Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2009. This is written as part of the Daylight shared universe developed by The Angst Guy. The well-developed background information can be found at http://dariaverse.com/daylight.html. This story is a sequel to "Daylight: Recruitment Day".
Guards manned the wooden stockade ahead while others collected bodies scattered across the clearing while here and there, small fires smoldered in the dry, autumn grass. All signs of an unsuccessful attack on the fortification. Across the field, each person watched him carefully as he passed, wary but also still attending to their tasks.
The man couldn't help but notice that the majority of them were really late teenagers, though all lean and hard after surviving the last few months since massive coronal mass ejections from the Sun caused an electromagnetic storm that destroyed civilization by overloading most of the conductive material on the planet, leading to electrocution or fires. Some of the fires covered large swaths of land - in some cases, almost entire states - and the world was still dimly lit even during the day because of the smoke and ash remaining in the air. Even though it was only fall, overnight frosts had made sleeping outside risky and promised that winter would be cold and cruel.
At the gate, a young woman with square glasses stood under a sign that read, "Camp Grizzly." She steadily aimed a compound bow at his chest and said, "Your business, please."
Moving slowly, the man gently placed the bow on the ground. He slipped the quiver free and placed it next to the bow, before setting the pig on the ground before his feat. Lastly, he removed a hunting knife from a belt sheath and placed it on the pig. "I'm seeking a safe place to stay the night," the man said, coming to his feet, "and I'm offering this young pig in return."
"Pardon us if we search you. As you can see, we just suffered another attack," the woman said.
On her signal, a pair of lean, muscled men came up. Richard handed over his backpack, saying with a calm and sure voice, "Go ahead, nothing out of the ordinary in there. Just a mess kit, bedroll, a change of clothes and a few odds and ends."
After opening and examining the backpack, one of them said, "He's clear, Amelia. A mess kit, bedroll, a change of clothes and a few odds and ends."
The other patted down Richard's clothes and said, "Clear."
Amelia said, "Okay. If you wish to stay, please understand that we don't tolerate aggression. None."
"Fine by me."
One of the men picked up the pig, while the second looked the weapons over and handed them back to the visitor. "Thank you," he said, shouldering his quiver.
Amelia inspected the bow and whistled. "That's a longbow, isn't it?"
"Real yew," the visitor said. "I've had it for years."
The girl gave the bow a wistful look. "We could've used a few of them a couple hours ago."
"Raiders?" the man asked.
Amelia nodded. "No organized groups like that locally - they looked like some kind of wandering pack. Speaking of wandering, what's your story? That's a lot of meat to be willing to share for one night."
The visitor shrugged. "I'm on a tight schedule and don't have time to preserve the meat, so I might as well share it and pick up some good will in the process."
Amelia nodded. If people didn't offer details, it had become a common courtesy not to press.
Inside the stockade, more people were busy cleaning up and starting repairs. The girl offered her hand and said, "I'm Amelia."
The visitor shook her hand. "Richard."
"We're going to stop by and let Daria know that you're here."
"Is she your leader?"
"She's the brains in this outfit, though Mr. Potts is officially our leader."
He looked around and saw the cluster of cabins and other structures. "This looks like a summer camp."
"It was," Amelia confirmed, pointing to a 'Camp Grizzly' sign on the side of a building. "Most of us were here for a five-year reunion when everything happened."
"How did everything survive?"
"The cabins only had a single light near the door. Not much wiring inside and the feeder lines melted away before much damage was done. The bathhouses had several lights, but we were able to knock the fire out before losing them. Thank God. However, the kitchen and dining hall were a total loss when the propane tank for the gas stove when up. Mr. Pott's residence and office also was lost, though we were able to get a lot of stuff out."
"You seem to be well fed. Foraging still good?"
"The storehouse was full stocked and also poorly lit," the girl told him. "We've had a lot of canned food to keep us going, plus we teamed up with the couple down the road who had a country store. They provided the seeds and we managed to squeeze in some crops, though they could've been better. Mr. Potts also has a smoke house, so we've been able to preserve most of the meat we get through hunting."
Richard nodded, and turned his head as the sound of horses caught his attention. "You have horses?"
