Posts Tagged ‘Zombies’

When you’re surrounded by so much death the mind becomes numb with shock. We have been so desensitized to violence that after a while some deaths turns out to be pretty funny in retrospect. Or at least for those who see the incident from the outside. Within the Green Zones life carries on more or less the same as before with only minor changes. There are limits to your travel, as many exotic locations are now infested with that nasty virus that nobody likes to talk about. Services are lower as there are fewer middle class and lower class residents to assist however goods are in great supply given the lower population demanding them. Goods are restricted to previously manufactured goods as factories are not up and running creating new items with few exceptions. Companies are now forced to look at the goods they previously had and find interesting new ways of selling them. Here’s an example from the automobile industry of marketing capitalizing on the outbreak.

I give you the sixteenth episode of Zombie Survival Bloopers:

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When you’re surrounded by so much death the mind becomes numb with shock. We have been so desensitized to violence that after a while some deaths turns out to be pretty funny in retrospect. Or at least for those who see the incident from the outside. Campaigns within the Green Zones continue to focus on assuring the privileged population that despite rumors and even proof of the terrors we face those living outside the zone are doing well and good on our own. Rumors of vaccinations continue to contribute to not only reassurance for the gifted behind the walls but desperate raids against the walls from this side of those who are infected but want to live. To date there have been no reports of successful raider breeches into the Green Zone. Rumors of some medicine being brought from the Green Zone and into the outside world has been confirmed but only by the work of thieves and smugglers.

Here is just one more example of the work within the Green Zones to down play our day-to-day lives into something both comical and cute.

I give you the fifteenth episode of Zombie Survival Bloopers:

When you’re surrounded by so much death the mind becomes numb with shock. We have been so desensitized to violence that after awhile some deaths turns out to be pretty funny in retrospect. Or at least for those who see the incident from the outside. While this doesn’t involve death, and it’s too old to specifically involve the dead (while not being old enough to involve ancient records of previous outbreaks) but it is downright creepy. Someone dug up this old file and has been spreading it through the CVC lines as a way to share with children the importance of not biting. Not only might your child be mistaken for a zee, but who knows what he or she will pick up biting random people.

I have to be honest with you here. Even as a child I found Mr. Rogers to be more than a little creepy. His puppets were creepy, he was creepy and so were his sweaters! This clip has done nothing to help fix that sensation.

I give you the thirteenth episode of Zombie Survival Bloopers:

 

When I saw Beebles chewing on her pen I knew I had caught her at a moment of trepidation. The young woman was often uncertain about a great number of things in life, but it was rarer to find her expressing these classic Beebles’ signs while writing up some sort of form to send out for others to review. Beebles was a librarian at heart, and she always liked to have her facts in order, double checked with references underlined. If she was stuck on something it was likely because she couldn’t find the research needed to verify her facts. I folded my arms and leaned against the wall near her desk, “You know if it’s something that I have some sort of experience with,” my tone died off. I was immediately concerned it would be questions about a boy. Not to say I haven’t had experienced, I just didn’t want to have to go through the birds and bees with her or some such.

“I’m writing up tips about how to hire the best ally that works for you. Only,” she hesitated for a moment but I waited patiently letting her collect her thoughts. “Only it’s all theory. I haven’t been able to confirm any of it. It’s based on personal observation and not hard numbers. I’m not comfortable with that. Plus my experienced has been quite limited.”

I made a face, mine wasn’t much better. Sure I had allies and I’ve hired allies but only for specific fights when going alone made it too difficult. “Beebles write it. Write your thoughts, mark it as an editorial and give warning that this is all theory. Let the community dispute it if they think you’re wrong and take their feedback when offered. Adjust your advice based upon that.”

Her nose crinkled in a familiar expression. This is a thought that has been on her mind a lot of late and been bothering her causing hesitation. Yet she nodded her head and her pen went to paper to write.

I want to start this off by saying this is theory. Game theory in part along with practical thinking in game design but I have no hard numbers to give you to back up what I’m about to say. I’ll present my few ideas and you can dispute them or use them as you see fit.

