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Tara Schantz (NPC)

A videographer with a few tricks up her sleeve.

0 · 671 views · located in Season 3

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

Description

Portrayed by: Anna Paquin

Profession: TV Camerawoman / Traffic Videographer

Age: 34

Gender: F

Height/Weight: 5'9 / 140 lbs.

Hair/Eyes: Light Brown / Brown

Nationality/Ethnicity: American

Tattoos/Scars: Four-leaf clover on her left foot

Clothing/Outfit: Jeans, white t-shirt, black jacket, black combat boots

Image

MBTI type: ISFJ (Introverted Sensing Feeling Judge)

Traits:

3 Strengths:

Jill of All Trades - Schantz has held a lot of interesting jobs over the years, and has come across all kinds of situations where she's needed to employ different kinds of skills. She can bake a cake just as easily as fix a broken truck's transmission.

Fast - Schantz is a decent athlete, preferring to learn about the world kinesthetically. She played field hockey and softball in high school, which made her powerful in addition to being quick.

Good Eye - Preferring to work rooftop shoots and traffic video, Schantz has excellent eyesight and can spot things from a long distance away.
 

3 Weaknesses

Panicky - Schantz has a tendency to get panicked easily. She'll spring into action, no problem, but not without a bubble-over of emotions to go with it.

Temperamental - One of the reasons she's been relegated to the roof is because she doesn't like being around a lot of people. She deals better on a one-on-one basis, becoming close to people individually. Otherwise, she frustrated easily and is prone to copping an attitude or yelling at someone who happened to annoy her a little too much.

Poor Planner - Don't ask Schantz to be in charge. Just tell her what to do.


Personality:
Schantz is a lone wolf who has respect for just a few people, such as a few of her fellow photographers and the reporters with whom she might work on the roof or in traffic with. She's easygoing and chatty in small groups, but withdraws and becomes anxious in large groups. It's a wonder that she lives in Los Angeles.

Fears:
Crowds, control, sitting still for too long

Aspirations:
Obtain civilian pilot's license, move to Nebraska to be closer to family

Dominant Emotion:
Bored

Demeanor:
Withdrawn in crowds, easygoing in small groups or one-on-one

Quirks/Oddities:
Hates anything perceived as "too feminine," doesn't drink coffee, vegetarian

Skills/Proficiencies:
Filming aerial video, athletic, training in vehicle mechanics/maintenance, thrill-seeker / brave

History:
- Born in Kansas to a large farming family
- Accepts a track scholarship to UCLA just before graduating from high school; performs well
- Works various odd jobs through college to pay rent and save money, mostly as a mechanic
- Becomes a certified skydiving instructor in SoCal right after graduating in 2002
- In 2009, accepts position as a traffic reporter at radio affiliate at WEND-TV; switches to videography at WEND-TV a year later

So begins...

Tara Schantz (NPC)'s Story

Setting

Characters Present

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)
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Harper Hopkins


Nathan dashed down to the stairs to the photographers' floor, where a large set of lockers and even showers hung off via a hallway from the main room. Jack wasted no time behind him, cycling his legs down the concrete staircase.

He'd only just landed in L.A., and this was the kind of greeting he'd gotten upon his long-awaited return. It had been a surprisingly uneventful arrival; calm flight, calm disembarkment, calm afternoon and night... but not a calm late morning, when his plans were interrupted by a lousy, ghoul-faced tourist in sandals who thought it would be a great idea to bust his door down. One broken lamp and a short car ride later, he found himself clutching his pistol, hiding behind a dumpster not far from the Los Altos Apartments on Wilshire Boulevard.

Nathan skittered to the lockers and snagged a hold of the stash of spare towls. "Here, man, thanks," he said as he tossed two rolled towels to him, then plucked the first aid kit from a higher shelf. "Let's head back up."

Jack said nothing as he continued to keep pace with the tall blond-headed jock with the vest. Now wasn't the time to ask or answer any questions.

Nathan burst through the door to the newsroom and came upon the scene--Steve Hilpin and the old man arguing, while the girl continued to bleed on the desk. The news director looked as though he was having far better luck at containing his frustration, while the old man's face was burgundy as he pointed to the desks. The little girl gripped her panda for dear life and the producers and editors buzzing in the newsroom stood nervously, unsure of what to do.

"Sir, we can appreciate your position, but, once again, we need those desks to do work," Steve insisted firmly.

"Goddammit!" James fumed. Calvin was still perched next to the girl, gripping her white-knuckled hands as she dug her nails into her own palm to brace against the pain. "What 'job' are you doing, staying on the airwaves so your coporate shill ratings will go through the roof??" he demanded.

"People are depending on us to give them information on how to survive," Steve responded immediately. "There is no handbook on how people can work through this."

"Hey!" Calvin interjected, "we're wasting time!" He, Jack, and Nathan were working together furiously to press and hold the towels straight onto the girl's gaping neck wound. James abandoned the argument and joined in, providing a fourth pair of hands in holding her shoulders down as she started to shake vigorously, her body in shock due to the blood loss she'd sustained by that point.

# # #

"Clear," Schantz piped after the newscast's director buzzed into her ear to let her know the broadcast was wrapped. "George and Maxine want to talk to you."

Harper nodded as the two started to pepper her ear. "Next time pick it up a little, Harper," Maxine's voice edged up, making a poor attempt at covering her needless criticism with sappy sweetness. "You look like you haven't slept in days."

Harper rolled her eyes. "Wow, Maxine, you try having the afternoon we had," she shot back flatly. She pulled off her blood-flecked jacket, the warm night air and her nerves starting to become uncomfortable. She smoothed out her gray summer cotton slacks and re-clipped her mic to her lavender-purple tank top.

Maxine huffed. "You have no idea," she said, "one of them came at us when we were downstairs in the lobby coming in to work. Chuck smashed it in the head with a baseball bat. You have no idea, Harper, how awful that was!"

Harper rolled her eyes. "We'll talk, Maxine," she said dismissively, finding the idea of being lectured by the nearly-geriatric plastic surgery addict about who had the worse experience with walkers quite repulsive.

"Hey, Harper," George broke in. "We're sitting on the desk and... whoa, a bunch of people just came in... they've got this gir--WHOA. She's bleeding!?" George's voice was usually smooth and contained, but now it sounded startled and scared. "They've put this girl on the desk. Harper, she's bleeding. Two people running away--Steve and this old man are starting to get real mad at each other... Whoa, Maxine, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she insisted, clearing her throat a little. "My eye's itchy, that's all."

"Actually," the newscast director broke in, "Maxine, you look sweaty. Are you hot under the lights?"

"No, no," Maxine snipped in. "I'm feeling fine. Just fine. In fact, I'm actually a little cold." She cleared her throat again.

"We've been sitting here for five hours and you haven't gotten up once," George stated. "But in the last few minutes your eye's gotten really red."

"What?!" she exclaimed. A moment of silence over the earpiece as she clicked open her mirror compact. "Jesus! I've got to cover this up!" A rustle of activity as she forked her way through her portable makeup bag that she kept pegged behind her chair in case of on-air makeup emergencies.

"On again in 30," the director spoke calmly, "can you do this, Maxine?"

"Of course I can," she retorted back. She cleared her throat.

"Schantz, Harper, standby. George and Maxine, stand by."

# # #

Nathan breathed a sigh of relief as the bleeding seemed to stop beneath the pile of soppy towels. He kept his blood-soaked hands on his corner of the towel to continue to apply pressure, not daring to lift his hands.

The staff who had been staring wide-eyed at the scene while phones continued to ring off the hook were on the receiving end of a very harsh stare from Steve. They immediately set about going back to their work. Calvin stood up, catching the glimpse of the petrified little girl standing all by herself. He smiled tepidly, a sudden thud of guilt pounding his head about her having to see all this unfold right in front of her. He looked down at his bloody hands. Not exactly the most reassuring-looking person in the room.

James rose and turned back to look at Steve. The news director glared and shook his head. "Hey, sweetheart, I've got coloring books in my office," he said to the girl, beckoning for her to enter his glass-paned office. He walked over slowly to her and started to help her along. Calvin watched as Steve quickly set her at his desk and pulled out a box of coloring books. Clearly, he must have been a parent.

Calvin looked through the window to the studio and noticed that the older, platinum-white-haired woman at the desk was raising a fist in front of her while coughing frequently. Her left eye was looking red and swollen; several minutes before, he hadn't taken notice of that detail when he'd first entered the room. "Is that the green room over there?" Calvin asked out loud to the staff. A few nodded toward the direction of a black door beside the studio. "All right. I'm getting that lady some eyedrops. She looks like she could use them."

Nathan and Jack remained with the prone girl breathing raspily on the desk. In front of them a television monitor played the broadcast, rolling back and forth between the two anchors on the desk and Harper up on the roof. Both men watched, catching bits and pieces of the low audio. "Oh, who's that?" Jack asked casually, his eyes lighting up a little too enthusiastically for Nathan's liking. "She's on the roof?"

Nathan looked sidelong at him, a brief pang of irritation coming out in his facial expression. "No one you need to know," he retorted quietly.

Jack raised an eyebrow. He'd not known this guy for twenty minutes and already found a trigger. "Geez, sorry, didn't realize she was already taken," he responded, knowing how he sounded every ounce like he'd intended to provoke the defensive younger man.

"It's not like that," Nathan blasted back sharply. "Seriously, don't even tal-"

"Uhh, guys," Calvin broke in. He hadn't even entered through the door to the green room when he saw the older lady pass out on the desk, hitting her nose head-on. He watched as George cast his eye quickly to her, and Harper came on the monitor suddenly to cover the brief interruption caused by the commotion.

"Shit," Nathan muttered as he saw Maxine's head thunk down. In all the year's he'd worked at WEND, he'd never seen Maxine sick, weak, or with a stitch out of place. Instead, he knew her as being a ragingly disconnected old bat who took vacations when sweeps weren't in effect. Now she was a ragingly disconnected old bat burying her face in a hard, shellac'ed surface.

