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  • #61

    Geoff had been out in Kansas City for a decade. Like a lot of former Silicon Valley folks, he'd become tired of the ever-increasing toxicity of the Valley. Not to mention the cost of living over there had reached ludicrous proportions. If you didn't hit it big by selling your company to one of the big players, you really couldn't afford to live there. KC, on the other hand, was still growing. It had started when Google had brought in cheap Gigabit Internet. That combined with the low cost of living made KC ripe for a tech sector to sprout up, and it did.

    Geoff had known that he didn't want to move there just to start up another social app or streaming start-up. He wanted to do something that'd leave something positive in the community. A Makerspace was the right choice. Once he'd explained the concept of teaching people how to build and fix things, and learning to use tools that'd give them real job skills, he was able to get the permit without any issue. So, the Helping Paw Makerspace was born. It had been very successful. As it turns out, people, in fact, do want to learn new skills. At least, they did, before the virus came along.

    Once the virus hit, things went to hell quickly. Without people to manage and maintain infrastructure, things had ground to a halt. Geoff knew though, that it had only been a year. If he could find enough skilled people, if enough of them had survived, it would be possible to get things started again. Oh, it wouldn't save the world, but it would get the area he was in up and running again. Of course, he'd have to deal with all of the turned first, which meant he'd need more traps, which meant he'd need the power to run the equipment to make them en-masse, which he couldn't do on the solar power of his shop. One thing at a time, he'd already checked the two traps he'd set out yesterday afternoon and both had come up empty. Sometimes they caught one of those turned, and sometimes they didn't. It seemed to him like the first day he set them out they were the least effective, but as the bait got more and more putrid, they became more effective. It made sense, the smell seemed to be what they looked for.

    Geoff's ears perked up at the sound coming from the bypass. It was a sound that he hadn't heard in a good, long time. He grabbed his binoculars from the table and peered out through the bar-reenforced windows of his makerspace. Well, that was a sight, to be sure. Unless the turned had learned to drive and work as a team, he was looking at other survivors! His muzzle turned up into a grin, probably the first he'd worn since this whole thing had started a year ago. Did he dare hope, though? It was almost too good to be true, to spot a group of sane-looking people after a year of chaos. Well, it wasn't likely that an opportunity like this would come along again in the foreseeable future, so he grabbed his backpack and slung the straps over his shoulders. They weren't far, and he could certainly catch up to them. Geoff knew from his years of entrepreneurship, that if you saw an opportunity to make a difference, you seized it. In the past, it had been about the money. Then as he got older it was about making his community better. Now, it was about survival. His own, and that of those other four. He didn't know them, but he knew that if they were out here, they were in the same boat as he was.
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    “Just when you think humanity has found the limits of stupid, they go and ratchet up the standard by another notch.” - Bob

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    • #62

      Mickey was strangely proud of Akio knowing his name, even if it was via his son. The man seemed like a real survivor, a kind of action movie hero. Mickey almost asked for his kid's handle - he'd be unlikely to have heard of it, but he could have pretended to make Akio feel good in return. In the end, though, he thought the tiger might not want reminding of his family stranded in a far away country that he hadn't been able to reach since the start of a global catastrophe. The dog resolved to just smile and nod.

      Akio further impressed Mickey by clambering behind the truck cabin.

      "You know..." he said to Adrian and Tobias, "before today, if a stranger had approached me with a sharp object and told me to cover myself in grease, I'd have probably called for my bodyguards. Funny how things change, eh?"

      -

      Mickey tried to avoid looking at the skeletons when they parked up. He was just about getting to the point where he had repressed the memory of the attack from earlier, his heartbeat returning to a more normal rate, his palms barely sweating anymore. But he couldn't face looking into their dead faces, picked clean by insects and scavengers.

      Like the others, he jumped at practically every rustle and flap of the rubbish littering the place. He kept close to Akio, grateful for the man's advice.

      "So... do they wander at night?" he asked, "is it safer exploring inside at night, or is it about as dangerous whenever you do it?"

