Heroes Fail

Episode 4
Mission Creep

Badi’a Wasem meets with Natalie and requests that she and the group go to The Dome and meet with the Powered group. When they last sent a trade team there, one of the powered group, a man named Fandango, suggested that they might have a charge controller and battery set for a solar panel array, which Badi’a desperately wants for the town. But he specifically requested that he meet with Natalie. They know Sawyer as the second tier hero known as Underscore. He had musical related powers – mostly pied piper type of things, although Maddy remembers he had some ability to solidify sound. Generally on the heroic side, although more interested in fame and fortune than true heroics.

The Dome is a delicate balance between the Powered, Normals, and Twisted. Sawyer, it turns out, has the hots for Natalie and was hoping to see she was interested in staying at the Dome. When that doesn’t work, he tells her that he wants a particular charcoal grill from Ansuya Verma, one of the strong personalities on the Normal side. If they can convince her to trade him that, then he’ll give them the charge controller. Ansuya hates Sawyer, and as it turns out, the Powered overall as well as the Twisted. She’ll only give up the grill if they convince the small Twisted population to move elsewhere within the Dome (although she wouldn’t mind at all if they got moved out).

Rich Berthold, leader of the Twisted, just wants to be left alone. He asks the group to help them clear out the Lumiere Casino on the other side of the interstate. It was trapped and being used by some survivalist types who started hunting down the Twisted when they scouted the area.

The casino/hotel is indeed quite well trapped, with a punji pit, flare alerts at the major entrances and suspended fish hooks at eye level in the stairwells. But eventually they do make their way to the 5th floor of the hotel, where they accidentally alert the occupiers. They hear the sound of barking dogs and footsteps coming down a stairwell from down the hallway…

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Episode 3
Jerboa on my mind...

The two people at the eastern entrance to Refuge Point give their names as Henry and Mary Smith and they are from the City Museum, looking for their son. They are brought in and relieved of their weapons before being questioned by the mayor and the PCs. They claim that Kofi is their adopted son – they gave him a good American name – Henry Jr. They said he was theirs for 4 years, so before Destruction Day. Through a series of questions, the group determines that Henry is authoritarian and not a terribly nice guy. There is a suspicion that they may be part of some sort of cult or something similar.

When Kofi says (using words for only the second time since he arrived) that he doesn’t want to go with Henry and Mary. The mayor makes the decision based on group’s opinion and Kofi’s refusal. He tells them that he’s not going to send Kofi with them. Kofi’s parents leave quietly but tell leadership that if Henry Jr is not returned within a couple of weeks, then City Museum will have to take action.

Meanwhile, group hunts down the Jerboa – tracking them down to the AMC theater outside of the mall. The Jerboa have established a nest there, the twelve of them. They also have a hive mind telepathy thing happened and when they are about to get killed by Wolf, they protest in the group’s mind. Langston works out a deal with the hive mind to have them act as a watch for Refuge Point in return for letting them stay in Refuge Point and providing them with some food. The mayor says he’ll take it back to the Council of Five but that it will otherwise be kept secret, as a population of telepathic rodents could provoke an ugly panic.

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Empty

Ang couldn’t even remember who had just left her apartment, and that failed to bother her.

She lay completely still on her bed, soaked in sweat, arms and legs spread like she was making a snow angel with the sheets the were crumpled beneath her. An electric fan was lazily rotating the hot air about the room, nearly as lifeless as the body below it.

She was lost in her thoughts, and was recalling over and over the words that Maddy had said, the ones that resonated almost too perfectly with her own beliefs. “It’s touching God,” Maddy stated so simply. They were almost the same words that Ang would have used, except that Ang would never say it out loud, and, if she did, not so free of guilt. She regretted asking her when she did … if her eyes had been connected, she could’ve seen Maddy’s face. Those words, though, they just bounced around in her head.