Nathan watched George jump visibly after Harper signed on, who worked hard to disguise her nerves as she no doubt heard the commotion in her earpiece. He mouthed something to Maxine, who didn't respond. George reached over to shake her, and she fell heavily off of the desk. George's hands clasped to his mouth in shock as he let out a yell. The newcast director's voice blared out over the newsroom's PA system. "Steve, everyone, we've got an emergency," the voice smoothly but tensely called out. "Maxine's not breathing."

Next to him, Jack jumped just slightly. "Hey, guys, she's not doing so good," he nervously barked. "She's not breathing..."

Nathan snapped his eyes downward and watched as the girl's jaw slacked open. He lifted his hands up and watched for a moment. This was the second dead girl in one day. He stared for just a second.

It was then that he remembered what had happened to the secretary. Without even thinking, he swept his arms out and pulled Jack back as teeth clicked up viciously toward them. Jack reflexively whipped his fire poker out from a spot on the desk in front of him and slashed it down on her torso. Nathan jumped back and watched helplessly as she leapt from her spot, having turned her attention on a producer just feet away who felt like he'd been on hold for hours.

It was then that Maxine also sprang into life, almost in a reanimated fashion. George sprang from his seat, forgetting that he was leashed to his desk via the IFB in his ear and the lapel mic clipped onto his suit jacket. He tugged back sharply, and lost his footing and fell off of the raised platform the desk was mounted on. Through the window, one could see him grasp at his ankle after he hit the ground, his other hand trying to yank his earpiece out of his ear. Maxine darted over the desk rapidly.

The director's voice came over the PA system again. "Guys, Maxine's attacking George."

"Jesus Christ!" Wayne shouted in bewilderment as he backed away from the commotion.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)
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.: Calvin Hawke :.


It was like somebody had flipped a switch and all hell had broken loose. Calvin watched as several WEND employees abandoned their cameras and desks, frantically running for the exits, as if outside was going to give them any reprieve. A scream rang out behind him as the once-dying babysitter lunged over a nearby worker. Jack's fire poker dangled from her chest like some sort of weird fashion accessory as she chomped down on her victim's shoulder. Calvin had a brief remembrance of watching preying mantis hunt and trap food in the grass behind his house when he was younger. Though much more graceful and infinitely less terrifying, the approach and execution were nearly identical.

To Calvin's left, Harper's head director, Steve, took refuge behind his large oak desk with the little girl, trying to get out of sight. Jack had dropped the rest of the towels and scrambled to find his footing as he ran back into Nathan. Another scream... this one from in front of Calvin. He turned just in time to see a cloud of papers float through the air as the lead anchorman was set upon by his co-anchor. Calvin turned and locked eyes with Nathan, the only guy in the room he knew he could rely on -- and no words were spoken. They knew what they needed to do.

Nathan took off first, heading for the stairs to the rooftop accessway. He bolted right past Chuck, who clutched his wooden bat for dear life, unsure of how to help. Jack gestured at Nathan as he ran off. "Where the hell is he going? We've got to get out of here!" he shouted.

"Back to the truck, GO!" Wayne called out, grabbing Jack by the sleeve. The two of them raced down the staircase towards the garage, without hesitation.

Calvin went for the office, nearly pulling the glass door from its frame. "Steve, we've gotta go!" he shouted, "grab the girl." The two peeked out from behind the desk.

"I'm not abandoning this office," he said, gripping his chair.

Calvin narrowed his eyes. "Do you really want to die here? It's not the time to be honorable, it's time to survive."

The office director gulped, and looked at the little girl. He looked past Calvin at the chaos unfolding all around the newsroom. With all the glass windows it felt like he was inside some kind of fishbowl. He turned to the girl. "C'mon, stay close to me."

They retreated out from under the desk and lined up beside the door behind Calvin. He peered through the blinds out at the newsroom floor, measuring what they were up against. Calvin suddenly recognized the feeling of cold steel against his lower back and remembered the pistol had taken from Ross' office. He pulled it from his waistband and checked it to confirm what he already knew: there were two bullets left. Calvin handed his crowbar to Steve, who took it reluctantly. "Aim for the head," he advised, "and do whatever you have to to keep that girl alive."

The man nodded his understanding, and Calvin pulled the glass door open by the handle. The cacophony from outside the office spilled in, as Calvin's heart began to beat faster. Nobody was going to call cut if he missed his mark here. There were no do-overs or re-takes. He couldn't afford to screw up now. There were too many people counting on him.

As they stepped out of the office, Calvin shielded the other two with his back, aiming the revolver at the babysitter and her first victim. She had taken a nice piece of the WEND employee's face off during the assault, but enough of it remained to turn and see Calvin. It's hulking frame rounded on Calvin, oblivious to anything around it as it stumbled towards him. The girl noticed too, growling with anticipation as she shambled behind.

Nathan still hadn't returned from the roof with Harper. He knew it would be a deathtrap to follow after them, but they were running out of time. The two newscasters and a couple of their camera crew had already broken through the partition to the studio, dragging their bloodied bodies across tables of equipment and soundboards.

Steve hugged the girl close to him as he rushed towards the stairwell to join the others. Calvin backed towards the door, stretching his neck to see if there were any other survivors on the floor, but all he could make out were the droning walking corpses of his undead pursuers. He stood defiantly in the doorway, unwilling to closer the door... knowing full well he'd be closing out any hope of Nathan and Harper getting back safely.

The first walker was within arms reach now as it groped the air trying to get ahold of Calvin. He leveled the revolver at its head and placed his finger over the trigger. Two bullets wasn't a lot, though, and it seemed like a waste. Cursing to himself, he holstered the gun and drew out the pair of scissors he had swiped earlier. Calvin launched himself at the babysitter, driving the blade through her temple and kicking her to the floor. He composed himself barely in time to receive the next assailant, but the walker tripped over the babysitter's corpse and latched itself onto Calvin's pants. The two of them stumbled backwards to the floor with a crash. The walker snarled and snapped its teeth, ferociously, clawing at Calvin with its sharp nails. He kicked and kicked at it trying desperately to separate himself from the walker's clutches, and eventually gained some traction on the ground. Calvin scuttled towards the stairwell using the doorknob handle to pull himself up. He felt the tug of something at his leg and looked down to see that he was partially entangled in the walker's headset.

A thought suddenly crossed Calvin's mind as he grabbed hold of the mic and earpiece and rolled through the doorway. Steve slammed the door shut behind him, blocking any other walkers from entering the stairwell. The little girl watched precociously from a few steps further down. The old man helped Calvin to his feet, and brushed him off. "Close one..."

"You're tellin' me..." Calvin said between breaths. He lifted the headset to his ear and called out, hoping to god that the lifeline to his only friends would somehow come through. "Harper? It's Calvin? Do you read me?"

Silence. And then-- her voice.

"Calvin?"

"Harper! Are you guys alright?"

He could hear the wind blaring against her mic. "We're stuck on the roof," she began, "Maxine and some of the others are blocking the stairwell and we don't have any weapons up here."

Calvin closed his eyes, silently cursing to himself. Steve took the girl by her shoulders and started to lead her down to the garage. As the pair stepped through the door, Calvin could make-out loud voices coming from inside. "There's even more of them down in the newsroom. Steve and I and some of the others made it to the garage..."

Her voice cracked slightly as she said, "We're separated?"

"Looks like it," he said as he ran his hand through his hair. It seemed to be one thing after another. Every person, every minute, a new obstacle. "Sit tight. I'll think of something."

Calvin plugged the earpiece into his ear and jogged the rest of the way down the stairs. He had a feeling he was about to step into a whole different shit show.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)
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Harper Hopkins



Nathan burst out of the stairwell door, rushing as he burst out onto the rooftop and met Harper and Schantz mid-shoot. Harper did her best to not look terrified as she regurgitated statements that had been thrown out by George and Maxine earlier.

He looked over to the small metal "hangar" housing the news department's traffic chopper, operated in conjunction with a radio station's traffic service. The station's pilot for the day had stayed out of the way of the broadcast, preferring to keep in touch on the emergency radio and look over the edge of the roof on occasion.

Harper kept talking. Schantz kept filming. Nathan headed over to the pilot to ask what was going on up there; the pilot informed him that all aircraft were encouraged to stay out of the air and stay safe on the ground if there was no immediate emergency situation. The station's location in West Hollywood was headlong through massive looting and carnage, but not nearly as bad as downtown L.A. or the residential neighborhoods.

At some point, Harper stopped talking. Schantz looked up from her camera. Their newscast director had abandoned the booth and was screaming within earshot of his microphone.

There was no broadcast.

Schantz smushed the "record" button off and stood back from the camera. "Hey, anybody there?" she asked into the channel, hoping desperately that someone had taken the a portable headset that connected to the frequency.

Harper frowned, then glanced at Nathan talking to the pilot. He'd come back to check on them, after whatever had happened downstairs. That was awfully considerate of him.

"Nathan!" she called out, gesturing him over to her as she picked up the cords coming from her earpiece and mic. "What happened down there?"

He left the pilot to monitor his radio and rushed to her, standing in front of both her and Schantz. "Okay, here's the deal," he said, raising his hands in front of him. "Maxine's dead." The two women's jaws dropped. "And that's the good news. The bad news is, these other people came in the newsroom and brought some dying girl with them. We tried to help her, but she started to go crazy, bit a few people... Maxine did the same thing. Except she was in the studio. She totally ate George's face."

"What do we do?!" Schantz asked anxiously. "We can't stay here. We've got to go."

"Come on, you guys have to follow me back down," he said to them quickly.

A loud bang came from the area of the elevator and stairwell. Through the windows of the metal door they could see Maxine's bloody face and smashed nose, ahead of a few other similar faces. On their side, smooth doorknobs made opening the door harder than a handle or push-lever would have. Wrenching hands punched the metal by the glass.

Safe, for now.

"Nathan, there's no way I'm following you that way," Harper said after a brief moment of surprise.