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      • #63

        Tobias was mostly quiet for the trip. It hadn't even been that long since the shelter, and already they were finding more survivors. It was a miracle he could only have hoped for in the movies, but he was starting to feel safe for the first time in a long time. Eventually, he found the strength to lift his head up and lean it back.

        "So...huh. They're like bees that get stuck in a car. They can't see glass, they see something else. Maybe that has to do with the smelling stuff they've got?" He was piecing the information together, his head a bit fuzzy after so long. "...yeah, if a stranger had approached me back at the shelter with one of those things, I'd have probably just given up, to be honest. I've been terrified of bandits for months now, even though I haven't seen any."

        As they came to their location, Tobias could feel his heart rate rising, but to what he wasn't sure. All he could think about though, was food. He had tunnel vision for the massive building, struggling to move faster than his emaciated body would allow. "Wait...is it, uh....will it be dark in there...?"

        He pointed forward at the Walmart. His hand was actually trembling.

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        • #64

          Adrian jumped down from the truck, his wings flexing in an instinctive balance movement, before turning to Akio as he explained the behaviour of the creatures.

          “That explains why the one we encountered broke through a door once we caught its attention, and not before,” Adrian muttered, before turning to Mickey, “I’d imagine that they wander in and out of buildings during the night. I believe the best thing to do would be to barricade yourself in at night, and try to prevent them from catching your scent.”

          He turned to Tobias, wincing as he realised that the poor man had nyctophobia.

          “… The back areas, possibly,” he admitted, “The windows will let light into the front areas, but it might not reach the back.”

          He paused for a moment.
          “You should probably grab a couple of knives each,” he suggested, “Go for smooth-edged ones; I saw somewhere that serrated ones are liable to get stuck if you stab with them.”

          He paused to think for a moment.

          “We should be able to pick up bayonets or something similar when we visit the gun-store for ammunition,” he added, “Those would be perfect.”

          With that said, he studied the shops in front of them.

          “Which one first, do you think?” he asked.
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          • #65

            Akio was eying the front of the store as Mickey questioned him about it. His eyes went slowly from window to window, to the doors, paused there, then went back to scanning the large windows that made up the store's front.

            "It would be best if we explored inside after the sun has gone down," he at last answered, turning to look down at Mickey. Akio wasn't a terribly tall tiger, but being one, he was bigger than everyone gathered, save perhaps for Tobias. He topped Mickey by about half a head.

            "If they have a way out, they will use it when night falls. The sun, I think, hampers them in some way, or is perhaps painful to them. I am not sure. I have not been able to discover any evidence for either, but one or the other has seemed so, from what I have seen of them and what they do."

            Akio was then about to respond to Adrian, when everyone's attention was taken by a sudden noise. It wasn't one to cause immediate alarm, no glass breaking, no howls or claws scrabbling, but a sound to jerk everyone's attention to it nonetheless. When everyone turned to the source, they found themselves looking at Tobias. He had collapsed into a bony heap on the pavement. He had fainted dead away, having fallen where he stood, mid word.

            Akio cursed and went to his side immediately - was probably raced there by Mickey and Adrian.

            "He is alive," said Akio after feeling for a pulse. Then, he just looked stunned at the state of Tobias' body. It was emaciated. Almost completely.

            For the last three months, all Tobias had had to eat, was fodder from the few vending machines that were in his shelter. Chips, candy bars, cookies, was all there was. In addition, he had eventually had to start rationing even that poor diet, his hope for continued survival dwindling even faster than the remaining food was. The diet had almost completely destroyed his body. He needed sustenance, real food, and he needed it now.

            Just then, another sound had everyone's attention. Approaching footsteps. When everyone turned to find their source, they found a todd fox, wearing a backpack, approaching them cautiously.
            Last edited by Rick Canaan; 10-06-2018, 06:46 AM. Reason: Fixing up to fit it with Arratra's post
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            • #66

              Adrian nodded in understanding when Akio suggested going in at night, before whirling, startled, when Tobias collapsed. He sprinted to the stallion’s side and knelt to examine him.

