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Doomsday By Design - Novel In Progress

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posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 04:06 PM
Still on the edge of my seat wondering what might happen next. Love this story!

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 07:45 PM

originally posted by: Wookiep
i think you should have just done this in the first place, and wrote whatever you wanted. I really liked the concept of your first thread, but it became apparent that you wanted your ideas to only be involved. I tried to participate in that thread as realistically as I could, but things got so un realistic, I just couldnt stand it anymore, like little girls with navy seals training. lol it got ridiculous.

Good luck on your story, at least it isn't collaborative this time because that did not work.

I've had a little more experience being assertive as a role play host since then, and that's why I tried to resurrect the collab. I figured it might go better if I revamped it. I got annoyed at the unrealistic stuff too, particularly the little girls being trained assassins...

I'm glad you still like the story even though it's not a team effort anymore. Still, I'm always open for feedback and suggestions if you have any ^^

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:00 PM

originally posted by: Night Star
Still on the edge of my seat wondering what might happen next. Love this story!

Thanks! Hope you like the characters. Takes a lot out of my mental stability to write for so many people, but I love it xD

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:07 PM

Chapter 6

Breaking In

For a while, Maxi and his followers were the only people in the cafeteria.
Everyone was still recovering from what had happened. Caitlin and Owen were further down the hall from everyone, and they took turns scolding each other for their behavior. Declan and Arya were bickering about Maxi’s justification, or lack thereof, for locking him up, while Sandra tried to explain the situation to her own companions as carefully and clearly as she could. This wouldn’t be easy. A lot of these people didn’t even know each other, and they all had reasons to hate Maxi, but Sandra had made up her mind before even setting foot inside of St. Luke’s Hospital. She planned to save everyone, and the others would just have to deal with it.
“I understand.” Ryujin said. “I think you’re doing the right thing.”
Sandra breathed out a sigh of relief. Ryujin was probably the only person who agreed with her; Church had a dumbfounded look on his big face, and Alan still hadn’t spoken since Sandra slapped him. The others’ stances on the situation were clear to her, because she could hear all of them shouting angrily about what Maxi had done. Pulling all of these individuals together would likely be one of the most difficult things she’d ever try to accomplish, but it needed to be done.
Sandra looked away from her group just in time to see Declan throw his hands into the air and storm down another hallway, leaving Arya standing alone. Declan obviously didn’t like the whole idea, but hopefully Arya had convinced him to play along at least.
Arya approached Sandra and released a tired breath. “He’s being difficult. It’s understandable, of course, but…”
“What did he say?” Sandra asked.
“Well…” Arya said. “I don’t have all the details, so I didn’t really know what to say to him. So… Sanctum, huh.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry I haven’t told you much. We haven’t really had a quiet moment since we met.” Sandra replied. “Sanctum is a place my uncle established that’s specifically meant for a worldwide disaster. That’s why I’m trying to take us all there.”
Arya had a sympathetic shine in his eyes. He didn’t like the idea of placing any sort of trust in Maxi, but he was willing to give it a try. Sandra had planned to take Arya, Declan, Caitlin, Owen, and even Maxi with her in order to get them to safety. The plan was crazy, but it was definitely worth trying. None of them had anywhere else to go or any better plans. This was their best choice.
“I’ll go with you.” Arya decided. “I’m on board. And I think Des will go wherever I go.”
Sandra nodded and faced the other end of the hallway, where Caitlin and Owen were trying to shout over each other. Caitlin was holding the rifle now, and Owen made a few frantic arm gestures out of frustration with every word he spoke. Sandra remained quiet when she walked up to them, waiting for them to finish before speaking to either of them.
It didn’t seem like their fight was anywhere near a closing point.
“Why would you do that?! Why would you come in here—a twelve year old, after I told you not to, after I told you to wait outside—”
“Because you were stuck inside! I just came to help!”
“And I told you not to touch Dad’s rifle—”
“I was scared! I wanted protection!”
“I don’t care what you wanted! I’m responsible for you, not the other way around! Next time I tell you to do something, you do it—and don’t #ing question me either!”
“Um…” Sandra mumbled. “Hey, you guys. I…”
“She told me I could come with her!” Owen hollered, waving in Sandra’s direction. “She told me she’d help me find you! I had other people helping me! It’s not like I just wandered in here by myself, like you did.”
“I’m an adult. I can do whatever I—”
“Don’t tell me that! You never listened to Dad even when you were my age, you hypocrite! You broke the rules all the time! But it’s not okay for me to do the same exact thing?!”
“HEY!” Sandra erupted so loud that everyone in the building heard the booming echo of her voice. “I just wanted to ask—are you guys coming with us to Sanctum, or not?”
They both fell silent. Caitlin gave Sandra a snake-like leer.
“You brought my little brother in here?” Caitlin said in a much quieter, more unsettling voice. “Why the hell would you bring my little brother in here?”
“Because I wanted to look after him. He was safer with us than he was standing out in the open by himself. Plus, he was looking for you.” Sandra responded flatly. “He was scared sh!tless. He thought you weren’t coming back, and I know how that feels. So, yeah, I helped. And look, nobody got hurt. I think I did a pretty damn good job.”
“Um, excuse me.” Alan said, pointing to his reddened cheek. “Nobody got hurt?”
“You don’t count.” Sandra replied before turning back to Caitlin.
“Yeah, well, thanks but no thanks.” Caitlin spoke in an equally icy tone and crossed her arms. “We’re fine on our own. I don’t plan on being buddy-buddy with our gracious host in there.” She shot a glare towards the cafeteria.
A jab of annoyance pierced Sandra in the gut. Was this the attitude she deserved for trying to help everyone she came across?
No, it wasn’t fair of her to chastise this girl, Caitlin, for acting this way. The recent events left everyone extremely on edge, and Sandra herself had slapped her best friend only a few minutes ago. It was perfectly understandable that everyone was angry. Sandra couldn’t let that affect her judgement during this crucial time.
“I’m going because I want everyone with me to be alright.” Sandra said. “And, if my uncle’s alive, he’d want me to be okay too. I’m not going because I planned to go. I’m going because I need to know the people around me are safe, and Sanctum is the only place that can guarantee that. Come on… you have a little brother. You know how this feels.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you should go grabbing everybody off the streets along the way.” Caitlin responded. “I don’t even know you—and Maxi? Really? You’d really take him with us after everything he did?”
“He’s just improvising. None of us know what to do right now.”
“Really. So, if you don’t know what you’re doing, then why am I even still listening to you?”
“Because I have a place for us to go.”
“Do you really? How do we know this place even exists?”
“My uncle has people broadcasting for it on the radio. Plus, he told me all about it and he tried to take me there multiple times. This is the guy who built a bunker and created his own source of electricity at our house. He’s driven to survive, and he’s not a liar. I know this place is real.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t.”
Sandra’s teeth pressed together. She wanted to argue, to make her point, to drill it into Caitlin’s head that she wasn’t wrong about Sanctum, but Caitlin seemed to be the stubborn type. Sandra wondered if her uncle ever felt this way when he’d try to talk to her about Sanctum. Suddenly, Sandra held a certain empathy for her uncle that she didn’t have before.
“Fine.” Sandra said after a moment of thought. “Fine. Do what you want.”

