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Los Angeles
2nd April 2009, wee hours



He held her as best as he could, with one hand on the steering wheel and another around her shoulders, holding her close. He let her weep her tears, let her say farewell to the dying city while he, in turn, uttered a prayer for the voices now silenced forever in this calamity. Issuing his word of hope to God and hoping that the Almighty would have some answers... for he had none.



    • They drove out of Los Angeles on the Pasadena Freeway, heading inland away from the coast and the terrible destruction that had left all of them shaken. For Mia, Mick and Noah, it was worse of course. They had lived in Los Angeles, had family and friends there. Daniel felt the horror of the lives lost but it was not as personal for him as it was for them. Allowing Mia to remain in his arms, he continued driving, ignoring the weariness in his eyes.

      Even though it was a roundabout way, Daniel continued up the freeway, taking the turn off on the I-15 before heading in the direction of Palmdale. Anything to avoid forcing his travelling companions to have to look at the ruin that was Los Angeles. Finally at Palmdale they took the highway toward Maricopa, having put enough distance between them and the city. At Maricopa, heading towards Grover Beach. It was further than Daniel had intended to go but with Vandenberg Air Base only sixty kilometres behind them, he didn't want to take the risk.

      Originally, Daniel had intended to give Grover Beach a miss but when he saw the pitch black darkness over the town, not even evidence of candle light or anything to indicate human occupation, he risked entering the town deciding that Mia, Mick and Noah could use a decent bed and rest. The silence unnerved him but the jeep and kombi invited no attention as they drove through the deserted streets. With windows shutters slamming in the sway of the wind and the half empty cars left where they had stopped the day of the Pulse.

      It wasn't hard to guess what had happened here. No sooner than the Visitors had returned and this town rendered helpless, the enemy had taken the entire population for food. He had heard reports of Visitors doing this to a number of small town, where it was easy to gather everyone and 'detain' them as they called it.

      In their journey, this was the first time Daniel had encountered a town in the aftermath of a Visitor sweep.

      It was chilling.

      Stevie had wished for sleep to claim her, had wanted the darkness to render her oblivious, to allow her to forget - or at least not think about LA. But every time she dozed off, some damn reflex, like she was free-falling, jerked her awake. Still, she was too stunned... too numb to move. She followed the motion of the Jeep, alternating between falling asleep again briefly and staring out into the night but not always seeing what was before her.

      When they entered Grover Beach, something in her shifted. The little hairs at the back of her neck raised and that seemed to reach and find her through the fog, pulling her back.

      "What happened here?" she croaked, pulling away from Daniel and looking around nervously. "It's one of those, isn't it?" Her gaze sought his.

      Daniel drove down what was the main street, greeted by the same darkness. In the distance, he could hear the ocean tide running against the shore and a faint whiff of salt air teased his nostrils. "Yeah," he shifted his gaze in her direction. "It is."

      It struck her how tired he looked, tight shoulders and features drawn. Dawn was coming, she could sense it, so attuned to it since the Visitors had arrived and they were forced to only move during the night.

      "Where are we?" She'd seen the welcome sign at the entrance of town but she hadn't tried to read it, what she'd seen of the letters just a jumble her brain didn't bother to piece together.

      "Grover Beach," he answered, his voice croaking a little from the lack of use and from weariness. "I figured we might try for a place with a decent bed. I'm going to try and find a Motel 6 or something where we can go to sleep. With all the cars around here, I think if we parked it in the lot, no one would really notice."

      Grover Beach... shit. That was like halfway up the coast to San Francisco. And it wasn't like they had taken the quick route. No wonder Daniel looked so bushed.

      "Good idea." She looked at him again. "I'm sorry... you ended up driving all the way..."

      "You needed to sleep," he said, even though he doubted it had been restful. "I just wanted to get us away from Los Angeles as quickly as possible." Peering through the windscreen, he saw a sign on a bench at a bus stop, the direction to a motel. As he drove through the street, the town looked like it had been frozen in time. On the day that the Visitors had returned.

      "Thank you," she said, and then followed his gaze as he took in the town. "It's spooky, huh?" Even in the light of the moon you could tell the place was like a ghost town. "I came across quite a few of those when I was a kid..."

