29th March 2009
It was his second day on the road when he crossed the border from Mexico into United States of America. Checkpoints that were usually guarded by dogs, electrical fences and dour faced guards were left abandoned now. People were moving back and forth across the border with no one giving a damn. The irony was not lost on Father Daniel Leon Ivanov as he left the lonely Via Poniente Highway that soon evolved into Route 5, heading towards San Diego in his slow journey north.
It was the dead of night, which was the best time for an unauthorised and still functioning vehicle to be travelling. Flanking the roads were abandoned cars and other vehicles. In some of them, Daniel spied people taking shelter. Their faces peered through the glass as he drove by, as if surprised to see a vehicle on the move. He had been lucky, the jeep was old and he had been at the Cathedral de Guadalupe on business when the Visitors attacked and after four weeks, decided it was time to head back to San Francisco, where he had left family, unaware if they were alive or dead.
Checking the gauge on his jeep, he pulled into the empty gas station, glancing over his shoulder at the jerry cans in the back. Fuel was a precious commodity and he hoped that the gas station was abandoned. People had become less charitable these days and would rob you if given the chance. Looking around, the gas station was still intact, with clear signs of looting. He heard no sound after he turned off the engine, waiting for a few minutes before finally getting out of the vehicle.
"Someone just pulled in," Mick whispered, nudging both Stevie and Noah awake.
"Shit," Noah grumbled, startled. Shifting, he lifted his head and checked through the window just above the wall he'd been resting against.
"We should have just carried on when we found out there was no gas left here," Stevie muttered. "We won't sleep a wink tonight as everybody's doing the same thing we did. Stopping to refuel."
"Yeah, well, with no damn flashlights, we couldn't get the damn tyre changed so it's not like we had much choice," Mick commented. "We'll get on to it as soon as there's some light."
"Shhh." Noah waved at them both. "One guy coming out."
Mick got out the .44 he'd lifted off some dead cop and moved the twelve gauge shotgun against Stevie's thigh, telling silently to pick it up. "Noah..."
"Yeah, I'm ready." Hidden in the gas station, the trio remained still and waited.
They had lost two band members already since the Visitors had arrived and they had decided to hit the road to head back towards Los Angeles. They had their street smarts but that was about it. A rock band on a week-long bender in Ensenada, they weren't exactly learning how to survive in the badlands all that fast, but they were getting there. They certainly weren't taking any more chances. Cage and Davey had paid for those with their lives just in the last two days.
They'd moved their old beaten up Volkswagen van into the garage adjacent to the gas station to work on it but since the whole place had been pilfered of all things useful already, they hadn't found anything to work with in the pitch black darkness. Refusing to risk their van's headlights (in case they would be seen or just that it could drain the battery), they'd opted to spend the night. Hell knew they needed some shuteye. None of them had really slept since losing their friends.
"It's just the one guy, as far as I can see." Thank fuck for the moon, Noah thought, squinting in the darkness. The I-5 wasn't exactly a well-lit stretch of road at the best of times and certainly wasn't now that the power grid was fried.
"Just let him come," Stevie said quietly. "He might have a look and carry on once the pumps tell him they're all on empty."
The voices carried over the wind. Soft whisperings that seemed ominous in the darkness. Spine straightened, the priest glanced in the direction of the gas station and wondered if there was anyone taking refuge in the place. A window shutter was banging periodically somewhere in the night and Daniel considered what he should do. If he were smart, he'd get into the vehicle and drive away. Relying on St. Christopher to protect him was a noble exercise but the Lord preferred to help those who helped themselves. Then again, if there was anyone there, they were probably frightened and hiding. Considering the state of things, an understandable reaction. Staying close to the driver's seat, he considered what to do.
"Hello?" he called out. "Is anyone there? Do you need help?"
Catching something white around the man's neck, Noah cursed. "Looks like a priest..."
"Huh?" Stevie turned toward the window, barely making out Noah's face in the darkness. "I suppose priests need to travel just as much as we do," she quipped quietly.
"Or it's a trick," Mick suggested.
"Well, we can't leave him out like that, what if another group of raiders drive by? He'll be breakfast," Noah continued.
