Catch up on the story: Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3


Joe and Mitra just felt the shockwave when the gas station blew up. Who did it? Readers wanted these two to scout ahead and find out what they’re dealing with. Safety in numbers, right?

They carried blades. The raiders were on horseback, and Joe saw the wrapped handles of makeshift machetes tucked into their saddles. Knives and shivs lashed to their ankles. One burly man wielded a kind of polearm, a 12-inch fanblade topping a length of knobbled wood like a voulge. Others carried swords in scabbards. Their clothes were strangely clean, save for the mud splatters on their boots where their riding had kicked up the soiled earth.

They sat astride their mounts, the hellish glow of the gas station’s wreckage illuminating their figures. Smoke belched thick into the sky, the eastbound wind pulling it into mists.

Joe peered through the forest at the strange assemblage. Joe sighted a few guns on the raiders, but they were carried almost as afterthoughts and not kept with care. Still, they were outgunned. Mitra flattened herself against a tree, keeping her profile as small as possible and sighting the horsemen through a pair of binoculars. They’d driven the ATV into the forest to hide it from view, and approached on foot to survey the intruders. Joe had switched the dial on his radio off and told Todd back at base to do the same.

Sweat beaded under Mitra’s hairline. An unblinking expression on her face. She’d never been in combat. And Joe had no intention of turning this situation into her first time, no matter how focused she looked.

One of the men nickered his mount and trotted up, turned the horse, and faced the others. The man’s face was clean, like he had taken the time to shave that morning. He was out of earshot, and the wind and the still-burning wreckage of the gas station prevented Joe from hearing his words clearly. He addressed the group, signaled them, and they moved off south down the road. Joe watched them go and Mitra looked up from the binoculars.

“Well, that’s about the creepiest thing I’ve seen,” she said. “And I’ve seen some creepy shit.”

Joe stood up. “We need to know where they’re going.”

“Can we radio back? Mr. Scissorhands and his pals didn’t seem to have any comms.”

She was right. If anyone was listening in on their channel, it probably wasn’t the gang. Joe learned into the radio and contacted Todd, who predictably freaked out. Joe calmed him down and told him to get Hank back to camp.

“Everyone is asking about the explosion,” Todd sputtered out. “We can see the smoke from here.”

“Just get people to the mess hall and start passing out dinner plates, alright? We’ll be back as soon as we can. We just gotta scope these guys out.”

“They’re not idiots, they know something’s wrong.”

“So do I. But we gotta know just how wrong. Keep it together over there, man.”

Joe thought of the people he’d spent the last year and half watching over. He’d not yet learned all their names—there were over 50 to keep track of—but there were plenty of standouts. Lydia, the 12 year old who loved books and always asked Joe if he’d found any new ones. Jackson, the widowed electrician who was kind of an asshole, but was handy with wiring and never said no to a challenge. Grace, the grade-school teacher and defacto mayor, despite her repeated pleas to Joe to serve as the leader instead.

I’m not a leader. I just know how to teach people to kill something with one shot rather than four. I know how to follow orders, even if no one is giving them to me anymore. And I know how to survive.

“So what now?” Mitra asked.

“We get the ATV and unload the camping supplies. We’re gonna follow them.”

They stayed off the road as much as possible. With no crews to maintain the road, windblown earth and debris had littered the sunbaked asphalt. They found more destruction along the way, alongside horsetracks. A scorched coastal community, down to cinders. It must have been torched the day previously. Blackened metal frames of abandoned cars. They’d been busy.

Joe had seen much of the remains of the destroyed world. But now someone was burning the wreckage.

Eventually the evidence of their arson stopped, and their tracks reached into the hills. The trees thinned out as the terrain dropped low. After stashing the ATV and concealing it as best they could, they pushed into the hills on foot into the fading light. Night fell, and the moon was just a sliver; not enough illumination to track properly.

What I wouldn’t give for a pair of NVGs right now.

They set up a tent, and within an hour Mitra was snoring as loud as any Marine he’d ever served with. He took watch, sitting on a log, a low-watt lantern beside him producing a smallish halo around the campsite.

He thought again of the horsemen. Their blades, which they seemed to favor over their rifles. And in better condition, too. Polished to a gleaming shine, while the guns showed sign of wear and accumulated grime.

Then he thought of the gas station. The camp’s lifeblood, at least for a while. He always knew that eventually the gas would dry up and they’d need to find another supply, but he didn’t expect it to get blown up by a roving band of sword-wielding hostiles.

