Into The Dead Zone, Part I


avi_icon.gif claire2_icon.gif nick2_icon.gif richard2_icon.gif

Scene Title Into the Dead Zone, Part I
Synopsis Wolfhound sets off on a journey to the west coast in search of the risen dead.
Date April 16, 2018

Rural Pennsylvania

April 16th, 2018

9:14 am

Wolfhound’s most memorable vehicle is the Tlanuwa, a state-of-the-art prototype jet stolen out from under the nose of the Mitchell Administration during the civil war. What’s less known is their armored land vehicle, codenamed the Katsch. This tank-like SUV can fit up to twelve passengers in snug confines, which makes it a luxurious means of conveyance for just four people and two weeks’ worth of supplies.

Three hours ago the Katsch had set out from the New York City Safe Zone, now roaring down Interstate 80 in the middle of Pennsylvania just outside of Bellefonte. In the driver’s seat, Avi Epstein has insisted on taking first driving shift, which is set to end in just under an hour from now. Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire plays softly on the radio, and beside him Nick Ruskin sits in the passenger seat with a paper map folded out in his lap. One row behind, Richard Ray has an entire bench seat long enough to lay out across all to himself, and behind that in another row Claire Bennet has the back of the Katch to herself. The cargo space in the final row is packed full of supplies in plastic crates.

Outside of the Katsh’s armored windows, this unlikely team has watched the signs of the civil war gradually fade away, as though they were traveling into the distant past. Gone are the ruins of Manhattan, the crumbling architecture of New Jersey and outying ghost towns. They come to appreciate just how unusual the Safe Zone is, that it is an island of civilization amid hundreds of abandoned cities all across the Atlantic coast.

But in rural Pennsylvania it looks like nothing has changed. Farmlands spread out as far as they eye can see in either direction along the roadside. Silos, red barns, hedgerows, and sparse forests give everything a pastoral feeling. The light, drizzling rain still casts everything with a somber gray hue, but everything here feels alive; nothing lays in ruins. It sets a precedent for the journey they’re undertaking, and the many miles they have to go before they reach the Dead Zone.

Even though she has a whole bench seat for her to sprawl out on, Claire has wedged herself to one side of the seat; huddled in her grey hoodie, with the hood half up. Her slightly unkempt blonde hair sticks out a little messily, but doesn't hide the lengths of thin white cords that end at the buds tucked into her ears.

She is in her own world - her own little bubble - and has since the start.

Even before… ever since she ran into Gabriel and was gifted the picture that may very well show her death. The picture in question was currently stowed away in her gear. The regenerator didn’t trust her teammates enough to leave it in her bunk, the snoopy lot they were. The same reason is why there was a bone knife tucked into her boot. Somethings you just don’t leave for others to find.

With her shoulder and temple rest against the cold glass of the window, Claire is not paying attention to what was going on in the vehicle. The world outside is reflected back by a pair of aviator sunglasses perched on face. Behind them blue eyes watch the passing scenery with mild disinterest. Arms wrap around her bent knee, hugging it lightly, where she has it perched on the seat; while the other is stretched out, her foot bouncing to whatever song is playing in her ear.

She is such a good travel companion.

There's a part of Richard Ray that was quite pleased to leave the suits and ties behind and instead pull on a pair of BDUs, combat boots, and an old Slusho! t-shirt where his sisters can't give him that look when they see him out of corporate uniform. You can't drink just six! is declared in faded red words below the logo of his shirt.

It's probably a fairly large part, if he were being honest.

He's sprawled back on the bench, fleece-lined flight jacket wadded up to serve as a pillow for his head, reflective pilot’s sunglasses matching the aerial theme that he's got going there pushed up over his forehead and into his hair. He's holding a mil-spec tablet - which is to say, it's a perfectly normal tablet with an extremely sturdy case - and he's flipping through some records as they drive, occasionally pausing to read something that catches his eye.

