The apocalypse began with the appearance of a virus. Like HIV, it is something that can enter a cell and alter DNA, making it impossible to get rid of. The worst part, however, was that it also causes physical and mental mutations within the person, creating the "infected". These infected were reduced to little more than beasts, driven by primal need. They could no longer be considered human. The virus was quick to mutate, causing different forms of infected. These are Normals, a fairly average human, perhaps with a few small mutations, and the most common form of infected; Runners, the second most common, who have developed strong legs and sharp claws, designed to be able to cover very large distances at a massive top running speed, think Olympic runners, except even more extreme; Climbers, which are shaped rather like monkeys, with strong arms, except these are able to scale even perfectly vertical surfaces, so long as there is any small crack upon which their fingers can get purchase, like some of the extreme rock climbers; Hulkers, which are overly muscular and almost always massive in size that are capable of lifting phenomenal loads, and are very hard to kill; Diggers, which are small, hunched, and rather mole-like, and are capable of digging through anything but solid rock at a high rate of speed; Swimmers, which are amphibian like, slow on land but quick in water; and Fliers, which are rather like bats, except they can travel slowly on land rather like wyverns. The mutations in the infections are due to the fact that, unlike zombies, the Infected can still breed. The gestation period is about six months, and by the fourth year the babies are large and strong enough to join the rest of the horde in hunting for food. The Infected don't naturally gather, but a stronger willed Infected can keep the group together and working together. But a horde is necessary to raise any young. A horde in this case does not imply a massive conglomeration, but is rather the substitute for "pack," or "clan." Anyone born from an infected is, naturally, also infected. Because the virus is bound to a human cell, it cannot be passed through the air. Even though it can be exhaled, there is not enough living matter in the air for a person to become infected. However, any moderately sized transfer of bodily fluids from an infected to a human would result in infection. Bites would result in infection, but also any large transfer of blood. If infected blood gets on a small, open wound it would not necessarily result in infection because the body does have some natural defenses. However, a large wound, like a gunshot wound or a knife cut, that got more than a few drops of infected blood in it would result in infection. When a human becomes infected, the change will not be immediate. As soon as the virus is firmly lodged in the body the virus starts a crystallization in the brain, that affects a person's ability to use logic, but more strongly it affects any ability to feel sympathy or empathy for anyone else. This "gem" will continue to grow the longer a person is infected, making the affliction more noticeable. This will be accompanied by some slow, physical changes as well. Almost all newly infected humans are Normal zombies, with some rare exceptions if the person is infected by one of the other types. Because this gem in essence kills the host, who can survive with a rock in their brain, the gem is made of an unstable substance that releases electricity whenever disturbed. This powers the host's brain just as it would if the host was still alive, and, even though the crystal deteriorates when used, as long as the host is alive the gem will continue to grow. The human population, faced with an onslaught whose early states could not be detected and the fact that the infected had a fast reproduction rate, were eventually overwhelmed. Those who had the resources at the beginning of the Apocalypse, the money and influence of the old world, built massive, double walled communities that became the only truly safe places left in the world. These Elite communities now hold almost all of the resources in the world, but only those who are considered Elite, those born into the community, or those who possess valuable talents that would benefit the community, are allowed to remain safe in the walls over night. Work passes will be offered for the day for anyone who works inside of the walls, yet anyone caught in the city after sunset who doesn't belong there will be removed from inside and have permission to enter revoked temporarily, permanently, or may even be executed. yet the Elite military offers some protection to the surrounding areas, so communities build up around the wall, primarily those who are able to receive the work passes, yet anyone else who does not have a home stays near as well. Rebellions against the Elite communities happen on occasion, but the rebellions are quickly squashed by the military, who are the only ones who can legally posses the Elite-grade weapons. The death toll is high, and it does not even make a dent on the people who live inside the walls. Many years after the Apocalypse began, when the reserves of oil and gas were almost completely gone, a genius scientist found a way to harness the latent electricity in the gems that could be extracted from the infected brains. These gems could be used to power machinery, but would slowly crumble away as the electricity was used. Now, almost everything is powered by the Infected gems and they are one of the most valued forms of currency, aside from ammunition and other essential supplies. Extracting the gems from the inside of an Infected skull without damaging it is a great skill, as even the smallest nick on its surface will greatly reduce the lifespan of the gem. This makes undamaged gems even more valuable, as they are more limited. The Apocalypse began 42 years ago, and life has settled into patterns. People exist within their communities, distrustful of strangers, and everyone does what they need to do to survive. The Elites live