I could’ve used a few more months, he thought. You rebuild a burnt house one brick at a time. No matter how far I’ve traveled, I’ve found nothing of authority. I’ve just found this ruined world. I need to find a way to contact Pendleton, there’s gotta be someone there who’s still alive. Maybe others. We need to unify, get power grids back up, get the country running again. Get the world running again.

We need to go south and contact what’s left of the division. But there’s no way that will happen with these maniacs blowing things up.

A few hours passed and Mitra’s wristwatch chimed her awake. As much as he wanted to press on, Joe convinced himself to sleep while Mitra sat on the log, rifle across her lap.

Joe tried to reach Todd back at camp. They were too far out of range.

The raiders had to be close. They pushed on before the sun rose and crested the nearest hill just as the morning light appeared.

Mitra tensed up. “The fuck is that?” She seized the binoculars.


A herd crested a ridge, darkened silhouettes in the dawn, moving with a resolute steadiness. The pasture before them lush and inviting. They moved, a mass of brown and black, and in the stillness they could hear the braying of the animals.

Joe took the binoculars and peered at the herd. Clearly domesticated.

Gotta be a barn nearby.

“I would give my left arm for a filet mignon right about now,” Mitra said, as they moved through the herd of grunting, snuffling animals, chewing contentedly on clumps of grass-stalks.

“I thought you were a vegetarian.”

“Naw, the Air Force changed my mind about that pretty quick.”

They crested the ridge where they’d first sighted the cows. Below, a vast farming establishment. Rows of crops. Tents. Shelters. Wooden stables and structures with thatched roofs. The horses laid or grazed in an enclosed field. Their riders milled about, their blades glinting in the sun.

Some of the raiders stood guarding a stream of people lined up before the encampment’s entrance. Joe focused the binoculars on them. They were being checked, one at a time, and then led under a vast tent. Some had dogs. He saw one man with a goat on a leash. Most were hunched under backpacks.

They surveyed the camp for a long time. The refugees, or whoever the mass of people queued up before the entrance to the camp were, seemed to be treated well. Some exited the camp and trudged away. The goat man seemed to have loaded up his companion with supplies, like a pack animal from ancient times.

“They’re helping them,” Mitra said.

“Or they’re recruiting.”

“Either way, it’s our way in.”

Joe turned to face her. “What?”

“We have to know what we’re up against. I say we get inside, scope out the place, and leave.”

“You stay here, I need you to cover me. If I’m not back in an hour, get back to camp and warn the others.”

He felt anxious without the rifle on his back. He tried to take comfort knowing the Mk-14 was in Mitra’s hands, where she lay prone on a ridge overlooking the encampment, covering him. As much improvement as she’d shown in marksmanship, he would’ve preferred to do his own fighting.

He approached the gate, mixed in with an assortment of other travelers. Two machete-wielding men flanked both sides of the entrance, which was lined with burning torches trailing thin white smoke. The travelers moved soundlessly, except for a few coughs and sniffs. Quiet, like a church congregation in a communal procession. Joe kept his head low but eyes up, scanning the entrance. Evaluating.

A huge man in utility pants and lumberjack’s flannel shirt stopped him.

“Arms up,” he ordered.

Joe did as he was told. He kept his breathing steady as the man searched him. The man looked directly into his eyes before letting him pass into the camp with the rest of the travelers.

The clean-shaven leader of the horsemen stood before an assemblage of travelers, co-mingled with more of his followers. He wore a long brown robe and stood atop a platform, a single torch burning in a bracket over his shoulder.

“We are the exonerated,” he called out like a proselytizer, his hands at the small of his back and standing tall. “We, who did not get sick, have remained behind to answer the call of the earth. It was the machinations of corrupt which led to man’s punishment. The excesses of technology, the war-mongering of nations, the squabbling for resources and the burning of her precious oil, poisoning her air. These are evils you must cast aside. Eat of this land. You will find much to feed your stomachs here, not the trash and remnants that remain in the lands of the dead. Scavenge not from the old world. Grow on this land. Do not destroy it. All transgressors shall be punished. Now, come and prove yourselves.”

Joe and the others were herded into a line. He stood behind a woman and her daughter. One by one, they advanced. Each person received a knife, and soundlessly, they slashed their palms. It was some kind of loyalty pledge. The woman received the blade and slashed her hand quickly, then took her daughter’s hand. The girl closed her eyes, tears streaming from the corners of them, and winced when her mother cut her hand.