First off, what is an Ally? An ally is who you can hire to fight with you for an hour. Their cost appears to be based upon their level. When you hire someone nobody else can hire them for the next hour. Half the money you put into hiring them goes to the actual player. To hire someone the following must be true:

  1. Nobody else can currently have hired them.
  2. They must be five levels bigger or smaller than you.
  3. You must have the full amount of cash to afford the hire.
  4. You cannot already have someone else hired for that hour. (Only one ally allowed at a time.)
  5. Do not expect hired allies to help you in duels. They are strictly for zombie fighting.

So the question becomes, how do you actually go about hiring someone and who should you pick? It’s very simple to hire anyone in the game. They don’t require being on your friend’s list though that makes some things easier. You must view their profile page. Here are a three ways to do this when searching for an ally:

  1. Review your friend’s list for people for people within the right level range
  2. Review your safe house member list for people within the right level range
  3. Search in the random duel list for people within the right level range. (Click on their image not duel to see their profile page.)

Once there you can view in their Personal Stats if they are currently hired. If so the words appear in green under their Hiring Fee. If not you get a value as to how much it will cost to hire them. You then select the “Hire as an Ally” button and pay the fee.

On your profile page you will see who you hired, their level and a timer for how long you have before they are no longer with you.

When you fight zombies they appear in the box at top that lists all the people in the “zone” fighting with you. This list can include people who have gone to that same zone or people from your friend’s list. Up to three non ally people can appear on this list giving you a possible total of four people helping you fight. You only have control over the ally you pick.

Now here is where I get into theory. Who should you pick when you choose an ally? I pick people who are the largest level I can get that have been maintaining their stats and upgrading their weapons. My reason for this is because I want an ally that will hit as hard as possible when they strike. I know I cannot control what weapon they use, but bigger players have better chances to use bigger weapons. In theory, if it uses their actual information, the better upgraded weapons will strike harder. I base my opinion on their skills from their Personal Stats focusing on Hunting, and Duel. Their weapon upgrades I base upon the one weapon I can see and how far they have upgraded it so far, what class it happens to be.

Does this work out in my benefit? I can’t give numbers. I can say that on at least one fight I stacked Searlait, Beebles and Malkoris into a room. I hired a fourth person who was bigger than any of them. Three of the four hit zombies for me but the hardest hitter was my hire. At times I’ve had Malkoris and Searlait in a room with me fighting zombies. Malkoris always hits harder being the bigger player.

Now you cannot control if allies will hit. Sometimes they just sit there for the full fight. Most of the time I want them there to give that big zombie someone else to hit allowing me another strike before I need to use a health pack. But if I’m going to bring someone in to do damage, I’d like to try to maximize as much damage as possible.

Note: Observed a graphic glitch where hired allies show having “none” for their health. This appears to be a bug as in this case Malkoris remained at full health. Reported bug to forum at time of this posting.

I acknowledge that some hire friends or potential safe house members in order to help them save money. This tip does not reflect those reasons for hiring a player.

When you’re surrounded by so much death the mind becomes numb with shock. We have been so desensitized to violence that after awhile some deaths turns out to be pretty funny in retrospect. Or at least for those who see the incident from the outside. Morbid humor was on the rise before the zees all woke up and started chomping on people. For a brief time it faded off because reality is rarely funny unless you truly are twisted to some extent. I don’t judge, I find reality extremely funny, but then again I am more than a little twisted.

This little piece was sent to me by someone who used to focus on cute cartoons involving kittens or puppies or something. I don’t know, I never paid attention to their interests before. I guess the new world has changed their outlook on things and for once we have something in common. So I tip my hat to my friend out there and ask the general public, “too soon?”