"Not our problem," Mick retorted.
"Cover me," Stevie said, suddenly standing up.
"Hell, no." Mick moved in front of her, going by sound.
"He's gonna carry on calling out and attracting attention to the whole damn place," Stevie returned. "Let me go talk to him... send him on his way."
Stevie had been a fuck up in the eyes of her parents, but she wasn't so far gone as to ignore a goddamn priest. If nothing else, she would ask him what his God had to say about all this...
Daniel wondered if he had just imagined the voice. As it was, he was having reservations about calling attention to himself particularly these days. Sure he was wearing a collar, but as any man of the cloth had learnt the hard way, that didn't mean anything. He was about to climb back in the jeep to leave when he saw someone appear. The silhouette emerged from the garage, announcing its presence by the creaky opening of the door. Daniel watched carefully, poised to climb into the vehicle and drive away if this went south. However, the slender shape and the manner of her walk gave him pause because it was a she that was approaching him.
The light was dark so he couldn't quite make out her face but he addressed her nonetheless. "Are you in need of help?" he asked.
"I'm good. What about you, padre?" Stevie took a few more steps, keeping the shotgun alongside her body. "You oughtta be careful around here..."
He noted the weapon. "I suppose you're right," he replied, staying calm and trying not to assume the worst because right now, it was looking that way. "Do I have reason to fear now?"
Now? Hell. Stevie shrugged nervously. How things had changed in the last four weeks. "Not from me, padre. Not from me." She looked at the car and then back to the man next to it, trying to see his features but failing. "No gas left, if that's what you were after..."
He stared at her a moment, taking her in. Elfin like, he thought and wondered where that word came from. Turning away, he reached over into the back tray of his jeep and grabbed one of the jerry cans filled with gasoline. He didn't have many left but he would not see this woman stranded here in the middle of nowhere, forced to use that weapon to defend herself from all comers. "Here," he said, setting it down.
Stevie had raised the shotgun when the man reached back in the Jeep but soon realised it wasn't to pull a weapon on her or anything.
"Oh, no. I'm okay." She waved him off. "Flat tyre is my problem and no more batteries for the flashlight. I'm waiting for the sun," she explained, suddenly realising she was talking too damn much.
"I have a flashlight," he offered.
"Oh..." Stevie looked back to the garage. If they could fix the damn van tonight, they could resume their journey while it was still dark. "Mind if I borrow it for a few?"?"
He reached into the back again, returning the gas can back and returning with a dolphin torchlight. He stepped forward, sensing that she was stuck here and eager to leave by the sound of her voice. "Take it. Do you need helping with the tyre?" His experience with the opposite sex was limited but they almost never knew how to do anything mechanical.
"No, thanks. I'm good." Between she and the boys, they could change a damn tyre. Besides, what would a priest know about that? She smiled a little, not that he could see it. "I can't accept your light. I'll find another on the way." There was still plenty of stuff lying about, it was just that this gas station was one of the first ones straight out of Mexico and had been hit and picked clean by many travellers. "But if you don't mind hanging back a bit..." she let trail. "Shouldn't be too long."
"Sure," he said, going back to the business he had come here for in the first place, refuelling his vehicle. "I'm not staying that long anyway."
Stevie approached him to get the torch from him but did so carefully. Collar or not, Mick had a point; it could be a trick. "The pumps are all out," she reminded him, noticing he looked rather young for a priest. "We should hide your Jeep while we do this..." Her gaze swept the landscape, looking up and down the interstate. "Raiders come in when they spot people... potential targets... and don't take it personally but a padre with a working vehicle would make for easy picking." She looked behind her. "We can wheel you in the garage..."
Sweeping his gaze across the landscape, he supposed she had a point. It had been pretty rough when he came through from the south. "We?" he asked.
"You and me," she replied easily. "Unless you have someone else hiding in there?" She didn't want to tell him of her friends back there until she had to. "Thanks. My name is Stevie," she said by way of introduction as she accepted his light. "
"Stevie?" He looked at her, wondering what sort of name was that for a young woman. Certainly not a Christian name but then the world was made of all sorts, wasn't it? "No, I'm alone."