Then it was Joe’s turn. He looked at the raider. Another clean-shaven man, like their leader. Stony faced and unmoved. He took the handle of the blade.

The man seized his wrist, and turned Joe’s palm upward with a jerk. He looked at the tattoo on his wrist, the tattoo he’d received on his second deployment:


The raider look at him with hate in his eyes. Joe wrenched his hand out of the man’s grip but the man grabbed him again. Joe kneed him straight in the groin, and he doubled over.

Joe tried to pivot, anticipating a blow, but he was too late. They grabbed him through the elbows.

He jerked his torso hard and fought and snarled. The woman and her daughter were screaming. He couldn’t shake the men at his elbows, and others swarmed him, shouting. He jumped, countered his weight. Kicked a raider with both feet square in the chest and he fell backward onto his captors.

Elbows free! He wrestled himself out of the pile and got to his feet.

Crack. A sharp pain at his temple. He saw a flash of light and collapsed facedown into the grass.

It had been more than an hour. Joe had been gone for ninety minutes, and Mitra grew anxious. She sighted the camp through the scope of Joe’s rifle, looking for a target. There was nothing.

People began milling out of camp. She placed the reticle on each one. She counted twenty of them. The last to leave were a woman and a young girl next to her.

He was still inside.

Dammit, Joe. You told me to go back and warn the others. But where does that leave you?

Where does that leave me?

Joe needs Mitra’s help! Which means Mitra needs yours. What should she do?

A. Wait for darkness before moving into the raider’s camp to find Joe.

B. Backtrack. Get back on the road within communications range of camp, so Mitra can radio for help.

C. Move into camp NOW to find Joe.


Leave a comment:

Thomas D.

12/26/2015 7:57 AM


Dennis L.

1/1/2016 6:39 PM


Sean E.

1/5/2016 3:50 AM


Don C.

1/5/2016 4:07 AM


Derrik F.

1/5/2016 6:00 AM


Matthew B.

1/5/2016 7:05 AM


Brannon G.

1/5/2016 7:30 AM


Sam L.

1/5/2016 7:54 AM


John W.

1/5/2016 7:55 AM

I choose answer A because the cover of darkness may cause issues with your own visibility but it also will allow you to enter the compound with little to no resistance from the guards on the perimeter.

Kathy W.

1/5/2016 8:06 AM


David B.

1/5/2016 8:11 AM


Evan B.

1/5/2016 9:02 AM


Shelton W.

1/5/2016 8:33 AM


Michael K.

1/5/2016 8:43 AM

A. 🔫🔫

James W.

1/5/2016 8:48 AM


Wes K.

1/5/2016 8:48 AM


Cody G.

1/5/2016 8:58 AM

A. is the best viable choice from these options, though it does have more risk than B and less than C; B. is a bad option due to there not being any real help or experience at the camp. While awaiting nightfall, I'd recommend moving back to within commo range and providing a SITREP to the camp, then moving into the camp so that the community is informed of location, number of personnel, weapons, mode of transportation, etc.

Evan B.

1/5/2016 9:04 AM

Yes, I agree, which is why I chose B, I probably should have said "B" then "A"...

Duane N.

1/5/2016 9:02 AM

Duane N. A

bryan b.

1/5/2016 9:06 AM


Brandon M.

1/5/2016 9:08 AM

B Then A

Troy G.

1/5/2016 9:15 AM

I'd go with C. Move into the camp as one of the others like Joe did. If you go in at night (when no one else is mobile) and you're caught, you're done. But if she moves in with others and blends in, she's golden. The only reason Joe was caught is his USMC ink on his arm. That and he got froggy. She could move into camp with the others to least see if he's still alive and where he's at, exfil with the rest of the people AND THEN move in at night to see if she can free him. One must get a lay of the land before tromping through it. And I feel that's the safest way for her at this time.

Steven S.

1/7/2016 9:33 AM

Troy, the only problem is that she wears her hair in a regulation style. That is an indication that she carries herself with a military bearing. After Joe, the hostiles will be on edge. IF she doesn't do a great deal to make sure she doesn't appear military, she will be in the same place Joe is. (Wherever that may be?)

William L.

1/29/2016 9:04 PM

She was Air Force Steven S. There's really no chance of "military bearing." ;)

Calvin O.

1/5/2016 9:20 AM


Derek K.