Ang’s Power had had a personality of its own. She, Ang knew without a doubt it was a she, led Ang to choices she would’ve never made. She led Ang on adventures she wasn’t prepared for, with consequences she had no idea of how to deal with. She’d hurt Ang like no one else before. But, Ang’s Power also thrummed lullabies to help her sleep at night. She had backed her up, even before manifesting, when racist bullies cornered her after school outside the gym. She had comforted her when the inevitable break-ups occurred.

And now, She was gone. And with all of the grief and guilt that Ang felt for failing the world, failing her friends, and failing herself, she couldn’t feel that Godly touch to soothe her and guide her anymore. As she took out her eyes and placed them softly in the velvet lined metal box on the stand, Ang realized that her Power had left her one more misery (or was it a gift?) to live with. She’d burnt out her tear ducts so very long ago, and now, Ang couldn’t even weep.

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Episode 2
Peter Jerboa is eating our garden!

Maddy brings the young boy Kofi to the temporary holding area after determine he’s healthy (and not a risk). The next morning, Refuge Point’s doctor, Nona Wetterstrom, checks Kofi out and confirms that he is healthy, if suffering from a decent number of superficial bruises and scratches. Given Kofi’s silence and general odd behavior, combined with the injuries, Dr. Wetterstrom would have said he was abused…in a pre Destruction Day world. Now, it could be very well just be a reaction to living on his own for some time.

The community has a town hall meeting to help decide who will watch Kofi for the next week on a temporary —> permanent basis. After some volunteers and some discussion, Maddy, Melody and a member of the community known as Wolf agree to take a few days apiece before letting Kofi decide who he would prefer to stay with.

Wolf is known as Wolf because of his companion, a large wolf that he is never seen apart from. Wolf has only said a few words in all the time he has been at Refuge Point, so even speaking the two sentences on his own behalf signaled a lot about how much he was interested in Kofi.

While Kofi was spending some time with Maddy, he became very clear that he had either been on his own for a long period of time or he had been in a crappy situation. When offered a bed, he was skeptical. He didn’t know how to read. He ate like he never had access to real food.

Langston came by during that time and bought some good will with Kofi via Twinkies. He used that goodwill to examine Kofi, coming to a couple of conclusions. Kofi had some markers that were common for ex-Powers. Not a guarantee that Kofi was an ex-Power but strong evidence. In addition, with very careful examination, Langston could see the signs of dragonscale on Kofi’s skin – indicating he had either had it and beaten it…or still had it.

Meanwhile, Cally Brynne talks to her Gardening team – something new is eating some of the plants at night. She asks Melody and Ang to watch at night and see if they can figure out what it is. The two of them find out that it is a kangaroo like rodent that Melody identifies as a jerboa. First weird fact – Jerboa are native to the desert clime. Jerboa certainly would not be native to the St. Louis area. Second weird fact – both Melody and Ang observed weird behavior from the jerboa – picking plants rather than nibbling. Third weird fact – when Ang hurt the one she observed, she heard a cry of pain and a response cry….in her head.

They tracked the trail of blood to the end of the garden before losing it. Ang, not sure where the voices in her head came from, goes to Maddy after she transfers Kofi to Melody for his time there, asking her to do maintenance work on her eyes. She worried that perhaps there is neural degeneration resulting from her inability to use her eyes. Maddy is convinced that there is nothing wrong.

At the same time, Natalie is hearing rumors about small things going missing from people’s rooms – mostly cloth and small baubles of no real value. Worse yet, there are rumors that Kofi might be involved somehow – after all, he’s got those strange eyes and he showed up right about the same time that these thefts and the issues with the garden started. Ed Presper, especially, is convinced that Kofi be the start of a second trial. His church, the Church of the Final Testing, believes that everyone is being weeded out b y God via trials.. Destruction Day is the first. Is Kofi the second for the community? Rick Farrington, head of Defense, asks Natalie to track down the cause of the thefts so he can have another piece of ammunition to use against the rumors.