"What?" she asked, straightening up. Was he hard of hearing? "So we're doing this or not?"
"Yes, of course." He looked at her, uncertain whether or not it was necessary but she seemed to think it was and Daniel was not fool enough to refuse her advice. Going to the jeep, he released the brake and got behind the thing, ready to push it through.
Seeing as he took the rear of the Jeep, Stevie walked to the driver's side and opened the door so she could push and steer as they went. As they got the vehicle near the garage door, she heard movement behind it and she decided now was the time to let him know she wasn't quite on her own. "Heads up, padre. I've got friends inside..."
And just as she said that, a shadow passed as the door opened wide, letting another shadow join them quickly to push the Jeep the rest of the way inside.
Once inside the garage, they were joined by a young man and once again Daniel questioned whether he had been led astray by a pretty face, not that it was the reason for his being here. He liked to assume that everyone was telling the truth, until they didn't.
"Hello," he greeted the man approaching.
Stevie turned the torchlight on as soon as Mick closed the door again so she could finally have a better look at this priest she had just brought in. It gave a chance to Mick and Noah to check the man out as well.
"Stevie, can I talk to you for a minute?" Mick beckoned his friend over.
Putting the light on the ground, Stevie reached inside the Jeep to pull the handbrake back on and went to where Mick had moved to, a little ways to the side.
"Hi," Noah answered the priest, letting go of the body of the Jeep to brush the dust from his hands. "A long way from your flock..."
"My flock is in San Francisco," Daniel replied. "I have work to do there. And you?" He looked at both Stevie and the man. "I gather you're on your way somewhere?"
"The idea was to head back to LA," Noah started to say, but now they weren't sure. From what they had heard, Los Angeles wasn't even there anymore. He glanced to where Stevie was standing, talking with Mick. "Coming from Ensenada... we were doing a few gigs down there when it all went to shit." Noah blinked. "Sorry, Father."
"What were you thinking bringing him here?" Mick spat, keeping his voice down.
"I'm sure you heard everything that was said back there. He's on his own. Mick, he's a priest, for fuck's sake. On his own. He's got a light, which means we can change the damn tyre and be on our way." Stevie was looking at him, wondering what bug had crawled up his ass.
"He offered to give you the light..." Mick countered, a suspicious eye on the newcomer. Why the hell she just hadn't just taken it was beyond him. "I don't trust him."
"You don't trust anyone..." Stevie returned. "Now, lighten up and let's get to work." She walked back towards Noah and the priest.
"Padre, this is Noah, and Mick over there," she said, indicating the dark, brooding type who was now moving to their vans at the back of the garage to start working on their flat tyre.
"Hello," Daniel greeted the man with a nod and understood the man's distrust. "These are trying times, I am sure you've had some difficulties since the Visitors returned. I am on my way to San Francisco, which I understand has not been levelled. I am afraid Los Angeles was devastated. There is no city standing."
The trio exchanged a look and it was Noah who replied tightly, "Yeah, we've heard." Picking up the light, he marched to their van to go help Mick.
Stevie stayed in place, the shotgun still in hand, honouring the unspoken request she kept an eye on the priest as her friends got on with fixing their ride. Quiet now, she leaned back on the wall, one foot sliding up it as she bent her knee.
"Did you all have family in Los Angeles?" Daniel asked, not missing the fact that the news had hit them badly. In truth, Daniel had little dealings with parishioners. Most of his career as a priest had been spent doing missionary work in South America and more recently in Africa, working with communities devastated by droughts and other natural calamities. He should have been more tactful.
Stevie just looked at him in the dim light, silent for a long moment before she shrugged. "Doesn't matter now, does it?" Voice flat, she was relieved when she finally heard the jack starting to crank up the van.
"I am truly sorry," he said to her, voice gentle. "Where do you intend to go?" he inquired of the group, deciding the best course was to move away from the subject of Los Angeles for the moment.