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:12 PM
Then, Sandra made her way down the hall towards the cafeteria. Arya stared after her, appearing somewhat surprised by her sudden change of ambition, and Caitlin bit the inside of her lip, making her mouth poke out.
Caitlin didn’t regret anything she said. The whole thing sounded ridiculous to her.
But how likely was it that they’d find another place like Sanctum, if the place actually existed? And where did she plan to take her little brother, anyway? Nobody else in the country had been prepared for disaster to strike, and if they were to return to their home town, there was no telling what chaos they’d find. Not to mention, Las Vegas and countless other cities had been bombed off the face of the planet. Now was the time to find a place to nest, whether she wanted to or not. It was the only surefire way of keeping Owen safe.
Caitlin gave her brother a disdainful glance before calling out to Sandra.
“I want my gun back.” She said. “I’m not going anywhere with that asshole until he gives me my gun back.”
“Fair enough.” Sandra replied without stopping.
Arya followed her.
“Do you have a plan from here on? Where are we going for the night?” Arya questioned. “If Maxi offers for us to spend the night here, we’ll have to refuse. This place is contaminated with the Red Flu, and we have no idea how it spreads. We need to leave as soon as possible.”
“Yeah. That girl has a pickup truck, I was thinking we’d all fit in the back.” Sandra said. “We could just drive until we find a place to spend the night, like, a building or something. Worst that could happen is that we’re stuck driving all night, and then we’d all have to sleep in the truck.”
They both turned right and entered the doorway of the cafeteria. It was the only room in the hospital that was fully lit. Inside, most of Maxi’s followers had gathered at the tables again, all of them looking incredibly sleepy. Maxi kicked a chair towards the crowd and leaped on top of it with a cat-like agility.
Sandra leaned on the doorframe and watched.
Maxi had draped a thin black trench coat over himself in preparation for his journey. It was similar to Sandra’s, only his was made of leather. His hair stuck slightly upright after having struggled with detaining Rocky, though most of it stayed styled backwards as it had been in the first place. He overlooked the crowd, seeing the faces of Bessy—the butch girl—Joe—the skinny man who had punched Declan—and Rocky, all in the front row. He then observed the other twelve. He knew all of their names by heart, and associated those names with all the distinct features on their faces. But soon, he would be without them, and they’d have to survive on their own for a while without any leadership or guidance from the infamous Maximillion Terhune.
“I’ve informed Rocky here of my plan.” Maxi started. “And do you remember how, earlier this afternoon, we spoke of Mary Terhune, and we spoke of the opportunities we have to shape the world anew, no longer imprisoned by a society that doesn’t accept us? Well, I’ve been told today that just north of here, there’s a place meant for doing just that. A place where we’ll find peace, find salvation.”
“He acts like a cult leader.” Arya whispered to Sandra.
Sandra hardly heard him.
The crowd traded utters of disbelief.
“I know it doesn’t sound like somethin’ to put your hopes on. Sounds like more of a fairytale than anything.” Maxi continued. “But this, this is what will keep your hopes up in the dark times to come. This is what will keep your thoughts on track, and what will keep you continuously believing in a better world.”
Maxi held up Sandra’s radio for everyone to see. When he turned it on, the radio station was no longer playing its repeating broadcast. Now, it was a live transmission, spoken in the same voice that had instructed Sandra to follow the spade to sanctuary. The static wasn’t as prominent as the man’s voice anymore. It played throughout the cafeteria for everyone to hear.
“… has not been struck, and we believe the detonations and the launches are all over the world. In less than twenty four hours, we’ve experienced a kind of war that mankind has been convinced couldn’t happen until now. But those of you out there who are still clinging to your homes—keep clinging to them. Do not give up your guns. Do not give up your freedoms to the men who come knocking on your door. Do not give in to the powers that be. If you can’t stay home, find another safe place for your family. Now is the time to fight for your freedom. Now is the time to be the best that humanity can possibly be! And those of you who belong to our family, you need only follow the spade to sanctuary, and you will be safe…”
“You see?” Maxi said, turning the volume knob and silencing the broadcast. “Follow the spade to sanctuary. And it just so happens that my new friend is a part of that family, a family of survivors, of freedom fighters, of people like us. People who don’t give in to what’s indoctrinated into them. People who don’t surrender to a force stronger than they are, even in their dying breath. Which is why, my family, I am going north to find this legendary sanctuary, for all of you, and for our future. I’m not leaving anybody behind, don’t get that impression. The only thing I’m leaving behind is this radio, so you can keep listening to the broadcast all day every day, and when you hear my voice, you follow the road north, and you come to the sanctuary where we’ll build our new world from scratch. I’m going there to make sure the place is safe and fit for all of us. I’m the guinea pig for this project. And there ain’t a group of people I’d be happier to put my life on the line for. So now, I’ll bid you all a ‘seeya later,’ and I kindly ask that you bury my sister, speak for her, speak kindly of her, make her a nice grave, and make sure that nobody who sees it will question whether or not she was a wonderful person… because she truly was. She was a saint compared to the lot of us, and out of all of us, she deserved to die the least. But we’ve endured our sacrifices, and now, it’s time to reap our reward. A brighter future. A new life!”
His people began to clap.
Sandra revealed a smile as she listened.

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:14 PM
“He really likes to hear himself talk, doesn’t he.” Arya said. “And you… I just realized, I never asked you what your name was.”
“Hmm?” Sandra hummed.
“Your name. Everything happened so fast, I completely forgot to ask for your name.”
“Oh… I’m Sandra Levy.”
Sandra turned to him. The wound on Arya’s head hadn’t been treated, and the blood that covered it was now completely dry.
“You wanna fix that?” Sandra asked. “You still have a big cut on your forehead.”
“Oh, right.” Arya swiped his fingers over the wound. “Um… I guess it makes sense to take a little medical supplies with us, doesn’t it? Let me go find some. I’ll meet you all outside.”
Maxi hopped off of the chair seconds after Arya left her company to find supplies. He dismissed his people and strolled towards Sandra.
“You sure about this?” Sandra said.
“Course I am.” Maxi told her. “I’ve still got girly girl’s handgun and the soldier boy’s rifle. They’re put away upstairs. I’ll have to grab ‘em real quick before we leave, but I’d like some assurance that they won’t turn ‘round and shoot me the second they get the chance.”
“I won’t let anything happen.” Sandra assured, hoping dearly that she could uphold that promise.
Maxi nodded and headed for the elevator.
Sandra didn’t wait around any longer. When she made her way through the front lobby and walked outside, Declan was already sitting in the driver’s seat of his car smoking a cigarette and blasting music from his stereo. Caitlin and Owen were marching towards their truck, still griping at each other, and Ryujin, Church, and Alan were standing around near the hospital’s doors with nothing to do.
While Maxi and Arya gathered their belongings, Sandra spoke briefly with Caitlin about using her pickup truck to drive north. Caitlin agreed and shut herself inside of her vehicle so she wouldn’t have to speak to anyone for a few short minutes. Declan yanked a bag out of his trunk that was a faded green color and carried it over to the pickup. Ryujin and Church climbed into the back of the truck, but Alan didn’t.
Sandra stared at Alan. “Well? Get in. We’re leaving.”
“Do I need to remind you how insane this is?” Alan said. “We barely know these people, and we’re about to travel with potential carriers of the Red Flu.”
“We were all in the hospital. Any of us could be carrying it.” Sandra replied. “There’s nothing we can do about that now. We just need to get as far north as we can before we find a place to sleep. And don’t argue with me on this—this is how I’m doing it. I’m not changing my mind just because you’re a little judgmental piss ant—”
“Would you stop calling me that.”
“Oh yeah, I’ll stop calling you a piss ant when you stop calling me an idiot.”
“Sandra. I’m trying to be rational. That’s all.” Alan said. “I didn’t want to follow you out of the bunker because it was a crazy thing to do. I don’t want to take all of these people with us because it’s a crazy thing to do. It’s unsafe. We’re putting ourselves in danger. That’s my only point.”
“Alan, we survived a holocaust. We’re already in danger.” Sandra stated. “It’s all or nothing now.”
Sandra became more certain of her decision as the words escaped her mouth. There was no reason to hold back anymore. They had to do everything to the best of their ability, and that included taking a chance by showing compassion to their fellow survivors.
Declan begrudgingly swung the passenger door of the truck open and sat inside after allowing Owen to climb in the middle. With Caitlin, Owen, and Declan sitting up front, that left the bed of the truck for everyone else.
“Hey!” Maxi called, walking out of the hospital with an assault rifle held in one hand and an upside down pistol in the other. “Who ordered a couple of shoot-em-ups? Got ‘em right here!”
Sandra repressed a laugh. Nobody else seemed to be amused.
Church sat in the back of the truck’s bed against the far edge where nobody else wanted to sit. The November evening had gotten fairly cold, and once they were on the road, the air would be hitting them full force. Church would get most of it, but considering his size, he was better off faring against the cold air than Alan or Ryujin would have been. Alan sat curled up in one of the corners behind the back window, and Ryujin made himself comfortable across from Church. Arya exited the hospital building shortly after Maxi with an overstuffed black satchel on his hip, and he jumped into the truck and sat against the window, placing his bag in his lap.
Maxi came closer and eyed the front of the truck, where Caitlin and Declan were both sitting in silence as they waited for everyone to climb aboard.
“I thought they wanted their guns back.” Maxi said. “They’re still a little bit grumpy, huh.”
Sandra made a face. Well yeah, you kidnapped them. Grumpy is an understatement.
So, Maxi placed the firearms carefully beside Church with the barrels facing away from everyone, close to where Caitlin’s father’s hunting rifle was already sitting. He then leaped into the truck with everyone else, and Sandra followed. Maxi, Sandra, and Arya were sandwiched against the back window alongside one another, and Sandra’s hip was squishing Alan even further into the corner he was hiding in. Caitlin started her truck, and the engine roared to life. When the truck began to move, everyone in the back watched the hospital building until it was out of their sight.