Langston, in his search for an underground space for a lab stumbles upon a small jerboa sized tunnel that they could be using to get in and out of Refuge Point. He sets a trap and catches a tail, which has clear signs of the jerboa being twisted. When the group meets for dinner, they theorize that maybe some Twisted animals can empathize with humans now and are attached to Kofi. They then agree to keep Kofi out of it all and to ask Wolf if he and well, wolf, can use the trail to track the jerboa to their nest.

Wolf and wolf agree and they track the jerboa to the eastern entrance. But as they are getting ready to go out, a man and a woman, both well armed, approach the door. They say, “We’re here for our boy.”

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Episode 1
What's that, Lassie? Little Geetha's fallen in the well?

Flashback: 2020

Dr. Metamorph is planning to unleash some sort of virus via a bomb located somewhere on the National Mall. He announces this to the players directly, which plays directly into Langston’s opinion of him. (Spoiler alert: he’s an idiot.) There is a puzzle that leads the players exactly where it is located (the Thomas Jefferson Memorial). It wasn’t even particularly challenging. Metamorph’s obsession with the team has gotten him sloppy and showing off.

Once the team arrives via their super jet, they find Dr. Metamorph protecting a bomb looking object – he’s guarded by about 20 people that look like powered versions of Dr. Metamorph, although there is something odd about their faces. He proclaims them as his maximorphs and sends them to attack the heroes. They can fly and have some limited shape changing ability. They defend Metamorph and his bomb, but explode in a cloud of clone material when hit strongly. While the general area has been cleared out, news helicopters and civilians in the distance are recording every moment. Langston heads straight for Dr. Metamorph, exploding some clones while Ex Machina (Maddy) heads towards the bomb to use her machine empathy to determine how to disarm it. Except…she discovers it is a decoy. And all the heroes are feeling feverish and coughing – their power levels rising.

Langston screams and shakes Metamorph furiously. “What have you done!?!”

Metamorph cackles a truly insane laugh and shouts, “I’ve won, you fool. You are my vectors!”

Before long, the heroes black out as more superheroes head to the area to “help”. Destruction Day has just begun.

Present Day

Our former heroes are doing the daily things that are their routine in Refuge Point, including maintaining the Garden and helping build and expand the various structures. Then an alarm bell rings, alerting the community to come to their central meeting place.

The last Expedition team came back without two of its members – Geetha Patel and Jakob Runyon. The team had gone to the St. Louis Police Department Central Patrol, about 12 blocks north of Refuge Point. When Geetha and Jakob went to the weapons locker, the entire holding cell area collapsed into a sinkhole, trapping the two of them under a pile of rubble. Their partners (Alfonso Gravett and Wade Furhan), realizing that they didn’t have the equipment or person power to rescue them, came back to Refuge Point to get another team. There is some commentary from Wade about how you send Powers to save Powers – a offhand way of saying that Powers are worth less than normal people. Head of Expedition, Kenny Hertzmark tells him to shut up because he’s going to get to go to guide thee rescue team.

Hertzmark picks Indigo Team (our heroes) to go there and rescue the fallen (and get any weapons if possible). The team gathers a winch and a truck and make their way there through the rubble filled streets of St. Louis. When they get there, Geetha is still alive, but Jakob is dead, having bled out from a wound. Geetha is pinned with a jail cell bar through her leg.

The team stabilizes Geetha and then figures out what they are going to do. Ang manages to find the weapons locker and find a shotgun and some small arms plus some ammo – a real find for the community. Its dark by this time and they have to wait overnight to get Geetha out. But they manage, with Melody having to discourage a wild pack of dogs that gathered to Geetha’s scream from the bar being removed.

They get back to Refuge Point safely and Geetha is put under the care of the town doctor,

That night, Maddy is on interior patrol at night, when she hears a knocking at the eastern door. She goes to the door and peers into the dark and sees a young boy with black skin and eerie blue eyes. Maddy, per procedure, makes a judgment call that he is not dangerous and brings him to a quarantine room, where he’ll wait overnight until the town leaders can make a decision whether he can stay permanently. Normally there would be a one week trial period. After the one week, the town would vote on whether the person can stay long term. But in the case of children, the Council of Five makes the decision.