              “Dammit, I shouldn’t have let him try to help,” he muttered, chewing his lip, “It’s not just emaciation; he’s likely badly malnourished. I can’t really tell much, though; I’m no doctor.”

              He considered for a moment.

              “As soon as he wakes up, we need to get him to eat,” he said, “Small meals, frequently.”

              He paused, looking up at the approaching fox, surprised, before standing.

              “Hello there! I certainly wasn’t expecting to find another survivor so soon. Or perhaps you found us, eh?”
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              • #67

                As Geoff got ready to head out the door he grabbed the long, inch-thick round steel bar he carried around. Since the day the virus struck, it had been with him. It had helped him survive that first day, and continue to survive the months that followed. He was aware that going up to the group brandishing such a thing might give off the wrong impression, so he stuck it into his backpack and zipped it up. He'd be able to pull it out if need be, as it stuck out of the top, but it wasn't an immediate threat.

                He wore jeans, a t-shirt, and work boots. Worker's clothes. They were also clean. Either the fox could launder clothes, or he had a supply of clean ones. He also carried what looked like a hiker's backpack that seemed to be quite full of stuff. The half a metre long iron bar that stuck out of the top of it was the only thing any of them could see, apart from a water bottle in one of the forward pockets.

                As he got nearer though, he saw the sickly looking horse drop like a sack of potatoes. It was obvious to him that the guy hadn't had much in the way of food lately. He wondered where he had been hiding all this time. Well, he supposed this was all stuff he would learn over time. He sprinted the rest of the way there and knelt down beside the other dragon who was looking down at the horse. Geoff pinched the flesh on the horse's wrist and saw that it took a very long time to return to normal. Signs of severe dehydration. He shook his head.

                "Hey, look. I know we just met. My name is Geoff, by the way. I owned, or, well I guess I still do own, the Makerspace about a quarter mile away. It's also where I currently live. Who are you guys? It looks like your friend there is in a bit of a bad way." he seemed to be quite concerned about their well-being. Geoff had no idea who these fellows were, but he could tell one of them, at least, had been braving the turned for a long time.

                "It won't take but a minute or so to drive over there." Geoff indicated the building by pointing behind him. It was hard to miss. It was the only building that had any light coming from it. In this case, from one of the second-floor windows. "I honestly didn't think I'd see any survivors, let alone run into a group of them all at once. Hmm... Maybe my crazy plan isn't seeming so crazy anymore."

                The fox's ears flicked as he spoke, and his eyes glinted at possibilities that passed through his mind. Maybe with their help, they could all make something happen. First, though, they needed to see to the horse. He looked about two-steps away from the glue factory. Not that any glue factories were still running, but old expressions die hard. The horse needed food, and that was something he could help with.
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                • #68

                  "No shame lies with you," Akio said almost immediately, the remark coming directly on the heels of Adrian's self-recrimination about letting the stallion help. "He could have told you how unwell he was, and I don't think we could have stopped him had we wanted to. He wanted... needed to be part of our group."

                  Which was true enough. Someone that long alone would have been beyond relieved to be with other people again. And natural instinct, especially the herd instinct of those of horses, would have demanded that Tobias had done no less, however he might have felt physically.

                  But then suddenly, Akio was standing up. He had glanced up when he saw the fox approaching from across the parking lot, but had stood on the instant, when he had started running toward them. An instant later, though, found the tiger's stance relaxing. If only just a little, and with hard eyes flicking to the bar of steel which stuck up from the top of the fox's pack.

                  The reason for the relaxation was obvious. This fox, whoever he was, was not one of the monsters.

                  And the fact that he wasn't brandishing the bar, or for that matter, any other weapon, didn't hurt, either.

                  Then it was Akio listening in silence as the fox spoke of the fallen Tobias. His eyes went to the indicated building, he nodding slightly, before he turned to Adrian and Mickey.

                  "I say we go with him," he said. He glanced at the fox, then nodded.

