harper propped herself up on her elbows and turned the little compress over. She'd been re-soaking the patch of tissue with water every now and again. It felt good on her face. "I, uh... I'm just missing my medication."

Stevie nodded. "How can I help?"

Harper looked at her bag. "Is it too much to ask if you've got a Valium, or some Xanax?"

Stevie paused, and then started to dig through her bag. Dean had asked her to carry his medication for him during the trip, as he suffered the occasional panic attack and didn't exactly carry a bag with him. Stevie had panic attacks, as well, but far more infrequently than what she'd had when she was younger. She fished out the orange prescription bottle and feathered her fingertips through the fifteen or so small tablets, finally getting a hold of one. She offered it to Harper. "I'm happy to help," she said quietly.

Harper smiled and accepted it, swallowing it down with a sip of water. "Thank you," she responded graciously. "I-"

"It looks like you've had a rough day," Stevie said, re-capping the bottle and putting it back into the bag. "I guess it might not be long before I'll want one of those, too," she added dryly.

"Please don't tell anyone," Harper said quietly. "I work with these two... I work with Nathan almost every day. They don't know."

Stevie nodded in understanding. "Don't worry, I won't say anything," she said.

Harper nodded back. "Let's not let the four of us get separated," she suggested, lowering herself down from her elbows to lay back down on the cold metal floor. "Come with us. We lost our group, but let's look for them. Join us."

"That sounds great," Stevie said, partially enthusiastic and partially wondering when Thomas was going to come back. She looked at Harper, and noticed that she was missing a shoe and that her clothes, like Nathan's and Schantz', smelled like the salty ocean. She looked into her bag again and pulled out a couple of hotel samples she'd tossed in without thinking before she and Dean had checked out. "Here, have these."

Harper accepted them. "Thank you," she said gratefully. "Maybe we can laugh about this someday, right?"

Stevie smiled. "See you in a few hours." She settled back and closed her eyes.

# # #

Harper drifted awake a few hours later, still feeling the quiet and still haze of the medication. Stevie was still fast asleep, curled up on the ground covered in her coat, hugging her bag against her stomach. Her folded glasses were parked not far from her head. Nathan was sitting up, drinking a bottle of water, and Schantz was holding a sleeping baby.

Harper sat up and ran a hand through her ocean-stiff hair and took a look at Schantz staring down at the calm child, then look up to meet her stare. "Her mom asked me if I could hang onto her," she whispered over. "She's just over in the bathroom, I guess."

Nathan nodded. "Lady was tired," he added. "She's been gone maybe 10 minutes. Schantz has the magic touch."

Schantz rolled her eyes. "I hate babies," she managed half-heartedly, lying poorly.

Nathan shrugged his shoulders. "This baby doesn't hate you, that's for sure," he said. "You got your technique down and everything." Harper rolled his eyes at him. "What? My brother's wife had a baby and there's a whole way of doing this stuff. It's complicated, man."

Harper laughed slightly and tried not to think of her own family, her own nieces and nephews, one of which must have been the baby's age. She took a deep breath and re-centered herself. "You guys sleep okay?"

Schantz nodded, continuing to rock the baby, who snoozed away happily. "I don't know about you guys, but I was pretty tired," Nathan chirped with a grin, scooting closer to Harper. "It's about 6. Someone said they're opening the doors soon. Don't know much more than that."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

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Nathan reached over and tapped the ground near Stevie's face. She opened her eyes and looked up at the brightening lights and blinked slowly, shutting her eyes again in protest. "Hey, glasses," he called out, tapping the ground again. She opened her eyes and turned toward the three, looking annoyedly at Nathan. "They're opening the doors soon. You better wake up. I don't think anyone plans on carrying you out."

"Not unless you're her," Harper quipped, pointing with her thumb over to the olive-skinned baby Schantz was holding.

Stevie's face brightened up when she saw the baby, and put her glasses on and smoothed her hair down. "Who's that?" she asked quietly.

Schantz shrugged. "Her mom went to the bathroom. I kind of have to do the same thing."

Stevie sat up and opened her bag, pulling out a few granola bars and setting them in front of the others. "Want me to take her?"

Nathan looked at her bag and laughed. "Who are you, Mary Poppins?" he asked as he took two bars and handed one to Harper. "You've got all kinds of stuff in there."

Stevie leaned over to Schantz to scoop the baby into her arms smoothly, and started bobbing the child gently, the area beneath her eyes dark with fatigue. Schantz stood up, took a bar, and opened it as she headed off toward where a few others were gathered. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," Stevie rolled back, "my parents and my boyfriend used to make fun of me for this. I love bags. And I love being prepared."

Nathan took a bite of his bar and looked down at the cognac-leather bag, worn but sturdy, with a brass lock and a buckle on the thick shoulder strap. A crochet lace detail was strung across the front of it, a small part of it covered in dried blood. "What do you mean by that? Are you like, paranoid?"

Stevie rolled her eyes and laughed, obviously picking up on the fact that he was needling her. "I hope not. No, I tend to put things in there that I think I might need later, and they just kind of... stay in there."

Nathan remained intrigued. "Like what?"

"Go ahead and see," Stevie said, tilting her head toward her bag.

Harper watched the exchange. She liked Stevie. She could tell she was sweet. She obviously trusted Harper pretty quickly if she was willing to give her a Xanax upon request. And her enthusiasm toward the baby she was showing currently was very endearing, as was the fact that she was willing to share with the others so readily. She knew Nathan must have smelled blood in the water for some reason. He loved testing people's boundaries after meeting them, especially people he considered to be "goody-two-shoe"'ish.

Nathan took the bag with a grin, undid the latch, and opened it up. He pulled out two swaths of folded fabric, both black. "Spare changes of clothes," Stevie pointed out. Next came a pack of gum and a tin of mints. Then came more fruit strips, more granola bars, and a bottle of Vitamin water. A small bag filled with makeup and face cleanser, six different tubes of nail polish, a compact mirror, a hairbrush, the small bottle of witch hazel, and three packs of Kleenex, amongst a few other small things. A small travel-sized bottle of sunscreen. A map of the United States. A few prescription bottles. Small first aid kit, small sewing kit. Two sets of knitting needles, a few crochet hooks, a few balls of yarn. Receipts. Earbuds with a multi-plugin splitter. A phone charger. Mace. 9mm shells. Nathan looked at her squarely. "I don't have my gun on me right now."

"Where is it now?" he asked curiously.

"One of the guys who got me here must have it," she answered.

He continued to dig through her bag. He laughed out loud when he saw a small plastic bag filled with marijuana. "Oh, you just got so much more interesting!" he said, lowering the back on the floor and covering it up with her folded shirt. She smiled. He then got toward the bottom of the bag and pulled out a small bag, unzipped it, and dropped it on the ground like it was a snake as his face turned red. "Okay, okay, now I know why I'm never allowed to go through anyone's purse!"

Of course. Harper and Stevie burst out laughing. The baby startled and let out a few surprised cries. Stevie's face fell and she wobbled herself up on her feet, swaying side to side and cooing at the baby, who promptly fell back into her nap.

Nathan boggled at her as he started to re-pack her bag after emptying it of most of its contents. "Shit, dude, you are like the tiniest person on this boat next to that baby," he teased, bugging his eyes out and pointing a finger at her.

Stevie rolled her eyes. Short jokes were so creative. Not. "Be nice or I'm not sharing my weed with you," she threatened jokingly, keeping her voice low but audible so that the baby wouldn't wake up.

Nathan laughed. "Where did you get all that from, anyway, Miss Second Amendment Bohemian?" he asked as Schantz came back and let out a whistle upon seeing the bag.

"My boyfriend has a medical marijuana card," Stevie said, "and he wanted to bring a pretty good supply back up to Seattle with us."

Schantz let out a small laugh. "Looks like he was stocking up for the end of the world, huh?"

Silence.

Stevie bit her lip and nodded. "Yeah, I guess you could say that." The baby sighed contentedly. Stevie continued to bob the baby, stepping a few paces away.

Harper looked up at Schantz. "Bad timing," she said calmly, "I think you upset her."

Schantz watched Stevie as she worked with the sleeping baby. "Ahh, I didn't mean to do that," she said. The expression on her face showed that she was well aware that she'd put her foot in her mouth.

Nathan leaned in to talk to just the other two. "Dude. I wouldn't worry about it."

Harper looked at him and furrowed her eyebrows. "Nathan. Everyone needs time. She's upset."

Nathan smirked. "Like I said, I wouldn't worry about it," he repeated. "She's got a gun, and enough weed and birth control in there to completely forget about anything that happened yesterday. This chick is insane."

Schantz shook her head. "Dude, not cool," she said sharply.

Nathan used his foot to push the bag back to the spot Stevie had slept in. "Right, because she's going to have such a hard time fin-"

Schantz glowered at him. "What the fuck, dude? Knock it off."

Nathan rolled his eyes and stood up. He watched another petite, very tired-looking woman approach Stevie and began to chatter kindly in Spanish. Stevie looked back at Schantz. Schantz nodded at Stevie. "That's her mom," Schantz called out. Stevie smiled a thank-you and continued to talk to the woman, handing the sleepy baby back over while doing so. Harper and Schantz stared darkly at Nathan, who frowned as he looked down at his shoes. He knew he'd screwed up.

Stevie walked over, smiled at the three, and quietly grabbed her bag to make off toward the small group gathered near the facilities. Schantz rose and started to follow her, looking directly at Nathan. "Well, I'm going to go apologize. Because I'm not an asshole."