      Her parents had been checking those places out, wanting to verify rumours. They all looked the same and it took Stevie right back in time, when she would ride in the back with Dean, complaining about the long drives and how her brother always stole her Barbies' heads and cut or messed up the hair, or ripped off the last page of her books. Of course, she would get her own back, pulling the tape out of his cassettes and draw over his comic books. Tit for tat. But they all went as a family because it was easier to travel as such, the checkpoints safer to pass through.

      "We missed all that," Daniel admitted. "Papa had an idea of what was coming. He'd grown up in Soviet Russia to see martial law was on its way, so he bundled us up and got us out before we experienced any of that. When hiding up there in Canada, we heard the stories though. Stories don't seem to do the reality justice," he remarked as he saw the tall sign of a motel beckoning them. There were no lights of course but there was enough illumination from the sky, now that they were away from the mother ship, to read it.

      It was her turn to reach out to him, her hand squeezing his shoulder. "Your father was a bright man. There," she said, pointing at the sign. She looked behind them, waving her hand in the air so the Mick and Noah would get an idea of where they were planning on stopping.

      Daniel nodded, feeling a wave of sadness at the loss of his father, who was always larger than life to him. A happy, boisterous man who filled his home with laughter. He appreciated her touch and thanked her by reaching for her hand and squeezing back before turning into the driveway that led into the hotel. Instead of parking out in the open, Daniel picked a spot in front of the furthest rooms, where trees and shrubs lined up between the street and the motel, for safety sake. Just because no one was here, didn't mean someone wouldn't come along like they had.

      They all piled out of the vehicles, stretching legs and rolling shoulders. Mick took off, checking doors to see if anyone was around, travellers much like themselves. It was an odd detail to notice that the Visitors hadn't bothered to lock up anything behind them...

      "It all looks clear," he said after doing the whole length. "We can pretty much get two rooms each," he cracked, tired but trying not to slide back into a funk. "Though we probably should stick together," he added quickly.

      "Sounds good," Daniel said, fighting his exhaustion as he allowed Stevie to pick while he went to the back and took whatever supplies they needed. It would be light soon and it was advisable that they were holed up in their rooms until then.

      Stevie came back out of a room with Mick in tow. "These two," she said, indicating two adjacent rooms. "There's a common door inside." They got on with helping Daniel and Noah unpack the van and the Jeep and soon Noah and Stevie were heading for the reception desk while Mick did his trick to secure their rides.

      "Daniel, go crash," Stevie threw over her shoulder as she and Noah started to walk along the row of doors. "We'll check if there's any food up front. Won't be long." He looked about to drop and she didn't want him to stay up any longer on her account.

      Not arguing, Daniel carried their gear into the motel room, leaving it on the table before making a beeline for one of the beds.

      *


Quietly, Noah and Stevie came back moments later, having vandalised the vending machine and carrying whatever they could rescue from the front office and unit. Everything had been still, eerily left untouched, like the owner of the place had just went for milk one day and never came back. In fact, he probably had.

Stevie paused at the door before going in. The sunrise was only minutes away, already lighting the eastern sky in indigo, purples and pinks and the breeze was picking up. The closer they got to San Francisco, the chillier it got. She hadn't really noticed in the Jeep on the way but if she had she would have probably welcomed the cold, numbing her inside and out. But they would have to hit a shop soon and get themselves some warmer clothes. Maybe in the evening, before they hit the road again. March, up there, was still cold, and she figured tonight might have been the last night they rode with the cover off.

"You okay?"

Noah's quiet voice caught her attention and she turned to him. They were both standing in front of their door, looking out at the sky. He looked like she felt and she glanced around before yawning. Things around them were taking better shape in the coming light, details appearing. "Yeah. You?"

Noah shrugged, his eyes still on the sky. "I'm glad we didn't have to drive through New York," he admitted after a moment. His own family and life were there, having only moved to Los Angeles a year ago. "I'm sorry for your folks, Stevie..."

"And I'm sorry for yours." Sadness nearly overcoming her again, Stevie moved to him, the pair managing a hug with their hands full of food and supplies. "Night," she said, pulling away.