"You doin' alright up there, Pentacles?" A call from Richard, making sure that Avi hasn't fallen asleep. It’s something he's suggested - tongue in cheek, of course - that the older man might do.

The picturesque countryside reflects in the fourth set of aviator lenses in the car. It’s like Nick York slash Nick Ruskin is slowly morphing into the older man beside him, following in the footsteps laid out for him so many years ago. Avi’s not CIA these days, but Nick is — he hasn’t gotten a cool nickname yet.


He snorts slightly when something outside the window catches his eyes, and murmurs “So much depends upon…”

And sure enough, there’s a red wheelbarrow with white chickens in a field to his right.

He glances in the rear mirror to Ray, then back at Avi with a smirk. “Yell when you need to stretch your sciatica, mate, and one of us will drive, yeah?” Since he’s not trying to blend in with locals, his East-End accent is at the forefront.

“If you two keep trying to shove me into an old folks home I'm gonna pull the fuck over and make you walk,” Epstein grouses with a glance at Nick and a look fired into the back via the rear view mirror at Richard.

Once that's made abundantly clear, Avi makes an uncomfortable noise in the back of his throat. “I'm just glad traffic isn't what it used to be out here. ‘Cause I can't see shit on one side,” he admits with a lopsided smile before jerking the wheel and intentionally swerving into the other lane. “Uh oh, I think I'm having a geriatric fit! Someone get my Metamucil!”


“Ow… son of a… God dammit, Epstein!”

A blonde topped head pops up — she’s short okay!?! — from behind Richard’s seat. The mirrored lenses are flipped up to sit on top of her head…. All so that Claire can give the old man a good glare, while rubbing the side of her head. If the look in those blue eyes could kill… all three of them would be dead. “What. the. Hell?” The earbuds are yanked out so she can hear him, Richard might be able to hear music, since she had it turned up so high. “You’re lucky, you’re old… cause if I kick your ass, I might get arrested for elder abuse.”

Too bad Eve isn’t around… clearly Claire needs a Snickers bar.

“Oh shit— “ A hand slaps down against the seat’s back, Richard’s fingers curling in to keep himself from tumbling off the bench to the floor of the vehicle. “They’re gonna take your license away if you keep this up, Epstein. Then they’ll put you in a home, and you’ll end up in some weird december-december romance with an old widow or something.”

He saw it in a movie once, he’s pretty sure.

Once they’re stable again, he’s shifting to sit up, head turning to look out the windows. “Huh. Go figure, the Pennsylvanian Dutch came back. I guess the meek really do inherit the Earth.”

“Jesus,” Nick says, rolling his eyes and reaching up to grab the ‘oh-shit’ handle as he suddenly finds himself lurching toward the left. His other hand pushes himself back toward the right by shoving against Avi’s seat.

“It’s not our fault you’re old,” he adds helpfully, straightening the map that’s gotten a bit crumpled in all the motion.

“But now you’ve mentioned it, are you supposed to be driving? Traffic’s not the issue.” Stalled cars, boulders, and other debris might be. “And you don’t need any Metamucil. You’re already full of shit.”

Flashing a smile to Nick and the others, Avi pulls the Katsch back on the road. “Who said I even have a license?”

He does. Hana made him get one.

Badlands National Park

South Dakota

April 17th

7:37 pm

Yesterday ended on a somber note, rolling into the fire-eviscerated and bomb-shattered ruins of Chicago. That desolate city of ghosts was like the ruins of Manhattan sprawled out on the shores of one of the Great Lakes. Wolfhound and their accomplices slept in the Katsch that night under a crumbling overpass, while cold wind howled through abandoned buildings in a metropolitan sprawl lost entirely to the war.

Today they stand in what might as well be another world. The Katsch is pulled over on the side of the road, a spur off of I-90 on their way to their destination in Deadwood. But the vista here meant they had to stop, even if just for a few minutes, to take it all in.