Nathan watched her walk off, feeling just a little bit worse. He looked over at Harper, who shrugged at him. "It wasn't very nice," she said simply. "It doesn't seem like you at all." He stayed quiet. "She's coming with us. Who knows if the group she came with can even take her." He sighed. "We've only got each other. And maybe we'll meet up with the others."

Nathan frowned and rubbed his face stressedly. "You're right, I was an ass," he said quickly. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."

Harper half-smiled and stood also, feeling just a little woozy. Nathan offered her a hand to help stand her up. "It's okay," she said, "just apologize to Schantz. She didn't like that very much, either."

Nathan nodded and held her hand in his for a moment, then let it go reluctantly. Schantz jogged back and he offered a sheepish apology, which she gingerly accepted.

Within a few minutes, Stevie came back, and the three thanked her for the granola bars. She smiled at them. Clearly, she wasn't about to hold a mistaken statement against anyone. The four sat together quietly, awaiting any instructions.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

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It was a nice welcome party on the part of WEND-TV's staff. Harper had been off the plane for just two days from Atlanta when two other reporters, Erica Thompson and Kyle Reeves, called her as she was moving into her apartment, informing her that they'd like to welcome her to the station, that they had both not been there very long and they were excited to have another newcomer enter the newsroom.

Harper graciously accepted their offer and showed up to the newsroom on a Saturday night, freed-up while the broadcast was pre-empted by a late college football game. Erica was a bubbly blonde pipsqueak from an old Irish neighborhood in Boston who had worked hard to change her accent to something a little more diluted, and Kyle was a friendly, dark-haired fellow from Utah. They'd gone to a lot of trouble to strew a banner that read "Welcome, Harper!" from one end of the newsroom to the other. They even brought in a marbled cake, which featured a design of a map of the U.S., the states of Georgia and California both highlighted in yellow, and small white paper airplane with a drawn trail heading in loop-de-loops from the east coast to the west coast. Harper thought it was cute. They'd even thought to provide cups of lemonade and sweet tea. She loved sweet tea.

It was a nice, informal bash. A lot of folks, about 25, had shown up, even if they weren't scheduled to be on shift. Harper smiled as she worked to keep up with the names and new faces. Obviously, it was going to take some time. She noticed that a lot of the older reporters had limp handshakes and mostly kept to themselves, as did the sports department. Chuck Cherry smelled like whiskey and held her hand a little too long. George Geranos and Maxine Millner were off that night. Steve Hilpin, who she had met when she flew out for an interview the month prior, apparently was taking his kids to go to a concert. Finally, the game ended around 9 p.m. and it was time to pack up.

A group of about ten lingered around while others who'd had plans said friendly goodbyes and took off. Kyle and Erica, once satisfied with the state of the newsroom after they'd cleared the decorations, suggested to the group that they go out for beers. At first Harper resisted, saying that she had to finish moving in to her new place, but Erica grabbed Harper by the wrist and giddily insisted that they head out to the Blue Palms Brewhouse on Hollywood Boulevard.

About thirty minutes later, eleven of the WEND staff, including Harper, walked into the busy establishment and took up a large table. About two hours' worth of carousing and general merrymaking yielded eleven tipsy-to-drunk adults between the ages of 25 and 35. Harper had especially hit it off with the tall blond photographer, Nathan, who had a loud, contagious laugh, a big personality, and an obscenely wide-ranging knowledge of sports and movie trivia. Definitely the life of the party. And he was the one who suggested that they move on just a block or two away to The Frolic Room.

The night became far more frenzied at the new location. The legendary old bar was packed wall-to-wall with partygoers and music blasted. Harper finally stopped worrying about unpacking her apartment long enough to hit the dance floor and freely chat with the group at their table, occasionally breaking off to dance with either a friendly-looking stranger or a member of the group.

Finally, Nathan made his way over to her and took her wrists and started to goofily twirl and spin her around, her long, dark hair fanning out behind her. Her drinks over the course of the evening hit harder as the minutes went by. For the next hour, Nathan was reluctant to relinquish her company.

Finally, the lights flickered on and off just before 2 a.m. It was time for the bar to collect tabs and kick everyone out. Harper shuffled out to the front of the building to meet the group, having already paid for her drinks. Nathan followed just a few feet behind, and met her outside the door and on the street. The warm night air was clearer and cooler than the air inside the bar.

"Looks like we're the only ones who paid up so far," she said with a dull slur, grinning wildly and leaning against the building's exterior as she searched for cab fare in her pocketbook.

Nathan stood beside her and nodded, grinning back. A group of people started to laugh not far away. Nathan cast a suspicious glance at a group of smokers nearby. His friendly face drew down into a dark frown. "God, I hate that shit," he muttered, partly to himself and partly to Harper. "People who smoke cigarettes blow."

"Wanna say that louder?" shot back one of the smokers who had just happened to catch what he said.

The corners of Nathan's mouth tricked up ever-so-slightly. "Yeah, I hate that shit," he shot back at a louder volume. "You're poisoning the air, you're poisoning yourselves, and you just look really fucking lame." The other man took two steps toward Nathan. Both had definitely had too much to drink. Nathan stepped forward and raised his arms intimidatingly. "Really, dude? Really?"

"I can do whatever I want," the other guy said, deliberately puffing on his cigarette and blowing a large cloud of smoke out in Nathan's direction.

Harper instinctively hurled herself forward at Nathan, just as two others were doing to the other man, as the two started to quickly move toward each other. The commotion was over as quickly as it started when other bar patrons started to filter out the door. This was embarrassing.

Nathan glared at the group, who decided to migrate further down the sidewalk. "Jerks," he muttered quietly.

Harper stared at him, puzzled. "What was that?" she asked, still a little stunned that such a nice guy would do something weird like that.

"People can be such dicks," he answered moodily.

It seemed to make perfect sense to him, but made none to Harper. "But you don't have to do that," she said exasperatedly. "They weren't doing anything."

He paused. "They're smoking ciagrettes," he said flatly, "really close to us. I didn't want them to bother you."

Harper blinked. "Well, thank you," she said, "but you don't have to do that. It's all right. I can take care of myself."

Nathan shrugged. "Well, I like to take care of my friends," he said, once again sounding so self-assured, and cracking a half-grin at her.

Harper half-smiled as the rest of the group exited, each person slowly going their own way in different cabs home.


# # #

Harper watched Nathan as he excused himself to get up and go stretch his legs. The first time she'd met a lot of her co-workers was a good time. She suddenly felt a pang of guilt for being so tough on the newsroom; she felt homesick for North Carolina in the worst way, but maybe the group of people she'd spent the last several months of her life with really weren't as bad as she thought they were.

Except Chuck. Chuck sucked.

And despite Nathan's occasional obnoxious setbacks, she still had a soft spot for him. She had probably spent more time with Nathan than any other person after she arrived in Los Angeles due to the fact that they worked together most days, and she kept a low-profile social life outside of work.

She looked over her shoulder at Schantz and Stevie; the small girl with the glasses had offered the very serious Schantz a hairbrush and a small rubber band, which, surprisingly, Schantz took and offered a smile as a thank-you. As she quickly brushed her hair, Stevie looked to be very satisfied, even if she also looked dog-tired. If she was worried about anything, then she wasn't doing a very good job of showing it.

A trio of sailors approached assertively. One held a clipboard, another was a medic, and the third held a rifle, safely pointed up toward the ceiling. Harper smiled and nodded to them. "Hi," she greeted them. "How's it going?"

The one holding the clipboard nodded distantly at her. "Hello, ma'am," he said in a somewhat robotic fashion, "we're currently conducting checks throughout the area to account for the number of refugees aboard. We'd like to ask you ladies a couple of questions."

Harper nodded and lifted a finger up quickly. "Could you give us two seconds?" she asked, "we actually have another person traveling with us." Schantz handed the hairbrush backed to Stevie and wordlessly jogged off to go find Nathan. "But we're happy to answer questions while we wait."

The medic looked at the two women and spread his palms outward, offering a friendly gesture. "Ladies, I know that you've already been checked to determine that you're in good health, but can you verbally confirm that you're okay? No bites or injuries sustained directly from an infected individual?" Both of them nodded. "Are either of you pregnant or suffering from a chronic condition?" Both of them shook their heads. "Head injuries?" Both of them shook their heads. "Between the ages of 18 and 45?" Both nodded.

"Great," said the sailor with the clipboard, "then you both are in good condition and will be the fifth group lifted out of here. First we're taking out the people in poor health to get them to the infirmary at the refugee center FEMA has set up north of here. Then we're following with the elderly, young children and their parents. Then we'll get the healthy people out. At this point we're still determining how long travel time will be. As long as your friends are also in good shape, we'll make a note to keep the four of you together. Just keep an ear out, we'll call out your last names on the P.A. system. Do you understand?" The two women nodded. "Right. Then stick around. Pay attention."

Schantz returned with Nathan, and the two were subjected to the same round of questioning. The three men left, leaving the four to stare at each other once more. "Well, we're not being separated," Harper said definitively. "Darden, you should stay with us."

Stevie smiled a little. She didn't mind at all when people referred to her by her last name. Besides, the very tomboyish nickname her mother had given her as a child didn't always stick well with people. "Thanks," she responded.

Nathan stuck his thumb toward the main door of the hangar. "While I was gone I noticed Captain America came back," he said pointedly at Stevie. Harper watched as she glanced toward the direction Nathan was pointed in. "You sure you'll be able to leave him behind?"

Stevie bristled a little. "I don't think any of us really have a choice in what happens next," she said darkly. Harper made a mental note to talk to Nathan again; this girl obviously picked up quickly on when people weren't teasing her in a necessarily friendly manner. "And he's not American." Apparently she loved scrapping back, too.