The channel fizzled to life when Calvin buzzed them via the other portable headset. After the quick exchange, the four communed close to the helicopter.

"Okay," Harper said, calmly looking at the pilot, "we're going to need to leave the roof. You're going to take us."

The pilot nodded. "Yep, I can," he said immediately, "but this is a small chopper. Can't hold much more weight."

"That's all right," Harper answered quickly, "we don't have much up here to carry down. This is the only way out. We need to go to a safe place."

"What about a military base?" Schantz blurted out. "They've got walls. And guns. Lots of guns."

Nathan nodded to Harper. "We went to Seal Beach a few weeks back, remember?" he asked. "It's just south of here. We can fly down that way."

"They'll want to know who we are," the pilot stated calmly, "but I bet lots of people are heading that way."

Harper nodded. "Yes, but they won't have a helicopter. And I see no other way of getting down."

Nathan had to agree with her. There were no ugly green curtains to get them out of a jam this time.

The door banged. Schantz drew in a sharp breath. "Oh shit, oh shit!" she said quickly. She pulled off her headset and handed it to Nathan. "I'm helping the pilot. You, figure it out with the others." She took off with the pilot to help with flight prep, something she'd done what had felt like a million times before.

Nathan jammed the headset on and clicked to talk to Calvin. "Yo, Calvin, mind grabbing some gear out of lock number 56? I've got my favorite tripod and metal bat in there," he called out. Harper made a few numbers with her hands. "Oh, and Harper's is number 40. Just bash the locks, don't worry about combos. Open all the lockers and take what's there if you want. I'll take the flak if this whole thing's a joke."

Setting

Characters Present

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) 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: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)
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Harper Hopkins



Harper sat down on her cot and stared ahead at the white wall, her mind racing.

She didn't trust the volunteer who had told her that they'd keep them in the loop about Stevie. It was something they probably told everybody just to keep calm in the area. They were probably tired, overworked, and constantly being screamed at by anyone who could get near them. She recalled a colleague in Atlanta who had covered the events that unfolded after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast, how disorganized everything had been, how angry the people were... It had been years since it happened, but it still stood to say that even the best-laid plans didn't always work out.

Nathan sat down next to her and glanced at Schantz, who looked at them curiously from her cot. She'd stowed Stevie's bag near her feet in order to prevent any curious eyes and prying hands from spotting easy property to take. "Let me guess," Schantz said calmly.

Nathan nodded. "Yeah, you figured right," he responded. He looked over at Harper, who was obviously concerned about losing a member of their group. They hadn't been together long, but as they all had agreed upon earlier, sticking together was the very best course of action that anyone could choose to take.

"Well, there's good news." Schantz handed Stevie's cell phone to the two. "Looks like a cell tower is working."

The two peered into the screen. Schantz had directed a web browser to IAmStillAlive.com, and had happily discovered that her family in rural Kansas had thought to list their names. Schantz had done the same for herself. "My family's got an arsenal in their farmhouse. I knew how to shoot pretty good by the time I was 9," she said proudly.

Harper was thrilled to find her family's names under the "North Carolina" tab, centered around her hometown of Cary. Nathan was also very fortunate; his family just north in the Central Valley had also listed their names. It must have helped that none of their families lived in areas that were very heavily populated. Harper took a moment to check out "Darden"; she remembered Mark once mentioning that Stevie visited her family in Washington, D.C. pretty frequently. No indication one way or the other.

Chatter in the tent about the water purification system having failed... how New York was bombed, how Los Angeles was crawling with the dead... jittery people, anxious children.

The air thumped heavily with the sound of aircraft above... both planes and helicopters. The intermittent gunshots riveting outside a short distance away, further scaring the growing number of people in the tent.

Harper was angry. Why weren't they being told anything?

The three stuck in the same place, too scared to stay but even more scared to leave.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)
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Harper Hopkins


"It's working!" Schantz' idea to hotwire the damn thing actually worked.

Harper and Nathan hopped into the older-model SUV and slammed the doors behind them. Schantz slammed her foot on the gas pedal and they motored ahead, leaving the three walkers in their rearview mirror as they took off along the grass beside the highway.

Smoke from nearby car fires plumed up into the air like black clouds, hanging over the sky like a low ceiling against the nearly-set sun. Some people still occupied their cars, huddled inside like scared rabbits. It wouldn't be long before the sun would set and cast cool darkness over southern California, plunging the camp and others into a new category of danger.

Harper looked out of the backseat window while Nathan and Schantz discussed whether they ought to head east toward the Ontatio airport or south toward Hollywood. Schantz reasoned that the airport would be farther out from the city and possibly feature some kind of safe haven behind a fence; Nathan reasoned that if bombs would drop that a dent must have been put into the walker population in the metro area, and they'd have to find Calvin.

# # #

"Did you hear that?!" Schantz suddenly exclaimed, jumping up from her place and staring at the wall of the tent.

"Hear what?" Nathan asked.

"That rumble!"

"No. Someone just dropped something huge. Hopefully it's a big box of food. They still haven't opened food service and we've been here for how many hours, now?"

Harper ignored him as she looked in the direction that Schantz had, and immediately dashed for the entrance. A large group gathered, staring westward at the sky; a few heavy jets slowly inched along the sky. "They're flying over the city!" someone cried out.

"Are they planning on bombing it?!"

A hush broke out over the group gathered before dispersing minutes later. It wouldn't be long before an all-out panic would break out and cause complete pandemonium. Harper looked at the other two; it was clear that they were thinking the same thing.

It wouldn't be long before the sun would begin to set. They had to get out, bombs or not.

"We have to go get Stevie," Schantz said, tearing into the bag and pulling out a small red wallet. She opened it and pulled out her driver's license. "Here, this is how we find her. Where'd they take her?"

Nathan gestured off in one direction. "They've fenced off the hospital area, whatever it is," he said, "someone said there've been walkers coming through there. Saying people die after the fever."

"We've got to get there right now!" Harper said steadily, trying to hide the frustration in her voice.

The three took off, running a ways to the fence surrounding the large medical unit, surrounded by several smaller units. A helicopter similar to the one that brought them to the camp was grounded beyond the fence. Maybe it was the same one. No idea.

Nathan pointed. "Hey, what do you know," he commented, nodding toward the tall stranger who had come to say goodbye to Stevie the night before. "The Canadian." He stood in the vicinity of the huge craft with a few other uniformed men.

"Hey!" Schantz called out to the man promptly. Nothing. "Hey! Canada!" He turned his head slightly, then turned back. Schantz called out again, gripping her fingers through the chain links and shaking furiously. He fully turned toward them this time, staring stoic-faced. "Are you going to come over here or what?!"

Harper balked a little at Schantz, then looked forward. "Do you know where Stephanie is?!" she called out loudly.

The man stood still, then looked around him and cautiously walked up to the fence after saying something to the others near him. "Pardon?" he asked in a dry but polite fashion after leaning toward the three.

Harper nodded. "We're looking for our friend Stevie," she said, "her real name is Stephanie. Darden."

"Ma'am, I honestly don't know," he responded, eyeing the three coolly. "The only names I know here are mine and my team's."

"You know her," Harper said. He stared back. "Short. Glasses. Blue dress!" she rattled off, trying to think of what Stevie had looked like when she was on the frigate. "You said goodbye to her!" Schantz held up her driver's license.

His expression remained calm while he paused and studied the card. But it was clear that he understood now. "Start over again," he instructed carefully. "Tell me what's going on."

"She's sick," Harper said hurriedly, "not with the flu, she just gets sick sometimes, and it happened to hit. They stuck her in quarantine. We don't know anything else. But we've got to get her out of here."

He shook his head. "I've got no idea where she is," he said.

"She's in quarantine!" Schantz insisted.

"She just said that," he answered, gesturing slightly toward Harper.

"Well, can we look for her?" Schantz fired back.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you in here."

There was a long, tense pause as the three looked at him, anxious and frustrated. His face hadn't changed a single bit since he approached the fence.

"I'll keep an eye out for her," he finally said, breaking the silence. He looked over his shoulder and then turned back to the trio, looking directly at Harper and hushing his voice. "But I'm going to tell you something. Things aren't looking good. Get a vehicle and get out."

Harper shook her head. "We can't leave her," she said emphatically. "I know you're in a tough position, but-"

"Ma'am, just head to a safe place."

The three looked back over their shoulders. The tension in the air was palatable.

Nathan nodded. "Okay, we'll do that." Harper darted her head over sharply, surprised that he acquiesced to anything at all.

Schantz held up Stevie's phone and wallet, and tried to angle them through the fence. "At least give her these," she said, far calmer than before. The man took the items and pocketed them.

"Thank you," Harper said quietly, unsure if it really had been any help at all at this point. "Maybe we'll run into you somewhere."

He nodded a good-bye and they scurried toward the edge of the camp.


# # #

"There's an airport not far from here," Harper said calmly. "I think that's where we should go. If it's a place we can get to by tonight."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)
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Harper Hopkins


"Shit! Turn around, turn around, turn around!" Nathan barked at Schantz. She promptly stomped on the brake pedal and curled the SUV over the median and promptly back onto the other side of the freeway--the nearly-empty inbound side. "Wait, wait, where the hell are you going?!"

"Got any better ideas?!" she yelled back at him, sticking her foot angrily on the gas and speeding ahead, heading west on 10.

30... 50... 70... 90 mph...

Harper gripped her seatbelt and looked over her shoulder--the herd of walkers blocking the highway from Inland Empire had taken note of the vehicle and started to inch along in the slowest hot pursuit possible. She looked ahead at Nathan, red-faced and pointing ahead. "Harper said we're going to the airport!"

"'Harper this'! 'Harper that'!" Schantz screamed back mockingly. "Pretty fucking sure Harper is smart enough to see that we can't get through those fuckers back there!"

"You're the one who suggested the airport in the first place!"

"And you're the one who suggested we go back into the city and find what's-his-name. You're getting what you wanted!"