I give you the twelfth episode of Zombie Survival Bloopers:

I drove straight from the television station to the next destination stopping only long enough to deal with basic needs. The summer was coming through spring and the heat baked my skin, welcome warmth from the winter. Zees don’t freeze; the snow and ice hampered their movements and often trapped them in locations they couldn’t shuffle out of. With the melting snow, bodies weaken by rot flooded down locations and formed barricades where unchecked swollen rivers had over reached their banks. Without mankind’s constant grooming of the world around him nature was taking back what was once wild and slowly erasing signs of our existence. She tore down buildings and spread water across fields. New sanctuaries for wild life, those beasts and birds quick enough to escape the dead or clever enough to nest or burrow out of reach. Birds were making their way on their migration and it was strangely gratifying to see the plague did not result in such species being wiped out. Their travel would take them into areas that were ill prepared to receive them but I’d leave their care in whomever you believed would care for them, be it Mother Nature, a Creator or Evolution, gods of myth, religion and science. My own faith was often tested through these times – shaken at some points and strengthen at others.

Ezekiel’s words still rang in my ears; Bluetone Productions had gone radio silent. Before KSAT TV had hit the airwaves there had been Bluetone. The lone voice out in the wastelands unregulated by the government, Bluetone’s DJ Jammer had brought comfort to many. Ezekiel reported that government forces had attempted to shut down this rogue radio station but been repelled. Despite enduring the dead, the Green Zone government and raiders Bluetone had persevered and now she was silent. He feared the worse and was sending me to scout out and help any survivors. I didn’t hold out much hope which probably made it easier for me to agree. Sure why not go see another ghost town building in a world filled with ghosts towns. At worse I’d have a horde to avoid or evade, nothing I wasn’t used to facing as I travelled from safe house to safe house. As a sister station and having been inspired by Bluetone’s boldness Ezekiel wanted to know the fate of Bluetone. Not to mention it would make a half decent story which he wanted to break the news on.

When I arrived outside of the city where the radio station had been located, my own radio having been static to that point sparked to life with a crack and then a howl. It was a full on wolf howl, startling and nearly sent me off the road as I slammed on the breaks to stop my jeep and listen. The howl ended and a voice started speaking, “That’s right kids and kittens this is Lone Wolf sending out a distress call to all you crazy little hunters out there. This is Bluetone Productions and we are under siege. Listen up kids, you hear that pop crack and smack? That’s my hero and yours, Jammer up on the roof popping zee heads like bubble wrap. We’ve been at it for five days now and the hits just keep on coming. I don’t know how far this broadcast is reaching but we are SOL if there are not some friends out there and that’s just not the way to send us out. Again this is Lone Wolf, and I’m about to get back up to the roof but in the meantime here’s a few songs to warm your heart. Now hurry your asses up folks, Lone Wolf until the next break.”

Her voice cut out and I stared down at my radio as the music chimed in, “Going Out West” by Tom Waits.  Shaking my head slightly, I found my fingers tapping the steering wheel in time to the music. Was it a pre recording? Was the station already lost or was that a live distress call? My foot hit the gas pedal before my thoughts could finish. The throaty tone rang out from my window rolled down as I came up the main street. Ahead I could see not just a horde but a mass of zees unlike any I had seen since the start of the plague. I hit the brakes and stared for a few moments. There was something wrong with them, wrong in a way beyond being the dead and moving. I couldn’t quite place why. Staring at the crowd of zees which slowly were starting to take note of me I saw my first proof of life in the dead. That is to say I saw there were survivors at the radio station when one of the zee’s heads exploded into a chunky mess spraying zees around him. “Wave of Mutilation” by the Pixies started up and I cranked the radio.

I started to sing under my breath as the crowd of zees started to sway and turn to look towards me. When four or five had their full attention on me they broke into a run rushing me. My heart slammed into my chest and I realized at that very moment what had been wrong with these zees. Their level of rot was way off. These were fresh dead, or fresher dead. Probably no more than weeks to a month old they were capable of running faster than most people. I had just broken the dam.

