((Welcome! It's about time for another one of these again. This isn't your typical forum journal post--consider this more along the lines of a "choose your own adventure" type of story. The character that you will be playing in this story is my own-- Frankie Mercer. I've decided to retire her temporarily, and rather than post a large body of text explaining what has happened while she was away, I figured that a community game would be far more fun. After every update to the post, a poll will be made for everyone to vote on one of the next possible actions that can be taken. The poll will be replaced with a fresh one once the next section of the story is posted. Keep in mind that you can only vote one option, and you cannot change your vote once it's in! Good luck!)) *Sometimes, characters of other players may be included in the story. These are only included with their permission, and their portions are written by the players themselves! 1 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ “… .. .. ke?” With a short groan, you begin to open your eyes. Darkness immediately floods the corners of your vision as you do so, but you furiously blink to try and break through. Eventually, your surroundings start to come into focus—as does the relentless throbbing plaguing the back of your skull. “About time you woke up. Was almost beginning to think they beat you to death back there.” Beat you to death? What was he talking about? All you wanted to do was get back to sleep, and all his constant badgering was doing was giving you quite the headache. Besides, you had already promised that you would assist in finishing out some of the other factory rooms in the morning. “Whatever it was you did, they really didn’t like it, though. Never seen them get so worked up like that. Not over some random girl, at least.” Hold on—things were beginning to come back to you now. You had been trailing the coast, having just finished up meeting with a close friend. It was the later hours of the evening, and you were hoping to make it back to base before it got too dark. That was when— “Shit!” You suddenly exclaim, shooting into an upright position. Your body screams back in protest of the action, but you could care less at this point. Struggling to bring your arms around to your front, you come to the distinct conclusion that the attempts are futile. Rope, you note to yourself. You’ve been restrained. “Easy now,” the man sitting across from you mutters. As you've returned to a more lucid state, you start taking in your surroundings a bit better. From the looks of things, you're seated in the back of a van of some sort—as if the occasional bumps and the low growl of the engine weren’t enough to give that away. Any possible views to the outside have been sealed up tight. “May not look like it, but you’re safe. Well, safe in the sense that nothing’s going to happen to you at this very moment.” The person speaking to you looks to be a grizzled man in perhaps his mid-thirties or so. While he doesn’t look particularly threatening—what with his crossed arms and mildly irritated expression—you’re certainly not one to take any chances. Especially when you’re the one lacking the use of your arms. “Name is Daniel, by the way,” he continues. “Not that you’re necessarily feeling up to any sort of conversation, but it’s only common courtesy to introduce yourself.” Daniel takes a moment to scratch idly at his chin, eventually peering back with a bit more curiosity. “You do have a name, don’t you?” 2 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Tell Daniel your name. (8) Give Daniel a false name. (4) Refuse to respond. (2) You give Daniel a long, hard look. He, on the other hand, stares back with an expression that clearly indicates a longing to be anywhere else. Eventually, after contemplating the various risks that come with disclosing your name, you decide that there couldn’t be that much harm in it. It wasn’t as if your name carried any sort of notoriety to it. “Frankie,” you finally respond. You decide to stick to single word answers for now. “Alrighty then, Frankie. Looks like we’re off to a good start already—no use in going around lying to strangers or anything like that anyways.” Daniel takes your follow-up look of confusion with a roll of his eyes. “C’mon now, it’s right there. On your vest.” Your confusion melts away into alarm as you look down. Sure enough, there it is—front and center on your Mongol MC uniform—the name Frankie. You gulp. Not only did you narrowly avoid a stupid mistake, but you’ve also just come to the realization that you’re still in your Mongol attire. You desperately hope that these people have good relations with your group. Daniel seems to have read the change in your composure as clear as day, judging by the amused expression he now eyes you with. You immediately decide to take your conversation with this ‘Daniel’ a bit more seriously now—he’s obviously no fool. “How long was I out?” You croak, still very much feeling the effects of whatever it was that happened. “Oh, couldn’t have been longer than a good minute or so. It’s not like I was counting. We’re not too far from where we picked you up, actually.” Daniel’s answer is disheartening. Evidently, whatever it was that these people wanted you for, they wanted you alive. It wasn’t as if they had lacked an abundance of opportunities to kill you while you had been unconscious. “… Is it too much to ask what all this is for?” You tug on the ropes binding your arms together for emphasis. Daniel offers an incredulous look. “You kidding? You’re a member of the Mongols—there are so many groups out there that would pay a good price to get some sweet, sweet revenge that it isn’t funny.” Daniel shrugs apathetically. “I’d be the one lying if I said that were the only reason, though.” “What d’you mean?” “Well, it’s clear from the boss-man’s attitude that he’s got some kind of personal beef with you. I highly doubt it just has to do with the whole Mongol issue that you’ve got going on, either. Either he’s got some kind of third eye that can see more than I can, or he knows you personally somehow. Looks like we’re going to be figuring that one out together.” Despite your best efforts, you genuinely can’t tell if he’s being truthful about any of this or not. Your shoulders sag as you turn your eyes downward in discouragement. This wasn’t a ‘small situation’, this was potentially the most dangerous situation you’ve found yourself in since what occurred in the Deadzone. You wearily wonder if you’ll ever get to see your friends again. The sound of the vehicle pulling to a stop tears you away from your depressing thoughts. You glance back up at Daniel in curiosity, but he seems a step ahead of you. “Don’t get too excited now, we’re not at our final destination just yet. Just a small pit stop to wait out the rest of the night—can’t drive too far with how many marathon runners there are out there.” Laughing at his own joke, Daniel boots the back doors to the van open. “C’mon, might as well introduce yourself to the others.” 3 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Play along, at least for now. (6) Flee the moment you're outside, this may be your only chance. (1) Sit right where you are. If he wants you to move, he'll have to do it himself. (3) Daniel grunts as he hops down from the back of the van. He swings his arms back and forth in a stretch, dusts his hands off on his pants, and with a motion of his head, he indicates for you to follow. You briefly contemplate your chances if you were to take off the moment you step outside, but ultimately decide against an idea as risky as that. Instead, you resolve to cause as little trouble for yourself as possible. As you exit the vehicle, you start to take note of your surroundings. A small fire pit has been constructed not far from where the van has been parked. Three other men besides Daniel have arranged themselves around the flames, and besides maybe a few brief looks of disdain, they hardly acknowledge you. “Can’t have the flames too high, now,” Daniel remarks to you. “Wouldn’t want to give ourselves away in case a few of your friends are lurking around. Why don’t you go ahead and take a seat with the others? Might be hard to believe from your position, but they’re nice enough.” Right, you think to yourself. That’s why they picked me up. To make friends. The relentless pounding in the back of your head seemed to agree with your sentiment. Nevertheless, despite your less than enthused feelings on the matter, your feet begin to carry you over towards the rest of the group. You’re not met with any warm greetings as you approach, not that you expected otherwise. Instead, the three lower their conversation to a more hushed tone, apparently determined to keep you out of things. That suited you just fine. After all, you were far more concerned with attempting to understand the course of events that managed to land you here. You close your eyes, allowing the mumbled voices to fade into the background. Suddenly, like the twinge of a barely remembered dream, you start to recall exactly what had happened. You had been walking along the lakeside, with only the chirping of insects for companions and the dim light of the stars as your guide. You hadn’t meant to return at such a late hour—and was certain that you would never hear the end of it from Hammerhead—but there was little you could do about it now. All that mattered was getting back safely. So, you walked. And you continued walking. The journey to get here was fairly uneventful, so you were confident that the return trip would prove just as routine. You vaguely begin to wonder how the others were doing after that car crash back on the road. It was probably extremely odd for you to duck out that the way you did, but you couldn’t risk Hammerhead accompanying you. Stubborn as he was, he likely would’ve insisted to stick with you until well after the meeting window had closed. Leaves crunching beneath your shoes, you continued on your way, until suddenly… People! As you rounded a bend in the path, you were met with the sight of a large van, and several individuals milling about the area. Three, by your count. Now… what did you do again? 