Fading hope (Pt. 3)

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I didn’t know when I fell asleep, nor could I tell if the sun was up. No way of keeping track of time these days other than what the sky looks like. After huddling myself in the corner of the room, I had settled in for the night. Once I woke up was when I started moving again.

No morning ritual for me this time. I wasn’t safe enough to drop my guard. Sleeping was the only time my guard truly dropped. Being in a locked room and growing up in this world desensitized me from plenty of scenarios that keep others from sleeping.

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The stench from the bucket I dumped had filled the room but was not as bad as it was on the other side of the door. The contents of the bucket I used would gross any decent person out, but for a Scavenger it’s like a saving grace. A blend of urine, fecal matter, and other additives that produce the most god awful smell that deters Infected. Not all Scavenger Dens have them, but the ones used more often do. I was surprised that the bucket here still had something inside. Sometimes my luck goes too far. I count myself lucky that Lady Luck dotes on me.

Opening the door, I quietly listened to hear if there was anything in the building with me. Not a sound could be heard. The stench indeed filled the space making me gag as I climbed up to the roof access. The destruction left in the Alphas’ wake was evident. The railings were bent and broken more than I remembered and could point out the new claw marks along the walls and floor. Even the metal latch smashed into the floor was bent out of shape as sunlight streamed down upon it. No easy feat for a non-Infected person but concerning for the other.

The ladder was almost intact, but I had to jump to reach the first durable bar to climb out into the daylight. Seeing the sun shining high in the sky brought some measure of comfort. I survived the night but had to keep going. Forward was the only way to deal with life threatening moments.

The day had progressed as I backtracked my way to the building I was scavenging. On the roof top I considered heading down inside to see if my tool was intact but knew better than to test my luck any further. I had left five bags on the roof top. One had been ripped apart but looked like it was in the way of an Alpha rather than it being purposely destroyed. The other four bags were already stuffed so I was piled the scattered goods into the torn back and left it just inside the doorway.

Peering down the dark hallway made me think of how lucky I was to be alive. I could have easily joined my parents in death and have my name crossed out on the Scavenger’s Wall. A long stretch of concrete etched with the names of countless Scavengers who’ve lived the life and died in the process. When a Scavenger dies, a small ceremony is held, and their name has a line carved through it to signify their demise. My name has been on there longer than many who joined the guild at the time I did.

With the four duffle bags weighing me down, I proceeded towards the direction of home. The sun moved faster than I was while making my way back to Serenity. My trip back was uneventful as daytime is vastly safer than night. By the time I could see the tall blend of wood and metal walls wrapped in barbed wire, the sun had dipped past its zenith and was coming close to the evening.

Seeing healthy people again always gave me slight relief. Knowing I wasn’t alone in this wretched city made me feel better each time I returned to civilization. I say “slight” as a number of survivors are cruel people while the kind ones died off leaving few honest good citizens left. Not to say everyone is a bad, but to clarify that everyone looks out for themselves even when part of a collective. There’s no room for sympathy when death can come by the hands of Infected or your neighbor.

Coming up to the main entrance, I stopped to check in with the guards. Two were stationed at the metal double doors garbed in armor made by “modern” smiths with blunt and sharp weapons at their sides. From above were other guards with handmade bows and arrows looking down upon those coming and going from the city. Their purpose is obvious, to stop the Infected and any other threat that may wish to destabilize the community.

“Halt,” one guard ordered. “Present your ID and state your business, handsome.”

I looked at him for a brief moment. The guard was looking at me with a slight smirk to his face. Even his friend was looking similarly at me. I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. Humanity has become more provocative seeing as you never know when you’ll screw for the last time.

I dropped two of the bags from my body to fish my ID out. A flimsy booklet stitched together from farm skin and crappy parchment was in my hand. “Kit Harling.” I handed the guard the booklet. “I’m a resident and Rank Two Scavenger.”

“Rank Two?” The man flipped the booklet open. His eyes flicked back and forth between me and the contents of the booklet. “Look a little young to be a second rank Scavenger. Haven’t seen your cute face before either.”

I kept the chuckle from escaping my throat and chose to say, “I can say the same. Sergeant Jameson is usually working the gates during the day.”

The man’s sultry expression changed as he said, “Sergeant Jameson died three days ago along with his companion. We’re their replacements. I’m Sergeant Lance and this is Corporal Peters.”

That news caught me off guard. Sergeant. Jameson was an experienced soldier in Serenity’s guard. “Oh, well that’s unfortunate.” You never know who you won’t see returning from a scavenge. A downside of being a Scavenger. “Nice to meet you, I guess.”

“Shouldn’t a Scavenger of your rank know this?” The other guard, Corporal Peters, asked. His own hungry expression had changed with the downturn of the conversation.

I looked at him and tried not to sound like I was gloating, “I’ve been scavenging in Downtown for four nights.”

“Four nights?” The man’s eyes narrowed at me, “Most Scavengers can’t even handle a single day out that way. You must be pretty badass.” That telling look came back to his face like I just went up on his attraction meter.

“Wait,” Sergeant Lance was now looking at me without sexual intent, “You’re that Kit?”

I shrugged my heavy shoulders, “Is there another Scavenger named Kit?”

The guard slapped his buddy’s shoulder, “Dude this is the Kit Harling. You know, the Bane of Downtown?” He didn’t even wait for a response from the Corporal as the man’s brows shot up into his hairline. “I’m glad I pieced that together.” He handed me back the ID and proceeded to say, “We’ve got orders to direct you to meet with Major Richards immediately.”