Schantz sped fast, darting amongst the cars at breakneck speed as though she were driving a Ferrari and not a clunky, older SUV. Both she and Nathan had red faces as they continued to argue. Harper tuned out, trying hard to remain calm and keep from screaming, herself. It sure was tempting to reach into Stevie's bag and pull out one of those Xanax tabs...

Onward they drove, past walkers and people alike wandering the road. Harper thought that she could see the white tents of the FEMA camps in the background, orange with fire and blackened with smoke--or was she imagining it? The place was likely being overrun by walkers by now. At least, maybe it would be in the coming hours. That herd was certainly heading toward the city, but it had been even closer to the camp.

"Did you see that?!" Schantz called out suddenly. Harper looked ahead through the window--a bright flare was flying up into the sky, sparkling brightly, almost like fireworks. "Someone set that off. We can go there."

"We don't know what's out there!" Nathan insisted, at this point wanting to argue almost everything that Schantz was saying. "We don't know who those people could be!"

"Okay, Nathan, let me spell it out r-e-a-l s-l-o-w for you," Schantz bit back, taking one hand off of the steering wheel to slowly circle a pointed finger in the air, "we're fucked if we're out there alone, and we could be fucked if we go there, but either way, we are LESS fucked if we go there."

Harper stayed quiet, not wanting to further antagonize the situation while the car was moving at such a pace.

"GodDAMMIT!" Nathan yelled, holding his head in his hands and stomping his foot on the floor angrily.

"It's over the Hollywood sign!" Schantz called out. "I'm taking 101 to Beachwood, people. That's the fastest way to get there!"

"I swear to God, Schantz, if we get killed, you better die first!" Nathan retorted.

Schantz rolled her eyes. "Yes, you look SO impressive right now, yelling at me, in front of your big fancy crush!"

Nathan shut his mouth instantly and turned white. Harper felt her own face flushing and sunk down in her seat, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.

"Now just let me drive. You okay back there, Harper?"

Harper nodded carefully. "Yep, right as rain," she said back quickly, again not wanting to add to the tension. "You know where you're going..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC)
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"Whoa, whoa, whoa, what the hell is that?" Nathan snapped as the short series of fireworks burst in the sky.

Schantz' jaw dropped slightly as she kept one eye on the road and examined the fireworks sparkling with the other. "You've got to be kidding me," she drawled slowly, still gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles.

"What do you mean?" Harper asked from the backseat, ducking her head between both front seats to stare out the windshield with the other two.

"Those are OUR fireworks," Schantz pointed out.

"Are you kidding me?" Nathan replied. "How do you know?"

"Those are our New Year's Eve fireworks!" she retorted sharply. "I've been helping launch those for years!"

"How do you know?!"

"Because we launch red ones only!"

Nathan paused briefly. "Wait, I remember helping take those damn things down into the locker room!"

"Do you think that's Calvin?" Harper asked, turning her head to Schantz.

The gruff woman nodded fervently. "I'm just about positive that's them. If they've got a van and they stuck a bunch of shit in there, then they're guaranteed to be in there."

"How do you know that?" Nathan asked curiously.

Schantz pointed ahead in the direction of the Hollywood sign, which in all reality was not too far away, maybe a further five minutes' worth of a fast drive. "Who's with them? Chuck? Steve wouldn't be stupid enough to grab fireworks. Your buddy Calvin doesn't know what those things look like. Those other people who came in don't, either. But you know who does? Chuck. He helped bring them down in January. He knows."

Nathan rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, Chuck wouldn't do that," he insisted.

Schantz shook her head. "That guy is just about as bullshit as they come, Nathan. He would TOTALLY do something like this."

"But why?"

A low rumble passed over their heads, and a few dark figures zippes along the skyline, blinking lights twinkling at the tail ends. Harper's face fell. "Those are jets."

"Think they'll be dropping the bombs?" Nathan asked.

Schantz didn't say anything; she just stomped her foot farther down on the gas pedal, hoping that those orders would hold off just long enough to get up there and see if there were indeed familiar faces on that hill.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Chuck Cherry (NPC)
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"What the hell was that?!" Nathan said as the car came to a jarring stop after spinning out wildly off the side of the road.

The firetruck had seemingly come out of nowhere, sirens blaring and lights obnoxiously flashing, causing Schantz to lose control of the vehicle as it clumsily lurched to avoid them. The urgency with which it flew down the road just served to heighten their nerves; just moments ago they saw what almost looked like a straight line of fire cut through the congestion of buildings not far from them. It was hard to register what they'd seen--this kind of thing just wasn't supposed to happen.

Schantz quickly put the car back on the path and continued climbing up, up, and up the hill. They followed the heavy tracks of the firetruck that had just whirled past them to a small clearing featuring about ten nervous people, shielding their eyes from the oncoming headlights.

"Hey, they came into the newsroom with the girl who got bit," Nathan said, pointing toward Jack and Lillian. Neither Harper nor Schantz had been in the newsroom during the chaos that had erupted after those newcomers had entered, leaving Nathan as the only one capable of making that connection.

Schantz stopped the vehicle and stepped out onto the dusty ground at the same time as Nathan did, both approaching the group. Harper took the opportunity to quietly sneak a tablet out of the clear orange prescription bottle from Stevie's satchel and wandered to stare out at the view over the city, featuring rapidly-catching fires that originated with that first strike from the sky.

She couldn't even pay attention to the conversation going on with the main part of the group. Schantz and Nathan were talking with the man in the leather jacket and a few other people who stepped forward, filling them in about what had transpired. She watched the fire spread over the metropolis below, her mind suddenly freezing as she began to think about her family back east, Stevie at the camp, and other co-workers and friends who must have been worried about the same things she was... if they were even alive.

Harper felt the back of her pant leg tug. She turned to look down, and saw a small blonde girl staring up at her. "You're only wearing one shoe," she said simply.

Harper looked down at her feet and smiled at the one worn white flat. It was a little pathetic. She laughed a little and turned to the girl and nodded. "You're right," she said. "Looks like I'll need to fix that soon, huh?"

"I hope so," the little girl responded, "because it looks like you're going to need them." She looked down and dug her toe in the ground. "I'm Lillian. I remember seeing you on the TV in that office. Are you Harper?"

Harper nodded. "I am. It's nice to meet you. Have you seen Steve?"

Lillian shrugged. "He and James and Wayne went to go look for Calvin... but Calvin came back and they haven't yet."

Harper's eyes widened. "He did? Where is he?" she asked, looking around in all directions and preparing to step off toward him to ask him what happened--and instead saw a familiar figure lying on the ground, his head drenched in a thick pool of blood starting to turn to mud thanks to the dust. Her face went white. "I... Lillian, is that-"

"Yes, that's Chuck," she said. Harper noticed that she was nervously keeping her back toward the corpse. She then began to spill the beans in a somewhat jumbled but precocious childlike fashion. "No one's telling me anything. But I think that Calvin and Jack got into trouble. Chuck came back alone a long time ago, and then James and Wayne and Steve went to look for them, and then Chuck set off fireworks even though people told him not to. Then Calvin and Jack came back with the van, and then this firetruck showed up with these people. They shot Chuck in the head and took Calvin with them." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a familiar-looking set of keys. "Calvin dropped these. But I picked them up after the firetruck left. I think they belong to the van."

Harper's mouth hung open in shock. She looked at the small group talking, and caught Jack's eye and then looked back to Lillian. He looked back at her for about a second too long before Nathan was able to track what Jack was looking at. Nathan's face twitched just slightly, veiled frustration in his expression as he looked back at Jack and continued to participate in the conversation.

"Thank you," Harper said to Lillian as she took the keys. "Stick with us, all right?"

Lillian smiled and pointed to the group. "You need to go talk to Jack and the others."

Harper complied, wondering if she was strangely obeying a child's orders or if the little girl just happened to say exactly what needed to be done.

"Harp, we've got to make a decision," Schantz said as the taller woman approached. "Chuck's dead, and-"

"I know," Harper said quietly, bringing her hand up to her mouth anxiously, partially annoyed that the Xanax hadn't yet kicked in and partially to demonstrate interest in the conversation. "Lillian's filled me in." She tossed the keys to Nathan and looked toward the van, thrilled to see a familiar large green rucksack stashed in the back, visible through the open back doors. Excellent--they'd brought the bag containing a few things she kept at the station in case she had to rush out of town for an assignment or stay late due to breaking news: her flak vest and helmet from her overseas assignment, an extra bag of makeup and a hairbrush, a blanket, a few bottles of dry shampoo kept for emergencies, a few books, a change of clothes and a pair of backup boots, and odds and ends from her desk such as pens and notebooks and even a flashlight. She'd even had that rucksack overseas with her to carry whatever she had.

A few other people were packing up their vehicles, and preparing to leave. Harper watched them momentarily and then looked again at the others. "It might be good if we left." Her eyes also looked up to the sky to watch another jet careening high above their heads. Larger, clunkier aircraft rumbled low over the city below.

"Where would we go from here?" Nathan asked. "Higher ground seems safer."

Jack shook his head and pointed at Chuck. "Are you kidding? Now those assholes know where we are. We can't stay here."

"But where do we go?" Nathan asked irritably.

"There's an underground tunnel system," Schantz volunteered, "that's got the railway, and lots of other spots, too. I think it's our best shot. We have to go underground."

"What makes you so sure that the bombs won't affect that?" Nathan posited curiously.

Schantz shrugged. "I dunno, we used to do it during tornados back home. We had a shelter under the house through these doors we'd lock behind us. If the sky turned green, we had to be down there in three minutes or we were going to be screwed. Same principle could apply here."

The jet soared once again above their heads. A couple of cars took off down the long dusty path to the highway.

"Jack and Schantz are right," Harper said quickly, seeing Chuck's stiff corpse still down in the muddied pool of blood in the corner of her eye. "Those people sound absolutely horrible. We have to plan how we're going to get Calvin back."