Nathan started to say something, but Schantz stopped him. "She said she's coming with us," she said quickly to Nathan, then turned to Stevie. "You all right? You don't look so good."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

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Harper poked her head outside of the door and looked both ways, spotting Stevie sitting up against the wall of the edge of the huge craft. She stepped up to Stevie and studied her; she looked awful.

Her face was pale and there was a dazed look in her eyes when she looked back up at Harper.

"Hey," Harper said softly, kneeling down to sit down in front of her, "you all right?"

Stevie looked around, and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine," she said, "don't worry about me. Just let me know when they call us to go."

Harper shook her head. "They did call us. There's been an abrupt change of plans. Something weird happened. We're all being loaded onto the same helicopter out." She eyed Stevie again. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Stevie sprang to her feet almost involuntarily and vomited over the ledge. Harper followed her up and looked around, then patted Stevie's back in an attempt to help in some way.

"Now it's my turn to tell you you don't look fine at all."

Stevie spat over the edge and turned back to Harper, standing up straight. Her back slumped just a little in obvious exhaustion. "Look," she said, "if we're going off somewhere, the last place I want to get stuck is one of those little mobile units that they throw sick people into."

Harper shook her head. "I know, so what do we do? What's wrong, exactly?"

Stevie sighed and smoothed her dress downward in an attempt to look like she wasn't panicked to random passerby. "Ever since I was little, I get sick if I overwork myself," she said, leaning in toward Harper's ear and speaking quietly. "It's a kidney condition. It took me out of school a few times when I was little. I had surgery to fix the worst of it, but it can come back if I'm not taking care of myself." She took a breath. "I haven't slept more than maybe ten hours in the past five days. It's more than just yesterday that's catching up to me."

Harper's eyes went big. "You'll need antibiotics or this is going to get a whole lot worse," she said.

Stevie nodded. "If it's really bad, yes, I will," she said, "but sometimes I can sleep it off."

"When are you going to be able to do that?" Harper asked. "I mean, I don't doubt you, but-"

"Ladies," a voice called out sharply. They both turned to see a pair of Marines motioning to them. "We've got to get going. Hustle along."

Harper nodded, understanding the urgency. "Thank you," she said calmly with a half-smile, and patted Stevie's arm and gently pulled her along. "We'll go right now."

They wordlessly made their way back into the hangar, where Schantz and Nathan beckoned them to follow them through the door to the other side. There was a line forming behind a massive CH-53, a ramp set down to collect passengers. The four were quickly and efficiently ushered aboard, and before they knew it, the six rotor blades whooshed heavily to life and they lifted off of the frigate.

# # #

There weren't any windows substantial enough to feature the cityscape unfolding ahead of the massive aircraft as it pushed ahead, mile by mile, toward Pomona.

The sun overhead sizzled the air to over 90 degrees, even though it was barely mid-morning, far higher than normal for the time of year. The city's sky was eerily silent except for the occasional military aircraft lifting through the air.

The typical hum of commercial airliners was far quieter than usual.

Patches of black smoke billowed above parts of the city, adding to the cloudy smog hanging like a curtain draping up toward the atmosphere.

Finally, the huge craft began to descend on the FEMA camp's helibase, touching down very carefully in the clearing amongst the trees. The ramp was set down and passengers were called out, sent to line up divided amongst a few stations. They must have been getting checked in.

Stevie worked to appear like she wasn't feeling as listless as she was as she provided her Washington driver's license and passport to identify herself. Her bag was searched, but not well enough; Nathan had tucked her contraband into her spare clothes, which they didn't bother checking out. She reflected on the fact that maybe he'd done something nice for her. She found the question asking about a good contact phone number, and phone number for a person to contact in case any harm befell her to fall a little on the darker side of humorous.

Harper, devoid of anything but the clothes on her back and one white leather flat shoe, let out a sigh of relief when Nathan happened to have her press credentials from a recent secured shoot. Sometimes Nathan would carry her credentials and ID when they were on a shoot that occupied her time; he found it a lot easier to just dig into his wallet to pull out two ID's and get it over with. This wasn't an official ID of any kind, but the overly-detailed laminated card had a headshot of Harper, her full name, her affiliation, and, oddly but conveniently, her birthday.

The four followed instructions to head to a large, white softcover tent along with about ten other people. The inside featured about one hundred people gathered, low cots rowed along the walls of the tent, and forming aisle ways in the interior. It was hot, and smelled like there were too many people. Their guide informed them that a diesel generator was giving power to the tent, and that there were outlets stationed frequently throughout. He said that the HVAC system was working, but that the different tents around the encampment took turns with it so that way fuel could be conserved. The food service station was supposed to resume service in about two hours, and the water purification system was still being worked on--meaning, no laundry, showers, or water until then.

The four split from the main group and set themselves on a cluster of cots along the tent wall, feeling somewhat better about their chance for cooler air.

Nathan flopped down on his cot face-first and let out a long, loud sigh. "Just like home!"

Schantz stretched out on her stomach on hers. "I asked if there's anything I can do to help, and they said they'd let me know," she reported. "I think that's government-talk for, 'No, you can't.'"

Harper laughed. "I feel like the weirdo here without an ID," she said, looking down at her feet and pulling off her single shoe. "This is pathetic," she said, holding it up near her face and pointing to it. "One shoe. And we're in the woods."

"The shoe's not the one that's pathetic," Nathan piped up from his spot on his cot. Harper glared at him playfully and smacked him with the shoe. He jumped up and tackled her. Schantz rolled her eyes and pulled a FEMA emergency manual from under the cot and started to read.

Stevie set her bag down underneath her cot and sat on its edge after instinctively pulling out her cell phone and charger. She plugged it into the nearby provided outlet and her phone began to slowly power itself up. Hoping that maybe something had changed, she checked the phone and wireless once again. Nothing for now. She shoved her coat on the surface of the cot and laid down, flipping mindlessly through her phone as though trying to find something to occupy her mind with.

She opened up her photos and came upon recent photos of herself, Dean, and life back in Seattle. It seemed so far removed from sitting in a crowded tent with a bunch of strangers in California after what was decidedly the weirdest day of her life. Even though it hadn't been 24 hours, she felt like she was taking a look at someone else's life, someone else who wasn't there anymore. The voyeuristic quality of it made her stomach twist even more. It certainly did feel creepy to see someone else's moments from another life. Even Dean, who certainly meant so much to her, didn't even look familiar... not at all like the last time she saw him.

She switched her phone off and stared up at the white ceiling, willing herself to not vomit again.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)

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Just a few hours later, Stevie was sleeping soundly on her cot, curled up, sweating profusely but shivering slightly. Harper had set her coat on top of her in order to avoid the occasional wandering FEMA staffer from spotting her face. Chatter in the tent pointed to the fact that the medical unit was not a good place to be--they were getting crowded and someone was keeping a tally of bodybags seen getting dragged from the area.

Nathan looked at Harper, who still kept a very calm and cool demeanor despite her deep concern. He had borrowed Stevie's phone and was playing a game. Schantz was also resting. "Why's she shivering?" he asked, keeping his voice down.

Harper shrugged. "I didn't notice," she said quickly.

Nathan looked at her for a long moment, then set the phone down. "I know when you're lying," he said, "we've been working together for months and you can't get it past me. You know what's up. I saw you guys talking on the boat."

Harper shook her head. "Girl stuff," she said simply.

Nathan took a sip of bottled water and laughed. "I've got sisters and I've never seen anything like this," he said, "and I've seen everything."

Harper pursed her lip, looking down at the ground. She brought her eyes back up to Nathan, and sighed. "She's feeling sick," she said.

Nathan held his hands out and smiled. "Now how hard was that?"

"We can't let them find out," Harper said hushedly, "she doesn't want to end up in one of these hospitals here."

Nathan jutted his chin up and looked over the room. "Smart." He nodded.

Stevie stirred just slightly. Harper looked over at her with a smile, and then noticed two responders walking close to their cots. They eyed Stevie suspiciously as she pulled herself up, resting on her elbows, her face unnaturally pale, and then quickly shoved her head on the other side of the cot, vomiting for what must have been the sixth time that day. Harper's eyes widened as they approached. Unbelievably bad timing.

# # #

"Ma'am, you're going to have to come with us."

That was the last thing that Stevie heard before she passed out, revived slightly when two pairs of arms picked her up and pulled her away. A flashlight shone brightly into her eye and drilled a terrible sensation behind her eyebrows. Spots dazed across her vision.

"But she's fine," she heard a familiar voice volunteer for her from far away.

"Well, then why's she fainting?" came the frustrated retort. "People get sick after they get bit."

Dark again.

# # #

Harper stared blankly at the two camp workers outside of the tent Stevie had been pulled into. "They what?" She panted heavily after having torn after them, pursuing them as they took the tiny girl with glasses away as fast as they could.

One rolled his eyes. "Look, there's a lot of stuff that you guys just don't know. We hear that if people survive coming into contact with a walker that they get sick."

Nathan stepped forward and narrowed his eyes. "We never saw that. And we ran into plenty of walkers yesterday."

The worker shrugged. "I just know what I'm told. If someone is bitten and they don't immediately die, they get sick. And die within a day."

"But she didn't get bit," Nathan fired back, "she's just tired."

"I'm going to have to ask you to calm down," the man responded, holding his hands up.

Nathan's face turned red. "Calm down? That WAS calm," he fumed. "You want to see me not-calm? I'll show you not-calm!"