The horde turned from the building and charged me. I pulled the car into reverse and hit the gas, turning to look behind me to drive as fast as I could. A few flickered glances in front of me confirmed that I still had the full force of the horde chasing me at speeds that shouldn’t have been possible. Where could so many people have been hiding and killed in a short time frame? Shaking my head to abandon the thoughts my focus returned to driving. Driving in reverse was not my strong point and it didn’t take long before I hit some cars abandon in the street. Unbuckling from the jeep I scrambled to exit, eyes scanning for where to take a stand and my fright so potent that I mistook the roar of a bike with the racing of my own blood thrumming in my ears. The sharks had shadowed me, despite my urging them to stay behind at KSAT TV.

I didn’t wait to hear disapproval on how I was foolish but threw myself behind a large shark hugging him. He peeled out and started to circle the block. The zees broke in confusion, a portion charging into my jeep and climbing inside. They seemed to be attacking the jeep it’s self when I looked behind me, tearing at the seats and parts within. Swallowing hard I watched as a smaller number pulled from the bulk and continued to chase after me and the Sharks on bikes.

No longer in control in direction or fate I could only watch, but much like fish schooling the sharks seemed to work together on instinct guiding their bikes up to the steps of Bluetone Productions. The doors threw open and they didn’t pause but raced straight into the building still on the bikes. The roar of engines echoed in the lobby and the slick surface sent the bike I was on sliding on its side dragging both me and the rider along until we hit the wall on the far side by the elevators. Behind us people were barricading the doors again while others rushed up to help us out of the wreckage of the bike. A few seemed hesitant or fearful of the Shark but they pulled us free none the less. I sat there in a daze staring towards the doors that soon had fists pounding against the boarded windows from the outside. It took Thomas James two or three times to get my attention before finally I looked up at him. “Hello, good to see you’re with us again. I’m Thomas James and might I say as rescues go this wasn’t exactly what we had in mind. You okay? You hit your head, or broke your leg?” Gingerly I flexed my leg and shook my head negative. It was sore, bruised and probably cut up but not broken. “Great, then let’s get you all upstairs. Jammer’s going to want to see you.”

Standing seemed difficult, and I stumbled a few times attempting it before one of the Sharks got impatient and scooped me up. I didn’t resist but stayed quiet while we walked three flights of stairs and into what was a radio station with all the equipment one might expect. The next figure to approach holding a cup of hot tea for me and I recognized the moment she spoke. “About time we had someone new to interview, please,” Lone Wolf continued, “drink. I put a shot of whiskey in there to help calm your nerves.“ I gave a grateful grin and started to sip the tea as Thomas replied.

“I wouldn’t bother with an interview I think this one’s a mute.”

The sharks snickered at that idea and one of the laughed, “As if we were so lucky. You get her started and she won’t shut up.” I narrowed my eyes at them and contemplated flicking the tea in their direction. Likely the only thing that stopped me was the thought of wasting the whiskey.

Finding my voice I finally spoke, “Ezekiel sent me. He was worried since you’ve gone dead on the airwaves. I didn’t pick up your broadcast until I was about a mile away.”

Lone Wolf swore under her breath and gave Thomas James a worried look, “Jammer is going to be so pissed off.”

“I’m already pissed off. What’s going to have me even more pissed off than how pissed off I already am? The FCC decided to fine us for indecent speech on zee head splatter? They can kiss my ass!” My eyes turned to look at Jammer, an angry looking man with a rifle.

“Jammer, no honey nothing as mundane as the FCC, it’s the broadcast, it’s not reaching outside the city. Everyone who can hear it is already inside the building other than the dead rocking outside and their keepers.” My ears perked up at the term keepers.

“What happened here? Those are fresh dead, they are way too fuckn’ fast!” My eyes flickered between the two radio hosts.

Jammer rubbed the back of his head, “about four… shit five days ago now, two trucks with the full rigs pulled up into the street. We were thrilled, figured it was supplies. Worse case bandits we could pop off and take their gear. Only what came out wasn’t living. These fuckers in black robes came to the back and opened up the doors. They walked right up to the front doors and got down on their knees. The bastards just stayed there while all these dead poured out of the rigs and ran for them. Now I’m not shitting you, they didn’t even cry out when they got torn to shreds. Then all the dead were there trying to get in. We barricaded our doors best we could after that, but it was dicey for the first few days.”

