Alone en masse (Mature/MM/CC/AU) [WIP]

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Alone en masse (Mature/MM/CC/AU) [WIP]

Post by RosDude » Mon Oct 24, 2011 5:58 am

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Bannner by me
Title: Alone en masse
Author: Chad
Disclaimer: Roswell does not belong to me. This story is based on the movies/book The Omega Man and I am Legend, none of which belong to me either. Also, a tiny bit of this is borrowed from the videogame Gears of War. Like the term “Strandeds”. No infringement is intended on this show, those movies/book, or that game.
Rating/Category: Mature for colorful language/Michael centric CC/AU without aliens in the traditional sense, but…well…kind of with them.
Summary: In the not so distant future the world’s population is taken over by a killer virus known as Degeneration. There is not much left, leaving a select few to fight for their continued existence. Michael Guerin, a former explosive ordnance disposal specialist (EOD), is one of those few.
Challenge: #332 on the AU Challenge thread by the ever imaginative killjoy. No link. If you want to spoil your appetite you have to go find the candy yourself. Admittedly, this deviates a bit from the original challenge, but you should still be able to find it in here.
AN: Thanks to Yasmania and nibbles2 for being my betas, and another thanks to killjoy, who bounced some ideas my way. Just for fun, since the title “Alone en masse” is an oxymoron, and because I like to do fun stuff with titles, the name of every chapter in this fic will be an oxymoron. And that’s pretty much all you need to know. This is my first primarily Candy fic so I hope it lives up to your standards. N+JOY folks.

PrologueThe Beginning of the End
~June, 2020 — All around the world~

They called it Degeneration.

It started out as any other illness—a disease, a sickness, a scare—however taking little time before it began expanding, strengthening and infecting wildly throughout the world, its reach far greater than any plague mankind had known before it. The virus spread quickly from city to city, continent to continent, infecting constantly, and consuming countless lives in its wake.

Scientists and physicians alike were baffled by the Degeneration. Neither able to adequately determine its origins, nor find a suitable treatment for those who had become infected by the virus. Some researchers even debated the possibility of whether or not it was treatable at all. However, contrarily enough, there were a select few humans who proved to be immune to it, seemingly unaffected by the horrible ailment that ravaged most anyone to come into contact with it. It was then discovered that an uncommon blood anomaly found in a small percentage of human beings prevented them from becoming infected by the virus. Scientist then scrambled to develop a cure based upon this discovery, but it was to no avail. The expansion of the Degeneration proved to be too rapid, and most succumb to it before a proper vaccine could be conceived.

Aside from its rapid speed of growth, the Degeneration was also an exceptionally complex virus, affecting its contractors in various ways. Sometimes the victims died immediately. Other times they lingered at death’s door, existing in a state of semi paralysis—a perceived limbo between life and death—waiting for the mercy of death to liberate them from the agony of their ongoing suffering. But it was not the ones who died who spread the virus, nor was it those who lingered in life, degenerating before the very eyes of their loved ones.

It was the ones who lived.

They were known as the Mutated: beings that were no longer alive, but were not quite dead. Too feral and zombie-like to still be considered living, yet never having actually died. These once human beings were stripped of all recognizable emotions, and over time, even their appearances began altering until eventually, they shared very little human traits and characteristics at all. Their eyes filled with the darkness of a soulless black. Their skin too paled to the putrid shades of yellows, greens, and grays denoting their illness. They developed a morphed pigmentation deficiency, causing the slightest touch of light, from natural sunlight, to most artificially created lights, to become extremely detrimental to them. Along with their appearance, their infected minds slowly weathered away, rendering them unable to reason or focus on any aspect of existence aside from the desire to infect every living creature on the planet. And as for those who could not be infected? They were the fuel which fired the infestation onward, and as such, consumed by these Mutated infected in an inhumane display of cannibalism.

The Mutated began their infestations in the very hospitals in which they were sent for treatment, patients infecting doctors and various hospital staffers, and they in turn infecting others they came into contact with throughout the world. Following this pattern, it was not long before the infection spread from hospitals to homes, to schools, to other public places, on and on until there were no safe havens left. Quarantines did not work, as the Degeneration was far too widespread to simply isolate to one location, or even several locations. Therefore, as more and more were exposed to the virus, more and more succumbed to the infection. The mutation to death ratio began increasing. And finally, those who had not yet come into contact with other infected began exhibiting the behavior of the Mutated, culminating in the discovery that the virus had become airborne.

And so it went for an entire year this overwhelming spread of Degeneration carried on, shaking the flow of the world in a way in which it had never been shaken up before, and inadvertently reducing mankind to three categories.

The infected:

Those who had not yet been mutated by the virus, but were trapped in a dying state.

The Mutated:

Those who had been transformed into the living dead by the Degeneration.

And the Stranded:

Those who were immune to the Degeneration, and instead were hunted as prey by the Mutated.

And with this virus, to which there was seemingly no hope of survival, so began the fall of mankind—the destruction of the world—the beginning of the end.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Last edited by RosDude on Sat Apr 28, 2012 1:16 pm, edited 7 times in total.
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Part 1

Post by RosDude » Mon Oct 24, 2011 6:03 am

Part OneLiving Dead
~Sunday, June 13, 2021, Cameron, AZ ~

From astride the back of a vintage ninety-nine low rider, a focused gaze looked up at the sky from behind the protection of the dark reflective tint of Ray-Ban aviator style sunglasses, watching as the sun beamed down from its place in the sky. In the still quiet of this late Sunday morning, Michael Guerin came to a solid conclusion. If he had to die—as all living beings were generally like to—he was going to go out with one hell of a bang. Unlike many of those who had come before him, craving the sweet peace of a painless death, Michael wanted to mark the end of his existence with a supernova of an explosion that would rock the world to its fucking core. After all, if he had to go out, he was taking at least a couple thousand fuckers with him.

Being in the Marine Corps had given Michael more than his fare share of life lessons. Lesson one being to live in the moment. There wasn’t a damn soul in this world that was guaranteed tomorrow; a fact to which he was more than well aware. That being so, he’d learned to live every day of his life as if it were his last, and didn’t really give a shit if it was or wasn’t. But along with that, he’d also learned to never roll over. If today was to be his last day among the living, he was going to fight for every single breath of it. Of course, Michael had no intentions of meeting his maker just yet. As far as lifelong fulfillments went, he was still a long way away from reaching any of his ultimate goals.

Still, it was at times like this, in the quietness of the late morning, and nearing afternoon that Michael’s mind often wandered to the subject of death. He’d seen a lot of it in his twenty-eight years. Probably more in the last year than any man ought to have seen in one lifetime, but he’d never been one to complain about the hand fate had dealt him. So what if death seemed to lurk around every corner? Dying had never frightened him, and killing no longer fazed him. Perhaps it came from living in a world where life was determined by nothing more than the luck of one’s blood. Or maybe he was simply jaded by the repetitiveness of an existence that hinged on killing to live, and living to kill. Whatever the reason for this blasé attitude he’d developed towards dying, Michael had accepted his fate as it was, as well as the fate of the many others who had inhabited this planet before him, and perhaps—God, or whatever deity was manning the helm of this particular catastrophe willing—would inhabit it once he was long gone.

They would all die someday. But as for right now, there was only one simple rule for making it in this world.

Kill, or be killed.

The world was now a clusterfuck of various battlefields in an ongoing war for survival. The soldiers were not military trained officers, but simple citizens—plumbers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, children… all fighting for their lives against creatures that wanted nothing more than to see them dead. Creatures that had at one point been just as human as the prey they hunted. But prior relationships meant nothing in this world. Profession, age, or race didn’t matter worth a damn. All that mattered was blood. Blood trumped all. Blood meant everything, for it was blood that determined your place in the war: the hunter or the hunted. The right blood meant you were immune to the destructive degeneration that turned friend into foe, and man into monster.

And the wrong blood?

The wrong blood meant you were royally fucked.

Fortunately—or unfortunately as the case may be—Michael had the right blood.

He was a Stranded; one of the few lucky human beings who were not affected by the degenerative virus. But unlike other Stranded, Michael didn’t waste what was left of his life scavenging the world for whatever he could find to survive, while hiding from the Mutated that wanted his head on a silver platter—so they could feast on it like maggots, no doubt. Instead, he spent his days annihilating every Mutated that was unlucky enough to cross his path. Slowly but surely, he made his way across the US, hunting for nests of Mutated, and exterminating them. Sometimes the job was easy, and required no more than forcing the creatures out of their hiding hell holes to let the deathly rays of the sun do the work for him. Other times, the job was a lot harder, and required a different strategy.

Like most of the cities and towns Michael had been to in the past year, his current location, Cameron, Arizona, was as dead as the proverbial doornail, and had been for a long time. Just the way he liked his towns. He didn’t like big cities. Taking out Mutated in big cities was a much greater chore. Since most of the Stranded stayed in the big cities, it was harder to destroy the horde without adding collateral damage. Not impossible, but difficult. That’s why Michael preferred smaller places like Cameron.

Small towns were good for a lot of things. Places like this were often looked over by other Stranded, so he had his pick of whatever supplies remained. And more often than not, small towns were overrun with Mutated, since it was a rule of survival among the Stranded to stay out of the small towns unless it was absolutely necessary. Michael could count the number of people he’d seen in the two weeks that he’d been here on one hand. The few who had been brave enough to venture into this ghost town knew better than to stay longer than it took to restock their supplies and move on. And after learning of his plans for the town, they all knew it was time get the hell out of Dodge.

And speaking of plans.

Michael readjusted his glasses and turned his eyes to the small detonator he held in the palm of his hand. So small, yet so powerful. With one press of a button it would all be over. All that remained of this town would be gone, and so would he—on to greener pastures, if there was such a place. He’d raped Cameron of all it had to offer, and it was simply time to move on. But before he could hit the road, he had one last bit of unfinished business to attend to.

Climbing off of his bike, Michael tucked the detonator into his jacket pocket and pulled his bike up the motorcycle ramp into the back of the large ice cream truck in front of him. His entire life had been reduced to this truck. Most of the time he left it parked just outside of whatever shithole he happened to be working in at the time, and used his bike as a means to get around. He checked on the truck every few days, and brought back whatever supplies he needed. High beam lights had been mounted on the outer rim of each door and on the trunk as well, just to make sure he didn’t come across any uninvited guests. Mostly, it was where he “lived” whenever he was in between towns.

Though not the most conventional means of transportation, the truck met all his menial needs. There was a place for his food, equipment, and the few personal belongings he’d elected to keep with him this past year. The freezer was good for storing meat, whenever he was lucky enough to get his hands on some. And though it was a far cry from a five star hotel, sleeping in it was entirely possible.

There was also a more unconventional purpose for which his truck served. In the Marines, Michael had handled plenty of powerful weaponry. During his days as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician he’d worked with a variety of weapons and bombs, so he knew a few things about guns, and more than a few about things that went boom. Needless to say, he’d collected quite an arsenal of both, and could definitely hold his own if the situation called for it. As unorthodox as it seemed, his vehicle of choice was locked, loaded, and fully equipped to handle just about anything that came his way. He’d even painted over all but one of the ice cream pictures on the side of the truck: Bomb Pop.

His truck was his fortress, and he’d fortified it accordingly.

