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Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Natalya Rostova, Feb 9, 2016.
Nighttime fell on the desert. Far from street lights or any semblance of a town, miles of sand, mountain, and sparse vegetstion stretched uninterrupted save for the narrow, seldom-used highway.
The quiet evening was soon interrupted by the sound of a pickup truck humming in the distance. It ascended the hill, and soon the darkness was split by a pair of headlights. The truck made its way steadily along the highway, until a house came into view, not far from the road. Seemingly abandoned, the house gave off no lights, no sign of life. The scouts had been watching it for several days now, observing at various times to see whether anyone still lived there. It appeared to be uninhabited, so a small group set out on that evening to see what supplies could be gleaned from the residence.
The truck pulled up to the front of the house, then came to a stop. The engine and lights were turned off; darkness and eery silence took over once again.
Derek stepped out of the driver's seat, flashlight in hand. He was dressed in an old T-shirt and cut-off jeans, smudged with red dirt from head to toe. His dark blond hair was thick and short, but unruly; his face was covered in a thin layer of reddish blond scruff. Usually he wore a makeshift turban around his head to protect himself from the sandy wind and harsh sun, but tonight he went without. Any time he snuck around an occupied building or large facility (though he very rarely raided such places), he wore rubber-lined gloves as a protective measure; tonight, however, his hands were bare. He was always careful, but tonight he did not expect any run-ins with electricity.
Accompanied by two others, he approached the building. Each of them carried empty satchels, ready to fill them with whatever they could find. They entered the house silently, spreading out with their flashlights to begin rummaging around for goods.
The house was quiet. It had been for some time. Whatever family had lived here previously had no intention of coming back. There was hardly any furniture, so she'd taken to sleeping on the ground. The carpet was better than the sandy desert outside, and while the roof was missing a few vital shingles, the dilapidated building provided shelter. For now, it was enough. She'd move on eventually, but the house had a stove and some likely expired cans in their cupboards. They weren't the most flavorful of meals, but she didn't mind. It was a substance she could eat, though she was running low on water. The knees of her dark blue jeans were torn, and her black tank top was wearing thin and providing little protection from the cold.
She'd have to move tomorrow.
Sasha milled about the house, taking the rusted can opener and prying off the lid of a can of pineapple. She had just freed the lid when a light flashed from outside the window. She froze, squeezing the can. She hadn't seen anyone in a few days, and the lights were harsh even through the dirty glass. She slammed the can down on the counter, padding to the other room and grabbing her leather jacket. She shook the dust from the clothing before she put it on, hearing car doors shut. There were no voices, but there were clearly people. Only one car though... the mutant hunters wouldn't bring so few people if they were searching for someone.
So then, who was outside?
Sasha ducked behind the stairs, food forgotten as the door creaked open. Darkness had been her friend, but these people had flashlights. Well, she had something better, but she wanted to hide and flee. There was no sense in engaging these people if she didn't have to. From the swiveling lights, she could only make out some of their features, but they didn't looked armed. The mutant hunters always had guns and knives strapped to every inch of their skin, and it wasn't likely that some normies were raiding a house just for the hell of it.
Before she could stop herself, Sasha straightened up, coming out from behind the stairs. As she walked, her hands glowed before bursting into white lightning. The electric shocks crawled up her arms, but the sensation of channeling her power was more exhilarating than dangerous. She stepped into full view, yellow eyes glittering with energy.
"Who are you?" Her voice was calm, but her body said anything but calm.
The house was sparsely furnished. It was unlikely that they would find much here, but they would take whatever they could find. They had learned to be exceedingly resourceful; they could make use of just about anything. Their greatest need was food, and that was the hardest commodity to come by. Derek refused to rob homes inhabited residences - they had to maintain their humanity in some respects, even if they did live in a hole. Occasionally, they were forced to take from convenience stores if they didn't have any money, and he hated even that. But the world had changed now; they did what was necessary to survive.
He soon found himself in the kitchen, where he began opening cabinets and pulling out every can he could find, dropping them into his satchel. He would check expiration dates later. Unless the food was clearly spoiled, they hardly went by expiration dates, anyway. Within a few minutes of this, his flashlight caught something metallic, and he paused to identify the flash of metal. His eyes fell on an open can on the counter, full of pineapple slices. It looked freshly opened.