Nathan nodded, and Schantz shook her head. "We can't worry about that right now," she quipped fast, "for all we know, he's dead and the same thing can happen to us if we go near those creeps."

Harper took a breath. "You're right, we should first worry about where to go," she said, "but we have to go back and get Calvin."

The jet circled above again.

And then it hit Harper fast. They were surveying the area before letting another set of bombs cascade down onto the ground. The hill might be next.

Harper pointed fast at Nathan and the keys. "Nathan, get the van prepped and ask if anyone wants to ride with us, right now," she instructed, "Tara, get the SUV cranked up. Lillian and I are coming with you." She worked hard to keep the panic from showing in her voice.

Jack turned to Schantz' direction, but looked mostly at Harper. "I can drive if you wa-"

"Nope, you're coming with me," Nathan broke in quickly, "let's get these people in." Jack stared again at Harper and then took off with Nathan, rounding up the remaining four at the hastily-made camp.

"Follow me!" Schantz called out at them as the three headed to the SUV, Harper quickly snatching her pack out of the back of the van before running with them. Harper sat up front with Schantz and let Lillian take the backseat as the engine started and hummed to life. Within moments the two vehicles were on the ground, thrumming down the hill.

"Look!" Lillian pointed from the backseat at a truck coming up the hill. "It's James and Wayne and Steve!"

Schantz clicked the headlights at the truck, which complied in stopping and turning around to follow the news van down the hill. Harper was glad that the other three would be able to join them, after all.

After a short few minutes but several miles away, as Schantz once again drove as fast as she could, the rearview mirror showed them a massive blast of fire, followed by loud rumbling bangs. These bombs were close. Lillian scrambled into the cargo area to gape out of the back window as Schantz guided everyone toward the nearest underground metro entrance as fast as she could.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC)
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The small group rushed down the still-running escalators and down into the tunnels, the electricity somehow providing light despite the odds. The entrance had been smartly but simply barricaded and they'd left the vehicles in that vicinity, hauling whatever they could out of them just in case they weren't there later.

Harper dashed ahead, finally wearing a pair of boots and able to rush and keep pace with the others, hauling her tan rucksack on her back. The trains weren't running, and the platform was oddly vacant. Lillian held Schantz' hand, who carried her own duffel bag that had been pulled out of her own locker. All three rushed down, two other women accompanying them. The men had insisted on them going ahead while they kept an eye on the walkers lumbering their way toward the metro. A train filled the tunnelway; Schantz and Harper forced the doors open and crammed themselves inside, ducking down onto the floor. The others filtered their way down and stuck themselves through the train's door.

The ground rumbled above them.

"Hit the ground NOW!" James shouted out loud.

Everyone dove down onto the rubberized floor of the train, a huge "BOOM!" shattering through the underground tunnel and nearly shaking the stopped train on its tracks. The lights flickered on and off. Steve covered Lillian's head with his arm.

Another "BOOM!" cracked above and rumbled the train off and on its tracks again. Nathan spotted streams of dirt flying down onto the platform from the ceiling, but the foundation still held, all the same.

"BOOM!"

The train jumped upward off of its tracks, thumping heavily down at an angle, lying almost on its side, propped up by the ledge of the platform. There were surprised yelps or exclamations of pain as everyone slammed up against seats and windows, unprepared for the impact.

"BOOM!"

The car jolted and shook over and over again.

"BOOM!"

"BOOM!"

"BOOM!"

It went on and on and on, until finally the train stopped shaking and the noises stopped.

Harper opened her eyes, which she'd squeezed shut as their safe haven tipped over. She also found her hand squeezing Jack's, who was hunched uncomfortably by a nearby bench seat. Jack grinned broadly at Nathan, who glowered darkly at him from just a few feet away, even though he was just as shocked and jarred as anyone else by getting bounced around like a town inside a snow globe.

And then the lights flickered off, even inside the car. A long, awkward pause followed.

"You've GOT to be kidding me," Wayne blurted out with nearly perfect timing.

# # #

It had been a long, awkward trek downward. Nathan and Jack didn't click back at the station, and they certainly weren't clicking now, either.

After James' truck screeched to a stop and whirled behind them, they finally hit Mulholland, and followed Schantz as she wound through. Nathan wondered if she wasn't trying to get everyone into the underground metro.

"You're awfully quiet." Jack finally broke the silence. "Your name is Nathan, right? Didn't catch your name back at the station. Things kinda happened fast."

Nathan nodded. "Yep. That's me. Jack, huh?"

There was another long pause.

"Calvin told me your name. So that's Harper, huh? You're her camera guy." Jack cracked a small grin in the corner of his mouth. "You must love your job."

Nathan bristled. He didn't at all like the idea of this guy being near or talking about her. "We're a good team," he warned, "I've been working with her for months."

"So is that why you ditched us?" Jack asked slowly. He saw Nathan's face turn red. "Help your girlfriend out?"

"First off, nobody ditched you guys," Nathan insisted angrily. "We couldn't go down. Walkers in the hall and in the elevator. We had to fly out. Crashed in the water. Got out, somehow. You try it sometime," he added, curling his lip as he jerked the steering wheel to follow close but expediently. Those jets were continuing to circle up above.

"What's the second part?" Jack queried nonchalantly. Nathan looked toward him, confused. "You said, 'first off.'"

"Oh." Nathan frowned. "Second off, she's not my girlfriend."

Jack glanced out the window and nodded. "That's interesting." He knew full well that he was getting on Nathan's last nerve, for no other reason than to simply entertain himself at Nathan's expense.

Nathan felt his stomach flip. He could feel his dislike intensifying for Jack. He inwardly resolved to do what he could to keep Harper away from someone that he just had a bad feeling about.

"We've got company," Jack broke in, pointing to the concentration of walkers just ahead.


# # #

Harper steadied herself and pulled the pack from her back, reaching inside and pulling out her flashlight. "Is everyone okay?" she asked as she flicked the switch on and a circle of brightness shone through the window facing the platform. She directed the beam around the car, taking note of everyone's faces with alert expressions. "Everyone here?" Several noises came back acknowledging her question.

James let out a long sigh. The still darkness made it difficult to understand others without seeing their faces. "We've got to get out of here," he said simply. "Think that everyone can lean over and tilt this tin can back up?" The group promptly climbed up toward the diagonal ceiling. "On the count of three... one... two... THREE!"

The effort exerted by the ten people hurling themselves against the railcar's window proved laughably futile. As this railcar was connected on both sides to others, weighing it down considerably.

"Worth a shot, right?" James cracked, his dry voice trying hard to shield any worry. "Can we get that door open?"

Harper continued to shine to the flashlight through the window, spotting the silhouettes of a couple of figures out on the floor. She froze as she studied their movements, and could feel a collective silence and holding of breaths as others noticed them. Luckily, they were not staggering around lifelessly or aimlessly... they were real people. She tapped her flashlight on the glass and shifted the flashlight's beam quickly back and forth, hoping to get their attention and obtain help.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Molly LeFleur (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong
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#, as written by Zephon
Rafiq Chedidi

---

“Another can of beans.” Rafiq placed it next to the others.

“Well, at least we won’t be lacking for beans for a while,” Molly said while scribbling it down in the notebook. Feeling useless because of her ankle, she had asked Rafiq to help out making an inventory of everything that they had. Figuring out rations was probably a good idea.

“I don’t like beans,” Sam said from behind his comic. His mother looked at him reproachfully. He did not notice, as he was already back in the wonderful world of the Marvel universe. It suddenly hit Rafiq that the kid was probably reading the last story Marvel would ever publish.

The door flung open and Niobe and Carl sashayed in. Annabelle peeked in behind them, smiled and then returned to her watch duty.

“Where is George?” Niobe asked, dropping a stuffed backpack near the others.

“Hello to you too,” Jessica responded with a tinge of sarcasm.

“Yeah, yeah, where is George?”

“On watch,” Rafiq said and nodded towards the other door. “Did something happen?”

She simply looked at him for a second and then went to find George without saying another word. Carl shrugged at them apologetically.

“What’s her problem?” Molly asked indignant.

“Nothing,” Carl said. He reached over to a bag of potato chips, but thought better of it when he saw the way Molly was looking at him. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Anyway, we ran into some people. Niobe wants to talk with George first before we decide... uh... on things.”

Rafiq looked at Molly, who seemed equally confused. “Things?” He asked, “what things?”

Carl thought for a second but then figured there was no point in lying.

“We got to Capitol Records, where we ran into a bunch of-“


BOOM!

The sudden noise made him shut up as a shock all went through them. For a moment, they all just sat there. Stunned.

BOOM!

“The bombs!” Rafiq shouted, “Get down!” He hoped he could hear them, but if they did not, they all seemed to have the same idea, as they all crouched down on the floor. Jessica ran to her son and covered his ears.

BOOM!

BOOM!


Annebelle scrambled back into the room, having realized that the room was safer then the tunnel outside. Jessica had told them earlier that this room was as earthquake proof as an underground place could get. They had hoped this would be the same for bombs as well.

BOOM!

BOOM!


It felt different from an earthquake though. There was a lot more noise for one thing. And it was apparent that the danger came from above. Rafiq had instinctively wrapped his arm around Molly, who in turn was holding his other hand.

The bombs went on for a while longer, but then eventually died away. Rafiq could feel his heart racing and sweat was trickling down his forehead.

Once they were sure it was over, Rafiq helped Molly up. She was a bit pale, but otherwise not in any visible signs of panic. The others seemed to cope as well, considering the situation. It was unnerving to think what would have happened if they had not been here. This was not the moment to just sit down though.

“We have to make sure the others are okay,” Rafiq said. He picked up one of the flashlights they had collected earlier.

“What about Sarah?” Molly asked. Rafiq swallowed hard. He did not want to think it, but if the girl had not gotten underground, she was probably dead. It made him feel sad.

“One thing at a time,” he heard himself say, although it came out a lot colder then he meant too. He turned around and left the room. Carl and Jessica followed.