The priest sounded genuine enough, but it wasn't something Stevie was ready to talk about. She probably never would be. She had lost her brother and best friend to the first invasion, losing the rest of her family now was more than she could actually contemplate. So she didn't. There was a huge hole in her, a wound that had never really healed and the thin scab had just been pulled off as it was ripped open wider near a month ago and now it was gaping and bleeding all over again. She did her damn best to ignore it.
"We heard that the poison still works up north..."
"That is correct," Daniel answered automatically. "I am travelling to San Francisco to assist in the establishment of a railroad to help people reach the north. The red dust still works above the snow line." He explained. "If you would like, I have contacts in San Francisco that should be able to assist you if you wish to go to Canada or some place else."
"You do?" That almost felt too good to be true. "Thanks... I'll have to talk with the others but thanks," Stevie said, unsure if Mick and Noah would want to risk believing the priest. "You seem to know a lot about what's going on," she remarked, something Mick would notice as well. "Where are you travelling from?"
"I am travelling from the Cathedral in Guadalupe," Daniel replied. "We've been able to gain contact with other cities, using ham radios and Morse code. The visitors haven't been able to prevent us from communicating, despite their attempts to keep us disorganised."
Stevie gave him a wan smile. "Nice to know." The clanking sound of the lug wrench hitting the cement floor startled her and she glanced at the van in time to see the flat tyre roll their way. "You have family in San Francisco?" she asked. She had heard the city had been hit too, though not destroyed as LA was. It was weird to hear of the underground railroad again after all these years, and this time to be the one needing it.
"I'm not sure," Daniel shook his head, thinking of Vasily and Xenia. Xenia had been out of the country, visiting Geneva no less when the Visitors had returned. The upside to it all was that she was probably safe, thanks to it being in the colder climates. His father, was probably making his way back to Fort Chimo or Kuujjuuaq as it was called these days. Daniel had planed on making a trip to San Jose when he got to San Francisco, but he suspected his father would have gone to ground. "My father lives in San Jose but my sister was in Europe."
"So you don't know..." Stevie swallowed, her eyes meeting his briefly. Not knowing was hard but it allowed for hope. She didn't even have that.
"No," he shook his head. "I don't but I have faith in God's ability to look favourably on those who can take care of themselves." He offered her a little smile. Although the light was dim, he could make her features out better. Elfin had been a correct description of her. There was a refinement in her features that reminded him of bone china figures. It was an unusual description for him to make because normally he didn't notice these things.
Snorting, Stevie's gaze zeroed back on him. "How do you figure that? My parents could take care of themselves. Hell, back in the day, they took care of thousands!" And now they were dead. If there was a god, she had no idea how or why it would allow what had come down on them in '83 to repeat itself now, a million times worse. "Some God you pray to," she let out before pushing off the wall and walking away, needing to calm down.
Daniel watched her go and felt sorry about upsetting her because her pain was an open wound, even if she was trying really hard not to show it. He heard the comment about his God and was not offended. It was often difficult for people to accept that when God answered prayers, sometimes the answer was no. "I'm sorry," he said, following her. "I've upset you."
Straightening up from putting the nuts back on, Mick looked over the van. "Everything alright, Stee?"
"Yeah," Stevie replied quickly, not wanting Mick to go all Army Reserve again. She stopped and turned back to the priest.
"You didn't upset me; your God did." And even that wasn't quite true. "Actually, it's not even that. I just..." She sighed. "How does someone as young as you become a priest anyway?"
Daniel stared at her, surprised by the question. "It was more interesting than a paper route," he tried to joke.
She quirked an eyebrow at that. It was her turn to be surprised at his attempt at humour. "You could have picked up a guitar," she returned. "You have a name, besides Padre? Or is it really a no-no?" Nobody in her family had been particularly religious. Quite the opposite in fact. And while she had been raised a good girl for the most part and taught right from wrong and politeness and respect, she found it difficult to look at a man her own age, if not younger, and call him Father...
He noticed the way her eyebrow moved up, it... it fascinated him for a moment before he realised he was staring. "Actually, I'm not a Padre. I'm a Jesuit priest, which makes me more of a Brother but you can call me Daniel, if you like," he said with a little smile. "And I'm all thumbs with a guitar."