Sprawling beyond the road, the Badlands National Park is a colorful series of crimson rock formations with visibly strata cutting through them. Spilled between these high hills are stretches of forest, rivers, and lush greenery that shows no sign that the war ever happened or even that society ever existed. Sunset light spills down from the west, painting the hills and mountains gold and carmine while the horizon is a swath of blue and purple.

Seated on the hood of the Katsch, Epstein has a sandwich from the cooler in one hand, taking time to eat dinner while the team looks out over the unspoiled natural beauty that still covers wide swaths of America, places where the war never happened, places out of time.

He isn't the only one sitting on the hood. Claire sits cross-legged at the edge of it, blue eyes lost on the splendor. Reaching up, she pushes her sunglasses up on the top of her head. They act a little like a headband taming the wild locks of straw colored hair that shift with the evening breeze. Straightening her back from where she was slouched and elbows resting on her knees — she turns her head to look at the eldest of the three men.

“Bet the stars look amazing out here at night,” Claire comments thoughtful, it is really the first thing she’s said since they stopped. She takes a moment to glance upward only briefly before turning back the the sunset before them.

There was at least one piece of gear that Richard packed that wasn’t exactly meant for the mission itself. When they stopped to enjoy the view and dinner, he unpacked a high-end camera and tripod, and has it set up not far from the Katsch on a flat piece of rock to take some pictures of the view.

He’s been a city boy all his life, but he can appreciate beauty where he finds it.

Straightening from the camera, he slants a glance back towards the vehicle and the others, calling a casual suggestion, “Hey - group shot, to remember the trip by?” Half of them are on the hood already, after all.

Nick’s sitting on a rock, knees bent, elbows on knees, staring out at the landscape — or sleeping, it’s hard to tell. The view is reflected in miniature in his glasses. But he turns his head at Claire’s comment and gives a nod, lips twitching into a small smile.

“You can see the Milky Way, if there’s no clouds, places like this,” he says, before turning to Cardinal’s suggestion. Group photos are not something he has a lot of experience with — not since schoolyard days back in London.

“It may not be something we want to remember,” he quips wryly.

Laughing to himself, Epstein finishes his sandwich in enormous bites and waves at Nick. “C’mon get your ass over here,” he says with his mouth full, “I ain’t been in a group photo of four crazy assholes since the Royals did a tour of the Stan, so I suppose it’s about time.” Though Epstein doesn’t make any attempt to move from his place on the hood, he does at least have the presence of mind to wipe the sauce from the sandwich from the corners of his mouth and straighten his sunglasses.

There is a touch of reluctance from Claire as well, but there is something in Epstein’s enthusiasm that makes her relax a little. “Fine….” she sighs out. “Only for you, old man.” That said she reaches up and flips down her aviator sunglasses with a cheeky grin and pushed them up on her face. “Let’s do this.”

Unfolding her legs, she scoots to where her short legs dangle off the hood, so that she can tip her head down to look at Brit. “Come on, Nick. If I’m doing this, you can do it too.” She flashes him a challenging smile.

“Thirty years from now… if nothing else, some’ve us can remember a beautiful night like this with three other crazy assholes,” Richard opins to Nick’s protest, setting up the camera pointing at the hood - adjusting the view - and setting the timer before strolling over to the vehicle, the scenery spilling away behind it as backdrop to the shot.

Mirrored shades are pulled down from his hair, and he leans against the side of the hood, arms folding across his chest as he flashes a rogue’s grin at the camera, “Say ‘cheese’, you beautiful lunatics!”

“Whatever you say, King of Pentagrams,” Nick quips, unfolding his long legs and rising from the rock, before flashing the ‘sign of the horns’ at Avi. He does know the real epithet. He just chooses not to use it.

“At least it’ll keep us from blackmailing each other,” he adds to Claire, as he moves toward the truck; instinct perhaps has him moving to the opposite side to make the picture more symmetrical, with Ray and Nick leaning on either side of the two perched on the hood. The sunglasses are already in place, to make the four of them look like they’re in a strange advertisement for sunglasses. Aviators of course.