“Next thing we know the rigs started to move off leaving the dead behind but that wasn’t the real betrayal.” I could hear the loathing in Thomas James voice, “While we were all dealing with the unexpected visitors knocking on the doors, windows and walls of the building, the drivers of the rigs sent grapple hooks up to our dish. They pulled out and tore it down, crippling our signal. We’ve been trapped inside ever since and they left us here.”

I sipped the tea thinking over the scene. It could only have been the Cult, though that begged the question why? Obviously they didn’t like a radio signal they couldn’t control. “So you’re screwed then? The tower is completely down?”

Jammer’s grin held a hint of manic need within, “Oh we’re not completely dead sweet heart. See the dish tore off but the tower stayed up. We just need a new dish and Thomas James here, he can reattach. He’s the one who’s been keeping us on the airwaves so far and he’ll get us back up and running.”

“Yeah honey, that’s if we don’t starve out here first.” Lone Wolf’s tone held a hint of hope, her eyes on me.

I muttered under my breath, “So we need to get past a horde, get supplies, get a new dish,” Thomas James helpfully broke in.

“We can get a dish from the radio station across the city. It’s all shiny waiting to be picked up.”

“Get a new dish,” I repeated, “all without joining the friendly flash mob out there.” My hand raised to run over my head, “No problem, give me a couple minutes to think. I’d hate for Ezekiel to think I cheated him out of his fuckn’ story!”

  • Safe House:Bluetone Productions
  • CVC Level: 8
  • Current Recorded Members: 24
  • Overall Opinion:Bluetone was a first for me in that my opinion was formed on them before I had a chance to speak to a single member for any real length of time. This is odd for me as I try very hard to not use the words of others to judge a group, but in this case it was hard not to. It began with me lamenting how I hadn’t gotten to Bluetone yet. I had decided early on that they would be featured as my TV station, but then KSAT was formed and took their place. I knew how I would link them together and the progression to a radio station was smooth, but as these parts of the story were weeks away it pushed back Bluetone’s date further and further. The friend who listened to me talk about this started to tell me his opinion of Bluetone starting with their history. I learned how they are an old Safe House within the game and many a level 51 has passed through their doors. From that I noted that they may be a transition house, a place to level up in comfort before joining safe houses that deem themselves as “serious”. But as I talked to others and in the course of conversation brought up Bluetone something struck me as odd. Not a single person outside their safe house had a bad thing to say about any of them. Not one. It was practically unnatural. This week I spent a fair amount of time lurking, listening and chatting with members. I discovered that they have kept their core membership. People who have left told me that of all their travels Bluetone is the most fun group and the one that keeps them laughing and encourages them to have ties back to their original home. I’m not just talking random players here, but players from known houses such as ATCO, Grind House, ATCO Centre, Rite Aid and others gave me glowing recommendations about Bluetone and further encouraged me to feature them as soon as possible. It’s not uncommon for people to hear of a rival safe house being featured and telling me that they are excited to see what gets said, but to have so many from so many houses talk about Bluetone in such terms was very neat in my eyes. To my delight, the glowing recommendations were well deserved from the time I’ve spent within their chat rooms. I want to thank Jammer for providing this week’s radio selection (located on the left side bar). I’m hoping to continue with his selections from time to time.
  • Communications: Palringo Room (Contact within CVC or Forums for exact locations), Safe House Chat, CVC Global Chat for Safe House invites (1/2 fees when invited),  Please Stay Calm Forums.