The tunnel was dark. The bombs must have cut of the power, Rafiq thought to himself. Thankfully, George would not have gone far.

Just as that thought came into his head, they could make out George and Niobe leaning against the wall. They appeared alright.

“Oh my God, you are okay.” Jessica said loudly and ran towards them. George held up a hand and indicated for them to be quiet.

“Yes, we are alright,” he said in a low voice, “and you guys?”

“We are all fine,” Rafiq whispered. “What’s happening?”

Niobe took a step away from the wall and looked at something a bit away from them. It was a train, derailed. “Just before the bombs fell, this group ran inside that train. They have not seen me or George. We were lucky. That railcar not so much.”

They carefully shuffled closer to the train. Those people might be in need of a help. At the same time, they might be trouble. Or worse, they might have died and turned into walkers. George lifted his gun and Rafiq and the others did the same.

Suddenly a light fell upon them. It danced away and around them. Someone inside that train was trying to get their attention.

“They are trapped,” Rafiq said.

“That they do,” George said in a flat tone.

Rafiq was the first to reach the train. Through the glass, he could make out a number of people. There were ten of them, including a little girl. They would outnumber his little group, but then again, they did not seem particular dangerous. It was quite a mix match of people.

The woman with the flashlight was shouting something, but he could barely make it out through the thick glass. It was clear what she wanted though. Getting out.

He looked at George, remembering what happened earlier that day with the man in the wheelchair. If he did not want to help these people...

Thankfully, George was not that cruel. “Alright,” he sighed, “let’s try to get them out. Still, be careful everyone.”

Rafiq gave the woman in the train a reassuring smile, which seemed to ease her tension a bit. She said something to her fellow people and backed away. Together with Carl and George, Rafiq tried to pull the door open. With the way the train had fallen, this proved to be quite difficult, as the door was heavy and gravity against them. Yet, they managed and after a couple of grunts and cursing, the door swung open.

The woman with the flashlight was the first to get out and was about to say something, until she saw the gun in George’s hand, who was pointing it straight at her. “What the...” she began.

“Look,” George said, “we don’t want to do you guys any harm. But I’m sure you understand that we have to make sure you are not the wrong kind of people.” He placed a deliberate emphasis on the word 'we'.

A man propped his head behind the woman. He was angry, “Come on! We already had a shit day!”

George narrowed his eyes, but focused his attention on the woman. “You seem like a reasonable lady,” he said, “I only ask of you people to get out of the train one by one and see if you are carrying any weapons.”

The woman nodded. “That is only sensible,” she said.

They did as George asked and got out of the train one by one. They all lifted their hands in the air upon coming out, indicating that they were not holding any weapons.

“Alright,” George said, “that was not that bad, was it?” As he said that, he lowered his gun as a sign of goodwill. They all just stood there, not sure what to do next.

At that moment, they could hear another bomb falling in the distance. It was not close enough to do any damage, but nearly all of them looked up at the ceiling regardless.

Another bomb fell, clearly audible this time.

Later, he would be amazed at the fact how he was the one who had made the decision. But at that moment, all Rafiq could think of was to get everyone to safety.

“George!” He shouted, “we have to get back to the maintenance room! We’ll figure this out later!”

Niobe and George briefly exchanged looks.

Another bomb.

Niobe nodded.

“You heard the boy! Let’s go!”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Calvin Hawke Character Portrait: Sarah Hawke (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Everett T. Bronson (NPC) Character Portrait: Oliver O'Brien (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Dax Faraday (NPC) Character Portrait: Molly LeFleur (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: Marie Thornes (NPC) Character Portrait: Dyomie Thornes Character Portrait: Natasha Dean Character Portrait: Phillip Wilson (NPC)
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.: Calvin Hawke :.
# Sarah Hawke #


BOOM! BOOM! B-BOOM!

Thunderous quakes shook the ground as dozens of convicts shepherded a hooded man down the halls towards the kitchens. Their riotous noise-making was almost enough to overpower the sound of the distant bombs dropping, but not quite. The captive was corralled across the kitchen tile and thrown into the walk-in freezer. Sarah struggled on the tips of her toes to see what was happening, but the halls were packed with too many bodies. Through the heads of the men ahead of her, she managed to see Oliver force himself into the freezer with a bearded man and the prisoner.

BOOM!

Another explosion in the distance, followed by the aftershock of a neighboring building crumbling to the ground. Sarah looked at the mob of strangers scrambling for cover all around her, feeling absolutely lost and alone. A passing shoulder knocked her to the ground, and Dax -- having witnessed Sarah's fall -- limped over to help her off her hands and knees.

Her eyes lit up when she saw who it was, his bright red hair like a lighthouse amongst the chaos. "T-Thank you," Sarah managed to blurt out. Dax pulled her to her feet, nodding curtly.

"This way," he ordered, starting down one of the side halls. She took his arm, helping to steady the man as they moved away from the frenzied crowd. Sarah looked over her shoulder one last time, hopelessly checking for Oliver in the mass of convicts. She hoped that whatever was happening behind that freezer door had nothing to do with him -- however serious it looked.

If only she knew...


* * *


Inside the freezer, Bronson slammed Calvin against the metal rack, cuffing his right hand to one of its legs. Oliver closed the door behind him as he entered, turning around just as Bronson ripped the bag from Calvin's head. He squinted against the crystal blue fluorescent light -- a bandana crudely tied around his head and mouth in a makeshift gag. His reddened eyes glared back and forth between his two captors as he sat on the freezing plate floor, shackled to the rack behind him.

Oliver shook his head, running one hand over his face to calm his nerves. He waited a beat for Bronson to speak, but knew that the man probably felt he had nothing to explain. Since things had gone down, Bronson had assumed total authority over the surviving convicts, including Oliver -- so much so that the men had coined the monicker "The Warden" for their bearded leader. The assumption was that his orders went without question, his means and deviances without mention -- and in return he would provide security, safety, and sustenance for those who followed him. And the cycle continued, and continued... leaving Oliver as the only real voice of reason. Had things gone down differently, Bronson would have likely killed him during their escape from the prison bus, but he recognized that Oliver was the only reason they survived in the first place. He wondered how long that immunity would hold out for -- given the way things had been going lately.

"What the hell is this, Everett?" Oliver asked, jabbing a finger at Calvin.

Bronson sighed, dramatically. "Now why would you go and use my name -- my God-given birth name -- in front of our prisoner?" Oliver rolled his eyes, as if that was the point here."Are you fucking stupid?"

"Explain this before I get pissed," Oliver replied, already tired of these games. Calvin wrestled with his wrist against the pole, testing the strength of his bindings. Bronson served up a sharp kick in the knee to shut him up, and Calvin yanked his leg back in pain.

"Maybe if you had been around today when I needed you, we wouldn't be in this situation," Bronson chided, circling the floor. "This man murdered my brother," he explained, turning to look at Calvin. The two glared at each other for more than a moment, reveling in their dislike for one another. "He was smart enough not to resist me when I found him, and so I've brought him here to serve his sentence."

Oliver shook his head at the ego of it all. "Serve his sentence? Listen to you! Did you really just break out of prison to start another one?" he scolded. "You ever think of asking him why he killed your brother?"

"Finally, someone with some sense," Calvin chimed in from the floor. Bronson delivered another sharp kick, this time to his shin. His handcuffs rang taut against the rack as he winced in pain, grasping for his leg. Oliver leapt forward, placing his arm across Bronson's chest as he wound up for another kick -- this one aimed at Calvin's stomach.

"You really gonna put hands on me, boy?" Bronson asked, calmly. Oliver eased up, eyeing the man with suspicion. He knew from their time together in the joint just how unpredictable the man could be. It was a very calculated impulsiveness -- one that treaded the fine line between genius and suicidal. But there was something in Oliver's eyes that Bronson didn't like. He wound back, quickly striking out with his elbow against Oliver's jaw. The man reeled backwards into one of the other metal racks, gripping it with all his strength to keep himself steady. Cansan d bags of food clamored on the ground as they were knocked free of their shelves. Bronson was already on him again, this time driving his knee into Oliver's stomach. His limp frame dropped to the ground, effortlessly. This was the real Everett T. Bronson... the "Warden" that everyone whispered about. He reached down and drew a knife out from Oliver's waistband.

BOOM!

The Warden turned to Calvin, examining the knife in his hand like a surgeon with his tools. He inched a few steps closer to his prisoner, pondering his fate...

BOOM!

Another bomb dropped as he placed a foot on Calvin's chest, pinning him against the rack. His other hand grasped Calvin's handcuffed wrist and braced it to the pole, holding the knife close. But, no... it didn't add up. His brother was an idiot -- too much so to be considered his right hand man. Besides, such a small knife would take too long for a proper severing, and Bronson hated doing a messy job. He backed off a bit, watching Calvin wreathe and squirm against his restraints in protest.

BOOM!

Dust sifted down from fresh cracks in the ceiling, falling past Bronson's judging eyes. What was his brother to him? What punishment fit the crime? He supposed that in a way, he was his eyes and ears. Always the talker, never the thinker -- his dear baby brother. That seemed fair enough -- an eye for an eye.

Having finally decided, he looked Calvin straight in his... for the last time.


* * *


+ Niobe Kajja +


The bold young woman kept her weapon held high as she popped out from behind the corner of the overturned train car. The girl kept a steady aim on Niobe as others from the group crept out from behind the car. Niobe watched as the girl's eyes widened and she adjusted the grip on her gun.

"Easy there now, kid," Niobe muttered, keeping as still as could be. Another girl came up from behind the armed one and put her hand on the gun, lowering it.

"There's a little girl with them," she said, nodding in Lily's direction. Dyomie noticed what she was talking about and dropped her guard a bit. Natasha joined them, sauntering out from her hiding spot with her weapon drawn -- Phillip close behind. They looked just like the rest of them... as if they had just been through Hell and back.

BOOM!