                  "I am Akio," he then added. He gave a short bow. Then, without a word, he handed his ashandarie to Mickey. Mickey would need to grab the thing, lest it fall to the pavement.

                  Then, again without speaking a word, Akio knelt and was then standing again, with Tobias cradled limply in his arms. Tobias wasn't especially heavy, despite being a horse - this from the emaciated state of his body. But he wasn't precisely light, either. Mickey knew he might be able to lift him like that, but it would have probably been a struggle to get him into his arms like that. Adrian may have fared slightly better; dragon musculature tended to be more dense than most any of the mammal species, but he may have had some trouble, as well. Akio had simply stood up with him. Akio had been on his own for the full year, though, and had spent that year on the outside, living by his wits and by hunting. His physique then was nothing short of an athlete's.

                  "You are a predator," he said then to Geoff. "If you have stores, they will be all meat products, yes?" He looked down at Tobias. Despite having known him for only an hour, maybe even less than that, he felt a kinship toward him. To Adrian and Mickey, too, if the glances he gave them was any measure. He then turned his head toward the front of the Walmart.

                  "They come out at night," he said then, it almost a whisper. His face became set. "Danger or no, we will need to go in there." He looked back down at Tobias' limp form. "We need to find him sustenance."

                  Then, without another word, he was heading toward Adrian's truck, Tobias nestled almost lovingly in his powerful arms.

                  Also, if the group thought a little, they would realize that they needed Tobias. Seven-thousand gallons of diesel fuel, just for the taking. But Tobias was the only one of them who knew how to work the locomotives that would bring the fuel. They needed for Tobias to live. They needed him to live because those in Subtropolis, who numbered in the hundreds, needed him to live, too.
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                  • #69

                    He had to have known it was coming. The little amount of food and water had kept his hopes alive for a little while longer, but even a body has limits. His muscles had atrophied into nothing, and he was little more than a hollowed-out husk.

                    He wasn't even sure when he actually fell unconscious. Everything blurred together in his head like a fever dream, shapes and colors fading in and out.

                    All he could do was mutter, his eyes flickering as though in REM sleep. "Don't....I wanna live....please don't eat....me...." Was repeated constantly, his whimpering voice barely making it out. He needed food, and he needed it immediately.

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                    • #70

                      When Tobias fell to the floor, Mickey froze. If not for his wide, panicked eyes, it may have seemed that he wasn't bothered enough to react. In truth, his heart was racing almost as fast as it had when the monster had attacked them earlier. The young dog simply had no idea what to do. It was fortunate that his companions rushed to Tobias' aid, and as they discussed the poor horse's health, Mickey took a few tentative steps closer. That was when he saw the new arrival.

                      "Erm..." was all he managed before the fox was at Tobias' side.

                      Even strangers are more help than me, thought Mickey, still standing like a spare part, doing nothing to aid Tobias. He wouldn't know what to do.

                      Mickey was snapped out of his silent hovering as Akio thrust his weapon into the dog's hands. Mickey nearly dropped it, gasping as he managed to clasp it with a second hand before it clattered to the floor. It was heavier than he had been expecting.

                      Just like the gun had been.

                      "I hope I don't have to use this..." he whimpered to himself as he followed the tiger.

                      As they walked, Mickey edged over to Geoff.

                      "I'm... erm... Mickey, by the way," he mumbled, "nice to meet you."

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                      • #71

                        Geoff nodded to Akio, "Well, meat and whatever I grow on the roof garden or foraged for." he said, his tone was calm, collected, but inside the fox was doing his best to control his giddiness. He hadn't seen people in months, and he doubted very much that having run at them and danced around yelling, "OMG Hi guys!" would have met with a great reception. Besides which, given the way that tiger had reacted, he might've ended up with that blade in his gut if he'd done that. He didn't yet have a good read on these people. The tiger, well it was clear he had been living out here in the open and surviving. He had held that weapon like he knew how to use it. He wondered how it was that he hadn't run into him on his own scavenging runs. Maybe they worked different territories or different timetables. They'd need to talk and get to know each other. Over dinner, he suspected. The horse, he looked like the others had found him recently. Another survivor come out of hiding? That bode well for his plans to continue to exist and get civilization rebooted. The dragon, he wasn't quite sure of. It seemed like he was the leader of this group. A gang? Bandits? It didn't feel that way. Geoff thought he was on the right path with this group, and staying with them would be best for everyone involved.