Admittedly, the truck was not without its flaws. The speaker system had issues, and had a tendency to serenade him with random bouts of “Pop Goes the Weasel”, but Michael didn’t really mind it so much. It was a step up from the static and deafening silence the radio offered.

Closing up the truck, Michael turned back to face the dead town behind him, glancing down at the half collapsed sign that was just up ahead. “Welcome to Cameron,” it read. He gave a humorless chuckle as he pulled the detonator back out of his pocket. After a final check to make sure everything was packed and ready to go, he walked around from behind the truck and climbed into the driver’s seat. There was nothing left to do but do it.

He pushed the button on the detonator.

The demolition of Cameron was fast and loud. The sound of buildings crumbling from miles away was like music to his ears as one by one the charges he’d spent the past two weeks setting throughout the town began detonating. He could feel the ground quaking beneath him as building after building collapsed like dominos all around the town. But it was not the sound of erratic destruction that Michael so enjoyed. The sound that brought him pleasure was one that could barely be heard over the noise of the explosions, but was there all the same. Just beneath the sound of buildings collapsing, a faint shriek of utter misery and intense pain could be heard as the Mutated overrun town was ripped apart, and the Mutated along with it.

There was nothing quite like the satisfaction of taking out a horde in the middle of the day, right when the sun was just settling in at its place in the sky. But as much as he wanted to stay and listen to the haunting music of howling death, Michael knew he could no longer dally so dangerously close to the exploding buildings of this crap-fest of a town. It really was time to go now.

He started up his truck and pulled out onto the road away from the still imploding buildings that caved in behind him. He didn’t turn back, not even once. But as he zoomed along the road farther and farther away from Cameron, his mind wandered back to the collapsed sign at the town’s entrance.

“Welcome to Cameron,” he whispered into the wind. “The biggest little hole in Arizona.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~

~A little over 8 hours and 565 miles later ~

Michael glanced down at his watch for the second time in about ten minutes. It was just past eight o’clock and the sky had already started to darken. He would need to either reach his destination soon, or find a place to park for the night. It was dangerous to keep traveling when he wasn’t quite sure exactly where the hell he was going. Reaching down on the seat next to him, he picked up the electronic mapping system he always carried with him. According to it, he should have been coming up on a town now. As far as he could see, he wasn’t coming up on anything, but he would drive a few more miles before he called it quits.

As he continued along down the road, he began slowing his pace. But as he came closer and closer to the destination that should have been the town he was looking for, he began to notice something odd. The road was completely empty. There were no stranded cars, no road signs, not even a power line. Even the road he was traveling on seemed as if it was starting to dust up. If he didn’t know any better, he would think someone didn’t want him to find this place.

Michael looked down at his map again. According to it, the town was only a few miles away. He slowed more as he tried to look up ahead of him. As far as he could see, there was still no sign of any towns.

Odd.

Even weirder, a strange fog was beginning to amass in front of him, making it difficult to see where he was going. Michael stopped his truck and pulled over to the side of the no longer clearly visible road. Something very weird was going on here. He reached over and flicked on one of the switches that were on the dashboard. The brights on the outside of the doors turned on and the speaker began playing “Pop Goes the Weasel”. Michael scoffed, wondering if the situation could have been any more horror movie clichéd. All he needed was some psycho in a ski mask toting a meat cleaver to emerge menacingly from the fog, and the ambiance would be complete.

Climbing into the back of the truck, he grabbed his guns—just in case—along with a flashlight, then climbed back into the front seat. Though it was still too early for Mutated, the sun was setting rapidly. Besides, in situations like these he couldn’t afford to not be too careful. This could have very well been some sort of trap. Though he doubted the Mutated possessed the brain capacity to come up with something as elaborate as that. Even so, it was best to err on the side of caution. Anything could be out there—Mutated, Stranded, or the fucking Boggy-Man for all he knew.

For a moment Michael sat motionlessly in his truck. He listened for signs of noise or any hints that there was anyone other than himself on this road, but could hear nothing. There was not the slightest hint of a sound. Even the wind was silent, as if not even nature dared to make a peep. Still, he was not completely convinced he was alone, but there was only really one way to truly find out. Starting the truck up again, this time at a faster pace, he drove farther into the dense fog. Perhaps it may have been a better idea to turn around, but if there was something out there, something that someone didn’t want to be found, chances were that it was worth finding.

Of course Michael might have reconsidered that notion, had he only known he was about to drive his truck straight into a twenty foot deep trench.
TBC
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Part 2

Post by RosDude » Mon Oct 31, 2011 9:54 pm

nibbles2
Eva
killjoy
sptfire86
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Thanks for the feedback guys. I'll try to update this every Sunday or Monday. I have not really decided, and my last few Sundays have been kind of busy, so it will most likely be Mondays.

Hope you N+Joy :)
Part TwoIdentity Unknown
~ The Middle of Nowhere, NM, — 9:00 pm ~

Michael awoke to absolute darkness.

Swearing severely in his head, he did a swift check of his body to make sure he was still all in one piece. Other than a slight tenderness in the back of his head where he'd banged it against his seat a little too hard, along with the mild feeling of being shaken up, he felt relatively fine. He shook his head, trying to recall what had happened before he’d blacked out. The last thing he remembered was driving his truck with the sinking suspicion that something was not quite right. Then there’d been the sudden sensation that he was falling downward, and the loss of control over his truck.

He’d crashed.

Well wasn’t that just fucking ducky.

Instinctively, his mind fell back on his military training: establish your location and analyze the situation. Readjusting his glasses, which had slipped down around his neck, and making sure they hadn’t been damaged, Michael attempted to get his bearings. As his vision cleared and he became more aware of his surroundings, he consoled himself that he was still inside his truck. That was a good sign, at least. It meant the force of the crash had not been strong enough to eject him from his vehicle. Better still, with all of the explosives he had with him, he was lucky the impact of the crash had not been strong enough to set anything off. Otherwise a slight tenderness in the back of his head would have been the least of his worries. More like he’d be missing the back of his head.

But putting that small, albeit lifesaving victory aside, there was still the matter of determining the status of his current situation, how much damage had he taken, and how much trouble he was truly in. Judging by the uncomfortable feel of things, it seemed his truck was slanted at an awkward angle. Since it was now dark outside, he was unable to see as clearly, but as far as he could tell, he was lodged in a downward facing position, the only thing keeping him upright being the seatbelt strapped across his chest and around his waist.

Michael sat silently and motionlessly, determining his next move. His options were extremely limited. He could stay put and hope that he wasn’t noticed down here. But that wouldn’t fly. He was uncertain of how much damage his truck had taken on, and had no way of assessing it in this darkness. Aside from that, there was bound to be Mutated lingering around in this darkness. He could be swarmed, and his truck overwhelmed within no more than a matter of minutes.

His other option was to climb out of the truck and boot it until he could find a place to wait the night out, then come back in the morning to check on his truck, and see what he could do about getting it up and moving again. This also was not a very desirable option. He didn’t like leaving his truck under such uncertain circumstances, and he especially didn’t like leaving his equipment behind. And he would definitely have to leave at least most of it, as there was no way he could take it all with him.

Making a move had its disadvantages, but staying put could be even more risky. Either way, he was in a real shithole of a situation. As a sort of last ditch effort, Michael reached out in front of him and flicked a switch on his dashboard on and off. It was the switch that controlled the high beams that were mounted on the outside of his truck. Just as he expected, nothing happened.

“Damn,” he sighed. He couldn’t be a sitting duck. That was completely out of the question. Which left him with only one option.

It looked like he would be booting it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was never wise to go out at night. That was common knowledge in this Mutated ravaged world, and something Michael was all too aware of. But as the saying went, desperate times called for desperate measures. Right now, trekking outside in the dark of night in the middle of nowhere was a particularly unavoidable desperate measure. But at least, if nothing else, he was heavily armed, and ready for whatever was dumb enough to think it was ready for him. If there were Mutated out there waiting for the chance to prey on anyone stupid enough—or in his case, unlucky enough—to have to travel at night, he was going to put up one hell of a fight against them.

With a large black duffel bag slung over his left shoulder, and a flashlight strapped onto his belt, Michael climbed out onto the rear of the truck, which at the moment was actually its highest point, using it to get the height he needed to reach the top of the trench with his grappling gun, and pulling himself up the rest of the way. Needless to say, he was pretty damn pissed by the current state of events. Never mind that his truck was now completely totaled because of it, he still had no clue why there was a twenty feet deep trench dug in the middle of nowhere to begin with.

But aside from the hole, Michael still had greater issues to deal with. Although he hated the idea of leaving his truck behind in its current state—more specifically, he hated leaving his motorcycle—he didn’t really have any other choice. Climbing with his bag was difficult enough. He was barely able to maneuver with the few things he’d been able to fit in it. There was no way he’d be able to hall a bike behind him as well. Plus he had the added disadvantage of climbing without the aid of his light. He was lucky enough to have not been spotted so far. Once he turned his light on it would signal his location to any Mutated that were waiting in the dark. Since he was in such a vulnerable position, it was better to climb sans light and wait until he reached solid ground before making any move that would risk drawing attention to himself.

If he had been a religious man, Michael would have sworn God, Buddha, Allah, Kami or whatever the fuck deity was running this freak show was getting one hell of a big ass laugh out of all this right now. But since he had never been particularly vested in a “faith” of any kind, he'd deal with his fate the same way he dealt with the rest of his life: one god damned problem at a time.

When he reached the top of the trench, Michael pulled himself up and brushed himself off before reeling his grapple back in, and storing it away inside of his duffle bag. Unfortunately for him, the fog that had surrounded him earlier seemed to be concentrated even heavier on the other side of the trench, making it nearly impossible to see what was in front of him, and rendering his flashlight virtually obsolete. He'd give kudos where kudos was due. The fog made an ideal mask. It hovered over the trench perfectly, making it easy for any unsuspecting traveler to fall—or in his case drive—straight into. It was an ingenious trap, and he’d fallen right into it.

So who had set it?

Michael knelt down and placed his hands flat on the ground. Keeping his body crouched low, he began walking forward, dragging his hands across the dirt as he went. Dirt and rock. There was not the slightest sign of grass or pavement. Wherever he was, there was no road as far as he could tell. He let his duffel bag slide down off of his shoulder and sat it down on the ground beside him. Unhooking the flashlight from his belt, he flashed it into the darkness of the bag. All he could really see was fog, but feeling around aided his search a bit. Though he’d had to leave most of his larger items back in his truck, the items he was able to take with him would have to be enough to hold up a front for now.

He took out his autoloader shotgun and strapped it on his back, then retrieved his favorite weapons, two 50-caliber magnum revolvers he’d named “Midnight” and “Sunrise”, since they were specially maid weapons sporting ebony and gold colorings respectively. They were heavy as shit for handguns, weighing almost five pounds apiece when loaded, so wielding two at a time was no easy feat. However, they were the most powerful handguns in Michael’s arsenal and he’d become an expert at handling the extra weight with little problem. Given this particular situations, Michael was not taking any chances with anything less powerful. Along with the guns, he’d also brought out his peacemaker, a large bowie knife he made sure to never leave home without. After retrieving everything he needed for the moment, Michael tossed his useless flashlight into the bag, along with his grappling gun, and reserve supply of explosives, which included dynamite and C4. He closed the bag up and shouldered it.