4 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Immediately dive for cover. (4) Keep extremely still, and slowly try to retreat. (6) Withdraw your gun. If they were competent at all, they must have seen you already. (2) You immediately freeze in place. With your heart threatening to beat out of your chest, you fight for dominance over your nerves. Think! Your mind screams at you. Make a plan! Your instant judgement was that you needed to back off. If it had been a single person—perhaps even two—you might have been able to get the jump on them. When the enemy count starts reaching beyond that though, it instantly places you in a position of helplessness. There was no way you’d be able to confidently cover every single one of them. So, lacking any better options, you decide to retreat and hope to God that none of them have noticed you. You slowly begin to back up, one foot behind the other, keeping your attention squarely on the figures surrounding the vehicle. Then, something occurs that makes your heart stop. Did they just point at me? You ponder, as one of the figures gestures oddly in your direction. Again, you freeze. There wasn’t taking chances anymore, you had to get out of here. Without bothering to waste time any further, you immediately turn on a heel and start sprinting for the road that you had arrived from. If I can just make it back to him—your thoughts are cut off as another person seems to stumble across you. You remember him as one of the men sitting by the fire now, a tall and fit figure that looked just as shocked to see you as you were to see him. “What—“ is all he manages before you’ve brought a fist up, sending it crashing for his stomach. The man only barely manages to bring his arms up in time before you connect, causing him to take a half step back with a grunt. “Bitch,” he rasps as he readies a blow of his own, but you’re ready. The awkward strike is easily ducked, and this time you’re able to make the next hit count. He groans in surprise at the sudden blow, gripping his midsection in pain—but to your dismay, he doesn’t drop. Instead, his eyes glare furiously at you, and before you know it he hurls a kick powerful enough to send you to the ground twice over. Your head strikes the dirt path hard, and the world seems to spin. You manage to scramble to your feet. Should you try to keep fighting? Should you run? Your legs felt weak. You turn, noticing that the three from the vehicle have caught up to you. Just as you’re about to try and speak to them however, the ground seems to drop out from under you. You fall… You open your eyes. Everything has come back to you at this point, and you decide that beginning to study the others a bit more carefully wouldn't be a bad idea. There were four, obviously, considering that one had been missing when you had initially approached their vehicle. The one sitting closest to you by the fire was a giant of a man when compared to the other three in the camp. You easily recognize him as the man you had run into in the woods. He sat hunched over in his seat, clad in a grease-stained, white tank-top and a pair of loose fitting jeans. The stranger appears to be ignoring your presence altogether, seemingly far more interested with his quiet rumblings to the other two. You move down the line. The next man is a much more scraggly figure, and lays back in a fairly relaxed posture. Contrasting with the far larger man beside him, he wears both a grey pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt that appear far too big for his body frame. You note that he couldn’t be much older than yourself, if not younger. Finally, your eyes land on the man sitting directly across from you. You’re quickly surprised to find that unlike the other two, he passes the occasional glance your way. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t seem to want to make friends at all, and from the furious look he passes your way you figure that he isn’t entirely okay with having you there. Perhaps it’s the Mongol logo that he hates. Regardless, you make sure to remember him—he sits in place in a simple navy t-shirt, brown cargo pants, and a pair of hefty looking boots. Lastly, you start checking for their weapons. As expected, each person is as prepared as the next, with the standard kit appearing to be a simple dagger alongside a firearm of supposedly their choice. You wonder if— “Yo,” a new voice breaks you from your thoughts. It’s the man sitting across from you. The one giving you the looks. His eyes are narrowed in a dangerous calm. “How long are you going to sit there staring?” The other two turn to look your way now as well. “Well? How about it?” “Got something you wanna say?” 5 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Talk back to him. You're allowed to look at whoever you damn well please. (2) Apologize. (3) Silently hold his gaze--you refuse to back down from him. (4) "Well?" The man repeats himself. The three by the campfire all eye you now, but you refuse to balk from the pressure. Instead, you tilt your head back, meeting the confrontational man’s challenging gaze with a defiant one of your own. It’s clear that he’s expecting a response of some sort, but you continue to allow the uncomfortable silence to stretch on. You were curious to see what he would do next. Eventually, you almost think you can spot the slightest of smirks appear on his face, but it’s unclear—he has a formidable poker face, it seems. An irritated exhale escapes the man. “Fine,” he says. “We’ll just save the talking for later.” Pushing up from his seat, he starts shifting dirt into the fire. “Best to start wrapping things up here and getting some sleep. Long day tomorrow.” With one final pointed look your way, he heads for one of the few tents Daniel has been occupied with setting up. Now alone with the two other strangers—who are looking more than a little bit awkward—you decide to start gathering some information. If you were ever going to get away from these guys, you were going to need to know what you were working with. “Hell was up with that guy?” You ask the pair. They look like people who respect confidence—the helpless prisoner act would likely do you more harm than good here. “What, Blake?” The scrawnier man speaks up. So that was his name. Blake, you repeat again in your mind. The name sounded familiar to you, but you find yourself unable to place why. Do I know a Blake? “He’s always going around like that. Always acting like someone shit in his cereal or—” “Seth,” the far larger man beside him growls. “That’s enough.” Seth crosses his arms. “Do not speak poorly of Blake in front of her.” Blake and Seth, you note. One more to go. “How ‘bout you?” You ask the guy in question. “Y’look like a ‘Hugo’ to me.” The guess earns an amused rumble. “Clay,” he says. “Your punch is fast, but you have nothing behind it. Do you train?” “Train?” You echo. “Like what, goin’ ‘round kicking trees?” Another laugh is earned from Clay. So far so good, you think to yourself. “No—do you not train to fight? You should. Combat is the most useful skill to learn.” It’s your turn to laugh now. “Probably, yeah, but where I’m from we tend to place a lot more value in idle conversation and easily bruised egos.” Clay scoffs, glancing at you with a bit more interest. “Sounds different from the Mongols we know. Foolish, maybe, but just as brutal and ruthless. You are a Mongol, right?” The question results in a nod of your head. “Hmph,” he leans back, crossing his arms over his chest. “Not really a full member like you’re probably thinkin’, though,” you decide to elaborate on your answer some. “Was only in outta necessity—and wasn’t more than a week or two at most.” Seth gives Clay a look, an eyebrow raised. Clay, in turn, closes his eyes, appearing to think for a moment. “If this is the case, I will speak to Blake about your situation. Blake is under the impression that you are a full-fledged member—if he hears about this, it will reduce the amount that you are worth to him greatly.” This news elates you, and you find yourself struggling not to show it, despite everything. “But,” he continues, causing you to place your nerves on hold. “He will still want something in return.” Clay’s eyes bore into your own. “I will make a deal with you. Tell him everything that you know about the Mongol presence in Port Falmouth, and I will make sure that he lets you off the hook. Unharmed.” You run the thought over again a few times. “Names. The number of members present. Their location. How many are suitable for combat—Blake will want to know all of it.” Despite how amazingly good the deal sounded on your part, it didn’t come without a fair share of apprehension. Could you sell out the Mongols? You did still have a few people you considered friends there. If you did as Clay asked, there was the chance that you could be set free without ever having to set eyes on Port Falmouth again. You could head straight for the line and get back to whatever remaining shell of civilization was still standing. You could make it back to him. Clay and Seth continue to look to you expectantly. It’s obvious that they are waiting on an answer. What will you say? 6 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Promise to tell Blake everything. (2) Refuse to talk. (2) Agree to talk to Blake, at least for now. Promises are just words. (7) “Alright,” you nod your head in agreement. Even if you didn’t plan on saying a word, it wouldn’t do you any favors to make that clear so early on. Just like earlier, you’re willing to play along for now if it means opening up a chance to escape later. These people were not your friends, and you were determined to show them that regardless if you were a Mongol or not, you are dangerous in your own right. Clay seems to relax a bit, glancing to Seth in a satisfactory fashion. “Good,” he then says. “I hope to get this wrapped up sooner rather than later. If we can get this handled now, it’s less trouble for us.” Seth nods. “Yeah, this whole business really rubs me off the wrong way—besides, you’re kinda cute, and I hate holding cute people prisoner. Makes me feel all creepy-like.” The statement earns a stern glare from Clay, but Seth merely shrugs his shoulders. “What, it’s true! Holding people up is a *Mongol* kind of thing. I don’t dig it.” “Do not forget where she comes from. Even if she’s a new member—which may not even be true—that does not make her ignorant to their operations. She knew what she signed up for.” The whole conversation tempts you to speak up and defend yourself, but you manage to bite your tongue for now. If you go on about how you have kept prisoners and have had to attack people even before joining the Mongols, they may consider you a monster. You don’t know how these people fully think just yet, nor what their experiences are. You decide to ask them. “So… have y’guys never had to do stuff like this in the past, then? I don’t mean to come off as rude or nothin’, but the quarantine ain’t exactly been the friendliest place. ‘Least not where I come from.” Clay and Seth exchange a glance, but it’s Clay that clears his throat. “It’s more than obvious that you’re not exactly from around Port Falmouth, but things are different here than wherever it is that you’re from. People here got along through it. Helped each other out. Isn’t that the way it should be in a situation like this?” Clay’s answer almost causes you to think twice about yourself for a moment. Almost. You shake the thought away. “I must have just gotten unlucky. People are quicker to take everything you own and leave you naked in the street than they are to lend a hand, in my experience. Whole reason I didn’t just strut on up to y’guys in the dead of night and wave you down. Figured I’d just get shot up—or worse.” “Probably wasn’t entirely wrong of you to be cautious. Even if you’d approached us willingly, we would likely have taken you just the same, given your uniform.” At this point, you’re genuinely wondering to