                        As Akio and Adrian set about getting Tobias into the truck, Geoff gestured to the rear of the building they'd be headed to. "The back entrance is where my apartment is. You might want to drive slowly to get there. I've got a perimeter of traps around the place. Look for bundles of leaves and trash in mounds and drive around them." he paused, "The first floor is the shop and the second is my apartment."

                        Once Mickey moved over to him, he gave the dog a quick glance, taking in his body language and posture. He also smelled out of place. The pup was doing his best in a situation he had no experience in. But, he was making the effort. That held weight with him. He could remember a time when he was feeling the same way, about a year ago when everything went to hell. He guessed that things for the dog had been relatively easy up until now. He knew this was a delicate time for him. Thrust into the role of the gatherer, but having no clue what to expect. The dog needed to be useful and wanted to in the worst way. So much so that he seemed to e beating himself up for not being the first to react to the horse falling. Geoff's vulpine mind was already working on how to remedy that. He had a feeling there was one thing the dog would be more adept at than any of them. That would have to wait until they got to his apartment, though.

                        "I'm Geoff," he answered back, flashing a toothy grin meant to put the dog at ease, "Geoff Carlton. Nice to meet you Mickey..." he paused, hoping Mickey would provide his family name.

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                        • #72

                          Adrian bit his lip when Akio told him that Tobias’ collapse wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t really that sure, but for now he’d just have to push on.

                          “Agreed,” he said, nodding, when Akio advised going with the fox, “He needs food badly, and the supplies in my truck are oriented for my diet.”

                          Adrian was an omnivore, though not an obligate one. He could survive on an entirely carnivorous diet (though nutritionally speaking that was inadvisable), which had reflected on the food that the people in Subtropolis had packed.

                          He hadn’t thought too much about the supplies for Tobias, thinking it wouldn’t take more than maybe a few days at the longest to get the diesel; he’d thought that they would have more than enough food, since the people at Subtropolis had prepared the truck for the worst-case scenario… and perhaps gone a bit overboard.

                          He moved to help Akio carry the stallion, but found that the tiger didn’t need it. He hurried ahead instead, and opened the door to the truck so that Tobias could be laid inside.

                          “Mickey, you’re probably going to have to ride on the outside,” he announced, before pausing, his eyes landing on the basket Denise had given him. He’d pulled it out before, but they hadn’t had a chance to eat it.

                          It would probably help, but this wasn’t a safe place to feed the poor stallion.

                          “We’ve got something here that might help, but we need to get somewhere safe first,” he called.

                          You probably weren’t expecting it to be used like this, Denise, Adrian thought, but your little gift might just save this man’s life.
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                          • #73

                            Denise had packed Adrian a basket, but it had only been with muffins. Also, Tobias had already eaten one of them. They were only sweet muffins, which were just more of what Tobias had been subsisting on for the last months. What he needed was real food, nutritious food. And for a horse, that would be found in the form of vegetables.

                            Also, if they went through the stores that those at SubTropolis had packed for them, they would find canned goods. And only mostly meat products and soups. They had packed for a dragon and a canine, only, not thinking to account for a strictly herbivore. The closest they would be able to come to anything like that, from what had been packed for them, would be a few cans of tomato soup.

                            "I will ride with him back here," Akio announced. He had moved to the very rear of Adrian's truck. There was a wide fantail back there, and even an under-boom which made for an easy step-up for the tiger. Then, under the truck's main boom, there was an empty deck. The deck was one and a half meters by two meters. Diamond-deck, to make for sure footing.