Now he was ready.

He continued on into the darkness of the fog, tossing his knife down in the dirt in front of him to spot for ground. Apparently one never knew when there might be a big ass hole in the ground around here to fall into. As he moved along, he noticed that the fog seemed to be becoming denser and denser, leading him to believe that he was drawing closer to the source of it.

Once more he tossed his knife down into the ground, listening for the sound of the blade sticking into the dirt. “Hm,” he mused. Kneeling down on one knee, with his right hand he pulled his knife out of the ground, then placed his other hand on his left side holster for one of his guns.

“I wouldn't do that if I were you,” a voice cautioned from his left side. Immediately Michael let the bowie drop to the ground, freeing his right hand. Ignoring the warning, he clasped his left hand completely around Midnight and trained his weapon towards the sound of the voice. Unfortunately, the fog made it impossible to see who was out there.

“It’s not nice to go pointing guns at people before properly introducing yourself,” the voice said. “But since you’re so friendly, I feel kind of obligated to let you know that you’re being flanked.”

Without the slightest bit of hesitation, Michael’s other arm shot out to his right, training Sunrise on his other side. “Then it’s a good thing I came prepared. Who the hell are you?”

“Hmm, don’t you think we should be the ones asking you that question?” the voice answered.

Getting back to his feet slowly, Michael closed his eyes and shook his glasses off. Keeping them on made little difference if he couldn’t see two feet in front of him anyway, and the sight of the fog was distracting his eyes. Mentally he ran through the things he could tell about his unexpected company. The voice on his left belonged to a woman. She couldn’t have been standing too far away from him. Perhaps a few feet at the most. He could also now sense the presence on his right side. It had come upon him more slowly, but now he knew it was situated no more than about ten or so feet away either. He had to admit, whoever these people were, they were pretty damn good to have gotten so close to him before he noticed their presence. Militarily trained perhaps? “You’re armed,” he guessed.

“‘Fraid so,” the person on his right finally spoke. This voice belonged to a male. “So if I were you, I'd put the guns down and step away from the knife.”

Michael smirked. “But you’re not me.”

“Oh?” the woman laughed. “So is you plan to shoot blindly into the fog then?” she asked, an air of genuine curiosity in her tone.

Michael shrugged. “I was thinking about it. You still haven’t answered my question, and your friend just gave his position away. I think that upped my chances of hitting both of you to around ninety-five percent.”

The male voice laughed. “You’re pretty sure of yourself, huh? Well then tell you what, how about we play a little game of blind quick-draw? We'll both shoot, and see whose bullet hits their target first.”

Michael laughed at the man’s challenge. “We can play that game if you want. I don't see the merit in it, but if you want to let me kill you that's fine by me. Personally, I’m not really a fan of splattering human guts, but hey, it's your choice.”

“Why you cocky peace of sh—”

“Kyle, cool it.”

Michael’s aim almost faltered.

Almost.

A third voice, seemingly from nowhere, had just cut in on their little conversation. It sounded like the voice was coming from directly behind him. But that meant… He opened his eyes.

The sound of the woman's laughter rang out into the fog. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I say we were flanking you? I meant surrounding,” she said on the end of her laughter.

Son of a bitch.

As if on cue, Michael felt the unquestionable pressure of a gun being pressed against the back of his head. “I think you’d better drop you’re weapons,” a quiet male voice spoke from directly behind him. The voice was slow and calm. “It’s obvious you’re not one of the Mutated, so I’d rather not kill you, but I don’t really take kindly to people threatening my men.”

“Ah-hem,” the woman cleared her throat in an obvious indication of her sex.

The newcomer ignored her and didn’t turn his attention away from Michael. “Drop them now,” he ordered.

Michael sucked in a sharp breath and breathed it out as a hard sigh through his nose. It seemed these people, whoever they were, had just managed to get one over on him. Slowly, he sat his revolvers down on the ground, noting that the gun at the back of his head never lost its place.

“Shotgun and bag too,” the man added.

Gritting his teeth, Michael let the strap of the duffel slide off of his shoulder, then took off his shotgun. As he rose back to his feet, the gun rose with him.

“Walk forward and put your hands out in front of you.”

This time Michael didn’t move. “Why? You wanna’ get frisky?” he asked mockingly. He’d never been one for following orders blindly, regardless of how much the situation was lacking in his favor.

“Do it,” the man repeated just as calmly as he had the first time.

Ignoring the man’s orders once again, Michael took a few seconds to go over his options. Judging from their assuredness, he would wager these people could see a lot more clearly in this fog than he was able to. “Sorry bud, I don’t swing that way.”

The man let out a sigh that sounded as if he was more annoyed than actually angry. “I can check you for more weapons now, or I can knock you out and leave you here. Then you can wait for the Mutated to check you later. Somehow I doubt they’ll be checking for the same thing.”

“Knock me out, huh?” Michael chuckled softly. “Well, you could damn sure try.” This guy had guts, he’d give him that. But he was highly overestimating himself, and grossly underestimating Michael.

“Speaking of Mutated,” the woman interrupted before any more words could be exchanged between Michael and the man pointing a gun at the back of his head, “Alex says we’ve got company on the grid outside of the city. Looks like they’re coming our way.”

“Damn,” the man behind Michael swore. Even so, his voice retained an evenness that contrasted the profane word. “They were able to get on the grid?”

“They’ve probably been tracking our new friend here,” the female continued, obviously referring to him. Michael smiled. Unlike the man behind him, her anger was apparent. “I told you we should have torched him as soon as he crashed here.”

His smile fell away. ‘Torched him’? What the hell was that suppose to mean?

The man behind him laughed. “One murder at a time, Maria,” he said, then turned his focus back to Michael. “I guess we’re going to have to take this party inside. Kyle, grab his stuff. You, walk.”

“Inside where?” Michael asked without moving a muscle.

“Walk,” the man ordered again without answering.

Again, Michael contemplated his situation. He was dealing with four Stranded: Kyle, Maria, someone named Alex, and one as of yet unidentified male; the unidentified male being the obvious leader of their little party. The three who were upon him now were armed, but not particularly hostile at the moment. They were obviously familiar with this area, and knew that he’d crashed his truck here, which meant they were most likely the source. Honestly, he didn’t believe the trio to be a true threat to him, but he couldn’t be one hundred percent sure of that. Nor could he be sure that there weren’t more of these people lurking in the shadows somewhere. For the moment his best option was to do as they said and let the rest unveil itself, but he would definitely be on his guard.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

There was a prolonged silence before any of the three of them spoke again, and even then it was not to answer his question. “Maria, take our guest through the city. Go straight to the tunnel and on through to the Village. Kyle and I will make sure we don’t pick up anymore tails from outside.”

“Woo,” Kyle whistled as he picked up Michael’s bag and shotgun. “What are you, some kind of one man army?”

“Something like that,” Michael answered vaguely, then winced when he heard what sounded like his bag being tossed through the air and hitting the ground with a loud thump. “You wanna be a bit more careful with that, buttercup? Dynamite tends to detonate pretty easily.”

“Dynamite?” Kyle questioned in surprise.

“That's right,” Michael answered agitatedly. “And I wasn't planning on wasting it on a curious moron with lumberjack hands.”

Maria interrupted before Kyle could take offense. “Alright, señor explosivo, we get it. Right now we really need to get going.”

“Maria's right,” the man behind Michael said. Suddenly he felt the pressure of the gun at the back of his head disappear. “Cover her, and she’ll get you someplace safe.” Next he felt his revolvers and knife being placed back into his hands. But it was the sudden drop of the hostile atmosphere that came with the removal of the gun that really surprised him.

“What, so you trust me now?” he asked, balancing the familiar weight of his weapons in his hands before holstering them.

“Not really,” the man said. “But you’re not a Mutated, you haven’t gotten yourself killed out here, and I assume you actually know how to use these things?” The last was voiced as an obvious challenge.

Michael put his knife away then reached down to pick up his glasses, placing them back over his eyes. “I don’t use them as knitting needles if that’s what you mean,” he said flippantly. “What about my shotgun?”

The man chuckled. “I think I'll hold on to that for now, if you don’t mind.”

“And I assume you know how to use one?” Michael challenged back.

The man didn’t answer. “What’s your name?”

Michael smirked. “You first.” It was his turn to play the aloof game.

Even though his back was still to the man, Michael could tell that he had taken a step forward, almost closing the barely there distance between the two of them. “Max,” the man answered with his name.

Michael turned around, making no move to back away. Through the mask of the thick fog, he could make out the shape of a man standing in front of him, but could not distinguish any clear features. He gave his name.

“Michael.”

Maria cut into their little dance. “And I’m Maria, and this is Kyle. Now that we all know who we are, you guys can either stand here weighing each other’s balls all night long, or we can get a move on.”

Kyle snickered as he came to stand beside Max. “Maria’s right, Max. We really should get moving. I’ve got a hot date tonight, if you know what I mean.”

“Right,” Max said, laughing a little himself. “Kyle, you're with me. Maria?”

“I’m on it,” she said, then handed Michael something that upon closer examination, or at least as close of an examination he could achieve under the thickness of this fog, felt like a pair of night vision goggles.

“What are these?” he asked.

“They're foggles,” Maria answered.

“Foggles?” Michael snorted. Dumbest name ever.

“They’re so you can see where you’re going, Einstein.”

Michael attempted to further examine the foggles through touch alone.

Max cleared his throat, drawing Maria’s attention back to him. “We're leaving now. Kyle and I will meet you back in the Village as soon as we can.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then,” she said, “Don’t get yourself killed, Kyle.”

Kyle laughed. “Thanks for the heartwarming sendoff, sis,” he answered, following Max through the fog.

Michael was still examining the glasses with his hands. “Foggles,” he said again. Seriously, the dumbest name ever. “What the hell are foggles?” He’d never heard of anything like them, and he was military…well ex-military.

“Their custom night vision goggles made specifically so that you can see at night and under extreme fog,” Maria explained.

Well, that explained how the three of them had been able to see so well, while Michael could barely see two feet in front of him. He tossed them back to her. “Don’t need ‘em,” he said. “Just lead me out of this fog.” It was annoying conversing with voices that belonged to people he couldn’t see in front of him, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He looked around, straining to see through the fog. He could barely make out the silhouette of the two males who were already headed off in the direction he’d come from, and he still could not make out the woman in front of him.

Maria frowned, taking the foggles back. “Fine, suit yourself. Follow me if you can, and try not to slow me down.”

Michael almost laughed. He didn’t think he’d have any trouble with that. “Just lead the way.” Even though he had no idea where they were going, or what this “tunnel” was, he didn't have too many reservations about following her. Call it a hunch, or a whim, or whatever, but something told him that these people, whoever they were, were for the moment if not his allies, at least not his enemies. Besides, until he was able to get his truck out of that damn trench, he didn't really have any other choice but to trust them.

The two of them continued on in silence, making their way across what to Michael appeared to be vast nothingness. However, this Maria woman seemed to have a pretty clear idea of where she was going. Finally, after a few minutes of traveling they came upon an automobile. “Get in,” Maria ordered.

The fog was still pretty heavily amassed at their current location, but Michael was able to navigate his way to the passenger side door and enter the vehicle. “What’s with all the fog?” he questioned.