Harper threw a hand out in front of his chest to silence him. She turned to the worker and sighed. "Look, I don't want us to have to split up," she said smoothly, locking her eyes with the other person intensely. "Please."

The other worker nodded nonchalantly. "We'll keep you up with what happens to her. Wait here."

# # #

Blinding white flash.

"Miss... Darden? Can you tell me what's going on?"

Stevie gratefully took the bottle of water being offered to her and poured it down her throat, parched. "I... I've got a history of kidney infections," she said quietly, her energy drained.

Her vision came back in focus, revealing a pair of mascara'd eyes with a white breath mask below, a cap covering above. "Well," came the female voice behind the fabric, pulling herself back and straightening the stethoscope from around her neck, clipboard in her other hand. Several minutes had passed from the time that Stevie had fainted. "You're showing all the signs of that. I couldn't find any bites on you and your eyes don't look inflamed or irritated. And you're not showing most of the symptoms that other people are if they've come into contact with the walkers. In fact, how are you feeling?"

Stevie looked through the opening of the tent and spotted Harper, talking to a few other people about ten feet away from the entrance. She looked back at the doctor and opened her mouth slowly. "Well, I'm very tired," she managed groggily, her eyelids desperately wanting to close shut again. "My lower back hurts pretty badly. And I kind of just feel... awful."

"Feel hot?" the doctor asked.

"Yes," Stevie answered. "But I just need to rest. I'll be fine when I leave."

"Leave?" the doctor remarked incredulously, "with a fever? You're not going anywhere except in quarantine with an IV drip."

Stevie's face fell. "No, no, I can't do that," she fretted quietly. The mere thought of it made her feel even worse.

"You stay out there, you'll catch something else and then you'll just end up back in here," the doctor said authoratatively, gesturing toward the opening in the back of the tent. "We're taking you to the medical unit."

Stevie held her panic back, and cooperated with the two masked workers who approached her. "Can you at least let my friend out there know?" she asked, pointing quickly to Harper outside of the tent. She spotted Nathan out there, too.

The doctor nodded and handed her a mask. "Yes. We'll make sure she knows."

Stevie nodded and left with the two out of the other side of the tent, stringing her mask about her ears and adjusting it to a relatively comfortable spot. She stepped slowly, working to not fall down again. She was dazed during the walk. Her stomach felt like it would never sit still, like she was in an elevator that kept changing floors. It wasn't a long jaunt to a series of small mobile units, and entered one that contained a series of six raised mobile beds separated by bleach-white cotton curtains. It smelled sterilized, further irritating her stomach. Small metal cabinets topped with miniature versions of hospital monitors sat to one side of each bed, none of which were actually switched on. Four of the beds were covered from the front by part of their curtains, with slight sounds of people breathing in their sleep or sniffing.

Another female doctor with a mask accompanied by a nurse escorted her to a bed, checking the clipboard that was handed off to them by the departing two. They stuck her by a bed and gestured to a folded-up green gown on the edge. "Go ahead and change out of everything you're wearing and put that on, please. You can put whatever you have on you in the bag provided. We'll be right back."

They jerked the curtain shut and left Stevie by herself. She felt weighted down by gravity and fatigue as she pulled off her jumper and red shirt, kicked off her boots and ripped stockings, and stripped down and tied the absolutely hideous green-and-purple patterned gown around her neck and back. It was hot inside the mobile. She stuck the plastic bag beneath the head of the bed and perched on the end, her legs dangling far above the ground. She shut her eyes and fought back another headache, shivering with internal chills despite the suffocating heat.

The two returned and pulled her back to lay down and covered her with a thin white cotton blanket. One hooked two bags to a tall metal bar and attached a tube to each, while the other pulled a needle out of a plastic bag. Stevie hated needles. She looked away as a cold cotton swab rubbed the top of her left hand, and a stinging jab pierced through the spot. A quick tape-down and a plug of a tube sent a brief chill into her hand and forearm.

"Here's an antibiotic and some fluids," one person said behind a mask. "Just get some rest." A second jab, this time in her right arm. "A very mild sedative. To help you relax."

"I didn't say you could do that!" Stevie called out, pulling her arm away. Too late.

"To help you sleep."

"But that's illegal!" It was starting to take hold; anything in her stomach had long been emptied and didn't cushion well against the effects. She laid back and listened to the labored breathing of the unknown person next to her. She raised a hand weakly and gestured it toward the curtain. "What's wrong with him?" she posited curiously.

"Some folks get sick when they get bit," one responded, "and they pass away. We watch pretty closely." Behind them, Stevie saw one of the other aides open the curtain directly opposite from hers, a bodybag laying on its bed.

She felt herself panic again. "Why am I in here with people who have been bit? That's not what I'm sick with!"

"Because we don't have much room." They slid the fabric through the runners curtly, obstructing her view as the sedative kicked in deeper.

And then it clicked. She was being prevented from asking any more questions.

The fluorescent light overhead flickered slightly as she looked around. She laid back and rested her left hand on her stomach, and drifted off to sleep.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

0.00 INK

Stevie Darden


Stevie parked her car in the garage and looked at the clock. 2 a.m. It had been a long day, but it was worth spending her evening with Dean's sister and the baby. Her recovery was hard and her husband had to be out of town for work. Stevie didn't mind at all when Heather called her at 5, asking through frustrated tears if she could come over and spend time with the baby while she took a much-needed nap. Heather was sweet, and Stevie knew that if she was making the call that it must have been a very long day alone with a four-week old. Dean was the closest family she had nearby, and this particular January happened to be fairly cold. Besides, Stevie liked Heather.

The elevator stopped her off on the eleventh floor. Right before Christmas she'd moved out of the Fremont apartment she had shared with three other roommates to move in with Dean. She unlocked the door, stuck her keys and coat on a peg, and glanced out the window past the kitchen, overlooking Pike's Market and the waterfront. Bainbridge Island glittered faintly in the distance, and the rest of the city reflected sparkily on the calm water. She pulled off her yellow boots and placed them by the door.

She bent down to greet Dean's very old dog, a slow, graying Cocker Spaniel named Jeremy. She'd always thought it was a funny name to give a dog--but that's what made it so amusing. She scratched behind his ears and talked to him quietly and gave him a little peck on the top of his old skull. He let out a small "oof" noise and contentedly trailed his way back to his pillow near a heating vent. Stevie smiled at the dog and said good night, hoping that he still had many good nights left in his old bones.

She opened the door to the bedroom. Dean was stretched out on their bed, reading the latest issue of Spin. A lamp lit the room in a soft yellow glow. He looked up and smiled. "Hey," he said, "how's it going? You didn't text."

She walked over and gave him a kiss. "I didn't want to wake you up," she said, "and I was listening to Spiritualized in the car. Kind of wanted a few minutes."

Dean laughed quietly and put the magazine down on his nightstand. "I wanted to wait up for you. Thanks for going over there," he said. "That was nice of you to do on a Tuesday night."

She smiled and unbuttoned her shirt, tossing it into the laundry bin. "It was fun. Your nephew is a sweet little guy. I think Heather's having a tough time, though. Hopefully Jeff gets back soon."

Dean pulled the blanket aside. "Yeah," he said, trailing off, unsure of what to add. "Heather says you've got a knack for it."

Stevie kicked off her leggings and sat on the edge of the bed, pulling her hair out of its rubber band and smiling. "Babies are pretty cool," she said, nodding and grinning enthusiastically. "They're just these tiny little creatures that are completely helpless. It's a little hilarious. But they just need a good cuddle and life is good, you know, Uncle Dean?"

Dean laughed again. "No, I don't know, I can't even figure out how to handle the little guy," he said. "I can't say I like anything about them," he added jokingly.

Stevie unclipped her bra and flung it like a slingshot at Dean. "The only thing you like about babies is making them," she said mockingly, grinning. "You're terrified of babies. You even sound like a baby."

He let out a louder laugh and threw the bra back. "You read my mind," he declared back, "secret's out. You got me." He looked at her for a moment and smiled. "Well, I'm sure I can get over that someday."

Stevie smiled back and tried to hold back the butterflies in her stomach. "If you want me to keep sticking around, you're going to have to," she said, leaning forward and pulling off her glasses. "I'm a bad Catholic, but I'm not that bad."

There was a long pause as the two stared at each other intently. But before they knew it, the fire alarm started to trill screamingly through the apartment and the halls. Jeremy let out a long howl from the living room. They laughed; someone must have been cooking, and doing a poor job of it, at a really bad hour. Stevie pulled on a sweater and a pair of Carhartts and Dean got up, already dressed. She pulled out a pair of slippers while Dean situated Jeremy on a leash, and made their way down to the street level with the old canine in tow.


# # #

Stevie jolted awake suddenly from her dream, hours after she fell asleep. In her head that fire alarm was blaring, screaming, so loud until she'd managed to wake herself up. IV drips could mess with your mind sometimes. As could sedatives.

But she couldn't hear the labored breathing off to her side anymore at all. Instead, all she could hear was the ticking clock, every stroke echoing loudly within the temporary metal walls, punctuated irregularly by a couple of clumsy footsteps. She wondered if the sedative had worn off or if it was still working.

Then a noise. A faint sputter from beneath the curtain in front of her. Stevie darted her eyes diagonally. Down below was another woman, the nurse who had helped with her IV, crawling on her elbows. She looked up at Stevie, half of her face red and sliced and her forehead turned to ribboned flesh. She opened her mouth to say something, but suddenly disappeared, yanked away by some unknown force.

A scream emerged from the other side of the curtain, a lot like the noise that had echoed in Stevie's head moments ago. A wet chewing noise silenced the outburst, continuing past it. A few more footsteps. A few more slow-gnashing sounds joining in.