"Daniel," she said, trying the name and deciding it suited him. Stevie nodded her thanks. Daniel, or even Brother Daniel, it was beating the whole Padre/Father routine. "So not into rock music as such then?" she teased, not sure where that was coming from. She guessed it was just how unexpected this meeting all was.
"I'm partial to Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top but it's been awhile since I've listened to mainstream music," he confessed. He thought about going to a concert with Christine Watkins when he was fifteen, thinking it was a good idea at the time until she wanted him to make out and then it just got all kinds of awkward because future priests weren't supposed to be dating. Daniel blinked and wondered why he was thinking about this now.
"Oh?" That eyebrow again. "Well, that's not bad." She gave him a small smile. At least it wasn't all psalms, choir and gospel music. "Heard of The Benders?" Stevie smiled again but this time it was sad, humourless. "Probably not. What about The Red Hot Chili Peppers? We toured with them two years ago... we were about to go on our own world tour in a couple of months. Our big break," she said with a chuckle, clearly making fun of her situation.
The names meant utterly nothing to him, which felt embarrassing for some reason. Daniel suddenly felt archaic. In actuality, he was 35 years old. Of course, he had spent the last thirteen years in a religious order and the previous four, preparing to be in a religious order so it wasn't as if he was able to connect with her on a cultural level. "I was supposed to join a mission to Afghanistan..."
"Afghanistan?" She was going to comment on how dangerous that sounded but that didn't matter much now that the perspective had changed. "A mission, as in going there to try and convert the Muslims?"
He actually laughed at that. "No, we try and administer aid to those who need it. The country has been ravaged by war for so long the only thing that seems to thrive there is injured and orphans."
Stevie looked down at her feet, feeling rather silly. Then again, she couldn't quite imagine missionaries to go about the planet like they used to, trying to spread Christianity or whatever else, but what did she know? "Sounds like you've been there before..."
"Afghanistan is not the only place I've administered," he found himself telling her, finding that after days alone on the road, he rather missed talking to another person. "I was in Africa as well. I came home for a vacation."
"Wow," Stevie let out, kind of amazed that someone would choose that kind of life, never mind the priest angle. "The furthest I've been is Germany..." And it wasn't to help people, unless one considered giving a crowd a good time.
"I stopped there once for a few days," he remarked, thinking on the occasion. "I went sightseeing," he said, somewhat embarrassed at being caught so indulgent.
"You guys do that?" It was stupid, she knew, but she really struggled imagining a guy like him joining the Church for life. But the old ones had to have started somewhere...
"Why don't you guys exchange phone numbers and be done with it," Mick let out as he approached the pair, wiping his hands on a cloth.
The comment drew a look of genuine shock from Daniel because it never occurred to him that their harmless conversation could be perceived as such. Of course, he had spent the entire time they'd been changing the tyre talking to her so it might seem a little inappropriate.
Stevie smirked, her gaze going to Mick. Jackass.
"Uh, tyre fitted?" Daniel directed the question at Noah instead of Mick, averting his eyes from Stevie as he did so.
"Yeah," Noah answered as he rounded the van, having gathered the tools and stowed them away. "If we're serious about continuing on tonight, we should hit the road now."
"About that," Stevie said. "Daniel here is pretty up to date on what's going on... and he's got links to a railroad that could get us up North."
"That true?" Mick studied the priest. Daniel, huh? He exchanged looks with Noah. Leave Stevie to pick up even men of the cloth.
"Yes," Daniel nodded, sensing the suspicion from Mick coming off him in waves. "The church has been working with local resistance groups to set up safe houses in certain cities, to move people north. I was on my way to San Francisco to help with one of these. They may be able to help you get north." He kept his gaze away from Stevie, Mick's comment bothering him more than he liked.
"Any of those before we hit San Fran?" Mick asked. "Because once we're past San Diego, I expect it's going to be harder to stay below radar..." It just seemed a little too easy to bump into someone that knew of such a network.
"Stevie, you're still in touch with your parents' old contacts?" Mick had meant to ask about that before now but hadn't, trying to spare her the pain of discussing this but since she and her knew friend had had no problem discussing the Resistance, he figured he might as well dive in.