                            Climbing up, with Tobias curled protectively in his arms, Akio sat down with him. He said nothing to Adrian or Mickey, only nodded to them after he'd sat down with the horse. If he did reach to have Mickey hand him his ashandarie back, after he'd gotten himself settled. He would be weaponless without it, and apparently did not want to be without one, all alone in the back of the truck, no matter how short the ride was.

                            Also, this was the first glimpse they got of a pack the tiger was wearing. It looked like a traditional fanny pack, it nestled against the small of his back, in what Adrian thought, was the traditional samurai fashion. Also, it was worthy to note the clothes he was wearing. The cape, for one, green and tattered. But as they got closer looks at it, it was velvet fabric paired with supple leather. Where he'd found it might be anybody's guess. But it had obviously protected him from the slashing claws of the monsters more than once.

                            For pants, he wore jeans, just plain old denim pants. On his feet, he wore a pair of strap-over sandals. They looked worn, almost worn through, but they were secure to his feet and still afforded them some protection. They had flexible outer soles, though, that would afford him nearly soundless movement, if he moved carefully in them.

                            For a shirt, he wore a simple button-down Carhart shirt, black in color. It looked like it was badly in need of a wash and was torn in a few places, but at least it would protect him from the elements.

                            As Akio got his weapon back from Adrian, which he held upright on its butt out next to him, Tobias still cradled in his other arm, he started murmuring something down at the horse.

                            "Ikite iru,-ba,-ba. Shikashi, anata ga pasu suru to, amaterasu - dai Mi - kamui ga anata no tame ni kojin-teki ni kanojo no kitsune o okuru kamo shiremasen..." he stroking the Tobias' forehead tenderly with a few fingers. It had the cadence of a soft prayer, said for Tobias in Japanese.

                            He would glance up after saying this, giving Adrian and Mickey, and Geoff also, a short nod. "I am ready," he said. "We must get him to safety and then bring food for him, quickly."
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                            • #74

                              Seeing Akio set himself up on the back deck of the truck with Tobias, Geoff gestured to Mickey. "I guess we're riding in the cab together, then," he said, opening the passenger side door of the truck and holding it for Mickey to hop in. Once Mickey did, Geoff climbed in after him and closed the door. His ears flicked curiously as he looked around the cab and noted all of the screens and readouts. The truck was electric, so he had suspected some level of technology there, but he was still surprised at just how much was in there. The dashboard looked more like a computer console than a gauge cluster.

                              He nodded to Adrian, "As I said before, those piles of leaves and trash are my traps. I checked them earlier today and they hadn't caught any of the turned, yet." he shrugged, "But, they'll snap shut on anything, so best to avoid them. I see you have spare tires, but I still wouldn't want to cost you one for no reason." Geoff hoped his tone wasn't too familiar or grating. He'd been told that sometimes he just plowed through conversations. He didn't want to do that, here and now. That horse needed help, and with his supplies, he was in a position to offer that help.

                              He also had to admit to himself that he needed this group's help as well. If they were all going to go from surviving for the short-term to getting back to a decent level of society, he'd need all the help he could get. He started to imagine it again, his eyes going a little distant as he did so and his ears swivelling as if he was listening to something far away. In a way, he was. He was hearing the sound of running power plants. Of packets flowing through networks, and of people no longer afraid to face each other. Maybe Geoff was a dreamer, but he believed that he couldn't be the only one. There had to be more like him, like them, this group around the world that had survived.
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                              • #75

                                "Ah, Mackarcy," Mickey said as Geoff prompted him for his surname. Before the fox could respond further, Adrian called out for Mickey to hop on the back. He nodded, and moved to where he had been directed, but before he could clamber on, Akio beat him to it.

                                Huh. He must actually like riding on the back... the dog thought in surprise. He handed over the weapon as the tiger gestured for it, somewhat pleased to be rid of the weight of the thing.

                                Then Mickey climbed into the front of the truck with Geoff just behind him. It was a little unusual how comfortable he was getting with people he had never met before, but he was excited to see that there were survivors. They had already found three, without really looking for them. It gave the dog hope that, somewhere... his father...

