The Line’s veteran squad has seen more things in the frozen streets of Los Angeles than most, but when they encounter a new snowbreed, they have to ask themselves whether they can stick to the established protocols or not…
The echoes of footsteps and arcade machines are par for the course in a Runner’s day-to-day. Instead of the cries of a rooster at the break of dawn, it would be the rumble of Snowcats returning from sweeps or harvest runs, usually with Runners carrying in their latest haul.
Sometimes, it would be the gear and remains of anyone unfortunate enough to run into a Juggernaut or even a Smasher. Maybe someone got too close to an Eater.
It was nothing new for Malia, at this point she’d seen it all. There was a time when this life was frustrating all the time, but nowadays it seemed to be just half of the time. The recent months brought fresh faces to the Line, and it meant that her own squad often got split up to help out the rookie Runners. The best moments for her were the ones where she could catch up with her old teammates in the morning, however.
“Good morning, Michael!”, Malia called out to her longtime squadmate. He nodded. Michael was usually a quiet guy, but even more so before his own cup of coffee. She sat down on the crate next to him as he tinkered with the scope on his Carbine. “What’s on today’s schedule? I had a rough run with some rookies yesterday, so it’d be nice to get the gang back together for a sweep if there’s a need for one?”
Michael shook his head. It wasn’t any lack of coffee that made him seem less…jovial than usual. Clearly, he was upset. The empty spot Malia jumped on just now is normally where their actually-jovial squaddie would be sitting, everyday, polishing up their guns to make sure they’re ready for the mission of the day.
Malia’s mood dropped. “Where’s Jimmy? I know I got up a bit later than usual, but it’s not like him to miss out on our morning squad routine.”
Frowning, Michael stood up and holstered his rifle. “Let’s check in with Jen. She’ll know more.”
Michael and Malia got up and paced towards the lobby, but a voice halted their march.
“Guys… we have an assignment.”
A woman, armed and packed, seemingly ready for war stood in the hallway, urging them to stock up and get in the Snowcat behind her. It was Jen, and the urgency in her eyes told them to ask questions later.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
Malia popped round after round into the clip until she got enough reserves. They were headed to an off-limits area, normally restricted for Harvest Runners. The Line’s R&D guy, Harry, would occasionally go in with a team for maintenance and to keep the communications grid of the Line to other hubs operational.
Jen got up from her seat and joined Michael and Malia. “One Runner claimed it was a Brute that attacked him, but I didn’t really think much of it at first.”
Michael felt another “but.” coming, “….but?”
Jen continued. “Jimmy’s assignment last night was to run a Sweeper crew to the old Downtown area for prep, and none of them reported back. Luna sent another team to investigate, but they barely made it back themselves. That’s how we know.”
Click. Click. Click. Click.
It wouldn’t happen to Jimmy, they thought. Not to him. Sure, he could get on people’s nerves, but that was always to brush off any tension during a run. He would be the one to have a Runner’s back.
Click. Click. Click. Cli–
Malia felt a hand stopping her from reloading more clips. She looked up to Jen. “You have enough ammo, Malia. We won’t be using it. I promise.”
The Snowcat stopped.
Michael grabbed his backpack and flung it over his shoulder. “Home sweet former home, right?.”
It wasn’t really like him to crack a joke, but Michael could definitely feel an element missing in their squad, at least he tried.
From the upper highway, they had a better overview of the snowbreed looming below, some crawling, others just standing idly between the abandoned trucks. Peering through her MT’s scope, Malia saw some signs of a Runner squad having made their way through; scorch marks from pipe bombs, and the occasional corpse being fed on by Husks that had found a new snack.
One particular snowbreed stood out, however. It wasn’t the one with the glowing sack. No, that Skimmer was the unfortunate victim of another feeding off of it.
Hunched over. Feeding. Its hulking stature kept the smaller snowbreed from approaching, but it was clear they were just biding their time like jackals.
“I’ve never seen this before”, Michael spoke up. “It does look like a freshly mutated one.”
Malia tried to focus harder on what seemed to be a Brute. Leaning over, she noticed something was off. She looked at Jen. “What do we do? Observe, or take it out?”
Normally, Jen knew that eliminating threats early would make the area safer for upcoming sweeps. But like her teammates, she had a weird gut feeling. “Maybe Jimmy’s holed up somewhere waiting for an exit. It wouldn’t be the first time he fell asleep getting stuck on patrol.”
She reached for the radio in her chest pocket, hoping to wake him up at the very least, if that was indeed the case. “Jimmy, come in. We’re in the DTLA perimeter on the upper levels. Do you read?”
“Jimmy? Come in. It’s Jen.”
Raising his hand, Michael motioned to his teammates to have a look again. The snowbreed below seemed alerted to some noise below, which would make sense if that was Jen’s radio connecting with Jimmy’s.
Malia looked up in horror, however. Her hands started to shake as she stammered, “C-could you… chime in again, Jen?”
Interrupted from his Skimmer feast, the larger snowbreed clawed around his back, rolling aggressively.
She handed her rifle to Jen to see it for herself. In disbelief, Jen put the radio closer to her mouth and clicked.
A radio was lodged in the icy pauldron, as the husks started jumping at it, attracted to the noise it made.
A shot was fired, shattering the ice armor with the device in it. At that same moment, Jen’s radio coughed up some static, and then disconnected. Michael eyed at Jen to make sure that it was the same radio he shot at.
As the Brute walked out of the shadows, roaring at the husks surrounding it, the glare of its spectacles in the daylight reflected at the three Runners looking down from above.
They all fell silent, the only sound they could hear being the biting wind and the roar of someone they once saw as a friend.
Reaching into their backpacks, they grabbed and armed the pipes in their hands.
“It’s protocol, right?”
“Before he hurts anyone else.”
Click. Click. Click. Click.
“And then, you chucked PIPE BOMBS AT ME!”
The interior of the Snowcat was filled with life. Jen laughed and shook her head. Even Michael cracked a smile.
“Malia…at least you figured out it was me.”
Malia grabbed her seat and looked at her friend. “Yeah, but probably because no one else would keep their glasses on in everything they do, even if they turned into a Brute.”
Jimmy sighed, slumped in his seat, and rested his feet on the opposite bench.
“Your boots better be clean, Locke! I don’t want to clean off Eater gunk again.”, Frank shouted from the front.
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll need more coffee if you want me to stay awake on these trips next time.”
“Always California dreamin’.”, Michael joked.
Malia opened her thermos and smelled the fresh brew of coffee before taking a sip.
“Just another snowy April day in the apocalypse, right?”
Note: As much as some you might want it, Jimmy is not a new snowbreed, April Fools!