yourself just how much conflict these people have had in their lives to be so against a cutthroat approach to survival. You decide that there’s no way they’re that ignorant—they must be testing you in some way. Trying to snag some info out of you. You weren’t going to let them. “Well, regardless if I’m a new member or not, do I look messed up to you? I don’t want to come off as prideful or nothin’ like that, but I figure I’ve been nothin’ but polite so far here, all things considered.” Clay remains still for a moment. “You’re not wrong, you’re different from our expectations. Either way, what Blake says goes. If you want your freedom, you will have to speak to him about what he wants. As I said before, I will ensure that you are released if you give him the info he is looking for.” Without another word, Clay rises from his seat, lifting his arms upwards in a long stretch. He eyes both you and Seth for a moment. “It would be best not to stay up any longer. There’s going to be a lot happening tomorrow for all of us, so I suggest you rest up for it.” After a short nod of dismissal, Clay moves for an unoccupied tent. Seth looks to you and awkwardly shrugs. Standing up, he starts moving as if to lead you to your tent, but you start off on your own before he makes it to you. You’re perfectly capable of finding your tent on your own, after all. Once there, Seth idles by awkwardly. “Alright then uh, guess I’ll see you tomorrow? I mean yeah, obviously I will, but uh, you know how it is.” He rubs his face, beginning to shuffle off. “See ya. Uh… sleep well?” “Hopefully,” you answer, and climb into the tent. It appeared cozy, for all intents and purposes. Way better than what a ‘prisoner’ might expect to get, that much was certain. As you began to settle down and drift off to sleep, you gently thought about your situation again. You can’t help but feel that ultimately the whole thing was avoidable, and if you had only been just a bit more prepared, you would be getting ready to sleep in your room back at the Mongol headquarters instead… . . . Rodney watches you as you enter the bar, his expression the combined level of patient calm yet anticipation that you’ve come to know well. He offers a curt nod that you return as well, and it’s him that is the first one to speak. “You wanted to meet?” He asks. Despite your often impromptu requests to meet together at occasionally odd locations, Rodney always managed to be there before you. It was nice, you felt, to feel respected enough that you warranted that level of consideration. “Yeah,” you say in response. “I’ve asked a few people this, actually, but if there’s anyone that it’s worth coming from, it’s you.” If Rodney appreciates the flattery, he doesn’t show it. “I wanted to ask how you feel about preparing for bad situations. Or being ready for them, at the very least." You sigh. “I remind myself to stay prepared all the time it feels like, but somehow I still manage to get caught off guard almost every day. I’m worried that eventually I’m going to pay for it big time—or maybe even somebody that I care about." Rodney watches you intently as you speak, finally speaking up once the break in your speech becomes clear. “So, what would you like to know?” “How do you do it?” “Do what?” “Always stay prepared,” you say. “Nobody wants to touch you. I mean—hell—you walk around your own home armed to the teeth half the time.” “Frankie,” Rodney suddenly holds up a hand, his tone hushed. “Excuse me for a moment.” Hoisting the firearm in his hands a bit higher, he abruptly moves for the door and practically kicks the thing open, silently scanning the immediate surroundings for anything out of the ordinary. Once satisfied, he returns to his spot, shutting the door behind himself. You blink. “… did you hear something?” “No,” he shrugs. “But what I did is exactly what you are asking about, I believe. It’s simple Frankie—simple enough that frankly I’m surprised you haven’t had it all solved already.” You stare in confusion. It’s his turn to sigh. “All it comes down to is this. The longer you survive, the more enemies you are bound to make, whether you want them or not. That’s just the nature of the game. The key is to remember who poses you the most threat—who has the greatest chance of really doing you in—and preparing around them. Everybody is a risk, of course, but at the end of it all, the people that are the most dangerous will be the ones who kill you.” You nod slowly as he continues. “Sometimes things happen. You can’t predict the future—and if you can let me know—but you can prepare for what you do know. As for everything else, you just have to make sure you’re better. You’re going to get placed in positions out of your control. So, for those, just make sure you’re ready. Be prepared to gun down the next stranger you meet. You can train physically every day all day, but if you aren’t prepared mentally, that hesitation will get you killed.” “How do I get rid of that hesitation then?” Rodney offers a brief smile. “You have two options. You could either stop caring for people altogether, or every time you meet that stranger, you could remember the people that you already care about. Ask yourself the question—is this stranger worth the risk?” His words rattle around in your mind for several minutes. It wasn’t that Rodney wasn’t making sense, it was just that neither of his answers were the solution that you were hoping for. You quietly wondered if you would ever have it in you to make that kind of decision. “Which one have you picked?” A light chuckle escapes Rodney. “Frankie, you should know the answer to that by now. … I have you to keep safe, remember?” *dialogue for characters other than my own were written by that player and included with their permission. . . . You yawn as the early morning rays peek through the lines of your tent. Today was the day that you were moving to the main camp of Blake’s group—as well as when you would get your conversation with the man in question. With any luck, your freedom too. “Rise and shine, Frankie,” Daniel’s voice rings out from the tent’s exterior, as if on cue. “Big day today. Time to get moving.” “I got it,” you say, rolling out of your sleeping bag. You exit the tent with a sigh, taking in the brightened daytime scenery. Things looked so much nicer during the morning. Blake stands nearby the driver’s door as you approach the van—the other three were already well on their way to climbing into the vehicle. He motions towards the rear with his head. “You can stay untied for the trip as long as you don’t do anything stupid, but you’re still going to stay in the back. If you need something for whatever reason, bang on the wall. We’ll hear it.” Allowing him a short moment to untie you, you promptly climb into a suitable seat. Blake shuts the door behind you, and once again you’re alone to your thoughts. . . . The rest of the car ride was entirely uneventful. Few stops were made along the way, and before long you found yourself standing outside the location that Blake and the others considered ‘main camp’. It was a smaller compound of several wooden structures, surrounded by a similar wooden fence that appeared designed to keep infected at bay. You note that the majority of the buildings here appeared hand-crafted. It was a bit intimidating—you often considered yourself handy with a few tools, but this may be beyond even your own abilities. A watchtower of sorts stands near the center of the camp, with a lone figure at the top keeping an eye over the surroundings. A few other strangers seem to mill about on their own time, some performing various duties, but aside from the occasional glance of curiosity they largely seem uninterested. Blake and Clay immediately head off towards a building in the center of the camp—likely to discuss your case. Seth lingers for a moment or two, but after a bit of prompting from Daniel, likewise moves along. For now, it seemed you would be dealing with Daniel on your own. “Welcome to Fort Frankenstein, Frankie.” A short chuckle follows the name, and you send an incredulous look his way. “I’m just joking,” he then continues. “Place hasn’t ever really been given a name, that’s just what I’ve taken to calling it myself. Has to do with how ‘thrown together’ everything looks.” You grunt your acknowledgement, but otherwise stay silent. “Anyways, I’ve been told that things are going to be functioning a bit differently for you here, mostly because of some recent understandings about your position and everything. Since you’re looking to work with Blake on stuff, he’s made sure that you’re given freedom to roam around camp as you please—just don’t try and make a break for it or anything. Guy in the watchtower over there is one of the sharpest shots we have, and I don’t recommend you test that reputation out for yourself.” You nod your head along as you listen, taking special note on the watchtower—and its inhabitant. “Building in the center next to the tower there is Blake’s place. He does most of his stuff there. Over to the right of that is the doctor’s place—he’s a fairly nice guy—and on the opposite of that to the left is the mess hall. Finally, behind Blake’s place is the bunks, where everyone takes a load off. Place is kind of designed in a circle, so as long as you stay within the surrounding barricades, you won’t end up missing your midsection.” Daniel’s explanation made sense, and you were pleasantly surprised to find that you were allowed to investigate on your own time. It’s probably a good thing that you didn’t fight every step of the way here. The only question now is… …where will you go first? 