[MM] Texas

Apr. 15th, 2011 10:52 pm
re_mybrains: (Gun-toting!Tom)
Tom is in Dallas when his luck finally runs out.

Oh boy, threats of gory violence and zombies! )
re_mybrains: ('Cause I'm a wanderer)
May 2, 2008

Every once in a while, you meet people on the road.

When all of you are walking, it gets kind of awkward because from a distance it's a little hard to tell the difference between we've been walking for days and we're tired and braaaaaaaaains, and then everyone ends up pointing guns at each other's heads, although usually by the time the other person has a gun out that's a pretty good indication that he or she is not in fact a zombie, but then everyone's pointing guns and it just gets tense, you know?

Anyway.

The group Tom has run into consists of a guy, smarmy and college-aged but friendly, and two girls; one of them, once Tom's non-zombie status was assured, promptly sat him down and started grilling him on where he's from, bright and bubbly and efficient. (The other, who's carrying a sawed-off shotgun over her shoulder and keeping a lookout, keeps giving him looks that suggest he had just better watch it because if he causes any trouble she'll have no compunctions about taking his gun and leaving. It's a little nerve-wracking. He suspects the twitchiness makes him look more pathetic than normal.)

"I, um, Detroit, originally," he tells the bubbly girl, who says her name is Heather (and seriously, what are the odds of that?). "I've been on the road since then."

"Like where?"

"Uh, Pennsylvania--"

"Pennsylvania?" repeats the guy (whose name is Evan, Tom thinks), suddenly losing the smarm in favor of urgency. "Did you go through Pittsburgh?"

Tom shakes his head. "No, man, sorry. I came in from the north and headed into Harrisburg. And if you head that way? Don't go to Harrisburg. I got caught in a building by a nasty shamble."

"How'd you get out?" asks Little Miss Shotugn, whose name Tom still hasn't caught.

Tom opens his mouth and pauses. He hadn't meant to let that slip out. "Waited 'em out," he finally answers, weakly.

Shotgun gives him a look, resettles her gun on her shoulder, and looks out along the road again. "Good thing you skipped Pittsburgh. That's Romero country."

Evan looks upset, rubbing his face. Tom rubs the back of his neck. "Sorry, man."

"No, no, 'sokay."

Heather eyes Evan, then looks back at Tom. "'s that where you're comin' from? Harrisburg?"

"No, uh, I went on to Philly after that, and then New York--"

Heather and Little Miss Shotgun both sit up at that. "How's New York?"

"Shitty. Better than DC, but still shitty."

"You went to DC?" Evan asks, frowning.

"Yeah." Tom swallows. He doesn't like thinking about it. "Ghost town, man. I think New York got hit harder, but DC was just . . . I mean in New York people are, like, surviving, they're getting together, you know? It's scary, but -- it's like people just left DC to the zombies."

He scratches his chin. He hasn't shaved in a week -- couldn't find a safe convenience store to loot razors from -- and he wonders how Evan is staying so clean-cut. "I went 'cause I figured, you know, maybe the feds were still there, maybe they were working on rebuilding, but . . . nada. Just shambles and a couple crazy survivors that I couldn't get close enough to talk to."

. . . Nobody seems to have anything to say to that.

At least not for a minute. Then Shotgun taps her fingers on the butt of the gun and says brightly, "So did you see Ted Stevens shambling around or what? Not that you could probably tell the difference between normal Stevens and zombie Stevens."

". . . Who the fuck is Ted Stevens?"

She waves a hand. "Never mind."

The tension is hardly gone, but it's at least lessened a little. Heather insists on sharing a few rations with Tom, who (after noticing Shotgun's eyeroll and Evan's rueful expression) insists on sharing a few back. They don't offer to travel with him, which he's kind of grateful for and hurt by at the same time -- it's awkward to turn people down, but it's nice to get the offer.

"Where you headed next?" Heather asks, as they all shoulder their packs and stand.

"West, I guess."

"Lay my head tonight on a bed of California stars," Shotgun mutters, looking absent for the first time, then gives him a hard look. "You should get yourself a flamethrower or something. There's a lot of zombies to fuck up between here and the west coast."

Tom blinks at her, suddenly aching somewhere behind his solar plexus. And get a flamethrower. Can you use a manpack?

Why am I still here?

"Yeah, well." He swallows. "I'll see what I can do."

"Good luck," Evan offers, sticking out a hand. Tom shakes it, nodding.

They head north; he heads west. He hopes they make it -- even Shotgun seemed nice at the end there.




And he wonders again, hiking his pack higher on his back, why the fuck he's still here, what the hell he thinks he can do to save the world.

If it gets too bad, come back, Kendra told him. If I have to try every door between New York and here, he told her.

It's not too bad yet, is it? Even after DC? He's honestly not sure.

"I'll just check a couple more cities," he murmurs to the asphalt, and the clouds. Just a couple more.

Just enough to get the big picture.

(. . . He wishes he hadn't thought of it like that.)
re_mybrains: ('Cause I'm a wanderer)
March 30-April 5, 2004: New York City

It's beyond bizarre to sleep in safety again. Actually, that's just bizarre -- what's beyond bizarre is how little time it's taken for Tom to fall back into the nervous habits of survival that Milliways had nearly trained out of him. It's beyond bizarre that safety became so unfamiliar, so quickly.

Tom tries not to think about that. When he does, he dismisses it with a mental shrug. So safety is a rarity again; with that in mind, hyperactive paranoia is a better attitude than complacency.

(He told Shaun once that he'd rather not stop being a person in order to be a badass. He'd rather not stop being a person in order to survive, too, and a bundle of nervous twitches with a gun doesn't really fit his definition of "person" any more than a cool badass does. Some things can't be helped, though.)