“I guess you could say it’s kind of like a smokescreen. The enemy can’t attack what they can’t see.”

So then they were the source of the fog as well. He had already assumed as much. “The enemy being the Mutated?”

“Among other things.”

Michael snorted. He supposed he fit under the category of ‘other things’.

After that brief conversation they drove in more silence until they reached an area that looked as if it used to be a city. Most of the fog had dissipated and Michael could finally see clearly again, but the area was still dark.

Maria stopped the car and pulled over to the side of the road. “We walk from here,” she said, getting out of the vehicle.

Michael followed behind her, blinking several times to let his eyes adjust to the sensation of suddenly being able to see again. Without the hindrance of the dense fog, he could now fully make out the woman in front of him.

She had a lithe body with a slender build that was neither horrendously large nor breakably slim. She wore a green tank top that had faded writing printed across the chest, along with a pair of fatigue shorts that stopped just past her calves, and seemed too wide in the legs to have been made for a woman. Her feet were adorned with a pair of brown knee-high combat boots, and her blonde hair was pulled back tightly in a long braid that fell low behind her back. The foggles she had obviously been wearing earlier now rested on top of her head, and as confirmed before, she was armed with a 9.millimeter pistol in her right hand, and a rifle strapped on her back.

Michael eyed her intriguingly, paying more attention to her weaponry than he was to her physical appearance. “You're a sniper?” he asked, eyeing her high caliber rifle.

“When I need to be,” she shrugged nonchalantly. “Come on. We need to get to the tunnel.”

Michael followed her. “And what exactly is this tunnel you all keep talking about?”

Maria placed one hand on her hip and looked him up and down obviously. “You really did just stumble blindly onto us, didn't you? You have no idea where you are.”

Stumbled blindly? Michael almost laughed. Still, he didn't know what to think about the implication of what she was saying. “You say that like I should have been looking for you.”

“Most people who come to this place are.”

“And where exactly is this place?”

“I guess you'll just have to wait and find out. Come on. We’d better get moving.”

There were street lights located around the area. Some were lit, while others appeared to be burned out. Odd. The way they were scattered about seemed completely random.

“This is the inner city area,” Maria explained. “The path is lit, so we shouldn't have a problem with Mutated.”

“Path?” Michael asked.

Maria pointed to one of the lights. “The lights mark the way around the city. There are several all around the area that we use to get around at night,” she explained.

“You mapped the city with lighted paths,” Michael mused, understanding beginning to dawn on him.

Maria nodded. “Paths to the tunnel and a few other areas we've explored. But there are still quite a few dark areas, and we have no idea where the Mutated nest here in the city, so we never use the same path coming and going. Also, we don't light any of the paths during the daylight, and we never light the grid since we don't want any more Mutated making their way into the city.”

Michael frowned. There was a whole lot she’d just said that he didn’t quite understand. Paths, grids, lights, and tunnels. It all seemed incredibly intricate and annoyingly complicated. But as far as he could tell, there was a whole method to these people’s madness. “What’s the grid and tunnel?” he asked.

Maria sighed. “I’ll explain more about them when we get to the Village. Just keep your eyes opened. None of the Mutated should bother us as long as we're on the path, but that doesn't mean they aren't out there.”

Michael followed her quietly, marking the path they took in his head as they went along. It was a complex trail that curved down streets, around corners, past alleyways, and even through some buildings. It would be a difficult path to follow if you didn’t know where you were going.

“An invisible path,” Michael whispered under his breath. Damn, these people even made something as simple as walking down the street into something complicated.

“Come on. The tunnel's just up ahead,” Maria urged.

Michael continued to follow closely behind her until the two of them came upon a dead end. “What the hell?” he questioned, staring at the large brick wall that hindered their path.

Ignoring his confused statement, Maria touched a hand to her ear. “Alex, we’re outside of the tunnel,” she spoke aloud, then paused a moment as if she were listening for something. “Thanks Alex.” She turned around to face Michael. “This is how we get to the tunnel.”

Michael looked from Maria to the brick wall behind her. “It's a wall,” he said unenthusiastically.

Maria shook her head. “Not just a wall.” She leaned in and pressed hard against it until the spot in front of her gave in into a circular pathway.

“Holy shit,” Michael breathed, as he looked into the blackness of the hole that had just opened up in front of them. What the hell was this place?

“It's simple camouflage,” Maria explained. “Any uninvited guest would assume it was just a regular wall. The wall can only be unlocked from the inside, and even then it's virtually impossible to find the entrance if you don't already know where it is.”

“Who built this structure?” Michael asked. He had no idea there was still this type of technology in the world.

Maria didn't answer that question. Instead she said, “Honestly, you've never heard of the Village?”

Michael just shook his head. “Never.” No one would ever accuse him of being a sociable person and for the sake of his work—as well as that of maintaining as few personal attachments as possible—he tended to avoid the company of other Stranded. So he wasn’t exactly up to date on current colonization areas or havens. He figured there were a few developing around the world, but he didn’t suppose any of them would be as advanced as this one.

She continued staring at him.

“What?” he asked, growing more agitated by the way she was leering at him.

“Nothing, I'm just surprised. You seem...”

“What?”

She shook her head. “It's nothing. Come on, let's go.”

He looked into the mouth of the dark hole. “There's no light.”

“Just trust me,” she said, walking into the tunnel.

Michael scoffed at the nonchalance of that statement. That was a lot easier said than done.
He remained rooted for a moment, watching as she entered into the darkness with no hesitation, then—with a hefty dose of skepticism—he followed her inside.

The tunnel entrance closed up behind him, sealing the two of them inside of the darkness almost as soon as he stepped foot inside. Michael didn’t like it. The darkness had been his enemy for going on more than a year now. Longer actually. Standing in it without reservations was a foreign practice for him.

“Alex, we're in the tunnel,” Maria spoke aloud once more.

Michael felt her take his hand as she started moving forward. “Who's Alex?” he asked.

Before she could answer, a loud voice projected over what Michael could only assume was some sort of PA system.

“Great. No run-ins I hope.”

“Nope, we didn't come across any Mutated. I don't think any newbies made it into the city and none of the horde ventured onto the path,” Maria answered, not bothering to answer Michael’s question of who ‘Alex’ was. “Max and Kyle are still clearing the grid of all the tails. They should be here soon. But I’ve got a civilian…” she paused and gave Michael a once over. “Sort of,” she added, as if deciding the word ‘civilian’ didn’t quite fit him.

“I’ve got Kyle in my ear now. He says they found about half a dozen Mutated on the grid, but haven’t spotted anything else. They’re on their way back.”

“Oh, only half a dozen? How wonderful,” Maria said sarcastically, glaring at Michael accusingly.

Michael glared back unapologetically.

“Can you hit the lights for us, Alex?” she asked, ignoring Michael’s unremorseful gaze.

“Sure thing.”

Within a few seconds the tunnel was illuminated in a bright light that spanned from the wall where Michael and Maria had entered, all the way through into the darkness in front of them.

“Thanks Alex, I'll see you in a bit.”

“See ya soon.”

Seemingly done speaking to Alex, Maria focused her attention back on Michael. “Welcome to the tunnel,” she said, extending her hand out in front of her.

Michael stepped forward. The 'tunnel' actually looked more like a dry sewer. A circular sewer covered with small pocket holes that exuded beams of light. If he listened carefully, he could clearly hear the sound of water running somewhere throughout the tunnel walls, but there was no visible water to speak of. Meaning there was most likely some sort of water pipeline nearby.

“Where does this lead?” he asked, taking a quick look around.

“To the Village.”

“And that's where you live?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

The Village. That was an interesting name. It implied that more than just a handful of people lived there. Michael wondered just how many people there were in this Village. He assumed there were more than just Max, Maria, Kyle, and this Alex person. Everything he'd come across so far was far too advanced to have only been constructed by such a small number of people. In fact, it would take at least an army of Stranded to set this entire system up. Not to mention some pretty elaborate technology. He definitely needed to see this place.

Michael looked back at Maria, who was standing behind him silently. She folded her arms and tapped her foot impatiently. “Well then?” she asked.

Ignoring her clear impatience, he stared into the mouth of the lit tunnel before him. Michael didn't know what was on the other side of this tunnel, but he knew there was only one way he was going to find out.

“Let's go.”

TBC
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Part 3

Post by RosDude » Mon Nov 07, 2011 7:52 pm

nibbles2: lol Yeah. I figured this Michael was the type to be more impressed by a woman packing heat, than a hot woman.
AusCat: Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy the rest of the story.
killjoy: lol. Does sound kind of dirty. "Hold still while I foggle you" "He foggled her all night long" "My, what nice foggles you have."...Okay maybe that was last one was a streach but, you get my meaning.

Thanks for the feedback guys. N+Joy!

~Chad~
Part Three — Blindsight
~ The Tunnel — 9:32 pm ~

Maria didn’t really know what to make of this Michael character. As far as appearances went he was a little shaggy, a touch of scruffy, and copious amounts of road worn. He was rough, hard, and he looked as if he’d been born on the battlefield. But then, in this day and age she supposed everyone was a bit rough around the edges. He wasn’t an unattractive man, but he was a far cry from “pretty”. His unshorn brown hair just brushed his shoulders, and his bristly cheeks were long overdue for a shave. Even so, Maria didn’t take him for the sort who gave a damn about his physical appearance.

His eyes remained hidden behind the pair of dark sunglasses he hadn’t removed since they’d reached the city. They did nothing to soften his rough edges. If anything, the heavily shaded lenses only aided in hardening him even more. She hadn’t gotten a clear look at his eyes during the brief period of time he had removed them from his face, but she could imagine that the gaze behind the glasses was just as stone cold as the rest of him.

Still, there was something about this new arrival, aside from his hardened appearance, that seemed more world worn than the other Stranded who’d come to the Village seeking sanctuary. Unlike the others, Michael didn’t appear to be seeking anything. It seemed he’d literally stumbled upon them purely by accident. Even so, he didn’t seem to have any trouble embracing the unknown. He hadn’t flinched at the idea of being surrounded by three armed strangers, and he showed no fear of the darkness or the fog, leading Maria to believe he was either really brave, or really stupid.

Although a dozen questions burned in the back of her mind, Maria remained silent as she and Michael made their way through the tunnel. There would be time for questions later—an entire interrogation, actually. New civilians were always interrogated and inspected before being allowed citizenship into the Village. Although, she seriously doubted Michael was infected. In most cases, infected humans were at least catatonic by the time they made it to the Village. If he was infected, there was no way he would be in such good health without having received the proper treatment. The Village was the only place to obtain such treatment. That meant Michael had to be immune.

A lone immune man arriving at their doorstep by himself, having no prior knowledge of their existence? The likelihood of such a thing happening was not impossible, but still highly improbable. Most stranded traveled in small groups. A solitary human in this day and age was usually an incredibly desperate one. Being out in the world on one’s own was much too dangerous. Michael didn’t appear to be in any sort of dire straits, so why was he on his own? How long had he been on his own, and how was he able to manage on his own?