7 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Head to the infirmary. (3) Head to the mess hall. (2) Head to Blake's building. (2) Head to the barracks. (0) “Welp, I’ll be around. Probably in the bunks, if nowhere else.” David waves behind himself as he trudges off, leaving you to your decision-making. You’re surprised to find yourself a bit apprehensive at the thought of poking around at other people’s business, but with a deep breath, you make your choice. The infirmary, you think. The best way to judge both the integrity and the preparedness of a group is by checking how well-off their doctors are. You made it a point to keep your head low as you moved for your target. You still wore your Mongol uniform, and judging by the occasional glare and off-handed whispering between the various other strangers in the camp, word must have circulated quickly about your position. Nevertheless, you were uninterrupted, and it wasn’t long before you were pushing your way into the infirmary. The door hinges squealed as you entered the building—the interior was… fairly comfy in appearance, actually. It was furnished in the style that a traditional log cabin home would be, save for the actual medical equipment. A fluffy red rug was sprawled out beneath the various beds and operating tables, which in turn were positioned neatly throughout the center of the room. Several couches were positioned along the edges of the room, and in the farthest corner from the door, an elderly looking man works diligently at a desk, sorting papers. His back is turned to you. Your voice catches in your throat. “Bob?” You manage to croak. The man shifts around to spot his guest, eyes bright with surprise. “Goodness!” He suddenly says, and your heart sinks. It wasn’t Bob, that much was certain. “I’m sorry, but I hadn’t heard anyone enter. How may I help you?” You were ashamed at how shaken up you found yourself over the mistake. Besides the fact that it didn’t even make sense for Bob to be here, you hadn’t exactly given much thought into what you would do or say if you did happen to run into him again. The idea that your instinctual reaction was an emotion that strong was unsettling to you. You were stronger than that. Right? “Hello?” The man calls over again, snapping you out of your thoughts. “Uh, no big deal,” you quickly answer. “Just… just snooping around, I s’pose.” “I see,” the man nods several times over, a hand rising to his chin. “Well, you’re welcome to take a seat, or continue to stand there with that starstruck gaze of yours,” with a humorous glint in his eyes, he turns back to his desk. Feeling rather humiliated, you slide into a nearby couch. “I must say, I wasn’t quite expecting a member of the Mongols to step into my office today. Not without a weapon raised, that is.” The statement earns an amused exhale from you, but you stay silent. He says little more as he continues with his work. Eventually though, he seems finished with the state of it, at least temporarily, and moves to sit on one of the medical beds across from you. His hands fold together in his lap. “My name is Arthur,” he adds. “I’m correct in guessing that you didn’t come here to sit silently by yourself?” You take a moment before responding, your reluctance undoubtedly clear to him. “Just came to check the place out,” you mutter. “Wasn’t really lookin’ for a talk.” “Yet you’ve taken a seat,” Arthur points out. “I won’t coerce you, but if you’re searching for an ear, I’ll be here.” Your ears were burning. This wasn’t exactly the sort of exchange that you were looking to have—a quick look around and then a hasty exit would have been fine with you. Besides, speaking with Arthur would just be a waste of time. You were a prisoner here, no matter how well you were treated, and you intended to find a way out. The infirmary was well prepared, and the camp actually had someone working inside. That was enough for you. Should you move along? 8 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Stay to speak with Arthur. (3) Leave. You have better things to do. (2) You run the thought over several times more, continually to reminding yourself that you have no reason to stay. Despite your best attempts however, there is a frustratingly persistent pull to speak with Arthur. With the uncomfortable silence stretching on, it’s Arthur that is first to break the fog. “You asked for a Bob when you first entered,” he begins, evidently choosing his words carefully. “Is this Bob a friend of yours?” The question causes your gaze to lower. Picking up on your obvious discouragement, Arthur clears his throat. “I take it things must not have ended well for you both, regardless of your relation to them.” “He’s dead.” “Mmh,” Arthur nods slowly, following your eyes to the floor. “Despite how much death has ravaged the land under which the outbreak has occurred, we only feel the loss of those closest to us. In time though, we learn to replace that hurt with a desire to help those still around us.” Your eyes narrow as Arthur continues, a slow burning anger beginning to build inside of you. He’s talking like you’re a stranger to loss. As if the outbreak happened the night before, and you were still struggling with the reality of it. Who the hell is he to ‘console’ you? “What would you know about it?” You snap back at Arthur. “You’re not me. You haven’t experienced the things that I have—and don’t get started on some tearful story about how you’ve lost people too or some garbage like that. There ain’t a person alive that hasn’t lost everythin’ by now.” Arthur eyes you calmly as your outburst ends. Your sudden flare of emotions caught even yourself off guard, you admit, and you immediately regret allowing yourself to be controlled by them so easily. “I meant no disrespect,” he murmurs. “You were close to Bob, hm?” “Close,” you laugh, hardly disguising the bitterness in your voice. “Obviously not close enough. I forgot to add in the part where he’s dead because of me.” “Whatever may have transpired that lead Bob to wherever he is now, it is clear that you cared for him in some form or another. I wouldn't recommend hitting yourself against the head over it.” You open your mouth to retort, but Arthur presses on, seemingly intent on getting the rest of his words out. “I’m not speaking out of theories, I’m speaking from experience. If you allow yourself to get hung up on Bob, then you will get hung up on everyone that comes after him. That doesn’t mean you have to forget him, no, but you have to separate from that guilt. If you do not, you will live the rest of your life with it—and that is no way to live.” You don’t respond immediately, instead you stare at Arthur with a mixture of emotions clear on your face. Anger passes through quickly, followed by confusion, and finally ending on a level of reluctant sadness. Rodney would be killing you right now for opening up in such a way to a stranger, but damn it if you weren’t trying every trick in the book to keep yourself steady. The choice of topic at hand was certainly not your strong point. “It also goes both ways,” Arthur whispers quietly now, minding your emotional state. “It is not always enough to be able to forgive yourself—you must be able to forgive other people.” He smiles faintly. “I suppose what I am truly saying is to avoid living with hate, not for yourself, nor for another person. That is my advice to you.” You stand, planting one foot in front of the other as you move for the door. As you rest one hand on the handle, you turn back to face Arthur. “Why are you telling me all of this? I’m a Mongol, right? You said that yourself when I first entered the building.” “It’s hardly easy for me either,” Arthur says slowly. “If I still lived with the troubles you do… … I would have killed you when you took your seat.” 9 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Head to the mess hall. (2) Head to Blake's building. (3) Head to the barracks. (0) The remainder of Arthur’s conversation with you burned in your mind as you approached Blake’s building. The entirety of the encounter left you uncomfortable; it wasn’t like you to allow an absolute stranger so far in to your personal feelings in the way that you did. Rather than dwell on the fact however, you decide to focus on the crunching sounds your shoes made on the grass, trying your best to ignore the odd stares radiating from the other inhabitants of the fort. You hated the stares. But, with any luck, your fingers were curling around the door handle without any further interruption. You were determined to get this over with quickly—one way or another. Truth be told, you hadn’t entirely thought your plan through when it came to confronting Blake. You had agreed to indulge him in critical information involving the Mongols, but it was mostly as a means to an end to continue along in the group smoothly. If you balked in front of Blake, you may as well forfeit any chance of escape right here and now. So, you decided that you would go ahead and tell him everything you knew. After all—even if Blake were to utilize the info to some extent, how much damage could he possibly do? Just based on your offhanded observations on the people living here, there weren’t exactly an abundance of ‘combat-ready’ individuals. Telling him would lead to the best possible outcome for you. As you stepped foot into the building, you were immediately aware of several agitated voices coming from deeper within the structure. At this point, you were absolutely tired of wasting time, and so you decide to announce your presence. Loudly. “Hello!?” You shout none too discreetly, and immediately the voices lower to a more regular conversational tone. After passing through a few short hallways, you enter into an apparent meeting room of sorts. You recognize both Blake and Clay standing beside a large circular table with a few maps laid out across it—the voices from before obviously belonged to them. “Well look who it is,” Blake sneers. “The topic of discussion shows up on her own.” Clay offers a non-committal ‘hmph’, and turns to exit through the door you had just entered yourself. He mutters a word of warning as he passes by: “I’d be careful if I were you. He’s in a bad mood.” You don’t respond. With Clay gone, the only people left in the room are Blake and yourself. Without a word, Blake rounds the table and takes a seat opposite from you. He props one leg up on the other, giving you a look of utter contempt. Moments pass as the two of you stare each other down, until finally Blake decides to speak. “You’ve gotten pretty good at playing stupid, at the very least. It’s either that, or you’re actually just stupid.” You scoff. “I don’t know what it is you’re referrin’ to, but I don’t know you, and you certainly don’t know me.” Blake folds his arms over his chest. “That so? Maybe I ought to jog your memory a bit.” His gaze darkens as he speaks. “Think on back to when the outbreak was just starting to take hold—when Illinois was waking to a national crisis in its backyard.” You blink as you listen, but refuse to allow the sudden realization that shocked you show through to this man. “Still not getting it?” Blake continues, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly. “Alright, I’ll just cut to the chase. When Chicago was first collapsing to the infection, you were part of a group of civilians trying to make it out with your skin still attached.” Blake stands now, slowly circling his desk in much the way he had earlier, stopping in front of you. “You were forced into the sewers in order to cheat death,” he continues, now in near-reaching distance. You take a half-step back, unable to disguise either your fear or alarm now. Blake allows a few seconds of silence, a wicked grin stretching over his face. “Forgot, huh? Right. ‘Forgot’ in the convenient way that lets you pretend you’re not guilty, you mean.” He leans in closer to you, the hate in his eyes far more expressive than anything you’ve seen from him so far. “I haven’t forgotten. The things that happened in those God forsaken tunnels still keep me awake every night. The things that happened because of you.” There’s nothing you can say or do. You’re completely and utterly shell-shocked, and it’s every bit as clear as day to Blake. The memories come swirling back—memories that you swore you’d leave behind you in Chicago. For the first time in a long time, tears threaten to overcome your carefully crafted façade of resilience. The weak and fearful you—the real you—is bound to break free, you realize. Fortunately, fate has a different idea in mind. Mere