                                Mickey shook his head quickly. It didn't do to dwell on that topic. He couldn't let himself think about the possibilities.

                                He tried to distract himself by focussing on Geoff's conversation.

                                "Wait, are you saying they've avoided your traps?" he asked, "Are they clever then? I thought Akio said they'd just keep walking into glass, can they work out traps?"

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                                • #76

                                  Adrian let out a frustrated hiss when he saw that the only thing they had for Tobias was tomato soup.

                                  That wasn’t what he’d been hoping for.

                                  He paused as Mickey handed Akio his weapon, before nodding when the tiger spoke.

                                  “Right,” he replied, moving to the cab and climbing in. He was not going to let someone die on his watch. Not if he could help it.

                                  He waited for Mickey and Geoff to climb in, before keying on the truck. The dashboard in front of him lit up with the electronic gauges, and also some load-status indicators.

                                  “Got it,” he replied to Geoff, “I’ll avoid them.”

                                  He paused when Mickey spoke up.

                                  “Given the way the one we ran into behaved, I can’t see that,” he replied, keeping his eyes on the road, and on the lookout for the traps Geoff had mentioned, “They’re vicious, but… almost mindless. I think it’s more likely that they just haven’t come into the area yet.”
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                                  • #77

                                    Adrian was able to drive to Geoff's building without incident. There was one close call, but this was caused by Adrian's truck's huge turning radius. The truck just had such a long wheel base, that it did very poorly in close-quarters situations. One of Geoff's traps had been set right near a corner that Adrian had to turn around, and it was a dicey business making the turn, without running the trap over. But at length, Adrian had been able to make it.

                                    One thing that might occur to those in the cab, after Geoff described his traps and especially what they were baited with, was that it wasn't that the monsters were avoiding them through intelligence, but because the traps weren't attractive to them enough - not until the bait, usually a large rodent or some other small mammal, like a beaver or a rabbit, had putrefied enough. The monsters were attracted to smells.

                                    Finally, Adrian was coming to a stop where Geoff directed him. Everybody started getting out. A glance up at the sky told them they had about three hours of daylight left.

                                    "I'll bring him up."

                                    It was Akio's voice. He had hopped down, Tobias still in his arms, and had come around to the front of the truck to join up with the others.

                                    He then looked at Mickey.

                                    "You will stay here with him."

                                    The words had the cadence of an order. It hadn't been a request. It wasn't dismissal with which Akio spoke to Mickey, though, but because he felt like Mickey would be safer if left behind.

                                    Safer for Mickey. And for everyone else as well. The lack of experience the youth had was honestly that obvious.

                                    It also bespoke something. Akio was assuming the role of defacto leader of their small group. He held Mickey's eyes with hard, uncompromising eyes when he said what he said. A bit of that look was shared around to everyone else as well, when he had spoken what had amounted to an order. The look did though, give some deference to Adrian, however. And to Geoff. In Geoff, he found a kindred spirit - someone who had survived out here on his own, just like Akio, himself had. In Adrian, he found someone who was just plain capable and therefore worthy of respect.

                                    In Mickey...

                                    Akio cared for the youth, cared about what happened to him, but he knew that if Mickey was among them much longer, he'd most likely have to watch the youth die.

                                    "You will remain with him, also?" he then asked. This was spoken to Geoff.

                                    "I think Adrian and myself will be able to get what is needed."

                                    He then moved toward Geoff's door, pausing only to let Geoff open it for him, Tobias' unconscious form still held cradled in his arms.
                                    Rick Canaan's Signature
                                    A balanced diet is an ice cream cone in each hand - Rick Canaan

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                                    • #78

                                      Despite his unconscious state, Tobias was far from feeling the relief of unconsciousness. Quite the opposite, in fact.

                                      The near-starved stallion couldn't move outside of his dreams, but within them was endless torture. Sprinting in circles. Trying to avoid predators. Desperately slamming doors behind him to stop the monsters chasing him while also leaving his friends behind, the lot of them helplessly being picked off one at a time.

                                      He was left helpless, making pathetic noises as he was locked in paralysis.