The boy is not deaf, but he doesn’t seem to speak at all. The only word he says is when asked his name, and he responds, “”/characters/kofi" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kofi."

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Waking Up is Hard to Do

Saturday, 23 Apr 2022/Day 768
Refuge Point, St. Louis
03:00, local

Maddy twitched in her bunk, dreaming …


Tinker’s Pit Stop
Paradise, MI

“Tinker?” Maddy shouted as she skidded her bike to a halt at the garage entrance. She caught the smug little hum from the frame as she tipped upright again and snapped the kickstand down. If she didn’t know any better, the all-terrain bike rather liked skidding and snapping to. Maddy thought it was happy to have her as its rider, given her preference for speed and jumping obstacles. It’s a BMX. Of course it likes to get down and dirty. “Thank you,” she whispered as she dismounted. She gave it a loving pat, kissed her fingers and touched them to the handlebars, then dashed inside. She worked with Tinker after school but she had a test to make up.

She was late.

“Tinkerrrrrrr?!” she yelled, making her way through and around the crowded garage floor for the back, where the man’s living quarters lay. All around her the tools, the materials, and every single machine in the place hummed their greeting, a tiny tone of welcome glowing deep inside her head. Minor G chord. Low key today. She thought a quiet C major chord back at them and kept going. “Tinker! You alive back there?”

“It’s like asking me if I’m sleeping back here,” came the grumpy response from the back. “If you get a yes answer, you’re already in trouble.”

When Maddy got closer, she could hear a soft tapping noise coming from the room in back. Irregular yet with its own rhythm, it filled the back of the garage with its own unique sound.

“What are you doing?” Maddy trailed her fingertips across the surfaces she passed. Little trills traveled through her, myriad harmonies from each mechanical and technical thing. She rounded the drill press and saw Tinker tapping an engine block with a ball peen hammer. Middle aged, with middle aged spread and thinning sandy brown hair, Tinker cut a glance under his arm as she approached and went back to tapping. “What are you doing?” she asked again.

Without turning back or stopping the tapping, Tinker said, “Listening. Which is what you ought to be doing.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask Listen for what? but she stopped herself in time. Partially because Tinker rarely said anything that wasn’t worth heeding but partially because as she drew closer she could sense the engine block protesting the hammer’s assault. Each blow affected the molecular bonds ever so slightly and though it was nothing the bond couldn’t overcome, she could feel it like a breath of air along her nerves, tickling her from head to toe.

Ping!

Tickle.

Ping!

Tickle.

Ping!

Wait a minute …

The harmonics were off, just the tiniest shave off the top and bottom of the wave, but it was there. Something’s wrong. Fully engaged in the problem now, Maddy leaned against the bench next to Tinker, put her hand on the engine, and waited with eyes closed for the hammer to strike again.

“Powers can be a crutch, Maddy. No different than any other god given ability.” His voice grew a little louder and a bit of a smirk crossed his face. It was clear that he knew his voice would make it harder to focus past the tapping, the continuous ping as the hammer hit the engine. “And when the crutch gets swept out from underneath…”

“Single-point fragility.” Maddy understood immediately. She opened her eyes and looked at the man who was her legally appointed guardian, her mentor, and above all, her friend. “But how can I tell if what I’m sensing is Power-based or not?”

Even as she said it, she knew she wasn’t being entirely honest. What she heard with her physical ears, however finely tuned, lacked the special pluck along her nerves, that something extra inside her head, that Powered sensory input gave her. If she made the effort, she could separate one from the other. Never having that layer of richness to her world, losing that dimension to her senses, was not something she wanted to experience. Nevertheless, she gave Tinker a nod and stood ready.

“Hit it again.”

He nodded curtly, pleased at having her full attention. He tapped the engine block again, this time a little harder, making it easier for her to listen now that he was confident she knew what she was listening for.

There you are. It took a few more strikes but she heard it.“The block is cracked. The sound isn’t traveling through it like it should.”