It was obvious that he’d been given some form of defensive training. He knew how to handle a variety of weapons. Even in the thick of the fog he’d been able to pinpoint her and Kyle’s locations a lot more easily than he should have been. Was he truly just a man making his way across the world, or was there another story there? Max trusted that he wasn’t a Mutated. Maria could allow that. Obviously he wasn’t of the ‘brain-dead-humanoid-monster’ variety. But just because he wasn’t a Mutated, didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t a threat. For now, until they could figure out his true motives, it was a good idea to keep a close eye on him. And that is exactly what she planned to do.

“You’re staring at me.” Michael spoke out loud for the first time since they’d started making their way towards the end of the tunnel.

The path was pretty straightforward and didn’t require her to take the lead. Instead she’d intentionally fell behind, allowing him to walk in front of her, and allowing herself the opportunity to examine him. He’d initially tensed at her falling behind, making it obvious that he was not comfortable with having his back to her, but he’d made no move to slow down enough to allow her to regain the lead. He was walking in front of her with his head facing straight forward. There was no way he could have seen that she had in fact been staring rather intently at the back of his head for the last few minutes, so Maria was a bit surprised to find that even with his back to her, he was still perfectly aware of her movements. “I’m not staring at you,” she denied anyway.

He snorted a disbelieving grunt. “You are.”

Interesting. “Okay, so what if I am?” she admitted after a contemplative moment. “Do you have eyes in the back of your head or something?”

“I can feel you.” He stopped and glanced back slightly over his shoulder at her. “Besides, you’ve been staring at me off and on since we left your friends back there.”

Maria rolled her eyes, feeling a little annoyed at the idea that her attention toward him had been so obvious. “Well, you have to admit, you showing up in the middle of nowhere like this is a little on the odd side.” More than odd, it was downright suspicious.

“I’d say your being here in the middle of nowhere is odder than my showing up.” Michael faced forward again and continued walking.

“That’s arguable,” she admitted.

He didn’t.

Sick of talking to his back, and seeing no real reason to continue trailing him, Maria hurried in front of him and began walking backwards so that his front was to her. The dark tint of his glasses made it difficult to tell if he was actually looking at her, but it was better than not being able to read his expression at all. “Most people don’t just show up here without prior knowledge of our existence, or even know how to find us, and yet here you are.”

“Yeah? So how exactly is it that these other people know of your existence?”

She watched the glasses slip down his nose a fraction as he arched a brow down at her. Her gaze focused on them as she considered how best to respond to his question. “We’ll talk about it later.” Clearly it wasn’t the best answer, but now was not quite the time to get into a more thorough explanation. Aside from that, it was not exactly her place to start divulging much more information.

“Is it a big secret then?” he asked mockingly.

“It is until I find out more about who you are.” And that was the dead truth.

In the first hint of expression he’d revealed since they’d entered the tunnel, Michael’s lips turned up in a small smirk. The slight smile at least made his appearance a little less menacing. “You’re curious about who I am, aren’t you?” he asked.

Maria nodded hesitantly, wondering what had brought on this surprising, albeit very slight show of emotion.

“So answer my questions and I’ll answer yours.”

She laughed at that. “I don’t need to trade you information to have my questions about you answered.”

“And why’s that?”

“You’ll have to answer them anyway if you want to stay here.”

This time it was he who laughed. The sound was dark and guttural, like he hadn’t laughed very much in his life, or he didn’t quite know how to do it correctly. “Who says I want to stay here?”

She didn’t care for the smug air his tone held. “Even if you don’t, you’re too curious to leave without having your own questions answered. For that to happen, you’re going to have to answer a few questions yourself.”

Michael made no response to that, and there was no longer any sign of emotion on his face, or at least the part of it that wasn’t being blocked by his sunglasses. Once again, he was completely expressionless. Taking his silence to mean the end of their conversation, Maria turned back around and resumed walking forward, this time she made sure to stay in front of him. Annoyingly enough, their small exchange had done nothing to diminish her curiosity about who he was. She’d already determined he was arrogant from their earlier encounter out on the grid, so his smugness over the issue of his identity didn’t really come as a huge surprise to her. But whoever he was, and whatever he was doing, he was being obstinately tightlipped about it.

No worries, she consoled herself. She would let him keep whatever secretes he had for now. As soon as they reached the Village, she would find out everything she wanted to know about this mysterious stranger. Then he would have no choice but to answer all of her questions.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael wasn’t really keen on the whole idea of putting his stock in “other people”. He’d been on his own for far too long to start suddenly making friends now. His genuinely apprehensive disposition made blindly trusting these strangers, as he currently was, horribly objectionable. Following this woman—mainly because of how little he actually trusted her— was going forcefully against his natural instincts.

Admittedly, his guard had relaxed since he’d first encountered the trio. They weren’t Mutated, and didn’t appear to be infected, so they posed no immediate threat to him. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to remain cautious. However, Maria was right about one thing. His curiosity had gotten the better of him. As uncomfortable as he was about this whole situation, he was that much more curious to find out what the hell was really going on around here. He wasn’t quite sold on the whole “new civilization” vibe they were currently giving off. The tech he’d seen so far was much too advanced for just a couple of lowly refugees. For now, he would bide his time patiently.

After around fifteen minutes of walking, and neither he nor Maria speaking another word to each other, they finally reached the end of the tunnel. He charted the distance from where they had entered to being around one mile away. Once again, the end of the tunnel appeared to be a dead end. He looked to Maria expectantly, assuming she would have some super secret solution for this ‘dead end’ as well.

Maria looked back at him like she knew what he was thinking.

“Another dead end?” he asked.

“You were expecting otherwise?”

“To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting.” A gateway to hell, perhaps? “This whole experience has been on the play by ear side.”

“Hmm.” She gave him an examining once over. “You don’t seem like the type who surprises easily.”

“I don’t.”

“You seem surprised now.”

“I am.”

“Believe me, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

He didn’t quite know what to make of that statement. But before he could examine it enough to drudge up the appropriate response, she was once again speaking to the invisible Alex.

“Alex, we’re outside.”

“Copy. Stand by for entry,” Alex’s voice answered from its divine destination after a few seconds.

“Stand back,” Maria warned. She placed her arm in front of his chest, pushing him back a few feet. Michael allowed it with no resistance, wondering how their exit from the tunnel would differ from their entry into it.

It was not at all what he was expecting. No more than a few seconds after she had pushed him aside, the earth beneath their feet began to rumble. The walls trembled and dust and debris shook from the ceiling above their heads. Michael braced one arm against the wall cautiously. The shaking in the tunnel was not all that strong, and most likely could not be perceived by anyone outside of the tunnel, but it was a bit startling for someone who hadn’t been expecting it. Slowly, the wall in front of them—another apparent dead end—pushed back in on itself, allowing space to form between it and the surrounding brick. He watched in deep fascination as brick unblended from brick, creating a doorway into the open space behind the wall. Steadily, the shaking of the tunnel subsided, leaving an open space where the wall had once been.

Maria stepped forward first, then turned back to face him. “Not quite what you were expecting?” she asked.

He huffed a closed mouthed exhalation through his nose. “Not exactly.”

“Well, come on. We’ve still got a little way to go,” she informed as she motioned him forward.