My own eyebrows shot into my hairline, “What? Major Richards wants to see?”

“That he does,” Corporal Peters confirmed. “We’ve also been instructed to relieve you of your latest Scavenge.”

At that I got defensive, “Hold on now, I need to take credit for this.”

Sergeant Lance laughed with a smile, “Don’t worry, handsome. You’ll be credited for your drop. We’ve got strict orders and to reassure you, the Scavenger’s Drop is expecting your haul.”

As highly unusual as this was, I couldn’t argue with them. “Okay then. Well, have fun carrying these there.” Orders are orders so I dropped the rest of the bags where I stood and put my ID away. “There are four bags. I’ll be making sure all where checked in.” I warned them for good measure.

Sergeant Lance nodded respectfully, “Understood. Better meet with the Major. He was very explicit on seeing you as soon as possible.” The two guards stepped aside and beckoned me towards the gates. “Sorry for the mix up. Maybe we can make it up to you some time.”

I couldn’t help the blush from coming to my face. “Obey your orders and I might just entertain you both.” With a devilish grin I proceeded through the gates. Their eyes definitly watched me till the gates close.

Serenity is exactly what you would imagine being a community run and occupied by civilians. Out of the three remaining societies in Nova, Serenity was the most fertile, making its trade in food its greatest asset. Homes and buildings were expanded upon with crude construction. Everywhere you looked there were plants growing in all manner of containers. It was blissful walking the streets of Serenity feeling like you’re in a fairytale garden city.

The people are friendly enough too. Sure, they have their flaws, but for the most part they are more wholesome than the other communities. Our leader, Major Richards, was just as kind as he was strict. Not many leaders are capable of maintaining that when presiding over a population that can turn on itself the moment the water runs dry or the crops fail.

Making my way to the Command Center, I beelined through the large building that was once used as a luxury apartment complex. It was the center of Serenity standing no taller than three stories high. It was built to cater to the excessively rich with monthly rates that would make you vomit. Or so the old folks say.

Heading through the building, the extravagant décor was all but ruined by now. There were some renovations to make it more appealing, but one can imagine how a luxury hotel could look after a zombie apocalypse and being retrofitted as the heart of Serenity.

I checked in with the various guards posted about as I made my way to the Major’s office. At his door, I informed the guard posted outside of the Major’s expectation of me. I was let in without a word, but definitly caught a wandering eye as I entered.

Behind a large oak desk sat a man garbed in a tattered suit and tie. A fashion from the old world Major Richards just couldn’t let go of. As nice as he dresses, the man never shied away from getting his hands dirty. Unlike most leaders, he finds the time to participate in community service. Every once in a while, residents can find him seeding patches of soil with his dress pants rolled up or elbow deep in a cow’s behind making sure the next generation will be conceived.

Noticing my entrance, the man stood from behind the desk and walked around it. “Kit! So glad you’re still alive.” He came in for a hug that I reciprocated willingly.

“Thanks,” I said almost burying my face in his wide chest. Major Richards and I had a past that is rarely repeated these days. “I’m luckier than others.”

The man pulled back and looked down at me solemnly, “You heard about Sergeant Jameson?”

I nodded and pulled away from him, “Yeah, I bet his wife is devastated.”

Major Richards sighed heavily, “She is. More so now that she’s pregnant.”

My heart sank, “No, really? Did he know?”

He shook his head, “She was going to surprise him, but…” he didn’t finish the sentence but didn’t need to. It was obvious.

“Fuck, I’ll have to pay my respects.” I stared blanky at the floor for a moment before shaking my own head. “Ah – anyway, you wanted to see me?”

The major noticed my topic change and went with it. “I did! I have a special assignment for you.” He turned and proceeded back behind his desk to riffle through the many pages of thick parchment scattered across it.

“A special assignment? Don’t tell me you want me to deliver a package of rare herbs to Saints villa again? I escaped some rather violent Rogues last time.”

“I do apologize about that. The squad assigned to those types of radicals are doing their best to wipe them out, but they keep using the Infected to get away. Sickens me that they would weaponize the Infected against their fellow man.” He stopped fishing through the pages and held one up. “Here we go.”

“I recognize that insignia.” I saw the symbol of crossed swords in front of a rising sun dawn on the back of the page.

“Figured you would,” the major smiled. “From the Lord Commander himself at Fort. Dawn.”

“The hell does he want this time?” I crossed my arms, “More grain to fatten his men?”

The major shook his head, “On the contrary, he wants to divvy out resources.”

I frowned at him hard, “What? What’s that supposed to mean? Are they wanting to merge with Serenity?”

He laughed at me, “Stop making assumptions, Kit.” I held my hands up and stayed quiet so he could explain the assignment. “Lord Commander Shaan has requested for us to send a Scavenger to their Fortress for a joint operation.” He kept going even as my interest showed on my face. “Aparently he’s acquired information on a lost military deposit of imperishable goods.”

My jaw dropped, “No fucking way. He has to be lying.”

The major smiled genuinly, “He’s not. The lord commander has been very forth coming about the details of the deposit. There is a problem with its location though.”

As exciting as this was, I knew I wasn’t going to like where he was about to say the drop was. “Don’t you dare tell me where I think it is.”

His expression shifted to something akin to uncomfortably confirming my fears. “It’s under the abandoned Radical complex. In Downtown…”

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