Amelia smiled. "Yes. The horse barn came through everything okay, as well as all the horses. Or best scouts use them to keep an eye on the area, and to hunt."
They came upon a petite girl of about 18 walking among a group of seriously wounded raiders. Her face was like ice as she cocked a hand crossbow and shot of in the forehead, killing him instantly. She then stepped to the next raider and repeated the execution.
Amelia said, "Our one, old country doctor doesn't have much in the way of medical supplies and can barely tend to our sick and wounded, let alone raiders. This is, well, this is more humane than letting them suffer until they die from wounds or infection. Daria...insists on taking the responsibly herself."
Daria looked up at them and said, "Amelia, who's this?"
Amelia replied, "His name's Richard and he's looking for a place for the night. Offered a fresh hog in exchange."
"Welcome," Daria said. "An entire hog? You're very generous."
"A lucky hunt today and I'm travelling light," Richard said.
Daria turned her attention back to the prisoners. "Amelia, please take our guest to his bunk while I finish up here."
"Okay," Amelia said. "Follow me."
She led him to a fairly typical camp cabin. Inside the clapboard wooden structure were a dozen bunk beds. Based on personal items on and around them, probably three quarters of them were claimed.
"You can use this one," Amelia said. "Someone as tall as you might find it a bit short, they were made for kids."
"It's better than a bedroll on the ground," Richard said. After placing his backpack and bow on a shelf next to the bed, asked, "Is there anything I can do to help around here?"
"Hang out for a while. Once we finish tending to our wounded and clearing the dead, I'm sure we can put you to work somehow." Just before Amelia left, she said, "Don't wander around too far, someone might get a little trigger happy."
"A reasonable precaution. In that case, I think I'll lie down for a while."
He climbed onto the top bunk and rested his head on the thin pillow. For Agency operatives, they had been very busy the last six months monitoring many parallel universes undergoing what had come to be called the Daylight Crisis.
As a high-level supervisor who had come up through the ranks, Richard usually worked from headquarters - or was sent out on high-risk, high priority assignments. However, too many missions for too few agents meant that even supervisory personnel were back into field service to make sure no one took advantage of the disruptions caused by these natural disasters. At the same time, these monitoring missions required great care to avoid inadvertent influences on the natural course of events.
And that means taking the utmost care to not interfere, Richard thought. Though the temptation never goes away...
Perhaps half an hour later, the soft sounds of a woman crying drew Richard from his nap.
Rising from his bunk, he followed the sounds outdoors; after a short search, he came across two women near a tree behind a storage building. The sobbing came from a woman sitting against the tree - the one introduced earlier as "Daria" and one of the reasons for his mission. As she was for many other universes in the hypersphere Richard supervised, Daria was a living nexus and a critical part of the local reality.
Another girl with red hair crouched next to her and said, "You're not sounding too good, sis."
Daria abruptly looked up and wiped her face. "No, not really, Quinn. This happens every time I have to do that."
"It means you're still a good person," Quinn said, her voice gentle. "Something would really be wrong if you didn't cry."
"I don't know how long I can keep this up," Daria said, removing her glasses as she wiped her eyes. "I can't put this burden on anyone else, and the raider attacks will only get worse with winter coming along."
Quinn moved closer and held her sister. "You can't keep taking the burden alone. Almost all of us have had to kill defending the camp. Next time, let volunteers do it."
"I...I think I'll do that."
"And don't forget that you have me and Jane, and even Amelia. I'd say Trent, but he'd have to be awake first."
Daria gave her a weak smile. "There's a reason I never put him on guard duty."
Silently, Richard retreated and went back to the cabin. They're growing fast.
Richard was lying down when a girl with short black hair and blue eyes came into the cabin and said without preamble, "Hey - you there. Do you know anything about acorns?"
"Acorns?" Richard asked, rolling off the bunk.
"Acorns. You know - the favorite food of squirrels, and something that we can eat in the winter when we get hungry enough."
He nodded, noticing from the girl's tone that eating acorns somehow didn't bother her as much as it would any other teenager. That's interesting. "I remember from survival training that oak acorns are edible, though some are better than others. I can show you, so lead on."
"Great. Oh, I'm Jane."