Stevie tilted her head to peer through the slit in the curtain. Her eyes snapped wide open once she recognized the gray-skinned, dead-eyed appearance of the infected. She leaned back slowly. Two of them, gnawing on the body of the nurse. Two more dead bodies laid still near the entrance: the doctor who had greeted her coldly upon her arrival and had given her the sedative, and a man in a blue shirt.

The silence was louder than the sounds of the feeding.

She sat very still, hoping that maybe she could stay like that for a long time before maybe someone opened the door and distracted them. She kept every muscle in her body tense and still. She breathed low and quiet, fighting the urge to suck in oxygen. The smell in the mobile was horrible.

A thump on the door. A muffled voice called out. The walkers stopped chewing and focused toward the noise, and started to make their way over.

Stevie huddled herself backwards, trying hard to remain quiet as she did so. Unfortunately, she didn't consider her weak, IV'ed left hand, losing her grip and falling loudly onto the floor, first falling back-first on the metal drawer posted next to her, the contents spilling out on the floor. The needle ripped out of her skin and she let out a scream as the metal bar with the two half-filled IV bags and the raised cot came crashing down over her.

The curtains were torn asunder as the two walkers sought the source of the scream. It didn't take long for them to look down and see the frightened, half-naked young woman in glasses scooting her legs fast to get away from them.

She managed to pull the lightweight bed frame over her head, preventing one walker from getting a hold of her long hair and pulling her upwards. It bellowed low as it flopped its arms around, trying to remove the object and get to its food. The other walker crowded directly behind.

Her heart pounded and her throat felt tight as her white-knuckled hands hung on to the frame and shoved it hard against the undead assailant. She felt hot tears coming to her eyes, suddenly feeling extraordinarily angry about everything that had happened. Her adrenaline surged, spurred on by both survival instincts and overdue distraught rage. None of this was fair, for anyone. She briefly imagined Dean on the beach, and how similar his eyes were to this poor soul's. How Dean might have done this very same thing had he been here in the mobile with that injury. How maybe she should have just shot him, since she couldn't help him in the first place. How angry she felt that she'd had a dream about something that happened four months ago after seeing that awful, dead face on the beach.

The walkers' hands and teeth were starting to hack apart the thin foam padding and the metal frame.

It was then that she remembered what had killed Dean. Thomas had shot him in the head.

She reached out a hand to grab a hold of the base of the IV stand, and wrested her arm to knock it forward, ambitiously hoping to skewer at least one walker's head. It didn't work out as she'd planned; it slipped from her grip and swatted forward. It forced the second walker back a few feet, but the first one stayed and lowered its face toward hers. Panicked, she threw her right hand to the floor and snatched up a pair of plastic-sealed first aid scissors that had fallen from the drawer, and shoved them between its eyes. As she quickly pulled the scissors out, a spout of thick red blood splattered down over her medical gown. She watched in horror as the figure collapsed on her stomach, grateful to have subdued it but still shocked, all the same.

The other slowly started back toward her. She pushed the heavy body off of her and stood up, continuing to grip the scissors, aiming them toward the head as it lurched forward robotically. Another one down. She stepped over the toppled bedframe.

The lights flickered heavily as more shouts were heard at the door and the handle jiggled uselessly, a few pounds intermittently whomping through, shaking the light metal walls. The door was locked, probably with the intent of keeping the dangers of outside away from the patients inside. How wrong they were in this case.

The walker sprawled out near the door sat up as though jolted by electricity, locking eyes with Stevie. The lights continued to flicker, then dimmed significantly. Before her eyes could adjust, the walker was on its feet. Stevie instinctively stepped backwards and slipped on the pool of blood that had trickled toward her feet, landing on her back in the red puddle. The air whooshed out of her lungs, causing her to cough and gasp. The walker was on top of her in seconds, face roaring near hers, hands trying to get a hold of her struggling head for long enough to bite into it.

Several seconds' worth of struggle. The light flickering threateningly. Stevie had been weak a few hours before but now fought for her life, managing to overpower the larger walker. She straddled its chest and dug her knees against its shoulders in an attempt to immobilize its arms.

She looked down at its face as it struggled beneath her: it looked a lot like how Dean had on the beach, with shaggy hair and a missing eye. The resemblance was almost uncanny—same gray complexion, same milky hollowed dark eyes. Same shoulder bite, plastering all over the inside of her left leg. Most of his left arm was even missing, and he wore a blue shirt.

The sedatives. The fever. The heat. Whatever it was, it clicked in Stevie's brain.

The single second of hard-hitting clarity. Life was different now. Everything had changed. And it was as simple as that.

She drove the scissors from one side into the walker's temple, sending a spray of blood upwards. She flung out an elbow to shield her eyes and mouth.

She rested for several seconds, then climbed off of the walker and sat up on the floor. She rested herself up by her palms, knees halfway up in front of her, staring toward the quiet door. No thoughts moved across her mind. Just silence. She blinked her eyes slowly, barely moving. Her shallow breathing was quieter than the sound of the slowly-ticking clock.

The door then burst open with a forceful booted kick, and a familiar figure stood in the doorway and shot the dead doctor at the door square in the head without hesitation. The echoing bang didn't even bother Stevie as she connected her knees quickly, her big brown eyes on the verge of tears. Her glasses were smudged with blood, arms wobbling behind her, her right hand still clutching the bloody scissors. She looked ahead and struggled to see the person around the flashlight shining directly in her face.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

0.00 INK

Thomas Blackthorne

"Negative Sergeant, we have no available aircraft or pilots to come and pull you out. Over." The radio crackled quietly in Blackthorne's ear as he sat in the cockpit of the damaged helicopter. He slumped slightly, a heavy sigh escaping him as he resisted the urge to punch the console.

"So we're up shit creek without a paddle? Over." He glanced out the cockpit window at the remainder of his team who were sitting down and enjoying a quiet meal, it might be the last for some time.

"Affirmative." Came the response. "Be advised that multiple airstrikes have been ordered for the Los Angeles area and downtown core to try and hit the worst of the infestation."

Infestation. So that's what they were calling it now. Such an American solution, they were going to hit it with the biggest hammer they could find and hope for the best. Blackthorne felt slightly sick to his stomach as the voice on the radio continued.

"The situation is extremely hazardous. Command estimates that the FEMA camp you're in will be overrun in the next 6-8 hours. National guard units blocking the route have been wiped out."

Now Blackthorne did punch the console and regretted it immediately as pain shot up his arm and blood oozed from his knuckle. The three outside saw him do it and quickly climbed to their feet, making their way over towards the helicopter, meals still in hand. He took off the headset and turned up the volume so that they could all hear the next words as they came through.

"New orders from Command instruct you and your team to secure the Medical staff and get the hell out. Keep your SAT phone on hand and we'll contact you when we come up with a extraction package. Over."

"Bravo One roger, out."

"Best of luck Sergeant, god speed. Command out."

Blackthorne threw the headset into the cockpit and looked at his team. Three pairs of tired eyes looked back at him. Holloway spoke first, as Blackthorne knew he would.

"Seriously? Fuck Command man." He did a lisping mimic of the radio operator. "Don't call us, we'll call you sweetheart." He spat on the ground. "Sounds like the short of shit you tell a girl you never want to see again after you've fucked her." That got a few smiles.

"Agreed." Said Blackthorne. "But we need to get the fuck out of here and soon. I'm all for rounding up the medical staff and starting..." He was interrupted by a shout from the fence, turning briefly to see a band of civilians against the fence line, he ignored them. "Get them packed up and out of here stat."

The shouting increased and in irritation he turned to tell them to fuck off when he realized that he recognized them. He held up two fingers to his men indicating he wouldn't be long then jogged over to the fence.

"Do you know where Stephanie is?!" Asked the woman.


* * * * * * * * *


Blackthorne watched the refugees hurry away and turned to look at the ad-hoc FEMA medical unit. The fact that the girl Stephanie was still alive gave him a slight surge of elation. Another friendly face would be welcome. At least he knew she was somewhere nearby and she would accompany them if possible.

He returned to his teammates and gave them a brief synopsis of how the conversation had gone. They nodded slightly and Clarkson gave him a sly smile that, even that this moment, was in keeping with the rather dark sense of military humour they all knew so well.

"Cute bird, blue skirt, sounds like ye've got yerself a date for the end o' th' world Sarge." The man winked and Blackthorne actually laughed at the thought. Though, if he were honest with himself, she wasn't a bad looking woman if he remembered right.

Their conversation was cut short as a Medic came running towards them, waving his arms and yelling that one of the Doctors had locked himself into one of the medical units and was attacking his patients. In a heartbeat the whole team was in motion, sprinting in the direction of the mans frantic pointing, weapons swinging into firing position, silencers in place.

It was one of the smaller buildings, almost as far from the helipad as one could get, and two other male medical staff were trying to break down the door with a chair. Blackthorne shoved them aside with ease, eyed the door for two seconds and then, using Clarkson and Holloways shoulders for support, slammed his left heel into the door just above the lock.

The door shuddered but held. He swore, braced himself again and this time slammed both heels into the door. It flew open and he swept up his pistol as he stepped across the doorframe. He came face to face with a Walker wearing a doctors torn and bloodied lab coat at nearly point blank range, he fired without even thinking as he did it.

Then his eyes swept the room along with the flashlight on his pistol. It focused on a small huddled figure on the floor spattered in blood, holding a gory pair of scissors and squinting at him through filthy glasses. The other soldiers moved swiftly passed him, checking the remainder of the building. Two shots rang out in the back and Clarkson appeared from one of the last beds.