inside their walls, secure in their weaponry and machinery to keep them safe, while the rest of the world suffers. Sir is a grizzled old man, an expert at survival. One of the few people left in the world who does not exist inside a community he roams eternally, quick to obliterate anything that blocks his path, be it human or infected. But his heart is cold and lost, broken by events in his past which he does not wish to remember. Beatrice is an innocent. Sir arrived just in time to accidentally save Beatrice's life, and she realized that the best chances of survival lay with this man. Sir will resist the presence of his new companion with all of his being at first, but slowly his heart will remember how to love and care for someone else. Subject to Sir's strict daily routines, Beatrice will become hardened, body and mind, until he can too learn how to not only survive, but thrive alone in a world that rejects any intruders. This far away from the Walls of an Elite community it couldn't even really be called a town. No, it was too small for that. Even village would have been flattering. All the same, it was a small group of humanity that had managed to survive, isolated from most of society, long enough for their walls to become sturdy. It would have to do. Sir approached the village openly, doing nothing to try and conceal his six foot frame and the massive military pack that rode on his hips. His shoulders were back and relaxed, his hands swung openly by his side. Everything about him spoke of a simple traveler, someone aiming to do no harm. At the same time, there was little he could do to appear harmless. No one who traveled alone through these lands was to be ignored. Even those who traveled within the relative security of a group were to be watched warily, for without some means of defending themselves any traveler would be easy picking for the roaming hordes of infected. Despite his relaxed appearance, Sir was hardly calm. He focused on everything around him with the kind of attention that could only be born from having to fight every day for your own survival. Mostly, he studied the guards who stood watch on the perimeter fence. Even from this distance he could see the barrels in their hand. Should they choose to open fire he would have only a split second to react. Most likely they would not lead with such aggressive action. Ammunition of any sort was precious, not to be wasted on someone who could be chased away by other means. But there was no telling who these people were, not when they where this far from the last bastions of what could even remotely be called polite society. No one was foolish enough to try and ply an illegal trade right under the noses of the Elite. They might trade around an Elite city, but anything else was far too reckless. That meant that the only places they could do their work was in the wilderness. Even most thieves and drug lords wouldn’t waste the ammo, but you never knew when someone was going to get an itchy finger. If, for whatever reason, they thought that Sir was here on a mission from an Elite city, they wouldn’t hesitate to try and dispose of him. After all, he was only a stranger. When he got a little closer, however, Sir realized that this community was hardly the base of any malignant operation. For one thing, the guards up on the wall had only just noticed him. The young man who had apparently overlooked him three times suddenly let out a shout and pulled his weapon, pointing it at Sir. There was a sudden buzz of activity, the sound of loitering people racing away for safety. That alone would have been enough to tell him that this was just a group of people, desperately trying to survive after having fled from the abuse around the outskirts of an Elite community. But, two steps later, any trace of doubt was erased from his mind. In his hand, the young guard clutched at the grip of an illegal Elite grade gun. If Sir were to head to the nearest Elite City, he could report the presence of those guns, and almost certainly earn a handsome reward. A group of soldiers would be sent out to recollect the guns, and remind everyone what it meant to break the rules. Any organized group might have the weapons, but they would never be foolish or trusting enough to reveal it to someone who was still free enough to turn tail and flee. But the Elite guns did two things for Sir. First, they explained how such a small group had been able to survive alone for so long. Second, they made it far more certain that Sir would be able to get what he needed, and perhaps more, from the place. Normally, Sir would have been just as happy to pass over a place like this. Most of them were either too small to have anything worth trading, or too hostile for it to be worth it to draw close. But Sir had been roaming for just over two months now, supplementing his food supply whenever possible, but never staying in one place for any longer than the time it would take him to rest. If he didn’t resupply soon he would have to make a more permanent camp. And that would mean competing with any local infected for whatever limited food supply was in the area. It was far better to initiate trade with anyone who had the supplies. His fingers brushed lightly against one of his hidden pockets, where rested a carefully packaged lump. The little electric “gems” that resided within the infected brains was one of the most valued pieces of currency since the last of the petroleum products were used up only a few years after the infected began to rule the world. And the reason Sir roamed the world, unguarded and unprotected, was to collect those little gems. Most communities were more than willing to trade with him, considering that almost all of the luxury items, lights, stoves, heaters, and the like were powered by the infected gems. But the other thing that was powered by the gems was the Elite guns; the guns that this community relied on to stay alive. They would need gems. How long they had been out here, how many infected had dared to challenge their walls, and how skilled