He spends a day recuperating from his travels, surprised by his own exhaustion. The day after that, Jess and Alan give him the full tour of the living area -- the watch posts, the ammo stockpiles, the vegetable garden -- and Tom wastes no time in telling them how impressed he is.

"I haven't seen anything like this anywhere." He straightens up from poking at a growing stalk of corn. "It's -- I mean, it's incredible."

"Just good planning," Jess replies with a smile.

Tom gives her a sharp look. "Did you know--?"

"Nobody knew," Alan says.

"But some of us planned anyway," Jess adds.

"For zombies?"

"What, you never did that? 'Gee, if zombies attacked right now, what would I do?'"

Tom winces. "Never did. I'm not good at, like, large-scale plans."

"A little picture guy," Alan suggests.

Tom winces again. "Yeah," weakly. "You could say that."



He insists on taking watches, and spends some time on the lookout posts with all the other members of the enclave. Val proves more than willing to talk about where she came from -- the South -- and how she ended up in New York ("I got here before Z-day," she explains. "Here when the bombs dropped. That was scarier than the zombies, if you ask me. You can do something about the zombies.") but she doesn't press him to reveal any more about himself than he wants. He stays as vague as he can be about the journey from Detroit to New York and claims a few times that he lost track of time wandering in the midwest. It's not entirely untrue.

Tim is quieter, a little more reserved with a stranger. Tom gets the impression that Tim's parents are out of the picture, one way or another, and doesn't pry. They usually end up debating Kirk vs. Picard vs. Janeway or topics of equally vital importance.

Betty, it turns out, is a singer, and cheerfully breaks into the Beatles and Queen and Leonard Cohen and yes, occasionally, Paul Simon -- always quietly, when they're outside, so as not to attract unwanted attention from either the living or the dead, but with no less gusto for that. One day, Tom bemoans the fact that the last time he touched a guitar was weeks before Z-day. "You're musical!" Betty exclaims.

"Eh." He shrugs. "I worked at a recording company, but I was a suit."

"Do you sing?"

"Oh no no no no."

She does, eventually, get him to join her on the choruses of "Yellow Submarine."



But it doesn't take long for Tom to get restless.

"This isn't working," he tells Jess one evening, four days after his arrival.

"You've only been here a few days. Give it a little more time."

"No, it's just -- it's not working. It's not you guys. You guys are great. Just. You guys are . . ." His chest aches, a little. "You guys are already, like, a family, you know? And you don't have the resources to take care of me on top of everything," he barrels on, since she looks like she's about to respond, "and I really want to find out if there's anywhere at all that's rebuilding. I really do."

Jess studies him for a minute, and then sighs and looks out over the surroundings.

"You know what I miss from before?"

Tom blinks at her.

"I miss biking."

. . . Tom blinks at her more.

"It's impossible to bike anywhere these days." She waves a hands towards the city. "You think biking in the city was crazy before. Sure, now you don't have to deal with the assholes driving, but with the shambles, and the gangs . . . and even if it were safe, I'm taking care of things here. And helping folks survive is worth giving up biking."

". . . That's . . . really noble of you," Tom says, and means it, but he's a little uncertain where this is going. It shows. Jess smiles.

"I understand the urge to be moving, is all I'm saying." She shrugs. "So if you want to keep moving, you should. Someone's got to. Where would you go next?"

Tom blows out a breath. "DC? I know they must have been hit just as hard by the bombs--"

"Probably harder."

"--but I mean . . ." He laughs. It's a little helpless. "It's the fucking capital. They must've had bunkers or whatever. Somebody in power must've survived. Somebody somewhere has gotta be doing something, and if they're not doing it here . . ."

"If they're not doing it here," Jess points out, "they may not be doing it anywhere."

"Yeah, thank you, I needed my parade rained on."

"Look, your logic is pretty sound, but you have to be realistic about this. And you have to have a backup plan if DC doesn't pan out like you're hoping."

Tom groans. "I told you, I'm terrible at planning."

"Yeah, little picture. I remember." Tom winces again. "Lucky for you I like planning."

He looks up at her, blinking. She grins.

"So tomorrow we'll sit down and we'll plan, okay? Get you fitted out for the trip."

"You don't have to do that."

"Yes, we do." She waves at the city again. "We're living post-apocalypse, Tom. Somebody's gotta set a standard."



Tom can't speak for a minute or two, but Jess doesn't press him to.



The next afternoon, loaded with food, ammo, and his belongings from Milliways (most importantly, his journal safely tucked at the bottom of his pack, and Shaun's bat over his shoulder), Tom bids a farewell that's a little more teary than he expected to the enclave, and promises to come back.

He has second thoughts as he starts down the road.

And third thoughts.

And tenth thoughts.

And he keeps walking south.

re_mybrains: ('Cause I'm a wanderer)
March 30, 2004

As the gates clang shut, Jess tucks the gun into a back pocket and leads the way into the building. Tom trails a step behind, cricket bat over his shoulder.

"Welcome to my lair," she tells him cheerfully as they step inside, footsteps echoing. "Look out for Wolf."

Tom blinks at her. "Wolf?"

The clatter of nails on the floor is the only warning he gets before something flings itself at his legs. He yelps, dancing backwards.

The rather raggedy bichon frise who's just impacted his shins dances back at him, panting happily.

". . . Wolf?"

Bark. (Or, more accurately, yap.) Jess grins.

Tom is beginning to think he's fallen in with a group with a very weird sense of humor.

Jess leads the way through a few grand, empty hallways, with Wolf clicking happily along at their heels and trying to entice Tom into playing with her. She finally takes them through a door marked STAFF ONLY into a considerably more mundane hall of offices. It opens out into something that looks like an employee lounge further on.