Michael waited until she disappeared into the opening before making any move to follow her. “Oh goody,” he breathed, wondering exactly what the hell he was getting himself into?

~~~~~~~~~~~~

They were in a freight elevator.

It was all somewhat anticlimactic, to say the least. That was Michael’s first impression as he looked around the large enclosed space. Of course, there was a part of him that wondered where the hell the elevator was taking them. He’d been expecting more. A city made of gold? A colonization of mud people? A pit of fire and brimstone? Something!

Definitely not a simple freight elevator.

“Where are we going?” he asked his companion.

“You’ll see,” Maria answered in an obnoxiously vague response. He couldn’t tell if she was now being purposely enigmatic in order to annoy him, or if she was just an unintentionally annoying person. Either way, it was starting to grate on his nerves.

No buttons had been pressed to indicate what level they were going to, but Michael could tell from the weight of gravity pushing into him that they were traveling downward. Underground perhaps? He readjusted his glasses over his eyes and shifted his weight to lean against the back wall of the elevator, watching her behind the darkness of his shaded lenses. She was watching him as well. The expression on her face gave none of her thoughts away, but he didn’t suppose knowing what she was thinking would have done him any good. The staring contest continued for the few seconds it took the elevator to reach its destination. The doors opened in a jarring sound revealing …another hallway. With a sideways roll of his head, Michael glanced over at Maria. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

Maria shrugged innocently and gestured for him to exit the elevator ahead of her. With a deep sigh of annoyance, Michael stepped forward, preparing to enter into the hallway, but before he could fully exit the elevator, he felt the prick of a needle enter the side of his neck. Faster than the sharp bite of the needle could completely register, he whipped around to face her. Reaching for the injection point with one hand, and her exposed throat with the other, he shoved her forcefully back against the wall of the elevator. Her eyes widened in shock and a touch of fear, startled by the swiftness of his actions.

“Wha’ didju give me?” he demanded, still managing to snarl angrily at her. Whatever it was was extremely fast acting. Already, his speech was beginning to slur, and his tongue felt like a heavy metal rod pressing against his teeth.

Maria gasped for breath. She gripped both her hands around his wrist, unable to breathe around the force of his hold on her throat.

“Answer me!” he barked sharply, uncaring that the grasp of his hands around her throat prevented her from being able to speak clearly. It made little difference. Within a matter of seconds Michael was sinking to his knees under the weight of his own body, his grip already slacking from around her throat.

Maria fell with him, preventing him from collapsing completely. His grasp had weakened and he had all but released her, but his gaze remained trained up at her, and she could almost feel the weight of his eyes boring into hers, even though she could not actually see them.

“Y-y-u…shi-t…” Michael tried to speak around the heavy weight of his own tongue, but couldn’t quite manage to get the words out. Finally, his head slumped forward onto her shoulder. He was still conscious, but only just barely. His entire body felt heavy, from the tips of his toes to the weight of his head. He wanted to swear every cuss word known to man, but couldn’t seem to make his mouth work properly. He tried squeezing his hands into fists, but knew the appendages only twitched in response. Damn it! What had she given him? He was as weak as a fucking kitten—weaker than, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could remain conscious. He felt the shift of his body weight as Maria dislodged herself from between him and the wall, but could only slump helplessly in response. Fuck! He did not want to lose consciousness, but it was clear unconsciousness was the inevitable road he was heading toward.

With his head slumped heavily down towards the floor, Michael felt the slow slip of his glasses as they slid down the bridge of his nose onto the floor. Just so, his heavy eyelids refused to remain open one moment longer as he was plunged into darkness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Maria blew out a deep sigh of relief. For a moment she’d wondered if he was actually going to remain conscious. The sedative she’d injected him with was supposed to be instantaneous. He should not have been able to stay on his feet for as long as he had, let alone strike out at her.

She looked down at his slumped over body. “Well, you’re a resilient one aren’t you?”

Of course he made no response, as he was now completely unconscious…she hoped. Just to be sure, she lifted one of his arms, watching as it fell back to his side lifelessly. She checked his pulse, making sure it was normal, then cupped a hand over his mouth and nose, feeling the slight whistle of his breath ghost against the palm of her hand. Good. He wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon.

Maria got back to her feet as she reached inside one of her shorts leg pockets and pulled out a radio. “Max, Kyle, you guys alright?”

“Right as rain,” Kyle’s voice sounded over a slight hiss of static that indicated he was moving in and out of the radio wave. “How are things going with our new friend?”

“Fine,” Maria answered staring down at Michael’s sedated body. “I’d let you speak with him, but he’s feeling a little bit unconscious at the moment.”

“Was he hostile?” Max asked.

“No. Just suspicious. He doesn’t act very…civilian-y.

“Yeah, there’s definitely something going on with him,” Kyle agreed. “You should see some of the shit he had in his truck. Talk about your weapons of mass destruction.”

“There all explosive?” she asked.

“Among other things. Some of which I can’t even identify.”

Maria eyed the unconscious body on the floor curiously. Just who the hell was this guy? “So what should I do with him, Max?”

“Alex is having a gurney sent in as we speak. Put him in a cell for now. Make sure he doesn’t wake up before we get back.”

“Easier said than done,” she mumbled mostly to herself, but still loud enough to be overheard by Kyle and Max.

“Is there a problem?” Max asked concernedly.

Maria sighed and turned her attention away from Michael’s unconscious body. “There shouldn’t be. The sedative should keep for at least an hour, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you guys to haul a little ass.” Getting him down hadn’t been as easy as it should have been; she doubted keeping him down would be any easier. And if he should happen to wake up before he was properly contained, she seriously doubted she’d be able to get him down a second time on her own.

“We’re already on our way,” Max assured her.

“Great, see you soon.” Maria pocketed the radio and knelt back down beside Michael. She picked up his glasses, which were surprisingly heavy considering their size, and placed them in her pocket as well, then touched a hand to his forehead, smoothing the hair away from his face. It looked as if he was out cold, but she still needed to hurry, just in case he decided to surprise them all by waking up sooner than expected.

Regardless of whether it was sooner or later, one thing was for damn sure. When he did finally wake up, he was not going to be happy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

~ Who the fuck knows where — At who gives a shit what time ~

Michael’s return to consciousness was slightly violent, as it felt as if he’d been struggling to rise up for the past half hour, but in actuality he had only been alert enough to move for about ten minutes. The actual returning of his sense was slightly strangled, and judging from how hard it was for him to regain consciousness, whatever he’d been given to induce his unconscious state hadn’t quite worn off yet. Added on to the struggle of waking up, there was also the pounding headache.

That was a bitch.

His head felt as if he’d been introduced to the opposing side of a blunt object, and his hearing sounded muffled, like he was hearing everything as if he were submerged beneath water. Not to mention his eyelids felt like mini anvils. Still, he knew he had not wanted to remain unconscious, and fought like hell to regain his awareness. Just as consciousness had been returning slowly, his hearing was clearing a bit with time, and the weight of his eyelids was decreasing. When his eyes no longer felt like they had weights pressing them down, he opened them slowly.

“Fuck,” he swore viciously, and closed them again.

He was lying on a bed, he knew, but he had no idea where he actually was. He thought back to the moment before his unconsciousness. That’s right. He’d been with Maria. They’d been just about to exit the freight elevator, when she’d sneak attacked his ass with a syringe. After that he’d lost consciousness, but not before gaining the tiniest bit of satisfaction in wringing her pretty little neck for just a little bit. If things went his way, the next time he had his hands around her throat, she would be the one passing out.

Michael sat up, which was not a particularly easy feat in his current condition. He was alone in the room, that much he could sense, but he assumed it wouldn’t be long before someone came to check on him. If these people were smart—and they were proving to be a lot more cunning than he’d initially given them credit for—they wouldn’t leave him by himself for too long. Of course, they had no way of knowing that in his current state, there wasn’t too much he could do—a fact that seriously pissed him off.

Rolling his legs off the side of the bed, he attempted to get to his feet. His legs felt a little wobbly, but for the most part they were able to carry him well enough. He stood still, trying to gain a better sense of equilibrium. Once he was sure he wasn’t going to fall over, get dizzy, or throw up, he moved forward into the room. However, he was only able to travel a few steps before he ran into bars.

He was in a cell.

Fuck.

He followed the bars along the length of the room until he ran into the wall, then traced that back to the bed. Yep, he was definitely in a cell, and the damn thing couldn’t have been more than fifty or so square feet in size. Seriously, someone was going to be in a lot of pain for this. Starting with that Maria…woman. But first things first. He needed to come up with a plan for getting out of here. Hell, he needed to find out where exactly here was. Then he’d bust some heads.

Michael sat back down on the bed and folded his hands in his lap, attempting to think. He immediately unfolded them when he felt a strange pressure at the fold of his elbow. Examining the area with his fingers, he felt the unmistakable gauze taped on the inside of his elbow. Looks like drugging him wasn’t the only thing they’d done. Someone had taken his blood.

Double fuck.

He was currently a sitting duck…in a cell…an imprisoned sitting duck. It was a feeling he was completely unused to, and one he damn sure as hell didn’t like. Just who the hell did these people think they were, anyway? And what the hell were they planning to do with him? He was starting to regret not having taken his chances with the Mutated. What was worse, he didn’t have his weapons, he didn’t have his bike, he didn’t have his truck, he didn’t have a clue where the hell he was, or as much as a smidgen of an escape plan. He didn’t have shit! And it was all starting to get quite agitating.

On the heels of that thought, Michael’s ears twitched at the sound of a door opening, followed by the trumping of boots across the hard floor. Someone was entering the area. Whoever it was stopped directly in front of his cell. He didn’t bother lifting his head to address them, nor did he bother with any pleasantries. “Get me the fuck out of here, now,” he demanded coldly.

“You could at least try saying please.”

Maria. Michael recognized the voice immediately. His body itched with the desire to spring towards her and attack, even if the two of them were separated by the thick cell bars. She was the one who’d gotten him into this whole mess in the first place. His mind automatically went back to having his hands wrapped around her neck. What he wouldn’t give to have the chance—

He took at deep breath, and tried to clear his head. Now was not the time for indulging in fantasies, delightful as they were, nor was it the time for irrational behavior. Although his instincts were demanding that he strike out at her, attempting an attack now wouldn’t get him out of this cell any faster, even if it would make him feel a whole hell of a lot better.

Maria was saying something. Michael assumed she’d probably been speaking since she’d entered the area, but his mind had been too consumed with his own anger to have paid attention to any of the words that had been coming out of her mouth. He tried to refocus his attention on listening to her.

“—and understand that you’re angry, but I didn’t have any other choice. And you have to admit, this is a lot better than being stuck outside in the dark.”

Michael made no response. Within the span of the last two hours, he’d crashed his truck, been ambushed, been held at gunpoint, had most of his weapons taken away, been drugged, as well as who knew what else, had all of his weapons taken away, and finally, been locked in a cell. All of which involved these people in one way or another. And she thought this was better than being out in the dark? He’d rather take his chances with the Mutated. With all of these thoughts tossing around in his head, Michael didn’t think he would be able to say anything right now without blowing up at her, so instead he elected to say nothing at all. He really needed to get it together, or else he was seriously going to do something crazy.

Tapping into a reserve of willpower he hadn’t known he possessed, Michael took another deep breath, and tried to regain his composure. “Why am I in a cell?” he asked evenly, or as evenly as he could manage with his mind clouded with visions of wringing her neck and blowing this place to smithereens. He applauded himself that he’d even been able to get the words out without inflecting the current rage he was feeling.

“It’s just a precautionary measure,” she answered. “We’ll let you out as soon as you answer a few questions.”

Questions? Not this bullshit again. He was getting sick of her and her damn questions. And anyway, he had a few questions of his own. “Where are my glasses?”

“Your glasses?” she echoed, obviously thrown by his question. “Why?”

“Just give them back to me.”

“Why?” she repeated, this time her tone more suspicious.

Michael groaned. Damn she was obstinate! He was hoping he would not have to do this, but he could see he had no other choice. With an air of resigned resentment, he lifted his head to her and opened his eyes. “Where are they?” he repeated slowly.

It was clear from her lack of response that she still didn’t understand. Michael remained silent as he stared towards her, giving her the chance to look at him fully, and allowing her to come to the conclusion on her own as she stared back into his eyes. For the longest time she didn’t say anything, and he didn’t offer any further explanation. But it was the sound of her surprised gasp that finally signaled her understanding.