Blinking, Stevie, shook her head after a moment.
Mick wasn't really surprised. Stevie had rebelled in a big way and turned her back on a lot. Her parents probably still had those contacts but all that information would have died with them. "Sorry, Stee. Just had to check..." He reached for her, squeezing her shoulder.
"I know..." She looked to Daniel.
"Anything around San Diego, Daniel?"
"Not that I'm aware of," he answered honestly. "I understand that the Visitor presence in San Diego is particularly heavy because of Miramar and Coronado," he explained, looking at Stevie again, seeing her pain when she was asked about her family.
The military bases there, of course. Noah nodded. "Then we'll have to go around. We can't risk getting stuck in all that..." He ran a hand over his face. Fuck. Maybe they should head back to Ensenada...
"I plan on avoiding San Diego as much as I can," Daniel replied. "You should do the same but I offer you my help if you get to San Francisco." He met Stevie's gaze, not at all liking the idea of her being detained.
"The idea is to make it there and beyond," Stevie reiterated when she saw the look on Noah's face. Cage and Davey hadn't died in vain. She would make it north if it killed her.
"I'm just thinking it might be..."
"No, Noah. All you're thinking about is the damn Tequila," Stevie cut him off. "Yeah, it might be safer for a time and then what? There's nothing down there. The Visitors will carry on spreading and it'll catch up with the place."
"She's right," Mick spoke, his eyes going from Stevie to Noah, to finish on Daniel. "We'll have to stick to the back roads," he agreed with the priest with a nod. "Since we're all going in the same direction, maybe we should stick together..."
Daniel nodded, thinking that it would be good to have company and there was wisdom in adhering to the rule of safety in numbers. "I will agree to that," he answered. "I have a list of churches between here and San Francisco that we might shelter at," he offered.
"Thank you, Father," Mick said.
"It's Brother actually," Stevie said. "Or Daniel," she added, glancing at Daniel.
He caught a glimpse at her again through the corner of his eyes, Mick's earlier stab though inconsequential nagged. Daniel didn't know why. "Daniel," he stated, suspecting these people would have any easier time of it if they didn't keep fixing on the fact that he was Jesuit priest.
Mick smirked, glancing from Brother Daniel to Stevie and back again.
"Daniel then..." Noah chewed his gum on that for a moment, sensing this funny thing in the air and figured The Benders & the Travelling Priest could be as decent a band name as any. "Alright, anyone need to do anything before we get going?" he asked, not really pissed off to be out-voted about heading back the way they'd come. He knew his own nature and hiding in a hole right about now, one that had booze aplently, sounded damn fine with him. But Stevie was right, of course. There would be no saving if they stayed south.
"If I may suggest, we tried to make it to San Marcos before dawn," Daniel suggested. "St. Marks Mission Church is one of the places I've been told is a safe house. It's on 1147 Discovery Street," he revealed, just in case they got separated. Daniel had written nothing down, memorising the names given out of concern that if he were detained, he would not be forced to reveal the growing network of safe houses.
"Just past Escondido?" Mick checked. That was on the other side of San Diego. "We better get going then because getting off the interstate means a fucking long detour." He winced. "Sorry, Father... Broth-shit. Daniel." From South Central Los Angeles, Mick was more than a little rough around the edges. "Depending on how bad it is, we might have to head east as far in as El Cajon and on through the county park between Lakeside and Poway."
"How do you remember all this shit?" Stevie asked, needing a map to head out of Greater Los Angeles herself. Then again, while she grew up here, she had spent the better part of the last decade in New York.
Mick grinned. "A lot of camping as a boy," he lied. Well, sort of.
As hostile had Mick was, he was like every natural leader that Daniel had ever met. "I'll be going," Daniel said meeting Stevie's gaze as he turned to his car. "You can keep the jeep."
"Keep the jeep?" Mick asked, puzzled. "How will you make your way there?"
"What are you saying?" Stevie turned to him. "You're out of gas?" She didn't think he was since back outside he had been prepared to offer her some...