“Where do I even start to explain my feelings about Charles and how we met? It had been a year ago at the beginning of the fall, the start of the frost. The initial horror of the turning event, the outbreak that had swept the globe, had faded and we were all focused on survival. There were days running ahead of shuffling crowds of zees, a time when they still moved with near-human running speeds – the rot barely setting in many of the less mutilated. Unlike now, where their rotting frames slow them down and it’s sheer overwhelming numbers that besiege us. Nights were spent huddled together with the living, watching each other with suspicion of outbreak signs. Some still held out hope of a cure and would hide any infections to the devastating effects upon those of us who sheltered them. My vocal sarcasm had earned me the right to lead a group to my chagrin. The burden weighed heavily on my shoulders and I felt completely unprepared to be responsible for so many lives when my own was in total flux. Recent memories of what I had done to survive pulled at me and caused nightmares during the few hours I was able to sleep those days. No don’t ask – I won’t discuss what I did in the starting days.

“Joseph’s wife was nice. You know, one of those people that you describe as sappy nice. She always was seeing the bright side of people. She used to make me laugh at times that weren’t appropriate because of the irony in her sunny disposition despite some of our most desperate moments. Like when I would despair that I had scavenged for an entire day but found no food for the group, she would talk about how before the outbreak she could never find a diet that worked for her. Stupid humor, you know? Things that weren’t funny but that left you either laughing or crying. Maybe it was her delivery but she always brought a smile to my face.

“His son was very angry all the time. I think somewhere in their dust he had left behind a girl friend and carried the youthful guilt of lost love. Only our lost loves now haunted us among the dead. We looked for their faces in every zee we put down. I remember that he had a very vindictive expression anytime he was able to end a zee. I always thought he’d be something of a crusader, or one of those cold eyed mercenary types we see from time to time now, hired guns with loyalty to none but themselves.

“Joseph just seemed like a man desperate to keep his family together and alive. He was grasping at straws following me and not questioning my judgments. Perhaps if I had seemed surer of myself he would have kept with us instead of being seduced away by the words of Charles.

“We had taken shelter at a gas station off a highway exit. There were relatively few people in the area and even fewer zees. Back then, you have to remember, the zees still largely grouped together and chased the masses of living that were fleeing ahead of them. Like game animals driven ahead of people beating the bushes, that slow, ever-steady march taking survivors away from populated sections and towards the sea. I don’t know what they expected to find when they reached the water. Maybe some thought they would swim or that there would be boats left. A few probably thought they would even build boats, which goes to show just how far removed from ‘men of the sea’ they had become. You know, some say life began in the sea, and I don’t know if I buy that line. I do know many lives ended in the sea when the main horde caught up with the living trapped at the beaches.

“That did make things better for those of us who had stayed away from the bulk. We managed to hide from the dead as they passed through like waves flooding the streets. And one day we woke up to find only stragglers and crawlers. Nothing we couldn’t manage. It was only a matter of time before the remaining horde would turn back, wandering and looking for the living to feed upon. That dispersed group was something we all feared, and with winter approaching others were afraid of how we’d hide at night. I had managed to keep my group from using electric heat or lights at night so that we weren’t beacons in the darkness, but that wasn’t going to work for the winter.

“Then that idiot, what was his name? Oh right, Stanley something or other. We all heard the story of how good old Stan trapped his dead wife in his restaurant’s walk-in freezer. We heard how she froze solid and he was able to decapitate her and end her unlife existence. The story spread like the virus itself through the survivor camps. Zees freeze and solid frozen zees are easy to kill. Safe to kill as well because there would be no blood splatter to risk infections. That’s when I heard of Charles, the man with the plan to save us all. He was going to lead us all up north to the snow so that when the winter freeze came we could live without fear. His caravan was considered a Mecca of paradise, supplies, and the living. Every story that was spread about him became wilder and more detailed.

“Charles was working on a cure and was close, but he needed the frozen zees to safely experiment upon. Charles says that the frozen weather will slow down any infection found in the blood. Charles has gathered together scientists, doctors, and all sorts of educated people who clearly believe in him. By the end of it you’d swear some thought Charles could turn water to wine, as if he was some second coming of Christ.

“It was mere chance that his caravan passed us that day, and on finding living he stopped to try and convince us to join him. I think the first thing I noticed was how adoring people were in the way they addressed him or even looked at him. His camper was in the middle of the pack, surrounded by others, and they used CB radios to direct each other. Each camper had snipers on the roof to protect the people, and they were over crowded with the living. The caravan moved at a walking pace as many trailed behind on foot.