"Night. Mick is planning on taking first watch," he let her know as an after thought as he turned to go in.

"Okay, tell him to come wake me when he needs a break. You and Daniel did most of the driving; you need to catch up..."

"Will do." Noah opened the door and went in.

Taking a deep breath, Stevie did the same, as quietly as she could, not wanting to disturb Daniel. And a good thing too. She found him on his front, snoring and sprawled on one of the double beds, clothes and shoes still on.

Smiling because he could be so damn cute, she put the stuff down and went to close the curtains. After lighting a couple of candles she and Noah had found at the front desk, she went to wash up a bit. She didn't risk a shower, but the cold tap still worked so she used the sink.

Dressed in a t-shirt, she went to crack the adjacent door open and spied Mick sitting on one bed, bathed in candlelight. He looked up at her and nodded. Noah was already asleep in the next bed, the covers barely pulled back, boots off but his clothes still on. What was it with men? She supposed they could have to up and leave quickly. Better doing so with your clothes on than half naked. It was easy enough to jump in your boots...

She waved goodnight and went to Daniel, carefully pulling his shoes off and covering him with one of the extra blankets from the wardrobe. Toying with the idea of joining him to sleep right next to him, she ended up with just kissing his cheek and caressing his hair lightly. While she guessed they both could have done with the contact, she didn't want to cross that line, especially not when he wasn't awake to agree or disagree. The main thing was that against all odds he was asleep and she would leave him to it.

Sliding between the sheets of the next bed, Stevie stared at one of the candles, watched the flame dance lightly until sleep pulled her under.

Scribe31oz 22:06, May 14, 2010 (UTC)

It was near four hours later when someone came to shake her shoulder. Waking up with a jerk, she looked up to see Mick looking totally worn out.

"I can't keep my eyes open," he whispered, apologetic.

"It's okay," she assured him with a smile, sitting up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "You go." She watched Mick leave and she turned to Daniel. She swore he hadn't moved an inch. His breaths were slow and even, and his face had such a peaceful quality to it in sleep. Standing up, she grabbed her jeans on her way to the toilet, the shotgun always following her, and came back to sit next to the window. The candles had burnt out but there was enough light filtering through around the curtains to have a game of cards. She pulled a pack out of her bag and dealt herself a game of solitaire as she waited for the day to tick on by, munching on a Snickers bar and gummy bears.

Scribe31oz 22:06, May 14, 2010 (UTC)

The vibrations moved through the ground up the legs of the bed and across the mattress. Daniel felt the sudden shift immediately. Years of sleeping in places where it was necessary to have one eye open had made him accustomed to waking up at the slightest sound. He sat up immediately, noted that he was covered in a blanket and looked around for Mia. When he didn't see her, he climbed off the bed and realised that she had probably removed his shoes when he had fallen asleep. If not for the slow tempo of the vibrations in the air, he would have smiled at that.

Instead, Daniel went to the window and peered out through the glass. The vibrations were soon accompanied by the familiar sound of engines and as he saw them appeared, counted three heavy truck, all white with Visitor symbols on them. Panic filled him when he saw them, the urge to run great. Crossing the carpeted floor of the motel room, he went to find Mia and the others...

"Dan-" Stevie was just going back to their room via the communal door when Daniel appeared, disheveled, sleep still on his face but fear in his eyes. He had obviously heard the convoy and most likely seen it. "It's them," she let out nervously. "I was just coming to get you..."

"I didn't know where you were," Daniel replied, eyes showing his obvious fear, not merely of the Visitors but for her. "I was.. worried." Taking her hand, he lead her to their bathroom, away from the window and replied. "I saw three trucks, heading past us. What did you see?"

"Noah counted three as well," she confirmed, noting the way he held on to her hand, only underlining his words... that he had worried about her upon waking up. "I'm sorry I left you. I was just next door..."

"It doesn't matter." He shook his head. "As long as you're safe."

She'd left the door open even, to be able to hear when he would wake up. She'd been going stir crazy after a couple of hours, and fighting off sleep when all you heard was the gentle, rhythmic breathing of someone in slumber was damn hard. Just after 11 am, Noah had stirred so Stevie had gone to join him while Mick carried on bringing the house down with his snoring. Then, not even an hour later, the trucks had rolled into town...