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                                      • #79

                                        Geoff blinked, "Mackarcy, you say?" he asked, looking a bit surprised, his eyes widening in recognition. "I sold one of my companies to Mackarcy Industries. Made a very nice exit..." he paused, shaking his head, "Not that that matters much now. Still, back then I was still living in the Valley and still had that mindset." he broke off, seeing Mickey's worried look. Was he related to Mr. Mackarcy? He'd never met the old dog in person, but he'd had a brief video chat with him during the sale process. The resemblance was certainly there. He decided to change the subject to something more immediately relevant.

                                        "They don't really avoid the traps so much as ignore them. It seems like these things hunt by smell, so as the bait I put in them starts to rot the turned start to be more interested in them. They don't investigate them so much as walk right into them. That's when they go off. One set of jaws clamp down on the legs and then a set of sharper ones go for the neck." he shook his head, shuddering at the brutality of it, "It's nasty business that, but until things start to improve here, it's what I've got to do. I don't want those things in my shop or in my apartment."

                                        He glanced out the windshield as Adrian parked the truck, "Ah, we're here." he said more conversationally, "Let's get your friend there some help. I've got something I can whip up that should help."

                                        Geoff disembarked from the truck and went quickly up the stairs, tapping what looked like a smartphone to the door lock. It beeped and unlocked, then Geoff pushed the door open for Akio. He went in himself and flipped on the light switch on the wall. LED fixtures on the ceiling came on at half-brightness, illuminated the nearly completely open-plan apartment. It took up half of the second floor of the building. As they entered, they could see that the apartment was modestly appointed They came in via the living room, as it were, with sofas and a flat-screen home theatre. Off to the far right of the living room was a door that led to the roof stairs. Further back in the apartment was the bathroom, kitchen, and a closet of some sort. It's hard to tell as the door is closed. In the far corner of the apartment, past the kitchen is another doorway, and one can gather that's where Geoff's bedroom would be.

                                        He motioned to Akio to head over to that bedroom and set Tobias on the bed. "Back there, past the kitchen. You can lay him down on my bed. Poor guy is shaking now. I hope it's not too late."

                                        He then looked around to the others, "Won't you stay for a meal? I'm willing to share what I have, and I would really like to know where you're coming from. I've been out and about a lot and never seen you before."

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                                        “Just when you think humanity has found the limits of stupid, they go and ratchet up the standard by another notch.” - Bob

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                                        • #80

                                          Akio shook his head immediately.

                                          "If we are to do this, it must be now. The monsters, they come out after sunset. When it is dark out, they can see figures moving through the night."

                                          This made him glance down at the comatose Tobias.

                                          "We need to bring him what we can now. If we get caught out in the dark, it will not be good."
                                          *****


                                          It had been purist chance. Had he been looking in any other direction, he would have missed it.

                                          A flicker of sunlight off of something moving at high speed down the highway. Just a flicker of it, glimpsed for that one instant, through a gap in a thick stand of trees. But he had seen it. And if his eyes had not deceived him, it had looked like one of those big, heavy-duty tow trucks, red in color with what looked like plates of unfinished metal welded onto it in various places.

                                          That had been an hour ago.

                                          As Ember comes to another stand if trees, his binoculars out, he finds himself looking across a Walmart/Lowes parking lot, at that same tow truck. It is parked next to a smaller building out in the parking lot's north-east corner, by a smaller strip mall that looks like it used to consist of two or three businesses.

                                          There are five people around the truck.

                                          A dragon of some variety. What looks like a black Labrador. A tiger with what Ember can't dismiss as anything other than ratty looking fur. And a fox - the fox wearing what looks like a backpack.

                                          The dragon, the dog, the fox and the ratty looking tiger are all on foot. A fifth person, who looks like a black horse, is being held cradled in the ratty looking tiger's arms.

                                          Four on foot, and a fifth being carried in one of the other people's arms. Someone injured, perhaps?
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                                          A balanced diet is an ice cream cone in each hand - Rick Canaan

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