“When we approached, Charles greeted us warmly and I felt his eyes scan the group before settling upon me. I don’t know exactly what he saw, but he knew I was leading our ragged group. He sized up the entire dynamic and focused his attention on me with words that sounded promising. I received praise for the work I had done in keeping the group together and alive so far, though there were always hints of doubts in his words and tone. It was if he was truly amazed at my luck rather than ability, and back then my own self-assurance was fragile enough that it began to be broken down. I cannot express how tempting it was to be told that the burden on my shoulders didn’t need to be there. That they had plenty who could take that upon themselves, and I could just become one of the crowds loyally following along behind him. I would be safe, and look at how much good I could do for so many more if I was willing to do so?

“I might have bought it if I hadn’t seen her face. She was young; probably fourteen, and briefly I saw her in the glass of the window behind him, hidden within the camper. I asked about her and for a moment his expression changed. I saw anger that I was questioning Charles, but the flicker was so fast I thought it might have been my imagination. Charles explained how the orphans, children who were lost, often travelled with him because he found their reflections refreshing and full of hope. That expression, ‘children who were lost,’ somehow didn’t seem to require their parents being dead. It was a whole brand new definition of an orphan which Charles had a great deal of philosophical ideology on.

“Disquiet came to me not just from his words but also from how accepting his followers were in them. What I had seen in that girl’s expression wasn’t hope. Charles further went on to explain how he helped council those who had been traumatized by what they had seen. There was a force in his voice as he spoke about his actions and I listened to him praise himself for the first time.

“Previously, he had stood back and let others do the talking for him. There had been a benevolent smile on his face, and an encouraging nod when others told us how wonderful Charles truly was. And his followers treated his smiles and nods as if they were blessings for saying the right words. Yet to hear him talk about himself was something entirely different. Charles had crossed the line from leader to savior before his time. He was already certain of his own sainthood and that he single-handedly would save the world.

“I don’t know what my expression was, but Charles saw something he didn’t like. Maybe the conman had seen he’d lost his mark with me, because that’s when the speech changed. Openly, he belittled what I had done and the losses we had taken. He exposed – or seemed to expose – my weaknesses, including pride and inexperience. He promised the people with me that they would be safe. Joseph saw a new straw to cling to, this one seeming to be stronger, sturdy, and unbendable.

“Within ten minutes, his family had packed up the few things they had with them and joined the caravan. We sat on the roof of the gas station and watched the caravan move on. It took most of the afternoon, all the while heading north to some promised safe place that Charles had told his followers he knew of. I never saw any proof that they survived until now. This is Charles. This is his picture. He is the one leading the Cult. I don’t know what happened when he went north, but there’s something about straw that doesn’t bend. It breaks. Something up North happened to change him to this and I need to find him.”

I finished my speech and drew in a slow breath, watching Ezekiel’s expression. He had been fairly quiet through my entire speech. “He definitely sounds like a dangerous man. We will publish this image on the station but we will do it my way.” I started to protest but Ezekiel’s tone left no room for argument, “My way, Chyram. His picture will be shown as a person of interest upon whom we are seeking information. I won’t say exactly who or what at this time. Not until we have either a better image of him, or more concrete information. I won’t cause a panic to people who are starting to heal. All calls and information will be directed to the station and then sent to you. Your connection to this image will not be broadcast at this time, but we are holding onto the right to break the news on that story later.”

He paused to pick up the image of Charles again and study it before saying, “One final thing: There’s something we need you to do for us. Don’t worry, it’s right up your alley anyway, with your hero complex.”

I made a face at that statement. This world worked on barters. You want something, you give something, and if you don’t have goods it’ll be based on your skills. Why were my identified skills in public viewing that of being a hero? I sure as hell didn’t want to become a legend, since there was only one way for a hero to do that – die.

“Name it.”

Or maybe my skills weren’t that of a hero, just someone who was stupid enough to not be able to say no to any request for help?