Daniel risked letting go of her hand and went to the window, ensuring that he moved along the walls so no one could catch a glimpse of him. It was important that they knew where those trucks were going. If the Visitors were setting up camp here, then they had to get out of here before they were discovered. Daniel was praying that they were just passing through. Peering cautiously through the window again he saw them continuing up the main street, leaving dust in their wake and two smaller vehicles that looked like jeeps trailing behind them. These were carrying the black helmeted shock troopers like the kind he had run over when they rescued the people at the ranch.

"I don't think they're stopping," he said, stooped beneath the window ledge so that he could see without being seen.

"No, doesn't look like it," Mick agreed from the door.

Stevie turned to him, noting that he was all dressed, a small backpack slung on his shoulders and weapon in hand. "Going somewhere?"

While she'd rather be anywhere but in the vicinity of Visitors, she wasn't sure that going out now, when there was a chance more of the enemy might just roll on through, was a good idea.

"Thought I'd go make sure they don't stop..."

"And what if they spot you?" Stevie returned.

"That's what I said..." Noah poked his head through the door, adding his thoughts on the subject.

Mick sighed, looking to Daniel. It was two against one. What was the priest thinking?

Aware that Mia was not going to like this, Daniel nodded. "We should go to see what they're doing, nothing more. Those are three trucks and shock troopers out there," he said firmly. "We're in no position to make sure they don't stop under any circumstances." He looked at Noah. "This is not the time to act in anger."

"Oh, I know we're not equipped to force them out," Mick said. "I just want to know if they're planning on settling down here though," he added, not knowing he was echoing Daniel's earlier thoughts.

"Yeah, but they still could see you..." Noah repeated what he and Mick had obviously already been over while still in their own room.

Stevie leaned towards Noah's reasoning. Why poke the bear? They could stay hidden here and just let them pass through. Thing was, she could now see what Mick and Daniel were getting at. What if they were planning on staying?

"Yeah, but staying here while they could possibly be moving in, bringing in more of their kind, the longer we wait hidden here, the harder it'll be to slip out later," Stevie said.

Noah ran his hand through his hair, sighing. "We don't even risk venturing out during daytime when we're in the middle of nowhere with no one around and now you all agree that's it a good idea to do it when the town might me crawling with the fuckers?"

"We need to know what they plan on doing," Daniel returned, understanding the need for caution. "However, if we attempt to leave now, there's a good chance they'll see us in the cars and I rather not abandon the cars, since it's unlikely we'll find vehicles in working order elsewhere. If they're moving on, we can wait til dark. However, if they plan on using this town - and there's not reason to assume that they won't - as some kind of base, what with those trucks that just passed us by, they'll be coming this way anyway. Better we get the upper hand, seeing what they're doing before they stumble on us."

"My point exactly," Mick remarked, looking at Noah pointedly. He would have never guessed that he and the padre would agree on something - except maybe that Stevie was hot.

"Fine, but don't say later I didn't warn you," Noah relented, pushing off the doorjamb. "I have a bad feeling about this," he muttered to himself as he turned to head back in his room, sounding cliché on purpose.

"How you guys want to do this?" Stevie asked, not liking the rift in their group.

"Well," Daniel glanced at Mick, bracing himself because he knew for a fact that Mia was not going to like his suggestion, even more so than the earlier one. "Mick and I should go look. If we don't come back in an hour, you two should keep going to San Francisco without us."

"I'm ready," Mick said, uncrossing his arms and actually really looking like he would walk out in the next second.

"You always are," Stevie cracked, glancing at him before looking at Daniel.

"Right. Good plan." No one could miss the sarcasm. "And why you two? Because if we're looking at a suicide mission, I've got nothing left to lose, Daniel. You, on the other hand, you have, and you would be missed by this network you're heading up north to help..." She was bitchy on purpose, just like Noah had been dramatic with his exit.

"Because you did not choose to do this, either of you," he said firmly, expecting her ire. "This was our idea and it matters to me that you live." It was not something he wanted to admit in front of her companions but there it was anyway.