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:15 PM
Nobody spoke for a while. It felt as though they traveled on the empty road for hours, but in reality, Caitlin only drove for about thirty minutes. Maxi, Sandra, and Arya were mostly shielded from the brisk air by the front of the truck, though the kicking winds managed to ruffle the top of Maxi and Arya’s heads and send their hair flying amok. Maxi sunk into himself like a turtle, covering as much of his slender body as possible with his leather coat. Arya locked his arms around himself while Sandra concealed her hands under her armpits. The cold never much bothered Sandra, but she didn’t like that her fingers were becoming numb.
Sandra enjoyed riding in the back of a pickup truck, but the fun of it quickly faded from her mind when her uncle invaded her thoughts again. Sandra had no idea how long they would have to drive to find Sanctum, or even if this road would continue to take them north. If the road veered east or west somewhere along the lines, Sandra and the others would be forced to take the truck off road, driving through the desert and hoping not to hit any holes or rocks. She wondered if her companions would be okay with that. Right now, most of them were acting on impulse by listening to Sandra’s claims and traveling north to find safety, but really, they didn’t have any reason to trust her judgment or believe what she said. Who knew how long this group would stay together before succumbing to their feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, or perhaps even starvation, dehydration, or some kind of sickness. They needed to find Sanctum as soon as possible, before the worst could happen to them.
I can’t think like that, Sandra told herself. I can’t just assume that everyone will turn into feral bloodthirsty animals once they have to endure some hardships. I have to have faith in these people. But… how can I know what they’ll do once things get as hard as they can possibly get? What if they turn on me? What if they turn on each other? What would I do then?
She could almost hear her uncle whispering in her ear somewhere amidst the rapid wind, his voice low, soft, like a subtle melody that only she could hear.
Is it worth the risk?
Sandra replayed that sentence in her mind at least ten times. Ever since she ran out of the school with a few of her classmates, she’d been acting very impulsively. When it happened, she didn’t bother telling her classmates to get lost, nor did she simply run out of the school without trying to alert the other students or teachers first. Upon leaving the bunker to find her uncle, Sandra found an injured doctor who she planned to take with her to Sanctum with no real forethought attached to the decision, and she also tried to rescue a soldier and a girl from captivity and help a young boy who was left on his own, and she even offered quarter to the capturer himself. None of it left her with any regrets thus far, and she didn’t doubt her actions; she was doing the right thing. But as her uncle had said a long time ago, doing the right thing could harm you in ways that you could never hope to prepare for. And what would she, Sandra, do if the worst would happen? If her companions would one day betray her, steal her supplies, kill her, or wound her and leave her for dead? Or, what if they decided to betray each other? If Caitlin and Declan plotted to enact their revenge on Maxi? Or if one day, after a long walk, no meals, and no water, a simple argument amongst the group would result in a bloodbath?
“Oy.” Maxi said.
Sandra looked to her side. Arya was pressed snugly against her, and on the doctor’s other side in the corner, Maxi sat hunched into his coat in an attempt to block as much of the cold air as he could. He’d leaned forward a bit and was now focusing on Sandra, trying to get her attention.
“Hm?” Sandra replied, peering over Arya’s knees.
“There’s a mall a little ways from here. We’re almost there, if you want to stop for the night.” Maxi told her. “I think we’re all a bit overdue for a nap.”
“A mall?” Sandra asked.
“Yep, it’s called Crenshaw Mall. It’s a pretty big place. Used to take the boys there all the time for some entertainment whenever we couldn’t scrounge up enough for a trip to Vegas. We’d all have somewhere to sleep if we hunkered down in there, but that’s assumin’ someone else hasn’t already claimed the place.”
“Okay. We can go there.”
About five minutes went by before the mall came into view. The extensive building sat on the left side of the road, separated from the street by a huge parking lot. Much like the hospital, there were very few cars in the parking lot of this mall. Hopefully that meant that the building was empty. The mall was even bigger than St. Luke’s had been. Surely, with all of the stores inside intact, they’d be able to find a place to sleep without much effort.
Sandra stood on her knees and leaned over the front of the truck, tapping on the window and pointing towards the mall. Caitlin understood the gesture and pulled the truck into the parking lot.
Thankfully, there were no towns or cities around. Sandra and the others were still in the middle of Nevada, and the only structure in their vicinity was this abandoned mall complex. They wouldn’t have to worry about running into any trouble here, hopefully.
Sandra examined the place when she jumped from the truck and landed on the pavement. Her paranoid thoughts wouldn’t leave her, but perhaps if she and the others found a place inside the mall to rest, then maybe she wouldn’t worry as much. Sleep was a necessity, and it might help to put her anxieties at ease.
Caitlin had parked in the row nearest to the mall’s entrance. Sandra almost asked her why she went through the trouble of using a parking space even though most of the lot was empty and abandoned, but after seeing the girl’s expression, she decided to stay quiet. Caitlin was visibly exhausted, much like the rest of them. No one felt up to talking.

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:16 PM
Maxi took it upon himself to carry Caitlin’s pistol and Declan’s rifle. Everyone walked silently up to the wall of glass doors. On the outside of the entrance, there were a few discarded bags, cups, and other bits of garbage. Everyone who was at the mall must have fled the place in a hurry, dropping whatever they were carrying and running to their vehicles full speed.
Sandra was the first person to enter the building. The interior was endless, the ceiling so high above their heads Sandra doubted anyone could reach it even with the tallest of ladders. In the center of the enormous walking space was a vending machine, a large map, a sitting area, and a couple of vendors, one that carried only smartphones and one that served exclusively coffee. There were more articles of trash, beverages and shopping bags, lying on the floor inside. The place had been totally deserted.
Caitlin took her pistol from Maxi, delivering him a heated glare before turning and marching off. Declan faced Maxi, only just realizing that he was carrying his assault rifle. Maxi held up the rifle and shook it back and forth, waiting for him to take it. Declan grabbed his gun and stormed away, leaving Maxi with an empty hand and raised brows.
Sandra didn’t notice any of this. She was too busy scouting the mall in search of a place fit for sleeping.
Down the left walkway was a clothing store, an alternative store, a place that sold only various kinds of teas, a set of escalators that led to a second floor, and a larger shop filled with a variety of new age furniture: gigantic round chairs with a shiny silver exterior, overly colorful massage chairs, and stylish leather couches. In the center of the walkway were numerous other vendors, and Sandra completely forgot that she was tired; there was much to be explored here. All of the merchandise in this mall was free game. How could she resist?
“Where are you going?” Alan asked after catching up to her.
“We can sleep in there.” Sandra answered, pointing towards the furniture store without looking at it. “Go ahead and get some rest. I’ll sleep in a little bit. I wanna have a look around first.”
“I don’t want to sleep. My stomach is killing me.” Alan replied. “I’m hungry.”
“Well, then, find some food.” Sandra said dismissively, beginning towards the vendor stands and scanning over all of them. Her eyes shone with a curious wonder. She became excited like a child in a toy store—and everything was free at a five finger discount.
Alan sighed and wandered off.
Caitlin did the same, not wanting to be around Maxi, or Sandra and the rest of the gang for that matter. It wasn’t a bad thing that so many people had come together to survive, but for whatever reason, Caitlin still didn’t like it one bit. Maxi had taken advantage of her, stolen her gun, and locked her in a room, leaving her little brother all by himself out in the open. How was she supposed to forgive an act like that? Maxi had said he was sorry, but the silver tongued snake probably didn’t have a single sincere bone in his body. The man was a smooth talker. How was she supposed to accept an apology from a natural born liar?
Owen darted up behind her, and she stopped abruptly, almost making him run into her. Caitlin was staring up at one of the stores, her angry feelings beginning to subside. In front of her was a tattoo parlor, containing a wonderland of amazing drawings along the walls, forgotten equipment, and best of all, absolutely no locks on any of the supplies, no glass cases and no electronic tags. Everything in this shop was ripe for the pickings.
Caitlin smiled and entered the store, feeling the same joyful sensation as Sandra. Owen followed her slowly, rolling his eyes and groaning out of boredom.
Everyone spread out just enough to explore different parts of the mall, but not so far that they couldn’t see or yell at one another if they had to. While Caitlin rummaged through the tattoo shop, Sandra was knelt behind a jewelry stand. Ryujin approached her, standing stock still while Sandra searched through the necklaces and watches. He leaned over, staring down at her and examining the assortment of watches and earrings in her hand.
“Oh…” Sandra said, blinking up at him. “What’s up? You want a watch?”