"Another one, still strapped to the bed but trying to rip itself free."

Blackthorne gave him the thumbs up and then knelt before a face that was familiar, even covered in blood and deathly pale from whatever illness had brought her to this place of death.

"Stephanie." He said her name gently and saw the recognition in her eyes. "I need to know if you were bitten."

There was the tiniest shake of her head.

"Are you certain?"

The small shake again. He laid a gloved hand on one knee and she started slightly, still clutching the scissors as she finally made eye contact with him. He could something in her eyes that hadn't been there the last time. A sort of haunted look and he couldn't blame her.

"We have to be sure. Someone will need to look you over."

A tiny nod. She resisted slightly as he took the scissors from her hands and threw them into a corner. Then he stooped and slipped a hand under her legs and behind her back, carrying her out into the fresh air. She clutched him about the neck as he carried her across the compound and into another building. The three male medical staff were there and he jerked his head towards the chem showers.

"Find me a female staff member. This girl needs a proper check up and a shower."

The three looked at him, then at each other, and then back again. "We're it sir." They clearly had no idea how military rank worked. "The rest have either fled, or, well, you saw it back there."

Blackthorne stared at them for a long moment and then sat Stephanie in a chair and turned back around to find the remainder of the team grinning at him like apes despite the situation. Clarkson was the first to speak.

"Permission ta volunteer fer this dangerous mission sah! Pon my soul, do me proud ta make sure this 'ere lassie is checked over proper."

The "lass" in question had sat upright and Blackthorne saw her lip twitch in a tiny smile at the Britishers words. She had spirit, they couldn't take that away from her but someone was going to have to check her over. Blackthorne knelt next to her again and saw that she had already recovered rather well mentally.

"Well Stephanie, I'm sorry, but one of us has got to look you over. The best I can do if offer you your choice of "physician"." He smiled as he said it and, not for the first time, had to admit that the girl had a hidden reserve of strength he didn't think possible.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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Stevie blinked and reflected on the situation. It was everything that she could do to keep from laughing.

The past 24 or so hours were so absurd, garnering a great deal for her to laugh about from a certain perspective. In that span of time, she'd watched Dean die. Twice. She'd crammed into an armored vehicle with a bunch of strangers. She flew into the side of a massive frigate and rode on a helicopter to a FEMA camp and had vomited profusely throughout. Add a kidney infection and a forced quarantine and a couple of hungry dead people, and that far outweighed any definition she could have possibly conceived of applying to the phrase "worst day ever."

Add this new quandary, and everything suddenly stepped up the next level of being just extraordinarily funny.

She looked at her feet and allowed a slight laugh and sighed loudly. "Well, I don't know who this has to be more awkward for," she piped somewhat sheepishly. "I'd say nobody, but it looks like there's not much of a choice. I'll need a shower and my clothes. They're back in that mobile... white bag with yellow boots. I'd really appreciate it." She smiled broadly, hoping that someone would help her out. It would be just absolutely impractical to be without normal clothes.

Holloway stood and nodded. "Ma'am," he acknowledged politely as he headed out, kindly sparing her from one option as he took off, heading back in the direction from where they'd all come. One down.

Stevie looked at both men's faces, still slightly bewildered by the situation but making herself consider the options. The goofy British soldier seemed like he would be a hell of a person to socialize with, but the thought of him inspecting her for walker bites just seemed a little too ridiculous, leaving the Canadian who stood well over a foot taller than her.

Well, it wasn't the worst thing. Not exactly the best of circumstances to have to get undressed in front of somebody, but she supposed that she'd hoped to see him again. Not that this was ideal, but, well...

She nodded her head toward him and stood up wobbily, refusing his help to stabilize her by gently waving a hand as she ensured she had part of the hem of her medical gown gathered in her other hand. "I hope you don't mind if I freshen up first," she said quickly, heading over to disappear behind one of the curtains with one of the showers.

She mindlessly untied her gown and tossed it into a nearby bin marked with a "Biohazard" sticker, then pulled quickly on a lever on the wall. The device vaguely reminded her of her chemistry classes. A stream of cold water surprised her and caused her to yelp loudly. The British soldier let out a loud laugh as he walked out of the unit.

Well, it was funny.

Had she not endured these last several hours, she would have been shocked at the ribbon of inky red water disappearing around her feet through a drain, clearing the residue of the encounter in that unit from her arms, hair, and face. Once she was satisfied that the water ran transparent, she shut the lever off. A towel soared over the curtain and landed on her head; she moved her arms quickly to catch it and patted her face, arms, and legs with it.

"Thanks," she called out to Thomas, and poked her head out and looked toward him. "The sooner we get it over with, I guess?"

He didn't show much on his face as he walked over slowly and stood at a safe distance away from the curtain. Stevie's face reddened just slightly as she held the towel out to her side, stretching out her arms. She just looked up at his face, trying to just pretend she wasn't naked in front of someone who really was a stranger. He did a quick visual check, then spun a finger around in the air. She complied, trying hard to not laugh or blush or say anything that would somehow make the situation just that much more laughable in general.

"What happened to your left hand?" he asked carefully.

"I fell off of my cot and my IV ripped out."

He reached out toward the hand in question. "May I?"

"By all means." She stood quietly as he studied the red dot on her hand followed by a relatively long cut and already-forming bruise.

"You're all right," he said finally, then darted his eyes to look away as she wrapped the towel around herself, but not walking away from his spot. "You have a lot of tattoos."

"I do." Stevie wrapped her arms around her covered ribcage, very grateful that the experience was as painless as it was over. "So much for leaving the light on."

"Pardon?"

"The last time I saw you, you told me to leave the light on."

He laughed just slightly and nodded. "Oh, right," he remarked. "Well, you're obviously not bitten." A pause. "I'm glad."

Another pause. Stevie smiled and relaxed just slightly. "I wondered if I'd run into you again," she mused aloud, finally allowing herself to make eye contact with her huge brown eyes. She cleaned her messy black-rimmed glasses on the corner of her towel and placed them back on her face.

Another pause. But as he opened his mouth to say something, the door knocked, opened, and a familiar white bag seemed to hurl itself inside about four feet from the entrance. Thomas helpfully crossed to the door and returned the bag to its owner, and offered a small smile. "I don't think you need help with this," he stated quickly as she reached one arm out to accept the bag.

She let herself grin and allowed herself a laugh. "I think I've got it from here," she said tamely. He nodded and turned to head toward the door. "Thomas, right?" she called after him just as he touched the doorknob.

He looked back at her and nodded. "That's me," he responded.

She continued to smile genuinely. "Thank you for helping me."

He just smiled, then walked out the door and shut it behind him, leaving her alone to change back into her clothes.

# # #

Ten minutes later she poked her head out of the unit's door, having made use of one of the hygiene kits to use a small comb to pull knots from her wet hair. In the dry southern California heat, it would be dry in no time.

The sound of bullets rang through the air, causing her to stop in her tracks. A couple of bodies fell flat to the ground not far from the unit.

"Stephanie!" Thomas called out quickly, waving for her to follow along.

... out of the reach of a couple of wandering walkers.

Nothing seemed surprising anymore. She bounded after the three as they wove through the fenced-in area, trying hard to keep pace with them as she didn't quite feel like she was out of the clear as far as the kidney infection was concerned.

Nobody in the camp moved once as massive display of fireworks darted into the sky from the west, distracting even the walkers. Must have been a mistake... Either way, those bombs were due to hit the center of the city, and soon, so perhaps it was best to find some kind of cover. Things were getting worse, and fast.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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On the morning of Day 7, Stevie slowly opened her heavy eyes to find that Thomas had already awakened and gotten out of bed. Immediately, the hangover painfully hazing her brain took priority. She stumbled blindly upward and rummaged through a dresser drawer, pulling out a black t-shirt that fit long, just above her knees. She shuffled clumsily to the bathroom and washed her face, almost feeling sick at the mere smell of soap. She quickly brushed her hair, put on her glasses, and took one rueful look in the mirror before walking out the bedroom door.

She staggered through the hall and down the stairs, and wandered down into the kitchen. Thomas was already there, staring out of one of the large bay windows, looking like he may have been in similar shape. His rifle stood balanced up against the door not far away. "Good morning," he managed politely, pulling a stool out from beside the island table in the center of the kitchen and offering it to her.

She opened the refrigerator door and unenthusiastically pulled out a container of orange juice and a package of sliced bread. "I'll get back to you on that," she said, shocked to hear her voice still slurring a little. Woops.

He laughed a little and pointed to the toaster. "You might want that, right?"

Stevie climbed upon the stool Thomas had offered, folded her arms on the cold marble surface of the table, and put her face down. "Suddenly toast and anything toast-related or food-related sounds... just horrible," her voice muffled out.

"Seriously? I was counting on you making breakfast," he said sternly. Stevie glanced up and stared at him until he finally smiled. "Joke. It was a joke."

She laughed and held her head in her hands to brace against the pressure it pushed on her skull. "Did I get that right? You told a joke!" she exclaimed, smiling appreciatively. "For a while there I was wondering if you even had a sense of humor."

Thomas shook his head. "Nope, nothing is funny to me," he went on, still joking. "Not a single thing. I was born without a personality."

"But your personality is your best quality!" she snickered comfortably, circling the cap off of the container of juice.

He crossed to the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle of cranberry juice, poured some of it into a glass, and offered it to her in place of the orange juice. "I'd drink this instead."