1/5/2016 9:20 AM


Lemuel C.

1/5/2016 9:24 AM


Zachary D.

1/5/2016 9:26 AM

B then A

Steven T.

1/5/2016 9:40 AM


Nicholas S.

1/5/2016 9:41 AM


Ken S.

1/5/2016 9:44 AM


Brett T.

1/5/2016 9:53 AM


Bryan C.

1/5/2016 9:58 AM

Run in, guns blazin

Kim T.

1/5/2016 9:59 AM

B then A

james r.

1/5/2016 10:09 AM

B then A

Michael E.

1/5/2016 10:56 AM


David G.

1/5/2016 10:57 AM

B. Leave and radio back to camp and give SITREP. Wait until darkness falls and go get him.

Tara K.

1/5/2016 11:01 AM


John H.

1/5/2016 11:02 AM


Brian H.

1/5/2016 11:05 AM


James M.

1/5/2016 11:06 AM


Michael d.

1/5/2016 11:09 AM

C, B, A

Scott M.

1/5/2016 11:10 AM


Erik H.

1/5/2016 11:16 AM

B. Backtrack. Get back on the road within communications range of camp, so Mitra can radio for help. Then go back in at night.

Nehemiah G.

1/5/2016 11:29 AM


Patric W.

1/5/2016 11:47 AM


Kyung K.

1/5/2016 12:03 PM


Jordan D.

1/5/2016 12:07 PM


Daniel H.

1/5/2016 12:28 PM


Michael B.

1/5/2016 12:49 PM


Robert R.

1/5/2016 12:51 PM

A. Wait for darkness before moving into the raider’s camp to find Joe.

Ryan B.

1/5/2016 1:50 PM


Jennifer C.

1/5/2016 2:04 PM

B then A

Scott W.

1/5/2016 2:05 PM


Joseph B.

1/5/2016 2:19 PM


Charles S.

1/5/2016 2:41 PM

B. Backtrack. Get back on the road within communications range of camp, so Mitra can radio for help.

Peter K.

1/5/2016 2:52 PM

B, she doesn't have the confidence to carry out a safe extraction. She can return by night with further help.

Greggory R.

1/5/2016 4:25 PM


J O.

1/5/2016 4:34 PM

B, She needs to tell others where they are. If she were to get caught as well, then no one would know where they were or where to look. After communication is established, she could wait for back up or then go at night to try to rescue Joe.

Richard G.

1/5/2016 5:14 PM


Kyle L.

1/5/2016 5:45 PM

D Create a diversion to allow Joe to break free before he is fully locked up or executed. Sounds like the camp won't fare well without his assistance so losing him could be a death sentence for many of those in the camp. Waiting until night is risky and going all the way back to camp is even riskier...time being an issue and all. Question is, how skilled is Mitra? I know, I was supposed to choose A, B or C and not give a diatribe. I guess I choose C, which has a solid amount of risk as well.

Joshua K.

1/5/2016 5:56 PM

At first I thought C was the best of these 3 options; letting her blend in with the others. However, that only leaves her with a single knife to aid in her escape with Joe, if she were able to find and rescue him. Option A seems to be the better of the bad choices. At least she's still armed with whatever she had, plus Joe's M

John A.

1/5/2016 7:22 PM

B then A

Sean A.

1/5/2016 7:35 PM

B, strength in numbers. She doesnt what she's up against.....My guess, a new world cult

Curtis M.

1/5/2016 8:38 PM

And risk the lives of all the untrained personnel? How about she goes in for recon (C), backtrack to commos range and give sitrep (B), then go back in under the cover of darkness --armed-- to attempt a rescue. (A)


1/5/2016 8:31 PM


Keith J.

1/5/2016 9:23 PM

A I think.


1/6/2016 2:43 AM

B. Call for backup, then mount a rescue

Raymond R.

1/6/2016 2:45 AM

Do exactly what Joe ordered her to do. "Return to camp and warn others". There is a reason he gave her those instructions.

William S.

2/3/2016 10:24 PM

True, but he wasn't intending to be taken prisoner either. He assumed he would be right back, or else be killed on the spot if caught. Her going back to the village, or even radio in back to camp will do nothing to help the situation if nobody there is armed except the tower watcher. And bringing others will just get more unarmed innocent people killed. She needs to wait till dark, keep reconning the area and slowly sneak closer till she is able to quietly sneak into their camp and rescue him unseen and unheard. Even if it takes a few days to get to him and get him out of there, at least they both get out without shots being fired.