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:17 PM
“No thanks.” He responded with a hint of amusement in his usually monotone voice. “All the power is still on. I can’t believe you’re not setting off the security system right now.”
“It’s not my first time…” Sandra uttered as she dug into the jewelry even more.
“I wanted to ask you something.” Ryujin said.
“Yeah? Go ahead.”
“It’s important.”
Sandra stopped shoveling jewelry into her arms and sat upright in a cross legged position. Ryujin crouched down and sat on the floor across from her.
“I want to find my little brother.” Ryujin told her, setting Dorian’s rifle on the ground beside his leg. “I need to know he’s alright. If there’s a chance we can get to safety, I need to take him with me. I planned to go on my own, but I would need some kind of directions to lead us to Sanctum once I’ve found him. I don’t know if you can provide anything like that, but…”
“Go alone?” Sandra said. “You can’t go alone. Listen, we can go look for your brother together. I don’t have a problem helping you find him. Where is he? Where would we have to go?”
“I didn’t think you would. You’re sweet enough.” Ryujin replied. “I’m not sure where he is, though. And Alan and Church might not be alright with sidetracking, and neither will the newcomers. That’s why I thought it’d be better for me to go alone. That way, I won’t be dragging so many people away from safety. They need to get to Sanctum without anything holding them back.”
Sandra thought over what he said twice. She marveled at being called “sweet,” but that wasn’t important right now… this was a serious conversation…
The others needed a safe place asap, Sandra knew that. None of them needed to experience starvation, sicknesses, or sleeplessness. Sandra wanted to avoid that at all costs. But to send Ryujin off on his own, after the world as they knew it had come crumbling down around them? Who knew what chaos awaited them in the towns and cities that remained standing in the world. It was best to stay away from those places, and separating from one another certainly wasn’t the smartest move either. Numbers would keep them alive. It was one of the few advantages this group had.
“I understand. But… I still don’t think you should go alone.” Sandra said.
There wasn’t a clear answer to this. Dorian had warned her about this, about decisions suddenly becoming much harder to make due to the risks that came with them—and did Sandra really have the right to pull everyone off the road to Sanctum in order to search for Ryujin’s brother?
“I think we should all go.” Sandra told him. “But I don’t wanna make that decision for everyone else. We should talk to them about it later. We’ll bring it up after we’ve all had the chance to get some sleep and get some food in us. I don’t want to bring up anything too serious with them right now. They’re all in a pretty hostile mood.”
“Understandably.” Ryujin commented. “I still think you did the right thing, but for the girl, and the child, and the soldier… it might take them a little time to adjust to Maxi being with us. Honestly, it’ll take us all some time to get used to this. We just need to bear with each other. Survival should be more important than whatever petty problems we have with each other. And my brother… I’m not asking that we veer off and forget about Sanctum. It’s just something to keep in mind while we’re traveling. If I find a lead on my brother, I’ll have to go after him. I just wanted to let you know ahead of time, in case I find out where he is. If that happens, I have to find him. Sanctum would become a secondary priority for me.”
Sandra examined one of the large watches in her lap. The shiny gold exterior sparkled under the fluorescent lighting of the mall.
“Why are you taking those?” Ryujin wondered, looking at her lap full of silver and gold accessories. “We won’t really have anyone to sell those things to… not after all that’s happened.”
“It’s currency.” Sandra answered. “My uncle told me that silver and gold would be used as currency if the economy fell. If we run into other people, we might have to buy some food or water from them. They wouldn’t accept paper bills. Paper money will be worthless from now on.”
“It’s only been a day. Do you really think the paper bill has become useless already?”
“If it hasn’t, it will soon enough. Besides, people will give us more for silver and gold than they would for paper cash even if the paper money was still legitimate. This stuff is more valuable.”
“Huh. You’ve really thought this all through, haven’t you? That’s impressive.”
Sandra didn’t turn her attention from the watch in her hand, but she was no longer studying it or looking for a karat number. It wasn’t her own planning that she was utilizing. It was Dorian’s. None of the credit was hers.
“Oy, oy.” Maxi knocked on the counter twice and leaned over it, seeing where Sandra and Ryujin were sitting. “I’m off to the furniture store. It’s on the very edge of the mall. I’ll be sleeping in one of the beds if ya’ need me. Night night.”
Then, Maxi walked off.
“Those might get difficult to carry.” Ryujin said. “How much are you taking?”
“However much I can.” Sandra replied, opening her backpack and throwing the gold watches inside without much care. “I can carry a lot. I’m not fragile. Do you want some? Just a watch, or something? You might need something valuable sooner or later. It’d be nice if we all had something to barter with.”
“No thanks.” Ryujin said politely. “I just want to get some sleep. Thank you for the offer. And thank you for bringing me along.”
Sandra shook her head and let out a pshhh-ing noise. “Don’t even worry about it. It’s not like I would’ve left anyone behind.”
“Exactly.” Ryujin smiled at her. “Goodnight.”

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:17 PM
Even in the minutes after Ryujin stood up and left her company, Sandra still saw that smile. It imprinted on her mind and made her feel as though Ryujin was still sitting across from her, watching as she scooped out the thickest, most valuable necklaces she could see within the glass case after she finished sorting through all the watches…
Near the entrance, Alan had stopped in front of a vending machine and was trying to straighten out a very crumpled dollar bill. He ran the bill side to side along the machine’s corner, and he tried to insert the money into the elongated slot numerous times, but the machine spit the dollar out with each attempt.
Alan mumbled to himself and continued trying. On the other side of the glass, there were a variety of chips and candy bars sitting untouched and waiting to be consumed. He needed something to eat. Right now.
Church watched as Alan tried to buy a snack over and over, failing each time. The machine simply refused to accept his money.
This went on for about three minutes.
Church walked over to the sitting area, lifted a large chair by its back legs, and thundered over to the machine. Alan was about to slide his dollar bill into the machine for the twenty-fifth time when he heard the large footsteps; he whipped around, his eyes tearing open with fear, and he quickly scrambled away.
Church launched the chair into the vending machine.
Three of the chair legs smashed into the glass. The display window shattered completely, and the machine let out an echoing security alarm that blared throughout the building, but Church didn’t care. He seemed overjoyed that all of the snacks in the machine were up for grabs now, and he began to yank out all of the chocolate bars and fill his pockets with them, ignoring the broken glass that sprinkled onto the sleeve of his jacket every time he stuck his arm inside.
“You, freaking, IDIOT!” Alan shouted, his hands clamped over his ears as the alarm continued to blast from the broken machine.
Church grabbed three small bags of chips and hurled them at Alan, smacking him in the face.
Caitlin and Owen heard the noise from the tattoo shop. Both of them stopped for a moment, but after figuring that someone from their group had vandalized something and knowing there were no cops or security guards around to stop them, they kept on with their business as if they hadn’t heard a thing. It didn’t really matter if they wrecked the place. There was no one to make them see consequences for it.
Declan had left the group with his rifle at his hip and his scowl as prominent as ever. He’d just entered the food court when the alarm sounded. He stopped and turned around, noticing that Arya was following him. They both listened to the alarm for a few seconds before Declan walked away again.
In the old days, Arya would deal with Declan’s temper on a regular basis. Usually, he would do one of two things; he’d leave the soldier alone with his thoughts and give him a bit of space, or he would crack a stupid joke in order to lighten the mood. Now, however, things were different, and neither of those options seemed like the right course of action now. An angry soldier with an assault rifle ought not be left to his own devices, and telling a joke would likely just make him angrier.
The food court was a humongous, circular area with restaurants in every section of the wall. The middle of the area was filled with empty tables, as well as shopping bags, purses, abandoned meals, and overturned chairs. Declan and Arya traveled halfway around the circle before the solder finally halted and threw his gun onto the ground, digging his fingers into his ears and wincing.
“God damn, that noise is annoying!” Declan said. “What the # is that?!”
“Sounds like somebody broke something.” Arya replied. “You should really be more careful with that rifle of yours. Is the safety even on? Don’t go throwing it around like that. You could hurt someone.”
“Shut up.” Declan bent down, retrieved his gun, and propped it upright against a nearby popcorn machine. “Why’re you following me?”
Arya shrugged. “I’m hungry. You were going towards the food, so…”
Declan found a pile of red-and-white popcorn bags on the counter of a popcorn machine. He opened one of them, slid the door of the popcorn machine open, and started to scoop out the buttery popcorn by the handfuls. He didn’t stop until his bag was overflowing.
“You didn’t go to your family.” Arya said. “Why?”
Declan munched on his popcorn and leaned on the machine without making eye contact.
Arya understood. Declan didn’t have much of a family, and Arya’s family was in India. The two of them only had each other now.
“So… when you came to the hospital, did you have a plan?” Arya wondered. “Do you have a place for us to go, or what?”
Declan shook his head.
Arya nodded. “Me either.”
“The redhead’s got the right idea… aside from bringing that #up with us, I mean.” Declan said, thinking of Maxi and feeling disgusted. “Her bleeding heart is gonna get someone killed if the world continues on this path. #’s gonna start getting bad out here.”
Arya halfway agreed with him.
Declan surveyed Arya, lifting a handful of popcorn to his face and practically drinking it.
“That guy, Maxi, he had a little sister who came down with the Red Flu. Otherwise, I don’t think he would’ve done what he did.” Arya told him. “I’m not justifying anything he’s done, I’m just saying he had a reason for it. That’s all.”
Declan made a low rumbling noise.