seconds before you break, distant shouts become apparent, and someone enters the building in a rush. “Blake!” The man pants, offering hardly a glance your way. “We’ve got a situation.” Blake’s irritation is obvious as he moves away from you, leaving you to your dazed staring. “What the hell is going on out there now?” “We pulled another Mongol guy from the outside, but he’s proving trouble. It’s taking five of us just to handle him.” Throwing a nearby jacket over his shoulders, Blake motions for the man to lead the way. As for you, you find it difficult to calm yourself back down. Your mind shifts to thinking about Rodney. Rodney. What would he do in your situation? Frankly, he probably never would find himself in your situation. Regardless, you realize with a jolt just how pathetic you must look. You can practically hear Rodney’s sigh of disappointment. So, with a sniffle and a determined wipe of your eyes, you turn for where the others had gone. Sure enough, once you step outside you find the situation fairly accurate to how the man from before had described it. Someone was getting manhandled by several of Blake’s people, and even still there were moments when it seemed like they would break loose. Ultimately, it took Blake himself moving forward and aiming his personal firearm at the captive to get them to finally calm their efforts. You position yourself so that you have a good view of the prisoner, and as they come into view, you aren’t the only one who finds yourself completely dumbfounded. Blake’s eyes are wide in surprise, too. In recognition. Almost simultaneously, the two of you utter the same exact word. “… Jonathan?” “… Jonathan?" 10 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Attempt to disarm Blake. This could be your chance to escape, with Jonathan's help. (6) Stay out of the way and observe. (3) Jonathan? You think again to yourself. The hell is he doing here? With a quick glance over towards Blake, you observe that he is obviously familiar with Jonathan in some way too, and is clearly just as confused. You make sure your confusion doesn't last as long as his. In a flash, you're diving for Blake and knocking him to the ground, denying him the opportunity to recover. After a few brief seconds of struggling and shouting, you manage to peel the firearm from his hands and crawl back to your feet, just as his men begin to move in to help. Before anyone reaches you however, you raise the gun at Blake. "Nobody move!" You yell. If any of them cared for their leader in a meaningful way, you now had the upper hand. If not, well... you didn't feel like thinking about that right now. Blake takes his time as he stands, and after dusting his pants off, looks you in the eye with an expression that is pure confidence. He's not uncomfortable in front of the barrel of a gun, that much was certain. In fact, he almost looks a little bit disappointed. "What now?" He asks, shrugging his arms dramatically. "Planning on taking everyone out on your own?" Blake's men surrounding the situation seem to have the majority of their attention on you now. Judging by their relatively uneasy movements, it appears that they don't want to force you to pull that trigger. So, they do care about Blake. Good. You look to Jonathan now with an expression that hopefully conveys your intended message. You're going to need his backup here if this is ever going to work. Beaten and bloodied, his face a mask of bruises, lip split and eye swollen shut, Jon looks back and forth between Frankie and Blake. His ability to intervene is hampered by the handcuffs shackling his wrists together, but it's immediately clear that he has no intention of starting another fight. "Frankie," he says, voice low as he shakes his head. "Not like this. Think, girl—we're outmatched... and there's a history here that you don't know about." Jon raises his hands, pointing at Blake. "You pull the trigger, we're dead. You trust me, don'tcha? I need ya to. Put down the gun, Frankie." You can feel the color visibly drain from your face at Jonathan’s words. In all honesty, you’re not quite sure what it was you were expecting him to say. What made you think the two of you would have a chance even if he decided to go all in with you? You suddenly realize that you’ve just made a mistake—an incredibly grave, foolish mistake. Blake, clearly noticing the shift in your certainty, takes a couple of slow steps your way. He stops within reaching distance, staring downward blankly. “Drop it,” he growls. The thought of simply shooting him and owning the consequences briefly crosses your mind, but with Jonathan here now, things are more complicated. As much as you hated the thought, you couldn’t place him in that sort of situation with a clear conscious. So, with a reluctant ‘hmph’, you allow the gun to fall from your fingers. With the firearm resting in the dirt, Blake immediately sends a fist for your face. It wasn’t unexpected, but regardless he was still faster than your reactionary speed. You shield yourself too late before the blow sends you stumbling backward, though you do stay standing. He hits lighter than Clay, at least. Without much care for the concerned muttering surrounding the scene, Blake advances quickly, grabbing you by the neck of your jacket before planting yet another strike. With a rough cry, this one does send you to the ground. You tenderly palm the injured area as you glare back up at Blake. He stares back down in much the same way, his eyes burning with anger. "That's enough!" Jon grits his teeth, knees bent—as if he's about to rush Blake. He stays put, though, simply meeting the other man's glare with his own dark look. "She's scared half to death, Blake. She made a mistake. Let it lie." He turns his eyes towards Frankie, his glower softening. His gaze lingers a moment before his muscles lose tension. "'sides—you and I need to talk. Alone," he says, eyes back on Blake. It takes Blake a few moments before he tears his gaze away from you, sending Jonathan a long look before he replies. "Quite the mistake," he murmurs almost to himself. He motions to some of the nearby bystanders as he approaches Jonathan. "Take his cuffs off--this man is an old friend of mine." Glancing back, he offers you a passing look. "... and get her back in cuffs. She'll stay in the barracks until I figure out what I'm going to do with her." You're already well on your way back to your feet before a couple of weary individuals place your hands in the very same cuffs that bound Jonathan only seconds before. As they slowly prod you along towards the direction of the barracks, you strain to attempt to hear what little conversation you can before you're taken away. Jon massages his wrists, clearly glad to be free of his bindings. "She's a friend of mine," you hear Jon say. "Y'all treat 'er rough, there'll be hell to pay—best believe that." "Now... let's talk about your beef with the bikers, hoss..." . . . The bed creaks as you drop down with a grunt as the two that had escorted you lock up behind themselves. They had brought you to the barracks that Blake had mentioned, though in reality, the room that it looked like you were going to be held in wasn’t much of a barracks or a prison. It was small, sure, but you were still provided with a comfortable bed and a few other pieces of furniture. A nightstand sat to your left from your position on the bed, and at the foot of the bed itself was a small chest for storing things. Directly to your right was a tiny window. The barricade covering the window didn’t appear particularly strong, but even if you were to smash the wooden planks covering it, you wouldn’t fit through the leftover hole. You sigh. Your blunder had certainly cost you your chance to escape anytime soon—Blake wouldn’t allow you out of sight for long with what you tried to pull on him. In fact, you’d be surprised if he didn’t try to get you ‘accidentally killed’ in some manner. The only thing that saved you back there was Jonathan himself, thankfully enough. There seems to be some sort of history between the two of them, Blake and Jon. You wonder briefly at what the possible connection might be, but as the later hours of the day were beginning to creep up on you, you suddenly found yourself more fatigued than you thought you were… . . . Water splashed under the relentless assault of your feet. You were at the rear of the group making its mad dash for safety—the furious snarling and gnashing of the infected close behind. Between the panicked breathing and mumbled prayers for deliverance and safety, the only thing you could hear was the heavy pounding of blood in your head. I’m going to die, your thoughts scream to you. I’m going to die here! Unfortunately for you and the others, the hopes that the end of the tunnel would result in an exit from the sewers were dashed when you came upon a large iron gating. As far as you could tell, there was no way through, and the roars of the horde were growing ever closer… . . . A knock came from the doorway, slowly bringing you from your slumber. You blink through the darkness, eyes narrowed cautiously. After a few seconds, another knocks follows. “Frankie, are you awake? It’s Seth.” The source of the knock whispers. You debate simply going to sleep and pretending you hadn’t heard him. It must be quite late by now, and frankly you’re not sure you had the patience to humor the kid. 11 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Ignore Seth and rest up, tomorrow was sure to be a long day. (4) Respond to Seth. Why not have a conversation in the middle of the night? (1) Eventually, Seth’s knocking faded away, and you fell back into a deep, dreamless sleep. The next day consisted mostly of an early morning and breakfast, followed by general grunt work until around noon, where lunch was then served. With Jonathan around, the need for you to tell Blake about anything pertaining to the Mongols was a waste of time, and though it wasn’t considered necessary for you to stay shackled, you were not without supervision for more than a few seconds at a time. So, you spent your ‘free time’ helping out where you could; maintaining defenses, traps and various pieces of equipment for fighting infected. They mostly mindless tasks to be sure, but you enjoyed doing something again, even if it wasn’t entirely willing on your part. If there was anything you were certain of though, it was that as long as you bide your time and weren’t reckless any further, another chance to escape would surely reveal itself. You weren’t wrong. It had begun slowly at first—the rumors of one of the most massive hordes of infected ever encountered—but over time the hushed whispers of the camp’s inhabitants spoke of nothing except this particular phenomenon. It was a mixture of curiosity and dreadful anticipation. Would the horde move towards camp? Exactly how large was it? How long did they have before it reached them? Regardless, the various guards around the camp alongside Blake himself continually reassured everyone that although the horde was going to approach relatively close, it wouldn’t actually