Just as this realization hit him, he heard quick movements in the next room, followed by a voice and the sound of a gun being racked. He hastened into the next room, only to see a woman standing there, her glowing hands and arms casting an eery white light in the darkness. One of his companions - whose gift was not useful in combat - had drawn a pistol, racked it, and had it pointed at the stranger.
"Ellie, put the gun down," he ordered as he entered the room. Already in full defense mode, Ellie looked sharply at Derek, then reluctantly lowered her weapon. Derek stood his ground, looking now at the woman before him. From behind, his other companion entered the room, standing at the ready. "We're not your enemy," he answered calmly. "We're like you. We're mutants - all of us are." Based on the situation at hand, with her coming out of the shadows baring her powers, he was fairly confident she was not with the enemy. Though he was willing to take a chance in revealing that he, too, was a mutant, he was not going to show all of his cards just yet.
There were three of them, which considerably reduced the desire to fight. One of them did have a gun as well. She'd missed that, and if they'd been mutant hunters, she would be dead or unconscious by now. Swearing at herself, Sasha leveled her gaze on the man who was speaking. He had told his companion to lower her gun, and while she had, she didn't seem enthusiastic about it. The main man claimed they were all mutants, but there was no way to tell, particularly not in the darkness.
The electricity didn't fade from her hands, but it dimmed as she moved one limb to touch the wall of the kitchen. Instantly, the house flooded with light, the fridge hummed to life, and the stove started to burn on low heat. Now, she could clearly see the newcomers. She observed the main man first, and she noticed that he had clothes that weren't completely torn to oblivion, even though he was covered in red dirt. They covered him at the very least, and if he really was a mutant, it was enough. He had a well defined face with some scruff. His form mirrored her own for grime, because regular showers didn't exist for people like them. His companions were well dressed for raiding, but none of them wore armor or any protective gear. There was no way they were mutant hunters, and they wouldn't have claimed to be mutants if they were just regular normies. Normies wanted nothing to do with mutants.
Sasha contemplated on letting the lights go out again, but it had been a while since she'd used her ability to power an entire building. The electric sensations felt wonderful coursing through her muscles, and the light hardly bothered her eyes. "What are you doing here?" It was unusual for mutants to travel together, and the fact that they had a car was even stranger.
The three companions winced, suddenly overcome by lights they were not accustomed to. They rarely moved in daylight; they took advantage of the natural light to carry out their chores and did most scouting and raiding at night. They had grown used to navigating in darkness or only dim lighting.
Derek was very interested in Sasha's hands and the abilities they held. Once he'd adjusted to the light, he took a look around, eyeing all of the appliances she had managed to bring ti life. He moved to the kitchen, answering her question over his shoulder. "We could ask you the same thing." He picked up the can of pineapples he had noted earlier, observing it more closely now. "Though I think I can guess what you're doing. You don't actually live here, do you?" He made his way around, going first to the stove and turning it off. Wouldn't want to burn the whole place down.
"We thought this place was empty, so we came to see what we could find for our safe haven." As he said the first phrase, he gave one of his companions a look, which he seemed to understand. He parted from the group to make her way around the house, searching every room, making sure no one else was there. Ellie stayed put, keeping an eye on Sasha. Fellow mutant or not, she wasn't quite ready to trust this stranger.
Derek continued around the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator door, revealing a scarce supply of spoiled condiments and sour milk. He stuck his hand into the open space to see whether it was actually get cold. Seeing how powerful this girl really was. Seeming satisfied, he closed the door and turned back to the woman. "What's your name?" he asked. "I'm Derek - this is Ellie, and the other one is Jared."
She watched their expressions. Most mutants didn't live in regular houses anymore, as far as she could tell. She hadn't interacted with any until... well, now. Her last encounter, like the others before them, didn't end well. She didn't like to fight, but she would if she was forced to. And no one had ever successfully talked down the mutant hunters. They were paid too much to let their prey go.