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:18 PM
“We need to make a plan, in case Sanctum turns out to be a bust.” Arya went on. “We’ll need to find out which cities are still on the map, and maybe figure out if there are any other independent settlements out there who’d be willing to take us all in. You’re a soldier, and I’m a doctor. That should be enough to persuade settlements to let us join, and hopefully the others too…”
Declan tossed a kernel of popcorn into Arya’s forehead.
Arya didn’t blink. He paused for a brief moment, took in a breath, and continued.
“I’m being serious. I’m all for Sandra’s plan, but we need a backup plan in case Sanctum doesn’t turn out to be what she thinks—”
Declan flung two more kernels at Arya, one of them hitting him in the eye.
Arya rubbed his eye and glared at Declan, who now looked more amused than angry. He flicked another kernel at Arya, but this time, the doctor swatted it out of the air. Declan reared back with a handful of popcorn, and Arya dove at the popcorn machine, grasping at the kernels and tossing them at Declan relentlessly. Declan whacked Arya in the face with his popcorn bag, then proceeded to dump the entire thing over his head, making many of the kernels stick to his hair.
The two of them lost themselves in a popcorn fight, and Arya forgot about the topic at hand instantly.
Ten minutes went by before the broken vending machine stopped wailing, and by that time, Church had tackled the thing onto its back, and was now hunched over it and nitpicking at the snacks, claiming all of his favorite ones and leaving the rest for Alan.
Ryujin curled up in one of the round chairs in the store across from the jewelry stand where Sandra had finally finished her looting. From where she stood, he appeared to have fallen asleep already, apparently not bothered by all the commotion caused by Church.
Sandra considered going to find herself some food, but it wasn’t worth it. Her sleepiness weighed heavily on her now. So, she set off towards the direction where Maxi had disappeared. If there was a furniture store inside this place, it would make a better sleeping spot than anywhere else in the mall. Lying in a comfortable bed sounded wonderful right about now.
The mall became quieter the further she traveled, the halls emptier, less abandoned items lying around, and Sandra continued on for a while. The furniture store was at the very end of the building. When she located the store at the end of the hall, her legs had started to ache again.
This furniture store contained a lot more than just furniture; there were a lot of beds of many different sizes, all of them made with sheets, comforters, and piles of fluffy pillows, but there were also clothes racks, shelves filled with perfumes and lotions, stacks of kitchenware in boxes, and overpriced dishes sitting in a neatly organized manner on top of a select few display counters. If not for Maxi being asleep somewhere in this store, Sandra might have given in to the temptation to knock over all the dishes. They sat stacked in lines like dominoes, and it’d be so easy to send them all tumbling down…
Maxi lie on a leather couch on the other side of the walkway, his arms locked tightly together, his head resting on the arm of the couch, and his eyes shut. He caught wind of Sandra’s quiet footsteps, blinking and glimpsing to the side. Across the way, Sandra stood gawking at the dishes.
They met each other’s eyes.
“Sorry.” Sandra said. “I’m just… looking for a place to sleep.”
Maxi shrugged his shoulders and adjusted himself, his body being engulfed by the black cushions.
Sandra thought that she should steer clear of him, to give him space and let him sleep, but something urged her to do just the opposite.
Beside Maxi’s couch was a large bed decorated with blue and white blankets and pillows. Sandra plopped onto the bed and rested her jaw in her hands, staring over the bed’s edge and eyeing Maxi.
“You okay?” Sandra asked, having his answer partially figured out already.
Maxi stayed silent for a moment, his gaze aimlessly trapped in the ceiling.
“Bit of a shock.” He answered. “But eh, we move on.”
His words were bland, stale even. It made sense to her; Sandra had hardly spoken of Dorian since his disappearance. Perhaps it was easier for them to deal with their lost loved ones in a cold, distant way. Still, it wouldn’t help either of them to keep it bottled up. Not to mention, Sandra wanted to know these people best she could if she was going to travel with them. She had to start somewhere.
“I know how you feel.” Sandra said.
“Nah… your uncle might still be alive out there somewhere.” Maxi replied. “You don’t feel this way. This is different. Mary’s gone for good. I watched her go…”
“Yeah, I know.” Sandra said softly. “But I… I wasn’t just talking about my uncle. I’ve had family members die too.”
It was true. Sandra’s father died many years ago, shortly after her mother was taken by cancer. It wasn’t something she gave any thought to anymore, but nevertheless, the deadened glare in Maxi’s eyes was all too familiar to her. She’d carried that glare herself, back when the shock of loss was too much to bear, when she decided to shut down and never get close to anyone again.

posted on Jan, 11 2016 @ 08:18 PM
Seeing that look on someone else pained her.
“Hey, um…” Sandra began. “I’m sorry, I’m no good at this kind of stuff. I know that Caitlin and Des aren’t happy about this right now, but I’m not making anyone leave. You’re staying with us until we get to Sanctum… as long as you want to. I just want you to know that you’re welcome to stick with me. With us. My friend Ryujin agrees, and hell, even Arya thinks I’m trying to do the right thing… and…”
“You ain’t gotta convince me of anything.” Maxi said. “I know where you stand.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. You’re a naïve kid, heart of gold, trying to act on the good in you, but trying to look untouchable too. Who do you think you’re foolin’ with that spiked collar? The leather and the dyed hair? C’mon. You ain’t untouchable. You’re about as innocent as they come.”
“Oh really…”
“Yes, really. Mary tried to act all badass too. Didn’t stop her from joining the girl scouts and sellin’ them godawful cookies outside of the grocery stores.”
Sandra flushed. Maxi was able to read her like a book, and it unnerved her.
“Be honest with me here.” Maxi said. “Tell me something. How long do you think this’ll last?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’ve taken strangers, enemies, and allies and jumbled them all up into one group. A group of people who’re fighting for their survival, no less. How long do you think this’ll last?” Maxi sat up and straightened out his back, giving Sandra a more thorough stare. “These people are likely to pop their tops at the simplest of problems, especially with the mixed chemistry we’ve got between us all. It’s nice to assume that they’ll put their differences aside long enough to ensure their own survival, but then you take into account their fears, their anxieties, the trauma of it all, and we might have to go hungry for a bit, or go without water… and our sanity will be tested. They can’t be counted on to keep themselves in check all the time. In a group like this, it’s difficult to see any positive outcomes later down the road.”
Sandra felt drained. Upon arriving at the mall, she decided it best to repress these worries best she could, but now Maxi had brought them all back to light.
“I don’t know.” Sandra responded. “I honestly don’t know how long this can last. But they’re the ones who’re responsible for keeping themselves together, even in the worst of times. Not me. I’m just trying to help all of them. That’s the best I can do.”
“Hmm. Well, morally, that’s the right answer.” Maxi said. “But logically, there are so many things wrong with that plan, we might all end up dying tomorrow due to unforeseen circumstances.”
“Yeah, well, there’s only so much I can do…” Sandra spun onto her back and sighed. “I’m just the escort to Sanctum. I’m not in charge of managing people. They’ll have to keep their # together themselves if they want to survive.”
“You’re right, but that attitude isn’t gonna make them take you any more seriously.” Maxi told her. “You’ve gotta put them first if you want them to listen to you. Make it out like everything you’re doing, you’re doing for them.”
“That is what I’m doing.”
“Then you’ll have no problem convincing them of it. Your actions will give solidity to your claims.”
“Why do I need to convince them of anything?”
“Because you want them to listen to you, right? For their own safety, I mean.”
“No. I don’t.” Sandra rolled over and faced him again. “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t want them listening to everything I say. I’m not in the position to guide them. I’m not their leader. I’m their escort. That’s it.”
“Then tell them that.” Maxi replied. “Tell them that the same way you just told me, and then tell them that while you don’t have all the answers, you do have a ticket to safety, and the only thing you care about is getting them all to their sanctuary.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying…”
“I’m telling you how to put your intentions into words in a way that they’d all take to heart.”
“Why do I need to do that?”
“Because some of them hardly know you, and they’ll all drift off the beaten path if they don’t have something keeping them around. You want them getting to Sanctum in one piece, yeah? You want them all safe, and unharmed, and happy tra-la-la? Well, then they need a voice to listen to. Otherwise, they’re gonna start looking for security elsewhere. They’re gonna drift away, and then, God knows what’ll happen to them.”
Sandra buried half of her face into a pillow. Maxi was right, but what more could she do? A girl like Caitlin would sooner shoot Sandra in the foot than listen to a heartfelt lecture about humanity and survival. The soldier might react the same way, and Sandra figured that Arya would side with Declan over everyone else regardless of what was going on. Alan would find a flaw in whatever she’d say, as usual, and Church probably wouldn’t even understand it. Ryujin would be the only one to agree with her—yet again—but that wasn’t enough.
Somehow, Sandra needed to win them all over.
Her arms tightened around the pillow, her eyes blinded by its fluff. Maxi started talking again, but Sandra didn’t hear him, her mind now inhabited by visions of the mushroom cloud, the school, the bunker, her uncle Dorian, his stupid smile, his pet bees...

* * * * *

[To be continued next chapter]

posted on Jan, 12 2016 @ 10:23 PM

originally posted by: XxNightAngelusxX

originally posted by: Night Star
Still on the edge of my seat wondering what might happen next. Love this story!

Thanks! Hope you like the characters. Takes a lot out of my mental stability to write for so many people, but I love it xD

Just wanted to reply to this before getting into chapter 6. I write as a hobby and I know how challenging it is to keep track of all the characters, who's who and what's what. LOL I do indeed like your characters! Ok, I must hurry now and catch up on the story!

posted on Jan, 12 2016 @ 11:40 PM
Finally caught up. Always hate when I get to the end. LOL Dying to find out what happens next!

posted on Jan, 14 2016 @ 12:22 AM
No story today?