"I mean the torch..." he stammered. "I meant the torch." Wonderful, now he sounded like a damn teenager.
"Oh." Stevie grinned. "No, you have it back." She wasn't about to take from him, not when he was going to help them make their way up north. She went to pick it off the ground where the boys had left it. "Here." She looked to Mick and Noah.
"So, we're travelling together then?" At Mick's nod, Stevie turned to the priest, who looked rather tired.
"You want some company?" It wouldn't be easy driving all that distance without something to help him keep awake or share the wheel.
His impulse was to say no but then something else tugged at him and he nodded. "That would be nice," he said, trying not to make it sound anything more than politeness. He was a man of the cloth, had been one for a long enough time to be able to deal with the temptation that was woman but... she had elfin features. And Daniel didn't know why he liked seeing her that way.
Mick rolled his eyes. "Alright, I guess that's settled then," he said, looking at Stevie and shaking his head.
Grinning, Noah went to grab their beddings and what little gear they had gotten out of the van so they could pack and leave.
Stevie thought she saw the hesitation in Daniel and found it oddly funny. Like she would try to hit on a priest. Despite what Mick was thinking, that wasn't what her offer had been about. He was cute, yeah, but come on. Heading back to the windows next to where Noah was, she checked the deserted road outside. Or at least what she expected to find deserted...
"I see headlights," she warned.
"Kill the light," Mick told Daniel. "Come on."
Daniel did not argue, paying attention to the younger man, who seemed to know what he was doing.
Rolling their beds, Noah stopped and looked up, the window just above his head. "Maybe they'll just drive on through.
"Yeah, maybe," Mick returned though he still checked his gun before finding a spot at the next window, staying out of sight of anyone out there.
"Daniel, take cover," Stevie said quickly since the priest was just standing there. It was a miracle he had lasted that long on the road, if he didn't take any more care to hide himself.
"He obviously hasn't met a group of raiders yet," Noah commented.
"Not many," Daniel found the need to explain himself as he took cover, feeling some what foolish that he was not being more careful.
The headlights got closer and suddenly the sound of an engine carried on the wind. At least it was only one car, an old make, like all the others still running out there, unaffected by the HEMP. It seemed to slow down for a bit but then carried on.
Waiting a couple more minutes for good measure, Mick pushed off the wall. "Okay, let's go."
"Have there been many of those?" Daniel stepped out of the shadows again. "Raiders?"
"Plenty coming up from Ensenada," Mick replied, voice hard, as he grabbed a pack Noah had just stuffed and walked to the kombi.
Stevie shook her head at Daniel, silently asking him not to push. She could tell him more about later, if he really wanted to know.
Daniel caught the look and was sensible enough to take her advice. He supposed that there really was good reason for Mick's suspicion if that ominous look in Stevie's eyes was any indication.
Noah stood up with two other packs, pushing one in Stevie's hands. "You sure about this?" he asked her quietly. He didn't like them splitting up but the priest did look like he could do with some company. Guadalupe, he'd said. A long journey for a man on his own, considering the state of things.
"Yeah." Stevie's gaze touched on Daniel.
"Keep the twelve-gauge then..." he replied.
"No offence, Daniel," Noah added, before joining Mick.
"None taken," Daniel answered as he moved towards the jeep, allowing Stevie to handle the weapon. Besides, if things had been as bad as he suspected, they might need it.
Stevie shouldered the pack and walked to the van and the man who was already behind the wheel. "Mick..."
"I'm good, Stevie. We'll be right behind you, okay? Just make sure he doesn't try anything funny..." Mick said, indicating the Jesuit priest.
"See you later," Stevie said as they gripped each other's hand in goodbye. "I'll get the door."
"Noah," she said as she passed him in front of the van, one hand sinking in his hair. "Take care of each other."
"Don't forget he's a priest, girl," Noah cracked as he went and climbed in the passenger seat.
"Fucking funny, man," she retorted, heading for the jeep. She threw her pack in the back and went to open the large garage door. "Come on out." She motioned to Daniel to drive his vehicle forward, as he passed, she climbed onboard.
Continued in Of Beef Jerky and Gummy Bears