They all braced themselves as the entire platform shook again, the metal rails ringing like church bells as parts of the ceiling crumbled from above loosening the tracks. Niobe sized up the four newcomers.

"Look," she called out, "this is the most people I've seen in one place since this all started... so I know I'm not crazy when I say we need to stick together if we're going to have any kind of future here. None of us know each other, I know... but that's the situation we're in." Harper looked at Nathan -- and Steve, who stood behind Lily with his hands on her shoulders. "There's no more how do-you-do's, no more shaking hands and talking about the weather. There is only one thing... survival."

BOOM!

The hanging silence was stifled by yet another explosion. "She's right," Rafiq added, pushing to the front of the crowd. "We can't keep pointing guns at each other when the real enemy is out there." He pointed up towards the streets above. "We have to go deeper into the tunnels until the bombings stop."

Dyomie squinted her eyes, still unsure of what to do. "We don't know you people," she protested in defense of her situation.

Niobe lowered her weapon, slowly -- too tired to put up with anymore of this. "And you're not going to at the other end of a gun," she preached.

Jessica lovingly squeezed her son's shoulders as she edged towards the front of the group. "There's a junction about a quarter mile down the tracks that could hold all of us. It might be tight, but the foundation should hold until all of this settles down," she advised, looking around the group.

Jack crossed his arms. "One of our friends is still out there," he protested, pointing behind him. "Calvin could have made it somewhere safe before the bombs got this close..."

Harper's gaze lowered to the ground. "So the best possible scenario is that Calvin's holed up somewhere with a bunch of psychotic escaped convicts?" Molly stood next to her, chewing her lip in thought. Something they had mentioned caught her ear, and it all suddenly added up in a flash.

"Calvin... Hawke?" She asked, hanging on their every breath. Harper looked around at some of the others, not quite understanding. He was enough of an established film personality that anyone with a TV would know the name, but Molly's face didn't show the excitement of a fan... it showed nothing but worry and panic.

"Uhh, yeah... Calvin Hawke," Harper replied to the girl.

Molly looked Rafiq dead in the eyes. "That's Sarah's brother..." she said, loud enough for everyone to hear. Rafiq furrowed his brow, sad that she wasn't here to rejoice in the news that her brother is alive... or at least, was a minute ago. Only time would tell how many deaths they'd be mourning in the inevitable aftermath of the bombings.

"Who?" Harper asked eagerly, her interest peaking.

Rafiq shook his head. "One of our own is missing too," Rafiq replied, somberly. "Sarah." Harper traded a look with Nathan through the crowd.

"Two of our own," George corrected, bristling at the thought of his poor dog.

Rafiq nodded. "His dog went with her..."

Niobe holstered her gun and took in the group. "There's nothing we can do for them now," she insisted. As much as they all hated the thought, she was right. It was only them now -- they had to keep moving. "Jessica, lead on..." Niobe commanded. The group slowly started trudging along, helping each other around the wreckage of the train cars and debris. Dyomie glanced back at Marie and the rest of her group, slowly stowing her pistol and following suit. Jessica pulled to the front, guiding the group deeper into the blackened metro tunnel. The pitter-patter of over a dozen different footsteps trailed behind her as more bombs thudded against the surface above. Niobe gritted her teeth as she ran, hoping she knew what she was doing. Whatever this new world was, it was clear that the rules were made up as you went along.

If this really was the end... she had a feeling it was only just getting started.


.: END OF SEASON :.

The setting changes from Season 1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: James Marshall (NPC) Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC)
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Harper flickered her eyes open quickly, hearing footsteps pattering not far from her head as she rested on the cold cement floor. She tilted her head and looked up; Nathan was crouching down low, resting his hand on her arm. "Hey," he said softly, "I saved you breakfast. I think it's time to wake up now."

She blinked and stared ahead vacantly for a moment, and then leaned up on an elbow and rubbed her wrist across her eyes. "Yep. Sorry. Just got tired... really tired."

Actually, she wasn't telling him that the only way she could get to sleep at night was by taking a tablet of Xanax, making getting up in the morning far more difficult. She was well over halfway through the bottle that Stephanie had been carrying in her leather satchel, still being kept safe by Harper herself.

And the only person who knew Harper even needed any Xanax was Stephanie herself, wherever she might be, and she hadn't mustered up the desire to tell anyone else about it at that point.

Nathan put an arm out and took a seat next to her as she sat up. "I've never seen you this tired. It's been like this for a few days, hasn't it?"

Harper nodded and smiled only the very slightest bit. "Yeah, I guess... maybe I'm just having a hard time, you know, adjusting."

The corners of Nathan's mouth curled up as he offered her a Snickers bar and a small bottle of apple juice. "Looks to me that you're doing just fine. At least you can sleep."

Harper took a bite of the candy bar, chewing politely but just slightly ravenously when as she studied the purple lines beginning to show under Nathan's blue eyes. She wasn't sure that she looked or even felt better than he did. "Maybe a little too much." There was an awkward pause. "What are you up to today?"

"Steve and Schantz need someone to go on a run. Turns out that that's me, so I'll be out with them. Need anything while I'm out, dear?" he teased.

She smiled and unscrewed the cap to the juice. "Oh, you know." She took a sip. "Face wash. Lipstick in this one shade called 'Purple Plasm.' Lots and lots of feminine products." She laughed.

Nathan rolled his eyes and put his hands up. "You could just say, 'No thanks, Nathan, I'm totally good, thanks for asking!'"

"I'm totally good, thanks for asking," she parroted with a silly wink, and continued to drink. "Actually. What I would do for a cup of coffee," she said speculatively.

Nathan snapped his fingers. "Done. You will have a cup of coffee."

"Thanks, Nathan," she laughed after she finished the juice. "I really appreciate you helping me out."

# # #

Nearly everyone at the station was headed to the Society of Professional Journalists L.A. Chapter's Distinguished Journalist Awards Dinner. After the event, the WEND-TV crew decided it was best to leave the venue and hit the town on a busy Saturday night.

Harper didn't have much of a social life; she went to work, came home, slept, got up, read newspapers and websites, and went in to work. Occasionally she went to go have a drink with co-workers, but maybe twice a month. By far, her closest friend at work was Nathan On her days off she'd go running at Venice Beach or go for a drive up and down the coast, all on her own. Despite her outward friendliness, she still felt painfully shy and didn't much feel like exposing her flaws to others at work. That's how drama and rumors get started.

But tonight, she was happy to go out with the group. It was a good night to get dolled-up, pull out pairs of high heels that ordinarily would never fly in most situations, and have fun.

The night flew by, eventually finding the group dwindled to about seven people gathered in a small hotel bar at 1:30 a.m. Nobody had designated themselves as a designated driver, and by this time most of the group had sought cabs home.

Nathan turned to Harper and glared at her challengingly. "Are you going to wimp out and go home?" he asked teasingly.

Harper giggled profusely. She'd had way too much to drink. "I'm no wimp!" she declared, slapping her palm on the table before her. She took another swig of the beer in front of her and shook her head. "You're the wimp."

"That makes no sense!" he retorted, shaking his head and raising his hands inquisitively in front of himself.

Kyle waved his hand as he picked his wallet up from the table. "I'm out!" he announced. "You guys gotta get going. Things are closing down soon and all the cabs are going to get taken."

"Ehhhh, go home, smartypants," Nathan drawled back mockingly.

Kyle rolled his eyes and left the two alone.

Harper laughed and stared up at the ceiling as she leaned back into her side of the booth. She wore a short emerald-green cocktail dress, her dark hair pinned back. A pair of sparkly earrings dangled from her ears. Nathan only owned one suit, not because of being particularly disadvantaged, but because he hated wearing them. "Harp!" he said to her nonsensically.

"Nathan!" she bellowed back, propping herself up on her arms to sit up properly and look ahead at him. "I'm drunk!"

"So am I!" he blasted in return. The two laughed. "I've never seen you this drunk!"

Harper cracked up again and grabbed her purse and put it on the table. "Really. I better get a cab like Kyle said. So I can go home."

Nathan sat up quickly. "So soon?" he asked, a lilt of disappointment in his voice. She nodded wobbily. "But Haaaaarperrrr..."

"You are SUCH a whiner!" she said through a crinkly laugh. "You are always griping about something! Or at someone!" She hiccuped quickly. "It's like you never shut up!"

Nathan balked and laughed. "Oh, now you're going to share what you think!" he returned. "I see. I see. You have to be drunk to do that."

She finished off her beer. "You just happened to get me at a great time," she slurred.

Nathan rolled his eyes. "But we always work together."

She laughed. "You see me every day and NOW you want to complain to me?"

He chewed the inside of his lip. He felt nervous. "No, I'm just stating the obvious!" he zapped out.

"Nice comeback, but I've got to go home," she said quickly, pretending to be annoyed.

"Hey, I'll walk you," he offered rushedly, whipping out his wallet and tossing a few dollar bills onto the table. He scurried after her as she made her way to the door. "You can't go out there by yourself!"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, yes I can. Watch me."

Nathan kept pace with her as she waltzed playfully ahead on matte satin black high heels, humming some silly tune. He stuck his jacket across her shoulders, the arms flying below the hem of her dress. She stopped briefly and cast a squint-eyed glance at him. "Fine, walk with me until I find a cab." She hiccuped again and resumed her silly trot down the sidewalk. She always came out of her shell once she'd had a few drinks.

Nathan was thrilled. He had waited how many months to talk to her outside of work, one-on-one. At work they had a job to do, and he couldn't waste time on socializing. She was always kind to him, very bright, and flat-out gorgeous.

Of course, he had no idea what to do or say.

Just as he worked up the courage to put his arm around her narrow shoulders, a cab rolled up. She whisked into the backseat and waved Nathan in. "Let's split the fare!" she offered brightly.

He climbed in next to her and watched her as she sank into her seat after giving directions to her apartment. His ears pricked up. "That's where you live??" he remarked. "I'm just a few blocks away!"