And it mattered to her that they all lived. "Down two... that's halving Noah's and my chances of survival," she retorted. "But go. We've already lost two, what's two more?"

"Stee... you know it needs to be done," Mick tried to reason with her, slipping into his brotherly voice. "It makes no sense all of us going. None at all. In fact, it gives them a better chance to sight us."

What could he say to her that didn't show the two men where his feelings were on this matter. "We have no intention of getting killed or taken." Daniel exchanged a look with Mick. "But we have to be prepared if something does go wrong." He was trying to show her that he didn't plan on leaving her but short of telling her how he felt, he had gone as far as he could.

"I'm sure no one in this town had that intention either..." She met his gaze, suddenly fearing she wouldn't see him or Mick again. After seeing the black spot of ash that was now Los Angeles, losing Cage and Davey and everyone else they knew, Stevie's head swam for a moment before she stamped down on the feeling. In fact, she blocked everything. "You have one hour."

Daniel nodded, deciding not to make the situation worse by saying anything else and motioned to Mick that they should go.

Mick nodded and looked at Stevie one last time. "Here, keep Gladys," he told her, throwing her the keys to the van before turning to head out after the priest.

Stevie caught them by reflex but dropped them on the bed just as quick.

Peering through the front door, all seemed quiet beyond and Daniel stepped out, ensuring they stuck to the walkway so that they could duck into a room if necessary. "They went that direction," he indicated the main street. "We could take the jeep or try to follow them on foot."

"I'd say the jeep," Mick replied. "At least for a time. They have a head start on us..."

"Okay," Daniel agreed and made their way to the parking lot where the jeep and van was parked, careful to keep themselves hidden behind the hedge that separated the hotel from the sidewalk running along the main street.

Once in the jeep, he did the driving with Mick riding shotgun as they took the road travelled by the Visitors a few minutes ago. There was still a thin cloud of dust in the air and they could see the rubbish on the streets yet to settle.

"I wonder what they're doing here... it's not like this town is near anything important," Mick started talking, or actually thinking out loud. "From what I remember from last time, once they made a town vanish, they didn't come back."

"There could be something here of value to them," Daniel remarked, watching the road ahead. Keeping the car a notch above crawl, the jeep continued out of Grover Beach city limits, with vehicles and buildings thinning as it neared the ocean. In the distance, they could see the beach. However, the main road forked just before they reached it and a sign stood on the smaller road heaving towards the water.

GROVER BEACH DESALINATION PLANT

Mick's jaw tensed up. "You think that's it?" He glanced at Daniel. "They were certainly interested in our water last time. I doubt that would have changed..."

"I think that's it." Daniel nodded in the affirmative. It had never been about the mysterious chemical that the Visitors had supposedly come here to make. From the beginning, it was a ruse to take the water. Mick was right; there was no reason to think their agenda had changed. People were so focussed on the fact that the lizards ate people, they often forgot about the other basic necessity that the enemy needed.

"I think we should park the car and go ahead on foot," he suggested, searching for somewhere they could stop without drawing attention.

"Yeah." The Visitors would notice a vehicle coming their way more than two guys trying to stay out of sight. "If it's the water, why the trucks?" Of course, for that, they would need to take a closer look. "I mean those weren't tanker trucks... surely they wouldn't be transporting it by road." It made no sense to him if they did.

"Could be equipment," Daniel remarked, noticing a collection of closely packed trees on the side of the road and veered off, using the jeep's all terrain capabilities to reach the spot. "If its a desalination plant, they could be trying to adapt it for other purposes," he ventured a guess, not enough of an engineer to be able to say for certain.

"True." Once Daniel parked the Jeep out of sight, Mick jumped out. "Let's just go have a look. I don't want Stevie on my ass," he said with a smirk that soon turned into a wince as he turned away. If by some twist of fate he showed up back at the motel minus the priest, he could easily imagine her shooting his balls off with the twelve-gauge...

"Yeah," Daniel had to agree there as he climbed out and followed Mick. "Certainly don't want her mad at you, that's for sure." Now that he was on the receiving end of her ire, he certainly wouldn't wish the same on anyone else.