When Jane turned to leave, Richard grabbed a tiny digital camera from his backpack that the guard had overlooked among the "odds and ends" and pocketed it.
Jane led him from the cabin, and toward one of the storage buildings. "We'll pick up some burlap sacks and then head out with the rest of the group."
After gathering the sacks, they joined a dozen others. Richard saw two young men on horseback and carrying bows. He said, "They look like good guards."
"Yeah, some of our best riders have learned to shoot from horseback. Kind of like Mongols," Jane said. "We don't go out gathering or harvesting without them."
They spent the rest of the afternoon searching the nearby forest and collecting acorns. Richard listened to Jane go on about her friendship with Daria, and their life in Lawndale before Daylight.
She stopped and looked up for a moment. "I know nobody wants to talk about it, but I sometimes think about the rest of my family. They were scattered all over the place and...and I'll never know what happened to them."
"Not knowing...is one of the hardest things to live with," Richard said. "Though sometimes, knowing is worse."
During some free time after they returned, Richard had the chance to wander around the camp, and noted how clean and organized things were.
A hand pump provided clean water from a well, and while the showers no longer worked, the toilets were still functional - even if you had to flush them using a bucket carried from the well.
He noticed that the campers had large stockpiles of firewood ready for winter, and had even set aside the Arts and Crafts cabin to act as a makeshift school. Walking through, Richard noticed scavenged books, magazines, and even pamphlets - any form of reading material - all neatly catalogued, and smiled with approval at a set of lesson plans for algebra and geometry that were left in a folder on the front table.
Richard had also noticed how some enterprising person, with a talent for woodwork, had taken it upon themselves to build a trio of rocking cribs, which sat at the back of the cabin. He remembered one girl he'd seen that was already a couple months pregnant. Someone is preparing for the future.
At every opportunity that presented itself, Richard quietly photographed what he could of the camp and its citizens. They don't know it yet, but they're going to be very important in the times ahead.
Trent took a slight bow and said, "Thank you," as the dinner-time gathering clapped. They were spread among picnic tables under a large pole barn with tarps covering the open sides. Covertly, Richard slipped his camera back into his pocket; content with the shots he'd gotten of the crowd during the performance.
Seated next to him, Jane learned over and said to Richard, "Trent's not great, but he's the only game in town."
"And I bet this is the only gig in town," Richard said.
"You got it."
"Does he do anything by the Doors?"
"Wouldn't be caught dead doing them."
Daria joined them and said, "Thanks for your help today. I'll make sure that we give you some supplies when you leave as payment."
He nodded politely. "I appreciate it."
"Most visitors we see aren't in a mind to talk. Any news from outside?"
"Almost all bad. The only good I can think of is that the refineries and oil wells along the Gulf Coast have finally stopped burning - as have those in Alaska - and as I'm sure you've noticed, basically everyone with a gun has run out of bullets. You have a good setup here, and have one of the best chances to survive that I've seen."
Daria let a rare smile peek out across her face. "We're working on it."
"You, most of all," Quinn said, coming up behind Daria and mussing her hair. "She took charge from the first weird flash around the sun, right after Amelia told off Skip," the redhead continued, turning to Richard. "She kept us together and got us working to stay alive. We all owe her."
"You help keep me going," Daria said. "You, Jane and Amelia."
Keeping silent, Richard let a single thought pass through his mind as he watched the sisters poke fun at each other.
Your parents will be proud of you.
Everyone turned in fairly soon after dark, tired from the day's activity, and knowing that they would need to arise by dawn for the next. The old farmer habits of early to bed and early to rise had already taken root.
A light sleeper while on assignment, Richard was quick to rise as a loud bell began to ring out in the night air, causing a flurry of sudden activity in the cabin.
He looked up and said, "What's going on?"
"That's the alarm - must be a raider attack," a young man said, hurriedly putting on his pants before grabbing a bow and quiver and running out of the door toward the stockade wall.
"Son-of-a-bitch," Richard muttered as the cabin emptied. He reluctantly pulled on his pants and grabbed his bow and quiver.
With life driven back to basics after the cataclysm, Richard knew from repeated experience that he would be expected to return the camp's hospitality by helping to defend it. He couldn't directly intervene because of the chance of causing an unexpected alternation in reality, while refusing to help could have a similar effect. He could think of only one alternative to cover both and he wasn't looking forward to it.