"Hey!" Jess calls, and a cheerful female voice from the lounge calls back "Hey, yourself!"

"Great, you get a welcoming committee."

"Thought I got one already," Tom says dryly, nudging Wolf away from his shoe as they enter the lounge.

The scene that greets them is almost domestic: a teenage boy with his feet up on a coffee table; a bearded man wearing a yarmulke with a book in his lap, sitting next to a round-faced woman wearing a headscarf; a college-age girl in glasses just coming in from another hallway. It's sort of pleasant and homey.

Except that the round-faced woman is cheerfully cleaning a pistol rather than, say, sewing or something, and the young woman entering the room is carrying a shotgun. That's a little incongruous.

(He realizes a minute later that it doesn't seem as incongruous as it should, which is a little unsettling in and of itself.)

Tom swallows and lifts a hand. "Hi."

There's a chorus of "Hi"s in return, cautious but fairly friendly, which makes him feel a little better. Jess takes over.

"Everybody, Tom. Tom, Tim" -- she points at the young man -- "have fun with that. Val" -- the young woman with the shotgun -- "Alan" -- the man in the yarmulke -- "and his wife Elizabeth."

Val lifts a hand in solemn greeting. "Hile."

"Um," says Tom, feeling something is expected of him. "Hile."

Elizabeth laughs. "Nice to meet you, Tom. You can call me Betty."

Tom blinks, and looks at Alan. "Can I call you--?"

"No."

"We get that a lot," Betty adds, resigned but amused.

"Ah." Tom glances around. Tim and Val shrug. Jess is giving him a curious look.

". . . I've walked into someplace pretty weird, haven't I."

"They don't look like Presbyterians to me," Betty murmurs, and Alan snorts.

"Is that a problem?" Jess asks.

Tom huffs out a laugh. Compared to evil mistletoe, women with wings, sentient computer programs . . .

"Are you kidding? I feel right at home."



Some time later, after they've eaten (Betty and Tim cook; the vegetables are homegrown, even if the rice tastes kind of stale and the meat is just Slim Jims; Tom tries not to take more than his share, but when they notice, they encourage him to take seconds), Jess offers to show Tom to his room.

Which turns out to be a cubicle in the office section.

Tom blanches.

"We gave away our last spare cot last week, so I'm afraid you're gonna have to make do -- are you okay?"

"Is there anyplace else?" Tom manages. "I, uh -- when it all happened, I was -- just. Yeah."

Jess winces sympathetically, nodding. "Gotcha. You can crash in the lounge, if you don't mind people wandering through."

"No, no, that's cool. Can I take a watch?"

Jess looks him over. "Maybe tomorrow. You look wiped. Get some rest."

"Thanks." He follows her back out to the lounge and drops his stuff by one of the armchairs. "Thanks."

"No problem. Sleep well."

She turns to go, and Tom straightens. "Um, Jess?"

"Yeah?"

"Can I have my gun back?"

She turns and looks at him for a moment. "Can I have the bullets?"

He sighs. "If you have to, yeah."

"This place is safe. Safe as anyplace is these days."

"I know. I just. I'd feel better."

". . . Yeah. Okay." She pulls the gun from her back pocket and passes it over. Tom lets out a breath as he takes it.

"Thank you."

"Security blanket, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah." She nods. "Sleep well."

"Thanks."

And for the first time in a week, he does.
re_mybrains: (Doubtful!Tom)
March 30, 2004

"So where exactly are we going?"

Beth and her partner -- Rue, she'd introduced herself as -- exchange glances. Beth snickers. "Skullcrusher Mountain."

". . . Oh, thanks, that's not ominous at all."

"There's a couple local gangs that call it that," Rue clarifies, voice implying an eyeroll. "Rumor has it they set up a trebuchet to deal with the zombies. I don't believe it, but it keeps anyone from attacking the place."

"Not that it's easy to attack in any case," Beth points out.

"Yeah. Have you ever been here before, Tom?"

He shakes his head. "No. This is my first time out of the midwest."

Beth half-turns to look at him. "How'd you get here?"

A shrug. "Walked."

Beth's eyebrows go up, impressed. "And you're still alive."

"Go figure."

Beth shakes her head. "Wow. Anyway, it's a place called the Cloisters, part of the Met. It's up on a hill by the river and it's a freaking fortress."

"Jess'll check you out before she'll let you in," Rue adds, as they take a turn and begin climbing a hill, "but it shouldn't be a problem. You look pretty harmless."

Not entirely certain whether he should feel that his masculinity has been insulted, Tom nods and watches the city go by through the windshield.

***


The Cloisters are, in fact, a freaking fortress. Beth wasn't kidding. As they reach the gates, he spots a stocky, pony-tailed figure approaching from the other side. "That's Jess," Beth identified over her shoulder.

The ambulance draws to a halt, and Beth gets out. Tom clambers out the passenger side door more slowly, checking warily around the area, one hand on his gun. When he finally turns to approach Jess, she looks . . . suspicious. But approving, under that.

Apparently Beth has been explaining the situation while he's been surveying the surroundings, because Jess holds out a hand when he nears the gates. "Hi, Tom. Give me three good reasons I should let you come in here."

Startled, he shakes her hand on automatic. "Um. Because . . . I'm . . . harmless?"

She snorts, amused, and glances at his gun. "And armed."

"And not dumb," he corrects. "And not dead." A thought strikes. "And not infected."

She raises her eyebrows. "Can you prove that?"

He wrinkles his nose. "I, uh, suppose if you insist I could strip down."

Another snort. "Thanks for the offer. That's two reasons."