“You’re blind?”

TBC
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RosDude
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Part 4

Post by RosDude » Tue Nov 15, 2011 1:58 am

angiebrenna: Oh the blindness will be explained…sort of, but…yeah not really. lol But I’m glad you’re enjoying the story. Thanks so much for reading.

AusCat: very observant.

nibbles2: It’s probably going to be a while before everything about the village is explained, but hopefully (if I do my job right) it will all make sense.

Eva: Yeah I think they all have good reason not to trust each other. Even more so now. As for Michael’s blindness, well, it will be partially explained in this chapter, and expounded upon more as the story goes on. All I can say is just keep in mind that there’s more to it than what is reveled in this chapter.

killjoy: That’s an interesting theory.

Helen of Roswell: Hi Helen. Great to have you here, and my ever expanding ego and I are honored to be the first story to receive feedback from you on RF. This is my first time writing a heavily Candy fic, but I’m finding that it’s very enjoyable so it probably won’t be my last. I’m also happy that the Candy fans are enjoying it since I know there are already some phenomenal candy writers on this board. I look forward to reading your feedback either here, or on CID, and if you do decide to take a tumble down the dreamer rabbit hole, then I hope you enjoy my other stories as well.

Thanks for reading everyone. So sorry this is late, as my clock is telling me that it is now Tuesday. Had kind of a busy day and it just kind of got away from me. But anyway, N+Joy the next chapter.

~Chad~
Part FourA Friendly Interrogation
~ Holding Cell B — 10:48 pm ~

Putting aside the fact that they were indoors, and that it was completely dark outside, of all the things going on at the moment, Maria would have thought UV ray protection to be the last concern on Michael’s mind. Hearing his inquiry on the location of his glasses, she couldn’t help but wonder why he would ask about something so trivial while in the midst of a situation that was anything but. This particular unanticipated question wasn’t even on the list of possible things she’d thought he’d say to her once he’d regained consciousness. And there most certainly was a list, topped mostly by expletives. Frankly, she’d forgotten that she’d even had his glasses, much less thought about the possibility of them being of such importance to him. All that considered, Maria doubted he’d made the request for vanities sake. So when he lifted his head to her, and she’d gotten her first clear look into his eyes, it didn’t take long for her to figure out why he’d wanted the glasses back so badly.

His irises were colorless, just barely disguisable from the whites of his eyes, and as far as she could tell he had no pupils to speak of, giving his eyes the appearance of two giant pearls cushioned within the confines of his sockets. His gaze was unfocused as he peered at her, making it clear that even though his head was pointed in her direction, his eyes were not actually trained on her exact location. Simply looking into those colorless orbs, there was absolutely no question in Maria’s mind of what he was showing her.

“You’re blind?”

“Aww, what gave it away?” The sarcasm and slight tilt of his lips in a scathing smile was a clear enough indicator that she had guessed right.

Maria shook her head, feeling even more confused by the confirmation of his blindness, and still finding it hard to believe what she was seeing right in front of her. “But that doesn’t make any sense.” He couldn’t be blind, not with the way he moved. He acted as though he could see just as clearly as she could, if not better. Even in the thick of the fog, he’d had an impeccable sense of direction, and had all but clearly pinpointed her and Kyle’s locations as soon as he’d become aware of their presence. Although it was true Max had been able to sneak up behind him undetected, not once had he given any indication that he hadn’t been able to see them at all.

“You have them don’t you?” Michael asked impatiently, the sound of his voice directing Maria’s attention back to his question on the location of his glasses. “Give them back to me,” he demanded.

Remembering what had initially brought on this surprising revelation, Maria fished around her pocket for the glasses she had taken off of him earlier. While doing so she was suddenly overwhelmed by the gratuitous sense of awkwardness that often accompanied the realization of another person’s handicap. “I’m sorry,” she apologized unnecessarily, as if his being blind were somehow her fault. “I didn’t know.” Not that there was any way she could have possibly known. After all, she didn’t know him. Hell, she didn’t even really know what she was apologizing for, but she was notably floored by this entire situation. Finding the glasses in her pocket, she made to hand them to him through the cell bars, but dropped them in a flutter of flustered movements.

Michael frowned from his position still seated on the bed. “Did you just drop them?” he asked accusingly.

“Uh sorry,” Maria apologized again, reaching down to retrieve them in a rush. She rose back up, examining them closely for any sign of damage. There didn’t appear to be any, however upon further examination, she could now see that they were a bit different than a normal pair of shades. The lenses were thicker than expected, and she noticed for the first time that there were small, barely perceptible buttons blended on the side of each arm, though she had no clue what they were for. She did remember thinking when she had first pocketed them that they were sort of heavy for a standard pair of sunglasses, but she hadn’t thought much of it at the time.

Her curiosity getting the better of her, Maria placed the glasses over her own eyes. Looking through them herself, she found there was nothing particularly phenomenal about the glasses, no x-ray vision, heat sensors, night vision, or any other fancy bells and whistles of the sort. Though she did notice things seemed to appear the slightest bit brighter behind the shaded lenses; a peculiarly odd contrast for her eyes to behold. But other than that slight oddity they seemed as normal as any other standard pair of sunglasses. “Is there something special about these glasses?” she asked. “What are these buttons for?”

Michael stood up casually and walked over to her. Aside from the fact that his eyes were not directly focused on her the way a seeing person’s would have been, there was no stumble of hesitance in his movement, nor wild grasping of unfamiliarity that indicated he saw her any less clearly than she saw him. Truthfully, had she not been able to see the whiteness of his unseeing eyes, Maria probably would not have noticed the lack of focus at all. Once he reached the space in front of her, he stuck a hand through the cell bars and held it out towards her expectedly.

Maria removed his glasses from her face and put them in his outstretched hand. She watched him curiously as he placed them over his eyes, then touched his fingertips to both sides of the arms where she knew the buttons to be. Almost immediately, his gaze tilted slightly towards hers, honing in on her exact position. Even standing this close to him, Maria could not make out the white irises of his eyes behind the dark tent of the lenses, but there was no doubt in her mind that those eyes where now staring at her straight on.

“Anymore questions?” he asked flippantly.

Maria gaped at him in a state of slight awe. “So then those glasses allow you to see?” she asked, seeking verbal confirmation of what he’d just shown her.

“No,” Michael answered sarcastically. “I’m just trying to make a fashion statement. Didn’t you know? Sunglasses are all the rage among the mutated these days. They come in pretty handy for when that pesky sunlight causes their eyes to burst into flames.”

Maria didn’t find his words very amusing. “A simple yes or no would have sufficed.”

His response was an uncaring shrug. “You’re a smart girl. Figure it out.”

Annoyed by his inability to give her a straight answer, Maria attempted to draw her own conclusion based on what she’d observed of him so far. However the glasses worked, she was pretty sure they somehow allowed him to see. How well, she couldn’t say, but judging from the lack of focus he’d shown before he’d put them on, compared to the obvious clarity with which he seemed capable of seeing her now, she would estimate that he was completely blind without them. If that was the case, it would mean that…“If looking through those glasses is what allows you to see, that means you can’t see anything outside of the spectrum of the lenses,” Maria reasoned out loud. That would explain why Max had been able to sneak up on him before. He’d been outside of the field of vision that the shaded lenses allowed. Maria watched Michael expression closely, looking for any indication from him that she had guessed right.

“Well would you look at that. And here I thought you were just another pretty blonde,” Michael quipped. Not entirely a confirmation, but more a yes than a no.

Maria didn’t let the insult of his statement bother her the way she knew he’d meant for it to. “A pretty blonde who was able to incapacitate, and lock you in a cell,” she answered back just as snidely, claiming a small victory at the sight of the prominent clenching of his jaw at her words.

“That’s not something I would remind me of if I were you,” he warned.

She brushed the warning off with a dismissive wave. “Fine, let’s talk about something else.” Her gaze focused notably on his glasses. “You took them off earlier, but you were still able to get around like you could see just fine. How’s that?”

Instead of answering, Michael stared at her silently. Maria figured this was his way of letting her know he wasn’t going to answer her. Judging from the look on his face, the down turn of his brows, and piercing cut of frowning lips, she could see he was clearly still angry with her. After several seconds of silent unabashed glaring, Michael’s gaze narrowed the slightest bit, seemingly contemplating whether or not to answer her question. Aside from his sarcastic remarks, he’d never actually given her a clear yes or no on whether or not she was on the right track with her assumptions of his blindness and those glasses. The look he was giving her now gave her the impression he wasn’t about to be any more forthcoming on the subject.

“Not all things require vision to see,” he said at long last.

Well, it was more of an answer than she’d been expecting. She stared up at him intrigued by this new development, and more fascinated by him than even before. And she’d already been pretty damn fascinated by him to begin with. “If I open this cell, are you going to attack me?”

Michael’s brows furrowed, as he clearly had not been expecting her to ask that question. “Probably,” he answered after a slight pause.

Maria nodded in understanding. She wasn’t surprised by his answer, only by the fact that he’d answered honestly. “Then I should probably back away.”

“Probably,” he repeated.

But instead of backing off as she ‘probably’ should have, Maria stepped closer to the bars of the cell. So close that if she were bold enough she could reach out and touch him. She didn’t, of course. She knew better than that, and he clearly wasn’t over the whole “drugging” thing. However there was still a part of her—a rather daring part—that wanted to reach out and remove his glasses just so she could get another look at those extraordinarily sightless eyes. And an even more daring part that wanted to trace the skin just below those eyes to see what type of reaction they would give. Maria squeezed her hands into two tight fists at her sides, fighting back the urge to do either of those things, and wondering where this overwhelming feeling was coming from.

Michael also made no move to back away. Instead he too stepped closer so that their two bodies were almost sandwiching the bars between them. With perfectly composed and thoroughly precise movements, he lifted his hands to grip the bars of his cell, placing them directly where her neck would be had he been griping her skin instead of the hard metal bars, then squeezed. Tightly. Very slowly, he shook his head at her, as if he were somehow able to sense the dangerous thoughts running through her head, and offering up fair warning. “Don’t,” he breathed very slowly, that one word making it clear enough for her that touching him in any way was not a good idea.

Maria shook her head, as if shaking off some sort of sudden hypnosis. The warning broke the strange spell of stupidity that seemed to be woven over her. “Right,” she agreed. Touching was a big no-no. She backed away from the cell.

With a final squeezing of the bars, Michael turned around and walked back over to the bed, putting even more much needed space between the two of them. “When am I getting out of here?” he asked impatiently. “Or am I some sort of prisoner?” He took a seat back down on the bed and reclined back against the wall.

Maria folded her arms across her chest, a veiled attempt at relaxing her somewhat rattled composure. The subject change helped a lot. “I told you, the cell is only a precautionary measure. Max will be here soon. He’ll ask you a few questions, and depending on your answers, you’ll be free to go.”

“So I am a prisoner then,” Michael surmised.

“Don’t think of it that way. Think of it as a high security guest.”

Michael looked around the closed in area that was his prison, then back to her. “Do you treat all of your guests to such lavish accommodations?”

“What did you expect?” Maria asked, leaning her hip against the bars of the cell. “You show up here from nowhere carrying two extremely high caliber handguns, a knife, and a bag full of explosives, and you don’t expect us to be a bit wary?”

“Hey, you engaged me. And whatever I had on me, guns, explosives, or otherwise, was my own damn business.”

“You were in our territory, making it our business.”

“And exactly how was I supposed to know the middle of fucking nowhere was anyone’s territory?”

“What were you doing out in the ‘middle of fucking nowhere’?”

“You mean aside from driving into the large deathtrap my truck is currently stuck down in? Not much. Taking in the sights. Breathing in the fresh fog filled air. Basking in the potent aroma of rotting Mutated flesh.”

Maria almost laughed at that one. It was becoming clear to her that he was quite apt in the art of using sarcasm to avoid answering direct questions. But that was perfectly fine with her. Sarcasm was her second language. “Well, maybe that will teach you to pay more attention to where you’re driving.”

Michael started to speak, but instead made a sound deep in his throat, an obvious attempt to hold back whatever he had been about to say. Clearly their little back and forth was getting to him. He paused for a moment before starting again. “You really want me to hurt you, don’t you, lady.”

Maria just smiled at him, gaining a somewhat warped sense of pleasure out of knowing she was riling him up. “Am I correct in assuming that that was a rhetorical question?”

Michael glared at her.

“Thought so. FYI, when you say things like that, it doesn’t make me any more convinced that you shouldn’t be locked in a cell.”