posted on Jan, 14 2016 @ 04:41 AM

Chapter 7

By The Waters

“Sandra! Come down here!”
It must have been the tenth time she’d heard his voice since the dream began. This time, however, she wasn’t lost in the woods or wandering the halls of her school; Sandra stood in the middle of her driveway, staring down the dirt trail where her uncle would call for her from his bunker. The memory of it was etched into her brain like a stone carving. Every morning, afternoon, and evening, Sandra felt anxious whenever she’d walk up or down her driveway, always fearing that her uncle would hear her footsteps and yell for her to join him, as he often did.
But when she squinted down the hill, Dorian was nowhere to be seen. Night had fallen, though with the full moon hovering above her, the outside remained illuminated enough so that Sandra could see the empty space in front of the bunker where Dorian usually stood. He called her name again, but this time, it wasn’t coming from the bottom of the hill. It came from behind her.
“Sandra.” Dorian said, strolling down the driveway and holding up a hand.
His hand had a sleeve of bees over it yet again, but this time, it was only on a single arm. There was no protective gear on him at all, and he seemed to be wearing an oven mitt on his insect coated hand.
“What’re you doing?!” Sandra gasped. “Put them back in the box!”
“Oh.” Dorian replied, turning his hand around and examining it, only just noticing the bees. “Yeah, you’re right, I probably should.”
“Let me do it.” Sandra grabbed the oven mitt and pulled it off of his arm without giving him any warning. Most of the bees stuck to the oven mitt, and many of them began crawling over Sandra’s hands, but she didn’t care. She only wanted to remove the poisonous bugs from her uncle’s arm before they had the chance to sting him.
“Sandra, be careful!” Dorian told her.
“Get them off.” Sandra ordered, swatting at her uncle’s arms and knocking the rest of the bees off of him.
Then, Sandra climbed the hill, intent on entering the back yard and shoving the oven mitt into the beekeeping box. The bees’ legs tickled her skin, but none of them stung her.
“Sandra?” Dorian said.
Sandra spun around to face him, but the driveway was empty.
The night sky faded into a lighter one, an overcast of blues and grays, and she was able to see the mushroom cloud rising from the ground in the distance. It was much closer to the town than she remembered. From the cloud, a vast blackness overcame the sky and the landscape as the explosion extended. Sandra searched around frantically for her uncle, but it was too late. Dorian was gone.
“Was just goin’ for a stroll, saw them out and about. Was just wonderin’ if they planned to leave me behind or not.” Maxi’s voice broke through her delusion. “I was only in there for a couple minutes. Just long enough to grab me a cheeseburger. The others are in there lookin’ for food too. Didn’t look me in the eyes. Still ticked at me, I s’pose.”
Sandra awoke with a cold sweat gluing her tank top to her back, her leather jacket twisted halfway around her from how she’d slept. Maxi was leaning on the bed, holding a halfway wrapped cheeseburger and talking to her in between bites, apparently thinking that she was awake already.
“What…?” Sandra moaned into her pillow.
“Oh, I thought you were just layin’ there because you didn’t wanna get up.” Maxi responded. “The way you were muttering, I thought you were awake. Guess not. You must’ve been having a pretty interesting dream.”
Sandra sat up and fixed her jacket, making sure that Maxi wasn’t looking before adjusting her sports bra. Sitting in this bed, miles away from her home, she wanted to delve back into the dream, wanted to return to Las Nueva Era, wanted to find her uncle before he could disappear again and save him from the holocaust…
Sandra followed Maxi out of the furniture store, both of them wanting to find the others and form a plan for the day. Her right hip felt unusually heavy as she walked. When her hand skimmed over her side, she realized that her pistol was still in its holster. How could she have fallen asleep with a gun on her hip without remembering to remove it? She must have been much more exhausted last night than she thought.
They were silent for a couple of minutes. After passing a number of stores, Maxi veered off to the left and approached one of them. It was a store filled with many beautiful artifacts: collectable swords and knives, fake jewelry, decorative pottery, and a variety of poorly made medieval weapons.
“Where are you going?” Sandra asked him.
Maxi entered the middle of the store and ran his fingers along the many dangling necklaces in front of him. In the center of this shop was a round rod hanging from the ceiling, and from it hung many necklaces that were silver or gold plated. The necklaces all had large pendants or devices on them. Most people would think them tacky, but anyone with a fashion sense like Maxi’s or Sandra’s would find them rather appealing.
One necklace in particular had captured Maxi’s attention, and when Sandra laid her eyes on it, she understood why he’d stopped here. In Maxi’s palm was a round, polished compass that shone a brilliant gold. The needle wasn’t in the shape of a spade like the needle of Sandra’s compass, but the silver letters were all in a very large old English font, making the device look quite stylish.
Maxi removed the compass from the hanging collection and placed it around his neck. Then, he exited the store and headed towards the foot court again, and Sandra did the same.
Maybe he thinks he’ll have to go it alone, Sandra thought as she gazed into Maxi’s back. Maybe he thinks that he’ll have to leave the group and find Sanctum by himself. Is that why he picked up the compass? Well, screw that. I’m not letting that happen.

posted on Jan, 14 2016 @ 04:41 AM
In the food court, Declan and Arya sat at a table off to the far right, talking with one another and snacking on popcorn (what of it wasn’t lying scattered on the floor) while Caitlin and Owen were snooping around in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant, both of them trying to figure out how to make fresh burritos with the ingredients they’d found. Caitlin was wearing a new backpack that she’d stuffed with clothes, water, and a couple of keepsakes from the tattoo shop. In the middle of the assortment of crooked tables, Church was lying on top of one of them, tossing a baseball up and down out of boredom. Alan and Ryujin loitered just outside of a fast food joint, discussing their plans for the travel ahead.
Sandra and Maxi halted in the open hallway.
Everyone focused on them.
Caitlin, Declan, Arya, Ryujin, Church, and Alan all approached Sandra and Maxi. Owen hesitantly followed after trying to shove a partly folded burrito into his mouth.
Caitlin and Declan’s expressions of stony disapproval had softened somewhat since the previous night, but they still didn’t seem very pleased when they spotted Maxi. Most of them had slept in the same store as Ryujin, except for Caitlin and Owen, who both crashed in the tattoo shop. None of them had been awake for longer than an hour now, and it was only seven o’clock in the morning. But even after having a late night and waking up exceptionally early, all of them felt well rested and less irritable than they had yesterday, and hopefully, that would help them to remain civil.
“Have yourself a bite to eat, finally?” Maxi said to Caitlin. “Good on you, girly girl. You look like you haven’t had a proper meal in ages.”
“Yeah, well, it’s a lot better than crappy hospital food.” Caitlin replied. “You’re talking smack about me being skinny when you look like an emaciated rat in a trench coat? Come on.”
Maxi laughed.
“Alright, cool.” Sandra said. “I like the tension. The tension’s nice. It reminds me of home. But seriously, we all have a lot to talk about before we leave.”
“There’s a time and place for your sarcasm.” Alan told Sandra.
“And there’s a time and place for your asshole-ism.” Sandra responded wittily.
Ryujin swallowed a chuckle.
“If you’re at all interested, Sandra, I’ve been talking to Ryujin and I know what you’re going to say.” Alan said. “I think it’s something that needs a lot of thought and consideration, and acting patronizingly sarcastic towards all of us isn’t helping anything. We need to take this seriously.”
“What’re you talking about?” Arya questioned. “What’s going on?”
“Alright, look.” Sandra started, her stomach tightening nervously. “Ryujin has a little brother that’s missing. We don’t know where he is, but if we find any leads on our way to Sanctum, we’re planning to find his brother if we can.”
“Des, are you alright with…” Arya began, then stopped when he realized that Declan was no longer by his side.
Declan had rushed passed everyone and left the food court after retrieving his rifle from the table where he’d left it. Everyone turned to see the soldier at the end of the nearest hall, peeking his head around the corner and observing one of the entrances.
“Des, what is it?” Arya went after the soldier. “What’s wrong?”
The others looked around to each other before following the doctor.
Arya was about a foot away from Declan when the soldier held up a hand, stopping Arya in his tracks. Declan’s focus was on the glass doors around the corner, and in the parking lot, he was able to see movement. He saw the spinning of tires, heard the dull rumbling of the engines. At least two black vehicles were circling around in the parking lot, and Declan guessed that whoever was inside of them must have been searching the area for survivors.
Arya leaned over Declan just enough to see what was going on, but nobody else was able to.
“Who are they?” Arya whispered.
“Don’t know.” Declan replied. “But they’re looking for us.”
“How do you know?”
“Because, they don’t have any other reason to be here. Look at how they’re driving. They’re scoping the place out. They’re looking for people.”
“You sure about that?”
“I’m positive.”
“Maybe they want to take survivors to a safe place, like an emergency residential center.”
“Yeah, maybe. But we’re not going along with that.”
“Why not?”
Declan didn’t have a clear answer for this. Emergency residential centers were far from glamorous, and considering the state of the country, he wondered if basic constitutional rights even had any place in America anymore. No, with the world in its current state, nobody would be concerned with allowing the people their freedom. If they’d submit to the people in the armed vehicles, they’d be without choices, without their liberties, and they could kiss their plans of finding Sanctum, as well as Ryujin’s little brother, goodbye.
“What’s going on?” Sandra appeared beside both of them.
Then, she saw it.
The black trucks in the parking lot, the ones that appeared strangely similar to the ones from the conspiracy propaganda posters that Dorian had all over the walls of his bunker, drove around one another as if waiting for something to appear.
Sandra felt as though she’d fallen into a dream again.
All the idiotic tangents about martial law, a new world order, or an American holocaust didn’t seem so farfetched anymore. But it was ridiculous, wasn’t it? How could this be happening, here, in front of her, as real and as intense as the whackos had predicted?
“We have to go.” Sandra said, her heart jolting. “We have to get outta here.”
“Wait.” Declan said sternly without breaking his attention from the parking lot. “Just wait.”
The three of them remained as still as statues as they watched the trucks outside. Caitlin, Owen, Maxi, Church, and Alan were close behind, watching them with looks of suspicion.
A minute went by.
One of the trucks vanished on the north side of the parking lot, and seconds later, the second truck did the same. Declan waited to see if another truck would enter his immediate eyeshot. When one didn’t, he headed for the door and waved for everyone to follow.
“They’re going to the back of the building now.” Declan said. “They’ll look around there for a few minutes before coming inside. We have to get to the truck, now.”
“Come on!” Sandra whisper-yelled to everyone.
Nobody questioned Sandra or Declan. Everyone made for the doors with all of their belongings on their person, and after rushing outside, they climbed into the pickup truck and reclaimed their spots.
“Drive that way.” Declan told Caitlin, pointing east and moving his hand in the direction of the road leading north. “Go around the opposite way the trucks went. Once we’re past the building, you need to floor it. If they see us, we need to be out of their sight before they have a chance to catch up.”