He sighs, scratching his face. "Because I'm tired and hungry and haven't slept someplace that's really safe in -- days, and I'm a total noob to New York and I'll probably end up dead by tomorrow if I don't stay here."

Beat. He ducks his head and adds in an embarrassed mumble, "Not to, y'know, guilt you into it or anything."

Jess smiles. "I don't guilt easily. Where're you from, Tom?"

"Detroit, originally. Now, kind of -- nowhere."

"How'd you end up on the road?"

He sighs, tired. "I got trapped by a shamble in a shopping mall for a month, and I didn't really feel like staying in Michigan after that. I was hoping things would be better in the big cities."

"A month?" she repeats, surprised. "Jeez."

"Yeah."

She's quiet for a moment, then nods decisively. "You can come in. I'll be hanging onto your gun, though."

"--What? That's it? I can stay here?"

"Soon as you hand me that gun," she repeats, firm. "You can keep the bat, though."

Tom pulls out his gun, glances down at it. It's suddenly, weirdly hard to let go of it. After a moment, he flips it around, ejects the clip, and racks the slide. The bullets go in his bag; the gun goes into Jess' waiting hand.

"You've got to understand," Jess says, accepting the gun, "I've got people in here I'm responsible for. And we get the occasional whackjob who wants in here who'd like nothing better than to get inside and get violent."

"No, no, I get it." He blows out a breath, rubbing the back of his neck. "I get it."

"Okay then." She moves away to set about getting the gates open, and Tom turns to Beth.

"Well, um. Thanks for the ride."

She smiles. "Yeah, no problem." A nod toward Jess. "Think she likes you."

He blinks. "How can you tell?"

A grin. "You used 'noob' in a sentence. She knows a geek when she sees one."

Tom opens his mouth to protest he's not a geek, considers, and closes it again. Beth offers a hand. "Hopefully I won't see you around again."

"Um. Yeah. Thanks again." He shakes her hand and waves to Rue in the ambulance, who waves back with a grin and a thumbs up.

The gates open with a creak, and Tom steps into the Cloisters. Or Bald Mountain, or whatever the locals call it.

Whatever. It's safe.
re_mybrains: ('Cause I'm a wanderer)
Day 9

Newark. I always figured people were exagerrating about New Jersey being so bad, but Newark really is pretty inhospitable. Maybe the zombie apocalypse made it worse. I don't know.

I'm holed up in an apartment building. (Don't worry, Kendra, I checked it out really carefully before I went in. It's all cleared out.) I actually managed to restock some stuff here, going through the apartments. Some new clothes. It's been picked pretty clean, but the empty beds are a nice break from floors. Not that all the beds are empty. But at least there's no shamble in here.

I don't think anyone is actually living here, but I did meet a girl on the third floor who's getting ready to move out. Heather, I think that was her name. She's scary young. High school age, I think. But she's tough. She said she's heading West. I told her I was going to New York and she gave me a weird look and asked if I was sure. "Sure I'm sure," I told her. "It's your funeral," she said.

Han Solo said it best. I've got a bad feeling about this.

Okay, in all honesty, I don't know what to do. If New York's not up and running, then where do I go? DC? LA? Boston? Chicago? And if NY is bad, how bad is it? I'm scared.

But I've come this far, I guess. And I can't go back home to Milliways and say I got to Newark and chickened out. No way. New York tomorrow.

I really, really hope I don't this works.





March 30, 2004

New York is not up and running.

New York, in fact, is a) largely in ruins, apparently from both bombs and vandals, and b) disquietingly empty in this part of town. Not like empty towns are anything new, but this is New York -- it's supposed to be bustling and bright and stuff like that, right? Not echoing and empty.

And visibility is terrible. Too many freaking tall buildings.

After about five minutes the quietness is seriously freaking him out.

When he hears a couple pairs of purposeful footsteps coming around a corner up ahead, though, silence suddenly seems like the best thing ever.

It's two men, young, carrying baseball bats. They're a block away, but Tom's the only other person on the street, and not exactly hard to spot. One of them points at him; the other grins.

"Oh, shit," Tom mutters, and pulls out his gun. The men stop. Grinner keeps grinning as he makes a gun with his fingers and aims it at Tom, before they both turn back the way they came.

Okay. Well. Welcome to New York. Crap.

***


As Tom moves further into the city, he starts to see signs of shambles -- fairly fresh signs. It makes sense that New York would've been hardest hit, with the high population density and all, but it's still disheartening.

He keeps his gun out.

When he starts hearing intermittent shouts and gunshots down other streets, he gives the sun an incredulous look -- it's barely after noon -- and turns the safety off. He has no desire to get involved in a fight, though, so he starts taking turns to avoid the commotions.

It can't actually be said that this strategy gets him lost, because he didn't really know where he was in the first place, but: he is definitely, definitely lost now.

And he's even more lost when twilight starts to come on. Seriously, what the fuck? Isn't New York supposed to be easy to navigate? All those avenuse and boulevards and--

The sudden sound of a car engine coming around the corner, accompanied by what seem like incredibly bright headlights, makes him let out a very high-pitched shriek that he will deny being capable of producing to the end of his days. The fact that it's an ambulance helps him relax, but only a little.

The car comes screeching to a halt next to him. He swallows, debates, and keeps walking. It keeps pace with him as the passenger-side window rolls down. A round-faced, bespectacled, spiky-haired woman lenas out.

"Hey! Noob! C'mon, let us give you a ride."

So much for relaxing.

"What?" Tom tightens his grip on the gun. "Who're you?"

The woman sighs. "We're good samaritans who're trying to keep you from becoming a statistic. C'mon."