She laughed. "Then the fare won't cost much at all!" She sat up and stared up through the sunroof at the tall buildings towering above. Nathan stared, watching her eyes sparkle and her lips curl into a smile. "I love tall buildings!" she sighed contentedly. He watched her knees shift into a comfortable position. She looked unbelievably happy, being drunk and staring up at the sky.

There weren't many times where Nathan was tongue-tied, but this was one of them. No music blared in the cab. Just the sounds of the air rushing past the windows. He watched her soak in the sights, not even looking back at him. Clearly, she was very comfortable in his presence.

Just as he summoned the nerve to move his hand over hers, the cab stopped. He recovered by grabbing his wallet and forking over enough money to cover the fare. Harper blinked, not even done rustling through her small purse. Nathan waved her off nervously. "I got it." She smiled and exited the cab.

Harper stood on the sidewalk and waited for him. It was a serene ride back, the two utterly exhausted after a long night out. She suddenly remembered that she had Nathan's jacket around her shoulders and pawed at the sleeves. "I'm swimming in this," she declared through her hazy state. Nathan slowly ascended onto the sidewalk from the street. His face was drained of color, and he'd shoved his hands in his pockets. She frowned. "Are you all right?"

Nathan withdrew his hands and held her shoulders carefully, staring her right in the face. Clumsy drunk move. "... Harper, I..."

Harper's face froze in the expression she'd been wearing. Suddenly, it registered. Oh. No.

"Harper, I've really liked working these last few months with you," he started, "and I really think..." He trailed off. Harper stared back, trying very hard to hide her surprise. Her arresting bright eyes were very exciting, but also very intimidating. "I really like you, and I really think that..." He trailed off again. He blinked and sighed. "Ahhh, I don't know what I'm doing here... Help me out..."

She chewed the inside of her lip, her intoxicated state lifting greatly with the fast twist her stomach took when he'd started talking. She smiled meekly and took a breath. "Nathan, that's very nice of you," she offered calmly.

There was a long pause. Nathan's heart sunk. He'd finally met someone who piqued his interest for more than two days, and finally decided to say something after months of cautioning himself to slow down, and... this.

His caution didn't extend beyond that moment. "That's it?" he asked, taken aback. "I... I tell you that I think you're incredible, and that was very nice of me?"

Harper shook her head and brought her wrists up to pull Nathan's hands from her shoulders. "I'm sorry, Nathan," she said confidently. It didn't sound unsympathetic, but she was clear.

"Harper," he said, "I work with you almost every day and I really feel like... like, I like you. A lot. We get along really well."

Without skipping a beat, she answered, "But you had no idea I lived so close by. Obviously we aren't that close." Nathan swallowed and looked down at his feet. That hurt. "Nathan, we spend a lot of time together. I see you more than I see anyone else." He blinked, while still looking downward. "You're my best friend in Los Angeles. If I don't want to date *you*, then how can I want to date *anyone*?"

The argument appealed to him in a way, but it still didn't settle well. "I think... I'm not just anyone. I really think that we would make a great match," he said quietly, still running a few syllables drunkenly, wanting badly to lean his head in and just kiss her, like he should have already been doing.

Harper stepped backwards just slightly, and bore a restrained but friendly smile on her face. "I love seeing you every day. The way things are now are... nice. Maybe it'll work someday. But today it won't." She held her purse in front of her and nodded. "I'll see you on Monday morning?" she asked quietly.

He nodded wordlessly as he tried to casually mosey off as though nothing had happened. It was a failure. A dismal failure. It had gone so poorly that she hasn't even gotten mad at him. He played the exchange again and again in his head, angry at himself and wondering if she seemed to play it off like he had said something insignificant and meaningless.

He dropped his keys on the kitchen counter as he walked into his apartment. He didn't even bother to remove his shoes as he walked into his bedroom and collapsed onto his mattress. He rolled over on his back, incredulous that she lived so close by without him knowing. That, and he completely forgot to get his jacket back from her. He picked up his phone and sent a quick text. His wristwatch bleeped to tell him it was 4 a.m. He looked up at his headboard and shut his eyes.

# # #

Harper popped the pill in her mouth and took quick sips of water to help it coast easily down her throat.

She couldn't believe Nathan had done that. Of course she liked Nathan—he was funny, he was handsome, he was talented, and he was just the kind of guy any girl would love to meet. But not only did she just not want to be tied to anyone at the moment, but she just didn't think that dating a co-worker was a great idea.

At least that's what she was telling herself, she wisely reflected. Things hadn't been easy for her since moving out west. Los Angeles was completely different than what she was used to. The weather was nice, of course. She really enjoyed her job, especially spending days laughing and working smoothly with Nathan. By far, he was the best videographer she'd ever worked with in her seven years as a reporter, even easier to work with than the cool-headed videographer, Mark, who'd accompanied her during her embed assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what could she do in a place where she didn't feel quite so comfortable yet? As much as dating Nathan sounded like it could be fun, she just didn't see it working out long-term, either. Staying in Los Angeles did not seem like a goal worth planning for. And what was the point in getting physical if it was just going to be messy in the end?

She settled onto the floor pillows by the loft's window, wearing an oversized gray t-shirt and a pair of short red gym shorts. The view outside was terrific, looking over West Hollywood toward the shoreline, at least on a smog-free day. The palm trees were a novel addition along the streets and the beach, glowing green thanks to streetlights.

She took a deep breath and felt her brain become slow. She bit her thumbnail and continued to stare outside. She wondered how Nathan would be Monday—angry? Sad? Calm? Would he pretend that it never happened?

Harper's body started to feel warm. She curled up under her blanket and sighed heavily. Maybe she could date him. Maybe. Wouldn't he be a fun person to be with? Maybe. But tonight, she just didn't have those answers.

Her phone chirped low. A text from Nathan read, "Whatever you say, boss."

She smiled slightly and stretched out, a little relieved as she drifted off to sleep.

# # #


Nathan blinked and smiled back. "You're welcome... well, I guess I better go find you some coffee. See you later," he said as he straightened his legs and stood to quickly walk away, trying hard to avoid the urge to reach out and touch Harper on the arm. It was getting worse. For about a month he hadn't forgotten about being turned down and had tried his hardest to forget the attachment, but had been unsuccessful, even before the disaster struck. Add several days' worth of surviving together and that made it all so much worse. And it was especially getting bad now that people in the group were starting to talk more amongst one another.

"Nathan," a low, calm voice spoke, interrupting his concentration. The shorter man nodded to him from his spot keeping watch with Carl, the guy with the comic shop. "Ready when you are."

Jack. Nathan especially despised Jack. He hadn't liked the remarks he'd made about Harper at the station, and didn't like the way he looked at Harper back at the sign several days ago, or the way he'd stuck by her at the metro station. He didn't know anything about the guy but just knew he couldn't stomach being around him. Harper was kind to him, which made things worse. She'd smile and ask him a lot of questions about his background, where he came from... and he'd answer them. That sure got under Nathan's skin.

"Yep, just letting Harper know it's time to get up."

Jack looked at him directly in the eye. Nathan was a lot bigger than he was physically, but not mentally stronger. "Oh, she all right?" he asked, making sure to let as much concern creep into his voice at possible.

Nathan inwardly seethed. "Just having a tough time getting up," he said simply.

Schantz stepped through the two men and started off toward the exit. "Hurry up, it's already 9!" she said quickly. "If we don't get a move on someone's going to find that stash we came upon."

"Yeah, yeah, Miss Manners, real intimidated," Nathan volleyed back airily. "We're all getting out pretty quick, here. Don't worry."

Steve caught up, holding a found shotgun. He tossed a golf club to Nathan and a long-handled garden cultivator to Schantz. "Any minute now," he said as he looked over to Jack and Carl. "Anything we should know before we duck out, gentlemen?"

# # #

Harper checked over her list before popping her head into the office. George looked up from his spot, staring down at the surface of the table staring at the assembled ammunition. "Hey," she greeted, holding up a small box. "Brought something for you guys."

She set the cardboard box down on the table. George eyed Harper suspiciously, then the box. "What is it?"

Harper gestured her palm at the table. "I've thought a lot about it, and I think you guys should have this."

George picked up the box carefully and thumbed the flimsy cardboard lid open. An assortment of 9mm shells, about two dozen. He looked back to Harper. "Where did you get these?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "We met a girl last week and she ended up getting sick at the camp we were at," she recounted. "We have her stuff."

"Where's the gun?" George inquired, picking up a few shells and inspecting them under the hanging flashlight's beam.

"She didn't have it when she was with us," Harper volunteered. "If she's still around, she still might not have it. These should help. I think she'd want these to go to good use."

George smiled and placed the box alongside the shells already on the table. "Well, thank you, that'll go a long way," he remarked. "But I have to ask why you took this long to share the wealth."

Harper nodded, her face bearing a slightly annoyed expression. "Well, I didn't know if I should be giving someone else's possessions away, so it kind of took me a while to justify." She then pulled her notepad out of her back pocket. "And I want to help. I have a lot of ideas on how we can make things work."

George raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really? In what way could you help?" he laid out heavily. "I think that we've got things under control."

Harper nodded. "No, you're doing a great job," she assured him, "I just have some ideas about what we should do about how we organize our time and manage our resources. Such as, we should be recording everyone's clothing and shoe sizes so that way when someone goes to-"

George held up a hand. "All willing to hear your ideas," he said slightly irritably, "but I'd like to have everyone all sit together and talk about it."

Harper nodded. "Sure," she said as she tucked the notepad back into her pocket. Seemed like George didn't want to discuss it at the moment. "Thank you," she nodded at him, turning on her heel calmly to head over to the de facto rec room.

Jack and Annabelle sat at the table over a deck of cards, talking quietly. Harper pulled up a chair to sit at the end of the table, and laid her notepad down in front of herself. "I'm sorry to interrupt you," she said plainly, and slightly airily thanks to the medication. "James. Annabelle. I want badly to help, but I don't know if I can get them to listen. I'd like to ask your advice."

The setting changes from Season 2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

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