“You can have conversations with objects without needing powers. They want to tell us what’s going on, if only we would listen.” That was as much praise for her being right as Maddy was going to get. Tinker put the hammer down on the bench before stretching his arms wide and yawning to almost comical effect.

“This block,” he said, patting the engine block firmly, “was designed to do one thing well. Now it’s cracked and it doesn’t do anything well.” Tinker’s chin rested in the palm of his left hand while he looked at Maddy with that questioning stare he often gave her. It was Tinker’s way of asking Maddy to take the next step – tell him what the lesson was about. Lately these days, that next step was less about what to learn and more and more why she was learning it.

“So …,” Maddy said slowly, warmed by his gruff praise but aware she had to keep earning his respect. “Relying on anything to the exclusion of developing other skills, of ignoring your full potential, creates a single point of failure, with catastrophic consequences. It’s a matter of self-reliance.” She could see the sense in it, even as she wondered what it would take to silence the song that only she could hear. “Because then if I run into my brand of Kryptonite, I won’t completely helpless or useless. I can still function.”

’That’s right," he said firmly. “It’s not that you can’t trust people, but when the end comes, all you’ll have is you.” The size of his hands dwarfed her shoulders. So when he grasped her by the shoulders—something he had done a thousand times before—she could feel the chill down not just her chest but moving all the way down her arms to the tips of her fingers.

That’s strange, Maddy thought. Did he say that before?

That horrible feeling of something unidentifiable being wrong crept over her. He kept speaking, his words sounding in her ears like the disharmony of the engine block multiplied a thousand times over.

“If you wake up,” Tinker continued, “your powers could be gone just like that.” And he removed a hand from her shoulder to snap his fingers. The sound echoed in the garage and when she looked at his hand, the fingers that created the snap warped together into one fleshy mass, pieces of flesh rotting off and landing with a horrible squelch on the floor. He looked with amused surprise at his own hand before turning those icy blue eyes back towards her.
“Who knows, Maddy? Maybe I’m dead, rotting in an unmarked grave somewhere right now … What will you do then?”

Eyes wide, she reached for him, only to have him fall apart, moist and rotting, in her hands. Maddy could barely choke past her horror:

Tinker…?


Excerpt​ from Soul of the Machine, by Madeline Cartwright

His name was on my lips as I jerked awake, my heart a trip hammer in my chest. I sat up. Nothing but darkness greeted me and it closed in like a living thing, heavy and smothering. Nightmares were old and familiar but no matter how many I suffered, waking from them was not a relief but torture. Harder than the dark, sharper than my fear, was the silence.

​Everyone thinks they know silence. They listen for people or animals or machines and hearing none, they say it’s quiet, that there’s nothing there.

They are so wrong.

Silence, true silence,​is gained only at the expense of the world’s breath, by ​the death of the Universe’s song. ​Hearing the electons spinning in their orbits, learning their background hum, it was my first lullaby as a baby. It was my first utterance, or so my mother once told me, my first attempt to communicate with the world I could hear in my head … and as I grew, could feel and change .

No more. ​Gone. ​Where the world once hummed with energy, suffused with color and life, it had only the cold and the dead. I tried to describe it to someone, saying it was like being able to see and hear, and then suddenly being struck blind and deaf. They didn’t understand. How could they? How could I describe a world they had never seen? How could I say goodbye a world only I could see?

Waking from dreams of Before was nothing but pain, like acid biting through metal, and I could feel my sobs dragging up from deep inside. I drew my knees to my chest and hugged them tight to keep the darkness from winning. My tears, my loss, were trophies I refused to give it. But it was hard after dreams of Before. Empty pride, really, but it was mine and on some wakings, it was all I had.

Some months past the day I’d woken to After, I’d found a watch on the desiccated remains of its owner. I’d gently removed it and given it a wind. By some miracle it still worked. Taking deep slow breaths, I concentrated on it now as it whirred and chattered away on my wrist. ​It wasn’t the same but it was a reminder, a touchstone to what was, and perhaps—If the Universe was willing—what could be.