The girl in the driver's seat leans forward; Tom mostly gets an impression of a sharp, fine-boned face and glasses. "Look," she calls across the woman, "you're armed, you could definitely take me, and you could probably take Beth too. Come get in. It's not safe out there."

"We know a safe enclave you can spend the night."

". . . You don't seriously expect me to just say 'okay' and get in there, do you?" Beat. "And who the hell uses 'enclave' in conversation?"

The woman -- Beth -- shrugs. "It'd save a lot of time."

"And we do," adds the girl, offended.

Tom stares at them.

Okay. Two random girls in an ambulance who use fifty-cent-words without blinking have just driven up while he's lost, chilly, visibly armed, lost, hungry, and lost. And did we mention lost?

". . . Okay," he says, throwing up one hand in a what the fuck, I'm probably screwed anyway gesture, and gets in.
re_mybrains: ('Cause I'm a wanderer)
Journal entries )




March 25th

Tom hits Philadelphia as the sun is starting to sink in the west, sending his shadow out in front of him. It's the usual bizarrely empty cityscape, same as Detroit and Harrisburg. It's just weirder, this time, because Philadelphia has a sense of history. The buildings all look so old. It's like walking into a very newly wrecked Colosseum.

Tom wonders vaguely how the Liberty Bell stood up to the apocalypse.

He's learned his lesson about urban areas, and he has his gun out as he walks along I-76. The further he gets into the city, the more picked over things look. That means people, which might explain the lack of zombies. It does make it kind of awkward to scavenge anything for the night, though.

He starts seeing signs that point towards "University of Pennsylvania," though, about when he hits what looks like a railroad switching . . . thingy . . . junction? Anyway. U Penn. He perks up and follows the signs. Colleges, even the ones that have been heavily scavenged, tend to have stores of food and water, and often people living on them. Hell, if you can find an old dorm with normal locks on the doors instead of keycards, you can even sleep someplace safe.

. . . The problem with college campuses, he remembers, is that it's freaking impossible to tell what's what from the outside. He's about ready to throw up his hands and sleep in some lobby when he hears a cheerful female voice call across the way. "Hey!"

Turning, he spots a tall brunette in a messenger cap hurrying his way, waving. He waves back, tentatively, and she breaks into a trot.

"Hey!" she repeats, once she's closer. "Dude, come on, it's getting dark, you have to get inside."

"--Um!" he says, surprised. "Yeah, I'm trying to -- are there--? Is there anywhere I can sleep?"

"Yeah, come on!" She gestures back the way she came. "Theatre building's right this way. We'll get you set up."

It turns out her name is Rebecca, she's an English major, or was, and in spite of her easy, toothy grin, she's watching their surroundings carefully. She ushers him into an imposing building via an unimposing door marked BACKSTAGE, and then up a flight of winding concrete stairs to a balcony overlooking the demolished lobby.

"So," Tom asks, glancing over the railing, "why're you staying in the theater? Isn't it just a big empty space?"

"Well, we're staying in the classrooms mostly. Anyway, all the techies kind of congregated here, and they know how to build stuff and work electrics, so we've got repairs and some power. Plus I think there are more vending machines in this building than in any other one on cam--"

"Jesus Christ!" Tom interrupts. "There's a zombie down there!"

He's already grabbing for his gun as Rebecca strides over and follows his gaze. When he brings it up and takes aim, though, she puts out a hand.

"No, no, wait, don't! You don't have to shoot her! Hold on a sec--"

She darts for a room, and Tom watches her go, thinking sourly Great, just like Shaun. He watches the zombie down below -- what used to be a skinny curly-haired girl, with a pair of much mangled glasses still incongruously perched on her nose -- stagger vaguely around the lobby. Rebecca returns a minute later lugging a cardboard box.

"What're those?"

Rebecca grins. "Watch this." She reaches into the box and pulls out -- a book, very battered. "Bombs away," Rebecca tells him cheerfully, and hurls the book at the zombie. It lands short, with a thumb, but the zombie makes a distressed noise.

Tom reaches into the box and pulls out another book, staring at the cover. "Atlas Shrugged?"

"It only works with Ayn Rand," Rebecca explains, pulling out a copy of The Fountainhead. "Beats me why, though I can't really blame her. If I ever get bitten I expect people to pelt me with copies of Judith Butler."

She flings the book. It lands at the zombie's feet, and she shies -- well, shambles -- away in what has got to be disgust.

"That is the weirdest fucking thing I have ever seen, and I have seen some weird shit."

Rebecca leans on the railing, watching the zombie finally stagger her way out one of the ruined glass doors. "I think it's sad. I think she's just trying to get to the library and she can't remember the way. She just kind of circles campus; comes through here about once a week." Straightening, she adds, "We'll go get the books in the morning and re-use them. Now, you probably want somewhere to sleep, right?"

Shaking his head, Tom follows her up another flight of stairs to the costume shop, where he finds that a few bolts of muslin make a much better pillow than he'd expect. Or maybe he's just that tired from the last five days.

Either way, he sleeps like a log.
re_mybrains: (Angsty!Tom)
re_mybrains: (Gun-toting!Tom)
It's a pleasant March afternoon in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania -- sunny, partly cloudy.

In the courtyard of Pennsylvania Apartments, the bang of the front door slamming is still echoing when it opens again.

Two dozen zombies, in varying states of decay, are staggering towards it.

A human lighting generator, a superhero, a geek, and two regular schmoes are coming out the door to face them.

Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.
re_mybrains: (Bob 1)
I'm not going away, you know, Tom.

Tom's eyes snap open, and he sits up in the bed, flailing out for his gun, and then letting out a pained ah as bright lights hit his eyes. The bed rattles strangely. His flailing hand hit cold smooth metal and tightens -- but it's not his gun, it's a railing.