Ryan T.

1/6/2016 4:08 AM


Scott W.

1/6/2016 4:20 AM

B then A

Lance T.

1/6/2016 4:26 AM


Mike M.

1/6/2016 7:24 AM


Jennifer S.

1/6/2016 7:40 AM


Joel T.

1/6/2016 8:24 AM


Juan P.

1/6/2016 8:41 AM


Kevin B.

1/6/2016 8:54 AM


Michael D.

1/6/2016 9:03 AM


Thomas H.

1/6/2016 9:20 AM


Jeffrey V.

1/6/2016 10:26 AM


Garrett Z.

1/6/2016 12:26 PM


Roger P.

1/6/2016 6:06 PM

A. And by the way, if Joe told Todd to turn the radio off, he couldn't call Todd on the radio a short time later.

Brant W.

1/6/2016 7:41 PM

B, then A.

james r.

1/7/2016 3:23 AM

A. But I agree to fall back to comms range and provide the camp with a sitrep first. If it's still light out when she gets back, keep doing recon on the camp and enter when there is a large number of people entering the camp, take mental notes of it's internal layout and try to figure out where he might be, then leave and reenter after nightfall to retrieve him using some sort of distraction like a small explosion or loud noise like clapping two 2x4's or something together near the cattle.

robert b.

1/7/2016 6:06 AM



1/7/2016 6:34 AM


Steven S.

1/7/2016 9:30 AM

I will go with B, but I really think that Mitra is screwed six ways to Saturday. She has training, but lacks experience. The people at her camp lack both training and experience. She doesn't know what has become of her comrade. She need to backtrack, radio the camp, then move in after dark. The plus they have is that firearms can strike from a longer distance. The negative is that they are dealing with armed zealots who may be willing to fight until they are dead to protect their leader. Hank as a buck hunter would be about the only person from the encampment who would be a help in this situation. Todd as an airsoft player may be able to shoot at a person, but once he catches sight of actual blood, his reaction could get all of them killed. She needs to radio to camp for help, then move into the hostile encampment after nightfall.

Roger M.

1/7/2016 2:24 PM


Thomas B.

1/7/2016 2:45 PM


Daniel T.

1/11/2016 9:30 AM


Ivan B.

1/12/2016 8:06 AM


James T.

1/12/2016 10:17 PM


Chris H.

1/23/2016 12:41 PM


David S.

1/23/2016 6:13 PM


Mark K.

1/29/2016 6:51 AM


William L.

1/29/2016 8:59 PM

This answer isn't that simple. How many of the raiders have been ID'd? How well are they equipped? What is Mitra's comfort level? Going with A is a death sentence for both. She'll try sneaking around and get caught... they'll know she's looking for Joe and then they'll torture her to find out where they're from, or just straight up execute them. Either way, A is a very poor idea. B seems like a good idea, but if the camp can't even keep it together without Joe there then there isn't anything they're going to be able to do outside their own walls. The only recourse Mitra has is to go with a partial plan executed VIOLENTLY. She needs to move to an area where she can get a clear line of fire and start picking off the raiders. Once she's cleared a path, she needs to move quickly to the shelter, and take out the chucklehead in the brown robe....cut off the head, kill the snake. Joe is going to be out of it for a bit so she'll need to get a hold of a horse and get themselves out of there. I'd say she's got about a 25% chance of success, but that's better than the 0% chance of success she has if she goes with either of the choices. Good luck to Mitra...she needs it... but then again: Who Dares, Wins!

William L.

1/29/2016 9:05 PM

Her only REAL choice is C.

Stuart B.

1/30/2016 8:39 AM


William S.

2/3/2016 10:15 PM


Thomas B.

2/9/2016 6:32 AM

(B) Let the camp know what is going on first, then (A). This way the camp has time to prepare for the worse.

J O.

2/20/2016 8:27 PM


Nicholas N.

3/4/2016 4:52 PM

Sooo whens the next one coming? Its been like 3 months

Micheal H.

3/7/2016 9:36 PM

A. No on at camp can help. Going in now is suicide. No this is a stealth mission. Hope she has a blade and can use it.

Alex R.

4/10/2016 9:39 AM

B then A

James W.

4/19/2016 6:33 PM


douglas f.

4/25/2016 12:50 PM

Only so much suspense can kill me, this waiting game is ridiculous