cross where the camp is located. As long as nothing attracted the horde’s attention towards the camp, everything would be just fine. Jonathan had explained as much himself, during one of the few times that the two of you were able to meet. It wasn’t often, and never for very long, but the two of you had worked out a sort of pattern for when your daily activities would cross. It was during these that you could then share information or anything interesting either you felt the other would need to know. . . . You waited anxiously by the tall wooden fence separating you from Blake's building. It was here where Jon had agreed to regularly meet you, as not only was it an inconspicuous location for Jon himself to be nearby, but it was also close to where you prepared your materials for repairs around the camp. You could slip away for a few minutes at a time before the guards intended to watch you would care, and it would give you the opportunity to swap any relevant information either of you had learned. The sound of footsteps in grass on the other side of the fence attracts your attention. You allow whoever it is to speak first. On the off chance it wasn't Jon, you didn't want to reveal to them that you were expecting Jon here. The footfalls come to a stop, and silence hangs thick for several moments. "The whippoorwill sings loudest at dawn," Jon murmurs dramatically. "Just kiddin'—you there, kiddo?" He props himself up against the fence, which creaks just a little, and tucks a cigarette between his lips. A tiny sigh of relief is released at the sound of Jonathan's voice. "Funny," you say lamely as you approach the fence closer. "Were you able to learn anything about the horde of infected?" Thanks to his acquaintanceship with Blake, Jonathan became privy to a lot more information than you'd ever learn on your own. From what he's told you in past meetings, the two knew each other during their service in the military. It wasn't as though they were buddies from what you could tell, but there must be a fair amount of trust between each other for Blake to tell Jon anything at all. You briefly wonder how Jon felt about betraying Blake's trust, or worse, if he even told you the truth. You decide to dismiss those thoughts for now. "Yep," Jon replies, pausing... chk-chk-chk... his lighter catches, then flicks shut as he drags on the freshly lit cigarette. "It ain't great news, kid. Blake's scouts confirmed that the horde's real—and too big for a head count. Biggest they've ever seen, they said. It's headin' our way, but right now it's not gonna intercept the camp... but, uh—you know how quick that kinda thing can change. Anything catches their attention, it could drag 'em down on top of us in a heartbeat. No way we could handle a horde that big, neither." You think to yourself a bit before responding. The fact that the horde was confirmed caused hope to flare up within you, but it's met with an equal amount of apprehension. You were fairly confident of course that were the infected to actually hit the camp, you'd be able to escape in the ensuing chaos. The timing would have to be impeccable however--if the horde seemed like it would hit the camp too early, Blake would evacuate, dashing your chances. But, were the infected pulled in just as they're passing by... that'd almost certainly work. The problem you face now, though, is how on earth are you going to attract the attention of that large of a horde? That's not the only issue, either. Blake and Jon obviously have a connection--one that could be quite strong for all you know. If you reveal your plan to pull the horde to Jon, he might warn Blake ahead of time out of a sense of past ties if nothing else, even if he doesn't rat you out specifically. If he considers it a better plan to try and negotiate with Blake for your release, it'd be smarter to keep things to yourself. Of course, that means you won't have Jon's help to count on during the set-up of whatever it is you end up doing. You take a deep breath. You realize that the choice you make could very well be the deciding factor in your escape. What will you do? 12 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Tell Jonathan that you want to draw the horde to camp. (1) Keep your plans to yourself. It's too risky. (4) You decide to keep your thoughts on the matter to yourself. You felt a bit bad deceiving Jon, but in a way, you were helping him, too. After all—he wouldn’t really need to know until shortly before you make your move to lure the horde. By that point, there would be little to gain from informing Blake outside of a panicked camp. At least that’s what you hope… . . . This was how the majority of your days went over the course of the next few weeks. Jon continued to meet with you as planned, updating you on the recent happenings as well as on any new info coming out about the horde of infected. On the other side of things, you’ve been doing your part in your goal of freedom. By laying low and staying out of trouble, the amount of ‘security’ that had to keep tabs on you was dwindling by the week, and by this point there were several times throughout the day where you went relatively unsupervised. This of course allowed you time to search for a way to lure the horde to the camp. You knew that whatever it was you decided to do, it would have to create an ample amount of noise to attract the attention of that many infected. So far, there were two ideas that stuck out to you the most: the first was an old P.A. system that the camp must have utilized back before the outbreak, and the second was the munitions storage for the camp. If you were able to somehow get in control of the P.A. system, you could potentially play sound through the various speakers around camp at a loud enough volume that the horde would be alerted. Alternatively, you could also find a way to sneak into the munitions storage and light the building up like a fire cracker. It’d certainly pull the infected, and at the same time it would strip away much of the camp’s ability to defend itself in the first place. The only questions left were how exactly you’d go about doing either of those things, and if you did, if you would warn Jonathan to run before it was too late. You’d spent hours preparing wood for construction efforts while these thoughts ran through your head. Eventually you were forced to take a break from exhaustion, taking a seat on a nearby pile of discarded pieces. You closed your eyes, once again contemplating the severity of what it was you were planning. I’m planning the potential deaths of an entire community, you think to yourself. Some were your typical ruffians, sure, but some were also families. Children. Did you have it within you to so brazenly throw them all to the infected? You’re not sure you wanted to answer that question. Besides, it wasn’t as though you were going to try this because you wanted to kill anybody—all you wanted was your freedom. If Blake would give it up willingly, you would leave without another second of struggle. You knew that this wouldn’t ever come to pass however, at least not at this point. Regardless of the whole Mongol issue—which Jon seems to have under control—Blake still had a personal vendetta against you, and you were sure that he will want to confront you about it again before too long. You stand up, opening your eyes. A quick glance around confirms that no one is keeping watch of you at the moment. You had a good opportunity here to check out one of the potential ways of escape. Ideally, you’d like to check out both, but there was no telling when somebody would come back around to check up on you, and the last thing you wanted was to be caught snooping around where you shouldn’t be snooping. You chew on your lower lip as you think it over. Where should you go? 13 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Check out the old public announcement system nearby Blake's building. (2) Check out the munitions storage inside the barracks. (1) Check neither option, you can't risk getting caught. (0) It was fairly easy getting to Blake’s building unnoticed. No one except the people keeping tabs on you really knew where you were supposed to be at any given moment, and as long as you carried yourself in a manner that told them you were doing your job, no one would approach you. Before long you identified one of the old announcement systems you were looking for—a large speaker secured to the side of the building near the roof. A cord trailed down from it, leading through a tiny hole in the side of the wall. Nothing appeared damaged as far as you could tell, and as long as power was supplied to the building, it’d be simple to turn the system on. There was a bit of a catch though, you were reluctant to find. The controls for the announcement system were definitely inside the building. Blake’s building. The sound of footsteps approaching you from behind causes you to stiffen, but you manage to keep your cool. No one’s shouted your name yet, so you should be okay… “Frankie?” Arthur’s voice had a questionable air to it. “Hi, Arthur.” “What are you up to over here, hm? Working on that old speaker?” Your eyes turn towards Arthur, then travel back up the wall to the object in question. “Yeah,” you say as convincingly as you can. “Apparently Blake would like to be able to send out messages to the whole camp with this thing again. Was asked to make sure nothin’ was broke, y’know?” “Ah,” Arthur nods. “A bit of a strange time to be working on a speaker system for the camp, what with that horde supposedly approaching near, but oh well. You never can tell what Blake will be up to next, it would seem.” You nod mutely, and a drawn out pause follows. “Frankie,” he says again, a bit more caution in his voice. “I am the farthest thing from any sort of repairman—at least for that of a mechanical nature—so do take this with a grain of salt.” He takes a breath. “Things around this camp are old. Blake is set in his ways and is far from a man of change. I will not interrupt you any further, but I would advise that you keep your wits about you as you continue with your… repairs.” You lower your eyes to the grass, nodding lamely, doing anything in your power to give off the impression that you’re not up to anything, but you can’t stop your conscious from whispering in your head. He knows. Arthur clears his throat. “Well, as I said, just be careful, alright?” He begins moving away now, back from where he had come. “And please, whatever it is you decide to do, keep Seth out of it, yes?” You gulp. . . . “Frankie you get that goddamn gate open and you do it now!” The screams and mad shrieks of the infected mixed with the wails and cries of adults and children alike. Murky water splashed around your feet as you maneuvered around the iron wheel, struggling to raise the metal gate that was long rusted shut. It almost taunted you, the way the thing refused to budge. As if it wanted you to die. “Frankie!” Blake shouts again. Attempting to turn the wheel with your bare hands was proving fruitless. Several jagged pieces of the thing had already cut into your skin, slicking your hands with blood. Glancing around frantically, you search for something—anything—that would prove useful. The near constant shouts only made your nerves worse, and the thought that the infected were approaching closer every second did not help. As luck would have it however, you spy a loose bit of piping along the nearby brick wall. With only a kick or two you manage to dislodge it. Sprinting back over to the wheel, you insert the pipe through the spokes and begin to turn. At first it seems that it wouldn’t make a difference, but to your relief, the rusted wheel squeals to life as it starts to rotate. Blood pounding in your ears, you turn the wheel with what little strength you had left. Eventually, the gate was raised tall enough that people could get through if they crawled. You look back over your shoulder to relay the good news, only to find yourself face to face with one of the infected. . . . Several days have passed since you last made any unusual movements. The spook Arthur gave you made sure of that. Nevertheless, it was during your usual morning routine that there was a knock on your door. “Blake’s called an emergency meeting in the center of camp.” It was more than likely about the horde of infected. They must be close by now. The question now is whether or not you should bother going to the meeting or if you should check things out for yourself. You could probably get up onto the scouting tower if you were quick. 