Sasha kept her hand on the wall, letting the others adjust. The electricity spilling from her fingers died down, but she still channeled it into the house. It wasn't something she could do forever, but for now, it would be fine. Her bright eyes followed Derek as he moved around, picking up her would-be dinner. He flicked off the stove as he spoke, and she scoffed in return. "Of course not." She might have tried to liven up the place if she had, but the house wasn't good enough for that. Besides, she didn't think she could patch holes in a roof.
His next statement caught her off guard. She didn't miss his companion leaving, but she was more focused on Derek. "Safe... haven?" she repeated to herself slowly, digesting the words. 'Safe' and 'mutant' were never considered to be in the same situation, but it explained the car and the fact that there were three of them. She didn't immediately think it was true, but there was no reason not to believe Derek.
"...Sasha," she answered. She gave Ellie a glance as the other woman was named, but the gaze held nothing but slight curiosity. She nodded once to her, but turned back to Derek after a moment. "How can you have a safe place?" Though the desert was open and wide, it also housed nothing but wild animals and scarce plants. It was as much as an advantage as it was a disadvantage.
Derek took a pineapple slice between his fingers and tossed it into his mouth. Not bad. Lukewarm canned food had become a staple in his diet, and he'd had a lot of mixed experiences. This pineapple was actually pretty good. No doubt the acidity of the fruit helped to preserve it. "A safe haven, yes," he replied once he'd swallowed. It pleased him to see that the existence of such a place came as a surprise to her. The larger the community grew, the harder it was to keep the place a secret. They seemed to be doing a fair job of it.
At that moment, Jared came down the stairway, giving Derek a nod to indicate that the house was clear. He had suspected as much, but now that it was confirmed, he felt he could speak more freely. It was also nice having a telepath present, just in case any hostile or betraying thoughts flitted across the stranger's mind.
"Nice to meet you, Sasha," he said. "Our safe haven is underground. An entire community of mutants like us, living safely underground, in the middle of the desert." He gestured to her hands, which had only moments ago teemed with what looked like bolts of lightning. "We could use you there. It'd be nice to have a microwave that actually worked. We can offer you a safe place to live, off the grid, away from the hunters. It's hard work, but it looks like you're used to roughing it." Most of the mutants he encountered were already well-acquainted with primitive living. They had usually been on the run for a good while when he met them.
Sasha's eyes narrowed as Derek took a bite out of her dinner. There were other cans around, but she'd had a hard enough time trying to get that one open before being interrupted. He only took one piece, and Sasha had half a mind to take the can back, but she couldn't light the whole place up and reach the can at the same time. He confirmed his words, and in the moment, he had no reason to trust her with that information. It was a big step to take, but he seemed confident. And she had to admit, the idea of resting in a place without fear of being hunting was... not terrible.
Derek's companion - Jared, he'd called him - returned, but she paid him little mind. There was nothing in the house for any of them. Sasha had eaten through most of the good food save for the few cans that remained, and there had only been two bottles of old water. Those had gone too fast, as did most things when she was on the run.
She was silent as Derek explained the secret home, and she was silent even after he was done. The thought was tempting, but being close to so many people underground was daunting. But they were all mutants... people like her. She wouldn't have to worry about normies judging her or the mutant hunters chasing her down. That outweighed the idea of proximity. Besides, it would be good to use her power to help people get some warm meals.
"I am," she said. Most mutants were used to living on their own, fending for themselves. It was just a way of life now. The normies didn't want them, the hunters wanted them dead. Trust was hard to come by these days. Why she was even trusting Derek and his companions, who hadn't shown their power yet, was beyond her. Perhaps it was the way he spoke without fear or the confident way he carried himself.
"I suppose I could come." The worst she could do was walk into a trap and be caught. Not the best of odds, but they could have been worse.
As extroverted and sociable as he was, Derek did not accept people into his trust easily. However, once he had built a relationship with a person who had earned his trust, that trust was implicit. So it was with Jared. Though he was still a kid and hadn't yet achieved masterful control of his mutations, Derek had utmost faith in him. If Sasha had any hint of an ill thought toward them, he knew that Jared would either let him know or admit that he couldn't get a grasp on the young woman's thoughts. Based on what he himself could perceive and the lack of alarm from Jared, Derek felt confident that this newcomer was not a threat to them.