I curled up and tucked my wrist under my right ear, the side that didn’t have ruined bits of exosuit melded to my flesh. The cadence of its second hand soothed like the purr of a cat and I waited for its whisper to lull me back to sleep.

And tried not to hear the silence in its song.

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Apocalypse AA

Journal selections from the Journal of Melody Sanderson aka Enigma

Journal log day AA 275 : I have to write something so I miss vacuuming. I miss being able to just push the vacuum through the wall, through the chairs. So easy. Sweeping was a delight. Cleaning is such a chore now. Ryan will laugh at me when he gets back. I won’t care. I miss him.

Journal log day AA 355: Toby admitted that some days he hates me. But he also loves me. I don’t know what to do, what to tell him to make him feel better. I hate me too.

Journal log day AA 493: I don’t know why I’m keeping this. One of my teammates said in time I’d write more than a sentence. I haven’t yet. This sucks. I don’t want to write about anything. They suggest writing about my life here. What LIFE? My world is gone. Bleah!!

*Journal log day AA 784: * Okay, it’s been a while since I wrote in this thing. I think I can write something more than a sentence.

First, I haven’t given up hope yet. I mean, we were supers. Ryan was. . .I mean is. I have to believe he’s alive. He is a super. As much as any us are now anyway.

If he’s alive. I’m sure he isn’t. No one could have survived what happened. What I did. I guess I did. No, what I did. Toby saw it. The whole goddamned world saw it before everything failed. Everyone but me. I saw, but I don’t remember. Still doesn’t help that ever so often I see Toby looking at me. He knows Ryan is gone. The great and magnificent Falcon. Brought down by Enigma. By the one he trusted with his life, his son’s life. Brought down by me, his partner, his wife. Slammed from the air into a rock hard ocean with every camera nearby filming the whole thing. For my son to watch in real time living color.

I never have. Not a damn video, not a damn picture. I wouldn’t if I could.

I don’t remember it but even if I wanted to pretend it was someone else, it’s there in the mind’s eye of everyone who was watching tv, Twittering, TALK-ing, texting, chatting. . . every media outlets showing the heroes go insane that day. I had torn off my mask in the madness. No more secret identity for evil me.

So many questions afterwards: It was me, wasn’t it? How could you do that Mel? How could you not remember? So you were Enigma? Wow! Never guessed. How is Toby handling it? Where is Toby? My few remaining neighbors knew to ask about Toby. Good neighbors. One of the many things Ryan and I had adored about the city; the lovely neighborhoods. The neighbors hadn’t been appreciative when I had screamed at them that I needed to know where he was. Yeah, well I didn’t have time for twenty questions. Did I give a damn that some neighborhoods had burnt down in the craziness? No. Was it my house? Then get the hell outta the way so I can go home. Mr Pelalucas was dead a few days later as was Rebecca Holmes. I miss them. I would have come back to answer as much as I could for them once I found my boy. It was an easy answer. I didn’t and don’t still know a damn thing as to why this happened.

Our house was still standing and I did find Toby. He had holed up in the house. Toby’s a smart boy. Our house was reinforced, had a safe room. Never knew when a badie would try to take him. But he had food and water, had good neighbors while they lasted and then had their food and water when they didn’t. I think he’s forgiven me. Or at least believes I wasn’t in control that day. I hope. He’s all I have left of Ryan.

He’s getting older now. A teen. He may change his mind about me, about that day. He did see it after all. Can you learn to hate your mother even when. . .well, yes, it was my fault. I just don’t remember. None of the team does. Is it cruel that in the meanest part of my soul, I secretly hope it was one of them? But it wasn’t. Enough people told me it wasn’t. Enough female groupies tried to scratch and beat me before everyone got too sick or were too busy trying to survive to care. I had killed their hero. Couldn’t blame them. Ryan was a star. I loved him too.