14 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Attend the emergency meeting. (1) Climb the scout tower. (3) One hand over the other, you slowly make your ascent up the scout tower. Even as you near the top, a peculiar noise separates itself from the anxious murmurs of the camp. It sounds almost like the distant rumbling of an engine, but that wouldn’t make much sense, you think. The camp already didn’t have many vehicles as it was, and Blake surely wouldn’t allow anyone to drive with the infected so close. Once you reach the top of the tower and begin to scan the distance however, the source of the sound becomes clear. Sure enough, a small vehicle was cutting its way through the grass, apparently attempting to pull the infected away, but that wasn’t all—not too much farther out than the vehicle itself was a sight that made your heart freeze. The infected themselves. Their numbers seemed to stretch on and on, or at least as far as you could see until they hit the tree line. There were easily hundreds, if not over a thousand of them. You long knew by now that the horde was confirmed to be extremely large but witnessing the reality of it for the first time was far more terrifying than any image your mind could think up. You turn to make your exit from the tower, but the metallic thunk-thunk of boots on a metal ladder stops you in your tracks. Someone is coming up, you realize with a jolt. Sure enough, the grizzled and scarred head of a man pops up over the edge of the tower. He mutters quietly to himself as he moves and has a sizeable rifle strapped across his back. You distinctly remember this man to be the sharpshooter that you had been warned about so long ago. His quiet ramblings grind to an immediate halt as he sees you, and a few seconds of shocked silence hang between the two of you as you both stare at each other. You’ve learned your lesson several times by this point, so you ensure that you’re the first to act. Hardly thinking a thought, you take a swift step forward, raise a boot and plant it directly into the mans face. With a simultaneously startled shout the man loses his grip on the ladder, and his pained cry turns into fearful screaming as he plummets down to the dirt below. He lands with a sickening crunch and doesn’t move again. Your breath catches in your throat as several other voices begin to shout from around the camp. They had certainly heard the man scream as he fell. You begin to make your way down the ladder in haste, and once both feet are on the ground, you sprint for Blake’s building. Thankfully it wasn’t more than a few steps away from the scout tower, and with any luck, Blake and the other camp inhabitants would be occupied with the man you kicked off. Finding the door to the place unlocked, you quickly shut it behind you and rush off deeper into the building. With any luck, once you found the controls for the public announcement system you would hopefully be able to attract the infected towards the camp despite the vehicle attempting to steer them off course. You rush from room to room, not bothering for stealth or secrecy in the slightest. Blake and his men have more than likely already assumed foul play and are probably searching for you—you just hope they don’t think to check Blake’s place. Thankfully, after only a few seconds of frantic rushing, you come across what looks to be the control board for the P.A. system. You glance over the various knobs and buttons before flipping the ‘on’ switch and cranking the volume to the maximum. The light indicating whether its on or not turns red, but… you hear nothing. You can hear the blood pounding in your skull as you wait anxiously. What if the system didn’t work? You just seriously injured one of Blake’s men—a skilled man—if not outright killed him. Only now do you identify how stupid it is to hinge everything you’ve endured so far on whether an outdated, unused glorified group of speakers can even play sound. You take a tentative step or two back, bringing your palms up to your forehead in dread. That’s when you hear it—the sharp electric tone of speakers coming to life at an ear-splitting volume. The infected must hear it too, were the distant caterwauls any indication. You breathe a quick sigh of relief, but you aren’t sure why. The hard part has yet to start. 15 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Look for a place to hide elsewhere in the camp. (2) Stay and hide inside Blake's building. (1) The screams of the living and the groans of the dead surrounded you on all sides. Gunshots rang out, causing you to shrink further back into the crates, undoing all the courage you had built up to make a run for it. Just as you were beginning to encourage yourself forward once again, a man’s body falls to the ground not more than ten feet in front of your hiding place—his lifeless eyes staring at you in a mixture of shock and pain. You shrink away, shaking. You knew he was dead, but even still you could feel the blame in his gaze… Shortly after the announcement system had gone off, you had rushed outside through the way you had originally entered the building away from where the meeting had been taking place. You could hear the alarmed shouts of the camp people as they began to panic, but that was the least of your worries at the time. You were desperate to find a place that you could hide until camp would have no choice but to stop looking for you. Once the infected arrived, you could finally escape. At least, that’s what you thought at the time. Now however, now that you were finally in the thick of it, you weren’t so confident. It had taken little time at all for the infected to utterly overrun the camp’s defenses, and it quickly became a slaughterhouse. Those who were smart fled into the woods, but still many stayed to try and fight. Unfortunately for you, there never really was a clear moment for you to flee—by the time people had stopped searching for you, the horde was upon them. Now, the infected and hostile camp members surrounded you on all sides. Eventually you concluded that there wouldn’t be a ‘good time’ to run. You’d simply have to trust your gut and make a break for it whenever you felt you had the greatest chance of success. If anything, the dead man in front of you now only cemented that fact. It wouldn’t be long before an infected stumbled onto your hiding spot anyways. So, with a deep breath, you emerged from the crates and into the open. Your first objective was to search the dead man’s body with anything of use to you. Unfortunately, he didn’t appear to have any firearms, but there was a lengthy dagger that seemed to have fallen from his hands. There was a mixture of mud and blood on it now, but it was still workable. After the rest of your search proved fruitless, you began your escape. You kept low as you slowly walked along, flinching every time a gun went off. You’d never know if they were firing at you or not. What if someone mistook you for infected, or if you got hit by a stray shot? Despite your racing thoughts, you did have the clarity of mind to push them all away. Thinking about what-ifs did nothing to ensure your survival. Your lucky streak of no interruptions on your way to the tree-line came to a halt as a few infected to your front took notice of you. They snarled and gargled as they began to approach, but it was a simple and familiar task for you to simply weave between them and continue on your way. The next group of infected proved a bit more challenging, though. There wasn’t any clear way to dodge these three—and you already had the few that you had dodged before approaching from behind. Thinking quickly, you immediately dispatch the infected farthest to your right with a swift thrust from your newfound blade. It drops with a thud, and the two leftover infected growled through their gums as if they cared that you just downed their companion. With the pair of infected creeping up behind you, you realize that you don’t have time to kill the other two before they would be upon you. So, after rotating a bit over the freshly killed infected, you raise a boot and plant it square on one of the infected’s chest, sending it stumbling back and into its last remaining partner. The grisly figure attempts to grasp and scrape at your leg as you do so, but its grip is far too weak to have any sort of an impact on your leg. Already the pair were beginning to pick themselves back up however, so you waste no more time in continuing on your way towards the tree line. The bloody struggle of survivor versus infected raged on in the background, but it didn’t matter to you anymore. Your sights were set on freedom—and it was getting closer with every step you took. Finally, at long last, you stepped over from the edge of the grassy and into the forest. With the camp now behind you, all you could think about was how the others back in Falmouth must be doing. Knowing them, they were all well and waiting for your return. It’d be a pain in the ass having to deal with the constant teasing about getting yourself into this mess, but at the very least you would have a good story to tell everyone. After a good night’s sleep, perhaps. A small smile briefly made its way on your face. There was one thing that motivated you above everything else. The thought that you’d get to see— The ear-splitting sound that deafens you is only overpowered by a sharp pain in your left shoulder. You blink and stumble forward, dazed, as you try and comprehend what just happened. You fall to your hands and knees, tiny droplets of red dripping down from your arm and onto the dirt below. Footsteps approach you from