“And you saying shit like that don’t do anything for my homicidal tendencies.” Michael frowned at her with an obviously annoyed sneer, while she peered back up at him with an equally agitated—if not slightly amused—sneer of her own.

At a bit of a standstill, it was clear neither of the two of them had any intention of backing down, and probably would have retained their respective sneers if not for the interruption of someone else entering the room. Realizing that they were no longer alone, Maria and Michael turned simultaneously at the intruder.

Max.

Taking in the ferocity of their glances, Max took a mock step back towards the door he’d just entered. “Am I interrupting?” he asked, glancing curiously between the two of them.

“What took you so long?” Maria asked, fixing her expression into a less severe one.

“Family matter,” Max answered illusively as he approached the cell.

She rolled her eyes, knowing full well what that meant.

“I see our new friend is awake. That was fast.”

“You should’ve seen how long it took him to go down. The guy’s got some super resistance.”

“Has he now?” Max and Maria watched Michael through the bars of the cell like they were watching a particularly rare species of intriguing animal at the zoo. Appropriate, considering his currently caged situation.

“The guy wants you to let him the hell out of this damn cell,” Michael snapped. He was now back on his feet, and standing directly in front of the two of them.

“Right,” Max said. “Sorry about,” he motioned to the cell, “This. We can never be too sure in these situations. It’s just a pre—”

“—caution,” Michael finished for him. “So I’ve been told.” His gaze honed in on Maria as he spoke those words.

Maria smiled cheekily at him.

Max was either completely unaware of the exchange between the two of them, or else deliberately chose to ignore it. “So I guess we should get started. I assume you want an explanation for all of this.”

Michael turned his attention back to Max. “What I want is my guns, my knife, my bag, and a good god damn reason for why I shouldn’t blow this place to hell.”

“I’m afraid I can’t allow you any of those things just yet,” Max answered calmly and matter-of-factly. “Except that last one,” he amended after a slight pause. “Blowing us to hell seems a bit counterproductive at the moment, don’t you think?”

Michael snarled at him, truly epitomizing the image of a 'caged beast'. “Let me out, or you will be sorry.”

Max remained unfazed. “Making threats isn’t really conducive to convincing us to let you out of the cell either.”

Maria placed her hand over her mouth as she watched Michael’s mood skyrocket past simple anger to downright fury. It was clear he was a thousand miles passed pissed-off by now.

Then, just as suddenly as his anger had risen, his entire disposition changed. He calmed, and his voice lowered. “Listen. You people, whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, I don’t really give a shit. But if you don’t open this cell and let me out right now, I’m sure as hell going to be your next big problem.” Oddly enough, there was no sense of threat in his tone, just cold hard truth. The impact was quite startling, and Maria didn’t doubt for a second that he would make good on those words if given the opportunity.

Max smiled slightly. “Maria, can you give us a moment.”

The request threw her momentarily. “Are you kidding? Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

Max’s focus didn’t deviate from Michael as he nodded his head. “Oh, I think it’s a great idea.”

Maria looked apprehensively between the two men. She wasn’t exactly sure what it was Max was hoping to accomplish, but she trusted that he knew what he was doing. “Fine, but before I go, there’s something I think you should know.”

“Zip it, blondie,” Michael warned with a ferocious glare.

Maria paused and glared back at him. The warning in his tone had been clear enough, but his expression read just as clearly. So he didn’t want Max to know of his little ‘sight impediment’. That was interesting. But interesting or not, she had no reason to keep his secret. So why did she hesitate?

Max looked curiously between the two of them. “Maria?” he questioned, cueing her to continue with what she had been about to say.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” she answered, looking at Michael as she spoke. It wasn’t like it was something he would be able to hide from Max for too long. “I’ll go check in with Alex. You know where to find me.”

Max nodded in the affirmative.

With one final glance Michael’s way, Maria quit the room, leaving her friend alone to deal with the caged beast.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael and Max stood face to face, separated by the cell bars, but still clearly sizing each other up. Try as he might, Michael couldn’t get a read on this guy. There was something about him that seemed vaguely familiar, but he was positive the two of them had never met. Aside from that, there was an aura about him that read like an encrypted message. He seemed calm enough; cool as a cucumber actually, but there was something about him that was slightly off. It was almost…fake? No. Fake wasn’t exactly the right word.

Practiced.

Max was the first to break the silence. “So what are you?”

“Come again?”

“Military branch. What are you?”

Michael smirked. “How do you figure I’m military?”

“There’s no way a guy like you could pass for a civilian.”

Well that was true. Michael would be the first to admit he didn’t exactly fit the mold of helpless civilian. But even if he hadn’t been given first hand proof to back it up, he could tell just from looking that Max didn’t fit into that category either. Same could be said for Maria, and what’s-his-name from earlier. “What about you?” he countered. “You strike me as a little more than an over achieving Boy Scout.”

Despite the obvious dig, Max laughed. “United States Army. Special Forces.”

“Special Forces?” Michael gave him a quick onceover. Well, no surprise there. He’d suspected some form of military before, which explained the familiarity. That also explained the ‘practiced-ness’ of his persona. Special Forces guys were as fucking fake as they came. “Green Beret?” he questioned.

“Is just a hat,” Max answered, clearly a reflexive response.

“Right Rambo.”

Max ignored that little comment. “You never answered my question.”

Just for the sake of being ornery, Michael took another moment before he did. “EOD.”

“Marines?”

That surprised him. “How’d you guess?”

Max shrugged. “You don’t strike me as a navy or air force kind of guy.”

“And the army?”

Max smirked, this time giving Michael the onceover. “Not a chance in hell.”

Bastard. Michael wasn’t sure whether to laugh or take offense. “Yeah, so what’s special forces doing in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere with a bunch of civilians?”

“Surviving.”

“Tch, there’s gotta be more to it than that.”

Another shrug. “Would you laugh if I said it was a matter of government security?”

“Didn’t know there was still such a thing.”

“There’s not. S’why I asked if you would laugh.”

Michael scoffed. So then this guy was one of those types. Strait-laced, even in the face of world destruction. “At ease, soldier. Your commanding officer is either dead, or fighting for the other side now.”

“Believe me, I’m well aware of that,” Max sighed. “What were you doing out there?”

“Is this the twenty questions portion of the evening’s activities? I have to tell you, it’s not as exciting as the ambushing and drugging.”

“Answer the question.”

Michael walked back over to the cell bed and sat down reclining back against the pillow. “This isn’t so bad really,” he mused as if he were talking to himself. “I’ve slept in worse.”

“The faster you cooperate, the faster you can get out of there,” Max explained evenly.

“Fine. I’ve got some questions of my own.”

Max nodded. “Understandable. Believe it or not, we’re not your enemy.”

Michael snorted. “Yeah, because my enemies would never drug me, confiscate all my weapons, and lock me in a cell. Not to mention,” he added, tapping the gauze on the fold of his elbow. “Taking my blood?”

Max didn’t respond, but frankly, Michael didn’t need him to. There was only one explanation for why they would have taken his blood. “Came back clean, I hope,” he commented mockingly, knowing they would have found no trace of infection in his blood.

“There is no such thing as being too careful,” Max stated explanatorily. “As a soldier, I’d assume you agree.”

“Ex soldier,” Michael corrected. The only faction he was aligned with now was himself.

Max let out an exasperated sigh. “Look, let’s cut the bull.”

“Far as I can tell, you’re the one here who’s full of shit.” Michael was well aware that he was now being antagonizing just for the sake of being contrary, but already he could tell Max was the type of guy who, though not easily riled, was used to having his demands carried out immediately. Michael knew his type well. There was that strict disposition of his. Clearly it would take a lot to get under his cool reserved skin. When placed in the face of such a challenge, Michael could hardly resist making an attempt.

Max, substantiating his uneasily rattled nature, let Michael’s insulting comment slide like water off his back. “Fair enough.” He reached inside his pocket and pulled out a key, then held it up in front of Michael’s face. The message was clear. This was the key to his prison.

“You sure it’s safe enough to do that?”

“You’re not stupid.”

Michael’s brow twitched in slight annoyance. Just who the hell did this guy think he was? “You don’t think I could take you?”

Max shrugged again, a signature action that was fast becoming quite annoying, in Michael’s opinion. “It’s not about whether or not you could take me in a fight. Fact is, you don’t know the first thing about this place, you were drugged less than an hour ago, and you’re behind enemy lines with absolutely no Intel and no way out. Aside from that, it’s pitch black outside, so even if you could somehow make your way out of here, you’ve got a much bigger problem waiting for you on the outside. You’re tough, Michael, but you’re not stupid.”

Michael schooled his expression to mask the irritation he was currently feeling. Max was right. Annoyingly so, but still right. Nevertheless, that didn’t mean he didn’t still piss Michael off. Nor did it mean Michael was ready to show his hand. “Let me out, and I guess we’ll find out just how stupid I am.” The threat wasn’t exactly empty, but he was willing to bet Max would take up the challenge anyway. In that way, the two of them were cut from the same cloth.

“I guess we will.” Max placed the key in the lock, turned it, then took a step back.

Michael eyed the now unlocked cell door before making any move to exit his prison. “You’re pretty confident, huh?”

“That,” Max smiled before continuing, “And no, I don’t think you could take me.”

Ha, cocky bastard.

Michael pushed the cell door open and slowly stepped outside, noting that Max hadn’t backed away any further than the space needed for the cell door to swing open. “Is that right?” The two stood face to face with nothing separating them other than the sheer space of both of their egos.

Max nodded. “That’s right.”

Michael smiled, knowing he still held one advantage over the other man. The element of surprise. “Didn’t take you for the type of man to hit a blind guy,” he spoke, letting his glasses slide down just enough to allow Max to get a look at his eyes.

“What?” The note of surprise in Max’s voice was all the sign Michael needed to know the man had been taken off his guard if only just the slightest bit. Never one to waste an opportunity, Michael swung.

Hard.

The force behind the blow was strong, but not as strong as he would have liked. Apparently the effect of whatever had been used to drug him was not quite out of his system just yet. To his credit, Max took the punch like a man. His head jerked to the side as Michael’s fist connected, but the action seemed to be more from shock than from the actual force of the hit. And as Michael had suspected he wouldn’t, Max made no attempt to swing back.

“That was for the drugging, since I don’t hit women, and you seem to be the one giving the orders around here,” Michael explained conversationally. “And also ‘cuz I kind of don’t like you,” he added for good measure.

Max may not have swung back, but he did glare daggers at Michael as he massaged his aching jaw. “Can’t say that I want to be best buddies either,” he answered, taking no offense to Michael’s deceleration of dislike. “Blind?” he questioned.

Michael nodded, lowering his glasses even more to prove his point.

Max stared at the sightless eyes for a second. “Hell of an aim for a blind guy.”

Michael just laughed as he moved. Not ‘backing down’, but putting some distance between himself and the man he’d just sucker punched. “Need ice?” he taunted.

“It’s fine,” Max winced, flexing his sore jaw. “But this makes us even.”

“Fair enough,” Michael agreed, echoing Max’s earlier words.

With one final flex, Max released his jaw. “I take it the blind thing is what Maria was trying to tell me earlier,” he asked.

Michael nodded.

Max continued to eye him silently. Michael knew what he was doing. It was the same thing Maria had done when she’d discovered his blindness. Looking for chinks in his armor. Staggering movements, grouping actions. Signs of his blindness. Well, they wouldn’t find any. Not so long as he had his glasses. And even without them, Michael still knew how to get around. But no matter how much he had mastered disguising his handicap, the sight of his eyes always gave it away.

“You don’t move like a blind man,” Max commented observantly.

Michael stretched his arms out and started flailing them about as if he couldn’t see two feet in front of him. “Is this better?” he questioned sardonically.

Max snorted. “That’s not what I mean.”

Michael shrugged. “I get around just fine,” he answered illusively.

“Right,” Max said, unmistakably picking up on Michael’s illusiveness, but not pushing the issue. “Well then, since we’ve cleared the air, so to speak, I guess you’re free to go.”

“Free to go? And where exactly am I supposed to go?”

“Wherever you want, I suppose,” Max said, moving to stand beside the exit. “But I should warn you, I saw your truck and it’s pretty banged up, and even if by some miracle it’s still in working condition, I can’t have it retrieved until the morning.”

Michael sighed. “Is this your funny way of telling me I’ve got nowhere else to go?”

Max shrugged.

Michael’s brow furrowed in annoyance. He didn’t think he’d ever been angered by so many different things in such a short period of time. “I’m not staying in that cell,” he admonished. “And I want my weapons back.”

Max nodded, placing his hand over the release switch for the door. “A bed will be made up for you, and your weapons are safely stored. They’ll be returned to you before you leave here,” he explained quickly. “If there’s nothing else, then right now I need you to follow me.”

Michael was a bit surprised at how quickly these answers were presented. It was as if Max had already known what his demands would be, and had already had his resolutions prepared. Clearly, the man had an agenda of his own. But he made no move to follow, and instead stared wearily at Max. “And just where the hell are you taking me now?” he asked.

Max smiled cheekily in a rare show of unrestrained emotion. “To see my commanding officer.”

TBC
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