Took forever to get back after all the chaos. Cars littering the roads, sick people begging for help everywhere. Hell the dead where everywhere. I stole a Jeep. Last of my evil deeds. Least of my evil deeds. Ryan wasn’t my last kill that year. I had to get back. Had to find Toby. Explain. Beg forgiveness. I didn’t care about the world. Yeah, I didn’t. I had to get to Toby. I would have crawled back to St Louis to find him if that’s all I could have done. Our son.

I’m not so sure about myself anymore. I’m keeping it together for Toby. For god’s sake, I was Melody Sanderson, president of the mother freaking PTA. . .I can hold it together in this mess that’s left of the world. I don’t cry myself to sleep anymore. But at least the sheets don’t smell like Ryan anymore. I kept our sheets when we moved to the Castle, kept the pictures, kept some of Ryan’s things. He’ll want them when he gets back. I think I say that more for Toby than for hope. I remind him that superheroes in the comics come back and the Falcon was a superhero. He’s just resting under the waters. Re-cooperating. For two years. He’ll be better than ever and we’ll have found the cause of the plague, the reason for all this death and the loss of our powers. The Falcon is just resting.

Dead.

I don’t even have a body for us. Just a memory for our son and a deep betrayal of the two men I loved more than life. Yeah, I can handle this. If someone reads this journal, they’ll see how well I’m faking it.

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Wide Open Spaces
Natalie travels to Refuge Point

The endless prairie grasses rippled in the hot breeze. Far ahead of her a thunderstorm crackled, but she had no idea how far away it was or even which direction it was moving. Distance was hard to judge out here. No frame of reference. She’d never lived or even visited anyplace where the sky literally touched the ground for 360 degrees of view. There was no shade. Despite the hat and sunglasses she’d liberated from a gas station at the base of the foothills, the sun was relentless over her head and she almost welcomed a thunderstorm despite the fact that as the tallest thing in eyeshot she’d be a lightning magnet — which meant laying in the mud to avoid it.

She figured she was somewhere maybe in the eastern part of Wyoming or maybe South Dakota or Nebraska, based on the landscape. But she’d been avoiding roads and towns unless she had no choice. Finding people’s bodies everywhere she went had begun to take its toll.

She trudged doggedly forward, one thought and one thought alone driving her to put one foot in front of the other — Someone HAD to have survived and if they did, they’d head for the Tower. Out of sheer desperation to hear a sound other than the wind, she began to hum. Her voice was rusty with disuse, but there was no one around to hear her whistling in the graveyard anyway. She’d been walking for … she glanced at the sleeve of her jacket, where she’d been marking the days with tiny cuts in the material… somewhere along the way she’d forgotten to do it when she woke up in the morning. And now she’d lost count. But that couldn’t be right, could it? More than 40 days?

Shaking her head, she couldn’t help but wonder if keeping the time mattered at all. There was no one left to care how long it took anyone to do anything. She and everyone like her had blasted the human race back to the Stone Age.

Unexpected grief flooded through her, taking her breath away. It happened sometimes — the grief would overwhelm her and then the panic would flood her body. She was so tired of walking. Tired of being alone. She curled up in a tiny little ball on the ground, her sobs raw. She lost any sense of time passing. Open spaces.

Such wide open spaces.

And no people.

For days.

For weeks.

Maybe she should just stay right here. It wouldn’t be a bad way to go… after a couple more days, she wouldn’t even be hungry anymore. She’d just be too weak to move and could lay there and drift off. It had a dark appeal.

As the sun began to set in the west, she fought her way to her feet once more. She was sure the wind was whispering to her — she heard voices in it. Natalie wasn’t entirely sure she was sane, but she didn’t deserve the ease of laying down to die that easily.

She could see a tree in the distance, and she thought maybe in the ripples of grass there might be a farmhouse near it. Maybe if there was a house up there, she could stay for a day or two and shelter from the crippling loneliness of the prairie. With her backpack nearly empty of provisions, she needed to find someplace to lay low for a day or two and restock before putting her feet on the path East. Ever East to the big river.

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