their people were at extracting the gems intact, would determine exactly how badly they needed them. By the time he made it up to the gate a small group of young soldiers had swarmed, speaking rather loudly, debating what to do. On the one hand, he was a stranger, and they didn’t know what he wanted. He was traveling alone, and was brave enough to walk up even though he had certainly seen the armed guards. On the other hand, he was clearly an old man. His cropped hair and wild beard was heavily stained with salt and pepper, and his face was worn, wrinkled, and scarred from hardship. And to these young fools, that meant he was less dangerous than their youthful vitality, not more dangerous due to his clear ability to survive anything that life flung at him. Even though they knew he was there, Sir was still willing to bet that he could render them all dead or unconscious before they managed to hit him. But that wasn’t why he was here. Better to point out their stupidity now, before someone actually took advantage of it. Sir interrupted their arguing, his voice firm and mild, and though no one would have said he was shouting, all of the men could hear him clearly. “If I had friends with me,” Sir began, and all of the young men turned to look at him, “they would be climbing over the back wall right now, while I drew your attention. By the time all of you decided what to do with me, they would have raided your supply shed and retreated back over the wall. “At the same time, any sniper that was back in those woods could probably take out at least three of you before you had the chance to drop below the wall and out of range.” He certainly had their attention now. Two of them immediately turned to look towards the back wall after Sir’s first sentence, and one nearly jumped out of his skin at the word ‘sniper.’ Without you guarding them, even a Common infected could get over these walls, and I doubt you would notice until the screams began. Even a single Flyer could drop from on high and take out all of you, and then proceed to take out at least two other guards on watch before an alarm would be raised.” Drawn by the squabbling of his juniors and the sound of Sir’s voice, someone semi-competent was finally drawn over to the wall. He heard the tail end of Sir’s reprimand, and quickly concluded it with one of his own. “The stranger is quite right. Why did you all leave your posts? Surely one of you with a gun...” the fierce scowl that suddenly crossed the man’s face, and the looks of shame on the rest of the guard made it clear that they had forgotten their instructions by drawing their weapons. One of the guards even tried to put the weapon away, as though that could undo the damage. But that only brought the full wrath of their superior down on him, who turned and bellowed “Get back to your posts!” When the rest did not move fast enough, he barked out a final “All of you!” and the young men scampered off, ashamed. “Who are you, stranger?” There was a touch of respect in this man’s eyes. The young guards had looked at Sir and seen an old man. This man looked at him and saw a survivor. “Sir.” “What should we call you?” But he was still bloated by his pride, apparently. Nothing about this man marked him as Sir’s superior. There was nothing he could do to earn a title of respect. “You may call me Sir.” “What do you want, old man?” Apparently that comment didn’t sit well with the man. His hand dropped unconsciously to the weapon strapped to his waist, and the mild respect vanished. Such a shame he was in no real position to object. "I was going to trade for supplies, but perhaps I should travel to the Elites instead? Maybe trade for something a little extra as well?” It was almost amusing to watch the cockiness drain from his face as he remembered the information the young men had unwittingly revealed to this stranger. He gaped briefly like a fish out of water, before his teeth snapped together with an audible click. Obviously he had decided Sir was still in a position to escape, and that was not something he could risk. “My apologies... Sir.” The title slid off of his tongue like a mouthful of slime, but it was a start. “What were you hoping to trade for?” Sir’s hand reached lightly into one of those hidden pockets, pulling out a small bundle. He unwrapped it carefully, before holding it up to the light. On the wall, the man let out a gasp of surprise and greed. “Is that what I think it is?” Sir nodded, rolling the small, sky blue gem between his fingers lightly. “That must have come from a ten year old flyer. How did you get it?” Now he had them. “The same way anyone gets these.” “What did you want to trade for, Sir?” This time, the title of respect fell easily and smoothly, and probably unconsciously from his lips. “I’ll trade you this, along with two common gems. In exchange, I want supplies. And I want two of your guns.” Desire and possessiveness warred across his face. Apparently they really needed those gems. “Those guns ensure our survival. What would we do if the horde attacked?” “I’ll give you three common gems.” Sir replied, before throwing off in an apparently offhand manner “And I’ll kill the local horde. That should give you a couple of months before a new one moves in. More than enough time to prepare.” The man gaped at Sir as though he was insane, completely thrown off by Sir’s serious, casual tone. “But... how do I know you’d do it?” “I’ll do it first. What proof would you like?” The guard was silent for a moment. “The gem. The gem from the Climber that leads the group.” “Very well,” Sir replied. Of course, he had three climber gems in his possession right now. It wouldn’t take much to fool the man. But Sir didn’t back out on an agreement. And this would be a good chance to gather more gems before heading to the nearest Elite city. If the group was led by a climber then it was almost certain that the horde was small. A climber, even an old climber, could only hold so many infected together. It had been a long time since he had held the barrel of an Elite gun in his fingers.