He gave a satisfied nod when she agreed to come. "Good!" he answered. "Just know that when we bring you to our safe haven, you'll be expected to stay for awhile - at least until we can trust you not to spoil our secret." His greatest priority was the secrecy and safety of their hideaway. He did not take lightly the coming and going of its residents. There was too much risk. But the thing about these mutants was that they were all on the run. They had nowhere to go, nowhere to run to. If they told anyone about the Warren, they would put themselves at risk also. So far, everyone he had brought in had demonstrated every intention of staying for the long haul.
Sasha gave him a nod in return when he accepted her. She hadn't realized she'd been holding in a soft breath until she let it out after he spoke. If she had denied, they both would have gone their separate ways. Or perhaps the knowledge of a safe haven wasn't so easily shared and they might have tried to force her or kill her.
She didn't really want to know the answers to those unspoken questions, and she released the wall, sending the house plunging back into darkness, save for the flashlights still scouting ahead of them. Now that both hands were free, she slipped her fingers into her pockets and flexed them. While it had been good to exercise her power, she wasn't exactly at the peak of her physical or mental prowess. Lack of good food and clean water had worn down on her considerably, but if what Derek said was true, she wouldn't be short of that for much longer.
"I understand," she said. He had so graciously extended the invitation, but now she was expected to uphold the end of a bargain she didn't know she was getting into. Still, the promise of something better than running was simply too tempting to pass up.
"Well, lead the way."
"Alright then, I think we're done here." As the lights went out again, he looked between Jared and Ellie, just barely making out their faces in the glow from their flashlights. "Have we gotten what we need?" In his eyes, taking in another mutant - a living, breathing human in need of their shelter and willing to contribute to their community - was far more important than supplies. Still, he didn't want to leave the house unless they felt like they had gotten as much as they needed. The other two nodded, gesturing to their satchels. They all seemed to have found something worth bringing back; it had been a fruitful raid on all fronts.
Derek led the way out the door and to the truck. Once everyone had piled in, they set off down the road, gliding along the desert highway. Ellie had taken the front seat, leaving the back for Jared and Sasha. As they went, Ellie twisted around, giving Sasha a small smile. Highly protective of her people and their safe haven, she was slow to trust anyone on the outside, even other mutants. However, once Derek made the decision to let someone in, she could hardly argue. So she tried to be welcoming to the newcomers. She knew how it was to live on her own, feeling like she had no friends and was never safe. Most of the mutants they brought in had experienced the same thing, to different degrees. "How long have you been on your own?" she asked. It was an innocent enough question. She wanted to get to know this new person, but she wanted to take it slowly and get a feel for how much the woman was willing to divulge.
Sasha nodded to Derek's dark form on the other side of the room. Her dinner was forgotten as she followed them, and she didn't look back at the house as they all clambered into the truck. She hadn't ridden in a car in over a year, and the rumble of the engine underneath them was surprisingly pleasant. It meant that all the convenient technology wasn't totally lost to the mutants. From Derek's description, they had no electricity underground or really anything that could improve their quality of life. It seemed more like a stationary version of what she'd been doing. Except... it was safe. Free of hunters or anyone who wanted to harm them. And that was the most important part.
Sasha didn't really make eye contact with the young man in the back. Jared was his name. He seemed young, but Derek didn't look like the type to recruit anyone who was incompetent. Besides, he was a mutant, and that meant something at the very least. She didn't know what any of them did, and she almost regretted putting her full power on display. She could have kept it a secret, but then, Derek might not have believed her.
As Ellie turned and spoke, Sasha looked up. Somehow, the yellow crackling in her gaze held more light than normal eyes should. She often wore sunglasses if she could find a pair, but she'd broken the last pair while running away and hadn't found any since. "Oh... uh... few months, I think." It was likely more than that, but she'd lost count. She knew it was summer and she'd been moving from place to place since spring, but she'd been alone for much longer than that. But it was something she didn't say. Even if they were mutants, she couldn't spill her life story.
"How long has this safe place been a thing?"