Holding a full-sized crossbow, Daria directed defenders to their posts along the stockade. She pointed to Richard and said, "Your bow has better range than ours. If you can, try to pick off anyone holding back that looks like a commander. Otherwise, fire at will."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, going up the ladder to the fighting platform. In the dim moonlight, he could see figures moving across the killing zone in front of the fort while archers stood in a line behind providing cover. Arrows thudded into wood as they got a feel for range and elevation.
Lifting his bow, Richard gritted his teeth and said under his breath, "This is going to hurt." He reached out with his mind and nudged an incoming arrow slightly from its path. When his bow was at full draw, the incoming arrow whipped past his ear and sliced through the muscles of his right forearm. Cursing in pain, Richard let his nocked arrow fly wild before dropping down out of the line of fire.
Looking at his arm, Richard considered himself lucky on two counts. One, the arrow came from a relatively low powered bow, so it was still stuck in his arm, stopping much of the bleeding and two, it had a target point, which meant there was far less damage than from a broadhead.
Quinn climbed up the ladder to him while saying, "Get down! Wounded, you're only in the way."
"Let me gather my wits," he said."
"They can wait," Quinn said as she pulled on his good arm to move him toward the ladder. "Get down and see the doctor. Now!"
"Yes, ma'am," he said.
The medical care was as spare and painful as Richard expected. A wooden dowel to bite, the arrow severed with bolt cutters near the skin to reduce the amount pulled through the wound when it was withdrawn, a small splash of alcohol and fast stitches without anesthetics. Richard refused the offered aspirin because they would provide no relief.
After breakfast the next morning, most of the camp was back to the dirty business of cleaning up after the attack. Richard kept out of the way as much as possible, but still watched. A couple of badly wounded raiders had been laid out near the gate. Just inside, Quinn, Jane and Amelia gathered around Daria and there was clearly a heated, but very quiet debate. Frustrated, Daria reached down and pulled up some blades of dry grass, put them behind her back and rolled them around in her hand before presenting them again.
Each woman drew a blade without comment. Amelia lowered her head and took a deep breath. Reluctantly, Daria gave Amelia her hand crossbow. Amelia became stone-faced as she took the weapon and cocked it. Keeping her face rigid, Amelia forced herself to go to the doomed raiders and complete the executions. On her return, her knees gave out and she fell into Daria and Quinn's arms. They held the crying girl for several minutes until Amelia felt able to stand. Taking directions from Daria, Jane led Amelia back to her cabin while the sisters came over to Richard.
Seeing him packed and ready to depart, Daria said, "Are you sure you want to leave? You're welcome to stay until your arm heals."
"I must go. I have pressing business that can't wait, so I'll have to take my chances."
"Then take some more food.
Using the same calm, sure voice he'd used on the guards who had searched his gear, Richard said, "I have plenty of food, but thank you."
"In that case, you're welcome."
"Have a safe trip," Quinn said. "I hope you find who you're looking for."
He nodded. I already have.
Richard walked until he had lost sight of Camp Grizzly, then walked for an additional ten minutes before he opened his knapsack, withdrew his PDA and turned it on. "Time to go home."
He entered a code into the PDA and a disk of light appeared before him. After a quick look over his shoulder, he stepped through.
Helen Morgendorffer opened the door of her and Jake's new Agency-supplied home and was surprised to see their 'recruiter' outside. "Richard, to what do we owe the pleasure?"
He smiled and presented the couple with an electronic picture frame, wincing a bit when he extended his arm. "I thought you and Jake would appreciate these."
"Did you do something to your arm?" she asked.
"Just a little muscle strain, it'll pass," he said. "Take a look."
The first image on display was of Quinn and Daria during dinner. Helen gasped in surprise and said, "My girls!"
"I visited them yesterday. I knew you were worried about them."
Looking through the images, she said, "How are they doing?"
"Very well. You and Jake would be proud."
Jake looked at his daughters with a mix of admiration and sadness in his eyes. "They look so different. More...mature."
Richard nodded. "They've grown to the challenges in their life."
Thanks to Brother Grimace for beta reading.