It's the side of the gurney he's in.

What the fuck is

Now, now, Tom,
says Bob, tone soothing. And gurgling and rasping at the same time. Don't panic. I see your crisis management skills haven't improved significantly.

There are doctors in white lab coats all around him, and Bob is at the foot of the gurney, hands clenched around the railing. One of the doctors comes closer. He's carrying something that looks like a mass of cloth and buckles. Tom scoots up the bed, away from the zombie and the doctor, but the others put hands -- burned scarred mangled hands -- on his shoulders and arms, holding him still.

The doctor shakes out the bundle. It's a straitjacket.

This is for your own good, you know, points out Bob.

My own good what the fuck are you talking about let me GO DAMMIT

The doctors hold out his arms and start working him into the jacket, and it's a dream and he's weak and slow and can't fight them. They're humming, low and sonorous and discordant, like fucking Enya as performed by horror movie monks.

Because you're crazy, Tom. Aren't you?

The doctors wrench his arms around and fasten the straps.

We do encourage our employees to take advantage of the company's psychiatric services, you know, Bob points out, like a disappointed teacher who knows you could have earned an A on that final if you'd just tried a little harder. And you know you can talk to me any time, Tom. My door

He shoves the gurney, and it goes rattling down the hall towards the door, the Milliways front door

is always

which is shaking in its frame and it swings

open

open and the shamble comes pouring in hands reaching for him his hands are bound he can't move he can't move they were waiting

they're COMING


Tom's eyes snap open and he sits up, flailing for his gun -- or tries to. He's tangled in his sheets and blankets and it takes a long fucking second before he's free of the cloth.

He sits there shaking for a while before swinging his legs over the side of the bed, and then he sits and shakes like that for a little while.

Once the shaking seems to be done, he gets up, pulls on a long-sleeved T-shirt and sneakers (weird-looking with the sweatpants he sleeps in, but what the fuck ever right now), and heads downstairs.

He wants something that'll get him out of his own head for a little while.

Fat chance.
re_mybrains: (OMG!Tom)
Tom doesn't usually dream.

Or at least he doesn't remember them. Or maybe he really doesn't. That has more to do with the fact that he rarely sleeps deeply -- that's a survival habit -- than with any mental unbalance.

Probably.

He's pretty sure.

He's never been big on dreams, anyway. His always seem to involve being naked on the first day of school.

Except when they're worse.







Tom always thought that whole sitting-up-in-bed-gasping thing only happened in the movies.

Huddling in the bathroom with his head over the toilet, porcelain cold on his arms and tiles hard on his knees -- that's a little more familiar.

By morning -- well, maybe by afternoon -- he's dismissed it as a worse than normal nightmare, and he sets about forgetting it.

(It doesn't want to be forgotten.)
re_mybrains: (Default)
[OOC: I'm resisting the urge to call this future "Five Years Gone future." There are no zombies in the Heroes-verse, and no time travel in the WL-verse. So far as we know, anyway.]

Tom managed to stay in Chicago for two weeks after the military surrounded the city. Two weeks after the military arrived, and a week after negotiations started, and maybe three days after the first fight in the negotiation chambers.

And then he couldn't stand it any more. Because, see, it wasn't just the military out there. It was the people who'd killed Jordan. And every time he thought about that, he started to sweat and he couldn't swallow and he felt like screaming.

A lot of zombies in out of the way places in the city limits got hunted down in those two weeks. Unfortunately, there weren't very many zombies in the city limits at all. A couple times, Tom felt guilty for destroying such useful stress relievers and keeping them away from other people.

And then he realized that he was thinking of them as stress relievers, not former humans, not even zombies, and he had to go sit down for a while and shake.

And after two weeks, he quietly packed up his possessions -- more than he ever would have thought he'd have -- into his backpack, loaded his gun, and left the shelter in the middle of the night. The brief thought of saying goodbye to Gwen and Karla and Preston and Kenneth was brutally squashed down. He couldn't afford it.

He got five miles out of town, walking along the train tracks, before an army patrol pulled up next to him.

"'Scuse us, sir. You'll have to come with us."

He stopped and hitched his backpack higher on his back. "I don't have to do anything. It's a free country."

"Not at the moment, sir. Please come with us, sir."

Tom didn't even notice that his hand was resting on the butt of his gun, tucked in the waistband of his jeans. The second soldier in the Jeep did, though.

The click of the soldier's gun cocking made Tom's stomach feel like it was going to drop out.

"Keep your hands where we can see them. Sir."

"Yeah." He moved his hands slowly out to his sides, fingers splayed. "Yeah, okay."

They loaded him into the Jeep, took his gun, searched his bag perfunctorily, and turned around to take him back to Chicago. He sat with his head in his hands and didn't talk. Both soldiers were young, his age or younger, and he kept thinking that if he'd met them in the Wasteland he'd probably like them okay.

The army had commandeered an empty warehouse complex out west of the city. Tom had uneasy, vaguely hysterical thoughts about being given a number and sent to shower off. No such thing, of course -- it was just a crowded warehouse that they escorted him to, packed with other refugees from Chicago, noisy even this late at night, and smelly as only a bunch of people in a small space can be. They gave him back his pack, told him to find a cot, and left him there.

Two days later, a very polite middle-aged soldier picked his way through the cots and told Tom that The Colonel -- Tom thought it ought to have capital letters, the way everyone at the Wasteland talked about him -- was asking to see him.

Tom brought his backpack with him.

The Colonel wasn't as intimidating as he'd been expecting, but he noticed, in a detached way, that his palms were sweating as the very polite soldier left, closing the door behind him.

"Have a seat, Tom."

"Uh. Thanks."