“Say cheese, assholes.” Aviators says with a grin, and that's exactly what's said back.




April 18th

2:42 pm

The northern third of the United States was unscathed by the civil war, save for pockets of violence that — years after the fact — are largely disappearing. The stay in Deadwood, North Dakota came with actual beds and separate motel rooms, showers, and hot meals at real restaurants without any hint of food shortages like our east. The next morning, refreshed and ready to continue, they headed west along I-90 across rural America.

It's 290 miles to their next pit stop in Billings, now known as the Last Stop. The five hour drive is just a portion of this 13-hour leg of their journey, and when they get within fifty miles of Billings the approach to the dead zone could not be any more ominous. Road signs are vandalized with red spray-paint graffiti warning Turn Back and There's Nothing Left. It sets a tone that washes away the serenity of untouched wilderness and national parks.

By the time the team hits Billings city limits, that sign too has been vandalized to read:

Where Civilization Ends

Billings is a small city set in rambling, forested foothills in plain view of tiered escarpments and plateaus. The city looks to have suffered considerable fighting during the Civil War, with many of the largest buildings eviscerated by bombings and fire. It was overflow violence from the pitched battle that occurred at Great Falls to the northwest over control of Malmstrom Air Force Base. The nuclear ICBM that struck down in Oregon was launched from a silo just outside of Billings, and the battle here was one waged in a vain attempt to stop it.

But civilization found a way here, where it hadn't elsewhere. Great Falls was wiped off the face of the earth, little more than rubble and graves now. But the survivors fled southwest, and Billings has the auspicious fate of being the furthest west settlement in Montana by affected by the EMP. what grew up in the ruins of Billings isn't the city that was here before, it's something else entirely.

As the Katsch rolls through, there's signs proclaiming Billings: Last Stop for Gas and cautionary red spray paint crossing out highway signs that would lead further west. There's no infrastructure past here, and from the looks of the shanty towns grown in the shadows of demolished buildings, there isn't much left here either.

“Un-fucking-believable…” Avi says from the passenger seat, looking out the window at a shanty town full of some three thousand refugees. He turns to Richard in the driver’s seat and raises one brow. “I feel like we’re on the outskirts of fucking Thunderdome.”

Claire has been silent.

With the sunglasses on, it’s hard to tell if she’s sleeping, her head resting against the cool window. At least until a hand moves to hook fingers on the ledge of the window, giving her leverage to turn her head to watch a group of dirty and ratty looking kids, they pass, play outside their rickety homes. “You’re not kidding,” Claire murmurs, turning back around and resting her head against the window again.

“If we see Mel Gibson… I say we turn around and go home,” Claire grumbles softly. Being stuck in the car for so many day…. She was about ready to be done with driving. “Though if we get stuck here, I think I could pull off the chainmail outfit pretty well…. if need be.” she smirks a little at the thought. “I’d lose the earrings though…” she adds, glancing out of the corner of her eye at the two men seated in front of her, though the look is hidden behind those mirrored lenses.

“I’ll second that you could pull off that outfit pretty well,” Richard observes absently to Claire’s words, one hand lifting to pull the shades down the bridge of his nose and peer over them at the scenery outside the window - watching a painted-over sign as they pass that reads in graffiti-script red ‘THIS WAS THE END’. He tries to drive nonchalant down the road, as if everything was normal.

“On the one hand, we should probably stop for gas,” he muses, tapping the fuel gauge as if to change the levels shown, “On the other hand, I have the feeling that if we do, Lord Humongous and his BDSM goons will show up and invite us for a feast where we’re both guests of honor and the soup du jour. Thoughts?”

Nick’s been quiet too, one ear listening to music via earbud while the other’s empty, in case he’s needed. Fingers drum along the arm rest with whatever the song is, probably NiN or Tool or some other angry music.