posted on Jan, 14 2016 @ 04:50 AM
Caitlin started up the truck and did as Declan said. Owen sat quietly in between them, and everyone else was in the back where they’d been yesterday. The sun had barely started to rise, and as the day began, the truck full of survivors made their quick escape from the mall. Once Caitlin reached the road leading north, she sped up, the truck reaching almost eighty-five miles an hour. The wind hit the vehicle so hard everyone in the back was able to feel the slight wobbling of the truck as they rocketed down the empty street. Church’s hands tightened around the edges of the truck’s bed, and Alan tried to assume a full laying position next to the firearms. The rest of them had packed themselves against the back window yet again, all of them pressed against one another like sardines in a can. Sandra, who sat in the middle of them, caught a small glance of the mall’s back parking lot as they absconded, where the black trucks were driving in circles like they had in front of the building.
They followed the road for a while without anything appearing behind them. That was good; it meant that they weren’t seen, or that they simply weren’t worth following. Whoever the strangers in the black trucks were, they weren’t bothering with Sandra and her group.
Thank God, Sandra thought. That could’ve gone bad.
The ride was quiet.
Caitlin wasn’t sure where or when to stop, and her truck only had a quarter of a tank left of gas, which meant they could only drive for so long before they’d have to resume the journey on foot.
As they drove on, they didn’t pass many buildings. It was mostly patches of desert, with the occasional gathering of trees here and there.
Eventually, Caitlin pulled off the road near a small wooded area. Sandra thought she was only stopping on the side of the road, perhaps to step out of the truck, stretch her legs, and speak with everyone else about a possible plan, but that wasn’t the case. Caitlin drove onto the dirt, then into the grass, then towards the trees. The vehicle wasn’t moving fast now, but it was unsettling nonetheless, with the truck bumping and wobbling about while Caitlin drove over the lumpy surface towards the woods. There was just enough space in between the trees to fit the truck. Caitlin crept deeper and deeper into the woods, the canopy of branches tenting over the vehicle and covering the inhabitants in the back with shade. Once she was sure that the truck wasn’t visible from the street, she parked, turned off the engine, and stepped out.
“Des said that we need to park out of sight.” Caitlin told the others, folding her arms on the back of the truck and looking at Sandra, then Arya, then Maxi. “He said we need to stay off the radar as much as possible. Makes sense.”
Declan emerged from the passenger side and leaned on the opposite side of the truck’s rear.
“So, why’d we stop in the woods?” Sandra asked.
“We have no idea where we’re going, and we’re running low on gas. That’s why.” Caitlin remarked. “We need time to talk it over and figure out what the hell we’re going to do once we don’t have a car to use. You’re supposedly the one with the plan. Any advice?”
Sandra hesitated.
Caitlin spoke with a tone that didn’t sound genuinely questioning; she sounded like she expected Sandra to draw a blank, and she was right. Her eyes twinkled in a judgmental way that matched her condescending voice, too. Was she cocking an attitude? Or was Sandra imagining it?
“We’re… winging it.” Sandra answered. “Honestly, my uncle didn’t leave me with much to go on. I think he planned for he and I to do this together, but it didn’t work out that way.”
“Because he mysteriously disappeared.” Caitlin said. “Right. Do you have any idea how far away this place is? How long we’d have to walk if we can’t keep driving?”
“No. I’ve never been there.” Sandra replied vacantly.
“And you don’t actually have a game plan?” Declan asked from her other side.
“Not really. I left by myself. I didn’t think my friends would follow me. I didn’t plan on finding so many other people, either.” Sandra explained. “I was just planning for myself, not a big group of people.”
“Yet for some reason, you thought it was a good idea to group everyone up? Even though you don’t have any idea how to plan a journey for a big group of people?” Caitlin said. “What sense does that make?”
“Like I said, I’m winging it.”
“Yeah, clearly.”
“What’s your #ing problem?”
“Nothing. I’m just not a big fan of doing reckless bull# when there are lives on the line.”
“Well, good—next time I come across a stranded bitch, I’ll leave her to die.” Sandra snapped, reaching her feet and jumping out of the truck. After landing in the grass, she stood upright and glared into Caitlin like a wolf about to attack its prey. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. And you’re welcome, by the way. Anyone else would’ve left you and your little brother behind without a second thought.”
“We don’t need your help.” Caitlin stated, folding her arms and returning the hateful look.
“Yeah? You don’t? THEN LEAVE!” Sandra hollered.
“Alright, that’s enough.” Arya hopped out of the truck as well, purposely landing in between Sandra and Caitlin. “This isn’t going to help us resolve anything.”
Sandra and Caitlin continued to fume at one another. Nobody could tell which of them looked angrier.
Maxi, Church, Ryujin, and Alan all remained seated in the back of the truck, watching and saying nothing. Owen had stepped out of the truck and was now standing behind his sister, observing the confrontation uncomfortably and waiting for it to end.
“We pulled over so we could talk it out.” Declan said. “Set our priorities, and all that.”
“Yes, good idea.” Arya agreed, rubbing his hands together. “Where do we start, everyone?”
The girls hadn’t yet broken eye contact.
“I don’t… have all the answers.” Sandra finally said. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I just want to get to Sanctum. That’s the place that’ll have the answers we need.”
“Yeah, well, we don’t have Sanctum right now. We don’t have a magic fairy wand that can teleport us there, either. All we have is ourselves. We have to think for ourselves if we’re going to get anywhere.” Caitlin responded. “I just want you to understand that.”
“I do understand that.” Sandra growled. Her temper began to escalate beyond her control. Caitlin really knew how to get under her skin, and it was becoming frustrating to deal with.
“What we need to do now is figure out the basics and cover our asses.” Declan told them. “Traveling ain’t that hard. If we run out of gas, we’ll walk, and we’ll take whatever other vehicles we find along the way if we can. It’s food, water, and shelter that we need to worry about. We’ll need to hunt whenever we can’t scavenge things from houses and stores. Water will be the biggest issue. Clean water will be the hardest to come by out of everything we need.”
“Not necessarily.” Alan spoke from the truck as he rifled through Dorian’s bugout bag. “Sandra, your uncle has bottles of purification tablets tucked away in the front pockets of these bags. Did you know? He packed bottles of water purification tablets. Smart.” He pulled out a tiny brown bottle, which was filled with small white tablets. “The man thought of everything, looks like.”