". . . You can put your backpack down, you know. You're not going anywhere any time soon, are you?"

"--I'd rather hang on to it."

The colonel smiled. "I'm sorry, that was unintentionally ominous. I just meant that we're going to be talking for a while, so you might as well be comfortable. Trust me."

The straps on the backpack squeaked; Tom made himself relax his hands. "I'd rather hang on to it."

"All right. Can I get you anything? A beer?"

"You have beer?"

"We're pretty well supplied here," said the colonel. "We've offered to help the city with provisions, but the Council refused."

"That's not what I heard."

He regretted it moments after he said it, as the colonel's eyebrows rose, and he said quietly, "Oh? What have you heard, Tom?"

Tom shook his head, hugging his pack closer without thinking. "Nothing. I mean, I hear stuff, but I'm sure it's just rumours, the gossip mill around here's crazy, there was this rumour for a while that Russ 'n' Gwen were gonna get married and anyone who knows them knows that that's a crock--"

"You know Mr. Harris and Ms. Russell well?"

Tom winced and rubbed his forehead. "Not -- well. No."

"According to your file, you spend a fair amount of time at the Wasteland. A real regular."

He went still. "You have a file on me? On me?"

"It's standard procedure," the colonel said smoothly, "when dealing with insurgents."

Tom gaped. "Insurgents? Is that what you're calling us now? Like -- like terrorists in some South American banana republic?"

The colonel sighed. "This isn't how I was hoping this interview would go."

Tom tensed up again, and knew that he'd been neatly turned off the political talk and onto something else, and didn't care. "How were you hoping it would go?"

The colonel leaned forward, elbows on the desk; Tom scooted his chair back fractionally. "I'll lay it out, Tom. You seem like someone who'd prefer to hear it straight. I like that. There's so much diplomatic talk these days that sometimes you can't tell what people are saying."

Tom said nothing.

"I was hoping you offer you a -- deal, I guess you could say."

Still no response. The colonel sat back, eying him.

"Sometimes you can't tell what people are saying," he repeated. "What's said in the Council and the diplomatic talks sometimes has very little to do with what's actually being said in Chicago, by Chicago. We need someone who can tell us what's really on people's minds. A liason, if you will -- a go-between."

"A spy."

"I'm not asking for subterfuge."

"No, you just want me to wander around and talk to people and not tell them I'm reporting to you because they'll clam up. That's totally not subterfuge or spying."

The colonel said nothing.

"No. No. Absolutely not."

The colonel sighed. "Tom, look. The Army needs you, and we'll compensate you for any service you perform for us, even just once. Look at the big picture -- it's a good deal for everyone. We're not unreasonable."

A few minutes later, a couple soldiers rushed into the room and hastily escorted Tom back to the warehouse; an hour after that, they escorted an only somewhat calmer Tom to the city limits and wished him goodbye and good riddance.

"Can I get my gun back?" he asked. They politely refused, saying something about mental capacity.

"Oh," he said after a moment of staring blankly at them. "You think I'm crazy."

"Goodbye, sir," they said, and drove away.

Tom stood there for a few minutes, looking between the train tracks running east and west, and the avenue that headed back into town.

Finally, he looked back towards the Army warehouses, considered, and raised one finger in salute.

"I can see the bigger picture just fine, thanks."

He started walking. The sun was setting , and the shelter, and the Council, were a good fifteen blocks away; he'd have to move pretty fast to get there before dark.

Maybe, he thought, there'd be time to go out drinking afterwards.
re_mybrains: (Gun-toting!Tom)
It takes a long time to get anywhere by foot, especially when you're constantly looking over your shoulder for hordes of the undead. It's been nearly two months since Tom left Detroit at a dead run, heading East. Now he's nearing Philadelphia, backpack over his shoulder, gun stuffed in his waistband, and he's really looking forward to finding someplace with food, even a little -- it's been a couple days since his last real meal (water and a single rock-hard protein bar don't count, as far as his body's concerned). All in all, he's feeling pretty good.

Right up until he's passing through Harrisburg, and all hell breaks loose in shambling, groaning slow motion.

Everyone knows that the cities have more zombies in them. Everyone knows that they're easier to be ambushed in. Everyone knows that. Tom knows that too.

Tom just sucks at thinking ahead.

At the first sign of a human shape staggering down the street towards him, the gun is out and he's looking for some building, any building, with multiple stories and a door that's not glass. The best canidate is down the street, towards the zombie that's clearly caught his scent, but that can't be helped. It's a good thing humans move so much faster than zombies.

It's a bad thing, he remembers as he starts to jog down the street, that zombies outnumber humans by so much. More decomposing people stumble out of the side streets, drawn by the sound of his feet hitting the pavement. But it's all okay, here's the building -- looks like a bank -- he'll be safe inside and he can wait for them to disper--

"Ah!"

He recoils from the slowly shuffling shapes visible in the windows on either side of the door, then turns and stares at the group of zombies that's rapidly developing into a full-fledged shamble.

"Shit shit shit shit--"

Nothing for it -- he takes off running down the street, flicking the safety of the gun off. The zombies behind him give groaning chase.

The next likely-looking building, a few blocks further on, is an apartment building with the front door swinging slightly ajar. Tom puts on a last burst of speed.

The zombie comes out of nowhere (well, probably from behind some tree or something), dressed in the torn remains of a striped skirt and sweater, barely six feet away from him. Tom screams, fires, and doesn't wait to see if it falls before sprinting through the door and pulling it shut behind him with a slam.
re_mybrains: (Angsty!Tom)
"Smoking's terrible for your health, you know. And if you get lung cancer, the company health plan won't cover it."

Beat.

"And it'll probably make you taste terrible, too."