"Ha." Mick snorted, throwing him a sideways glance. "Don't want her mad at you either, believe me."

They headed down the smaller road leading to the desalination plant and the beach beyond, careful to keep a low profile. But there were no ifs or buts about it, if a Visitor patrol flew overhead, they would be pretty exposed.

They didn't need to go very far fortunately. The small road meandered downwards as they neared the beach, allowing them to get a good look from the top of the hill. There was enough trees to mask their approach and thus Daniel and Mick paused when they found themselves a good vantage point to observe the desalination plant surrounded by trucks and Visitors in their bright red uniforms and jack boots.

As assumed earlier, the back of the trucks were splayed open and Visitor shock troopers oversaw human workmen moving equipment into the plant. The labourers seemed terrified and carried on their tasks, egged on by their masters. Daniel wished they could be helped but he knew he and Mick were in no position to do so.

"I can't make out what they're carrying..." Mick told Daniel after a moment. "Should we get closer?"

"A little closer," Daniel suggested, not wanting to get too far out of reach of the trees. "But not much. I think it's pretty obvious what they're doing."

"It is?" Mick had hoped to at least recognise some of the parts being carried in. Did Daniel manage to make out what it was or was just guessing too? While he wasn't really keen on getting any closer but on the other hand they hadn't risked coming out here to get back empty-handed. "What? Besides trying to get at our water, I mean... or is that it?" Bottom line, they needed to know if they had to risk hitting the road in the daylight or if they could stay holed up til nightfall.

"I think that's it," Daniel replied, watching the human slaves move in and out of the plant, unloading the equipment from the trucks. "It looks like they're going to be here for awhile so I think we should risk leaving. If they decide to keep these people close, they might think about doing it in the town."

"And use our motel... right." Mick pushed back from the edge, heading back into the trees. "Come on. We need to at least get to a couple of towns further up the coast and find another spot to lay low at until dark." Fuck, it was risky and Mick didn't like it.

Daniel nodded and kept pace with him. "We can keep going, try and hit Pismo Beach... you know," he remarked with a straight face. "And all the clams you can eat."

Chuckling, Mick faltered in his steps and threw him a glance. "You're funny... you know, for a priest," he quipped.

"Thanks," Daniel replied. "Sometimes I suppose in the face of all else a sense of humour is the only thing that keeps me sane."

"Yeah..." Mick started walking again, every once in a while looking over his shoulder to check no one was coming. For some reason, Daniel's sense of humour made him think of Stevie. "What..." he hesitated. "What's the deal between you and Stevie?" Not that it was his business really but he cared enough about her to want to know. She could have a destructive streak and going for a priest had 'bad idea' written all over it.

The question took him by surprise and he looked up at Mick, prepared to tell him that there was nothing to tell, except it wasn't the truth, was it? There was something to tell and the question was asked not out of malice but out of real curiosity. Mick was Mia's friend before him and the concern Daniel saw in his eyes was real.

"I don't know. I won't deny that there have been offers by women before. Something about the collar," he tried to joke. "None have tempted me to stray from faith until I met Mia. What I feel is strong and I am conflicted as to what to do about it. If I give into what I feel for her, it's a line that cannot be uncrossed."

Mick hadn't really expected an answer. Not something so... honest. And he still couldn't get over him referring to her as Mia. She so hated that name. At least, she used to. "So... you're thinking on it. Fair enough." What else could he say? He didn't sound like a man who just wanted to get his rocks off just the once. Not that Stevie would have normally minded that but there was something about her since they had crossed paths with this priest. A priest. Wasn't life weird or what?

"I'm thinking on it," Daniel admitted. "Trying to determine if what I want is the best thing for her. I've told her that I'm trying to decide and we've left it at that for now," he replied as they sighted the trees where the jeep was parked. Fortunately, it was still there, waiting.

It hadn't really been a question. More rhetorical than anything. It was clear the man was undecided, that said... "I'd go with trying to determine what you want... what's best for you. Don't try and decide for Stevie. She won't like it." Mick didn't even know why he was butting in, offering what? Advice? Like his track record was any good? Right. "Just saying..." he added, indicating to Daniel he could take it or leave it. Mick was just somewhat relieved to see the man seemed to care for her and so wouldn't deliberately hurt her.