posted on Jan, 14 2016 @ 04:51 AM
“That’ll do us for a while. We don’t need to use those unless we can’t purify the water ourselves, or if we can’t find bottled water.” Declan said to Alan. “We need to preserve those best we can.”
“Um… we can hunt.” Owen joined in. “Cait and I, we know how to hunt.”
“Good, you can teach everyone else.” Declan replied. “Everyone needs to know how to hunt.”
Yeah right, Sandra thought begrudgingly. Caitlin’s not teaching me anything. I’d rather starve.
“You all need to know the medical basics, too.” Arya said. “That doesn’t take long to teach, really. Some of it you learn in high school, if you take the right classes.”
“Too bad you never paid attention in school, Sandra.” Alan chuckled. He seemed to be proud of his little joke, until Sandra turned and stormed away.
“Wait! Where are you going?” Arya yelled after her, but she didn’t stop.
Sandra marched into the trees until the others could no longer see her, her uncle’s overcoat smacking against her ankles, her bag hanging off one of her shoulders, and the gun on her hip heavier than ever. She didn’t understand it, didn’t know what had infuriated her. All she knew was that she needed to be as far away from everyone else as possible.
What made Caitlin so acidic towards her? What did Sandra do to deserve that kind of judgment? Was it truly because she was thoroughly incompetent? Was it something everyone could see except her? Did they all think of her this way? It seemed so.
Caitlin wasn’t the first one. Before her, it had been Alan. Every day in school, her piss ant of a best friend would scold her for whatever reason he could think of. Her teachers always had a problem with her as well, and now, so did Caitlin. It was unclear if the others had the same opinion, but what reason did they have to think differently? Arya was a doctor, Declan was a soldier, Maxi had the influence of numbers with a silver tongue to match, Church and Ryujin were both presumably good fighters, and Alan was as intelligent as he was annoying. Not to mention, Caitlin and Owen both had experience hunting their own food. All of them were useful in their own ways. All of them except Sandra. This painful truth was becoming clearer and clearer with every passing second, and she hated it. What right did she have to lead all of these people? They’d be better off leading themselves.
Sandra approached a creek and stopped at the water’s edge, watching the shimmering current and sitting down in the grass. She didn’t plan to run away from the group, she only needed a little space, and this seemed like a good place for her to calm her nerves.
It was childish of her to run away, and she knew that, but it wouldn’t do any good for her to stick around while she was in such a foul mood. How could she be expected to talk about their plans in a logical manner when she was about to erupt like a volcano?
Sandra wanted to lean over, to see her reflection, but she didn’t move. No, she didn’t want to see her pale face, her fake red hair, her cold blue eyes, those eyes that would always stare so emotionlessly, so meanly at her uncle, the only person to ever love her unconditionally, the only person to never consider her incompetent or judge her for anything that she did. Now, all those saddened expressions her uncle wore whenever she’d stomp away from him were ever prominent in her mind. Until now, she refused to acknowledge it, but she knew that she’d deeply hurt his feelings more times than she could have counted over the years.
“God #ing dammit,” Sandra rasped in a low voice, her fingers digging into her skull and her eyes beginning to water.
Not only did she have no useful skills whatsoever, but she didn’t even know how to show compassion to a loved one. The only thing she ever succeeded in doing was pushing everyone away, hurting them, and running away from them. Sandra didn’t deserve to lead all of these people, to guide them, to show them how to survive. In fact, she was starting to wonder if she even deserved to survive at all.
At once, she tensed up and attempted to hide her tear stained face. Sandra heard the crunching of leaves behind her, which meant that somebody had followed her. Rather than turning to face them, she hugged her knees and buried her face in her legs.
Ryujin claimed a seat beside her. He watched the creek for a moment before turning his attention onto Sandra, his dark hazel eyes reading her curiously.
She didn’t raise her head.
“Caitlin is just stressed out. We all are.” Ryujin said. “You okay?”
Sandra couldn’t find the nerve to face him, nor could she think of a reply.
“It’s okay. You’re not supposed to have all the answers.” Ryujin spoke softly, his voice almost too soothing for Sandra to believe. “It’s difficult for everybody, because none of us have the answers. They don’t know what to do any more than you do.”
“That’s not true.” Sandra said, slowly looking up. “Everyone else has basic survival skills, at least.”
“Maybe, but they couldn’t get by all alone. They need each other.” Ryujin told her. “And you.”
Sandra scoffed. “What the # do they need me for?”
“Compassion.” Ryujin replied. “None of them would be together if you hadn’t drawn them into a group.”
“Compassion’s not good enough.” Sandra shook her head, using all her willpower to keep from crying. “Compassion doesn’t actually help anything. It doesn’t feed us, or find us water, or find us shelter. It doesn’t do #. And I’m not a #ing beacon of compassion, anyway. I’m a #head.”
“We wouldn’t all be here if that was true. Listen…” Ryujin studied her closely, wanting to meet her eyes. “We all have different things that we’re good at. You just don’t know wat you’re good at yet, because you haven’t applied yourself. You haven’t had a reason to until now. And anyway, there’s at least one thing you’re really good at, and it’s something the rest of us lack.”
“What?” Sandra asked.
“Empathy.” Ryujin informed. “Everyone has empathy, but I don’t think any of us have as much as you do. Some of us can fight, and some of us can use guns pretty well. But just think of what a bunch of good fighters would do if left alone without a moral compass around. Me, Church, and Alan would have been left at the mercy of the holocaust if you didn’t take us with you to the bunker. The whole situation at the hospital might’ve turned into a shootout if you didn’t compromise with Maxi like you did. Caitlin and Owen would still be stranded by themselves, and so would Maxi and his gang, and so would Arya and Declan. You’ve made a huge difference by bringing them all together. That’s your skill, your personal skill. Compassion.”
Sandra focused on the ground between her thighs. Ryujin wasn’t wrong, but did that really excuse her flaws? Did compassion really make up for her being so otherwise useless?

posted on Jan, 14 2016 @ 04:53 AM
Her teeth shut together, and the tears returned. Her hands covered her face, and she wanted more than anything to keep Ryujin from seeing her cry, but she couldn’t hold it in any longer. A sob escaped her, then another, and soon, her cries were pouring out of her like a waterfall. And as the emotion broke out of her and as Ryujin gently patted her on the back, she became certain that she, herself, wasn’t the reason for her despair. It wasn’t her fault that things hadn’t worked out, and she wasn’t incompetent. She’d been imagining her flukes. In reality, there was only one regret in her thoughts that was real, that was solid, and that refused to leave her be.
Sandra had failed her uncle.
Dorian was missing, possibly hurt, possibly dead. And all their lives leading up to this point, she never cherished the time they had together; she only ever made him feel like a failure of a parent, made him feel like she didn’t care about him, made him feel like she didn’t love him at all.
That regret would never be gone from her.
It made her feel like the scum of the earth, like she was less than nothing.
How could she have treated him that way? Her loveable, bearlike uncle, with the broad grin, the big arms all too perfect for hugging, and the sort of loyalty that was far too rare in friends and family anymore? How could she have taken his love, his trust, and his devotion, and thrown it under the bus with no regard to how he felt? What sort of a monster did that make her?
Something appeared in her blurry vision. It was a round, red thing, something that Ryujin was holding.
Ryujin had picked a red flower, and was handing it to her, giving her a faint smile.
He was strange. Ryujin spoke like a samurai would about morals and compassion, and now, he was acting so understanding, so supportive, and it didn’t make sense to her. Nobody was like this in real life, were they? So noble, so sweet? What made him this way? Nobody had ever treated her so nicely before.
“’M’ sorry.” Sandra choked, taking the flower from him.
“Don’t be.” Ryujin said. “I’m surprised you stayed composed for as long as you did, what with everything that’s been happening.”
Sandra found it hard to keep her eyes on his. What was left of her makeup was definitely running down her cheeks by now, and with her hair screwed up and her expression one of pathetic defeat, she must have looked downright pitiful. Despite her worry, though, Ryujin didn’t notice any of it.
“We’ll be alright.” Ryujin assured.
“Yeah, I know.” Sandra said, wiping her eyes. “I just… my uncle. I always treated him like nothing, and now… he might be dead, and I might never get to… make it right with him.”
“I haven’t always treated my brother wonderfully, either.” Ryujin replied. “But all we can do is pray that we’ll get to see them again, and act in a way that would make them proud. I think we’re doing well so far, all things considered.”
“We are.” Sandra agreed. “It’s the best we can do.”
They were quiet for a moment.
“How close do you think the blast was to Las Nueva Era?” Ryujin asked her. “We ran from the mushroom cloud, but when we went outside, the town was still intact.”
“I think it just skimmed the town. Might have caused a panic, made everyone evacuate, put a little radiation in the air, but it was just far away enough not to damage the town.” Sandra guessed. “I held my thumb up to the blast, and the cloud was just a little bigger than my thumb. My uncle said that when a mushroom cloud is bigger than your thumb, you’re too close to the blast zone. I guess it was just far away enough not to kill us. If the blast happened even a mile closer, we would’ve seen a lot more from it, up close and personally.”
“That makes sense. You know, you have these doubts about yourself, but you have tidbits of knowledge that the rest of us don’t have.” Ryujin said. “Your uncle taught you things, and a lot of it stuck. That’s dead useful, I think.”
“I hope so.” Sandra mumbled.
It’s true, she realized, fiddling with the scarlet flower pedals. My uncle basically trained me for this. I really am the one who should be in this position. I’ve gotta stop running from everything and own up, just like everyone else does.
Sandra opened her mouth to thank Ryujin, but when she turned her head, she spotted movement behind her. The others had arrived at the water’s edge as well, all of them looking to finish the conversation they’d started. Caitlin and Declan stood at the front of the group, and to Sandra’s relief, Caitlin appeared a little less angry than she had before.
“I’m sorry.” Sandra said to everyone. “I just needed a minute to gather my thoughts, you guys. I’m sorry.”
“No problem.” Declan responded. “But we still have a lot to talk about.”
“Cool. Let’s talk.” Sandra spun on her butt and faced them.
The others began to find seats on the ground or on the roots of trees, forming a crooked circle. Maxi was the only one still standing, leaning on a tree and listening with the same surveying face as Caitlin.
Sandra took in a deep breath. Her pessimistic thoughts had left her as quickly as they arrived, and now, she was ready to tackle the group’s problems head on. That’s what Dorian would do in this situation, after all.
“Hunting might become the norm for us. But we’re not gonna have to kill everything we eat, not if we come across stores and stuff.” Declan said. “We need to figure out what’s between here and Sanctum, what’s on the way. If we have places to stop and grab food, we might not have to hunt at all. That’s if we’re extremely lucky, though.”
Caitlin replied to this, saying something about her hometown, Eureka, but Sandra stopped listening for a moment. A light went off in her head; she remembered something her uncle had said a long time ago.
Sandra wasn’t sure how old the memory was. She remembered that she and her uncle were standing at the bottom of the hill beside their house, next to the entrance to the bunker. Dorian had been staring across the field, towards the trees and the desert, towards the general direction of Sanctum.
“Directly northeast of here is Alamo.” Dorian had told her, extending his hand as if gesturing to the towns they could not see. “And north of Alamo is Ash Springs. If we went a little ways east off the backroad on our way north, we’d reach Alamo or Ash Springs if we needed to. Can’t underestimate the value of a still-put-together town. It might be too dangerous to sidetrack into a town depending on the situation, but if something happened to our car—that is, if we had to make the journey on foot—the trip to Sanctum would take a lot longer. In a car, it takes about an hour. But on foot? It’d take days. Maybe weeks, if the situation is bad enough. We’d need to plan our stops accordingly. We’d need to stop for supplies wherever we could.”

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