She took the glass and wordlessly drank it down quickly. "Well, so today I learned you're funny," she said after a moment, a lilt of flirtatious teasing in her voice. "Two days ago I learned that you're a terrible piano player. And yesterday I learned all kinds of other things."

He pulled up a stool close to her and sipped a tall glass of water, rubbing his face tiredly. "Yesterday I learned that you and tequila are not a good match," he teased back with a straight face. "And I heard you like to sing. And that it sounds horrible."

Stevie laughed good-naturedly and grabbed a banana from the bowl in the middle of the table, peeled it, and offered half to him. "I just learned that you're a jerk," she said with a wry smile, leaning over to bump his arm with her shoulder. She really did like him. She didn't even mind that he called her "Stephanie" instead of her nickname. She had briefly wondered if his actions on Day 3 were far too extreme, but after all was said and done, she had to admit that he might have been right after all. He had been such a tremendous help to her this whole time, even going with her into an abandoned pharmacy in the city to successfully find any bottles of Ciprofloxacin and Levofloxacin to help knock out the last of the kidney infection that had crept up so quickly at the start of Day 2. The alcohol intake of the last few days wasn't the most constructive thing to do while taking antibiotics, but at this point it didn't really matter. Especially not when they were on watch together the previous night.

He shrugged and gestured outside. "You up for a walk? I need to go see how it's going out there. I could use some company," he added with a smile.

Stevie looked down at her long black shirt and pointed to her knees. "I look like shit," she blurted out.

"Well, no one out there is going to care," he stated matter-of-factly, "and I don't think you do. Let's go."

# # #

Considering how the first four of these nine days had gone, most of the remaining were actually pretty great.

The end of Day 2 surreally bled into Day 3. Stevie followed close behind the four, traipsing quietly through the night. They all took cover from the bombing by hiding in a ditch off of the highway. She was so deliriously tired that it almost felt like she lost any sensation in her feet and legs as she bounded ahead, through trees and on streets alike. No one stopped for a single moment, or said a single word. They just kept pressing onward.

Day 3 was a mess. One awful firefight caused them to lose Bishop but they then brought another young woman into the group. Unfortunately, those who caused Bishop's death also caused her a great deal of humiliation in all kinds of degrading fashions. She was reluctantly relieved when Stevie convinced her to come travel with them, even if she didn't say much at all, not even her name, for days.

By midday on Day 4, they'd picked up more people: one couple, Alejandro and Maria, who only spoke Spanish, one middle-aged chiropractor, Lisa, and a college student, Jordan. By the end of Day 4, their reasoning to head up into the hills for higher ground stood for a far better outcome than they'd anticipated when they'd happened upon the open iron gate of a massive, ostentatious estate. A few walkers wandered around the grounds, and were easily dispatched once the nine rushed in and locked the gate behind them. The door to the home was shut but unlocked; the owners must have hastily departed in vain effort to seek safer shelter.

It was likely that no person in the group had ever been in a place like this. The mansion looked like something out of a movie set--large enough to have actual wings to retreat to, a stainless modern kitchen, a tennis court, spellbinding windows overlooking the canyon, an obscene number of vehicles parked in an echoey garage, and solar panels to keep the electricity on--even the pool filter.

The situation was more than just comical--it was terrific.

Everyone was too tired to explore the home further as they all simply took their own respective rooms and crashed for hours and hours. Walkers crowded at the iron fence, trailing the group's scent but thankfully unable to work their way through.

By the middle of Day 5, most people were up and about, and treated the house very carefully, as though they were guests visiting the home just temporarily. They determined that it would be beneficial to keep watch from the flat roof above. It wasn't until Clarkson found the extensive collection of wine and just about any spirit anyone could dare to name--just in time for the evening--that they finally relaxed.

Carpe diem. The party was killer.

On Day 6, after post-celebration hangovers had subsided, the group decided to divvy up assignments to keep watch. Thomas and Stevie were tasked with the first night shift.

The next few days were fairly relaxed as everyone began to explore the sprawling house. The food pantry was well-stocked and put to good use. Golf balls were smacked off of the rooftop while daytime watch was going on, but only if there was a cigar cindering nearby. Stevie took it upon herself during moments alone to go through the record collection. Of course. While she still had her phone loaded with plenty of music she so dearly loved, it nearly grieved her to switch it on out of habit and be reminded of a previous life that was now required to seem distant, or even non-existent. Clunky records were a lot of fun to work with. She ended up dragging the record player and a stack of albums with her to the bedroom she'd picked to sleep in. It was a nice indulgence.

Stevie was also delighted in her exploration of the home to discover a closet with fencing equipment--a foil, an épée, and even a saber were lined upward with a few mesh masks. Between socializing with the others, spending a considerable amount of time with Thomas, and checking on the still-nameless young woman they had liberated from that awful encounter a few days prior, there wasn't much time to goof off with practicing. She loved fencing, but loved music even more. She still brought the three weapons into her room and hid them under the bed, just in case there was any kind of problem in the house.

# # #

The congestion of walkers clawing at the iron-wrought fence was ominous as they screeched and roared, forcing their hands through the bars but pitifully not making any headway on crossing through onto the massive lawn. Luckily, the horrid smell hadn't permeated much farther so that the house would be disturbed by it.

Thomas and Stevie wandered a few yards away from the gate and stared ahead, standing side by side. He carried his rifle warily while she folded one arm across her chest and chewed the knuckle of her other hand, tilting her head as she examined the poor souls on the other side. "Have you ever been to the zoo," she started thoughtfully, still gazing ahead, "and wanted to see the lions do something really, really interesting, but were disappointed when you figured out that all they do is sleep, sleep, and sleep just a little more?"

Thomas blinked. "I'm sure that everyone in the entire world has been in that tragic position at some point in their life," he answered. "Why?"

She gestured ahead with both arms and grinned a little. "Behold. Our lions."

His expression didn't change. "Those are the ugliest lions I have ever seen." He continued onward.

Stevie laughed through her nose as they proceeded, walking twice as fast to keep up with the far-taller Thomas. "Terrence is on watch tonight, right?" she asked, looking up at the roof.

"I think that's what everyone decided," he answered as he noticed a particularly small child walker working its way through a set of bars, its head, shoulders, and arms beginning to slip through. He waved for Stevie to stay put and sauntered off in its direction and stood in place for a few moments to size up the situation before effortlessly bashing the butt of his rifle against the front of its skull, caving it in gorily. The walker went limp, stuck in the bars.

Stevie winced while watching. She knew it was the right thing to do, but it didn't make it any less difficult to watch. Not to mention that that creature had once been a child.

Thomas must have seen the look on her face. "Better him than us," he said somewhat tersely as he continued on.

"No, no, I know," she said as she caught up with him, worried that she might have accidentally put him on the defensive. "It's just still weird that anyone has to do that."

"It's not, though," he responded, still a little sharp, stepping ahead. "You know what they can do."

She pursed her lip for just a moment and hung back, collecting her composure. He likely hadn't at all intended on reminding her of what had happened on the beach, but it still came to mind after he'd said that. "You're right," she said quickly, not wanting to say anything else for a few moments as they kept treading to survey the fence. She'd wanted very badly to conceal the fact that she was far more sensitive than she really wanted to be, but knew that she had just failed in that. She trailed behind him just slightly, studying the plush green grass under her bare feet in an attempt to distract herself.

The remark made her think of Dean, one of the last things she'd wanted to think about, particularly after spending a lot more time getting better acquainted with Thomas. She didn't feel like outwardly sharing her darker and sadder thoughts on the entire situation, not even with him, not wishing to burden others. It felt much better to make light of it all and share good moments with others. She already did plenty of dwelling on more somber subjects inside of her own mind just fine on her own. In fact, even before the whole ordeal she tended to not share many of her inward thoughts with very many people at all, preferring to instead discuss far more pleasant subjects to cover up any potential perception of her even having any difficulties whatsoever.

Thomas must have seen the next expression on her face before he looked over his shoulder at her, and stopped walking. "I'm sorry," he stated simply after the long pause.

Stevie shook her head. "No, please don't be," she replied. "You're doing the right thing." She glanced along the fence, eyeing the determined walkers reaching out and snapping their jaws from the other side. Truth be told, the only thing that had ever stood between her and them was, in fact, Thomas. She then turned her attention back to him, looking directly into his eyes. She managed a genuine smile. "You've always done the right thing." It was easy to forgive him for the accidental offense.

She watched his expression soften just slightly as he reached out a long arm and draped it around her shoulder. She wasn't much for public displays of affection, but it didn't seem that he necessarily was, either. That was all right. Especially right now.

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden

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The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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"Are you all right??"

Stevie blinked and nodded fervently, taking Clarkson's hand and pulling herself up on her feet. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she uttered quickly, nodding to him, her nerves on fire. She cast a diagonal glance in horror at Bishop, splayed out fatally on the ground. She fought back an expression of shock but still balked in his direction. He'd been alive moments before.

"I need your help!" Holloway called to Stevie. She looked up and snapped back into the moment, watching the scene as both he and Thomas, and now Clarkson joining them, had rifles trained on the group gathered, ignoring their shouts as they sat up on their knees, corralled together. He tilted his head in the direction of the RV.

Stevie nodded, unsure of what to expect as she quickly skittered around the large vehicle and stopped in her tracks when she came upon a young black woman, half-naked and crumpled into a shivering mess. Her heart sunk. She instantly knew what had transpired by the look of the torn clothing. She carefully knelt down on the ground about three feet away, not wanting to scare her by coming too close.

"Hey," Stevie said gently. "I'm..." She forced her eyes to not well up with tears. "I'm... I'm here to help you. Let's get you to a safe place."