"Lung cancer isn't really top on my list of worries right now, Bob." Tom sighs, stubs out the cigarrette, and tosses it away. "And the company health plan doesn't exist anymore."

". . . It'll still make you taste terrible."

"Shut up." He closes his eyes and tilts his head back against the wall, hands hanging down between his knees. "I'm not letting you in."

There's a long pause, broken only by the soft, repetitive sound of zombies shuffling mindlessly against the glass doors.

"You know, Tom, I wish it hadn't come to this."

"Gee, really? Me too."

"I just feel I have to say this."

No response.

"I always thought your code was inelegant."

Tom twists to glare up at Bob, and then wishes he hadn't. The former manager's face hasn't gotten any better over the last couple days; teeth are starting to poke through the cheek that's pressed against the door, and the eye on that side of his face is looking more and more deformed. Also, it's leaking.

"And barely functional."


"Shut up."

"I was going to bring it up at your next performance review."

"For God's sake, shut up, Bob!" He scrambles up to his knees. "What the fuck difference does it make now?"

"Tom, I know you're under a lot of stress, but that's no excuse for insubordination--"

"Insubordination? You're dead, Bob! I'm pretty sure I can't insubordinate a goddamn dead man!"

After a moment, Tom shakes his head and sits back on his heels, casting a look at the gun on the floor next to him. "Jesus."

Another long silence.

"The company also has a policy against dating among coworkers, you know, but I guess that doesn't make much difference any more, either."

And just like that, Tom's on his feet, the gun pressed against the glass and aimed at the zombie's forehead. If it weren't, it would be shaking.

"Shut up. Shut the fuck up."

"Now, now, Tom." The zombie sounds concerned. "Shooting through that glass is going to weaken its structural integrity an awful lot, don't you think? Besides, it's not like I'm saying anything untrue."

Tom stands there for a long moment as the shaking gets worse and his face twists. Finally he snatches the gun away, flicks the safety back on.

"Fuck off, Bob. Your people skills are lacking."

He stalks off into the mall, followed by the deceptively soft sounds of the shamble outside.
re_mybrains: (Super!Office!Tom)
Pity poor Tom.

Tom has lived in Detroit, MI, most of his life, with four years out in Iowa at Grinnell College studying comp sci. He moved back to Detroit after college and got a job at a broadcasting company. Which, you know, sounds pretty cool -- except that Tom was just a lowly code monkey, working on software for the company's financial database. Which is pretty lame.

Still, not such a bad life. The job paid okay, Tom had an okay relationship with his co-workers, and he even had a beautiful girlfriend -- Jordan. Tom is never going to understand how he got so lucky as to get Jordan. They met at some touchy-feely empowerment seminar or something -- he doesn't even remember anymore -- she was a receptionist, he was a coder, they agreed that this was pretty stupid and went to get coffee, and, well . . .

Anyway.

So Tom had an okay life for a guy stuck in a dead-end office job.

And then everything went to hell.

See, there was all this global tension, and finally some bright guy in a military think tank came up with a new idea for biological weapons -- actually more like half a dozen bright guys in half a dozen military think tanks all over the world apparently came up with the idea at the same time -- and the world got the shit bombed out of it and long story short, there were zombies.

All over.

Including all over the apartment building where Tom and Jordan lived, where Jordan was staying home from work with a cold while Tom went to work. Which ended up being the apartment building where Jordan got eaten by their zombified next-door neighbor, a sweet old lady with three cats that she'd eaten before moving on down the hallway.

Now, Tom, for all that he was stuck in a dead-end code monkey job, can be a pretty charismatic guy when he has to be, and he sort of assumed leadership when half the company's workforce got turned into zombies. He lead the other survivors to the mall nearby, figuring they had a good chance of barricading themselves in there and having food and supplies for a while. Okay, so he didn't figure that -- he just figured it was nearby and big and could hold a lot of people. Tom's never been real good at thinking more than a couple moves ahead, which is probably why he was still a code monkey when it all went down.

The survivors stopped by Tom's apartment building on the way, which was where he found Jordan. They also raided a gun shop. When they got to the mall, they barricaded themselves in, cleared out the zombified customers and staff -- and waited.

Eventually the shamble of zombies that had been their coworkers caught up with them (it took a while; zombies are pretty slow) and began to patiently try to get into the mall. The zombie at the forefront was Bob, who had the corner office down the hall from Tom, he was Tom's supervisor's manager or something, someone relatively high up.

Tom is utterly convinced that Bob tried to talk him into opening up the doors and letting all the zombies in. Not that he told anyone this, because that just sounds crazy. And vaguely suicidal, you know? You don't want the guy who's assumed leadership to start babbling about zombie choruses. And, okay, maybe it was crazy, but Tom doesn't think so. Not at all. Bob was talking to him.

Anyway.

It all ended up being kind of futile. Bob was right -- eventually they started to run out of supplies, especially ammo, and they'd all gotten cornered on the higher levels after the shamble broke through the glass doors. Then it turned out that one guy had gotten bitten by a zombie during that attack, and the thing is, if you get bitten by a zombie . . .

Tom really doesn't like remembering what happened next, because it involved a lot of screaming and shooting and eventually a blind, panicked run out of the mall with the three other survivors, beating away zombies with baseball bats as they went.

And Tom hasn't stopped running since then. He's not nearly as well-groomed as the icons suggest, and at this point he's just generally not very hygienic; not only are showers hard to come by in this post-apocolyptic world, but Tom doesn't like to stay still long enough to take them. Survival is a lot more important, and survival means running.

Of course, he's in pretty damn good shape at this point.

Except for the beginnings of malnourishment.

Poor Tom.

At least no one's eaten his eyes.
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