The talk makes him sit up and actually look out the window, rather than looking past the landscape and townscape rolling by in that thousand-yard stare he gets in quiet times. “Probably should. Who knows when we’ll get another chance?” he says, noting the sign and its dire warnings that this may be it.

“And Bennet there is more of an amuse bouche, li’l bit that she is,” he says with a smirk, then leans back so she can’t hit him.

“We need to refuel because I don't want to get stuck in Frasier meets Road Warrior. As much as I hear the Guardians are nice, they had Hiro fucking Nakamura as their leader for a while so who the fuck even knows, right?” Epstein folds up the map in his lap and tucks it into his back pocket.

“Besides, it… might be humbling to see how the rest of the country lives. There's a lot of refugees here and no safe zone protections. I sure as shit doubt there's a Billing SESA headquarters.” Epstein looks out one of the side windows, exhaling a sigh as they pass by the collapsed remnants of a hospital.

Small she might be, but Claire is quick… However, even half crawling over the seat, Claire’s open hands swing at Nick’s arm falls short, but just barely. He might feel the tip of her fingers graze past. It is almost comical the way she hangs there half over the seat glaring at him — Not that he can really tell past those sunglass lenses — a hand slapped against the back of the seat to keep her from falling forward over the back… cause that would be weird and awkward.

Though the other two guys in the car, might not have a problem with the view from the otherside.

“Tease me all you want about my size…” Even though the regenerator is trying come across serious…. This is diminished by the fact that she’s hanging over the seat. “But, I am not some bite sized morsel, I’m a goddamn full course meal,” she growls out. “Not that any of you all will ever find out.” Claire would poke him in the chest, if she could just reach… Not that they want too, but… she says it anyway and finally slides back fully onto her side.

Claire goes back to resting her head back on the window with arms crossed this time. After a moment, she sighs out, “I agree. just get the damn gas, Richard.” Though a moment long, it occurs to her what Avi says and her head comes up again… “Did you say… Hiro was the leader?” She gives a soft, ‘huh’ and goes back to looking out the window.

“Hey, hey, back in your seat,” Richard can’t help but laugh as he twists to look back - one eyebrow appearing over the edge of his shades at the view in question. “Nick, you’re playing with fire there. The shotgun surgeon in the back doesn’t use anesthetic, you know.”

It may be a run-down and frankly worrying sort of part of the nation, but he’s still keeping his mood high. Hands back on the wheel he drives towards the supposed Last Gas Station On Earth, commenting, “At one point. I haven’t had contact with the Guardians in about a year, though… hope April’s alright…”

Claire’s antics make Nick laugh aloud, a rare sound amongst strangers, and a sign he’s gotten to feel more at ease with his road trip companions. Her words, though, make his eyes widen slightly, and he lifts his hands in surrender.

“I’m not touching that one,” he says, glancing at Avi with widened eyes, as if making a silent plea for help out of a potentially dangerous situation. But as the conversation grows more serious, he took sobers as he looks out at the ruins of the hospital and the derelict remnants of what used to be a civilization.

“It’s pretty humbling,” he agrees. “Life’s tough even in the Safe Zone, but this is like some deep level of hell,” he says quietly.

The slow and steady sigh Avi exhales is wordless agreement to Nick’s sentiment. He tunes out — as best as he can — the remaining distractions and focuses on the desolation and struggle ahead of him. They’ve far yet to go before they’re able to reach their destination, and their next stop in Spokane is so many more hours past this doorstep to the unknown.

As the Katsch rolls through the ruined settlement of Billings, engine rumbling and turning heads from the survivors eking out an existence on the fringes of civilization, there is yet a long road ahead of them. They may yet return with stories of the fabled Dead Zone and what remains of America within its borders, but there’s still so much of the country that is a mystery again. What befell other major cities lost to the EMP and swallowed by the chaos of war.

Some secrets waiting to be revealed.

Others best left forgotten.

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