"True," Daniel nodded in agreement. Strange how he was taking the advice instead of dispensing it. Then again, in this one instance, God had no answers for him.

Mick approached the Jeep carefully, in case someone was hiding there, waiting to ambush them or something. But there wasn't, so he jumped in the passenger seat.

Daniel followed after and started the engine. Using the same deliberate pace they had drive to get here, Daniel drove the Jeep back to the motel, certain that Mia and Noah were listening for the approach of their vehicle. "I say we get back, pack and head out before they decide to send more workers to that plant," he suggested.

"Good idea," Mick agreed as Daniel drove them amongst the deserted cars in the car park to find their earlier spot next to the van. After climbing out, he ran his hand along Gladys (that was the name he and Noah had settled on), glancing briefly in the side windows. "I think we're already packed," he observed.

"That saves time," Daniel replied approvingly. If he had his way, he would have left the engine running and honked the horn if that would get them out of here faster. However, as it was, Mia and Noah had jumped ahead and all it required was for him and Mick to let them know that they were back. Although he suspected they would have been ready to go as soon as they heard the jeep's return. Not to mention the fact that they had cut it pretty close to that hour.

*
Inside of Noah's room, sitting crossed legged on the table that was pushed back against the window, Stevie let the curtains fall back into place as she pulled her nose from edge of the glass. "They're back." She was relieved but still pissed and she frankly didn't know which emotion to allow to overcome the other.

"In one piece?" Noah cracked, lying on his back on one of the beds, arms crossed behind his head. He had been stressed but tried to look nonchalant. Ten more minutes and he and Stevie would have had to drive off into the sunset... well, the midday sun.

"Hey," Daniel greeted when they stepped through the door, eyes fixing on Mia first. "We need to get moving now."

"Bad news?" Noah sat up immediately.

"They've got something set up at the desalination plant," Mick answered, guessing that like him Noah and Stevie wouldn't know there was such a plant in this town but that was irrelevant. "They have men they're poking with stick, making them work for them. They're setting something up. Chances are more help will be coming..."

Stevie looked at Daniel, like she needed to see him to really believe he and Mick had come back safe and sound. As Mick spoke, she turned to him, watching him walk around the room to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything in their packing.

"We're ready to go," she let them both know. "But we did leave a pack for you in the other room. I'll go get it," she added, slipping off the desk. It was something she had wanted to do... in case they were both still alive but just running over that hour limit. They would have at least had some emergency supplies and rations.

Daniel followed her, seeing something in her eyes that warranted it. "Are you alright?" he asked once they were in the next room.

"Why wouldn't I be?" she returned as she kneeled down and pulled the pack from under the bed Daniel had slept in. Idiot. She was an idiot.

"I don't know," he said, unable to put his finger on the why exactly, only that he knew that she was bothered. "Just a feeling, I guess," he confessed. "Mia, what is it?" he asked.

Could priests be really that clueless? Whole communities could rely on those guys and they really didn't have any more insights than that?

She stood up, throwing him the pack. "Do you know how long the last fifty-five minutes were?"

Oh. He blinked and nodded. "Obviously not as long to me as they were to you," he said, reaching for her cheek. "I'm sorry you had to worry. We tried to be as careful as possible but it was necessary. I wanted to come back to you." He held her gaze.

Wanting and doing were two very different things, but she appreciated him saying it anyway. She leaned against his hand for a moment before pulling back. "I'm usually the one who leaves... I'm not used to staying back and waiting," she tried to explain.

But it was more than that. She had lost enough in the last few days. She didn't know if she could set herself up to lose again. And they were bound to get into far worse trouble than they had already. They'd actually had it easy since entering the States.

On impulse, he drew her to him in an embrace, sensing she needed it. "It's okay, we're back and we're all together," he whispered in her ear. They couldn't linger long though; Noah and Mick were undoubtedly waiting for them.

Letting him pull her close, Stevie closed her eyes for a moment, her head resting against his shoulder. "I'm relieved you're both back," she admitted after a short moment. "Come on. If there are more coming, we need to go."

