LISTEN UP. YOU’RE GONNA HELP US WRITE A STORY.
This is a story that takes place after the end of the world. It’ll have survival, gunfights, MREs, and one badass Marine. And you get to decide where it goes. Each month, the story continues, guided by YOUR votes. Here’s a few things to know:
- No, it’s not a zombie apocalypse. (Too cliché.)
- No, ISIS, North Korea, or Russia didn’t take over the world. (Ha! I’d like to see them try.)
- No, there wasn’t a nuclear war. (Pretty unoriginal.)
So, you ready to do this? Let’s go:
THIS IS HOW THE WORLD ENDED.
No one thought the asteroid would cause any serious damage.
Experts knew most of it would burn up in the atmosphere, but a small fragment of it would make it to the surface. Coastal cities took precautionary measures for the water impact. But no more than a strong hurricane or tropical storm might require. People boarded windows, sandbagged doors, and took down nice glassware and packed it away carefully.
The rock lit up the sky, trailing a scorching arc through clouds. Pieces broke off and sputtered out, like unmotivated fireflies, leaving a small, suicidal ball of incandescent fire determined to extinguish itself in the waves.
But the asteroid’s molten fragments now comingling with the ocean sediments and saturating beaches carried a passenger: A pathogen which no earthly microscope had ever examined.
Within three years, nearly 90% of humanity was dead. Only a fraction of the global population was immune to the disease. Nations crumbled as their leaders perished and governments and economies collapsed. Resources, now morbidly abundant, were of little comfort to the scattered survivors.
EVERYONE, MEET JOE, THE MARINE.
SSgt Joseph Langley and his Marine brothers watched satellites burn up in the atmosphere, as their orbits decayed with no mission control to maintain them. Joe and his platoon, one of the last combat-effective units out of Camp Pendleton, had been assigned to the USS Carl Vinson for protection duty. The nuclear carrier had been underway for a whole year in the Pacific, loaded with dignitaries, academics, and scientists. Everyone the US government hoped could rebuild a dying nation.
Only after most of the ship’s crew, everyone in his platoon, and the passengers were dead did Joe realize he was immune.
Before he died, the captain ordered the ship back to California. With no navigation officers to guide her, the Vinson would run aground. Joe gathered weapons and ammo from the armory, raided the mess hall for stores of food, and packed supplies into his seabag. He joined a small cadre of survivors on the life boats and made his way to the coast.
Joe joined a commune of immune survivors nestled against the mountains of the Northern Coast Range. Society simplified itself into basic division of labor. As a Marine trained in survival and combat, Joe joined a small group of skilled people as a scavenger and hunter. The people back in camp worked to prepare meals, collect and organize supplies, and attempted to reconnect with a decaying, lawless world.
Survival became a matter of adaptation. Those able to grow food survived. Those who relied exclusively on commerce and agriculture did not. With no government to keep order, criminality became far more common. Where most people viewed cooperation and community as the way to move on, others saw survival-of-the-fittest as the only way to stay alive.
What is Joe carrying? See what he grabbed from the carrier.
HERE’S WHAT JOE’S UP TO THESE DAYS.
Northern Coast Range, California. Five years later.
Joe stamped out the campfire, and mounded dirt over the embers to hide the smoke.
They’d found him.
They hadn’t noticed his exact location yet, but they were close. He gathered his things, cinched his pack tight and slung his rifle over his back. His heavy, mud-caked boots squished into the terrain as he relocated to a better vantage point to get an angle on his pursuers.
He glassed the slope to the south with binoculars. The lens focused through the latticework of dense forest on three men. One of them looked barely 16 years old, a feeble mustache on his upper lip. The other sported full beards—one grey, the other a rusty brown—unkempt and filthy. The kid carried a bolt-action as scrawny as he was. A .22 by the looks of it. The men were more heavily armed; the distinctive profile of AR-15s. They walked in formation, the kid bringing up the rear as his elders scanned ahead.
This was the first time Joe had laid eyes on them. He’d never seen any of them before, and he knew the faces of everyone back in camp. He still didn’t know what they wanted. They were probably a raiding party. He’d noticed a wispy column of campfire smoke three days ago, and then closer the day after. Either they were just headed in Joe’s same direction … or they were hunting him.
At this range, he could’ve shot all three and called it a day. But something about the kid gave him pause. He looked, well, as you’d expect a kid to look in this world. He looked scared. And the men, imposing as they were, carried their rifles with a lack of the deftness Joe had learned in the Marines. Greybeard kept his finger tensed on the trigger. Rusty kept his barrel too low.
Joe looked up from the binoculars. The early morning chill blew in from the west. In the distance, the Pacific was a ribbon of muted grey enveloped in thick mist. He would need to return to the commune by midday.
And the men were in his way.
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN. WHAT SHOULD JOE DO NOW?
A. Fire a warning shot at Greybeard and Rusty.
B. Leave a non-lethal trap for the men.
C. Leave a message for the men as a warning to stop following him.
D. Nothing. Joe leaves silently and hides his tracks.