The girl edged up on her elbows just slightly, uncovering her face and looking at Stevie with blank eyes. Stevie's stomach twisted at the sight of her right eye, almost swollen shut, and a split lip. Her throat had dark marks circled around it, and her bare arms were burned with what must have been rope marks, along with her ankles.

Stevie blinked just momentarily. Clearly, the woman wasn't going to talk; if she was, she would have said something by now. She noticed a white shirt nearby and handed it to her, hoping to help her restore a little bit of lost dignity.

The woman took it carefully, eyeing Stevie with a degree of suspicion before adjusting her pants and rising to her knees. Stevie stood and offered a hand wordlessly. The woman took it, and then cringed with pain as she attempted to stand up. Stevie quickly rushed to steady herself beneath one shoulder. The woman was very tall, almost a foot taller than Stevie herself.

Holloway turned around the corner and nodded to Stevie. "You good?" he asked the two.

"Yeah, we're all right," Stevie answered carefully. "We've got to get her to—"

"We'll deal with that," he politely broke in. "For now, I want you both to go sit in that car," he instructed, gesturing behind them. "Just in case walkers come around."

Stevie nodded and ushered the zoned-out woman toward the Subaru wagon, opened the back gate, and popped down the backseat to give more than enough room for the two to sit. The noise that had been made would surely attract some of the wandering undead in the area. Sure enough, as she shut the gate behind them, she spotted a few in the distance lurching in their general direction.

"Duck down," Stevie whispered to the young woman. They flattened themselves on the floor and kept very Stevie glanced over at the woman, who stared up at the ceiling, focusing on the dark overhead lamp. Her breathing was shallow and shocked and beads of sweat formed around her temples. Clearly, she was not planning on talking anytime soon.

A series of blasts pealed out harshly through the air, just slightly muffled through the metal and glass walls of the vehicle, coming from the direction of the RV. Stevie stopped counting after hearing six, instead joining the poor girl in staring straight upwards.

She quickly recounted in her head what the girl would need. Under normal circumstances, she'd have to be rushed to a hospital and given the option to speak with authorities as she obtained medical treatment. But as both any kind of authorities or hospitals were not at all likely to be in any shape to perform as necessary in these kinds of situations, a shower and a visit to a pharmacy would have to make do instead. Despite her own religious beliefs and standard she'd set for herself, Stevie knew that it was up to her to ensure that the poor girl would have every option available to her to fix any undesirable situation that may have come as a result of those last terrible days.

A couple of gunshots rang out not far from the wagon. The gate opened at their feet, and there stood Holloway, holding the door up, standing aside to give the two women enough room to get out. "We gotta hurry," he asserted carefully, looking over his shoulder to make sure nothing was coming toward them. "Those biters are going to come along pretty soon. Can you two move?"

The girl nodded to Holloway and slowly pulled herself out of the vehicle, Stevie following behind her to give her a bit of space. The girl started out ahead, moving as quickly as she could, which was still far faster than Stevie had expected.

Holloway looked over at Stevie. "She all right?"

Stevie shrugged her shoulders quickly. "Not saying a word," she responded, looking ahead at the girl to make sure that nothing was sneaking up on her. "We need to get to a pharmacy and she needs to clean up."

He nodded. "Yeah, I'll talk to Tom about that."

Stevie shook her head. "Oh, don't worry, I can do that if you need me to."

He shook his head back at her and looked back toward the RV. "I know you're trying to help, but you don't want to talk to him right now." Another gunshot was fired. He looked back toward Stevie. "Trust me. Let me do it."

# # #


The antibiotics were helping. Stevie didn't feel quite so horrible as she woke up, still clad in her red t-shirt, on Day 5. She sat up and looked around the room, wondering for just a moment if it had all been a nightmare.

The clock next to her blinked the time. 7:13. 7:13. 7:13. 7:13. 7:13. 7:14. When she'd drifted off it had read 12:58. She hadn't slept for too long at all. She reflected on the last few days as she got up and headed into the bathroom attached to the bedroom and tested the water. Perfect. She found a towel, undressed, and stood for a very long time under the water. She was a mess. The quick cold shower she'd had after the incident in the medical unit, when Thomas had looked her over for bites, was the last time she'd had any real opportunity to clean up.

After exiting, she brushed and dried her hair, pulled her clothes back on, and quietly made her way down the stairs. The house was beautiful. She hadn't taken a great look around the previous night when Thomas, Clarkson, and Holloway checked the house before allowing everyone else to follow inside.

Stevie heard a noise, and froze in place instinctively. She tiptoed quietly toward the direction it came from, and discovered that the chiropractor was in the kitchen. The oven light was on and she stood over the sink with the water running, slicing fruit and placing it in a bowl, obviously feeling more at home than she did.

"Good morning!" the lady chirped, her thick accent adding a funny nasal quality to her voice. "Guess I'm not the only early bird here! Want a worm?" She offered Stevie an orange.

Stevie smiled and slowly walked in. "Thanks!" She started to peel the fruit after she accepted it. "What's in the oven?"

"There was all this flour and so I decided to make muffins," the woman responded. She placed the small paring knife beside the sink, quickly ran her hands under the faucet, patted them dry on a towel, and offered her hand to Stevie. "I'm Lisa. So nice to meet you, doll. Grab a knife and help me out."

Stevie nodded and grabbed another knife from a nearby drawer. Lisa reminded her a high school friend's mom, instantly making her feel at home. "I'm Stephanie, but you can call me Stevie."

Lisa placed a small bowl of uncut fruit in front of Stevie. "Nice to meet you, Stef," she responded. "And now we're strangers making a fruit salad. How do you like that?"

Stevie smiled and munched on an orange wedge. "This is the best orange I've ever tasted," she remarked as she started on cutting up a grapefruit.

"Well, the fruit's going to go bad, so we might as well do something with it, right?"

The two exchanged stories about their first few days after the infection. Lisa, Jordan, and Alejandro and Maria had been stuck in the chiropractic clinic for a few days; Jordan was a patient of Lisa's, and Alejandro and Maria had come into the clinic absolutely terrified just before Lisa and Jordan had decided to lock the place up. Lisa talked about how her two children, 20-year old twins, were in college in Connecticut and how she was worried for their safety, but knew that she would be able to figure out their fate "after all this shit blows over." Stevie just listened quietly, not having the heart to share her thoughts on that as she hulled strawberries.

The oven alarm bleeped repeatedly. "Ahh, there they are!" Lisa announced, pulling a pair of mitts on her hands and extracting a pan with a dozen heat-bronzed muffins. "Now no one has any excuse to not eat anything. My boy would wander around the kitchen constantly complaining there wasn't anything to eat!" she added bittersweetly. "So, hopefully everyone gets a chance to enjoy something, here."

Stevie smiled. "Thanks, Lisa, that was awesome of you!" she cheerfully remarked.

Lisa nodded. "Yeah, yeah... You're welcome," she accepted with a half-smile and an eyeroll. "You might want to take one to your friend. You know, the tall girl. What's her name?"

Stevie shook her head as she took a knife to scrape around a muffin to place onto a small plate, onto which she added a few spoonfuls of fruit. "I have no idea."

"What? Really?" Lisa inquired.

"She's been pretty quiet," Stevie said, finding a small fork and holding it under the plate. "I'll go take it to her."

Lisa smiled. "Come back soon, I'm about to get some coffee made, too."

Stevie offered a happy grin in return and stepped back up the stairs, heading to the bedroom door that she saw the tall girl head into. She gently rapped on the door. No answer. She waited several moments after a sense of potential dread filled her mind, then took it upon herself to quietly twist the doorknob open. The girl was out cold, breathing heavily, sleeping curled up on her side. Stevie tiptoed in and rested the plate on the bedside table not far from her face and silently shuffled back out.

Stevie made her way back down the stairs and reunited with Lisa. "Hey!" the older woman exclaimed loudly, pointing outside of the large bay window. "See that pool?!"

Sure enough, there was a large pool not far at all from the door, situated on a patio made from red and white textured tiles. A cabinet full of towels, a barbecue grill, and a canopy over a table and chairs made the scene look inviting so early in the morning.

Stevie laughed. "Too bad we don't have swimsuits, huh?" she said as she plucked a muffin from the pan and cut it in half, offering Lisa a piece.

"Who said you needed one!" Lisa half-joked before taking a bite. Stevie laughed out loud, nearly choking on her breakfast. "Just kidding. Let's not offend the neighbors, huh?"

Stevie smiled and shook her head. "Yeah, let's not," she said. "I wonder who this house belongs to."

"Well, whoever they are, I'm feeling pretty grateful," Lisa added, packing items into the dishwasher. "I'm thinking sandwiches for lunch. There's a big chest freezer in that walk-in pantry. If everyone likes barbecue, then there's more than enough to keep everyone fed. What do you think?"

Stevie instantly admired the fast-talking lady who seemed to love being busy. "I think that's great." She looked down at her torn dress. "I'm thinking about doing some laundry."

"Already on it!" Lisa chirped. "Just grab a towel and go hang out in your room and I'll bring your clothes to you."

"But I can help you—"

"Nah, I need something to do," Lisa interrupted. "Besides, you still look a little sick, like you were when you showed up. Get that immune system back up. Go rest a few more hours, then you can help if you're feeling up to it. Stick your clothes outside the door and I'll grab it."

Stevie never allowed anyone to do her laundry for her, but Lisa sure sounded like she could have used a distraction. She nodded and stood up. "Thank you," she said as she went back up the steps to her bedroom, feeling relieved at the prospect of resting to feel better.

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