behind. “Finally caught up to you,” the voice sneers. It was Blake. Planting his foot into your side, Blake kicks you over onto your back. You gasp in pain as you stare back up at him. Into the smoking barrel of a gun. His expression is one of fury far beyond any hatred he might have shown you previously, and his eyes were stained with red. Was he crying? “I should have killed you the moment we found you,” Blake snarls. “I should have killed you the moment you attempted to take me hostage.” Your right hand gingerly grips the fresh gunshot wound in your shoulder as he speaks. Was it the tears forming in your eyes that blurred your vision, or was it the pain? You couldn’t tell. “Daniel made a case for you back when we picked you up. Jonathan vouched for you after your first attempt to escape. You’ve proved them both wrong—you’re not a ‘lost soul’, you’re just a goddamn monster. Or did you think that luring a horde that large was your only possible option to escape?” Oddly enough, the anger in his voice seems to be ebbing away with every word he says. It’s replaced with the tone of defeat—the tone of a man who has lost everything. “Did you even stop to consider how many lives you’ve taken tonight? How many children were torn apart, screaming, because you felt like you had to break out of the place that fed you and gave you a bed? What about Jonathan, the man who called you a ‘dear friend’? I don’t see him here with you. You left him for dead, just like everybody else in that camp.” Blake lifts a boot and presses it on your wounded shoulder. Your eyes widen and you scream, but there isn’t anyone left to hear you. Only the dangerously vengeful look Blake offers now is all that is witness to your suffering. You vaguely wonder if perhaps it was a mistake to exclude everyone from your plans. Maybe someone could have talked you out of it—suggested another way. Maybe someone would be here to help you now when you most needed it. These thoughts were coming too late now, you realize. Far, far too late. “If I had been a better leader, I could have saved them. I can’t do that now, but I can make sure that their deaths don’t go unpunished.” Blake takes aim again. You’re certain that he intends to end it with this next shot. You feel like you should do something, but… you can’t shake the thought that he isn’t wrong. You did kill everybody in that camp out of pure selfishness. Did you even deserve to live? Of course you do, a tiny voice inside you says. Did you go through everything up until now so that you could die like this? Think of Rodney. Think of him. You blink slowly. That’s right. What would Rodney say to you now, if he could see you like this? And besides—you still had someone to make it back to after all of this. The smallest of smirks makes its way onto your face. You must have looked pretty pathetic there for a second. Before Blake manages to make the final blow, you quickly lift your right leg and smash it into the back of his standing leg with all the force you can muster. His knee buckles from the strike, and with a startled grunt he falls to the ground, the gun in his hand discharging into the dirt. Your head rings from the gunshot—you’d no doubt be left with some measure of hearing damage afterward—but with the weight of his boot off your shoulder and the gun no longer pointed at your head, you manage to scramble to your feet. Dagger in hand, you immediately rush forward and grab Blake’s weapon-arm, plunging the blade into his stomach. It’s Blake’s turn to widen his eyes, and he looks down at the knife sticking into his gut in an almost dumbfounded way. Before he can get a chance to recover, you withdraw it, only to stab him with it once again. Blake sinks to a knee with a groan, gritting his teeth. “Damn you,” is all he manages to say before you pull the blade out for a second time. You don’t go for his stomach this time however as you slash forward in a wide arc, splitting the skin just under his chin. Blood gurgles from Blake’s mouth as his eyes narrow in what can only be described as the most loathsome look one could possibly have for another human being. He falls backwards onto the ground—an almost direct reversal from the situation occurring only seconds before. You pant heavily as you look down at him. There’s nothing more to be said, not that he could talk even if he wanted. Blood has soaked through his jacket from the stab wounds you delivered, as well as from the sizeable slice on his throat. Your eyes trail down towards the firearm that has fallen from his hand. As you stoop down to take it for yourself, you notice too late the subtle sound of a strap getting undone. You only narrowly avoid having the knife that Blake lashes out at you with strike your own neck, but you don’t manage to dodge the strike completely. The warmth of liquid is suddenly apparent to you as the knife cuts a horizontal line across your face. You stagger back with a cry, subconsciously raising a hand to the wound. A small smile is visible on Blake’s face as he glares at you. Only now do your injuries start to make themselves more obvious to you. The bullet wound in your shoulder is practically screaming from all of the movement you’ve done, and the fresh cut on your face wasn’t particularly comfortable either. On top of that, your ears were still ringing from the gunshot that fired not more than a foot away from your face. You felt like you were going to throw up. Finishing Blake off wasn’t even a thought in your mind at this point as you began to stagger off further into the forest. A few infected were bound to be drawn by the sounds of your struggle. All you focused on was one foot in front of the other. You weren’t sure where it was you were headed—you didn’t exactly care, either. All you knew was that you needed to get as far from wherever ‘here’ was as possible. . . . Eventually, the sounds of gunshots and shouting were little more than echoes in the distance as you broke away from the thick canopy of the trees and out into the open of another field. Your limbs felt heavy as you moved, and before long you found yourself having collapsed onto the grass. Your eyes lazily drifted up towards the sky as you lay there, wondering if you would even make it back to the others before you succumbed to your injuries. Blake may not have been able to kill you outright, but if you didn’t find a solution soon, you’d die regardless. The comforting sounds of nature did little to soothe your mind as you slowly drifted in and out of consciousness. You couldn’t hear them very well now anyways. You certainly couldn’t hear the sound of wooden wheels rolling towards you. . . . You stumble away from the infected, narrowly avoiding its lashing claws. Blake lunges in from the left, knocking the infected away. He turns to you, desperate. "The wheel, Frankie!" He shouts, returning once more to the mayhem. You're sitting in front of Bob back at the Union Center warehouse. "Bob," you say quietly, rubbing your eyes in fatigue. "I think I'd be willing to do anythin' to keep my friends and I alive." You watch the doctor as he works at his desk. "Is that a bad thing, y'think?" "Bad?" He says. Unblinking, he removes his glasses. Rather than clipping them on his collar, letting them hang, he holds them steady. Still as a needle. "To care for community is human nature," he says. "The bigger question," he says, "is whether they'd do the same for you." Squeak, squeak, squeak. The metal wheel turns slowly--the iron bars rise even slower. You turned and turned the wheel with all of your strength. An infected could be right behind you, readying a strike, and you'd never know it. Eventually, enough space is made between the sewer floor and the metal bars for people to squeeze through. A sigh escapes you as you close your eyes in sleep. Suddenly, the wind picks up. You find yourself standing on the roof of the warehouse, now. You and Bob seem to be playing a round of golf. "I'm scared that I might mess up and lose people over somethin' I could have prevented. Maybe, though, what I'm even more afraid of is to what extent I'd go to make things right again." "Golf," he chuckles, albeit giving her a kind smile. "No, Lass," he says. "It is golf." He touches his temple, giving a small nod. "And it is here," he says. "All of you." Then, he points to the center of his chest with the same hand: his heart. "And here," he says. "Come what may, you will stop thinking so much. You will find you've had control all along." Filthy water sloshes around you as you lower yourself and crawl underneath the iron bars. You quickly stand, shivering, watching as the others keep the infected at bay. They didn't have long, you realized with horror. There were more infected than you could count sprinting towards them from further in the sewer. "Come on!" You shout. "Get over here!" Only there was never a chance. Your stomach dropped as the metal wheel squealed like a pig--only for it to snap off entirely. The iron bars rushed towards the floor, shutting off any chance of escape for the others with an ear-splitting bang. You stand there, utterly shocked, as the infected moved closer and closer... Now, the light dims. Did clouds cover the sun? No, you decide. The low lighting was because you were seated in the cafeteria. You hadn't yet installed the flashlight fixtures yet, remember? "What do you think, Bob?" You glance over across the cafeteria table. "We don't know for certain if he's responsible. Think it's better to be safe and take this 'Samuel' guy out anyhow?" Sitting at the lunch table, the old man laces his fingers. His cane leans against the far wall, next to the boarded window. "There is no such thing as guilt by association, Frankie," he says. Leaving the little meal he's made for himself, he goes to it. Picking it up, he taps the bottom board. "Only names," he says. Tap, tap. "And those who've earned them." . . . END . . . Big thank you to everyone who helped me write this and put in their own characters when I asked for it. This is the first time I've ever really tried to write anything, really, so it was more of an experiment on my end than it was an attempt to tell an objectively "good" story. Hopefully it was at least a little bit interesting to read, though. I went into this with several different outcomes to the progression in mind, and it was interesting to see the options most people thought were best. Or, maybe you guys were just trying to sabotage things. Either way was fine with me. In the end I think a relatively okay outcome was achieved. Certainly not the best outcome possible by any means, but still alright. I would have liked to have made it a lot more involved and in-depth if I had the time to really dedicate to writing (and getting better), but I also wanted to keep it relevant to the current lore. Maybe in the future I can do something similar to this, but on a larger scale. Will have to see! Frankie's final injury tallies (ignoring superficial wounds) were a gunshot to the left shoulder, a large slash across the bridge of her nose, and somewhat substantial hearing damage. Good on you guys.