"Right," he nodded, taking her hand and leading her out of the room.

"Everyone ready?" Daniel asked, aware that Mick and Noah were probably waiting for them. "We're going to head out to Pismo Beach and lay low there til dark, right?" He looked to Mick for confirmation.

"If we can make it there, it seems to be our best bet." Mick nodded. "I just hope there isn't another plant there..."

*
It was quite a change driving through the daylight and because of the urgency to get under cover, the journey to Pismo Beach was hastened by the fact that both vehicles were gunning the engines all the way down the coast road. They'd been fortunate to not have seen Visitors, however, they were starting to see people. They had even spied a few cars, old junkers like their own. Other people were on horse back or bicycles. Civilisation was beginning to creep up on them the closer they got to San Francisco. However, no one seemed to be in a mood to flag them down, largely because out here, it had become a dog eat dog world and no one could trust anyone.

"It's like we've gone back in time again," Daniel remarked as they past another cyclist.

"The no electricity is cramping our style as rockers," Stevie quipped, glancing at Daniel briefly before she turned to their surroundings again. She couldn't stop expecting a group of skyfighters swooping in on them, but it was nice to see the world in daytime again.

"At least there's plumbing," he pointed out. After being in Africa, good American plumbing was something that Daniel had come to appreciate.

"True... if you're lucky enough to be in a town that wasn't bombarded from orbit." Stevie smirked but it soon faded. Some things she really shouldn't even try to joke about. "I wonder if San Fran still has that going. I mean with the EMP, I doubt the sewage works are still going so if there's still running water, it's only a matter of time before it runs out."

"Before I left Mexico," Daniel replied, recalling what he had heard through the ham radio he had used to communicate with his contacts in the church. "I heard that the Visitors were restoring some cities back into operation. Most likely to get the locals on their side. I suppose for some people it's easier to believe the illusion than it is to face the reality."

"Oh, true..." She remembered him mentioning that when they'd first met. "I don't know how anyone can fall for it after what happened last time." But Stevie was sure he was right; some people would hang on to that illusion of normalcy, even as their neighbours suddenly disappeared and their world is raped.

"People believe in all manner of things when things are at their worst." He realised that there was some irony in his statement since he was a man of the cloth himself. He believed in a God that required near blind faith to worship. Some might argue how different that was to the people who bought the Visitors lies this time.

"You mean like people finding God in front of adversity?" She wasn't having a go at him or his faith, just drawing a parallel. "It's also interesting that some turn away..." Okay, this bit was closer to home and she hadn't meant to do that.

"Looks like we're getting close to town," she remarked suddenly, switching gears on their topic of conversation when she spotted a gas station with people milling about. "Might be a good idea to pull in... see what they can tell us about what's going." There was plenty of people about and during the day. Something was happening here that they hadn't come across before.

He was about to comment on her remark when the gas station caught his eye and, agreeing with her suggestion, pulled the vehicle into the drive way. There were one or two cars at the bays and for a moment, Daniel would have been forgiven for thinking that things were business as usual. Their presence however, caught the eye of the locals, who regarded the new vehicle approaching them. He supposed that made sense. With the number of cars dwindled, the locals would have spotted an unfamiliar running vehicle.

Pulling up behind an old Dodge pick up, he looked at Mia. "Better let me go first." People were often less threatened by a man of cloth.

"Sure," she said, straightening up in her seat before looking behind her shoulder to see where the boys were. She spied Mick parking the van not far behind and coming out, walking slowly towards the Jeep. Noah got out too but stayed with the van, in case.

Daniel made sure his collar was in place as he emerged and noted a couple of people talking just outside the doorway of the gas station booth. "Good afternoon," he said, greeting them politely.

"Where did you come from, Father?" A man with a red cap, denim shirt and embroidered name of 'Bob' greeted him back. He was in his late forties with thinning hair and a beakish nose. The men around him appeared about the same age, looking as if this was a place they regularly hung out.

"From Mexico," Daniel replied. "How are things here?"

"They could be better." The man frowned, the others shaking their head in agreement. "These are bad times, Father."

Daniel couldn't disagree. "That they are."


To be continued in Occupied Territory

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